Jesus as Just an Example? (Keller)

Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions by [Timothy Keller]

It is a biblical concept for Christians to imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Thes. 1:6, etc.). Of course we can’t imitate Jesus perfectly, but one aspect of living the Christian life is seeking to being like Christ. When we – with the help of the Spirit – imitate Christ, it brings glory to God and is a blessing to other people. However, we do have to understand that Jesus didn’t come to be just an example. He didn’t only come to show us how to live. Here’s how Tim Keller said it as he reflected on the story where Jesus visited a wedding in Cana (John 2):

“Many people say, ‘I don’t like the church and I don’t accept Christian doctrine. I don’t believe in hell and God’s wrath and blood atonement and all of that. But I really like Jesus. If people just imitated Jesus and followed his teaching, the world would be a better place.’ The problems with that view, as common as it is, are many and profound. If Jesus was thinking about his death at a wedding feast, that meant he was nearly always thinking about his death. He did not come primarily to be a good example. And I’m glad he didn’t. Do you know why? He’s too good! He’s so perfect that as an example he just crushes you into the ground. Anyone who really, seriously, seeks to make him a life model, who pays attention to the details of his character and practice, will despair. He is infinitely beyond us, and comparing yourself to him will only grind your genuine aspirations to moral excellence into hopelessness.

But we see here that he did not come to tell us how to save ourselves but to save us himself. He came to die, to shed his blood, to take the cup of curse and punishment os we can raise the cup of blessing and love. The centrality of Jesus’ death is a most important insight for understanding the Gospels…

Timothy Keller, Encounters with Jesus, p. 76-77.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The “Sharp” Law/Gospel Distinction (Bavinck)

Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation Bavinck, Herman cover image

(This is a re-post from January, 2010)

As you can see in the quote below, Herman Bavinck (d. 1921) well explained the historic Reformed distinction between the law and the gospel.  No doubt Ursinus, Boston, Turretin, Watson, and others would put their stamp of approval on the following quote.  (Note: right before this section Bavinck criticizes the Papacy for making the gospel into a second law and “erasing” the “Pauline antithesis of law and gospel” [even the modern RC catechism uses similar language – cf. Part III, ch III, Art. 1].)

“While, on the one hand, the Reformers held on to the unity of the covenant of grace in its two dispensations against the Anabaptists, on the other hand they also perceived the sharp contrast between law and gospel and thereby again restored the peculiar character of the Christian religion as a religion of grace.  Although in a broad sense the terms ‘law’ and ‘gospel’ can indeed be used to denote the old and the new dispensation of the covenant of grace, in their actual significance they definitely describe two essentially different revelations of divine will.”

“Also the law is the will of God; holy, wise, good, and spiritual; giving life to those who maintain it, but because of sin it has been made powerless, it fails to justify, it only stimulates covetousness, increases sin, arouses wrath, kills, curses, and condemns.  Over against it stands the gospel of Christ, the euangellion, which contains nothing less than the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise, which comes to us from God, has Christ as its content, and conveys nothing other than grace, reconciliation, forgiveness, righteousness, peace, freedom, life, and so forth.”

“In these texts [Bavinck cites around 20 in the above paragraphs] law and gospel are contrasted as demand and gift, as command and promise, as sin and grace, as sickness and healing, as death and life.  Although they agree in that both have God as author, both speak of one and the same perfect righteousness, and both are addressed to human beings to bring them to eternal life, they nevertheless differ in that the law proceeds from God’s holiness, the gospel from God’s grace; the law is known from nature, the gospel only from special revelation; the law demands perfect righteousness, but the gospel grants it; the law leads people to eternal life by works, and the gospel produces good works from the riches of eternal life granted in faith; the law presently condemns people, and the gospel acquits them; the law addresses itself to all people, and the gospel only to those who live within its hearing; and so forth.”

Quotes taken from volume IV of Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, p. 452-3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

He Calls You So Graciously (Zwingli)

Huldreich (Ulrich) Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, was born in 1484, the same year as the German Reformer, Martin Luther. Zwingli is often known today for his memorialist view of the Lord’s Supper. However, there’s a lot more to Zwingli’s labors and teaching than a certain view of the Supper. He did clearly preach the truths of Scripture and criticized the doctrinal and moral abuses of the church in his day. Below is one excellent example found in his published sermon called “The Clarity and Certainty of the Word.”

Illustration: A man is longing for his soul’s salvation, and he asks a Carthusian: Dear brother, what must I do to be saved? And the answer will undoubtedly be this: Enter our order, and you will assuredly be saved, for it is the most rigorous. But ask a Benedictine and he replies: It is worth noting that salvation is easiest in our order, for it is the most ancient. But if you ask a Dominican he will answer: In our order salvation is certain, for it was given from heaven by our Lady. And if you ask a Franciscan, he will say: Our order is the greatest and most famous of all; consider then whether you will find salvation more easily in any other. And if you ask the Pope he will say: It is easiest with an indulgence. And if you ask those of Compostella they will say: If you come here to St. James you will never be lost and you will never be poor.

You see, they all show you some different way, and they all contend fiercely that their way is the right one. But the seeking soul cries out: Alas! whom shall I follow? They all argue so persuasively that I am at a loss what to do. And finally it can only run to God and earnestly pray to him, saying: Oh God, show me which order or which way is the most certain. You fool, you go to God simply that he may distinguish between men, and you do not ask him to show you that way of salvation which is pleasing to him and which he himself regards as sure and certain. Note that you are merely asking God to confirm something which men have told you.

But why do you not say: Oh God, they all disagree amongst themselves; but you are the only, unconcealed good; show me the way of salvation? And the Gospel gives us a sure message, or answer, or assurance. Christ stands before you with open arms, inviting you and saying (Matt. 11): “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” O glad news, which brings with it its own light, so that we know and believe that it is true, as we have fully shown above. For the one who says it is a light of the world. He is the way, the truth and the light. In his Word we can never go astray. We can never be deluded or confounded or destroyed in his Word. If you think there can be no assurance or certainty for the soul, listen to the certainty of the Word of God. The soul can be instructed and enlightened – note the clarity – so that it perceives that its whole salvation and righteousness, or justification, is enclosed in Jesus Christ, and it has therefore the sure comfort that when he himself invites and calls you so graciously he will never cast you out. 

Ulrich Zwingli, “The Clarity and Certainty of the Word”, in Zwingli and Bullinger, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953) p.83-83.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

A Critical, Scolding, Fault-Finding Ministry? (Grimke)

Meditations on Preaching

Sadly, some preaching is full of critical, fault-finding, and inflammatory themes and tones. Some preachers develop a hypercritical attitude and it constantly shows up in their preaching and teaching. All they ever seem to do is criticize other people and positions. And, of course, sometimes laypeople who constantly hear hypercritical sermons develop hypercritical attitudes themselves. All this benefits no one, causes conflicts, and is a dark spot in Christian circles – and sometimes Calvinistic circles specifically. Ironically, sometimes preachers who believe the doctrines of grace don’t always display grace in their preaching and teaching. They might preach about grace, but they preach in a way that is not gracious. Speaking of this, I really like how Francis Grimke addressed this topic:

“A scolding ministry is not likely to be a happy one or a helpful one. It creates an atmosphere that is not favorable to profitable seed-sowing. It indisposes people to listen as they should to what is being said. The truth should be spoken, and spoken plainly, but not in a censorious, fault-finding spirit. People get tired very soon with that kind of ministry. The preacher, if he is wise, will not shut his eyes to what is wrong about [around] him, but it is a mistake for him to be all the time harping on the dark side of things. There is a time for reproof, for rebuke, for calling people sharply to account, but that doesn’t mean that it must be kept up continually. It is a mistake to do so.”

Francis Grimke, Meditations on Preaching, p. 49

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

If That Is Not Darkness…! (Luther)

As most of us know quite well, one biblical way to think about the Lord is that he’s our loving, kind, patient, and good shepherd (Ps. 23, John 10, etc.). He loves us, his sheep, so much that he laid down his life for us. Having the Lord Jesus as our shepherd is a source of amazing comfort in the Christian life.

As Martin Luther lectured on Psalm 23:1 he very clearly pointed out these comforting realities of having Christ as our shepherd. At one point in the lecture he applied the teaching by explaining how many in his day viewed Jesus not as a loving shepherd but as a stern and strict judge. The following quote is a good summary of how the recovery of the gospel was a central part of the Reformation:

From these words we can also see clearly how shamefully we have been led astray under the papacy. It did not depict Christ in so friendly a fashion as did the dear Prophets, Apostles, and Christ Himself, but portrayed Him so horribly that we were more afraid of Him than of Moses and thought that the teaching of Moses was much easier and more friendly than the teaching of Christ. Therefore we knew Christ only as an angry judge, whose anger we had to reconcile with our good works and holy life and whose grace we had to obtaion through the merit and intercession of the dear saints. That is a shameful lie that not only deceives poor consciences miserably but also profanes God’s grace to the extreme, denies Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, etc. together with all His inexpressible blessings, blasphemes and damns His holy Gospel, destroys faith, and sets up in its place nothing but horror, lies, and error.

If that is not darkness then I do not know what darkness is. Up to now no one was able to notice it, but everyone considered it the pure truth. To the present day our papists wish to have it preserved as right and hence shed much innocent blood. Dear friend, if we can feed and rule ourselves, protect ourselves against error, gain grace and forgiveness of sins through our own merit, resist the devil and all misfortune, conquer sin and death – then all Scripture must be a lie when it testifies of us that we are lost, scattered, wounded, weak, and defenseless sheep. Then we do not need a Christ either as a shepherd who would seek, gather, and direct us, bind up our wounds, watch over us, and strengthen us against the devil. Then He has also given His life for us in vain. For as long as we can do and gain al these things through our own powers and piety, we do not need the help of Christ at all.

Martin Luther, Psalm 23, Luther’s Works, volume 12, page 156.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015