Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Taking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know, J. I. Packer #3

Packer2This is the third and final post looking at the book by J. I. Packer, Taking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know.  In chapters 6-8 he discusses the Holy Spirit, Baptism and Communion.I am posting from my reading in New Testament theologies and devotionals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

In chapter 6, Taking the Holy Spirit Seriously, Packer looks at the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit, and urges the church to re-emphasize his role in it. He laments that institutionalism, formalism, moralism, and traditionalism (I would add bibliolatry which substitutes biblical knowledge and doctrinal precision as the main goal for the church, instead of that being the means by which the Spirit produces Christ-likeness in the individual and unified effective ministry in the church) have removed emphasis on the Spirit in many evangelical churches. Renewed emphasis on the Holy Spirit is absolutely critical, because he is the Divine Person who strengthens and empowers the church to be what Christ called it to be. He is God working inside us, renewing our hearts, causing faith to spring up, convicting us of sin leading to repentance, and connecting us to other believers. He maintains the unity that Christ has provided for the church. If we want to be what Christ has called us to be we must take the Holy Spirit seriously.

As we Christians are upheld by the Holy Spirit in the life that we live with God and for God, so was our Savior before us. As we live in a simultaneous relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are always together and never apart from each other, so were the Father and the Spirit together with the Son when he was on earth, as they are still and always will be. 114

The Spirit, using the Word of God as both scalpel and exercise machine, straightens out our inner crookedness and energizes us for spiritual understanding, spiritual response to God, and spiritual, love-led, Christlike, God-honoring behavior as our lifestyle henceforth. 116

The unity of the church embraces all believers—Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox—while paid-up church adherents everywhere who lack personal faith in Christ are still outside the church as God discerns it, however zealous for their own denomination they may be. Packer, 122

Next, in chapter 7, Taking Baptism Seriously, Packer says that the average church member does not really understand the significance of baptism or value it the way we should. As one of the two rites commanded by Christ it is critical for the Christian life as the symbolic entrance into the relationship with Christ. It is a mystery (there is more to it than the mind can grasp), a sacrament (a pledge of loyalty from God and to God) and an ordinance (a covenant ceremony). It represents that we are now "under the new management" of the Trinity, "plugged into" Christ and all his benefits, and joined in unified discipleship to His church. Baptism is significant and should always remind us of our identity in Christ, our supernatural holiness through Christ and our loyalty to Christ.

The symbolism of first going under water as a sign of saying good-bye to the style of life one is renouncing and then coming up from under as a sign of starting a new life pattern is clearly expressed, and that evidently is what is important. The washing symbolism shows that this commitment is conceived within the frame of an absolution from the past that sets one free for the new beginning. The rite is thus one of termination, initiation, and commencement. J. I. Packer, Taking God Seriously, 128

Paul wants us to know what has happened to us through our faith-union with Christ: namely, that within our unchanged personal identity, the power that made the world has made us into new creations (2 Cor. 5:17), terminating our old, self-centered, naturally sinful mode of existence and, to borrow again Paul’s elegant horticultural image, grafting and implanting us into our risen Lord—plugging us into him, as we might less elegantly put it—with new desires, new powers, and new joys directly resulting. 138

Loyalty to Christ requires that we seek to make a difference by being different; and as in baptism the Father, the Son, and the Spirit pledge loyalty to us, so we the baptized must see ourselves as having pledged our loyalty to Christ categorically, without any ifs or buts, and as committed here and now to live out that loyalty every day of our lives. 144

In chapter 8, Taking the Lord's Supper Seriously, Packer accuses the Western evangelical church of devaluing the ordinance/sacrament of the communion/Eucharist. He says it should be the "twin" in the worship service with preaching and should be observed every Sunday. It is a symbolic ritual where we remember what Christ's death and resurrection accomplished for us and a covenant ceremony in which we confess sin, express our faith and publically pledge our loyalty to Him. God engages with us as we approach Him at the communion table. The communion table is also a place where we commit to help our needy brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.

The words instituting the sacrament have shown us that remembering our Lord should mean both calling to mind his sacrificial death for us and embracing his covenantal commitment to us. And the act of actually taking the food and drink as from him should express the renewal of our trust in him and our ongoing dependence on him as our Savior, Master, discipler, friend, and our life itself. 154–155

So as we share in the Supper, we should be asking ourselves, and asking the Lord Jesus to show us, what human needs we should devote ourselves to serving once our Eucharistic service is over and we have scattered back into the wider world. 157

It is the presence of the triumphant, sovereign Savior, who is there in terms of his objective omnipresence and here in terms of being always alongside each believer with a sustaining and nurturing purpose. Clarity requires us to say, then, that Christ is present at, rather than in, the Supper. Though not physical, his presence is personal and real in the sense of being a relational fact. Christ is present, not in the elements in any sense, but with his worshippers; and his presence is effected, not by the quasi-magic of ritual correctly performed by a permitted person, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, who indwells believers’ hearts to mediate Christ’s reality to them. 161–162

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