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" (Psalm 24:1). 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 world in the sense of 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 He is, even now, creating through Jesus's work of reconciliation in and through His people, the church.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sprinkling for Cleansing as the Pattern for Christian Baptism

Chapter 19 of the Book of Numbers is about the rituals of cleansing for those who are ritually unclean, such as from touching a dead body. For obvious reasons, I won't quote the entire passage. Specifically, I want to point to what Moses calls "the water for impurity" (Num. 19:9, 13). This water was to be made by mixing the ashes from a sacrificial heifer into some water (verse 9).

When a person became unclean, someone who was clean was to dip hyssop into the water and sprinkle him (verses 18 and 19, "thrown" in verse 13). To fail to be cleansed in this way is a serious matter, because twice the person who fails to be purified is described as being excluded from the covenant people (verses 13 and 20).

This is the background of baptism in the New Testament, and suggests that the proper mode is by sprinkling, not by pouring or immersion. This is not to suggest that mode of baptism is a salvific issue. Rather, it is merely to point out that Baptists are wrong when they make immersion a salvific issue. Since I myself was immersed, I would never say that a person who hasn't been sprinkled is not a legitimate Christian.

No doubt someone is saying that this doesn't settle the issue. And I would be quick to agree. By itself, this argument is certainly not conclusive. However, added to what I have said before (here and here), I think it contributes to a solid case.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Who Is Lord? Me or God?

In the Garden of Eden, one basic temptation was given by Satan, leading to the Fall of Adam and Eve: "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). Satan convinced the first couple that eating the forbidden fruit would enable them to exercise divine autonomy, deciding for themselves what would constitute good and evil. God, the devil claimed, hid this from them, because He wanted a monopoly on moral truth. As usual, the temptation contained a mixture of truth and falsehood. That was certainly the intent of God, because He claims singular sovereignty over all things, including the choices of men. However, Satan also gave an illusory promise in claiming that eating the fruit would free men from that sovereignty.

God never gives up His deity, no matter what men or devils imagine: "I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other" (Isaiah 42:8, 48:11).

God's sovereignty is the very basis of all morality: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2-3). This is the First Commandment, God's declaration of His exclusive deity, the foundation for the other nine. And it excludes even a man's efforts to set himself up as god of his own life, as Adam attempted in Genesis.

In our modern age, it has become a secular orthodoxy that every man or woman has the right to choose his own values, his goals, his standards of right or wrong. We assume the right to judge truth. Right and wrong are determined according to our feelings. These are all forms of autonomy, of sovereignty of each over his life. Yet, no one, even among professing Christians, hears the echo in those cultural assumptions of the words of Satan quoted above.

If a person's words are a quote of Satan, is that not a warning that he is on a destructive path? We know that Adam was.

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:12-17).

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Jesus Expresses His Love to His Bride, the Church

"Behold, you are beautiful, My love,
     behold, you are beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
     behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
     leaping down the slopes of Gilead.

You have captivated My heart, my sister, My bride; 
     you have captivated My heart with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
     How beautiful is your love, My sister, my bride!"

- Song of Solomon 4:1, 10 

Have you ever read the Song of Solomon? If you have, have you ever heard a sermon on it? Most people reading this problem answered "yes" to the first question. But I would be surprised if anyone answered "yes" to the second. I haven't. And it's a shame, really. The Puritans had commentaries on the book, and preached on it, and used references from it in their literature. No doubt that was because they had a beautiful understanding of it as a love poem, not between Solomon and a Shulamite woman, though it is couched in those terms, but rather as an allegory of the relationship between the divine Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and His Bride, the church. Notice the terminology in Revelation 19:6-10 which makes that metaphor explicit

Song 4:1-15 is an especially beautiful passage, of which I quote a portion above. In it, the Bridegroom expresses His love for the Bride. We often talk about the love of Jesus for the church, and we should! It's a wonderful thing to consider our experience of the love of our divine Savior. The difference is that this passage isn't about our experience of His love, but rather of His experience of loving us. We don't talk about that. What is His subjective experience of love toward us?

In Solomon's words above, we can see that His love is no burden to Him, but rather a delight! How extraordinary it is to imagine that the Almighty God delights in loving us, His people, knowing what sinful wretches we are!

We see another description of this in Ezekiel 16:8-14: "When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of My garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made My vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became Mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and
anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord God." However, we must be humbled by the knowledge that the very next verse describes the spiritual adultery by Israel that dominated the rest of her history. In fact,the rest of the Bible, from Ezekiel 16 to Revelation 19 might be thought of as the story of Israel's rebellion and adultery and God's spiritual work of restoring her through the Gospel (see especially the Book of Hosea). In Ezekiel 16 she rejects her bridal glory, but in Revelation 19 she is restored to it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Yes, Virginia, God Keeps His Church Without Consulting Our Free Will

Almost any professing Christian knows the story of the Prophet Elijah, especially of his altar battle with the priests of Baal (I Kings 18:20-40). However, I have noticed something about the use of his story: while plenty of attention is given to that element, others are overlooked. Conveniently? I suspect so.

One in particular is I Kings 19:18 (see also Romans 11:4), just after the exciting part. Elijah complains to god that there is no one faithful in all of Israel, except himself (verse 10): "I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." This is a place many Christians have been, when it seems that the whole world has only abuse to heap upon us. However, God says otherwise: "I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."

Elijah cannot see all of his fellow countrymen. In particular, he cannot see their hearts. He bewails what appears to him to be the complete failure of God among His covenant people. "Couldn't you hold on to anyone other than me?" he cries.God quickly rebukes him. "Not only have I kept you, Elijah," He says, "but I have kept seven thousand others, too, to be faithful to Me."

Notice what He doesn't say. God doesn't express hope that there are others. He knows so. Nor does He leave it as some vague assertion, as if there were some, somewhere. No, He knows that there are seven thousand, and that is in Israel, the rebellious northern kingdom. And, most startlingly of all, He doesn't refer to anyone who has remained faithful because of some inherent superiority, but because He has retained them!

These words of God Himself say nothing of free will, but rather of His own actions to produce a definite event, the retention of a faithful church in a rebellious and paganistic culture. This is unconditional election and perseverance of the saints, not any antinomian concept of "once saved, always saved." We don't hear this verse preached because it so thoroughly casts down human pride and sufficiency and lifts up God's sovereign grace. And it is such a shame that the people of God are denied the assurance of faith that this kind of God engenders.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Unprofitable Servants: The Works of Men as Merit

I run into too many people who believe that they contribute to their own salvation with good works - Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah's Witness, the average American Evangelical. I'm not surprised by that belief; it is merely the remnant in us of fallen Adam, who fell into sin when he decided that he wanted autonomy more than he wanted the holiness of God.

What does surprise me, however, is that such people believe that God also credits their works for part of their salvation. They'll even use extra-spiritual language, asserting that God's grace makes their works meritorious. But it doesn't. Grace is grace, and works are works (Romans 11:6); they are mutually exclusive.

What's more, Jesus rejects the idea of merit in our works: "You also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'" (Luke 17:10).

That should be a mind-blowing statement to most professing Christians! Jesus says that, if you lived every day in perfect obedience to every command of God, then you have done only the minimum that is expected from you. You are an unprofitable servant

That's why our works, no matter how perfect they may be - and I am being extremely generous in allowing that! - cannot qualify before God as any part of justification. It can't be works alone; it cannot be grace plus works; it cannot be works completed by grace. It can only be grace alone: "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Romans 3:28, emphasis mine).

Saturday, April 1, 2017

God's Common Goodness Is No Common Grace

In Matthew 5:45, Jesus tells us, "[God] makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." This is a precious truth, that God is the source of all good things, and that He shares His gifts with all men. God is good to all because God is all good!

However, a problem arises when some people claim that God's common goodness is properly common grace. That is an idea that I cannot accept.

Consider the further words on Jesus in Mark 7:24-30: "He arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet He could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of Him and came and fell down at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And He said to her, 'Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.' But she answered Him, 'Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.' And He said to her, 'For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.' And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone."

Jesus was referring to His own comment in Matthew 15:24: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." During His earthly ministry, His focus was only on ethnic Israel. Of course, that expanded to the entire world after His ascension, but that was later. When this foreign woman came to Him, He was still in the transitional state between the Old Covenant focus on Israel and the New Covenant inclusion of all nations. Yet, the woman said, even when the chosen children are enjoying the feast, there are scraps which fall to the dogs. The Book of Ruth would be an expanded image of what she means.

The application here is the parallel between the children and the dogs in this vivid story and the children of God and the rest of the world in Matthew 5:45. The wicked, when they are enjoying the good gifts of God, are not enjoying God's favor to them, but are rather receiving the overflow from His blessings on His own people, His children, the church. Why isn't this grace? Because it is not to their advantage. Grace is God's favor, the application of Christ's merits, but that isn't what the reprobate are receiving (Romans 1:21):"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." Is this blessing for them? Not at all. Rather, as Paul goes on to say, this arrogant and presumptuous use of God's gifts brings these unbelievers to grief (Romans 1:28-29): "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice."