This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!
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.
The Temple of God
The Fragrance of Suffering
Behind a Frowning Providence, He Hides a Smiling Face
“Ministers never write or preach so well, as when under the cross.”– George Whitfield
I don’t know why, but I’ve always gravitated toward those who’ve endured suffering—far and above those whose lives are generally considered perfect.
Whenever I’m in the presence of anyone who’s been forever altered by a life of suffering, I am inexplicably drawn to them. They are beautiful and they possess a depth to their souls that causes them to stand out in the midst of everyone around them—a depth that only profound suffering can produce. Even more precious to me among those who’ve suffered, are those who understand that their suffering wasn’t for nothing, but was for a greater purpose.
In William Cowper’s hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, he penned this verse:
“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.”
A fragrance of suffering permeates those who’ve experienced great pain, loss, and trials, and is far more attractive than that of those whose lives have been defined by happy, clappy superficiality (and this is especially true when it comes to those who occupy pulpits).
Continue reading here.
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.
For Goats or Sheep?
In a previous post entitled, “Spiritual Vertigo”, I addressed three reasons why true believers, particularly in western evangelicalism, have entered a state where they have become disorientated. They struggle from week to week and from one Sunday morning worship to the next. The church has lost its balance and people are sick.
But, why or how does this happen?
Here are the reasons that I gave.
First, we fail to keep sight of the holiness, majesty, and glory of the almighty God. (Part 1 – Found here.)
Second, our vision of eternity is dulled because we become too focused on the world and what it has to offer. (Part 2 – Found here.)
Third, we become disorientated when we work harder to make the church appealing to unbelievers than we do in making the church a place for the sheep to come and find quiet waters and pastures where they can feed without the fear of wolves.
Let’s get right to a summary of this blogpost.
1. Heaven is NOT for unredeemed sinners.
2. The Bride of Christ is the manifest evidence to a dead world that Jesus Christ is alive and is coming back for that which He redeemed with His precious blood.
3. Church is NOT for the pleasure of the world.
4. Church is a gathering together of believers who meet together for teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread (communion or the Lord’s Table), and prayer.
Now we will break some of this down.
We live in a day and age of snowflakes. An overwhelming majority of people want to be offended, and there is no lack of intolerance. The worldling wears proverbial chips on the shoulder and just dares anybody, somebody, everybody to breathe in their direction so it will fall off and plummet to the ground.
Wikipedia defines the word “snowflake” as “a 2010s derogatory slang term for a person, implying that they have an inflated sense of uniqueness, an unwarranted sense of entitlement, or are overly-emotional, easily offended, and unable to deal with opposing opinions.”
Many pastors and teachers of the Scriptures today feel they are in a quandary. On one hand, they know that true believers are to obey God rather than man. On the other hand, many have not considered the price of standing for truth whether it causes offense or not. In other words, many are afraid of the faces of the people for a myriad of reasons, some of which may include their paychecks each month.
When being politically correct is more important than preaching truth, the minister who caves into the world is no longer a shepherd. They have become nothing more than a hireling.
For example, the rise of “issues” such as the LGBTQ+ movement is not a reflection of the direction the world is moving. The gross immorality of this movement has been in place for millennium. It will continue to grow more and more depraved, but we MUST expect that for the world runs headlong after all that opposes God and the truth of holiness.
The real issue is that the church bears the necessity of condemnation for its failing to adhere to Sola Scripture (Scripture alone) in all that it believes and practices. Little by little, the world kept pushing the boundaries. Pastors and church leaders kept quiet or used the phrase – “Well, whatever is done in the privacy of their own homes is ok as long as it is not done in the open.”
That was never going to be good enough, so the world continues to push. The church caved even more and now it is hard to find churches that have not openly accepted those who stand in open rebellion against God. Those who practice lawlessness moved their wickedness out of their own homes into the light of day and now have charged militantly into the church.
The militancy of this particular tiny but excessively and aggressively vocal subset of the community continues to try to infiltrate every single aspect of all that is good. What God created to be holy, they have made into degradation including marriage and the family.
Why is this important? Because the downward slide into oblivion will continue. The world will continue to make the church and God seem irrelevant. This means that true believers have just one of two choices on the shelf —
PLEASING GOD or PLEASING SELF!
What makes the situation in church even worse is that the world laughs at the church. They laugh, mock, and belittle true believers. Further, they think they are mocking God and thumbing their noses at Him. Listen to the words of King David from Psalm 2:1-4.
Why do the nations rage and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
Truly, there is a dizzying difference between the churches of centuries past and the modern, so-called evangelical churches of today.
The early churches KNEW what it meant to take a stand and to be separate from the world. The world knew they were different. In fact, Acts 5:13 notes of the world, “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.” The world did NOT consider it a light matter to join themselves to the small bands of Christian believers. They were afraid of the judgment that came from God against those who lied and grieved the Holy Spirit of God.
Today, many churches have little to no requirements for those who want to “join.” The worn-out motto has become “Come as you are, leave as you came!”
Is it any wonder that the church has no power?
Should we, who are bought by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, reduce our inheritance to nothing for the sake that we may be liked by the world? Have we truly forgotten the words of the Lord Jesus Christ that the world will HATE you because it hated me FIRST?
Brothers and sisters, the local body of believers is to be a haven of rest. It is a place where we may go to worship the God of all creation as a collective group. Will unbelievers come in to visit? Yes! Should they be welcomed? Yes!
Should we give the impression that God loves them just as they are and that our lives should be lived in a way that reflects the holiness of God? No, no, a thousand times NO!
Church is for true believers to be edified and built up in their faith. We are then to go OUT into the world to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ. As new believers are brought to the Savior, then they should be taught and discipled to become more and more like Jesus Christ.
Dear readers, you and I WILL NEVER change the church to look more like the world and find that we have attracted anything other than goats.
The joy of salvation is that the Bible makes a clear distinction between those who are lost (goats) and those who are true believers (sheep). However, the apostle John made it clear that whosoever is thirsty, may come and drink of the water of life. The gospel call goes out to the world to come and dine at the feet of Jesus Christ. Finally, the apostle Paul said that whosoever will may come and be saved.
For the church, judgment must begin with at home. We must stop trying to pacify the world and get back to reflecting the truth that we are the Bride of Christ. The Bride of Christ who is making herself ready for the return of the King.
As I concluded in the previous post, if the wonder of eternity remains dulled to us because we prefer to believe that the world holds more allure to us, then we will become a miserable failure because of a dimmed vision.
May our hearts be encouraged with a fresh look at the Savior today. May we be blessed with the recollection of all the heavenly benefits that belong to us.
Is it well with your soul?
Thank you to J.L. Pattison for sharing this poignant hymn from Sovereign Grace. The beautiful words and story that accompanies Horatio Spafford’s beloved “It is Well” still rings true today, especially for those who learn daily (and sometimes hourly) to trust in the sovereign purposes of God.
Tomorrow, we will be sharing a very special post on behalf of J.L. Pattison and his family. This dear friend and brother has been a great encouragement to our family as well as to the extended readership of “Truth in Grace” and previously on “Defending Contending.”
In the meantime, I would ask you if it is well with you? If so, realize afresh and anew that we have the privilege of coming into the throne room of grace and petitioning the Father with our cares and concerns.
Be blessed today as we look to the Author and Finisher of our faith – Jesus Christ!
Max Lucado – A Sad Demise
While many would long claim that Max Lucado has relinquished his stand on Biblical Christianity years ago, others still find encouragement in the poignant words that he has written down through the years.
However, in the shadows of what has happened with former Christian leaders like Ray Boltz and Joshua Harris, there is a serious question that true followers of Christ must ask themselves and those with whom they choose to fellowship.
At what cost am I willing to compromise?
In November 1605, an anonymous letter alerted authorities to the dangers of a man named Guy Fawkes. This man fully intended to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London, England, and kill King James the First. The plan was to remove the Protestant king and place a Roman Catholic king on the throne again. Thankfully, the plan was foiled and Guy Fawkes paid the ultimate penalty for his treason.
Over 400 years later, there are still those who seek to warn true believers of the dangers that are being faced within evangelical Christianity.
One of these is Alisa Childers.
Alisa Childers writes in her article dated January 13, 2020, about Max Lucado’s glowing endorsement of Jen Hatmaker, who openly endorses the LGBTQ lifestyle as being acceptable along with same-sex marriage. She also affirms the false teaching of men like Richard Rohr.
I highly recommend reading the entire article found at this link.
But we are not encountering anything new. Every generation of Christians has been tasked with the command to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Alisa then continues with the following paragraph from Al Mohler. Read these words carefully.
In a recent briefing, Al Mohler noted that when we look at the history of the mainline denominations being lost to liberal theology, it wasn’t because the liberals outnumbered everyone else. Rather, “In almost every case it’s the muddy middle that ends up ensuring the liberal future of the church, because those moderates are unwilling to draw clear doctrinal and moral boundaries and to make them stick. They are far more concerned with holding the denomination, the institution, or the congregation together than they are with keeping a very clear commitment to the historic Christian faith and to its central doctrines and moral teachings.” (emphasis mine)
To conclude, it is imperative that we stand for truth no matter what others may think. In fact, it is right and Biblical that we stand even when others who supposedly claim the name of Christ are willing to back away from historical Christianity and the truths found only in the pages of Scripture.
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.
Do you anticipate your Jubilee?
You Can Listen to this Sermon Here.
Much of the on-going theological debate about the Sabbath is focused on the weekly day of rest given to national Israel and whether or not it was changed in day, scope, and application in the New Covenant. But the idea of Sabbath is much greater and more significant than this, though mostly overlooked. This neglect actually ends up making too much of the day and too little of the One Who gives rest. Consider how YHWH commanded national Israel to give the land which He had given them a Sabbath rest every 7th year:
Leviticus 25:1-7 The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When you enter the land I am giving you, the land will observe a Sabbath to the LORD. You may sow your field for six years, and you may prune your vineyard and gather its produce for six years. But there will be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land in the seventh year, a Sabbath to the LORD: you are not to sow your field or prune your vineyard. You are not to reap what grows by itself from your crop, or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. It must be a year of complete rest for the land. ⌊Whatever⌋ the land ⌊produces during⌋ the Sabbath year can be food for you—for yourself, your male or female slave, and the hired hand or foreigner who stays with you. All of its growth may serve as food for your livestock and the wild animals in your land.
Note that, during the Sabbath year, the people of Israel could not take anything that was produced by plants that they had cultivated BUT they would live off the produce from those plants they had NOT cultivated – those that YHWH had provided. This reflects the same doctrine as the weekly Sabbath – rest from working to provide sustenance and trust God; the same message Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount, wherein He was describing life in the New Covenant and told people that those therein should not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? (Matt 6:25) This last sentence reveals that He was speaking of the New Covenant, where life is spiritual and eternal and IS more than food and drink and clothing. Certainly life in this age requires food and drink and clothing, and even these the Father provides richly.
So the nation of Israel was to work the land for 6 years, then give it a Sabbath rest, following the pattern and purpose of the weekly Sabbath. Throughout their history they failed to obey either of these commanded rests and their exile was directly related to this:
2 Chronicles 36:11-21 Zedekiah was 21 years old when he became king and reigned 11 years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD his God and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet at the LORD’s command. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar who had made him swear allegiance by God. He became obstinate and hardened his heart against returning to Yahweh, the God of Israel. All the leaders of the priests and the people multiplied their unfaithful deeds, imitating all the detestable practices of the nations, and they defiled the LORD’s temple that He had consecrated in Jerusalem. But Yahweh, the God of their ancestors sent word against them by the hand of His messengers, sending them time and time again, for He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising His words, and scoffing at His prophets, until the LORD’s wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy. So He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their choice young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary. He had no pity on young men or young women, elderly or aged; He handed them all over to him. He took everything to Babylon—all the articles of God’s temple, large and small, the treasures of the LORD’s temple, and the treasures of the king and his officials. Then the Chaldeans burned God’s temple. They tore down Jerusalem’s wall, burned down all its palaces, and destroyed all its valuable articles. He deported those who escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons until the rise of the Persian kingdom. This fulfilled the word of the LORD through Jeremiah and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until 70 years were fulfilled.
Israel had disregarded nearly ever commandment given them, had mistreated the poor, and worshipped the demonic idols of the pagan nations – which they were commanded NOT to do. Law incites people to sin by telling you what you may not do.
Did you catch this one thing in that prophecy: the Chaldeans burned God’s temple. They tore down Jerusalem’s wall. When Jesus spoke of every stone in the temple being overthrown, this scene where the Chaldeans burned God’s temple and tore down Jerusalem’s wall must have been playing in the minds of the Jews who heard Him. Even though YHWH had never commanded Israel to build a stone temple, He condescended to use it and honor it. Yet the stone temple, just as the stone tablets, were not super-spiritual and not everlasting; they and everything else in the Levitical religion pointed to One Who was greater than all and would make all things new.
The length of their exile was pegged to the yearly Sabbath they had forsaken. Jeremiah prophesied this, as we read in Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10-14 This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. ‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the LORD, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation… “For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. ‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. ‘I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’
This was the declaration of God – national Israel will be punished for disobedience, the land will be left without human cultivation, and God’s time-table would determine when and how restoration would take place. When the 70 years were up, Daniel prayed to God and confessed the sins of his people, knowing God would be faithful to keep His promise and return the Jews to Jerusalem. What Daniel didn’t see clearly was that the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophesy would not be fulfilled until David’s Son and Lord would complete His redemptive work. Acts 15:12-18 shows how Amos’ prophecy about the rebuilding of David’s tent was actually about inclusion of Gentiles in the kingdom of God. All of which was told to Abram but forgotten by national Israel.
Lev 25 reveals the ultimate expression of Sabbath blessings for national Israel. Release of debt, freedom of slaves, etc. I will read much of this chapter to give us a sense of the weight of the laws governing Sabbaths and the relief this year of Jubilee promised.
Leviticus 25:8-22 “You are to count seven sabbatical years, seven times seven years, so that the time period of the seven sabbatical years amounts to 49. Then you are to sound a trumpet loudly in the seventh month, on the tenth ⌊day⌋ of the month; you will sound it throughout your land on the Day of Atonement. You are to consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom in the land for all its inhabitants. It will be your Jubilee, when each of you is to return to his property and each of you to his clan. The fiftieth year will be your Jubilee; you are not to sow, reap what grows by itself, or harvest its untended vines. It is to be holy to you because it is the Jubilee; you may ⌊only⌋ eat its produce ⌊directly⌋ from the field. “In this Year of Jubilee, each of you will return to his property. If you make a sale to your neighbor or a purchase from him, do not cheat one another. You are to make the purchase from your neighbor based on the number of years since the last Jubilee. He is to sell to you based on the number of ⌊remaining⌋ harvest years. You are to increase its price in proportion to a greater amount of years, and decrease its price in proportion to a lesser amount of years, because what he is selling to you is a number of harvests. You are not to cheat one another, but fear your God, for I am Yahweh your God. “You are to keep My statutes and ordinances and carefully observe them, so that you may live securely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, so that you can eat, be satisfied, and live securely in the land. If you wonder: ‘What will we eat in the seventh year if we don’t sow or gather our produce?’ I will appoint My blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years. When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating from the previous harvest. You will be eating this until the ninth year when its harvest comes in.
Leviticus 25:39-43 “If your brother among you becomes destitute and sells himself to you, you must not force him to do slave labor. Let him stay with you as a hired hand or temporary resident; he may work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then he and his children are to be released from you, and he may return to his clan and his ancestral property. They are not to be sold as slaves, because they are My slaves that I brought out of the land of Egypt. You are not to rule over them harshly but fear your God.
Leviticus 25:47-55 “If a foreigner or temporary resident ⌊living⌋ among you prospers, but your brother ⌊living⌋ near him becomes destitute and sells himself to the foreigner living among you, or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, he has the right of redemption after he has been sold. One of his brothers may redeem him. His uncle or cousin may redeem him, or any of his close relatives from his clan may redeem him. If he prospers, he may redeem himself. The one who purchased him is to calculate ⌊the time⌋ from the year he sold himself to him until the Year of Jubilee. The price of his sale will be ⌊determined⌋ by the number of years. It will be ⌊set⌋ for him like the daily wages of a hired hand. If many years are still left, he must pay his redemption price in proportion to them based on his purchase price. If only a few years remain until the Year of Jubilee, he will calculate and pay the price of his redemption in proportion to his ⌊remaining⌋ years. He will stay with him like a man hired year by year. A foreign owner is not to rule over him harshly in your sight. If he is not redeemed in any of these ⌊ways⌋, he and his children are to be released at the Year of Jubilee. For the Israelites are My slaves. They are My slaves that I brought out of the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God.
Those who are down and out, poor and vulnerable, are not to be mistreated – because they belong to YHWH. They could be forced to work for wages but not treated as slaves. At the appointed time, the year of Jubilee, they were to be released. Jews who sell themselves as slaves to Gentiles were to be redeemed, calculating the price based on the year of Jubilee. Twice they were reminded of how YHWH brought His people out of slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand, how they are to treat people right because of their fear of YHWH their God. This was to keep them from thinking too highly of themselves and too little of one another.
Numbers 36:1-4 The family leaders from the clan of the descendants of Gilead—the son of Machir, son of Manasseh—who were from the clans of the sons of Joseph, approached and addressed Moses and the leaders who were over the Israelite families. They said, “Yahweh commanded my lord to give the land as an inheritance by lot to the Israelites. My lord was further commanded by Yahweh to give our brother Zelophehad’s inheritance to his daughters. If they marry any of the men from the ⌊other⌋ Israelite tribes, their inheritance will be taken away from our fathers’ inheritance and added to that of the tribe into which they marry. Therefore, part of our allotted inheritance would be taken away. When the Jubilee comes for the Israelites, their inheritance will be added to that of the tribe into which they marry, and their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of our ancestral tribe.”
Jubilee meant return of inheritance, land that had been surrendered according to the law of the nation. It was the year of the Lord’s favor! The nation had been given a weekly Sabbath, a 7th year Sabbath, and a 50th year Sabbath; the entire Sabbath structure was to teach them to trust YHWH for the things of this world that we need. One thing you might not know: until the early 20th century, mortgages in this country ran 7 years – because of the Sabbath land law given Israel. As part of the human reaction against everything of God, bankers thought it was smart to extend mortgages and see the size of loans grow accordingly. Houses got larger, more expensive, and took 30 years rather than 7 years to pay off. Look at how many people live over their heads in debt because they pay 30 years on a house, 7 years on a car, and 15 years on credit cards. Cars are not sold much on price any more, but on monthly payments. These terms are evidence of fleshly desires to have stuff and not to count the cost – only the ability, today, to pay for it each month. This is slavery.
Jubilee was the promise of being set free from these debts, set free from the laws that regulated Israel. Yet whether it was a mortgage that was refinanced, a car that was replaced, or another cycle of hard work until the next Sabbath, the temporal Jubilee could only whet one’s appetite for the spiritual, eternal Jubilee that would mean true freedom for the souls of the saints. When you read Leviticus, does your soul ache for Christ? The Spirit intends that!
But did Jesus say or do anything that established Himself as our Jubilee, or is this idea a theological fabrication?
You recall, right after He was baptized by John, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan. Almost immediately after the temptation, Jesus was teaching in their synagogues, being acclaimed by everyone (Luke 4:15). Then He entered into the synagogue, as was His custom, in Nazareth – the city of His birth.
He walked in and stood up, indicating He was ready to read. (Luke 4:17) The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written, in Isaiah 61, which details these Jubilee blessings and declared that His coming had fulfilled those promises! Isaiah 61:1-2 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor. Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah at the point wherein prophecy was fulfilled at that time. The latter part of verse 2 will be fulfilled when He returns to judge the nations, gather His people, and make all things new: and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn.
Luke 4:20-21 He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.”
Luke 4:22-23 They were all speaking well of Him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from His mouth, yet they said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Then He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me: ‘Doctor, heal yourself. ⌊So⌋ all we’ve heard that took place in Capernaum, do here in Your hometown also.’” Jesus was not seeking to impress or please these people who were amazed at His words; He was rather abrupt with them. He went on to recite two incidents from their history. The first was where the widow of Sidon was taken care of because Elijah was sent to her, but not to any in Israel who were in great need. Secondly was the occasion of the Syrian leper, Naaman, who was cured of leprosy while many lepers in Israel were not cured. In both cases, God had miraculously cared for Gentiles while not doing so for many in Israel.
The point was not glorification of Israel; it was the glorious redemptive plan of YHWH that Jesus was beginning to unveil before them. All the jubilee promises from Leviticus 25 meant nothing to them. This man, by His very presence, threatened their plush lives and positions of influence. And for this they wanted to kill Him.
Luke 4:28-30 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff. But He passed right through the crowd and went on His way. Again, we see Jesus focused on a mission that is not focused on the creature. Not only did He not try to impress the home crowd, He drew two incidents from Israel’s history to show them YHWH had people from among the Gentiles, that national Israel was not the end-game for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Jews hated the thought – remember how Jonah reacted when YHWH told him to go to Nineveh? And so they tried to kill Jesus. But it was not His time – His work had only begun.
When John’s disciples asked if Jesus was the promised one (while John was in jail), Luke 7:22-23 (HCSB) He replied to them, “Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. And anyone who is not offended because of Me is blessed.”
Jesus did send John reassurance but not in the way we might expect, not with words of fleshly comfort. He declared Himself as Lord of the Sabbath as His witness. He brought the age of the true Sabbath, the day of the Lord’s favor! All who are weary and heavy laden can come to Him for rest! Lord of the Sabbath – not merely Lord of the weakly Sabbath, as if that one day a week were a worthy type of rest, in and of itself. The Sabbath rest given national Israel was much more than the weekly day of rest. Even as that day has eschatological meaning, unless we see and grasp the heavy weight lifted by the entire system of the Sabbath – 7th day, 7th year, 50th year – we won’t appreciate what Jesus meant when He said He would set us free. Be not earthly minded, but set your affections on the heavenlies, wherein Christ is.
Jesus was crucified on a high Sabbath (John 19:31), emphasizing His role as the Lord who provides Sabbath/rest for His people. The rest promised in Canaan was a shadow of the rest we have when we come to Christ in faith. The relief promised in the Jubilee Sabbath was nothing more than a shadow of the rest we have when the Spirit of God raises us up from spiritual death to new life in Christ!
At the transfiguration, Peter was, in essence, recognizing Moses and Elijah as Jesus’ equals – tabernacles for each! But God the Father shut Peter up and, with Jesus all by Himself – as the One Who had fulfilled the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) – told the apostles to listen to Him! When Jesus had finished the work He had been sent to do, the Old Covenant Law and the Old Covenant prophets had finished their course and were not worthy to have tabernacles built for them along-side of Jesus. If we have a right view of Christ, we will not want anyone or anything – such as undue focus on the Decalogue – to obscure our view of Him. This is the mystery of the Christian life – we are His and He is ours!
Speaking to those who wanted to live as Jews, under the Law of Moses, Paul wrote: Galatians 3:22-26 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. Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Everything in creation is under sin’s power; the earth was cursed because of Adam’s sin. This was to preclude any boasting by any flesh, to make salvation by grace through faith all the more evident. Before Christ came, Jews were kept by the law which served as a guardian – it kept the promised seed secure and pointed them to their Scriptures and the One Who was to come. When He came, the Mosaic Law had finished its course, the type had served its purpose, and the covenant in which that law functioned was swept away as the antitype came and ushered in the New Covenant with its new mediator, new priesthood, and new law. Gentiles, who were never under the Mosaic Law, are a law unto themselves, and do not escape the wrath of God. There is no refuge for man other than Christ Jesus! No matter which law binds up the soul of man, there is only One who can free him. Call upon Jesus – He is the Lamb of God Who takes away sin! Look unto Him, trust your weary soul to Him, believe on Him. He is the Jubilee for your weary soul.
Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched
Weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus, ready, stands to save you
Full of pity, joined with power
He is able, He is able
He is willing; doubt no more
Come ye needy, come, and welcome
God’s free bounty glorify
True belief and true repentance
Every grace that brings you nigh
Without money, without money
Come to Jesus Christ and buy
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken by the fall
If you tarry ’til you’re better
You will never come at all
Not the righteous, not the righteous
Sinners Jesus came to call
Let not conscience make you linger
Nor of fitness fondly dream
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of Him
This He gives you, this He gives you
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam
Lo! The Incarnate God, ascended
Pleads the merit of His blood
Venture on Him, venture wholly
Let no other trust intrude
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good
Reviving the Complacent Church
Among the suffocating tsunami of lukewarm, sugar-coated, self-help lectures, talks, and messages that ooze like festering leperous sores from countless vapid pulpits (which exist solely to entertain the goats and tickle their itching ears), every now and then a voice pierces that arrogant, self-aggrandizing world of Churchianity to deliver a hard, sobering sermon that the starving sheep are desperate to hear and be nourished on.
This is one of those sermons.
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.
Is the gospel an offer?
Is the gospel an offer?
First, what is an offer? From Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
OF’FER, verb transitive [Latin offero; ob and fero, to bring.]
- Literally, to bring to or before; hence, to present for acceptance or rejection; to exhibit something that may be taken or received or not. He offered me a sum of money. He offered me his umbrella to defend me from the rain.
Does that sound like what the Bible describes as the gospel, something He offers up to be accepted or rejected?
After condemning the Pharisees with the parable of the tenants, Jesus tells them, (Matthew 21:43) Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit. The kingdom of God will be TAKEN from national Israel and GIVEN to spiritual Israel; God takes from one and gives to another.
Many people who claim the gospel is an offer turn to any of several places where God calls people to come to Him. In the first place, the English word, come, is an imperative – a command. When a mother tells her toddler “come here,” she is not inviting him, she’s not offering him the option; she’s commanding him. When the queen of England bids an entertainer to sing for her, everybody calls it a “command performance” because the queen issued the “invitation.” So many who call God sovereign posit Him as someone who offers and invites His creatures to come into His kingdom – as if He were less than the queen of England, less than a mother of small children.
How much more greater and grander and beyond our ability to comprehend is the Creator and Judge of all flesh? When the Lord of glory tells His chosen ones, “Come!” it is, as everyone who embraces the doctrines of grace knows, an irresistible call. When you and I preach the gospel, we try to persuade men – the general call we give (not knowing who the elect are) can be resisted or accepted. Yet our words, our persuasive speech is not what saves anyone. The Spirit of God moves as does the wind – no man controls nor is able to know for sure where He goes. And He gives life to that which was dead, and those called by God to come are no more able to say no than Lazarus was, being 4 days dead in the tomb. Jesus did not invite Lazarus to come forth, didn’t offer him another few years in the flesh. He commanded Lazarus to come forth; and Lazarus did so.
Preach the gospel to every creature, we are told. Nothing about offering the kingdom to anyone. Nothing about inviting them – compel them to come, the master of the wedding feast said. How do we compel people to come to Christ? By being faithful with our proclamation of His gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation for those who are being saved. He compels His chosen ones to come to the wedding feast.
Throughout Acts, we read of the kingdom being preached and proclaimed, not one instance of the kingdom being offered. We read in Revelation that God has made us a kingdom of priest unto Him. Of 158 occurrences of “kingdom” in the HCSB new testament, not one of them can be portrayed as being offered to anyone.
A similar survey of “gospel” shows us the same results. Of 78 occurrences, we see much about proclaiming and preaching and announcing the gospel. People hear the gospel; the gospel is confessed and presented and it is preserved. The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing (2 Cor 4:3). The gospel is established and advanced. People are called by God through the gospel. No occurrence of the gospel being offered.
Why does this matter?
If the gospel and the kingdom are offered to sinners, God is put in the position of “the anxious seller,” hoping people will accept Him. The Bible does not give any hint of God in this light. He commands the clouds where to go and drop rain, He gives life to that which was dead, He calls into existence things that do not exist.
While none of us is able to describe God comprehensively, each of us who name Christ as Lord should seek to never reduce Him in any of His attributes. God speaks and His sheep hear His voice. He needs not offer His kingdom to anyone – He gives it to whom He pleases.
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.
One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism
One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism
There are some brothers in Christ who are so focused on the local assembly of saints that they deny there is any congregation of a universal manner; that is, comprised of all the redeemed from every generation. This focus includes an emphasis on water baptism, to the exclusion of what John foretold – that One was coming who would baptism with fire and the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11).
One passage that is said to be only about water baptism and the local fellowship is Ephesians 4, where we find this: Ephesians 4:4-5 (ESV) There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
The context of this short passage should shed light on whether it is all and only about the local assembly and water baptism or if it’s about something greater.
We know that Paul’s letter to the saints at Ephesus was meant to be read to many local assemblies; it’s a universal letter to the body of Christ. In the first three verses of chapter 3, Paul stresses identity in Christ and the unity of believers – dealing with one another in humility, gentleness, patience, and so on.
And then we find this: Ephesians 4:4-7 (ESV) There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
This letter reveals Paul’s passion for all the saints to understand the unity we have because of our union with Christ Jesus, proclaiming there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. By this union with Christ we each have been given grace according to His gift.
Is there ANYTHING in this passage that hints Paul was addressing only the local assembly or numerous assemblies of saints? Is he not making much of the fact that ALL the saints share in these things, without regard to any temporal circumstances? One body, not numerous local bodies. One Spirit, not a separate Spirit for each locale. One hope, one Lord, one faith, one God and Father of ALL. This speaks to all saints in all locations and all generations. And one baptism.
Water baptism makes no one a child of God. The lack of water baptism keeps no one out of the kingdom of God.
But that baptism John mentioned, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire, corresponds to the circumcision made without hands (Col 2:10-11). This baptism is what brings enemies of God into His kingdom as His friends and children; without this baptism, no one can enter into His domain.
As much as these brothers resist and insist, there is no argument that can be made from Ephesians 4 that restricts Paul’s message of union and unity to the local assembly only. They can only make assertions in support of their view. Paul’s concern as an apostle was for the whole body of Christ, redeemed saints from every nation, tribe, and tongue. To deny this universal intent is to constrain the love of God for His people to clumps here and there, denying the communion we have through the Holy Spirit to all the saints.
It’s too small a view of God’s work and of His body.
The Nature of the Church
The Nature of the Church
Stuart L. Brogden
Greek Word: ἐκκλησία
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:
- 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.
- (not used here)
- 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.
You can’t always trust “Christian Authors.”
Below is an excerpt from the opening of the article “10 Signs The Christian Authors You’re Following Are (Subtly) Teaching Unbiblical Ideas” by Natasha Crain.
I highly recommend you visit her blog and read the whole article.
My friend, Alisa Childers, recently wrote a review of the bestselling book, Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis. It started a firestorm of online discussion about what makes someone a “Christian” author, what responsibility a self-identified Christian author has in promoting ideas consistent with biblical faith, and what harm there can be for Christians reading books that contain nonbiblical ideas.
I personally haven’t read the book, so I’m not going to comment on it specifically. But I will say I was extremely disappointed and saddened to see the kinds of comments supporters of the book wrote:
“It wasn’t meant to be a devotional.”
“She’s not teaching theology.”
“Our job is not to seek people out and hate them.”
“Stop competing! Just imagine what the non-Christians think about the McJudgies! We need to focus inward because the project within ourself is the most important work we will accomplish. Don’t use your blog to bring someone down.”
Unfortunately, such comments are representative of the lack of discernment common in the church today. If Alisa fairly characterized the claims of Hollis’s book, Hollis is promoting ideas that conflict with a biblical worldview. And when there is a concern that millions of women are consuming content from a Christian author that can lead them to embrace unbiblical ideas, we should be raising a warning flag and calling out for discernment in the body of Christ.
It’s not about being a “McJudgey.”
It’s about discerning biblical truth from non-truth…something the Bible consistently tells us to do.
Continue reading here.
Sermon: Beyond Comparison.
I am pleased to present a sermon by Matt McCullough entitled Beyond Comparison on a Christian’s temporary light affliction in comparison to the coming glory.
This was a truly timely message for me (from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18) and, I trust, for many of you as well.
The sermon is from Trinity Church in Nashville and is described as:
Paul says the problems we face now can’t compare to the eternal glory we’re promised in Christ. He says we get this truth when we focus not on what we can see but on what we can’t see. But how do we compare what we can see to what we can’t see?
Listen to the sermon, Beyond Comparison here.
When worship is no longer worship.
The Life and Theology of Paul
The Life and Theology of Paul
A review by Stuart Brogden
I was intrigued when I saw this book come available for review. I’ve reviewed this author’s commentary on Acts and was eager to see how he addressed Paul. This book will not disappoint the reader who truly wants to know the theology of Paul, which is to say, the theology of the Bible.
Guy Water’s has organized this book into 12 chapters, covering Paul’s conversion and calling by God, his view of sin, justification, sanctification, the church, and the end of the age. In the introduction, Waters points out that Paul’s life stands as “a testimony to the gospel that he preached” – even while acknowledging what we can know about Paul’s life is found only in the Bible. But considering how much of the Bible Paul wrote, and what Luke wrote about him, we have more than enough material (inspired by God!) to know Paul very well. In summing up a nice, concise review of Paul’s life, our author tells us of two ways his life is still fundamental in the life of the church today. First, God prepared Paul “from the womb to be the “Apostle to the Gentiles.”” (page 10). We should consider our own lives as having been worked out by God for use to His people, trusting Him when we are not sure of our path. Secondly, although he was dramatically converted, the man was not transformed into someone else. Since God had prepared Saul for his role, it would overthrow all that preparation if the result was a different man. God’s preparation leads to His plans being fulfilled. When we look at ourselves, we should look unto the Lord, knowing He is faithful and trustworthy to equip us and keep us.
In his review of Saul’s conversion, Waters observes (page 15), “Saul, then, would serve as a pattern or model of what Jesus Christ would do in the lives of men and women who hear Saul’s witness to Christ.” He notes that not all who hear the gospel are saved, but that those who are saved are saved in the way Saul was. I’ve made note of this myself in much the same way and think people who claim man plays a role in his own conversion would benefit from chapter 2 and the biblical evidence our author marshals.
It has been said that the basis of the Reformation was the doctrine of justification. Waters quotes Martin Luther: “If the article of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time.” (page 49) Without a clear understanding of Who saves whom – and from Whom – the Christian will tend to drift into thinking too highly of self too lowly of Christ. Waters’ two chapters on justification follow his two chapters on sin. And following justification, we have three chapters on sanctification. I have been severely grieved of late by the number of Christians I’ve encountered who consider sanctification a one-time thing that is finished upon redemption. While I disagree with Waters on his interpretation of the man in Romans 7, his teaching in these chapters is very good and concludes on the high note that the “Christian life is one of unceasing dependence upon Christ” (page 89) and “Our ultimate good is our glorification in and with Christ.” (page 99). If we keep these biblical truths in front of us, we will do well.
Since justification is the hinge point of our faith, I think it best if we make sure we understand it. Waters quotes Romans 3:21, reminding us that “Paul has labored to argue that sinners lack the righteousness that God requires of human beings. Now, for the first time in this letter, Paul begins to describe the righteousness that God has accomplished in Christ and that He freely gives in the gospel to sinners (see Rom. 1:16-17)” (page 50). He then tell us of three important words used by Paul to define and describe this gift of righteousness: redemption, propitiation, and justification.
Redemption, we are told, has a rich history in the biblical story. In Exodus 6:6 and 2 Sam 7:23 God describes “His deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt” with this word. “In Isaiah’s prophecy, God often speaks of Himself as the Redeemer of His people,” (page 50) laying the foundation that God is the initiator and author of man’s redemption. To redeem mean to buy back something, such as a slave, by paying a ransom. In redeeming sinners, Christ Jesus has purchased us from the slave market of sin; the purchase price was His life. Waters points out that Paul connects our redemption to the shedding of Jesus’ blood in Eph 1:7.
Secondly, propitiation “is the turning aside or averting of wrath.” (page 51) Our author declares, “those for whom Jesus died have not only had their sins atoned for, but they have also had the Father’s wrath averted from them. Jesus has turned aside the wrath of God from His people because He exhaustively bore the wrath of God on their behalf at the cross.” (page 51) It has been well said that we are saved from God by God. Those who are perishing will not be separated from God in the complete sense – only as regards His benevolence. They will be personally experiencing His unending wrath for eternity as their sinful human frame is unable to atone for their sin against an infinitely holy God. This is why Paul wrote that “there is, therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1) – God’s wrath was satisfied in the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no wrath left, no sin debt unpaid, for those who are in Christ!
Regarding justification, Waters warns us about some who claim “justification carries the idea of inward transformation” (page 52), as the Roman Catholic Church does. To Paul we go to find out his view, as we see it as something brought to us once as a gift, and the alternative to condemnation (Rom 5:16; 8:33-34). “The opposite of justification is condemnation. This … confirms justification as a strictly forensic (that is, courtroom) reality.” (page 52) Justification, he says, “has in view two inseparable realities.” (page 52) Firstly, Rom 4:7-8 teaches that forgiveness is complete, none of the sins of the saints are unforgiven, as if the blood of Christ was not sufficient. Secondly, we are declared righteous. “In Justification, God does not clear our account of debt to Him and tell us to start over and do better this time. We are, rather, counted as righteous for Christ’s sake.” (page 53) This is a status that cannot be over turned – not by man, devil or God.
One point of strong disagreement I have with Waters comes to us on page 55 where read that the righteousness of Christ is “offered in the gospel and may be refused (see Rom. 9:30-10:4)” Nowhere in the Bible is the gospel an offer, something that can be refused. When a sovereign says, Come!, that is a command of a superior to an inferior, not a request. The grace that saves is a gift from God, but not a gift that CAN be refused. A proper understanding of redemption reveals that man is regenerated by the Holy Spirit and THEN given the faith needed to receive the grace to believe. John 6:44 sums up the actions and sequence: John 6:44 (HCSB) No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. Note the first act – God draws, or drags, the person who is dead in sins (Eph 2:1-2) to Himself. Everything else, though it cannot be disconnected from this, follows it. Being regenerated, the sinner now wants God where he was unable to before. No one being so changed would be able to refuse God, just as one not changed is not able to want God nor discern spiritual things (John 8:43; 1 Cor 2:15). Further, nothing in the Scripture noted by Waters (Rom 9:30 – 10:4) supports his assertion that sinners are offered salvation and can refuse that offer.
Wanting to finish this review on a positive note, overall Waters does very good, indeed. His third chapter on justification rests on our “union with Christ.” The bond we saints have with Christ Jesus is essential to our salvation and our standing with God. He rightly asserts, “if we are in Christ, this relationship and all that it carries are due entirely to the gracious initiative of God. … Our unity rests on nothing in ourselves, but entirely on our Savior and what He has done to rescue us from sin and death and bring us to eternal life.” (page 68) Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us just as our sin has been imputed to Christ. We have no righteousness or merit of our own; if not joined to Christ we have no hope. But we who are in Christ have security, we “have a certain glorious future and, therefore, hope for the present.” (page 68)