Saturday, June 30, 2012

Does Eternal Punishment Fit the Crime?

In the discussion in our Life Group meeting earlier in the week, the question arose: how could crimes committed in a finite period of time justly merit an eternal punishment?

The best explanation that I have come across is from the pen of Jonathan Edwards.  He wrote (it's long and nearly 300 years old, but make the effort to think this through):

A crime is more or less heinous, according as we are under greater or less obligations to the contrary. This is self-evident; because it is herein that the criminalness or faultiness of any thing consists, that it is contrary to what we are obliged or bound to, or what ought to be in us. So the faultiness of one being hating another, is in proportion to his obligation to love him. The crime of one being despising and casting contempt on another, is proportionably more or less heinous, as he was under greater or less obligations to honour him. The fault of disobeying another, is greater or less, as any one is under greater or less obligations to obey him. And therefore if there be any being that we are under infinite obligations to love, and honour, and obey, the contrary towards him must be infinitely faulty.

Our obligation to love, honour, and obey any being, is in proportion to his loveliness, honourableness, and authority; for that is the very meaning of the words. When we say any one is very lovely, it is the same as to say, that he is one very much to be loved. Or if we say such a one is more honourable than another, the meaning of the words is, that he is one that we are more obliged to honour. If we say any one has great authority over us, it is the same as to say, that he has great right to our subjection and obedience.

But God is a being infinitely lovely, because he hath infinite excellency and beauty. To have infinite excellency and beauty, is the same thing as to have infinite loveliness. He is a being of infinite greatness, majesty, and glory; and therefore he is infinitely honourable. He is infinitely exalted above the greatest potentates of the earth, and highest angels in heaven; and therefore he is infinitely more honourable than they. His authority over us is infinite; and the ground of his right to our obedience is infinitely strong; for he is infinitely worthy to be obeyed himself, and we have an absolute, universal, and infinite dependence upon him.

So that sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving of infinite punishment.- Nothing is more agreeable to the common sense of mankind, than that sins committed against any one, must be proportionably heinous to the dignity of the being offended and abused; as it is also agreeable to the word of God, I Samuel 2:25. "If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him;" (i.e. shall judge him, and inflict a finite punishment, such as finite judges can inflict;) "but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him?" This was the aggravation of sin that made Joseph afraid of it. Genesis 39:9. "How shall I commit this great wickedness, and sin against God?" This was the aggravation of David's sin, in comparison of which he esteemed all others as nothing, because they were infinitely exceeded by it. Psalm 51:4. "Against thee, thee only have I sinned."-The eternity of the punishment of ungodly men renders it infinite: and it renders it no more than infinite; and therefore renders no more than proportionable to the heinousness of what they are guilty of.

This man's utter God-centeredness is such a blessing.  For the highly ambitious, here is whole essay from which this quote is taken: The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Encourage Your Pastors

I realize this may seem a bit self-serving, but since the Scriptures command church members to relate to their leaders in such a way that they find their ministry a joy (Hebrews 13:17), I figured I'd take that risk.  Brian Croft (who has an excellent blog for pastors) writes of five ways to encourage your pastors:

1) Share appreciation for how hard he works.  Maybe the most hurtful words a pastor and his wife can hear are not, “Bad sermon” or “that was a dumb decision” or “I don’t like the way you do that.”  Rather I submit words that imply this message can be the most hurtful, “You are lazy.”  Because of this, some of the most encouraging words a pastor and his wife can hear are words of gratefulness for how hard he works to preach faithfully and care for God’s people.

2) Give specific feedback to a sermon.  I’m not talking about the slap on the back, “Nice sermon” comment.  Instead be specific…”that insight into the text was really helpful, or that application really met me where I am struggling.”

3) Acknowledge the sacrifice of his family.  This will encourage his wife and children, but it will also be very meaningful to the pastor.  The pastor knowing you are thinking of his family can often times mean more than you thinking of him.

4) Reveal how you have spiritually grown under his ministry.  This is one thing a pastor labors to hear and hopes is taking place all over his congregation.  Stop keeping him in suspense and tell him so he knows.

5) Tell him how you specifically pray for him.  Your pastor of all people should know the significance of prayer.  The most meaningful things I hear isn’t, “I prayed for you” but, “I prayed that your sermon would be powerfully preached and eagerly received, or I prayed God would protect you and your family from the enemy through this important week.”

If not in these ways, find some way to encourage your pastor this week.  Never underestimate how meaningful and well-timed it can be when God would so lead you to do so.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Doctrine of Hell

The other night, my Life Group got into a pretty challenging, sobering discussion on the biblical teaching of hell.  Here are a couple of resources (one from Tim Keller, the other from John Piper) on the doctrine of hell, and why it is important:

The Importance of Hell, by Tim Keller
The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell, by John Piper

And I'm always mindful of a statement from Don Carson on this subject (I'm paraphrasing): if we can discuss or think about these things without tears in our eyes, we betray the character of Jesus even though our doctrinal knowledge might be orthodox.  

Friday, June 15, 2012

Newness of Life

Yesterday morning (after a very rough night of sleep for our family) I texted my wife:

As surely as Jesus is raised from the dead, you have power today to walk in newness of life.

I grounded that in Paul's statement to the Romans:   

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4 ESV)

It is true today, and every day, until we see Him face to face.  Through union with Jesus, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and the very power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us who believe.  While I cherish the gospel truth that we are made right with God and secure in His love through no work of our own, but simply be resting in Christ's perfect obedience in our behalf, let's not minimize the fact that one gospel blessing we get through our union with Jesus is resurrection power to walk in newness of life and bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4). 

Christians, let's stop whining and complaining that we just can't obey Him.  Yes, there is a real struggle between the flesh and the Spirit, and sometimes the struggle just seems too hard to bear.  But the key word there is "seems."  You, Christian, have power to say no to sin.  Power to put sin to death.  Ultimately, "I can't..." is not a knock on yourself, but a knock on the One who dwells in you.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Gospel-Driven Sanctification

In our church, we talk a lot about the gospel being crucial not only to our justification (how we are brought into right standing with God), but also our sanctification (the progressive work of being made more like Jesus in our practice).  In this video, Don Carson puts a little flesh and blood on that reality:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Forgiveness & Reconciliation

My friend Jason Tyrell preached an excellent message yesterday morning from Luke 6 on loving our enemies.  Those who want to think through in more depth on how to love our enemies, and how to see relationships heal that have been fractured, may be helped by this article from Tim Keller.

The gospel is vividly on display when sinners learn how to love one another in the midst of hurt and misunderstanding.  So articles like this are beneficial in learning how to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior (Titus 2:10).

Friday, June 8, 2012

The One You Need

Makes me want to go home right now and hug my girls...what a gift: