Doxological Theology

“Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!
(Psalm 66:1–2)

I have heard it said, and I completely agree, that all theology should lead to doxology.  That is, every conversation about God, who He is, what He has done, should ultimately inspire us to praise.  The more we know about God, the more we will want to fall on our knees and praise Him.  Allow me to illustrate…

Last Sunday I began our Adult Sunday School Class on the book of Jude.  As Jude opens his letter, he addresses the epistle to “those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept in Jesus Christ” (Jude 2).  As we unpacked this threefold phrase (called, beloved, kept), I asked the class to turn to Romans 8:29-30 – what is commonly referred to as the Golden Chain of Salvation.

In these two verses we find one of the most succinct explanations of God’s work of Salvation in all of Scripture.  These two verses have inspired volumes and tomes to try to describe God’s great work of grace and mercy in our salvation.  There will be no attempt to speak exhaustively on it here: but note what the apostle teaches:

For those whom he foreknew… This word draws upon the OT word “know” to emphasize that God had a personal, covenantal affection for His people.  God wasn’t randomly picking names out of a hat, but those whom He knew from the beginning of time…

He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…  God has crafted our destiny, and our destiny is to be conformed to the image of His Son, to be like Christ.  Many reject the notion of predestination as God for-ordaining our every move.  I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying.  That’s not what predestination means.  I don’t think that God orchestrates our every move, as though we are marionettes on a string.  I do, however, affirm that God’s sovereign will and His plan for all creation will be fully realized, and in the end we will see how, for those who love God, all things have worked together for good, that is, the good and glorious goal of our being conformed to the image of Christ.

And those whom he predestined he also called…  God calls His children, by the testimony of the Word (preached, read, etc.) and by the inward working of the Holy Spirit.  When we are lost in sin, dead to the things of God, alienated from His kingdom, God calls us out of darkness and into the light.  God calls us out of death and into life.  God calls us out of sin and into righteousness.  God calls us out of the dominion of sin and into the kingdom of Christ.  This call comes through the outward preaching and teaching of the Word, the proclamation of the Gospel, and is received by the inward working of the Holy Spirit.  The reason you responded to the call is not because you are wiser than the others, but because the Spirit changed your heart.

Those whom we called he also justified…  The Westminster Confession says it best: God justified, “not by infusing righteousness…, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.”

Those whom he justified he also glorified…  Those who have been known by God, predestined by God, called by God, and justified by God, will ultimately also be glorified by God as well.  Paul speaks of this assurance of God’s work with such confidence that he puts it in the past tense.  God will complete what He has started, and as Paul finishes the 8th chapter of Romans, we are assured that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Okay, I said this would not be an exhaustive study on Romans 8:29-30, so let me get back to my original point.  As I said at the beginning, all theology should lead to doxology, to praise, and this Golden Chain of Salvation clearly demonstrates how that happens.

Notice as you read through Romans 8:29-30, there is not one mention of our work, of our choice, of our responsibility.  Our salvation is the one work of God.  Yes, there is the gracious response to all that God is done.  When the Spirit makes us alive to God, we answer the call, embrace the grace, and grow in righteous obedience to the Word of God.  But all of this is a response to the primary, foundational, sine qua non gracious work of God.

Because our salvation is the work of God, it is therefore sure and secure.  I don’t have to worry that I might let God down (that’s actually a given), that I might rebel and fall away from my salvation.  I am kept in Christ, it is His sovereign grace, His calling, His justifying – it is His work.  He will not let me go.

As I was teaching this to the Sunday School class, one class member stopped me and said, “Can I just say, ‘Hallelujah!’”  Absolutely; that’s the point of it all.  All our theological musings, all our confessional statements, every word upon the Word should lead us, ultimately, to give glory to God.

All theology should produce a humble and gracious response of love.  If you study this Golden Chain, or the 5 Points of Calvinism, or any other theology for that matter, and come away with an air of superiority and self-righteousness, you have completely missed the point.  If your theology leads you to sit in judgment of others who are lost in sin rather than compelling you to demonstrate for all to see the very grace, mercy, and love of God that delivered you from sin and death, then your theology is of no use to you, to the world, and does not bring God glory. The theology of the church does not exist to puff up the pride of man, but to exalt and glorify God.

We are His creation.  Salvation is His gift.  It is all His work.  All glory and honor belong to Him.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Writing in the Passive Voice

“For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”
(Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

 My spell-check hates me.

It isn’t my spelling, nor is it my typing.  While I am by no means a professional typist, I have become quite proficient on the computer keyboard; about 70 words per minute (Mrs. Maish from Augusta High would be so proud).

No, the spell-check has issues with the way I write.  It’s not that my grammar is poor; the biggest complaint from my spell-check is my use of the passive voice.  I can understand the dilemma.  Usually one should not write in the passive voice, but should rather state in a clear and concise manner who is acting and what is being done.  As one grammar site reminds us, “at the heart of every good sentence is a strong, precise verb; the converse is true as well — at the core of most confusing, awkward, or wordy sentences lies a weak verb. Try to use the active voice whenever possible.”

That’s all well and good, except when the passive voice most clearly communicates the action, and more importantly, the actor.

When communicated the gospel, the passive voice best demonstrates what Christ has done.  Let me send my “grammar-checker” into a fury just to demonstrate:

Though lost in sin, we have been set free by the cross of Christ.
Though stained by sin, we have been washed by the blood of Christ.
Though we are rebels at war with God, we have been forgiven by the Prince of Peace.

I choose the passive voice because it takes the action away from me, and places it precisely where it belongs, in the hands of my Savior.  Salvation is the act of God on behalf of those unable to act for themselves.  We need salvation, and there is nothing we can do to bring it about.  We can’t even bring ourselves to admit we are in need of help unless the Helper first comes to us.  We are that dead in our sins.  The activity in our salvation always, always, belongs to God – and our salvation is His gift of grace that we receive through faith.

One of the best ways we could demonstrate this is in the way we celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in our congregation.  We must remember that God prepares the Table.  Yes, the Elders set the table and provide the bread and wine – but God is the One who has set the Table before us as a means of grace.  God gave the altar as a table for the sacrifice of atonement in the Old Covenant.  Jesus established the Table as the memorial of His life broken for ours, and preview of the heavenly wedding feast that awaits us.  The Table nourishes us in faith when we receive the gift of the table in faith.  The very presence of Christ comes to us in His Word, to give life and strength and faith to a broken and feeble people.

In our church this is beautifully demonstrated in the fact that we do not come forward to receive the bread and the cup, but rather it is carried to each member and they are served in the pews.  What this action says is this, “We don’t even have the strength to come to God on our own.  His preemptive grace comes to us, brings us to live, feeds us and strengthens us, so that we may walk with Him.”  Even when we receive this gift, we are celebrating the strength of God that is made perfect in our weakness.

So I will revel in the passive voice when I describe how I have been Christ, the one who is active and mighty in power.