Archives For Practical Theology

Our Love: The Ten Commandments, Part 2

If God promises to forgive me, why should I obey his commands? Does the gospel free me from my obligation to obey God’s laws? How does God’s gospel relate to God’s law? Why does God command me to obey his laws when he knows I can’t? How can I obey God’s commandments?

In this fifth lesson, you’ll learn three ways to be transformed by the Ten Commandments.

About the Applied Theology Project
In this new book and course by Drs. Frame and Childers, you’ll explore an ancient, Trinitarian approach to the study of theology and spirituality found in the great theological works of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. These thinkers have outlined for us a transformational way of doing theology that is eminently Scriptural and involves our whole being – not only our minds, but also our hearts and lives.

CHOOSE YOUR LEARNING PATHWAY:


Our Love: The Ten Commandments, Part 2

By Steve Childers and John Frame

The highest virtue of love looks like someone who obeys the Ten Commandments out of a sincere love for God and others. But because of sin, no one can fully obey these commands. So why did God give them to us? What is the relationship between God’s law, which demands our obedience, and the gospel, which promises us forgiveness?

Distinguishing between law and gospel in Christian theology is challenging. God’s law must not be used to deny the gospel, and God’s gospel must not be used to deny the law. This is because the Bible presents aspects of the law in the gospel and aspects of the gospel in the law. The gospel is both a gracious offer of salvation to all who believe and a royal summons for everyone to come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. Likewise, when the Bible presents God’s law, it’s often in the context of the gospel of redemption.

With this in mind, we return to our earlier question, “Why does God command us to obey his laws perfectly when no one has the ability to fully obey them? There are three important ways that God uses his laws to advance his gospel of redemption and restoration in Christ. These three biblical “uses of the law” are: 1) to restrain evil in society, 2) to convict people of sin and lead them to Christ, and 3) to guide believers in how they should live.

First Use of The Law: Civil Use

The first use of of God’s law is called its civil use, and it applies to both Christians and non- Christians. When God’s moral laws are upheld in society, such as laws not to murder, steal, and lie, it inhibits lawlessness, protects the righteous from the unjust, and secures civil order. (Deut 13:6-11, 19:16-21) This is especially true when God’s laws are reflected in civil laws that punish offenders. (Rom 13:3-4)

Second Use of the Law: Conviction of Sin

The second use of God’s law is to convict people of sin and lead them to Christ. This also applies to both non-Christians and Christians. The law is like a mirror that reflects to us both God’s perfect righteousness and our sinfulness, thereby leading us to Christ in repentance and faith. Augustine writes, “the law bids us, as we try to fulfill its requirements, and become wearied in our weakness under it, to know how to ask the help of grace.”

God’s moral law in the Ten Commandments requires our obedience and condemns us but gives us no strength to obey. The Apostle Paul writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20). John Calvin teaches that no one except Jesus has ever fulfilled the demands of God’s law to love perfectly.

Though we don’t have the ability to obey fully even one of the Ten Commandments, God, in his mercy, has done that for us in the person and work of his only Son. Jesus perfectly obeyed all of God’s laws for us so that he could fully satisfy all of God’s just demands of us through his death on the cross in our place.

God provides for us in Christ what he justly requires of us in his law. Jesus fulfilled all the righteous requirements of God’s law on our behalf, so that God would consider the perfect righteousness of Christ to be ours when we believe in him. (Rom 3:21-22) God’s amazing declaration is that all who are in Christ are righteous, based on the forgiveness of their sin by Jesus’ blood and the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness to them by faith. (2 Cor 5:21)

The good news is that God the Father promises to accept and love all who are in Christ as he accepts and loves his one and only Son, and there is no greater love than the eternal love of God the Father for his Son.

So, if all the requirements of the law have already been met for us by Christ, and God now sees us as his children, clothed in Jesus’ perfect righteousness, why should we obey the law? This leads us to a third use of God’s law.

Third Use of the Law: Guide for Believers’ Good Works

The Bible teaches that believers in Jesus Christ are now “free from the law” as a way of salvation. (Rom 6:14, 7:4-6, 1 Cor 9:20, Gal 2:15-19, 3:25) We are no longer under the condemning curse of the law because Jesus took that curse on himself for us. However, we’re always under God’s loving authority revealed in his law as our rule of life.

The difference now is that God’s law tells us, his children, what pleases and honors him as our heavenly Father. God’s law is now our family code to guide us so that we flourish in all our relationships. Obeying God’s commands is not our way of trying to earn God’s love. Instead, it’s a display of our love for God who first loved us in Christ. The Apostle John wrote, “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 John 4:10).

There is a great contrast between obeying the law as a religious duty to earn God’s love and acceptance and obeying the law as an expression of gratitude for God’s love and acceptance of us in Christ. Tim Keller writes, “Religion says, ‘I obey; therefore I’m accepted.’ The Gospel says, ‘I’m accepted; therefore I obey.’”

However, our obedience is often motivated by either fear of punishment or promise of reward in this life and the life to come. So it’s easy for us to wonder why we should obey God if he has already promised not to punish us and to bless us now and forever. Godly fear of our loving Father’s discipline for our disobedience as his children is a biblical motivation (Heb 12:5-11), as is godly hope of being rewarded for our obedience. (Matt 16:27, 2 Cor 5:10)

But our primary motivation for obeying God should be our love for him who promises not to punish us, but always to love us in Christ, even when we disobey him.

However, to obey God’s commands we need more than forgiveness for disobeying them. We also need power beyond ourselves. The good news is that God promises to give us not only forgiveness of sins but also the gift of his indwelling Holy Spirit, so that, springing from a new heart, we’ll be empowered to obey God with new motivations and desires (Acts 2:38, Ezek 36:26-27).

God’s moral law requires our obedience, condemns us, and gives us no strength to obey. But God fulfills the law’s demands in Christ, forgives us, and then gives us strength by his Spirit to obey his demands with delight and joy. The poet and hymnwriter William Cowper summarizes this good news in a line from one of his hymns.

     To see the law by Christ fulfilled,
     And hear His pard’ning voice,
     Transforms a slave into a child,
     And duty into choice.


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Our Love: The Ten Commandments, Part 1

Having seen how our faith should be rooted in the biblical truths of the Apostles’ Creed, and our hope should be stirred up by the Lord’s Prayer, we’ll look now at how our love for God and others should be a demonstration of God’s will for us revealed in the Ten Commandments.

God gives us the Ten Commandments to lead us to Christ and show us how to be fully human by loving him and others with sincere hearts. But most people cannot even name the Ten Commandments.

In this fourth lesson, you’ll learn the superiority of love over faith and hope, and how the Ten Commandments demonstrate God’s will for your life and relationships in practical ways.

About the Applied Theology Project
In this new book and course by Drs. Frame and Childers, you’ll explore an ancient, Trinitarian approach to the study of theology and spirituality found in the great theological works of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. These thinkers have outlined for us a transformational way of doing theology that is eminently Scriptural and involves our whole being – not only our minds, but also our hearts and lives.

CHOOSE YOUR LEARNING PATHWAY:


Our Love: The Ten Commandments, Part 1

By Steve Childers and John Frame

Having seen how our faith should be rooted in the biblical truths of the Apostles’ Creed, and our hope should be stirred up by the Lord’s Prayer, we’ll look now at how our love for God and others should be a demonstration of God’s will for us revealed in the Ten Commandments.

We’re following the example of Augustine’s summary of biblical Christianity in his Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love, in which he writes, “Thus, from our confession of faith, briefly summarized in the Creed … there is born the good hope of the faithful, accompanied by a holy love.”

The Apostle Paul teaches that love is greater than faith and hope. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13) Augustine reflects this when he writes, “For when we ask whether someone is a good man, we are not asking what he believes, or hopes, but what he loves.”

The superiority of love over faith and hope does not mean that love is separated from faith and hope. These three godly virtues are inseparable and are interrelated: 1) our confession of faith, rooted in the Apostles’ Creed, leads us to hope and love, 2) our hope, stirred up by the Lord’s Prayer, leads us to faith and love, and 3) our love springs from our faith and hope.

What does this godly virtue of love look like? The Scriptures tell us it looks like the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20:3-17)

     1. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (3)
     2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image …” (4-6)
     3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain …” (7)
     4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy …” (8-11)
     5. “Honor your father and your mother …” (12)
     6. “You shall not murder.” (13)
     7. “You shall not commit adultery.” (14)
     8. “You shall not steal.” (15)
     9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (16)
     10. “You shall not covet …” (17)

When someone asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?,” he responded by giving his famous Great Commandment, that is a concise summary of the Ten Commandments as loving God and loving others.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 22:37-39)

In this Great Commandment, Jesus is not replacing the Ten Commandments but explaining them the same way Moses did to Israel: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 10:12-13, 11:13, 22, 30:20, Lev 19:18)

Jesus’ interpretation of the Ten Commandments as descriptions of love helps us understand the negative wording, all the “You shall nots,” of the commands. For example, God’s first command not to have any other Gods before him means more than we should not worship idols, but that we should worship God only.

Likewise, the negative command not to murder means we are also to stand for the sanctity of human life. And the negative command not to commit adultery conveys the positive command to uphold sexual purity, just as the negative command not to lie also means we are to stand for truth.

Jesus presents the Ten Commandments as God’s revealed moral law in which God describes his will for all humanity at all times. So the Ten Commandments are not a crude list of legalistic rules for ancient Israel. Instead, they show us how to be fully human and honor God by knowing, loving, and serving him and others from sincere hearts. We’re never more human than when we align our will with God’s in these commands. Only then can we flourish according to God’s design as his image bearers.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also corrects common misunderstandings of the Ten Commandments by showing how they include a much deeper meaning. For example, Jesus teaches that God’s sixth commandment not to murder includes the sin of anger that is at the root of murder: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt 5:21-22).

Likewise, Jesus teaches that God’s seventh commandment not to commit adultery includes the sin of lust at its core (Matt 5:27-28). And God’s command to love our neighbors includes loving our enemies: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5”43-44).

Jesus ends this part of the Sermon on the Mount with an unequivocal call for us to love God and others perfectly. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48) However, because we’re all incapable of perfect love, it’s tempting to lessen Jesus’ demand for perfect love to a lesser, more achievable demand.

Some try to explain how the Greek word used here for perfect (τέλειοι) does not mean perfect but mature love. But Jesus just explained in detail what this perfect love looks like. It doesn’t merely restrain from killing people, it’s not even angry. It doesn’t merely restrain from adultery, it doesn’t even lust. This perfect love is not a grudging outward form of religious duty we muster up against our will. Rather it’s a free and cheerful willingness that springs from a sincere, heartfelt faith, hope, and love for God and others.

Who can obey all these commandments out of a perfect love for God and others?

The short and biblical answer is no one. In a legal sense, because of sin, the Bible teaches that no one can do all that God requires in the Ten Commandments. Therefore, no one can love God or others perfectly. This is why the Apostle Paul writes, “By the works of the Law no one will be justified” (Gal 2:16).

But sin results in more than the legal problem of our guilt before a holy and just God. Because of sin, we also have the moral problem of a corrupt heart. Augustine describes this tragic result of sin as our “disordered loves.” The reason we don’t love God and others more is because our loves are now placed on other things.

Instead of loving God and finding our ultimate joy in him, we succumb to an excessive, prideful love for ourselves, to a defective love for others in our envy, anger, and lust, and an inordinate love for things such as possessions, food, sex, and comfort. Therefore, the essence of godly virtue is properly ordered loves for God and others.

When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, he divided them into two tablets that show us the proper order of our loves. On the first tablet, God lists the first four commands to show us that our love for him is to be above all else, beginning with having “no other gods before him.” Then, flowing from our highest love for God, the last six commands on the second tablet show us how to love others, ending with not coveting people and things.

But God’s commandments have no ability to deliver us from his just curse on us due to our disobedience. And God’s commands have no power to enable us to keep them according to God’s design. So why does God command us to love him and others perfectly when we’re already condemned for breaking them and we don’t have the ability to obey them?

The good news is that God graciously gives us the Ten Commandments as part of his cosmic redemption and restoration project to reorder our loves for him and others so we will flourish according to his original design.

In our next chapter, we’ll learn three important ways that God uses his commandments to advance his gospel of redemption and restoration in Christ.


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Our Hope: The Lord’s Prayer

Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer to help us see that God’s purpose for our lives is all about God being glorified, his kingdom coming, and his will being done on earth–through us. But most of us neglect or abuse the Lord’s Prayer. This is why Luther called it “the greatest martyr on earth.”

In this third lesson, learn how to find God’s kingdom purposes and lasting hope for your life by praying the Lord’s Prayer.

About the Applied Theology Project
In this new book and course by Drs. Frame and Childers, you’ll explore an ancient, Trinitarian approach to the study of theology and spirituality found in the great theological works of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. These thinkers have outlined for us a transformational way of doing theology that is eminently Scriptural and involves our whole being – not only our minds, but also our hearts and lives.

CHOOSE YOUR LEARNING PATHWAY:


Our Hope: The Lord’s Prayer

By Steve Childers and John Frame

Having seen how the essence of our faith is expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, we now look at how our hope is found in the Lord’s Prayer. In doing this, we continue following the example of Augustine’s succinct summary of biblical Christianity in his Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love.

In this handbook, Augustine gives an exposition of faith in the Apostles’ Creed, hope in the Lord’s Prayer, and love in the Ten Commandments based on the Apostle Paul’s list of virtues: “So now faith, hope, and love abide” (1 Cor 13:13a). He writes, “Thus, from our confession of faith, briefly summarized in the Creed … there is born the good hope of the faithful, accompanied by a holy love.”

What is this good hope that should be born from our confession of faith?

The Nature of Our Hope

It’s not only our personal hope of going to heaven when when die. Paul also refers to this hope as “the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20), “the hope of the gospel” (Col 1:23), and “the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). He describes it as a glorious hope for all creation and humanity in which “creation itself will be set free” (Rom 8:20-21).

Therefore, this hope refers to the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem and restore all things lost in humanity and creation because of sin.

Paul also tells us that God promises that this hope will be ours by giving us the gift of his Holy Spirit, who is “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:13-14). Christ’s presence in us, by his Holy Spirit, is just a foretaste of the inheritance that will one day be fully ours when Jesus returns in glory to make all things new. This is what Paul means when he proclaims, “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” (Col 1: 27b).

Likewise the Apostle Peter calls it “the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15b) and a “living hope” that is our “inheritance” being kept and guarded by God for us, to be revealed in the last time:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guardedthrough faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet 1:3-5)

The Christian hope is the good news that when Jesus returns as King he will fill the earth with God’s glory, by bringing everything on earth in subjection to the Father’s will just as it is in heaven. Paul tells us that when Jesus brings all things into final subjection, including death and Satan, he will deliver up his conquered kingdom to God the Father. Then Jesus will place even himself in subjection to the Father.

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet … When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Cor 15:24-25, 28)

Jesus’ final work, as the obedient incarnate Son, is to deliver up to the Father the kingdom he established, including himself as its King. Jesus’ ultimate purpose in delivering up his kingdom and himself as its King to God the Father is so “that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). In other words, so that God the Father would be honored and glorified in everything.

At the end of his life on earth, Jesus prays to the Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (John 17:4) Jesus’ work, his mission, was to glorify the Father by causing his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The Prayer of Our Hope

When Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, he gave them a model for prayer designed to help them align their minds, hearts, and lives with him and his mission. He began by telling them to address God like he did, as their heavenly Father.

        Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9a)

Then he gave them six petitions to pray:

Praying our Godward hope
The first three petitions are Godward-focused, to ask God our Father to:

1) hallow (glorify) his name,

        “hallowed be your name.” (Matt. 6:9b)

2) cause his kingdom to come,

        “Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10a)

3) and cause his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

        “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10b)

Praying our manward hope
The other petitions are manward, to ask our Father for:

1) our daily bread,

        “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11)

2) our forgiveness,

        “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12)

3) and our protection.

        “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matt. 6:13)

The Godward and manward petitions should be seen as a whole. In the Godward petitions Augustine teaches that we “ask for eternal goods,” and in the manward petitions we “ask for temporal goods, which are, however, necessary for obtaining the eternal goods.” The reason we ask God for daily bread, forgiveness, and protection is so that through our lives, his name would be honored, his kingdom would come, and his will would be done on earth.

The Comfort of Our Hope

Jesus taught his disciples to pray like this so they would see that God’s purpose for them and for the whole world is all about God being glorified, his kingdom coming, and his will being done on earth as it is in heaven. He wanted his disciples not only to believe these truths with their minds but also to embrace them in their hearts through prayer.

Only then could they know the hope of the gospel, the hope of glory, and the hope of their inheritance – especially as they followed Jesus in the suffering that always accompanies those who pray and then live like this.

But most people don’t use the Lord’s Prayer this way, if they use it at all. Seeing how people in his day abused the Lord’s Prayer, Luther called it “the greatest martyr on earth.”

What a great pity that the prayer of such a master is prattled and chattered so irreverently all over the world! How many pray the Lord’s Prayer several thousand times in the course of a year, and if they were to keep on doing so for a thousand years they would not have tasted nor prayed one iota, one dot, of it! In a word, the Lord’s Prayer is the greatest martyr on earth (as are the name and word of God). Everybody tortures and abuses it; few take comfort and joy in its proper use.

Luther’s harsh words against the abuses of the Lord’s Prayer are rooted in his heartfelt longing for God’s people to know and taste the riches God brings to all who pray it. He writes:

To this day I suckle at the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and as an old man eat and drink from it and never get my fill. It is the very best prayer, even better than the psalter, which is so very dear to me. It is surely evident that a real master composed and taught it.

Our faith, rooted in the biblical truths of the Apostles’ Creed, and our hope, stirred up by the Lord’s Prayer, are great and godly virtues. But the Apostle Paul tells us that love is greater than both. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). In the next chapter we’ll explore the relationship of our faith and our hope to our love.


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