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I have had the opportunity to study of of the most succinct statements of the gospel in the entire Bible, let alone the Old Testament:

“Behold, as for the proud one,  His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

The third and final clause in this verse (“But the righteous shall live by faith.”) is essentially composed of three words, but built on the broad context of Scripture, it contains an ocean of truth.

The first word, translated “righteous” or “justified” is a word with a meaning well established by the Scripture. It has a clearly forensic, legal flavor. In other words, it speaks not of a personal righteousness but of a legal declaration of innocence (Job 13:8, Exodus 23:7, Isaiah 5:23).

The means of this legal declaration is rooted in the reference that this verse has to Genesis 15:6 which states that Abraham  “believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” The word for “belief” is the same translated as “faith” by Habakkuk (technically our third word) and refers not to the work of “faithful-ness” but of belief, or trust. The word “righteousness” is the same root used in Habakkuk of the “righteous” man.

Habakkuk’s thrust is on the second word, “live”. God’s answer to the prophet’s inquiry is meant to instruct him how he ought to proceed in light of the evil going on all around  him. Grammatically, the word “live” is attached to faith, as in “the justified shall live-by faith.” faith is the guide post for daily living in a fallen world.

However, the context also clearly implies that the means of salvation is also through faith. This is what Paul was hitting on when he quoted Habakkuk in Romans 1:17. Paul cleverly unpacks both aspects of this passage in his letter to the Romans. In chapters 1-5 he explains how the just-by-faith shall live, and in chapters 6 and following he explains how the justified shall live-by faith. It is a brilliant unpaking of all that God revealed to Habakkuk so many years earlier.

As history has unfolded, so too has the content of God’s revelation ergarding salvation. While Abraham simply trusted in God in obeying His command to move out of his homeland to a land of God’s choosing, so we place our faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ:

“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son,born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

and

He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)

God’s Word is incredible. So much historical and cultural context is established so that the means for eternal life and daily living can be stated in a mere three words. How can we see this and conclude that His Word is anything less than divine. The more I study it, the more I am convinced, as God explains to Habakkuk in the rest of chapters 2 and 3, that our faith is based in Someone real and powerful.

Praise God for His sufficient, holy Word!

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1)

Paul says this to remind us that what is truly valuable is eternal, and what is eternal is obtained by seeking Christ, His gospel, and His service. This is a truth that Christians are constantly trying to work out in their daily lives. The catch is that while we say that we seek for what is of eternal value, it can be difficult to know whether we truly are storing up treasure in heaven, or if our faith is fair-weather.

I’ve recently been enduring a bit of a trial. I hate to call it a trial: I’ve been been a candidate for a very special job opportunity that has featured extensive planning, preparation, a lot of waiting and several unexpected turns. During the process the opportunity has seemed to slipping away several times, even after apparent victory.

This has given me the chance, by God’s wisdom, to really consider what it was that I’m after. I’ve had the chance to evaluate my affections through the possibility of loss. What I’ve learned is this: Your treasures are revealed by how you react when you lose them.

Trials offer us the chance to inspect our hearts because God strips away earthly treasures in order to focus us on heavenly treasures. Our response to loss reveals what we value.

Speaking of the trials of believers  likely under persecution, Peter says this:

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ… ” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Earthquakes send us scrambling for door frames and away from windows. Hurricanes send us fleeing in our cars or find us holed up in our basements. When floods come we seek for the highest ground. Disaster and trial wipe away pretense and force us to make decisions about what will save us.

James, in his epistle echoes this thought, saying that God uses trials to perfect us (James 1:3). Every Christian would affirm this, but why? Because trials strip us of what is perishing and replaces it with what lasts forever. Paul elucidates:

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8)

Paul reminds us that all of our affections are to be centered on Christ. Personally, this trial has reminded that no earthly circumstances can alter my fundamental goal which is to obtain the surpassing treasure of knowing Him, and seeing my family obtain the same. I know that God can achieve this in my through any variety of channels and I have to remind myself of this when it looks like He might change the channel.

The great thing about this is that no matter what channel God tunes my life to, Christ is the star. Pray that God can help us to see the brilliance of His intentions at every turn, always understanding that loss for the sake of knowing Christ is our eternal gain.

My trial was certainly a light affliction, but the prospect of losing the object of my prayers was cause to ask what I was really praying for.   When all seemed lost I was at peace because God

Here’s a  little fruit from a conversation I had with my wife, Amy, this evening.

On our way out to look at Christmas lights with the kids we were discussing the subject of Santa Claus. More specifically, we were discussing the reasons why we don’t teach our kids (aged 4.5 and 3) about Santa. Now I know this is a touchy subject for a lot of people, especially for Christians who do teach their kids about Santa Claus. I know I’m going out on a limb here, risking sounding like a right-wing legalistic fanatic nut-job, but I think there are some reasons to seriously reconsider this practice.

The first reason is the main reason I have maintained in avoiding this holiday tradition. It is the issue of truthfulness. I think it is a very fundamental problem to teach children something that isn’t true. Children should have no reason to doubt that everything their parents tell them is trustworthy.  I’ve written on this subject before: that parents are to be worthy objects of trust because God is a worthy object of trust.

That may sound like nitpicking, but consider this: how do you explain to your children your grounds for not telling the truth. My guess is that most parents just avoid this question. Regrettably I think that this practice plants the seeds of the justifiable lie, also known as the “little white lie”. That’s a road I won’t go down with my kids, especially not for that sake of a cultural tradition.

Here’s another reason: As my wife simply put it, Santa Claus is an imaginary idol, given God-like attributes, and placed in front of Jesus on the occasion of observing His birth. I have to say that I balked at the “idol” tag, but when I considered it, I had to swallow it whole. This chubby dude is said to be omiscient, completely good and virtually omnipresent on the eve of his work. On an occasion when we should be ascribing these qualities of worth to God, they are redirected to an imaginary person. That’s the essence of idolatry, and that’s a real problem for me and my family.

And one more thing, Santa’s love is conditional. If you’re bad you get a lump of coal in your stocking. I’ll direct my worship to One whose love is unconditional:

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

Why would we waste any time on figments of imagination when we can devote our thoughts t a God who sent into the world a Savior like this?  Toss the idols on the yule lag and drink your eggnog to the glory of the risen Christ, born into the world to be the Savior of men.

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

A reason to celebrate, indeed!

Q; What kind of plant grows best after it has been struck by lightning?

A: A Christian?

lightningHuh? Says who? Turns out, God did:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

And in another place:

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12;11)

I love this Hebrews passage because it harmonizes two Biblical truths about suffering and trials:

  1. Trials are good for you.
  2. Trials hurt.

Many Christians fall into an unbalanced view of trials, thinking that they are somehow supposed to be happy when they are suffering. This is to think without regard for the reality of terrible circumstances. I think of Christ in Gethsemane, anticipating the agony of the cross, sweating blood. Christ was not smiling, nor was he fearful. His affect was appropriate to the awful events that were to follow. When Christians suffer, sorrow for pain is appropriate, anger at sin is appropriate, grief over personal loss is appropriate.

I’ve always wondered why so many Christian’s seem to say at funerals that they are happy to have lost a loved one. Yes they have actually gone to be with Christ, but it is OK if you REALLY miss them A LOT!

The ironic thing here is that we don’t grow unless we hurt. Pain makes us evaluate what it is we cling to, and God wants to teach us to cling to Christ. Suffering forces the Christian to see that everything else is vanity, and that we have to look to “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus” (Php 3:8).The more we suffer, the superstock_1728-129amore we can see the foolishness of fixing our affections on things that will pass away. The more we suffer, the more we see that worldly affections can’t even make a return on investment before they pass away. Only by emptying ourselves of ourselves and filling ourselves with Christ (Romans 8:28-30) brings eternal satisfaction. Suffering helps us to see forest for the trees by burning it down, first.

We are to be like trees planted beside the invigorating, life-sustaining waters of God’s Word (Psalm 1), and yet sometime God brings a forest fire to enrich the soil and accelerate our growth. Trials serve not only as a benchmark for growth, but as the catalyst.

Now don’t go sticking your finger in an electrical socket, but don’t shy away from trials either. Harmonize the difficulty with the benefit. Praise God for His wisdom. Make the most out of what God gives you.

Somebody please ask me what I’m doing blogging at 6:10am on Thanksgiving morning. I think I’m supposed t be sleeping. Somehow I’m wide awake, thinking about Black Friday adds, the theological ramifications of Wall-E (which I watched last night) and competing models of the transmission of Adam’s sin.

Well, first things first. As I am working my way through a quarter’s worth on lessons of the topic of evil and suffering in the Bible, I’m trying to connect the dots between what Adam did in the Garden of Eden and who we are today. I’m finding that Scripture says precious little about exactly how (key word, now) we can be caught up in Adam’s sin, or as Douglas Moo puts it “What is the relationship between Adam’s sin and ours?”

Seems that I have run smack dab into a bit of mystery here. The primary proof-text that most people would reference is Romans 5, especially verses 12, 18 and 19.

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned–for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.”

“But the free gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned )through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

“So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”

It is not enough to say that we inherit Adam’s sin simply because we were physically present in Adam when he sinned. This is known as the “seminal” model of transmission or the “realistic” theory. I see a major problem with this because Eve sinned first, and certainly everyone born shares their physical substance with her too. Yet it is Adam who brought death to all men. Adam was a representative, federal, head in some way in addition to his paternal relationship to everyone. Additionally, the Bible indicates that people are considered sinners even before they are born (see Romans 5:8).

There seems to be some imputation of sin at work here. Wayne Grudem explains imputation in this way, “to think of as belonging to someone, and therefore to cause it to belong to someone.” That is, Adam did it and God counts it to you.

Now, to be sure, imputation is not the whole story. We have also inherited a corrupt nature from Adam that ensures that we will personally sin as well, but this fact does not cancel the truth of imputed sin. What Adam did brought condemnation on everyone long before they brought condemnation on themselves.

Before any of us rushes to condemn this as unfair, let me remind you that we have all personally sinned. Romans 5 seems to imply the we all sinned “in and with” Adam; our sin is the same as his and we are all personally guilty. All sin is idolatry. Adam sought to have what was rightfully God’s for himself (Genesis 3:6) in seeking to be like God; he believed the Serpent’s lie that eating the fruit would put him in competition with God and he ate. When we sin we are always ultimately seeking to heap glory reserved for God on ourselves (Col 3:5).

What’s really unfair is the murder of Jesus on the behalf of unrighteous men (Romans 5:8 again). Romans 5 teaches us that it is the imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ which makes forgiveness of sin possible. Just as through one man sin and death entered the whole world, so too is sin dealt with by one man. The glorious truth is that while we are all complicit in Adam’s sin, both by God’s just imputation and our own personal sin, God imputes Christ’s perfect work to us by simple faith. And by faith our sin is imputed to Him and punished on the cross:

“…and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

There is no need to dispute the imputation of anyone’s sin to anyone else! Imputation is good.

Over the last few years I have taken to the practice of preaching the gospel to myself. When I first heard of this practice I have to confess that I was a bit mystified by what it meant, to “preach the gospel to yourself.” I thing that I figured it out, largely, when I found myself doing it and correctly labeled it as such.

Preaching the gospel to myself has served to encourage me in my putting to death the deeds of the flesh, as well as cementing the truth of the one and only, true gospel. Here are a few of the things that have been confirmed in my mind:

  • I am a sinner. If I was an different, the sheer weight of my guilt and shame over my sin would be enough to change my behavior. The fact that I persist in sin can mean nothing other than that I am reprobate to my very core.
  • If I am to change, someone else must change me.
  • If someone else is to change me, it can only be God, for He is the only person who is not corrupt Himself.
  • If He is just, He must judge my sin, and yet a human must be judged.
  • Christ is the only one who fits both pairs of shoes.

When I preach to myself in this way, brokenness over my sin always leads me back to the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. As the hymn says “My hope is built on nothing less that Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” So true.

The gospel is eminently reasonable and wholly encouraging. It provides me something far greater than self-pity and my own boot-straps when dealing with my sin. Preach the gospel to yourself in this way. I hope it has the same effect on you as it does me.

Things here at Ikonograph have been crazy. Seems I’ve stumbled into a self-perpetuating upward spiral of Google search activity since a few weeks ago after I received a new link from a blog coming out of New Zealand. Seems that my post on Heath Ledger’s role as the Joker is still a hot topic. Or at least as hot as it gets around here.

My personal life has been much nuttier.

Long story short I have had some severe demands on my time, in a very good way. Some significant changes for myself and my family are on the table. It’s the kind of thing that takes such a long time that after a while, it just needs to resolve, already. That said I stumbled into some sweet relief from the stress of recent events: spending time with my family.

As you can see the Fudge family carved pumpkins today in honor of -erm, the fall harvest. This was the pumpkin my son, Caleb, and I did. Caleb mostly scooped the entrails out of said pumpkin. There’s no way I’m letting that kid anywhere near a knife. The best part is that when he rounded third to see the finished product, he totally jumped! He had that “Uh…I’m not so sure about this…wait, it’s a pumpkin.” look on his face.

It was a great departure from the roller-coaster of emotions that have been sifting through my head, not to mention the long hours in the home office. I was meditating earlier in the day about anxiety and the cure for it. Particularly, I though of Paul’s words:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Out of this I was thinking of a handful of things that are a sure remedy for anxiety:

  1. Pray. Recognize your dependence on God in light of His kind intention and sovereign will.
  2. Pray for others. I find that during times of trial, my prayers tends to center around my own needs. Praying vigorously for others is just what is needed sometimes to take the blinders off and remember that you are not the center of the universe.
  3. Meditate of the centrality of Christ. Take the problems that are consuming your thoughts and reinterpret in light of the fact that all things are by Him, through Him, and unto Him (Colossians 1:16). The immediate circumstances of your life find their meaning only in serving His greater plan.
  4. Serve others. Carve a pumpkin for your kids. Get out from between your ears (the smallest, most cramped, most uncomfortable place in the world). Set your affections of God by serving others (Galatians 5:14).

Clearly, the cure for your problems is to look past yourself. Absolutely attend to your spiritual needs in prayer, but don’t live there. Get out. Carve a pumpkin to the glory of God.

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