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.

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.

The Doctrine of Justification

The doctrine of justification by faith alone has been considered the focal point of Protestant theology. We see this during the beginning of the Reformation in Europe with Luther coming onto the scene. Luther is known for his view of indulgences, the preeminence of the Scriptures, and his emphasis on faith alone as the means of salvation. His journey began with his 95 theses (although the nailing of them on the Wittenberg church is probably not true). This set off a fire storm in Europe and would lead Luther to peel back the church’s teachings and eventually to the discovery of the Biblical teaching of justification by faith alone. The discovery of this truth was really assisted by scholarship at the time. There was a real push to go back to the ancient church fathers and the Greek language. Nick Needham points out,

“…the Christian humanists did not admire only Pagan writers of the classical age. They wanted to go back to all the sources of Western European civilisation, Christian as well as Pagan. So they dug afresh into the riches of the Greek New Testament and the early Church fathers.”

2,000 Years of Christ’s Power, Volume 3, page 22

We see this with the printing of Erasmus’ Novum Instrumentum in 1516 which was a publication of the New Testament in Latin and Greek and was the start of the Textus Receptus. It was a call back (in part) to the Greek language and not relying solely on the Latin Vulgate which was the standard Bible at the time (even though Erasmus’ primary end was not to create a Greek New Testament). This mindset of criticizing the church in this way did bring its share of critics and demonstrates the reluctance of some of those in academia to check the Scriptures as they knew it. This ad fontes frame of thinking is what led Phillip Melanchthon, Luther’s friend, and an expert in the Greek language, to help Luther in his development of the doctrine of Justification. Nick Needham discusses Melanchthon when he says,

“Melanchthon’s main subject at Wittenberg was Greek. He did more than anyone (even Erasmus) to spread the knowledge of the Greek language in German schools and universities. He also lectured on logic, ethics, and exegesis.”

2,000 Years of Christ’s Power, Volume 3, page 76

So, we can see that Luther was accompanied by someone who was an expert in handling the New Testament.  Melanchthon brought Luther to an understanding of this doctrine by pointing him to the underlying language of the NT (and avoiding the Vulgate’s understanding).

Needham notes,

 “Melanchthon’s study of New Testament Greek convinced him that what the New Testament means by “justify” (the Greek word dikaioo) is “declare righteous” in a legal sense…The understanding of justification in the Western medieval Church relied on the standard Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, which rendered the apostle Paul’s key Greek term dikaioo by the Latin iustificare…as meaning to make righteous, in the sense of moral transformation – the process by which a sinner is changed spiritually in his soul into a just, holy, godly person.”

2,000 Years of Christ’s Power, Volume 3, page 88

In other words, a bad Bible translation led to poor theology.

But with this Luther saw the importance of the doctrine (although as Needham notes the doctrine did not become a central issue until later in Luther’s ministry). This doctrine is extremely important. It is a Gospel issue, and it appears that Luther saw this as well and he is said to have noted, “justification is the article by which the church stands and falls.” It truly is the centerpiece of our faith. It affects not only HOW we are saved, but the Atonement of Christ as well. What this means is if we get this doctrine wrong, our souls are at stake. Our eternal destiny is at stake. The Catholic Church in the Council of Trent (which was meant to combat Lutheranism that had taken hold of Europe) condemned this doctrine thereby sealing their fate as a devilish entity that is only fit for Hell.

“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

Canon 9

“If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified…let him be accursed”

Canon 12

“If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.”

Canon 14

These “anathemas” are not just simple misunderstandings of the doctrine or coming from people who are growing in their knowledge of it. These are people who deliberately condemn the truth and go so far as to say they are damned to hell if it is taught.  So, let us take heed as you read about this topic today. We must understand this doctrine and ensure that our views of it our consistent with the Scriptures.

I want to focus our attention of the doctrine as found in the book of Romans as this book lays out the most explicit commentary found in Scripture on the doctrine.

Righteousness is needed for all

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17 (NKJV)

In verse 15 Paul says he ready to preach the Gospel to the church at Rome which he had already expounded upon which he already laid out in a general sense in verses 1-6. Then in verse 16 he begins to expound on what the Gospel is. Paul is eager to get the Gospel to those in Rome to remind the church of its power and its content. He begins by saying he is not ashamed of this Gospel that God has given him. Remember the message of the death of Christ was foolishness to the Greeks and to the Jews it was a stumbling block, but even with these things Paul remains firm in the fact that the Gospel is the means that has been ordained to save sinners. This is a good reminder to us to not be ashamed of that which the Lord has entrusted to His church. The church is to take the Gospel to all the world and to not shy away when we have opportunity to share it. Jesus talked about this in Luke 9:23-26. Jesus makes it clear that being ashamed of Him is not consistent with taking up your cross and following Him. We are to walk in a way that shows we are not ashamed of the truth of God. This does not mean that we must have the Gospel on our lips in every sentence or word we speak but it does mean that we should be willing to take up our cross and die to self for Christ being ready to have answer for anybody who asks about the hope that is within us. Paul then goes onto to say that Gospel is the power of God for salvation. The underling Greek word for power there is dynamis which means force, miraculous power, mighty work. The Gospel is the mighty work of God unto salvation. Again, Paul’s emphasis here is on God’s work and not man’s. This is critical to keep in mind. Man’s works and self-righteousness had no place in Paul’s thinking. The Gospel works mightily through the power of God particularly through the Holy Spirit. We see this all the way back in John chapter 3 where Jesus is teaching Nicodemus about what it means to be born again. He then goes on to say that the wind blows wherever it wishes meaning that the Spirit of God works however he pleases. He applies the Gospel to our hearts. We as fallen human beings though tend to look for power from God in other things. In Luther’s time this was in relics. The Catholic church made a show of displaying these relics of alleged authenticity claiming they had supernatural power. If only we could hold a piece of the cross of Christ, or see milk from Mary’s breast, or the beard of John the Baptist we would behold God’s power. Luther commented on this where he said,

“There sits that decoy duck in Rome with his bag of tricks, luring to himself the whole world with its money and goods, and all the while anybody can go to baptism, the sacrament, and the preaching desk. But the people say, “What, baptism? The Lord’s Supper? God’s Word? Joseph’s britches – that’s what does it!”

Martin Luther, from as sermon given February 15, 1546

Luther’s point was that people were looking for God’s power in other things rather than in God’s ordained means. God does not need those things to show His power. He does this through His Gospel and this is what made Paul bold to preach it. God was the author and mover of this Gospel and nothing could stand in its way. This must be remembered as we discuss the doctrine of justification. This is a work that is foreign to us and does not originate in us through our volition or otherwise. Finally, in verse 17 we come to one of the most well-known phrases in all the book of Romans. The content of the Gospel is now being unpacked by Paul. He is now transitioning into his long exposition in the next four chapters on what this Gospel is and what it means for us. What is revealed in the Gospel according to Paul? The righteousness of God. What is this righteousness? This is the righteousness that is imputed to our account. It is the righteousness of another.  And how is the righteousness revealed? From faith to faith. This is the sole instrument that brings this righteousness to us.

The Total Depravity of Man

Paul then transitions into the explanation of the Gospel itself. He lays the groundwork for the good news by laying out the bad. Remember that Justification is for those who have broken the law of God and stand condemned before Him. How bad are we? He shows us specifically, beginning in verse 18 and going through verse 25 .

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 1:18-25 (NKJV)

Paul here is laying out for us the universal sinfulness of man. As we move on to verse 24, we see how the wrath of God is revealed to fallen man. He does this by giving them over to their true desires. God lets these evil men continue in their sin in a deeper way and this a form of judgement upon them. This is what is known as “judicial hardening”.  Paul will continue to explain and display the pitiful state of humanity in chapter 2.

Universal Sinfulness of Man

After Paul lays into the Jews about their hypocrisy as it relates to the law in chapter 2, the transition then turns toward the universal sinfulness of man. Let us look at Chapter 3:9-20:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Romans 3:9-20 (NKJV)

Here Paul pulls no punches and goes right for the jugular. Men are depraved and so much so that they are not able to do that which is genuinely good in the sight of God.  Oh, they might do so in an outward sense. But as it relates to God’s law, they really have not done that which is good and in fact they do not have the ability to since they are in the flesh (cf Romans 8:1-11).  This helpless state leads us to the conclusion that the righteous we need and even the faith that we exercise must come from God and not from ourselves. The 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith notes:

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner according to the word, nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, nor make a man meet to receive grace from God, and yet their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing to God.

2nd LBCF, Chapter 16, paragraph 7

The Gospel Explained

Later, in chapter 3, Paul moves onto the crux of his entire argument. He lays out the Gospel message itself in detail. Justification is discussed in explicit terms and is presented as part of the work of God in saving His people.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.

Romans 3:21-31 (NKJV)

Paul contrasts here the act of faith and works ensuring that this is a monergistic work.  There is nothing here that would lead us to believe anything we do contributes to our salvation.  Therefore, it is revealed apart from the law.  What is the point of justification then?  It is to satisfy God’s justice. Remember, we are not able to see God in our sinful state as was revealed to Moses in Exodus 33:20. God is holy, and we are not. God is so far removed from sin that it would kill us to be in His immediate presence.  And because of God’s holiness, He requires perfection of every man woman and child (Leviticus 19:2, Leviticus 20:7, Matthew 5:48). And as has been demonstrated, we are not able to meet that requirement. We have fallen short of God’s law. And God, being the holy and just God He is, must punish sin.  For God’s people, this punishment was placed on Christ as is discussed in our Romans 3 passage. Jesus was the wrath bearing sacrifice for our sins. He took on the wrath of the Father for us.  This allowed God to be just when we are justified in His sight. We are declared, “not guilty” as if we have never sinned against God. The active obedience of Christ (obedience to God’s law though His life) and his passive obedience (his death) are therefore imputed to our accounts when we believe in faith upon Jesus.  This wonderful doctrine is our hope and our rest. 

Is Faith a good work?

An interesting question to consider given Paul’s commentary on faith: if faith is not a work that contributes to my salvation, then can it really be considered a good work? Yes, it can.  Biblically speaking, everything we do is classified as good or evil. There is no act that we do that is not under one of those classifications. 

For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:14 (NKJV)

Faith is something that we do.  God does not believe God and its counted to us as righteousness. That would be preposterous and is not what Paul says at all.  Verse 26 of Romans 3 says that God is the justifier of the one who puts their faith in Jesus. There is a clear distinction being made here between the work of God and the work of man.  Now I want to be careful when I say that faith is a work that we do.  I am NOT saying that faith contributes to our salvation. I am saying that our agency is not cancelled by the monergistic work of God in our salvation. We do something! But because the faith does not originate in us and because of sinful condition before God, it cannot be properly said that faith contributes to our salvation. Our faith is COUNTED as righteousness based on the work of another and is not attributed to us as is noted in the 2nd LBCF:

Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ’s active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.

2nd LBCF, chapter 11, paragraph 1 (emphasis added)

We can also gather this concept from Chapter 4 of Romans:

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.

Romans 4:1-4 (NKJV)

The one who is trying to act based on something in him is then owed something. As opposed to using the gift of faith that is alien to the person.  Philippians 1:29 makes clear that faith is alien to the believer where it says:

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,

Philippians 1:29 (NKJV)

This creates a huge problem for those who believe in libertarian free will or that we are first cause of all our actions or that faith can be exercised outside of God giving it and it is based on the person’s volition alone whether to accept or reject salvation. You must then ask them, is faith a good work? If faith is a good work and their position is true, then I must be able to do something good without God, thereby flatly contradicting what Romans 8:1-11 teaches about man’s state before God while in the flesh. I would then be righteous contradicting Romans 3:9—18. God would also owe me salvation since I would be working! It would not be based on the faith that brings imputation of the righteousness of another. This demonstrates the importance of having this doctrine correct. The implications could be damning.

Conclusion

This has been a brief primer on the doctrine of justification and is by no means exhaustive. Men better than me have written on this subject and lay it out in more detail. But this is at the heart of the Gospel without which there is not salvation.  My hope is that you, the reader, would ensure that you have a biblical understanding of this doctrine and if you hold to a heretical view of it that you would repent. 

What Is Sin?

Sin. That accursed “thing” that haunts the human race. It has corrupted our nature, keeps us from God, and proves us to be vile. No human can escape it and it clings to even the best of Christians. But do we really consider what sin IS? Is it something that is part of God’s creation? Where did it come from? These are questions that can be raised as we think of sin. Our answers to the above questions can lead us to error if we do not get this doctrine right, especially as it relates to the doctrine of God. So, what is sin exactly?

Sin has been seen by the Reformed community historically as the lack of that which is good. The following are some quotes from those who held to this view in Protestant Orthodoxy:

But what, then, is original sin? According to the Apostle it is not only the lack of a good quality in the will, nor merely the loss of man’s righteousness and ability. It is rather the loss of all his powers of body and soul, of his whole outward and inward perfections. In addition to this, it is his inclination to all that is evil, his aversion against that which is good, his antipathy against light and wisdom, his love for error and darkness, his flight from and his loathing of good works, and his seeking after that which is sinful.

Martin Luther from Commentary on Romans

Therefore original sin is seen to be an hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature diffused into all parts of the soul . . . wherefore those who have defined original sin as the lack of the original righteousness with which we should have been endowed, no doubt include, by implication, the whole fact of the matter, but they have not fully expressed the positive energy of this sin. For our nature is not merely bereft of good, but is so productive of every kind of evil that it cannot be inactive.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

What is sin?

Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 14, emphasis added

This may seem like a very strange way to think of sin. Sin is not typically presented in modern evangelicalism as that which is lacking in that which is created (image-bearing humans). But just as darkness is the absence of light and cold is the absence of heat, so is sin the absence of good, and as Luther and Calvin note, it produces evil action. James Dolezal notes,

…what is evil? The short answer is that evil is the absence of good where good ought to be. It is a privation of good and a failure to hit the mark. It is not a substantial thing that exists in its own right…This defect can be a failure of commission insofar as one aims at some good in an illegitimate and idolatrous way. Or it can be a failure of omission insofar as one neglects to seek and do the good that is required of him or her. Both are ways of missing the mark…In what exactly does the evil of any sinful intent or action consist? This is a difficult question as pure evil never exists in its own right. It requires something good in order to be, just as an accident requires a substance to be. Historically, the answer given to this question is that the evil of sin does not lie in the material action itself, but rather in the form of it. Sin is not reducible to the agents and actions by which it is committed. The instruments and actions of sin are in themselves, as creatures and as actions, good.

James Dolezal from Agency, Concurrence, and Evil: A Study in Divine Providence

Where do we find Biblical support for this view of sin? We would be remiss if we did not ground this view in Scripture (our final authority in faith and practice) and merely based it on the “Reformed tradition”. We now turn our focus to two different passages:

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

1 John 3:4 (ESV)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

In 1 John, we see an explicit declaration of what sin is. This is not ambiguous language that could be taken arbitrarily, but language that lays out precisely what the Apostle wants his readers to understand. In context, John is discussing what it means to be a Christian. He is contrasting what a Christian is with one who is an unbeliever. The believer obeys God’s commandments (2:3-4), and while they will not be perfect in this life (1:8-10), there will be a normative lifestyle of righteousness that they will live (3:6, 9-10). John is saying that those who do that which is evil are acting lawless or doing something that lacks the good. This is what it means to break God’s law. The underlying word for “lawlessness” here is ἀνομία which means “lawlessness; especially disobedience to the divine law, sin.” (A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament) We see here that this is not simply a translation imposing a view of sin upon it, but that the original language captures this idea as well: that sin is the LACK of law, i.e. that which is good.

This same principle is laid out in Matthew 7 where Jesus discusses false converts with a focus on false teachers. The declaration is one of condemnation. There will be those on the Day of Judgement who will use intimate language with our Lord and act like they know Him very personally. They will even point to works they did for Him. But because they lived a life of rebellion to His law, they will be cast out. Their acts are defined as “lawlessness” and, interestingly enough, the underlying Greek word is the same one that John uses in 1 John 3:4: ἀνομία. Sin, again, is being defined here. It is that which is void of good. A lack of good.

Why must sin be defined in this cerebral way? Does it seem like semantic gymnastics to produce this view of evil? The problem is that if sin is defined as an actual entity, it creates problems with the question of sin’s authorship. The Scripture says that God created all things and there is nothing that is in this earth that He did not create (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16). The language is all inclusive in these two passages, and in Colossians 1:16 Paul goes further in his qualification of what “all things” means by saying “in heaven and on earth,” “visible and invisible”. Sin is not something we are able to touch, see, or feel. If it was an entity, would it not fall into this category of “all things”? Herman Bavinck notes,

If sin were a substance, there would exist an entity that either was not created by God or was not caused by God. Sin, accordingly, has to be understood and described neither as an existing thing nor as being in things that exist but rather as a defect, a deprivation, an absence of the good, or as weakness, imbalance, just as blindness is the deprivation of sight.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3, page 136

If sin is not an entity, but simply the lack of that which is good, then God could not have created sin and is not its author. God cannot create non-being. Does this answer all the questions of sin’s authorship? No, it does not, but it tells us what sin’s authorship is NOT.

This has been a brief overview of the nature of sin, although much more could be said. This may seem like a technical discussion, but being precise in our language about theology is very important in order to avoid error. May we have the same mindset of those orthodox men who came before us who painstakingly laid out Biblical doctrine for us.

Provisionism and Man’s Moral Posture

Provisionism seems to have made a surge in popularity in both Calvinist and anti-Calvinist groups. It has created firepower for both sides. One of the main points of contention between Provisionists and Calvinists is on the nature of man. Did Adam’s fall really make us incapable of freely (in a libertarian sense) responding to the Gospel or not? Are we so corrupted by sin that that we are only able to choose that which is evil? Let us look at a Twitter page called ProvisionistPersective, which is a platform for Provisionist theology. They recently tweeted the following message:

The assertion here is that we are not dead in our sins, but merely diseased, sick, and Mark 2:17 is quoted as a “proof text”. This is a classic example of isolating verses from the rest of the biblical narrative and thereby reading into the text what is not there. This seems to be a theme in the Provisionist camp. Dr. Leighton Flowers, a prominent Provisionist, has done this with verses like Jeremiah 19:5 where this single verse is used to deny that God has an active decree of all sinful things that will come to pass, while ignoring passages in Isaiah that clearly speak of God bringing about His plan and purposes, and actively causing evil things to come to pass (albeit without being the author or partaker thereof). This is the only way, from a biblical perspective, that the Provisionist framework can survive, because a consistent hermeneutical system would not lead to the eisegesis that is placed upon the Scriptures. That is what I want to address with the usage of Mark 2:17 above. I want to address it using consistent hermeneutical principles. Let us begin.

First, the assertion is made that Calvinists say we are not sick, but dead. Sin most certainly is a disease, a defect, a twisting of the good. Sin is lawlessness as 1 John 3:4 explicitly states. However, historically, Calvinists have taught we are spiritually dead in our sins, ergo, not able to respond to God positively without God working toward our salvation.

This leads to our second point: the usage of Mark 2:17. In context, Jesus was eating with “sinners” in an evangelistic effort. He came to save people from their sin. The Pharisees were having none of it and criticized Jesus for his association with these sinners, which prompted His response in verse 17. Before moving on, it is important to note what these Provisionists are trying to do by saying we are simply “sick”. This is an attempt to somehow preserve man’s inherent ability to freely respond to the Gospel. Because if man is as spiritually corrupt as Calvinists assert, then man’s libertarian free will is gone. The argument that is used is, “Good enough for Jesus = Good enough for me.” I can play that game, too, with other verses. For instance, Jesus (yes, the same one who spoke in Mark 2:17) clearly describes man’s LACK of ability to respond to the Gospel in John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. (NIV) Jesus said it, so its good enough for me. Oh, what about John 6:65? He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” (NIV) This is good enough for me! There are other things that could be gleaned from chapter 6 such as Jesus’ knowledge of the choices of men in their betrayal and His certainty of those who would be saved, which I believe causes problems for Provisionists with regards to omniscience, but that is a discussion for another day. My point here is, just simply quoting one verse does not necessarily prove a point. All of Scripture must be taken into account when exegeting a passage.

With a proper hermeneutic in mind, how do we address the verse above? Are we simply sick? First, let us analyze the verse itself. Jesus brings forward the analogy of a doctor coming to heal the sick. On its face, it makes sense as far as it goes. A sick person isn’t dead are they? They have life in them. Fair enough. However, that is not ALL that He says. He says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (NIV) Hmm. He says you are in two camps: righteous or sinner. This is not a “relative righteousness” that we find in other places of Scripture where someone is described as being more righteous than others, but this is about their spiritual condition. If you are simply sick, strictly speaking, there would be a mixture of the two conditions since the sickness has not fully corrupted your body. But Jesus makes clear that if you are a sinner, there is no righteousness in you. You are completely corrupted. It is a terminal disease. This principle is laid out in different places, but most most clearly in Jeremiah:

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV)

Here we see that the human heart is not just sick, but that it is terminally ill. There is no life in this heart of ours that can be redeemed or brought back by our own volition. Going back to what was discussed before, if there is some part of us that is not corrupted by sin and we are simply “sick” with some parts of us being healthy, we now have righteousness inherent in us. We now have the ability to keep God’s law (at least to some extent). The dichotomy that Jesus had made is now destroyed. Now we move onto a section of Scripture that lays out more explicitly our “deadness”.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

Notice that Paul uses the same dichotomy that Jesus does: you are either a righteous person or you are a sinner. If you are a sinner, then you are dead in your transgressions. If man was simply sick, as ProvisionistPerspective has clearly asserted, we would have a contradiction in the Scriptures as Paul does not assert we are sick, but dead. He would go beyond what Jesus is teaching. So we have to ask ProvisionistPerspective, is the Scripture consistent? If so, then how is the interpretation of Jesus saying we are sick consistent with the rest of Scripture, given he clearly does not think we are spiritually dead? The only explanation is that Jesus is not saying we are simply sick but that the sickness is terminal and we are, for all intents and purposes, dead. Even someone who has died is still sick in that the disease still clings to their body. Being “sick” does not necessarily negate death. We do not have life in us. And that lack of life requires an outside mover to bring us to spiritual life. The mover all the way through is God Himself. There is no libertarian freedom in Paul’s mind with regard to believing in the Gospel. God is the mover and the finisher of our faith, down to the good works that we will do.

What we have seen is that simply asserting a single verse is about an alleged condition of man does not mean that is what is being spoken of. A proper hermeneutic is paramount to understanding different texts. All of Scripture must be taken into account when interpreting Scripture.

Of Creation Part 2

Last week we looked at the creation account, what creation was and its standing in relation to God.  A point that we touched on was whether God became the Creator when the world was made. We concluded that He does not. We also established that a proper doctrine of God is necessary to understanding the act of Creation. While the first paragraph focuses on the work of God in the overall Creation of the world, the last two paragraphs focus on man and his state before the fall. This brings up some important implications about the condition of man today and in our future.

Let us look at the 2nd LCBF Chapter 4, paragraphs 2 and 3.

Paragraph 2:

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 after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change.

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

Paragraph 3:

Besides the law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which whilst they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

We see here a focus on two things: the state of man as it relates to being in the image of God, and the state of man’s moral disposition.  Our focus today will be on two aspects discussed in Waldron’s commentary on the 1689 LBCF:

  1. The duality of man’s disposition
  2. What is the “image of God”?
  3. Did Adam and Eve have true free will?

The Duality of Man’s Disposition

God made Adam and put him in the garden. But Adam was more than simply another animal. There was something about him that separated him from those animals. It was that he had a soul. He had an eternal aspect to him.

Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

There has been debate about what constitutes a whole man.  Is man composed of soul, spirit, and body or is he composed of body and soul?  These were questions that the church had to deal with.  The idea of a trichotomic constitution of man goes back to Greek philosophy. Michael Horton notes,

“…Plotinus (AD 205-270) posits a hierarchy of three divine realms: the One (eternal, absolute, transcendental), the Nous (ideas, concepts), and the World Soul (including individual souls, incorporeal and immortal). Below the realm of the Soul is nature, including the terrestrial bodies in which some souls are imprisoned. Individual souls emanate from the World-Soul, turned toward the unchanging, rational One. Thus, the human person could be divided into three components in descending order: spirit, soul, and body.”

The Christian Faith, page 374

It is interesting to note that the “One” coincides with what we believe about God.  Even pagan thinkers knew that there was an eternal one.  Be that as it may, this is where that idea of man’s trichotomy comes from. This even bled over into the church where Gnostics adopted this form of thinking and has crept into the church (see The Christian Faith page 374).  Where is their Biblical support?  Passages such as Luke 10:27 and Hebrews 4:12 are appealed to in order defend the notion of “three” components of man. 

Luke 10:27

So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Do these passages hold any water?  In the Luke passage, Jesus notes that we are to love the Lord our God with, “all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” From this, trichotomists will say this means man is broken up into these segments despite the fact this mentions four, not three areas that we are to love God with. What Jesus is discussing here is that we are to love the Lord with all our being, not that we are divided into these specific sections. This view stems from a faulty hermeneutic thereby looking for things in the text that do not exist and completely missing the point of Jesus was trying to communicate. The same hermeneutical error is made in Hebrews 4:12. In this passage, it has been assumed that there is a true division of soul and spirit that is view by the writer of Hebrews and that is not the case. Horton says,

“Hebrews 4:12 does not say that the Word divides between soul and sprit but that it divides even soul and spirit. “Dividing” in this context is examining, judging…It is not a cutting between but a cutting through that is intended here.”

The Christian Faith, page 375

The writer did not intend for the understanding of man to be broken up into multiple spiritual components, but to show that the Word cuts into that complete, whole, soul/spirit. Again, an improper hermeneutic was in play here that assumes what the text does not say.

What is the biblical view of man’s constitution? Are there really parts of man that make the whole? The answer is yes.  However, it is not done in a trichotomy but rather a dichotomy. This is through body and soul.  Where do we see this biblically though? In 2 Corinthians 5 discusses this where it talks of those who leave this body in death are present with Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:1-8

For we know that if our earthly [a]house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our [b]habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as [c]a guarantee.

6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

Paul gives a lengthy discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 as well.

There is this sense of a person that is distinct from our physical selves that goes to be with God first, although our bodies are not meant to be separated from our souls. Horton again,

“While the body and soul can be separated, they are not meant to be separated, and our salvation is not complete until we are bodily raised as whole persons (Ro 8:23).”

The Christian Faith, page 379

As we see, this separation is not meant to be, but is necessary.  This stands in stark contrast with Gnostic theology which teaches that the body is bad and the soul or spirit good.  Biblical theology teaches, however, that both body and soul will be redeemed for those who are elect of God.  This means that God’s creation remains good even after the effects of the fall had corrupted it.  We should not think that this material world is bad and especially our bodies.  Both are redeemed by the one who made them.  And our bodies will be united to our souls when Christ comes again.

What is the “image of God”?

What the “image of God” is has been debated at different points in church history.  This strange language that is applied to mankind is certainly not an easy concept to grasp. Being a difficult topic, it was not one that even the Reformers agreed on. Herman Bavinck notes,

“But the scholars of the Reformation, too, held differing views of the image of God. In the early period some Lutherans still equated the image of God with the essence of man and the substance of the soul, but Lutheran theology as such was grounded in another idea.”

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 549

If the Reformers did not have a monolithic view of this doctrine, what can be said of it?  Is it a doctrine that is knowable? Yes, indeed it is.  We can formulate this doctrine based on the evidence found in Scripture.  There is not one single place that we see the image of God brought out in Scripture, but it is gained by the implications of the passages provided about man.  Certain truths of the Bible are not formulated with one verse, the Trinity being exhibit ).  The doctrine of the Trinity is formulated based on multiple witnesses in Scripture and by harmonizing them based on sound hermeneutical processes to confess this vital doctrine. The doctrine of man being in God’s image is no different.

We will follow Bavinck’s points about what the image of God is in man from Volume 2 of his Reformed Dogmatics:

“God is, first of all, demonstrable in the human soul.” How does God show Himself in the human soul? The soul shows eternity in man.  This distinguishes us from the animals. We are not mindless organisms that are focused only on reproducing and finding our next meal. We as humans are given souls that live on forever.  We discussed this in the dichotomy of man earlier. 

Bavinck says,

“The breath of life is the principle of life; the living soul is the essences of man. By means of this combination Scripture accords to man a unique and independent place of his own and avoids both pantheism and materialism.”

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 555

God is not placing Himself in us as if we are God (pantheism) ,but He also does not leave us a mindless organisms (materialism).  We have the stamp of eternity in us.

“Belonging to the image of God, in the second place, are the human faculties.” Humans have emotions, thoughts, desires, which as Bavinck says, “have to be led by the mind (nous) and express themselves in action.” We can make rational decisions that do not show themselves in the same way that the animals do.  We make decisions and show our emotions with higher purpose and meaning than that of the animals and in doing so it evidences the image bearing that we reflect from our Creator.  These virtues show themselves in God and are reflected in us as humans, him being the “highest” or “perfect” virtues of those features found in us.

“In the third place, the image of God manifests itself in the virtues of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness with which humanity was created from the start.” Man has moral faculties that reflect themselves in our actions.  We as humans know right from wrong. We know we should not steal or should not take the name of the Lord in vain. How do we know this? The law of God is written on our hearts. Look at Romans 2.

Romans 2:12-16

For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

Our consciences tell us what is right and what is wrong.  Animals and mindless organisms do not have this faculty.  And this “moral compass” points to a law and lawgiver higher than ourselves.  This, biblically speaking, points us back to God Himself. God did not tell the animals to not eat the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but he told man not to do so. He is special and unique.

Bavinck says,

“Man was not created as a neutral being with morally indifferent powers and potentialities, but immediately made physically and ethically mature, with knowledge in the mind, righteousness in the will, holiness in the heart.”

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 559

“In the fourth place, also the human body belongs integrally to the image of God.” Since the spirit and body are so integrally tied together, there is no way that the body, being crafted by God himself, can be said it is not God’s image.

“Finally, also belonging to this image is man’s habitation in paradise.” Adam’s status before God in the garden as the overseer of the earth.  He was given the task of caring for the garden given dominion over the animals in a way that no one else had.

Bavinck sums up the image of God well when he says,

“So the whole human being is image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers, and gifts. Nothing in humanity is excluded from God’s image; it stretches as far as our humanity does and constitutes our humanness. The human is not the divine self but is nevertheless a finite creaturely impression of the divine. All that is in God-his spiritual essences, his virtues and perfections, his immanent self-distinctions, his self-communication and self-revelation in creation-finds its admittedly finite and limited analogy and likeness in humanity.”

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 561

Did Adam and Eve have true free will?

Now what about the part of paragraph 2 where it says,

“…being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change.”?

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, Chapter 4, paragraph 2

I thought that the Reformed did not teach that man has “free will”? Could Adam and Eve have truly chosen otherwise?  Keep in mind that this was prior to the fall and there was no “bondage” to sin as we would think of it.  There was no slavery to sin.  Man had not been plunged into spiritual and physical death yet.  So, the will could not be spoken of in the same sense as it is spoken of with regards to man being dead in sin and his trespasses.  Adam had the ability to choose that which was genuinely good, but also truly evil.  Calvin notes,

“Therefore God provided man’s soul with a mind, by which to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong; and, with the light of reason as guide, to distinguish what should be followed from what should be avoided…To this he joined the will, under whose control is choice. Man in his first condition excelled in these pre-eminent endowments, so that his reason, understanding, prudence, and judgment not only sufficed for the direction of his earthly life, but by them mounted up even to God and eternal bliss. Then was choice added, to direct the appetites and control all the organic motions, and thus make the will completely amenable to the guidance of the reason. In this integrity man by free will had the power, if he so willed, to attain eternal life.”

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 195

Adam could stand or he could fall if he so chose. He was not bound to sin or to righteousness. He had the perfect ability to continue in the way.  Therefore, our concept of free will to some extent must change when speaking of actions prior to the fall.  Calvin goes onto say,

“Here it would be out of place to raise the question of God’s secret predestination because our present subject is no what can happen or not, but what man’s nature was like. Therefore Adam could have stood if he wished, seeing that he fell solely by his own will.”

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 195

Calvin is not saying that God has not decreed what would happen and that Adam could work outside of that decree, but that Adam’s will was bound to his nature and since his nature was not that of evil yet, his choice was truly “free” in that he could make an actual choice between that which is actually good and that which is actually evil.  Remember, in our fallen state we as human beings are not able to choose that which is in good in any way. Apart from saving grace of God it is impossible. Romans 3 makes this clear.

Romans 3:10-18

As it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one;

11 There is none who understands;

There is none who seeks after God.

12 They have all turned aside;

They have together become unprofitable;

There is none who does good, no, not one.”

13 “Their throat is an open [d]tomb;

With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;

“The poison of asps is under their lips”;

14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;

17 And the way of peace they have not known.”

18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

What this means is that man cannot do that which is truly pleasing to God. All of his choices are evil continuously. This does not mean that man acts as bad as he could, but even the most righteous acts are sinful in God’s eyes when not done from a regenerate heart.  Paul makes in clear in Romans 8 that those who are in the flesh cannot submit to the law of God.  They do not have the ability to do so in their sinful state. 

Calvin again,

“Man will then be spoken of as having this sort of free decision, not because he has choice equally of good and evil, but because he acts wickedly by will, not by compulsion.”

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 264

They act on what they want.  God is not forcing them to do it against their will, but their choices flow from their will and their nature.  Adam was not under such conditions of sinful nature and was able to choose what he wanted.  Despite Adam’s freedom to choose good and evil, there was no power within Adam to thwart the plan of God. He was not able to work outside of what God’s eternal plan and purpose was set to do.  Adam did exactly as he was decreed to do.  But that decree had no compulsion in nature nor did was there any acting outside of his nature. He did exactly what he wanted to do. This will have some mystery to it obviously, but we can see that God works out His plan and purpose along with human actions including Adam’s in spite of his ability to make true moral choices.

Of Creation Part 1

*This post is adopted from a presentation on chapter 4 paragraph 1 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith

1. In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good.

2LBCF (1677/89) IV.1

Chapter 4 is a small chapter in the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 with only three paragraphs. But there is so much doctrine here that is assumed by the writers of our confession.  It is built upon (at the time) over 1000 years of the church’s orthodox confession of theology. The writers were trying to cram as much as they could into this little chapter. Now some things we will be discussing today will be deep. We will have to stretch our minds some as we go through the doctrine of Creation. Keep in mind though that these doctrines were considered basic Christianity to the men who compiled the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith. This not considered “high church” doctrine or a 500-level course in systematic theology. This was Christianity 101. These doctrines encompassed the basics of what Christian doctrine entails. Christians need to have this mindset as it should lead us to want to study and gain the knowledge that these doctrines contain. We should not fear them.

However, this is not knowledge for knowledge sake. We ultimately gain this knowledge so we can worship God properly. How can I worship a God that I do not know? I must know Him to worship Him. The more knowledge that is gained of Him, the more I should worship Him. In other words, proper doctrine will lead to proper living if applied. These items are vital if we are to worship God properly. Now, as we go along this will not solely be a post about whether the Genesis account is figurative or literal, but a discussion of the meat behind this doctrine that the writers of our confession packed into Chapter 4, paragraph 1. The Doctrine of God is integral to this chapter and we will be diving into this post and then next weeks post focusing on man being made in God’s image and his state of freedom before sin came into the world. I think there is a tendency to read these chapters in isolation which is not how they are to be read. Of Creation was placed as chapter 4 intentionally. Now why would the authors place this right after the chapter on God’s decree? Would it not make more sense for the doctrine of providence to come after the decree because they are intricately related and inseparable? Maybe at first glance it appears that way, but we must not think this to be the case. Richard Barcellos notes,

“The decree of God is an ad intra divine work, as Richard A. Muller says, “willed by the entire Godhead as the foundation of all [ad extra works]”. The decree is sometimes termed an immanent, or intrinsic, divine work because its termination is in God. The execution of God’s decree, however, brings us into the realm of God’s external, ad extra, transient, or extrinsic, works-works which produce effects, or creatures.”

Trinity & Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account, pages 8-9

The doctrine of Scripture is put first to show where our supreme authority for faith and practice comes from: Scripture. Chapter 2 builds upon this by grounding our minds in the doctrine of God who is the creator of Scripture. Then the basis for everything, His decree, is then laid out for us and after that there is chapter 4 being an outpouring of that decree. Chapter 4 could rightly be said to be a “part 2” to chapter 3 since it essentially tells us more about the actual decree of God. He then works out His decree through providence.  You can see the systematic way in which this was formulated. I do think, however, that chapter 2 on God and the Holy Trinity is probably more in view here in the first paragraph. Again Barcellos says,

“What chapter 4 does is confess, in particular, the manifestation of the very same God confessed in chapter 2. This manifestation of God comprises the revelatory divine effects in creatures. It is the eternal and immutable God confessed in chapter 2 who manifests divine power, wisdom, and goodness in that which comes-to-be.”

Trinity & Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account, page 10

 Notice what is says in the opening paragraph of chapter 4: “In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit …” There is this trinitarian emphasis given with respect to God’s working in creation. What the confession says on God in chapter 2 must be in light here or the words used here to describe God make no sense. He is most wise in his acts; He is impassable meaning he does not have passions. He is simple meaning He is not composed of parts and does not change. A solid doctrine of God is needed to understand this chapter, or our understanding of this passage will be hindered greatly. Barcellos notes,

“Since chapter 4 is not the first chapter of the confession, it assumes all the formulations which precede it. Though this is obvious to anyone who reads the confession, it is no small or trite observation. It has mammoth implications of hermeneutics and theological method in the process of formulating Christian doctrine.”

Trinity & Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account, page 9

Another interesting note is that this chapter does differ from the Westminster Confession of Faith. Sam Waldron notes,

“The 1689 Confession differs from the Westminster and Savoy only in making the last sentence a separate paragraph.”

A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 5th edition, page 88

What this shows is that our Particular Baptist forefathers were in complete agreement with their Presbyterian brothers on this topic.  If you recall, the Particular Baptists were not looking to create division with their Presbyterian brethren. Far from it. They desired to walk in unity with them, but there was a time to bring forward their differences. But here they show their unity.

Given that, here is what I want to investigate from Chapter 4, paragraph 1:

  1. What exactly is Creation and what is the Trinitarian activity in the eternal act of Creation?
  2. Was there a change in God because of Creation?
  3. Is Creation Poetry or History?

What Creation is and the Trinitarian activity of God in the eternal act of Creation

We find the Creation story at the beginning of Genesis which spans the first two chapters of that book.  Let us look at Genesis 1:1-8,

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness [a]was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. [b]So the evening and the morning were the first day.

 Then God said, “Let there be a [c]firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.

Now we know the rest of the story. God makes animals and man, placing that man in the garden of Eden to watch over what had been created. Woman was then made from him and they were told to be fruitful and multiply. This is the story of Creation. Given this story, we would tend to think that Creation is just simply God creating all things, right? While that is true, there is more to it than that. Creation is God creating things that are not God. It is God working outside Himself bringing things to be that were not before.  Herman Bavinck says,

“[Creation is] that act of God through which, by his sovereign will, he brought the entire world out of nonbeing into being that is distinct from his own being.”

Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2, page 416

This distinction is especially important. I think the tendency to make God like us in our descriptions of Him, flows from a conflation of these categories. While it may be denied that God is creature, the way He is sometimes described assumes a creatureliness about Him.

Herman Bavinck says,

“It is God who posits the creature, eternity which posits time, immensity which posits space, being which posits becoming, immutability which posits change. There is nothing intermediate between these two classes of categories: a deep chasm separates God’s being from that of all creatures.”

Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2, pages 158-159

Going back to our discussion about Creation, the act also includes the creation of time. Time was created along with other created things as William Ames notes in his work, The Marrow of Theology. Since time is the measurement of change in what is created, it must have been created along with the rest of the world and its contents.  James Dolezal notes,

“Properly considered, time is not an entity or an essence but rather is merely a relation between things that change and are liable to change. Time is concreted with all creatures insofar as it is the measure of all their movement. When we speak of time as a realm we do not mean to imply that it is like a container or box in which temporal things exist, rather we denote simply the created order which is populated by beings that are subject to and undergo change and thus are measured temporally.”

“Eternal Creator of Time” from Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies, 2014

The act of Creation is an eternal act of God and it was not just one or two persons of the Trinity that were involved in said act.  They were all participants in the act of Creation. We know that Scripture discusses this in different places.  It was the full being of God making the world out of nothing. Now what do I mean that the act of Creation was an “eternal” act of God? How can the act of Creation be an eternal act if it happened at the beginning of time? God exists outside of time. We see this in passages such as 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2.

2 Timothy 1:9

who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,

Titus 1:2

in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began,

In both these passages God works outside of time. He is not bound to it nor is he measured by it. Dolezal notes,

“Both 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2 describe God’s purposeful activity…Literally rendered “before times eternal” or “above times eternal,” the sense is that God’s intrinsic activity is not a temporally indexed event. In the context, the point is that God’s good purposes toward His people are not an afterthought with Him, but are eternally settled apart from the fluctuations of history.”

All That Is in God, page 79

This means that God acting as God is not held in place by time or the constrains of this created world. His actions are outside of it are therefore eternal. The conclusion then is that all the acts of God are eternal, including Creation. There was no point where Creation began with God and no point where it stopped. It simply is. With Creation, this means that there is an eternal act of Creation in God that produced a temporal effect in the production of material things (Dolezal discusses this in All That Is in God on pages 100-103). This is the only way to consistently look at all the acts of God with the biblical data that is presented to us. Keeping the principle in mind that Creation is God making things that are not God is important here as we are confronted with this difficult truth. God created the world and therefore He is not bound by time, He must be eternal. If He is eternal, all His acts must be eternal. The truth about God’s eternity is by no means an easy thing to grasp. In fact, we will not be able to fully comprehend it.

John Owen notes,

“How inconceivable is this glorious divine property unto the thoughts and minds of men! How weak are the ways and terms whereby they about to express it… He that says most only signifies what he knows of what it is not. We are of yesterday, change every moment, and are leaving our station to-morrow. God is still the same, was so before the world was, – from eternity. And now I cannot think what I have said, but only have intimated what I adore.”

A Practical Exposition upon Psalm CXXX from The Works of John Owen Volume 6, page 662

There is mystery involved. However, that does not mean that we should not pursue greater knowledge of God in things like this.  We should seek to know this God more! Mystery should not lead us to timidity. These men who came before us sought to know these things and so should we. This is the God we serve.

Change in God and Creation

Given what we have discussed about the eternal act of Creation, why is it so important that we defend this difficult doctrine of Creation? Who cares about how God created the world (whether it is an eternal act or not?). Is it not enough that the world was created?  No, it is not. If we are not careful, we can posit things about God that are in fact not true therefore creating a different God. Once it is placed in those terms, it should cause us to be incredibly careful with the doctrine of God. What may seem like trivial technicalities about the being of God to us, were by no means trivial to the orthodox in the church and to the writers of our confession of faith. If we go back to chapter 2, we see a detailed description of who God is (read chapter 2 paragraph 1).  We see from this paragraph the careful detail that is given to who God is.  One aspect of God’s nature that is of importance in relation to His creation of the world is what is called His simplicity and immutability.  Simplicity does not mean that God is easy to understand. It means that God is not composed of parts. This is what is being referred to in chapter 2 paragraph 1 where it is posited that God is “without body, parts, or passions”.  God is not “made up” of anything. There are no components to God’s being.  He is not dependent on anything outside of Himself to be Himself. He just is. God cannot become anything greater or lesser than He is.

Barcellos says,

“Confessing divine simplicity, eternity, infinity, immutability, and impassibility (WCF/2LCF 2.1) means that God cannot change from within or from without because of what he is and what he is not. He is God, the simple and immutable Creator; he is not in any sense a mutable creature, nor does he become one, in the sense of changing divine being.”

Trinity & Creation A Scriptural and Confessional Account page 43

Richard Muller notes,

“…God in himself, considered essentially or personally, is not in potentia because the divine essence and persons are eternally perfect, and the inward life of the Godhead is eternally complete and fully realized.”

Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Second Edition, page 11

We see this doctrine by what is revealed in Scripture:

Job 35:6-7

If you sin, what do you accomplish against Him?
Or, if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to Him?
If you are righteous, what do you give Him?
Or what does He receive from your hand?

Acts 17:23-28

for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:

TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.

Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one [a]blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

Exodus 3:13-15

 Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”

14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 15 Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’ 

Numbers 23:19

“God is not a man, that He should lie,

Nor a son of man, that He should repent.

Has He said, and will He not do?

Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good

Malachi 3:6

For I am the Lord, I do not change;

Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.

James 1:17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

Hebrews 6:13-18

For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.” 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16 For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. 17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the [a]immutability of His counsel, [b]confirmed it by an oath, 18 that by two [c]immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we [d]might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

Daniel 4:35

All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing;

He does according to His will in the army of heaven

And among the inhabitants of the earth.

No one can restrain His hand

Or say to Him, “What have You done?”

Isaiah 40:14

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?

Given what the Bible says about the immutability and simplicity of God, how does that relate to Creation?  Because if God cannot change then Creation does nothing to make God something He was not before.  God cannot take on new properties to be God. God would not be a perfect being if He is able to take on new properties. There was no time where God was not the Creator. There was no new property that was taken on by Him given the temporal world that was brought into existence. If God could change due to Creation, then He is no longer the God that is explicitly confessed in Scripture as not being dependent upon His creation to be God.  We now have a God that is like us. We have fundamentally changed God.  The basis for the promises of God found in Word are now shaken.  This principle of change in God given Creation has been asserted by some in the Reformed camp (John Frame and K. Scott Oliphint). This view is far from what the writers of what both the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith had in mind.  They confessed an eternal Creator who was before the world existed and continues to be.

Creation: Poetry or History?

In our final point here this morning, I want to touch upon a topic that Dr. Waldron brings out in his book on the confession. That is the topic on whether the Genesis account of Creation is a historical account or simply poetic, figurative language. There are those who have suggested that the Creation is simply figurative and should not be taken as actual historical record.  It has also been posited, that the terms for “day” in Genesis are referring to a time over millions of years.  Why are these assertions about the text dangerous? They seek to impose to the text what does not exist.  As to the argument raised about the historicity of the Creation account, there are problems with this view.  Dr. Waldron brings out some very helpful points. There is no reason to believe the account of Creation is given in any other way than by historical account. The language is given of a record and it is noted within time the events that took place (temporal effect of God’s eternal act).  Waldron notes,

“If we take Genesis 12 and following as historical narrative (and it would be a radical critical position to deny the historicity of Abraham), then it cannot be doubted that Genesis I-II is intended also to be understood as such.”

A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 5th edition, page 90

It would be ridiculous to think that the account given in the Scripture is anything but historical given what follows it.  Unfortunately, higher criticism of the Bible leads us to question fundamental truths in the Bible not only on a theological level, but simply on a literary level.

Finally, we will address the falsehood that the term “day” means “age” or “millions of years”.  This is probably the most radical view, but one that appears to try to make modern day science and the Bible compatible with one another.  There is an underlying assumption that the theory of evolution must be true and therefore for Christians to be consistent, we must assume the text is talking about an “age” when it says “day”.  This is preposterous.  Waldron notes how it would be foolish to think that a Jew would read this and understand “day” to mean millions of years.  Waldron goes on to say,

“Furthermore, the meaning of day is defined in Genesis 1:5 as composed of periods of light and darkness, as well as evenings and mornings.”

A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 5th edition, page 92

How this translates into “millions of years” is left lacking. This is what is called a non-sequitur. That means it does not follow. Just because A is given does not mean B follows. That is what is being asserted in this argument.  Also, historically speaking the theory of evolution did not exist prior to the Genesis account being written. It came maybe close to 3,000 years later. To read a system backwards into a text that says completely the opposite with no other supporting evidence is to create an anachronism that is laughable.  The text should be taken as it is.  God worked a supernatural miracle to bring about material things that are not God.  We should bask in the awesomeness of the power of God.  What did we say before? Why is the Creator/creature distinction so important? It keeps us from making God like us.  We are more hesitant to make assertions about God based on our experience when we have firmly grounded in our minds that He is distinct from us. 

Thoughts on the Textus Receptus: A Critical Text View

Author’s note: This is a revision of my opening statement from my debate with The Particular Baptist Podcast co-host Sean Cheetham. The content of this post is not representative of all contributors at The Particular Baptist.

CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s opening post by Sean Cheetham as he introduced this series with his position.

Recently, there has been a resurgence in debate as it relates to the text of the New Testament. Should the Textus Receptus (TR) be considered the “final word of God”? Those of the so-called “ecclesiastical text” or “confessional text” perspective would have us believe that the TR fits this paradigm. As debated in our last episode, Is the TR the Preserved Word of God? this was brought forward. To be clear, I do not mean to say that my opponent is “TR only”. He is not. However, I believe the core arguments for both “TR onlyists” and “TR advocates” are the same. Before moving on, I want to briefly provide context on what the TR (Textus Receptus) is.  The TR as it is known is really the combination of the Greek texts of Erasmus, Beza, and Stephanus. They each produced more than one Greek New Testament.  Their works would be utilized by the King James Bible translators.  The TR that is probably used most today is not strictly the works of Erasmus, Beza, and Stephanus.  It would be the work of Scrivener’s published Greek New Testament which is a work based on the underlying textual choices made by the King James translators.

Considering all the evidence we have is important if we are to honestly view the text of the New Testament. We should not simply pick a text-type, or a specific printed Greek text based on tradition or any other means that excludes honest historical evidence.  I believe that God has kept his Word pure in all ages as the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith states in chapter 1 paragraph 8.  I believe His Word has been preserved and kept from error.  This does not mean that the manuscripts were kept free from human mistakes as plainly seen by the over 400,000 variants that show up in our manuscripts which is more variants than there are words in the New Testament. But it does mean that in the tradition, God has kept his Word pure. As a side note, I do not believe that this confession is saying that a particular Greek text was kept pure, but that the text has been preserved in the manuscript tradition. James Renihan in an article titled “Our Confession and the Textual History of Scripture” writes on the historical accuracy of the claim that paragraph 1.8 is talking about the Textus Receptus. He notes,

“On the Confessional issue, I think that the matter has to be handled with great care.  On the one hand, it is easy to think that the language of the Confession supports the kind of doctrine of providential preservation promoted by modern defenders of the Textus Receptus.  But, in the study that I have done on the issue, I think that that is probably anachronistic.  Much more work needs to be done, but I think that the Confessional position is much more carefully nuanced than is sometimes represented to us today.”

He goes onto quote William Bridge who was a Westminster Divine and since the 1689 is based on the work of these Divines (at least in part), it can provide insight into what was believed by those scholars.  Bridge writes in his Works,

“How can we hold and keep fast the letter of the Scripture when there are so many Greek copies of the New Testament, and those diverse from another?”

“Yes, well; for though there are many received copies of the New Testament, yet there is no material difference between them.  The four evangelists do vary in the relation of the same thing; yet because there is no contradiction, or material variation, we do adhere to all of them, and deny none.  In the times of the Jews, before Christ, they had but one original of the Old Testament, yet that hath several readings: there is a marginal reading, and a line reading, and they differ no less than eight hundred times the one from the other; yet the Jews did adhere to both, and denied neither.  Why? Because there was no material difference.  And so now, though there be many copies of the New Testament, yet seeing there is no material difference between them, we may adhere to all: for whoever will understand the Scripture, must be sure to keep and hold fast the latter, not denying it.”

This statement by Bridge does not imply the settlement on a single Greek text or manuscript but taking the evidence that is given to reconstruct the original. What this means is that these men, at least with Bridge, would have loved to look at the other evidence we have today, yet would have held to divine preservation.  There may be a rebuttal that they would only be collating manuscripts of their day and therefore would not have envisioned using manuscripts found after their time. My response would be that nothing in what Bridge said implies only utilizing manuscripts of his day but discusses the method used to reconstruct the text. This method transcends manuscripts confined to a specific point in history and can be applied across the board.

Renihan goes onto quote Richard Muller who is a scholar in Reformed history from his Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms,

“specifically, variant readings in the several ancient codices of Scripture that lead to debate concerning the infallibility of the scriptural Word.  The orthodox, Lutheran and Reformed, generally argued that the meaning of the original can be recovered by careful collation of the texts.  In the second half of the seventeenth century, the argument was developed that inconsistencies occurred only in the copies, or apographa, and not in the now lost originals, or autographa, of Scripture.”

With confessional discussion aside, I want to address some assertions made by my brother Sean and bring out more detail than I was able to in our debate.

First, Sean asserts in a paper he wrote called, “The Word of God Kept Pure for us to Read in our Language” that modern textual criticism means text has been lost due to corruption. He writes,

“Modern textual criticism rests on the idea that the text of the Bible has become corrupt and is currently in the process of being restored…If it is true that the Bible was corrupt, then at best we could say that it was kept pure in some ages, but not that it was kept pure in all ages.  This is not to ignore the fact that the manuscript copies of the Bible do contain variances from one another, and clear deviations from the original text.  However, that fact does not mean the true church as a whole had a completely corrupted textual transmission.  We would expect by God’s providence that, even if only in a minority of manuscripts, the correct words of any part of scripture would be preserved somewhere in the Greek and Hebrew and at least some of the church would have access to it.  Any idea that part of the text has been completely lost to the church (even if only for a certain amount of time) should be rejected on its unbiblical nature.”

This argument is a strawman as it presents modern textual criticism as monolithic when it is not. Notice what Kurt and Barbara Aland said about the text’s tenacity in their book The Text of the New Testament on pages 291-292 and 294 respectively,

“The transmission of the New Testament textual tradition is characterized by an extremely impressive degree of tenacity. Once a reading occurs it will persist with obstinacy …. It is precisely the overwhelming mass of the New Testament textual tradition which provides an assurance of certainty in establishing the original text”

“It is probably quite clear that the element of tenacity in the New Testament textual tradition not only permits but demands that we proceed on the premise that in every instance of textual variation it is possible to determine the form of the original text”

They held that we have the original readings in our textual tradition without doubt, which by implication means God has preserved His Word and kept it pure in all ages.  To imply that modern textual scholarship as a whole means text has been lost is to misrepresent the position.

Second, my brother has asserted that we must determine the Greek text of the New Testament primarily by presupposition, meaning that since the Scripture is our ultimate standard, we must believe it to be the case from a textual stand point. Since his position holds the TR as the standard, we must believe that to be God’s Word, kept from error.  An evidence of this is found in his paper,

“Although there are variances between the printed editions of the TR, the variances are minor , and based on our faith in God’s word being preserved, we should expect that the TR editions should have the true reading somewhere and that it should be possible to identify which are true and which are false on theological or other grounds. Thus, we can say that every letter of God’s word is available to us complete and pure.”

To argue your view of a certain Greek text by using “presuppositionalism” is a misapplication of Cornelius Van Til’s system of apologetics. And if all agree that his systematizing of apologetics is truly biblical, an appeal to the Scriptures for authority on this apologetic methodology cannot be done without utilizing his method. Van Til did not apply his apologetic methodology to a specific manuscript or Greek text.  You find evidence for this in his book The Defense of The Faith on page 130 of the Fourth Edition,

“The proper attitude of reason to the authority of Scripture, then, is but typical of the proper attitude of reason to the whole of the revelation of God. The objects man must seek to know are always of such a nature as God asserts they are. God’s revelation is always authoritarian. This is true of his revelation in nature no less than of his revelation in Scripture. The truly scientific method, the method which alone can expect to make true progress in learning, is therefore such a method as seeks simply to think God’s thoughts after him. When these matters are kept in mind, it will be seen clearly that the true method for any Protestant with respect to the Scripture (Christianity) and with respect to the existence of God (theism) must be the indirect method of reasoning by presupposition. It in fact then appears that the argument for the Scripture as the infallible revelation of God is, to all intents and purposes, the same as the argument for the existence of God.”

In the referenced passage in his book, we see no mention of the “TR” or any specific Greek manuscript or text. In fact, in Van Til’s specific discussion of the doctrine of Scripture (on pages 127-136) he never once discusses directly the aforementioned items. Van Til’s point here has to do with the nature and authority of Scripture, not a certain Greek New Testament, or otherwise. Even if the rebuttal is that you are not strictly arguing what Van Til proposed, you are still utilizing his method, effectively borrowing from his worldview (ironically so, given Van Til argued the same about what the unbeliever does with the Christian worldview). And if you use the teachings of another individual as is done here in supporting the TR position, those words and messages still carry the meaning as they were originally intended. Just like when the unbeliever borrows from the Christian worldview, the meaning of those items he is borrowing do not change just because he is not giving God the glory. When we go to apply the teachings of a man, we should be careful to use them as they were intended, not as we want them to be. This is also not an argument from silence, as Van Til asserts his arguments for Scripture in the positive in relation to its authority and nature as opposed to anything else.  Also, this would be the place one would expect Van Til to address an issue such as a specific text of the New Testament as he clearly applies the same ontological argument for the existence of God to the Scripture being the infallible Word of God, but does so in the context of its authority and nature and not in any way implying a specific Greek text. But do not confessional text advocates argue a Greek TEXT by presupposition? Yet Van Til never argues a TEXT by presupposition, but the Scripture’s NATURE by presupposition. The only way this could be consistent is if a specific Greek text and the nature of Scripture are conflated.

After our debate, Sean had sent me a passage from R.J. Rushdoony in a book called Faith & Action, Vol. 1: Authority, Humanism & Morality where he asserts that Van Til came to believe his apologetic methodology should be applied to the underlying text of our Bibles. The quote from him is on page 569. There are three reasons I do not believe this to be accurate:

  1. Van Til’s book The Defense of the Faith was not recanted as needing to be updated. Given what I have established already about Van Til’s position on Scripture, would it not it be important for Van Til to have updated his work to reflect his new view? Otherwise, would it not lend us to believe his work remains as is given the evidence presented in this paper? In my next point, I note what Oliphant says about this specific work of Van Til.
  2. This book is still printed as representing Van Til’s apologetic methodology and therefore his conclusions. The conclusion or application of a methodology systematized by an author cannot be divorced from the methodology itself. If Van Til did in fact change his conclusion, the methodology would indeed have to change along with it. Since the notion of “presupposition” being applied to Scripture only encompasses its nature in Van Til’s mind, the the meaning of it would have to be expanded to include a specific Greek text. If 2+2 no longer equals four but now equals six, we would not simply look at the conclusion (six), but would want to know WHY 2+2 now equals six. This is because we would see a change in methodology that now changes the conclusion that was at once different. Given what I have said about Van Til’s methodology and conclusions, notice what K. Scott Oliphant who is the editor of the Fourth Edition said on page ix of the forward of The Defense of the Faith, “Given this context of controversy, this book should be seen as the center of Van Til’s long (forty-plus years) teaching and writing career. All that he had written and taught previously leads up to this book, and all that came after reflects back to it. In that sense, this is the book to read if one wants to understand Van Til’s approach to apologetics.” The controversy noted is about critiques that were laid against Van Til in relation to his apologetic methodology.
  3. Oliphant knew Van Til in his later years while in retirement not long before his death. He corresponded with him at length and learned from him in person ergo becoming an eye witness to teaching from Van Til.  This would likely be the time that Rushdoony asserted Van Til believed his apologetic methodology should be applied to the underlying text of the Bible. Oliphant, who inputs multiple clarifications of Van Til’s methodology throughout the book, makes no mention of this alleged key shift in Van Til’s philosophy. One would expect this to be addressed given Rushdoony’s claim about how much of a controversy this was between Van Til and Hills. We also have the positive statement by Oliphant in my previous point that clearly references Van Til’s work in The Defense of the Faith as representing the apologetic views of this great man and those views do not include application of those views to a specific Greek text. The only note that Oliphant makes on page 130 as it relates to the quote I used by Van Til is where he quotes the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 1, paragraph 4 on the authority of Scripture which is consistent with Van Til’s thought process in his discussion of Scripture.

Second, I want to address an inconsistency in Sean’s view of preservation and that the text the 16th century was “solidified”.

I want to demonstrate this by using the comma Johanneum.   He holds that the comma Johanneum is original, which creates problems with preservation on his own standard (the alleged grammatical issue created with the comma’s absence aside). The comma Johanneum does not show itself in the Greek tradition until the 13th century when a Greek copy of the Latin came into the scene.  This means that there is no early Greek evidence for this reading.  It only appears in Latin.  If a verse does not show up in the Greek tradition until the 13th century, and is later part of the text in the 16th century, doesn’t that mean the verse would have disappeared for nearly 1,200 years? This idea has been brought out by James White. Furthermore, does not this mean that the purity of the Word would not have been kept by God in all ages? This means that my brother cannot hold to preservation consistently with the very Greek New Testament he espouses as containing the Word kept pure. Even if you want to go to Erasmus, whose work was part of the TR, he did not include the comma Johanneum in his Greek New Testament until his third edition. If one of the framers of what would become the TR had issues with this verse, should that not cause one to pause and consider the authenticity of this verse? Luther’s German Bible did not even contain it since his New Testament was based on Erasmus’s second edition.

Dan Wallace, in talking about the comma Johanneum and about those who say the TR is the original text in an article titled, “The Textual Problem in 1 John 5:7-8” says,

“Modern advocates of the Textus Receptus and KJV generally argue for the inclusion of the Comma Johanneum on the basis of heretical motivation by scribes who did not include it. But these same scribes elsewhere include thoroughly orthodox readings—even in places where the TR/Byzantine manuscripts lack them. Further, these KJV advocates argue theologically from the position of divine preservation: since this verse is in the TR, it must be original. But this approach is circular, presupposing as it does that the TR = the original text. Further, it puts these Protestant proponents in the awkward and self-contradictory position of having to affirm that the Roman Catholic humanist, Erasmus, was just as inspired as the apostles, for on several occasions he invented readings—due either to carelessness or lack of Greek manuscripts (in particular, for the last six verses of Revelation Erasmus had to back-translate from Latin to Greek).”

This has now been updated to seven readings due to later findings.

Would not this mean Erasmus ADDED to the text?  Does not that mean there would be more than God had preserved? How is that consistent with God’s Word being kept pure in all ages? To be clear, Wallace’s discussion about what TR and KJV advocates argue in his first two sentences does not appear to represent my brother Sean. But it provides context to what Wallace is arguing.

As to the notion of a “solidified” text in the 16th century, Sean writes about this as well in his paper. He asserts that the text the Protestants had was solidified with the help of the printing press.

“So, if modern textual critical methods are unable to help us identify the true text, how do we know what it is?  We should expect based on the wording of the confession and the scripture that we should have the text that the true church of Christ has always had.  While it may be harder to see what the state of the text in the manuscripts was in earlier centuries, even with new manuscript finds, we do know what the text looked like that was available to Protestantism in the 16th century when the text became solidified with the help of the printing press. The Hebrew text of the Old Testament that was available was known as the Masoretic Text, and the Greek text of the New is commonly called the Textus Receptus (TR).”

Sean noted in our debate that “solidified” was referring to the lack of ability for errors to be introduced into the text which by implication means the text had to be pure. Erasmus and the Reformers did not believe the Greek text of the New Testament was “settled” or “solidified” in their time as evidenced in the fact that not all the “TRs” of the day even agreed with one another. For instance, in Luke 17:36, Erasmus omitted this verse but Beza kept it. Theodore Beza even made a conjectural emendation at Revelation 16:5 deviating from Stephanus (as discussed in The King James Only Controversy second edition on page 105).

John Calvin, who was one of the Reformers, did not believe in a “solidified” or “finalized” text either as evidenced by his own changes to the “TR” of the time through conjectural emendations. Again, refer to James White in The King James Only Controversy of the second edition on page 114,

“Hills also noted that Calvin went beyond Erasmus, adding eighteen other places where he rejected TR readings in favor of others. Calvin also made two conjectural emendations: (1) at James 4:2, in reading “envy” instead of “kill”, and (2) deleting 1 John 2:14, seeming to him a repetitious interpolation.”

Reconstruction had to be done to the text.

Weren’t Reformers and Erasmus the ones who challenged Rome’s view of Scripture being preserved in the Latin Vulgate? Weren’t they the ones who were reconstructing Greek texts in opposition to the status quo? How are TR advocates not falling into the same position Rome did by challenging those who would criticize the TR? There were those who even questioned Erasmus’s view of inspiration in relation to his Greek New Testament as noted in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Erasmus’s life:

“Critics of Erasmus’ New Testament edition accused him of introducing changes to a sacred text and thus challenging the principle of inspiration. Erasmus denied these charges. On the contrary, he said, his edition restored the original text and corrected the errors introduced by translators and scribes.”

It can be seen from this short historical survey that this idea of a text that could not have errors introduced into it was unknown to the writers of the said text, and the one who advocates for that view must remain alone as it relates to its authors.

In conclusion, preservation of the Scriptures is especially important. If there is no preservation of God’s Word, there can be no confidence in what the New Testament teaches and therefore we cannot know what God has told us. Our faith would have no ground without the Scriptures. However, holding onto false notions of what the Greek New Testament should look like leads us into misrepresenting history. We must not fall into such historical fallacies.

Who Can Stay His Hand?

The book of Daniel is a fascinating book. We see Daniel and his friends in the midst of exile serving a pagan king and being seeped in pagan culture. They rose to power as they served the Lord faithfully where they were, by working hard at the tasks they were given. In this, we see the hand of God providentially bringing about His purposes in Daniel and his friends. This is a perfect place to reference with regards to biblical evidence for God’s sovereign power over all things. Even early on in the book, these faithful ones are put to the test and God’s power was shown:

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.

 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do:  As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

Daniel 3:1-6 (NIV)

They were given the choice to serve God or serve man. God then worked mightily in Daniel’s friends by showing His power to Nebuchadnezzar, who then praised the one, true God. But the king’s heart was still hard and he would not repent. And then chapter 4 comes. Here, we see the story of a king turned madman because he would not give praise to the one, true God, but rather saw himself as all powerful:

Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon,  he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

Daniel 4:29-30 (NIV)

You would think at this point the king would have learned that God was not to be trifled with. He had witnessed on more than one occasion God working through His servants that were placed in Babylon. But Nebuchadnezzar continued in his arrogance and rebellion to God. He continued to give praise to his gods and even went as far as to say, “This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.” (Daniel 4:18 NIV)

He was so arrogant that he said Daniel had the spirit of the pagan gods within him, notwithstanding all of the mighty things Daniel did by God’s clear power and the praise that the king himself gave to The Most High. God then brought the king low, giving him the mind of an animal. To be clear: it was not the king who brought his own sanity back, but through the supernatural power of God Himself. Notice what the response was after he was brought back from his low state:

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
    his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
 All the peoples of the earth
    are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
    with the powers of heaven
    and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
    or say to him: “What have you done?”

 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Daniel 4:34-37 (NIV)

The king explicitly confesses the sovereignty of God above His creation. His creation is but a pawn being used to bring about His eternal purposes. There is nothing man can do to legitimately call into question the acts of God. Given that we are His creation, He has the right to do with us as He wills, and whatever that is, it is just, righteous, and pure. How arrogant are we when we say that God can not possibly have brought about this terrible thing or that terrible thing or that God does not have absolute sovereignty over all His creation, which includes our wills! Does God work against what man wants to do? Absolutely. See what the Psalmist says:

The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.

Psalm 33:10 (NIV)

Here we see two wills at play: the will of man, which plans and purposes, and the will of God which, foils and thwarts (or, as the ESV says, “frustrates”). Any notion of libertarian free will as it relates to God’s plan is moot given this passage. Man wants one thing, but God wants another, and His will takes precedent given that He is the Creator. He is the great “I AM”, the self existent one who needs no other to exist. His decree will come to pass infallibly.

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.’

Isaiah 46:9-10 (NIV)

These truths should humble us and cause us to submit to God’s providence, however harsh it may seem from our perspective.

Notice, after the king’s restoration there is not one mention of himself in his praise to God. He has been emptied of himself and his pride, and ascribes all glory, honor, and praise to the One who is all powerful. We will close with commentary from Calvin on Daniel 4:35:

For although men make themselves of very great importance, yet Nebuchadnezzar here pronounces himself by the Spirit’s instinct, to be of no value before God; for otherwise they would not attempt to raise themselves, unless they were utterly blind in the midst of their darkness. But when they are dragged into the light they feel their own nothingness and utter vanity. For whatever we are, this depends on God’s grace, which sustains us every moment, and supplies us with new vigor. Hence it is our duty to depend upon God only; because as soon as he withdraws his hand and the virtue of his Spirit, we vanish away. In God we are anything he pleases, in ourselves we are nothing.

It now follows: God does according to his pleasure in the army of the heavens, and among the dwellers upon earth.

Calvin’s Commentaries on Daniel 4:35

I’m Not Simple Minded!

The book of Proverbs is full of pithy sayings that apply to the everyday, practical life of man. There are verses on taking bribes (Proverbs 15:27) or on being lazy (Proverbs 13:4). The book is meant to show its readers what it means to truly be wise in the sight of God. Being wise doesn’t mean that you have multiple college degrees or that you are able to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but rather it is concerned with our relationship to God. It has to do with our moral disposition rather than an intellectual one. We see this in the first chapter of the book of Proverbs:

For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;

Proverbs 1:32 (NIV)

In this section of Proverbs, we see the foundation being laid for the purpose of the book. Everything that comes after this is based on these principles. Here Wisdom is calling for those to turn from their ways of foolishness in repentance that they may live. However, those who reject the way of Wisdom will die. Essentially, the contrast is being made between the believer and unbeliever. The believer follows Wisdom, while the unbeliever continues in their foolishness and perishes. This is the hermeneutical context we find ourselves in as we progress through the book of Proverbs.

Lacking Discernment

The book of Proverbs has sayings for aspects of our lives that we probably would not think would be included in God’s Word. One of those is in relation to critical thinking. We see this in Proverbs 14:

The simple believe anything,
but the prudent give thought to their steps.

Proverbs 14:15 (NIV)

Here we see Solomon addressing how we use our minds. There are two people that are mentioned here: the one who is simple and the one who is prudent or wise. Charles Bridges notes on this passage:

To believe every word of God is faith. To believe every word of man is credulity. Faith is a principle of infinite moment. Eternal life and death hang upon it…But it must be grounded upon evidence, and it can only be exercised according to the character and measure of the evidence. An indiscriminate faith is therefore fraught with mischief…Cautious consideration should mark our general conduct; trying before we trust; never trusting an uncertain profession.

Charles Bridges, Proverbs Geneva Series of Commentaries

This seems straight forward, right? Why would we not use critical thinking in our lives? Why would we trust everything we hear? The truth is, we are prone to do so. In our immaturity, there can be times where our minds wander to things that just are not true. This can be in the political arena where people fall into the traps of having an overconfidence is certain political leaders while ignoring clear problems that arise in their worldviews and lives. More importantly, this can happen in the church. There are those who lack discernment and are led by different doctrines without stopping to think about the implications of the teaching they are following after. This is where false teachers thrive. They prey on those who lack discernment. They feast on the simplicity of others. This mindset is dangerous. It is not only dangerous because of what it can lead to, but the very act of lacking discernment is sin. Remember, to be “simple” or “foolish” in the book of Proverbs is not an IQ assessment. It is a moral disposition. This means that to fall into the category of a fool or a simpleton is to live in sin and therefore like an unbeliever. God gave us our minds to use them, not throw them to the wind for some teaching, worldview, or political candidate we might fancy. We are to carefully think about how we live, ultimately doing so in light of the Word of God. And how can we do that? By doing what the Psalmist does:

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.

Psalm 119:9-10 (NIV)

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: