Tools for God’s People
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.
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.
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 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).
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).
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.”
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.”
“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!
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!
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:
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,