The Old Testament is Dying

Picture2If you’re a Christian, look at your Bible. Does the fake gold trim still gleam on the first 3/4 of your Bible? Flip through the pages; do you still hear that crisp crackle of virgin pages? Do some of these pages still stick together, pure and fresh as the driven snow?

Have you ever read Deuteronomy, perhaps the grandest book in the entire Bible? Do you know the Old Testament law, from Leviticus? If you do, you’ll realize how sincere Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, was when he pledged to reimburse all whom he’d wronged at 400% each (Luke 19:8; cf. Lev 6:1-7).

Listen to this:

[T]he Old Testament is dying. Much needs to be said about this claim to explain it, let alone establish it, but for me let it gloss it further by stating my firm belief that for many contemporary Christians, at least in North America, the Old Testament has ceased to function in healthy ways in their lives as sacred, authoritative, canonical literature.

These individuals — or in some cases, groups of individuals (even entire churches) — do not regard the Old Testament in the same way (or as highly) as the New Testament, do not understand the Old Testament, would prefer to do without the Old Testament, and for all practical purposes do exactly that by means of their neglect and ignorance of it, whether in private devotion or public worship or both.

All of that is what I mean by the shorthand claim “The Old Testament is dying.” Indeed, in many circles, the claim “The Old Testament is dying,” as stark as it is, is not nearly stark enough. “The Old Testament is dead” is far more accurate.

One Old Testament scholar has lamented,

. . . there remains a distressing absence of the Old Testament in the church. It is possible to attend some churches for months without ever hearing a sermon from the older testament, which represents well over three-fourths of what our Lord had to say to us. This vacuum is unconscionable for those who claim that the whole Bible is the authoritative Word of God to mankind.

Well . . . ?

Don’t be a Fraud

Hypocrisy is a problem. Always has been. Always will be. But, don’t let that make you all warm and fuzzy inside. Don’t bask in the comfortable glow of a shared failure. God hates hypocrisy. God hates a fraud.

  • Are you a fraud?
  • Do you go through the external motions of worship, without sincerity from your heart?
  • Do you think God is pleased with empty externalism?
  • Do you have an actual covenant relationship with God, through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ? Or, is it all a sham? A fraud? A show?

The good news Jesus lived, suffered, died and rose again to bring to you can solve all that, and can give you perfect peace (cf. Romans 5:1ff).

If you’re a Christian who has lost the love for the Lord you once had, read the Scriptures, pray to the Lord, and ask him to help you. Go to your church (you do have one, don’t you?), and let the preached Word of God change your heart. Take comfort in the fellowship of your Christian brothers and sisters. Talk to your Pastor about your struggles. You won’t be bothering him – it’s why he’s there!

Here are some brief thoughts from Proverbs 15:8. My children tried to distract me halfway through the video, but I soldiered on anyway!

Eager for Corruption

The prophet Zephaniah wrote his little book during King Josiah’s reign in the southern kingdom of Judah (ca. 640 – 609 B.C.). Josiah was a godly man (2 Chr 34:1-5) who implemented a whole host of religious reforms. The rot had spread far in his day. It was so bad, in fact, that a priest stumbled upon the law of Moses in the temple, and brought it forth in wonder – he’d never heard of it before (2 Chr 34:13-21)!

Not good! It makes you wonder what on earth the Israelite priests thought they were doing every day . . .

But, the reform appears to have been superficial and external, in many cases. Zephaniah tells us so. He doesn’t mince words (Zeph 3:1-8):

 Woe to her that is rebellious and defiled,
    the oppressing city!
She listens to no voice,
    she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord,
    she does not draw near to her God.

Her officials within her
    are roaring lions;
her judges are evening wolves
    that leave nothing till the morning.
Her prophets are wanton,
    faithless men;
her priests profane what is sacred,
    they do violence to the law.
The Lord within her is righteous,
    he does no wrong;
every morning he shows forth his justice,
    each dawn he does not fail;
    but the unjust knows no shame.

“I have cut off nations;
    their battlements are in ruins;
I have laid waste their streets
    so that none walks in them;
their cities have been made desolate,
    without a man, without an inhabitant.
I said, ‘Surely she will fear me,
    she will accept correction;
she will not lose sight
    of all that I have enjoined upon her.’
But all the more they were eager
    to make all their deeds corrupt.

The Jewish leaders are corrupt predators. Her judges, who ought to be upholding justice and righteousness (founded on God’s word), and instead “evening wolves.” Her priests are apostates who don’t know the Lord.

Nevertheless, God is still there, showing forth His justice. Yet, “the unjust knows no shame.” He has shown His favor to Israel. He has destroyed pagan nations, and utterly annihilated enemies. Surely, Israel will reverence, respect and obey Him! Right?

Wrong. Instead, the prophet concludes with this:

But all the more they were eager
    to make all their deeds corrupt.
How sad. And yet, in the rest of this chapter, Zephaniah explains how God intends to rescue and redeem His people from themselves. He will purge the hypocrites and idolaters from their midst, and create a pure people for His name from among the Israelites (Zeph 3:11):
On that day you shall not be put to shame
    because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me;
for then I will remove from your midst
    your proudly exultant ones,
and you shall no longer be haughty
    in my holy mountain.
This is real mercy and grace. People deserve destruction and annihilation for their sins. God withholds it, just because He can. People don’t deserve favor and kindness from God, and cannot ever earn it. God extends it anyway, just because He wants to. This is the same mercy, grace, love and kindness every Christian has in union with Jesus Christ.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God (Rom 5:1-2).
You can have this peace, too. Read about the Good News of Jesus Christ here.

What is Sin . . . Really? (Part 2)

sinRead the rest of the series.

Sin is more than an external action. It is also a thought. It is also a state of being; a status or condition. You are either pregnant or you are not. You are either a male or a female. You are either a condemned sinner in God’s universe – an individual made in God’s image who stands guilty and has the status of “criminal” . . . or you are not.

So much is clear. But, is there still another layer here? After all, why do people break God’s moral law? What is at the heart of this transgression? What drives the sinful action? That is, what is the motive?

This matter of intent is important. It lies at the heart of our legal system. The difference between murder and, say, involuntary manslaughter is the issue of intent. In the former case, you plan to kill somebody and you do it. In the latter scenario, you kill somebody in the heat of a sudden passion. Both are wicked and wrong. But, we all recognize that murder carries greater condemnation. We recognize this because we understand that intent means something.

Moral value is assigned to the act, thought or state based on the intent of the action. That criterion is motive. An act is “sinful” (i.e. “tainted with, marked by, or full of sin”[1]) because of the wicked motivation which drives the behavior. So, consider yourself:

  • What makes you lust after a co-worker?
  • Hate your Christian brother (i.e. “neighbor”)?
  • Cheat on your taxes?
  • Covet money?
  • Forsake the local church?
  • Close your eyes to the cares and needs of your Christian brethren?
  • Never read the Scriptures?
  • Watch pornography?
  • Value your career over your responsibilities to your own family?
  • Love yourself more than you love your spouse?
  • Shirk your responsibility to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
  • Fail to live up to your God-given responsibilities as a mother or father?

It should be clear there is an intent, a motive and a drive which produces (1) a sinful action, (2) a sinful thought or (3) the state of “sinfulness” and condemnation in the unregenerate. The act, thought or state is merely the fruit of something far deeper. One theologian observed, “It may be admitted along with the speculative ideals that sin is an action of the will – either an overt omission or commission – but back of the will is the evil heart.”[2]

The act, thought or state of sin is not “sinful” in and of itself – it is merely the fruit of some other poisonous tree. My question today is – what is that tree?

There have been several answers. We’ll focus on three:[3]


This view hold that sin is really about lust. There are physical desires which every man recognizes are part of the material world, and there are spiritual virtues everybody recognizes are higher, nobler and more virtuous. Sin is a capitulation to the physical lusts (i.e. “sensuality”) at the expense of spiritual truth.[4]

This view is clearly wrong-headed. There are many sinful actions which have nothing to do with physical lust. Pride, discord, jealousy, envy and arrogance (to name a few) are certainly not about lusting after physical things. This concept of sin also tends to favor aestheticism; that is, the idea that a monk living in the desert is somehow more “spiritual” than the Christian who lives in the city. This is nonsense.[5]


We prefer God to ourselves. We want what we want, not what God wants. We are petulant, spoiled and wicked children who want a Burger King god – one who makes things our way. After all, God commanded His people to love Him supremely (cf. Deut 6:5). Christ sought the Father’s will, not His own. A true Christian does not live for Himself, but for the Lord. Satan’s main point of attack in the Garden of Eden was an appeal to selfish independence. The antichrist himself, the “man of sin,” is so named because he will exalt himself against God.[6] “[S]elfishness can be understood as the root cause of all other expressions of sin.”[7] One theologian wrote, “[W]hen selfishness is considered as an undue preference of our interests to God’s interests, we have in selfishness the essence of all sin.”[8]

This view has a lot to commend it. But, I don’t believe it quite goes far enough. There is still another layer to this onion.

  • A man does cheat on his wife because he is selfish.
  • He does cheat on his taxes because he is selfish.
  • He does forsake the local Christian church because he is selfish.
  • He does forsake his personal study of the Scriptures in favor of his career and his own narcissistic ambition.
  • He may even forsake his duties as a father, son and husband because he is selfish

But, there is something deeper:

  • Why does a man cheat on his wife?
  • Why does he cheat on his taxes?
  • Why does he forsake his local church?
  • Why does he neglect his own responsibilities as a father?

In effect, I’m asking:

  • Why does a man reject God in favor of his own self-interest?
  • Why is a man selfish?

This leads us to the next option; the best option

Rejection of God’s Authority

At the heart of all this is a willful rejection of God. You commit sinful acts, think sinful thoughts, and are born by nature as a child of wrath in the state of sin because you are in rebellion against God.[9] Even one theologian who advocated for selfishness as the poisonous tree wrote, “this selfishness is simply man’s desire for autonomy.”[10]

  • You are a terrorist insurgent, and God is the law keeper.
  • You are a criminal in God’s universe, and Jesus is the Righteous Judge
  • You are a seditious rebel, and it is God who you are fighting against

Because this is true, sin is really more than an act, a thought or a state of being. It is a willful desire for complete independence from God. This unending quest for autonomy manifests itself in:

  1. the wicked condition of spiritual degeneracy and depravity
  2. the evil thoughts, lusts and intents of the human heart and mind, and
  3. criminal actions which are against God’s law

Adam and Eve’s great sin was the start of it all. That sin was that “they became, in their understanding, their own authority, and their fallen descendants ever since that time have claimed a similar autonomy from God.”[11] A “willful ambition against God” was also Satan’s sin, and it is ours, too.[12] When you get down to brass tacks, Adam and Eve were disobedient – “[h]ence infidelity was at the root of the revolt.”[13] The Apostle Paul confirmed this:

Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous (Rom. 5:18-19).

Adam’s trespass led to condemnation; his disobedience resulted in a fundamental change in status. He and his wife lost their status of moral innocence and gained the new status of “rebellious criminal.” Christ’s perfect righteousness is designed to reverse this tragedy for all who repent and believe in Him and His Gospel. Disobedience did this. What is disobedience but a deliberate rejection of authority?

  • Men are commanded to love God with all they have (cf. Deut 6:5),
  • He has given us a holy book, a “perfect treasure of heavenly instruction” which “reveals the principles by which God will judge us,”[14] and tells us precisely how to love Him,
  • An action, thought, or pattern of life which is opposed to God’s command is deliberate disobedience and “active opposition to God.” Indeed, “sin is the result of a free but evil choice of man.”[15]

The Psalmist wrote the same thing:

Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision (Ps 2:1-4).

People are born in rebellion against God, and their entire life is spent desperately trying to cut the ties which bind them to the Father and the Son’s jurisdiction and authority.

The poisonous tree which produces the fruit of sinful actions, sinful thoughts and a sinful status before God is a quest for independence, for autonomy – a deliberate rejection of God. “In short, it is failing to acknowledge God as God.”[16]

What does this mean for you? What does this mean for Jesus and His sinlessness? Until next time . . .


[1] Merriam-Webster (s.v. “sinful”).

[2] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (reprint; Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1976), 2:254.

[3] See Erickson (Christian Theology, 596-598) for short summaries of these theories.

[4] See Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (reprint; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011), 2:140-144 for a detailed discussion of this view, and its various flavors.

[5] John Calvin remarked, “the common idea of sensual intemperance is childish,” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge [reprint; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2012], 2.1.4.

[6] These points are from Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1907), 572.

[7] Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, 3 vols. (Detroit, MI: DBTS, 2009), 2:57.

[8] Theissen (Systematic Theology, 247).

[9] “Now there is no doubt that the great central demand of the law is love to God. And if from the material point of view moral goodness consists in love to God, then moral evil must consist in the opposite. It is separation from God, opposition to God, hatred of God, and this manifests itself in constant transgression of the law of God in thought, word, and deed,” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, combined ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996], 2:232).

[10] McCune (Systematic, 2:57).

[11] Robert Reymond, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, revised ed. (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1998), 445.

[12] See the discussion by Chafer (Systematic, 2:242-248). “All human beings acting independently who are not concerned to fulfill the divine purpose for them are re-enacting this same sin, and their destiny is that of the devil and his angels (Rev 20:10-15), unless they come under the saving grace of God,” (2:248).

[13] Calvin (Institutes, 2.1.4.).

[14] 1833 NHCF, Article 1.

[15] Berkhof (Systematic, 2:231).

[16] Erickson (Christian Theology, 598).

What is Sin (Part 1)?

sinRead the series so far.

This seems to be a simple question, with a simple explanation. I’m willing to bet when you read this question, you immediately started thinking of sin as an action in contradiction to an established norm. You aren’t alone – I did the same thing. We instinctively answer this question as if sin is an act. Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the closest thing we have in America to a recognized lexical standard, defines sin as, “an offense against religious or moral law.”[1]

It is true that a sin is a transgression against a moral law. From the Christian worldview, the very idea of objective morality, and the universal human ability to differentiate between the concepts of “right” and “wrong” are proof that:

  1. there is a Creator,
  2. we are His creatures – created in His image,
  3. He defines morality and the concepts of “good” and “evil,” and
  4. all human beings are subject to His rule and, therefore, His law.

But, that’s not the whole story. It isn’t enough to craft a definition based on external actions and call it a day. Is sin just about externalism? Is it possible to think about something, and commit a sin? Is temptation still a sin, because it’s purely an internal lust? To get down to brass tacks, consider this:

  • Can you lust after a co-worker, as long as you don’t act on the thought?
  • Can you plan to murder the nosy neighbor next door, even if you don’t ever carry out this dastardly deed?
  • Can you pretend to be nice to a Christian brother, while inwardly you hate him?

If sin is simply an outward action, the answer to each of these is, “Yes!” Unfortunately, some popular theology texts do define sin as externalism. Consider these examples:

  • Charles Ryrie: “[S]in is missing the mark, badness, rebellion, iniquity, going astray, wickedness, wandering, ungodliness, crime, lawlessness, transgression, and a falling away.”[2] This is not really a definition at all; it’s a list! But, do you notice how these descriptions are more about external action than anything else?
  • Emery Bancroft: He defines sin as (1) missing the mark of the divine standard, (2) a lapse from God’s requirement, (3) a perversion of what is right, (4) a passing over of the boundaries of God’s law, (5) an affront to God, (6) unfaithfulness, (7) an offense, (7) a failure in duty and (8) disobedience.[3] Again, this isn’t really a systematic definition at all – it’s a redundant list.

Back to externals – is sin more than an act? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed the Old Covenant law as it was meant to be understood.[4] It was not meant to be a checklist; it was a Covenant to be obeyed from the heart. This is why Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt 5:21-22).

You might not really shoot your nosy neighbor (or his annoying dog) twice in the chest with your trusty 9mm, but if you thought about it, you’re just as guilty. I’m being slightly silly, but you get the point. Here is a more pedestrian example:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt 5:27-28).

Yes, it is true you didn’t sleep with your co-worker. But, you thought about it. A lot. You are just as guilty.

It seems as if It seems sin is much more than mere action. Behold this good definition of sin from a conservative Baptist theologian:

Sin is any lack of conformity, active or passive, to the moral law of God. This may be a matter of act, of thought, or of inner disposition or state. [5]

There is a lot which could be written from this, but I’ll focus on a few components:

  1. Sin is an action
  2. It is also a thought
  3. It is also a matter of status (i.e. disposition or state)

The last bit is particularly important. You can commit a sinful action. You can think a sinful thought. But, sin is also described in Scripture as a state of being. “Acts of sin spring from a principle or nature that is sin.”[6] We are born by nature as children of wrath, which means we’re born as sinful people, in active rebellion against our Creator. As the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith put it:

We believe that man was created in a state of holiness, under the law of His Maker; but by voluntary transgression fell from the happy and holy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint but choice, being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, wholly given over to the gratification of the world, of Satan, and of their own sinful passions, therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin, without defense or excuse.[7]

Consider also the Apostle Paul’s words:

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Rom 6:15-18).

Sin here is not an abstract action. It is a state of being. In this passage, it is a taskmaster people are naturally enslaved to – a master who only brings death. In contrast, God is the good master who distributes righteousness to His slaves.

So, when you think about sin, remember it is much more than an action. It is also a thought in your mind and heart. It is also a status which brings eternal damnation and everlasting condemnation, unending hostility and anger from the Holy God who made you, fashioned you, sustains you and calls you even now to repentance and faith in His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.

But, is there something even more fundamental, more basic, to the idea of “sin?” There is. For, now, however . . . ciao.


[1] Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2003), s.v. “sin,” 1a.

[2] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1999), 243-244.

[3] Emery Bancroft, Christian Theology, second revised ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 218-226.

[4] See Leon Morris, The Gospel of Matthew, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 112-113. D.A. Carson quibbled a bit, and wrote, “The contrast between what the people had heard and what Jesus taught is not based on distinctions like casuistry versus love, outer legalism versus inward commitment, or even false interpretation versus true interpretation, though all of them impinge collaterally on the text. Rather, in every case Jesus contrasts the people’s misunderstanding of the law with the true direction in which the law points, according to His own authority as the law’s ‘fulfiller’ . . . (Matthew, in EBC, vol. 8 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984], 148).

[5] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 596.

[6] Henry C. Theissen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949), 244.

[7] 1833 NHCF, Article 3, quoted in William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, revised ed. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1969), 362.


This is What Heresy Sounds Like

I was early for a dentist appointment. I didn’t like the idea of sitting idly in the waiting room, listening to bad elevator music, so I darted into a used bookstore across the way. I found a curious little volume entitled The Christ.

The author, Charles Guignebert, passed away in August of 1939, just five days before the thunderclouds of war burst open upon the continent. He’d been Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Paris since 1919. He was also a theological liberal, and likely a complete unbeliever. I cannot be certain, of course, but the odds don’t look good. Not at all.

I picked up the book and looked at the jacket synopsis. The publisher proclaimed Guignebert’s tome was the “classic presentation of the historical origins of Christianity.” I skimmed down past the usual rapturous fluff and spotted the following endorsement:

Many critical scholars remain in [Guignebert’s] debt – Christian Century

Ah, the Christian Century. That publication was about as subtle with its theological sympathies as Breitbart News is with its politics. But, I always enjoy a good bit of heresy, especially when it’s on sale for $1.00.

I opened the book, careful to avoid the cloud of stale dust which burst forth from its pages, and skimmed the first bit of the introduction. Here is what I found:

Since Jesus did not want to found a new religion, he did not found Christianity. However, without knowing it, he did father the faith of which he is the center and the Church which was soon to be accounted him. This paternity, in fundamental contradiction with all that he beelieved, desired, and expected, would have driven him to dispair if he had but foreseen it (p.2).

I can’t wait to read this book. It’s right behind Harry E. Fosdick’s Christianity and Progress on my list. Both works are rank heresy. Christians up for a challenge can learn from heresy.

I spotted one more thing, though – something truly awful. On the inside flap of the book, I saw a little message jotted in neat, block letters:

Happy Easter ’90. Kareen, I hope this will help you in your search for Jesus. Love, Jim.

Let me spare you the suspense, Jim. This book did not help Kareen. It depicts a Jesus the New Testament knows nothing about. It reflects the hostility of satanic unbelief, and the hyper-critical skepticism of liberal elitism. Heresy can be useful. It challenges presuppositions, and forces you to strengthen your own convictions. But, it isn’t what a new or prospective believer needs.

I wish Jim had found something better for Kareen.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

What a stupid question . . .

Ponder this bit of wisdom from J. Gresham Machen:

Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding. May it not discourage contribution to mission boards? May it not hinder the progress of consolidation, and produce a poor showing in columns of Church statistics? But with such persons we cannot possibly bring ourselves to agree. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end.

The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of their meanings, or shrinks from “controversial” matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life. In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism (New York, NY: Loiseaux Bros., 1923; reprint; CrossReach Publications, n.d., Kindle ed.), KL 41-47.