Justification and Sanctification

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In order to guard against the error of easy-believism (aka antinomianism) on the one hand, and the constant temptation to return to the legal mind—attempting to seek or maintain God’s favor through our works—on the other, it is of utmost importance that we continually remind ourselves of the nature of justification and sanctification as taught in scripture, and as reclaimed and heralded in the Protestant Reformation. Concerning the matter of justification (how a sinner is made righteous before God), the Reformed tradition organizes the doctrine around five main distinctives, i.e. the “Five Solas” of the Reformation. The Five Solas proclaim that one is justified by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (Sola Fide), in Christ alone (Solus Christus), for the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria), according to Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura).

Scripture, being God’s perfect self-revelation to man, is the sole authoritative basis on which we form these doctrines (Isa 8:20; LBC 1.1, 6, 10). As previously detailed, Scripture is abundantly clear that sinners are justified, sanctified, and glorified by grace alone. “Salvation is of the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9) And God’s gracious salvation is for His glory alone (LBC 5.1). Our God reserves for Himself alone the honor of being the Redeemer of His church. God alone is glorified in the merciful salvation of sinners, and He will not share His glory with another. With the corruption of our natures reaching to every faculty we possess (Rom 3:9-19; LBC 6.2-5, 5.5, 9.4-5, 11.5, 13.2-3, 15.2, 16.5), and God’s holiness being exalted above the heavens (Isa 6:1-8), we could not make a single contribution toward our own righteous standing before the Lord, even if we desired to (Rom 3:20; LBC 7.1-2, 16.5). Scripture is abundantly clear—every person whom God justifies, He sanctifies (Heb 12:14, 10:14), leading to an imperfect yet growing dependence upon and submission to Christ (Eph 4:11-16; Phil 3:8-14). These things have major implications for how we view things such as the assurance of faith, and the ministry of the church.

Solus Christus

In His humiliation, incarnation, perfect obedience to the law, vicarious death and resurrection, ascension, session, intercession and advocacy, Jesus Christ has perfectly accomplished everything that is needed for the salvation of every sinner who is united to Him through faith (LBC 3.6, 7.1-2). There is absolutely nothing to add to the utter sufficiency of who Christ is, what He has done, what He is now doing, and what He will do when it comes to salvation. Salvation is in Christ alone, from beginning to end. He alone gets the honor of doing the saving (LBC 8.1), He is perfectly suited to the task (LBC 8.2-10), and His heart toward sinners is one of mercy, kindness, and limitless, reproachless generosity in gifting us the benefits He has won on our behalf (Rom 5:8-10; Heb 4:15; 1 Tim 1:15-16; Tit 3:3-7; Mk 2:17; Mt 9:13, 11:19, 28-29; Isa 40:10-11, 55:1-7). In fact, He is more willing to shower us with His infinite mercy than even the most humble person is to come to Him for it (2 Pt 3:9; Ezk 33:11; Mt 23:37; Lk 13:34, 15:4-6; Isa 65:2). For any and every sinner who is aware of their need for His salvation (Lk 18:13-14; Isa 55:1; Jn 7:37-38; Mt 5:6, 20:30-31), and comes to Him through faith, He immediately, exhaustively, and irrevocably justifies us (Jn 7:37-38; Heb 9:12; Gal 3:10, cf 3:22; 2 Cor 5:18-21; Jn 6:40; Rom 8:1-4; Acts 10:43; Ps 103:3, 10, 12; Jer 31:34; LBC 10.1, 11.1-2, 5, 17.1-3), communicates every benefit He has purchased to us by uniting us to Himself (Eph 1:3), reconciles us to God (Rom 5:10; Col 1:22) and mediates between us (Heb 2:17), adds us to the family of God through adoption (Rom 8:15; Eph 1:5; Gal 4:4-6; LBC 12.1), and pledges through His perfect intercession and advocacy on our behalf to preserve us and deliver us (Heb 9:24; Rom 8:34; 1 Jn 2:1)—despite the malice of every enemy, including our own remaining corruptions (1 Jn 2:1-2; Hos 11:7-8; Jn 10:28-30; Heb 4:14-16; 1 Tim 1:15-16)—to the enjoyment of His own inheritance in glory (Acts 20:32, 26:18; Eph 1:9-12; 1 Pt 1:3-5); which He freely gives to us in Himself. At its heart, justification is the declaration that a wicked person is righteous (Rom 3:21-25, 4:5, 5:1, 6). And that declaration is made on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ alone, and for His sake (1 Cor 1:30; Phil 3:9; Acts 4:12; Rom 3:21-25; LBC 8.1, 11.1).

Often times in our Lord’s earthly ministry, we saw examples of people approaching Him with an interest in eternal life who did not have an awareness of their true spiritual need for the salvation He came to provide (Mt 5:1, 19:16; Lk 14:25, 18:18; Mk 10:17). To such people, our Lord gave the law (Mt 5:20-6:7, 6:16-7:12, 15-23, 19:16-22; Lk 14:26-33, 18:18-23; Mk 10:17-22)—the schoolmaster which is designed to break our self-righteous delusions and reveal our need for Christ (Gal 3:10, 24; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Rom 3:19-20, 7:13; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Deut 27:26; Jam 2:10; LBC 19.5, 6). We have many examples of this in the gospels, and in the epistles (Rom 2; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Jam 2:8-11 cf 2:12). On the other hand, His message to the helpless was pure gospel, with no mixture of law (Lk 12:32; Mt 9:2, 5:6; Lk 7:50, 15:1-7; Jn 6:37-40, 7:32-38). Salvation is 100% of Christ and by Christ; and as long as one is confused about their supposed involvement in their standing before God, they need the good law of God to reveal their destitution until they see their helplessness, and thus come to Christ on His terms—empty handed—to receive His all-sufficient supply (Mt 5:6; Jn 6:35; LBC 19.1-2, 5-7). And the moment someone comes to Christ on His terms, they are saved to the uttermost—freely and unconditionally.

This distinction between law and gospel which we see frequently in Jesus’ ministry, and in the Apostolic writings is absolutely vital to the right preaching of the word of God. This distinction was central to the preaching and teaching of the Reformers, and the Reformed tradition that formed in their wake, but it rarely finds a place in contemporary evangelicalism. This is in no small part due to the influence of the 19th century’s dispensationalism, which provides little to no theological category for how it is that many of Christ’s statements are indeed a kind, pedagogical application of the condemning law, and not gospel.

Sola Fide

Given the exhaustive sufficiency of Christ’s salvation, offered freely through the gospel to all needy sinners who come; faith, through which we are alone justified, is nothing more than an empty, open hand, receiving and resting in Christ alone (Heb 10:11-14; Jer 33:16; Rom 3:21-26; Eph 1:6-9, 2:1-10; Jn 7:37-38; Mt 5:6, 20:30-31; Isa 55:1; Lk 18:13-14; LBC 3.5, 7.1-2, 8.8, 11.2-3, 14.2). There is no frame of mind, Spirit wrought or otherwise, besides the awareness of one’s need for salvation, that is required for one to be justified (Jn 7:37-38; Lk 18:13-14; Gal 2:16; Isa 55:1; Mt 5:6, 20:30-31; LBC 11.2, 14.2). There is no reform of the heart, no fruit of sanctification, no submission to Christ’s Lordship, indeed no motions whatsoever toward loving God or neighbor (all of which are the essence of the internal and external works of the law (Deut 6:1-5; Lk 10:26-28; Matt 22:36-40; Mk 12:28-31)) that are preparatory in order to come to Christ (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17, 4:4-5; Tit 3:5; Gal 2:16). Such things will be present in the life of a believer (Eze 11:19-20, 36:24-27; Eph 2:10; Mt 7:18; Jn 15:5), but they are fruits of sanctification, and must not be held as the grounds or instrument of justification, lest we endanger the purity of the gospel we preach (Rom 3:28; Gal 1:9; LBC 11.2). The call of the gospel is for any sinner who sees their need to come freely and unconditionally (Mt 5:6, 11:28; Isa 55:1-7); and the moment one does, they are made eternally spotless before God, and counted as righteous according to the perfections of their federal head, Jesus Christ.

Faith alone, as a gift of grace alone, taking hold of Christ alone is the sole instrument of our justification, but it is never alone in the person justified, but is accompanied by all other saving graces, including repentance and the fruits of sanctification (Eze 36:25-27; LBC 11.2). The gift of faith through which one is justified is not merely exercised the moment one believes, but remains as the vital connection between a saint and their Savior until they are taken home to glory (Rom 8:23-25; 2 Cor 3:15-18; Rev 14:12). The Spirit sustains the grace of faith (along with every other grace) throughout a saint’s life, and thereby enables them to accept the teaching of Scripture regarding everything it says, commands, and reveals about the perfections and excellencies of God, and the sufficiency of Christ to justify, sanctify, preserve, and finally save us (Lam 3:22-23; Ps 63:8; Jer 31:34; 1 Jn 2:20, 27).

Sanctification

Sanctification is a monergistic (accomplished by God alone (Jn 6:63; 1 Pt 1:2; Ezk 20:12; Gal 5:6, 22-23; Jn 15:5; Rom 8:10-14)) work of the Holy Spirit, working by and through the same death and resurrection of Christ that justifies us (Heb 10:10; Eph 3:14-21; 2 Cor 5:14-15; LBC 13.1), whereby every sinner who is justified is also set apart as holy and purified for the Lord’s use. The same regenerating grace which produced in us the gift of faith by the gospel—through which we were justified—also creates in us every other grace via the same new heart (Eze 36:25-27; Mt 7:18; Jn 15:5). Through the ongoing exercise of grace by the abiding power of the Spirit, the word of Christ dwells richly in us (Jn 7:37-39; 1 Jn 2:20, 27), the depths of our remaining corruption is revealed with greater clarity, and we are further matured in our dependence upon Christ to save us (Eph 4:11-16; Phil 3:8-14; Heb 12:1-3 LBC 5.5, 13.2, 17.3). As we mature in our understanding of the depths of our sin, and the assurance of the freedom we have in Christ, the Spirit works in us the fruit of gratitude (Col 3:15-17; Heb 3:15-16; Rom 8:10; Ps 118, 7:17, 52:6-9; 2 Cor 3:17, 4:13-15; LBC 16.2-3, 21.1, 3). Knowing the kindness and severity of God, the gratitude we have through the freedom of the gospel and the assurance of faith by it is the fuel for all growth in holiness (Rom 2:4, 8:10; Heb 9:14; Tit 3:3-8; Jonah 2:9; 1 Cor 6:15-20; Phil 3:12; 2 Pt 1:8-9; Lk 1:73-75; Gal 5:13; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Rom 6:1-2, 12:1; 2 Cor 5:14-15; Heb 6:11-12; LBC 11.3, 14.2, 16.2-4). It is by this evangelical grace that the dominion of sin over us is destroyed, the corruption of our flesh is weakened, and our love of God’s law is increased as we grow in our grateful submission to the lordship of Christ (Rom 7:22, 14:17, 6:13; Tit 2:11-14; 1 Pt 1:18-19, 2:9; 1 Cor 6:20, 7:23).

Because of the remaining corruption of our flesh, which continually wages war against our souls (Gal 5:17; Rom 7:14-25), this sanctification will never produce perfect fruits in this life (Rom 8:26-27; Isa 64:6; Jer 17:9; LBC 6.2-5, 5.5, 9.4-5, 11.5, 13.2-3, 15.2, 16.5). Even our holiest works are carried out with mixed motives (Jer 17:9; Rom 7:15, 21), and can never be acceptable to God on their own. But through the mediation of our Lord, they are indeed perfectly acceptable to the Father in Him (Heb 2:17; LBC 8.10, 16.6).

The fruits of sanctification are absolutely never the grounds or the instrument of our justification (Tit 3:4-7; LBC 13.1; 11.1-2). Christ’s church cannot compromise on that point of doctrine. To point to anything beyond the open hand of faith as the instrumentof our justification is to deny the Apostles’ teaching—the teaching reclaimed and faithfully summarized in the Reformed tradition—pollute the gospel, and yield oneself to the essence of Roman Catholic heresy. The Roman Catholic catechism, quoting the Council of Trent (which was Rome’s response to / condemnation of Reformation theology,) says, “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.” Given that, as our Lord taught, the works of the law are summarized as loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, as well as our strength, and our neighbor as ourselves; teaching any sort of interior reform beyond one’s personal recognition of their need for Christ (Mt 11:28-30, 5:6; Isa 55:1-7) and the open hand of faith taking hold of Christ as the instrument or the grounds of justification is adding works to Christ, and is Roman in essence (LBC 16.5).

Assurance

The assurance of faith is absolutely vital to the Christian life. It is the primary source of our growth in peace, joy, love, thankfulness, and holiness in the Lord (Heb 12:28-29; Col 2:2-3; Jude 20-21; Heb 10:19-25; 1 Tim 4:9-11; LBC 21.1, 3, 16.2-3). The primary basis for Christian assurance is the objective person and work of Christ (1 Pt 1:8; LBC 14.3, 18.2). The essence of a believer’s assurance, therefore, is not something speculative, fallible, or merely subjective, but has its ground in none other than the invincible, living hope on the basis of the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection that is spoken of often in the Apostles (1 Pt 1:3, 20-21; Eph 1:18-23; 2 Thess 2:16-17; 1 Tim 1:1, 6:11-12, 17-19; Col 1:21-27; Rom 5:1-5; Psa 32:1; 1 Cor 15:12; Rom 15:13; 1 Thess 1:3, 5:8-10; LBC 18.2). Various internal and external manifestations of the grace of God in sanctification, the fellowship of the Spirit, hatred of sin, repentance, growth in personal holiness, etc. are inevitable in every justified believer, and can therefore serve to increase and strengthen our assurance (1 Jn 3:18-19; Rom 8:10; Gal 4:4-6; LBC 16.2, 18.2), but they are never properly considered the primary basis of our assurance (Rom 7:22-25). Nor are seasons of apparent spiritual darkness, temptation, weakness, or conscience-wounding sin grounds for despairing for those whose hope is in Christ (Heb 4:14-16; Psa 32:1, 43:5; 2 Cor 4:8-18, 7:5-6; Rom 8:22-39; Phil 1:6; 1 Tim 1:15-16; Isa 40:29; 1 Jn 3:18-20; Jn 10:28-30; LBC 17.1-3)—such dire realities making up the very circumstance we are trusting the Savior, by the promises of His gospel, to keep us through and finally deliver us from (1 Jn 2:1-2; Lk 1:70-75; Ps 63:8; 1 Cor 15:25-26; Eph 6:12-17; Jn 10:28-30; Heb 12:4-14, 13:5-6). It is nonsensical indeed for one who is being sanctified—whose hope is in Christ alone—to look inside themselves, to the remnants of very body of death they’re being set free from, and thereby doubt the grace of God in Christ that is reaching down from outside of themselves through faith; from the One who is seated in the heavenly places. Instead, being prone to doubts, fear, and the remaining corruption of sin within us (LBC 6.2-5, 5.5, 9.4-5, 11.5, 13.2-3, 15.2, 16.5, 17.1-3), believers should continually be encouraged by the ordinary means of the ministry of the church to look outside of ourselves and rest in Christ (1 Jn 2:1-2; Heb 4:14-16, 13:5-6; Phil 1:6; 1 Tim 1:15-16; LBC 18.2-4, 11.2, 13.1). Trusting, as we do, in an all-sufficient Savior, may the cry of the Reformers—“Extra Nos!” (outside ourselves)—be our cry as well.

The Christian life as presented in the Scriptures is not one of endless fruit-hunting to either prove or disprove the genuineness of our faith. The handful of passages that encourage self-examination are being taken out of context and misinterpreted any time they are used to normalize morbid introspection (1 John 1:6-7, 2:3-6, 9-11, 15-17, 22-24, 28-29, 3:6-10, 14-15, 4:5-6, 7-8, 5:2 cf 1 Jn 1:1-4, 7-2:2, 12-14, 25-27, 3:1-3, 16-24, 4:4, 9-19, 5:11-20; 1 Corinthians 11:27-31 cf 11:20-22, 32; 2 Corinthians 13:5 cf 12:19, 13:3-4) in spite of the overwhelming message of the Scriptures—that the object of our faith is someone / something that has occurred outside of ourselves, and that our salvation is began, kept, and will be consummated by that external person. The objective person and work of Christ is sufficient to save, and He is the only sure and effectual anchor for our souls from the beginning of our salvation into eternity (Heb 6:16-20, 9:24). We must be careful to walk in the fear of God in the freedom of our union with the all-sufficient Christ—who is seated in the heavenly places (Rom 8:10; Heb 1:3, 8:1; Acts 7:55; Col 3:1; Eph 2:6)—and continually encourage our fellow brothers and sisters, in the course of our lives in the church, to do the same.

Implications for the Church

Given the sufficiency of Christ, the free nature of grace through faith, the inevitability of sanctification by means of gospel-gratitude, the vital nature of our objective assurance, and the world’s and our flesh’s continual tendency to contradict, deny, forget, and minimize these realities—the church must be, as the Scriptures demonstrate, a gospel-saturated refuge for weary pilgrims (Rev 1:6; 1 Pt 2:9; Rom 1:6-7; 1 Cor 1:2-9; 2 Cor 1:5-7; Gal 1:3-5; Eph 1-3; Phil 1:3-11; Col 1:2-3:11; 1 Thess 1:1-10; 1 Tim 1:15, 1 Pt 1:1-25; 2 Pt 1:1-21; 1 Jn 1:1-4; 2 Jn 1-3; Jude 1-3; Rev 1:1-8). Christ must be the center of everything we are about in the church; and feeding Him to the flock is the biblical goal of every gathering (Eph 4:15-16; Col 3:1, 16-18; LBC 22.1-2). Curving the saints’ focus inward on themselves, failing to give them the law lawfully (1 Tim 1:8-11; Gal 5:13-14; Lk 17:10; Job 35:5-8; LBC 19.5-7) and the gospel purely (Rom 3:21-26; LBC 20.1-2, 4), and neglecting the duty to give the people Christ in favor of any other pursuit is a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the Elders (1 Tim 1:3-4; LBC 22:2). As the Reformers faithfully and enthusiastically affirmed—Scripture points us outside of ourselves to the sufficiency of Christ (Col 3:1; Rev 1:6; 1 Pt 2:9; LBC 8.1-5, 9-10); and therefore the primary goal of every biblical church service is to do the same.

Being made in the image of God after our forefather Adam—the man who was created to earn God’s favor by his works (Gen 2:7-17, 3:22, 24; Hos 6:7; Rom 3:23 cf Heb 2:10; 1 Cor 15:45; LBC 4.2, 7.3, 19.1-2); grace is exceedingly alien and unnatural to mankind. The world and indeed our own flesh battles constantly to return us to a legal mind; and therefore back into slavery to sin (Rom 6:14, 7:5, 7-13). The bold claim of the Scriptures is that being brought out of ourselves, fixed upon the grace of God in Christ, and set free from the condemnation of the law, we are by those means actually enabled to do real works of love—the love which fulfills the very law whose condemnation we’re set free from in Christ (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; Jam 2:8, 12; Tit 3:3-8; LBC 16.2-3, 21.1, 3). The church, then, is where we gather to have our focus reset by the pure Word, the ordinances, prayer, and the fellowship and correction of the body—to have our souls put back to rest in Christ, our hearts refreshed in His love, and our minds renewed so that we might go back into the turmoil of the world full of gratitude, ready to love our neighbors as adopted sons and daughters of God (Rom 12:2, 8:15-17, Eph 1:5-6; Tit 3:3-8; 1 Jn 3:1; Eph 2:10).

But as Paul rhetorically asked in response to his teaching of these gospel truths across the first 5 chapters of Romans, will this free grace not cause people to adopt the mindset: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may increase?” (Rom 6:1) His answer is our answer—“May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:2) The gospel, rightly understood, renders such a proposition nonsensical to those who are being sanctified (Rom 6:1-14). And such persons are the body of Christ (1 Cor 1:2; Eph 5:23-32; 1 Tim 3:15; Heb 12:23 LBC 26.1-2, 6)—the ones whom the church was instituted to call, disciple, and sustain (Jn 21:15-17)! As Christ promised, there will inevitably be tares among the wheat (Mt 13:25-26, 38-39); but as He also instructed we are not to take it as our mission to weed them out (Mt 13:28-30)—artificially fencing the free grace of God in gospel ministry—lest we starve the flock and thereby tear the wheat up with the tares! The local church, when biblically constituted (Jer 31:31-34; Mt 28:18-20; Acts 2:41-42; 1 Cor 1:2; Eph 5:23-32; 1 Tim 3:15; Heb 12:23), is made up of visible saints (LBC 26.2, 6); and biblical gospel ministry ministers the free grace of the gospel accordingly—freely feeding the riches of Christ to the flock according to the Scriptures. As Jesus instructed, He will see to the tares in the time of the harvest (Mt 13:30, 39-42). And in the meantime, if the He so chooses, He will expose the deeds of any who might continue in obstinate sin (Num 32:23), and through the church’s obedience to the command to discipline her members; they will either be restored to repentance, or the credibility of their profession to be a visible saint will be negated by the church (Tit 3:10-11; 1 Tim 5:8; 1 Cor 5:3-5, 11-13; 2 Thess 3:6; Mt 16:19, 18:18-20; 2 Jn 10-11), and she will obediently purify herself by removing them from membership in the hope that they will some day be restored (Mt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5:9-13; 1 Tim 1:20; 2 Thess 3:14-15). Either way, we must be faithful to proclaim the sufficiency of Christ, and the freedom of the gift of salvation in Him (because the Scriptures command it, and the health and sustenance of the saints depends on it!), and trust Christ to grow, prune, and preserve His church; and to purify her (LBC 5.7)—whether in this age or in the harvest—of any who might secretly or publicly misuse the good news and the church (Jude 4); which He has established as the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).

Kiss the Wave

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[By Ashley Baird]

“I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of Ages.”

-C.H. Spurgeon

Life can be like the ocean. Sometimes it’s peaceful and calm, and other times it is full of turbulent waves that come crashing against us.

It’s hard for us to share struggles and trials that go on during the stormy seasons of our life. Especially in the days we live in, where even in the church there is an expectation that we are supposed to have everything together, and that life is blissful and happy all the time. But the truth is, it’s not…and we’re being dishonest with the world and ourselves when we pretend it is. In fact, those of us in Christ are promised trials, but we are also promised that He will not leave us nor forsake us. It’s through these trials that we can be beacons of God’s grace and glory to this lost world and the believers around us.

I’ve struggled and prayed about whether I should write or say anything, but friends and family keep messaging and texting asking how things are going or asking if something is wrong, so I know it’s time.

Timothy and I have walked through many turbulent waves of life throughout our almost 9 years of marriage, but nothing quite like what we are traveling right now. There is grief, many questions, and many opportunities to trust God.

Two months ago, our family embarked on a long prayed-for Journey. We were so excited to see the Lord working! Timothy was being called to pastor a church, we were moving to a new town, making new friends, and so ready and excited to begin serving.

Then, several weeks into our ministry there, we were asked to leave.

This request was not for anything Immoral, or even Unbiblical, but because of a preference.

Timothy’s conviction is that the Pulpit is used to carefully and clearly explain the Word of God, applying it to the Church, and exhorting them to Love and Obey Christ as a response. He does this by taking a passage of Scripture, and making the point of the message whatever the point of that passage is. That is what preaching the Word of God is, and that was the main issue that was brought against us.

Another was the fact that we believe in the Doctrines of Grace. We shared our beliefs about this in our meetings before we came, and were told it was fine since any mention of them would be carefully explained as he preached the Word. We assured them we would not be promoting a “label” as labels are divisive. But after some time went by some members decided they were not okay with this, in spite of the fact that nothing about the doctrines of grace had come up in any of Timothy’s teaching. (If you don’t know what I mean by the “Doctrines of Grace”, I put a link in the comments.)

Being asked to resign was something we needed to consider carefully, so we took some time to really pray and think things through. We sought counsel from other pastors and our dads, who are both pastors, as well. We prayed and desperately asked the Lord for wisdom. In the end, for the sake of preserving the unity of the church, we felt the best thing would be for Timothy to resign.

Many in our new church were so warm and friendly, and welcomed us with open arms, not aware of what was happening. We are so grateful for their friendship, support and prayers during this time.

The last few weeks have really been difficult. We’ve grieved in so many ways; the waves of emotions randomly hitting. One day I think I’m fine, but the next day I’m hit with a flood of tears. Moving is exhausting and having to plan another move after just a few weeks of starting to unpack is even harder. Trying to do school while unpacking and then having to repack is hard. Living in a town where you know you are not wanted is hard. Having to say goodbye to precious new friends is even harder!

Yet through all of this, God is Good.

“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.” John 16:33

We serve a big God who designs any trial we face in this world for His Glory and for our good.

Even through the tears, the pain and the questions, His Peace has been our strength.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 ESV

John Piper said it so well, “Sooner or later, every sorrow, every pain, every disappointment, and every loss will work together for good.” (See Romans 8:28)

So even though we may not understand right now, we trust Him that it is for His glory and for our good.

Please keep this church in your prayers. That the Lord would make Himself known there in a very real way. That Christ and his word would be exalted above all.

Please keep our family in your prayers.

For healing for our hearts, health and strength as we prepare for another move, and provision during these next few weeks. For protection over our children’s hearts from all the life changes over the last few months as well as what’s to come. For a new job, (at this point Timothy has been looking for any type of job) , and we also need a new place to live in the next 5 weeks. Please pray for wisdom as we are seeking the Lord on what the next step is for our family.

We are so grateful for all the support and prayers of our family and many friends during this time. We hope and pray that many are encouraged as they hear of the Lord’s faithfulness in our lives and that it will cause you to seek Him more in your daily life. Through the Joys of life and through the struggles. For He is worthy.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” 2 Cor 4:16 & 17

Confessing Christ in the Midst of Error—A Greek Exegesis of 1 John 5:18-21

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Corporate Confession of 1 john 5:18-21

The Big Idea

Context

The recipients of John’s first epistle were apparently dealing with false teaching that had been the cause of major turmoil in the recipients’ church(es). This schism over the person and work of Christ apparently went so deep that the false teachers ended up seceding from the church. John has spent the last five chapters both correcting these errors and painting a portrait of a true believer. His aim was both to inform his recipients regarding the nature of the true church and to provide comfort and assurance to the regenerate in light of the terrifying implications of persisting in heresy (5:13).

In the immediate context (5:16-17), John has just instructed the recipients to pray for a brother committing a sin not leading to death (ἁμαρτίαν μὴ πρὸς θάνατον). On the other hand, there is a sin leading to death (ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον), and they are not to pray for someone who is committing such a sin.

Main Idea of Passage

On the heels of that heavy truth, John ends his epistle with a vital and comforting corporate confession of faith. 1 John 5:18-21 presents the recipients with a series of three corporate confessions, all marked by the triumphant affirmation, “We know that…” (1 Jn 5:18, 19, 20; οἴδαμεν ὅτι). The content of this confession is a glorious affirmation of the essentials of the Christian faith. In this text, we confess the deity of Christ, His advent and prophetic role of revealing the Father to us, our union with Him, and Christ’s preserving work in the life of the believer. The passage (and the whole epistle) is ended with one last exhortation to stay faithful to this confession contrary to the heretical affirmations and denials of the false teachers in their midst.

Textual Analysis

The passage opens the first affirmation with the first of three uses of the phrase, “οἴδαμεν ὅτι”. The first person plural “οἴδαμεν” functions in all its three occurrences to include the recipients with the author in affirming the truths that bind them together as apostolic Christians. Marshall makes the case that the use of the perfect active indicative emphasizes a state of knowledge, as opposed to the process of coming to know something.1 These are things that, as born again believers, John and his recipients know for certain.

The affirmation of verse 18 is that no one who has been born of God sins, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one cannot touch him. I believe both genitive phrases are genitives of source, focusing on our identity as new creations of God. As is apparent from my translation above, I take the phrase, “ἀλλ’ ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ τηρεῖ ἑαυτόν,” ([NA28]) to identify Jesus as the One who was born of God, and as the One who keeps everyone who has been born of God. This translation is based on a variant, which reads ἀυτον in the place of the ἑαυτόν adopted in the [NA28]. Marshall, Kruse, Yarbrough, and Baugh all agree that the variant ἀυτον is probably the original reading.2345 The witnesses to this variant are found in A* B 1852 latt. The reflexive element of ἑαυτόν is part of what makes it unlikely to have been original. Given that reading, the passage would be saying that Christians do not sin because they keep themselves and the evil one cannot touch them. While the concept of watchfulness is not foreign to Scripture, such a theme does not seem to fit well in the consistently Christ-centered theology of this corporate confession, in which we are powerfully comforted by the truth of Jesus’s saving and preserving power.

So according to verse 18, what is it about the keeping power of Jesus that accomplishes our inability to sin in the way dealt with in this text? He keeps us from the “evil one” (ὁ πονηρὸς). This is a reference to the devil, in whom the whole world lies, according to verse 19. This last clause in verse 18 about the evil one not being able to touch him ends with a genitive αὐτοῦ for “him”, the referent being ὁ γεγεννημένος—the ones who have been born [of God]. This unusual use of the genitive is explained by the fact that ἅπτεται takes an object in the genitive.

Verse 19 introduces the second confessional “οἴδαμεν ὅτι” phrase. “We know that we are of God and the whole world lies in the evil one.” The “ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ” is, again, a genitive of source, and the “ὁ κόσμος ὅλος ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ κεῖται” is perhaps either a dative of possession or union, communicating the idea of being in the evil one’s grip. Yarbrough says that the word “κεῖται” carries the idea of languishing, as if the world lies down powerlessly under the devil’s dominion without the strength or slightest ability to rectify themselves.6

The third and final “οἴδαμεν ὅτι” affirmation occurs in verse 20. The weighty truths confessed here are the deity of Christ, His advent and prophetic or revelatory role in making Father known, and our union with God through Christ. “ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ” is a genitive of relation, emphasizing the relation of the Son to the Father. The verb “ἥκω” is translated with a perfective force, in spite of the fact that it is present in form, according to BDAG.7 “The Son of God has come…” The dative of the phrase, “δέδωκεν ἡμῖν διάνοιαν” could be called a dative of conveyance, communicating the idea that Jesus has come and has given us understanding.

The next phrase tells us that He has given this understanding in order that we might know Him who is true. Yarbrough argues for a variant against the [NA28] rendering, replacing the subjunctive “γινώσκωμεν” with a future indicative “γινωσκομεν”.8 This variant has a fairly wide attestation (MSS א A B* P 33. 81. 307. 442. 1243. 1735. 1881), and has added weight due to being the more difficult reading by replacing the expected subjunctive with an indicative. In spite of the merits of his argument, I find that the subjunctive idea better fits with the flow of thought in the passage. John’s focus seems to be on what we have now in Christ, not what we will have.

The articular adjective, “τὸν ἀληθινόν,” contains an implied pronoun—“Him who is true”. I take the two dative phrases, “ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ, ἐν τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ,” as datives of union or location, and the genitive, “αὐτοῦ,” as a genitive of relation. The phrase “ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ” refers to God the Father, and we are said to be in “ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ,” in His Son, Jesus Christ. Two persons are necessarily in view here. We are united with God the Father because we have been united with God the Son, who is one with God the Father. If we are in Christ, we are in God, and no one can be in God apart from Christ.

This final “οἴδαμεν ὅτι” confession ends with a bold declaration of the deity of Christ. There is debate over the referent of the “οὗτός” in “οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἀληθινὸς θεὸς καὶ ζωὴ αἰώνιος,” but Kruse makes the case that grammatically, having Jesus as the referent is supported by the fact that “Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ” is the closest antecedent.9 Marshall convincingly argues that, “It is precisely because Jesus is the true God that the person who is in him is also in the Father.”10 Wallace concludes that there is absolutely no grammatical reason that this “οὗτός” cannot refer to Jesus Christ.11

The closing verse, verse 21, contains one last command from the apostle: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” Baugh argues that the aorist imperative, “φυλάξατε,” carries a specialized meaning. It could either have an inceptive nuance (“set your guard out against…”), or a sharp, emphatic warning (“Watch out!”).12

Themes in the Text

The themes touched on 1 John 5:18-21 are some of the most vital truths one can know. In this passage we clearly see the deity of Christ, His advent and prophetic role of revealing the Father to us, our union with Jesus, and His preserving work in the life of the believer. Considering the purpose and content of the letter, it’s not surprising that John would conclude his epistle with such a glorious, acute, doctrinal crescendo. Because of the rich and critical nature of the themes found in these affirmations, there is no shortage of witness to them in the rest of 1 John, or in the Bible as a whole.

Textual Themes Throughout Letter

Verse 18 opens by identifying a certain type of person—one who has been born of God. This is a theme seen throughout the letter in the form of familial titles given to Christians (3:1-2, 10, 14-17), references to God’s seed abiding in us (3:9), and many explicit references to our being “born of God” (3:9, 4:7, 5:1-2). The idea being expressed here is that we have entered our new life in union with Christ by means of God’s grace. The statement being made about everyone who is born of God is that they do not sin. Clearly, John does not have sinless perfection in view here. In 1:9, John reminded us of the promise of God’s faithfulness to forgive our sins when we confess them. In fact, John said that “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1:8) Clearly, then, what’s in view here is a certain kind of sin that the Christian is unable to commit. This understanding comes from 3:4-10. In those verses, John pivots from talking about the kind of sin Christians commit to a lawless sin that Christians are unable to commit. Christians will in fact sin during this lifetime, but our sin will always be before the face of God. Our sin can never again be the lawless rejection of Christ that it was before we were born of God because our minds have been irrevocably opened to His Lordship. All that we do after the new birth is done in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. We are unable to sin lawlessly. This distinction between different kinds of sin is likely what is in view in John’s differentiation between sin leading to death and sin not leading to death in 5:16-17. Verse 18 is undoubtedly given to comfort and encourage the believers that might be disturbed by the thought of the sin leading to death discussed in the previous 2 verses. A hardened, damnable sin is indeed a horrifying thought, so John follows that thought by picking up the reassurance of 3:4-10 that if they are in Christ, they are unable to commit such a sin.

This inability to sin is due to the preservation of Christ in the life of the believer. Our minds are irrevocably opened to the Lordship of Christ because Jesus preserves us in that state. This preservation is seen in the anointing that abides in us and teaches us all things that Jesus has given His people (2:27). This is inextricably associated with the new birth. In fact, the language of 2:27 is almost certainly a reference to Jeremiah 31:34, which promises that in the new covenant, parties to the covenant will no longer teach one another to know the Lord, for all will know Him. This is said to be the result of a transformation of the heart where the Lord puts His law within us. We are kept by Christ and the evil one cannot touch us (cf. Jn 17:12)!

The truth communicated in verse 18 is a precious and gloriously comforting truth in light of the reality of verse 19—that the entire world is subject to the devil. In the world there is fleshly disregard for God, idolatrous lusts, and death (2:15-17). The world does not know God, and hates His children (3:1, 13). False, antichrist, lying spirits fill this world, which lies in the evil one (4:1-6). And through the death and slavery of mankind to sin, the world is powerless to escape his grip. But all who are born of God are of God, and are guarded by Christ, and the evil one cannot touch them! This does not mean that Christians are spared the ravaging effects of sin in this world, but that their final perseverance and future glorification is sealed in Christ.

Verse 20 opens with a confession of the truth that the Son of God has come. This harkens back to the opening verses where attention is given to the corporeal form of Jesus—the Eternal Life was manifested to them (1:2), and they heard Him, saw Him, and touched Him (1:1). God sent His Son into the world so that we might live through Him (4:9). And in His coming, Christ gave us understanding so that we may know Him who is true. Knowing God is a major theme in First John. There are 8 references to knowing God in the letter, and multiple references to those who do not know God. According to 5:20, Jesus came for the purpose of giving us understanding so that we may know God. Surely the knowledge of God is the most noble thing anyone could seek. In fact, Scripture teaches us that knowing God is eternal life (John 17:3)!

Verse 20 goes on to say that not only do we know Him who is true, but we are in Him who is true. And we are in Him who is true because we are in His Son, who is in Him. Union with the Father and the Son is a theme seen throughout First John (2:22-24, 4:4, 15-16). The reason 2:22-24 makes the statement that denial and rejection of the Son is denial and rejection of the Father and confession of the Son is possession of the Father also is because the Son and Father truly are God. To be in the Son is to be in the Father because the Son is the true God and eternal life!

First John paints a beautiful picture of the idea of eternal life. The last statement of verse 20 affirms that Jesus is eternal life. Believers are united with Him, and as He rose never to die again, so we rose in Him and are seated with Him in the heavenly places! 1:1-2 speaks of Jesus as the Word of Life that was manifested. He Himself is the eternal life that was with the Father and was manifested to us! And 2:25 makes the wonderful promise that God the Father has promised His church this Eternal Life! John says it clearly and beautifully in 5:11-13:

And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11-13)

The epistle ends on what may seem like an abrupt note, and its command may seem out of place. John bids his recipients to guard themselves from idols. Kruse says that this can be taken either literally or metaphorically—literally referring to pagan idols, metaphorically referring to the empty doctrines of the false teachers.13 Kruse, citing Sugit, suggests that since a gloss for “εἴδωλον” in classical Greek is phantom, the unreality of the ideas of the false teachers may be in view here.14 That seems probable, since these false teachers and their doctrines have been a main critique and quite possibly the biggest motivation for John’s entire letter.

Throughout the letter we have seen the black and white contrast of true believers and imposters, and we’ve been taught Christ—the center of who we are, the reason why we are who we are, and the only way that we will remain who we are. Accepting the metaphorical view of this final command, John’s concluding exhortation perfectly sums up the letter—“Christ is your God! The object of these false teachings is not Christ! Stay the course!” Seen this way, verse 21 is a final exhortation to guard themselves from error and cling to Christ.

Application

If enabling us to know God is the reason why Christ came and gave us understanding, one important application for church ministry is that we should carefully study the attributes of God. Given what we see about Him here, what more important study could you do with your church? By means of systematic and biblical theology, we can come to more profoundly understand the infinite glories of our Creator. Understanding what God has revealed about Himself in Scripture will cause us to grow in our capacity to marvel over His person and His work, in light of our sinfulness. This will also equip the church to guard themselves from idolatrous misconceptions about the character of God that cover America today!

Knowing God is eternal life, and that eternal life is in Christ alone! Union with Him alone is union with God. There is no life outside of Christ! The obvious application of this is that we must be rigorously Christ-centered! Foster trust and reliance upon the One who keeps us. To summarize, be a glory of God focused, Christ honoring, Bible saturated, local church minded minister!

bibliography

Arndt, William F, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Frederick W Danker, and Walter Bauer.A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: A Translation and Adaptation of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch Zu Den Schriften Des Neuen Testaments Und Der Übrigen Urchristlichen Literatur. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Baugh, S. M.A First John Reader: Intermediate Greek Reading Notes and Grammar. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 1999.

Kruse, Colin G.The Letters of John. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. ; Apollos, 2000.

Marshall, I. Howard.The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.

Wallace, Daniel B, and Daniel B Wallace.The Basics of New Testament Syntax: An Intermediate Greek Grammar, 2000.

Yarbrough, Robert W.1-3 John. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008.

1Marshall, The Epistles of John, 251.

2Baugh, A First John Reader, 79–80.

3Kruse, The Letters of John, 195.

4Marshall, The Epistles of John, 252.

5Yarbrough, 1-3 John, 316–321.

6Ibid., 317.

7Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.

8Yarbrough, 1-3 John, 321.

9Kruse, The Letters of John, 197.

10Marshall, The Epistles of John, 254.

11Wallace and Wallace, The Basics of New Testament Syntax, 326–327.

12Baugh, A First John Reader, 81.

13Kruse, The Letters of John, 200.

14Ibid., 201.

Hateful, Mixed-Fabric Wearing Hypocrites!

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It’s an argument many of us who insist on biblical morality have probably heard before. “If you’re going obey the Bible, you’re going to have to avoid wearing clothes with mixed fabric, eating shellfish, and boiling baby goats in their mother’s milk!” This argument came up recently in a discussion where someone insisted that Jesus never spoke against homosexuality. I pointed out that God is not schizophrenic, and as the second person of the Trinity, Jesus is in full agreement with every prohibition of homosexuality given in the Bible. I received the mixed-fabric argument in response. I realize that such arguments are usually intended as snubs, and those voicing them are probably not interested in a real answer, but for those who have ears, we do have a real rebuttal to this assertion.

The Old Testament contains many interesting laws like the prohibition of wearing mixed fabric. Such laws are not based on universal moral principles, but served the purpose of setting Israel apart as God’s people, and pointing forward to the Messiah that God had promised to send. Specifically, the prohibition of mixed fabric symbolized God’s call to the nation of Israel to remain pure, unmixed with the idolatry of their neighboring nations.

Jesus actually made the fascinating claim that such laws were written about Him.

“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.”
-Jesus (John 5:46)

While many in Israel successfully avoided wearing mixed fabric, every one of them utterly failed to keep the spirit of that law—to be totally holy unto God. In Christ, God’s requirement that His people be totally devoted to God was fulfilled! He was without sin, fulfilling this requirement both literally and spiritually. Since Jesus, the Messiah—the reality such laws pointed to—has come, those laws have served their purpose. They successfully pointed Israel to the now revealed Messiah. Such laws served their purpose, and their requirements are fulfilled in Jesus.

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”
-Jesus (Matthew 5:17)

On the other hand, there are things that always, irrevocably contradict the very nature of God. Principles built into creation that represent the nature of God, which when violated have always and will always be sin. Stealing, for example. God is the one that gives us everything we have, and revoking God’s gifts to another has always and will always be wrong. Lying is another example of a universal moral offense. God is truth, and speaking deceit contradicts His nature and is thus sinful. Murder is universally wrong because it strikes out at the image of God in man. According to Jesus, the male / female biology and marriage union is irrevocably built into creation.

“But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall becomes one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”
-Jesus (Mark 10:6-8)

God made people male and female, and nature bears witness to the rightness of that relationship in many ways that I don’t need to elaborate on. This male and female element of creation is not just some arbitrary detail, but was actually designed by God to represent profound spiritual truth. According to the apostle Paul, male / female marriage is a picture of Christ and His church.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”
-Ephesians 5:31-32

The preceding verses in that chapter speak about how the differing biology and roles of men and women in a marriage relationship are a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. God has designed the one-flesh marriage union of men and women as a beautiful object lesson of the entire reason for creation. It displays the glory of God through the saving of sinners through the death and resurrection of Jesus!

Does it surprise you, therefore, that Scripture speaks of twisting that relationship by men being with men and women with women as an ungodly perversion? Male / female marriage proclaims the most holy truth to which we are beholden, and homosexuality mocks it! Is it any wonder, therefore that the Bible says things like:

“realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for … homosexuals …, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.”
-1 Timothy 1:9-11

“Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”
-Romans 1:24-27

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; …homosexuals… will [not] inherit the kingdom of God.”
-1 Corinthians 6:9-10

The prohibition of wearing mixed fabrics, and all the other laws not based on universal moral principles have served their purpose. They pointed us to Jesus, and were fulfilled in Him. Christians are therefore not responsible to observe the Jewish ceremonial laws. People being made male and female, and becoming one flesh with a person of the counterpart sex in a marriage relationship is here to stay. The rejection of our design, and the roles of the sexes through homosexuality and transgenderism is a rejection of Creation and God’s intention for it. It is a rejection of the good news gender distinctions and the marriage relationship were designed to proclaim. Any sexual activity outside the confines of one man and one woman in a permanent marriage union has always and will always be sin.

But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus died for homosexuals! He also died for those who approve of their sin. He died for liars and murderers and thieves! He died for everyone who will turn from their sin and trust in His sacrificial death and resurrection as their only hope of salvation from the wrath of God. God is rightfully angry at sin, but Jesus took the punishment for the offenses of all who will turn to Him for forgiveness. In Christ, we are no longer enemies of God, but His children. Repent and believe the gospel and be saved!

The Light of Men

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Brief Overview of the Offices of Christ

In the vivid and powerful words of the Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge, “We as fallen men, ignorant, guilty, polluted, and helpless, need a Savior who is a prophet to instruct us; a priest to atone and to make intercession for us; and a king to rule over and protect us.”1 Christology is surely the sweetest topic in the spectrum of systematic theology, and the threefold offices of Christ are perhaps the most helpful way of understanding the nature of the work of Christ. John Calvin popularized this classification in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (book 2, chapter 15), and it has been commonly used since that time.2 It is important that we understand the nature of this classification, being that it is not so much an innovation foreign to the biblical text, as an essentially faithful interpretation of it.

Erickson, in his Christian Theology, repeatedly stresses the need to maintain balance in our view of the offices of Christ: “It will be important to maintain all three aspects of his work, not stressing one so that the others are diminished, nor splitting them too sharply from one another, as if they were separate actions of Christ.”3 Erickson demonstrates how the errors of liberal theology’s moral influence theory of the atonement—which reduces the cross to merely a display of God’s love—is essentially an overemphasis of Christ’s prophetic office at the expense of the other offices.4 Biblical balance is vital as we take up the noble task of describing the prophetic nature of our Lord’s work.

Christ’s Prophetic Office Defined

As we venture to understand what is meant by calling Christ God’s prophet, it is important that we clearly define what we do and do not mean.

What we do not Mean

Grudem, in his section on the prophetic office of Christ, carefully points out that Jesus is not predominately presented as a prophet in the Gospels, and is never referred to as such in the epistles.5 In fact, Hebrews 1:1-2 seems to specifically avoid calling Jesus a prophet, referring to Him instead as God’s Son, in deliberate contrast, it appears, to a mere prophet. By mere prophet, we mean one such as Elijah who, regardless of the clearly divine blessing on his ministry, received his revelation from without. This non-divine office is what is meant by Muslims, for example, when they call our Lord a prophet. There are many examples of people who seemed, at least at first, to view Jesus this way in the New Testament (e.g. John 4:19, 7:52, 9:17). Jesus, as we will see, is no mere prophet, and is indeed wholly superior in his person and work to any other man called by the title.

While there are many points of similarity between Jesus and the Old Testament prophets—the fact that He was sent by God, related parables (Matt 21:33-41, cf. Isa 5:1-7), often taught in chiasms (Lk 14:11, cf. Isa 22:22), and preached a similar message of both judgment and destruction (Matt 23, 11:20-24, cf. Amos 1-3) as well as salvation and comfort (Matt 5:3-12, 13:44, 46, cf. Isa 40:9, 52:7)—there are notable differences as well.6 Not the least of which, as the Son of God, Jesus represents God both truly and fully in a way that a sent servant like an Old Testament prophet could never embody.7 Indeed, as the promised divine Servant King, Jesus is both the subject and the source of the Old Testament prophesies (1 Pt 1:10-11).8

The fact is, Scripture was written by authors, moved by the Holy Spirit to record in written form God’s perfect revelation to mankind. This grand revelation of God centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Old testament prophets pointed forward to our Lord (1 Pet 1:10-11, Acts 3:22-24, Luke 24:27), anticipating His advent and ministry, and the New Testament writers pointed out the significance of His life in retrospect.9 Since it was an unimaginably high and honorable calling the prophets received in foretelling the person and work of Christ, yet the glory of the One to whom they were pointing infinitely outshines that eminent task, it would be a grave mistake to view Jesus Christ as a mere prophet, in the same sense as those that came before Him. While many aspects are shared between them, Our Lord’s prophetic office is wholly other than theirs, as we will see in the following section.

What we do Mean

While Jesus’ prophetic office has much in common with the prophets’ ministries, His prophetic work altogether eclipses theirs. The Old testament prophets received and spoke the Word of God; Jesus is the Word of God. Other prophets testified to the truth; Jesus is the Truth. The prophets before Jesus not only pointed to Christ as the subject of their words and actions, but typified Him by the very nature of their ministries. In the broad sense of speaking God’s words and revealing Him to us, Christ is the prophet—the archetypical prophet all previous prophets pointed to by the essence of their ministries.

One shared element between the ministries of the Old Testament prophets and Christ’s is that both spoke God’s words to the people (John 14:24). Hodge observes, “When, therefore, the Messiah was predicted as a prophet it was predicted that He should be the great organ of God in communicating his mind and will to men.”10 Since our Lord has true and full knowledge of God, and all things, and the sinless heart to respond correctly to that knowledge, He always speaks what is true of God and man. Unlike the prophets, however, being God in the flesh, Jesus was uniquely qualified to speak of God on the basis of His own authority.

Another common aspect of ministry between the Old Testament prophets and Jesus is that both served to reveal God to man. Erickson broadly defines Jesus’ prophetic role in terms of this foundational aspect of His person and work (Col 1:15).11 As God in the flesh, all that Jesus does, God does, all that He says, God says, and all that He is, God is. When we see Jesus, we see God (John 14:8-9). While the Old Testament prophets also served to reveal God, their revelatory role was much different that Jesus’. The prophets were mere, sinful men that God used in extraordinary ways by giving them visions to relate, words to speak and write, and actions to perform that served to relate God’s message to His intended audience—in effect showing us aspects of the character of God. Making known the Word of the Living God is certainly a glorious calling, but Jesus wholly supersedes this in that He is the Word of God, the very fount of divine revelation.

A third point of similarity between the ministries of the Old Testament prophets and Jesus’ is that their ministries served to enlighten us with the truth (2 Cor 4:6).12 Jesus Christ, as the light of the world (John 8:12, 3:19-21), is the source of all comprehension as Hodge boldly states: “He is the source of all knowledge to the intelligent universe, and especially to the children of men. He was, and is, the light of the world. He is the truth. In Him dwell all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; and from Him radiates all the light that men receive or attain.”13 Any true understanding is made possible because of the Light, Jesus Christ. It is in this light alone that men may come to discern the fear of the Lord. The Old Testament prophets testified of this Light, and reflected a small measure of it as though by a dim mirror, but their whole ministries were but a shadow cast by the brilliance of the Light Himself. All the light of Scripture, whether communicated through prophet, apostle, historian, or psalmist—any revelation of God came through the agency of Jesus Christ.14 During the time of His ministry, not only did Jesus manifest the light through His teachings, but by the very nature of His person—displaying both the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God. To this very day, Jesus is shining His glorious light through the preaching of His Word and the regenerate character of His people, and He will display His light forever by the glory to be revealed in us in God’s presence.15

When we say Jesus is a prophet, we mean that He speaks God’s words, reveals God to us, and enlightens us in the truth in a way that is similar to, yet infinitely superior to the Old Testament prophets. Our Lord is indeed a prophet, but He is not merely a prophet; He is the prophet.

“Hot and brilliant as the sun is in the heavens, we would never see it or feel its warmth without the radiating beams that come to the earth. So it is with God and his Son, who is the radiance of his glory. Without the Son we remain in the dark regarding the glory of God. But with the sun we have an ideal, indeed, a perfect revelation of God.”16

Christ’s Prophetic Office Demonstrated

Lets now turn our attention to the Scripture, to see how we have arrived at the formulation previously described as the prophetic role of Christ. In Deuteronomy 18:15-19 we have the revelatory role of Jesus foretold in terms of His ministry as the great mouthpiece of God. In Hebrews 1:1-3a we see Christ heralded as the Son of God—the exact representation of the Father (cf. Col 1:15), and in John 14:9 we have the words of Christ Himself, declaring His unity with and display of the Father. In John 1:1-18 we see Christ interpreted in retrospect by the apostle John as the God-man—the Divine Teacher who speaks the words of His God and illumines mankind with His light.17 Let’s examine these passages in turn.

Deuteronomy 18:15-19 records Moses’ words to the people of Israel, declaring to them that God was going to raise up a prophet like himself from among the people (18:15a, 18a). This prophet would be faithful to speak every word God put in His mouth, as God led Him. Moses gave a solemn warning that the people must give heed to the words of his archetype, or face the judgment of God (18:15b, 19; cf. Acts 3:22-23). That Jesus was indeed the faithful prophet promised by God was attested to by the crowds that witnessed Jesus’ miracles (John 6:14), and heard His teaching (John 7:40), as well as the apostles who were witnesses of His resurrection (Acts 3:22-24). In a similar, yet infinitely greater way, and just as Moses anticipated, Jesus rose up from the seed of Abraham and fulfilled His prophetic ministry, speaking God’s Words to the people; and indeed, whoever will not heed His Word will perish.

Hebrews 1:1-3a speaks of Christ as the Son of God (1:2a)—the exact representation of His nature. Jesus, as the Son of God, being in perfect unity with the Father, equal to God in all ways, represented God to the world (1:3). The prophets who came before Him, through whom God spoke “in many portions and in many ways” (1:1) pale in comparison to the Son Himself (1:2-3a). All other revelation, whether through men, angels, creation, providence, or visions, all served to point to Jesus Christ (1:2b-3a, 1 Pet 1:10-11, Acts 3:22-24, Luke 24:27). As the giver and subject of these revelations, our Lord Himself surpasses them insomuch as the potter is greater than the clay. Jesus Christ, being the subject of all previous revelation, is Himself infinitely superior to every other revelation given. Jesus reveals God in an infinitely superior way because Jesus is God in human flesh, as the apostle John records our Lord declaring in 14:9 of his Gospel. Jesus is the God being revealed through revelation. As God in the flesh, His revelation shines with all the marvelous glory of God (Heb 1:3a)! Jesus perfectly images God as His representative before mankind (1:3a, Col 1:15).

In John 1:1-18 the apostle John gives us a beautiful expression of the illuminating nature of our Lord. Jesus is identified as the divine Word (1:1)—the eternally existing (1:2) agent of creation (1:3). This passage also refers to Jesus as the Light (1:4-5, 7-9). As the Light of men (1:4), our Lord enlightened every man as He came into the world (1:9). It is only by the illuminating light of Christ that men can be saved (1:12-13; cf. 3:1-21), and although it is only through the Light which was given to all men that true knowledge can be gained (even the unredeemed through common grace (Col 2:2-3)), this illuminating Light is shone upon God’s elect in a special, effectually saving way (3:7-8; 2 Thess 2:13-14; Eph 1:17, 19, 2:1-6; Deut 30:6; Ezek 36:26-27; Rom 8:30, 11:7). Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness (1:5), and without His illumination, knowledge would be impossible (Col 2:2-3). This Light was most clearly and gloriously displayed through the teaching and deeds of Christ in His incarnation (1:14, 16-17).

This brief section did not even come close to exhausting the Scriptures’ insight into the prophetic office of Christ. Still, taking these few passages together, we arrive at the conclusions described in the previous section. Jesus Christ reveals God by speaking His words and personally imaging Him, and is the only light whereby men might gain true knowledge. This is what we mean when we speak of the prophetic office of Christ, and it is a thoroughly biblical concept.

Christ’s Prophetic Office Applied

In order to apply the doctrine of the revelatory office of Christ, we will imagine an all too common scenario, and answer some hypothetical questions involved in such a situation. We will be ministering to a woman who is processing the death of her 18 month old child. The four questions she is struggling through are: “Is God really good? Did God kill my baby? Is my child in heaven? Why did God let this happen?” We will answer each question in light of the truth that Jesus Christ reveals God to us by His words, nature, and enlightenment with the truth.

The first question our grieving mother asks is, “After seeing the death of my little girl, how can I still affirm the goodness of God? Is God really good?” Overall, we supply the answer that yes, God is good, and is able and in fact does work all things, even incredibly difficult things to beneficial ends on behalf of His people.

First we consider how Jesus’ revelation of God through the words He spoke answers this woman’s doubts of God’s goodness. Jesus, by the words He spoke and inspired, unequivocally affirmed the goodness of God. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies (Matt 5:44) so that we might be like our Father in heaven, who gives sunshine and rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous. God is the giver of life and every good gift men receive (Jam 1:17), for the benevolent purpose of causing our happiness (1 Tim 6:17) so that we might in turn worship Him with thankful hearts for His generosity. All of these truths come either directly from Jesus’ incarnate mouth, or through the inspiration of His Spirit. God is benevolent toward all His creatures, especially His covenant people.

Second, we see how our Lord’s revelation of God through His very nature answers the question of God’s goodness. Jesus, as the Son of God, was God in the flesh—everything Jesus did, God did. Therefore, three things Jesus did on earth offer clear proof of God’s goodness. When we look at Jesus we see Him welcoming all who came to Him in humility; healing their diseases, and maladies. He never turned anyone away that came to Him in humble trust. This is a clear picture of the good, merciful heart of God. Jesus showed tenderhearted compassion to all, even to His enemies. Also, consider the fact that He came and preached good news to those with ears to hear. He spent Himself so that others might know and love the truth. This shows God’s goodness. The most obvious display of the good nature of God that Jesus made was in His substitutionary life, death, and resurrection. Jesus went to the cross, willingly accepting the sin of His people as His own, and suffering the penalty for their sins in their place—indeed suffering more than any person that has ever lived. Jesus’ willingness to do this on behalf of unworthy sinners reveals the goodness of God. Indeed, how could we question His goodness in light of His sufferings on our behalf?

Third, Jesus, in enlightening us with the truth, reveals God’s goodness. Through what took place in the gospel, we can see that God both desires and designs suffering to good ends both for Himself and His people. First, we must see that God designed Jesus’ sufferings. Peter, in Acts 2:23 explicitly states that Jesus was delivered over to death according to “the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God”. Second, we need to realize that God brought this about in order to accomplish good. In sending Jesus to suffer, God was displaying benevolence to Jesus, in that He would be exalted above all (Eph 1:20-22; Matt 28:18; 1 Cor 15:25) as a result of His work on the cross, and that as a result of His suffering (Isa 53:10-12), He will see the salvation of His beloved bride. This all results in a wondrous display of the glory of God, and it comes through the prophetic office of Christ, as these truths about the person and work of God are illumined for us. By illuminating us with the truth, Jesus reveals that God is good, and that He both desires and designs suffering to good ends—what evil men intended out of hatred, God indented for good. If God could intend that greatest of all evils for good, what possible suffering could we not affirm the goodness of God in?

The second question our suffering mother asks is, “Did God kill my baby? Is He to blame for this tragedy?” In short, we affirm that death is a result of sin, namely Adam’s sin in the case of infants, yet God is sovereign over all things (Rom 5:12-14). Even though God is sovereign over death, He is never at fault (legitimately chargeable with wrongdoing) when people die.

First, Jesus’ function of revealing God through the words He spoke and the words He inspired in the rest of Scripture speaks to this question. First, we need to see that mankind experiences death because of our sin. God promised that in the day Adam sinned, He would begin to die. The apostle Paul spoke, in Romans 5 of the fact that the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed to mankind in such a way that even infants, who may or may not have had the opportunity to commit actual sin, still suffer death because they inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin. It is because of human sin that children die. Second, we need to affirm that God is sovereign over all things, including death. Ephesians 1:11 plainly states that God “works all things after the council of His will.” Taking into consideration what we observed Jesus to say in the previous section, we arrive at the conclusion that God is sovereign over all things, and God is good, intending all things for the good of Himself and His people.

Second, we find the question of God’s trustworthiness in the face of death (and by implication His sovereignty and moral innocence in it) answered by Jesus’ display of God’s nature through His actions. In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before His crucifixion, we see Jesus both acknowledge God’s sovereignty over His coming suffering, and entrust Himself to His good care. In His distress, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matt 26:29) What Jesus’ nature certainly reveals about God in this episode is that He is trustworthy, even when according to His will we are made to suffer. Jesus knows God truly and exhaustively, and therefore the fact that he considered Him worthy of total trust reveals that He is totally pure and trustworthy, even in the darkest situations. It’s helpful at this point to be reminded that the situation Jesus faced was the darkest one anyone has ever or will ever experience. Jesus, in revealing God’s nature by His actions, shows us that God is good and trustworthy, even in the face of an apparently (or actually, in Jesus’ case) unjust death.

Third, by enlightening us with the truth of God, Jesus answers the question of God’s involvement in and culpability for the death of human beings. As we just saw, Jesus, by His actions affirmed God’s sovereignty over His own sufferings and death. Again, in the Gethsemane passage, Jesus both acknowledged God’s sovereignty over His coming suffering, and entrusted Himself to His good care on the eve of His death. By His prayer, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matt 26:29), Jesus affirms the truth of God—He is sovereign over His suffering. Jesus affirms that His coming death is God’s will, and even affirms that God has the ability to stop it by asking Him to let the cup pass from Him if possible. Jesus reveals to us the knowledge that God is sovereign over death, and that He is good and trustworthy in the midst of it. Like Job, one of Jesus’ types, we must affirm, “…The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21b), and give the same response he had to this truth—“Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.” (Job 1:22)

The woman’s third question, “is my child in heaven or in hell?”, can be responded to by the doctrine of the prophetic office of Christ as well. To summarize our answer, Jesus reveals that God is just, and will do what is right. While we cannot give a concrete answer to what God does with those who die in infancy due to the bible’s silence on the issue, we can affirm with certainty that God is trustworthy, and can be counted on to do whatever is absolutely right. We can rest in Him, despite our gnawing questions, knowing that when we are in eternity, with the full knowledge of how He chose to deal with those who died in infancy, we will be in total, confident, worshipful agreement with Him; knowing that He acted justly.

First, in speaking God’s words, whether during the time of His earthly ministry, or by the inspiration of other men, Jesus reveals that God is just. Deuteronomy 32:4 declares of God, “The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.” God is right in all He does and will do. Further, Abraham appeals to God with these apt words, “…Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Gen 18:25b), and God responds favorably to that appeal to His righteousness.18 Jesus revealed through His inspiration of the biblical writers that everything God does, He does in righteousness. That being the case, we can trust Him completely to do what is right, no matter what He determines is the right thing to do.

Second, Jesus reveals God through His very nature, and helps shed light on the question of the eternal state of those who die in infancy. The prophet Malachi called Jesus “the sun of righteousness” in Malachi 4:2. Such a title is given because righteousness is intrinsic to Jesus’ nature, and as such—to God’s. God can be trusted to do what is right in all situations.

Third, the doctrine of the prophetic role of Jesus can speak to this question in its enlightening aspect. The cross of Jesus Christ demonstrated the perfect justice and righteousness of God (Rom 3:21-26). The sins of every sinner that God ever has or ever will save were perfectly atoned for at Calvary. If God were truly just, we would expect that every sin would need to be answered for. It is the testimony of the Scriptures that every sin will be answered for—either Jesus stood in your place, receiving every bit of wrath your sin deserves, or you will personally pay for them in hell. This is the case because God is just, and the person and work of Jesus enlightens us in this truth. Since God is just, and all He does is done in perfect righteousness, we can trust Him to make the right call regarding those who die in infancy, whatever that call might be—so instead of agonizing over this unanswerable question, we need to trust God, resting in His righteousness.

The fourth and final question our mourning mother poses is, “Why did God let this happen?” In short, our answer is that although we perhaps cannot understand every aspect of how it is so, God allowed this to happen for your good and His glory.

First, through the verbal aspect of Jesus’ prophetic office, we see this question answered. When asked why a man was born blind, Jesus responded, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3) Our good and benevolent God does everything He does for His own glory, and the good of His people (Rom 8:28). This man was born blind so that God might use his suffering in a way that brings honor to Himself. We must trust that, just as Jesus said, God has our very best interests, and His own glory in mind in the midst of our suffering. Far from being mutually exclusive, these two things are actually synonymous—the very best thing for us is to glorify God!

Second, Jesus reveals God’s nature and sheds light on the question of why things like the deaths of believers’ little girls happen today. Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus was able to affirm that His Father had designed His sufferings for His own glory. When faced with the dread of His coming sacrifice, Jesus refused to ask God to save Him from that hour, but instead asked God to glorify His name through the His sufferings. (John 12:27-28) God has designed even your suffering after the loss of your daughter to glorify His name. Just like Jesus in His distress, you can glorify God in the midst of this unspeakable tragedy. While we cannot glorify the righteousness of God as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of others, we can glorify God in our suffering by responding correctly to it. Jesus glorified God in His suffering by confessing His goodness and trusting Him without reservation. This is an opportunity for you to do the same. Whatever reasons God may have in mind for this tragedy, because of what Jesus revealed of the nature of God, we can be certain of this—you have the privilege of making God look glorious in the midst of your pain by responding correctly to this tragedy—the same way Job did when God took his children—with worship (Job 1:19-20). Jesus, knowing God fully and responding as He did when God called Him to die, revealed that God is deserving of such a response.

Finally, Jesus answers the question of why God allows the death of the children of believing parents through the illuminating aspect of His prophetic office. The revelation that Jesus made of God in the gospel is the greatest indicator of God’s ability to bring benevolent, God glorifying results from suffering. The suffering Jesus went through in His penal substitutionary atonement was the greatest amount of suffering anyone has ever endured, yet it produced the greatest blessing of any action ever performed. As a result of this greatest instance of suffering, God was glorified as sin was decisively denounced, and the vessels of mercy were redeemed for all eternity. God intended, and brought about the greatest blessing ever bestowed from the greatest suffering ever endured. If God was able to produce the most marvelous good imaginable from the most appalling suffering possible, God is able to do the same in this instance as well. Jesus enlightens us with the truth that God designs our suffering for our good and His glory. The person and work of Jesus also reveals that not only does God have the power to carry out His benevolent intentions for the suffering of His people, but as certainly as Christ is risen, He will.

__________________________

bibliography

Boyce, James Petigru. Abstract of Systematic Theology. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1887.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1983.

Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946.

Richard D. Phillips (Richard Davis). Hebrews. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub, 2006.

1Hodge, Systematic Theology, 461.

2Erickson, Christian Theology, 762.

3Ibid., 763.

4Ibid., 766–767.

5Grudem, Systematic Theology, 625.

6Erickson, Christian Theology, 764–765.

7Richard D. Phillips (Richard Davis), Hebrews, 20.

8Grudem, Systematic Theology, 625–626.

9Ibid., 626.

10Hodge, Systematic Theology, 463.

11Erickson, Christian Theology, 763–767.

12Hodge, Systematic Theology, 461.

13Ibid., 463.

14Erickson, Christian Theology, 765.

15Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, 291–292.

16Richard D. Phillips (Richard Davis), Hebrews, 20.

17Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, 291.

18Grudem, Systematic Theology, 204.

Stop Telling us What the Bible Means to you!

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How many times have you been in a Bible study and heard someone say something like, “Here’s what this passage means to me.” Or maybe the leader of your study invites the group to share what a certain verse means to them. Maybe you yourself approach Scripture this way. The fact is, the idea being expressed by many today is that impressions from the Holy Spirit apart from careful consideration of the material surrounding a passage and / or one’s private interpretation without reference to the context is an appropriate way to interpret Scripture. If this is your approach, or if you are a Christian who hears others do this and it doesn’t quite feel right, I invite you to continue reading!

Is discerning a passage’s meaning by spiritual impressions a valid way to interpret Scripture? I would make the case that as important and blessed as the comforts of the Holy Spirit are to a Christian’s soul, what the Bible has to say about itself rules out such an approach! How then are we to go about understanding what the Bible says?

To consider how to properly interpret Scripture I believe we need to start from the beginning with a very basic question—What is the Bible? Evangelical Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God—that Scripture has been breathed out by the Holy Spirit. And as such:

…no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20b-21 NASB)

In other words, perhaps the most basic understanding the Bible has of itself is that it is a revelation from God to mankind through the means of human authors. This means that in a very real sense, the Bible is a human work. That truth in no way diminishes the reality that the Bible is also the infallible, inerrant, Word of God. Part of the marvelous wisdom and power of God in the inspiration of Scripture is that God used the agency of real men with unique personalities writing to real people in real situations to perfectly communicate HIS Word. With this in mind, let’s consider an ordinary human interaction and see if the private interpretation approach works.

Let’s say you and a friend walk past a lemonade stand and he says “I love lemonade!” No one in their right mind would hear their friend say those words and conclude that what he’s really trying to tell you is that he hates sci-fi movies. His meaning isn’t determined by how his speaking made you feel, or by any form of private interpretation. The meaning of your friend’s words is the meaning he had in mind when he spoke them. And that meaning is understood by considering the actual words spoken, and the context they were spoken in. That may feel like a silly illustration because this principle is obvious to us. If we truly want to understand our friend we do so by discerning the intent behind his words.

We do this all the time without even thinking about it. Being a married man, I will be the first to say that misunderstandings abound in human communication. I’ve had my fair share of both misunderstanding and being misunderstood in my relationship with my wife! But the fact that we are prone to misunderstand doesn’t change the reality that we intuitively know how to understand others. Understanding takes place when we consider the words spoken, and the context in which they’re said. This same dynamic is essential to interpreting written communication, including Scripture. In fact, this kind of Scriptural interpretation is exactly what Peter is calling us to practice in 2 Peter 1.

So, just like your friend at the lemonade stand, the authors of Scripture had a specific point in what they communicated. And what they communicated is what God is communicating. We don’t get to arbitrarily assign meaning to Scripture. Its meaning was established as God breathed it out through the agency of the Bible’s authors! The meaning of a passage of Scripture is not determined by our subjective evaluation of it, but by what its authors intended to say as they wrote it.

But can’t the Holy Spirit impress a different meaning on my soul than what the original author intended to say? If the Holy Spirit inspired His word perfectly through the means of real people writing to real people, we know that the message that the author intended to communicate is the burden of the Holy Spirit! If you want to see what the Spirit has to say in a text of Scripture, you do so by determining what the author intended to say as he wrote, not by an impression you might get while reading it! Our impressions are fallible, but the “the men moved by the Holy Spirit [speaking] from God” are not. I praise God for spiritual blessing and impressions given while reading Scripture, but the meaning of a passage is determined by authorial intent—any impression must be subjected to that!

So how do we get at the author’s intended meaning? Primarily through considering his words in relation to the passage’s context. The closer we examine the ongoing argument our particular passage is a part of, and how the book fits in the overall story of Scripture, the better we will be able to discern what the author intended to say by what he wrote.

Since Scripture has been breathed out by God through the agency of human authors writing to a specific human audience, beware the notion of, “Here is what this passage means to me.” In fact, beware of interpreting the Bible in any way other than through discovering the authorial intent and discerning the implications of the author’s message for today!

The Attributes of God Tract Introduction

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Back in 2013, while working at Pizza Hut in Elk City, OK, I started working on a series of tracts to hand out to my approximately 60 coworkers. Out of 13 possible tract topics (the tracts focus on the attributes of God), I ended up writing four. This post contains an introduction letter that I wrote and handed out to all my coworkers before I started giving out the tracts. I pray you’re able to benefit from the good news contained in this series of messages! Here’s the introduction letter:

Dear ____________,

It looks like my family and I will be leaving Oklahoma soon. It is my earnest prayer that, before that time comes, I might be of some service to you, and that, by the grace of God, that service might result in your eternal benefit.

I am not an expert on these things. There is a lot that I do not know. Of what I do know there is much that I do not understand. Of all that I understand, I am convinced that I do not yet understand it nearly well enough. There are countless other men and women out there who are far more brilliant than I, who would be far more qualified to write to you on these subjects. Though that is the case, I do feel a responsibility before God to share with you some of the things that I have learned in my recent years of study before I leave. Though my knowledge is limited, I want to share with you, in a series of letters, a few things that I do know with confidence – things that, if received, will be a priceless benefit to you. In all that I intend to say to you, please understand, I am nothing more than a beggar trying to tell another beggar where he found some bread.

What is this thing that is so important that I am writing these letters to you? Some of you know how I lived when I came to Pizza Hut the first time in 2009, and how drastically my life was changed overnight. I am writing to you about that very truth that has so totally changed me. So what is it that I am, by God’s grace, going to say to you in these letters? Just this:

God is a great, glorious God, we are great, wretched sinners, and Jesus Christ is the great, all-sufficient Savior.

That being my goal, I intend this series of letters to be divided into the following three sections: The Glory of God, which will focus on an aspect of God’s character, The Bad News, which will focus on how the truths of who God is apply to us; and finally, The Good News, which will focus on the amazing provision God has made for the forgiveness of our guilt, and the healing of our rebellious hearts through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

God bless you. I earnestly pray that God uses these feeble efforts of mine to bring you to know and enjoy Him now and forever through salvation in the only Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen (let it be).

Your servant for the sake of the Gospel,
Timothy Baird

The Attributes of God Tract 1—God is Creator and Sustainer

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The Glory of God

God is Creator and Sustainer

The Bible teaches us that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”1. Contrary to the unthinking assertions of some, the universe is not a causeless effect. Everything did not come from nothing. Just as the existence of a building demands a builder, and art points to an artist, so creation requires a Creator2. God created all that is, whether visible or invisible3, and sustains everyone and everything effortlessly4. God was the creative force behind all that is, while He Himself was neither caused nor created5, but exists eternally6, outside of time (which is part of His creation)7. God alone is the Creator; none other rightly bears that title.

God is your Creator as well8. As your Creator, you belong to God, meaning He has every right to breathe life into you and take it away, to set limitations and define His expectations for you, to give commandments and hold you accountable for your obedience to them. Because God is your Creator, it is right that you would live your life with gratitude before Him in an attitude of absolute humility, reverence, and obedience. Your life has a purpose – you were created to worship and give thanks to your Creator – the One who has given you life and every good pleasure you have ever enjoyed9, sustaining you to this very day.

The Bad News

When God finished His creation, He said that it was “very good”10. God and man dwelt in perfect fellowship with one another. There was no death or suffering in the world; it was perfectly sustained by God in a flawless state. But man rebelled against God11 and the world was plunged from its “very good” state into darkness and decay12. Since Adam’s first act of disobedience, every one of his descendents has inherited death13 and a sinful nature14 that continues his rebellion against God. It is because of that broken and unsound sin nature that you love what you should hate (sin)15 and hate what you should love (righteousness)16.

To show us our sinful state, God has given us His Law (the Ten Commandments)17. God has commanded us to love Him supremely18 by worshiping only Him19, reverencing His name20, and honoring His holy day21 – commandments that most people’s sinful hearts, contrary to all virtue and reason, drive them to break constantly. God has also commanded us to love our fellow man22 (who is made in His image23) by honoring our parents24, not committing murder25 (God considers hatred to be murder26), or adultery27 (God considers lust to be adultery28), and not stealing29, lying30, or being greedy31 – commandments that most people unreasonably break every day.

God is reasonable and just to command these things and it is sane and right for you and I to obey them. Our disobedience to God’s commands is no small thing. Disobedience is high treason against our Creator, and that throws contempt upon His infinite glory. Since God is infinitely worthy of our love, any sin is infinitely offensive; therefore our just Creator will give the correct punishment for it – infinite, eternal destruction in the fires of hell32. Breaking God’s Law shows us that we are sinners, in desperate need of a Savior. Have you broken your Creator’s Law? Will you be found innocent or guilty on the day of judgment?

The Good News

The truth is bleak; however there is amazingly good news for guilty sinners! The Bible says that because God is kind and merciful, it was His will to save for Himself a people. God can offer all sinners forgiveness because His Son, Jesus Christ, Who is of the same essence as the Father33(fully God yet fully man), entered time, came to earth, lived the sinless life34 no one else was able to live35, and gave Himself up as a sacrifice for sin36. Jesus allowed Himself to be nailed to a cross where the Bible says He took upon Himself the sins of every man, woman, and child who will turn from their sin and trust in Him alone as Savior and Lord37. As He hung on the cross, He was crushed under the full weight of the wrath of God that rightly belonged to His people38. Jesus died forsaken of the Father39, was buried40, and rose again three days later41, giving proof the He is God, and that His sacrifice was accepted.

The sacrificial death of His Son was the only way God could forgive our offenses without being a corrupt judge who perverts justice by “justifying the wicked42” without their due penalty being paid43. If you will trust Christ’s work as your only hope for a right standing before God44, on the day when you’re judged45, it will be seen that justice has already been served – the penalty for your sin will be considered as paid by Jesus46. In fact, God will treat you as though you had lived Jesus’s perfect life47, and will take you into His glorious kingdom for all eternity48! Repent and believe the Gospel today49! You might not have a tomorrow50.

“Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, In due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.” (Deuteronomy 32:35)

1 Gen. 1:1; 2 Heb. 3:4; 3 Col. 1:16; 4 Acts 17:22-31, Ps. 104:27-30, Job 12:10, 34:14-15, Col. 1:17, Heb. 1:3; 5 Is. 43:10; Rev. 4:11; 6 Ps. 90:2; 7 2 Pt. 3:8; 8 Ps. 89:47; 9 Jam. 1:17; 10 Gen. 1:31; 11 Gen. 2:16-17, 3:6; 12 Rom. 8:19-22; 13 Rom. 5:12; 14 Rom. 3:9-18; Eph. 2:3; 15 Jn. 3:19-21; 16 Jn. 3:19-21; 17 1 Tim. 1:9-11; Rom. 3:19; Gal. 3:24; 18 Mk. 12:30; 19 Ex. 20:1-6; 20 Ex. 20:7; 21 Ex. 20:8-11; 22 Mk. 12:31; 23Gen. 1:27; 24 Ex. 20:12; 25 Ex. 20:13; 26 1 Jn. 3:15; 27 Ex. 20:14; 28 Mt. 5:28; 29 Ex. 20:15; 30 Ex. 20:16;31 Ex. 20:17; 32 Lk. 12:5; 33 Col. 2:9; 34 Heb. 4:15; 35 Rom. 3:10, 23; 36 Is. 53:5-6; 37 1 Pt. 2:24; 38 Is. 53:10-11; 39 Mk. 15:34; 40 Lk. 23:52-53; 41 Lk. 24:1-8; 42 Prv. 17:15; 43 Rom. 6:23; 44 Rom. 5:1-2; Eph. 1:12; Heb. 3:6; 45 Acts 17:30-31; Ps. 9:8; 46 1 Jn. 4:10; 47 Phil. 3:9-10; 48 Mt. 25:34; 49 Mk. 1:15; Acts 3:19; 50 Jam. 4:13-16

The Attributes of God Tract 2—God is One

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The Glory of God

God is One

The Bible teaches us that there is only One true God. Deuteronomy 4:39 says, “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.” The God of the Bible is the One true God, and there is no other. Though this claim is viewed as narrow minded by many, it is not unreasonable. Isn’t the very nature of truth narrow? If your car is a Honda, it is not a Chevrolet. If the God of the Bible is the Living God (and He is), then no other god worshiped by man is in reality a god at all, whether one or many. It is the One true God who has created and sustains all that is1, has established His Law2, and has promised to righteously judge mankind by it3. He is also the same God who, being rich in mercy, has made a way for guilty sinners to be forgiven through the blood of His own Son4.

The Bible shows us that while God is One, He exists as a Trinity5. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are One, and are yet separate from one another as three different persons. We freely confess that this is a great mystery – how God can be One, yet He is three, but the fact that something is mysterious does not make it false. I personally do not understand the details of how gravity works, but that doesn’t mean I don’t remain firmly attached to earth by it! Human understanding does not define truth, God does, and God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible is that God is One, yet He is referred to as three persons.

The Bad News

Since Yahweh is the One true God, His Law rightly demands that we worship only Him, and no other6. God has, since the beginning of time, had His people who worshiped only Him, but since man’s fall into sin we tend to go after other gods of our own making. Men make gods out of wood and metal, or gods in their own minds. Many today worship only one god, but the god of the Qur’an is not the same God that is revealed in the Bible. Even the followers of modern Judaism claim that their god is the God of the Old Testament, but the modern Jews’ god is in reality a blasphemous denial of Yahweh of the Scriptures, since they (along with all other world religions except Biblical Christianity) worship a god that man can earn a right standing before with his good deeds, and that, if man does well enough, God will not punish his evil deeds. This is a sick denial of the holiness and righteousness of God8. Further, the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament9, and most Jews today deny Jesus Christ, who is the God of both Testaments incarnate. Worshiping false gods is idolatry, and idolatry is sin.

Making a god in one’s own imagination is the most popular form of idolatry in the United States today, where many say they believe in the God of Scripture, yet they twist their view of God, to tame Him, and make Him feel harmless – a God that simply overlooks sin. People do this because God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible makes them uncomfortable10. They must do something to soothe their burning consciences, and silence the knowledge of judgment and eternity that they were born with11. Many people give lip service to “God”, but in reality, the god they’re thinking of looks more like a careless, generous old grandpa than the God of the Bible. God is as He has revealed Himself to be in Scripture – generous, merciful, kind, and patient, yet righteous, holy, and just, seeing our deeds at all times, and purposing to bring our every thought, word and deed into judgment on the last day12.

Loving anyone or anything more than the One true God is also Idolatry. If you would take an honest look at yourself, you would likely find at least one thing that you are putting before God in your life. Are you loving a significant other, a hobby, money, the pleasure of drugs, sex, music, self image, or video games, anything more than God? Even loving your own life more than God is creating an idol before Him. Placing anything, good or bad, above God is sin. God will punish all sin on the day of judgment.

The Good News

Though you and I have dishonored God by ignoring, or even remaking Him to our liking, and giving other things the love that only He deserves, He, being rich in mercy, made a way for us to be forgiven13. He sent His Son to die in the place of sinners14. Before Jesus’s arrest, knowing the great sufferings that He was about to endure, went to a place called Gethsemane15, and “being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground”16. The Bible says He was praying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done”17. What was in this cup that was so disturbing to our Lord that “His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground”? Was it the physical torments that Jesus was about to endure? No! History tells us that many thousands of Christian martyrs through the ages have went to their deaths, even being burned alive at the stake, in a state of perfect calm; even singing praises to God in the flames! If people who know the benefits of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection could face such tortures calmly, or even with joy, why would the “Author of their salvation” be so scared of the physical pain He was about to face? No, while the physical tortures Jesus faced were unimaginably severe, they are not what filled that dreadful cup God offered to Jesus Christ (spiritually speaking) in the garden of Gethsemane. Revelation 14:10 speaks of “the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger”. If God were to succeed in His mission to save a people for Himself, and remain a just Judge while forgiving them, all the punishment that was earned for their sins had to be paid by someone. Someone has to pay!

If God’s justice says that sin deserves eternity in hell, and Jesus made a full satisfaction of the wrath of God on the cross on behalf of His people, that means Jesus suffered an eternity’s worth of wrath in that relatively short space of time18. He did not just suffer the eternity of wrath earned by just one individual, but by every man, woman, and child through all of time who had, or would ever come to Him for forgiveness19! Figuratively speaking, the wrath of God is what filled the cup that Jesus feared to drink, and Jesus obediently drank it all, making a full payment for the demands of justice.

The God of the Bible is the One true God, and the sacrifice made by the Jesus of the bible is the only one that God has ever, or ever will accept20. God proved this by raising His Son from the dead. Please do not continue in your idolatry; acknowledge God for Who He is, acknowledge yourself for what you are, repent of sin and flee to the only Savior, today.

“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)

1 Is. 45:12; 2 Ex. 20:1-17; 3 Rom. 3:19; 4 Rom. 5:6-10; 5 1 Cor. 8:6; Jn. 1:8; Acts 5:3-4; Mt. 28:19; 6 Ex. 20:3-6; 7 Gen. 1-50; 8 Prv. 17:15; Ex. 34:7; 9 Ex. 3:13-14; Jn. 8:58; 10 Jn. 3:19-20; 11 Ecc. 3:11; 12 Ex. 34:5-7; 13 Jn. 3:14-16; 14 Is. 53:5-11; 15 Mt. 26:36-50; 16 Lk. 22:44; 17 Lk. 22:42; 18 Heb. 9:26; 19 Jn. 10:11; 20 Rom. 6:10

The Attributes of God Tract 3—God is Great and Perfect

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The Glory of God

God is Great and Perfect

The Bible teaches us that God is great and perfect. “For I proclaim the name of the LORD; Ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.”1

God alone is great. It is true that men have done great and amazing things, but any greatness in the creature ultimately points to the greatness of the Creator and Sustainer. No man has inherent greatness.

No one is perfect like God is perfect. Even the perfection of sinless angels does not compare to the perfections of God2. Since God is an absolutely perfect being, all that He is and all that He does is perfect3. In the end, all of creation will bow before God and confess His perfections4. Depending upon your standing before God (being either in Christ, and thus justified, or without Him, and thus condemned), you will see, either with unspeakable dread, or unimaginable delight, how perfectly all things throughout human history were brought together to display God’s glory. You and I will prove to be examples of God’s perfection, either glorifying the perfection of His grace as vessels of honor in heaven5, or glorifying the perfection of His justice as vessels of dishonor in Hell6. God is absolutely perfect in all that He is, says, and does.

The Bad News

Since God is perfect, we should honor Him by fully trusting and obeying Him, knowing that His will, as reveled in the Bible, is as perfect as He is7. Despite God’s greatness and perfection, our nature is to reject His will and fulfill our own desires instead. This is sinful since in doing so we deny His perfection, and the perfection of His will, and insist upon the absurd notion that we know what is best for ourselves. Our sin is no less than a rejection of the lordship of God; an attempt to seat ourselves upon His throne, in His place. This is not only unspeakably unwise, since our perfect Lord’s will for us is perfect8, but it is also unspeakably evil, since our great God, seated upon His throne in heaven, deserves to have His place upon the thrones of our hearts as well. God – the only being in existence who is truly worthy to be called great, and worthy to be bowed down to and obeyed, is in effect told to subject Himself to our desires every time we sin. Since God is our great Lord, there is no such thing as a “small” sin because there is no such thing as a small God to sin against.

If there is one truth most people will agree upon, it is that no one is perfect. Perhaps one in ten thousand would be so far removed from reality as to try and say that they have lived a perfect life. The Bible gives us the standard of “goodness” when it says: “the LORD is good”9. If God is the standard of goodness, and God is perfect, then a good person is someone who has been absolutely, sinlessly perfect in thought word and deed from the time of their birth to the moment of their death. While most would agree that they are not perfect, very few realize that our imperfection is a dreadfully serious problem10! God is perfect, and as such He rightly demands perfection from each of us11. On the day that you and I are judged, if you would be justified outside of Christ, you must have lived the absolutely perfect life that God demands12. Do you measure up to God’s standard? Have you lived a perfect life, or have you lied, blasphemed, and worshiped the god of pleasure? Are you a goodperson, or are you living in sin even as you read this? The Bible says that if you have not lived a perfect life, God cannot even bear to look at you13! Outside of Christ, our perfect Creator’s eyes are too holy to even look at your sinfulness, much less share the intimacy of His favorable presence with you, in this life or in heaven for eternity! Even if we were able to stop sinning at this very moment, and never sin again, justice would still demand the eternal destruction of our souls for our past sins.

“They have acted corruptly toward Him, They are not His children, because of their defect; But are a perverse and crooked generation.” (Deuteronomy 32:5)

The Good News

Our situation is truly hopeless on our own, but there is hope for any who will humble themselves before God, and come to Christ by faith14. By God’s standard, Jesus is perfect – He is the only good person that has ever walked this earth15. Also, since God the Son is equal in every respect with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit16, Jesus is great – He is of infinitely greater value than any other person. Our Lord left His glorious throne in Heaven17, and was born of a virgin18 into this fallen, hateful world, being fully God, yet fully man19. Jesus’s greatness and perfection uniquely qualified Him to be the only acceptable sacrifice for the sins of His people. Our Lord, being the infinitely valuable Son of God, is great, and being sinless, is perfect, just like God the Father.

Under the Old Testament ceremonial law, the Jews observed certain feasts, designed by God to help them to remember past events, and to illustrate things for them that had not yet happen. One such feast was established after God, through a series of plagues, brought the nation of Israel out of Egypt, where they were held as slaves for four hundred years. Though God sent many severe plagues, Pharaoh would not let the nation of Israel go. After the final plague, the death of every firstborn person and animal in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh was finally persuaded to let the people go20. Four days before that final plague, God instructed the nation of Israel to take a one year old, unblemished lamb from their flocks and keep it in each of their houses until twilight on the fourth day, when each family was to kill their lamb, put his blood on the doorposts of their houses, roast him, and eat him21. As the death angel went through the land of Egypt, he would pass over any home that had the blood of a lamb applied to its doorposts22.

After God brought the nation of Israel out of their captivity through that final plague, God commanded that the people continue to observe the passover feast to commemorate the children of Israel’s miraculous Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Though it certainly did a good job of reminding the Jews about God’s work on their behalf in Egypt, the feast also had another meaning; an even greater significance – to point the Jews to their coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, who was to be the “…Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”23.

Taking their lambs into their homes for four days means that the family develops emotional ties with their lamb – they’re making a valuable sacrifice when they kill their lamb. This pointed the Jews to the future reality of God’s sacrificing of His own, infinitely great, infinitely valuable, infinitely loved Son. Another requirement for the Passover lamb is that he be unblemished. This clearly pictures the sinless perfection of the Lord Jesus that no one has ever (or ever will) come even close to. As the feast illustrated – if the judgment of God was to pass over anyone, the only sacrifice that God would accept is a sinless one – a condition that only the Son of God met. The Passover lamb is killed, picturing the spilling of the Lord Jesus’s blood that God’s justice required, and the lamb is then roasted, picturing the pouring out of the wrath of God for the sins of His people upon Jesus in their place. The application of the lamb’s blood to the doorposts, which originally resulted in the Jews being protected from God’s plague upon the Egyptians, points us to our desperate need to have the blood of Christ applied to us.

Jesus, the church’s Passover Lamb24, made the only sacrifice God will accept on behalf of sinners. God, being perfect, demanded a perfectly spotless sacrifice – a demand that only Jesus could meet25. And God, being infinitely great, and thus infinitely offended by sin, demanded an infinitely valuable sacrifice – A demand that only Jesus, being God in the flesh, could meet. If you will turn from your sin and trust Christ alone to save you, His blood will be applied to you, and the second death, which is the final judgment of God – eternal destruction in hell, will not touch you26. Moreover, the perfect God who cannot even bear to set His holy eyes upon you, will look upon you with unending love, because instead of seeing the wickedness of your past, He will see His Son’s perfections when He looks at you27. Forsake all sin today and come to Jesus, showing your faith in Him by your changed, obedient life. He is the only true passover Lamb! If you ignore such a wonderful free gift of salvation, like the hardened Egyptians, you will certainly face the judgment of God.

“Jesus Christ … there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10, 12)

“For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:2-3a)

1 Dt. 32:3-4; 2 Job 4:18; 3 Dt. 32:3-4; 4 Is. 45:23; Rom. 4:11; Phil. 2:9-11; 5 Eph. 1:5-6; Rom. 9:22-23; 6 Rom. 9:22-23; 7 Ps. 12:6, 19:7-9; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 8 Rom. 12:2; 9 Ps. 100:5; 10 Dt. 32:5; 11 Lv. 19:2; Mt. 5:48; 12 Rom. 10:5; 13 Hab. 1:13; 14 Rom. 5:6-11; 15 Heb. 4:15; 16Jn. 10:30; 17 Jn. 17:5; 18 Is. 7:14; 19 Col. 2:9 ; 20 Ex. 1-11; 21 Ex. 12:5-8; 22 Ex. 12:13; 23 Jn. 1:29; 24 1 Pt. 1:18-19; 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 25Rom. 3:10, 23; 26 1 Thess. 1:10; 27 1 Cor. 1:30