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

Acts 2 Teaches Credobaptism

Acts 2 (specifically part of verse 39) is a favorite of paedobaptists to bring up in support of their position. I think this is very ironic however, as the passage very clearly teaches credobaptism. In Acts 2 Peter preaches his first sermon after the Spirit is poured out on him (Acts 2:4-5). This causes some of the crowd to become convicted of their sins and repent. After this, the apostles begin baptizing the new converts:

41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

Acts 2:41 (KJV)

Whatever our interpretation of the rest of Acts 2, it must be consistent with this fact, that all those who gladly received the word, that is they who believed in the Apostle’s message, are the ones who were baptized. It does not say all that believed with their children were baptized, even though there would indeed have been children there as Deuteronomy 16:11 commands sons and daughters to be brought to the feast. Nor does it say that all the Jews were baptized as if being a Jew automatically meant that they were to be given the sign of baptism. It is only those whom the apostles saw had received the word that were baptized. Now on to the contested verses:

37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.

Acts 2:37–40 (KJV)

As you’ll note verse 39 does indeed say the promise is “to your children”. Before we conclude that this means all believer’s children should be baptized, we should first ask what promise this is. Because Peter has been talking about the Holy Spirit, it is most likely the promise of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. So the promise of the Spirit is to “you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Now as we’ve already seen not all the Jews were baptized so clearly the “you” must be conditional in some way. Additionally, no one thinks that “all that are far off”, a reference to the Jews that were dispersed from Israel out into the world and to gentiles, were all going to receive the Holy Spirit. These groups are conditioned by the phrase at the end, “even as many as the Lord our God shall call”. This it those who are called by God who have this promise. Thus is not to everyone who has the word preached to them, but those who receive what is called the inward call of God (see Romans 8:28-30 and John 6:43-48). So if the “You” and the “those far off” are conditioned upon the call of God, should we expect that the “your children” is not also conditioned by this phrase? The promise of the Holy Spirit is to those who are called by God, not merely any children of believers. And this interpretation fits in perfectly with what we see in Acts 2:41, that only believers were baptized.

To attack the pedobaptist interpretation from another angle, why is it that the children of those far off are not explicitly included in the promise? Why is it only the children of the Jews that are mentioned? If we search the scripture there is a connection to what the crowd of Jews said when Pilate was attempting to get them to choose Jesus for release:

25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.

Matthew 27:25 (KJV)

We know from verses 23 and 36 of Acts 2 that many people (if not all) to whom Peter was preaching were the same ones who shouted this on that day. Peter says they participated in the crucifixion of Jesus, and the only way that could be true is if they were part of the crowd that asked for Jesus’ execution. So in telling the Jews that their children were included in the promise, he gives them assurance that just because they invoked a curse upon their children, doesn’t mean they were doomed forever. (As a brief aside here, is our God not wonderful that despite such a rebellious act where they desired to be cursed, that God did not give them what they asked but pardoned their sins? What mercy He has.) If Peter’s statement about the children is to reassure the Jews, it explains why the children of those far of were not included in the statement, as they were not under any particular curse. Thus, this isn’t some universal promise to the children of believers anywhere, but rather a recognition that there is no category of person (Jew, Gentile, whatever), that the Lord is not willing to call to himself.

A final point I want to make is that repentance is a precondition for receiving the Holy Spirit (v38). Although it does not explicitly say that repentance must precede baptism, many pedobaptists (although not all), would say that baptism of infants mean they automatically receive the Holy Spirit at that time. This, however, runs contrary to Acts 2. Those who would receive the Holy Spirit must repent. Baptism alone will not do this, and to teach our children that they have received the Holy Spirit when they have not is a terrible thing that may lead to a false assurance. Our children should be urged to examine themselves and repent, not told immediately they are Christians when God has not promised any such thing.

Conclusion

So after looking at this passage in Acts 2, who is it that we are to baptize? Just like the apostles, we should baptize those that receive the word, that is those who repent and believe. This includes any of our children who are believers. We do this when we have reason to think that someone has received the word, not immediately upon birth when we don’t know if they have received the word. The hope that someday they might receive the word is not grounds to baptize them either. We need to follow the apostolic pattern for whom baptism is to be administered.

What Are You Thankful For?

THANKSGIVING. It’s finally over. The food was cooked, everybody is still full from Thursday, and there are enough leftovers to carry us into 2021. Perhaps, as you sat around the table, you may have partaken in the tradition of going around the room as each person shared one thing he or she is thankful for. If you’re anything like me, that’s one of the most stressful parts of the entire day. I always wonder if my answer will sound too shallow or if I’ll forget something important. Heaven forbid someone else take my answer and leave me scrambling for a new original answer! Okay, I may be exaggerating a little bit, but the point remains. Why is it often so difficult to give thanks? As I think back on hearing the prayers of my daughter when she was just a wee thing, I think about how innocent she was. She would spend several minutes just thanking God for everything…and I mean everything. She’d thank Him for family, our pets, fresh air, cars to drive in, sidewalks to walk on so we don’t get hit by cars, the random rock she saw and kicked, the dirt for earthworms to live in, etc. It just came so easy and, best of all, it was a heartfelt and genuine thankfulness for all that God has made.

Perhaps innocence has more to do with it than we would think. In the garden, Adam and Eve were truly innocent and all was good (Genesis 1:31). According to Scripture, everything that has breath is to praise the Lord (Psalm 150:6). Yet, as soon as sin entered the world, instead of joyful innocent and a heart of thanksgiving, we see shame and blame taking center stage (Genesis 3:8-12). Instead of thanking God for His goodness, Adam blamed Him for giving him Eve. Imagine standing around the dinner table taking pot shots at everyone instead of giving thanks. It sounds like a miserable gathering. Why, then, do we often find ourselves treating our gathering to God in such a way? Have we lost our joy (Psalm 68:3)? Have we forsaken our innocence (Matthew 10:16)?

Just because the holiday will soon fade away to the previous page of the calendar, that doesn’t mean our season of thanksgiving should fade away into obscurity as well. We have so much to be thankful for! There are two passages in particular that, when used in conjunction, should invoke a sense of pure thankfulness that never ceases.

The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 13:41-42, NASB

By this the love of God was revealed in us, that God has sent His only Son into the world so that we may live through Him.

1 John 4:9, NASB

God owes us nothing. He created us, charged us with a heavenly charge, and we utterly failed. He would be perfectly to simply destroy us. However, in His mercy and love, He glorifies Himself in a way that benefits us greatly. By the Father sending the Son to suffer a gruesome beating that culminated in His death, Christ’s blood was shed for the remission of our sins (Hebrews 9:22) that we may spend eternity giving honor, glory, and praise (Revelation 7:12). As believers in the risen Christ, that eternity begins now. As the stressors of daily life seek to hold you down, remember who it is that has promised we can be content in all things (Philippians 4:11-13). As difficult as earthly circumstances may become, be mindful that we possess a joyful Hope. The Spirit dwells within and provides us with joy (Galatians 5:22) even if we’re not always promised happiness. In time of turmoil, we still have peace (Ephesians 2:14). When we are weak, He has promised to be our strength (Isaiah 41:10). When we feel alone, He has promised to always be with us (Deuteronomy 31:8). When we are weary, He has promised us rest (Matthew 11:28). Truly, we have much to be thankful for!

As you go about your day, continually meditate upon the Word (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2). Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and in all things give thanks, as this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Thanksgiving is more than just a holiday. It’s a lifestyle and a worldview. In all things, give thanks!

~ Travis W. Rogers

Of Creation Part 2

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

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

Paragraph 2:

After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, rendering them fit unto that life to God for which they were created; being made after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change.

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

Paragraph 3:

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

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

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

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

The Duality of Man’s Disposition

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

Genesis 2:7

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

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

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

The Christian Faith, page 374

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

Luke 10:27

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

Hebrews 4:12

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

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

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

The Christian Faith, page 375

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

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

2 Corinthians 5:1-8

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

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

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

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

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

The Christian Faith, page 379

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

What is the “image of God”?

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

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

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 549

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

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

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

Bavinck says,

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

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 555

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

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

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

Romans 2:12-16

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

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

Bavinck says,

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

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 559

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

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

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

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

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 561

Did Adam and Eve have true free will?

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

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

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

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

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

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 195

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

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

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 195

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

Romans 3:10-18

As it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one;

11 There is none who understands;

There is none who seeks after God.

12 They have all turned aside;

They have together become unprofitable;

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

13 “Their throat is an open [d]tomb;

With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;

“The poison of asps is under their lips”;

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

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;

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

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

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

Calvin again,

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

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 264

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

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