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. 

Roman Catholics: Mission Field or Family?

In this article, I want to bring something to the table that has confused many people over the years. It is a controversial discussion. It is a topic that many people feel they know the basics of but fall short when asked for an explanation. The subject is whether Roman Catholicism should be considered a valid option when it comes to matters of Christian faith. Specifically, it is whether Romans Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ, or if they are the mission field. I want to let it be known that nothing said here is meant to belittle anybody else as a person. It is simply meant to inform so that you will never again be without an appropriate response when presented the title question.

Beginning in 1985, there was a movement. This movement was called Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). In 1994, there were many people of both Protestant and Catholic persuasion who signed an official document. The purpose of the ECT was to work together for the common good. Although they may have had their differences, they believed they were following the same Christ. Instead of fighting each other, they desired to work for the common good and share Christ with others. On the surface, this seems like a great idea. If we all worship the same Christ, why not work together? It was a joint effort to stop treating each other like the mission field. However, this simply is not possible regardless of what piece of paper is signed so long as each party holds their beliefs unwavering. There are simply too many irreconcilable differences.

To realize why it is impossible, a Protestant must only look at his own name. The key word is protest. There are some very clear things being protested among us Protestants. In fact, the Catholic Church had some very strong things to protest as well toward us. In the 1500’s, over the course of 18 years, a council took place to put together an official statement. This assembly was known as the Council of Trent. Protestantism was gaining popularity in the way it held dear to Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura) and did not place Church Tradition on the same level of authority as the Catholic Church had done.

…the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 82

The Council of Trent had it in mind to put a stop to the Sola Scriptura Reformers. In their attempt, they declared 125 anathemas. Dictionary.com defines anathema as, “a person or thing accursed or consigned to damnation or destruction.” However, words have meaning. Many Catholics contend that being outside of the visible Catholic Church does not automatically equate to Hell. That said, if there is truly “no salvation outside of the Church,” and one is in open opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church, the orthodox Catholic position is that such a person is a heretic with no salvation. In other words, the Catholic Church gave 125 different ways a self-proclaiming Protestants can be eternally cut off and cursed by God. We are going to review a few of those ways and then learn the truth.

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate 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, Justification

In other words, if you believe you are justified by faith alone and that there is no work we can possibly do to justify ourselves, you are eternally cursed and cut off from God. Yet, Scripture is clear that no works of the Law can justify (Romans 3:20), and that man is justified by faith, apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:28). We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8), “not on the basis of deeds done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). The Law does not justify us. If anything, it does the exact opposite. It shows how there is nothing we can do to justify ourselves. It shows our total depravity and dependence on God. It gives us knowledge of sin. It shines light on sin so that we can see it for what it really is and how impossible it is to be justified apart from God or by anything else other than God.

If any one saith, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the other hand, that he is able, during his whole life, to avoid all sins, even those that are venial,- except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard of the Blessed Virgin; let him be anathema.

Canon 23, Justification

Canon 23 says it is possible, indeed likely, to lose your salvation. If you say it is impossible to lose your salvation and that one who falls away from the faith was never truly saved to begin with, be eternally cursed by God. Yet, John tells us that all who permanently depart from the faith actually had no faith at all (1 John 2:19), and that he who believes in the Son has eternal life (John 3:36) and will be raised on the last day (John 6:40). All with faith will persevere and none will be snatched out of His hand (John 10:28). Salvation is not something which is here today and gone tomorrow. It is eternal. What good is eternity if it is only temporary and always changing? The answer is that it isn’t. Thankfully, Scripture promises something quite different: a man who has obtained salvation through faith will remain secure in his salvation until the end.

If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

Canon 24, Justification

The Council of Trent declares that good works are not merely the fruit of a Christian but are actually a method of obtaining justification. If you believe the former and not the latter, you are eternally cursed by God. If good works are more than just fruit and do indeed justify, why is it that Paul so clearly states otherwise in Galatians? Does the Catholic Church now charge Paul with being a liar? He tells us we are to not be subject to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1). By putting our faith and hope of justification in works, we are binding ourselves to them. We are hoping we will perform well enough so that we might one day be considered justified. Paul rebukes the Galatians for this. He calls them foolish to think something that was started by the Spirit could be made perfect by our own doing in the flesh (Galatians 3:1-3). Justification is by Christ alone. Those whom He calls, He justifies (Romans 8:30). Our own works have nothing to do with it.

If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.

Canon 30, Justification

In other words, if you believe the blood of Christ fully cleanses and does not leave some form of spot or blemish in which we must purify ourselves of in the fires of purgatory, you are anathema. That’s great and all, but what does the Bible actually say on the matter? It says we are forgiven of all of our transgressions. Christ canceled out all of our debt (Colossians 2:13-14). He rescued us from the domain of darkness; from Hell (Colossians 1:13). While we are not to sin, even if we do, we have an Advocate in Christ (1 John 2:1). That is in the current tense. We currently have an Advocate making intercession for us at all times. Every little thing that might be held against us is nailed to the cross. As a result, we are fully justified and declared “not guilty” before the eyes of God. In Christ, we have been made complete (Colossians 2:10).

If any one saith, that the sacrifice of the mass is only a sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving; or, that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice; or, that it profits him only who receives; and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities; let him be anathema.

Canon 3, The Sacrifice of the Mass

To understand, the Catholic Mass would be similar to our communion. Another name for it is the Eucharist. In other words, if you do not believe that communion is a sacrifice of Jesus, you are condemned. If you do not believe that communion is profitable for the dead as well as the living, you are damned. If you do not believe that communion is a means of propitiation, you are cursed. If you believe communion to be merely symbolic and not the imparting of grace, you are eternally cut off from the Father. Here are some quotes from official Catholic teaching:

The mass is the sacrifice of the new law in which Christ, through the Ministry of the priest, offers himself to God in an unbloody manner under the appearances of bread and wine. The mass is the sacrifice of Christ offered in a sacramental manner…the reality is the same but the appearances differ.

New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Vol 2 Question 357

Their catechism clearly teaches that the mass is a sacrifice of Christ. Now the question remains as to what they mean by sacrifice. Thankfully, they answer this question:

A sacrifice is the offering of a victim by a priest to God alone, and the destruction of it in some way to acknowledge that he is the creator of all things.

New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Vol 2 Question 358

Based on those two statements alone, we can clearly see the mass is the sacrifice of Christ, their victim, which a priest offers up to God countless times over and over again to purposefully destroy him on the altar. Unfortunately, there is more.

The sacrifice of Christ the only Mediator, which in the Eucharist is offered through the priests’ hands,

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1369

How is it that they can possibly be proud to claim something so vile and disgusting? The Roman Catholic Church attempts to use Scripture to back itself up but it fails miserably. They use verses such as Matthew 26:26-28 and Luke 22:19 in an attempt to justify their position. Instead of taking this as a command to perform communion on remembrance of the death of Christ, the Romans Catholic Church teaches that Christ was passing on a sacrament to the apostles and their succeeding priests, and was giving them the power to transform the bread and wine into the literal flesh and blood of Christ. As we read, they do not teach that it is bread and wine, but literal flesh and blood that only appears to be bread and wine, although the bread and wine is no more. This is where the priest comes into play with his sacrifice. He goes to the altar where the bread and wine await him. He lifts it up to the sky in the action of raising it to God. He then brings it down and offers it to the people. According to their teaching, it is not bread and wine that he offers up but is literally Christ being sacrificed by the priest under the appearance of bread and wine. The Catholic Church does not deny that Christ alone is our propitiation. However, with their teaching of the Mass, it allows them to claim propitiation in the act of the priest for it is Christ being sacrificed.

According to Scripture, Christ died once for all (Hebrews 7:26-27). There was no need for countless reoccurrence as was the habit of the priests. We are told the repetitious sacrifices are in vain as they can never take away sins (Hebrews 10:1, 10-12). If Christ died once for all, who is it that the Catholic priests are sacrificing? It is bad enough that they claim to sacrifice Christ countless times over but it is even worse that they are lifting up someone other than Christ since we know Christ was only sacrificed once, and that was by God. Once was sufficient. Once for all. The one they are lifting up certainly is not our Lord. The whole concept of the Mass is an extremely anti-biblical, pagan, and dare I say, satanic practice.

The Catholic Church will deny their claim that they re-sacrifice Christ over and over. They do this because the claim of repetitious sacrificing completely goes against the Scripture that says he was sacrificed once for all. They instead say that they are simply re-presenting the one-time sacrifice of Christ. Despite these claims, this is not what they teach.

For it is in the liturgy, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, that “the work of our redemption is accomplished”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1068

The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367

By their own admission, they go against Scripture. However, they will never claim error because they believe they are preserved from such. They can never be wrong in their doctrine or dogmas (even if such a position is circular reasoning). They clearly teach a sacrifice of Christ and will never recant these teachings for to do so would crumble the whole system. If one thing is admitted to be wrong, how many countless other things are wrong as well? Again, if Christ is not being sacrificed over and over again (as per the Scriptures), who is it that they are lifting up week after week all over the world?

If any one saith, that, by the Catholic doctrine touching Justification, by this holy Synod inset forth in this present decree, the glory of God, or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are in any way derogated from, and not rather that the truth of our faith, and the glory in fine of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered (more) illustrious; let him be anathema.

Canon 33, Justification

In other words, if you disagree with even one jot or tittle of the declarations and teachings of the Catholic priesthood, you are eternally cut off from the glory of Heaven, eternally cursed by God, and are destined for Hell. I must be in big trouble then because I denounce every single one of those and I have the truth of Scripture to bring me confidence in these matters. One may ask if the Catholic Church still holds to these teachings. Wouldn’t it be highly possible that they would have renounced these absurd teachings so many years after the Reformation? After all, if the entire purpose of them was to scare people from leaving the Roman Catholic Church during a time when so many were converting to Protestantism, shouldn’t changes in culture have allowed for a more lenient view by now? Despite the time that has passed, the Roman Catholic Church still clings to each and every declaration of the Council of Trent. In fact, it was only 61 years ago that Pope John XXIII affirmed them. To say otherwise is to go against the very core of Catholic teaching.

but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15, NASB)

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matthew 16:18, NASB)

They teach that they are Christ’s one true church and that they are preserved from error. They claim the truth abides with them and that they will never teach doctrinal error because the gates of Hell will not overpower Christ’s Church. Because of this, nothing they declare as doctrine, dogma, anathema, and especially ex cathedra will ever be wrong. As a result, instead of preserving the truth, they have done nothing more than preserve error upon error under a system of works.

I have only touched on a few of the decrees from the Council of Trent. According to the Roman Catholic teachings, a few other things that will get you booted to Hell include:

1) Rejecting the Apocrypha as being the inspired Word of God

2) Saying baptism is not a requirement for salvation

3) Claiming infant baptism is wrong

4) Believing confirmation is just a ceremony and not a sacrament that imputes grace

5) Denying penance

6) Denying the priesthood

7) Denying the doctrine of purgatory

Where exactly does the grace of God ever come into play in all of these preposterous claims?

The Mass is the sum and substance of our faith.

Pope Benedict XVI

If the Mass is the substance of faith, the Catholic Church does not have saving faith. The Mass lifts up someone they call Christ but is not actually Jesus. It worships a counterfeit and makes sacrifice after sacrifice of this counterfeit Christ. Again, how can this be the substance of faith? It follows after a system of legalistic works that teach you can earn your salvation as if by merit (in addition to faith) so long as you follow their rituals and make payment on time. It teaches that there is some other way of justification and some other source of propitiation and then places it at the feet of the priest who lifts it up to a false god. No, the Catholic Church cannot be considered a valid alternative. It cannot even be defined as a Christian denomination any more than Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses can be. Their counterfeit Jesus is not an all-sufficient Savior but merely a person who helps them to save themselves.

All that said, please keep in mind that not everyone in the Catholic Church fully affirm its teachings. Some people know the truth for what it is but do not see the harm in staying in the local Catholic church they grew up in. Being in a local Catholic church is not the same as being a part of the Catholic Church, or a devout follower of Catholic teaching. If you know anybody in this predicament, I urge you to speak with him or her on the importance of leaving. While it may seem harmless, I hope the examples brought to you in this short article can show how it is far from safe. It is very dangerous and we need to understand why. It is the mission field through and through.

~ Travis W. Rogers

All That the Prophets Have Spoken: Isaac on the Altar

Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?  And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24:25-27 (KJV)

Though it may be hard to see at first glance, the entire Old Testament is a testimony to the Messiah to come. The above verses demonstrate this. Christ rebukes His disciples (who do not recognize that it is Him), for failing to realize that the Old Testament prophesies that the Messiah needed to suffer and enter into His glory. He reiterates this idea again later:

And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.  Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Luke 24:44-47 (KJV)

Christians should be prepared to see Christ in all of scripture. In this post I’d like to go through one particular Old Testament story and how it, through the eyes of faith, prophesies of the coming Messiah and his sacrifice: the story of Abraham going to sacrificing Isaac on the altar in Genesis 22. This is a text that leaves many well-meaning Christians confused, as child sacrifice is very much against the character of God, but I think when seen rightly, it really should cause awe and wonder at the brilliance and love of our God. As we go through, we will see some striking parallels in the text, as well as one very important discordant element.

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.  And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

Genesis 22:1-2 (KJV)

In order to put Abraham to the test, God tells him to sacrifice his son. Already we see start the parallels between Isaac and Christ. God calls Isaac, Abraham’s “only son… whom thou lovest.” Although Abraham had another son (Ishmael), he was not the son of the promise, the son of his wife Sarah, nor did Ishmael live with Abraham any longer. Thus Isaac is called his only son. Despite God having many sons, (John 1:18), Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father (John 3:16, 18)1 as well as the Son whom the Father loves (Matthew 3:17). Additionally, we know from 2 Chronicles 3:1 that the Temple in Jerusalem was built on Mount Moriah. Thus the same place that Jesus was to be offered up (Jerusalem) was where Isaac was to be offered. We’ll pick the narrative back up where Abraham sees the place where he is to offer up Issac.

And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.  And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.  And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?  And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.  And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.  And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

Genesis 22:5-10 (KJV)

Isaac has to carry the wood for his own death instrument just as Christ had to carry His death instrument: the cross of wood (John 19:17). Isaac just like Christ was to be slain and sacrificed while laying against wood. Notice also what Abraham says to Isaac: God will provide a lamb. Abraham is lying to Isaac, but later will be proven to be true as God does indeed provide something for a sacrifice. We’ll pick that thought back up after the final portion of the narrative.

And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.  And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.  And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.  And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.  And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

Genesis 22:11-18 (KJV)

Again the text emphasizes that Isaac is Abraham’s only son. Notice even the detail about how the ram was caught. It was caught by its horns. Why this particular detail? If the ram was caught by its horns, that means the thorns were right next to its head, just as Christ had thorns upon his head (Matthew 27:29). There’s no good reason for this particular detail except as a foreshadowing of Christ. Isaac is not reported as saying anything or fighting his elderly father, just as Christ did not resist what was coming (John 19:8-11, Matthew 26:59-65). And as an interesting note, if one holds to the idea that the Angel of the Lord is the second person of the Trinity (which I do), this means that the Son is the one who speaks to Abraham, participating in the foreshadowing of His own death.

Despite all these parallels, the narrative now breaks away from paralleling Christ. Isaac is not actually sacrificed here, whereas Christ would be. Why is this? There are several reasons, but the one I want to bring out is that this points to the fact that a sacrifice is still needed. Abraham sacrificing his son would not have saved him. A better sacrifice was needed. Also, there’s the fact that Abraham said a lamb would be provided. When you read through the story, it feels wrong, that Abraham would say God would provide a lamb, but instead a ram is provided. One would expect literarily, that if an element in the story was set up, it would be fulfilled exactly. However, Abraham still spoke the truth. God would provide Jesus, the lamb of God (John 1:29), as a sacrifice, some hundreds of years later. The discordant element turns out to be perfectly harmonious when viewed in the light of Christ. The ram also speaks of the need for a substitute. God provided the ram so that Abraham was able to sacrifice it, instead of his son.

Abraham may have loved his only son, but God the Father loved His Son more. Yet He gave His Son up for a sacrifice. He put the crown of thorns on Him, and made Him carry in the instrument of His death. He then had Him slain; unlike with Abraham He could not spare Him. And here is the final parallel we’ll discuss. After Abraham goes to give up his son, he’s told that this act will lead to his seed and the nations being blessed. In Jesus, the true seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16), the nations are blessed because now they are able to be freed from their captivity to sin. Because Christ lived a righteous life (1 Peter 2:22), and died as a penalty for sin (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 3:25), all those that believe in Him by faith will be saved from the just wrath of the Father (Acts 16:31, John 3:36). What beautiful love that Father has for those who believe, that He gave His beloved Son on our behalf. If you are not a Christian, I urge you, repent and believe in the Son of God who gave Himself up as that simultaneously dreadful and wonderful sacrifice.

Photo by Geoffrey A Stemp from FreeImages

[1] The same Greek word used of Christ as only begotten (μονογενής), is also used of Isaac in Hebrews 11:17.

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.

Does Genesis 6 Actually Prove Total Depravity?

In defending the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity, I’ve seen some pushback on a frequently used prooftext. Genesis 6:5, which describes the reasoning behind God’s decision to destroy the world, reads as follows:

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Genesis 6:5 (KJV)

The Calvinist point is obvious. The Bible declares that the thought of men are always evil, therefore Total Depravity. However, I’ve seen non-Calvinists point out multiple times that this took place before the flood. The world at that time was at its maximum evil, but you cannot say that this is the same post-flood. Obviously, the world isn’t that evil.

On the face of it they do have a point. Genesis 6:5 in of itself does not say whether men continue to be as evil as they were when God destroyed the world. It’s merely a description of what God saw at that time. However I’d like to point out that the Bible does indeed tell us that nothing has changed post-flood. After the flood has taken place, God’s word tells us:

And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

Genesis 8:21 (KJV)

God says He will not destroy the world again even though man is still evil and nothing has changed. By using similar language (the imagination of man’s heart is evil), He harkens back to His original declaration of why He would destroy the world and declares that state of man to be a present reality. We don’t get any sense from the text that this state is time bound, but rather that this is a characteristic of man permanently. So if God doesn’t destroy the world again, it isn’t because man is now better than he was, but because God said He wouldn’t.

But how, you may ask, is this possible? “Surely, while there are some wicked men out there, not everyone has an imagination that is evil continuously? This interpretation has to be incorrect,” one might say. I think this response stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what good and evil are. Jesus declares to His followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Matthew 7:11 (KJV)

Jesus can call those listening to sermon (including his disciples) evil. This is contrasted with the fact that Jesus recognizes they are doing good by giving good gifts. How can people be both evil and do good at the same time? It is because they do not do the good for the right reasons. Doing a good act doesn’t make you good if you’ve done it for the wrong reasons. All acts must be done for the love of God and the love of neighbor.

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Matthew 22:36–39 (KJV)

Have you kept the greatest commandment? Have you loved the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind? You couldn’t have possibly loved Him any more than you have? You couldn’t have read your Bible more to guard against the attacks of the enemy, or served Him any more than you already have? You could not have treated your neighbors any better than you already have, or been a better witness to them? As to the thoughts of the heart, God tells us that lust counts as adultery (Matthew 5:27-28) and hatred as murder (Matthew 5:21-22). Impure thoughts are still evil even if they don’t result in the corresponding evil action. The rich young ruler thought he had kept the law but Christ showed him that he loved his money more than God (Matthew 19:16-22). Any thought or action that is not perfect in its love for God and neighbor is sin, and therefore is evil. We may not think of it as evil, because we’re so used to it, and no one else on the earth has perfect love for God, but other men are not the standard for what is evil. God is. God is worthy of every single ounce of love we can produce (and more than that), but we do not give it to Him. Thus, when the world does good without regard for the God who made them, they demonstrate that they are evil.

For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.

Ecclesiastes 7:20 (KJV)
The Good News

I’d be remiss if I left the blogpost there without offering the hope that is found after the condemnation. Despite the fact that we are evil and cannot measure up to God’s standard, God has mercy toward the wicked.

6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6–8 (KJV)

The wages of sin is the eternal death (Romans 6:23), but Christ died for the ungodly. He took the curse we deserved (Galatians 3:13) and by believing in Him we are credited as righteous (Romans 4:5). If anyone today reading this blogpost feels the weight of their sin toward God for the first time, I urge you, flee to Christ, and you will find Him to be the perfect Savior.

THE WILL OF GOD IN THE SALVATION OF MAN

CHOICE. What is it about that word that makes it so appealing? Personally, I think it’s part of what makes us human. We value our freedom and the ability to determine for ourselves what we shall do or not do. The word is used in everything from abortion debates to facemasks. However, one place I can’t understand it existing is in soteriology. Now, I’m not saying we don’t make a choice, from a finite human perspective, in our salvation and acceptance of Christ as Savior, but the word has no bearing on the monergistic act of God in the salvation of mankind. Despite this truth, there have always been debates among Christians when it comes to man’s role in salvation. Even of those who readily admit God is the One who effected salvation, most still desperately cling to the idea that man had to make the free choice, and to choose wrongly would result in eternal death. The idea is that God has invited His creation into eternity and the onus is now on us. Friends, this isn’t what the Bible says! The following image is from a Facebook post made by Dr. Leighton Flowers on his Soteriology 101 page.

Instead of beginning with what John is not saying, I’ll begin with what he is saying, and then demonstrate why it simply cannot (not merely does not) mean what Dr. Flowers suggests. To get a better understanding, we need to understand the context as well as any potential fallacies within the above claim.

“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40, NASB)

Both sides of the soteriological discussion can appreciate this verse. That said, we both have very different takeaways of what Jesus was actually saying. The Arminian or Provisionist will undoubtedly say one must believe in Jesus in order to be raised up on the last day. They’ll argue that the will of the Father is their final resting place should they maintain faith in Christ. With this in mind, is that actually what Jesus was teaching? I argue against such an interpretation. In reality, I don’t really even need to argue it. I just need to set the stage with the context already painted by our Lord Himself. The will of the Father is not merely the final resting place. It’s actually of those who will be in Christ, and of those who will not be.

“Everything that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I certainly will not cast out.” (John 6:37, NASB)

Notice it doesn’t say anything about the Father giving a potential resting place. Jesus literally says the one who comes to Him does so because the Father has given him to the Son. But doesn’t it just say “everything” has been given to the Son, but the one who comes still has to do so of his own will? While it’s possible one could interpret it that way, to do so, he must first strike verse 44 from his Bible.

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him;” (John 6:44, NASB)

There is no ambiguity here. Out of Jesus’ own mouth, He has said no one can come to Him unless he is drawn by the Father. I suppose the argument could be made that the Father draws everyone but not everyone will come. After all, this is the premise of the claim being made in the graphic above. However, such an argument turns into one of wordsmithing. The Greek word literally means for something to be dragged or impelled. It’s used a total of eight times in the New Testament; five of those being found in John (6:44; 12:32; 18:10; 21:6; 21:11). In all cases, it refers to an outside force pulling up fishing nets, drawing a sword, or dragging men from one place to another. Yet, in John 6:44, the argument is that it is a mere invitation.

People who claim this will say one can come if drawn by the Father, but there’s no guarantee that such a person will come. However, once again, this interpretation requires another striking of Scripture. In this case, one would have to strike out verse 40 (see above). Of course, by this point, the counterpoint typically becomes one of claiming the Father draws everyone, not everyone will come even though they all now possess the ability, and that person must now remain in their faith if they hope to be raised on the last day. Is that checkmate? Of course not!

“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of everything that He has given Me I will lose nothing, but will raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:39, NASB)

The will of the Father is that Christ should lose nothing He has been given. All who are given to Christ will be raised on the last day. Here’s the breakdown:

  • No man can come unless he is drawn by the Father (v.44).
  • The Father does NOT draw everyone because everyone who is drawn will be raised on the last day (v.44).
  • Those who are to be raised on the last day are those who come to the Son (v.39).
  • Those who come to the Son are only those who were given to the Son by the Father through the monergistic act of drawing (v.37).
  • Those who come to the Son will remain in the Son, and abide in their belief (v.40), because it is the will of the Father (v.39).

Now that we’ve established what the passage DOES say, let’s look at why it CANNOT say what Dr. Flowers claims. In an attempt to refute the effectuality of the word ἕλκω (G1670) in verse 44, he attempts to utilize John 6:65. His claim is that Jesus, in verse 65, speaks of men merely being enabled. Unfortunately for him, it appears his entire argument rests upon the New International Version. It’s true that the NIV translates δίδωμι (G1325) as “enables,” but does that mean it’s accurate? John uses this word quite often. In every instance, it’s in reference to something being given to someone. Not once does he use it in a sense of enablement. In fact, every other reputable translation opts to translate it as either given or granted. For instance, the NASB says, “…unless it has been granted him from the Father.” The KJV says, “except it were given unto him of my Father.” Yet, the NIV decided to go with, “unless the Father has enabled them.” This is just a poor translation that possibly displays personal bias over what is actually being said.

If there was a way to definitively affirm that Jesus was merely speaking of enablement, vice effectuality, Dr. Flowers might have a leg to stand on. However, since his premise rests upon a poor English translation, it gets knocked down quite easily. In reality, John 6:65 fully supports the rest of the passage but not for the reason he states. It’s because, once again, John recognizes that no man can come to Christ unless he is drawn by the Father, and no man is drawn by the Father unless he is given to Christ. To tie it all together, all who are drawn will indeed come and shall be raised on the last day.

Every facet of salvation is from God alone. He chooses, He draws, He sustains, and He raises. Yes, we do make a choice to believe the gospel, but our belief in the gospel is actually effected through our regeneration when our heart of stone is removed and we are given a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). At this point, we are no longer the natural man who lacks the ability to understand (1 Corinthians 2:14), but we are now reborn as new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). If you know Christ, be thankful God chose you before the foundation of the world that He might be glorified through your honorable use (Romans 9:21). If you do not know Christ but feel the call of God, I urge you to place your trust in the risen Savior and understand that that feeling is nothing less than God Himself working His good work within. Soli Deo Gloria!

~ Travis W. Rogers

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.

GLORY: From Death to Life

Last week (CLICK HERE), I wrote about the birth of Christ. We went back to 650 years prior when it was prophesied, and continued on to His death. We learned that the whole reason Christ came to this Earth was to die in obedience to the Father so that we might live. While we covered the timeline of His life to death, for this article, I would like to cover his death to life.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. (Matthew 27:50, NASB)

And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. (Mark 15:37, NASB)

And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.” Having said this, He breathed His last. (Luke 23:46, NASB)

Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:30, NASB)

I think it’s safe to assume we all know the basics of the story of Jesus. We hear of His birth every year at Christmas. We all know He was sinless and that He died for our sins. While I don’t plan on beating a dead horse, I would like to get into a few more details that are often overlooked by your average Christmas and Easter churchgoer.

Have you ever stopped to ponder the method of capital punishment known as crucifixion? It was a brutal form of death. Nails were driven into your wrists and feet. You would be forced to support your body weight on either the nail in your feet or hang by the nails in your wrists. After a little while of hanging by the arms, cramps would begin to occur. The cramps would cause your chest muscles to go numb. It would be possible to breathe in but breathing out would be next to impossible. The cramps and flaming of the muscles would make it difficult to even use your legs to alleviate some of the breathing difficulties. The buildup of carbon dioxide would finally ease the cramps which would then make it possible to lift with your legs using nothing but the nail in your feet as leverage. While the pain was unbearable and it was a challenge just to breathe, this alone was not what would normally kill the person. After some time, a guard would come up and break the legs of the person hanging. This would extinguish his ability to press up with his legs so that he could breathe. While already dealing with muscles on fire and scourged flesh, he would now have to endure the pain of broken legs and the thought of knowing he would have no way to breathe. He would hang by his arms until the cramps came back. He would breathe in but not be able to breathe out. He would then die of asphyxiation.

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. (John 19:31-33, NASB)

While the thieves hanging on either side off Jesus both had their legs broken, Jesus was already dead. There was no need to break His legs to speed up the process. As we covered last week, this was a fulfillment of prophecy that no bones would be broken (Psalm 34:20). However, we also see that Jesus apparently had enough energy to speak in a loud voice and speak His last important words. They were not mere whimpers or whispers. They were loud and bold so that everybody could hear. Why then did He die so much faster than the other two? Was He weak? Not at all! If anything, it’s because He was stronger than anybody could ever be. While the thieves were at the mercy of the soldiers and the cross, Jesus was at the mercy of no one but Himself.

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:51-54, NASB)

“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again This commandment I received from My Father.” (John 10:17-18, NASB)

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. (Matthew 27:50, NASB)

While Jesus died on the cross, it didn’t have the power to take His life. According to Scripture, no man took His life, but He laid it down on His own authority (John 10:18). He alone chose His time of death. Jesus was only on the cross because He knew what had to be done. He could have called more than twelve legions of angels to put a stop to it. To get a better idea, a legion was roughly 6,000 soldiers. In other words, Jesus said He could have instantly called more than 72,000 angels to use at His disposal. However, that was not His purpose for being on this Earth. We know from Matthew 26:38 that He was deeply grieved and had the fear of the pain He was about to go through but this did not stop Him. He had a mission and there was only one way to accomplish it: death by crucifixion. Again, we see Jesus telling His disciples that nobody could take His life from Him. The Father had given Him the authority to lay down His own life. Matthew 27:50 aligns with this perfectly as it says Jesus yielded up His spirit. He laid down His own life and yielded up His own spirit. He did not die before the others due to being weaker. He died before the others because He chose the time at which He would yield His spirit. He fulfilled the Scripture by going to the cross, fulfilled the Scripture by speaking His final words, and yielded up His spirit at a time of His choosing to finish the fulfillment of Scripture regarding His death.

There were some during the apostolic age who rose the dead (Matthew 10:8; Acts 24:21). They were given this authority by Christ Himself. While being miraculous, the resurrection of Christ was very different. While the other resurrections were performed by another person under the authority of Christ, He didn’t need someone else. He resurrected Himself (John 10:17-18). So what exactly took place during the resurrection?

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NASB)

First, we see He appeared to quite a few people. At one point, he even appeared to 500 people at once. If over 500 people came up to you declaring they saw Skillet at a concert, would you not believe that there was a Skillet concert? It only stands to reason that if so many people make a claim and testify to being eye witnesses to this claim, it probably happened. Why then did so many people still not believe?

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, NASB)

Even with all the eye witness accounts, many still refused to believe it and thought it was crazy talk. Paul, going with their reasoning, tells us that if this is true, we are all to be pitied as we have been teaching a false god. Some had even died for this false god and were cut off for all of eternity. Thankfully, it doesn’t end there. He continues in verse 20 with:

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20, NASB)

Paul says Christ is the first fruits. The first fruits of a harvest was a sample brought to the priest as an offering to the Lord. The farmer was not allowed to harvest the rest of his crops until after this offering had been made. In the same way, there was no resurrection until the first fruits had been brought forth. Christ was the first fruits. He alone made it possible to be raised unto eternal life with the Father. Many people teach of Christ. They say all you have to believe is that He is the Son of God. The movie The Passion of the Christ portrayed the death of Jesus. Catholics wear a crucifix around their neck as a reminder of what He did for them on the cross. Unfortunately, if left at this point, it amounts to nothing. Without the resurrection, there is no salvation. This is why an empty cross is a more accurate symbol and is actually the one used by Protestants. As my old pastor used to say, a hole in the wall to represent an empty tomb would be the most accurate of all. Christ is no longer on the cross. He is no longer in the grave. As important as His death may be, His resurrection is even more so.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:50-53, NASB)

This is something I missed for the longest time. Although I had read Matthew countless times, I never really noticed it even though it’s a huge event. The dead came out of their graves and went into the holy city. Imagine seeing your dead relatives come up to you one evening to talk. You look around and see your neighbors are being visited by their dead relatives as well. It’s absolutely amazing. I have no idea how I never really saw this in Scripture. How could I skip this part in my brain? While it may look like all this happened upon the death of Christ, we need to carefully look at the text. It speaks of the death of Christ, moves into people rising, and then goes back to speak about the death. This almost appears contradictory to the teaching of Christ being the first fruits. The thing to pay attention to is in verse 53. It says, “and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.” Christ raised himself and appeared to many. In the meantime, there were others who had previously died and were now walking into the holy city. Talk about amazing! One other thing to notice is the fact that all who had previously been resurrected likely died again at some point. They were brought back to life in an earthly sense but this was temporary. At some point, they surely would die again. They had surely been resurrected but not in the same sense as Christ. He was now in a glorified and eternal state that we will all one day see.

One day, there will be a literal changing of the body upon the resurrection. Scripture calls our physical body perishable and mortal whereas our next body will be imperishable and immortal (1 Corinthians 15:22, 51-53). In John 20:26, the disciples were frightened and in hiding behind locked doors. Jesus had just been crucified and the disciples feared they would be next. Nevertheless, Jesus appeared in their midst. There are some out there that teach our glorified body will be able to pass through walls since Jesus somehow appeared inside a locked house. I do not necessarily subscribe to this theory as it is not what the text says. It simply says he stood in their midst. Regardless, the glorified body of Christ was certainly nothing ordinary. While I can’t confidently teach that Jesus could pass through walls, I can say He could do something even greater. First, Luke 24:31 alludes to the fact that He could hide His appearance and make Himself appear differently to others. Second, it says He vanished from their sight. I think a better interpretation of His standing in their midst despite a locked door is that He just appeared. Just as He could vanish, He could reappear somewhere else. He didn’t have to pass through a wall. He just appeared where He wanted to be. According to Philippians 3:21, we will all have this same glorified body upon our resurrection.

Not only do we have a physical resurrection and change to look forward to someday. We also have a spiritual resurrection. The difference is that one happens the moment you become a believer in Christ and receive the gift of saving faith while the other will take place at a later time. I can only imagine what that time will be like!

More important than any speculating over what our glorified bodies will be like, we all need to acknowledge the work that Christ completed as well as what the Spirit continues to work in us even now. Before Christ, we were spiritually dead. After Christ, we have a newness of life (Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17). We once were dead, but we have since become regenerated and renewed (Titus 3:5). It’s not speaking of a physical death but rather a spiritual one. We must die to ourselves and be raised in Christ. This is the symbolism represented at baptism. We go under as if we are being laid in a grave upon death. We come up cleansed as if being resurrected in the new life of Christ. Baptism is a representation of what occurs at the moment of salvation. The day will come when we will experience this in the physical as well but it is only because Christ did it first to make it all possible.

I can think of no better way to close this article than with the encouragement put forth by the apostle, Paul.

but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58, NASB)

We’ve already won and we have something great to look forward to so stand fast in all you do and trust in the Lord!

~ Travis W. Rogers

CHRISTMAS: A Reason to Celebrate

CHRISTMAS. It’s a time of rejoicing. It’s a time for family to be together. It’s a time for opening gifts. It’s a time for seeing others open gifts. It’s a time for setting our diets to the side. It’s a time to relax. While it has become all these things, it is really so much more.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. (Matthew 1:18-19, NASB)

The birth of Jesus was not your average trip to the hospital. In fact, there was nothing normal about it at all. Even from the beginning, it was unique. The verses above begin by telling us that Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary. In those days, marriages were arranged most times. The groom or his family paid a price to the bride’s family that covered expenses of the wedding ceremony as well as other areas. The betrothal, or kiddushin, was actually enough to legally bind the bride and groom in marriage. Despite this, the couple would not have sexual relations for quite some time to come. In some cases, this could span the course of even a year. This would not normally occur until the marriage ceremony, or huppah, took place. They were already in the betrothed stage but had not yet come together in a sexual sense as is indicated in the text.

Despite this, we find that Mary was found to be with child. Joseph’s natural reaction was that he had been cheated on. There were a few options with him at this point. Old Testament Law, which they were under, stated Joseph had every right to take Mary out in public and stone her to death. If her adulterer was ever to be found, he would join her in death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Should he not desire her death, he could have at the very least made her ashamed for the rest of her life by leading a life marked of adultery. However, notice that Joseph does not appear to harbor any anger or resentment. He did not desire to publicly shame her or have her stoned. Not only was he a righteous man, but he also loved her. This love is evident by the fact that he desired to put her away secretly. Remember, they were already legally married although the ceremony and the consummation had not yet taken place. The word used for “send her away” literally meant a secret divorce. He loved her enough that despite being “cheated” on, he desired her safety. He would divorce her secretly and buy her some time before the public realized what had happened. However, God had other plans.

20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” (Matthew 1:20-23, NASB)

Joseph was afraid and rightly so. He assumed he had been cheated on, as they had not had sexual relations, yet she was pregnant. He was to have her stoned to death under the Law, yet he still loved her and cared for her safety. He was about to lose his wife to adultery before the ceremony could even take place. This, in turn, would embarrass him as well. God took all these fears and put him at ease. He sent an angel to Joseph to appear to him in a dream. This one spot in Scripture is a very important passage. He tells Joseph that Mary did not cheat on him and that the baby was actually conceived of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, being a righteous man, would have known Scripture very well. It was not simply casual reading for them. It was a way of life filled with study and memorization from childhood. The angel quoted Isaiah. The virgin birth was actually prophesied some 650 years prior. Furthermore, the name prophesied by Isaiah was Immanuel which means “God with us.” This name means more than they could have guessed. Not only is God with us but he literally came to be with us in the flesh.

24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25, NASB)

Imagine the relief that must have followed upon waking! Scripture doesn’t say he deliberated in what to do. It says he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and he took Mary as his wife. The ceremony, or huppah, took place. At this point, he had every right to have sexual relations with his wife. Despite this, we are told they refrained from doing so. We are told he kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son. Despite the teaching of the Roman Catholic institution, it’s safe to say he didn’t refrain from natural marriage relations forever as the text says that it was only until she gave birth. Not to mention, Scripture gives the names of other children of Mary. However, Jesus was different. While Joseph was His legal father, His natural Father was of Heaven above. The baby’s name was Jesus and, according to the angel, He was going to save His people from their sins.

No, Jesus was not just your ordinary pregnancy and birth. He was unique in every way. It had to be so in order to fulfill the prophecy declared all throughout the Old Testament. Jesus matched every single prophecy and not one was overlooked. This is because He is who the Bible claims Him to be: God in the flesh sent not to condemn the world but to save it.

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning…… All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, “Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”……. For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet……. They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 22: 1, 7-8, 16, & 18)

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (Matthew 27:46, NASB)

And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” (Luke 23:35, NASB)

So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”……….. Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:25 & 27)

And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. (Matthew 27:35, NASB)

He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken. (Psalm 34:20, NASB)

So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; (John 19:32, NASB)

Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. (Psalm 41:9, NASB)

I do not speak of all of you I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.’ (John 13:18, NASB)

While we are all on this Earth trying to live our lives, Jesus came to this Earth to glorify the Father by dying for our lives. This is the real reason for the season. Presents and family time are fun and can even be an important time of togetherness, but we should never let it overshadow why it is we even have a season to celebrate. It’s because of this one baby boy born under the most peculiar of circumstances so that we might one day have eternal life through Him. I urge you all to ponder this thought as we prepare to celebrate the most important birthday party in all of history. Merry Christmas!

~ Travis W. Rogers

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