Christ Was Born for More Than Death

“The Marriage of the Virgin” by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-6 (from “Scenes from the Life of the Virgin”)

As we near that magical day when children will eat far too many sweets and parents will get far too little sleep, we are continually reminded that the Christmas season isn’t just about Santa Claus, elves, and reindeer (a.k.a. caribou). Slogans such as “Put Christ back in Christmas!” and “Jesus is the reason for the season!” abound, all of them meant to call our minds back to the true meaning of the holiday, or at least question whether or not atheists should be allowed to join in the fun.

One saying that seems to have a stronger theological grounding is some variation on the following: “Jesus Christ was born in order to die.” The motivation behind this choice of phrase is a good one. While the manger, angels, and donkey are all nice, the story of Christmas cannot be properly told without mentioning the problem Jesus came to solve. He was not born merely to proclaim peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Rather, He came to save us from our deadliest enemy: sin. The peace He brought us is not a temporary, earthly one, but rather an eternal, heavenly one. He made it possible for us to be permanently at peace with God.

Therefore, it is entirely appropriate and even necessary to link the incarnation of Jesus Christ with His atonement. Christmas means nothing without Easter. The first step in appreciating Christmas is to understand that the Son of God took on flesh to make an end of death and sin. His sacrifice allows us to be forgiven. We must never lose sight of that fact or diminish its importance.

Nevertheless, stating that Jesus was born to die puts us in danger of minimizing other parts of His work that were equally important and necessary. The Son of God became incarnate as a human being not only to remove our sin, but also to make us righteous. Yes, those two things are connected, but they are not exactly the same. Continue reading

The Girl Empress Gets Thoroughly Mortified

I was recently honored to appear on the Mortification of Spin podcast and talk with my friend Aimee Byrd and frenemy Dr. Carl Trueman about my new historical novel, The Girl Empress. You can listen to the podcast at this link or through the iTunes store. I thoroughly recommend Mortification of Spin to you for all your theological podcast needs, provided you remember they are all lapsed Baptists in need of God’s grace. (That’s a little joke. Nice Presbys.)

Unchanging Love, Unchanging God

NASA photo of the Omega Nebula

Why does God love us? How does He love us? These seem like appropriate questions to be asking at a time of year when we are celebrating God’s love as evidenced in Christ’s Incarnation. A thousand hymns proclaim to us the love of God, and yet there is some disagreement as to exactly how and why we receive that love. Does God love everyone equally? Does He love you now as much as He ever will? Is there anything you can do to gain more of His love?

Perhaps you have heard a statement like this at some point in your life: “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more. He loves you unconditionally.” I have certainly heard such things on numerous occasions. They are typically spoken as words of comfort to doubting hearts, or words of correction to those who pursue works righteousness. However, there are some who proclaim them unbiblical.

This is a topic of great practical importance for the average believer. It is no crime to want to understand if, how, and why God loves you. If we go to great lengths to pursue the love of human beings, then we surely ought to be putting in an even greater effort to earn the love of God Almighty. But is there any amount of effort that can earn God’s love?

Some debate whether God’s love is conditional or unconditional, or if in fact it is partially one and partially the other. These terms can have different meanings for various people, but the real issues at hand are whether God loves all human beings, if He loves them all in the same way, on what basis He loves, and if there is anything we can possibly do to increase His love. Continue reading

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant: What about Abraham? (Part 1)

“The Sacrifice of Isaac” by Caravaggio, circa 1603

Hello again, friends! I seldom drone on for this long about one particular subject, but it seems you have drawn the short straw. Thank you for returning once again and tolerating my continued chatter.

Up to this point, in seeking to determine if the Old and New Covenants have the same substance, I have largely focused on the differences between the covenants made at Sinai and Calvary. This is for two reasons: 1) Most of the contrasts made in the New Testament that mention the “Old Covenant” or “first covenant” clearly refer to things that were part of the Mosaic Law. 2) Many of the confessionally Reformed persons with whom I converse reject the view that the Mosaic Covenant had any kind of different nature from the New Covenant in terms of being works-based or grace-based.

To be perfectly honest, defining the Mosaic Covenant and contrasting it with the New Covenant is a fairly straightforward business. Sure, there are people who raise objections, but I believe the Apostle Paul and the writer of Hebrews have presented us with ample evidence to suggest that the Mosaic Covenant is inferior to the New Covenant in every way. It offered temporal blessings in exchange for human works, as opposed to eternal blessings in exchange for Christ’s works.

There is, however, a more subtle argument out there that pins its hopes on the Abrahamic Covenant. In making a sharp distinction between the Old Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant, this view partially concedes the works-based nature of the Old Covenant while maintaining that there were similar grace-based natures in the Abrahamic and New Covenants. This argument has some merit to it, as we have already seen the importance of Abraham in salvation history. The Apostle Paul tells us that those who are united to Christ by faith are truly Abraham’s descendants, while also stating that the promise of a Savior was given as part of the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore, there is no question of a link between Abraham and those Gentiles who have faith. The disagreement comes in regard to the precise nature of that link and the covenant made with Abraham. Therefore, we must ask the following question. Continue reading

Thankful Thursday: The Life Everlasting

Photo by Asif Jalal Rizvi

Today, I conclude my series of Thankful Thursday articles by reflecting upon the final words of the Apostles’ Creed: “the life everlasting”. This is the last thing we confess when we recite the words of the creed, and it seems to receive less attention than those that come at the beginning. Nevertheless, when we confess that we believe in everlasting life, we are declaring something that is infinitely important.

I previously wrote about the resurrection of the body. We sometimes view eternal life in such a limited sense that those two final lines of the creed hardly differ. Yet, the supernatural raising of our bodies from the dead is not the same as receiving eternal life. Men have longed for immortality since the Fall, but they would have done better to pursue a higher form of life rather than a longer one. That is what God offers us when He offers eternal life: not a continual existence in the same form, but an entirely higher form of existence. Continue reading

Thankful Thursday: The Resurrection of the Body

On this third Thankful Thursday, I come to that penultimate line in the Apostles’ Creed: “the resurrection of the body”. Yes, I have been thankful for that truth this year, but explaining why requires me to talk about my body, and that is not something I normally discuss. Obviously, I do not want to draw undue attention to the form in which God chose for me to pass through this life. Yet, my body is a part of who I am, and in order to explain why I am thankful, I must first explain what I have suffered.

I never really cared for my body as a young person. Don’t get me wrong—I had no deep and abiding hatred of my pancreas. There wasn’t something about my lungs that displeased me. Rather, it was all about externals: my nose was too big, or my skin had too many blemishes, or my hair wasn’t full enough. I knew that I wasn’t the prettiest girl in the school. People rarely tell you these things, but you figure them out on your own. I had no confidence in my appearance whatsoever.

Then as I grew older, I found other reasons to dislike my body. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with scoliosis: a crooked spine. Not only that, but my left leg was shorter than my right leg and my feet were flat. Soon I was fitted for special shoes and required to do special exercises. There was some debate over whether I would need spinal surgery, but fortunately I was spared that. I managed to go through life with scoliosis without anyone being the wiser. It still gives me recurring back pain, and I wear a lift in my left shoe on account of the leg length difference, but apart from limiting my choices in footwear, these bodily flaws have not been too serious. Continue reading

There’s No One Like Me on Television

Television Children Boy People Child Home Tv

“There’s no one like me on TV.”

This thought occurred to me about a year ago. I’m not sure why it took me so long to figure it out, but it explains why I find it difficult at times to connect with the legions of shows on television and streaming services. As much as I might try to identify with those characters, I end up hitting a brick wall of one kind or another, for none of them are like me.

Certainly, there are women my age on television. Many of them have the same ethnic background. A few have similar facial features. But what about the other aspects of my life? Few shows are set in Midwestern towns like Dayton, Ohio. (I had a bit more luck when I lived in Washington, D.C.) Few of those female characters show a keen interest in history or politics, and positively none of them study theology. Now I am getting more to the point: how many of those women share anything like my religious ideals?

Thinking back to some of the shows I have watched over the years, none of them were good representatives of what you might call “evangelical America”. In fact, characters who hold to a form of Christianity—whether Protestant, Catholic, or something else—are frequently portrayed as abnormal and weird. They are also typically hypocrites. Continue reading

Thankful Thursday: The Forgiveness of Sins

Today I continue my series in which I thank God for the final four things in the Apostles’ Creed, each of which has meant something special to me this year.

Part 1: Then

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,

Whose sin is covered!

How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,

And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

Psalm 32:1-2

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that God forgives sins. From a very early age, I realized that I was a sinner who needed a savior, and that the savior was Jesus Christ. I knew that if I said, “I’m sorry. Forgive me,” He would make me clean.

The full internalization of that truth was another matter. Growing up, I was told most of the right things and did most of the right things. I put my faith in Jesus for salvation, was baptized at a young age, had nearly perfect church attendance, and spent the rest of the week at a Christian school. I knew for certain that I could not earn salvation by works, and that I must trust completely in the sacrifice of Christ. Even so, I never felt like I was one of the really good Christians: the people who closed their eyes when they sang, read the Bible constantly, led people to Christ, and went off to become pastors and missionaries. I did not have the same kind of emotional swells. Continue reading

Sexual Abuse isn’t just Hollywood’s Problem

Photo by Flickr user Prayitno

2017 may well go down in history as the year that Hollywood was revealed for what it really was all along. The past few weeks have brought us a torrent of accusations of sexual abuse and harassment against some of the leading names in American show business, from beloved Star Trek alum George Takei, to comedian Louis C.K. and Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, a host of big names are now fighting to deny (or in the case of Louis C.K., to apologize for) the accusations of misconduct that have been made against them. Then there is the man who practically runs the American film industry: Harvey Weinstein.

It was an open secret for years that Harvey Weinstein would use influence to get anything he wanted, but usually this was viewed in the context of film politics. Yes, Hollywood has a form of politics all its own. Since I was a teenager, I have been paying attention to the yearly series of self-congratulatory awards shows leading up to the Oscars. I have an idea of how the studios campaign for their films. At Miramax and then his own eponymous company, Harvey Weinstein built the most formidable campaign operation that the Oscars had ever seen. His ability to get his films into the winner’s circle was so impressive, one couldn’t help wondering if he was personally visiting Oscar voters in their retirement homes in order to twist their arms. (Yes, most of the voters are old, white, and male.)

There was no question that Weinstein behaved like a strong man, and yet his power attracted the friendship of anyone who was anyone. They all knew that he was pulling the strings. Hosts at award shows would joke about it openly. No one stopped to put two and two together and think, “If this is how this man behaves in general, might he be behaving this way toward the women in his life?” Actually, they did, but they were too terrified of crossing him to say anything. Weinstein had his fingers in so many aspects of the film industry that getting on his bad side was not a good idea for any up and comer. Continue reading

Thankful Thursday: The Communion of Saints

In this month of Thanksgiving, I have decided to do a short series of articles called “Thankful Thursdays” in which I will focus on four things that have been particularly encouraging to me this year in spite of my ill health and emotional ups and downs. When I considered what I should write about, it occurred to me that there could be nothing more perfect than the four things we declare at the end of the Apostles’ Creed: the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. No foursome of blessings could more accurately capture what I am thankful for this year.

The communion I share with the Body of Christ has never meant more to me than it does at this moment in time. As I struggle each day to overcome my physical limitations, I am strengthened by the prayers of my fellow believers.  I find it odd that strangers should take time out of their days to remember my condition and pray for my healing, yet I have received such kind words not only from family and long-time friends, but also new friends and acquaintances around the world. Continue reading