The old is gone, the new has come



What if you woke up every day with a constant reminder of your old life? What if that old life brought you great shame… and that constant daily reminder made it all the more burdensome?

Polish communications agency Isobar Poland along with Pedagogium WSNS is offering those who have made mistakes in the past a chance to move on from them. From the youtube video info below:

“The “Freedom Tattos” project goal is to transform crude, hideous amateur tattoos made in prisons and juvenile detention centers into professional, socially well-perceived artistic tattoos, that will help them find a job.

Transforming old tattoos enables juvenile delinquents and ex-convicts to start all over again with their lives without a stigma to constantly remind them of the mistakes they made in the past.

The cover tattoos are designed and applied by qualified professionals using adequate tools and methods, and are not only of exceptional high quality, but are also placed in such a way that they fully replace the old, unwanted tattoos.”

It’s wonderful isn’t it?

It’s also a wonderfully small picture of what Jesus does on a larger, eternal scale. For we too live with a constant reminder of our old self – our sinful nature. We too have our sinful nature daily reminding us of the shame and guilt of our past.

And we too have graciously received a permanent, everlasting, cover – a perfect atoning sacrifice received by faith through grace alone.

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. [Romans 6:6-11]

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. [Colossians 3:2]

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come… for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God [2 Corinthians 5:17, 21]

Ignite Training Conference 2015 [Live Blog]

Ignite 2015 Banner

I really look forward to this conference each year. Fantastic speakers, great fellowship, mind blowing moments of theological clarity (and helping people come to these moments as well!).

This year’s conference has David Cook (former Principal of SMBC) and Charles Gajus taking us through the Atonement. Live blogging quotes will come over the next few days. So bookmark this post for further updates.


Monday Morning – Talk 1 – David Cook [Galatians 1:1-2:21]

Some gems from this morning’s talk:

On the relevance of Galatians for today…

  • When Luther was asked about the Bible he said that Galatians was his Katie Von Bora (his wife) – it was his favourite book.
  • The people in the book moved from unbelief, to belief, to mis-belief – a tragic movement away from the gospel.
  • Maybe your greatest enemy in your spiritual walk is yourself – slowly, perhaps imperceptibly you begin to believe you add to your salvation, or that the health of your relationship with God is based on your own performance.

On Peter’s rebuke from Paul…

  • the besetting sin of a loving nature is the desire to please everyone… and to offend no one

On Galatians 1-2’s strong stance on ‘the gospel alone’…

  • the cross has changed everything – the sacrificial system, the food laws, the special laws and days in the calendar are redundant. To restore these is to become a law-breaker… Christ’s cross made the law redundant, and to re-institute the necessity of the law (or necessity of obedience to man made rules) is to actually be a transgressor…
  • My relationship with God does not depend on my performance – my status with God on a good day is the same as it is on a bad day – because our relationship with God depends on our standing in Jesus.
  • Anyone who says, ‘I’m a Christian…but not a very good one’ may have no real understanding of the gospel
  • The element of necessity destroys the truth of the gospel


Monday Night – Talk 2 – Charles Gajus [ Mark 7, Psalm 51, Romans 3]

On how the topic of ‘Atonement’ sounds…

  • Is there more to atonement than just ‘Jesus dying for our sins.’? Yes. If you rightly understand the topic as is revealed in scripture, when you dig deep you will find a highly, inexhaustibly, practical doctrine.
  • The atonement provides us the means of right relationship with God, and in the atonement we also have the motivation and model of right relationship with God!
  • God’s love for us by sending Jesus is both the gateway of our faith, the destiny of our future, the basis for our hope and the basis for our love

On Mark 7 and the real problem of humanity…

  • When we think about the world headlines of late – Lindt café, Charlie Hebdo, Boko Haram, etc – it’s tempting to think that if we got rid of the evil elements, evil people, then there would be paradise… Jesus makes the point (in Mark 7) that sin is from within – we’re all sinners, we’re all evil. Not only with the potential for evil but also a propensity, an inclination towards sin and rebellion against God – that makes us seek moral perversity. We are, therefore, in great, deep need, of atonement – not rehabilitation, not counselling, not an understanding of neuro science/plasticity, not education… atonement.

On Psalm 51 and the devastation of sin…

  • Sin is serious – not just because of the damage we do to others or ourselves, sin is serious because it is against God
  • Because sin is against God we need no rehabilitation, counselling or education… we need reconciliation, restoration of relationship: we need atonement!

On why God forgives/atones…

  • The fact that David calls upon God’s character for atonement is crucial to understand – the motive and drive for God to show mercy for salvation is not something external of God himself, but from within!
  • It’s not the circumstances that drive God’s forgiveness – it’s from within him, it’s his very character, where he finds the motivation to forgive
  • When God makes atonement through his Son Jesus Christ, yes it is an act of grace and we are recipients of mercy, but it is done in order to behold and see God’s inner character that was there from the very beginning – God has always been love, before the world was formed there was love, before the world began there was a propensity to show mercy

On readjusting our understanding of who is at the center of the Gospel…

  • Atonement doesn’t begin with you or end with you – it begins with God’s grace and mercy, and it ends for his glory, praise God for the salvation we received in between!


Tuesday morning – Talk 3 – David Cook [Galatians 3:1-29]

On the idiocy of the Galatians…

  • ‘O you dear idiots of Galatia’ – JB Philip
  • Sounds harsh – but it’s true – you’ve turned the gospel window which is about looking through to Jesus and his achievements and turned it into a mirror of your own performance and achievement

On the Galatians acting contrary to their experience (cf Gal 3:1-5)…

  • Do you believe that God’s activity in your life is a reward for you because you’ve been good?

On the ‘gospel alone’ for our salvation…

  • God is our heavenly father and we come into the family through faith in the big brother Jesus Christ – with no condition that you must continue being good otherwise you’ll be kicked out

On the implications of Galatians 3…

  • There is neither Jew nor Greek… we are all one in Christ. All usual barriers are gone – ethnic, economic, gender – all irrelevant, all removed. Only category that matters – are you in Christ or not? There is no superior or inferior, no chauvinism – there is diversity of colour, taste, hobby – there is no flat uniformity – there is diversity in Christ!
  • If it somehow depends on ‘me’, that Jesus has done his bit and I need to add my bit – if God takes 999 out of 1000 steps and asks us to take the final one – then we’ve got it wrong. In Biblical Christianity God never relates to me as we relate to others – ie if I do this for you then you do this for me. It is all by grace – we cannot deserve it – I come trusting the merits of Jesus alone.

On what one should do If you come from a church that is strong on ‘doing things’, and assumes or lessens grace…

  • Be respectful, but you can’t be silent. Be prayerful, wait for your time, find and give good literature – and whatever you do bend over backwards to be respectful of the situation.


Tuesday Night – Talk 4 – Charles Gajus

On what happens when we forget the atonement…

  • The atonement must have pride of place in the Christian faith – without highlighting it, without realising where it is we are very likely to replace it with something else
  • When we forget it, we will be tempted to atone for our mistakes on our own
  • Sometimes in our guilt, in our lack of ability to grasp was has been done – we grasp for something else to give us confidence that God accepts us – bible study, being at the right church, going to conferences
  • When we feel as though we are distant from God that is when we feel like we have to do something more
  • This problem gives shape for the solution – and the only solution and shape that will solve the problem for us is the Cross of Christ

On the ritual sacrifices of the Old Testament…

  • Animal sacrifices were God’s visual aids to symbolise the deep penalty for sin (death), and also that something else can die in our place!
  • This repetition [of animal sacrifices] highlights that this was not the solution that can take away our sins – the ritual itself symbolised what it needed


Wednesday Morning – Talk 5 – David Cook [Galatians 4:1-31]

On the arguments so far in Galatians…

  • First argument: there is only one gospel, only one way to salvation – faith in Jesus Christ. This one gospel is a divine gospel, it has not come by discovery or research – but by God himself by revelation to Paul. It is by faith in Christ and not works of the law that we receive the Spirit – not as a trophy for keeping the law.
  • Second argument: God’s covenant is based on promise – cannot be based on anything or conditioned by the keeping of the law. Two contrasting ways – faith in Christ vs works of the Law.
  • Third – all spiritual blessing comes through faith in Jesus Christ – not works of the law, it is never deserved. I am adopted into the family, initiated into Christ, clothed with Christ, Abraham’s seed, heir of the promise – and all because of Jesus.
  • We would love for God to be in our debt – I do this, God owes me – but God always relates to us on the basis of his own glory, on that which will glorify him. It’s based not on my doing, but on his doing – and his alone – and all glory to him.

On the great hymn ‘Rock of Ages’ and the line ‘be for sin the double cure’…

  • Rock of Ages – be for sin ‘the double cure’ – that is, through the cross not only am I forgiven of guilt but I am given the Holy Spirit who empowers me to say no to the sin nature and give myself over to the right master

On the rational argument of 4:1-11…

  • The argument is this: you’re acting as idiots – how can you turn back to the old ways of slavery when you’ve now been set free – how can you do this?! How could a POW yearn to go back to a POW Camp?!?!

On Paul’s pastoral plea and what it’s like to be a pastor…

  • Being a Pastor is like being a pregnant woman but the pregnancy never ends… – a pregnant woman has relief after 9 months, but for a Pastor the relief never ends…
  • V19 – Paul is in anguish for them until the ‘fetus of Christ is formed in them’ – he wants Christ to be reformed/reshaped in them – this is what he stresses and anguishes over them…constantly…
  • V20 – this wonderful note – you are dear idiots, and I wish I was with you so I could really chat to you, change my tone – be tender – it’s hard to write all this

On the tragedy of turning back to bondage through ‘doing good stuff’…

  • There is something strangely appealing in going back to bondage – why do people go on pilgrimages – why do people tick off ‘to do’ lists – it’s all so impressive, but it’s all so rebellious
  • Why is it that people are driven in good things and their motivation is evil in supplementing the work of Christ?
  • How tragic it is for even sincere people to lose their freedom
  • Have I been good enough, have I done enough? No you haven’t, no you have not been good enough.


Wednesday Night – Talk 6 – Charles Gajus

On the persistence of sin in a believer’s life…

  • When we come to Jesus in faith there is usually big changes in your life – perhaps you stopped swearing, sleeping around, deleted all your pirated movies, started going to church, supporting missionaries and giving to the work of the gospel… and as time continues you also see that you continue to obviously sin… but in ‘respectable’ ways
  • The older you get, the more clever you get at sinning

On ‘sinning more so grace increases’…

  • The gospel is not, ‘Now that sin has been paid for we can continue in it!’ You sinning more does not make Jesus’ death and grace greater… in fact you disgrace the gospel.

On Christ’s new life as our life…

  • The good news of the gospel is that Jesus death was satisfactory for our sins, and God raised him back to life because he was satisfied with his death and his life – and God raised him to life and this is a promise that if we put our faith in him and have died with him then we too will be raised with him
  • The certainty of this new life, this perfected life, this life appropriate to be in the presence of God forever, is guaranteed by Jesus’ resurrection
  • What kind of people will we be when Christ returns in the future? Be that kind of person now.

On how the above point is motivation for change, but where does change come from?

  • Lots of people who are ‘good’ – good Muslims, generous atheists, former alcoholics… how do they have the power to change and why do we struggle so much?
  • Neuro Science/Plasticity – growing optimism, as long as we understand how the brain functions we can change – use your brains
  • The Christian faith has always recognised the function of the brain (cf Col 3 ‘set your minds’, Rom 6:6 ‘we know’, 6:8 ‘we believe’ Rom 12:2 ‘transformed by the renewal of your mind’)
  • But is this just about positive thinking? The placebo effect? Mind over matter?
  • Knowing the gospel changes and transforms us it removes from us the power of anxiety…
  • The problem: putting confidence in the brain still keeps you a sinner…
  • The power of the gospel: you can look forward to salvation, even when you have doubts and struggle with faith
  • Yes a Christian and non-Christian can look like they live the same life – but the transformation of the gospel is much more vast and profound – it’s a change ultimately in destiny

On what is the power of God to change our lives…

  • 2 Peter 1:33ff – God’s divine power has given us everything we need to gain life and godliness… through the knowledge of him!


Thursday Morning – Talk 7 – David Cook [Galatians 5:1-26]

On two things that always go together…

  • Love and marriage (ie – the Frank Sinatra song), burgers and chips, Chinese Churches and rice

On getting the order of preaching right…

  • The imperative must always follow the indicative – the indicative mood is generally a statement about what God has done, the imperative mood is generally implications and applications
  • David’s concern regarding Chinese preaching generally: ethical exhortation divorced from redemptive environment – too much preaching about what you must do and too little on why you must do it
  • Paul’s thesis in Galatians: the moment a person has been redeemed that will overflow into love and service of others

On the two enemies of the gospel of grace by faith alone…

  • Legalism: self-salvation – that I can save myself or add to my salvation by keeping a code of rules. by obedience, and/or by conformity
  • Two things flow from self-salvation: 1) Christ will be of no value to you at all; and 2) if you come under one part of the law you come under the whole law and are obligated to keep it all, which is impossibly demanding – legalism and salvation by Christ are necessarily contradictory (even if what you are doing are ‘good’ things)
  • License: self-regulation – we are called to be free, but when I regulate myself I end up serving myself and indulging myself, which is why Paul stresses we are free… to serve one another (cf 5:13)

On the work of the Holy Spirit…

  • The Holy Spirit is the shy member of the Trinity – always pointing away from himself and towards Jesus
  • When we look at the ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ (5:22ff) we need to take all 9 as a whole – we do not pick and choose which ones to be strong in and weak in
  • The fruit are achieved not by ‘letting go and letting God’, but by actively slaying the sinful nature and keeping in step with the Spirit (cf 5:24)
  • An active volcano might not always be belching smoke, but it’s still a volcano! Our sinful nature might not always grip us, but it’s still our sinful nature…
  • Our sin nature always tempts with satisfaction, but it NEVER happens because it is a LIAR
  • So you talk to it – Sin nature, you are a liar – I will shut you up and not listen to you
  • In creation we see God over us, in the incarnation we see God with us, and in Pentecost we see God within us – Matthew Henry


Thursday Night – Talk 8 – Charles Gajus

On the Atonement so far…

  • Besides the atonement being the means of salvation, or motivation of new life, or empowering way of achieving this new life, the final way the atonement functions in the life of faith is also that it provides a model for us to follow – as teacher, as trainer, as that which we must imitate

On the death of Jesus to please God first…

  • cf Eph 5:1 – God gives himself up for us, but does it as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God – we think everything is done for us, even in Jesus death, but here in 5:1-2 he loves us such that he would sacrifice himself to please God!
  • We are called to love the unlovable, the irritable – but following Christ means loving others not just for them but to do it for God
  • cf Phil 2 – imitate Christ as he puts the interest of others ahead of our own – but we get this wrong: Jesus didn’t put our interest ahead of his… rather, Jesus takes the form of a servant (to God) humbling himself (before God) – who does Jesus put ahead of his own interests? God the Father.

On the Spirit and the Word functioning together…

  • The Word of God and the Spirit of God go together like a horse and carriage – in creation the Spirit is hovering, then the word speaks and creation is made – we cannot expect the Spirit to grow us and change us and lead us to become those who are kingdom people if you don’t know your bible
  • If you don’t know the bible or Jesus or the Spirit and how they are revealed in the bible then how can we follow and imitate them?
  • Keep in step with the spirit – what are we to do? Open the bible – for there the Spirit is
  • Gal 5:16ff – God’s word gives us the very leading of the Spirit! Gal 6:17ff – the sword of the spirit is the gospel! The indicative and the imperatives are the means by which the Spirit leads.

On the disarming of Satan…

  • As soon as Jesus has come and died in our place he has released people from the grips of sin and fear of death – there is no longer any accusation from the devil that we deserve death – the devil now roams like a lion who has lost his teeth – if you are a Christian who has learned the truth you can laugh at his lies because the truth has been revealed


Friday Morning – Talk 9 – David Cook [Galatians 6:1-18]

On the idea that ‘Where the Spirit is, there is peace…’

  • Where the Spirit is, there is spiritual conflict – the Spirit is in conflict with the sinful nature!
  • cf 6:1 – notice that this is addressed to those who are spiritual – not just elders of the church – if you are spiritual then it’s your general responsibility to make sure that your brother or sister in Christ who is addicted to a sinful pattern is confronted – and restore them (‘restore’ has the idea of medicine restoring health)
  • The restorative person will not just point a finger, but will lift and bear the burden of another– a legalistic person will just point the finger at wrongdoing…

On the idea that ‘Where the Spirit is, the Word is unnecessary…’

  • Where there is the Spirit the Word is crucially necessary
  • The Word is essential – some put a wedge between the Spirit and the Word – but the Spirit breathes these words out so to be a Spirit man is to be a Word man
  • Those who have given up their livelihood for this should be appropriately paid for the job – the job of Pastor/teacher is very stressful, and it’ll be even harder if they are struggling to feed their family as well

On the idea that ‘Where the Spirit is, reality is suspended…’

  • Reality is not suspended within a Spirit-led community
  • There is a very concrete and universal principle that operates in this community – do not be deceived – do not be misled by unreality – do not mock God and his Word – if you do there will be serious consequences, serious reality to face
  • This letter is all about justification by faith – but the bottom line is that doing good is the fruit of faith in Jesus Christ so do not slack off in doing them

On the idea that ‘Where the Spirit is, boasting about ourselves is appropriate…’

  • Paul’s boast – the cross of Jesus, justification by faith in that ALONE
  • It doesn’t mean a thing what sort of race, height, gender…etc… you are – what counts is the new creation! What matters is the new birth, the new creation – if you make this the priority of life then there is peace and mercy
  • cf 2 Cor 11:21ff – I’ll boast of my weakness which shows the greatness of Christ
  • If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him – CT Studd


That’s it from this ‘live blog’ (which wasn’t that live :P). Were you there and did I miss anything? What were some of the nuggets of gold you picked up from the talks? Put them in the comments below.


The Cross and the ‘Occupy’ Movement – Part 2

I recently saw this clip:

If the video doesn’t work you can watch it from this blog here.

It reminded me why I agree with some of the issues raised by the ‘Occupy’ movement but won’t participate in the movement itself. Below is the answer I gave to a recent (take-home) exam question for my Theology subject (Doctrines of Christ and God) which I think sums up my thoughts on it.

Which biblical perspective or theme in relation to the atonement is of greatest relevance to the late-modern West? Give reasons for your answer.

Many theories of the atonement have been espoused over the centuries.[1]

The ‘Ransom Theory’, originally suggested by Origen, holds that Christ’s death was paid to Satan as a ransom for all people. Suffice to say that this theory lacks much textual support.

The ‘Moral Influence Theory’ put forward by Abelard suggests that Christ’s death was primarily for the demonstration of God’s love for humanity and his identification with their suffering. The difficulty with this theory is that there are many scriptures which speak of Christ’s death for sin and as a propitiation, it robs from the atonement any sense that God is affected, and does little to deal with the problem of our guilt.

The ‘Example Theory’ advocated by the Socinians argues that Christ’s death is simply provided as an example of how to trust and obey God perfectly, even to the point of death. Many problems exist in this theory: its overstated use of 1 Peter 2:21; its neglect of many passages which speak of Christ’s death for other reasons; and that it can lead followers to believe that salvation is not found in faith but in doing good works and following the example of Christ.

The ‘Governmental Theory’ as first put forward by Grotius states that Christ’s death is not necessarily for the penalty of any sins, but as a reminder that when God’s laws are broken a penalty must be paid. Like the other theories the problem with this theory is that it fails to take into account many scriptures which speak of Christ’s death for sins and for the penalty of sins. Further it removes from the atonement the satisfaction of God’s justice and focuses the attention on Christ’s death as a matter of influencing us to realise that God’s laws must be kept, implying that Christ’s death is not to be relied upon for forgiveness of sin.

Other theories, such as the ‘Mystical Theory'[2] and the ‘Theory of Vicarious Repentance'[3] have also come and gone, and both have been severely criticised for lacking textual support.[4]

When we consider our Western society and culture and how these theories of atonement interact with it, we can see that the theories are all found wanting. All the theories, with the exception of the ‘Moral Influence’ theory, assume some form of Christian worldview which society agrees to live by. This is simply not the case in our world today. The ‘Moral Influence’ theory offers up some form of engagement, but it offers up a rather emasculated God.

Instead, what our world is crying out for is a number of things, all of which are, interestingly, articulated in the global ‘Occupy’ movement. The proclaimed representation of the so-called ‘99%’, despite its fragmented presentation, is essentially looking for trustworthy leadership, justice, and love.

Trustworthy leadership, justice and love. All of which can be found in the Penal Substitution theory of the atonement.[5]

First, in regards to trustworthy leadership, in this theory we find that we can trust that God, the ultimate leader, is being truthful. In bringing about the death of His Son, God maintains the truthfulness of His Word regarding sin and death. The tension is built when we realise that Adam’s sin brought death and corruption into this world. God’s dilemma is that He cannot tolerate death and corruption, yet he warned Adam that should he eat of the fruit then death would follow. The tension is resolved by God reversing the corruption and stain of death without breaking his original word to Adam. Jesus’ substitutionary death maintains God’s Word while reversing the curse.

Second, Penal Substitution reminds us that God’s is concerned for justice. The declaration of sinners made righteous is not done by finding a loophole in God’s law but by fulfilling its demands. The cross and resurrection also remind us that God will one day put an end to ongoing injustice in this world because the crucial battle has been fought and won. It is now only a matter of time. This theory of the atonement also reminds us that restoration of the world cannot be achieved by human effort alone, but requires the trustworthy leadership of God to intervene.

Third, penal substitution is a grander expression of God’s love than the ‘Moral Theory’. The ‘Moral Theory’ is deficient because it lacks any teaching that God is affected by the death of His Son. In contrast to this ‘Penal Substitution’ declares God’s love by reminding us that the cost of demonstrating such love was immense: the death of his perfect and innocent son for his enemies. Only through ‘Penal Substitution’ can we truly appreciate the intensity and beauty of God’s love for man.

Finally, ‘Penal Substitution’ offers one more thing that our ‘Occupy’ world desperately needs: a realistic view of sin. The Cross vividly portrays the inexpressible horror of sin and the curse it has brought upon the world, and at the same time banishes our despair by declaring God’s comprehensive solution. It is the implications of this theory which most applies to our world today.


[1] The following theories are laid out in Grudem, W. Systematic Theology (1994) IVP: England, p581-586.

[2] The ‘Mystical Theory’ argues that Christ’s death acts to influence man and bring about change. It differs from the ‘Moral Influence Theory’ in that it emphasises the mystical inner transformation made possible by the Cross.

[3] The ‘Theory of Vicarious Repentance’ argues that God’s justice would have been satisfied with a perfect repentance, and since man is incapable of such Christ offered it up on behalf of mankind.

[4] See Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology (1984) Banner of Truth Trust: Edinburgh, p389-391

[5] As outlined in Jeffery, S., Ovey, M., Sach, A. Pierced for our Transgressions. Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. (2007) IVP: England, p149-160