Five Points Blog

The Measure of Love and Mercy

Have you ever paused to measure how rich we are in mercy and how great is God’s love? Both are infinite realities. That is, it will take an endless eternity to explore their bottomless depths. Yet as the sun-pierced shallows of a great ocean are of the same waters as the 7-mile depths, so the mercy and love of God you bathe in now are of the same ocean we’ll enjoy for eternity.

How rich is God’s mercy? How great is his love? One measure is to see how much they have overcome. Paul wrote, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us” (Ephesians 2:1-4).

The richness of God’s mercy is measured by all he has forgiven. And the greatness of God’s love can be seen in the lengths to which it has gone to reach us. We ran far away from God, dead in trespasses and sins. Yet God’s mercy outruns us in our sin! We boast in our greatness, yet our lives are as a vapor. But God, in the sheer greatness of his love, rescues us from the morbidity of our sin and makes us alive in his Son, Jesus Christ. 

How rich is God’s mercy! How great is his love for all those who trust in his Son!

God’s Love Overcomes All to Save

We need a savior because of three insurmountable catastrophes. First, we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). This doesn’t merely mean we’ve disobeyed God; it means we’ve disobeyed from a heart that is dead to him. We don’t honor God because we can’t. We’re dead. 

Equally catastrophic is our willing conspiracy against God with his enemy, the devil. In the deadness of our sin we were “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Ephesians 2:2-3). Before we were Christ’s, the devil blinds us from God’s glory and infuses himself into our thinking in order that we oppose God and feel as though we’re in the right to do so.

On account of both catastrophes a third, far worse one emerges: “[We] were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3). Far worse than either being dead or being captured to do Satan’s bidding is to be under the fierce and infinite wrath of almighty God. Paul sounds the warning, “On account of [sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry] the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:5-6).

It is a great glory that God overcomes our spiritual and physical death. His glory multiplies to see God’s defeat of our enemy and frees us from captivity. Yet most ineffable is God overcoming God! His merciful love overcomes his just wrath, as James proclaims, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

The Spirit calls you to come with trembling before the God whose mercy-for-you overcomes his wrath-against-you. All of this is owing to the wrath-absorbing, mercy-multiplying death of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ! 

The Things of Earth

I have a simple question for you: What are we to do with the things of earth? Embrace them? Reject them? Use them? Forget about them? Set our affections on them? Look at them with suspicious eyes? Enjoy them with a twinge or two of guilt? Then again, perhaps this isn’t a simple question. After all, the Bible itself seems conflicted on the issue. For example, Paul in his letter to the Colossians says the following: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).

Where should you set your mind, your heart, “your affections” (KJV)? On things that are above. High things. Holy things. Spiritual things. Not earthly things. Why? Because you’ve been raised with Christ, and he is seated in heaven, and his worth far surpasses all earthly goods. Indeed, compared to him, the things of earth are so much trash and rubbish (Philippians 3:8).

Seems clear enough. But then, in 1 Timothy, Paul seems to strike a different note about earthly things. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

So everything God made is good, including the things on earth. Therefore, we must not reject them, despise them, or keep them at arms length. We must embrace them with thanksgiving. So which is it? Should we count everything as loss, or receive everything with holy gratitude? Or, since these are both biblical commands, how can we obey them both? How can we enjoy all that God richly provides without setting our minds on the things of earth?

I’m looking forward to pressing into these questions with you on Sunday. 

How Big is our Need for God?

It isn’t hard to feel guilty before God. Most people, even unbelievers, will agree that they have done bad things. God has a right to be angry with us and we are in the doghouse.

While that is true, it doesn’t even come close to our deepest need. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…even when we were dead in our trespasses” (Ephesians 2:1, 5). One great preacher said, “With God we’re not just in the doghouse, we’re in the morgue!”

We dare not think that our spiritual deadness excuses our sinful deeds, as if our bad deeds were somehow not our fault or we can’t help doing them. Jesus teaches that our inner deadness makes our bad acts more blameworthy, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28). The depth of our inability to fulfill God’s commands stems from the depth of our hatred of God’s commands. We can’t please God because we don’t want to please God.

We need a new heart. That’s what happens when we are saved. Paul writes, “[God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5). When God breaks into our sin-loving deadness, he makes us alive by giving us new values. Now we treasure him and his ways and we despise what we once loved—sin, hypocrisy and rebellion.

Has this new birth happened in your life? If so, rejoice. If not, cry out to God swiftly and intensely. This new birth from death to life is both your biggest need before God and your greatest need of him.

Live Like a Narnian

What would it look like if we read the Chronicles not to go on a snipe hunt for every Christian allusion but rather as stories, being immersed in the imagery, the smells, and the tastes of this other world? How might such stories shape us such that when we retreat back into our world, we do so changed?

In the introduction to Live Like a Narnian, Rigney quotes Lewis’ conception of the benefit of writing fairy tales like the Chronicles. Lewis understood such stories to be able to have an impact on a life that could perhaps be greater at times than that of non-fiction prose. Lewis writes:

I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which paralyzed much of my own religion since childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But suppose casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past the watchful dragons? I thought one could.

Rigney goes on to explain how this shifts the way in which we read and understand the Chronicles:

This paragraph [quoted above] can give us great insight in how we ought to read the Narnian stories. We ought not begin by trying to identify every Christian correspondence or layer of meaning. We must not short-circuit the shaping process. Instead (and this is especially important when introducing children to the stories) we ought to first immerse ourselves in the stories as stories. We must learn to trek across the Narnian countryside, swim in the Narnian seas, distinguish Calormenes from Archenlanders, and navigate the etiquette of centaurs (it’s a very serious thing to invite a centaur to dinner; they have two stomachs after all). Indeed, we must learn to breath Narnian air, a metaphor that Lewis uses elsewhere to describe what it means to come to know God. Then, having learned our Narnian stars and feasted at Cair Paravel—in other words, once we’ve stolen past the watchful dragons—we can then turn our attention to the deeper, Christian layers of meaning, the textures of the story that have bubbled up from Lewis’s mind. 

Indeed, as Aslan says to Lucy on one occasion, “This was the very reason you were brought into Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you might know me better there.”

I hope you join us on this voyage as we learn to live like Narnians so that we might walk in this world in the image of the Great Lion and High King Above All Kings.

Join us for part one of “A Voyage into Narnia” with Dr. Michael Ward, author of The Narnia Code, on Wednesday, May 28, at 7pm and for part two with Joe Rigney, author of Live Like a Narnian, on Saturday, May 31, at 9am. Nursery and refreshments will be provided. Register for free tickets here.

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