Thursday, 26 March 2020

By Grace, through Faith

We believe in
The justification of sinners solely by the grace of God through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
This replaces
The justification of the sinner solely by faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
So, are we saved by faith or by grace?

Let’s define these terms. They’re both Christian buzz-words that get spoken a lot, especially in the free churches. We have to understand what they mean. 


Hebrews 11: 1
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (NKJV).

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see (NLT).
When Jesus commends people for their faith, or sometimes points out their lack of faith, this is what He is talking about.

In Matthew 8: 5-10, Jesus heals a centurion’s servant. The man, who presumably wasn’t a Jew, and so had little knowledge of the Scriptures, amazed Jesus with his faith. Jesus was going to ‘come and heal’ the servant (v.7) but the man stopped him and said: only speak a word, and my servant will be healed (v.8). Such was his complete confidence that Jesus could do it.

He believed. He must have watched from a distance as Jesus taught and healed the people and been touched; he was intellectually convinced that Jesus could do it, and he took the further step of acting on that conviction. Actually, he took two steps: he came to Jesus, pleading with Him (v.5), and when Jesus assented, he received that as a ‘Yes’. He hoped that his servant would be healed, and his conviction that Jesus would heal became the substance, the reality, of that healing.

This kind of thing is offensive to our Western intellect. The idea that faith is its own evidence is outrageous to us. But we all exercise faith all the time. I am typing these notes on a laptop computer. I’m confident (fairly confident) that when I switch it on and open Word, it will work. In doing this, I’m making some big assumptions. I really have very little understanding of how what I am typing gets onto the screen in front of me, and how it will subsequently get uploaded to this blog. It worked last time; I hope it will work this time. I believe it will. The Centurion made the same connection with Jesus.

The process of faith activates something powerful at work in the world. In my case, the technological genius of the folks at Hewlett Packard and Microsoft (other computing products are available) have harnessed a very advanced understanding of physics and electronics to make this blog post happen. I have a relationship with them; I’m their customer and I trust their products. Extended use over time has given me a degree of confidence that my actions will achieve the desired result. But I can’t tell you how.

The Centurion is calling on the power of almighty God through Jesus to bring about his servant’s healing. (Perhaps, in the twenty first century, a course of antibiotics would do the trick. But that would require faith, too.)

That’s how faith works, but it isn’t the whole picture.

We place our faith in something reliable that is more powerful than we are; the measure of faith we exercise will depend on how adequate we think that thing is and how much we trust it.

Sometimes I have to drive to a destination in South London; it’s a long way and the route is complex. I will use one of the sat-nav apps in my phone. I expect this to guide me through the route, monitor the condition of the traffic and constantly update my ETA. It’s another sophisticated application of technology that I really don’t understand. However, my faith in it is less than complete. Mostly, it works well. It will even tell me about roadworks and speed cameras, abandoned vehicles and even roadkill. But a few times it has neglected to tell me about major road closures. That’s an important failure. I’ll use my sat-nav, but, if I’m wise, I’ll also take an A-Z.

It matters where I put my faith.

I believe that, left to my own devices, I will fail to engage with God and be ‘lost’ (that will be another blog post). I need to be saved. For this, like the Centurion, I put my trust in Jesus Christ.

He is the only means of salvation.
John 3: 16

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 14: 6

Jesus said … “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Acts 3: 12

…there is no other name [than Jesus of Nazareth] under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
Only Jesus is able to deal with the problem of my sin – my innate rebellion against God.

So, my faith is important. It is important that I believe in Jesus; that is, that like the Centurion, I intellectually acknowledge my need of salvation and His ability to save me, but then I must act upon that knowledge. There are two crucial parts to this faith: My trust in Him and His capability to act. 


There is still something missing in this discussion.

This is all about me and my need for salvation.  Where does God fit in?

Also, it sounds as if having faith is an achievement of some kind. Faith has quantity as well as quality. Some people have a lot of faith (like the Centurion); others only have a little bit, like the disciples in the boat (Matthew 8: 26) or me with the sat-nav.

Does that mean that only those with big faith can be saved?

Let’s have a look at some more Bible:
Ephesians 2: 4, 5 8

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ … 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.
Here’s the thing. I can be saved through faith in Jesus Christ because God is inclined to save me. If He were not so inclined, no amount of faith would do it.

Let’s unpack those verses:

vv. 4 and 5: God has made us alive with Christ, in spite of my sin (my ‘trespasses’), because He is rich in mercy and has ‘great love’. It might seem a tall order to believe that God loves me – why would He? But this is the message of the Bible.

This is the engine of salvation. The reason I can have hope and exercise faith is because God gets there first. Even when we were dead … He made us alive together with Christ. Or Romans 5: 8: God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This is Grace. It is the unmerited favour of God, His pure generosity. There is nothing that I did or could possibly have done to save myself or to win His favour.
v.8a: by grace you have been saved through faith
God is the originator of salvation, not me. He pours His grace into me, even in my sin (it’s hard to understand that); my faith is a response to this. The Centurion’s faith too is a response. He seeks Jesus out and pleads with him, so he’s definitely showing initiative and not merely being passive, but unless Jesus has already been there healing people, he would never have done this.
v.8b: …and that [grace] not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.
God is the originator of salvation; in fact, He is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 11: 2). This is a principle that is written all the way through the scriptures, for example:
Isaiah 65: 1

I was sought by those who did not ask for Me;
I was found by those who did not seek Me.
I said, ‘Here I am, here I am.’

Jeremiah 31: 3

The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying:
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.”

1 John 4: 19

We love Him because He first loved us.
This is God’s cosmic generosity, His amazing grace. 


This is not a definitive theological argument, but it goes something like this.

God created us in his own image, to be a reflection of Him. In a sense, this means that we bear some attributes of God such as, for example, the ability to love, or our creativity. God’s creation is great and varied, but we are of a different order. More than that, though, I think God’s image in us is evident to Him in our relationships. When He looks at us, He sees glimpses of himself, as it were through a glass, darkly (see 1 Corinthians 13: 12). He longs to see that image restored; he loves us because we bring glory to Him. I think we see a reflection of this in Luke 22: 15
With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
This is Jesus loving his friends (including Judas), and this is what Yahweh is saying in Jeremiah 31: I have loved you with an everlasting love.
It is God’s desire to reconcile His creation, but it is corrupted by sin. It is fundamentally broken and at odds with Him, so he moves to redeem it.

Jesus came into the world and lived the way man was always supposed to live; He was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4: 15). He didn’t just resist sin, he confronted it, and he allowed it to destroy Him. Casting Himself as the spotless Passover Lamb, he offered Himself ‘once for all’ (Hebrews 7: 27; 9: 12 and 10: 10), the righteous for the unrighteous. He took upon Himself the just condemnation of the entire human race. Once, for all.

This is God’s grace, coming to the very depths of where we are, in the midst of the very worst the world can do. No other sacrifice or righteous endeavour is feasible to bring salvation.

So, seeing this, we respond in faith. We choose to believe it, first as an intellectual assent and then as an act of trust.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
(John Newton 1725-1807)
My faith in Jesus Christ for salvation is no credit to me, it is purely a response to God’s grace.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Take Heart

We build our lives on expectation. We understand how the world works, so we expect predictable outcomes.

I pay money for goods; I expect good value. I work for a client; I expect to get paid. If someone I trust makes a promise to me, I rely on their word.

We expect the world to be a certain way. Often our lifestyles depend on debt, which, in turn, depends on regular employment, which relies on a stable economy. And so on.

But right now, we are watching the familiar structures of our lives fall away. It’s unsettling.

We are afraid that someone we love might catch the virus. But even if we come through the crisis unscathed, what will be left of the world we know? Will we still have work? Will we be secure?

We may have to make changes to our way of life. Perhaps we already have.

The world is an uncertain place and the security we build for ourselves is, at best, fragile. Jesus Himself told us to 'expect trouble' (in John 16: 33a).

But He promises other things too:
  • He promises us provision in uncertainty:
‘Don’t worry about these things … your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need’ (Matthew 6: 31-33).
  • He promises us rest in weariness:
‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11: 28).
  • He promises to be present in extremity:
‘Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28: 20), and ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you’ (Hebrews 13: 5).
  • He promises to receive those who come to Him and not reject them:
'Whoever comes to me I will never cast out' (John 6: 37 ESV).
At a time when our world’s foundations are being shaken, whom are we going to trust?

If you are feeling worried right now, or frightened, or alone, that’s understandable. The government is doing its best and the local services are responding selflessly, as they always do. The churches are also here to help.

But our real help – the help we can depend on this world and beyond it – comes from Jesus. He said, ‘take heart, because I have overcome the world’ (John 16: 33b).

Stephen Dailly is leader of the Dove Church in Uttoxeter (

Bible verses are taken from:
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
This article first appeared in the Cheadle and Tean Times.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

The Image of God

The proposed new statement follows the Evangelical Alliance’s Statement:
We believe in
The dignity of all people made male and female in God’s image, to be holy, to love and to care for creation, yet corrupted by sin, which incurs divine wrath and judgement.
This replaces
3.      The total depravity of human nature in consequence of the fall, and the necessity of regeneration.

Why Change it?

The old statement is not ‘wrong’; for evidence of humanity’s ‘total depravity’, we only have to look out of our windows, watch the news, or, indeed, look at our own hearts.  As Jeremiah says:
Jeremiah 17: 9
The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked.
And Paul says in a cutting indictment, quoting Psalm 14:
Romans 3: 10-12
There is none righteous, no, not one;11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.
But is this the whole truth.  What does God see when he looks at us?  If we are making a brief statement about mankind’s status before God, what is it?
We believe in
The dignity of all people made male and female in God’s image, to be holy, to love and to care for creation, yet corrupted by sin, which incurs divine wrath and judgement.
The first thing that the Bible (i.e. God) says about humankind is that we are made in his image.
Genesis 1: 26-28
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
In the next chapter of Genesis, we see God forming man out of the substance of the earth:
Genesis 2: 7
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
Subsequently, the Fall comes; the Man and the Woman are exiled from God’s presence and cursed to what is effectively a living death, which is immediately borne out in their offspring.  Cain, the first-born human murders his brother, the second-born human, and bloodshed becomes the lot of man henceforward.

So, Jeremiah, the Psalmist and Paul are writing within this experience of spiritual exile and darkness, and this is our experience too.  Life is an ongoing tragedy: Man is born to trouble, says Eliphaz, as the sparks fly upward (Job 5: 7).

But yet, God hopes for and expects better things of us.  Let’s have another look at Psalm 14.  When Paul declares that:

There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.

…he is making a brutal inference as to what God will find on the earth.  We know what God will find – but what is He looking for?  Psalm 14: 2 actually says:

The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.

He is searching for the righteous.

In the second half of Genesis 18, a truly remarkable passage, God, on his way to pour his righteous wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave (v.20), decides to share His plan with Abraham.  And Abraham challenges Him: Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (v.25).

Amazingly (and it is truly stunning), God is making Himself accountable to Abraham in a matter of His righteousness.  (This is the same Abraham who tried to pass his wife off as his sister to save his own skin.  Twice.)

So, God rescues Lot and his family before he destroys the city.

God, in His righteousness, seeks righteousness in humankind.  The fact that he (almost, Job 1: 1) never finds it doesn’t detract from this.  The history of Israel in the Old Testament is the story of God pleading for his wayward people to repent.  He delights in his people, (Zephaniah 3: 14-17) and calls on them to reciprocate his love (Isaiah 55: 1-7), and even seeks to seduce them away from their false worship (Hosea 2: 14ff).

The truth is that the corruption of sin and its inevitable death; the ‘total depravity’ that we inherit in Adam is subordinate to the image of God in which we are created.  When God looks at us, he sees His image, albeit distorted and corrupted by sin.  He longs for that image to be restored.
The testimony of Scripture from the Fall in Genesis 3 to the final judgement of the wicked in Revelation 20 is the story of this redemption.

So, a better emphasis for a Statement of Belief is on the essential dignity in humankind conferred by the image of God, which is the emphasis of the Gospel:
John 3: 16
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
God loves us, seeing through our evil to bring us back to Himself.

Humankind in Creation

We believe in
The dignity of all people made male and female in God’s image, to be holy, to love and to care for creation, yet corrupted by sin, which incurs divine wrath and judgement.
God’s original commission to Adam and Eve is this:
Genesis 1: 28
Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
In the next chapter, we see this being worked out by Adam in practice.

‘Have dominion’ sounds very direct and absolute, brutal almost.  The fact that we have his authority is reflected in our ability to drastically change our environment, to the extent of being an actual threat to its long-term viability.  But in Scripture, things are presented more benignly.  God planted a garden and put Adam in it (v.8) to tend and keep it (v.15).  God made the animals and brought them to Adam ‘to see what he would call them’.  Adam ‘gave names’ to all the various animals; we get the impression that he’s giving them more than names, maybe their characteristics too. 

Adam’s relationship with his world is beneficent; as a ruler, he lives and works in harmony with it (compared to what happens after the Fall Genesis 3: 17-19). 

So ‘total depravity’ is an accurate description of our experience; it is, indeed, the reason that Jesus died brutally on the cross.  But it is not a complete picture of humanity as presented by Scripture.  The worst of us – and God doesn’t really see ‘worst’ in the sense that we do; ‘we have altogether become corrupt’ – possess the beauty and innate dignity of the image of God.  And we reflect Him, even in our sinful state.  That’s why He loves us so much.  It’s why Jesus promised life to the dying thief and set Barabbas free.

On reflection, however, I recommend that we should change the wording of this proposed statement from, ‘to love and to care for creation’ to ‘to tend and to keep the created world, which broadly means the same thing, but is a direct quotation from Genesis 2: 15.
I believe in…
The dignity of all people made male and female in God’s image, to be holy, to tend and to keep the created world, yet corrupted by sin, which incurs divine wrath and judgement.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

The Inspiration of Scripture

We are currently undertaking an exercise at the Dove Church to revisit the Constitution and Statement of Faith, important documents that have been in place for many years, largely ignored. It’s important that we know who we are, why we are here and what we believe, and that we can communicate these things with precision and clarity. These documents should help us to do this. 

For the most part, the changes I suggested to the Statement of Faith were approved, but a couple of points were raised. The first, which I’ll discuss here in some detail, is about the authority of Scripture.
The original Statement was:
We believe in…
1. The full and verbal inspiration of all the Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures, as originally given, and of these alone; their being in themselves the Word of God, without error, and wholly reliable in both fact and doctrine; their final authority and perpetual sufficiency in all matters of faith and practice.
This is quite wordy. Also, there are a couple of phrases that I wasn’t sure about. The proposed revision is this:
We believe in…

The divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, which are the written Word of God – fully trustworthy for faith and conduct.

The obvious difference is that the new statement is much shorter. 

What are we saying here?

  • The writings in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible are inspired by God. This follows 2 Timothy 3: 16, which says:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
  • These Scriptures hold supreme authority. In other words, there are no other writings of equivalent or greater authority.
  • These Scriptures comprise everything we can rely on for what we believe and how we conduct ourselves as followers of Christ.
The verse in Timothy, in its context, only refers to the Old Testament, which is what the Apostle Paul had available to him, but we extend this to include the New Testament too.

This statement expresses our belief that the Bible is the Word of God; that he speaks through it; that everything we can know from or about God is contained in its pages. 

Why would we remove the phrase ‘as originally given’?

This is a fair question.

When we compare translations of the Bible, they seem to contradict each other, so how can they be a 'supreme authority'?

The thought was that modern translations – indeed any translations – of the Scriptures inevitably introduce an element of interpretation. And it’s not just that translators ‘get it wrong’. Things that were written in Hebrew three thousand years ago cannot be rendered into English without some degree of compromise.

So, at what point does the text of the Bible become ‘inspired’? When exactly does God breathe into it?
  • Are modern translations and paraphrases inspired?
  • Is the selection of books we call the Canon of Scripture inspired?
Where, if anywhere, do we draw the line?

The qualification ‘as originally given’, seems reasonable. We can imagine the Apostle Paul or the Prophet Jeremiah writing a manuscript with the Holy Spirit gently breathing the words into them. We can doubtless agree that their words were directly inspired.

But those ‘original’ texts are inaccessible to us. The closest we could reasonably get would be to study the Hebrew and Greek texts that are available – but even these are edited and mediated to some degree. In any case, most people don’t have the time, the ability or even the inclination to devote several years to learning Greek and Hebrew (though one might think that if a person thought that the Scriptures were only inspired in their ‘original’ form, that they would make it their priority to uncover that exact treasure, were it possible).

In fact, almost everyone reads the Bible in translation.

Nevertheless, if I am holding a Bible in my hands, I have a book that I believe will show me everything that can be known of God. I believe this – I have to believe it – otherwise I have no realistic hope of Spiritual enlightenment – even though I know that the translation I use is not, in itself, above question.

I believe that God will speak to me through it, anyway.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.

(John 14: 26)
Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will bring to my remembrance what He has said. He will teach me all things. So, while I believe that the Holy Spirit breathed the Word of God into the original writers of the Scriptures, I also believe that he does the same for me – and for each of us – as we read these words by faith, thousands of years later, in a different language and in a different context.

And because the Bible, my Bible, here and now, is the inspired Word of God to me, I can seek the face of Jesus in it, because He is in Himself the Word of God. He is the One who was there, breathing into the hearts and minds of the Bible writers; He is here, breathing into me now. 

Are you saying that the Bible contains errors?

This is not a helpful question because it implies that we could recognise an ‘error’ if we saw one. Outside of the Holy Spirit, I have no confidence in that.

If we try to read the Bible without the help of the Holy Spirit, we will misconstrue it. Only if the Holy Spirit directs us will we be able to read it correctly. There are no errors in Him.

Do you know who taught the eagles to find their prey? Well, that same God teaches His hungry children to find their Father in His Word.

(William Tyndale)
The problem of saying that the Scriptures are divinely inspired only ‘as originally given’ is that this makes the Bible inaccessible. It becomes an unobtainable and unknowable artefact, or perhaps the preserve of a certain clique of priestly or scholarly individuals to whom are vouchsafed the mysteries of holy writ.

When in the 1530s Tyndale produced a Bible in English (and not just in English, but in the English of ordinary folk, unlike the Authorised Version, which followed it), his intention was to make the Word of God available to everyone on the grounds that it could and would transform the lives of those who read it.

It still does this, not because any particular translation is word-perfect, but because it is a vehicle for the Holy Spirit, bringing the Word of God to life in the reader; ‘bringing to remembrance’ the words of Jesus, as it were. So:
I believe in…

The divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, which are the written Word of God – fully trustworthy for faith and conduct.