The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53

       It is in the understanding of the suffering and death of Christ that the sinner appreciates God’s great love and the price that was paid for his salvation.  Christ suffered in place of the sinner, bearing the penalty that rightfully belonged to him.  Scripture tells us that “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18a).  Perhaps no section of Scripture in the Old Testament bears greater testimony to this truth than Isaiah 52:13 through 53:12, in which the prophet reveals the Messiah as the suffering Servant.  Isaiah 53 is mentioned eight times in the New Testament as specifically referring to Christ, so that there is no mistake in the minds of the New Testament writers that the passage points to Jesus.

The New Testament writers quote eight specific verses as having been fulfilled in Jesus.  Verse 1 (‘who has believed our message?’) is applied to Jesus by John (12:38).  Matthew sees the statement of verse 4 (‘he took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’) as fulfilled in Jesus’ healing ministry (8:17).  That we have gone astray like sheep (v. 6), but that by his wounds we have been healed (v. 5) are both echoed by Peter (1 Pet. 2:22-25), and so in the same passage are verse 9 (‘nor was any deceit found in his mouth’) and verse 11 (‘he will bear their iniquities’).  Then verses 7 and 8, about Jesus being led like a sheep to the slaughter and being deprived of justice and of life, were the verses the Ethiopian eunuch was reading in his chariot, which prompted Philip to share with him ‘the good news about Jesus’ (Acts 8:30-35).  Thus verses 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11 – eight verses out of the chapter’s twelve – are all quite specifically referred to Jesus.[1]

       Though Isaiah 53 is quoted most often in the New Testament, the section about the suffering Servant actually starts in Isaiah 52:13 and runs through to the end of chapter 53.  Isaiah 52:13-15 appears to provide a summary of chapter 53, albeit in reverse order.  Isaiah 52:13-15 reveals the Lord’s Servant first as successful, and then reveals His suffering and the beneficial results that follow.  Then, in chapter 53, Isaiah reverses the order by first showing the Servant’s suffering in 53:1-9, and then His success and the beneficial results in 53:10-12. 

Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men. Thus He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand. (Isa. 52:13-15)

       God spoke through His prophet Isaiah and declared, “My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isa. 52:13).  Christ came as God’s perfect Servant, as the One who always accomplished His will.  A servant is one who faithfully executes the will of another, and Christ perfectly executed the will of God the Father.  When God the Son came into the world and added to Himself perfect humanity, He declared “a body Thou hast prepared for Me” (Heb. 10:5); and once in hypostatic union, declared to His Father, “I have come to do your will” (Heb. 10:9).  Regarding the Father’s will, Jesus stated, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (John 8:29).  On the evening before His crucifixion Jesus declared, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4).  And, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42b).  There has been only one perfect Servant in the history of the human race that has accomplished the will of God the Father in every way, and that is Jesus Christ. 

       The word “prosper” (Heb. sakal) has the idea of success based on prudence.  It is God who declares His Servant a success, because His Servant accomplished His will, His way.  From the world’s perspective, Jesus died as a common criminal, defeated and crucified by Roman soldiers.  From God’s perspective, the cross was a planned and controlled event, as Christ was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23a).  Christ knew He was accomplishing the Father’s will when facing His death, and “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).  The result of Christ’s humble obedience to the Father was that “God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9).  Jesus’ death was an intelligent sacrifice, humbly executed.  As a result of His obedience, “He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isa. 52:13).

       The Scourging of ChristAfter declaring that God’s Servant will “prosper…be high and lifted up and greatly exalted”, Isaiah then gave a stark contrast by saying, “His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men” (Isa. 52:14).  The word “marred” (Heb. mishchath) means to be disfigured.  Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus endured beatings and a scourging that so radically changed His appearance that had we stood at the foot of the cross and looked up, we would not have recognized Him.  It is reported in the Gospel of Mark that when Jesus was arrested that “Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the officers received Him with slaps in the face” (Mark 14:65).  Jesus then faced a corrupt trial before Pilate and “after having Jesus scourged, he [Pilate] handed Him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).  Jesus was then given to the Roman soldiers for more beatings before finally being nailed to the cross. 

The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. (Mark 15:16-20)

       Jesus’ face was bloody and swollen from His beatings and torn ribbons of flesh hung from His body as a result of the scourging.  However, as brutal as it was, it was not His physical suffering that secured our salvation, but His spiritual suffering, in which He bore the sin of all mankind and died in our place.  It should be remembered that Christ made no sound while being beaten, scourged and nailed to the cross (Isa. 53:7) and that it was not until He was on the cross bearing our sin that He cried out to His Father (Matt. 27:46). 

       The result of Christ’s suffering is that “He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand” (Isa. 52:15).  Here is the work of Christ as Priest, cleansing many as the result of His suffering.  The word “sprinkle” (Heb. nazah) was commonly used in connection with the Jewish priests concerning the consecration of objects and the cleansing of people (Lev. 8:11; 14:7).  Through His suffering, Christ will provide cleansing and consecration to the “nations” (Heb. goyim), which is a reference to the Gentile nations of the world.  “Because of the sacrifice of Christ, we can tell all the nations that forgiveness and redemption are offered free to all who will receive Him (1 Peter 1:1–2).”[2]  The rulers of the earth are silenced at the success of God’s humble Servant.  This will be especially true at His Second Coming when Christ returns to establish His millennial kingdom on earth. 

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isa. 53:1-3)

       Human reason leads to incredulity by those who seek to understand God’s strength through the weakness of His Servant.  God’s thoughts and ways are infinitely higher than the thoughts and ways of men (Isa. 55:8-9), and the wisdom and power of God shines through the frailty of His Servant who surrenders Himself to accomplish His will.  God displays His great power through an unassuming Man, His Servant, who is “like a tender shoot…a root out of parched ground” (Isa. 53:2a).

There is quite a contrast between “the arm of the Lord,” which speaks of mighty power, and “a root out of a dry ground,” which is an image of humiliation and weakness. When God made the universe, He used His fingers (Ps. 8:3); and when He delivered Israel from Egypt, it was by His strong hand (Ex. 13:3). But to save lost sinners, He had to bare His mighty arm! Yet people still refuse to believe this great demonstration of God’s power (Rom. 1:16; John 12:37–40).[3]

       A “root out of dry ground” means Jesus had no sustaining benefit from the soil of His human life.  There was nothing in His environment that benefited or carried Him along from day to day.  Jesus found no nourishment or support socially, politically, or even from His human family; God sustained His Servant by the Holy Spirit and the power of His Word (Matt. 3:16; 4:1-11).  This is true for God’s children today, as the world provides no nourishment or sustaining benefit to the believer.  The Christian is nourished spiritually by God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18), and sustained by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16; Eph. 5:18).

       Isaiah tells us Jesus had “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isa. 53:2b).  It seems from this passage that there was nothing in Jesus’ natural appearance that caused men to see anything exceptional in Him.  He apparently had none of the outward qualities one might expect to see in royalty.  He would never catch your eye if you passed Him on the street.  Scripture reveals Jesus was born in a humble place and His youthful years were spent in the uncultured district of Nazareth (Luke 2:7-16; John 1:46), working in a dusty carpenter’s shop (Matt. 13:55).  His poor cultural and educational background, coupled with his average human features, disqualified Him from advancing into any of the human systems of the time in which He lived, a time that put great stock in one’s appearance and education.  One had to hear His words and see His miracles to comprehend His divine essence.  It was only the eye of faith that revealed this “tender shoot” as God’s special Servant.  There were some who accepted Christ during His time on earth, when He came in hypostatic union; however, He was rejected by the majority of those who heard and saw Him.  The simple teaching of Scripture is that Jesus “was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isa. 53:3).  For the most part, Jesus was met with unbelief and rejection throughout His life, and this is still true today. 

The unbelief that Isaiah here depicts is the same unbelief found all about us today. Men say pleasant and complimentary things about the Lord of Glory. They will praise His ethics, His teaching, declare that He was a good man and a great prophet, the only one who has answers to the social problems that today confront the world. They will not, however, acknowledge that they are sinners, deserving everlasting punishment, and that the death of Christ was a vicarious sacrifice, designed to satisfy the justice of God and to reconcile an offended God to the sinner. Men will not receive what God says concerning His Son. Today also, the Servant is despised and rejected of men, and men do not esteem Him.[4]

       When Christ came into the world, He came into a place of darkness and hostility, and in this place “was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).  Christ “came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).  Jesus came as God’s perfect Light into the world, but “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19b).  However, the rejection of God’s perfect Servant by evil men did not stop the Savior from dying for their sins, and this is the grace of God. 

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (Isa. 53:4-6)

       Here, the prophet begins to reveal the idea of substitutionary atonement by stating, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried” (Isa. 53:4).  On the cross, Jesus bore our sins, but here the prophet reveals He bore our griefs and our sorrows, which are the consequences of our sins.  “The emphasis in verses 4–6 is on the plural pronouns: our griefs and sorrows, our iniquities, our transgressions…He did not die because of anything He had done but because of what we had done.”[5]

It should be noted that the consequence of sin and not the sin itself is mentioned. Nevertheless, when it is said that he bore our sicknesses, what is meant is not that he became a fellow sufferer with us, but that he bore the sin that is the cause of the evil consequences, and thus became our substitute.[6]

       What is difficult for some to accept is the fact that Christ suffered by the hand of His Father to satisfy His righteous demands toward the guilt of our sin.  Isaiah declares “yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4).  God the Father struck Jesus Christ while He was on the cross with the blows of punishment that rightfully belonged to us. 

When the Servant bore the guilt of our sins, we are saying that he bore the punishment that was due to us because of those sins, and that is to say that he was our substitute. His punishment was vicarious. Because we had transgressed, he was pierced to death; and being pierced and crushed was the punishment that he bore in our stead.[7]

       Isaiah then tells us that “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isa. 53:4b, 5).  The healing here is primarily spiritual, restoring a broken relationship that has been fractured by sin.  The suffering of Christ healed our relationship with the Father, as His death is the basis for the forgiveness of our sins (Eph. 1:7).  The substitutionary death of Christ, that brings glory to God and saves sinners, is a revelation from heaven and not an invention of man.  Paul tells his readers that “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). 

       Isaiah speaks of Israel and all humanity when he says, “all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6a).  Each of us has failed God; but Christ, God’s sinless Servant, is the only One who has ever perfectly executed His will in everything.  God could have easily judged and condemned us all and been absolutely justified in His actions.  However, God loves us greatly, and so “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isa. 53:6b).  Here is righteousness and love on display at the same time.  In righteousness, God judged all our sin in Christ while He was on the cross.  In love, God offers complete forgiveness and reconciliation to those who are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-9).  God perfectly deals with sin and seeks to reconcile the sinner, and this is done through the substitutionary death of His Servant who died on the cross in our place.  We deserve God’s wrath but have been shown great mercy through the vicarious and voluntary atoning work of His Son, in whom “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isa. 53:6b).  While on the cross, Christ absorbed God’s wrath that belonged to us, so that “the iniquity of which we are guilty does not come back to us to meet and strike us as we might rightly expect, but rather strikes him in our stead.”[8]  This is great grace! 

Sin is serious. The prophet calls it transgression, which means rebellion against God, daring to cross the line that God has drawn (Isa. 53:5, 8). He also calls it iniquity, which refers to the crookedness of our sinful nature (vv. 5–6). In other words, we are sinners by choice and by nature. Like sheep, we are born with a nature that prompts us to go astray; and, like sheep, we foolishly decide to go our own way. By nature, we are born children of wrath (Eph. 2:3); and by choice, we become children of disobedience (2:2). Under the Law of Moses, the sheep died for the shepherd; but under grace, the Good Shepherd died for the sheep (John 10:1–18).[9]

       God’s righteousness and love simultaneously intersect at the cross.  In perfect righteousness God the Father judged our sins completely in His Servant who willingly died in our place.  In love, God now offers perfect salvation to sinners who deserve only death, and this free gift of eternal life is based on the finished work of Christ who died in our place. 

We were sick unto death because of our sins; but He, the sinless one, took upon Himself a suffering unto death, which was, as it were, the concentration and essence of the woes that we had deserved; and this voluntary endurance, this submission to the justice of the Holy One, in accordance with the counsels of divine love, became the source of our healing.[10]

       The matter of our sin is resolved by the suffering of Christ at the cross.  Jesus paid the price for our sin, and now we can come to God and accept His free gift of eternal life by grace alone through faith alone.  God, who is satisfied with Christ’s death regarding our sin, has opened the gates of heaven to accept sinners as His children.  This is all made possible because of the work of Christ on the cross who suffered for our sin. 

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. (Isa. 53:7-9)

       Jesus made no effort to rescue Himself from those who illegally tried Him, beat Him, and nailed Him to the cross.  Jesus had already appealed to the supreme court of heaven, asking, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).  There was nothing for Jesus to say to His judges and attackers, for He knew it was His Father’s will for Him to go to the cross and die.  Jesus declared, “the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).

Jesus Christ was silent before those who accused Him as well as those who afflicted Him. He was silent before Caiaphas (Matt. 26:62–63), the chief priests and elders (27:12), Pilate (27:14; John 19:9) and Herod Antipas (Luke 23:9). He did not speak when the soldiers mocked Him and beat Him (1 Peter 2:21–23).[11]

       Faced with illegal trials and severe beatings, Isaiah reveals that it was by “oppression and judgment” that Jesus was “taken away” and put to death (Isa. 53:8a).  And, after Jesus was put to death between two criminals, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (Isa. 53:9). 

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors. (Isa. 53:10-12)

       Jesus nailed to CrossThe language is plain, “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10a).  God must punish sin as His righteousness requires, before He can save the sinner as His love desires.  It was the Father’s will for the Son to go to the cross to die for sinners, but we must also realize that Christ willingly went to His death and bore the Father’s wrath in our place.  It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went.  Christ was willing to be put to death in our place, for the Scripture declares “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2).  Jesus said “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18).  Several times the Scripture states that Christ offered Himself up to the Father as a willing sacrifice.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Eph. 5:25)

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Gal. 2:20)

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. (Heb. 7:26-27)

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:13-14)

       Christ was not forced upon the cross, but willingly, through love, surrendered His life and died in our place.  And, as a result of bearing the sin of many, “He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand” (Isa. 53:10b).  When Isaiah says “He will see His offspring”, it means that Christ’s death will bear the fruit of spiritual offspring as people turn to Him as Savior and are born again (cf. John 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23).  Christ was resurrected, never to die again, therefore, “He will prolong His days” (cf. Acts 2:30-32; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  The “good pleasure of the LORD” most likely speaks of heaven’s prosperity that will be known to those whom Christ will justify and who will share in His riches and heavenly estate (John 14:1-3; 1 Pet. 1:3-4).

       “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11a).  Satisfaction through suffering is the message of Isaiah 53:11.  Isaiah reveals that “by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:11b).  Peter also reveals the doctrine of substitution when he states “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).  It is always important to keep clear in our thinking that Christ bore our sin as well as the penalty for our sin, but this did not make Him a sinner.  On the other hand, sinners are declared righteous in God’s eyes because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them at the moment of salvation.  God gives us the gift of perfect righteousness at the moment we trust Christ as our Savior.  This is what Paul meant when he stated, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Paul understood the doctrine of substitution, that Christ died in the place of sinners and that sinners are declared righteous because of the work of Christ credited to their account.  This explains Paul’s words when he expressed his desire to “be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9). 

When the servant bears the iniquities of the many and has been punished for the guilt of these iniquities, the act of bearing the iniquities in itself has not changed the character of those whose iniquities are borne. When the iniquities are borne, i.e. when the guilt those iniquities involved has been punished, the servant may declare that the many stand in right relationship with God. Their iniquities will no longer be able to rise up and accuse them, for the guilt of those iniquities has been punished. Thus, they are justified. They are declared to be righteous, for they have received the righteousness of the servant and they are received and accepted by God Himself. Of them God says that they no longer have iniquities, but they do have the righteousness of the servant. This can only be a forensic justification.[12]

       Justification by imputation is always a matter of grace.  The sinner is declared righteous in the eyes of God, not because of any works which he has performed, but because of the work of Jesus Christ who has died in his place.  God’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner at the moment of salvation, and Paul states this with absolute clarity when he says:

Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation [Grk. hilasterion – i.e. a sacrifice that brings satisfaction] in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:24-26)

       Paul states at another point, “the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5).  It is Christ’s death that secures our so great salvation. 

Grace is love that has paid a price, and sinners are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8–10). Justice can only condemn the wicked and justify the righteous (1 Kings 8:32), but grace justifies the ungodly when they trust Jesus Christ! (Isa. 53:11; Rom. 4:5) To justify means “to declare righteous.” He took our sins that we might receive the gift of His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:17). Justification means that God declares believing sinners righteous in Christ and never again keeps a record of their sins. (See Ps. 32:1–2 and Rom. 4:1–8)[13]

       As a result of Christ’s victory at the cross, the Father speaks of reward, saying, “I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong” (Isa. 53:12a).  Christ is the champion, and He will divide the spoils of war, in which He has overcome sin and death and become the Savior of many.  His victory came “because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12b).  Here is victory in death; victory at the cross. 

       If we had stood at the trials of Jesus, seen His beatings, seen His crucifixion and sat at the foot of the cross, surely we would weep at the injustice and inhumanity of it all.  However, the Scripture reveals that it was the will of God that Christ go to the cross and die for sinners (Acts 2:23; 4:28), for His death is an atoning sacrifice that satisfied every righteous demand of the Father (Rom. 3:25; 1 Jo. 2:2).  As stated previously, the Father sent, and Christ went.  In the willing death of Christ, we have the Father’s righteous anger displayed toward our sin as well as His love toward us, the sinner, whom He seeks to save. 

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom. 5:6-10)

       There is a purpose to the suffering of Christ.  He suffered that we might have eternal life.  His substitutionary death propitiated the Father’s righteous anger toward our sin and now we can come to God with the empty hands of faith and receive the free gift of eternal life and be clothed in perfect righteousness.  This was accomplished while were helpless, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God (Rom. 5:6-10).  God graciously acted toward us to reconcile us to Himself, and this was accomplished through the suffering of the cross. 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

This article is an excerpt from my book, Suffering: A Biblical Consideration

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, Ill. Intervarsity Press, 1986), 145.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, An Old Testament study (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996), 134.

[3] Ibid., 135.

[4] Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, Mich., W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 344.

[5] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 136.

[6] Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3, 346.

[7] Ibid., 348.

[8] Ibid., 350.

[9] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 137.

[10] C. F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Isaiah, Vol. 7, trans. James Martin, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, Mass., Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 510.

[11] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 137-138.

[12] Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3, 358.

[13] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 140.

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Heaven Belongs to Little Children

Cute BabyHeaven belongs to little children.  Jesus’ disciples did not always understand this, and on one occasion they tried to prevent children from coming to Him for prayer (Matt. 19:13).  But Jesus corrected them saying, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14).  Jesus welcomed little children, and was welcomed by them; and I think this says something about the Person of Jesus.  Little children are transparent and trusting with adults, and we must be the same with the Lord Jesus.  

       One goes to heaven by believing the gospel message 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” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  However, the command to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation presupposes intelligence and the ability to exercise one’s volition.  Children and those who are mentally disabled lack the intellectual and volitional capacity to make a decision for or against Christ; therefore, they are not held accountable for sin (see my article on The Gospel). 

ChildrenIn the Bible, infants, little children, and others who cannot believe are neither told to believe nor expected to do so.  They are not classified as wicked evildoers and rejecters of God’s grace.  It is always adults who are addressed, either directly or indirectly, regarding these matters.  Because the Bible has so much to say about those who cannot believe and yet says nothing about their being eternally separated from God because of their inability, we conclude that they have heaven as their home.  They die safely in the arms of Jesus.[1]

       King David had a son who became sick to the point of death (2 Sam. 12:1-15), and David “inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground” (2 Sam. 12:16).  However, after seven days the child died and David learned of the difficult news (2 Sam. 12:18).  Afterward, David got up and washed and changed his clothes and ate food and revived himself (2 Sam. 12:19-20).  David’s servants were somewhat surprised by his quick recovery and asked, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food” (2 Sam 12:21).  David said:

While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me. (2 Sam. 12:22-23)

       While the child was alive, David prayed to God to be gracious, “that the child may live.”  However, after the child died, David expressed optimism by saying, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”  I am convinced David was thinking of heaven, where he knew his infant son had gone.

Life after death was a certainty for David.  That he would be with his son again in the future was his firm belief.  He never doubted that fact for a moment.  David was rightly related to the Lord, and he did not question that he would spend eternity with Him.  Nor did he have any doubt that his infant son, taken in death before he could decide for or against his father’s God, would be there also.[2]

       The death of a child can be a difficult experience.  I know friends and family who have had babies and little children die, and they need to know that heaven belongs to little children.  They need to know their little babies are safe in the arms of Jesus.  

A portion of this article is an except from my book - The Cross of Christ: Sufficient to Save

Steven R. Cook, M. Div. 

[1] Robert P. Lightner, Safe in the Arms of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 2000), 15-16.

[2] Ibid., 55.

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The Gospel

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel [εὐαγγέλιον euaggelion – good news message] which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 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. (1 Cor. 15:1-4)

       God’s gospel message is simple in its presentation (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  It is a message of love and grace (John 3:16-17; Eph. 2:8-9).  It centers at the cross where Jesus died for all our sins (1 Cor. 1:18, 21; 15:3-4; Col. 2:13-14; 1 Pet. 2:24).  The gospel message only makes sense when we understand that God is holy, all mankind is sinful, and that Jesus necessarily died as our substitute.  God’s holiness means He is positively righteous and completely set apart from sin (Ps. 99:9; 1 Pet. 1:14-16).  Because God is holy, He cannot have anything to do with sin except to condemn it.  The Scripture states, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13), and “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).  

       The gospel is the solution to a problem; it is the good news that follows the bad news.  The bad news-problem is sin, which according to Scripture is a threefold problem: first and foremost is Adam’s original sin which is charged to every person (Rom. 5:12, 18-19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), second is the sin nature which is the source of the rebellious heart (Rom. 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and lastly is the personal sin each person produces every time he/she yields to temptation (Jam. 1:14-15).  Sin brings death and separation from God (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 5:12), both in time and in eternity (Rev. 20:11-15).  Because of sin, every person is spiritually dead and powerless to change their situation (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1).  All people are helpless to save themselves, and good works are worthless in God’s sight (Isa. 64:6; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.(Eph. 2:8-9)

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(Tit. 3:5)

       The good news-solution is 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” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).   This is substitutionary atonement.  Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Rom. 5:6-10).  The gospel teaches that Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for our sin in order to satisfy God’s holiness (Rom. 3:25; 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13).   Jesus “is the propitiation [ἱλασμός hilasmos - satisfaction] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. Rom. 3:25; 1 John 4:10).  Jesus paid the redemption price for our sins (Rom. 3:24), and offers us eternal life if we’ll trust Christ as our Savior (John 3:16-17).  When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), positionally identified with Him (Rom. 5:14-18; 1 Cor. 15:22), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), given the gift of God’s righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and have the power to live righteously (Rom. 6:1-13).  God saves from the penalty of sin (Jo. 5:24; Rom. 6:23; 8:1), the power of sin (Rom. 6:11; 8:13; 2 Cor. 5:17), and ultimately the presence of sin (Phil. 3:21; 1 Jo. 3:2).

       Salvation is never what we do for God, but rather what He has done for us by sending His Son to die in our place and bear the wrath for sin that was due to us (Isa. 53).  We are helpless to save ourselves because we are completely crippled by sin (Rom. 5:6-10; 6:23; Eph. 2:1); therefore, salvation comes to us only as a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).  graceJesus paid the price for our sin, and we need only to trust Him for salvation (John 3:16, 20:31; Rom. 3:25).  We do not earn or deserve salvation.  Salvation is completely the work of God, and those saved are the recipients of His grace (Eph. 2:8-10; Tit. 3:5). 

       Salvation is said to be “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8), “according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9), and “according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5).  God has prepared good works to follow our salvation (Eph. 2:10), but they are never the condition of it (Acts 16:30-31; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5).  The matter is simple: Salvation comes to those who believe in Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; 20:31; Acts 16:30-31). 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div. 

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The Christian Priesthood

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Rom. 12:1)

       In the church age, Christian spiritual service is connected with the priesthood of every believer (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:6).  A priest offers worship to God and service to others.  In the OT—before the Mosaic Law—few priests are mentioned.  Melchizedek functioned as the king/priest of Salem (Gen. 14:18-20; cf. Heb. 7:1), and Reuel/Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) as the priest of Midian (Ex. 2:16-21; 3:1).  Job served as the priest over his household, offering sacrifices for the sins of his family (Job. 1:5).  Most people worshipped and served God as non-priests.  Men such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob built temporary stone altars and worshipped God directly (Gen. 8:20-21; Gen. 12:7; 13:18; 26:24-25; 35:1-7).  Before the Mosaic Law, it appears that sacrifice and worship was personal, simple, did not require special attire, and was not tied to a specific geographic location or facility.

       Jewish Priestly ClothingAfter Israel was delivered from the bondage of Egypt, God established the Hebrews as a theocratic nation among the Gentile nations of the world.  God originally intended the whole nation to be a kingdom of priests, saying, “and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6).  However, because of the sin of worshipping the golden calf (Ex. 32:1-35), God took that privilege from the nation and gave it solely to the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:6-10).  God required that Levitical priests could not have any physical defects (Lev. 21:17-23), and restricted the age to twenty-five to fifty (Num. 8:24-25).  The Levitical priests were originally tied to the tabernacle for their service (and later to the temple), and special clothing was required both for the priests and the high priest.  Throughout the years of their priestly service they were required to:

  1. Be holy in their behavior (Ex. 19:6).
  2. Teach God’s Law to others (Lev. 10:11; Deut. 33:10).
  3. Preserve the tabernacle and temple (Num. 18:1-4).
  4. Perform official duties in the Holy of Holies once a year (Ex. 30:6-10; Lev. 16).
  5. Inspect ceremonially unclean persons and fabrics (Lev. 13-14).
  6. Receive the tithes (Num. 18:21, 26; cf. Heb. 7:5).
  7. Offer sacrifices for sin to God (Lev. chapters 4, 9, 16).

       The death of Christ on the cross fulfilled the Mosaic Law and ended the OT animal sacrificial system and the Levitical priesthood (John 1:17; Rom. 6:14; 8:3-4; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:1-13; Gal. 5:18).  There is no specialized priesthood today, and the Catholic Church—or any organization—is not justified in creating a priestly cast within the body of Christ.  Now, in the church age, every Christian is a priest to God (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6), and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).  The Christian becomes a priest at the moment of salvation.  This is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, for “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev. 1:6; cf. 1 Pet. 2:9).  Peter writes, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5).  The functions of the Christian priesthood include:

  1. The continual giving of the body for service to the Lord (Rom. 12:1-2).
  2. The sacrifice of praise for worship (Heb. 13:15).
  3. The doing of good works and sharing with others (Heb. 13:16; cf. Phil. 4:18).
  4. The sacrifice of personal life for the benefit of others (Phil. 2:17; cf. Phil. 1:21-26; 2:3-4).
  5. The walk of sacrificial love (Eph. 5:1-2; cf. 1 Pet. 1:22).
  6. Confession of personal sin to God for restoration of fellowship (1 John 1:6-9).
  7. Being filled with, and walking by means of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:16, 25).

A Living SacrificeThe practice of the Christian priesthood begins when the believer surrenders his own body as a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1).  Unlike the OT sacrifices which surrendered their life once, the Christian life is a moment by moment, continual surrender to God.  This spiritual service is performed primarily within the body of Christ toward other believers for their benefit.  Rather than offer the sacrifice of animals, the Christian is called to offer spiritual sacrifices.  When Paul writes about giving ourselves as “a living and holy sacrifice” to God for “spiritual service” (Rom. 12:1), he does not leave his reader guessing as to what he means, for one has only to continue reading in Romans chapter 12 to understand his practical application.  Only a few verses later the Apostle gives shoe leather to his statement when he writes about Christian service to other believers within the church. 

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom. 12:4-8)

       Spiritual sacrifice involves Christian service within the body of Christ as we exercise our spiritual gifts to meet the needs of other believers.  This is love set in motion for the benefit of others.  It is taking what God has given to us, spiritually or materially, and giving it freely, with an open hand, for others to be blessed.  This is consistent with what Paul writes elsewhere when he states, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).  From where does Paul learn this way of thinking?  He learned it from the Lord Jesus Himself.  For Paul states:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)

       Jesus is our prime example of a priestly life that has been surrendered for service to God.  Jesus’ life was given for the blessing of others.  Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).  And elsewhere He stated, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  Several things may be said about Jesus’ willingness to surrender His life to His Father:

First, Christ was willing to go where His Father chose. He was at home in the glory. It was His native environment; but He came into this world with a mission and message of grace. “God had an only Son and He was a foreign missionary.” Such was His Father’s will for Him and His attitude may be expressed by the familiar words: “I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord.” Second, Christ was willing to be whatever His Father chose. “He made Himself of no reputation.” He was not only willing to lay aside the garments of His glory, but He was willing, as well, to be set at naught, to be spit upon and to be crucified. That was the Father’s will for Him and His attitude may be expressed in the words: “I’ll be what You want me to be.” Third, Christ was willing to do whatever His Father chose. He became obedient unto death, and in so doing, His attitude may again be expressed in the words: “I’ll do what You want me to do.”[1]

       As Christians, we look to Jesus as our primary role model.  Jesus sought to glorify the Father in every regard, and this meant living in accordance with Scripture and being willing to go and do whatever was required of Him.  No doubt this brought joy, and at other times sorrow.  The purpose of life is not to be happy, but to glorify God; and this is only accomplished by a life of godliness and humble submission to the Lord. 

Yieldedness to the will of God is not demonstrated by some one particular issue: it is rather a matter of having taken the will of God as the rule of one’s life. To be in the will of God is simply to be willing to do His will without reference to any particular thing He may choose. It is electing His will to be final, even before we know what He may wish us to do. It is, therefore, not a question of being willing to do some one thing: it is a question of being willing to do anything, when, where and how, it may seem best in His heart of love. It is taking the normal and natural position of childlike trust which has already consented to the wish of the Father even before anything of the outworking of His wish is revealed.[2]

       The priestly life of service to God and others belongs to every Christian.  It is a life of sacrifice for the spiritual and material wellbeing of others, especially those within the church.  More so, it begins when the believer decides to commit his/her life to God, to love kindness, to walk humbly, and to pursue righteousness and goodness in all things. 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That Is Spiritual (Moody Press: Chicago, 1918), 87.
[2] Ibid., 88-89.
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Restoring Fellowship with God

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light [i.e. purity and holiness; cf. John 3:19–21; 8:12; 12:35–36], and in Him there is no darkness at all [i.e. no sin; cf. John 3:19; 1 John 2:8–11]. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness [i.e. commit sin], we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another [between God and the Christian], and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin [as believers] we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins [i.e. agree with God about our sin], He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned [as God’s Word declares], we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10 NASB)

       Heart-HandsWhat person can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”? (Prov. 20:9).  No one is ever free from sin in this life, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).  Sin (from the Hebrew חָטָא chata or the Greek ἁμαρτία hamartia) means to fall away or miss the mark of God’s intended will.  Sin is failure to do God’s will, and both unbelievers and believers commit sin.  “The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves (Gen. 39:9; Ps. 51:4).”[1]  The Bible teaches everyone is a sinner (Rom. 3:9).  We are sinners because of our relationship to Adam (Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), we are sinners by nature, born with a rebellious heart (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and we are sinners by choice every time we yield to temptation (Jas. 1:14-15). 

       At the moment of faith in Christ, all sins (past, present, and future) are forgiven (Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13), and the believer’s relationship to Adam is terminated as the Christian begins a new identity in Christ (Eph. 2:5-6).  At the moment of the new birth, the believer is completely justified in God’s sight, and this is by grace, because Christ died in our place and bore the penalty that rightfully belongs to us (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:6-10; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18).  Believers stand acceptable before God, not because of any righteousness of our own based on good works (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), but because of the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to us by faith (Rom. 4:1-5), “the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9).  As Christians, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).  God made Christ “who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Christ died a death He did not deserve, that we might have a life and enjoy spiritual riches we could never earn (Rom. 5:5-10; Eph. 2:1-6).  Salvation is truly a gift from God. 

       From the moment of my spiritual birth until I leave this world for heaven, I am in Christ and all my sins are forgiven (Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 2:13).  In addition, I have a new spiritual nature (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), and the power to live righteously in God’s will (Rom. 6:11-14).  However, during my time in this world, I still possess my sin nature (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and occasionally I yield to temptation (both internal and external) and commit sin.  “Conversion does not mean the eradication of the sin nature. Rather it means the implanting of the new, divine nature, with power to live victoriously over indwelling sin.”[2]  My acts of sin do not jeopardize my eternal salvation which was secured by the Lord Jesus Christ (John 10:28), but is does hurt my walk with the Lord (1 John 1:5-10), and stifles the work of the Holy Spirit who dwells within me (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).  I sin every day, and some days more than others.  As I grow spiritually in my knowledge of God’s Word, I will pursue righteousness more and more and sin will diminish, but sin will never completely disappear from my life.  Living in the reality of God’s Word, I know three things are true when I sin:

  1. There is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).  Though I have sinned against God, my eternal security and righteous standing before Him is never jeopardized.  I am eternally secure (John 10:28), and keep on possessing the righteousness of God that was imputed to me at the moment of salvation (Rom. 4:1-5; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).
  2. I am walking in darkness and have broken fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-6).  When I sin, as a Christian, I have broken fellowship with God and stifled the work of the Holy Spirit who dwells within me (1 John 1:5-6; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).  If I continue in sin, or leave my sin unconfessed, I am in real danger of divine discipline from God (Ps. 32:3-4; Heb. 12:5-11; 1 John 5:16-17; cf. Dan. 4:37).   
  3. If I confess my sin directly to God, He will immediately forgive my sin and restore me to fellowship (1 John 1:9; cf. Ps. 32:5).  Being in fellowship with God means walking in the sphere of His light (1 John 1:5-7), being honest with Him about my sin (1 John 1:8, 10), and coming before His throne of grace in transparent humility and confessing my sin that I will be forgiven (1 John 1:9; cf. Heb. 4:16).  God is faithful and just to forgive my sins every time I confess them because of the atoning work of Christ who shed His blood on the cross for me (1 John 1:9; 2:1-2).1 John 1:9 

The forgiveness John speaks about here [i.e. 1 John 1:9] is parental, not judicial. Judicial forgiveness means forgiveness from the penalty of sins, which the sinner receives when he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is called judicial because it is granted by God acting as Judge. But what about sins which a person commits after conversion? As far as the penalty is concerned, the price has already been paid by the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. But as far as fellowship in the family of God is concerned, the sinning saint needs parental forgiveness, that is, the forgiveness of His Father. He obtains it by confessing his sin. We need judicial forgiveness only once; that takes care of the penalty of all our sins—past, present, and future. But we need parental forgiveness throughout our Christian life.[3]

       God’s grace compels me to pursue righteousness and good works (Tit. 2:11-14).  But since I still have a sinful nature and live in a fallen world with temptation all around, I occasionally fall into sin.  When I sin, I agree with God that I have done wrong and I confess it to Him seeking His forgiveness.  When I sin against others and wrongly hurt them, I confess my sin to them and ask for their forgiveness.  Because my sin hurts others (and their sin hurts me), there is a need for love, patience, humility, and ongoing forgiveness among the saints. 

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Col. 3:12-15)

       God’s grace is wonderful to me.  By grace he saves, and by grace he forgives and restores me to fellowship.  It is very simple.  Daily I confess my sins directly to God, and He faithfully forgives me and restores me to fellowship with Him.  It is all His goodness, and I am the fortunate recipient of His mercy and love.

Steven R. Cook, M. Div. 

[1] Merrill F. Unger and E. McChesney, “Sin” In , in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, ed. R.K. Harrison, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[2] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2310.

[3] Ibid., 2310-11.

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Glory to God

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. (Ps. 115:1)

     God’s glory is a theme that runs through Scripture.  The Lord is glorified in Himself because of who He is, and because of what He does.  Those who know God and approve of His works praise Him accordingly.  The psalmist, in the opening verse, gives glory to God for His lovingkindness and truth.  However, in other biblical passages, believers give glory to God for His judgment against the wicked, such as when the Israelites sing praises to God for destroying the Egyptian army in the Red Sea (Ex. 14:16-31; cf. the Song of Moses in Exodus 15).  In Scripture, God is glorified both in the display of His love and grace toward sinners (Ps. 29:2; 115:1; Eph. 2:4-7), and also in the righteous demonstration of His justice toward unbelievers who defy Him (Rev. 14:7; 16:9; 20:11-15).

     Biblically, the primary purpose of our relationship with God is to bring Him glory (Rom. 11:36; 16:27; 1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 1:6, 11-14).  We give glory to God because He loves us.  We honor and adore Him because He is faithful to us and we have tasted of His goodness.  We praise Him because His truth sustains us.  God never resorts to strong-arm tactics to extract praise from the believer.  Forced-praise is a contradiction like forced-love.  Love is freely given and freely received, and this makes worship a free and true expression of genuine gratitude to God.  As the psalmist writes, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth” (Ps. 115:1).

     To glorify God assumes we are in a relationship with Him and have received His blessings (John 3:16; Eph. 1:3).  But this requires faith in Jesus Christ and knowledge of God’s Word.  Jesus died for the sins of everyone (Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2), but His death is effectual only for those who believe in Christ for salvation (Eph. 1:4-7; 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-5).  Once we are saved, we learn God’s Word that we might live His will and worship as God requires.  When speaking to the Samaritan woman, Jesus proclaimed, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).  The phrase “in spirit” speaks to the new birth, because only God’s people have the spiritual capacity to worship Him who is Spirit in essence.  To worship in “truth” means to worship according to the standard of God’s Word.  Biblical worship is a free and intelligent expression of praise to God in response to His gracious love. 

     It is unfortunate, but there are many who refuse to give God the glory that is due Him.  Unbelievers habitually dishonor God through a lack of appreciation.  Having spurned the revelation of God through creation, they turn their minds toward self; “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21).  When a person turns away from God, he praises himself, his education, his accomplishments, or his wealth.  This is the way of the world, and the believer must guard himself against these traps.  We pursue what we love, and things of the world can become substitutes that are adored in place of God.  Idolatry is thievery, because it steals God’s glory and gives it to another.  The Lord declares, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isa. 42:8).  Men who love the Lord boast in the Lord, and men who love themselves boast in themselves. 

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:23-24)

     The believer who knows the Lord and delights in His ways eventually begins to manifest His qualities.  God declares, “I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things” (Jer. 9:24).  The growing believer who is walking with the Lord and learning His Word will eventually begin to manifest the character of Christ, and this brings glory to God.  J. Dwight Pentecost writes:

There can be no higher goal. There can be no higher ambition. There can be no higher purpose than that which the Word of God puts before us as the chief end of the child of God, to glorify God. The greatest goal in the believer’s life is not his own enjoyment of his salvation. His highest goal is not learning the truths of Scripture, nor even teaching and preaching the Word. His greatest goal is to live Jesus Christ so that men may know the Father. God is glorified through the transformation in the life of His child that enables Him to use that child to reveal Himself to men, so that as men respond to that which has been revealed of Christ, they might honor and glorify the Father.[1]

     May we, as believers, “ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name” (Ps. 29:2).  And may we honor Him by learning His Word (2 Tim. 2:15), praising and thanking Him (1 Thess. 5:18), and walking in a manner that pleases Him and edifies others (Col. 1:10). 

Soli Deo Gloria ~ Glory to God Alone

Steven R. Cook, M. Div. 

[1] J. Dwight Pentecost, Designed to Be Like Him: Understanding God’s Plan for Fellowship, Conduct, Conflict, and Maturity (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 196.

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A Perfect Life Does Not Guarantee a Positive Response

AriI love my puppy dog.  My Havanese is actually four years old, but she acts like a puppy and I think of her that way.  She has a special place in my heart and I find myself singing to her, giving her special treats, and acting like a kid when I’m around her.  I guess I’m like a lot of dog owners.  As God’s creature, she is magnificent to me.  She glorifies Him in all she does, and I stand amazed to watch her from day to day.  I’m saddened at the thought, but I know a day will come when she will die.  But unlike people, I know that when she dies, her life is over, and there is nothing eternal waiting for her.  There is no doggy heaven, nor doggy hell.  This life is all she gets, so I try to make it good for her and me (I’m sure some will protest my doggy-theology).

     The afterlife of heaven and hell are choices for humans alone.  Jesus referred to heaven as a real place and mentioned it to His disciples when He told them, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).  However, Jesus also spoke of hell and referred to it as “eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41), and warned others of its torment (Matt. 5:22; 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Luke 16:22-31). 

The word translated hell is “Gehenna” (γέεννα, geenna), a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew words ge hinnom (“Valley of Hinnom”). This was the valley along the south side of Jerusalem. In OT times it was used for human sacrifices to the pagan god Molech (cf. Jer 7:31; 19:5–6; 32:35), and it came to be used as a place where human excrement and rubbish were disposed of and burned. In the intertestamental period, it came to be used symbolically as the place of divine punishment (cf. 1 En. 27:2, 90:26; 4 Ezra 7:36).[1]

     Because people are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), they have the intellectual capacity to think about Jesus and the gospel message.  People choose heaven when they trust Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:3-4), and they choose hell when they reject Him (John 3:18).  Sadly, the record of Scripture is that most people will spend eternity in the lake of fire because they love this world and their own sin more than they love Christ and the offer of eternal life.  Jesus said:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matt. 7:13-14)[2]

     According to Jesus, the majority of humanity will not be saved, for “many” enter the wide gate to the broad path that leads to destruction, but “few” enter through the narrow gate to the narrow path of life.  Jesus is the “narrow gate” and the “narrow way”.  In another place Jesus said, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved” (John 10:9), and later He declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  There is no way to be saved but through Christ, for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Act 4:12).  Salvation is exclusively through Christ, and few will come to Him as Savior. 

     I learned some time ago that a perfect message and perfect life does not guarantee a positive response among the lost.  Jesus’ life on earth was a perfect display of righteousness, truth and love.  The Son of God in flesh lived in perfect righteousness, without sin (Heb. 4:15), and was always pleasing to the Father.  Every word He spoke was truth, and when He spoke, His words were perfectly suited to each person for their specific occasion.  Every action of love was perfect.  When He healed the sick, or fed the masses, or raised the dead, it was all done in love to demonstrate that He is the Savior.  Yet, in the Gospel of John we read, “But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him” (John 12:37).  Why did they not believe in Him?  They did not believe in Christ because they loved the world more than they loved the Son of God.  Earlier John had written, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  Men are always drawn to the thing that their heart values most, and they are repulsed by the thing that threatens what they love.  Those who love the darkness of this world are never drawn to Christ or those who follow Him.  There is no affinity between them.  In fact, they turn from Christ and avoid Him, for He exposes their evil hearts and actions, “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:20).  Jesus’ perfect words and life, no matter how lovingly or consistently presented, were not enough to persuade the majority of those who were negative toward Him.  One might even argue that His words and life had a hardening effect, and produced hostility from those who walked in darkness.

Jesus is the light who came into the world. He was the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. He died for the sins of all the world. But do men love Him for this? No—they resent Him. They prefer their sins to having Jesus as Savior, and so they reject Him. Just as some creeping things scurry away from the light, so wicked men flee from the presence of Christ. Those who love sin hate the light, because the light exposes their sinfulness.[3]

     Nailing to the CrossIf Jesus had stood in front of His negative countrymen for a thousand years and spoken perfect truth and performed miracles day after day and demonstrated acts of love, in the end, they would still have rejected Him and His message and demanded that He be crucified.  We should not think this negative reaction was particular to Jesus’ day.  No.  This is all of humanity, throughout all of history.  What Jesus experienced was also true in Noah’s day, and in Abraham’s day, and in Moses’ day, and in the days of the Judges, and in the days of the kings of Israel, and in our day.  The majority of humans in every generation reject the Son of God.  From Genesis to Revelation, God’s Word reveals that men are depraved and their natural propensity is turn away from God, not toward Him.  Concerning the fallen nature of man, Moses states, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).  David writes, “The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” The Wicked Heart(Ps. 14:2-3).  Isaiah, declares, “Their feet run to evil, and they hasten to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, devastation and destruction are in their highways” (Isa 59:7).  Jeremiah reveals, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).  And Paul adds, “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8).  The human heart is sinful and its natural propensity is to turn away from God and embrace darkness.  It is only a humble few who accept God’s grace and are saved (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), and once saved, regularly approach His “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16). 

     The teaching of Scripture is that the majority of those in the world will never turn to Christ for salvation.  As Christians, we pursue righteousness, grace and love in all we do.  We strive to grow spiritually and to please the Father and serve others more than ourselves (2 Cor. 5:9; Phil. 2:3-4).  However, if we were to live as righteously as Jesus, and speak perfect truth and show great love, we would get no better results than what our Lord observed when He was on the earth.  It is a myth among many Christians that if we unite our efforts and show love and speak truth that the world will respond positively and turn to Christ and be saved.  The unbelieving world saw Christ in perfection when He was on the earth, and they rejected Him.  They’ll do the same to us if given the opportunity. 

If the world [Grk. κόσμος kosmos] hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.  (John 15:18-19)

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.  (John 16:33)

I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.  (John 17:14-17)

Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.  (1 John 3:13)

     The Apostle John uses the Greek word κόσμος kosmos 105 times in his writings (his Gospel, three Epistles, and Revelation).  He warns us that the world is a hostile place (John 15:18), where unbelievers are friendly toward their own (John 15:19), and where those governed by their sin natures love the darkness because it covers their sin (John 3:19).  Christians are called to “walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light” (1 John 1:7).  By choosing to walk in the Light of God’s truth rather than the darkness of this world, we automatically become enemies of the world because we stand for truth and holiness, and the world does not want either.  John tells us, “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).

John depicts the world in darkness and in opposition to Christ; the world is hostile to Christ and all that He stands for, but this is because the world is blind. The world did not recognize Messiah when He came into the world. John describes two classes of people: those who come to the light and those who hate the light (John 1:12; 3:19–21). Persons of the world hate the light because the light exposes their sin; Jesus said that this was the reason the world hated Him (John 7:7). The world system leads people to sin even as Eve was first tempted in the garden: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16). The basic issue of sin is the refusal to believe that Jesus is the light (John 3:19–20); the Holy Spirit continues to convict men concerning the same sin—refusal to believe in Christ (John 16:8–9). The tragic end result of sin is death (John 8:21, 24).[4]

     As Christians we must always live in the reality of God’s Word.  Some people in this world will respond positively to God’s gospel of grace and turn to Christ for salvation and be saved.  But the reality, according to Scripture, is that the majority of men will reject Christ.  The majority will spurn the gospel of grace and either deny God, or rely on themselves and religions of works to be saved.  How shall we respond?  We should always walk in the light of God’s truth, live righteously, and manifest love and grace.  We should always be kind and courteous to others, and never argumentative to those who may disagree.  Paul states:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26)

     This is a challenge for the growing believer, for the sin nature is often the first responder when faced with a challenge.  We must keep our focus on God and His Word, trusting the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of others to convince them of Christ after we’ve shared the gospel of grace.  Our job is to preach the Word clearly, but only God saves those who positively turn to Christ and believe in Him. 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div. 

[1] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Mt 5:22.

[2] All Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.

[3] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1480.

[4] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 137.

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