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How Can God Forget My Sins? What We Remember at the TableBy Jon Bloom — 5 months ago
It’s beautiful and fitting that the first explicit mention of the new covenant in the New Testament comes from the mouth of Jesus. And he mentions it at the most fitting moment. After sharing his final Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus takes a chalice of wine and says to them, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).
There is a world of meaning packed into those words that would change the world.
Great Pivotal Moment
Reclining around the table that evening, the disciples were observing from front-row seats a pivotal moment of redemptive history. The great Passover “Lamb of God,” who had come to “take away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), was inaugurating a new-covenant Passover meal of remembrance to go along with his inauguration of the long-awaited new covenant foretold by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31–34). The author of Hebrews quotes it in full:
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord:I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts,and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,”for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more. (Hebrews 8:8–12)
It’s unclear how much the disciples grasped at the time. But when Jesus said the cup represented “the new covenant in [his] blood,” he meant he was far more than a Passover lamb whose blood would momentarily shield God’s covenant people from a momentary judgment.
He meant that he had “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). He meant that through his shed blood, he would completely achieve what centuries of the shed “blood of bulls and goats” could never achieve (Hebrews 10:4). He meant that his sacrificial death would make it possible for God to “be merciful toward [the] iniquities” of all his covenant people, for all time, and “remember their sins no more.”
Why the Old Covenant Became Obsolete
By all accounts, Christianity is now one of the world’s great religions, distinct from Judaism. But to Christianity’s Founder and the first generation or two of his followers, what we call “Christianity” was Judaism. It was Judaism with its great messianic hope fulfilled and without the old covenant’s caste of priests performing its required continual animal sacrifices. It was (and is) new-covenant Judaism.
The book of Hebrews provides the most in-depth explanation of why the old covenant had to be replaced by the new covenant. “If that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second” (Hebrews 8:7). So, what was faulty with the first? A full, careful study of the book of Hebrews is required to get the whole picture. But I’ll cover two major reasons.
Deficient Power to Defeat Sin
The first we see in Jeremiah’s prophecy: “They [the people of Israel] did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord” (Hebrews 8:9). That is, God “finds fault with them” (Hebrews 8:8), not the covenant itself. The history of Israel, from the time of the exodus from Egypt till the appearance of Christ, chronicles a continual breaking of the covenant that God had made with them at Sinai. This covenant inscripturated in the Law of Moses proved impossible for the people to keep because of their pervasive, inescapable problem: human sinfulness. As Paul explains,
The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. . . . [But] it was sin [rebelling against God’s holy law], producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. (Romans 7:12–13)
“The first covenant had the power to expose sin, but not the power to free people from it.”
In other words, the first covenant had the power to expose sin, but not the power to free people from it. And this produced in even the most conscientious, rigorous observers of the law the cry, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
Deficient Blood to Atone for Sin
A second reason the old covenant was not final and complete was because its sacrifices, continually offered every year, could never make perfect those who drew near. “Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered?” the author of Hebrews reasons. “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1–4).
The old covenant made it clear that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). But as the old-covenant law lacked the power to free humans from sin, the old-covenant shedding of animal blood lacked the power to fully atone for human sin. All that these sacrifices effectually did was remind sinners of their “wretched,” inescapable sinful state — and point them forward to a coming, final, effective, once-for-all sacrifice.
Promise of the New Covenant
What we see foreshadowed in Jeremiah’s prophecy is the gospel the Messiah would bring: God’s intention to address these two major problems “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).
Under the new covenant, God promised his people that he would “put [his] laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10). This was a pointer to a superior law, “the law of the [Holy] Spirit of life” (Romans 8:1) who had the power set them free from their enslavement to their fallen sin nature, their “body of death.” It was a pointer to regeneration, where God’s covenant people would be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of [the Messiah] from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). God’s people would receive a new nature inclined to keep God’s righteous law, now written on their new hearts and transforming their renewed minds (Romans 12:2).
And under the new covenant, God would “be merciful toward [his covenant people’s] iniquities, and [he would] remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). This was a pointer to a superior sacrifice whose shed blood had the power to atone for all their sins. It was a pointer to “a single offering [by which God would perfect] for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). And if God no longer remembers his covenant people’s sin, they are no longer in the “wretched” sinful state for which they need reminding.
Do This in Remembrance of Me
This is the world of meaning in those few words Jesus spoke to his disciples as he held the cup. But this time, I’ll quote from the apostle Paul applying Jesus’s words:
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:25–26)
“The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of the once-for-all new-covenant sacrifice Jesus made for us.”
The new-covenant Passover meal we call the “Lord’s Supper” is not, as some believe, a re-shedding of Jesus’s blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Nor is it primarily a reminder of our sinful state. It is a remembrance of the once-for-all new-covenant sacrifice Jesus made for us. When we partake of this little meal, we hear God the Father say, “Because my Son has shed his blood for the forgiveness of your sins, I will remember your sins no more.”
And more than that, we hear God the Father say, “I will be your God, and you shall be my beloved child. And you shall know me” (Hebrews 8:10–11). For that, after all, is the heart of the new covenant. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
How Can I Make Daily Bible Reading Authentic?By Ref Cast — 2 years ago
Listeners to this podcast will know that John Piper preached through the entire book of Romans in 225 sermons. The series took him eight years and eight months to complete, spanning from the spring of 1998 to the end of 2006. All 225 of those rich messages are collected together and can be found online under the series title “The Greatest Letter Ever Written.” The series is also the most epic John Piper sermon series ever recorded. And I know many of you have listened to it all. And as you do, you’ll come across a bunch of little nuggets along the way, like this clip I want to play for you today, sent in by a listener to the podcast. In the following sermon, Pastor John gets into the topic of how we ensure that our daily Bible-reading discipline is authentic and not rote. The topic arose in the series in a sermon titled “Let Love Be Genuine,” on Romans 12:9, preached on November 21, 2004. Here’s Pastor John.
Let’s begin with some thoughts here now from Romans about how to read a text like this in a way that changes us deeply. There are thirteen exhortations in just verses 9–13.
Trouble in Quiet Time
Suppose you get up in the morning, and you set yourself like a good Christian to read your Bible before you head off to work. That’s a good idea. You should do that. So, you set yourself to read a few chapters. Let’s say Romans 12 is included. It may take you three minutes to read through Romans 12, which means that you give maybe fifteen seconds to these thirteen commandments or exhortations:
Let love be genuine.
Abhor what is evil.
Hold fast to what is good.
Love one another with brotherly affection.
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Do not be slothful in zeal.
Be fervent in spirit.
Serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope.
Be patient in tribulation.
Be constant in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints.
Seek to show hospitality.
That’s thirteen exhortations in five verses. You’ve read them in fifteen seconds. You close your Bible, pray, and go off to work. How many of them can you even remember? I mean, are you now fired up and totally engaged and renewed in all thirteen new areas of your life? Is that the effect of reading the Bible in the morning? It doesn’t work like that, does it?
So, what are we supposed to do? Because Paul didn’t write that just to tickle our ears. He didn’t just write those things for nothing to happen. He really means for all thirteen of those exhortations to become reality; and as we read them, to become more and more reality; and as we preach on them, to become more and more reality. They aren’t just there. So, we need help for what to do with the Bible, so that the Bible becomes powerful, changes us. This isn’t written for nothing.
Word and Spirit in Action
To get help, turn with me to Romans 15. I asked the apostle Paul, “Paul, have you got any help for us here on how to read chapter 12?” And Paul said, “Yes, it’s here in 15:15–16.”
On some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder . . .
Stop there. Just realize that the Bible, for veteran Christians, is mainly repeat. I will never read a new thing in the Bible. I’ve read the Bible dozens and dozens of times — every word of it, over and over again. I’ll never see a new word in the Bible. I pray that I will see new reality, new truth, new power, new implications. But the words — I’ve seen them all, over and over again.
Reminder — don’t ever begrudge a small group, a family devotion, a Bible reading, a sermon that is sheer reminder of what you already know, because God has things in those old familiar truths that you never saw yet and things to change in you that haven’t been changed yet. So, just be aware: the Bible is mainly reminder for all Christians, and that’s crucial for living the Christian life. Paul says,
I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God . . .
So, know that the Bible is a gracious gift. Paul was graced to write it for us. Don’t neglect it. Verse 16:
. . . to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
“The Gentiles” are most of us, and we’re now treated like a worship offering. That should remind you of Romans 12:1: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, . . . which is your spiritual [service of] worship.” We are being offered up by the apostle Paul as worship to God, as we’re transformed into the image of God’s Son.
Paul has written Romans so that you and I would become more acceptable. Does that word acceptable ring any bells from 12:2? “Be transformed . . . that you may discern . . . what is . . . acceptable.” Embrace the will of God as acceptable. And when you do that, this is happening: the offering of the Gentiles, spiritual worship. This is happening by the writing of Romans, so when you read it, this should be happening.
“Reading the Bible has zero effect on our lives apart from the Holy Spirit.”
Then comes the all-decisive phrase: “sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” You know and I know that reading the Bible has zero effect on our lives apart from the Holy Spirit. If, in fact, we try to do the Bible without the Holy Spirit, we become colossal legalists, touting our own moral resolve: “I can do this. Watch me.” Instead, what we need is the Holy Spirit.
Three Principles for Daily Bible Intake
So now I have drawn out of these verses three things that help me read Romans 12 life-changingly. I want to be changed by these messages. I want to be changed by verse 9: “Let love be without hypocrisy” (NASB). I want to be less hypocritical after I read that phrase. How can I do that? What will make the difference for a word, a little phrase, to suddenly have life-changing power to make me less hypocritical, more free and authentic and genuine and real in my love? And here are my three guidelines for how to read that.
1. Pray as you read.
Pray as you read, because if the Holy Spirit is the one who takes the Bible and applies it to us so that it really produces an alteration in our whole demeanor and our way of seeing God and our way of treating each other, then we should ask him. So, when you read, you pause and you say, “O Holy Spirit, come make this real in my life. Do whatever you have to do to make me humble, to make me authentic, to make me loving.” That’s the way you pray. It’s real risky.
Last night, just before we walked into the service, several of us just gathered around in the choir room downstairs downtown, where I preached this last night, and there were “mmhmms” and “amens” all around as I said, “Lord, whatever it takes — death, loss of job, cancer, whatever it takes — take away my hypocrisy. Whatever it takes in this church, whatever it takes, do it, because we want to be real. We want to be Christian. We want these words in Romans 12 to become reality. We don’t just want to speak words and have love be in word only and not in deed and not in heart.” So, pray. That’s number one: pray as you read the Bible. “Do this in my life.”
2. Look to Jesus.
Look away to Jesus as you read the Bible. As you read Romans 12:9 and you hear, “Let love be without dissimulation” (KJV) or “Let love be without hypocrisy” (NASB) — that’s a good literal translation. “Let love be genuine” — when you read that, say to yourself, “There’s no way I’m going to pull that off. I’m a born hypocrite. I love the praise of other people. I know I’m not perfect. I’m always putting up fronts. I want to be a loving person, authentic. I don’t want to play at love. Therefore, I look away from myself. I look away to Jesus. He was born and died to forgive all my hypocrisy. He modeled for me the perfectly transparent life. He has now taught me and given me a goal to aim at. And he is my satisfaction, my forgiver, my model, my treasure.”
When you look away to Jesus, the satisfaction that comes from him is the ground and root by which you become free from hypocrisy. So, that’s number two: look away in faith to Jesus, not to yourself.
3. Meditate on small portions.
Slow down and meditate on these words. I know this is tough because, on the one hand, you hear a message coming from this pulpit, “Read the Bible; read the whole Bible. Get your Discipleship Journal reading plan and read the Bible all the way through in one year.” Well, you’re on a lickety-split pace to get through the Bible, and here I am telling you now to slow down and meditate on the first half of verse 9 of chapter 12.
Now, what in the world are you supposed to do — read through the Bible or meditate on verse 9? What do you want me to do? And the answer is both. And I don’t know how. I just know I’ve got to read the Bible fast and I’ve got to read the Bible slow, because if you don’t read the Bible fast to get through it in a year or two, you can’t get the big picture; you can’t get the whole terrain.
Here’s the analogy. This analogy has been with me ever since the first jumbo jet was made. You can remember that. Most of that is in your lifetime, right? The first jumbo jet with a big hump on the front. How can they do that? A two-decker plane is unbelievable. I remember that. So, I picture this thing: it flies at about 560 miles an hour, and it flies really high, at about 37,000 to 38,000 feet. And I picture it flying over Florida and all these orange groves, and you look down and you could just almost see the whole of Florida. And there’s an orange grove. And you say, “Wow, that’s an amazing orange grove. Very nourishing. Really tastes good. Really gives me energy.” Wrong — it doesn’t. You’re just flying tens of thousands of feet overhead.
“You’ve got to slow down. You’ve got to meditate. You’ve got to ask, ‘What does it mean? How does it relate to my life?’”
And that’s the way we read the Bible: just flying way overhead. It’s good to see Florida. It really is. It’s valuable to see Florida in the Bible. But you have to land that thing in Orlando sometime. Don’t go to Disney World. Go to the orange grove, and just start walking through the orange grove. Here’s verse 9, the first half of the verse, and you pause under the tree and you pick that one and you look at it. That’s a beautiful thing: “Let love be genuine.” I wonder what that means. Would I love to be like that. I want to be like that. Holy Spirit, please kill the disease of hypocrisy in my life.
You’ve got to slow down. You’ve got to meditate. You’ve got to ask, “What does it mean? How does it relate to my life? How does it relate to the other parts of Scripture?” — and all the while praying, “Oh, make a difference, make a difference in my life.”
So, those are my three guidelines, which I think are implied in Romans 15:15–16 — word in verse 15 (“I have written”), and Spirit in verse 16 (“sanctified by the Holy Spirit”). We read the Bible. We pray for the Spirit. We savor it. We linger over it. We look away to Jesus.
The reason looking away to Jesus is so crucial is because the Holy Spirit, according to John 16:14, is given to glorify Christ. So, if you read the Bible with a view to doing it in your own strength, the Holy Spirit will keep his distance from you. If you read the Bible looking away to Jesus and saying, “Jesus, I want you to be magnified; I want you to be displayed in the kind of loving person I become,” the Holy Spirit kicks in with power, because he’s there to magnify Jesus.
Invisible and Unmistakable: How Scripture Pictures the Holy SpiritBy Joe Rigney — 11 months ago
God is incomprehensible. This means that, while we can truly know him (because he reveals himself to us), we can never wrap our minds around him. He is infinite, eternal, and triune, and thus he reveals himself to us in ways that fit our capacities. As one theologian puts it, God speaks human to humans, and this makes true knowledge of God possible.
Even so, we still sometimes struggle to know God, and not just in the personal sense of knowledge, but in the basic what-are-we-even-talking-about sense. This is especially the case with our knowledge of the Holy Spirit.
When it comes to the Father, we have a concrete baseline from which to work. We all have earthly fathers (for good or for ill), and thus we have a starting place for engaging with God our heavenly Father. Likewise, when it comes to the Son, we have a concrete baseline in the incarnation. The Son was made man for us and for our salvation. The Gospels give us a magnificent picture of Jesus the Messiah, fully God and fully man, and this enables us to come to him.
“The fundamental work of the Holy Spirit in the new covenant is to point to and magnify Jesus.”
But the Spirit is elusive, even a bit abstract. Though we know and confess him as a divine “person,” we struggle to find a concrete baseline for understanding him. And at some level, this is by design. Jesus tells us that when the Holy Spirit comes, “he will glorify me” (John 16:14). In other words, the fundamental work of the Holy Spirit in the new covenant is to point to and magnify Jesus.
Nevertheless, Scripture does give us a number of images to help us better understand the person of the Holy Spirit.
Wind, Breath, Spirit
The Spirit’s very name (pneuma in Greek) links him to wind, breath, and spirit. Wind is moving air that has significant effects on the world while remaining invisible. In John 3, Jesus tells us that we must be born of the pneuma (John 3:5). He goes on to say that the pneuma blows where it wishes; we hear its sound but do not see where it comes from and where it goes (John 3:8). This suggests that we know the Spirit in the way we know the wind — by his effects.
“We know the Spirit in the way we know the wind — by his effects.”
Like wind, breath is invisible moving air — this time, air that animates a body. God breathes into Adam, and he becomes a living being (Genesis 2:7). In John 20:22, Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Thus, we come to know the Spirit’s work by considering the way breath moves in and out and animates our physical bodies.
The word pneuma also refers to a person’s inner disposition or temper of mind. Jesus blesses those who are “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). Peter describes the character of a godly woman as “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). We might think of our spirit as the invisible bent of our souls that shapes our visible actions.
River, Oil, Dove
Beyond these, the Bible provides a number of additional images to help us understand the Spirit and his work. In John 7, Jesus describes the Spirit as a river flowing from the lives of his followers.
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:38–39)
We might link the river of John 7 to the river of the water of life described in Revelation 22, “flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city” (Revelation 22:1–2). The city is the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, the church of the living God. Thus, the Spirit is the river of living water flowing from Jesus to his people and from them out into the world for the healing of the nations. This is the river “whose streams make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:4), the river of God’s delights and the fountain of life (Psalm 36:8–9).
Connecting the Spirit to the river of living water also calls to mind the notion that the Spirit is “poured out” upon his people (Acts 2:33; 10:45; Romans 5:5; Titus 3:6), that God’s people are “filled” with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), and that we are baptized in the Spirit just as we are baptized in water (Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
Beyond water, the Scriptures connect the Holy Spirit to the anointing oil used to consecrate priests and kings in the Old Testament. David receives the Spirit when Samuel anoints him with oil in 1 Samuel 16:12–13. Both Isaiah and Peter in the book of Acts pick up this connection in their descriptions of the Messiah.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed meto bring good news to the poor. (Isaiah 61:1)
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. (Acts 10:38)
Finally, the Bible links the Spirit to imagery of the bird, especially a dove. The Spirit “hovers” like a bird over the waters at creation (Genesis 1:2). And most prominently, the Spirit descends on Jesus “like a dove” at his baptism (Matthew 3:16; John 1:32–33).
God on the Move
If we begin to draw these images together, we see the importance of movement in the descriptions of the Spirit. The Spirit blows like the wind, breathes like air in and out of the lungs, flows like water from a fountain, hovers and descends like a bird. Some images (wind, breath, and spirit) signify both the invisibility of the Spirit and the unmistakable evidence of his presence.
Even more than that, if we examine these images in detail, we see a repeated connection to God’s life, love, pleasure, and delight. The streams of God’s river make glad the city of God (Psalm 46:4). The love of God is “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). When the servant of the Lord is anointed with God’s Spirit, he gives “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Isaiah 61:3).
This is no surprise since the Spirit is closely tied to God’s love throughout the Bible. Consider 1 John 4. There we learn that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and that to abide in love is to abide in God and to have God abide in us (4:12; 4:16). And we know that we abide in him and he abides in us “by the Spirit he has given us” (4:13; 4:18). It’s almost as though God abiding, love abiding, and the Spirit abiding are different ways of expressing the same reality.
Psalm 36:7–9 brings together God’s steadfast love with the imagery of a bird who provides shelter, the fatness of God’s house (connected to oil), and a river and fountain.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.
Spirit of the Groom — and Bride
All of these reach their climax in the baptism of Jesus. Here we have the incarnate Son of God at a river flowing with water. He is baptized in that water, and as he emerges, the Spirit descends upon him like a dove in what other passages call an anointing. And then God the Father speaks with his breath, bringing all of the imagery together with clear and unambiguous words: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:16–17).
In truth, the baptism of Jesus is the beginning of the climax. The Spirit-inspired Scriptures turn our eyes to the incarnate Christ. This Spirit then leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tested, and then propels him back into Israel to announce the arrival of God’s kingdom. God’s Spirit empowers Jesus for his ministry and strengthens him as he walks the Calvary Road. This River is so potent that it flows uphill, as Jesus climbs Golgotha with a cross on his back. And the Spirit blows through the empty tomb so that Jesus, the second Adam, becomes the life-giving Spirit.
Now, the same Spirit is poured out on God’s people, flowing into our lives with God’s love and joy, and out of our lives in fruitful service to others, all while giving us voice so that the Spirit and the bride, God’s Dove and Christ’s beloved, say to their heavenly Groom, “Come!”