Wrath and Mercy -

"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."
- Romans 3:10-12

“We are stiff-necked, rebellious, and ungrateful. Free, unmerited grace is our only hope to be otherwise.”
- John Piper, Spectacular Sins, p. 93

“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him…”
- Isaiah 53:10a

“Jesus, the servant of whom Isaiah spoke, was crushed for us; therefore, if we believe and turn from our sins, we are not crushed. We have been rescued from deadly peril and endless pain. But as we get farther from the day we were rescued, do we remember what we were saved from? Do we remember that we should have been crushed by God’s wrath? Do we realize that, from our perspective the cross is the greatest injustice there will ever be? The Perfect One crushed in the place of sinners? And do we remember that there will be a divine judgment when God’s wrath will be revealed (Romans 2:5)? Hell teaches us about the fear of the Lord.”
- Edward Welch, When People are Big and God is Small, p. 123-124

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now; Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars; We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow; We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm; In all the universe we have no place. Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm? Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars we claim Thy grace.

If when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near, Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine; We know today what wounds are; have no fear; Show us Thy Scars; we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong, but Thou wast weak; They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
Edward Shillito (1872-1948), Jesus of the Scars

A while back I had the privilege of listening to D.A. Carson at Western Seminary (www.thespurgeonfellowship.org). Dr. Carson’s message was on suffering and evil, and since he was speaking primarily to pastors his efforts were aimed at building and reinforcing a pastoral theology of suffering and evil. The question of suffering and evil is a moot point when everything in the world is rosy. As long as things are going our way and the vestiges of a fallen creation are held at bay, then suffering and evil are relatively inconsequential. The rub comes when our world begins to unravel. It’s then we begin the blame and accusation. Several years ago I read John Gerstner’s, The Problem of Pleasure, and found his argument compelling. He turned the classical theodicy argument on its head. Theodicy argues for God’s goodness in spite of the existence of evil. Gerstner (and Chesterton before him) asked why sinful humans experience pleasure in a fallen world. This is a very important question. I’m afraid that for many of us, we have become accustomed (even desensitized) to grace. We’ve come to expect God to act in munificence and we’ve forgotten His wrath and judgment rightly directed to sinners. God is graciously withholding His hand of judgment for now, but a day is coming when the full measure of His wrath will be unleashed. A sober assessment of God’s wrath and judgment rightly deserved by sinners will sober us. Understanding wrath helps us understand mercy. Understanding our state outside of Christ will bring deep and pervasive humility. Understanding the righteous judgment God has rightly leveled against us is only averted through Jesus Christ will change how we interact with one another. Dr. Carson urged pastors to give greater attention to the wrath and judgment of God lest mercy and grace become commonplace.

I’m sobered by God’s wrath once directed towards me and grateful for His mercy averting that wrath through Christ.



The Church's Proclamation and a Few Thoughts on 'Building Up' -

“ If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”
- 1 Corinthians 14:23-26

“When there is a proper apprehension of the value of the truth and a sincere appropriation of the promises of God to ourselves, there will be the desire to acknowledge his goodness and proclaim the truth to others.”
- Charles Hodge, 1 Corinthians, p. 261

“What is mandatory is that everything aim at edification.”
- Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 691

I’ve been thinking…and that’s always a dangerous thing. I’ve been thinking about what sorts of things we engage in on Sunday morning. I’ve been thinking about the expressed purpose for everything we do in the context of Sunday morning worship. I think there is something significant here that I’ve not paid close attention to, especially as we consider the presence of both believers and unbelievers within the context of typical Sunday worship.

In the context of Corinthian worship there was a self-conscious effort given to the elements of worship that pointed to the believer’s relationship with Christ and his union with Him. In the context of ‘building up’ the church the unbeliever was made aware of his distance from God and what came was a stark awareness of that distance. The secrets of the unbeliever’s heart were disclosed by those around him, simply by calling attention to the grace of God in a hymn, revelation, tongue, or interpretation. This seems to be amazing…edification or building up the body results in encouragement to the church and conviction of sin for the unbeliever.

I think what this means is that our worship must be more self-consciously God-conscious. This is how we build up the church, and this through the Word of God drawing attention to the good news of the gospel, and the grace of God shown to each one of us. Too often worship has been self-focused and not God-focused. What this looks like is an intentional God-ward focus in everything we do. Worship, proclamation, giving, communion, fellowship, etc., all must be done with a self-conscious awareness of the grace of God that has been shown to us in the gospel. 

May God give us all a strong desire to ‘build up’ the church by drawing attention to the amazing grace of God in our own lives and in the lives of our fellow believers.



Reminding One Another of the Gospel -

“…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,….”
- Ephesians 5:18-19

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you - unless you believed in vain.”
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,….”
- Ephesians 1:7

“The gospel is the air we breathe in the house of God. To change metaphors, the gospel is the conversation taking place in the house—our Father speaking to us, his children, about the gift of his Son. The gospel is the life-transforming story with a promise for all who hear and believe.”
- Alfred Poirier, The Peacemaking Pastor

“…be on your guard against the neglect of grace.”
- Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone, p. 215

A number of years ago Judy and I sat across the table from a wise pastor and his wife. Though Judy and I had been Christians for a while we found ourselves starving for the gospel. I asked this wise pastor to explain the gospel to us and as we sat with them we wept as he slowly and painstakingly took us through a biblical understanding of man’s total inability, God’s unconditional electing love in Christ, the extent of Christ’s atonement, God’s irresistible grace in drawing sinners to Himself, and God’s ultimate preserving power in the life of the Christian. When he finished I asked him to start over again. I had been a Christian for years and had never heard the simple, straightforward gospel. Up until that point my Christian theology was a muddled mix of legalism, phariseeism, and fear. As I understood it my performance dictated my right-standing with God and though I understood myself to be a Christian my belief was woefully uninformed. It seems that misunderstandings of the gospel or inadequate views of the gospel are rampant in these days. Old thought processes in the mind of the legalist die hard. The gospel must be continually fought for in the battleground of our minds. And some of the ways we can do that is by being faithful to continually remind one another of the gospel by speaking, praying, and singing the gospel when we’re together, by availing ourselves of the means of grace God provides in baptism and the Lord’s Table, and by gladly hearing the Word of God expounded as the gospel is brought to bear upon us through the Scriptures. Without diligence in these things our inclination is drift away from the gospel. The remedy for drift is reminder. I need you to remind me of the gospel and you need me to remind you of the gospel. Husbands must remind their wives of the gospel and wives must remind their husbands of the gospel, and both need to remind their children of the gospel. The gospel alone is the power of God to change us. Performance, legalism, and the commitment to do better will not change us. We must be renewed by the transformation of our minds through the Word of God through the power of the gospel. Under the efficacious influence of the Holy Spirit the oft-repeated rehearsal of the truth of the gospel will change us. Incrementally, and by degrees, the gospel will work its work in us.