Theology

The Importance of Assertions in the Christian Life

Throughout church history, one notices that those who make the strongest contributions to the Christian faith are those who mine out assertions and propositions from Holy Scriptures, rather than simply disregard doctrinal matters in favor of simple morality. 

While we can find numerous examples from church history, the latest I’ve come across is in revisiting Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will in which he responds to Erasmus of Rotterdam’s work on the issue of free will.  In Erasmus’ contention, this particular doctrine (or really any doctrine) in favor or living a good, moral life.   What matters is that “the world is at peace” (p. 69).  To deal with the issue at hand (free will) or any other assertion is “irreligious … idle … superfluous.” 

My issue lays not with the issue of free will, but with the issue of assertions and convictions from Holy Scripture.  Let’s listen to Dr. Luther on the matter:

To take no pleasure in assertions is not the mark of a Christian heart; indeed, one must delight in assertions to be a Christian at all. . . .  By ‘assertion,’ I mean staunchly holding your ground, stating your position, confessing it, defending it and persevering in it unvanquished. . . .  And I am talking about the assertion of what has been delivered to us from above in the Sacred Scriptures. . . .

Away, now, from us Sceptics and Academics from the company of us Christians; let us have men who will assert, men twice as inflexible as the Stoics!  Take the Apostle Paul—how often does he call for that ‘full assurance’ which is, simply, an assertion of conscience, of the highest degree of certainty and conviction.  In Rom. 10 he calls it ‘confession’—‘with the mouth confession is made unto salvation’ (v. 10).  Christ says, ‘Whosoever confesseth me before men, him will I confess before my Father’ (Matt. 10.32).  Peter commands us to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3.15).  And what need is there of a multitude of proofs?  Nothing is more familiar or characteristic among Christians than assertion.  Take away assertions, and you take away Christianity. . . .

What Christian can endure the idea that we should deprecate assertions?  That would be denying all religion and piety in one breath—asserting that religion and piety and all dogmas are just nothing at all.  Why then do you – you!—assert that you find no satisfaction in assertions, and that you prefer an undogmatic temper to any other? (pp. 66-67)

When we make assertions about the lack of need of assertions, we make assertions!  All of us have our dogmas.  But Christians of all people must have those convictions come from Holy Scriptures.  To do anything less is to “take away Christianity.”

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May and Must the Scriptures Be Read by Everyone? à Brakel Helps Us Answer

I am thoroughly enjoying reading a four-volume set by the Dutch  theologian Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711)called The Christian’s Reasonable Service (also in Kindle)(first published in 1700).  Joel Beeke, the editor of these works, rightly states:

The uniqueness of à Brakel’s work lies in the fact that it is more than a systematic theology … à Brakel’s intent in writing is inescapabale. He intensely wishes that the truths expounded may become an experiential reality in the hearts of those who read. In a masterful way he establishes the crucial relationship between objective truth and the subjective experience of that truth.

The readability of these works is remarkable, considering that the depth of any writers of that era is significantly deeper than many on the bestseller list at a Christian bookstore.  But he (in my opinion) achieved an accessibility that brings these deep truths home to the heart of the believer.

One way he accomplishes this is to make his case by asking a question of a topic that propels him into an answer.  Then, he moves into answering foreseen objections (much like the Apostle Paul did in the book of Romans), and answers those.  This method provides a movement through the work that is a delight.

Now, after burying the lead sufficiently, let’s press on to a particular matter à Brakel address: the reading of the Holy Scriptures by every member of the church.

He begins:

The church is the recipient of the Word of God.  “He hath not dealt so with any nation [as with Israel]; and as for His judgments, they have not known them” (Psa. 147:20); “Chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2); “… to whom pertaineth… the covenants, and the giving of the law” (Rom. 9:4); “. . . which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:5). 

He thus sets the stage for a question:  May and must God’s Word be read by everyone?  He follows by setting the stage again, then giving a five-paragraph answer, which I will distill below.  But first, the setup:

Since the Word of God has been given to the church and thus to every member of the church, it follows that it must also be read by everyone.

First, since the reading of Scripture is nowhere forbidden, who would muster the courage to forbid this practice? . . .

Secondly, from the time of Moses until Christ and from the time of Christ until this present day the Bible has always been read by every member of the church.  Yes, some were so diligent in this practice that they were able to quote the entire apostolic letters from memory.

Thirdly, God has expressly commanded the common man to read His Word (Deuteronomy 6:6-9; John 5:39; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 2 Peter 1:19).

Fourthly, those who read the Word are commended in Scripture, and a blessing is pronounced on them (Psalm 1:1-2; Acts 17:11; Rev. 1:3).

Fifthly, the nature and purpose of Scripture are such that it must be read by everyone.

(1)  It is the testament or will of God; a will may and must be read by the heirs.

(2)  It contains letters addressed to everyone in the church, this being evident at the beginning of every letter; a letter may and must be read by everyone to whom it is addressed.

(3)  The Word is the sword with which every believer must defend himself against spiritual enemies (Eph. 6:17).  Would one then rob a spiritual warrior of his weapons?

(4)  It is the means of conversion, the seed of regeneration (1 Peter 1:23), as well as the source of spiritual illumination (Psalm 19: 8), instruction, comfort, and the means unto spiritual growth (Rom. 15:4; 1 Peter 2:2).

(5)  It is written for the very purpose that everyone would read it (Hab. 2:2).

From all this is has been incontrovertibly demonstrated that every individual may and must read the Word of God.

After this, he does answer objections which I hope to cover next week at some point.  But God gave us His Word to read—not to sit on a shelf and gather dust, nor simply to pull down off that shelf on a Sunday morning.  We have His revelation given to us to show us who He is, what He has done, and what He aims to do in and through us! 

So yes, Christians may and must read the Word of God. 

Are you?

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Did Jesus and Paul Contradict Each Other on the Issue of Homosexuality?

It’s amazing the theological discussions in which one engages, and the place where they take place.  In this case, it was in an emergency room at our local hospital.

This past Sunday, I preached on “Why Are Christians So Homophobic?”—a question the culture (and even some who identify with a church) lob at us with marked frequency.  I received mostly positive comments.  One elderly gentleman, who said it was the best sermon I ever preached (glory to God), nevertheless asked to speak with me at some point about something I said. 

I braced myself and we set up a time.

Turns out, this gentleman found himself in the ER during the time we were to have our talk, so we evidently changed venues for the conversation. 

He came to Christ in the 1990s and had a burden to reach and minister to the outcast downtown.  While doing some construction there, the conversation came up about homosexuals.  One other ‘believer’ noted, “Well, I hope they don’t come to my church.”  As a new believer saved later in life, he could not understand that.  Didn’t they need Christ like anyone else?

It was here that the conversation turned to something he heard me say, that he needed reconciling in his mind.  “Preacher, I see where Jesus loves everyone, no matter what.  But then I see Paul condemning and calling things an abomination.  I read them both, and decided I’ll stick to the red letters.”*

I had heard this argument before, some in church, most in seminary—never in a hospital room.  I was grateful that God still has people thinking about His Word, and that God gives people to help sort through it all.

I told him, “You just said that before you were a Christian, you were a first-class jerk, right?” 

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Your wife sitting over there (almost married 60 years)—would she testify that you were this way?”

“Oh, sure!  How she put up with me, I’ll never know!”

“But she still loved you, right?”

It was then some clarity came about!  We didn’t need to go any further.  It is possible to love someone deeply, passionately, without reservation, yet hate the very things in them that they see could and would destroy them if gone ahead to the full measure. 

You see, we as believers can say that God loves you through Christ, but hates your sin.  He hates your sin because of His great love for you.  True Christians have that heart of Christ in them as well. 

So this is one way to think of how Jesus (“For God so loved the world…” in John 3:16) and Paul (“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God” in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10) and how their messages reconcile to one another.

The unity of the Scriptures is evident:  “And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). 

Amen!  And Amen!

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Through Types and Shadows—Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

Many Christians struggle with the unity of the Scriptures, especially in the issue of Christ in the OT. Yet, passages such as Colossians 2:16-17 show the reader the connection between the festivals, laws, and rituals of the OT with Christ:

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

The apostle Paul helps the believer unlock the key to understanding the OT: through types and shadows, these covenants, laws, festivals, rituals, and prophecies all hearken to their ultimate fulfillment found in Christ.

The writer of Hebrews alludes to this notion as well. After explaining the importance of Melchizedek and how Christ is from his priestly line (Hebrews 7), the writer explains that a high priests now exists who is in the true tabernacle in heaven, having offered the proper sacrifice of himself for the remission of sins. He writes, “They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5a). The “they” refers to the high priest, the tabernacle, the gifts, the sacrifices and promises revealed and implemented under the Old Covenant. All of these are a copy and shadow of the things in heaven, made manifest here on earth. The Old Covenant, while flawed (Hebrews 8:7), hearkened forward to a New Covenant, a better covenant, where the laws and promises would be written on the hearts of the believers, and where God would dwell not in the Holy of Holies, but in the temple of one’s heart (Hebrews 8:9-12; cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34).

While many believers read their Bibles with a sharp demarcation between the OT and the NT, in essence reading the Scriptures ‘horizontally’ (in regards to their viewing of the Book itself), Christians must read the Bible ‘vertically,’ that is, read the Scriptures in seeing Christ all through Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. The apostle Paul and the writer of Hebrews, among other places in Scripture, encourage believers to see the reason for the “types and shadows” of the rituals and laws in the OT that point the believer to see all of Scripture as a Christian book.

Fred Malone describes a line of theological interpreters as those who (correctly, I would say) “understand the quotations of the OT prophecies as biblically fulfilled literally in the NT if there is a historical correspondence and a heightened fulfillment.[1] Whereas some require an exact fulfillment of certain prophecies (such as that of the Temple) either in this age or in a millennial age to come, a case can be made for an interpretation that sees the Temple and sacrifices being fulfilled in Christ rather than in another physical building (which will be discussed below). Understanding typology correctly in interpreting the Scriptures from OT prophecy to NT fulfillment is critical in understanding the redemptive narrative and in preaching Christ from the OT.

The purpose of this paper is to encourage those who preach from the OT to recognize the fulfillment Christ provided in the types and shadows found in that OT and to preach the OT as a Christian book. The apostle Paul provides a template by which this issue may be examined. In Romans 9:4-5, he wrote,

“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”

Each of these areas serves as specific landmarks of the Old Covenant, but also as windows by which one may look into the fulfillment in the New Covenant in Christ.

The Adoption

When Moses returned to Egypt after his encounter with Yahweh in the burning bush, He instructed Moses to perform all the miracles, then say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22). In Jeremiah 31:9, God tells all who will listen that “I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” In these key passages, God reminds the people of Israel that He adopted them “not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8a).

This relationship serves as a foreshadowing of how the Father would adopt those faithful in the New Covenant. God the Son would be “born of a woman, born under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). God did not redeem us in the New Covenant because of our righteousness but because of His love bestowed on us through the Covenant of Redemption, actualized in the Covenant of Grace imparted here and now. We are “begotten sons” because we are in Christ, the begotten Son (Psalm 2:7; John 3:16).

The Glory

Paul continues in that in the Israelites, “Theirs is … the glory.” The glory of what? The glory of the divine presence of God manifested only to His people in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. As the Israelites erected the Tabernacle, Exodus 40:34 says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” The presence of the Lord was found in the Ark of the Covenant, which would be carried into battle denoting how God would go before His people(Numbers 14:44; 1 Samuel 4); and if capture, how God would terrorize the enemies (1 Samuel 5:8-12). In the ark contained the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, with the Book of the Law by its side (Deuteronomy 31). When the ark was captured by the Philistines, Phinehas’ wife gave birth when she heard of this news and named him “Ichabod,” for “The glory has departed from Israel.” The glory of God in each of these cases represented the presence of God among His people.

Yet, even with this glory found in the OT, a barrier remained. In reference to the Exodus 40:31 passage above, the following verses report that Moses nor none of Israel could enter into the Tent of Meeting. To see the unvarnished, unhindered glory of God would mean death, unless by God’s grace you were allowed to live (Exodus 33:20). The book of Hebrews brings to memory that “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

The glory is a type and shadow of the Christ that was to come. John 1:14-18 says:

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

The dwelling among us here on earth of the Word (Christ) is the same type of word in the Greek from where we translate ‘tabernacling.’ The connection between the dwelling/tabernacling and that of seeing His glory hearkens back to the OT connection of the Tabernacle and the glory of God amongst His people.

The Covenants

The Israelites were also given the covenants (9:4). What is a covenant? Fred Malone defines a covenant as “a solemn arrangement divinely imposed, which places binding obligations upon the recipients.”[2] O. Palmer Robertson offers an even more concise definition: “A covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered.”[3] He continues: “When God enters into a covenantal relationship with men, he sovereignly institutes a life-and-death bond. A covenant is a bond in blood, or a bond of life-and-death, sovereignly administered.”[4] Meredith Kline offers a more detailed definition:

[A] berith (Hebrew word for covenant) is a legal kind of arrangement, a formal disposition of a binding nature. At the heart of a berith is an act of commitment and the customary oath‐form of this commitment reveals the religious nature of the transaction. The berith arrangement is no mere secular contract but rather belongs to the sacred sphere of divine witness and enforcement. The kind of legal disposition called berith consists then in a divinely sanctioned commitment. In the case of divine—human covenants the divine sanctioning is entailed in God’s participation either as the one who himself makes the commitment or as the divine witness of the human commitment made in his name and presence.[5]

In the context of Romans 9, the two covenants that govern what is known as covenant theology are the Covenant of Redemption (the sovereign work of from the counsels of heaven from all eternity) and the Covenant of Grace (the application of the Covenant of Redemption in here on earth). These covenants grant the paradigm in which to look at the other covenants. In fact, the other covenant God established was that back in the Garden of Eden, the Covenant of Works, summed up in the phrase, “Do this and live.” Yet, the various covenants revealed in Scripture progressively reveal the Covenant of Grace among His people. These covenants are:

The Covenant of Adam. God promised life to Adam should he obey. In Genesis 2:15-17, we read:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17, emphasis mine).

Here we see the Covenant of Works: should Adam obey, he will live. Should he disobey, he will “surely die.” When Adam and Eve trusted the word of Satan over the command of their Creator, the curse of death fell on them—a curse that still plagues the heart of man to this day.

The apostle Paul tells us that Christ is the Second Adam, recognizing the typology: “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (Romans 5:14). Through the Covenant of Works, Adam brought death into the heart of mankind. Christ came to complete and fulfill that Covenant of Works for those in Adam whom God chose, and to reverse the curse and bring justification to many (Romans 5:15-21).

The Noahic Covenant: Where the earth was destroyed due to sin so that the covenant of redemption mind move forward—sealed with the sign of the rainbow. When Noah offered the offering after the flood had subsided, the Lord, after smelling the “pleasing aroma… said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done’” (Genesis 8:21). Then in Genesis 9, he reinforces and fleshes out the nature of this covenant: “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth . . . I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:11, 13). This cove

The Abrahamic Covenant
. In Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham would be the one through whom all nations would be blessed. The seed promised to Abraham was not Isaac, but was a type of Isaac who was a child of promise—the Messiah (Galatians 3:16). The circumcision was God’s way of carving out a line that would, ultimately, come in Christ. Baptism therefore is not the fulfillment of circumcision, but divine regeneration (Romans 2:28-29). The children of Abraham are not Jews, but only those who are born of God and have saving faith in Christ.

The Mosaic Covenant
. God gave His law to Moses on Mount Sinai as they travelled toward the Promised Land. The law came as a moral, civil, and ceremonial law to govern the people of Israel as a set-apart society, chosen by God. This helped deter the influence of the nations that sought and often did influence them in ungodly ways. Galatians 3:23-25 shows that the law is a guardian and a tutor to show us our sin and bring us to Christ—but the Law as unable to save, only to show the extent of our sin and our need of being clothed in His righteousness rather than counting on ours (Romans 3:1-26). The Ten Commandments (moral law) still applies and is still binding, while the rituals and ceremonies are types and shadows finding their fulfillment in the substance which is Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).

The Davidic Covenant. God promised that there would always be one to sit on this kingly throne (2 Samuel 7:11-16). Solomon, though he would be the son who would build the temple in David’s stead, would not nor could not serve in this capacity as God intended, for this would be an “eternal throne.” Christ fulfills this Davidic, kingly line (Psalm 110; Acts 2:29-36). In fact, the genealogies in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38 served to demonstrate how both Joseph and Mary descended from the kingly line of David (along with Abraham). Thus, in both the biological (in Mary’s case) and adoptive (Joseph’s), God would fulfill His prophecy from 2 Samuel 7:11-16 from all angles.

The Giving of the Law

As alluded to above, God gave Moses His law as the people of Israel were led by God from Egypt toward their 40-year journey to the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 4:9-14, Moses taught God’s people the reason for Him giving the law through His servant: so they would not “forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life” (4:9). These actions and commandments that Yahweh gave to His people were to be remembered, obeyed, and made know “to your children and your children’s children” (4:9). God knew the heart of His people and how they were prone to wander. The law served as a guardian for their hearts as they entered into the Promised Land, seeking to guard them from the influence of the pagan nations they were about to run out.

The Worship

In this sense, we understand that this worship is that of the Temple worship (that is, the worship of God that took place in the Temple). God gave Solomon the privilege of building the Temple that served as a witness to the nations (and to the people of Israel) of God’s abiding presence among His chosen people. God gave Solomon exact details by which to build the Temple, each having a certain area significance in God’s redemptive narrative. Not everyone could approach God from the same distance. The Jews could come into the Inner Court, the Gentiles had a court further away, the Women had a court of their own—but only the circumcised, male Jews could approach the closest in order to worship.

When preaching Christ from the OT, the preacher again may hearken back to John 1:14-18, where the “Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14-15). Christ is the Cornerstone (Psalm 118:22; cf. 1 Peter 2:7-8), with the apostles and prophets serving as the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:19-22). Those who have surrendered to Christ alone for their salvation are the living stones chosen by God, building that spiritual house—kept in line by the cornerstone, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-10). God is present among His people through Christ living in their Temple which houses the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:16-20), using us to build a spiritual house. Christ is a fulfillment of the Temple—where the Spirit resides, and where His body, the church, serves as a witness to the surrounding nations of God’s justice and mercy among His people and the world He created.

The Promises

The apostle Paul next refers to the promises. To which promises is the apostle Paul referring? He refers to the promises of the coming Messiah. The gospel of Matthew and the letter to the Hebrews serve the church well in understanding these promises. In Matthew, we see over 60 promises in regards to the Messiah fulfilled by Christ’s coming. In just the first two chapters, the Spirit inspires Matthew to show the fulfillment of Christ being born of a virgin (Matt 1:22-23; Isaiah 7:14), being born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:6; Micah 5:2), being brought back from Egypt after his flight from Herod (Matthew 2:15; Hosea 11:1), and Herod’s infanticide (Matthew 2:18; Jeremiah 31:35). This sets the table for Matthew’s gospel to the Jews to show that this child that was born in that manger and who grew up among them was a fulfillment of the very Scriptures to which they looked for hope.

The Christ, Who is God over All, Blessed Forever

As mentioned above when dealing with the Davidic Covenant, one sees clearly from Scripture that from the line of Abraham and David came the Christ. This Christ is the second person of the Trinity who became a man. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). Who were his own people? They were none other than the biological children of Abraham. John Calvin insightfully notes, “If he honoured the whole human race when he connected himself with it by sharing our nature, much more did he honour the Jews, with whom he desired to have a close bond of affinity.”[6] Yet, they rejected him. Why?

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring (Romans 9:6-8).

The people of Israel, along with everyone else, are not saved by their race—they are saved by God’s grace extended through His sovereign work in Christ. Isaac came as a result of a promise—and thus he is a type and shadow of Christ, who also came by a plethora of promises as God unfurled His redemptive work. The NT displays that people are saved by the promise of the New Covenant rather than the national pedigree under the Old. No wonder the apostle Paul possessed “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart (Romans 9:2). His brothers, to whom he belonged in the flesh, believed they were rescued by a way that could never rescue.

Pastoral Application

In the various Southern Baptist contexts in which I have served over the past twenty years, I am passionate about showing the unity of the Scriptures and how Christ is found in all points of Scripture.  For many, the NT is simply a parenthetical work between His work in the Old Covenant and in the seven-year tribulation and millennial age to come. In this view, the OT and NT are disconnected more than they should be. The fulfillment of the sacrifices and Temple, for example, are often relegated to the coming millennial age.

I would borrow a phrase from the late W.A. Criswell (1909-2002) that there is a “scarlet thread through the Bible” that runs from Genesis to Revelation. Paul’s epistles, especially the book of Galatians, serves the church in showing the unity of the Scriptures and how so many of the people, events, rituals, and laws foreshadowed Christ and His salvific work.[7] This propels the motivation of the preacher to look back to the OT passages referenced in the NT, as well as look forward from the OT to show how Christ fulfills the law and other rituals and events in the NT. St. Augustine gives the proper principle, “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.”

By repeatedly and consistently demonstrating the unity of Scriptures from a covenant theology aspect in my pulpit ministry, and by preaching from all of Scripture as a Christian book—and, as a result, preaching Christ from all of Scripture—the saints will hopefully see the point of all aspects of the OT that, at first glance, seem unimportant to their Christian walk. Rather than ignoring these areas of Scripture because they do not seem to impact them directly or are seen as ‘old,’ they will begin to see all of Scripture as an unveiling of God’s redemptive narrative coming to full fruition in His time.

[1] Fred Malone, Baptist of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism vs. Paedobaptism (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2008), 32.

[2]Ibid., 1.

[3]O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1980), 4

[4]Ibid., 4.

[5]Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), 1‐2.

[6]John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Oliver & Boyd, 1540), 195. Quoted in John Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 265.

[7]W.A. Criswell, The Scarlet Thread of Redemption. Accessed 19 December 2012. Available at http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474977607138 [on-line]; Internet.

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Do We Truly Have Free Will?

Every so often over the years, this question of free will arises, usually under the context of salvation.  “Are we free to choose and do we have the capability to choose Christ within our own desires, or does the Father predestine us in Christ before the foundation of the world and choose us?”  After a while, an argument ensues, with each camp picking their choice verses to lob at one another—which can be divisive in the church, and less-than-impressive when the world watches on.

Or we could even say that ‘free will’ is that in which a will operates outside of God’s compulsion or wooing.  This idea is embraced greatly by Americans who hold to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ written in the context of being free from the monarchy and control of the British throne.  The aim of the founding of the United States of America was independence.  The people could exercise their will in voting for their leaders, voting on legislation, and having a significant say in the direction our country goes. 

Before one lunges into this line of thinking, let’s get a bit more ground level.  Two items converged in my thinking to make me so bold as to say, no, our will is not nor has ever been free in the most important sense.  In what sense?  Are humans free beings in one sense, in that we are not programmed robots?  In that sense, yes, we are free to think and choose on the natural level within the realm of time, space, and the limitations of our flesh.  Beyond this?  Well, let me share with you my two items.

First, Scripture.  I grieve over how Christians pick their verses that support their thinking rather than looking at the whole counsel of Scripture to rightly discern God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15).  God is not divided, He is not inconsistent, and neither is His Word

In Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he (under the Spirit’s inspiration) writes a critical word to the church:

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

We are all slaves to something!  Even the atheist has at some point submitted to a course of thinking and living and has, willingly, become a slave to that thinking.  But Paul rightly tells us that we are either in two camps:  slaves of sin (as inaugurated by Father Adam) or slaves of righteousness (as made possible by Christ). 

To be a slave is to be ‘not free.’  To say that our will, our thinking, the core of our being, is free is to miss what Scripture teaches.  We all are led by whatever has taken our will captive. 

Secondly, I came across a quote by my pastor, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) from a website I frequent:

‎”Free will I have often heard of, but I have never seen it. I have always met with will, and plenty of it, but it has either been led captive by sin or held in the blessed bonds of grace.”

Clearly, Spurgeon had at least Romans 6:16-19 in mind. 

Someone then asks, “Why would God give commands in the first place?  Does this not imply free will?”  It does.  We are free to look at those commands, process them, then try to do them.  But keep in mind the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself.  On these hang all of the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).  We look at these, process them, then try to do them. 

But can we?  The command is all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Can we do this?  No, we cannot.  So what’s the point of giving the command in the first place?  It’s to show that we can’t and are need of rescue by Someone who can and did fulfill these (Matthew 5:17-20).  Our ‘free will’ could also take us to a place where we see that it’s impossible, and who is this God who imposes such commands on us?  So they freely take their will to a place where they begin to set up their own standard, becoming a slave to that standard.  But even then, whatever standard we try to set up even for ourselves, we will fail at this as well (Romans 2:14-15).  We need a change—we need to be rescued, even from our own supposed ‘freedom.’ 

So before we begin to get into the deep theological and philosophical arguments in regards to ‘free will,’ take Paul’s truth in mind.  We are all slaves to something on this level.  And, yes, Christ does set us free (John 8:31-36), but free from what?  He ultimately sets us free from our slavery to sin.  Once he redeems us and rescues us from that sin, “We are not our own, we were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19).  Christians are now free from their sin under the bonds of righteousness. 

Genesis 2:18 says, “It was not good for man to be alone.”  Outside of Christ, our own selfish aims and desires drive us, and our free will will always take us away from Christ.  But when Christ comes to rescue us, He draws us to Himself (John 6:37-44) and by the Spirit that indwells begins to lead us into all truth (read John 14-16 on the beautiful gift of the Holy Spirit).  Being free in Christ is the equivalent of being a slave to righteousness. 

If I’m going to be a slave to something, I’m thankful it’s in service to my Lord Jesus Christ! 

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus—than to trust and obey!

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God’s Love and Justice

God’s love and justice and held in balance and tempered by His holiness—a holiness about which the angels continually sing.  God displays His love to His children through His drawing them to salvation (John 6:37, 44) and sustaining them in salvation through His sanctifying work (1 Peter 1-2; Colossians 1:15-17).  God’s love also extends to those who are not His via common grace (Matthew 5:45-47, where God sends the rain on the just and unjust, the sun on the righteous and unrighteous).  This love of common grace is intended to lead one to a special grace bestowed by the cross of Calvary.

How Does God Punish Sin?

For the believer, sin has already been ‘punished.’  In Romans 3:24-26, we see the Christ was offered as a ‘propitiation’ for our sin.  The Greek word for this is ‘hilasterion’—the sense of the word is that Christ absorbed the wrath intended for those who were by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).  He redirected it—taking on the punishment of sin upon Himself. 

The Hebrew equivalent of the word ‘propitiation/hilasterion’ is that of the mercy seat—the cover of the ark of the covenant—where the High Priest sprinkled the blood of a slaughtered animal on the Day of Atonement to make atonement for the sins of the people.  Human beings are not capable of satisfying God’s justice apart from Jesus Christ. 

For the unbeliever, the wages of sin is death.  Some may say, “OK, define death.”  Is this a physical death?  Spiritual death? 

We are born dead (Ephesians 2:1) in our transgressions and our sins.  Obviously, we are physically alive, but spiritually dead.  Every last one of us will experience (if the Lord tarries) a physical death due to Adam (Genesis 3:19; Romans 5:18; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).  This is the first death.

Some may say, “Wait a minute.”  We are born dead — THAT is the first death.  We are born dead, but that really makes Revelation 2:11 make little sense:  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” 

Is this second death merely a physical death?  No, because Revelation 20:14 says, “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.  THIS IS THE SECOND DEATH — THE LAKE OF FIRE.” 

This shows that the second death is not a physical death, but a spiritual eternal death.  None of us will escape the first physical death, but will we escape the second death, the lake of fire? 

God’s holiness demands that sin be punished.  The second death, according to Revelation 2:11 and Revelation 20:14 is the death of the Lake of fire.  Those who overcome (those who are believers in Christ whose names are in the Book of Life) will not experience the Second Death of Revelation.

But those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will. 

But… but… A God of Love Would Never Do That, Would He?

How can a God of love ever consign one of His children to a lake of fire?  “How awful to believe such a doctrine?”  Listen to me, friends:  in my flesh, I could never believe it either.  Many who say there is no hell, no eternal judgment, no lake of fire often begin their arguments with, “It seems to me that a God of love would never do such a thing.” 

My response, in all love, is:  “So what, what you think?  Does the Bible teach it?”  Yes, it does.  And that is the only, only, ONLY way I could ever believe this.  We cannot project our own thoughts, our own concept of love, our own concept of what is right and wrong on God.  That would make God subject to our own conjecture and our own whims rather that we be subject to Him. 

God is love, but God is just, and God is holy. 

What About God Reconciling All Things To Himself?

Ephesians 1:10 says, “…as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”  At first glance and taken by itself, it sure seems to mean that God will make all things one in the end.  Is this referring to salvation?  Is this referring to salvation for everyone?

Revelation 20:15, going back to before, says, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the fire.”  This is the place for all unrepentant rebels against God — who openly rejected Him.  There will be names not included in the Book of Life.

Is there any mention in Scripture of reconciling those who are cast into the Lake of Fire (or for those who deny a Lake of Fire, whose names are not in the book of life) that they have any further opportunity?  There is no mention.  After the millennial reign in Revelation 20 and Satan’s final binding, a New Heaven and New Earth appear in Revelation 21.

This, I contend, is how all things will be united.  No longer will be serve a Savior we cannot see, but He will rule in majesty in a unhindered way.  The New Heaven and New Earth will be joined and our faith will become sight.  But all things reconciled meaning that all people will be saved when they openly rebelled on earth, openly rejected him with all the plagues and bowl judgments mentioned in Revelation, openly rejected the hearing and believing of His Word.  To quote Abraham again from Luke 16:  “They will not even believe even if someone comes back from the dead … they have Moses and the Prophets.”  But they did not hear.

Conclusion

Some of you may be saying, “Finally!”  Thanks for bearing with me.  I have been asked by a couple of dear brothers to write on this, and so I have done that for them.  I am writing this in love and for the sake of the truth of Scripture. 

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!  Who was, and who is, and who is to come!  Blessed be His name.

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“Be Well Instructed in Theology”—a Timely Word from Spurgeon

“Be well instructed in theology, and do not regard the sneers of those who rail at it because they are ignorant of it.  Many preachers are not theologians, and hence the mistakes which they make.  It cannot do any hurt to the most lively evangelist to be also a sound theologian, and it may often be the means of saving him from gross blunders.  Nowadays, we hear men tear a single sentence of Scripture from its connection, and cry, ‘Eureka! Eureka!’ as if they had found a new truth; and yet they have not discovered a diamond, but only a piece of broken glass.  Had they been able to compare spiritual things with spiritual, had they understood the analogy of the faith, and had they been acquainted with the holy learning of the great Bible students of past ages, they would not have been quite so fast in vaunting their marvelous knowledge.

“Let us be thoroughly well acquainted with the great doctrines of the Word of God, and let us be mighty in expounding the Scriptures.  I am sure that no preaching will last so long, or build up the church so well, as the expository.  To renounce altogether the hortatory [giving exhortation] discourse for the expository, would be running to a preposterous extreme; but I cannot too earnestly assure you that, if your ministries are to be lastingly useful, you must be expositors.  For this purpose, you must understand the Word yourselves, and be able so to comment upon it that the people may be built up by the Word.  Be masters of your Bibles, brethren; whatever others works you have not searched, be at home with the writings of the prophets and apostles.  ‘Let the word of God dwell in you richly.’”

— Charles H. Spurgeon, An All Round Ministry (c. 1870s)

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A Theology of Vacation?

I will be away from the computer (Internet/e-mail) for the next five or six days while my family and I are on vacation.  It’s interesting how the subject of vacation for ministers has been approached over the years.  In Charles Bridges’ classic work on ministry matters, he rejects the notion that ministers should ever have any sort of recreation, even taking a day off during the week.  Spurgeon was another workaholic, having started and headed up over 60 organizations during his ministry at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. 

Now, we look at how important vacation, recreation, and even days off are for the minister.  Ministers are casualties in the landscape of evangelicalism—1500 ministers are leaving the ministry every month!  The reasons are myriad: burn out, hurt from parishioners, moral failure, etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum.  Wayne Cordeiro and others have written books on how ministers are prone to divorces, depression, anger, fear, and numerous other maladies that affect their psyche and their close relationships.  Cordeiro’s book Leading on Empty tracks his personal trek through these severe valleys and the systems he put in place for accountability and recreation so he’s running on full potential and energy as needed.

I’ve posted before that ministers living in a perpetual state of guilt—at least every minister goes through that season.  He spends time in ministry with sermon preparation, visitation to the sick and homebound and those in the hospital—but that means time away from your family than most ‘normal’ families have (whatever ‘normal’ means).  But then he spends time with your family (day at the park, weekend in the mountains, week with grandparents), he finds himself having a hard time pulling away from church matters.  He emails, calls periodically, texts a parishioner or a member of your staff to stay on top of things.  He’s had one major event happen while he were gone on vacation or a missions trip—he just can’t handle another. 

So can a minister of a church, where a love for his members accompanied with the anxieties that compile daily (2 Corinthians 11:28) truly have a vacation?  That’s something I am going to pray about and explore without Internet or e-mail, both of which help but also significantly hinder productivity and, yes, even critical thinking.

We’ll see what God shows us during this time.  I’m looking forward to it immensely. 

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A Video That Convinced an 11th Grader That Theology is Important

 

(Thanks for passing this along, Morgan!)

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The Different “Wills” of God Found in Scripture

How many Christians have paralyzed themselves trying to figure out the path God has for them?  Too many! 

In our REACH groups starting in January, we will be discussing “Divine Guidance and the Will of God.”  How can we know God’s will for our lives?  Is it already planned out, or do we have to work hard or wait to find it?  In preparation, I’m reading five books on the subject that have been immensely helpful:

Each of these books are excellent—and more exist that I pray time will permit me to tackle.  If I could choose one book for you, it would be Kevin DeYoung’s.  It’s only 120+ pages, concise, and no nonsense.  It’s a book I wish I had read about 20 years ago.  I remember sitting in my seminary dorm room paralyzed because I didn’t know which way God wanted me to go.  I blogged a quote from DeYoung about how passivity is a plague among Christians who spiritualize not doing anything. 

Below is a composite from the five books above about the three ‘wills’ of God. 

God’s will of decree.  This is God’s sovereignly ordained plan.  What He ordains will come to fruition.  The theological word is immutability—He doesn’t change, nor does his will.  He is over nations (Romans 13:1-7; Psalm 2); angels (Hebrews 1); Satan (Job 1-2) and even death (Psalm 139:16).  Take for instance Ephesians 1:11:

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.

God’s will of desire.  This is God’s desire for our lives on how we should walk before him.  DeYoung notes, “While are under God’s sovereignty, we are not free from the responsibility of our actions” (p. 22).  Deuteronomy 29:29 shows both the degree and desire together:

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

God’s will of decree (“the secret things belong to the LORD our God”) show that he operates by the counsel of his will—something we do not see and has not been revealed.  His will of desire (“but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law”) show the responsibility we have before a sovereign God. 

God desires us to live a life of holiness (1 Peter 1:13-17), bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, we see God’s will for our lives:  “This is the will of God for you: your sanctification.”  In other words, God’s aim is for us to walk in holiness and obedience through the transforming work of the cross by the Spirit.  And through the Scriptures, prayer and counsel, He shepherds us in that will of desire. 

God’s will of direction.  This is when we ask the question, “What is God’s plan for my life?”  Some say we have lots of paths before us, and God knows which path is best—it’s up to us to find it!  And usually, these deal with non-moral issues (job, school, marriage, where to go eat, where to park at the mall).  This puts an enormous amount of pressure to find out this path.  Choosing rightly will bring blessing, choosing wrongly will get us stuck in an unending maze. 

It is the opinion of this author that we need to be freed from this conventional wisdom just mentioned.  As DeYoung notes, through prayer, the Scriptures, and wise counsel, we need to “just do something.”  If we accept that God is ultimately in control, and are prayerfully obedient to what he has revealed, our minds and souls will be more sensitive to the right thing to do when we need to make those decisions. 

What think ye?

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