Thursday, May 30, 2013

Salvation: The already, the ongoing, the not yet

As a pastor I encounter two prominent mistakes that Christians make in regards to their salvation. The first involves the Christian who doubts his or her salvation because of the ongoing struggle with sin in their lives. The second involves the Christian who has no issues with the continued presence of sin in their lives because they consider themselves “saved.” The first error misunderstands the power of God’s grace. The second error misunderstands the purpose of God’s grace. Both errors misunderstand that our salvation involves an already, an ongoing, and a not yet aspect.

Justification: The already of our salvation. The Bible teaches us that when Christ died on the cross he made a way for our sins to be forgiven. In fact, in one sense, our sins, all our sins, past, present, and future, were forgiven on the cross. That forgiveness becomes a reality in our lives when we profess faith in Jesus Christ, so that once we become believers we can talk about having already been justified (see Romans 5:1) To be justified means that our sins are no longer counted against us. See Romans 3:24-26, 4:25, 5:1-21.

Sanctification: The ongoing work of our salvation. If justification is being saved from the consequences of our sins, then sanctification is the process of actually being saved from sinning. Sanctification occurs in the life of the believer through the work of the Holy Spirit and involves our growth in grace and holiness as we are transformed ever more into the likeness of Christ. See 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:9-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:11.

Glorification: The not yet of our salvation. In Romans 13, Paul encourages believers to wake up from their slumber because, “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” He doesn’t mean that these believers have not been justified or that they are not being sanctified. He simple speaks of another aspect of our salvation that awaits the day when Christ returns and makes all things new, including us. This aspect is called glorification. At the resurrection we will be given new glorified bodies, and we will reign with Christ and glorify God forevermore. See Hebrews 9:27-28; 1 Peter 1:3-5;

Understanding the three aspects of our salvation helps us resist the doubts that creep in as we continue to struggle with sin. This struggle does not undo our justification. Understanding the three aspects of salvation keeps us from becoming complacent about sin, for the purpose of God’s grace in our lives is to save us from sinning so that we might be transformed into the image of Christ. Even when the going gets tough, we can press on trusting that our salvation will one day be complete when we Christ comes in glory and we his followers are glorified in him.

So which is it? Are we saved? Are we being saved? Or will we be saved? How about yes to all three.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Learning to Lament: lessons from Eugene Peterson and a coffinmaker

The Coffinmaker from Dan McComb on Vimeo.

The spate of tragedies this spring has me pondering the role of lament in our lives and in our worship. We modern, western folks are not so good at lamentation. In his book, Leap Over A Wall, Eugene Peterson writes that the ancients understood that in order to truly embrace life we must embrace death. One of the ways we embrace the reality of death is through thoughtful lamentation. Far from glorifying death, lamentation declares that life matters.

Our culture promotes "getting over" grief as quickly as possible. Through denial or distraction we attempt to deny the reality of death. Peterson writes, "The societal affect is widespread addiction and depression. Addiction is our most popular method of denying death. Addiction, ranging from workaholism to alcoholism (and I would add addiction to entertainment), preocuppies us, drugs us, with the impersonal so that we lose the capacity to deal with the personal details and intimate feelings of loss."

In contrast to this, David responds to the death of his best friend Jonathan, and even his enemy Saul, by facing their deaths head on. At the news of their deaths, David took the time to write a sweeping lament in their honor (found in 2 Samuel 1:19-27). It's notable that in his grief David took the time to give expression to his grief in poem. Writing a poem takes time. Writing a poem is not the best way to "get over" one's pain quickly. Writing a poem recognizes that there may not be any "getting over it" in the way so many people foolhardily talk about the grieving process. Peterson writes that slow, purposeful lament "notices and attends, savors and delights - details, images, relationships. Pain entered into, accepted, and owned can become poetry. It's no less painful, but it's no longer ugly."

Death is a part of our human story. Not the whole story mind you, but part of the story nonetheless. We will not be fully ourselves by avoiding the topic. Peterson concludes, "Lament is a bridge from life to death to life. A failure to lament is a failure to connect. If we refuse to learn Davidic lamentation, our lives fragment into episodes and anecdotes, a succession of jerky starts and gossipy cul-de-sacs. But we're in a story in which everything eventually comes together, a narrative in which all the puzzling parts finally fit, about which years later we exclaim, 'Oh, so that's what that meant!' But being in a story means that we mustn't attempt to get ahead of the plot - skip the hard parts, erase the painful parts, detour the disappointments. Lament - making the most of our loss without getting bogged down in it - is a primary way of staying in the story. God is telling this story, remember. It's a large, capacious story. He doesn't look kindly on our editorial deletions. But he delights in our poetry."

What are ways that you practice lamentation? Have you ever written a song for the dead? I was impressed by the story of the coffin maker above. Poetry can take so many forms.


By the way, Peterson's book is worth picking up even if all you read is the chapter on grief. You can get it at the new FaithVillage bookstore.