Archives For Jesus Christ

Christmas Hymns, A Battle and Victory

Greg Strand – December 23, 2013 1 Comment

We often view Christmas with a soft and serene sense, with visions of a baby, a cradle, blankets and bottles, peace, and many other things associated with this sort of context. Granted, our emotions and the reality of the season may be anything but that with the hustle and bustle, the last minute shopping, the spending of money, etc. But that is the sentimental vision many have or hope for during the Christmas season.

The proper context to understand Christmas, however, is as a battle and victory. After the fall, as God pronounces judgment He informs Adam, Eve and the serpent there would be one who would bruise her Seed’s (offspring) heel, but this Seed (offspring) would crush the Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20). This is known as the Protoevangelium, the first gospel. This peace the angels’ spoke about (Lk. 2:14) was real and true. At eight days of age, when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple to be presented to the Lord, Simeon prophesied that this One is appointed for the rising and falling of many, and Mary’s own soul would be pierced (Lk. 2:34-36). The partial realization of this prophecy occurred almost immediately as shortly after Jesus’ birth Herod wanted Him dead (Matt. 2:1-11). This is reflective of Jesus’ life. But He was clear in His purpose and mission, and He knew, being God, this was the only way He could be the appointed mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

This Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6) would bring peace between God and human beings and between human beings (Eph. 2:11-22). But this peace would be brought through the cross. This is what we often forget: peace comes through the cross, which was anything but peaceful to Christ. But for the joy set before Him (Heb. 12:1-3), He endured the cross for us and for our salvation (as stated in the Nicene Creed).

At Jesus’ birth the angels’ spoke of peace: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased” (Lk. 2:14). After Jesus’ resurrection when He appeared to the disciples, some of His first words to them were, “Peace be with you” (Jn. 20:19). Peace was achieved through the cross. It was at the cross that sins were forgiven and Satan and the principalities were defeated (Col. 2:15).

We now live between the times of Christ’s first and second comings. Though Satan is a defeated foe (Heb. 2:14-15; 1 Jn. 3:8), and though his time is short, which he knows, he will raise as much havoc and do as much damage as possible. He lives to accuse Christians day and night (Rev. 12:10), doing all he can to kill, steal and destroy (Jn. 10:10).

Russell Moore wrote about this tension: “Let’s Rethink Our Holly-Jolly Christmas Songs.

Of course, some of the blame is on our sentimentalized Christmas of the American civil religion. Simeon the prophet never wished anyone a “holly-jolly Christmas” or envisioned anything about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But there’s our songs too, the songs of the church. We ought to make sure that what we sing measures up with the, as this fellow would put it, “narrative tension” of the Christmas story.

The first Christmas carol, after all, was a war hymn. Mary of Nazareth sings of God’s defeat of his enemies, about how in Christ he had demonstrated his power and “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Lk. 1:52). There are some villains in mind there.

Simeon’s song, likewise, speaks of the “fall and rising of many in Israel” and of a sword that would pierce the heart of Mary herself. Even the “light of the Gentiles” he speaks about is in the context of warfare. After all, the light, the Bible tells us, overcomes the darkness (Jn. 1:5), and frees us from the grip of the devil (2 Cor. 4).

During this season, we worship the Prince of Peace. We remember and celebrate His first coming in the incarnation when “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). We honor Christ when we eagerly long for His second coming. Though we live between the times, we know Christ is the conquering King and Satan is a defeated foe, and we are not ignorant of his schemes against God, His work and His people. Through Christ we overcame and in Christ we overcome (1 Jn. 4:4; Rev. 12:11). The peace we now have with God in and through the gospel of Jesus Christ we now live with another in such a way that the gospel is manifested. As the gospel triumphs in our lives which enables us to impact families and churches, we long for the day when Jesus returns when He will right all things and to make all things right.

As we sing Christmas carols this season, let’s also join with the early church in saying and living maranatha, Come Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20).

The Incarnation: Jesus Christ, The God-Man

Greg Strand – December 18, 2013 6 Comments

This time of the year is a wonderful time to ponder the incredible truths of the incarnation: the time when the second Person of the Godhead, the Son, became incarnate in a man such that without ceasing to be what He always was, God, He became what He was not, man, so that he is now and forever the perfect God-man, fully God and fully man.

The incarnation is a biblical truth (Matt. 1:18-25; 2:1-12; Lk. 2:1-20; Gal. 4:4-5; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16; etc.). It is foundational to an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. It is foundational to Christianity and the Christian faith. It is foundational to a right understanding of the Scriptures. It is foundational to a right understanding of salvation.

In addition to the biblical truth of this doctrine, there are also a number of statements affirming this wonderful truth, along with the heretical ways in which this truth of the God-man has been denied.

EFCA Statement of Faith

Jesus Christ

4. We believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully God and fully man, one Person in two natures. Jesus-Israel’s promised Messiah-was conceived through the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, arose bodily from the dead, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father as our High Priest and Advocate.

God’s gospel is made known supremely in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, pp. 98-99:

Jesus Christ is thus one Person in whom two distinct natures are united. Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man. He is fully and completely both at the same time, showing us the true nature of each. . . . The Son of God remained God – he never gave up being God, but he added to his divinity real humanity. As God incarnate, the divine subject made real human experience his own, and since the incarnation, the Son of God will forever be human.

There are three key statements/truths to understand Christology:

  1. Jesus Christ is truly and fully God.
  2. Jesus Christ is truly and fully man.
  3. Jesus Christ is one Person in two distinct natures.
    a. The two natures are distinct.
    b. The two natures are united in one Person.

Jesus is the God-Man – Historical Statements of this Biblical Truth

A. The Nicene- Constantinople Creed (325 A.D., revised 381 A.D.)

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

B. The Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.)

‘Therefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man [Nestorius], consisting also of a reasonable soul and body [Apollinarianism]; of one substance [homoousios] with the Father as regards his Godhead [Arianism], and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood [Nestorianism]; like us in all respects [Docetism], apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer [theotokos]; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence [hypostasis], not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.”

C. Key Phrases in the Chalcedonian Statement

It is interesting to note that this Statement attempted to address every Christological problem that had affected the church up to that time. Robert Reymond, (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith [Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998], 608-609), helpfully points them out, which I have adapted. He notes both explicit affirmations and implicit denials.

  1. Against the Docetists (Jesus only appeared to be human) it declared that the Lord Jesus Christ was perfect in manness, truly man, consubstantial (homoousion, not homoiousion) with us according to manness, and born of Mary.
  2. Against the Samosatian adoptionists (at some point, baptism, the human Jesus was adopted by the Father to become the Son) it insisted upon the personal subsistence of the Logos “begotten of the Father before the ages.”
  3. Against the Sabellians (a form of modalism) it distinguished the Son from the Father both by the titles of “Father” and “Son” and by its reference to the Father having begotten the Son before all ages.
  4. Against the Arians (Jesus was not eternal, but created, there was time when he was not) it affirmed that the Lord Jesus Christ was perfect in deity, truly God, and consubstantial with the Father. (An earlier version of this was known as Ebionism.)
  5. Against the Apollinarians (one person of Christ had a human body but not a human mind and spirit which were of divine nature), who had reduced Jesus’ manness to a body and an “animal soul” (psyche alogos), it declared that Jesus had a “rational soul” (psyche logike), that is, a “spirit.”
  6. Against the Nestorians (two separate persons in Christ, a human person and a divine person) it both described Mary as theotokos, not in order to exalt Mary in the slightest, but in order to affirm Jesus’ true deity and the fact of a real incarnation, and spoke throughout of one and the same Son and one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons and whose natures are in union without division and without separation.
  7. Finally, against the Eutychians (Christ has one nature only, human nature was absorbed into the divine nature so a third kind of nature resulted), it confessed that in Christ were two natures without confusion and without change, the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in the one person.

An Interview with Billy Graham

Greg Strand – November 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Christianity Today, founded by Billy Graham 60 years ago, interviewed Graham about his life, ministry and his most recent book: “Q&A: Billy Graham’s Warning Against an Epidemic of ‘Easy Believism‘.” This interview was conducted in conjunction with the “My Hope America with Billy Graham” campaign during the month of November, which accompanies the release of likely his last book, The Reason for My Hope: Salvation.

Since 2002, the “My Hope” crusade has reached 57 countries, America being the 58th, with more than 298,000 churches participating, and with more than 4.4 million Christians serving as hosts. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, more than 10 million people have become Christians.

I will highlight a few key statements, though I encourage you to read the whole interview. What Graham says is always worthwhile to hear.

In response to the question of how he refers to himself first, as an evangelical or a Christian and why, he stated that “what really matters is how God sees me. He isn’t concerned with labels; he is concerned about the state of one’s soul.” This is exactly right and refreshing to hear. It reminds me of Paul when he writes to the Galatians, “now that you have God, or rather to be known by God “(4:9a).

Graham tells the story of his own life in which he had previously thought he was a Christian, but realized after he experienced the new spiritual birth that he had not been. He claims that what accompanies is a new birth is a new life.

If there is no change in a person’s life, he or she must question whether or not they possess the salvation that the gospel proclaims. Many who go to church have not had a life-changing transformation in Christ.

He was also asked, “Why, according to the title of your book, is salvation the reason for your hope?,” and his response gets to the heart of his concern, “easy-believism.”

As I approached my 95th birthday, I was burdened to write a book that addressed the epidemic of “easy believism.” There is a mindset today that if people believe in God and do good works they are going to Heaven. But there are many questions that must be answered. There are two basic needs that all people have: the need for hope and the need for salvation. It should not be surprising if people believe easily in a God who makes no demands, but this is not the God of the Bible. Satan has cleverly misled people by whispering that they can believe in Jesus Christ without being changed, but this is the Devil’s lie. To those who say you can have Christ without giving anything up, Satan is deceiving you. While I am no longer able to stand in the pulpit and deliver a sermon from the Bible, God laid on my heart a burning desire to put this message in book form—a message that resonates within me every time I switch on the news. When I visit with people from all walks of life the question is asked, “What is happening in the world?”

Asked about topics and illustrations that address people’s needs, Graham noted that there is a great deal of confusion today – about religions, about God, about heaven and hell – and the answer to it all is Jesus Christ.

There are so many religions in the world, and I have never witnessed as much confusion as there is today about where to find truth. We have people preaching that God is a God of love, not of wrath. We have people proclaiming that Heaven is real but Hell is only a figment of imagination. As research was done for this book, my heart ached to hear story after story of people bragging that Hell will be one continuous happy hour; high profile comedians joke that they are happy to know they will one day go there.

This book is written to sound a warning—a loving warning from Heaven—that Heaven is created for those who humble themselves before God and Hell is created for Satan and those who serve him. Christ came to turn mankind away from the hold Satan wants to have in people’s lives. Jesus Christ is the answer for the world—he is the anchor of the soul—he is the God of hope that came in human form to rescue us from Satan’s grip. A seminary professor once made a profound statement to his students: “Never preach Hell without tears in your eyes.” My message is to proclaim that we are all sinners in need of a Savior and ask each one this question: Have you ever been saved?

I thank the Lord for Billy Graham. I am also grateful that the Lord, in His faithfulness, preserved Graham so that he remained faithful to Him in carrying out his call as an evangelist and as evidenced in his commitment to the gospel in proclamation and life.

The doctrinal centrality of the gospel is foundational to and leads inexorably to the functional centrality of the gospel.

The gospel focuses on the fulfillment of God’s plan for the redemption of His people through the Person of Jesus Christ. The gospel is something done! Full stop. But this is not all there is to say about the gospel. Rooted in what the gospel is, it also has entailments in how we think and live. This is not the gospel, but an entailment of the gospel. If we make it the gospel, then we have created another gospel (cf. Gal. 1:6-9).

It is vital to affirm and rest upon the centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ in doctrine and proclamation. But it is also vital to live out the gospel in all of life and ministry. This is the functional centrality of the gospel.

So often people affirm the doctrinal centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but then they press on to other things as if the gospel has no bearing on how we go about ministry thereafter. This undermines and sometimes denies, often not by design but by default, the truth of the gospel.

For example, it was the functional centrality of the gospel in ministry and relationships that Peter compromised when he pulled away from table fellowship with the Gentiles in Galatia. This is why Paul confronted him so strongly (Gal. 2:11-14). Peter’s functional response undermined the doctrinal centrality of the gospel.

It is vital that we affirm both truths, that we get the order right, and that we understand how they relate to one another. If not, we will end up with a dead orthodoxy (denial of its functional centrality), or we will end up with a different gospel (extending the meaning of the gospel to what we need to do).

As you ponder and pray about this, how are you doing?

Interview with D. A. Carson

Greg Strand – April 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Daniel Darling interviewed D. A. Carson as part of the “Friday Five Interview” at Leadership Journal’s Out of Ur.  Carson was asked a number of different questions, and I include two of those questions below.

Carson was asked about the importance of his recently published book, Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), about which I have previously commented. He notes this emphasis is important for two reasons:  first, it is at the heart of the intersection between exegesis and theology; second, there are some translators who suggest we do away with divine familial language, i.e. “Son of God,” for Muslim ministry as this language is offensive to them. For other posts on this theme, see:

You recently released a book, Jesus, the Son of God. Why the emphasis on son-ship for pastors and theologians today?

The title “the Son of God” is one that is repeatedly applied to the Lord Jesus, so there is a perennial responsibility to understand it. There are two factors that make this responsibility more urgent at the present time.

First, sometimes the world of biblical interpretation and the world of systematic theology do not mesh very well. In this instance, how do we move from the various uses of “Son of God” in the Bible to the meaning of “Son of God” in Trinitarian theology? There are important ways of making the connections, but not many Christians these days have thought them through. To restore such knowledge is a stabilizing thing, and an incentive to worship.

Second, certain voices are suggesting that we can do away with “Son of God” and other familial terms in new translations for Muslim converts. In my view this is both bad linguistics and bad theology, and needs to be challenged.

In this question, Carson addresses the manner in which we give ourselves to the Scriptures to ensure, by God’s grace, that the gospel is not assumed in one generation and denied in the next. Though this question is addressed to pastors and church leaders, it is pertinent to all believers.

You’ve often said that the Church is three generations from losing the gospel entirely. What advice would you give to pastors and church leaders to ensure that this doesn’t happen?

This question is an important one, but very difficult to answer in a few lines. Read and meditate on the Scriptures constantly, and self-consciously place yourself under Scriptural authority.

Walk with epistemological humility—and that means carefully learning from Christian leaders in the past so we do not tumble into precisely the same mistakes.

Devote yourself to disciplined prayer. A prayerless person is a disaster waiting to happen.

Never stop evangelizing:  it is much easier to get sloppy about the gospel if you are not proclaiming it and seeing men and women come to Christ.

Develop close attachments with a handful of trusted people who are experienced and discerning, and make time for edifying fellowship.

If you are a pastor, read widely—commentaries, theology, historical theology, devotional literature, and so forth. A pastor must be a general practitioner. One is far more likely to make mistakes of proportion and judgment where one sees oneself as a kind of specialist.

Please consider these application questions from Carson’s advice on keeping the gospel at the center.

  • On what items would you agree? What would you disagree?
  • From this list, what do you find most challenging and why?
  • What additional advice would you give and why?
  • What do you do personally to ensure the gospel remains central and the first priority in your life and ministry?
  • As a pastor or leader, what is being done to ensure that the gospel of Jesus Christ is of first priority in doctrine and preaching and also in the various ministries of the church, i.e. the gospel has both a doctrinal centrality/priority and a functional centrality/priority?