If you listened to my podcast, you heard me say the conference site seemed full of students. The reason why this was the case was because I arrived so late that the first adult celebration was well underway. In fact, the worship was almost over by the time I got into the tent.
I love worshiping God in a tent. I guess this goes back to my childhood, when I attended Bible Weeks, not to mention the family heritage of being the grandson of a tent-preacher. Worship was being led by some familiar faces—Stuart Townend and Phatfish. A rousing hymn was being sung as I crept in, looking for an inconspicuous place to sit with my laptop.
Shortly after I arrived, Hugh Palmer briefly interviewed Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. Keith is an Irish songwriter based at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and is currently touring the United States of America. Stuart is a worship leader at Church of Christ the King in Brighton. Together they have written a number of modern hymns which have had an incredible reception in the wider body of Christ. I would be surprised if any reader of my blog has not heard of or sung In Christ Alone, which last year Tim Challies reported was the only song sung at every one of the conferences he live-blogged. Not surprisingly, that hymn is somewhat controversial with some who argue about penal substitution.
Hugh asked the two songwriters how they came to work together. Stuart answered that at any given time he often had a lot of lyrics floating around, but that there were also times when composing a melody was more difficult. Keith, it seems, had exactly the opposite issue, so early-on in their friendship Keith gave Stuart a CD which had three melodies on it for which he had no words. The very first tune Stuart listened to struck him powerfully, and he wrote the lyrics for it. That song became In Christ Alone. Stuart explained that the process isn’t quite as simple as it sounds, and that the lyrics and melodies can sometimes go back and forth between them several times before they become finalized.
Keith graciously claimed that at one point he had given up on Christian music altogether. He said he would wait until the preacher was about to start before he entered a church. This changed when he heard one of Stuart’s songs one day, which inspired him to get back into worship music. His wife then sung a beautiful song.
Just before he began to preach, Terry Virgo (for more information on Terry see my interview with him) was asked by his introducer why he had come to preach here. His answer? “Who could refuse an invitation to come and hear John Piper and Don Carson?!!” Also, he mentioned his confidence in the local church as the main way in which discipleship is worked out, but explained that such a belief does not in any way diminish his belief in gathering saints together from many churches to hear the exposition of God’s Word.
Terry began in Romans 5 and spoke of the way we want to live in the good of some of the glorious phrases we find in Paul’s epistle. We read about “reigning in life,” but fail to read the small print. Terry said our mistake was to think that we will be able to live the victorious Christian life by setting ourselves rules and regulations. We are suddenly putting ourselves back under the law. But Paul is very clear that Christians should NOT be under the law. He cited Romans 6:14, Galatians 5:4, Romans 10:4, and Romans 7:1-12 in support of this idea that Christians have been released from the law. He expressed his surprise at how many Christians still believe we are under the law.
If the law is like “a husband,” we are then unable to argue with him, nor are we able to leave the law and become married to another. The law is an oppressive, overbearing husband. He is right. He is authoritative. He never lifts a finger to help us. Jesus adds that the law will never pass away. So we are permanently married to a fault-finding husband who will never die. The good news of the gospel is that through the body of Christ we have passed away. In Jesus, we have all died to the law.
Jesus perfectly obeyed the law. He could challenge anyone to prove him guilty of any sin. But he also fulfilled the law in taking the full curse of the law. He substituted himself. He was made to be sin. Paul’s favorite description of Christians is that they are “in Christ.” We have been crucified with Jesus. Our relationship with the law is completely over. We have been discharged—like a soldier who has been commanded and shouted at. The day when he is discharged from the army comes. Imagine if the sergeant then cries, “SOLDIER”—it doesn’t matter! He has been discharged! He is no longer under that authority. In the same way, the Christian is no longer married to the law. We have died to the law in order that we might be joined to another—to him who was raised from the dead.
The law cannot save us. Most Christians agree with that. But many people think that once we have been saved apart from the law we are meant to come back to the law in order to be sanctified. But we have died to that old impotent husband that we might be joined to the new raised-from-the-dead husband. He is not impotent, he is very potent. He doesn’t come and say that we need a bit of law! The law kills, but the Spirit gives life. Why do we still think we need a bit of death?! Often when someone is saved, they immediately are told to follow rules about what they can and cannot do. Am I justified? Am I accepted? Or do I still have to try and please him?
Jesus transforms us from the inside by his grace. He gives us life. There is a real change that happens inside of us. We reign in life because of what Jesus does to really change us on the inside and through the free gift of righteousness. We must not listen to the devil who accuses us day and night; he wants us to stop trusting in Jesus’ righteousness. We don’t earn God’s favor by, for example, fasting twice-a-week. We can’t cover our guilt and condemnation by establishing our own righteousness. If we are doing well, pride grips us. If we are doing badly, we no longer feel that we are right with God. The truth is, we are right with God solely because of what Jesus did!
Terry made us all laugh at ourselves and our futile efforts to change in our own strength. He then took us to the story of Esau. In an important way, our hiding in Christ is different to that. We were placed there by God himself. We are not trying to deceive God. We can pray, “Catch the fragrance of your son as I come to you.” We are not against prayer or reading the Bible, but we do not do these things to somehow impress God. Jesus is the way. I don’t need “a way to the Way.”
John Bunyan realized that Jesus’ righteousness is the same yesterday, today, and forever. There is nothing we can do to add or take away from that. We should not trust our frame o
f mind or our emotional state.
Christ’s righteousness is freely given to us. We are not up and down. Sadly, often we go from husband to husband. We say “sorry” to Jesus and promise that we will do a whole lot of regulations to try and improve. Imagine saying to a new husband that you will try and improve your relationship with him by building a relationship with your previous husband! We reign in life through the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness. It is accomplished. We are now in a beautiful relationship with God through grace and faith.