Monday, July 30, 2007

John Piper at the Billy Graham Training Center

No living author has been as instrumental in my personal Christian growth as has John Piper. Some years ago, a friend passed on a copy of Let the Nations Be Glad, and my whole understanding of worship and missions was transformed. Prior to that book, I had no theology for either—I simply believed in doing them because the Bible said so. That slim volume explained to me the Biblical “why” of both worship and missions and their relationship to each other, and my faith life hasn’t been the same since. Thinking there might be more where those insights came from, several years ago I went to hear Piper speak at the Jonathan Edwards Institute Summer Conference and was exposed to Edward’s thinking on God’s “ultimate ends.” Again, my thinking about the Bible was deepened and transformed. Since then, I have made it a point to listen regularly to what Dr. Piper has to say on matters of faith and practice. I seldom read or listen to him that I don’t learn some new principle or gain some new insight.

This past weekend was no exception. My wife and I traveled with some wonderful friends down to The Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove in Asheville, NC, to hear Piper speak on Romans 12 and 13 under the title, The Mercies of God and the Transformed Christian Mind.

What follows are my notes of Session 1, and the Lord willing, I hope to post sessions two through five as well.

Dr. Piper began the session by noting that the majority of conferees are in their 50’s and 60’s. With that in mind, he called attention to Psalm 71 which he said has meant a lot to him for some time now. In vs. 17-18, it says, “O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all who come.”

He noted that at this stage in life, he has seen much of God’s power and grace, and he wants to finish like the Psalm, proclaiming God’s deeds. He expressed his desire that this time together to be surprising for those late in life’s journey for their remaining days. Some think these days might be the same and they won’t. He related that his mother was killed while on a trip to Israel, and his Father wounded. Everything changed for his father. The last years of his life were spent with a global ministry, ROGMA. He never knew such a thing would be. If you have a year left, it may be totally different than you think it may be.

We have before us Romans 12 and 13; preached 350 pages on these chapters—30 sermons; must condense into 5 hours. You will probably think I gave up because tonight we’ll cover ½ verse. Tonight will not get beyond verse 1, but will read verse 2. If you get verses 1 and 2, the rest will fall into place, so we will be heavy on verses one and two.

The most important word in this passage is therefore; what follows is built on something. If we don’t recognize this, we can become first class legalists.

Paul is moving from something to something. As an illustration, our church voted after years of praying and planning, to purchase a property and build an additional campus; after this, therefore, in a short time they purchased the property and began to build. But the action was built on years of prior work, prayer and consensus building.

Another illustration: a missionary in Brazil, Linda, gathered the women together and gave testimony that from the time she was a little girl she wanted to be a missionary. She married a man who didn’t, and ended up divorced, and at age 50 went on to doing street ministry in Rio de Janeiro. She told the story to the group, and the next morning the group gathered and the pastor’s wife explained that her husband always wanted to be a missionary and she resisted; after hearing the story, she therefore made the decision to no longer resist. And she and her husband became missionaries.

Everything in Chapter 12 and 13 built upon something. Paul is moving from doctrine to practice, from theology to ethics. It may seem obvious that Christian living grows out of something, but it is especially important to recognize this today. Quoted from an article by Herbert Hoefer on Hinduism: "The proper name of “Hinduism” is “Sanatana Dharma” or ‘the eternal way of life.’ You can have whatever beliefs you like, but you are expected to live out 'dharma'.” Paul’s worldview is totally different than this—his appeal is based upon something having happened. Why this kind of world? Why does God do it this way? Why does Paul say the universe exists in order to display God? To display the way he is, his attributes. Psalm 150 declares: “Praise God for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness.” The therefore is not there by accident, we live because God has designed the world in such a way that we are to live a certain way.

A practical word to parents: I’ve got kids from 36-11. At 61 never thought I would still be parenting. This therefore means that when you want your children to act a certain way, you have to give them something first. So many parents want their children to “just do it”; however, if that becomes the dominant motif, appealing only to authority, that child will not become a Christian. Their obedience is not built on anything. In parenting we live, sing, Romans 1-11. Didn’t sing together as a family for years, but began to sing—one of the reasons is wanting her life to flow out of worship.

An example from life—we were reading in Luke 11, it says "fear not". Wants his little girl to grow up being a fearless woman. Three times the text says “do not be afraid.” So we pray that God will take the fear out of life. Because of the therefore principle, I search the text for the reasons to not be afraid and found three. First, they can only kill you. (This didn’t really satisfy his daughter, so he explained further about God making all things right—if you belong to Jesus, they’ve done their worse.) Next, God knows the number of hairs on your head, and third, you are worth more than birds. I want this child to know therefore you can be fearless, the why.

Back to Romans 12, the next phrase, “by the mercies of God” is Paul’s shorthand summary of what came before in the book. Amazed at his choice—he’s talked about justification, sanctification, sovereignty, and election, and Paul chooses “the mercies of God”. Why would he choose to sum up using this phrase?

Three reasons:
1) The purpose of life is to glorify God for his mercy. Chapter 15:8-9, the purpose of God in sending his son is that the nations would be amazed at his mercy. The Gentiles are to live in such a way that people can only conclude that God’s mercy is glorious.

2) Mercy in your life towards the undeserving is the best way to make God’s mercy look great. Treating people better than they deserve is the best way to show that God’s mercy is great. Running through Chapter 12, this is repeated over and over. This chapter is saturated with mercy. Mercy flowing out from us must be rooted in mercy coming to us. The overarching theme is, God treats us better than we deserve. A lifestyle of mercy is the way to show God’s great mercy.

3) God’s mercy to us is the key to us living this way. Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” From him we received mercy.

We talk about what God did so that Paul could say, therefore, live this way. It isn’t that Christ was simply an example of giving mercy—he was—saving us when we didn’t deserve. We need to see the importance of what he did.

Mercy implies two things: grace is treating people better than they deserve. Mercy is helping someone who is in pain. We need both—we are guilty and miserable. Romans 5:6: while we were still weak, Christ died for us. The mercy we need is in response to our weak and rebellious condition. Romans 3:9 describes the condition: under the power of sin. None righteous, no one seeks, no one does good. Down to v.19, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”

You will never meet anybody who is not accountable to God. You have never met anyone who had done enough good to deserve God’s goodness. If you don’t have a view of human depravity that includes nice people, you need to go to the Bible to see that depravity is ignoring God. Pharisees were squeaky clean and called vipers. If we don’t have a high view of sin, we won’t understand what Christ has done.

Romans 3:21, the best verse in the Bible perhaps, “But now the righteousness of God has been revealed.”

Romans 1:23 explains Romans 3:23, we’ve “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

By his grace, mercy, through Christ, we received justification, redemption propitiation. Three words; linger there, the center of the gospel, the center of the demonstration of his mercy.

Propitiation: to take away wrath. Our biggest problem is not bad people but a wrathful God. Galatians 3:13—God has cursed us, we’re under a curse, God’s wrath. No amount of doing good will help. And God puts forward Christ to absorb his wrath. Through Christ’s flesh, God condemned my sin. What’s the sin Christ was condemned for? Not his, ours. The gospel breaks pride. There will now never be a day from now on when God is wrathful towards us. He may spank, but it is in love.

Redemption: the word means deliverance at the cost of a price. Paul twice (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14) tells us what redemption is—the forgiveness of sin, the canceling of sin, guilt removed the weight removed, lifted.

Justification: to justify is to declare that you have fulfilled everything required of you. God the judge, contemplates you the sinner, you fly to Jesus, the righteousness provider, you embrace him and make your appeal to the judge to look at him and not me, and he counts us righteous. Romans 4:5,6: “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” God, because of our union with Christ, counts us righteous, as having fulfilled everything required. This is more than forgiveness.

How can this be? Look at Romans 5:19: “by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.” By virtue of Christ having accomplishing everything, when we put our faith, trust in him, what he has done becomes ours.

What’s the implication of justification, redemption, and propitiation? Faith is a reaching out to receive what Christ has done. When that happens, we are secure, Romans 8:28, everything is then working for your good. Those whom he calls, he justifies. All the called are justified. The call creates belief. God spoke, when you thought Christianity was boring, God called. Because of wrath removed, sins forgiven, righteousness provided, therefore, live this way.

When did God become totally for me? You might answer, “in eternity past,” because he chose me before the foundation of the world. But Ephesians 2 says we were objects of wrath. When we believed God, he was from that moment for us. The obedience to the imperatives in Romans 12 and 13 does not make him more for us. It is not to get God on our side, but rather because he is already for us.

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