DANGER AHEAD: Proceed with Caution

Earlier this year, I wrote two articles (Roman Catholics: Mission Field or Family? and Roman Catholicism: Doctrines of Error) outlining some of the major differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. We covered much of the teachings of the Catholic Church by using their own writings and then compared them to Scripture. The undeniable conclusion is that there are many irreconcilable differences and that the Catholic Church is to be viewed as the mission field in desperate need of the gospel and teaching of the doctrines of grace. Now we are going to move away from this area in particular and cover a much broader subject. That subject is the danger of false teaching and the importance of sound biblical doctrine.

By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness:
He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16, NASB)
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, (1 Timothy 4:1, NASB)

Our faith is based on Christ and the Word of God alone. Despite this, there are many out there who deny it. Not only are there other religions, but there are also those who claim the title of Christianity while teaching something that Scripture refers to as “doctrines of demons.” To get a better idea as to what these doctrines of demons are, we are going to see what Paul had to say to Timothy on the matter.

...by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, (1 Timothy 4:2, NASB)

Those who teach doctrines of demons do so without conviction. They believe their own lies. They have given in to the demonic influence and lies of Satan to the point where they no longer see the line between truth and heresy. It was my intent to vividly paint this picture the previously mentioned articles. We covered the irreconcilable differences between Catholics and Protestants such as works versus grace, the priesthood, the Mass, the continual re-sacrificing of Christ, penance and indulgences, as well as others. These are all false doctrines that fly in the face of Scripture while relying on the Traditions of the Roman Catholic Church to support themselves. I was kind in calling them false doctrines. Scripture is not so kind.

...men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:3, NASB)

Both of these are doctrines that the Catholic Church holds near and dear. Priests are not allowed to marry. Of course, this was not always the case. The Roman Catholic priesthood was once allowed to marry without issue. Unfortunately, this wonderful blessing and covenant with God was not to last. At the First Lateran Council of 1123, rules were imposed barring unmarried priests from marrying but allowing already married priests to remain married. Of course, it didn’t take long for that to change. Another rule was imposed, in the Second Lateran Council of 1139, forcing married priests to leave their wives which caused many of them to be cast out and become street walking prostitutes just so they could survive. For those who chose to continue having sexual relations with their wife, they were viewed as fornicators and were not privy to receive any of the benefits of the Church. As if this wasn’t bad enough, even the children were to suffer as they were declared illegitimate. This resulted in their being ineligible to enter the clergy or, for many of them, to even be married themselves once they reached adulthood. This is all the grim history surrounding the Roman Catholic Church. Why would they forbid marriage? Even Peter was married (Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38) and he is the one they claim to be their first Pope.

Along the same lines, the Roman Catholic Church also teaches that you cannot eat meat on Fridays. Granted, this is most commonly enforced only during Lent, there are still many Catholic Churches that have extended this practice to include every Friday of the year. According to Catholic teaching, eating meat on a Friday during Lent is considered to be a mortal sin.

So, I state it again:

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,...men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1&3, NASB)

As I said, Scripture is not so kind. It specifically calls these Roman Catholic teachings doctrines of demons. They are lies straight from the pits of hell as are the other doctrines we covered in the other articles. Again, this is not an attack on Catholics but it is indeed a brutal attack on the religion that has perverted the gospel and doctrines of grace in favor of a doctrine of legalism and tradition of men. Some say I am too harsh. I say I am not harsh enough. There is a very real danger in false teaching (1 Timothy 4:1). We are called to draw people to Christ, not to draw them away from Him (Matthew 24:4-5). False teachers present a very real danger to the Church body and are compared to a pack of savage wolves that tear apart the Church body and spare nobody (Acts 20:29).

Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, NASB)

That one sounds a lot like the Pope doesn’t it? Sitting high on the throne, making people kiss his ring, taking on the title “Vicar of Christ” which literally means one who acts as a substitute. The Pope has taken on the title of a substitute Christ. One can’t display himself as God any more than this even if he tried. And for those who say the Pope is only sitting in the place of Christ on earth, he must first answer why he believes Christ to have no power or dominion at present time.

To be clear, I’m not saying the Pope is the Antichrist (in the singular sense as some eschatogical positions hold). There are many false teachers and antichrists in the world (1 John 2:18) who seek to prevent others from receiving the love of truth so as to be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:10). The fact that false teaching is such a danger makes the need for Godly teachers all the greater. Teachers have a very high calling and an even higher responsibility to teach the truth with accuracy (James 3:1). True teachers are always feeding on the Word of God (1 Timothy 4:6) and should be diving head first into Scripture in order to gain a better understanding of the Truth. They are to act as the Bereans who sought to prove what they heard by examining the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11).

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NASB)

Scripture is the only true litmus test. If it is not found there, it is to be rejected. If something contrary or in addition to Scripture is taught, the teacher is to be rejected and shunned. Scripture is what equips us for every good work. It is what makes us adequate. Its purpose is for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Sola Scriptura! Scripture Alone!

Scripture is plain that, while not everyone is to desire to be a teacher in the official sense, all are called to teach truth as fellow believers in Christ (Hebrews 5:12-14). We are all called to search the Scriptures daily. In fact, this is what John tells us all to do in order to know the Truth.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3, NASB)

The first place we should start in testing the spirits is to see what their basic teaching is regarding Jesus. Do they teach of him being 100% man while also being 100% God or do they teach something contrary. Peter says if they confess Christ is God in the flesh, that teacher is from God. However, we must realize that there are many other perversions. One can easily claim Jesus was man and God yet then detract from who He really is by diminishing His role. Again, the Catholic Church does this repeatedly by diminishing the doctrines of grace and, through their continual re-sacrifice during the Mass, refusing to accept that Christ died once for all. This only reinforces the importance of knowing Scripture and being able to recall it during those crucial moments. This can only be done by daily examination and study.

They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:5-6, NASB)

The spirit of Truth will teach from the Word of God and the spirit of error will reject it (1 John 4:5-6) The latter will be accomplished either by adding to, detracting from, or perverting the Word. Scripture tells us what will become of this man:

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19, NASB)

Teachers are held to a very high standard and should do their best to ensure the accuracy of what is taught. As you sit under various teachers, beware to not place them on a pedestal as a substitute Christ. Trust in your teachers can be a beautiful thing, but never forget to search the Scriptures to prove what is being taught. Any teacher worth his weight in salt will readily encourage such action. Use biblical discernment and pray that God will preserve you from error. Proceed with caution!

Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16, NASB)

~ Travis W. Rogers

On the Sufficiency and Inerrancy of Scripture

One would be remiss to write on the important matters of the faith while failing to mention the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture in the Christian life. In all the ways God has spoken through the ages, the written Word has been the farthest reaching and most used method. Even in Scripture, we see positive affirmation of this. We see it in the way Paul praised the Bereans for searching the Scriptures to verify the words they had heard preached (Acts 17:11). In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul even refers to Scripture not as the word of men but as the Word of God. And this is barely scratching the surface!

One would think, with such clear descriptions and characteristics being used to define the written Word of God, it would be at the pinnacle of our faith and defended to the death. Yet, throughout the ages, there has been an assault on God’s written Word. No, not only from those who openly mock Christianity but also from those who claim to be a part of Christ’s flock. Some are vehemently opposed to such ideas as the inerrancy of Scripture while others are subtler in their tactics.

Over the years, I’ve heard challenges to accepted authorship, date origins, translations, and inerrancy. While all of these are common and can be easily noticed, some attacks are more difficult to identify. For instance, I hold to the position that the Roman Catholic Church, while accepting the inerrancy of Scripture, denies the sufficiency in the way they hold sacred tradition to be on equal ground.

Consequently, it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore, both sacred tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of devotion and reverence.

Vatican II, Chapter 2, Para.9

Simply put, if any form of divine revelation or tradition, in addition to Scripture, is said to be required to have certainty of the object of our faith, of necessity, it denies the absolute sufficiency of the Scriptures. It declares a need for something more in order to fully understand that which God has already revealed in His completed Word.

For those who have debated with Mormons, you know that they will openly embrace multiple “sacred” works to include the Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants. Once again, we see an assault on the sufficiency of Scripture. However, if you were to accuse a Latter-Day Saint (LDS) of such a charge, he or she would openly deny it. Technically, they’d be right. The reason why they can say they believe in the sufficiency of Scripture is because all the above works are included in “their” Scriptures. While Protestants adhere to the Bible as the sole Scriptural text, the LDS add to their foundation via claims of additionally inspired text. Never will they claim to replace the Bible with these added texts, yet never will they claim to place the Bible over them. In fact, they also stand behind the claim, as found in their eighth article of faith, that the Bible is, “the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” while also admitting to the continuation of divine revelation through the office of the prophet. Therefore, it’s vitally important for us to be able to distinguish both the subtle and the obvious and know how to defend the truth.

While we could go on for days touching on the multitude of ways we might encounter contrary claims to the sufficiency and inerrancy of Scripture, it would be of little use if we didn’t also turn to the Scriptures to see what God has to say on this matter. As you’ve seen, some oppose the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture while adhering to their sufficiency (an oxymoron) while others adhere to their inerrancy while opposing their sole sufficiency. My hope is that, if you don’t already hold the position, by the end of this article, you’ll see the importance of adhering to both, while recognizing that the Bible alone is the sole source of holy writ.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NASB)

The rest of this article will revolve around the great theological and practical truths embodied within these two verses of Paul’s second letter to Timothy. In them, we see the source of Scripture, four clear and distinct benefits (though not an all-inclusive list) of said Scripture, and the powerful outcome.

The man who lives in such a way as to encompass all four uses in his daily life is said to be adequate and equipped for every good work. The word ἄρτιος (artios) gives reference to the idea of being specially and thoroughly equipped for the four preceding special uses. The NASB translates the above word as “adequate” while the KJV translates it as perfect, which Paul reinforces by describing such a man as equipped and furnished for every good work. There’s nothing left regarding matters of faith and practice in the life of the Christian that isn’t perfected through his use and daily application of the Scriptures.

The reason for this, while maintaining a certain amount of eternal mystery, has been made known to us. It’s because Scripture is inspired. Some have argued that this verse only refers to the Old Testament, but I’m convinced that, while he may not have fully understood the reach (i.e. a final 66 book canon in the drawer of every hotel nightstand), Paul was aware his letters were to be considered as Scripture. For those who may not yet be convinced, let’s go back to a verse we already alluded to at the beginning of this article.

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NASB)

Paul readily acknowledges the words they previously taught to be the word of God and not merely the word of men. Many have argued that he was merely referencing the oral teachings of the Old Testament and was not including his own letters. However, this won’t stand to scrutiny.

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. (2 Thessalonians 2:15, NASB)

In case there was any confusion left, Paul sorts it out in his second letter to the church of Thessalonica when he states that the words of God pertain not only to the word of mouth but also to the words in his letters. Paul further emphasizes this point in 1 Corinthians 14:37 when he explicitly states that his own writings are the Lord’s commandments. Therefore, when Paul speaks of “all Scripture” being inspired, he’s referring to both the Old and New Testaments, which would include all remaining letters that God had yet to write through godly men.

The word translated as “inspired” paints a far more beautiful picture in the Greek. The word is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) which literally means “breathed out by God” and carefully points to God as the true author through godly men moved by the Holy Spirit. This isn’t to say God controlled them robotically as they wrote, nor is it to say God merely gave them good ideas which they decided to write down. In infinite wisdom and power, God saw to it that each author retained his own personality and style of writing while also dictating each word to be jotted down and ensuring the promise that His Word would endure and none would pass away (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33). It’s the last part, along with many other affirmations found in Scripture, that guarantees we can know Scripture to be not only divinely inspired but also inerrant.

With this profound promise in mind, what are some of the ways in which we can, and should, apply this to our own lives?

TEACHING

The first point of Paul’s is that Scripture is profitable for teaching. Sound doctrine is of the utmost importance in the life of the believer and the state of the Church. Without sound doctrine, one can never know Christ as He is. Instead, He becomes a product of men’s own imaginations and carries the traits that best suit their own fancies. As I’ve grown in my marriage throughout the years, I’ve sought to continually know my wife better. Similarly, to grow in one’s relationship with Christ, one needs to know Him better. While prayer is critical in the life of the believer, we can’t forget that God has already revealed Himself to us in the written Word.

It’s only through the study of Scripture that we can be properly equipped to know our Savior, combat heresy, evangelize to the lost, and grow in sanctification. This has far reaching implications, not only in our own lives, but also in the world. While the purpose of the Church isn’t to change cultures or society, there will undoubtedly be some impact within the community whether it be through prosperity and revival or through persecution and mocking. We need to stand is united in truth, standing for the proclamation of the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ. We evangelize the lost unashamedly and trust that God will call those He intends to save. This only comes from knowing the truth. After all, the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses also evangelize. In fact, some may say they put Protestants to shame on that front. With such heresies as false gods, counterfeit Christs, and works-based salvation, we can’t afford to stand on the sidelines singing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” It’s high time we study Scripture seriously, then take to the streets. After all, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).

However, teaching isn’t only for our own personal growth or to be used in evangelism. While one will only ever come to salvation by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:14), Scripture is primarily for those in the Church with the ultimate purpose being worship and glorification of God. It should be the pinnacle of the worship service with the culmination being the Lord’s Supper. If done correctly, all singing should point to the sermon, while the sermon points to the Supper, with the focus being Christ’s sacrifice. Unless a church is built upon and relies on the accurate interpretation and exposition of Scripture, it will surely become a congregation of sinners in the hands of an angry God rather than a communion of saints.

Scripture is the divine plumb line by which every thought, principle, act, and belief is to be measured.

John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on 2 Timothy

Only with this in mind can we begin to move into the other three remaining benefits.

REPROOF

In a “judge not” world, how can we possibly think of reproving another? After all, it seems that any time someone is corrected or admonished, countless “Christians” come out of hiding to admonish the original admonisher. The only wrong that can be committed is in telling another they have committed a wrong. So, who should be the subject of reproof and how does one do it biblically?

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy a good debate. One of the challenges I face in discussing or debating with unbelievers is that I need to remember I have no ground or reason to rebuke them for their lack of belief in the Word of God. It’s to be expected that unbelievers are going to live their lives contrary to biblical standards. This isn’t to say all unbelieving households are the epitome of immorality as much as it is to say that every unbelieving household will lack a reverence for God. While there is a place for rebuking unbelievers when it comes to matters of faith, this isn’t what Paul had in mind.

I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. (1 Corinthians 4:14, NASB)

The case that Paul is making in 2 Timothy 3:16 is for those within the church. This is the consistent theme of good order and discipline within the church. The world may love to take Matthew 7:1 out of context and declare that Christians should never judge. But that simply isn’t the case. Matthew 18 lays out a format for church discipline, which may lead to expulsion from the church. 1 Corinthians 5:12 tells us not to worry about judging those outside of the church as that judgment belongs to God. Yet, simultaneously, we are commanded to judge those within the church. John 7:24 makes the case that, when we do judge, we’re to judge righteously. Again, none of this should be for the purpose of making others feel small or unloved. Nor should it be for the purpose of shaming someone into submission. In all acts of judgment, it’s for the purpose of promoting good order and discipline within the church body. It’s to ensure righteous living and doctrinal truth. In extreme cases, it’s to purge the body of unrepentant sin. Even in such cases, the person being disciplined is typically given three prior chances (Matthew 18) to repent of their sin and heed the rebuke of the church. Without Scripture, there is no ground to rebuke anyone and the church falls into calamity.

CORRECTION

So, if reproof is meant to correct error in the life of an unbeliever, does that mean correction is for the unbeliever? While it would be easy to come to jump to such a conclusion, we’d be better suited to go to the Greek for clarification. The original word is ἐπανόρθωσις (epanorthōsis) which describes restoring something to an upright state. When we think of correction, we tend to think of admonishment. However, when we relate it to the depths of parenting, the proper purpose becomes clear. When our child misbehaves, he or she receives our discipline. Yet, the end goal is never discipline alone, but rather correction. It’s with the hope of correcting some deficiency so that the child will learn to obey. It’s in this sense that Paul is using the word. While reproof is the way in which the believer is chastised or disciplined, correction is the believer’s restoration to righteous living before God. In this way, Scripture is quite powerful. It not only points out our wrongs and convicts us of them, but it also builds us back up and tells us how to walk in the way of the Lord (Psalm 128:1).

INSTRUCTION

As we enter the last point made regarding the profitability of Scripture, you may have noticed how they build upon one another. First, there was doctrine or sound teaching. Next, we saw reproof and conviction. Thirdly, we see correction and restoration to an upright position. Lastly, we see Paul speaking of “instruction in righteousness.” The Greek word used here carries with it a sense of virtue, morals, and overall instruction. The root of the word would be used when speaking of training children in the way they should grow up. It refers to the whole of a man or woman.

So, how does one know what he ought to do unless someone teaches him? Paul rounds out his very short (not all-inclusive) list with an unfathomable concept. From our infancy, we’re constantly learning and being taught. As we stand today, we are each the culmination of our experience and learning. Hence why there’s such an emphasis placed on instruction. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins by declaring that man’s chief end is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This is backed by Scriptures such as Psalm 86:9, Isaiah 60:21, 1 Corinthians 6:20, and many others. It’s a theme that resounds throughout the Bible. Thus, we must ask ourselves the question of how do we learn Godly living? If such a lifestyle is expected of us, where do we turn for answers. The answer is obvious: Holy Scripture! God hasn’t left us alone in the world to wonder what He expects of us. As outlined in the beginning of this article, He spoke through men and preserved His words for us.

When it comes to righteous living, the only infallible source of authority is sacred Scripture. While we may learn from many resources, including family, books, articles, and blogs, all of these must fall in line with Scripture and, even then, they’re secondary to the Bible. While your pastor has been given the serious charge of tending to the flock and feeding his sheep, he also has the fearsome responsibility of accurately dividing the Word and expositing the Scriptures from the pulpit for the purpose of providing the nourishment of sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).

While reproof may have carried with it a harsher or more negative connotation, instruction brings about the gentler side of things. The Greek refers to teaching a child the ways of education, morality, and care of their body. It’s the fundamental teaching for children. That said, it also leaves room for chastisement when the child fails to obey their teaching. In the context of this passage we can see how Paul comes full circle. Scripture is profitable for teaching sound doctrine to include the depths of God. When the believer fails to adhere to this teaching, it calls for reproof. After being reproved, the corrected believer is restored. At all times, there is a continued instruction in righteousness as he walks the path of sanctification. Once restored, and instruction is given, he should desire to return to a deeper study of sound doctrine for the purpose of Godly obedience and devotion.

Many children in this world are sadly neglected. Be it in a lack of discipline, a missing parent, or parents who don’t care, there’s no shortage of ones in this tragic state. For those seeking to do something about their misfortune, it’s become increasingly common to see self-help books on the shelves of most retailers, some of which may even label themselves as Christian. It’s unfortunate that people in despair tend to turn everywhere other than the very tool given to us by God. Scripture is more than mere words in a book. It’s more than a history lesson. It’s more than an antiquated lesson on morality. It’s the very breath of God in written form and is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). It contains spiritual guidance and points us to our only hope: Jesus Christ. If we submit to the Scriptures through prayer, the Spirit will reveal to us, through our reading and meditation, how to properly uphold God’s righteous statutes and, when we fail, how to rest in His comfort, joyfully accept reproof or correction, and dive even further into sound doctrine.

All the above has its culmination in our daily living. If we fully submit to the Scriptures, we have the promise that we’ll be equipped for every good work. While this may sound cliché, it’s important to understand what that words “adequate” and “good” really mean. To break it down, I’d like us to look at them in the reverse order.

What does it mean to be capable of doing good? One of the first uses of the term that comes to mind is in Genesis during the Creation account. Everything God made was good in His eyes. This only makes sense since God alone is good. In fact, in Mark 10:18, Jesus says only God is good. So how does this account for man being equipped for good? For that answer, we can look to the very Scripture we say makes us capable.

All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.” (Romans 3:12, NASB)
Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:3, NASB)

According to the Scriptural account, mankind is incapable of doing good. By God’s own standard, there’s not a single person who does good, not even one. This is because, in his natural state, man rejects the things of the Spirit of God. He doesn’t understand them, nor is he capable of understanding (1 Corinthians 2:14). Yet, in God’s infinite wisdom, He has chosen to call His elect out of the domain of darkness and into His kingdom (Colossians 1:13).

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7, NASB)

It’s through this act of regeneration that we’re given a new nature. Instead of being broken and sinful creatures, we’re now justified saints of God who are capable of doing that which is good because we’re so empowered by the Spirit of God. Yes, we still sin but it no longer defines us. We are defined by Christ alone. We’re now equipped to do every good work in the name of Christ and for the sake of His glorious gospel.

Not only are we capable of doing good, but we’re adequately equipped to do so. Don’t be fooled by a cursory reading of this. When we hear the term ‘adequate’, we tend to think of just barely meeting the mark. However, Paul’s use of the word conveys so much more. In Greek, it means to be perfect and complete. It means to be thoroughly furnished and completely competent. Quite simply, Paul taught that such a person requires nothing more in life in order to be equipped for sound teaching, reproof of wrongs, correction and rebuilding, and training in fully righteous living. All of this is found in Scripture and equips the believer to do every good work unto God. While certain self-help books may have their place, nothing will ever supersede Scripture, nor is it be capable of equipping you with anything you can’t already receive within its pages. Christian books should always be used in conjunction with Scripture, and should be checked by it, but they should never take its place. The same goes for the article you’re currently reading. If you’ve found yourself learning more from this writing than Scripture itself, I urge you to close this one out and come back to it later after you’ve had time to meditate upon the Word in prayer. However, if this article is helping clarify points of confusion and has kindled a desire to study Scripture, it’s fulfilling its purpose.

The Reformers had it right when they said, “Sola Scriptura.” Scripture alone equips and fulfills. Embrace this fact and give thanks to the Lord for revealing within its pages all we need to know this side of Heaven.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Jesus in Hell? Where Did He Go?

How many of you clicked this because of the title? It’s okay. You can admit it. Yes, you read it right. While it may sound blasphemous to one without understanding, by the end of this article, it may actually sound like solid doctrine. This subject was brought up in a recent episode of The Particular Baptist podcast and I wanted to flesh it out a bit more for the blog.

We always say that God loved us so much that he gave His son to die on the cross but how many of us really stop to think about it? We all know Jesus died and rose again three days later, but most people don’t really think about the time in between.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sinsa;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

The Apostles Creed

Before going any further, I will admit there have been varied interpretations of this over the years. Among Particular Baptists, Hercules Collins’ An Orthodox Catechism is a favored work. Question 23 of the catechism recognizes the Apostle’s Creed as one of our articles of faith. Question 44 attempts to answer the question of what “He descended into hell” actually means. While being a helpful work, I do believe Collins got this one wrong. In response to why the Creed has that line, Answer 44 says,

“To assure me in times of personal crisis and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, especially on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.”

Hercules Collins, An Orthodox Catechism

According to Collins, the “hell” being spoken of was nothing more than the “anguish, pain, and terror of soul” that Christ went through both on the cross and in the events leading up to it. By Him experiencing hellish torment and anguish, He has saved us from actual hell with eternal torment. I just don’t feel this adds up and I can’t help but think this is just one of the many ways Christians try to avoid the difficult-to-grasp truth of what I believe to be plainly taught in Scripture.

Not only did God send His Son to die on the cross, but He also sent His Son to hell for three days. Now, I want to clarify when I say hell. I’m not referring to a place of torment that we know it as. In English, we are very limited in our wording (for instance, our one word for love versus the four words in ancient Greek). When I say hell, I am actually referring to Hades, the Greek abode of the dead. I’m merely referring to it as “hell” for familiarity’s sake, as this is what the vast majority know it as. Please keep this in mind as you see the many references to hell in this article. As a whole, Hades did not refer to a place of suffering nor did it refer to a place of peace. It was simply the storage location, or abode, of the dead. The Hebrews believed in the same place, only they called it Sheol.

At this point, no human was in heaven since the only way in is through the Son (John 14:6). The only other place for Him to have gone during those three days was Hades. It was simply where all human souls went after they died. Imagine how happy Satan must’ve felt when he thought he had triumphed only to be proven wrong a few days later. Ever wonder what Jesus went through during those three days? Really stop to think about it. God loves us beyond our comprehension!

Some may ask why God would send His only begotten Son to hell for even one day let alone three. I’m not one to guess why God set up the timeline the way He did but I am willing to bet the three days wasn’t meant to “work off” any sin as if he were in some form of purgatory.

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (Hebrews 9:27-28, NASB)

Jesus bore the sins of the entire world. He was condemned as guilty and unsanctified despite having committed no crime. Though never becoming a sinner, His righteousness was imputed to us while, at the same time, our guilt and shame was imputed to Him. Sin must be punished. Due to God being just, He issues no waivers. Sin will, and must, be dealt with according to His standard set forth from eternity. Our debt could not be brushed to the side. Jesus did more than declare us innocent. He transferred His innocence upon us while, simultaneously, transferring our guilt upon Himself. Because of this, He died and went to Hades. God’s timeline said three days later He would rise. I don’t know why He picked three days but He did and that’s that. Jesus’ judgment was hell just as any others would have been. God had His plan for Jesus to rise. After He had risen, He was in a glorified state, free of any filth of imputed sin. He had already died and received judgment. Now, He was alive for the second time. It was an entirely new life. It was a life that would never again see the sting of death.

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, (Hebrews 9:27, NASB)

As it is appointed unto man once to die. Jesus had defeated death, risen from the grave, and visited his disciples one last time before rejoining his Father in Heaven. I say rejoined because He was there since the beginning (Genesis 1:26).

To understand why Jesus went to hell, we must understand the reasons people go there:

  • They do not trust in Christ as their Savior. They do not believe that He was the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day.
  • They cannot enter heaven blemished with sin.
  • They have not repented of their sins and turned in faith to Christ as be the ultimate sacrifice.

A friend once attempted to prove this wrong by saying it was the blood of Christ that washes away our sins. In and of itself, this is correct theology. The point he was trying to make was that since Christ had already shed His blood, He no longer had a need to go to hell because His blood covered it all while He was still on the cross. The same argument was used for the thief on the cross. The problem with this is that the new covenant wasn’t established until Jesus had risen from the dead. The thief on the cross died under the old covenant as did anybody else that died within those three days. We can believe Jesus was who He said he was all we want but unless we also believe that He conquered death by rising from the grave on the third day, one is not truly saved. That is a vital part to our salvation!

Jesus did not have to deny God or Himself as He is God (John 10:30). The reasons I gave previously were all reasons why men go to hell. Points one and three above cover point two now that He is raised but since that had not happened yet, Jesus was still bound by number two. Yes, He had already died but He had not yet risen. He died just as any other man under the old covenant. It was once He had risen that the new covenant began and He was brought up into Heaven.

Now that we have a biblical understanding of what the requirements of entry into heaven are, we can focus on the biblical support for Jesus in Hades. 

Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things. (Ephesians 4:9-10, NASB)
for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40, NASB)
“Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s Bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.’” (Luke 16:22-24)

While many respected theologians throughout the years have interpreted “the lower parts of the earth” to be Jesus’ condescension through the incarnation coupled with the suffering he underwent in the crucifixion, I don’t believe this is sound for a number of reasons. During the times of Jesus, it was a normal belief that Hades was located deep within the Earth. Hades was broken into two parts. There was a place of torment and a place where there was peace. Before the death and resurrection of Christ, the faithful went to a temporary holding place of peace. The unfaithful went to a place where there was torment and suffering. This temporary holding place was not purgatory. It was not meant to work off the sins of the flesh. We also know Heaven is a place of eternity and not merely temporary. This place was meant to act as a holding area for those Old Testament saints awaiting the death and resurrection of Christ so that they might gain access to Heaven. This place was known as Paradise, or Abraham’s Bosom. Those with faith were in Paradise and those without faith were in a place of tormenting flames; a precursor to the Lake of Fire called Gehenna.

To further elaborate, picture the afterlife as four separate chambers. These chambers consist of:

  • Heaven
  • Hades (non-tormenting side)
  • Hades (tormenting side)
  • Gehenna (the actual fiery Hell)

Prior to the cross, both heaven and Gehenna were devoid of humans. No man had been granted entrance into heaven yet the final condemnation to the flames of Gehenna had not been carried out either. Upon the resurrection of Christ, both Gehenna and the non-tormenting side of Hades were empty. While Christ redeemed those in Abraham’s Bosom, those in the tormenting side of Hades remained. Their final condemnation to Gehenna still awaits. Only upon the second coming of Christ will both sides of Hades finally be empty and everyone in their eternal residence. Those with faith in Christ will continue to be in the presence of the Lord. However, those who rejected the Savior will finally see weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:13) in the fires of Gehenna for all eternity.

Looking back at Matthew 12:40, some have tried to say it was likely speaking of a cave or a tomb in which Jesus’ body was kept. I would like to take a moment to explain why this was not the case. The tomb of Jesus would have been more of a cave. The heart of the earth is hardly a hole in a mountain. The word used for” heart” is the Greek word kardia. It was used in the sense of being the center of the earth and to say the entire earth comes from it. Kardia is certainly not being used to speak of a tomb. It speaks of the center of the earth. The kardia of the earth is referencing Hades, the location that was once believed to be in the center of the earth.

We all remember the story of the thief on the cross. Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” The thief went with Jesus, as well as all the rest of the Old Testament saints, to Hades. Yes, they went to Hades. No, they did not go to be tormented. As Jesus said, they went to Paradise; the non-tormenting part of Hades, the abode of the dead.

What do we know as of now?

1) Jesus was in the grave for three days.

2) Jesus descended into the lower parts of the earth.

3) Jesus was going to be in Paradise the day of His death.

4) Jesus was in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

Based on this information, we can see Jesus spent three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Since this was the exact same amount of time His body was in the grave, we can conclude that if He was in Paradise on one of those days, Paradise would have to be in the heart of the earth. The only way to heaven is through the Son. It is not simply a belief in the Son that grants us access. It is belief in who the Son is as well as belief in what took place in the death and resurrection. Before this process was complete, man had no way into heaven. It was not until the resurrection that Paradise was relocated into heaven and all the saints from that day forth could share in the Glory of God in heaven. For those who may want to argue that Paradise has not been relocated to heaven and that it still resides in Hades, they must first explain how believers who die will be absent from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). After all, He’s no longer in Hades. Additionally, I believe this is what the dead saints rising in Matthew 27:53 after his resurrection is evidence that the Old Testament saints are no longer in Hades. When Christ ascended, so did they (Ephesians 4:8). While it is true that we will still go to Paradise upon death, Paradise is now located in heaven with the Lord.

In which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, (1 Peter 3:19-20a, NASB)

What exactly did Jesus do during His three days in Hades? 1 Peter makes mention of Jesus proclaiming the truth to the spirits in prison. These spirits were characterized as being disobedient. The Old Testament saints that went to Abraham’s Bosom certainly were not characterized by disobedience. Their obedience and faithfulness was the thing that saved them. They just had to wait for Christ before they could enter the kingdom of heaven. Verse 19 also says the spirits were in prison. Prison is a place where you go as a result of wrongdoing. You break the law and you go to prison. The demons and disobedient people of the world both broke the law of God. As a result, they would have been imprisoned in Hades awaiting the final judgment of God when all of Hades is cast into the lake of fire: Gehenna (Mark 9:43, Revelation 20:14).

For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4, NASB)

The fallen angels are in prison. The NASB uses the word “pits” but, if you look, the KJV uses the word “chains” in their translation. The Greek word for this was σειρά (seira). It literally meant a line, rope, or chain. The fallen angels, as well as disobedient people, are in chains in prison.

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man And He placed His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18, NASB)

Jesus conquered death. Death no longer has any hold over a Christian. Sure, we will all die. The difference is that we will live in heaven because we have been reconciled to God through Christ. Christ is the only way to heaven. What of the people from the Old Testament? Did they go to heaven? I would have to say no. They performed sacrifices but this was a continued action. Christ cannot be compared to an animal. He is called the Lamb of God but He was so much more than that. No mere animal could cleanse the way Christ did. I fully believe the Old Testament saints went to Paradise as a place of storage awaiting the death of Christ. Even more, I believe they stayed there until the resurrection. While they were saved through the same faith as New Testament believers, it was not until Jesus rose from the grave that He truly defeated death.

Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (John 20:17, NIV)

This has commonly been misinterpreted to mean Jesus had to remain pure and did not want anyone to touch him. The problem with that interpretation is that it is in direct contradiction with John 20:27 when Jesus told Thomas to touch his wounds. In truth, Jesus was telling Mary not to cling to him. He was telling her to not expect His presence to continue for much longer for He had not yet returned to the Father but would soon be doing so. This brings me to my point. Jesus rose on the third day. Up until this point, He had not yet returned to His Father. He had not rejoined God in Heaven as of yet. Well, where was He then? He was in Paradise during this time. After the third day, He rose from the dead, saw His apostles along with hundreds of others, and joined God in Heaven.

Looking back, we see a few things:

1) The kardia of the earth is Hades and not a hole in a mountain.

2) Jesus preached to the spirits in prison.

3) The spirits in prison are the fallen angels and those who rejected God.

4) Jesus had not yet returned to the Father.

The very basis of the disbelief in Jesus going to Hell for three days is:

1) People do not want to believe Paradise was a section of Hades.

2) People refuse to believe Jesus (being God) could go to Hades.

There is no biblical evidence stating that Jesus did not go to Hades. On the other hand, the biblical evidence is stacked saying He did. Ask yourself these questions: If He had not yet returned to the Father, where was He those three days? What spirits in prison was He preaching to? Why would Scripture speak of the center of the earth?

If He was in a tomb that whole time, He would not have been able to preach to anyone. This is another sign that the kardia of the earth is not speaking of the tomb of Jesus. Jesus was preaching to the spirits in prison. He was in the kardia of the earth while doing it. He had not yet returned to the Father. That only leaves one place and it makes perfect sense biblically.

The doctrine of Jesus in hell (Hades) is both a very biblical and accurate teaching. I do not believe He went there to suffer in pain. I believe He went there as a result of the sin of the world being on Him. It was the same reason any of the other Old Testament saints went there. They placed their faith in God but they still owed the penalty of sin. Jesus was spotless up until the point that He became the ultimate sacrifice and took the sin of the world upon Himself as our substitutionary atonement (2 Corinthians 5:21). He then went to Paradise and rose three days later, defeating death once for all.

~ Travis W. Rogers

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.

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