Posts Tagged ‘John Stott’

“The law must do its God-given duty today”

July 13, 2017

At Wednesday night’s Bible study, we dealt with the question that Paul raises in Galatians 3:19: “Why then the law?” Up to this point in his letter, Paul has argued that, contrary to the message of his opponents in Galatia, obedience to God’s law can play no role in saving us. So it’s only natural that his readers might wonder, What’s the point of the law?

His answer? God’s law “imprisons everything under sin” (Galatians 3:22). In other words, the law makes clear how helplessly sinful we all are. It teaches us that our salvation will come only through an act of sheer grace on God’s part. It reminds us of our desperate need for a Savior.

The law prepares us to receive God’s Son Jesus.

I’ve said in previous sermons that our failure to keep God’s law is at least one-half of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we miss this point, we’ll miss the gospel entirely.

The late Anglican theologian John Stott describes the role of the law as follows:

After God gave the promise to Abraham, He gave the law to Moses. Why? He had to make things worse before He could make them better. The law exposed sin, provoked sin, condemned sin. The purpose of the law was to lift the lid off man’s respectability and disclose what he is really underneath—sinful, rebellious, guilty, under the judgment of God and helpless to save himself.

And the law must still be allowed to do its God-given duty today. One of the great faults of the contemporary church is the tendency to soft-pedal sin and judgment… We must never bypass the law and come straight to the gospel. To do so is to contradict the plan of God in biblical history… No man has ever appreciated the gospel until the law has first revealed him to himself. It is only against the inky blackness of the night sky that the stars begin to appear, and it is only against the dark background of sin and judgment that the gospel shines forth.[†]

No man has ever appreciated the gospel until the law has first revealed him to himself.

The law reveals to us who we truly are, without which the gospel will seem irrelevant. I like that!

1. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1968), 92-3.

Seeing the Trinity in Luke 15

January 30, 2013

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In my two sermons on Luke 15:11-32, I didn’t have time to discuss the two similar-sounding short parables that preceded the parable of the prodigal son and his brother. If I did, I might have explored the intriguing question that Michael Wilcock explored in his Bible Speaks Today commentary on Luke.

He argues that it wasn’t Luke’s (or Jesus’) style to tell three parables that make the exact same point. From Wilcock’s perspective, therefore, the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son are not all saying essentially the same thing, with the prodigal son adding the twist of the older brother’s resentment. Luke (and Jesus) must be up to something else.

What is that something else? Wilcock argues that Jesus is saying (or Luke is arranging these parables to say) something about the Trinity. It certainly seems clear enough that the lost sheep is about the work of the Son and the prodigal son is about the work of the Father. Is it possible that the lost coin highlights the work of the Spirit?

He thinks so, based on what Jesus has already said about the Spirit in Luke’s gospel and the placement of Luke 15 in that context. He also offers this (I’ve put the author’s footnoted references in brackets):

The upshot is that the symbolic meanings often attached both to ‘woman’ and to ‘lamp’ elsewhere in Scripture may well be the meanings we are intended to see in this parable. The church in Old Testament and New is the Lord’s bride [Is. 54:5; Ezk. 16:8; Eph. 5:23ff.], and as a community through which the Spirit reveals God’s truth it is also a light [Mt. 5:14ff.; Phil 2:15]; in the picture-book of Revelation the symbols of woman and light are both used to depict the people of God [Rev. 1:20; 4:5; 12:1-17; 19:off.; 21:9ff.]. If Luke 15:8-10 is meant to have this added significance, we may see in it the Spirit of God lighting the church’s way as she sets about the divine work of seeking the lost.[1]

He goes on to cite a C. H. Spurgeon sermon that makes the same point. Spurgeon said,

We have sometimes heard it said—here is the prodigal received as soon as he comes back, no mention being made of a Saviour who seeks and saves him. Is it possible to teach all truths in one single parable? Does not the first one speak of the shepherd seeking the lost sheep? Why need repeat what had been said before? It has also been said that the prodigal returned of his own free will, for there is no hint of the operation of a superior power upon his heart, it seems as if he himself spontaneously says, “I will arise, and go unto my Father.” The answer is, that the Holy Spirit’s work had been clearly described in the second parable, and needed not to be introduced again.[2]

I’ll be honest: While I was skeptical at first, I buy into it now. I think we should read Luke 15 in Trinitarian terms. It’s certainly true, just in terms of Christian theology, that if the parable of the prodigal son as an allegory for salvation, the younger son doesn’t come to his senses apart from the active work of the Spirit, even if that work is invisible to him. God the Holy Spirit is working through the famine and hardship to get the young man’s attention and enable him to repent.

Wilcock goes on to talk about how the parables reveal different aspects of humanity’s lostness: our mindless wandering away from God, our lifelessness and helplessness (as represented by the silver coin) apart from God, and our active rebellion against God.

Anyway… Good stuff from a good commentary series. The New Testament series editor, by the way, is the late evangelical Anglican John Stott.

1. Michael Wilcock, The Message of Luke, ed. John R. W. Stott (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1979), 152.

2. Ibid., 153.