How Can a Righteous God ‘Put Away’ David’s Sin?

pexels-photo1I had a friend in high school who always parked in the teacher’s parking lot. Now, this was a big deal not only because he wasn’t a teacher, but also because the teacher’s parking lot was much closer to the school than the student parking lot. While we were all walking from the back student parking lot, he was just taking a few short steps into the school. After about three months of this, someone finally was brave enough to tell the principal. One day, he was called into the principal’s office and we all knew he would lose his parking permit and his parents would probably have to drop him off each morning. But to our surprise, when he left the principal’s office he was just given a warning. No punishment. No consequences. He totally got away with it!

That’s what it feels like happened to David. Even though there were consequences for his sin, the Lord seems to just pass over his sin. It really is a radical statement when we read, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” If the man in Nathan’s story deserved to die for stealing a poor man’s lamb, then surely David deserved to die for committing adultery, having a man killed, and then lying about it. The Lord himself rightly accuses David of despising the word of the Lord and scorning God. These are sins against God that deserve death. But David does not get what he deserves. He deserves death, but he receives divine mercy. This just doesn’t seem fair!

How is it right for God to just put away or pass over David’s sin like this? How can he just put away David’s sin? How does an adulterous, lying, murderer get set free? John Piper points to Romans 3:25-26 and comments, “The outrage we feel when God seems to simply pass over David’s sin would be good outrage if God were simply sweeping David’s sin under the rug. He is not.”

The only way for God to pass over David’s sin and to pass over your sin is for David’s sin and your sin to be covered by the blood of Christ. God was able to show mercy to David because there was coming a day when Jesus Christ would live without sin and die for sinners. Jesus would one day die in David’s place. In a mysterious way, David’s confession of his sin and trust in God’s mercy and work of redemption connected him to Jesus, so that David’s sin and Christ’s righteousness are exchanged for one another. Christ became sin for David. David was counted righteous by Christ.

Is it fair that David’s sins were put away? Only if they would be put on another. David did not bear the full penalty of his sin. Jesus did. And because he did, God is now the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). God remains a good judge even when he shows mercy to sinners like us.

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.


Who’s First?: The Relationship Between Faith and Repentance


One of the controversies within The Marrow Controversy, which Sinclair Ferguson has recently dedicated an entire book to explore, is the relationship between faith and repentance. The historic controversy that fueled disagreement and dissent in Reformed Scottish churches some 300 years ago revolved around whether or not repentance precedes faith. In other words, should Jesus Christ–as he is revealed in the gospel–be offered to those who show no signs of repentance? Is it possible to come to Christ without first turning from sin? Where does repentance logically fall in the economy of the gospel? Before or after faith?

Historically, those who have answered that repentance is not necessary for the gospel to be proclaimed or even intellectually and willfully accepted have been accused of antinomianism. Conversely, those who have answered that repentance is necessary for the gospel to be proclaimed and received have been labeled as legalists. In his new book, The Whole Christ, Ferguson deals with the historical, theological, and biblical implications of this issue thoroughly.

The relationship between faith and repentance and where they fall in the ordo salutis isn’t a conversation merely fit for ivory towers and seminary classrooms. Understanding the relationship between faith and repentance drastically impacts the preaching, teaching, and evangelistic ministries of the church. It also takes a right understanding of God’s grace to stand in reverent awe of God’s glory. Understanding God’s sovereign grace in rescuing his people from sin produces Godward adoration. Seeing a big God of booming grace is fuel for the fire of personal holiness and living a God-centered life. So, considering the implications of the relationship between faith and repentance is practically useful for every Christian.

Let’s consider the relationship between faith and repentance for a moment. There is a natural tendency for us to see repentance as a necessary precursor to faith. After all, when we see how good God is in comparison to how bad we are, shouldn’t this cause us to desire to turn from sin and embrace Christ? In order to run to Christ, don’t we first need to turn from our sin?

First, it is important to remember that turning from sin and trusting Christ occur (experientially) instantaneously. The Christian does not know repentance of sin or faith in Christ without the other. Neither is merely an instantaneous action, though. Repentance and faith mark the whole life of a Christian. Ferguson puts it this way:

Repentance is not a discrete external act; it is the turning round of the whole life in faith in Christ…Repentance then is not the punctiliar decision of a moment but a radical heart transformation that reverses the whole direction of life. In the context of faith the repentant sinner is immediately, fully, and finally justified–at the very beginning of the Christian life (The Whole Christ, 100).

There is so much rich truth in that quotation. Repentance and faith begin in an instantaneous moment. But they do not end there. Repentance and faith only end when faith becomes sight and sin is no more. The key issue in the relationship between repentance and faith is whether a volitional act (repentance) can be accomplished apart from the reception of God’s saving grace through saving faith. In other words, can repentance live outside the garden of faith? The Westminster Divines, including Thomas Boston, as well as John Calvin before them would answer emphatically, “Absolutely not!”

True repentance cannot exist outside of true faith in Christ. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, it is only “upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ” that sinners repent of sin. Calvin would write, “Both repentance and forgiveness of sins–that is, newness of life and free reconciliation–are conferred on us by Christ, and both are attained by us through faith.” And with surgical precision, Thomas Boston declared, “In a word, gospel repentance doth not go before, but comes after remission of sin, in the order of nature.”

True repentance cannot exist independently and true faith won’t! For while repentance never precedes faith, it always follows it. Faith motivates repentance. Boston wrote, “Faith then directly grasps the mercy of God in him, and as it does so the life of repentance is inaugurated as its fruit.” Faith is the heart’s glad apprehension of Christ in the gospel, and it is always pregnant with repentance. The heart that is awakened and resurrected to see Christ as a superior treasure has been given new tastes. Sin has for the first time become distasteful to the palette of the soul. And our hearts have had their inaugural good taste of Christ in the gospel.

God is only desired and sin is only despised when the heart receives Christ in his fullness as Savior, Lord, and Treasure. In the words of Edward Fisher,

Sorrow and grief for displeasing God by sin, necessarily argue the love of God; and it is impossible we should ever love God, till by faith we know ourselves loved of God.

No man can turn to God, except he be first turned of God; and after he is turned, he repents…The truth is, a repentant sinner first believes that God will do that which he promiseth, namely, pardon his sin, and take away his iniquity; then he rests in the hope of it; and from that, and for it, he leaves sin, and will forsake his old course, because it is displeasing to God; and will do that which is pleasing and acceptable to him. So that first of all, God’s favor is apprehended, and remission of sins believed; then upon that cometh alteration of life and conversion.

First, we believe that God will do what he promises to do in Christ, pardon our sin by his propitiation. Then, and only then, will we “forsake our old course” and find our sin utterly displeasing to both God and ourselves. Seeing repentance as the fruit of faith results in three implications:

1. Your standing with God is not on the basis of a volitional act of morality or mortification of sin

God’s grace is conferred in the gospel to sinners through saving faith, which is the reception of the gift of God’s grace in Christ. True faith is a glad reception of Christ. It is the product of regeneration–God’s work in giving life to a dead heart. God is not waiting for you to act in a particularly penitent way before uniting you to himself. God saves you in Christ by his grace and through faith.

2.You do not have to wait for signs of repentance before sharing the gospel

Those who have freely received Christ freely offer Christ indiscriminately. It is Christ who saves! Faith is the heart’s glad reception of the whole Christ and all he has done for sinners. The ordo salutis has great evangelistic implications. If you are waiting for signs of repentance before offering Christ, you will likely rarely offer Christ. But because faith precedes repentance, we know the only way for a person to be truly transformed is for them to see and savor the Christ of the gospel. So, offer Christ indiscriminately, knowing that God’s grace in the gospel creates faith, which produces true repentance unto life.

3. If you have trusted Christ you have the power to turn from sin

Because faith precedes repentance and repentance is a necessary fruit of faith, sin has no power over you. Before you trusted Christ, sin had total dominion over you. You were never truly sorrow for your sin. You never adequately desired God or pursued holiness. But after you saw Christ and delighted in what you saw, which is the act of saving faith, sin’s grip has been eternally loosed by the power of the cross. Your life can now be a continuous work of trusting and turning. As Calvin has said, “A man cannot apply himself seriously to repentance without knowing himself to belong to God. But no one is truly persuaded that he belongs to God unless he has first recognized God’s grace.”

Only through the “explosives power of a new affection” will a sinner have a life marked by trusting Christ and turning from sin. This new affection is the product of God’s grace, received by faith, and played out in repentance and obedience.

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

But I Can’t Swim: Man’s Total Inability and God’s Relentless Grace

3m sprungbrett / 3m diving board - spring board

The following is an illustration and brief lesson I’ve taught to children in various settings and occasions. I am posting it here for two reasons. First, I hope it will serve as an encouragement in the gospel for those of you still depending on your own moral effort for your standing with God. Second, I hope this short article will serve as an example for children’s pastors and volunteers who teach children the gospel, as well as parents who teach their children the gospel in the home.

Imagine you are at a swimming pool this summer. Your mom has told you to stay near the shallow end of the pool, but you really want to jump in the deep end of the pool. When your mom is reading her book, you get out of the shallow end and tip-toe down the side of the pool toward the deep end. You glance over your shoulder to make sure your mom isn’t looking, so you can do an awesome cannonball in the deep end. But as you turn around, you slip and fall in the deep end.

You try to swim to the top, but you can’t. You can’t see. It is dark. You are alone. And you are afraid. You just spin around waving your arms and kicking your legs trying to get back to the surface of the water. But on your own, you can’t make it. The next thing you know, you feel someone wrap their arms around you. They pull you as they swim hard. Before you can think you are above the water taking a deep breathe. When you are able to open your eyes, you see that your mom is holding you. When you were nearly dead, your mom saved you. You did nothing. She did everything.

The same is true of our salvation from sin and spiritual death. We have seen this week that without Christ we are dead in sin and doomed under God’s wrath. Since we are dead, we can’t do anything about our condition. But then we saw the good news of the gospel; that God stepped in to make us alive by sending Jesus to die for our sins. Salvation is a gift that is only God’s to give. We are drowning in the pool of our sin. In Jesus, God jumps in to save us.

This salvation is all of grace. Grace is a word that means God gives us what we do not deserve (v. 8). Salvation is a gift, not a reward. We are not given eternal life because we deserve it. We are not allowed into the joyful presence of God because we are awesome people. We are saved from the penalty of sin because of God’s grace. We are saved by grace to live with God forever. All we must do is receive it as a gift. This is what we call “faith.” Faith is receiving God’s grace in Jesus. Faith and grace are gifts from God.

Many people think if they just obey God enough, they will earn salvation. Even though they are drowning, they think if they just swim harder (go to church more, pray more, give more, serve more) they will come to the top of the water and save themselves. But just like a boy or girl drowning in the deep end, we all need a Savior. We can’t earn God’s salvation and forgiveness. It must be given to us. Because of God’s grace and love, he gives us this gift in sending Jesus to stand in our place as our sacrifice.

If your mom saved you from drowning, you would hug and kiss her. When God saves us in Christ, our only response must be worship and rejoice in him. Our salvation is not a result of our works, so let’s never brag about ourselves, but only about him!

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

A Work Never Too Hard for Him

construction-work-carpenter-toolsGrowing up, my life revolved around sports. My dad was the Athletic Director at the high school I attended. The first two years I was in high school, I never understood why my dad would come home so tired from his job. He would talk about how hard it was and how he had to make so many difficult decisions. I never really understood why until one day my senior year, I was allowed to miss all of my classes and just follow him around for the day. It didn’t take long for me to see how hard his job was. It seemed like he was on his phone all day. He was talking to referees, athletic directors from other schools, principals, coaches, parents, volunteers, maintenance crews, and even Bermuda grass companies from Florida. Then came the various scheduled meetings with parents and coaches throughout the day. I couldn’t believe how many problems he had to solve and decisions he had to make. I never judged my dad again for being so tired when he got home from work.

In Exodus 18 there is a helpful dialogue between what seems to be a newly converted, Jethro, and the established leader of God’s people, Moses. After a night of reunion, retelling of the story of God’s salvation, and responding with joyful sacrifice, Jethro wakes up the next morning to go to work with Moses. Moses had a job much more difficult than my dad. He was the leader of hundreds of thousands of people. And when hundreds of thousands of people live together every day, there are going to be conflicts that arise. Moses was the judge and mediator for God’s people. One of Moses’ jobs was to listen to the problems and conflicts of the people and judge accordingly. Moses stood between the people of Israel and God to settle their problems by telling them what God expects. The people would come to Moses to ask him what God says they should do or how they should act. Moses would “make them know the statutes of God and his laws” (Ex. 18:16).

Just like I did with my dad, Jethro saw how hard this work was on Moses. Moses literally listened to the problems of the people of Israel and taught them the law of the Lord all day long (Ex. 18:13). Jethro saw how exhausted Moses was, and he knew it was impossible for him to do this job alone (Ex. 18:14). Ultimately, Jethro said this to Moses, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone” (Ex. 18:17-18).

This is what makes the work of Jesus even more amazing. Jesus is the Mediator for his people. He stands between his people and God and settles the problem between us. Our sin against God is our biggest problem with him. By dying in our place, Jesus becomes the Mediator for millions and billions of people throughout history. But he is a perfectly sufficient mediator who needs no help. He alone is able to reconcile us with God. He will never grow tired, because he will exercise judgment and grace with infinite wisdom and strength. The work of bringing us back to God is never too heavy for him.

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

The Sovereign Giver: Brief Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3

giftsWe all have received gifts on special occasions, like birthdays and Christmas. When we receive special gifts it is easy for us to focus on the gift, but forget the giver of the gift. Too many times we forget to say, “Thank you.” When you were a kid, how many times did your parents have to remind you, “Say thank you” when you receive a gift from a friend? While it isn’t polite to just receive a gift without saying thank you, think about how crazy it is for us to receive so much from God and forget to say, “Thank you, Lord.”
Paul opens his letter to the Thessalonians by thanking God for them. He says that he prays for them constantly or without ceasing (v. 2). This means he makes a habit of praying, and when he prays he always mentions this church in his prayers. He then gives his reasons for why he is thankful to God in verse 3. He says he prays for them always “remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). Paul is saying, “I thank God for you because of your faith, love, and hope.”

Why is Paul thanking God if it is the Thessalonian Christians who are the ones doing the work? They are the ones with the “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope.” Yet, Paul gives thanks to God in his prayers for what these Christians are doing. Why? He does this because the faith, love, and hope of the Thessalonian Christians were gifts from God. It is impossible for us to have true faith, love, or hope without God working in our hearts first.

Without Christ being faithful to God in his life, we could not have faith. Without the Father first loving us, we could not truly love God and others. Without the Spirit giving life to our dead hearts, we would have no hope. When we trust Jesus for salvation, we need to see it as a gift from God and thank him for it. When we grow in love for God and others, we need to see it as a gift from God and thank him. When we have confidence in God even when bad things happen, we need to see it as a gift from God and thank him for it.

Faith, love, and hope are not just marks of a Christian. They are gifts for the Christian. What did we do to deserve these gifts? This is the crazy part. We did nothing to deserve these gifts. Absolutely nothing! In fact, we deserve the opposite of these gifts because of our sin. If God were like Santa Claus, giving us gifts based on who is naughty or nice, we wouldn’t receive anything because we are all naughty. But God is better than Santa Claus. In Christ, he offers us unbelievable gifts not based on how good we are, but on how good he is.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

The Sun Will Not Strike You: Reflections on Psalm 121:5-6

What follows is an entry from the Family Devotion Guide for the families at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. You can access all the Family Devotion Guides, including this week’s (Week 34) by visiting the First Kids page.

“The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.” –Psalm 121:5-6

Image Credit: Flickr | Soroush95

Think of your absolute best friend. You know, that friend who would do anything for you; the one you play with, hang out with, and maybe even have over at your house for sleepovers. Would you say this friend cares for your when you are having a bad day? Is he or she there for you when you need someone to talk to? It is good to have a friend like this. We all need someone to have our back in a tough situation.

Well, God is the ultimate friend to his people. He will always have the backs of those who trust in him through Christ. Psalm 121:5-6 say, “The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.” This passage teaches us that God will always guard his people.

The Lord is our keeper. This is another way of saying, “the Lord is our guardian.” He watches over his people. He knows what we will face and he even guides us by the hand into tomorrow. Some people believe Psalm 121 was written after the people of Israel were rescued from exile. Many years ago, other nations invaded Israel and took the people back to foreign countries. They were taken from their homes. God rescued them from exile and they returned to Jerusalem. This psalm was a great reminder for the people of Israel that their God would be their keeper or guardian no matter what happened to them. Even through God’s judgment, he never abandoned his people.

We have that same promise in the gospel. Jesus died to rescue his people from the exile of sin. Sin put chains on our hands and feet and took us from our home with God. Through his death on the cross, Jesus rescued us by breaking the chains of sin. By faith in him, we are no longer slaves of sin, but sons of God. Because of Jesus, God is our keeper. He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:2). God will always have our backs and will never let us go (John 10:28).

The Lord is also our shade. When this psalm was written, the people of Israel knew how deadly the sun could be. In that time, a hot, sunny day didn’t equal a fun day at the pool. It meant you better find some shade or you will die. A journey to Jerusalem when the sun was out meant you had to have shade.

God promises to be our shade. He will not let the sun strike us. This means he will protect us from things that will do us harm. Does this mean bad things won’t happen to you? No. Because God is most concerned about your life in Christ. If you have trusted Jesus for salvation, God will not let anything kill your faith. He will guard you and protect you from temptation, Satan, and sin. No spiritual enemy will be able to defeat you. In Christ, you have been rescued. And by God’s grace, you will stay rescued forever!

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Have Mercy On Me, O God

21449-mercyThree of the hardest words in the whole world to say are, “I am sorry.” When we are caught doing something we shouldn’t, or some of our wrongdoings are brought into the light, the last thing we want to do is come to them with our tails tucked between our legs saying those big words, “I am sorry.”
I’m convinced the biggest giant David faced wasn’t named Goliath, but Hubris. David wrote Psalm 51 right after he was caught in the act of hiding beneath a monstrous snowball of sin he had compounded. What we learn from this psalm is that we cannot hide anything from God. But also, we have a God who simultaneously judges our sin and justifies us in our sin.

In Psalm 51:1-2, David cries out in prayer, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”

I hope you see that David is doing much more than just saying, “I am sorry” to God. And God is doing much more than saying, “Ah, that’s ok” back to him. There are two main reasons why David cried out for mercy, and these two reasons speak the heart of the gospel.

1. David asked for mercy because God judges sinners

Why do you think David asked for God’s mercy? Mercy basically means you don’t get what you deserve. It is kind of like the word grace, which means you get far better than you deserve. But what does David deserve because of his sin? David had grievously sinned against God. He was not faithful to his wife and then he had a man murdered to try to cover up his infidelity. Anyone with a heart and any basic sense of justice can see that David deserves to be punished.

Sin deserves punishment. This is a logical and moral necessity in Christianity. If sin is not punished then either God is not there or God is not God. We are all, like David, guilty of sin against a holy God. We shouldn’t balk at this truth. It shouldn’t shock us that a good God despises that which detracts from the greatest and most joyous being in the universe. God is a good king and judge who doesn’t let sin go unpunished. David asked for mercy because his “transgressions” or “iniquities” or “sins” deserve God’s just punishment.

2. David asked for mercy because God saves sinners

David also asked God to have mercy on him because God is a gracious, kind, and loving God. The bad news about David’s prayer is that he is guilty and deserves punishment from God. The good news is this same God is ready and quick to show mercy. Do you see David’s description of God? He asks him to have mercy according to his “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy.” David doesn’t need God to say, “Oh, that’s ok. Don’t worry about it.” He needs God to say, “Yes, you are that bad. But I forgive you. I will wash you clean. I will wipe away your sins.” Salvation comes not because David gets a pass due to his status as king. Salvation comes due to God’s grace and the status of the King of kings who would later come to be judged in David’s place. King David received grace because King Jesus received judgment.

Asking for God’s mercy is no light plea. It is so important to see how preposterous David’s question is. For his own selfish gain and pleasure, David brought harm to his wife, Bathsheba, Uriah, and ultimately the glory of God in whose name he led as king. And he has the audacity to ask mercy from this God? The gospel is quite scandalous and I fear we take it for granted. I fear we are losing a sense of the scandal of the gospel. Our hearts are no longer ripped to the core when we think about the fact that God was not obligated, yet chose to set his face toward us. To ask for mercy is no light thing. To ask for mercy is to come to the end of yourself. Crying for mercy is humility in action. Yet, because of God’s abundant mercy and overflowing grace, our cries for mercy are not midnight moonshots. There is genuine confidence and hope found in the gracious judge from whom all mercy flows.

Do you know how David’s prayer (and your prayer) for mercy will ultimately be answered? On a cross. On the cross, the judgment of God and the grace of God meet face to face. David has hope for mercy because God will “blot out,” “wash,” and “cleanse” him of his sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus. You too can cry out for God’s mercy just like King David and receive it through the abundant and sufficient blood of Jesus.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

J.I. Packer and Justification

The-Structure-of-JustificationsIn prepping to teach on justification this Wednesday night in my church’s children’s catechism ministry, I have spent some time in J.I. Packer’s 18 Words. I recommend this book to new believers more than any other. Yesterday, I re-read his chapter on justification and was reminded of Packer’s great insight and clarity.
I am so eager to introduce the doctrine of  justification to the kids of First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt tomorrow night because of the peace and joy that accompany it. Justification is the path to joy in the face of suffering. Justification is the door to freedom from guilt. Justification is the road to peace amidst worry and fear.

I wanted to take some time here to share Packer’s thoughts on the meaning of justification. He later unfolds the groundmeans, and centrality of justification. What follows are some of the most complete and thorough statements on the meaning of this precious doctrine. So, if you do not know what the doctrine of justification is or are not sure how to communicate it, this post is for you.

1. Justification means to Paul God’s act of remitting the sins of, and reckoning righteousness to, ungodly sinners freely, by his grace, through faith in Christ, on the ground, not of their own works, but of the representative righteousness and redemptive, propitiatory, substitutionary blood-shedding of Jesus Christ on their behalf.

2. To ‘justify’ in the Bible means to ‘declare righteous’; to declare, that is, of a man on trial, that he is not liable to any penalty, but is entitled to all the privileges due to those who have kept the law.

3. Justification is a judgment passed on man, and a work wrought within man; God’s gift of a status and a relationship to Himself.

4. Justification is God’s fundamental act of blessing, for it saves from the past and secures for the future.

5. Justification brings peace with God (because sin is pardoned) and also hope of the glory of God (because the rights of the righteous are bestowed on the believer).

6. The gospel which proclaims God’s apparent violation of his justice is really a revelation of his justice.

7. The gospel shows a just God can justly justify believing sinners.

8. The only way in which justification can be just is for the law to be satisfied so far as the justified are concerned.

9. Sinners are justly justified on account of the obedient law-keeping and blood-shedding of Jesus Christ; and it is on this that their assurance of present and future salvation must rest.

10. Faith is not the ground of justification…Faith is rather the outstretched empty hand which received righteousness by receiving Christ.

11. Certainly, faith is the occasion and means of our justification, but Christ’s obedience, His righteousness, His propitiation for our sins, is its ground.

12. The reason why the doctrine of justification is central to the gospel is that God’s basic relationship to us as His rational creatures is that of Lawgiver and Judge, so that our standing before Him is always determined by his holy law. The sinner’s first problem, therefore, is to get right with God’s law, for until he is right with the law he cannot be right with the God whose law it is. As long as the law condemns him, true worship and fellowship with God are impossible for him. The gospel of justification, however, solves this problem by showing him how, through faith in Christ, the condemning voice of the law against him may be silenced for ever. Now he may draw near, unafraid, to worship his Maker.

–All quotes taken from Packer, 18 Words, pp. 135-142

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Throwback Thursday: Jonathan Edwards on the Suffering of Christ

christ-on-crossI have often heard fellow Christians say that when they need a good reminder of God’s love or the sacrifice of Christ, they watch a movie like The Passion of the Christ. “Whenever I watch Jesus suffer the way he did, it reminds me of just how much God loves me,” they say. Reenactments of the crucifixion are graphic and realistic (as realistic as possible) depictions of the means of the salvation of the world. When we see the blood and the brutality, we have before our eyes a semblance of the physical suffering of Christ.
I will not deny that watching The Passion of the Christ is emotionally moving. I will also agree that Christians need to be reminded of God’s love for sinners often. However, watching a movie will not even begin to scratch the surface on the sufferings of Christ.

There is a common error in the minds of many Christians regarding the suffering of Christ. They think that Jesus’ physical death was far worse than any other death in the history of the world. It is said that no one physically suffered the way Jesus did on the cross. And so, when they need a reminder of God’s love, they reflect on the physical sufferings of Christ.

But the reality is that there have been deaths in the history of the world that were worse than the death of Christ, physically speaking. Countless believers throughout history have been burned at the stake, drowned, and mutilated. Even recently we have seen 21 Egyptian Christians beheaded for their faith in Christ. So, Jesus’ death was not necessarily the most brutal or worst death in history. Tim Keller even makes the point that “there have been far more excruciating and horrible deaths that martyrs have faced with far greater confidence and calmness” (The Reason for God, 28). But why is this the case?

The physical sufferings of the cross, while great, pale in comparison to the spiritual suffering of the cross. It was not the physical pain of whips and nails that led Jesus to weep and groan in the garden of Gethsemane. Instead it was anticipation of a far greater suffering that was to come. Jesus, the Son of God, was not only about to bear the wrath of man through crucifixion, he was about to bear the wrath of God through taking the punishment we deserve. Keller observes, “Jesus’ sufferings would have been eternally unbearable” because in his death he lost the “infinite love of the Father that Jesus had from all eternity” (The Reason for God, 29).

The physical pain and suffering of Christ was nothing compared to his experience of his Father’s abandonment. No one captures this better than the great theologian Jonathan Edwards. He is abundantly clear on the importance on distinguishing between the physical and spiritual sufferings of Christ on the cross.

The sufferings which Christ endured in his body on the cross…were yet the least part of his last sufferings…If it had been only the sufferings which he endured in his body, though they were very dreadful, we cannot conceive that the mere anticipation of them would have such an effect on Christ. Many of the martyrs have endured as severe tortures in their bodies as Christ did…yet their souls have not been so overwhelmed (“Christ’s Agony” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2).

While it is possible for people to suffer the way Christ suffered physically, it is impossible for any of us to suffer as much as Christ did spiritually. He essentially experienced hell for all who would believe in him.

So, if you are a Christian who needs reminded of God’s love, look to the cross. If you are struggling to reconcile God’s love with your own suffering, look to the cross. In the cross, God himself suffered in the place of sinners like you and me. This puts his tremendous love and experience of suffering on full display, not because he died the most gruesome physical death of all time, but because in his death he bore the full wrath of God, which is the most excruciating form of suffering.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba.

Why Does God Love Us?

On Wednesday nights, students that I have the privilege to lead have the opportunity to ask any biblical, theological, ethical, or life question and put it into a cardboard mailbox. The following week, I take about five minutes to quickly answer as many questions as I can from the stage. We began this at the beginning of January and it has been really fun so far.

Last week, a wonderfully curious girl asked a deeply profound question: Why does God love us?

You have no idea how many times I have asked myself this question. Why does God love us? It is such a great question to ask. There is no doubting that God does in fact love us. We see it over and over again in Scripture. In fact, much of the Bible is a one-sided love story, as God’s people play the role of the adulterous spouse, while God plays the role of the unbroken lover bound and determined to have his bride despite her infidelity. Why would God choose to love Abraham? He was a moon worshiper. Why Moses? He was a cowardly murderer. Why David? He was a murderous adulterer. Why the people of Israel in general? They wanted to worship a golden calf rather than the God who had literally taken them through waters to salvation from slavery.

Or maybe a more appropriate and personal question, “Why does God love me?” Someone who had built a kingdom where only I could rule. Someone who gladly thanked God for his gifts and then desecrated them by using them my way, not his. Someone who claimed lordship over my own body and life and used both for my glory. And even now, while redeemed, but still imperfect, why does he love me? Why does he love me when the stench of my hypocrisy rises to heaven?

Not How, But Why?

Look, I’m a theology student. I know how God can love me. I know that his love for me is not based on my works. In spite of my guilt, God loved me on the basis of his grace. And the ultimate display of his love is sending Christ to die in my place to take away my guilt. How is a holy and just God able to justify guilty sinners? The answer is written in the blood of the cross. I understand that he is committed to his covenant. But why enter into a covenant with sinners? Why pursue us? I understand that he loves us on the basis of his grace. But why show us grace in the first place? Because it is his nature? Well, his nature would be no different whether he showed us grace or left us in our sin. I get the how. But that’s not the question this young girl wants answered.

Why does he do it? Why does he love unworthy, dirty, blasphemous, prideful sinners? Why does he love those who have rebelled against him? Why does he love those who have broken his laws? Why does he love those who have taken all of the good gifts he has given us and used them to scheme against him? Why? Why does God love us?

For His Glory

The best biblical evidence I can find for the reason God would love us is that God loves us for his glory. I am borrowing from John Piper here. Shocker, I know. But Piper gives the most compelling answer to this almost ethereal question.

According to Piper, God loves us because he wants to glorify himself. Here are some examples he gives:

God loves us by adopting us into his family, and he does this for his glory. “In love he predestined us for adoption to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:5-6).

God loves us by creating us, and he does this for his glory. “…Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (Isa. 43:6-7).

God loves us by sending us a Savior, and he does this for his glory. “The angel said to them, “I bring you good news of great joy. . .For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior. . .And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest’” (Luke 2:10-14).

God loves us by Christ’s dying for us, and he does this for his glory. “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

And these are just a few reasons Piper gives. To tell you the truth, I don’t ultimately know why God would choose to love his enemies. I believe the Bible demonstrates God loves us for his glory. God makes himself the greatest treasure when he loves us for his glory. This means that even when we are tempted to make a god out of the loving gifts God gives us, we will see that the reason he loves us is for the praise and glory of his name, which causes us to make him our only God.

I know that it is an important question to ask because of what it causes us to think about. It causes us to think about God’s holiness and perfection and glory. It causes us to think about our sin and our guilt. It causes us to think about God’s grace. And even though we may never know exactly why a gloriously perfect God would choose to love horribly imperfect sinners, we know for sure what the apostle Paul said to the church at Rome: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). What tremendous love!

And on the basis of this extreme love, we are to love others. Time to repent.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.