Helping the Poor

     HelpingIt’s a fact of life that the poor always exist (Matt. 26:11). There are differing degrees of poverty, and some of the poorest in our society are homeless.[1] There are various reasons why a person becomes poor. Some are poor because of their own bad choices (Prov. 24:30-34; cf. 13:18; 23:21), while some are poor because of the bad choices of others (Mic. 2:1-2; cf. Jer. 22:13; Jam. 5:4).[2] Some look for a hand up, while others want a hand out. Our ability to help is sometimes hindered by our lack of resources, and other times by the recipient’s unwillingness to receive what we offer. It’s possible that giving money to the poor may harm them if it facilitates a destructive drug addiction or fosters laziness. Certainly, we don’t want to do that. Scripture promotes a strong work ethic, saying, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). This assumes that a person is able to work and that work is available, but that he/she chooses to be lazy, which is wrong. If we know the person and the situation, then certainly giving money might encourage laziness. Helping the poor in society is always a good thing, but compassion must be coupled with wisdom.

     Scripture reveals God has compassion on the poor (Ps. 72:13), helps the poor (1 Sam. 2:8; Psalm 12:5), is a refuge (Ps. 14:6), saves those who cry out to Him (Psalm 34:6), rescues the afflicted (Psalm 35:10), provides for them (Psalm 68:10), lifts them up (Ps. 113:7, and seeks justice for them (Ps. 140:12). God also works through the agency of others to care for the poor.

     Helping the poor is a demonstration of grace.[3] Being gracious to the poor means listening to their cry for help (Prov. 21:13), giving to meet their need (19:17), and defending their social rights (31:9). Such actions honor the Lord (Prov. 14:31), who “will repay him [the giver] for his good deed” (Prov. 19:17; cf. 28:27). Below are a few Scriptures that address helping the poor:

If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother. (Deut. 15:7)

How blessed is he who considers the helpless; the LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble.  (Ps. 41:1)

There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered. (Prov. 11:24-25)

He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor. (Pro 14:21)

He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him. (prov. 14:31)

One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed. (Prov. 19:17)

He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor. (Prov. 22:9)

He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses. (Prov. 28:27)

In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

     Simple ways to help the poor include: 1) spending personal time with them and treating them with respect, 2) sharing the gospel of Christ, 3) giving kind words and praying for them, 4) sharing Bible promises, 5) personally delivering freshly prepared meals or snacks, 6) giving clothes and blankets, 7) sharing information about local charities that might help them, 8) giving money, 9) volunteering at a homeless shelter, 10) offering gift cards that can be used at local restaurants such as McDonalds or Taco Bell, 11) giving to a local church that helps the poor, 12) and giving to a local charity such as Meals on Wheels or the Salvation Army. May our hearts be open to helping the poor. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] I was homeless once during the summer of 1989, living on the streets of Las Vegas for several weeks. Previously I’d stayed at a Salvation Army shelter on two separate occasions. My time of homelessness was predicated on a severe drug addiction that nearly killed me. Some of what I write about in this article is based on personal experience, some from observation, and some from a biblical perspective. Thankfully, God rescued me from the many poor choices that ruined me. 

[2] Certainly there are those who suffer a mental illness that prevents them from being lifted out of poverty.

[3] Those who have tasted of God’s grace are more likely to show grace. Sadly, there are some who show no grace to others.

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Why Believers Show No Grace

“Let your speech always be with grace” (Col. 4:6)

     God of GraceThe Bible reveals God is gracious, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6), and, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Ps. 86:15). God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov. 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom. 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the love, mercy, or kindness that one person freely confers upon another who deserves the opposite (Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 11:6; Eph. 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5-7). The kindness shown is rooted in the goodness and open-handedness of the giver.[1]

     God is gracious to us and treats us better than we deserve. More so, He calls us to be like Him and to show grace to others. This means loving our enemies and being kind to those who hurt us. Jesus said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:44-45), and “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28; cf. Rom. 12:13-21). This is done by faith, not feelings. It is accomplished when we look to God and obey Him, drawing on His love and grace. John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8), and, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

Why Do Some Refuse Grace to Others?

     Some ChristiansOne would think that grace would flow from grace. That is, the one who is shown grace by God would show grace and mercy to others. Paradoxically, this is not always the case. I am amazed at Christians who welcome God’s grace, but show no grace to others. Many are mean-spirited, condescending, harsh, unforgiving, and speak with a critical spirit. This is contrary to the character of God and the teaching of Scripture. When it comes to our sin and unworthiness, the truth of Scripture is, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). God has not treated us as we deserve. In fact, He treats us much better than we deserve; but again, that’s grace. The Lord is a God who loves, forgives, and shows great compassion toward the undeserving and has done so toward us. Yet some believers refuse to give grace to others, who are themselves undeserving. Jonah, for example, was a prophet of God who became angry when the Lord showed grace to Israel’s enemy, the Ninevites, and withheld judgment when they repented of their sin (Jonah 3:1-10). Jonah became angry at God’s display of grace, saying, “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2). The contradiction is that Jonah personally enjoyed God’s grace, but then selfishly wanted God to withhold it from others. I also think of the story Jesus told about a servant who owed a great debt, and when the man could not pay, he pleaded with his master, who felt compassion and graciously forgave his debt (Matt. 18:23-27). However, the man who had received forgiveness from his superior, later refused to forgive another man who owed him a very small amount (Matt. 18:28-30). The man who was shown grace refused to show grace to others, and the Lord called him “wicked” (Matt. 18:32).

     I’ve often pondered why some (including me), who rejoice in God’s grace, refuse to show grace to others? I think there are several reasons.

  1. Ignorance of God and His Word. Some believers fail to understand grace as a characteristic of God (Ex. 34:6; Ps. 86:15; Prov. 3:34; John 1:14; Eph. 1:6; Heb. 4:16; 10:29; 1 Pet. 5:10), and that He directs His people to be gracious and loving to others (Matt. 5:44-45; Luke 6:27-28; Col. 4:6). Grace is not automatic in the Christian life. It must be learned and actively applied. As the believer learns about God’s grace, he can then actively share it with others.
  2. A legalistic mindset. Legalism is the belief that one can earn God’s favor through religious practices and good works. This mindset prevents people from experiencing God’s grace because they don’t think they need it. Why would they? Their religious life and good works leads them to think they’ve earned God’s favor. But this has consequences in relationships with other people. If we earn God’s favor, then naturally we’ll only show favor to those we feel have earned it too.
  3. A judgmental spirit. It seems as though some people come out of the womb with a judge’s gavel in their hand. These stand in the place of God rendering judgment on others according to their own arbitrary standards and expectations. Often this judgmental spirit takes the form of gossip and maligning; badmouthing others we don’t like. Such a critical spirit lacks the capacity to show grace because everyone is guilty, and some more than others. In some ways, running others down is a subtle form of self-praise.
  4. Arrogance. Arrogant people don’t show grace. In fact, they lack the capacity because they’re so self-absorbed, consumed with thinking about themselves and their own life, they have no room in their thinking and speech to show grace to others. I’ve heard it said that “arrogant people never see their own faults, only the faults of others,” and I think there’s merit to the statement.
  5. Refusing to forgive. An unforgiving spirit makes it difficult to show grace. Forgiveness means we release someone from an offense or debt they owe us (or a debt we think they owe us). Forgiveness releases them from paying the penalty for their crime (real or imagined). Forgiveness does not mean continuing to tolerate abuse (physical, mental, sexual, etc.), but it means we continue to seek God’s best in their life by prayer and biblical discussion. By refusing to forgive, we end up harboring hatred, and there’s no room for grace in a hate-filled heart.

     How do we overcome these obstacles to grace? First, it starts with knowing what the Bible teaches about the gracious character of God. We cannot live what we do not know, and knowledge of God’s character and Word necessarily precedes living His will. We show grace only as we learn and experience it ourselves. Second, we must learn to see everyone from the biblical perspective, as undeserving of God’s grace and love. Then, with eyes open, we choose to love the unlovely and show them grace. We treat them better than they deserve. We seek God’s best in their lives. Third, learn to discipline the mind and will daily to think and act in grace. As we encounter unpleasant people, or those who have hurt us (i.e. family, friends, co-workers, etc.), we can consciously extend grace to them by showing love, kindness and mercy. Fourth, be ready to be hurt. Showing grace can be very difficult because it places us in a vulnerable spot where we may be hurt, sometimes on an ongoing basis. By faith we’re okay with absorbing the pain others inflict, much like our Lord (1 Pet. 2:21-24). We know God is with us, to shield and sustain us as we do His will (Ps. 18:30; 55:22; Isa. 41:10; Phil. 4:6-7; Heb. 4:16). Since we’ve tasted of the grace of God, let us also be gracious to others.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Jesus is an example of grace, in that He cared for others, healing and feeding many (Matt. 4:24; 14:15-21), even to those who refused to show gratitude (Luke 17:12-19). He acted out of His own goodness, for the benefit of others, with a full knowledge the majority would reject Him and abuse His kindness (John 3:19; 12:37).

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The Noetic Effects of Sin

     The NoeticThe noetic effects of sin refers to the affect sin has on the mind of every person. Sin impacts our ability to think rationally, especially about God, Who has made Himself known through general revelation (Ps. 19:1-2; Rom. 1:18-20) and special revelation (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 5:18; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).[1] God’s revelation disrupts the mind of man, confronting wrong thoughts and inviting conformity to the mind of God. Though God’s revelation is clear, rebellious people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18), and their foolish heart is “darkened” (Rom. 1:21). When confronted with God’s revelation, the person who is negative to God either denies His existence (Ps. 14:1), or reduces Him to the status of a creature (Rom. 1:22-25).

     The biblical record of mankind is dark. It reveals that the majority of people throughout history think evil thoughts and are consumed with themselves and their own agendas rather than God’s will. Moses wrote of Noah’s contemporaries, saying, “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). Later, Solomon declared, “the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives” (Eccl. 9:3). And Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). One would think that when Jesus came into the world that mankind would rejoice in His light. However, the Scripture provides a different picture, telling us, “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; cf. 1:4-5). And Jesus Himself spoke of the human condition, saying, “for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matt. 15:19).

     Sin permeates every aspect of our being, corrupting the mind and will, so that the natural tendency of our heart is to think according to the ways of the world. A hostile heart may search the Scriptures to know God’s Word and yet be completely closed to accepting its message. This was the case with the religious Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day (John 5:39-40). When talking to religious Pharisees, Jesus declared, “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word” (John 8:43). This is true of all unbelievers, for “the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). Even something as simple as the Gospel message is “foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18), in whose case “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

God Has a Solution

     Sin infects us all. We can’t control it and within ourselves we don’t have the cure. Without God, we are helpless. But God has a solution for a mind damaged by sin. First, one must be born again as a Christian and given a new heart (1 Pet. 1:3, 23) before the mind can be renewed to think as God intends (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23). The new heart means we have the ability to accept what God says and the power to obey (Rom. 6:8-14). Second, is having a heart that fears the Lord. Solomon writes, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). There is both a healthy and unhealthy fear. To fear the Lord means we reverence and obey Him, turning away from evil (Prov. 8:13; 16:6), and fear His loving discipline when we sin (Heb. 12:5-11). Third, there must be a desire to do God’s will. Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17). God’s revelation is understandable to the willing heart. Fourth, there must be a humble submission to the Lord (Jam. 4:7). Submission means we surrender our lives to God “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1). This is a commitment to the Lord that lasts for a lifetime. At times, the Christian may fail; but relapse does not have to mean collapse, as the Christian can confess his sin and be restored to fellowship with God (1 John 1:9) and resume a life of obedience (Rom. 6:16-18; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Pet. 1:22-23). Fifth, the Christian must embark on a lifetime of learning God’s Word. This is a daily choice to study Scripture (2 Tim. 2:16) and to apply God’s Word in order to advance spiritually (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2). Sixth, one must endure trials throughout life, seeing them as opportunities to apply God’s Word by faith to each and every situation (Heb. 11:6; Jam. 1:2-4).

     Lastly, there is a warning to Christians, for we are all born on a spiritual battlefield and throughout our lives we will face opposition to the work of God.  The enemy will use pleasure and pain, success and failure, friends and enemies, to pull us away from God in order to stifle our walk.  We will experience opposition from out sin nature (Gal. 5:17, 19-21a; Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), the devil (2 Cor. 11:3; Jam. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8), and the world-system that is all around (Col. 2:8; Jam. 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16). These three can work together or by themselves to stunt our spiritual walk and we must always be on guard against attack. Our spiritual success depends on a surrendered life to God, as we bring our thoughts and actions into conformity to the Word and character of God.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. Original Sin  
  2. When God’s People Sin  
  3. When a Believer Perpetually Sins  
  4. When Believers Hide  
  5. The Doctrine of Simultaneity  
  6. The Sin that Leads to Death  
  7. The Sin of Idolatry  
  8. The Worthless Person  
  9. The Sin Nature Within the Christian
  10. Our Enemy the Devil 
  11. Satan’s World System  
  12. The Gospel  
  13. Steps to Spiritual Growth  
  14. Learning to Live by Faith  

[1] At times God spoke directly to people (Ex. 19:9; 1 Sam. 3:1-14; Isa. 6:9-10), and at other times He revealed Himself through dreams (Gen. 28:12; 31:11; Dan. 7:1; 12:8-9), visions (Isa. 6:1; 1 Ki. 22:19), and angels (Dan. 10:10-21; Acts 27:23-24). Most specifically and clearly, He revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14, 18; 14:7; Heb. 1:1-3), and in the written Word (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 5:18; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 3:14-16).  Jesus Christ is now in heaven and therefore not subject to observation such as when He was on the earth. Though God continues to reveal Himself through nature and acts of providence, it is Scripture alone that informs and guides the Christian concerning faith and conduct.

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Original Sin

     Original SinSin is anything that is contrary to the holy character of God. The Bible teaches that everyone is a sinner (1 Ki. 8:46; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; Isa. 53:6; 64:6; Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:20-23; Rom. 3:9-23; 7:18-21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 2:1-3; 1 John 1:8-10). Sin separates us from God and renders us helpless to save ourselves (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). When the subject of sin is studied, it results in a basic threefold classification that we are sinners in Adam (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), by nature (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and by choice (Jas. 1:14-15). The focus of this article is the original sin of Adam and its impact upon humanity. 

     Original sin refers to Adam’s sin in the garden in which he disobeyed God (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-24). Adam is the head of the human race. When Adam sinned, we all sinned with him. His fallen position is our fallen position. His guilt is our guilt. The pure image of God (imago Dei) that belonged to the first couple was marred when they sinned and all Adam’s children are born with a distorted image and a proclivity toward rebellion against God (Ps. 51:5; 58:3; Eph. 2:1-3). Adam’s sin is imputed to all his offspring (Rom. 5:12-21; cf. 3:9-23), excluding Jesus, who was neither born with sin, nor committed sin. Scripture reveals Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb. 4:15), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). His sinless life qualified Him to die a substitutionary death in our place, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).

     Related to the subject of original sin is the biblical concept of total depravity, which means that sin permeates every aspect of our being. Our mind, will, sensibilities and flesh are all submerged in sin. We often think of total depravity as meaning that people are as bad as they can be; however, this is wrong. The truth is there are many moral unbelievers in the world who rely on their good works to gain them entrance into heaven. The fact of Scripture is that God declares everyone under sin, and this includes the most moral persons who have ever lived. Is there any person who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?” (Pro 20:9). The answer is an emphatic NO! The human heart is corrupt, for “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20), and “There is none righteous; not even one. There is none who understands; there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become useless. There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12; cf. 8:8). Some might argue, “What about unbelievers who live moral lives and do good? Certainly they exist. Doesn’t their morality provide something worthy in the eyes of God?” The biblical answer is NO! Even the most moral unbelievers are unacceptable to God. Scripture states:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isa. 64:6)

Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)

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. (Titus 3:5)

     By human estimation, even the worst person can do some good. But human estimation is lower than God’s estimation and it is God’s standards that define what is truly good. “Total depravity must always be measured against God’s holiness. Relative goodness exists in people. They can do good works, which are appreciated by others. But nothing that anyone can do will gain salvational merit or favor in the sight of a holy God.”[1]

The phrase total depravity is commonly used to make explicit the implications of original sin. It signifies a corruption of our moral and spiritual nature that is total not in degree (for no one is as bad as he or she might be) but in extent. It declares that no part of us is untouched by sin, and therefore no action of ours is as good as it should be, and consequently nothing in us or about us ever appears meritorious in God’s eyes. We cannot earn God’s favor, no matter what we do; unless grace saves us, we are lost.[2]

     Only the work of Christ on the cross satisfies God’s righteous demands toward our sin (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2), and only by faith in Jesus can we accept God’s gift of salvation (John 3:16; 14:6; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31). To be saved, we must turn from all other considerations of merit, and trust in Christ alone as Savior. At the moment of faith in Jesus, God gives us the gift of His righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8-9), which is imputed to us, ungodly sinners (Rom. 4:5), solely because of His goodness and not because of any worth in us (Eph. 2:3-9). The gift of God’s righteousness means that we are declared as perfect as He is perfect. Won’t you accept God’s free gift of righteousness by turning to Jesus as Savior and trusting that what He accomplished on the cross is sufficient to save? It’s simple; “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 253.

[2] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).

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The Worthless Person

     BelialIn several places in the Bible there are references to worthless persons (Deut. 13:13; Judg. 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam. 25:17; 1 Ki. 21:9-13; Prov. 6:12-14; 16:27; 19:28; Nah. 1:11). The term worthless translates the Hebrew בְּלִיָּעַל belial, which occurs 27 times in Scripture. The word means “Uselessness, wickedness…good for nothing.”[1] These are people whom God designates as worthless because they continually resist His will and disrupt the activities of His people. Over time, the term Belial became a name for Satan (2 Cor. 6:15), who embodies wickedness, worthlessness and trouble, always resisting God and seeking to harm those who walk with Him (1 Pet. 5:8).

     Solomon writes, “A worthless [בְּלִיָּעַל belial] person, a wicked man, is the one who walks with a perverse mouth, who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, who points with his fingers; who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, who spreads strife” (Prov. 6:12-14).  The worthless person employs all forms of communication using his “mouth,” “eyes,” “feet,” and “fingers” to advance his evil agenda. His companions understand his various forms of language and consent to do his bidding.  Solomon describes him as one “who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil.” That is, he revels in the natural inclinations of his own depravity (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-22), and in his activities “spreads strife” among men.

     Elsewhere, Scripture describes the worthless person as one who “digs up evil” (Prov. 16:27), “makes a mockery of justice” (Prov. 19:28), and “plots evil against the LORD” (Nah. 1:11). He leads others away from the God (Deut. 13:13), is given to lewd behavior (Judg. 19:22), hides from justice (Judg. 20:13), is unreasonable (1 Sam. 25:17), defies authority (2 Sam. 20:1), is willing to lie against the innocent and promote injustice (1 Ki. 21:9-13), and seeks to overpower the timid leader (2 Chron. 13:7). It should be noted that worthless persons can be born into good families, for “the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the LORD” (1 Sam. 2:12).  And, they can attach themselves to a godly leader and cause trouble, such as “the wicked and worthless men among those who went with David (1 Sam. 30:22).     

     It is a mistake to see the worthless person within the narrow context of criminals or public mischief-makers, although it certainly includes them. Rather, we must see them as permeating all aspects of society. Broadly speaking, worthless persons are males and females, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, educators and students, politicians and citizens, bosses and employees, religious and irreligious, wealthy and poor, and they live to provoke rebellion and discord wherever they are.

     Is there hope for the worthless person to turn from his wickedness and live honorably? Yes, of course there is. But this requires humility and a willingness to turn to God for salvation (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:8-9). Once saved, God generates a new heart that desires to walk with Him, and the once worthless person can be a worthy person who walks in a manner “worthy of the calling” of the Lord (Eph. 4:1; cf. Phil. 1:27; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:11-12; Rev. 3:4).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 134.

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Bible Promises that Strengthen our Faith

     without faith it is impossible to pleaseOne of Satan’s strategies is to get us to focus on anything and everything to the exclusion of God and His Word. Both prosperity and adversity can lead us away from the Lord. The Lord permits us to face trials in order to develop our Christian character (Jam. 1:2-4). He also gives us promises that are rooted in His character that we might learn to trust Him as we walk with Him. The tests of life are inevitable, but how we handle them is optional. Faith is not automatic in the Christian, but is a discipline of the mind and will. The growing Christian learns the Word of God and consciously applies it to his life moment by moment. As the believer studies Scripture, he learns that God has perfect integrity and always keeps His promises. The believer benefits from his study of Scripture only when he learns to trust in God and to take Him at His Word.  It’s only by faith that we receive the blessings God offers. 

     For the Christian, faith requires learning, as the Scripture declares, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).[1] Once learned, Scripture must be applied by faith, for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Learning and living is the proper order as we advance spiritually in our walk with God. Below are a few Bible promises that will stabilize the believer’s thinking in the midst of adversity.

As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. (Ps. 18:30)

Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. (Ps. 55:22)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Prov. 3:5-6)

The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock. (Isa. 26:3-4)

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)

The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:22-23)

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:27-28)

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)

He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5b)

     By trusting in God, we can experience confidence to face the daily pressures of life. I pray you memorize some or all the verses in this article so you can quickly draw them from memory when you need them. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Most Scripture is taken from the NASB.

Posted in Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Righteous Living, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

God’s Righteousness in the Future

But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Pet. 3:13)

     RighteousnessGod has a plan for the future and that plan involves His righteous rule over His people, both in time and eternity.  Only a sovereign God Who possesses all the attributes of deity, such as omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and so on, can work providentially in His creation to guarantee a future righteous rule.  In one sense, God rules universally and eternally.  He is always the sovereign Ruler of all His creation (Ps. 145:13; Jer. 10:10).  Scripture reveals, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19), and “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6).  Daniel writes, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth” (Dan 4:34b-35a).  From Genesis to Revelation, God sovereignly governs the lives of people and nations.  People exist because God gives them life.  David writes, “Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves” (Ps. 100:3).  He determines the duration of each person’s life, having final control over the day and cause of a person’s death.  It is written, “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).  And Hannah, in her prayer says, “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Sam. 2:6).  People live and die as God decides, “For in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28).  God controls when and where people will live in history, for “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26).  Even the great rulers of this world exist because of His plan, for “It is He who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding” (Dan. 2:21).  God has power over wealth and poverty, for “The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts” (1 Sam. 2:7).  God allows fallen angels and humans to produce sin and evil, but they never act beyond or against His sovereign will (Job 1:1-21; Ps. 105:12-15; 1 Kings 22:19-23; 2 Cor. 12:7-10). 

     It is because God is absolutely sovereign that He can providentially control His creation and the affairs of mankind and bring about His will on the earth.  God’s providence refers to His wise and personal acts, whereby He creates and controls circumstances in order to direct history according to His predetermined plan, all for His glory and the benefit of His elect.  People live in the flow of history and are moved by the circumstances God controls.  God “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).  By His sovereign will God created all things in heaven and earth, and sustains and directs them as He desires.  God “is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).  The Lord knows all things at all times.  He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground (Matt. 10:29), and the ever-changing number of hairs on our head (Matt. 10:30).  He knows our thoughts before we think them (Ps. 139:2), and our words before we speak them (Ps. 139:4).  He knows our wickedness (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-22), and chooses to love us by grace, in spite of our sinfulness (Matt. 5:45; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-9).  Some He elects to purpose, even from the womb (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15).  Because God is righteous, all His actions are just.  Because He is loving and good, He directs all things for His glory and the benefit of His elect.  The wicked are also under God’s sovereign control, and He uses them for His own ends (Prov. 16:4).

God’s Righteous Kingdom Promised to David

     One must distinguish God’s universal and eternal kingdom from His earthly kingdom.  God has a specific plan for the future to establish an earthly kingdom that will be centered in Jerusalem with Jesus Christ ruling on the throne.  This promise is rooted in the Davidic covenant where God promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13).  The Lord said to David, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16).  That this was a covenant promise from God to David is specified elsewhere, where God states, “I have made a covenant [בְּרִית berith] with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, 4 I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne to all generations” (Ps. 89:3-4), and He further declares, “Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David. 36 His descendants shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before Me. 37 It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful” (Ps 89:35-37).  A forever-kingdom requires a forever-Person to rule over it.  Jeremiah spoke prophetically about this King and kingdom, saying:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. 6 “In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The LORD our righteousness.’” (Jer. 23:5-6)

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth.” (Jer. 33:14-15)

     It cannot be missed that this promised descendant of David is described as “a righteous Branch” who shall “reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.”  Concerning this King, justice and righteousness will be the chief characteristic of His rule over Israel and the earth.  Daniel writes about the eternal nature of this future earthly kingdom, saying, “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44).  Earthly kingdoms come and go because their rulers die or are conquered.  However, the future ruler of God’s kingdom on earth will never die, and this explains why it will “not be left for another people” and will last forever.  It was also revealed to Daniel that God’s saints will participate in this kingdom, saying, “Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him” (Dan. 7:27).  A king has authority and subjects over which to rule.  The saints of all time shall know the righteous rule of God’s King on the earth.

Jesus – God’s Righteous King

     Up until the conception of Jesus, no one knew by name Who the King would be.  There was only anticipation of His coming.  The promise that was given to David, and reiterated by Jeremiah and Daniel, was finally confirmed to Mary, that her Son, Jesus, would sit on David’s throne and would reign over the house of Jacob forever.  Jesus is the forever-King that God has decreed to rule over His forever-kingdom.  The angel Gabriel revealed this to Mary as follows:

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

     Several things are noticed about what Gabriel said to Mary: 1) the name of her Son is Jesus, which is derived from the Hebrew Joshua, which means “Yahweh saves.”  2) Gabriel said, “He will be great,” which speaks both of Him as a Person as well as His accomplishments.  3) He would be called “Son of the Most High,” which means He is equal with God the Father.  4) God would “give Him the throne of His father, David.”  No doubt Mary would have thought of 2 Samuel 7:16 and perhaps Psalm 89:35-37, both of which reveal that God would raise a descendant of David to rule from his earthly throne in Jerusalem.  5) Jesus would “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”  The question, as one reads the Biblical text, is how did Mary understand what was said to her.  It is natural that she would have understood the words in the plainest sense possible, that her Son, Jesus, would fulfill the Biblical promises concerning the son of David who would sit on His earthly throne and rule forever over Israel and the earth.[1]

Jesus’ Offer of God’s Kingdom to Israel

     As Jesus grew into manhood, His mother knew His identity, that He is the promised King of Israel and would set up the promised kingdom.  Just before Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist came as His forerunner and proclaimed the offer of the kingdom, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2).  Jesus also proclaimed this message, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).[2]  Both “repent” and “believe” are imperatives in Mark 1:15, which imply a volitional response of obedience from those who heard.  These words are closely related and go together, like two sides of the same coin.  Israelites were called to change their mind from whatever they were trusting in (i.e. repent), and to accept Jesus’ message that the kingdom was being offered to them (i.e. believe in Him as King and His offer of the kingdom).  The concept of the Davidic kingdom was prominent in the minds of many Jews in Jesus’ day, so it’s not like He had to persuade them about His message.  Jesus simply had to communicate the offer of the kingdom and wait for Israel’s response.

This concept was familiar to the Jews of Jesus’ day. In light of Old Testament prophecy (cf. 2 Sam. 7:8–17; Isa. 11:1–9; 24:23; Jer. 23:4–6; Micah 4:6–7; Zech. 9:9–10; 14:9) they were expecting a future messianic (Davidic) kingdom to be established on earth (cf. Matt. 20:21; Mark 10:37; 11:10; 12:35–37; 15:43; Luke 1:31–33; 2:25, 38; Acts 1:6). So Jesus did not have to arouse interest in His message. His hearers naturally understood His reference to the kingdom of God to be the long-awaited messianic kingdom predicted in the Old Testament.[3]

Israel’s Rejection of the Kingdom

     The arrival of the kingdom was contingent upon Israel’s repentance and belief.  Jesus repeatedly proclaimed His offer of the kingdom (Matt. 4:17, 23; Mark 1:38; Luke 4:43; 8:1) and even sent His disciples out to all Israel to proclaim the message with validating signs (Matt. 10:5-8).  Jesus confirmed His Messianic offer of the kingdom with many miracles (Matt. 11:2-5; 14:15-21; John 9:1-7; 10:37-38), which should have resulted in Israel’s acceptance of Him as their King.  However, after much proof, Israel did not repent, and Jesus “began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent” (Matt. 11:20).  It was the sad reality that “though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him” (John 12:37).  The Light of the world had come, but “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  The leadership of Israel did not deny Jesus was performing miracles, what they denied was the heavenly source behind His miracles, saying, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (Matt. 12:24).  Israel’s rejection of Jesus as their King brought a pronouncement of judgment upon the nation (Matt. 23:37-39), but Israel’s leadership did not care, as they publicly told Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).  So they crucified Jesus on a cross and treated Him as a lowly criminal (John 19:17-19).  This was all in accordance with God’s providential plan (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).

The Postponement of the Kingdom for a Future Time

     The kingdom of God was postponed for a future time.  Though postponed, its future fulfillment is certain, for Jesus told His disciples, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28; cf. Matt. 20:20-21).  The Davidic kingdom will not arrive until the second coming of Jesus, for He says, “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne” (Matt. 25:31).  Though they knew it was coming, His disciples did not know the exact time of its arrival.  After Jesus death, burial and resurrection, His disciples asked, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).  But Jesus left them without a specific time, saying, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Act 1:7).  So, God has implemented the current church age, which is part of His eternal plan (Eph. 3:1-10; Col. 1:24-27), until such a time that He will establish His kingdom on the earth.

God Will Justly Reward Christians

     Between the first and second coming of Jesus, there is the church age, and the following seven year Tribulation.  The church age is marked by grace, whereas the seven year Tribulation will be a time of God’s wrath upon the earth.  Christians, who live in the church age, will not face God’s wrath during the Tribulation (1 Thess. 1:10; cf. Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 5:9), for God will rapture His church at the end of the church age and take those Christians who are alive at that time directly to heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-18).  Christians are not looking forward to a time of punishment upon the earth, but rather, we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit. 2:13).  After the church is raptured to heaven, God will then dispense rewards to His faithful children who learned and lived His will during their lives on the earth.  It is right for Christians to think that God will justly reward them in the future for the life of obedience they now live.  Speaking about future rewards, Paul writes:

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)

     This event will take place in heaven, after the rapture of the church, in which God will justly reward Christians.  Paul himself personally expected a reward from God, saying, “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).  “Because he had been faithful Paul did not dread dying but looked forward to seeing His Lord. On the day of rewards for Christians (the judgment seat of Christ; 1:12, 18; 2 Cor. 5:10) Paul was confident that the Lord would give him a reward that was proper.”[4]  The future appearance of Christ at the rapture is important, and those who long for it will be rewarded. 

God Will Suppress Rebellion before the Kingdom is Established

     Sin is upon the earth, and it will continue to have a negative impact because people are temporarily permitted to continue in rebellion against God.  However, Scripture reveals a time will come in which God will bring in everlasting righteousness, which will extend into eternity.  A future day will come in which God will pour out His wrath upon the earth and will suppress all rebellion, both human and demonic. 

     The Book of Revelation, chapters 6-19, reveal this time of judgment upon the earth.  In His wrath, God will put down the rebellion of Satan and his angels, unbelieving Israel, and unbelieving Gentiles.  In all His judgments, God is righteous and just, whereas men are wicked and deserve wrath (Rev. 16:6-7; cf. 19:2).  The hearts of men are corrupt, and rather than turning to God during this time of wrath, they try to flee and hide from Him (Rev. 6:15-16), they seek death rather than conform to His will (Rev. 9:6), they refuse to repent of their rebellion (Rev. 9:20-21), they rejoice and celebrate at the persecution and death of God’s servants (Rev. 11:7-10), they align themselves with the Satan (Rev. 13:3-4), they willfully blaspheme the holy name of God (Rev. 16:8-9, 11, 21), and they gather together to make war against Jesus Christ (Rev. 19:19).  During the tribulation, God will punish those who killed the saints, as John writes:

“And I heard the angel of the waters saying, ‘Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; 6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.’ 7 And I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments’” (Rev. 16:5-7). 

     We should not see the seven year Tribulation solely as a time of judgment and gloom, for God’s love and grace are also manifest.  This is obvious in the kindness He shows to the 144,000 Jews He saves and calls to service (Rev. 7:4-8), to the martyrs who have died for their faith in Jesus (Rev. 7:9-17), to the two prophetic witnesses whom He resurrects (Rev. 11:11-12), to the nations who hear His gospel message (Rev. 14:6-7), and to those who enter into His kingdom after the Tribulation (Rev. 20:4-6).

     Toward the end of the seven year Tribulation, it is recorded that God will judge Babylon, which is described as the “great harlot” that has corrupted the earth and killed His saints.  Future Babylon has both religious and commercial aspects to it.  In its entirety, future Babylon is a satanic system that unites religious and commercial practices that, at their core, are independent of God.  John writes about God’s judgment, saying, “After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2 because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her’” (Rev. 19:1-2).  God’s righteous judgment upon this great immoral system is just.  “God has indeed vindicated the injustice visited on his servants by meting out true justice on the great prostitute, Babylon. She deserves the sentence because she corrupted the earth (cf. 11:18; Jer. 51:25) and killed the saints of God (cf. 18:24).”[5]  At the close of the Tribulation, Satan will be defeated and eventually bound for a thousand years (Rev. 12:7-9; 20:1-3), all unbelievers will be defeated (Rev. 19:19-21; cf. Matt. 24:29-35:46), leaving only believing Jews and Gentiles to enter His kingdom on earth (Rev. 19:19-21; cf. Matt. 24:29-35:46).  

     At His first coming, Jesus did no come to judge the world, but to save it.  John writes, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (Joh 3:17).  Later Jesus states, “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:14; cf. Luke 19:10; 1 John 4:14).  However, at His second coming, Jesus will judge the world, and He will judge it in righteousness.  Concerning this, the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).  This teaching is not popular and frightens some.  This was true when Paul was defending himself before Felix, as Luke writes, “But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25).  The future becomes a fearful place for those who know they live sinful lives outside of God’s will.

     The end of the Tribulation marks the end of the age of the Gentiles, a period starting with the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. and culminating with the return of Christ to establish His millennial kingdom on earth.  The apostle John writes about the second coming of Jesus, saying, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war” (Rev. 19:11).  “The rider obviously is Jesus Christ, returning to the earth in glory. That He is coming as Judge is further supported by the fact that He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood (19:13; cf. Isa. 63:2–3; Rev. 14:20).”[6] 

     After Christ puts down earthly rebellion, He will then judge those that survived the Tribulation.  Matthew writes, “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous” (Matt. 13:49).  Of the wicked, it is said of them, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).  This is a judgment that must take place before Christ sets up His kingdom.  “The righteous and the ungodly will be sent away to their respective final places. There is no hint that the verdict can be changed. In concluding his teaching about the last judgment, Jesus said that those on his left hand ‘will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life’” (Matt. 25:46).[7]

There will be a Future Resurrection of the Righteous

     To be resurrected means a person who has died will receive a new body that will never experience death.  Concerning resurrections in general, Daniel wrote, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:1-2).  Daniel is writing in general and referring to the resurrection of all people, both believers and unbelievers.  However, we learn from other biblical passages that there are specific resurrections mentioned.  The first person to be resurrected is Jesus (Matt. 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rev. 1:5).  Jesus died because of our sin, and after three days in the grave, He was resurrected with a new body that will never die again.  Paul wrote, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).  After the resurrection of Jesus, there will be other resurrections.  These other resurrections are called the “first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5-6), or the “resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15).  Jesus spoke about a future resurrection of the righteous, and rewards associated with that resurrection, which should impact how the believer lives here and now.  Jesus said, “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14).  And Paul, when standing on trial before Felix, spoke about a future “resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15).  The resurrection of the righteous includes believers from all ages up to the second coming of Jesus.  There is a final resurrection that will take place at the end of Jesus’ millennial reign and consists of unbelievers only who will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.  Concerning these various resurrections, Charles Ryrie states:

The resurrection of the just is also called the first resurrection and will occur in several stages, not all at once. The dead in Christ will be raised first at the rapture of the church (1 Thess. 4:16). The redeemed of the tribulation period who die during that time will be raised before the millennium (Rev 20:4). The redeemed of Old Testament times will also be a part of the resurrection of the just. Expositors are divided over when they will be raised, some believing that it will happen at the rapture when the church saints are raised, and others holding that it will occur at the second coming (Dan 12:2—the writer prefers the latter view)…all unsaved people of all time will be raised after the millennium to be judged and then cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev 20:11–15). At their resurrection they will apparently be given some sort of bodies that will be able to live forever and feel the effects of the torments of the lake of fire.[8]

The Millennial Kingdom of Christ

     After the Tribulation and judgment of those who survived, Jesus will set up His kingdom on the earth.  This earthly kingdom was anticipated throughout Scripture (Jer. 23:5-6; Dan. 2:44-45; 7:27; Amos 4:1-4; Zech. 14:3-12; Matt. 6:10; Luke 1:31-33; Acts 1:6), and described as being ideal (Isa. 2:2-4; 11:1-9; 19:23-25; 35:1-10; 65:19-25; Amos 9:11-15; Rev. 20:1-6).  Revelation chapter 20, for the first time in Scripture, specifies the duration of Christ’s reign on the earth as one thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6).  John writes, “Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4).  Paul explains that the kingdom of Christ on the earth will eventually become an eternal kingdom.  This will be after the thousand year reign of Christ.  Paul writes of this transition, saying, “then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:24-25). 

     Jesus came to earth the first time as a suffering Servant to die on the cross to bring salvation to all men (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 53; Mark. 10:45; John 3:16-19), and will come the second time to establish His righteous kingdom on earth (Isa. 9:7; 11:3-5; 42:1-4; Jer. 23:5; Rev. 20:1-6). The return of Christ is praiseworthy news to those who are in heaven and on the earth who love Him and look forward to His coming.  However, it is bad news to those who hate him and resist His will on the earth (2 Thess. 1:3-10; Rev. 19:11-21). 

Our Lord will be a King who reigns in righteousness (Isa. 32:1). Righteousness will be the belt of His loins (11:5). With righteousness He shall judge the poor (11:4; 16:5). Zion shall be called the city of righteousness (1:26). Only the righteous shall enter the kingdom at its inauguration (Matt. 25:37), and those who thirst after righteousness shall be filled (5:6).[9]

Judgment after the Millennial Kingdom

     After the millennial reign of Christ, there will be a time of judgment in which Christ will judge all unbelievers.  This is called the Great White Throne judgment, which consists of resurrected unbelievers only, and it is to point out that they are unrighteous, not having received the gift of righteousness that is imputed to those who have trusted in Christ alone for salvation (Rom. 3:21-28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9).  Since those who stand before the throne do not have God’s righteousness within them, they are left to be judged according to their human good works, which are not sufficient to gain them entrance into heaven (Isa. 64:6; Gal. 2:16; Tit. 3:5), and the fact that their names are not written in the book of life will ensure their assignment to the Lake of Fire forever (Rev. 20:14-15).

God Promises a Future World of Righteousness

     There is much sin in the world.  However, the believer anticipates a time in the future when God will remove all wickedness and bring in everlasting righteousness.  Peter writes, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).  What promise is Peter thinking of?  Most likely the promise mentioned in Isaiah, who wrote, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind” (Isa 65:17).  This is a great hope of many Christians.  “When our Lord returns He will take the reins of government and rule the nations of this world as a benevolent dictator (Rev. 19:15). Then and only then will the world experience a time of righteousness, justice, social welfare, economic prosperity, and spiritual knowledge.”[10]

     Man, by his own efforts, cannot bring perfect or lasting righteousness into the world.  Certainly there are good and righteous people in the world, but the good they produce is often fleeting and has no lasting value.  Even good rulers are only good for the duration of their rule, and there is no guarantee that his/her successor will follow in the same pattern of goodness.  Because the nature of man is fallen and prone toward sin, the natural flow of human history tends toward corruption.  The tendency of people is to promote self and exclude God from human government and institutions, and they do this to their own harm.  However, apart from mankind’s weaknesses and failings, God has promised a new heavens and new earth, and the eternal state will be marked by righteousness.   

Summary

     God is sovereign and He rules over His creation.  The sovereign God promised an earthly kingdom to His servant, David, that one of his descendants would rule in righteousness on his throne forever.  Jesus, Who is Himself God, is that promised Son Who offered the kingdom to Israel, but they rejected Him and it.  Jesus pronounced a curse upon Israel for a time that would last until the age of the Gentiles concluded.  The Lord will reward church age believers after the rapture.  God will also reward His saints at the second coming of Jesus and He will justly judge the wicked.  Jesus will then establish His millennial kingdom on earth after He has put down all rebellion.  The earthly kingdom will become an eternal kingdom, and righteousness will go on into eternity. 

     The future is bright because there is the hope of a good and righteous King who will bring in everlasting righteousness.  This King is the Lord Jesus, the Christ, the Savior who will establish His kingdom upon the earth.  Jesus will reign forever.  Though His kingdom is preceded by a time of rebellion and judgment, He will suppress that rebellion, and once His righteous kingdom is established, it will never end.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] The simple fact of the Bible and history is that Jesus has not fulfilled these promised words.  Jesus is seated, no doubt, on a throne in heaven; but it is not David’s throne, which is an earthly throne.  In order for Jesus to fulfill the covenant promise given to David, as well as the reiteration stated by the angel Gabriel, Jesus must, at some time in the future, return and claim the throne that is rightfully His by promise. 

[2] The word “gospel” simply means good news, and the good news that Jesus preached here was that of the promised kingdom.  I’ve heard some preachers try to argue this “gospel” was the same as Paul’s and concerned the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  However, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ was foreign to the minds of those who followed Him (see Matt. 16:20; 17:22-23; 20:17-19).  No, the gospel message of Jesus and John the Baptist was the good news about arrival of the Davidic King and the offer of His kingdom on earth.

[3] John D. Grassmick, “Mark,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 107.

[4] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, 2 Tim. 4:8.

[5] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 570.

[6] John F. Walvoord, “Revelation,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 976.

[7] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 1104.

[8]Charles C. Ryrie, “Resurrections” A Survey of Bible doctrine (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1995), 182-183.

[9] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 594.

[10] Ibid., 316.

Posted in Christian Theology, Dispensationalism, Hot Topics, Israel, Prophecy, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer

     RighteousnessThe testimony of Scripture is that God is righteous (Ps. 11:7; 129:4; 145:17; Lam. 1:18; John 17:25; 1 John 2:1).  He is essentially righteous in character.  It follows that since God is righteous, He will promote righteousness and approve of those who do.  David writes of God, saying, “The LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face” (Ps. 11:7).  The verse speaks of what God is as well as what God loves.  He is righteous and He loves righteousness.  David here—and in Psalm 33:5—uses the Hebrew verb אָהֵב aheb to speak of the affection God has for righteousness and those who pursue it.  The “upright” refers to those who conform to God’s character and commands, and to “behold His face” means one is welcome into His presence with favor (cf. Ps. 17:5; 140:13).  In another place David states, “O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart” (Ps. 15:1-2).  Solomon adds, “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but He loves one who pursues righteousness” (Prov. 15:9), and “to do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice” (Prov. 21:3).  Isaiah states, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Preserve justice and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come and My righteousness to be revealed’” (Isa. 56:1), Jeremiah adds, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place’” (Jer. 22:3; Hos. 14:9; 10:12).  Paul writes, “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:13; cf. 6:19), “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22), and Peter states, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24; cf. Eph. 4:24; 5:8-10; 1 Tim. 6:11; Tit. 2:11-12; Heb. 10:38). 

God Works to Produce His Righteousness in the Believer

     God is working to produce His righteousness in us from the moment of salvation onward.  Paul writes, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).  God produces His righteousness in us to justify, sanctify, and ultimately glorify us.  First, at the moment of salvation, God imputes His righteousness to us, and this is the basis for our justification.  By imputed righteousness He is dealing with the guilt of our sin.  Of the believer, Paul states, “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; cf. Rom. 5:17-18; 8:1; Phil. 3:9).  Second, by crippling the sin nature He is dealing with the power of sin in our lives (Rom. 6:1-14; 8:2; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:5).  Paul writes, “do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God “(Rom 6:13).  Third, by removing our sin nature after death He is dealing with sin for eternity (Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; 1 John 3:2, 5).  Paul writes, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20-21), and Peter writes, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).  Such a righteousness as that which will exist in the new heavens and earth means there will be no sin of any kind.  God alone, without human aid, produces the first and third aspects of our salvation (i.e. our justification and glorification), and the believer simply benefits from His action.  However, the second aspect of our salvation is not automatic (i.e. our sanctification), as God chooses to involve the believer to produce His righteousness.  That is, there is a volitional aspect to a life of righteousness, as the believer must choose to obey God’s commands and rely on the His divine enablement to carry them out.  God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing necessary to grow spiritually (Eph. 1:3), but we must lay hold of that provision and make good choices that conform to His will and character. 

How to Achieve Experiential Righteousness

     But how is the life of righteousness achieved?  What is it that each believer must do in order to be the righteous person God expects?  It does not help the believer to say he/she must be righteous if we do not also provide the necessary Biblical information to accomplish the task.  Once saved, God provides each believer a portfolio of spiritual assets that enable him/her to walk in obedience to His commands.  Those who utilize God’s provisions and obey His commands will walk in conformity to His will.  This is experiential righteousness.  For the Christian living in the dispensation of the church age, there are at least six things he/she must follow in order to produce a life of righteousness. 

     First, the Christian must be in daily submission to God.  This begins with a decision to dedicate one’s life to God.  Paul writes, “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).  Paul then goes on to say, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). 

Paul has shown that the gospel he preaches has the power to transfer Christians from the realm of sin and death into the realm of righteousness and life. But this transfer, as Paul has noted (6:11–23; 8:12–13), does not absolve the Christian from the responsibility to live out the righteousness so graciously granted in the gospel. God is working to transform us into the image of his Son (8:29), but we are to take part in this process as we work to make this transformation real in our daily lives.[1]

     The Christian is to participate in the life of righteousness to which he/she is called.  Positively it begins when we present our bodies as “a living and holy sacrifice” to God.  This presentation begins at a moment in time, in which the believer decides to follow God and not the world.  To surrender his/her life to whatever God has planned.  This is a dedicated life to God.  Concerning the believer’s dedication to God, Charles Ryrie states:

What is it that the Christian is to dedicate? The answer is himself. “Present yourselves to God” (Rom. 6:13), “present your bodies” (Rom. 12:1), “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20), “submit yourselves…to God” (James 4:7)—this is the uniform appeal of Scripture, and it concerns our bodies. If this is so, then it follows that dedication concerns the years of one’s life, since that is the only period in which the body functions. Dedication concerns the present life, not the life hereafter.[2]

     This is a surrendered life, a yielded life, in which the believer seeks the will of God above his/her own wishes or desires.  The desires of self, no matter how noble, are sacrificed in order to do God’s will above all.  This can be challenging, for the believer lives in a world that calls us to live for self, to do as we please, to live our way.  But Paul says, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). 

     Second, the believer must be in continual study of Scripture, applying it to every aspect of his/her life (2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  Regeneration does not, in itself, remove a lifetime of worldly viewpoint.  The Christian must look to Scripture in order to unseat the worldly mind, for in its pages we learn about God and what He values in life.  This requires learning.  Paul writes, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).  Later he states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  The Christian cannot live what he does not know, and learning Scripture necessarily precedes living in God’s will.  It is only by Scripture that the believer receives “training in righteousness.”

     Third, the Christian must learn to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).   The Christian may be submitted to God and learning His word, but he/she must also be empowered to live as God intends.  Paul commands Christians, “And do not be drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).  When a person consumes alcohol and gets drunk, eventually it influences his thinking, words, and behavior in an obvious and often negative way.  The Bible does not condemn drinking wine, but it does condemn drunkenness, in which the believer loses control of his/her thoughts, words and actions.  Drunkenness is sin.  In contrast to being drunk, the Bible commands the believer to “be filled with the Spirit.” 

“Be filled with the Spirit” is God’s command, and He expects us to obey. The command is plural, so it applies to all Christians and not just to a select few. The verb is in the present tense—“keep on being filled”—so it is an experience we should enjoy constantly and not just on special occasions. And the verb is passive. We do not fill ourselves but permit the Spirit to fill us. The verb “fill” has nothing to do with contents or quantity, as though we are empty vessels that need a required amount of spiritual fuel to keep going. In the Bible, filled means “controlled by.” “They… were filled with wrath” (Luke 4:28) means “they were controlled by wrath” and for that reason tried to kill Jesus. “The Jews were filled with envy” (Acts 13:45) means that the Jews were controlled by envy and opposed the ministry of Paul and Barnabas. To be “filled with the Spirit” means to be constantly controlled by the Spirit in our mind, emotions, and will…But how can a person tell whether or not he is filled with the Spirit? Paul stated that there are three evidences of the fullness of the Spirit in the life of the believer: he is joyful (Eph. 5:19), thankful (Eph. 5:20), and submissive (Eph. 5:21–33). Paul said nothing about miracles or tongues, or other special manifestations.[3]

Lewis S. Chafer adds:

To be filled with the Spirit is to have the Spirit fulfilling in us all that God intended Him to do when he placed Him there.  To be filled is not the problem of getting more of the Spirit: it is rather the problem of the Spirit getting more of us.  We shall never have more of the Spirit than the anointing which every true Christian has received.  On the other hand, the Spirit may have all of the believer and thus be able to manifest in him the life and character of Christ.  A spiritual person, then, is one who experiences the divine purpose and plan in his daily life through the power of the indwelling Spirit.  The character of that life will be the out-lived Christ.  The cause of that life will be the unhindered indwelling Spirit (Ephesians 3:16-21; II Corinthians 3:18).[4]

And Charles Ryrie states:

To be filled with the Spirit means to be controlled by the Spirit. The clue to this definition is found in Ephesians 5:18 where there is contrast and comparison between drunkenness and Spirit-filling. It is the comparison which gives the clue, for just as a drunken person is controlled by the liquor which he consumes, so a Spirit-filled Christian is controlled by the Spirit. This will cause him to act in ways which are unnatural to him, not implying that such ways will be erratic or abnormal, but asserting that they will not be the ways of the old life. Control by the Spirit is a necessary part of spirituality.[5]

     Fourth, the Christian must learn to walk in daily dependence on the Holy Spirit.  Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” and “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 25).  Walking by the Spirit means we are walking in dependence on Him and not relying on our own resources, experiences, or human wisdom.  It means we are walking in the same direction He is going, and like a friend, we are glad to be in fellowship with Him.  It means God is regularly in our thoughts, and we live every day conscious of Him and His will for our lives (Rom. 12:1-2; Col. 3:16-17).  It means being sensitive to what may offend Him, and making every effort to please Him through a life of faith (2 Cor. 5:9; Heb. 11:6).  Sin will break fellowship with God; however, the Christian can restore that fellowship by means of confession (1 John 1:8-10).  When we walk by the Spirit, we live as He directs and our lives will manifest His work (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 4:1-3).  It is important to understand that the Spirit guides us Biblically and never by vague impressions.  Walking is a learned behavior, and it gets easier with practice. 

Constant dependence on the power of the indwelling Spirit of God is essential to spiritual growth and victory.  By its very nature, walking is a succession of dependent acts.  When one foot is lifted in order to place it front of the other one, it is done in faith—faith that the foot that remains on the ground will support the full weight of the body.  You can only walk by the exercise of faith.  You can live the Christian life only by dependence on the Holy Spirit.  Such dependence will result in the Spirit’s control over the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:17-21) and the Spirit’s production of the fruit of the Spirit (vv. 22-23).  Dependence on the power of God and effort on the part of the believer are not mutually exclusive.  Self-discipline and Spirit-dependence can and must be practiced at the same time in a balanced spiritual life.  Dependence itself is an attitude, but that attitude does not come automatically; it usually requires cultivation.  How many genuine Christians there are who live day after day without even sensing their need of dependence on Him.  Experience, routine, pride, self-confidence all tend to drag all of us away from that conscious dependence on God which we must have in order to live and act righteously.[6]

     Fifth, the Christian must restore broken fellowship with God through confession of personal sin (1 John 1:5-9).  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  It is never the will of God that we sin (1 John 2:1); however, when we do sin, we break fellowship with God and grieve and/or quench the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.  Sin hinders our walk with God and halts our life of righteousness.  Paul writes in two places, commanding the Christian, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30a) and “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19).  The Spirit is a Person, and He is grieved when we sin and act contrary to His righteous character.  Grieving the Spirit occurs when we knowingly commit sin contrary to His guidance.  When the Christian commits sin, then the Spirit is grieved and His ministry is diminished, and He must then begin to work on the heart of the Christian to bring him/her back into fellowship.  “Sin destroys spirituality.  It is necessarily so; for where sin is tolerated in the believer’s daily life, the Spirit, who indwells him, must then turn from His blessed ministry through him, to a pleading ministry to him.”[7] 

     To “quench the Spirit” is to resist His will as He seeks to guide according to divine revelation.  In the early church, God provided special revelation both through His written word (Rom. 15:4), as well as through prophetic utterance (1 Thess. 5:20).  “Today, we have a completed revelation in the Word of God and there is no need for prophets. The Apostles and prophets helped lay the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20) and have now passed from the scene. The only ‘prophetic ministry’ we have is in the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.”[8]  It is only through Scripture that we possess special revelation about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and what they have provided for us and expect from us.  Scripture is our guiding light (Ps. 119:105, 130; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17), and “refusal to submit to the Word of God is quenching the Spirit, making the fullness of the Spirit impossible.”[9]

     Fellowship with God is always on His terms, not ours.  He establishes the guidelines for our relationship with Him and if we are to walk with Him, we must follow His commands.  God never follows us in our sin, but always calls us back to walk with Him in righteousness.  When the believer breaks fellowship with God through personal sin, the only solution is to seek forgiveness through confession.  Confession of sin is a common theme throughout all of Scripture (Lev. 5:5; Ps. 32:3-5; 38:18; 51:4; 2 Sam. 12:13; Neh. 9:2; Dan. 9:1-16; Luke 15:18-21; 1 John 1:9), and it is by confession that sin is forgiven.  Scripture states, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). 

According to 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  This passage, standing as it does in the center of a revelation of the basis of fellowship with God (1 John 1:5—2:2), is a message to Christians.  It avails not to the unsaved to confess their sins, as they have not accepted the Savior who was the sacrifice for sins.  For the unsaved the exhortation is likewise summed up in one word, believe.  For the Christian who stands in all the blessed relationship to God wrought by saving faith in Christ there remains the issue of maintaining fellowship.  It is this issue that is in the foreground in 1 John…The presence of sin in the life of the Christian, however, constitutes a barrier to fellowship.  While the Christian’s sonship is in no wise affected, the happy family relationship is disturbed.  On the human side, confession must come before restoration into fellowship is possible.  The cause for grieving the Spirit must be judged as sin and confessed.[10]

     Because sin is easy to produce and because most men are simple in the way they think, God had to make restoration of fellowship as simple as confession.  Just as believing the simple message of the gospel saves (1 Cor. 15:3-4), so the simple act of confessing one’s sins leads to forgiveness and restoration of fellowship with God (1 John 1:9).  There’s no need for penance, guilty feelings, or any payment on our part.  Forgiveness, like salvation, is provided to the believer because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  The simple act of confession as taught in 1 John 1:9 guarantees God’s forgiveness and restoration of fellowship.

Complete assurance is given that this approach to the sin problem is acceptable to God.  It is not a question of doing penance nor of inflicting chastening punishments upon oneself.  Nor is it a matter of leniency with the Father when He accepts the confession.  The whole act is based upon the finished work of Christ, and the question of penalty is not in view.  The price for restoration has already been paid.  Accordingly, the Father is faithful and righteous in forgiving, not merely lenient and merciful.  The Father could not do otherwise than forgive the Christian seeking forgiveness, for His own Son has already provided a complete satisfaction for sin.  The process from the human side is, accordingly, amazingly simple.[11]

     Sixth, the Christian must take advantage of the time God gives to learn and grow spiritually.  The believer does not reach spiritual maturity overnight, and since each believer has only a measure of time allotted by God (Ps. 139:16), his/her days must not be wasted on worldly pursuits, but on learning Scripture and living in God’s will.  The growing Christian, who is in pursuit of righteousness, will maximize his/her time and live wisely.  As Christians, we all start off as babes who need to feed on the milk of the word (1 Pet. 2:2; cf. Heb. 5:12), and as we grow spiritually, over time, we develop a taste for solid foods (Heb. 5:13-14).  As we grow spiritually, we will maximize our time wisely.  Paul exhorts Christians, “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).  To live wisely, according to Scripture, means knowing God’s will and having the skill to execute it.  Making the most of our time means living in God’s will and acting in accordance with His expectations.  

Three Obstacles to a Righteous Life

     There are obstacles to the Christian life; satanic impediments that hinder our walk of righteousness.  Every Christian is born on a spiritual battlefield and throughout his life will face opposition to the work of God.  The opposition will use both pleasure and pain to pull the Christian away from God in order to stifle our walk.  The believer experiences opposition from his sin nature (Gal. 5:17, 19-21a; Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), the devil (2 Cor. 11:3; Jam. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8), and the world system that is all around (Col. 2:8; Jas. 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16). 

     The first obstacle is the sin nature, sometimes called “the flesh” (Gal. 5:17, 19) or “old self” (Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), which has a natural affinity for Satan’s values and his world-system.  Paul writes, “For the flesh [sin nature] sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you [the Christian] may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17).  The sin nature is resident in every person; both saved and unsaved, and is the source of internal temptation.  “The flesh refers to that fallen nature that we were born with, that wants to control the body and the mind and make us disobey God.”[12]  Since the fall of Adam, every person is born with a sin nature, and it is this nature that internally motivates men to rebel against all legitimate forms of authority, both human and divine.  At the moment of salvation, God the Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us a new nature that, for the first time in our lives, has the capacity and desire to obey God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).  Because the sin nature is not removed from the believer after salvation, the believer begins to experience conflict within.  “The presence of two opposing natures (not two personalities) in one individual results in conflict.”[13]

The old nature (which has its origin in our physical birth) fights against the new nature which we receive when we are born again (Gal. 5:16–26). No amount of self-discipline, no set of man-made rules and regulations, can control this old nature. Only the Holy Spirit of God can enable us to “put to death” the old nature (Rom. 8:12–13) and produce the Spirit’s fruit (Gal. 5:22–23) in us through the new nature.[14]

     The second obstacle is the devil.  Before his self-induced fall, Lucifer was a wise and beautiful creature, having “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezek. 28:12).  He was an angel, called an “anointed cherub” (Ezek. 28:14).  However, this perfect angelic creature produced sin from the source of his own volition, and the Scripture states, “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you…and you sinned” (Ezek. 28:15-16a).  Concerning Lucifer’s sin, the Lord says, “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor” (Ezek. 28:17a).  Self-centered pride turned Lucifer’s wisdom into foolishness, and in his madness he sought to usurp God’s throne and rule over His creation.  Lucifer became Satan (a term meaning “the adversary”) at the time of his rebellion (Isa. 14:13-14).

The devil is a real, personal being who opposes the Christian and seeks to make him ineffective in his Christian life. He is a formidable enemy of the Christian since he is intent on devouring Christians (1 Pet. 5:8); hence, the Christian is called on to resist the devil (James 4:7). This can be accomplished through putting on the armor for a spiritual battle (Eph. 6:10–17).[15]

     The third obstacle is the world.  Since the Fall of Adam, God has temporarily granted Satan permission to govern this world (Matt. 4:8-9; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 6:12; 1 John 5:19).  Satan, and those who follow him (both demons and people), are ultimately under God’s sovereign control, and even their evil plans and actions are used for His good purposes (Gen. 50:20; Ps. 76:10; Job 1:6-12; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28; Rom. 8:28; 2 Cor. 12:7-10).  Satan governs by means of a system he’s created, which Scripture calls the κόσμος kosmos.  The κόσμος kosmos “and everything that belongs to it, appears as that which is hostile to God, i.e. lost in sin, wholly at odds with anything divine, ruined and depraved.”[16]  Satan’s world-system consists of those philosophies, values and practices that influence humanity to think and behave contrary to God and His Word.  John writes, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).  Lewis Chafer provides an apt description of the kosmos:

The kosmos is a vast order or system that Satan has promoted which conforms to his ideals, aims, and methods. It is civilization now functioning apart from God-a civilization in which none of its promoters really expect God to share; who assign to God no consideration in respect to their projects, nor do they ascribe any causality to Him. This system embraces its godless governments, conflicts, armaments, jealousies; its education, culture, religions of morality, and pride. It is that sphere in which man lives. It is what he sees, what he employs. To the uncounted multitude it is all they ever know so long as they live on this earth. It is properly styled “The Satanic System” which phrase is in many instances a justified interpretation of the so-meaningful word, kosmos.[17]

     Satan’s world-system is not changeable and cannot be modified to conform to God’s will.  At the core of Satan’s world-system is a directive for mankind to function apart from God, and when obeyed, people produce all forms of evil.  Worldly-minded persons embrace Satan’s system and love their own because they share the same values of selfishness that exclude God.  By promoting the gospel and Biblical teaching, Christians disrupt Satan’s kingdom by calling out of it a people for God.  When a person comes to Christ for salvation, they are transferred from Satan’s kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13-14), and become ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).  The lifetime of worldly thinking that shaped our values and behaviors are not suddenly eradicated at the moment of salvation.  Rather, God calls us to be transformed in our thinking by renewing our minds and living by faith in His Word (Rom. 12:1-2).  Though Christians have the capacity, we are not to love the world (John 16:33; 17:14-16; 1 John 2:15).  To love the world is to turn from righteousness, and the Christian who loves the world makes himself the enemy of God (Jam. 4:4).  Those who love God and His Word share a mutual love for each other.  By learning God’s Word, Christians can identify worldly conversations and either avoid them or disrupt them by interjecting Biblical truth.  The life of righteousness means we will invade the lives, thoughts and discussions of others with Biblical truth.  Of course, this should be done in love and grace (Eph. 4:15; Col. 4:6), not by argumentation (2 Tim. 2:24-26).  When we learn God’s Word, obey His commands, and show love to others, we are rebelling against Satan’s world-system and sowing the seeds of spiritual insurrection in the lives of those who live and walk in Satan’s kingdom. 

     These three obstacles can wreck the Christian as he/she advances toward spiritual maturity and a life of righteousness.  The sin nature is not removed during our time on earth, the devil never ceases in his efforts to attack us, and the world-system can never be reformed.  The Christian must not only be aware of these obstacles, but must always be clinging to God and His word to guide and sustain. 

Summary

     God is righteous and He calls believers to live righteously in conformity to His character and commands.  Once saved, the believer is positionally sanctified in union with Christ, and this status will never change.  However, positional sanctification does not guarantee experiential sanctification, as the believer must choose to comply with God’s righteous expectations and advance to spiritual maturity.  God has provided the believer all that is needed to live a righteous life.  The advance to such a life involves committing oneself to God for service, continual study of Scripture, learning to be filled with the Spirit and to walk in the Spirit, regular confession of sin, and time to grow.  The believer who is living the righteous life as God expects will face obstacles, which include the old sin nature, the devil, and his world-system.  The believer who keeps advancing spiritually will attain Christian maturity and prove effective for God.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Douglas J. Moo, “Romans,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1150.

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago, Ill., Moody Bible Institute, 1994), 80.

[3] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2, 48.

[4] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1967), 43-44.

[5] Charles C. Ryrie, “What is Spirituality?” Bibliotheca Sacra 126 (1969): 206.

[6] Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life, 198.

[7] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual, 70.

[8] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 189.

[9] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan Publishing, 1977), 198.

[10] Ibid., 201-202.

[11] Ibid., 202.

[12] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2, 18.

[13] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual, 112.

[14] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, Vol. 2, 480.

[15] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology, 314.

[16] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 562.

[17] Lewis S. Chafer, “Angelology Part 4” Bibliotheca Sacra 99 (1942): 282-283.

Posted in Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Righteous Living, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

A Dispensational View of God’s Righteousness

     RighteousnessGod is forever righteous and the expectation of righteous behavior from His people is a timeless truth. God’s righteousness is manifest in the laws He gives, and He always expects righteousness from His people. In one sense, God’s people are declared righteous because of the righteousness He imputes to them as a free gift (Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). Once saved, God expects His people to live righteous lives in conformity to His character and commands (Rom. 12:1-2; Tit. 2:11-14). Human righteousness is measured by one’s conformity to God’s character and commands, and though God’s character never changes, His commands for His people have changed over the millennia. God set forth commands for Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Israel, and the Church. Because God is the Author of each set of laws, one can see similarities and differences, continuity and discontinuity.

Adam lived under laws, the sum of which may be called the code of Adam or the code of Eden. Noah was expected to obey the laws of God, so there was a Noahic code. We know that God revealed many commands and laws to Abraham (Gen. 26:5). They may be called the Abrahamic code. The Mosaic code contained all the laws of the Law. And today we live under the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2) or the law of the Spirit of life in Christ (Rom. 8:2). This code contains the hundreds of specific commandments recorded in the New Testament.[1]

God’s Righteousness before the Fall of Adam

     In the Garden of Eden, righteousness meant conforming to the laws God provided to Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:28; 2:15-17).  The commandments in the Garden of Eden were basic and few according to the Biblical revelation.  The commandments were: to procreate and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28a), to subdue and rule over it (Gen. 1:28b), to cultivate and keep the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15), to enjoy the fruit of all trees (Gen. 2:16), but not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon penalty of death (Gen. 2:17).  Adam and Eve rebelled against God and disobeyed His command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:1-8), and this resulted in judgement upon the serpent who deceived (Gen. 3:14-15), upon Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:17-19), upon creation (3:17-18; cf. Rom. 8:20-22), and all humanity (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).[2]  The command to procreate is still in effect (repeated to Noah in Gen. 9:7); however, the commands to have dominion over the earth, cultivate and keep the Garden of Eden, as well as the negative command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are no longer required.

God’s Righteousness after the Fall of Adam and Before Abraham

     From Genesis chapters four through eleven, God revealed Himself and His expectations personally to others, and He held them accountable for their behavior, either to bless or curse.  In Genesis chapter four we read that Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord, “And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard” (Gen. 4:4b-5a).  The Biblical text is silent concerning how Cain and Abel knew to bring offerings to the Lord; however, it is revealed that God approved of Abel’s offering while rejecting Cain’s.  This language of acceptance and rejection reveals a standard of expectation God had for these two men, which, it is assumed, He revealed to them prior to their offering and which also served as the basis for his welcoming the one while refusing the other.  Cain apparently knew the Lord’s reaction, for he “became very angry and his countenance fell” (Gen. 4:5b).  Cain later became jealous and hostile toward Abel and “Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (Gen. 4:8).  This resulted in the Lord’s judgment on Cain (Gen. 4:9-16), which is an indication that God’s righteous expectations were known and enforced during this time. 

     Genesis chapter five is another indication of God’s righteousness on display as the record of death upon mankind is repeated over and over; first, with Adam (Gen. 5:5), and then with all his descendants (Gen. 5:8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31).  However, God’s judgment is not absolute, as we see God’s grace in the midst of His judgments, as Enoch was spared from the experience of death and this because “Enoch walked with God” (Gen. 3:22, 24).  This display of grace in the midst of judgment will be repeated throughout Scripture, culminating in the cross of Christ. 

     God’s righteousness is observed in Genesis chapter six, where the Lord disapproved of the wickedness of mankind and pronounced judgment.  Moses wrote:

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. 6 The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen. 6:5-7)

     God’s righteous expectations must have been known to those who lived on the earth at this time in history.  What follows in Genesis chapters six though nine is the account of the universal flood upon the world, which destroyed all mankind except for Noah and his family.  Of Noah it is revealed that he “found favor in the eyes of God” (Gen. 6:8).  Here, again, is grace in the midst of judgment.  Now, for the first time in the Bible, we see the word righteous (צַדִּיק tsaddiq) applied to Noah, of whom it is written, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9).  “By this word we learn that Noah was conforming to the requirements of the relationship he had with God.”[3]  The phrase, “Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9) means he walked in step with the Lord who was directing his life, and this was Noah’s righteousness.  God revealed to Noah that He was going to destroy all mankind (Gen. 6:11-13) and He commanded Noah to build an ark that would save only him, his family, and those animals that were brought onto the ark (Gen. 6:14-22); and so God judged mankind as His righteousness demanded.  God’s righteous commands upon Noah were particular to him and not required of any other person.  Noah was righteous because He welcomed God’s commands and obeyed them. 

     After the flood, Moses provided the genealogical record of Noah’s descendants (Gen. 10:1-32), which descendants set their wills against God and built the Tower of Babel in order to make a name for themselves (Gen. 11:1-4).  God’s righteousness was on display when He came down to see their work and to pronounce judgment upon them.  God’s judgment included confusing their language and scattering them over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:5-9). 

God’s Righteousness with the Patriarchs

     Moses then provided a genealogical account of Noah’s son, Shem, which continued down to the birth of Abram (Gen. 11:10-32), another recipient of God’s grace.  Now, in the life of Abram, we observe the Lord’s commands that Abram leave his homeland and travel to a land that God would eventually give to him (Gen. 12:1).  God also promised Abram that he would have a multitude of descendants and be a blessing to the entire world (Gen. 12:2-3); “So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him” (Gen 12:4).  Here are God’s commands and Abram’s obedience.  Later, in Genesis chapter fifteen, Moses would reveal that Abram believed God’s promise to him, and this would bring the declaration that the Lord “reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).  “Moses probably recorded Abraham’s faith here because it was foundational for making the Abrahamic Covenant. God made this covenant with a man who believed in Him.”[4] 

     God’s righteous judgments of blessing or cursing continued throughout the book of Genesis for those who obeyed or disobeyed Him.  God judged the household of Pharaoh for taking Sarai, Abram’s wife from him (Gen. 12:17).  God judged the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness (Gen. 13:10; 18:20-21), but spared Lot because of the petition of Abraham (Gen. 18:22-33).  Abraham knew God to be a righteous Judge and that it would be wrong for Him to kill Lot along with the residents of Sodom; so Abraham said to the Lord, “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Gen 18:25).  So God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and spared Lot (Gen. 19:1-25).  Throughout the rest of the book of Genesis it is observed that God directed, blessed and protected Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen. 17:19, 21; 25:5, 11), Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15; 31:3; 32:9-10), and Joseph (Gen. 32:9-5, 21-23; 45:7-9; 50:20). 

God’s Righteousness with Israel

     God then sent His people into Egyptian captivity for four hundred years, as He’d promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:13).  But the Lord also promised He would judge the Egyptians, saying, “I will also judge the nation whom they will serve” (Gen. 15:14).  God’s judgment upon Egypt would come through Moses, Israel’s deliverer.  The judgment upon Egypt further reveals God’s righteousness.  Exodus chapters three through eighteen reveal God’s judgment upon Egypt as well as Israel’s deliverance from tyranny.  In Exodus chapter nineteen Israel enters into a covenant relationship with Yahweh, Who provides a total of 613 commands that are revealed from Exodus chapter twenty through Deuteronomy chapter twenty eight.  Thus the Mosaic Law, a reflection of God’s righteous character, refers to “the statutes and ordinances and laws which the LORD established between Himself and the sons of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai” (Lev. 26:46). 

     The 613 commands stated in the Mosaic Law—which were given exclusively to Israel as His covenant people—are a reflection of His righteous character.  As Israel’s perfect Lawgiver, God bound Himself to His laws, promising blessing or cursing to His people based on whether they obeyed or disobeyed (Deut. 28).  This meant the Israelite living under the Mosaic Code could predict God’s behavior, and this provided a degree of stability for the obedient-to-the-word Israelite.  The Israelite could rely on God to always do what He promised.  There were no surprises. 

     During the dispensation of Israel, God’s laws were to be continually communicated to the whole nation.  This was made clear on Mount Sinai where the Lord told Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction” (Ex. 24:12).  Once the Mosaic Law was given, the Lord assigned the priests as communicators to His people, saying, “They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, and Your law to Israel” (Deut. 33:10a; cf. Lev. 10:11), and “the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (Mal. 2:7).  Also, Jewish parents were commanded to teach God’s Law to their children.  Moses ordered, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:6-7).  The Law of God was to permeate all aspects of Jewish society. 

God’s Righteousness with the Church

     God’s righteous expectations for Israel continued until the death of Christ, which brought the Mosaic Law system to a close (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 8:2-4; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:5-7, 11; Heb. 8:13), and a new law code was established for the Church.  Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17; cf. Deut. 4:44; 5:1; 33:4; John 7:19), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; cf. Gal. 6:2).  Because God is the Author of the Law of Moses as well as the Law of Christ, it is not surprising that He chose to incorporate some of the laws He gave to Israel into the law-code which He has given to the Church.  However, the two law-codes should be viewed separate from each other.  Paul stated the Church-age believer is “no longer under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14; cf. Gal. 5:1-4).  The New Testament speaks of “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2), the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), “the perfect law of liberty” (Jam. 1:25), and “the royal law” (Jam. 2:8).

     Concerning the Mosaic Law, Paul stated that it was intended to be temporary (Gal. 3:19), that it does not justify anyone (Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:21; cf. Rom. 4:1-5), but was intended to lead men to Christ that they may be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24).  Now that Christ has come and fulfilled every aspect of the Mosaic Law, it has been rendered inoperative as a rule of life (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 8:2-4; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:7, 11; Heb. 8:13).  “As a rule of life, the Law of Moses was temporary … [and] came to an end with the death of the Messiah.”[5]

The Mosaic Law was done away in its entirety as a code. It has been replaced by the law of Christ. The law of Christ contains some new commands (1 Tim. 4:4), some old ones (Rom. 13:9), and some revised ones (Rom. 13:4, with reference to capital punishment). All the laws of the Mosaic code have been abolished because the code has.[6]

     The closing of the Mosaic Law means a dispensational shift has occurred.  Though the Christian is not under the Mosaic Law as a rule of life (Rom. 6:14), he/she is under the Law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:31; Gal. 6:2).  “‘The law of Christ’ is basically Christ’s commandments (Matt. 28:19–20; John 13:34–35; 14:21) revealed through the New Testament writers (John 16:12–13; Gal. 6:2; James 1:25; 2:8, 12) and intended for Church-age believers (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 5:6, 18; 6:2; Heb. 8:10).”[7]  The Christian has specific commands in the New Testament that direct his/her thinking (Rom. 12:2), words (Col. 4:6), and actions (Jam. 1:22), and such commands flow out of God’s righteous character.[8]

     In order to conform to God’s righteous expectations, the Christian must learn and live in agreement with the “Law of Christ” as it is revealed in the New Testament (Gal. 6:2).  It is observed that some of the commands from the Mosaic Law have carried over into the “Law of Christ” (e.g. no other gods, honor father and mother, etc.), but most of Israel’s laws have been abrogated (e.g. slavery laws, tithing, sacrificial system, dietary laws, etc.), and there are some new commands (e.g. do not grieve the Holy Spirit, do not quench the Holy Spirit, love as Christ loved, etc.). 

The Law of Moses has been disannulled and we are now under a new law. This new law is called the Law of Christ in Galatians 6:2 and the Law of the Spirit of Life in Romans 8:2. This is a brand new law, totally separate from the Law of Moses. The Law of Christ contains all the individual commandments from Christ and the Apostles applicable to a New Testament believer. A simple comparison of the details will show that it is not and cannot be the same as the Law of Moses. Four observations are worth noting. First, many commandments are the same as those of the Law of Moses. For example, nine of the Ten Commandments are also in the Law of Christ. But, second, many are different from the Law of Moses. For example, there is no Sabbath law now (Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16) and no dietary code (Mark 7:19; Rom. 14:20). Third, some commandments in the Law of Moses are intensified by the Law of Christ. The Law of Moses said: love thy neighbor as thyself (Lev. 19:18). This made man the standard. The Law of Christ said: love one another, even as I have loved you (John 15:12). This makes the Messiah the standard and He loved us enough to die for us. Fourth, the Law of the Messiah provides a new motivation. The Law of Moses was based on the conditional Mosaic Covenant and so the motivation was: do, in order to be blessed. The Law of Christ is based on the unconditional New Covenant and so the motivation is: you have been and are blessed, therefore, do.[9]

     Though both are the people of God, there are Biblical distinctions between Israel and the Church.  For example, Israel had a priesthood that was specific to Aaron and the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:6-10), whereas in the Church age, all Christians are priests to God (Rev. 1:5-6).  Israel’s worship was tied to the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex. 40:18-38; 2 Chron. 8:14-16), but Christians gather locally, wherever they wish, and their body is the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19-20; cf. Col. 4:15).  Israel was required to offer animal sacrifices to God (Lev. 4:1-35), but Christians are called to offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5; cf. Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15).  Israelites were required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut. 14:22-23; 28-29; Num. 18:21), but God requires no tithe from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).  Under the Mosaic Law, God demanded punishment for sin and some sins were punishable by death.[10]  Sometimes God Himself executed the punishment (Lev. 10:1-3; 2 Sam. 6:1-7), and other times it was carried out by Israel’s leaders (Ex. 32:19-28).  In the Church age, God does not call Christians to put anyone to death, but has delegated that authority solely to the governments of this world (Rom. 13:1-4), or He does it Himself (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16).  These are but a few of the distinctions between Israel and Church. 

Summary

     These dispensational distinctions are important to understand.  Though one can see God’s righteousness revealed in the commands given to those who lived in the Garden of Eden, it would be wrong for someone living outside of Eden to try to live by those commands.  In fact, it would be impossible, for the commands were tied to the people and conditions of that environment.  Similarly, one can see God’s righteousness revealed in the commands given to Noah, Abraham, and Israel; however, it would be wrong—even impossible—for those living in the Church age to try to live by those commands, seeing how those commands were specific to the people and conditions of that time. 

     God is righteous and He issues commands for people to obey.  Though God’s righteous character never changes, the specific commands He gives to people and groups throughout the millennia have changed.  What God expected from Adam and Eve is different from what He expected of Noah, Abraham, Israel, and the Church, but they always reflect a righteous standard.  Though there are differences in some laws, there is also continuity, and one would expect this from a single Lawgiver.  Confusion among Christians sometimes arises because some of the commands God gave to Israel were incorporated into the commands He’s given to the Church (e.g. nine of the Ten Commandments have been restated with the Church, with Sabbath keeping set aside).  God decides which laws are restated into the new law code and which ones are abrogated.  Christians have the responsibility to learn about God’s righteousness from all of Scripture, and to obey those commands that specifically belong to them.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 351.

[2] The phrase, “and he died” occurs eight times in Genesis chapter 5.  This shows the consequence of death fell to Adam’s descendants, continuing down to the present day.

[3] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis, 193.

[4] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Gen. 15:6.

[5] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology (Tustin, CA., Ariel Ministries, 2001), 373-374.

[6] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 351-52.

[7] Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology, 1014.

[8] This writer is not aware of anyone who has catalogued all the New Testament commands for the Christian. 

[9] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 650–651.

[10] There were certain laws under the Old Testament that brought the death penalty: intentional murder (Ex. 21:12-14; cf. Gen. 9:6), attacking or cursing a parent (Ex. 21:15), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16), habitual rebellion against God (Deut. 17:12), sacrificing to pagan gods (Ex. 22:20), cursing God (Lev. 24:15-16), working on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2), being a false prophet and leading Israelites into idolatry (Deut. 13:1-5), religious human sacrifice (Lev. 20:2), the practice of divination, sorcery or witchcraft (Ex. 22:18; Deut. 18:9-14), adultery and premarital sex (Lev. 20:10-14; 21:9; Deut. 22:20-22), sex with an animal (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16), incest (Lev. 20:11-12, 14), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and the rape of a married woman (Deut. 22:25-27).

Posted in Christian Theology, Dispensationalism, Hot Topics, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

God’s Righteousness at the Cross

     The subject of the cross addresses God’s righteousness, man’s sinfulness, and Jesus’ substitutionary death which satisfied God’s righteous demands toward our sin and reconciles us to the Father.  Certainly other characteristics of God are seen at the cross such as love, mercy, and grace; however, this article will primarily be concerned with His attribute of righteousness.  The cross makes sense when we see it in connection with God’s attribute of righteousness. 

     RighteousnessGod is revealed in Scripture as a “God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4); and elsewhere it is stated, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne” (Ps. 89:14a).  Because God is righteous, He can only accept that which conforms to His righteousness and He cannot approve of sin at all.  Scripture reveals, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with You.” (Ps. 5:4), and “everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deut. 25:16b).  Habakkuk states, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13), and John writes, “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). 

Everyone is Sinful

     The problem between God and man is a problem of separation caused by sin (Isa. 59:2).  It’s not a problem that originates with God, for He is immutable and His righteousness is constant.  It is people who have sinned and moved away from God.  And it’s not just a few people who have sinned, but everyone.  Scripture reveals, “there is no man who does not sin” (1 Ki. 8:46), and “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).  Furthermore, “there is none righteous, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10, 23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).  The subject of sin is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments.  The Hebrew חָטָא chata and the Greek ἁμαρτάνω hamartano are the two most common words for sin, and both have the basic meaning to miss the mark.  God’s laws are a reflection of His righteous character, and when a person sins, he/she misses the mark of God’s character and will.  “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] 

     People are sinners in three ways: first they are sinners by imputation of Adam’s original sin (Rom. 5:12-21), second, they are sinners by nature (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 7:19-21; Eph. 2:3), and third, they are sinners by choice (1 Ki. 8:46; Rom. 3:9-18).  Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden is the first and greatest of them all, for he incurred the penalty of spiritual and physical death that God righteously and sovereignly promised would come if he ate the fruit from the forbidden tree.  “The LORD God commanded the man [Adam], saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’”  (Gen. 2:16-17).  Both Adam and Eve “took from its fruit and ate” (Gen. 3:6); however, Adam alone was held responsible by God for the disobedience that occurred in the Garden of Eden, for he was the spiritual head of the marriage.   Because of Adam’s rebellion against God, sin and death entered the human race (Rom. 5:12, 18-19) and spread throughout the universe (Rom. 8:20-22).  “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] 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), for “through one transgression [of Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men” (Rom. 5:19a), and “by a man [Adam] came death, by a man [Jesus] also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).  All of Adam’s descendants are born into this world spiritually dead in “trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), “separate from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12), “alienated” from God (Col. 1:21), helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies (Rom. 5:6-10). 

     Sin permeates the thoughts, feelings and volition (i.e. will) of every person.  This does not mean that people are as sinful as they can be, but that all are equally in a state of sin and their sinful condition has completely separated them from God and rendered them helpless to save themselves.  “All are under God’s wrath and in need of salvation.  The religious and nonreligious, the educated and uneducated, the rich and the poor—all are in need of God’s saving grace and are hopelessly lost without it.”[2]  Admittedly, this dark picture of the sinfulness of mankind is difficult to accept; however, God’s estimation of mankind set forth in Scripture is true. 

People are Helpless to Correct the Problem of Sin

     The problem is not only that everyone is marked by sin, but they are helpless to correct the problem of sin.  Sin is a stain that cannot be washed away by self-effort; however, throughout history, many have tried to win God’s approval through a moral lifestyle and good works.  Scripture reveals that good works and/or adherence to laws can never win the approval of God.  In the sight of God, “all our righteous deeds [צְדָקָה tsedaqah] are like a filthy garment” which have no saving value whatsoever (Isa. 64:6).  The words translated “filthy garment” in Isaiah 64:6 literally means a “menstruation garment”[3] which conveys in strong and offensive language the “best deeds of guilty people.”[4]  If people were to gather all their “righteous deeds” and bring them to God and demand their trade-in value, the results would be rejection and eternal separation from Him in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:12-15). 

     Many unbelievers fallaciously hold to the strange notion that if they follow the Mosaic Law (or follow any system of good works) they will win God’s approval and be accepted into heaven.  This is wrong.  The Biblical teaching is that we are “not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16), for “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21).  Rather, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24), and “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28; cf. 4:5).  Salvation is “the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8b-9), for God saves 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).

     If human works make people righteous, then credit belongs to those individuals for the work they accomplished on their own behalf in bringing themselves to God.  But human works never save.  The credit for our salvation belongs completely to the Lord Jesus Christ because of His substitutionary atoning work on the cross.  The cross of Christ is an offense to the arrogant self-made man who must admit his helplessness and sinfulness before a righteous God. 

The Cross is a Place of Judgment

     It is true that the cross represents the love of God toward a fallen world He wishes to save (John 3:16).  However, we must also see the cross as a place of judgment, darkness and wrath.  Matthew writes, “from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour” (Matt. 27:45).  This was a physical darkness that one could see with the eye, though the spiritually blind could not see it for its true significance.  This darkness that overshadowed the cross was a picture of wrath that flowed from God’s righteousness as He judged the sin of mankind.  “Darkness in Scripture often represents judgment and or tragedy (cf. Exod. 10:21–22; Amos 8:9–10).”[5]  Christ on the cross was made to bear the Father’s wrath for our sin. 

It was during that time that He bore the indescribable curse of our sins. In those three hours were compressed the hell which we deserved, the wrath of God against all our transgressions. We see it only dimly; we simply cannot know what it meant for Him to satisfy all God’s righteous claims against sin. We only know that in those three hours He paid the price, settled the debt, and finished the work necessary for man’s redemption.[6]

     It was on the cross that God’s righteous judgment for our sin was dealt with in the Person of Jesus, for “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5).  “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.”[7]  Isaiah writes, for “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a Guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10).  The cross was not forced upon Jesus, and it would be wrong to see Him as a helpless victim of His Father’s wrath.  It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went.  Jesus was willing to die in our place, as the Scripture reveals “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).  The cross would reflect injustice if Jesus were forced there against His will.  But this is not the case.  Rather, Jesus went to the cross willingly and laid down His life and bore the punishment that belonged to us.  He bore God’s wrath and died in our place. 

     Paul states that Jesus “was delivered over because of our transgressions” (Rom. 4:25), as “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Peter writes that Christ “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).  This was the time when God the Father poured out His wrath upon the humanity of Christ; for “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24).  “His body” refers to His humanity, for deity cannot bear sin.[8]  God sent Jesus to the cross to satisfy His righteous demands for our sin, and He is satisfied with the death of Christ.  We did not ask for this, nor do we deserve it.  The cross is God’s solution to the problem of sin. 

God Justifies Sinners Because of the Work of Jesus on the Cross

     God would be fully justified to condemn every person to the Lake of Fire.  However, He created a plan to satisfy His righteous demands toward sinners, and He did this without compromising His love toward those He wished to save.  The wisdom of God is seen at the cross where righteousness and love intersect.  Righteousness demands punishment for sin.  Love seeks to show grace and mercy to the undeserving.  The cross is where that happens simultaneously.  The result is that sin is judged and sinners are saved by grace through faith completely apart from any human works they might produce.  Jesus purchased our freedom with His blood that was shed on Calvary.  The Father is propitiated and sinners are justified because of the work of Christ on our behalf.  We are forgiven.  Jesus is the Hero. 

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 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. 3:21-26)

     Paul uses several theologically rich words throughout this short section of Scripture such as righteousness, faith, justified, grace, redemption, and propitiation.  In the above section, righteousness refers to God’s righteousness.  It is a righteousness apart from the Law (Rom. 3:21a), but witnessed to by “the Law and Prophets” (Rom. 3:21).  It is the “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom. 3:22).  No one can, by their own efforts, merit the righteousness of God, and it is futile to try.  God’s righteousness is given freely, as a gift, to those who trust in Jesus as Savior.  The recipients are those who “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23; cf. Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3).  God’s justification of sinners comes “as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24a).  To be justified means that God declares someone is in perfect conformity to His righteousness.  The sinner who believes in Jesus as Savior is justified instantly, fully, and forever.  Justification and sanctification are sometimes confused.  “Justification describes a person’s status in the sight of the law, not the condition of his or her character. The condition of one’s character and conduct is that with which sanctification deals.”[9]  God’s justification is a “gift”, from the Greek word δωρεά dorea, which refers to something “freely given, as a gift, without payment.”[10]  Think about that.  God’s justification is a gift, freely given and freely received, without any expectation of compensation from the recipient.  This is God’s grace to the undeserving.  Grace, from the Greek word χάρις charis, refers to “the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”[11]  God justifies sinners freely, by grace, because of the work of Christ on their behalf. 

     By faith we trust that what Christ accomplished on the cross forever satisfies God’s righteous demands for sin.  We simply believe in Jesus for salvation.  A mute quadriplegic, who can never speak or act, can be forever saved because of the work of Christ.  Jesus paid it all.  No one has the means to redeem his own soul, nor the soul of another.  Jesus asked, “what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).  The answer is “nothing”!  If Jesus had not paid our sin-debt to God, there would be no hope of ever being liberated from spiritual slavery, for “no man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever” (Ps. 49:7-8).  However, Paul writes of the “redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24b), and this speaks of the payment He made on behalf of sinners.  “Redemption” translates the Greek ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrosis which means to “release from a captive condition.”[12]  Redemption refers to the payment of a debt that one gives in order to liberate another from slavery.  Jesus declared “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom [λύτρον lutron] for many” (Mark 10:45), and the apostle Paul tells us that Jesus “gave Himself as a ransom [ἀντίλυτρον antilutron] for all” (1 Tim. 2:6).  When we turn to Christ as our only Savior “we have redemption [ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrosis] through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph. 1:7; cf. Col. 1:13-14).  Because Jesus died in our place, He is able to set us free from our spiritual bondage and give us eternal life, but it is only because of His shed blood on the cross that He can do this, for we “were not redeemed [λύτρον lutron] with perishable things like silver or gold…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).  The blood of Christ is necessary, for “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). 

Redemption implies antecedent bondage.  Thus the word refers primarily to man’s subjection to the dominion and curse of sin (see Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor. 15:56).  Also in a secondary sense to the bondage of Satan as the head of the kingdom of darkness, and to the bondage of death as the penalty of sin (see Acts 26:18; Heb. 2:14-15).  Redemption from this bondage is represented in the Scriptures as both universal and limited.  It is universal in the sense that its advantages are freely offered to all.  It is limited in the sense that it is effectual only with respect to those who meet the conditions of salvation announced in the gospel.  For such it is effectual in that they receive forgiveness of sins and the power to lead a new and holy life.  Satan is no longer their captor, and death has lost its sting and terror.  They look forward to the redemption of the body (see Heb. 2:9; Acts 3:19; Eph. 1:7; Acts 26:18; 2 Tim. 2:26; 1 Cor. 15:55-57; Rom. 8:15-23).[13]

     All humanity is born into a slave-market of sin.  Jesus came into this world and took upon Himself true humanity and died upon a cross to atone for our sins.  Because Jesus died on the cross and tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9), He rendered inoperative “him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).  Those who turn to Christ for salvation can be set free from the slave-market of sin into which they were born, to which they were “subject to slavery all their lives” (Heb. 2:15).  Once we are saved, we can say with the apostle Paul, “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). 

     What was it that Christ offered as payment for sin?  The answer is His blood that He shed on the cross.  The payment of our debt occurred at the cross by the Lord Jesus, “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Rom. 3:25a).  Propitiation translates the Greek word ἱλαστήριον hilasterion which is defined as, “A sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor.”[14]  At the cross, God effected the removal of all impediments that hindered a restored relationship with Him, and this He accomplished by the blood of Christ, which is the coin of the heavenly realm that paid our sin-debt.  The blood of Christ forever satisfied God’s righteous demands for our sin. 

     The Apostle John also writes about Jesus’ death as a satisfying payment for sins.  He tells us “He Himself is the propitiation [ἱλασμός hilasmos – a satisfactory sacrifice] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. 4:10).  At the cross, God has “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14).  Propitiation means that God’s righteous wrath toward our sin has been appeased.  He is no longer angry. 

Christ’s absolute righteousness alone satisfies (propitiates) the demands of an absolutely righteous God. The Greek term “propitiate” (hilasteerion) is used only three times in the New Testament. John informs us that “He [Christ][15] is the atoning sacrifice [propitiation] for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). He adds, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice [propitiation] for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Thus, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement [propitiation], through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom. 3:25).[16]

     When God judged Christ on the cross, it was a display “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. 3:26).  God has dealt with our sin in a righteous manner.  He judged it.  Jesus was the object of that judgment, and the cross was the place where the penalty was paid.  “It demonstrates God’s righteousness, the subject of Romans, by showing that God is both just in His dealings with sin and the Justifier who provides righteous standing for the sinner.”[17]  God justifies the sinner who comes in faith, believing in Jesus as Savior (John 3:16; 20:31 Acts 4:12; 16:30-31; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  The word faith translates the Greek noun πίστις pistis, which refers to a “state of believing on the basis of the reliability of the one trusted.”[18]  Faith has no saving merit, as the sinner places all trust in the Person and work of Jesus Who has accomplished our salvation in full.  No works are required (Rom. 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).

You can be adjusted to God’s standard, because God made Christ to become sin for us.  The One who knew no sin, the One in whose lips had never been found guile, took upon Himself our sin in order that He might bear our sins to the cross and offer Himself as an acceptable substitute to God for us—on our behalf, in our place.  And when Jesus Christ identified Himself with sinners and went to the cross on their behalf and in their place, He was making possible the doctrine of reconciliation.  He was making it possible for God to conform the world to Himself, to adjust the world to His standard so that sinners in the world might find salvation because “Jesus paid it all.”  You can be adjusted to God, to God’s standard, through Christ, by His death, by His cross, by His blood, and by His identification with sinners.[19]

     Jesus’ death on the cross was substitutionary (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18), paid the redemption price for sin (Matt. 20:28; Gal. 3:13; 4:4-5; 1 Pet. 1:15), cancelled our sin debt (Col. 2:14), propitiated the Father (Isa. 53:4-6, 10-12; Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and reconciles sinners by grace through faith (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Eph. 2:8-9; Col. 1:19-20).  The result is salvation to those who accept the free gift of eternal life that was accomplished by Jesus.  In the Bible, it is always God who saves the sinner (John 3:16; Tit. 3:5).  It is God who gives the sinner eternal life and imputes to him a righteousness he does not deserve and could never manufacture on his own (John 10:28; Rom. 4:1-6; 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  The sinner never saves himself.  If the sinner could save himself, then Jesus’s death on the cross would not have been necessary.   

The word salvation is used in the Bible to indicate a work of God in behalf of man. In the present dispensation its use is limited to His work for individuals only, and is vouchsafed to them upon one definite condition. Too much emphasis cannot be placed on the fact that now, according to the Bible, salvation is the result of the work of God for the individual, rather than the work of the individual for God, or even the work of the individual for himself. Eventually the one who is saved by the power of God may, after that divine work is accomplished, do “good works” for God; for salvation is said to be “unto good works” (Eph. 2:10) and those who “believed” are to be “careful to maintain good works” (Tit. 3:8). Good works are evidently made possible by salvation; but these good works, which follow salvation, do not add anything to the all-sufficient and perfect saving work of God.[20]

     Salvation is an all-encompassing provision.  It begins and ends with the work of Christ who satisfied God’s righteous character and demands for sin.  It is all that God does for unworthy sinners because Christ was judged in our place.  He atoned for our sin by His shed blood on Calvary.  He paid the redemption price and liberated us from spiritual slavery and an eternal punishment that was surely ours.  He did this freely, in love, and provides salvation by grace to all those who come by faith, trusting in Him alone as Savior. 

Summary

     God is perfectly righteous and cannot approve of sin.  All humanity is under guilt and condemnation because of sin.  We are sinners in Adam, by nature, and by choice.  More so, we are helpless to save ourselves from the slave market of sin into which we were born.  God, in love, did for us what we could not do ourselves.  He satisfied every demand of His righteousness by judging our sin in the substitute of His Son, Jesus, Who came into the world sinless, lived a perfectly righteous life under the Law, and went to the cross as an innocent Man and died in our place, the just for the unjust.  The result is forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the gift of righteousness to those who believe in Jesus as their Savior, trusting that His work on the cross satisfied every righteous demand of the Father.  This blessing to us is an expression of God’s love and based on His grace.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Merrill Frederick Unger, R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos et al., “Sin” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1198.

[2] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 1995), 188-189.

[3] Francis Brown, et al, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon, 723.

[4] Ibid., 723.

[5] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Matt. 27:45.

[6] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, 1309.

[7] Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972), 348.

[8] Though reference is here made to Jesus’ humanity, this in no way diminishes His divine nature. Jesus is the God-Man.  He is one Person.  He is eternal God (Isa. 9:6; John 8:56-58), yet He was born of a woman in time and space (Gal. 4:4).  He is omniscient (Ps. 139:1-6), but as a boy, He grew in knowledge (Luke 2:52).  He created the universe (Gen. 1:1; John 1:3; Col. 1:15-16), but as man, He is subject to its weaknesses (Matt. 4:2; John 19:28).  We struggle to comprehend the union of God and Man; however, it is with certainty that the Bible portrays Him this way (John 1:1, 14; 20:28; cf. Luke 1:31-33; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15), and this truth is essential to Christianity.  As God, Jesus is worthy of all worship and praise (Luke 24:51-52; John 9:38; 20:28; Heb. 1:6).  As a perfect sinless Man, He went to the cross and died a substitutionary death in my place (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:6-10; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18), and bore the wrath of God that rightfully belonged to me (Isa. 53:1-12), so that I might have the gifts of righteousness and eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). 

[9] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Rom. 3:24.

[10] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 266.

[11] Ibid., 1079.

[12] Ibid., 117.

[13] Merrill F. Unger, “Redemption,” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago, Ill., Moody Press, 1988), 1068-1069.

[14] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 1252.

[15] Bracketed comments belong in quote.

[16] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, 333.

[17] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Rom. 3:26.

[18] William Arndt, et al, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 818.

[19] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine, 89.

[20] Lewis S. Chafer, Salvation (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 1.

Posted in Christian Theology, Hamartiology, Inspirational Writings, Righteous Living, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Biblical Righteousness: A Word Study

A Word Study on Righteousness

Righteous [צַדִּיק tsaddiq] are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments [מִשְׁפָּט mishpat]. You have commanded Your testimonies in righteousness [צֶדֶק tsedeq] and exceeding faithfulness. (Ps. 119:137-138)

     RighteousnessA word study considers the meaning of a word.  An author determines the meaning of a word by how he uses it within a context.  The semantic range of a word is observed by its usage in various contexts.  The more times a word is used in different ways, the broader its semantic range.  The Bible, both the Old Testament and New Testament, provides a rich semantic range concerning the words righteous and righteousness.  The basic words in Hebrew are the noun צֶדֶק tsedeq, the adjective צַדִּיק tsaddiq, and the verb צָדֵק tsadeq.  The basic Greek words are the noun δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune, the adjective δίκαιος dikaios, and the verb δικαιόω dikaioo

     For God, righteousness is an attribute, an inherent quality, not the adherence to laws beyond Himself (of which there are none), or laws He has created.  “As an attribute of God it is united with His holiness as being essential in His nature; it is legislative or rectoral, as He is the righteous governor of all creatures; and is administrative or judicial, as He is a just dispenser of rewards and punishments.”[1]  The adjective צַדִּיק tsaddiq (206 times in 197 verses)[2] means “to be in the right, be right.”[3]  God is righteous; therefore, all His judgments are just.  This is why the psalmist writes, “Righteousness [צֶדֶק] and justice [מִשְׁפָּט] are the foundation of His throne” (Ps. 97:2).  The Hebrew noun מִשְׁפָּט mishpat refers to the just judgments that follow from God’s righteous character. 

     The denominative verb[4] צָדֵק tsadeq (160 times in 152 verses) most often means “to be just, righteous.”[5]  The root word “basically connotes conformity to an ethical or moral standard.”[6]  The masculine noun צֶדֶק tsedeq (160 times in 152 verses) refers to “accuracy, what is correct.”[7]  The feminine noun צְדָקָה tsedaqah (159 times in 150 verses) is translated “honesty; justice; justness.”[8]  It is observed, “The masculine ṣedeq [and] the feminine ṣĕdāqâ…do not differ in meaning, as far as we can prove.”[9] 

The Hebrew ṣeḏeq probably derives from an Arabic root meaning ‘straightness’, leading to the notion of an action which conforms to a norm. There is, however, a considerable richness in the biblical understanding of this term and it is difficult to render either the Hebrew or Greek words concerned by a simple English equivalent. One basic ingredient in the OT idea of righteousness is relationship, both between God and man (Ps. 50:6; Je. 9:24) and between man and man (Dt. 24:13; Je. 22:3).[10]

Millard Erickson adds:

In the Old Testament, the verb צָדַק (tsadaq) and its derivatives connote conformity to a norm. Since the character of the individual is not so much in view as is his or her relationship to God’s law, the term is more religious than ethical in nature. The verb means “to conform to a given norm”; in the Hiphil stem it means “to declare righteous or to justify.” The particular norm in view varies with the situation. Sometimes the context is family relationships. Tamar was more righteous than Judah, because he had not fulfilled his obligations as her father-in-law (Gen. 38:26). And David, in refusing to slay Saul, was said to be righteous (1 Sam. 24:17; 26:23), for he was abiding by the standards of the monarch-subject relationship. Clearly righteousness is understood as a matter of living up to the standards set for a relationship. Ultimately, God’s own person and nature are the measure or standard of righteousness. God is the ruler of all and the source of all criteria of rightness. As Abraham confessed, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25).[11]

     When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek circa 250 B.C., the translators chose δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune as the closest equivalent to צֶדֶק tsedeq and צְדָקָה tsedaqah and is frequently translated as righteousness or justice.  In the New Testament, the most common words denoting righteousness or justice are δίκαιος dikaios (79 times in 74 verses) and δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune (92 times in 86 verses).  The adjective δίκαιος dikaios pertains “to being in accordance with high standards of rectitude, upright, just, fair.[12]  All three Persons of the Trinity are righteous and just.  God the Father is called “righteous” [δίκαιος dikaios] (John 17:25), as well as His laws (Rom. 7:25) and judgments (Rom. 3:26; 1 John 1:9).  Jesus is called “just” or “righteous” [δίκαιος dikaios] (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. 1 John 2:1), and all His judgments are “just” [δίκαιος dikaios] (John 5:30; 2 Tim. 4:8).  And God the Holy Spirit has a ministry that promotes “righteousness” [δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune] (John 16:8). 

     The noun δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune may be defined as “the quality, state, or practice of judicial responsibility with focus on fairness, justice, equitableness, fairness.[13]  The quality of righteousness is intrinsic to the Person of God.  “Literally, the word righteous (Gk: dikaios) means ‘to be just’ or ‘right.’ Theologically, it refers to the intrinsic characteristic of God wherein He is absolutely just or right and is the ultimate standard of justice and rightness.”[14]  For God’s people, there is both a positional and experiential aspect of righteousness.  Positionally, every believer resides in a state of righteousness which is based solely on the imputation of God’s righteousness as a gift at the moment of faith in Christ (Phil. 3:9).  Experientially, the obedient-to-the-word believer learns to practice righteousness as he/she walks in conformity to God’s commands (Rom. 6:13).  The former necessarily precedes the latter. 

     The verb δικαιόω dikaioo means “to take up a legal cause, show justice, [or] do justice.”[15]  The noun δίκη dike appears briefly in the New Testament.  Once (Acts 28:4) it refers to Justice “personified as a deity”[16] and three times (Acts 25:15; 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 1:7) as “punishment meted out as legal penalty.”[17]  The noun δικαίωμα dikaioma refers to “a regulation relating to just or right action, regulation, requirement, commandment.[18]  Righteous persons conform themselves to God’s commandments (Luke 1:6; Rom. 2:26).  The requirements of the Law are met in those who walk according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4).  Jesus’ going to the cross was a single act of righteousness that secured justification for those who believe (Rom. 5:8).

     Throughout the Bible righteousness is also seen as a relationship word that recognizes established standards between a sovereign and subordinate.  A man is recognized as righteous, either before God or men, when he satisfies the legal demands placed upon him.  Any law between God and man, whether the laws in the Garden of Eden, the Mosaic Law given at Mount Sinai, or the law of Christ found in the New Testament writings to the church, establishes the ground upon which the relationship is declared a success or failure and from which blessing or discipline flows. 

The NT uses righteousness in the sense of conformity to the demands and obligations of the will of God, the so-called ‘righteousness of the law’ (Gal. 3:21; Phil. 3:6, 9; cf. Tit. 3:5). Human attainment of righteousness is at points relatively positively viewed (Lk. 1:6; 2:25; Mt. 5:20), but in the end this attainment in all men falls far short of a true conformity to the divine will (Rom. 3:9–20; Lk. 18:9–14; Jn. 8:7).[19]

     The righteousness of God [δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ dikaiosune theou] is not only the standard for divine acceptance (Rom. 10:3), but it is also that which God gives to the believer at the moment of faith in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21), which gift is the basis upon which a sinner is declared righteous and made acceptable in His sight (Rom. 4:1-5; 5:17; Phil. 3:9).  The believer is judicially declared righteous before God because of the imputation of His righteousness given at the moment of salvation.  The believer is experientially declared righteous before God because he/she conforms to God’s expectations for behavior (Rom. 6:11-16). 

     Laws are part of the fabric of humanity.  It’s our nature to label something good or evil.  The real issue for humanity is the starting point; either by beginning with God and what Scripture reveals about Him, or beginning with humanity and creating an arbitrary absolute.  Much of the Scriptural research up to this point reveals that God’s character is the basis for a relationship with Him as well as the norm upon which all just laws derive; either divine laws from God Himself or human laws which conform to His righteousness.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

[1] Merrill Frederick Unger et al., “Righteousness” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[2] The number of occurrences of Hebrew and Greek words was obtained using a search on lemma in BibleWorks. 

[3] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1003.

[4] A denominative verb originates from a noun or adjective.

[5] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 842.

[6] Harold G. Stigers, “צָדֵק,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 752.

[7] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 1005.

[8] Ibid., 1006.

[9] Harold G. Stigers, “צָדֵק,” et al, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 752.

[10] B. A. Milne, “Righteousness,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1020.

[11] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 883–884.

[12] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 246.

[13] Ibid., 247.

[14] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, 323.

[15] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 249.

[16] Ibid., 250.

[17] Ibid., 250.

[18] Ibid., 249.

[19] B. A. Milne, “Righteousness,” New Bible Dictionary, 1020.

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The Righteousness of God

Righteousness     The Bible reveals God is righteous.  He is righteous in essence and action.  He loves righteousness and approves of those who walk in conformity to His character and commands.  Scripture declares, “For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face” (Ps. 11:7), and “Righteous are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments” (Ps. 119:137).  God’s attribute of righteousness may be defined as that intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates.  There is no law or code of ethics outside of God to which He must give account; but rather, His righteous character is the basis for all His laws and from which all good human laws derive. 

     The attributes of God are manifold and work in perfect harmony with each other, being governed by the all-wise mind of God.  When focusing on God’s attribute of righteousness, it is helpful to keep all His other attributes in mind, as this will provide balance to the Christian’s thinking concerning the character of God.  For example, because God is righteous, all His actions and commands are just.  Because God is immutable, His moral perfections never change.  Because God is eternal, He is righteous forever.  Because God is omniscient, His righteous acts are always predicated on perfect knowledge.  Because God is omnipotent, He is always able to execute His righteous will.  Because God is love, His judgments can be merciful toward the undeserving and humble.  The cross of Christ perfectly displays God’s righteousness in connection with His attributes of love and mercy toward those who deserve only condemnation. 

THE PERSON OF GOD

The Trinity

     This article is a focused study on God’s attribute of righteousness.  However, one cannot talk about the righteousness of God as an attribute without recognizing the Personhood of God.  Righteousness is a moral attribute of personhood.  Personhood requires existence, intellect, and volition.  More so, to say that God is righteous means that one knows something about God.  Knowledge—from infancy onward—is obtained by experience, observation, and revelation.  Knowledge is a resource of the mind.  It is a mental bank of information.  To obtain and build a bank of knowledge, the human mind borrows and invents language as a means of categorizing objects and concepts in order to form a mental framework that allows one to reason and make sense of what is.  One person can communicate with another when they share a similar bank of information—basic words and concepts—and use language as a reliable vehicle for the expression of ideas.  Information about God comes as a revelation.  God has revealed Himself through His creation, through Jesus,[1] and through Scripture.[2] 

     In creation, God has revealed Himself through people who are made in His “image” (Gen. 1:26-27), through nature (Ps. 19:1-2; Rom. 1:20), and through His goodness (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17).  He has revealed Himself through His decrees (Gen. 1:3, 11, 26-27; Ps. 33:6), by direct speech (Gen. 2:16-17; Ex. 3:1-10; Matt. 3:17; Mark 9:7; John 12:28), through the mouth of His prophets (Ex. 4:12; Jer. 1:9), and through Jesus (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; Heb. 1:1-2).  Lastly, God has revealed Himself through Scripture (Ps. 12:6-7; John 17:17; Rom. 15:4; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:21).  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).  Among the various ways God reveals Himself, the Bible provides the most specific information concerning His Personhood, character and actions. 

     Scripture reveals that God exists as a Trinity.  “It declares that there is only one true God; that this God is three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each of whom is distinct from, yet interrelated with, the others; and that all three persons are fully, equally and eternally divine.”[3]  The Trinity is implied in the Old Testament (Gen. 1:2; 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; 9:6; Prov. 30:4), and is more clearly revealed in the New Testament (Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; John 1:1, 18; 10:30; 16:13-15; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:1-2).  One could never know about the Trinity apart from divine revelation.  God had to reveal this about Himself.  Unfortunately, throughout history there have been attacks on the doctrine of the Trinity, and this is contrary to Biblical revelation.[4] 

     The three persons of the Trinity are: God the Father (John 6:27; Rom. 1:7; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 5:18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; 3:16; 2 Cor. 13:14).  Each Person of the Trinity is co-equal, co-infinite, and co-eternal.  To say that each Person in the Trinity is co-equal means that each Person shares the same attributes.

The essential oneness of God is linked to Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one (Heb. echad, “compound unity; united one”). This statement stresses not only the uniqueness of God but also the unity of God (cf. also James 2:19). It means all three Persons possess the summation of the divine attributes but yet the essence of God is undivided. Oneness in essence also emphasizes that the three Persons of the Trinity do not act independently of one another.[5]

Overview of God’s Attributes

     Having briefly addressed the doctrine of the Trinity, a presentation of God’s attributes shall follow.  “An attribute is a property which is intrinsic to its subject. It is that by which it is distinguished or identified…God Himself cannot be conceived apart from the qualities attributed to them.”[6]  To know God is to learn about His personhood as well as those characteristics, attributes, or qualities that explain who He is and why He thinks or acts in a certain manner.  More so, it is important to understand that God’s attributes work together in perfect harmony and should not been seen as independent of each other.

The various perfections of God are not component parts of God. Each describes His total being. Love, for example, is not a part of God’s nature; God in His total being is love. Although God may display one quality or another at a given time, no quality is independent of or preeminent over any of the others. Whenever God displays His wrath, He is still love. When He shows His love, He does not abandon His holiness. God is more than the sum total of His perfections. When we have listed all the attributes we can glean from revelation, we have not fully described God. This stems from His incomprehensibility. Even if we could say we had a complete list of all God’s perfections, we could not fathom their meaning, for finite man cannot comprehend the infinite God. God’s perfections are known to us through revelation. Man does not attribute them to God; God reveals them to man. To be sure, man can suggest attributes of God, but these cannot be assumed to be true unless they are revealed by God. The perfections of God describe equally the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They describe the nature of the Triune God and therefore each person of the Trinity.[7]

     The infinite personal God can be known, but only in a limited way as a finite creature might grasp.  “The Bible presents a revelation which, though limited by the restrictions that language must ever impose, is of a Person, and this revelation attributes to him those exalted qualities which are His. These qualities thus attributed are properly styled attributes.”[8]  The attributes of God should be seen in harmony with each other.

     Light provides a good analogy of the harmony of God’s attributes.  Light consists of the primary colors of red, blue and green.  These colors are constant in the light wave.  When the primary colors are evenly mixed, they produce the secondary colors of yellow, cyan and magenta.  Objects take on various colors depending on which wavelengths are reflected or absorbed.  When light falls upon an object, such as a tomato, it appears red to the human eye because the tomato reflects certain wavelengths of light while absorbing the rest.  Objects that absorb all wavelengths of light appear as black, and objects that reflect all wavelengths of light appear as white.  Similar to light, God has multiple attributes, and those attributes are constant.  However, when reading through a passage of Scripture, we see only one or more of God’s attributes at a time, depending on what God chooses to reflect about Himself.  In one passage David writes, “Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; Your judgments are like a great deep. O LORD, You preserve man and beast” (Ps. 36:5-6).  These two verses of Scripture reveal God’s lovingkindness, faithfulness, righteousness and judgments.  But this is not the total sum of God’s attributes.  Other passages of Scripture reveal His graciousness (Ex. 34:6), mercy (Eph. 2:4), truthfulness (John 14:6), and so forth. 

     When studying the attributes of God, the student should never seek to understand them separately from God, as though an attribute of God may exist apart from Him.  More so, the attributes of God are as infinite as God Himself, and to try to understand them fully would be like pouring the ocean into a thimble.  “The attributes of God present a theme so vast and complex and so beyond the range of finite faculties that any attempt to classify them must be only approximate as to accuracy or completeness. So, also, the attributes are so interrelated and interdependent that the exact placing of some of them is difficult if not wholly impossible.”[9] 

     A detailed understanding of God’s attributes guards the believer from developing a faulty view of God as well as taking on only certain attributes to the exclusion of others.  A solitary view of God as righteous can lead a Christian to legalistic behavior, whereas a singular understanding of God as loving or gracious can lead to licentiousness.  A thorough Biblical understanding of God will prove healthy for the Christian who seeks to emulate God.  The Biblical revelation of God has practical application for the growing Christian, for as the believer advances in spiritual maturity, he/she will take on the characteristics of God, though only a few of those characteristics may be visible to others at any given moment, depending on the situation. 

     When surveying systematic theologies, theologians will often cite many of God’s attributes as they observe in Scripture.  Below is a sampling of God’s attributes as understood and presented by various evangelical theologians.

Lewis S. Chafer:

omniscience (Ps. 33:13; Matt. 11:21-23; Rom. 4:17), sensibility (Jer. 31:3; Rom. 9:13), holiness (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8), justice (Ps. 89:14; Rom. 3:26), love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8), goodness (2 Cor. 1:3; Heb. 4:16), truth (Num. 23:19; Rom. 3:4), will (John 1:13; Rom. 8:27), freedom (Ps. 36:6; Rom. 11:33-34), omnipotence (no Scripture cited), simplicity (no Scripture cited), unity (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6), infinity (no Scripture cited), eternity (no Scripture cited[10]), immutability (Ps. 102:24-27; Mal. 3:6), omnipresence or immensity (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7-12), and sovereignty (1 Sam. 2:6-8; 1 Chron. 29:11-12; Ps. 50:12).[11]

Millard J. Erickson:

spirituality (John 4:24; cf. Luke 24:39), personality (Ex. 3:14), life (John 5:26; 1 Thess. 1:9), infinity (Ps. 139:7-12; Acts 17:24-25), constancy (Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6), holiness (Ex. 15:11; Isa. 6:1-4; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1), righteousness (Gen. 18:25; Jer. 9:24), justice (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 33:5), genuineness (Jer. 17:10; John 17:3), veracity (1 Sam. 15:29; Tit. 1:2), faithfulness (Num. 23:19; 1 Thess. 5:24), benevolence (Deut. 7:7-8; 1 John 4:10), grace (Ex. 34:6; Eph. 1:5-8), mercy (Ps. 103:13; Mark 1:41), and persistence (Ex. 34:6; 1 Pet. 3:20).[12]

Henry C. Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen:

spirituality (Luke 24:39; John 4:24; Col. 1:15; 6:16), self-existence (Ex. 3:14; Isa. 41:4; John 8:58), immensity (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 113:4-6; Acts 17:24-28), eternity (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 90:2; 1 Tim. 6:16), omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-10; Isa. 66:1; Acts 17:24), omniscience (Ps. 139:1-10; Prov. 15:3; Matt. 10:30; Heb. 4:13), omnipotence (Job 42:2; Matt. 19:26), immutability (Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6; Jam. 1:17), holiness (Lev. 11:44-45; Ps. 22:3; John 17:11; 1 Pet. 1:15-16), righteousness and justice (Ps. 89:14; Isa. 45:21; John 17:25; 2 Tim. 4:8), goodness (Deut. 7:6-8; Ps. 145:9, 15; Matt. 5:45; John 3:16; 1 John 4:8), truth (John 3:33; Rom. 3:4; 1 John 5:20), unity (Deut. 6:4; Jam. 2:19), and trinity (Gen. 1:26; Isa. 48:16; Matt. 28:19; John 1:1; 6:27; Acts 5:3-4).[13]

Norman Geisler:

pure actuality (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 3:14; Ps. 90:2; Col. 1:17), simplicity or indivisibility (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 45:18; Eph. 4:6), aseity (Ex. 3:14; Ps. 90:2; Acts 17:25-28; Col. 1:17), necessity (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 90:2; Acts 17:25; Col. 1:17), immutability (Num. 23:19; Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6; Rom. 1:23; Heb. 13:8; Jam. 1:17), eternality (Ex. 3:14; Ps. 90:2; Isa. 57:15), impassibility (Deut. 10:14; 1 Chron. 29:14; Ps. 24:1; Rom. 11:35-36), infinity (1 Kings 18:27; Isa. 66:1-2; Rom. 11:33), immateriality (Luke 24:39; John 4:24; Col. 1:15), immensity (Job 11:7-8; Isa. 66:1-2), omnipotence (Job 37:23; 40:2; Jer. 32:17; Eph. 1:19; 2 Cor. 6:18), omnipresence (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:23-24), omniscience (Ps. 139:2-4, 17-18; Rom. 11:33; Heb. 4:13), wisdom (Prov. 2:6; 3:19; Dan. 2:20; Rom. 16:27; 1 Cor. 2:7), light (Ps. 4:6; 21:7; Isa. 10:17; John 8:12; 1 John 1:5), majesty (1 Chron. 29:11; Isa. 33:21; Heb. 8:1; 2 Pet. 1:16), beauty (Ps. 27:4; 96:9; Isa. 33:17), ineffability (Deut. 29:29; Ps. 139:6; Isa. 55:8; Rom. 11:33), life (Josh. 3:10; Ps. 42:2; Jer. 10:10; Matt. 16:16; Acts 14:15), immortality (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16; Rom. 1:2), unity (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6; Eph. 4:6), triunity (Matt. 28:18-19; John 1:1; 6:27; 20:28; Acts 5:3-4), holiness (Ex. 15:11; Ps. 99:9; Rev. 4:8), righteousness-justice (Ps. 19:9; 89:14; 2 Cor. 9:9), jealousy (Ps. 78:58; Joel 2:18; Zech. 8:2), perfection (Deut. 32:4; 2 Sam. 22:31; Matt. 5:48), truthfulness (Deut. 32:4; Num. 23:19; John 14:6), goodness or love (Deut. 10:15; Jer. 31:3; John 3:16; 1 John 4:16), mercy (Ex. 15:13; Neh. 13:22; Eph. 2:4), wrath (Deut. 9:7-8; John 3:36; Rev. 6:17), transcendence (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 97:9; Eph. 4:6), immanence (Jer. 23:23-24; Heb. 4:13), sovereignty (Ps. 115:3; Job 42:2; Col. 1:16), providence (Ps. 103:19; 135:6-7; Matt. 5:45; Eph. 1:11).[14]

Wayne Grudem:

independence (Job 41:11; Acts 17:24-25), unchangeableness (Ps. 102:25-27; Jam. 1:17), eternity (Ps. 90:2), omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:23-24), unity (Deut. 6:4), spirituality (John 4:24), invisibility (John 1:18; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16), omniscience (Ps. 139:1-6; Heb. 4:13; 1 John 3:20), wisdom (Ps. 104:24; Rom. 16:27), truthfulness (Jer. 17:10; John 17:3), goodness (Ps. 100:5; Luke 18:19), love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8), mercy, grace, patience (Ex. 34:6; Ps. 103:8), holiness (Ps. 71:22; Isa. 6:3), peace or order (Rom. 15:33; 1 Cor. 14:33), righteousness or justice (Deut. 32:4), jealousy (Ex. 20:5; 34:14), wrath (Ex. 32:9-10; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18), will (Dan. 4:32; Eph. 1:11; Rev. 4:11), freedom (Ps. 115:3; Prov. 21:1), omnipotence or power or sovereignty (Ps. 24:8; Eph. 3:20), perfection (Ps. 18:30; Matt. 5:48), blessedness (1 Tim. 1:11; 6:15), beauty (Ps. 27:4), and glory (Isa. 43:7; Rom. 3:23)[15]

Charles Ryrie:

eternity (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 90:2), freedom (Isa. 40:13-14), holiness (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:15), immutability (Mal. 3:6; Jam. 1:17), infinity (1 Ki. 8:27; Acts 17:24-28), love (1 John 4:8), omnipotence (Gen. 17:1; 2 Cor. 6:18), omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-11), omniscience (Ps. 139:1-6), righteousness (Ps. 11:7; Dan. 9:7), simplicity (John 4:24), sovereignty (Ps. 135:6), truth (John 17:3; Tit. 1:2), unity (Deut. 6:4).[16]

     However one understands the nature and number of God’s attributes, it is always important to keep in mind that His attributes be taken as a collection that work together in perfect harmony.  “The attributes of God form an interwoven and interdependent communion of facts and forces which harmonize in the Person of God.  An omission or slighting of any of these, or any disproportionate emphasis upon any one of them cannot but lead to fundamental error of immeasurable magnitude.”[17]

The Righteousness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

     The singular attribute of righteousness is the focus of this article, and that attribute is observed in all three Persons of the Trinity.  God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all possess the same attributes, and the particular attribute of righteousness is observed by direct statement as well as action.  The Father is said to be righteous (John 17:25), the Son is called the “Righteous One” (Acts 3:14; cf. Acts 7:52, 22:14), and the Holy Spirit has a ministry that promotes “righteousness” (John 16:8).  All three shall be observed.

God the Father is Righteous

     On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus spent time teaching His disciples and preparing them for the transition of the coming church age (John 13-16).  At the end of His teaching session, Jesus offered a prayer to God the Father (John 17), a prayer that speaks of His return to the Father, but only after He faced the judgment of the cross.  Jesus did not pray to avoid the pain and shame of the cross, but that the Father would be glorified in it.  In His prayer Jesus referred to His Father as “Holy Father” (John 17:11) and “righteous Father” (John 17:25), and he made these statements knowing that the Father was sending Him to the cross to die as a substitute for sinners (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8).  God the Father was right to send His Son into the world to reveal His love (John 3:16), and He was right to send His Son to the cross to die in our place (Rom. 5:8).  If anyone had grounds to argue with the Father concerning the events of the cross, it was certainly Jesus.  However, God the Son addressed God the Father as righteous, knowing and accepting His plan of salvation through penal substitutionary atonement.  Not only was the Father righteous concerning His plan for the Son, but He is also righteous as “the Judge of all” (Heb. 12:23).

God the Son is Righteous

     The righteousness of God the Son became obvious when He took upon Himself a human nature, was born under the law (Gal. 4:4), obeyed the law (Matt. 5:17-19), and directed others to do the same (Matt. 8:4; 23:1-3).  “Christ’s righteousness is completely perfect. He lived a perfect life (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 3:3), and He fulfilled the demands of the law.”[18]  Jesus is called “that righteous man” (Matt. 27:19), and the “Righteous One” (Acts 3:14; cf. Acts 7:52, 22:14).  “The title ‘the Righteous One,’ was used by the early church as an appellation for Jesus (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14).  John declared that believers have an Advocate with the Father, ‘Jesus Christ, the Righteous One’ (1 John 2:1).”[19]  The apostle Peter writes about “the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1).  John writes about those during the Tribulation who will sing “the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!’” (Rev. 15:3).  As the Righteous One, Jesus judged, and will judge, with perfect righteousness.  He says, “As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just [or righteous – δίκαιος dikaios], because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30). 

     It is a sad commentary when we read in Scripture that Jesus was falsely accused of sin.  It is a blemish on sinful mankind that they saw the Son of God, heard His perfect words, and personally witnessed His miracles; yet, they rejected Him and sought to destroy His reputation among the people, saying, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matt. 11:19).  And later said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (Matt. 12:24).  Many false charges were brought against Christ by the Jewish leadership in order to have Him killed.  Scripture reveals, “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. 60 They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward” (Matt. 26:59-60).  Both Pilate and Herod found the charges against Jesus to be flimsy and not worthy of putting Him to death.  Luke records:

Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. 15 No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him.” (Luke 23:13-15)

     The Jewish leadership and the crowds did not care to hear Pilate’s words.  They did not care about what was right before God or men.  They only sought to have Jesus crucified, so they began to shout, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” (Luke 23:18).  Pilate tried to have Jesus released, but the crowds kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21).  Eventually, “their voices began to prevail. 24 And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted” (Luke 23:23a-24).  Pilate, in a moment of weakness, caved to the demands of the Jewish mob, so Jesus was sentenced to death and crucified as a criminal, even though He was innocent.  As the Lord hung upon the cross, God the Father judged Him in our place.  The sky grew dark for three hours, between 12 and 3 PM, and during that time God the Father poured out His wrath upon Jesus.  Immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion, the Roman centurion who saw what had happened “began praising God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent [or righteous – δίκαιος dikaios]’” (Luke 23:47).  God never creates evil, however, He can and does control those who do (John 6:70-71; 19:10-11; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).  Though sinful men wrongly crucified the Lord, it was necessary that He die as our substitute and bear the punishment for our sins.  Scripture reveals that Jesus “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18).  The shed blood of Christ atoned for our sins, and “having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Rom. 5:9).  Jesus’ obedience makes us righteous before God, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). 

God the Holy Spirit is Righteous

     God the Holy Spirit has a ministry of righteousness.  The righteousness of the Holy Spirit was revealed by Jesus in the upper room discourse.  Jesus revealed the ministry of the Holy Spirit in which He convicts “the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).  The word “sin” is singular and refers only to the sin of unbelief in which men reject Christ as Savior (John 16:9).  “The Spirit also convicts the sinner of righteousness, not unrighteousness. Whose righteousness? The righteousness of Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God.”[20]  The Holy Spirit also convicts the world of the fact that Jesus has left the world and has been received in heaven by the Father.  This acceptance in heaven is a testimony concerning the righteousness of Christ, because only perfect righteousness can be accepted by the Father.  More so, the Holy Spirit also convinces people that the prince of this world, Satan, has been rightly judged and will face eternal punishment (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:1-3, 10). 

     Another example of the Spirit’s righteousness is found in the book of Hebrews where the Holy Spirit sustained Jesus on the cross so He could accomplish the Father’s will by atoning for the sins of the world (Heb. 9:11-14).  The writer to the Hebrews presents Jesus as superior to the Old Testament sacrificial system in numerous ways, and especially His death on the cross which cleanses sinners from sin in ways the Levitical sacrificial system could never do (Heb. 10:4; 10-14).  “The Old Testament sacrifices were limited to outward cleansing; they only cleansed the flesh. But, the work of Jesus avails in the spiritual sphere and results in inward cleansing.”[21]  Jesus was sent by God the Father into the world (John 17:3, 8, 18), and the primary mission of Jesus was to go to the cross and die for sinners (John 3:16; Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8).  His atoning death was an act of righteousness that satisfied the Father’s righteous demands for our sin, and Scripture reveals the Holy Spirit was involved in this most important work of Christ, “who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God” (Heb. 9:14).  “With this lovely assertion, the writer of Hebrews involved all three Persons of the Godhead in the sacrifice of Christ, which magnifies the greatness of His redemptive offering.”[22]  The Holy Spirit was right to sustain Jesus on the cross as he offered His blood as an atoning sacrifice to the Father. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min

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[1] God has also revealed Himself through the Person, words and works of Jesus; however, that direct revelation is not available to us now, for all that we know about Jesus comes only through Scripture.

[2] The Bible is a library of sixty six books written by nearly forty human authors spanning a period of roughly sixteen hundred years.  Scriptural authority resides in the autographs as they were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  God the Holy Spirit superintended the writing(s) of each author so that what they produced is historically and theologically accurate in all it affirms (the Bible accurately records lies and sinful acts, but it does not affirm those lies or sinful acts).  That which the Bible affirms about the Person and character of God is both accurate and instructive.

[3] Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009).

[4] Throughout history there have been heresies such as: Tritheism, which teaches there are three absolutely separate gods; Modalism, which argues that there is only one god who manifests himself in three forms as Father, Son, and Spirit; and Arianism, which argues that the Son is not equal to the Father and reduces the Son to the status of a creature.

[5] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 199–200.

[6] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1993), 190.

[7] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 39–40.

[8] Ibid., 187.

[9] Ibid., 189.

[10] It is peculiar that Dr. Chafer would so clearly explain several of God’s attributes without providing a single Scripture reference to support his assertions.

[11] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1993), 192-223.

[12] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Books, 2000), 293-323.

[13] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Henry Clarence Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 75-98.

[14] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 31-572.

[15] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 156-221.

[16] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 41-50.

[17] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, 223.

[18] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two, 333.

[19] Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 188–189.

[20] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 362.

[21] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 120.

[22] Zane C. Hodges, “Hebrews,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 801.

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God’s Favor Toward His People

For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O LORD, You surround him with favor as with a shield (Ps. 5:12).

     God shows favor toward His peopleWe show someone favor when we treat them with special kindness, granting them a blessing or improving the quality of their life. The Bible speaks both of divine and human favor. Human favor may be either just or unjust, depending on whether God approves. Just human favor is shown to those who have wisdom (Prov. 8:33-35; 14:35), who diligently seek goodness (Prov. 11:27), kindness and truth (Prov. 3:3-4), and who provide service to others (Gen. 39:3-4). David was shown favor because of his service to Saul (1 Sam. 16:21-22), Jesus found favor among God and men (Luke 2:52), and Christians in the early church found favor among men (Acts 2:47; Rom. 14:18). Unjust favor can be shown to someone because they are poor (Ex. 23:3; cf. Lev. 19:15), wealthy (Jam. 2:1-4), or wicked (Prov. 24:23-25). God condemns unjust favor.

     God’s favor refers to the goodness and blessing He shows to others. God’s favor is based on His sovereignty, for He is under no compulsion to act, but does so according to His good pleasure, freely, from the bounty of His own goodness. His favor is often accomplished through the agency of other people as well as through circumstances.

     God shows a certain amount of favor, or grace, to everyone, including the righteous and the wicked.  Jesus revealed, “For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). This is the goodness God shows to all mankind regardless of their character. However, though the evil and unrighteous encounter God’s favor, it does not change them. Isaiah explained, “Though the wicked is shown favor, he does not learn righteousness; he deals unjustly in the land of uprightness, and does not perceive the majesty of the LORD” (Isa. 26:10). Apart from the general favor God shows to all mankind, there is a special favor He shows to some. In the case of special favor, God either directly blesses someone, or creates a favorable disposition in the hearts of others, even unbelievers, so that they treat His people with exceptional kindness.[1]

     The Bible reveals “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8), so God saved him and his family from the destruction of the flood (Gen. 6:10-8:22). Abraham found favor in the Lord’s sight (Gen. 18:3-5), and God promised him a son within a year (Gen. 18:10; cf. 21:2). Lot was granted the Lord’s favor (Gen. 19:19), and was spared the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24-25).

     Joseph had been sold into slavery by His brothers to Midianite traders (Gen. 37:28), who took Joseph to Egypt and sold him to an Egyptian official named Potiphar (Gen. 37:36). However, even in slavery, “The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man” (Gen. 39:2). God’s presence with Joseph led to God’s blessing. It was God Who granted Joseph favor in the sight of Potiphar, his Egyptian master, and the Lord even blessed Potiphar’s house (Gen. 39:4-5). Later, when Joseph was betrayed by Potiphar’s wife and sent to prison (Gen. 39:7-20), even there “the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer” (Gen. 39:21).

     Later, when God called His people out of Egypt, He again caused others to treat His people favorably. Before the Exodus, God promised, “I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed” (Ex. 3:20-21; cf. 11:3). And God’s Word came to pass, as Scripture states, “Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians” (Ex. 12:35-36).

     Moses, while leading God’s people in the wilderness, requested of the Lord, “let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight” (Ex. 33:13). More so, Moses knew that God’s presence would lead to His blessing; therefore, he said, “For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?” (Ex. 33:16; cf. 34:9). The Lord granted Moses his request, saying, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name” (Ex. 33:17). 

     Ruth found favor in Boaz’ sight and this resulted in many blessings (Ruth 2:2, 10, 13). Daniel had been taken into Babylonian captivity (Dan. 1:1-4) and was subjected to a pagan reeducation program (Dan. 1:5-8). However, “God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials” (Dan. 1:9), so that Daniel could maintain his integrity (Dan. 1:9-16). The Lord’s favor led to Daniel’s promotion within the Babylonian kingdom (Dan. 1:17-21). Later, toward the end of the Israelite captivity, God moved the heart of the Persian king, Cyrus, to show favor to the Israelites by supporting their return to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple (Ezr. 1:1-8; 7:27). It was during this time that God caused Esther to find favor in the eyes of the pagan king, Ahasuerus (Est. 2:17; 5:2), who helped save Israel from a holocaust (Est. 8:1-17).

     Those who love God’s ways and seek His wisdom open themselves to His favor. The psalmist writes, “The LORD favors those who fear Him, those who wait for His lovingkindness” (Ps. 147:11), and Solomon states, “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man” (Prov. 3:3-4). And finally, “Blessed is the man who listens to me [wisdom], watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts. For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov. 8:32-35).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] God, Who controls the hearts of others, opens their hearts to view His people favorably and to provide blessing. The hearts of kings and rulers are in His hand to direct as He wills (Prov. 21:1). All good things ultimately come from God, involve Him, glorify Him, and benefit others. 

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When a Believer Perpetually Sins

Can the true believer live in perpetual sin     The purpose of this article is to show that a child of God can simultaneously surrender some areas of his life to God and other areas not. Like train tracks that run parallel, a believer may be obedient in one thing and disobedient in another. David and Solomon are my biblical examples. Both men were believers, were appointed by God to serve as kings in Israel, received direct revelation from the Lord, wrote Scripture, and are in heaven today. Yet, both men directly disobeyed God’s Word, not just on occasion, but on a continual basis throughout their lives (Solomon especially). To be clear, sin is when we transgress God’s law and depart from His intended path. Sin is not only acting contrary to God’s command, but contrary to His righteous character. The failure of both men pertained to their kingship. In order to understand their ongoing failure, we must start with what God commanded of the kings of Israel. Moses wrote:

“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’ 15 you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman. 16 “Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never again return that way.’ 17He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself. (Deut. 17:14-17)

     God wanted the kings of Israel to be servants who trusted in Him. God had proven He could deliver His people by His might (Ex. 14-15), so He forbid the kings to multiply horses, wives, silver and gold because these would tempt them to turn away from the Lord and seek human solutions to their concerns. The natural inclination of the human heart is to trust in self and worldly wisdom rather than God and His Word. Multiplying horses meant the king would rely on his military power to deliver rather than the Lord. Kings also acquired wives as part of political alliances to keep their borders safe. And the accumulation of gold and silver would influence them to pursue pleasure and rely on wealth to solve their problems. There’s nothing wrong with horses, marriage, or wealth; except that these can, when increased, be impediments to our walk with God. When given the opportunity, most people will not intentionally place themselves in a weak and vulnerable place. Yet, it is often in the place of weakness that God’s wisdom and strength is magnified (see 2 Cor. 12:7-10).

     One of the things I love about the Bible is that it shows people as they really are, having both good and bad qualities, successes and failures. For example, Scripture reveals David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14), was chosen by God to be king over Israel (1 Sam. 16:12-13; cf. 1 Chron. 28:4), defeated Israel’s enemies (1 Sam. 17:1-58), and authored Scripture (73 Psalms). However, David was not without his faults. David sinned when he had an affair with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, murdered (2 Sam. 11:1-17), and later he failed as a father when he would not deal with the rape of his daughter, Tamar (2 Sam. 13:1-39), and again when he sinned against the Lord by taking the census in Israel (2 Sam. 24:1-15). 

     Like David, Solomon had his successes and failures. Solomon did well in the early part of his kingship. In humility he sought the Lord for wisdom (1 Ki. 3:4-15; 4:29), executed wise judgment among God’s people (1 Ki. 3:16-28; 10:9), ruled over a large area (1 Ki. 4:21), was chosen by God to build the temple in Jerusalem (1 Chron. 28:6), and wrote several books of the Bible including Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. However, we know that Solomon sinned when he broke God’s code for the kings of Israel by multiplying gold (1 Ki. 10:14-15, 23), horses (1 Ki. 4:26; 10:26), and wives (1 Ki. 11:1-3).[1] This eventually led to a complete turning away from God. The final days of Solomon’s life were given over to worshipping idols (1 Ki. 11:4-8).

     But what does the Bible say about David and Solomon’s perpetual sin? By perpetual sin I mean continuous, uninterrupted sin that lasts for many years. Both David and Solomon’s perpetual sin was polygamy. They both multiplied wives throughout their kingship in spite of God’s clear command (Deut. 17:17), and they never turned from it. David had eight wives that we know by name: Michal (1 Sam. 18:27), Abigail (1 Sam. 25:39-42), Ahinoam (1 Sam. 25:43), Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:24), Maacah, Haggith, Abital and Eglah (2 Sam. 3:2-5), and other wives that are unnamed (2 Sam. 5:13).[2] Solomon’s kingship started with a political marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter (1 Ki. 3:1). By the end of his life, Scripture reveals Solomon “had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away” (1 Ki. 11:3). God permitted Solomon to sin in this area of his life, and it eventually ruined his walk with the Lord. Solomon eventually worshipped idols (1 Ki. 11:4-10), and this brought God’s anger. God said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant” (1 Ki. 11:11). God punished Solomon for his sin, but He punished him as a son and not an unbeliever. In spite of David and Solomon’s sin, God used them both to accomplish great things. Eventually, Jesus, the promised Messiah, was born in their family line (Matt. 1:6-7, 17).

     Today, there is a battle that rages concerning whether a believer can sin perpetually and still be a true believer. The answer is yes; he can. However, the believer who disobeys God’s Word and abandons his walk can expect the Lord to discipline him, perhaps severely (Heb. 12:4-11), even to death (Lev. 10:1-2; 2 Sam. 6:1-7; Acts 5:1-10; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16-17). The believer who dies by the hand of the Lord goes to heaven (John 10:28), but because of his sin, he forfeits eternal rewards (1 Cor. 3:10-15). This need not happen. The sinning believer can turn from his rebellion and humbly seek the Lord through confession (1 John 1:9), and once restored, can pursue a life of righteousness, as God expects.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Tit. 2:11-14)

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Nehemiah dealt with pagan influence in his day, as foreign women did not convert to Judaism, but rather, turned the hearts of God’s people toward idolatry.  Nehemiah compared the situation in his day to that of Solomon, who sinned against the Lord.  Nehemiah said, “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin” (Neh. 13:26).

[2] As far as I can tell, David married only women within the Israelite community and he cared for his wives.  In one biblical account, two of David’s wives, Abigail and Ahinoam, had been taken captive (1 Sam. 30:5), and David prayed to God concerning the matter.  God provided David victory so that he could reclaim his two wives as well as many possessions (1 Sam. 30:6-18).

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What it Means to Follow Jesus

     To follow Jesus means we follow Him for who He is and not who we want Him to be. There is a biblical Jesus and a worldly Jesus. The worldly Jesus is the one the world sets forth. He is the ecumenical Jesus who never judges, never offends, never stands up for truth, never divides, embraces other religions, wants to improve the world rather than convert the heart, and lets everyone into heaven. There are many moral people who follow this Jesus, and the world loves them for it. In the end, this is a Jesus of their making who fits their agendas. It’s a Jesus who serves them.

     But what does the Bible reveal about Jesus? The Bible reveals Jesus is God who added humanity to Himself (John 1:1, 14; 5:18; 10:33; 20:28), and that He is worthy of worship (Matt. 2:11; 14:33; 28:9). He lived a sinless life (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5), willingly went to the cross and died in our place (John 3:16; 10:14-18), and was buried and rose again on the third day (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Concerning salvation, Jesus is the only Savior (John 14:6), and it is only by grace through faith in Him that one is eternally saved (Eph. 2:8-9). There is no salvation apart from Jesus (Acts 4:12).

     During His incarnation, there was a time when Jesus was popular with the masses because He fed them (John 6:1-14), but when they wanted to take Him by force and make Him king, He withdrew from them (John 6:15). The same crowd later pursued Jesus, not because they embraced Him or His teaching, but because they wanted another free meal (John 6:24-26) and He corrected their selfish motives (John 6:27). Jesus was kind to the sick and helpless (Matt. 8:1-3; 20:34; Luke 5:13), yet He did not hesitate to condemn the religious and powerful (Matt. 23:13-36). For the most part, Jesus was rejected by the majority of those who heard and saw Him (John 3:19; 12:37; 15:24). At times He caused division (John 7:43; 9:16; 10:19), even among His own disciples (John 6:66), as well as members of a family in the same household (Luke 12:51-53).

     Jesus called men to follow Him (Matt. 4:18-19; 9:9; John 1:43), and He had many female followers as well, several of whom funded His earthly ministry (Luke 8:1-3). To follow Jesus means to learn His teaching, obey His commands and model our life after Him. Followers of Jesus were to share the gospel (Matt. 4:19), not be bound by the world’s values (Matt. 8:19-22), treasure Jesus above one’s profession (Matt. 9:9), be committed to Jesus above family (Matt. 10:34-38; cf. Mark 1:20), and deny self and take up one’s cross daily (Matt. 16:24; cf. Luke 9:23). There is no place for personal glory or selfishness in serving the Lord, as one’s life is given for His glory and the benefit of others (1 Cor. 10:32-33; Phil. 2:3-4). To follow Jesus is a lifelong pursuit.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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The Lord’s Supper

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)

     The Lord’s Supper is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew (26:26-29), Mark (14:22-25), Luke (22:19-20), and by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians at Corinth (1 Cor. 11:23-34). The Lord’s Supper is also called the Eucharist, from the Greek word εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo, which means to give thanks, which is what Christ did when He instituted this church ordinance (Luke 22:19). And, it is called Communion, from the Geek word κοινωνία koinonia, which means communion, fellowship, or sharing (1 Cor. 10:15-17), because it took place during a community meal where believers fellowshipped with each other during a time of Bible study and prayer (see Acts 2:42). 

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus on the night He and the disciples were celebrating the Passover meal. This was the night before His crucifixion. The Passover meal celebrated God’s deliverance from the final plague on Egypt as the Lord passed over the homes of those who had sacrificed an unblemished lamb and placed its blood on the doorpost and lintel of the home (Ex. 12:1-51). The flawless lamb foreshadowed the sinless humanity of Jesus who is “a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Pet. 1:19), “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus is “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7), and His death paid the price for our sins (Mark 10:45; Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:22).

     Jesus’ death instituted the New Covenant which was given to Israel and will find its ultimate fulfillment in the future millennial kingdom when Jesus is ruling. Because Christ inaugurated the New Covenant, some of the spiritual blessings associated with it are available to Christians today; specifically, forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:34; Matt. 26:28; Heb. 10:17) and the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:26-27; 37:14; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).

     The elements of the Lord’s Supper include unleavened bread and red juice. The unleavened bread symbolizes the sinless person of Jesus who “gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2). The red juice symbolizes the “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Throughout the church age, there have been four major views concerning the elements of the Lord’s Supper.

  1. The Roman Catholic view—Transubstantiation— teaches that the bread and red juice, without losing its form or taste, becomes the literal body and blood of Christ.
  2. The Lutheran view—Consubstantiation—holds that Christ is present in and with the bread and red juice in a real sense.
  3. The Reformed view—Spiritual—teaches that Christ is spiritually present in the bread and red juice.
  4. The Evangelical view—Symbolic—sees the bread and red juice as symbols that point to the body and blood of Christ (held by this writer).

     The first three views see Christ actually present in the bread and red juice, whereas the last view sees the elements as symbols that point to Christ. The last view is similar to how one understands the sacrificial lamb in the OT, which sacrifice did not actually contain Christ, but rather pointed to Him and His atoning work on the cross. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper does not actually contain Christ, but points the believer to His life and death.

     When Christians partake of the unleavened bread and red juice, we are recognizing our relationship with God through the life and death of Christ. Just as we are nourished bodily by physical food, so we are nourished spiritually by the life and shed blood of Jesus who died in our place. Eating the bread and drinking the red juice is a picture of the believer receiving the benefits that have been provided by the life and death of Jesus.

     There is a vertical and horizontal aspect to the Lord’s Supper. The vertical aspect indicates one is in a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus, for the Lord’s Supper has meaning only to the one who has trusted Christ as Savior and received forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; Eph. 1:7). The horizontal aspect of the Lord’s Supper indicates one is walking in love and living selflessly towards other Christians (1 Cor. 10:15-17; 11:17-34), for it is a picture of the love and selflessness of Christ who gave His life for the benefit of others. It is a sin to partake of the Lord’s Supper while behaving selfishly toward other believers, and God will punish those who do so (1 Cor. 11:27-30). Paul instructed the Christians at Corinth to partake of the Lord’s Supper retrospectively by looking back at the sacrificial life and death of Christ (1 Cor. 11:23-25), prospectively by looking forward to Jesus’ return (1 Cor. 11:26), and introspectively by examining their attitudes and actions (1 Cor. 11:27-32). A proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper will lead to unselfish love towards others (1 Cor. 11:33-34a).

Summary

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus while celebrating the Passover meal on the night before His crucifixion. The unleavened bread symbolizes the perfect humanity of Christ, and the red juice symbolizes the blood of the New Covenant that was ratified on the cross. Christians who partake of the Lord’s Supper see themselves as the beneficiaries of the spiritual blessings of forgiveness and the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Lord’s Supper instructs us to look back to the selfless love of Christ, forward to His return, and inward to one’s values and actions.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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Christians Paying Taxes

     Paying taxes is a form of godliness for the believer, for we support divinely established institutions of government and believe in the rule of law (Rom. 13:1-5). As submitting Christians, we pay taxes to our city, state, and federal government. Paul writes, “For because of this [submission to government] you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (Rom 13:6-7).

     Paying taxes to support the government is clearly biblical. But aren’t governments sometimes corrupt? And if I pay taxes, am I held accountable for the government’s corrupt use of that money?

     Jesus paid the temple tax (Matt. 17:24-27), which was required under the Mosaic Law (Ex. 30:13-15). He also taught it was valid to pay taxes to the Roman government (Luke 20:22), saying, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Luke 20:25). Jesus never committed sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and even though He paid taxes, He was not responsible for how those taxes were used.

     The temple in Jesus’ day was under the control of corrupt leaders—Sadducees, Pharisees and Scribes—and some of the tax money given to the temple found its way in the pockets of godless men who used it for sinful purposes. Roman taxes paid the salaries of Roman officials and soldiers, some of whom wrongly judged our Lord and nailed Him to a cross. God sovereignly controls governments, even corrupt governments, and the actions of sinful men can be used to accomplish His will (John 19:10-11; Acts 2:22-23; 4:26-28). Occasional failure on the part of the state does not negate the authority of those whom God has delegated the right to rule. God sets up kings and nations, and He also removes them (Dan. 2:21; 4:17, 25; Rom. 13:1-5). As Christians, we are to pray for rulers (1 Tim. 2:1-4; cf. Jer. 29:7) and be subject to their authority (Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17). We obey until we are commanded to act contrary to God’s Word, and then we say no (Dan. 3:16-18; Acts 5:29).

     In the US, Christians are to pay taxes. Tax dollars are used to pay salaries for military personnel, police officers, fire fighters, teachers, social workers, and to cover the cost for roads and highways, public transportation, medical benefits, subsidized housing for seniors and disabled persons, food for the hungry, clothing and shelter for the homeless, and so on. I work for a nonprofit organization that feeds the elderly and disabled in my community and approximately 45% of our annual budget comes from tax dollars. I also work with other social agencies that help the impoverished in society and I see the many good uses of tax dollars. Certainly there is corruption in some social agencies and this means some tax dollars are used for immoral purposes. However, one should not overlook the many good uses of tax dollars in our society and the many good people who serve as God’s ministers.

     Thank you to all the godly Christians in America who pay your taxes and help support the best moral practices in our society.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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When Believers Hide

     The hyphenated term Crypto-Christians is used to refer to believers who hide during times of persecution.  The English word crypto is derived from the Greek κρύπτω krupto, which means to hide, and the word is used in both a positive and negative sense in Scripture.  There have been, and are times when God’s people hide themselves, or were hidden by others, in the face of persecution.  Biblically, there appear to be both right and wrong reasons for hiding.

     By faith, Moses’ parents hid him from Pharaoh (Ex. 2:1-2).  The writer of Hebrews comments on this act, saying, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden [κρύπτω krupto] for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Heb. 11:23).  By faith, Rahab protected the two spies that came to her house, for “she had brought them up to the roof and hidden[1] them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof” (Josh. 2:6; cf. Heb. 11:31).  Obadiah hid one hundred prophets of the Lord and provided food and water for them (1 Ki. 18:1-4).  These were true prophets, for a false prophet would not have been afraid of the public hostility of Ahab and Jezebel.  It is recorded that Jesus “hid Himself” (κρύπτω krupto) from an attack by the Jewish leadership (John 8:59).  Certainly there was no sin in Jesus’ action.  There was another time when Jesus “hid Himself” (κρύπτω krupto), though the text does not say why (John 12:36). 

     There are examples of believers who hid themselves and the text neither justifies nor condemns their actions.  For example, Elijah ran for his life and hid in a cave (1 Ki. 19:1-2, 9-10).  God showed the prophet grace, providing for him during his journey (1 Ki. 19:4-8).  Elijah thought he was the last prophet in Israel, saying, “I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Ki. 19:10b).  However, Elijah was unaware of 7000 faithful Israelites who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Ki. 19:18).  One might question whether these 7000 believers were also concealing their faith for fear of persecution; otherwise, Elijah would have known about them and realized he was not the last of God’s prophets.  Scripture reveals Joseph of Arimathea was “a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one (κρύπτω krupto) for fear of the Jews” (John 19:38).  However, after the crucifixion, he exposed his faith for all to see and apparently did not fear oppression.

     There are believers whom the biblical text rebukes for hiding.  For example, some of the Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day had “believed in Him” (John 12:42a); however, “because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue” (Joh 12:42b).  These believers chose to hide their faith for sinful reasons, because “they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:42-43).  One could argue that Peter was hiding from persecution when he denied the Lord three times (Matt. 26:33-35, 69-75). 

     In summary, there is Scriptural evidence of believers who hid from persecution.  For some, it was not wrong, but for others, it was.  How should we distinguish between them?  It seems permissible to hide oneself from persecution as long as it does not mean disobeying or dishonoring God.  A thorough knowledge of Scripture and strong faith in God will equip the believer to make good decisions in times of persecution.  The spiritually mature believer will be able to overcome fear and live confidently in God’s will, seeking His glory over personal protection.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] The Septuagint uses the Greek word κρύπτω krupto as a synonym for the Hebrew טָמַן taman.

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Living in Babylon

     Daniel is one of my favorite characters in the Bible.  His life and times are recorded in the Old Testament.[1]  Daniel was born into a good family of noble birth in Judah (Dan. 1:3-6).  In his early years he witnessed the spiritual and moral decline of his country.  Idolatry was rampant in Israel to such an extent that human sacrifice had become acceptable (Ezek. 16:20-21).  As a result of Judah’s spiritual decline, God brought judgment upon the nation through Nebuchadnezzar, a Babylonian king (Jer. 25:8-9; Dan. 1:1-2), who besieged Jerusalem in 605 B.C. and transported many captives to his homeland.  Though Daniel was young—perhaps about sixteen— he was taken from his family and deported to Babylon where he lived for nearly seventy years under the administration of several kings (most notably Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Cyrus).  While most Israelites were conforming to the influences of the pagan[2] culture around them, Daniel resisted.  He was a rebel in the best sense of the word, for he walked with God while others bowed to idols.  Daniel is recorded in Scripture as a righteous person (Ezek. 14:14, 20); however, God allowed him to be taken captive,[3] and this was because God had a plan for him to serve as a minister in Babylon. 

     Daniel was a role model for other Jews living in captivity.  Upon arrival in Babylon, Daniel (and his friends) was forced into a Chaldean reeducation program which was intended to assimilate him into the Babylonian culture.  Where possible, Daniel submitted himself to his new culture by learning “the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Dan. 1:4), accepting a new name (Dan. 1:7), and serving as a governmental administrator (Dan. 1:17-21; 6:1-3).  God expected Daniel to pray for the prosperity of the city where he lived, saying, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare” (Jer. 29:7).  If possible, God’s people were to get along with their temporary captors.  “The exiles were to be peacemakers, not troublemakers, and they were to pray sincerely for their enemies (Matt. 5:43–48; 1 Tim. 2:1–3; Titus 3:1–2).”[4]  However, there were times when Daniel would not go along with the values of his new culture.  Specifically, Daniel refused to submit to Babylonian authority when it commanded him to violate God’s Word (Dan. 1:8a), or to pray to a human as though he were a god (Dan. 6:4-11).  In the first act of refusal, Daniel wisely sought a diplomatic solution to his problem (Dan. 1:8b-16), and the second time he simply defied the king—albeit respectfully—and trusted God to care for him (Dan. 6:12-23). 

     Daniel’s life manifested biblical wisdom applied to everyday circumstances.  Overall, his life was characterized by righteousness (Ezek. 14:14, 20), diplomacy (Dan. 1:6-16; 2:1-16), prayer (Dan. 2:17-18; 6:10; 9:3-19), wisdom (Dan. 1:17; 2:23), worship (Dan. 2:20-22), excellence (Dan. 6:3), faithfulness (Dan. 6:1-10), and humility (Dan. 9:4).  We learn from Daniel that God allows faithful believers to experience difficulties in the Devil’s world, which often serve to grow the believer spiritually so that he/she might be a light to others.  And, like Daniel living in Babylon, we realize this earth is not our final home, and that we are to regard ourselves as “as aliens and strangers” living in a foreign land (1 Pet. 2:11).  As Christians, our citizenship is actually in heaven (Phil. 3:20).

     So, how does the Christian overcome the demanding influences of a pagan culture and serve as a light to others?  First, the believer must replace a lifetime of human viewpoint thinking by learning God’s word (2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  A biblical worldview enables the believer to see his/her spiritual identity as a child of God (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:1-5; Eph. 1:3-6; 1 Pet. 2:9-10), a saint (Acts 9:13; Rom. 1:7; 8:27; 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:1-2), and an ambassador of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) who has a meaningful and eternal purpose in God.  More so, a biblically trained mind empowers the believer to properly interpret the world in order to see it from the divine perspective.  Cultural conformity is effectively resisted by the believer who is “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).  This means Scripture saturates the Christian mind (Isa. 26:3; Prov. 3:5-6; Col. 3:1), and the believer is not allowing his/her thoughts to be bogged down with the cares of this world (Matt. 6:25-34).  Mental discipline is necessary, for the stability of the Christian is often predicated on the biblical content and continuity of his/her thinking.  Second, the believer must be in daily submission to God, seeking His will above his/her own (Rom. 12:1-2).  Arrogance impedes the Christian life, but humility brings God’s favor; for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5).  Third, the Christian must learn to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18), and to walk in dependence on the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25).  Being spiritual means we are yielding ourselves to the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength to do God’s will.  Fourth, when the believer commits sin, he/she breaks fellowship with God and has grieved and/or quenched the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).  Fellowship is restored when the believer simply confesses his/her sin to God and trusts that He forgives as He promises (1 John 1:5-9).  Lastly, the believer must be a wise steward of the time and opportunities God provides to advance spiritually (Eph. 5:15-17; cf. Heb. 5:12; 1 Pet. 1:17; 4:1-2).  The believer does not reach spiritual maturity overnight, and since he has only a measure of time allotted to Him by God (Ps. 139:16), he must make sure his days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s word and living His will. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

[1] English translations of the Bible place Daniel among the prophets, and there is good cause for this, since Daniel received direct revelation from God and was called a prophet by Jesus (Matt. 24:15).  Daniel is also listed among the prophets in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament).  However, the Hebrew Bible—called the Tanakh, an acronym for the Torah (Law), Nebi’im (Prophets), and Kethuvim (Writings)—places Daniel among the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, etc.).  It’s possible that the book of Daniel was listed under the Writings in the Hebrew Bible because his words and life modeled the wisdom one needed to live successfully in a pagan culture.

[2] I use the term “pagan” to refer to any value system that is contrary to God and His word.  Unfortunately, pagan values are often the norm, permeating every aspect of society including education, politics, law, art, literature, music, and so on.  To stand against paganism is not merely to resist the final forms it takes within a culture, but to see those forms as derivatives of a worldly system that is set against God and to resist the very value system upon which those forms are predicated. 

[3] Later, in 597 B.C. the prophet Ezekiel was taken to Babylon (Ezek. 1:1-3).  Jeremiah lived in Judah until its destruction in 586 B.C. and was taken away to Egypt (Jer. 43:1-7).

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Decisive, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 124.

Posted in Biblical Worldview, Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Divorce and Remarriage?

     I’ve recently had several people ask  me about divorce.  It’s a difficult subject, but the Bible does address it.  Scripture teaches that divorce is permissible only when a spouse offends through sexual infidelity (Matt. 5: 31-32), or when an unbelieving spouse abandons their Christian partner (1 Cor. 7:12-16).  Divorce is not required, and is discouraged if any hope of saving the marriage can be found.  Forgiveness and love is expected in the Christian toward the offending spouse.  Remarriage is permissible when the divorce is biblical (Matt. 5:31-32), when an unbelieving spouse abandons the marriage (1 Cor. 7:12-16), or if a spouse dies (1 Cor. 7:39).  The believer must only marry another believer (1 Cor. 7:39).  God does not recognize divorces for nonbiblical reasons; however, if a divorced partner remarries, forming a new covenant relationship, this frees the first spouse to remarry (Deut. 24:1-4). 

     God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16), yet, it is recorded in Scripture that God Himself issued a writ of divorce against His people, Israel, after they had repeatedly engaged in spiritual adultery, saying, “I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce” (Jer. 3:8a; cf. Isa. 50:1).  The metaphor of divorce here speaks of God sending the Northern Kingdom of Israel away to their destruction under the Assyrians in 722 B.C.

Note in verse 8 [of Jeremiah 3] that God divorced Israel and that it was because of adultery. The Savior’s words in Matthew 19:9 are consistent with this. He taught that divorce is permissible for an innocent partner when the spouse has been guilty of immorality. When we read in Malachi 2:16 that God hates divorce, it must mean unscriptural divorce, not all divorce.[1]

(This short article is an excerpt from my book: Making a Biblical Marriage.)

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1000.

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Christianity is not a Religion

     Religion is man, by his own efforts, seeking to win the approval of God. This is true of all religions (Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, etc.). Biblical Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship with God through the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Most think of Christians as people who seek to do good works for God in order to be saved; but this is wrong. Rather, a Christian is one for whom God has accomplished our salvation through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

     From the biblical perspective, unsaved people are marred by sin and cannot cleanse themselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). Human good and morality has no saving merit before God (Isa. 64:6; Rom. 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Work is necessary for our salvation; however, it is not the works we do for God that save us, but rather, it is ONLY the work of Christ that saves.  Only Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life in the sight of God (Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5) and then died a penal substitutionary death on our behalf, bearing the punishment that rightfully belongs to us (John 3:16; Mark 10:45; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21).  The death of Christ forever satisfied God’s righteous demands toward our sin (Rom. 3:25-26; 1 John 2:2).

     Salvation comes to us as a free gift (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-9), paid in full by the Lord Jesus who bore our sin at the cross (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18), and who offers us eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28-30), and the gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), by a simple act of faith in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 4:12). When the Philippian jailer asked Paul, “what must I do to be saved?” Paul replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Believing in Jesus means we look to Christ as our Savior and accept His atoning work on the cross as sufficient to make us acceptable in the sight of God. Once saved, the Christian is called to a life of good works (Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:11-14), but such works are the fruit of salvation and never the cause of it.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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Honor the Lord From Your Wealth

Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine (Prov. 3:9-10). 

     This wise word from Solomon was written to his son, a Hebrew living in God’s theocratic kingdom, under the Mosaic Law. Under that system, Israelites were required to pay mandatory tithes from the produce of their land.[1] Through their obedience in giving, they would “Honor the Lord” from their wealth, and the Lord would bless them “with plenty” (Prov. 3:9-10; cf. Deut. 28:1-14). For Solomon, giving to the Lord was a means of honoring Him. 

     Giving was not only to be done for the Temple and priests, but also for the needy in the community. Solomon writes, “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed” (Prov. 19:17), and “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor” (Prov. 22:9), and “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him” (Prov. 14:31). 

     Christians are not under the Mosaic Law (Rom. 6:14), and are not, therefore, obligated to tithe to the local church.[2] However, though we are not commanded to tithe, I would argue that our attitude about money is a sign of our spiritual health. The Lord is certainly very kind to us and gives graciously with an open hand, and grace-minded believers will support His work, both in the church and in the community (i.e. helping one’s neighbor, the homeless, orphans, etc.). There are examples in the New Testament of believers who gave freely to help meet the needs of others (Acts 2:42-45; 4:34-35; 11:27-30; Gal. 2:10; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-5), and this was born out of a heart of compassion.

     Paul taught the Christians at Corinth to give regularly (1 Cor. 16:1-2). The Bible certainly teaches that Christians should support their pastor financially, as Paul writes, “the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14), and “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him (Gal. 6:6; cf. 1 Tim. 5:17-18). However, though it was his right to receive compensation, on at least one occasion, the apostle Paul refused to accept financial contributions from others and supported himself in his own ministry so that his life would be example of sacrificial living.  Paul said:

I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:33-35)

     Paul, in the New Testament, wrote that believers should not “to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Paul then instructed them “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Tim. 6:18-19). Giving for the Lord’s work is legitimate. The issue for the Christian is not how much one gives, but rather, that one gives joyfully, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] There were actually three tithes the Israelites were obligated to pay: two tithes were required every year to the Temple in order to support the Levites and priests (Deut. 14:22-23; Num. 18:21) and a third tithe was taken every third year to help the poor, the alien, the orphans and the widows (Deut. 14:28-29).  For the most part, the tithes consisted of the fruit and grain that came out of the ground.

[2] See my article: Giving or Tithing?

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Living By Grace

     Each time I approach the biblical subject of grace I’m repeatedly uplifted by it, for God has shown me great grace. When I think of my life I’m reminded of Hannah’s prayer, where she says of God, “He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor; for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and He set the world on them” (1 Sam. 2:8). I am that poor and needy one He has lifted. My life is full of blessing, and it is the Lord’s goodness toward me. I am in constant need of God’s grace, and He provides it.

     Grace is a characteristic of God. The Father is called “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10), the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29), and Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). As Christians, when we approach God, we approach Him as One who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16); that is, One whose sovereign rulership is marked by grace. What a wonderful blessing.

     Though there are different nuances to the word grace (Heb. חֵן chen, Grk. χάρις charis), the most common understanding is that it refers to “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill.”[1] The basic idea is that a gracious benefactor freely confers a blessing upon another without thought of merit or worthiness (Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 11:6; Eph. 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5-7; Heb. 4:16). The kindness here is by no means obligatory, but rather, finds its source in the goodness, abundance, and free-heartedness of the giver.

     The Bible distinguishes between common grace and special grace. Common grace is that goodness God shows to everyone without exception. The Lord Jesus spoke of the Father’s grace, saying, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). Sinner and saint both enjoy the blessings of God’s grace in the everyday provisions that sustain life. Special grace is that expression of God wherein He provides forgiveness of sins and eternal life to those who trust in Christ as their Savior (Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Grace and works stand in opposition to each other; for if one can, in any sense, merit what is received, then it cannot be said to be of grace (Rom. 4:1-5; 11:6).

     As believers in Christ, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24; cf. Eph. 2:8-9), and once saved, “the grace of God” instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:11-12). Grace should mark our words and actions toward others. Paul writes, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6), and Peter says, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10; cf. Eph. 4:7-11; Rom. 12:6; 2 Cor. 9:8). In all things, the believer is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). 

     be-graciousI want to be gracious like my heavenly Father is gracious. I want to extend grace to others. This includes believers, unbelievers, family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and people in society. I want to be gracious because of who I am and not because of the other person. I want to love the unlovely. I want to help the needy. I want to be open-handed with the resources God has given to me. Will people abuse my kindness? Yes. I’ve learned to expect it, and I’m okay with it. In fact, I want to manifest grace to those who deserve it the least. Is there a possibility that others may mistake grace for weakness and fail to grasp what is being extended to them? Yes. I cannot help that. My being gracious must rest upon my relationship with God and what He provides, not upon the worthiness of others. 

     So what does grace look like? It means helping the needy and expecting nothing in return (Luke 14:12-14), showing godly love (1 Cor. 13:4-8a), forgiving those who don’t deserve it (Eph. 4:32), loving our enemies (Matt. 5:44), blessing those who persecute us (Rom. 12:14), never returning evil for evil (Rom. 12:17), not retaliating when others hurt us (Rom. 12:19; cf. 1 Pet. 2:23), using our freedoms to serve others (Gal. 5:13), and speaking words that edify (Eph. 4:29). This is by no means an exhaustive list, but is a good starting place. I pray God will teach me how to live by grace.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1079.

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The Characteristics of a Christian Leader

A Christian leader will have certain characteristics that guide his/her actions.  I would argue that the believer’s good character is born out of his/her walk with God and this requires knowing God’s word in order to live God’s will. 

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. (Ps. 1:1-2)

O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend. (Ps. 15:1-3)

The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them. (Prov. 11:3)

In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. (Tit. 2:7-8)

A Christian leader is marked by how he/she serves and treats others.  The biblical teaching is that one who wishes to lead must make himself/herself a servant to others.  This requires a biblical mind and an attitude of humility. 

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28)

“You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. 17 “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:13-17)

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Gal. 6:9-10)

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Col. 3:12-14)

A Christian leader may reprove others, but only because he/she cares about what is right and wants to promote justice.   

You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. (Lev. 19:17-18)

Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you. (Prov. 9:8)

Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isa. 1:17)

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. (Matt. 18:15)

A Christian leader will be known by the words he/she uses when speaking to others.  Rude and offensive words reveal a corrupt heart, whereas wise and gracious words reveal a good heart. 

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. (Ps. 37:30)

The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. (Prov. 16:21)

Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him (Eccl. 10:12)

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Col. 4:6)

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim. 2:24-25)

A Christian leader will have a calm disposition and be slow to anger.

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute. (Prov. 15:18)

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city. (Prov. 16:32)

He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Prov. 17:27)

A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. (Prov. 19:11)

A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back. (Prov. 29:11)

A Christian leader will know how to handle the pressures of life.  Pressures are inevitable, but worry is optional, because God has provided certain promises that help the Christian remain relaxed in the midst of adversity. 

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread? (Ps. 27:1)

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:6-7)

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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God the King Maker

     Stress levels can be high during an election season.  Political parties, and their constituents, tend to be sharply divided.  The biased media often manipulates information in order to shape public opinion in favor of a particular political candidate.  Because of a short attention span, most people prefer sound bites rather than substantive arguments.  At times, the whole process can seem unstable and corrupt. 

     God Controls the WorldThe Christian is called to a biblical worldview, which means he/she sees all of life from the divine perspective, including the political process.  God is never neutral.  He meddles in the affairs of mankind, political or otherwise. His unseen hand works behind all the activities of mankind, controlling and directing history as He wills. “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6).  Ultimately, it is God “who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan. 2:21a), for “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:14).  God delegates authority to those whom He appoints as rulers, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1; cf. John 19:11). God controls the process of selecting a leader, whether that process is by family descent or democratic vote. 

     Because this is true, we might ask why an oppressive or divisive ruler comes into office and causes pain and suffering to a nation? Biblically, there were times when God appointed oppressive rulers over His people to punish them for their rebellion and sin.  For example, when Judah rebelled against God, He declared, “I will make mere lads their princes, and capricious children will rule over them” (Isa. 3:4; cf. vs. 12).  Even after divine discipline, God’s people continued in their sinfulness and the Lord declared, “You who have forsaken Me,” declares the LORD, “You keep going backward. So I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am tired of relenting!” (Jer. 15:6).  Because Judah continued in their rebellion, God eventually raised up Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan-king, whom He called “My servant” (Jer. 25:9; cf. 27:6; 28:14), whom the Lord used to punish His people and to lead them into captivity (see Jer. 20:4-5; 29:4; 1 Chron. 9:1).  After God’s people humbled themselves, the Lord raised up Cyrus, king of Persia, whom He called “My shepherd” (Isa. 44:28), and used him to be a blessing to Judah and to restore their land (2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-3; 7-8; 5:11-13).  This was all accomplished according to God’s sovereign rulership.

     America is under God’s sovereign control and our destiny is ultimately determined by His will.  As Christians living in America, we can strive to make our nation great by learning and living God’s word in all aspects of our lives, whether in politics, business, family, recreation, or whatever else is common to the activities of mankind.  And, when given opportunity, we should be sharing Christ with others and praying for our nation. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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What is Integrity?

     In his book, Christian Theology, Millard J. Erickson writes about God’s integrity.  He states that integrity is a “matter of truth.”  Erickson explains, “There are three dimensions of truthfulness: (1) genuineness—being true; (2) veracity—telling truth; and (3) faithfulness—proving true. Although we think of truthfulness primarily as telling truth, genuineness is the most basic dimension of truthfulness.”[1]

  1. Genuineness means that God is true concerning who He is. “In a world in which so much is artificial, our God is real. He is what he appears to be. This is a large part of his truthfulness.”[2]
  2. Veracity means that God’s words are true and accurate. “Divine veracity means that God represents things as they really are. Whether speaking of himself or part of his creation, what God says is accurate.”[3]
  3. Faithfulness means that God keeps His word and can be trusted. “If God’s genuineness is a matter of his being true and veracity is his telling of the truth, then his faithfulness means that he proves true. God keeps all his promises.”[4]

     I believe this has practical application for believers who are walking with God and daily drawing closer to Him.  As we learn more about God, we’ll be challenged to conform our lives, words, and actions to His character.  Spiritually mature believers will desire genuineness (or authenticity) of character, honesty of speech, and faithfulness to our promises (both to God and others).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. Walking with God  
  2. The Virtue of Humility  
  3. What Does it Mean to be a Man? 
  4. Christians in America  
  5. You Fight like you Train  
  6. Overcome Evil with Good  
  7. An Ambassador for Christ  
  8. Marriage Vows  
  9. Choose Righteous Friends  
  10. Love your Enemies  
  11. Learning to Live by Faith  

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Books, 2000), 316.

[2] Ibid., 316.

[3] Ibid., 316.

[4] Ibid., 317.

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The Basics of Grace

The Greek word χάρις charis appears 155 times in the New Testament[1] and most often refers to the undeserved favor or kindness that one person shows to another.  The favor or kindness can be from God to undeserving persons, or it can be from one person to another.  Grace derives from the bounty and open-handedness of the giver, can be very costly to the donor, but is always free to the beneficiary.  Here are four uses of Grace in the New Testament:

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) can refer to “a winning quality or attractiveness that invites a favorable reaction, graciousness, attractiveness, charm.”[2] Grace is here presented as that quality about a thing or person that makes it beautiful or attractive to others (see Luke 4:22; Eph. 4:29; Col. 4:6).

And all were speaking well of Him [Jesus], and wondering at the gracious [χάρις charis] words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22)

Let your speech always be with grace [χάρις charis], as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Col. 4:6).

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) also refers to “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill.”[3] Here, a gracious benefactor freely confers a blessing upon another without thought of merit or worthiness (Matt. 4:44-45; Rom. 11:6; Eph. 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5-7; Heb. 4:16).  The kindness here is by no means obligatory, but rather, finds its source in the goodness, abundance, and free-heartedness of the giver. 

“If you love those who love you, what credit [χάρις charis] is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit [χάρις charis] is that to you? For even sinners do the same. “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit [χάρις charis] is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) also refers to the “exceptional effect produced by generosity.”[4] Grace here is the divine enablement God gives to people that they might do His will.  (Rom. 15:5; 15:15; 1 Cor. 3:10; 2 Cor. 12:9).

And He has said to me, “My grace [χάρις charis] is sufficient for you [to bear this difficulty], for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Cor. 12:9)

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) was also used as a “response to generosity or beneficence, thanks, gratitude.”[5] Grace means giving thanks (1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Tim. 1:3; Heb. 12:28).

But thanks [χάρις charis] be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:57)

 

Facts about grace:

  1. Because Christ voluntarily went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sin (1 Cor. 15:3-4), God freely bestows on us all the wonderful blessings associated with salvation (Eph. 1:3; 2:8-9). Grace is sometimes referred to as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.[6]
  2. Grace must be learned. The Christian does not automatically think in terms of grace and must learn it through the regular study of God’s word.  The ignorant believer—being devoid of God’s word—gravitates either toward legalism or asceticism.  Either activity stems from pride.  God is “opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). 
  3. Grace eliminates pride (Rom. 3:27). Some people have great difficulty accepting God’s kindness toward them, or even the kindness shown by others.  Pride dissipates when one learns to accept the gracious acts of others.
  4. Grace is given to the undeserving (e.g. Barabbas; Matt. 27:15-26; cf. Rom. 5:6-8). We bring to God our helplessness (Rom. 5:6), sin (Rom. 5:8), and death (Eph. 2:5), and in return He gives us forgiveness (Col. 1:13-14), righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and eternal life (John 10:28).  Faith is non-meritorious and the only way to receive God’s grace (Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8-9).
  5. It is by grace that we are able to draw near to the throne of God (Heb. 4:16) and never by works (Dan. 9:18-19). The person who rejects the gospel rejects the “Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29).
  6. Grace is not a license to sin (Rom. 6:1-2); rather, the grace of God instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” (Tit. 2:11-14; cf. Jude 1:4).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. Spiritual Blessings in Christ
  2. God’s Great Grace   
  3. God’s Grace to Save  
  4. Believe in Jesus for Salvation  

__________________________

[1] The apostle Paul is the foremost proponent of grace and uses the word 130 times in his writings. 

[2] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1079.

[3] Ibid., 1079.

[4] Ibid., 1080.

[5] Ibid., 1080.

[6] I heard this phrase originated with John Stott. 

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The Plain Interpretation of Scripture

     We live our lives on the assumption that language—whether written or spoken—serves as a reliable vehicle for the expression of ideas.  Our survival and success depends on the plain use of language whether we’re reading the words on highway signs, food packages, or work documents.  A nonliteral reading of the instructions on a medicine bottle could be fatal and we could suffer greatly if we failed to take plainly the words on tax documents, legal papers, or instructions on how to use a chain saw. 

     The Bible is a collection of sixty six books written by nearly forty human authors spanning approximately sixteen hundred years.  The authors originally wrote in Hebrew and Koine Greek (some chapters in Daniel were written in Aramaic).  Behind each human author was the divine Author who communicated His thoughts through them and superintended their writings (2 Pet. 1:20-21) so that what they wrote reveals His mind, His work in creation, His will for mankind, His plan for history, and His provision of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.  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).  

     The Bible is divinely inspired.  Though there are different views of inspiration, verbal plenary inspiration best fits what Scripture says about itself.  Verbal plenary inspiration teaches that Scripture originates with God (inspired – 1 Cor. 2:12-13; 2 Pet. 1:21), pertains to the very words themselves (verbal – Matt. 5:17-18; cf. Gal. 3:16), and extends to all of Scripture (plenary – 2 Tim. 3:16).  The apostle Paul regarded his letters as divinely inspired when he wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, saying, “when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). 

     Several English translations accurately communicate the original meaning of the biblical author (such as the ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NET, NAS, RSV), and most people read the Bible plainly as they would any other book, understanding the words and phrases according to their contextual usage.  There are some passages in the Bible that are difficult to comprehend, but most of it is simple to understand.  The Bible consists mostly of historical narrative which reveals how God acted in the lives of people.  Other biblical genres include law, prophecy, psalms, proverbs, poetry, parables, and epistles.  These literary genres require a literal reading in order to identify how the author is communicating so we can know what he is saying.  Liberal teachers advocate a nonliteral, non-grammatical, non-historical reading of the Bible, which opens the floodgates of speculation and allows the imagination of the reader to make the Bible say whatever he/she wants it to say.  Ironically, those who advocate a nonliteral reading of the Bible expect their words to be taken literally.  A plain reading of Scripture protects the reader from fanciful interpretations.  “If one does not use the plain, normal, or literal method of interpretation, all objectivity is lost.”[1]  

When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, and literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise.[2]

    A normal reading of the Bible is commonly called the grammatical-historical method of interpretation.  The grammatical-historical method of interpretation means the Christian reads the Bible in a plain manner, paying attention to the normal rules of grammar and the meaning of words as they were commonly used in their historical setting.[3]  A normal reading also considers each word and verse in the light of its immediate context, as well as the larger context of the book, and the whole Bible.  

     In summary, the Bible is God’s inerrant and enduring written revelation that tells us who He is and what He’s accomplished in time and space.  It 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 (Ex. 17:14; 34:27; Isa. 30:8; Jer. 30:2; 1 Cor. 14:37; Rev. 1:11) and superintending care of God the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21), 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; 1 Cor. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 3:16).  Some of the various literary styles include historical narrative, law, poetry, psalms, proverbs, parables, epistles, and apocalypse.  It is best to read the Bible plainly, literally, according to the grammatical-historical approach in which the reader pays attention to the normal meaning of words as they were commonly used in their historical setting.  

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, Ill. Moody Press, 1995), 82.

[2] David L. Cooper, The God of Israel (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1945), iii.

[3] For further reading on the subject of hermeneutics, I recommend Basic Biblical Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck, and Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm. 

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Religious Syncretism

Religious Syncretism    Several years ago I had a strange conversation with a young woman who was in graduate school and finishing her degree in Social Work.  The woman became excited when I mentioned I was in seminary and she proceeded to tell me about the Baptist church she was attending.  She’d been active in her church for several years and was involved in the choir and occasionally substituted for her Sunday school teacher.  The conversation took a confusing turn when she told me she follows her daily horoscope, believing it helps guide her life.  Stanger yet, she began talking about how she believes in reincarnation.  When I asked her why she believes in reincarnation she said, “Because I believe God is fair and gives people second chances in another life to make up for bad choices in a previous one.”  She said all this with a big smile on her face.  However, when I politely tried to explain the biblical teaching against astrology and reincarnation, she quickly shut the conversation down, saying, “I believe what I believe.”  She then changed the subject and started talking about her work.  This woman was engaging in religious syncretism. 

     Religious syncretism is the blending of the doctrines and practices of two or more religions in order to come up with something new.  Religious syncretism has been going on for millennia.  Modern day examples include Chrislam, New Age, Christian Science, and the Interfaith Movement.  A biblical example that dates to about 1100 B.C. is found in Judges 17 where an Israelite named Micah blended the idolatrous practices of the Canaanites with the worship of Yahweh.  The culmination was a monstrous self-serving religion that fostered spiritual anarchy among God’s people (see Judges 18).  In Judges 17 Micah is introduced as a son who stole a great amount of wealth from his mother.  He returned the wealth fearing the curse she’d uttered on the thief, and his mother subsequently blessed him the name of Yahweh (Judg. 17:1-2).  The historical account gets bizarre when Micah’s mother—in the name of Yahweh—used some of her wealth (silver) to create a molten image and graven image, which she gave to her son (Judg. 17:3-4).  Micah took the images from his mother and put them in his shrine and made an ephod (either to be used during worship, or as an object of worship; see Judg. 8:24-27).  He added several small household idols (teraphim) and then ordained his son to be the family priest (Judg. 17:5).  Micah’s house was a type of Israel during the period of the Judges, in which “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6), and all of this was against God’s instruction for Israel (Exodus 20:4-5; Deut. 27:15).  Micah then welcomed a wandering Levite (Judg. 17:7-10), whom he consecrated to serve as his family priest (Judg. 17:11-12).  This was contrary to Scripture, for only descendants of Aaron could serve as priests, whereas Levites were to serve as priestly assistants (Num. 8:19; 18:1-7).  Micah falsely believed that by having a Levitical priest as the leader of his new religion that he would also have God’s blessing (Judg. 17:13).  This would later prove untrue (see Judges chapter 18). 

     God’s revelation in the Bible makes it clear that there is no room for religious syncretism (Exodus 20:4-5; Deut. 27:15; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Phil. 1:27), and Christians should be mindful to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3).  Christianity is built on certain theological essentials from which Christians cannot depart.  There is room for love and grace when disagreeing on secondary doctrinal matters.  There will always be false teachers who will deny the inerrancy of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the hypostatic union, Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, His death, burial, and bodily resurrection, and His second coming.  Only those who are advancing toward spiritual maturity by learning and living God’s Word will find protection against false teachers (Deut. 13:1-4; 18:18-22; Acts 20:28-30; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1; Rev. 2:2).  Those who fail to grow spiritually will find themselves vulnerable to all sorts of pagan concepts. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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The Gospel in two Minutes

     The Bible is a big book with lots of information. There is information about God, the origin of the universe, mankind, sin, salvation, Israel, the church, the future, etc. It’s my opinion that a good teacher knows the Bible well enough that he/she can delve into its depths and provide solid biblical answers to life’s biggest questions. However, I also believe a good teacher should be able to condense a lot of information and—without compromising accuracy—give a short answer in plain language (Charles Ryrie has impressed me with his ability to do this very thing). Over the years I’ve worked to take the essentials of the Gospel message and present it quickly and concisely. In one sense, the Gospel can be as simple as 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, John 3:16, or Acts 16:31. However, these verses, as wonderful as they are, do not answer some of the issues that stand behind them. For example:

  • Why did God send His Son into the world?
  • Why did Jesus go to the cross and die?
  • What’s wrong with me that God had to act on my behalf?
  • Is there any way, other than the cross, that I can be reconciled to God?

To answer these—and other issues—I’ve condensed my Gospel presentation down to about two minutes. I’m hoping to make it even more concise in the future. Here’s basically what I communicate:

The gospel is the solution to a problem. There are two parts to the problem. First, God is holy (Ps. 99:9; Isa. 6:3), which means He is positively righteous and can have nothing to do with sin except to condemn it (Hab. 1:13; 1 John 1:5). Second, all mankind is sinful and separated from God (Rom. 3:10-23). We are sinners in Adam (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom. 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and sinners by choice (Isa. 59:2; Jam. 1:14-15). To further complicate the problem, we are helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa. 64:6; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. But God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph. 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:18). God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt. 5:17-21; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins. Jesus solved both problems: 1) He lived the righteous life that God demands and committed no sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Jo 3:5), and 2) He died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins (Mark 10:45; Rom 5:6-10). The gospel message 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).  Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), and receive the righteousness of God as a free gift (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message  
  2. Heaven Belongs to Little Children  
  3. Soteriology – The Study of Salvation  
  4. Three Phases of Salvation  
  5. Illumination and the Doctrine of Election  
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God the Holy Spirit

     There is some confusion today among students of the Bible concerning the identity of the Holy Spirit.  Some heretical groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarians say the Holy Spirit is merely an impersonal force.  Mormons recognize the personhood of the Holy Spirit, but regard Him as a lesser deity, being conceived as the offspring of God the Father. 

     Biblical Christianity recognizes the Holy Spirit as God, as one of the three Persons of the Trinity.  Within the Trinity, there is 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 Cor. 2:11-12; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14).  All three Persons of the Trinity share the same essence and are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service (Gen. 1:26; Isa. 6:8; Deut. 6:4; Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; John 10:30; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2). 

     The Holy Spirit is a PersonThe Bible reveals that the Holy Spirit is God and that He displays the volitional and emotional qualities of personhood.  When referring to the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-14), Jesus used the demonstrative masculine pronoun “He” (ἐκεῖνος), and this indicates personhood.  Scripture also reveals the Holy Spirit can be lied to.  In the book of Acts, the apostle Peter accused Ananias of lying “to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3).  In the very next verse Peter said, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).  You cannot lie to a force (such as electricity), but only to a person.  In addition, the Holy Spirit can be grieved (Eph. 4:30), quenched (1 Thess. 5:19), resisted (Acts 7:51), and blasphemed (Matt. 12:31).  These are all activities that can only be done to a Person.  Here are some further Scriptural truths about the Holy Spirit:

  1. He was involved in the creation ( 1:2).
  2. He brought about the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:35).
  3. He guided the writers of Scripture (2 Sam. 23:2; 2 Pet. 1:21).
  4. He convicts unbelievers of the sin of unbelief (John 16:8-11).
  5. He regenerates unbelievers (John 3:6; 6:63).
  6. He baptizes us into union with Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).
  7. He indwells us (John 14:16-17; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).
  8. He seals us (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).
  9. He gives us spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7-11).
  10. He glorifies Jesus in our life (John 16:13-15).
  11. He fills us (i.e. empowers) (Eph. 5:18).
  12. He sustains our spiritual walk (Gal. 5:16-18, 25).
  13. He loves us (Rom. 15:30).
  14. He prays for us (Rom. 8:26-27).
  15. He comforts us (John 14:26).
  16. He teaches and guides us (John 14:26; 16:13-15).
  17. He makes Scripture understandable (1 Cor. 2:11-13).

     When the above Scriptures are read in their biblical context, paying attention to the linguistic, grammatical and historical context of each verse, it reveals that the Holy Spirit is God and that He displays the volitional and emotional qualities of a Person.  I pray the Lord gives you understanding. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. Jesus is God  
  2. The Work of the Holy Spirit  
  3. The Filling of the Holy Spirit  
  4. Essentials of the Christian Faith  
  5. The Gospel Message  
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Jesus is God

     Does the Bible teach that Jesus is God?  Yes, the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is God.  He is properly identified as one of the three Persons of the Godhead, commonly referred to as the Trinity.  There is 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 Cor. 2:11-12; 2 Cor. 13:14).  All three Persons of the Trinity are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service.  The three Persons of the Trinity are one in essence (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 18; Matt. 28:19; John 10:30; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2). 

     The Bible presents Jesus as God.  In the OT, the proper name of God is YHWH (sometimes used with vowels as Yahweh) and is translated LORD, using all capital letters.  When the Septuagint was written around 250 B.C. (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT) the translators chose the Greek word kurios as a suitable substitute for the Hebrew name YHWH.  Though the word is sometimes used in the NT to mean sir (John 4:11; Acts 16:30), and master (Col. 3:22), it is also used to refer to the deity of Jesus Christ (compare Isa. 40:3 and John 1:23; or Deut. 6:16 and Matt. 4:7; cf. John 20:28; Rom. 10:11; Phil. 2:11).  The NT writers clearly saw Yahweh-God from the OT as referring to Jesus as God.  Please note the following comparison:

OT Passage about Yahweh/God

NT Passage applied to Jesus

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD [Yahweh or Jehovah] in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God [Elohim]. (Isa. 40:3)

He [John the Baptist] said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord [kurios – referring to Jesus],’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” (John 1:23)
You shall not put the LORD [Yahweh or Jehovah] your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah. (Deut. 6:16) Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord [kurios – referring to Jesus] your God to the test.’” (Matt. 4:7)
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:14) Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:58)
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. (Ps. 45:6)

But of the Son [Jesus] he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. (Heb. 1:8)

The NT reveals Jesus as God:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh [Jesus in hypostatic union], and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)

For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him [Jesus], because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:18)

“I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” 33 The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” (John 10:30-33)

Thomas answered and said to Him [Jesus], “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

For in Him [Jesus] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (Col. 2:9)

[We are] looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus (Tit. 2:13)

As God, Jesus accepts the worship of men and angels:

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matt. 4:10)

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matt. 2:2)

After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matt. 2:11)

And those who were in the boat worshiped Him [Jesus], saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” (Matt. 14:33)

And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them [the disciples]. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. (Matt. 28:9)

When they saw Him, they worshiped Him [Jesus]; but some were doubtful. (Matt. 28:17)

Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” 38 And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him [Jesus]. (John 9:35-38)

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Heb. 1:6)

As God, Jesus forgives sins:

I, even I [Jehovah], am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isa. 43:25)

And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:5-7)

     Some—such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons—see Jesus only as a man, or as a god lesser than what the Bible teaches.  The end result is that they’re trusting in a Jesus that is not the Jesus of the Bible, and are therefore putting their hope in a false Jesus who cannot save them (Gal. 1:6-9).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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An Ambassador for Christ

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:18-20)

     An ambassador is an official dignitary who represents the country that sent him into a foreign land, and his message is derived from the sending ruler.  The Christian ambassador represents the Lord Jesus Christ who has called and equipped him to speak on His behalf to those outside of Christ’s kingdom (John 18:36; Acts 26:17-18; Col. 1:13-14).  The Christian message is simple, that God reconciles us to Himself through the cross of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-21; Eph. 2:13-16; Col. 1:19-20; 1 Pet. 3:18), providing us forgiveness for all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14), and the gift of His righteousness which makes us acceptable to Him (Isa. 61:10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:17; Phil. 3:9). 

God does not have to be reconciled to man, because that was accomplished by Christ on the cross. It is sinful man who must be reconciled to God. “Religion” is man’s feeble effort to be reconciled to God, efforts that are bound to fail. The Person who reconciles us to God is Jesus Christ, and the place where He reconciles us is His cross.[1]

     As Christian ambassadors, “we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).  God always goes before us and providentially coordinates our meetings with others, working in their hearts to receive our message (John 16:7-11), and rescuing from Satan’s captivity those who believe the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4; 2 Thess. 2:24-26).  God never forces Himself on anyone, but neither does He leave unpunished those who reject the Christian message (Rev. 20:11-15).  Those who disregard God’s gracious offer of salvation choose to continue in Satan’s world system (John 15:19; Rom. 1:18-25; 1 John 2:15-17), selecting darkness rather than light (John 3:19-20), and choosing the path that leads to eternal destruction (Matt. 7:13-14).  As heavenly ambassadors we are responsible to present a clear biblical message, and though we may passionately seek to persuade, we are not accountable for how others respond to it.

     As an ambassador of Christ, we are to speak and act with dignity at all times.  We are to be clear in speaking God’s truth to people who are made in His image (fallen as they are).  We are to point them to Christ that they might turn to Him for salvation and be born again to a new spiritual life (1 Pet. 1:3, 23).  We are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), “with grace” (Col. 4:6), and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15-16).  There’s no place for hostility in the Christian life, for “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam. 1:20).  Scripture tells us:

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). 

     In closing, the Christian ambassador is one who adheres to the highest standards of moral excellence according to Scripture as he serves the Lord and communicates His message that God reconciles us to Himself through the cross of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-21; Eph. 2:13-16; Col. 1:19-20; 1 Pet. 3:18), providing us forgiveness for all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14), and the gift of His righteousness which makes us acceptable to Him (Isa. 61:10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:17; Phil. 3:9). 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 649.

Posted in Hamartiology, Inspirational Writings, Righteous Living, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Doctrine of Simultaneity

     The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, coined the Latin phrase simul iustus et peccator, which translates as, simultaneously righteous and a sinner.  Luther correctly understood the biblical teaching that we are righteous in God’s sight because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us at salvation and at the same time we continue to possess a sin nature and practice sin.  This is based on four biblical truths:

We are all born sinners with a sin nature

     Every person born into this world—with the exception of Jesus—is a sinner.  We are sinners because Adam’s original sin is imputed to us (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), we are born with a sinful nature which urges us to sin (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and we choose to sin when we yield to temptation (Jas. 1:14-15).  Sin is anything that is contrary to the holy character of God.  Sin permeates every aspect of our being and renders us separated from God and helpless to save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; 6:23; Eph. 2:1-3). 

God has provided for our salvation

     The good news of the gospel is that Jesus took our sin upon Himself and bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us (1 Cor. 1:18, 21; 15:3-4; Col. 2:13-14; 1 Pet. 2:24).  This is substitutionary atonement, in which 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).  Jesus paid the redemption price for our sins (Mark 10:45), and calls us into fellowship with Him (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13-14).  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).  God is completely satisfied with the death of Christ, who “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).  At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires and provides us salvation as His love desires. 

We receive a new nature at the moment of salvation

     At the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior we are born again (John 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23), and we acquire a new nature that desires to do God’s will (Rom. 7:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9-10; 1 John 2:29; 3:9).  In addition, our identification with Adam is cancelled and we are immediately united with Christ (Rom. 5:14-18; 1 Cor. 15:22), we are indwelt with God the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20; Eph. 1:13-14), forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), bestowed with God’s own righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and have the power to live righteously (Rom. 6:1-13; Tit. 2:11-14). 

Christians continue to possess a sin nature after salvation

     Though we have our new nature in Christ at the moment of salvation, we continue to possess our sinful nature, and this produces internal conflict throughout our Christian life (Rom. 6:6; 7:14-25; 13:14; Col. 3:9; Gal. 5:16-17).  This reality explains why Paul tells the Christians at Rome to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:14; cf. Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), and to the Christians at Galatia to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).  Though we struggle with sin, we are assured that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), for we are “the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Rom. 5:17; Phil. 3:9).  Both are true.  We are perfectly righteous in God’s sight because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and we continue to possess a sin nature and commit sin.

Dr. Martin LutherThe person who has thus received the gift of faith Luther described as “at once righteous and a sinner” (simul iustus et peccator). Formerly he had understood this term in the Augustinian sense of “partly” a sinner and “partly” righteous. …Now, however, while retaining the paradox of simultaneity, he sharpened each of the clashing concepts into a sovereign, total realm. Luther continued to use simul iustus et peccator after 1518-19, but he did so in the sense of semper (always) iustus et peccator. The believer is not only both righteous and sinful at the same time but is also always or completely both righteous and sinful at the same time [emphasis added]. What does this mean? With respect to our fallen human condition, we are, and always will be in this life, sinners. However for believers life in this world is no longer a period of doubtful candidacy for God’s acceptance. In a sense we have already been before God’s judgment seat and have been acquitted on account of Christ. Hence we are also always righteous.[1]

Summary

     So then, as Christians, we are simultaneously righteous and sinners.  We are righteous in God’s eyes because of the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us as a free gift (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  And, we continue to possess a sin nature that continually causes internal temptation and conflict (Rom. 6:6; 7:14-25; 13:14; Col. 3:9; Gal. 5:16-17, 19).  Though the power of the sin nature is broken (Rom. 6:11-14), the presence of the sin nature is never removed from us until God takes us from this world and gives us a new body like the body of Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. The Sin Nature within the Christian  
  2. I am a Saint  
  3. The Gospel Message  
  4. Soteriology – The Study of Salvation  
  5. Believe in Jesus for Salvation  

[1] Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville, Tenn., Broadman and Holman publishers, 2013), 72.

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Seven Kinds of Death in Scripture

     Throughout Scripture, death means separation, and at times it means inability to produce.  It does not mean cessation or annihilation of life.  Death is first mentioned in Genesis where God promised Adam he would die if he disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:16-17).  When Adam ate the forbidden fruit, he immediately died spiritually in that his relationship with God was severed (3:1-7), and he later died physically (Gen. 5:5).  If Adam had continued in his state of spiritual death, he would have been in danger of being separated from God forever in the Lake of Fire, which is the Second Death (Rev. 20:11-15).  Adam was made spiritually alive again when he accepted God’s provision for him (Gen. 3:21).  It was Adam’s single act of sin in the garden that brought both spiritual and physical death upon the entire human race (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22).  The term death is also used to refer to Sarah’s inability to procreate (Rom. 4:19-21), the inability to produce divine good (Jam. 2:26), the unbeliever’s positional death in Adam (1 Cor. 15:21-22), the believer’s positional death in Christ (1 Cor. 15:21-22), and the believer who is living a carnal life and is out of fellowship with God (Jam. 1:14-15).  The following list should prove helpful:

  1. Spiritual Death (separation from God in time Gen. 2:16-17; Eph. 2:1).
  2. The Second Death (the perpetuation of spiritual death into eternity; Rev. 20:12-15).
  3. Physical Death (the separation of the soul from the body; Eccl. 12:7; 2 Cor. 5:8).
  4. Sexual Death (the inability to procreate; Rom. 4:19-21).
  5. Operational Death (the inability to produce divine good; James 2:26).
  6. Positional Death: in Adam (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22), and in Christ (Rom. 6:8; 1 Cor. 15:22; Col. 3:3).
  7. Carnal Death (this is the believer out of fellowship with God, operating according to his Sinful Nature; Rom. 8:6, 13; James 1:14-15; Rev. 3:1; Luke 15:24, 32).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1.  A Christian View of Death  
  2. The Sin that Leads to Death 
  3. Could Jesus Sin?  
  4. The Sin of Idolatry 
  5. Do God’s People ever Behave Poorly?  
  6. Restoring Fellowship with God  
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The Sin that Leads to Death

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin that does not bring death, he should ask, and God will give life to him– to those who commit sin that doesn’t bring death. There is sin that brings death. I am not saying he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin that does not bring death. (1 John 5:16-17 HCSB)

     It happens from time to time that a Christian will see another Christian “committing a sin.”  The apostle John distinguished two kinds of sin in the life of the Christian: the “sin that does not bring death” and the “sin that brings death” (1 John 5:16-17).  The “sin that does not bring death” is any sin the Christian commits that does not warrant physical death from the hand of God, though it may bring divine discipline if the believer continues in it (Heb. 12:5-13).  John does not specify which sin leads to death and which sin does not, as the punishment is finally determined by the Lord. 

     The sin that leads to death “denotes a sin habitually practiced by a believer, leading to God’s removing him from this life, but not taking away his salvation.”[1]  It refers to the Christian who has become so sinfully rebellious that God disciplines him to the point of death and takes him home to heaven.  There are references in the Bible where God personally issued the death penalty for one or more of His erring children who had defied His authority.  Examples include: Nadab and Abihu, who disobeyed the Lord in their priestly service (Lev. 10:1-3), Uzzah, when he touched the Ark (2 Sam. 6:1-7), Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11), and some of the saints at Corinth who were abusing the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:27-30). 

     Under the Mosaic Law, God willed that sin be punished, but only some sins were punishable by physical death.[2]  Sometimes God Himself executed the punishment (Lev. 10:1-3; 2 Sam. 6:1-7), and other times it was carried out by Israel’s leaders (Ex. 32:19-28).  In the New Testament, God does not call Christians to put anyone to death, but has delegated that authority solely to the governments of this world (Rom. 13:1-4), or He does it Himself (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16). 

Most sin does not lead to death

     It appears from reading the Bible that most sin committed by believers does not result in the Lord putting them to death, although it may bring great punishment.  It was a terrible sin when Aaron led the Israelites into idol worship (Ex. 32:1-6), but God did not call for Aaron’s death.  Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg. 16:1-4), and though he was disciplined, the Lord did not kill him.  When David had an affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah, it was a rotten sin that brought divine discipline.  The Lord told David, “I will raise up evil against you from your own household” (2 Sam. 12:11); however, the Lord also told David, “you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13).  It was evil when Solomon worshipped idols (1 Kings 11:1-10), but even here the Lord did not pronounce death for his sin.  Peter argued with Jesus and tried to prevent Him from going to the cross (Matt. 16:21-22), and later publicly denied the Lord three times (Matt. 26:34-35; 69-75), but Peter was allowed to live.  The apostle John twice worshiped an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9), but the Lord let him live and used him in ministry.  God’s grace and mercy is very prominent all throughout the Bible, and He repeatedly gives us ample opportunity to confess our sin and turn back to him.  Thank God for His great grace. 

God disciplines us for our good

     As God’s children, He expects us to live holy and righteous lives that conform to His will (Tit. 2:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).  When we sin, we can be restored to fellowship with God by means of confession (1 John 1:9).  If we fail to confess our sins, and choose a sinful lifestyle, we put ourselves in real danger of knowing God’s discipline.  The Scripture states, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6).  The wise believer accepts God’s correction.  David writes, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Ps. 119:71), and later states, “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me” (Ps. 119:75).  The foolish believer rejects God’s correction, and if he perpetuates his sin, God may administer a final act of discipline and remove the believer from this world. 

     Many Christians rightfully suffer because of their sinful lifestyle (Heb. 12:5-11), and those who persist in their sin will eventually die by the hand of the Lord.  Such death is the pinnacle of suffering in this life, but we should never conclude that it means suffering for eternity.  All believers are eternally secure in Christ.  At the moment of salvation, all believers are given eternal life and imputed with God’s righteousness (John 3:16; 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  They are forever kept by the power of God and cannot forfeit their salvation (John 10:29; Rom. 8:38-39).  This means that when a believer dies—whatever the cause—he is guaranteed heaven as his eternal home.  At his resurrection, the Christian is guaranteed a new body just the like body of our Lord Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21). 

Summary

     It is possible for a Christian to sin, and to sin as badly as any unbeliever.  However, unlike the unbeliever, God disciplines His own (Heb. 12:5-11), and, if necessary, disciplines to the point of death (1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16).  This need not be the case.  The Christian is called to a life of holiness (1 Pet. 1:15-16), and this means learning to walk with God and do His will.  Though we still possess a sin nature, the Christian knows victory because of his union with Christ (Rom. 6:6, 11-13). 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. Restoring Fellowship with God  
  2. The Sin Nature Within the Christian  
  3. I am a Sinner  
  4. Do God’s People Ever Behave poorly?  
  5. A Christian View of Death  
  6. Atonement for Sins  

[1] Paul S. Karleen, The Handbook to Bible Study: With a Guide to the Scofield Study System (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 359.

[2] There were certain laws under the Old Testament that brought the death penalty: intentional murder (Ex. 21:12-14; cf. Gen. 9:6), attacking or cursing a parent (Ex. 21:15), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16), habitual rebellion against God (Deut. 17:12), sacrificing to pagan gods (Ex. 22:20), cursing God (Lev. 24:15-16), working on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2), being a false prophet and leading Israelites into idolatry (Deut. 13:1-5), religious human sacrifice (Lev. 20:2), the practice of divination, sorcery or witchcraft (Ex. 22:18; Deut. 18:9-14), adultery and premarital sex (Lev. 20:10-14; 21:9; Deut. 22:20-22), sex with an animal (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16), incest (Lev. 20:11-12, 14), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and the rape of a married woman (Deut. 22:25-27).

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The Sin of Idolatry

You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol [פֶּסֶל pesel – an idol or carved image], or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship [שָׁחָה shachah – to worship, bow down] them or serve [עָבַד abad – serve, work] them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me. (Ex. 20:3-5)

What is idolatry?

     Idolatry is the selfish sin of substitution in which we devote ourselves to worship something or someone in the place of God.  It is foremost a sin of a covetous heart that leads us to desire more than what God provides, and to trust something or someone lesser than God to satisfy our wants and needs.  Paul addresses the heart of idolatry when he writes that covetousness “is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).  Covetousness is idolatry because the covetous heart desires things and pleasures more than God.  The believer who is satisfied with God is content with what he has (1 Tim. 6:7-11; cf. Phil. 4:11), but the covetous heart is never content and always seeks more (i.e. money, success, friends, etc.) in order to feel secure or to please the flesh. 

In a general sense idolatry is the paying of divine honor to any created thing; the ascription of divine power to natural agencies. Idolatry may be classified as follows: (1) the worship of inanimate objects, such as stones, trees, rivers, etc.; (2) of animals; (3) of the higher powers of nature, such as the sun, moon, stars; and the forces of nature, as air, fire, etc.; (4) hero-worship or of deceased ancestors; (5) idealism, or the worship of abstractions or mental qualities, such as justice.[1]

What is an idol?

     Stone IdolThroughout Scripture an idol is almost always a carved image, something crafted by human hand, made of wood or stone.  An idol can be either a physical object that symbolizes a deity, or it can be an abstract concept such as greed or justice.  A physical idol is merely the work of a craftsman (see Isa. 44:9-19).  There is no life in it (Ps. 115:1-8; Jer. 51:17; Hab. 2:18-20), nor can it deliver in times of trouble (Isa. 46:5-7).   Ultimately, an idol is the thing or person we trust more than God to provide, protect, or guide us in life.  Biblically, there is only one God, and He demands that His people worship Him (Ex. 20:3-6).  The exclusive worship of God is for His glory and our benefit. 

Can God’s people engage in idolatry?

     Yes.  We can engage in idolatry.  The record of Israel’s history—with the exception of a few generations—is a record of their unfaithfulness to God as they worshipped pagan idols (Ex. 32:1-6), which at times included human sacrifice (Deut. 12:31; 18:10; 2 Ki. 21:6; Ezek. 16:20-21).  The books of Judges, 1 & 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea (just to name a few) all reveal Israel regularly committed idolatry, and this caused them to suffer greatly under God’s discipline as He faithfully executed the cursing aspects of the Mosaic Covenant (Deut. 28:15-68). 

The Adoration of the Golden Calf by Nicolas PoussinIdolatry is dangerous because it is connected with the activity of demons (1 Cor. 10:19-20), who seek to steal God’s glory and wreck our relationship with the Lord.  Many of God’s people have fallen into idolatry.  Aaron led Israel into idol worship (Ex. 32:1-6).  Solomon, by the end of his life, bowed down to idols (1 Ki. 11:6-10), and there is nothing in the biblical record that suggests Solomon ever turned back to the Lord.  The apostle Paul addressed idolatry in his letter to the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 8:1-13; 10:14-33; 2 Cor. 6:16).  The apostle John twice worshiped an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).  John knew the sinful proclivity of all Christians and I believe this is why he warns us, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). 

Why do we commit idolatry? 

     Even though we are born again believers with a new heart (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22-24; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23), we still possess a sin nature (Rom. 6:6; 13:14; Gal. 5:16-17, 19; Col. 3:9), and there is always a conflict within us (Rom. 7:19-25; Gal. 5:16-17).  We commit idolatry because we seek to satisfy our sinful desires over God and His will.  In American culture we tend to worship at the altar of self-interest, greed, personal achievement, personal security and self-satisfaction. 

How do we guard ourselves from falling into idolatry?

     First, realize our hearts are sinful and bent toward idolatry.  It is the natural proclivity of mankind to worship things and people in the place of God.  It comes very easy to us, even as Christians.  Second, be devoted to God.  Paul writes to Christians, stating, “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1).  This is a lifetime commitment to God in which we bring all of our life under His directive will.  Third, constantly be in God’s Word, letting it guide our thinking and behavior.  As Christians, we do not worship the Bible, but neither can we worship God without it (John 4:24).  The Bible 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 is written in understandable language and made acceptable by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:3-4).  Our walk with God depends on rightly understanding and applying Scripture (John 17:17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  Fourth, surround yourself with Christian friends who will help you in your daily spiritual walk with the Lord.  Our fellowship with other growing believers is paramount concerning our spiritual health and growth.  The Bible is very clear when it states, “bad associations corrupt good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).  This is true in every way, and it helps us to have growing Christian friends who influence us to worship God and stay close to Him always.  Fifth, make time to worship the Lord daily, singing to Him and praising Him for all His blessings (Ps. 95:2; 105:2; Eph. 5:18-21; Phil. 4:6; Col. 3:16-17; 1 Thess. 5:18).  A heart that is satisfied with God will not seek lesser people or things to fill the void that occurs when we turn away from Him. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. Do God’s People ever Behave Poorly?  
  2. Restoring Fellowship with God.  
  3. I am a Saint. 
  4. I am a Sinner.  
  5. The Sin Nature Within the Christian.  

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

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What Does it Mean to Be a Man?

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Mic. 6:8)

     What does it mean to be a man?  The answers are as varied as the people who give them.  Some would point to genetics, anatomy, or character.  Others measure men by their accomplishments, by the battles they fight or trials they overcome.  

     The first man (Adam) was created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27).  He was assigned specific responsibilities as a steward of God’s creation (Gen. 2:15-18).  He was created to be in a relationship with the Lord, to think and act in conformity to His character.  He was also created to be in a relationship with a woman (Gen. 2:21-25), who was equally made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27).  Since the historical fall (Gen. 3:1-7), manhood has been diminished and perverted, as men often seek to define themselves independently of God and contrary to His original design.  The world has many worthless men (Deut. 13:13; Prov. 6:12-14; 16:27-28), and some have perverted their relationship with women (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:24-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-10). 

     There is no greater expression of manhood than the Lord Jesus Christ.  At a point in time, nearly two thousand years ago, the eternal Son of God became a man (John 1:1, 14).  He manifested grace and truth (John 1:17), lived a holy life (John 6:69; Heb. 7:26), faced adversity with Scripture (Matt. 4:1-11), and perpetually pleased His Father (John 8:29).  He came not to be served, “but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  He always spoke truth, both strong and gentle (Matt. 23:13-39; John 8:1-11), even in the face of hostility (John 8:40).  Jesus Healing SickHe welcomed children (Matt. 19:13-14), cared for the sick (Matt. 8:14-16; 14:14), fed the hungry (Mark 6:35-44), and made the humble feel loved and welcome (Luke 7:36-50).  The King of kings and Lord of lords manifested Himself as the Servant of servants when He humbled Himself and washed the feet of His disciples that they might learn humility (John 13:1-17).  By the end of His earthly life He’d completed His Father’s work, saying, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4), then He faced the cross and laid down His life for others (John 10:11, 15, 17; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  The Giver of life has given His life that others might know His Father’s love (1 John 3:16).

     A man, in the biblical sense, is a man who models his life after Christ.  He is a Christian in the fullest sense of the word.  He is, first and foremost, in a relationship with the Man, the Lord Jesus Christ and has been born again into a new life (1 Pet. 1:3).  As he grows spiritually, the Christian man learns to put on “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12).  He rejects “ungodliness and worldly desires” and lives “sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit 2:12).  He continually studies Scripture in order to live God’s will (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18), and strives toward spiritual maturity (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Eph. 4:11-16).  He regards others as more important than himself and looks out for the interests of others (Phil. 2:3-4).  He is filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and walks in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16).  He lives in fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-7), trusting the Lord to guide and sustain him in all things (Prov. 3:5-6).  He admits his faults to God (1 John 1:9) and accepts the consequences of his actions.  His life is constantly being transformed to become like the One who saved him (Rom. 8:29; 12:1-2).  He delights himself in the ways of the Lord (Ps. 1:1-3), walks humbly (Mic. 6:8), and pursues righteousness, justice and love (Ps. 132:9; Tit. 2:11-12).  He does not love the world (1 John 2:15-17), but shows grace and love to those who walk in it (Matt. 5:43-45; Rom. 12:19-21).  He shows love to other Christians (1 Thess. 4:9; 1 John 3:23), and helps the needy, the widow and orphan (Prov. 14:31; Jam. 1:27).  As a son, he honors his father and mother (Eph. 6:1-3), as a husband, he loves his wife as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25; Col. 3:19; 1 Pet. 3:7), and as a father, he teaches his children the ways of the Lord (Eph. 6:4; cf. Deut. 6:5-7).  These are just some of the characteristics of the mature Christian man. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

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An Evangelical Response to Same-sex Marriage

     For those who do not know, an evangelical is one who holds to the essentials of the Christian faith. The first of those essentials is an adherence to the Bible as God’s inerrant, infallible and authoritative truth. The Bible is a revelation from God to man. It does not address every subject, but what it does reveal is absolutely true about God, history, science, mankind, spirituality and morals. 

God’s Word Defines Marriage

     God’s Word reveals marriage is a divine institution and not a human social construct. Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman and is intended to be for a lifetime (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:3-6). Marriage began with the first humans—male and female—at the beginning of time-space-history (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18-25). Concerning marriage, Moses wrote “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Jesus Himself stated marriage began in the Garden of Eden and is between a man and a woman (Matt. 19:4-6). 

And He [Jesus] answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning [of time and space and history; see Genesis 1-2] made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? [Gen. 2:24] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matt. 19:4-6)

     Two immediate observations come out of Jesus statement: 1) marriage is a divine institution that was given to mankind at the beginning of time-space-history and, 2) marriage is between one man and one woman. In Scripture, marriage is regarded as a holy institution. Marriage is illustrative of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel (Isa. 54:5), and Christ’s relationship with the church (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:22-33). To pervert the institution of marriage—by definition and practice—is an attack on the God who gave it. 

Homosexuality is a Sin

     The Bible tells us, “God is love” (1 John 4:16). This is true. But is also tell us, “the LORD is righteous, [and] He loves righteousness” (Ps. 11:7). God’s love cannot be separated from His righteousness. Some claim they have “love” for each other, but any claim to love that is contrary to God and His righteousness as revealed in Scripture is ultimately a false love, a selfish love, a sinful love. Sin is any violation of God’s righteous commands. The Bible plainly declares homosexuality as sinful (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-10). As such, God does not honor that which is contrary to His righteous character.

You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. (Lev. 18:22; cf. Lev. 20:13)

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching. (1 Tim. 1:8-10; cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-10)

     Homosexuality is a sin like many other sins (adultery, murder, lying, perjury, gluttony, etc.). The internal propensity toward the homosexual lifestyle is born out of a person’s sin nature. Homosexual acts can be committed by both Christians and non-Christians. As a sin, it can be forgiven, and the Christian with homosexual tendencies can learn to live righteously as God intends. This is true for all Christians who struggle with strong sinful desires, whatever that may be, whether alcoholism, drug addiction, anger, violence, promiscuity, or anything else. 

God Loves Sinners but Hates Their Sin

     The Bible regards sin as any thought, word or action contrary to the holy character of God. The introduction of sin—both in human nature and behavior—corrupts all persons, making us totally depraved, such that sin permeates every aspect of our humanity (Rom. 3:10-18, 23; 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22). 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 (Jam. 1:14-15). People given over to sin pervert God’s institutions as well as His plans for humanity.

     God loves us and desires our salvation and fellowship with Him. He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). And what is God’s saving truth? It is the good news 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).  The greatest expression of God’s love occurred nearly two thousand years ago when He sent His Son into the world to die for us that we might have forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life (John 3:16-19; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14). 

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. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

     God is patient with us. Scripture reveals the Lord “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). This means God gives us time and opportunity to hear His gospel message and to respond to it. God is gracious toward us. “But Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Ps. 86:15). God Himself shows grace and love toward everyone, including those who hate Him (Matt. 5:45; Rom. 5:6-10). Jesus stated, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). God loves us, no matter our spiritual depravity, and He has created an open door for us to come to Him through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ. We come to God with the empty hands of faith, trusting in Christ alone as our Savior. 

     God is righteous and will judge those who reject and suppress His truth. There is a serious and dire warning that God gives in His Word about those who suppress His truth in unrighteousness. Paul writes, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). When a person continually rejects God’s revelation of Himself in nature and Scripture, then God eventually gives that person over to her/his sinful passions and degrading lusts (Rom. 1:24). 

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper (Rom. 1:26-28)

     To have a “depraved mind” means a person’s thinking is grossly perverted and that right judgment eludes her/him. The final result of those who reject God is a life forever separated from Him in the Lake of Fire. At death, all of life’s choices are fixed for eternity, and if we die without accepting God’s gracious gifts of forgiveness and eternal life (Eph. 1:7; John 10:28-30), then by our own choice we’ll spend eternity forever separated from Him (John 3:18; Rev. 20:11-15). 

What is the Christian Response?

     The Christian response is to speak and act with dignity. We are to be clear in speaking God’s truth to people who are made in His image (fallen as they are). We are to point them to Christ that they might turn to Him for salvation and be born again to a new spiritual life (1 Pet. 1:3, 23). We are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), “with grace” (Col. 4:6), and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). Scripture tells us:

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). 

     We know God is always present, working in the hearts of others (John 16:7-11), and will use us to speak truth and share Christ to those who will listen. We also realize most don’t want to hear God’s Word (John 3:19-20), and will not accept His message (Matt. 7:13-14), so we leave them to God’s judgment (Matt. 10:14-15; Rev. 20:11-15). Whatever the response of others, our role is to know God’s will and to walk with Him.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. Essentials of the Christian Faith  
  2. Living by Grace  
  3. Marriage Vows and Ceremonies  
  4. Making a Biblical Marriage  
  5. Choose a Christian Spouse  
  6. What Does it Mean to Be a Man?
  7. The Gospel Message  
  8. Atonement for Sins  
  9. I am a Sinner  
  10. God’s Mercy Toward Sinners  
Posted in Hamartiology, Hot Topics, Marriage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

God, History, Time and Eternity

Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. (Ps. 90:2)

     The Bible is a record of what matters most to us.  It gives us insights into realities we could never know except that God has revealed them to us in understandable terms.  God has not revealed everything to us, but what He has revealed is perfectly true.  Scripture gives us insight into things eternal and temporal, heavenly and earthly, angelic and human, good and evil, and above all, the thoughts, character, and actions of the Triune God.  We live in time-space history, which is driven by divine choices, angelic choices, human choices, and natural causes.  God’s choices are always supreme, all creatures being subordinate, influenced and controlled.  The Lord allows fallen angels and humans to produce sin and evil, but never beyond or against His sovereign will (Job 1:1-21; Ps. 105:12-15; 1 Kings 22:19-23; 2 Cor. 12:7-10).  God’s providential control over creation guarantees there are no accidents in history, but that all is within His sovereign plan.  “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6).  There is no one who can comprehend all His ways, or who can stand against Him when He acts.  “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35).

     Most of us think about history in time and space, which began when “God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).  However, according to Scripture, history moves backward and forward beyond time and space and touches things heavenly as well as earthly.  The heavens and earth in Genesis 1:1 refers to material heavens and planet earth.  The Hebrew word translated heavens is plural (שָׁמַיִם shamayim) and refers to:

  1. The atmosphere around the earth (where birds fly; Gen. 1:20).
  2. The stellar heaven which is the universe beyond the earth (Gen. 1:14; 15:5).

Paul mentions a third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2), which is the heaven beyond the universe, and is the place where God rules all things (Dan. 2:44).  Most Christians think of heaven as the place where God rules from His throne.  “Scripture implies the existence of three heavens. The first is the atmosphere above us, that is, the blue sky. The second is the stellar heaven. The third is the highest heaven where the throne of God is.”[1] 

     It is important to be aware of these distinctions because there is both an earthly history and a heavenly history (i.e. the third heaven).  These are connected and touch each other, for things which occur in heaven have direct impact on the earth (Job 1:1-20; 2:1-7; 2 Chron. 18:18-22; Luke 22:31-32), and things which occur on the earth impact things heavenly (Matt. 18:10; Luke 15:10).  The fall of Satan first occurred in heaven (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-18), and afterward he came to earth and influenced the fall of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-7; Rom. 5:12; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).  On the other hand, God the Son came to earth and became a man (John 1:1, 14; Gal. 4:4), lived a righteous life (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 3:5), died a substitutionary death on a cross (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:6-11; 1 Pet. 3:18), was buried in a grave, and rose again to life on the third day after His crucifixion (Matt. 20:18-19; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  In His resurrection body, Jesus bore the wounds of the cross (John 20:24-28) and carried those wounds with Him when He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).  All this reveals that heaven touches earth and the earth touches heaven.

     In the Bible, God occasionally pulls back the curtain of time and space and gives us glimpses into things eternal, revealing a history before time, before the creation of the world.  We learn that God Himself is eternal, for “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Ps. 90:2; cf. Deut. 33:27; Ps. 93:2; Isa. 40:28; Jer. 10:10).  From eternity past there was a loving and glorious relationship among the members of the Trinity, who exist as three distinct Persons (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. 1:17; 2:9; Heb. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:20), and God the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; 2 Cor. 13:14; Heb. 9:14).  All three Persons are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service.  The Persons of the Trinity communicated with each other, loved each other, and made decisions and promises which impacted the world and entire course of history.  There was forethought and intentionality to the creation of the heavens and earth, to mankind, to permit the fall of Adam and Eve, and to provide a monergistic solution that righteously judges sin and saves lost sinners.  To deal with sin, the Father designed and prepared a body for Jesus, and this decision was made in heaven, for “when He [God the Son] comes into the world [time and space], He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me’” (Heb. 10:5).  God the Holy Spirit created Jesus’ body in the womb of the Virgin Mary (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:26-38), for an angel from heaven told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).  During His time on earth, Jesus lived a sinless life and walked in perfect obedience to God the Father (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 2:8-11; 1 John 3:5).  Jesus offered a prayer just a few hours before going to the cross, a prayer spoken among His friends, a prayer in which He mentions a glory and love He enjoyed with the Father before the world existed.  Jesus said, “Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5), “for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).  This prayer reveals a wonderful relationship that existed from eternity past, which relationship broke into time and space for our benefit, and resumed its full expression when Jesus returned to heaven.  It was also from their relationship in eternity past that God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4), which choosing was secured by means of the cross.  From His eternal choice, God promised us eternal life, which speaks both of a current relationship with the Father (John 17:3), as well as an eternal destiny forever in heaven (John 3:16). 

     Our current experiences are connected with our eternal destiny which is assured to us who are in Christ.  Throughout our earthly life, God works through His Word, through others, and through circumstances to grow us spiritually in order to form the character of Christ in us.  All of God’s work in us is intentional, designed to prepare us for the life we will come to know when we leave this world and enter into His eternal presence.  Life on earth—in time and space—becomes more meaningful when we live beyond ourselves, beyond our struggles, beyond our circumstances and see everything within the context of eternity to which we belong right now.  I say we belong to eternity “right now” because as Christians we possess eternal life from the moment we believed in Christ as our Savior (John 10:28).  Eternal life is not what we can have, but what we have from the moment of salvation onward.  Our eternal life is the forever-life that finds its greatest experiential expression when we leave this world and enter into the presence of God in heaven.  At death, the flow of time ceases and all worldly experience comes to an end when we pass into eternity.  Until then, we enjoy eternal life here and now with God who has saved us and adopted us as His own.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1865.

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Marriage Vows and Ceremonies

     Marriage Book CoverMarriage is a covenant relationship (Prov. 2:17; Ezek. 16:8; Mal. 2:14-15; Matt. 19:6).  In Scripture, the word covenant (Heb. בְּרִית berith, Grk. διαθήκη diatheke) is used of a treaty, alliance, or contract.  The strength of a covenant depends on the person, or persons, who enter into it.  Some covenants are vertical between God and individuals or groups, and some are horizontal between people.  Some of God’s covenants are unilateral, in which God acts alone and unconditionally promises to provide and bless another, either a person or group (e.g. Noahic covenant, Abrahamic covenant, Davidic covenant, New Covenant, etc.).  In a unilateral covenant, God will always bless the recipients, and there is no fear of God doing otherwise, because the blessing is in no way conditioned on any action by those whom God assures blessing (e.g. Gen. 12:1-3; Jer. 31:31-34).  Some of God’s covenants are bilateral, in which blessing or cursing is conditioned on obedience to stated laws (e.g. Adamic covenant and Mosaic covenant).  In a bilateral covenant, God is faithful to bless and curse depending on compliance to the agreed upon conditions set forth (see Deuteronomy Chapter 28).  God is always faithful to keep His promises in both unilateral and bilateral covenants.  In the Bible there are examples of people who made bilateral covenants among themselves (Gen. 21:27; 31:44-54; Josh. 9:15; 1 Sam. 18:3; 2 Sam. 3:12-13).  Covenants made by people are generally bilateral, depending on the faithfulness of each person to keep their promise.

In making covenants God was solemnly invoked as a witness (31:53), whence the expression “a covenant of the Lord” (1 Sam. 20:8; cf. Jer. 34:18–19; Ezek. 17:19), and an oath was sworn (Gen. 21:31). Accordingly, a breach of covenant was regarded as a heinous sin (Ezek. 17:12–20). The marriage contract is called “the covenant of … God” (Prov. 2:17).[1]

     The marriage covenant is a bilateral agreement in which both persons promise, before God and others, to love each other faithfully.  It is regarded as a bilateral covenant—depending on the faithfulness of each person to each other—because God permits a way out of the relationship by divorce (Deut. 24:1-3; Matt. 5:32; 19:8-9).  A unilateral covenant would make no stipulations on the relationship.

     RingsThe marriage covenant glorifies God when the man and woman commit to love each other, to seek God’s best in each other, and to remain faithful to their promises.  Typically, marriage vows are thoughtful, addressing the reality of good and bad circumstances, the influence of wealth or poverty, sickness and health.  A vow is a promise, and a promise is only as strong as the person who makes it.  Often we vow to be committed to each other and to endure all tests and trials until separated by death.  We may not like the tests or trials that come our way, but it’s only in those situations that a person’s integrity becomes manifest.

     Marriage ceremonies mentioned in the Bible varied depending on the people and culture.  Sometimes we read about arranged marriages without any mention of a wedding ceremony at all (Gen. 21:21; 38:6; 1 Sam. 18:17).  Other times we read of great feasting and celebration during the wedding (Gen. 29:22; Judg. 14:12; Matt. 22:1-12; Luke 14:8-11; John 2:1-10).  The Bible does not prescribe a specific marriage ceremony, and each couple is free to follow whatever customs are particular to their culture so long as it conforms to the laws and customs of a nation (Rom. 13:1, 5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). (this article is an excerpt from my book: Making a Biblical Marriage

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Merrill F. Unger, et al., “Covenant” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

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Making a Biblical Marriage

     Marriage Book CoverMarriage is a divine institution originally designed to permanently unite a man and a woman (Gen. 2:18-25).  It is not a human invention.  The first couple was created in God’s image to live under His provision and authority, to walk in fellowship with Him, and to fulfill the specific purpose of ruling over His creation (Gen. 1:26-28).  They were to complement each other.  All three members of the Trinity[1] were involved in the creation of Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26-28).  “God created man in His own image [Heb. צֶלֶם tselem], in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27).  Adam and Eve were special, 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.  They were to fulfill the divine mandate to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).  Adam and Eve were created in a state of maturity as perfectly functioning adults and were gifted with brilliant minds that were able to correctly perceive their environment and to properly communicate with God and each other.  They possessed a clear sense of purpose under the authority of God.

     Genesis chapter one provides a snapshot of the creation of the first couple; however, in Genesis chapter two, we learn there was a short lapse of time between the creation of Adam and Eve (cf. 1 Tim. 2:13).  Adam, by himself, was placed in the Garden of Eden with the positive command “to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).  Adam was free to work and enjoy the beauty and fruit of the Garden.  God blessed Adam and provided for him (Gen. 2:15-16), but also promised spiritual and physical death if he sinned (Gen. 2:17).  Later, both Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:1-8), but Adam’s sin alone would bring judgment upon himself and the world, for which he was responsible.  When Adam fell, the world under his care fell with him (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 5:12-14; 8:22-23; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).

     Originally, Adam was created sinless, with the unhindered capacity to walk with God and serve Him.  Though he was sinless, Adam was not complete.  God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper [Heb. עֵזֶר ezer] suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18).  Before God created the first woman, He took time to educate Adam about his relational incompleteness.  God brought a multitude of animals before Adam (most likely in pairs of male and female), and after observing and naming them (Gen. 2:19), Adam realized “there was not found a helper [Heb. עֵזֶר ezer] suitable for him” (Gen 2:20).  God corrected what Adam could not.  The Lord caused Adam to fall asleep and “took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place” (Gen. 2:21).  God then “fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:22).  This was a divinely arranged marriage. 

Woman was taken not from Adam’s head to dominate him, nor from his feet to be trodden down, but from under his arm to be protected, and from near his heart to be loved.[2]

     The wife was created to “help” her husband (Gen. 2:20).  The word helper (עֵזֶר.Heb ezer) is an exalted term that is sometimes employed of God who helps the needy (Gen. 49:25; Ex. 18:4; 1 Sam. 7:12; Isa. 41:10; Ps. 10:14; 33:20).  Just as God helps His people to do His will, so the wife is called to help her husband serve the Lord and bring Him glory.  The wife is also to respect her husband (Eph. 5:33), both in private and in public.

     Sin changed humanity and the world in which we live.  Satan (a fallen angel) attacked the first marriage and tempted the man and woman to disobey God (Gen. 3:1-7).  Adam and Eve listened to Satan and rejected God’s will (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-8), and sin was introduced into the human race and the whole world is now under a curse (Gen. 3:8-19; Rom. 5:12-19; 8:20-22).  Eve was deceived by Satan, but Adam sinned with his eyes open (1 Tim. 2:14).

     christian_marriageThe institution of marriage continued after the historic fall of Adam and Eve and took on various ceremonies based on ever changing social customs.  The Bible directs believers to marry believers (1 Cor. 7:39; cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-15), but does not prescribe a specific ceremony to follow, or vows to take, but leaves these matters for people to decide for themselves.  Marriage is divinely illustrative of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel (Isa. 54:5), and Christ’s relationship with the church (2 Cor. 11:2).  Marriage is to be holy, because God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16).  Marriage is to be loving, because God is love (1 John 4:16-21).

     God designed the husband to be the loving leader to guide the relationship into His will, and the wife is to walk in harmony with him (Gen. 2:18; 21-23; cf. Eph. 5:25-33).  The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25).  Biblically, this is called agape love. 

Love [Grk. ἀγάπη agape] is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a)

     Agape love brings God into every relationship, provides spiritual nourishment, conforms to God’s will, and seeks God’s glory.  It stands the test of time and survives in the furnace of affliction.  It is sacrificial (Eph. 5:25; cf. Matt. 20:28; John 13:34; 15:13; Rom. 5:8; 14:15; 15:3), understanding and honoring (1 Pet. 3:7), and greater than feelings (Col. 3:19).  It is, in fact, God’s love, born in the heart of the believer who walks with God and desires His closeness. 

     God’s love comes from God, and only those who know God and walk with Him will manifest His love (1 John 4:10-21).  There is a biblical love and there is a worldly love.  Biblical love has its source in God who always seeks our best.  Worldly love is deceptive, self-serving and destructive, just as Satan is deceptive, self-serving and destructive.  We cannot give what we do not have, and only those who know and walk with God can manifest His love.  Anyone who claims to love but does not know God or walk with Him is a deceiver, and this one leads others into sin.  A successful marriage is built on Scripture and displays God’s love. 

     Where there is constant spiritual development in the life of a Christian couple, there will be the gradual manifestation of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23a).  We manifest these qualities because we walk with God and desire to reflect His character.  Walking with God means we become more and more like Him, gradually manifesting His attributes, such as righteousness (Ps. 11:7; 119:137), justice (Ps. 9:7-8; 50:6), holiness (Ps. 99:9), truthfulness (2 Sam. 7:28; John 17:17; 1 John 5:20), love (Jer. 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16),  faithfulness (Deut. 7:9; Lam. 3:23; 2 Tim. 2:13), mercy (Ps. 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit. 3:5), and graciousness (Ps. 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet. 5:10).  These attributes will strengthen the marriage, but they must be pursued intelligently and by choice. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

[This article is taken from my book: Making a Biblical Marriage]

Related Articles:

[1] The three persons of the Godhead include God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14; 20:28), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4).  God is one in essence (Deut. 6:4), and three in Person (Matt. 28:19; 1 Pet. 1:2). 

[2] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 35.

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The Doctrine of Election

He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will. (Eph. 1:4-5)

     Chosen Before the Foundation of the WorldI struggled with the doctrine of election for over twenty years.  Like most, I believed God’s election (or selection) of individuals to salvation was predicated on His foreseen knowledge of man’s response to the gospel.  While it is true that God knows who will believe (John 6:64), it is also true that each person believes because God sovereignly draws him and illumines his mind to the gospel message (John 1:11-13; 6:37, 44, 65-66; 10:27-28).  Jesus Himself stated, “no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65).  God determines who will be saved, and only the elect will be illumined to His saving truth.  This is troubling to some, because it strips them of any power to save themselves or others.  Salvation is not what we do for God, but what He has done for us through the work of Christ.  Salvation is appropriated only to those who believe, and a person believes because God has illumined his mind to the gospel.

The doctrine of Election is a cardinal teaching of the Scriptures. Doubtless, it is attended with difficulties which are a burden upon all systems of theology alike. However, no word of God may be altered or neglected. No little help is gained when it is remembered that revelation and not reason is the guide to faith. When the former has spoken the latter is appointed to listen and acquiesce.[1]

     Part of my struggle with the doctrine of election sprang out of a weak view of sin.  I did not fully understand the historical fall of Adam and the total depravity of all mankind.  I held to a semi-pelagian view of the fall in which I believed I could help bring myself to Christ for salvation, and once saved, assist in keeping myself saved.  This is a synergistic view of salvation (the work of two or more), in which I participated in my salvation.  The Scripture presents a monergistic view of salvation (a work of one), which means it’s a work of God alone.  All of us are helpless to save ourselves, and if it were not for the mercy and grace of God, we would all equally perish in sin.  The elect are simply the fortunate beneficiaries of God’s saving work. 

     Jacob and Esau are examples of God’s election, “for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was told to her, ‘the older will serve the younger’” (Rom. 9:11-12).  Some might want to charge God with being unfair.  However, Paul states, “There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” (Rom. 9:14).  God’s choosing some over others “does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16), for “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Rom. 9:18).  Here are some points that portray my understanding of election.

     God elects based on His sovereign good pleasure and not because of any foreseen goodness in people (John 6:37, 44, 65-66; 10:27-28; Acts 13:48).  Election (ἐκλέγω eklego) is that free choice of God from eternity past in which He chose to save and bless those who are the objects of His love and grace. The elect are the ones chosen. God elects based on His sovereign good pleasure and not because of any foreseen goodness in people (John 1:11-13; 6:37, 44, 65-66; 10:27-28; Acts 13:48; 16:14; Rom. 8:29-30; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:1-2). God elects groups (Luke 6:13-16; John 6:70) and individuals (1 Chron. 28:5; Acts 9:15); and His selection is based on sovereign choice (Rom. 9:10-18), not any foresight of good or worth (Deut. 7:7-8; 1 Cor. 1:26-31; Rom. 9:11). Election is to salvation (Acts 13:48; Eph. 1:4-6), spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3), holy and righteous living (Col. 3:12; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 2:9), and service for the Lord (Jer. 1:4-5; Gal. 1:15-16; cf. Acts 9:15). Scriptures related to election include:

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

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)

And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. (John 6:65-66)

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:27-28)

     All people are totally depraved and helpless to save themselves (Rom. 3:10-23; 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3).  Total depravity does not mean that people are as bad as they can be; rather, it means that sin reaches to every part of their being, mind, will and emotions, and that whatever they do, whether moral or immoral, has no saving value in God’s sight. 

The fact that all men are sinners, totally depraved—without any merit before God and without any ability to please God—makes the Spirit’s ministry essential. Scripture states clearly that the unsaved man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). In fact, to the unregenerate the gospel is foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). No amount of education and training will equip the unsaved to respond to Christ. That is the work of the Holy Spirit alone.[2]

     Satan blinds the minds of everyone (2 Cor. 4:3-4), but God illumines the minds of His elect to the gospel message, and once illumined, they respond willingly to His grace.  The good news about Jesus as the Savior is found only in the revelation of Scripture (John 3:16; Rom. 10:13-15; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Once the gospel is communicated, God illumines the mind of His elect to understand and respond favorably to it, with the result that they believe in Jesus as their Savior. As a vehicle of communication, God may use a person, the Scriptures, a gospel tract, a radio show, or any means that accurately communicates gospel truth. However, gospel truth itself, no matter how perfectly stated, will never lead an unbeliever to salvation if God does not illumine the mind to understand it.

The blinding or veiling of the mind, mentioned in 2 Cor. 4:3, 4, is then a universal incapacity to comprehend the way of salvation, and is imposed upon unregenerate man by the arch enemy of God in his attempts to hinder the purpose of God in redemption. It is a condition of mind against which man can have no power. Yet God has provided a means whereby this satanic veil may be lifted, the eyes opened (Acts 26:18), the eyes of the heart enlightened (Eph. 1:18), and the soul come into the illumination of the Gospel of the glory of Christ. Then, after this “opening of the eyes” is accomplished, the way of life, which is the Gospel, will seem, to the enlightened person, to be both desirable and of transcendent import. This great work is accomplished by Divine energy, and is one of the mightiest movements of the “power of God unto salvation.” It is spoken of in Scripture as the drawing of God and the convicting of the Spirit: “No man can come unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” (John 6:44). “And when He (the Spirit) is come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).[3]

     Election is to salvation, sanctification and glorification (Rom. 8:29-30; Col. 3:12; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 2:9).  God saves His elect, and once saved, continues to work in them to produce the character of Christ.  This is their sanctification.  Finally, God will glorify His elect when He brings us home to heaven where we will spend eternity with Him. 

God chose us even before He created the universe, so that our salvation is wholly of His grace and not on the basis of anything we ourselves have done. He chose us in Christ, not in ourselves. And He chose us for a purpose: to be holy and without blame. In the Bible, election is always unto something. It is a privilege that carries a great responsibility…What began in eternity past was fulfilled in time present, and will continue for all eternity![4]

     Difficulty in understanding is not a basis for rejection of the doctrine of election.  There are some biblical teachings that are difficult to grasp, and in some ways the human mind will never fully comprehend them.  I’m referring to doctrines such as the Trinity or the Hypostatic Union.  These doctrines are difficult to comprehend because they involve the infinite personal God who is beyond what our finite minds can grasp.  Likewise, the doctrine of election, born as it is in the mind of God, has attending details that are simply beyond the grasp of our comprehension. 

There is no doubt whatever about the Bible teaching that God has chosen an elect people; but the contemplation of all that is involved in this truth reaches out into realms of existence that can be known only to God, far removed as they are from the human sphere of understanding.  Being thus limited, it ill becomes the earth dweller to sit in judgment on God respecting His divine election.  God’s essential character has been disclosed and He can be trusted where men cannot possibly understand.  He is infinitely wise, infinitely holy, and infinitely just and good.  When exercising His sovereign right in election, He does not transgress His character or deny Himself.  Since He does elect some for special glories and destinies and since He proves Himself infinitely right in all He does, it follows that His eternal elective purpose must be as righteous as He is righteous.[5]

     Election displays God’s love, mercy and grace to save (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-9).  First and foremost, election displays God’s sovereignty; however, God has many attributes, and His choice of election includes them all.  The Christian who would rightly understand the doctrine of election must grasp several of God’s attributes such as His omniscience (Ps. 139:1-6; Matt. 6:31-33), omnipotence (Job 42:2; Isa. 40:28-29), righteousness (Ps. 11:7; 119:137), justice (Ps. 9:7-8; 19:9; 50:6; 58:11), love (Jer. 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16), mercy (Ps. 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit. 3:5), and grace (Ps. 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet. 5:10).

The act of electing a people has to be compatible with all of His attributes. It is based on His omniscience, so that we may be assured that when He elected He did so knowing full well all of the alternative possibilities. It is related to the exercise of His sovereign will, so that He was in no way forced to do what He did. It was done by the God who is love, so that predestination was done in love (Eph. 1:4–5). It expressed His mercy; otherwise how could God have loved Jacob? (Rom. 9:15). It demonstrates His matchless grace (Eph. 2:7–8). And the ultimate purpose of election is to display His glory (1:6, 12, 14). Usually we put the emphasis on the fact that God elects. We need to remember that it is God who elects, and He can do nothing unloving or unjust.[6]

     Election encourages sharing the gospel, because we know God will use it to bring His people to salvation through faith in Christ.  Election encourages sharing the gospel (Acts 13:48; 18:8; 2 Tim. 2:10), which is the means by which people come to have eternal life as they place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31).  Paul taught election, but was also very aggressive in his evangelism efforts, even pleading with others to believe in Christ for salvation (2 Cor. 5:20).  People come to know and accept Jesus because God opens their heart to know the truth. An example of divine illumination can be found in the book of Acts where Paul was preaching to a group of women, and one woman in particular “named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14).  Here was a group of women, all hearing Paul speak the same message, yet Luke tells us that only one of them responded to “the things spoken by Paul,” because “the Lord opened her heart” to understand his words.  This is true in every situation where the gospel is shared and people willingly receive it.

     Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation (Rom. 10:13-14).  Faith is non-meritorious, having no saving value in itself.  Christ alone saves.  In order for a person to be saved, he must believe in Jesus as the Savior (1 Cor. 15:3-4). This, of course, is the Jesus of Scripture, for no other Jesus will do. From the human side of salvation, faith in Jesus is the necessary response to God’s call, and no one can be saved any other way (John 14:6; Acts 16:31).  When God’s elect hear the gospel message, they will believe in Christ as their Savior (Acts 13:48).  No clever argumentation or persuasive rhetoric is needed when witnessing to God’s elect (who are unknown until they believe in Christ), for they will hear the truth and respond with faith in Christ as God opens their hearts to the gospel. As believers, we are to know the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4), and be ready to share it at any moment as God gives us opportunity. We do not have to force the opportunity, but simply be ready when it comes; and then be clear in our speech, knowing that God is working in the hearts of His elect.  To be saved, an unbeliever must know and believe the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4; cf. Rom. 10:11-15).  

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Rom. 10:13-14)

     Election does not remove human guilt for those who reject Christ as their Savior.  Those who reject the gospel are left to stumble over the cross of Christ, which is an offense for them, “for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed” (1 Pet. 2:8).  The spiritual condition of the unbeliever is that he is dead in his sins and destined for God’s wrath (John 3:36).  His understanding is darkened, he has no spiritual life, and he hardens his heart toward God (Eph. 2:1-3).  They do not believe because of their personal choice.  “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).  Also, Satan imposes spiritual blindness upon them.  “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).  Regarding the nonelect, the Scripture states that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11), does not desire any unbelievers to perish (2 Pet. 3:9), and that it is man’s sin that separates him from God (Isa. 59:2).

     Preterition teaches that the nonelect are simply passed over, or neglected, and left to their own sinful choices which will always operate in hostility toward God, Christ, and those who are His own.  There are Scriptures that seem to pertain to the non-elect (Prov. 16:4; Matt. 11:21; John 6:70-71; Rom. 9:17-24; 1 Pet. 2:7-8; Jude 4; Rev. 13:8; 17:8).

Retribution means deserved punishment, while preterition is the passing over of those not elected to salvation. Both terms avoid the concept involved in double predestination or reprobation, which means foreordination to damnation. None of these terms appear in the Scripture, though the idea is clearly taught in Romans 9:18, 21; 1 Peter 2:8; and Revelation 17:8. Therefore, the Scriptures do contain a doctrine of preterition, though there is not a decree to condemn in the same sense that there is a decree to elect. Obviously the very idea of election has to include the idea of the greater number out of which they were chosen, and those who were not chosen were certainly passed by. This in no sense implies that God delights in the destiny of the wicked, or that they are driven against their wills, or that the doctrine of election nullifies a “whosoever” Gospel, or that any individual can know he is not elect and thereby try to excuse himself for rejecting Christ. All are accountable to God for their attitude toward Christ.[7]

Summary:

     God does not bully men to believe in Christ, but neither will any of the elect fail to believe.  “Does the sinner respond to God’s grace against his own will? No, he responds because God’s grace makes him willing to respond. The mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility will never be solved in this life. Both are taught in the Bible (John 6:37). Both are true, and both are essential.”[8]  To be adopted as a member of God’s royal family and live forever in His eternal palace is a welcome blessing to anyone trapped in sin.  The humble and sensible person will gladly surrender a life of hurt and sorrow for one of magnificent love and joy with the eternal God of the universe, Who in wonderful love has “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:5-6).

Though as Sovereign He could do so, God does not coerce the human will; He rather works within the individual both to will and to do of His good pleasure (cf. Phil. 2:13).  An efficacious call to salvation, then, is a call which none ever finally resists (cf. Rom. 8:30).  Everyone whom God predestinates He calls, and everyone whom He calls He justifies and glorifies.  There could be no failure in one instance among the millions who are called.  The vision He creates in the heart and the limitless persuasion He exercises induce a favorable reaction on the part of all thus called, which reaction is rendered infinitely certain.  The important truth to be remembered in all of this is that, though divine persuasion be limitless, it still remains persuasion, and so when a decision is secured for Christ in the individual he exercises his own will apart from even a shadow of constraint.  The divine invitation still is true that “whosoever will may come.”  However, it is also true that none will ever come apart from the divine call, and that the call is extended only to His elect.[9]

Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Sovereignty of God   
  2. The Gospel  
  3. Election and Illumination  
  4. Soteriology  
  5. Three Phases of Salvation
  6. Saved by God’s Grace  
  7. Essentials of the Christian Faith  

[1] Lewis S. Chafer, “Biblical Theism Divine Decrees” Bibliotheca Sacra, 96 (1939): 268.

[2] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 197.

[3] Lewis Sperry Chafer, True Evangelism (New York: Gospel Publishing House, 1911), 74-75.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996), Eph 1:3.

[5] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 1993), 133.

[6] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 362-63.

[7] Ibid., 362.

[8] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Eph 1:3.

[9] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 7, 136.

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A Biblical Worldview

     Christian-worldviewA worldview is a biased perspective on life.  It is a mental framework of beliefs that guide our understanding of what is.  It’s the assumptions we employ to help us make sense of the world, ourselves, and our experiences.  Early in life—when our perception of the world is being shaped—we are influenced by the worldviews of family, friends, and surrounding culture.  As we grow older, we are confronted with different and opposing worldviews via religious and educational institutions, literature, movies, music and art.  At some point in our development—it’s different for each person—we choose what we believe and why.  Our worldview is important because it’s the basis for our values which directs our behavior, relationships, money habits, social and political decisions, and everything we do.  A well developed worldview considers the existence of God (Person or force?), the origin of the universe (intelligent creation or accidental bang?), human existence (where we came from and what we are?), the purpose for life (do we exist for a reason or by chance?), human morals (are values absolute or relative?), the problem of evil (is evil real or merely a construct of the mind), and the future (heaven/hell or nothing).  A biblical worldview answers all these concerns.  Here are some considerations regarding a biblical worldview:

     Berenstain Bear's Naturalistic WorldviewFaith is at the heart of the biblical worldview. Every worldview operates with some faith assumptions.  Even the atheist has faith, most of them believing the universe began with a spontaneous bang and that everything is the product of matter, motion, time and chance.  They believe this beyond scientific verification (which requires observation and repeatable testing).  This purely materialistic worldview is sometimes found even in children’s literature such as the Berenstain Bears Nature Guide, which states that nature is “all that is, or was, or ever will be.”[1]  The Christian worldview operates by faith, and our faith is rooted in Scripture which provides insights into realities we could never know, except that God has spoken.  “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3).  Developing a comprehensive and consistent biblical worldview takes a lifetime of learning and living (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  The final objective of a biblical worldview is love for God, love for others, and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. 

     The Bible reveals the existence of God (Gen. 1:1) and portrays Him as Creator (Gen. 1:1-2:25). It also reveals His character, what He has done in history, what He is doing now and what He will do in the future.  God exists as 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 Persons 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), sharing the exact same attributes.[2] 

     My Havanese - AriGod created the universe in six literal days (Gen. 1-2; Ex. 20:8-11). He created an open universe in which He continually operates in every detail, involving Himself in people’s lives, directing history for His glory.  The Lord assigns value and purpose to all His creation, whether rock or flower, wind or rain, light or darkness, cat or dog, etc.  From the biblical perspective I perceive my little Havanese as a part of God’s creation, having design and purpose because God created her to be what she is.  I know “a righteous man has regard for the life of his animal” (Pro 12:10); therefore, I feel responsible to care for my little dog.  “The character of a man is seen in the way he treats those under his care or at his mercy, even when they are animals.  This verse demonstrates that we are responsible to have dominion over the animals, while doing so in a way that reflects the tenderness of our Creator (Ps. 104:14, 27; 145:16; 147:8-9).”[3]

     God created mankind in His image, to think, feel and act (Gen. 1:26-27). God also created mankind for a purpose, to have a relationship with Him and other people, and to exercise responsible dominion over His creation, caring for plants and animals ( 1:26-30; cf. Deut. 25:4; Prov. 12:10).  As God’s unique creatures we find ourselves naturally bent Bookstoward art, music, literature, philosophy, science, mathematics, architecture, sports, and other activities that enrich the soul and glorify the Lord.  The Christian can engage in art and science to the glory of God, as this is consistent with Scripture.  As Christians living in God’s world, and understanding what the Scripture teaches about His creation, we are able to make sense of the world around us and enjoy the creation as God intended.  Knowing Scripture also allows us to understand and reject the sinful perversions of the arts and sciences that fallen men have corrupted.  Without God and Scripture to guide and give man purpose, man’s uniqueness is lost in the universe, as he is ultimately of no greater value than what he paints on the canvass or studies under the microscope.  Biblical thinkers know this to be true; because if there is no God and man is not unique (as the Bible teaches), then he is of no greater value than the tree, the rock, or the worm on a hook.  If there is no God, then man is a zero.  When he dies, his biological life is consumed by the material universe from which he came.  Consider this view of death by the atheist John Updike:

Without warning, David was visited by an exact vision of death: a long hole in the ground, no wider than your body, down which you were drawn while the white faces above recede. You try to reach them but your arms are pinned. Shovels pour dirt in your face. There you will be forever, in an upright position, blind and silent, and in time no one will remember you, and you will never be called by any angel. As strata of rock shift, your fingers elongate, and your teeth are distended sideways in a great underground grimace indistinguishable from a strip of chalk. And the earth tumbles on, and the sun expires, an unaltering darkness reigns where once there were stars.[4]

     God is the absolute standard for right and wrong, and He expects mankind to conform to that which He has revealed about Himself in Scripture (Ps. 11:7; 34:15-16; Lam. 1:18; Dan. 9:14; Hos. 14:9; Zep. 3:4). If there is no God, and no written revelation of His character and will, then men are left only with their conflicting opinions and there is no final arbiter to determine what is right or what is wrong.  However, God has spoken in the Bible, and what He says about men and their actions is the final basis for correct thinking concerning morals and behavior. 

     Evil exists in connection with the willful creatures who produce it. Evil first came into existence in the angelic realm when Lucifer rebelled against God (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:12-18).  Adam and Eve introduced sin and evil into the human realm when they followed Satan and rebelled against God (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-7).  All humanity is corrupt in Adam, inclined toward sin, spiritually dead and powerless to change their spiritually fallen condition (Rom. 3:23; 5:6-12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).  God alone corrects the problem of sin and evil through the cross of Christ.  Evil will come to an end in the eternal state when God destroys the current heavens and earth and creates a new heavens and earth where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 20:10-15; 21-22). 

     God is actively involved in the affairs of mankind. God has an agenda, a plan He formed before the creation of the world, and He is currently executing that plan according to His sovereign will and for His own glory (Ps. 33:11; Isa. 14:24; 25:1; 46:9-11).  Within God’s plan, He extends hope for the lost.  The Bible reveals God’s plan of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself true humanity (Gen. 3:15; John 1:1, 14), born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25), lived righteously according to the Mosaic Law (Matt. 5:17-19; Gal. 4:4), never sinned (Heb. 4:15), died a substitutionary death on a cross (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8), was buried and rose to life on the third day (1 Cor. 15:3-4), and ascended to heaven where He is currently interceding for the saints (Acts 1:10-11; Rom. 8:34).  Salvation is a gracious and free gift to all who will accept it by faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9; Tit. 3:5).

     Jesus Christ will return again to rule the earth (Rev. 19:11-16; 20:1-6). There is a future hope for those who trust Christ as Savior and look forward to His return in which He suppresses all sinful rebellion and establishes His reign on the earth.  This will be a time of righteousness and goodness for all those under Christ’s rule (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 20:1-6). 

     In summary, the biblical worldview considers the major issues of life and provides the most comprehensive answer for what is.  We should not think of the biblical worldview as merely an academic exercise to answer our burning questions.  No.  There is real life application for the biblical worldview, which should produce in us a love and appreciation for God, love for others, and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Stan and Jan Berenstain, The Bears’ Nature Guide (New York, NY, Random House, 1975), 6.

[2] 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).

[3] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary (Scotland, Great Britain, Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 267.

[4] John Updike, Pigeon Feathers (New York, NY, Random House Publishers, 1975), 17.

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When God’s People Sin

     Do God’s people every behave poorly?  Yes.  There are times we behave poorly.  As a Christian, there are times I behave poorly toward God by refusing to do His will (James 4:17).  There are times I behave poorly toward other Christians by not modeling the love or grace or truth that should characterize a growing believer.  And, there are times I behave poorly toward unbelievers by not modeling the love or grace or truth that reveals God to them.  Though I have eternal life by faith in Christ (John 3:16; 10:28), and am among the Lord’s righteous (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), I still sin (1 John 1:8, 10).  As a believer, Solomon understood “there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).  There are numerous biblical examples of believers who behaved poorly. 

Old Testament examples include:

  1. Lot’s daughters got him drunk and slept with him (Gen. 19:30-38).
  2. Judah slept with Tamar, assuming she was a prostitute (Gen. 38:13-18).
  3. Aaron led the Israelites in idol worship (Ex. 32:1-6).
  4. Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg. 16:1-4).
  5. David had an affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah (2 Sam. 11:1-21).
  6. Solomon ended his life worshipping idols (1 Kings 11:1-10).

New Testament examples include:

  1. James and John (nicknamed Boanerges, or “Sons of Thunder”; Mark 3:17) wanted to call fire down from heaven to kill the residents of a Samaritan city (Luke 9:51-55).
  2. The mother of James and John requested special treatment for her sons, that they might have a place of prominence seated on thrones to the right and left of Jesus (Matt. 20:20-21). This upset the other disciples (Matt. 20:24).
  3. The disciples tried to send away a woman who had come to Jesus for help with her demon possessed daughter (Matt. 15:21-23).
  4. The disciples tried to prevent a man from doing the Lord’s work (Luke 9:49-50).
  5. The disciples argued amongst themselves as to who was greatest in the kingdom (Luke 9:46).
  6. Peter argued with Jesus and tried to prevent Him from going to the cross (Matt. 16:21-22). The Lord reproached Peter sharply (Matt. 16:23).
  7. Peter denied the Lord three times (Matt. 26:34-35; 69-75).
  8. Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement that resulted in their separation as friends in ministry (Acts 15:36-39).
  9. The Christians at Corinth were guilty of quarrels (1 Cor. 1:11), jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21). 
  10. Peter engaged in hypocrisy and was publicly rebuked by Paul (Gal. 2:11-14).
  11. The Apostle John was twice corrected for worshipping an angel (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). John knew the depravity of his own heart and how easy it is to fall into idolatry, and he cautioned other Christians to “guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). 

Five of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3 behaved poorly by not doing God’s will, and the Lord Jesus reprimanded them. 

  1. Church at Ephesus – “you have left your first love” (Rev 2:4).
  2. Church at Pergamum – “you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality” (Rev 2:14).
  3. Church at Thyatira – “you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” (Rev 2:20).
  4. Church at Sardis – “I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God” (Rev 3:2).
  5. Church at Laodicea – “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot” (Rev 3:15).

     Though there are numerous examples of believers, both in the Old and New Testament, who behaved poorly toward God, other believers, and unbelievers, this is never what God expects from us.  As His children, God calls us to live holy and righteous lives (Tit. 2:11-14), to manifest love (1 Thess. 4:9), grace (Eph. 4:29), and truth to others (Eph. 4:15).  When we fail, we should humbly confess our sins and move on (1 John 1:9), as we keep striving to know God and walk in His will (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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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. 1:21).  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 Cor. 2:11-12; 2 Cor. 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 – Isa. 7:14; Matt. 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, D.Min.

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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.

     Once 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 (2 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, D.Min.

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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, D.Min.

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