Completing Christ? Can It Be?

Is there any legitimate way that we could say we complete Jesus? I would have doubted so, but there is this is Scripture:

And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:22-23

What does this bold phrase mean? Here’s what Calvin commented on this passage:

The fullness of him that filleth all in all. This is the highest honor of the Church, that, until He is united to us, the Son of God reckons himself in some measure imperfect [in the sense “incomplete”]. What consolation is it for us to learn, that, not until we are along with him, does he possess all his parts, or wish to be regarded as complete! […]

That filleth all in all. This is added to guard against the supposition that any real defect would exist in Christ, if he were separated from us. His wish to be filled, and, in some respects, made perfect in us, arises from no want or necessity; for all that is good in ourselves, or in any of the creatures, is the gift of his hand; and his goodness appears the more remarkably in raising us out of nothing, that he, in like manner, may dwell and live in us.

Basically, Jesus is complete in and of Himself, yet He has sovereignly and freely chosen to be with us, to be our God, to be for us. Although He can be complete by Himself, He out of His own freedom chosen not to be complete without us. He has created in Himself room for us to fill! Amen! What a gracious honor!

Completing Christ? Can It Be?

Liberty Doesn’t Automatically Mean Gay Marriage

Does religious freedom equal gay marriage? Some people think so. I didn’t want to say anything else about gay marriage any time soon at this point. I feel that, for the most part, more than enough has been said on each side in the last three days. But watching Facebook (and a few other places), there has been this particular idea which I think deserves a response from a blog like mine (i.e. a blog which mostly reaches a few common folk the author knows).

See, some Christians have been suggesting that, even though they agree that homosexuality is wrong, the SCOTUS decision is still a win for liberty. After all, we have religious freedom here. So if gay marriage is only wrong from a Christian point of view, shouldn’t the government still allow it for people in general? Wouldn’t restricting marriage to a Christian view violate the religious liberty which Christians so enjoy? We don’t want the government forcing people to worship Jesus, so why should we want them forcing people to respect a Christian view of marriage?

I think there are a few problems with such an argument. The first is that it assumes something about marriage which should not be assumed, namely that it is something which can apply to both homosexual and heterosexual couples. It assumes that it means something for a male to “marry” another male, for example. Yet this cannot be a given. Someone must first question what marriage actually is and is about before we can assume that it makes sense to speak of two men or two women as married. An an analogy, we know we cannot speak of men as pregnant. Nothing a man can experience counts as pregnancy. If the government wished to pass a law which allowed some kind of male circumstance to be legally recognized as pregnancy, it would be absurd and everyone would know it. I suggest we should think twice before assuming that marriage does not work in a similar way when it comes to different or same-sex relationships.

Secondly, we have to ask, “Why does the government recognize marriage?” After all, most people still would think you can be in some way married even if there is no government. Marriage has a legal side and another side. So why is there a legal side? Once we ask that question, we can compare the answers to see if it even makes sense for government to recognize “marriage” in same-sex relationships. These days, people tend to assume that marriage is about nothing more than twue wuv and personal fulfillment. There is no significant reason for a government to care about such a union whether gay or straight. Legal marriage, if love is all marriage is about, has no purpose. But if there are other important matters which it makes sense for the government to support by recognizing marriage and giving it legal benefits, then we have to ask whether they apply equally to gay and straight couples.

As well, from a specifically Christian point of view, the original argument I’m countering smacks of Gnosticism. To say that marriage only needs to be heterosexual for religious reasons, but not in the rest of the world, is basically to say that what is right and designed by God has no important impact on the real world after all. We would be promoting a theology which separates God’s moral law from the way the real world works. Can we really say that homosexuality is only wrong for an arbitrary spiritual reason and has no tangible consequences? But if a Gnostic moral worldview is false, and homosexual unions are wrong, then we must admit that they do cause tangible problems. And if homosexual unions do cause tangible problems, then for the government to legally recognize and privilege them is for the government to promote what damages human society, which of course should not be done.

In fact, this all ties in to the silly idea that legally recognized marriages are a right. That’s simply wrong. To marry is a right, and the government must protect it, but the government is not obligated to legally recognize marriages and give them benefits. They have reasons to do so, but ultimately legal marriage constitutes a government privilege, not a right. If the government is to have legal marriages, they should do so because they have some vested interest in promoting marriage. And in that case, it is not a right they are dealing with. They are choosing to promote certain relationships for the benefit of society. This means that some form of discrimination is necessary, as not all relationships can serve that goal (certainly, for example, pedophilic, incestuous, or polygamous relationships we all agree do not serve that goal, and thus can be justly barred from government recognition). If we moved legal marriage from the category of “right” to “privilege,” where it belongs, then all of this nonsense about equality would be less powerful.

I may have rambled some, but I hope one point remains. As Christians, we do not need to agree that legalizing gay marriage is a good idea for the sake of religious liberty. There are various reasons that, religion aside, the definition of legal marriage can still in principle reasonably be restricted to heterosexual unions without violating any principles of religious freedom. The separation of church and state can still exist without gay marriage, and I daresay it should.

Liberty Doesn’t Automatically Mean Gay Marriage

Jesus Is Lord, the U.S. Government Is Not

“Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.” This quote from N. T. Wright (among others) reflects what he sees as a major subversive political message throughout the Gospels and the New Testament in its entirety. The fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead despite the agreement of Jewish and Roman political leaders to kill Him means that the authorities of this world have no real power. The greatest power of tyrants is death, and Jesus undid death. This reality of resurrection is a threat to all world powers. Christ’s people are therefore free to live as citizens of the kingdom to come and not the kingdoms of this world.

Of course, this sounds rather irrelevant to modern life for the most part, at least in the Western world and America. We don’t live in a dictatorship, or an absolute monarchy, or a police state, or any recognizable kind of political tyranny. Instead we pride ourselves on being a free country. So the significance of “Jesus is Lord, [insert political power here] is not” can be lost on us. 

But at the same time, there is something slightly subversive even now in saying, “My allegiance is to Jesus Christ, not the United States of America. My country is from above, and in this nation I live as a foreigner. The President, Congress, and the courts can say what they like, but if I obey them it is to better serve Christ, and not for their sake.” After all, we look to the government to affirm right and wrong, do something about our national problems, and maintain order among the people. So a statement like this grounded in Jesus risen Lordship can’t help but strike lots of people as at least a bit rebellious and dangerous.

But what brings me to this topic? I know this will get me a facepalm from my more liberal friends (both politically and theologically), but it’s of course about a certain Supreme Court case. Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you probably know that Obergefell v. Hodges is set to determine the future of gay marriage in all 50 states. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for 50 years, you can probably guess how this will turn out. Given the status of public opinion on gay marriage, and the spirit of the age, it seems likely enough that this case will result in the determination of a “Constitutional right” to gay marriage in the entire nation.

Obviously, the mere existence of gay marriage won’t hurt me or others who oppose it, but the real issue comes in the affect unanimous government approval of gay marriage would have on churches and Christian schools. As it stands, most churches can choose to only hire straight pastors and other staff members and to only marry straight couples. Generally, Christian schools are not obligated to hire gay teachers or enroll students in gay marriages. We have moral standards based on traditionally solid readings of the Holy Scriptures, and we can for the most part honor those beliefs in how we run schools and churches.

This may very well not continue following the Supreme Court’s ruling. If you’ve paid attention to the news lately, you may have seen the comment by Solicitor General Donald Verrili in the case arguments. Chief Justice John G. Roberts asked him about the tax exempt status of religious schools who oppose gay marriage. Bob Jones University was previously stripped of their tax exempt status for banning interracial relationships, and the Chief Justice asked if the same would happen to places with policies against homosexuality. The response:

You know, I—I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I—I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is—it is going to be an issue.

So we have from the mouth of an important political official that there will be some kind of problem with the ability of Christian colleges to oppose gay marriage if the ruling enforces its recognition. That is dangerous to Christians, since here we have the legitimate possibility of the government wielding taxation as a weapon to make believers conform to the mindset of the world at large. If this happens, it will be the declaration, “We are Lord, your Jesus is not.”

This problem can also be seen in the statements of various politicians around the nation. Most recently Hillary Clinton comes to mind. Here’s what she said about abortion “rights”:

Far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth. All the laws we’ve passed don’t count for much if they’re not enforced…Rights have to exist in practice — not just on paper…Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.

There’s no trick or quote mining here. Hillary’s record on these matters speaks for itself. For Hillary Clinton, one of the foremost representatives of the Democratic Party and half the country, religious convictions are an obstacle to be overcome so that people can have abortions. Disagreement cannot be tolerated. The law must spite religious belief and move the people towards liberalism’s goals. 

Unfortunately, beliefs like these are all to common and seem to be the trajectory of the government. Soon Christian schools and churches are likely to be faced with a choice: obey Christ or country. Let your judge be God or government. And of course if you choose to believe that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not, there will be consequences. They’ll likely start out purely within the economic sphere (taxes and fines), but do not be surprised if they move on from there. Christian schools could potentially lose accreditation. Churches could lose their buildings. And there’s always the possibility of more “hate speech” laws leading to jail time for Christian pastors, professors, and bloggers.

Of course, I’m not here simply to scare anyone or complain about the victories of some conspiratorial liberal elite. I’m simply making the point that our government is reaching a point where it considers itself the “father” of church. Religions are like rambunctious children who must be corrected and disciplined so that they will do what their parents want. The state is to keep the church in line, not the other way around. This is dangerous and points ever so subtly towards an innocent-looking, nearly accepted totalitarianism. 

We know, however, that Jesus is Lord and the U.S. government is not. Whatever they say, we must continue to follow Christ. For we don’t obey the laws of this world for their own sake, as though they had any real authority. We obey them for the Gospel, so that by submitting to the institutions God has given power for the sake of maintaining order we may live quiet, respectful, and peaceful lives which witness to God’s amazing grace in Jesus Christ.

This means that when it comes down to it on issues like abortion and gay marriage, or anything else which comes up, we will not waver but follow the faith we have received. We trust that whatever the fallout, we will be vindicated and restored by our Father, if not in this life then in the resurrection. But this also means that we should not go out of our way to cause trouble. While we should stand our ground, we should avoid being feisty, aggressive, or rebellious. These are not Christian virtues and will only unnecessarily hinder our respectable witness. 

I suppose I’ve rambled a bit, so here’s my main point: the U.S. government is coming to a place where it thinks it can control the Christian religion. But it cannot. Whatever authority it presumes to have is undermined by the victory of Jesus. So if they try to oppose us in whatever ways, we are already on the winning side. Because of Christ, we need not fear or get feisty, but can be bold, brave, and also respectably self-controlled. For Jesus is Lord, and the U.S. government is not.

Jesus Is Lord, the U.S. Government Is Not

A Different Kind of Calvinism: What About Free Will?

I left off in my last EC (Evangelical Calvinism) post explaining how we view election as about Jesus. He took our reprobation (rejection by God) on the Cross and gave us His election (being God’s Chosen One). So now humanity is the elect in Jesus Christ, the Elect.

This brings in an obvious question. If all humanity is chosen by God in Jesus, then does this mean all humanity will be saved? If not, then how do some people benefit from the salvation God gives to His elect, while others are still lost? What roles do choice and sovereignty play in salvation?

Love as True Freedom

In classical Arminianism, Molinism, and Open Theism, freedom (specifically libertarian free will) is the basis of true love. Love is not true unless it is chosen freely. Yet EC sees this in a reverse way, with God’s infinite life of Triune love as the basis for freedom. Traditional free will requires an equal capacity for good or evil, for love or hate. Yet this is not the freedom we see in God. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. It is impossible for God to lie. The Father is not equally disposed to love or hate the Son, but simply loves the Son. Yet God is truly free in His love. It is by loving that God is free. Love creates true freedom to be and act for the other.

True freedom is found in love, which is found in God.

This is visible enough in Scripture and common experience. It is not those who are in sin who are free, but they are slaves of sin. Those who love God, and who love others, are free. It is the truth that sets us free, and what truth is there but Jesus, the Truth, who is also the God of love? It is the Son who sets us free indeed, and the Son is the God who is love.

Again, one common experience, we do not find ourselves free when we have the capacity to love or hate by arbitrary choice. Instead, we find ourselves bound by all kinds of selfish thoughts and desires, while love sets us free to live for our beloved. All of this points us to this conclusion: true freedom is found in love, which is found in God. Any metaphysical concept of “free will” based on individual choices and autonomy is inferior to this reality.

Jesus vs. Sin

Now, this freedom is something help first and foremost by God Himself, as He lives and loves within the Trinity as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus is God the Son, He enjoys and exercises this seem freedom. And because humans are made in the image of God, who is Jesus, we can also experience the freedom of love.

Our human freedom from Christ is completely blocked by slavery to sin.

The problem comes with sin. Because of sin, we as humans are not fully participating in the freedom of the image of God. Sin’s origins are unknown. Scripture tells us nothing about how evil entered this world. We know that Satan fell, but we do not know how or why such terrible thoughts and desires came into his heart. Ultimately, this is a mystery known only to God Himself. But now that sin does exist, it has through Adam come to corrupt us all. While because we are made in Jesus’ image we should all live free lives of love, sin works within us to counteract and destroy our connection to Jesus. We have no way of escape, for all our thoughts are bent away from the freedom of love and into the slavery of selfishness. All together are under this, so that no one does good and no one seeks God. We are totally depraved.

So in our individual human wills, we have two competing powers. Our connection to God’s freedom of love though being made in Jesus’ image leads us to life and righteousness, while sin’s corruption leads us to death and wrongdoing. Our human freedom from Christ, however, is completely blocked by slavery to sin. As it is, we have all gone too far astray on sin’s path and are left with no way out, only occasionally and incidentally doing anything in true freedom.

Set Free Once More

How is this contradiction between the image we were created in, Jesus and His life of love/freedom, and the sin which corrupts us to be fixed? Only God’s in His grace can even keep us around in this state. So what is God’s solution?

The Holy Spirit makes us alive with Jesus’ life, free with Jesus’ freedom.

The answer is Jesus, yet again. Though we lived a whole life of slavery to sin, Jesus also lived a human life. He was born into the sinful human race and just like us, only in His life He did not succumb to sin but instead healed it. He in His own human person eliminated the power of sin and lived the freedom of love. This is the basis on which we can now be freed. Jesus did all things right, He believed in the Father, He turned away from sin, He resisted temptation, He did good works, and He was perfect, all as a human being.

This is the basis for our salvation. As I said before, we are made in the image of God, who is Jesus. So if Jesus lived this life as a human, we should be able to as well. He had made the human life of salvation that we need. Because He did all this, He has not only created a basis for humanity to begin with, the image we were created in yet broke, but He has also created the basis for us to turn from our sins and come to God.

How do we get in on this as individuals? The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, does this for us. He comes to us in power when we encounter the Gospel, and so brings us to life by reuniting us with Jesus Himself, and the free life He lived. So we are freed and joined to Jesus’ own turning from sin that we can turn from sin, connected to Jesus’ faith so that we can have faith. The Holy Spirit makes us alive with Jesus’ life, free with Jesus’ freedom.

Unbelievers refuse the very Spirit of the very Jesus whose image they are made in and deny their own existence.

“Okay,” you’ll say. “But if the Holy Spirit makes us who believe share in Jesus’ faith, what about those who do not believe? Does He not do that for them?” This is a good question. The TC (TULIP Calvinist) doctrine of irresistible grace also makes faith the product of the Spirit, but God only does this in the elect. Of course, in EC all of humanity is elect, but some do not believe, so how does this work? Surely God does not withhold the Spirit from people when He could save them?

This is where we get back to the same question of sin’s origins. Where did sin come from? No one knows. How did sin enter a world perfectly in line with God’s will? Scripture doesn’t say. Likewise, while it should be impossible because of the perfect work of Jesus and the relationship the Spirit creates with Him for anyone to remain unchanged, somehow some people do. Unbelievers refuse the very Spirit of the very Jesus whose image they are made in and deny their own existence. They do the impossible, resist the Spirit of the God who reconciles all things to Himself through the body of Jesus Christ. Bobby Grow calls it a surd, a fact of reality that doesn’t fit in to our understanding of reality. Unbelief doesn’t make sense.

A Wee Bit More

Honestly, I expect there are still questions, and I do intend to address them. In my next post, part 5 of the EC series, I plan to cover more details on two crucial points: the sovereignty of God in relation to man’s will, and the importance of a doctrine called the vicarious humanity of Christ to understanding. I believe I will conclude with that, though I will certainly have various posts in the future on these subjects, just not in this series.

If you have any questions you can actually figure out how to ask (I know at first I didn’t really know what to say about all this), be sure to mention them in the comments so I can address them in my next post. I may do a FAQ post at the end of the series for any miscellaneous things. Until then, the grace of Jesus and the Father be with you all.

A Different Kind of Calvinism: What About Free Will?