Completed by the Spirit Part 6: We Serve In The Spirit

This is the sixth 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
As we noted in the previous installment of this series, Paul draws no distinction in separating a New Covenant life in the Spirit from an Old Covenant life of the letter or written code (Romans 7:6).
But Paul does more than tell those who would look to the law that they are wrong; he calls them adulteresses. In his analogy, he says that a woman who lives with another man while he is alive commits adultery. We have died to the law; to live as under the law is to commit adultery against Christ, to whom the church is betrothed, and to whom He gave His Spirit as a guarantee until the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).
Paul continues in chapter 7 in a pericope of which the subject is widely debated:

[7] What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” [8] But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. [9] I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. [10] The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. [11] For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. [12] So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
[13] Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. [14] For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. [15] For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. [16] Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. [17] So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
[18] For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. [19] For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. [20] Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
[21] So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. [22] For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, [23] but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. [24] Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? [25] Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:7–25)

Douglas Moo identifies three different ways in which this passage may be interpreted:

1. Paul describes his experience as an unconverted Jew under the law.
2. Paul describes his experience, perhaps shortly after his conversion, as he sought sanctification through the law.
3. Paul describes his experience as a mature Christian.[1]

In a later post, I will advocate that which of these three is proper is less important than what this passage tells us about the effect of sin on the flesh. Before we get there, we’ll look at how various theologians have advocated for each of these three positions.
Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 7: Paul, the Unconverted Jew
[1] Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002). Moo provides further depth in his Romans commentary.

Who is the Blessed Man?

Psalm 1
Todd Braye

1 Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stands in the way of sinners,

nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree

planted by streams of water

that yields its fruit in its season,

and its leaf does not wither.

In all that he does, he prospers.

4 The wicked are not so,

but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

Opening Remarks
I am not sure. But I think Elton John penned these words in the 1990s:

Hey you, you’re a child in my head

You haven’t walked yet

Your first words have yet to be said

But I swear you’ll be blessed

I know you’re still just a dream

your eyes might be green

Or the bluest that I’ve ever seen

Anyway you’ll be blessed


And you, you’ll be blessed

You’ll have the best

I promise you that

I’ll pick a star from the sky

Pull your name from a hat

I promise you that…

You’ll be blessed

Todd Braye
Todd Braye
Do you think yourself to be blessed? If so, (if you think yourself to be blessed) then in what way, or in what ways are you? If your answer is yes, then why, why do you think you are? Can you point to solid reasons for your blessed state? On what grounds do you esteem yourself blessed? Of course, you may make many arguments. After all, who among us can rightfully say, “There is nothing for which I am thankful; God has not been good to me?” If we breathe and our hearts beat and we live, God has been good to us. Everything else is gravy. We are, in fact, blessed. Regardless of how we might feel, despite our circumstances, whatever our providence, whatever our lot in life…we are blessed, at least to some degree.
But is this all there is to blessedness? The bare minimal? The essentials? Is there nothing more, especially for the Christian? And so comes the opposite trap: In no way are we immune from picturing blessedness in ways our unbelieving neighbors do. The blessed one is therefore one who has the proverbial deep pocket; the blessed man is financially well off. Blessed is the man who has the dream house, the trophy wife, four children, and a BMW in the driveway. Blessed is the man who has brand new tractors and combines with air conditioning, GPS, and CD players. Blessed is the one in great health, with abs of steel, and locks to die for. Blessed is the one who lives without any kind of trouble, pain, affliction, or sorrow. The good life is the blessed life! Fame, fortune, success, good looks, prosperity, economic success: this is how the world defines blessedness! This is what happiness looks like! ‘Your eyes might be green or the bluest I’ve ever seen…You’ll have the best/ I promise you that you’ll be blessed!’ Isn’t that what we want for our children
But what saith the Lord? What does the Bible say about blessedness? What has God said about who the blessed are? Who IS the blessed man?
In the year 1660, John Trapp said this Psalm says more about being truly blessed “than any one of the philosophers, or all of them put together.” So, what does it say? To incite your interest, let me first submit this to you: In this Psalm, blessedness is conceived of in terms of prosperity. To be blessed is to prosper. Just look at it and track with me. Verse 1: “Blessed is the man…” Verse 3: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water…(skip to the last line of verse 3) in all that he does, he prospers.” Whatever else is said about the blessed man here, it does say that he prospers! The blessed man is therefore prosperous! Does this jar you? Does it unsettle you? We’re so accustomed to think blessedness does not depend on prosperity. Our theology may even dictate that the two be divorced! But what God has joined together, let no man separate. To this, we shall soon return.
The Blessed Man Described (1-3)
As a unit, verses 1-3 describe the blessed man. They describe the blessed man in terms both negative and positive. Negatively speaking, the blessed man does not adopt the posture of unrighteousness. He avoids evil. He shuns ungodliness. He does not ASSUME the posture of evil. (v.1). “Blessed is the man who walks not in he counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…” There aren’t three kinds of men here; ‘the wicked,’ ‘sinners,’ and ‘scoffers’ describe the same group. These are evil men. These are wicked men. And lest we think of the wicked only in terms of the Hitlers and Husseins of the world, hear ye this: the Bible has a much broader, and even more inclusive definition. Psalm 145:20 states: “The Lord preserves all who love him, but the wicked he will destroy.” There are two kinds of people in the world, those who love the Lord, and those who don’t. And those who don’t, scripture calls wicked. It should don upon us therefore: the wicked man may not appear to be so. He may look anything but. The wicked wear shirts and ties, have nice shoes, and drive BMWs (or Hondas). They might adorn themselves with fine looking Stetsons and the biggest belt buckles you ever did see. They may even attend church with Bible in hand. Do not forget the best of men, even the most religious of the religious in the Bible, did not love Christ! O that we not forget this! Every Sunday men wake up, put on their Sunday best, grab their bibles, and go to church. They look like the real deal! They appear pristine. But they do not love Christ. They have no affections for Him. They may even spew Scripture from their lips, and quote Spurgeon or Calvin with ease, but they have no real heart for the glory of God in the face of Jesus! In the eyes of all, they even pass for nice guys/gals. How many of our churches are filled with nice guys who do not love Christ? How many church members are there who do not love Christ? How many church elders are there who have no love for the Lord of the church? Scripture calls them wicked! Strong language? Absolutely! Over the top? Not if you tremble before the Word of the Almighty!
There are two kinds of people in the world – no, strike that. There are two kinds of people in the church, that is, professing church! Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked (wherever they might be). Blessed is the one who doesn’t listen to their advice, adopt their views, act on their counsel, and allow their influence to determine his course of life.
In a previous pastorate, I placed a sticker on my desk. The sticker had three simple words: “Do not bend.” Blessed is the man who does not bend to the counsel of the wicked. Life will be difficult for that man, especially since he will find himself swimming against the school. But this man, whoever he is, is blessed. So says the Psalmist.
That such a man does not stand in the path of sinners does not mean he so stands as to hinder them, as if to prevent their schemes. It simply means he doesn’t pattern his life after sinners. Sinners do not entice him. He doesn’t follow sinners, even when their way prospers, even when their lives flourish. Is it not the case that the unrighteous seem to always do well? Just look at Bill Gates! What about Oprah? What about the fella down the highway who seems to have ‘it all together?’ And what of these young NHLers signing multi-million dollar contracts? Is it not tempting sometimes to covet them because of their ‘success?’ You younger girls: Is it not a real struggle not to admire, even envy the popular “chicks” you know? You know the ones I’m talking about. They dress a certain way, talk a certain way, walk a certain way, look a certain way, and they always get their way. ‘What Lola wants, Lola gets,’ whether it’s a Pepsi or David Beckham! Have you seen that TV commercial? If so, great. If not, don’t worry about it. Blessed is the man who does not stand in the way of sinners. He is not envious of them. He is not enticed by them. He does not pattern his life after them.
Nor does he sit in the seat of scoffers. Who are the scoffers? In the book of Proverbs, the scoffer is the quintessential fool. He is the arrogant, haughty man, unwilling to receive instruction and correction. And here, in the context of Psalm one, the scoffer is the unteachable one, unwilling to receive instruction from God’s Word. He is the one who vaunts himself above the Bible. There’s no talking to a scoffer! “A fool,” says the Proverb, “does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.” He has it all figured out, you see. Do you know anyone like that? Have you known anyone like that? God calls them arrogant fools.
How is the blessed man described here? Who is the blessed man of Psalm one? Blessed is the man who does not act on the counsel of the wicked, who does not pattern his life after sinners, and doesn’t vaunt himself above God’s Word. In other words, blessed is the man who does not assume the posture of evil.
Positively speaking, and in contrast to that, is what follows. He does not ASSUME the posture of evil, but he CONSUMES the Scripture given by God. Verse 2- “but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” To delight, first of all, is to take pleasure in. Blessed is the man who takes pleasure in the Scriptures. For him, the law is like a sunny afternoon ride across the lake in a sailboat. It’s like a drive through Banff National Park. It’s like eating ice cream with cherished friends after dinner at the Keg. It’s even like the joys of married love expressed. These are pleasures, not pains. These are things we want to do. These are heart things, things of the soul and the affections. Blessed is the man who does not assume the posture of evil, but consumes the Scripture God gave.
I speak of law in terms of “Scripture” because that’s what law is. The word for law here is ‘torah.’ It’s rendered into English various ways. It might refer, and often does so, to the Ten Commandments and Mosaic Law. It may also speak of a body of priestly or legal direction. In Isaiah 1:10, it’s used to refer to ‘the word of the Lord’ and the ‘teaching’ of God. In Isaiah 8:16, it tells of prophetic injunction, or testimony. But its most basic meaning is ‘instruction,’ either human or divine. I’m convinced that here ‘torah’ refers, most specifically to the instruction given in the Hebrew Scriptures. This does, therefore, refer to the Law of Moses. And it may very well include the Prophets and the Psalms, God’s special, written instruction. This is, however, not to exclude the rest, that is, the revelation of God in its fullness, i.e. the entire Bible. Now, did I just contradict myself? Did I just erase two years of study in the book of Galatians? No, I did not. It may sound that way to you. But just because the blessed man of Psalm One delights in the Law does not mean New Covenant realities are undermined. I’ll explain in just a few minutes. Hang in there with me.
For now, notice two things about the blessed man’s pleasure in the Law, in this divine instruction. First, it is intellectual. He meditates upon it. He meditates upon it. He engages the mind. He muses upon the Scripture. He mulls it over in his mind. He thinks deeply and carefully upon it. This meditation is not that of the mystics where the goal is an empty mind. The action here involves a full mind, filled with scripture, deeply considering what it says.
Second, this man so delights in the law that he meditates upon it day and night, that is, continually. His relationship to Scripture is marked by delight and pleasure. It is an intellectual relationship. And it is also continual. There’s no issue with attention span here. This man has no ADHD or whatever it’s called. TV is no distraction for him. It’s not that he doesn’t do other things. But his life is such that he weighs everything in light of Scripture. He reads the newspaper, watches the news, watches a movie (maybe), observes the culture; whatever he does, whatever he sees he sees and appraises and responds to in light of the Scriptures. In fact his entire life is devoted to mastering and being mastered by the Word of God. Remember what God said to Joshua after Moses died, before he led the people over the Jordan to Canaan? “…be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you…This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it both day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Translation: Master the Law, Joshua. And be mastered by the Law. Then you shall prosper!
Blessed is the man who does not assume the posture of evil, but consumes the Scripture of God. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Assume not evil. Consume Scripture, even Law, and this is the result: Prosperity! Success in all that you do! Blessed is this man; Let no one put asunder what God has joined, namely the blessed man and prosperity! Curious? Intrigued? Frightened? All the above?
What the “health and wealth” folks do not understand is what I will now explain. The Hebrew word rendered ‘prospers’ at the end of verse three basically means “to bring to successful issue/result.” It is used of the will of God, the word of God, a weapon, and a tree. In Isaiah 53:10, we read “the will of the Lord will prosper in his (that is, Christ’s) hand.” In Isaiah 54:17 it says “no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed” (or, prosper). And here in Psalm 1:3, a tree is that which prospers. What does a tree have in common with God’s will, a weapon that works, a tree that yields it fruit, and God’s Word? Isaiah 55 beginning with the 10th verse: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, (11) so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed (PROSPER!) in the thing for which I sent it.” In other words, prosperity as defined not by culture but by Scripture, is the fulfillment of intended purpose. To prosper is to succeed in the very design or end of a thing. The Lord’s sovereign will prospers without fail. The Word prospers in that for which it is sent. A weapon prospers when it executes justice. A tree prospers when it bears fruit in its season. And the blessed man prospers in all that he does. He completely fulfills the purpose of his existence. In ALL that he does (like avoid evil and absorb God’s Law), he prospers.
A Parenthetical Thought: Good News for The Faithful, but Small Church
Before we press on, I want to apply this to the church, to our church. I ask myself the question: “What does a blessed, and thus prosperous, successful church, look like? Is it big with hundreds, even thousands? Does it have a growing leadership team with an abundance of eldership experience? Is there live music with songs led by the likes of Keith and Krysten? Maybe, but not necessarily. Actually, those things might be indicative of an unsuccessful church, not in the eyes of men, but certainly in the view of Christ. What’s the church for, anyway? Ever give much thought to that? When writing to Timothy, this is what the apostle said: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.” A church is as prosperous as it is both the support and mainstay of truth. There’s nothing about numbers here. Nowhere in Scripture are prosperous ministries defined in terms of numbers. Jeremiah’s ministry was just as prosperous as that of the apostles in the book of Acts, why? Because both prophet and apostle accomplished their God-given purpose, that’s why. The church is a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession for the purpose of publishing the excellencies of God (1Peter 2:9). The church that does this is a prosperous, successful church. Are we that church? I’ll let you decide.
But the blessed man prospers in all that he does. He succeeds in his God-ordained purpose.
The End of the Wicked (4-6)
Not so the wicked. Concerning the wicked, their end is made abundantly clear in the final three verses. But first, notice the contrast between the blessed man and the wicked. “The wicked are not so,” says the Psalmist, “but are like chaff that the wind blows away.” The wicked are not like that prosperous, fruitful tree, bearing leaves that do not wither. Chaff is what this Psalm calls them. You know what chaff is. I need not tell you. Is it not the stuff leftover after threshing, the useless, worthless by-product, the refuse of the harvest? Is it not the stuff the wind cradles and makes airborne once the combine makes its pass? Such are the wicked: Chaff the wind drives away. They are chaff the wind blows away. They may be prosperous in the eyes of men. Countless millions may even admire them. They may ooze style and dazzle the eyes, but they lack substance. There’s no gravity to them. There’s nothing of eternal value with them. And if they do not love the Lord, they are but chaff. They will not stand in the judgment, nor in the assembly of the righteous, but will perish. They are chaff that the wind drives away. Next time you see a sinner prosper and be successful in the eyes of the world, who walks in the counsel of the wicked, who stands in the path of sinners and sits in the seat of scoffers, just think to yourself: Chaff that the wind drives away! Blessed is the man who does not assume the posture of evil, who consumes the law of the Lord, and thirdly, who keeps himself from the doom of the wicked.
Who is the Blessed Man?
So, who is the blessed man of Psalm 1? Who is the one who assumes not evil, consumes the Law of the Lord, is prosperous in all that he does, fulfilling his God-ordained purpose, keeping himself from the doom of the wicked? Two Scriptures tell us. Just listen carefully. “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled’” (Lk. 24:44). It’s no wonder the blessed man of Psalm one delighted in the law of the Lord! Did you think the blessed man was you? Psalm one is not about us, not ultimately! We’re not irrelevant; there is application to be made here. But that application is to be made in light of the fact Christ is the blessed man, not you or me! To read this any other way is to misread it and thus invite self-righteousness, or despair! John Fry, in 1842, wrote:

I have been induced to embrace the opinion of some among the ancient interpreters (Augustine, Jerome, etc.), who conceive that the first Psalm is intended to be descriptive of the character and reward of the JUST ONE, i.e. the Lord Jesus.

But Scripture, not history, must determine these things. So, the second Scripture text is the second Psalm. There is a reason Psalm 2 comes after Psalm 1, even as Galatians 2 follows Galatians 1. Let’s quickly compare Psalm 1 with Psalm 2. Psalm 1:1 speaks of the counsel of the wicked. Psalm 2:1 and 2 speak of the counsel of the wicked. In Psalm 1:1 those who sit in the seat of scoffers scoff at God’s Word. In Psalm 2:4, He who sits in the heavens laughs at the words of the wicked. Psalm 1:4-6 speaks of judgment upon the wicked. Psalm 2:5-12 speaks of wrath. Psalm 1:6 speaks says “the way of the wicked will perish.” Psalm 2:12 says, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way.” The two Psalms, like two pieces of art, are meant to be viewed together, side by side. And here’s the kicker: Psalm 1;1 says “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor suits in the seat of scoffers; his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 2:12: “Blessed are all those who take refuge in him.” Jesus Christ is the blessed man. He is the man who did not assume the posture of evil. And He did so for God, and for us. He is the man who was consumed with the law; He was so for God, and for us. He prospered in all that He did, even in the death upon a cross! Jesus Christ fulfilled the purpose God had for Him; and He did so for God and for us. And Jesus kept himself from the doom of the wicked that He might be a refuge from the wrath of God for us. So, run to him! Run to Christ! He is a safe place; all who by faith are in him will never know the end of the wicked. The blessed are those in Christ.

True Christianity: Galatians 5:5-6

What is true Christianity? I suppose many will rush to give an answer. But let us read a few verses that will lead our minds into the right answer (Col 1:3-5; 1 Th 1:3; 1 Cor 13:13). Yes, we must think of faith, hope, and love: a firm faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, confident expectation of sharing glory with Christ, and love for God, his people, and all people.
Our text for this outline consists of two of the key verses in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Many verses in the letter are better known, but these provide an essential part of the true Christian way of life, about which the Galatians had been seriously misled. These verses are a complete contrast to the principles that Paul had to oppose in verses two through four. As we said previously, Paul begins this section of the letter with an emphasis upon correct thinking. This involves a proper understanding of justification by grace.
I.            Think correctly about the faith of true Christianity.
A.            The focus is on Jesus Christ, the Son of God. When something else is made central, Christianity is distorted. To illustrate, the tire is out of round.
1.            Any distinctions among people lack value before God. This is what circumcision was during the law covenant. It distinguished the people of Israel from other peoples. But now, either condition is meaningless and non-beneficial. We must understand that connection with Christ does not depend on any external factors, like ritual or religious actions, ethnic heritage, economic levels, educational attainments, power, or prestige.
2.            The crucial personal issue is this: Are you in Christ Jesus? Salvation is not a matter of knowing and or agreeing with some facts about Jesus. Instead, it is when a person trusts or fully commits himself or herself to Jesus Christ, relying on his righteousness as the way of salvation.
Apply: Perhaps someone is thinking, “This really doesn’t matter! My life seems to be going okay without all this stuff about Jesus. If it turns you on, that’s your business.” My friend, you are not alone in your thinking. But think of this. You may not theoretically need to wear a life preserver while your “duck” is safely navigating the Delaware River. But if it’s struck by a barge, you will need it suddenly. And that’s what your life is like. Everything seems pleasant and easy, but the living God will bump into you one day and you will need the only Savior, Jesus Christ.
B.            God’s way is the way of true spirituality.
1.            In true Christianity, “justification has nothing to do with anything ‘fleshly’ or ‘natural’; all is of God; all is ‘the work of the Spirit’” (Cole). Our hope or confident expectation is kept alive and nurtured by the Spirit of God (Rm 15:13). The Spirit of God presently makes known to us what we will fully possess someday. He keeps us longing for the final fulfillment of redemption.
2.            Our access to Christ and his justifying righteousness is “by faith”. Notice that Paul does not direct us to baptism as some kind of replacement for circumcision. That is not the idea of believer’s baptism at all. What matters is faith in Christ. We depend on the Lord to be true to his word of promise.
C.            This righteousness is certain. We are talking about past and present experience and confident expectation.
1.            Consider the tenses of salvation: I have been declared right with God (Rm 5:1), I am now right with God (Rm 3:24), and I will be declared right with God (this text; cf. Rm 2:5-16). When Christ saves us, we immediately enter into all the benefits of salvation. He doesn’t let us thrash around in the water, desperately trying to swim into a state of righteousness. No, he immediately lifts us out of the waters of wrath, because we are in saving union with him.
2.            The Spirit develops an attitude of eagerly awaiting the fullness of salvation. Notice that we do not work for it, but we wait for it. We enjoy being in Christ now, but we know that what is coming is so much better than what we have now (cf. Rm 8:18-19, 23, 25). The believer looks forward to having his righteousness with God, which comes from faith in Christ, openly declared (2 Tm 4:8; Col 1:5; 1 Pt 1:3).
II.            Think correctly about the life of true Christianity.
A.            The Christian way of life begins from the principle of faith.
1.            Without faith in Jesus Christ, there is no Christianity. A person might be religious or moral, but if he or she has not trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, he or she cannot live as a Christian. True Christianity requires following Christ, and that simply is not possible without the strength he provides by the Holy Spirit to those who trust him. How can you even think you can keep the Two Greatest Commands apart from his power? How can imagine that you can obey the Great Commission without his presence? How can you dream of showing his surpassing character (Col 3:12-17), unless he is with you?
2.            This excludes the religious liberal or cultural Christian from the realm of true Christianity. They might do a lot of “nice” things, but they are done apart from Christ.
B.            The Christian way of life involves positive activity for God.
1.            A true Christian has repented and trusted in Jesus Christ. He or she has a new world and life view that is built on and seeks to express the reality and supremacy of Christ. He or she depends on Christ to follow what he calls us to do. These two conversion graces are productive of new attitudes and actions (cf. Rm 1:25 and 1 Th 1:9).
2.            This excludes what is called “easy believism”, in which salvation becomes some kind of “fire insurance policy”. It excludes all who would claim to be Christians, but who fail to walk like Jesus Christ (2 Tm 2:19; 1 Pt 1:15-16; 1 Jn 2:3-6; 3:14-15).
C.            The Christian way of life is clearly displayed in love.
1.            Repentance toward and faith in the One who is love produces love for other people. “How can a heart embrace him who is supreme love without glowing with love and love’s energy?” (Lenski)
2.            This excludes legalists and hypercalvinists, or anticalvinists as R.C. Sproul calls them. People who lack love have nothing at all (1 Cor 13:1-7).
1.            Paul and James agree on the subject of justifying faith. The faith that saves is a faith that works, to use Paul’s words. It is a faith that loves. Paul praises the true faith that works; James condemns the false faith that doesn’t work.
2.            The Holy Spirit is not something that the Christian waits for; instead, by the Spirit the Christian waits for the fullness of blessing. It is rather meaningless to talk about being filled with the Spirit and not to have one’s eyes fixed on what we have in Christ in heavenly glory.
3.            The end of all legal ceremonies is in Christ. What matters now is life and worship by the Spirit of God.
Pastor David Frampton: The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are here to be a blessing. Bible teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in the God’s Word. Visit First Baptist Church

Sparrows, Souls, & Sovereignty: When The Towers Fell

Opening Remarks

Todd Braye
Todd Braye
There aren’t many Sundays marking the tenth anniversary of a life-altering event. So, I think it would be remiss of me if I overlooked the occasion. On this day exactly ten years ago, life as we knew it changed forever. We saw some unspeakably horrific images. I for one will not forget seeing people jump some 100 stories to their deaths. As I watched, all I could think was ‘What kind of fiery hell inside the towers made them choose the window?’ How hopelessly terrifying must it have been to make the pavement below more desirable? I cannot even begin to imagine the fear. It must have been overwhelming times a billion.
In the wake of such an event, when evil seems to have the upper hand, people say stuff. Men wish to make sense of what happens around them. We have this desire to understand what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. Sadly, if not dreadfully, horrible events such as 9/11 are the sparks for bad theology. With hopes to soothe suffering, tranquilize the pain, and protect God’s reputation and character, even Christians and their pastors fall prey to all sorts of doctrinal confusion and nonsense. With a desire to uphold God’s name and keep it from false accusation and even slander, they are quick to assert God’s non-involvement with any type of ‘ground zero’. “If it results in human suffering,” they say, “God has nothing to do with it.” They’re quick to point out the fact that God is love. God is a merciful, compassionate, good God, and so they conclude He has nothing to do with hate and evil. It is conceivable that such a god, if he were God, would be so aloof. A god who is merely loving and compassionate may in fact be completely removed from every horrific event in the history of mankind. But the God who is compassionate, merciful, loving, just, and holy is not so removed. God is involved with death and destruction.
The Biblical evidence for this leaves no room for any doubt whatsoever. Ezekiel is but one example. Through that prophet, the Lord says to Sidon, the nation:

Behold, I am against you…and I will manifest my glory in your midst. And they shall know that I am the Lord when I execute judgments in her and manifest my holiness in her; for I will send pestilence into her, and blood into her streets… (Ezek. 28:22-23).

God is love. But God is also, and essentially, holy. The cross itself makes that known. At Calvary, God displayed His holiness in wrath and judgment. This is not new to you. You have all been established in this. God’s holiness is a pillar here; it is a foundational plank in our theology. And so is this: God is sovereign. He is sovereign over all and in all. God rules over all creation and even in salvation. That is why we call ourselves Sovereign Grace Baptist. God is sovereign in saving grace. The God we serve and worship and exalt is a sovereign God. But it’s been said that what was once fought for then believed all too often becomes assumed. And what becomes assumed all too often is abandoned. To the end that doesn’t happen here on my watch, I declare to you what you have learned and become convinced of.
God is absolutely sovereign
God is absolutely sovereign. To say God is absolutely sovereign is to assert what the Bible says about God. It isn’t to say what mere men might argue. Nor is it to declare what many believers and even some scholars believe about divine sovereignty. To say God is sovereign is to proclaim what God says about Himself. It’s to affirm God’s absolute supremacy and authority and power over all. It’s to say God does as God pleases, that He governs all things according to His good pleasure. It is to declare God is the Most High, the Almighty, the Possessor of all power and authority in heaven and earth, that none can thwart His counsels, deny His purpose, or resist His will. It’s the declaration that none can stay God’s hand or say to Him, “What are you doing?” It’s to proclaim that there’s no such thing as a maverick molecule. It’s to affirm with the Bible, and thus agree with God Himself, that God sets up kingdoms, determines presidencies, and overthrows empires. It’s to say that God is the King of kings and Lord of lords. It’s to say that God alone is the author, orchestrator, and conductor of the symphony of history with all its harmonies and discords. In short, to say God is sovereign is to say God is God. He’s either sovereign over all or He isn’t sovereign at all.
The Bible is very clear on this. God’s absolute sovereignty is the warp and woof of Scripture.

Psalm 103:19 states that “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens; and His sovereignty rules over all.”

In Ephesians 1:11, Paul asserts that God “works all things after the counsel of His will.”

In Psalm 119:91, we find this statement: “all things are your servants.”

Which means everything bows to the King of kings. God bows His knee to no one and no thing.

Proverbs 16:33- “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Even dice are divinely ruled.

Proverbs 21:1 teaches God is sovereign over the most sovereign of men. “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand if the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.”

Psalm 44:11 reveals that God governs the slaughter and scatter of His people. It says “You have made us like sheep for slaughter and have scattered us among the nations.”

“O Lord of hosts…You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them” (Ps. 89:9).

“Who enclosed the sea with doors, when bursting forth, it went out of the womb…and I placed boundaries on it, and I set a bolt on its doors, and I said, ‘Thus you shall come, but no farther, and here your proud waves shall stop?”

And it so happened that they found themselves in a boat with their Master, asleep. And the wind began to below and the sea became fierce. The waves came crashing in upon them. Fearing for their lives they woke him. And Jesus rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they obeyed.

Amos 3:6. “If a calamity occurs in a city, has not the Lord done it?”

Isaiah 45:7. “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord who does all these things.”

And in Matthew 10:29-30, Jesus weighs in on the matter. Look at it with me again:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

Stop there. What’s Jesus saying? He’s saying that even a sparrow, even that which holds next to no value, when it falls to the ground, it does not do so apart from God. God is somehow involved when a sparrow dies. He is associated even with the smallest, unnoticed, and seemingly inconsequential event. A sparrow dies and falls. An apple falls out of a tree, then a leaf. A lone raindrop lands on your head. If it happens, it happens ‘not apart from your Father.’ In other words, every occurrence in the universe, seen or unseen, felt or unfelt, is not independent of, but dependent upon, God.
But what does that mean exactly, that every event is dependent upon God? The ISV renders the phrase in question ‘without your Father’s permission.’ Sparrows don’t fall ‘apart from God,’ or ‘without God’s permission.’ The NIV translates it ‘apart from the will of your Father.’ Sparrows don’t fall apart from God’s will. The Lexham English Bible says “without the knowledge and consent of your Father.” It goes without saying: there’s a few ways to understand this phrase. Some even interpret this in terms of God knowing what happens. God knows all that happens they say, because nothing happens apart from the Father. This is of course true. God does know all that happens.
But the best and correct way to see that nothing happens apart from God is to do so in light of what Jesus says in the next verse. Let the Bible define its terms. We always must come to that position. So,

are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Verse 30: “But even the hairs on your head are all numbered.”

I submit to you that the ‘numbering’ of verse 30 defines the Father’s involvement of verse 29. God numbers the hairs on our heads. The number of hairs we have is not apart from the Father. How would a Jew understand that? Matthew was written to Jews. So, it makes good sense to ask this question. And I suggest to you he would understand it this way: He would see it in terms of God’s absolute sovereignty. Psalm 147 is very helpful here. In the 4th verse of that Psalm, we read that God counts (NASB), or determines (ESV) the number of stars. Matthew uses the exact same word as the LXX uses in this Psalm (ἀριθμέω). The word means ‘to use numbers in determining how much.’ The key word is ‘determining.’ It’s essential we understand what Jesus is not saying here. He isn’t saying God counts or numbers hairs to discover how many. We count jelly- beans to learn how many. We count our pennies to find out if we have enough to buy something. But when Scripture says God numbers something, like the hairs on our heads, or the days of our lives, it’s not saying God counts so as to learn and discover. What it’s saying is God determines, or wills, whatever He counts. He counts so as to determine the quantity of. In other words, He NUMBERS them by sovereign decree! He sovereignly determines the number of stars. He determines the number of hairs. And He determines when, and how, a sparrow falls to the ground. And if that is the case, what shall we say of 9/11, when the towers fell to the ground, and 3000 souls perished? How much is one soul worth? If God determines the death of a sparrow, then surely He determines the end of that which is far more costly. It is wrong to say 9/11 occurred independent of God; all things are dependent upon God. And it’s not enough to say God permitted 9/11. God did more than permit the evil carried out that day. God determined that sparrows fall when they do. And He determined when and by what means the twin towers fell.

Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?” These are words from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Listen again: “Who is there who speaks (like Osama Bin Laden) and it comes to pass (like 9/11), unless the Lord has commanded it?
Then the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s widow bore to David, so that he was very sick” (2 Samuel 12:15). “Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him (Job 42:11).

So, when someone, some religious leader or pastor or whatever, stands up and says “The Christian is not … to assume that whatever happens is the will of God, especially not when something is so at odds with … God as a God of love,” he doesn’t know God. It’s that simple. He doesn’t know God; and he doesn’t know the Scriptures (let alone tremble before them). In the final analysis, this is the issue. The authority of God’s Word is the issue. Did God actually say what He said in the pages of Holy Writ? Or did He deceive? Is God’s Word true? Or is it false? If true, then God is absolutely sovereign. He works all things after the counsel of His will. If false, then we might as well go home, eat, drink, and be merry. God is not God.
God Willed the Cross
There’s yet another thing to consider, something monumental: God willed the cross. God ordained Calvary. Calvary answers the question: “How can God will evil and not be responsible for evil?” Make no mistake: God wills evil to happen. But God remains pure and sinless. Luke records the apostle Peter’s words. He says that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” By that plan, by that sovereign, predetermined before the dawn of time plan, Jesus was crucified and killed “by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). God planned it. Men performed it. God determined it. Men, both Jews and Gentiles (i.e. Romans) carried it out. And so the believers prayed what they prayed, together saying

Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit: Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against His Anointed- for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:24-27).

How strange is it therefore, to hear those who claim to believe in the authority of Scripture, and who profess the name of Christ, to reject the God-exalting, divine attribute of absolute sovereignty! Besides, if God willed the death of His one and only Son, if He predestined the death of the only truly innocent One, who was not deserving of death, then what’s so hard about the predestined death of 3000 sinners, deserving of death, even death by fire and fall? God is a God of love; a thousand times yes! But love and willing evil are not at odds; not if you’re a holy God. Look at every brutality that ever occurred in the history of mankind. See it in light of the cross, and you see it as you ought. God willed it. He was very much involved. Even though men crashed the planes, God was working His plan.
When the Towers Fell: A Call to Reverence & Humility
In response to this, much can be said. God is God. We are not God. God is the Maker. We have been made. He is the Potter. We are but clay. He therefore has the right to ordain and bring to pass whatsoever comes to pass, no matter if it’s the death of a swallow, the destruction of a tsunami, or the pain of a gut-wrenching September day. Men, unregenerate men, balk at this. The proud believer shrinks and recoils at this. What would God say to any and all who object? We do not have to guess. God Himself has furnished us with the answer. He would say what the apostle has written in the 9th chapter of the book of Romans: “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this, will it?” Or, “What on earth are you doing?’” Job’s words were right, weren’t they? You recall what he said after God put him in his place. “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth” (Job 40.4). A.W. Pink hit the nail on the head. He said that God’s sovereignty argues that no one has the right to speak against God. The only fitting attitude for the creature is one of reverent submission. When the towers fell is therefore, a call to reverence and humility before God. It’s the only posture.
A Check Against Idolatry
But that’s not all 9/11 is. When the towers fell is also a check against idolatry. Do you embrace the God who determined the death of 3000 souls by means unimaginable? If you don’t, you embrace a god of your own imagination. Sparrows do not fall independent of God. Neither do 110 story towers or the 767 jets that fly into them.
A Reason for Confidence & Security
When the towers fell is a call for reverence and humility. It’s a check against idolatry. And as strange as it might sound, it’s also reason for confidence and safety. When Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 10 to not be afraid, he did so because God is absolutely sovereign. The road ahead would be dangerous; suffering and persecution were waiting. So, Jesus assured them. He told them, in effect: ‘Fear not, you are of more worth than sparrows. And no sparrow falls apart from your Father. Neither will any of you.’

Death and plagues around me fly,
till he bid, I cannot die;
Not a single shaft can hit,
Til the God of love sees fit.

There is no hope in the position that says, “God was on vacation on 9/11.” If God had nothing to do with what happened at the Pentagon or in Pennsylvania or Manhattan that would mean this: Evil was in control, Al-Qaeda was in charge, and Satan called the shots. And I say there is no hope in that. None whatsoever. With Satan there is no righteousness, no mercy, no justice, no love. So don’t get sucked in to the “God doesn’t will bad things” trap.
A Motivation for Repentance & Sobriety
When the Towers Fell: A Call to Reverence & Humility, A Check Against Idolatry, A Reason for Confidence & Security; and finally, a motivation for repentance and sobriety. On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when 3000 people woke up and got ready for work, not one soul thought “I’m going to die today. This is the day. My time is up. I’m going to meet my Maker.” I do not know how many among the dead were believers. Todd Beamer is the only one of which I am aware. The rest for all we know are in hell. But if Jesus were a guest speaker at ground zero today, what would he say? Would he say things aimed to console and comfort? Maybe. Would he proclaim with abounding authority how unjust the tragedy was? I somehow doubt it. Would he decry the monstrosity of the thing? What would Jesus say? Luke tells us:

13 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

The most important issue when towers fall is not that thousands die. The horrific event is not what concerns Jesus. What concerns Jesus is your soul. God now commands men everywhere to repent because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness. This is not the same as “inviting Jesus into one’s heart.” No one receives the saving benefits of Christ that way. We must turn from our sins and trust in Christ. We must embrace his death, his atoning, wrath appeasing, justice satisfying, eternal redemption securing, forgiveness purchasing, righteousness ensuring death. He made him who knew no sin to be sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ. It’s the greatest of all exchanges. And it was ‘not apart from the Father.’ As sure as God willed the day when the towers fell, he willed the hour when the Son of Man was lifted up.
The Ground of Doxology
A cause for reverence and humility; a check against idolatry; a reason for confidence and security; a motivation for repentance and sobriety; finally, when the towers fell is ground for doxology. When Job lost everything, he fell to the ground, and worshiping he said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Tuesday, September 11, 2001, 8:46 am flight 11 crashes into the north tower. At 9:03 flight 175 crashes into the south tower. At 9:38 flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. At 9:59 the south tower falls. At about this time somewhere over Pennsylvania, Todd Beamer says, “Let’s roll.” Flight 93 crashes in a field at 10:10. Then, the north tower collapses at 10:28. Thousands die unspeakable, unimaginable, fiery, gut-wrenching deaths. The Lord gave. And He took away.
The apostle Paul makes this sweeping statement at the end of his doctrinal section in Romans: “…from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” How is it possible that the events of 9/11, and events like them, be the ground for praise and doxology?[1] How ON EARTH is that possible? There’s only one way. It’s only when the glory of God itself is treasured above everything else does a ground zero event become the ground for worship. If life, or unsaved family, or convenience, or pain-free living, or anything else is cherished above God Himself, then ground zero events will be … meaningless. Not until God is seen as the end for which God created the world will life be seen as God sees it. September 11/01 was a day God made for God. It was His to do with as He pleased. “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Todd Braye is solo pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blackie, Alberta 
(some 30 miles south of Calgary). After graduating from Canadian Theological Seminary in 1997 (M.Div.) he served a small Baptist church in rural Ontario for six years. Happy to be back home in Alberta, entering his 12th year of pastoral ministry, Todd’s eyes were opened to gospel freedom when preaching through Galatians (a task yet unfinished). Check out his blog @ “GraceNotes“.

[1] We do not rejoice in evil or sorrow, but only that God is sovereign over it. “Although the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

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