Where Is Your Story Written?

Article
03.01.2010

Everyone Loves a Story (Part 1)

Everyone loves a story. Whether our taste runs to Michener or Grisham, Shakespeare or Tolkien, fiction or non-fiction, there’s something about a story well-told that draws us in.

But it’s not just the pull of narrative. A good story is peopled with characters whose lives become windows—windows into another world, and windows into our own interior world.

OUR OWN STORIES

I think that’s why we all love stories. Stories help us make sense of our world and ourselves. In fact, when I wanted my young bride to understand what it meant that she had married a Southerner who had left the South, but had not stopped being southern, I read her stories from William Faulkner, Ferrol Sams, and Joel Chandler Harris.

In our post-modern world, we’ve been encouraged to give up the search for a narrative that will make sense of our lives and instead get on with the business of living, however we decide to define it. What’s more, if we find a narrative that works, we’re told to keep it to ourselves. We shouldn’t oppress others with our vision of life, our sense of meaning, our meta-narrative.

Of course, the problem with this view of things is that it doesn’t work, nor does it square with our experience. Whether we’re from the East or the West, religious or non-religious, we all make sense of our lives not just by reading stories, but by telling them—stories about where we’re from, who we’re related to, and what we do. And our particular stories take on added significance as they are connected with the stories of others.

“I’m a white American who grew up in the post-civil rights South.”

“I’m a Kenyan who grew up in post-colonial East Africa.”

“I’m a former Muslim who has converted to Christianity.”

“I’m a 3rd generation American-born Chinese.”

Each of those summaries connect an individual’s story to an even bigger story—stories that define us, that shape us, that provide meaning and purpose and order to our lives.

GOD’S STORY

The biggest stories that any of us tell are the stories that connect us, not just with a family, a nation, or an ethnic group, but with God and the cosmos. After all, we’re not the only ones who tell a story that gives meaning to life. In the Bible, God tells a story.

Now when I refer to the story in the Bible, I don’t mean that it’s fictional, any more than the story of your life is fictional. What I mean is that the Bible provides us with a narrative that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s the narrative of God’s words and actions in history. And it’s not just one narrative among many. It’s the narrative of everything, because it begins in the “moments” before time itself begins, and it ends at the “moment” just after history draws to a conclusion. And though the narrative sometimes focuses in on a single family, or even an individual, along the way it sweeps into its story the totality of the human race. That means that my story and yours are caught up inside this narrative.

Far from being an ancient religious text, of interest only to antiquarians and scholars, the Bible is as contemporary as we are. What’s more, we will never make sense of our own stories without understanding how we fit into God’s.

THE TASK OF BIBLICAL THEOLOGY

To understand the Bible as a single divinely-inspired narrative, a revelation of God’s purpose and plan for humanity that unfolds in time and space, is the task of biblical theology. More than just theology that is biblical, biblical theology attempts to understand God’s revelation as it progressively unfolds in history and culminates in the person of Jesus Christ. It tries to understand how the Old Testament points forward to and prepares us for the New, and how the New Testament is contained in the Old.

If I had to point to a single verse to justify these claims, I might point to Luke 24:27: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

Or perhaps it would be 1 Corinthians 10:6, where Paul, referring to the events of Israel in the wilderness said, “Now these things occurred as types [examples; typos] to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.”

Or maybe it would be Hebrews 10:1, where the author says that the old covenant was a shadow pointing to a greater reality: “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.”

You get the idea. Biblical theology is an attempt to understand the whole Bible as Christian scripture telling the story of Christ.

Over the next few articles, we’re going to embark on an exploration of biblical theology and its application to the life of the church. By looking at five different themes of this narrative, beginning this issue with the theme of creation, my goal is to put the whole story of the Bible together, from Genesis to Revelation. In so doing, I hope we will not only understand the Bible and its message better, but also our place within it, and the future that awaits us—a story already written but not yet completed.


The Story of Creation (Part 2)

The first thing to notice about God’s story is that it begins with creation and it ends with a new creation. If nothing else, this suggests that creation is crucial to understanding who God is and what he is about.

THE STORY BEGINS

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1).

Genesis 1 provides the cosmic overview. Everything that exists comes into being at God’s command.

As we move into Genesis 2, the story focuses tightly on the details of the creation of mankind, the very first marriage, and the responsibilities entrusted to men and women. Everything is good. Everything is perfect. Everything is just as it should be.

JUDGMENT MIXED WITH MERCY

Then tragedy strikes. Incredibly, Adam and Eve rebel against the One who gave them paradise. In judgment and mercy, God thrusts them out of the perfection of his presence in the garden of Eden, into a created world that is now cursed and fallen.

As chapter follows chapter, things go from bad to worse, until we’re told that

The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them” (Gen 6:5-7).

What follows these chilling words is the flood. It’s judgment day for what Peter called “the world that then existed” (2 Peter 3:6, rsv). But it is also an act of re-creation, at least in part. Once again, the earth is formless and void, covered by the waters of the deep (cf. Gen. 1:2). What’s more, the earth is washed clean, as it were, of mankind’s sin. God now commissions Noah and his family just as he had commissioned Adam. Echoing Genesis 1, they are told to “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth…Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Gen 9:1-3). A new world—our present world—emerges as God once again put boundaries between the land and the sea.

But though the world is externally cleansed and recreated, internally the hearts of men and women are not changed. Within a few short years, sin again tears Noah’s family apart. By Genesis 11, humanity’s prideful wickedness asserts itself once more, followed by another act of God’s merciful judgment: he confuses their language at Babel and scatters them across the face of the earth in order to slow the progress of their wickedness.

MORE GRACE, MORE REBELLION

At this incredibly low point in the story, with mankind not only alienated from God, but also permanently alienated from one another, God’s creating activity profoundly changes the course of human history. God speaks, and he creates, not a new world, but a new man. He takes the pagan idolater Abram and, by his irresistible call of love, changes his heart and his name. Abram becomes Abraham, the man who believed God and followed him. God then promises childless Abraham and his barren wife Sarah that he will make their family into a great nation. Then, according to God’s promise, not only do they conceive a son, but their grandson has twelve sons. Before long, you can’t even count all their descendants. From a single man and a single woman, they have multiplied and been fruitful and filled the land God has put them in.

The story rushes on. This nation of Abraham’s descendants, Israel, is enslaved by another nation. And so God sends his prophet, Moses, to speak God’s words to Pharaoh. God speaks, Egypt is judged, and the nation of Israel is liberated.

Only, they aren’t quite yet a nation. They are more a loose collection of tribes. At Mt. Sinai, therefore, God speaks again. By audibly speaking, God creates Israel as his special people, his chosen nation out of all the peoples of the earth:

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites”…And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 19:3-6, 20:1-3).

God also promises to settle the people of Israel in a land flowing with milk and honey, a veritable garden of Eden, where former slaves can finally rest.

Incredibly, the people rebel, not just once, but again and again (Ex 32; Num 11-14, 16, 21, 25). God judges the whole generation, letting them die in the desert, and then recreates the nation again with their children. He establishes them in their own land, the promised land of rest, and eventually raises up for them a great king, David, who gives them rest on every side from their enemies. But again, like the generations before them, like Adam and Eve at the beginning, the nation rebels. This leads first to division and finally to judgment and exile. Scattered among nations whose speech it does not understand, Israel has recapitulated in her own history the first eleven chapters of Genesis.

But then, once again, God’s creating grace intervenes. A remnant of the nation is brought back from exile. The Temple is rebuilt and the walls of Jerusalem are restored (Ezra & Nehemiah). But something is missing. The Temple may be rebuilt, but it’s empty. God is not there. Jerusalem’s walls may be restored, but the throne of David is a shadow of its former glory, and soon sits vacant.

THE INAUGURATION OF A NEW CREATION

Until one amazing day, the creator himself appears in the form of a man. Echoing Genesis 1, the apostle John tells us,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men….The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-4, 14).

That Word was Jesus, God Incarnate. In his life, he spoke and the blind could see and the deaf could hear. And though wicked men crucified and buried him, the creator who had life in himself could not be kept in the grave. Jesus rose from the dead, and with his resurrection, inaugurated the New Creation, a work that continues today.

Through his word, the gospel, Jesus resurrects dead sinners in newness of life and makes them new creatures (Eph 2:1-9).

Through his word, the gospel, he calls his people into a new humanity, a holy nation, what the author to the Hebrews, echoing Exodus 19 and 20, calls the assembly and church of the firstborn (Heb 10:22-23).

And through his word, the gospel, Jesus the creator will finish his work of new creation. Evil and sin will be finally and forever judged, and God’s people will be purified from all their wickedness and dwell with him in rest forever in a new heaven and a new earth. As John saw it,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Rev 21:1-5).


The Themes of Creation (Part 3)

Knowing the story of creation is important. But if we as preachers intend to apply it to our lives and the lives of our congregations, we need to not only know the story, we need to understand what it means.

GOD CREATES FROM NOTHING

As we think about the creation story’s significance, several themes become apparent. To start with, God created everything from nothing.

  • Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
  • John 1:3: “Through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made.”
  • Col 1:16: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

What this means is that God is the owner of creation: he made it, it’s his. Regardless of what we think about the mechanics or time frame of creation, God created it all, including you and me.

One of the implications of this is that he makes a clear claim on our lives. This is why there is so much heat in the arguments about evolution and intelligent design. The public debate is not just a battle for intellectual integrity or the scientific enterprise. It’s a battle for independence from God. The irony of course, as the story makes clear, is that liberty from God turns out to be nothing more than slavery to everything else, not least our own passions, desires, and failings.

GOD CREATES BY HIS WORD

But not only did God create everything from nothing, God also created everything by his Word.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen 1:3).

If you and I make something, we need raw material to work with. We’ll have to expend effort and energy. If it’s complex, we’ll need help. Not so with God. At no point has God ever been frustrated in his creative plans or designs. He did not have to struggle to create anything, nor has he ever needed the help or cooperation of others. As Paul says in Romans 4, “He calls things that are not as though they were”; and then they are. God creates by speaking.

When the Bible refers to God’s Word, it’s not necessarily referring to an audible voice. Rather, God’s Word is the expression of his wisdom, power, and love. We have it in written form in the Bible. But ultimately, as Hebrews 1 tells us, God “has spoken to us through his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Heb 1:2). John says the same thing at the opening of his Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus Christ is the creator of everything because Jesus Christ is the Word by which God creates.

This also means that whenever and whatever God creates, whether it’s light or life or spiritual life, it’s an act of powerful, irresistible grace. Nothing forces God to speak. But when he speaks, things happen. It’s not just that the potentiality for things is created. No, things happen. Nowhere is the gracious power of God’s creating activity more vividly illustrated than in Ezekiel 37. There, God instructs Ezekiel to speak God’s words to a valley of dry, dead, bleached bones. When he does, life enters into those bones and they get up.

We see the same in John 11. Jesus calls out to the corpse of Lazarus, and Lazarus gets up and walks out of the tomb.

The bones didn’t say to Ezekiel, “I don’t want to get up.” Lazarus didn’t say to Jesus, “Not now, ask me again next year.” No, when the voice of God rings out in gracious, creative power, not even death nor unbelief can resist his power.

This is why we should preach the Bible expositionally in our churches. We could do lots of video and song and dance and entertain people better. We could write our own stories, or read and talk about really insightful things that other people have written, filling our churches with those who are interested. But as heralds of God’s Word, our goal is neither to entertain nor to intellectually stimulate. Rather we desire that people who are dead in their sins will find life; that people who are spiritually blind will see. And for that, only God’s Word will do, as it is spoken to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Preacher, whose voice are your people hearing? Christian, whose voice are you listening to?

GOD CREATES FOR HIS GLORY

There is one other theme in the story of creation we should notice, and that is that God creates everything for his glory. God didn’t need to create anything. There is nothing necessary about this universe. But in love and grace, he chose to create everything so that his glory might be the joy and delight of others. As Revelation 4:11 declares, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

Anyone who’s ever stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, or witnessed a sunset over the Pacific, knows what it is to be moved by nature. But have you considered why nature moves us? The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1 that creation is a display of God’s majesty and power that is meant to be seen. The reason nature moves us is that it’s an expression of God’s glory. And we were created to respond to that glory.

But that’s not all. In Genesis 1, we’re told that the creation of human beings was different than the rest of creation. Unlike the animals, people were created to reflect the very character of God.

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen 1:26-27).

This is the pinnacle of God’s creative work. So great is the glory of God that he created living creatures who would fill the earth, not just with life or intelligence or creativity, but with the reflection of God himself.

This is why the six days of creation end with a seventh day on which God rests. He’s not tired. Rather, his work is complete. The seventh day is a coronation day, a day of worship, in which God sits down on his throne and receives back to himself his own glory, manifest and displayed through the work of his hands, and especially through the image of himself in mankind. Notice, too, that unlike all the other days, this day of worship never ends.

Does it offend you that we and all the rest of creation exist for God’s glory? It certainly runs counter to everything inside us. What we need to understand is that this means that the story of creation is fundamentally a love story. God didn’t have to create us, but he did. He didn’t have to create us as bearers of his image, but he did. In doing so, he gave us a unique ability—the ability to take joy in the highest, most beautiful, most desirable thing imaginable, the glory of God. God himself loves nothing more than his own glory. There is nothing better or higher to love. There is nothing more beautiful to fall in love with. Out of that same love, he created you and me to participate in his glory as image bearers. The result is that our story is swept up into the greatest story that will ever be known, the story of the unending and unsurpassed glory of God.

Many people spend a lot of energy and emotional anguish trying to figure out what their purpose in life is. The story of creation gives us the answer: our purpose is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” This purpose is in our very nature, hard-wired into our genes, stamped on our souls as image-bearers. Is it any wonder then that a life lived with other purposes in view will eventually feel like death? Far from constraining our freedom or limiting our joy, a life lived for the glory of God is the only true life there is. What’s more, it is God’s glory, rather than our inherent worth, that guarantees God’s interest in his creatures. Do you want to know whether or not God cares what happens to you, to your family, to your church? Consider why he made you—for his glory. With so much at stake, with so much invested, how could God not be concerned?


The Problem of Creation (Part 4)

Every good narrative has tension—a problem that must be resolved. Do you know why? I think it’s because the Story, God’s Story of Creation, has a problem in it, a tension that needs to be resolved. The problem is not with God or his work in creation. The problem is you and me and our sinful rebellion against the God who made us.

Genesis 3 introduces this problem to the plot. The rest of the Bible traces out its development. Over and over again God is merciful toward the people he’s created, and over and over again, they respond with rebellion. It’s not just the story of the Bible; it’s the story of our lives.

CREATION FRUSTRATED IN ITS PURPOSE

If we’re to understand the story of creation, we need to understand the effect our rebellion has had upon it. To begin with, because of sin, creation is frustrated in its purpose to display God’s glory.

Paul puts it this way in Romans 8: “The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it.”

Who subjected creation? God did. In response to Adam and Eve’s sin, creation would no longer be the pure stage of God’s glory. Instead, creation would be both the context of our judgment and at times an agent of God’s wrath against us. Far from being an ever-expanding garden of Eden, the world became a place of weeds and thorns, toil and frustration. As God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you.” And let’s make no mistake; it became a hate-hate relationship.

On the one hand, designed for our joyful and abundant provision, creation now yields its treasures stubbornly and meagerly. On the other hand, created to cultivate and guard creation, we now spend our energies exploiting it and are complicit in its degradation and destruction. While God’s power is still displayed in nature, nature itself is oft encountered as a natural disaster or in unforgiving indifference, leaving countless millions struggling to scratch out a living in their own inhospitable corner of the planet. Though there are some concerned to steward creation, too often that stewardship is motivated not by the worship of God, but the worship of nature.

What all of this tells us is that, despite all the good and right efforts of science and politics to ameliorate human suffering, despite all the good and right efforts of industry to develop and utilize resources, until God removes his curse, there will be no heaven on earth.

CREATION SUBJECTED TO DEATH

But God’s curse on creation goes beyond frustrating its purpose. Because of sin, creation has also been subjected to death.

Nowhere does the Bible suggest that God created all life to be immortal. In fact, the presumption of Genesis 1 and 2 is that he did not. However, the Bible does clearly suggest that God created human beings to live forever. It also clearly says that death entered in later as judgment for our sin. God warned Adam that if he disobeyed, “he would surely die.”

And that is precisely the sentence God passed: “For dust you are, and to dust you will return” (Gen 3:19). Paul put it this way: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin…in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12).

Pursuing our own glory rather than God’s, what we received was the ignominy of a hole in the ground.

This world is not the way it’s supposed to be. God created it to be a place of joy; we know it to be a source of constant frustration. God created it to be a habitat of life; we know it to be a crucible of death. God created it to be our home; we know it to be our graveyard.

We are dead spiritually, and we’re going to die physically. There’s nothing we can do to change that. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.

THE CREATOR DIES

End of story? Not quite. If that were it, then, as Peggy Lee used to sing, we might as well break out the booze and have a ball. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. But there is one other effect the problem of sin has had on creation. Because of sin, the creator died.

Every great story has an amazing, unexpected twist in the plot that no one was looking for. Again, that’s because the Story did it first. Against all hope and defying all expectations, Jesus, the creator of the universe, took on human flesh, lived a human life without sin, and then died on a Roman cross.

Why did he do it? He did it to demonstrate his love for sinners like you and me, to pay a debt that he did not owe and that we could never repay. After all, how can any of us ever make amends for our rebellion against an infinitely holy, infinitely good God? We don’t have a good excuse, and we can’t undo what we’ve already done. So, in love, Jesus the creator assumed my nature and my guilt, and he paid the debt for his people.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

In Colossians 1, right after proclaiming Christ as the supreme creator of everything, Paul explains why the Son of God became a man.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation, if you continue in your faith (Col 1:19-23).

The good news of the gospel is that the one who made us, who is justly angry at us, has also demonstrated his love for us. On the cross, the creator of life, the One who has life in and of himself, laid his life down so that sinners like us might find life once again, as we repent of our sin and trust in Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection.

This is the amazing, unexpected twist in the story. You and I couldn’t have invented it if we tried. But we can trust in him, and once again be caught up in God’s love story of creation.


The Destiny of Creation (Part 5)

Many today consider creation and history to be nothing more than a random walk through time—in Shakespeare’s famous phrase, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Others see a struggle for survival, reproduction, and evolutionary advance. Still others, influenced by Eastern religions, see a cycle, the Lion King’s Circle of Life, endlessly repeating itself and finding meaning only in the repetition.

But the Bible’s story of creation is different. God’s story is not a cycle, it is not random, and it is not evolutionary. Rather, it is gracious. God’s story has a destiny, a goal, precisely because it began with a purpose—the display of the glory of God. And despite our sin, God has been leading creation through history’s long march to the destiny he has prepared for it. That destiny has everything to do with Christ: the heir of creation and the one by whom and for whom all things were made.

NEW CREATURES

To begin with, it’s through Christ that we are made new creatures.

God never abandoned his original plan. The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea, and that will happen as the earth is filled with image bearers who truly and accurately reflect God’s glory. Only now, because of our sin, we need to be re-created in order to fulfill God’s plan.

Though Abraham’s family was set apart for God on the outside, inside their hearts were—and our hearts are—corrupt and deadened by sin. They continually broke God’s covenant and blended in with the world, just as we would still do had God left us in our natural state apart from Christ.

The history of Israel, just like our own personal history, points to our need to have stubborn, sinful hearts replaced by hearts soft to God’s word and God’s love.

This is what Jeremiah promised the Messiah would do in Jeremiah 31, and it’s what Jesus Christ has in fact accomplished. Through his word, the gospel, Jesus resurrects dead sinners in newness of life and makes them new creatures. So Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). Elsewhere, he puts it this way:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:4-10).

God’s grace to us in Christ does not come to us because we’ve decided we need new hearts and ask for them, any more than Adam asked to be created, or Abraham asked to be called by God. Grace comes to us through Christ because God loves us. Irresistibly, like a lover wooing his beloved, God changes our hearts, regenerating them, recreating our very nature; so that now, instead of hating God and running from him, we love him and turn to him in faith and repentance. As John said, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Through Christ, we who have put our faith in him have become new creatures.

THE DISPLAY OF GOD’S GLORY

But not only through Christ and his grace are we new creatures. In Christ, we are once again the display of God’s glory.

We display God’s glory as we reflect his character as new creatures. Paul tells us that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works. When we demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit rather than the fruit of the sinful nature, when we love our enemies, when we forgive just as God forgave us, we display the glory of God. These good works don’t save us. Rather they demonstrate our salvation; they display that we have been made new. If we don’t see the glory of God in the transformed lives of our church members, then we have some hard questions to ask about our ministry as pastors and leaders. Gospel ministry results in lives that display God’s glory.

But it’s not just our changed lives that display this glory. In our union with Christ by faith, we are reconciled and joined to the One who is “the image of the invisible God,” “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Col 1:15; Heb 1:3). We become his body, the church. And though we come from every tribe and language, every color and race, we are united in him as a single people of God, a single race, a single nation. The confusion and curse of Genesis 11 are removed in Christ.

In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others (Rom 12:5).

Through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:6).

In Christ, the church displays God’s glory, as the divisions of this world count for nothing, and all that counts is a new creation (Gal 6:15). This is why we should want our churches to be as ethnically diverse as our communities. We want our churches to be places where we don’t need anything other than Christ in common in order to love one another. We don’t need to have the same jobs. We don’t need to have the same backgrounds. We don’t need to have the same educational attainments. We don’t need to have the same skin color. We don’t need to have the same taste in music. All we need is the new creation. All we need in common is Christ. That’s not a political goal; it’s a gospel goal and a New Creation reality.

CREATION’S GOAL

But even that does not exhaust the destiny of creation. For together with Christ, we are creation’s goal.

The church is more than Christ’s body. Together with believers from every age since the beginning of the world, we are also Christ’s bride. It’s not by accident that the last image of an unfallen world in Genesis 2 presents the intimacy of a husband and wife on their wedding day. I think we were given that last snapshot of an unfallen world, because that is the picture of creation’s end. God has been leading creation toward a wedding all along. In Revelation 21, the apostle of love writes,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God…. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Creation’s destiny is a wedding day.

The story of creation really is a love story, the story of a bridegroom who will stop at nothing, not even the cost of his own life, to win for himself a bride, and to present her to himself radiantly beautiful, spotless, and pure. The story ends with the bridegroom preparing a new home for the new couple—a new heaven and a new earth. Unlike Adam with his bride, this bridegroom promises that he will exclude everything from that new home that might spoil or detract from their love.

In that place, there will be no more crying or pain, because there will be no more sin and evil. Only love will be there, as Christ and his bride display the glory of God’s redeeming grace, and the angels watch in awe.

We’re not there yet. But we will be. Are you living for that day? Will your story be included in that story? It can be. God’s grace is sufficient and the call of his love is irresistible. Pray that you will have ears to hear God’s voice of love in Christ. Pastor, pray that your people will have such ears. Do not rest content until you are sure that the only voice they hear from your pulpit is that singular voice, the matchless voice of love.

By:
Michael Lawrence

Michael Lawrence is the senior pastor of Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon. You can find him on Twitter at @pdxtml.