Long before God came into the world in the person of Jesus, the Scriptures indicated that there would be a Day of Resurrection (Ezekiel 37; Daniel 12:2; Hosea 6:2). The resurrection of God’s people would be of a kind with the resurrection of God’s Messiah (Isaiah 53:10-12). Jesus taught that this resurrection would coincide with the final judgment of all people, that believers would be raised to everlasting life while unbelievers would be raised to everlasting condemnation (Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:28-29).

Jesus himself was “raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:4, 20). Jesus had said, “I am the resurrection… whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25), and, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). When Jesus returns, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them… [to] always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). On the Day of Resurrection, those who are in Christ by faith will be, bodily, “raised imperishable… raised in glory… raised in power… [having] a spiritual body… [in] the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:42-49). This is meant to be encouraging (1 Thessalonians 4:18)!

The Gospel is that what is true of Jesus Christ is true of those who are united to him through the Spirit by faith and baptism. So, if Jesus is risen from the dead bodily, then we too will be resurrected bodily, and made like him. This is because he has united himself to us, and made us such a part of his own identity that he would not be himself if he did not bring us to resurrection glory with himself. This resurrection reality is, therefore, a greater certainty than death itself, for not all will die, but all will be raised (1 Corinthians 15:51) and “super-clothed” with immortality (2 Corinthians 5:4). And the most significant, most wonderful thing about our resurrection is that it is a facet of the life of Jesus Christ himself. Based on some fascinating aspects of Jesus’ resurrection body, we could speculate about the physical ramifications and benefits of our future resurrection, but the prospect is really only interesting at all because of the sure hope of being with Jesus. “What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

What do you imagine the Day of Resurrection will be like, and why? What do you imagine your resurrection body will be like, and why? What are you looking forward to most of all about it? Do you have any reservations about the idea of a universal resurrection as Jesus describes it? How does knowing that a resurrection is coming affect the way you view the world today? How does it affect the way you see your own present life and circumstances? Can you think of people who need to hear the encouragement and embrace the hope of the resurrection?

This phrase is the creed’s succinct statement of the essence of our vicarious salvation in Jesus Christ. What is Christian salvation? It is the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation of humanity to God in Christ. Forgiveness is what needs to happen in order for a relationship to be restored and to continue when one party has offended the other. We have personally offended God; that is the definition of sin. In his divine righteousness the offense of our sin has eternal and infinite significance. It would be just for him to end our relationship, to require that we suffer in a way commensurate with the nature of our transgression. But, in Jesus Christ, God has absorbed the pain of the broken relationship, he has suffered for our transgression (Isaiah 53:4-6), in order to forgive us and to restore the relationship.

“In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). In the words of Karl Barth: “God himself, by taking man’s place in Jesus Christ, has taken over the unconditional responsibility for his way” (Dogmatics in Outline). Because Jesus is our substitute, our vicar, our representative in relationship to God, our godlessness was imputed to him as he suffered in our place (especially at the cross), and his godliness has been imputed to us so that we are forgiven, justified, and welcome in God’s presence with the same reception given to Christ himself. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them… For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21).

We don’t deserve forgiveness. By its very nature, forgiveness is undeserved favor given in spite of offense. Asking forgiveness is a great imposition. In the case of our salvation, before we asked for it—and regardless of the fact that we never perfectly confess, apologize, repent, and ask forgiveness for our sin—God sent his Son into the world to forgive us. Jesus is the only one who has the right to condemn another human being, but he does not; he forgives, at the cost of his own life. Forgiveness was his idea in the first place, his initiative in our relationship, an imposition upon himself that he has invited and promised to grant. He forgives us because that’s what kind of God he is. He gives himself to those who reject him (who even killed him!), which is the highest, purest, freest expression of love. Because of Jesus, you can be assured that you could never feel, think, say, or do anything that would make God turn his Fatherly love away from you. And if you truly know God’s forgiveness in Christ, you can extend God’s forgiveness in Christ to others who have offended you (Ephesians 4:32).

Do you know your need of forgiveness? Why do you think/feel you need God’s forgiveness? Is it easy for you to ask forgiveness of God? Of others? Why or why not? Do you know why David asks forgiveness of God when he has so terribly hurt Bathsheba and Uriah (Psalm 51:1-4)? How is asking forgiveness different from apologizing or saying, “I’m sorry”? How is forgiving different from saying, “That’s okay”? Can you forgive the people who have hurt you most deeply, who have committed the gravest injustices, whom it is instinctive to demonize? How do you think about forgiving others in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Please feel free to use this in your personal or public Worship.

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God, you are majestic in your freedom to love. You made us to share this glory, but we doubted you and became enslaved to sin. Left to ourselves, we are spiritually blind, deaf, and lame; we cannot change or help ourselves; we are dead to you in our rebellion. We certainly do not deserve your kindness. Yet you remain free to love the unlovely, which is your glory. Take pity on us, forgive us, and make us alive to you. Restore us to true freedom in communion with you. Your declaration of mercy in Christ Jesus the Lord is our only hope and prayer. Amen.

Please feel free to use this in your personal or public Worship.

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Holy Trinity, God of love, our Creator and Redeemer; we are living paradoxes. Even though you made us in your image, we distort the reflection of your glory in our self-love. Even though you grant us every good gift—including the gift of our very selves—we refuse to accept your generosity in our demand to be self-made. In our sin we have violated your reality, and yet we have convinced ourselves that we have done no such thing. In reaching out to seize life apart from you, we have lost everything. But our betrayal could not stop your love. You came into the world in the person of your Son to seek and to save the lost. Save us from ourselves, and help us to find ourselves in the Beloved, forgiven and accepted. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Please feel free to use this in your personal or public Worship.

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God of grace and truth, show yourself to be our Savior. Our sin is folly and insanity; it is a gloom of deep darkness, and we have lingered there. In our self-centeredness we have spurned your love. We have manipulated and hurt those closest to us. We allow ourselves to believe that our sin is no serious offense, but we have forsaken you and your glorious purpose for our lives. Can it be true that you have not forsaken us? Have you really atoned for our sin by the life and death of your own Son? Grant us confidence in our relationship with you, in spite of all our sin. Make us to know that we belong to you, and that you belong to us, through the sure word of your Gospel and the power of your Holy Spirit. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Reality is communion. The real God who is the source of all reality exists as Persons in Communion: Father and Son in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Eternity is the perichoretic Dance where One delightedly centers on the Other in Self-Giving Love. Everything that the Triune God has created exists because of this Divine Communion. The pinnacle of creation—humanity, made in God’s image—reflects God’s own being as it exists in the same kind of way. We were made for deep communion with God and each other. But, by our rejection of God, we have rejected the way of communion. In our self-love (which is unholy and no true love) we have chosen divorce, relational disintegration, estrangement, isolation. We have self-excommunicated. Our self-centeredness is an implosion of our created nature where we lose everything, including our very selves, because the self is only meant to be in relationship with others. Seeking to establish our own identity for ourselves, instead of receiving it in communion, we have entered a cosmic impossibility, an anti-reality. Even though we often maintain the appearance of love, sinners do not participate in holy communion with God and others. Not really.

However, we believe in the communion of saints. We proclaim a Holy Love reestablished in a New Humanity in Christ, and only in Christ. The saints are those who have been sanctified, made holy, by the grace of God. That is, the saints are those who now commune in love with God and others because of who God is and what he has done, as revealed in the Gospel. The saints are those who have been reintroduced to and reunited with Reality. The saints relate to God in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, and they relate to one another on the same basis. A saint does not have true communion with anyone apart from Christ, but only in Christ, who has renewed our humanity in his image through his Self-Giving Love. Because of our Baptism, and especially at the Table, we saints have real Communion. My life is open to you, and your life is open to me, because God has opened his Divine Life to us in Christ through the Holy Spirit. I love you with the very love of Christ, and you love me with no other love than Christ’s, because God has loved us and given himself to us in Christ. The implosion of self-centeredness has been reversed, and the other-centered dance restored among the saints, by the sanctifying grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the loving will of the Father, and the powerful communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Why can we say, “Reality is communion,” and what are competing views to the fundamental nature of reality? Can you see indications of God’s Divine Communion in the things he has made? How important is the communion of saints to God’s purpose in creation? to the Christian life? How does one participate in the communion of saints? How does ongoing sin affect our participation in the communion of saints? How does the communion of saints relate to your identity as an individual? What are some of the daily implications of confessing the communion of saints? Who are “the saints” with whom you have communion? How does church discipline arise from the love of Christ in the communion of the saints? How does church discipline seek to maintain the communion of the saints? What is ex-“communi”-cation?

The Church is those people who congregate—assemble, come together—around Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. The Church’s holiness and catholicity (universality) come from the one Holy Spirit who unites us to Christ. That is to say, the holiness of the Church is God’s own holiness shared with us all through our common spiritual union with Christ. We belong to God the Father, and he belongs to us, because the Son has anointed us with his Spirit. The Church is the burning bush, baptized with the purifying fire of God’s love to be the meeting place between God and humanity in the wilderness of this world. The Church is the temple filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 2 & 3), the body (Eph. 4) and bride (Eph. 5) of Christ.

Maybe it seems strange that the Church is the object of our confession here, but truly it is a matter for our faith. We must believe that the Church is what God says it is. The Church is the materialization of salvation in the world; it is the accomplishment of Jesus Christ, the fruit of his labors. The Church is the result and vehicle of the Gospel; it is evidence of God’s work, the witness testifying to this world what God we find revealed in Jesus Christ. This may not be an intuitive conclusion to reach, judging by the appearance of the Church in its concrete, local expressions. The Church, in itself, has always been ugly—just read the New Testament letters! But we believe the Church is not merely in itself, but in Christ, and so beautified and glorified in God’s presence. By faith we extol the beauty of God’s handiwork rather than bemoan the Church’s blemishes.

The Church is where we find our place in God’s work, it is where we belong simply because God has arranged it. It is where God sets his Table and invites sinners to eat together, even though we don’t deserve the privilege. It is the place where people come to know the surprising welcome of forgiveness. It is the primary place where the disintegrated world is being knit back together in love, where relationships are reestablished because of Jesus Christ. It is not an abstract, theoretical knowledge of God we find in the Church, but a true, relational knowledge in community with real people gathered because of Jesus. Our commitment to one another in the Church mirrors our devotion to Jesus himself. There are many impulses natural to sinners that would drive us apart from God and from one another. But if Jesus was reason enough to bring us together in the first place, he will be reason enough to keep us together now and always.

What role does the Church have in your spirituality? How does the Church factor into your proclamation of the Gospel, the accomplishments of Christ? How is “the holy catholic Church” distinct from “the Roman Catholic Church”? What does the Bible say makes a congregation a true Church? Why should you go to Church? What does membership in the Church mean? For what reasons, if any, should you leave a particular Church and go to another? How do the holiness and catholicity (universality) of the Church impact your life? How does the Church shape your expectation and hope for the future of all reality? Where do you see the Image of God in the Church? When is it difficult to see the Image of God in the Church, and what should you do when that is the case?

 

The Holy Spirit is fully God, the whole God, the only true God. He is God in a different way of being than the Father or the Son, a uniquely and irreducibly distinct kind of divine Person. He is who he is because of the Father and the Son, and they are the Persons they are because of him (mutual hypostatization; they “em-Person-ize” each other and receive identity from each other).

The Father and Son mutually indwell each Other in the communion of the Holy Spirit. The Father gives himself to the Son in the Person of the Spirit, and the Son returns the self-gift in the Person of the same Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the “God-ness,” the very divinity of the God who is love. The Spirit is the holiness of the Triune God, the holiness of a God who exists in mutual belonging. (He is called “the Holy Spirit” because he is God existing in his love, which is so other, so foreign to our sinful existence, yet simultaneously so good for sinners.) The Spirit is the essence of God, insofar as he is the Father’s Being in the Son and the Son’s Being in the Father. The Spirit is the power of God, the freedom to love in complete self-gift. The Spirit is God’s love, God’s joy, personified in the act of being given. The Spirit is the glory of God (John 17:5), the very substance of God, God given to us for our knowledge of and delight in God. He is the promise of God (Acts 2:33, 38-39), the divine nature of whom we partake (2 Peter 1:3-4).

Jesus Christ is who he is because of the Holy Spirit, in both his divinity and his humanity. “Christ” is shorthand for “the Spirit-Anointed Son of the Father.” This same Spirit of Christ’s own Sonship is the Spirit of our adoption (Romans 8:15), because Jesus has anointed us with his own Anointing, baptized us with his own Spirit (Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5). The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit, not just of God, but of the God-man, and so in Christ he is our Spirit. Jesus has given us his eternal Spirit so that his union with God would be our unity in the church (John 17:22; Ephesians 4:3). Through the communion of the Spirit we become “sons” of God (whether male or female), sharing with Jesus his own full rights of divine inheritance. The Spirit takes everything that belongs to Christ and makes it ours: namely, Christ’s relationship with the Father. The Spirit is the Giver of Life, given to unite us to God in Christ, and it is only by his powerful presence that we are regenerated (John 3:7-8), made able to respond to God with faith and a fruitful life (Galatians 5:22-23). The Spirit directs our attention to Jesus Christ for complete redemption and fulfillment (John 14:26). He is the One by whom we are convicted of our sin and our need for Christ (John 16:7-9). He is the one by whom we know that we belong to God and that God belongs to us, the substance of the covenant promise (1 John 2:27; 4:13). He is the one by whose gifts we may truly love and edify one another in the church. The Spirit is the One by whom we are made “spiritual.” Human spirituality has to do with the Holy Spirit, or else it is not true spirituality. Thus, true spirituality is a community affair, and cannot be practiced in isolation or apart from prayer. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship (communion) of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

Who has the Holy Spirit? What is the Spirit’s role in prayer? What is the Spirit’s “relationship” to the Scriptures? How does biblical spirituality manifest in a person’s life? What are some current manifestations of the Spirit’s work in your life? Why does it seem like the Holy Spirit is so subtle in his presence and work? How do you know that you have the Holy Spirit? (Hint: think about the whole phrase from the Creed…)

Judges don’t merely declare what is good and evil, right and wrong; judges make right and redress evil. Judges mete out condemnation and vindication (1 Kgs. 8:32). Judges deliver from enemies, oppression, and injustice (think “the Book of Judges”). Judges rule, administering righteousness, love, and peace in relationships. As the source of all reality, God is “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen. 18:25). “He judges the world with righteousness” (Ps. 9:8). He does not merely judge actions, but the secrets of the heart and mind (Jer. 11:20; Rom. 2:16). His universal and good judgment is cause for rejoicing (Ps. 67:4; Ps. 98, esp. v. 9). We sought to be judges of God for ourselves, and acted as unjust judges, condemning his Son to death. He didn’t retaliate, but trusted that his Father’s ultimate judgment would be just (1 Pet. 2:23). Therefore God judged his Son to be faithful and true, and vindicated him in the resurrection. Our judgment now hinges on him.

God the Father has given all judgment to the Son (Jn. 5:22). He is “the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; see also 2 Tim. 4:1). God has “fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man” (Acts 17:31, emphasis mine). Universal judgment has been given to a human being, whose judgment is just because he seeks not his own will, but his Father’s will (Isa. 11:3-4; Jn. 5:30). This man is Jesus Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the “eschaton man,” the one who is God’s judgment of humanity, in whom alone God will move forward with humanity into eternity. Jesus’ judgment is true, because he judges according to God’s nature, God’s reality, which is the ultimate truth. He is the Great High King who faithfully judges with righteousness and justice (Ps. 72:1-2), whose throne is established forever (Prov. 29:14). Christ’s judgment will not only remove his and our enemies; it will remove enmity itself from all the earth (Isa. 2:4). On the day of his return, all who ever lived—whether currently living or dead—will be made to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ, who will make all things right.

In a sense, Jesus has already spoken the final word of judgment to which we may respond (Jn. 12:48), and those who reject the Gospel judge themselves “unworthy of eternal life” (Acts 13:46). But there is freedom when we stop judging ourselves and acknowledge the Lord’s good and gracious judgment of us (1 Cor. 4:3-4). We wrongly grasped for judgment, but the gift of God is that Jesus will share even his own judgment with us (Lk. 22:29-30; 1 Cor. 6:2-3). As Paul wrote at the end of his life, “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

What is your judgment of Jesus, the Word of God? Do you believe in his imminent return to judge the living and the dead? Why or why not? What do you assume the word, “judgment,” means? Is it the same way Jesus uses the word? Have your non-Christian friends heard about the promised judgment as a matter for their fear, or for their hope? How do you feel about Christ’s judgment penetrating to the secrets of your heart and mind? Is it really possible to rest and rejoice in the idea of Christ’s final judgment, to “love his appearing”? What difference, if any, does Christ’s future return make in your present life? How does God say it should affect your life, and what does that say about God? What might it mean that we will be given the place of judgment alongside Christ in the new world?

Kingship is a constant theme running throughout the Scriptures. The Triune God created humanity in his image to enjoy his own rule over everything he has made (Gen. 1:26-28). This rule is meant to be characterized by rest, peace, and glory as humanity is in right relationship with God (Gen. 2:1-3). We abdicated, traded, and fell short of this glory when we willingly became subservient to the serpent (Gen. 3), a creature explicitly meant to be under our dominion. In reaching for authority for ourselves, in seeking power autonomously from God, we lost true power and authority. The Scriptures are the record of God’s work to reestablish true human Kingship, especially over all the power of the serpent-enemy (Gen. 3:15). Kings are at the center of the history of God’s relating to his people (think “1 & 2 Kings”). To his shepherd-king, David, God promised a great name, rest from all his enemies, and an offspring whose throne and kingdom he would establish forever (2 Sam. 7). This greater son of David would be David’s Lord (Ps. 110; Lk. 20:41-44), the divine-human King of Glory (Ps. 24), Ruler over everything God has made (Ps. 8; Heb. 2:5-9).

Jesus is this true and everlasting King, the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16) who was taken up in glory (1 Tim. 3:16). Jesus is King now, and this is an apex feature of the Gospel preached by the Apostles throughout the Book of Acts. Upon his Ascension he was seated (his “Session”) at the right hand of Power (Lk. 22:69), at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). God sits upon his throne, and at his right hand—the place of rest and prominence and power at the helm of all reality (Col. 3:1)—is the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus. God has made him Lord and Christ (Acts 2:34-36), exalted him as Leader and Savior (Acts 5:30-31), raising him far above all rule, authority, power, and dominion (Eph. 1:20-22), subjecting all his enemies under his feet (Heb. 10:13; 1 Pet. 3:22). All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to him (Mt. 28:18). In fact, God has even granted this Man to baptize with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33), effectively wielding God’s own power and glory.

Jesus was granted this universal, eternal Kingship precisely because he never reached for autonomous power, for self-rule, but has always been in perfect submission to his Father (John 5:19, 30), even to the point of his terrible death (Phil. 2:8-11). He does not exercise power for his own sake, but demonstrates the true power of love as he laid down his life for his friends (Jn. 10:17-18; 15:13). It is this very same Jesus who lived and died for others (Heb. 13:8) who now rules over all things for the sake of others. His Session at God’s right hand is not for his own sake, but as our Representative, our Vicar, so that he might bring “many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10). His Session means the continuation of his Priesthood (Ps. 110; Heb. 4:14; 5:5; 6:20; 8:1), as he appears in the presence of God on our behalf (Heb. 9:24) to make intercession for us always (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). In his own Person, in our place, he has restored humanity to its inheritance, its intended place at God’s right hand, and because of his grace we will one day reign with him forever (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 5:10; 22:5).

Have you sought to usurp God’s rule in your life? What has that looked like? How has that worked out for you, honestly? Do you believe that God has always sought to share his rule with you? Do you usually think of the Gospel only in terms of past events, or also with Christ’s present Session in mind? Why do Christians seem to be prone to relegate the Gospel to the past? What are some aspects of Christ’s Session that are important to you? Why do people often get angry at this Good News (Mt. 26:63-68; Acts 7:54-58)?