Monthly Archives: February 2016

Where Are Your Sins?

Where are your sins? The question must be answered by all. Those who refuse the legitimacy of the question deny the fundamental flaw of humanity.

J. C. Ryle posed that question at the end of a sermon that he began with the point obvious to most of us: you have many sins. “Every ten years of your life your have sinned, at the lowest computation, more than one hundred thousand sins.” (2 sins per hour, 15 hours per day, remembering that thoughts, words, and deeds can all be offensive to God).

He proceeds in this way:

  1. You have many sins
  2. It is of the utmost importance to have our sins cleansed away
  3. You cannot cleanse away your own sins
  4. The blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse away all your sins
  5. Faith is absolutely necessary, and the only thing necessary, in order to give you an interest in the cleansing blood of Christ.

“The atoning blood of the Son of God is the grand exhibition of God’s love toward sinners.”  In the blood of Jesus, Ryle says, we see the love of God most clearly. Or as John Owen puts it, “In the pouring out of his love, there is not one drop that falls to us apart from the Lord Christ.” [1]

Ryle concludes by asking, “Where are your sins?” There is no important question for us to settle in our hearts and minds. “I tell you that at this moment there are only two places in which your sins can be, and I defy the wisdom of the world to find out a third. Either your sins are upon yourself, unpardoned, unforgiven, uncleansed, inducing misery upon yourself. Or else your sins are upon Christ, taken away, forgiven, blotted out and cleansed away.” So the question stands, where are your sins?

The Christian must hear this question and immediately say to himself, “Cling to Christ.” Our sins are decidedly upon him, so they must no longer bring condemnation (Romans 8:1). Guilt leading to repentance must be followed by joy and a sense of freedom. But guilt leading to despair has no ground in reality for those whose sins are upon Christ.

The troubling anxiety caused by awareness of sin must be countered not by suppressing  guilt or by recycling prayers of repentance, but rather by clinging to Christ and recalling the greatness of his mercy (Romans 5:20).

 

[1] John Owen, Communion With God (Christian Heritage, 2007), 57.

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Appointed to Good Works (thoughts on reading Titus)

I’ve been reading through the apostle Paul’s short letter to Titus over the past week. Last year I actually read through the Bible, but as many have also experienced, the project left little time for deep thought. So this year, I started the project of reading through each book of the Bible twenty times. Titus is the fifth book I’ve gotten to since January 1, 2016. Since I’m doing the short ones first.

As I was reading Titus this week, I was struck by the emphasis on good works from beginning to end (godliness in 1:1, devoted to good works, 3:14).

In the twin peaks of the gospel sections (2:11-14 and 3:4-8), salvation is portrayed not in terms of the substitution of Christ’s death in our place, nor even in terms of erasure of guilt. There’s no mention of forgiveness. But rather, the “salvation that has appeared” is portrayed as an appointment unto a new way of life (2:11-12).

We were brought out of lawlessness in order to be pure and zealous for good works (2:14). And the whole “gospel saying” of 3:4-7 is aimed at provoking devotion to good works (3:8, “…so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works”).

Every major piece of the letter revolves around the exercise of good works. The elder’s way of life should be above reproach. The way of life of the false teachers is denying God by their works; they are unfit for any good work (1:16). The various demographics of 2:1-10 should each learn what kind of actions are in accord with sound doctrine in their particular sphere (2:1, cf. 1:1). And so on.

So what? I think Paul has a few different gears for speaking about the effects of salvation. Other letters from his hand seem to focus more on penal substitution, which I think constitutes the core of the gospel message. But Paul also seems comfortable here in Titus to speak of salvation largely as an appointment to good works.

The challenge is to try to capture this balance in our preaching and teaching, giving the weight to whatever passage we’re in, but also acknowledging the other lenses through which the gospel might be viewed.

Oddly Symmetrical Qualities in Jesus

Christus_Ravenna_MosaicA friend pointed out to me, “God has wired us with personalities that are double edge swords, as it were. Each sword has a side to defend and deliver and another that can bring destruction. The key is building on the good and mitigating the weak. I think we underestimate the complexity of our human personalities as well as the personality of Jesus.” It’s true. Our experience of personality traits usually finds that particular strengths also have associated weaknesses. In this sense our personalities are asymmetrical.

But Jesus has a striking symmetry of personality. His gentleness and tenderness toward the woman in Matthew 9—“Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well”—is oddly matched by boldness and severity in Matthew 23, where he excoriates the Pharisees for their religious oppression. Warmth in the one case, force in the other. Perfectly combined in one person.

This calls for reflection on the nature of our personalities. Where we see particular strengths, we must be careful to cultivate Christlikeness in the associated weakness.

It’s also a caution for us to be tethered to Scripture in our thoughts about Jesus. The way we conceive of Jesus will more or less unfold into a blueprint for living. If we think of him as a social revolutionary, or a religious genius, or a wise sage, or merely forgiver of sins, in each case our way of life will reflect our thoughts about him.

So we must not be too narrow in our thoughts of him. He is at least all four of these things (revolutionary, sage, genius, forgiver) but also much more. Our thoughts of him must be always expanding and never contracting.