This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!

Unbreakable

A book review by Stuart Brogden

If there is one foundational problem within the professing body of believers it is too low a view of God, compounded with the attending view of man which is too high. The theme of almighty God, and the implications that biblical truth has for the salvation and preservation of sinful men is woven throughout this book by Bela C. Strickland. This brother has written about the golden chain of redemption found in Romans 8:28-30, a chain that was fashioned in the blood of Christ and gives comfort to those who have been purchased by the Lamb.

Unbreakable is divided into 7 chapters which are gathered into 2 parts; plus a conclusion that takes us through verse 39. Bela’s main concern is that those who profess Christ rightly understand Who saves who so God gets the glory and the saints gain confidence in Him.

Chapter 1 is titled, We Must Know. If there is truth about how a sinner is reconciled to holy God, we need to know it! For us to have sure footing as in Psalms 18:33, we must have the right view of Scripture. Bela tells us, “To find such solid footing in the truth of God’s Word, even while the ground is shifting under our feet, we need to avoid slipping into two unhealthy, unbiblical extremes: to obsess over what we can’t know about God, or to be apathetic about what we can know about God.” (page 10) To know the Word rightly takes work. The Spirit of God gives understanding to those who seek earnestly. We cannot live the Christian life on auto-pilot. What we must know is God Himself; such knowledge comes through the Word by the Spirit.

What We Do Know is the second chapter, with verse 28 as the focus. Our author points out a very important but often misunderstood aspect of this verse: “Paul doesn’t say that God causes all thing for good.” (page 19) The passage says, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God.” This is not a promise to all, but only those “who love God and are called, according to His purpose.” Bela wisely counsels that this truth must be present in the minds and lives of the saints, especially in bad times. God will cause the worst thing you face to work out for good, if you are His child – trusting the faithful One to do what He has promised is a safe place, even if your world is crumbling. In our current day of hysteria, this is truth we must cling to.

Chapter 3 begins with verse 29, which opens with a statement that can only be rightly interpreted one way. God foreknew a people; it doesn’t say He foreknew everyone or things about them. Note this: in every instance in the New Testament where God’s foreknowledge is mentioned, it is a people, not events, that He foreknew. This knowledge is a personal, intimate knowledge as between a husband and wife; not the mere awareness of the existence of anyone. Certainly God knows about everyone and all that we think, say, and do; but He foreknew only some.

And those He foreknew, He predestined (chapter 4). Bela notes that many think God predestines people according to what He sees them doing or choosing during their lives. But the word, predestine, does not allow God to be influenced by history or the future; neither does His nature permit it. If God’s choosing of sinners for salvation was based on any part of the creature’s doing or choosing, the creature would be the one in charge! Strickland cites Psalm 139:16 in support of his view – God wrote in His book all the days He had ordained before David was conceived! If God is sovereign, the creature does not determine if or when he gets reconciled to God.

On page 46, Bela twice declares that the righteousness of God which is imputed to the elect is also “infused into” them, saying “We stand before God and live for God, in Christ, positionally being declared righteous and practically being made righteous.” I do agree that the Spirit works in us to sanctify us as we walk with the Lord, but I struggle with the concept of righteousness being infused to us – our flesh will not be made righteous in any degree until Jesus returns and we are glorified – our new bodies will be righteous. For now, our souls (which includes our minds) are being renewed daily and this the work of the Spirit.

In chapter 5, Bela reviews the call of God on those being saved (verse 30). He points out (page 51) how so many wrongly herald John 3:16 as a universalist passage, but he misses the opportunity to show the correct language behind the Greek, as the KJV is misunderstood and many translations use the KJV phrasing because it’s familiar to the reader – not because it’s accurate. In a nut-shell, John 3:16 reads more accurately like this: “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, and all who are believing on Him will not perish but have life eternal.” The Greek work behind “so” is an adverb (as in John 3:14), not an adjective; it describes the manner in which something was done, not the degree or magnitude of the action. The English word “whosoever” has no Greek equivalent. The phrase in Greek is “the believing ones.” Lastly, as Bela points out, “whosoever” does not convey ability, it merely identifies a group. He later declares, rightly, “that Jesus died for people in spite of their hatred, not in response to their love.” (page 53), citing parts of Romans 5 as evidence.

Strickland (page 58) makes an assertion that “only the New American Standard Bible and the New King James Version bring through in translation” a nuance Paul intended us to grasp. Bela says only those two translations specify “those whom [God] foreknew, He also predestined,” rightly observing that only those specific people among the masses were called. A review of translations shows the vast majority of them bring out what Bela wants us to see. It makes no sense to me to call out two translations as unique when a) the NASB specifies “those whom” while the NKJV does not include “those,” and b) the NIV, ESV, CSB, Berean Literal, NET, and others agree with the specific emphasis our author wants us to see.

Bela properly brings lots of Scripture to bear in this chapter, to make sure his readers get the message: God calls men to salvation; man can do nothing to influence this.

Justification is covered in chapter 6 and while Bela and I are in agreement here (and throughout this book), I think he brings some confusion into the topic. Again, our brother emphasizes man’s inability at do anything that can reconcile him to God. When he gets into describing the sin that afflicts mankind, Bela says, “Sin is the rebellious breaking of God’s Law” – but he give no citation for this. To break a law of God is sin, even if it’s done in ignorance. But the definition of sin is not given in Scripture as the breaking of God’s Law, rebellious or not. Many run to 1 John 3:4, which does not state, “Whoever commits sin transgresses the law; for sin is the transgression of the law.” It says, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” There is no reference to ‘Law’ or “transgressions’ in that verse – it was added by the Geneva Bible translators, and other translations (KJV, Jubilee 2000, American KJV) simply followed suit. The NIV, New KJV, ESV, Berean Literal, NASB, CSB, NET, NAS1977, ASV, ERV, Young’s Literal all agree: sin is lawlessness. That’s the biblical definition.

Bela’s case is further complicated in that in none of his references to “God’s Law” does he tell us what law he means. One more ambiguous mention of Law (capitalized in the book), page 82. “Having been justified, we can now live out His Law, rather than living without His Law.” Again, which law? There are many laws in Scripture that God gave to man at various times, to people in different covenants. Knowing which laws are for the saints in the New Covenant is critical, as people are just as willing today as they were in the first century to put the heavy yoke of Moses’ law on the backs of the saints.

The main point of this chapter is found on page 79; speaking of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:20: “His point was to stress the hopelessness of external self-righteousness for entry into God’s kingdom, as well as the hope of exceeding, surpassing, righteousness for entry God’s kingdom, which they could have.” If they were given ears to hear, faith to believe, that righteousness would be theirs. This is the message of the Kingdom: God predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies.

The last chapter, 7, focuses on glorification. In this part of the book, our dear brother shines the light on Christ, contrasting the Christian’s hope with the hopelessness of other, false religions. “If you are jealous for the glory of God, that statement (“and these whom He justified, He also glorified”) should give you pause, especially in the awareness of so much man-exalting, God-diminishing doctrine.” AMEN! Contrary to those who lift up man with emotionally stimulating talks, Christians ought to see things differently: “So, with the statement that the effect of Christ’s resurrection and the end of all Christ’s redemptive work is the glorification of fallen man (and, primarily, I would add, the glorification of God Himself), you should expect a very careful, biblical, Christ-centered, Christ-exalting explanation.” AMEN!

“The hope of being raise by God comes only with the hope of being right with God. This hope of glory is only for those from whom He has removed the guilt of sin – these whom He has made perfectly righteous with the perfect righteousness of His Son – these whom He has made perfectly right with Himself, as His Son is perfectly right with Him.” This is the truth! Our union with Christ means EVERYTHING! There is no hope apart from Him; there is only sure hope if joined with Him.

Bela’s closing encourages the reader to stay focused on Christ and the truth recorded in Scripture. “There is no guarantee that you will always feel firm.” (page 117) We cannot trust our emotions or feelings – Jesus is trustworthy, He is worthy of our devotion, worship, and service. “When discouragement is threatening to crush your spirit, you must take courage in the truth of what Jesus has done for you and given to you.” (page 118) On that note, we close – thankful for the work our brother has done in this book to encourage and equip us to do just that.

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.

 

Better than the Passover

Better than Passover

You can listen to this sermon here.

This evening, we will compare and contrast the Lord’s Supper with the Passover given to national Israel. So many things given to the Old Covenant people point to partial or final fulfillment in what has been given to New Covenant people – they are there to teach about and point us to Christ. They are intended to give us a richer understanding of how the Bible fits all things together and has a deeper meaning than a superficial read can provide.

The Lord’s Supper is given to God’s people in the New Covenant as the sign of that covenant (Luke 22:19-20), just as the weekly Sabbath was given to God’s people in the Mosaic Covenant as the sign of that covenant (Exod. 31:12-18; Ezek. 20:11-20). In Ex 31, national Israel was commanded to keep the weekly Sabbath for it was a sign between Him and them. In 1 Cor 11 we are told that the Lord’s Supper is a declaration of His victorious death, whereby He conquered sin on our behalf. While the sign of the Old Covenant could be seen and practiced by anyone, the sign of the New Covenant cannot be understood or practiced by anyone unless they have been born again by God.

The Lord’s Supper is connected to the last Passover (Matt 26:17-30), observed in conjunction with weekly fellowship meal (Acts 2:42; 20:7) Just as the Passover meal signified the passing-over of the angel of death, so the Lord’s Supper signifies the passing through death of our Savior.

The first Passover anticipated the redemption of ethnic Israel from the bondage of Egypt (Deut 16:1). The first Lord’s Supper anticipated the redemption of spiritual Israel from the bondage of sin (1 Cor 11:23-26). The annual Passover reminded ethnic Israel of the freedom from Egypt their God had given them. The regular observance of the Lord’s Supper reminds spiritual Israel of the freedom from sin their Savior has given them.

The Passover was the covenant meal of the Old Covenant (Ex 12:17). The Lord’s Supper is the covenant meal of the New Covenant. The Passover was a mostly bitter meal, reminding the Jews of their time of want and the faithful provision of their God. The Lord’s Supper was usually observed after a fellowship meal, reminding the children of God of His provision of food for the body and the soul and the faithfulness of the One Who said He would return.

The Passover was observed with family or close friends within the covenant community (Exod 12:43-49). The Lord’s Supper is observed with all who are in Christ, within the local fellowship of saints.

The Old Covenant required observance of certain religious rites for membership: make circumcision, weekly rest from work, the Passover, occasional monthly and annual feast days. Faith in God, belief in the promised seed was not required for membership – only observance of a few religious rites. Those who fail to observe these rites were cut off from the covenant community. This is termed “formalism” and it is a sign of dead religion and must be guarded against within the local fellowship of saints.

The New Covenant requires the application of one truth: you must be born again by the Spirit of God; you must be circumcised of the heart, done without human hands (Col 2:11). Faith in the promised seed is required for membership – no one can enter the wedding feast of the Lamb without the required clothes (Matt 22:12) – the righteousness of Christ! Failure to participate in the fellowship of the saints and the observation of the Lord’s Supper neglect the care of their own souls and could be cut off from the New Covenant community until such time repentance might be granted.

Jewish parents used the Passover to teach their children about YHWH and their physical redemption. Christian parents should use the Lord’s Supper to teach their children about the redemptive death of Jesus and the need to believe on Him to be delivered from sin. Belief in God and the promised seed was not a requirement to eat the Passover. Belief on the promised Seed is a requirement to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Great teaching opportunity.

If people did not prepare for the initial Passover as directed, they would die (Ex 12:12-13). If Christians take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, they may die (1 Cor 11:27-30). This is the most graphic reminder that only believers are permitted to take this ordinance seriously. As the people in the Old Covenant taught their children about the need for YHWH’s redemption from Egypt and His faithful provision thereof, so parents in the New Covenant should teach their children about their need for redemption from sin and Jesus’ faithful provision to save. Both ordinances given the New Covenant community are great teaching opportunities for those who have not been brought near by the blood of Christ; and they are great teaching opportunities for all who have been redeemed, as we each need to be reminded of what He has done on our behalf, lest we drift into thinking little of sin and of His payment for it.

See Luke 24:35 – He opened their eyes when He broke the bread. He vanished from their presence after opening their eyes of faith. This served the same purpose for these two as His ascension does for all the saints – He departed from this world to send the Spirit as we learn to walk by faith and not by sight. Pagan religions require a god they can see and handle, because they walk by sight and not faith.

Paul tells us that Jesus was our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7), showing us the Passover is not a continuing observance, but a ceremonial shadow or type that pointed God’s people to the promised seed who would save His people from their sin. The Lord’s Supper has connections to the Passover but is itself the sign of a better covenant (Luke 22:20 & Hebrews 8:6).

Jesus is our (believers’) Passover (1 Cor 5:7): Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast permeates the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch. You are indeed unleavened, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old yeast or with the yeast of malice and evil but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. The call is to remember our need of salvation, the spiritual application of the temporal redemption given national Israel on their first Passover. No room for boasting within the New Covenant except for the cross of Christ. We are called to not tolerate the mixing of Old Covenant bondage or unbelievers (those infected with malice and evil) within the body of Christ; but welcome only those who are possessed by sincerity and truth.

This ordinance belongs exclusively to the gospel age, being typified in several Old Testament passages, such as when Melchizedek brought wine and bread to refresh Abram and his warriors who had just defeated several pagan kings (Genesis 14:17-20). Even so, we who are born again by the will of God are immediately at war with our flesh, the system of the world and its present ruler. Christ gives us spiritual nourishment with this simple symbol, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, of His victory over sin and death and hell and Satan. ‘Tis a far, far better respite than what Melchizedek gave Abram. We see another reference to this church ordinance in Proverbs 9:1-6, as lady wisdom bids God’s people come to the table she has set, bread and wine, for refreshment and refuge from lure of the culture which wars against our souls.

And read the prophet Isaiah on this topic: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)

This is the message of the Lord’s Table: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

This is just one aspect of how the OT points to spiritual things. Think about how rich the entire OT is in its revelation of Christ; that was the Scripture from which Jesus and the apostles preached the gospel to the first century world.

While the Bible does not explicitly command us on the frequency, we do see a narrative showing it was an important part of their weekly gatherings, some 30 to 40 years after Pentacost. Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight (Acts 20:7). One author (Terrance O’Hare) observed: “Most commentators agree that this was a Sunday evening meeting, at a recurring gathering of Christians on the first day of the week following their normal activities and work. [Note: this was before Christianity was legal and before Sunday was a regular day off for workers.] They came together in order to break bread. This does not mean that preaching was secondary, but when they came together, they purposed to commune in the symbolism of the covenant meal as the Lord had commended and as the apostles has established by tradition.” We should no more neglect the Lord’s Supper than the Israelites did their Passover.

While Scripture does not tell us how frequently to observe this ordinance, it does command us to take it, revealing that it is nourishing to our souls, enhances our fellowship. This puts a new light on this question about frequency; perhaps the question for some should be, why don’t we take this ordinance more frequently? The commonly discussed down-side to observing this ordinance regularly is that it can (they often mean will) become routine, dull, meaningless. That was my first thought when I served in a church that took the Lord’s Table weekly. My time at that church showed me that, properly handled, the weekly observance of this ordinance is not routine, dull, or meaningless. If Christ be rightly presented, if we are put in our place of coming to Him with gratitude, in humility, aware of our not-yet status of being conformed to Him, then this simple ordinance is what God intended it to be, bringing glory to the Father through the Son and building up His people spiritually.

The beloved Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, declared, “Shame on the Christian Church that she should put it off to once a month, and mar the first day of the week by depriving it of its glory in the meeting together for fellowship and breaking of bread, and showing forth the death of Christ til He comes.” Throughout the history of the church, weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper has been the traditional practice, ably supported by the Word of God.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)

When we take the cup of the Lord’s Supper, we should remember the cup of wrath He took on our behalf. The cup we hold is a symbol of the glorious benefit of being redeemed by His sacrifice, so we thank our God for His grace while we also soberly remember the price that was paid. No small price; He drank the cup of wrath and shed His blood to secure our redemption. As we drink the cup of His peace, the New Covenant, we do drink vicariously the cup of wrath. When we eat the bread or cracker, which is broken in remembrance of His atoning death, we participate vicariously in the death He died. This is why Paul said Galatians 2:19-20: For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. This is what is real – our spiritual life. It is what is eternal.

Whenever we take this ordinance, let us seek out those within this fellowship whom we have sinned against or who has sinned against us and seek true reconciliation as the Lord’s Supper represents unity that can only exist by those indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

A Baptist Look at the Reformation and the Covenants

A Baptist Look at the Reformation and the Covenants

Baptists have historically been called people of the Book, based on a devotion to knowing Christ through His written revelation, seeking wisdom from God as His Spirit guides us.

Our charge is to be faithful to the One who called us, not to those dear brothers who went before us, some 400 years past.

May my imperfect message provoke you to dig into the Word and not be content with being a disciple of men.