The Way of Salvation

big-beautiful-stack-of-books-231x300This continues my long-suffering series on the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith. See the rest of the series here.

I’ve switched from a straight exposition to a question and answer format.  This is an important project to me, because it is effectively my own summary of what the Bible teaches – my own systematic theology. Because this article is extraordinarily long, I’ve included a PDF version here.

Article 4 – The Way of Salvation:

We believe that the salvation of sinners is wholly of grace,[1] through the mediatorial offices of the Son of God;[2] who by the appointment of the Father, freely took upon him our nature, yet without sin;[3] honored the divine law by his personal obedience,[4] and by his death made a full atonement for our sins;[5] that having risen from the dead, he is now enthroned in heaven;[6] and uniting in his wonderful person the tenderest sympathies with divine perfections, he is every way qualified to be a suitable, a compassionate, and an all-sufficient Saviour.[7]

Questions & Answers:

  1. What does it mean that salvation is “wholly of grace?”

It means salvation is completely unearned. If you’re a Christian, God decided to save you because He wanted to – not because of anything you did. There is nothing you can do to earn merit or favor with God.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose,” (Galatians 2:21). He means that, if it were possible to become righteous and justified by keeping the Mosaic Law, then Christ died for no reason at all. If it were possible to do things to gain merit and favor with God, and be rewarded with salvation, then why did Jesus even need to come here? Of course, the Bible tells us it isn’t possible to keep God’s law perfectly and be righteous through it, so therefore Christ did have to come (see also Galatians 3:1-14).

So, there is nothing you can do to become righteous and gain points with God. The miracle of salvation is that, knowing all this, the Lord decided to save some people anyway. This is why it is “wholly of grace;” because we can never earn this favor.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast,” (Ephesians 2:8).

Salvation is entirely, completely and “wholly of grace.”

  1. What is a mediator? How was Christ our Mediator?

A mediator is somebody who stands between two parties and resolves a conflict. Everybody is born into this world belonging to Satan. We are born as “children of wrath,” (Ephesians 2:3). We are spiritually dead through our trespasses and sins, which include both what we think and what we do. We naturally “follow the course of this world,” energized and influenced by Satan, “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” (Ephesians 2:2).

That is one side of the conflict.

On the other side, you have God Himself. He created the world, sustains the world, gives you life, gives you a job, family, money, and all the blessings you have. Some people have more than others, to be sure – but everything anybody has is from God. He gives us life, and rules and reigns over all creation. In return, we should worship and adore Him, and obey His commands. After all, we’re under His jurisdiction and authority. And, because of all He’s done for us, we should love Him and want to serve Him.

But, we don’t.

That is where Jesus Christ comes in. He is our mediator. He stands in the gap and resolves this conflict between you and God. Salvation is wholly of grace, and God accomplishes it “through the mediatorial offices of the Son.” He sent Jesus to accomplish His people’s salvation. That is why there is no other mediator between God and man, except the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5)!

  1. When was Christ appointed by the Father to be our mediator?

God appointed Christ to be the mediator for His children before the world even began. The Apostle Peter wrote:

He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake. Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:20).

Jesus was always a part of God’s plan, and He appointed His eternal Son to this role before time itself even existed. All the Scriptures point to Jesus and His perfect life, substitutionary death, and miraculous resurrection from the dead for all the people the Father has given to Him.

Read what Jesus Himself said, after His resurrection, to two discouraged disciples:

And he said to them, ‘O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).

Later that same evening, Jesus continued to explain:

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high,’ (Luke 24:44-49).

The whole Bible points to Jesus, and you need to realize the Father appointed Him to this job before the beginning of time. The Apostle Paul tells us this, when he writes,

Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago (2 Timothy 1:8-9).

The last bit of the quotation means “before time.” If you’re a Christian, Christ was appointed to be your mediator before the world began.

  1. Did Jesus grudgingly or reluctantly take on our nature?

Jesus took on a human nature “freely.” He did it willingly, eagerly, voluntarily. He wasn’t forced to do it, coerced to do it, guilted into it, or shamed into it. We all remember times when we “have” to do something, and we drag our feet and go along out of obligation – but we really don’t want to have anything to do with it! I feel that way every time I go with my wife to the mall, and take her to her favorite stores. I patiently follow her around, smile and tell her, “Don’t worry, take your time! I don’t mind!” Of course, I’m really not having fun.

This wasn’t Jesus’ attitude. He freely took upon our human nature. He counted Himself to be less than those He came to save. He humbled Himself, and made Himself nothing. He emptied Himself, stripped Himself of all the external trappings of divinity – like a king who hangs his royal robes in the closet and deliberately cloaks Himself in the clothes of a commoner, and suffers all the inconveniences and indignities that come with that lowly status (see Philippians 2).

Jesus did this because He was obedient to the Father’s will, and because He loves His brethren. Did you know that, if you’re a Christian, Jesus Himself – the spotless, co-equal and co-eternal Son of God – is proud to call you a brother or sister in God’s family!? Read what the writer of the Book of Hebrews has to say,

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage (Hebrews 2:14).

Jesus took on our nature freely, willingly, voluntarily and eagerly. He did it so that, though death, He would destroy the curses of sin and death, and break Satan’s power over His brethren.

  1. What does it mean that Jesus “took upon him our nature, yet without sin?”

It means two things.

First, it means Jesus added a human nature to His divine nature.

Jesus didn’t originally have a human nature. He only had a divine nature. But, at a particular point in time, Jesus added a completely human nature to His divine nature. This doesn’t mean Jesus had multiple personalities, or that He was half man, half God. It means that, since His incarnation, He’s been 100% man and 100% God at the very same time.

Christians in the fifth century had to deal with all sorts of heretical and blasphemous ideas about how Christ could be both divine and human. They took all the work that had bene done by so many other Christians down through the years, gathered all the evidence about what the Bible teaches about Jesus and, like good detectives, they summarized this evidence into a statement that has endured for centuries – because it’s so clear and so accurate. They wrote that Jesus should:

. . . be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ: as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.[8]

So, Jesus never had a human nature until He left the Father’s side in heaven and was conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. There is one very special passage in the Bible that makes this all very clear. It’s so important that I’ll quote it here, for you to read:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Philippians 2:1-11).

This passage tells us many things. I’ll number them and briefly explain each one:

  1. The ultimate example of humility is Jesus Christ, who didn’t stay in heaven and plead that He is too righteous, holy and pure to bother Himself with miserable sinners like us. He could have done, you know. But, He chose not to. He was humble for our sake, when He didn’t have to be.
  2. Jesus was “in the form of God.” This means He had the same outward pomp, glory, honor and divine majesty that Yahweh Himself has. Nobody shares God’s glory – except Jesus. To look upon Him is the same as looking upon God Himself.
  3. Yet, despite all this, Jesus didn’t consider this equality something to be grasped, held onto for dear life, or clung to stubbornly. He didn’t plead His form, likeness or majesty as an excuse to stay put. No – He came anyway. He has always existed in the form of God, and yet He laid aside all the trappings, insignia, royal robes and clothing of divine majesty. He didn’t consider it something to be held onto.
  4. Instead, He emptied Himself. He made Himself nothing. He went from the very form of God, to nothing. He didn’t stop being God. He just stopped claiming divine privilege. He put His royal insignia in the closet, shut the door, put on workers clothes and left the heavenly throne room for a while – for our sake.
  5. He did this by taking on the form of a slave, by being born in the likeness and form of man, and by being confirmed to be just like men. He made Himself like us.

This is why we worship Jesus and adore Him – because of what He did for us. It’s important you know the truth about Jesus. He is the co-equal and co-eternal Son of God. He is equal with God. He has always existed with God, in the same form as Him. And yet, He voluntarily and freely took upon Himself a human nature just like ours – except without sin. This leads to the next important point:

Second, Jesus made Himself a perfect person like Adam, not a sinful person like you.

Some people think Jesus made Himself exactly like us. That isn’t true – otherwise He would have had a sinful nature and been born as a child of wrath, belonging to Satan! So, why does this confession say Jesus took on a human nature, but was without sin?

To understand this, you have to ask, “well, what is sin, exactly?” Sin is more than just something you do:

  • It’s also something you think. After all, we think bad things, even if we never do those things. Jesus said we’ve committed adultery if we even think about lusting after somebody else. Jesus’ point was that you’re still a sinner even if you don’t actually do anything – your own thoughts and your own heart condemn you.
  • Sin is also a status, a state of being we’re saved from. We were enslaved to sin, but now we’re alive in Christ.

This idea of sin as a status is the reason why you think evil things, and sometimes do them. So, when the Bible talks about how Jesus “knew no sin,” it means all three of these definitions:

  • Jesus never committed a sinful act
  • He never thought a sinful thought
  • He was never in the state or status of “a sinner”

Where does the Bible teach that Jesus wasn’t born as a sinner? Read on:

And Mary said to the angel, ‘How shall this be, since I have no husband?’ And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God,’ (Luke 1:34-35).

Pay attention to what the angel tells Mary. She asks how she can conceive a child, because she isn’t married! The angel answers:

  • This won’t be a normal conception, so her lack of a husband is irrelevant. How is that!?
  • The Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the power of God will overshadow her. This is how the conception will happen – it will be a miracle
  • Therefore, as a result of this miraculous conception, the child will be called holy. To be more specific, He will be the Son of God.

Here is the point:

  • Nobody is born holy. We’re born as sinners. There is nothing we can do to perfectly obey God’s law. It actually isn’t possible for anybody born infected with sin to perfectly obey God. This is why, when Jesus added a human nature to His divine nature, He couldn’t add a sinful human nature – He added a pure and holy one, instead.
  • When sinful men and women get together, they produce sinful children.
  • This is why Jesus was conceived miraculously – so He wouldn’t be a sinner. This is why (“therefore”) the child will be called “holy,” because He is holy, because He wasn’t conceived by sinful parents. He was conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit.

Here is another verse:

For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:26).

In light what of the angel said to Mary, and because we know sin is more than an action, we can interpret this verse. It means Jesus is separate from us, somehow different than us. How? He lived a perfect life as a man. He is holy, blameless, and separate from us, in a class all by Himself. He isn’t holy because He didn’t sin. He didn’t sin because He is holy!

He “knew no sin,” (1 Peter 1:22), and “in Him is no sin,” (1 John 3:5). Jesus is righteous, and we aren’t (1 Peter 3:18). He couldn’t be righteous if He had a sinful nature. Then, He’d be just like us. We’re not “sinful people.” We’re “sinners,” (Romans 5:8) and this means a status or a state of being. In just the same way that we’re more than people from America (we’re actually Americans!), we’re more than just people who commit sin – we’re sinners.

It’s important to know that Jesus didn’t come as a person with a sinful nature. He came as the second Adam. This is the way Paul talked about it in Romans 5. The first Adam ruined everything and imposed the curse of death on everybody. But, through Jesus Christ (the second Adam), we can be set free from that. This is what Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness was all about; proving He succeeded where the first Adam failed.

Think of Jesus as a “ringer,” who deliberately came out of left field and was conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit specifically so He could defeat Satan and live a perfect life for us, in our place, as our substitute.

  1. How did Jesus honor God’s divine law by His personal obedience?

He did it by perfectly obeying God’s law in your place, as your substitute and representative. Remember the temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-12). Jesus faced continuous trials and genuine opportunities to sin against God. He stayed holy and righteous. He rebuked Satan. This, in a nutshell, is what Jesus (as a man) did His entire life. He obeyed God’s law absolutely, perfectly and completely. He did it for you, as your representative and your substitute.

Jesus was conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit so that He would not inherit the sin nature the rest of us are cursed with (cf. Luke 1:35). He challenged the apostate Jewish leaders to prove He had violated the law (Jn 8:46). He declared that Satan had no power over Him (Jn 14:30), which is only possible if He was not subject to the curse of the Fall. The Apostle Paul declared that Jesus “knew no sin,” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Peter proclaimed, “He committed no sin,” (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus is the sacrificial lamb without spot or blemish (Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:20); that is, He is morally pure and undefiled.

The Apostle Paul explains:

Therefore, [there is] now no punishment to those in union with Christ Jesus, because the law of the life-giving Spirit, in union with Christ Jesus, has liberated you from the law of sin and death. For [God did what] the law could not ever do, because it was weakened by the flesh. God sent His own Son as like a sinful man and, regarding sin, He imposed judgment against the sin while He was in the flesh, so that the requirement of the law would be fulfilled among us who are not living according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, (Romans 8:1-4; my own translation).

God sent Jesus to do what the Mosaic Law could never do. He sent Jesus to impose judgment against sin while He was incarnate here on earth. He did this so that the righteous requirement of the law would be fulfilled among those who live according to the Spirit. This speaks of our obligation to live by the Spirit if we’ve been set free from the law of sin and death. It also speaks about what Christ did; He fulfilled the perfect, holy and righteous requirement of the law for us, in our place, as our substitute.

  1. What is atonement?

Sin is rebellion against God’s law, by what you think about and do. This encompasses a whole lot of things, but the most basic idea of sin is about rebellion; the desire to make and live by your own rules, and not God’s. Theologians call this autonomy. God made us, and gets to be in charge of us. He sets the rules. We’re born as “sinners.” Which means we don’t want to live by God’s rules or be under His jurisdiction and authority. So, we break His law. This makes us criminals.

Criminals are law-breakers. Criminals have to pay for their crimes. If somebody commits a crime, your community has a law that specifies an appropriate punishment. The bigger the crime, the bigger and more appropriate the punishment.

This punishment does two related, but distinct things:

  1. It pays for the crime you committed. It, as it were, “squares things” between you and society. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “he paid his debt to society.” This means the criminal paid for his crime, did his time, and now he’s been set free. The slate is clean. He isn’t a prisoner any more. In a sense, it means justice has been done.
  2. It appeases the injured and offender party. If you beat somebody with a club and steal his money, that person has a legitimate “bone to pick” with you. He has a moral right to demand you be punished. Once you serve your time, his grievance has been resolved. Of course, the greater the crime, the greater the offense, and the greater the grievance. The sentence has to match the crime. If you murder somebody, the victim’s family won’t be happy if you’re sentenced to three weeks of “community service.” That isn’t right, and they’d be correct to still have a grievance!

These simple examples from everyday life in our American criminal justice system help us understand what “atonement” is:

  • If you’re a human being alive today, you’re a sinner.
  • If you’re a sinner, then you’re a criminal who has broken God’s law.
  • If you’ve broken God’s law, then you deserve to pay the appropriate punishment – you deserve a sentence proportional to your crimes

Why is that? Well, for the two reasons I just mentioned! Only, this time, remember that God Almighty is the injured party. He’s the One with the grievance. He’s the One with the “bone to pick” with you:

  1. You must pay for the crimes you’ve committed, or else things will never be “squared” between you, and
  2. God is angry with you, and your proper sentence is the only thing which will appease His wrath because of your crimes.

The Bible teaches that punishment, when Jesus Christ returns, He will be:

revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

Destruction will be eternal and everlasting, and it will be done “in flaming fire.” The punishment will be eternal, sinners will be conscious of it, and it will never end. This is how serious sin against our God is.

When the confession reads that Jesus “made a full atonement for our sins,” it means the Bible teaches that Jesus accomplished atonement for all His children.

  1. How did Jesus’ death make a full atonement for our sins?

Atonement is presented in the Book of Leviticus as an object lesson for what Christ did. This is how the object lesson worked (this procedure is from Leviticus 4):

  1. A covenant believer (i.e. an Israelite, or a Gentile who has come to faith in God) sins.
  2. The believer must repent, which means to honestly confess and decide to forsake his sin.
  3. The believer must bring an offering from his flock or herd, one that was spotless and without blemish. This represented Christ’s moral purity and perfection.
  4. The believer must bring the offering to the temple. The believer must lay his head on the animal’s head, signifying a symbolic transfer of guilt from himself to the animal.
  5. Then, the offeror must kill the animal himself. This means he has to cut the animal’s throat himself, and watch the life-blood drain out of the dying animal. The blood of the animal represents life, and the parallel is that the animal’s life was given in place of the believer’s. He has sinned, and instead of taking his life, God will accept the life of a spotless animal in exchange. But, the animal must die. The object lesson is about substitution; its life for yours – all because of your sin.
  6. The Levite priest then takes the animal’s blood, and sprinkles it onto the altar, and onto the horns of the altar. This means the sacrifice has been formally presented to God.

Jesus fulfilled this grand object lesson. The Book of Hebrews tells us all about it; “Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these,” (Hebrews 9:23). Here is how He fulfilled it:

  1. Jesus bore our sins and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4-6); our sins were, as it were, transferred to Him. All our iniquity was laid upon His shoulders.
  2. Jesus allowed Himself to be taken and sacrificed. His blood was shed in place of our own; His life for ours. He died for us, in our place, as our substitute.
  3. When Jesus rose from the dead and returned to the Father’s side in heaven, He presented His own blood to God, who accepted it, “thus securing an eternal redemption,” (Hebrews 9:12).

The Bible teaches that, by His single and perfect sacrifice, Jesus fulfilled the object lessons from the Levitical law and secured an eternal, full and perfect atonement for all His children. “[H]e has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself,” (Hebrews 9:26).

  1. Why does it matter that Jesus rose from the dead?

This is a very important question, and many Christian don’t think much about it. Christians often focus only on the Cross as the central act of Jesus’ work. But, the apostles often focus on the resurrection. Peter, especially, does this often (Acts 2:24-46; 3:15; 4:10; 4:19-20; 5:29-32; 10:39-41). For example, in 1 Peter 1:3-5, the Apostle wrote that God:

has caused us to be born again in order to have a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, in order to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, which has been reserved in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time.

You were born again for two purposes; (1) to have a living hope, and (2) to obtain an eternal inheritance. Peter is saying the resurrection is one way how God achieves our new birth in Christ. This is a bold statement; your living hope of eternity with God is achieved through more than the Cross – it’s also achieved through the resurrection!

Why? What does the resurrection have to do with the new birth? If Jesus was already perfect for us (and He was), and if He already let Himself be punished and die for our sins (and He did), then why does the resurrection matter?

There are four basic reasons why it matters that Jesus Christ rose from the dead:

  1. Death doesn’t apply to Jesus, because of who He is – therefore death won’t apply to His children, either. If you’re a Christian, that means you.
  2. Jesus was resurrected as the “firstfruits” because the curse of death has no hold on Him – therefore you will be resurrected to be with the Lord forever, too.
  3. Jesus must return to rule, reign, defeat all enemies, and set everything right that has gone so horribly wrong – therefore, because He has risen from the dead, you know how this will all end!
  4. Jesus lives forever to make intercession for His children in the Father’s presence in heaven (Heb 7:23-28)

Perhaps the best way is to explain this is to point you to a passage of Scripture. You should read 1 Corinthians 15, and follow along as I make a few points. I could say much more, but I’ll say enough for you to get the point:

  1. The Christian faith is useless without Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:13-14; 30-34).
  2. Your sins are not forgiven if Christ hasn’t been raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
  3. Christ’s resurrection is the “first-fruits” of all who have died (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). If Christ wasn’t raised, you have no future after death. But, He did, and therefore so do you, too!
  4. Christ must reign over everything and defeat all enemies, including the curse of death (1 Corinthians 15:24-26). If Christ isn’t raised, He won’t reign, He won’t defeat any enemies, and He will have been conquered by the curse of death.
  5. Then, Jesus must “hand over” all creation to the Father, in a sort of “mission accomplished” moment (1 Corinthians 15:28). If Christ isn’t raised, He isn’t going to hand over all creation to God – because He’s dead.
  6. Your physical (i.e. sinful) body must be replaced by a spiritual (i.e. holy) body – because flesh and blood (i.e. our sinful, corrupted physical bodies) cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:42-58; esp. vv.54-57). Our cleansed and righteous souls must be joined to cleansed and righteous bodies to be with the Lord in the new creation forever.

This is why Jesus’ resurrection matters.

  1. What does it mean to say Jesus is “enthroned in heaven?”

It means Jesus rules over the entire world, all the people in it, and even over the very forces of darkness (Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1-2). He is the King, and He is in charge. Of course, this isn’t the full story. People don’t obey Jesus’ rule. They don’t care about His authority. They don’t respect His jurisdiction over their lives.

During His ministry here on earth, during the incarnation, Jesus told a parable to explain how He’d brought the Kingdom of God to the Israelites – it was right there, available, ready to be instituted! Read what He said:

But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil. He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters (Luke 11:20-23).

Jesus used a figurative illustration to make a simple point:

  1. Satan is a strong man, who guards his palace and his goods (i.e. sinners, who are his slaves)
  2. But, Jesus is the stronger man. He’s assailed Satan and overpowered him. He’s bound Satan and chained him up; Jesus proved that by the easy way He conducted exorcisms and rebuked and commanded demons!

What should these Jewish leaders have concluded, then? Follow the logic:

  1. This man, Jesus, casts demons out of people and has power over these fallen angels;
  2. The only one more powerful than fallen angels is God;
  3. So, this man, Jesus, must be the promised Messiah who has brought the Kingdom of God to the world, through the Israelites!

So, as I said, Jesus is in charge, but the world doesn’t recognize His rule. That will change when He returns to take His throne here on earth, and impose holiness and righteousness on the whole earth (cf. Psalm 2; 110) – both this one, and the one to come. Revelation 19-22 tell us all about those events, but we’ll save that for later.

  1. Why is Jesus a perfect, holy and yet understanding Savior?

Jesus is an understanding, compassionate Savior because He took on a human nature, lived life in this wicked world, and understands first-hand the trials and tribulations of real life. But, unlike you, He defeated Satan and never sinned at all, in word, deed or thought.

The Book of Hebrews tells us all about this. The writer mentioned that God put everything in subjection to Jesus, even though things don’t seem that way now.

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one.

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren (Hebrews 2:8-11)

He went on:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham.

Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:14-18).

What does all this mean? It means Jesus came here as a flesh and blood man so that he’d be able to be a merciful, compassionate, faithful High Priest before God on your behalf.

What is a priest and why should you care? Why does the writer mention it? A priest is somebody who represents somebody to God on their behalf, who stands in the gap between you and God. This is why Jesus is called:

  • An advocate (1 John 2:1)
  • A mediator (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24)
  • An intercessor (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25)

The reason why the Israelite priesthood isn’t around anymore, and why the institution didn’t carry over into the New Covenant, is because Jesus is our faithful High Priest who perfectly represents all believers before God. Jesus fulfilled the “shadows” (cf. Hebrews 10:1) the sacrificial system pointed to.

So, why does the Book to the Hebrews tell us Christ is a merciful and compassionate High Priest?

  1. Because He knows first-hand how powerful Satan is
  2. Because He knows what it’s like to be poor
  3. Because He knows what it’s like to be tired and exhausted
  4. Because He knows what’s like to know what God wants you to do, and at the same time to be too exhausted and frightened to go forward without divine help
  5. Because He knows what it’s like to rely completely and totally on the Lord
  6. Because He knows what it’s like to feel alone and abandoned by friends
  7. Because He knows what it’s like to be persecuted by the authorities

Most of all, though – Christ knows what it’s like to be handicapped by all these difficulties, but He still perfectly overcame them and defeated Satan anyway. Jesus can sympathize, be merciful and show such a depth of compassion to you because He’s been in your shoes!

His compassion is a real one, not an intellectual one. He knows everything you’re going through now, or will ever go through – because He’s been there and defeated your problems firsthand as your representative.

Why does the writer make it a point to say that Christ is a faithful High Priest? Because all the men in the OT, and in the beginning of the NT, who held that office messed it all up in some way (e.g. Eli, Annas, Caiaphas, etc.)! Christ is the perfect advocate, mediator, intercessor and High Priest because He’s perfectly faithful to do what God wants, the way God wants it done (cf. 1 Samuel 2:35)! He’ll never disgrace the office and fall short in representing us before God.

  1. Why is it important to know Jesus is an “all-sufficient Savior?”

Because there is nothing for you to do. You can’t contribute anything to your salvation, your legal standing before God, or your eternal life. If it were possible for somebody to be good, righteous, holy and completely follow God’s law and earn His love, then Christ wouldn’t have had to come (Galatians 2:21). But, it isn’t possible, so Christ did come, and so He is an “all-sufficient” Savior.

Notes:

[1] Eph. 2:5; Matt. 18:11; 1 John 4:10; 1 Cor. 3:5–7; Acts 15:11.

[2] John 3:16; 1:1–14; Heb. 4:14; 12:24.

[3] Phil. 2:6, 7; Heb. 2:9; 2:14; 2 Cor. 5:21.

[4] Isa. 42:21; Phil. 2:8; Gal. 4:4, 5; Rom. 3:21.

[5] Isa. 53:4, 5; Matt. 20:28; Rom. 4:25; 3:21–26; 1 John 4:10; 2:2; 1 Cor. 15:1–3; Heb. 9:13–15.

[6] Heb. 1:8; 1:3; 8:1; Col. 3:1–4.

[7] Heb. 7:25; Col. 2:9; Heb. 2:18; 7:26; Psa. 89:19; 14.

[8] From the Chalcedonian Creed, in The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols., ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1890), 2:63.

On the Fall of Man

books2Read the series on the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith so far.

How do Christians learn doctrine? Hopefully, they learn it in church. But, how should a church teach doctrine? Should you pass around copies of systematic theology texts, announce a new and “exciting” Sunday School series, and dig out some extra chairs for the sell-out crowd that is sure to come?

Well, that is one way to do it. Another way is to teach basic doctrine by using the creeds and confessions. Or, better yet – use your local church’s statement of faith.

  • They’re short and manageable
  • They’re comprehensive
  • They’ve stood the test of time
  • They’re not as intimidating as Louis Berkhof

Towards that end, this little series is a brief exposition of each article of the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith. Like many confessions, it packs a whole lot into a short paragraph. Today, I’m covering Article 3 – Of the Fall of Man:

We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker;[1] but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state;[2] in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners,[3] not by constraint, but choice;[4] being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin,[5] without defense or excuse.[6]

What It Means . . .

Here are my thoughts:

We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker;

God created man in His image. Theologians have spent a lot of time puzzling over what on earth this means. The confession sums it up nicely – Adam and Eve were created in holiness. They were perfect. They were “very good,” (Gen 1:31). In short, God made Adam and Eve more than a bit like Himself.[7] They were “created in holiness,” in the sense that His “marks of resemblance” were impressed upon them at creation.[8]

Adam and Eve were created “upright,” (Ecc 7:29). They had every advantage, every incentive and every reason to love their Creator. They were not morally “neutral.” They were positively holy, and were under the loving and just law of God, their Maker.

This sounds like pious “churchy talk,” but it simply means that Adam and Eve were happy living in God’s creation, under His rules. Obedient children love their parents, and don’t look at the “rules of the house” as some sinister burden to be borne until “freedom” comes. The law was God’s, therefore the law was good, and so Adam and Eve were made in a state of holiness to live and thrive under that law.

But, that holiness was untested. What would Adam and Eve do when temptation struck?

but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state;

They decided to rebel. There is no nice way to put this. They broke God’s law. They broke the rules of the house. They did it on purpose. They wanted to do it. They planned to do it. They did it. They were guilty. To be blunt, Adam and Eve became criminals. By way of their “voluntary” sin, they “fell from that holy and happy state.”

Again, this original arrangement which God declared “very good” (and He would know, wouldn’t He!?) was not a state of malicious slavery. They were happy. Life was perfect. They knew precisely what they could do, and exactly what they could not do. But, they chose rebellion. They chose treason. They chose death.

in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint, but choice

Adam and Eve’s sin broke the mold. This first couple, the prototype, ruined themselves and thus brought ruin and damnation on the entire creation. Here is an office analogy – they are the original document defaced with pen, and all copies (i.e. descendants) bear their marks. Adam and Eve became sinners, and they passed this status along to all their descendants – all the way to you and I today. They are the poisonous root which produced poisonous people. Everybody is now born as a child of wrath (Eph 2:3), actively hating God and rebelling against His law, His Son, and the Good News He suffered and bled and died to bring.

People are not forced to be sinners. They were made sinners by Adam and Eve, who broke that perfect mold so long ago, and each man, women, boy and girl voluntarily and enthusiastically acts on and proves this status as soon as they’re able.[9]

being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God

Because of what Adam and Eve did, they poisoned themselves with the infection and festering sore of sin. Their status changed from “holiness” to “sinfulness.” That poison was passed on, generation to generation. The result is that we are not holy anymore. Adam and Eve ruined us, and we each do our very best to continue that ruin by the way we live, what we think, what we do, and what we wish we could do.

God is holy, and we cannot ever be holy in our own power. That was all over long ago. There is no bridge which can be built, no ladder which can be ordered and no escape pod which can safely transport us off this doomed ship. You are not good enough for God. There is nothing you can ever do to be good enough. You are doomed. You are a criminal, and you are “void of that holiness required by the law of God.”

positively inclined to evil

You want to do evil. You want to be a criminal. You want to cut the cords which bind you to the Father and Son’s authority, jurisdiction and power. You do not want God. You do not want Jesus. You do not want salvation. You do not want anything but more rebellion.

This means nobody “cries out to God” unless the Holy Spirit is already calling that person to salvation. People don’t like the Gospel. People don’t want the Gospel. People don’t want Jesus and His Good News. It is a fundamentally counter-cultural message.

This world is under the power and influence of Satan, and the Gospel brings light into that darkness. Cockroaches don’t like darkness – they flee from it. We are born sinners, criminals, traitors, “sovereign citizens” in rebellion against the King. We are cockroaches who flee from the Gospel. God, in His grace, changes some of our minds and draws us to the light, saving us despite ourselves.

and therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin

We deserve to be punished. This escapes most people, even many Christians. God owes you nothing. He doesn’t owe you mercy, love, grace or kindness. He owes you nothing at all. He should crush you, like man crushes a spider. You deserve to be crushed. You deserve to be punished. You have broken God’s laws, and we all know criminals deserve an appropriate punishment. Because we’re all born as sinners:

  • not by constraint but by choice,
  • utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God
  • positively inclined to evil

we deserve to suffer the just and appropriate punishment for our crimes. You choose to reject God every day. You are not good enough for God. You want to do evil, and you act on those desires every day. You deserve the worst punishment possible.

without defense or excuse

You have no excuse. God exists. He has made Himself known by His creation, and by His own moral law which is written on your heart. You are still made in His image, and reflect His own character and qualities. He has given us a sacred Book, in which are hidden all the treasures of heavenly wisdom.

  • It tells you about yourself.
  • It tells you about God’s holiness, and about his love.
  • It tells about His mercy.
  • It tells about Jesus; the perfect substitutionary life he led, and the penal substitutionary death He died.
  • It tells about His resurrection and triumph over the power of Satan, and the curses of sin and death.
  • It tells you that Jesus was seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses, and ascended back to the Father’s side.
  • It tells you that He is coming again, to judge the living and the dead – the righteous to everlasting life, and the unjust to everlasting damnation.

Now that Jesus has come and His work was finished so very long ago, you no longer have any pretense of an excuse. You no longer have any cloak for your sin. You are without defense or excuse.

This is the truth about man. This is who you are. This is why the Jesus came – to save you from yourself, in spite of yourself.

Questions for Study and Reflection – answers must be defended from Scripture!

  1. What does it mean that “man was created in holiness?”
  2. What does it mean to be created in the “image of God?”
  3. What does it mean that Adam and Eve were “under the law” of their Maker, God?
  4. What was Adam and Eve’s “voluntary transgression?” Beyond the act itself, what was at the heart of their sin?
  5. What does it mean that Adam and Eve’s state before the fall was “holy and happy?”
  6. How did Adam and Eve’s sin impact the human race? How is their sin imputed to us?
  7. Why is it important that we are all sinners “not by constraint, but by choice?”
  8. What does it mean that we are, by nature, “utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God?”
  9. Why does God require holiness?
  10. What can a person do to become holy, to regain what was lost by Adam?
  11. What does it mean to be “positively inclined to evil?”
  12. Who decides what “evil” is, and where do you find that definition?
  13. How does being made in the “image of God” relate to knowing what is “good” and “evil?”
  14. Why are we all “under just condemnation to eternal ruin?”
  15. What is “just condemnation?”
  16. What is “eternal ruin?”
  17. How is it fair to say that everybody is under God’s condemnation? Is God unfair here?
  18. Why are we “without defense or excuse?” That is, how does God make Himself known to us so that we are all truly without excuse?

Notes

[1] Gen. 1:27; 1:31; Eccles. 7:29; Acts 16:26; Gen. 2:16.

[2] Gen. 3:6–24; Rom. 5:12.

[3] Rom. 5:19; John 3:6; Psa. 51:5; Rom. 5:15–19; 8:7.

[4] Isa. 53:6; Gen. 6:12; Rom. 3:9–18.

[5] Eph. 2:1–3; Rom. 1:18; 1:32; 2:1–16; Gal. 3:10; Matt. 20:15.

[6] Ezek. 18:19, 20; Rom. 1:20; 3:19; Gal. 3:22.

[7] “The simple declaration of the Scripture is that man at his creation was like God,” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. [reprint; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011], 2:96).

[8] See John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (reprint; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008), 1.15.3.

[9] For the nerds who read this, I hold to a Natural Headship view of imputation.

On the True God

books2Read the series on the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith so far.

Who is God? What is He like? Is He a subjective being, able to be shaped, interpreted and re-made in our own image, at our own whim, according to the latest flight of our own fancy? Or, is He an objective reality, a personal, relational, and real Being who must be reckoned with?

Here, I take a look at what the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith has to say about God:

We believe that there is one, and only one, living and true God, an infinite, intelligent Spirit, whose name is JEHOVAH, the Maker and Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth;[1] inexpressibly glorious in holiness,[2] and worthy of all possible honor, confidence, and love; [3] that in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost;[4] equal in every divine perfection,[5] and executing distinct and harmonious offices in the great work of redemption.[6]

The Christian faith has answers. Historically, Christians have preserved systematic statements of bible doctrine in confessions. These documents quickly and accurately outline what a particular Christian group believes the Bible teaches about certain topics. The doctrine of God is obviously an important topic! Let’s take a closer look at what this confession of faith says:

We believe that there is one, and only one, living and true God,

This is the great statement of Christian monotheism. There are not “gods.” There is simply one, single God. He is alive. He has always been alive, and He will always be alive. He is the one true God. By this, the creed directly states all others “gods” are false, counterfeit frauds.

It is not enough to say, “I believe in God.” You must believe in the right God. You must believe in the one, true God. The term “God” is not a flighty, ethereal vapor of a concept. He is concrete and knowable. As J. Gresham Machen wrote,

. . . if religion consists merely in feeling the presence of God, it is devoid of any moral quality whatever. Pure feeling, if there be such a thing, is non-moral. What makes affection for a human friend, for example, such an ennobling thing is the knowledge which we possess of the character of our friend. Human affection, apparently so simple, is really just bristling with dogma. It depends upon a host of observations treasured up in the mind with regard to the character of our friends.

But if human affection is thus really dependent upon knowledge, why should it be otherwise with that supreme personal relationship which is at the basis of religion? Why should we be indignant about slanders directed against a human friend, while at the same time we are patient about the basest slanders directed against our God? Certainly it does make the greatest possible difference what we think about God; the knowledge of God is the very basis of religion.[7]

God has revealed Himself through the Holy Scriptures, that “perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that . . . has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter.”[8] You can learn about God through His word. You know God spiritually and experientially through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, which then results in repentance and faith in the Gospel of His dear Son, Jesus Christ.

an infinite, intelligent Spirit, whose name is JEHOVAH,

God does not have concrete form. He does not physically look like us. He is Spirit. To be sure, God can take whatever form He wishes to suit the occasion. He has appeared as a burning bush (Ex 3:1 – 4:17). He has appeared in the likeness of human form (Eze 1:26-27). But, that is not His natural state.

“Jehovah” was the old-fashioned way of pronouncing the Divine Name in Hebrew. Now, the preferred pronunciation is YHWH. True, it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but it is the better pronunciation. The very idea of a name indicates God is personal, relational, knowable and understandable – up to a point. It also personifies Him.

There was only one Abraham Lincoln, and this name bears all the freight of that man’s character, personality and achievements. The very reference of the name conjures up old Civil War photos of the tired President, wearied and beaten down by years of the most torturous and tragic war this country has yet known.

Likewise, the very name “JEHOVAH” carries with it all the freight and theological implications of who the Holy Scriptures reveal Him to be – and what He has promised for all those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes.

the Maker and Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth;

God created creation itself. It is a fact.[9] He did not use raw materials already at hand; He created creation out of literally nothing. It also means creation was originally “very good.” The fact that it is not so any longer is our fault, not His. This means He is Lord of all, because He is Creator of all. He is the “Supreme Ruler” of heaven and earth. There is nothing and nobody who is not under His jurisdiction and authority. His word is law, and His edicts demand obedience.

His promises of perfect salvation, forgiveness, reconciliation, cancellation of righteous hostility, adoption and heavenly citizenship in His current and future kingdom are sure and steadfast. You can count on them. Likewise, His promises of eternal destruction in flaming fire, away from His presence, for those who do not obey the command of the Gospel are true. They are just. They are right.

When you were a child, your father might have once said to you, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it!”

Well, God is your “Father” in the sense that He created you, sustains you, and has given you all the blessings you enjoy – whether you have obeyed the command to repent and believe the Gospel, or not. He brought you into this world. He has the right to tell you what to do, how to do it, and to demand obedience to the Gospel message He sent His One and Only Son into this world to live, die and rise from the dead for.

inexpressibly glorious in holiness, and worthy of all possible honor, confidence, and love;

Because God is who He is, He deserves all praise, honor, love and respect. Holiness is His most fundamental and definitional attribute. It is the attribute from which all others flow. His love never comes at the expense of His holiness. It is why He cannot “forgive and forget.” That would be unjust, in light of our crimes and the appropriate punishment we all deserve.

Nobody in their right mind would suggest a murderer be set free without punishment, that the victims should just “forgive and forget.” That would be wicked. It would be an “injustice.” Likewise, God will not forgive without appropriate punishment for our crimes; a propitiation to “set things right” and pay for the evil committed.

When it comes to man’s natural standing with God, the crime is far greater than a worldly murder – we have sinned again the Holy God, the Maker and Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth! With a victim so holy, how swift, terrible and far-reaching must our just punishment be!?

And yet, the fact is that God provided a way to have forgiveness, through the substitutionary and sacrificial work of His only-begotten Son. This shows His mercy, love, grace and kindness. It is infinite. It is undeserving. We – all of us – owe Him our loyalty and allegiance. We all must bow the knee to Christ as Lord, and God as Creator and King. We do this through repentance and faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ. God has made a way of salvation which does not impugn His perfect holiness, and thus He is “worthy of all possible honor, confidence, and love.”

that in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost;

Here is the precious and great truth of Trinitarian monotheism. This sets the Christian faith apart from the heresy of the Socinians, who have a human Jesus. It sets the faith apart from the Modalist heretics, who have a unitarian “god” who plays different roles on cue, whose Jesus had a beginning and will have an end.

The definition of the Trinity is this: In the One Being that is God, there eternally exists three co-equal and co-eternal divine Persons; namely, the Father, Son and the Spirit.[10]

equal in every divine perfection,

Father, Son and Spirit are co-equal. The Father is not greater than the Son, who is not greater than the Spirit. They are equals. There is no hierarchy of honor, majesty, glory, holiness or intrinsic status and worth in God. “But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.”[11]

and executing distinct and harmonious offices in the great work of redemption.

This is the concept of the “economic Trinity.” There is no distinction of power, glory, majesty or worth. But, there is a clear differentiation of roles and responsibilities. These roles do not reflect on the relative status of the one assigned; rather, they simply allow us to see the perfect, complementary and harmonious ways each Person works to achieve the ends of the other.

We have one, single, true God, who has revealed Himself to consist of three distinct Divine Persons, each exercising His own distinct and harmonious office in the great work of redemption. I have never seen a better explanation of this marvelous truth than the one Millard Erickson offered:[12]

There may seem to be a conflict between attributing creation to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and maintaining that each member of the Trinity has his own distinctive work. Yet there is not a problem, unless we think that there is but one form of causation.

When a house is built, who actually builds it? In one sense, it is the architect who designs and creates the plans from which it is to be constructed. In another sense, it is the contractor who actually carries out the plan. Yet the contractor himself probably does none of the actual construction. It is the construction workers who build the house. But without the materials that go into the making of the house there would be no structure. Thus, the building-material suppliers may be said to be the cause of the house’s construction. Or the lending agency that supplies the money for the construction and holds the mortgage might be said to have built the house. Finally, the owners, although they may not drive a single nail, are in a sense the ones who build the house, since they sign the legal papers authorizing the construction and will make the monthly mortgage payments.

Each one, in a unique way, is the cause of the house.

This is who your God is. He is yours, you know – whether you confess Him as Lord, or not.

Notes

[1] John 4:24; Psa. 147:5; 83:18; Heb. 3:4; Rom. 1:20; Jer. 10:10.

[2] Exod. 15:11; Isa. 6:3; 1 Pet. 1:15, 16; Rev. 4:6–8.

[3] Mark 12:30; Rev. 4:11; Matt. 10:37; Jer. 2:12, 13.

[4] Matt. 28:19; John 15:26; 1 Cor. 12:4–6; 1 John 5:7.

[5] John 10:30; 5:17; 14:23; 17:5, 10; Acts 5:3, 4; 1 Cor. 2:10, 11; Phil. 2:5, 6.

[6] Eph. 2:18; 2 Cor. 13:14; Rev. 1:1, 5; comp. 2, 7.

[7] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (New York, NY: Loiseaux Bros, 1923; reprint; CrossReach, n.d.; Kindle ed.), KL 717-723.

[8] 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, Article 1.

[9] See especially the discussion by Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 391-411.

[10] See the excellent book by James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1998).

[11] Athanasian Creed, Clause 6.

[12]  Erickson, Christian Theology, 398-399.

On the Scriptures

books2.pngRead the series on the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith so far.

The 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith has always been my personal favorite. It is relatively short, Baptist, Reformed, extraordinarily well-written and powerful. It will encourage any Christian’s heart. Here is the first article:

Of the Scriptures

We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction;[1] that it has God for its author, salvation for its end,[2] and truth without any mixture of error for its matter;[3] that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us;[4] and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true centre of Christian union,[5] and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.[6]

Here are some brief thoughts on this article:

We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired,

The Bible was not written by ordinary men. It was written by “men moved by the Holy Spirit [who] spoke from God,” (2 Peter 1:21). The Apostle Peter said that “God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets,” (Acts 3:21). This is why the early church considered the Scriptures “the word of God,” (Acts 6:2). The writer of Hebrews quoted Psalm 95:7-11 (Heb 3:7-11), and specifically identified the Holy Spirit as the author of that psalm, even though it was written by a man!

The point is that the Bible is a special book, a unique book. That special book was written by God, through men “divinely inspired,” who were moved to pen precisely what God wanted through the filter of their own personality and character.

and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter;

The Holy Scriptures are God’s special revelation to men, containing all that is necessary for us to know Him, understand our just condemnation for sin and wickedness, the provision of salvation through Christ’s life, death, burial and resurrection, and for Christian life and godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:3).

The Bible’s “end” is to teach men about salvation; why they need it, how it is possible, what Christ has done to secure it for His children, and the means God uses to bring men, women, boys and girls to saving faith in His Son.

The Bible is completely truthful, and does not contain any error.[7]

that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us;

The Bible is the sole, infallible rule of faith for God’s people. This means it tells us all about ourselves; how we ought to act, and how we actually act. How we should love God, and how we actually love Him. The way men and women were originally made to serve God, and the way we actually rebel against Him, like the criminals, spiritual terrorists and children of wrath we actually are.

The Bible tells us why we’re sinful and unacceptable to God, explains His holiness and righteousness, and therefore explains the basis for our eternal condemnation and just punishment – if we reject the only way of salvation in Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me,” (Jn 14:6).

and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true centre of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.

The Bible is at the center of the Christian life, and therefore it is the universal point of contact which makes fellowship and cooperative ministry possible between all brothers and sisters in Christ – regardless of where they hail from.

Some Christians have a bizarre understanding of what the Reformation-era motto “Scripture Alone” means. Some think it implies a Christians needs literally nothing except the Bible. I’ve heard of people who shun exegetical commentaries and other reference books; “I don’t need them! I have the Holy Spirit and my Bible! I don’t want man’s opinion.” What silliness.

The principle of “Scripture Alone” has never meant this. It simply means that, although books, Pastors, creeds and confessions may be very helpful, the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice for God’s people. It is the yardstick. It is the goalpost. As this confession explains, the Bible is “the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.”

Ps119:97 Oh, how I love thy law!
    It is my meditation all the day.
98 Thy commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
    for it is ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
    for thy testimonies are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the aged,
    for I keep thy precepts.
101 I hold back my feet from every evil way,
    in order to keep thy word.
102 I do not turn aside from thy ordinances,
    for thou hast taught me.
103 How sweet are thy words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 Through thy precepts I get understanding;
    therefore I hate every false way.

Notes

[1] 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:21; 1 Sam. 23:2; Acts 1:16; 3:21; John 10:35; Luke 16:29–31; Psa. 119:111; Rom. 3:1. 2.

[2] 2 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 1:10–12; Acts 11:14; Rom. 1:16; Mark 16:16; John 5:38, 39.

[3] Prov. 30:5, 6; John 17:17; Rev. 22:18, 19; Rom. 3:4.

[4] Rom. 2:12; John 12:47, 48; 1 Cor. 4:3, 4; Luke 10:10–16; 12:47, 48.

[5] Phil. 3:6; Eph. 4:3–6; Phil. 2:1, 2; 1 Cor. 1:10; 1 Pet. 4:11.

[6] 1 John 4:1; Isa. 8:20; 1 Thess. 5:21; 2 Cor. 13:5; Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:6; Jude 3:5; Eph. 6:17; Psa. 119:59, 60; Phil. 1:9–11.

[7] See the excellent discussion about inerrancy Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 246-265.

What Does God Know, and When Did He Know It?

I continue my lonely march through the section on God’s decree (Chapter 3) from the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. By way of reminder:

  • This is an unapologetically Calvinist and Reformed document.
  • Baptists have historically been well-represented in both Calvinist (i.e. “Particular Baptist”) and Arminian (i.e. “General Baptist”) camps. To suggest otherwise is foolishness.
  • My comments are on the text of the confession, particularly on what those who wrote it and confessed it (and still confess it) believed.

Here is the next excerpt:

Paragraph 2:

Although God knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions,[1] yet hath He not decreed anything, because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.[2]

This is a short one, but vitally important. God knows everything that can or will happen. Got it. This isn’t exactly news. Every Christian ought to agree, unless you believe in the heresy of open theism. The confession reads God knows everything “upon all supposed conditions.” I take this to mean God knows everything that will happen, to the degree that He even knows the circumstances and context in which a given event will happen. The crux is what, exactly, you mean when you say “God knows everything.”

  • Does He know it because He’s like some kind of ninja chess player, seeing 40 moves ahead and plotting accordingly?
  • Or, does God know all things because He determined all things?

There is a very wide and impassable gulf between these two poles. They’re different. They impact how you read and apply the Bible. What does this confession say about this? It says option #1 (above) is wrong. Dead wrong. Deader than a doornail. Incorrect. God did not decree anything because He looked down the corridors of time and foresaw it. He also did not decree something because He foresaw the circumstances and conditions which would produce it.

Let’s get personal, and draw some practical implications from this document:

  • God doesn’t save Fred Smith because He saw that, 500 years hence, Fred would repent and believe the Gospel. This is wrong, according to the confession.
  • God doesn’t bless Jessica Ravenclaw with a ninja-like skill with numbers so she can be an accountant wizard because He foresaw it would be a good fit for her.

In other words, God was not passive when He determined the course of the world. He didn’t break out cosmic performance evaluations and assign talents, abilities, roles, status, or eternal salvation from damnation based on something He foresaw or foreknew. There is no crystal ball. God did not see or learn something about somebody, which then led Him to determine future events based on this information. No. No. Double no.

This is what the 1689 London Baptist Confession is saying. This is what Reformed theology says. It is very important to understand this. We’ll tackle more soon. For now, let me remind folks of this very important fact:

  • If you want to know what a particular group or denomination actually believes, look to their creeds and confessions. Don’t ask Pastor Google or your neighbor. They’re usually wrong.

Until next time . . .

Notes:

[1] Acts 15:18

[2] Rom 9:11,13,16,18.

Some Thoughts on God’s Decree

Last week, I posted the relevant article from the 1689 London Baptist Confession about God’s decree. Don’t be frightened by the word “decree.” The nifty Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) provides the definition “foreordaining will.” It means God has determined what happens in this world.

Now, any Christian would probably agree with that statement in general. Its when we move beyond vague statements to brass tacks that we begin to have problems. Some of the reasons why Christians have developed creeds and confessions are because (1) they wanted a comprehensive document which could be used as a teaching tool for new believers, and (2) they wanted to lay out their systematic theology in a comprehensive and thorough way, in a binding document which could be used as a standard for orthodoxy.

  • By the way, if you want to understand what a particular group of Christians actually believe, look to that group’s creed or confession. Forget Pastor Google; he’s usually wrong. 

Thus, we have the 1689 London Baptist Confession, and it’s section on God’s decree. I will reproduce the excerpt from last week, with some brief comments. These comments are not necessarily my own views; I’m simply explaining what I understand the creed to mean:

  1. God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass;[1] yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein;[2] nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established;[3] in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree.[4]

Remarks on Paragraph 1:

  • God decided what would happen before creation itself (“from all eternity”)
  • These decisions were free and voluntary (‘by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will”). There is nothing which can bind or constrain God from doing what He wants, in accordance with His holy character and attributes.
  • Once God decided what would happen in creation, that decision was set in stone and irrevocable (“freely and unchangeably”). This usually makes Christians wince, and it isn’t long before charges of “fatalism” are issued. The folks who wrote this confession of faith understood that. Behold what cometh next . . .
  • Yet, despite this, God did not create sin and does not partake of sin (“neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein”). He has nothing to do with sin. He is the exact opposite of sin.
  • More than that, this does not result in fatalism. Do you see this? Calvinists do not believe in fatalism (“nor is violence offered to the will of the creature”). Men and women are not compelled or forced to do evil. They do it because they want to. Period. Men and women have free will to sin, and they choose to do it. Every. Single Day. Free. Will. Do. You. See. This? How, then, does God’s decree come to pass? Behold . . .
  • God’s will is done through secondary causes (“nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established”). He often does not act directly. He acts through intemediaries upon intermediaries. Jesus was executed by the people who wanted to kill Him. Yet, He “was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God,” (Acts 2:23).
  • By operating this way, in a way far above our own capacity to understand or fathom, God shows Himself to be far wiser than any of us, His creatures, could ever be (“in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things”). He also proves that His will actually will be done, and nothing can thwart it (“and power and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree”). If God be for us, who can be against us?

Notes:

[1] Isa. 46:10; Eph. 1:11; Heb. 6:17; Rom. 9:15,18

[2] James 1:13; 1 John 1:5

[3] Acts 4:27,28; John 19:11

[4] Num. 23:19; Eph. 1:3-5

Baptist Confessions of Faith – God’s Decree

I am beginning a series where I will post excerpts from various Baptist Confessions of Faith. I agree with some, and disagree with others. Regardless, I’ll post them anyway. I’m beginning this series by taking a look at what Baptists have said down through the years about God’s decree – or lack thereof!

This excerpt is from the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 3 – God’s Decree. It will be immediately clear this is a Particular Baptist (i.e. Calvinist) document. It is largely a recitation of the 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith, with Baptist flavor added. This excerpt is verbatim from the 1647 Westminster Confession.

I, personally, am in complete and total agreement with this statement on God’s decree. Here it is:

Paragraph 1

God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass;[1] yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein;[2] nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established;[3] in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree.[4]

Paragraph 2

Although God knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions,[5] yet hath He not decreed anything, because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.[6]

Paragraph 3

By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ,[7] to the praise of His glorious grace;[8] others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of His glorious justice.[9]

Paragraph 4

These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.[10]

Paragraph 5

Those of mankind that are predestinated to life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love,[11] without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving Him thereunto.[12]

Paragraph 6

As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so He hath, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto;[13] wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ,[14] are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified,[15] and kept by His power through faith unto salvation;[16] neither are any other redeemed by Christ, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.[17]

Paragraph 7

The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election;[18] so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise,[19] reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility,[20] diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.[21]


Scripture References

[1] Isa. 46:10; Eph. 1:11; Heb. 6:17; Rom. 9:15,18

[2] James 1:13; 1 John 1:5

[3] Acts 4:27,28; John 19:11

[4] Num. 23:19; Eph. 1:3-5

[5] Acts 15:18

[6] Rom. 9:11,13,16,18

[7] I Tim. 5:21; Matt. 25:34

[8] Eph. 1:5,6

[9] Rom. 9:22,23; Jude 4

[10] 2 Tim. 2:19; John 13:18

[11] Eph. 1:4, 9, 11; Rom. 8:30; 2 Tim. 1:9; I Thess. 5:9

[12] Rom. 9:13,16; Eph. 2:5,12

[13] 1 Pet. 1:2; 2; Thess. 2:13

[14] 1 Thess. 5:9, 10

[15] Rom. 8:30; 2 Thess. 2:13

[16] 1 Pet. 1:5

[17] John 10:26, 17:9, 6:64

[18] 1 Thess. 1:4,5; 2 Pet. 1:10

[19] Eph. 1:6; Rom. 11:33

[20] Rom. 11:5,6,20

[21] Luke 10:20