“The Regulative Principle: Rules for God’s Worship”
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
The regulative principle of worship is a doctrine which is derived from the 2nd Commandment, as well as from our text for today in Deuteronomy 12, and from several other Scripture passages. God’s Word carefully regulates what may and what may not be done in worship. Since no activity of mankind is as important as our worship of God, God is very careful to spell out for us the way in which He desires to be worshipped.
We have plenty of examples as to what happens when every man does what’s right in his own eyes regarding worship. For instance, in the book of Judges we see that Israel’s worship degenerated into a whole list of abominations against God. Various rituals and graven images virtually turned God into sort of a lucky “rabbit’s foot” with the exercise of so-called “magical powers.” Those powers were believed to work on behalf of whoever did the ritual, or performed the magical incantation, or whoever owned the relic, regardless of the person’s heart attitude or lifestyle or doctrine.
We see the same sort of thing happening in our day with the use of such “magical” items in worship as “prayer cloths,” “anointing oils,” “religious relics,” and much more. In many cases today, just as in the time of the Judges, religion has degenerated into a business where you have ministers selling themselves for money like prostitutes.
One day while eating lunch I watched a TV program where TV evangelist, Robert Tilton, spent the whole program trying to convince poor widows to make a vow to send him $1,000. In fact, he commanded them, in the name of Jesus, to do that. Then he promised them that God would bless them financially and enable them to buy a new car, because God made new cars for His children, not for the world’s children to drive. He twisted the story of the widow of Zerephath who cared for God’s prophet, Elijah, and was provided for by God. Mr. Tilton authoritatively instructed his viewers that he was God’s prophet and that to send him money, even out of their poverty, would result in the same blessing of God as what God gave to that poor widow.
Men, today, devise ways to worship God as they see fit. Some of them, like the St. Lazarus cult and the Santeria folks all around us here in Hialeah, even resort to offering animal sacrifices, or worse, human sacrifices, as part of their worship!
You also find churches, such as those out in California, who encourage dancing in worship, and who encourage hugging and kissing other men’s wives, all as a part of the worship of God. You find the Moonies and several other cults setting up harems, or practicing polygamy, or other deviant activities.
John Tuck sent me an e-mail several years ago that told of a church that even holds worship services for pets! The article states, referring to a church in Los Angeles, CA, that holds these services:
The 30-minute worship service, complete with individual doggie beds, canine prayers, and a tray of dog treats for the offering, is intended to attract new members who are as crazy about God as they are about their four-legged friends. [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33617857/ns/us_news-faith/]
You find even what once were ‘Reformed’ churches, such as Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, engaging in all manner of foolishness in the name of worship. Willow Creek Church is pastored by Bill Hybels, a former Dordt College classmate of mine, who left the CRC to form his own independent, 5,000 member church.
I quote from the March 1998 issue of Lux Mundi, a Reformed Christian magazine published in the Netherlands, describing the Willow Creek Church [p. 3]:
The catch word of Willow Creek is ‘seeker services.’ Bill’s big discovery was that to reach out to the unchurched, you need to disband with just about everything that reminds one of church: no sermon, no law, no creed. To really be a church you must reach out to the unchurched, and gear your services to street kids. Willow Creek Community Church looks more like a classy hotel and golf course than it does a church. It is a huge recreational-like complex in South Barrington, Illinois, close to the Chicago heartland. The services are slick, the presentations use the latest equipment and high powered media... Bill insists that the services are not regular church services. He calls them evangelistic services. There is very little in terms of traditional elements in the service. There is a ‘sermon’ by Bill, but most of the attention is given to creating a positive image and a warm atmosphere for newcomers. Every part of the service is couched in positive tones and God is said to be present everywhere, and in all the happenings of the day. The music is contemporary. There are light shows, movies, drama and pictures. Bill promotes a multi-faceted ministry. Men and women together minister to the thousands. There are no elders and no deacons. There is a collection, but newcomers are encouraged to skip that part of the service. The whole service is like one grand show for them. These are ‘seeker services.’
The Willow Creek ministry puts most of its emphasis on ‘seeker services.’ There has been a phenomenal growth rate in attendance through the years, and presently there are up to 15,000 people attending the services on any given Sunday.
That’s about half the size of the whole OPC!
Now some of you may think that’s such a far-fetched, wacko, extreme case that it’s hardly worth mentioning in an OPC congregation, but I’m telling you that there are people within our own OPC and other Reformed denominations who are carefully studying Bill Hybels’ model of worship to get some ideas to help their own churches to grow!
In stark contrast to all of this, God’s Word, in Deuteronomy 12:4 says, “You must not worship the LORD your God in their way.”
And v. 8 says, “You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit...”
Instead, God commands, in v. 28, “Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God.”
And He adds in v. 32, “See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.”
There, we see the regulative principle of worship clearly expressed. God has given us regulations in His Word which are to regulate the way in which we worship Him. We’re told that we may not add to those regulations, and we may not take away from those regulations regarding worship.
Because the worship of God is the most important activity of mankind, God carefully regulates it and prescribes how we must do it. The 2nd Commandment even adds special importance to our manner of worship by adding a blessing and a curse to it. It tells us not to make images of God and it tells us not to bow down to or worship such images of God. Why?
“...for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the 3rd and 4th generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
And our WLC #110 indicates that these “reasons annexed to the second commandment” are given, “the more to enforce it,” because God considers “all false worship, as being spiritual whoredom” and accounts all “the breakers of this commandment such as hate him.”
We see that the special worship of God is more carefully regulated in the Bible than the general worship of God. Special worship is what we do on the Lord’s Day, in the Lord’s special presence, in the assembly of the Lord’s people gathered for worship in His Name. General worship is what we do in all things, whether we’re eating or drinking, playing or working, talking or listening. We’re supposed to worship and glorify God in all the things that we do in every part of our lives. That’s general worship.
Now it’s true that God regulates general worship too. For example, we can’t all go around doing whatever seems right in our own eyes to do. There are some things that the Bible commands us that we must do, such as love our neighbors, forgive those who repent, teach our children God’s ways, and so forth. There are also some things that the Bible commands that we may not do, such as commit adultery, steal, murder, etc.
But in between those commands regulating our general worship of God there’s a lot of room for freedom. When it comes to our general worship of God, if the Bible doesn’t forbid something, either expressly or by implication, we may do it.
For example, there’s no command in the Bible that we play tennis, but since there’s also no command in the Bible, either directly or by implication, that forbids us from playing tennis, it’s left up to us whether or not we want to play tennis. But if we do play tennis we must be careful not to cheat, or to lie, or to take God’s name in vain, or to harm our opponent, or to do any of the other things forbidden by Scripture.
In the same way, the Bible nowhere tells us whom we must marry, but it does sort of “limit our field,” so to speak, by declaring that, whomever we choose to marry, they must be a believer, and they must be mature enough to get married, and they must be a member of the opposite sex, etc.
So regarding our general worship of God, the rule is: “What’s not forbidden is permitted.”
But God is far more strict when it comes to the rule regarding His special worship. The “regulative principle” regarding the special worship of God is this: “Whatever is not commanded is forbidden!”
Look again at our text to see the teaching of this principle regarding the special worship of God. We read in v. 4, “You must not worship the LORD your God in their way.”
V. 8 says, “You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit...”
Vv. 13-14 say, “Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the LORD will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.”
And God commands, in v. 28, “Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God.”
And He adds in vv. 31-32, “You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshipping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.”
Note that these regulations come in the context of the special worship of the LORD. We see this also in Deuteronomy 4:2 which says, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I gave you.”
That text immediately goes on, in vv. 3-4, to say, “The LORD your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, but all of you who held fast to the LORD your God are still alive today…”
So we see that false worship was foremost in view in that whole passage.
Revelation 22:18-19 comes at the end of the book of Revelation, a book which describes a heavenly worship service. The book of Revelation closes with these words, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
And in Matthew 15:9, Jesus rebukes the worship of the Pharisees because they added to what He had commanded. It says, “These people... worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
Jesus was there paraphrasing Isaiah 29:13 which says, “Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”
Paul, as well, warns against those who were dividing themselves up into cliques according to those special little things that may have been distinctive of either Paul or Apollos. Paul’s advice to them is given in I Corinthians 3:6, which says, “Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’”
It’s with all of these Scriptures in mind that the Westminster Assembly carefully distinguished between the regulations for general and special worship.
These principles are set forth clearly in the WCF, Ch. XX:II. [It’s found in the back of the blue, Trinity Hymnal, p. 683, if you want to read it for yourself.]
WCF XX:II. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it if matters of faith or worship.
So the session of Sharon Church can’t command you to worship God in any way that’s not commanded or implied in the Bible. The next chapter of the WCF adds, in XXI:I:
But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.
So what’s not prescribed, what’s not commanded for worship in the Scriptures is forbidden in worship. That’s the regulative principle of worship!
In addition to those statements from the WCF, we also have a statement in the WLC #109 which explains what sins are forbidden in the 2nd Commandment:
Q. 109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself...
So my question is, “Where does God, in the Bible, ‘institute’ such things as we see being done at Willow Creek or in a host of other churches of our day? And where do the Scriptures prescribe “canine prayers?”
The Scriptures, our Confessions, and even our OPC Directory for Worship, are all very clear about this regulative principle of worship: If it’s not commanded or instituted by God in the Scriptures, don’t do it!
Don’t worship God by the devices of men. Don’t worship God “any which way you please,” just because you think it’s a nice idea and therefore you think God will like it. Don’t practice things in worship just to get more people to attend. What we need in our day is worship services that are “God-friendly,” not worship services that are “user-friendly” or “seeker-friendly.” We don’t go to worship in order to please men, but to please God. Our greatest concern in worship should not be whether or not things we do are offensive to men. Our greatest concern should be whether or not things we do are offensive to God!
But you may say, “As long as we’re sincere in our desire to please God, won’t God look on our hearts and not on what we do?”
Well, Saul learned the hard way, that sincerity doesn’t mean very much when we’re violating the direct commands of God. In I Samuel 13:7-14 we read, “Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, ‘Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.’ And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him. ‘What have you done?’ asked Samuel. Saul replied, ‘When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, “Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.” So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.’ ‘You acted foolishly,’ Samuel said. ‘You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.’”
Granted, new ideas in worship may bring in great numbers of spectators. They may sound like great ideas. Pageants and movies and puppet shows and dancing and rock music and stand-up comedian sermons and doggie prayers may all serve to attract large crowds. But our concern should rather be, “Will God desire to be present in our worship services? Will God be pleased?”
I pray that we may do everything we can to make sure that God is pleased with our worship here at Sharon church!
“Tithing: You Can’t Outgive God!”
(I of VII) 07/10/16 PM
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
[WLC #107-110] [2nd Commandment]
John Bunyan, the author of the book, Pilgrim’s Progress, once wrote: “There was a man, some called him mad; the more he gave, the more he had.”
That little poem is based on Proverbs 11:24, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more. Another withholds unduly but comes to poverty.”
The point that I wish to stress today from our text in Malachi 3 is that “You can’t outgive God!” No matter how generous you are or how much you give, there’s no way that you’re ever going to be able to outgive God. God will be a debtor to no one!
In fact, God has already given each of us more than we could ever repay in an entire eternity! But even beyond all that, God has also promised that we still can’t give Him more than what He’ll continue to give us in the future!
Now keep in mind that God doesn’t have to reward us when we tithe generously to Him, or when we strive hard to obey Him. That’s our duty. We’re only giving a small portion of what we owe to God for His goodness to us. God isn’t obligated to us or in our debt when we simply do what He commands. But yet, God chooses to reward us anyway for our obedience. God even promises to reward us. And not only does He promise to reward us, He promises to reward us in a bigger way than what we give!
Look at God’s promise in Malachi 3:10-12. “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the LORD Almighty.”
This isn’t just one, isolated promise of Scripture, mind you. Both the OT and the NT speak often of the blessings that God promises for those who faithfully obey Him and who faithfully give even the little 10% that He asks.
For example, Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
I want you to notice here, in both these passages, the great disproportion between what we give and how God blesses us. We obey, and then God floods us with blessing!
Proverbs 11:25 gives a similar thought. “A generous man will prosper...”
The word, “prosper,” in the Hebrew, actually means, “be made fat.” You see, in the Bible, being fat was just as much a blessing as prosperity and riches were. What this text actually says is this: “A generous man will be made fat; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”
In the NT, in Luke 6:38, Jesus repeats this OT promise upon faithful obedience, particularly in reference to giving. “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
But notice the disproportion again: God will use the same measuring device to reward you that you use to give, but He’ll fill it all the way to the top, squash it down, shake it so it settles some more, and then make it run over the sides of the container and into your lap!
So if you use a little thimble to measure out your gift to God, you can expect that God will send upon you a little thimble full of blessings, packed and overflowing in your lap. But if you use a big bushel basket to measure out your gift to God, then God will pour out upon you a big bushel basket full of blessings, filled to the brim, squashed down, shaken down even further, and running over into your lap!
The whole point is this: You can’t outgive God! When you tithe, you prosper. When you give generously, you receive even more generously than what you gave!
Now some people are skeptical at this point. Just recently I told you that TV evangelist, Robert Tilton, was wrong to tell little old ladies to send him $1,000, promising them that God would make them rich enough to buy a new car.
Well, first of all, giving money to Robert Tilton isn’t exactly the same as giving it to God. The tithes to God, in the Bible, were given to Him through His church. In the OT, they were given to the elders in the gate. In the NT, they were given to the elders of the church in which those persons were members.
Furthermore, God doesn’t promise to pour out these blessings on you immediately. For example, here are a few testimonies from people as to what happened when they started tithing:
One man said, “The first week I started tithing, my car broke down and it cost me five times my tithe.”
A woman said, “The first week I started tithing, I ended up in the hospital.”
And another said, “I was tithing regularly for three months and I suddenly got laid off work.”
So should we conclude from this that God’s promise is no good? Is this just an empty promise, like the promises politicians make?
Well, read Malachi 3:13-18, immediately following our text for today: “‘You have said harsh things against me,’ says the LORD. ‘Yet you ask, “What have we said against you?” You have said, “It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.”’ Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. ‘They will be mine,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”
You see, we have to remember the old saying, “The game ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Olympic gymnast, Paul Hamm, proved that during the 2004 Summer Olympics when he fell to 12th place after losing his balance on the landing of his vault. He even crashed into one of the judges! But after just two more rotations, he actually came back to win the gold medal in the men’s all-around gymnastics competition. He won by 12 thousandths of a point!
During a Super Bowl awhile back, the Colts were beating the Saints, 10 to 0, at the beginning of the game! But the Saints came back to win by 14 points!
You see, if we only look at the score in the middle of the competition, we might go to bed thinking that our team has surely lost, when in actual fact, they rallied miraculously and came out the victors in the end!
Or you may remember that other famous saying, “It ain’t over ‘till the fat lady sings.”
Well, we could paraphrase that one: “It ain’t over ‘till the fat Christian sings!”
Listen to Paul’s words in Galatians 6:7-9, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Years ago, Chinese farmers were given potatoes to plant. Over the years, the farmers would eat the nice, big, juicy potatoes and they’d plant the little, scrawny, wrinkled potatoes. That worked fine for awhile, but after a number of years – funny thing – their harvests kept getting smaller and smaller! They were reaping what they’d planted!
The orange grove farmers in Florida know that some harvests take a long time to mature. Often it takes a lot of patience and hard work before they can cash in on those nice, juicy oranges.
Whenever we don’t see God’s blessings immediately following our obedience, we have to remember, it’s the long run that matters. Satan did his very best to try to get Job’s faith down by short term trials and troubles and difficulties. But when Job kept his faith in God, he finally emerged through the other end of the tunnel with even more blessings than before!
In the same way, it takes faith to keep on giving your tithes and offerings when you’re in the middle of some temporary setbacks.
Sometimes people will say, “Wow! Things are really tight right now. I’m making hardly enough money to survive. I can’t afford to tithe!”
That’s like saying, “Wow! Things are really tight right now. I’m making hardly enough money to survive. I’d better steal some money from God to make ends meet!”
Instead, they should be saying, “Wow! Things are really tight right now. I’m making hardly enough money to survive. I’d better make sure I’m giving God His full tithe as seed for future blessings, or else I might jeopardize my situation even further!”
The Jews of Malachi’s day were having some hard times too, but they were actually making things worse for themselves by robbing God. We read in vv. 7-10, “‘Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty. [The point is, don’t wait until God prospers you before you stop robbing Him!] ‘But you ask, “How are we to return?” Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, “How do we rob you?” In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’”
God actually throws down a challenge in that passage: “You think I’m lying when I say that I’ll bless you if you tithe? OK, then try Me. Test Me. See what I’ll do!”
We need to have that “but if not” faith of Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In Daniel 3:13ff, Nebuchadnezzar summoned them and told them that either they had to fall down and worship his image, or else they’d be thrown into the fiery furnace. Here’s what they said, in reply:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
That’s “but if not” faith. That’s a faith that does what’s right, no matter what, simply because it’s right and it’s what God wants. It’s a faith that obeys God, knowing that there’s no way we’re ever going to be able to outgive God, even if God does send us some temporary trials to test our faith.
Remember Mark 10:28-30 where Peter started bragging a little bit to Jesus? He said, “We have left everything to follow you!”
In other words, “Jesus, you should really be thankful that You have friends like us, since we’ve given up so much in order to follow You!”
What was Jesus’ response? “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus replied [And whenever Jesus said that, you know you’ve got a promise you can take to the bank and cash. Jesus said, “The truth is…”], ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.’”
There we have that great disproportion again. In other words, Jesus is saying, “You’ll be repaid a hundredfold, both in this life and in the life to come, no matter what you give up for the sake of Christ and the gospel. God’s blessings will be poured out into your lap in rich measure!”
Yes, this may not happen immediately. Yes, you may have to suffer persecutions for awhile. Yes, you may have to face troubles and trials and hardships of various kinds. But in the end, when you look back, you wouldn’t be willing to trade one day of your life in Jesus Christ for that of an unbeliever. The Christian is the most blessed and the most happy person in all the world! You can’t outgive God! You just can’t! You can bet your eternal soul on that promise!
Here’s an example of the kind of testimony that’s typical of one who tithes to God. These are the words of an elderly Christian couple: “We’ve been tithing for years now. Yes, we’ve had our ups and downs, but God has supplied every need. And God has always made the 90% go farther than when we used to keep the 100% for ourselves.”
People like that not only live happier lives here below, but they’ve also gradually built up a tremendous investment in God’s treasure chest reserved for them in heaven.
Today I’ve been talking primarily about the blessings that come to individuals when they tithe. But I suspect there were some faithful tithers in Israel in Malachi’s day as well. And yet we see that God was angry with the whole nation, and His curse was upon the whole nation because so many of them were holding out on Him and robbing Him. That means that there’s a corporate responsibility when it comes to tithing that we need to keep in mind as well.
Malachi 3:10 is speaking about what God would do for the whole nation of Israel if the whole nation were to start taking this command of God seriously.
Well in the NT, “Israel” is now “the church.” Those OT promises to Israel are promises to Christ’s NT church. I’m convinced that we’d all be amazed at the blessings that God would eventually heap upon Sharon Church if we were all to tithe faithfully!
God says, “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’”
Why are so many of God’s churches always struggling along financially? Our church is one of those churches. Perhaps God is testing us, seeing if we’ll continue to tithe, even when times get tight. Or perhaps He’s testing us to see if we’ll cave in and start robbing God by withholding our tithes. Or perhaps some people in this church are robbing God’s storehouse! The church of Jesus Christ should be overflowing with available funds to put to use in the Lord’s work! God virtually promises this in II Corinthians 9:6-11. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us [that is, through our preaching of the Gospel, supported by your tithes] your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
You see, as we give, God supplies even more to give, and the church begins to prosper.
But once a church begins to prosper, there’s another danger that comes along.
If there’s no financial crunch looming over a church, people begin to think that it’s not all that important to tithe any more. That’s exactly what Satan would have us think!
But we must be very careful not to fall into his trap. We mustn’t think that we can fall down on the job when it comes to tithing just because we may not happen to be in a financial crunch at some given point in time. The Biblical command to tithe isn’t “waived” just because a church or individual may happen to be prospering, financially. The tithe is commanded of all people at all times, no matter what their financial situation, and no matter what the financial situation of their church. You’re not commanded to tithe just because the church needs money. You’re commanded to tithe because it’s your duty to God. And if you don’t tithe, God says you’re robbing Him!
The Kingdom of God will prosper when God’s people are faithful in their giving. Christ’s church should be able to do more than simply pay her expenses! Sharon Church should be able to do much more than simply “get by” with meeting our own expenses each year. Sharon Church would have money to do a lot more ministry if every member of Sharon tithed. The OPC would have money to send out many more missionaries if every member of the OPC tithed. And if every Christian in this country were to tithe, the church of Jesus Christ would have much more money to help finance Christian schools and seminaries, Christian legal representatives, Christian music, Christian ministries to the poor, and so forth.
So John Bunyan’s little poem is Biblical. “There was a man, some called him mad; the more he gave, the more he had.”
Eventually, we’re all going to reap what we’ve sown. And we’re going to reap a lot more of it than what we sowed!
But one thing’s for sure. It’s a Biblical fact that’s as sure as I’m standing here today: “You can’t outgive God!”
JudeAuthorized (King James) Version (AKJV)1 Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called: 2 mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied.
3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. 4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
5 I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. 6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. 7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. 8 Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. 9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.
10 But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. 11 Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. 12 These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; 13 raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.
14 And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, 15 to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. 16 These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage.
17 But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; 18 how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. 19 These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. 20 But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. 22 And of some have compassion, making a difference: 23 and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, 25 to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
1. And God spake all these words, saying...
18 And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. 19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. 20 And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. 21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. (AV/KJV)
(WLC 100-101)Q. 100. What special things are we to consider in the ten commandments?
A. We are to consider in the ten commandments, the preface, the substance of the commandments themselves, and several reasons annexed to some of them, the more to enforce them.
Q. 101. What is the preface to the ten commandments?
A. The preface to the ten commandments is contained in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Wherein God manifesteth his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God; having his being in and of himself, and giving being to all his words and works: and that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people; who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom; and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.
“And God spoke all these words...”
Next Sunday we’ll be looking at the preface to the Ten Commandments. All too often, people overlook the preface and focus on just the Commandments themselves. They just begin by examining the 1st Commandment and then go on from there.
Without the preface, however, we’re liable to miss the whole point of the law.
But today, we’re going to examine just the preface to the preface. The preface to the preface sets the whole tone for the Ten Commandments. It tells us that “God spoke all these words...”
In other words, what follows, in the preface and then in the Ten Commandments themselves, is directly from God’s mouth!
Now we realize that all of the Scriptures come from God. The whole Bible is “God-breathed” and is God’s inspired Word to men. But most of God’s revelations to men in the Bible come to us mediated through the prophets of God.
Well, the Ten Commandments, also referred to in some places as the Ten Words, were spoken directly from the mouth of God. In fact, they were probably thundered forth from the mouth of God, since we read in Exodus 19:16-19, “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.”
That last phrase can also be translated, “Then Moses spoke and the thunder of God answered him!”
God’s voice is like thunder!
We also read, in Exodus 20:18-19, “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’”
Not only were these Ten Words spoken (or thundered) directly from the mouth of God, but this is also the only part of the whole Bible that was also written down directly by the finger of God!
Exodus 31:18 says, “When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mt. Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tables of stone inscribed by the finger of God.”
Exodus 32:15-16 says, “Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.”
And again, after Moses, in his anger, smashed the tablets on the rocks because of Israel’s sin, Exodus 34:1 says, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.”
If there’s any reason to consider The Ten Commandments of God to be especially important, surely this is such a reason!
This summary of God’s holy law, the Ten Commandments, was thundered directly by God to Moses and to Israel, and it was also written down directly by the finger of God, not just once, but twice over!
An old TV commercial once declared, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen!”
Well how much more so, “When God talks, people should listen as well!” Nothing is more important than the very words of Almighty God!
So if “God spoke all these words...” then certain things necessarily follow:
First of all, since God spoke all these words, we must take care to hear them all.
Sinful men have a tendency to hear only what they want to hear. Many Roman Catholics, for example, virtually eliminate the 2nd Commandment which forbids both the making and the worshipping of images or representations of God. They do this by joining the 1st and 2nd Commandments into one Commandment and dividing the 10th into two Commandments. In this way, they don’t need to give up their idols and images and statues of Christ (not to mention idols of Mary and the saints). I should also add, they have no qualms about representing Christ in human form in movies. We’ll talk more about this when we get to the 2nd Commandment.
Abortionists refuse to hear the 6th Commandment against murder because they think it doesn’t apply to killing unborn babies.
Homosexuals are deaf to the 7th Commandment against adultery because they think that it doesn’t have any implications for other types of sexual sins in the Bible.
Those who refuse to tithe or to attend church services close their ears against the 8th Commandment against stealing and against the 4th Commandment which requires keeping the whole Sabbath Day holy.
We all hear what we want to hear. But if God spoke all these words, then we must take care to hear them all.
But we must not only hear all these words…
Second, since God spoke all these words, we must reverence them all.
The giving of the Ten Commandments by God was accompanied by fearful signs and wonders, as we just saw in Exodus 19:16-19 and 20:18-20. We must all realize Who we’re dealing with when we consider the Ten Commandments. We’re hearing nothing less than the very words of Almighty God! We mustn’t take these words lightly. We mustn’t underestimate these words. They come from the awesome and holy God Almighty, Himself!
Not only must we hear all these words, and reverence them…
Third, since God spoke all these words, we must remember them all.
Such important words from such an important Person are certainly worth remembering! This summary of God’s moral law must be deeply ingrained in our hearts.
There are some things in life a person just never forgets. You don’t forget your own name. You don’t forget your own birthday. (And just a word to the wise, as an aside, you probably had best not forget your wife’s birthday or your anniversary either!) You don’t forget where you live, who the president is, which hand you write with, or which side of the road you’re supposed to drive on.
But remembering the Ten Commandments of God is of much greater importance than all of those things put together!
Yet very few people, even very few pastors, for that matter, can list the 10 Commandments. I was downtown for a city council meeting, very soon after we moved the church to Palm Springs North. Several members of the PSN Civic Association were there debating some zoning issue. Anyway, I had lunch with one of them, a Jewish fellow by the name of Mr. Toby. He was a wealthy man who lived in one of those estates over on the west side of PSN. When he found out I was a pastor, he couldn’t wait to ask me a question.
“I’d like to ask you a question, if you don’t mind,” he said. “I’ve asked every pastor I know this question, so I’m curious to see if you know the answer. ‘What are the Ten Commandments?’ I’m not asking you to quote the whole passage of Exodus 20 from memory. I just want you to list them. You don’t even have to list them in order.”
So I proceeded to go through them, one at a time, in order, using most of the language of Exodus 20. I couldn’t believe he was actually impressed with such a simple task as that. But he said I was the first minister he’d ever met who could actually recite all Ten Commandments! What a sad commentary on the state of the church in our day!
Unfortunately, knowing the Ten Commandments doesn’t mean squat if you don’t obey them. Mr. Toby felt quite superior to all of those ministers he interviewed because he knew the Ten Commandments and they didn’t, but at least they were believers and worshiped God on Sunday. He didn’t.
Just prior to Israel’s entering the promised land to conquer it, Moses rehearsed the law of God for the Israelites, to remind them of it. After reviewing the whole law at that time, he said, in Deuteronomy 32:46, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” [They’re not the Ten Suggestions!]
Don’t ever forget God’s Ten Commandments! “They are your life!”
Isaiah 49:15 asks, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast?”
Jeremiah 2:32 asks, “Does a maiden forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornament? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number.”
You see, to forget God’s law is to forget the God Who gave it. So remember these Commandments. “They are your life!”
Not only must we hear all these words, and reverence all these words, and remember all these words…
Fourth, since God spoke all these words, we must believe them all.
That means, if God says you’ll be disciplined if you disobey, you’ll be disciplined if you disobey! If God says you’ll be rewarded if you obey, you’ll be rewarded if you obey! Believe it! Count on it!
Earthly parents, on the other hand, don’t always keep their promises or their threats. That’s quite fortunate sometimes, for example, when an angry, frustrated parent says, “If you talk back to me one more time I’ll lock you in the closet for a week!”
Sometimes, we, as parents, make idle threats, just to show we mean business. But God always means business. When God gives a promise or a threat, He’s not bluffing. He’s not kidding around. Believe Him!
Not only must we hear all these words, and reverence all these words, and remember all these words, and believe all these words…
Fifth, since God spoke all these words, we must love them all.
As Deuteronomy 32:46 says about these words, “They are your life.” They teach you how to avoid the disciplines and chastisements that come upon those who do evil and they teach you how to gain the blessings and the rewards and the happiness that come to those who do good.
That’s why Psalm 119:97 says, “Oh how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.”
That’s also why Psalm 119:159 says, “See how I love your precepts.” And v. 72 says, “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than a thousand pieces of silver and gold.” And v. 163 says, “I hate and abhor falsehood but I love your law.”
Since God spoke this law, if we love God, then we’ll also love His law because that’s how we express our love to God.
Since “God spoke all these words,” then we must love these words more than we love our wives or husbands, more than we love our parents or children, more than we love our life itself, for these Commandments, said Moses, “They are your life.”
Not only must we hear all these words, and reverence all these words, and remember all these words, and believe all these words, and love all these words…
Sixth, since God spoke all these words, we must teach them all to our children.
As we said, Moses reviewed the whole law of God prior to Israel’s entrance into the promised land. After Moses finished reviewing the Ten Commandments, in Deuteronomy 5, he said, in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
From the time children are little infants, most parents are very careful to give them milk when they’re hungry and to give them various other kinds of foods as they grow older. Parents usually take care that they give their children a healthy diet so they’ll be strong and grow properly.
Well the spiritual nourishing of our children should be of even greater importance to parents than feeding them physically. We need to teach them the law of God. We need to nourish them with the Ten Commandments, those very words of God by which we live. As Moses put it, “They are not just idle words for you – they are your life!”
And finally, not only must we hear all these words, and reverence all these words, and remember all these words, and believe all these words, and love all these words, and teach all these words to our children…
Seventh, since God spoke all these words, we must obey them all.
If our parents speak, we pretty much know that we need to obey them. Otherwise we might suffer certain “consequences.”
If our civil governing authorities speak, we pretty much know that we need to obey them as well. Otherwise, we might suffer certain “consequences.”
But obviously, there are times when we can get away with disobeying our parents or with disobeying the civil authorities. Some of you probably disobeyed the speed limit on your way to church today and you got away with it. Some of you children probably disobeyed your parents sometime today and you got away with it.
Neither the civil government nor our parents always enforce every law they give us. Sometimes they don’t know we’ve disobeyed, and sometimes they simply don’t prosecute us for our disobedience.
A judge may decide sometimes to issue a subpoena and other times not. A subpoena, meaning, “under penalty,” is simply something that forces us to appear in court “or else.”
Well God always binds us with a subpoena whenever we disobey His law. If we disobey God’s law, we’re immediately “under penalty.” And God always enforces His subpoenas. He always dishes out the penalty that our particular sin deserves, whether upon us, in Hell, or upon Jesus Christ, Who suffered Hell for us. Either way, every sin gets punished. And God also often disciplines His Christian children in this life in order to help them to learn obedience.
So if God spoke all these words, then we must be very careful to obey them all, in order to avoid God’s discipline for sin, and in order to receive God’s rewards for obedience.
Of course, no man can do all that – hear, reverence, remember, believe, love, teach, and obey all these laws perfectly, except for Jesus Christ. And even Christians can’t do all these things, even imperfectly, apart from the working of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ in their hearts.
But if we’re children of God, and if we believe in Jesus Christ and trust in His obedience for our salvation, then His perfect obedience becomes ours and our penalty becomes His. And if we’re in Christ, by faith and by covenant, then we also have His Holy Spirit dwelling in us. And the Holy Spirit in our hearts enables us to hear, to reverence, to remember, to believe, to love, to teach, and to obey all these laws to the best of our ability. And that’s because “God spoke all these words!” and “They are our life!”
Matthew 22:34-40, “Rules for Understanding the Ten Commandments!” 01/17/16 PM, Sharon OPC
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
Sometimes people think the Ten Commandments are an exhaustive list of all the laws of God for men. Since the Ten Commandments don’t say anything about such things as tithing, or gossip, or polygamy, or drunkenness, or obedience to the State, or gambling, therefore, people say we can’t judge one another with regard to those things. We can only judge right and wrong from the Ten Commandments.
Such a shallow understanding of the Ten Commandments fails to do justice to the fact that these Ten Commandments cover virtually every single thought, word, and deed of mankind. Today we’re going to see that the Ten Commandments are not an exhaustive listing of all the laws of God. They’re merely a brief summary of that law.
Jesus gave an even shorter summary of the law in Matthew 22:36-40. “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”
Jesus was summarizing the first half of the Ten Commandments as love to God and the second half as love to one’s neighbor. And so Paul could even say, in Romans 13:10, “love is the fulfillment of the law.”
So the shortest summary of all is simply, “love.” But then we have a problem. Because the summary of the law is “love,” some argue that we no longer need the Bible or even the Ten Commandments, in order to know what we’re supposed to say, think, and do. Just love. As the song puts it, “All you need is love…Love is all you need.”
And then these people practice everything from adultery to child pornography in the name of love!
Others argue that the only law we have is the Ten Commandments. “As long as we obey the Ten Commandments, we’re OK.”
But Jesus said, in Matthew 22:40, “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commands.”
In other words, the summary, as we find it in the Ten Commandments, doesn’t do away with the specifics. The specifics are spelled out in the whole Bible, both the Law (referring to the five books of Moses), and the Prophets (referring to the rest of the OT). The Ten Commandments don’t do away with the specifics revealed all throughout the OT. They merely sum them up. Jesus was saying, then, that the Ten Commandments and the law of love are a summary of all the specific laws of Scripture.
So we see that the Ten Commandments summarize the principles behind every law in the Bible. “Just the Ten Commandments,” or “Just love,” were never intended to be our only guide as to how we should live and how we should obey God. These are only brief summaries of our total duty to God. The whole Bible is our infallible guide to tell us what man is to believe concerning God and to tell us what duty God requires of man.
That’s why the WLC says,
Q. 91. What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A. The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will.
Q. 98. Where is the moral law summarily comprehended? [Where is it summarized?]
A. The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments, which were delivered by the voice of God upon mount Sinai, and written by him in two tables of stone; and are recorded in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. The four first commandments containing our duty to God, and the other six our duty to man.
Because the Ten Commandments are simply a summary, rather than a full blown list of every law, our WLC lists 8 Biblical rules that must be observed to rightly understand the Ten Commandments. The Bible itself follows these rules in applying God’s law in day-to-day situations. These rules show how the Ten Commandments cover every thought, every word, and every deed of our lives. These rules show how deep and how comprehensive these Ten Commandments are.
Whenever anyone came to Jesus in the NT and said, “I keep the Ten Commandments,” Jesus would always show him that he held too narrow a view of the Ten Commandments. Nobody keeps them perfectly, in their fullest sense, except Jesus, Himself.
But God commands perfection in the keeping of His law, and therefore we should aim for perfection if we truly love Him.
WLC #99 gives us 8 Biblical rules for understanding the Ten Commandments. These rules help us to see how broadly these Commandments need to be applied.
Q. 99. What rules are to be observed for the right understanding of the ten commandments?
A. For the right understanding of the ten commandments, these rules are to be observed:
And then it proceeds to list each of the 8 rules.
The first principle is that the law requires perfection.
Rule #1. That the law is perfect, and bindeth every one to full conformity in the whole man unto the righteousness thereof, and unto entire obedience for ever; so as to require the utmost perfection of every duty, and to forbid the least degree of every sin.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus concludes His interpretation of the OT Law with these words in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In Matthew 5:18, Jesus had said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus never taught salvation by works. He’s not saying that our righteousness will earn heaven for us. But He is saying that unless we have the perfect righteousness that’s given to us by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we won’t be saved.
Jesus is also saying that every true Christian will demonstrate true, inner righteousness, to a degree that surpasses the outward, legalistic righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
Jesus implied that the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were not saved, in spite of their supposed, meticulous, outward observance of the law. They added a whole bunch of outward regulations, thinking that in keeping all these outward things they were obeying God. But God’s law is something that reaches even to the heart. If you follow God’s law with your lips, but your heart is far from Him, you’re still in your sins. You’re lost. But if you have a heart of faith in Christ, then you’ll bear good fruit in thankful obedience. Because the law is perfect and demands perfection in every part of our being, we’re all lost unless we’re in Christ by faith and by covenant. Christ is the only man who perfectly kept the law. By faith in Him, His righteousness is ours. And if we have true faith, then our heart’s desire and our aim will be perfect obedience to God’s revealed moral law as well.
The second principle is that the law applies to the whole man.
Rule #2. That it is spiritual, and so reacheth the understanding, will, affections, and all other powers of the soul; as well as words, works, and gestures.
In other words, as we’ve already pointed out, the law must be obeyed inwardly, in the heart, and not just outwardly in our actions.
Jesus was clear, in the Sermon on the Mount, that just because your outward body doesn’t commit adultery, that doesn’t mean your heart or your thoughts are obedient. In Matthew 5:28 Jesus says, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Not only is stealing wrong, but so are envy and coveting. Not only is murder wrong, but so are wrongful hatred and sinful anger. Man’s laws bind only the outward body. God’s law binds the inner heart as well.
The third principle is that the law applies the single principle of righteousness (love) to the specifics of life.
Rule #3. That one and the same thing, in divers respects, is required or forbidden in several commandments.
In other words, every single Commandment requires the same thing: that we love. That means that when you break one Commandment, you’ve broken them all, because they all relate to the principle of righteousness, which is love.
James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” Every law relates to every other law, and they all relate to love.
Colossians 3:5 says, “greed... is idolatry.” Greed shows that you love money more than you love God. And that’s idolatry! Greed very often causes a person to steal. It also causes Sabbath breaking. Or we may break the 9th Commandment and lie in order to get money. Spiritual idolatry is equated, in the Bible, with adultery, because we’ve left our first love and have gone after a harlot love – money, for instance. So the Ten Commandments are all tied together and all related together in such a way that to break one of them is to break all of them. So no one can ever say, “Well, at least I keep most of the Commandments.”
The fourth principle is that the law implies its opposite.
Rule #4. That as, where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and, where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded: so, where a promise is annexed, the contrary threatening is included; and, where a threatening is annexed, the contrary promise is included.
That means that when we’re commanded to work six days, and to rest on the seventh day, that means we’re also forbidden to live idle lives and be lazy on those six days.
II Thessalonians 3:10, therefore, teaches, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
When we’re forbidden to take God’s Name in vain, in the 3rd Commandment, that implies the opposite, that we’re commanded, positively, to reverence His Name instead.
Deuteronomy 28:58-59 says, “If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name – the LORD your God – the LORD will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses...”
So to simply refrain from outwardly speaking God’s Name in vain is not a full obedience to the 3rd Commandment. Where does the 3rd Commandments say we must revere God’s Name? It’s implied as the opposite of taking God’s Name in vain!
The same is true of punishments and blessings. The 5th Commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” That’s a promised blessing for those who keep this Commandment.
But Proverbs 30:17 shows us that the opposite is true as well, “The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures.”
That shows that there’s a promised curse as well as a promised blessing implied in the 5th Commandment.
The fifth principle is that the law is always our duty.
Rule #5. That what God forbids, is at no time to be done; what he commands, is always our duty; and yet every particular duty is not to be done at all times.
So even though we have to set priorities and do certain duties at certain times and other duties at other times, we’re always responsible to obey the law of God in all that we do – no exceptions. Just because we might suffer a greater temptation on one day than on another day, that’s no excuse for letting our obedience to the law slide that day.
Ephesians 4:29 is an application of the law of love, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
That’s always our duty, no matter what kind of a day we might be having. Sometimes we say, “Sorry I blew up at you, but I’ve just been having a bad day.”
That may be a reason, but that’s no excuse! You sinned and broke the law, and you need forgiveness!
The sixth principle is that the law forbids all similar sins and all occasions to sin.
Rule #6. That under one sin or duty, all of the same kind are forbidden or commanded; together with all the causes, means, occasions, and appearances thereof, and provocations thereunto.
That means, for example, that the command, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” forbids all similar sins, such as homosexuality, pornography, fornication, incest, and so forth. It even forbids putting yourself into a tempting situation where the occasion might lead you to sin.
Proverbs 5:8, says, regarding the prostitute, “do not go near the door of her house.”
Now you might think, “What’s sinful about going near the door of a prostitute’s house?”
And then, obviously, the next question would be, “What’s sinful about just stepping inside the door of a prostitute’s house, for just a minute or two, to talk...?”
You see where this is going… We must avoid not only sin, but also every occasion which might tempt us to sin. In other words, don’t play with fire!
In like manner, the command, “Thou shalt not murder,” forbids not only murder, but all similar sins, like abortion, euthanasia, sentencing an innocent man to death, reckless endangerment, negligence which might lead to someone’s death, even all unnecessary physical violence.
The seventh principle is that each Commandment commands us to be an accessory to righteousness for others as well as watching out for our own righteousness.
Rule #7. That what is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places, to endeavour that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places.
So if we’re commanded to do something, or forbidden to do something, then we must do our best to see to it that those under our charge obey these things as well. That doesn’t mean we need to set ourselves up as policemen or to become “busybodies,” poking our noses into other people’s business. We need to remember our place and our position of authority. If we’re parents, or officers of the church, or if we’re civil authorities, we have a greater obligation to see to it that those under our charge follow the law of God. The session of a congregation has a duty, not only to obey the law themselves, but to encourage those under their charge to obey it and to discipline those who break it. Parents have the same duty with regard to their children. Civil authorities have the same duty with regard to those under their charge. This is simply a further application of “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
But even with those who are not under your authority, you have a duty to encourage others, in as respectful and tactful a way as possible, to do what’s right, and to discourage others from doing wrong, just as you try to do this yourself.
And the eighth principle is the flip side of this, that the law commands us to help others obey the laws that they’re required to obey, rather than to be accessories in crime with them.
Rule #8. That in what is commanded to others, we are bound, according to our places and callings, to be helpful to them; and to take heed of partaking with others in what is forbidden them.
The Bible tells us that we should be careful not to put a stumbling block in the path of our neighbor.
We should use the power of “peer pressure” to help others obey their responsibilities, and to help others stay away from sinful practices.
For example, even though it may not be a sin for Henry to go to see a movie, he shouldn’t encourage Jimmy to go, when he knows Jimmy’s parents have forbidden him.
And even if Jimmy tries to convince Henry to go with him, Henry should refuse to go with Jimmy and thus join in his sin.
All of these rules for understanding the Ten Commandments teach us how broadly these principles of the law apply to us. They reach to every thought, word, and deed of our lives. And they even reach to our relationships with others.
No one who understands what God’s law requires of us in this way will ever be tempted to think that he keeps perfectly even one Commandment of that law. It’s out of a careful study of the law of God that we come to know our great sinfulness. If we truly understand what God requires in His Law, we’ll also truly understand our great need for a Savior, Jesus Christ. We’ll be led to repent of our sin, and we’ll turn, in faith, to Jesus Christ, putting our trust in His perfect righteousness alone for our salvation!
So as we study the Ten Commandments in the coming weeks, we’ll be discussing some things that the Ten Commandments don’t even talk about, specifically. But that’s because these Ten, brief Commandments are simply brief summaries of the whole law of God which is to be obeyed perfectly, all the time, with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength! And we do that by trusting in Jesus Christ and His perfect righteousness transferred to our account by grace through faith!
2 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
King James Version (KJV) by Public Domain
Ephesians 2:1-10, “How Do People Come to Believe?”
(II of II) Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
As we saw a couple weeks ago, the Apostle Paul was a 5 point Calvinist! Or, to put it correctly: John Calvin was a 5 point Paulinist! You see, the essence of what we, today, call Calvinism is set forth right here in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. These five points of Calvinism are also known as “the doctrines of grace.” If you want to explain to someone how it is that a person is saved solely and completely by the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, this is a wonderful place to start.
Ephesians 2:1-10 teaches us that Arminianism is a false Gospel. All 5 points of Calvinism – or all five of the TULIP doctrines, if you want to call them that – are taught right here in Ephesians 2:1-10. Let’s review them quickly. Can you remember all five of the points? It’s a little easier to remember them if you think of the acronym: TULIP.
T, U, L, I, P.
Let’s see how many of them you can get right. Don’t say it out loud, but what does the “T” stand for? Total Depravity. And the “U?” Unconditional Election. The “L?” Limited Atonement. The “I?” Irresistible Grace. And the “P?” Perseverance of the Saints.
All 5 of these doctrines of grace are taught right here in Ephesians 2, and all 5 work together to focus on one thing: the fact that salvation is by grace alone.
Unfortunately, Arminians reject all five points of those doctrines of grace. This makes their Gospel a false Gospel, because it’s not a Gospel of 100% grace.
The Arminian teaching that man, in his fallen state, is able to choose to believe in God, destroys the whole foundation of the Gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, which faith is a gift of God alone, and according to God’s choice alone.
In the Arminian Gospel, the key difference between those who are saved and those who are lost, the one deciding factor that separates the sheep from the goats, is a human act. According to the Arminian Gospel, the only thing that determines who receives God’s gracious salvation and who doesn’t is man’s decision to believe.
People of God, that’s not salvation by grace alone! That’s salvation by God offering grace to everyone equally, plus man, in his own strength, choosing to take God’s offer. Without man’s part, without man’s choosing, without man’s deciding, of his own free will, God couldn’t save anyone, according to the Arminians.
Well people of God, I’m here to tell you that that’s a false Gospel!
Let’s look at our text and see how all 5 of these doctrines of grace are clearly taught in the Bible. We looked at the first two points last time, so let’s review those:
How do these verses teach TOTAL DEPRAVITY?
Ephesians 2:1-3 says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”
These verses teach us that, apart from a person being given the gift of faith in Jesus Christ, he’s dead in his sins. All men, since the Fall, are spiritually dead and unable to do anything pleasing to God.
In Genesis 6:5, all except believing Noah and his family are described as “only evil all the time.”
The text says, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”
And in Romans 3:12, Paul writes, quoting Psalms 14 & 53, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
That’s Total Depravity. I realize that comes as a great shock to modern man’s view of self-esteem and self-worth – to be told that all men, apart from Christ, have “together become worthless” – but that’s the way it is.
How do these verses teach UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION?
Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”
Notice, here, that God loved His people before He made them alive. He loved us, “even when we were dead in transgressions.”
Paul says the same thing in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
So if you’ve been made alive, says Paul, it’s “because of his great love.” It’s because of His rich mercy.
That means it’s not because we changed to somehow make God pleased with us. It’s not because we chose to believe in Jesus Christ, and therefore, God decided to choose us.
No. God’s choosing of His people is an Unconditional Election. It’s a choosing based on nothing we say or do, because, by nature, we’re all spiritually dead so that only God can enable us to have faith.
The Arminian protests at this point. He says, “It’s not fair that God would, for no reason at all in man, choose to save some and choose to send others to Hell.” And so the Arminian has to come up with some reason why God would choose some and leave others. And that reason, he thinks, must be because some men believe and others don’t believe.
But when you think that way, there goes 100% grace, right out the window! If God chooses who to save based on some difference in men, then men can claim credit for whatever that difference is. They can boast, “At least I’m better than those unbelievers because I chose to believe the Gospel. That’s why God chose to save me and not them.”
Now we go on to the third of the five points of Calvinism taught in these verses:
How do these verses teach LIMITED ATONEMENT [Also called Definite or Particular Atonement]?
Limited (or Definite or Particular) Atonement is the idea that Christ’s death actually atoned for the sins of all those, and only those, for whom He died. If Christ died for the sins of everybody in the whole world, then no one in the world would ever have to die for his own sins, since Christ already died for them. Everybody would be saved if Christ died for everybody’s sins!
In actual fact, the benefits of Christ’s death are limited to only those who are His elect. Christ died for a particular group of people, not for everyone. And His death definitely atones for their sins, not just maybe atones for their sins if they decide to believe.
So what does our Scripture text say? Vv. 4-7, “But, because of his great love for us [not because of God’s great love for everyone in the whole world], God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
You see, God’s love for His chosen people is a very particular love. It’s a very special love. It’s a very specific love. It’s because of God’s “great love for us,” His specially chosen people, that He joined us to Christ in His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. Christ’s atonement, His sacrifice on the cross, was not a universal atonement to cover everyone, or even to make salvation possible for everyone who decides to accept it. It was a Limited Atonement. It was a sacrifice that completely covered a limited group of people, His elect.
The Arminians, on the other hand, teach that God loves everybody. They also teach that Christ died for everybody. They say that now it’s entirely up to us to choose to believe in Him.
But then, why don’t they also teach that Christ was raised for everybody, and why don’t they also teach that Christ ascended into heaven for everybody?
Paul is very clear in our text. God loved us, His chosen, elect people. God made us alive. God raised us up to heaven with Christ. He didn’t love all mankind in general and do all of these things for all mankind in general, and then leave it up to man, himself, of his own free will, to decide if he wanted to take it or leave it. That’s what the Arminians would have us believe.
The Arminians teach that God loves everybody and wants to save everybody, but that He’s somehow bound Himself to being at the mercy of man’s will, and at the mercy of man’s desire, and man’s choice.
Back in the 1700’s, a hymn writer and theologian by the name of Augustus Toplady, preached about some of the dangers of Arminian teaching. [I’ll add an excellent quote by Toplady to the Appendix of this sermon which you can read in the e-mail version that’s sent out tonight.]
Toplady makes the point that to believe in a god who can’t do what He wants to do – save all men – is to believe in a god who’s not the God of the Bible. To believe in such a god is idolatry and blasphemy and “the mountain top height of atheism!”
Some of you may already be familiar with the name of Augustus Toplady. He’s one of the ministers of God whom the Arminian, John Wesley, so despised and hated. Wesley would write things against Calvinism and then say that Toplady wrote them! Wesley even went so far as to spread a vicious slander that Toplady had renounced the doctrines of grace on his deathbed! But to Wesley’s surprise, Toplady actually recovered from his deathbed long enough to write that Wesley had lied about this!
Augustus Toplady is also the man who wrote the words to the famous hymn, Rock of Ages, along with eight more of his hymns that have been included in our Trinity Hymnal. We’ll sing one of them at the close of our service.
So anyway, the third point of Calvinism that our text teaches is Limited Atonement – the teaching that Christ’s sacrifice was only for those on whom God has set His love, and it’s only those, and all those, that God desires to save and that He does completely save.
Now to our fourth point:
How do these verses teach IRRESISTIBLE GRACE?
Arminians teach that God offers His grace to everyone equally and God wants to save everyone equally, and then some accept His offer and some resist or reject His offer.
How does our text teach that God’s grace is irresistible, that is, it’s always effectual unto salvation and it’s impossible for man to resist?
Well, first of all, v. 1 says, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”
Now, how could a dead person resist anything?
When Jesus raised Lazarus, did He merely “offer” life to him? Did Jesus say, “Hey Lazarus, I’m standing at the door knocking. Won’t you please open the door and let me give you life?” How could Lazarus even hear to resist such an offer, since he was dead?
No, when Jesus called Lazarus from death to life He said, “Lazarus, come forth!” And Lazarus came forth!
There was no way on earth that such a command of God could have been resisted!
Of course it’s true that the outward call of God, where He commands all men, everywhere, to believe the Gospel – that outward call can be resisted, since those who are spiritually dead can’t obey that call to believe. But the inward call of God, where God gives a man ears to hear, and the faith to believe, is irresistible. The reason it’s irresistible, is because in order for a man to even hear God’s call, he must first be made spiritually alive. And all those who are made spiritually alive will want to come to Christ, in faith. They wouldn’t dream of resisting such a call!
Ephesians 2:5-6 says, “God, who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ,” and so on…
So no one whom God loves will ever resist His love and refuse to believe in Him. God’s grace is irresistible!
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
God’s grace is effectual. It’s irresistible. When God graciously gives you faith, you believe, period. It’s as simple as that!
That brings us to our fifth and final point:
How do these verses teach the PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS?
The doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is the teaching that God, by His power, causes every one of His chosen people to persevere in the faith until the very end and be saved. God doesn’t allow Satan to snatch a single child from His almighty hand.
Well, think about it. What’s the purpose that God gives His people new life and faith in Jesus Christ? He gives us these things for His own glory, so that we might glorify and enjoy Him forever. Now why would God give us faith in Christ only to let us lose it later? That’d destroy His purposes, wouldn’t it? And we’ve already seen that God always does what He purposes to do. He always does what He desires to do. There’s just no way that man can mess up God’s perfect plan!
Ephesians 2:6-7 says, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
If God raised us from death to life “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus,” then that’s what will happen to all of us in the end!
And v. 10 adds, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
So every part of our salvation is provided for us by the Almighty power and grace of God!
And every part is brought to its final end and completion by that same power and grace of God.
Paul writes, in Philippians 1:6, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
God always finishes what He starts, and God always brings His plans into completion!
If, as the Arminians teach, it’s up to man to remain faithful to God – if it’s possible for a true believer to fall away from God and be eternally lost – then that means that our salvation is only as firm and as sure as our own human abilities and our own human will.
Can you see how that immediately destroys the idea of 100% grace? Salvation, in the Arminian Gospel, is this: you’re saved by God’s grace plus man’s choice. And even after man chooses, it’s man who must keep himself persevering unto the end by the power of his own free will. It’s man who must see to it that he doesn’t fall away!
The Arminian Gospel says that you, man, are the determining factor as to whether or not you’re chosen by God to be saved. And then you, man, are the determining factor as to whether or not you’ll persevere unto the end.
But the Bible teaches that the same God Who chose us, and Who effectually called us, and Who made us alive with Christ, and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms – that same God has providentially ordered every detail of our lives so that we will perform those good works that He’s called us to do, and we will persevere in the faith until we’re all finally brought to glory by God’s power and by God’s grace alone!
People of God, Reformed doctrine, Calvinistic doctrine, including, at it’s core, the teaching of these five points of Calvinism, known as the TULIP doctrines, or the doctrines of grace – these doctrines are not just doctrines that describe one of several brands of Christianity. These doctrines of Calvinism are nothing less than the heart and soul of true, Biblical Christianity. That means that everyone must believe these doctrines if they want to have a sure hope of their salvation.
You see, if you hold to the Arminians’ false teaching in any of these five areas, you no longer have a salvation that’s 100% God’s doing and 100% God’s grace. And if your salvation is even 1% dependent on what you do, then your salvation is on shaky ground!
I’ll close today with the words of one of Augustus Toplady’s hymns. This one is #99 in the blue Trinity Hymnal. It emphasizes the fact that our salvation, from beginning to end, is 100% given to us by the grace of God, and therefore, is 100% certain!
A debtor to mercy alone,
of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with thy righteousness on,
My person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Saviour’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.
The work which his goodness began,
The arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Nor all things below or above,
Can make him his purpose forgo,
Or sever my soul from his love.
My name from the palms of his hands
Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on his heart it remains,
In marks of indelible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is giv’n;
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heaven. [Augustus Toplady, blue Trinity Hymnal, #99, stanzas 1-3.]
The glorified spirits who are already in heaven may be more happy than we Christians are in this world. But if we’ve been given the gift of faith to believe in Jesus Christ, then we’re just as secure in the future hope of our salvation as those who’ve already received it!
May this true doctrine of salvation by God’s 100% grace be a source of great joy and thanksgiving to you as you live your life in this world.
Yes, you must choose to believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. And yes, you must continue to believe and continue to persevere in that faith until the day you die and go to heaven. But the point is that both the ability to choose to believe, and the ability to persevere in the faith to the end, are gifts of God’s grace alone. They’re not something that we can do in our own power. They’re something God does in us and through us, by His grace alone. Your salvation is not dependent on anything you think, say, or do. It’s all of God’s doing. It’s all of God’s work, working in you. All of it. Period!
So let’s give God all the glory!
Back in the 1700’s, a hymn writer and theologian by the name of Augustus Toplady, preached about some of the dangers of Arminian teaching. Toplady said:
I dare say, that, in such an auditory [or group of listeners] as this, a number of Arminians are present. I fear, that all our public assemblies have too many of them. Perhaps, however, even these people, idolaters as they are, may be apt to blame, and, indeed, with justice, the absurdity of those who worship idols of silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. But let me ask: If it be so very absurd, to worship the work of men’s hands; what must it be, to worship the works of our own hands? Perhaps, you may say, “God forbid that I should do so.” Nevertheless, let me tell you, that trust, confidence, reliance, and dependence, for salvation, are all acts, and very solemn ones too, of divine worship: and upon whatsoever you depend, whether in whole or in part, for your acceptance with God, and for your justification in his sight, whatsoever, you rely upon, and trust in, for the attainment of grace of glory; if it be any thing short of God in Christ, you are an idolater for all intents and purposes.
Very different is the idea which Scripture gives us, of the ever-blessed God, from that of those false gods worshipped by the heathens; and from that degrading representation of the true God, which Arminianism would palm upon mankind. Our God ... is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he pleased. This is not the Arminian idea of God: for our free-willers and our chance-mongers tell us, that God does not do whatsoever he pleases; that there are a great number of things, which God wishes to do, and tugs and strives to do, and yet cannot bring to pass... Is their god the Bible-God? Certainly not. Their god “submits” to difficulties which he “cannot help” himself out of, and endeavours to make himself “easy” under millions and millions of inextricable embarrassments, uncomfortable disappointments, and mortifying defeats. ... This said scheme ascends, on the ladder of blasphemy, to the mountain top of atheism; and then hurls itself from that precipice, into the gulph of blind, adamantine necessity, in order to prove mankind free agents!” [Augustus Toplady (1740-1778), in “Free Will and Merit Fairly Examined,” The Works of Toplady, Vol. 3 (Choteau, Montana: Gospel Mission). Emphasis added.]
Ephesians 2:1-10, “How Do People Come to Believe?” (Part I of II)
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
[Also see WLC #66-69]
Did you know that the Apostle Paul was a “Five Point Calvinist?!
I know it’s a bit anachronistic to say that, since John Calvin didn’t come along until long after Paul was dead. So let me put it the other way around instead: John Calvin was a “Five Point Paulinist!” You see, the essence of what we, today, call “Calvinism” is set forth right here in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians!
You see, “the five points of Calvinism” are also known as “the doctrines of grace.” If you want to explain to someone how it is that a person is saved solely and completely by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, this is an excellent place to start.
This passage shows us that Arminianism is a false Gospel. All five points of Calvinism – or all five of the TULIP doctrines, if you want to call them that – are taught in Ephesians 2:1-10. These five points are:
Irresistible Grace, &
Perseverance of the Saints
All five of these doctrines of grace are taught here, and all five work together to focus on one thing: Salvation is by grace alone.
Unfortunately, most Arminians reject all five points of those doctrines of grace. We’re going to show how this makes their Gospel a false Gospel, because it’s not a Gospel of 100% grace.
Now I’m not going to say for a fact that all those who hold to any Arminian doctrine are lost. Obviously, there are various levels of error in Arminianism, and some are more serious than others. But I will say that if anyone rejects any of these five doctrines of grace, their salvation is in serious jeopardy and they may very well be lost.
I know that sounds harsh, and that’s not a very popular thing to say, but remember that it was the Apostle Paul who said, in Galatians 1:8-10, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
So as a minister of this Gospel, I, too, must be very careful to preach the Gospel as it was revealed in the Bible. If somebody is basing their hope of eternal life on what they think is the Gospel, but it’s not, then we aren’t doing them any favors by telling them, “Everything’s all right,” are we?
We’re not talking about peripheral matters of Christianity here when we discuss these “doctrines of grace.” We’re talking about the heart and soul of the Christian Gospel. We’re talking about salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, by God’s doing alone.
Let me begin with a brief summary of the Biblical teaching on the way God saves us:
Our salvation, where God unites us to Jesus Christ, is totally and completely the work of God – nothing of man.
Apart from God’s working in us, we’re dead in sin – we’re unable to believe in Jesus Christ. God, in His own time, not ours, by the working of His Spirit, through the preaching of His Word – God must call us to believe. God must draw us to Himself. God must give us the ability to believe (an ability which no man has in his own power). And God must perfectly “determine” our wills so that we’ll want to believe, and so that we do believe.
God does it all. God calls us to Himself through the preaching of the Word. God then makes us want to come and He makes us come. We may speak of this as the inward calling, or the effectual calling of God toward all His elect.
It’s true that there’s an outward calling of God as well. This outward calling comes to all who have the Gospel preached to them, both to the elect and to the non-elect. God outwardly calls and commands all men to believe. But the non-elect are not given faith to believe and to come to Christ.
So all men are commanded by God to believe in Jesus Christ, and all men are commanded to come to Him. But only the elect are actually enabled and drawn by God to come to Him. Again, salvation is all of God’s doing!
Through the preaching of the Word, the grace of God is offered, in a sense, or presented to the non-elect, but they don’t want to believe, and they can’t believe, and they won’t believe. So they never partake of any of that grace that’s presented to them through the preaching of the Gospel. Instead, God justly leaves them in their state of unbelief, so that they’ll never believe. They’ll never believe, because they can’t believe, apart from God enabling them to believe, and God has not chosen them to be saved.
Now such teaching gives Arminians all manner of hissy fits. “That’s not fair!” they’ll say. “It’s not fair that God chooses to save some and chooses not to save others. God must have some basis for choosing to save some. It must be because some choose to believe in God. That’s why He gives them His grace, but doesn’t give others His grace. And if it’s up to man to decide to choose Him,” they say, “then all men must be able to choose Him, otherwise some men would have an unfair advantage.”
So Arminians don’t like the doctrine of “Total Depravity,” which teaches that all men are dead in sin and are, therefore, unable to believe, apart from God’s grace.
“Also,” the Arminians continue, “since it’s up to man to choose God, then God’s election of some for salvation must be based on the fact that they chose to believe in Him first.” Or else they say, “God looks ahead and sees that they’re going to choose to believe in Him, so that’s why He chooses to save them and not others.”
In this way, Arminians deny the doctrine of “Unconditional Election.” This doctrine teaches that God chooses to save men only on the basis of His good pleasure and not on the basis of any “conditions” in man, or on the basis of anything man does or is going to do in the future.
Also, Arminians teach that, “Everybody has an equal chance to be saved, and so that means that Christ’s death must have been for all men indiscriminately, since God must love all men equally before they decide to believe.”
In this way, Arminians deny the doctrine of “Limited Atonement,” the Biblical teaching which says that Christ died only for His elect! The Bible teaches that the death or atonement of Christ was specifically limited to those Christ came to save, and it actually saves all of them.
And because Arminians believe that man has the ability to decide or not to decide to believe in Jesus, they also believe that God doesn’t determine a man’s will to believe. They teach that man, himself, determines whether or not he’ll believe. They say that God leaves it up to man to decide to believe on his own power.
In this way, Arminians deny the doctrine of “Irresistible Grace,” which teaches that all those upon whom God decides to bestow His grace will believe and will come to Him. God sovereignly causes them to believe, in spite of the fact that, by their own sinful natures, they hate Him and refuse to come.
And one more thing: Since Arminians believe it’s up to man to decide whether or not to believe in Jesus Christ in the first place, they also believe that it’s up to man to decide whether or not to continue to believe in Jesus Christ.
In this way, Arminians deny the doctrine of the “Perseverance of the Saints.” This doctrine teaches that God sees to it that every person He regenerates will persevere in the faith and be saved. No true Christian can ever become an unbeliever again and be lost. Every one of God’s elect will be caused by God to continue to believe until the end.
So the Arminian teaching that man, in his fallen state, is able to choose to believe in God, destroys the whole foundation of the Gospel of salvation by grace alone. In the Arminian system, salvation is no longer by grace alone, through faith alone. And if man decides to believe, by his own power, then faith is not a gift of God alone. It’s not given to men according to God’s choice alone.
So in the Arminian Gospel, the key difference between those who are saved and those who are lost – the one thing that separates the sheep from the goats – is a human act. For them, the only thing that finally determines who receives God’s gracious salvation and who doesn’t is man’s decision to believe.
People of God, that’s not salvation by grace alone! That’s salvation by God offering grace to everyone equally, plus man choosing to take God’s offer. According to Arminian teaching, without man’s part, without man’s choosing, without man’s deciding of his own free will, God can’t save anyone!
Well people of God, I’m here to tell you that that’s a false Gospel!
So let’s look at our text and see how all five of these doctrines of grace are clearly taught in the Bible. We’re only going to have time for the first two points today, but we’ll finish up with points three through five next week.
I. How do these verses teach TOTAL DEPRAVITY?
Ephesians 2:1-3 says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”
Paul points out that prior to our regeneration – prior to our being born again by the Holy Spirit – we were all dead in our transgressions and sins. We were all spiritually dead. Now you tell me how a spiritually dead person can do anything good or pleasing to God? He can’t!
Yet the Arminian says that this dead person first chooses to believe in God, and then God makes him alive and regenerates him! But even a little child can understand that a dead person can’t “choose” to do anything that a living person can do. In the same way, a spiritually dead person can’t “choose” to do anything that’s pleasing to God because there’s no spiritual life in him. None! Not even a flicker! He’s spiritually dead. He’s not just spiritually sick. He’s spiritually dead, the Bible says.
Now the Arminian will object and say, “But certainly unbelievers can do some good things, can’t they?”
“How can you say an unbeliever can’t do anything good or pleasing to God? Why, I know unbelievers who have done a lot of fine, loving, and good things in their lives.”
In response to such arguments, John Calvin pointed out that there are different ways to understand “good.” There are different kinds of “good.”
1) First of all, there’s what we might call, “Natural Good.” Unbelievers can do natural good. They can do things like eat, sleep, drink, and exercise. These things, we might say, are “good” for our bodies. That’s natural good.
2) Second, there’s what we might call, “Civic or Moral Good.” Unbelievers can do civic or moral good also. Calvin says that some worldly men have “uniformly conducted themselves in a most virtuous manner through the whole course of their lives” [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 1, p. 263?? Quoted from Hendrikson’s Commentary on Ephesians, p. 111.].
An example of this kind of civic or moral good might be found in Luke 6:33, “and if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.”
So unbelievers can do things that outwardly “appear” good to men and that help men. Unbelievers can build a school for the blind, and they can develop a cure for certain diseases. Unbelievers can be faithful to their wives and honest in their business dealings. These are all moral and civic good works. Outwardly, these works are good and beneficial to those around them. But unbelievers can never do the third kind of good, said Calvin.
3) The third and most important kind of good is what we might call, “Spiritual Good.” Spiritual good is good that pleases God. Since unbelievers have no faith, they can’t do any spiritually good works at all because all spiritually good works spring from faith. And Hebrews 11:6 tells us very plainly, “And without faith it is impossible to please God.”
So unbelievers can do nothing that pleases God. They can do no spiritual good.
That’s why Ephesians 2:3 says we are all “by nature objects of wrath.”
Ever since the Fall, every man, woman, and child has been born with a sinful nature. We’re all conceived and born in sin, and as such, by our own nature, we’re objects of God’s wrath. We all justly deserve God’s wrath.
So unbelievers can never do any spiritual good. They can never do any good that’s pleasing to God. Even when they do civic or moral good, they don’t do it for the proper motives, to bring honor and glory to God. They can’t, because they don’t have faith. In God’s sight, their words, thoughts, and actions are “only evil all the time,” according to the Bible.
The Bible says that the whole earth, except for Noah and his family, were like this in Noah’s day. That’s because there were no other believers besides Noah and his family in that time. In Genesis 6:5, we read, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”
Now I’m sure many of the people in Noah’s day did civil and moral good works. But nothing they did was pleasing to God because nothing they did came from the proper motive of the heart: love for God.
In Romans 3:12, Paul writes, quoting Psalms 14 & 53, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
That’s Total Depravity. Total Depravity means that, unbelieving man, in his own power, can do nothing that pleases God.
Now I know that comes as an awful blow to man’s self-esteem and self-worth – to be told that all men, apart from Christ, have “together become worthless” – but that’s the way it is. Apart from God regenerating us and God giving us faith in Jesus Christ, we’re all completely and totally depraved, spiritually dead, and worthless in God’s sight!
So that’s how these verses teach Total Depravity.
II. How do these verses teach UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION?
Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”
Notice, here, that God loves His people before He makes them alive. God loved us, it says, “even when we were dead in transgressions.”
That means God’s love didn’t come in response to our choosing to have faith, or in response to our choosing to believe in Jesus Christ. Paul says in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
In other words, if you’ve been made alive, says Paul, it’s “because of his great love,” and it’s because He is “rich in mercy.”
That means it’s not because we changed to somehow make God pleased with us. It’s not because we chose to believe in Jesus Christ, and then God, therefore, decided choose us.
No. God’s choosing of His people is an Unconditional Election. It’s a choosing based on nothing we can think, say or do, because, by nature, we’re all dead, and only God can enable us to have faith. Only God can bring the dead to life!
Now, you might wonder, “How could God love us and choose us while we were still sinful? The Bible teaches that God hates sin and that God hates sinners!”
Ephesians 1:4 answers that question. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”
That means He chose us, not because we would be holy or because He looked ahead and saw that we would have faith. He chose us because He planned to give us faith, because He planned to make us holy and to make us blameless in his sight.
The text continues, “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will [not according to man’s pleasure or man’s choosing or man’s decision or man’s will] – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
I don’t know how the Bible can make God’s grace any clearer than that! God freely “chose us in him” according to “his pleasure and will,” “to the praise of his glorious grace,” which “he has freely given us” in Christ!
This passage also makes it clear that it’s only because God views His elect in Christ that He can love them while they’re yet sinners. He loves His elect because He views them as perfect, holy, saints in Christ Jesus.
The Arminian protests, again, at this point, “It’s not fair that God would, for no reason at all in man, choose to save some and choose to send others to Hell.” And so the Arminian has to come up with some reason why God would choose some and leave others.
And that reason, he thinks, must be because some men choose to believe and others choose not to believe.
But the minute you begin to think that way, you’ve tossed 100% grace right out the window!
If God chooses those whom He’ll save based on some difference in men, then men can claim credit for whatever that difference is. Then men can boast, “Hey! I may not be perfect, but at least I’m better than those unbelievers because I chose to believe the Gospel. That’s why God chose to save me and not them.”
So I hope you can see how the Arminian understanding of the Gospel actually destroys the idea of 100% grace. While Arminians would never come right out and say this, salvation, in the Arminian Gospel, is only part grace. It’s also part something you do. In the Arminian gospel, you’re saved by God’s grace which is received only by man’s free will choice.
But Romans 9:10-16 makes it clear that there’s absolutely no difference in men that makes God choose one over the other. The Bible says, “...Rebecca’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac [So, in other words, there were no differences in these two brothers with regard to their heritage. They both had the exact same father and mother. In fact, they were twins. The text continues…]. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”
Again, how could the Bible make it any clearer? God didn’t choose to love Jacob because of anything in Jacob. Jacob was chosen because of God’s decision, not because of Jacob’s decision. “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”
That’s Unconditional Election! That should humble all of us who are believers. We have nothing to boast about. When we look at an evil person like one of those ISIS people who behead Christians, we should all be able to say, truthfully, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
We don’t have time today to look at the other three doctrines of grace, so we’ll save those for next week, but I want to take a minute, before we close, to clear up one common misunderstanding.
A lot of people think that if God alone decides who’s saved and who’s not, based solely on His own good pleasure and mercy, then there’s really nothing men have to do. They get sort of a fatalistic attitude about it all. “If I’m saved, I’m saved, and if I’m not, I’m not. So I’m not going to worry about it.”
But the Bible teaches us that there is something you must do. You must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You must repent of your sins and trust in Him alone and in His righteousness alone to make you right with God. You must seek to live a godly life in obedience to your Lord and Savior.
But here’s the point: you can’t do any of those things and you won’t do any of those things in your own strength. Every one of those whom God chooses to save, will do all of these things, but only because God causes him to do them, and only because God enables him to do them. God chooses to save us, by His own pleasure and will, and then we respond with the faith that He gives us.
And it’s through the hearing of the Gospel preached that God changes men’s hearts and causes them to believe.
So as an ambassador of Jesus Christ, I proclaim to every one of you today that you must do all of these things if you want to be saved. You must believe in Jesus Christ. You must trust in Him, alone to save you. You must repent of your sins and seek to obey Jesus Christ.
But at the same time, I must tell you that you can’t do any of those things of your own strength. I must tell you that you’re totally and completely at the mercy of Almighty God with regard to your being saved.
“Then why preach?” you might ask. “And why go to church?”
Because those are the means that God has determined to use to give faith to His chosen people. God uses the means of grace concentrated in His church to bring about salvation in our lives.
It’s God, Himself, Who saw fit to have me preach these things to you today. And it’s God, Himself, Who saw fit to have you present to hear this message from His Word today. And it’s God, Himself, Who will use these means to either strengthen your faith in Jesus Christ alone or to further harden your heart in sin.
You see, God uses the preaching of His Word to call His elect to believe in Him and to give them faith. He also uses the preaching of His Word to leave without excuse those whose hearts are hardened in their sins.
God uses the preaching of His Word to call you to repent of your sins, and to come to Him, and to receive His marvelous grace. And if you have ears to hear, you will come, but only because God gave you ears to hear.
Let us come to Him, then, in faith. And let us join with all of God’s saints in giving praise and thanks to God alone for giving us that ability to hear and to believe. That’s grace. That’s the Gospel of 100% grace. Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be all the glory!
John 12:36b-43 “Why Must I Join the Church?” (Part II of II) 08/02/15 PM,
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
Many people think, as we saw last week, that as long as they believe in Jesus Christ in their hearts, they’re automatically saved, even if they’re not members of any church. But the Bible, our creeds, our Reformed church fathers, and our OPC fathers all teach otherwise. They teach that all those who have true faith will, in obedience to Christ’s command, join themselves to His visible body, the church. The Bible and all these others teach that if we’re outside the visible church, we’re outside of Christ’s covenant – we’re outside of Christ’s body. And that means that we have no basis for hope of eternal life if we remain outside of that visible, covenantal union with Jesus Christ.
We can’t see the invisible church (That’s why we call it the “invisible” church!). The visible church on earth is the only “church” we can know, and the visible body of Christ is the only “body of Christ” we can know and have any contact with.
In his Institutes, John Calvin said:
Just as we must believe, therefore, that the former [or invisible] church, invisible to us, is visible to the eyes of God alone, so we are commanded to revere and keep communion with the latter [or visible church], which is called “church” in respect to men. [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. The Library of Christian Classics, volumes XX-XXI. Edited by J. T. McNeill. Translated by F. L. Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), Book IV, Chapter I, Section 7, p. 1022.]
We looked at some Scriptures last week which teach this. Today, we look at some more Scriptures that teach this:
In our text, in John 12:42-43, we have a situation where some Jewish leaders “believed in” Jesus, at least to some extent, but who were unwilling to make public profession of their faith and enter into covenant with Him. In other words, they were unwilling to join themselves to Christ’s body, the visible church. John 12:42-43 says, “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.”
These Jewish leaders were members of a false church, the Jewish synagogue. Apparently, they’d come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah – so, at least to some degree, they were convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah. They “believed in” Him, but they were unwilling to publicly confess that they believed in Him. They were unwilling to enter into visible covenant with Him by confessing their faith before men. They were unwilling to leave their false church and identify themselves, instead, with Jesus and His church. They refused to be baptized into Christ. They refused to publicly profess their faith and to join the followers of Christ. They preferred to keep their old friends instead.
In a sense, they were willing to “casually date” Jesus Christ, but they refused to enter into the marriage covenant with Him.
The Bible’s condemnation of them is very brief, but very precise: It says, “they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” In the Greek it actually says, “They loved the glory of men, “dóxa,” more than the glory of God.”
That means they violated the very first Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
They had the praise or the glory of men as their god instead of having Christ as their God. Jesus taught us that nothing and nobody must come before Him. He said, in Matthew 10:37-38, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
In Romans 10:9-10, Paul also stressed the importance of making a public confession or a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ (Notice, this is not a confession with the lips only, but a confession with the lips and with the heart.):
“...if you confess with your mouth [or your “lips”], ‘Jesus is Lord,’ [meaning that you publicly confess with your lips that Jesus is the Lord God, the Messiah] and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”
Here again we see the importance, not only of believing in your heart, but also of making a public profession of faith and outwardly identifying yourself with Christ’s body, the church.
Now let’s go back and see what the Bible says about those leaders in our text? It says that those leaders of the Jews “would not confess.” They “would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God.”
They refused to publicly confess their faith in Jesus Christ because of what others might think.
Professor E.J. Young, a former OT scholar at Westminster Seminary, wrote a little book over 40 years ago called, “Do You Believe?” It was published by the Committee on Christian Education of the OPC. In this book, Dr. Young stressed the necessity of church membership. Let me read to you the closing paragraphs of this little book:
If you believe in Jesus Christ and trust Him as your Saviour from sin, you must confess Him before men..... You must make a public profession of your faith in Christ; that is you must confess Him openly, in the presence of others.... He Himself has commanded this…Those who think that they can live the Christian life without the Church of Christ are disobedient to Him at the start.
What church, you may ask, shall I join? The land is full of churches, and these often conflict with one another. Who can tell which one is right and which is wrong? Well, the answer to this question is really not so difficult as some would have us think. A little investigation will reveal to you what church you should join. If you were going to buy a new car, you would not say, “There are so many cars on the market, and each one claims to be the best. How shall I ever know which one to buy? Perhaps I had better not buy any.” No, if you were going to buy a car, you would spend a little time in investigation to discover which car you wanted.
The question of uniting with the Church, however, is infinitely more important than that of purchasing a new car. For, to unite with the wrong church is sin.
There are churches which deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Have no fellowship with them. There are churches which teach that man can save himself. Have no fellowship with them.
There are churches which teach that the Bible is filled with mistakes. Have no fellowship with them....
The way to tell whether a Church is true or not is to test it by the Bible, for the Bible is God’s Word.... If it pays no attention to the Bible, or if it denies the Bible, then beware of it, and have nothing to do with it. Do not judge a Church by its size or its building or its supposed “enthusiasm.” Judge a Church by its fidelity [or “faithfulness”] to the Word of God. Take your stand with those who today are standing for the Truth. [Edward J. Young, Do You Believe? (Phillipsburg, NJ: The Committee On Christian Education – The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1954), pp. 35-37.]
So E.J. Young, one of the forefathers of our church, said you must join a church, and this church must be a true church.
You might be surprised to learn what that great teacher of the Reformation, John Calvin, considered a true church to be.
Kenneth Alan Kok, in his master’s thesis for Westminster Seminary, gives us some interesting insights into Calvin’s view of a true church. He writes:
Calvin’s theology will not admit...any least common denominator Christianity and, therefore, no least common denominator preaching.
Preaching must be in the tradition of the true Church and any reduction from that tradition is not the Gospel. Anything which is not the whole counsel of God as confessed by the true Church is anathema [meaning “cursed”]. Thus, the Reformed faith is not additional to the Gospel, but it is the Gospel, pure and simple. On the basis of what Calvin has taught, any preaching other than preaching of the Reformed faith is not true preaching, and, thus, any Church in which the preaching is not the preaching of the Reformed faith cannot be a true church – and, hence, salvation is not to be found there...the call comes...to join the true Church, or face God’s wrath.
...[Surely] One cannot...say that, for Calvin, Reformed theology stood over against Lutheran, Baptist, Arminian, and Wesleyan theologies so that Calvin would condemn their preaching as false preaching! Or can one? It would appear that one certainly can. It is, indeed, Calvin who called Lutheran theology, in the person of Joachim Westphal, heretical. ...It was Calvin who wrote, “Wherefore we reprobate all fanatics who will not allow little children to be baptized.” [John Calvin, “Confession of Faith in Name of the Reformed Churches of France,” in Tracts and Treatises, Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983. [Vol. 2 is a reproduction of the Calvin Translation Society edition of 1849]), p. 154. Emphasis added.]
That startling quote is from Calvin’s, “Confession of Faith, in Name of the Reformed Churches of France.” This was a general confession of the “doctrinal position” of all of the Reformed Churches of France of Calvin’s day. It’s in Article 26 of that Confession, entitled, “Of Baptism,” that Calvin makes that bold statement: “Wherefore we reprobate all fanatics who will not allow little children to be baptized.”
For Calvin, then, baptizing the infants of believers was not optional. Calvin taught that church membership for the children of believers is just as necessary as church membership for adult believers.
The circumcision of infants was not optional in the OT. In the same way the baptism of infants in the NT is not optional either. Infants of believers must be brought into visible church membership through covenant baptism.
For Calvin, Arminian churches, that is, churches that teach that man chooses God first instead of God choosing man first, are not just another “brand” of Christianity. A church that consistently teaches Arminianism is a false church. So if we take seriously Calvin’s definition of a true church, this has crucial implications for preaching as well as for choosing a church.
You see, some preachers refuse to preach certain parts of the Gospel because they don’t want to “offend” their listeners. So, instead, they “offend” God and withhold the true Gospel from their people!
As John Calvin clearly stated, “No one has God for a Father unless he has the Church for a Mother.” [Ibid. Emphasis added.]
Arminianism and Pelagianism are doctrinal heresies. They teach that man contributes at least partly toward his salvation: Man chooses God, of his own free will. Man decides to believe, of his own free will.
What Calvin is saying is that such pollution of the Gospel is no longer the Gospel of truth.
Not only did Calvin stress that we must find a true church, Calvin also stressed the necessity of membership in that visible church. In his Institutes, Book IV, Chapter I, Calvin says:
For no hope of future inheritance remains to us unless we have been united with all other members under Christ, our Head [p. 1014]. ...away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation...it is always disastrous to leave the church [Calvin, Institutes, Book IV, Chapter I, Secs. 2-4, pp. 1014-1016. Emphasis added.].
Now it’s interesting that Calvin doesn’t say that a person can’t have salvation apart from joining a church – He says a person can’t hope for salvation if he’s not a member of the visible church.
Again, some people who never join a church might possibly be saved – God is certainly able to save them – but what’s the basis of their hope of salvation if they refuse to enter covenant with Jesus Christ? On what basis are they hoping to be saved? You see, God’s covenant promises are given only to those who are in covenant with Him.
In other words, then, don’t expect to get to heaven if you abandon the church. God doesn’t promise to save people apart from their entering into covenant with Him. Don’t get your “hopes” up about being saved if you have no covenant promise from God for those hopes.
Ronald S. Wallace wrote a book entitled, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacraments, in which he quotes Calvin. Calvin did a lot of study and a lot of writing regarding the importance of church membership and the importance of the sacraments of the church (which belong only to church members). Wallace writes, quoting Calvin:
“...Hence, unless we cultivate unity with the faithful, we see that we are cut off from Christ.” [Calvin, Comments on Ezekiel 13:9. Cf. comments on Isaiah 54:1.] Calvin says: “It is also worthy of observation that none but the citizens of the Church enjoy this privilege; for, apart from the body of Christ and the fellowship of the godly, there can be no hope of reconciliation with God.
Hence, in the creed [Apostles’ Creed], we profess to believe the Catholic Church [that is, the universal church] and the forgiveness of sins; for God does not include among the objects of His love any but those whom He reckons among the members of His only begotten Son, and, in like manner, does not extend to any who do not belong to His body the free imputation of righteousness. Hence it follows that strangers who separate themselves from the Church have nothing left for them but to rot amidst their curse. Hence also, an open departure from the Church is an open renouncement of eternal salvation.” [Calvin’s comments on Isaiah 33:24. Emphases added.]
What Calvin is saying is this: “If you don’t belong to Christ’s body, you have no reason or foundation to believe that God loves you. And God has not promised to give you Christ’s righteousness if you’re not in Him, by covenant.”
Yet how many people in the world today realize that the church is the body of Christ, and that outside the body of Christ there is no salvation promised to us? Wallace continues...
So closely does Calvin identify incorporation in Christ with incorporation in the Church that he regards the activity of the Church towards its individual members as being identical with the action of Christ towards the individual. The response of the individual to the ministry of the Church is thus identical with his response toward Christ.
That means that your response to the true preaching of Christ’s Word in His church is your response to Christ, Himself!
That’s what Calvin taught. And that’s what the Bible teaches.
Wallace continues a little later…
...Christ has committed to the Church the ministry of His grace. He has, moreover, attached many of His promises to the Church so that the individual can have no certainty of obtaining salvation and the benefits of His death and resurrection apart from the Church.
Understood in this sense, Calvin is ready on all occasions to state clearly his belief that outside of the Church there is no salvation.
In other words, you can’t be sure you’re saved, apart from the church. And yet how many evangelism programs today offer people assurance that they’re saved, simply because they say they believe. All too often they’re never told that it’s necessary for them to enter into covenant with Jesus Christ by joining with his visible body, the church.
And then Wallace quotes Calvin again:
“They who wish to become partakers of so great a benefit must be a part of Israel, that is, of the Church, out of which there can be neither salvation nor truth.” [Calvin’s comments on Isaiah 49:7] “Such as forsake the Church ... wholly alienate themselves from Christ.” [Calvin’s comments on Hebrews 10:26]
In [Calvin’s] commentary on Hebrews 10:25 Calvin identifies departing from the Church with a “falling away from the living God.” [Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament (Tyler TX: Geneva Divinity School, 1982 [Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd Ltd., 1953]), pp. 234-236.]
Now let’s come back to our day and age. We’ll leave Calvin behind for the time being. Dr. Leonard Coppes, an OPC minister in Denver, and former chairman of the OPC Committee on the Diaconate, has written a book entitled, Are Five Points Enough? Ten Points of Calvinism. Here’s what Dr. Coppes says:
If one believes in Christ, one must and will submit to His Word. The first step of this submission (externally) is to assume participation in His church. This may mean that one must be baptized (if never before baptized)...and it definitely means making a public and credible confession of faith.... It means identifying one’s entire life with the cause of Christ and His church and it may mean stepping out of one’s culture, nation and family (Acts 2:40). [Leonard J. Coppes, Are Five Points Enough? Ten Points Of Calvinism (Manassas, VA: Reformation Educational Foundation, 1980), p.168. Emphases added.]
You see, Coppes is talking about a situation similar to what these Jews faced in John 12. They had to step out of their culture if they were going to identify with Christ. They had to step out of their positions of leadership in the synagogue and perhaps even leave family and friends behind in many cases. But John tells us that they were unwilling to identify with Christ. They were unwilling to enter into covenant with Him by professing their faith before men.
Another former Westminster Seminary Professor, the late John Murray, believed that this idea of the “invisible” church has been greatly abused. He said:
It is all-important to bear in mind that the church of God is an institution. It may never be conceived of apart from the organization of the people of God in visible expression and in discharge of the ordinances instituted by Christ. [John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray Volume I (Great Britain: W & J Mackay Limited, 1976), p. 238. Emphasis added.]
In other words, says Murray, we can’t think of the church apart from this visible institution of the church.
That means we shouldn’t think of a person being in the invisible church unless he’s a member of the visible church. There’s only one church which we know on this earth. We can’t see the invisible church. Again, that’s why we call it the invisible church. We can see the visible church, and that’s the one we join. That’s the one which has our names on its membership rolls. That’s the one we know on earth as the organized body of Christ. As Calvin said in his Sermons on Ephesians, “whoever will be taken for a Christian must also be a child of the church.” [Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians (London, 1979), p. 363. Emphasis added.]
And so we see that the Scriptures teach this. Our Reformed Confessions, such as the Westminster, the Belgic, the Second Helvetic, and the Geneva Catechism, all teach this. Our forefathers in the faith teach this. Our OPC leaders teach this. And all of these witnesses agree: Membership in the visible church is not optional. It’s necessary for Christians to join the church. Outside the visible church there’s “no ordinary possibility of salvation.”
So all of this means that if you’re in Christ, by covenant, through your membership in His body, the church, then you should cherish that position in which you stand.
Stay in the church. Don’t ever leave. Don’t ever leave that only safe haven from the wrath of God – that only sure and safe protection from God’s anger. And if you move away to some other area, don’t let your church membership lapse. Be sure to write back to your former church for a letter of transfer and have them transfer you to that other church.
In fact, before you even decide to move somewhere, find out first if there’s a church there, a true church, a church that you can join in good conscience. And if there’s not a true church there, don’t move there! You may not go anywhere, at least not permanently, where you can’t be a member of and attend a true church. You must either find one or help to start a new one wherever you go.
And if you refuse to become a professing member of Christ’s body, the visible church, well, I’m not going to say for sure that you’re definitely going to go to Hell. But I will say that you have no promise of God that He’s going to save you, if you refuse to enter the covenant. If you refuse to enter into covenant with Jesus Christ, you have no sure hope of eternal life. You have no basis for assurance that you’ll go to heaven when you die. So I’d encourage you to begin making plans to enter that covenant with God, by joining Christ’s body, the visible church, very soon. And once you’re in, don’t ever leave!
Let me remind you also that only members of Christ’s visible church are permitted to eat the Lord’s Supper. Only those joined to Christ by covenant have communion with Him. And in John 6:53, Jesus Himself says, (Now listen carefully!) “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
Some of you may think these last two sermons on the necessity of church membership are too long and too repetitive, but I can’t stress this point too strongly or too often. Your eternal life depends on your understanding this.
You need Christ. And the way that the Bible says you receive Christ is not through walking down an aisle or kneeling at the altar; and it’s not through raising your hand at an evangelism rally; and it’s not through praying the “sinner’s prayer” to confess your sins and receive Christ. The Scriptures teach that we receive Christ only through the outward, visible signs and seals of the outward, visible church which is Christ’s body on earth. We receive Christ only by receiving true faith in Jesus Christ, and then by joining Christ’s visible, covenant body, the church. That’s how those who’ve been given true faith in Christ are taught to respond to His grace in the Gospel!
Acts 2:37-47 “Why Must I Join the Church?” (I of II)
07/26/15 PM Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
Today and next Sunday I want to speak about why it’s important to join the visible church of Jesus Christ. Many people are confused as to how they should view the church of Jesus Christ. Our creeds, the WCF and the WLC, speak about a distinction between the visible and the invisible church. This doctrine of the distinction between the visible and invisible church is a helpful doctrine if we understand what’s intended by those terms, “visible church” and “invisible church.” Unfortunately, this doctrine has been so misunderstood and so abused that many ministers and theologians prefer not to even use those terms anymore.
You see, a lot of people think this way: “There are basically two ways of looking at the church. There’s the visible church, which is denominations and congregations and having your name written down on the membership rolls of a congregation. And then there’s the invisible church which is composed of all true believers who are really saved. The visible church,” they reason, “is composed of some true believers and some hypocrites and people who are either purposely ‘faking’ belief in Christ, or who think they’re true believers but they’re not.”
Having those two definitions in mind, some of these same people then take the next logical step and say, “Now, what’s most important after all? That I have my name on the membership rolls of a church, or that I really believe? Why, the important thing is that I’m really a Christian, that I’m really a true believer. So who cares about membership?”
Now, given that understanding of things, being a member of the visible church is then pretty much optional, isn’t it? And so what’s happened is that there are many people today who say they’re believers, but who, for one reason or another, aren’t members of the visible church. Either they’ve never joined the church in the first place, or they were members once, but they just let things slide so that they’re members no longer. Or perhaps they’ve moved away and never joined another church in their new location. Or maybe the church they joined did something they didn’t like, so they left and started attending another church and never joined that church. Or possibly they no longer even attend church any more, thinking to themselves, “Well, as long as I’m a true believer, I’m a member of the invisible church and that’s what counts, after all.”
Well, I want to make sure that you understand: that’s not what the framers of our confession and catechisms had in mind when they talked about the visible and invisible church! And that’s not the concept of the church that the Bible teaches us!
Nowhere does the Bible give us the impression that membership in the visible church is optional, or that it’s unnecessary. Nowhere does the Bible teach us that as long as a person believes the Gospel, he’s saved, regardless of whether or not he joins the visible church. That may be what you’ve heard in a Billy Graham Crusade or in some other evangelistic ministry, but that’s not the Biblical view!
The only reason the distinction between the visible and the invisible church needs to be made is to teach people that visible church membership alone can’t save them. That’s what the Roman Catholic Church was teaching during the time of the Reformation. Many people believed that as long as they were members of the visible church and partook of the sacraments, they were automatically saved.
But the Bible clearly teaches that simply being a member of a church and partaking of the sacraments, without having true faith, saves no one!
You must also be a sincere believer. You must also be one who has true faith in Jesus Christ as He’s revealed in the Bible. Church membership alone can’t save you!
But never, anywhere in the Bible or in our creeds – never are we given the impression that the visible church is optional or unnecessary. In fact, the Bible and our creeds teach us the exact opposite!
So I want to take some time today and next Sunday to look at the Bible and at our creeds, as well as at some of the writings of our forefathers in the faith on this matter. I want to show you how clearly God’s Word speaks regarding the importance of membership in Christ’s church.
Let’s start with the Bible so that you can see that those positions stated in our creeds and explained by our forefathers are Biblical.
I would direct your attention, specifically, to Acts 2:47 which I’ll quote first from the KJV: “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (The NIV says And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”) Either way, we see that those who are called, “saved,” were added to a visible, tangible body, the church.
The text says that “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” The Lord added to the church, to His covenant body, those who should be saved. That’s the way it’s always been.
If you look at Acts 2:37, Peter has just finished preaching his sermon at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has been poured out. Tongues of fire have rested on the apostles, and now Peter is preaching a sermon. And in summary, he says, “This Jesus Christ that you Jews crucified and put to death on the cross has been raised from the dead, according to the OT prophecies, just as He said, and now this same Jesus has been exalted, and He’s sitting on the highest throne in heaven, with all power!”
So in other words, you all are in big trouble!”
And the Jews were immediately convicted. That’s why v. 37 says, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ’Brothers, what shall we do?’”
Now I want you to take careful note as to Peter’s response to that question. V. 38 tells us, “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized.’”
In other words, “Repent and join the visible church.”
He says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children [That’s the same covenant promise given in the OT to the Jews and their children, but now he says, “[This] promise is for you and your children,” and it’s even...] for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
That meant that now, even the Gentiles, who once were far off from those covenant promises – even those Gentiles are now given those same covenant promises, if they repent and join Christ’s body, the church.
V. 40 continues, “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’”
And then v. 41 says, “Those who accepted his message...” raised their hands and said, “I’m a believer,” and they were saved? No, that’s not what it says!
“Those who accepted his message...” walked down the aisle and knelt in front of the altar and they were saved?
No! That’s not what it says either.
Here’s what the text says:
“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
And then a little later, in v. 47 we read, “The Lord added to their number [meaning the number of those added to the membership rolls of the visible church”] daily those who were being saved.”
When these people believed, they were baptized. And when they were baptized, they were added to the number of those who were members of Christ’s covenant body, the church.
A lot of people think being on the membership rolls of a church isn’t necessary. A lot of churches don’t even have membership rolls. But if that’s the case, then they don’t understand the Bible.
You find this same process all through the NT. Those who believed joined the visible body of Christ and became part of the “number” of that group. If they had children, their children were also baptized into Christ’s body, the visible church.
This was nothing new. In the NT, baptism replaced OT circumcision as the sign and seal of entrance into membership in God’s covenant. This sign and seal of membership in the covenant, circumcision, was given to the children of believing parents in the OT, in most cases, while they were still infants, only 8 days old. So baptism, the sign of covenant membership in the NT, is also to be given to all the infant children of believing parents. If believers in the OT refused to circumcise their infant children, they weren’t allowed to be members of the covenant or to partake of the Passover. That’s why it’s a great sin to refuse the covenant sign of baptism to the children of believers.
If those infants who are baptized into covenant membership later fail to live as God’s covenant people, once they become “of age” themselves – if they’re found to be living in unrepentant sin, or if they refuse to profess their own faith in Jesus Christ, they’re to be disciplined by the church and encouraged to repent. And if they fail to repent, those members of the church are to be cut off from the covenant by being put out of the membership of the visible church. That’s what the Bible teaches!
Duane Spencer, a minister in the OPC who’s now dead, wrote a book entitled, Holy Baptism: Word Keys Which Unlock the Covenant. It’s one of the best books on the mode of baptism in print.
Spencer shows from the Bible that sprinkling or pouring, from above, is the proper Biblical mode of baptism, even though we would recognize that those baptized by the improper mode of dunking or immersion have still been truly baptized. But the mode of baptism that’s taught in the Bible is sprinkling or pouring “from above,” just as the Holy Spirit, Whose cleansing is represented in water baptism, comes down upon men “from above.”
But I want to quote from the introduction of Spencer’s book, since it deals with our topic for today: membership in the visible church (This introduction was written by James B. Jordan):
Holy Baptism is the sign and seal of the covenant. It is not the sign and seal of eternal election, for God alone looks on the heart. Man looks on the outward appearance, and we as Christians need to know whom we are to count as and treat as fellow Christians. Do we count as Christians those who have a flaming testimony? Or only those who speak in tongues? Or only those who talk about spiritual things the same way we do, whom we feel at home with? The answer of the Bible, and of the Church of all ages is this: We count as Christians those to whom God has given the visible sign of baptism, provided they have not been excommunicated from the visible church... Thus we always count our children as Christians and treat them as such...The sprinkling church thus does not presume to read the hearts, but treats only of the visible things, leaving the invisible to God. [James B. Jordan in Duane E. Spencer, Holy Baptism: Word Keys Which Unlock the Covenant (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, 1984), pp. xi-xii.]
That means that we do not treat a person as a Christian the moment they say they believe in Jesus Christ. We treat them as a Christian when they identify with Christ, by joining His covenant body, the church through baptism and professing church membership.
It was no small thing, in the NT, to be cut off from the visible church. To be outside the visible church meant to be outside the covenant. And the promises of the Gospel are made only to those within God’s covenant. To be outside the body of Christ means to be outside of Christ. We don’t want to be outside of Jesus Christ. In the Bible, the only people who were considered to be in Christ, were those who were members, in good standing, in Christ’s body, the visible church. And this is so plain on the face of the whole NT, it’s a wonder people have missed it!
Listen very carefully to what the WCF says in summarizing what the Bible teaches about this matter. You can follow along in the back of your blue, Trinity Hymnals, if you wish, on p. 686. Either many people don’t read their confession of faith or they’ve simply missed this point:
WCF XXV:II. The visible Church [Here it gives a brief description of the visible church and then it continues, “The visible Church...”] ...consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.
There you have it: There is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside of the visible church! That’s what the Westminster Assembly found that the Bible teaches. That’s what the brightest and most sanctified, theological minds in all of England and Scotland concluded from God’s Word. And they weren’t alone.
The Belgic Confession, written prior to the WCF, is even more pointed on the matter. Article XXVIII is entitled, “EVERY ONE IS BOUND TO JOIN HIMSELF TO THE TRUE CHURCH.” The title kinda gives away the point, I realize! But here’s what it says:
We believe, since this holy congregation [speaking of the visible church in general, not an individual congregation – JKB] is an assembly of those who are saved, and outside of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it...
And that this may be the more effectually observed, it is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from all those who do not belong to the Church, and to join themselves to this congregation [again, that’s not talking about a particular congregation, but the congregated body of Christ’s church in some location – JKB], wheresoever God has established it, even though the magistrates and edicts of princes were against it,
yea, though they should suffer death or any other corporal punishment. Therefore all those who separate themselves from the same or do not join themselves to it act contrary to the ordinance of God.
Do you feel the force of that statement? It says you must join the visible church, even if that means you’ll have to suffer punishment at the hands of the civil government. Even if it means you’ll be put to death by the magistrate, you must join the visible church of Jesus Christ!
Both of these creeds follow the Biblical teaching of John Calvin, that prince of exegetes, who taught the same thing in numerous places in his writings. For example, here are two questions and answers from Calvin’s Genevan Catechism:
Master [That’s how Calvin addresses the student – sort of like “Mr.” The student is asking a question here.]. Why do you subjoin forgiveness of sins to the Church? [In other words, the student is asking, “Why is it that the forgiveness of sins can be received only in conjunction with the visible church?”]
Scholar. Because no man obtains it without being previously united to the people of God, maintaining unity with the body of Christ perseveringly to the end, and thereby attesting that he is a true member of the Church.
Master. In this way you conclude that out of the Church is nought but ruin and damnation?
Scholar. Certainly. Those who make a departure from the body of Christ, and rend its unity by faction, are cut off from all hope of salvation during the time they remain in this schism, be it however short. [John Calvin, “The Genevan Catechism” in Tracts and Treatises vol. II (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983. [Vol. 2 is a reproduction of the Calvin Translation Society edition of 1849]), p. 52.]
So John Calvin taught, and our creeds agree, that the Bible teaches this truth: “Outside of the Church is nothing but ruin and damnation.”
I would not be doing my job as a minister of the Word of God if I didn’t point that out to you. This is information that every person on the face of this earth needs to know! “Outside of the Church is nothing but ruin and damnation.”
Now of course we know that God is able to save people that never join the church. God sometimes does some rather extraordinary things that are beyond our understanding. That’s why I appreciate the way the WCF puts this truth. It says that outside the visible church, there’s no “ordinary” possibility of salvation.
The thief on the cross was saved, and we know that he wasn’t baptized into the visible church while he hung on the cross next to Jesus. But that was certainly an extraordinary case. After all, he couldn’t join the church, since he’d be dead in a few hours. And when you think about it, he did make a public profession of his faith in Jesus Christ as he hung upon the cross next to Jesus.
And then, Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, personally and publicly, received him into membership in His body when He said to him, in Luke 23:43, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
I’m sure the same would be true of a person today who truly believes in Jesus Christ, and who fully intends to join the church as soon as possible, but who perhaps dies suddenly before that happens. Or consider a child of believing parents who dies shortly after he’s born, or even before he’s born, and so is never baptized.
We’d consider such individuals to be saved, nonetheless. But those are “extraordinary” situations.
And even if we were to allow for the possibility that God, in His sovereign power, could decide, immediately and supernaturally, and apart from any of those outward means of preaching, and church membership, and the sacraments, to zap someone with salvation, we’d still have no basis on which to expect such things. God never promises to save anyone that way.
We have no promise, no revelation on which to hope for such things. When God lays out before us the only way of salvation in the Bible, then that way is the only basis for our sure hope of salvation. Any other way of salvation is merely wishful thinking on men’s part.
So let’s be perfectly clear. According to the Bible, as understood in the WCF, and as understood in the Belgic Confession, and as understood by John Calvin, (and many, many others could be added), there is no ordinary possibility of salvation for you, if you refuse to join the visible church! If you refuse to join yourself to the body of Jesus Christ, you don’t have any Biblical basis on which to hope for salvation.
And it should, of course, go without saying, that that means you must be a member of a true church and not an apostate one. A person could be a member of the Mormon Church, for instance (if you want to even call that heretical group a church), and still not be a member of Christ’s true body. The Scriptures command us to join with a church that preaches and teaches the whole counsel of God. That means that we should join a Reformed and Presbyterian church, because that’s the only kind of church that seeks to proclaim God’s Word in all its fullness.
Now we know that there are no perfect churches, of course, but it’s our duty to join with the most faithful church we can find. If we want to have the true God as our God, then we must have God’s true Word as our guide.
The very first Commandment, in Exodus 20: 3, says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Now what does it mean to “have” a God? And how do we “have” a God? Well, think about it, how do you “have” a husband or a wife? How do you “have” a spouse? Do you “have” a spouse the moment you say, “I love you?”
“I love you. There, now you’re my spouse.”
No. It doesn’t work that way.
Even if you’re really, truly in love with this other person, does that mean you “have” them as your spouse? No.
What about if you’re living together? If you’re living with them and you see them every day and every week, does that make them your spouse? No.
You “have” them as your spouse only when you enter into covenant with them, that is, when you marry them. Only then are they your spouse, by covenant, not before!
Well in the same way, when God says, “Don’t ‘have’ any other gods before me,” that implies the opposite: you must have Him as your God. And you get Him as your God only by entering into covenant with Him. Apart from that covenant bond, you see, you have no claims on God’s covenant promises!
In fact, John Calvin makes an interesting statement in this regard in his comments on Psalm 24:7. He says, “...for what is the purpose of the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments, of religious gatherings and of the whole external order of the church except to unite us to God?” [John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. IV, pp. 409-410. Comment on Psalm 24:7.]
In other words, “What’s the purpose of the visible church except to join us to God in covenant?”
The outward preaching and hearing of the Word of God and the outward visible signs and seals of baptism and the Lord’s Supper – all of these have the purpose of uniting us to God, by joining us to Jesus Christ. These are the ways and means which God has ordained to bring us into union with Jesus Christ. Apart from these outward means of the visible church, we’re not joined to Christ.
Therefore, we must let nothing stop us from identifying with Jesus Christ through His body, the visible church. If we want to have any assurance of salvation, we must be in covenant with Jesus Christ. We must be members of His body, the visible church. Again, the covenant promises of God belong only to those who are members of that visible covenant.
This is not simply one man’s opinion of what the Bible teaches. We’ve seen that this is the consensus of many orthodox teachers throughout church history. We’ll see even more evidence for this next Sunday, since there’s so much more evidence to present.
The Bible teaches us this. Our confessions interpret the Bible as teaching this. Our forefathers in the faith interpret the Bible as teaching this. Our Orthodox Presbyterian leaders interpret the Bible as teaching this. And all of these witnesses agree: Membership in the visible church is not optional. It’s necessary for us to join the church if we’re to have any sure hope of salvation. Because, as our confession says, the visible church is that body, “outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”
John 3:1-15, “Who Chooses Who First?” [Part I of II]
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
Perhaps some of you have heard of a doctrine called, “baptismal regeneration.” Baptismal regeneration is the teaching that baptism with water regenerates you. The Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Lutheran Church, and many other churches (even a few Presbyterian churches), have all been corrupted, at different times, and in varying degrees, with this doctrine.
This false teaching originated with a misunderstanding of I Peter 3:20-21, which says, in the Old KJV, “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
The operative phrase, of course, is that phrase, “baptism doth also now save us.” The NIV puts it this way: “and this water [that is the water of the flood] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also...”
Many churches interpret that to mean that when the church baptizes someone, the water of baptism automatically regenerates the person who’s baptized. But we have clear examples of people in the NT (Simon the Sorcerer & Judas), who were baptized and yet weren’t regenerate. This verse in I Peter doesn’t say that the “water” saves you, but that the “water symbolizes baptism,” which now saves you.
How can the water symbolize the water?
Well, the text says that “this water [that is, the water of the OT flood] symbolizes baptism [that is, “symbolizes the water of NT baptism, and it’s baptism] that now saves you also...”
It’s quite clear from the text that the water of NT baptism symbolizes the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is what “now saves you.” So it’s not the water that saves you, but the baptism of the Holy Spirit that saves you. But this text is not saying that the Holy Spirit regenerates every single person who receives the “water” of baptism. Nowhere does the Bible teach any such doctrine!
To say that the new birth can be poured out on a person through the sacrament of baptism puts man in control of salvation. The sacrament of baptism is performed by man. Its administration in the church is under man’s control.
Back in the 1800’s this doctrine of “baptismal regeneration” was the cause of a very heated controversy. Most of you have probably heard of the popular preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Well, in 1864, he printed more copies of his sermon denouncing baptismal regeneration than any other sermon he ever preached! Spurgeon realized that if we say that the new birth is, in any sense, under man’s control, we gravely distort the Gospel of salvation by grace alone from God.
The WLC #58-59 were set forth by the Westminster Assembly, way back in the 1600’s, in order to protect the church against this false teaching of baptismal regeneration.
Q. 58. How do we come to be made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured?
A. We are made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured, by the application of them unto us, which is the work especially of God the Holy Ghost.
Q. 59. Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?
A. Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ hath purchased it, who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel.
Clearly, then, the Westminster Assembly believed that the Bible teaches that it’s God the Holy Spirit Who controls who’s born again and when, not the church that baptizes.
Perhaps some of you have seen the TV movie called, The Lady Jane Gray. That movie is based on a true story. Back in the 1500’s, prior to the convening of the Westminster Assembly, there was a struggle over whether a Roman Catholic or a Presbyterian would be queen of England. Lady Jane Gray was the Presbyterian and she became queen for a very short period before queen Mary, the Roman Catholic, took the kingdom away from her.
Lady Jane was instructed to recant her Presbyterian faith, but she refused. She was asked if the church gives salvation (the correct answer, according to the Roman Catholic Church of that day was, “Yes”).
Lady Jane, however, said that Christ alone gives salvation. The Roman Catholic priest questioning her tried, again and again, to get her to admit that the church had the power to confer salvation, but Lady Jane stood firm. Because of her refusal to recant, she had her head chopped off in the Square near the Tower of London. My wife and I saw that actual chopping block, which is there to this day.
Of course, all of this took place back in the days when both sides took their religion a lot more seriously than most people do today. Would you be willing to defend the doctrine that it’s not the church that saves, but Christ alone Who saves, if it meant you’d have your head chopped off?
The whole point of Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus, in our text for today, was to teach Nicodemus that he was totally helpless to save himself.
John 3:3-8 says, “In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit [that is, unless he’s born by natural birth and also Spirit given birth], he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again [or “born from above”].” The wind [or Spirit] blows [or breathes] wherever [He] pleases. You hear [His voice], but you cannot tell where [He] comes from or where [He] is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’”
This text makes it abundantly clear that it’s the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit alone, Who can regenerate a person. Although God has given the church the authority to bring people into a covenant relationship with Him, outwardly, through baptism, God has not given the church the authority or the power to inwardly regenerate people. Baptismal regeneration is a false teaching that must be resisted, even unto death, as Lady Jane Gray so bravely demonstrated.
There’s another closely related doctrine being taught today, very much like baptismal regeneration, and just as dangerous. It’s called “decisional regeneration.” The only difference between baptismal regeneration and decisional regeneration is that they each tie regeneration to different human acts. Baptismal regeneration ties regeneration to the human act of baptizing with water. Decisional regeneration ties regeneration to the human act of deciding to come down the aisle in response to an altar call or deciding to accept Jesus into your heart. So both of these false teachings say that men can control when regeneration occurs.
I couldn’t believe my eyes a few years ago when I saw our own OPC, October 24, 1997 bulletin covers, purchased through our own Great Commission Publications, through another publisher. I’m sure the folks at GCP didn’t carefully review that cover, but let it slip through, unintentionally.
Usually, the bulletin covers had some Bible verse, or at least a portion of a Bible verse on them.
Well this particular bulletin cover said, “If you desire a new life...let Jesus come into your heart!”
There it was: “Let Jesus come into your heart!”
I challenge anyone here today to find that verse in the Bible! As if Jesus wants to come in, but we just won’t let Him in until we decide to let Him come in and regenerate us!
That’s like a little baby saying, “No! I’m not going to be born until I decide to be born!”
Well I’ve got news for the authors of that bulletin cover: If you desire a new life in the true Biblical sense, then Jesus has already come into your heart and His Holy Spirit has already regenerated you!
I know this because the Bible says that, by nature, we’re all “dead” in our trespasses and sins, and spiritually dead men don’t desire a new life! They’re spiritually dead!
Saying that men have the ability to choose to believe whenever they decide is the teaching of Arminianism. And that teaching is called, decisional regeneration.
Those who believe in decisional regeneration teach that men are fully able to control when and where they’re saved!
Oh, they’ll say, “Salvation is by grace, yes. Salvation is through faith, yes. But I can decide when I want to have faith, and I can decide when I want to receive God’s grace. God only offers me salvation. God only offers me grace. But I’m the one that decides if and when I wish to accept it.”
Let me illustrate that false teaching this way:
Unconverted man is separated from God by this wide chasm – picture something on the order of the Grand Canyon and then multiply it about a bazillion times! To get to heaven, or to get to God, man has to somehow get across that wide chasm. Now, everybody knows that we can’t get there by our own efforts. Some may be able to take a running start and leap out 5 feet or so over the edge of the canyon. Others will jump 10 feet. Some may even get to 20 feet. But all of them fall far short of reaching God by their own efforts.
So far, so good. “But then,” the Arminians explain, “God sent Jesus into the world to bridge that gap. Jesus Christ,” they say, “is like the bridge between man and God. Jesus’ death on the cross made it possible for all men to get across the canyon to God,” they say. “And, of course, now that the bridge has been laid by Jesus Christ, it’s up to man to decide to walk across the bridge to the other side and be saved.”
So what do you suppose, then, is the job of preachers, according to these Arminians? The job of preachers, of course, must then be to get the man to decide to make that walk across the bridge. The bridge is already there for anyone who wants to cross, so all that’s left for the preacher to do is to convince men to decide to walk across the bridge. So according to the Arminians, all you really have to do is to convince men to want to be saved and to want to go to heaven.
This “convincing,” is then done through all sorts of high pressure sales techniques, cajoling, pleading, hellfire and damnation sermons, lots of tear-jerking altar calls, and plenty of “mood music.” The people are encouraged to “come down that aisle to Jesus.” They’re exhorted to “take that step.” They’re prodded to “pray that prayer,” or to “raise that hand,” or whatever method is offered.
But they do it. They decide when they will accept this salvation. Once that bridge has been laid by Jesus Christ, the Arminian says, it’s up to man to decide to be saved and to walk across that bridge.
Once a person is convinced that the bridge is real, all they have to do is accept Jesus as their bridge and start walkin’!
According to the Arminian, once a person decides to step onto the bridge, that’s when he’s regenerated. Once he decides to put his faith in Jesus Christ, that’s when he’s born again. Note very well which comes first in this Arminian description: Faith first, then regeneration. I decide to trust in Christ, then I’m born again.
People of God, that’s exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches!
Of course, most of those who believe in decisional regeneration also believe that once a person “decides” to start across that bridge, he can also later “decide” to turn around and come back, or he can fall or “decide” to jump off the bridge into the canyon and lose his salvation. You see, a salvation that’s dependent on man, is never a “sure thing.” If man, under his own power, can decide to believe, man, under his own power can decide to stop believing. So a person can be brought to belief again and again. Some people believe they’re “saved” 8, 9, 10 times or more in their lives as they have the opportunity, every Sunday, to walk down the aisle in their church and be saved again!
Many evangelistic crusades have developed these manipulative techniques into a fine art. They’re so good at what they do, they can often predict, with fairly decent accuracy, the percentage of people that will come forward on any given night to receive Christ. As they prepare to visit a particular city, they may advertise that they expect to see around 3-5,000 people “saved” this week, and they’ll probably be right, if, by “saved,” they mean, the person “comes forward.”
And then, when the people do come down the aisle, or raise their hand, or pray that prayer, they’re immediately welcomed into the faith and told that now they’re saved. (If they were sincere in what they did, of course!)
So decisional regeneration says, “You decide to step onto the bridge. Then you’re saved.”
So that leaves three basic kinds of people, in the Arminian’s opinion: 1) There are those who don’t want to be saved, so they never decide to go across the bridge. 2) There are those who want to be saved, but who try to get across the canyon on their own steam, without the bridge. And 3) There are those who want to be saved, and who decide to use the bridge that’s been provided for them by Jesus Christ.
So what’s wrong with this picture?
Here’s what’s wrong: Those who talk like this forget one thing. All those people on this side of the chasm – every last one of ‘em – is spiritually dead! They’re stone cold dead, spiritually! They can’t walk across that bridge. They don’t want to walk across the bridge. They’re 100%, totally and completely dead to God. That means they can’t believe, and they don’t want to believe unless God, the Holy Spirit, regenerates them first!
Jesus put it this way to Nicodemus, in John 3:5-8, “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water [physical birth] and the Spirit [Spiritual birth], he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again [or, “born from above”]. The Spirit breathes wherever He pleases. You hear His voice, but you cannot tell where He comes from or where He is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
That means that it’s the Holy Spirit that decides whom to save and when to save them. Until the Holy Spirit causes a man to be born again, or to be born from above, he cannot believe in Jesus Christ. He’s spiritually dead to God.
Paul says, in Ephesians 2:1, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” And then in vv. 4-5, he says, “But because of his great love for us [not because of our great love for God], God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”
And then vv. 8-10 continue, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves [that is, even this faith doesn’t come from your own self but from God], it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
To say, then, that a spiritually dead man can “decide” to believe in God, under his own power, whenever he chooses to do so, is to fly in the face of these clear teachings of the Bible!
Arminian churches and Arminian evangelists and Arminian crusaders may talk about grace quite frequently – that’s true. But their grace is not grace alone. Their grace is God’s grace in offering man the opportunity to be saved plus man’s work of choosing to believe and be saved. They say that a man can have the desire and the ability to choose to believe, apart from God’s giving him that ability.
So the question is, “Who chooses who first?”
According to the Arminian’s false doctrine, man chooses to believe in God first, and only then does God choose to save man.
But Jesus shows Nicodemus, by His illustration of being born again, that man is totally helpless to give himself new birth. He’s also totally helpless to resist being born of the Spirit.
The point that Arminian preachers and teachers are unwilling to accept, and unwilling to preach, is that God, alone, decides who will be saved, and when! God elects. God chooses, based on His own free love and grace, and not based on anything at all that a man might think, say, or do. God raises that dead person from death to life by His mercy and grace, and God gives him faith in Jesus Christ. God takes every one of His elect, chosen people by the hand and walks them all the way across that bridge. God holds onto their hand, never letting go, so that they can never fall from His grace and be lost, once He chooses to save them.
Next week, we’ll answer some Arminian objections to this teaching that God chooses us first. But the Bible is clear. God chooses us first, and only then do we choose to believe in Jesus Christ. So that’s why God gets all the glory in our salvation!
John 3:1-15, “Who Chooses Who First?” [Part II of II]
Last Sunday we looked at this passage, noting that Jesus’ point to Nicodemus was this: The only way to be saved is for God to give a person spiritual new birth. We have to be born, not only of water, indicating natural, human birth, but also born of the spirit, indicating regeneration.
The main point we made last time was to answer the question, “Who chooses who first?” Do we choose to believe in Jesus Christ first, and then God chooses to save us? Or does God choose to save us first, and then we believe in Jesus Christ?
And we saw that the Bible’s answer to that question is that God chooses us first. It’s only after God chooses to give us new birth, that is, to regenerate us, that we’re able to have faith and to believe in Jesus Christ. Being born again, being regenerated, is not something that we can do under our own power, any more than we can be born, physically, under our own power. Birth is something in which we’re always passive.
Now, there are some Arminians who would object and say, “I don’t believe that regeneration is of human effort. Of course, God alone regenerates a person. Of course, salvation is 100% of God, by grace.”
But then ask them our simple question: “Which comes first? God’s regenerating a person, or that person deciding to accept Christ?”
You’ll get two possible answers from the Arminian: 1) God regenerates a person after that person decides to accept and believe in Jesus Christ, or 2) God looks ahead and foresees who’s going to accept and believe in Jesus Christ, in their own strength, and then God regenerates those people on that basis.
Either way, according to the Arminian, man’s salvation is based on man’s choice. Man chooses God first.
But you might ask, “Aren’t we commanded to choose to believe in Jesus Christ? Didn’t Joshua tell Israel to choose ye this day whom ye will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord? There, you see? Man must choose God.”
Now hear me very clearly so you don’t get confused: The Bible does command men to “choose” to serve God. The Bible does command all men to “believe” in Jesus Christ or they won’t be saved. But the point that Jesus was making to Nicodemus is that no man is able to choose to serve God – no man is able to choose to believe in Jesus Christ, apart from God’s first bringing him from death to life and giving him new birth!
What Jesus wants Nicodemus, and all of us today, to know is this: God alone decides who’s saved and when, not man. God gives faith as a gift, just like birth is given to a helpless baby, without any help from that baby. You can’t decide or choose to be born! You can’t do anything to be born! And when it comes to spiritual birth, the same is true. You’re completely at the mercy and grace of God!
That means that if you’re a believer today, it’s only because Jesus Christ, in His grace, through one of His ambassadors, preached the Gospel to you. It’s only because He gave you eyes to see, and ears to hear, and a heart to understand. If you’re a believer, it’s because God chose you first. It’s because God chose to give you faith, period!
So you see, it makes all the difference in the world who chooses who first. If we chose to believe in God first, and then God chose to save us, our salvation is at least partly, if not primarily, due to something we did.
Such a salvation is not all of grace. It’s only part grace, and part something that we do.
No, only God can change a person’s heart to make him believe in Jesus Christ. Man can’t do that. Men can’t change another person’s heart, and men can’t even change their own hearts.
The Arminians, using their manipulative methods, can often get people to “make a commitment,” or to “make a decision” for Christ, but they can’t manipulate a person into becoming a true believer. They can’t change a person’s heart. All too often such professions of faith are not true faith at all, but are false professions of faith. As Ian Murray puts it [quoted in James Adams’ book, Decisional Regeneration], “A man may make a profession without ever having his confidence in his own ability shattered” [p. 6].
All too often such a person will then be counseled by the “soul-winner” that now that he’s made his “decision,” and now that he’s taken the simple, humanly prescribed steps of walking forward, or praying a prayer, or raising a hand, or whatever it might be – now, he may be assured of his salvation. He may even be told that to doubt his salvation would be to doubt God’s Word!
But what if this person has never been born again? That is, what if he’s never been regenerated? What if he’s never had his heart changed by God, and he’s never received a new nature where he now loves God and wants to please Him? What if he’s never repented of his life of sin? What if he’s never entered into covenant with God by being joined to Christ’s body, the church?
He’s been told by an evangelist that because he took a few humanly prescribed steps, now he’s saved. I shudder to think of the millions of men, women, and children who are on their way to Hell today, duped into thinking that everything is fine, simply because someone told them they were saved, based on their coming forward at a crusade!
Now we certainly don’t deny that some of these people might really be regenerate. Some of them might truly believe the Gospel. But I believe that such evangelists and such manipulative, evangelistic methods do far more harm than good. For every person that God might choose to save through these sinful means of evangelism, many others are being sent to Hell with the false hope that everything is all right, now that they’ve “decided to let Jesus come into their hearts!”
James Adams gives us some good advice in his book, Decisional Regeneration. He says [p. 15]
It is not a time to be silent; it is time to speak out. We have kept quiet too long, somehow feeling that if we opposed these unbiblical practices we might be hindering the good work of evangelism, believing that among the multitudes of ‘decisions’ there are some genuine conversions. But with every passing week thousands are being counseled into false hope!
Well, Jesus gave Nicodemus no such false hopes. He cuts right through the self sufficiency and pride of this Pharisee. The Pharisees believed that they could decide whether or not to follow Jesus. But Jesus said, in John 3:56, “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
In slightly different words, Jesus said the very same thing in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit.”
“OK,” you might ask, “if that’s the case, then why preach? Why even bother to do evangelism?”
“What good does it do to command people to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved, if they can’t believe anyway unless God first regenerates them?”
Well, the reason is very simple: We preachers preach because God commands us to preach. And God uses the means of preaching to change men’s hearts. It’s through preaching that God gives men faith to believe.
In a May 31, 1997 TV interview, the Reformed Church of America preacher, Robert Schuller, interviewed Evangelist Billy Graham. Both of these men believed in decisional regeneration. In other words, both of them believed that men have the ability to decide to believe in Jesus Christ, before God regenerates them. And both of them also denied the Biblical teaching that the preaching of the Gospel is a necessary means unto salvation. Here’s part of their conversation:
GRAHAM: And that’s what God is doing today, He’s calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.
SCHULLER: What I hear you saying is that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they’ve been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying?
GRAHAM: Yes, it is, because I believe that – I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations – that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they’ve tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.
SCHULLER: [Here, he trips over his tongue for a moment, his face beaming, and then he says] I – I’m so thrilled to hear you say this. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.
GRAHAM: There is. There definitely is. Well, we’d certainly agree that there’s a wideness in God’s mercy. But that doesn’t mean that people who never hear the Gospel are saved, just because they believe that there’s a God, and because they try to live differently from other men. Our WLC #60 addresses this very issue and it has quite a different view from that of Mr. Graham or Mr. Schuller:
Q. 60. Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?
A. They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Saviour only of his body the church. So no, people can’t be saved simply by believing in a God, and trying to live good lives. Romans 10:14-17 tells us how God gives faith to people. He gives them faith through the preaching of the true Gospel.
Romans 10:14-17 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe the one from whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent [that is, “How can they preach unless they’re authorized and sent by God to speak as His ambassadors?”]? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
Don’t misunderstand. Preaching, all by itself, doesn’t save people. If it did, everyone who has the Word of God preached to them would be saved. But God has ordained the means of preaching as the method He uses to save His chosen and elect people. It’s through the preaching of the true Gospel that God, and God alone, gives faith to those whom He’s chosen to be saved.
One last question: “If God alone decides whether or not I’ll have faith, then why should I worry about it? If I’m chosen by God, I’ll be saved. If I’m not chosen, I can’t believe anyway. So why shouldn’t I just sit and wait to see whether or not God gives me faith?”
Here’s the answer: You, along with every other man, woman, and child, are responsible to believe in Jesus Christ. If you don’t, you’ll be eternally lost. But only when you realize that faith is a gift of God, not something you can just decide to do, any time you want – only then will you begin to see your great need for God’s grace. Only then will you begin to see that you’re at God’s mercy. And it’s this very teaching of God’s Word that’s designed to lead you to cast all your hopes on the Lord, alone, for your salvation.
Once you know how God works – once you know that He saves people through the preaching of His Word, the Bible – once you realize that He’s revealing Himself to you through that preaching – it’s often then that your eyes are opened and you see Jesus – it’s then that you’re made alive to God and are given a desire to join yourself to Jesus Christ in faith and enter into covenant with Him.
It’s through the preaching of the true Gospel that God regenerates people’s hearts and gives them faith to believe. God chooses us first and gives us faith, and only then do we choose to believe in Him and in Jesus Christ.
May God choose to grant to all of us faith in Him by His Word and Spirit.
And if God has already given you the faith to believe this Gospel, then you must be sure to give Him all the praise and all the glory! You must remember that God didn’t choose to save you because you happened to be better than all those others who don’t believe. God chose to save you while you were still an unbeliever, while you were still an enemy of God, while you were still dead in your sins. God chose to open your eyes and give you faith to believe so that you could be saved. So God gets all the glory and all the praise for your salvation. Give Him the glory, and the worship, and the obedience that He deserves!
Today we have a "guest speaker." The next event after our Lord's Resurrection was His glorious Ascension into heaven. One of the greatest Reformed preachers of nineteenth century England was Charles Haddon Spurgeon. His sermon on the glorious ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ is the natural sequel to pastor Boer's sermon on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, here is one of the great English preacher's sermons on the ascension.
This sermon was taken from the collection of Spurgeon's writings published by The Spurgeon Archive, an incredible site, not only for Spurgeon sermons, but also for church history, and tons of links to Christian subjects covering one of the widest areas I have seen.
Delivered on Lord's Day Morning, December 28th, 1884, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
"And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."—Acts 1:10, 11.FOUR GREAT EVENTS shine out brightly in our Savior's story. All Christian minds delight to dwell upon his birth, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. These make four rounds in that ladder of light, the foot of which is upon the earth, but the top whereof reacheth to heaven. We could not afford to dispense with any one of those four events, nor would it be profitable for us to forget, or to under-estimate the value of any one of them. That the Son of God was born of a woman creates in us the intense delight of a brotherhood springing out of a common humanity. That Jesus once suffered unto the death for our sins, and thereby made a full atonement for us, is the rest and life of our spirits. The manger and the cross together are divine seals of love. That the Lord Jesus rose again from the dead is the warrant of our justification, and also a transcendently delightful assurance of the resurrection of all his people, and of their eternal life in him. Hath he not said, "Because I live ye shall live also"? The resurrection of Christ is the morning star of our future glory. Equally delightful is the remembrance of his ascension. No song is sweeter than this—"Thou hast ascended on high; thou hast led captivity captive, thou hast received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them."
Each one of those four events points to another, and they all lead up to it: the fifth link in the golden chain is our Lord's second and most glorious advent. Nothing is mentioned between his ascent and his descent. True, a rich history comes between; but it lies in a valley between two stupendous mountains: we step from alp to alp as we journey in meditation from the ascension to the second advent. I say that each of the previous four events points to it. Had he not come a first time in humiliation, born under the law, he could not have come a second time in amazing glory "without a sin-offering unto salvation." Because he died once we rejoice that he dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over him, and therefore he cometh to destroy that last enemy whom he hath already conquered. It is our joy, as we think of our Redeemer as risen, to feel that in consequence of his rising the trump of the archangel shall assuredly sound for the awaking of all his slumbering people, when the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout. As for his ascension, he could not a second time descend if he had not first ascended; but having perfumed heaven with his presence, and prepared a place for his people, we may fitly expect that he will come again and receive us unto himself, that where he is there we may be also. I want you, therefore, as in contemplation you pass with joyful footsteps over these four grand events, as your faith leaps from his birth to his death, and from his resurrection to his ascension, to be looking forward, and even hastening unto this crowning fact of our Lord's history; for ere long he shall so come in like manner as he was seen go up into heaven.
This morning, in our meditation, we will start from the ascension; and if I had sufficient imagination I should like to picture our Lord and the eleven walking up the side of Olivet, communing as they went,—a happy company, with a solemn awe upon them, but with an intense joy in having fellowship with each other. Each disciple was glad to think that his dear Lord and Master who had been crucified was now among them, not only alive but surrounded with a mysterious safety and glory which none could disturb. The enemy was as still as a stone: not a dog moved his tongue: his bitterest foes made no sign during the days of our Lord's after-life below. The company moved onward peacefully towards Bethany—Bethany which they all knew and loved. The Savior seemed drawn there at the time of his ascension, even as men's minds return to old and well-loved scenes when they are about to depart out of this world. His happiest moments on earth had been spent beneath the roof where lived Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. Perhaps it was best for the disciples that he should leave them at that place where he had been most hospitably entertained, to show that he departed in peace and not in anger. There they had seen Lazarus raised from the dead by him who was now to be taken up from them: the memory of the triumphant past would help the tried faith of the present. There they had heard the voice saying, "Loose him, and let him go," and there they might fitly see their Lord loosed from all bonds of earthly gravitation that he might go to his Father and their Father. The memories of the place might help to calm their minds and arouse their spirits to that fullness of joy which ought to attend the glorifying of their Lord.
But they have come to a standstill, having reached the brow of the hill. The Savior stands conspicuously in the center of the group, and, following upon most instructive discourse, he pronounces a blessing upon them. He lifts his pierced hands, and while he is lifting them and is pronouncing words of love, he begins to rise from the earth. He has risen above them all to their astonishment! In a moment he has passed beyond the olives, which seem with their silvery sheen to be lit up by his milder radiance. While the disciples are looking, the Lord has ascended into mid-air, and speedily he has risen to the regions of the clouds. They stand spell-bound with astonishment, and suddenly a bright cloud, like a chariot of God, bears him away. That cloud conceals him from mortal gaze. Though we have known Christ after the flesh, now after the flesh know we him no more. They are riveted to the spot, very naturally so: they linger long in the place, they stand with streaming eyes, wonder-struck, still looking upward.
It is not the Lord's will that they should long remain inactive; their reverie is interrupted. They might have stood there till wonder saddened into fear. As it was, they remained long enough; for the angel's words may be accurately rendered, "Why have ye stood, gazing up into heaven?"
Their lengthened gaze needed to be interrupted, and, therefore, two shining ones, such as aforetime met the women at the sepulcher, are sent to them. These messengers of God appear in human form that they may not alarm them, and in white raiment as if to remind them that all was bright and joyous; and these white-robed ministers stood with them as if they would willingly join their company. As no one of the eleven would break silence, the men in white raiment commenced the discourse. Addressing them in the usual celestial style, they asked a question which contained its own answer, and then went on to tell their message. As they had once said to the women, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen;" so did they now say, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." The angels showed their knowledge of them by calling them "men of Galilee," and reminded them that they were yet upon earth by recalling their place of birth. Brought back to their senses, their reverie over, the apostles at once gird up their loins for active service; they do not need twice telling, but hasten to Jerusalem. The vision of angels has singularly enough brought them back into the world of actual life again, and they obey the command, "Tarry ye at Jerusalem." They seem to say,—the taking up of our Master is not a thing to weep about: he has gone to his throne and to his glory, and he said it was expedient for us that he should go away. He will now send us the promise of the Father; we scarcely know what it will be like, but let us, in obedience to his will, make the best of our way to the place where he bade us await the gift of power. Do you not see them going down the side of Olivet, taking that Sabbath-day's journey into the cruel and wicked city without a thought of fear; having no dread of the bloodthirsty crew who slew their Lord, but happy in the memory of their Lord's exaltation and in the expectation of a wonderful display of his power. They held fellowship of the most delightful kind with one another, and anon entered into the upper room, where in protracted prayer and communion they waited for the promise of the Father. You see I have no imagination: I have barely mentioned the incidents in the simplest language. Yet try and realize the scene, for it will be helpful so to do, since our Lord Jesus is to come in like manner as the disciples saw him go up into heaven.
My first business this morning will be to consider the gentle chiding administered by the shining ones:—"Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up unto heaven?" Secondly, the cheering description of our Lord which the white-robed messengers used,—"This same Jesus"; and then, thirdly, the practical truth which they taught—"This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."
I. First, then, here is A GENTLE CHIDING. It is not sharply uttered by men dressed in black who use harsh speech, and upbraid the servants of God severely for what was rather a mistake than a fault. No; the language is strengthening, yet tender: the fashion of a question allows them rather to reprove themselves than to be reproved; and the tone is that of brotherly love, and affectionate concern.
Notice, that what these saintly men were doing seems at first sight to be very right. Methinks, if Jesus were among us now we would fix our eyes upon him, and never withdraw them. He is altogether lovely, and it would seem wicked to yield our eyesight to any inferior object so long as he was to be seen. When he ascended up into heaven it was the duty of his friends to look upon him. It can never be wrong to look up; we are often bidden to do so, and it is even a holy saying of the Psalmist, "I will direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up"; and, again, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." If it be right to look up into heaven, it must be still more right to look up while Jesus rises to the place of his glory. Surely it had been wrong if they had looked anywhere else,—it was due to the Lamb of God that they should behold him as long as eyes could follow him. He is the Sun: where should eyes be turned but to his light? He is the King; and where should courtiers within the palace gate turn their eyes but to their King as he ascends to his throne? The truth is, there was nothing wrong in their looking up into heaven; but they went a little further than looking; they stood "gazing." A little excess in right may be faulty. It may be wise to look, but foolish to gaze. There is a very thin partition sometimes between that which is commendable and that which is censurable. There is a golden mean which it is not easy to keep. The exact path of right is often as narrow as a razor's edge, and he must be wise that doth not err either on the right hand or on the left. "Look" is ever the right word. Why, it is "Look unto me, and be saved." Look, aye, look steadfastly and intently: be your posture that of one "looking unto Jesus," always throughout life. But there is a gazing which is not commendable, when the look becomes not that of reverent worship, but of an overweening curiosity; when there mingles with the desire to know what should be known, a prying into that which it is for God's glory to conceal. Brethren, it is of little use to look up into an empty heaven. If Christ himself be not visible in heaven, then in vain do we gaze, since there is nothing for a saintly eye to see. When the person of Jesus was gone out of the azure vault above them, and the cloud had effectually concealed him, why should they continue to gaze when God himself had drawn the curtain? If infinite wisdom had withdrawn the object upon which they desired to gaze, what would their gazing be but a sort of reflection upon the wisdom which had removed their Lord? Yet it did seem very right. Thus certain things that you and I may do may appear right, and yet we may need to be chidden out of them into something better: they may be right in themselves, but not appropriate for the occasion, not seasonable, nor expedient. They may be right up to a point, and then may touch the boundary of excess. A steadfast gaze into heaven may be to a devout soul a high order of worship, but if this filled up much of our working time it might become the idlest form of folly.
Yet I cannot help adding that it was very natural. I do not wonder that the whole eleven stood gazing up, for if I had been there I am sure I should have done the same. How struck they must have been with the ascent of the Master out of their midst! You would be amazed if some one from among our own number now began to ascend into heaven! Would you not? Our Lord did not gradually melt away from sight as a phantom, or dissolve into thin air as a mere apparition: the Savior did not disappear in that way at all, but he rose, and they saw that it was his very self that was so rising. His own body, the materialism in which he had veiled himself, actually, distinctly, and literally, rose to heaven before their eyes. I repeat, the Lord did not dissolve, and disappear like a vision of the night, but he evidently rose till the cloud intervened so that they could see him no more. I think I should have stood looking to the very place where his cloudy chariot had been. I know it would be idle to continue so to do, but our hearts often urge us on to acts which we could not justify logically. Hearts are not to be argued with. Sometimes you stand by a grave where one is buried whom you dearly loved: you go there often to weep. You cannot help it, the place is precious to you; yet you could not prove that you do any good by your visits, perhaps you even injure yourself thereby, and deserve to be gently chidden with the question, "why?" It may be the most natural thing in the world, and yet it may not be a wise thing. The Lord allows us to do that which is innocently natural, but he will not have us carry it too far; for then it might foster an evil nature. Hence he sends an interrupting messenger: not an angel with a sword, or even a rod; but he sends some man in white raiment,—I mean one who is both cheerful and holy, and he, by his conduct or his words, suggests to us the question, "Why stand ye here gazing?" Cui bono? What will be the benefit? What will it avail? Thus our understanding being called into action, and we being men of thought, we answer to ourselves, "This will not do. We must not stand gazing here for ever," and therefore we arouse ourselves to get back to the Jerusalem of practical life, where in the power of God we hope to do service for our Master.
Notice, then, that the disciples were doing that which seemed to be right and what was evidently very natural, but that it is very easy to carry the apparently right and the absolutely natural too far. Let us take heed to ourselves, and often ask our hearts, "Why?"
For, thirdly, notice that what they did was not after all justifiable upon strict reason. While Christ was going up it was proper that they should adoringly look at him. He might almost have said, "If ye see me when I am taken up a double portion of my spirit shall rest upon you." They did well to look where he led the way. But when he was gone, still to remain gazing was an act which they could not exactly explain to themselves, and could not justify to others. Put the question thus:—"What purpose will be fulfilled by your continuing to gaze into the sky? He is gone, it is absolutely certain that he is gone. He is taken up, and God himself has manifestly concealed all trace of him by bidding yonder cloud sail in between him and you. Why gaze ye still? He told you 'I go unto my Father.' Why stand and gaze?" We may under the influence of great love, act unwisely. I remember well seeing the action of a woman whose only son was emigrating to a distant colony. I stood in the station, and I noticed her many tears and her frequent embraces of her boy; but the train came up and he entered the carriage. After the train had passed beyond the station, she was foolish enough to break away from friends who sought to detain her; she ran along the platform, leaped down upon the railroad and pursued the flying train. It was natural, but it had been better left undone. What was the use of it? We had better abstain from acts which serve no practical purpose; for in this life we have neither time nor strength to waste in fruitless action. The disciples would be wise to cease gazing, for nobody would be benefitted by it, and they would not themselves be blessed. What is the use of gazing when there is nothing to see. Well, then, did the angels ask, "Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?"
Again, put another question,—What precept were they obeying when they stood gazing up into heaven? If you have a command from God to do a certain thing, you need not inquire into the reason of the command, it is disobedient to begin to canvas God's will; but when there is no precept whatever, why persevere in an act which evidently does not promise to bring any blessing? Who bade them stand gazing up into heaven? If Christ had done so, then in Christ's name let them stand like statues and never turn their heads: but as he had not bidden them, why did they do what he had not commanded, and leave undone what he had commanded? For he had strictly charged them that they should tarry at Jerusalem till they were "endued with power from on high." So what they did was not justifiable.
Here is the practical point for us:--What they did we are very apt to imitate. "Oh," say you, "I shall never stand gazing up into heaven." I am not sure of that. Some Christians are very curious, but not obedient. Plain precepts are neglected, but difficult problems they seek to solve. I remember one who used always to be dwelling upon the vials and seals and trumpets. He was great at apocalyptic symbols; but he had seven children, and he had no family prayer. If he had left the vials and trumpets and minded his boys and girls, it would have been a deal better. I have known men marvellously great upon Daniel, and specially instructed in Ezekiel, but singularly forgetful of the twentieth of Exodus, and not very clear upon Romans the eighth. I do not speak with any blame of such folks for studying Daniel and Ezekiel, but quite the reverse; yet I wish they had been more zealous for the conversion of the sinners in their neighborhoods, and more careful to assist the poor saints. I admit the value of the study of the feet of the image in Nebuchadnezzar's vision, and the importance of knowing the kingdoms which make up the ten toes, but I do not see the propriety of allowing such studies to overlay the common-places of practical godliness. If the time spent over obscure theological propositions were given to a mission in the dim alley near the good man's house, more benefit would come to man and more glory to God. I would have you understand all mysteries, brethren, if you could; but do not forget that our chief business here below is to cry, "Behold the Lamb!" By all manner of means read and search till you know all that the Lord has revealed concerning things to come; but first of all see to it that your children are brought to the Savior's feet, and that you are workers together with God in the upbuilding of his church. The dense mass of misery and ignorance and sin which is round about us on every side demands all our powers; and if you do not respond to the call, though I am not a man in white apparel, I shall venture to say to you, "Ye men of Christendom, why stand ye gazing up into the mysteries when so much is to be done for Jesus, and you are leaving it undone?" O ye who are curious but not obedient, I fear I speak to you in vain, but I have spoken. May the Holy Spirit also speak.
Others are contemplative but not active,—much given to the study of Scripture and to meditation thereon, but not zealous for good works. Contemplation is so scarce in these days that I could wish there were a thousand times as much of it; but in the case to which I refer everything runs in the one channel of thought, all time is spent in reading, in enjoyment, in rapture, in pious leisure. Religion never ought to become the subject of selfishness, and yet I fear some treat it as if its chief end was spiritual gratification. When a man's religion all lies in his saving his own self, and in enjoying holy things for his own self; there is a disease upon him. When his judgment of a sermon is based upon the one question, "Did it feed me?" it is a swinish judgment. There is such a thing as getting a swinish religion in which you are yourself first, yourself second, yourself third, yourself to the utmost end. Did Jesus ever think or speak in that fashion? Contemplation of Christ himself may be so carried out as to lead you away from Christ: the recluse meditates on Jesus, but he is as unlike the busy self-denying Jesus as well can be. Meditation unattended with active service in the spreading of the gospel among men, well deserves the rebuke of the angel, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?"
Moreover, some are careful and anxious and deliriously impatient for some marvellous interposition. We get at times into a sad state of mind, because we do not see the kingdom of Christ advancing as we desire. I suppose it is with you as it is with me,—I begin to fret, and I am deeply troubled, and I feel that there is good reason that I should be, for truth is fallen in the streets, and the days of blasphemy and rebuke are upon us. Then we pine; for the Master is away, and we cry, "When will he be back again? Oh, why are his chariots so long in coming? Why tarries he through the ages?" Our desires sour into impatience, and we commence gazing up into heaven, looking for his coming with a restlessness which does not allow us to discharge our duty as we should. Whenever anybody gets into that state, this is the word, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?"
In certain cases this uneasiness has drawn to itself a wrong expectation of immediate wonders, and an intense desire for sign-seeing. Ah me, what fanaticisms come of this! In America years ago, one came forward who declared that on such a day the Lord would come, and he led a great company to believe his crazy predictions. Many took their horses and fodder for two or three days, and went out into the woods, expecting to be all the more likely to see all that was to be seen when once away from the crowded city. All over the States there were people who had made ascension-dresses in which to soar into the air in proper costume. They waited, and they waited, and I am sure that no text could have been more appropriate for them than this, "Ye men of America, why stand ye here gazing up into heaven?" Nothing came of it; and yet there are thousands in England and America who only need a fanatical leader, and they would run into the like folly. The desire to know the times and seasons is a craze with many poor bodies whose insanity runs in that particular groove. Every occurrence is a "sign of the times": a sign, I may add, which they do not understand. An earthquake is a special favourite with them. "Now," they cry, "the Lord is coming"; as if there had not been earthquakes of the sort we have heard of lately hundreds of times since our Lord went up into heaven. When the prophetic earthquakes occur in divers places, we shall know of it without the warnings of these brethren. What a number of persons have been infatuated by the number of the beast, and have been ready to leap for joy because they have found the number 666 in some great one's name. Why, everybody's name will yield that number if you treat it judiciously, and use the numerals of Greece, Rome, Egypt, China, or Timbuctoo. I feel weary with the silly way in which some people make toys out of Scripture, and play with texts as with a pack of cards. Whenever you meet with a man who sets up to be a prophet, keep out of his way in the future; and when you hear of signs and wonders, turn you to your Lord, and in patience possess your souls. "The just shall live by his faith." There is no other way of living among wild enthusiasts. Believe in God, and ask not for miracles and marvels, or the knowledge of times and seasons. To know when the Lord will restore the kingdom is not in your power. Remember that verse which I read just now in your hearing,—"It is not for you to know the times or the seasons." If I were introduced into a room where a large number of parcels were stored up, and I was told that there was something good for me, I should begin to look for that which had my name upon it, and when I came upon a parcel and I saw in pretty big letters, "It is not for you," I should leave it alone. Here, then, is a casket of knowledge marked, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power." Cease to meddle with matters which are concealed, and be satisfied to know the things which are clearly revealed.
II. Secondly, I want you to notice THE CHEERING DESCRIPTION which these bright spirits give concerning our Lord. They describe him thus,—"This same Jesus."
I appreciate the description the more because it came from those who knew him. "He was seen of angels"; they had watched him all his life long, and they knew him, and when they, having just seen him rise to his Father and his God, said of him, "This same Jesus," then I know by an infallible testimony that he was the same, and that he is the same.
Jesus is gone but he still exists. He has left us, but he is not dead; he has not dissolved into nothing like the mist of the morning. "This same Jesus" is gone up unto his Father's throne, and he is there to-day as certainly as he once stood at Pilate's bar. As surely as he did hang upon the cross, so surely does he, the self-same man, sit upon the throne of God and reign over creation. I like to think of the positive identity of the Christ in the seventh heaven with the Christ in the lowest deeps of agony. The Christ they spat upon is now the Christ whose name the cherubim and seraphim are hymning day without night. The Christ they scourged is he before whom principalities and powers delight to cast their crowns. Think of it and be glad this morning; and do not stand gazing up into heaven after a myth or a dream. Jesus lives; mind that you live also. Do not loiter as if you had nothing at all to do, or as if the kingdom of God had come to an end because Jesus is gone from the earth, as to his bodily presence. It is not all over; he still lives, and he has given you a work to do till he comes. Therefore, go and do it.
"This same Jesus"—I love that word, for "Jesus" means a Savior. Oh, ye anxious sinners here present, the name of him who has gone up into his glory is full of invitation to you! Will you not come to "this same Jesus"? This is he who opened the eyes of the blind and brought forth the prisoners out of the prison-house. He is doing the same thing to-day. Oh that your eyes may see his light! He that touched the lepers, and that raised the dead, is the same Jesus still, able to save to the uttermost. Oh that you may look and live! You have only to come to him by faith, as she did who touched the hem of his garment; you have but to cry to him as the blind man did whose sight he restored; for he is the same Jesus, bearing about with him the same tender love for guilty men, and the same readiness to receive and cleanse all that come to him by faith.
"This same Jesus." Why, that must have meant that he who is in heaven is the same Christ who was on earth, but it must also mean that he who is to come will be the same Jesus that went up into heaven. There is no change in our blessed Master's nature, nor will there ever be. There is a great change in his condition:—"The Lord shall come, but not the same
As once in lowliness he came,
humble man before his foes,
A weary man, and full of woes."
He will be "the same Jesus" in nature though not in condition: he will possess the same tenderness when he comes to judge, the same gentleness of heart when all the glories of heaven and earth shall gird his brow. Our eye shall see him in that day, and we shall recognize him not only by the nail-prints, but by the very look of his countenance, by the character that gleams from that marvellous face; and we shall say, "'Tis he! 'tis he! the self-same Christ that went up from the top of Olivet from the midst of his disciples." Go to him with your troubles, as you would have done when he was here. Look forward to his second coming without dread. Look for him with that joyous expectancy with which you would welcome Jesus of Bethany, who loved Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus.
On the back of that sweet title came this question, "Why stand ye here gazing into heaven?" They might have said, "We stay here because we do not know where to go. Our Master is gone." But oh, it is the same Jesus, and he is coming again, so go down to Jerusalem and get to work directly. Do not worry yourselves; no grave accident has occurred; it is not a disaster that Christ has gone, but an advance in his work. Despisers tell us nowadays, "Your cause is done for! Christianity is spun out! Your divine Christ is gone; we have not seen a trace of his miracle-working hand, nor of that voice which no man could rival." Here is our answer: We are not standing gazing up into heaven, we are not paralyzed because Jesus is away. He lives, the great Redeemer lives; and though it is our delight to lift up our eyes because we expect his coming, it is equally our delight to turn our heavenly gazing into an earthward watching, and to go down into the city, and there to tell that Jesus is risen, that men are to be saved by faith in him, and that whosoever believeth in him shall have everlasting life. We are not defeated, far from it: his ascension is not a retreat, but an advance. His tarrying is not for want of power, but because of the abundance of his long-suffering. The victory is not questionable. All things work for it; all the hosts of God are mustering for the final charge. This same Jesus is mounting his white horse to lead forth the armies of heaven, conquering and to conquer.
III. Our third point is this, THE GREAT PRACTICAL TRUTH. This truth is not one that is to keep us gazing into heaven, but one that is to make each of us go to his house to render earnest service. What is it?
Why, first, that Jesus in gone into heaven. Jesus is gone! Jesus is gone! It sounds like a knell. Jesus is taken up from you into heaven!—that sounds like a marriage peal. He is gone, but he is gone up to the hills whence he can survey the battle; up to the throne, from which he can send us succour. The reserve forces of the omnipotent stood waiting till their Captain came, and now that he is come into the centre of the universe, he can send legions of angels, or he can raise up hosts of men for the help of his cause. I see every reason for going down into the world and getting to work, for he is gone up into heaven and "all power is given unto him in heaven and in earth." Is not that a good argument—"Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost"?
Jesus will come again. That is another reason for girding our loins, because it is clear that he has not quitted the fight, nor deserted the field of battle. Our great Captain is still heading the conflict; he has ridden into another part of the field, but he will be back again, perhaps in the twinkling of an eye. You do not say that a commander has given up the campaign because it is expedient that he should withdraw from your part of the field. Our Lord is doing the best thing for his kingdom in going away. It was in the highest degree expedient that he should go, and that we should each one receive the Spirit. There is a blessed unity between Christ the King and the commonest soldier in the ranks. He has not taken his heart from us, nor his care from us, nor his interest from us: he is bound up heart and soul with his people, and their holy warfare, and this is the evidence of it, "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be."
Then, moreover, we are told in the text—and this in a reason why we should get to our work--that he is coming in like manner as he departed. Certain of the commentators do not seem to understand English at all. "He which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven,"—this, they say, relates to his spiritual coming at Pentecost. Give anybody a grain of sense, and do they not see that a spiritual coming is not a coming in the same manner in which he went up into heaven? There is an analogy, but certainly not a likeness between the two things. Our Lord was taken up; they could see him rise: he will come again, and "every eye shall see him." He went up not in spirit, but in person: he will come down in person. "This same Jesus shall so come in like manner." He went up as a matter of fact: not in poetic figure and spiritual symbol, but as a matter of fact,—"This same Jesus" literally went up. "This same Jesus" will literally come again. He will descend in clouds even as he went up in clouds; and "he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth" even as he stood aforetime. He went up to heaven unopposed; no high priests, nor scribes, nor Pharisees, nor even one of the rabble opposed his ascension; it were ridiculous to suppose that they could; and when he comes a second time none will stand against him. His adversaries shall perish; as the fat of rams shall they melt away in his presence. When he cometh he shall break rebellious nations with a rod of iron, for his force shall be irresistible in that day.
Brethren, do not let anybody spiritualize away all this from you. Jesus is coming as a matter of fact, therefore go down to your sphere of service as a matter of fact. Get to work and teach the ignorant, win the wayward, instruct the children, and everywhere tell out the sweet name of Jesus. As a matter of fact, give of your substance and don't talk about it. As a matter of fact, consecrate your daily life to the glory of God. As a matter of fact, live wholly for your Redeemer. Jesus is not coming in a sort of mythical, misty, hazy way, he is literally and actually coming, and he will literally and actually call upon you to give an account of your stewardship. Therefore, now, to-day, literally not symbolically, personally and not by deputy, go out through that portion of the world which you can reach, and preach the gospel to every creature according as you have opportunity.
For this is what the men in white apparel meant--be ready to meet your coming Lord. What is the way to be ready to meet Jesus? If it is the same Jesus that went away from us who is coming, then let us be doing what he was doing before he went away. If it is the same Jesus that is coming we cannot possibly put ourselves into a posture of which he will better approve than by going about doing good. If you would meet him with joy, serve him with earnestness. If the Lord Jesus Christ were to come to-day I should like him to find me at my studying, praying, or preaching. Would you not like him to find you in your Sunday-school, in your class, or out there at the corner of the street preaching, or doing whatever you have the privilege of doing in his name? Would you meet your Lord in idleness? Do not think of it. I called one day on one of our members, and she was whitening the front steps. She got up all in confusion; she said, "Oh dear, sir, I did not know you were coming to-day, or I would have been ready." I replied, "Dear friend, you could not be in better trim than you are: you are doing your duty like a good housewife, and may God bless you." She had no money to spare for a servant, and she was doing her duty by keeping the home tidy: I thought she looked more beautiful with her pail beside her than if she had been dressed according to the latest fashion. I said to her, "When the Lord Jesus Christ comes suddenly, I hope he will find me doing as you were doing, namely, fulfilling the duty of the hour." I want you all to get to your pails without being ashamed of them. Serve the Lord in some way or other; serve him always; serve him intensely; serve him more and more. Go to-morrow and serve the Lord at the counter, or in the workshop, or in the field. Go and serve the Lord by helping the poor and the needy, the widow and the fatherless; serve him by teaching the children, especially by endeavoring to train your own children. Go and hold a temperance meeting, and show the drunkard that there is hope for him in Christ, or go to the midnight meeting and let the fallen woman know that Jesus can restore her. Do what Jesus has given you the power to do, and then, ye men of Britain, ye will not stand gazing up into heaven, but you will wait upon the Lord in prayer, and you will receive the Spirit of God, and you will publish to all around the doctrine of "Believe and live." Then when he comes he will say to you, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." So may his grace enable us to do. Amen.
John 19:1-42 “The Crucifixion Was Not a Myth!”
04/05/15 AM, Sharon OPC
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
A Philosopher by the name of Peter Engels defines faith in a way in which many people of our day would agree. Faith, according to Mr. Engels, is “belief in something despite the evidence against it,” or, “belief in something even though there is an absence of evidence for it.”
In other words, Engles believes that faith is irrational and illogical.
I want to emphasize, this morning, that that is not the Biblical view of faith! Christian faith does not require the disengagement of your brain! Dr. J. Gresham Machen, one of the founding fathers of the OPC, once wrote a book entitled, What Is Faith?, in which he says that “Christian faith is a thoroughly reasonable thing.”
Dr. Cornelius Van Til even argued that unless you’re a Christian who has faith in the Word of God, you have no basis for reason! He said that you need to start with the Biblical world-view in order to even begin to understand the facts of creation!
Proverbs 1:7 puts it this way: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.”
Not the beginning of an irrational faith, but the beginning of knowledge!
You see, the Bible must be presupposed to be true in order to understand the true meaning of any fact. Faith in God and in the truth of His Word is the necessary foundation for all true knowledge. Without the knowledge of God and of His Word, you may know how to memorize certain bits of data, or how to manipulate certain things to gain a particular result. But you won’t begin to know how anything fits together, or what the deeper meaning and purpose in life is. You’ll be walking in blindness, all the while thinking you can see!
Dr. Van Til argued that you can’t prove God to an unbeliever simply by citing various facts and evidences to them. That’s because they’re blinded to the truth; they can’t believe or understand it. The truth is foolishness to an unbeliever!
At the same time, Dr. Van Til also argued that all the facts and all the evidences in the world point to the truth of Christianity! Every fact in the universe proves that the God of Scripture is real and that the Christian faith is true! So that means you don’t have to assassinate your brains in order to become a Bible believing Christian. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Unless you’re a Bible believing Christian, you can’t be truly reasonable or rational!
So while we may not be able to use science and archaeology to convince an unbeliever of the facts of the Bible, such evidences can be a true encouragement to Christians in their faith.
Although it’s Resurrection Sunday and Good Friday has already passed, I want to take some time this morning to discuss the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Many people today, due to the claims of some unbelieving scientists and archaeologists, question the historicity of the crucifixion of Christ. To many people, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on a cross is just a fairy tale, a myth used to propagate the Christian faith. Although there are many ancient writings that talk about the frequent practice of crucifixion in ancient Israel, no physical evidence had ever been found, archaeologically, to substantiate this record…until 1968.
Peter Colón, in his book, Israel My Glory, says,
In late 1968, some tombs were uncovered northeast of Jerusalem in an area called Giv’at ha’Mivtar. It was determined that the tombs were part of a huge Jewish cemetery dating from the second century BC to AD 70. Of the many skeletal remains, one, a young Jewish man between the ages of 24 and 28, showed evidence of crucifixion. His two heel bones, coated by a thick calcareous [or chalky] crust, had an iron nail imbedded through them. The nail was about seven and one half inches long, and its tip was bent due to having hit a strong knot in the wood on the stake. Apparently...when it came time to remove the victim from the cross, the nail could not be pulled out. Therefore, the executioners had to amputate the feet. When he was placed in the tomb, his heel bones, the nail, and fragments from his cross were buried together with the body. There he rested for nearly 2,000 years. Doctors of anatomy and osteology performed extensive studies on the bones and concurred that the young man had suffered horribly. Later, with honor and respect, he was reburied in a modern cemetery.
It cannot be determined why he was crucified. Perhaps it was for some anti-Roman political activity. The only known fact about this man, scratched on the side of the box that sheltered his bones, was his name, “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol” [Peter Colón, Israel My Glory, (published by Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry), quoted in Pulpit Helps, April, 1996, p. 7].
Although archaeologists have not uncovered a lot of physical evidence of actual crucifixions, the early historical records of that period are very clear about the fact that crucifixions were common. These accounts describe for us what actually happened during a crucifixion. Sometimes we who live in the 21st century are somewhat insulated and ignorant about the actual process of crucifixion. The horrors of such a death are often sanitized by beautiful paintings and crucifixes of Jesus hanging on the cross without a scar on him, or even a drop of blood on His body, in pristine beauty and peacefulness.
So I want to take a few minutes this morning and describe for you what was involved in an actual crucifixion, so that perhaps we can all understand a little better the exceedingly great love of our Savior in dying for us.
One of the more important accounts of history written during NT times, other than the Bible, is the account of the Jewish historian, Josephus. Josephus was an eyewitness to many gruesome crucifixions. He called this form of execution, “the most wretched of deaths.” We don’t know who first started this form of execution, but variations of crucifixion have been around since @ 1,000 BC. It was the Romans, however, who adopted this method as their own and refined it to a diabolical art.
Peter Colón says,
Rome applied crucifixion extensively. Starting with the suppression of the Spartacus revolt in 71 BC, Rome lined the famous Apian Road stretching from Capua to Rome with 6,000 crucified rebels. In AD 7, a minor revolt in Judea was brutally squelched, resulting in the crucifixion of 2,000 Jews in Jerusalem. During the siege of Jerusalem by Titus in AD 70, 500 Jews were crucified each day for several months. In times of war, crosses were haphazardly constructed, and the victims were nailed to them in every imaginable position.
In peace time, in occupied cities such as Jerusalem, crucifixion was carried out with sadistic formality. The whole procedure was supervised by an official known as the carnifix serarum. Once the victim was condemned to be crucified, he was led from the Praetorium to an outside court where he was stripped, bound to a column, and savagely scourged with a flagellum, a short whip consisting of several single or braided leather thongs of varied lengths. The ends of these thongs contained sharp bits of sheep bone that tore into the flesh. [This whip was sometimes known as the ‘cat-o’-nine-tails.’] The whipping was administered by two legionnaires [or soldiers] called lictors. Four legionnaires and a centurion [the commander of a unit of 100 soldiers] then escorted this grim parade through the narrow streets of the city. At the head of the procession a soldier carried a wooden sign called the titulus, which stated the offender’s name and offense. At a stone quarry outside the city, the offender’s wrists were nailed to the crossbeam. Then he was hoisted up to the top of a stake called the stipe, where his feet were nailed against the upright beam. [The victim would cringe in agony as the soldier roughly pushed his right heel over his left against the sturdy wooden post. Violent blows from the mallet on the iron nail would tear angrily through his flesh.] There he would hang for a few hours or even days until death came.
Jewish sensitivities in Judea required that the body not be allowed to remain on the cross on the Sabbath; therefore, the offender’s legs were often broken to hasten death, permitting burial to take place before nightfall [Ibid.].
The reason breaking the legs would kill the victims was that this would cause the victims to suffocate. The only way they could breathe was to push down with their feet to take the weight off their arms and chest. When their legs were broken, they could no longer push down on their feet and they eventually didn’t have the strength to breathe any more, hanging by their arms.
Of course, in Jesus’ case, the Scriptures tell us that He had already died by the time the soldiers came to break the legs of those who were still living. This happened according to OT prophecy so that none of His bones would be broken, and so that He would be an “unblemished” sacrifice for sin. You may remember that the lamb that was sacrificed in the OT at Passover had to be a lamb with no broken bones or other defects. That’s because the lamb symbolized Jesus Christ, the spotless and sinless, unblemished Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus’ bones were not broken, but we do know, from Scripture, that Jesus suffered on the cross for at least six hours, fully conscious of His pain and agony.
Such a horrible death was necessary in fulfillment of the curse of God upon sin. No more painful death could scarcely be devised than this Roman torture. And what could be more humiliating and shameful than to hang from a cross, naked, between two common criminals, while His enemies looked on, mocking Him and poking fun of Him? It’s no wonder, then, that the night before this happened, our Lord fell with His face to the ground as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
You see, in spite of the fact that Jesus knew all about the pain and the torture and the humiliation of the crucifixion and what lay before Him, He still went willingly to the cross!
Jesus was willing to suffer and die because of His great love for you and for me and for all His chosen people. To die on the cross was an unspeakably painful, and therefore, incomprehensibly loving thing for Jesus to do for those He loved.
But even all this physical torture and all this public humiliation were as nothing when compared to the agony that Jesus willingly suffered under the curse of God’s wrath. As Jesus hung on the cross, He experienced the full wrath and punishment of Hell that we deserved for our sins!
Matthew 27:46 tells us, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ – which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
Why did God forsake His only begotten Son?
Because of your sin and my sin, that’s why.
All of these things actually happened, folks. This isn’t just a fairy tale. Jesus Christ, the perfect and Holy Son of God, actually became flesh. He was born in a lowly stable in the insignificant little town of Bethlehem, of poor parents. He lived a perfect life, as a man, being subjected to all manner of temptations, just as we are, except that He never once sinned. He never once had an evil thought. He never once said an evil word. He never once did a selfish or sinful act. And it’s also a fact that He arose from the dead and ascended to power in heaven where He now rules all things!
This same Jesus willingly gave His life on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He voluntarily suffered the curse of both God and men for our sins. He offered up His perfect, unblemished life of holiness and righteousness in our place so that God would look upon us as having His righteous perfection. He gave His body up to God as a perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins.
People of God, I tell you today, anyone who rejects this Jesus Christ is a fool! Anyone who refuses to come to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith will perish eternally for his own sins! The wrath of God upon such enemies of our Lord will be horrible, particularly toward those who’ve had the Gospel of salvation and grace preached to them and yet they still have refused to repent of their sins and turn to Jesus Christ for refuge.
Hebrews 10:28-31 says, “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
May there be none here this morning who dares to reject the Gospel of God. May there be none here this morning who dares to trample the Son of God under foot and to so insult the Spirit of grace!
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was no myth. It really and truly happened. There’s nothing more real or more sure in all the universe than this. May every one of us gladly and thankfully fall down in humble worship of this Lord and Savior. May every one of us submit ourselves to Him as our covenant Lord and King. May every one of us, with sincere and joyful hearts, praise Him Who endured such awful sufferings out of His unsurpassed love to us!
I Corinthians 15:1-20,
“With No Resurrection, There’s No Salvation!”
04/05/15 PM, Sharon OPC
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
For the Apostle Paul, this doctrine of the actual, literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ wasn’t just something “tacked on” to his religion. For Paul, the resurrection wasn’t something that was “dispensable,” or “optional,” as it is in so many denominations and churches today. As a matter of fact, one of the cornerstone truths upon which the OPC, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, was founded back in 1936 was this very doctrine of the actual, literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ!
Ever since the liberal movement of the early 1900’s, the doctrine of Christ’s literal, bodily resurrection from the dead has been greatly challenged and questioned. Our own denomination, the OPC, parted ways with the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) back in 1936, partly because they no longer required even their ministers to believe in a literal, bodily resurrection!
Prior to this separation there was a very significant event that led up to it. On December 26, the day after Christmas, in the year 1923, over 1,300 PCUSA ministers signed a document called the Auburn Affirmation. (No, that’s not the name of the Auburn football fan club!) The Auburn Affirmation was a confessional document that stated, among other things, that you could believe the “theory,” or not believe the “theory,” of Christ’s bodily resurrection, and still be a minister of the Gospel in good standing in the PCUSA! Belief in the literal resurrection was optional!
And as if that weren’t bad enough, at the very next General Assembly of the PCUSA, held in May of 1924, less than 6 months later, there was no action taken against those ministers by the GA! Amazing! That tells you how far the Presbyterian Church had sunk already, 10 years before the separation of the OPC from the mainline denomination.
Quite frankly, I don’t think the Apostle Paul would have signed that document, do you? For Paul, the doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ was so completely central to everything he taught that he couldn’t have gone on preaching without it! For the apostle Paul, the doctrine of the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ wasn’t optional! And we know this from our text today.
Some of the people of Corinth must have written Paul and asked him the question, “Is there really a resurrection of the dead? Can people really be resurrected after they die?”
And Paul’s answer, which we find in I Corinthians 15 is this: “Are you kidding?! How can you be so naïve?!”
He says in v. 12, “If it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection?”
In other words, “Don’t you realize the logical consequences of such an assumption? If the Gospel clearly proclaims that Christ has been raised, how could Christ be raised if there’s no resurrection?”
And then Paul proceeds to give them five logical consequences of assuming that there’s no resurrection.
The first logical consequence is this:
V. 13 says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised!”
There’s no way around that logical deduction! If there’s no resurrection of the dead, even Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead! And all of those to whom Paul was writing in Corinth would know, instantly, that it would be absurd to say that even Christ had not been raised. Many of these same people to whom Paul was writing had probably seen the risen Lord with their own eyes!
Of course, the liberals of our day would say, “So what if Christ wasn’t raised? As a matter of fact, Christ probably wasn’t literally raised from the dead. We all know that’s scientifically impossible, so there must be some other explanation for these reports in the NT regarding Christ’s resurrection. Perhaps it was only a spiritual resurrection. Perhaps it was only a resurrection in the minds of His followers.”
But Paul vehemently disagrees with such faithless thinking! In vv. 3-8, Paul has already given proof that Christ did, indeed, rise bodily from the dead. Paul has cited the fact that Christ was seen by hundreds of people at different times and in different places. He says, in vv. 3-8, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
Actually, if we look at the NT as a whole, there’s much more evidence for Christ’s resurrection than there is even for His birth! And very few people today would argue that Christ was never even born! (Although I’ve heard a few philosophy scholars with Ph.D.’s in skepticism try to argue that Jesus Christ never even existed.)
There are only two narratives in the NT that record the birth of Jesus Christ. Yet there are twelve narratives that attest to His resurrection. In addition to that, there are many more references to people seeing Him after the resurrection. So this wasn’t just a case of one or two people who might have simply had too much to drink or who perhaps hallucinated.
In John 20:14, Mary Magdalene saw Him and talked to Him. In Matthew 28:9-10, both of the women who visited the tomb saw Him, heard Him talk to them, and they clasped His feet and worshiped Him. In Luke 24:34, it says that He appeared to Peter. In Luke 24:13-33 the two disciples on the road to Emmaus saw Him and talked to him and ate with Him. In John 20:19-29, all the apostles, minus Thomas, saw Him. He talked to them and showed them His hands and side. A week later, in John 20:26-29, Thomas saw Him and heard Him speak, and put his fingers in His hands and side. In Luke 24:36-49, Luke records the fact that the apostles saw Him and talked to Him. He showed them His hands and feet and had them touch Him. He even ate some broiled fish in their presence. In John 21:1-23, the seven disciples fishing saw Him, and heard Him, and He even enabled them to catch a huge catch of fish – 153 to be exact. Then they ate breakfast with Him and He taught them. In I Corinthians 15:6, it says that “…he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom [were] still living, though some [had] fallen asleep” by the time Paul wrote this. In I Corinthians 15:7, Pauls says that James saw Him, and that all the apostles saw Him. In Matthew 28:16-20, all the apostles together saw Him and heard Him preach to them. And in Acts 1:3-11, at His ascension, He was seen by all those gathered there. The text says, “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men [the apostles] and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”
A little later, it says, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”
In addition to all these appearances, after he ascended into heaven, He also appeared personally, in separate visions, to Paul on the road to Damascus, to Stephen while he was being stoned, and to John on the Island of Patmos.
So no, these Corinthians had no doubt that Christ arose! That fact was pretty much a “given” to them. Only a fool would be so absurd as to say that even Christ had not been raised from the dead!
Keep in mind, these Corinthian people weren’t writing to Paul to ask Paul whether or not Christ had risen from the dead. They all knew that for a fact! What they wanted to know was, “Are we going to rise from the dead? Is there going to be a resurrection of our bodies after we die?”
Evidently some false teachers had crept in and started teaching that there is no resurrection of men after they die.
And so Paul’s first point is, “If men are not raised from the dead, then even Christ was not raised!” Jesus Christ was just as human as each one of them. So if men aren’t raised, then the man, Christ Jesus, wasn’t raised either!
The second logical consequence, if Christ has not been raised, is this:
V. 14 says, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless...” And v. 15 adds, “Even worse, we [preachers] are then found to be false witnesses about God!”
Paul’s point is this: “If Christ has not been raised, then the Gospel we preach is a damnable, useless heresy and we apostles deserve the death penalty for preaching such lies! And that means that all this ‘good news’ that we apostles are risking our lives to proclaim is nothing but a pack of lies. We’ve all testified under oath that we saw Jesus Christ alive. We’ve all staked our very lives on the fact that Jesus Christ arose from the dead! If that’s a lie, then you can’t believe anything we say!
The third logical consequence then follows...
V. 14 says, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith!... and then a bit later, in v. 17, he adds, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile. You are still in your sins!”
So if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is a faith in Someone Who’s dead! How can a dead person save you? How can a dead person intercede for you at the right hand of God? How can a dead person send His Spirit of life-giving regeneration into your dead hearts and recreate you with living hearts? If Christ is dead, that means you’re united and joined, by faith, to a corpse! And that would mean that you’re still in your sins! You’re not forgiven if there’s no resurrection! All of these doctrines of salvation hinge upon whether or not Christ actually was Who He said He was and did what He said He’d do!
And if you’re still in your sins, you know the next logical consequence of that! The fourth logical consequence, if there’s no resurrection, is this:
[If you’re still in your sins], v. 18 continues, “then those who have fallen asleep [meaning those who’ve died] in Christ are lost!”
Yes, if there’s no resurrection, then you, when you die – you’ll be lost! You’ll suffer the eternal wrath of God for your sins in Hell if Jesus Christ wasn’t raised from the dead!
Do you understand why this is not some optional doctrine that you can just sort of “take it” or “leave it?”
Do you see why this isn’t just some “theory” that you can just choose to believe or choose not to believe! If you die, having put your hope and trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, and Christ has not been raised, then your hope will die when you die!
Such a false hope, then, is only good for this life, because when you die you’ll find out that your hope was useless!
And then Paul continues with the logical consequences of that. His fifth logical consequence is this:
V. 19, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men!”
So here’s Paul’s train of thought: If there’s no resurrection from the dead, then even Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, then you can forget about all of our preaching, since it’s obviously filled with useless, heretical lies. If our Gospel is full of lies, then your faith in Christ is just a useless, vain hope which will never be realized. And if your hope is futile, then you’re still in your sins. And if you’re still in your sins, then you’re to be pitied more than all men because you’re going to suffer the wrath of God in Hell for all eternity!
What a depressing state of affairs, if Jesus Christ wasn’t raised from the dead! No wonder all of Jesus’ followers were so depressed and so downcast after Jesus died on the cross. No wonder they all went back to their day jobs, since they all knew: If Jesus was dead, the Gospel was dead! When Jesus, their Messiah died, their hopes died with Him!
But Paul continues in our text – and I’m so glad this book of Scripture doesn’t end at v. 19, because v. 20 is the basis and the heart of the whole Gospel!
V. 20 says, “But!”
And as I’ve said before, “Right here is one of the biggest ‘buts’ in all the Bible!”
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”
So all the “ifs” fall down flat because “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”
And then Paul goes on in v. 20, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Now I want to take just a moment to remind you of the significance of the “firstfruits” idea in the Bible. The firstfruits represented the first signs of spring after a cold, barren winter. The firstfruits were much like those Easter lilies you see up north, popping up out of the ground early in the spring, sometimes even before the snow is all melted.
As a matter of fact, the “Rose of Sharon,” after which our church is named – the “Rose of Sharon” mentioned in the Song of Songs 2:1 in the Bible – was probably not a rose as we think of it today at all. It was more than likely a member of the crocus or lily family, probably a meadow saffron or a crocus. It was a spring flower that bloomed on the plains of Sharon. Those first flowers or firstfruits of springtime were a fitting symbol of Jesus Christ Who arose as the Firstfruits from the dead.
The firstfruits of spring and the firstfruits of the spring harvest served as a sort of guarantee that the rest of the harvest would follow!
If you’ve ever planted a tomato plant, you know you have to take special care of it. You have to water it, and fertilize it, and spray it with bug spray. You have to protect it from the wind, and from the hail, and from little critters that might sneak into your garden, including your little kids. You have to support it with a stake or a trellis. And you have to trim the suckers off the bottom of it so that the plant’s full energy can be devoted to bearing fruit.
But you never know whether or not your tomato plant is going to actually make it to the point where it produces that nice, juicy fruit until you get those first ripe tomatoes.
One spring, a couple years ago, my Mom planted just one tomato plant in her rose garden.
It grew and grew, but she never knew if it would produce tomatoes or not. Finally, the first tomato ripened, and she knew it would produce more. By the end of the summer, she got a total of 118 tomatoes off that one plant!
You see, once the firstfruits are in, then you know that you’ve got yourself a tomato that produces, and you can then expect to receive a full season of fruit from that plant.
Because Christ, our firstfruits from the dead, has been raised, says Paul, we can expect to be raised in due time as well. Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection because we’re joined to Him by covenant and by faith.
After all, what is it that Christ is the firstfruits of? He’s the firstfruits “of those who have fallen asleep.” That means He’s the firstfruits of those who have died with faith in Him!
By the way, that was just the normal Christian way of speaking about those who’ve died. You see, they haven’t really died at all, if they’re Christians. They’ve only fallen asleep in Christ. And because Jesus Christ’s body awoke from death on Easter Sunday, so also their bodies will awake from death when Christ returns. Meanwhile, their spirits go immediately to heaven to be with the Lord.
Because Christians are joined to Christ by covenant, His resurrection guarantees our resurrection because we’re one with Him.
Christ’s resurrection is so important a doctrine that it’s celebrated once every year, on Easter Sunday... [pause]
I paused there, for a moment, because I was hoping to see at least a few quizzical looks when I said that.
What’s wrong with that statement? “Christ’s resurrection is so important a doctrine that it’s celebrated once every year, on Easter Sunday.”
Of course, now that you’ve had a chance to think about it, I’m sure most of you know the answer.
The doctrine of Christ’s resurrection is so important that we celebrate it, not just once every year, but every Lord’s Day! The first day of every week is called the Lord’s Day just because Jesus Christ arose on that day, the first day of the week. And we NT Christians worship on Sunday because that’s the day of resurrection and of joy!
Think of it: If Christ had not risen, bodily, from the dead, then neither would any of us! The whole Gospel would be a lie! Your faith would be useless! Your sins would never be forgiven! You’d be forever lost!
Have you ever wondered why we have an OPC – an Orthodox Presbyterian Church? Have you ever wondered why our forefathers in the faith, men such as Dr. J. Gresham Machen, the Rev. John P. Galbraith, the Rev. Henry W. Coray, the Rev. Ned B. Stonehouse, and a group of many others felt it necessary to leave the oldest Presbyterian church in America and to start up a brand new denomination, called the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?
They left because the old church, the PCUSA, had lost the heart of the Gospel! They’d lost the truth of the resurrection! Without the resurrection, they had become an apostate church. They’d lost their eternal hope, because they were willing to say, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is just a theory – you can take it or leave it!”
People of God, I don’t ever want you to forget I Corinthians 15:20, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”
I want you to remember it whenever you begin to doubt your salvation. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!” My salvation has been secured by His death on the cross and by His resurrection from the dead!
I want you to remember it whenever you begin to doubt the Gospel. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”
The Gospel is not a myth. It’s not a man-made story or fairy tale. It’s based on the cold, hard facts of history, confirmed for us in the Bible.
I want you to remember this verse whenever you’re afraid to die, and when you’re wondering whether or not there truly is a resurrection of the dead. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”
And He is “the firstfruits of [all] those who have fallen asleep [in Him]!”
The question I want to discuss today is this: “Is Christmas a pagan holiday?”
The principles involved in this question apply to many other holidays as well, and even to birthday parties in general.
According to our text, there are two, unbiblical extremes that we, as Christians, should try to avoid regarding the celebration of Christmas and many other holidays:
One group of Christians says that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. They say that Christians, therefore, are obligated to set aside one day a year as holy, or as a holiday. These people sometimes speak almost as if it’s a sin for a person not to celebrate Christmas in some way. In this view, those who don’t celebrate Christmas are seen as “Scrooges,” and as unappreciative of the coming of Jesus to be made flesh.
The late Dr. Robert Rayburn, an OPC minister and a seminary professor at both Covenant Theological Seminary, and Knox Theological Seminary, preached a sermon on December 3, 1995, entitled, “Is Christmas Christian?” [www.faithtacoma.org/sermons/Seasonal/advent95.htm]
based on Esther 9:18-28. In that sermon he said
As I said, I have been thinking about this and have come to feel increasingly – more definitely than I did two years ago – that the celebration of Christmas is not just proper and important, but eminently biblical and necessary.
…I will say it plainly: I believe that Christmas is a biblical obligation. Its manner of celebration is not a matter of commandment, but that it should be celebrated is, in my judgment, the teaching of the Bible.
It would be utterly untrue, unfaithful to the pattern of Holy Scripture not to celebrate annually the incarnation of the Son of God! For what is perfectly clear is that the Bible never tells us to stop doing what God’s people did with God’s approval, namely, to remember his greatest works with holidays. The commandment enshrined in all of this biblical teaching is that God’s people should remember the history of salvation with great feasts and holidays [underlining original].
I believe that Dr. Rayburn, a fine exegete and Biblical scholar, has failed to take into account our text for today.
On the other extreme, we have those who say that Christmas originated as a pagan holiday that was later brought into the Roman Catholic Church. So they argue that it’s a sin, therefore, to participate in these “pagan festivities.” For example, I quote from the November, 1997 issue of Outside the Camp, in which the editor writes,
Then we come to the second most sacred day on the Roman Catholic calendar – Christmas. The following should make the point as plain as the nose on your face: The…sun-god (Mithra), who “rose again” on the vernal equinox, was born on December 25! December 25 was the day of the winter solstice according to the Julian calendar, and the Mithra worshipers designated it as dies natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the invincible sun).... The pagan winter equinox festival of Saturnalia, characterized by merriment, evergreen trees, and exchanges of gifts, became part of Christmas, as did the occultic practices of the Nordic and Druid pagans that included Yule, ivy, mistletoe, and elves. [Marc D. Carpenter, Editor, Outside the Camp (Volume 1, No. 4, November, 1997), p. 3.]
Now I’m not disagreeing with any of those facts. I think much of what he’s saying is true. But, does the fact that pagans may have done these things in the past mean that it’s a sin for Christians today to celebrate Christmas in remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ, or to have a Christmas tree, or to give Christmas gifts?
Our Scripture text for today cautions us against “judging” one another with regard to the special remembrance of certain days. If the Bible doesn’t command us to set aside one day a year for a celebration of Christ’s birth, then who are we to make laws in addition to the Bible? And if the Bible doesn’t forbid us from celebrating the birth of our Savior on one particular day a year, who are we to call it a sin to do so?
We must never require things the Scriptures, themselves, don’t require. It’s for that reason that many churches don’t hold special worship services on Christmas Day (unless Christmas falls on a Sunday, of course). You see, since church members are required to attend all worship services of the church if they’re able, these churches don’t want to bind the consciences of those who prefer not to celebrate Christmas as a special day.
We do, however, find several passages in the Bible commanding us to celebrate and to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the Lord’s Day. And we do that every Lord’s Day as we gather for worship and every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
But there are no Bible passages that command us to celebrate Christ’s birthday, so we shouldn’t command it either!
Romans 14:10 says, “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”
So he who abstains from Christmas celebrations does so to honor the Lord. He shouldn’t be judged or called a “Scrooge” by those who do wish to celebrate Christmas.
By the same token, the “ban Christmas” group must also recognize that there are no Bible passages forbidding the celebration of Christ’s birth either. Just because Christmas isn’t commanded in the Bible, that doesn’t make it wrong!
Jesus, Himself, in John 10:23, is seen attending the Feast of Dedication in the temple in Jerusalem. That wasn’t a celebration that was commanded anywhere in the Bible. It was the feast of Hanukkah, which means, “Dedication.” This festival was only a custom of the Jews. It was purely optional, just like Christmas is optional for us today.
Hanukkah celebrated the cleansing of the temple by the Maccabees after the desolation of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes. Back in 167 BC Antiochus Epiphanes marched into Jerusalem, entered the Temple, and defiled it. He set up an idol of his pagan god, Zeus, in the Temple, and he built an altar there to Zeus. On the altar, he sacrificed a pig, which the OT says was an unclean animal that the Jews were forbidden to eat. And it was certainly forbidden to bring a pig into the temple and sacrifice it!
After he sacrificed this pig on the altar, the pig’s blood was brought into the Most Holy Place where no human being was ever allowed to enter except the High Priest alone.
And the High Priest could only enter one day a year on the Day of Atonement.
So to bring a pig’s blood into the Holy of Holies was an abomination that was unheard of ever before! It was Antiochus Epiphanes’ attempt to spit in the face of the Jews and their God!
Well, after three years of Jewish guerilla warfare, the Jews finally achieved victory over their enemies. On the 25th day of the month, Kislev, 165 BC, the Maccabees triumphantly entered that defiled and half-demolished temple. They then began the process of repairing it and rededicating it to the service of God.
After this, the Jews established a holiday in commemoration of all these events. Hence the term, “Hanukkah,” meaning, “Dedication.”
Since Hanukkah celebrated the cleansing of the temple, Jesus used this celebration to call attention to Himself as the Messiah. Jesus was the true temple of God. Jesus also came to cleanse us, His church in which God dwells. So Jesus attended the celebration of Hanukkah, a holiday that was nowhere commanded in the Bible.
The Apostle Paul did something similar, in Acts 17:22-23, only there, he took not just an innocent tradition, but he took a pagan tradition, a wicked idolatry, and he transformed it for Christian use. We read, “Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and observed your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”
John F. MacArthur, Jr., writes:
What was this altar to an unknown god? Actually there were many of these in Athens. Six hundred years before Paul’s time, Athens had been stricken with a terrible plague. Hundreds were ill and dying, and the city grew desperate. A famous poet from Crete named Epimenides devised a plan to pacify whatever gods were causing the plague. He went to the Areopagus and turned loose a flock of sheep. The plan was to let the sheep roam the city freely. When the sheep lay down, they were to be sacrificed to the god of the nearest temple. The assumption was that the angry gods would draw the sheep to themselves. When the sheep were turned loose, however, many of them lay down in places with no temples nearby. Epimenides decided to sacrifice the sheep anyway and erect altars wherever they lay down, just to make sure no unfamiliar deities were overlooked. Since these were nameless gods, the people simply erected altars and shrines “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” It was undoubtedly one of these altars Paul spotted. [John F. MacArthur, Jr., Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World, p. 145-146.]
So all of these altars “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD” were pagan symbols of idolatry!
Paul then proceeded to pour Christian religious significance into those pagan symbols. In other words, he used their own pagan symbols to point to Christ! He said, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”
In a sense, we do the same thing at Christmas. The only difference is that most of the symbols attached to Christmas by the world were not originally pagan symbols at all. They were Biblical symbols.
Pagans hijacked these Biblical symbols for their own idolatrous use. But I want to make it abundantly clear: We had ‘em first! Most of the symbols of Christmas we see today pointed to Jesus Christ long before they were stolen and used to point to Mithra or Saturnalia!
Just because pagans steal symbols from the Bible to try to add power to their religions, that doesn’t mean that we, as Christians, are no longer allowed to use those symbols.
It’s true that the celebration of the birth of Christ is nowhere commanded in the Bible. But Christ’s birth is certainly an appropriate thing to celebrate, since the Bible, several times, calls special attention to Christ’s birth as a great blessing from God. God became man to save men from their sins! What more reason to celebrate do we need than that? So the birth of Jesus Christ certainly gives us all cause for rejoicing and for celebrating!
Add to this the fact that birthday celebrations, in general, are never frowned upon in Scripture.
In Genesis 40:20 we read, “Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials.”
In Mark 6:21 we read, “On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee.”
These passages show that celebrating birthdays is nothing new to our day and age. Granted, Pharaoh and Herod were unbelievers, but I believe that Christians also celebrated birthdays.
Many Bible scholars tell us that Job 1:4 is referring to birthday celebrations. The KJV reads, “And his [Job’s] sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them.”
That phrase, “every one his day,” is most likely a reference to their respective birthdays. We see similar language used a little later, in Job 3:1-3 where we read, also in the KJV, “After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day.” The NIV even translates it, “cursed the day of his birth,” because the very next verse continues, “He said: ‘May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, “A boy is born!”’”
So righteous Job’s sons were celebrating, “every one his day,” implying that they were probably celebrating their birthdays. So, again, the point is, celebrating birthdays, in general, is not seen as sinful in the Bible.
Given that birthday celebrations, in general, are OK, and given that most of us celebrate our own birthdays as well as those of our family and friends, what more important birthday could we choose to celebrate than that of Jesus Christ? What birthday could possibly give us more joy or more cause for celebration?
Of course, we don’t know, for sure, the exact date of Christ’s birth. We do know that our calendar today is not based on the same one that was used when Jesus was born. There is some evidence, which I won’t get into today, that has led certain Bible scholars to speculate that Jesus may have actually been born on Rosh Hashanah, September 11, 3 BC And there’s other evidence that leads some to speculate that the wise men from the East may have arrived at Jesus’ home a year and a half later, on December 25, 2 BC, bringing Him gifts. But we don’t know any of that for sure.
But so what if we don’t know the exact day of Christ’s birth?
There’s no law that says you may only celebrate something exactly on the same day that it occurred.
In our church, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day, not simply once a year at Passover on the exact day it was originally celebrated.
The fact, then, that December 25 happens to be the same day as a pagan rite is no more of a problem than the fact that October 31 happens to be the same day as a pagan rite. The ancient festival of Lemures was a pagan custom where people walked barefoot and threw black beans over their shoulders at night to exorcise the evil ghosts of the dead from their homes. Then they’d bang on bronze pots while chanting nine times, “Ghosts of my fathers and ancestors, be gone!”
The Roman Catholic Church later transformed this celebration to All Saints Day and Hallowed Evening, or Halloween. Martin Luther chose to nail his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg on that very day. And ever since, the Reformed churches have celebrated Reformation Day on that day!
The same is true of Easter. We now celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord on the same day that some pagans used to celebrate the pagan rite of Easter.
And we now celebrate Christmas on a day that pagans centuries ago used to celebrate other pagan rites.
Again I say, “So what?”
The only problem arises when people begin to get judgmental about such voluntary celebrations and remembrances.
Romans 14:5-8 says, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat [that is, meat sacrificed to pagan idols, knowing that pagan idols aren’t real gods], eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
So to command the celebration of Christmas and to prohibit the celebration of Christmas are both wrong. The celebration of Christ’s birth, just like the celebration of your own or someone else’s birth, is a “thing indifferent.”
In the evening service we’re going to examine some common Christmas customs and symbols in light of the Bible. We’ll see that many of these customs and symbols actually came directly from the Bible! Again, we had ‘em first! It was only later that Satan twisted and reshaped these customs and symbols for pagan use.
You see, holidays are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible. They’re “things indifferent.”
So if Christians wish to take these opportunities to rejoice in Jesus Christ and to celebrate His birth, or to celebrate His resurrection, or His ascension, or to set a day apart to thank Him for His blessings, be careful not to judge them. They’re celebrating those days unto the Lord, and they’re seeking to glorify and enjoy the Lord on those days.
And if Christians wish not to participate in any holidays because they want to put more focus on that one, special day that is commanded in the Bible, the Lord’s Day, be careful not to look down on them either. They, too, are seeking to glorify and honor Christ by their actions.
We saw this morning that Romans 14:5-12 speaks of two, unbiblical extremes that we, as Christians, should try to avoid regarding the celebration of Christmas and holidays.
We should avoid the extreme of saying that all celebrations of holidays other than the Lord’s Day are sinful.
We should also avoid the extreme of saying that the celebration of certain holidays, other than the Lord’s Day, are required by God.
We looked primarily at the example of Christmas, and we showed that celebrating the birth of Christ is no different from celebrating other important birthdays. Surely there’s good cause for celebration in the fact that Jesus Christ was born as a man in order to keep the covenant of God for us and to bring us eternal life!
I want to go on today to spend a little time examining various common Christmas customs and symbols in light of the Scriptures. Much has been made of the fact that many of these things are also elements of pagan celebrations on various pagan holidays. Does that mean that we, as Christians, are forbidden to use these symbols or customs?
I want to strongly emphasize the point again that we had ‘em first! Almost every one of these Christmas symbols originated in Scripture and was later stolen by the pagans, not the other way around!
What about giving gifts, for example? Some people argue that it’s wrong to “commercialize Christmas” by giving gifts.
Well, is it also wrong to commercialize birthdays by giving gifts to your children or others? Giving gifts to others is not necessarily commercialization. The giving of gifts to one another, whether on birthdays or anniversaries, or Christmas, or Valentine’s Day, or graduation, or any other time, is simply man copying God’s example.
God showers us with His good gifts regularly, not the least of which is the gift of His own Son which He gave when Christ was born as a man. Even Jesus Christ, Himself, said, in Matthew 25:40, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
That means, therefore, that whenever we give gifts to others out of love, we give to Christ. What’s wrong, and what should be avoided, is thinking only about ourselves at Christmas (or any other time, for that matter). We shouldn’t focus on what we want, and what we desire. That demonstrates a lack of contentment in what God has already given us. And if you give gifts at Christmas in a grudging fashion, not out of love but because you feel obligated to do so, then rest assured that you’re not giving to Christ. You’re taking this voluntary custom of giving gifts to others in response to God’s gracious gift of His Son to us, and you’re turning it into an obligatory burden.
What about Christmas trees? Should Christians bring these pagan symbols into their homes? After all, a thousand years ago, people in Europe used to conduct the idolatrous rites of Saturnalia under evergreen trees!
Well, if that’s the reason why you’re bringing a tree into your home – to conduct idolatrous rites under it – then I would agree. Don’t bring one into your home!
But let’s not forget: In all of Satan’s symbols, he’s merely being a copycat of God. There are lots of symbols that Satanists use, including the cross, stars, the rainbow, blood, you name it. All of these are simply imitations or anti-types of Biblical symbolism!
But in every case, the Bible uses those symbols first. So Christians should not have to give up good, Biblical symbols just because some pagans happen to hijack them for pagan purposes.
In the Bible, trees are rich in symbolism, especially evergreen trees. Green trees decorated the garden of God, in Eden. They even decorated the temple of God. You may remember that the lampstand in the temple was a stylized almond tree with lights on it!
Trees in the Bible often symbolize restoration to the beauty of the Garden of Eden. Those ornaments we hang on the tree merely symbolize that fruit which those trees of Eden continually bore for mankind.
Satan began associating trees with idolatry way back in the OT already. He tempted Adam and Even under a tree.
And in I Kings 14:23 we read, in the KJV, “For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree.” That phrase, “under every green tree,” occurs in numerous other passages as well.
So wicked men stole the symbol of the green tree and used it for their idolatrous purposes.
Green trees are symbolic of healthy and flourishing life. Evergreen palm trees are symbolic of Christ’s never ending rule because they stay fresh and green all the time. That’s why palm branches were spread in Jesus’ path on Palm Sunday.
The color green is appropriate for the celebration of Christ’s birth because His kingdom is an ever green and flourishing kingdom. So Christmas trees are simply the Northern version of an evergreen tree. So is holly.
In Hosea 14:8, the LORD even compares Himself to an evergreen tree. He says, “I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me.”
And Isaiah 60 even indicates that God decorates His House with Christmas trees!
Now you may think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Look it up in Isaiah 60 [It’s on page 1124-5 in the church Bibles.]. The whole context is talking about Christmas, the coming of the Messiah. Vv. 1-7 say, “Arise, shine, for your light [There’s another symbol of Christ and Christmas: lights!] has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. [This was fulfilled, in a preliminary sense, in the Magi from the East, those Gentile kings who came to visit Christ. Later it was fulfilled by the nations coming to Christ’s church through the spread of the light of the Gospel. Isaiah continues…] Lift up your eyes and look about you: all assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. [Notice the imagery, again, of a return to the prosperity of Eden here.] And all from Sheba [Sheba was in the East] will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. [So this was partially fulfilled when gold and frankincense, along with myrrh, another type of incense, were brought by the Magi from the East to Jesus in Bethlehem!] All Kedar’s flocks will be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth will serve you; they will be accepted as offerings on my altar, and I will adorn my glorious temple.”
Hmmm… How do you suppose the LORD will adorn His glorious temple in honor of the coming of this Messiah?
The answer is found just 6 verses later in Isaiah 60:13. “The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the pine, the fir and the cypress together, to adorn the place of my sanctuary; and I will glorify the place of my feet.”
There you have it: God promises to send Jesus, the Christmas light of the world. And God says Gentile kings will bring to Him and to His church, gifts. And God says He will decorate His house with pine, fir, and cypress, all evergreen trees!
That’s where we first hear about the symbolism of Christmas trees, not in some pagan celebration in Europe!
The idea of adorning our homes with evergreen trees in celebration of Christ’s birth comes straight out of the Bible! And that, long before there ever was a pagan Mithra or Saturnalia celebration! These are our symbols! They don’t belong to the pagans!
Many of the other customs and symbols of Christmas also have a Biblical basis and a Biblical meaning.
Take snow, for example. Even though there wasn’t much snow around at Christ’s birth, Christ’s coming was to cleanse us from sin and to make us white as snow. The silver “rain,” or “tinsel,” we sometimes see on Christmas trees represents rain, which symbolizes the washing or cleansing of Christ’s forgiveness.
Isaiah 1:18 says, “18 ‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’”
The Christmas lights on the tree and around the house have Biblical symbolism as well. The “tree” lampstand in the tabernacle had seven lights on it, representing the sevenfold Spirit of Christ. Jesus is the light of the world, and so on...
Jesus came into the world to bring light to those living in the darkness of sin. That’s why Christmas is filled with lights.
Light is referred to over a hundred times in Scripture, from Genesis 1:3b, “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light,” to Revelation 22:5, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”
You could even say that the entire Bible moves from darkness to light as it progresses from creation out of darkness and nothing to the new creation of light and glory. The plan of salvation revealed in the Bible also moves from darkness to light, from the fall into the darkness of sin and death to the resurrection into never-ending light and life.
Light is used in the Scripture as a synonym for God and Christ. It’s also used as a synonym for life. We see both of these ideas joined together in John 8:12: “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”
As those created and renewed in the image of God, we, too, are called “lights” who shine forth God’s glory in this world. Matthew 5:14-16 says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
In Luke 6:18, Christians are even called “people of the light,” “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”
We could go into all of the symbolism surrounding the star as well, but that’s a topic for another entire sermon. Briefly, however, the star was a special light and it represented rule and authority.
Other shiny decorations also point to the restoration of the beauty of Eden in which there were all sorts of gems and precious stones. Christ’s coming eventually restores the shining glory of Eden to mankind as He comes to redeem all of fallen creation. The Garden of Eden was littered with gold and gems and shiny stones.
All of the abundance of good food and eating and drinking are also symbolic of rejoicing and of the return to the abundance of Eden through the work of Jesus Christ. Such feasting is a way to celebrate the joy that the coming of Christ brings to the world!
Many times Christians get offended by the use of the abbreviation, “Xmas,” for “Christmas.” They say it’s just a sneaky pagan way to take “Christ” out of Christmas.
But using the “X,” to represent Christ is also fully in accord with Scripture. First of all, the “X” is the first letter of the word, “Christ,” in the Greek Bible. “Christos” begins, in the Greek, with the letter “chi,” which looks like the letter “X” in English. This letter, “chi,” or “X,” has been found in the early Christian caves and catacombs in numerous places as an abbreviation and symbol for “Christ.”
Christ came to bring in His evergreen and everlasting kingdom, but in order to do that, He first had to die on the cross and to shed His blood. It’s no coincidence, then, that the contrasting red and green are so popular at Christmas time. They go together in the symbolism of Scripture as well. Christ’s red blood had to be shed in order to bring in Christ’s evergreen kingdom!
Many object that the name, “Christmas,” comes from two words, “Christ,” and “mass.” Does that mean we mayn’t celebrate Christmas? Because it’s associated with the Roman Catholic “mass”?
Well, we celebrate the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper on Sunday, don’t we? The word, “Sunday,” comes from the worship of the sun god. Yet, as Christians, we don’t worship the sun god on Sunday. We simply use a term that’s common to our society, and we worship the true God on that day.
Bringing the meaning of all of this symbolism to the attention of our children and to others at Christmas time can be an effective teaching tool to instill in them the joy of the coming of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.
OK, what about Santa Claus?
The modern day Santa Claus has certainly been misused as a Christmas symbol, of course. Many have even given Santa Claus godlike properties. He’s supposedly all-seeing, all knowing, and omnipresent on Christmas. He supposedly knows when you’ve been naughty, and knows when you’ve been good. And he supposedly gives gifts to those who are good.
But James 1:15 tells us where all gifts truly come from, “17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
So Christmas gifts come, ultimately, from God, not from Santa Claus! In a sense, God is the real Santa Claus!
But I want to remind you of the fact that there really is a human Santa Claus as well, and he’s a Christian! And I also want to point out the fact that the real Santa Claus would be very offended if he knew how people today were treating him as a god!
You see, the real life Santa Claus is not a myth. He’s a real person, sometimes called, “St. Nick.” Some may not know this, but there really is a person in history with that name. His full name was Nicholas of Myra. He was a very wealthy young man who loved the Lord and was so concerned about the poor that he gave away a lot of his money. Because he was a Christian, and because he was such a godly and generous man, they called him – “Saint Nicholas.” Because he was generous and gave gifts to the poor at Christmas time, he became associated with Christmas in peoples’ minds. So the real Santa Claus was simply a godly example of Christian giving and generosity.
Many years later, Dutch settlers in America pronounced his name in Dutch, calling him, “Santa Nikalaus.”
Later, that was shortened to simply, “Santa Klaus,” or “Santa Claus.” So Santa Claus is real! He’s a real person, a Christian, who’s now living in heaven. He’s also a fine example of Christian giving that we’d all do well to imitate!
The mythical Santa Claus was just a fun fairy tale, made up much later, in 1922, by some professor. He made up this story about a jolly, red-capped man with twinkling eyes and a nose like a cherry. The Santa in the professor’s story could be in many places at once. The Santa in the professor’s story knew whether little boys or girls had been naughty or nice. And the Santa in the professor’s story gave away lots and lots of gifts and presents at Christmas time.
I think it’s OK to tell children fun fairy tales. Just be sure that they know Who the real giver of all good gifts is, and that they’re thankful to Him.
Let me say one more thing about the objection that December 25 was originally established as a pagan Roman holiday.
I just read, this week, an interesting article by Dr. Peter Hammond of Frontline Fellowship in Cape Town, South Africa, discussing that date of December 25. Since we don’t have time to go through that whole article, I’ll attach it to this sermon when I send it out in e-mail. But let me give you just a few quotes from the article. Hammond writes,
Christians have celebrated the Incarnation and Nativity of the Lord Jesus on December 25, since the earliest centuries. Long before the conversion of Constantine in AD 312 and the end of the persecution by the Roman Empire, 25 December was already established as a venerable and tenured tradition for celebrating Christmas Day.
The assertion, that Christmas is a creation of the Roman Catholic church and that it has something to do with the mass, is false. The tradition of Christmas, the Christ Festival, long pre-dates the establishment of what became Roman Catholicism. It is true that one Roman Emperor, Aurelian, did attempt to inaugurate 25 December as a pagan festival “the birth of the unconquered Sun.” This was in AD 274. Aurelian was attempting to breathe new life into a declining paganism devastated by the advances of Christianity. However, the Roman pagan festival was instituted after the Christians had already been celebrating the birth of Christ on that day for many decades. Their pagan festival was an attempt to create an alternative tradition, which already was associated with the birth of Christ, and of significance to the Roman Christians. This is not a case of Christians imitating the pagans. The pagans were attempting to imitate the Christians, by celebrating the Sun on the day when Christians celebrated the Son of God.
So although there are many dangerous and unbiblical notions being spread around concerning many of the symbols of Christmas, most of these symbols can be recovered and redeemed by Christians, and they can be used in a good way with our children as well, if we so desire.
The bottom line is this: Special days and their celebrations are “things indifferent.” They’re things regarding which Christians shouldn’t be judging one another.
Paul says, in Romans 14:5-8, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat [referring to meat that may have been sacrificed to idols], eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
So just like food sacrificed to idols, good, Biblical symbols can still be used by Christians even though pagans may misuse them. And although the celebrations of Christmas and other holidays aren’t commanded in Scripture, neither are they forbidden.
Actually, many of our Reformed forefathers celebrated Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost as special holidays. That’s why John Calvin’s catechism had 55 sections, by the way, not just 52 for the 52 weeks of the year. There was one section to cover each of the 52 Lord’s Days. But the other three sections were for the celebration of three voluntary holidays, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. So Christmas was celebrated, but it wasn’t commanded.
The closest thing to commanding the celebration of Christmas came in the requirement set forth in Article 67 of the Synod of Dort’s Church Order. That church order required churches to hold a Christmas worship service on Christmas Day. It stated that churches “shall observe in addition to the Sunday also Christmas...”
While I don’t have a problem with churches holding worship services on Christmas Day, or on any other day of the week, I don’t believe Christians should be “required” to celebrate it.
I’m not sure the Synod of Dort required members of the church to be at their Christmas service. But if they did, then I believe they went too far in making that a requirement.
I personally think that the celebration of Christmas is a good thing, especially if its symbolism is properly seen in light of the Scriptures. And if it’s properly celebrated, as Paul says in our text, “to the Lord,” I see no harm in it.
But I repeat: Christmas and other holidays are not commanded celebrations in Scripture. So you’re not a “sinner,” or even a “Scrooge,” if, for whatever God-honoring reasons, you choose to abstain from celebrating these holidays.
In short, Christians don’t need to be afraid of using the Biblical symbols that God gave us, even if pagans twist and distort those very same symbols and use them for pagan purposes.
Remember, “We had ‘em first!”
ADDENDUM WAS JESUS REALLY BORN ON 25 DECEMBER?
By Dr. Peter Hammond, Frontline Fellowship
One of the more recent Christmas traditions has been the repeated assertions, on the internet, in the press and from some pulpits, that the 25th December could not have been our Lord's actual birthday.
Examining the Historical Record According to this position, He could have been born on almost any other day of the year, except 25 December. It is asserted that 25 December had originally been the pagan winter solstice festival, which had been taken over by the Christians to promote the new Faith. In doing so, many of the old pagan customs crept into this new Christian celebration. Numerous articles, booklets, radio programmes and T.V. documentaries have been produced asserting this position.
The Myths of Time However, this opinion is itself based upon historical myths, incomplete research and ignorance of history.
Christmas Predates Constantine Christians have celebrated the Incarnation and Nativity of the Lord Jesus on December 25, since the earliest centuries. Long before the conversion of Constantine in AD312, and the end of the persecution by the Roman Empire, 25 December was already established as a venerable and tenured tradition for celebrating Christmas Day.
Christmas Predates Catholicism The assertion, that Christmas is a creation of the Roman Catholic church and that it has something to do with the mass, is false. The tradition of Christmas, the Christ Festival, long pre-dates the establishment of what became Roman Catholicism.
Pagan Attempt to Hijack Christmas It is true that one Roman Emperor, Aurelian, did attempt to inaugurate 25 December as a pagan festival "the birth of the unconquered Sun." This was in AD 274. Aurelian was attempting to breathe new life into a declining paganism devastated by the advances of Christianity. However, the Roman pagan festival was instituted after the Christians had already been celebrating the birth of Christ on that day for many decades. Their pagan festival was an attempt to create an alternative tradition, which already was associated with the birth of Christ, and of significance to the Roman Christians. This is not a case of Christians imitating the pagans. The pagans were attempting to imitate the Christians, by celebrating the Sun on the day when Christians celebrated the Son of God.
Comparing Calendars Already in the 2nd Century, church councils had established the date of Christ's birth, and the dates of Christ's Death and Resurrection. Because Scripture identifies Christ's death at the time of the Jewish Passover, the time of year could be known with precision. However, differences in the Jewish, Greek and Latin calendars, and the discrepancies between the Lunar (moon) and Solar (sun) calendars caused intense debate over whether to observe Easter/Resurrection Sunday on a fixed date, no matter which day it fell on, or to ensure that it always fell on a Sunday, the first day of the week, as identified in the Gospels.
The Annunciation On the basis of records available to them at that time, the early Church established 25 March as the Feast of Annunciation to mark when the Angel first appeared to Mary, and as the date of Christ's conception. They also came to consensus that Christ was born 9 months later - on 25 December.
25 March used to be New Year's Day It needs to be noted that, from the earliest days of the Roman Imperial calendar, the New Year was celebrated on 25 March - the first day of spring (in the Northern hemisphere). This is why September, October, November, December derived from the Latin words, Septem (7), Octo (8), Novem (9), and Decem (10).
The New, New Year's Day The celebration of the New Year on 1 January dates back to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1600, in Scotland and 1752, in England. From the 17th Century, 1 January began to be celebrated in Christian nations as a day of Renewal - a renewal of vows, vision and vocation. It was on this day that guild members took their annual pledge, that husbands and wives renewed their marriage vows, and young believers recommitted themselves to walk in the Grace of the Lord.
In the Darkness 25 December occurs in the northern hemisphere in the darkest time of the year. 25 December is during the longest nights, and shortest days of the year. So, the early Church establishing that the Incarnation, when Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, occurred on the first day of spring, 25 March, and that His Advent occurred when He was born at the darkest time, during the longest night of the year, 25 December.
A Light Has Shone "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined... For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His Name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His Government and peace there will be no end." Isaiah 9:2-7
New Covenant 1 January, as the first day of the New Year, follows 8 days after the birth of Christ, on the day when he would have been circumcised and come officially under the Covenant.
An Age of Presumption It is remarkable how so many people today, with no historical research, and next to no knowledge of the historical realities and complexities of 2,000 years ago, can assume that they know better than learned men and Church councils convened much closer to the events in question for the express purpose of ascertaining the most accurate dates of Christ's birth, Crucifixion and Resurrection. But then, we live in a world where everything is being questioned - even God's Law and the Word of God.
Victory Over Paganism Instead, we should celebrate that Christ's Coming did replace desperation with joy, oppression with celebration, human sacrifices with Christmas Festivals; Christ replaced Baal, Molech, Apollo, Mars, and Thor. At the time of greatest darkness, Christ came. "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." John 1:5
Christmas is a time to celebrate Christ's victory over paganism. New Year's Day is a time to renew our vows, vision and vocation, and the first day of spring to celebrate the Life of Christ. Christmas presents us with tremendous opportunities for Evangelism and discipleship of family, friends, neighbours and strangers. Let us remind them whose birthday we are celebrating. Jesus is the reason for the season. Wise men still seek Christ!
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
II Timothy 3:14-17 “The Necessity Of Scripture”
[WLC #2-4] [WCF I:I]
The past two Sundays, as we discussed the WLC #1, we got an overview of everything that the Catechism teaches, which is also a summary of everything that the Scripture teaches.
The Westminster Larger Catechism Q. #1 asks:
Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him for ever.
Tonight, we’re going to find out how we can know that. We’re going to deal specifically with the characteristics of God’s revelation in Scripture, the characteristics of the Bible, if you will.
Those characteristics of the Bible are summarized for us in WLC #2-4:
Q. 2. How doth it appear that there is a God?
A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.
Q. 3. What is the Word of God?
A. The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.
Q. 4. How doth it appear that the Scriptures are the Word of God?
A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.
If you’re taking notes, we’re going to discuss 10 characteristics of Scripture. (Don’t worry, we won’t be covering all 10 tonight!)
These 10 characteristics make the Scriptures totally unique from all other writings and all other teachings.
The very first chapter in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) mentions all 10 of these characteristics, so we’ll be following that outline as we examine the teaching of WLC #2-4. The WCF is printed in the back of your blue, Trinity Hymnals, so you can follow along there, if you wish. It’s found on pages 673-674 in the back. This is one of the most concise and complete summaries of the characteristics of the Bible that you’ll ever find anywhere.
Each of these 10 characteristics which we’ll be discussing is actually worthy of an entire sermon series in itself, so what you’re going to be getting is a very concentrated summary of these things. Sort of like Cuban coffee instead of American coffee, if you know what I mean. (You get all the caffeine and flavor, but a lot less water.)
Each one of the 10 sections of WCF, Chapter I, describes one of the 10 characteristics we’re going to discuss. We’ll begin, then, tonight, with WCF I:I, dealing only with the first characteristic, “The Necessity of Scripture.”
WCF I:I. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation: therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
The first thing I want you to notice is that our Confession does not use that term which is commonly used in theological circles today called, “general revelation.” Rev. Herman Hoeksema, as well as Rev. Herman Hanko, both ministers of the Protestant Reformed Churches, have caused me to change my terminology on that score so as to come more in line with Biblical terminology.
We read in Romans 1:19, “what may be known about God is plain to them [that is, to all men], because God has made it plain to them.”
Or we could translate that, “what is known of God is manifest in them, because God has manifested it in them.”
Paul does not say that this knowledge of God is revealed to them or in them. Whenever the word, “revealed,” is used in Scripture, it’s talking about things that God reveals, by His grace, to His elect only.
Romans 1:19 says that what is known of God is manifest in all creation, even in unbelievers. That is, this knowledge about God is manifested in their hearts and minds. It doesn’t say that God reveals Himself to them through what is commonly called, general revelation. Biblically speaking, that term, general revelation, is never used. In the Bible, all “revelation” is special revelation to God’s covenant people, because the word, reveal, or revelation, is never used in the Bible to describe man’s knowledge of God that’s manifested in creation.
What’s in view here, then, is not revelation from God, but a manifestation of the knowledge of God in the hearts and minds of these people. So this is not the gracious and saving revelation of God by His Holy Spirit. This is the manifestation of God’s existence and His power, given to those who are unregenerate, in what has been created.
Notice how the words, manifest, and reveal, are used in the WCF, I:I:
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church...
God’s creation and all men manifest the work of God. God, Himself, reveals Himself to men. The WLC #4 even says that the Scriptures “manifest themselves to be the Word of God.” That means that even an unbeliever should be able to see clearly that the Scriptures are different from all other books. Even unbelievers should know that the Bible is God’s Word. But only God reveals Himself and reveals His Word to men in a saving way.
So I would agree with Hoeksema and Hanko that it’s better to speak of general manifestation in all of creation, and special revelation in the Scriptures.
The point the confession is making under this first section of Chapter I is that this knowledge about God which is manifested in God’s creation is sufficient to leave men without excuse for their sin, but it’s insufficient to bring them to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the confession continues,
...Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church...
This is a reference to God’s special revelation. Those diverse manners included various means of direct communication from God. For example, God revealed His will in such things as dreams, visions, voices, the Urim and Thummim, casting lots, the burning bush, the handwriting on the wall, prophesying and speaking in tongues, and so on. These various means of revelation were used by God in order that men might come to know God rightly and to have faith in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:1 refers to this when it says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways...”
Now some people today say, “Wow! That must have been great! To have a direct link to God and have all of those personal, direct revelations coming from God! Wouldn’t it be great if God would speak to us like that today also? In fact, some people believe that God does still speak to us like that today.
But those means of God’s revelation of Himself to men were only temporary. Those means were used only while God was gradually unfolding His revelation of the Gospel throughout history. God had something better in store for us. Eventually, God committed all of His special revelation, His entire revealed will, completely to written form. The Confession I:I puts it this way:
...and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
Those preliminary ways of God’s revealing Himself were superseded by the better and more sure comfort given to us today in the completed, written Scriptures.
Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”
In the written Scriptures, God has spoken to us finally and completely through Jesus Christ and His apostles whom He authorized to speak His words.
Along with God’s former ways of revealing Himself ceasing, certain special kinds of messengers of that revelation ceased as well. The Westminster Form of Presbyterial Church-Government, produced by the Westminster Assembly, states on page 398,
The officers which Christ hath appointed for the edification of his church, and the perfecting of the saints, are, some extraordinary, as apostles, evangelists, and prophets, which are ceased.
Others ordinary and perpetual, as pastors, teachers, and other church-governors, and deacons.
No longer are men inspired to speak the very words of Jesus Christ in His place, particularly the apostles, the inspired evangelists and the prophets. Those offices all had in common that one thing: What they spoke in the Name of Jesus Christ and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was the same as Christ speaking it!
Today, Christ’s ministers and preachers still speak “in His Name” and “by His authority,” but their words are the Word of Christ only to the extent that they faithfully proclaim what has already been written down. These officers of the church today are not the bearers of new revelation from Christ and their words are not inspired.
Hebrews 2:1-4 says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels [referring to all God’s OT messengers, not just the angelic ones] was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him [the apostles]. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
In other words, this message which came in those various ways through those various kinds of messengers in the OT has now come in a final form, having been confirmed by the various signs and wonders that marked those who were set apart to speak on behalf of Jesus Christ.
II Corinthians 12:12 speaks of these signs when it says, “The things that mark an apostle – signs, wonders and miracles – were done among you with great perseverance.”
Ephesians 2:20 also speaks of this Gospel which is now complete, having been “...built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
These passages indicate that those special miracles and signs and wonders were given specifically as witnesses to “testify” to the authenticity of that Word of God while it was being brought by His extraordinary messengers. Once that foundation had been laid, there was no need for more direct revelation from God. After this completed revelation was written down and attested to, there was no more need for these special signs, attesting that those speaking were speaking as God’s spokesmen.
That’s why the OPC Form of Government (FG) V.1. states, regarding these special messengers of God:
When their testimony was completed their calling and office was not continued in the church, and the powers and signs that endued and sealed their ministry ceased.
I believe that I Corinthians 13:8-10 speaks about the cessation of those special apostolic gifts which attested to God’s revelation. Paul writes, “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge [speaking, in the context here, about special revelatory knowledge, not about knowledge in general], it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes [that is, when the whole revelation of God in the Scriptures is finally perfected and written down], the imperfect [that is, the prior, temporary form and manner of such revelation] disappears. When I was a child [Paul uses the word, infant, here], I talked like a child [that is, babbling in an indiscernible tongue], I thought like a child [that is, with only partial understanding], I reasoned like a child [that is, with only partial knowledge]. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now [speaking of that period of history when Paul is writing this, early in his ministry and prior to the completion of much of the canon of NT Scripture] we see but a poor reflection; then [speaking of the time when the Scriptures are completed and perfected] we shall see face to face [this expression means, “personally and completely”]. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
So you see, we haven’t taken a step backwards and downwards when we entered into that time when all those former ways of God’s revealing Himself have ceased. We live in the time when the perfect has come, when the better way has arrived. The revelation we have today in the written Scriptures is a fuller and more complete knowledge than those partial revelations given during the times of the apostles and prophets.
Paul seems to imply in the Scriptures that he is the last of the apostles of Jesus Christ. That would mean that there are no apostles (and therefore no signs of an apostle) today. I don’t care if Benny Hinn does claim to be an apostle and does claim to have the signs of a apostle. I’ve read about the apostles of Scripture and about the signs they exhibited, and believe me, Benny Hinn is no apostle!
In I Corinthians 15:7-9 Paul says, “Then he [Christ] appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles, because I persecuted the church of God.”
That’s why, in his last known letter, written shortly before his death, Paul exhorts Timothy to guard the “deposit” of sound teaching. This implies that Timothy is not to expect “new teaching” or “new revelations.” Rather, Timothy is to guard that completed deposit.
II Timothy 1:13-14 says, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
The Holy Spirit inspired Paul and the apostles with new revelations from God. But that Holy Spirit no longer fills us with new revelations. Now He helps us to understand the “deposit” of Scripture which has been written down for us to guard.
Similarly, in II Timothy 2:2 Paul writes, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”
Notice here that the mode of God’s revelation has now changed from the Holy Spirit inspiring special messengers to bring new revelations from God, to the Holy Spirit helping men trained in the “good deposit” of Scripture to “guard” that completed deposit and to pass it along to others.
The very last book of the Bible to be written down was probably Revelation. This final book closes with a warning which applies not only to the book of Revelation. As a fitting close of the entire “book” of God, it applies also to the whole of God’s special revelation.
Revelation 22:18-19 says, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
This isn’t the first time such a warning had come in the Scriptures. The book of Revelation is simply giving the final warning, the summing up of all the previous warnings.
Back in Deuteronomy 4:1-2 already, God had said through Moses, “Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.”
And Deuteronomy 12:32 said, “See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.”
And Proverbs 30:5-6 later added, “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”
Now that the Bible is complete, God’s Word is complete. It’s all written down. There’s no more new revelation coming from God through the Holy Spirit. Until Christ returns, this is it. Period.
That’s why the Scriptures are necessary. If a person doesn’t have God’s Word in the Scriptures, proclaimed in truth by a minister of the Word of God, he doesn’t have God’s Word. There’s no place else to “git it!” In our day, God has entrusted His Word to Christ’s church. That’s why there’s no ordinary possibility of salvation outside of Christ’s church and apart from the proclamation of that Word, written in the Bible.
God doesn’t reveal His will to anyone today apart from that written Word of God which is to be proclaimed in the preaching of the Gospel. That means that the Bible isn’t optional folks! And hearing the Bible preached isn’t optional either. “Those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased,” the confession says.
That makes the Scriptures most necessary for our salvation.
Romans 5:7-8, “Appointment with Love!”
023/09/14 AM, Sharon OPC
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
Before I get into the meat of the sermon today, I want to read to you a famous little short story that helps to illustrate something about love. It’s called:
APPOINTMENT WITH LOVE
by S.L. Kisher
Six minutes to six, said the great round clock over the information booth in Grand Central Station. The tall young army lieutenant who had just come from the direction of the tracks lifted his sunburned face, and his eyes narrowed to note the exact time. His heart was pounding with a beat that shocked him because he could not control it. In six minutes he would see the woman who had filled such a special place in his life for the past thirteen months, the woman he had never seen, yet whose written words had been with him and sustained him unfailingly.
He placed himself as close as he could to the information booth, just beyond the ring of people besieging the clerks.
Lieutenant Blandford remembered one night in particular, the worst of the fighting, when his plane had been caught in the midst of a pack of Zeros. He had seen the grinning face of one of the enemy pilots.
In one of his letters he had confessed to her that he often felt fear, and only a few days before this battle, he had received her answer. “Of course you fear ... all brave men do. Didn't King David know fear? That’s why he wrote the Twenty-third Psalm. Next time you doubt yourself, I want you to hear my voice reciting to you: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me...” And he had remembered, he had heard her imagined voice, and it had renewed his strength and skill.
Now he was going to hear her real voice. Four minutes to six. His face grew sharp.
Under the immense, starred roof, people were walking fast, like threads of color being woven into a gray web. A girl passed close to him and Lieutenant Blandford started. She was wearing a red flower in her suit lapel, but it was a crimson sweet pea, not the little red rose they had agreed upon. Besides, this girl was too young, about eighteen, whereas Hollis Meynell had frankly told him she was thirty. “Well, what of it?” he had answered. “I'm thirty-two.” He was twenty-nine.
His mind went back to that book — the book the Lord Himself must have put into his hands out of the hundreds of army library books sent to the Florida training camp. Of Human Bondage, it was; and throughout the book were notes in a woman’s writing. He had always hated that writing-in habit, but these remarks were different. He had never believed that a woman could see into a man’s heart so tenderly, so understandingly. Her name was on the bookplate: Hollis Meynell. He had got hold of a New York City phone book and found her address. He had written, she had answered. Next day he had been shipped out but they had gone on writing.
For thirteen months, she had faithfully replied, and more than replied. When his letters did not arrive, she wrote anyway, and now he believed he loved her, and she loved him.
But she had refused all his pleas to send him her photograph. That seemed rather bad, of course. But she had explained: “If your feeling for me has any reality, any honest basis, what I look like won’t matter. Suppose I’m beautiful. I’d always be haunted by the feeling that you had been taking a chance on just that, and that kind of love would disgust me. Suppose I’m plain (and you must admit that this is more likely), then I’d always fear you were going on writing to me only because you were lonely and had no one else. No, don't ask for my picture. When you come to New York, you shall see me and then you shall make your decision. Remember, both of us are free to stop or to go on after that – whichever we choose..."
The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away.
One minute to six...
Then Lieutenant Blandford’s heart leaped higher than his plane had ever done.
A young woman was coming toward him. Her figure was long and slim, her blond hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears. Her eyes were blue flowers; her lips and chin had a gentle firmness. In her pale green suit she was like springtime come alive.
He started toward her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was wearing no rose, and as he moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips.
“Going my way, soldier?”
Uncontrollably, he made one step closer to her. Then he saw Hollis Meynell.
She was standing almost directly behind the girl, a woman well past forty, her graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than plump; her thick-ankled feet were thrust into low-heeled shoes. But she wore a red rose in the rumpled lapel of her brown coat.
The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. Blandford felt as though he were being split in two, so keen was his desire to follow the girl, yet so deep was his longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned and upheld his own; and there she stood. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible; he could see that now. Her gray eyes had a warm, kindly twinkle.
Lieutenant Blandford did not hesitate. His fingers gripped the small, worn, blue leather copy of Of Human Bondage which was to identify him to her. This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even rarer than love – a friendship for which he had been and must be ever grateful.
He squared his broad shoulders, saluted, and held the book out toward the woman, although even while he spoke he felt choked by the bitterness of his disappointment.
“I’m Lieutenant John Blandford, and you – you are Miss Meynell. I’m so glad you could meet me. May – may I take you to dinner?” The woman’s face broadened in a tolerant smile. “I don’t know what this is all about, son,” she answered. “That young lady in the green suit – the one who just went by – begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said that if you asked me to go out with you, I should tell you that she’s waiting for you in that big restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of a test. I’ve got two boys with Uncle Sam myself, so I didn’t mind to oblige you.”
This little story illustrates a characteristic of true love that Paul describes in our text for today. Romans 5:7-8 says, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
What the story, “Appointment with Love,” illustrates, and what this Bible text implies is that true, Biblical love is not something you fall into, like a mud puddle. “Oh, I’ve fallen in love and I can’t get up!”
It’s also not something you can fall out of, like an airplane. “Ahhhhhhh…I’ve fallen out of love with you!”
That thing that you fall into and fall out of is not love. That’s called, “infatuation.” Infatuation is basically self-centered emotion. Infatuation says, “Oh, you make me feel so wonderful inside! Oh, I need you! Oh, I want you! Oh, I’ve got to have you!” But then, when the feeling goes away, the person says, “I just don’t have any feelings for you any more. Someone else makes me feel wonderful inside now. Sorry, I’ve fallen out of love with you. I just don’t feel the same way about you any more. So sorry.”
True love is not at all like that. True love is not self-centered. True love is self-sacrificing. If love were really infatuation, I’ll guarantee that there’s not a one of us here that God would love. God is not infatuated with sinners! We don’t make God feel wonderful inside. God doesn’t desperately need us. God is holy, and God hates sin and sinners with a perfect and just hatred. Sin repels Him!
Sinners aren’t simply like that woman in our story, “well past forty, her graying hair tucked under a worn hat. And sinners aren’t only “more than plump,” with their “thick-ankled feet” “thrust into low-heeled shoes.”
No, sinners are much worse than that! Sinners are like filthy, smelly, rotting corpses, with no hat and no shoes! God is repelled by sinners!
But our text says that, in spite of the fact that we’re wretched, sinful human beings, and in spite of the fact that we’re not beautiful in God’s sight, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
That’s not infatuation. That’s the amazing love of God! The true love of God, true, Biblical love, is a self-sacrificing love! Jesus Christ died on the cross in order to “demonstrate” that amazing love of God. Christ suffered the full penalty of God’s wrath and punishment for sin that we deserved because that was the very best way to demonstrate to us that He loved us, even while we were unlovely, vile sinners!
Let me ask you this: Would you be willing to suffer the full wrath and punishment of God that one of your enemies deserved? Would you be willing to suffer the death penalty in the place of someone who murdered your only child?
That’s what God did for us. Our sins crucified Jesus on the cross. It was while we were yet sinners, that Christ died for us. That’s what true, Biblical love is like. That’s what God’s perfect love is like.
A lot of people are confused about this. They think that they have to somehow make themselves loveable to God in order for Him to love them. They think that they have to live a “good enough” life and do “good enough” works in order to make God like them enough to take them to Heaven. They think that they must love God first so that God will love them back.
But that’s totally backwards. The Bible says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
And then later on, in I John 4:11 we read, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” And v. 19 adds, “We love because he first loved us.”
Our love for God and our love for others can only come about after God first loves us and fills us with His love.
But there’s one little word that I want you to pay very close attention to in our text: It’s the word, “us.” “God demonstrates his own love for us…Christ died for us…since God so loved us…he first loved us…”
It’s very important to know who the “us” is that’s being spoken of here. When Paul says, “us,” in our text, he’s not referring to everybody in the whole wide world. When Paul uses the word, “us,” in this context, he’s referring only to those who believe in and trust in Jesus Christ by faith. He’s referring to Christians. He’s talking about those who’ve been given faith to believe in Jesus Christ.
John 3:16-18 makes this clear: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
God’s love can be known only by believers who’ve been given the gift of faith to believe in Jesus Christ.
Millions of people in this world think that God loves everybody, including those who never come to faith. But without true faith, no one can come to know this amazing love of God that was demonstrated in the cross of Jesus Christ. Millions of people in this world don’t have the slightest clue as to what true love is all about because they haven’t experienced the love of God.
The only reason Christians know what true love is all about is because they know Jesus Christ. True, Biblical love is not something you fall into or fall out of. True, Biblical love is something that God places in your heart when He gives you faith to believe in Jesus Christ. And God demonstrates this love to you through the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Such true love is not something that you can ever experience unless you’re born again. Unbelievers can’t know this love of God. Unbelievers can’t love like this because true love comes from God.
That’s what the Bible teaches in I John 4:7-8, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
John says, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
That makes it clear that if a person has this true, Biblical love in his heart, that person is a born again Christian. Only born again Christians can truly love. “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
John also says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
That makes it clear that if a person does not have this true, Biblical love in his heart, that means he doesn’t know God. To know God is to know true, Biblical love. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
I pray that if any of you here today have not yet experienced true, Biblical love, self-sacrificing love like the love which God demonstrated to us in Jesus Christ – I pray that God would open your heart to that love by the power of His Holy Spirit working in you. And I pray, as Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:17-19, “that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.”
Philippians 4:4-9, “Pr
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
This passage of Scripture in Philippians 4:4-9, is what I call Scripture’s anti-anxiety prescription. It’s better than Prozac and more powerful than Xanax. Here, Paul gives us three little rules which, if we follow them, we’ll be able to handle anything that comes down the pike, and we’ll even be able to rejoice in the midst of our trials!
V. 4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
Easy to say, hard to do, right? We’ve all gone through those times in our lives when it’s next to impossible to rejoice. I say, “It’s next to impossible,” because obviously, if we’re commanded to rejoice always, it’s not impossible. God never gives us commands that are impossible to obey.
So it’s certainly possible to “rejoice in the Lord always,” but it’s not necessarily easy, is it?
Paul continues, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
The KJV translates that, “5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.”
That word, “gentleness,” or, “moderation,” may also be translated, “patience.” In this context, perhaps, “patience,” is a better translation. If you’re going to rejoice always, that’s going to require some patience. It’s going to require keeping your thoughts and emotions under control. So Paul begins, “Let your patience be evident to all.”
Then Paul reminds us that “The Lord is near.” “The Lord is at hand.”
That means, first of all, that the Lord is nearby, always present with us, watching how we respond to the things that He brings along in our lives. The Lord is present, paying special attention to how we handle the trials He allows us to suffer.
But it also means that the Lord is near in the way of being our Helper. He’s present with us in the middle of each and every trial. He’s standing by our side, He’s holding our hand, He’s working with us to help get us through it. So we can take great comfort in knowing that the Lord is near.
But the question remains, “How can we rejoice always? How can we rejoice, even in the midst of trials and troubles? How can we rejoice, even when we’re anxious or afraid or worried about something?
Paul gives us three rules to help us through such troubles. Those three rules are as follows:
Pray right. Think right. Do right.
Paul discusses all three of those rules in the following verses in our text. Let’s look at each one and see if we can’t implement these rules in our lives so that we, too, may, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”
Rule #1 is: Pray right.
Paul says, in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
So the first rule is “Pray right.” Notice, Paul doesn’t just say, “Pray about whatever is bothering you.” He doesn’t just say, “Present your requests to God,” or, “Just leave your problems with God and then relax.” You must do all of those things, of course, but Paul is very specific about how to go about doing that.
He says you must “present your requests to God” “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.”
We looked carefully at each one of those words previously in our sermon on, “When You Can’t Get to Sleep.” So let’s briefly review those three principles of “praying right.”
Paul says you’re to “Present your requests to God” “by prayer, and petition, with thanksgiving.”
First, he says, “Present your requests to God” “by prayer.”
“Prayer,” here, is the Greek word, “proskunéo.” It actually means “worship and adoration.” When you’re anxious about something and you come into God’s presence to tell Him about it, the first thing you must do is to fall down before Him in worship and adoration. Think about His glory and majesty and power and wisdom. Think about His love and mercy and His grace and kindness.
The Psalms are literally filled with this kind of worship and adoration.
When we’re anxious about something and we come to bring the matter in prayer before God, we must come in humble adoration and worship Him. That means you shouldn’t focus on the problem first of all. Focus on God and on His love and on His mighty power and wisdom. Praise Him for the fact that, in His sovereign wisdom, He controls all things in our lives for our good and for our salvation, even the difficult times that we often must endure. Remember the fact that God has already demonstrated His great love to us by giving us His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. How will He not also, along with Him, give us all things?
So first of all, we must come to God “by prayer” – meaning, worshipful, adoring prayer.
Second, Paul says, “Present your requests to God” “by prayer and petition.”
God wants us to come to Him with our problems. And face it, for some of us, all too often, the only way He can get us to come to Him is by giving us problems! Problems are very often necessary just to get our attention! God wants us to recognize our complete and utter dependence on Him for all things. If we could handle all our problems in our own strength, we wouldn’t have much need for God, would we? We’d just go on in life, carrying our own burdens and bearing our own loads.
God wants us to know that, as our heavenly Father, He welcomes us, just as an earthly father welcomes his little child upon His lap and listens to his problems with a loving and sympathetic ear. Tell God what’s wrong. Tell Him what you’re afraid of, or anxious about, or upset about. Pour out your heart to Him, knowing that Christ the Mediator, Who died for you, intercedes for you at the right hand of God, and knowing that the Holy Spirit prays for you too, perfectly in the will of God, with groanings too deep for words.
Sometimes we might be anxious about our own salvation. We might be anxious about the fact that we’re not sure that we’re saved. Maybe we’re afraid to die and to face the judgment. Bring it to God. Confess your sins and tell God how guilty you feel about your sin. Ask Him to forgive your sins and to give you the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Ask Him to take away your fears. Bring your requests to God, “by worship and adoration and by petition.”
Third, Paul continues, “Present your requests to God” “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.”
An attitude of thanksgiving is an important part of proper prayer. Don’t go to God with a grudge against Him in your heart. Don’t go to Him with a chip on your shoulder and bitter feelings inside. Don’t go to Him assuming that He’s against you.
If we go to Him with that attitude, we may as well not go at all. We must go to Him in faith, as true believers, knowing that He’s on our side and knowing that He loves us and wants what’s best for us. And when we pray, He promises to give us what’s best for us.
Sometimes people misunderstand what it means to pray, in faith, not doubting. They think that praying with thanksgiving means that we have to be sure that God will grant us exactly what we ask for. They think that praying with thanksgiving means we must never doubt that God will give us what we pray for. And so they pray, “Lord I thank You because I know that You’re going to give me that job I applied for.” Or “Lord I pray in faith, thanking You, knowing that You’re going to give salvation to my Aunt Gertrude.”
No, we’re allowed to doubt a lot of things when we pray. We’re allowed to doubt that God will answer our prayers in the exact manner in which we hope He’ll answer them. God hasn’t promised to answer our prayers exactly the way we want. And we may certainly doubt our own worthiness to receive anything good from God. We may even doubt, at times, whether or not we’re true believers. But we must never doubt the goodness and grace of God, and we must never doubt His perfect love for us and His abundant kindness and tender mercies towards all those who come to Him in faith.
To pray in faith, not doubting, is to pray, knowing and believing that God is all wise and that God is all powerful. It’s to pray believing that God will bring about the very best possible result in response to our prayers. That’s why we pray, “Thy will be done,” when we pray. God’s answers may not be exactly what we’d hoped for. But that’s only because the answers He gives will always be better for us than what we had in mind!
Christian, never forget that! Never doubt the fact that God always has your best interests at heart. Never doubt the fact that God will work all things together for good in your life, in answer to your prayers. How can you continue to be anxious if you truly believe, not doubting, that God will answer your prayers in the very best way possible?
Isn’t that wonderful? Doesn’t that give you great confidence in prayer, when you can know that God will answer your prayer exactly in the best possible way, for your own good and for His glory? Go ahead and doubt yourself. That’s OK. You may even doubt the genuineness of your own faith, if need be. But never, ever doubt the wisdom and goodness of God! Remind yourself of His love for you and His past blessings to you, and go to Him with a thankful heart, praising Him for His goodness.
So first, pray with adoration and worship. Second, pray by bringing your needs and petitions to Him. And third, pray with thanksgiving, knowing that whatever God gives in answer to your prayer of faith, it will be His very best for you!
For example, if you’re anxious about getting your lab tests back because you’re afraid you might have cancer or some other physical ailment, you might pray along these lines:
“Dear Lord, I worship You because You’re all powerful and because You hold my life in Your hands, working out your wise plan for me in love. I know I’m a guilty sinner, unworthy of anything good from Your hand. And I know that my faith is weak and sometimes, when I look at my life, I even doubt whether or not I’m a true Christian. But I know that Jesus Christ is Lord, and I cling to Him as my only hope of salvation. I now bring before You my health problem. You know that I’m anxious about it. You know all my fears and my worries. But I know that You’re all wise and all powerful. So I know that You’re able to heal me completely, if that’s Your will. I pray now that You would bring back good results of this test. You know that my desire is that I may be strong and healthy. But I thank You Lord that even if the test results show a problem, that’s only because of Your wise and good plan for my best interests. And I thank You that whatever You bring about through these test results, I may rejoice that that’s Your best for me right now and that You will work it for good in my life. So enable me to rest content in however You answer this prayer. I thank You, and I praise You, and I trust Your good will. Your will be done, O Lord!”
And if we pray like that, God gives us a glorious promise in v. 7. God gives us His guarantee through this inspired letter of the Apostle Paul: “7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
God is saying, in effect, “If you pray this way, with worship and adoration, brining your petitions, with thanksgiving, you will have peace.”
Notice, the promise is not that your problems will go away, or that what you fear might happen won’t happen. The promise is God’s peace – inner peace – because you know you’ll be kept in God’s loving arms, no matter what happens. This prayer can be brought in faith knowing that God’s best will come to you. You can have peace inside because your heart and mind will be guarded by the peace of God, like a wall around you. V. 7, says, “7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
In other words, then, “No matter what it is you’re concerned about, don’t be anxious about it, but go to God in prayer, worshipping and adoring Him, pouring out your heart to Him and explaining your problem to Him, at the same time thanking and trusting Him for His goodness toward you. And His promise is that you can experience the inner peace of God that transcends all understanding.
So the first rule to remember, if you want to be able to “Rejoice always,” is to “Pray right.” Pray with faith and trust in God and with contentment and thanksgiving for whatever God, in His wisdom chooses to send you.
Rule #2 is: Think right.
Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
The second rule, then, is “Think right.” Most of the time people get depressed, it’s because they’re thinking about depressing things! They’re mulling over and over in their minds how bad their life is, or how much pain and misery they’re suffering, or how sinful and evil they are, or how sinful and evil others are who have treated them badly. They say to themselves, in effect, “Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. Think I’ll eat some worms!”
What they should be thinking about instead is some of these Scripture passages we just read. They should consider all the blessings they already have in Christ. They should remember that even trials and troubles have good purposes in our lives. They should remember that Christ died to take away our sins and our guilt and to forgive us for being the rotten, miserable sinners that we were and to transform us into God-fearing, God-glorifying men and women.
If you’re down and depressed because you think your life is in a shambles, perhaps you should turn to Psalm 73:23-28, “23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. 28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”
The Psalms in particular, and the Scriptures in general, are overflowing with uplifting thoughts with which we should fill our minds. I’ve said many times before that this text right here in Philippians 4:4-9 is a passage every Christian should memorize so that he can repeat it to himself often when he encounters trials.
Romans 8:28 is another text that should be memorized and meditated on often, so that it can fill our minds with noble thoughts, “28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
So Rule #1 is “Pray right,” and Rule #2 is “Think right.”
Finally, Rule #3 is: “Do right.”
Philippians 4:9 says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.”
Do right. Do what God commands you to do. Live like a Christian to the best of your ability and the Lord will enable you to rejoice always. And even if you slip up and fall into sin, which we all do, then do the right thing by confessing your sin to God and seeking His forgiveness for it. And then do your best not to sin again. But when you do, confess it again and ask God’s forgiveness again. The Christian life is filled with slips and falls. But we must get up and we must forge onward in our battle against sin. God blesses obedience, even our imperfect obedience. You can never lose by doing the right thing.
When you’re faced with a choice, to do right or to do evil, keep in mind that you’re only bringing upon yourself more trouble by choosing evil. Sometimes the temptation to do evil is very great, as we all know. But Proverbs says, “15 Good understanding wins favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard.”
If only we could learn that simple little truth. “The way of the unfaithful is hard.”
You might think it’s hard to obey God. And it is. You might think the way of the righteous is hard. And sometimes it is. But God says, “The way of the unfaithful is harder.”
Peter says much the same thing in I Peter 3:10-12, where he quotes from Psalm 34:12-16. He says, “10 For, ‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. 11 He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’”
“Pray right, Think right, and Do right,” says Paul, “And the God of peace will be with you.”
This is not a maybe here that Paul is giving us. He says, “Do these things and you will have peace. Do these things and you can rejoice even in the midst of your trials.”
Let’s be honest. Some people certainly seem to have more than their share of misery in this life. And maybe you’re one of those people. But God’s Word shows us how to respond in hope when we suffer. A wrong attitude toward our miseries only makes the miseries worse.
On the other hand, a right response to misery can turn any misery into the blessing of God in your life. There is hope for your broken, guilty life because Christ came to break the power of sin.
There is hope for your physical misery because you’re going to receive a new body. And even now, God perfectly controls your pain and works it for your spiritual good.
There is hope for your worried, frazzled, pressured life because Jesus said, “your heavenly Father knows what you need even before you ask Him.” So there’s no need to worry – no need to be anxious – no need to be afraid.
There is hope for all those who are disillusioned and disappointed with their lives. Anyone can have joy and happiness if they seek it God’s way, and if they remember what God holds for their future. God has given us His Word in Philippians 4 as a form of spiritual Prozac, to help us to cope with life. We need to simply learn to use it. Pray right. Think right. Do right. “7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 5:1-5, “We Also Rejoice in Our Sufferings!”
03/02/14 AM, Sharon OPC
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
As I looked over the list of members and friends of Sharon Church the other day, I was struck by the fact that there’s hardly a household or a family in the whole list which hasn’t experienced some kind of serious sufferings in the past year. In fact, I don’t know of any!
Various folks have had sickness and health problems of one kind or another, some even quite serious and life threatening. Others have struggled with marriage problems, some even leading to separation or divorce. Some have struggled with interpersonal family problems of other kinds that have brought great stress on your families. Several of you have mourned the loss of close friends or loved ones. Quite a large number have also gone through serious trials at work, or even lost your jobs entirely. Many have struggled financially, to the point of rather severe hardship, from time to time. Some have wrestled with depression, or other emotional issues that you may not have even brought to the attention of others in the church. Some have suffered through burglaries, or traffic accidents, or storm damage, or injuries of various kinds.
Read through just a few months of our Sharonite Prayer List and you’ll see how many great difficulties the Lord has allowed us and our friends and loved ones all to suffer in this past year alone.
I think I can safely say that Sharon Church members and friends have been through many “sufferings” in this past year, not to mention the sufferings of previous years as well.
Paul writes, in Romans 5, to help us to understand these sufferings a little better.
He begins by reminding us all of our “justification” that he’s been talking about in the last few chapters. He says, “1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
In other words, no matter what sufferings and trials we’ve had to bear, we can at least “rejoice” in this: God’s wrath no longer abides on us due to our sins! Because we have been given faith to believe in Jesus Christ, Who suffered the wrath of God in our place, for our sins, we will not have to face that wrath of God in hell for all eternity! We will not have to go to that place of “outer darkness” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth!”
No, Paul says, “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
Formerly, we were barred from entering into God’s holy heaven. We were banished from His beautiful Garden, just like Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden and barred from entering by those mighty angels, flashing their swords back and forth to guard the entrance. We were on the outside of God’s favor. We were under the sword of His wrath. We were condemned to eternal hell for our sins.
And then God sent His beloved Son to leave that peaceful Garden, to suffer the wrath of God for us, and to carry us back into God’s beautiful Garden in His loving arms. We have received grace! We were justified and made holy and righteous because God clothed us with the holy and righteous works of Jesus, our Savior. And now, dressed in those glorious rainbow garments of Christ’s righteousness, we have a guaranteed home in God’s beautiful heaven!
That’s what Paul means when he says, “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God!”
That hope is a sure and guaranteed home, with God, forever and ever! Instead of standing under the wrath of God’s anger, outside His Garden, we “now stand,” says Paul – we “now stand” in God’s loving “grace.” Our loving Father now wraps His arms around us and welcomes us into His happy home where we will each have our own, special suite, decorated with all the finest furnishings. And He welcomes us to His table of bounties spread before us, where we will eat with Him and fellowship with Him and with all our brothers and sisters in the Lord. What a happy prospect, as we look forward to that day when we enter into that fabulous glory!
But Paul goes on in the text – and this is the part that might raise some eyebrows and might bring some confusion to our minds if we don’t pay attention to Paul’s argument.
Paul says, in v. 3, “3 Not only so [not only do we rejoice in this guaranteed “hope of the glory of God,”] but we also rejoice in our sufferings!”
What in the world was Paul thinking?
“We also rejoice in our sufferings?” How could he even say such a thing? How can we rejoice in losing a loved one? How can we rejoice in chronic back pain, or in cancer, or in a sick and hurting child, or in the emotional stresses and strains on our marriages and families?
Paul knew that such a statement needed some explanation. So he continues, “3 Not only so [not only do