The first full day of the Leadership Conference proved to be a tremendous time of rejoicing in the character of God and the cross of Christ.
Doug McLachlan, pastor of Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN, opened the day with an exposition of Isaiah 6.1-8. Defining holiness as a radical difference, he argued that, when applied to God, “holiness describes the God-ness of the God who said, ‘I am God and not man.'” He is separate, sovereign, and supreme (vv. 1-4). So it is no wonder that, faced with such holiness, we become incredibly aware of our own sinfulness (v. 5). As McLachlan put it, “We are as unholy as God is holy.” Our only hope to come before the presence of the holy God is his own atoning work. “The coal from the altar came from the place of sacrifice; it speaks of propitiation. The cleansing act was instantaneous; it speaks of the efficacy of God’s power. And the purging of/atonement for sin rests on the sacrifice; it speaks of Christ as the Lamb of God” (vv. 6-7). Once it was God’s holiness that separated us from God. Now it is God’s holiness that brings us to God, namely, through the holiness and righteousness of Christ. What God demanded, he provided. Holiness demanded a perfect sacrifice; love provided it. At the cross (and consequently in Isaiah 6) is the meeting of holiness and love. His concluding application: ask God to make you holy in your actions, your words, your thoughs, your affections, and your worship.
The afternoon session featured a familiar voice: my pastor, Danny Brooks. His topic, “Our Unique Savior,” led him to an examination of John 1.14. He is unique in his person as God (“the Word”) and man (“became flesh”). And he is unique in his ministry in his dwelling with ordinary people and in his fullness of grace and truth. Danny then demonstrated both Christ’s grace and his truth in action in three Johannine narratives: Nicodemus (ch. 3), the woman at the well (ch. 4), and the invalid (ch. 5). Then came the climax of the sermon: his fullness of grace and truth was most poignantly showcased at the cross. Alluding to Colossians 2.13-15, Danny reminded us that the record of debt for all believers–whether formerly self-righteous or rebellious–has been canceled by his work on the cross. “Whether you are a moralist like Nicodemus or an immoral person like the Samaritan woman, what you need is grace.”
Tonight’s speaker was Stephen Jones, president of Bob Jones University. In his characteristically humble and transparent manner, Stephen extolled the God of mercy as revealed in the Fifty-first Psalm and exhorted us to take refuge in that mercy. He emphasized that we cannot find any hope in what our hands can do. No works can appease God or merit his favor. Our only hope is the mercy of God. And our greatest confidence is that he delights to show mercy (Micah 7.18). Furthermore, David’s example of humble repentance challenges us to resist the kind of confession that seeks simply to avoid the consequences of our sin. When the psalmist prayed, “That you may be justified when you judge” (v. 4), his point was that God would be just to do whatever he wanted with David, that no punishment would be cruel and unusual in light of his grievous sin before this holy God. “David did not want deliverance from the consequences of his sin; he wanted deliverance from the burden of his guilt.” The humility and brokenness of David proved to be the precise thing God is looking for, as opposed to mere empty ritual (v. 19). Because our God is so entirely merciful, there is no one else that to whom we need or ought to turn.
The three speakers, then, all preached the same message: holiness, depravity, mercy. Today has been a day of rejoicing in the God who not only gave us the Law to reveal the depths of our own sinfulness, but who also gives us the Gospel so that his power for our salvation might be unleashed. Praise God for his free and infinite grace!