What About the Judgment?

You can listen to this sermon here.

Hebrews 9:27-28  And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,  so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Ask 10 Christians about the day of judgment and you’ll likely get more than a dozen answers. From Ancient times, God’s people have known there will be an accounting before Him, but there seems to be an ongoing lack of understanding about it – the nature, purpose, and participants of and in this great and terrible Day of the Lord.

What is the nature of this judgment? Throughout national Israel’s history, she and the pagan nations around her were subjected to God’s judgment for their actions. One example from Psalm 9:16 The LORD has made himself known; he has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Sometimes we see Israel being punished and at others it was pagan nations. When God’s name is profaned, those responsible will be disciplined.

We see in Psalm 75 that God’s judgment is not always punishment: verse 7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. This was commonly associated with rulers being raised up or put down. As in the days when Israel wanted to be like the pagan nations, with a mortal man as her king, so many Christians in our day put too much hope in political leaders, forgetting the end of the ages has come upon us (1 Corinthians 10:11) and our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).

With man’s predilection of being focused on things temporal, Scripture speaks most about the doom of judgment at the end of the age, as there is no recovery from it. Speaking of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Psalm 76:7-9 But you, you are to be feared! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused? From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still, when God arose to establish judgment, to save all the humble of the earth. We see similar accounts in Isaiah 66, Jeremiah 25, and Ezekiel 39. Matt 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. The ancient preacher adds some detail to this: Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. [this first part we are familiar with; this next part is our topic] For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. This should sound familiar, as Paul said virtually the same thing in 2 Corinthians.

The Lord Jesus spoke of the day of judgment without providing detail of its operation, as if the Jews knew all about. Matthew 10:15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. The doom of Sodom and Gomorrah was legendary; this doom Christ spoke of was worse! This type of reference recurs several more times in Matthew 11 and 12. In Luke 3, John tells the Pharisees that the wrath of God is upon them and those “trees” that do not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. In Revelation 6:19ff, the other man named John reveals the terror of being found naked on judgment day: Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” God’s judgment is real. We must be ready. If the day of judgment was not certain doom, Christ would not have had to bear that dreadful curse and we would not benefit from His wondrous love!

One of the more frequent discussions touching on both the purpose and participants is focused on the “Bema Seat Judgment” of Christians. This phrase generally refers to the idea that believers must stand before God to be rewarded – separately from those who are doomed to hell. The proponents of this doctrine call this the Bema seat judgment to distinguish it from The White Throne Judgment. The latter they believe to be the Judgment that God reserves for judicial verdict against transgressions by the wicked. They may get some support from John 5:24, which uses the same word (in several translations) as verse 22. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. But the word, judgment, is kree’sis in the Greek; which can also mean damnation or condemnation; context reveals what is correct. The KJV gets this verse right: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. We see the same two statements in verse 27 & 29. John 5:28-29 (KJV) Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. Again, KJV gets it right, ESV and others use the word “judgment.” We’ve seen that God will bring every deed into judgment – no man escapes this. But we also see that those who have passed from death unto life shall not come into condemnation! This is Paul’s point in Romans 8:1, as he tells those who were tempted to trust in works that there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus, He is the only refuge!

The truth about the judgment seat is a lot less complicated and much less ambiguous. The Greek word bema, which is translated seat, is from a root that means ‘base’ or the foot (and by extension, step). It is used to designate a stepped seating area for Judgment. Thus bema simply refers to the raised seating of a judge or a king. For example, the throne of a King is usually stepped seating. In other words, seating that is raised above the level of the surrounding area. Much the same as our courts today have established for judgments. In our country one must approach the raised judgment area called the bench. Likewise, the bema seat is simply the raised seating of someone sitting to judge. For example, Pilate sat on the judgment seat [bema] when Jesus was being accused of wrong doing (Matt 27:19 & John 19:13). John 19:13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. This is the same Greek word as found in 2 Corinthians, where the alleged “Bema seat” judgment takes place.

In both Biblical accounts of this episode (Matt 27 & John 19), the Greek word translated seat, bema, means the exalted seat of judgment. We should note very clearly that far from being a seat to hand out rewards, it is a seat of Judgment in tribunal for crimes (perceived or otherwise). Pilate sits upon this Judgment seat and he makes a Judgment to have the Lord Jesus Christ scourged, and handed over to be crucified. Quite clearly, this was a Judgment seat for judicial law. This is not only illustrated by the context, but also by the content. In both passages, Pilate sits on this bema and delivers a judicial verdict against Christ (beating and handing Him over to be crucified) which has absolutely nothing to do with rewards. Likewise, in the book of Acts we find the same scenario present with this Judgment seat (Acts 18:12 & 17). Acts 18:12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack against Paul and brought him to the judge’s bench. The ESV calls this a tribunal, the KJV calls it a judgment seat. The Greek word is bema.

What is the purpose and who are the participants? The parable of the talents shows believers have rewards, based on our deeds – just as we read in Psalm 75:7. The purpose of judgment day is two-fold; with punishment for evil-doers, rewards for good deeds (which the Holy Spirit equips and wills us to do), and our inheritance as joint-heirs with Christ. This inheritance is our union with Christ: being regenerated or born of God to live and reign with Him. This is taught in Ephesians 1:11, 13-14 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. … In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. This is confirmed in Galatians 3, Colossians 1 & 3, Hebrews 9 & 11, and 1 Peter 1. The inheritance Abraham looked for was that city whose designer and builder was God, the heavenly Jerusalem which is described in Revelation 21:9-10 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” This is what Peter made mention of in 1 Peter 2, when he referred to the saints in Christ as living stones being built up as a spiritual house. What greater reward could one hope for than being at peace with God, abiding with Him in perfect harmony?

Matthew 25:31-33 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Two groups of people present at this judgment, when Christ returns and sits in judgment on the nations, He is on a bema; sheep at His right hand, goats at His left. No separate judgment for the saints in this passage.

Another glimpse at this judgment: Revelation 22:12-15 “Look! I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me to repay each person according to what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying”. Same two groups of people, each getting judged. Those who wash their robes (KJV: keeps His commandments) are blessed; these are the people of God who have been raised up and given His Spirit Who wills and equips us to do what pleases Him. Outside are those who do not know Him.

The Bible is clear that there is one Judgment of Christ, and it takes place at the last day. It is then that man will stand before the Judgment seat of Christ to give account of what he has done on earth, whether good or evil. All those who were washed clean in the blood of Christ stand before God spotless with ‘good’ works that are faultless. The rest of the dead stand with ‘bad’ works, and are found guilty in their works of sin. 2 Timothy 4:1 [2342] I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Romans 14:10 But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God. One judgment of all flesh, the quick (alive in Christ) and the dead; at the end of the age.

2 Corinthians 5:10-11 is where many stand to defend a separate “bema seat” judgment for Christians. But does that passage teach this? For we must all appear before the judgment seat (bema) of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.  Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. The same two groups of people, before the judgement seat of God.

This raised seat judgment Paul speaks of in this passage also describes the throne on which Herod sat when he was killed by God (Acts 12), the judgment seat Paul was dragged before Gallio (Acts 18), the place Festus sat in Acts 25, Caesar’s judgment seat in Rome, and the raised platform where Paul met his accusers (Acts 25:16-17). The Greek word does not lend itself to the narrow, single purpose definition imposed upon it by the Bema Seat proponents. Bema used to describe various judgment seats and thrones, from which men in authority render judgment.

The Great White Throne Judgment, in Revelation 20:11-15, has many of the same characteristics of these other passages we’ve read. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. What in this passage gives the impression it’s a different scene? More detail, same two groups of people, same two eternal states. The Greek word for throne (thronos) is not bema; but one definition of bema is “throne” and one definition of thronos is “seat.” While different words, they are nearly identical in meaning.

Revelation 20 is the same basic scene as in Matthew 25, wherein Christ sits on His throne of glory, judging between sheep and goats. Here in Revelation 20, the Lord sits on a throne which is great and white – terms that ascribe glory and honor. In Matthew 25, the deeds done by each group are reviewed, have everything in common. The one thing that distinguishes between the sheep and the goats is the sheep did their works out of love for Christ and His brothers. Verse 40 “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ verse 34 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. The inheritance of the saint in view once more.

In Revelation 20, the sea gave up her dead and death and hell gave up their dead. Is there any doubt that “death and hell” give up the damned, to face their Judge? These are terms commonly associated with those who are not reconciled to God. What about the sea; are its dead the same category of people or does it give up those who have died in Christ? Isaiah 60:5 sheds light on this, describing the fulfillment of what national Israel foreshadowed when all nations come to God, where the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you (God), the wealth of the nations shall come to you! This supports the idea that in Revelation 20, the sea could refer to those being called by God from every nation, tribe, and tongue. This would fit right in with the other judgment passages, which show the same two groups of people – sheep and goats.

And in this scene, it is as clear as it can be: the only thing that determines destiny has nothing to do with deeds we do here. If your name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, you have no life in Christ. If your name IS written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, you have eternal life in Christ. Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Whatever rewards we may gain by faithful, Spirit led service in this age, inheriting the kingdom is totally based on God’s free gift of grace poured on His sheep.

This is what YHWH meant in this snippet from Job 34:23 – For God has no need to consider a man further, that he should go before God in judgment. The judgment eternal destiny of souls is not based on deeds done in the flesh; it is wholly dependent on and based on the standing one has; is he in Christ? And when one comes to Christ Jesus in faith, which is a gift from God, he will be protected from the wrath of God on that great and terrible day when Jesus judges all nations and peoples.

In speaking about the trials we will face in this age, Peter pointed us to Christ as our example; revealing a truth about the final judgment that ought to comfort the saints. 1 Pet 2:23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. This is why we who are in Christ have no need to fear the day of judgment: He is just. The white throne is a sign of Christ’s rule and His glory: He is mighty.

 

Summary & Conclusion

The nature of this judgment is comprehensive, no mortal is excluded. The purpose of judgment day is twofold: to reward those who by patience in well-doing seek for honor and glory and to punish those who are self-seeking and unrighteous. Varying rewards and punishments. The participants in the day of judgment are two:  those who have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ and seek to bring Him honor and those who are dressed in their own rags of self-righteousness who serve themselves and mind earthly things. In these things, God is glorified in saving sinners, punishing evil doers, and bringing the age of redemption to a close for all will know Him and declare Christ to be King, whether they rejoice in their salvation or weep in their doom.

Luke 12:42-48 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. … And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

The great day of the Lord is a frightful time for those who are not clothed in Christ. It’s a validation of all He has promised for those who wear His white robes. 2 Pet 3:13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. If you are in Christ, you can, with a clear conscience, join the saints of old and cry out, Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus! If you do not have peace in your soul as you consider the end of things and the accounting that must be made to the Creator and Judge of all things, consider His words (John 6:35 & 37): “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. … All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” There is salvation in no other name or person. Come to Jesus. He is the faithful one.

On the day of judgment, that great and terrible day when everything done in secret will be exposed (Ephesians 5:13), there is no place to hide, no safe refuge, no shield from the wrath of God – except for the very Lamb that will judge all flesh. This is why the gospel is central to mission of every church. This is why Christ Jesus is heralded as the only savior of poor sinners; He alone makes atonement for sin, He alone reconciles His enemies to His Father. He is the bread and water of eternal life; no one who comes to Him will hunger or thirst; no on who flees to Him will ever be cast out. Repent of your sin and believe on Christ – there is no other way to be at peace with God. Peace with God came at a dreadful price as the Son of God drank the cup of wrath due us. This wonderous love, that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for your soul and mine. Let us exhort one another while we have breath to always look unto Christ, for He is our great salvation and He is our life!

The Temple of God

Was reading in 1 Corinthians 3 this week and this passage was before me:
1 Corinthians 3:16-17: Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
This should resonate for the Christian, though we are far removed from the heavily Jewish flavor of the 1st century in Palestine. Jewish Christians hearing this from Paul would likely have connected what he said here with cherished promises they had heard all their lives. But the apostle reveals that the true fulfillment of all of God’s promises are found in Christ, not in a parcel of dirt in the middle east.
Here’s what the 1st century Jews were holding onto:
Abram. Genesis 12:2 & 3: I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Jacob. Genesis 27:29: Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!
Israel. Numbers 24:8 & 9: God brings him out of Egypt and is for him like the horns of the wild ox; he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces and pierce them through with his arrows. He crouched, he lay down like a lion and like a lioness; who will rouse him up? Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.
Blessing and curses. God loves His people! Yes, He does. And note: not only does Paul apply this same blessing curse to the body of Christ, he also told us that all who believe on Jesus are true children of Abraham according to the promise. And Matthew told us that when Israel was called out of Egypt (as we see in Num 24, above and in Hosea 11), that this was a shadow of Jesus coming out of Egypt (Matt 2:15).
1 Corinthians 3:11 (HCSB) For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (HCSB) 16 Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.
Yes, God loves His people. He sent His Son to redeem us from sin and hell and death. He did this so that we would shine like lights in a dark place, heralding the gospel to a world that consuming itself. Fear not, God is giving His kingdom to His children. Go forth, now and tell people that Jesus saves sinners from a certain doom that is far worse than any “hell” they imagine.

Why then the law?

I’m sure you have run across those who claim Paul was speaking to us in the present tense in  Galatians 3:24 when he wrote that the law was our nanny until we came to faith in Christ. There is a two-fold problem with this understanding: First, the context from the middle of chapter 2 through chapter 5 aligns with the passage in chapter 3 which provides explicit language to clarify Paul’s rhetorical question in verse 19 of chapter 3: why, then, the law? Second, a misunderstanding of the answer to this question can lead to believing just what Paul argued against in this letter.

First, does verse 24 in chapter 3 tell us the law was our nanny until we came to faith in Christ? Here’s how the KJV reads: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” In case the formatting doesn’t show up, the phrase “to bring us” is in italics, meaning it was added in by the translation team. Read the verse without that phrase: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” The law did not, does not, bring anyone to Christ – the Spirit does that through the proclamation of the gospel! But that phrase was added to make it appear the law carried people to the Lord.

It is clear from the context that Paul is speaking of the Mosaic Law here. As is the case in all the New Covenant passages, the Mosaic Law is spoken of as a unit. We don’t read about this part or that division of the law. Simply the law. We read in Exodus that before Moses went up Mt Sinai to get the second set of tablets, he “came and told the people all the commands of the Lord and all the ordinances. … He then took the covenant scroll and read it aloud to the people.” (Ex 24:3 & 7) And in verse 12 we see YHWH telling Moses “Come up to Me on the mountain and stay there so that I may give you the stone tablets with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.” All the law and commandments, not just the Decalogue nor everything other than the Decalogue; all the law and commandments. This is what Paul was referring to.

The word interpreted “schoolmaster” is the Greek word from which we get our word “pedagogue.” While modern definitions, such as used by the KJV, claim that word means tutor, the ancient definition referred to one who was a slave guardian of his master’s child, to make sure the child was where he needed to be, when he was supposed to be there. He was NOT a tutor or schoolmaster, but one charged with the safety of his charge.

Here’s how several other translations render that verse: “The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.” (HCSB) The law of Moses was “our guardian” – whose guardian? Go back to chapter 2 and verse 15: “We who are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners”” The law of Moses was a guardian for the Jews by birth – national, ethnic Israel, and not to “Gentile sinners.” Some of the folk in the assembly of saints at Galatia wanted to retreat from the milk of the gospel and embrace the heavy yoke that the council in Acts 15 would overthrow. These were called “foolish Galatians” (3:1), followed up by “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?” (vs 3) If the law brings people to Christ, why would Paul call people foolish who wanted to live under it?

This brings us to verse 19 and the question – Why, then the law? And the answer: “It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come.” Even the KJV agrees with this. The law of Moses was given because of transgressions and only until the promised Seed came. Jesus came and did His work of redemption and is with the Father on high. The law as it was given to national Israel, as a binding legal code with sanctions for violations, was only until Christ came. Paul sums up the condition of his kinsmen of the flesh in verse 23: “Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed.” Some translations do not have “this” before “faith.” No matter – the apostle is restating his message from verse 19, explaining why and when the law was given.

The law was added – had not been given before this, not to Adam, not to Abraham – to remain in place until the promised Seed came. And until faith came, for the law granted faith to nobody, Jews were in chains under the law. But when faith came, when the Messiah was glorified, verse 25 tells the good news to those who were in bondage – “we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (verse 26)

Now back to verse 22: “But the Scripture has imprisoned everything under sin’s power, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” This verse does not say “the law has imprisoned everything under/in sin’s power” – it says Scripture has. Scripture tells us the entire creation was cursed when Adam fell. Scripture tells us there is no salvation except in Christ. Scripture tells us creation groans in anticipation of its new birth, when Christ returns to gather His saints on the new earth. We know that everything IS under sin’s power because of sin. Sickness and death stalk each of us. But the promise given to Abraham, that he would be the father of many nations, is incrementally consummated every time one of God’s elect is raised up to new life in Christ Jesus.

This message is given different views in chapters 4 & 5 but the message is the same: present day (in Paul’s day) Jerusalem represented the slavery of the Mosaic Law; freedom from sin comes only in Christ, the heavenly Jerusalem. The law was added until the promised Seed came. Hebrews tells us the religious rites given through Moses served as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things (Heb 8:5). When the fullness of time came, the promised Seed came and conquered sin and death and the shadows, those types found in the law, came to their end.

Why, then, the law? To show the nation of stiff-necked, loop-hole finding, law-loving Jews how wicked they were; to keep them as a nation to display God’s holiness to them and the pagan nations; to make sure they were around when the fullness of time came and the promised Seed arrived. The law was Israel’s guardian until faith came, because Israel could not keep itself. Their history shows that, if left themselves, they were every bit as wicked as the Syrians, or you and me before we were redeemed.

Once the promised Seed came, the guardian is no longer needed. Faith and the promise do not depend on fleshly procreation. By faith we become children of Abraham. Now that Christ has come, the Spirit keeps His people. The law fulfilled its role, its time is past. The covenant based on shadows and types, with fire and threats of punishment for violations of its law has ended. Faith has come in the person of the promised Seed. The law and all the other shadows of the Old Covenant no longer bind anyone with chains but, as the Spirit gives the light of understanding, serve to instruct us about our innate weakness and need for humility before God and fellow man. Just as we read with New Covenant clarity from Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John.

No need to “un-hitch” the Old Testament from our faith – all of it is from God for us. We belong to heavenly country which has different laws; given by the same God but intended for a people with hearts of flesh, not stone; people who, having been loved by God can and will love Him and one another. No need to tell one another, “know the Lord” for we all know Him. The Mosaic Law was chains for a people who needed to be told “know the Lord.” We in the New Covenant are not that people. We can see the law did not restrain national Israel from doing evil. So God gave His Spirit to will and equip us to do what is pleasing to Him.

Not under the yoke of law, which could not save nor can it lead us to Christ; it can only condemn. Therein is the danger of wrongly interpreting this passage.

New heart, new mediator, new priesthood, new covenant, new law from the new Lawgiver.  That’s the difference being in the New Covenant makes.

Forgiveness in the Age of Rage

The Bible has a great deal to say about forgiveness. The world, and even many in evangelicalism, justify their anger. As MacArthur notes, anger is fueled by psychology and narcissistic self-centeredness. Our churches today are now even telling their members that in order to extend forgiveness to others that true believers have to forgive themselves.

Further, preachers intone that it is a necessity to forgive yourself for your own sin or shortcomings. This is a dangerous teaching that quickly borders on heresy for it leads to the teaching that we have to forgive God.

Forgiveness is necessary in order for true believers to portray the Christ by which we are named. He forgave us when we were unloveable and did not deserve to be forgiven. To NOT forgive is to make ourselves to better than Christ.

Winning the Battle Against Sin – Part 1

Every true believer fights against what remains of the human nature. Just because we have been given a new heart by God does not mean that we can be sinless as some teach. Until we are glorified and forever with the Lord, we will battle daily against the things that plague us.

John MacArthur’s new series should prove to be a great encouragement to us. It is our intention to post the next parts over the weeks to come.

Does Acts 2:39 teach inclusion of children?

When Peter was preaching during Pentecost, he told the Jewish audience that Jesus was the promised son of David, yet David’s Lord. He summed up with this “altar call”:

Acts 2:36-37 (HCSB) “Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” When they heard this, they came under deep conviction and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?”

His answer to their anguish was not “ask Jesus into your heart.” Acts 2:38 (HCSB) “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Natural man cannot do this. MUST have the Holy Spirit indwelling a regenerated soul.

And note: repent and be baptized. Not, be sprinkled as a babe and later, if it be you are a true covenant child, repent. Repent then be baptized; this is the biblical practice.

Acts 2:39 (HCSB) “For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

No matter how you interpret “the promise,” there are several views, there is no way to think the promise is to the children of Christian parents. Peter was speaking to unconverted Jews, not redeemed saints. The promise was to them – they were the ones who asked “what must we do?”

The term “brothers” in verse 37 clearly is not used in the New Covenant context, as they were at that time unconverted. Brothers in the same sense as Paul expressed agony over his “kinsmen of the flesh” – his fellow Jews. In this culture, the Jews saw themselves as the brotherhood of God against the world.

The promise to all – Jews, their children, and ALL WHO ARE FAR OFF (the Gentiles – those who, “at that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” – Eph 2:12). The promise is to the whole world, not somebody’s children – AS MANY AS THE LORD OUR GOD WILL CALL.

The promise is people in every group of people – as many as the Lord calls.

This passage no more gives support to family status in the New Covenant than it gives support to an Arminian view of salvation.

The New Covenant is really NEW!

The New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant (HEB 8).

Entry into the Old Covenant did not require faith in God; most of the people in that community were unbelievers. All they (the males) needed for entry was circumcision of their flesh. Entry into the New Covenant comes only to those who believe on the Son of God (John 10), who have been circumcised of the heart, not made with human hands (Col 2).

The mediator of the New Covenant is not another in the type of Moses – a servant in God’s house (Heb 3). He is the Son and Lord of the house!

God does not change our old stone into a new heart of flesh, He removes the heart of stone and implants a heart of flesh (Jer 31).

God does not improve the stone temple in which Israel worshiped Him, His redeemed are the temple of God! (1 Cor 3, 1 Pet 2)

The New Covenant does not have a priest after the order of Aaron but after the order of Melchizedek, who had no genealogy (Heb 7). This was not merely a change in/within the priesthood, it was a change OF priesthood; the nature of the priesthood is different (Heb 8).

The sacrifices of the Old Covenant could never take away sin, but only cover them for a season. The sacrifice of the New Covenant takes away all the sins of all the people in that covenant community, showing the weakness of the law and the superiority of the oath and promise (Heb 7). The nature of the sacrifices in the two covenant are not the same.

When the passage (Heb 7) says that a change of the priesthood mandates a change OF the law, the same nature of change is at hand. The law given to the Old Covenant community is not suited for the New Covenant community. A new type of law is required – one reflecting the priesthood as well as the community, which is 100% redeemed and dwelt by the Holy Spirit.

The law written on the flesh hearts of the saints is not the legal code with warnings and penalties, issued from the fiery mount (HEB 12). The law written on the hearts of the redeemed is the perfect law, the law of liberty (James 1), the royal law (James 2), the law of Christ (Gal 6). The law of Moses COMMANDED its people to rest from the work of providing for themselves (Ex 20). The law of Christ PROVIDES rest for the redeemed, no longer working to prove themselves to God, but serving one another, bearing burdens, loving others as Christ has loved us.

No legal code with threats and penalties for a stiff-necked and rebellious people but a new creature (Gal 6, 2 Cor 5) that loves God and others, in which the Spirit of God dwells, to equip and will His people to that which pleases Him (Phil 2).

An Introduction to the Sovereign Gospel

John MacArthur provides a succinct introduction to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty when it comes to salvation. This Grace to You message comes from Ephesians 1:3-6.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

What is New Covenant Theology?

New Covenant Theology is not new theology about the covenants; it is theology about the New Covenant.

In this podcast, I was interviewed for the purpose of explaining what New Covenant Theology is to a brother who is exploring it to see if it aligns with Scripture.

Give it a listen, here.

 

Who are the Lost?

It’s common, in the world of evangelical Christianity, to call everyone who is not redeemed, lost. Is that how the Bible uses the word “lost?” This word is found 14 times in the HCSB New Testament and three of them have nothing to do with being separated from God: Mark 2:22 is talking about mixing old covenant theology with new covenant theology, using wineskins as metaphors. Luke 22:18 shows the care of God in preserving His saints during trials. 1 Corinthian 3:15 reveals that some work done in this life by the saints will be burned up (lost) in the judgment.

What of the other 11 uses? They show up in 10 verses, each providing insight into who is “lost.”

 

Matthew uses this term three times, referring to those to whom Jesus was sent; no reference to those left to themselves. Jesus’ initial ministry was to national Israel, as these passages reflect. But God’s plan of redemption has always included people from every nation and tongue, as many passages reveal.

Matthew 10:5-6 Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town.  Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Matthew 15:24 He replied, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Matthew 18:11 For the Son of Man has come to save the lost.

 

Luke uses the word 6 times in 5 places; in each case, the person or thing described as lost is that which was searched for and found. The parables of the lost sheep, coin, and the prodigal son all get summed up in the last passage. Salvation has come because Jesus had come to seek and save the lost! No mention of that which was lost staying lost.

Luke 15:3-7 So He told them this parable: “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it?  When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’  I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.

Luke 15:8-10 “Or what woman who has 10 silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?  When she finds it, she calls her women friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver coin I lost!’  I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:31-32 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Luke 19:9-10 “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus told him, “because he too is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”

 

In John’s gospel we find this word two times, including the one use of “lost” to describe someone that was not sought out and saved; Judas was lost. As the Pulpit Commentary points out, Judas was a specific exception, having been appointed by God to serve his role as the son of destruction or perdition. Rather than having been lost then found, Judas was seemingly found and then lost. But as the second passage shows, Judas was not given to Jesus to be kept, because Jesus claims to have lost none – not even one – of those given Him by the Father. This is why the Pulpit Commentary is right and it explains why Judas does not provide grounds to call all the unbelievers “lost.”

John 17:12 While I was with them, I was protecting them by Your name that You have given Me. I guarded them and not one of them is lost, except the son of destruction, so that the Scripture may be fulfilled.  The Pulpit Commentary: And I guarded (them) – ἐτήρουν signifies watchful observation; ἐφύλαξα, guardianship as behind the walls of a fortress – and not one perished – went to destruction – except that the son of perdition (has perished). Christ does not say that the son of perdition was given him by the Father and guarded from the evil one, and yet had gone to his own place; the exception refers simply to the “not one perished.”

John 18:8-9 “I told you I am ⌊He⌋,” Jesus replied. “So if you’re looking for Me, let these men go.”  This was to fulfill the words He had said: “I have not lost one of those You have given Me.”

 

Summary. This last passage does not use “lost” but it shows two things: First, Jesus came to do the Father’s will, which was stated Matthew 18:11 and in Luke 19:10: For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost. Second, He will lose none of those given to Him by the Father. Every person who is lost will be saved; none who are saved will be lost. This does not say everybody will be saved, for not everyone is “lost” – only the unconverted elect are. Everyone who is not, today, a child of God is unconverted. Some of them are lost and will be found; the rest will face judgment without a refuge.

John 6:37-39 Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I should lose none of those He has given Me but should raise them up on the last day.

The Man in Romans 7

The Man in Romans 7

In order to rightly understand what Paul taught in the latter part of Romans 7, we need to understand how he described two groups of people earlier in this epistle.

In Rom 3 & 4, Paul is teaching his kinsmen of the flesh why being Jewish is not enough, how children of promise are true Jews. In Rom 5:1-5 he is teaching – again – how those Jewish Christians were reconciled to God: righteous in faith, rejoicing in Christ and our afflictions, grounded in love, and possessed by the Holy Spirit.

In what follows in chapter 5 is an ongoing contrast between unconverted Jews and converted Jews, with an abbreviated history of sin – contrasting the first and last Adams. Throughout this chapter, the redeemed are described as righteous, justified, full of grace, saved from wrath, reconciled to God, having eternal life. The unconverted are described as helpless, ungodly, enemies of God, dead in sin, under judgment, condemned. Quite a difference – worth noting.

Chapter 6 is a continuation of Paul’s argument from the previous chapters, where he encourages the redeemed Jews (this is still his primary audience) are exhorted to walk in grace, not sin. These people are called dead to sin, joined with Christ, crucified with Christ, free from sin, alive to God, under grace, slaves of obedience and righteousness. He tells them – and us – not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies, for, he says, “sin will not rule over you because you are not under law but under grace.” (vs 14) We have new fruit resulting in sanctification and eternal life; we have a new master, grace – no longer slaves to master sin.

The unconverted man in Romans 6 has everything in common with his counterpart in chapter 5; he is in bondage and domination of sin, a slave to sin, ruled by death, obedient to sin, unrighteous, and ruled by sin; under law. This man is obedient to sin, under law not grace, a slave to sin – leading to death, weak in the flesh, morally impure, lawless, producing the fruit of death. Sin is his master, not grace.

The contrast between the unconverted sinner and the redeemed sinner is striking and it’s consistent: the one man is fleshly and full of sin, under the law and breaking the law; the other man is full of the Holy Spirit, rejoicing in all things, dead to sin and the law, producing good fruit unto eternal life.

A couple of observations: contextually, Paul has been describing his kinsmen of the flesh. The man in Romans 7 is a Jew, even though all people can identify with the spiritual struggle portrayed. The pious Jew  would see God’s law, instructions, Scriptures as good and holy even while he would be unable to comply with them.

When we then read about the man in Romans 7:13-24, who does he sound like? Let’s look at a list:

vs 13: dead, sinful

vs 14: of flesh, sold into sin’s power

vs 15 & 16: double minded

vs 17: full of sin

vs 18: no ability to do good

vs 19 -21: captive to evil

vs 22: he agrees, he knows the law of God is good

vs 23: he is a prisoner of sin

vs 24: he is a wretched man

While you and I see some of our Christian life in what Paul wrote about in this passage, it’s clear that this man has nothing in common with the redeemed man Paul described in chapter 5 & 6; but he has everything in common with the unconverted man in those chapters.  The context of the epistle indicates Paul is describing a Jew, not a Gentile, and a Jew that is struggling under a law he knows is good but without the ability to obey from the heart and produce good fruit unto eternal life. The man in Romans 7 does not have the Holy Spirit, but he is of the flesh, captive to evil, a slave to sin, producing fruit unto death.

The change to present tense does not mandate the view that Paul has changed course and began talking about himself as a Christian. It may very well be nothing more than a literary device to make the plight of the man all the more gripping. He is in a very dangerous condition! Present tense does not mandate the view that this man is Paul as a Christian. The description of the man and the larger context of the epistle provide a more sure guide to interpret this passage.

As with all Scripture, we learn from this passage. But we have no more reason to insert ourselves into this passage than we do with Jeremiah 29:11.

Judgment is Coming

We are familiar with the parable of the ten minas and 10 servants. This parable is told by Jesus following His encounter with Zacchaeus and begins, Luke 19:11-12 (HCSB) “As they were listening to this, He went on to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem, and they thought the kingdom of God was going to appear right away. Therefore He said: “A nobleman traveled to a far country to receive for himself authority to be king and then return.”

Note this – those closest to Him still thought the kingdom of God was a response to the Roman occupation of their homeland. He tells them this parable to show them the truth about the kingdom and begins by telling them He is going away to receive authority to be King of kings and then return. That’s the point of this parable – Jesus was going to His Father to receive all authority and then return. He told His servants to engage in business until He came back. Luke 19:14 (HCSB) “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We don’t want this man to rule over us!’”

Luke 19:15 (ESV) “When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business.”

When Christ returns, it will be as King of kings. He will judge the nations, gather His people, and make all things new. In this parable, He rewards those who were diligent and punishes those who were lazy. Luke 19:27 (ESV) “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”

Here, then, is the bad news. Those who, in this age, do not want this man to rule over them will suffer His judgment upon His return. They are His enemies and they will pay, eternally, for their rebellion.

If you hear the call of God, turn and look upon Christ in all His glory. Do not fear man, who can only kill the body. Fear Him who can throw body and soul into hell. Look unto Christ, believe on Him; for you do not know what tomorrow will bring.

No Compromise!

As Jesus went through the countryside, preaching and healing people, His fame spread and crowds often followed Him – including religious leaders who saw Him as a threat, rather than the possible Messiah.

When the men lowered their crippled friend on a matt through the roof, so he might get close to Jesus and perhaps healed, the Scribes and Pharisees were watching very closely, to see if they could catch Jesus violating their law.

When Jesus healed the cripple, these religious leaders began to formulate a plan.

But they didn’t see Jesus rightly; He knew their thoughts and, rather than seek to sooth their suspicions, He looked them in the eyes and said, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.

So it is with us. When people of the world suspect you are in Christ, they will want to influence you to “not make waves.” This is why we are told not to talk about politics or religion in family gatherings or at work.

Know this: No one will be saved by Christians “playing nice” and avoiding the plain speech of the gospel. Men are by nature children of wrath and wrath they will face unless Christ save them. He – alone – is the Savior of sinners. Preach and declare Him, don’t get intimidated to play nice.

Better Than Moses

Better than Moses, Matt 5:17ff

You can listen to this sermon here. 

The Sermon on the Mount covers chapters 5 – 7 in Matthew’s gospel. The context is shortly after His temptation and the very beginning of His public ministry. Large crowds had begun to follow Him. Matthew 5:1-2 When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. Then He began to teach them. “Disciples” in this setting refers to the large crowds that followed Jesus from time to time; these people were not His 12 that we read of later.

After telling them about the characteristics of the people in His kingdom (the beatitudes, salt and light, city on a hill), Jesus abruptly shifts gears. He begins to transition into His main point: He is not just a prophet, He is greater than the greatest prophet YHWH had ever raised up. Here’s how He is compared in Hebrews 3:5-6 Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s household, as a testimony to what would be said in the future. But Christ was faithful as a Son over His household. And we are that household if we hold on to the courage and the confidence of our hope. To be that household mean we are sons. Paul tells us we are no longer servants but sons of God; and since we are sons, we are heirs (Gal 4:7). What a contrast! Moses is described as faithful servant; Jesus is termed the faithful Son over the household of God. And we are sons of God through faith in Christ. This is the hinge-point of the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus unveiling Himself to pious Jews who desired to see the Messiah.

Matthew 5:17-20 (HCSB) “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Uniquely Holy

Before the Throne

A review by Stuart Brogden

The subtitle of this book is Reflections on God’s Holiness. Allen Nelson takes us a quick-paced tour of different aspects of God’s holiness, grounded in two passages from God’s Word: Isaiah 6:1-7 and Revelation 4:5-11. One recurring theme is the remedy for what ails the saints and their local fellowships is found in the proper view of the Lord Jesus, not in “new methods” that fleshly ears and eyes always demand. The bottom line is that satisfaction for the soul of man can only be had on the person of Christ Jesus, not in entertainment with a wrapping of pious words from a speaker who presents Creator and Judge of all flesh as familiar spirit that only wants to make people feel good.

God is holy – He does not merely behave holy. His holiness – being set apart from creation, being complete and perfect in His being – defines Him. Twelve chapters explore God’s undoubtable, unspeakable, untamable, unchanging, unapproachable  – and more! – holiness. Our author labors to help us see God as He is: glorious, pure, complete, just, joyful, compassionate, and AWESOME.

Reader – if you are a believer bored or disaffected with your Savior, you are a self-contradiction! Nobody who even partially comprehends Who saves sinners and what sin is cannot be bored or disaffected with the One Who took the cup of wrath due us. Nelson’s book is a ready remedy for dull eyes, weary ears, sullen souls; our author bids us to see Christ more clearly, to behold His glory and be joyfully satisfied in Him.

In the opening chapter, Allen impresses upon us the importance of knowing God rightly, telling us, “When we fail to take seriously the holiness of God it affects everything in our lives. God is holy. Theology matters.” (page 21) Building on the words of Peter, who tells us in 2 Peter 3:18 to be growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, Nelson reminds us “We are still growing in our knowledge of who He is and we will do so for eternity.” He goes on to say, “I want you to hunger to know God better than you do now.” And, “We can’t understand God in an absolute way (He is infinite and we are finite). However, we can (and must) learn what He tells us about Himself in His Holy Bible.” (page 26). This idea is critical for everyone who names the name of Christ – satisfied with being in Him, never satisfied with our maturity as saints.

How should the holiness of God affect us? Our author has this: “The overwhelming concept of God’s holiness ought to lay a heavy weight on our souls. If you can meditate upon the unfathomable holiness of God without any occasions of fear and trembling in your core being, perhaps you’ve not understood it sufficiently.” (page 42). Recall the message from 2 Peter 3:18, and what he said in 2 Peter 1:12, that he intended to always remind us of what it means to be in Christ. Allen is a good friend, reminding us of something critical to our maturing in the Lord, pressing God’s truth upon us so that the reader will not easily be able to be self-satisfied. Contemplating on the response of Isaiah to seeing a vision of God’s holiness in chapter 6 of that gospel, Nelson observes, “The gospel changes “woe is me” to “worthy are You” because the penalty for transgressing God’s Holy Law has been atoned for in Christ. … Reflecting on God’s untamable holiness should ultimately drive us to Christ.” (pages 60 & 61) In a footnote on page 61 he says, “We can either distance ourselves from God through Moses, or draw near to God through Christ.” Works of the law take many forms, most of which are not directly connected to Moses or the law given through him to national Israel. The only way for a sinner to be reconciled to holy God is, as Allen quoted, to “draw near [to God through Christ] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22)

In chapter 5, Nelson explores how this characteristic of God ought to inform and shape our corporate worship. This is one of my favorite parts of this excellent work. While we should be thankful for skilled musicians and singers (being careful, in my opinion, that they do not overwhelm the congregation), Nelson implores us “to listen to an important truth from the passages we’ve seen above [in this section] about facilitating worship: get out of the way.” He bids us to be intentional “in singing hymns that glorify Him instead of focusing on our own experience. We must gear all facets of our singing – words, style, arrangement and content – toward magnifying the unmatchable holiness of God. Holy, holy, holy.” (page 89) Elders should oversee the musical portion of worship as well as the preaching – the people will benefit when the songs are theologically aligned with the sermon.

As for the preaching, Nelson says, “Show me the Holy, and He will suffice. Show me His worthiness in His Word. Show me how His holiness permeates the universe and is glorious enough to exact unceasing praise from all creation. You are not a match for the holiness of God. It’s wicked and foolish to attempt to be. Step out of the way by pointing us to a Holy God and the work of Christ.”(page 92) Application of a passage has its place – and it’s important. But application without the glorious weight of the holiness of God in Christ being held up is a way to legalism. “The greatness and the glory of God are relevant. It does not matter if the surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovereign God of grace. That is the deepest need. Our people are starving for God.” (page 94, quoting John Piper)

Beholding the Lord in spirit and truth (only spiritual being can see Him as He is) transforms us. “We become like what we behold. Let us then behold the Lord and not you.” (page 95, speaking to the preacher). “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

This is the drumbeat of this book: study to know Him; be bold in proclaiming Him; trust Him; exalt Him; hide behind Him. For YHWH alone is holy, all powerful, self-existent, and worthy of all praise, honor, and dominion. Whether in your personal walk, evangelism, or ministry in the local fellowship – Jesus is sufficient and nothing else will do.

Pick up this book and read. It will do your soul much good.

The Nature of the Church

The Nature of the Church

 Stuart L. Brogden

 Greek Word: ἐκκλησία

Strong’s 1577

Transliteration: ekklēsia

from a compound of <G1537> (ek) and a derivative of <G2564> (kaleo); a calling out, i.e. (concretely) a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both), assembly, church.

What is “the church”?

The Greek word ekklesia is most often presented in English Bibles as “church.” The word “church” is not a translation of the Greek word, ekklesia; it’s not even a transliterated version of that word. Strong’s concordance shows ekklesia being used in the KJV as either “assembly” or “church.” But the Greek word means “the called ones” and actually shows up in Scripture being applied to an assembly of town-folk (3 times in Acts 19:32-41). As with most words in the Word, the bare definition of the word does not reveal the meaning in every usage.

As for the use of “church” in the Bible, there does not appear to be a clear record of why it was chosen, nor of the meaning of this word. At least twice in the New Testament of the KJV, “church” applies to God’s covenant people in the Old Testament:

Acts 7:37-38 This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and [with] our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us.

Heb 2:11-12 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified [are] all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.

It is not possible for anyone to make a categorical statement that every occurrence of “church” means the local assembly of the saints, as some do.

The first known use of this word in English Bibles is found in Wycliffe’s Bible, spelled “chirche.” His work was translated from the Latin Vulgate and we have no clear reason for his use of this word.

In Smith’s Bible Dictionary from 1884, page 452, we read:

the derivation of the word ‘church’ is uncertain. It is found in the Teutonic and Slavonic languages and answers to the derivatives of ekklesia, which are naturally found in the romance languages and by foreign importation elsewhere. The word is generally said to be derived from the Greek kyriakos, meaning the lord’s house. But the derivation has been too hastily assumed. It is probably associated with the Scottish kirk, the Latin circus/circulous, the Greek klukos, because the congregations were gathered in circles.

Ebenezer Cobham Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable of 1898 agrees:

The etymology of this word is generally assumed to be from the Greek, Kuriou oikos (house of God); but this is most improbable, as the word existed in all the Celtic dialects long before the introduction of Greek. No doubt the word means “a circle.” The places of worship among the German and Celtic nations were always circular. (Welsh, cyrch, French, cirque; Scotch, kirk; Greek, kirk-os, etc.) Compare Anglo-Saxon circe, a church, with circol, a circle.

The first definition in Daniel Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “church” as “A house consecrated to the worship of God, among Christians; the Lords house. This seems to be the original meaning of the word.”

There two things to bear in mind regarding the apparent definition of the word “church.” The ekklesia of God in the New Testament refers to the redeemed saints, not a location or a building. Secondly, one of the messages Jesus taught the woman at the well (John 4) is that, in the Christian faith, there are no sacred or consecrated places where we must meet God.

Since the etymology of “church” is based on location rather than on people, it is a poor choice for ekklesia. In practice, so many Christians think of the building as the church, which many refer to as “the house of God,” it is a constant battle to keep the true meaning of ekklesia in front of people. In contrast, the Scriptures use myriad examples of buildings to refer to God’s redeemed people (1 Cor 3:15-17; 6:19; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:5; Gal 4:26; Rev 21:2), and never refers to a temporal location within the New Covenant context. Why do we carry on with this word that people consistently understand to mean a temporal location rather than the people of God?

After Wycliffe’s Bible (1382), the early English Bibles took a different view. Tyndale’s Bible (1526), the Coverdale Bible (1535), Matthew Bible (1537), The Great Bible (1539), and the Bishop’s Bible (1568) all translated ekklesia as “congregation,” a term that conveys the idea of people called to be together. The Geneva Bible (1560) followed Wycliffe and used “church” in place of ekklesia, as did the KJV.

When work on the King James Bible began, the king provided 15 rules that the translators had to follow. Rules 1 & 3 are of particular interest to the topic of this paper:

  1. The ordinary Bible, read in the church, commonly called the Bishop’s Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit.
  2. (not used here)
  3. The old ecclesiastical words to be kept; as the word church, not to be translated congregation, &c.

Rule 1 shows that the king wanted his Bible to be in the common tongue, accessible to the people, who were used to having the Great Bible and the Bishop’s Bible used in the state-churches. It is not true, as some KJV defenders claim, that the KJV was a unique Bible; it was based on the Bishop’s Bible. Rule 3 came into play in two prominent words that were not translated, but merely used in place of (as with “church”) or transliterated (as with “baptism”). Translating these two words would have provided us a clearer picture of what God was communicating. Ekklesia rendered as “congregation” or “assembly” shows we are talking about people, not places. Baptizo rendered as “dipping” or “dunking” shows we are talking about being identified with Christ in His death and resurrection by going down into the waters as if unto death and rising up from them as if unto new life. Advocates of the state-church have a history of building geo-political empires with ostentatious buildings for their gatherings and sprinkling infants rather than baptizing disciples.

There are at least eight passages where ekklesia refers to what is called “the universal church,” all the redeemed in Christ, called according to His name.

Matthew 16:18 (KJV) And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

1 Corinthians 15:9 (KJV) For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Ephesians 1:22-23 (KJV) And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

Ephesians 3:9-11 (KJV) And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 3:21 (KJV) Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

Ephesians 5:23-32 (KJV) For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

Philippians 3:6 (KJV) Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

Colossians 1:18 (KJV) And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

Colossians 1:24 (KJV) Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.

Hebrews 12:23 (KJV) To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,

In each of these passages, the bolded phrases make consistent sense when seen as references to the total number of God’s redeemed; not as references to any given local ekklesia. In his 1858 book, Manual of Church Order, John Leadly Dagg spent chapter 3 discussing the universal church, beginning with this: “The Church Universal is the whole company of those who are saved by Christ.”

In his book, Concise Theology, chapter “The Church,” J. I. Packer, describes the universal church:

The New Testament defines the church in terms of the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes and patterns through a relationship to all three Persons of the Godhead, brought about by the mediatorial ministry of Jesus Christ. The church is seen as the family and flock of God (Eph. 2:18; 3:15; 4:6; John 10:16; 1 Pet. 5:2-4), his Israel (Gal. 6:16); the body and bride of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; 5:25-28; Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9-27); and the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; cf. Eph. 2:19-22). Those in the church are called the “elect” (chosen), the “saints” (consecrated ones, set apart for God), and the “brothers” (adopted children of God).

The truest, purest expression of ekklesia is the vision of heavenly Jerusalem, coming down from heaven with the Lord Jesus upon His second advent (Rev 21:2). Therefore, those New Testament passages which appear to speak of the universal assembly of God’s redeemed should be embraced rather than cast in the shadow, so the references to the local gathering of saints would be established as THE “church.” The primary focus on the “local church” by some brothers is so prominent in their doctrine that one can easily lose sight of the fact that the ekklesia of Christ is a heavenly body. Our citizenship is in heaven, we are pilgrims and sojourners in this age.

It is true that the overwhelming occurrences of ekklesia in the New Testament refers to local assemblies; there is no reason to pretend otherwise. The point is that the local assembly is not the only ekklesia of God’s people mentioned in Scripture. It’s easier to see this when we use a term that clearly portrays the people of God and not merely a place on the ground. The local ekklesia is important for the saints – this is where critical spiritual growth takes place, this is where the Spirit of God gathers and gifts us as it pleased Him. But in each local assembly of saints, there is likely to be false brothers in the pale. In this way, the local ekklesia is a type of the true ekklesia, the universal church, because in that gathering, there are only true sons and daughters of our Holy God; no pretenders.

The congregation is the people of God. Christ gave Himself for His sheep – all and each of them, whether they belong to a local congregation or are awaiting the resurrection of their bodies. After all, the Bible is all about the Lord Jesus and we ought to be, also. Let us not get so earthly focused that we take our eyes off Him.