God’s Story and Your Story

The world God made is one that has a plot line.  That is to say, all history is going somewhere. We live within that great story – we are characters in God’s narrative.

When we turn to God’s Word we get a glimpse into just how incredible the story is. It starts with Creation, with God standing over and against all that he has made, and yet relating to it intimately, particularly in his relationship with people made in his image. Mankind was to be a co-ruler with God – spreading his presence and glory to the ends of the earth. But man fell from God in Adam’s sins and rebellion, which was our sin and rebellion. In time though, God would slowly put his grace to work and overcome all the rebellion of man with its cursed consequences, like a patient farmer tilling the soil, planting a crop, and tirelessly pruning and weeding the ground before a great harvest. The climax of the plot is the death and resurrection of Jesus, the God-man, who stepped in where we failed, and as the second Adam, became the new representative and leader for the new humanity. The great narrative concludes at a wedding feast in a new paradise on a new earth, where every song, every taste, and every face is a witness to the glorious consummation of God’s earlier promise: “they will be my people, and I will be their God.”

God’s story then is creation-fall-redemption-restoration. It is the story of all stories.

The tragedy for those who reject God, however, is that they need to substitute their own great story. In very generalized terms they might go something like this:

  • For the atheist, the story is something like nothingness-angst-hedonism-nothingness.
  • For the Marxist, the story is resources-inequality-fairness-peace.
  • For the Muslim, the story is power-rebellion-submission-glory.
  • For the environmentalist, the story is matter-pollution-stewardship-harmony.
  • For the Eastern religious thinker, the story is oneness-disintegration-actualization-integration.

Everybody is living out their days along some plotline, some narrative that speaks of some form of salvation from some ultimate crisis or evil.

When we come to terms with this, we have discovered a powerful insight into the human condition. We are all in some story; we are all trying to find deliverance from some original sin; we are all motivated by some form of ultimate hope. Take it a step further: we are all worshipping some deity – some Great Deliverer.

When sharing our faith in Jesus, one of the things we need to try to do then is to graciously but sternly confront the false narratives we find that others hold to. That is because the resurrection of Jesus is ultimate reality and the ultimate climax of history.

In other words, “Our God is alive – and yours is dead.”

But then we need to confront the false salvation narrative at the personal level.

We may have a certain philosophical narrative we are holding to, but it may or may not be what we are personally and experientially holding to. For example, many Christians believe in the resurrection but think that the real deliverer from trouble is money. Likewise, many atheists believe that there is no ultimate saviour, but their functional deliverer is a romantic relationship.

If you are a Christian, God’s grace has gone to work in your life in a different way than it has gone to work in mine. Of course, we all share a common salvation for God has saved us by faith (and is saving us) and has given us the same Spirit and the same baptism. Yet the particular sin and struggle that Jesus is overcoming in your life is different than the particular sin he is overcoming in mine. For this reason, we need to consider our “testimony” at a deeper level. What is God saving you from right now, present tense? Maybe you were a poser now finding your true identity and confidence in Jesus. Maybe you were a womanizer now finding true and lasting beauty and pleasure in Christ. Maybe you were an addict now finding true freedom in Jesus.

Maybe like me, you suffered from a success-motivated, status-driven perfectionism that God is changing into deep joy and contentment in any circumstance.

Consider God’s grand story.

Consider how God’s story is working out in your story.

Consider how that intersects with the stories of others.

That’s the first place to start.

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The Spirit as Theological Centre (Post #6 on the Holy Spirit)

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It is the conviction of nearly all Christians that theology is “Christocentric” – all talk about God revealed in the Bible revolves around the person and work of Jesus Christ. Moreover, all theology is Trinitarian. (Obviously…and yet not so obviously – it took someone like Karl Barth before the church really came to terms with this in the 20th century.) And on top of that, as nearly all theologians are now recognizing, all theology is eschatological, that is, all theology is forward-looking, or to use George Ladd’s famous phrase, there is an “already but not yet” aspect to basically every Christian doctrine (e.g. the kingdom has come, and yet it is still future; we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved).

Wolfhart Pannenberg adds another unifying factor to theology: the Holy Spirit. Central to Pannenberg’s view is that eschatology is really an expression of the Spirit’s work: according to Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, “[Pannenberg] has shown us more clearly than anybody else the integral connection of pneumatology to the rest of the systematic topics, and thus the critical role of the Spirit of God in all God’s dealings with us from creation to sustenance to life to salvation to Christian community to the consummation of creation at the eschaton.”[1]

This is very exciting on a personal level – we are being saved by the increasingly evident work of the Spirit. He has made us a part of the inaugurated reign of God (John 3:6-8). He has made us experience a foretaste of the resurrection even as we await the resurrection of our bodies at Christ’s return (Romans 8:10-11). He is producing in us spiritual fruit like love and joy that will one day be characteristic of our perfected, resurrection life (Galatians 5:22-23). He is conforming us into the image of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:5-4:6). What is especially exciting is that the salvation he works within us will overflow and bring about the complete restoration of creation (Romans 8:20-23).


[1] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, “The Working of the Spirit of God in Creation and the People of God: The Pneumatology of Wolfhart Panneberg,” in Pneuma 26 (2004): 31.

The Spirit and Salvation (Post #5 on the Holy Spirit)

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In Flame of Love Clark Pinnock takes issue with a theology that teaches only a few will be saved by God and he writes that many will be saved since the Father draws people to himself not only by the particular work of Jesus but also by the work of the Spirit apart from Jesus.[1]

Nope.

Scripture is abundantly clear that salvation is accomplished by the cross of Jesus (Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:20); this salvation is then applied by the Spirit (John 3:6-7), who makes new creatures out of fallen humans in anticipation of the re-creation of all things (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 8:18-23). The Spirit then has the vital role in justifying sinners positionally before God and creating in them the freedom to obey God with a new nature.

So salvation is accomplished on the cross, proclaimed in the Gospel, and applied powerfully by the Spirit (Romans 10:14-18; 2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6). In this way the work of the Son and the Spirit is aligned in trinitarian unity. As Karl Barth would say, Jesus is the Revelation of God, and the Spirit initiates the application of that Revelation to humans as the Father, the Revealer (who stands over and against us) graciously and powerfully draws us to himself.

What Pinnock fails to recognise is that this particular joint work of Son and Spirit affects the entire world. According to Scripture, far from being exclusive, this salvation that is revealed in the proclaimed gospel is massively transformational and encompasses “all things” (Colossians 1:20; Ephesians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 15:28). For this reason, John, in the Apocalypse, beholds a “great multitude that no one could number” before God’s throne (Revelation 7:9).

Is salvation the particular work of God? Yes. Is it only accomplished by the joint work of the Son and the Spirit? Yes. Is it a small and exclusive work that results in only a few in heaven and loads in hell? No way!


[1] Clark A. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 192-93.