Gospel Beauty Beyond Syllogisms
The Christian life is the life of a forgiven sinner. Read it again. The Christian life is the life of a forgiven sinner.
There is something refreshing about the simplicity of a statement such as this. Christianity is a religion for sinners. Should we not give him praise for this reality? The Lord Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
I wonder how often we lose focus on this glorious truth? In our discussions with unbelievers and those who would describe themselves as “seekers” (yes, I know Romans 3:11), we ought to help direct their thinking along these lines as they ask us questions about what it means to be a Christian.
Several weeks ago, I was invited to UCLA to speak at class filled with medievalists and early modern English historians. These post-graduate students were studying the religious writings of England during the Reformation and early Puritan era. I was invited to give a pastoral perspective on the theology of the era and to answer questions that the students had about the class readings. Many of the questions were very good and showed that UCLA students know how to read, study, and interact with the material assigned. I was impressed!
- If God is just, how could he elect some to eternal life and not others?
- If the Puritans believed in Sola Scriptura, why is the Geneva Bible filled with notes on how to interpret it?
- If God predestined everything, how can he not be held responsible for the sin of the wicked?
These are really good questions and questions that are worthy of answering, but the syllogisms behind their thinking are missing biblical truth. Our questions—all our questions—need to be buttressed in the fact that in Christ we are offered forgiveness of sins. There are a number of presuppositions contained in those few words, but the simple beauty and wonder of forgiveness ought not to be too far from any of our theological questions.
God is holy and that which is unholy cannot stand in his presence.
We are sinful by nature—living in a fallen world and pretty good at sinning against God and our neighbor.
Jesus Christ, the God-man, offered himself for sinners, living a perfect life and dying a perfect death, satisfying the holiness of God and imputing his righteousness to all who would believe.
Our questions and our debates and our theological considerations need to be bathed in these glorious truths: God is holy. I am unholy. Christ offers himself.
All theological topics that can be debated ought to take these basic truths into consideration. Many will fail to understand these core truths of the Christian life—either God will not be holy enough to demand perfect righteousness, or man will be good in his or her heart, or Jesus Christ will not be enough. For some, these truths will be too simplistic, too fundamentalistic. For others, there will always be a seeking after something more, a chasing after the theological carrot on a stick.
But for those of us who are in Christ, he will be enough. God’s holiness will humble us. The cross will bring us to tears. Our sins will continue to drive us to our redeemer. There is an experiential element to all of this which is beyond debate and will not satisfy without receiving rest from Christ. Calvin calls this the “secret and hidden philosophy which cannot be wrestled from syllogisms.” The Christian life is the life of a forgiven sinner.
"For in Christ he offers all happiness in place of our misery, all wealth in place of our neediness; in him he opens to us the heavenly treasures that our whole faith may contemplate his beloved Son, our whole expectation depend upon him, and our whole hope cleave to and rest in him. This, indeed, is that secret and hidden philosophy which cannot be wrestled from syllogisms." (Calvin, Institutes, 3.20.1)
Whatever your questions, whatever your debates, whatever your contemplations—find rest in Christ as he is beyond syllogism and gloriously beautiful.