“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.

Three Resurrections: Making All Things New

May 24, 2023

Texts: 1 Corinthians 15:21-28; 50-57; 2 Peter 2:11-13

Days 75-77 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

The voice from the throne announced, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Ultimately and finally, God makes all things new through resurrection.

Though Jesus was seemingly defeated by the powers in his death, God vindicated him through resurrection. When Jesus came to life again, this was no mere resuscitation but the birth of new creation itself. The body of Jesus was transformed from a life animated by flesh and blood into a body animated by the Spirit of God. His human resurrection body still participated in creation (materiality) but was now enlivened by the immortal life of God’s Spirit.

The resurrection of Jesus is the first fruit of a new humanity as part of this new creation. When we were baptized into Christ, we were baptized into his resurrection to walk a new life in the present and participate in his new creation resurrection in the future. In other words, the resurrection of Jesus entails our resurrection. Our mortal bodies will be transformed into likeness of the immortal body of Jesus the resurrected Messiah. His resurrection is our resurrection.

Furthermore, the resurrection of the children of God through the resurrection of Jesus entails the resurrection of creation itself. Both the body of Jesus and our bodies are part of God’s good creation. They are work of God’s creation and participate in the reality of creation. When God renews our bodies according to the pattern of the resurrection of Jesus, it involves the renewal of creation itself. It is, in effect, the resurrection of creation from death to life, from the bondage of decay to the freedom of liberation. It is a new heaven and new earth—a new creation. New creation resurrection bodies live in the new creation.

In this new (resurrected) heaven and new earth, the resurrected people of God will live and reign with the resurrected King Jesus in the cosmic temple of God upon the new earth forever.

Life in the Spirit: The Work of the Spirit Among Us

May 17, 2023

Texts: 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; 13:13; 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

Days 68-70 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

For many the Holy Spirit is an impersonal, imperceptible, and indiscernible force.  Cloaked in mystery, many find it difficult to “get a handle” on the Spirit. The Spirit has no “face” like Jesus nor any personal metaphors, such as parent, mother, or husband, like Israel’s God.

Our desire, of course, is not so much to control or manipulate the Spirit as much as it is to have a way of conceiving or visualizing the Spirit’s identity. Without any framework for understanding, we are at a loss to even identify what the Spirit does in our lives much less experience God through the Spirit.

Our pneumatic imagination needs a little help. Paul, I think, offers such. The Spirit appears in practically every chapter of Paul’s letters, and saturates his theology. While “God in Christ” is the center of Paul’s theology, the Spirit is a living, enabling, and enriching presence that connects redeemed humanity with the Redeemer God. We have access, Paul says, to God in Christ “by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18).

Without some understanding of the Spirit, then, our experience of God remains in a conceptual wasteland. That is not only lamentable but dangerous. Spiritual discernment entails that we “see” the Spirit at work in our lives or else we will mistake other spirits for the Holy Spirit.

So, what does Paul offer us by way of a conceptual landscape that will help identify the Spirit in our lives. I “see” in Paul a three-fold typology for thinking about the Spirit’s work. This typology is not a box in which to enclose the Spirit, nor is it a gizmo to manipulate the Spirit. Rather, it is a tool to unmask our eyes so that we might “see” what the Spirit is doing–to recognize the Spirit in our lives.


The Spirit’s foundational function is to facilitate communion between God and us. Our communion with God is the “communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:12).

Jesus did not leave us as orphans; instead, God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the church. This out-pouring is the gifting of God’s presence among us. We are inhabited by God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22); we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit is the one through whom we experience God in the present. The Spirit’s presence enables our communion with God; more than that, communion in the Spirit is communion with God.

This presence, which is the fulfillment of God’s presence in the temple in Israel and anticipates the fullness of divine presence in the new heaven and new earth, is how we now live in fellowship with God. We worship in the Spirit (Philippians 3:3), we pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18), and we are washed in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11).  We are “in the Spirit because the Spirit of God dwells” in us (Romans 8:9). The Spirit is the air we breathe, and every breath is communion with God.

This communion, of course, is not merely vertical. It is also horizontal, that is, we commune with each other by what we share in the Spirit (Philippians 2:1). We love each other in the Spirit (Colossians 1:8). Because we have all been baptized in the Spirit and have drunk of the same Spirit, we are one body where ethnic, economic, and gender barriers are transcended (1 Corinthians 12:13;  Galatians 3:28).

We “see” the Spirit when we enjoy the sweet fellowship of others, experience the peace and joy of the Spirit in communion with God, and encounter God in the assembly of God’s people as we worship in the Spirit. We must not secularize these moments as if they are produced by our own internal powers. Rather, we relish them and delight in them because we know, by God’s promise, that the Spirit is present to generate them. They are moments where heaven and earth meet in the Spirit.


The Spirit communes with us, and this communion is transformative. The Spirit is no passive presence. On the contrary, the Spirit is an active, enabling and transforming presence. The Spirit dwells within us so that we might live in the Spirit.

Salvation involves transformation. Because we are children of God, God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts and we experience the intimacy of divine communion. But this is not the end game; it is not God’s goal. This intimacy includes a shared life, and it transforms us. We are increasingly, by the Spirit, transformed (metamorphized!) into the image of Christ from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Holy Spirit is the presence of divine holiness within us, and this holiness bears fruit. Paul called it the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). This is what it means to “live by the Spirit,” that is, it is to manifest a life of love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Spirit leads us into a such a life by renewing our hearts, empowering our souls, and moving our wills.

The presence of the Spirit is a necessary first step for such a life, and without that presence there is no transformation that images Jesus who himself was led and empowered by the Spirit. The reality of that presence, however, is evidenced in a holy life as we are “sanctified by the Spirit” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

We “see” the Spirit when we are patient with the stubborn, when we are kind to the ungrateful, when we are at peace in the midst of the storm, when we are generous with the poor, and when we are gentle with those who disagree. We must not secularize these moments as if they are self-actualizations. Rather, we give thanks that the Spirit is at work in our lives to empower them. We credit the Spirit rather than our programs, our will power, or our own goodness.


God gives the Spirit as a communing and transforming presence. God created to commune with us, and God redeems to transform us. And God goes one step further. God gifts us so that we might participate in the transformation of the world.

“Through the Spirit,” Paul writes, God gives the body of Christ the capacity to serve each other and the world. These “manifestations of the Spirit” are for the “common good,” and the gifts are “activated” and distributed by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:7-8, 11).

It is important, however, to note that presence comes first, then transformation, and finally giftedness. We might think of this as a spiral of activity where there is reciprocity but also movement toward a goal. God dwells in order to commune. That communion transforms us, and, as people in the process of transformation, God gifts us so that we might participate in the mission of God. The gifts are best used by transformed people. This is why 1 Corinthians 13 comes between 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Giftedness without love is useless; more than useless, it is detrimental. Transformation must shape the use of the Spirit’s gifts.

Too often the lists of 1 Corinthians 12 become the focus when talking about gifts. Romans 12 also has a list of gifts. The two lists are not the same; in fact, there is little overlap. Neither are exhaustive, and together they are not exhaustive. They are illustrative.

Gifts are whatever capacity we have to participate in the mission of God. Whatever “talent” we use to further the mission of God–whether it is software programming, musical ability, environmental passion—they are divine gifts. Too often we talk about “talents” as if they are natural dispositions independent of God’s work among us. One of the reasons we feel so distant from the Holy Spirit is because we secularize our gifts; we minimize the Spirit’s role. Giftedness, inclusive of “talents,” is a manifestation of the Spirit!

We “see” the Spirit when transformed people (or, better, people in the process of transformation) use their gifts in service to the mission of God, which is the transformation of the whole world. We “see” the Spirit when an environmental biologist cares for the creation, when a nurse compassionately cares for the sick, when a debt mediator reconciles a creditor and a debtor, and when an actor embodies the gospel in a drama (even if the drama never mentions God at all). We “see” the Spirit’s gifts in action when brokenness is healed.


Often we don’t “feel” the Spirit in our lives, and sometimes we misinterpret what the Spirit is doing. There is no promise that we will always “feel” the Spirit, and there is the persistent danger that we will misinterpret what the Spirit does. This is why is it is important to “see” the Spirit through the lens of the biblical narrative, the story of God. Whether we feel the Spirit or not, God has promised the Spirit’s presence, and God has provided a narrative that frames our understanding of the Spirit’s work so that we might “see” the Spirit.

The most significant danger we face, I think, is the minimization of the Spirit. We minimize the Spirit when we secularize what is, in fact, the Spirit’s work. We often fail to “see” the Spirit because we attribute whatever goodness, joy, or warmth we experience to powers other than the Spirit. We fail to “see” the Spirit because we are blinded by our own pride.

The Spirit is personal, discernible, and visible. The Spirit is God among us to transform us into the image of Christ and to gift transformed people with good works for the sake of the body and the world. We “see” the Spirit every day, if only we have eyes to see what God is doing.

Moffitt: Rethinking the Atonement

May 15, 2023

I have now read the fifth of twelve books suggested by FB friends. This one was recommended by Michael Asbell. This is my summary.

David Moffitt, Rethinking the Atonement: New Perspectives on Jesus’s Death, Resurrection, and Ascension (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2022).

While the term “atonement” is most often used to describe the cross of Jesus as the focus of God’s atoning activity, Moffitt suggests that “atonement” is more inclusive than the cross itself.  Rooting his argument in the homily we know as Hebrews, the work of atonement involves not only the cross but Christ’s resurrection and ascension.  God reconciled the world through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Messiah. This is a more wholistic picture. I have argued this myself in several places (including in this summary, though I don’t have an emphasis on ascension that belongs in this picture as well).

Moffitt argues that Hebrews, while proclaiming the death of Christ as the sacrificial slaughter for our sins, focuses more attention on the ascension of the resurrected Christ into God’s holy sanctuary to present the blood offering and to take up residence in that holy space as the high priest who presently and continually intercedes for the saints. His point is that in addition to the cross, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus are “themselves fully and robustly salvific” (p. 5). All of these events in the life of Jesus are atoning. God saved us through the death of Christ “but even more by rising, ascending, and now interceding for them at the right hand of the Father” (p. 6).

Hebrews patterns the work of Christ on the model of the Levitical sacrificial system, though Christ is actually the archetype and Leviticus is the type.  The sacrifices were slaughtered, the blood was poured at the altar, and then the blood was taken into the most holy place and sprinkled on the ark of the covenant. Through the blood offering, the high priest interceded for the people.

The preacher in Hebrews understands the work of Christ in this way. Jesus is slaughtered on the cross and poured out at that altar, but then the resurrected Jesus ascends to the most holy place (the heavenly sanctuary) to present the offering before God. As high priest, Jesus remains in the presence of God to intercede for the people. Though Jesus could not be a priest on earth because he was from Judah and not Levi, he is a priest in the heavenlies according to the order of Melchizedek continually interceding for the people. In this way, Christ’s atoning work continues in the presence of God, and Christ is present to God as the embodied resurrected Messiah, our high priest. Consequently, the church lives with confident boldness as it journeys through the wilderness of life because it knows that its heavenly high priest stands before God as its intercessor.

Typically, the cross is understood as the singular place where Jesus offered himself as a bloody sacrifice and on the cross presented himself to the Father. Moffitt, based on Hebrews as well as a few other texts, wants to understand those two movements in a sequence. Christ first shed his blood on the cross and thus offered himself as one who bears the sins of the people, and then the resurrected Christ offered himself in the heavenly sanctuary when he ascended to the heavenly sanctuary. Hebrews teaches “Jesus is the one who died as the sacrifice, rose as the sacrifice, and ascended into the heavenly tabernacle to offer himself to God as the sacrifice” (p. 65).

Moffitt rejects claims that Jesus is the object of divine wrath. The function of the shedding of blood is not about turning away God’s wrath. Rather, the sacrifice suffers the covenant curses for the people, and so did Jesus. He suffered as a representative in solidarity and identification with the people. Jesus was the obedient representative of the people who renewed Israel’s covenant with God through the sin-bearing function of his death, and gave this renewed covenant eternal meaning through the presentation of his offering in the heavenly sanctuary as an eternal high priest, the resurrected Jesus, the Son of God.

While the Son came to earth to bear sins (as in bearing them away), he will come again without sin and for full salvation. The work of reconciliation (or atonement) is not done until Christ returns and fully deals with sin in all its consequences.

Through the lens of Hebrews, Moffitt’s book is a welcome acknowledgement that atonement is a fuller concept than simply the work of Jesus on the cross. Jesus is both victim and priest, both sin-bearer and intercessor, both the offering and the offeror.  

The atoning, or reconciling, work of God in Christ by the Spirit is the full story of the gospel: incarnation, life, cross, resurrection, ascension, intercession, and return.