Monday, June 26, 2017

What Is Baptism with Fire?

Speaking of the coming of Christ, John the Baptist told his audience (Matthew 3:11-12): "I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not
John the Baptist
worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire

We often hear verse 11 quoted, especially by Pentecostals, who claim that it refers to baptism with water and baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire, which is supposed to be what they're doing when they are writhing around spouting gibberish. Notice that they never go on to verse 12, because it shows that their interpretation is merely begging the question, not the actual intention of John.

John says that Jesus will do two things, baptize with the Holy Spirit, and baptize with fire. This is what the Pentecostals try to make into one thing. However, he goes on in verse 12 also to describe two different groups of people, the "wheat," and the "chaff" (compare the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30). The first group He will gather (cp., Matthew 24:31) into the barns, that is, to be kept, while the latter group is intended for fire. Thus the baptism with the Holy Spirit is for the first group, while the baptism with fire awaits the other.

Thus, taken together, the baptism with the Holy Spirit and the baptism with fire are two distinct things, the first for believers and the second for unbelievers.

This is consistent with the rest of Scripture. For example, Paul tells us that all believers, not just some of a special class, are baptized with the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13, see also John 7:39). We also know from other passages that Jesus Himself described fire as the destiny of unbelievers (Matthew 25:46, Mark 9:42-49).

I think that this simple use of context and the analogy of faith, i. e., comparing one passage to another, demonstrates that the use of this passage is unwarranted, at best. It takes the mere proximity of two words to mean that the two words refer to the same thing. There is no glossolalia taught here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Moses on Irresistible Grace

Moses with the Broken Law
 Professing Christians are divided on the ultimate operation of salvation. Is it monergistic, the work of God alone? Or is it synergistic, a cooperative work between God and men? The former may also be called Augustinianism, and the latter Semi-Pelagianism, after the two historical figures who first entered the debate.

This conflict is addressed all through Scripture. In fact, it was the issue even in the Fall of Adam and Eve. They were promised eternal life as the reward for obedience, and spiritual death for disobedience (Genesis 2:17). The test for their obedience was one thing: the ban on eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When Satan came to tempt them, this was also the point where he applied his best temptation (Gen. 3:5): "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." The test of the tree was not about a mere piece of fruit. Rather, the test was over Adam's source of authority. Would it be God? Or would it be himself? This was also the focus of Satan's attack: "Will you allow God to determine everything for you, Adam?" That is, would authority be monergistic? "Or will you be like God, Adam?" That is, would it be synergistic? And we know Adam's choice. We also know the consequence upon his posterity: "Therefore, sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. One trespass led to condemnation for all men" (Romans 5:12, 19). While this is most visibly a reference to physical death, its real significance is to the death of the human spirit (Ephesians 2:1): "You were dead in the trespasses and sins." God created a monergistic plan for eternal life. However, Adam and Eve chose a synergistic plan, and, instead, lost that very life. That is, synergistic salvation is really a plan for eternal death, not life.

We must be thankful, however, that monergism didn't cease merely because Adam rejected it. Rather, the same God determined, without any input from fallen men, that He would monergisticly redeem men. The same prophet, Moses, reports this in Deuteronomy 30:6: "The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." Notice that He doesn't offer a new heart. He gives one. He doesn't request that we love Him. He determines that we shall. This is repeated in the prophets (Ezekiel 36:26-27): "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules."

We see so clearly in both verses that God doesn't merely offer salvation. That would be a synergistic, or semi-Pelagian plan. Rather, He completely saves those whom He has chosen. That is monergism.

Jesus saves His people from our sins (Matthew 1:21). He is not merely a cheerleader on the sideline hoping that we might be saved.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Psalm 119 on Irresistible Grace

Most people hate the doctrine of irresistible grace. And by hate, I mean face turning purple, speechless with outrage kind of hatred. And wrongly so. If a Christian understands the wickedness of his own heart (Jeremiah 17:9), then he should be humbled and gladdened to tears by a love of the doctrine, not the hatred of it.

In Psalm 119, that writer (his name unknown) expresses his love of this truth in several verses:

Verse 49: "Remember Your word to Your servant, in which You have made me to hope."

Verse 73: "Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn Your commandments."

Verse 93: "I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life."

In all three verses, the Psalmist directs His prayer to God about what He has done, or what he hopes that He will do. The Psalmist repeatedly rejects the opportunity to claim his free will, his merit, his native ability. On the contrary, in each case he does the opposite, expressing his hope in what God has done or will do in him. This is probably the background for the words of Paul (Philippians 2:13): "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

Neither of these biblical writers felt anything less than gratitude for God's irresistible grace. What is wrong with our age that people hate it instead?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Astrology As Syncretism

"I will stretch out My hand against Judah
     and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal
     and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests,
those who bow down on the roofs
     to the host of the heavens,
those who bow down and swear to the Lord
     and yet swear by Milcom,
those who have turned back from following the Lord,

     who do not seek the Lord or inquire of Him."
- Zephaniah 1:4-6 

Preaching to the visible church, Judah, Zephaniah reports Jehovah's displeasure against several pagan practices which have been accepted into their worship, a practice known as syncretism. The people of Judah were hedging their bets, professing the name of Jehovah, while, at the same time, worshiping Milcom (also called Moloch), an Ammonite deity, and looking to the stars for their security, a practice which we now call astrology.

Astrology has become an acceptable practice in modern America. No one is shocked when he sees the horoscope in his daily paper. And have we forgotten Nancy Reagan's custom of advising the US President on the basis of what her astrologer told her? Wasn't he the favorite president among evangelicals? 

Yet, look at God's reaction to this syncretism: "I will stretch out My hand against Judah." He isn't simply displeased. Rather, He is moved to act against that nation! And it was against the nation. Notice that He doesn't name names. That means that this syncretism, this apostasy-lite, if you will, was spread throughout this society of the supposed people of God. And when did the judgment come? Well, Zephaniah was written about 622 BC, just before the reforms of Josiah. Those reforms brought a postponement of God's justice. The first of three sackings of Jerusalem by the Babylonians came just seventeen years later, in 605. The final destruction came in 586.

When the professed people of God dishonor Him with disloyalty, He does not play games, as He had warned them: "You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and He destroy you from off the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy 6:14-15).

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sovereignty of God From the Mouth of a Compromiser: Balaam

Near the beginning of the Conquest, Balak, the king of Moab, hired Balaam, an Israelite prophet of shady
character, to curse Israel, in the hope that their advance into Canaan would be undermined by occult forces. Balaam is a bizarre biblical character, because, though his faith was syncretistic, and he was content to sell his gift to anyone with some gold, yet God truly spoke to him, and gave him true messages.

The story is told by Moses in Numbers, chapters 22 through 24.

However, it is on Numbers 24:1 that I want to focus: "When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness."

This is an amazing thing to see in the story of a wicked, greedy, spiritually-compromised. fallen, man of God. While he had been perfectly content to sell out his own nation, when Balaam saw that Jehovah, the God of Israel, would not cooperate, he stopped. Where he had been accustomed to using magical charms in an
effort to coerce God to his purposes, this time he forbore, accepted the judgment of God, and abandoned his heathen benefactors.

The reason I bring this up is the contrasting attitude I see too often today. the Prosperity Gospel peddlers have taught most American evangelicals that God is a heavenly Santa Claus (it is Christmas Eve as I type this), who must grant whatever materialistic demand we present to Him. Yet, this admitted half-heathen traitor to his own people has more sense: when God refuses to give him his wish, he puts aside his incantations and charms and walks away. If only the Prosperity heretics showed as much sense as they do their baptized heathenry!

In Balaam's own words (Num. 24:13): "If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the Lord, to do either good or bad of my own will. What the Lord speaks, that will I speak." No doubt that is the one thing that kept Jehovah speaking to him.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Precious Perseverance in the Psalms

Knowing my own heart, as well as what Scripture says about it (such as Jeremiah 17:9 and Romans 3:10-12), I know that my salvation has been all of Christ and none of myself. One aspect of that is my perseverance. As prone to treason as the Scripture says my heart is, how could I have any hope of staying saved for a mere hour, if it depended on my free will, my effort, or on anything at all from me? There could be no hope at all. That is why people in Pelagian "churches," such as Rome, the so-called Churches of Christ," and the United Pentecostal Church, add so many things to salvation, trying to find something that will give them an assurance of eternal life. Yet, they always return to their state of terror when their questions return: How many masses will make sure I get to heaven? How many times raising my hand? Being baptized the right way? What will give me security of conscience? How much gibbering will satisfy the wrath of God?

And the answer will always be, if you look to yourself for assurance, then you will never find any.

The author of Psalm 119 talks about where he found his assurance (Ps. 119:33-40):
"Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes;
     and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep Your law
     and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of Your commandments,
     for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
     and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
     and give me life in Your ways.
Confirm to Your servant Your promise,
     that You may be feared.
Turn away the reproach that I dread,
     for Your rules are good.
Behold, I long for Your precepts;

     in Your righteousness give me life!"

Notice the imperative verbs he uses: "teach me," "give me," "lead me," "incline me," "turn me," "confirm to me," "turn away." All of these verbs are requests that God will exercise His sovereign grace in the author's spiritual life. not once here does he make any claim to have power in himself to do these things. There is no appeal to free will. Rather, they all appeal for God to do these things in him (see also Isaiah 26:12). And that prayer is very appropriate, because it is a promise of God to do exactly that: "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).

One further point must be made here. Notice from this that the perseverance of the saints is no "once saved, always saved." No saint can find assurance in raising his hand or signing some response card. Rather, perseverance involves the working of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the truly converted. We do not persevere as a convert left as he was, but rather as the convert is changed to be more and more like Jesus. He will change the true believers in will and life, not in passivity.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Rational Epistemology: How Do We Know What Is True?

Let me say up front that logic is a good thing. I would say that God is logical, and logic is part of the image of God in men.

The problem is the person who claims that he can believe only what results from reason, i. e., the application of logic. Why is that a problem? Well, how does one verify that principle, that knowledge can only come from reason? If you use reason to demonstrate it (by which I do not mean that is possible), then you have already violated your principle by using the fallacy of circular reasoning. Reason must be verified before it can be applied. On the other hand, if you use something other than reason (not that I can imagine what that might be), then you have violated your own principle. Either way, you can only falsify the principle, not prove it.

Therefore, bald reason cannot be the foundation of knowledge. By its own principles, that conclusion is unavoidable.

On the other hand, let me return to the assertions with which I started, i. e., that logic is part of the nature of God, and thereby of men, because we are made in His image.

On that basis, I have a foundation for reason that is neither circular nor self-refuting. That is the difference between the Christian and the rationalist atheist. Not that one is rational while the other is not. But rather that the one has a foundation for his reason, while the other does not.

This is simply what is asserted by God in the Bible: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). It is with this sure foundation that all reason is possible.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Connection Between Election and the Continuing Sabbath

"Since therefore it remains for some to enter it...,  there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. Let
Paul at Corinth
us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience

- Hebrews 4:6-11

A common objection to the continuing ordinance of the Sabbath is that Jesus has fulfilled it, because Christians find our spiritual rest in Him alone. While I certainly agree with that premise, I think it is an unwarranted leap of logic to go from there to the abrogation of the Sabbath.

Note the words of the author of this epistle, quoted above: there "remain some to enter..." That is, there were - and still are - elect members of Christ who have not yet found their spiritual rest in Him. I have, as millions of Christians down through history have. However, there is an unknowable of number, ordained by God (Acts 13:48, 18:10), who have not yet heard the Gospel or responded to it. There still remains a rest for them, when they respond as they are ordained to do.

That is why the Sabbath cannot have been fulfilled, in an abrogating sense. The redeeming work of Christ has been finished, which is why the types pointing to it have been abrogated. However, that is not to what the Sabbath day points. Rather, its fulfillment is when the last believer finds his spiritual rest in that finished work of Christ. That is necessarily a progressive, historical process. And that necessarily means that its type, the Sabbath, cannot yet have ceased.

While it is beside my point here, I do not want to be taken to imply that this typological role of the Sabbath is its only purpose.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Jesus and the Continuing Ordinance of the Sabbath

Jesus made a curious statement as part of His Olivet discourse: "Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath" (Matthew 24:20). I consider this to be a reference to the chaos surrounding the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. However, my point below is even greater for those who insist that He is talking about some future tribulation.

The reason that this sentence strikes me is because of His reference to the Sabbath. So many Christians claim that He fulfilled the Sabbath, so that it has no continuing significance. They often, but improperly, cite Colossians 2:16 to support this view.

However, the words of Jesus here indicate that He, at least, had no expectation of the cessation of the Sabbath. He anticipated that Christians would still be honoring it, and the concomitant command to cease from labor, at least forty years after He spoke these words!

This sentence is a major difficulty for the dispensationalist. First, he has been taught, erroneously though it be, that the Sabbath was part of the Law, and we "are under grace, not under Law" (Romans 6:14). Therefore, his hermeneutical presuppositions make no allowance for the future Sabbath. Second, he has been taught that Matthew 24 is about a tribulation that will happen just before the return of Jesus, sometime in the future. Therefore, by his own theological axioms, the words of Jesus require a continuing recognition of the Sabbath for at least two thousand years since the words were spoken. This one sentence completely overturns the dispensational hermeneutic.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Perseverance and God's Warnings Against Apostasy

A house built on sand
God warns His people against apostasy in many places in Scripture, both in the Old And New Testaments. For example, in Jeremiah 2:19, He said to Israel, "Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God; the fear of Me is not in you, declares the Lord GOD of hosts." And in Hebrews 6:4-6, that writer tells us, "in the case of those who have once been enlightened... and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance."

Those are serious warnings. I think no one would deny it.

The problem comes when Arminians cite such verses as supposed proof that a true believer can fall away from the faith. I oppose that assertion as both unbiblical and destructive of any Christian assurance. It turns the Christian life into agony and terror: Am I saved today? What about tomorrow?

Biblically speaking, that assertion by the Arminians is exactly that, an assertion, and no more. It is opposed by so much more of Scripture. Consider the words of Jesus Himself: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one" (John 10:27-30).

But what about the apostasy references above, and ones like them? Notice the difference between the subjects in the two groups of verses. In the apostasy verses, God addresses the failures of the professing believers. But in the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, the eye is not on believers, but on the power and love of Jesus.

The difference is the object of faith, whether in my own good works or in Jesus, the only-begotten God. Consider another verse, one that is more explicit than the two I cited above: "When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die" (Ezekiel 18:24). Here the prophet defines the apostate, something that neither Jeremiah nor the writer of Hebrews did above. The apostate person is one who was confident in his own righteousness, and then falls from his own moral status (compare the rich young ruler, Matthew 19:16-22, and the Pharisee in the temple, Luke 18:11).

The Apostle John makes this distinction even clearer: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge" (I John 2:19-20). He, too, refers to two discrete groups of people. "They" went out, i. e., committed apostasy, because they were never truly part of Christ's body. But "you" are held by the Holy One, i. e., Christ. 

Apostasy is not something that can happen from Christ, because it doesn't depend on the believer, but on Christ. Rather, it is something that can only happen to the hypocrite, the one who holds up his own righteousness, and depends on that, only to find it a foundation of sand (Matthew 7:26-27).

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Our Duty to God in the Fourth Commandment, Remembering the Sabbath

In Matthew 22:35-40, we read a well-known story: "A lawyer asked Him a question to test Him. 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'" In my own church, we often recite these verses for the reading of the Law. In His answer, Jesus describes our duties primarily toward God, the first four of the Ten Commandments, and then our duties primarily to our fellow men, the last six of the Ten Commandments.

I want to focus on Jesus's "great and first commandment" (cited from Deuteronomy 6:5): "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." That is, the Christian is to love God by not worshiping other Gods, or by using unauthorized images in His worship, or by taking His name in vain. But we are also to love the Lord our God by "remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8). And, of course, it is understandable that Jesus would expect us to love the Lord with the Sabbath, because He Himself is that Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8)! 

Frequently in these discussions, someone will bring up some other words of Jesus on the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28): "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." And He certainly did say that. But what is the next verse? It is the same one (in Mark's parallel) that I cited just above: "So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." Therefore, the Sabbath doesn't exist for man as a choice for him to honor or not. Rather, it is a day in which men are freed from the world to give Christ His due honor!

Therefore, I would say that the Scriptures uphold the doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith XXI:8: "This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy."

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How Important Is the Sabbath to God?

I am not here to prove the continuing ordinance of the Sabbath, or that it is now to be on the first day rather than the seventh. I have dealt with those topics elsewhere (use the "sabbath" tag at the bottom). Rather, today my purpose is to show the value that God places on the Sabbath, and how severely He opposes the trampling of it.

In Jeremiah 17:20-22, that prophet was given a message particularly for the royal family of Judah: "Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers." I want particularly to point to Jeremiah's audience here, the royalty. Through him, God is making an argument from the greater to the lesser, or in Latin, argumentum a fortiori. That is, if even the royalty are under obligation from God to honor His Sabbath Day, then everyone else must logically also be under that obligation.

Then Jeremiah turns from who is obligated to that to which they are obligated, the rewards for obedience, and the curse for disobedience, a standard form of covenantal stipulations (Jeremiah 17:24-27): "If you listen to Me, declares the Lord, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but keep the Sabbath day holy and do no work on it, then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings and princes who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. This city shall be inhabited forever, and people shall come from the cities of Judah and the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the Shephelah, from the hill country, and from the Negeb, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and frankincense, and bringing thank offerings to the house of the Lord. But, if you do not listen to Me, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched." Prosperity and safety are promised for obedience, while destruction is promised for disobedience. And, indeed, Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586BC, so we already know the final result.

To use the language of teenagers, Jeremiah shows us that God don't play! Remember when Jesus called Himself the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8)? People treat that as as a statement to the intent of, "Don't work about it." But no, it is just the opposite! As Jehovah incarnate, Christ is literally the Lord of the Sabbath. "Lord' is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament where "Jehovah" appears in the Hebrew. Jesus is exactly the same Lord who is speaking in this prophecy of Jeremiah. Far from saying that it is unimportant, by declaring Himself Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus was telling His disciples that it was very important to Him!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Regeneration and Repentance

Peter on Solomon's Portico
In Acts 3:15-21, Luke gives us an account of a sermon to the Jews in front of the Temple. "You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And His name—by faith in His name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets long ago."

As God had planned (see Acts 4:27-28),  the Jews had rejected their Messiah and killed Him on the cross. This was God's purpose, to bring to pass the redemption of His church (Ephesians 5:25). But the perpetrators of that crime, the unbelieving Jews, had declared a curse upon themselves: "His blood be on us and on our children!" (Matthew 27:25). Yet, notwithstanding their self-cursing, Peter tells them how to escape the wrath of God: "Repent and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19). And this was no new doctrine, for it was exactly what had been proclaimed in their Hebrew Scriptures: "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool" (Isaiah 1:18).

Many people put an incorrect order to this. They suppose that an unregenerate man first repudiates his sin, and then believes in God, and then, finally, is justified. That, in fact, is impossible. The unregenerate man has no interest in forsaking sin or turning to God: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God" (Romans 3:10-11). First, God must work regeneration in the heart of that man (Ezekiel 36:26). Then, God gives Him faith to recognize a reconciled God in the redeeming blood of Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9), by which means God then inspires him to repent of his sins (Acts 5:31 and II Timothy 2:25). Note that each step is by the initiation of God, never by man: "For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified" (Romans 8:29-30).

Peter's answer to the Jews was that they needed to repent. And being knowledgeable of their Old Testament Scriptures. they know what he meant. However, even Christians today are ignorant of the Scriptures, especially the Old testament, so we don't have a proper understanding of how it occurs. It is not something which one can do by working at it. Rather, it can only be something that God works in him: "I have heard Ephraim grieving, 'You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the Lord my God" (Jeremiah 31:18). See also Acts 5:31 and II Timothy 2:25. And it is something that He promises to do in His elect: "I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins" (Isaiah 43:25).

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Christians and Astrology Mix Like Oil and Water

In my area, I will occasionally pass by houses with signs out front proclaiming "spiritual advisors," usually surrounded by symbols, such as crosses, palms, stars, crystals, etc. I also run into people online who boldly claim that they see no contradiction between a Christian profession and being, or consulting, an astrologer. After all, they proudly proclaim, God gave the stars as "signs" (Genesis 1:14).

Yet, somehow, they blank out what kind of signs (Genesis 1:14-15): "And God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth'" Notice that there is no divination mentioned here. No materialistic fatalism. Rather, the stars, sun, and moon are to give light and serve as signs of the calendar. How were pre-technological men to know when to plant their crops or move their livestock to seasonal pastures? By the seasons as marked by, not astrology, but by astronomy.

In fact, the Scriptures explicitly speak against astrology as a pagan practice (Jeremiah 10:2-3): "Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity." Not just a pagan practice, a form of syncretism, but a vain pagan practice, i. e., one without benefit! I cannot but help to point to the example of Jacob and Esau. As twins, they were born under the same astrological circumstances. Yet, as their history demonstrates, they became very different men, and their lives had very different paths and outcomes.

If the stars didn't produce the different lives these two men lived, what did? The Bible, not the stars, gives the answer: "Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls— she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' As it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated'" (Romans 9:11-13). What made the difference was election, God's sovereign grace, which chose Jacob but not Esau. Do you see? It isn't the stars that determine our fate, but God!

That is why astrology, no matter how baptized with Christian symbols or terminology, can never be compatible with the Christian faith. They are based on mutually-exclusive worldviews, one a form of materialistic fatalism, the other on an unreservedly sovereign God. If the stars are in control, then God is not. If God is in control, not only are the stars not, but rather they are the servants of His purposes of goodness (Matthew 5:45).

Monday, May 22, 2017

Must a Man Be Saved? Or Does He Get Saved?

At first glance, my title above might seem to be making a distinction without a difference. Isn't being saved the same thing as getting saved, you are probably asking.

And the answer is, No, those two things are diametrically opposed!

The Arminian betrays his Pelagian roots by claiming that the unregenerate man, every unregenerate man, starts with enough spiritual light to seek God, resulting in God's rewarding him with grace to continue that process, until he finally attains justification. In other words, the Arminian disagrees with Paul's statement in Ephesians 2:1: "You were dead in the trespasses and sins." No, he says, as Pelagius did, the unregenerate man is merely sick in trespasses and sins, not dead.

Of course, that verse is not the only one that tells us of the helplessness of the unregenerate heart. Paul also tells us, in Romans 3:10-12, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 

The Arminian hates that portrayal of the natural man, because, he wrongly believes, that leaves man with no hope of salvation. His attitude is that of the disciples who witnessed the interaction between Jesus and the rich young ruler ( Matthew 19:16-26). After the ruler leaves them, Jesus says to the disciples, "I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (verse 24). And the disciples reply as the good Arminians they were, "Who then can be saved?" (verse 25). If such a man cannot save himself, then salvation must be impossible. And Jesus agrees, that salvation on that basis would, indeed, be impossible: "With man this is impossible." However, that is not how salvation occurs: "With God all things are possible" (verse 26). In other words, Arminian salvation is impossible. But, praise God, he does not leave us hopeless in an Arminian universe.

As He promised His people through Moses, "The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live" (Deuteronomy 30:6). The preincarnate Christ said the same thing to Moses that the incarnate Christ said to His disciples: "With God all things are possible," including the salvation of hopeless sinners. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Under Grace, Not Under Law

After John 3:16, Romans 6:14 is probably the most-quoted verse in the Bible: "You are not under law but under grace." Quoted, but certainly not understood.

Paul frequently had to deal with judaizers, heretics who tried to convince Gentile converts to Christ that they had to perform the Jewish ceremonies to be really saved. Note that I deliberately refer to them as heretics, because such a teaching was opposed to the doctrine of justification taught by all of Scripture, including in the words of Jesus Himself.

It is this historical context that the verse above must be considered. Paul was addressing a life-or-death struggle over the very nature of salvation, and his insistence was well-justified: if any man, under either testament, was, or could be, saved by performing the Law of Moses, then Jesus suffered and died in vain. The saved man could properly point to himself, his own deeds, and his own moral superiority as the basis of his right to eternal life. "If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about" (Romans 4:2). But God had already said that He would never allow any mere man to take credit for His acts: "For My own sake, for My own sake, I do it, for how should My name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another" (Isaiah 48:11, see also 42:8). Rather, He says, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord" (I Corinthians 1:31). Why? Because, "Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith" (Romans 3:27). If the actions of a man contribute to his justification, then he can claim credit for himself, even if he says that it just partial. God,
however, insists that it is all by Him, zero by us.

And that brings us back to Romans 6:14: "You are not under law but under grace." Paul cannot be saying that a Christian should, or even can, reject God's Law. Rather, he is saying that the Christian must reject the Law as a source of salvation. If it were more than that, then he could not have already said, "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law" (Romans 3:31). Moreover, he wasn't even making a fresh claim, as if no one had ever known that they could not be saved by the Law. That had always been true! 

Look at the new covenant that God promised to Israel: "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [and] this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Jeremiah 31:31, 33). It is the renewed giving of His Law that God promises! "This is for Israel," someone might object. However, this exact promise is quoted for us by the author of Hebrews 8:10!

Scripture gives us good reason to reject any thought of justification before God by obeying His commandments. However, it is just as firm in denying that any saved man can despise God's Law while claiming to love the Law's God: "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Pro-Life: The Relationship Between Abortion and Capital Punishment

Moses records some very important words of God in Numbers 35:31-33: "You shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death. And you shall accept no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the high priest. You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it."

As can be seen elsewhere (such as here) on this website, I am outspokenly pro-life. That is, opposed to abortion. I have been told by some on the evangelical left that I must also be opposed to capital punishment in order to be consistently pro-life. I deny that assertion, because it fails to consider the necessary distinction
between guilty and innocent life. A preborn child cannot have ever caused any harm to another human being. A criminal on death row, however, is there exactly because he has committed some heinous act against at least one other human being.

Why is that so significant? Because God says that we are made in His image (Genesis 1:27), and to attack His image is to attack Him:"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image" (Genesis 9:6). that has two implications. First, anyone who commits murder has killed the image of God, and He takes that very personally. And second, the perpetrator, who is also an image bearer, must be treated with the moral character that this truth carries. Not only has he committed a heinous act against the image of God, but he has perpetrated an incomparable act of treason as the image of God. And logically, God says, only the taking of his blood, as he has taken blood, is proportionate both to the crime and to the criminal.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Hermeneutics of "Law" in the Bible

I often hear people refer to biblical Law in ways which are so obtuse that I wish I could unhear them. That is a gift, which God has, so far, not seen fit to grant me.

On one hand, I have Catholics and Mormons who deny justification by grace through faith alone by insisting that the works which are excluded by Paul refer not to all works, but rather only those involving the ceremonial law of Moses. "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). And it is certainly true that the Old Testament sacrifices were according to Law. 

On the opposite extreme, I am frequently confronted by dispensationalists who parrot "you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14) over and over if I say anything favorable about God's Law.

Of course, both views are unbiblical. One is an effort to sustain a works righteousness by which the believer cooperates in his own justification. The other is bald-faced antinomianism, a false view that the free grace of God means that a person can be a true believer no matter how he lives. Unbiblical and false!

The error of both sides described above is the result of equivocation. They take one particular meaning of the word "law" and use it in a different context. It is as if I said, "John is from Jamaica," and you take it to mean the island of Jamaica, when I actually meant that he is from the city of Jamaica, New York.

The word "law ("torah" in Hebrew or "nomos" in Greek) has eight different meanings in Scripture:
1) law of nature (Rom. 2:14-15)
2) the corruption of human nature (Rom. 7:23)
3) the entire word of God (Ps. 19:7-8)
4) the books of Moses (Luke 24:44)
5) the gospel (Rom. 3:27, Isa. 2:3)
6) the civil laws (John 19:7)
7) the ceremonial laws (Heb. 10:1)
8) moral law, especially the Ten Commandments (Matt. 22:36-38)

When Paul tells us that justification by faith necessarily excludes any works of the Law, he cannot be referring to the works of the Mosaic ceremonies, i. e., number 7 above, because very few of them were performed by the individual believer; it was only the priests that performed, for example, the sacrifices. And, since those ceremonies ended with the destruction of the Temple in 70AD, it would be a tautology to say that we are not justified by those same ceremonies.

Also, when Paul says that "we are under grace, not under law," he cannot mean that we have no obligation to the moral Law of God (number 8 above), because those two things are directed to different ends. Grace is the application of the merits of Christ to the elect. it is how we are justified. The moral Law, however, as that name implies, is a matter of how to live. One cannot be brought to life by a rule of life. That can only be done by grace. Once grace has brought new life, the Law then tells the believer how to live that life. It's like a car loan. That loan is the means for attaining a new car. However, the car loan is not the means for driving the car. It takes a manual to do that. The loan is the grace, the manual is the Law. They are not in opposition, as long as neither is used in place of the other.

We see this described vividly in Ezekiel 36:26-27: "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be My people, and I will be your God." The new heart, a biblical image of justification, is God's gracious act, in which the new believer makes no contribution. That is grace. The effect of this new heart is that he is now enabled to obey God's Law (not perfectly, but progressively in this life). That is sanctification.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Gnosticism: Where Are You on the Pentecostal Ladder?

In the Second Century, a heresy arose known as Gnosticism. That isn't my topic here. Rather, I want to concentrate on one element from that page: "The Gnostics supposedly had knowledge of God that was exclusive. They considered themselves superior to the average Christian." In other words, the Gnostics had a hierarchical view of the Christian community. One had to move up the ranks to gain more knowledge, knowledge that was withheld from the lower echelons. We see this in our day in the secret doctrines taught in Mormon temple rituals and the degree system of the Freemasons.

But it's too easy to point out the cultic and gnostic elements in organizations as aberrant as the Mormons and the Freemasons. I would point my finger just as surely at the Pentecostal branch of modern evangelicalism.

The Scriptures tell us that every believer receives the Holy Spirit; He comes to the believer as part of what happens to him at conversion. We see that in the words of the Apostle John: "This He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:39). John tells his readers that a change would come at Pentecost (Acts 2), in which the ascended Christ would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit (John 15:26), who, from that point, would be present in every true believer. The Apostle Paul, writing to an audience converted after Pentecost, tells them: "In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:13). He tells these Christians that they had all, past tense and inclusive of the whole church, received the Holy Spirit. That reception was not reserved to an extra-spiritual group within the church. Nor is He offered as something future, for which spiritual people were to strive. He had come to each one, a done deal!

Notice how contrary that is to the program of Pentecostals, who claim that people first come to know Jesus, and then work to receive the Holy Spirit in a later experience. Only those who have done so are believed to be living a Christian life. That is, they have created a hierarchy, just as the Gnostics did, of those who merely know Jesus, and the higher class that have also received the Holy Spirit.

That is a false doctrine, and wrongly imposes guilt on those who believe that they have failed to achieve that next level, contrary both to the words of Jesus cited by John and to Paul.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Error of Baptismal Regeneration

"Baptismal regeneration" is the doctrine regarding baptism that claims that it is essential to salvation. The details vary. Some, such as the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox, and some Lutherans and Anglicans, believe that baptism carries the power to cleanse sins and to make the person a Christian. Others, such as Oneness Pentecostals and the Church of Christ merely teach that it is required for salvation, but not that it gives salvation.

What I say here will apply to both forms.

There is no place in Scripture that says, "No one is saved by baptism." That isn't because Jesus and the Apostles didn't believe that. Rather, it was considered so obvious that no such statement was necessary. Why? Because it is faith which is the means of regeneration, not baptism: "The righteous shall live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38). By saying what does justify, they eliminated the need to specify what did not.

But we can go further.

Paul said of his ministry, "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power" (I Corinthians 1:17). How did Paul join his hearers to the cross work of Jesus? If baptism did so, then that is what he would have done. But it's not! Rather, instead of baptism, Paul's calling was to preach! See also his description of all ministers in Romans 10:14-15: "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" Since it is by faith that men are justified, the ministry requires, not baptizing, but preaching!

By this, I do not mean to imply that baptism is unimportant. We have the explicit ordinance of Christ Himself (Matthew 28:19-20): "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." But even here, He tells us to disciple the nations - that is the preaching part - and then to baptize them. Baptismal regeneration reverses that order.

The one verse that is sometimes claimed to demonstrate baptismal regeneration is I Peter 3:21: "Baptism now saves you." Sounds ironclad, doesn't it? Except that the sentence continues: "not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience." So, not the washing but the good conscience is our appeal to God. "A good conscience" is another way of saying "faith." The verse actually teaches the opposite of "baptismal regeneration," when read in completion.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sola Scriptura: The Best Defense Against Spiritual Bondage

One thing cults have in common is that they have some leader, whether alive or dead, whom they declare to be some paragon of truth. We have Ellen White, Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, an interminable list of popes, Victor Paul Wierwille, David Koresh. It is a long list, and adds more every day.

The Bible tells us how to resist even the most charismatic cultist: "Learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another" (I Corinthians 4:6). This is the Apostle Paul speaking, someone to whom the word of God was entrusted (I Thessalonians 2:13). If anyone could claim personal superiority, surely it was he. Yet, he tells the Christians of Corinth that mere men can be "puffed up." And the cure for that is not to go beyond what is written. That is, when any man claims spiritual knowledge outside of Scripture, then he is "puffed up," and is to be resisted. While he does not explicitly quote it, Paul is applying the principle taught in God's Law (Deuteronomy 18:20): "The prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die."

This is what the Reformers did, starting in 1517. As they discovered and taught, more and more, that the declarations of the popes went beyond anything written in the Bible, people were liberated from hundreds of years of bondage to the erroneous teachings of men. Martin Luther said of the fathers of the Catholic Church, "Their holiness does not make them infallible, and it does not imply that one must rely and depend on all the dicta of the fathers or approve and believe all their teachings. Rather take the touchstone of God’s Word into your hands. Let this be your criterion for testing, trying and judging all that the fathers have preached, written and said, as well as all the precepts and human ordinances that have been promulgated. Otherwise one will be easily misled and deceived. And since this polishing stone was not applied to the pope in times past, he ran rampant and covered the church with errors."

It was in the Bible, not the teachings of the popes, that Luther learned that "the righteous shall live by faith" (Habakkuk 2:4, quoted in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38). Suddenly, his conscience was freed. Having been a monk who spent hours in confession, and, yet, could find no relief for his conscience, he was transformed into a joyful Christian, who could now say, "If you try to deal with sin in your conscience, let it remain there, and continue to look at it in your heart, your sins will become too strong for you. They will seem to live forever. But when you think of your sins as being on Christ and boldly believe that He conquered them through His resurrection, then they are dead and gone. Sin can’t remain on Christ. His resurrection swallowed up sin."

False teachings have one consistent effect: they bring a man into bondage to a man or an organization. Sola Scriptura liberates a man through true knowledge. As Jesus said (John 17:17), "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Scripture points a hopeless soul to Jesus. The teachings of men will point you to those men.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Second Commandment and Images

Moses gave us this word from God: "You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 26:1). Most people, even those who are ignorant of the Scriptures, recognize this as a rephrasing of the Second Commandment: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" (Exodus 20:4).

The problem is that, as I have noted before, the Catholic Church has hidden the Second Commandment from its public displays. The self-serving nature of that exclusion is self-evident: the worst offenders of the Commandment pretend that it doesn't exist.

However, God does not allow His word to be mocked in this way (Galatians 6:7). While Rome seeks to blank out the commandment in one context, He has expressed it again elsewhere, that they may not pretend ignorance of His command. As the images in my earlier post show, Rome has erased the commandment from her displays of the Commandments. Yet, His word stands, and the honest reader of Scripture is confronted, and not just once, by His rejection of idols.

God says, "I am the LORD; that is My name; My glory I give to no other, nor My praise to carved idols" (Isaiah 42:8). When the Catholic Church calls Mary "co-redemptrix" or "mediatrix," or tells her members to pray to so-called saints, she may congratulate herself on her novelties, but God rejects them. And what He rejects, He judges: "Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord" (Leviticus 10:1-2). Notice that these two sons of Aaron did not do something forbidden by God. Rather, they did something which He had not authorized. The significance of that is that their judgment was so severe, though their action was less than the forbidden worship of the Catholic Church. If God killed Nadab and Abihu, what must the judgment against Rome be?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Trinitarian Process of Sanctification

It is common to think of the process of sanctification (I'm not referring to the instantaneous forensic sanctification that happens at conversion) as the the work of the Holy Spirit in us. And it certainly is that. The problem is that Scripture does not credit it to the Holy Spirit alone. Rather, it is a cooperative effort of all three Persons of the Godhead working in the heart of a believer.

First, it is true that we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Scripture does, indeed, say so: "According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood" (I Peter 1:2). I find it interesting that, even asserting this role for the Holy Spirit, Peter does not allow us to neglect that our salvation is a Trinitarian affair.

Next, the Apostle Paul credits our sanctification to God the Son: "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word" (Ephesians 5:25-26). See also Romans 15:16.

And Moses repeatedly shows the role of the Father in sanctifying His people: "Keep My statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you" (Leviticus 20:8).

We have such an impoverished view of the spiritual life, being unaware of the level of divine involvement that, not only has saved us, but continues to work in us to bring us more and more into conformity with the nature of our God (Romans 8:29).

Saturday, April 22, 2017

"Total Depravity" Seen in the Life of David

We don't usually look for much theology in the history books of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. They show God's dealings with His covenant people, whether for good or for ill. But, if our interest is to discuss a particular doctrine, we are more likely to go to the Gospel of John or the Epistles of Paul than we
David and Saul
are to First Samuel. And that is proper. However, that practice can cause us to overlook the gems hidden in the midst of wars and genealogies that we expect in them.

In First Samuel 24, we are in the midst of the conflict between the outgoing King Saul and the rising king-to-be David. David finds a sleeping Saul in a cave, and cuts of a corner of the royal robe. Later, he shows the sample to Saul to prove that he could have killed his oppressor, but refrained, out of respect for the Lord's Anointed (verse 10). David explains (I Samuel 24:12-13), "May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you."

I especially want to focus on the one phrase, "Out of the wicked comes wickedness." That this proverb is true is shown by its later use by David's descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ: "What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person" (Matthew 15:18-20).

This is the doctrine of total depravity. Both David and Jesus are teaching the biblical truth that we sin, every one of us, because we are sinners. Our hearts are wicked (Jeremiah 17:9)! This is contrary to the common belief that committing sins makes us into sinners. All of Scripture teaches this, though our human hearts reject it. In fact, our natural reaction to the doctrine is subjective proof of its truth!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The World Belongs to Jesus, Not to Satan

There is a common mentality that holds that this world belongs to Satan. We are merely to rescue a soul here and there, but the rest of the world is literally going to Hell. Working for change is ridiculed as "polishing brass on a sinking ship."

But that is far from a biblical worldview.

To begin with, it has never been true. The false view is based on a misuse of II Corinthians 4:4: "In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." While it is true that "god of this world" here refers to Satan, it is not true that he is a god, at all, or that "world" means "everything." Rather, this verse refers to the minds of the unbelieving world of men. Notice that his power is explicitly applied to the minds of unbelievers alone.

Furthermore, this world does not belong, and has never belonged, to Satan, or even to man, but rather to God. "The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers." The earth and everything in it belong to God, because He created it. He has never ceded its rule to anyone else, including especially to Satan. He even tells us, "My glory I will not give to another" (Isaiah 42:8 and 48:11). There are people, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and some dispensationalists, who would have us turn the glory of God over to Satan, but He allows no such sacrilege.

We do know that Satan is a dangerous threat. The Apostle Peter warned us, "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (I Peter 5:8). That is clearly intended to indicate that he is powerful. However, it is a far cry from all-powerful.

While a believer cannot afford complacency, it is not a call to terror, as if we may be consumed by the power of the devil at any moment. Why? Because Jesus has defeated Satan. Jesus told us (John 16:33), "I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." This is where these dispensationalists truly fall short. As bad as it is that they exaggerate the power of the enemy, it is a magnitude worse that they undervalue the redemptive work of Christ. Jesus hasn't merely saved a person here and a person there, while Satan wins everything else. Instead, Jesus won the victory over all the power of the devil: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14).

When anyone acts as if he thinks that Satan is hiding behind every bush, remember the words of Jesus: "Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out" (John 12:31).

Monday, April 17, 2017

Like Juice for Breakfast, Idols Aren't Just for Pagans!

In his first epistle, the Apostle John makes an interesting remark: "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (I John 5:20-21). He asserts that spiritual enlightenment is found in Christ. OK, that's a good thing. Then he asserts the true deity of Christ. That's an excellent addition. then he adds, "Keep yourselves from idols."

That warning just seems out of left field!

If a person understands the first two things, that light and life come in the incarnate Son of God, is it not self-evident that he would then stay away from idols?

Of course, the man of God has that statement from the Father: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God" (the Second Commandment, Exodus 20:4-5). And we know how well that worked out for Israel (Exodus 32). We know, therefore, that knowing the true God does not shut down the fallen heart, of which John Calvin said, "Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols."

We must be saddened by the awareness that professing Christians do little better than did the ancient Israelite. Does not Rome produce an army of idols?

Images of Various Saints

This is what John addresses, perverting our faith in the true god, Jesus Christ, by turning our devotion to images, whether we call them saints, gods, or even Jesus. After all, when the Israelites were worshiping the Golden Calf, they called it Jehovah (Exodus 32:5). Therefore, regardless of the claims of Rome, the Second Commandment isn't just about worshiping pagan gods.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

What Is The "World" of John 3:16?

Almost any American can recite John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." We see it flashed at all sorts of public events, even sports games. Just the citation, not the full text.

But who stops to consider what it means? What is included in the "world"? What God? What Son? What does it mean to "believe"? "Perish" how? What is "eternal life"? I don't mean to consider all of those questions. Rather, I mean to point out how it has been turned into a slogan, with no awareness of its content.

As can be seen by my headline, I want to examine what "world" it is that God loves.

First of all, what is it not? The fact that it goes on to talk about those who believe, we can see that it isn't talk about a world, such as Mars or Vulcan. Rather, it is talking about the world of men. It is like we might say, "The whole world watched the moon landing on TV." Anyone would understand that we are not talking about a ball of rock twirling through space.

The Bible refers often to this same world and God's plans for it.

In Isaiah 65:17, God gives us this promise: "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind." God has a plan for this world of men, this world with cancer, war, famine, and angst. It is to be replaced. He tells us more of His plan in Isaiah 66:22: "For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before Me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before Me, declares the Lord." This new world that He is creating shall be distinguished from the old one by its relationship with Him, from one person to the next, generation after generation.

The Apostle Paul explained this idea. In Romans 8:19-23, he explained, "The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons." This world around us was never meant to contain the suffering and futility that we see everyday. Rather, they result from the curse brought about by the sin of Adam (see Genesis 3:17-19). However, as God brings His people into our proper relationship with Him, to that same extent the curse is rolled back, and all of creation is released and restored to its proper state in service to man under God. How is that relationship brought about? John refers to "everyone who believes," and Paul expands this (II Corinthians 5:19): "In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." That is, "believing in Him" means being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. That is, not believing in the sense that we believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, but rather being restored to our relationship with our Creator, who has reconciled us to Himself through His only Son.

The Apostle Peter adds his own testimony to this restoration. In II Peter 3:13, he tells us, "According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." This is how the new earth, the world of John 3:16, will look: "in which righteousness dwells"!

How will this be attained? The same Apostle John tells us (I John 2:2): "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." Adam sinned, bringing God's curse on our world. However, He loved the world He made, and chose to remedy the destruction which man had wrought. He sent His Son to die on the cross to satisfy His justice for all who believe in Him. Through that and the changes that occur as a result, He is restoring the world He created.

In Revelation 21:1, 4, John continues describing us what this new world will be like: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. [And there] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." Where Adam had created a world of futility and hardship, God re-creates a new world where we will cease to know hardship or sorrow. That is the world that God loves, and which is, even now, creating through Jesus's work of reconciliation in and through His people, the church.