Living Out Unity in Christ

July 22, 2023

This lesson is based on Ephesians 4:1-16, delivered at the Northwest Christian Convention in Turner, OR, on July 30, 2023.

God Chose Us In Christ

July 17, 2023

This is lesson was delivered at the Northwest Christian Convention in Turner, Oregon, on June 28, 2023.

The message is based on Ephesians 1:3-14.

Jesus Washes Feet (John 13): Receiving and Giving Grace

June 26, 2023

Text: John 13:1-17

The sermon begins at about minute 43 at this link.

Through washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus teaches us to receive grace even when we feel unworthy and full of shame, and he also teaches us to follow his example of giving grace by serving others.

“I Desire Mercy, not Sacrifice”–At Matthew’s House and New Wine for New Wineskins

June 23, 2023

Text: Matthew 9:9-17

Jesus uses Hosea 6:6 to critique the criticism of some who objected to his eating with “tax collectors and sinners.”

The point? Jesus pursues mercy for the sake of healing, and this is at the heart of kingdom living. It is pouring new wine into wineskins.

Chosen Conversations

June 21, 2023

Season 1, Episode 5.

Available on Podcast here.

Available on Vimeo here.

Stan Wilson, Haley Villacorta, David Villacorta, and I have begun a series of podcasts/videos about “The Chosen” produced and directed by Dallas Jenkins.

These conversations seek to explore one dimension of “The Chosen” per episode. This week we focus on Mary, the Wedding in Cana, and first movements of opposition in the first season.

The first public miracle–turning water into wine at the Cana Wedding–revealed the presence of the Messiah in Israel. It inaugurated the public ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of John. As his ministry became more public, opposition also grew.

Join us for the conversation!

Proverbs 9: Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly

June 6, 2023

Begins at the 45 minute mark.

This sermon was delivered at the Cedar Lane Church of Christ at Tullahoma, TN, on June 4, 2023.

On Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly in Proverbs 9, see also this blog.

Holy Trinity Homily

June 5, 2023

This brief homily is based on the the lectionary readings from Genesis 1-2:4a, Psalm 8, Matthew 28:16-20, and 2 Corinthians 13:13.

The love of God is expressed in creation and in the story of redemption (including the sending of the Son and the sending of the Spirit).

The grace of Jesus Christ is the gift of himself as the one through whom we receive the grace that saves.

The communion of the Holy Spirit is a participation in the dynamic of love that is the intimacy of the Triune God.

2 Corinthians 13:13 summarizes the gospel story.

Chosen Conversations

June 2, 2023

Season 1, Episode 4.

Available on Podcast here.

Available on Vimeo here.

Stan Wilson, Haley Villacorta, David Villacorta, and I have begun a series of podcasts/videos about “The Chosen” produced and directed by Dallas Jenkins.

These conversations seek to explore one dimension of “The Chosen” per episode. This week we focus on Matthew in the first season.

Matthew, a rejected and marginalized person in the Jewish community, is a wealthy tax collector within the Roman system. How does the Chosen uniquely but helpfully portray the story of Matthew’s job, curiosity, and ultimately faith as he decides to follow Jesus when Jesus invites him.

Join us for the conversation!

Union with Christ: The Central Soteriological Claim

June 1, 2023

I have now read the sixth of twelve books suggested by FB friends. This one was recommended by Clayton Homewood.  This is my summary.

Marcus Peter Johnson, One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

Salvation, according to historic Christianity, is our personal union with the living Christ, our inclusion in the person of Christ. “Christ is our salvation,” and “our union with the living Christ is,” Johnson writes, “what it means to be saved.” Johnson provides a solid and helpful defense of this approach to soteriology. Historically, this is not a new position, of course. Early patristic writers stand in this tradition along with Calvin, and I affirm it myself.

“The mysterious reality of our union with Jesus Christ,” he writes, “by which he dwells in us and we in him, is so utterly essential to the gospel that to obscure it inevitably leads to the obscuring of the gospel itself.” This obfuscation happens when, among other things, one (1) identifies the “benefits” of Christ’s work as abstract or forensic (“depersonalized”) gifts, (2) understands salvation individualistically, and (3) divorces soteriology from the church and its sacraments. This corrective emphasizes a personal, organic, and participatory soteriology that understands any legal or forensic aspects of salvation as secondary, an effect of union with Christ.

The personal mutual indwelling of the living Son in us and we in the Son is the source of a healthy understanding of the meaning of salvation. This mystical union is the source of all the benefits God shares with us through the living Christ. This mystery is inexplicable, but it is a reality we apprehend and describe through the story of God in Christ and we also experience in the power of the Spirit. In other words, Johnson has much in common with the Eastern Orthodox notion of theosis (participating in the life of God) which is also part of Catholic and Protestant traditions in some authors (e.g., Thomas Aquinas, Calvin, etc.).

After defining union with Christ and its role in the history of theology, Johnson interprets the meaning of justification, sanctification, adoption, preservation, and glorification through this lens. These are inseparable benefits and gifts that come to us, he argues, because we are united with Christ.

At this point, I offer one caution. The book’s subtitle should perhaps read “Reformed” (i.e., Calvinist) rather than “Evangelical” (i.e., which would include non-Reformed theologians and believers). He mostly cites Reformed sources, though he occasionally utilizes authors from other traditions. His interpretation of the various dimensions of salvation are consistently Reformed. Indeed, Johnson represents a healthy form of Reformed theology that corrects some of the distortions of Reformed theology often found in contemporary advocates of Calvinism. In this way, he follows—for example—Torrance more than Piper or Grudem.

I think the major contribution of the book is not only reorienting evangelical (particularly Reformed) theology toward union with Christ as the central claim about salvation but also his incorporation of church and sacrament in this understanding of union with Christ. “Salvation is a communal reality,” and there is a sense in which there is no salvation outside of the church because we are all joined to each other through our union with Christ. This community celebrates and participates in this union through the sacraments, including the preaching of gospel and enactment of the gospel through baptism and the Lord’s supper.

In the two chapters on church and sacraments, Johnson provides a healthy and bold return to early Reformed (especially Calvin) tenets. Because the church actually participates in the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and glorified Christ, it is the body of Christ. This is no figure of speech but an actual mystical union with Christ. It is no simile but real. He writes, since “it is an actual union with the incarnate person of Christ, who has a body—then we have reason to” affirm that “Paul’s body language is similarly realistic,” that is, it explains or points to a “reality.” The church is ”truly and actually” the body of Christ.

The importance of this point should not be undervalued. Cyril of Alexandria reminds us of its significance (quoted by Johnson): “So it is that the church is body of Christ, and we are its members. For since we are all united to Christ through this sacred body having received that one indivisible body into our own, our members are not our own but his.” The nature of our unity in the body is mystical because it is through our union with Christ. While the church continually seeks to embody that unity in visible forms, it often fails because we still live in the present age. Nevertheless, we are already united in Christ even as the church continually seeks communal sanctification. As disciples of Jesus, we seek to express this real mystical union with Christ and each other through visible and concrete means, though the process of sanctification continues and thus the visible unity is often flawed in its expression.

Union with Christ also entails that the sacraments have a realistic meaning. Water, bread, and wine “refer to, and bring us to participate in, the reality to which they point, namely, Jesus Christ.” In other words, the sacraments are not bare or empty signs but effective signs that provide a means of grace by which we participate in the reality of Christ himself. Thus, “God employs visible, created, physical means to save us and bless us,” and this is true only because Christ is the foundational sacrament (incarnated in the flesh) and the Spirit effectively uses creation to distribute grace. Thus, as Johnson writes, “Christ is the sacramental presence of God mediated to us (through faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit) in Word and sacrament.” This is a renewal of historic Reformed (in the Calvin tradition rather than the Zwingli one) understanding of the sacraments. Alexander Campbell himself was an heir of this Calvinian tradition (he even approvingly quotes Calvin on baptism, for example; cf. “Calvin on Baptism,” Millennial Harbinger 4 [November 1833], 543-47, ending the article with this statement: “We leave it to the good sense of the reader, whether John Calvin ought not to be called a Campbellite as well as the Apostle Peter”). Indeed, in the visible church and its sacraments, we concretely and visibly participate in Christ through our union wit Christ.

This particular summary near the end of the book provides a helpful perspective which permeates this book:  “The union [with Christ] does not exist merely in our minds or wills, it is not merely a legal or moral union, and neither is it a mere mental assent to the saving word of Christ in the past. It is, rather, a union with the present, living Lord Jesus Christ in the fullness of his saving person, and it occurs through (without being reduced to) faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit. This means, of course, that in order to save us, Christ must have been really, personally present to us. He, in his own person, gathered us into himself so that we might enjoy all the benefits he secured for us.”

Returning to Eden (But Much More): Judgment, Renewal, and Cosmic Peace

May 31, 2023

Texts: Revelation 20:11-15; 21:1-7; 22:1-5

Days 78-80 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

What will “heaven” be like? It is the place where God dwells within a renewed creation, filled with renewed relationships, and an ever deepening intimacy with God, each other, and the creation itself. It is a dynamic of loving intimacy that continually grows without envy, jealousy, violence, and broken relationships. It is not static but dynamic.

Judgment is that process by which God separates evil from good. This separation not only identifies and clarifies the reality of evil, but it also refines and purifies people so that god’s people are fully perfected in the love of God. Judgment is the moment when evil is identified, humanity examined, the earth is purified by fire, and the people of God—fully sanctified by the love of God—are invited into the new creation to live upon a new earth where righteousness dwells.

The new Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God, descends upon the new heaven and new earth to fill the new creation with the glory of God. It is God’s own presence joined in fellowship with God’s people. The creation will never again be filled with pain, sorrow, and death but with joy and life. The curse has been removed, and life will flourish. Having made all things new, the people of God inherit the fullness of the Abrahamic promise, including a people that includes all nations and a land in which to flourish.

This new reality is described as a city with a garden where living water brings life to the cosmos. There is no temple there nor is there any night because God dwells there and fills the city with God’s presence and light, that is, with God’s glory. This is the fundamental goal: God dwells with the creation. Every morning God will be new to the creation because we will never exhaust God’s glory and person, and the creation will enjoy a dynamic communion with God.

In this new creation, humanity is serves the one who sits on the throne, worships God and the Lamb, and reigns with them forever. The original vocation of humanity is renewed—they will reign with God within the new creation.

This reign entails that they will continue to fill the earth with God’s glory as they live in communion with God and each other. They will cultivate the earth through their reign. We might imagine that humanity will continue to create art, songs, literature, etc. as they renew their vocation in the new creation. What exactly that looks like no one really (or certainly fully) knows. But perhaps we can say, it is more than we could ever imagine.

Lord, come quickly.