Completed by the Spirit Part 5: We Serve In The Spirit

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
This is the fifth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.
In our pre­vi­ous post in this series, we showed that Paul does not call us to use the law to mea­sure or pro­mote our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, though there are many who assert that he does.
But there also those in the “reformed camp” who would even counter Paul’s repeated entreaties to rely on the Spirit. Willem VanGe­meren denies Paul’s asser­tion that the Spirit replaces the law in the New Covenant:
The law is not replaced by the Spirit in the escha­to­log­i­cal age. The Spirit opens peo­ple up to the law and trans­forms them to live by a higher ethics [sic]. We may even speak of escha­to­log­i­cal ethics as an appli­ca­tion of the moral law, by which believ­ers live in the present age with their eyes focused on the com­ing of the king­dom. While all peo­ple belong to the present age and are made respon­si­ble for keep­ing its mores, Chris­tians live by the higher ethics of the king­dom. Paul speaks of this ten­sion in his min­istry: “To those not hav­ing the law I became like one not hav­ing the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law [ennomos Chris­tou]), so as to win those not hav­ing the law” (1 Cor. 9:21). The law is God’s instru­ment in trans­form­ing the Chris­t­ian into a ser­vant of the king­dom of God. …[1] Paul, how­ever, could not be more direct that the law is no longer bind­ing on the Chris­t­ian. The apos­tle begins this in chap­ter 7 of Romans:

[7:1] Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speak­ing to those who know the law—that the law is bind­ing on a per­son only as long as he lives? [2] For a mar­ried woman is bound by law to her hus­band while he lives, but if her hus­band dies she is released from the law of mar­riage. [3] Accordingly, she will be called an adul­ter­ess if she lives with another man while her hus­band is alive. But if her hus­band dies, she is free from that law, and if she mar­ries another man she is not an adulteress.
[4] Likewise, my broth­ers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. [5] For while we were liv­ing in the flesh, our sin­ful pas­sions, aroused by the law, were at work in our mem­bers to bear fruit for death. [6] But now we are released from the law, hav­ing died to that which held us cap­tive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the writ­ten code (or “of the let­ter” – ESV foot­note). (Romans 7:1–6)

There are some who argue that Paul is only argu­ing against the civil and “cer­e­mo­nial” laws of Israel. But nowhere in this argu­ment do we see Paul draw dis­tinc­tions among moral, cer­e­mo­nial and civil aspects of the Mosaic law.
Paul does not say that we’ve died to Jew­ish cul­tic rit­u­als and Jew­ish civil law as some might argue – although many of the eth­i­cal norms expressed by Paul do con­tain the same or sim­i­lar con­tent as the Deca­logue. Many will argue that this means that the Ten Com­mand­ments are exempt  and thatRomans 7 is only argu­ing for the end of the civil and cer­e­mo­nial aspects of the law.
Note: In a future post, I hope to address the three-part dis­tinc­tions in the Mosaic law that are cen­tral to Reformed the­ol­ogy. It is my con­tention that refer­ring to the laws per­tain­ing to sac­ri­fices, holy days, sab­baths and tem­ple rit­ual as “cer­e­mo­nial” demeans the rich typol­ogy of their mean­ing to the faith­ful rem­nant of Israel. To the faith­ful, they were more than mere cul­tic rit­ual but things seen and greeted from afar (Hebrews 11:13) and were actions pleas­ing to God, unlike those per­formed as rit­ual by the unfaith­ful (cf.Isa­iah 1).
But can one really argue that Paul means that dietary laws, laws about repay­ing those whose ani­mal you’ve harmed, or ordi­nances about sac­ri­fices aroused sin­ful pas­sions, rather than admo­ni­tions against adul­tery, lying and theft?
A sep­a­ra­tion of the law in such a way does not hold water in this argument.
There does remain, how­ever, a par­al­lel between the Deca­logue and Paul’s teach­ing, but Stephen West­er­holm explains why there is a difference:
The ethic deter­mined by God’s Holy Spirit can­not, for Paul, be capri­cious. Paul points out areas of pos­si­ble human behav­ior which are incom­pat­i­ble with the lead­ing of the Holy Spirit of God and other moral char­ac­ter­is­tics which the Spirit inevitably pro­duces. In fact, of course, Paul’s under­stand­ing of the moral behav­ior which the Spirit induces cor­re­sponds nicely with the moral demands of the Mosaic law. But this … does not mean that Paul derives Chris­t­ian duty from the law. The eth­i­cal instruc­tion of the epis­tles would have looked very dif­fer­ent had Paul con­tin­ued to find the will of God in the way he did as a Phar­isee, by inter­pret­ing and apply­ing the rel­e­vant statutes from Torah.[2] Paul’s antithe­sis is between writ­ten code – the code of the Old Covenant – and the Spirit. We have died to that which aroused sin in us.
Nor does Paul say merely that we are not to rely on the law for our jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, as some would argue fromRomans 7.
Paul clearly speaks of the law in its present tense for the believer. He speaks against using the law for our walk, for our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. In verse 6, he writes “we serve” (δουλεύειν ἡμᾶς) in the present tense. We serve in the Spirit because we are released from the law.
The law bears fruit for death, arouses sin­ful pas­sions and holds men cap­tive. How then, can we turn to the law to grow in or to mea­sure our holiness?
Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 6: Who Is The Man of Romans 7?
[1] Willem A. VanGe­meren, “The Law Is the Per­fec­tion of Right­eous­ness in Jesus Christ: A Reformed Per­spec­tive” Five Views on Law and gospel (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zon­der­van, 1996), 58.
[2] Stephen West­er­holm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith: Paul and His Recent Inter­preters (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerd­mans, 1988), 214.

Completed by the Spirit Part 4: The ‘Poverty of our Sanctification?’

This is the fourth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
Despite Paul’s warn­ings that the law arouses sin, many will point to the law as a prime mover in sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, essen­tial to con­vict­ing us about our remain­ing sin and mea­sur­ing our growth in holi­ness. In doing so, they will attempt to draw a dis­tinc­tion between being “under the law” and fol­low­ing the law. For example:
This con­vict­ing use of the law is also crit­i­cal for the believer’s sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, for it serves to pre­vent the res­ur­rec­tion of self-righteousness — that ungodly self-righteousness which is always prone to reassert itself even in the holi­est of saints. The believer con­tin­ues to live under the law as a life­long penitent.
This chas­ten­ing work of the law does not imply that the believer’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion is ever dimin­ished or annulled. From the moment of regen­er­a­tion, his state before God is fixed and irrev­o­ca­ble. He is a new cre­ation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). He can never revert to a state of con­dem­na­tion nor lose his son­ship. Nev­er­the­less, the law exposes the ongo­ing poverty of his sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion on a daily basis. He learns that there is a law in his mem­bers such that when he would do good, evil is present with him (Rom. 7:21). He must repeat­edly con­demn him­self, deplore his wretched­ness, and cry daily for fresh appli­ca­tions of the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses from all sin (Rom. 7:24; 1John 1:7, 9).[1] Is that really what the Chris­t­ian walk should be, one of  repeated per­sonal con­dem­na­tion? If there is “now no con­dem­na­tion for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), does that now mean the believer must sup­ply his own self-condemnation? What a dis­mal, rot­ten and piti­ful exis­tence that author describes! What a hor­rid depic­tion of a Chris­t­ian life!
Indeed, that descrip­tion does reflect a law that “doth bind the believer”[2] (as the West­min­ster Con­fes­sion of Faith states) and not a free­dom in which believ­ers have been set free (Gal 5:1).[3] And the author (per­haps unwit­tingly) makes an excel­lent argu­ment for the man of Romans 7 being a believer by advo­cat­ing that Chris­tians should be mis­er­able about their sin as they per­form their daily “Protes­tant penance.”
It is the Spirit that sanc­ti­fies, not the law in a fleshly exer­cise of behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion. Des­per­a­tion and more sin­ful­ness are the results of a focus on law for sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion instead of avail­ing one’s self of the Holy Spirit and behold­ing with awe the per­son and work of Jesus Christ.
There’s yet another dan­ger that comes from a sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion the­ol­ogy that focuses on law. A heavy dose of moral­is­tic preach­ing from the pul­pit at the expense of the gospel can and does lead to the pro­duc­tion of a gen­er­a­tion of non-evangelized Phar­isees. Pas­tors and par­ents, we can­not pre­sume that there is a sav­ing knowl­edge of the gospel among young peo­ple, no mat­ter whether they were born to Chris­t­ian par­ents or not.
A law-focused pul­pit and a gospel-presuming pul­pit are a toxic mix.
We might also ask about the phrase “poverty of our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion.” By what means do we mea­sure our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion and how poor we have pro­gressed? Those who advo­cate the third use of the law would use the law to mea­sure our progress. Yet that is the very same law that Paul tells us arouses sin.
There­fore, Paul does not tell us to use the law as the mea­sur­ing stick of our sanctification.
Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 5: We Serve In The Spirit
[1] Joel R. Beeke, “The Place of the Third Use of the Law in Reformed The­ol­ogy” (Con­cor­dia The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary, 2005), 5–6.
[2] West­min­ster Con­fes­sion of Faith, XIX/v.
[3] Beeke con­cludes his paper with the argu­ment that bind­ing users under the law actu­ally pro­duces free­dom. Per­haps an anal­ogy would be that keep­ing train­ing wheels on bicy­cles actu­ally pro­duces Lance Armstrong.

He Took the Cup: The Cup Symbolizes the New Covenant

A Covenant Is Not a Testament
Todd Braye
He took bread. Then He took the cup. He gave thanks for it, and said it was the new covenant in his blood. In other words, the cup symbolizes the new covenant, a covenant His death put in force. The old, Mosaic Covenant, the one the Scripture summarizes as the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28), was put in force by the blood of young bulls (Exodus 24:5-8). Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the altar, read the words of the covenant to the people, and, after a pledge of obedience by the people, he sprinkled the people. “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words,” he said.
So, blood establishes a covenant. “A covenant is not a testament,” Robertson writes. “A covenant is a bond in blood. It involves commitments with life and death consequences. At the point of covenantal inauguration, the parties of the covenant are committed to one another by a formalizing process of blood-shedding. This blood-shedding represents the intensity of the commitment of the covenant.”[1] So, the question is: “What commitments, what covenantal promises did God make that Christ inaugurated by His blood shedding?” And therefore, when we drink the cup, what promises are we ‘drinking’ by faith? This is big. Jeremiah 31:31-34 speaks of this new covenant. I’ll simply read that passage from the ESV and insert some observations.
The New Covenant

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.”

Observation #1-The new covenant is not like the old. Therefore, the new is not a newer version of the old. It’s not a renewed edition of the old. Nor is it, as some put it, a new administration of the old. It’s, as Scripture puts it, not like the old. It’s new. It’s simple. But take my word for it: many, even those we would respect, do not understand. The new is not like the old. Therefore, the old is not continued in the new. There is absolute discontinuity between the old and new covenants, in other words.

33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”

Observation #2- God promises, in the new covenant, to write his law within, on the hearts of his people. The Old Covenant Law was written on tablets of stone. It was exterior. It commanded from without, much like a guardian or a super nanny. And as the history of the Old Covenant people shows, it had no real effect. It did not produce what it called for. “My people are bent on turning from Me,” the Lord says in Hosea. His people were bent on turning from him. Therein lies the heart of the issue. Law, external law, does not change the heart of a sinner.
But in the new covenant, God makes that which is external, internal. What is exterior, he makes interior. His precise words are fascinating. He says that he will put his “law within them,” and “will write it on their hearts.” The question is “What law?” What law does he promise to put within? Some (many!) say without hesitation that God here promises to inscribe the Ten Commandments upon the hearts of his people. Maybe, but I doubt it. I doubt it for a number reasons, among which are:

(1) Scripture speaks about the Mosaic Law as an integral whole. It’s always all or nothing. Therefore, the entire law, not just part of it (like The Ten Commandments), would be in view. I know of no one who claims that much.

(2) Paul statement in Galatians 3:19 makes clear that the Law covenant was a provisional, temporary thing. He says “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, untilthe offspring should come to whom the promise had been made (i.e. Christ)…”[2]To write on the human heart that which came to an end when Christ came is absurd. Why would God do that? I don’t think he would. That would be at odds with Scripture and thus fly in God’s own face.
(3) Paul’s statement in Colossians 2:16 and 17 convinces me where to look for the answer and therefore how to understand Jeremiah. Paul writes: “…let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink (so matters of diet) or in respect to a festival or new moon (sounds like ceremony) or a Sabbath day (which is one of the Ten) – (17) things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” What injustice is done to Christ, or what twisting of Scripture is performed, by saying the entire Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments, is but a mere shadow of the Son of God? Is this not a truly glorious thing!
When God said he would write his law on the hearts of all in the new covenant, I am more than convinced he meant the law of Christ, that is, the law who is Christ. God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into the hearts of believers (Gal. 4:6). Writes one:

“The Law was an … incomplete expression of God’s moral will that by definition faded into oblivion when the … complete expression of God’s moral will filled up all that the Law was ever intended to be” (CR Bresson, NCT & The Enfleshment of the Law).

God does write his law on the hearts of his NC people. And that Law is Christ.
Moving on in verse 33:

And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” [3]

Observation #3- Unlike the old covenant, everyone under the new are believers. Everyone in the new covenant is converted. They know the Lord in a saving way; there is no forgiveness apart from faith. And God promises to forgive their sins in full. This is why we’re a Baptist church and not, for example, a Presbyterian, big “R” Reformed church that baptizes babies into ‘the covenant.’ Why not make our tent bigger and just be Sovereign Grace Church? This is why. If it isn’t true, then we might as well go home. But if it is, then we must stand, despite how small we get.
So, the cup that we drink represents this new covenant in Christ’s blood. Which means that by His death, Christ secured, or purchased, and put in force or inaugurated, these promises. God promised to write his law on the heart: exterior law does not secure obedience. But the law of Christ written on the heart does. Just think it through: The fruit of the spirit of Christ who is the Holy Spirit is … This is cause for unspeakable comfort and encouragement. God has promised with a bond in Christ’s blood, His own blood, to make his own obedient. Because Christ by His Spirit is in us, we can live holy and godly lives.
[1] Robertson, Christ of the Covenants, pp. 14-15.
[2] The Holy Bible : ESV. 2001 (Ga 3:19). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[3] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Je 31:31–34). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Todd Braye serves as pastor for Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, Blackie, AB

Mark My Words: Galatians 5:2-4


Galatians 5:2-4 ESV
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3  I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

    In chapters 1-4 of this letter, the apostle Paul has set forth the gospel message of justification by grace through faith in Christ alone. Now he intends to apply this teaching vigorously to the situation in Galatia. Speaking with the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, he expects the Galatians to make immediate changes in their beliefs, attitudes, words, and actions. These changes must be in conformity with the grace of God in the gospel. After the bridge verse (5:1), Paul instructs the Galatians to cling to Jesus Christ alone as their only hope of being right with God. Then the remainder of the letter will set forth the new covenant way of life in the Spirit. Paul uses some strong words to do this. But strong words are necessary when professing Christians listen to error like the Galatians did. It is no small error to listen to teaching that is contrary to the gospel of Christ! So then, he begins by restoring them to right thinking. To have true change, we must always start with the inner person of the heart, and that means starting with the mind. The right order is first the mind, then emotions, then the will.
The title of this message is taken from the NIV translation of the Greek particle, which could also be translated as “Look! See! Listen!” It is a word that demands attention. The apostle wants them to listen to him, since he is Christ’s apostle. His address (“I, Paul, tell you”) commands attention, and it can be taken in three ways: as I, Paul, a spokesman authorized by God, or as I, Paul, who truly loves and cares for you, or as I, Paul, yes this is what I teach, regardless of what others say I teach.
Exposition: In this paragraph, Paul proclaims three principles that they must keep clear in their minds.
I. First principle: In justification, Christ is all or nothing (5:2).
A. He starts with a warning: Do not let yourselves be circumcised.

1. In itself, circumcision does not matter for the new covenant believer (cf. 5:6). But the heart attitude behind an action does, and Paul is concerned about the heart. If circumcision is regarded as something indifferent and insignificant, then it doesn’t matter (cf. Ac 16:1-3; 1 Cor 7:17-19). But if circumcision is thought to be necessary for (full) acceptance with God, then it is dangerous. It is retrogression back to a fulfilled covenant, and that dishonors Christ and takes a person away from trusting only in him.

Quote: “Actions derive their moral character from the circumstances in which, and the principles from which, they are performed. To eat bread and drink wine in commemoration of Christ’s death, had not our Lord commanded us to do so, would have been a superstitious usage—a piece of will worship. To do so now that he has commanded it is an important part of Christian worship.” [Brown, p. 112]

2. Therefore, Paul had to contend, and so must we, against any act that subverts the pure teaching of salvation by grace alone. “What has the Lord clearly and exactly said” is our starting point.

B. The reason for the warning is that Christ must be received as a person’s all in all for justification, or he is not received at all.

1. There is no “Christ plus” system of salvation, like Christ plus baptism, or Christ plus rule keeping, or Christ plus the mass. “Whoever wants to have a half-Christ loses the whole” (Calvin).
2. Paul wants his readers to grasp the tragedy of people who are only partially interested or partially committed to Jesus Christ.

Illustration: Imagine that you were in shark-infested waters. I think you would decide that it would be wisdom to be totally in a boat, instead of in the water clinging to the boat with one hand and to a life preserver with the other. You might say, “But two are better than one!” But if one is the place of safety, then it is better to be fully committed to the one, and to let go of the other.
Transition: In verse two, Paul states what a person loses by seeking justification by law—Christ. In verse three he reveals what a person gains—an obligation to obey all the law.
II. Second principle: The law (old covenant) demands all or nothing (5:3).
A. The Holy Scriptures consistently declare that the law is a unit. You cannot have a “cafeteria style” approach to the law.

1. Consider the biblical evidence (Deut 27:26; Gal 3:10; Js 2:8-11).
2. The law always brings obligation with it. To put yourself under it means that you are required to do all that it says. Those who teach sanctification by the law should put this to their hearts before they teach their wrong ideas.

B. Paul gives a straight-forward application.

1. He warns them, as individuals, of their personal responsibility in this matter. People in our time hate the idea of personal responsibility, but the Lord teaches it in his word. You are responsible to be consistent with the ideas and principles you claim to accept.
2. This points us to the danger of ignorance of the Bible. This danger lies in the path of those who seek to restore what Christ has fulfilled and set aside by his saving work. It also lies in the path of those who invent new laws for people to obey.

Apply: This is one reason that you need to be in one of our small groups. Invest part of your life in what is crucial to the well-being of your eternal soul. Start with one of our morning groups next Sunday.
III. Third principle: You cannot combine justification by the grace of Jesus Christ with an attempt to justify yourself by keeping the law (5:4).
A. The cost of such an attempt is alienation from the Lord Christ.

1. The only way to have Christ is to trust in him. If a person does not, he or she is alienated from Christ, having no part in him (cf. Jn 3:36). “It is impossible to receive Christ, thereby acknowledging that you cannot save yourself, and then receive circumcision, thereby claiming that you can” (Stott).

Illustration: Think of the frustrated child who demands that he can tie his own shoes and then refuses to let the parent help, but at the same time, he continually fails to tie them properly and then wants the parents help.

2. Thus in clear terms Paul states that the issue is Christ. Do they have a saving interest in him? Do they believe in the all-sufficiency of the salvation he accomplished?

B. The cost of such an attempt is to fall out of grace.

1. Paul is not talking about losing one’s salvation. If you are seeking justification by the law, you have never really known what it means to be justified by grace. You cannot lose what you do not possess.
2. To fall out of grace is to remove oneself from the realm of grace; it is to refuse to be saved by grace.

Illustration: “I don’t want my money in that bank! I’ll put it in another!” That may be fine if the subject is banking, but there is only one Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Point: There is a real danger of apostasy to the merely religious, who have never really trusted in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
Quote: “Some would bind us at this day to certain of Moses’ laws which like them best, as the false apostles would have done at that time; but this is in no wise to be suffered. For if we give Moses leave to rule over us in anything, we are bound to obey him in all things; wherefore we will not be burdened with any law of Moses. We grant that it is to be read among us, and to be heard as a prophet and a witness-bearer to Christ, and moreover, that out of him we may take good examples of good laws and a holy life; but we will not suffer him in any wise to have dominion over our consciences. In this case, let him be dead and buried, and let no man know where his grave is—Deut 34:6” [Luther, quoted by Brown].

Completed by the Spirit: Part 3 – The Law Cannot Cope With Sin

This is the third part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
The first of the five propo­si­tions we intro­duced in Part 1 of this series is that the law can­not cope with sin.
The law can­not pre­vent sin; the law can’t curb sin; the law is pow­er­less against sin.
In fact, Paul tells us, the law pro­vokes sin.
Although what the law com­mands is holy, it was given to stiff-necked Israel to increase trans­gres­sions until the Mes­siah, the sin­gle seed of Abra­ham, was to come:

[19] Why then the law? It was added because of trans­gres­sions, until the off­spring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an inter­me­di­ary. [20] Now an inter­me­di­ary implies more than one, but God is one. [21] Is the law then con­trary to the promises of God? Cer­tainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then right­eous­ness would indeed be by the law. [22] But the Scrip­ture impris­oned every­thing under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. [23] Now before faith came, we were held cap­tive under the law, impris­oned until the com­ing faith would be revealed. [24] So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be jus­ti­fied by faith. (Gala­tians 3:19–27)[1]

In his analy­sis of this pas­sage, Jason C. Meyer ref­er­ences Thomas Schreiner’s argu­ment that, “although the phrase ‘because of trans­gres­sions’ could refer to defin­ing or increas­ing trans­gres­sion, the lat­ter option is prefer­able.”[2] Schreiner gives three rea­sons for that inter­pre­ta­tion: first, that the con­text of the pas­sage is that sal­va­tion can­not be attained by the law; sec­ond, that the rela­tion­ship of “under law and under sin” reveals the law’s role in arous­ing sin; and third, that there is a par­al­lel withRomans 5:20: “Now the law came in to increase the tres­pass. …”[3] Meyer expands upon Schreiner’s argu­ment with five observations:

First, the view that stresses the restrain­ing func­tion of the law does not make sense con­tex­tu­ally. Paul could not per­suade the Gala­tians to for­sake cir­cum­ci­sion and the Mosaic law by telling them of the law’s power to restrain sin.
Sec­ond, while the open-ended phrase “because of trans­gres­sions” could refer to either the defin­ing or increas­ing func­tion of the law, con­text favors the lat­ter view.
Third, there are com­pelling rea­sons to think that the law’s pur­pose of increas­ing trans­gres­sions actu­ally pro­vides a coher­ent argu­ment in the con­text. The down­ward spi­ral intro­duced by the advent of the law reveals that the law did not save Israel then and will not save any­one now. Humankind needs a Sav­ior, not more stip­u­la­tions. Paul accen­tu­ates the down­ward spi­ral pre­cisely so that the upward spi­ral intro­duced by the com­ing of Christ would be all the more evi­dent.
Fourth,Rom 5:20 pro­vides an instruc­tional par­al­lel for this dis­cus­sion of the law’s func­tion. The par­al­lel pro­vides a Pauline prece­dent for this type of logic, though it does not prove that Paul is say­ing the same thing inGal 3:19.
Fifth, the view that the law increases trans­gres­sion receives fur­ther sup­port from places in Paul likeRom 7:7–11. There­fore,Gal 3:19b reveals the impo­tent nature of law in that the law can­not restrain sin (onto­log­i­cal prob­lem); it only increases it (because of the anthro­po­log­i­cal prob­lem.)[4]

In using the terms onto­log­i­cal and anthro­po­log­i­cal, Meyer makes ref­er­ence to a pre­vi­ous dis­cus­sion on Paul’s ref­er­ence toLeviti­cus 18:5, “You shall there­fore keep my statutes and my rules; if a per­son does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord,” in Paul’s antithe­sis between law and Spirit inGala­tians 3:11–12: “[11] Now it is evi­dent that no one is jus­ti­fied before God by the law, for ‘The right­eous shall live by faith.’ [12] But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’” Meyer explains: “The offer of life con­di­tioned on human obe­di­ence never becomes a real­ity because ‘the one who does these things’ can­not obey them (anthro­po­log­i­cal), and the law (‘these things’) can­not pro­vide (onto­log­i­cal prob­lem) the power to over­come the anthro­po­log­i­cal prob­lem.”[5] (Meyer also notes a third prob­lem ­– chrono­log­i­cal – because Israel had not received the Spirit.) Even though believ­ers are indwelled by the Spirit, sin remains in the old man, in the flesh. That cre­ates an anthro­po­log­i­cal prob­lem for which the law can­not pro­vide an answer. In fact, the law by design causes that which it seems given to prevent. Meyer ref­er­encesRomans 7 as a par­al­lel pas­sage to sup­port Paul’s asser­tion that the law increases trans­gres­sion. Indeed, the apos­tle also makes it quite clear in his dis­course in Romans chap­ters 6 through 8 that the law is inef­fec­tive against sin and, what’s even worse, arouses sin­ful pas­sions in man.
Indeed, in Romans 6, Paul shows us that liv­ing under law is to live under the power of sin:

[8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has domin­ion over him. [10] For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [11] So you also must con­sider your­selves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. [12] Let not sin there­fore reign in your mor­tal body, to make you obey its pas­sions. [13] Do not present your mem­bers to sin as instru­ments for unright­eous­ness, but present your­selves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your mem­bers to God as instru­ments for right­eous­ness. [14] For sin will have no domin­ion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:8–14)

How­ever, those who advo­cate three uses of the law – to restrain soci­ety in gen­eral, to con­vict the non-believer of his sin, and to, as the West­min­ster Con­fes­sion of Faith states, “to restrain their cor­rup­tions, in that it for­bids sin” – argue that the third use of the law is a curb against sin in the believer. We will look at their argu­ments in Part 4.
Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 4: The ‘Poverty of our Sanctification?’
[1] Verse 27 is trans­lated var­i­ously as “to lead us to Christ” instead of “until Christ came” in edi­tions such as the New Amer­i­can Stan­dard Bible. Could the pref­er­ence of the NASB in law-preaching cir­cles be a the­o­log­i­cal deci­sion? Fur­ther­more, the choice of “school­mas­ter” or “tutor” instead of “guardian” (or per­haps bet­ter yet “nanny” or “babysit­ter” as a word for the slave or ser­vant who super­vised the con­duct of a child) for παιδαγωγὸς gives the sense that the law teaches and leads the indi­vid­ual to Christ rather than being a covenan­tal law to guide the covenant peo­ple until the time of the Mes­siah. The lat­ter under­stand­ing seems to fit Paul’s the­ol­ogy more con­sis­tently while the for­mer more neatly tai­lors itself to the the­ol­ogy and con­fes­sions of third-use proponents.
[2] Jason C. Meyer, The End of the Law: Mosaic Covenant in Pauline The­ol­ogy (Nashville: B&H Pub­lish­ing Group, 2009), 168.
[3] Ibid.

Stand Firm in Freedom – Galatians 5:1


Galatians 5:1
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

How would you describe the purpose of Christ’s coming? Why did Jesus come to die and rise again? We can answer in a number of sound biblical ways. The Savior came that we might be forgiven of our sins and right with God, that we might be reconciled to God, and that we might have a relationship with God (1 Pt 3:18). He came that we might serve the living God (1 Th 1:9). Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work (1 Jn 3:8), that we might have life in its fullness (Jn 10:10), and that we might live godly and do good (Ti 2:11-14).  The answer of our text is unlikely to be suggested out of a context like our text. Our minds, including our evangelical minds, tend to run in other directions. Yet a clear understanding of the answer provided by this text will help us arrive at a better understanding of God’s saving call of grace to us. This is a “bridge verse”, like a land bridge between two continents. It summarizes what has come before and introduces the rest of the letter about true godliness. Now please do not simply nod your heads at this point! What he says here forms the basis of all that will follow. The context of freedom is necessary to avoid turning the pursuit of holiness into legalism.
I.          The purpose of Christ’s saving work was to set us free, in order that we might live as free people.
The worldly person, held fast in the chains of sin, cannot believe that there is liberty in Jesus, the Risen Lord. Every Christian must lay hold of and apply this truth.
A.        The nature of this freedom

1.         It is certainly correct that the Lord Christ has freed his people from sin and Satan. We should all know this, and we certainly rejoice in that reality. However, that is not the freedom that the apostle is talking about in this context.

2.         Instead, it is freedom from the law or old covenant. “What Christ has done in liberating us, according to Paul’s emphasis here, is not so much to set our will from the bondage of sin as to set our conscience free from the guilt of sin. The Christian freedom he describes is freedom of conscience, freedom from the tyranny of the law, the dreadful struggle to keep the law, with a view to winning the favor of God. It is the freedom of acceptance with God and of access to God through Christ” (Stott). We can add that it is the freedom of joyful, holy friendship with the Holy Lord of all. Peace and a confident awareness of God’s welcoming love are part of this freedom in the presence of the Holy God.
B.        The Lord Jesus intends that we live in a state of freedom. We are not to live as burdened slaves, but as free adult sons and daughters of God.

1.         Freedom from condemnation (Rm 8:1) – This is a basis of assurance of salvation. People set free by the Judge of all need not fear!

2.         Freedom of access to the throne of grace (Heb 4:16) – The Spirit encourages us to find all we need through the power of the Ascended Lord and Savior.

3.         Freedom to love and worship God without intensely searching out one’s motives (cf. Job 1:8-11) – We come with consciences cleansed by the blood of Christ.

4.         Freedom to love one another with a sacrificial love (Eph 5:25; Rm 15:7)

5.         Freedom to rejoice, be glad, and sing! (1 Pt 1:8)

Apply: We must clearly comprehend that our freedom in Christ is not some side issue. It is an integral part of true Christianity.
Transition: The way that the New Testament Scriptures teach us how to live is to present the indicative (here is what is true in Christ) and to follow up with the imperative (therefore, this is how you must live). The indicative is that Christ has set us free; the imperative is that we must stand firm in that freedom. We must resist any and every attempt to bring us into bondage.
II.        The spiritual condition they would come to if they followed the false teachers. They would be burdened and enslaved.
A.        They would be burdened with many obsolete regulations.

1.         It is one thing to do what God has commanded. But it is very useless and a dreary waste of time and effort to struggle to do what God hasn’t commanded, especially in following the false assumption that you are pleasing God in doing such things. Instead, consider and experience what the Lord has for you (Rm 14:17-18; 2 Cor 1:24; 2:3; 3:17; 5:15; 13:14).

2.         Christ’s ministers do not urge you to keep a list of manmade regulations. Instead, do what pleases the Lord (2 Cor 5:9). Love your neighbors; evangelize; do good; serve one another in love; rejoice in the Lord; pray constantly; in everything give thanks!

B.        They would be burdened in their consciences with guilt.

1.         You do not have to win God’s acceptance by your works. You can never earn it, because it is a gift of grace for those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You are accepted; you are welcomed! You are part of God the Father’s family.

2.         Yet this is a great battleground for the immature or weak Christian.

Quote: Romaine, The Life of Faith, p. 39
C.        They would have a yoke of slavery on them.

1.         The false teachers were insisting that their system was the way to please God. “If you want to receive God’s blessing, you must do this (or have this experience).”

2.         But in truth, it was simply a yoke of slavery, cf. Ac 15:10. “To receive their principle, and to act on it, was plainly to renounce Christ’s authority, and to submit to the authority of men; and the whole of their system of seeking justification by their own doings was utterly subversive of the filial confidence, that generous spirit, which the faith of the gospel generates, and was necessarily productive of a servile temper” (Brown).

Apply: Learn the consequences of accepting false teaching. Some Christians act toward truth like they’re shopping for flip-flops in a discount store—way too casual. But truth matters!
 III.       A calling for Christ’s free people to pursue
A.        Some observations

1.         Only Jesus Christ can set us free. The truth of sovereign grace must always be protected! Yet once Christ has set us free, we are responsible to maintain that liberty. For a similar idea see Eph 4:3.

2.         We must gain stability in a life of freedom (cf. 1 Cor 16:13; Ph 1:27; 4:1; 1 Th 3:8).

3.         “Moreover, Christ won this liberty for us on the cross; the fruit and possession of it are bestowed on us through the Gospel… For if men lay an unjust burden on our shoulders, it can be borne; but if they want to bring our consciences into bondage, we must resist valiantly, even to the death. If we let men bind our consciences, we shall be despoiled of an invaluable blessing and at the same time an insult will be offered to Christ, the Author of freedom” (Calvin).

B.        What should we know about our freedom?

1.         It is an essential part of our relationship with God.

2.         It is the result of Christ’s redeeming death.

3.         It is life in the Spirit.

4.         It is part of our identity as God’s people.

5.         It is the nature of new covenant life.

Apply: Let every Christian assert their freedom and guard against any teaching opposing it. Let us live in the liberty that Christ has purchased for us.

Completed by the Spirit, Part 2: A Resurrection Like His

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
This is the sec­ond part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.
In the first arti­cle in this series, we looked at five propo­si­tions that Paul intro­duces in his epis­tles about our rela­tion­ship to the law and its rela­tion­ship to our sanctification:
First, law can­not cope with sin.
Sec­ond, it’s the love brought to the saint through the indwelling Holy Spirit that is ful­fills the law.
Third, it is the Spirit that pro­duces fruit in the believer, while the law in our remain­ing sin­ful flesh can only pro­duce sin.
Fourth, sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion – a growth in holi­ness — results from our union with Christ and Scripture’s exhor­ta­tions about what it means to be Christ-like.
Fifth, that the imper­a­tives Paul gives to us are not them­selves laws and are not given as laws or in the cat­e­gory of law, because they flow from the indica­tive of our reliance upon Christ and our posi­tion in Christ.
Before we address those five propo­si­tions indi­vid­u­ally in future arti­cles, we need to con­sider the escha­tol­ogy of our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. We will indeed be glo­ri­fied, Paul promises (Romans 8:30). What is impor­tant now about that final and com­plete sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion is what that state reveals about us – what that “not yet” tells us about our “already.”
Cer­tainly the apos­tle John gives us the most poignant view of what we will be: “We know that when he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). But Paul also com­pre­hends and explains to us that we indeed shall be like our Sav­ior. In his bene­dic­tion at the end of 1 Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans, Paul writes, “[23] Now may the God of peace him­self sanc­tify you com­pletely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blame­less at the com­ing of our Lord Jesus Christ. [24] He who calls you is faith­ful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess 5:23–24).
We will be sanc­ti­fied completely.
Will we be sanc­ti­fied through our own effort or through performance-driven navel-gazing?
Will a reliance on the law do it?
No, Paul tells us, “the God of peace him­self” will do it.
Paul tells the Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans that the one who is sanc­ti­fy­ing them will com­plete that sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion when Christ returns: “Now may our God and Father him­self, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, [12] and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, [13] so that he may estab­lish your hearts blame­less in holi­ness before our God and Father, at the com­ing of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (1 Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans 3:11–13).
And Paul even exhorts him­self to remain faith­ful and focused on the goal he knows he will reach, when he writes to the Philippians:
[12] Not that I have already obtained this or am already per­fect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. [13] Broth­ers, I do not con­sider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: for­get­ting what lies behind and strain­ing for­ward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [15] Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in any­thing you think oth­er­wise, God will reveal that also to you. [16] Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
[17] Broth­ers, join in imi­tat­ing me, and keep your eyes on those who walk accord­ing to the exam­ple you have in us. [18] For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as ene­mies of the cross of Christ. [19] Their end is destruc­tion, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. [20] But our cit­i­zen­ship is in heaven, and from it we await a Sav­ior, the Lord Jesus Christ, [21] who will trans­form our lowly body to be like his glo­ri­ous body, by the power that enables him even to sub­ject all things to him­self. (Philip­pi­ans 3:12–21)
Paul has his eyes fixed on what lies ahead, a time when he will be rid of what remains of his “body of death.”
He strives to live accord­ing to the Spirit as one whose mind is set on the things of the Spirit.
He knows he will be like Christ — not as some­one who fol­lows the let­ter of the law, but one whose trans­formed spirit gives him the per­fect, self­less love of Christ that intrin­si­cally and onto­log­i­cally ful­fills the law.
With this escha­to­log­i­cal real­ity in mind — a sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion begun at regen­er­a­tion, a sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion increased in the “now” and con­sum­mated in the “not yet” — we’ll con­tinue this series by look­ing at each of these five propo­si­tions. In each, we’ll con­sider how Paul uses the antithe­sis of law and Spirit to exhort believ­ers to be more and more in the here and now what they will one day become in full.
Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 3: The Law Can­not Cope With Sin
Ed Trefzger

Foundations: “The Sabbath” (Part Three) — Hebrews 3:7b-4:13 — Todd Braye

Todd BrayePlease open your Bibles to Hebrews 3:7. Today we resume our studies on the Sabbath. And though we shall pick up from where we left last week with chapter 4, we’ll read from chapter 3 verse 7 for the sake of context. Hear then the holy and inerrant word of God:

7b …
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’ ”

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
4 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’ ”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. [1]
         The one who reads the entire book of Hebrews discovers perseverance to be one of its major concerns. Faithfulness to Christ to the end is undeniably pressed in this ‘word of exhortation.’ Why this is so is made abundantly clear in our text. We have seen in our previous study how God deals with those who, in faithless rebellion, fall away from Him. Such a possibility for those who find themselves in the rank and file of God’s people is a danger illustrated with crystal clarity. It was the first generation, those Moses led out of Egypt, who, notwithstanding being the objects of a degree of grace, were nonetheless the recipients of wrath. God swore an oath that that generation, ‘those who heard and yet rebelled,’ ‘those who left Egypt by Moses,’ would not enter and thus obtain the goal of their ‘redemption’ on account of unbelief manifested in disobedient rebellion. On their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan, a place where they would find rest, and in a state of complaint & grumbling, the people express the desire to have died in the wilderness (Num. 14:2). It is a rather striking observation that God gave them what they so desired. That entire generation died in the wilderness. They did not enter the rest of Canaan. They all fell short of it, save Caleb and Joshua. Therefore, the words “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” the immediacy, if not urgency, of God’s word is pressed upon us.
Rest Promised
         The warning of chapter three, however, gives way to the encouragement of chapter four. In the very first verse of that chapter, we see that “the promise of entering his rest still stands.” God promises rest. He promises it. His promise is still valid. It is open and still stands.
It’s dreadful to admit however, that we’ve no idea what the word ‘promise’ means. We can look it up in the dictionary and find definitions such as “vow,” “pledge” “guarantee,” “oath” and “covenant.” Promises, we all learn at some point in our lives, and not without a great deal of discouragement, are made to be broken. Not so with God. God doesn’t break His word. He is the promise-keeper because it is impossible for Him to lie (Heb. 6:18). God is faithful to His word. All His promises find their Yes in Christ (2 Cor. 1: 20). There has never been a time, nor will there ever be a time, when God’s promises fail. What He says He will do, He will bring it to pass.
The content of the promise here is defined by the word ‘rest.’ Whatever this ‘rest’ entails, context here suggests it is not merely a state or condition, but a place. The first exodus generation did not enter the rest of Canaan, an actual country, a piece of physical real estate. The Promised Land of Canaan would’ve been a ‘rest’ for the people. But they refused that place because of unbelief. So, I submit to you that “the promise of entering his rest,” because of contexts both near and far, is a promise of entrance into a place, not just a state or condition.
Fear Exhorted
        Rest is promised. But fear is also exhorted. The main phrase in the first verse is “let us fear.” “Therefore…let us fear…” The consequence of unbelief and disobedience is placed before us. Rebellion towards God, not holding fast to the word of God to the end, going astray in their hearts resulted in exclusion from the promised rest. “Therefore, while a promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear…” We must see this! Rest is promised. But presumption, as that kind of thinking which rests on the absence of good reason (like the belief that does not beget obedience), is never to be our posture. True faith begets obedience, not disobedience and rebellion. Let us fear, not let us presume. On this, Calvin writes that this fear is “not that which shakes the confidence of faith but such as fills us with such concern that we not grow torpid with indifference.” Who among us does not know lethargy, sloth, indifference, and even presumption, even in the face of divine things? “It can’t happen to me,” is a thought that flies in the face of that of which Hebrews warns, is a manifestation of pride, and is the fruit of a heart less than sensitive to God’s word.
The reason given for the exhortation is failure to reach God’s rest. “Let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it,” it says. A better translation in my judgment is the International Standard Version rendering. It says: “Let us be afraid lest someone among you fails to reach it.[2]” “It can’t happen to me” is therefore the thought of a man in a perilous state. Falling short at the end, being excluded from God’s rest, is a possibility. Are the truly saved finally lost? No. But “we share in Christ, if indeed we hold…firm to the end.”
The grounds upon which this exhortation rests are two-fold. First, there is a point of commonality expressed. Verse 2 states that both those who fell short and those Hebrews addresses ‘Today,’ had good news preached to them. First, those who fell on the wilderness were in possession of good news. Exodus 3:16 & 17 tells us precisely what that news was. To Moses, God said: “Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” ’[3] God promised Israel a redemption culminating in a resting place. God promised to bring them from one physical address to another physical address, from one piece of real estate to another. Did He do so? Yes, He did. Joshua 21: 43-45,
“43 Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”
But that was the second generation, the people Joshua led, not the first under Moses. They fell short. They fell short, but they had good news of promise. They heard good news, but they did not receive it. They heard good news. But they failed to attain that which was promised.
Those to whom the writer now writes are in a similar position. They’ve heard good news. They’re in possession of it. They’re in possession of it, and yet, they’re in danger of drifting away from it (cf. 2:1). And what good news it is! It is far better than the news spoken through the prophet Moses. It is vastly superior to the redemption Israel eventually experienced. It speaks of purification for sins (Heb. 1:3). It speaks of a redemption accomplished and even secured eternally (Heb. 9:12). It also speaks of the promise of rest. There remains a Sabbath day rest for the people of God. The promise of entering His rest stands. The question is “Will we, those who profess the name of Christ, those who have heard the good news countless times, enter that rest? Or will we be found to have fallen short of it?” They had good news. We have good news. They were in a privileged position. We are in a privileged position. They fell. They failed. Will we? They hardened their hearts. Will we? Let us, all of us, fear lest someone among us fails to reach it, what was promised, why? Good news came to us just as it did to them, to those who got what they wished for and died in the wilderness.
But there is also a point of major difference between those who fell and those Hebrews now addresses and exhorts. It is before us in the last half of verse two: “…but the message they heard did not benefit them [why not?], because they were not united by faith with those who listened [i.e. with those who heard so as to believe and thus obey what was heard].” In other words, faith is key. Had they believed what they heard they would’ve benefitted from it, been joined to those who did in fact believe it (i.e. Caleb and Joshua, the believing remnant here) and marched right in to Canaan. So, no faith = no rest. No faith, no rest. Rest hinges on faith. Rest depends on faith. No faith in the message heard, that is, no persevering faith, then no profit and no rest. For as the argument continues in the 3rd verse, “we who have believed enter that rest.” Belief is the door through which one walks to attain Sabbath rest. That much is clear here. Sabbath rest has nothing to do with walking through a church door. As much as that is a necessity (just look at Hebrews 10:25), there is no physical act here, just faith. What isn’t so clear is when this entering occurs. Does it occur at the moment of faith? Or does it happen much later, i.e. at the end of the Christian’s life, at the end of ‘pilgrim’s progress’ if you like? To this we shall return in a moment or two.
Rest is promised. Fear is exhorted. Next is Sabbath Expounded.
Sabbath Expounded
        How does Hebrews, a book monumentally foundational to life under the new covenant, understand the Sabbath? I submit four things to you.
1. Sabbath is rest. Chapter four ninth verse makes this explicit. It states: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” This is simple. But we ought to be mindful of it. The nature of this rest has already been defined for us. Since faith is the door through which one enters this rest, this rest is spiritual.
2. Moses does not have the final say on the Sabbath. It should not escape our notice that Genesis 2:2 is linked to Psalm 95:11. Moses is linked to David, in other words. Just look at it with me. In support of verse 3’s “although his works were finished from the foundation of the world,” verse 4 quotes Moses in Genesis 2:2 with the words “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” Immediately he then quotes David in Psalm 95: “They [i.e., the rebellious] shall not enter my rest.” The effect of the connection underscores the continual nature of God’s rest. That God rested from the work of creation on day seven means that He did not resume it. God is finished creating. He never resumed that work. The end of day six came, He was happy with all He accomplished, and he stopped creating. It was done. And so He rested. His rest continued through the time of David. We must understand that in the scheme of redemptive history, David and his generation lived way after Moses. God rested after day six. God’s rest was still in effect in David’s day. And His rest still stands. God is at rest! He is at rest “Today.”
But we must also understand by this connection that Hebrews connects the Mosaic Sabbath with its argument here. Genesis 2 gives way to Psalm 95, which is then quoted by Hebrews. There is an unfolding of revelation here that we must see if we are to understand the Bible’s message. The Bible isn’t flat like southern Alberta. If anything, the Bible is like a valley and a summit. Genesis is the valley. Christ is the summit. Genesis is the base. Christ is the snow-capped, jagged and majestic peak. At any rate, do not miss the obvious here. The Sabbath of Genesis, and therefore Exodus 20, is coupled with the ‘rest’ of Hebrews 3 and 4. This shows that the Sabbath cannot be defined in simple old covenant terms. This also shows us a fundamental principle of interpretation: the new interprets the old; the old does not interpret the new. The first words in this epistle underscore this: God spoke by the prophets. But in THESE last days, He has spoken to us by His Son who is the very radiance of God and the exact imprint of His nature.
3. Israel’s history does not have the final say on Sabbath rest. Chapter 4 verse 8: “…if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.” This shows that the land as rest cannot be defined in simple Abrahamic covenant terms. Genesis 12: Abram comes to the land of Canaan. The Lord promises him to give his offspring that very land. Numbers 14: His offspring refuse to enter the land. Joshua 21: God is said to have given Abram’s offspring all that was promised, including the rest of Canaan. But Hebrews more than implies Joshua did not give them rest. We are not to see contradiction in this. There is no contradiction here, only distinction. Joshua did give them A rest, just not the rest spoken of here. The rest Joshua gave was a physical rest. It was a type of rest, a mere shadow, or even snapshot, of that rest of which Hebrews speaks, of which God had intended since before the foundation of the world. It is but a mere glimpse of the glory of the ultimate rest to which every other rest points. Commentator Peter O’Brien states:
“The psalmist’s appeal to heed God’s voice ‘Today’ looks forward to the true or ultimate rest God has for his people. The rest in Canaan was ‘a type or symbol of the complete rest that God intended for his people, which was prefigured in the Sabbath rest of God, according to Gen 2:2.’”[4]
4. Comes in the form of a question. When does one enter this Sabbath rest? I said we’d return to this and here we are. Does entrance occur at the point of faith or at the end of faith’s journey? Coupled with that question is “Precisely what is this Sabbath rest? Is it a Person or is it a place?” Answer: Yes! There is a real tension in this text. There is a ‘now but not yet’ aspect to the matter. Sabbath rest is begun at the point of faith. Chapter 4:3- “For we who have believed enter [or ‘are entering’] that rest.” The verb tense is hard to ignore here. Faith in Christ and His finished work is the door through which one must walk if rest is to be known. Jesus did say; “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Furthermore, exhortation is given to take care, lest there be on any one of us an evil, unbelieving heart. Just because we are who we are, possessing full Bibles, attending studies and church week in and week out, having a ridiculous amount of access to some incredibly solid teaching, does not mean these things benefit us. Believers enter. Unbelievers do not. Believers are entering. Unbelievers are not.
The verb tense in Hebrews 4:3 is not decisive however. Faith is indispensible for rest. No faith, no rest, no salvation. But context demands a ‘not yet’ understanding. In fact, I would argue the ‘not yet,’ future sense is the primary sense. Three arguments for this:
1. The Pastoral Argument. The concern here is not evangelistic. The concern is for the faithful endurance and perseverance of believers. Therefore, the beginning of the pilgrimage is not the concern. The end of the pilgrimage is the concern.
2. The Textual Argument. Two verses are decisive enough. First, chapter 4:1 (ISV)- “Let us be afraid lest someone among you fails to reach it.” “Someone among you” is none other than someone among those previously addressed as ‘brothers.’ Second, chapter 4:11- “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” This hardly speaks of justifying faith. It speaks rather of one on a journey, running a race, striving to attain the prize.
3. The Contextual Argument. I start with the context far away and then get close-up. I simply quote various Scriptures. Just listen:
Isaiah 66:1. “Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” [5]
Isaiah 8:18. “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.” [6]
Psalm 132:13-14. “…the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” [7]
Hebrews 6:18-20. “…we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever…” [8]
Hebrews 9:24. “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself…”
Hebrews 12:22-24. Feel the tension of the now and not yet here. But do hear the not yet. “…you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…”[9]
What is Sabbath rest? What is the Sabbath of which Hebrews speaks and God has always intended to share with His true people? It is that place in which Christ now sits, having made atonement. It is that place in which Christ now dwells, even the holy of holies. It is that place in which the saints enjoy rest from all their labors (Rev. 14:13). It is that place where God dwells with His people, where He wipes away every tear, and death shall be no more, nor crying nor pain. It is that place where all the saints have new bodies. It is that place where only righteousness dwells. It’s that place of a beauty unmatched, a glory yet unseen, and a joy unfathomed. Listen to what John records for us about the New Jerusalem. Listen now with New Covenant ears:
“22And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” [10]
Consummation of our salvation depends on faithful endurance. That’s Hebrews. Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your heart.
Diligence Encouraged
       Rest has been promised. Fear has been exhorted. Sabbath rest has been expounded. And finally, diligence is encouraged if not pressed. Verse 11 presses us to strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by that disobedience displayed in the wilderness. They always went astray in their heart; they did not know the ways of the Lord. Again, we’re told the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. It is pressed upon each of us therefore, that we not go astray in our hearts, that we not reject His Word, and that we not be given to indifference, sluggishness, or carelessness in the pursuit of heaven. Go hard after heaven, in other words.
Are you going hard after heaven, or not? If not, then you are in a dangerous position.
The reason given for this final exhortation centers on God’s Word. God spoke, God has spoken, and He still speaks. I look at these final few verses and basically see the power of God’s Word along with the powerlessness of any to hide from its judgment. It is because of this piercing Word and our inability to hide from it that we who call ourselves Christians need to make every effort to avoid the outcome of the past generation.
Rest has been promised. That is a reality. There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. The danger, the very real danger, is not entering it. So, I simply close by repeating what is before us: “Let us [even as a church, together as a body, looking to each other] let us strive to enter that rest.”
When we’ve been there 10,000 years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing His praise,
Than when we first begun.
[1] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Heb 3:7–4:13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] International standard version New Testament : Version 1.1. 2000 (Print on Demand ed.) (Heb 4:1). Yorba Linda, CA: The Learning Foundation.
[3] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ex 3:16–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[4] O’Brien, P. T. (2010). The Letter to the Hebrews. The Pillar New Testament commentary (170). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
[5] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Is 66:1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[6] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Is 8:18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[7] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ps 132:13–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[8] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Heb 6:18–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[9] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Heb 12:22–24). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[10] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Re 21:22–27). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Children of the Free Woman – Galatians 4:21-31


This section is addressed to those “who want to be under the law.” In the context of the letter to the Galatians, this would mean those Galatians who had fallen under the influence of the false teachers, often called Judaizers. In our day it could be addressed to many who are legalistic or who follow various kinds of scripture twisters, who seek to put people back under the law. This includes a whole class of people that assume that the way to God is by the observance of various rules and/or rituals. It also includes those who think that their relationship with God “depends on a strict adherence to regulations, traditions and ceremonies. They are in bondage to them” (Stott).
Paul exposes the inconsistency of their position. “You want to be under the law? Really now, have you ever paid attention to what the law says?” (Observe the shift in Paul’s use of the word law from covenant to the Scriptures.) There are three stages in his argument in this passage.
I.          The first stage: historical (4:22-23)
Observation: The early church used and knew the Old Testament Scriptures. The New Testament Scriptures were in the process of being written and distributed. Therefore, the Old Testament Scriptures were the Bible, along with the teachings of the apostles and new covenant prophets. So then, how much do you use and know the Old Testament Scriptures?
            A.        Paul gives an argument that is rooted in Old Testament history.
                        1.         The facts of history were that God had made a covenant with Abraham and that the Jews were descended from him. However, the Jews (cf. John 8:1-59) and the false teachers afflicting the Galatians insisted on an interpretation of those facts that the Scripture would not allow. Therefore, Paul has to refute their erroneous interpretation.
Illustration: Rock formations and dinosaur bones are facts of science. But we disagree with the evolutionist’s interpretation of those facts. History, science, theology, and every area of knowledge suffer when wrong interpretations are allowed to go unchallenged. For an example of good historical interpretation, read Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer, who is unafraid to challenge all ‘politically correct’ and postmodern views. Besides, it will be some good summer reading to stimulate your brain.
                        2.         The point of Paul’s argument is that the blessing promised to Abraham comes only to his spiritual speed (believers in Jesus Christ), as he has already demonstrated.
            B.        Consider two facts from Old Testament history about Abraham’s sons, Isaac and Ishmael.
                        1.         They were born of different mothers. Ishmael’s mother Hagar was a slave; Isaac’s mother Sarah was free.
                        2.         They were born in different ways. Ishmael was born in the ordinary way—an act of human flesh. Isaac was born because of God’s promise overcoming human inability. His birth required a special act of God.
Point: No one could seriously dispute these facts. But the false teachers and the Galatians had not considered the true way to apply them, as Paul proceeds to do by the Holy Spirit.
II.        The second stage: figurative (4:24-27)
            A.        The nature of the argument is figurative or allegorical.
                        1.         What does this mean? This is commonly called typology: “a narrative from OT history is interpreted in terms of the new covenant, or (to put it the other way around) an aspect of the new covenant is presented in terms of an OT narrative. Typology presupposes that salvation-history displays a recurring pattern of divine action…” (Bruce).
Illustration: Christ as our Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:9)
                        2.         Note well that Paul does not tamper with the historical nature of the text. Instead, he uses the historical elements to set forth spiritual truth.
            B.        There are two covenants that regulate God’s relationship with people. The first was the law or old covenant given at Sinai, and the second is the new or better covenant. Notice the proper terms that we should use in talking about these covenants. Some teachers called covenant theologians hopelessly confuse the subject when they interchange biblical terms like old and new covenants with two covenants that they make up, which they call the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. For this reason, you must be very cautious and discerning when you read any Presbyterian or Reformed writers on various sections of the Scriptures like this section of Galatians or Genesis 1-3.
                        1.         Hagar represents the law or old covenant. Notice the clear identification with the covenant made at Sinai.  This covenant produces children with the status of slaves. A slave mother cannot do anything but bear children who are slaves. Paul identifies this covenant with the then present capital city of Jerusalem. (Capital cities often represent whole nations, in human language and biblical teaching, cf. Mi 1:5). This must have completely shocked Paul’s opponents! No one could look to the earthly Jerusalem for freedom, since it was in bondage. To go back to the law would be to enslave oneself.
                        2.         Sarah represents the new covenant. The Jerusalem above (the New Jerusalem) is (and will be) our capital city. Sarah’s children are free. The status of the new covenant believer is one of liberty, since we are justified by faith and placed as adult sons in God’s family. We are free to serve the living God. The quotation from Is 54:1 is applied to the new covenant people, the church. Though the natural mother, Hagar, appeared at first to be more fruitful at first (the children of the law), Sarah, the mother of the promise, has produced more children by the Spirit (the children of the promise).
Apply: Much of the Christian life involves trusting God to work by the Spirit, instead of trying to make things happen by the flesh (human effort). People can strive by the law to be pious and become very outwardly moral. But true godliness is produced only by the Spirit using the good news of Jesus Christ.
III.       The third stage: personal application (4:28-31)
            A.        As Isaac was mocked by Ishmael, so the sons of natural religion persecute the sons of supernatural Christianity.
                        1.         Ishmael laughed at Isaac, and that laugh was indicative of his attitude toward Isaac. There is enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (cf. Gen 3).
                        2.         Those with a religion of natural principles often lead the way in persecuting those who worship God in spirit and in truth. For example, who sought to kill Christ? The Pharisees and Sadducees. Who stirred up hostility against Paul? Those zealous for the law. Who persecuted believers during the Reformation? The established church.
            B.        As Ishmael was cast out and Isaac received the inheritance, so those who rely on the law are cast out and believers in Jesus Christ inherit God’s blessing.
                        1.         Again, this must have shocked the Galatians! To get involved with the law covenant would not give them a place among God’s people, as the false teachers misled them. Instead, it would put them in the position of being cast-offs.
                        2.         The promises made to Abraham are fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, and so those who are in Christ by faith inherit every blessing promised by God. We are right with God, adult sons and heirs, and have received the Holy Spirit.
                        3.         What is a church? A church is not a place that you go to, but it is a people, who are born by the power of the Holy Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
Quote: “The religion of Ishmael is a religion of nature, of what man can do by himself without any special intervention of God. But the religion of Isaac is a religion of grace, of what God has done and does, a religion of divine initiative and divine intervention, for Isaac was born supernaturally through a divine promise” (Stott).
Quote: “Wherefore, whenever thou who believest in Jesus, dost hear the law in its thundering and lightning fits, as if it would burn up heaven and earth, then say thou, I am freed from this law, these thunderings have nothing to do with my soul; nay, even this law, while it thus thunders and roars, it doth both allow and approve of my righteousness. I know that Hagar would sometimes be domineering and high, even in Sarah’s house, and against her; but this she is not to be suffered to do, nay, though Sarah herself be barren; wherefore, serve it also as Sarah served her, and expel her out from thy house. My meaning is, when this law with its thundering threatenings doth attempt to lay hold on thy conscience, shut it out with a promise of grace; cry, The inn is taken up already; the Lord Jesus is here entertained, and here is no room for the law. Indeed, if it will be content with being my informer, and so lovingly leave off to judge me, I will be content, it shall be in my sight, I will also delight therein; but otherwise, I being now made upright without it, and that too with that righteousness which this law speaks well of and approveth, I may not, will not, cannot dare not make it my Saviour and judge, nor suffer it to set up its government in my conscience; for by so doing, I fall from grace, and Christ Jesus doth profit me nothing… The sum, then, of what hath been said is this—The Christian hath now nothing to do with the law, as it thundereth and burneth on Sinai, or as it bindeth the conscience to wrath and the displeasure of God for sin; for from its thus appearing, it is freed by faith in Christ.” [Bunyan, “Of the Law and a Christian”. Collected Writings, pp. 923-924]
Apply: Live as the children of the free woman, with the righteousness of Christ filling your heart with joy and peace as you trust in him. If you would be holy, remain in Christ, love Christ, trust Christ, follow Christ, and rejoice evermore in Christ!

What Is The Christian Faith

-Adapted from the writings of John G. Reisinger
Christianity is not a set of rules. It has some very important rules, but Christianity is neither preaching nor obeying rules. There is a very simple but effective way of testing every preacher we hear. The false preacher is always reminding us of what we must do. His message is constantly focused on man’s efforts and is always “do” centered. The true preacher keeps reminding us of what Christ has done for us, and his message is focused on Christ and is “done” centered. One threatens with law and the other appeals by the cross.
Christianity is not a series of ceremonies. It has ceremonies such as baptism and communion, but the essence of the Christian faith is not in the ceremonies and symbols. You may be baptized and take communion every day and still be as lost as the worst pagan in the world.
Christianity is not a certain feeling that we get that enables us to smile and be at peace with ourselves and our fellow man. If we truly receive the forgiveness of sins through faith in the gospel, we will surely feel differently; but the Christian faith is not a feeling, it’s a Person.
Christianity is not joining a group. You may even join the right group, but that will not make you a Christian. Becoming a Christian is far more than joining a church or any other organization.
Christianity is not a cause. Many people in our day are trying to make a revolutionary cause to be synonymous with the Christian faith. God is said to “be on the side of the poor,” so every movement or cause that is aimed at helping the poor becomes the gospel. The cause may be on the left or the right and may involve the correction of a grave injustice against our fellow man. However, no matter how just the cause, it cannot be equated with the gospel or Christianity.
Christianity is nothing more or less than Christ Himself! And understanding the Christian faith begins with the biblical facts about Christ. The Christ who is Christianity is the Christ of “biblical” and “historical” facts. The Christ who is Christianity was born of a virgin (Matt 1:18-25), lived a sinless life (I Pet 2:22), was crucified for sinners (Rom 5:8), rose again from the dead (Luke 245.6), ascended into heaven (Acts 1:11),and is coming again (I Thess 4:16). There are three words that depict the whole story of the biblical and historical Christ: the cradle, the cross, and the crown. The one who was born of a virgin and died on the cross is now raised in power and glory on a throne. Christ is no longer a babe in His mother’s arms nor is He still hanging on a cross or crucifix, and He is surely not still in the grave. He is exalted as Lord of lords and sits on a throne at the Father’s right hand.
The Bible is the interpretation of these facts about this Person. Why was Christ born of a virgin? Why did He suffer such a death? Why is His resurrection essential? These are the kinds of questions that must be answered before the gospel of Jesus Christ has any meaning and significance.
Did you ever try to summarize the essential message of the whole Bible in a few sentences? The theme would go something like this: “Behold, Someone is coming!” The whole Old Testament is the story about the coming Messiah. Then the four gospels proclaim: “Behold, Someone is here!” Finally, Acts through Revelation says: “Behold, Someone is coming again!” The Bible, from its beginning to its end, is a story about the Lord Jesus Christ. The message of the gospel is nothing less than a clear and precise interpretation of this story.
“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake” (I Thess 1:4, 5). Here Paul first reminds us that truth always comes in words. The gospel does not come in dreams, visions, or ceremonies. It comes to us in words. However, in order for the words of the gospel to effect the saving of our soul, those words must be accompanied by the power and demonstration of the Spirit. The carnal mind can just as easily hear and mentally believe the facts set forth in the gospel as it can believe that Columbus crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1492; but only the Holy Spirit can make the inward man experience the spiritual power of the gospel facts.
The biblical facts are essential, but by themselves, they are not enough. If Christianity is a Person, then becoming a Christian is receiving that Person in an act of living faith. We do not receive facts in order to get saved; we receive a Person and enter into a vital relationship. The facts give us the necessary information about the Person and how and why we must come to Him, but coming to Christ is not just an act of the mind believing some facts. In coming to Christ, we give our whole being to Christ as our Lord and Savior.
When someone gets married, they gladly receive a person, not a set of facts. The preacher does not say, “Do you receive this fact as certainly true?” No, he says. “Will you receive this person to be your wedded mate?” The same thing happens when a person is married to Christ, united by faith. We receive Him as a person just as truly as He receives us as a person. It is much more than a mental transaction involving simply our brains. God did not say. “You admit these facts are true and you will be saved.” No, my friend. He said, “You repent from your rebellion and receive my Son and you will be saved.” This is done by believing in (literally believing into) Christ. There is a great difference between mental assent to facts and receiving Christ in true faith.
When we receive Christ. we receive everything that God has to give, and when we miss Christ, we miss everything there is that is worth having. The Scriptures always put forgiveness and every other blessing in Christ Himself. Our experiencing any of those blessings is only possible as we are literally united to Christ in a living union. Notice how John emphasizes that we receive a Person: “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12). The Holy Spirit indeed uses facts, but He uses the facts to draw us to a living Person and not to the impersonal facts as an end in themselves. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). “Come unto me…and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).
The error to be avoided is confusing the mere knowledge of facts, even though the facts may be biblical, with the reality of experiencing the power of the truth explained in the facts. This was the tragic mistake made by the Jews (Rom 2:17-27). They were convinced the Bible was the very Word of God and therefore assumed that they had obeyed its message simply by acknowledging its truthfulness. Some of you who are reading this tract, I’m sure, can explain the way of salvation. but have never personally and knowingly gone to Christ with empty hands and pleaded His mercy alone to save your soul. If this is true of you. then you will perish with the gospel in your mind and in your mouth without its power being in your affections and will.
The promises of God, or the gospel facts, are like sign posts on the highway. You do not sit on top of a sign and expect the sign to take you to your destination. Instead, by faith in the message on the signpost, you follow its direction and move toward where it points. Just so, God’s promises point us to Christ and assure us that we will be received and forgiven if we go to Him in true repentance and faith. However, merely believing that Christ will receive all who come to Him, and actually going to Him, are two different things; yet both are essential to salvation. “This is the record [facts], that God hath given us eternal life [experience], and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (I John 5:11, 12).
Did you know that the Bible speaks of “another gospel” (Gal 1:6-9), “another Jesus” (2 cor 11:3), and “false Christs” (Mark 13.22)? You may sincerely trust a false Jesus and be lost, and believe me, there are a lot of phony Christs being peddled today. Many people are preaching a Jesus that bears no authentic resemblance to the Jesus of the New Testament.
Some men preach a false healing message in the name of Jesus and make millions of dollars off the miseries of their fellow human beings. Some cruel tyrants claim to have been duly authorized by Christ to run God’s church. They control the consciences of insecure and timid people and destroy many lives. Super church builders in the “nickels and noses” business use a utilitarian Jesus and manipulate people by the thousands. We must be sure that we understand exactly who Jesus is and what He is like before we dare speak in His name.
People are usually surprised to find out that the Bible nowhere talks about “accepting Jesus as your Savior.” Christ is not offered to us in the Bible as only a Savior. He is offered to us as the Lord who is, by virtue of His finished work, a sufficient Savior.
Christ fulfills the office of Prophet, Priest, and King. When we receive Him, we receive Him as our Prophet to teach us the truth, as our Priest to take away our guilt, and as our King to rule over us. When we receive Christ as our Savior, we also receive Him as our Lord. It’s just as biblical to say, “I trusted Christ as my Prophet, Priest, and King,” as it is to say, “I trusted Christ as my Savior.”
There are two things set forth in Scripture as Siamese twins. First, the apostles never present the Saviorhood of Christ apart from His Lordship; or, stated another way; they never offer Christ’s saving benefits apart from His Person as Lord. Second, the same apostles never appeal to a sinner’s will through his emotions to choose, without first instructing that sinner’s intellect with truth; or, stated another way, they insisted that every part of man’s being: his mind, his heart, and his will, had to be affected by the power of the gospel before there was true conversion. The mind must be illuminated by the truth and the Spirit; the heart, or affections, must be penetrated by the truth and the Spirit; and the will must be liberated by the truth and the Spirit.
Our whole person, consisting of mind, heart and will (Rom 6:17), receives a whole Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King. Imagine someone saying, “I like and respect Christ’s teaching and will gladly submit to it, but I do not believe in that blood atonement business.” We would say, “Sir, if you will not have Christ as your Priest to take away your guilt by His shed blood, then you cannot have Him as your Teacher.” Someone else may say, “I love the truth that my sins were punished on the cross, but I do not believe that Jesus was right on His view of women.” Again, we would say, “Sir, if you reject Christ as your Prophet and Teacher, then you cannot have the benefits of His Priestly work of atonement.” Still another person says, “I will trust Christ’s blood of atonement and 1 will accept every single doctrine that He teaches, however, 1 will not submit the total control of my life, goals, and money into His hands.” Again, we must say, “Sir, God will not save you on such grounds.”
Imagine you are at a wedding and the preacher says to the prospective bride, “Will you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?” She thinks for a moment, and says, “I will be glad to wear his name and will accept and use his credit cards, but I have no intention of washing his clothes, sleeping with him, and bearing his children.” Could the preacher say, “That is fine, 1 will still pronounce you man and wife”? Such would be a mockery of everything that marriage stands for! The same is true of conversion. Taking Christ’s benefits (as Savior) while refusing His person (as Lord) would mock every purpose of God in our salvation. God will not wed His Son in a saving union to a person who has no intention of loving and serving Christ as Lord. I am fully aware that many preachers today teach that you can “trust Christ as your Savior but not as your Lord,” but that is blatant heresy. The “Carnal Christian” doctrine of our day is deadly!
The apostles emphasized the Lordship of Christ and grounded their statements in the fact that God raised His Son from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand with all power and authority. Both the truth of the resurrection and the ascension are prominent in all apostolic preaching in the book of Acts. It is because Christ sits on the throne that men are told to fall down before Him in repentance and faith.
Notice carefully the following four truths that run all the way through the NT Scriptures. These sample texts demonstrate how the apostles preached Christ and His saving work: (1)Christ was announced at His birth as LORD: “For unto you is born…a Savior, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). (2) Christ was preached by the apostles to both the Jews and the Gentiles as LORD: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord. ..” (Rom 10:9); “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31); “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye crucified, both Lordand Christ” (Acts 2:36). (3) Christ was received in saving faith at conversion as LORD: “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him” (Col 2:6)(4) All creation will someday bow and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is LORD: “And every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11).
God’s controversy with men and women today is over the sin of rebellion to the rightful claims of Christ as LORD. The gospel of the apostles demands that man must repent from that rebellion if there is to be true forgiveness. The problem is not merely that sinners refuse to believe that certain things are true, but rather, it is their refusal to bow their heart and life to the Lord that those truths set forth. It’s not a question of merely believing that Jesus was born of a virgin or that He was true Deity made flesh. Nearly the whole world gladly professes that those things are true every year at Christmas time. It’s not just a willingness to verbally confess that Christ has truly risen from the dead. Most people joyfully acknowledge that at Easter time. It’s obvious that most of these people do not believe these truths in their affections and will (Rom 10: 9, 10). They ardently confess they believe the facts, but they also vehemently reject Christ Himself. Romans 8:7 is still the mark of every unbeliever no matter how religious he may be: “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”
God commands sinners to submit in repentance and faith to the authority of His Son. Read the second Psalm and the second chapter of Acts. The matter boils down to the claims of Christ’s Lordship. If you, my dear reader, are not saved by the grace of God, the problem is not in your brain or mind, but in your heart and will. It is true that you must understand with your mind the historical facts about Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for our sins. However, salvation only comes when you, as a whole person, submit yourself and all that you are to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Has this transaction taken place between you and the Lord Jesus Christ? If not, bow to Him right now and receive Him into your heart and life in true repentance and faith.
The Bible exhorts you to come to Christ, but not before it clearly tells you who He is and where you might find Him. Christ is not up front at the altar; nor is He in the communion cup or baptistery. He will not be found as the logical conclusion to a series of questions; nor will you find Him as the result of an intellectual decision made by your will. Christ is the Lord of Glory, and as such, He is seated on a throne in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. Coming to Christ is bowing to Him on His throne as both Lord and Savior in repentance and faith. It is to gladly submit to His rightful claims of Lordship over you and receive His gracious benefits promised to you as you trust Him.
In order to have a well-grounded assurance of salvation, we must be sure that the true Christ of Scripture is in us and that we are in Him. When we look into the Bible, we see Christ on the throne with all power and authority. We then look into our personal experience and see if that same Christ is on the throne of our hearts.
In closing, let’s clear up a popular misconception. Christ is every man’s Lord right now. We do not make Christ Lord by trusting Him as our personal Lord. We merely acknowledge, gratefully and willingly, what is already true as we submit to Him as the Lord.
Christ is not in the sinner’s hand to do with as the sinner chooses. The reverse is true. God put His Son in our hands one time and we unitedly cried out, “Crucify Him.” God then highly exalted Christ and has put us in His hands. Every sinner. without exception, is in the hands of Christ to be disposed of as Christ, the Lord and Judge, decides.
I know that what I have just said is not taught in most evangelical churches today. Today men are told that they are king and captain of their own soul. The sinner is his own lord and his “free will” is totally in charge. Poor Jesus can do nothing but plead with the sinner to give Him a chance. If the sinner will just take the first step, then Jesus will be able to help. In other cases, Jesus is pictured as freely giving forgiveness, and then pleading for the right to be the Christian’s Lord. What a corruption of the gospel is this easy believism of our generation!
Let us suppose that the would-be bride that we talked about earlier said, “I do,” instead of “I’ll take his credit cards.” The wedding is over, and all of the vows have been taken, and the last person has gone through the receiving line at the rear of the church. The bride turns to the man she just received as her husband and says, “Jim, this has been one of the most wonderful and exciting days of my life. Phone me some day next week and maybe we can have lunch together.” I am sure that not a single person can imagine that such a thing could be possible. It is just as impossible, if we are honest with the writings of the apostles, to think that a sinner can truly receive Christ and then part company with Him and go in a different direction until next Sunday morning! Never! The bride and groom now begin a joint life that is shared in all things, so we take Christ into every room of our house and every aspect of our life at our conversion.
That is the gospel of the apostle Paul. That is the true Christian Faith. That is the Christ of the Bible. Have you personally received the Lord Jesus Christ as the gift of God?
More of John G. Reisinger’s articles can be found at

A Strained Relationship – Galatians 4:12-20

We need always to look at ourselves through three lenses: the lens of creation, the lens of sin, and the lens of redemption in Christ. As we understand what we are by creation (all made in the image of God), by sin (rebellious and relationship mess makers), and by redemption (united in Christ with all believers), we will have a starting point to work through the messiness of friendship in Christ. Oh yes, sometimes believers’ relationships with one another can be strained! But we should see how even strained relationships can be opportunities to serve one another in love for gospel growth. This passage sets forth a fact of Christian experience. A person can be a staunch defender of the faith and at the same time very zealous for the good and eternal salvation of people. In fact, the person who loves the truth of the gospel also loves people, who need the salvation purchased by the Christ of the gospel.
Illustration: Surely there are many throughout church history that show forth both of these qualities. If you would like to read the stories of two of them, I recommend biographies of George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon.
In our text Paul relates his love for the Galatians, while at the same time he expresses his zeal for the truth. He is willing to work through their messy relationship to establish them more firmly in the truth. May we learn this lesson well.
I.            Paul appeals for reconciliation (Gal 4:12).
A.            He was open toward them.

1.            The phrase “become like me, for I became like you” means “‘I have come to regard myself as one of you’—more particularly, I am your father and you are my children (cf. v. 19)” (Bruce). See also 2 Cor 6:11-13.

2.            In other words, Paul wants them to have the same affection for him that he has for them. He is embodying a Biblical principle: A gospel kind of love motivates us to lay aside non-essential differences in order to reach people.

B.            He was ready to forgive them.

1.            “Alienation of affection is often greatly increased by a consciousness that we have acted unkindly to one whom we once loved, and a suspicion that in consequence of this he cannot but regard us with unfriendly feelings. It is in consequence of this, that when friends quarrel the offender frequently finds it more difficult than the offended to resume the cordiality of affectionate feeling which previously existed between them. It was, I apprehend, for the purpose of removing this obstacle out of the way of a complete restoration of a right state of feeling in the Galatians towards himself that he adds, ‘Ye have not injured me at all’” (Brown, pp. 90-91).

2.            We need to clear roadblocks out of the way in our relationships. Wisdom in relating to other people, who have the same problems with sin that we do, is not to think about what they might deserve but how to win them back. “For it is always true that ‘to be loved you must be lovable’” (Calvin). Don’t exclaim, “Do you know what he/she did to me?” Instead, humbly ask, “How can I restore this relationship? How can I make it better than before?”

Apply: Apply forgiveness in Christ to your relationship. Make it a friendship based on Christ.
II.            Paul presents the contrast between their former and present relationship (4:13-16).
A.            They used to delight in Paul’s ministry.

1.            Though he had first come among them with some kind of disagreeable illness (we don’t know what it was), they gladly welcomed him. The Lord uses various means that are sometimes disagreeable to us to spread the knowledge of Jesus Christ. For example, sometimes the Lord uses personal or family difficulties to make known the need and way of salvation to people. People assume they can fix anything, until they run smack into a problem that they can’t fix.

2.            Though Paul was a sinner like them, they were right in receiving him as they did (cf. Mt 10:40; 2 Cor 5:20). If you want people to receive you like Christ, then you must speak the word of Christ with the compassion of Christ.

B.            They presently disliked Paul and his ministry.

1.            Their attitude had so changed that Paul wonders if he had become their enemy. At such times we can wonder, “What did I do to deserve this?” And then we can fall into the pity party of “I didn’t do anything!” (This might be self-righteousness and blame-shifting.) Or we might think, “Where is the Lord in all this?” (This is denial of Christ’s promise; he is with us to the end of the age. He is pursuing his agenda that you share in his sufferings.)

2.            Their problem was their attitude toward the truth. Notice how people can flip-flop. It is strange that their present reason for rejecting him was their former reason for receiving him gladly. This shows the corrosive power of error in hearts with remaining sin.

Quote: “There is an important lesson here. When the Galatians recognized Paul’s apostolic authority, they treated him as an angel, as Christ Jesus. But when they did not like his message, he became their enemy. How fickle they were, and foolish! An apostle’s authority does not cease when he begins to teach unpopular truths. We cannot be selective in our reading of the apostolic doctrine of the New Testament. We cannot, when we like what an apostle teaches, defer to him as an angel, and when we do not like what he teaches, hate him and reject him as an enemy. No, the apostles of Jesus Christ have authority in everything they teach, where we happen to like it or not” (Stott, p. 115).
Apply: What is your attitude toward the gospel? If you love it, then rejoice in those who preach the gospel.
III.            Paul tells them the contrast between him and the false teachers (4:17-20).
A.            The false teachers were zealous.

1.            They were motivated by a party spirit. True teaching seeks to win people’s loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. As Whitefield said, “Let the name of Whitefield perish!” He wanted Christ’s name to be honored. False teaching seeks to bind people to human leadership. “You must be part of our group!”

2.            They worked toward their goal of alienating the Galatians from Paul. If they could separate the Galatians from the one who taught the truth, their plan to conquer them would be well on the way to success.

3.            So Paul has to remind the Galatians of the nature of true zeal. It has a right object and is constant. For example, you need to be living for Christ at all times, and not only when someone else is pressuring you to participate.

B.            Paul was zealous with a godly zeal.

1.            He was motivated by tender affection for them. Notice his affectionate address, “My dear children.” His love had a sacrificial character—like the love of a mother in child birth longing to see her child alive.

2.            He had a godly goal for them—Christ-likeness. “If ministers wish to be something, let them labor to form Christ, not themselves” (Calvin). Paul is not dividing the work of Christ into two stages here, such as first justification and then some form of sanctification. “It is rather that the one implies the other and reliance on law for salvation [or sanctification] negates both” (Bruce, p. 213, my addition in brackets).

3.            He was perplexed about them. He heard reports, but firsthand knowledge is better than secondhand information. Even an apostle had doubts about the accomplishments of his ministry. Some are so sure about their ministry that they can count their converts in ten minutes. Please tell me, what ever made you think that you can know that someone is saved by some prayer or brief statement they make? The apostles had joy when their children walked in the truth (3 Jn 4). Paul did not see that walk in the truth, so he was perplexed, rather than joyous, about the Galatians.

Apply: Here is what really matters! Is the minister preaching the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ with Christ-like attitudes? Is Christ being formed in the hearts of the people to whom he ministers? The measure of any church and any ministry is the presence of Jesus Christ as Lord. Do we exalt in his glory? Do we worship through him by the Spirit? Do we walk in his ways of godliness and holiness? Is his love abounding and overflowing? Is his joy a common experience? Is Christ’s peace ruling in our hearts? Please, please, let us have no more boasting about how large or small or whatever a church may be! Let us see Christ formed in everyone, and then, whoever boasts, let him boast in the Lord!

Completed by the Spirit, Part 1: Five Propositions

This is the first part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
For the apostle Paul, the Mosaic law – or any external commands not grounded in the indicative of the Spirit of God given to dwell in the believer – is antithetical to our growth in holiness; rather it is the Holy Spirit who is transforming the believer from “one degree of glory to another,’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Paul´s teaching on the inability of the law to effectively combat sin in the life of the Christian has been distorted by many, resulting in an improper focus on law that continues to enslave believers in sin.[1] Perhaps Paul´s exasperated exclamation and rhetorical questions to the “foolish’ Galatians is summary enough of Paul´s view of the law:

[2] Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? [3] Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? [4] Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? [5] Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— [6] just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’? (Galatians 3:2–6)

“Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?’ That antithesis – the Spirit and the flesh – draws the battle lines for Paul between those who would have believers continuing as slaves to sin instead of living as slaves to Christ and reaping the fruit of the Spirit. It is, as Paul tells the Thessalonians, the will of God that they – that we – be sanctified, “because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth’ (2 Thessalonians 2:13). God did not choose believers to be sanctified by the law; God did not choose believers to be sanctified by their own actions, behavior modification or self-help techniques; God chose believers to be sanctified by the Spirit of Christ via the gospel of Christ.
For the believer, there is an initial positional sanctification: we have been set apart as holy by God at our regeneration. There is also a final sanctification, or glorification: we will be holy and blameless and spotless. “And I am sure of this,’ Paul writes, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1:6). But what comes between? Thomas Schreiner describes the tension between these two states and the believer´s existence between these two states:

Believers are already in the realm of the holy, but on the last day, they will be transformed so that they are without sin. Paul does not explain how this transformation will occur; though it seems that it will take place when Christ returns. … A tension emerges in Paul´s thought. One the one hand, it seems that the eschatological completion of holiness cannot be sundered from progress in holiness in this life; on the other hand, Paul recognizes that the work of holiness will not be accomplished in this life. He uses a future tense to assure them that God will sanctify them completely. … The already–not yet dimension of Paul´s eschatology provides the most satisfactory solution. Believers are in the process of sanctification now, but they are not yet perfect. They long for the day when God´s promise of perfecting them in holiness will be consummated.[2]

Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes that “process of sanctification now’ in this way:

So then, I suggest to you that this will do as a good definition of sanctification: it is ‘that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God and enables him to perform good works.´ Let me make that clear: ‘It is that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit by which He delivers the justified sinner´—the one who is already justified—‘from the pollution of sin´—not from the guilt any longer, that has happened. Justification has taken care of that. He is declared just and righteous, the guilt has been dealt with. Now we are concerned more about the power and the pollution of sin—‘renews his whole nature in the image of God and enables him to perform good works.´[3]

Thus for the purposes of this series of articles, we shall use the term “sanctification’ in the sense of a growth in holiness: what has traditionally been called “progressive sanctification.’[4] However, because of the use of and the association with the term “progressive sanctification’ with those who would also advocate the “third use of the law’ as part of that growth, we will not use that term here, but instead will use “sanctification’ – and its Greek “hagiasmos” – as interchangeable with a “growth in holiness,’ recognizing that this is the most common use of the term in the New Testament.[5]
With that eschatological trajectory in mind – our final complete holiness – we will focus on the sanctification – the growth in holiness – that should be the life story of all Christians, a life story that requires a fervent belief in the gospel and a trust in the Spirit for that sanctification. It is God who justifies and God who glorifies (Romans 8:30) and most assuredly, it is God who sanctifies by His Spirit  (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
To show how Paul views this growth in holiness – this ongoing work of sanctification before that final glorification – this series will look at five propositions of Paul´s theology. First, is that the law cannot cope with sin. Second, the love that is intrinsic to God and which flows only from God – the love brought by the indwelling Holy Spirit – fulfills the law. Third, that it is the Spirit that produces fruit in the believer while the law in our remaining sinful flesh can produce only that which it has power to produce: sin. Fourth, that sanctification results from our union with Christ, exhorted by what it means to be Christ-like. Fifth, that while Paul gives us imperatives, commands and exhortations, they are not themselves laws and are not given as laws or in the category of law, because they are imperatives that are only achieved by the indicative of our reliance upon Christ and our position in Christ.
To summarize, the battle for our sanctification is between the Spirit and the flesh. It is not – and cannot – be the law battling against our sinful flesh. Using the law to combat sin pours gasoline upon the sinful passions of the flesh, a flesh we will inhabit until the day we meet Christ face to face and be raised like Him. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his’ (Romans 6:5).
That eschatological, glorified state is where we´ll begin next time.
Up and Coming: Completed by the Spirit, Part 2: A Resurrection Like His
[1] This is a reference to the “third use of the law,’ the belief that the “Moral Law’ or the Decalogue remains a “perfect rule of righteousness’ for the believer, such as is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith and its later derivative, the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith.

[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 374–5.
[3] David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God the Holy Spirit: Great Doctrines of the Bible (Great Doctrines of the Bible Series, Vol 2)
(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossways Books, 1997). 195.
[4] For example, Robert L. Reymond in A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Second Edition)
(Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1998) defines progressive sanctification as one “understood negatively in terms of putting to death the deeds of the flesh which still remain in him and positively in terms of growth in all saving graces.’ (p. 768–769). Reymond then goes on for 12 more pages defending the use of the Decalogue as the as “the moral law of God, which Christians are to obey.’
Similarly, the Westminster Confession of Faith quite sweetly posits that “They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ´s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened, in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord’ (XIII/i). Yet that same confession describes asserts that the law “doth forever bind all’ (XIX/v), the words of Paul in Scripture notwithstanding.
[5] William D. Mounce says of hagiasmos that the word, “is generally used in the NT the moral sense, referring to the process (or the final result of that process) of making pure or holy. It is like a growing fruit that results in eternal life.’ Mounce´s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006). 338.

Caution: Handle God’s Possessions with Care

1 Corinthians 8:11-13

We will be finishing up 1 Corinthians 8 this morning. It will be helpful for us to do a bit of recap before jumping into the text. I will remind you of five things.
1. In Corinthians 8 Paul is addressing the issue of eating meat which has been sacrificed to idols (see 8:1, 4).
2. There are two different camps in the Corinthian church; the strong and the weak. The strong feel full liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols while the weak do not. The strong can eat such idol meat with a good conscience because they understand that there is only one God and that idols are nothing in the world (8:4). The weak, on the other hand, are those who have recently converted out of idolatry (8:7). Because they have recently converted out of idolatry they are still in the process of adjusting to the basic, fundamental truths of Christianity. They weak cannot eat meat sacrificed to idols with a good conscience because, being new to the Christian faith, although they have embraced Christian truth, they have yet to understand the full implications of Christian truth.
3. Paul agrees with the strong theologically (vss. 4-6). However, he rebukes the strong for not being willing to give up the right of eating idol meat for the sake of their recently converted, vulnerable brothers and sisters in the faith.
4. Paul’s greatest concern is that these newly converted brothers and sisters will fall back into idolatry by mindlessly imitating their spiritual mentors (the strong). The weaker brothers have always and only eaten meat sacrificed to idols as an act of worship to whatever idol the meat was sacrificed to. They do not know how to distinguish between eating idol meat and worshipping idols. What the strong do with knowledge, the weak will do ignorantly (vs. 10). Paul’s concern is not that the weak will feel uncomfortable by the actions of the strong. His concern, rather, is that the weak will literally fall back into idolatry by ignorantly following the example of the strong. What the strong eat as a simple meal the weak will eat as an act of idolatrous worship.
5. Paul’s basic instruction is directed to the strong. His admonition is to patiently and lovingly set aside eating meat sacrificed to idols for the sake of the spiritual well-being of the weak in Corinth.

In this message we will be focusing primarily on vss. 11-13. In these 3 verses Paul underscores the seriousness of his instruction. The actions of the strong are not small or inconsequential. Ultimately, Paul communicates that the strong are in sin. They are running roughshod over those who are vulnerable to the pull of idolatry without a concern for how it will ultimately affect their spiritual wellbeing. This to Paul is sin as we will see in vs. 11. That is, those who are carelessly pursuing what is rightfully theirs to do the detriment of their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are in rebellion against God. Paul agrees with them theologically. However, he calls them to flat out repentance in vss. 11-13. Their problem is that the knowledge of God’s word has produced in them arrogance and apathy instead of humility and love. Turn with me, then, to the passage and consider with me the seriousness of selfishly clinging to rights regardless of how it affects the people of God.
The Worth of God’s People (8:11)
In an attempt to demonstrate for the ‘strong’ in the Corinthian church the seriousness of their arrogant and selfish pursuit of rights, Paul identifies the worth of the people of God. He wants the ‘strong’ to know exactly who it is that they are tripping up. Look at vs. 11 with me.
11 Then the weak person, the brother for whom Christ died, is ruined by your knowledge.
Do you see what Paul does here in vs. 11? He clarifies for the strong exactly who the weak are. He wants them to understand that the weak are not to be regarded as useless. No! The weak first of all are their brethren. They are co-heirs with Christ. They have been adopted into the same family. But he wants them to understand something even more important. He wants the strong to see that the weak are those “for whom Christ died.” The weak are not just God’s image bearers; they are God’s blood bought image bearers! Do you see how serious this is? The strong are treating God’s blood-bought possessions as if they were dispensable. They are handling them without care. So Paul reminds the strong of who the weak are so that they might see the seriousness of their actions.
Kristal and I watch the Antiques Roadshow on a regular basis. A few weeks ago we watched an episode where a middle aged lady brought in a rough looking wooden bowl. Now I am not sure of all of the details of the story (because I only saw it once and the details escape me), but I will do my best to give the basic jist of the story. The woman who brought the bowl in said that it was given to her by her grandmother who had apparently grew up in Germany. She told the expert appraiser that she had only kept it around because it was the only thing she had left to remind her of her grandmother. The appraiser asked her where she had put the bowl. She chuckled and said that it sat on top of her t.v. at home—it was used for the purpose of holding dvd’s and other odds and ends. The appraiser told her that it might be best to put it elsewhere. In classic Antiques Roadshow fashion he began to tell her the details about the bowl. Apparently it was made in Germany in the early 19th century. He explained that it was carved by one of the most infamous woodcarvers in Germany. To the surprise of the woman who brought it in the appraiser said that he would conservatively estimate that the bowl would sell at auction for at least $100,000! Immediately the woman said, “Wow! I guess I will no longer haphazardly throw dvd’s in it!” Once you know the true value of a possession, you treat it with a greater amount of care.
Paul is here putting a value on the weaker brother. He wants the strong in the church to understand that they are messing with God’s valuable possessions. If God were to hold His own form of the Antiques Roadshow for the purpose of valuing His people, each of us would wear a price tag that read, “Invaluable: Bought with the blood of Jesus”. You don’t haphazardly throw dvd’s and odds and ends in a $100,000 bowl. In the same way, you do not carelessly handle the people of God, regardless of where they are at theologically. Why? Because they are invaluable. It is sad and embarrassing that we are more careful with our cars and houses and dishes than we are with God’s blood-bought children. Turn with me to 1 Peter 1:18-19 to see the true value of the people of God.
18 For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.
Your brothers and sisters in Christ were bought with the blood of Jesus. He spilled His blood to purchase a people for God from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9-10). Notice how Peter speaks of the blood of Jesus. He contrasts it with the most valuable things on this earth. God hasn’t redeemed us with chincy precious medals. No, He redeemed us, purchased us, with the infinitely valuable blood of Jesus.
You have to understand that in emphasizing to the Corinthians the true value of the weaker brethren, Paul is making a statement. He identifies them as those for whom Christ died. Do you see how gross and sick the strong are? Jesus, being equal with the Father, became a man and died a gruesome, painful, and shameful death on a cross. He bore the infinite wrath of God. All of the righteous anger and holy indignation of God the Father was pointed at the sinless Jesus who hung on the cross for you and I. Jesus took the full penalty of our sin. Do you get it? Jesus gave His life under the full strength of God’s wrath for our weaker brethren and the strong are not even willing to change their diet![2] Jesus died for your brothers and sisters—He gave His all. This is embarrassing isn’t it? We cling to and hold on to our puny little rights at the expense of the spiritual wellbeing of our brothers and sisters in Christ when Jesus endured the shame and pain of the cross and infinite wrath of God as an innocent sufferer for their salvation. See what Paul says about Jesus’ self-giving spirit in 2 Corinthians 8:9.
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty you might become rich.
I know that I reference this passage on a regular basis. I cannot help but revisit it and revisit it and revisit it. It certainly does put us in our place. Jesus set aside infinite riches for you. He assumed the posture of a slave and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). He set aside what was rightfully His for the sake of our good. How shaming is it that we would not be willing to give up our favorite music or our wardrobe or our diet or our hip and trendy styles for the sake of our struggling brethren. How much do we value each other? Do we value each other enough to give up our rights?
Sinning Against Christ (8:12)
In vs. 12 Paul identifies the careless and selfish actions of the strong as being nothing less than sin.
12 Now when you sin like this against the brothers and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ.
Paul does not see the actions of the strong as merely evidencing a lack of wisdom. Paul comes right out and calls it for what it is. The arrogance and selfishness of the strong that is leading to the real spiritual ruin of the weak is nothing less than hardhearted rebellion against Jesus Himself. You will notice that he first speaks of it as a “sin… against the brothers.” But he doesn’t stop there. Although this certainly is a sin against the weaker brothers, Paul ultimately identifies this as a sin against Jesus Christ Himself—‘you are sinning against Christ.’ To sin against the people of God is to sin against Jesus Himself. Why? For a few reasons. First, because all sin is ultimately against God. After all, if you steal a man’s car, although you are taking something that does belong to him, you are not ultimately breaking that man’s law; you are breaking God’s law. This is why after sinning against Uriah the Hittite by sleeping with his wife and directly plotting his murder, David prays the following to God in Psalm 51:4:
“Against You—You alone—I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge.
David understood that his actions against Uriah were ultimately an affront not against Uriah but against God. This does not mean that he didn’t sin against Uriah, but it certainly does mean that his sin was not ultimately against Uriah. David understood that he was not accountable ultimately to Uriah—he was not going to have to answer before the judgment seat of Uriah, but before the judgment seat of God. Second, sins specifically against the people of God are ultimately against Jesus because God’s people are God’s possession. Do you remember what Paul said earlier about God’s people? Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
19b You are not your own, 20 for you were bought at a price.
If Jesus died for you, you are God’s property. Jesus gave His life to purchase you, therefore you are His. To sin against the people of God, then, is to sin against God Himself because the people of God are His goods. For the strong to selfishly and arrogantly wound the conscience of the weak is for the strong to assault God’s blood-bought servants. Lastly, to sin against the people of God is to sin against Jesus Himself because Jesus is one with His people (see John 15:5-7; 1 John 3:24; 4:13-16). This is why Jesus is referred to as the head of the church and we as His body (Ephesians 5:22-33). This reality is most clearly evident in Acts 9:1-6.
1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 5 ‘Who are You, Lord?’ he said. 6 ‘I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting’…
So Paul is running around the ancient world imprisoning the people of God. While on his way to wreak more havoc on the people of God, Jesus strikes him with blindness and says to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting the church’. No! Actually He doesn’t charge Paul with persecuting the church. Jesus charges Paul with persecuting Jesus Himself. How can He make this logical leap? Well, it isn’t a logical leap. Jesus is, after all, one with His people. To persecute them is to persecute Him. Let me put it this way; how you treat the people of God is how you treat God Himself. I don’t have to ask you whether you prize Jesus or not, I just need to see how you prize His people. I don’t need to ask you whether you are passionate for God, I just need to observe how passionately you serve and love His people. He is one with those He came to save.
Paul rebukes the strong not ultimately for selfishly and arrogantly causing the spiritual ruin of the weak. Paul rebukes the strong for beating Christ Himself. The strong are in sin. Certainly, they are theologically correct to see that meat sacrificed to idols is not inherently sinful. However, they have sinned against Christ by having no regard for His body.
Drastic Measures (8:13)
In vs. 13 Paul demonstrates the length which we willing should go to protect our brothers and sister in Christ from falling into gross and heinous sin.
13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall.
In this last verse Paul is using hyperbole—he is speaking in extremes to make a clear point. All throughout 1 Corinthians 8 Paul has been addressing the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. Here Paul seems to almost change subjects. You would think that he would have said, ‘Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat sacrificed to idols…’ But he doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say that he will merely give up eating meat sacrificed to idols. Rather, he states that he will go to the extreme and give up meat altogether. Not only will he give up idol meat, he will become an all-out vegetarian! He is saying that there is no limit to how willing he is to accommodate a weaker, vulnerable brother. Paul, like Jesus, did not cling to his rights at the expense of the wellbeing of his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. He was more than willing to do whatever it might take to make sure that the pursuit of his rights did not become a stumbling block to his fellow blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let me give you a similar situation. Suppose someone were to approach me about the fact that I wear jeans when I preach. They give me sufficient reason to believe that me wearing jeans in the pulpit is leading them into all sorts of real heinous sin and rebellion. Paul would respond like such; “Brother, if me wearing jeans in the pulpit is the cause of your spiritual ruin as I am convinced it is, not only will I not wear jeans in the pulpit ever again, I will not wear pants at all (not that I will preach in my undies)—I will go to the extreme of preaching in a kilt for the rest of my days. If it means the preservation of your soul, I will go against any and every cultural norm to make sure that I am not in any way leading you into sin.
How willing are you to dispense with your rights for the sake of the well-being of your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? This, to Paul, is an issue of obedience. This is why Paul says;
Romans 15:1 Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.
If you love your rights more than the people of God, you are in sin. If you protect your rights more than you protect the well-being of your brothers and sisters in Christ you are in sin. Bottom line. It is essential that we be willing to set aside any right that we may have for the sake of our fellow siblings in the faith. Some may feel that this is a slippery slope: ‘Once we accommodate one weak brother, where will we stop? Pretty soon everyone in the church is going to be sporting their weak conscience to get their own way.’ This is not true. This is not a slippery slope. If we merely take the necessary biblical steps to distinguish between a genuine struggling, weaker, vulnerable brother and super-spiritual legalists who want to inflict God’s people with their own agendas and preferences, adopting Paul’s attitude toward those who are truly weak will never enslave the church or make her ineffective with the Gospel. But the church must learn to discern the difference.
I have decided that it would be counter-productive to give a parallel modern day situation to 1 Corinthians 8. Why? Because I think we need to approach this with an open mind. The principle which Paul lays forth, and ultimately the spirit of 1 Corinthians 8 is that we need to be willing to give up whatever may cause a brother to fall into gross and heinous error. I don’t want us to start categorizing what would constitute a 1 Corinthians 8 situation and what would not. The point that Paul clearly lays forth is that we must be willing to forgo what is rightfully ours, no matter how petty or puny or insignificant it may seem, for the sake of our fellow blood-bought brethren.
We must keep the cross at the center of all that we do. If the cross loses its place of first importance in the church we will lose both our ability to value the true worth of God’s people (bought with the blood of Jesus) and we will lose site of the radical standard of love which He has called us to. The cross is not just the basis of our hope, it is the center of our calling. We are called to both embrace the crucified Christ and to follow Him as our example. Behold the great salvation that Christ has won for you on the cross! Our calling is to receive the love of Christ and then to bend out that same self-sacrificial love and grace to our fellow brothers and sisters. If we keep the person and cross work of Jesus at the center of all that we do, we will understand that the standard is radical, because the standard is to “accept one another, just as the Messiah also accepted you, to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).
Paul shifts the focus of the strong to the cross so that they might adopt this very same perspective (in vs. 10). And I can promise you one thing, you will never be called to lay down your rights for your fellow brothers and sisters more than Christ laid down His rights for you. How can this be the case? Because His rights are truly His rights. He deserves every right that He has while our rights are gifts of grace. Not only that, but God will never call you to, as a sinless person, take the infinite wrath of God in the place of depraved rebels who have transgressed your own law. The standard that God has given us is radical. And yet God has called us to a sub-bunny hill version of what He has done for us. This is not to say that you can be lax about fulfilling the law of Christ. Rather, it should cause you see the standard that God has set for you with the understanding that He has done infinitely more for you than you could ever do for your brethren. You will never love another like Jesus has loved you.
[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman HCSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 378.


2 Samuel 12:1-31
So the LORD sent Nathan to David. When he arrived, he said to him: There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. (2) The rich man had a large number of sheep and cattle, (3) but the poor man had nothing except one small ewe lamb that he had bought. It lived and grew up with him and his children. It shared his meager food and drank from his cup; it slept in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. (4) Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man could not bring himself to take one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for his guest. (5) David was infuriated with the man and said to Nathan: “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! (6) Because he has done this thing and shown no pity, he must pay four lambs for that lamb.” (7) Nathan replied to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD God of Israel says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. (8) I gave your master’s house to you and your master’s wives into your arms, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah, and if that was not enough, I would have given you even more. (9) Why then have you despised the command of the LORD by doing what I consider evil? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife as your own wife–you murdered him with the Ammonite’s sword. (10) Now therefore, the sword will never leave your house because you despised Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own wife.’ (11) “This is what the LORD says, ‘I am going to bring disaster on you from your own family: I will take your wives and give them to another before your very eyes, and he will sleep with them publicly. (12) You acted in secret, but I will do this before all Israel and in broad daylight.'” (13) David responded to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Then Nathan replied to David, “The LORD has taken away your sin; you will not die. (14) However, because you treated the LORD with such contempt in this matter, the son born to you will die.” (15) Then Nathan went home. (HCSB)

Moe Bergeron
King David fought with the Ammonites and prevailed, but he had as yet not completely defeated them. The Ammonites retreated to Rabbah. David sent his general Joab and the army of Israel to lay siege to the city and while his army fought David remained in Jerusalem. On a certain day he rose from his bed around the time when others prepared to go to bed for the night. In his leisure he ventured on to the rooftop of his palace where he happened to steal a look at a beautiful young woman bathing herself. He is so taken by her beauty that he sends messengers to find out who she is. David’s servants learn of her identity. Her name is Bathsheba and she is the wife of Uriah, the Hittite. This Uriah was a faithful solider who was serving at the battle front along with Joab and Israel’s army. David’s interest in this young wife should have ended right there and then, but it does not. His curiosity quickly becomes a temptation and rather than flee from entertaining the thought of sin he now lusts for what does not lawfully belong to him. Jesus taught:
Matthew 5:28
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
So David sent his servants to bring Bathsheba to his palace where he does the unthinkable. He has sex with her. When she cleanses herself, she returns home.
Proverbs 9:17-18 ESV
“Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
It all seems to be over. But, sin always has its tragic consequences.
“…her guests are in the depths of Sheol.”
Things take a very different turn when Bathsheba sends word to David to inform him that she is carrying his child. David the giant killer tries to cover up his sin by ordering Joab to send Uriah home on leave under the pretense of giving David a battlefield report. He’s hoping Uriah is like the typical hot blooded young soldier who, when he has arrived home, will enjoy some carnal pleasures with his wife. There’s only one small problem. This Uriah is not like most hot blooded young soldiers. He is a cut above.
2 Samuel 11:9-11
But Uriah slept at the door of the palace with all his master’s servants; he did not go down to his house. (10) When it was reported to David, “Uriah didn’t go home,” David questioned Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a journey? Why didn’t you go home?” (11) Uriah answered David, “The ark, Israel, and Judah are dwelling in tents, and my master Joab and his soldiers are camping in the open field. How can I enter my house to eat and drink and sleep with my wife? As surely as you live and by your life, I will not do this!”
Uriah is more honorable than David. He wants to be at the front and not home pleasing his flesh. David knows time is running out and that his sin will be found out. It’s at this point that things really become ugly so he sends Uriah back to Joab, with sealed written orders to Joab to put Uriah to death in a way that makes it seem like Uriah is a casualty of war. Joab (a bloody man) does as he is told and sends word to David: “Mission accomplished.”
Responses To Uriah’s Death: (11:26-27)
It would seem that David got away with his adultery and murder. So it would seem. When Bathsheba is told of her husband’s death in battle, she mourns for her husband. I believe she mourns her husband’s death because she really loved him. David does not even pretend to mourn. As soon as Bathsheba’s mourning was complete David sent for her and made her as his wife. Was David trying to conceal his sin or was he seeking to legitimize it? Whatever David’s motives are they are self-serving. (Numbers 32:23)
THOT: When running from sin and its consequences you cannot out run the Lion of Judah.
It is at this point that God calls upon Nathan to address David and his sin. This is an unbelievable task. Nathan has to be braver than when David was when he stood before Goliath the giant. Now who stands as the wicked and evil sin filled giant who opposes the God of Israel and who is this humble servant of God? Before we consider God’s use of Nathan to confront and address David’s sin I want you to know that Nathan was not alone in addressing David. God by His Spirit was also at work preparing David’s heart.
Psalms 32:3-4 HCSB
When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. (4) For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat. Selah
Bob Deffinbaugh’s comments on this passage; “David makes it clear that God is at work even when it does not appear to be so. During the time David tries to cover up his sin, God is at work exposing it in his heart. These are not times of pleasure and joy, as Satan would like us to conclude; they are days of misery. David is plagued with guilt. He cannot sleep, and it seems he cannot eat. He is not sleeping nights, and he is losing weight. Whether or not David recognizes it as God who is at work in him, he does know he is miserable. It is this misery which tenderizes David, preparing him for the rebuke Nathan is to bring, preparing him for repentance. David’s repentance is not the result of David’s assessment of his situation; it is the result of divine intervention. He has gone so far in sin that he cannot think straight. God is at work in David’s life to break him, so that he will once again cast himself upon God for grace.”
Nathan Tells a Shepherd a Sheep Story – 2 Samuel 12:1-6
So the LORD sent Nathan to David. When he arrived, he said to him: There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. (2) The rich man had a large number of sheep and cattle, (3) but the poor man had nothing except one small ewe lamb that he had bought. It lived and grew up with him and his children. It shared his meager food and drank from his cup; it slept in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. (4) Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man could not bring himself to take one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for his guest. (5) David was infuriated with the man and said to Nathan: “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! (6) Because he has done this thing and shown no pity, he must pay four lambs for that lamb.” (7) Nathan replied to David, “You are the man!
Nathan is a prophet, he is also a man who appears to be a friend to David. Nathan does not come to David only as God’s spokesman, he comes to David as his friend.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6)
2 Samuel 12:1
Then the LORD sent Nathan to David.
What man in their right mind wants job? You have to be sent and sent no less than by God himself.
He is well prepared. He is filled and equipped by God’s Holy Spirit. Nathan’s approach and the success of the mission all hangs on a simple but well crafted “sheep story.” It’s the sort of story a shepherd boy can easily grasp and with which he can readily identify. David was a shepherd boy in his younger days, as we know from the Book(s) of Samuel (see 1 Samuel 16:11; 17:15, 28). I think somewhere in David’s experience as a child shepherd he took a strong liking to one or more of the little lambs his father entrusted into his loving care. Nathan is setting an example for a right use of Matthew 18.
“What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? (13) “If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. (14) “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. (15) ” If your brother sins , go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. (16) “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. (17) “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (18) “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Matthew 18:12-18 NASB
Note that the NASB translates verse 15 in this manner; “If your brother sins” and not as the HCSB renders it; “If your brother sins against you “
Nathan does not immediately speak to the details of David’s sin, rather, his design is not to put David on some sort of immediate defensive. His one smooth stone is targeted at David’s heart and not Goliath’s head. Nathan is not there to mortally wound David. He simply wants to prick David’s tender but buried and hardened heart with the pointed arrow of God’s love. David identifies two evils that have been committed by this fictional rich lamb stealer. First, the man has stolen a lamb, for which the law prescribed a fourfold restitution (Exodus 22:1). Second, David recognizes what he views as the greater sin, and that is the rich man’s total lack of compassion.
Bob Deffinbaugh adds:
David is furious because a rich man stole and slaughtered a poor man’s pet. He does not yet see the connection to his lack of compassion for stealing a poor man’s beloved companion, Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. The slaughtering of Uriah is most certainly an act which lacks compassion. The crowning touch in David’s display of righteous indignation is the religious flavoring he gives it by the words, “as the Lord lives” (verse 5).
It’s at this point where Nathan had to be either out of his mind or fully trusting in God for his protection. After all, David is the most powerful man alive and he is but a poor servant of God.
2 Samuel 12:7-12 HCSB
Nathan replied to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD God of Israel says: ‘ I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. (8) I gave your master’s house to you and your master’s wives into your arms, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah, and if that was not enough, I would have given you even more. (9) Why then have you despised the command of the LORD by doing what I consider evil? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife as your own wife–you murdered him with the Ammonite’s sword. (10) Now therefore, the sword will never leave your house because you despised Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own wife.’ (11) “This is what the LORD says, ‘I am going to bring disaster on you from your own family: I will take your wives and give them to another before your very eyes, and he will sleep with them publicly. (12) You acted in secret, but I will do this before all Israel and in broad daylight.'”
Numbers 32:23b KJV
….ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out.
Nathan’s little fabricated story made David furious. It’s always amazing when those who have not repented of their own sin take pleasure in prosecuting the lesser sin of others.
Matthew 7:3 HCSB
Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye?
Now that the arrows of God’s convicting Spirit have reached their intended target and David’s heart has now been made tender Nathan can speak to David as God’s prosecuting attorney. The trap has been set and David has fallen deep into it. There’s no escaping our God when he pursues the objects of his love. David, the mighty warrior king, is now humbled and arrested before God. Nathan now lists the charges against him. Perhaps David still does not understand the gravity of his sin. In verses 7-12, Nathan draws David’s attention to his sin against God and the consequences God has pronounced for his sin. Note the repetition of the pronoun “I” in verses 7 and 8:
“It was I who . . .
. . . anointed you king
. . . delivered you from the hand of Saul
. . . gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives
. . . gave you the house of Israel and Judah
Everything David possessed has been given to him by God. Has it been so long since David was a lowly shepherd boy that he has forgotten? David is a “rich” man because God has made him rich. And if he does not think he is rich enough, God will give more to him. David has begun to cling to his “riches,” rather than to cling to the God who made him rich.
Ultimately David’s sin is against God, and it is God who gave David everything, even his heart’s desire. Yes, he remained home when Israel was at war with the enemy! and Yes, He commited adultery! Yes, He murdered an innocent God fearing man! Yes, he lived a lie! But his sin was against God.
Psalms 51:1-4 HCSB
For the choir director. A Davidic psalm, when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone to Bathsheba. Be gracious to me, God, according to Your faithful love; according to Your abundant compassion, blot out my rebellion. (2) Wash away my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin. (3) For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me. (4) Against You–You alone–I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight . So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge.
All sin is against God! Get the “You” out of your Matthew 18, not because an offense against you isn’t real, but because ALL SIN IS AGAINST GOD. And if you really love your brother and sister in Christ be a Nathan to them and represent the interest of God and his Christ.
David’s sin against God manifested itself by the evil he committed against others. Nathan outlines these, employing a repetitive “you:”
…you despised the command of the LORD by doing what I consider evil
you struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and
(you) took his wife as your own wife
you murdered him with the Ammonite’s sword
you despised Me
you took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own wife
2 Samuel 12:13
David responded to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Then Nathan replied to David, “The LORD has taken away your sin; you will not die. (14) However, because you treated the LORD with such contempt in this matter, the son born to you will die.”
Under the Mosaic Law there was no sacrifice for the sin of murder or adultery. Both sins were capital crimes that required certain death. So on what basis could God forgive and restore David?
Deuteronomy 22:22 HCSB
If a man is discovered having sexual relations with another man’s wife, both the man who had sex with the woman and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.
Exodus 21:14 ESV
But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.
How then could God forgive and restore David unto himself? The answer is the same today as it was in David’s day. Sin can only be taken away by our Lord at the Cross. If you lived prior to the incarnation you had to look forward in time with the eye of faith to the day when God himself would make atonement for your sin through the offering of His own Son.  Turn for a moment to the larger narrative found in Genesis 22 and specifically to:
Genesis 22:8a ESV
Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
There’s a tendency by some to see their own sin as less serious than the sin of David. All sin is an offense to God worthy of death. As Adam’s descendants we are all born with an inability to please God. Bad trees cannot produce good fruit. There is no exception. We are all unrighteous. We are all undone.
Romans 3:10-18 ESV
As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;  v11  no one understands; no one seeks for God.  v12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  v13  “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.”  v14  “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”  v15  “Their feet are swift to shed blood;  v16  in their paths are ruin and misery,  v17  and the way of peace they have not known.”  v18  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Again, the question yet modified, how then can God forgive and restore the sinner to Himself?
Romans 3:21-26 HCSB
But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed–attested by the Law and the Prophets (22) –that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. (23) For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (24) They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (25) God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. (26) He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.
But if you reject the God of David then you will surely die in your sins and suffer the wrath of God.
Revelation 20:11-15 HCSB
Then I saw a great white throne and One seated on it. Earth and heaven fled from His presence, and no place was found for them. (12) I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books. (13) Then the sea gave up its dead, and Death and Hades gave up their dead; all were judged according to their works. (14) Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (15) And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire . But if you would believe and trust in Jesus Christ and His shed blood to save you from your sin, then you will live and He will give to you of His Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:36-42 HCSB
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” (37) When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?” (38) “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (39) For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (40) And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” (41) So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. (42) And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers.
It is for this reason that David could once again approach his God. This is but one reason the scriptures teach;
John 1:14-18 ESV
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  v15  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”)  v16  And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  v17  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. v18  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Be saved from this corrupt generation!
Will you trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ!