The Uniqueness of Christian Service

love01By David Wells

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine (original source here).

Serving is not, of course, uniquely Christian. Indeed, the language of service has popped up everywhere in our society. To access the Internet, for example, we must have a network service provider. In business, there is a service sector. We get bills for professional services rendered. In our stores, there is customer service. When the gas gets low in our cars, we head for a service station. In our nation, we have the armed services. Wealthy households pay for domestic service. The rest of us wonder if we can afford lawn service.

So, does any of this help us to understand Christian service? The short answer is “no.”

Christian service is unique for three reasons. First, it is unique in its source. That source is our redemption in Christ. Second, it is unique in its objective, which is to model, as far as is possible, Christ’s kind of servanthood. Third, it is unique in its character, for it is motivated by God’s holy-love. Although these are each important, it is on the third that I must focus here.

First, then, I need to explain what I have in mind by the term holy-love. Second, I will explore its connection to our service.

God’s Holy-love

Light breaks down into its rainbow colors when it passes through a prism. In a similar way, God’s love and His holiness are also broken out into different aspects in Scripture. Within His love, for example, we can distinguish mercy, forbearance, kindness, and compassion. And within His holiness, we can see righteousness, faithfulness, justice, judgment, and wrath. God’s holy-love is shorthand for His entire character.

What this hyphenated language does is remind us that God’s character is whole. The God who “is love” (1 John 4:8) is always, everywhere, and at the same time, the God who is a “consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29) and the One who is “light” (1 John 1:5). When we meet God, we meet Him in the wholeness of His character. His judgment, for example, is always preceded by His patience. It is always shadowed by His mercy. His love, in its bond with what is true and right, always accompanies, is always a part of, His holiness.

We are tempted to want one side of His character without the other. We want His love without His wrath, His compassion without His judgment, His mercy without His righteousness. Indeed, the liberalism that has now brought down the mainline denominations did this. It insisted that Christ’s death was only about God’s love and never about His wrath. That meant that Christ’s death was only an example and never an atonement. The reality, of course, was entirely different. God’s love provided in Christ’s death what God’s holiness required. Thus, Christ’s love took Him to the place where He stood in our place of judgment. His death was an atonement, not just an example. We never know God’s love except in its union with His holiness.

How This Works Out

Christian service is about how our redemption in Christ comes into flower in this world. It is what puts hands and feet and lips to God’s holy-love. Once we had as our life’s goal only ourselves. Our self-interest defined our worldview. Now this has changed. Now we are living a new kind of existence (2 Cor. 5:17). It is not one that is self-focused but one that is God-centered, not one that is self-pleasing but one that is open to others. And it is God’s holy-love that motivates this new direction even as it is Christ’s death that makes it possible.

We take the gospel to others because, Paul says, “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). But that is not our sole motivation. A little earlier he had said, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11). In other words, it is God’s holy-love that motivates us. It is love that feels the painful breakdown in life that sin has brought. It is holiness that understands how wrong this is. It is love that draws us to the side of another. It is holiness that yearns for the day when the world will be cleansed of all that is dark. And the gospel connects with both of these things. It is a message about deliverance from God’s coming judgment, and it is a message about His redemptive love in human life now. This love touches our sin as grace. Love and holiness thus walk hand-in-hand.

There are a thousand ways in which we can serve Christ. Some serve in places of high visibility and others in places of obscurity. It matters not. What matters is that in our service to Christ, another world is seen to be breaking into our everyday life. From this other world come shafts of light, of love in its union with what is holy, love as an expression of what is holy. In this sense, everyone who belongs to Christ is an outpost of eternity in this world. God calls His people so to live, so to serve, that they are themselves the evidence that the age to come is already dawning. That evidence is the presence of holy-love.

Romans with Steve Lawson

Dr. Steve Lawson is currently teaching a Men’s Bible study that is being made available to a wider audience to watch online. Sadly, it seems that the first such recording in Romans was not captured on video (or at least, I cannot find it). However, I have tracked down a preaching he did entitled “The Gospel as Historical Fact” which covered these same exact verses (Romans 1:1-7) here:

Then for the continuation of Romans in the Men’s Bible study, it starts at the very next verse (Romans 1:8). You can go to this link and scroll down to the bottom of the page to find it.

The Daring Mission of William Tyndale

In this session, Dr. Steven J. Lawson traces the daring mission of William Tyndale, who was used by God to ignite the English Reformation, which ultimately cost Tyndale his life.

A fuller teaching by Dr. Steve Lawson, including notes on PDF are found at this link.

Issues for the Western Church in the 21st Century

Dr. Carl Truman

Grace Theological College, New Zealand – July 2015

Session 1 – The Issues Facing Us Today

Session 2: Preaching

Session 3: The Importance of Creeds and Confessions

Total Depravity and Evangelism

1. Total Depravity and Evangelism – What we believe about the nature of man affects how we evangelize, as Dr. James White explains:

2. Defending the Faith against the works-righteousness cults:

3. Justification by Faith Alone

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

john-macarthur08What Is the Relationship Between Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility?

This excerpt is taken from None Other: Discovering the God of the Bible by John MacArthur.

The relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is not instantly obvious, and at first glance it seems paradoxical. But Scripture offers us considerable insight into how these twin truths harmonize within the plan of redemption.

The first step in understanding the compatibility between God’s sovereignty and human will is to recognize that they are not mutually exclusive, and Scripture makes this absolutely clear. In God’s design, human responsibility is clearly not eliminated by God’s sovereign control over His creation. That’s true even though evil was included in His grand design for the universe even before the beginning of time, and He uses His creatures’ sin for purposes that are always (and only) good. Indeed, in His infinite wisdom, He is able to use all things for good (Rom. 8:28).

Consider the Lord’s opening statement in Isaiah 10:5: “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger.” At first glance, this makes no sense. If Assyria is functioning as an instrument of God’s judgment, why is He pronouncing condemnation on the Assyrians? “Woe” is an onomatopoeic word (meaning the word sounds like what it means; in this case, a cry of agony) that warns of calamity or massive judgment to come. But how can a people come under divine denunciation and judgment while at the same time functioning as a rod of God’s anger? The rest of the verse says, “the staff in whose hand is My indignation.” Assyria, this pagan, godless, idolatrous nation, is the instrument of divine judgment against God’s own rebellious people.

In fact, the next verse says, “I send it against a godless nation [Judah, the southern part of the kingdom] and commission it against the people of My fury” (v. 6). The Jews are thus designated as the people of God’s fury. God holds Israel fully responsible for their disbelief; fully responsible for their idolatry; fully responsible for their rebellion and their rejection of Him, His Word, and His worship. So He commissions the Assyrians to come against them. Notice verse 6: “To capture booty, and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.” That’s strong, decisive language.

Now here you have a divine decree in action. God grabs Assyria by the nape of its national neck and assigns it to be the instrument of His fury against the godless people of Judah who have rejected and rebelled against Him. And then He says in verse 7, “Yet it [Assyria] does not so intend, nor does it plan so in its heart.” Assyria is the instrument of God’s judgment—and the Assyrians themselves are clueless about it. It was never Assyria’s purpose, motive, or intention to serve God. They had no interest in the God of Scripture—they didn’t even believe in Him. Rather, Assyria planned in its own heart to cut off many nations. This was just another opportunity for the Assyrian power to knock off another neighboring nation, as they’d already done to Calno, Carchemish, Hamath, Arpad, Samaria, and Damascus (v. 9). Verses 10 and 11 depict Assyria’s confidence in its ability to conquer Judah: “As my hand has reached to the kingdom of the idols, whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, shall I not do to Jerusalem and her images just as I have done to Samaria and her idols?” All Assyria knows is that it has destroyed other nations who, in its judgment, had greater protection and greater gods than the God of the Bible. The Assyrians simply intended to do to Judah what they had done to the rest of the nations. They thought they were acting in complete independence. They had no idea that God was using them as agents to deliver His judgment.

But does being instruments of divine wrath somehow exonerate them from responsibility for the evil inherent in their military policies? If this irresistible divine decree brings them to Israel, what culpability do they have for their actions? And yet Scripture is clear that they will be held accountable. Verse 12 says that when God has finished using Assyria as an instrument of His fury, “So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will say, ‘I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.’” The Lord has already decreed that once He is done using Assyria, He will punish it for its sins. The very act that the Assyrians carried out under divine decree was an act of evil—so evil that God will turn on them and bring destruction on them. In God’s eyes, they bear full culpability for every part of their evil slaughter and destruction, even though they are fulfilling His divine decree. Continue reading

The Protestant Reformation (Lecture Series)

From the Master’s Seminary – a 19 lecture series on the Protestant Reformation taught by Dr. Carl Trueman at this link.

Description

This course will introduce student to the major ideas, personalities, and events that shook Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It will consist of lectures and guided reading.

The focus will be on the development of Protestantism in its social, political, and cultural contexts, starting with Luther and the late medieval background and tracing the story through to the birth of modernity in the seventeenth century. En route, the student will study primary texts, art work, Reformation popular culture, and pastoral practices in early modern Protestantism.

In addition, the course is designed to help students to think critically about the past in a way which allows them to think critically about the present. Men and women make history, but they do not make the history that they choose; and only by examining the past forces that shaped the present can we understand ourselves, the world in which we live, and thus mount any response to the challenges that face us today.

Learning Goals

At the conclusion of the course, each student should be able to:

Recognize the key personalities, controversies, and theological developments which marked the Reformation.
Distinguish between the various historic Christian traditions in terms of their distinctive theological convictions as formulated during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Articulate ways in which social and cultural contexts shaped the way the church developed during the Reformation.

Textbooks and Reading Schedule

Students are expected to obtain a copies of:

Denis R Janz, A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts With Introductions. Some selections have been assigned, but the whole book is useful as giving short texts relevant to the various topics we will cover.
Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations.
The numbers appended below to Janz refer to the selection, not the page.

Schaff III is the third volume of P. Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (free pdf).

The readings from Lindberg are not synchronized with the lectures; they are merely a suggested timetable for taking you through the whole book by the end of the course.

1. Medieval Background and Martin Luther

Janz 14-19
Heidelberg Disputation
Lindberg, Chapters 1-2

2. Martin Luther

Freedom of the Christian
Lindberg, Chapters 3-4

3. Martin Luther

Exsurge Domine
Janz 25
Lindberg, Chapters 5-6

4. The Birth of the Reformed Church

Janz 30-37
The Sixty-Seven Articles of Huldrych Zwingli (in Schaff III)
Lindberg, Chapter 7

5. Geneva and Calvin

A Reformation Debate: Sadoleto’s Letter to the Genevans and Calvin’s Reply
Lindberg, Chapter 8

6. The Spread of Lutheranism and the Reformed Faith

The Augsburg Confession
The Heidelberg Catechism
Lindberg, Chapter 9

7. The English Reformation

The Act of Supremacy (1534)
The Thirty-Nine Articles
Homily on the True and Lively Faith
Lindberg, Chapter 10

8. Reading the Reformation

Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies
Lindberg, Chapter 11

9. The Catholic Reformation

Council of Trent: Bull of Convocation; Fifth and Sixth Session
Ignatius Loyola, Spiritual Exercises
Lindberg, Chapter 12

10. Seventeenth Century Developments: Reformed Confessionalism

Irish Articles of Religion (in Schaff III)
Westminster Directory for Public Worship
Lindberg, Chapter 13

11. Seventeenth Century Developments: Internal Catholic Conflicts

Pascal, Pensées
Lindberg, Chapter 14

12. The Birth of Modernity

Lindberg, Chapter 15

For further reading – see here.