Archives For Theological Convictions






Most have heard the story of the rally-turned-protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12-13. For those unfamiliar, officials in the city were planning to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. The Alt-Right scheduled a rally in opposition to these plans to move the statue. With protests and counter-protests, the rally turned into chaos and violence, with 1 person dead and 19 injured in its wake.

If people were unfamiliar with the alt-right before this rally, most now know. The alt-right consists of white nationalists, white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis, and other racists. Over the course of the couple of days associated with the rally, marchers carried Tike torches, a Nazi flag and some gave KKK hand gestures. It is critical to say: the alt-right is anti-God and anti-gospel.

After so much has been said and written, is it even necessary or worthwhile to add something more. I believe so, which is why I respond.

First, it is important for me to speak as part of our EFCA family. This is not a global or universal statement, even though I bear that in mind. Rather, it is a statement made by one family member to another.

Second, I speak as a white majority in the EFCA. When we address issues from a biblical and theological perspective, any and all have something to say. We are all seeking to understand and apply the truth of the Scriptures. And yet, depending on the issue we are addressing, or to which we are responding, there are some who may need to initiate by speaking out first.

Over the past decade, Alejandro Mandes, All People Executive Director, and I have learned this (and continue to learn!) and attempt to live it out in practice. Although we are in agreement on the biblical, theological and even pastoral response to an issue, on most all people matters, he needs to be the lead voice, and I need to affirm and support his voice, as he articulates that biblical response pastorally. It also works the other way. There are some things in which I may need to be the lead voice, and he affirms and supports my voice, as we together stand on God’s Word.

This is one of those instances where I believe it is imperative that I, as a white believer, who is in the majority, needs to speak to this issue. The gospel creates “one new humanity” (Eph. 2:14-16), a family that manifests a new community, a community created by God that exists to bring glory to God. That is what we believe, that is what we proclaim, that is what we live.

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On this date, July 26, 1833, three days before William Wilberforce died, friends informed him that a bill to abolish slavery had passed its second reading in Parliament, which meant it would pass.

Wilberforce, in reply, stated, “Thank God, that I should have lived to witness a day in which England is willing to give twenty millions sterling for the abolition of slavery!”

Wilberforce had virtually given his entire life in Parliament working for the abolishment of slavery in the British Empire, 40 years and up until his retirement in 1825. When he retired, his goals had come short. He would have to wait another 8 years to experience its abolishment.

Lessons: (1) Gospel-centered ministries and missions are right, and they are worth giving our lives to. (2) Although all gospel-centered ministries are right, some are called and gifted to lead the way as theses ministries are undertaken, while all are to be engaged in one way or another. (3) Many of the ministries to which God calls us will live long after we have completed our ministries, and some long after we have been ushered into glory, which means it is important we are and remain grounded in the gospel, and we have a longer view of God’s work in the world.  

Wilberforce had not always been opposed to slavery. His conversion was the ground of this change. In fact, after his conversion he wondered if politics was the best arena in which to serve the Lord. Through the help and guidance of others, including John Newton, he believed it was indeed a place he could and would serve the Lord. Although slavery was not the only issue he took up in Parliament, it was one of the most important.

Lessons: (1) Being given new life, one receives a new heart, which results in new loves – loving what God loves – and new hates –hating what God hates, new passions and new callings. (2) Although the vocational calling may be the same as prior to one’s new spiritual birth, the motivation changes. It is no longer personal kingdom building. Instead, everything one does is done in the power and strength God provides, and it is done by his grace and for his glory, leaving an aroma of Christ. (3) When we both give and receive counsel, remember God calls first to himself, captures the converted, and then pours them out to serve in his name and for his glory. For Christians there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular, as everything one does is as onto the Lord, all done in his name, by his grace and for his glory, which includes vocational ministry in the church and vocational ministry outside the church.

One of those providing counsel to Wilberforce was John Wesley. In 1791, a mere week before his own death, he counseled Wilberforce regarding the call, cost and compulsion to work toward the abolishment of slavery, writing,

Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.

Encouragement and Exhortation: May we commit and recommit to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News, and may we also commit and recommit to its entailments, racial reconciliation, a manifestation of the gospel.

Many consider Calvin a great theologian, which he was. But he was also a great pastor, who preached and lived the truth of the Scriptures. In this latter role, he helped other Christians both to know the truth and to live the truth, and he did so through the means of illustration and application of these truths personally in life, in both his preaching and writing.

I share with you two key truths from John Calvin regarding prayer.

Before doing so, it is important to establish the biblical foundation for what Calvin writes regarding prayer.

As Evangelicals, we affirm that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. “For by grace you have been saved by faith” (Eph. 2:8), we recite. And yet, faith is not something we exercise only at the point of salvation. Faith is also one of the marks of a Christian.

Paul emphasizes this same truth. In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul writes, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17; cf. Hab. 2:4; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). To paraphrase the broader truth and experience, there are two key emphases: (1) the righteous – by faith – shall live, i.e., those who exercise faith in Jesus Christ are made righteous and live; (2) the righteous shall live – by faith, i.e., those who have been righteous by faith, they live by faith, a life of faith.

Here, then, are Calvin’s two key truths of prayer.

First, bearing in mind that we live a life of faith, Calvin described the relationship between faith and prayer in this way: Prayer is the chief exercise of faith. One of the key ways we live a life of faith is through prayer. It is one of the greatest ways we manifest our humility before God and our dependency on the Lord. The lack of prayer reflects a self-sufficiency, a pride and arrogance that we can do this on our own. Prayer manifests a life of faith, a humble and joyful dependency, which pleases the Lord.

Second, in the Christian life, there are few greater ways, if any, in expressing our love for brothers and sisters than intercessory prayer. This is one of Jesus’ key ministries on behalf of his adopted sons and daughters (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 Jn. 2:1). As our Lord Jesus Christ prays on our behalf, we, too, express our love to others as we pray on their behalf. John Calvin writes, “To make intercessions for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them.”

It is a joy and privilege to engage with other believers in the EFCA in the ministry of the gospel, as we together engage in prayer, the chief exercise of faith, and as we love one another through the ministry of intercessory prayer.

“He is risen!,” exclaims one. “He is risen, indeed!, responds another.

This is a traditional Christian greeting. One exclaims the glorious statement of fact, a truth that has gripped and transformed them, “He is risen!” This is followed by a response from another that reflects the same glorious transformation, “He is risen, indeed!”

This greeting is grounded in the historical truth of Jesus’ resurrection. The hope that this expression exudes is grounded in Jesus’ first words to the gathered disciples, “Peace be with you” (Jn. 20:19). Before explaining the significance of this expression, which is both theologically rich, and experientially life-transforming, it will be helpful to recount the events of this “first day of the week” (the day after the Jewish Sabbath, and a statement which reflects this is an early account of the resurrection, since after the resurrection, this day was referred to as “the Lord’s Day,” cf. Rev. 1:10), this day on which Christ was raised, the day we know as Sunday.

  • Early in the morning, a few women discover the empty tomb (Matt. 28:1-7; Mk. 16:1-7; Lk. 24:1-7; Jn. 20:1).
  • The women depart from the garden and inform the disciples (Matt. 28:8-10; Lk. 24:8-11; Jn. 20:2).
  • Peter and John run to the tomb and discover it is empty (Lk. 24:12; Jn. 20:3-10).
  • Mary returns to the tomb and meets the resurrected Jesus (Jn. 20:11-18).
  • Jesus appears to Cleopas and another with him on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35).
  • That evening, Jesus appears to the disciples, minus Thomas, in a house in Jerusalem (Lk. 24:36-43; Jn. 20:19-23).

In recounting what occurred on this day of Jesus’ resurrection, John describes these events. It began “early” with the discovery of the empty tomb (Jn. 20:1-10) and Jesus’ appearance to Mary (Jn. 20:11-18). And then “on the evening of that day” Jesus appeared to the disciples (Jn. 20:19-23). Because Thomas was not with the disciples at this time, and when informed of this appearance of Jesus by the other disciples, he would not believe. John records that “eight days later” when the disciples were gathered, this time with Thomas, Jesus appeared to them again (Jn. 20:24-29). This led to Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28)!

With this larger context of John’s recounting of the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection in mind, I return to the evening of the day in which Jesus was raised. John writes, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (Jn. 20:19). This word is key in this first encounter with Jesus. Jesus reiterates this statement, saying “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (Jn. 20:21). And then, “eight days later,” when Thomas is now with the other disciples, not having been with them in their first meeting with Jesus, he, once again, meets them in a similar manner and says, “Peace be with you” (Jn. 20:26). In light of the disciples’ fears on the evening of this resurrection day, Jesus’ words of peace refer immediately to their present situation. He reassures them in the midst of certain and real fear of the Jews, they ought to be at “peace.” This is not the first time Jesus mentions peace.

Earlier in the Gospel, John records Jesus saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn. 14:27). Jesus gives peace unlike any peace offered by and experienced in the world. Based on the peace Jesus offers, our hearts are not to be troubled or afraid. Jesus reiterates this teaching post-resurrection. Later, Jesus declares, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). Once again, Jesus promises to them peace – peace in the midst of tribulation. The reason is because he has overcome the world. Now when Jesus meets with the disciples on the evening of the first day of the week, the day in which Jesus resurrected, his first words are “Peace be with you.” Not only are they uttered as a culmination of Jesus’ previous teaching. They are also filled with meaning because of his death-burial-resurrection.

Jesus last words from the cross and the first words to his disciples are connected. It only makes sense that the last words of Jesus, “It is finished,” which reflect the completion of the earthly work Christ came to accomplish, are followed immediately after the resurrection with “Peace be with you.” The death-burial-resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ground by which sin, our defiance and rebellion against God, is addressed (Gen. 2:16-17) and his wrath is propitiated (Rom. 3:21-26). Faith is the means by which this completed, finished work of Christ is received in our lives. That is, if we truly understand Jesus’ final words from the cross, we then ought to expect that Jesus’ first words to the disciples would be “Peace be with you.”

G. R. Beasley-Murray, a New Testament scholar, captures the essence of this truth in the following statement:

It is well known that that was (and still is) the everyday greeting of Jews in Palestine – ‘Shalom to you!’ But this was no ordinary day. . . . Never had that ‘common word’ been so filled with meaning as when Jesus uttered it on Easter evening. All that the prophets had poured into shalom as the epitome of the blessings of the kingdom of God had essentially been realized in the redemptive deeds of the incarnate Son of God, ‘lifted up” for the salvation of the world. “His ‘Shalom!’ on Easter evening is the completion of ‘It is finished’ on the cross, for the peace of reconciliation and life from God is now imparted. ‘Shalom!’ accordingly is supremely the Easter greeting. Not surprisingly it is included, along with ‘grace,’ in the greeting of every epistle of Paul in the NT.

It is finished . . . Peace be with you. These two historical statements are rich with theological truth, and essential for our new life in Christ. The peace pronounced and accomplished by Jesus in the New Testament is the fulfillment of the shalom promised in the Old Testament.

Shalom, according to one, is “one of the key words and images for salvation in the Bible. The Hebrew word refers most commonly to a person being uninjured and safe, whole and sound. In the New Testament, shalom is revealed as the reconciliation of all things to God through the work of Christ. . . . Shalom experienced is multidimensional, complete well-being – physical, psychological, social, and spiritual; it flows form all of one’s relationships being put right – with God, with(in) oneself, and with others.” Although there is some overlap with how this term is understood outside of Christianity, there is a unique use of the term due to the death-burial-resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In essence, what makes this unique, concludes one, is “the offended party (God) initiates the process of reconciliation with his enemy. It is not humans who approach God to make peace, but God who reaches out to humanity. . . . it is by means of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ that peaceful relations between God ad humanity can be effected.” It is emphasized in the Aaronic blessing/doxology in the Old Testament, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (Num. 26:24-26), and the person and work of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, “he himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).

On this day in which we remember and celebrate this peace we have received, we ultimately worship the One who brought this peace, Jesus Christ, who is the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), and is himself our peace (Eph. 2:14ff). Here are a few implications of Jesus’ completion of his earthly work (“it is finished”) and the peace he brings (“peace be with you”).

First, we have peace with God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 5:1; 8:1).

Second, we have peace with one another. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:14-17).

Third, we live lives marked by the peace of God and the God of peace. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. . . . What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me– practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:5b-7, 9).

Finally, we live with the certainty of future, ultimate peace (shalom). “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20).

Dear friends, on this day we remember and worship Christ, confessing he is “My Lord and my God!”

Peace be with you!

This day is historically referred to as Maundy Thursday. The Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum, which means command, and refers to the new commandment Jesus gave to his disciples to love one another, as recorded by John (Jn. 13:34-35).

Jesus gave this command in the midst of the celebration of the Passover with his disciples. It is helpful to recount the events of this day of this final week of Jesus’ life prior to the cross. Jesus initially instructs his disciples Peter and John to get a room for the celebration of Passover (Matt. 26:17-19; Mk. 14:12-16; Lk. 22:7-13). Jesus and his disciples celebrate the Passover meal, at which time he informs them of the coming betrayal, and he institutes the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:20-29; Mk. 14:17-23; Lk. 22:14-30). This Passover becomes the Last Supper and the Lord’s Supper, which marks a transition between the two, and marks the beginning of the new covenant ushered in through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, the new covenant in my blood” (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). Finally, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, interacts with them and gives the Upper Room Discourse (Jn. 13:1-17:26). One has written that the purpose of this section of John’s Gospel “is to ‘unpack’, before the event, the significance of Jesus’ departure – his death, burial, resurrection, exaltation and the consequent coming of the Holy Spirit.”

In this section of John’s Gospel focusing on the Passover and the washing of the disciples’ feet (Jn. 13:1-38), there are a number of key truths that are important for us to grasp to understand the significance of Jesus and his work, leading to the cross.

  1. When John reaches this point in his Gospel, he notes of Jesus that “his hour had come to depart” (13:1a). The “hour” is related to the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry which is the cross, the place where Christ experiences the depths of sin, yet also the beginning of his exaltation through resurrection and glorification. It is important to note John’s transition. When Jesus was asked to do certain things, He made it clear that the “hour had not yet come” (Jn. 2:4; 7:30; 8:20). But Jesus final journey to the cross marks his transition such that John records Jesus as saying, “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn. 12:23; cf. 12:27(2x); 13:1; 17:1). The cross is the unique way through which He will be glorified. Jesus’ High Priestly prayer begins, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (Jn. 17:1).
  2. God loved the world that led to the giving of his only-begotten Son (Jn. 3:16). God’s love for the world is not that it was good, but in order to draw men and women out of it. This is why he gave his Son. God’s love is the reason he sent his Son, and the Son’s death was the propitiation for our sins. God is not moved from wrath to love because of Christ’s death. Rather, it is God’s love that leads to his satisfaction of his wrath against us and our sin. This is how John states this truth: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:9-10).
  3. Jesus loved his own from the beginning, but now he reveals the full extent of his love (13:1b). This expression could mean either “to the end,” viz., he loved them to the uttermost that he could not love any more. Or it could mean Jesus loved them to the very end of his life. Whichever way it is understood, “the text presupposes that the way Jesus displays his unflagging love for his own is in the cross immediately ahead, and in the act of self-abasing love, the foot-washing, that anticipates the cross.” Jesus “loved them to the end,” which culminates in Jesus’ statement “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30), and bowing his head and giving up his spirit (Jn. 19:30). God the Father’s love was the ground and basis of the sending of his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 Jn. 4:9-10). God the Son loved to the end, to death on the cross (Jn. 13:1; 19:30). The Father and Son are one in will, intent and purpose.
  4. Jesus, being the God-man, knew the “Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God” (13:3). Jesus knew his purpose and he trusted his Father. We confess that Jesus is fully God and fully man, one person in two natures. This is revealed in Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane where “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Lk. 22:44). Knowing what was before him he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). And yet, the Scriptures also reveal that “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
  5. Because he knew who he was and what his purpose was, he served. Jesus takes the humble posture as he “laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (13:4-6). This reflects the nature of God, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).
  6. In addition to revealing the sacrificial love of God, which will be expressed fully by Jesus giving his life at the cross, this foot washing also serves as an example to Jesus’ followers. Jesus says, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (13:14-15). Jesus takes the form of a servant and serves. We, as his followers, also serve.
  7. It is in knowing the Lord Jesus and the truths about him and doing them, living by them that brings blessing. Jesus emphasizes, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (13:17). It is the knowing and doing. The doing is not the basis of life, but the fruit and manifestation of life.
  8. After Jesus stated one will betray him, he also acknowledged that it was through this means he and the Father would be glorified: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once” (13:31-32). The purpose for which Jesus came was to be the propitiation for our sins (1 Jn. 4:10) and to destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn. 3:8). And the means by which these would be realized, and the way in which God the Father and God the Son would be glorified is through his death on the cross.
  9. Finally, Jesus gives a new command: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:34-35). This command is not new because nothing like it had ever been said previously. Rather, as noted by D. A. Carson, it was new on the basis of it being a “new standard (‘As I have loved you’) [and] with the new order it both mandates and exemplifies. . . . This commandment is presented as the marching order for the newly gathering messianic community, brought into existence by the redemption long purposed by God himself. It is not just that the standard is Christ and his love; more, it is a command designed to reflect the relationship of love that exists between the Father and the Son (cf. 8:29; 10:18; 12:49-50; 14:31; 15:10), designed to bring about amongst the members of the nascent messianic community the kind of unity that characterizes Jesus and his Father (Jn. 17). The new command is there not only the obligation of the new covenant community to respond to the God who has loved them and redeemed them by the oblation of his Son, and their response to his gracious election which constituted them his people, it is a privilege which, rightly lived out, proclaims the true God before a watching world. That is why Jesus ends his injunction with the words, All men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. Orthodoxy without principial obedience to this characteristic command of the new covenant is merely so much humbug.”

On this day, may we reflect on two critical truths: Jesus “loved them to the end” and on this basis we are commanded and enabled to “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”