Writings by Elder Michael Gowens

A Pastor’s Critique of The Da Vinci Code

Among modern cultural assaults on the integrity of historical Christianity, none have potential for greater influence than the bestselling novel by Dan Brown entitled The Da Vinci Code.  To date the book has sold over forty million copies. Now, with a movie, produced by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, scheduled to be released by Sony Pictures on May 19, 2006, the need for Biblical discernment among Christians is particularly urgent.

 

Brown’s novel poses a legitimate threat to Christian people for several reasons, the chief of which is its engaging story-line. As a ‘murder mystery’, it is a very compelling read. The mixture of intrigue and suspense makes for real entertainment to a conspiracy buff like me—the “R” rated portions notwithstanding. If the story is so gripping in its printed form, one can only imagine that the more powerful and persuasive media of the cinematic version will enjoy an even wider influence.

 

Secondly, the novel is an intellectual threat because of its undiscriminating blend of fact and fiction, history and legend, reality and fantasy.  Though the title page states the book is “a novel”, the first word in big bold letters is the word “FACT”. On this lead-in page, Brown states that the Priory of Sion, a secret society founded in 1099,[1] and Opus Dei, an ultra-conservative Roman Catholic sect with headquarters in New York City, are real organizations and claims that “all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.”  That statement, however, is not entirely accurate. The book contains a number of historical miscues, such as Brown’s claim that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1950’s[2], though the discovery was actually made in 1947. Another specious claim is that the Gnostic Gospels coexisted with the Apostolic Gospels in the early church so that no dominant theological consensus within Christianity prevailed. More serious still is the claim that the debate concerning the deity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea “passed by a relatively close vote”[3], though, in fact, only 2 of the 318 bishops protested the Council’s official statement. “316 to 2” is not even remotely, much less “relatively”, close.

 

In a culture when the average person’s knowledge of both secular and Biblical history is so abysmally lacking, few value the importance of historical accuracy.  It is simply easier to credulously swallow a well-articulated argument as fact instead of doing the research oneself. But the blurring of fact and fantasy in this quasi-historical book is subversive, for it conveys an impression of credibility and establishes a basis of legitimacy for the attempt to undermine the integrity of the New Testament. I can only suspect that such outlandish claims will resonate with many in a society that exhibits such a strong anti-Christian bias.

 

Thirdly, the story perpetuates a cultural myth. Arguing that Christianity is responsible for the suppression of women, The Da Vinci Code attempts to resurrect ancient goddess worship and to recast historical Christianity in terms of “the sacred feminine”. Brown builds his case on the spurious claim that the four Gospels in the New Testament canon are spurious historical accounts of Jesus Christ. He argues that the emperor Constantine, motivated by the desire to promote patriarchal rule, conspired to suppress the true historical record of Jesus’ life and ministry as revealed in the “Gnostic” gospels of the third and fourth centuries.[4]  Brown insists that Jesus was “the original feminist” and that Mary Magdalene, not the apostles, was intended to be the successor of his ministry.  Jesus’ intention, according to the book, was to establish a religion devoted to the worship of the divine feminine[5]. Peter, however, revolted against the idea and launched a campaign to smear Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. The Magdalene, therefore, is a subjugated queen—the true Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White all rolled into one, incarcerated by the wicked institution of the patriarchal Christian Church. That such a message will strike a positive chord of response in our increasingly feminized society makes the threat this book poses to historical Christianity more ominous still.

 

What is the main plot?

                Perhaps a brief synopsis of the story is in order here. The hero and heroine of Brown’s novel are Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu. Langdon, a Harvard symbologist, is in Paris giving a lecture. Late one night, he receives a telephone call informing him that the curator of the Louvre has been slain inside the museum. Beside the body is a strange cipher that mentions Langdon by name. Neveu, a French cryptologist and granddaughter of the slain man, joins Langdon, who is now under suspicion of murder, in an effort to solve the riddle and try to clear Langdon’s name.

 

                At each turn, the pair stumbles on a new clue hidden in the artistic and literary works of the late Leonardo Da Vinci. In time, they discover that Sophie’s late grandfather was the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, the secret society to which Da Vinci once belonged. Langdon suspects that they are on the verge of discovering an epic secret—a secret to which the Priory of Sion had been entrusted as guardians for centuries, waiting for the proper moment for its unveiling.  Sophie’s grandfather had taken elaborate steps to safeguard this stunning secret from power-brokers who would use it to gain personal power. But he had also carefully encrypted clues in a labyrinthine puzzle so that it might be passed on to his own granddaughter in the event of his untimely death.

 

                What secret could possibly be so colossal and potentially explosive as to occasion such sophisticated steps? Could it be the true identity of Jesus and the nature of the religion that he established? Who might possibly have occasion to fear the revelation of this secret so much that they would stop at nothing to keep it hidden in obscurity? Might it be the Roman Catholic church?

 

                As the plot thickens and the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, it is clear to Langdon and Neveu that this is a secret that could demolish the traditional Christian faith. If the public ever learns the real story of Jesus’ true identity; if the masses are made wise to the fact that the gospel record they’ve been taught is nothing more than a clever fabrication; if the news that Jesus’ bloodline may have survived the crucifixion is ever made public, then Christianity will be immediately and forever discredited. Langdon and Sophie know that they have discovered the real “holy grail” and that they now bear a very great responsibility.

 

Is it really a credible threat?

 

I’m sure that, to many of my readers, the prospect that such an unconventional tale would exercise any influence whatsoever seems incredible and surreal. After all, who in their right mind would believe that the New Testament as we have it today is the product of a conspiracy to maintain male dominance at the cost of the suppression of women? Who would seriously give any credence to the idea that Jesus was the original feminist, and that his physical descendents intermarried with the French royal family and are alive today? If this story were an airplane, could it even get off the ground?

 

                Well, again, the book has sold 40,000,000 copies to date. I read it because several close friends had read it and were asking questions about it.  At every turn—from the newsstand, to the morning talk shows, to prime-time documentaries—this book is a topic of significant interest.  It seems obvious that the anti-Christian sentiment in the modern world is all too eager to embrace these ideas as plausible.

 

When one considers that The Da Vinci Code is not the only contemporary work to develop these themes[6], the potential intellectual threat to Christian orthodoxy assumes even larger proportions. A popular author writes, “I read a similar view in The Templar Revelation, a book that dovetails with The Da Vinci Code, supposedly giving historical plausibility to these events. The authors allege: ‘In our opinion, the Catholic Church never wanted its members to know about the true relationship between Jesus and Mary, which is why the Gnostic Gospels were not included in the New Testament and why most Christians do not even know they exist. The Council of Nicaea, when it rejected the many Gnostic Gospels and voted to include only Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the New Testament, had no divine mandate for this major act of censorship. They acted out of self-preservation, for by that time—the fourth century—the power of the Magdalene and her followers was already too widespread for the patriarchy to cope with’.”[7]

 

                It appears that the time is ripe in Western culture for a propaganda campaign against the credibility of historical Christianity. In the past two decades, the Jesus Seminar, a group of “scholars” with a liberal bias toward “higher criticism”, has arisen within Christian circles to challenge the credibility of the four Gospels and to attempt to reinvent the historical Jesus. They base their research on several “lost books of the Bible”—Gnostic texts discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt just after World War II—including the gospels of Thomas, Philip, Mary Magdalene, and Peter.   The Jesus Seminar Fellows have enjoyed a good bit of press within the popular media culture, even though mainline Christian apologists have produced volumes of literature to counter their specious claims.

 

Further, the market is literally flooded with assaults on Christian orthodoxy. Consider, for instance, that the Da Vinci Code will be the second motion picture within the past two years to paint a secret society with its mystery religion and occult symbolism in a positive light and depict historical Christianity as a corrupt institution obsessed with political power.[8]  Also, the National Geographic Society recently unveiled the “lost Gospel of Judas” in a global television event.[9]  This 1700 year-old Gnostic codex “tells a far different tale from the four gospels in the New Testament. It portrays Judas as a favored disciple who was given special knowledge by Jesus—and who turned him in at Jesus' request.”[10] 

 

Add to this the cultural foothold that “feminism”—with its complaint against male-dominated social systems, as well as its anti-war, anti-capitalistic, and anti-imperialistic social platform—has gained in popular culture. Include a contemporary fascination with mystery religions (#like the New Age movement|) within our society. Top it off with an understanding of Biblical prophecy concerning the growing anti-Christian influence that will intensify in the last days[11], and you have a ready-made recipe for deception by a story of this stripe.

 

                Indeed, I think Brown’s book (and forthcoming movie) has the potential to overthrow the faith of some Christian people.  The need for discernment, therefore, is especially great. The person who fails to screen the claims of this story through the grid of Scripture risks deception. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.  In particular, Christian people need to think Biblically about two specific areas as an inoculation against the erroneous ideas promoted in The Da Vinci Code.

 

 

The Deity of Jesus Christ

 

                First, Christians need to remember that there are convincing arguments for the claim that Jesus Christ was more than a man—that He was, in fact, God manifest in the flesh. In a 1993 book, I emphasized the fundamental importance of this theme: “The claim to deity is so radical that it will either discredit Jesus and the Christian gospel entirely, or it will incontrovertibly establish it, demanding an appropriate response of faith and repentance from every person.”[12]

 

Perhaps that is the reason why The Da Vinci Code issues such a blatant challenge to the deity of Jesus Christ.  In a conversation between Leigh Teabing, a British historian and Grail enthusiast, and Sophie, for example, Teabing asserts that “Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal [emphasis original].”  Sophie replies, “Not the Son of God?”  Teabing replies, “Right; Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea…Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable.”  As the conversation in the novel proceeds, Teabing explains, “Nobody is saying Christ was a fraud, or denying that He walked the earth and inspired millions to better lives. All we are saying is that Constantine took advantage of Christ’s substantial influence and importance. And in doing so, he shaped the face of Christianity as we know it today…The modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda—to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and use His influence to solidify their own power base.”

 

                Later, Teabing asserts that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that she carried his royal bloodline. He states, “I admit, the assertions are dire…A child of Jesus would undermine the critical notion of Christ’s divinity and therefore the Christian Church…”

 

                Still further in the story, Sophie confides to Langdon, “My friends who are devout Christians definitely believe that Christ literally walked on water, literally turned water into wine, and was born of a literal virgin birth.” Langdon replies, “My point exactly; religious allegory has become a part of the fabric of reality. And living in that reality helps millions of people cope and be better people.”

 

                More examples from the book could be cited, but these are sufficient to prove that Brown’s novel strikes directly at the very foundation of Christian faith—the deity of Jesus Christ.  How should Christian people respond to such claims?

 

                It is important to note that the Council of Nicaea, which met in AD 325, did not invent the idea that Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh any more than Newton invented the law of gravity.[13] The council merely recognized and codified a doctrine that was held by the church centuries before this group of 318 bishops met.

 

For instance, Pliny’s letter to the Emperor Trajan, dated circa AD 107, speaks of Christians joining “together in singing hymns to Christ as to a deity”.[14] In AD 110, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, wrote, “There is One God who manifests himself through Jesus Christ his son”.[15] And Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, sent an epistle to the church at Philippi, circa AD 112-118, in which “he assumes that those to whom it is addressed acknowledge the divinity of Jesus, his exaltation to heaven, and his subsequent glorification.”[16] Each of these extra-Biblical references appears two centuries before the Council of Nicaea convened.

 

                Subsequent quotes from Justin Martyr (circa AD 150), who called Christ “the son and apostle of God the Father and master of all”, Irenaeus (circa AD 177), who speaking of Joh 1:1 stated that “all distinctions between the Father and the Son vanish, for the one God made all things through His word”, and Tertullian (circa AD 200), who affirmed both a fully divine and fully human Christ, appear in the annals of history prior to Nicaea as evidence that the consensus of the primitive church was that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.

 

                Of course, the case for Christ’s divine nature is most obvious in the writings of the New Testament. Because skeptics patently dismiss the New Testament as a credible witness, however—a subject we will consider momentarily—Christian people need to know that evidence exists outside the Bible to counter the claim that Constantine and the Council of Nicaea invented the idea of Christ’s deity as a political power-play.

 

                One evidence for the deity of Christ that skeptics cannot simply dismiss is the the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of Christ is the ultimate proof that He was the Son of God: “…and declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead” (Ro 1:4). Noted barrister and Professor of Law and Humanities at the University of Luton, England, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery writes concerning the resurrection of Christ, “It passes credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale, then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”[17]

 

                Perhaps the most popular argument in the attempt to refute the resurrection of Jesus is a version of the original explanation given by the Jewish rulers: “His disciples came by night and stole his body away while the guards slept.”  In fact, I heard an archaeologist advance this theory recently during a segment of ABC’s “20/20”. But a Roman “guard detail”, consisting of at least four and as many as sixteen highly trained soldiers, had been strategically stationed at the tomb of Jesus to guarantee that this would not happen. To explain the empty tomb according to this paradigm, one must believe that the entire group of these experienced soldiers had fallen asleep at the same time, that the disciples could successfully sneak past the sleeping soldiers and roll the stone away without waking a single one of them, and that these grave-robbers were in no hurry whatsoever, for they took the time to fold the grave clothes.  Besides, if the soldiers were asleep, how did anyone possibly know that this is what happened?

 

                The fact is that over 500 eyewitnesses saw the risen Christ. Such prima facia evidence for the resurrection, and hence the deity, of Christ cannot be lightly dismissed.

 

                To the blasphemous claim that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had physical descendents, we respond with Ac 8:33: “Who shall declare his generation [lit. posterity]? For his life is taken from the earth.”  Such ideas originate in the non-apostolic legends of third and fourth century Gnosticism, contradicting not only the record of the synoptic Gospels in the New Testament, but Old Testament prophecy concerning the coming Messiah (cf. Isa 53:8).

 

The Integrity of the New Testament

 

                Secondly, Christians need to know that there is ample evidence documenting the historical accuracy of the New Testament. We believe in the Divine inspiration, preservation, and inerrancy of Scripture because the evidence is conclusive, not because of naïveté or credulous faith. We affirm without apology that the Bible is not merely a collection of human opinions about God, but God’s own self-testimony and revelation. And like redemption, revelation is a finished work. The New Testament is a full, final, and complete revelation—a “thorough furnisher” for faith and life.

 

                Such confidence in the integrity of the New Testament is essential in lieu of the daring assault on the New Testament canon in Brown’s novel.  On page 231 of The Da Vinci Code, Leigh Teabing declares, “The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven…The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds…More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them” [emphasis original].  Sophie replies, “Who chose which gospels to include?”  And Teabing exclaims, “Aha! The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.”

 

                Later, when Sophie and Langdon discuss the troublesome question of whether or not to make their discoveries public, Sophie presses the issue. But Langdon responds, “There’s an enormous difference between hypothetically discussing an alternate history of Christ, and…presenting to the world thousands of ancient documents as scientific evidence that the New Testament is false testimony.”[18]

 

                This not-so-subtle assault on the New Testament in general, and the four Gospels in particular, is quite clever. “Thousands of ancient documents as scientific evidence that the New Testament is false testimony”—it sounds quite intimidating, doesn’t it?

 

When I was a boy, I called this kind of tactic “a bluff”. You can be sure that if such overwhelming “scientific evidence” refuting the New Testament existed, the intellectual elite would not conceal it out of concern for the tender feelings of gullible Christians.

 

Actually, the “ancient documents” to which the novel refers are the Gnostic Gospels, books that were dismissed by early Christians as heretical.[19] There are not “thousands” of them, but less than one hundred. They are not “scientific” by any stretch of the imagination, citing no references that might be verified by history, such as geographic places or sequential events. Unlike the four Gospels, the Gnostic writings are filled with anecdotes, legends, and philosophical musings.  Consider the following quotes from The Gospel of Thomas:

 

 

Sound familiar? I didn’t think so.

 

These “lost books of the Bible” have enjoyed a good bit of publicity over the past twenty-five years or so. In the Time magazine cover story on these documents, the author claimed that they “fill a perceived need for alternative views of the Christ story on the part of New Age seekers and of mainline believers uncomfortable with some of their faith’s theological restrictions.”[20] Even within “Christian” circles, the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar tout these maverick “Gospels” as legitimate alternatives and even superior texts to the established canon.

 

What are the Gnostic Gospels? Did they exist at the same time as the New Testament Gospels? Did Constantine really ban them from the Bible? What criteria was employed to determine which books would be included and which would not in the New Testament canon?

 

The Gnostic Gospels derive from thirteen bound codices written in Coptic that were discovered in Egypt in 1945. They were translated into English in 1977. Some of the writings have familiar names, such as The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Mary, and The Gospel of Peter.  The titles, however, are misleading.

 

Because the earliest of the Gnostic Gospels, The Gospel of Thomas, is dated approximately A.D. 150—that is, 120 years after the earthly life and ministry of Christ—the respective author could not be the apostle Thomas. Assuming that Thomas was about the same age as Jesus, he would be approximately 150 years old in A.D. 150. More problematic still is the fact that the majority of the Gnostic texts are dated in the third (A.D. 200-299) and fourth (A.D. 300-399) centuries.

 

Acknowledging the late date of this body of literature, liberal scholars admit that the “Gospels” were not actually written by Thomas, Philip, Peter and other contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles, but by anonymous authors under an apostolic pseudonym to give the books credibility.

 

The late date also means that the Gnostic Gospels cannot be eyewitness accounts of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. Unlike Matthew and John, who were among Jesus’ original disciples, and Mark and Luke, whose sources of information were the apostles Peter and Paul, respectively, the Gnostic Gospels do not originate from primary, firsthand, testimony and experience. None of these can say with John, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you” (1Jo 1:3a), or with Peter, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2Pe 1:16).

 

Instead, scholars claim an innocuous document called “Q” as the source of the Gnostic Gospels. The problem with “Q”, however, is that no one knows whether or not it really exists. No one has seen this hypothetical document; no one knows where to find it. So troublesome is “Q’s” absence that the critical scholar William R. Farmer has written, “The existence of Q, the fount of all these speculations, is not proven and today is more hotly contested in gospel scholarship than at any other time in our century.”[21]

 

In contrast to the Gnostic Gospels that date between A.D. 150 and A.D. 400, the canonical Gospels date from A.D. 65-100, “a difference of at least 75-100 years earlier on the average.”[22]  The cities, rivers, places, and sequence of events in the Gospel record have been scrutinized for historical accuracy by saint and skeptic alike, and not a single detail has proved inaccurate.  In fact, noted archaeologist and historian Sir William Ramsey calls Luke “a historian of the first order” and states, “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.”

 

The claim of The Da Vinci Code that the Gnostic Gospels coexisted with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John within the primitive church, and that no consensus of theological conviction was present until Constantine unilaterally charted the course of Christian orthodoxy, then, is spurious. Indeed, the seeds of Gnosticism were beginning to emerge in the first century, as certain statements by the apostles in Colossians and 1 John indicate, yet these heretical pockets of resistance had little form or structure until the middle of the second century.

 

What about the charge that Constantine and the Council of Nicaea banned these Gnostic Gospels from the New Testament canon? Well, there is not a single shred of evidence that these documents were even discussed at the Council of Nicaea. Erwin Lutzer writes, “Twenty rulings were issued at Nicaea, and the contents of all of them are still in existence; not one of them refers to issues regarding the canon.”[23]

 

Why, then, were the Gnostic Gospels excluded from the New Testament canon? First of all, because the books to be included in the New Testament were already largely recognized and circulated among the churches before the first Gnostic Gospel was written. Though liberal theologians argue that the New Testament canon was in a state of flux until the late second century, yet the evidence is conclusive that before the end of the first century, the corpus of the New Testament was already being recognized and referred to as authoritative. Direct quotes from the four Biblical Gospels and the Pauline epistles appear in the writings of Clement of Rome (#A.D. 95|),[24] Ignatius (A.D. 110-115 ), Polycarp (A.D. 115), the Didache (circa A.D. 100), Barnabas (A.D. 135), and Papias (A.D. 125-140).[25] Christian apologist Gary Habermas editorializes, “Therefore, when the earliest Gnostic Gospels were being written in the mid to late second century AD, at least the teachings of Jesus as presented in the canonical Gospels had already circulated for quite awhile and had been well established as Scripture. The same can be said for the Pauline corpus.”[26]

 

What criteria was employed by the early church to determine if a particular book should be included in the New Testament canon—that is, yardstick of faith—and recognized as Holy Scripture? First, the books were tested for apostolicity. Does the document derive from the pen of an apostle or from someone who had immediate access to the apostles? It was the apostles, not a Roman emperor, who imposed books on the New Testament church as the authority for Christian faith and practice. The church merely recognized and assembled those books into a canonical collection.[27]

 

Secondly, the books were tested for content to determine if they embodied truth consistent with apostolic doctrine. Ideas contradictory to apostolic teaching signaled that a particular book was not divinely inspired. Commenting on the character and content of Gnostic literature, theologian J. I. Packer says, “A number of spurious books ascribed to apostolic authors exist for comparison with our New Testament, and the drop in intellectual, moral, and spiritual caliber is very marked, as are the theological lapses into worlds of commonplace fantasy and magic. In the light of this comparison, there is no reason to think that anything unauthentic crept into the New Testament, or that anything available by a genuine apostolic writer was negligently left out.”[28]

 

The fact is that you can trust your Bible. The New Testament has better manuscript evidence supporting its historical accuracy than any other ancient book.[29] Not a single archaeological find has ever discredited any detail found in the New Testament. On the contrary, the stones cry out in favor of the historical accuracy of Scripture. The evidence for the integrity of the New Testament is, indeed, overwhelming.

 

Conclusion

 

                More could be said about The Da Vinci Code and its subversive claims. But perhaps this is sufficient to accomplish my intended objective to give the reader pause before the claims of the novel are embraced as historical fact. The book does not appear with horns and a pitchfork; instead, it subtly wraps significant error in a thin veneer of fact. As entertainment, it is a good read. As history and theology, it is disturbingly subversive.


[1] A group whose members have purportedly included such men of renown as the celebrated physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, author of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and arguably the most renowned artist of history, Leonardo Da Vinci.

[2] p. 234.

[3] P. 233.

[4] Gnostic gospels, like the gospel of Thomas, Philip & Mary Magadalene, are pseudo-gospels, discovered in 1945 near Nag Hammadi in Egypt.

[5] This is the ancient pagan idea that the male and female achieve gnosis, i.e. knowledge of the divine, and become spiritually complete through sexual union. It was the religion practiced in ancient “grove worship” among the Canaanites. Greco-Roman society was also permeated by goddess worship. Consider, for example, the temple of Aphrodite on the Acropolis in Corinth that housed 1000 “priestess prostitutes”, as well as the ancient Oracle of Delphi, and Diana of the Ephesians.  This concept of the “divine feminine” is the essence of mystery (#or occult|) religions.

[6] Perhaps the reader has heard of the lawsuit filed by the authors of the New Age book entitled Holy Blood, Holy Grail, asserting that Brown infringed on their copyright.

[7] Erwin Lutzer, The Da Vinci Deception, p.14.

[8] The other is National Treasure, a story concerning Freemasonry.

[9] April 9, 2006

[10] Associated Press report, 4/6/06.

[11] First Timothy 4:1 reads, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats…”; cf. also 2Tim 3:1ff, 1 John 2:18 and 4:3.

[12] M. Gowens, Be Ready to Answer, pp. 112-113.

[13] God, the Creator, invented the law of gravity. Newton may have been the first to codify it in terms of rational explanation, but the law already existed.

[14] C. B. & Sylvester Hassell, History of the Church of God, p. 359.

[15] Lutzer, p. 9.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Quoted in Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor, p. 96.

[18] p. 341.

[19] In the 2nd Century, Irenaeus wrote a polemic entitled Against Heresies that dealt primarily with  the errors of Gnosticism.

[20] Time, December 22, 2003.

[21] Quoted in The Historical Jesus by Gary Habermas, p. 115.

[22] Ibid. p. 106.

[23] Lutzer, The Da Vinci Deception, pp. 14-15.

[24] After quoting Isaiah 2:4, Clement says, “And another Scripture says, I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”, quoting from Matthew’s Gospel.

[25] Habermas, pp. 111-112.

[26] Ibid. pp. 113-114.

[27] For a helpful resource concerning the formation of the New Testament canon, see Appendix 1 in B. B. Warfield’s The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible.

[28] J. I. Packer, God Has Spoken, p. 122.

[29] More than 5000 manuscripts of the New Testament are extant. Compare that to on 35 manuscripts available of Livy’s  history of Rome, 4 manuscripts of Tacitus’ Roman Histories, and 2 of Tacitus’ Annals.

A Polemical Outline on the Charismatic Movement

The last century brought a significant change to the religious landscape of the West. With the upsurge of Pentecostalism in the early 1900’s and the Charismatic Movement it spawned, the configuration of the Christian community was significantly altered. No longer was Christianity defined by the two traditional categories of emphasis—Evangelicals and Catholics. The growing influence of a third but more amorphous influence—the Charismatics—proved “a force to be reckoned with”.  By the close of the twentieth century, popular writers regularly grouped professing Christians into three, not two, schools of thought—Evangelicals, Catholics, and Charismatics. Within a mere one hundred years, charismatic influence surged from the fringes of Christian culture to center stage. No longer is it merely an exception to the rule of traditional Christian emphasis. The movement’s remarkable growth and widespread influence argues that it is here to stay. 

Historical Analysis

The Charismatic movement rose to prominence as a reaction to the apparent deadness and formalism of traditional Christianity. In the wake of the growing secular influence of “Higher Criticism” (a ‘scientific’ emphasis within academic circles that approached the Bible from a strictly naturalistic bias), a climate of skepticism prevailed in traditional Christian circles. This anit-supernatural climate was fertile soil for a Charismatic reformation.

Emphasizing “the baptism of the Spirit” as a normative experience in the Christian life, the Charismatics attempted to recover Christian faith from the perceived malaise of cold orthodoxy, dead ritualism, and the secular assaults of proud scholastics. Some leading figures in the Christian community (like the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones) were initially sympathetic and cautiously optimistic to the momentum of the charismatic movement. Through the years, other respected voices (like Dr. J. I. Packer) have been careful to acknowledge the sincerity of charismatic believers and hesitant to dogmatically denounce the movement as spurious.  The general reaction from evangelical leaders has been (in other words) respectfully tolerant. 

Midway through the twentieth century, however, various extremes and excesses began to emerge—i.e., faith-healing, ecstatic utterances in heavenly tongues, signs and wonders, the word-faith teaching (“name and claim your blessing”),  and “holy laughter”—as the defining characteristics of charismatic emphasis. The “sign gifts” (charismata) are central to charismatic teaching.

Biblical Response

In the spirit of 1Th 5:21, “Prove all things and hold fast to that which is good”, it is important to analyze and evaluate the truth claims of the charismatic movement.  What are we to make of “signs and wonders”, “speaking in tongues”, and “faith-healing”? Are tongues, miracles, and healings happening today just as they were in the first century? Does God want every Christian to be rich? Is physical healing always God’s will? Should all Christians aspire to speak in tongues? Are the apostolic gifts of direct revelation from God and miracles still operating today?


In the following survey, we will offer a brief, Biblical overview of three primary areas of charismatic emphasis:  Miracles, Signs & Wonders; Speaking in Tongues; and Faith-Healing. My purpose in offering this analysis is not to denigrate any charismatic believer, but to instruct those who desire to know Biblical answers to the issues raised by the charismatic movement.

I.        Miracles, Signs & Wonders (Does God still work miracles through human agents?) 


A.
     This is not a question of God’s “ability”, but of God’s “program”

1.      All things are possible with God (Mt 19:26). He can still heal the sick apart from natural means or medical intervention. He still operates on a supernatural level.

2.      But, Scripture teaches that His plan does not include the use of human agents as miracle-workers in every age

(a). A distinction between immediate miracles…(the global  flood; Confusion at Babel – Ge 11; destruction of  Sodom/Gomorrah; Sennacherib’s defeat –  2Ki 19:35-36; Hezekiah’s healing -  2Ki 20; Daniel & the 3 Hebrews, etc.)

(b). …and mediate miracles (e. g. Moses commanding  the 10 plagues; Elijah raising the widow’s son to life;  Peter raising Dorcas to life)


    B.  A Biblical Response – The signs and wonders that characterized the apostolic age was unique, not normative for subsequent eras.


1. Argument #1: Three Miraculous Periods, each accompanying a new era of Biblical revelation

              (a). Age of Moses/Joshua (400 yrs of Divine silence in Egypt was followed by a brief period of mediate miracles)

                          (1) Moses = 10 plagues upon Egypt (Ex 7-12); the Dividing of the Red Sea (Ex 14); the water from the rock (Ex 17)

                          (2) Joshua = walls of Jericho fall flat; sun stands still

              (b). Age of Elijah/Elisha (~600 years passed without further miracles; then, a second era of miracles introduced the age of the prophets)

                           (1) Elijah = multiplied the widow’s oil/meal; raised the widow’s son; called fire and rain from heaven

                           (2) Elisha = raised the Shunamite’s son, purified a pot of poisonous stew, healed Naaman of leprosy, and made an axe-head float

              (c). Age of Jesus/Apostles (at close of OT, another 400 yr parenthesis of silence, followed by the third period of miracles – even John the Baptist did no miracle – Joh 11:41)

                          (1) Jesus = turned water to wine, unstopped deaf ears, cleansed lepers, restored sight to blind, raised the dead, cast out demons, etc.

                          (2) Apostles = healed the lame (Ac 3:3-11; 5:15-16), spoke in tongues, raised the dead (Ac 9:36-42; 20:6-12), immune to venomous serpents (Ac 28:1-6), etc.

Point: Signs & wonders were not sheer Divine exhibitions.  The primary purpose of signs/wonders was to validate the miracle-worker as an authentic spokesman for God (1Ki 17:23-24; Joh 3:2; 10:24-25; Ac 2:22). God gave men the power to work miracles whenever He introduced a new era of special revelation (Ac 7:36-38; 14:3; Mr 16:20; Heb 2:3-4) 


2. Argument #2:  Sign Gifts Intended to be Temporary

              (a). Signs & Wonders were given to confirm the apostolic teaching until New Testament revelation was complete – 1Co 13:8,13

              (b). As  the age of revelation came to a close, the sign gifts ceased also. The church of the  second century existed in a changed world. Note that as after the gospel went to the Gentiles in Ac 13, references to miracles are increasingly rare – cf. 1Ti 5:23; 2Ti 4:20


3. Argument #3: Apostolic Uniqueness

      (a). Apostles  were special men selected for a special role in a special era – Eph 2:20; they have no successors

                          (1) Apostles  were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ – 1Co 9:1; 15:7-8

                          (2) Apostles were chosen personally by Christ, as His personal representatives; consequently, they spoke with complete authority    Mt 10:1-4; Jude 1:25

               (b). The gift of miracles was peculiar to the apostles and those directly commissioned by the apostles; it was not given to the average Christian – Mt 10:1; Ac 2:43; 5:12; 15:12; 2Co 12:12

                          (if ordinary believers possessed the sign gifts, Paul’s reference to the miracles he performed as evidence of his apostleship would be meaningless)


4. Argument #4: Apostolic Miracles Contrasted to Modern Miracle Claims
 

                           (a). NT miracles were performed publicly, with crowds of unbelievers watching (Ac 4:16); Modern, alleged miracles typically occur in the controlled environment of a private or in a religious meeting.[1][1]

                           (b). NT miracles were obvious, verifiable events (healing of organic diseases, like blindness, leprosy, lameness [palsy, withered arms, etc.], and raising the dead). Modern, alleged miracles frequently concern non-verifiable maladies or psychosomatic illnesses (i.e. a heart murmur, stomach ulcers, etc.).

                            (c). NT miracles were always successful; The apostles never experienced a failure, but healed everyone (Ac 5:16), instantaneously (Mt 8:13; Mr 5:29; Joh 5:9; Ac 9:34) and totally (Lu 4:39; Ac 3:2-8; see also Ac 10:38). They could use their gifts at will; but Modern miracle-workers cannot heal at will and tend to blame failures on the individual’s lack of faith.                     

II.       Faith-Healing (The first of two sign-gifts that characterize the charismatic emphasis)[2][2]

A.      The basic tenets of the Charismatic view of health and healing

1.      Sickness and disease is from the devil, but health and healing are from God.[3][3]

2.      For the believer, the use of medical science is suspect  because it demonstrates a lack of faith.

3.      Divine healing was purchased in Christ’s atoning death and is, therefore, God’s will for all true believers. (Isa 53:3-6; 1Pe 2:24)

4.      The individual’s lack of faith is the reason for the failure to be healed.

                       (a). may spawn guilt and disillusionment [4][4]

                       (b). consider the argument in light of Mr 2:5 and Mr 9:24


B.
     The Biblical view of health and healing

1.      Sickness and disease may come from directly from God (Ex 4:11, sometimes for purposes known only to Him—Joh 9:1-3, or sometimes as a chastisement—De 28:22; Ex 15:26), or the devil (Lu 13:11-13), but most often is simply the natural consequence of living in a world under the curse of sin.  If the Lord Jesus tarries, Ec 12, if nothing else, awaits us all.

2.      Scripture does not forbid, but implies encouragement of, the appropriate use of medical science (Isa 38:21; Mt 9:12; Ac 28:8-9 [two different Greek words translated “healed”]; cf. also the “creation mandate” in Ge 1:28, the basis of true scientific pursuits).

3.      Perfect physical health is a blessing promised as part of the glory of the next world (Re 21:4), not the present life (Php 2:27; 1Ti 5:23; 2Ti 4:20; 2Co 12:7-9).  The “healing” referenced in Isa 53 & 1Pe 2:24 is primarily a spiritual, not physical, healing – healing from the plague of sin and the sickness of our souls (cf. Ps 103:3; 147:3; Jer 17:14).[5][5]

4.      The exercise of “faith” is not a “name it and claim it” dynamic, but a humble confidence in God that both believes His promise and bows to His sovereign will.  To pray “thy will be done” is not unbelief, but a proper humility.

III.    Speaking in Tongues


A.
      Preliminary Considerations

1.      Three Biblical books mention “tongues”: Mr 16:17 (as an apostolic sign); Ac 2; 10; 19 (narratives of occasions in which this miracle occurred in the early church); 1Co 12-14 (Paul’s correction of the misuse of tongues in the Corinthian Church)

2.      “Tongues” = Gr. glossa, a word that may refer either to the physical organ or to a language.


B.
     Four basic explanations of the “other tongues” in Ac 2

1.      The Ecstatic Utterance or “heavenly language” interpretation – This is the most popular explanation within the charismatic movement. It claims that tongues is a supernatural expression of unintelligible sounds as a display of Spirit-baptism.   The phrase “tongues…of angels” in 1Co 13:1 is used to support this explanation that the gift of tongues is a private prayer language or some kind of celestial form of communication between the individual and God.[6][6] The problem with this view is that Ac 2 clearly defines the “other tongues” as native languages of the crowd.

2.      A Hearing miracle – This is the idea that the apostles spoke in their native language but the people heard in their native languages. The problem with this view is that it redefines the miracle in terms of the person hearing, not the person speaking. The Bible, on the contrary, defines the gift of tongues as something that concerns the one who is speaking.

3.      The Language/Miracle interpretation – This is the most popular viewpoint of non-charismatic Bible students. It claims that the apostles supernaturally spoke languages they had never learned. The problem with this view is that it assumes that the Jewish crowd described in
Ac 2:1-13 spoke different native languages, but the passage makes no reference to specific languages
. Rather it refers to geographical locations and people groups.
[7][7] In fact, linguistic scholars agree that Judeans in the first century spoke Aramaic and Greek as their native tongues, and Hebrew as the formal or liturgical language of worship.

4.      The Diglossia interpretation – This is a very possible explanation of the Ac 2 passage. It argues that Jewish culture had both an informal language for ordinary life—Aramaic & Greek—and a formal or high language for worship—Hebrew (the leshon ho-kodesh, or “holy tongue”). In other words, Jewish culture was socially and religiously bilingual—one language for the home/street, another for the temple. At the feast of Pentecost, the Jewish people would have expected these religious teachers to employ the official language of the liturgy. When they spoke about divine things, therefore, in the ordinary vernacular of daily life, the crowd was surprised.[8][8] According to this view, the “other” tongues of Ac 2:4 does not mean “languages other than what they normally spoke” but “languages other than the Hebrew, the formal and holy language of Jewish worship”. To replace the sacred tongue with a profane would have necessarily elicited both “amazement” and “ridicule” from the crowd.  The problem with this explanation is that it defines the reference to “tongues” in terms of a mere social phenomenon, discounting the fact that Mr 16:17 clearly lists “tongues” as a miraculous sign-gift that would mark the apostolic witness.

C.     Analysis of the “unknown tongues” at Corinth  1Co 14 [9][9]

1.      What was happening at Corinth? Some of the Corinthian believers were evidently counterfeiting the true gift of languages with a kind of ecstatic speech in its place.

(a.)  Notice the way Paul uses both the singular and the plural forms of glossa. When he refers to this anomaly of ecstatic utterance, he uses the singular form (1Co 14:2,4,13-14,19).  Interestingly, it is only where the singular form of the word is used that the adjective “unknown” is supplied.

(b.) When he refers to the authentic gift of languages, he employs the plural form (1Co 14:5-6,18,22)

2.      Paul proceeds to correct these abuses by certain guidelines

(a.)  The gift of tongues should work in conjunction with the gift of interpretation – 1Co 14:13,27-28.  This provision argues that tongues were actual languages, not ecstatic babblings, for unintelligible sounds cannot be translated.

(b.)  The true gift of tongues was intended as a sign to unbelievers – 1Co 14:22

(c.)  The goal of all spiritual gifts is the edification of the church, not the showcasing of individual talents or the enhancement of personal communion with God (1Co 14:2-6,12,26; cf. 1Pe 4:10).[10][10] In 1Co 14:2, Paul criticizes the Corinthians for using the “gift of tongues” to speak to God instead of speaking to men. Spiritual gifts are not to be used to show off, to gratify one’s own ego, or to compete for status.

(d.)  Prophecy (i.e. speaking God’s word intelligibly) is superior to tongues, for the goal of all spiritual gifts is to edify “the church” not “oneself” -- 1Co 14:2-6,39

(e.)   The misuse of tongues complicate rather than clarify communication – 1Co 14:16-17

(f.)    Any confusion or disorder in the public assembly indicates that the source of the confusion did not originate with God – 1Co 14:33

  

Summary:

1.   “tongues” = actual languages, not ecstatic utterances.  The purpose of the gift was to overcome language barriers so that the gospel may be communicated without the need of a translator.

2.   like the other “sign gifts”, tongues “ceased” when God’s revelation was inscripturized (1Co 13:8-13). By the end of the first century, every NT epistle had been written and was circulating among the churches. Corinthians was one of Paul’s earliest epistles. He wrote at least eleven epistles after it and never again made any reference to “tongues”. Neither Peter, or John, or James, or Jude make a single reference to tongues.[11][11]




[1][1] John MacArthur asks some very pertinent questions: “Why do we seldom hear of the gift of healing being used in hospital hallways? Why aren’t more healers using their gift on the streets in India and Bangladesh? Why aren’t they in the leper colonies and AIDS hospices where masses of people are racked by disease? …Where are the healings of shattered bones? When have we heard of a faith healer taking someone who had been in a car accident and straightening out a lacerated face or a shattered skull? …Where are the restored limbs for amputees, or former quadriplegics who now function normally? …People who tout the gift of healing today do not spend much time in funeral parlors, funeral processions, or cemeteries. The reason is obvious.”

[2][2] Confession: If I, as a Christian pastor, could possess one of the sign-gifts, I would want the gift of healing because of the terrible pain and misery that disease brings on the people to whom I attempt to minister. Reality: But, the reality is that sickness, injury, or some kind of infirmity has ultimately conquered every human being in death, except for Enoch and Elijah. No one—not even those who claim the gift of healing—is exempt. 

[3][3] Popular “Word Faith” teacher Charles Capps warns against negative confession: “We have programmed our vocabulary with the devil’s language. We have brought sickness and disease into our vocabulary, and even death. The main word so many people use to express themselves is the word ‘death’—‘I’m just dying to do that.’ They will say, ‘I’m going to die if I don’t. That just tickled me to death.’ Now that, my friend, is perverse speech. That is contrary to God’s word. Death is of the devil…”

[4][4] J. I. Packer writes, “The charismatic supposition [i.e. that perfect health is God’s will for all believers] creates appalling possibilities of distress when on the basis of it a person seeks healing, fails to find it, and then perhaps is told that the reason lies not in God’s unwillingness or inability to heal, but in his own lack of faith.”

[5][5] Packer, again, says, “That total healing for the body with total sinless perfection are ‘in the atonement’ in the sense that entire personal renewal in Christ’s image flows from the cross (cf. Ro 8:23; Php 3:20f) is true, but it is a potentially disastrous mistake to expect on earth what will only be given in heaven.”

[6][6] There is no evidence in Scripture that angels communicate in anything but normal human language – Is. 6:3; Lu 2:8-14; Re 5:11-12; 14:6-10.

[7][7] The Greek word dialektos (from which we derive the English ‘dialect’) in Ac 2:6,8, however, may be the best answer to this problem, for dialect is a subcategory of language. Webster defines “dialect” as “a regional variety of a language.” That definition certainly fits this context. Yes, first-century Jews spoke Aramaic and Greek as primary languages, but the various people-groups mentioned here spoke a variety of dialects within the broader category of those languages.

[8][8] Robert Zerhusan writes, “If a diglossia existed among first-century Judeans, we may have a major clue about the interpretation of the phrase ‘other tongues’ in Ac 2:4. Among first-century Judeans, the religious language—leshon ho-kodesh—Hebrew, was the language that both Palestinian and Diaspora Judeans expected to hear in the Temple liturgy during the feast of Pentecost.”

[9][9] There is no reason to assume that the use of the adjective “unknown” refers to a language that is other-worldly. It is not necessarily a language that is unknown to everybody, but a language that is unknown to the one who speaks it in the sense that he had never been taught to speak it.

[10][10] John MacArthur writes: “Paul’s point was that no one profits from such an exhibition except the person speaking in tongues—and the chief value he gets out of it is the building of his own ego.”

[11][11] Chrysostom, writing in the fourth century, said concerning the gift of tongues: “The obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place.”

BB001 Introduction

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES

  

The late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, his biographer writes, “was persuaded that too often Christians had no grasp of truth as a system [emphasis original] because of the type of preaching to which they had been chiefly accustomed. ‘The great trouble of our time’ said the pastor,’ is the lack of theological preaching’.”[i]  I agree.  It is not enough for Christians to simply store bits and pieces of Bible trivia about various subjects or to simply derive comfort from selected passages of Scripture.  A truly robust discipleship is the product of a mind that thinks theologically.  Doctrine is vital.

What is doctrine? Doctrine is objective truth revealed by God in Scripture.  “All scripture,” says Paul, “is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine…” (2Ti 3:16).

In the same epistle, Paul warned Timothy that the time would come when people would not endure “sound doctrine” (2Ti 4:3).  Today, the issue for many people is not “Is it true?” but “Will it make me happy?” or “Does it work?” Even many professed believers say things like “Don’t confuse me with doctrine; just tell me about Jesus” or “Doctrine divides; service unites.”

But the Christian faith is essentially theological for it espouses certain truths and doctrines. Agrippa understood that propositional truth is intrinsic to Christianity. Nearly convinced by Paul’s compelling arguments, Agrippa said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Ac 26:28).  There can be no doubt that he was thinking of “Christians” as people who hold common beliefs about Jesus.

The early church had a belief system, a way of thinking about the essentials of the faith in a systematic and orderly way.  There was a consensus of conviction about the “things most surely believed among” them (#Lk 1:1|).  This ability to think in a connected, theological way provided them with a grid through which they could interpret the world around them.  The recovery of this belief system will help us in the same way.

Every Christian should be a systematic theologian.  Each should be able to formulate the core truths of the Bible in an orderly arrangement so as to form the big picture portrayed in God’s word.

“But,” someone replies, “I’m not sure that I’m interested in theology.”  Well, theology is simply the study of God.  The technical term comes from two roots, theos (the Greek word for ‘God’) and logos (the Greek for ‘speech or logic’).  Theology is, then, logical thoughts about God expressed in statements about God. 

“Systematic” theology is the act of arranging the various and sundry facets of the study of God into an organized and consecutive picture so that there is coherence and consistency from one part to the next. Though many sub-themes or distinct disciplines are interrelated (e. g. The Doctrine of Man, of Sin, of Salvation, etc.), theology starts properly, as the term itself suggests, with God.  It is on the basis of who God is and what He is like that everything else that exists must be interpreted. All worldly philosophies, by way of contrast, start with man and his needs. Biblical truth starts with God and His glory.

Think of systematic theology as a map for life.  Theology is to life what a map is to a journey.  As these truths are grasped by our minds, they will help us to navigate the path of discipleship.

Two dangers must be acknowledged before we proceed. One is the danger of cold and arid intellectualism. “Theology” may sound like a stale and stuffy word, but it should be anything but stale. A clear view of God will have dramatic effects, for doctrine is meant for doxology and devotion.  The second is the danger of becoming too technical.  My goal, however, is personal and pastoral, not scholastic.  I will, therefore, attempt to minimize the use of technical words, writing for those in the pew, and remembering that Christ compared his people to sheep, not giraffes.  May this study assist you in the pursuit of a greater understanding of God.


[i] Iain Murray, D. M. Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, p.166.

BB01 God Transcendent (Chapter 1)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES

 

What one question is most crucial to the way a person views life and the world?  Without a doubt, the single most basic and foundational issue in life is the question “Is there such a thing as absolute truth?”  The answer given to that question will necessarily determine an individual’s value system and general orientation toward life.

            Everyone, for instance, has a value system.  Everyone has a framework by which he/she views the world, defining what is moral and what is not.  Is it right or wrong, for example, to cut down trees, or to eat meat?  What about abortion?  Is it moral or immoral?  Is it appropriate to define a family in the traditional sense or should the definition be adjusted to include alternative lifestyles?  Are people merely advanced animals who happen to be for the moment at the top of the food chain or are they fundamentally and essentially distinct from animals?  Why is it deemed appropriate to euthanize animals but not humans?  Can behaviors like adultery be justified by the argument that people are, like other animals, genetically predisposed to multiple partners?  If so, what basis is there for claiming that any form of behavior is morally right or wrong, whether incest, theft, or murder?

            Whether a behavior is right or wrong ultimately depends on whether or not there is an absolute moral standard.  And whether or not there is an absolute standard of truth is contingent on whether or not God exists.  Ultimately, then, the question of the existence of God is the supreme issue.  How a person answers that question determines how that individual thinks about everything. The existence of God is the foundation of all truth.

 

THE EXISTENCE OF GOD 

            To the cheers of his countrymen, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin returned from a space mission with the announcement, “I didn’t see any God out there.”  But unlike Gagarin, few people would admit to being full-blown atheists.  Most, on the contrary, attempt to integrate ideas from other sources (like modern science, the popular media, and academia) with the basic presupposition that some kind of Supreme Being exists.  The effect of this sort of syncretistic thinking, however, produces what might be termed practical atheism.  God becomes irrelevant, an antique to be stored away in the musty corners of the mind’s attic.  That is, no doubt, the most popular approach.

            But is it the most intellectually honest?  No, the blatant denial of God’s existence and the willingness to live with the consequences is much more consistent than the approach that picks and chooses what to affirm and what to deny from the two competing worldviews.  Either God exists or He doesn’t exist.  In a word, an agnostic is simply an atheist who hesitates to admit it.

            Why then do people deny the existence of God?  Because they think such disbelief is a mark of intelligence and open-mindedness.  The Bible, however, does not call the atheist “wise” but “foolish”:  “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Ps 14:1).  Why does it call him “a fool”?  For two reasons:  First, because the statement cannot be proved.  The statement “There is no God” is a universal negative and hence, a logical impossibility.  To prove a universal negative such as “There is no heaven” or “There are no angels” would require someone to be omnipresent and omniscient.  In other words, one would have to be God!  Only God can prove a universal negative.

            Secondly, the claim is foolish because it is a denial of what man already knows. Ro 1:18-22 teaches categorically that people have both an internal or innate knowledge that God exists (“that which may be known of God is manifest in them”) and external evidence in creation that is clear and unmistakable (“invisible things of Him…are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made…”) so that man is “without excuse” (Ro 1:20).  Language cannot be more conclusive: Paul insists that creation clearly witnesses to the existence of God and that everybody gets the message.

 

The Psychology of Atheism

            Why, then, do people profess atheism?  Because man chooses to ignore the evidence.  Verse eighteen says he “holds [lit. suppresses and stifles] the truth in unrighteousness.”  Man’s problem is not a lack of information, it is a refusal to acknowledge what he knows is true.  It is not, in other words, an intellectual problem, but a moral problem.  By nature, man doesn’t like God; in fact, he is hostile to God (Ro 8:7).  His chief antipathy to God is a reaction to the fact that God is holy.  “The fool hath said in his heart,” not his head, “[literally] ‘No God’.”  His problem is not a lack of knowledge but the refusal to acknowledge God:  “Because when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful…” (Ro 1:21).

 

The Consequences of Atheism

            The implications of a Godless universe are tremendous.  The Russian novelist Dostoevsky said, “If God does not exist, then all things are permissible.”  That’s exactly the message of Ro 1:   “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man…who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator…” (Ro 1:22-23,25).  If there is no God, then man becomes his own god. Such a monstrous substitution leads to two terrifying consequences.

            First, if God does not exist, then there are no values.  All ethical systems are arbitrary. Rejecting God’s definition of what is moral, man creates his own. Without God, there are no absolutes, and ethics become a matter of personal preference (i.e. ethical relativism).  Romans 1:26ff describes the resulting moral confusion:  “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness…”

            Second, if there is no God, then there is no hope.  A Godless universe leads inevitably to despair.  Nothing matters, if there is no God.  If man came from insignificance and is headed for insignificance, then why does he care about human rights, or teen suicide, or the sale of illegal drugs?

            What is at stake here?  The issue of God’s existence is systemically related to man.  At stake is the significance of our existence and the meaning of our lives.  If God is, then life has meaning and purpose.  If God is not, then the only option is nihilism and despair.

The fact of God’s existence, that “He is there” as Francis Schaeffer said, is the foundation of sound thinking.   But how does He exist?  Does He exist like you and I exist?  Is He subject to the same limitations of time, space, and matter that define human existence?  Did He at some point begin to exist, like I began to exist at some point in the Fall of 1961?  How should we think about this “God who is there”?

 

THE NATURE OF GOD

            The fourth question of a famous Christian catechism asks “What is God?” and answers, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”  In His essential nature, God is an eternal, immutable, and infinite Spirit ¾ free from the limits of time and beyond the restrictions of matter or parameters of space (Joh 4:24).  Let’s construct a Biblical view of the character of God.

 

God is Tripersonal

            In the first place, God is a triune Being.  He is one God in three distinct Persons ¾ Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (1Jo 5:7; Mt 28:19).  In the Godhead, there is a plurality of persons but a unity of essence.  Both “threeness” and “oneness” are intrinsic to the nature of God. In other words, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.  This doctrine, of course, is a divine mystery — there is more to it than we can understand.  Formulae like the one above are not meant to explain the Trinity so that no mystery remains, but to safeguard it so that God is not misrepresented by those who speak in His name.  The one eternal God exists in three Divine Persons.  (Cf. Eph 2:18; Ge 1:26; Ps 110:1; Joh 14:16; Mt 3:16-17; 1Pe 1:2; etc.).

            Historical Christianity is unquestionably Trinitarian. Far from being an awkward piece of theological lumber that Christians may choose either to embrace or discard, the doctrine of the Trinity is crucial to the Christian faith, for it is inextricably linked to other key doctrines, including the Deity of Christ and the doctrine of salvation.

 

The Holiness of God

Secondly, it is important to understand that God is a transcendent Being.  Fallen and finite human beings tend to define the character of God in terms with which they are familiar:  “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself” (Ps 50:23).  But God is not like us.  “We must not think,” said Paul, “that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver, graven by art or man’s device” (Ac 17:29).  No, He is different; He is separate; He is other.  In a word, God is Holy.

The Holiness of God refers to everything that is distinctive about God in contrast to man.  It is a composite attribute of God, that is, an attribute that includes all others.  More frequently than any other adjective in Scripture, the adjective “holy” is employed to describe God’s name (Isa 57:15).  It is the only attribute raised to the third power, for He is never called “thrice Just” or “thrice Loving,” but He is said to be “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isa 6:3).

            Holiness means separateness.  It expresses the idea of distance.  God is different from us.  He is great and we are small; He is powerful and we are weak; He is pure and we are vile; He is eternal and we are temporal.  He is distinct from and transcendent to His creation.

            Usually when we think of God’s holiness, we think only in terms of His moral purity:  “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1Jo 1:5).  That’s certainly a part of God’s Holiness, but the concept itself is even broader.  Holiness means that both in terms of moral purity, and every other characteristic of God’s nature, He is so far above us and distinct from everything with which we are familiar that we have no point of reference  to even begin to fathom His infinite glory (Ro 11:33).  “Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Ex 15:11).  God’s nature is incomprehensible by man.  He can never be completely comprehended (Job 11:7).

            When we speak of the characteristics of God’s nature that distinguish Him, as a transcendent Being, from everything and everyone else, we are thinking in terms of what theologians call God’s incommunicable attributes.  These are attributes that are exclusive to God.

 

Self-Existence

            One characteristic that distinguishes God from all creatures is His self-existence.  He does not exist like we do, but He exists by Himself.  He is the “I AM” (Ex 3:14), the self-existent, self-sufficient, sovereign savior God.

            What does self-existence imply?  First, it means that God is eternal.  He is without a beginning.  There was never a time in which He was not God or a point at which He began to be.  God is the “I AM” forever (Ex 3:15).

            Something in the universe must be eternal. Every thing that exists today, in other words, must have a first, self-existent cause.  Even people who believe in an evolutionary concept of origins understand this principle.  For example, modern science says that the universe came to be through a great explosion spawned by colliding asteroids and meteors.  The question that begs an answer, however, is “Where did the asteroids and meteors come from?”  Further, if human life came from a primordial slime mold, where did the primordial germ come from?  Modern science answers by claiming the eternality of matter, a philosophy known as materialism.

            So either an intelligent God is eternal or an inanimate rock is eternal, but some thing or Being in the universe must be eternal, i.e. not generated by another source but existing essentially on its own.  The challenge facing the materialist, however, is the difficulty of explaining how animate life sprang from an inanimate rock.  Usually, the explanation is given that an electrical charge, like a lightning bolt, struck the rock, generating life.  But that explanation only complicates the issue, for it raises a new question, “Where did the electrical charge come from if all that existed was matter?  Further, what was the stimulus of the electrical response? Could it have been atmospheric conditions?  If so, where did the atmosphere come from and what influenced the atmosphere so that it suddenly generated an electrical charge…ad infinitum?”  Clearly, the idea that animate life evolved randomly from inanimate matter is a logical absurdity.  The source of all life must of necessity be an eternal Being who has life within Himself, “who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light to which no man can approach unto” ( I Tim. 6:16|).

            John Gill writes, “He is the first Being…from whom all others have their being:  Before him there was no God formed, neither shall there be after him’ (Isa 43:10).”[i]  God is not bound by time, but He inhabits eternity (Isa 57:15).  “Before the mountains were brought forth,” said Moses, “or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Ps 90:2).

            Self-existence means secondly that God is an independent Being.  He does not need anything or anyone external to Himself to sustain life.  Unlike us, God needs neither air, nor food, nor water, nor shelter, nor companionship to maintain His existence (Ac 17:25; Ps 50:8). Like Moses’ burning bush, God is self-sustaining, expending energy but not Himself expended.   His decisions are not influenced by factors external to Himself, for He is self-determining (Job 23:13).  His joy and pleasure is not derived from any source outside of Himself, for He is self-sufficient (Pr 8:30).  Neither does He need any external means of accountability, for He is self-governing (Isa 40:13-14; Ps 115:3).  Nothing that man does or says or is either improves, enhances, or depreciates God (Job 22:2-3; 35:6-7).

 

Sovereignty

            This self-determining and self-governing God is also sovereign. Divine sovereignty might be defined as God’s absolute authority to govern every creature according to His pleasure. Arthur Pink defined God’s sovereignty as “the exercise of His supremacy.” He writes, “Being infinitely elevated above the highest creature, He is the most high — Lord of heaven and earth. Subject to none, influenced by none — absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases.”[ii]

            Divine sovereignty means that He is “the Governor among the nations” (Ps 22:28). He has absolute authority (Ps 103:19). He is autonomous — a law unto Himself; hence, God is unaccountable to man. He is not obligated either to act or to explain His actions. He works “His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand or say unto Him, What doest Thou?” (Da 4:35). He is in charge.

            Though all of God’s actions are self-dictated, they are not arbitrary. Arbitrariness is action without reason. No, God always acts by reason — according to His purpose — but when man’s finite mind prevents him from understanding God’s reason, he must content himself to submit to the sovereignty of God because He knows that God cannot do anything wrong (De 32:4; Job 34:10; Ps 92:15; 145:17).

            To say that God is sovereign is simply to say that God is God (Isa 46:9-10). His sovereignty extends into every sector of His world.  He is sovereign in nature —managing the animal kingdom (1Ki 17:2-4; Ge 2:19; Mt 6:26), controlling weather patterns (Am 4:7-10; Jer 10:12-13; Ps 147:15-18), giving or withholding conception (#Gen 16:2; 1 Sam. 1:5; Ps. 113:8; Ps. 127:4|), giving wealth (De 8:18), and even permitting physical handicaps (Ex 4:11). He is sovereign in history — holding men’s hearts and lives in His hand (Pr 21:1; Ps 31:15; Ezr 1:1; 7:27), restraining evil (Ge 20:6; Ps 76:10), enthroning or deposing kings (Joh 19:10-11; Da 4:17; 5:18-23,30), and giving military victories (Pr 21:31). He is also sovereign in salvation — making choice of a people according to His own will (Eph 1:4; Ro 9:11ff), securing salvation without human assistance (Heb 1:3), and calling sinners into new life effectively, irresistibly, and immediately (Joh 6:44,65; 5:25; 3:8).

The Lord reigns (Ps 97:1). What good news to His people! He is on the throne, ruling His world with inscrutable power and authority. Let all the earth keep silence before Him (Hab 2:20).

 

Immutability

Since He is a holy, eternal, and independent Being, God must of necessity be perfect, and whatever is perfect, by definition, cannot change.  The fact that God cannot change is termed His immutability.  “I am the Lord; I change not” (Mal 3:6).  With Him there is “no variableness neither shadow of turning” (Jas 1:17).  Though the earth and heavens will pass away and be folded as a garment, yet He “is the same and His years shall not fail” (Heb 1:11-12; cf. Ps 102:25-27).  He is “the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8).

            Time cannot change God, for He is eternal.  Circumstances cannot change Him, for He is sovereign.  Praise cannot change Him because He deserves it.  Criticism cannot change the Lord, for He is holy and transcendent.  Though this world is characterized by change and decay, God is immutable; therefore, He is today what He has always been and will be forever what He is today.

           

Omnipresence

            The attribute employed to describe His transcendence to space is omnipresence.  Omnipresence means that God is everywhere simultaneously.  He is “not far from every one of us,” said Paul (Ac 17:28).  He “fills heaven and earth” (Jer 23:23).  The Psalmist asked, “Whither shall I flee from thy presence? Or whither shall I go from thy spirit? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there” (Ps 139:7-10).  The attempt to flee from His presence, therefore, is futile (Jon 1:3), for none “can hide himself in secret places” where God cannot see him (Jer 23).

            Is the assertion that God is everywhere, then, a form of pantheism?  No, for pantheism, though it admits the pervasive presence and ubiquity of God, fails to distinguish between God and matter.  The pantheist believes that God is in every tree, rock, and animal.  God, however, is a Spirit, separate from the material world, yet nonetheless in every place at once.  He is both a God afar off and a God at hand.  The challenge facing the believer is the challenge of cultivating the habit of practicing the presence of God (Ps 16:8).

 

Omniscience

            Another quality that sets God apart from men is His omniscience.  Omniscience means that God has all wisdom (Ps 94:10).             He has perfect knowledge of all things, events, persons, and circumstances (Heb 4:13; 1Jo 3:20). His understanding is infinite (Ps 147:5).  Nothing escapes His notice, for “the eyes of the Lord are in every place beholding the evil and the good” (Pr 15:3; cf. Job 34:21).  He knows our “downsittings and uprisings” and “understands our thoughts afar off” (Ps 139:2).  There is not a word in our mouths but what He knows it altogether (Ps 139:4).

            He also knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation and to reserve the unjust to the day of judgment to be punished (2Pe 2:9).  This all-knowing and all-wise God always chooses the perfect means to the perfect end.  Such wisdom was manifested in the scheme of redemption, and such is the incentive for confidence in Him as our guide.

 

Omnipotence

            God also has all power.  Theologians call this Divine feature omnipotence.    Nothing is too hard for the Lord (Ge 18:14; Jer 32:17).  Hence, His name is El-Shaddai (lit. “God Almighty” - Ge 17:1).  His arm is not shortened that it cannot save (Isa 59:1).  He is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20).  There is not a burden so heavy, a task so difficult, or an enemy so strong to challenge His almighty power.  The universe is the product of His powerful spoken word, both in its creation and its maintenance (Jer 10:12-13; Heb 11:3; 1:3) and the starry heavens are the work of His fingers (Ps 8).

             Perhaps the greatest demonstration of God’s power is the resurrection. Ro 1:4 says that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”  What tremendous power is this that can raise the dead to life!  That same Divine power operates in the life of the believer enabling him to do the impossible (Eph 1:19; 3:20; 6:10).

‘The God who is there’ is truly great.  How majestic is His name in all the earth (Ps 8:1)!  None can compare to Him (Isa 40:18,25).  In this day of “God shrinking” and trivialization of the greatness and transcendence of God, the rediscovery of the high view of God depicted in Scripture is of the essence.  Let us “publish the name of the Lord and ascribe greatness to our God” (De 32:3).


[i] John Gill, Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, p. 29

[ii] Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 134

BB02 God Immanent (Chapter 2)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES

The “God who is there” is also a “God who is here,” transcendent and great, yet immanent and good. God is not only transcendent, i.e. distant from man; He is also immanent, i.e. near to man.  He is a God “afar off”, but He is also “at hand” (Jer 23:22).  He is “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, dwelling in the high and holy place.”  But He also dwells “with him that is poor and of a contrite spirit” (Isa 57:15).  Yes indeed! God is Light, but God is also Love (1Jo 1:5; 4:7).  Both His holiness and His love find expression in everything He says and does.  These characteristics of God’s nature that depict Him moving near to communicate to man are termed the communicable attributes of God.

 

Goodness

“Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God,” wrote Paul to the Romans (Ro 11:22).  In His holiness, God executes His perfect justice upon sin.  His wrath is severe.  In His love, however, God bestows amazing grace upon sinners, for “the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations” (Ps 100:5).

            As He revealed His character to Moses, God made “all His goodness pass before” him (Ex 33:19), proclaiming “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty…” (Ex 34:6-7).  This verbal description of God depicts Him as a complex Being the focal point of whose moral perfection is “goodness”.

            The simple child’s prayer “God is good” expresses a profound theological truth.  Goodness means that He is kind, benevolent, and generous to His creatures, both in a general and in a special sense.  J. I. Packer says, “He is good to all in some ways and to some in all ways.”[i]

            In general terms, the whole creation benefits from God’s goodness: “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Ps 145:9).  As Creator, God “rejoices in the habitable part of His earth and his delights are with the sons of men” (Pr 8:31).  He is pleased to “give us richly all things to enjoy” (1Ti 6:17).  Who can smell the fragrance of a rose, hear the song of the robin, view the colors of a sunset, taste the sweetness of a Washington apple or Georgia peach, or feel the relief of a summer rain shower and doubt that God is generous and kind and good?  “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Ps 33:5).

            In a special sense, God is good to His people:  “Truly God is good to Israel; even to such as are of a clean heart” (Ps 73:1).   Ps 107 catalogs God’s goodness to His children in terms of deliverance from distress, and calls upon them to respond in praise: “O that men might praise the Lord for His goodness and for His wonderful works to the children of men.”  To them, all good things come from the God who is good (Jas 1:17), and all things that come from God are deemed good.  They can even say, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps 119:71).

 

Love

God’s love is an expression of His goodness toward His people.  It is a holy, not a soft, sentimental, or indulgent, love.  To say that “God is love” is to say that God seeks the welfare of particular individuals.  He is not vindictive, malicious, or cruel.  He is not capricious or arbitrary in afflicting men (La 3:33).  He is not indifferent.  On the contrary, God delights to deal bountifully with His own. “God is love” is the truth about God so far as His people are concerned.

Love is the heart of God.  It is His affection for and desire to bless His people, not because they are lovely or lovable, but because He, in His own sovereign good pleasure, has been pleased to love (De 7:8).  In contrast to God’s goodness, a Divine attribute that extends to all His creatures in the form of general good-will (theologians call this “common grace”), God’s love is a particular affection toward His people. He delights to enrich and bless them (Ps 84:11).

God’s love is expressed in daily blessings (Ps 68:19).  Even Divine chastening is an evidence of His love (Pr 3:12).  His love makes Him patient with His own (Isa 9:12,17,21; 10:4).  His love makes Him gentle with us (Ps 103:14).  But the greatest manifestation of God’s love is the cross (1Jo 4:7-10).  Such love is our incentive in prayer (Joh 16:27).

 

Graciousness

Grace is God’s initiative in love to bestow blessing upon people who deserve cursing.  In Scripture, “grace” is a picture word meaning “to bend or stoop.”  It speaks of “condescending favor.”  The picture is a superior stooping to show favor to an inferior.

Grace is the keyword of Christianity.  God is “the God of all grace” (1Pe 5:10); the Lord Jesus Christ is “full of grace and truth” (Joh 1:16); the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29); the gospel is “the gospel of the grace of God” (Ac 20:24) and the Bible is called “the word of His grace” (Ac 20:31).

The Greek word charis, translated “grace,” is the root of the word “charity.”  Love and grace, therefore, are virtually synonymous in Scripture. Grace is God’s unmerited love bestowed on people who have no claim to it. The Hebrew word chesed, frequently translated “lovingkindness” in the Old Testament, is a parallel concept. It speaks of “covenant loyalty” and means “faithful love to an unfaithful object.” Chesed, then, is grace ¾ God blessing where He is not obliged. In the words of J. I. Packer, Grace is,

 

God acting in spontaneous goodness to save sinners: God loving the unlovely, making covenant with them, pardoning their sins, accepting their persons, revealing himself to them, moving them to response, leading them ultimately into full knowledge and enjoyment of himself, and overcoming all obstacles to the fulfillment of this purpose that at each stage arise.  Grace is election-love plus covenant-love, a free choice issuing in a sovereign work. [ii]

 

            God is essentially a gracious God.  He delights to extend favor sovereignly to the undeserving.  The greatest demonstration of God’s grace is in the forgiveness of sins:  “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of thy heritage…?” (Mic. 7:18|).  No wonder Samuel Davies worshipfully asked,

 

Who is a pardoning God like Thee,

And who has grace so rich and free? 

 

Mercy

A concept closely akin to God’s graciousness is the attribute of mercy.  Mercy is God’s compassion and pity to the miserable.   If grace is God’s favor to people who lack merit, mercy is God’s compassion to those with a positive demerit, that is, who deserve the very opposite of blessing.  God is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4) and “very pitiful and of tender mercy” (Jas 5:11).  Like a “father pities his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him” (Ps 103:13).

This does not mean, however, that God is made miserable by the misery of others.  No, God is free from all passion.  He can never be victimized by another.  Thelogians call this the aseity of God.  Aseity means that when God feels any kind of pathos, it is because He chooses to feel, not because pain is inflicted upon Him.  He is not made miserable by man’s misery; rather, He takes man’s misery to heart and sovereignly wills to demonstrate compassion to people who are in distress.

Like His love and His grace, God’s mercy is sovereign.  John Gill writes,

 

Though mercy is natural and essential to God, it is not…exercised on every object in misery…but is guided…by the love of God, and is governed and influenced by his sovereign will, who ‘hath mercy on whom he will have mercy’ Ro 9:15,18.[iii]

 

To every person saved by His mercy (Tit 3:5), God promises to deal compassionately.  His mercies are new every morning; His compassions fail not (La 3:22-23). He who notes every sparrow that falls (Mt 10:39) also “knoweth our frame and remembers that we are but dust” (Ps 103:14), tempering every trial with mercy “that we may be able to bear it” (1Co 10:13).

            Holy Scripture is a catalog of God’s acts of mercy in history.  Consider His commitment to take sides with the defenseless, the poor, the widow, the fatherless, the stranger, and the oppressed (Le 19:9-10; Ps 68:5-6; Ho 14:3). Such compassion to those in misery is the quintessence of mercy. Elizabeth understood that the birth of a child is a manifestation of Divine mercy (#Lk 1:57-58|), and Solomon, that a life companion is a mercy from God (Pr 18:22; cf. Ge 2:18).  Scripture also depicts the privilege of worship  (Ps 5:7) and answered prayer (Ps 27:7) as mercies from God. The greatest display of Divine mercy, however, is the salvation of sinners (#Lk 1:78; Rom 9:23; Eph 2:4|).  Because of Jesus, our “mercy seat,” every child of God can pray with the publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (#Lk 18:13|), in confident trust that “as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy to them that fear Him” (Ps 103:11).

 

Longsuffering

            In Ex 34:6, the next attribute is longsuffering.  Longsuffering is Divine mercy expressing itself in patience to man.  God is “the God of patience” (Ro 15:5), so called because He bears long with creatures and is slow to anger (Ps 103:8).

It is this attribute that explains what seem to us to be Divine delays in judgment. He “endures with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” (Ro 9:22). Toward the elect while still in an unregenerate state, God waits until his own appointed time of quickening grace (Isa 30:18). He suffered long with Paul, for instance, through all his persecutions of the church and blasphemies in a state of nature, until at last He showed him mercy (1Ti 1:16). Longsuffering means that God moderates and restrains His anger for a time when the crimes deserve severe and immediate retribution because He has a greater purpose.

He bore with the sins of Old Testament saints, for example, taking them to heaven when they died, because Christ became their surety in Covenant before the world began:  “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God” (Ro 3:24).

            Further, longsuffering means that God allows trouble to continue or evil to prevail for a season while He apparently delays to deliver His people.  While the ark was being built, God suffered the wickedness of Noah’s day to continue (1Pe 3:20).  That He is slow to wrath is displayed by the fact that He bore the provocations of Israel for forty years in the wilderness (Ac 13:18).  Finally, He suffers evil to continue, waiting until the last heir of promise is effectually called and brought to Him, before the Savior returns the second time (2Pe 3:9).  Christ delays to return not because of any “slackness” in God, but because He is longsuffering to “usward who believe.” One day, “in His times, He will show who is the only Potentate, King of kings and Lord of lords” (1Ti 6:15).

            Even now, in His providential dealings with the church, He “stretches forth his hand all day long,” patiently calling His disobedient people to repentance.  Can we not rejoice that our God is longsuffering?  May we never “despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering,” for the goodness of God leads us to repentance (Ro 2:4).

This is our God — generous, kind, loving, and abundant in grace and goodness.  With such a view, we can join the hymnwriter in praise :

 

Who can forbear to love a God so good and kind?

Sure He is worthy to be loved, by me and all mankind.



[i] J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 147

[ii] J. I. Packer, God’s Words, p. 97

[iii] John Gill, Body of Divinity, p. 61

BB03 God Made Known (Chapter 3)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES

 

Does God delight to hide or to reveal Himself to man? Is it His concern to keep most people from knowing the truth ¾ to conceal the real meaning of Scripture from most people and reveal it to a select few? Is He primarily concerned to obscure Himself so that man can never discover His true character, or to reveal Himself so that man can glorify Him for who He is?

 

God’s Chief End in Creation

            I once assumed that the Bible was a sort of secret code that only initiates could understand. I thought that God had arbitrarily hidden the real meaning of Scripture in types, shadows, and allegory and only those who knew the secrets could ever discover the truth.  I believed that God was primarily concerned to hide Himself from man.  Passages like Pr 25:2, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter,” and Mt 11:25, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes,” seemed to confirm my convictions.

            Then, I read Jonathan Edwards’ dissertation “The End for which God Created the World,” and my thinking was dramatically altered. Edwards argued that God was primarily interested not to hide but to manifest His infinite glory and that this concern to communicate Himself to man so that He might be glorified was what moved Him to create the world.  Various scriptures describing God’s purpose to make Himself known seemed to support this premise — verses like Ro 9:17, “Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth,” and Ps 106:8, “Nevertheless He saved them for His name’s sake, that He might make His mighty power to be known” (see also Isa 64:2; 66:19; Job 37:6-7; Da 4:17; 2Ki 19:19).

 

The Glory of God

This concern to communicate His Divine fullness to man is expressed by the word “glory”. Glory, like holiness, is a composite attribute ¾ an inclusive concept.  God is glorious and majestic in every facet of His Being.  What was Moses asking when he prayed, “I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory”?  He was requesting an unrestricted and unimpaired vision of God in all of His grandeur.  He wanted the complete picture at one time.  Theologians call this “the beatific vision”.

            Glory is God in self-display.  In all of the beauty and magnificence and perfection of His character, God has been pleased to reveal Himself to man so that man might fulfill the very purpose of his existence ¾ to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  God’s glorious character is revealed both in nature (‘The heavens declare the glory of God…’ - Ps 19:1-6) and in Scripture (Ps 19:7-9), and the testimony is so clear that the individual who fails to respond to God’s revelation by “glorifying Him as God” is without excuse (Ro 1:20b-Ro 1:21).

 

God’s Supreme Self-Regard

So, what does all of this mean?  It means that God intends to reveal His glory so that He might be glorified (i.e. celebrated as glorious) by His creatures.  This is the first and most basic truth of religion.

            To say it another way, everything that God does is done with a supreme self-regard to the glory of His own name.  His motive in the creation of the universe, for instance, was His own glory:  The Lord hath made all things for Himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Pr 16:4); “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory…for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Re 4:11).

            God’s regard for the glory of His own name is the great end of all that He does.  He created (Isa 43:1,15) the Jewish nation for His own name’s sake:  “I have created him for my glory, I have formed him…This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise” (Isa 43:7,21; cf. Isa 44:23; Jer 13:11).  Then, He redeemed them from Egypt “that He might make Himself a name”:  “And what one nation in the earth is like thy people, even like Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to Himself, and to make Him a name” (2Sa 7:23); “That led them by the right hand of Moses, with His glorious arm, dividing the waters before them, to make Himself an everlasting name” (Isa 63:12; see also Ne 9:10; Da 9:15).

            It was because the patriarchs understood God’s commitment to His own reputation that they frequently made intercession by appealing to the glory of His name:  “Wherefore should the Egyptians say, For mischief did He bring them out, to slay them in the mountains…? And the Lord repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people” (Ex 32:12-14; cf. Jos 7:7-10).  They knew the promise that “the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake” (1Sa 12:22).

            The glory of God’s own name was also His motive in the restoration from Babylonian captivity: “For my name’s sake will I defer my anger. For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it; for how should my name be polluted?” (Isa 48:9-11; cf. Eze 36:21-23; 39:25).  Further, the calling of the Gentiles is attributed to God’s commitment to His own glory:  “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name” (Ac 15:14; cf. Isa 66:19).

            The glory of God is also His chief end in the salvation of sinners:  “To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6); “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (Joh 17:4).

            It has been suggested that God does everything either for man’s good, or for His glory.  Scripture affirms, however, that even those things that He does for our good are ultimately intended for His own glory.

 

The Problem of Evil

We exist, then, for Him.  God created the universe not because He was lonely or bored, but to express the glory of His Being and to be the object of universal worship.  Sin, therefore, because it does not glorify God, is a violation of the very purpose of our existence (Ge 6:5-6).  Then, “why,” someone wonders, “did God permit sin and evil to enter the world?”1 

            By allowing sin to enter the world, God would have opportunity to reveal even more of His character than He revealed in creation.  He is not only glorious in wisdom and power, as creation demonstrates, but also in grace and love, as redemption displays.  The saints in all ages will glorify Him for ever and praise His Holy name for salvation from sin.  The glory of God’s grace is as much a part of His nature as the glory of God’s power.  Unless He had permitted the fall of man, the glory of His grace and love in its fullness would have been concealed, for there would be no need for the exercise of mercy and forgiveness.  Only in the light of God’s regard to His own glory, then, can we understand His purpose in creation and in redemption.

 

God’s Activity in the World

            So, God created all things in order that He might reveal Himself to His creatures and be glorified by them. But how does He reveal Himself? He does so both in deeds and words.  First, He dramatically moves among men in the realm of history. He also verbally speaks to His people in Scripture (see Part 2 – The Doctrine of Scripture). Theologians express these thoughts in terms of general and special revelation, respectively.

God is active in His world.  He is neither silent, remote, passive, nor disconnected from His world, but actively involved in every detail. Biblical faith is essentially supernatural, asserting that God is connected to and involved in the human realm.

On the contrary, modern science is essentially naturalistic.  It operates on the premise that everything has a natural explanation.  Since the Age of Enlightenment, Western people have become increasingly skeptical of the supernatural.  Deism, an 18th Century worldview prevalent when America was born, affirmed that God exists, but denied His supernatural intervention in the world.  Today, Deism, as a formal philosophical school of thought, is extinct, but its basic premise of a remote Deity is still the spirit of the age.  We are reluctant to believe anything outside the realm of scientific inquiry.  Modern science and naturalistic philosophy have redefined the universe is purely natural terms so that we opt for a kind of agnosticism saying, “It is impossible to know for certain, but if there is a God, He is absent and uninvolved in the world.”

 

Providence

            In contrast to this naturalistic worldview, Scripture affirms that God is involved in His world, both in an ordinary and an extraordinary way.  God’s ordinary involvement is classified by theologians by the term providence; His extraordinary intervention by the term miracles. 

            Providence is the belief that God exercises a sovereign influence over all events and circumstances.  Solomon said, “The kings heart is in the hand of the Lord, as rivers of water: He turneth it withersoever He will” (Pr 21:1).  Nebuchadnezzar learned that the Most High “works His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand or say unto Him, What doest Thou?” (Da 4:35).  Providence is the connecting link between the visible and the invisible world.

 

Miracles

            What is the difference between providence and miracles?  In a broad theological sense, providence is the more general term used to describe the whole of God’s activity in the world while miracles describe a particular dimension of His providence.  In a more specific and technical sense, providence is God’s use of ordinary means and circumstances to intervene in the world but miracles involve extraordinary displays of God’s supernatural power.

            A miracle is an exception to the laws of nature.  The translation of Enoch, the confusion of languages at the tower of Babel, the opening of Sarah’s barren womb at age ninety, the crossing of the Red Sea, the preservation of Daniel in the lions den and the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace, the virgin birth, and the resurrection of Jesus are extraordinary manifestations of supernatural power in the sense that each is inexplicable by natural law.

            Our God is a God who “does wonders” (Ps 77:11-14).  He “only doeth wondrous things” (Ps 72:18).  He has made “His wonderful works to be remembered” (Ps 111:4), but like the children of Israel, we tend to “forget God our savior which hath done great things in Egypt; wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red Sea” (Ps 106:21-22).  God’s people should regularly, then, rehearse the wonderful works of God (1Ch 16:9; Ps 26:7; 105:2; 119:27), and worship Him saying, “How terrible art Thou in Thy works…” (Ps 66:3-8).

            Miracles are not myths.  Perhaps you have heard the charge, “The Bible is full of myths.”  One of the reasons people make such statements is because the Bible is full of miracles, and those who operate on the presupposition that miracles cannot occur equate the miraculous with the mythical.  Anyone who categorically denies the possibility of miracles, however, is operating from a naturalistic and materialistic bias.

            After David Hume, a Scottish philosopher, wrote his 1748 essay entitled “Of Miracles”, someone boasted that he “so demolished the religious accounts of miracles that ever since Hume, the defenders of Christianity have been busy trying to explain not that miracles are true, but how this illusionary notion that there are miracles could have ever crept into Christianity at all.”2 So embarrassed (and so unbelieving) were many professed Christians at Hume’s apparently formidable arguments that certain self-proclaimed “Higher Critics” set out to demythologize the Bible.  They dismissed miracles as fabrications, legends, flukes of nature, or scribal errors that somehow crept into the canon of Scripture.  Hume’s basic argument was that natural law (which he interprets as “a kind of immutable way things must operate”) and the “weight of human experience” so outweighs any one single instance in which a miracle allegedly occurred that it completely negates belief in the miraculous.  This argument, stated in simple terms, says that because miracles do not occur regularly, belief in them is unwarranted.

            But if miracles were consistent with normal, routine, day-to-day human experience, then they would not be miracles.  The mere nature of a miracle (i.e. an exception rather than the rule) argues against Hume’s presupposition.  The Christian apologist Norman Geisler writes, “A miracle would not even be possible unless there was a regular established pattern of events to which it was the exception.”[i] Hume’s argument is circular reasoning at its best, assuming that “miracles will never happen in order to prove that they never occur.”

            Bible miracles are different in nature to mythology.  The element of the bizarre so intrinsic to mythology is conspicuously absent in Biblical miracles.  There are no “half-man, half-beast” creatures in the miracle narratives of Scripture, or gods with hair of snakes.

            If God exists as Creator and Sustainer of the world, then it follows that such an omnipotent and omniscient God can do anything, whether or not it fits into man’s philosophical grid.  Once we believe the first verse of the Bible, in other words, nothing else we read in its pages will defy credibility.


1 This question regarding the problem of evil is called by theologians theodicy.

2 T. Z. Lavine, From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest,          p.179

[i] Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics, p. 266

BB04 Scripture is Revelation (Chapter 4)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES


We believe what we believe not because people invented it but because God revealed it.  Like many key Bible terms, revelation is a picture word.  It speaks of God unveiling and uncovering things that man previously could not see.

Revelation is the foundation on which the Christian faith rests, for no one would know the truth about God unless He had been pleased to take the initiative to disclose Himself:  “No man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him” (Mt 11:27).  John R. W. Stott said it poignantly: “Without revelation we would not be Christians at all but Athenians, and all the world’s altars would be inscribed ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD’ (Ac 17:23).”[i]

 

A Humbling Doctrine

            Revelation is a humbling doctrine. Apart from His self-disclosure, man would forever remain ignorant of God’s character, God’s covenant, God’s law, God’s salvation, and God’s kingdom. Unless God had spoken to man, furthermore, people would never experience personal fellowship with Him.  Revelation is humbling because it suggests that God is so far above our finite minds that we never would have discovered Him apart from His initiative to make Himself known (Isa 55:9; Ec 8:17; 1Co 2:9-13).

            It is humbling not only because it assumes that man is finite in his capacity to discover God, but also because it asserts that man is fallen, and consequently unwilling and unable to know Him. 1Co 2:14 says, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”   Revelation, then, is a two-sided coin.  It involves both the removal of the veil that hides God’s glory and that which clouds man’s heart.  Knowledge of God, in other words, requires both objective revelation and subjective illumination (Eph 1:17).

 

General and Special Revelation

            Scripture teaches that there are two kinds of Divine revelation: general (or natural) and special.  Ps 19 neatly distinguishes between the two.  First, David affirms God’s revelation in nature (Ps 19:1-6):  “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge”.  Then, he discusses God’s revelation in Scripture (vs. 7-9|): “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes”.

            General revelation, i.e. God’s self-revelation in nature, is the theme of Ro 1:19-20 and Ac 14:16-17.  The phrase means that God has revealed Himself apart from the Bible.  It is called “general” both in terms of its audience and its content.  Its target audience is everyone everywhere (“. . . there is no speech or language where their voice is not heard . . .”) and its content is restricted to the general truths that God exists and that He is powerful.  General revelation is partial. It discloses nothing about God’s grace in Christ or the covenant of redemption.

            God communicates through both deeds and words. In contrast to general revelation which is empirical and non-verbal, special revelation, i.e. God’s disclosure in Scripture, is rational and verbal.  Through the Bible, the only written source of special revelation, God has expressed His thoughts in words.  He deals, then, with people as rational and intelligent creatures. He appeals to their minds by propositional truth.  Only in the light of what God has revealed in Scripture can we understand any spiritual matter.

            So, special revelation is essentially verbal communication.  Its primary purpose is to point people to the personal “Word”, the Lord Jesus Christ (Joh 1:14), who is the full and final expression of God’s character, will, and counsels (Heb 1:3; Joh 1:18; 17:6).  Toward that goal, three features of special revelation are noteworthy:

 

(1|) Special revelation is Cumulative.  Scripture consists of two testaments — the Old and the New, or the Law and the Gospel. God’s self-revelation between the two testaments is progressive in the sense that it is both fragmentary — here a little and there a little — and varied in form, sometimes coming via dreams, visions, theophanies, audible communication, supernatural writing, and inward locution (Heb 1:1). With the passage of time, however, each new revelation built on the previous one so that bit by bit and stage by stage, a more complete picture of God’s character and kingdom program began to emerge.

 

(2|) Special Revelation is Complete.  Finally, God sent His Son.  Through Him, God has spoken once for all (Heb 1:2).  Jesus Christ is the Father’s “Last Word” — His full and final revelation to man.  Holy Scripture, the “record that God has given us of His Son” (1Jo 5:10), is the culmination of progressive revelation.  Revelation is a finished work.  Everything that pertains to life and godliness has been given to those who believe so that nothing yet remains to be revealed that is essential to faith or life.  The Bible is a complete book.  It does not continue to be written today. It is not a document in flux.

(3|) Special Revelation is Contemporary. Even though God is no longer revealing new truth, He is still speaking through what He has already spoken:  “Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb 3:7).  He speaks through Scripture, even today, calling sinners to repentance and calling believers to holiness.  Though the Lord gave the apostles direct revelation (Mt 16:17; Eph 3:3,5; 1Co 11:23; 15:3), He speaks to us through their writings (Eph 3:4; 1Jo 1:3).  The habit of testing every alleged spiritual truth by Scripture, then, is crucial to modern believers.  The Bible is God’s ultimate revelation to His people.  In its pages, we learn of Him as we follow on to know the Lord.  “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”


[i] John Stott, Authentic Christianity, p. 93.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BB05 Scripture is God's Word (Chapter 5)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES


Christianity is the religion of a book. Everything it affirms and everything it denies is determined by this book. The book, however, is no ordinary book.  It is the very word of God. The Christian believes that God has given special revelation and that the Bible is that revelation. “What Scripture says,” to quote Augustine’s famous maxim, “God says.” The Bible is not merely man’s opinion about God, but God’s own self-revelation and testimony about Himself.

            Then how do we explain the fact that the Bible was written by men (in fact, over forty different writers)? How can it be the word of God and the word of man at the same time?

 

Dual Authorship 

            Dual authorship is the term employed to express the fact that the Bible is God’s revelation through men. Like the person of our Lord Jesus, Scripture has both a Divine and a human nature.  2Pe 1:21 says, “…holy men of old spoke as they were moved [lit. carried or borne along] by the Holy Ghost.”  Did God employ men in the writing of the Bible?  Yes.  Were the words they wrote their own words?  Yes again, as the fact that their writings bear the stamp of their own respective personalities (e. g. Peter said Paul wrote things "hard to be understood”) demonstrates.  They were not mere automatons or robots channeling words dictated from heaven.

            But when the Biblical authors spoke, they were so superintended by the Holy Spirit that the words they uttered and subsequently penned were the very words God would have them to say.  “Behold, I have put my words into thy mouth” God told Jeremiah (1:9|).  In Romans 9:17 and Galatians 3:8, Paul prefaces a quotation from the Old Testament by saying, “For the Scripture saith…”  The original passage is very clear, however, that God uttered the words under consideration.  Thus, Paul equates the testimony of Scripture with the word of God.  The Divine superintendence of their words is called inspiration.

 

Inspiration

Inspiration is the process by which God has made Himself known by speaking through the Biblical authors. It is the vehicle by which revelation was given.  It is verbal, that is, the very words of the Bible are inspired, and it is plenary, that is, every word is inspired.  The whole Bible is the word of God. 2Ti 3:16 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”  Theopneustos, the word translated “inspiration” literally means “breathed out from God”.  The written word that is the Bible, in other words, is the very spoken revelation of God.  The implications of this fact are simply staggering.  If you and I could hear God speak today, He wouldn’t say anything more or less than what He has already said in His word!  Because it is inspired, the Bible is inerrant, that is, it is totally true and trustworthy in all that it says, for God cannot lie.

The Bible claims to be inspired over 3800 times.  Consider, for example the following verses:  2Sa 23:2; Ps 45:1; Jer 36:2; Ac 4:23; 1:16; Mr 12:36; Ac 28:25; Heb 4:7; Re 2:7; 14:13, etc.  Scripture is “the word of the Lord,” as the prophets declared it to be over 1200 times.

Perhaps the most convincing proof for the Divine authorship of the Bible is the fulfillment of predictive prophecy.  There are over two thousand predictive prophecies in the Old Testament alone.  Each is very specific and precise.  Peter Stoner, a mathematician, says that the probability that eight prophecies would be fulfilled by coincidence is one in 1016. For forty prophecies, the probability is one in 1070.   What would be the probability that all two thousand would be fulfilled to the most minute detail?  The mind cannot conceive the figure.  Predictions concerning Tyre and Sidon (Eze 28:21-23), Samaria, Babylon, Edom, Ninevah, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum have all been fulfilled with an exactness that defies mere coincidence.

 

Preservation

One of the greatest proofs of the inspiration of Scripture is the indestructibility of the Bible. Very few books survive fifty years; still fewer are in circulation one hundred years. Just a very small percentage of books survive one thousand years. The Bible, however, has outlived all other books. The God who inspired it has also promised in His providence to preserve it.  In fact, even the words in the word are kept by God (Ps 12:6-7; Mt 24:35; 5:18). It would, in fact, make little sense for God to inspire His word if He did not also plan to preserve it. Without an army to defend it, a bank account to finance it, a government to protect it, or a company to promote it, God’s Holy Word survives intact.

Because God enabled the human writers of the Bible so that they wrote every word under His superintendence, the Bible is His very own word. It is consequently devoid of human error (or infallible), totally true and trustworthy (or inerrant), and completely adequate for faith and life (or sufficient).  In a word, Scripture is authoritative — the sole source of authority for what we believe and how we behave.

Because the Bible is the word of God, given by inspiration and preserved by providence, it is completely authoritative.  Biblical Authority is the touchstone issue of the day. The proverbial “line in the sand” in the Christian community today is between those who really believe in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and those who do not. Does the Bible tell us everything we need to know concerning faith and life or do we need to supplement it by integrating modern knowledge?

To say that Scripture is authoritative is to say that we believe, affirm, and obey all Biblical teaching, and submit every human opinion to the judgment of that teaching.  A Christian is someone who believes that the word is truth — not opinions, feelings, pop-theories, or personal preference. The gospel minister is charged to preach the word, not his feelings, impressions, theories, dreams, or visions; not what he has been going through or what he believes God is teaching him; not cliches, platitudes, current events, social theory, political platforms, or personal opinions (cf. Jer 23:9-32). Any idea that does not correspond to its teaching must be discarded, and every controversy or difference of opinion must be settled by an appeal to “thus saith the Lord.” Isaiah said, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa 8:20). The buck stops here!

Scripture, then, is the criteria by which truth is distinguished from error. It is the standard by which belief and behavior must be measured. What the Bible says, properly interpreted, is authoritative fact — not what man thinks.

That which is authoritative has the right to govern.  The revealed word, then, is the means by which God exercises His government over His people. Re 1:16 depicts the glorified Savior with a sharp two-edged sword proceeding from his mouth. Through the apostolic writings, Christ exercises authority over the church (#Lk 22:30|).  The word is the sceptre by which King Jesus rules his church.

The case for Biblical Authority is worked out like this: First, God’s authority over men is grounded in the fact that He is our Creator. Next, it is further based on the fact that He is our Savior God, who died and rose again, being invested with “all authority [exousia] in heaven and in earth.” Finally, He exercises that sovereign authority over His people through the Bible.

The forms that authority takes in “Christendom” are three.  The first two, however, are illegitimate forms of authority.

 

(1)   The Church as “authority” - This is the idea that is prominent in Roman Catholicism that views the “Church” as infallible.  The Church in this instance is the interpreter of Scripture.  The question intrinsic to this ecclesiastical form of authority is “What is the position of the Church?”

(2)   The Individual as “authority” - Liberal theology claims that the Bible is a mixture of wheat and chaff; therefore, man’s reason and subjective understanding is the final court of appeal.  Experience is viewed as infallible.  The word of God is defined as “that which speaks to you.”  The question intrinsic to this kind of authority is “What do you feel?”  People who subscribe to this mode of thinking tend toward a kind of relativism that says, “You determine what is true for you and I’ll determine what is true for me and we’ll both be right.”

(3)   The Bible as “authority” - This is the position of classical Christianity.  God’s inspired and inerrant word is the only rule for faith and life.  The Bible sits in judgment on the church and on my own understanding.  It has the last word.  It is the supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all opinions, ideas, and creeds are to be examined by it. The Reformer’s expressed it by the Latin phrase Sola Scriptura — Scripture Alone.  Scripture, and Scripture alone is the canon (measuring rod or standard) of faith and practice — not the church, public opinion, or man’s ideas.

 

Biblical authority assumes the infallibility of Scripture, i.e. it is without defect and error. It also assumes the inerrancy of God’s word, i.e. it is trustworthy in everything it says. Not only can it not err — it does not err. Because God says it, it is settled.

 

Sufficiency

            The conviction that Scripture alone is the absolute authority for faith and life leads inevitably to the further claim of the sufficiency of Scripture.  Sufficiency means that God has given man a comprehensive and complete revelation in the Bible.  Not only do we affirm that everything the Bible says is trustworthy and true, but we also insist that the Bible tells us everything we need to know.  The first half of 2Ti 3:16 testifies to the authority of Scripture: every word is “profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.” The second half speaks of the sufficiency of Scripture: “that the man of God might be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

            2Pe 1:3 says that God has “given to us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue.”  The implications of this fact are significant. If God has told His people everything they need to know about living life and serving Him, then no other source of information is necessary to an understanding of the world. The Bible is the textbook for relationships, child-rearing, theology, problem solving, personal devotion, understanding human behavior, and every other issue basic to life.  It is the only rule of faith and practice.

BB06 Scripture Reveals God's Plan (Chapter 6)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES


Though the Bible addresses a variety of topics, it is not intended to be an encyclopedia. An encyclopedia gives a little information about many subjects, but there is no continuity of thought from one topic to another. Scripture, by way of contrast, is a book of one story. From beginning to end, the drama of redemption is the plot of the Bible. Continuity marks its pages.

 

The Message of Scripture

God’s word, then, is primarily concerned with salvation. “The Holy Scriptures,” said Paul, “are able to make [a person] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2Ti 3:15).  As each scene moves to the next, a picture emerges concerning God in holiness, man in sin, and Christ in grace, triumphing over man’s sin to reconcile him to God for His eternal glory. The Bible communicates truth ¾ truth regarding Himself, truth about man, and truth concerning redemption.

 

The Form of Scripture

            If the sixty-six books of the Bible do in fact deal with a common subject, thus making one book, why is the Bible divided into two “Testaments”, the Old and the New? Why did God give His revelation in two stages? Why is the Bible in this divided format?

Let it first be said that the Old Testament (or, the “Law”) and the New (or, the “Gospel”), are not two distinct programs by which God deals with man, but two chapters of the same program. The Old is the shadow; the New is the substance. The Law is related to the Gospel like the boy to the man, the manuscript to the book, the recipe to the meal, and the pattern to the reality.

God acted deliberately concerning the format in which He gave special revelation. What was His purpose? Why does the Law appear before the Gospel? Because the Law reveals God’s holy character and His purposes for mankind. Man was not created to be autonomous, but a being under obligation to his Maker. God is a legislating God, a God who commands behavior that is consistent with His righteous nature. The Law of God, then, is the “bottom line” of the Bible. It was revealed first because until an individual understands the principle of human responsibility and accountability to God, he/she cannot make any sense of the Gospel.

 

The Purpose of the Law

            God’s Law, expressed in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20), has a three-fold purpose. Its first function is revelation. The Law discloses both the holiness of God and the depravity of man. God prefaced the Ten Commandments with a reminder of His character: “I am the Lord thy God…thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Notice that God commands on the basis of who He is. The Law is simply a word picture of the holiness of God. It mirrors or reflects His perfect righteousness.

            It also mirrors man’s sinfulness and exposes the fact that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Ro 3:23). “By the law,” said Paul, “is the knowledge of sin” (Ro 3:20; 7:7). The Law reveals the point at which man has strayed from righteousness, “so that,” in the words of the 1689 London Confession, “as they examine themselves by the light of the law, they may be convicted more deeply of sin, and caused to humble themselves on account of it and to hate it the more.”

            The Law shows the sinner his need of a Savior. It drives us to Jesus Christ as the One who has “magnified the law and made it honorable” by living up to its righteous standard (Isa 42:21). It shows us ourselves, then shows us our Savior as the only remedy for sin: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” (Ga 3:29). 

            The Law functions secondly to restrain sin. 1Ti 1:8-11 speaks of the Law of God as a curb to the lawlessness of men. It cannot change the heart, but by its threats of judgment, it does serve to promote a degree of civil order.

            The Law functions thirdly as a rule of life (1Co 9:20-21).  It informs God’s people of the will of God and instructs them in their duty. The 1689 London Confession, again, says, “In the gospel Christ in no way cancels the necessity for this obedience; on the contrary He greatly stresses our obligation to obey the moral law.”

            The life of law-keeping is not the means of salvation from the penalty of sin. The Law was never given to make people righteous (Ga 2:21; 3:21). Rather, it was “added because of transgression until the seed should come to whom the promise was made (Ga 3:19). But obedience to God’s holy Law as a way of life is still the rule for the regenerate.

            Why? Didn’t Jesus abolish the Law? Isn’t Christ “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Ro 10:4)? How are we to understand this Scripture?

            Jesus did not come to “destroy the law” but to fulfill, i.e. to live up to, it (Mt 5:17). The Ten Commandments have not been nullified. Idolatry, sacrilege, covenant-breaking, murder, and adultery are still as sinful as they ever were. The Gospel does not render the Law void ¾ it establishes it (Ro 3:31). Then in what sense has Christ put away the Law?

            First, the Law has been abrogated ceremonially. As a covenant of worship and service, the Law is no longer in force (Heb 8:7-13). The slaying of beasts, the burning of incense, the rituals of sacrifice and offering, and the sanctified days have ceased.

            Secondly, the Law has been satisfied judicially. Christ has put away the curse of the Law (Ga 3:13) so that His people are no longer “under the [penalty of the] law, but under grace” (Ro 6:14). But as a rule of life and conduct, the believer is still obliged to “love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love his neighbor as himself” (Mt 22:37).

 

The Gospel “Law of Liberty”

            The believer, however, sees the Law through the grid of the cross. The Law has now been restated in the Gospel; the cross of Christ is now the rule of the new creature (Ga 6:16). By virtue of Christ’s atoning death, the Gospel declares, God’s people have been emancipated from the penalty of sin. They are now “dead to the Law” and thus, free from sin’s curse; however, they are not at liberty to live as they please, but are “married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead” (Ro 7:4). They are no longer under the law to God as judge, but they are still under Christ’s law as a rule of life.

            The same gospel that proclaims liberty from the curse of the law also, in the light of the cross, prescribes a life of obedience. In this sense, believers are judged by the “law of liberty” (Jas 2:13).

            In a word, then, the content of God’s special revelation in Scripture can be summarized by the phrase “the law of liberty.” That’s the message of the Bible. That’s the good news of salvation.

BB07 The Nature of Man (Chapter 7)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES


What is man? The question is basic to an understanding of life and the world. Philosophies attempting to explain what it means to be human are “a dime a dozen.” Plato suggested that man is “a being in search of meaning.” Paschal said that man is “a reed, but a thinking reed.” Mark Twain apologized for man by suggesting that God made man at the end of the week when the Deity was tired. Charles Darwin suggested that man is nothing more than a highly developed animal. Freud taught that man is an underdeveloped and spoiled child and therefore, not responsible for his actions. Karl Marx defined man as an economic factor, and Nietzche summarized the essence of humanity in the claim that man was “a useless passion.”

          But what is man? Is the Humanist correct to say that man is “the measure of all things,” the “master of his fate and the captain of his soul?” Was Carl Rogers correct when he insisted that man has all the answers to life prepackaged in himself because “man at the core of his being is essentially good”? Is man just an animal that stands up straight? What is man?

 

 

 

The Need for A Biblical Anthropology

          All of these worldly philosophies teach a doctrine of man and many operate on the presupposition that man is basically good. Does it matter what a person believes about the nature of man? Yes, for what a person believes inevitably affects how a person behaves. Ideas have consequences. Wrong thinking leads to wrong living. When someone believes that man is a cosmic accident or a grown-up germ, he will inevitably adopt a perspective of life that pursues pleasure as the chief good, for life to him has no meaning or significance. Likewise, the popular notion of human potential ¾ of an inherent principle of deity in man ¾ produces a self-absorbed approach to life. Didn’t the serpent’s lie “Ye shall be as gods” stimulate Adam and Eve to declare their independence from God?

 

Created in God’s Image

          So, what is man? God’s word alone defines what it means to be truly human. The first thing God says about man is that man is created in God’s image (Ge 1:26-27). That man is in a sense like God is something that is true of no other creature (Ge 5:1).

          What are the implications of this fact? First, because they are created in God’s image, human beings have been invested with a unique dignity in creation. Man acts as God’s vice-regent or representative on the earth. In the hierarchical structure of creation, man has been given authority over the earth (1Co 11:7; Heb 2:6-7).

          Secondly, because man is made in God’s image, all human life is sacred. Ge 9:6 argues for the sanctity of human life on the basis of the imago Dei in man. Further, James censures the individual who speaks disrespectfully to others on the basis of the fact that people are made in the image of God (Jas 3:9).

          In what sense is man created in God’s image? First, human beings are moral creatures. Man is created with a conscience that functions to distinguish right from wrong. “The spirit of man,” says Solomon in reference to this moral consciousness, “is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly” (Pr 20:27). Interestingly, the word “spirit” is the same word translated “breath” in Ge 2:7. What was man’s original moral state? He was made morally “upright” (Ec 7:29), for all that God creates is good (Ge 1:31).  Unlike animals, then, man does not live by sheer instinct; he possesses a conscience.

          Secondly, man bears God’s image in the sense that he is a rational creature. He possesses intelligence ¾ the capacity for thought and self-conscious reflection. He also possesses the ability to communicate by expressing his thoughts in word. The ability to verbally communicate gives man the further capacity for relationships, both with God and his fellow human beings. Further, like God, man’s rational nature means that he has a will, the ability to make plans and act on them. Man is then a thinking, communicating, relational, and volitional creature, like the personal God who created him.

          Thirdly, man is an immortal creature. Unlike the spirit of the beast that goes downward to the earth at death, man possesses an immortal soul (Ec 3:21). When the material substance of man dies, i.e. his physical body, the spirit (that is to say, the natural life principle) returns to God who gave it (Ec 12:7) and the soul continues its conscious existence either in heaven or in hell. Because man has an immortal soul, he will experience an afterlife. An animal, by way of contrast, ceases to exist at death. This brings us to the next truth concerning man.

 

Man is Body and Soul

Man is not merely a body without a soul, like an animal, nor a spirit without a body, like an angel, but a body and a soul. He is a composite being with both a physical and a spiritual dimension (#Mt 10:28; 1Tim 4:8; Lk 12:20; Mt 16:26|). Because he has a body, man is a physiological creature. Because he possesses a soul, he is also a psychological being.

Without a body, man is not human, for it is through the body that he experiences reality. The ancient gnostics were wrong to believe that the body was evil and to define salvation in terms of liberation from the physical body so that the spirit might merge with the cosmic consciousness. The New Testament (and the Old, for that matter - cf. Job 14:12,14-15; Ps 16:9) teaches categorically that the body will be resurrected and reunited with the disembodied soul at the last day. The body is as integral to personal identity as the soul.

But man is not only a body. Modern science errs when it attempts to explain human behavior only in biochemical terms. Man is also a soul. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (that is, his needs are not only physical), “but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).  Man possesses both physical and spiritual needs because he is created as a composite being.

Many people in the modern world have forgotten this fact. The soul is so closely connected to the body that spiritual problems frequently produce physiological effects (e. g. stress and worry and depression can cause high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, heart attack, etc.) and vice versa. Perhaps the single greatest tragedy of the times is the trend toward thinking about people in strictly biological terms. Man is seen as a mere animal ¾ a body without a soul. This is the product of Darwinian thought. From this trend has come the further tendency to confuse the brain, a physical organ, with the mind, a spiritual entity. This has led to a dispute of mammoth proportions between those who explain human behavior in strictly secular terms and those who explain it in Biblical terms.

 

Because man is a spiritual as well as a biological being, it is impossible to understand and explain human behavior apart from the moral and spiritual categories defined by the Bible. One such category is man’s relationship to God.

 

The Depravity of Man

The Biblical story of man is the story of “good gone wrong.” Made in God’s image, Adam soon fell from the original state of innocency: “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ec 7:29). Since the Fall, man retains God’s image structurally, i.e. his humanness is unchanged, but he has lost the image functionally.  That simply means that because of sin’s domination, man is no longer able to reflect God’s holiness, the end for which he was made.

          The Fall not only diminished God’s image in Adam, but also in all of his descendants. It is impossible, therefore, to understand the nature of man apart from the tragic view of man in sin depicted in God’s word. The real truth about human nature is that man is fallen. His chief problem is a broken relationship with God. By nature, man is not merely indifferent to God, but hostile and antagonistic toward Him (Ro 8:7).  This war with God expresses itself in resistance to His claims, resentment of His rebukes, and indignation when confronted with the thought that God the Creator condemns the way man chooses to live his life (Ps 2:1ff).

 

What is Depravity?

All worldly theories teach the divinity of man (cf. Ge 3:5), but Scripture asserts his depravity. What is depravity? Depravity is a theological word meaning “corruption” or “perversion.” It refers to the relationship that exists between man’s present state and the image of God in which he was created. Because of the Fall, man is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). The imagery of “deadness” indicates that man is by nature spiritually incapacitated and unresponsive to stimuli. He is both unable and unwilling to please or glorify God (Ro 3:10-18; 8:8-9).

Depravity does not mean that every person is as evil as he can possibly be (e. g. everyone does not commit murder, or incest, etc.), but that every faculty of man’s make-up has been infected by sin so that the potential for every conceivable sin is resident in the fallen nature: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mt 7:21). Man has heart trouble. He is radically corrupt ¾ bent toward sin, not inclined toward righteousness, at the very core of his being.

 

 

Depravity is Hereditary

Sin entered the world when Adam disobeyed God in the garden of Eden (Ge 2:16-17; 3:6). The “anti-God, self-aggrandizing mindset expressed in Adam’s sin,” says J. I. Packer, “became part of him and of the moral nature that he passed on to his descendants.”[i] The scope of sin is universal (Ro 5:12; 3:23; 1Jo 1:8,10; Ec 7:20; 1Ki 8:46).

This assertion that sin is derived from our origin is called the doctrine of Original Sin. Every human being has a common ancestor, the fallen parent Adam (Ac 17:26), and a genetic predisposition toward wrong, i.e. a sin nature, from the moment of conception (Ps 51:5; Job 14:4; 11:12). Blaise Paschal said that “the doctrine of original sin seems an offense to reason, but once accepted it makes total sense of the entire human condition.” He was correct. It is the only adequate explanation of human nature that accounts for the perverse state of the world.

People sin in practice, consequently, because they are sinners by nature. Inherit depravity has twisted the heart at the level of motivation. Our inner sinfulness is the fountain from which all actual sins spring.

 

Depravity is Total

          Scripture asserts, furthermore, that every faculty of man’s nature is corrupted by sin. There is no spark of divinity or island of righteousness in him: “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing” (Ro 7:18). In his corrupted state, man never does a single good thing. What about acts of “civil virtue”? Do not fallen sinners sometimes perform acts of benevolence? Yes, but such acts are not motivated by a desire to honor God, rather, as Jonathan Edwards said, by “enlightened self-interest”. Because of the fallen nature, “every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (Ps 39:5).

          How extensive is sin’s effect on human nature? No part of us is untouched by sin. Human beings are corrupt throughout body and soul. First, sin affects people biologically. The human body was not evil or corruptible as God made it, but it has been victimized by the sin nature so that it wears down, contracts disease, ages, dies, and eventually decomposes.

          Second, sin makes us spiritually corrupt. Our minds are darkened to God (Eph 4:18; Ro 8:6-8). The thoughts of fallen people are evil (Ge 6:5; Ps 10:4). In his corruption, depraved man thinks unbiblically, concocting his own maverick ideas while ignoring God’s revealed truth in Scripture. Theologians call the effect of sin on the mind the noetic effect of sin. Further, our hearts and affections, are deceitful (Jer 17:9). We can  never fully know, trust, or understand the workings of our own hearts. Emotions, by virtue of our depraved human hearts, are not a reliable guide. Depravity complicates the Greek ideal to “know thyself,” making it an indomitable task. Also, our wills are contrary to God (Joh 5:40; Ps 10:4; Isa 26:10). Natural man is not inclined to make choices that glorify God.  All in all, from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head, there is no soundness in man (Isa 1:6).

          Depravity implies total inability. Man does not have the capacity to respond to God in or of himself. He cannot hear (Joh 8:47), cannot respond (Joh 6:44), cannot understand (1Co 2:14), and cannot believe (Joh 10:26). Only grace can help such a creature. Regeneration, sanctification, and ultimate glorification are God’s works of grace designed to restore God’s moral image in man so that he can mirror God’s glory as he was made to do. No wonder John Newton wrote, “By nature I was too blind to know Him, too proud to trust Him, too obstinate to serve Him, too base-minded to love Him.” Until God reaches us in grace, such is the condition of every human being.


[i] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, p. 80

BB08 Man in Sin (Chapter 8)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES

 

Sin is the universal, perennial problem of mankind. It “entered the world” with Adam’s Fall in the form of pride and enmity against God the Law-Giver (Ro 5:12), and it exists in the world in terms of a universal deformity of human nature (1Jo 1:8-10).

Today, most people do not think of sin Biblically but secularly. They conceive of sin only in terms of its relationship to man  ¾ as an offence against public standards ¾ not in terms of how it relates to God ¾ as an offence against His holy law. Scripture, however, is clear that sin is primarily an offence against God (Ps 51:4). I like R. C. Sproul’s definition: “Sin is cosmic treason.”

 

The Meaning of Sin

          What is sin? In 1Jo 3:4, the Holy Spirit defines it in terms of lawlessness: “Sin is the transgression of the law.”  God’s law is the standard of righteousness to which man is called to conform. Sin, however, is a reckless “stepping across” (trans = across + gradi = to step) the line of God’s law. Sin is man’s declaration of autonomy, i.e. his rebellion against God’s authority in order to be his own authority. J. I. Packer writes, “Sin is turning out of the way He has commanded (Ex 32:8) into a forbidden way of our own (Isa 53:6). Sin is going contrary to God, retreating from God, turning one’s back on God, defying God, ignoring God.”[i] Sin is essentially man’s attempt to be his own god.

          Self, then, (as the middle letter of the word “sin” suggests) is at the heart of this irrational, anti-God allergy that the Bible calls “sin.” Sin is “me-ism.” My pleasure, my will, my happiness, my way, my ideas ¾ sin is essentially man’s declaration of independence from God.

          Hence, sin expresses itself in an attitude of revolt and hostility toward God: “The carnal mind is enmity [note the use of the abstract noun “enmity” instead of the expected adjective “hostile” in order to intensify the  force of the term] against God…” (Ro 8:7; cf. Col 1:21; Ro 5:10).  The mind-set of the natural man is the very essence of ill-will and animosity against his Creator (Ro 1:18-23).  At the very core of his being, man is averse to God.  He fights God in order to play God. Ps 2:1-3 vividly demonstrates this spirit of unholy antagonism toward God and insubordination to His rule over man’s life.

          The word “sin” is used in the Bible to speak of both heart attitudes and life behaviors. Sin is not something abstract and static, but something personal and dynamic. It is an indwelling energy in the heart of man that governs and mandates the life. Hence, Paul calls indwelling sin a “law in [his] members” (Ro 7:23). This personal quality of sin is termed “the flesh” (sarx=the fallen nature) and refers to a human being who is dominated by sinful desire. Even after a person is regenerated, the flesh attempts to dominate both the heart and the life by launching a dynamic and relentless assault to reclaim its lost territory. Paul depicts this inner conflict in terms of a spiritual war in Ro 7.

 

The Nature of Sin

Scripture employs several pictures to illustrate the nature of sin. First, sin is a departure (Isa 53:6). The word hamartia means literally “to miss the mark.” Like an arrow that strays from the bulls-eye, the man who sins is “off-target” from God’s revealed will for his life (Ro 3:23).

Second, sin is a disease (1Ki 8:38; Ps 38:5; Isa 1:5). Like leprosy, it is an infectious, debilitating, painful, polarizing, and incurable disease. Only the Great Physician can cure the soul of this dread malady. Third, sin is defilement (Isa 64:6; Ps 14:3). When Isaiah said, “I am a man of unclean lips,” he made reference to common dirt (Isa 6:5). Like dirt soils the garment, so sin pollutes and contaminates the soul. Only the blood of Christ can cleanse the guilty sinner’s stain (Zec 13:1; 1Jo 1:7).

 Fourth, sin is a deformity of character. The word “iniquity” refers to the inner twistedness of man’s character. By nature man is so twisted that he worships the creature instead of the Creator, and “calls good evil and evil good, puts light for darkness and darkness for light, and bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isa 5:20). So convoluted and hideous is his heart that only God can make him whole.

Finally, sin is a debt (Mt 6:12; cf. Mt 18:21-35). By his sin, man has sold himself into slavery (Ro 7:14). The accrued sin debt of every man is great, yet none have even “a farthing to pay.”  Only Christ can make satisfaction for the debt. Only His precious blood can effect redemption (Eph 1:7; Heb 9:12).

 

The Consequences of Sin

What effect does sin have on man’s relationship with God? In a word, sin brings death (Ro 6:23). The word “death” is the comprehensive term that the Bible employs to describe man’s fallen condition. It means literally, separation. By nature, man is dead because of sin.

First, sin brings death to man’s natural life. Had Adam never sinned, he would never have died. Ge 5 records the somber story of human history in the wake of the Fall by the repetition of the doleful refrain, “and he died.”

Second, sin brings death to man’s fellowship with God. Our iniquities “separate between us and our God and hide His face from us” (Isa 59:2; cf. Jas 1:15).

Third, sin brings death to man’s relationship with God.  Because of sin, man is under judicial condemnation (Ro 3:19). By nature, he is a “child of wrath, even as others” (Eph 2:3).

Finally, because of sin, man is dead to spiritual things (Eph 2:1). He does not love God, seek God, desire God, or fear God. He would not move to God if he could, and he could not move toward God if he would. The natural man cannot understand spiritual things (1Co 2:14; cf. Joh 6:44; 8:43). Unless he is quickened by a new and heavenly birth, he can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God (Joh 3:3-8).

Sin has so debilitated man that unless God is pleased to initiate his rescue, the entire human family is without hope. The Biblical doctrine of sin makes the doctrine of salvation by grace a necessity if anyone is ever saved.

 

Sin’s Triple Threat

How does sin express itself in human experience? Sin expresses itself in the form of a triple-threat the New Testament calls “the world, the flesh, and the devil” ¾ a formula Martin Luther termed “a triad of enemies.” Eph 2:1-3 showcases the role that each plays in man’s fallen condition. Note the incontrovertible logic of Paul’s analysis: (1) By nature, man “walks according to the course of this world” (Eph 2:2a); (2) The world is controlled by “the prince of the power of the air” (Joh 12:31; 14:30; 2Co 4:4; Eph 6:12; 1Jo 4:1-6; 5:19) so that fallen man is, in effect, enslaved by the devil (Eph 2:2b); (3) This means that sinful man lives a life that is governed by “the lusts of the flesh,” i.e. passions of both a physical and an emotional nature. In common terms, sin expresses itself in life as the devil capitalizes on human lust for the spirit of this age (cf. Tit 2:12) to enslave people to himself. That’s the plight of man in sin as described by Eph 2:1-3.

 

The World

The phrase “course of this world” (ho aion houtos kosmos) refers not to the physical creation (i.e. planet Earth) but the spirit of the fallen world system. “World,” in the NT, has an ethical meaning. Note how Paul defines the spirit of this age in moral terms in Ga 1:4 (“this present evil world”). The failure to distinguish between the physical creation and the fallen world-order has spawned numerous unhappy emphases in Christian history such as the false dichotomy that separates the secular from the sacred and views every “secular” activity as unspiritual.

What, then, is “the world?” I like Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ definition of the world as “life lived and thought apart from God.” It is a world-order that does not factor God into the equation — an approach to life that conceives of the “here and now” as the ultimate reality.  This is the way that sinful people in the mass live their lives. Worldliness is a matter of following the spirit that actuates fallen mankind.

The world is a lifestyle consumed by “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1Jo 2:16). Hence, Christian people are called to a life of non-conformity to the world (Ro 12:2) and separation from the world (Jas 1:27), and warned against friendship with and love for the world (Jas 4:4; 1Jo 2:15). The believer, though he lives in the world, is not of the world (Joh 17:11-16). Motivated by the cross instead of conventional wisdom (Ga 6:14; 1Co 1:21; 3:19), he now functions as light amid the darkness of the fallen world system (Mt 5:14; Php 2:16). This counter-cultural kind of life will inevitably produce conflict with the world in the form of persecution (Joh 15:18ff; 1Jo 3:13), but Christians are called to continue serving God and so overcome the world by resisting the temptation to succumb to it (1Jo 5:4; Joh 16:33). The challenge facing the believer is to “use this world without abusing it” (1Co 7:31).

 

The Flesh

          Just as the Biblical concept “world” does not generally refer to the physical creation but the spirit of the age, so New Testament references to “the flesh” do not primarily speak of the physical body, but the principle of indwelling sin (Ro 7:18; 8:8-9; Ga 5:17). To “judge after the flesh” (Joh 8:15) is to arrive at conclusions that have been influenced by the fallen nature (2Co 1:12; Col 2:18). To “make provision for the flesh” (Ro 13:14) is to provide opportunity to gratify the passions of the old nature (1Pe 2:11). Christians are people who have learned to distrust themselves and trust only in the Lord (Php 3:3).

          Interestingly, Paul subdivides the general category “lusts of the flesh” into “desires of the flesh” and “desires of the mind” (Eph 2:3). He means that man’s sin nature drives him to seek self-gratification, either in the physical realm (e. g. drink, sex, gluttony, slothfulness) or in the psychological (e. g. pride, anger, jealousy, covetousness, etc.). This is man’s natural state and, until regeneration, his only state. Regeneration does not eradicate indwelling sin, but introduces a new principle within the soul so that an ongoing warfare between the flesh and the spirit now characterizes the life. Not until the grace of glorification will the last vestiges of indwelling sin be removed (Php 3:20-21).

 

The Devil

          The devil is a supernatural, personal creature who uses the flesh and the world in order to enslave mankind to sin and so rob God of the glory He deserves from His creation. Devil (Greek diabolos) means “slanderer” while the Hebrew name “Satan” means “adversary.” He is a created angel who kept not his first estate (Jude 25; 2Pe 2:4; 1Jo 3:8) but led a rebellion against the throne of God and was cast out into the earth (Isa 14:12-14; Eze 28:11-19; Job 1) where he attempts to involve mankind in a similar revolt against righteousness (Eph 6:12; Ge 3; 2Co 11:3). He is the adversary of God’s people (1Pe 5:8) by virtue of their union with Jesus Christ, and like a roaring lion, he walks about seeking to destroy them. He is a liar and murderer from the beginning — a thief who comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy (Joh 8:44; 10:10). To accomplish this infernal goal, he employs trickery and deceit, transforming himself into an angel of light (2Co 11:14).

At the cross, the Lord Jesus delivered the death blow to the serpent’s head (Ge 3:15; Heb 2:14; 1Jo 3:8). The “prince of this world” has been judged and cast down, once and for all (Joh 12:31; Re 12:10). Satan is a defeated and a doomed foe. So far as his ability to everlastingly harm the people of God, his hands are tied. The old serpent’s head has been crushed. But he refuses to admit the certainty of his demise and seeks to continue his vicious and sinister assault against the kingdom of God. Christians, consequently, are called to be aware of his devices (2Co 2:11), reckon with his wiles (Eph 6:11), deliberately resist him in the faith (1Pe 5:9; cf. Mt 4:3), and appropriate the armor of the spirit equipping them to stand against him (Eph 6:10ff). Never are believers commanded to “rebuke Satan” or to exorcise demons but to “resist the devil and he will flee” (Jas 4:7) and to trust God to “crush him under our feet” in due course (Ro 16:20).  Though he is a formidable foe, yet “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1Jo 4:4).


[i] J. I. Packer, God’s Words, pp. 72-73

BB09 The Covenant of Redemption (Chapter 9)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES


What model of salvation does God’s word present? Both testaments unequivocally declare that salvation is by grace alone (Eph 2:8-10; 2Ti 1:9; Tit 3:5).  “Salvation is of the Lord,” acknowledged the prophet Jonah (Jon 2:9). God is the origin, the means, and the One who receives the glory for every respective part of the work of saving sinners: “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Ro 11:36).

          What does that mean in specific terms? It means that salvation is a Trinitarian production — the product of God the Father’s, God the Son’s, and God the Spirit’s cooperation.  The combined operation of the three Divine Persons in the salvation of sinners is called the economy of the Godhead.  Eph 1; Ro 8; Ga 4:4-6; 1Pe 1:1-2; Jude 1-25, and many other passages depict the Godhead working as a Divine Team in salvation – each fulfilling a respective self-imposed covenant obligation so that the plan of salvation proceeds apace in perfect harmony, unity, and precision.

          Salvation from sin, it should be noted, is not a cooperative work between God and the sinner — God doing His part and man doing his. Such a model would blend the two mutually exclusive principles of grace and works (Ro 11:5). No, the covenant of redemption is a unilateral (one-sided) agreement, with the stipulations for its fulfillment resting only on God, not a bilateral (two-sided) contract that depends on both God and man for a successful outcome (cf. Ge 15:9-21; Ps 89:27-37). The Biblical model of salvation is (as theologians like to say) monergistic (the work of One) not synergistic (the work of many). God is the active party and man is the passive beneficiary; consequently, salvation is depicted as a gift bestowed, not a wage earned, as an inheritance not a reward (Ro 8:17; Heb 9:15; 1Pe 1:4).

The doctrine of grace, a system popularly expressed by the acronym TULIP, is the only model of salvation that is consistent with both the trinitarian nature of God and the fact that Scripture attributes salvation to the Lord. An “arminian” or “semi-pelagian” doctrine of salvation disrupts the unity of the Godhead and interjects an element of inconsistency into the plan of salvation.

Consider, for example, the popular idea that Christ died for all men without exception and the only thing necessary to appropriate the benefits of His death is the act of accepting Him as Savior and Lord (an idea known as general atonement). Such a notion disrupts the unity of the Trinity. It suggests that the Father chose some (usually proponents of this view teach “prescient election” or “foreseen faith” — the idea that God chose those He saw would choose Him), the Son died for all, and the Spirit calls some — an incongruity that flies in the face of the unity of the Godhead. General atonement also errs because it makes man the determining factor in his own salvation. If the application of Christ’s atoning death ultimately depends on man’s decision, then salvation is determined not by God but by man. Everything God has done could be nullified by man’s refusal to cooperate.

Likewise, the idea that man must attain salvation by works of merit — that he must do something in addition to the work of Jesus on the cross in order to be saved, i.e. repent, be baptized, hold out faithful to the end, pray the rosary, do penance, etc., adds a variable to the equation of salvation making the outcome uncertain. Salvation by human works puts a question mark where God has put a period.  Scripture, however, is clear concerning the certainty of salvation (2Sa 23:5; 2Ti 2:19; Joh 6:37), a fact that can only be explained if salvation is all of grace and none of works.

The team cooperating in salvation, then, is the monergistic team of Father, Son, and Spirit, not the synergistic team of God and man. God the Father began the work in the everlasting covenant. God the Son executed the work at the cross of Calvary. God the Holy Spirit applies the work during each individual’s natural life. From start to finish, salvation is of the Lord.

The doctrine of grace demonstrates congruity and consistency within the Godhead.  All who were chosen by the Father were redeemed by the Son. All who were redeemed by the Son are called into new life by the Spirit.  And all who are quickened by the Spirit will be kept securely in vital union with Christ. Not one will  be missing when the Son presents the redeemed multitude to the Father (Heb 2:13; Ro 8:29-30), for salvation is of the Lord!  

 

God’s Eternal Purpose

God’s plan to save fallen sinners was not a reaction, after the fact, to Adam’s transgression. It was a decision conceived in His mind and planned according to His purpose before time began. The doctrine of salvation, in other words, does not begin in the Garden of Eden, but in an intra-Trinitarian council, called the “everlasting covenant” (Heb 13:20) — a council that convened before creation.

          In this council, God purposed to save fallen sinners and planned the necessary means to the accomplishment of that end. Theologians describe the Divine purpose and subsequent plan to redeem by the term decrees.

 

God is a God of Purpose

          At its most basic level, a decree might be defined as a decision or determination to do something.  Intrinsic to the meaning of decree is the concept of “purpose.”  Scripture teaches that God is a God of purpose — that is, He acts deliberately and wisely, not arbitrarily and randomly:  “Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand” (Isa 14:24; cf. Isa 14:27; Job 23:13).  All of His decisions are based on His infinite wisdom: “Known unto God are all His works from the foundation of the world” (Ac 15:18).

 

The Order of God’s Decrees

          What is the logical sequence of God’s decrees? 

       (1) The decision to create was likely His initial purposeful decree: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” (Ge 1:26).

(2) The decision to permit (or suffer) sin, i.e. not to hinder evil in the sense of preventing it, was next. Scripture does not teach that God decreed “all things whatsoever come to pass,” a formula that inevitably makes God responsible for sin, but that He, in the words of R. V. Sarrels,  decreed to permit sin” [emphasis mine].  Regarding God’s purpose to suffer the existence of evil (or His “permissive will”), see Lu 4:41; Ac 14:16; 2Th 2:7;  and Ro 9:22. He did not cause sin but presciently saw the entrance of sin into creation and determined to permit it so that He might display His power and grace by conquering it.

(3|) Then, He decided to form a covenant, a plan fashioned in wisdom to secure the salvation of fallen sinners: “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11).  It is to the respective decrees associated with this covenant we now turn.

 

Covenant Decrees

          A decree, by definition, is an authoritative edict having the force of law. What God purposes or decrees is infallibly certain (Isa 14:27). Nothing can thwart His purposes or foil His plans: “I have purposed it, I will also do it; I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass” (Isa 46:11). The salvation of sinners, therefore, is not a matter left to uncertain chance, but is fixed by God’s eternal purpose (Eph 1:9; 3:11; Ro 8:28-30; 2Ti 1:9).

          Foreknowledge is the first of God’s covenant decrees: “For whom He did foreknow…” (Ro 8:29a).  It refers to God’s decision to enter into a covenant relationship with those on whom He set His love. Contrary to popular thought, foreknowledge (prognosis) and prescience (or omniscience) are not synonyms. Prescience, i.e. knowledge before the fact, is a Divine attribute — something true about God. Foreknowledge, on the contrary, is a Divine action — something that God does:  “For whom He did foreknow…”

          Foreknowledge refers to “relational love” or “covenant love”. In Scripture, the verb “to know” frequently speaks of relationships rather than cognition:  “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Am 3:2); “And then I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Mt 7:23; cf. Jer 1:5; Ge 5:1).

          God’s sovereign love, then, is the supreme motive in His initiative to save. He first decreed to love.

          Does the idea of “decreeing to love” sound cold and unfeeling? Wouldn’t it be better to say “He fell in love with us”?  No, it wouldn’t, for there was nothing lovely or lovable about sinful human beings to attract His love. Had He not determined to “set His love upon” man (De 7:6-7) — that is, had he not decreed to enter into a covenant relationship with man, then every man would have remained forever estranged from Him.

          Election is the second covenant decree: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” (1Pe 1:2).  Those He determined to love, He chose as His own special people:  “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil that the purpose of God according to election might stand…” (Ro 9:11).  Out of the “lump” of fallen humanity, the Heavenly Potter, moved by nothing but His own sovereign will and purpose, selected a portion of Adam’s family to be “vessels” He would mercifully shape unto honor (Ro 9:23). Had He not chosen them, they never would have chosen Him.

          Predestination is the next covenant decree. Those He foreknew and elected, He “predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Ro 8:29b).  Predestination is God’s decision, made in eternity, to guarantee the final destiny of the elect. The word proorizo means “to determine before.”  The final destiny of every individual that was loved and chosen by the Father is predetermined and fixed by God’s decree so that the end result is not left in abeyance: “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa 46:9).

          Everything necessary to accomplish the salvation of God’s chosen people is also embraced in His eternal purpose or decree (calling - Ro 8:28; justification - Ro 8:30 a; glorification - Ro 8:30b). It was all planned before the world began in the everlasting covenant. It will surely come to pass (2Sa 23:5).

 

God’s Sovereign Choice

Let’s think more specifically about God’s decree of sovereign election. Scripture affirms that God is sovereign in nature (or creation), in history (or providence), and in grace (or salvation). At no point is the sovereignty of God in grace more conspicuous than in regard to His unconstrained and unconditional choice of individual sinners to salvation before time (Eph 1:4-5).  Theologians speak of this Divine initiative by the twin doctrines of election and predestination.

 

 

Definitions

          Election and predestination, though closely related concepts, are not synonyms. They are fraternal, not identical, twins. In the order or sequence of God’s covenant decrees (the ordo salutis), election occurred first, then predestination, as a comparison of Ro 8:29 and 1Pe 1:2 makes clear. In other words, before the morning of time, God first selected out of the human race, foreseen as fallen, a people on whom He would place His love, passing by the rest to remain in their sins. That is election. He then determined to save them from their sins and to guarantee their final destiny.  That is predestination.

          Election, then, is God’s choice of a particular people to be His own. Predestination is God’s purpose to make the elect like the Lord Jesus Christ, a concept that includes every residual part of the work of salvation (e. g. redemption, justification, reconciliation, regeneration, sanctification, and glorification), so that glorification is predestination accomplished and realized and predestination is glorification anticipated and guaranteed (Ro 8:29-30).  Predestination means that every necessary link in the chain of sovereign grace is sure and certain because the salvation of God’s elect is a matter of His sovereign decree.

 

 

 

Implications

          Eklego, the Greek word translated “election,” means “chosen out.”  Immediately, the question arises, “Chosen out of what?”  Revelation 5:9 answers, “…out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.”  Election was God exercising His sovereign preference of one over another. This raises the inevitable question, “What happened to those He didn’t select to salvation?”

          Some Protestant theologians answer the question by pointing to Scriptures like Ro 9:20-24; 1Pe 2:8, and Jude 25 (“ordained”= “written before” and probably refers to Moses’ prophecy in De 31:29) for proof that God’s predestination involved both a decision to save some (i.e. election) and a decision to condemn the rest (i.e. reprobation).  This is called double predestination.

            But does Ro 9 teach the doctrine of reprobation? Does it suggest that God predestinated some to heaven and others to hell? A careful reading indicates that it teaches that the wicked will be finally condemned not by God’s decision but by their own sin. Notice that the elect and the non-elect come from the same “lump” — the lump of fallen humanity. Notice secondly that in respect to the decree to elect some, God is active: “…which He had afore prepared unto glory”.  “He…prepared”!  Notice thirdly that in contrast to the explicit statement that “God prepared the vessels of mercy unto glory,” the passive voice is employed concerning the non-elect as it simply states the fact that they “are fitted to destruction” (note: the adverb of time “afore” is conspicuously absent here). Who “fitted them to destrruction”? God? No, the fall of Adam!

          Instead of reprobation, the doctrine of preterition seems to be more consistent with Ro 9. Preterition simply means passing by.  It suggests that God merely passed by the non-elect when He made choice of His people, leaving them in their natural fallen condition, so that they are responsible for their own condemnation, not God.  The elect are eklego — “chosen out” of the lump of a humanity that was foreseen as fallen in sin and placed positionally “in Christ” (Eph 1:4).

It is important to notice that the “lump” is perceived as already fallen. That leads us to a common objection.  

Objections

          It is commonly objected that election is exclusive —that it leaves folk out who want to be in. On the contrary, it is sin that has excluded people from God’s favor (Ro 5:12), and election that takes them in. Had it not been for Divine election, everybody would have been left out of God’s favor forever.

          Others suggest that election is unfair — that it fails to give everyone a chance to be saved. This argument is based on a misunderstanding of two basic principles:  the depravity of man and the sovereignty of God. Because man is totally depraved, he is both unable and unwilling to choose God. If God had not moved toward man, no one would have been saved. Salvation is not a matter of  lucky chance but of Divine choice.

          Anticipating this argument, Paul appeals to the sovereign prerogative of a potter to make of a lump of clay whatever he pleases (Ro 9:11-23). What right does God have to choose Jacob and to bypass Esau? The right of absolute sovereignty. He is God! The mystery of election is not that God did not choose everybody, but that He chose anybody. Election is not an injustice to those left out, but a display of phenomenal mercy to those taken in.

          Others object that election means that just a few will be saved. On the contrary, God’s word teaches that He has a big family (Re 5:9; Joh 14:2; Heb 9:28; Mt 26:28; Ro 5:19).  Still others suggest that election means that God chose those that He saw would choose Him, but Ro 9:11 stresses the unconditional nature of election, asserting that God’s choice was not influenced by anything in the persons or behaviors of Jacob and Esau.

          All in all, were it not for election, heaven would be eternally empty and a thousand hells filled to capacity.  The poet said it well:

 

Tis not that I did choose Thee,

For Lord that could not be;

This heart would still refuse Thee,

Had’st Thou not chosen me.

 

Interestingly, the New Testament writers treat the doctrine of election pastorally, not in a strictly academic way.  In every context that mentions election, the intent is clearly to motivate people to worship (Eph 1:3), to holiness of life (Col 3:12), and to evangelistic zeal and fervor (1Th 1:4-8). Election is meant to make Christians joyful (#Lk 10:20|), thankful (De 7:7-8), humble (Ps 64:4), holy (2Ti 2:19), fruitful (Joh 15:16), and energetic in Christ’s service (Ac 18:10).

Election and Predestination, then, are not awkward pieces of theological lumber which the church could just as well do without. They are bedrock truths, capable of supporting the entire superstructure of the doctrine of salvation.

BB10 The Person and Work of Christ (Chapter 10)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES

 

Christology, the study of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, is central to the doctrine of salvation.  It answers two foundational and interrelated questions —first, “Who is Jesus Christ?”, and second, “What did He do?” The two questions are, as I say, interrelated because work is inseparably connected to personhood. Every task, in other words, requires a certain personal fitness (in terms of ability, willingness, and integrity) in order to its accomplishment. In a strictly physical sense, for instance, an infant cannot drive an automobile nor can a blind person see a sunset. A banker who cannot count or a teacher who cannot read is an anomaly. Even in a moral sense, character (who one is) determines fitness for effective labor (what one does). Society deplores a judge or lawmaker who breaks the law, a physician who destroys life, and a soldier who betrays his country to the enemy.

In the same sense, the work of salvation could only be performed by one who was personally qualified, or fit to be the Savior. The sufferings and death of Jesus Christ achieved a result that the sufferings and death of the two malefactors crucified on either side of Him did not achieve. Their crucifixions were nothing more than executions, for they were mere men. The crucifixion of Jesus, however, was an act of redemption, for He was no ordinary man.

 

THE PERSON OF CHRIST

Who then was — or perhaps I should say “is” — Jesus Christ? Scripture answers, “He is the God-man (theanthropos) — two natures in one person.” The two natures, Divine and human, cannot be separated in Him. Jesus is not a divided person, but the two natures constitute one personal substance so that there is a constant presence in Him of both humanity and Divinity. This is termed hypostatic union.

The two natures of Christ, like so many other Bible doctrines, is a Divine mystery — there is more to it than finite minds can comprehend; nevertheless, it is an axiomatic Christian truth which is not open to debate: “Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh…” (1Ti 3:16).  The doctrine of Christ’s dual nature speaks of the union of deity and humanity in the person of Christ so that He is both fully Divine and fully human. Christians cannot afford to be unclear here, for this issue is a watershed that divides believers from unbelievers (Mt 16:13; 22:42).

 

His Divine Nature

          First, Jesus is God of very God. He did not begin to exist at the incarnation, but as Joh 1:14 affirms, existed in preincarnate glory “before the world was” (Joh 17:5).  His eternal preexistence is plainly affirmed in Joh 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” He is “Alpha & Omega” (Re 1:8), the “Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” (Re 22:13).

          Each of these designations speak of His eternal existence and thus, witness to His deity. The “Word”, i.e. the eternal Logos and Agent of Creation (cf. Col 1:16; Eph 3:9; Heb 1:2; Joh 1:10; 1Co 8:6), was “with God and was God” — a formula that safeguards both the distinction of persons within the Godhead and the unity of essence.  In a word, Jesus Christ is deity; He is the eternal Son of God, of one substance with the Father and the Spirit.

          In the 4th Century A.D., Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria, denied the genuine deity of Christ teaching that Christ was the first and highest created being, yet subordinate to the Father. The Arian heresy, condemned by the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) is reproduced today in the teaching of Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Bible, however, teaches categorically the Divine Nature of Jesus Christ. He is eternal (Joh 8:58), omnipotent (Joh 5:19; Php 3:21), omnipresent (Mt 28:20), omniscient (Joh 2:24-25; 16:30), and immutable (Heb 13:8). In fact, in Him “the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily” (Col 1:19; 2:9).  Further, He does what only God has the right or ability to do. He accepts worship (Mt 28:9; Joh 9:38), forgives sins (Mr 2:5-12), raises the dead (Joh 11:25), and claims oneness with the Father (Joh 10:30; 5:17-18; 14:9).

If Jesus Christ is not God, He cannot redeem, for only God can save (Isa 43:11). No mere man could have redeemed other men. The success of the saving work of Christ, therefore, is directly related to the deity of His person.

 

His Human Nature

          While 4th Century Arianism denied the Deity of Christ, Docetism, a late 1st Century heresy akin to the teaching of Marcion and the Gnostics, denied the humanity of Christ.  The Docetists believed that the material world was evil and that God could not join himself to anything so mundane as a physical body. They taught then that Jesus merely appeared to be human.

          In a direct apologetic thrust at Gnosticism, John wrote: “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God, but is the spirit of antichrist” (1Jo 4:2ff).  The ancient Docetist error is reproduced today in the New Age movement, Unity School of Christianity, and parachurch organizations like the Jesus Seminar, with their rejection of the “Jesus of history” in favor of the mystical “Christ of faith.” The spirit behind these various movements is not of God, but is the spirit of antichrist.

          The Scriptures teach unequivocally that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among” men (Joh 1:14). He actually existed in human history as the genealogy of Matthew 1 makes clear.  He had a body, prepared by God in the womb of the Jewish virgin Mary (#Heb 10:5-6; Lk 1:34-35|). Genealogically, he descended from Abraham through David (Mt 1:1). He developed according to the normal course of human development (#Lk 2:52|). He experienced the infirmities of human nature.  He became weary (Joh 4:6), hungry (Mt 4:2; 21:18), and thirsty (Joh 19:28). He wept, walked, talked, sang, slept, and died.  He experienced the entire gamut of human experience — the experience of committing sin excepted (Heb 4:15).  He did not come as a phantom or take upon Himself the nature of angels, but “the seed of Abraham” (Heb 2:16-18).  If Christ were not fully human, He could not redeem man (Heb 2:14; 1Co 15:21; Ro 5:12-21).

          “But,” someone objects, “didn’t incarnation require in some sense a self-emptying of Christ?” Yes, it did. The celebrated “Kenotic Hymn” in Php 2:5-10 says, “He made himself of no reputation” [lit. He emptied himself].  Did He cease to be God, then, when He became man? No, Jesus did not lay aside His Godhood; He laid aside His glory.  He emptied himself of dignity, not Deity.  The “kenosis” involved the Son’s divestiture of His Divine prerogatives in terms of their actual exercise when He assumed human nature.

          It is important to note that the human nature of Jesus was not a sinful human nature. He was virgin born; therefore, even His human nature was holy (#Lk 1:35|). He was, in other words, impeccable — not able to sin.   Although He was faced with temptation, He did not possess a sin nature (Joh 14:30).  “In Him is no sin” (1Jo 3:5).  Christ’s temptations were in every way like ours except that they did not originate in evil forbidden desires. He was tempted from without, never from within. Hollywood movies, then, that depict the Lord struggling with inordinate passions are not only mistaken — they are blasphemous. The Savior, even in His human nature, is “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners” (Heb 7:26). Only such a holy God-man is fit to save sinners.

 

THE ATONING WORK OF CHRIST

          Salvation is a picture word suggesting the thought of rescue from danger. In what sense is man threatened? The danger from which he needs to be rescued is the wrath of God. Man needs a covering to protect him from God’s judicial wrath against sin. This covering is Christ’s atoning death.

          The image of a protective covering is expressed by the theological word atonement.  The verb “to atone” means to cover. It is the umbrella concept — a general term employed to define the saving work of Christ — of which the doctrines of redemption, reconciliation, and justification are respective parts. In a very real sense, the atonement is the heart of the gospel — God’s good news concerning the covering Jesus Christ is for sinners.

            The word itself, however, is used only once in the New Testament: “…we also joy in Christ Jesus our Lord by whom we have now received the atonement” (Ro 5:11). We must look to the Old Testament, then, in order to grasp the rich meaning of the term and see its fulfillment in the saving work of Christ, the antitype of these Levitical sacrifices.

 

The Day of Atonement

            Le 16 describes the elaborate ritual of the sabbatical feast called “the Day of Atonement,” or Yom Kippur. On the tenth day of the seventh month (the Jewish month Tishri), the high priest was called to enter the Holy of Holies “to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year” (Le 16:34).

The ceremony consisted of taking two goats, one to be sacrificed unto the Lord, and one to be released into the wilderness as a “scapegoat” (Le 16:5-10).  The high priest would then enter into the presence of God — “within the veil” (Le 16:15) – with the sacrifice of blood, which he would “sprinkle with his finger upon the mercy seat seven times” (Le 16:14-15). The symbolism of covering the mercy seat with the blood of the sacrifice is revealing, for beneath the mercy seat — in the ark of the covenant — were the two tables of the Law.  Then, the high priest would “lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel,” figuratively transferring their blame to the scapegoat, who would “bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited [lit. a land of separation]” as he was let go into the wilderness (Le 16:21-22).

          What does the elaborate symbolism of this ritual teach about “atonement”?  First, it teaches that an atonement (lit. a covering) is necessary because of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man.  The supreme issue in back of Leviticus 16 is the question, “How can people who are sinners enter into the presence of a God who is holy?” The chapter begins with a reminder of the presumptuous sin committed by the two sons of Aaron (see Le 10) and a warning not to rush, willy-nilly, into the Holy of Holies: “Speak unto Aaron…that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat” (Le 10:1-2).

          The point is clear: Sin separates between man and God and restricts our right of access to Him. To dare to rush into His presence without a covering is to risk being consumed, like Nadab and Abihu.

       Secondly, this account teaches that atonement is made by a blood sacrifice and the principle of substitution. The blood was the covering that allowed the high priest, who himself was a sinner, to enter into the presence of God without being consumed. The symbolic transference of the people’s sins to the scapegoat who would subsequently depart into “no-man’s” land suggests the principle of substitutionary atonement as the means by which the guilt of sin is effectively removed.

          Thirdly, the lesson teaches that atonement is a work of satisfaction to God for sin. The offering was made to God, not the people of Israel. He is the One who was offended by man’s sin and He is the One to whom satisfaction must be made.

          The mercy seat sprinkled with blood formed the lid, or covering, for the ark of the covenant. Without this covering, the all-seeing eye of God, symbolized by the cherubims whose faces were perpetually turned toward the ark, would look directly at the two tables of the Law inside the ark — a righteous Law that condemned sinners. But the mercy seat with its atoning blood served as a shield, or covering, from Divine judgment. It verified that a work of satisfaction to God for sin had been made.

          Finally, the ceremony indicates that atonement involves legal cleansing from sin, or forgiveness: “On that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord” (Le 16:30).  Sin defiles and corrupts, but the blood of the sacrifice washes away the guilty stain. Atonement has to do with forgiveness.

The Type Fulfilled in Christ

          The Lord Jesus Christ is the antitype of the Day of Atonement. It was to His atoning sacrifice that this sabbatical festival pointed. He is our Great High Priest who made the offering that satisfied God’s holy Law, and He is the substitute on whose innocent head all the sins of God’s covenant people were transferred. His blood is the covering that permits redeemed sinners access into God’s presence (Heb 10:19), and His substitutionary death is the covering that hides the eye of Divine Justice from gazing upon us according to the curse of the Law. His blood is the miracle cleansing agent that removes the stain of sin (Re 1:5).

          The atonement Christ made was a perfect atonement — a finished work.  Everyone He represented as a substitute is justified before God, redeemed from the curse of sin, and reconciled to God by the blood of His cross.  In a word, Jesus Christ is the covering that protects us from the wrath of God.

 

“Bearing shame and scoffing rude,

In my place condemned He stood,

Sealed my pardon with His blood:

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

 

Guilty, vile, and helpless, we;

Spotless Lamb of God was He;

Full atonement! Can it be?

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

 

Lifted up was He to die,

‘It is finished!’ was His cry.

Now in heav’n exalted high;
Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

BB11 The Finished Work of Christ (Chapter 11)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES


Why did Jesus Christ come into the world? What was the Lord’s purpose in the death of His Son? What did He intend to accomplish?

Each of these questions is concerned with the character or nature of the atonement. A thoroughly Biblical understanding of this single issue — the design of the cross — is crucial to the further question regarding the extent of the atonement. In other words, the question “For whom did Christ die?” must necessarily be answered in the context of the more basic questions, “What was the intent of His death?” and “Did He achieve His objective?”

 

Substitution

          What, then, is the true character of the atonement? In the first place, it is penal substitution. It is substitution in the strictest sense of the term — Christ standing in the place of individual sinners and bearing the penalty of their sin.  

          Substitution is the heart of the gospel. A substitute acts in the place of another as his representative, discharging the one he replaces from obligation. He possesses authority to act as the legal representative — the locum tenens or surety (Heb 7:22) — in the stead of the one he represents.

Jesus Christ is our substitute, or, as the Puritans liked to say, our “public person” (see Ro 5:15-21). He suffered vicariously in the sinner’s stead. The prepositional phrase “for us” expresses this profound truth of substitution in simple terms. The Greek preposition huper means both “in our place” and “for our benefit.” Consider, for instance, Paul’s summary of the Biblical gospel in 2Co 5:21: “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (cf.  Ro 5:6-8; Isa 53:6; 1Pe 3:18; 1Jo 4:10; 3:16; 1Th 5:10; Heb 9:12; Ga 3:13; 1Pe 2:24; et al.).  Isa 53 contains at least nine references to the principle of substitution (Isa 53:4-6,8,11-12).

 

Imputation

          Secondly, the character of the atonement is expressed by the term imputation. Imputation is an accounting term that means the act of charging to one’s account.  The doctrine of imputation has both a negative and a positive dimension. On the negative side, imputation means that God does not charge or reckon our sins to us but to Christ (2Co 5:18; Isa 53:6; Ro 8:34). On the positive, it means that God counts to those for whom Christ died the righteousness of His Son (2Co 5:21).

          If He does not charge our sins against us, then how does God deal with them? Because He is a Just God, He cannot simply forget about them or overlook them, an act that would destroy the very concept of justice in the universe. Then, how does God forgive sin without violating His justice? He punishes and judges sin in the sinner’s substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ. “The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). What was the Father saying to the Son when He laid our sins upon Him? Martin Luther answers that the Father was saying to the Son, “Be thou Peter, that denier; Be thou Paul, that persecutor; Be thou David, that adulterer; See that Thou pay and satisfy for them.” 

Substitution and imputation means that man has sinned and God has suffered, that Christ was made the sin of man and man was made the righteousness of God. Christ, who was not a sinner, was treated by God the Father as if He had committed every sin ever committed by every one of His people, so that we, who are not righteous, might be treated as if we had obeyed every law of God, both internally and externally. He was counted as if He had lived my life so that I might be counted as if I had lived His. Such a monumental exchange is the heart and soul of the gospel message:

 

Then in His love and His decrees,

Christ and His bride appeared as one:

Her sins, by imputation, His,

While she in spotless splendor shone.

 

          Sin must be punished either in man or in Christ. All whose sins have been already charged to Christ the substitute are discharged from any obligation to pay or atone for them.

          The implications of this fact are tremendous. The substitutionary nature of the atonement raises the question, “If Christ died for the sins of all men without exception, and if the nature of the cross was the work of a substitute, discharging the one’s He represented from any obligation for their sins, then on what basis can anyone be punished eternally for their sins?” The substitutionary nature of the atonement means that only two options concerning the extent of the cross exist: (1) Universalism; (2) Particular Redemption.

 

Redemption Accomplished

          Another question is basic to the atoning work of Christ:  What did Jesus Christ accomplish at the cross? Did He actually secure the salvation of all for whom His death was designed, or did He merely make salvation possible or potential for all who might believe? Is He actually a Savior who saved, or is He a hypothetical Savior who makes it possible for man to save himself by deciding for Christ?  What was actually achieved at the cross?

          In no uncertain terms, God’s word declares that Christ’s death was an effective atonement for sin. The issue or outcome of the cross is not left in abeyance, but He achieved the very purpose for which He had come into the world (#Lk 19:10; 1Tim 1:15; Gal 4:4; Jn 6:37|). He came to secure salvation, not to make salvation possible, and He did it.  When the Lord Jesus cried, “It is finished,” He certified that all who were represented in His death will come to glory, and expressed the completeness and perfection of the atonement He had wrought out for them.  Nothing in addition to His atoning sacrifice is necessary to their salvation.

          The preponderance of Biblical evidence argues convincingly for an efficacious atonement. Note the language of certainty and fact employed to speak of the Savior’s atoning death: “…He shall save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Simple grammar prohibits the possibility of failure or uncertainty.  Heb 9:12 states, “He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” In unmistakable terms, the writer affirms that Jesus actually “obtained” redemption; He did not merely make men redeemable.

          When Scripture states that the Lord Jesus “sat down” in heaven, it indicates that He finished His redemptive task (Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:10-14). The reference in Heb 10 contrasts the Levitical priest, whose work was never finished, with Jesus Christ the Great High Priest, who, “after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God.” Had the slightest element necessary in the salvation of sinners remained unfinished, Jesus could not have “sat down.”

          No doubt, the greatest proof of the efficacy of the cross was His resurrection. The empty tomb is “proof positive” that the work He came to do was done (Ro 4:25; cf. 1Co 15:17b).

          Though all professed Christians believe that Christ died to redeem, yet many (if not most) deny that it was a transaction that secured the actual salvation of anyone. The popular position is that, in itself, it saved no one, but simply made salvation available if man will receive it. But by making man’s response to the Savior the determining factor in salvation, Arminian theology produces the unavoidable and uncomfortable conclusion that Christ died in vain because some for whom He died will perish eternally. Such a view is the antithesis of Christ’s finished work. It turns the cross into a monumental divine failure and depicts the Lord as a baffled and pathetic Savior who waits to see the final outcome.

          Scripture, on the contrary, affirms that Jesus actually redeemed, reconciled, and justified sinners. He did not merely make them redeemable or reconcilable.  His saving work really saved those for whom it was intended with a perfect salvation (Heb 10:14).

          What does it mean to assert that Jesus finished the work of redemption? First, it means that Christ’s work was final. It will never need to be repeated. The word “once” in the New Testament, a word that means “once for all time,” argues for the finality of the atonement: “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of the Lord Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10; cf. Ro 6:9-10; Heb 8:13; 9:27-28; 10:11-12; 1Pe 3:18).

          Secondly, it means that the Savior’s death was complete and sufficient. Everything necessary to salvation was accomplished and procured by Christ.  He left nothing undone.  The sin debt was paid in full (Tit 2:14); the penalty of the Law was satisfied (Isa 53:11); the precept of the Law was fulfilled (Mt 5:17); the wrath of God was appeased (1Th 1:10); and the sin of God’s people was put away (Heb 9:26; Joh 1:29; Ps 103:12). Nothing further remains to be accomplished. Nothing can be added to it, nor taken from it.

          The work of Christ is a full salvation, procuring for its benefactors every spiritual grace. Calvary is the fountain from which all of God’s saving gifts flow to sinners. It guarantees that all for whom Christ died will be brought to a vital relationship with God through regeneration and preserved by grace to glory.

      

 

 

Particular Redemption

Thus far, we have noted that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ was substitutionary in nature (i.e. “What was the cross?”) and sufficient in its effect (i.e. “What did the cross accomplish?”).  It only remains to affirm that it was also special in design. The extent or scope of the cross deals with the question, “For whom did Christ die?”

Special Atonement (also called Definite Atonement, Limited Atonement, or Particular Redemption) answers the question of extent by asserting that the benefits of Christ’s death were intended for the elect alone.  Restating for clarity, the issue at stake is expressed by the question, “Did Christ die for all men without exception, or for a certain and definite people? Is the scope of the atonement general and vague, or specific and particular?”

 

Scriptural Proofs

          God’s word declares that Christ died for a specific people. They are variously designated as “his people” (Mt 1:21; Isa 56:8; Ps 111:9), “the sheep” (Joh 10:15,26; Heb 13:20), “the many” (Mt 20:28; 26:28; Isa 53:11; Ro 5:19), “his friends” (Joh 15:13), “as many as [the Father] gave him” (Joh 6:37; 17:2), “God’s elect” (Ro 8:32-33), “the church” (Eph 5:25; Ac 20:28), “the sanctified” (Heb 2:11), and “the brethren” (Heb 2:12). The simple terminology employed in these verses argues for the particularity of Christ’s atoning work and against an indiscriminate sacrifice that actually procures salvation for no one. The preponderance of Biblical evidence affirms that His redeeming death made salvation certain for all for whom it was designed.

 

Salient Points

          It is helpful to remember that everyone limits the atonement.  They limit it either in its extent (“For whom was it designed?”) or in its effectiveness (“What did it accomplish?”). General Atonement, by asserting that Jesus died for the sins of all mankind though all will not finally be saved, limits the atonement in respect to its efficacy, for it denies that Christ actually secured salvation for any. Definite Atonement, on the contrary, limits the atonement in its extent, for it teaches that Christ died for a specific and certain people who will all be saved. He accomplished a definite salvation for a definite number of people.

          C. H. Spurgeon minced no words in his classic reply to the charge that he limited the atonement:

 

We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it: we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, “No, certainly not.” We ask them the next question — Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer “No.” They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, “No, Christ has died that any man may be saved if” — and then follow certain conditions of salvation. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as infallibly to secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, “No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.” We say Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.[i]

 

The distinction between the two schools of thought is best expressed by the question, “Will any for whom Christ died suffer eternal punishment?” General Atonement answers “Yes”; Special Atonement answers “No”, citing such proofs as Joh 6:37-39: “…that of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing but raise it up again at the last day” (see also Heb 2:13). Ro 8:29-30 defines the recipients of justifying grace as the very same people who were initially foreknown and predestinated by the Father. Jesus Christ knew those for whom He suffered (Isa 53:10 —“He shall see His seed…”) and knew that His soul-travail would not miscarry in failure and disappointment (Isa 53:11; cf. Heb 12:2). All He intended to save were saved at the cross.

 

Some Problem Passages

          Then, what do we say to verses like Joh 3:16; 2Co 5:14-18; Joh 1:29; 1Ti 4:10, and 1Jo 2:2 — verses that affirm that God loved and saved “the world” and that Jesus died for “all men”? The first thing we must always say is that if these verses mean that Jesus is the Savior of the entire Adamic family — [MG1]  i.e. all men without exception, then we are forced into universalism (i.e. the idea that everyone will live in heaven and no one will be punished in hell), for the texts plainly say that He “saved,” not that He made all men “savable.” As it is frequently the case, these verses say too much for those who would apply them to general atonement.

          Then what do these seemingly non-restrictive verses mean? Scriptures that say that Jesus died for all men or for the world must be understood to mean “all men without distinction” (that is, of race, class, creed, gender, etc.), rather than “all men without exception.” Elder David Pyles writes:

 

Scriptures which refer to God loving the world or to Christ being given to the world do not encompass all people without exception. Instead such scriptures are intended to teach that God’s love extends beyond the bounds of the Jewish people unto every nation, kindred, people and tongue (Re 7:9). The term world is used repeatedly in scriptures in a limited sense; however, this fact seldom receives proper recognition. In the Gospel of John alone there are such usages in: Joh 6:33; 8:12,26; 12:19; 14:19; 15:18; 16:20; 17:9; 18:20[ii]

When one remembers that the Jewish people had exclusive privileges under the Old Covenant, he can then appreciate the need to emphasize the non-restrictive, international, and trans-cultural benefits of Christ’s atoning death in the New Covenant. No wonder Jesus told the Jewish ruler Nicodemus, “God so loved the world…”

          In His intercessory prayer prior to the cross, the Lord Jesus said, “I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given me; Thine they were, and Thou gavest them me” (Joh 17:9).  Our Great High Priest intercedes for the same group for whom He made sacrifice — those given to Him by the Father. Why does He not intercede for the world indiscriminately? Because He did not purchase the world indiscriminately at the cross. He paid the sin debt for the elect, and “He got what He paid for.”



[i] Quoted by J. I. Packer in “Introductory Essay” to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, p. 14.

[ii] David Pyles, “Abstract of Theology”, Primitive Baptist Web Station, www.pb.org


BB12 Redemption, Reconciliation, and Justification (Chapter 12)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES


Let’s be more specific about the theological significance of Christ’s atoning death. Throughout the New Testament, the work of Jesus Christ in salvation is described in sacrificial terms. The cross was an “offering and a sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2), and the Christ of the cross was “our Passover” (1Co 5:7) — the Lamb of God, without blemish or spot, who was sacrificed for us (Joh 1:29; 1Pe 1:19). He is our Priest who offered upon the altar of the cross a blood sacrifice that satisfied the wrath of God and removed the sins of those He represented (Heb 10:19-22).

What did Christ’s sacrifice of blood accomplish? Three New Testament word-pictures express the theological significance of the event known as the crucifixion of Christ: Redemption, Reconciliation, and Justification.

 

Redemption

          Redemption was accomplished at the cross (Re 5:9; 1Pe 1:18; Eph 1:7). Redemption is a buying again. The verb “to redeem” means to deliver or release by purchase. It pictures a person’s release from some kind of bondage by the payment of a ransom, be it a debtor from the bondage of prison through the payment of his debts, or a slave from the bondage of slavery by the payment of the necessary ransom price (Mt 20:28).

Three Greek words are translated “to redeem” in the New Testament: (1) agorazo = A word meaning simply “to buy” (1Co 6:20; Re 5:9); Greeks called their public markets (where various merchants peddled their wares) the agora; (2) exagorazo = A compound word meaning “to buy out” (Ga 3:13; 4:5). This term emphasizes the idea of releasing from another’s possession. The redeemed are bought out of their bondage to the curse of the Law (Ro 6:14; Ga 3:13). (3) lutroo[MG1]  = A word meaning “to set free” (Tit 2:14; Heb 9:12; 1Pe 1:18). Lutroo emphasizes the outcome of Christ’s sacrifice — the “setting at liberty” of those who were in bondage to the domination and power of sin (Tit 2:14).

Generally, where redemption by Christ is under consideration, reference is made to the ransom price: “Ye are bought with a price…” (1Co 6:20); “…to feed the church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood” (Ac 20:28); “…Thou hast redeemed us to God by the blood, out of every nation…” (Re 5:9); “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things such as silver and gold…but with the precious blood of Christ” (1Pe 1:18). Redemption, like every other part of salvation, is a gift of God’s free grace, purposed in the everlasting covenant, and embracing God’s elect on both sides of the cross (Ps 111:9; 49:7-8; Heb 13:20; Ro 3:25; cf. Zec 13:1). Christ is our Redemption (1Co 1:30). From the fountain of Christ’s redemptive death, justification and forgiveness of sin flows to every heir of grace (Ro 3:24; Eph 1:7).

 

Reconciliation

           Reconciliation is also a picture-word. It speaks of a relationship in which peace has been restored to two parties that were estranged. Reconciliation is peace-making (Col 1:20). The  root of the word conveys the idea of exchange. To “reconcile” means to exchange enmity for amity, and the old relationship of alienation and antagonism for a new relationship of harmony and peace.

            The Biblical doctrine of reconciliation is based on the assumption that God and man are estranged from each other because of sin. By nature, fallen human beings are “enemies in [their] minds by wicked works” (Col 1:21; cf. Ro 8:7). Likewise, God’s relation to man is one of holy antipathy, or wrath (Eph 2:3; Ro 5:10). The cause of alienation between man and God, however, is not mutual. Man is the party that caused the offense, and God is the party who is offended by man’s sin.

          But God does not wait for man to initiate reconciliation. Instead, He takes the initiative to make peace: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself…” (2Co 5:18). Reconciliation is not primarily a change in man’s attitude toward God, but, rather, in God’s attitude toward man.

          How did Jesus Christ procure reconciliation for sinners? He “made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col 1:20). We are reconciled to God “by the death of His Son” (Ro 5:10). These two passages teach that peace-making is not merely a matter of arranging a compromise or of adopting a “let bygones be bygones” attitude toward the initial cause of offense, but of radically removing both the cause of offense (man’s sin) and the effect of the offense (God’s wrath). These two dimensions of the work of reconciliation are called expiation and propitiation.

          Expiation is the removing of man’s sin. The death of Christ effectively removed the cause of the antagonism between God and men by covering the sins of the elect with the blood of His substitutionary sacrifice.  What has happened, then, to our sins? They have been “taken away” (Joh 1:29), “put away” (Heb 9:26), “separated from us as far as the east is from the west” (Ps 103:12), “sewn up and sealed in a bag” (Job 14:17), “blotted out as a thick cloud” (Isa 44:22), “cast behind God’s back” (Isa 38:17), and “cast into the depths of the sea” (Mic 7:19). Because of Christ’s work of reconciliation, God has pledged, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb 10:17).

          Propitiation is the removal of God’s wrath. It is the other side of reconciliation. The word is translated “appease” in Ge 32:20 and means to placate, satiate, or pacify.

            Propitiation presupposes the justice and righteousness of God. God’s word teaches categorically that God is angry at sinners (Ps 5:5-6; 7:11; 11:5; Ro 1:18). Sin is essentially an offence against God because it is fundamentally contrary to His holy and righteous character. By nature, every person is a child “of wrath”, that is, an heir to the vengeance that God has pledged against those who break His laws (Eph 2:3).

          But Christ was “set forth [foreordained] to be a propitiation through faith in his blood…” (Ro 3:25). He was, subsequently, “sent to be the propitiation for our sins” (1Jo 4:10; Heb 2:17). Now, the good news of the gospel, Paul’s “word of reconciliation” (2Co 5:19), is the message that “He is the propitiation for our sins” (1Jo 2:2), the Remover of God’s wrath and the Satisfaction of God’s justice. The Lord Jesus Christ is our peace-maker; He is our mercy-seat. Now sinners, through Him, may draw near — not to a throne of judgment, but — to a throne of grace, and rest beneath the smile of His grace instead of the frowns of His wrath.

 

Justification

Justification is one of the blessings Christ procured at the cross (Ro 3:24; 8:33-34). It is foundational to the Christian faith, “the article,” as Luther termed it, “on which the church either stands or falls.”  It is predominately a Pauline concept — twenty-nine of the thirty-nine occurrences of the word in the New Testament are found in Paul’s letters.

 

The Doctrine Defined

          Like Redemption and Reconciliation, Justification is a picture-word. It suggests the image of a courtroom in which a judge proceeds to issue a verdict. Justification is a “not-guilty” verdict — the act of a judge pronouncing acquittal.  Condemnation is the very opposite of Justification.

          Justification is a legal, or forensic, term. The word means “to declare righteous.” I cannot overstate the importance of the word “declare.”  J. I. Packer writes,

 

[Roman Catholicism] has always maintained that God’s act of justifying is primarily, if not wholly, one of making righteous, by inner spiritual renewal, but there is no biblical or linguistic ground for this view… Paul’s synonyms for ‘justifiy’ are ‘reckon (impute) righteousness’, ‘forgive (more correctly, remit) sins’, ‘not reckon sin’ (see Ro 4:5-8) — all phrases which express the idea, not of inner transformation, but of conferring a legal status and canceling a legal liability. Justification is a judgment passed on man, not a work wrought within man: God’s gift of a status and a relationship to himself, not of a new heart. Certainly, God does regenerate those whom he justifies, but the two things are not the same.”[i]

         

Justification is God’s act of grace whereby He regards sinners to be righteous and accepts them into His favor. In a word, it means that God treats sinners “as if” they are righteous. But on what basis can He do that? 

 

The Doctrine Explained

This crucial doctrine is not without its point of tension. How can a righteous God declare unrighteous people righteous without violating the justice of His own Law? How can a just God “justify the ungodly” (#Rom 4:5; see also Job’s question in Job 9:2)? Is the God who exercises inflexible justice against sin righteous in the act of counting sinners righteous? Ro 3:23-26 answers this question in the affirmative. On what basis, then, can God reckon righteousness to sinners and still be just? How can He be both “a just God and a Savior” (Isa 45:21)?

The answer is that He declares sinners to be righteous on the grounds of Christ’s real and actual righteousness in their stead (Isa 45:24-25; Jer 23:6; 33:16; 1Co 1:30). All who belong to Christ are declared to be righteous in Him, by virtue of His substitutionary death. They are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Ro 3:24).

Jesus Christ is the sinner’s only righteousness — but He is also his sure and sufficient righteousness (Ro 3:10; Isa 64:6; 1Co 1:30).  In the place of sinners, the Lord Jesus both fulfilled the precept of the Law and satisfied the penalty of the Law. Both thoughts are expressed by the word “righteousness.”

In the Bible, righteousness means both a right relationship with God (i.e. being right) and obedience to God’s Law (i.e. doing right). A right relationship with God can only be achieved through obedience to God’s Law. The Law makes a double demand on sinners. It requires both perfect obedience to its precepts and complete payment of its penalty.

What sinner could ever meet God’s perfect standard seeing that “there is not a just man on earth that doeth good and sinneth not” (Ec 7:20) and that “there is none righteous, no not one” (Ro 3:10)? At this point, however, the Gospel interjects the welcome news that “Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1Jo 2:1) has made men just by an alien righteousness. He came to give sinners a right relationship with God by bearing the curse of the Law and living a perfect life of Law-keeping in their stead. This one Man’s perfect obedience, an obedience even unto death, has been imputed to the account of every one He represented (Ro 5:19; Php 2:8). He did right in our place that we might be right with God.  Now God legally declares sinners to be righteous through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to their account, and He is right to do it (Ro 3:25-26). Because of the cross, all for whom Christ died are “now justified by His blood” (Ro 5:9).

 

The Doctrine Applied

          So legally, justification is a fact. It is a present, objective reality. On the dockets of Heaven, every one represented by Christ on the cross is deemed to be all that the Law requires of them. Legally, God regards everyone for whom Christ died as if he were righteous. But practically, man is still a sinner. He is, as the Latin phrase expresses it, simul iustus et peccator  (“at the same time, just and sinner”). There is plenty of evidence in his daily experience to convict him of being unrighteous, but where is the empirical evidence of his righteous status before God? Practically speaking, he doesn’t appear to be righteous. On what basis then can he find assurance that he is indeed legally righteous in the sight of God?

          The answer is “faith.” Faith is the empirical evidence that a sinner stands just before God (Ro 5:1). When God saw Abraham’s faith, it (i.e. his faith) was “counted to him” (i.e. regarded as evidence of) “for righteousness” (Ro 4:3-5). Faith is the product of a Divine work of grace in the soul (Eph 2:8) in which the “new man is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph 4:24), and the greatest evidence that a person stands legally righteous before God is that he possesses a righteous new nature.  Faith, then, is not the cause of justification, but the evidence.

          Justification by faith, then, must be understood in empirical, or experiential terms. This aspect of the doctrine of justification has to do not with the objective fact of salvation but with the subjective awareness and experience of it (consider #Lk 18:8-14|).

          The Gospel is God’s declaration that sinners have been made righteous through Jesus Christ. When a person believes the Gospel verdict, his faith is counted for righteousness and the “blessedness” of assurance “comes upon” him (Ro 4:5-12; cf. Ga 3:14). This peace in the conscience — an assurance of sins forgiven — is a blessing to be sought (or pursued): “But if while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin?” (Ga 2:17). What does the verse mean? It describes the paradox of true Christian experience — the paradox expressed (again) by the phrase simul iustus et peccator. It means that even though we are sometimes overwhelmed by the evidence of practical sin in the very process of seeking assurance, we yet believe the evidence presented in the gospel declaration that affirms our status of positional righteousness before God. All in all, Ro 4; Ga 3, and the other passages that speak of justification by faith (like Php 3 & #Lk 18|) define this aspect of the doctrine in experiential terms.

            Such faith expresses itself, furthermore, in works (Jas 2:21-26). These works by which Abraham was justified were not meritorious works, but works of faith (i.e. works that spring from faith - 1Th 1:3; Ga 5:6). They are “works of righteousness”, that is, acts of obedience to God arising out of a right relationship with God.

          Justification by works, like justification by faith, has to do with the evidence of one’s righteous status before God. John puts it succinctly: “He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He [i.e. Christ] is righteous” (1Jo 3:7).

       To summarize, I will frame the subject in three questions: (1) What judgment does God make of the sinner? That is the issue resolved in legal justification. (2) What judgment does the sinner make of his own status before God? That is the question under consideration when the Bible talks about justification by faith. (3) What judgment does a watching world make as it observes the believer’s behavior? That is the issue under consideration when the Bible talks about justification by works.  Of these three “courts” (the Supreme Court of Divine Justice, the court of the individual’s conscience, and the court of public opinion), only one has eternal consequence. The good news of the Gospel is that Supreme Court was in session at the cross, justice was satisfied, a verdict of legal immunity was issued for all who were represented by the Advocate Jesus Christ, the Accuser of the brethren was cast down, and court has been adjourned – FOREVER!


[i] J. I. Packer, God’s Words, p. 140


BB13 The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit (Chapter 13)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES


Pneumatology
is the technical term employed when theologians talk about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Let’s attempt to construct a Biblical theology of the Spirit.

 

The Person of the Holy Spirit

Who is the Holy Ghost? 1Jo 5:7 identifies Him as the third Divine Person of the Holy Trinity, being “third” not in terms of rank or importance, but in terms of the order or sequence in which He is generally mentioned when Scripture speaks of the Godhead (cf. Mt 28:19). He is, therefore, God, coequal with the Father and the Son (2Co 3:17). Being God, He is a Divine Person — a personal “He” not a neuter “it.” Neither is He a mere abstract mood like “the spirit of Christmas” or “school spirit,” or a vague kind of inner “pep pill” that a person can “unleash” when he/she needs a little extra energy.

          The New Testament ascribes all of the distinctive characteristics of personhood to the Spirit. He possesses an intelligent mind (Ro 8:27; Joh 14:26; 15:26), a will (Ac 16:6-7; 1Co 12:4), emotions (Eph 4:30), and the ability to communicate (Ac 10:19; Re 2:7; Ac 8:29; 13:2). Though the title “Spirit” (ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek) means “the blowing of the wind” or “breath blown,” the Spirit is not a mere universal presence pervading all nature that only those in a heightened state of consciousness can perceive, as Hindu and oriental religions teach, but an actual Divine Person. He is our Divine Lord.

 

The Work of the Spirit

          Much is said in Christian circles today about the work of the Holy Spirit. The dominant emphasis in contemporary thought, however, is on the Spirit in charismatic manifestation (i.e. healing, tongues, prophetic utterance, and sign gifts). On the contrary, the New Testament is primarily concerned not with external displays of the Spirit’s power but the inner transformation He works to remake individuals in Christ-like character (Ga 5:22; 2Co 3:18).  His primary work is to produce substantial changes in the heart and life, not to be used as a kind of “magic wand” to showcase individual giftedness (see Ac 8:9-24).  Indeed, He does equip and empower Christians with the necessary gifts for ministry (1Co 12), but His most basic and fundamental function is to cultivate spiritual graces in the soul (1Co 13; Eph 3:16-17).

          The Spirit’s work of inner renewal is two-fold: (1) Regeneration (Joh 3:8; Tit 3:5); (2) Sanctification (Joh 7:38; 2Co 3:18). In regeneration, He works immediately, i.e. without the use of means or media (Joh 6:44; Ga 4:6), but in practical sanctification, He works through the word (Ga 3:2,5; 2Co 3:6-8; 1Pe 2:2). Regeneration is an event — a sudden and instantaneous creative act in the soul (Eph 4:24); Practical sanctification is a process — an ongoing transformation of one’s character, described by the metaphor of “growth in grace” (1Pe 3:18; Eph 4:15).

Paul unites both truths in 2Co 3:3, explaining the change that has been wrought in the lives of the Corinthians in terms of a law “written by the Spirit of the living God” in the tablet of their hearts (a reference to the immediacy of regeneration by alluding to the historical parallel when God, by His “finger,” directly engraved the law in tables of stone) and of his own gospel ministry to them — “…ministered [diakoneo = to serve, like a waiter serves a table] by us…” (a reference to sanctification).  The Holy Spirit not only functions to inwardly transform the elect from a state of death in sin to life in Christ, but also to further cultivate Christian character in their lives. This work is subsequent to regeneration, a distinction that explains passages like Lu 11:13, where believers are promised more of the Spirit in answer to prayer, and Eph 5:18, where the verb phrase — “be filled with the Spirit” — is in the passive voice but the imperative mood, i.e. “keep on being filled.”

          Perhaps the best way to distinguish between the Spirit’s two-fold function of inward renewal is to think of His work in terms of two covenants: The Everlasting Covenant and The New Covenant. The first is a covenant with eternal consequence; the second is a covenant of worship and service. Regeneration is His covenantal function in the “everlasting covenant.” In the covenant of redemption, the Spirit’s official capacity is to function as the Life-Giver to all the elect. Sanctification is His covenant role in the “new covenant.” In His new covenant ministry, the Holy Spirit is officially the “second Paraklete,” lit. “another Comforter” (Joh 14:16), sent to minister specifically to believers.

Where does Scripture make such a distinction between the Spirit’s office-work in respect to eternal salvation and His ministry to the church? Compare Joh 7:38-39 and Joh 3:3-8:

 

“He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water…This He spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified” (Joh 7:38-39).

 

“Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, He cannot enter the kingdom of God…That which is born of the Spirit is spirit…The wind bloweth where it listeth…so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (Joh 3:3-8).

 

The Joh 7 passage indicates that the Spirit would be “given” to believers only after Jesus was ascended and glorified. The Joh 3 passage employs the present tense indicating that the Holy Spirit was already active in His regenerating activity. The tension between the two passages might be expressed in a simple question: If the Holy Spirit was actively engaged in regenerating sinners prior to the ascension of Jesus Christ, then in what sense was He “given” when Jesus was glorified? How do we reconcile these two verses?

          At 9 a.m. Pentecost morning, the Holy Spirit assumed a further role, another task in addition to the covenantal work of regeneration — a “New Covenant” ministry to believers as the second Comforter, the risen Christ’s agent to His church.

In the light of these two functions, Paul exhorts the believers in Galatia, “If we live in the Spirit [i.e. regeneration], let us also walk in the Spirit [i.e. sanctification in the Christian life]” (Ga 5:25).  Let’s consider in further detail the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration.

 

Regeneration

Redemption accomplished by Christ at the cross must also be applied to the individual.  This aspect of the work of salvation, called regeneration, is the covenant responsibility of the Holy Spirit. In regeneration, the Holy Spirit vitally applies God’s grace in Christ to the heart, changing a person at the very center of his being, and making him spiritually alive to God:  “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Tit 3:5).

Regeneration, effectual calling, and irresistible grace are synonymous theological terms expressing the reality that the Scripture calls being “born again.” What do these terms mean?

 

Definitions 

Regeneration, meaning second birth, is a work of God’s sovereign grace whereby He gives a person a new heart, transforming character at a radical level (Eze 36:25-27). It involves a change of nature, not merely a change of mind, direction, or behavior. It is monergistic (i.e. the work of One), not synergistic (i.e. a cooperative work between God and man), and it is immediate, i.e. without the use of means or media. God sovereignly and directly imparts new life to the soul of every elect and redeemed individual, thereby bringing them into a vital relationship with Himself.

 

Illustrations

Bible writers employ several different metaphors — including new birth (Joh 3:3-8; 1:13; 1Pe 1:23-25; 1Jo 3:9; 5:1), calling (Joh 5:25; 2Ti 1:9; Heb 3:1; 1Pe 5:10; Ro 8:28-30), a drawing to Christ (Joh 6:44,65), a quickening (Eph 2:1-10), a resurrection (Joh 5:24; 1Jo 3:14; Col 3:1; Eph 1:19), a translation (Col 1:13), a new creation (Eph 2:10; 2Co 5:17; Eph 4:24; Ga 6:15), and a circumcision of the heart (Col 2:11-13; Ro 2:29) – to teach different facets and features of the work that God does in the soul. Each image demonstrates the immediacy of God’s work of grace in the heart. In regeneration, God is active; man is the passive beneficiary of salvation. Let’s notice a few of the more salient passages.

 

Joh 3:3-8

In His conversation with Nicodemus, the Lord Jesus defined regeneration in terms of a new birth in which the Divine nature is imparted to the soul (Joh 3:3-8). Unlike a biological birth that takes place on a horizontal level, however, this birth takes place on a vertical level.  It comes “from above.” Regeneration is something supernatural and heavenly in origin. Only God can regenerate (Joh 1:12-13; 2Ti 1:9).  How does He do it? Joh 3:8 teaches three basic thoughts: First, God is sovereign in regeneration (‘The wind bloweth where it listeth…’). Just as the wind blows unrestrained by man, so the Spirit of God moves irresistibly, unhindered in His regenerating activity. Second, Regeneration is a divine mystery (‘cannot tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth…’). There is more to it than man can comprehend. The moment of New Birth is mysterious. Most people are unaware of the moment of their new birth. Further, the very nature of New Birth is mysterious. No one can adequately explain how Christ can dwell as the Divine Resident in the soul (Col 1:27; Ro 8:9-11).  Third, everyone who is born again is born again in the same way (‘so is every one that is born of the Spirit’). A system of salvation based on human works requires a different method of saving sinners under different circumstances — i.e. the unevangelized heathen, the infant that dies in infancy, the mentally handicapped, the patriarchs prior to Moses’ Law, the Old Testament Jew under the Law, and the person who lives on this side of the cross. But God’s sovereign grace applied by the direct operation of the Holy Spirit is sufficient for every circumstance.

 

Joh 5:25

          The doctrine of effectual calling is stated no where more plainly than here. Notice the sinner’s condition: “dead” in trespasses and in sins. Now notice the Savior’s command. The dead hear “the voice of the Son of God.” Finally, notice the successful call. The dead “shall hear and they that hear shall live.” The verb “shall” indicates absolute certainty. His call is effectual.

          When the Lord speaks life to the dead, they come forth — Lazarus-like — by the sheer power of His command. He speaks directly, without the use of a spokesman, by Divine fiat to the soul. Just as He spoke and it was done in the creation of the universe, so He speaks and creates new life in the soul of the sinner who is dead in trespasses and in sins (Ps 33:6; 2Co 4:6; Joh 11:38-46). Interestingly, in each of the three resurrection accounts in the personal ministry of Jesus (i.e. the widow’s son of Nain, Jairus’ daughter, Lazarus), Jesus spoke directly to the dead. His call was both personal, effectual, and below the level of consciousness. In each case, the individual responded to Christ’s life giving voice, being made willing in the day of His power (Ps 110:3). So it is with the effectual call of the Spirit to new life in Christ. The power that raised Christ from the dead is the power that enables a man to believe (Eph 1:19).

 

Joh 6:44

          Regeneration is an irresistible drawing to Christ to be united to Him in a vital relationship. John 6:44 says it like this: “No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him…”

          The word “draw” suggests the picture of someone drawing water from a well. Just as one does not woo or entice water to get into the bucket, so God does not woo sinners to a decision for Christ. He reaches down and by an act of His own sovereign power, acts upon the sinner by external force. The several times the word “draw” is employed in the NT, it always means to compel by force or to drag, never to invite, entice, or woo (see  Ac 16:19; 21:30; Jas 2:6; Joh 12:32; 21:6,11; 18:10).

  

Evidences of Regeneration

          What are the evidences of a gracious state? Faith (Joh 5:24; 1Jo 5:1; Ga 5:22; Joh 1:11-13), love for God and His people (1Jo 4:7,16; 3:14), confession of Jesus Christ (1Jo 4:15), holiness (1Jo 3:9), obedience (1Jo 2:29), an inner warfare between the flesh and the spirit (Ro 7), an inclination to pray and commune with God (Ga 4:6; Ac 9:11), a thirst for understanding (Ac 8:26-40), piety of heart (Ac 10), joy in the Lord (#Lk 1:44|), conviction of sin (#Lk 18:13|), and a humble disposition before the Lord (#Lk 23:39-43|) — all of these characteristics are features that are indigenous to the born again heart, none of which are true of man in his natural state of fallenness (1Co 2:14; Ro 3:10-18; Joh 8:43,47).

          Scripture teaches that all who were loved by the Father and redeemed by the Son will be effectually called by the Holy Spirit (Ro 8:28-30).  It is this work that brings the individual sinner into vital union with Christ and through which all the benefits of Christ’s atoning death are savingly applied to the soul.

BB14 Glorification (Chapter 14)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES

 
Scripture teaches that all who have a relational union with Christ — i.e. covenant union through the Father’s electing grace (Eph 1:4), legal union through the Son’s redeeming grace (Eph 1:6-7), and vital union through the Spirit’s regenerating grace (Eph 2:5-6) — will be preserved in Christ by grace to final glory: “When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col 3:4; cf. Joh 17:22-23). In theological terms, this concept is expressed by the term glorification.

Glorification is God’s act of grace whereby a person is finally renewed in the whole man after the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul expresses this truth in 1Th 5:23: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Several points are noteworthy in this key verse: (1) Final glorification is an act of God’s free grace—“And the very God of peace sanctify you…” It is His work. (2) Final glorification is akin to sanctification—“And the very God of peace sanctify you…” (3) Final glorification involves the whole man—“…sanctify you wholly…your whole spirit and soul and body…” (4) Final glorification depends on Divine preservation in the interim between regeneration and Christ’s return — “…be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord”.  Let’s develop these thoughts.

 

PRESERVATION

God Will Finish What He Began

In Scripture, the verb “to save” is used in various tenses. It means we have been saved (past tense), we are being saved (present tense), and we shall be saved (future tense).  In theological terms, then, salvation is a matter of justification (in the past), sanctification (in the present), and glorification (in the future) [Notice this threefold emphasis in the Savior’s prayer in Joh 17]. To say it in yet another way, God has saved us from the penalty of sin, is saving us from the power of sin, and will save us finally from the presence of sin (2Co 1:10; Tit 2:11-14).

The God who started the work of salvation has pledged to complete it. The end is guaranteed. Glorification is just as sure and certain as Predestination, Calling, or Justification, for it is a matter of God’s covenant decree (Ro 8:29). Glorification is the last chapter in the unfolding drama of redemptive history.

The certainty of final salvation, then, presupposes the preservation of the saints (often called Eternal Security). Preservation means that those who have been saved will never finally fall away from a state of grace or lose their salvation. God will keep His own safe in His love (Joh 10:28-29; 2Ti 4:18; Ro 8:38-39). They will “never [a Greek double-negative meaning “never, no never”] perish” (Joh 3:16). God will finish the work He began.

 

SANCTIFICATION

God Continues What He Began

Yes, but how? How does the Lord preserve His people? Not by merely saying they will be preserved, but by actively continuing to work in them. The word tereo translated “preserved” in Jude 1-25 implies an active guarding. Jesus Christ is the “Bishop” — that is “the One who watches over” — of our souls (1Pe 2:25). In the interim between regeneration and final glorification, Christ “keeps his people safe” by continuing His work of grace in the heart. This ongoing work of inner transformation into Christ’s glorious image is called sanctification.

Consider the following verses in terms of the relationship between final glorification and present sanctification as God’s means of preserving the saints in grace: “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Php 1:6); “Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Co 1:8); “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 25; see also Ps 37:23-24). 

These verses indicate that every regenerate person will continue in some degree of faith [i.e. their faith will not totally fail - #Lk 22:31-32; 1Jn 5:4] and holiness [i.e. there is an ethical difference between one who is spiritually alive and one who is spiritually dead] for the Lord continues His work in the soul (Phi 2:13|).[i]  Hence, they can sing “The righteous shall hold on His way” and “Cast down but not destroyed.” Sanctification is the “how” of preservation.

Sanctification, then, is glorification in miniature or in prospect, and glorification is sanctification completed. The former is of the same nature as final glorification, i.e. a transformation into the image of Christ, but not of the same degree. Sanctification, in other words, is not the total eradication of the sin nature, but the ongoing transformation into Christ’s likeness, little by little. Glorification, however, involves the removal of the last vestiges of the sinful nature and a sudden and ultimate transformation into God’s image. At the Savior’s life-giving summons, every elect will be resurrected and given a new body to match his new heart. That’s glorification (see Php 3:21; 1Co 15:42-57; 1Jo 3:2; Ro 8:11; Job 19:26-27; Ps 17:15).

          This connection between God’s present work of sanctification and the certainty of final glorification is implied in Job 14:14-16: “If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands. For now thou numberest my steps: dost thou not watch over my sin?” Notice the contrast between Job’s future “change” and God’s present safe-keeping (Interestingly, shamar, Hebrew for “watch” means “to keep safe; preserve; guard.” God “shields,” i.e. “watches over,”  Job from his sin, as verse seventeen indicates).

 

PERSEVERANCE

We Should Seek Assurance

Christians should be very careful to balance teaching on eternal security with an exhortation to godliness (2Ti 2:19). God’s grace in Christ is not a license to sin (Ro 6:1-2). In fact, Scripture teaches that the only legitimate evidence of past grace and future glory is a life of present godliness (Col 1:22-23; Ro 8:1,4; 1Jo 3:7). Perseverance in faith is the ultimate evidence of preservation in grace.

 We should be very diligent, then, to pursue the assurance of salvation (2Pe 1:10; Heb 6:8-12). It is in this sense that exhortations such as “lay hold on eternal life” (1Ti 6:12) and “lay hold on the hope set before us” (Heb 6:18) must be interpreted. Nothing is more important for the person who professes to believe in Christ than to prove his faith by his works (Jas 2:17-26). The objective truth of the gospel is “we shall abide in Him,” but our subjective response to that truth must of necessity be a conscious commitment to “abide in Him” in daily practice (1Jo 2:27-28). He “preserves” His people in Christ (Jude 1-25), but they are nevertheless exhorted to “keep” themselves in the love of God (Jude 25). At the same time, Scripture balances the fact that the elect are “kept by the power of God” (1Pe 1:5) with the evidence that the person who has been born of the Spirit “keeps himself and that wicked one touches him not” (1Jo 5:18).  Keep a firm grip on your Lord by a life of present convertedness, my friend, and rejoice in the security of His mighty grip on you.

 

“Let me no more my comfort draw,

From my frail hold on Thee;

In this alone rejoice with awe,

Thy mighty grasp of me”


[i] Notice that I emphasize the word “some.” The degree of faith and holiness is arguable. But the alternative — i.e. that they will continue in no degree of faith and holiness — is, in my opinion, unthinkable. I would tend to define the issue in ethical and moral terms, not necessarily in terms of doctrinal orthodoxy.

BB15 Repentance and Faith (Chapter 15)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES


The Christian gospel is not only a message concerning Christ as Savior, but also Christ as Lord. It is a message of both grace by and by and of grace for living in the here and now — of justification and sanctification. What does it mean, then, to be a Christian? It means both that we believe certain things and that we behave in certain ways. Faith and life, doctrine and duty, an emphasis on God’s grace and on God’s government —both dimensions are essential to the Christian gospel.

The Christian life, then, is the outcome of the Christian gospel. What we believe prompts us to act and live in a Christ-like way. Christians “follow Jesus,” (Joh 21:19), taking their cue from Him and walking as He walked (1Jo 2:6). Theirs is a life in Christ as Savior, by Christ as Mediator, with Christ as Master, and unto Christ as Lord. A Christian is someone who has “put on Jesus Christ” in gospel profession (Ga 3:27). The subsequent challenge of Christian discipleship is to continue as one began: “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him, rooted and built up in Him and stablished in the faith” (Col 2:6-7).

          Such a lifestyle begins with the two most basic elements of Christian discipleship: repentance and faith. The entire Christian life can be summarized in these two terms.

Paul testified both to the Jews and the Greeks “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ac 20:21). The Lord Jesus Himself preached “repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mr 1:15). Peter also called upon the people to “repent and be converted that your sins may be blotted out” (Ac 3:19). Christian living starts here.

 

Both a Grace and a Command

          It is important to note that each of the foregoing quotations is written in the imperative mood. The various speakers are commanding us to do something. What is the significance of that fact? It affirms that both repentance and faith are duties — actions of the will. The gospel “commands [us] to repent” (Ac 17:30) and  “commands [us] to believe on the name of His Son, Jesus Christ” (1Jo 3:23).

          At the same time, the gospel also admits that both repentance and faith, like all Christian virtues, are “gifts of God’s grace.” Simply put, man does not have the capacity to generate these graces in and of himself. In Ac 11:18, Peter reported that God had “granted repentance unto life” to the Gentiles (see also Ac 5:31; 2Ti 2:25). Faith , likewise, is “the gift of God” (Eph 2:8; Php 1:29; Joh 6:65; Eph 1:19-20; Ro 12:3).

          How do we reconcile this apparent discrepancy? First, by understanding the fact that spiritual life must necessarily precede spiritual action. In an unregenerate state, man is spiritually incapacitated — dead in trespasses and in sins. Unless God first grants life to the soul, man will remain unresponsive to gospel stimuli and hence, incapable of living the Christian life (Joh 3:3,5). Second, by remembering the fact that discipleship is a cooperative effort between God the Holy Spirit and the born again child of God (Php 2:12-13; Heb 13:21; Col 1:28-29). Though salvation is monergistic, i.e. the work of One, practical sanctification is synergistic, i.e. God works and the believer works.

In simple terms, contrary principles like this are clarified when we distinguish between the “will” (man’s capacity to make choices or determinations) and the “heart” or “affections” (man’s capacity to feel emotionally). The gospel calls upon people to repent and believe, but man cannot generate within himself a broken, contrite heart and godly sorrow for sin. Neither can he produce within his heart the emotion of confidence in God. God alone can prepare the heart and the affections (Ac 16:14). That fact, however, does not negate our responsibility to do what God has commanded. Christian living involves both total dependence on Christ and the assumption of personal responsibility.

   

Repentance Toward God

          Jesus came to “call sinners to repentance” (Mt 9:13). Far and away, repentance was the dominant note of His preaching (Mr 1:15; Mt 4:17). It was also the emphasis that had priority in the ministry of John the Baptist (Mr 1:4), the disciples (Mr 6:12), Peter at Pentecost (Ac 2:38), Paul (Ac 17:30; 26:20), and the early church (Re 2:5; 3:19).

Repentance is basic and essential to Christian discipleship. The verb means “to turn about” and it speaks of a change of mind that issues in a change of direction (Eze 18:30; 33:11). It implies a discovery that one is wrong and hence, the resolve to change. The individual who has not “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1Th 1:9), thus renouncing his former sinful lifestyle (1Pe 4:4), is not a Christian.

Repentance is the Lord’s answer to the question, “How should a human being deal with sin in his life?” Though many people rationalize it (Pr 16:2), viewing themselves as victims instead of perpetrators, and others shift blame, avoiding accountability, and still others pursue distractions, God calls upon man to simply repent.

Repentance, in other words, is not only the first step of Christian discipleship, but an ongoing activity. Christian living involves habitual repentance — a constant turning. In the first of his Ninety-five Theses nailed to the door of Christ Church in Wittenburg (1517), Martin Luther wrote, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), He willed that the whole life of the believer should be one of repentance.”  Every day — and, indeed, many times per day — the Christian must make a deliberate moral effort, sometimes at great personal cost, to “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus” (#Lk 9:23|). He must decisively renounce both ungodly thoughts and sinful deeds. He must “cease and desist” from unbiblical attitudes (or heart sins - Pr 14:14), and every form of idolatry, i.e. anything he thinks he cannot live without (Col 3:5), and commit himself anew to a life of total consecration to God.

Repentance is a dynamic comprised of several distinct, yet interrelated, factors. It begins with a sight of sin. This is the moment when a person begins to associate the unhappiness, discontent, and distress in his life to sins he has committed against the Lord (#Lk 15:17; 1Kings 8:47|) and the point at which he sees how gracious the Lord has been to him despite his own miserable failures (Ro 2:4).

The sight of sin, in turn, breaks the heart and produces a kind of holy agony that Scripture calls “godly sorrow” (2Co 7:9-10; Ps 38:18; 51:3,17). The emotions of shame and hatred of the sin cause the erring soul to sorrow and mourn with sadness. This leads, next, to confession, the act of self-accusation before God (Jer 3:13; Ho 14:1ff; Ps 32:3-5; 51:3-4) and a zealous determination to forsake the sin from this point forward (Pr 28:13; Isa 55:7; 2Co 7:11).

Finally, the penitent soul receives the forgiveness of sins in the form of peace in his conscience (1Jo 1:9; Ac 26:18; Ps 32:4) and sets out to teach others the way of peace (Ps 51:13). That’s the dynamic of repentance and every time it occurs, either initially or subsequent to conversion, all heaven is jubilant before the God of all grace (#Lk 15:7,10|).

 

Faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ  

Further, the Christian life is a life of faith: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Ga 2:20). Faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ marks both the inception of discipleship (Ac 20:21) and the essential character of what it means to follow Christ (Ga 2:20). A Christian is someone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ — God incarnate, crucified, and raised from the dead for the salvation of sinners.

          Faith, like repentance, is the gift of God (Eph 2:8; Ac 18:27; Php 1:29; 1Pe 1:21; 1Jo 5:4; Ga 5:22). The question at the heart of this claim is simply this: What makes the difference between one person who believes in Jesus Christ and one who does not? Does man make the difference, or does God?

          God’s word teaches that grace alone distinguishes one man from another (1Co 4:7). If a Mr. Jones believes and a Mr. Smith does not, it is because Mr. Jones has been given an inclination toward God. He has been given the gift of faith in regeneration; he has been “made willing” [or inclined Godward] “in the day of God’s power” (Ps 110:3). The same power that raised Christ from physical death raises individual sinners from spiritual death and enables them to believe (Eph 1:19-20). Divine grace is the only reason anyone ever responds believingly toward the gospel, and faith in Christ is the ultimate evidence that a person has been born again (Joh 5:24; 1Jo 5:1; Ac 13:39; Joh 1:11-13).

          But Scripture also describes faith, like repentance, in terms of a discipline.  Note the imperative mood of Ac 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” In 1Jo 3:23, we are “commanded” to believe (as well as to “love one another”) — to cease to vacillate and quibble in ambivalence about the gospel message and to acquiesce submissively and respond obediently to its claims.  Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, then, is the fountain-head from which Christian living springs. A Christian is different from a moralist simply by virtue of the fact that he believes in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

 

 

 

What is Faith?

          Faith is not mere mental assent to a creed or dogma. Neither is it a kind of optimistic attitude toward life, as positive thinkers suggest. In the Bible, faith (Greek pistis, Latin fiducia) is a response of confident trust toward God. The New Testament construction of the Greek verb suggests the thought of “movement” — pisteuo eis and pisteuo epi, translated “to believe in” and “to believe upon” respectively. It is a dynamic and active, not a static and passive, concept.  Faith, then, is a Godward motion of the soul in reponse to His movement toward man — a reliant outgoing of the soul from self-confidence to rely upon Him as the object of its confidence. Faith says,

 

Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to thy cross I cling;

Naked, come to thee for dress,

Helpless, look to thee for grace.

 

Biblical faith is a reasoning trust in a trustworthy object. It is premised on God’s character (Heb 11:6,27) and anchored in Christ’s cross (Heb 12:2-3).

 

Faith and God’s Word

To what Divine stimulus is faith a response? Faith is a response to the stimulus of God’s word. In its origin, faith is an involuntary response — below the level of consciousness, Lazarus-like — to the “voice of the Son of God” (Joh 5:25; cf. Ps 33:6,9), and in its function, faith is a conscious, voluntary response to God’s word proclaimed (Ro 10:9ff; cf. Mt 8:8,10).

When God speaks, faith responds obediently, in spite of feelings within, circumstances without, or consequences ahead. Like Peter, it trusts the One who is sovereign, all-knowing, and kind, even when natural sensory perception argues against the rationale of His word: “Lord, we’ve tarried all night and caught nothing; nevertheless, at Thy word, I’ll let down the net” (#Lk 5:5|). Such faith in God’s unfailing promise was exhibited by Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua & Caleb, Rahab, David, and many, many others (Heb 11).

          To whom do you listen? That question is at the heart of the Biblical concept of faith. Do you hearken to God’s word or do you listen to your own feelings and ideas and the fallen world system around you? It was because Adam “hearkened to the voice of his wife” — who by the way was listening to the serpent — instead of “hearkening to the voice of the Lord” that he plunged himself and his entire posterity into spiritual alienation from God (Ge 3:17). Still, “whatsoever is not of faith,” i.e. that which is not consistent with God’s word, “is sin” (Ro 14:23).

 

Faith and Works

          What kind of response to God’s word is faith? Vertically, faith expresses itself by reaching upward in confident trust and reliance on God. Horizontally, faith expresses itself by obedience to God in service to others (Ro 16:26). James put it succinctly: “Faith without works is dead, being alone” (Jas 2:17).

          What does he mean? James wants the truth that Christians profess to issue in action. He wants his readers to dress their profession of faith in practical service to others — to live in obedience to God by serving others and trusting God to supply every need.

          Good works are visible manifestations of the life of Christ in us (Mt 5:16). The gospel is not a license for ethical laziness, but an incentive to energetic service and obedience (Eph 2:10; Tit 3:1,8). Such works are evidences of the genuineness of faith (Ga 5:6; 1Th 1:3) —“things that accompany salvation” (Heb 6:8-12). Indeed, Paul speaks of some who “profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Tit 1:16).

 

Summary

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the Christian life is that it is a life of faith.  It is a life lived outside the realm of the five natural senses, a life governed by the inward witness that God has placed in the soul together with the verbal revelation He has given in Scripture (Ro 10:8; 1Jo 5:10). Christians see no burning bushes, pillars of cloud by day or pillars of fire by night; nevertheless, at His word, they live their lives in this world, long or short as they may be, by the faith of the Son of God who loved them, anticipating that glorious day when faith shall once and for all become sight.

BB16 The Doctrine of the Church (Chapter 16)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES


Everyone who has been brought to repentance and faith is called to enter into the corporate life of participation with fellow believers in the church. It is in the context of the local church that New Testament teaching on the Christian Life is framed.  It was “the disciples” in the church at Antioch who were first called “Christians” (Ac 11:26). Notice, also, how most of the epistles were written to established local congregations of believers.  This fact strongly implies that it is within the context of church life that God intends His believing children to practice their faith. In fact, John asserts that a professed love for God that does not express itself in loving service to one’s brother is spurious and hypocritical (1Jo 3:16-18; 4:20-21).

          Ecclesiology, the technical term for the Doctrine of the Church, is a multifaceted and far-reaching theological discipline. Perhaps to the chagrin of some, I will not address issues such as church polity and government, church officers, or church function, but will settle with the attempt to answer three general questions: (1) What is the church?; (2) What are the marks of an authentic church?; and (3) What is the purpose of the church?

 

 

 

What is the Church?

There are two basic views in Christian history regarding the nature of the church: (1) The church is an invisible, general community comprised of everyone who professes to believe in Jesus Christ; (2) The church is a gathered community of regenerated saints.  The first is a more eclectic, or catholic, view, and the second is a more exclusive, or separatist, view. Though Scripture does in fact sometimes refer to the church in terms of all who were redeemed by the blood of Christ (Eph 5:25; Ac 20:28; Heb 12:23), yet far and away, the dominant emphasis in the New Testament is on the visible, not the invisible, church — on the local congregation of believers. 

This controversy concerning the nature of the church is at the heart of a movement known as “ecumenism.” Should Christians pursue an ecumenical unity, even at the expense of orthodoxy, or is genuine unity only possible through a consensus of theological conviction — a “unity in the faith” (Eph 4:13)?  In the history of Christianity, those who believed that “truth” was essential to church identity have found it necessary, from time to time, to separate themselves from what they assessed to be a compromised Christianity in order to preserve the integrity of the faith.  These were separations fueled by doctrinal conviction regarding the nature of the church.  Let me illustrate.

In the second century, the church moved from the simplicity of a living organism to the complexity of a sacramental and authoritarian institution.  A campaign known as “the Free Church movement” that opposed the institutionalized church arose in which certain groups left to pursue a pure church based on the Bible.  In his History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff says concerning one of these groups known as the Donatists,

 

The Donatist controversy was a conflict between separatism and catholicism…between the idea of the church as an exclusive community of regenerated saints and the idea of the church as the general Christendom of state and people.[i]

 

The Donatists, together with the Novatians (ca. A.D. 250|), Paulicans (ca. A.D. 625|), Albigenses (ca. A.D. 1140|), Waldenses (ca. A.D. 1180|), and others who opposed the institutionalized church were branded as heretics and “Anabaptists.” Dr. James Stitzinger, a Professor of Historical Theology, writes,

 

As a general rule, the Anabaptists rejected the idea of an invisible church, viewing the church as a voluntary association of regenerated saints.  They sought to restore the idea of a primitive, New Testament church free from magisterial entanglements.  This allowed the practice of church discipline, but meant that the church did not have the right to force its views on anyone or persecute those who opposed it.[ii]

 

Believers Baptism

This conviction for the church as a gathered community of regenerated saints is the basis of receiving only those who give evidence of being true believers into the fellowship. The “separatist” view concerning the nature of the church, in other words, is the theological basis for the practice of “believers,” as opposed to “infant,” baptism.

          A convincing case can be made from the New Testament regarding the fact that immersion is the Scriptural mode or method of baptism.  Philip and the Eunuch “went down both into the water…and he baptized him,” then they came “up out of the water” (Ac 8:38-39).  Certainly, complete immersion most accurately portrays Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Even more convincing is the case that can be made for the fact that believers, as opposed to infants and unbelievers, are the only appropriate subjects for the ordinance.  To the eunuch’s question “What doth hinder me to be baptized?” Philip responded, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest” (Ac 8:36-37).   On the day of Pentecost, it was those who “gladly received the word” that were baptized (Ac 2:41).  It was after Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to the Philippian jailor and his family that they were all baptized (Ac 16:32-34).  To everyone who believes the gospel of Jesus Christ, baptism is commanded (Ac 10:48), for faith without works is dead.

Baptism is the act of faith, by which a believer makes a break with his past lifestyle, turns from his idols, and sets out to follow the Lord Jesus Christ for the rest of his life.  It is a dramatization of repentance at a radical level, a turning point in life marked by a distinct and voluntary decision to die to self and to live completely and only for the Lord.  It is the believer’s testimony, first to the local fellowship, and then to the watching world, of personal faith in Christ Jesus.  It is a courageous act in which one risks the embarrassment and vulnerability of scorn and ridicule as the first step of a Christian discipleship that will be marked by ongoing persecution.  It is a confession that the believer is not ashamed of the gospel or embarrassed by the Savior, but willing to suffer humiliation for the One who laid down his life for him.  Like the entire Christian life, this first step is inconvenient and physically unpleasant, but a true believer is willing, yea, even glad to suffer hardship for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yes, baptism is for believers. 

 

What are the Marks of an Authentic Church?

          Then, how is a true New Testament church identified? What are the defining characteristics? Of course, according to Scripture, only the Lord Jesus Christ can give identity to churches.  He “walks among the candlesticks,” scrutinizing and monitoring the details of church life, and conferring or removing His endorsement according to His own perfect judgment (Re 1:12-3:22).  He alone is the Head of the Church and He alone knows who is and who is not a true church; nevertheless, there are certain defining marks outlined in God’s word —criteria by which a person may make a judgment of conscience regarding the legitimacy of a local church.

In the New Testament, the idea of ‘the church’ is concrete and definite, not abstract and general.  When Jesus said, “If he neglect to hear them, tell it to the church” (Mt 18:17), he indicates that ‘the church’ is a local group that has definition and structure, else the command would be unintelligible.

In general terms, a gospel church is defined by its commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ in all three of its functions:  (1) The preaching of the word; (2) The observance of the ordinances; (3) The administration of Biblical and loving discipline.

Each of these three functions converge, like the spokes of a wheel to the hub, on the same gospel.  Each is an expression of that gospel.  The preached word makes the gospel audible.  It is the gospel verbally and rationally proclaimed.  The ordinances make the gospel visible.  In them, the gospel is visually displayed and illustrated.  The practice of church discipline in which each is accountable to and responsible for his brother makes the gospel practical.  It is the gospel practically applied and enforced.  What a group believes regarding the gospel, then, determines how they preach, how they observe the ordinances, and how they live interactively with others.  These three functions, furthermore, are expressions of their understanding of the gospel message. 

 

It Dispenses God’s Truth

          Consider the salient Scriptural support for these three defining characteristics. First, a gospel church is defined by the truth of the gospel that it proclaims.  Truth is essential to the integrity of a church, for the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1Ti 3:15). The church is the dispenser of truth.  It exists to disseminate God’s truth in a world of error and falsehood.  The church's principal task, then, is to uphold truth by proclaiming God’s word, for His “word is truth” (Joh 17:17).  It is upon the bedrock of Divine revelation concerning the Lord Jesus Christ that Christ has promised to “build His church” (Mt 16:18).  Without the true gospel — i.e. the truth that Jesus Christ is God incarnate who finished the work of redemption — a “church” is not a church.

 

 

 

It Administers Gospel Ordinances

Secondly, a true gospel church is defined by the gospel ordinances that it observes. The ordinances, i.e. sacred traditions, given to the church by the Lord Jesus, both by his own example (Mt 3:13-17) and his own explicit command (Mt 28:19; 1Co 11:23-26) are two —Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both ordinances are “church” ordinances, in terms of the fact that the authority to administer the ordinances has been given to the church  (Mt 28:19).  The Biblical observance of these two ceremonies, “as [the apostles] delivered them” (1Co 11:2), are marks by which a genuine church is identified and defined (2Th 2:15).

Baptism is an act of worship, taking the form of a ceremonial washing, in which a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ identifies himself, by faith, with the Savior’s atoning death, and consecrates himself to a lifetime of faith and obedience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The ordinance of baptism is a ceremony of initiation, marking the entrance into discipleship and identifying one as a fellow believer with his brothers and sisters in the local church.  The ordinance of communion is a ceremony of remembrance, commemorating the Savior’s crucifixion and resurrection by sharing the bread and wine with fellow believers.

          At least three parallels can be made between these two ordinances that Christ gave to the church. 

      (1) Both ordinances are acted sermons, proclaiming the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ visibly and dramatically.  As the preaching of the word makes the gospel audible, so the ordinances make it visible. They are, consequently, visual aids, portraying the gospel in picture form.

(2) Both are outward expressions of an inward reality.  Peter classified baptism in the same category with Noah’s ark as “figures” of the means of salvation (1Pe 3:20-22).  Baptism is, then, a symbolic act, by which an individual expresses his conviction that God has already performed the substantial work of grace in the soul that Paul calls “the washing of regeneration” (Tit 3:5).  The salvation in gospel baptism is a “now” salvation (“…baptism doth also now save us…”), that is, a present deliverance in which the believer receives a sense of pardon and peace from a guilty conscience, not the removal of “the filth of the flesh [i.e. indwelling sin]” (1Pe 3:21).  The Lord’s Supper, likewise, is figurative of the actual means of salvation.  When Jesus took the elements and said “This is my body…this is my blood,” he meant that the bread and the wine represented, not constituted, his broken body and his shed blood.  Neither baptism nor communion is itself the means by which one is saved; rather, each points to and pictures the objective work of salvation performed by Christ and applied by the Holy Spirit.

(3|) Both are signs of the believers union with Christ.  By participating in the ordinances, the believer is reminded of his personal interest in Christ’s atoning work as a participant, not a spectator.  The ordinances are expressions of individual assurance by which the believer testifies with Paul, “I am crucified with Christ…who loved me and gave himself for me” (Ga 2:20; Col 2:12).  When an individual personally and physically is immersed, he is saying, by that act, “I believe that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected for me; I trust only in his merit, for time and eternity.”  Further, when one personally and physically takes the bread and the wine into his body, he is saying, “I believe that his body was broken and his blood was shed for me; he is my only hope for heaven and my only source of strength and nourishment now.”

          Baptism, however, is not only a profession of the fact that one believes in Jesus, it is also a confession of what one believes about Jesus.  In Ac 8:12, Luke specifically refers, not to the mere fact of their faith, but to the content of their faith, i.e. not “that” they believed but to “what” they believed:  “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”  

          Both of the ordinances are, in fact, theological statements — expressions of the content of faith.  They both say something not only of the person, but also of the work of Jesus Christ.  There is no New Testament precedent for separating the person from the work of Christ.  Paul said “we preach Christ crucified” (1Co 1:23), a Christological formula that expresses an inseparable union between the person and the work of Jesus.  The argument that baptism is merely an existential experience with the person of Christ, but not a theological confession of the work of that same Christ, is an attempt to put asunder what God has joined together.  That Paul understood baptism to be a confession of one’s belief about the cross is clear from his argument in 1Co 15:29:  “Else what shall they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?”

          An idea had taken root in the church at Corinth that there would be no bodily resurrection of the dead in the last day.  This particular controversy was a theological departure of no small importance.  Paul saw this aberrant teaching as a threat to the essentials of the faith.  He proceeds in 1Co 15, therefore, to dismantle the false teaching by a logical argument, the force of which is simply irresistible.  “If there is no resurrection,” he argues first, “then Christ is not raised, for Christ’s resurrection guarantees ours.”  If you deny the resurrection of the dead, in other words, you must deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Secondly, he argues, if you deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then the entire Christian faith is meaningless and worthless.  All is vain if Christ is not alive.  He then proceeds to describe the vanity and futility of a Christless Christianity.  Preaching is vain, he says, for we have no gospel.  Your faith is vain, for Christ cannot help you if he is in the grave.  Further, hope and assurance of salvation is vain, for, if Christ is not raised, you are yet in your sins.  Then, Paul says, “By the way, if Christ is not alive from the dead, why are you still practicing the ordinance of baptism, for baptism pictures not only death and burial, but also resurrection?  Baptism is meaningless if you deny the doctrine of the resurrection.”

          Paul understood the theological implications of the act of baptism.  The inconsistency between their practice of the ordinance of baptism and their insistence that there was no resurrection was glaring.  By denying the doctrine of the resurrection, they had robbed the act of baptism of its essential meaning.  Baptism is primarily, then, a confession of faith, not a sheer existential experience.

Baptist’s historical insistence on authentic Scriptural baptism, consequently, arises from these three convictions:  (1) A conviction for ‘believers’ baptism.  By that phrase they mean “people who give evidence of regeneration, and who really believe in Jesus Christ by submitting to what the Scriptures have to say about both his Person and his Work.”  (2) A conviction that baptism is a confession of faith, a statement expressing not only that one believes in Jesus but also what one believes about Jesus Christ;  (3) A conviction that baptism is a church ordinance, an official ceremony that the church alone has the right to administer.  This initial ordinance determines communion, the perpetual ordinance.

 

It Provides Discipline

Thirdly, a church is defined by the exercise and administration of discipline.  A disciple is one under discipline, or training.  Everything about church life is designed to apply the gospel that is preached to the lives of disciples so that they grow toward maturity in Christ-likeness.  Fellow believers are called to interact with each other and to “provoke one another to love and to good works” (Heb 10:24-25).  Within the context of ordinary church life — hearing the word preached, worshipping with other believers, giving ministry to those in need and receiving ministry from others — we are awakened to areas in our lives where repentance is in order. If one ever reaches a point in which he fails to penitently respond to the ordinary disciplines of church life, then the church corporate is obliged to publicly address the impenitent brother or sister with a more serious form of censure or expulsion from membership (1Co 5:9-13; Mt 18:17; 2Th 2:6ff; Ro 16:17; 1Co 5:4-5; Eph 5:11; 1Ti 5:20; 6:3-5).

The fellowship of the church is one of the resources that God has provided to enable his children to live soberly and godly in this present evil world. Every Christian needs the checks and balances of mutual accountability to the saints.  So long as he constantly turns from sin in repentance and faith, he has the right to wear the name of Christ in gospel profession.  If a person, by and by, resists the constraints and helps to godliness intrinsic to the life of the church, he may risk dismission, except he repents, for no one has the right to “name the name of Christ” on his own terms (2Ti 2:19).

 

What is the Purpose of the Church?

The church is a repository of divine truth (Joh 17:14; 1Ti 3:15).  Her task is to faithfully keep the trust God has given her by dispensing and disseminating truth with accuracy and integrity (Tit 2:1).  Secondly, the church is a home away from home for God’s children (Heb 3:6; Mt 18).  It is the context God has established for loving fellowship and mutual ministry (Eph 3:15-19; 4:12-16).  Thirdly, the church is a training center where God’s people are equipped with the knowledge of how to exercise their spiritual gifts (Eph 4:11-12).  Finally, the church is God’s light in a dark world (Mt 5:13-16; Php 2:15).  Her task is both conservative (i.e. protecting God’s truth and caring for one another) and contemporary (i.e. equipping the saints, deploying them into the real world of ministry, and calling sinners to repentance).

            In a word, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ has a threefold ministry.  It exists to exalt and worship the Lord (Eph 3:21), to edify and strengthen believers (Eph 4:16), and to extend the kingdom of God by making disciples (Mt 28:19-20).  The Church, then, is a worshiping, a working, and a witnessing community.

          To distill the thought even further — according to Mt 28:18-20, the church is primarily a teaching institution. Initially, the teaching is aimed at evangelism; then, at edification, i.e. to build up and strengthen.  We are called to make disciples [“teach all nations” = make disciples], to baptize the converts, then to disciple the disciples [“teaching them to observe all things that Christ has commanded”].  The major emphasis of church life, i.e. the week-in, week-out, Sunday by Sunday activity, will necessarily fall into that final category — teaching those who have been converted and baptized how to obey the Lord Jesus Christ in all things.  The church exists to satisfy the need in every believer for this life-long course of study.


[i] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, p. 365

[ii] James Stitzinger, “Pastoral Ministry in History” in Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, p. 55

BB17 The Spirit’s Ministry in the Life of the Believer (Chapter 17)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES

 
On the night of His betrayal, the Lord Jesus talked at length to His disciples about their future discipleship in the light of His approaching departure and return to glory. Joh 14-16 records this conversation about discipleship in the wake of the Savior’s impending absence in terms of the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit:  “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you” (Joh 16:7).

 

Christ’s Agent to the Church

          When He was upon the earth, the Lord Jesus Christ ministered in the power of the Spirit (#John 3:34; Lk 4:18; Heb 1:9; Mt 12:24-32|; cf. Isa 11:2), but when He ascended to the Father’s right hand, the Spirit was sent as Christ’s agent to the church. He was the Spirit-bearer, living and ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11); now He is the Spirit-giver, enabling the disciples to live and minister like He did (Joh 20:19-23).

The New Covenant ministry of the Spirit is God’s “seal” to believers, i.e. His proof of possession and ownership, that they belong to Him. His ministry is also “the earnest of our inheritence” — a foretaste of heaven this side of heaven — until Jesus comes the second time (Eph 1:13-14).

What is the character of His ministry to believers? It is compared in Scripture to fire to speak of its capacity to energize, water to suggest its refreshing quality, and oil to convey the thought of its healing virtue. Various titles attached to His name also suggest the various aspects of His New Covenant ministry. He is called the Spirit of holiness (Ro 1:4), of truth (Joh 15:26), of life (Ro 8:2; Re 11:11), of adoption (Ro 8:15), of wisdom and revelation (Eph 1:17), of grace (Heb 10:29), of promise (Eph 1:13), of God (Eph 4:30), and of the Lord Jesus Christ (Phi 1:19|).

All in all, the title “Comforter” describes the character of His ministry most completely. Parakletos, the word in Greek, is pregnant with meaning. It literally means “to call to one’s side” and includes the concepts of an “ally, friend, helper, strengthener, teacher, encourager, counselor and guide.” In referring to the Spirit as “another” Comforter, the Lord Jesus teaches that He will fulfill precisely the same ministry to post-ascension believers that Jesus fulfilled to His disciples during His public ministry. It is only because His ministry would be identical to Christ’s personal ministry that Jesus could say, “It is expedient [i.e. necessary and beneficial] for you that I go away…”

 

He Glorifies Christ

The bottom line of the Spirit’s ministry is expressed in Joh 16:14:  “He shall glorify me.” His ministry is self-effacing like a floodlight, directing all attention away from Himself to Jesus Christ. His supreme aim is to make Jesus glorious in the eyes of believers.  It is in terms of this inclusive purpose statement that every other function of the Spirit must be interpreted.

 

The Holy Spirit & Communion with Christ

          How does He glorify Christ? First, He matchmakes communion between the believer and his Savior (Php 2:1; 2Co 13:14). When the gospel invites us to draw near to the Lord in personal fellowship, He points like a floodlight to Jesus Christ, prompts us from within, and says, “There is your Savior; go to Him.”

It is only through the Spirit’s ministry that believers know the reality of Christ’s presence. He mediates Christ’s presence to the church, making our Lord real to us. It is in terms of this fact that promises concerning the Savior’s ongoing presence with His disciples must be understood (see Joh 14:18,21,23; 16:22,25; Mt 28:20; Heb 2:12; 2Co 6:16).

This thought of making Christ and His word real to us is made powerfully in Joh 16:8-11. When Jesus says that the Spirit will “reprove…of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment,” He means that He will literally take the abstract and intangible and make it concrete in the hearts and minds of the hearers. The word means “to convince.” George Whitefield said that it describes “a conviction by way of argumentation and coming with a power on the mind equal to a demonstration.” With skill surpassing the debater, the Spirit argues and convinces the mind of the truthfulness of the truth. With skill surpassing the artist, the Spirit animates words into pictures, vivifying the gospel message into a “first person” experience, so that people like us who have never seen Jesus yet “believe in Him, love Him, and rejoice in Him with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1Pe 1:8).  He demonstrates and proves the exceeding sinfulness of sin to one’s conscience (Ro 7:13; Zec 12:10), the reality of the truth that Christ is one’s righteousness (Ro 8:16-17,31-39), and the fact of Satan’s defeat (1Jo 3:8; Heb 2:14; Re 12:10; Joh 12:31), so that we know not only cognitively but experientially the reality of these truths.

 

The Holy Spirit & The Word

His ministry is also a teaching ministry. As “the Spirit of truth,” He is sent to “teach all things” [that is, to bring believers to complete understanding] (Joh 14:26), to “guide into all truth” (Joh 16:13), to “testify of Christ” (Joh 15:26), to “show things to come” (Joh 16:13), and to “bring Christ’s teaching to remembrance” (Joh 14:26; cf. 1Co 2:12-13; 1Jo 2:20; Ro 15:14).

As the Church’s Resident Truth Teacher, the Holy Spirit who inspired the word (2Pe 1:21) works through the word (Joh 14:25; Eph 6:17) to illumine and interpret its meaning (#Lk 24:45; 2Tim 2:7|) and to enlighten the eyes of our understanding (Eph 1:17). He brings Scripture back to our remembrance in the moment of need (Joh 2:22; 12:16; Ac 11:16).

 

The Holy Spirit & Christian Service

The Spirit also glorifies Christ by equipping and empowering the saints for ministry. He is the Church’s Enabler.  The disciples were given a task which was humanly impossible. In the light of their sheer creaturliness, personal sinfulness, and the potential persecution from an antagonistic world, they would not have been able to persevere. How could they carry the gospel to all nations and expect any success if their only source of power was their own raw determination? Why would anyone believe them? Did these fishermen and tax collectors have the ability to persuade the masses by the art of elocution?

The only explanation for the success and perpetuity of the early church is that they were given supernatural assistance through a Divine Enabler. The New Testament book entitled The Acts of the Apostles could in reality be named The Acts of the Holy Spirit, for it was He who empowered them for ministry. All spiritual gifts, i.e. God-given abilities for ministry, and all ongoing strength for labor are the product of His ministry (1Co 12; Eph 3:16).

 

The Holy Spirit & Sanctification

Finally, the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ through His sanctifying activity. Like a change agent, He works to develop a holy and Christ-like character in the soul, to change us progressively into the image of Christ (2Co 3:18; 2Th 2:13-14; 1Pe 1:22; Ga 5:16).  He helps us in mortification, i.e. enabling the believer to break with sin as the governing principle in life (Ro 8:13), in consecration, i.e. enabling us to live unto God in holiness through the cultivation of Christian character (Ga 5:22), and in assurance, i.e. convincing the believer of his/her personal interest in Christ (Ro 8:16).

 

Come Holy Ghost, (for mov’d by thee

The prophets wrote and spoke;)

Unlock the Truth, thyself the Key,

Unseal the sacred Book.

God, thro Himself, we then shall know,

If thou within us shine:

And sound, with all the saints below,

The depths of love divine.

- Chas. Wesley

BB18 The End of Time (Chapter 18)

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINES


Eschatology
is a theological discipline concerned with what the Bible says about “last things.”  It includes such sub-themes as the resurrection of the dead, the second coming of Christ, the final judgment, and the eternal state of the righteous and the wicked.

            What role does eschatology play in systematic theology? It is the final chapter in God’s redemptive program. In 1Co 15:22-28, arguably the premier eschatological passage in the New Testament, Paul indicates that God’s plan for redemptive history has been moving toward a final goal in which every enemy will be put beneath His feet and every redeemed person will be gathered together in Christ.

 

The Second Coming of Christ

            Christ’s return is the main event on the prophetic calendar. The book of Revelation both begins and ends with a promise of His second advent (Re 1:7; 22:21). It is the church’s “blessed hope” (Tit 2:13) and a prospect intended to sustain and encourage Christians in the midst of the present tribulation (Joh 14:3; 1Th 1:3; 4:13-16; 1Jo 3:2). In a very real sense, Christians are people who are “waiting for His Son from heaven, even Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come” (1Th 1:10).

            In His first advent, He came “lowly and having salvation, riding upon a colt, the foal of an ass” (Zec 9:9), but when He comes the second time, He will come in all of His regal glory, “without sin unto salvation” (Heb 9:28). Scripture teaches that His coming will be sudden and unexpected (1Th 5:2-3; Mt 24:42-44; 25:13; 2Pe 3:10), bringing salvation to the righteous and doom to the wicked (1Th 5:1-11). It will also be personal and physical (1Th 4:16). The second advent is not a mystical coming, like He comes to the church now through the agency of the Holy Spirit (Joh 14:16), but a personal appearing — a parousia. It will also be universal and visible (Mt 24:23-27), not local and obscure. The entire human population in both hemispheres will see Him (Re 1:7; Mt 24:30). Finally, the Redeemer’s Return will be glorious and triumphant (Tit 2:13; Re 19:11ff). It will be the ultimate revival, for “every knee shall bow and every knee shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Php 2:10).  He will be revealed in all of His glory (1Pe 1:13; 4:13; 5:5) and the name of God will be vindicated of “all the hard speeches that ungodly sinners have uttered against Him” (Jude 25).

 

The Resurrection of the Dead

            When the Lord Jesus returns, the dead will be raised in a general resurrection (Joh 5:28-29; Da 12:2; Ac 24:15).  The wicked will be raised for their final sentencing, but the righteous will be raised to their final glorification (Php 3:20-21). Because Jesus lives (Ac 26:23), we shall live also (1Co 15:20-23; Joh 14:19).

            It will be a bodily resurrection, not a mere spiritual resurrection of the inward man (compare Joh 5:29 with Joh 5:25). Jesus not only redeemed the souls of His elect, but also their bodies (Eph 1:14) and “he will have a desire to the work of His hands” (Job 14:14-15). The same body that is buried in corruption and mortality will be raised in incorruption and immortality (1Co 15:42-44,51ff). The disembodied soul that departed to be with the Lord at death (2Co 5:1-5) will be reunited with the resurrected body (Ro 8:11), and the body will be changed to match the regenerate heart (Job 19:25ff).

            It should not be thought a thing incredible that God will one day raise the dead for He formed man from the dust of the earth once, and He can do it again (Ac 26:8). Though every generation has its “Hymaneus and Philetus”, arguing that the resurrection is past already, Christians continue to have “hope toward God that there shall be a resurrection both of the just and the unjust” (Ac 24:15).

            Interestingly, Paul makes a very practical application of the doctrine of the resurrection in  1Co 6:14. By mentioning the need to keep one’s body morally pure in a context dealing with the resurrection of the body, Paul teaches that the future hope of a glorified body should motivate the believer toward a present ethical holiness of life. If my body will one day be in God’s immediate presence in heaven, then I must commit myself to maintaining its purity now.

            The second advent of Christ will initiate a sequence of final events that will unfold in rapid succession, marking the end of time and initiation of the eternal state. First, the dead will be raised (Isa 26:19), then, judged in a final and general judgment. The wicked will be consigned to eternal punishment and the righteous received into eternal bliss. Scripture speaks of these events in the future tense, employing phrases such as “the ages to come” (Eph 2:7), “the world to come” (Heb 2:5; 6:5), “judgment to come” (Ac 24:25), and “the wrath to come” (1Th 1:10) to describe the eschatological events that will be set in motion by the Savior’s return.

 

The Last & General Judgment

          In His final mediatorial act, the Lord Jesus Christ will sit as judge of all mankind, an event frequently termed “the Grand Assize” or “the Great White Throne Judgment” (Ac 10:42; 17:30-31; 2Ti 4:1,8). Scripture associates this event with the Second Coming (2Th 1:6-10), suggesting that it will occur immediately after the resurrection. Like the resurrection of the dead, it will be a general judgment —the largest conglomeration of human beings ever assembled in history (Mt 25:31), for everyone who has ever lived, lives now, or will live in the future will gather before His tribunal (Re 11:18).

          God’s word always speaks of the “day of judgment” (Jude 25; 2Pe 2:9) as something that is certain and inescapable (Joh 12:48; 1Pe 4:5; Heb 9:27; Ps 1:5; Ec 11:9; 12:14; Mt 12:36; Ac 24:25; 17:31). None will “escape the judgment of God” (Ro 2:3).

          What kind of proceeding will it be? It will be a righteous judgment (Ro 2:5; 2Th 1:5).  One day, all wrongs will be made right and perfect justice will be done. He will dispense exact retribution against every sin. It will also be a final judgment (Heb 6:2). The verdict will be eternal, without possibility of appeal.

          The two key passages regarding the Last and General Judgment are Mt 25:31-46 and Re 20:11-15. Both passages indicate a further fact about the nature of the final judgment. It will be a judgment of separation.  Those who were loved and chosen by the Father in covenant will be declared righteous (Mt 25:34; Re 20:15), for their case has already been adjudicated at the cross (Heb 9:27-28). They are “His sheep” by Divine election and when He “sees the blood, He will pass over them”. But those whose names are not found written in the Lamb’s book of life — “the goats” — will be judged according to their works (Re 20:12-13). Then, they will hear the dreadful sentence, “Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41).

Eternal Punishment

          At that point, the wicked will “go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Mt 25:46). It will be an unspeakably dreadful day of doom for the ungodly, and an unimaginably glorious day of bliss for the redeemed multitude.

          God’s wrath, i.e. His judicial reaction against sin, will abide forever upon the wicked in the form of conscious misery (#Lk 16:19-31; Mr 9:44; Is 66:24|). It will be “a perpetual end” (Ps 9:6) of endless torment and suffering.

Scripture depicts the eternal abode of the wicked as a place of fire and darkness (Jude 25,25), weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 13:41-43), and ultimate loneliness and God-forsakenness (#Lk 16:19-31|; cf. Ps 22:1), in which those who die in their sins are separated even from the benefits of common grace that they enjoyed in their earthly existence. J. I. Packer writes, “New Testament teaching about hell is meant to appall us and strike us dumb with horror, assuring us that, as heaven will be better than we could dream, so hell will be worse than we can conceive…The purpose of Bible teaching about hell is to make us appreciate, thankfully embrace, and rationally prefer the grace of Christ that saves us from it."[i]  I concur. Amazing Grace!

            At the conclusion of the final judgment, time will be no more (Re 10:6); it will dissolve into the eternal state.  2Pe 3 indicates that the present universe will be cleansed by fire whereby “the elements shall melt with fervent heat” (2Pe 3:10) and a new universe “wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2Pe 3:13) will be inaugurated. This reconstructed cosmos is called in Scripture, simply, “Heaven.”

 

The Glory of Heaven

            Heaven, a word meaning “sky,” is the Biblical term for God’s home (Mt 6:9; Ps 33:13-14; Joh 14:2).  Scripture teaches that it is a real place, not merely a state of mind (Joh 14:3). Christ has gone into heaven (Ac 1:11) where He now sits upon the throne of God (Ps 2:4; Re 22:1; Eph 1:20).  It is paradise, a place of eternal blessedness and peace (#Lk 22:43; 2Cor 12:2,4|). To the child of God, heaven is home — the sphere in which God’s entire redeemed family (i.e. the church triumphant) will one day assemble together (2Co 5:6-8; Eph 3:15; 1:10). It is a place of everlasting rest (2Th 1:7), in which the saints will enjoy an endless reprieve from trouble (Re 7:14; Job 3:17), toilsome labor (Re 14:13; Ro 8:22-23), suffering (Ro 8:18), sin and Satan (Re 21:27). Further, it will be a rest in an unimpaired communion with the saints of all ages (2Th 1:7).

In heaven, we will be “satisfied” with a level of satisfaction that we could never fully know living in a world under the curse of sin (Ps 17:15). At His right hand we will enjoy “pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11). Such inscrutable pleasure and joy will arise from the fact that we are “like Him” and will be “with Him” forever (1Jo 3:2; 1Th 4:17). Such unimaginable satisfaction will spring from the fact that we shall then “know as we are known” and “see Him as He is” in all of His radiant splendor and glory (1Co 13:12; 1Jo 3:2; Joh 17:24).

In heaven, the saints will maintain a personal identity (#Job 19:25-27; Lk 9:30; 2Sam 12:23|), yet former relationships to loved ones during earthly existence, i.e. marriage, will give way to a more perfect and impartial communion with all saints (Mt 22:30). The prospect of a perfect fellowship with Christ and saints that is free from distraction, limitation, obstacle, and frustration is indeed a blessed hope.

When Christ returns with the saints who have gone before by means of death (1Th 4:14; Jude 25), he will gather all of his elect unto Him in the air (Mt 24:31; 1Th 4:17). The new capital city that God has prepared for His people (Heb 11:10) — the New Jerusalem — will descend from heaven and together, they will forever dwell in the “new heaven and new earth” with its new capital city, the new Jerusalem (Re 21:1-2).

All forms of conflict, pain, distress, and evil will be absent from that world (Re 21:8,27), for it will be a universe permeated by “righteousness” (2Pe 3:13). There will be no need of the sun or moon, for the glory of God will illumine the city (Re 21:23). There will be no night there, nor any threat to the peace of the city from without (Re 21:25). There will be no temple, for the entire city will be sacred and the worship of God will never cease (Re 21:22; 4:8). All heaven will be jubilant before the Lamb that was slain (Re 5:8-14; 7:9-17).

The incessant joy of the redeemed will arise from their vision of God’s face (Re 22:4) and their ongoing fellowship with Jesus Christ (Re 7:17). They will serve Him day and night without toil (Re 7:15) and worship and praise Him with tireless delight (Re 7:17). And it will never end (Re 22:5).

Such a prospect before us together with the knowledge that the present state will pass away should make us diligent in holiness now (2Pe 3:11,14; 1Jo 3:3). With an eternal inheritance awaiting us — an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, unfading, and irrevocable — we can endure the momentary hardships of life now (1Pe 1:4-6; Ro 8:18). In fact, in the light of glory to come, present afflictions take on their proper size and shape (2Co 4:17-18). We weep now, but joy cometh in the morning (Ps 30:5).


[i] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, p. 262

Born Again (The Doctrine of Effectual Calling)

by Michael L Gowens 

"The hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live. " Joh 5:25

 

"Sovereign Grace" is an expression calculated to suggest that God Is sovereign in the salvation of sinners. What does that mean? It means, specifically, that He takes the initiative, moving toward man to bestow salvation, not because He is obligated to bless, but because it is His sovereign pleasure to bless. There is no external compulsion upon the Almighty to bestow salvation on sinners. It also means that God is in absolute control of the work of salvation and nothing can thwart His plans. There are no external limitations upon His power. God is sovereign in the salvation of sinners.

 

Scripture teaches that man could not save himself, but, according to His good pleasure, God made every provision necessary for salvation in the Covenant of Grace, before the world began. He chose a people in His Son. Election is a world of grace. He sent His Son to atone for the sins of the elect upon the cross. Redemption is a work of grace. Finally, He sends His Spirit to call the redeemed into new life in Christ, personally and vitally applying salvation to the soul. Regeneration, like election and redemption, is a work of God's sovereign grace.

 

In this essay, I will attempt to explain and defend the following principle of the doctrine of grace: Regeneration is immediate, i. e. without the use of means or media; consequently, regeneration precedes faith and conversion. Birth is the necessary prerequisite of belief, in the same sense that life must come before activity. For the sake of this study, I will examine the subject first positively, then negatively. In Part I, the positive side of this study, I will attempt to define and explain the Biblical doctrine known as effectual calling. Part II, the negative side, is an attempt to demonstrate the inherent problems in the position that makes man's act of believing the cause of his new birth. Finally, in Part III, I will attempt to outline a position regarding the purpose of the gospel that is Scripturally accurate.

 

PART I

A Definition of the Doctrine

 

Regeneration, new birth, quickening, effectual calling, and irresistible grace are synonymous theological terms referring to the work of the Holy Spirit in the radical transformation of the soul. When one of God's elect is "born of the Spirit' (Joh 3:8), he is, at that moment, saved, personally and vitally. Of course, every heir of God was saved at the cross, legally and positionally, but redemption accomplished must also be applied. Regeneration is the personal application of the blood of Christ to the "inner man" so that the soul is cleansed, really and individually, from sin: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done' but according to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Tit 3:5). The "new man" is thus created "in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph 4:24), for sin has been washed away. It is this cleansing efficacy of the blood of Christ upon the soul to which Jesus referred when he spoke of being "born of water, and [even] of the Spirit" (Joh 3:5). It involves an actual change of nature, not lust a change of mind, a change of direction, or a change of behavior. The regenerate person is made a new creation in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:10; 1Co 5:13; Eph 4:24). "A change of direction does not make one a new creation. Only a basic change of one's nature can account for and explain that fundamental spiritual work which is wrought in the soul by the quickening power of God" (Elder R. V. Sarrels, Systematic Theology, p. 307). Regeneration makes the person who was previously dead in trespasses and in sins alive to God in the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The Lord's conversation with Nicodemus provides us with a theology of regeneration in crystallized form. Joh 3:3-8 is crucial to an understanding of the Biblical doctrine of the new birth. From the Savior's teaching, we can extract at least four major components of this great doctrine: (1) The Source of the New Birth; (2) The Nature of the New Birth; (3) The Necessity of the New Birth; (4) The Method of the New Birth.

 

(1) The Source of the New Birth: "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say Into thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (Joh 3:3). The word "again" literally means "from above." Unlike one's first birth, which is a horizontal matter, Divine rebirth is a vertical matter. It comes "from above." What does that mean? It means that regeneration is supernatural, as opposed to natural, in origin. It is something miraculous and heavenly, not something commonplace and biological. Later in the conversation, Jesus said, 'aide spear; that we do know, and testify that we have seen, and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things and ye believe not [that is, if I have illustrated spiritual truths in terms you are capable of understanding], how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?" (Joh 3:11-12). Regeneration is a "heavenly thing," something supernatural, expressed in language that man can understand (i.e. the metaphor of birth) in order to communicate to man's finite mind. So, God is the source of the new birth.

 

Jas 1:17 says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights...." Every blessing, whether physical or spiritual in nature, comes "from above," from the hand of a Sovereign God. Regeneration is no exception. Salvation, in all of its constituent parts, is the work of God. He is active. Man is the passive recipient.

 

Only God can regenerate. "God...hath saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2Ti 1:9). In unmistakable language, Paul argues that God's gracious purpose, not man's works, is the source of salvation. 2Ti 1:9 is Paul's version of Ps 100:3, "It is He that bath made us and not we ourselves." In the prologue to his gospel, John likewise traces the origin of regeneration to God: "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Joh 1:12). The new birth is not the product of human lineage ("not of blood"), nor is it the result of a human relationship ("nor of the will of the flesh"), nor the result of a human decision ("nor of the will of man.") Man's will is not instrumental in his new birth. Man is born "of Gods" the preposition "of' denoting source or origin. People are not born again as a result of something they do, but solely on the basis of God's sovereign will and power.

 

(2) The Nature of the New Birth ‑ "Nicodemus smith unto Him, How can a man be born when   he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born ? Jesus answered. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (#John 3:4‑6|). Nicodemus was puzzled by the imagery. Notice his question. It is a question regarding the nature (that is, the kind) of this birth. Nicodemus was thinking in terms of the birth process (that which hospitals call "labor and delivery"), but Jesus used a word (Gr. gennao) that refers to the concept of generational descent. In other words, Jesus focuses not on the experience of birth but on the fact that the father's nature is passed to his child. What happens in the new birth? What kind of birth is it? It is a birth in which the Divine nature is imparted to the soul. Your first birth, says Jesus, reproduced in you the nature of your parents: "...that which is born of the flesh is flesh." Your new birth, he concludes, implants within you the Divine nature: "...and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Just as children possess the nature of the parents, God's children are given a new nature, a spiritual and Divine nature, when they are born again. This new nature is sinless and holy: "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed [i.e. the Divine nature] remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (1Jo 3:9). The thrust of the argument is clear: Regeneration' is something, supernatural. Only the Holy Spirit car effect a change of nature if the heart. That leads us to the next point.

 

(3) The Necessity of the New Birth ‑ "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again" (Joh 3:7). Regeneration is necessary because people are by nature totally depraved. Without the new birth, no one will be saved. Dei, the Greek word translated "must," indicates logical necessity. By the use of such a strong term, Jesus indicates that regeneration is essential, imperative, and absolutely necessary for salvation. It is a vital link in the chain of sovereign grace. Some Bible students have erroneously concluded, however, that because the word dei refers to logical necessity, it also expresses the idea of human responsibility. In other words, they think that Jesus is suggesting that Nicodemus take personal responsibility for his own new birth.  Notice however, that Jesus did not tell Nicodemus to do anything in order to be born again.  He did not instruct him to make a decision or even to repent and believe the gospel. "Ye must be born again" is simply a statement of fact, not a command to be obeyed. It is a declarative, not an imperative, sentence. In fact, the words of the Lord Jesus, instead of suggesting that Nicodemus should assume personal responsibility for his own salvation, teach exactly the opposite idea. The purpose of the entire passage might be summarized like this: Regeneration is not something any man can do, for flesh can only produce flesh. It is a miraculous work of God's Spirit, who blows when and where He pleases. Jesus is saying, "Yes, Nicodemus, the new birth is a necessity, but neither you nor any other man can cause it to happen, even if you could think of a way to return to the womb of your mother. Only God can perform this work."

 

Perhaps someone will object, "To tell a man about the necessity of being born again in one breath, then, that he is utterly helpless to produce such a work in his own soul in the next, is self‑defeating and contradictory." On the contrary, our Lord's goal was to expose the fallacy of trusting in one's own efforts and works for salvation. If mere religiosity or devotion to a life of law-keeping could save a person, Nicodemus would have been safe. But, Jesus says, No one is safe, regardless of their achievements' family history, social status, or religious fervor. Because of the universality of sin, the new birth is necessary before anyone will see the face of God in peace. Further, because of sin's debilitating effect upon men, no one has the ability to rescue himself. Joh 3:7 does not teach that man must assume responsibility for his own salvation. It teaches rather that the sinner's only hope of eternal bliss is the sovereign grace of God.

 

There is another side to this truth about the necessity of regeneration. God, in His grace, has so arranged the work of salvation that everyone who was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world will be called into new life at some point in their personal history. The new birth is sure and certain to all of the elect. To everyone for whom Christ died, God will "send the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Ga 4:6). Just as surely as God requires it, He provides it. To say that the Father did His part in the salvation of sinners, and the Son did His part, but the Holy Spirit will fail to do his part, disrupts the unity of the Trinity. Ro 8:28 demonstrates the certainty of regeneration: "And we know that all things work together for good to them who love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." Who loves God? "The called." Why are they called?  Because God "purposed" to call them. The new birth is a provision of the everlasting covenant: "God hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2Ti 1:9). Now trace the "whom's" and the "them's" in #Romans 8:29‑30|. The same group of people God foreknew, He predestinated. The same people He predestinated, He called. The same people He called, He justified, and the same people He justified, He glorified. The end of verse thirty includes exactly the same number of people who were embraced at the beginning of verse twenty‑nine. This indicates that everyone that God loved and Christ Jesus redeemed, will be quickened by the Spirit. The past tense ("called") is employed to show that since God decreed it, it is just as sure to occur as if it had already taken place.

 

(4) The Method of the New Birth: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whether it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (Joh 3:8). This verse addresses three important principles regarding the doctrine of the new birth. First, the verse teaches that God is sovereign in regeneration ("The wind bloweth where it listeth [pleases]..."). Just as the wind blows unrestrained by political, racial, geographical, or cultural obstacles, so the Spirit of God cannot be foiled or frustrated in His regenerating activity. No man can resist or handcuff the Spirit of God. No potential hurdle can thwart God's work of grace in the soul. Secondly, the verse teaches that regeneration is a Divine mystery ("...cannot tell from whence it cometh and whither it goeth..."). It seems to be the rule that most people are unaware of the moment when the new birth occurred. Although many trace their new birth back to a certain date or time, such dates generally mark the moment when the person first understood the gospel or first committed himself to the Savior in gospel obedience. If so, the date to which the individual has attached significance as the date of regeneration is in fact the date of gospel conversion, a separate event entirely. To say that regeneration is a Divine mystery is to say that there is more to it than we can understand. Such mystery should prompt a spirit of reverential awe and worship from our hearts. Thirdly, the text teaches that everyone who is born again is born again in precisely the same way ("...so is every one that is born of the Spirit..."). Arminianism requires a separate method of saving sinners in different circumstances. For example, it requires one method to save the unevangelized heathen, another to save the infant that dies in infancy, another to save the mentally retarded, another to save the individual who lived prior to the Law, another to save the one who lived under the Mosaic Law, and another to save the person who lives on this side of the cross.  Salvation by God's sovereign grace through the direct work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart is a method of salvation that will reach the infant, the infidel, the heathen, the mentally deficient, the Old Testament Jew, and the individual who has all the privileges of New Testament Christianity available to him. All are born again in precisely the same way, by the sovereign and mysterious operation of the Holy Spirit within the soul.

 

So what is the method by which men are born again? It is nothing more or less than the sovereign and direct work of the Holy Spirit. Regeneration is immediate. God does not use the works of the sinner, on the one end, neither the efforts of the gospel preacher, on the other end, as either the basis or the method for imparting life to the soul. Faith is the gift of God in regeneration (Eph 2:8). What does that mean? It means that the sinner responds to the life giving voice of the Lord Jesus Christ (Joh 5:25) like Lazarus responded to the command of Jesus in Joh 11. It is an involuntary response, below the level of consciousness, a perfect obedience to the Divine imperative of Jesus. The Lord God is the active cause; the sinner is the passive recipient. This is irresistible grace! The gift of faith enables the newborn soul to function in the spiritual realm, an ability he did not have prior to his quickening (Joh 3:3b, Joh 5b; 1Co 2:14). It also gives the individual the ability to believe, or, if you please, "ears to hear" (Re 2:7,11; Pr 20:12; Mt 11:15). The gospel is, subsequently, addressed to the regenerate (Ac 2:39; 13:16,26), for the unregenerate cannot believe (#John 8:43; John 10:26; Rom. 3:10‑18|). Before an exploration of the purpose of the gospel in relationship to regeneration, let's further develop the concept of the immediacy of regeneration. 

 

Immediate Regeneration 

 

The New Testament writers develop three metaphors to describe the mysterious work of God, which is regeneration. First, as we have already noted, it is a birth (#John 3:3‑8; John 1:l 3; 1Pet. 1:23‑25; 1John 3:9; 1John 5:1|). Secondly, it is a creation (Eph 2:10; 2Co 5:17; Eph 4:24), the Divine act of speaking into existence that which previously did not exist.  Thirdly, it is a resurrection (Eph 2:1; 1Jo 3:14; Joh 5:24), the Divine act of giving life to one who is dead in trespasses and in sins. All three images demonstrate the immediacy of God's work of grace in the soul. Does the baby play an active role in his own birth, or is he a passive party in the work of external factors? What about creation? Did man help God in the creation of the universe or was creation the work of God alone? What about resurrection?  Can man raise the dead to life? Does the corpse play an active role in his own resurrection? No, God and God alone is active. He is the only Creator. Just as the universe is the product of special creation, not evolution, so the work of God in the soul is a work of Divine creation, not spiritual evolution. Further, only God can give life to the dead. He and He alone has resurrection power.

 

Joh 5:25 deserves special consideration because of it's clarity: "The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live." The doctrine of effectual calling is stated nowhere more plainly than here. This verse teaches that God is always successful when he calls one who is dead in sin to spiritual life. Notice three truths contained in this verse: (1) The Condition of the Sinner. He is "dead" in trespasses and in sins. He is not sick, wounded, or unconscious. He is dead. He is spiritually incapacitated and unresponsive to stimuli. (2) The Command of the Savior. The dead hear "the voice of the Son of God...." He initiates the call, not the preacher, or the parent, or the personal worker. The God who said "Let there be light" also says "Let there be Life" and there is Life. When He speaks, it is done.  (3) The Certainty of Success. The dead "shall hear...and they that hear shall live." The verb "shall" indicates absolute certainty. When the Lord speaks to the dead sinner, the dead comes to life, irresistibly. He does not woo or entice the dead. He draws him to Himself by sovereign power: "No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him..." (Joh 6:44).

 

The word "draw" suggests the picture of someone drawing water out of a well. Does a man beg and plead for the water to get into the bucket? No, he reaches down and by an act of His own strength, he acts upon the water, dipping the bucket and pulling it to Himself. In the same way, sinners are regenerated. Interestingly, by comparing the Greek word for "draw" in Joh 6:44 with the few other places it is used in the New Testament, it becomes readily apparent that the idea of force, not invitation, was the popular usage of the term. For example, Ac 16:19 says that the masters of the demon‑possessed girl "caught Paul and Silas and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers." Ac 21:30 says that the Jews "took Paul, and drew him out of the temple...and...went about to kill him...." It doesn't sound like they were begging and pleading with Paul. He was acted upon by external force. Finally, Jas 2:6 uses the word to describe the persecution of early Christians, as "rich men...draw you before the judgment seats." Though some commentators argue that the word "draw" in Joh 6:44 does not necessarily imply the idea of external force, the way the word is used in the larger context of Scripture suggests that this is not only the possible meaning, but the probable sense of the word. The Holy Spirit effectively and successfully draws the sinner to Christ in regeneration. There is no exception to this rule. The call of God in regeneration is always effectual.

 

The Effectual Call Illustrated

 

The writers of the Gospels include three resurrection accounts in the narrative of Jesus' personal ministry. These three episodes demonstrate the life‑giving power of the Lord Jesus Christ and illustrate the efficacy of His call to spiritual life. In every case (i.e. the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus' daughter, and Lazarus of Bethany), Jesus spoke directly to the dead without the use of media. His call was personal ("Young man, I say unto thee arise;" "Damsel, arise;" "Lazarus, come forth."). His call was effectual ("He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes."). His call was direct and immediate. He did not ask the disciples to speak for Him. He did not send a message through some messenger. There was no human agency invoked and there was no voluntary cooperation from the deceased. Jesus spoke, by sovereign fiat, and it was done. Jesus, on the contrary, did not always heal the deaf, or give sight to the blind in the same way.  To a blind man on one occasion, Jesus made clay, anointed his eyes, and told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.  On another occasion, He healed the blind man in stages (Mr 8:22ff).  Each episode of resurrection, however, occurred in precisely the same way.  Jesus spoke.  He spoke directly.  He spoke personally.  He spoke effectually.  He spoke sovereignly.  In the same way, Christ raises dead sinners to spiritual life.  He speaks the life-giving voice, calling His own by name.  The dead hear, and the dead live.

 

Furthermore, Jesus always went to the dead.  The dead did not come to Him personally, neither were they brought to Him by some concerned friend or relative.  He always went to the dead.  The sick, the blind, and the palsied, on the contrary, were brought to Him.  In the work of raising dead sinners to life in Christ, the pattern is the same.  The sinner does not come to Christ to get salvation.  He is not brought to Christ by the prayers of some concerned friend or the efforts of some Christian worker.  Christ goes to the sinner and meets him at the point of his need.  He walks into the sepulchre of the depraved heart and breathes life into man’s deadness and the sinner comes forth, Lazarus-like, into new life.  Once the dead is raised, the gospel serves to release that newborn soul from bondage.  The preacher cannot raise Lazarus, but he can, once Christ has given him life, “loose him and let him go.”  This distinction between the work of the Lord and the work of the gospel minister is crucial.  Only when one understands that he did not contribute toward his own salvation can he properly honor God.  God does everything necessary for salvation; therefore, He receives all the glory.  From first to last, salvation is of the Lord.

 

Part II

 

The Effectual Call Distinguished from The Gospel Call 

 

The immediate regeneration position outlined in the preceding pages is not popular in the Christian community.  Undoubtedly, the most common view within evangelicalism is what might be termed “decisional regeneration”.  This view, often called “gospel regeneration”, presents the preached gospel as the means that God employs to call dead sinners to life in Christ.  The sinner, according to the gospel-means position, must hear and believe the gospel in order to be born again.  He must make a conscious decision for Christ if he will be saved.  I believe that this position is in error and now proceed to support that conviction by five theological arguments.

 

1. The Gospel-means position does not adequately satisfy the tension between Total Depravity and the act of believing.  Because man is totally depraved, he does not have the ability to believe.  1Co 2:14 says, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned.”  The context of 1Co 2 describes two different types of people, “the natural man” (1Co 2:14) and “he that is spiritual” (1Co 2:15).  Because the natural man has no spiritual capacity (“neither can he know them”), he cannot grasp the spiritual message of the gospel.  The spiritual man, on the contrary, has the ability to discern spiritual things (1Co 2:15).  Paul clearly establishes the principle in this passage that a change of nature must precede the ability to receive the gospel.  Spiritual life must be given before one can understand the “spiritual thing” which is the gospel.

 

Regeneration must come before faith.  The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the grave is necessary to enable a sinner to believe (Eph 1:19-20).  In theological terms, the order of salvation, the ordus salutis, is birth first, belief second:  “Whosever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…” (1Jo 5:1);  “Whosoever heareth my words and believeth on Him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life” (Joh 5:24).  The verb tenses in both of these verses suggest that the individual who presently believes already possesses spiritual life.  Notice that the writer does not say “whosoever believes will be born of God.”  He says the believer is born of God.  His belief is the evidence of his new birth.  Jesus does not say that the man who hears and believes will get everlasting life, but that he already has it ‑ “he is passed from death unto life." His belief is the evidence of his spiritual resurrection.

 

The sinner who is dead in trespasses and in sins is spiritually incapacitated, unable to function in the spiritual realm. It is not that the unregenerate merely will not believe. He cannot believe. It is not merely that he refuses to respond. He doesn't have the ability to respond to the gospel call. Jesus asked, "Why do ye not understand my speech? even because you cannot hear my word...He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God" (Joh 8:43,47). This verse declares that an individual who has not experienced a change of nature is utterly incapable of a believing response to the gospel. Eph 2:1 describes man by nature as "dead in trespasses and in sins." The image of death suggests that the unregenerate man, like a dead corpse, is unresponsive to stimuli. Is the gospel a kind of external stimuli? Isn't it an appeal to man's mind? Until the sinner is given new life, consequently he will remain unresponsive to the gospel. 1Co 1:18 says, "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God." Again, this verse presents a contrast between two types of people, "them that perish," or the unregenerate, and "us which are saved," or the regenerate. According to this verse, what effect does the gospel have on the unregenerate? Is it "the power of God unto salvation" (Ro 1:16) to him? No, it is "foolishness" to him. It is only the power of God unto salvation unto the man who has already been saved. The gospel will save the saved man, if he keeps it in memory (#1Cor 15:1‑3|). The salvation (or deliverance) the gospel effects in the life of the believer is not, however, new birth, but a salvation "from this untoward generation" (Ac 2:40), an escape from the "pollutions of the world through the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord" (#2Pet. 2:19‑20|). It is, if you please, sanctification, not regeneration: "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth" (Joh 17:17). How we should rejoice in the truth of Ro 1:16! But we must not assign a meaning to this verse that contradicts 1Co 1:18. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to the believer, not the unregenerate. To the unregenerate, it is foolishness. But once an individual is given spiritual life, once he is saved, it is the power of God to transform his life (Ro 12:2; 2Co 3:18).

 

Does the sinner's eternal destiny depend upon his belief in Jesus Christ? If so, what if his faith is shaken by false teachers? What if he is deceived? Does he then lose the eternal life he once possessed? Thanks be to God that the eternal destiny of the elect does not depend upon man's faith, but on God's sovereign covenant decrees: "What if some do not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid... [Hymaneus and Philetus] have erred concerning the truth saying that the resurrection is past already, and have overthrown the faith of some. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His..." (2Ti 2:13,19). Belief in Jesus Christ comes after, not before, regeneration. Faith cannot be both the cause and the effect of life. It cannot be both the "root" from which the Spirit grows in one's heart, and the "fruit" that the Spirit generates in the heart. The Spirit of God is the cause of regeneration. Faith is the effect, the "fruit of the Spirit" (Ga 5:22). An understanding of total depravity makes belief in the doctrine of immediate regeneration a necessity, for the dead sinner does not have the ability to exercise faith until he is born again. This leads us to the next argument.

 

2. Gospel regeneration leads to the conclusion that salvation, because it depends on man 's faith, is an act of man 's will since faith is by definition volitional, i.e. an act of the will. Such a position contradicts the testimony of Scripture which attributes salvation to God's will, not man's. Consider, for example, the following verses: "...even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood' nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Joh 1:12); "So then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy" (Ro 9:16); "...Lo, I come to do thy will, O God...By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (#Heb. 10:9‑10|); "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of His will" (Eph 1:5; see also Eph 1:9,11). These four verses plainly affirm that salvation is the effect of which God's will, not the sinner's, is the cause.

 

Does a man by nature have a free will? Ro 8:7 answers 'no': "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be."

 

Man, created in God's image, possesses a mind, a heart, and a will. The mind, or intellect, allows him to think rationally, not by sheer instinct like an animal. The heart, or emotion, enables him to feel, unlike a robot or machine, human experience. The will, or volition, enables him to make decisions and choices that have moral consequences. It is his capacity for action, a capacity that allows him to choose this over that and those instead of these.

 

In his unfallen state, man was good and very good. The fall, however, affected every part of man's being. Man's mind, by virtue of his fallen nature, is now darkened, incapable of understanding the things of the Spirit of God (Eph 4:18; 1Co 2:14). Further, his emotions are now deceptive and untrustworthy (Jer 17:9) and his will, that is, his ability to choose good over evil and right over wrong, is bound. The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith reads, "Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation, so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to commit himself, or to prepare himself thereto."

 

So, is man free? If by the word 'free' one means that people have the ability,' to make certain choices on their own (#ices free from compulsion, force, or coercion|), then the answer is 'yes.' For example, people have the ability to choose to go to the store or to stay home, to buy a newspaper or not, to eat beef or to eat fish, etc.; such choices are within the natural capacity of human beings. People are free to act according to their nature.

 

If by the word 'free,' however, one means free without any limitation, then the answer is 'no.' People are not free to act contrary to their nature. I cannot choose to fly. Yes, I can choose to travel by airplane, but I cannot choose to sprout wings or become a bird. My will, you see, is not entirely free. It is bound by the limits of my nature. We do not have the freedom to be anything we are not.

 

Man, in other words, is not free to act outside the boundaries of his human nature. He cannot live the life of a fish in the ocean or fly like a bird in the air without external resources enabling him to duplicate his natural environment. Just as that is true on a natural level, it is also true on a spiritual level. In his fallen state, man cannot choose to be righteous. The Ethiopian cannot by his own sheer willpower, change the color of his skin, nor the leopard his spots. Neither can those whose nature is depraved voluntarily do good Jer 13:23). Man's will is enslaved to his sinful nature. Left to himself, his only capacity is fleshly.

 

Unregenerate people are not free to choose righteousness or wickedness; they are, on the contrary, "free from righteousness" (Ro 6:20). By nature, man's will is a "will not" (Ps 10:4; 58:3; Joh 5:40; Isa 26:10). His only inclination is toward carnality. The natural man will never choose anything but sin, because he cannot operate outside the parameters of his sinful nature (Ro 8:7). The nature of man's will is not free.

 

Not until his nature is changed does he have the desire or the capacity to choose righteousness. Prior to God's work of regeneration in the soul, therefore, man's will is bound by the old nature. In regeneration, the fallen sinner is made "willing in the day of God's power" (Ps 110:3). He is given a new nature, a righteous nature, capable of responding to God. Because the old nature is not eradicated, however, a warfare between the Spirit and the flesh ensues (Ro 7) ‑ requiring deliberate and decisive efforts of the will for righteousness (#Rom. 6:11‑23|). In other words, the believer must choose, every day, between the options of serving sin or righteousness (Jos 24:15; Ro 6:13). With such a conflict facing us, we should be glad that the Holy Spirit will continue to work within us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Php 2:13).

 

Because man's will, apart from the new nature given in the new birth, is bound, it is incapable of choosing eternal life. Man's only hope of eternal life, then, is rooted in God's initiative and choice. Salvation depends on God's choice, not man's and upon His sovereign will, not man's fallen will. That, my friend, is a firm foundation!

 

3. Gospel regeneration adds an element of inconsistency to the economy of the Godhead (i.e. the combined operation of the three Divine Persons) in the salvation of sinners. In other words, the gospel‑means position disrupts the unity of the Trinity. For example, to say that the Father, sovereignly and independently, chose a people, and that the Son sovereignly and independently redeemed a people, but that the Spirit employs human agency to call that people into new life, presents a disunity within the Godhead. Immediate regeneration is the only doctrinal position that is consistent with the economy of the Godhead.

 

Father, Son, and Spirit work together, as a Divine Team, each fulfilling their respective covenant offices, in the salvation of sinners. Notice the Trinitarian cooperation in the following scriptures: #Galatians 4:4‑6; 1Corinthians 1:30‑31; 2Corinthians 5:19; 1Peter 1:1‑2; Jude l; Romans 8|. The Father planned the work in the covenant, the Son executed the work at the cross, and the Spirit applies the work in the effectual call. Every one that the Father elected, and the Son redeemed, the Spirit will regenerate. Sovereign grace is an exclamatory sentence. The introduction of a human element (e. g. a preacher, soul winner, etc.) in the work of regeneration turns the exclamation point (!) into a question mark (?). What if some do not hear because of some failure in the human dimension of this equation? What if in hearing, they do not believe and obey? Could that happen? Ro 10 says it can: "But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah saith, Lord, who hath believed our report" (Ro 10:16). Paul proceeds in Ro 10 to prove that Israel willfully rejected the gospel: "But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people" (Ro 10:21). Is this an effectual call? Absolutely not! Does God "stretch forth His hands" to the sinner, wooing him to eternal life? No again! When He speaks life to the dead, the dead hear and live (Joh 5:25). Ro 10 is not a "regeneration" passage, else one is forced to conclude that the human will is the decisive factor in the work of regeneration and that the entire work of the Trinity in the salvation of sinners may be nullified by one obstinate sinner. Since a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, the introduction of human agency into the work of the Godhead in salvation makes the covenant of grace uncertain and inconclusive.

 

4. Gospel Regeneration confuses the Effectual Call and the Gospel Call. Compare the following verses: "...the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear shall live" (Joh 5:25); "...Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Heb 3:15). Did you notice a similarity between the two? Both verses speak of God's "voice," His call. Now consider the verses again. Do you see a difference between the two? Though both verses assert the fact that God calls, the response to the call is different in the second verse. Joh 5:25 says that the dead "shall hear" God's voice. That is the language of certainty. Heb 3:15, on the contrary, says "if you will hear His voice." That is the language of appeal. Do you notice a difference between the expression "they shall hear" and the phrase "if you will hear"? The difference is the outcome of the call. In Joh 5:25, the outcome is certain and irresistible ("they shall hear"). In Heb 3:15, the outcome is uncertain and vague ("if you will hear.”) Why is the outcome different? Because the nature of the call is different. Joh 5:25 is a call from death to life, an effectual call; Heb 3:15 is a call to enter into God's rest, a gospel call. Failure to distinguish between the Do will inevitably produce glaring theological inconsistencies. The effectual call is not the gospel call, neither is the gospel call the effectual call. Yes, the same God speaks in both, but the nature of the call is different. In fact, the effectual call must precede the gospel call, that is, the dead sinner must be raised to life before he can respond to the gospel appeal. Biblically' this is always the pattern. Before Philip called Nathanael, the Lord Jesus saw him under the fig tree (Joh 1:49). Before Philip the evangelist preached to the Ethiopian eunuch, God had already visited him and given him a hunger for spiritual understanding (#Acts 8:27‑28|). Before Ananias opened Saul's eyes, the Risen Christ arrested him on Damascus road and changed his heart (Ac 9:1,11). Before Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius, God gave him a new heart, evidenced by the character description given of him in #Acts 10:1‑4|. Before Lydia responded to Paul's preaching, the Lord opened her heart (Ac 16:14).

 

The gospel call is an external appeal to the mind (#Rom. 12:2; 2Cor. l 1:2; 2Cor. 4:4|). Luke says that Paul "reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ" (#Acts 17:2‑3|). Do you see the element of logic, the rational dimension of the gospel, in those words? Read any sermon in Acts (Ac 2; 17; 26) and note the appeal to the mind. Why was Agrippa "almost persuaded to become a Christian" (Ac 26:28)? Because the sheer weight of Paul's testimony was so persuasive and compelling. Now this is not to say that the Gospel is strictly an appeal to man's natural intellect, but the fact that the gospel call is by its very nature rational (that is, it is a verbal communication which must be processed through the mind before it has an impact on the emotions) is unavoidable.

 

The effectual call, on the contrary, is not an external appeal to the mind, but an inward creative act in the soul. The effectual call is a call, in Augustine's words, by "Divine Imperative." It is an act of creation in exactly the same way that the origin of the universe was an act of creation. How did God create the universe? By the sheer power of His command, His creative fiat: "And God said, Let there be..." and there was. "Let there be" is a command, an imperative. In the beginning, "God commanded the light to shine out of darkness." It was a command, a fiat. By the mere utterance of His voice, galaxies, solar systems, planets, oceans, mountains, trees, rocks, air, atoms, and molecules were called into existence out of nothing. What awesome power!

 

The effectual call is also a creation (Eph 2:10; 2Co 5:17). It is the creation of spiritual life where no life existed by the power of God's command. When He speaks, it is done. When He commands, it stands fast. By the mere utterance of His voice, the dead sinner comes to life. Divine imperative is the thought conveyed in #1Peter 1:23‑25|, a text frequently employed by those who teach gospel agency: "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever...This is the word, which, by the gospel is preached unto you." When Peter says we are born again by the word of God, does He mean that the gospel is the means God uses to quicken the dead sinner? No. The word by which we are born again is not the Bible, nor the gospel, but the spoken voice, the creative fiat of God. Think of 1Pe 1:23 in terms of Ps 33:6: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth." Does that mean that the universe was created by the Bible, or by the gospel? No. It means it was created by the sheer power of God's command. The same God who called the widow's son, Jairus' daughter' and Lazarus to life, still calls sinners who are 'dead in trespasses and in sins' to life in Christ. That is the power of Divine imperative. The gospel, then explains what has happened (1Pe 1:25).

 

The effectual call is a call to eternal salvation; the gospel call is a call to repentance and faith (Ac 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). The effectual call is a call to sonship; the gospel call is a call to discipleship. God speaks directly in the effectual call; God speaks through men in the gospel call. The effectual call is always obeyed; the gospel call is frequently disobeyed, shunned, and resisted. The effectual call is a creation; the gospel call is a communication. The effectual call is directed to the dead; the gospel call is directed to the living. The effectual call is an internal call; the gospel call is an external appeal. The effectual call produces life (2Ti 1:9); the gospel call produces light (2Ti 1:10). The sinner responds involuntarily in the effectual call (like Lazarus). The gospel call, however, calls for a voluntary, decisive response ("...harden not your hearts" ‑ Heb 3:15). The conclusive testimony of Scripture is that the effectual call precedes the gospel call and that the effectual call gives a man spiritual life, while the gospel call gives a man knowledge and understanding. This distinction between regeneration and gospel conversion is essential.

 

5. The Gospel‑means position confuses the doctrine of Regeneration with the doctrine of Justification lay Faith. In Ro 4, Paul employs the experience of Abraham to teach the great doctrine of justification by faith: "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness." Most proponents of the gospel‑means position use this verse to teach that the sinner must believe the gospel in order to lee saved, or, if you please, born again. But is this verse talking about regeneration? No, it's talking about justification. Justification is a legal term. It speaks of something that takes place in a court room. Regeneration, on the contrary, is a biological term. It speaks of something that takes place in the delivery room. To use Ro 4 to teach that a sinner can be saved if he will believe the gospel is to ignore this important fact.

 

Of the three times that Abraham's experience is cited in the New Testament as an example of the life of faith (Ro 4; Heb 11; Jas 2), not one can be employed to suggest the idea that he was born again by his act of believing. Ro 4 describes an experience in the life of Abraham that is recorded in Ge 15. Ge 15, of course, occurred several years after Abraham initially left Ur, by faith (Ge 12). Does Ro 4 teach that a sinner may receive eternal salvation when he believes the gospel? No. Why not? Because the example the writer cites for justification by faith, Abraham, had been walking by faith for several years before the experience described in this chapter. In other words, Abraham was already a regenerate man before "he believed God and it was accounted unto him for righteousness." 

 

PART III 

The Purpose of the Gospel

 

If the gospel is not the means God uses in regeneration, what is the purpose of the Gospel? I offer for the reader's consideration the following answer.

 

1. The Gospel Delivers the Believer from the Practice of Sin. Ro 1:16 calls the gospel "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." It is the power of God. God uses it to transform the thinking and the behavior of His people (Ro 12:2). The Holy Spirit applies it as a means of spiritual growth into Christ's likeness: "But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, who is the Head, even Christ" (Eph 4:15). In what specific terms does the gospel deliver the believer? Ac 26:18 suggests at least five ways. First, it delivers them from ignorance to understanding ‑ "To open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light" (Ac 26:18a). Secondly, it delivers them from Satan's power, that is, from his strangle‑hold upon their lives ‑ "and from the power of Satan unto God" (Ac 26:18b). The individual who comes to gospel understanding has a resource in the truth that equips him to "stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph 6:10), to "resist the devil" (Jas 4:7; 1Pe 5:9), and to "overcome the devil" (Re 12:10). Thirdly, it delivers them from the pressing bondage of guilt ‑ "that they may receive forgiveness of sins" (Ac 26:18c). It brings a peace to the heart and the conscience that nothing else can provide. This peace of conscience, this justification by faith (Ro 5:1), such as the Publican received in Lu 18, may very well be the dominant utility of the gospel. Fourthly, it delivers them from a life of lonely selfishness into the warmth of Christian fellowship with other believers ‑ "that they may receive an inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith" (Ac 26:18d). Fifthly, it delivers them from spiritual immaturity to a life of growth and progressive conformity to the image of Christ ‑"sanctified by faith that is in me" (Ac 26:18c). The gospel is spiritual food for the believer's growth (1Pe 2:2). God, through the gospel, can transform attitudes, mend broken relationships, encourage the downcast, comfort the bereaved, strengthen the weak, and change the lives of those who hear. The gospel is heaven's powerful resource for living the Christian life.

 

2 The Gospel Informs the Mind and Instructs the Understanding: It's purpose is to illumine: "The entrance of thy words give light; it giveth understanding to the simple" (Ps 119:130).  2Ti 1:10 says that the gospel brings "life and immortality to light." Note it does not give "life and immortality" but it brings it to "light," that is, to manifestation. It is God's means of imparting knowledge, guidance, and counsel to His people (Jer 3:15; Ps 25:5; 119:24).

 

3. The Gospel is the Instrument of Conversion. 1Co 4:15 says, "For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." Paul was the father of the Corinthians in the same sense that Timothy and Titus were described as "his sons in the faith" (#1Tim. l:2; Titus 1:4|). He was, in other words, instrumental in bringing them to a knowledge of the truth and in their early spiritual development. They came to gospel understanding under his ministry. The ministry is like parenting (1Th 2:7,11) in this sense. God uses his word to change a person's mind (Ps 15:5; 119:25). That is conversion.

 

4 The Gospel is God 's Means of Giving Hope, Joy, and Peace to the Soul. What good does it do to believe the gospel? Ro 15:13 says, "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost." Joy, peace, and hope come through believing.

 

5. The Gospel is God 's Means of Nourishing the Inner Man. Three times Jesus commanded Peter to "feed my sheep." The chief business of the pastor to the flock is to preach the word unto them. "Feed the flock of God which is among you," urged Peter (1Pe 5:1). Paul said, "Feed the church of God which He bath purchased with His own blood" (Ac 20:28). The gospel is food for the hungry soul, the bread of life, the means by which believers "taste the good word of God" (Heb 6:3).

 

6. The Gospel Liberates the Believer from the Oppressive Yoke of Legalism. Jesus said, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free..." (Joh 8:32). The proclamation of God's grace to sinners in Jesus Christ has an emancipating effect on the heart. Jesus is the ultimate Liberator (Ga 5:1).

 

7. The Gospel Heralds and Proclaims Christ's Finished Work.  In #2Corinthians 5:18‑20|, Paul distinguishes between the "work of reconciliation" and the "word [or ministry] of reconciliation." The work of reconciliation has already been accomplished. It is finished (Joh 19:30). It is an objective fact. The gospel is the report of that fact, the publication of redemption accomplished and applied: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that publisheth peace, that publisheth salvation, that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth" (Isa 52:7). The Gospel is the victory cry of a successful Savior.

 

8. The Gospel Urges Men to Turn from Idolatry and to Worship the True God. The Thessalonians responded to Paul's preaching by "turning to God from idols to serve the living and the true God" (1Th 1:9). The call to repentance is inherent in the gospel message. The gospel not only proclaims Christ's finished work, but calls upon the hearer to respond to that message by believing it, obeying it, and committing himself to a life of godliness, out of gratitude for God's grace. The gospel summons men to a life of good works, not in order to gain salvation, but in order to glorify the God of our salvation.

 

The relationship that exists between God's immediate and effectual work in regeneration, and man's subsequent responsibility to believe and obey the gospel, is said by the poet better than I could say it:

 

"I will not work my soul to save,

For this my Lord has done;

But I will work like any slave,

For love of God's dear Son. "

 

That, dear reader, is the message of sovereign grace!

Church Membership

Is it for you? What Does it Mean?

 

So, you are thinking about becoming a church member…

 

How wonderful! It is certainly a very important decision—one of the most important you will ever make in your life. At first, it may seem to be a very simple choice—as they say, a “no brainer”—for there is no organization more important and no cause more noble than the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Neither the Lion’s Club, Girl Scouts, Toastmasters, nor the local chapter of a particular worker’s Union can claim the Creator of heaven and earth as its Head. The church can.[1] Furthermore, no earthly organization is guaranteed a perpetual existence.  Every company that comes along will be replaced eventually by a newer and more relevant model. Not the church—it will last forever.[2]

 

Indeed, it seems like an easy decision.  But, then again, I’m sure you have a number of questions whirling in your mind:  How do I know if I’m ready to join the church?  What do I need to know before I join?  How do I go about joining the church? Is it even necessary to apply for formal membership? What will it matter if I don’t?  

 

Well, I want to help you to answer some of these questions. It is appropriate for you to consider, in advance, the significance of this decision and to learn something about the many privileges associated with membership in the church.

 

I also want to address a few issues that you may or may not have considered regarding some of the responsibilities associated with church membership. Jesus taught that it is important to “count the cost” of following Him—that is, to consider what is involved in discipleship.[3]  What will membership in the church require of you? What will be expected of you?

 

No doubt, you’ve heard the adage, “With privilege comes responsibility.” In a day when many people approach the gospel as consumers, asking “How can this benefit me?”, it is needful to recover Jesus’ emphasis on servanthood.  The most basic question asked by early Christians was not the consumer’s question—“How can I benefit from the church?”—but the question of the servant—“What shall we do?”[4]

 

Indeed, there are privileges—rich and wonderful privileges—associated with membership in the church. Church membership will benefit you in a variety of ways. But there are also duties that accompany the commitment to follow Jesus Christ in the fellowship of other believers, and it is important that you understand both what you can expect from church-life and what will be expected from you, before you become a member.

 

Perhaps we should begin by asking the very basic and fundamental question…

 

Is the concept of “joining the church” even a Biblical concept?

A reaction against institutional forms is one of the unhappy emphases of our day. Some would argue that baptism is “into Christ,” as Ro 6:3 says, not “into the church”. But it is doubtful that Ro 6 is talking about “water baptism” at all; the subject of Ro 6 is the legal doctrine of spiritual union with Christ. It may surprise some people to know that the Bible does indeed talk about “joining the church”.

 

Twice in the book of Acts, reference is made to a person “joining himself” to the church.[5] The original word translated “join” means “to cement together, to unite” and refers to a formal relationship such as the joining of a man and a woman in a marriage covenant.

 

Furthermore, there are statements in the New Testament that make sense only in the context of an official membership—“tell it to the church,” “when you are gathered together,” “if the whole church be come together into one place,” etc.[6]  All of these references suggest that the early church was a local assembly with a definable membership.

 

In Ac 2:47, conversion is defined in terms of “the Lord adding to the church such as should be saved.”  Obviously, the Bible assumes that church membership is the will of God for every true believer.  That leads to the next question…

 

Who should join the church and when is the right time?

How do you know if you are ready to join the church? If the Lord has done a work of grace in your heart, then you are not only qualified for membership, but called—simply by virtue of His gift of salvation—to unite yourself to His people.  The call to separate oneself from the world[7] and to identify oneself with the stigma of the cross[8] is God’s will for every one of His children.[9]

 

The church is for believers. We practice credo- (or believers) baptism, not paedo- (or infant) baptism, for belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is the ultimate evidence that a person has been born again.[10] Are you a believer in Jesus Christ? Well, ask yourself these questions: Have I been brought to see myself as a sinner who needs a Savior? Have I found comfort in the gospel of Christ and dared to believe that the work of Jesus on the cross was for me? Have I ceased to trust in my own personal worth or merit as the basis of my acceptance with God, convinced that Christ alone is my righteousness? Have I turned from the ambivalence and unbelief that presumes to sit in judgment on the Bible and said with the hymnwriter, “I can, I will, I do believe”?  If you can answer “yes,” then you ought to unite with others who understand your experience.

 

Perhaps you wonder how much you ought to know before you can be a member. Some groups have “membership classes” to educate candidates for membership in the doctrinal convictions of the group. While we don’t observe that practice, it is helpful (especially in cases where a person is an adult) to have a basic understanding of the fundamental or core beliefs of the church.

 

Of course, from one standpoint, commitment to Christ comes first and education second. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me”—in that order. In a very real sense, all that is required for membership is the knowledge that (in the words of John Newton) “I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”

 

On the other hand, there is a place for learning as much as possible about the basic theological convictions of the church, for baptism is essentially a theological statement—a confession not only that you believe in Jesus Christ but of what you believe about Jesus Christ.[11]  

 

Do you believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation?  Do you rejoice to hear the message of a successful Savior who actually secured salvation for His people on the cross and finished the work of redemption? Is the message that says “salvation is of the Lord” a joyful sound in your ears? Does the message that man is hopelessly fallen in sin and cannot recover himself by his own decision or effort agree with your experience? Does your heart resonate with the proclamation that salvation is by grace alone—not of works lest any man should boast? Do you hunger for the faithful and consistent teaching and preaching of God’s word? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then (may I be so bold as to say) you ought to unite with those who share these convictions.  Now is the day of salvation; today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your heart.[12]

 

How does a person unite with the church?

The ordinance of baptism marks the entrance into the fellowship of the local church.[13] By this solemn act, a person gives dramatic testimony to those with whom he will live and worship of his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Gospel baptism marks a turning point in the believer’s life—a decisive act of repentance from his former lifestyle and willing submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In a very real sense, it is a fresh start—a new beginning—a “year of Jubile”.

 

At the conclusion of each worship service, a hymn is sung and opportunity is given to publicly confess faith in the Lord Jesus.  This public profession is a wonderful opportunity to testify to the great things the Lord has done for you and to “name the name of Christ”[14] before others who have also given testimony to their Lord.[15]  Though it takes courage to publicly confess Christ, such a first step will help to prepare you for many future occasions in which your Christianity will require a courageous and steadfast faith in God.

 

The church rejoices to hear someone relate an experience of grace and how the Lord has led to this point.  To witness a penitent sinner submit to Christ in baptism strengthens the faith, inflames the zeal, and renews the commitment of the entire church. It also establishes a bond of mutual love and understanding within the fellowship—a unity in the Spirit that arises from participation in a common faith.[16]

 

What difference will membership in the church make in my life? What can I expect?

Have you ever noticed that much of the New Testament’s instruction for Christian living is framed in the context of local church life? For example, it is in the epistle to the church at Ephesus that we are exhorted to walk in holiness, love, light, and wisdom. It is in the fourth and fifth chapters of that letter—as well as the letter to the Colossians—that the apostle Paul gives practical directions for living Christianly in the areas of personal attitudes and behavior, relationships in the home and at work.  It is in the letter to the church at Philippi that he teaches how to overcome worry and to live joyfully and contentedly, regardless of one’s circumstances.

What is the significance of this fact? By framing his practical teaching in the context of letters to specific churches, Paul implies that it is only in the fellowship of the local church that anyone can possibly live an authentic Christian life.

 

What difference, then, will participation in the life of the church make in your life? First and foremost, it will enable you to fulfill God’s call to holiness by creating a setting in which it is possible for you to grow in Christ and to receive the spiritual nourishment you need to bear burdens and resist temptation.  If it were possible for a person to get these benefits on his own, Christ would have never established the church.

 

There are privileges associated with membership in the church that a person simply cannot get on the outside. Consider Paul’s argument for unity to the church at Philippi. When Paul urged the Philippian believers to labor for unity, he pleaded with them on the basis of the many privileges that were theirs in church life:  If there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, fulfill ye my joy that you be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord.[17]   His point is unmistakable: Great privilege in the fellowship of the saints calls for great effort to preserve the blessing.

 

Perhaps the greatest benefit to church membership is the privilege of participating in the Lord’s Supper. To be permitted to take the unleavened bread—a symbol of the Savior’s broken body—and the cup of wine—an emblem of His precious blood—in communion with the saints is an unspeakable mercy. These tangible elements are visual reminders of both the act and the significance of Christ’s death on the cross. Personal participation in this solemn ordinance serves to make the audible gospel a reality to the individual believer, prompting him to say, ‘He loved me and gave himself for me’.[18]  It is an opportunity for you to proclaim the death of Christ until He comes again.[19]

 

Membership in the church also fosters a sense of belonging and identity.  When he came to years, Moses chose to identify himself with God’s people. He knew that he was a Hebrew, not an Egyptian. He esteemed the reproaches of Christ greater riches than all the treasures in Egypt; therefore, he joined himself in covenant with the people of God.[20]

 

It is my experience that such a sense of identity will prove to be a great safeguard against sin. More than once in my life, I have been spared from falling into temptation by the simple reminder, “I am a church member and should not participate in this activity.”  Membership in the church brings a person face to face with the sins of slothfulness, selfishness, and covetousness in his life. The awareness that I have made a commitment to the Lord and other believers establishes a structure that makes it easier for me to be zealous and energetic. It drives me outside of myself and forces me to think beyond the little circle of my personal life. It gives me a sense of responsibility, direction, and significance in life.

 

Finally, membership in the church carries with it the privilege of fellowship.  Paul thanked God for “the fellowship in the gospel” that he enjoyed with the church at Philippi.[21]  The Greek word koinonia (translated “fellowship”) means “to share in common.”  The covenant relationship between fellow believers in the church is a reciprocal dynamic of giving and taking—a mutual ministry in which each gives to satisfy the need of his brother and receives from his brother the supply that God has given to him.  It is only in the context of sharing in the common life that any believer can grow to full maturity.[22]

 

What do believers share with one another? They share their knowledge of Scripture, experiences, encouragement, counsel, spiritual gifts, material possessions, and prayers.[23]  They participate together as partners in the gospel of Christ.  Fellowship is life in community with the saints—life in covenant with other believers.

That brings us to the next question…

 

What does it really mean to enter into covenant with other believers?

Membership in the church is a glorious thing because it is an assembly of people who have made a covenant  (or promise) to God and one another to uphold the principles of God’s word.  Baptism is the first act of Christian fellowship—a “sharing in common” with other believers.  When a believer is baptized into the fellowship of the saints, he/she is saying by that act, “I, like you, place all my hope and trust for salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. I share your convictions of my own unworthiness and of His sufficient sacrifice in my stead. We are people of ‘like precious faith’.”[24]

 

He is also making another confession to his brothers and sisters in Christ.  He is saying, “I want to share with you in the mutual ministry of the church. I want to receive from you what God has taught you and to give to you what God has taught me.”[25]

The mutual ministry of the church involves, first of all, subjecting yourself to the input of others into your life.[26]  By the act of uniting with the saints, you are saying to them, “I realize that I am not self-sufficient. I cannot live the Christian life on my own. I need your prayers and encouragement, your knowledge of His word, the witness of your example, and your godly counsel.  I need the “checks and balances” that church life will provide.  I want to be accountable to other believers. I want you to love me enough to gently challenge me when I begin to falter, to faithfully admonish me when I stray, and to help me to be faithful to the Lord.”

 

Secondly, fellowship involves giving yourself in service to others. At his baptism into the fellowship, the believer is saying, “I want to show my love for the Lord by serving His people. I want to offer my life as a sacrifice on the altar of Christian service. Whatever the Lord has given to me—whether my spiritual gifts, knowledge of His word, material resources, personal time, or experience—I want to invest in the cause of Christ by bearing the burdens of my brethren.”

 

In a very real sense, membership in the church is a covenant relationship. It is an agreement to take responsibility for one another. Living in a sinful world as we do, we can be thankful that the Lord has given such a precious resource as the communion of saints to help us stay the course of godliness.

 

Does the idea of “taking responsibility” for the church sound frightening to you?  We are living in a day when many people want privilege without responsibility.  But it is God that holds us accountable. It is nothing short of Divine Providence that has blessed us with such priceless blessings as the opportunity to congregate ourselves with His children, sing the precious songs of Zion, and hear the joyful sound of redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ. Simply by virtue of the inestimable blessings we’ve been given, each believer is obliged to assume personal responsibility for the maintenance and forward progress of the church.

 

That brings us to the final question…  

 

What will be expected of me as a church member?

Membership in the church implies activity and commitment. If human organizations that allow a person to retain membership on his own terms are rare, then it should not be a surprise that the “Householder” of the church determines that those who refuse to wear His prescribed garments may not remain at the wedding banquet.[27]  A person may not “name the name of Christ” and refuse to depart from iniquity.[28]

 

Does that mean that sinners are unwelcome? Of course not. The church is not a museum where perfect people are showcased. None of us deserves to be here—all are unworthy sinners, unfit to be so signally blessed.  Further, none of us has attained perfect conformity to Christ-likeness yet.[29] But the church is a place for penitent sinners—for those who “keep on confessing” their sins in ongoing repentance,[30] and are disciplined and purified more and more by the word[31] so that there is real growth in grace and progress in holiness.[32]  A humble and teachable spirit—a heart that is sensitive and submissive to God’s word—is the first and most basic character trait of those in the kingdom of God.[33]  The presence of such an attitude is the raw material from which the Holy Spirit manufactures “vessels meet for the Master’s use”.[34]  The absence of a pliable heart will always reveal itself in a spirit that resists accountability and refuses to repent.

 

In a word, neither you nor I will ever find a perfect church this side of the grace of glorification. The church will always be a people in process of becoming, not a people who boast “we have arrived.” But this fact should never be used as an excuse for shallow commitment. The challenge facing us is to make our church a true and authentic New Testament church—as Biblically pure and distinct from this fallen world system as she can possibly be.  Be separatebe holybe not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind—that is the basic call of the gospel of Christ.[35]

 

When one remembers that the motivation for godliness is gratitude for grace, then duty becomes a privilege.  Church members should do all that they do “as unto the Lord”.[36] To be committed to the Lord Jesus Christ implies being committed to His church. In a very real sense, we serve Him by serving others. That being said, what, then, does commitment to the church involve?

 

Consistent Attendance at Public Worship

Hebrews 10:24-25 is one of the premier passages in the New Testament concerning the duties of church members:  Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”  Notice the connection between a concern for other believers and one’s church attendance habits: Let us consider one another…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together  The point is hard-hitting, almost to the point of harshness: Absenteeism displays a self-centered spirit and lack of consideration for other believers.[37]

 

Why should you worship with the church? Because the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth”.[38]  Here truth is disseminated as the word of God is proclaimed. Here, you may unburden your soul, for God’s house is “a house of prayer for all people”.[39]  Here, you may experience the presence of God and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, for the church is “a habitation of God through the Spirit”.[40] Here your questions find answers.[41]  Here your soul will find a haven of rest—a safe refuge from distress.[42]  Here God is praised.[43]

 

I know of nothing that so discourages the heart of pastors and other believers as inconsistency in attendance at public worship. It sends a message of unconcern for the cause of Christ, and thereby suffocates the fire of zeal. It produces a “domino effect,” weakening the commitment level of others and making it easier for them to excuse themselves. Practically nothing does more to impede the interest of visitors who are “asking the way to Zion” as the apparent lack of concern displayed by predominately empty pews.  Further, it robs the individual who stays away of the saving benefits of the gospel. Perhaps the most tragic consequence of absenteeism is the missed opportunities for ministry. The word “consider” in the text means “to notice”.  The writer indicates that it is in the public assembly that believers will notice opportunities to spur other believers on to greater faithfulness—i.e. to provoke unto love and good works. 

 

Every member needs to know that a part of his covenant to the Lord and his brethren at baptism was the vow to be consistent in church attendance. Ask yourself, “Do I make excuses to stay away? Could I attend more meetings each week than I do? How does my absence affect my pastor and fellow believers? Am I preparing myself to step up and bear the responsibility that others bear now when they are gone? Am I keeping my vows to God and my brethren? Is the Lord pleased with my attendance habits?” Painful questions? Yes, but necessary, nonetheless.[44]

 

David said, “I will pay my vows now unto the Lord in the presence of all His people”.[45]  He said, “I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation.[46]  He promised, “I will give Thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise Thee among much people”.[47] How church members need to “exhort one another daily” to be committed to faithful attendance at public worship, “and so much the more as the day approaches”!  As painful and Perhaps unpleasant as it is to hear, every believer needs to know that church membership involves a commitment to faithful attendance.

 

The Practice of Personal Devotion

Secondly, church membership involves a personal commitment to pursue a daily walk with Jesus Christ. Unless a person stays connected to the Lord—unless he “abides in Christ” through the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, and meditation—he cannot bear the fruit of Christian character.[48] The members of the church in Berea “searched the Scriptures daily”[49]—such a practice of saturating the mind with God’s word during the week will make for an eager reception of the word on Lord’s Day morning.

 

Participation in Ministry to Others

Eph 4:11-16 outlines the dynamics of church function in terms of “every member ministry in the body of Christ.”  It works like this: The most basic function of the church is the preaching and teaching of God’s word. As the word of God is faithfully and accurately taught, the saints are equipped to minister to one another. As each part of the body fulfills its respective role, the body as a whole grows to maturity in Christ.

 

Each member of the local body is responsible for using the spiritual gifts they have been given to minister to the rest of the body. Each must be interested in the “one another” passages of the New Testament—each should be involved in burden-bearing, intercessory prayer, daily exhortation, showing hospitality, visiting, esteeming, admonishing, loving, helping, teaching, communicating, and serving one another.[50] This is real “body life” with every joint supplying the needs of the body so that is built up by love.

 

Protect the Unity

Another area of personal concern to every member should be the unity of the local church. Eph 4:2-3 urges each believer to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” by maintaining an attitude of “lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, and forbearance”.  If you have ever experienced the heartache of disunity, you know that unity is a priceless commodity. Nothing so discredits the church’s witness to the community as strife, tension, and conflict among the membership. Every member must take personal responsibility for peacemaking within the fellowship. Do what you can to foster harmony, silence gossip, and promote a general spirit of goodwill in interpersonal relationships. Refuse to be a part of divisiveness. Guard the unity.

 

Sacrificial Giving

As a church member, you should be involved in the sacrificial giving of your resources to the church. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.[51]  Paul said, “God loveth a cheerful giver”.[52]  If we have freely received God’s gifts of grace, we ought to freely give such grace to others in confidence that God will sufficiently supply our personal needs.[53]  In a very real sense, giving is an act of worship.[54]

 

Your financial and monetary gifts will be used for the support of the pastor so that his hands may be more and more liberated from secular distraction to devote his time to prayer and ministry of the word.[55]  Further, your sacrificial gifts help in the spread of the gospel, the care of those who are in need, the purchase of necessary items in the function of the church (like hymnals, bibles, cassette tapes, etc.), and the general maintenance of the building (e. g. utility bills, lawnmower maintenance, cleaning supplies, items for the lunchroom, and many other background needs in the daily function of the church).

The happiest people in life are those who give sacrificially and cheerfully, never asking if it pays. God is faithful to return such an investment in a myriad of blessings.

 

Personal Evangelism

1Pe 2:9 indicates that God calls people from darkness into His marvelous light and separates them to Himself as His special people to the intent that they may proclaim His praise. Telling 

others what great things the Lord has done for you is a privilege and responsibility of every believer. Like the early believers who “went everywhere preaching the word”,[56] every follower of Christ is called to be zealous for the expansion of the kingdom of God.[57]  The Thessalonian church “sounded out the word of the Lord” so effectively that it had become public knowledge.[58]  Each believer should equip himself with the necessary knowledge so that he will “be ready to give an answer” to those who inquire about his faith.[59]

 

Of course, the best opportunity for witnessing is within your own family and circle of influence. Jesus told the wild man to “go home to [his] friends and tell them what great things the Lord had done for [him].[60]  Andrew first shared the news of Messiah’s advent with his own brother Simon Peter.[61]  But even beyond the sphere of immediate influence, every church member will periodically encounter people in hospitals, shopping malls, airplanes, and elsewhere in which opportunities to speak a word for the glory of God are afforded. It’s always a good idea to have taped sermons and some quality literature with you for these spontaneous opportunities.  Spread the good word of God as widely as possible. Invite others to attend public worship with you, saying, “Come and see.”  Participate in the labors of those who are doing the work of evangelism by your monetary assistance.

 

Assisting in the General Upkeep of Church Property

Finally, It is helpful when every member is willing to assume responsibility for the general maintenance of the building and property. Many people would be surprised at the amount of backstage activity that is necessary in the weekly life of the church.  Housekeeping chores never cease. There are carpets to be vacuumed, trash cans to empty, song books to straighten, floors to sweep, paper supplies to purchase, furniture to dust, hedges to trim, flowers to water, walks to sweep, light bulbs to change, etc., on a weekly basis. 

 

Of course, there is a blessing to be found in this more mundane but necessary part of church life. Though the building is not the church, yet it is a place consecrated to the worship of God. The interest we show in the meetinghouse and property is a part of the witness we give to the watching world. I would encourage each member to take a personal interest in these various responsibilities so that the work load is distributed as evenly as possible.

 

In the final analysis, the duty of the church member is to do whatever you can to promote the welfare and prosperity of the church for the glory of Christ’s worthy name. May it be said of us as it was said of the people in Nehemiah’s great project, “The people had a mind to work.”

 

- Michael L. Gowens, Pastor

Lexington Primitive Baptist Church



[37] Pr 18:1 teaches that the man who isolates himself seeks his own desire and rebels against all wise counsel.                          

    (cf. Php 2:3-4)

 

Comments on Various Disputed Passages

 

2Th 2:13-14

 

The popular interpretation of this verse is that God's election, the Spirit's sanctification, and the individual's belief of the truth are equal links in the chain of salvation. The Calvinist argues from this verse that election precedes the act of believing, and that an evangelical faith is the predetermined outcome of election as the instrument of “salvation”. Though the principle that election is precedent to belief is Biblically valid, yet I reject the inference that all the elect are predestinated to hear  the gospel as the means of salvation. Two interesting facts lead to my conviction that the tendency to explain 2Th 2:13 in terms of eternal election is hermeneutically inaccurate.

 

(1) The word "chosen" is not eklego, the usual word for election, but haireo, meaning "to take to oneself".  If 2Th 2:13 is an eternal election verse, then it is the only reference in the NT where haireo is used for election.. Every other "election" verse in the NT employs eklego.

 

(2) Likewise, the phrase "from the beginning" is not Paul's normal word to describe the timelessness of eternity past.  In eternal election passages like  1Co 2:7; Eph 1:4; 3:9; 2Ti 1:9, & Tit 1:2, Paul employs the word aionios (#"before time was"|).  This phrase is arche (meaning "commencement" or "origin"-  cf. Re 3:14) not aionios. Zodhiates defines arche to mean "from the first", not “before the world began”. If this is an "eternal election" verse, then this choice took place at some point after the inception of time—not "before the foundation of the world" but "from the commencement"...

 

 How, then, should the passage be interpreted? Interestingly, Ac 15:14ff includes similar language: "...God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name [haireo meaning “to take to Himself”]...Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world".  James is describing God’s sovereign intention since the earliest days to number Gentiles among the company of His true servants. The language is identical to  2Th 2:13 explains 2Th 2:13? 

 

When one adds to the portrait the fact that the church at Thessalonica was one of the first churches on European or Western soil and that it was comprised largely (if not exclusively) of Gentiles, one wonders if Paul is not employing a wise pastoral tactic, i.e.encouraging them to "stand fast and hold the traditions they had been taught" (2Th 2:15) by validating their identity as the true people of God.  "You belong to the Lord as His special people," he affirms. "You are who you are and where you are today because of His plan to take out from the Gentiles a people for His name; therefore, brethren, stand fast against deception." The reminder and reaffirmation of their identity is the incentive for faithful perseverance, as well as the encouragement they needed in lieu of the news that some would be deceived by the antichrist.

 

The reputable commentator Leon Morris says that it is immaterial that Paul employs different language in 2Th 2:13 than every other election verse in the NT.  My reply to that statement is, "In all due respect, who says it is immaterial?"  If this is an eternal election verse, then why is it the only exception to the consistent usage of the election terms eklego and aionios? I suggest that the different terminology is not immaterial, but vital to an understanding of Paul's intent. If the proliferation of "election" verses in the NT employ identical language, but one, lone verse uses, not one but, two completely different terms, could that not be a compelling argument for the potential that 2Th 2:13 is not talking about eternal election at all, but God's purpose to take a people to Himself from the Gentiles?

 

The Thessalonian believers were living proof of God's intent “from the beginning”—even as far back as the Abrahamic Covenant (i.e. "in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed"); yea, even previous to that, when Noah predicted that "Japheth would come into Shem's tent"—to include Gentiles in the company of his those who would serve Him through special revelation. Throughout the Old Testament, references to this Divine program surface again and again. In fact, James quotes Am 9:11-12 as an example.  “What we are witnessing with the influx of Gentile converts,” James tells the Jerusalem council, “is the fulfillment of God’s plan of the ages.” Paul now emphasizes the same point from a pastoral perspective to encourage the believers at Thessalonica that they were indeed true servants of God. 

 

Ro 10

 

The larger context of Ro 9-11 is concerned to answer the question, "Is God righteous in the way He has dealt with the Jews?" The entire passage is a "theodicy" or justification of God against the charge that He had not given Israel sufficient resources to believe (see Ro 9:6, the key to the entire passage).

 

Ro 9 answers, "Yes, God is right because He is sovereign." Of course, the proof Paul cites for Divine sovereignty is the doctrine of election. Ro 10 continues the vindication (or justification) of God by driving home the point that He had given the Jews every conceivable opportunity for repentance, but still they, as a nation (or generally speaking), rejected their own Messiah. Ro 11 adds to this discussion a note of hope in a two-fold sense: (1) Though Israel in general refused to acknowledge their Messiah, yet a remnant of believing Jews was preserved by God's grace; (2) Though Israel is presently cut off and in a state of judicial blindness, yet God reserves the right to "graft them in again".

 

In lieu of this larger context, then, Ro 10 develops the thought of God's rightness in judging Israel. He is just to cut them off from gospel blessings in lieu of their unbelief. This chapter affirms that unbelief is not so much a matter of hesitancy or reluctance to embrace a fact as it is a matter of refusal to accept the evidence.

 

The entire epistle of the Romans is written in a "dialectical" literary style. Dialectic is the practice of debating oneself, a popular device among authors. If a writer wanted to expose the fallacy of a certain position, for example, he might pretend to hold a debate between two contrary positions. He would first advance the contrary position and then offer counter arguments to disprove each point. That Paul employs the device of dialectal rhetoric in Ro 10 is clear from his use of the phrase "But I say" in Ro 10:18 and Ro 10:19 (see the same formula in Ro 6:1,15; 7:13; 8:31-39; 9:14,19; 11:1).  

 

So, the overall question in Ro 10 is, "Is God righteous in dealing so severely with Israel?" He proceeds to tackle that question by giving the Jews answer (as he envisions it), "No, He is not righteous for we have not had sufficient opportunity to hear and embrace Christ as the promised Messiah. We need someone to ascend into heaven or descend into the deep before we can believe." Paul responds, "You don’t need to witness an external miracle. The child of God already has an inward witness. The word is nigh thee, in your heart and in your mouth--the evidence you need is already there."  In Ro 10:14, he anticipates their second argument, namely, "We cannot embrace Him unless some preacher come to tell us about Him."  Paul retorts, "You have already heard, but you didn't obey" (Ro 10:16). “The problem, in other words, is not with God and His provision for you. He has in fact given you both an internal and an external witness. The problem is in yourselves and the obstinate resistance to the evidence [i.e. unbelief].”

 

 Paul's closing argument in this "trial of God" is in Ro 10:18-19. "But I say, have they not heard? Yes...But I say, did not Israel know...?" The implied answer is again "yes, they did know, but they refused to accept the evidence--i.e. unbelief."  Ro 10:20 further accuses them by saying that one of their own prophets predicted that the Gentiles would embrace the Messiah that the Jews rejected. And Ro 10:21 concludes the debate by ultimately vindicating God, "All day long have I stretched forth my hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people" (doesn't sound like an effectual call, does it :-)).  In other words, Israel has no case at all. The Lord had gone above and beyond the call of duty, so to speak, in the way He dealt with them, but they spurned his advances and rejected his revelation. Therefore, He is justified to cut them off in unbelief. 

 

That is the case against Israel. Paul, nonetheless, has a great passion for their "salvation" to Gospel blessings (Ro 10:1-4) and holds out hope for their restoration because of the remnant that God had graciously preserved (Ro 11:1).

 

1Jo 5:4-5

 

Does 1Jo 5:4-5 teach that every regenerate person will live as an overcomer of the world?  The verse is employed as a proof for the premise that the new birth guarantees perseverance in faith and holiness. I insist, rather, that the use of the neuter term “whatsoever” teaches that the born again person is equipped to persevere thru the exercise of his faith in Christ—that the verse, in other words, reveals the means by which the believer may live victoriously over sin—but not that human perseverance in guaranteed so that the child of God never falls victim, Demas-like, to the world.  The following article entitled “Be an Overcomer” is my attempt to synthesize this passage with the context.

1Jo 5:4-5

 

John’s exhortation to Christian love concludes with the affirmation that God’s “commandments are not grievous” [lit. burdensome] (1Jo 5:3b). That is true in a two-fold sense: (1) In terms of the character of God’s commandments, they are not like the hard rules and regulations imposed by the Pharisees– burdens “grievous to be borne” (Mt 23:4; Ac 15:10)—but are the standards of a loving Father who seeks the highest welfare of His children.  Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden, light (Mt 11:28); (2) In terms of the fact that we have been given the ability to keep them: “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world…” (1Jo 5:4a).

 

                When an individual is born again, he is given the gift of faith (Eph 2:8). John Stott writes, “By the use of the neuter ‘whatsoever’ John states the principle in its most general and abstract form. He does so to emphasize not ‘the victorious person’ but ‘the victorious power’. It is not the man, but his birth from God, which conquers.”  The gift of faith implanted in the soul equips God’s child with the necessary resources to live a life of victory over the world that once dominated every part of his existence. It is because God has given us faith that we can say, “His commands are not irksome.”

 

                Does the fact that someone has been born again, then, guarantee that he will overcome the world? Not necessarily. Notice that John proceeds to ascribe the victory not to the fact that someone has been born again, but to the exercise of his faith: “And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (#v. 4b|).  The sequence of thought is clear: First, God has equipped us with the necessary tools to live a victorious life (1Jo 5:4a); Second, We must utilize the resources He has given in order to live victoriously (1Jo 5:4b); Third, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – that is, a gospelly-informed trust and confidence in the Savior – is the key ingredient to the Christian’s conquest over sin in his life (1Jo 5:5).

 

The Premise


               
Implied in the language of these verses is a truth about the nature of the Christian life. The New Testament frequently depicts the life of discipleship in terms of an athletic contest or military campaign.  In this conflict, the Christian will either conquer or be conquered. He will either be a victor or a victim.  The goal is to overcome, not to succumb in defeat.

 

                Ro 8:37 indicates that every child of God is already victorious – in fact, more than victorious – through Jesus Christ.  In Him, we have been emancipated from penalty of sin. Because Christ won the battle, the warfare is accomplished (Isa 40:1ff).  Positionally, we are victors through the cross.

 

                But in practical terms, God’s people still face the daily challenge to live victoriously in a world that is characterized by ungodliness.  The war is over but the side-skirmishes of daily discipleship continue.  John’s question is, “Will you be a victim to the world, or will you be an overcomer?”  Just as the Lord Jesus “overcame the world” (Joh 16:33), so His followers are called to live lives above the lowlands of this fallen world system.

 

The Particulars

               
What precisely does that mean? In what specific areas does the world threaten the child of God?

 

                First, the child of God is called to overcome the world’s obsessions, values, and attitudes. In 1Jo 2:16, John defines “the world” by its dominant characteristics:  “…the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life…” Living in a fallen world, we are bombarded with temptation to sin.  Ours is a world driven by the principle of personal gratification.  Self-fulfillment is touted as the supreme objective in this fallen world system. It urges, “Satisfy your desire for pleasure (i.e. “lust of the flesh”), for possessions (i.e. “lust of the eyes”), and for prestige (i.e. “pride of life”).” But when the child of God falls into sexual sin, pursues materialistic goals, or adopts a way of thinking that is focused on himself, the enemy of Christ has scored a significant victory.

 

                Second, we must overcome the world’s persecution (1Jo 3:1,13).  The world will attempt to silence the Christian’s testimony – to intimidate him to soften his stance – through the pressure of persecution (Joh 15:18ff).  The child of God must not succumb to discouragement, cowardice, or silence in the face of opposition from this ungodly world.  John encourages, “Be an overcomer!”

 

                God’s people must also live victoriously over the world’s distractions and pull upon the heart. Jesus talked about the “cares of this world” which tend to divert attention from Him and His word (Mt 13:22). The sheer abundance of daily cares is frequently Satan’s tool to sidetrack God’s people from “the one thing needful.”  Further, the glittering wealth of Vanity Fair is enticing to man’s old nature, drawing the heart like metal to a magnet.  No wonder Paul warned, “Be not conformed to this world” (Ro 12:2).

 

                In the fourth place, we are called to overcome the temptation to please the world and to court its approval (Jas 4:4). If a Christian loses sight of his Lord and becomes preoccupied with his own popularity, he will inevitably compromise the glory of God (Joh 5:43-44; 12:43). How subtle is the danger!  Many strong men have been defeated at just this point.

 

                Finally, God’s born-again child is called to overcome the world’s wisdom (1Co 1:20-21; 3:19). The journey of Christian discipleship is a precarious act of navigating one’s way through the mine-field of unbiblical ideas.  Every day, we are inundated in popular culture with secular, man-centered ways of thinking. How many of God’s people have set out to honor Him only to be defeated because they were duped by the world’s falsehoods?

 

The Prescription


               
Someone wonders, “Is it possible to overcome the world?”  Well, yes. Jesus “overcame the world” (Joh 16:33). How, then, can we overcome?

 

                John answers, “by faith” (1Jo 5:4). Interestingly, this is the only time the noun “faith” appears in 1 John, though the verb “to believe” occurs nine times.  John says, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”

 

                The reference to “our faith” speaks of the action of trusting in Jesus Christ. Of course, this “faith” is first “born of God” (1Jo 5:4a), that is, created by God in the soul at regeneration.  But John takes a further step and claims that this “faith” must be informed by the gospel, move toward Christ and embrace Him in confident trust: “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1Jo 5:5).

 

                What does this mean in practical terms? It means that the believer in Christ has the strength and resources necessary, through faith in the Savior, to live victoriously.  Regardless of circumstances around him, feelings within him, or consequences ahead of him, the Christian can be an overcomer like his Lord was when he was in the world. By his God, the believer can “leap over a wall and run through a troop” (Ps 18:29).  Because he knows his God, he is “strong and does exploits” (Da 11:32). Through “the blood of the Lamb and the word of God” he can “overcome” the devil (Re 12:11). By pleading the merit of Christ, he can save himself from this ungodly world (Ga 1:4; Ac 2:40). By the knowledge God gives him in the gospel, he can “escape the pollutions of the world” (2Pe 2:20).

 

                Faith, born of God in man’s soul and reaching forth to grasp Christ in confidence and trust, is the prescription for victory in the Christian life.  Through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you can be an overcomer. 

Eph 2:8

 


Eph 2:1-10 is a regeneration passage. Eph 2:8 is often quoted as a proof text for the idea that man’s exercise of faith is the instrument of salvation. The following brief article is an attempt to explain the meaning of the phrase “through faith” in this verse, particularly in regard to the role of faith in salvation.

 

The first thing that needs to be said about it is that the verse does not say “through believing” (a verb) but “through faith” (a noun). The verse does not support the popular idea known as “decisional regeneration” – a view that necessarily makes man’s act of believing the condition or prerequisite of salvation. Holy Scripture, on the contrary, teaches clearly that belief is an evidence, not a cause, of spiritual birth (Joh 5:24; 1:11-13; 1Jo 5:1).

 

                Then, what is the relationship between faith and regeneration? It will help you to remember a very basic fact: Faith is always a response to God. In fact, to be more specific, faith is a response to the stimulus of Divine revelation. When God speaks, faith responds.

 

                In Scripture, faith is depicted as both a voluntary and an involuntary response to God. Just as the human body consists of various systems, some of which respond voluntarily and some involuntarily to the stimuli of brain impulses, so faith is sometimes a conscious response to God, and sometimes it is a response to God below the level of consciousness. The “faith” in Ephesians 2:8 is an involuntary response, below the level of conscious decision.

 

                This verse describes the initial gift of faith in regeneration. When the Lord Jesus Christ speaks the life-giving voice to one who is dead in trespasses and sins (Joh 5:25), He creates faith in the soul by the sheer power of His command, so that the sinner irresistibly responds to His effectual call. The sinner is “made willing in the day of [God’s] power” (Ps 110:3). Like Lazarus, he responds to the Divine imperative involuntarily – below the level of consciousness. The power that raise Jesus from the dead is the very same power that creates faith in the soul (Eph 1:19).

 

                This initial gift of faith by which God creates the response He requires is a necessary prerequisite to the voluntary (#i.e. conscious and deliberate|) response to God’s word that we call “gospel faith.” Until a person has been given the gift of faith in regeneration, in other words, he cannot believe. The flip side of this truth is that there is no greater evidence of spiritual birth than a true evangelical faith.

 

                This distinction between an involuntary and a voluntary response will help you to make sense of the fact that faith is described in the Bible as both a grace (Eph 2:8) and a duty (1Jo 3:23). Think on these things.

 

Comparison Between The Effectual Call And The Gospel Call

The effectual call is a call to eternal salvation; the gospel call is a call to repentance and faith. {Ac 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20} The effectual call is a call to sonship; the gospel call is a call to discipleship. God speaks directly in the effectual call; God speaks through men in the gospel call. The effectual call is always obeyed; the gospel call is frequently disobeyed, shunned, and resisted. The effectual call is a creation; the gospel call is a communication. The effectual call is directed to the dead; the gospel call is directed to the living. The effectual call is an internal call; the gospel call is an external appeal. The effectual call produces life; {2Ti 1:9} the gospel call produces light. {2Ti 1:10} The sinner responds involuntarily in the effectual call (like Lazarus). The gospel call, however, calls for a voluntary, decisive response ("... harden not your hearts"- Heb 3:15). The conclusive testimony of Scripture is that the effectual call precedes the gospel call and that the effectual call gives a man spiritual life, while the gospel call gives a man knowledge and understanding. This distinction between regeneration and gospel conversion is essential.

Developing A Christian Mind

by Elder Michael L. Gowens

 

"... Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." 2Co 10:3,5

 

Jesus is Lord! That exclamation is the most original of all Christian confessions, the simplest of all Christian creeds. When first century believers said "Jesus is Lord," they were, by that confession, ascribing deity and hence, sovereignty, to Jesus Christ. {Joh 20:28}

 

"Lord" means supreme ruler. The Lord is one with absolute authority and dominion. When Christians acknowledged his Lordship, they were expressing submission to his right to rule and obedience to his authority over their lives. They were saying, "Jesus Christ is in charge of my life and I am willing to do what he commands."

 

Whether or not you and I acknowledge his lordship and authority, Christ Jesus is still Lord. As a result of his completed redemptive work, the Father has invested him with this divine dignity and position. Our disobedience will never change that fact. The issue for us is not "Is he Lord?" but "Are we submissive to his authority over us?" Have we surrendered to his Lordship? Are we living in a way that acknowledges his right to rule? One day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. {Php 2:10-11} A Christian is a person who bows and confesses that fact now.

 

The Lordship of Jesus Christ extends to every sector of the believer’s life, even what he believes and how he thinks Ro 14:6-12, Christ and Christ alone has the right to police the thoughts of his people. As followers of Jesus Christ, you and I do not have the right to determine what we will believe or to develop our own philosophy of life. Because he is the Lord, Christ has the authority to make exclusive claims upon the believer’s mind.

 

Is Jesus Christ the Lord of your mind? It was a rude awakening in my own life when I began to realize that I had unwittingly adopted many secular values that were diametrically contrary to God’s word. There are a number of books on the shelves of my library purchased during a time in my life when I was less discerning that promote ideas that seemed right to me at the time, but that I have since discarded. To this day, I still periodically find myself accepting an idea that sounds reasonable, only to discover later that it is inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture.

 

The very fact that I still struggle with a certain ambivalence concerning the way I think about various issues indicates that I do not yet perfectly possess the mind of Christ. I have not arrived at perfect wisdom. I am not yet completely sanctified by God’s word. {Joh 17:17} In fact, I expect that this struggle to conform my thinking more and more to the principles of Scripture will continue as long as I live. R. C. Sproul agrees:

 

None of us have totally the mind of Christ. We don’t always think like Christians. I have ideas by which I make decisions and by which I make judgments which are not consistent with the mind of Christ. It’s a lifelong struggle to conform my thinking to the thinking of Christ, to love what Christ loves and to hate what Christ hates; to affirm what he affirms, and to deny what he denies. I’m talking about achieving a Christian life and world view, of learning to look at life the way that God himself sees it, because we are convinced that He is the author and the fountain of truth.

 

To see life exactly as God sees it, to agree with him totally, to understand his word perfectly, and to know his will entirely, is to be spiritually mature. It is to be like the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to submit to his Lordship over my thinking. It is to possess a Christian mind. Until I die, this is the challenge that faces me. This is the goal toward which I must move. This is the essence of Christian discipleship.

 

Taking Every Thought Captive

 

Helping God’s people to develop Christian minds is also the purpose of the gospel ministry. In 2Co 10:1-18, Paul defines his goal as a minister of Christ’s gospel in terms of a spiritual warfare, a "fight of faith," if you please, against ideas, philosophies, and general thought patterns that contradict God’s word. Notice the military imagery in his words:

 

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." {2Co 10:3-5}

 

Clearly, Paul saw his task as God’s servant in terms of a spiritual conflict that involved both the conquest of territory (’ pulling down of strongholds’;lit. military fortifications) and the establishment of a new government in its place (’ captive to the obedience of Christ’)..The function of the gospel ministry, according to Paul, is comparable to a military rescue operation in which prisoners of war are forceably liberated from unlawful captors and returned to their rightful Ruler. Like a Special Forces group of Green Berets or Navy Seals, the minister is called to infiltrate the enemy territory Scripture calls "the world," sabotage and demolish the philosophical fortifications and strongholds of unbiblical thinking with the sword of the Spirit, and take the minds of those, once enslaved to error, captive for Christ and his truth.

 

Three thoughts are noteworthy in Paul’s metaphor: (1) The battle facing Christians is primarily philosophical. It is a battle for the mind 3/4 a battle of ideas 3/4 a battle for truth. The "knowledge of God" (i.e. God’s revelation in Scripture) is the standard by which every thought must be measured. Any idea that is not consistent with Divine revelation, says Paul, is sheer "imagination." First and foremost, the Christian faith is a matter of theological truth, not spiritual experience or cultural morality. The modern distaste for doctrine, especially within the Christian community, is an error of the deepest dye, for it undermines the very essence and nature of Christianity.

 

(2) The Christian faith is essentially aggressive and exclusive. It aims to take over by replacing error with truth. Paul’s goal was not to interject the gospel as one among many equally valid philosophies of life. Instead, he wanted to demolish "every high thing" and bring "every thought" captive to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He saw every other idea as a competing worldview, vying for man’s heart and mind and threatening the glory of God. Paul understood that antithesis, i.e. the principle of contrast, is woven into the very fabric of the Gospel. He knew that every unbiblical presupposition was essentially a rival religion. Because he was jealous for the name of his God, Paul exhibited a holy intolerance for and antagonism toward every idea that was contrary to God’s revelation.

 

(3) Because it is a battle of ideas, the fight of faith cannot be effectively waged with carnal weapons. Neither violence, anger, hostility, deception, nor flattery are appropriate methods of engaging the enemy and capturing men’s minds. Only by truth can the kingdom of God advance in the world.

 

Growth in grace, for every follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, involves the liberation of one’s ideas and convictions, at ever increasing degrees, from worldly wisdom, and captivation, more and more, by the principles of God’s word. Is your mind the prisoner of Scripture? Is your conscience held captive by the word of God? Is Jesus Christ the Lord of your mind?

 

What is a Christian Mind?

 

When the believer’s every thought is brought to the point of obedience to the authority of Jesus Christ, he has attained the mind of Christ. 1Co 2:16 says, "For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ." The mind of Christ is revealed in the word of God. Every Christian, consequently, has access to Christ’s thinking on every essential issue of life if he has access to the Bible. Christ exercises his authority over people through the word. Scripture is His sceptre; therefore, submission to the word of God is equivalent to obedience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When the believer’s mind is perfectly commensurate with Scripture, he has a Christian mind.

 

A Christian mind, then, is a mind that thinks in terms of Divine revelation, a mind that thinks Biblically. The pursuit of a Christian mind is a quest to develop a Biblical worldview 3/4 to see life the way that God sees it 3/4 thinking His thoughts after Him. Above everything else, this is the priority of discipleship. If he is to be a faithful soldier in the great fight of faith, the believer must first put on the belt of truth: "Stand therefore having your loins girt about with truth." {Eph 6:13} Without it, he will inevitably fall prey to the enemy of his soul.

 

But doesn’t every Christian think Christianly? The answer is, obviously, "no." In fact, many live mindlessly, without a conscious sense of purpose and direction, oblivious to any way of life other than that of the world around them. Because they lack purpose, they live by reaction, at the mercy of changing circumstances and vacillating emotions. Like a child, they are easily influenced, "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine." {Eph 4:14} The easiest and most natural thing in life is to drift along in a vague and thoughtless way, existing on automatic pilot. The Christian, on the contrary, is called to "walk circumspectly." The phrase means to "live a purposeful and disciplined life by setting Biblical goals and pursuing them." The individual who knows his goal lives proactively, not reactively.

 

In 1963, British author Harry Blamires began his landmark book entitled The Christian Mind with the startling, matter-of-fact sentence, "There is no longer a Christian mind." Although he resorts to language that sounds admittedly "hysterical and melodramatic," he proceeds to validate his hypothesis by many convincing arguments. He writes:

 

There is still, of course, a Christian ethic, a Christian practice, and a Christian spirituality. As a moral being, the modern Christian subscribes to a code other than that of the non-Christian. As a member of the Church, he undertakes obligations and observations ignored by the non-Christian. As a spiritual being, in prayer and meditation, he strives to cultivate a dimension of life unexplored by the non-Christian. But as a thinking being, the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization. He accepts religion 3/4 its morality, its worship, its spiritual culture; but he rejects the religious view of life, the view which sets all earthly issues within the context of the eternal, the view which relates all human problems 3/4 social, political, cultural 3/4 to the doctrinal foundations of the Christian Faith, the view which sees all things here below in terms of God’s supremacy and earth’s transitoriness, in terms of Heaven and Hell.

 

What Blamires terms the Christian’s "descent into mental secularism" is called, in the language of Scripture, "worldliness."  When people who profess to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ fail to apply their Christian faith to every sector of their lives, they will inevitably descend into the world’s way of thinking. They will adopt the world’s values, court the world’s approval, and pursue the world’s symbols of status. The church, consequently, will lose its distinctiveness, the basis of its power.

 

Taking Captive or Being Taken Captive?

 

If the statement "There is no longer a Christian mind" was true in 1963, it is even more accurate these three decades later. Because of the modern capacity for communication, instead of "taking every thought captive in obedience to Christ as Lord," now more than ever, people tend to be "taken captive" by the ideas of the secular culture in which they live. This is true for the Christian as well as the unbeliever. Without a deliberate and decisive effort to regularly gather in his thoughts around the word of God, the Christian’s mind will be captured by philosophy and empty deceptions.

 

In Col 2:8, Paul warned the church at Colossae about a false teaching that was making inroads among them:

 

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of this world, and not after Christ."

 

The word translated "spoil" means "to take captive; to plunder; to cheat." The Colossians were in danger of deception by a subtle and almost sinister brand of mysticism that was infiltrating the church. This heresy, known as gnosticism (from the Greek word gnosis meaning "knowledge") taught that matter was evil and only spirit was good. Although they believed that knowledge was the only requirement for salvation, gnostics rejected the rational dimension of Christianity. In the gnostic vocabulary, "knowledge" meant "existential or mystical knowledge" not "rational knowledge." They believed that there was a higher sphere of knowledge, attained experientially apart from Biblical revelation. Gnosticism tended, consequently, to promote a class structure within the church of those who were "in the know" and those who were not. The gnostics saw themselves as the spiritual elite with an "inside track" to God, privy to a level of spirituality that the ordinary Christian was not. They jettisoned theology for experience, revelation for existential awareness, and objective truth for subjective feeling. Intimidated by the fear of being labeled an inferior Christian, the Colossians were buying into the aberrant teaching of the gnostics.

 

Paul viewed the gnostic heresy as a challenge to the sufficiency of Scripture and the preeminence of Jesus Christ. In fact, the sufficiency of Jesus Christ is the theme of his letter. Within the Colossian church, this fascination with the mystical had the effect of crowding Christ out of the gospel message. Attempting to supplement God’s revelation with an emphasis on the mysterious, they were saying, in effect, that Christ was not enough. Gnostics said, "You need something more than the word of God. It is not enough."

 

According to Paul, however, the more the Colossians doubted the sufficiency of Christ and his provision for the church, the more they slipped back into worldliness. This emphasis, in other words, was not super-spiritual, but fundamentally worldly. The phrase "the rudiments of the world" refers to the most basic and fundamental principles of this world system. The Colossians thought that they were ascending to a higher plane of knowledge by adding mysticism to Christian faith, but, in reality, they were backsliding into the same lifeview of their pre-conversion days 3/4 a view of life without Christ at the center. They were not graduating to Christianity’s high school; they were returning to the world’s elementary school. The pseudo-Christian emphasis of these gnostic teachers was the very opposite of the Christian message.

 

By way of contrast, Paul reminds the believers in Colossae that they are "complete in Christ." {Col 2:10} "Complete" is a nautical term meaning "fully equipped." It has reference to a ship that is fully manned, stocked with cargo and provisions for the crew, equipped with every necessary tool for sea worthiness, and ready to sail. In Jesus Christ, Paul says, the believer is sufficient for the voyage of Christian discipleship. He has made adequate provisions for the church. Through his word and Spirit, Christians have been given "all things that pertain unto life and godliness." {2Pe 1:3} Christian faith does not need supplementation from legalism, mysticism, asceticism, or any other worldly philosophy.

 

"Beware, then," Paul warns, "that your mind is not captured by the philosophies of this world." To the extent that our thoughts are inconsistent with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have been taken captive by secular culture.

 

Renewing the Mind In order for the Christian to develop a Christian mind under the Lordship of Christ, screening the world around him with spiritual discernment, he must maintain constant exposure to the word of God. In Ro 12:2, Paul describes the means of sanctification in terms of "renewing the mind":

 

"And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."

 

The ability to "prove" (lit. discern) the will of God in every given situation of life, to sort through the issues and understand what pleases him, is a mark of spiritual maturity. "But," someone asks, "how can I know which choices and decisions are consistent with his will?" Knowledge of God’s will is the product of knowing God’s word.

 

None of us is wise and insightful enough to be able to sort through the mental jungle of life on our own. Unless we are regularly renewed in the spirit of our minds by God’s truth, we will inevitably gravitate toward the passing fashion of this age. Every believer needs the adjustment to his thinking that Bible reading, gospel preaching, and genuine Christian fellowship provides. If he once gets away from the renewing influence that God’s word has on the mind, he will slide back into old patterns of thinking. This, among others, is the reason that regular church attendance is essential to a God-honoring Christian life. Personally speaking, it doesn’t take long for my mind to become clouded and confused when I neglect to expose it to the resources God has provided for my spiritual growth. Because I am inundated every day with information and ideas from the popular media culture, I need regular reminders of what is true.

 

The gospel exercises a saving influence upon the believer, {Ro 1:16} if he keeps it in memory. {1Co 15:2} How does the believer keep the gospel in memory? By being re-minded of it on a regular basis. Gospel preaching saves the believer from false teaching and worldly philosophy, "stirring up the pure mind by way of remembrance." {2Pe 3:1} It tends to refocus spiritual perspective, correcting the visual distortions that develop in the interim of life. Even though one may know and be established in a certain truth, yet for his safety from the deceptive influences of the fallen world system, he needs to hear that truth repeated over and over again. { 2Pe 1:12-13; Php 3:1} Without ongoing renewal of one’s thinking, he will inevitably fall prey to error and deception.

 

It is also the means by which the Christian resists the magnetic pull to conform to the pattern of this world and fulfills the call to Christian distinctness. The words "conformed" and "transformed" in Ro 12:2 suggest the image of shaping an object to a mold. "Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold," says Paul. The Christian’s mindset is to be shaped by the word of God and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Paul’s exhortation "Be not conformed to this world" means simply, "Don’t be like the world system in which you live." In positive terms, Paul calls his readers to be different. The basic call of the gospel is a call to non-conformity, a call to be distinct from the world.

 

It is precisely the relaxation of this contrast between the church and the world that accounts for the low state of things in the church today. In many cases no visible distinction is evident. The line of demarcation between the two cultures is increasingly blurred so that even professing believers are confused. A contemporary author astutely observes,

 

In spite of the church’s numbers and resources reaching an all-time high, she is weak because she has adopted many of the world’s ideas, values, methods, practices, and ‘solutions’ to problems. She has lost the cutting edge necessary to slice through the fabric of humanism and present a scriptural alternative. It has gotten so bad that in some circles the person who thinks and acts biblically is considered radical within the church itself.

 

Worldviews in Collision

 

The tension between the church and the world expressed by Ro 12:2 is philosophical in nature. At the heart of this tension is the question, "Who will be God?" To the individual who thinks Biblically, this is no small matter. In fact, when Paul visited Athens and saw the city wholly given to idolatry, he was stirred in his spirit. {Ac 17:16} He was so committed to the glory of God’s name that he could not bear to see the worship due to God diverted to idols. The subsequent clash at Mars Hill between Paul and the philosophical schools of the day is a microcosm of the tension between Christianity and secularism. The very geography of this encounter is significant. What could be more powerful than to see Paul teaching Divine wisdom at the very epicenter of human wisdom, preaching Christ in the shadow of Athena, and proclaiming Calvary’s hill on Mars Hill? This encounter, illustrating the ongoing conflict between the church and the world, was nothing less than a collision of worldviews.

 

A comparable event in the Old Testament is Elijah’s confrontation of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. With a holy passion for the integrity of the name of Jehovah, Elijah challenged, "If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." {1Ki 18:21} Note again the element of antithesis or contrast. The Christian mind thinks in terms of this "either-or" logic, not the "both-and" model promoted by religious and philosophical pluralism. There is not enough room in the universe for more than one God. Either Jehovah is God, or Baal is god. Because the church, like ancient Israel, exists as a people who are devoted to God’s glory, {Le 20:23-26; 1Pe 2:9} she will always, if she thinks Biblically, be at odds with the world.

 

The Offence of the Cross

 

Why is the believer different from others? What separates the church from the world? Personal worth? No, by nature Christians are no different than anyone else, being "children of wrath, even as others." {Eph 2:3} Intelligence? No, for in many cases "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." {Lu 16:8} Love for family? No, for even the world loves its own. {Joh 15:19} What is, then, the dividing line between the church and the world? The cross! The Christian is someone whose motives, hopes, attitudes, values, decisions, joys, and confidences converge, like the spokes of a wheel to the hub, at the cross. According to Ga 6:14, the cross is the line of demarcation, the great divide, and the point of tension between the two:

 

"But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."

 

Earlier in the same epistle, Paul speaks of "the offence of the cross." {Ga 5:11} The cross is the watershed issue, not moral concerns, family values, or partisan politics. Unbelievers are not offended by the believer’s desire to live a moral life. Some of them share that commitment to morality. Neither are they offended by his concern for his family. Many of them are just as committed to domestic stability. It is the cross that trips them up. The world at large, in other words, doesn’t mind if you are religious. It will even admit the social value of religion. But it will not tolerate Christianity. Society doesn’t mind if you pray, as long as you don’t pray "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." Generic prayers and religion that is kept in its place is permissible, but the cross, with its inherent exclusivity, is taboo.

 

Because the Christian boasts in the cross alone, the world is crucified unto him. What does the Apostle mean? He means that those who have professed faith in the Christ of the cross have died to the world’s way of thinking and living. The former patterns of life have been left in the waters of baptism, and the believer has risen from the water to walk in newness of life. There is a marked and visible change of lifestyle that prompts former companions to now "think it strange that you run not with them to the same excess of riot." {1Pe 4:4} The believer, by the act of publicly professing faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, makes a break by that act with the world, crossing the line of antithesis. Now, he thinks of himself as a Christian, in terms of his commitment to Christ, not merely in terms of his national citizenship, corporate position, life occupation, social status, or family heritage. He is living now for Christ, not for self-fulfillment. The rules of the game of life have changed, defined now by the Bible, not by popular opinion or personal preference. It is truly a radical change, a 180o turnaround, a kind of, shall I say, repentance.

 

The rest of his life will be spent in the pursuit of total transformation to Christ’s likeness, though he will never reach the point this side of the grace of glorification when he can say "I have arrived at perfection." {cf. Php 3:7-14} Every day, he will have to repent again, confessing the areas of thought and behavior that are inconsistent with God’s holy will, appropriating the forgiveness and cleansing God has provided in the blood of Christ, and renewing his commitment to holiness. {1Jo 1:9; Pr 28:13} Every day he will have to "put off" the habits of the old life, renew his mind with truth, and "put on" the Lord Jesus Christ in the way he thinks, the attitudes he maintains, the goals he pursues, and the values he obeys. {Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:5-10; Ro 13:12-14} As the Holy Spirit reveals areas of his life that are more consistent with the pattern of this age than with the word of God, that is, as he is shown that he is thinking and behaving in a worldly way, he will have to "deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow" Jesus Christ. This daily activity, known theologically as "sanctification," is a long-term, lifelong process. Though sinless perfection is not promised for this life, progress in holiness is. The essence of discipleship, therefore, is an ongoing attempt, through the strength of the Holy Spirit, to pull out the root of worldliness in the garden of the inner man and to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in its place. Because of the cross, the Christian is crucified to the world.

 

But Paul adds a further perspective. The cross not only separates the Christian from the world, it also separates the world from the Christian. The world responds to the believer’s decisive break with its values by saying, "The feeling is mutual. I don’t like you either." Does the world quietly withdraw from the believer, leaving him to follow his Lord, and go to some remote place to nurse its hurt feelings? No, it launches a relentless assault upon the believer in an attempt to recapture its lost spiritual territory. This aggressive assault takes the form of propaganda, peer pressure, and persecution, all aimed at ensnaring the mind, weakening the commitment, and controlling the will. It is, in the strictest sense of the term, a spiritual war.

 

Learning to Discern

 

As the Christian is increasingly sanctified by God’s word, {Joh 17:17} he will grow in his ability to distinguish between the world’s philosophy and Christ’s truth. Developing a Christian mind is a matter of constructing an intellectual grid from Scripture through which everything one sees, hears, and encounters must pass. In a word, it is a matter of discernment.

 

Sadly, many people are not very alert. They accept at face value whatever they hear, without critical analysis and without question. Solomon said, "The simple believe every word, but a prudent man looks well to his going" {Pr 14:15}

 

What is discernment? It is the ability to think clearly and Biblically in determining right from wrong; to evaluate situations and to assess everything one sees and hears by the timeless and absolute truth of God’s word. The discerning person lives deliberately and purposefully; he "looks well to his going." He is not "unwise," that is, undisciplined and mindless, seeking guidance by feelings, but he "understands what the will of the Lord is." {Eph 5:17}

 

Like an archaeologist, whose skillful eye sifts through an assortment of rubble with critical precision, the Christian should weigh and evaluate his world, screening it all through the grid of God’s word. The Bible stresses the importance of discernment. "Prove test all things," said Paul, "and hold fast to that which is good." {1Th 5:21} John commands, "Try test the spirits to see whether they are of God." {1Jo 4:1} In fact, the ability to distinguish truth from error, right from wrong, and good from evil is a mark of spiritual maturity. The writer to the Hebrews says that "those of full age" are those "who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil." {Heb 5:14}

 

Does that mean that Christians should suspect everything and everyone around them? No. Discernment is not synonymous with a spirit of suspicion or paranoia. The discerning mind does not look for the proverbial ghost in every closet. It does not automatically assume the worst. But it understands that because the universe is locked in a great cosmic conflict between competing worldviews, the need to look at life through the lens of Scripture is crucial to 20/20 spiritual vision. In other words, the discerning mind is a mind that thinks in terms of contrast, in terms of antithesis. Because God exists, absolute values also exist. Everything in the universe, therefore, must be measured against that reference point, against that objective standard, to see if it is good or evil, right or wrong, true or false.

 

The alert and discerning Christian is the only person who will be able to resist the pitfall of deception. When the swift philosophical current of popular culture seeks to rush him off his feet, he will be able to stand fast in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the glory of God. God help us all to think His thoughts after Him, for we have the mind of Christ.

Discerning the Perfect Will of God

by Michael L. Gowens

“…that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” Ro 12:2b

Perhaps the most important question a person will ever consider is, “What is the central purpose of my life and how can I find it? What has God called me to do? How may I discover my life calling?”  No pursuit is more fundamental to authentic Christian discipleship than the quest to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:17).

 

But the question “What is God’s will for my life?” is also very daunting and (dare I say) potentially dangerous. It is daunting because determining Divine guidance is no easy matter. Lurking in the dark corners of the mind is the nagging fear that I will miss my life calling and settle for living a less than useful life. And it is potentially dangerous because it tends toward the frustration of a “something more” mentality—a mindset marked by perpetual discontent. Like the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, the Christian may become so preoccupied with the distant prospect that he fails to recognize the present opportunity. Waiting for the moving of the water, he fails to see the Lord Jesus standing in the midst.  How vital it is for the Christian to remember that life assumes a sense of purpose and significance when he is concerned to take his place in the kingdom of God—not to set out on a search for his own personal niche of notoriety!

 

This quest to find and fulfill God’s calling is further complicated by the smorgasbord of ideas making the rounds today. Considerable confusion surrounds the discussion of this theme.  One person suggests that God guides by “a still small voice” or a “burning in the bosom.” Another professes to get his leading by opening the Bible at random and taking his cue from the first verse that meets the eye. Another fancies a level of spirituality in which life is an ongoing dialogue with God. He interprets every sudden thought that impresses itself upon his mind as the voice of God.  But such a “super-spirituality” can easily become a subtle form of manipulation. “The Lord told me that we should order blue carpet instead of green”—sadly, even professed believers are not above such political power plays.

 

The problem is that the claim to receive direct revelation is completely subjective—it cannot be validated. A young man once approached C. H. Spurgeon with the announcement, “Mr. Spurgeon, the Lord told me that I am to preach in your pulpit next Sunday.” The quick-witted Spurgeon replied, “That’s funny. I was just talking to Him and He didn’t say a word to me about it.”  Once Christian people jettison the objective revelation of God in Scripture in favor of “dreams and visions”, they make themselves vulnerable to the kind of doctrinal deviation that surfaced a few years back when a popular “word-faith” teacher stopped in the middle of his sermon and said, “Wait just a minute…The Lord just spoke to me and said that God is not a trinity. There are not three, but seven in the Godhead.”  Of course, he quickly retracted the claim when he met with significant protest.

 

Are feelings, inclinations, or sudden impulses indications of God’s will? Is it right to seek for signs? How does God lead His people? How do we make decisions that are according to the will of God?  The perils and potential pitfalls of this quest notwithstanding, Scripture both affirms the priority of discovering and doing the will of God, and offers the criteria for determining Divine guidance.

 

Two Basic Categories

 

            What does the Bible mean when it speaks of “the will of God”? It means one of two things. Theologians distinguish between God’s decreed, or decretive, will and His revealed, or directive, will.  Sometimes when the Bible speaks of “the will of God”, it concerns something that God has purposed to do—a Divine decree, if you please—and sometimes, it speaks of something that He has commanded us to do—a Divine direction.

 

            For example, Scripture asserts that the salvation of sinners is a work contingent on God’s eternal purpose and covenant initiative, not man’s decision:  “Having predestinated us according to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will…according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:5,11b – emphasis mine).  It is not the fickle will of the sinner but the sovereign will of God that is determinative in salvation (cf. Heb 10:8; Joh 1:13; Ro 9:16).  What good news to know that what God has purposed to do will be done (Isa 46:10)! None can thwart His program or foil His plans, for He sovereignly “works His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Da 4:35).

 

            But the Bible also employs this phrase to speak of directions for living that God has revealed to man. 1Jo 5:14 speaks of the importance of “praying according to His will,” that is, prayer that is consistent with the mind of God as revealed in His word. It is this dimension of the concept that is under consideration in the third petition of the Model Prayer:  “Pray after this manner…Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).  Such a petition is simply a request that people would be obedient and submissive to the Lord Jesus Christ just as the angels in heaven are committed to the fulfillment of His commands.

 

            The very fact that someone is concerned to ask, “Lord, what would’st Thou have me to do?” (Ac 9:6) is an evidence of grace, for by nature, man is not concerned to do the will of God.  In his natural fallenness, man is self-willed (Isa 53:7). His life-motto is, in the words of Sammy Davis, Jr., “I gotta be me…”, or as Frank Sinatra put it, “I did it my way…”

 

            God’s work of grace in the soul, however—a vital work known as “regeneration” or “the effectual call of the Spirit”—involves the imparting of a new principle to the heart in which a person is given a disposition toward and desire for God: “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power” (Ps 110:3; cf. Php 2:13). Now, the born again person has a heart that is inclined to obey the Lord—a heart marked by a concern to know and do the will of God, not to fulfill its own agenda.  The question is no longer, “What do I want out of life?” but “What does the Lord require of me?” (Mic 6:8). It is a concern for His will, not my own desires, that should characterize the life of every true believer.

 

Two Sub-Categories

 

            But there is the rub. Between the desire do God’s will and the implementation of that desire, we tend to short-circuit.  Indeed, the desire is instinctive to the new nature, but how can a person do God’s will unless he knows “what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:17)?  Of course, he cannot. The impulse in the heart to please God will only assume the shape of practical reality if the mind is instructed to “know the will of God” (Col 1:9-10). Regeneration changes the bent and inclination of the soul; God’s word educates and informs the mind and transforms the walk (cf. Joh 17:17).

 

            In the quest to discover and understand God’s will, then, it is essential to distinguish between His general and His specific will. The general will of God is the same for every one of His people, but His specific will differs from one person to the next.  In a general sense, it is God’s will that all of his children—male or female, rich or poor, old or young—be like the Lord Jesus Christ. It is God’s will, generally speaking, that every one of His children would repent and commit themselves to a lifestyle of Christ-following (2Pe 3:9). Further, it is God’s will for you to keep your body pure and to abstain from sexual immorality (1Th 4:3). Again, it is God’s will for each of His children, in a general sense, to be thankful: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1Th 5:18).  Whatever my circumstances—whether or not I currently perceive God’s specific direction for my life—He requires me to be thankful to Him right now.  To murmur and complain, as A. W. Pink said, is to quarrel with the dispensations of Providence. So, if I am truly interested in doing His will, I will be careful to reflect frequently on His goodness to me and seek to cultivate a thankful heart, for it is His will for me to give thanks in everything.  Finally, in a general sense, it is God’s will that all of His people be submissive to authority (1Pe 2:13-15). Christian people should be model citizens, complying as much as possible with “every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake”.

 

            The vast majority of the will of God for the normal course of our lives has already been revealed in these clear directives from the word of God. Whether or not you have a firm grip on His specific leading for your life at the moment, a steady commitment to obey these general principles will prove to be a full-time job.

 

His specific will, on the contrary, relates to the particularities of our lives; consequently, it differs from one person to the next (compare Ac 12:25 to Ac 13:2; cf. Joh 21:20-22).  Everyone, for instance, is not called to the official public ministry of the word in a particular sense, howbeit, in a general sense, Scripture does affirm the priority of every-member ministry in the body of Christ (Eph 4:11,16). Further, within the context of formal gospel ministry, every minister is not called to the same tasks. Some are called to ministry that is of a more evangelistic nature and some to a more pastoral orientation. Yet again, within the pastorate, all pastors are not called to pastor the same church. Jeremiah 3:15 teaches that the Lord, in His great wisdom, gives specific pastors to specific churches. God’s word asserts that as the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ superintends every local body (Re 1:13; 2-3), dispenses spiritual gifts (1Co 12:18), and matchmakes congregations with undershepherds (Ac 20:28)—all according to His will.

 

How, then, may you discover God’s vocational guidance for your life? No doubt, at one time or another, each of us has wondered in perplexity, “What should I do?”, as we sought to know God’s will about choosing a marriage partner, deciding on the course of a life-work, whether or not to move, etc.  If His specific will differs from one person to the next, how does one proceed to discover the will of God for his life?

Basic Biblical Principles

 

            The believer may discover the specific will of God for his life as he learns to apply certain Biblical principles. I will mention five particular principles:

 

1.      Keep close to the word of God, for His will is revealed in His word.  Ro 12:2 outlines an important dynamic: “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”  As the mind is renewed by the word of God, the Christian is changed or “transformed”.  He begins to think God’s thoughts after Him. He ceases to think in conformity to the fallen world system. As his thinking is altered, he is able to discern (“prove” the will of God.

Of course, there is no verse in the Bible that will answer the question, “Should I eat at this fast-food restaurant or that one?”  I’m not talking about using the Bible like a magic board, fortune cookie, or black ball that proposes to offer answers to a child’s questions. But as the believer reads and meditates in God’s word, the Holy Spirit will use Scripture to impress upon the mind the right course of action (cf. Jos 1:8).

 

I hasten to add that God will never lead someone contrary to His word. For example, God has already said in Scripture that Christians are to marry “only in the Lord” (1Co 7:39; 2Co 6:14). That principle is the first criteria for determining Divine guidance, then, in the specific matter of seeking a life mate.

 

The individual who attempts to justify an ungodly relationship by saying, “We’ve prayed about it and feel at peace”, can pray all day and convince himself that God approves. He may even find a verse or two that seems to justify his actions; nevertheless, the Lord has already revealed His mind in Scripture (1Th 4:3ff; Jas 1:13-16). In such a case, I do not hesitate to say that God is not leading.  God only leads “in paths of righteousness” (Ps 23:3), never in the path of disobedience.

 

2.      Pray for wisdom.  The Lord normally guides people through their minds—as rational, not irrational, creatures (Ps 32:8-9). It is unfortunate that so many have been influenced to think of guidance as something mystical—a serendipitous potion of faith and trust and just a little bit of pixie dust. Instead, God expects us to use the minds that He Himself has given us and to make wise judgments.

   But to make such good decisions, we need wisdom. No one possesses all the answers to life’s dilemmas in and of himself. Jas 1:5 promises that God will liberally grant wisdom to the person who asks for it in faith. God is pleased with the humble spirit expressed by the Psalmist: “Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness” (Ps 143:10).

 

3.      Seek godly counsel from those who are spiritually mature. A wise man will listen to counsel, but a foolish person makes up his mind without consulting those who have proven themselves to be wise (Pr 12:15). The wise man knows the benefit of exposing his ideas to the scrutiny of others (cf. Pr 15:22). He wants someone to ask him the hard questions—“What is your motivation? What potential obstacles will you face? What will you do if such and such occurs?, etc.”  Though the final decision is yours or mine, God may indeed use the input of others to clarify the mind and to make his path a little clearer.

4.      Do what you know to do right now.  If you are seeking to know God’s specific calling upon your life, walk in the light you now have and He will give more light in His time. Abraham’s servant said, “I being in the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren” (Ge 24:27). It is in the ordinary path of an obedient life that God’s specific will is increasingly made known:  “A man’s gift maketh room for him and bringeth him before great men” (Pr 18:16).

   There is a real tendency to miss God’s calling upon our lives because we are seeking some spectacular plan “somewhere out there”. Someone once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re waiting for life to happen.” Are you today saying, “One day, my ship will come in; someday, my life will count for something”?  When I notice myself toying with such illusions of grandeur, it helps me to remember the words of Jer 45:5: “Seekest thou great things for thyself; seek them not.” 

 

     Is it God’s will for you to influence thousands of people for the glory of Christ? Well, it may be. Who can tell? But in the meantime, labor to influence those few little ones about your knees. It is in the path of faithful and contented service to Christ in ordinary life that He is pleased to open new doors of opportunity. A man’s gift makes room for him. Beware, friend, of the subtle temptation to the kind of spiritual farsightedness that misses the opportunity of the moment because it is fixated on some future illusion. And finally, if you are seeking to discover the will of God for your life…

 

5.      Wait on the Lord to providentially arrange circumstances. The Psalmist counsels us to “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass…Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him…” (Ps 37:5,7a).   If God is leading, He will open doors at each juncture of the process.  Two cautions, however, are important here: (1) Remember that an open door is not necessarily a proof of guidance. Jonah’s ship to Tarsus teaches us that much; (2) Remember that obstacles are not necessarily evidence of God’s displeasure. In fact, every time God opens a door, the enemy will attempt to place an obstacle in the way (1Co 16:9).

Saturate your mind with Scripture, pray for wisdom, seek the counsel of godly brethren in the Lord, do what you know to do right now, and wait on the Lord to open the way.  These are the Biblical principles for knowing God’s will. Finally, let’s consider an illustration of these principles.

 

 Nehemiah – A Case Study in Guidance

 

   The book of Nehemiah is a case study or object lesson of the way the Lord leads His own. Watch how God unfolds His will before Nehemiah and leads him “a step at a time, a day at a time”—“here a little and there a little”.

 

It all began when Nehemiah noticed a need and began to feel burdened for that need (Ne 1). Such is usually the case. Picture a mother whose child is having various difficulties and problems at school. She is burdened for his welfare—physically, socially, academically, and spiritually. The child is being exposed at ever increasing levels to unbiblical concepts. She is burdened. “What should I do?” she wonders. Is God calling her to a particular kind of ministry to her children? She needs direction.

 

     Next, Nehemiah took his burden to the Lord in prayer. He sought God through prayer and fasting, waiting for over three months while the plan crystallized in his mind.  One day, the Lord opened the door for him to share his burden with his superior, the king of Persia. Before he answered the king, however, he sent an “arrow prayer” toward heaven saying, “Lord, help me to say it right.”  Through the entire process, Nehemiah demonstrates his total dependence on the Lord (Ne 2:1-6).

 

     Note, next the role that making wise and judicious decisions played in the process. Nehemiah planned, gathered the necessary materials, organized the work, and personally surveyed the building site before he divulged his plan to others. When he did finally communicate his vision, he did it in such a way that others could see what he saw, “and the people had a mind to work” (Ne 2:7-3:32).

 

     Midway through the project, the enemy launched an assault upon the workers (Ne 4). The bearers of burdens became discouraged. The threat of attack together with the pile of rubble made it difficult to maintain their enthusiasm. But Nehemiah, wise leader that he was, reorganized the work and juxtaposed the workers on the wall according to their families, encouraging them with the battle cry, “Remember the Lord and fight for your brethren…” When the enemy tried to distract Nehemiah from the project, he reaffirmed the priority of his Divine commission and refused to be diverted from the task at hand: “I am doing a great work and cannot come down” (Ne 6).

 

It’s true. The Lord was leading in this case. Under God’s blessing, Nehemiah rebuilt over two miles of wall – a mammoth project for a makeshift group of construction workers composed of whole families working with materials salvaged from the ashes – in a mere fifty-two days! It is only the person who lives in the will of God who will witness true success in his labors. Perhaps John Cennick, the hymnwriter, knew something of this truth when he wrote,

 

 “Lord, submissive we would go, gladly leaving all below;
Only Thou our leader be and we still will follow Thee.”

 

Summary

                On a personal note, I’m not sure that I’ve ever been 100% certain about any major decision I’ve ever made. But I’ve moved forward in the fear of God according to the light that I had, trusting Him to direct. And over the years, in the normal path of living the Christian life, the Lord has given me a general sense of direction regarding the course that I was supposed to take. I don’t know what He may call upon me to do in the future, but I’m not waiting for that. Life is happening to me now. I’m here already. He is leading me right now – ah, blessed thought!  I go forward in the confidence that He will “guide me with [His] counsel and afterward receive me to glory” (Ps 73:24). And this will be my song through endless ages, “Jesus led me all the way.”

Does Man Have A Free Will?

"The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be."  Ro 8:7

 

Man, created in God’s image, possesses a mind, a heart, and a will. The mind, or intellect, allows him to think rationally, not by sheer instinct like an animal. The heart, or emotion, enables him to feel, unlike a robot or machine, human experience. The will, or volition, enables him to make decisions and choices that have moral consequences. It is his capacity for action, a capacity that allows him to choose this over that and those instead of these.

 

In his unfallen state, man was good and very good. The fall, however, affected every part of man’s being. Man’s mind, by virtue of his fallen nature was darkened, incapable of understanding the things of the Spirit of God. { Eph 4:18; 1Co 2:14} Further, his emotions are now deceptive and untrustworthy { Jer 17:9} and his will, that is, his ability to choose good over evil and right over wrong, is bound. The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith reads,

 

"Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation, so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to commit himself, or to prepare himself thereto."

 

So, is man free? If by the word "free" one means that people have the ability to make certain choices on their own (i.e. free from compulsion, force, or coercion), then the answer is "yes." For example, people have the ability to choose to go to the store or stay home, to buy a newspaper or not, to eat beef or to eat fish, etc.; such choices are within the natural capacity of human beings. People are free to act according to their nature.

 

If by the word "free," however, one means free without any limitation, then the answer is "no." People are not free to act contrary to their nature. I cannot choose to fly. Yes, I can choose to travel by airplane, but I cannot choose to sprout wings or become a bird. My will, you see, is not entirely free. It is bound by the limits of my nature. We do not have the freedom to be anything we are not.

 

Man, in other words, is not free to act outside the boundaries of his human nature. He cannot live the life of a fish in the ocean or fly like a bird in the air without external resources enabling him to duplicate his natural environment. Just as that is true on a natural level, it is also true on a spiritual level. In his fallen state, man cannot choose to be righteous. The Ethiopian cannot by his own sheer willpower, change the color of his skin, nor the leopard his spots. Neither can those whose nature is depraved voluntarily do good. {Jer 13:23} Man’s will is enslaved to his sinful nature. Left to himself, his only capacity is fleshly.

 

Unregenerate people are not free to choose righteousness or wickedness; they are, on the contrary, "free from righteousness." {Ro 6:20} By nature, man’s will is a "will not." {Ps 10:4; 58:3; Joh 5:40; Isa 26:10} His only inclination is toward carnality. The natural man will never choose anything but sin, because he cannot operate outside the parameters of his sinful nature. {Ro 8:7} The nature of man’s will is not free.

 

Not until his nature is changed does he have the desire or the capacity to choose righteousness. Prior to God’s work of regeneration in the soul, therefore, man’s will is bound by the old nature. In regeneration, the fallen sinner is made "willing in the day of God’s power." {Ps 110:3} He is given a new nature, a righteous nature, capable of responding to God. Because the old nature is not eradicated, however, a warfare between the Spirit and the flesh ensues {Ro 7:1-25} -requiring deliberate and decisive efforts of the will for righteousness. {Ro 6:11-23} In other words, the believer must choose, every day, between the options of serving sin or righteousness. {Jos 24:15; Ro 6:13} With such a conflict facing us, we should be glad that the Holy Spirit will continue to work within us "both to will and to do His good pleasure." {Php 2:13}

 

Because man’s will, apart from the new nature given in the new birth, is bound, it is incapable of choosing eternal life. Man’s only hope of eternal life, then, is rooted in God’s initiative and choice. Salvation, in other words, depends on God’s choice, not mine, and upon His sovereign will, not man’s fallen will. {Joh 1:13; Ro 9:16; Eph 1:5,11; Heb 10:10} That, my friend, is a firm foundation!

FG01 Beginning to be Wise

FEARING GOD

Pr 9:10


The wise man Solomon wrote,"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding."  (Pr 9:10; cf. Pr 1; 7; Job 28:28)  The quest for wisdom, that is, the desire to be able to understand the world, solve life's problems, make the right decisions, and attain real meaning and purpose in life, begins with an understanding of the character of God.

Begin at the Beginning

Fearing God is the starting line in the race of faith. It is "Wisdom 101," the most basic and fundamental course of study in the quest to be wise. Regardless of academic degrees, socio-economic status, personal sophistication, or intelligence quotient, the individual who does not fear God has not even started to be wise, for "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."

The individual who is wise, in other words, is someone who has learned to test every theory, opinion, word of counsel, and idea by the question "Does it start with God or man?"  If it doesn't begin with God, it cannot be Divine truth, for wisdom begins with an understanding of the holiness of God.

Modern society is enamored with contrary philosophical voices.  How can the Christian sort through the confusion of contradictory ideas and discover