“I will rejoice over them to do them good.”—Jeremiah 32:41.
How heart-cheering to the believer is the delight which God has in His saints! We cannot see any reason in ourselves why the Lord should take pleasure in us; we cannot take delight in ourselves, for we often have to groan, being burdened; conscious of our sinfulness, and deploring our unfaithfulness; and we fear that God’s people cannot take much delight in us, for they must perceive so much of our imperfections and our follies, that they may rather lament our infirmities than admire our graces. But we love to dwell upon this transcendent truth, this glorious mystery: that as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so does the Lord rejoice over us. We do not read anywhere that God delighteth in the cloud-capped mountains, or the sparkling stars, but we do read that He delighteth in the habitable parts of the earth, and that His delights are with the sons of men. We do not find it written that even angels give His soul delight; nor doth He say, concerning cherubim and seraphim, “Thou shalt be called Hephzibah, for the Lord delighteth in thee”; but He does say all that to poor fallen creatures like ourselves, debased and depraved by sin, but saved, exalted, and glorified by His grace. In what strong language He expresses His delight in His people! Who could have conceived of the eternal One as bursting forth into a song? Yet it is written, “He will rejoice over thee with joy, He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing.” As He looked upon the world He had made, He said, “It is very good”; but when He beheld those who are the purchase of Jesus’ blood, His own chosen ones, it seemed as if the great heart of the Infinite could restrain itself no longer, but overflowed in divine exclamations of joy. Should not we utter our grateful response to such a marvellous declaration of His love, and sing, “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation?”
I came across a video by Glen Scrivener yesterday morning. I think it follows on quite well from Wednesday’s post which was based on a thought-provoking tweet from Glen. In that post I tried to put a bit of flesh on the bones of his tweet. He was basically pointing towards the need for Christians (and certainly preachers) to have a right understanding of the gospel, of atonement, of salvation and relationship with God through union with Jesus, and the need for that gospel to be preached.
Glen, who is a full-time evangelist, has been working on his own gospel presentation materials. Over a number of years he’s seen that there are numerous “Achilles heels” in many traditional gospel presentations. Some fall down in key areas because they haven’t really been thought through. Some are the result of a tendency in our churches to look away from the person of Jesus and his work, and at ourselves. We pursue holiness, maturity, humility — any number of a long laundry list of characteristics that God desires. But we forget that the Father sent his Son that we may have him. And in him receive a righteousness from God.
You’ll recognize the gospel analogies used in this video (oneness/in-grafting/marriage) because they’re the ones God uses in scripture. That in mind, we should probably use them more when thinking about and explaining the gospel! The result: Christians will not be burdened so much by a fruitless, introspective, works-based approach to life, and unbelievers will not be turned in on themselves in self-salvation projects. They’ll see Jesus and they’ll know he is offered to them freely. That really is good news.
Here is what Glen has come up with:
Almighty God, as I cross the threshold of this day I commit myself, soul, body, affairs, friends, to Thy care. Watch over, keep, guide, direct, sanctify, bless me. Incline my heart to thy ways. Mould me wholly into the image of Jesus, as a potter forms clay. May my lips be a well-tuned harp to sound Thy praise. Let those around see me living by Thy Spirit, trampling the world underfoot, unconformed to lying vanities, transformed by a renewed mind, clad in the entire armour of God, shining as a never-dimmed light, showing holiness in all my doings. Let no evil this day soil my thoughts, words, hands.
May I travel miry paths with a life pure from spot or stain. In needful transactions let my affection be in heaven, and my love soar upwards in flames of fire, my gaze fixed on unseen things, my eyes open to the emptiness, fragility, mockery of earth and its vanities. May I view all things in the mirror of eternity, waiting for the coming of my Lord, listening for the last trumpet call, hastening unto the new heaven and earth. Order this day all my communications according to Thy wisdom, and to the gain of mutual good. Forbid that I should not be profited or made profitable. May I speak each word as if my last word, and walk each step as my final one. If my life should end today, let this be my best day.
A recent tweet from Glen Scrivener that’s worth thinking about:
No wonder Christians are so burdened. They keep getting told Jesus “cleared a way” so that *they* can have a relationship with God.
It’s interesting to think about this. It’s often the way we hear Jesus explained. So when I become a Christian Jesus goes on ahead of me to make a way through to God, but then he stands aside so I can approach God the Father directly. The Christian life is taught as if I relate to God the Father directly, not because of my union with Jesus the Mediator, but because of a single act Jesus carried out in my past.
If this is our understanding of the gospel then we’re really going to struggle to keep Jesus at the centre because frankly we don’t need him any more. This understanding of the gospel focuses on God forgiving us (as a past historical event, done through Jesus) but it has little more to say about the role of Jesus.
And it seems to lead to a self-oriented (man-centred) approach to the Christian life: Now it’s down to me as someone who was forgiven when I became a Christian to live the life God wants me to live. But am I doing it? How serious am I about God? Am I on fire? I think that’s the burden Glen is talking about.
But, in fact, there is more to the gospel than this!
We are not only forgiven. We are made sons (women, too — we’re all given the status of a first born son. Honoured, and with full inheritance rights).
Yes, the negative is cancelled as our sin is forgiven (resulting in the absence of debt) but, much more than that, IN CHRIST we are actually given a “positive” righteousness. The Father doesn’t look at us sitting way below him in a heavenly court of law and say “good, you are no longer a debtor, you will not pay the death penalty”. No, he draws us into himself in his son and cries out “you are my son with whom I am well pleased!”. A father-child relationship is not just the absence of enmity! It is the presence of love!
So the gospel can’t just be “your sins are forgiven. Now, with God’s help, get on with being all that you should be, and doing all that God requires”. (The “with God’s help” part is slotted in there because otherwise it would sound like a gospel of works, and we all know the gospel is not a gospel of works. But just slotting those words in doesn’t stop our overall theology of Christian living taking on a strong flavour of works.)
Looking at it this way Jesus’ job is done. Now it’s all down to me to relate to God the right way. I have to figure out Christian discipline, I have to read my Bible more, pray more, love God more, love others more. I have to do the things God the Father requires. All without looking to Jesus, whose work and functional worth is in my past. This is a “snow plough Jesus” theology. It allows us to dispense with Jesus once he has cleared the path for us to get into the Kingdom. Of course we don’t intend to dispense with Jesus — that’s the last thing we want to do. But functionally/in practice, that’s what we’re doing.
In reality the gospel is “your sins are forgiven and, by the way, Jesus already is all that you should be, and has already done all that God the Father requires. And you are now in Jesus.” IN HIM you are a son of God. IN HIM you are a son of righteousness. IN HIM you are a co-heir of the Kingdom. IN HIM God is well pleased with YOU as he is with Jesus himself. This way Jesus becomes a daily reality and a daily need.
Jesus is a living Person, not just a part of the mechanism of salvation. To be a Christian is not only to be forgiven but to be drawn into the life of God in Christ by the Spirit.
The basis of all that you long to be and do for the glory of God is your union with him. Struggling with sin? Your union and communion with Jesus is the answer. See his beauty and what the world offers you will become increasingly foul. Struggling with fear? Bring your anxiety to Jesus in prayer. Tell him. Struggling with spiritual dryness? See and hear Jesus in the pages of Scripture. Feed on the Word in the word. Receive him.
If you’re a Christian the basis on which you approach the Lord each day cannot be that Jesus has just “cleared the way” to God. Rather it’s that you’re in Jesus and, in him, God is yours and you are God’s. His Spirit dwells within you, enlivening you, opening your eyes and changing your heart. You are now caught up in the life, love, and communion of the Godhead. You have been joined with God himself! It’s stunning. It’s beyond understanding. It’s good news.
That a distant Jesus, at one point in your life, opened the way for you to move, self-propelled, into the presence of a court-room-judge-God. Not such good news. But that’s where we end up with snow plough theology.
Let’s drink in the gospel this week! Let’s look to the person of Christ each day. What a different approach we’ll have to Christian discipline, reading the Bible, prayer. Will our hearts not be warmed toward God and others as we consider Jesus each new morning and revel in our union with him?
Christian don’t ignore Jesus today, turning in on yourself in an effort to change your own heart, or trying please God with your own works. You have a Mediator, one appointed by God himself. He mediates day and night, and your union with him is the sole reason you can cry “Abba Father” with absolute confidence.
Know that your life rests on Jesus being all that Jesus is, and Jesus having done all that Jesus has done. Each day step onto that Rock with both feet and trust that your full weight will be held.
Know that you are much loved and that your life is hidden in Christ. Today you are found in him and he died, rose, ascended, and is at the right hand of God the Father. In the words of Martin Luther: “Where he is there you shall be also”.
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”