Introduction to Paul’s Letter to the church at Colossae

You can listen to this sermon here.

He (Christ Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. This is the thesis statement, the core truth of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. A study of this epistle will reveal Jesus as the answer to life. 

Nearly every New Testament letter from Paul was written to combat heresy in one or more local churches; Ephesians is the exception. While Colossians doesn’t specify what heresy had infected that church, one can almost hear the whispers, “Jesus is not enough.” Many think an early form of Gnosticism was emerging. What makes this epistle so vital for life in the church in this age, until Christ returns, is the glorious picture of our Lord Jesus is painted in words by the apostle. It is instructive for us to see the evil distractions from the gospel the enemy put into the church in Paul’s day, but it is essential for life and godliness that we grasp the gospel and the person of Christ as held forth in Scripture. In this short letter, the lord Jesus is presented as our life – quite a contrast to our drab routine; something that ought to bring renewed life to weary saints.

This introduction follows the commentary by John Kitchens and covers 5 questions we should answer:

  1. Who wrote this letter?
  2. To whom was it written?
  3. What were the circumstances?
  4. Why did Paul write it?
  5. What does this letter teach us?
  6. This first topic is important but not vital. We who believe in the inspiration of Scripture know the dual-authorship of the Bible and know God is the Author of what His people wrote. Yet knowing the human author helps us when we can learn about him through other passages. This is particularly helpful in rightly understanding Proverbs, for example.

Nobody questioned Paul’s authorship of this epistle until a few 19th century scholars offered up an alternative. The first two verses seem pretty clear to us: Colossians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. But some smart people, as men see them, said the vocabulary, theology, and style of writing is too different from Paul’s other letters; that Paul works against Gnosticism which was not fully developed until the 2nd century. None of these objections stand up in light of a basic understanding of the Bible. Liberals seem to have it as their goal to cause us to doubt the Word of God.

  1. Written to the saints in Colossae, a town that had been prominent but was now bypassed by the major highway that had driven its commerce; not unlike Gowen or Hartshorne – both of which were prosperous in the mid-20th century as goal mining and defense electronics provided a large bounty of gainful employment. The region Colossae is in was also severely affected by an earthquake, and commerce went with the new highway to Laodicea and Hierapolis. We see in 2:1 that, at the time of this epistle, Paul had not been to Colossae or Laodicea: For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face. What kindness of God, to have this apostle write to these people in a small neglected town he had never met, yet loved in Christ having been told of the work the Lord had been doing in their midst.

Most likely, Epaphrus had established this church, as we read in 4:12-13 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis. Paul’s confidence was not in his personal work, but in the work done through him and others by the Spirit of God.

One thought occurred to me –apostles were foundational to the New Covenant church (see Eph 2:20) yet most of them wrote no Scripture and are not mentioned much by those who did. Men who labor in obscurity, in man’s perspective, always are in view of our heavenly Father. Our service to one another is pleasing in His sight, even if we are not famous among men; as it is His Spirit that wills and equips us to do so. Let us never drift away from seeking God’s approval in favor of man’s.

  1. The circumstances surrounding this letter are two-fold: temporal and spiritual. Paul was in prison, we see this in chapter 4 where Paul describes himself as in bonds (twice) and a fellow prisoner with Aristarchus. We know Paul was in prison in Caesarea for two years (see Acts 24:24-27) but we do not see him having an open, on-going evangelical ministry. There is no record of Paul being in prison in Ephesus. Yet while in confinement in Rome, we read of a vibrant ministry, wherein he likely wrote this epistle and the letters to Philippi, Ephesus, and Philemon. Acts 28:30-31 And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him. As I mentioned Wed evening, I think this circumstance is illustrative of the current status of Satan – where the angel cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season (Revelation 20:3). Locked up, but having an active influence through many of his minions.

The spiritual circumstances are more interesting and relevant to us. Like many of the first century churches, Colossae was a mixture of Gentile and Jewish saints. This is why he emphasized the new man in Christ, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:10-11) Neither group had a problem accepting people like themselves, but each group needed reminders by a brother that each of them had been individually bought and re-created (spiritually) by Christ Jesus; that cultural and ethnic identities that divide people of the world have no place in the church, the body of Christ.

Each of the groups that comprised the church in Colossae brought some of their spiritual baggage from their previous lives into this new creation. We see this in the concern shown in 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. And verse 18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind. This lack of learning does not refer to base ignorance – Peter and John caused the council to marvel. The unlearned description was affixed to these fishermen because they spoke in the manner of the common man, rather than in the highly polished rhetoric that was common in public speakers in that day – such as Paul met at Mars Hill in Acts 17. I think this philosophy and vain deceit mentioned here refers to this same manner of puffed-up speaking, which Paul spoke against in his first letter to Corinth. The traditions of men no doubt refers to what we see in Matthew 15:1-2 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. These practices appeal to our human desire to follow rules and be well thought of but they are dangerous if imposed as necessary for being reconciled to God.

  1. This brings us to the reason Paul wrote this letter: doctrine impacts life, for as a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Prov 23:7). When saints believe wrongly on essential doctrines, our lives profane the savior and we lead others astray, serving as stumbling blocks instead of faithful servants.

There are three categories of error addressed in this epistle:

  1. Legalism, seen in 2:16-17
  2. False spirituality, seen in 2:18-19
  3. Asceticism, seen in 2:20-23

The corrective plan from Paul is not complex – have a right view of the Savior and of self. If our view of God is too low, our view of man will be too high. These three seriously wrong doctrines will fall of their own weight with a proper understanding of how sinful man is reconciled to holy God. And while we see warnings of error in this letter, the consistent theme woven throughout is to rightly comprehend the Lord Jesus and to daily fix our mind’s eye on Him.

  1. That, then, is what this letter teaches us – the same thing Paul was teaching the saints in the small backwater town of Colossae: Christ is enough; His grace is sufficient; we are safe in the strong tower of our God and King.

Listen to how Christ Jesus is described in this letter: He is called “Christ” (which means anointed one) 18 times; He is Christ Jesus the Lord; God’s beloved Son; the mystery of God; in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; He is the image of the invisible God; the creator and sustainer of all things; the head of the church; in Him the fullness of God dwells; Jesus is the soil in which we rooted and built up in; He is the substance and fulfillment of all of God’s promises and purposes which were portrayed in the ancient Jewish religion. Christ sits at the right hand of God, indicating the completion of His work; He is our refuge and our life; He is our goal and pattern for life; our teacher and our wisdom; He is our inheritance. He is our master, having freed us from the domain of master sin.

Kitchens says, “He is the origin of all creation (He is before all things); the sphere of all creation (by Him all things were created, both in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities); the agent of creation (all things have been created … by Him); the goal of all creation (all things have been created … for Him); and the sustainer of all creation (in Him all things hold together). Indeed, He is the King of all creation (the firstborn of all creation).” Do you get the idea that Paul considered an accurate picture of Christ as vital to the health of the church? When we see the comprehensive nature of our Lord’s supremacy, it is hard to take in, and – perhaps – a little more understandable when people have too low a view of Him. But a right view of God is essential to a proper view of self – as Isaiah shows us when he saw Him on the throne. In summing up the glorious unity the saints have, Paul said Christ is all and in all – all that we have as children of God is found in Jesus; and by His Spirit, He dwells in every one of us.

This union we have with Christ Jesus is the core of our standing before God. We who are in Christ have died with Him (Colossians 3:3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.); we were buried with Him (Colossians 2:12 Buried with him in baptism); and made alive with Him (Colossians 2:12 wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.). And He is our life (Colossians 3:4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.) This is guaranteed and made possible by His Spirit Who lives within us.

We have a new identity, in Christ Jesus. We have a new presence, Christ in us. We will walk and live, more and more, to grow in grace and knowledge of Him Who gave Himself for us. We don’t need programs and fancy facilities. We have God’s great and precious promises, all of which are summed up in the Lord Jesus Christ Who gave Himself as a ransom for helpless sinners. Find rest in Christ Jesus; find peace with God, now and forever, in Christ Jesus. Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. That’s the gospel truth. It’s all we have; and that’s all poor sinners need. And it’s always good for the souls of the saints!

Job – A Story About the Sovereignty of God

You can listen to this sermon here.

What follows it the first part.

(Background – from ESV Study Bible) The story of Job has its setting outside Israel to the east and south (Uz is related to Edom, which may be the setting of the book), the author of Job is a Hebrew, thoroughly immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures. The time in which the account of Job is set is not known with precision – many consider the context of Job’s culture and put him in the time of Abraham.

The earliest reference to Job outside the book itself is in Ezekiel. The prophet names three paragons of virtue (chap 14:12 – 14): And the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.” It is not certain whether Ezekiel knew of these men from the biblical narrative or if his knowledge was from God. If Ezekiel knew of Job through the biblical book, then Job would have lived prior to the Babylonian exile.

The author of Job makes direct allusion to the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g., Ps. 8:4; cf. Job 7:17–18), and at times quotes lines directly (Ps. 107:40; Isa. 41:20; cf. Job 12:21, 24). Such precise repetition of phrases and reapplication of biblical thought indicates that Job had access to these writings, though again it cannot be certain in what form they existed. The author uses a lot of vocabulary with meanings known in later Hebrew. This does not confirm a more precise dating but may favor a date that is during or after the Babylonian exile (538 BC). It would appear that this book may have been written as many as 600 years after Job lived – not without precedent in Scripture, as Moses wrote Genesis some 2,700 years after Creation. None of this is cause for worry, as it is God Who is the primary author of all Scripture.

The book of Job asks the question – “Can God be trusted?” It is fair to say that most of our attention is on Job and his loss and the rough treatment received at the hands of his friends and wife. But the lesson we are to gain from this book is found in the reply from God; that He alone can be trusted, that He alone is creator and sovereign – He is God and He is not obligated to answer His creatures! This maddens those who deny His existence or sovereignty, but ought to comfort us who are redeemed by Christ. If God is not sovereign over all things, He cannot be trusted in anything.

The book sets out from the beginning to show that the reasons for human suffering often remain a secret to human beings, yet under the rule of God. Indeed, Job’s sufferings come upon him because God taunted Satan in the heavenly courts, leaving us to wonder who Satan would have tormented if God had not suggested Job.  We are not given insight to this “behind the scenes” discussion that led up to a similar testing in the New Testament. Luke 22:31 – 32 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Unlike Job, Peter knows before and why he was tested, we never learn whether the events of Job chapter 1 & 2 were explained to Job. In both accounts, God’s focus is on His character and position as the sovereign Lord Who cares for His people.

God’s Fulfilled Promise

In anticipation of the Christmas season, we’ve reviewed the biblical account for why Jesus had to come as a man to save us and how it was all in accord with God’s promise. We are by nature in desperate need of a savior, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12); Christ Jesus is the only One Who can save us, reconcile helpless sinners to God – He is our peace!

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;

And the government will rest on His shoulders;

And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”(Isaiah 9:6)

The incarnation of all God is was born to us as one of us.

Jesus was not born into a vacuum, with no connection to the people or culture into which He came as man. That passage from Isaiah 9 tells us Israel had been looking for their promised Messiah for a long, long time. The faithful prophets reminded the nation of promises made when Adam rebelled (Gen 3:15) and when Abraham was called (Gen 12, 15, & 17); and their sordid track record of disobedience and punishment for breaking the covenant given them on Mt Sinai gave them plenty of cause to be anxiously awaiting the fulfillment of that promised seed. Malachi had told them YHWH would send a messenger to prepare the way for the Messiah. He would come suddenly into His temple, bringing the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah.

But Malachi also warned unbelieving Israel of the judgement that would come “against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the widow and the fatherless, and cheat the wage earner; and against those who deny justice to the foreigner. They do not fear Me, says the LORD of Hosts. (Malachi 3:5) But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire and like cleansing lye. (Malachi 3:2) This warning was of judgment was balanced with the promise, which for Israel, was contingent on their faithful obedience to their Old Covenant. “Remember the instruction of Moses My servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:4-6)

More than 400 years had transpired since the last prophet had spoken to Israel – most of them had grown comfortable in their empty religion and did not recognize their Messiah when He came. They had forgotten the warnings of judgment and curses for disobedience. Their complacency caused them to not recognize the prophet we know as John. They had lapsed into the fatal conclusion that their flawed attempts at law-keeping coupled with their fleshly connection to Abraham would bring them peace with God. But we read in Romans 3, Galatians 2, Acts 13 that no flesh can be justified – made right with God – by the law, even though the law and the prophets bear witness the righteousness of God that is through faith in Christ for all who believe (Romans 3:21-22). The promised Messiah would redeem Israel – just not the same Israel the Jews thought nor by the method they thought.

Gal 4:4 tells us Jesus was born under the Law of Moses to redeem those who were under the Law. The Law-giver became the Law-keeper to redeem Law-breakers. The genealogy given us in Matthew takes great pain to show that, according to the flesh, Jesus came from Abraham and David. Being connected to Abraham connected Jesus to the salvation of Jews and Gentiles – all the nations of the world. Being connected to David connects Jesus to the throne that will never be overthrown, which we see in Luke 1:32-33 as the angel of the Lord told Mary Who her child was: He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:  And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Yet most of the Jews living in the time Jesus walked the earth knew Him not, other than as Joseph’s son. The comfort they had under the boot of Roman rule reminds me of that experience they had as slaves to Pharaoh. When Moses led them out to freedom, towards the promised land, they left the certainty of slavery for the uncertainty of liberty; and they berated Moses for leading them out. Now, under Roman rule, they would demand Jesus be crucified rather than be led out of slavery for liberty; desiring the fleeting comforts under Rome to the eternal liberty found only in the promised seed.

What does this mean to us who are not Jewish? We are what they called Gentiles. Read the gospels and see how national Israel looked down on Gentiles as less than dogs. Yet when one Jewish priest who had been faithfully waiting and looking for the promised Messiah laid his aged eyes on the baby Joseph and Mary had brought to the temple to be circumcised according to the law of Moses, Simeon broke out in song:

Luke 2:29-32 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;  for my eyes have seen your salvation  that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Born as a Jew under the Law of that nation, to save those in bondage to that heavy burden. But, as promised to father Abraham, He also came as a blessing to many nations (Gen 12:1-3), the father to many nations (Gen 17:1-7), with descendants as numerous as the stars (Gen 15:5). Paul was appointed as the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15) and Peter was given a divine revelation (Acts 10:11) that Gentiles were not unclean but were to be evangelized. And in Acts 13:47 he tells the Jews and Gentiles, Acts 13:47, quoting from Isaiah 42 &49 that this is what the Lord has commanded us: I have made you a light for the Gentiles to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

Jesus, the promised seed, the promised Messiah, the Lamb of God that takes away sin – not just from Jewish sinners, but from sinners throughout the world. This is Who was born to a virgin in the town of Bethlehem so long ago. This the child Who learned obedience to His earthly parents so no charge of law-breaking could be laid at His feet. This is the Man Who drank the cup of wrath due us so we could be sons and daughters of God.

He did not come to this earth, humiliating Himself to take our form upon Himself, so that we would have our best life now. His mission was not to be adored as a baby each year, forgotten in the rush of presents and lavish meals and the crush of family and friends. He was not crushed so we could live unto ourselves as if that was our highest purpose.

Jesus came to earth as a human being for one reason – to reconcile helpless sinners to holy God and restore creation to a glory surpassing what it had when God spoke it into existence. All to bring glory to the name that is above all names and submit all things whether thrones or principalities under His feet.

When we gather this day and tomorrow with friends and family, will your excitement be only and all about the gifts, the looks on the children’s faces, your favorite food, the black sheep of the family? While all those were given for our benefit and are good if received with thanksgiving (even the black sheep), none of them nor all of them are why Jesus came.

If you celebrate the birth of Christ, make the day all about Him. Make sure your friends and family hear from you why He came and what His reason was.

Jesus, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:6-11)

Merry Christmas just doesn’t seem to do justice to the incarnation of God the Son. This phrase is on the lips of untold numbers of people who do not know Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. If this season doesn’t bring joy to your soul because you haven’t been converted from a natural sinner to a supernatural child of God, His Word for you this day is to believe on the Lord Jesus. Jesus came to save sinners and has done all that is required for each lost sheep to be fully restored to fellowship with Creator God.

Christ’s richest blessings are bestowed on all the children of God. Jesus came to bring life – the abundant life that being reconciled to almighty God brings to those who love Him. He has gone to prepare a place for us and He is coming back to take us there. If these great and very precious promises from the faithful witness do not get you excited about telling others how they can be called friends of God, something more than “merry Christmas” is needed. And in Christ, we have all we need. The pearl of great price has been revealed, the Lamb of God has been sacrificed. Herald this news as you gather with family and friends, be a peace-maker the likes of which Santa cannot be.

Man’s Fallen Condition

This is the sermon I preached this morning. Will see if the saints at Cambria embrace the truth.

Christmas is coming. People who know Jesus and those who merely know the name will be making much of Dec 25th, although their reasons differ widely. The person and cross of Christ continues to divide history and implies there’s a problem. 

We hear evidence of it every time a police siren howls. The priceless sacrifice of the Son of God makes no sense if there’s no need. The question we must address is, what is the problem that requires this act? Humanists and politicians will tell you that man is intrinsically good – all he needs is a good education and good examples. The politicians need to say this because it makes people feel good about themselves and it creates demands for their services – education and public service announcements. Humanists are the unrighteous people Paul wrote about in Romans 1 who suppress their knowledge of the truth by their unrighteousness. The Bible tells us what the problem is – man has rebelled against Holy God and is by nature at war with God (Rom 5:10) and spiritually dead (Eph 2:1), hurtling towards physical death (Rom 6:23).

We see this played out in front of us on the TV news all the time. Someone does something outright horrible and none of their family or neighbors could accept the news. It’s the same virtually every time. The murderers amongst us seem so normal. The mother whose adult son is arrested cannot admit he would do such a thing. Yet every day these normal sons and daughters demonstrate the Word of God to be true – man is, by nature, hostile towards God and sinfully wicked in his fleshly desires.

The Apostle summed this up for the fine folks in Corinth: For as by a man came deathin Adam all die (1 Corinthians 15:21-22) and Rome: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned … death reigned from Adam to Moses … many died through one man’s trespass … the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation …because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one manone trespass led to condemnation for all menby the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners… (Romans 5:12-19).

You can listen to this sermon here.

What’s the New Covenant?

The New Covenant – Fullness in Christ.

Even a casual read of the Bible reveals several covenants. Many books have been written about them. One covenant, the New Covenant, stands as the answer to everything that is wrong, God’s final Word on making all things right. The glory of being in Christ Jesus is revealed in this covenant, which binds Christ and His church together, providing redemption and eternal salvation for sinners. The sign of the New Covenant is circumcision not made with human hands followed by water baptism (Colossians 2:11-12). The Lord’s Supper is another sign within this covenant, reminding us of its Author and His return (1 Corinthians 11:25). One dear brother I count as a friend helps us see this:

Baptism serves as an outward sign of the inward grace of regeneration and union with Christ. It is less than meaningless if there is no inward grace to reflect. Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). What Jesus is saying is that this cup of wine represents the new covenant he is going to ratify by shedding his blood. This cup becomes the sign of that covenant.  Every time we take communion we should rejoice that we are heirs of the new and better covenant that was ratified by his blood. (Randy Seiver)

In Hebrews 7-9 the New Covenant described, contrasted with the Old Covenant, so we can see it more accurately. Chapter 9:1 even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness.What follows is a description of the tabernacle of the Hebrew religion, featuring lampstands, a table and bread, the Most Holy Place with the ark of the Mosaic covenant containing the tablets of testimony, the golden vial of manna, and Aaron’s staff. Levitical priests ever making sacrifices that would cover sin for a time but never able to take away sin. All of these forms of worship are summed up in verse 9 as symbolic for that age and “imposed until the time of reformation” (verse 10). There will be no re-institution of those types and symbols as the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus was sufficient, satisfying God the Father and finishing the redemptive work announced in Genesis 3:15, bringing that reformation.

when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation [speaking here of His body of flesh]he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:11-12 & 15)

Listen to this sermon here

The Biblical Gospel

This is third message I taught on evangelism last year, but forgot to post this one! 

You can listen to this message here.

Biblical Gospel. What is more important to those made in God’s image than being cleansed from the sin that stains and separates us from our Creator? Jesus said it’s more important than the whole world! And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9:23-26.) If we take God at His Word, we will want to get this part right. Proclaiming His message of reconciliation is the only role He has given us in His grand plan of redemption. We can’t save anyone’s soul, we can’t know who God will save. All we can do, and it is a glorious privilege, is to be faithful with His Gospel, trusting Him to do what only He can do.

First, the gospel is not an urgent call to obey the Law, based on and extracted from the Mosaic Covenant. The Law of God demands perfect obedience and the Scriptures remind us of what we know to be true, we cannot do it (Romans 3:9-18). The Law demands to be answered, but, as an old Baptist hymn reminds us, the lost man senses something is wrong and often runs to the wrong place:

I felt the arrows of distress

And found I had no shield, no hiding place

Holy justice stood in view

To Sinai’s fiery mount I flew

But justice cried with frowning face

“This mountain is no hiding place!” 25

If we cannot answer Mount Sinai’s demand for justice, how can we face the Holy God who shakes the earth (Hebrews 12:18-29) with His demands? The holiness of God causes man to tremble (Isaiah 6) and that is what we hold up in the gospel. The Law may be useful to break the pride of some men, but the Law is not the gospel. Jesus Christ and Him crucified – the holy One of God sacrificed for sinners; that is the gospel!

God the judge provides the God-Man as the justifier; that is the mystery and the glory of God’s gospel. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 is considered by many to be the best summary of the gospel given to us in the Scriptures.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

This message proclaims the mighty work of redemption completed by the biblical Jesus; no pale, culturally relevant imitation will suffice. This biblical gospel is tied to a place in time and space, the hill and the grave-site near Jerusalem; where the Lamb of God was slain as a wrath-satisfying (propitiating) sacrifice to save sinners and make them presentable to God the Father. And, lastly, this God-Man was raised from the dead and seen by many people. The resurrection of Jesus is one of the most substantiated events of the ancient world, and it gives us the firm hope that He will raise us from our graves one day and make us like Himself and make His home among us (Revelation 21:3).

The biblical gospel recognizes that, as Jonah declared from the belly of the fish, Salvation is of YHWH! We are told that we can plant seed (which is the proclamation of the gospel – Mark 4:14), we can water (which is making disciples of those God has saved – Acts 18:27), but it is God Who gives the increase (which is the work of reclaiming ruined sinners, see 1 Timothy 1:15). People become the children of God, not according to blood, to the will of flesh or the will of man; but according to the will of God (John 1:10-13).

Within the pale of those Christians who agree that there is no other name, there are those who mistakenly think man has something to do with securing reconciliation with God. Mostly, this is the result of poor teaching, which takes a verse here and there out of context and settles in one’s mind as “gospel.” Since Scripture cannot be broken, it will not contradict itself. Therefore, we must seek to understand the whole counsel of God’s Word, not just a few “proof texts,” to rightly comprehend this most important doctrine. If anything man does contributes to his justification, to being reconciled to Holy God, then that man’s gospel is polluted, reducing the supreme work of redemption completed by Jesus to something that doesn’t quite save anyone. If the work of Jesus is not enough, nothing we can do can close the rift. We must think carefully and deliberately to weed out any shred of self-confidence or self-will regarding this most important change, of being made a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). Salvation is a monergistic work of God; man plays no role in being raised from the dead any more than he did in being born physically (John 3:1-8). Man is by nature spiritually dead, following after the spiritual father of fallen humanity, this according to the Word of God. Paul’s letter to the church, those who had been redeemed, at Ephesus provides an excellent summary of man’s problem and God’s redemptive answer (Ephesians 2:1-10):

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedienceamong whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

This passage shows that there is no “demilitarized zone” in the spiritual realm; one is a child of Satan unless and until God gives new life and faith to the sinner, adopting him as His child. We who have been chosen by God to be reconciled to Him by His gift of grace, were chosen for this redemption before the foundation of the world, just as those who were left to serve and worship the beast, who was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 13:5-8). This is seen again a few chapters later as people who marvel at the beast are described as the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (Revelation 17:8).

Christians were chosen and given saving grace in Christ before the foundation of the world (1 Timothy 1:8&9; Ephesians 1:4), predestined for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ according to His will (Ephesians 1:5), and we were formed and predestined for good works (Ephesians 2:10). There is no biblical support for man choosing to save himself or for a saved man to continue in sin with no concern for being obedient to his Savior and Lord. When we recognize that God saves sinners, and we do not, the pressure is off us. Our mission is to proclaim His gospel. He has given us the means, planting and watering, and reserved the ends, spiritual life, to Himself. How wretched the is the Christian who thinks he failed to save some because he said something just less than perfect!

We must embrace the truth of Scripture, even if it goes against what we’ve learned from our favorite author or preacher. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word is sharp and, as wielded by the Holy Spirit, cuts like a scalpel, bringing healing to our broken souls. False teaching is seen as less threatening, like a butter knife. And it works the same way, tearing the flesh as it pierces, bringing destruction rather than healing. Good counsel presents the truth of Scripture; this is biblical love, even though our beloved traditions may have to be abandoned.

Many claim the gospel is summed up in John 3:16. Let us briefly examine this verse to see if this is so, as good Bereans. Here’s the verse, from the King James: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. That settles it for many, who do not stop to take note of the context or see if the words may have had a different meaning when written 500 years ago than they do today. But contrary to a popular hermeneutic which declares, “when the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense,” the plain sense of Scripture often contradicts the true meaning of Scripture and our common sense often makes no heavenly sense. The genre of the text we are reading will indicate how we are to read it: poetry and apocalyptic books cannot be taken literally, and even historical narratives are full of word pictures that must be interpreted rightly to get God’s view of His Scriptures. The Jews of the first century had common sense and they took certain prophecies in the plain sense. This caused them to look for a king like David, a man of war, and miss the true meaning of their own Scripture.

In regards to John 3:16, let us examine a couple of key words upon which the meaning of this verse hang. In English, the word “so” can be either an adverb or an adjective. We see it in verse 14: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up (KJV). Here, the word “so” is an adverb, meaning “in like manner” or “in the same way,” describing the nature of something. Many people think the word “so” is an adjective in verse 16, describing the degree of the thing that follows: God loves the world SO much. The problem with this view is that the Greek word translated as “so” in English (houtos – Strong’s #3779) is rarely used as an adjective. Strong’s Greek and Hebrew dictionary defines it only as an adverb. Houtos shows up more than 200 places in the Greek New Testament. In only four occurrences it is definitely an adjective: Galatians 1:6; 3:3; Hebrews 12:21 (houto); and Revelation 16:18. In more than 97% of the uses the word houtos is an adverb.6 Now looking back to John’s gospel, let us read a little more for context:

John 3:14-16 (KJV) And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Is there a compelling argument that John’s use of houtos changes from the common adverb in verse 14 to the extremely rare adjective in verse16? If its use in verse 16 is as an adjective, the Bible tells us God loved the world to such a great degree that He sent Christ to die for the same world He said we are not to love (1 John 2:15). Since Jesus said Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35) we must interpret Scripture with Scripture and lean not on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), even if the plain sense makes common sense to us. Our common sense is our understanding, not God’s. I do not have space here to examine “the world” and how it is used; but since not everybody at all times in every nation, tribe, and tongue has been forgiven, it is reasonable and in keeping with Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17 that Jesus did not come to save the whole world in the comprehensive sense some assert. As noted in Ephesians 5:25, Jesus gave His life for the church, not everybody in the world. And since “the world” often means a region (Luke 2:1; John 12:19), or the system which lies under Satan’s rule (John 15:19; 17:13; 1 Corinthians 2:12), we have no reason to assume this term means everyone everywhere as regards salvation, as the Lamb of God died for the redeemed, not the damned.

Here’s this passage from John 3 in the Holman Christian Standard Bible:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

This is more in line with the common use of the Greek and keeps consistency within the passage and with the whole teaching of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus. The ESV has a note in the margin agreeing with the HCSB on verse 16a.

If Christ died for all people, either hell is not a place of wrath poured out on sins (because people there had their sins paid for by the One Whose death satisfied the Father’s wrath and wouldn’t pay again) or the blood of Christ is not truly sufficient to save anyone or does not satisfy the Father’s wrath (as not everyone gets saved). Each of these consequences of that perspective contradict clear teachings in Scripture. Therefore, we can strenuously teach and believe that when Jesus says He gave His life for His sheep (John 10:11) and He gave Himself for the church (Ephesians 5:25) He meant exactly that!

If man is free to resist, God is not free to act, for He is bound by man’s freedom. If God is to be free to act, man must be bound by the will of God. … But in a fallen world, God’s grace must be irresistible or man’s will can remain forever opposed to God, and the will of the creature overrides the will of the Creator. (Arthur C. Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace)

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44) The Greek word behind “draws” conveys the notion of dragging. The gracious act of the Holy Spirit giving life to that which was dead is overwhelming; it’s irresistible, just as when Jesus commanded Lazarus, by name, to come out of the tomb. The man, who had been dead four days, responded to the call of Christ, and rose up and came out of the grave; alive again. No one can come to the Father of his personal volition; all are useless and dead in sin. No one can refuse the call of the Father; though he may seek refuge in the belly of a big fish. God’s will shall be accomplished in this grand redemptive plan of His; Christ Jesus will have His full reward for the suffering He faced on their account.

When we proclaim the gospel to lost people, we don’t have to tell them God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives. We don’t have to believe that God will save the ones we are speaking to. We have to be faithful to His gospel – Jesus came to save sinners, repent and believe on Him! His Word and His Spirit will do the work of saving souls. We are blessed to be able to participate as workers who are nothing, as Paul referred to himself and Apollos as those who planted and watered.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

As an aid in help man see the biblical case for the awesome work God does when a sinner is redeemed, theologians have developed a systematic theology (a process of taking the whole counsel of God into account) of salvation.

 

  • Order of Salvation (Ordo Salutis)

Predestination – As it refers to the elect, God did, in eternity past, chose who He would save. By default, all not so chosen are left to their sinful desires and predestined to eternal torment. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Effectual Calling (Regeneration) – While God’s choosing of His elect took place before the foundation of the world, each of us was called and born again in time, as the Holy Spirit worked by the sowing of the Word. In Mark 3:13 we see the effective call of the apostles, Jesus called those whom He selected. How much more valuable is the call to salvation, and yet many declare man chooses. Only those with ears to hear, those whose names were written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8), hear and respond to the call – our nature being changed so we could hear and joyfully answer (Matthew 22:8-14; 2 Timothy 1:9). As Conrad Mbewe put it, making sure we get the sequence right: “We’re born again in order for us to repent & believe; & not that we repent & believe in order to be born again. Regeneration comes first!”8

Faith/Repentance – The soil having been prepared, the seed having been sown, true growth – root and fruit – begin to emerge. As the Spirit of the living God gives ears to hear, so He gives faith & repentance to God’s elect only; and without fail (Mark 4:10-20; Acts 20:17-21).

Justification (Legal Declaration) – Those whom God chose and called and brought to faith & repentance, He declares to be NOT GUILTY! No, that’s not enough. He declares us to be RIGHTEOUS! Our legal system lets people off with the lower standard; God’s justice demands perfection and the earned righteousness of Christ is credited to each of our accounts, irreversible. The calling of God is without repentance; no undoing what He has predetermined to do. His will is what history records (Romans 3:27 & 28; 8:29 & 30).

Adoption – Herein is the kindness of God towards those He has redeemed. Knowing we are weak minded and forgetful, creator God adopts us into His family! No longer strangers, we are sons and daughters, joint heirs with Christ Jesus (Romans 8:14 & 15; Galatians 4:3-7; Ephesians 1:3-6).

Definitive Sanctification – That fertile soil allows the seed to sprout and put down roots and begin “above ground” growth. There will be evidence of being made a new creature in Christ. We do not have a litmus test of tongues or other gifts, but we do expect to see some evidence, as no one born again by the Spirit of God can be unchanged (2 Corinthians 5:17; Mark 4:20).

Progressive Sanctification (Preservation of the Saints) – As we mature in Christ, our appetites change. Things that used to appeal to us and draw us into sin are less attractive; the Truth of Scripture that proclaims the glories of God and sinfulness of man nourish our souls, whereas they used to repel our flesh (Hebrews 12:1 & 2; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 & 24).

Glorification – At the end of all things, we will be made like our Savior, free from temptation and unable to sin (Philippians 3:17-21).

With each aspect of this Ordo Solutis, God is the one who either does it outright or enables us to cooperate with Him in the work. There is nothing we do outright; God is the source of all good and we have nothing that He has not given us (1 Corinthians 4:7).

The Biblical gospel – one of the marks of a biblical church; and that’s what a Baptist church should be.