Essentials of the Christian Faith

The essentials of the Christian faith consist of core doctrines taught in Scripture.  To depart from one or all of these doctrines is to be outside Christian orthodoxy.  Christians may disagree about non-essential doctrines (i.e. the rapture, millennial reign of Jesus, baptism, church government, etc.), and still be regarded as part of the church, the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23).  I like the statement, in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love.  The central doctrines of the Christian faith are:

  1. The inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.
  2. One God exists as Trinity.
  3. Jesus is fully God and Man.
  4. Jesus willingly died a substitutionary atoning death.
  5. Jesus resurrected bodily, ascended to heaven, and will return for His people.
  6. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

open-bibleThe Bible – Scripture is God’s inerrant and enduring written revelation that tells us who He is and what He’s accomplished in time and space.  The Bible does not reveal all there is to know about God or His plans and actions, but only what He deems important (Deut. 29:29).  Scripture was written by approximately forty human authors spanning nearly sixteen hundred years.  The human authors—without forfeiting their personal literary style—wrote under the direction and superintending care of God the Holy Spirit (Ex. 17:14; 34:27; Isa. 30:8; Jer. 30:2; Luke 1:3; 1 Cor. 14:37; Rev. 1:11), so that what is written is the inerrant and infallible “word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13; cf. Ps. 12:6-7; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20).  Some of the various literary styles include historical narrative, law, poetry, psalms, proverbs, parables, and symbolism.  Nearly one fourth of Scripture was/is prophecy.  The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those whom the Holy Spirit illumines (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:3-4).  Our spiritual sanctification depends on Scripture (John 17:17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  Christians do not worship the Bible, but neither can we worship God without it (John 4:24).

Ancient Diagram of the TrinityThe Trinity – There is one God who exists as three distinct Persons within the Trinity (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2): God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14:18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Corinthians 2:11-12; 2 Corinthians 13:14).  All three are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service.  The three Persons of the God-head are one in essence (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 18).  God is all-knowing (Ps. 139:1-6; Matt. 6:31-33), all-present (Ps. 139:7-12; Heb. 13:5), all-powerful (Job 42:2; Isa. 40:28-29), sovereign (1 Chron. 29:11; Dan. 4:35; Acts 17:24-25), righteous (Ps. 11:7; 119:137), just (Ps. 9:7-8; 19:9; 50:6; 58:11), holy (Ps. 99:9), immutable (Ps. 102:26, 27; Mal. 3:6), truthful (2 Sam. 7:28; John 17:17; 1 John 5:20), loving (Jer. 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16), faithful (Deut. 7:9; Lam. 3:23; 1 John 1:9), merciful (Ps. 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit. 3:5), gracious (Ps. 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet. 5:10), and eternal (Deut. 33:27; 1 Tim. 1:17).

Hypostatic Union DiagramThe Deity/Humanity of Jesus – At a point in time, the eternal Son of God added humanity to Himself, simultaneously being God and man, Creator and creature, theanthropic (John 1:1, 14:18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8).  Jesus is the God-man (John 1:1, 14).  Jesus exists in hypostatic union, as a single Person with a divine and human nature (John 1:1, 14; 1 John 4:2-3), both natures being distinct and preserved, not mixed or confused, fully God and fully man.  The hypostatic union is forever, from conception onward.  Jesus was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary (parthenogenesis – Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:26-38), who is the mother of Jesus’ humanity (christotokos – bearer of Christ).  Jesus was born a son of Abraham, in the line David (Matt. 1:1), without a human father and without sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5).  The baby Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:40, 52), and lived a sinless and righteous life before God and man.  In His humanity, Jesus walked in perfect conformity to God the Father’s holy character and divine revelation. 

The Cross of ChristSubstitutionary Atonement – God the Son became man that He might redeem fallen humanity from sin and death (Mark 10:45).  The Bible reveals, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7; cf. Col. 1:13-14; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).  In Jerusalem, on April 3, A.D. 33, Jesus willingly laid down His life and died a substitutionary atoning death on a cross (John 3:16; 10:11, 17-18).  He died a death He did not deserve, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).  Jesus’ death forever satisfied every righteous demand God had toward our sin (Rom. 3:24-25; Heb. 10:10-14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and is the basis for forgiveness and reconciliation to God (Rom. 5:1-2; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14; 20-22).  Christ died for the sins of everyone (Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), but only those who trust Jesus as their Savior will know eternal life (John 3:16, 20:31).  Salvation is never accomplished by what a person does for God, but rather, what God has accomplished for him through the Person and work of Jesus Christ who died for his sins (John 3:16), and gives him eternal life and righteousness (John 10:28; Phil. 3:9).

Empty TombThe Bodily Resurrection, Ascension, and Return of Jesus – After His death on the cross, Jesus was buried and resurrected bodily on the third day (Matt. 20:18-19; Acts 10:39-41; 1 Cor. 15:3-4, 20), never to die again (Rom. 5:9).   After forty days, Jesus ascended bodily to heaven (Acts 1:3-10), with a promise of a physical return (Acts 1:9-11).  The rapture of the church—which precedes Jesus’ Second Coming—is the next prophetic event to occur in history (1 Thess. 4:13-18; Tit. 2:13).  The rapture of the church is a world-changing event in which the bodies of deceased Christians are resurrected (1 Thess. 4:13-18) and the bodies of living Christians are transformed and removed from the world (1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:17), meeting the Lord in the air and going to heaven to be with God forever (John 14:1-3).  The rapture will be followed by seven years of worldwide tribulation (Dan. 9:24-27; Matt. 24-25; Rev. 6-20), culminating in the triumphal return of Jesus as the King of kings, and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:11-16).  After His second coming, Jesus will judge the nations of the world (Matt. 25:31-46), and establish a future reign in righteousness in Jerusalem, on the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:12, 16; Ps. 89:36-37; Isa. 9:6-7; Luke 1:31-33; Rev. 20:1-6).  After His reign, Jesus will judge all unbelievers (Rev. 20:11-15), and then make a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13; cf. Rev. 21-22).

The Gospel of GraceSalvation by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone – Jesus is the only Savior for mankind, 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).  God’s provision of salvation from eternal death was paid in full by the Lord Jesus Christ who willingly shed His blood and died on a cross, atoning for every human sin.  Because of sin, every person is spiritually dead and powerless to change their situation (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3).  Good works have no saving merit (Isa. 64:6; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).  Salvation is offered to helpless, ungodly, sinners (John 3:16-18; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-2; 8-9), and is received by grace alone (Rom. 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-9), through faith alone (Gal. 2:16; 3:26; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  Salvation is “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8), and is “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 only 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 Work of the Holy Spirit

The Light of God's WordThe dynamic of the believer’s spiritual walk is predicated to a certain degree on how much Bible knowledge resides in his soul. He cannot live what he does not know, and knowing God’s word necessarily precedes living His will. Knowing God’s word does not guarantee a spiritual walk, as the believer may follow the world rather than the Holy Spirit (Jas. 4:17; 1 Jo. 2:15). However, he cannot be spiritual without some knowledge of Scripture, and the more he knows, the more he’s able to surrender his life to God.

       Understanding the work of Holy Spirit in the dispensation of Grace enables the believer to live the spiritual life. The Mosaic Law system is not the rule of life for the church age believer, and sadly, too many Christians seek to live by it. How the Holy Spirit worked in the life of saints under the Mosaic Law is vastly different than how He works in the life of the believer today. For example, under the dispensation of the Mosaic Law the Holy Spirit indwelt and empowered only a few believers such as Artisans (Ex. 31:1-5), Judges (Num. 11:25-29; Jud. 3:9-10), Prophets (Ezek. 2:2), and Kings (1 Sam. 10:6; 16:13); however, in the dispensation of Grace, every believer in the church is indwelt by Him (John 14:16-17; Romans 5:5; 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19). Also, under the dispensation of the Mosaic Law, the Holy Spirit could be taken from a believer as an act of discipline (1 Sam. 16:14-16), but this cannot happen to the believer under the dispensation of Grace, as the Christian is permanently sealed with the Holy Spirit Himself (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30). Under the previous dispensation David could petition the Lord and ask Him not to “take Thy Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11); but no church age believer should pray such a prayer, since the Holy Spirit does not leave when sin is produced. The sinning Christian may “grieve” and/or “quench” the Holy Spirit when sin is accomplished, and this he is commanded not to do (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19); but the disobedient Christian does not live under threat of losing the Holy Spirit if he fails to yield to the will of God. Certainly the Lord can and does discipline the erring child (Heb. 12:6), but not with the removal of the Holy Spirit, as was true under the previous dispensation.

       Jesus communicated these differences regarding the work of the Holy Spirit and prophesied that after His resurrection the Holy Spirit would be given to all believers to indwell them (Jo. 7:37-39; 14:16-17, 26; 16:13; Acts 1:5; 2:1-4). An important note to observe is the fact that Jesus referred to the coming ministry of the Holy Spirit as future from His resurrection (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4). This shows that what the Holy Spirit is doing in the Church age is distinct from what He did in the lives of some of the saints in the previous dispensation.  The Holy Spirit is working in the lives of two groups of people: unbelievers and believers. Regarding unbelievers and the world it is stated that He is:

  1. Convicting unbelievers of “sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8-11).
  2. Restraining sin in the world (2 Thess. 2:7).

       The Christian operating on the authority of Scripture knows the Holy Spirit is working in the heart of the unbeliever to convince him of “sin, righteousness, and judgment.” This convincing work of the Spirit regarding Christ, His work, and future judgment may be suppressed by the unbeliever—like other forms of God’s revelation—but it cannot be stopped. It is not the Christian’s place to convince the unsaved person about Christ’s Person and work, but simply to present the facts of Scripture and trust the Holy Spirit to illumine and persuade. Failure to understand what the Holy Spirit is doing in the lives of unbelievers may lead an ignorant believer to assume the Holy Spirit’s convicting work, and this results in frustration since the Christian is in no way equipped or commanded to tackle this momentous task.

       It is reported in Scripture that the Holy Spirit is now restraining sin in the world until the Church is taken to heaven at the Rapture (2 Thess. 2:7; cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18). The terrible darkness that will consume the world when the restraining work of the Holy Spirit ends is manifest in the lives of those living during the time of the seven year Tribulation (Rev. 6-19; cf. 2 Thess. 2:3-12). It is obvious that there is much sin in the world now, and it staggers the imagination to try to comprehend how bad it will be after the Holy Spirit’s restraining ministry ends.

The Holy Spirit dwells within each ChristianOnce a person believes in Jesus for salvation, he is then delivered “from the domain of darkness, and transferred…to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). This transference is instantaneous and permanent, and is understood as the work of the Holy Spirit at salvation. Once saved, the Holy Spirit permanently indwells the Christian (1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 1:13-14), makes him a “new creature” in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 5:17), and gives him the spiritual capacity to live righteously (Rom. 6:11-14). The Holy Spirit then works to form the character of Christ in him, which is understood as the work of the Holy Spirit after salvation. Some of the works of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer are as follows:

At salvation:

  1. Regeneration (John 3:6; 2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 2:13).
  2. Indwelling each believer (John 14:16-17; Rom. 5:5; 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19).
  3. Baptizing into union with Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27).
  4. Sealing each believer with Himself (Eph. 4:30).
  5. Providing eternal life (John 3:16).
  6. Imputing Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).
  7. Blessing with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3).
  8. Providing a spiritual gift for the edification of the church (1 Cor. 12:4-7).

After salvation:

  1. Glorifying Jesus in the believer’s life (John 16:14).
  2. Teaching directly through the Word and gifted speakers (John 16:13-15; Eph. 4:11-16).
  3. Recalling Scripture to mind (John 14:26; 16:13).
  4. Filling (empowering and guiding) (Eph. 5:18).
  5. Sustaining spiritual walk (Gal. 5:16, 25).
  6. Illuminating the mind and making Scripture understandable (1 Cor. 2:11-13).
  7. Promoting the use of the believer’s spiritual gift (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-10, 28-30; Eph. 4:11).

       The works of the Holy Spirit at salvation are once for all, and occur immediately when faith is placed in Jesus as Savior. In contrast, the works of the Holy Spirit after salvation are regularly repeated in the believer’s life, and require a volitional response to the Spirit’s leading. The Holy Spirit seeks to guide the believer into God’s will, but does not force compliance.  The above lists of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer are not exhaustive, but are representative of the major aspects of His work.

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

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The Purpose of Life

     There comes a time in the lives of most people when they ask themselves “why am I here?” and “what is the purpose of my life?”  These are simple questions.  They are profound questions.  They are questions we can ask over and over, and spend a lifetime pondering.  To answer the questions, we must consider where we came from (origins), who/what we are (identity), and where we are going (eternity).  There are two major answers. 

  1. God does not exist and we are the accidental product of matter, motion, and time. Human worth is not intrinsic, but is arbitrarily assigned by self or others, and is most often predicated on personal likes and dislikes (i.e. personality or performance).  The existentialist believes we create meaning by an act of the will.  The hedonist argues we should avoid pain and resort to pleasure to cope with the emptiness of life.
  2. God exists and is the source of all purpose and meaning. We are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27; Gen. 9:6; Jam. 3:9), with intelligence and volition.  Human worth is intrinsic, being imputed by God, not based on our personality or performance.  God created us for purpose, to have a relationship with Him and to walk Him.  God created us to have responsible dominion over His creation and to enjoy the blessing of His provisions (Gen. 1:26-30).  God, who creates and controls our destiny, provides a future hope for all who trust in Christ as Savior (John 3:16; 14:1-3).

     The Bible provides the best explanation for the origin of the universe, mankind, and our purpose in life.  It does not answer every question, but it does answer the important ones. From Scripture we understand God created the universe and all the creatures in it (Gen. 1-2; Heb. 11:3).  The creation glorifies God by being and doing what He intended (Ps. 19:1-2).  All three members of the Trinity were involved in the creation of Adam and Eve, who were uniquely created in God’s image (Heb. צֶלֶם tselem).  Adam and Eve were created with intelligence, volition, and purpose.  They were created for a relationship; first with God, then with each other, then the animals and world around them.  God created Adam to be a servant-ruler over His creation (Gen. 1:26-28), to cultivate and keep the garden as a work-assignment (Gen. 2:5, 15), to name the animals (Gen. 2:19-20), to enjoy the vegetation as food (Gen. 1:29; 2:16), and to fellowship with Eve who was to help him fulfill God’s will (Gen. 2:18, 21-24).  Adam and Eve were created to function as a unit, to complement each other, walking in the same direction, listening to God’s word, doing God’s work, enjoying God’s provision, and together abstaining from what would injure their relationship with the Lord (Gen. 2:17).  They had a clear sense of purpose under the authority of God.  Sin damaged the relationship between God and mankind (Gen. 3:1-8), as well as the physical world (Gen. 3:9-24; Rom. 8:19-23).  All of Adam and Eve’s descendants inherited a sinful nature and live in a fallen world that is temporarily under Satan’s dominion (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13-14).  Our sinful propensity constantly pushes us to operate independently of God, using His resources for our own sinful purposes (e.g. Tower of Babel, Gen. 11:1-9).  However, human worth continues because the image of God—though marred—is retained (Gen. 9:6; Jam. 3:9).  This is why God requires just punishment for those who unjustly kill others (Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:3-4). 

     Though humanity is corrupted because of sin (Gen. 3:1-24), God still loves us (John 3:16-17), and by faith we can accept our value as human beings made in His image (Gen. 1:26-28; 9:6; Jam. 3:9).  We can also learn to be content in our circumstances by trusting God to direct our lives (Prov. 3:5-6; Rom. 8:28; Phil. 4:11-13).  Our human experience is optimized when we are made spiritually alive (1 Pet. 1:3, 23), and when we walk with God and glorify Him in all things (1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 2:10; 4:1-3).

     What is our eternal future?  Scripture reveals every person will be resurrected physically and will either spend eternity in heaven with God (Dan. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 15:51–53; 1 Thess. 4:14–17; Rev. 20:4-6), or the Lake of Fire away from Him (Rev. 20:11-15).  God loves us and desires to have a relationship with us in time and eternity (John 3:16-17; 10:28; 14:1-3).  However, our sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:2; John 8:24; Rom. 5:12).  But God, who is merciful (Eph. 2:3-5; Tit. 3:5), dealt with our sin once and for all when He sent Jesus as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice to die in our place and pay the penalty for our sins (Isa. 53:1-12; Mark 10:45; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 10:10-14; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18).  At the cross, God satisfied all His righteous demands toward our sin (1 John 2:2; 4:10).  Those who believe in Jesus as their Savior receive forgiveness (Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14), the gifts of eternal life and righteousness (John 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and will spend eternity in heaven with God (John 14:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:1-5; Phil. 3:20-21).  Those who reject Jesus as their Savior have no future hope and will spend eternity away from God in eternal punishment (John 3:18, 36; Rev. 20:14-15).  When we turn to Christ as our Savior, we have a bright eternal destiny assured for us in heaven (1 Pet. 1:3-4). 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

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Christians in America

       Open BibleOver the years I’ve had discussions with Christians in America who have made the mistake of thinking we are a Christian nation.  The two words Christian and nation are never united in Scripture, nor should they be.  America is a great nation in many ways and I love my freedoms, but it is not a Christian nation.  The concept of a Christian nation is nowhere found in Scripture.  It is true that some of America’s founding fathers where Christians who lived within a biblical worldview, but some were Unitarians (who deny the Trinity), and others were Deists (who deny God’s sovereign involvement in creation).  Often those who argue that America is a Christian Nation selectively cite the founding fathers, but rarely, if ever, cite Scripture.  The Bible alone must guide our faith and conduct.  The Church is a biblical concept, but a Christian Nation is not.  A Christian is one who has trusted in the Lord Jesus as his Savior and received forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7), the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28), and the imputation of God’s righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21).  A local church consists of Christians who gather on a regular basis for Bible study, fellowship, partaking of the Lord’s Supper and prayer (Acts 2:42).  America is not a giant church made up of Christians.  

…the locus of God’s people under the new covenant is not a nation, and every attempt to establish a unified “Christian nation,” where the respective boundaries of church and state are made to coalesce, has not only been misconceived but has resulted in disastrous failure.[1]

       Scripture never directs the Christian to establish Christian laws for any nation.  Scripture calls us to proclaim the message of Christianity and to win men with words, never social or political force.  We have failed as Christians as soon as we seek to politicize our message and control others through legislative means.  If Christians want to have a lasting impact on a nation, it must be done at the grassroots level through evangelization, not legislation.  It must done through sharing the gospel and teaching Christian virtues that are applied to all of life, not by a forced morality imposed through the halls of congress. 

       Historically, Christians in America have been a positive influence in society by promoting law and being charitable to the needy (Gal. 2:10; Jam. 1:27).  They’ve built schools, hospitals, orphanages and other helpful organizations that lift man up.  They’ve fed the hungry, cared for the sick, housed the homeless, provided for widows and orphans, and visited prisoners with the gospel.  Christians have also promoted art, literature, music and science.  Certainly there have been abuses in the name of Christianity; however, the historical record speaks favorably about Christian service.  For the most part, believers have obeyed Scripture and become law abiding citizens rather than rebels.  Scripture teaches Christians to think of government as a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:4), to obey leaders (Rom. 13:1, 5; Tit. 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13-15), pay taxes (Rom. 13:6), regard rulers as “servants of God” who do His will (Rom. 13:6), and to pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-2).  We realize there is a legitimate sense in which the leaders of this world accomplish God’s purposes by keeping harmony and promoting justice (Rom. 13:2-4; 6-7).  We do not blindly submit to their authority and should say no to governmental leaders when they command us to go against the commands of God (see Dan. 3:1-18; 6:1-13; Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29).  The Christian obeys or defies human authority only as the Bible directs.  Ultimately, those who obey God’s Word prove to be a blessing that promotes righteousness within a nation.  Christians who are learning God’s Word and growing spiritually will prove to be the moral fabric of any community, and this will make a nation strong.  Mature Christians will reflect the highest and best virtues within a country, not the lowest and worst.  

Praying Hands       As Christians, we must get it into our thinking that our battle is spiritual (Eph. 6:12), not social or political.  That’s not to say that we do not speak truth to leaders when given the opportunity; certainly we do (Dan. 3:16-18; Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29; 26:1-29)!  At times God will give us the ear of a human ruler, and we must take that opportunity to speak God’s truth and pray He moves the heart of the hearer.  However, “The church cannot defeat spiritual wickedness by overthrowing corrupt governments or legislating better laws and ordinances. The conflict is far greater than such efforts and calls for divine power for the victory.”[2]  As Christian’s living in America we should pray for our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-2), strive to be upstanding citizens (Rom. 13:1-7; Tit. 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13-14), help the needy in our communities (Acts 20:35; 1 Thess. 5:14), and above all, share the gospel and preach God’s Word (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Tim. 4:1-2).

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

[1] D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 89.

[2]Allen P. Ross, Creation and blessing: A guide to the study and exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 301

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God Loves Israel

     God loves Israel, declaring, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer. 31:3). God is eternal, and His love is eternal. To possess the love of God is to love that which he loves. One cannot claim to have God’s love, and simultaneously hate Israel, His chosen people. There is no place for anti-Semitism in the heart of any Christian.

     Israel FlagTo love Israel is not a blanket endorsement of all their beliefs and behaviors. God, who loves Israel and chose them to be His people (Deut. 7:6-8), also called them to be holy (Ex. 19:5-6; Lev. 11:45), and promised blessing or cursing, based on their obedience to Him (Deut. 28:1-68). Israel can and does fail, often rejecting God’s love for them and walking in the ways of the world (see 2 Chron. 36:15-16; Jer. 7:25-26; 25:4-7; Ezek. 16; Matt. 23:1-39; Acts 7:51-53; 1 Thess. 2:14-16). The national rejection and crucifixion of Jesus (Matt. 27:22-23; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28), Israel’s promised Messiah (Deut. 18:15; Isa. 7:14; 9:6-7;53; 61:1; Matt. 1:1, 17; Luke 1:31-33), is their greatest failure. Did Israel act alone in crucifying Jesus, their Messiah? No! God foretold Israel’s Messiah would suffer and die (Ps. 22:11-18; Isa. 53); and, according to His sovereignty, He used wicked men, both Jews and Gentiles, to accomplish His will (Acts 22:22-23; 4:27-28).

If it be inquired, as constantly it is, who put Christ to death? It may be pointed out that He was offered by the Father (Ps. 22:15; John 3:16; Rom. 3:25), of His own free will (John 10:17; Heb. 7:27; 9:14; 10:12), by the Spirit (Heb. 9:14), and by men—Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and Israel (Acts 2:23; 4:27). To this may be added that part of His death was contributed by Satan (cf. Gen. 3:15).[1]

     God, who loves Israel with an everlasting love, continues to keep His word to them. Israel has a future hope because of the promises and covenants God made through the patriarchs and prophets (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:18; 17:8; Deut. 30:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:33-37; Jer. 31:31-33). Though unbelieving Israel is currently under divine discipline (Matt. 23:37-39), God’s covenants and promises are still in effect (Rom. 9:1-5), and will remain in force until Jesus returns and is accepted as their Messiah.

     It is wrong to think the church has replaced Israel, for “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (Rom. 11:2), even though there is a “partial hardening” among them until Messiah returns (Rom. 11:25-27). Until then, unbelieving Israel is under spiritual darkness and divine judgment. The apostle Paul—a biological Jew himself—revealed that God’s promises and covenants are still valid for national Israel, and wished all would come to faith in Christ.

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart [for unbelieving Israel]. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh [to whom Paul is related biologically], who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh [i.e. Messiah], who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Rom. 9:1-5)

     Today, Jews and Gentiles alike, become partakers of the church, the body of Christ, when they believe in Jesus as their Savior (Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 1:22-23; cf. 1 Cor. 10:32). The church is looking forward to the return of Christ, in which He will catch away (ἁρπάζω harpazo – to seize, catch up, snatch away) Christians to heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-17). Until God resumes His prophetic plans for Israel, the Christian is called to love them, pray for them, and share the gospel of grace that they may turn to Jesus as the Christ and be saved (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18-24; 15:3-4).

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

[1] Lewis S. Chafer, “Christology” in Systematic Theology, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1993), 80.

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The Meaning of Christmas

Nativity Figures     Christmas is a man-made holiday (or holy day) which has both religious and commercial meaning. The season often comes with good food, cheery colors, happy tunes, and pleasant greetings of “Merry Christmas.” Most people I know seem joyful during the holiday season, in spite of the commercialism or occasional protester (who ridicules anything related to Christianity).

     Christmas—for the Christian—is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Savior, into a needy world (Luke 1:26-38). For me, the birth of Jesus evokes wonderful emotions. This is because I see His birth as the beginning of something larger, which included His whole life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. If we look only at the birth of Christ, we miss the larger theological message of the Gospels. We should keep in mind that only two chapters mention the birth of Christ, whereas thirty eight chapters mention His death.

Baby in MangerChristmas is about the gift of God to a fallen world. Nearly 2000 years ago, God the Son added true humanity to Himself (hypostatic union; John 1:1, 14), was supernaturally conceived in the virgin Mary (parthenogenesis; see Luke 1:26-38), the mother of His humanity (christotokos – bearer of Christ), and was born a son of Abraham, in the line David (Matt. 1:1). Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:40, 52), and lived a sinless and righteous life before God and man (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 3:5).

cross     Christmas is about love and sacrifice. On April 3, A.D. 33, Jesus willingly laid down His life and died a substitutionary atoning death on a cross (Mark 10:45; John 3:16; 10:11, 17-18). He died a death He did not deserve, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus’ death forever satisfied every righteous demand God had toward our sin (Rom. 3:24-25; Heb. 10:10-14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and is the basis for forgiveness and reconciliation to God (Rom. 5:1-2; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14; 20-22). To those who believe the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4), God freely offers the gift of eternal life and the imputation of His righteousness (John 3:16; 10:28; Rom. 5:17; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:18).

     Christmas is about a future hope. After His crucifixion, Jesus was buried and resurrected bodily on the third day (Matt. 20:18-19; Acts 10:39-41; 1 Cor. 15:3-4), never to die again (Rom. 5:9), ascending to heaven (Acts 1:9-10), with a promise of a physical return for His own (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Tit. 2:13). Following His return, the King of kings and Lord of lords will reign in righteousness (Rev. 19:11-16; 20:1-6), and afterward, will create a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13; cf. Rev. 21:1).

     Christmas is about all that is marvelous in Christ, from birth onward, who provides blessing and hope to those who cast themselves upon Him. May we all find joy in the Savior, who loved us and gave Himself for us. Amen

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

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A Christian View of Death

       Once, when I was working in jail ministry, I met a Christian man who told me about his older brother’s death.  The incident, he said, had occurred several years earlier.  He and his brother were drinking and arguing one afternoon when a fist fight erupted and the older brother fell backwards onto a metal pipe that pierced his heart.  The man did all he could to save his brother, but the wound was fatal.  His brother, whom he loved, was suddenly gone, and for years he carried the image of his brother’s lifeless body, held in his blood-soaked hands.  Tears rolled down his face as he recalled the event.  Over time he was able to resolve some of his grief, but while talking with me, he expressed a lingering concern about his brother’s eternal destiny.  He was not sure if his brother would spend eternity in heaven or hell.  The Light of ChristThough his brother claimed to be a Christian, and family and friends spoke well of him at the funeral, the reality was that his brother’s life never reflected the virtues of Christ.  Though I could not offer any assurance about his brother’s eternal destiny, I encouraged him to live his life in such a way that when he died, he would not leave his loved ones with any question about the place of Christ in his own life. 

       Often we do not know how or when we will die, and if the Lord tarries in His return, we will all face death, in some form or another.  Death is an uncomfortable subject, but for those who trust in the Lord, it need not be.  God knows how frail we are, “He is mindful that we are but dust” (Ps. 103:14).  David courageously asked the Lord, “Make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days short in length, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Ps. 39:4-5).  Job too perceived the brevity of his life and declared, “I will not live forever…for my days are but a breath” (Job 7:16), and James wrote, “you are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jam. 4:14b).  Leaving this world is inevitable; where we spend eternity is optional.  God loves us and sent His Son into the world that He would provide eternal life for us. 

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:16-17)

       Death was introduced into God’s creation when the first human, Adam, sinned against God.  Adam’s sin immediately brought spiritual death (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-8), and later, physical death (Gen. 5:5).  Though Adam was made spiritually alive again (Gen. 3:21), his single sin introduced death, in every form, into the world (Rom. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).  The universe itself groans, being effected by sin, waiting for its redemption (Rom. 8:20-22; cf. 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1).  Death means separation.  Three major kinds of death are mentioned in Scripture:

  1. Spiritual death, which is separation from God in time. Spiritually dead people continue to live until they die physically (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-8; 5:5; Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13).
  2. Physical death, which is the separation of the soul from the body (Eccl. 12:7; 2 Cor. 5:8). According to Scripture, “death is not the end of human existence, but a change of place or conditions in which conscious existence continues.”[1] 
  3. Eternal death (biblically called the “second death”), which is the perpetuation of physical and spiritual death into eternity (Rev. 20:11-15).

       All persons born into this world are physically alive, but spiritually dead, separated from God, because of Adam’s sin.  The Bible reveals, “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned [when Adam sinned]” (Rom. 5:12), and “in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).  Children and those who suffer from an intelligence deficit disorder are the exception, as they are not held responsible for Adam’s sin, and are assured heaven as their home (see Heaven Belongs to Little Children).  Though we are all dead in Adam, God offers new life when we turn to Christ as Savior, reconciling us to Himself through the death of His Son (Rom. 5:1-2).  Adam’s sin brought death, and Christ’s death brings life.  In Adam I am guilty, in Christ I am righteous. 

       I am the resurrection and the life - squareFor the Christian, death is not the final victor in eternity.  God created the soul to be forever united with the body.  Therefore, God will resurrect each body that has died and will reunite it with each human soul.  Every person, whether saved or unsaved, will receive a resurrection body that will live forever.  “For the saved it involves eternal life or endless union and fellowship with God. For the unsaved it involves eternal existence in separation from God.”[2]  Only those who are born again—by the Spirit of God—have eternal life and will spend forever in heaven (1 Pet. 1:3, 23).  Eternal life is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).  We receive eternal life by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, believing the gospel that He “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).  Eternal life “involves the endless continuance and perfection of blessedness and communion with God entered upon by the saved on the earth (cf. John 3:15–16; 6:40; 17:3; Rom. 2:7).”[3]  When the believer dies, he immediately goes into the presence of God.  “Jesus promised the repentant thief on the cross that He would see paradise the very day of his death (Luke 23:43). Paul teaches that, for believers, being absent from the body means being present with Christ (2 Cor. 5:8).”[4]

       Scripture reveals God is sovereign over all His creation, either causing or permitting whatsoever comes to pass (see God’s Providence).  From eternity past, God knows all things, and because He is sovereign, there are no accidental people or events in history.  God creates life (Gen. 2:7; Job 1:21; Ps. 100:3; Acts 17:24-25; Rev. 11:11) and controls death (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-8; 6:17; 1 Sam. 2:6; 2 Kings 5:7; Luke 12:20; Rev. 1:18).  The Lord declares, “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal” (Deut. 32:39).  God holds final control over our life, from beginning to end, and preordains our days on the earth.  David writes, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Ps. 139:16).  God’s sovereign control over life and death includes our responsible choices as volitional creatures.  He desires that we think and act in conformity with His revealed will, but in many cases He permits us to act, either good or bad, and to reap the consequences of our choices.  At physical death, all of life’s decisions are fixed for eternity, and what we do with Christ determines our eternal destiny (John 3:16-18; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 2:8-9).  It has been said that procrastination is the thief of time, and when one procrastinates about the gospel, it becomes the thief of souls.  I encourage you not to delay concerning the gospel message, and to trust Christ as Savior today. 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

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

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

[3] Ibid.

[4] Russell D. Moore, “Death”, in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 406.

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