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I am delighted to be at Reformed Theological Seminary this week studying with Scotty Smith. This doctoral class, Gospel Driven Spirituality, is intended to provide students with an in-depth study of the disciplines of grace. Questions surrounding sanctification tend to be among the most common in the ministry, so it is with both personal and ministerial interest that I am in attendance.

To begin our study, Scotty shared a painting (see above) that a member of his church, David Arms, completed to serve as a visual of the four-fold history of redemption. Each panel (creation, fall, redemption, and restoration) is intended to capture the essence of the unfolding story of the gospel.

Many people think of a two-panel gospel of sin and restoration (the middle two). Scotty argues that creation and restoration must be in full view in order to understand the fall and redemption. The fall cannot be properly understood without the first acknowledging that everything God created was good. Likewise, redemption cannot be fully appreciated until we see that it will ultimately usher in a new heavens and new earth. This new heavens and earth will be even better than Eden, for the fall will never be able to happen again.

Creation (first panel) depicts the glory of God’s goodness in creation. The tree is the focal point of the picture, the sky is blue, the fruit bears prominence, and all of creation is together.

The fall (second panel) shows the darkness of sin and separation from God. Notice how one bird is looking back toward creation. The tree has lost its beauty but is still firmly planted. This is intended to depict that even though sin has entered the world, God still cares to restore that which has been broken.

Redemption (third panel) champions the person and work of Jesus Christ. There is only one unshakable kingdom and it is advancing. We do not minister with fear, we minister with hope. We do not focus on the temporary, but on the eternal.

Restoration (fourth panel) depicts the tree of life that cannot be contained. There is provision of food, but abundance is depicted as overflowing. The panel cannot contain either the tree or the food. This is a picture of Divine generosity. The gospel is not a story of replacement, but a story of restoration. The gospel is justification, sanctification, and glorification and this is depicted by three birds that would never flock together, but have found sweet residence in the tree of life.

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Another painting Scotty shared is Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son. This painting captures the narrative of a young son who requested his father’s inheritance and wasted it on lavish living (Luke 15:11-32). Broken and defeated, the son returns to the Father who bestows nothing but love and grace. The older brother is standing to the right of the son and looking down at him with condemnation. Interesting to note that the father’s hands are not identical. The father’s right hand appears more delicate to signify tenderness in the receiving of broken sinners, while the left hand appears more rugged to show the strength of one who can bear burdens. The full effect of the younger son’s poor choices are evident in his loss of his shoe and shaved head.

The point behind starting the class with these two paintings is to show how God’s plan for making all things new is founded upon His radical, disruptive grace. This is the beginning of a Gospel feast that Scotty desires to lead his students toward.