In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.

31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day four, and today we have a guest writer: Dr. Joel Beeke (whose preferred translation is the KJV) who, with his love of Puritan writers, is particularly well-equipped to write on putting sin to death.

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. -Romans 8:13

Every Christian finds himself living out two realities: what he is in Christ, and what he is at present, wherever he happens to be in his earthly pilgrimage. The one reality is the fact of his justification “by faith alone in Christ alone” from the guilt of all sin and his personal union with Christ crucified, risen again, and received up into glory. The other reality is the Christian’s degree of personal sanctification. Unlike justification, sanctification is never complete in this life. A substantial first step is the regeneration of the heart that marks the beginning of all true Christian life. But the way forward is rife with difficulties. We can go backward as well as forward in this way; and we all pass through seasons of stagnation and declension.

The Christian learns early on that sin still has a hold on him and remains in him, even “besetting” him, dogging his steps and burdening him with guilt and shame. Paul describes this remaining sin as “another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind” (Rom. 7:23). How does the believer respond to this “law of sin”?  We must mortify (put to death) what Paul calls “the old man and his deeds,” and “the lusts of the flesh” (Rom. 8:13, 13:14; Col. 3:15). This mortification is both a gift (of the Holy Spirit) and a duty (ours). In our own strength we cannot accomplish any lasting mortification, without the Spirit’s grace. But by the powerful and enabling grace of the Holy Spirit, we may and must hate sin, strangle it, and put a sword through it. We must meditate often on the horrific consequences of sinning against our beloved, triune God and Savior. We must know our own hearts and weaknesses, and avoid those situations that tend to promote the temptations that we are weakest in battling against. We must cast off all remnants of the life we left behind when we began to follow Christ. We must put ourselves under the death-dealing power of the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14) so that the Spirit of Christ may put to death what is earthly in us.

The Spirit of Christ focuses us on Christ when teaching us how to mortify sin. Mortification begins when we condemn our sins as transgressions of the law of God. We confess these sins to be forgiven by God and cleansed by the blood of Christ. Then we forsake these sins for Christ’s sake. Paul tells us to fight against sin from a position of strength (Rom. 6; Eph. 6). Know what you are in Christ. In Christ we have died unto sin. In Christ we have been raised again to newness of life. In Christ crucified we have been set free from sin’s dominion and continue to die to sin, so that, as John Owen emphasizes, we experience the death of sin in the death of Christ. Sin may assail but cannot master us, so long as we stand firm in Christ, calling upon His name. In Christ we are assured of God’s help in striving against sin. Though we may fall and lose various skirmishes against sin, because of our union and communion with Christ we have by faith the promise of ultimate victory and final deliverance, which, more than anything else, gives us hope and sustenance in the daily fight against sin. The only sin fatal to our cause is unbelief. Unbelief alone can rob us of God’s grace and shut us out of His kingdom.

Ever blessed Triune God, in the light of Thy holy law, I confess my sorrow of heart that I have provoked Thee by my sins. By Thy Holy Spirit, deepen in me more and more the hatred of these sins, and the desire to flee from them, dying unto sin with Christ, and rising again in newness of life, to live unto Thee in righteousness and true holiness, for His sake. Believing Thy gospel promise, I ask Thee to forgive my sins and help me by Thy Holy Spirit to fight against and overcome sin, the devil, and his whole dominion, as a follower of Christ, and one who bears His name before the world.  Amen.

What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

Crucifixion Not the Cross

Last week I compared The Passion of the Christ to the forthcoming Son of God, a film set to release later this week. I meant to point out that we can’t expect a movie to do what God promises only the Word will do. I also wanted to suggest similarities between the two movies and to draw attention to the obvious attempts from the marketing team behind Son of God to apply lessons learned during the brouhaha surrounding The Passion of the Christ. Today I want to dig in just a little bit more. I suppose I am going to be a tad contrary here, but I want to give us something to think about before we buy our tickets.

Now listen: I know many people who read this site have thought about the movie, will go to see it, and will enjoy it. I also know many people who read this site will not go to see the movie because they too have thought about it and are convicted it would be wrong for them to go. I believe this is one of those areas in which Christians need to acknowledge that some will believe the very opposite of what they themselves believe. Convictions will vary, even among Christians of the same theological stripe, which makes it an ideal time to obey Romans 14 and to refuse to pass judgment on one another.

Before moving on, let’s distinguish between two related terms: crucifixion and cross. I will allow David Wells to describe the difference: “The former was a particularly barbaric way of carrying out an execution, and it was the method of execution that Jesus endured. The latter, as the New Testament speaks of it, has to do with the mysterious exchange that took place in Christ’s death, an exchange of our sin for his righteousness.” According to this definition, many were crucified, but only One went to the cross.

Here is what I want to think about: A film cannot adequately capture the reality of what transpired between the Father and the Son while the Son hung upon the cross. If this is true, a film that displays the crucifixion but misses the cross might actually prove a hindrance rather than a help to the Christian faith. Even the best movie will still be hampered by a grave weakness.

Words and pictures are very different media, and in the history of redemption, God has used both. For example, in the Old Testament God used words to record prophecies about the coming Messiah while in the tabernacle he provided pictures of the coming Messiah and what he would accomplish—an altar for sacrifice, a lamb to be slaughtered, incense rising to God. Words can tell truth while pictures can display truth.

When it comes to the cross, God has given us four written eyewitness accounts but no visual accounts. Why is this? The Bible doesn’t tell us. What we do know, though, is that every medium has limitations. While visual media are excellent at conveying feelings, they are poorly suited to conveying ideas. Words are able to tell what happened at the cross in a way that pictures cannot.

At the cross we encounter something no picture can tell. Its reality cannot be displayed. Even the eyewitnesses of the cross, those who saw it all unfold, walked away ignorant that day, needing words to explain what had happened there. When we see the crucifixion, our eyes see excruciating physical suffering; when we read about the cross, our hearts recoil at soul-crushing spiritual suffering. When we see the crucifixion, our eyes see soldiers punishing an innocent man; when we read about the cross, our minds grapple with God the Father pouring out his wrath upon his sinless Son. When we see the crucifixion, we see a man stripped naked and slowly dying; when we read about the cross we see Christ Jesus clothed in our unrighteousness. When it comes to understanding the cross, only words will do, only words are sufficient.

David Wells explains this in a powerful way in his new book God in the Whirlwind:

[Crucifixion] was a death that many others had also suffered. In fact, it was an event so common in the first-century Roman world that Jesus’s crucifixion almost passed unnoticed. For the soldiers who carried it out, it was an unexceptional part of their routine. As for the Jewish leaders who had opposed Christ, it was a fitting end to their problem. Soon, they were back to business as usual. And although the resurrection was to happen shortly thereafter, and although the disciples were to be emboldened in their preaching, and although the Holy Spirit was to authenticate what they said by miracles, the historians of that day also missed the significance of this event.

There is a distinction between the crucifixion and the cross. The former was a particularly barbaric way of carrying out an execution, and it was the method of execution that Jesus endured. The latter, as the New Testament speaks of it, has to do with the mysterious exchange that took place in Christ’s death, an exchange of our sin for his righteousness. It was there that our judgment fell on the One who is also our Judge. Indeed, he who had made all of creation was dishonored in the very creation he had made. And yet, through this dark moment, this fierce judgment, through this dishonor, there now shines the light of God’s triumph over sin, death, and the Devil. And in this moment, this moment of Jesus’s judgment-death, God was revealed in his holy-love as nowhere else.

This, however, was not seen from the outside. Besides Christ’s cry of dereliction—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46)—there was little to indicate what was really happening. For that we need to think back to the Old Testament with its prophetic foretelling of the cross and to Jesus’s own expressed understanding of it, and we need to look on to the apostles for their more complete exposition of it. Without this, the meaning of Christ’s death is lost on us. We would see the execution but, without God’s explicating revelation, it would remain mute. It would be a death like any other death except for its disgrace. God must interpret his own actions, and so he has. Without this, we too are mute.

That is why dramatic presentations of Christ’s death, such as on TV and in movies, so often miss the point. They give us the crucifixion, not the cross. They show the horrifying circumstances of his death. These circumstances may be shown accurately. But this can take us only so far. It leaves us with only a biographical Christ, who may be interesting, but not with the eternal Christ whom we need for our salvation. The crucifixion without the cross is an incomplete picture, a half-told story. What is omitted is the meaning of the event. We do not carry this meaning within ourselves, nor can we find it in this world. What eludes us is something we have to be given by God himself, for only he can say what was happening within the Godhead as Christ was killed and, in his death, atoned for our sin. This is indispensable to the meaning of Christian faith. Without it, Christ’s death is only a martyrdom and Christian faith is just a nice, moral religion but one that is neither unique nor uniquely true.

The cross of Christ is not less than the crucifixion, but it is certainly far, far more. Don’t believe you understand more about the cross by witnessing a dramatic recreation of the crucifixion. Before you line up to see Son of God, do at least consider what Wells says: the film leaves us with a biographical Christ, an incomplete picture, a half-told story. Those who see the film without being told the rest of the story may actually understand less about the person and work of Christ than if they had never seen it at all.

Note: A moment ago I said that God has given us no visual representations of the cross, but that is not strictly true. He did give us one: The Lord’s Supper. It may be worth challenging yourself whether you are more excited to see the film or to remember what Christ did at the cross by participating in that God-given picture.

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”Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” – James 4:14

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” – 1 John 3:1-2

Statistics that I have come across estimate that anywhere between 150,000 and 200,000 people die each and every day. The problem with quoting statistics such as this is that numbers of this size tend to be rather impersonal and most of us have a difficult time actually comprehending the magnitude of how many people that these numbers represent.

This fact has been brought to light recently with the passing of a number of famous people, including Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon, and even TV pitchman Billy Mays, but also in my own life. As I mentioned in my last post, our good friend Kathy Wilkinson went home to be with the Lord and caused me to ponder about our own mortality and how it relates to our understanding of the glory of God.

Well, a few weeks ago, one of my dearest friends in the world was hospitalized with what appeared to be a gall bladder problem. Ken Hankins, Pastor of Seven Lakes Baptist Church in West End, NC was my youth pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Madison Heights, VA where my Dad was pastor during my junior and senior year in high school. (Needless to say, we have been friends for a LONG time!) After a number of tests, the diagnosis has come back that they have found both pancreatic and liver cancer, both of which are very aggressive cancers, and the tumors are causing a stomach blockage which in turn has caused him to aspirate food leading to pneumonia. He is currently hospitalized in Charlotte, NC and when the doctors are able to get him stable and his lungs healed, they will send him home to spend time with his family, because there are no more treatment options. Please keep Ken, his wife and three daughters and their families in your prayers.

Ken has been a great friend for most of my life and I cannot think of a better way to honor our friendship than to honor our Lord by sharing the hope that we have in Christ. But in order to do that, we must first understand that to have a cause for hope, there must first be a cause for despair. Because of Adam’s sin (the theological doctrine of “Original Sin”) each and every one of us is born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and is an offense to God, who did not “set” the standard of righteousness, He IS the standard of righteousness. Everything He is and performs is, by definition, righteous. As the Almighty, Eternal, Holy God, He is totally sovereign over all or He is not God at all.

By the fact that He is Holy and Lord over all (whether we acknowledge that or not) He cannot tolerate sin in any fashion. Our nature is so foul to nostrils of God, He even compares our “righteousness” to “filthy rags” in Isaiah 64:6 (some have said that the term “filthy rags” in this particular verse could be translated as “menstrual cloths.”) If this is what our “righteousness” is to God, imagine what our sin is to Him!

God progressively gave us the law in His Word in order to exhibit the standard of His holiness and character (Gal. 3:24-25) and to illustrate that no matter how much we attempt to follow the law, we cannot meet the standard of holiness that He alone has set by His every existence and which is by definition, infinite. For example, if we lie to our child we suffer no immediate consequence. If we lie to our spouse, we sleep on the couch! If we lie to our employer, we get fired. If we lie to the government, we commit perjury and could go to prison. It is the same sin in each case, but the consequence is different due to the level of authority the one to which we lied has over us. It only stands to reason that if the one against whom we have sinned is the infinite standard, there must be an infinite consequence. This is why hell is not only reasonable it is assured for all those who do not measure up to God’s infinite standard. (Rev. 21:8)

It is at this point that many object and say “Well, my god would never send someone to hell. He is a god of love.” And they are absolutely correct, because their “god” does not exist and they have in fact violated the second commandment (Exodus 20:4). They have fashioned a “god” in their own image instead of acknowledging that they were created in the true God’s image.

What they do not realize is that through the progressive revelation of God’s character through the Scriptures, God has revealed that He is a God of justice and holiness (Gen. 17:1; Ps. 62:11; Jer. 32:17; Mat. 19:26; Rev. 1:8, Heb. 1:13; I Pet. 1:15-16; I John 3:3, 5; Rev. 15:4) and because He is just and holy, His character demands that sin must be punished. Since He is perfect by nature, He will not by fiat just forgive us. In fact, if He were to just forgive by fiat, He would be denying his own nature and that is not possible. There must be retribution.

God has laid out the case against us. In our natural state, we are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1b). This means we have no ability to come to God in and of ourselves. A dead man cannot act on anything by his own will. While we have the free will to choose our own particular means of sin, when it comes to salvation, our spirit is dead and is totally unable to make the right choice.

So there is only one verdict for us as lawbreakers. Guilty as charged and an infinite trespass, demands an infinite restitution. Only infinite punishment could be the sentence for our infinite transgression. The Bible is clear that the wrath of God abides on the children of disobedience. (Jn. 3:36, Rom. 1:18, Eph. 5:6, Col. 3:6, Rev. 14:10, Rev. 14:19, Rev.15:1, Rev.15:7, Rev.16:1)

So where is the hope?

It is here that the infinite, sovereign God of the universe implemented His perfect plan of redemption that He set in motion before the foundation of the world itself. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, born of a virgin (the sin nature is passed through the father), lived a sinless life, took on Himself the infinite punishment of all of our sin. Through the cross of Calvary, Jesus, the one who knew no sin, became the sin offering for us (I Cor. 5:21).

What does it take to satisfy the wrath of God? Only a perfect, infinite sacrifice, meaning that only God Himself could pay that price, which is exactly what took place at Calvary. What does it take to become a part of Christ’s reward? Repentance, which is a total forsaking of our sin, and total faith and trust in the work that Christ completed through the cross and His resurrection. (Eph. 2:8-9) Charles Wesley put it best when he wrote, “Amazing love, how can it be, that you my God shouldst die for me?” What amazing grace that the Creator would die for the created!

But the greatest news is
not only that He died in our place, but that three day later, He conquered death by rising from the dead! And now that He lives, we also can live through Him. (Eph. 2:1a) He has made us alive by His grace, through His gift of faith and not by our own works, so that we cannot be arrogant. As the redeemed we are the church, Christ’s bride and His just reward for His suffering! When I came to understand that as His bride, we are the reward for His suffering, it gave me a heart of gratitude for my Lord and Savior that I never had previously.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” John Piper has said that “God is most glorified is us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Our lives here are not about us. We have spent so much time trying to find our “purpose” in this life that we have missed the clear purpose in these simple statements. We are here for the glory of the Lord and for that purpose alone. Phillipians 2 tells us that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The question is when will you do that? Will you do it here and then eventually reap the benefit of the presence of God for all eternity, or will you do it later and spend eternity cursing His name in hell?

Pondering our mortality is a sobering exercise. It can lead us to despair if we have no hope in this life or it can lead to the peace of knowing that all that happens in both heaven and earth is for the glory of God.

Ken has been a faithful servant to our Lord and a wonderful friend to me. I pray for his comfort through this trial as well as for his “ultimate healing.” Mostly, I pray for Mary, his sweet wife as well as his three daughters. This will be hardest on them. Please keep them in your prayers, as they will be in mine.

Ken, you are going home soon and you will be free from the ravages of this pain and suffering. When you get there, be sure to go see Dad. I know he’ll be glad to see you! But most of all, you will finally bow on your knees and cry “Holy! Holy! Holy is the Lord God Almighty!” All I can say is what a wonderful place to be! My dear friend, “I’ll see you when I get home!”

 

“God is too wise to be mistaken,
God is too good to be unkind,
So when you don’t understand, when you can’t see His plan,
When you can’t trace His hand, Trust His heart!”

– Babbie Mason & Eddie Carswell

God’s gifts don’t always come wrapped up in cute little packages tied with matching ribbon. Many times, He allows unimaginable pain and suffering, followed by deep excruciating grief. Such is the journey of a friend of Linda and I, Kathy Aldrich Wilkinson. We first met Kathy in 1987 when she and Linda worked together at Brentwood Records in Franklin, TN. Our friendship grew over the next three years as she went on to work closely with Spirit Bound, the group I joined in December of 1987. After moving to Texas in 1990, we lost touch with Kathy, but we thought of her often with fond memories.

In 2007, we found out through Joel Williams, Spirit Bound's manager, that Kathy was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and was not given a good prognosis. Since that time, Kathy has valiantly fought this giant, but sadly, on June 6, 2009, Kathy went home to be with her Lord, leaving her husband Rodney and children, Nathan and Lauren.

So many things come to mind when a dear friend suffers in this way. Many people question why such a dear person and her family has to endure this level of sorrow and pain. While there are no pat or trite answers, the Bible does offer great comfort to those of us left to live life here in this world. The Apostle Paul gave us great hope in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

— I Corinthians 15: 51-58 (English Standard Version)

One statement in Kathy's chronicling of her struggle stood out to me. “We thank the Lord that I've already beaten the odds given to me by the first doctor,” she said. “I believe God is keeping me here to care for my family and to share my story about Him.” Throughout the whole ordeal, Kathy exhibited the grace of God and is now enjoying the reward that her Lord purchased on the cross.

John Piper. a cancer survivor himself, wrote an incredible piece called “Don't Waste Your Cancer,” where he makes ten points as to why pain of this magnitude is a gift to be used for the glory of God. They are as follows:

1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.

2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.

3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.

4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death.

5. You will waste your cancer if you think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.

6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.

7. You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.

8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope.

9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before.

10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.

The bottom line is that we are not living for this world. If this world was the kingdom that the Lord spoke of, this level of suffering then makes no sense. By showing His grace even through trials, He gives us an incredible longing to be with Him. Last year, when Steven Curtis Chapman lost his 5 year old daughter in a freak accident, I wrote a post entitled “We Can Look To The Future ‘With Hope ‘” with a link to a tribute video to Maria Chapman where I mentioned that it was in the years prior to the accident that God was shaping Steven's theology in order to withstand this tragedy.

So for those of us that remain, if we have trusted Christ in repentance and faith, we will one day see the loved ones that have entered Christ's glory before us and will rejoice in His presence for all of eternity. In the meantime, we need to study His Word and build the rock solid foundation of Biblical theology, worked out every day through prayer and Bible study, and manifesting itself in good works, evangelism, and thanksgiving. It is then we will have our future secure “With Hope!”

(For another incredible journey through the pain of cancer, read the story of Andrew Mark who past away earlier this year from cancer. You can read his wife Grace's journal here.)

Steven Curtis and Maria Chapman

A friend of mine on Facebook sent me a message with this video attached. As many of you know, Steven Curtis Chapman lost his youngest daughter in a tragic accident. I cannot imagine the devastation they must be feeling, however, if you have listened closely to his music all of these years, you understand that long before this tragedy took place, God was working in the heart of Steven and laying the firm foundation of His Word in Steven's heart. It is so important that before any of life's trials come, we must have our theology set in stone. Steven, Mary Beth, and kids, please know that we love you and there are thousands of us praying for you! May the Peace of God keep your hearts and minds for now and until the time you see Maria's beautiful face again in the wonderful presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!