Archives For Mike Riccardi

Life and DeathThose of you who read the Cripplegate week to week know that over the past few Fridays we’ve been taking a look at 2 Corinthians 4. Three weeks ago, we discovered that the orienting principle for Christian ministry is that there is a fundamental contrast between the glory of the New Covenant ministry and the weakness and shame of the New Covenant minister. We have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels.

After stating that orienting principle for ministry in 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul turns to illustrate that principle by means of two paradoxes. The first is that the Christian ministry is marked by power in the midst of weakness (2 Cor 4:8–9). We see the second paradox In verses 10 and 11. True, faithful Christian ministry is also characterized by life in the midst of death. Paul says, we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

These two sentences are parallel to one another; verse 11 simply restates verse 10 in a slightly different way. And together they form a theological interpretation and summary of the four contrasts in verses 8 and 9. Paul summarizes being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down and calls them “the dying of Jesus” and “being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake.” And he summarizes not being crushed, in despair, forsaken, and destroyed as “the life of Jesus.”

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Power in the Midst of WeaknessTwo weeks ago, we took a look at the orienting principle for Christian ministry: we have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels. In other words, there is a disproportionate relationship between the glory of the New Covenant message and the glory of the New Covenant messenger. There is a fundamental contrast between the glory of the New Covenant ministry and the shame of the New Covenant minister. In the next verses, Paul turns to illustrate this principle by means of two paradoxical truths that characterize the Christian ministry.

And the first of those paradoxes comes in verses 8 and 9. There we learn that the Christian ministry is marked by power in the midst of weakness. He says, we are “in everything afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” In what commentators have called “one of the more powerful rhetorical moments in the Pauline corpus” (Barnett, 233), Paul makes his point by means of four antitheses. In each first word, we see the weakness of the earthen vessel. And in each second word, we see the surpassing greatness of the power of God. Let’s look more closely at each pair.

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But we have this treasure in earthen vessels
so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God
and not from ourselves.
– 2 Corinthians 4:7 –

This verse teaches a fundamental, orienting principle for Christian ministry: there is a disproportionate relationship between the glory of the New Covenant message and the glory of the New Covenant messenger. There is a fundamental contrast between the glory of the New Covenant ministry and the shame of the New Covenant minister.

True North

Gospel Treasure

We see that by the word picture that Paul employs. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” The Gospel is a treasure. The glorious Good News of the New Covenant is absolutely priceless.

  • Whereas the Old Covenant brought only death and condemnation, the New Covenant brings spiritual life and saving righteousness (2 Cor 3:7–8).
  • Whereas the Old Covenant provided only limited access to the concealed glory of God, the New Covenant provides continual access to open-faced admiration of the glory of God shining in the face of Christ (2 Cor 3:12–18).
  • Whereas the Law made nothing perfect (Heb 7:19) and only further aroused our sinful passions (Rom 7:7–11), the New Covenant brings inward transformation and conformity to the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18).
  • Whereas the Old Covenant was powerless to transform the heart of man, the Gospel of the glory of Christ shines into that dead heart, and the Holy Spirit Himself awakens the affections to hate sin and to love righteousness (2 Cor 4:4, 6).

This Gospel is a treasure!

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JusticeAwhile ago, I posted some selections of Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” As it happens, three weeks ago was the 275th anniversary of the greatest sermon preached on American soil. If you haven’t read that post, I would invite you to read what I’ve called America’s greatest sermon for America’s greatest need, extraordinarily relevant for our nation today.

Sermons and teaching like that represented in Edwards’ sermon tends to generate several objections, including the notion that it is unjust for God to punish those who die in their sins for eternity in hell. I want to respond to that objection today.

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Clouds without Water

For more than four decades, John MacArthur has led the fight for the supremacy of the truth and of sound doctrine—not only within the walls of his own church, but also throughout the evangelical church at large. Surrounded by other defenders of biblical teaching, Pastor John has devoted his ministry to safeguarding the inerrancy of Scripture, the lordship of Christ, and the literal truth of the creation account in Genesis. But perhaps the most far-reaching and pernicious error that our he has battled against is the damning doctrine of the health, wealth, and prosperity “gospel.”

Three years ago, Grace to You hosted the Strange Fire Conference at Grace Church in order to defend the truth against the heresies of the Word of Faith movement and other Charismatic aberrations. Faithful pastors like R.C. Sproul, Steve Lawson, and Conrad Mbewe stood alongside Pastor MacArthur to declare the absolute sufficiency of the written Word of God.

Another of those faithful men was Justin Peters, a longtime friend of The Master’s Seminary and Grace Community Church. Justin suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Believing he could be healed by a Word-of-Faith faith healer, like thousands of others he became disillusioned when he was not healed. This launched him into critical study of Charismaticism, and today his ministry is devoted to exposing the damaging and damning effects of the doctrine and practice of the Word of Faith movement, sounding the call for discernment among Christ’s flock.

Justin will be with us again on July 29–30 as the featured speaker of a weekend conference hosted by the GraceLife fellowship group. Entitled “Clouds without Water: A Biblical Critique of the Word of Faith Movement,” the conference consists of four seminars that explore such topics as the biblical definition of discernment and common objections against it, the cultic origins of the Word of Faith movement, a critical evaluation of Charismatic practices (e.g., abusing tongues, being slain in the Spirit, supposed visits to heaven, etc.), and the question of whether it is always God’s will to heal.

Jude calls the false teachers troubling the early church “clouds without water” (Jude 1:12), because they promise spiritual benefit (as clouds promise rain) but never deliver, leaving the church hopeless and disillusioned. We must be on guard against such teachers, and must be equipped to help others be discerning as well. We are confident that our church family will be served by Justin’s ministry. If you’re in the Los Angeles area this next weekend, we hope you’ll join us for what will be a special time of practical instruction from God’s Word.

Clouds Without Water Conference

July 29–30 • Grace Church Family Center
Cost: $15 (includes breakfast and lunch on Saturday)

GraceLife is partnering with the Logos Bible Institute for this event, so those who would like to attend this conference for Logos elective credit may do so.

For more information or to register, visit, https://www.gracechurch.org/logos/posts/960.
Note: Registration closes Monday, 7/25 at 11:59pm, so be sure to register right away.
Note also that childcare is not available for this event.

Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
– 2 Corinthians 5:9 –

AmbitionThe relationship between this verse and the previous is instructive. The “therefore” signals that this is a consequence of the preceding truth. What is the necessary consequence of having the settled preference to depart from this life and be with Christ? What is the necessary consequence of longing for unhindered, sin-free, face-to-face communion with Jesus? If the open enjoyment of Christ’s glory is the great hope of your life in the future, then that means your supreme ambition will be to be pleasing to Him in the present.

Ambition

This phrase, “We also have as our ambition,” speaks to the intensity of Paul’s desire to please Christ above all else. It is the all-consuming, driving force behind all he does. Usually, the concept of ambition has a negative connotation, speaking of someone who is wholly preoccupied with self-promotion and self-glory. A young man enters the corporate world with designs of running the company one day, determined to climb the corporate ladder no matter who he has to step on to get to the top. A politician strategizes and schemes and conspires as to how he can put himself forward, undermine his opponents, and portray himself in the best light, so that he can win the favor of the electorate. A young man has the ambition of playing professional sports, and he shapes his entire childhood around receiving the proper training and coaching, putting in the necessary workouts, watching his diet, getting good grades to go to a Division 1 university—he eats, sleeps, and breathes his game, all so he can wear that uniform and play in front of thousands of fans.

With that same all-consuming passion (albeit expressed positively rather than negatively), the Apostle Paul says: My supreme ambition is to always be pleasing to Christ. Charles Hodge comments, “As ambitious men desire and strive after fame, so Christians long and labor to be acceptable to Christ. Love to him, the desire to please him, and to be pleasing to him, animates their hearts and governs their lives, and makes them do and suffer what heroes do for glory” (500).

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“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 –

“Therefore” points us back to Paul’s thoughts, where he celebrated the truth that even if his earthly tent was torn down—even the constant opposition, conflict, and persecution that results from his ministry results in losing his life—he was absolutely certain that God would one day raise him from the dead in a glorified body (2 Cor 5:1–5). And he could be that certain because God Himself had given him a pledge—an earnest—the down payment of the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in his heart, guaranteeing that God will one day deliver all the fullness of Paul’s heavenly inheritance (2 Cor 5:5).

The Pledge of the Spirit

The consequence of that Spirit-guaranteed assurance of a resurrection body is “good courage.” Verse 6: “Therefore, being always of good courage.” And then again in verse 8: “We are of good courage, I say.” The word means to be boldly and confidently courageous. Whether the beatings and stonings and imprisonments that would come as a result of preaching the Gospel to the lost, or the distrust and the false accusations and the heartache of broken relationships that would come as a result of ministering to the church—he could face any circumstance with courage and confidence.

And as we lay our lives down in the service of Christ and His church, so can we. There is so much strength and courage to be drawn from the reality that the Holy Spirit of God Himself is dwelling in us, fighting sin in us, warring against the flesh in us, and will one day raise our mortal body from the dead into conformity with the body of Christ’s glory. As long as that Spirit dwells in you, and guides you and leads you into holiness, and empowers you for ministry, you need never despair in the midst of your labors. You can be always of good courage. One commentator said, “The good courage that animates the [believers] is as permanent and serene as the Spirit dwelling within” (Hughes, 175). The Father’s pledge of the Spirit in our hearts is cause for fearless sacrificial ministry.

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TrinityAs the debate over eternal functional subordination continues in the various corners of the blogosphere, Jesse entered the fray yesterday, responding to Goligher’s (one, two) and Trueman’s original posts. He argued for a functional subordination in eternity past primarily on the basis that the divine plan of salvation takes place before the incarnation. And the Son, in agreeing to come as mankind’s Mediator, necessarily places Himself in subjection to the Father’s will. As I was interacting with Jesse’s post, I began writing a comment in response. Before too long, that comment was blog-post length, so I thought I’d just give it its own post. He graciously agreed.

I still think it’s premature for me to take a hard stance in either direction yet, because I think good questions still need to be answered by both sides, and especially by Grudem and Ware, but also by the non-EFSers as well. (My M.O. has just been to argue with whomever I’m talking to at the moment, no matter which position they take, until somebody satisfies my questions and objections.) Really excellent posts from Darren SumnerMark Jones, and Matthew Barrett have moved the discussion forward in what I think are helpful ways. If we keep pushing one another, respectfully and graciously, as brothers, I think the potential is there for some sort of agreement. As it stands now, I think I’m leaning toward the non-EFS side, while it seems Jesse may be leaning in the other direction. But, for reasons I hope this post will explain, I think what non-EFSers are most concerned to safeguard isn’t so much that we don’t call the Son’s decision to undertake His saving mission “submission” or “obedience,” but rather that we don’t say that there is authority and submission within the inner life (ad intra) of the Trinity. At the very least, those are where my concerns lie.

In this post, Jesse’s words from yesterday are in italics, while my responses follow. It does read less like a regular blog post and more like a long blog comment, because, well, that’s what it is. I hope it’s helpful to you anyway.

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Here is my attempt at a very brief summary of the current debate or discussion surrounding the eternal functional subordination (EFS) of the Son to the Father.

Number 1We all know the incarnate Son submits to the Father, but is His submission something that extends to His eternal role/relationship as Son? Is the Son subordinate to the Father from all eternity? Is there authority and submission within the inner life of the Trinity, even before creation and redemption?

2Proponents of EFS say yes. Opponents say no.

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Over the past few weeks, we have been taking a look at how Jeremiah responded to Judah’s suffering at the time of the Babylonian exile, with the goal of learning lessons on how the believer can respond to suffering righteously. We’ve seen that Jeremiah weeps with those who weep, that he acknowledges the role of sin in suffering, that he trusts in God’s absolute sovereignty, and yet never finds fault with God but recognizes the proper enemy. Today we come to the final, and perhaps the most important, lesson that Jeremiah teaches us on suffering well. In the midst of his intense suffering and deep anguish, Jeremiah does not mourn as one who has no hope (1 Thess 4:13). Rather, he sets his hope entirely on, and rests in, the character of God. He hopes in the restoration of God’s people according to His character and His covenant.

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