Friday, September 07, 2007

Baby Steps to Holiness

My more "optimistic amillennial" (read: postmillennial) readers may never forgive me for this, but I must point out that if the doctrine of the two kingdoms necessarily tempers whatever triumphalistic expectations that we entertain for the success of the church in this present age, it cannot but do the same for the individual believer.

As I argued in my last post, the apparent failure of Jesus' mission, demonstrated by his shameful death on the cross, was actually the rather ironic means of his powerful conquest. Just as in his earthly ministry he tread upon the Sea of Galilee's stormy water of which his disciples were so afraid (Matt. 14:25), so, on a deeper level, his defeat at Calvary actually becomes the pathway to his ultimate victory. "Through death," the writer to the Hebrews says, "he destroyed him who had the power of death, the devil" (2:14). In a word, Jesus actually uses that which instills fear in his people as the means of alleviating their concerns.

This is precisely why Paul could point to something as uncharacteristic as his weakness to illustrate his great strength (II Cor. 12:10). Likewise, we can derive comfort from our apparent failures, knowing that the cross of Jesus Christ calls into question the defitnition of "success" that the citizens of this age entertain. As our "emergent" brethren love to point out, it is better to live on the verge of falling than to boast in a Pharisaical sense of security, especially when the latter engenders pride while the former forces us to smite our collective breasts in humble recognition of our need for divine grace.

The Heidelberg Catechism speaks of "our best works in this life" as being "all imperfect and defiled with sin," reminding us that "even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this [perfect obedience to God's commands]" (Q/A 62, 114).

My point, therefore, is that if one desires to cling to a "theology of the cross" over against a "theology of glory," adopting a two kingdoms paradigm is a good place to start.