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Archive for the ‘Biblical theology’ Category

Owning the wrath of God

Still pursuing my rekindled love of reading theology, I have started on an article by Don Carson on the wrath of God.

I was a bit naughty and skipped to the end. He has 4 concluding practical implications:

From flickr by yajgraphics

  1. There is a sense in which we should be wrathful as God is wrathful (Rom 12.9: “Hate what is evil”)
  2. The wrath of God enhances our grasp of God’s love, it does not diminish it.
  3. There must be some sense in which God is praised for his wrath (rather than evoke embarrassment)
  4. We should shed tears. Carson tells the account of a Jewish-Christian believer on a radio panel, who was asked whether anyone could be saved apart from Christ. His ethnic background was known, and so when it was his turn to speak, the radio program host baited him by asking if he thought his fellow Jews could be saved apart from Christ. Carson tells of how “This Christian brother began to weep, and then to sob quietly, uncontrollably. After a minute or two, the host said he had never heard a more compelling reason to become a Christian.

This is all very helpful, and I’m looking forward to reading what comes first!

At the same time, I wonder whether these conclusions could be strengthened – yes, you guessed it – by reference to the way that the wrath of God is a thing to be rejoice d in precisely because it is God’s holy response to all that is evil and destructive of life.

I’m currently on a minor prophets kick in my devotions, and am up to Nahum. Cop this for the way to start a prophecy:

A jealous and avenging God is the Lord, the Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries, and rages against his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger, but great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.

And Nahum goes on to speak these words of encouragement, to those who were suffering great evil at the hands of Assyria. It’s in the furnace that the wrath of God makes most sense!

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One of the issues the fellowship group I’m part of regularly wrestles is the difference between the Old and New Covenants – what’s new about the NC?  This is the big question of Biblical Theology. One answer holds that the difference was grace. The New Covenant is a covenant of grace, the Old was a covenant of works. Some said that directly, others said that the Jews between the close of the Old Testament (around 400 BC) and the New Testament corrupted an original Old Covenant of grace. Either way, what’s new is grace.

But I’m not so sure. It seems to me that the Old Covenant was always a covenant of grace, and that’s because it was a covenant by election, and election is always pure sovereign grace. All the major covenantal passages (eg. Gen 12.1-3, Gen 15.1-6, Deut 6-7) hammer these themes – election, therefore grace.

So, if grace is not the difference, what is? And what was wrong with the Old Covenant that meant a new one was needed? A more fruitful train of thought is that the Old Covenant had been abused – almost from the beginning – as a reason for presumption. The elect people of God presumed on their election, and that presumption led to sin. In other words, the problem with the Old Covenant was it did not change the heart (or what Paul calls the flesh), so that when sinful hearts met election, they became presumptuous and sinned in their presumption – and on top of that, were exclusive of gentiles, and not the light of the world that they were called to be. This is the constant complaint of all the prophets (see especially Jer 7.1-15, but they all have basically the same message); this is what Jesus says is wrong with the Pharisees (Matt 23), and this is what Paul says is wrong with the Jews (Rom 2.17-29).

The great new thing of the new covenant, therefore, is the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2, Rom 7-8), and the inclusion of the gentiles because the righteousness of God is now revealed and enacted through Jesus, apart from the Law (Rom 3.21). The thing that the New Covenant has in common with the Old is that salvation is all of grace  – the pure free gift of the gracious Living Lord, now brought to completion in his death and resurrection.

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The most stimulating thing I have heard for a long time is a series of talks by Tim Keller on application in sermons.

His starting point is that application can’t be mere moralism, a kind of sanctification by working really hard, as compared to justification by faith.

I’ll write more tomorrow, but what do you think sanctification by faith might look like?

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