EVANGELISM: Whose Job Is It?

EVANGELISM. It’s a topic many people enjoy hearing about. It’s one of those subjects that makes us feel encouraged as we listen to the stories. It makes us feel thankful for all the faithful Christians who are working to further advance the kingdom of God. Unfortunately, too few of us will go beyond this. When confronted with an opportunity, we make excuses as to why we shouldn’t bother anybody. We may become nervous and try to avoid any awkward moments. We may become afraid of how the other person will respond. Then again, maybe it’s because we simply don’t understand what evangelism is really all about. It’s my hope that, as we dive into the Scripture, we can unpack what it teaches on the subject and then apply it to our lives.

The word translated as “evangelist” is only used only three times in all of the New Testament and literally means “a bringer of good tidings”. The three passages it can be found in are Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; & 2 Timothy 4:5.

On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him.

Acts 21:8

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,

Ephesians 4:11

But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:5

Based on Ephesians, we can clearly see this is an important and distinctive role given from God, just as were apostles, prophets, and, presently, pastors and teachers. In Acts, we see Phillip is described as the evangelist. Notice the definite article. There was no confusion that Phillip was given this particular role by God for the purpose of equipping the saints and building up the body of Christ. Interestingly enough, in all of Scripture, Phillip is the only person who is personally identified as being an evangelist in the official sense (chapter 8 of Acts covers some of his works as an evangelist). The closest other spot we come is the passage in 2 Timothy.

If I were to make the statement that not all people are called to be pastors, I’m fairly certain there would be unanimous approval from everyone reading this. What about teachers? Aren’t we warned that not many should become one (James 3:1)? Considering pastors and teachers are official roles, does it stand to reason that not all are called to fill the official role of evangelist? I would say this is a valid statement. So, does this exempt Christians from evangelism? Does it exempt those Christians who do not fill the official role of teacher from going out and teaching others? Not at all! Look again at 2 Timothy 4:5. Notice that Paul is not actually referring to Timothy as an evangelist. Though the same word is being used here, we can see it is only being used as a reference point. Paul is not saying Timothy is filling the role of evangelist. He’s telling him he needs to do the work of an evangelist. Timothy was called to do a great many things though filling the official role of evangelist was not one of them. Some are spiritually gifted in specific ways and God places those people in unique positions. Pastors and teachers fit that bill as well. Evangelists are no different. That being said, there was no confusion that he was to perform the duties of evangelism nonetheless.

To further drive home this point, we need to look at another word. Whereas the word translated as “evangelist” is used only three times in the New Testament, its root word is used 55 times and is translated multiple ways. It is translated as “preach” 23 times, “preach the Gospel” 22 times, “bring good tidings” 2 times, and other methods another 8 times. The very foundation of the word is clearly one of great importance. In fact, without it, we can’t even accomplish the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

Though not all are called to be teachers, all Christians are called to teach to some degree. Christ Himself has commanded it! So how are we to accomplish this? How do we make disciples of all nations? How can we make disciples of all nations unless they first hear the good news (Romans 10:14)? How is this accomplished? Through evangelism (Romans 10:15)!

The word translated as “bring good news” is none other than the root of evangelist. I love how the KJV words it: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” It actually uses the same Greek word twice in the one sentence. Though some have the supernatural gift of evangelism so that they may fill the specific role, God has told us He counts it as a beautiful thing when His own share His gospel with the lost. Perhaps many can relate to Danny Akin when he says, “I don’t have the gift but I do have the responsibility.

Sadly, evangelism has steadily been reduced to the other guy’s job. It’s taken a back seat to the struggles of daily life and the already tight time constraints. As the bride of Christ, my fear is that we’ve simply lost our evangelistic fervor. How can this be when Scripture tells us the very souls of men are at stake? I love the way Charles Spurgeon had a zeal for evangelism. He understood God’s sovereignty yet he also understood God’s natural method for bringing new saints to Himself. Spurgeon said, “We believe in predestination; we believe in election and non-election: but, notwithstanding that, we believe that we must preach to men, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and ye shall be saved,’ but believe not on him and ye be damned.”

We, as Christians, have a duty to proclaim Christ crucified. We have a duty to evangelize to the lost. To some, it comes easy. To others, it is a work and a chore. Regardless, we are all called to perform this work just as Paul charged Timothy. After all, it isn’t called work without good reason. It may not always be easy but it is always critically important. John MacArthur makes a very valid point regarding the method of evangelism. He states, “It is also important to note that the purpose of evangelism — whether by an ordinary Christian to a neighbor, by a pastor to the unsaved in his congregation, or by an evangelist to the general public — is to carefully but simply help unbelievers become aware of their sinfulness and lostness and to proclaim Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord. Any human manipulation in that process, no matter how well intentioned, always becomes a barrier to genuine belief.

In John 4, we see this was the method Christ used in evangelizing to the Samaritan woman at the well. While speaking to her of living water and never thirsting, he also made it abundantly clear that she was living in a life of sin. This was done by pointing out how she was living with another man out of wedlock as well as what were likely multiple previous marriages. There was no promise of health, wealth, and prosperity. There was no sinner’s prayer. It was a clear cut method of lovingly pointing out her desperate need for a Savior while telling her the way to eternal life. Psalm 90:8 says, “You have placed our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your presence.” There will come a day when the unsaved will hear of their inability to save themselves. Would you rather they hear it from you first or from God Himself on the Day of Judgment?

To take another look at Spurgeon’s example, he took this approach quite often. He was not afraid of how others would respond. He was more concerned with how God would judge. In his sermon, “Compel Them to Come In,” regarding those who simply feel they cannot believe or perhaps find it to be an inconvenient time, he stated, “No, my friend, and you never will believe if you look first at your believing. Remember, I am not come to invite you to faith, but am come to invite you to Christ….Our first business has not to do with faith, but with Christ. Come, I beseech you, on Calvary’s mount, and see the cross. Behold the Son of God, He who made the heavens and the earth, dying for your sins. Look to Him, is there not power in Him to save? But did I hear you whisper that this was not a convenient time? Then what must I say to you? When will that convenient time come? Shall it come when you are in hell? Will that time be convenient? Shall it come when you are on your dying bed, and the death throttle is in your throat — shall it come then? Or when the burning sweat is scalding your brow; and then again, when the cold clammy sweat is there, shall those be convenient times? When pains are racking you, and you are on the borders of the tomb? No, sir, this morning is the convenient time.

It’s this kind of passion that needs to be rekindled in the church. Under the oversight of the elders of a local church (and not divorced from it as a solo project), we need to recover our heart for the lost. Then, we need to take action and evangelize. Sadly, this problem isn’t new to our culture. In fact, Jesus himself addressed the situation and even gave the remedy.

Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Matthew 9:37-38, NASB

I once attended a 9Marks conference where it was proclaimed that “no church is accidentally evangelical. It must be intentional.” If we are met with resistance, it shouldn’t discourage us. After all, we aren’t saving anybody. We’re simply going fishing (Matthew 4:19). God does all the work in salvation but He has commanded us to preach His word to the lost so that He might then follow through and perform His miraculous work. Trust that God is in control and remain faithful. As the old hymn says, “Trust and obey.” Evangelism shouldn’t be the arduous duty that this day and age makes it out to be. It doesn’t need to be feared nor should it be limited to weekly church events where there’s safety in numbers. Evangelism is a joyful privilege that encompasses our entire lives. It’s an opportunity to preach Christ crucified and extend the offer of eternal life to all who will believe. Is there no sweeter encouragement? Sadly, not all will see the glory of Heaven but, rest assured that not a single one of God’s elect will see the fires of Hell.

Closing with one final quote from Spurgeon, “That is why we preach! If there are so many fish to be taken into the net, I will go and catch some of them. Because many are ordained to be caught, I spread my nets with eager expectation. I never could see why that should repress our zealous efforts. It seems to me to be the very thing that should awaken us to energy — that God has a people, and that these people shall be brought in. When I cease to preach salvation by faith in Jesus, put me into a lunatic asylum, for you may be sure that my mind is gone.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Lessons Learned From the Thomas Collier Incident

The Particular Baptists were not strangers to controversy. One of, if not their biggest, disagreements with the establishment around them was on the issue of infant baptism. They were distinct in that they generally argued against it from the perspective of covenant theology (see Sam Renihan’s book, From Shadow to Substance). Although they agreed with Reformed orthodoxy on many things, they would not capitulate to the Church of England nor to their Puritan brothers, whom they identified with as Separatists. Controversy not only found itself from the outside, but also from within. The Particular Baptists, beginning in the 1640s, were faced with a substantial threat from a prominent and active member among them: Thomas Collier.

Historical Background

Thomas Collier was not a fringe or silent member of the Particular Baptists. He was quite active and, “served as a chaplain, pastor, evangelist, church planter, and associational leader in the west. Over the span of his long ministry, Collier covered considerable territory, geographically and theologically.” (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 174) Just because a man is in this position does not mean error will not follow, although one would think he would have the spiritual maturity to avoid the heresies he would espouse. But espouse heresy he did. In the 1640s and into the 1670s he was teaching heresy. Renihan gives us a picture of his teachings:

…Collier published heretical expressions regarding the trinity, denying the distinction of the persons…In 1674, Collier boldly placed himself outside the boundaries of Protestant orthodoxy in a book entitled The Body of Divinity. Two years later he espoused heterodoxy even more explicitly in his Additional Word to the Body of Divinity. Among other things, he taught that God exists in a “increated” heavens, that Christ died for the universe, that man is able to believe the gospel of his own power, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, that believers could lose their salvation, that salvation remained possible after death, and other heresies regarding the hypostatic union of the Mediator, Jesus Christ, asserting that God the Son was a creature.”

Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 174-175

In other words, Collier was attacking the biblical teachings of the church. These deviations went to the heart of the Christian, let alone Particular Baptist, faith. This was not just about baptism or who the members of the new covenant were anymore. This was a fight for the faith itself. And the response of the Particular Baptists was one that needed to be proportionate to the teachings brought against them. Given he was no small fish in the Particular Baptist pond, this problem had to be dealt with quickly. And try they did.

A prolific author and active church-planter, Collier’s open and published embrace of heresy could not go unanswered. In fact, regional pastors and some of the members of the church in Southwick where Collier was pastoring took notice and requested help from London leaders in order to deal with his deviations.

Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 175

Collier was addressed by Nehemiah Coxe, William Kiffen, and others, although there was no repentance on the part of the heretic. “…it was clear that Collier had no intention of changing his mind or putting down his pen on the matter.” (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 178)

In response to the beliefs of Mr. Collier, and to distance themselves from him, what would come to be known as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith would be published (it was originally called A Confession of Faith put forth by the Elders and Brethren of many congregations of Christians (Baptized upon profession of their faith) in London and the country).

In fact, the Confession was published the same month (August of 1677) that elders from London and Bristol were declaring Collier a heretic (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 178).

Lessons Learned

While there are probably many things that could be learned from the Collier incident, there are three items that can be gleaned.

  1. Sound doctrine is crucial to eternal life. This should seem rather obvious but it is good to re-iterate. What you believe will impact how you live especially as it relates to what we believe about God, His Word, and the Gospel. With the Gospel in particular, Paul was adamant about ensuring it was taught, and if another “Gospel” was taught, those who espoused it were damned to hell (Galatians 1:8). What Collier taught was against orthodoxy and ultimately went to the heart of the faith. Who God is, salvation, who Christ is, all these things were taught in a way that could not be reconciled with the Christian faith and really led to another Gospel, thereby securing him as a heretic.
  2. Having association with other like minded churches can be very helpful. While associationalism is not commanded in the Scriptures, it is a very helpful way for churches to support one another. We see this clearly in the Collier incident. Churches worked together to try to stamp out Collier as he made a stink among the brethren with his heresies. This strong associationalism can allow other knowledgeable brethren to deal with issues in other churches without being authoritative over a local church or substantially interfering in their affairs.
  3. Properly defining what we believe is very important. The 2nd LBCF coming out of this incident with Collier showed how important it was to clearly define what orthodox doctrine is and what the Particular Baptists believed. The Particular Baptists did not want to be associated with Collier in any way and wanted to ensure that there was no confusion in what “real” Particular Baptist theology was. This Confession was that official response. Properly defining as a church what is believed in said church is crucial. The Reformed were very careful to define their beliefs and were not casual or lazy in how they defined core orthodoxy. This meant that substantial time had to be given to their expositions and defenses, but it meant they could clearly define who they were as opposed to those around them, namely Rome (although the Particular Baptists were primarily dealing with the Church of England, Presbyterians, Independents, and Anabaptists, but there may be more). We need to clearly define what we believe and use this to take a stand against heterodoxy.

Conclusion

Collier is by no means an isolated incident in false teaching creeping into the church. The church has constantly been dealing with false teaching in one way or another and it was no different for the Particular Baptists. Their commitment to Biblical truth was what guided them through this difficult time and the Lord ultimately united them in it. May we have the strength and passion for truth as the Particular Baptists.

THE WRATH OF GOD: Eternal or Temporary?

WEEPING AND GNASHING. If you’re a Christian, this phrase should mean more to you than merely what happens when your team loses the Super Bowl. The idea of weeping and gnashing of teeth is meant to fill one with dread over the terrors of hell. By the grace of God, He chose to save me from such a final destination so that I love Him and glorify Him forever in worship. Just as a recognition of our depravity should wake us up to the need of a Savior, the knowledge of hell should drive our praises of His lovingkindness and mercy. So what does that make of those who deny the eternal torment of unbelievers? For starters, it minimizes what they have to be thankful for. Instead of being thankful for salvation from eternal misery, they can only be thankful that they get to partake in eternal worship. But will those who end up having their souls destroyed really care in the end? Obviously not.

I recently had a very short discussion with someone who was promoting the idea of the total annihilation of the soul. He felt like eternal torment was outside of God’s character. After all, how could a God of love be willing to torment anyone for all of eternity? Such a perspective is severely lacking in the understanding of the very thing they seek to question: God’s character. While God is indeed a God of love, He is also a just God who has repeatedly stated that He will pour out His wrath in judgment. The person just couldn’t wrap his mind around God tormenting people for eternity. He felt such a view was unbiblical and an affront to God. To justify his position, he used Matthew 10:28 which says:

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 20:28, NASB

While I was able to see why that verse, if isolated from the rest of Scripture, could be interpreted in that way, to do so requires a very low view of Scripture and is lazy. Aside from lazy study habits, such an interpretation places the emphasis on the wrong word. Instead of emphasizing DESTROY, it should emphasize COULD. The verse in Matthew isn’t saying God will destroy the souls of unbelievers. The context is about the power of God. But just because God CAN do something, doesn’t mean He WILL do it.

There are plenty of places in Scripture that speak of eternal torment in Hell. The common theme is that there is eternal destruction (1 Thessalonians 1:9) in an eternal fire (Matthew 25:41) that cannot be quenched (Matthew 3:12). While believers will enjoy everlasting life, unbelievers will face everlasting contempt (Daniel 2:12) through eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46). The smoke of their torment shall go up (Revelation 14:11) and they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).

Or we can just believe God is lying to us and that He’ll actually just annihilate the souls of unbelievers and let them find their peace. After all, that’s exactly what it would amount to. Upon final judgment, those who reject Christ would now find their peace in annihilation. While believers get to glorify God forever, it’s not like unbelievers are really missing anything. Going back to the Super Bowl analogy used above, it would be like me not caring who wins after I die. I’m dead. I’ll have absolutely nothing to care about at that point. If I’m going to be annihilated with zero cognizance or existence, why do I care what happens after that? The eternal bliss of the unbeliever would essentially match the eternal bliss of the believer in Christ. Such a view only minimizes the importance of repentance and faith in Christ. There’s a reason Scripture is so clear on the matter. It’s not only a valid scare tactic, but it is also an exposition of righteous judgment from a just God.

Reader, I care deeply for your soul and want nothing more than to worship God in eternity as we bow before a mighty King (Psalm 93:1) and merciful Father (Luke 6:36). Just as eternal life means eternal life, eternal fire means eternal fire. It’s not merely reserved for the devil and his demons. If this were so, there would be no reason for dire warning. If you do not know Christ as Lord and Savior, take heed of this warning as it is from no less than God Himself. Time will come for us all.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Loving our Neighbor as Ourselves Means Rebuking Them

The above picture is of two bumper stickers I have on my car. The “Hate Crime” sticker is one I had custom made. The idea for the wording isn’t mine; I got it from a sign that I saw a Facebook friend holding. On the surface it may seem a bit exploitive, using a charged term in our culture to make a spiritual point. Some might even deny that failing to warn sinners of the judgement to come is a hate crime. They might say it may be wrong, but it’s not necessarily hatred. However, I think the Bible would teach otherwise. Jesus famously tells us that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). What many don’t realize is that Jesus is actually quoting from the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18) when he uses those words. In the same chapter of Leviticus, the very verse before the quotation from Jesus, we read this:

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.

Leviticus 19:17 (KJV)

Here God declares we shall not hate our brother, and this is immediately followed by a command that contrasts hating our neighbor: rebuking them. To let our neighbor continue in sin without at least a warning is to show hate to them. This may seem strange to modern world. If anything, to tell someone else that what they’re doing is wrong would be seen as demonstrating hate. People don’t have negative feelings to those around them when they fail to tell them that they are wrong, they’re just “minding their own business.” However, just as love, biblically speaking, is an act, not a feeling, so hatred is also an act. Just because one doesn’t have negative feelings toward his neighbor doesn’t mean it isn’t still hatred when he fails to help his neighbor. The real roots of failing to help one’s neighbor is cowardice and laziness. Cowardice, because that person doesn’t want to come under pressure for having called out sin, and laziness because we’d rather tend to our own affairs than help out a neighbor. Both of these are ultimately rooted in a prioritization of oneself over others, and this is a mindset we cannot, as Christians, have:

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

Philippians 2:3-4

So, we cannot hate our neighbors by failing to warn them. This includes our brothers in the church as well as unbelievers. If we truly are Christians, we should want to be told when we are sinning against the God whom we love. Surely, if our brothers are in Christ, they should want the same. If they are not in Christ, then they need to be warned that what they’re doing is sin and the Gospel needs to be proclaimed to them that they may be saved. Rebuking our neighbor also means rebuking them for the unpopular sins, not just the popular ones. Everyone wants to call someone out for the sins that are not socially acceptable, but are you willing to bring up sins that the culture finds acceptable or even sees as good? The command to rebuke our neighbor does not mean that we have to be harsh when we rebuke them. Sometimes kindly pointing out someone’s error is better. Other times, a more harsh tone is required (see Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians for letting a man living in sin remain in their congregation in 1 Corinthians 5). This also doesn’t mean we need to be the sin police, constantly snooping in others’ live to make sure they’re not sinning. But if we see someone in sin and they don’t seem to be aware of what they’ve done, we have an obligation to warn them, if possible. I write this article as a rebuke to myself, as I have many times failed to warn others of their sin. So let us all remember to love our neighbors as ourselves and rebuke those in sin, for their sake. And if you are not a Christian, I implore you to repent for your sins which have put enmity between you and God. The wages of your sin is death (Romans 6:23), but in Jesus Christ there is forgiveness of sin. Turn to God and believe in Jesus and you will be saved.

Addendum

I wanted to add an addendum to my article as there was a little bit of confusion. I was not trying to suggest that in every single instance one must warn their neighbor of sin, or we would be in sin themselves. Sometimes it is not the appropriate time to bring something up because of other overriding priorities. If I needed to rush someone to the hospital, I shouldn’t stop outside the hospital door to have a two-hour conversation with someone leaving on why they shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain.  We are only able to warn our neighbor with the opportunities given to us, and sometimes those opportunities never come.  In general, however, we should have an attitude of warning our neighbors, rather than letting them continue in sin, as God’s righteous law tells us.

There was also the issue of whether not Leviticus 19:17 applies in a New Covenant context, as it was written to Jews living in the covenant land. It is clear to me that it bears all the markings of abiding moral law. Jesus, as mentioned earlier, quotes the very next verse. He also tells us that in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), that the definition of neighbor was not restricted to Jews, as the Samaritan neither lived in Judea, nor was ethnically fully Jewish.  In Leviticus 19 itself should have given us indication of this, as it says of the non-Jews living in the land “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself” (Leviticus 19:34).  Finally, James, clearly writing in a New Covenant context tells us that to love one’s neighbor as oneself is the Royal Law (James 2:8) and implies it is abiding law on the Christian. 

What Does It Mean To Have Our Minds Set On Eternity?

The world is constantly battling for our minds. We are bombarded with the world’s way of thinking daily. The evil one is seeking to hinder us in our walk with God. Our mind is the gateway for our actions and the way we think always impacts how we live. This is why having a worldview that is Biblical is the only consistent way to live in this evil world that we must remain pilgrims in. The battle for our minds is here.

Trouble of the World

What is the “world” in this sense? Is God’s creation evil since sin is in the world and we are told not to “love the world”? Let us look at what Scripture says about creation.

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Genesis 1:31 (NKJV)

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving;  for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4:1-5 (NKJV)

In both these places we are told that created things are “good”. There is nothing that God has made that is inherently evil. We should enjoy those things that God has given us: the birds, the fish, the animals, all creation is ours to enjoy and it points back to the Creator who made it (Psalm 19:1). Now, how do we deal with passages that seem to associate the world as being bad?

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 2:15-17 (NKJV)

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

James 4:4 (NKJV)

These passages seem very clear in the their indictment of the world. However, the “world” here (Greek word κόσμος) is not referring to the created world (as we have already established above) but the system that is opposed to the things of God (A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament by Alexander Souter is great for further study). The world is that way of thinking that is against God. Lust, pride, etc. are things that are of this “world” and are sin, and therefore “lawless” (1 John 3:4). These fundamental principles will help us to understand what it means to have our minds truly set on eternity.

The Christian’s Relation to the World

With this grim picture of the κόσμος, how are we to live? Unfortunately, the Christian tendency in running from the world’s evil thinking is to run from society itself. We create these “Christian” communities that have their own cultures outside of the society we live in. This principle is discussed by R.C. Sproul in his book Pleasing God. It is seen as being separate from the world and somehow biblical. That is not to say that cultures that Christians create are necessarily bad, but I think there is a tendency to do so as a reaction to the culture around them. Just look at the radical homeschool movement, where sending your kids to public school is sinful, women must wear dresses, and heaven forbid a woman work outside the home. And again, I want to be careful here. There are those who do so out of genuine conviction and there should be some sensitivity (this can be seen in Romans 14). But when these become the standard for obedience to God and are done in an unbiblical manner, then the matter changes, and this tends to be what happens when these “cultures” are created.

Christians are not to separate themselves from this world. Jesus prayed to His Father in the Gospel of John:

I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.

John 17:15 (NKJV)

It is not God’s will that we live in segregated communities apart from society. This is contrary to Scripture. Paul also makes the point against segregation in 1 Corinthians:

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

1 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NKJV)

Paul wanted to clarify what he was talking about. Sinful people of this world are not to be avoided (generally speaking). We would have to leave this earth to completely avoid them! It is the one who claims Christ yet shows no repentance that we are to avoid — church discipline is in view here. Also, how are we to tell the lost about Christ while we are separated from them! We would have to disobey Christ’s Great Commission in order to leave this world. We are to be living in this world and be a light in a dark place.

Using Our Minds Rightly

What does all this have to do with how we think about eternity? What we THINK or BELIEVE about our relation to the world will dictate how we live in it. If we think that the way we are to live with eternity in mind is to leave the world, we will have a warped view of what it means to genuinely have a heavenly mindset. A heavenly mindset is the one that is constantly thinking about the things of God. The Psalmist lays this bare:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

Psalm 1:1-4 (NKJV)

The one who is righteous follows God’s law and his MIND is focused on it. He is constantly meditating on it. His grounding in God’s law leads him to prosper and walk obediently. And where is God’s law found? In His Word. This is the foundation of how we are to live in this world and think rightly. This ultimately is where we should look and where all thoughts and worldviews must be vetted. Manmade rules of how we are to think rightly will never be able to compare to this and, in fact, do nothing to stop the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23).

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NKJV)

This passage really summarizes what it means for us to have minds set on eternity. We are to think on those things that are good and our obedience to God will follow as a result. This verse is not forbidding the thinking of things that are evil (meaning thinking of the things themselves, not actually sinning in our thoughts) since this would require us to leave this world. The world is the devil’s playground, full of sin, and is opposed to God. But as already discussed, we are called to live in it and it is not our Lord’s will that we leave it. The Scriptures themselves contain many instances where there are things that are not lovely, admirable, noble, pure, etc. Paul here is not creating a dichotomy between thinking of that which is good and not. What he wants is the Philippians to have their minds focused on the good so that it will change the way they live. The Reformation Study Bible notes on verse 8:

Concluding these exhortations, Paul calls his readers to a life of obedience, the right response to the peace of God. The virtues listed are not exhaustive but representative, and they come to expression in countless ways (note the repeated “whatever”). Thinking on such things is not an end in itself, but preparation for purposeful action (v. 9).

The Reformation Study Bible, page 1724, English Standard Version

This is what being eternally minded means. This is how we are to walk. As our minds are properly set on eternity, our lives will follow in obedience.

Should You Dine Out on the Sabbath?

COVID has not shut the doors of our sanctuary since early 2020, but it has shut the doors of our kitchen. After the benediction and after-service catch-ups, the saints will by-and-large return home to sup with their families, while the hungry remnant plays hot-potato until someone gets stuck with choosing the restaurant. But after a few months of Sunday wings, our brother Sean came to the conviction that the new routine is not biblical. For the record, he has never made it out to be more than a personal conviction or insisted that we do otherwise, but because I take a potential violation of the Sabbath command seriously, I thought that it warrants a careful, systematic response. So, encouraged by the request of others, I will try to do that here. This practical issue is not its own island — it stems from our understanding of the scope, nature, and implementations of the Sabbath command. I pray that it will be useful even for those considering matters outside of this specific Sabbath question.

The Sabbath as Positive-Moral Law

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Exodus 20:8-12

The Sabbath command is moral law. God thundered it out from Mount Sinai as part of His perfect, righteous standard to the condemnation of His hearers. The Hebrews begged the voice to cease (Exo. 20:19) — the Law pierced their hearts and revealed their worthiness of death, because it confronted them with the law already written in their hearts (Rom. 2:15). The commandment, which was ordained to life, they found to be unto death (Rom. 7:10), because it was that moral law they knew demanded the judgement pictured by the burning, black mountain. The Sabbath commandment cannot be excised from the other nine and treated as purely ceremonial; it was given with the others for the undoing of the Israelites, so that they might fear and submit themselves to the mercy of the great God who spoke. God circumvents any attempt to treat it as ceremonial law by grounding it in creation itself, leaving no excuse for those who would separate it from the other nine.

Yet, though the Sabbath command is moral law, it is not simply moral law. In the words of the Confession, it is a “positive moral” commandment (2LBCF 22.7). “Positive,” when used in this sense does not mean “good” (although the commandment certainly is good), but rather refers to something commanded by God in addition to what is dictated by the law of nature. To quote Richard Barcellos, “Positive laws are those laws added to the natural or moral law.”1 The Confession uses the same language to describe Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as non-natural institutions — they are God-given institutions given for a specific people living in a specific age.

The Sabbath command is uniquely described as positive-moral. How can it be both? Consulting the Confession again, it tells us “it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, be set apart for the worship of God” (2LBCF 22.7). The law written on the heart of man teaches him three things concerning this commandment:

1. God should be worshiped.

2. Worship requires a proportion of time.

3. The time and manner of this worship should be determined by the One being worshiped.

The last of those three precepts of moral law obligates man to seek positive law — there is a universal, binding demand upon all men to discover when, where, and how God has commanded Himself to be worshiped in the age they live in. Positive and moral law, accordingly, are intimately linked in the fourth commandment. But although they are linked, they are also distinct. The positive law necessitated by the moral law may be (and has been) changed according to the good pleasure of God. We must learn what has and hasn’t changed to worship Him correctly.

The Purpose of the Sabbath in its Covenantal Administrations

There is a two-fold purpose for the Sabbath. God tells us the first reason immediately after giving the commandment: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exo. 20:11). This Sabbath was given (according to the One who gave it) to point to God’s work and His completion of that work. It was not given merely for the ceasing of our work — our rest from our labors is a means to an end, which is to worship God for His work. But the work of God we must acknowledge is more than His first creation — we must principally acknowledge the completion of His work for the new creation. It is impossible to enjoy God’s Sabbath rest apart from the completion of His work for His new creation:

For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: … There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

Hebrews 4:2-6,9-10

Those who enter into God’s rest are only those who believe and approach the throne of grace through the free salvation offered by the High Priest, Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:14-16). The true Sabbath, then, that our weekly celebration points to is the rest we have in Christ through His finished work of redemption. We dare not pollute this rest through our own works — by ceasing from our works and enjoying the fruits of His, we acknowledge that our rest was accomplished by the monergistic act of God. We cannot add to His work, because we cannot add to the perfection of Christ’s righteousness or to the infinite worth of His payment.

The second reason is implicit in the commandment and made explicit by the Lord: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Resting in God’s promises, meditating upon His work for us, and rejoicing in Him is for our good. God completed His works for our sake, and set His Son to be a propitiation for our sins because of His love for us. By observing the Sabbath, we proclaim the rest we have in our God to the whole world, modelling the fruits we enjoy because of His blessings in a small way. Contrary to a popular understanding, the Sabbath was not made for man because everyone needs rest. Scripture indicates no such thing, and God will give the wicked no rest day or night as the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever (Rev 14:11). Before God says anything about rest He tells us to keep the Sabbath holy, and any Sabbath-keeping that doesn’t involve holy rejoicing in God’s rest from His work is no Sabbath-keeping at all, and is no more worthy to be called a fulfillment of the Sabbath command than taking off work for St. Patrick’s Day. The rest is a means to an end, and that end is keeping the Sabbath holy by acknowledging the completion of God’s work and participating in the rest He bought us.

This will bring us to the meat of the matter — the Sabbath can only be kept by God‘s Covenant people. The Sabbath command, as we have said, is moral law and binds all men, yet it binds them by compelling them to seek the way God commands them to worship Him, and to join themselves to His Covenant people so they can do so. Covenant membership is an absolute prerequisite. The very framing of the commandment indicates this, with God telling Israel, “thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Exo. 20:10). There is no hint that the commandment is to be exercised outside of the Covenant nation and her members — the gates mark the boundaries of the cities of Israel (as a quick word study will bear out, it is never a reference to private property). In fact, this language indicates that it is only to be exercised by the Covenant nation. The same language is used for celebrating other Covenant holidays, like the Feast of Weeks: “And thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you” (Deut. 16:11). These, of course, were holidays only the Covenant nation could celebrate. It also parallels the language used to describe those who needed to be circumcised: “And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin … And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised” (Gen. 17:11-13). Every fourth commandment group that could be included in the circumcision commandment is found again (thou, thy son, and thy manservant). Only women and cattle are excluded (for obvious reasons), as well as the stranger in the gates, because — in the days of Abraham — there was only a Covenant house instead of a Covenant nation, and most people do not have unemployed strangers living in their house.

Although they are moral law, then, the Ten Commandments were couched in language peculiar to the Covenant they were given in, and could not be framed the same way in all other periods of redemptive history. In a small way, we see this in the fifth commandment when God promises long days “upon the land” for those who honor their parents (Exo. 20:12); when Paul repeats this in the New Testament, it becomes “on the earth” (Eph. 6:3), because the New Covenant people will inherit much more than the physical land promised in the Old Covenant — they will inherit the New Heaven and Earth. But as positive-moral law — as the universal, binding commandment to seek how God commands to be worshiped in the current age — the Sabbath command is more dependent on its covenantal administration than any other. Most obviously, the day has been changed from the seventh to the first. God having finished His work of redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His people no longer celebrate the Sabbath rest at the end of the week — as something at that we experience at the end of our toil. God has finished the work and plunged us into the Sabbath rest found in Christ, and this rest opens the new week — inaugurating the new work of the new creation. But another change has taken place: God’s Covenant community has progressed from a Covenant house, to a Covenant nation, and now finally to a worldwide Covenant people. No longer a mixed community of believers and unbelievers, the members of the New Covenant are only those who have the law of God written on their hearts (Jer. 31:31-34). Gone are the days of a physical institution representing God’s people, with everyone in them participating in the ordinances, celebrations, and blessings regardless of whether they had a right to the reality pictured by them. Now, only those circumcised in the heart have a right participate in the Lord’s Passover, to receive God’s ordinances, and to celebrate the rest they have in Christ. Try as one might to import the second half of Exodus 20:10 lock, stock, and barrel, it’s an impossible task, because the Church has no gates for a stranger to be within (unless you’re a theonomist). Verse 10, above all, indicates that the Sabbath is to be celebrated within the Covenant community, which is now composed only of believers. Yes, it’s a command that binds all, but it binds all to first become believers so they can observe it.

The Issue at Hand

The argument against eating out on a Sabbath goes as follows: “It’s a violation of the Sabbath command to go to restaurants, because the commandment forbids us from forcing others to work on the Sabbath. And as a moral law, we sin by supporting others when they break it.” My answer to the first part follows from everything outlined above: the Sabbath is to be observed by the Covenant community, and cannot be observed outside of it. The language God uses in Exodus 20:10 is a standard way of denoting the entire Covenant community, which in those days was the whole nation-state of Israel. Even those who had no part in the object of our Sabbath rest points to had to cease from their labors, because the Covenant nation as a whole was designed to point to the rest God’s true people would have. It nowhere forbids people outside of the Covenant community from working, nor is there any place in where believers are worried about the Sabbath-keeping of foreign pagans in the Old Testament or neighboring unbelievers in the New Testament. Since the commandment only forbids the working of those living in the Covenant community, and since the only New Covenant community is the Church of believers, it goes beyond the commandment to forbid the working of an unbelieving waitress. It is certainly no part of the law of nature that unbelievers should benefit from the worship God institutes any more than it’s the law of nature that unbelievers should receive the ordinances of Covenant entry, which was then circumcision. Their involvement was part of the positive (as opposed to moral) aspect of the commandment, and was permitted only because of the corporate nature of the Old Covenant. Not only does it not logically follow for unbelievers outside the New Covenant to participate in a commandment meant to be exercised by the Covenant community, it is also the case that all positive law falls under the regulative principle of worship, and must be explicitly be given by each covenant to be validly practiced. Therefore, it is no more legitimate to enforce Sabbath-keeping for unbelievers than to baptize infants.

As for the second part of the argument, it presupposes something that will not be granted — that unbelievers are more guilty of a Sabbath violation when they work than when they don’t, and so we participate in their sins by paying for their services. The chief end of the Sabbath command is not to rest, but “to keep it holy.” The rest is a means to an end — a command to stop concerning ourselves with the things of the world so that we can focus on worshiping God in the way He has commanded, and enjoy the rest He has given us through Christ. If unbelievers are not working, they are certainly not worshiping God, but spend the day worshiping their idols — literal or figurative. If they take off the Sabbath as a way to share in its blessings while having no part in Christ, they violate two commandments: they profane the Sabbath and take the Lord’s name in vain. Those outside the Covenant have no right to share in the blessings of its rest, but will have their part with those who will never know rest — “There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked” (Is. 48:22). It was necessary for a time that those belonging only to the Old Covenant should enjoy Covenant holidays and Covenant ordinances, but that time has ceased. God was eager to make it cease, and never enjoyed the lip service of the pretenders. These are His words against them:

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

Isaiah 1:11-15

Why should we compel unbelievers to do that which God has no delight in? Why should we encourage them to act as if they have a part in the Covenant blessings? Why should we affirm any attempt to keep the Sabbath without joining God’s Covenant, when Scripture no where tells us that this is possible? Our message to unbelievers should be this: repent and believe, be baptized, and keep the Sabbath — in that order. We should no more want them to keep the Sabbath before joining the covenant than we should want them to be baptized before professing faith. Until then, they will do more good preparing food for believers then taking the day off to engage in whatever sin their heart delights in. By making food, they at least give believers one less secular task to worry about, giving them a bit more time to keep the Sabbath holy.

[1] https://www.rbap.net/doctrinal-assumptions-and-technical-terms-of-the-confession-on-the-sabbath-22-7/#_edn7

A Response to “Should You Dine Out on the Sabbath?”

This article is a defense of the idea that believers shouldn’t eat out or do other things that cause unbelievers to do work on that Sabbath based on the fact that we have both command and example to do so. It will also respond to Andrew’s article (found here) where he responds to my view and presents his own view of who needs to keep the Sabbath. Note that this is not a defense of the belief that believers in the New Covenant should be keeping the sabbath day. That understanding of the sabbath as moral law will be assumed.

Moral law

The sabbath commandment is part of the moral law. It is found in the Ten Commandments, the summation of the moral law:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Exodus 20:8–11 (KJV):

Note that the sabbath command is not merely for the individual to keep for himself, but also that he should not make those around him and in his employ work. The term stranger is especially interesting. The underlying Hebrew word is defined as:

גֵּיר a guest; by impl. a foreigner:—alien, sojourner, stranger.

Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 2, p. 28). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

The same term (and Hebrew root) is used in Leviticus where the context clearly shows this is referring to a gentile.

And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. 34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 19:33 (KJV)

Thus, the command would tell us that everyone whom we have the power to make not do work for us, we should do so, regardless of their status with God. It is in our power to make those who serve us at restaurants not do additional work. When you go out to eat on the sabbath day, you are making cooks cook for you, servers serve you and bus boys clean up after you, and this would thus be a violation of this command. Neither would the fact that they would be working anyways be a valid excuse. Even if they are working we should not add to their load, and also if it is sinful in its own right we should not participate in it. Just as we would recognize that a person who drives a pregnant mother to an abortion clinic has no excuse for their participation in the sin of the mother, even if the mother would have found another way to get there, we should be careful not to make excuses if indeed it is a sin for an unbeliever to work on the sabbath.

Responses

Getting into some interaction with Andrew’s article, I agree with Andrew (and the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith) that the sabbath is both positive and moral in its character. Positive here means that something is commanded but is not universally moral in nature. For example, the command to not commit adulatory is moral in nature, it is universally wrong for all time. The command to keep the feast days of the Mosaic Covenant are positive, as they are not binding on the conscience of believers today, but were only for the people of that time. It would have been wrong for the Jews to ignore the feast days, but it is not wrong for us not to keep them. The Sabbath is both moral in that it is a creation ordinance designed for the worship and remembrance of God, and positive in that it was initially enacted on the 7th day of the week, and now is enacted on the 1st day. However, just because something is positive in its character doesn’t inherently mean that all men aren’t obliged to follow it. God has given all creatures to eat as food (Genesis 9:3). This is a positive command as prior to the fall where there was no death, and thus humans would not have eaten animals. It would be wrong for someone today to insist meat couldn’t be eaten despite the fact that this is positive law, because that positive law is given for all men, and it lays on the foundation of moral law (it’s wrong to force someone to do what God has not commanded). So the question then becomes is the Sabbath for all or just believers? Paul reminds his gentile hearers in Galatians that:

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith

Galatians 3:10-14

Thus even the Gentiles were under the curse of the law, although they were not underneath that Covenant. How else would Christ be able to redeem them (us) from the curse of the law if they were not under that curse? The curse is for “all the things which are written in the book of the law,” which is a quotation that comes from Deuteronomy 27:26. Thus, by the Apostle Paul’s inspired interpretation, the Gentiles were cursed because they too did not keep the whole law as contained in Deuteronomy. If this would apply to the ceremonial laws, how much more the moral like the sabbath command?

Andrew also views the sabbath command as having a twofold purpose, for acknowledging God and His work of creation and proclaim by type the true rest that one has in Christ. To these, I’d like to add a third. The sabbath command has the purpose of giving physical rest to those who are weary. The version of the 4th commandnet in Deuteronomy reads as follows:

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. 15 And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.

Deuteronomy 5:14-15

The sabbath is not merely for worship of God (although its more important aspect is about that). It is also about achieving physical rest for those who labor. The reason God gives here for the sabbath command is so that servants can rest physically. He even reminds the Jews of their time in Egypt, when they needed rest and were not given it out by Pharaoh (Exodus 5:5-23). Thus we should remember those around us and make sure they are able to rest physically. When we go out on God’s appointed day for rest, we are preventing those that serve us (at least in part) from having the rest that they need. Another example that the concept of sabbath is also about rest is the land sabbath that Israel was supposed to keep. Although not the same as the weekly sabbath (and not moral law), it is still useful for our understanding of the sabbath. God tells the Israelites if they don’t obey the land sabbath command he will remove them from the land with the the result that:

Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. 35 As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.

Leviticus 26:34-35

God cares about even the land getting its rest. If he cares about the land getting its rest, surely he cares about those made in His image to get theirs.

Andrew’s main argument is that the command to keep the Sabbath can only be kept by the covenant community, and thus shouldn’t be applied to unbelievers working on the Sabbath today. In his view the sabbath is to be kept holy and the means of doing so is by resting so that the day can be devoted to God. Unbelievers aren’t resting for the purpose of keeping the day Holy unto God, so even if they were to rest, it wouldn’t be fulfilling the command. In talking with him, he also makes it clear that those on the covenant land were also supposed to keep the command to not do work as this foreshadows the rest all will have in Christ. Ultimately I think this is contradictory, if the sabbath is solely about the worship of God, how is it that the sojourner in Israel must not work when they don’t worship God? Why is that tied to the moral law in the ten commandments, if the part about having others rest can only be fulfilled in the Old Covenant, as there is no covenant land today? If they are to rest regardless of their status towards the covenant, then why would we in the New Covenant not care if those outside the covenant get their rest? Any stranger coming into the land would know God’s requirement to rest on the seventh day (assuming the Jews were actually keeping the practice at the time). It would have been hard for them not to:

In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. 16 There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. 17 Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. 19 And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. 20 So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. 21 Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath.

Nehemiah 13:15–21 (KJV)

Notice some important things about this passage. First it is explicitly mentioned that there were merchants from Tyre coming to Jerusalem. These men as gentiles would not have been part of the covenant community. Second it explicitly mentions that the traders from Tyre were bringing in their wares and selling them. This highlights what their sin was as they were both working and causing the children of Israel to sin by engaging in unneeded commerce. Third, Nehemiah puts guards around the city gates permitting no one to come in with a burden. The gentile traders weren’t excluded from this. Finally, Nehemiah says the traders still lodged outside the city walls and that he threatened them with violence because of this. These traders in context would have still included those from Tyre, so clearly those outside the covenant community can be condemned for violating the sabbath command. In all of this, Nehemiah in his writings didn’t need to include the details about the sellers of Tyre and what they were doing, but he did to make the point clear that they were also involved in sin. When the traders returned to Tyre, were they now no longer obliged to keep the sabbath, after having been exposed to the fact that God commands rest and worship on that day? How is this different from the person who knows the Church meets on Sunday, yet decides to work that day instead? If the Jews who were exiled from the land still would have had to keep the Sabbath, then the commandment is not about the land. If the gentiles were required to keep the law (even if we only have example doing so when on the land), then its not only about the covenant people keeping the Sabbath.

Andrew brings up the point that because the word “gates” in Exodus 20:10 is only ever used for gates of city and never private property, this was something to be exercised as part of the national covenant. While it is true, in the Old Testament (although not the New), the word “gate” only ever refers to city gates, I’m not sure that matters. We’re told the Sabbath is to take place in “all your dwellings” (Levitcus 23:3). Should we therefore conclude that when the Jews were exiled in Babylon, they could make any Babylonians work for them in their homes on the sabbath? The command surely would extend beyond the physical borders of the covenant community to any gentiles the Jews came in contact with. And if, as Andrew rightly points out, the application of the fifth commandment (honor your mother and father that it may go well with you in the land) changes from the “land”, to the “earth” (Ephesians 6:3) why would we not expect that the application of the “stranger that is within your gates” to apply more universally as well? To say otherwise would make this the only commandment that had a portion of text in no way apply today, which would be odd for something that’s supposed to be the summation of the categories of the moral law.

I would also be remiss if I did not bring up the New Testament commentary on the Sabbath. Jesus tells us:

And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath

Mark 2:27 (KJV)

The Sabbath was made for man in general. There’s nothing in the context that would make us conclude this was something for the Jews only. In its original purpose, all were to be blessed by it.

Application

Andrew does bring up a very important point and the end of his article that I want to highlight here:

Our message to unbelievers should be this: repent and believe, be baptized, and keep the Sabbath — in that order. We should no more want them to keep the Sabbath before joining the covenant than we should want them to be baptized before professing faith.

https://theparticularbaptist.net/2021/03/13/should-you-dine-out-on-the-sabbath/

Amen. To those reading that are not in Christ I implore you not to come away from this article with the idea that sabbath keeping will make you right with God. By works of the law no man will be justified in His sight (Romans 3:20). Even if you were to keep the sabbath command perfectly from now on, you still would not atone for your past Sabbath breaking, nor would you atone for your other sins (James 2:10-11). In order to have your sins atoned for and be in right relation to God, you must put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1, Romans 3:25-56). His death on the cross for sin and righteous life are applied to our account when we believe. The Scripture says any other path to God will lead in your condemnation. Neither will it be that only those who have my view of the sabbath will be in heaven. Perfect understanding of the moral law and its application is not a requirement for salvation.

However all that being said, just because we aren’t seeking people to follow the law apart from Christ, it doesn’t mean that we should participate in their sin. Just as we wouldn’t sell a gun to someone we know intends to commit murder with it, we also would not want to go and cause someone to sin by working on the sabbath, even if they don’t recognize it as sin. I would implore the reader to think through these issues carefully, as no believer should desire to cause a neighbor to live in sin.

God’s Decree In The Book of Isaiah

God’s decree is a doctrine demonstrating God’s eternal power and control over every aspect of life. There is not one thing that falls outside of this decree. It is complete in its scope and effectual in its purpose. And this decree is not thwarted by the whims of man. I think that this doctrine can be mined from other parts of Scripture, but I would like to investigate it as found in the book of Isaiah.

What is the Doctrine of God’s Decree?

This doctrine is one that is held by the Reformed and Biblical traditions, and we will be looking at it from the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith:

God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.

2nd LBCF, Chapter 3, paragraph 1

There is much to be unpacked in this paragraph (such as sin’s authorship, which was discussed in a past article I wrote on sin’s nature: What is Sin?) but we will only focus on the first section about what the decree is. What this means is that God has decreed or purposed all that which will come to pass, and that He brings those plans to pass through primary and secondary causes. Benjamin Keach notes in his catechism,

Q. 11. What are the decrees of God?
A. The decrees of God are His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby for His own glory, He has fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass

Benjamin Keach

Samuel Renihan notes,

The decree is the act of God by which he determines, absolutely, the existence and infallible future (or futurition) of all that is outside of himself, to the praise of his own glory, the first cause and Director of all things, the Antecedent and Governor of all events…We say the decree of God is an act because God is pure act, existence itself, and from the infinite fullness of his being God causes the existence of (or, actualizes) all things and events.

Samuel Renihan, Deity and Decree, page 113

The doctrine of God’s decree is grounded in Scripture and finds its footing in multiple places, but Isaiah is one that speaks very clearly on the topic.

The Old Testament Teaches a Divine Decree?

Isaiah is a powerful book. It shows us God’s redemptive plan to bring Christ into the world and also discusses the judgement that would come upon the people of Israel. But in and through this is the clear description of God’s decree, even for bad things that were to come. A key principle to Biblical interpretation is that the clearer passages must ALWAYS take precedence over passages that may give the initial appearance of a contrary message, but are less clear. This principle is laid out in the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith:

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.

2nd LBCF, Chapter 1, paragraph 9

And the book of Isaiah brings forth clear passages that speak of this decree, so these should be used when discussing the doctrine of God’s decree. Our presuppositions of what the decree SHOULD be are never to be imposed onto the text. Before we go into His decree specifically, let us look at a passage that discusses His omniscience.

Let all the nations be gathered together,
And let the people be assembled.
Who among them can declare this,
And show us former things?
Let them bring out their witnesses, that they may be justified;
Or let them hear and say, “It is truth.”

Isaiah 42:9 (NKJV)

Here we see that God is defining Himself as the one who can lay bare those things that are past. This is His omniscience, meaning He knows all things. And this follows verse 8 where God compares Himself to the false gods. There is no other God. He and He alone knows all things and can declare what happened before. This theme of God comparing Himself to the false gods will be throughout the book as God establishes His credibility with Israel. We will also see that His knowledge of all things is tied directly to His decree and then back to Himself as the only God.

I, even I, am the Lord,
And besides Me there is no savior.
I have declared and saved,
I have proclaimed,
And there was no foreign god among you;
Therefore you are My witnesses,”
Says the Lord, “that I am God.
Indeed before the day was, I am He;
And there is no one who can deliver out of My hand;
I work, and who will reverse it?”

Isaiah 43:11-13 (NKJV)

Here we see God establishing Himself as the one, true God. From a verse like this we can find the principle of monotheism, and this is tied to His decree. The declaring and knowing and working that comes forth from Him is tied to His nature as the one, true God who made all things and works everything according to His will. There is none who can stay his hand (Daniel 4:35).

“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.
And who can proclaim as I do?
Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me,
Since I appointed the ancient people.
And the things that are coming and shall come,
Let them show these to them.
Do not fear, nor be afraid;
Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?
You are My witnesses.
Is there a God besides Me?
Indeed there is no other Rock;
I know not one.’ ”

Isaiah 44:6-8 (NKJV)

Again, God uses His nature to ground His works. The ability to decree what is to come is grounded in His very nature as God. What this means is that if there were other gods who could do what God does, He would no longer be unique and He would not be the Supreme One who holds all power to do as He wills. In other words, He would not be God. This is laid out explicitly in Isaiah 44:24-28. God alone is powerful to decree and to accomplish all He has willed. Now I anticipate the argument, “this only was for Israel! God’s decree was not for EVERYTHING!” Since God is grounding this in His very nature as God, this is who He is and what He does. It transcends specific events and must encompass all things. The all encompassing nature of the decree is found in Ephesians 1:11,

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,

Ephesians 1:11 (NKJV)

Notice that Paul is not just saying this “all things” is limited to salvation. It literally means “all things” with the salvation of His people being a “subset” of the overall decree.

“Assemble yourselves and come;
Draw near together,
You who have escaped from the nations.
They have no knowledge,
Who carry the wood of their carved image,
And pray to a god that cannot save.
Tell and bring forth your case;
Yes, let them take counsel together.
Who has declared this from ancient time?
Who has told it from that time?
Have not I, the Lord?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A just God and a Savior;
There is none besides Me.

Isaiah 45:20-21 (NKJV)

The same principle is laid out here. The false gods cannot save. They are not able to bring about any plan or bring forth any knowledge. Only God can do that. Only He has declared what will come to pass from ancient times. This is grounded in Himself as God. He is the Decreeing One and any who would dare to challenge that are counted as foolish.

Remember the former things of old,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things that are not yet done,
Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all My pleasure,’
Calling a bird of prey from the east,
The man who executes My counsel, from a far country.
Indeed I have spoken it;
I will also bring it to pass.
I have purposed it;
I will also do it.

Isaiah 46:9-11 (NKJV)

This passage is probably the most explicit in Isaiah that ties the eternal decree to God’s nature and shows that it is not bound to any specific event. His council shall stand because He is God and there is no other. This is why arguments against using passages like Acts 2:23 to show that God has decreed that which comes to pass fall short. God does not decree only certain events to come to pass. He does not decree only the good. But everything that comes to pass does so because of the eternal decree of God. His decree is eternal because God Himself is eternal and does not change with time like we do. And His power to decree is simply God. Ergo, there is no limit to His decree, not to mention the examples given here by God about His decree encompassing things of old and that which is to come. God also gives examples of working out His decree with the bird and the man who brings about His council, which are not tied to the specific events at hand but are used as examples to prove the normative point: God is the Decreeing One and all that comes to pass is because of His will. That plan, decree, and purpose will infallibly come to pass.

Conclusion

Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has taught Him?
With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him,
And taught Him in the path of justice?
Who taught Him knowledge,
And showed Him the way of understanding?

Isaiah 40:13-20 (NKJV)

This is the God that we serve. The One who is all powerful and all knowing. His decree and knowledge are perfectly consistent with the character of the One who brings all things to pass according to His good pleasure and ultimately for His glory.

DEATH & SOCIETY: A Tragic Inconsistency

DEATH. Nobody really likes the word. In fact, many actually fear it. Life is precious and valued while death is shunned. My grandma once told me a story of how, when I was very young, she was explaining death to me. She said I put my foot down in defiance and proclaimed, “I refuse to die!” While it still brings a smile to my face thinking about it, it’s not a healthy outlook for the Christian. While we are to embrace life on this earth, we also look forward to eternal life (John 3:16). Yet, this eternal life comes through death. We first experience the death of our carnal nature that gives birth to our regenerated nature. At some point, we will experience physical death which gives birth to our eternal state of glory (Hebrews 9:27-28). Death can be scary but it doesn’t have to be. By no means am I advocating for one to eagerly await death in anticipation, but we should be eagerly awaiting our future dwelling with God in heaven, in His own timing.

While I could go on and on about the nature of death, that isn’t my intent. Instead, I’d like us to ponder the inconsistent views held by society when it comes to the subject. If you were to poll random strangers on whether they thought killing others was good or bad, I don’t think we’d be shocked to find most feel the latter. While you may hear a variety of justifications for their answer, the common theme would be that murder is wrong. If we all seem to be in agreement on this fact, why is there so much disparity when it comes to practical implementation?

For instance, as of today, 25 states have the death penalty, 22 do not, and 3 have it on the books, though there is a temporary governor-mandated moratorium. This means our nation is split exactly down the middle on whether or not the death penalty is justice in cases of homicide. According to a recent article, Virginia is looking at abolishing the death penalty as well. This would mean those who support it would be in the minority. How can this be the case if nearly everyone agrees that murder is injustice? Just as the answers to why people believe murder to be wrong will vary, so will the answers on why people believe the death penalty to be unjust. One objection I have heard is that killing isn’t a valid response to killing. On the surface, this seems to make sense. After all, I think most would agree more injustice isn’t an appropriate solution to resolving injustice. Yet, such a view first necessitates the preconception that the death penalty is unjust. To that, we must turn to Scripture.

Whoever sheds human blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made mankind. – Genesis 9:6, NASB

It’s not some arbitrary reason why the death penalty exists. Truth be told, it’s not even negotiable. It exists because human life is inherently valuable due to us being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Chapter 4 of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 states:

After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, rendering them fit unto that life to God for which they were created; being made in the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness and true holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts,

– 2LBCF, 4.2

According to that statement, it is the very image of God that enables us to live the life to which we were created. By our very ability to reason, and our obligation to worship the Creator, we are distinct from the rest of creation. The image of God is not just something we possess. It makes up our entire being and is what gives us our identity. Though we may be in a fallen state, our identity is still rooted in us being the very image and likeness of God. It is because of this that I argue a denial of the death penalty is a denial of God and His righteous statutes. At this point, while many advocates of sin love to reference Matthew 7:1 and Matthew 5:38-39, they fail to provide the proper context. While we are not to take up vengeance or judgment into our own hands, we have a justice system as a part of our government. The government bears the sword for a reason (Romans 13:4). Ironically, claiming sanctity of life as the basis for rejecting the death penalty, is actually demonstrable of devaluing life. After all, advocates promote capital punishment because of the inherent value of the person who was killed. Opponents to the death penalty give lip service to the man’s inherent value while treating it as less than when put into practice.

Another area of inconsistency is when it comes to abortion. According to one poll, roughly 77% of Americans support the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. As a nation whose citizens will proudly stand united when it comes to opposing murder, we fall woefully short when it comes to putting it into practice. For 50% of our states opposing the death penalty, 100% allow for the legalized murder of the most innocent class of humans to ever exist: the preborn. Sadly, we have a society of people who oppose murder while proudly wearing a “pro-choice” pin on their lapel. It’s an ever-growing movement of erratic and inconsistent behavior on a downward spiral of self-destruction. The only consistency within the movement appears to be consistently shifting the goalposts while being consistently inconsistent. Instead of addressing the subject at hand: the inherent value and dignity of human life, the pool has become flooded with red herrings and the field littered with strawmen.

As with all things in life, we need to approach this subject from a biblical perspective. While death may only be a result of the Fall, there can be a certain sense of beauty to it. However, when God is rejected, everything else tends to be corrupted in the process. My hope is that this short article has given you something to think about in regard to this often avoided subject.

~ Travis W. Rogers

SEASONED WITH SALT: How Shall We Speak?

Have you ever encountered someone so harsh in speech that you become genuinely concerned for what might be going on in their spirit? Recently, I had the “joyful privilege” of being called: infidel, false prophet, heretic, son of hell, ignorant, Pharisee, ungodly coward, papist, liar, and an effeminate coward. Additionally, I was told to: shut my mouth, suffer damnation, and go back to hell where I came from. Essentially, everything you see in the graphic above was lobbed at me in back-to-back posts. While I’m far from a sensitive soul (20 years of military service will give you thick skin), that doesn’t mean I wasn’t taken aback by it. What made matters worse is that it was all levied by someone claiming to be a Christian. Deep down, he feels he is a believer who knows the truth and all others are infidels who need to be e-flogged for daring to speak against the truth. Unfortunately, he was so engaged in destroying his enemies that he rarely bothered to share what he believes to be the truth. This was only indicative of another problem. If I were truly a lost soul who needed Christ, it means I desperately need to believe in Him. And how can I believe in Him if I do not hear the gospel? And how can I hear the gospel if one fails to preach it (Romans 10:14)? Instead of being on a mission to proclaim the gospel and saving power of Christ to all who have ears (Matthew 11:15), this individual felt insulting people and telling them to go back to hell was more Christ-like. It reminded me of the typical Calvinist “cage stage” raged out on steroids.

Let’s face it, if you are a Calvinist, you likely went through some form of a cage stage. I certainly know I did. Perhaps you are even in it right now. After years of missing what was right in front of me, I felt overzealous and had a desire to share it with everyone else who was also missing it. Unfortunately, it often came off as harsh, lacking in love, and rooted in a desire to win an argument. That said, it was never to the extent of the above graphic. Truth be told, that’s only a small fraction of the pointed barbs that were thrown my way but you get the point.

This got me thinking of two things. First, how should we speak to others as we seek to reflect the love of Christ within? Second, is there a proper time to use disparaging language in a form of combating false teaching? I think both of these are important questions that all Christians should ponder, as I’ve seen people on both sides of the fence. Some are so soft in speech, they fail to stand firm in the truth. Others are so firm in the truth, they fail to find anyone who actually wants to put up with them long enough to hear it.

Communication is an art form with many unskilled participants. There is verbal, non-verbal, written, etc. With the rise of social media, so many feel qualified to “speak” when it would probably be better if they sat on their hands. I belong to a multitude of Christian discussion groups on Facebook and I see a virtual battlefield laced with digital blood every time I enter. Rarely does one see grace in abundant measures. While I am guilty of being baited into a heated debate turned argument, I am fully convinced this is a slap in the face of the bride of Christ. While debate (yes, even heated ones) can be a healthy way to study and solidify our theological positions, arguing and name calling is destructive to the like faith in Christ that believers proclaim (2 Peter 1:1). We must always ask ourselves if we are proclaiming truth in the name of Christ or spewing hatred in the divisive nature of Satan.

As Christians, we are told to season our words with salt (Colossians 4:6). We’re also warned to not be haughty in mind or be wise in our own estimation (Romans 12:16). In Galatians, Paul writes that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Conversely to this, some of the descriptors as being deeds of the flesh include hostilities, strife, outbursts of anger, dissentions, and factions (Galatians 5:19-21). Taking another look at the graphic above, I think it becomes clear where such speech falls under.

Knowing how a Christian is to speak, what are we to make of the multitude of examples in Scripture where insulting language is used? After all, Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:25-27). Even Jesus was known to use harsh language such as when he called the Pharisees the offspring of vipers (Matthew 12:34) and sons of hell (Matthew 23:15). You may recognize that last one as one of the names I was called in the graphic above. Certainly, there are examples where denigrating language was appropriate for certain circumstances. However, the keyboard warrior I encountered was failing to take the context into account and was using Jesus as nothing more than an excuse to justify his deeds of the flesh. In the case of Elijah, he was a prophet being used as the mouthpiece of God. What he spoke, God was speaking. Furthermore, the prophets of Baal were directly blaspheming God while lifting up their idol. In the example of Jesus, He was speaking out against those who claimed to be godly, all the while denying the Son of God who stood before them. He wasn’t on a warpath to belittle and destroy every last person who held to different theological positions. In fact, there are many examples where, while speaking softly but firmly, He simply left those types of people to figure it out. Being in spiritual warfare doesn’t mean shooting everything that moves. There are rules of engagement and a Code of Conduct outlined in Scripture. Spiritual warfare is very real but there is a proper way to be a spiritual warrior (Click HERE for my article on that topic).

Certainly, there are some out there who need to be addressed head on. Blatant false teachers such as Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Beth Moore, and Kenneth Copeland, are to be refuted without kid gloves. These men and women have been shown much grace and have repeatedly refused the truth in lieu of heresy and other errors. There are others such as Francis Chan who are rapidly moving in that direction. However, there are others who are amazing brothers and sisters who have differing opinions on certain doctrines. Some examples would be John MacArthur (Dispensationalism), James White (Post-millennialism), and Jeff Durbin (Theonomy/Post-millennialism). While some of these topics can become heated debates over why they are incorrect in their position, never would I dare discredit their faith and standing before the Lord. Just as R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur disagreed on the mode of baptism, Sproul also openly declared he’d rather have no one else in his fox hole with him when it comes to proclaiming truth in Christ.

17 One who declares truth tells what is right,
But a false witness, deceit.
18 There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise brings healing. -- Proverbs 12:17-18, NASB

Unfortunately, there are some who focus on Proverbs 12:17 while forgetting verse 18. We should always be ready to declare what is right but our method should never be to the detriment of spiritual healing through wisdom. Remember, we are ambassadors of Christ, not merely an earthly Cerberus ready to attack anyone who dares disagree with us on matters of theology. If you encounter someone like the person I had the pleasure of speaking with, ensure you don’t get sucked into the trap. Feel free to attempt to engage in healthy dialogue but when all you’re met with is resistance and arrogance, remember that we are warned not to answer a fool according to his folly, let we be just like him (Proverbs 26:4). Let your speech edify so that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29). Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19), bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2), as we seek to be imitators of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). May this article edify and enrich your walk in sanctification. Grace and peace!

~ Travis W. Rogers

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