String Lights and the Law

by Sean Perron

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery”, also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. James 2:10-11

It might serve us well to meditate on the magnitude of God. His holiness should not be a passing thought or a mere tweet to scroll over. The purity of God deserves more than a polite nod.

James 2:10-11 exposes an uncomfortable reality. If we transgress one law, we are actually guilty for breaking the whole law. If we miss one command, we shame the whole army. If we fumble one ball, we lose the whole game.

How can this be? James says it is because all the commands are traced back to the mouth of God. Every law connects us to the Lawgiver. “For he who said… also said…”

It is similar to decorating tents with string lights, or wrapping an Evergreen with Christmas bulbs. When you finally plug in the lights, ten work and the other thousand refuse to even blink. The entire strand is out simply because one busted bulb has severed the connection.

Each broken law beckons God’s attention. Each sin is a stab at God.
Such an offense against an eternally good God demands damnation.

It might serve us well to pondered the weight of the beams that Jesus took upon his back. The slightest arrogant thought, the faintest lustful fantasy, or the quietest judging critique, all scream “Crucify Him!”  Even the smallest sin demanded that Jesus be pinned to the wood. We need to be staggered by this truth.

Yet, it is gloriously true that even the smallest drop of Jesus’ blood can cover the most hideous act.  The most grievous crime is not too much for the blood of God. Perhaps too strong for the blood of bulls and goats, but not too strong for the veins of Christ.

We need to ponder the severity of sin. The screams of our sin, the weight of the cross, and the blackness of every blunder.

Let us come out from the darkness and into the marvelous light of Christ. Screams of sin are silenced by the nail pierced feet of Christ. Burdens of the law crack with the Words of the God-man. And the blackness of sin is swallowed by a mercy that triumphs over judgement.

Let us come out from under the Law, and come follow Christ.

Adapted from the sermon James 2:10-13: Is the Christian under the Mosaic Law? Delivered at the Sunday Night Bible Study at Crossing Church

Photo by Sam Hearn. Sam Hearn Photography

Babies and Bathwater

by Spencer Harmon

Baptism is a big deal.  When someone becomes a Christian, they are not merely subscribing to a local club that meets on Sundays; rather, a supernatural work of God has taken place.  Christians believe that when someone puts their trust in Jesus their old “self” – with its selfish desires, rebellious disposition toward God, and cold heart – dies, and a new “self” – with a heart inclined to obey God, love his Word, and pursue righteousness – is born.  It is this reality that baptism declares.  Baptism is symbolic – it talks to us and reminds us of these transcendent truths.  It screams out that just as this person is plunged down into these waters that envelop them so their old self has been plunged down into death with Christ; just as they rise out of the water and gasp for air, so their new self has arisen with Christ.

For Protestant Christians, there have been two views as to who should be baptized:  1) those who have professed faith in Christ (credo baptists); and 2) those who have professed faith in Christ and their children (paedo baptists).  I’m a credo baptist.  I don’t think you should baptize babies.

One of the strongest arguments for believer’s baptism can be made from an Old Testament passage:  Jeremiah 31:31-34.  It is here that God Himself delineates through His prophet Jeremiah his “new covenant”  This is God’s new agreement with his people that binds him to treat them in a certain way so long as they keep their end of the bargain.  However, the problem with God’s people over history is that they have never been able to keep their end of the bargain.  They always worship the idol; they always complain in the desert.  But God has a plan – a new covenant.  The newness of this covenant is found in that fact that God promises to give his people a heart that actually wants to keep the law (verse 33).  God promises that everyone will know him in a saving way, and that all of their sins will be forgiven.  God says that this new covenant will not be like “the covenant that I made with [your] fathers” (verse 32).  The newness of the new covenant is found in the fundamental difference between the people of God before and after the coming of Jesus.  Before Christ, the covenant members were those who were born into the people of God – this means that there where people who really loved God in the community, and those that just were among the group, but did not really know the Lord.  After Christ, God’s covenant members are only those who have been regenerated (i.e. given a new heart that truly loves God).

If Jeremiah is interpreted as an announcement of a regenerated covenant community, those who support baptizing infants need to reconsider their view.  For if the covenant community is only those who have been regenerated, then it follows that the mark of the covenant community – baptism – should be limited to this specific group of people.  The new covenant has a new sign and it is reserved for people who have new hearts.

Some Practical Concerns

  1.   It seems inconsistent for a paedo baptist not to include infants in the Lord’s Supper.  If they are seeking to emphasize the continuity of God’s dealings with his people in one overarching covenant, it would seem consistent to include the children of the God’s people in this rite as well.  However, this would pose problems.  First, if children participate in the Lord’s Supper, it seems like this would say something that is not true.  When I take the Lord’s Supper, my pastors say to me, “Spencer, this is the body of Christ broken for you; This is the blood of Christ poured out for you”  But we can’t honestly say this to babies until they make a profession of faith.  Second, babies are incapable of examining their conscience, or confessing sin (one of the things baptism should push a believer towards), so why should they participate in the Lord’s Supper?  Yet infant baptism seems to lead to this.
  2.   Another concern is that church discipline seems to lose its relevance.  If children are included in the people of God by baptism, how do you determine if they are ever not a part of the true covenant community?  If the church is constantly a mixed community of both believers and unbelievers, why would any church discipline a non-Christian from their midst if it has embraced a mixed church?  Some may object that if a paedo baptist church knew that there was an unbeliever in their midst, they would most certainly discipline them.  Yet, for every baby that is baptized, an unbeliever is added to their community.  Why the inconsistency in church discipline?

Conclusion

Baptism is a secondary issue, but not a small issue.  Baptism is the sign of salvation, and how the church understands this sign of salvation matter immensely.  To misunderstand the issue of baptism is to run the risk of false assurance to those baptized as children, and a distortion of a beautiful portrayal of salvation.  Although evangelical Christians ought to keep the main thing the main thing, we ought to openly acknowledge our disagreements over these important issues.  So, let there continue to be conferences; let pastors be together for the gospel, and let evangelicals make coalitions; nevertheless, let there be an open and plain acknowledgement of these distinctive beliefs that make whole denominations form.  For these issues are exceptionally important, and ought to be treated like it.  So, keep the baby, but throw out the bathwater.

 

Letters To A Young Engaged Man: Wedding-Ring of Faith

by Sean Perron

Dear Young Engaged Man,

I finally saw the engagement pictures of you and your fiancee. You both look dashing if for no other reason than it is uncontrollably obvious you are both in love. I smiled as I saw the shot of you bowing the knee with ring in hand. Even through the tears, you couldn’t have looked happier.

I recently read an essay by the reformer Martin Luther and a couple of paragraphs caught my eye in light of your recent photos. He connects the gospel to marriage in a way that I had not considered before.

Luther notices that when a couple becomes one flesh, they fully give themselves to each other. The wife gives everything she has to her husband and the husband gives everything she has to the wife.

Our union with Christ is similar. Everything we have (which is sin, shame, guilt and death) becomes Christ’s and everything He has (which is purity, holiness, freedom and life) becomes ours.

Luther writes,

“The third incomparable grace through faith is this, that is unites the soul to Christ, as the wife to the husband; by which mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul are made one flesh. Now if they are one flesh, and if a true marriage, then it follows that all they have becomes theirs in common, as well good things as evil things; so that whatsoever Christ possesses, that the believing soul may take to itself and boast of as its own, and whatever belongs to the soul, that Christ claims as His.”

This is the sweet exchange that Luther is talking about: “If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine; as it is written, “My beloved is mine, and I am His.””

All of our sins becomes Christ`s and all of His righteousness becomes ours. Many people only think of the gospel as providing forgiveness, but the gospel also gives us the righteous state of Jesus. (2 Cor 5:23) His perfect life becomes our life and our sinful life became His on the cross. This forgiveness and righteousness is only obtained by “the wedding ring of faith.”

Your marriage will not be based on conditions of works. She will not submit a list of good deeds to you at the alter. You may pour sand into a jar, but you will not weigh scales. You will not swap resumes but you will exchange rings. She became your fiancée and wife by a simple pledge of faith.

“Thus the believing soul, by the pledge of its faith in Christ, becomes free from all sin, fearless of death, safe from hell, and endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of its husband Christ.”

Brother, as she takes your hand in faith, take the hand of Christ by faith. Pledge your life to him trusting not in your good works or good intentions but only in His perfect life and saving death.
Christ did not buy you with a mere precious metal, but with His own precious blood.
Celebrate your proposal and ponder the greater privilege of being united to Christ.

To conclude with Luther, “Who then can value enough these royal nuptuals? Who can comprehend the riches of the glory of this grace?”

Until then,
Sean

Painting Prophecy

Often prophecy in the New Testament can perplex readers. Sometimes is seems as though the New Testament writers were not consistent in their use of the Old Testament. Here is my feeble attempt at an illustration that may help shed light on how the New Testament writers understood Old Testament prophecy.

The two main painting styles I am familiar with are “Replication” and “Abstract”.

One type of painting technique attempts to replicate a photo or event with minute detail and accuracy. This was my choice of style when I first began to paint. I loved to paint fruit as realistic as possible or reduplicate photographs on a canvas.

Another form of art is known as Impressionism. Abstract art uses a much broader stroke of artistic interpretation yet still conveys a message or picture. Against all odds (and to my grandfather’s chagrin), most of my current paintings lean towards the way of Van Gogh.

I have learned to appreciate both mediums and understand their places in the art realm. Neither one is wrong but they both have their benefits.

This analogy may be helpful in relation to Scriptural prophecy.

  1. Literal Fulfillment
    Matthew 2:6 is a direct fulfillment of Micah 5:2. Jesus’ birthplace is predicted hundreds of years in advanced and is fulfilled exactly as foretold. I would equate this with replication type paintings. The Old Testament prophet says “A+B will make C” and thus the New Testament equation unfolds.
  2. Typological fulfillment.
    An example of this would be found in Matthew 2:15. Matthew saw the life of Israel and the life of Jesus and did not think it was a coincidence. Jesus was not in Egypt for slavery but for safety. Jesus is the true and better Israel and fulfills everything Israel was not. In this medium of prophecy, the New Testament writers see a divine foreshadow, theme, or event in the Old Testament and connect it with the life or ministry of Christ. Though these prophecies are not necessarily a detailed blueprint that would have been anticipated, they depict pictures of the Messiah which the inspired authors used. I would compare this type of prophecy with impressionistic art. (e.g. Mt 2:16-18, 2:23)

Both are right and both have their beauty and place in the realm of Scripture. The New Testament writers knew how to read the Bible properly and we would do well to follow their method of study.

 

Kiss The Son

“Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Psalm 2:12

What would you think if I told you that Jesus was genuinely angry with some people?  Would that make you uncomfortable?  If so, why?  Why do words like wrath, anger, fury, or even holiness grate against people while words like love and peace sound more appealing to the ears?

If someone is uncomfortable using these words to describe God, this might be because the only thing they have ever encountered in life is sinful rage.  Yet Jesus’ wrath is just and should be celebrated because it’s good.  He only feels wrath over things that deserve wrath.  There is no such thing as unfair wrath with Jesus. Christ’s rage is holy. His fury is good and complete. Yes, His wrath is good.

How can God`s wrath be good? How is this comforting?

  1. Nobody wants to worship a wimpy God. We do not want a God who is soft on sin. If we are honest, an unjust God is not appealing to us. The murderer could always kill whenever and however. The rapist could forever rape freely. The liar could perpetually deceive you in the most devastating ways.  God allows this for a season, but, oh, how his wrath is kindled quickly! He will tread the vineyard of the wrath of God. No sin goes unpunished. He will not tolerate wickedness forever.  This truth does not allow us to point fingers. We must examine our own souls. God will not allow us to sin carte-blanche. God does not show partiality. He is ready to strike us down in our sins unless something drastically changes.
  2. The surprise of Christ is that we can kiss him. The shocking reality of the gospel is that Jesus should punish us, but instead offers the gift of grace. This gift was not free for him. It cost him dearly. Jesus paid for the gift with his own precious blood. God’s righteous rod of wrath struck down upon his body on Mount Calvary. Jesus bore the sins of the world upon a Roman tree.

Why the cross? Because God is holy and must punish sin. Upon Golgotha, God’s love and wrath mingle perfectly. The wrath of God which fell upon Jesus is good news for the believer.

Ironic isn’t it? Strange perhaps? Jesus is slow to anger… yet quick to kindle his wrath.

 “The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Numbers 14:18

There are two ways to kiss the Son. One can fall down anointing his feet with kisses (Luke 7:37-38).  Or one can attempt to kill Christ with a cold peck. (Mark 14:44-45).  The former is a broken sinner relying only on the mercy of God. The latter is a hardened sinner about to be broken on the wrath of God.

So friend! Kiss the Son lest He be angry with you. His rod and his staff will comfort you.

Sean Perron