The Conversion of Zaccheus (by George Whitefield)

This is the full text of a sermon by George Whitefield (1714-1770), that incomparable preacher of the Great Awakening.

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Salvation, every where through the whole scripture, is said to be the free gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Not only free, because God is a sovereign agent, and therefore may withhold it from, or confer it on, whom he pleaseth; but free, because there is nothing to be found in man, that can any way induce God to be merciful unto him. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is the sole cause of our finding favor in God’s sight: this righteousness apprehended by faith (which is also the gift of God) makes it our own; and this faith, if true, will work by love.

 

These are parts of those glad tidings which are published in the gospel; and of the certainty of them, next to the express word of God, the experience of all such as have been saved, is the best, and, as I take it, the most undoubted proof. That God might teach us every way, he has been pleased to leave upon record many instances of the power of his grace exerted in the salvation of several persons, that we, hearing how he dealt with them, might from thence infer the manner we must expect to be dealt with ourselves, and learn in what way we must look for salvation, if we truly desire to be made partakers of the inheritance with the saints in light.

 

The conversion of the person referred to in the text, I think, will be of no small service to us in this matter, if rightly improved. I would hope, most of you know who the person is, to whom the Lord Jesus speaks; it is the publican Zaccheus, to whose house the blessed Jesus said, salvation came, and whom he pronounces a Son of Abraham.

 

It is my design (God helping) to make some remarks upon his conversion recorded at large in the preceding verses, and then to enforce the latter part of the text, as an encouragement to poor undone sinners to come to Jesus Christ. “For the Son of man is come, to seek and to save that which was lost.”

 

The evangelist Luke introduces the account of this man’s conversion thus, verse 1. “And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.” The holy Jesus made it his business to go about doing good. As the sun in the firmament is continually spreading his benign, quickening, and cheering influences over the natural; so the Son of righteousness arose with healing under his wings, and was daily and hourly diffusing his gracious influences over the moral world. The preceding chapter acquaints us of a notable miracle wrought by the holy Jesus, on poor blind Bartimeus; and in this, a greater presents itself to our consideration. The evangelist would have us take particular notice of it; for he introduces it with the word “behold:” “and behold, there was a man named Zaccheus, who was the chief among the Publicans, and he was rich.”

 

Well might the evangelist usher in the relation of this man’s conversion with the word “behold!” For, according to human judgment, how many insurmountable obstacles lay in the way of it! Surely no one will say there was any fitness in Zaccheus for salvation; for we are told that he was a Publican, and therefore in all probability a notorious sinner. The Publicans were gatherers of the Roman taxes; they were infamous for their abominable extortion; their very name therefore became so odious, that we find the Pharisees often reproached our Lord, as very wicked, because he was a friend unto and sat down to meat with them. Zaccheus then, being a Publican, was no doubt a sinner; and, being chief among the Publicans, consequently was chief among sinners. Nay, “he was rich.” One inspired apostle has told us, that “not many mighty, not many noble are called.” Another saith, “God has chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith.” And he who was the Maker and Redeemer of the apostles, assures us, “that it is easier for a camel, (or cable-rope) to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Let not therefore the rich glory in the multitude of their riches.

 

But rich as he was, we are told, verse 3 that “he sought to see Jesus.” A wonder indeed! The common people heard our Lord gladly, and the poor received the gospel. The multitude, the ocloS, the mob, the people that know not the law, as the proud high-priests called them, used to follow him on foot into the country, and sometimes stayed with him three days together to hear him preach. But did the rich believe or attend on him? No. Our Lord preached up the doctrine of the cross; he preached too searching for them, and therefore they counted him their enemy, persecuted and spoke all manner of evil against him falsely. Let not the ministers of Christ marvel, if they meet with the like treatment from the rich men of this wicked and adulterous generation. I should think it no scandal (supposing it true) to hear it affirmed, that none but the poor attended my ministry. Their souls are as precious to our Lord Jesus Christ, as the souls of the greatest men. They were the poor that attended him in the days of his flesh: these are they whom he hath chosen to rich in faith, and to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Were the rich in this world’s goods generally to speak well of me, woe be unto me; I should think it a dreadful sign that I was only a wolf in sheep’s clothing, that I spoke peace, peace, when there was no peace, and prophesied smoother things than the gospel would allow of. Hear ye this, O ye rich. Let who will dare to do it, God forbid that I should despise the poor; in doing so, I should reproach my Maker. The poor are dear to my soul; I rejoice to see them fly to the doctrine of Christ, like the doves to their windows. I only pray, that the poor who attend, may be evangelized, and turned into the spirit of the gospel: if so, “Blessed are ye; for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”

 

But we must return to Zaccheus. “He sought to see Jesus.” That is good news. I heartily wish I could say, it was out of a good principle: but, without speaking contrary to that charity which hopes and believeth all things for the best, we may say, that the same principle drew him after Christ, which now draws multitudes (to speak plainly, it may be multitudes of you) to hear a particular preacher, even curiosity: for we are told, that he came not to hear his doctrine, but to view his person, or, to use the words of the evangelist, “to see who he was.” Our Lord’s fame was now spread abroad through all Jerusalem, and all the country round about: some said he was a good man; others, “Nay, but he deceiveth the people.” And therefore curiosity drew out this rich Publican Zaccheus, to see who this person was, of whom he had heard such various accounts. But it seems he could not conveniently get a sight of him for the press, and because he was little of stature. Alas! how many are kept from seeing Christ in glory, by reason of the press! I mean, how many are ashamed of being singularly good, and therefore follow a multitude to do evil, because they have a press or throng of polite acquaintance! And, for fear of being set an nought by those with whom they used to sit at meat, they deny the Lord of glory, and are ashamed to confess him before men. This base, this servile fear of man, is the bane of true Christianity; it brings a dreadful snare upon the soul, and is the ruin of ten thousands: for I am fully persuaded, numbers are rationally convicted of gospel-truths; but, not being able to brook contempt, they will not prosecute their convictions, nor reduce them to practice. Happy those, who in this respect, like Zaccheus, are resolved to overcome all impediments that lie in their way to a sight of Christ; for, finding he could not see Christ because of the press and the littleness of his natural stature, he did not smite upon his breast, and depart, saying, “It is in vain to seek after a sight of him any longer, I can never attain unto it.” No, finding he could not see Christ, if he continued in the midst of, “he ran before the multitude, and climbed up into a sycamore-tree, to see him; for he was to pass that way.”

 

There is no seeing Christ in Glory, unless we run before the multitude, and are willing to be in the number of those despised few, who take the kingdom of God by violence. The broad way, in which so many go, can never be that strait and narrow way which leads to life. Our Lord’s flock was, and always will be, comparatively a little one; and unless we dare to run before the multitude in a holy singularity, and can rejoice in being accounted fools for Christ’s sake, we shall never see Jesus with comfort, when he appears in glory. From mentioning the sycamore-tree, and considering the difficulty with which Zaccheus must climb it, we may farther learn, that those who would see Christ, must undergo other difficulties and hardships, besides contempt. Zaccheus, without doubt, went through both. Did not many, think you, laugh at him as he ran along, and in the language of Michal, Saul’s daughter, cry out, “How glorious did the rich Zaccheus look today, when, forgetting the greatness of his station, he ran before a pitiful, giddy mob, and climbed up a sycamore-tree, to see an enthusiastic preacher!” But Zaccheus cares not for all that; his curiosity was strong: if he could but see who Jesus was, he did not value what scoffers said of him. Thus, and much more will it be with all those who have an effectual desire to see Jesus in heaven: they will go on from strength to strength, break through every difficulty lying in their way, and care not what men or devils say of or do unto them. May the Lord make us all thus minded, for his dear Son’s sake!

 

At length, after taking much pains, and going (as we may well suppose) through much contempt, Zaccheus has climbed the tree; and there he sits, as he thinks, hid in the leaves of it, and watching when he should see Jesus pass by: “For he was to pass by that way.”

 

But sing, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth! Praise, magnify, and adore sovereign, electing, free, preventing love; Jesus the everlasting God, the Prince of peace, who saw Nathanael under the fig-tree, and Zaccheus from eternity, now sees him in the sycamore-tree, and calls him in time.

 

Verse 5. “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zaccheus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide at thy house.” Amazing love! Well might Luke usher in the account with “behold!” It is worthy of our highest admiration. When Zaccheus thought of no such thing, nay, thought that Christ Jesus did not know him; behold, Christ does what we never hear he did before or after, I mean, invite himself to the house of Zaccheus, saying, “Zaccheus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide at thy house.” Not pray let me abide, but I must abide this day at thy house. He also calls him by name, as though he was well acquainted with him: and indeed well he might; for his name was written in the book of life, he was one of those whom the Father had given him from all eternity: therefore he must abide at his house that day. “For whom he did predestinate, them he also called.”

 

Here then, as through a glass, we may see the doctrine of free grace evidently exemplified before us. Here was not fitness in Zaccheus. He was a Publican, chief among the Publicans; not only so, but rich, and came to see Christ only out of curiosity: but sovereign grace triumphs over all. And if we do God justice, and are effectually wrought upon, we must acknowledge there was no more fitness in us than in Zaccheus; and, had not Christ prevented us by his call, we had remained dead in trespasses and sins, and alienated from the divine life, even as others. “Jesus looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zaccheus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide at thy house.”

 

With what different emotions of heart may we suppose Zaccheus received this invitation? Think you not that he was surprised to hear Jesus Christ call him by name, and not only so, but invite himself to his house? Surely, thinks Zaccheus, I dream: it cannot be; how should he know me? I never saw him before: besides, I shall undergo much contempt, if I receive him under my rood. Thus, I say, we may suppose Zaccheus thought within himself. But what saith the scripture? “I will make a willing people in the day of my power.” With this outward call, there went an efficacious power from God, which sweetly over-ruled his natural will: and therefore, verse 6, “He made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully;” not only into his house, but also into his heart.

 

Thus it is the great God brings home his children. He calls them by name, by his word or providence; he speaks to them also by his spirit. Hereby they are enabled to open their hearts, and are made willing to receive the King of glory. For Zaccheus’s sake, let us not entirely condemn people that come under the word, out of no better principle than curiosity. Who knows but God may call them? It is good to be where the Lord is passing by. May all who are now present out of this principle, hear the voice of the Son of God speaking to their souls, and so hear that they ma live! Not that men ought therefore to take encouragement to come out of curiosity. For perhaps a thousand more, at other times, came too see Christ out of curiosity, as well as Zaccheus, who were not effectually called by his grace. I only mention this for the encouragement of my own soul, and the consolation of God’s children, who are too apt to be angry with those who do not attend on the word out of love to God: but let them alone. Brethren, pray for them. How do you know but Jesus Christ may speak to their hearts! A few words from Christ, applied by his spirit, will save their souls. “Zaccheus, says Christ, make haste and come down. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.”

 

I have observed, in holy scripture, how particularly it is remarked, that persons rejoiced upon believing in Christ. Thus the converted Eunuch went on his way rejoicing; thus the jailer rejoiced with his whole house; thus Zaccheus received Christ joyfully. And well may those rejoice who receive Jesus Christ; for with him they receive righteousness, sanctification, and eternal redemption. Many have brought up an ill report upon our good land, and would fain persuade people that religion will make them melancholy mad. So far from it, that joy is one ingredient of the kingdom of God in the heart of a believer; “The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” To rejoice in the Lord, is a gospel-duty. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice.” And who can be so joyful, as those who know that their pardon is sealed before they go hence and are no more seen? The godly may, but I cannot see how any ungodly men can, rejoice: they cannot be truly cheerful. What if wicked men may sometimes have laughter amongst them? It is only the laughter of fools; in the midst of it there is heaviness; At the best, it is but like the cracking of thorns under a pot; it makes a blaze, but soon goes out. But, as for the godly, it is not so with them; their joy is solid and lasting. As it is a joy that a stranger intermeddleth not with, so it is a joy that no man taketh from them: it is a joy in God, a “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

 

It should seem that Zaccheus was under soul-distress but a little while; perhaps (says Guthrie, in his book entitled, THE TRIAL CONCERNING A SAVING INTEREST IN CHRIST) not above a quarter of an hour. I add, perhaps not so long: for, as one observes, sometimes the Lord Jesus delights to deliver speedily. God is a sovereign agent, and works upon his children in their effectual calling, according to the counsel of his eternal will. It is with the spiritual, as natural birth: all women have not the like pangs; all Christians have not the like degree of conviction. But all agree in this, that all have Jesus Christ formed in their hearts: and those who have not so many trials at first, may be visited with the greater conflicts hereafter; though they never come into bondage again, after they have once received the spirit of adoption. “We have not, (says Paul) received the spirit of bondage again unto fear.” We know not what Zaccheus underwent before he died: however, this one thing I know, he now believed in Christ, and was justified, or acquitted, and looked upon as righteous in God’s sight, though a Publican, chief among the Publicans, not many moments before. And thus it is with all, that, like Zaccheus, receive Jesus Christ by faith into their hearts: the very moment they find rest in him, they are freely justified from all things from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses; “for by grace are we saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God.”

 

Say not within yourselves, this is a licentious Antinomian doctrine; for this faith, if true, will work by love, and be productive of the fruits of holiness. See an instance in this convert Zaccheus; no sooner had he received Jesus Christ by faith into his heart, but he evidences it by his works; for, ver. 8, we are told, “Zaccheus stood forth, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give unto the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him four- fold.”

 

Having believed on Jesus in his heart, he now makes confession of him with his mouth to salvation. “Zaccheus stood forth;” he was not ashamed, but stood forth before his brother Publicans; for true faith casts out all servile, sinful fear of man; “and said, Behold, Lord.” It is remarkable, how readily people in scripture have owned the divinity of Christ immediately upon their conversion. Thus the woman at Jacob’s well; “Is not this the Christ?” Thus the man born blind; “Lord, I believe; and worshipped him.” Thus Zaccheus, “Behold, Lord.” An incontestable proof this to me, that those who deny our Lord’s divinity, never effectually felt his power: if they had, they would not speak so lightly of him: they would scorn to deny his eternal power and Godhead. “Zaccheus stood forth, and said, Behold, Lord, the half of m goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him four-fold.” Noble fruits of a true living faith in the Lord Jesus! Every word calls for our notice. Not some small, not the tenth part, but the HALF. Of what? My goods; things that were valuable. MY goods, his own, not another’s. I give: not, I will give when I die, when I can keep them no longer; but, I give now, even now. Zaccheus would be his own executor. For whilst we have time we should do good. But to whom would he give half of his goods? Not to the rich, not to those who were already clothed in purple and fine linen, of whom he might be recompensed again; but to the poor, the maimed, the halt, the blind, from which he could expect no recompense till the resurrection of the dead. “I give to the poor.” But knowing that he must be just before he could be charitable, and conscious to himself that in his public administrations he had wronged many persons, he adds, “And if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” Hear ye this, all ye that make no conscience of cheating the king of his taxes, or of buying or selling run goods. If ever God gives you true faith, you will never rest, till, like Zaccheus, you have made restitution to the utmost of your power. I suppose, before his conversion, he thought it no harm to cheat thus, no more than you may do now, and pleased himself frequently, to be sure, that he got rich by doing so: but now he is grieved for it at his heart; he confesses his injustice before men, and promises to make ample restitution. Go ye cheating Publicans, learn of Zaccheus; go away and do likewise. If you do not make restitution here, the Lord Jesus shall make you confess your sins before men and angels, and condemn you for it, when he comes in the glory of his Father to judgment hereafter.

 

After all this, with good reason might our Lord say unto him, “This day is salvation come to this house; forasmuch as he also is the son of Abraham;” not so much by a natural as by a spiritual birth. He was made partaker of like precious faith with Abraham: like Abraham he believed on the Lord, and it was accounted to him for righteousness: his faith, like Abraham’s, worked by love; and I doubt not, but he has been long since sitting in Abraham’s harbor.

 

And now, are you not ashamed of yourselves, who speak against the doctrines of grace, especially that doctrine of being justified by faith alone, as though it leaded to licentiousness? What can be more unjust than such a charge? Is not the instance of Zaccheus, a sufficient proof to the contrary? Have I strained it to serve my own turn? God forbid. To the best of my knowledge I have spoken the truth in sincerity, and the truth as it is in Jesus. I do affirm that we are saved by grace, and that we are justified by faith alone: but I do also affirm, that faith must be evidenced by good works, where there is an opportunity of performing them.

 

What therefore has been said of Zaccheus, may serve as a rule, whereby all may judge whether they have faith or not. You say you have faith; but how do you prove it? Did you ever hear the Lord Jesus call you by name? Were you ever made to obey the call? Did you ever, like Zaccheus, receive Jesus Christ joyfully into your hearts? Are you influenced by the faith you say you have, to stand up and confess the Lord Jesus before men? Were you ever made willing to own, and humble yourselves for, your past offenses? Does your faith work by love, so that you conscientiously lay up, according as God has prospered you, for the support of the poor? Do you give alms of all things that you possess? And have you made due restitution to those you have wronged? If so, happy are ye; salvation is come to your souls, you are sons, you are daughters of, you shall shortly be everlastingly blessed with, faithful Abraham. But, if you are not thus minded, do not deceive your own souls. Though you may talk of justification by faith, like angels, it will do you no good; it will only increase your damnation. You hold the truth, but it is in unrighteousness: your faith being without works, is dead: you have the devil, not Abraham, for your father. Unless you get a faith of the heart, a faith working by love, with devils and damned spirits shall you dwell for evermore.

 

But it is time now to enforce the latter part of the text; “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” These words are spoken by our savior in answer to some self-righteous Pharisees, who, instead of rejoicing with the angels in heaven, at the conversion of such a sinner, murmured, “That he was gone to be a guest with a man that was a sinner.” To vindicate his conduct, he tells them, that this was an act agreeable to the design of his coming: “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” He might have said, the Son of God. But O the wonderful condescension of our Redeemer! He delights to stile himself the Son of man. He came not only to save, but to seek and to save that which was lost. He came to Jericho to seek and save Zaccheus; for otherwise Zaccheus would never have been saved by him. But from whence came he? Even from heaven, his dwelling-place, to this lower earth, this vale of tears, to seek and save that which was lost; or all that feel themselves lost, and are willing, like Zaccheus, to receive him into their hearts to save them; with how great a salvation? Even from the guilt, and also from the power of their sins; to make them heirs of God, and joint heirs with himself, and partakers of that glory which he enjoyed with the Father before the world began. Thus will the Son of man save that which is lost. He was made the son of man, on purpose that he might save them. He had no other end but this in leaving his father’s throne, in obeying the moral law, and hanging upon the cross: all that was done and suffered, merely to satisfy, and procure a righteousness for poor, lost, undone sinners, and that too without respect of persons. “That which was lost;” all of every nation and language, that feel, bewail, and are truly desirous of being delivered from their lost state, did the Son of man come down to seek and to save: for he is mighty, not only so, but willing, to save to the uttermost all that come to God through him. He will in no wise cast out: for he is the same today, as he was yesterday. He comes now to sinners, as well as formerly; and, I hope, hath sent me out this day to seek, and, under him, to bring home some of you, the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

 

What say you? Shall I go home rejoicing, saying, That many like sheep have went astray, but they have now believed on Jesus Christ, and so returned home to the great Shepherd and Bishop of their souls? If the Lord would be pleased thus to prosper my handy-work, I care not how many legalists and self-righteous Pharisees murmur against me, for offering salvation to the worst of sinners: for I know the Son of man came to seek and to save them; and the Lord Jesus will now be a guest to the worst Publican, the vilest sinner that is amongst you, if he does but believe on him. Make haste then, O sinners, make haste, and come by faith to Christ. Then, this day, even this hour, nay, this moment, if you believe, Jesus Christ shall come and make his eternal abode in your hearts. Which of you is made willing to receive the King of glory? Which of you obeys his call, as Zaccheus did? Alas! why do you stand still? How know you, whether Jesus Christ may ever call you again? Come then, poor, guilty sinners; come away, poor, lost, undone publicans: make haste, I say, and come away to Jesus Christ. The Lord condescends to invite himself to come under the filthy roofs of the houses of your souls. Do not be afraid of entertaining him; he will fill you with all peace and joy in believing. Do not be ashamed to run before the multitude, and to have all manner of evil spoke against you falsely for his sake: one sight of Christ will make amends for all. Zaccheus was laughed at; and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution. But what of that? Zaccheus is now crowned in glory; as you also shall shortly be, if you believe on, and are reproached for Christ’s sake. Do not, therefore, put me off with frivolous excuses: there’s no excuse can be given for your not coming to Christ. You are lost, undone, without him; and if he is not glorified in your salvation, he will be glorified in your destruction; if he does not come and make his abode in your hearts, you must take up an eternal abode with the devil and his angels. O that the Lord would be pleased to pass by some of you at this time! O that he may call you by his Spirit, and make you a willing people in this day of his power! For I know my calling will not do, unless he, by his efficacious grace, compel you to come in. O that you once felt what it is to receive Jesus Christ into your hearts! You would soon, like Zaccheus, give him everything. You do not love Christ, because you do not know him; you do not come to him, because you do not feel your want of him: you are whole, and not broken hearted; you are not sick, at least not sensible of your sickness; and, therefore, no wonder you do not apply to Jesus Christ, that great, that almighty physician. You do not feel yourselves lost, and therefore do not seek to be found in Christ. O that God would wound you with the sword of his Spirit, and cause his arrows of conviction to stick deep in your hearts! O that he would dart a ray of divine light into your souls! For if you do not feel yourselves lost without Christ, you are of all men most miserable: your souls are dead; you are not only an image of hell, but in some degree hell itself: you carry hell about with you, and you know it not. O that I could see some of you sensible of this, and hear you cry out, “Lord, break this hard heart; Lord, deliver me from the body of this death; draw me, Lord, make me willing to come after thee; I am lost; Lord, save me, or I perish!” Was this your case, how soon would the Lord stretch forth his almighty hand, and say, Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid? What a wonderful calm would then possess your troubled souls! Your fellowship would then be with the Father and the Son: your life would be hid with Christ in God.

 

Some of you, I hope, have experienced this, and can say, I was lost, but I am found; I was dead, but am alive again: the Son of man came and sought me in the day of his power, and saved my sinful soul. And do you repent that you came to Christ? Has he not been a good master? Is not his presence sweet to your souls? Has he not been faithful to his promise? And have you not found, that even in doing and suffering for him, there is an exceeding present great reward? I am persuaded you will answer, Yes. O then, ye saints, recommend and talk of the love of Christ to others, and tell them, O tell them what great things the Lord has done for you! This may encourage others to come unto him. And who knows but the Lord may make you fishers of men? The story of Zaccheus was left on record for this purpose. No truly convicted soul, after such an instance of divine grace has been laid before him, need despair of mercy. What if you are Publicans? Was not Zaccheus a Publican? What if you are chief among the Publicans? Was not Zaccheus likewise? What if you are rich? Was not Zaccheus rich also? And yet almighty grace made him more than conqueror over all these hindrances. All things are possible to Jesus Christ; nothing is too hard for him: he is the Lord almighty. Our mountains of sins must all fall before this great Zerubbabel. On him God the Father has laid the iniquities of all that shall believe on him; and in his own body he bare them on the tree. There, there, by faith, O mourners in Zion, may you see your Savior hanging with arms stretched out, and hear him, as it were, thus speaking to your souls; “Behold how I have loved you! Behold my hands and my feed! Look, look into my wounded side, and see a heart flaming with love: love stronger than death. Come into my arms, O sinners, come wash your spotted souls in my heart’s blood. See here is a fountain opened for all sin and all uncleanness! See, O guilty souls, how the wrath of God is now abiding upon you: come, haste away, and hide yourselves in the clefts of my wounds; for I am wounded for your transgressions; I am dying that you may live for evermore. Behold, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so am I here lifted up upon a tree. See how I am become a curse for you: the chastisement of your peace is upon me. I am thus scourged, thus wounded, thus crucified, that you by my stripes may be healed. O look unto me, all ye trembling sinners, even to the ends of the earth! Look unto me by faith, and you shall be saved: for I came thus to be obedient even unto death, that I might save that which was lost.”

 

And what say you to this, O sinners? Suppose you saw the King of glory dying, and thus speaking to you; would you believe on him? No, you would not, unless you believe on him now: for though he is dead, he yet speaketh all this in the scripture; nay, in effect, says all this in the words of the text, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.” Do not therefore any longer crucify the Lord of glory. Bring those rebels, your sins, which will not have him to reign over them, bring them out to him: though you cannot slay them yourselves, yet he will slay them for you. The power of his death and resurrection is as great now as formerly. Make haste therefore, make haste, O ye publicans and sinners, and give the dear Lord Jesus your hearts, your whole hearts. If you refuse to hearken to this call of the Lord, remember your damnation will be just: I am free from the blood of you all: you must acquit my Master and me at the terrible day of judgment. O that you may know the things that belong to your everlasting peace, before they are eternally hid from your eyes! Let all that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity say, Amen

The Way, the Truth and the Life

It is a common fantasy of sinful men that each person can “find their own path to God.” In this un-Biblical conception of deity, our Heavenly Father is little more than a vague concept to be appropriated by “whosoever will” in whatever fashion tickles one’s particular fancy.  This cannot be farther from the truth. God desires to be worshipped in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24). Observe Calvin’s remarks on theological pluralism;

They deem it enough that they have some kind of zeal for religion, how preposterous soever it may be, not observing that true religion must be conformable to the will of God as its unerring standard; that he can never deny himself, and is no spectra or phantom, to be metamorphosed at each individual’s caprice. It is easy to see how superstition, with its false glosses, mocks God, while it tries to please him. Usually fastening merely on things on which he has declared he sets no value, it either contemptuously overlooks, or even undisguisedly rejects, the things which he expressly enjoins, or in which we are assured that he takes pleasure. Those, therefore, who set up a fictitious worship, merely worship and adore their own delirious fancies; indeed, they would never dare so to trifle with God, had they not previously fashioned him after their own childish conceits. Hence that vague and wandering opinion of Deity is declared by an apostle to be ignorance of God: “Howbeit, then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.” And he elsewhere declares, that the Ephesians were “without God” (Eph 2:12) at the time when they wandered without any correct knowledge of him. It makes little difference, at least in this respect, whether you hold the existence of one God, or a plurality of gods, since, in both cases alike, by departing from the true God, you have nothing left but an execrable idol. It remains, therefore, to conclude with Lactantius (Instit. Div. lib 1:2, 6), “No religion is genuine that is not in accordance with truth.”

Our Savior declared unequivocally; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (Jn 14:6). This is not a statement of theological pluralism. It is a statement of fact. We are fallen sinners and God is holy. His very nature cannot tolerate sin. Christ is the perfect sacrifice, who died for our sins.

Salvation consists of repentance of our sins and faith in Jesus Christ.

  • Repentance is a change of mind (1 Thess 1:9). This involves a turn away from sin (Heb 6:1; Rev 9:21) and towards God (Acts 20:21). It is an honest appraisal of our own unfitness in God’s sight and an open acknowledgement of our inability to meet His holy standard on our own.
  • Saving faith is the knowledge of, assent to and unreserved trust in the accomplished redemption of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. This faith involves intellectual understanding (e.g. “Christ is the Son of God!”), emotional understanding (e.g. “Christ died for my sins!”) and voluntary action (“I will trust Christ as my Lord and Savior!”).

The person recognizes and repents of their sin, and places saving faith in Jesus Christ. I pray that if you are not a Christian, the Holy Spirit of God would do His work in your heart, so you might voluntarily turn from your sins and accept Christ as Savior.

Spiritual Adultery (Ezekiel 16)

I had the privilege to preach the Sunday Evening service at my church this past weekend, as my Pastor was away. We took a very frank look at Judah’s spiritual condition. God’s verdict is that she is little more than a prostitute in His eyes, yet this sad chapter ends on a note of hope as God promises that, though He will chasten Judah for her sins, He will not forsake the covenant He made with her. Consider whether you are committing “spiritual adultery” in your own walk with the Lord, if you are a Christian.

Sermon notes – Ezekiel 16

Common Ground

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) recently released a document seeking to unite the Calvinist and non-Calvinist camps within their denomination. I am not a Southern Baptist, but as I came across the letter and read it, I appreciated what it had to say. I have included an excerpt below, which emphasis the common doctrine each camp shares with the other, while at the same time highlighting the tension in how each side understands the outworking of this doctrine.

I must make one thing very clear at the outset – the SBC does not endorse hyper-Calvinism.

angry

Did you hear that? The SBC does not endorse hyper-Calvinism!

Unfortunately, many people have no idea what hyper-Calvinism actually is. They assume five point Calvinists are “hyper-Calvinists.”  The oratory of many ill-informed preachers has added to this confusion. I shall endeavour to clear it up. A hyper-Calvinist is somebody who believes that, because God predestined everything, there is no need to evangelize or call sinners to repentance and faith in Christ. They have tumbled to an un-Biblical form of fatalism. I beg of you, don’t let the false characterization of “hyper-Calvinism” be used out of context any longer! Stop the madness. Calvinists are not against the Gospel; if you don’t believe me, read the writings of George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon – they were staunch Calvinists.

Now, to the excerpt  . . .

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Although we are committed to these central truths, we recognize that within them there are tensions:

  1. God desires for all to come to repentance, yet not all do.
  2. Humans are ruined by the Fall, yet required to respond in faith.
  3. God is sovereign in salvation, yet individuals are still held responsible for their reception or rejection of the Gospel.
  4. Southern Baptist identity has often been connected to Calvinism, yet has often significantly modified it.

These are just a few of the dynamics at work in Southern Baptist faith and practice. While these tensions can be a source of frustration, especially when we are uncharitable toward those with whom we disagree, they have also been a great benefit to us, reminding us that God’s ways are higher than ours, that no systematic construct can ever contain the fullness of Scriptural truth, that it is we and not the Bible who are subject to error, that we should approach the Word with both fidelity to the past and readiness for further reformation, and that it is better to live in the tensions of unanswered questions than to ignore or adjust some part of the whole counsel of God.

With a full recognition of the limitless wisdom of God’s Word and the limited wisdom of ourselves, we urge Southern Baptists to grant one another liberty in those areas within The Baptist Faith and Message where differences in interpretation cause us to disagree. For instance:

  • We agree that God loves everyone and desires to save everyone, but we differ as to why only some are ultimately saved.
  • While we all heartily affirm the article on election in “The Baptist Faith and Message” (Article V), we differ as to whether the response of faith plays a role in one’s election.
  • We agree that the penal and substitutionary death of Christ was sufficient for the sins of the entire world, but we differ as to whether Jesus actually substituted for the sins of all people or only the elect.
  • We agree that the Gospel should be proclaimed to everyone, but we differ as to whether or how every hearer will be enabled to respond.
  • We agree that everyone has inherited Adam’s hopelessly fallen sin nature, but we differ as to whether we also inherit his guilt.
  • We agree that men and women are sinners, but we differ about the effects of sin on the mind and the will.
  • We recognize the differences among us between those who believe that sin nullifies freedom to respond to the Gospel and those who believe that freedom to respond to the Gospel is marred but not nullified.
  • We agree that God is absolutely sovereign in initiating salvation, uniting the believer to Himself, and preserving the believer to the end, but we differ as to how God expresses His sovereignty with respect to human freedom.
  • We agree that the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel enables sinners to be saved, but we differ as to whether this grace is resistible or irresistible.
  • We agree on the necessity of regeneration that results in God-ordained, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered obedience from the heart, but differ as to whether faith precedes regeneration or regeneration precedes faith.
  • We agree that most Southern Baptists believe that those who die before they are capable of moral action go to heaven through the grace of God and the atonement of Christ, even as they differ as to why this is so.

These differences should spur us to search the Scriptures more dutifully, to engage in lively interaction for mutual sharpening and collective Gospel effectiveness, and to give thanks that what we hold in common far surpasses that on which we disagree. But these particular differences do not constitute a sufficient basis for division and must not be allowed to hamper the truly crucial cooperative effort of taking the Gospel to a waiting world. Southern Baptists who stand on either side of these issues should celebrate the freedom to hold their views with passion while granting others the freedom to do the same.

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I must utter a hearty “Amen!” to this. There are differences in doctrine between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, but there is a great deal of common ground. These differences will indeed work themselves in practical ways, and do cause tension between men of different theological persuasions. However, it is very important when discussing this important issue to avoid pejorative name-calling and straw -men. I applaud the SBC for producing such a clear, succinct statement on the tension between the two camps on so many points. It crystallized important distinctions I have been working through for some time in my own life.

Biblical Illiteracy and Post-Modernism in Action

A while back, I dedicated an apologetics class to a very sad article entitled “Why I Raise My Children Without God.” The article was written by a young mother for CNN’s iReport back in January 2013. There is nothing “new” in her objections; indeed, there are really only two issues for the Christian to deal with in her entire letter;

(1)    She is Biblically illiterate and does not understand the God she is attacking; and

(2)    She has questions about how God could permit suffering

These objections should prove no big hurdle for the average Christian. The fact that they do speaks volumes about the state of Christianity. The article is linked above, and re-produced in total below. The discussion and response to her objections are in MP3 format below.

Before you start – I must re-emphasize something which is very important. Apologetics and theology go hand in hand; and we must approach this woman’s questions with a humble and contrite spirit. This is not about having cue-card responses down; Christians are called to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and strength (Deut 6:4). Apologetics is merely the practical outworking of this earnest desire to please God.

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When my son was around 3 years old, he used to ask me a lot of questions about heaven. Where is it? How do people walk without a body? How will I find you? You know the questions that kids ask.

For over a year, I lied to him and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven. Like most parents, I love my child so much that I didn’t want him to be scared. I wanted him to feel safe and loved and full of hope. But the trade-off was that I would have to make stuff up, and I would have to brainwash him into believing stories that didn’t make sense, stories that I didn’t believe either.

One day he would know this, and he would not trust my judgment. He would know that I built an elaborate tale—not unlike the one we tell children about Santa—to explain the inconsistent and illogical legend of God.

And so I thought it was only right to be honest with my children. I am a non-believer, and for years I’ve been on the fringe in my community. As a blogger, though, I’ve found that there are many other parents out there like me. We are creating the next generation of kids, and there is a wave of young agnostics, atheists, free thinkers and humanists rising up through the ranks who will, hopefully, lower our nation’s religious fever.

Here are a few of the reasons why I am raising my children without God.

God is a bad parent and role model.

If God is our father, then he is not a good parent. Good parents don’t allow their children to inflict harm on others. Good people don’t stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women and children. They don’t condone violence and abuse. “He has given us free will,” you say? Our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.

God is not logical.

How many times have you heard, “Why did God allow this to happen?” And this: “It’s not for us to understand.” Translate: We don’t understand, so we will not think about it or deal with the issue. Take for example the senseless tragedy in Newtown. Rather than address the problem of guns in America, we defer responsibility to God. He had a reason. He wanted more angels. Only he knows why. We write poems saying that we told God to leave our schools. Now he’s making us pay the price. If there is a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God who loves his children, does it make sense that he would allow murders, child abuse, wars, brutal beatings, torture and millions of heinous acts to be committed throughout the history of mankind? Doesn’t this go against everything Christ taught us in the New Testament?

The question we should be asking is this: “Why did we allow this to happen?” How can we fix this? No imaginary person is going to give us the answers or tell us why. Only we have the ability to be logical and to problem solve, and we should not abdicate these responsibilities to “God” just because a topic is tough or uncomfortable to address.

God is not fair.

If God is fair, then why does he answer the silly prayers of some while allowing other, serious requests, to go unanswered? I have known people who pray that they can find money to buy new furniture. (Answered.) I have known people who pray to God to help them win a soccer match. (Answered.) Why are the prayers of parents with dying children not answered?

If God is fair, then why are some babies born with heart defects, autism, missing limbs or conjoined to another baby? Clearly, all men are not created equally. Why is a good man beaten senseless on the street while an evil man finds great wealth taking advantage of others? This is not fair. A game maker who allows luck to rule mankind’s existence has not created a fair game.

God does not protect the innocent.

He does not keep our children safe. As a society, we stand up and speak for those who cannot. We protect our little ones as much as possible. When a child is kidnapped, we work together to find the child. We do not tolerate abuse and neglect. Why can’t God, with all his powers of omnipotence, protect the innocent?

God is not present.

He is not here. Telling our children to love a person they cannot see, smell, touch or hear does not make sense. It means that we teach children to love an image, an image that lives only in their imaginations. What we teach them, in effect, is to love an idea that we have created, one that is based in our fears and our hopes.

God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good

A child should make moral choices for the right reasons. Telling him that he must behave because God is watching means that his morality will be externally focused rather than internally structured. It’s like telling a child to behave or Santa won’t bring presents. When we take God out of the picture, we place responsibility of doing the right thing onto the shoulders of our children. No, they won’t go to heaven or rule their own planets when they die, but they can sleep better at night. They will make their family proud. They will feel better about who they are. They will be decent people.

God Teaches Narcissism

“God has a plan for you.” Telling kids there is a big guy in the sky who has a special path for them makes children narcissistic; it makes them think the world is at their disposal and that, no matter what happens, it doesn’t really matter because God is in control. That gives kids a sense of false security and creates selfishness. “No matter what I do, God loves me and forgives me. He knows my purpose. I am special.” The irony is that, while we tell this story to our kids, other children are abused and murdered, starved and neglected. All part of God’s plan, right?

When we raise kids without God, we tell them the truth—we are no more special than the next creature. We are just a very, very small part of a big, big machine–whether that machine is nature or society–the influence we have is minuscule. The realization of our insignificance gives us a true sense of humbleness.

I understand why people need God. I understand why people need heaven. It is terrifying to think that we are all alone in this universe, that one day we—along with the children we love so much—will cease to exist. The idea of God and an afterlife gives many of us structure, community and hope.

I do not want religion to go away. I only want religion to be kept at home or in church where it belongs. It’s a personal effect, like a toothbrush or a pair of shoes. It’s not something to be used or worn by strangers. I want my children to be free not to believe and to know that our schools and our government will make decisions based on what is logical, just and fair—not on what they believe an imaginary God wants.

What is the Trinity?

Introduction

This paper presents a Biblical doctrine of the Triune Godhead. First, the importance of the doctrine itself is examined along with practical ramifications for the Christian life. Next, the historical development of the Godhead is presented and various heretical movements are analyzed. Contemporary issues in the doctrine are also examined. A personal theology of the Triune Godhead follows which presents primarily conclusions, not arguments, to avoid repetition. Arguments supporting the personal theology are provided in a biblical theology of the doctrine itself from Scripture. This biblical theology is thematic, and traces three themes through Scripture; (1) God is one, (2) God is three and (3) these Three are one. Due to space limitations, this is not an exhaustive biblical theology.

This paper argues for the following definition of the Triune Godhead and will demonstrate this doctrine is fully orthodox, supported by the church fathers and most importantly by Scripture;

Within the one Being that is God, there exists three eternally co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

CHAPTER 1

IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE

God revealed Himself in Triune form – thus we must assume it is vital to our faith.[1] There are several reasons why the doctrine of the Trinity is absolutely central to all other Christian doctrines.

Revelation

The God the Father always works through God the Son, and the Son does His work in human hearts only through the God the Holy Spirit.[2] Their roles are absolutely complementary in every respect; revelation cannot happen without the triune Godhead. “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Pet 1:21). Men are saved only by Christ and recorded divine revelation from God through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Redemption

God the Father planned redemption in eternity past (Eph 1:3-5), God the Son is the means of that salvation (Eph 1:9-10) and the God the Holy Spirit effectually calls sinners to repentance. The Christian Savior must be Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Identity

The triune Godhead is the distinguishing characteristic of Christianity.[3] No false religion can compare to it; it is novel and absolutely unique. It is what makes a Christian a Christian. “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” (Isa 40:18, KJV).

Worship

Christian worship is inherently Trinitarian, whether one even realizes or acknowledges it. Paul opens his epistle to the Ephesians by acknowledging the triune Godhead; “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (Eph 1:3). Even in prayer, man “comes to God the Father, pleading the name of Christ, and is taught how to pray aright by the Holy Spirit.”[4]

Sanctification

God chose sinners before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4) to be saved by the work of Christ (Eph 1:7-10) and be sanctified by the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). It is the Holy Spirit which works in the hearts of men, both to effectually call and to sanctify those whom God, by His grace, saves.

Unity

The preceding have served to demonstrate the unfathomable unity of purpose among the persons of the Godhead. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are never in conflict and each works with the other towards one unified, common purpose.

CHAPTER 2

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT

There are five basic phases in the historical development of the Triune God, each often overlapping with one another; the economic concept, dynamic monarchism, modalism, Arianism and orthodoxy.[5] The very early church in general did not concern itself with deep theological reflection; therefore these various heretical doctrines generally emerged in conflict with orthodoxy in the mid to late 2nd century and early 3rd century. The church was chiefly concerned with basic survival amidst intense periods of persecution. “The process of organizing itself and propagating the faith and even the struggle for survival in a hostile world precluded much serious doctrinal reflection.”[6]

Economic Concept

This economic development dealt with the roles of the specific persons of the Godhead rather than the ontological development and its implications. Early church fathers who developed the economic concept include Hippolytus, Tertullian and Justin Martyr. Their conclusion was that God consists of one identical substance which is extended into three distinct manifestations.[7]

Justin Martyr, writing in the mid 2nd century likened this to one fire kindled from another; “which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled.”[8]

Tertullian, writing sometime between 197-217 A.D., characterized this as a unity of substance and remarked, “Even when the ray is shot from the sun, it is still part of the parent mass; the sun will still be in the ray, because it is a ray of the sun—there is no division of substance, but merely an extension.”[9] Tertullian went on, “the material matrix remains entire and unimpaired, though you derive from it any number of shoots possessed of its qualities.”[10]

Tertullian actually formulated the concept of later orthodoxy, “one essence in three persons” in his attack on modalism. In his polemic on Praxeas, written no earlier than 208 A.D., he wrote again of a unity of substance which was distributed into a Trinity;

placing in their order the three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.[11]

This economic concept of the Trinity is orthodox but incomplete. Erickson lamented about a “certain vagueness” in the economic concept of the Trinity. “Any effort to come up with a more exact understanding of just what it means will prove disappointing.” [12]

Dynamic Monarchism

This concept was an attempt by the early church to actually define the relationship between Christ and God. The main proponent of monarchism was Theodotus, who brought the doctrine to Rome about 190 A.D. He sought to preserve the supremacy of God the Father at the expense of God the Son.[13] Jesus was not really God; God was simply working through Him.

Theodotus “did not deny Christ’s birth from a virgin . . . but he did deny his divinity, teaching that he was a mere man upon whom the Holy Spirit descended at the time of his baptism, in consequence of which he became the Christ, received power to fulfill his special mission and by his righteousness was raised above all other men. The descent of the Holy Spirit, however, although raising him to a very exalted position, did not make him divine.”[14] The concept was that Christ was elevated to an exalted position, a sort of “moral oneness” with God.[15]

A key proof-text for this concept was 1 Cor 5:19,[16] where Paul wrote “in Christ God was reconcilingthe world to himself.” Christ was not divine; God was simply using Christ as the means to achieve His ends. This view was condemned by the Christian community. Dionysius, the Bishop of Rome from approximately 259-263 A.D., held monarchist views. Eusebius recorded that Dionysius held, “contrary to the teaching of the Church, low and degraded views of Christ, namely, that in his nature he was a common man.” The catholic church (in the original sense of the term) moved energetically to combat this heresy, summoning Dionysius to a council to explain himself. Eusebius contemptuously referred to him as “a despoiler of the flock of Christ.”[17] Monarchism was never a widespread movement and was a relatively isolated phenomenon.[18]

Modalism

Erickson wrote that modalism was “a genuinely unique, original and creative conception . . . a brilliant breakthrough.”[19] It advocated the view that God was really just one person with three different names, roles or activities. Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are identical, successive revelations of the same person.[20] Like a skilled thespian, God simply plays different roles at different times.

Tertullian, writing his treatise against Praxeas sometime after 208 A.D., observed dryly,

“Praxeas did a twofold service for the devil at Rome: he drove away prophecy, and he brought in heresy.”[21]

Tertullian boldly claimed that Satan himself was working through Praxeas in his modalistic interpretation of the Trinity.

“Out of this doctrine of the unity he may fabricate a heresy. He says that the Father Himself came down into the Virgin, was Himself born of her, Himself suffered, indeed was Himself Jesus Christ.”[22]

He went on to state,

So it is either the Father or the Son, and the day is not the same as the night; nor is the Father the same as the Son, in such a way that Both of them should be One, and One or the Other should be Both.[23]

Employing a legal tactic of positing and answering modalistic objections, Tertullian continued,

Well, but “with God nothing is impossible.” True enough; who can be ignorant of it? Who also can be unaware that “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God?” The foolish things also of the world hath God chosen to confound the things which are wise.” We have read it all. Therefore, they argue, it was not difficult for God to make Himself both a Father and a Son, contrary to the condition of things among men. For a barren woman to have a child against nature was no difficulty with God; nor was it for a virgin to conceive. Of course nothing is “too hard for the Lord.”

But if we choose to apply this principle so extravagantly and harshly in our capricious imaginations, we may then make out God to have done anything we please, on the ground that it was not impossible for Him to do it. We must not, however, because He is able to do all things suppose that He has actually done what He has not done.[24]

The modalistic conception of the Trinity was indeed novel. It solved any number of problems; both the unity of the Godhead and the full deity of all three persons are perfectly preserved by it. Ultimately, however, Scripture condemned this heresy to the flames. Too many texts spoke far too explicitly of the Trinity as distinct persons for the church to accept; such as Christ’s baptism, Christ speaking of the coming of the Spirit and His prayers that were specifically addressed to the Father.[25]

Arianism

The Arians, like the modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses, went a different route. Christ, they asserted, was not equal with God or even God at all – He was a creature brought into being by God. They felt that elevating Christ to the level of God the Father was, in effect, abandoning monotheism. They went further than the monarchists by emphatically declaring Christ was no more than a mere creature. However, from the beginning the church had worshipped Christ as God! The stage was set for a divisive battle. Athanasius considered Arianism to be a “harbinger of the Antichrist” and the daughter of Satan.[26] Summarizing their teaching, he wrote,

God was not always a Father; but once God was alone, and not yet a Father, but afterwards He became a Father. The Son was not always; for, whereas all things were made out of nothing, and all existing creatures and works were made, so the Word of God Himself was made out of nothing, and once He was not, and He was not before His origination, but He as others had an origin of creation.[27]

The church was quite rightly concerned with condoning the worship of a mere man. Athanasius wrote against the Arian heresy with great enthusiasm, judging it to be a theology which had been “vomited forth” and was at odds with Scripture and “alien to the divine oracle.”[28] Arians took Proverbs 8:22-23 as one of their primary proof-texts;

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.”

The Arians examined texts such as this and others[29] and concluded it may be appropriate to call Christ a god, but he was certainly not the same as God the Father.[30] Arias himself explained,

God himself is inexpressible to all beings. He alone has none equal to him or like him, none of like glory. We call him unbegotten on account of the one who by nature is begotten; we sing his praises as without beginning because of the one who has a beginning. We worship him as eternal because of him who was born in the order of time. The one without beginning established the Son as the beginning of all creatures.[31]

Therefore, according to Arians, Christ Himself could not even fathom God’s essence. He was a mere creature; an exalted creature, to be sure – but a creature nonetheless. Church historian Justo Gonzalez summarized by observing, “if asked to draw a line between God and creation, Arians would draw that line so as to include the Word in creation.”[32]

Orthodoxy

The Arian heresy prompted the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., the first ever ecumenical council of the early church. Prior to Nicea, church disputes had been settled over time with long debate culminating with an eventual consensus. After the conversion of Constantine, for the first time the authority of the state was invoked to settle a theological issue. Advocates of particular viewpoints could, for the very first time, forsake lengthy explanations of their positions in favor of simply convincing imperial authority. “Eventually, theological debate was eclipsed by political intrigue.”[33]

Arianism began as a local conflict in Alexandria, Egypt. The Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, was in vehement disagreement with Arias, who was one of the most famous presbyters of the city. Alexander eventually condemned Arias and removed him from all official positions in Alexandrian church. Arias, refusing to meekly fade from the scene, appealed to the common people of Alexandria and other Bishops from throughout the East for support. Arias was quite successful; people marched in the streets chanting Arian dogma and various Bishops wrote letters in support. The Eastern church was in turmoil.

Constantine, who had recently established Christianity as the state religion, resolved that he must act. He decided to call a council of Bishops from the entire empire to settle this matter, among others. Arias, not being a Bishop himself, was forbidden to attend. He counted on Eusebius of Nocomedia to present his views. Eusebius (not to be confused with the historian) resolved to simply explain the matter, certain that all opposition would fade away in light of the remorseless logic of Arianism. Eusebius’ oration did not go well.

The assertion that the Word or Son was no more than a creature, no matter how high a creature, provoked angry reactions from many of the bishops: ‘You lie!’ ‘Blasphemy!’ ‘Heresy!’ Eusebius was shouted down, and we are told his speech was snatched from his hand, torn to shreds, and trampled underfoot.[34]

The result of this controversy, the Nicene Creed, is emphatically anti-Arian and takes great pains to emphasize the deity of Christ;[35]

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead.

In the Nicene Creed the early church provided a clear and unambiguous affirmation of the full deity of all three persons of the Godhead, while at the same time maintaining their distinct roles in the economic Trinity.

The doctrine received further refinement at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. where the common phrase “three in one” was coined;[36] the very essence of the orthodox concept of the triunity of God. He is not triple, but three in one.

CHAPTER 3

CURRENT ISSUES

There is nothing novel in modern developments of the Trinity; “there is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecc 1:9). Contemporary debate on the Triunity of God reflects either ontological unity or economic diversity; characterized by the schools of Barth and Moltmann.[37] The difficulty stems from the inherent mystery of the Godhead itself and the delicate balance with maintaining both unity and diversity within one divine essence.

Favoring Unity

Barth has been dogged with a reputation for modalism by emphasizing the subjectivity of God in self-revelation to such an extent that he undermines the distinctiveness of the persons of the Godhead. He referred to modes of being rather than persons, even going so far as to refer to the Trinity as a “threefold way of being.”[38] Barth explained, “the threefold yet single lordship of God as Father, Son and Spirit, is the root of the doctrine of the Trinity.”[39] This “threefold” concept of God has led some to charge Barth with creating a whole new form of modalism outright.[40]

It is difficult to disagree with this assessment; Barth denies both a plurality of Gods and a plurality of individuals within the Godhead:

“The name of the Father, Son and Spirit means that God is the one God in threefold repetition . . . The truth that we are emphasizing is that of the numerical unity of essence of the ‘persons.’”[41]

Van Til concluded that, to Barth, “the orthodox doctrine of three persons in the ontological trinity would . . . lead to tri-theism.”[42]

Barth casts a large shadow over mainline Protestantism and his views have a wide influence. Barth’s error is in trying to harmonize the Godhead in favor of unity; in so doing he de-emphasizes the distinct persons within the Godhead. The old phrase coined by Tertullian so long ago, “one essence in three persons,” is Scripturally sound though apparently contradictory. It is a doctrine ultimately mysterious to fallen men in a world influenced by Satan (Eph 2:2). Barth is incorrect to harmonize beyond the evidence of God’s special revelation; “the secret things belong to the LORD our God,” (Deut 29:29a). Gregory of Nazianzus, writing in the middle of the 4th century, declared God was “one in diversity, diverse in Unity, wherein is a marvel.”[43]

Favoring Diversity

On the other side of the pendulum, largely in reaction to the perceived modalism of Barth and Rahner, there is a tendency to emphasize the three persons over one essence. This school is largely characterized by the work of Jurgen Moltmann, who advocated a sort of tri-theism which had no place for unity of the Godhead. There is no unity; there is only a community of God, Son and Spirit;

The unity of the divine tri-unity lies in the union of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, not in their numerical unity. It lies in their fellowship, not in the identity of a single subject . . . The fellowship of the disciples with one another has to resemble a union of the Son with the Father. But not only does it have to resemble that Trinitarian union; in addition it has to be a union within this union.[44]

To Moltmann, then, this “unity of persons” which comprises his Trinity replaces the traditional concept of essential unity. He boldly characterized his own challenge to orthodoxy as “trinitarian pantheism” or social trinitarianism. Moltmann saw his conception of a divine community of persons in the Trinity as a model for democratic socialism. [45] He was apparently greatly inspired by a portion from Jesus’ high priestly prayer; “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us,” (Jn 17:21). Moltmann read social implications into the text that are not there. His zest for an ideal social society led him to surrender the entire first half of the Trinitarian formula.

It Hath Been Already of Old Time, Which Was Before Us (Ecc 1:10b)

Neither Barth’s nor Moltmann’s positions are Scripturally tenable. It is striking how often history repeats itself. Once again, the good Gregory of Nazianzus has something important to add to the discussion – from 380 A.D;

But when I say God, I mean Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. For Godhead is neither diffused beyond these, so as to bring in a mob of gods; nor yet is it bounded by a smaller compass than these, so as to condemn us for a poverty-stricken conception of Deity; either Judaizing to save the Monarchia, or falling into heathenism by the multitude of our gods.  For the evil on either side is the same, though found in contrary directions.[46]

CHAPTER 4

PERSONAL THEOLOGY

Within the one Being that is God, there exists three eternally co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 One Essence

There is one Divine Being in one indivisible essence (Deut 6:4; Jas 2:19).[47] The term “essence” is not a Biblical term, but a secular phrase which attempts to capture the concept. It is not a sacred term, but as John Frame noted, it is doubtful a better term will be found.[48] The term serves only to label the concepts we learn from Scripture. The overarching point is that God is one. He is a single, indivisible Being. We do not worship many Gods, but one single God.

The term triune is more accurate than trinity to capture this truth. Trinitarian means “three-fold” or having three parts. Triunity, however, means “three-in-one.” God is triune and not triple.

Three Persons

In this one Divine Being there are distinct three persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. These three persons within the Godhead are independent; “the three persons are so real and distinct from each other that each possesses a hypostatical or Trinitarian consciousness different from that of the others.”[49] Each person is co-eternal, being involved in the very creation of the heavens and the earth (Heb 1:2; Col 1:16; Gen 1:1-2). There is no blurring of consciousness; each person is only conscious of being the person they are in the essence of the Godhead.[50] Jesus, for example, is an independent person in the Godhead seeking only to do the will of the Father (John 6:38).

The phrase “person,” much like “essence” above, inevitably falls short. Everything which exists has being (e.g. a rock), but not everything which exists is personal. A person, like Abraham Lincoln, is a personal being. However, being limited, poor Abe Lincoln cannot distribute his being among two, three or four persons. He is limited to himself. God is unlimited and infinite, and therefore in a way man cannot understand, His being is shared co-equally by three distinct persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Divine Essence is Undivided

The whole undivided essence of God belongs equally to each of the three persons. The divine essence is not divided among the three persons, but complete in each one of the persons. The whole essence of God is in each Trinitarian person; they are co-equal.[51] The three persons of the triune Godhead are one and the same God. There is also no subordination between the Godhead with respect to essence; each person is equal in being, power and glory. Scripture provides no standard numerical order when it mentions the Godhead.

Distinct Roles

God is first, the Son is second and the Spirit is third. The Father is the source, the Son the channel and the Spirit the active agent in the Godhead.[52] The Father sent the Son (1 John 4:10) and the Spirit (John 14:26). The Father is greater than the Son (John 14:28) and the Son also sent the Spirit (John 14:26). Berkhof remarked there is no difference in personal dignity between the three persons of the Godhead, and thus “the only subordination of which we can speak is subordination in respect to order and relationship.”[53]

CHAPTER 5

SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY OF THE DOCTRINE

God is One

Israel worshipped one God only. God Himself made this quite clear in the commandments He gave to Moses; “You shall have no other Gods before me,” (Ex 20:3). God went on to forbid idolatry of all kinds (Ex 20:4), affirming His right for exclusive worship – He is a jealous God.

He demonstrated His unique reality to His people in what He had done, in events such as the global flood (Gen 5:5-8) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:23-25). The exodus was a very prominent theme in Deuteronomy, as Moses repeatedly reminded Israel of God’s grace and power in rescuing them from their plight (Deut 6:20-25, 10:21-22, 11:2-7). Israel’s obligation to obey God is predicated on their grateful acknowledgement of His grace and power (Lev 19:36). No other “god” could claim such power. Israel was repeatedly reminded of God’s grace throughout Deuteronomy; the fact that they worshipped one God who never changed is the very basis of their hope. This is why the Lord reminded His people, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one,” (Deut 6:4).

Solomon recognized this timeless truth. At the dedication of the temple, after praising God for His unmerited grace and mercy to His people, Solomon prayed Israel would walk with the Lord so “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other,” (2 Kgs 8:60).

The Apostle James exhorted Christians to remember that mere belief in the one true God is not enough; “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (Jas 2:19). Paul dismissed other “gods” and declared “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist,” (1 Cor 8:6a). Even more explicit is the declaration from Gen 1:1; “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Bruce Ware remarked, “whatever else Genesis 1 is about, the main thing it teaches is that there is one God.”[54]

 God is Three

Christ is Deity

Early Christians did not consider themselves followers of a new religion. They had been Jews and still were; they simply believed their Messiah had come. How, then, did these Jews move from “oneness” to triunity? The fact they did so is quite clear; many scholars regard Phil 2:5-11 as an early Christian hymn which Paul incorporated into his epistle.[55] Here, Paul taught Christ was “in very nature God” (Phil 2:6, NIV).

The writer to the Hebrews was emphatic in his claims about Christ’s deity. Jesus was the means God the Father used to create all things (Heb 1:2). This sheds new light on the creation account (Gen 1:1); Christ was the active agent carrying out the Father’s plan.

It sheds still more light on who, precisely, spoke to Hagar in the wilderness on the way to Shur (Gen 16:7) and Abraham at the oaks of Mamre (Gen 18:1), for no man can see God the Father and live (Ex 33:20). It was nothing less than pre-incarnate Christ who spoke to Abraham and Hagar.[56]

He is the heir of all things, the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature (Heb 1:2-3). “The Son is such a revelation of the Father that when we see Jesus, we see what God’s real being is.”[57] He upholds the universe by His own power and makes purification for sins, sits at the right hand of the Father and is superior to the angels (Heb 1:3-5). Christ is clearly of equal essence with God the Father, and the early Christians affirmed this fact. Prescient Jews would not have been expecting a earthly Savior; Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” (Isa 9:6b). Isaiah’s words are particularly important in light of the God’s own commandments against idolatry (Ex 20:3-4).

Christ’s ministry characterized was characterized by His deity. He taught He was the coming Messiah of whom Isaiah spoke (Lk 4:21). He taught the Kingdom of God was both at hand and fulfilled in Himself (Mk 1:14-15). Christ spoke of God’s angels as being His angels (Mt. 13:41). He claimed to forgive sins (Mk 2:8-10), which the scribes rightly objected was a power ascribed only to God (Mk 2:7). Christ taught He would sit on His glorious throne and judge the world in the last days (Mt 25:31).

His own claim to deity is the reason Christ was arrested. The high priest charges Jesus to state the matter plainly under oath before God (Mt 26:63b).[58] Jesus went on to claim his accusers would see Him ruling and reigning as the Messiah. He intentionally invoked Ps 110:1 and Dan 7:13, the two greatest Kingdom prophesies of the OT. McClain wrote, “The high priest, better schooled than some theologians, understood His regal claim, rent his clothing judicially, and called upon his fellow judges to pronounce Him ‘guilty of death’ ” (Mt 26:66).[59] His own disciples even recognized Him as God (Jn 20:28) and Christ did not correct their assumptions. Christ is clearly God and the early Christians saw Him as such.

The Holy Spirit is Deity

The Holy Spirit is often referred to interchangeably with God. Peter declared that Ananias and Sapphira had lied to the Holy Spirit by keeping back proceeds from land they sold and lying about it (Acts 5:3). Peter went on and declared that by doing so they had lied directly to God (Acts 5:4). The Holy Spirit is God, a co-equal member of the Trinity.

The Holy Spirit performs the same functions as God. He convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (Jn 16:8). He is the very agent of regeneration (Jn 3:5-8) which brings elect sinners into the Kingdom of God. Nobody indwelt with the Holy Spirit can curse Jesus and nobody can claim “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). He bestows natural talents and abilities upon God’s people (1 Cor 12:4-11); “all these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills,” (1 Cor 12:11). Christians themselves are a temple of God because the Spirit of God dwells in them (1 Cor 3:16-17).

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is equated with blasphemy of God; “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin,” (Mk 3:28-29). Blasphemy in the OT was specifically against God – to speak contemptuously of the deity. This unpardonable sin (Mk 3:22, 28-29) was nothing less than “the deliberate and perverse repudiation of God’s saving work,” which explains Christ’s strong reaction to this grave sin.[60]

He is likewise an agent of creation, in conjunction with God the Son and therefore cannot be a creature (Gen 1:2); “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The Spirit is eternal (Heb 9:14) and is the helper for believers after Jesus’ ascension (Jn 14:16-17; 16:6-7). It is the Spirit who sanctifies believers (1 Pet 1:2).

Three Are One

All three members of the Godhead, while they are each distinct persons, are also one divine essence who work together towards a common goal. As a basic generalization, Frame observed that the Father plans, the Son executes and the Spirit applies.[61] They are united in their mission because they are one divine essence. There is a mutual glorification among the Godhead which testifies of the deity of each person.

The Father glorifies the Son (Jn 8:54; 12:23; 17:1), and the Son likewise glorifies the Father (Jn 7:18; 17:4). The Spirit also glorifies the Son (Jn 16:14) who glorifies the Father.[62] This is not merely a partnership, whereby each member of the Godhead can sign official paperwork in the name of the firm; there is one essence existing in three distinct modes. Nobody comes to God the Son unless God the Father first draws Him (Jn 6:44). Christ repeats this point later in the Gospel of John (10:29) and concludes by emphatically stating the oneness of His connection with God the Father; “I and the Father are one,” (Jn 10:30).

Jesus claimed that anyone who had seen Him had seen the Father (Jn 14:9-11). This explains how Genesis can accurately relate “God” created the heavens and the earth, while Paul later clarified that Christ was the very agent of that creation (Heb 1:2; Col 1:16). The baptismal formulas throughout Scripture speak of all three members of the Godhead (Mt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2). The “name” of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19) is singular, although three persons are included. There is also no hint of inferiority or subordination in either formula, precisely because they are each fully deity and united in one purpose. God is also referred to in plural form in several instances (Gen 1:26; 11:7; Isa 6:8). Referring to the Genesis account, (“Let us make man in our image”), Matthews writes, “the plural indicates an intra-divine conversation, a plurality in the Godhead, between God and His Spirit.’[63]

Perhaps the clearest exposition of the unity or oneness of the Godhead is in Eph 4:4-6;

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Eph 4:4. Paul is exhorting the church at Ephesus to remain united in Christ (Eph 4:3). In doing so, he calls their attention to the divine unity of the Godhead. Just as they must be one body of united believers (Eph 2:16), there is one Holy Spirit who indwells them all (Eph 2:22), who called them to the one hope.

Eph 4:5. There is one Lord, Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the church (Eph 1:22-23). There is one faith which the church proclaims – Christ Jesus. There is also one baptism whereby believers signify their spiritual unity with Him (Gal 3:27).

Eph 4:6. There is one God and one Father of all believers who comprise the one church. He is sovereign over all, lives through them all and in them all.

The Athanasian Creed captures the concept, “We worship one God in trinity, and trinity in unity, neither confounding the persons, nor separating the substance.”[64]

SUMMARY

A proper understanding of the Trinity is essential for the Christian faith; for worship, revelation, redemption, sanctification. The Triune Godhead is at the very heart of Christian identity – it defines what it means to be a Christian. The orthodox doctrine of “one being in three persons” developed over time as the church fathers struggled to maintain Scriptural teachings in the midst of various heresies. Modern theological issues revolving around the Triune Godhead, for the most part, recycle old heresies and revisit old fields of battle from wars which have already been fought.

The doctrine advanced by this paper, that within the one Being that is God, there exists three eternally co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, has been established. It is supported by church history and has been demonstrated by a thematic biblical theology of Scripture. A right view of the Triune God will revolutionize the Christian life and allow His children to give Him all the more glory for His grace towards fallen sinners.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Athanasius, Discourse Against the Arians. The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 4. Christian Classics Etheral Library, PDF edition, n.d. 4:433-447.

Brannan, Rick, ed. Historic Creeds and Confessions. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Etheral Library, n.d.

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology, combined ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996

Carson, D.A. “Matthew,” vol. 8. The Expositors Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

Erickson, Millard J. Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000.

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 1. Christian Classics Etheral Library, PDF edition, n.d. 1:vii-404.

Frame, John M. The Doctrine of God. Phillipsburg: P&R, 2002.

Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity, combined ed. Peabody: Prince Press, 2007.

Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations. The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 7. Christian Classics Etheral Library, PDF edition, n.d. 7:185-434.

Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, PDF edition, n.d. 191-270.

Keith, Graham. “Our Knowledge of God: Insights from the Fourth-Century Trinitarian Controversies.” Reformation and Revival 12:1 (Winter 2003): 81-103.

Kent, Homer A. Jr. “Philippians,” vol. 11. The Expositors Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Klooster, Fred H. “Barth and the Future of Evangelical Theology.” Westminster Theological Journal 47:2 (Fall 1985): 301-317.

Matthews, Kenneth A. “Genesis 11:27-50:26,” vol. 1b. The New American Commentary. Nashville: B&H, 2005.

McClain, Alva J. The Greatness of the Kingdom. Winona Lake: BMH, 1959.

McCune, Rolland. A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, vol. 1. Detroit: DBTS, 2009.

Morris, Leon. “Hebrews,” vol. 12. The Expositors Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Ross, Allen P. “Genesis,” vol. 1. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Wheaton: Victor, 1985.

Rooker, M.F. “Blasphemy.” Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, ed. T. Desmond Alexander & David W. Baker. Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2003.

Strong, Augustus H. Systematic Theology. Old Tappan: Revell, 1979.

Tertullian, Apology. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, PDF edition, n.d. 17-60.

Tertullian, Against Praxeas. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, PDF edition, n.d. 597-632.

Theissen, Henry. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949.

Toussaint, Stanley. Behold the King. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980.

Van Til, Cornelius. “Has Karl Barth Become Orthodox?” Westminster Theological Journal 16:2 (May 1954): 135-181.

Ware, Bruce A. Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles and Relevance. Wheaton: Crossway, 2005.


[1] Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles and Relevance (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 13.

[2] Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1979), 350.

[3] Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 15-16.

[4] Strong, Systematic, 349.

[5] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 358-360. Erickson omits a discussion of Arianism.

[6] Ibid, 353.

[7] Ibid, 358.

[8] Justin Myrtyr, Dialogue with Trypho 61, ANF 1:607

[9] Tertullian, Apology 21, ANF 3:34. Emphasis mine.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Tertullian, Against Praxeas 2, ANF 3:59. Emphasis mine.

[12] Erickson, Theology, 358.

[13] Millard J. Erickson, Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2000), 48.

[14] Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 5.28, NPNF2 1:597

[15] Erickson, Making Sense, 48.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 7.28.2, NPNF2 1:807.

[18] Erickson, Theology, 359.

[19] Ibid, 360.

[20] Ibid, 360.

[21] Tertullian, Against Praxeas 2, ANF 3:598.

[22] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

[23] Tertullian, Against Praxeas 10, ANF 3:604

[24] Ibid.

[25] Baptism (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22; Jn 1:29-34), Christ speaks explicitly to the Father (Jn 17) and of the Spirit (Jn 16:5-11).

[26] Athanasius, Discourse Against the Arians 1.1.1., NPNF2, 4:306.

[27] Athanasius, Discourse Against the Arians 1.2.5, NPNF2, 4:309.

[28] Athanasius, Discourse Against the Arians 1.3.10., NPNF2, 4:312.

[29] Jn 14:28; Mk 10:18 and Lk 18:19; Mk 13:32; Lk 2:52

[30] Erickson, Making Sense, 51.

[31] Graham Keith, “Our Knowledge of God: Insights from the Fourth-Century Trinitarian Controversies,” Reformation and Revival 12:1 (Winter 2003), 86.

[32] Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, combined ed. (Peabody, MS: Prince Press, 2007), 161.

[33] Ibid, 159.

[34] Ibid, 164.

[35] Rick Brannan, ed., Historic Creeds and Confessions (Grand Rapids, MI: CCEL, n.d.).

[36] Erickson, Theology, 361.

[37] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 294.

[38] Ibid, 295.

[39] Quoted from Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 1, pt.1, 334 in Horton, Christian Faith, 295.

[40] Fred H. Klooster, “Barth and the Future of Evangelical Theology,” Westminster Theological Journal 47:2 (Fall 1985), 308.

[41] Horton, Christian Faith, 295.

[42] Cornelius Van Til, “Has Karl Barth Become Orthodox?,” Westminster Theological Journal 16:2 (May 1954), 162.

[43] Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations 28:1, NPNF2, 7:288.

[44] Horton, Christian Faith, 299.

[45] Ibid, 296.

[46] Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations 38:8, NPNF2, 7:347.

[47] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, combined ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 89.

[48] John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 697.

[49] Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, vol.1 (Detroit, MIL: DBTS, 2009), 287.

[50] Ibid.

[51] McCune, Systematic, 275.

[52] McCune, Systematic, 289.

[53] Berkhof, Systematic, 88.

[54] Ware, Father, 25.

[55] Homer A. Kent, Jr. “Philippians,” vol. 11, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 122.

[56] Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” vol. 1, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985), 56. See also Kenneth A. Matthews, “Genesis 11:27-50:26,” vol. 1b, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2005), 189.

[57] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” vol. 12, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 14.

[58] The adjuration implies being “under oath by the living God.” See D.A. Carson, “Matthew,” vol. 8, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 554. See also Stanley Toussaint, Behold the King (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1980), 307.

[59] Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 1959), 380.

[60] M. F. Rooker, “Blasphemy,” Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, ed. T. Desmond Alexander & David W. Baker (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2003), 80-83.

[61] Frame, Doctrine, 694.

[62] Frame, Doctrine, 695.

[63] Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, 163.

[64] Henry Theissen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949), 135.

Sermon – Servants of the Servant (Mk 6:7-13)

Christ’s sends the apostles out on their first solo missionary journey. Told to bring literally nothing more than the clothes on their backs, He taught them a lesson in faith as He continued training them to carry on without Him. This is a sobering and very relevant look at Christian discipleship. This lesson was preached in teen Sunday School at my church.

Sermon notes

What the New Testament Says About Homosexuality

This article is a work in progress. It was originally a paper for Seminary. Much work remains to be done. This article will be updated as new material is added. As it stands now, it is a brief Biblical Theology of homosexuality from the New Testament.

Introduction

The Scriptures expressly state that homosexuality is a sin; however, all-too often this issue is reduced to proof-texting and exhaustive parsing of words in the original languages.[1] While this is certainly necessary and a worthy endeavor, the issue goes far deeper than exegeting words. It goes beyond proof-texting and strikes at the heart of what it means to be a Christian and part of God’s family.

Some unrepentant homosexuals who claim the title of “Christian” justify their behavior on the basis of biology – “God made me this way, so you must accept me.” Such a position is not grounded on faithful exegesis but on a secular benchmark for morality. “The growing attempt to provide a niche for the homosexual lifestyle in society is part of a much bigger problem that reflects the death of moral absolutes.”[2] Scripture teaches a very different paradigm.

At the outset, one thing must be made perfectly clear – homosexuality is but one grievous sin among many which men commit. Running from the issue, or holding homosexuals at arm’s length is not the answer. Jesus Christ is the answer, for this or any other sin men struggle with. Too many Christians have such a visceral reaction to the sin that it impedes evangelism of a group of folks who sorely need the Gospel.

This paper will argue for two basic principles from Scripture regarding homosexuality.

(1) Homosexuality is explicitly characterized as a sin in Scripture.

(2) Scriptures expressly state Christians are to lead holy lives. God has certain standards and expectations of His people – expectations which are rooted in His intrinsic holiness. We are to die to the flesh and grow in Christ (1 Cor 5:17). Christians are commanded to lead holy lives, acceptable before God. This necessarily precludes, by God’s own standard, unrepentant homosexual activity .

The paper will present a Biblical Theology of this issue, following the NT in chronological fashion and tracing the development of these two themes from the Gospels onward.

The author holds several presuppositions from the OT text which cannot be argued for, given the necessary scope of this paper. They are as follows;

(1) God created man and woman in His own image (Gen 1:26-27).

(2) Men and woman were created specifically by God, who gave them the breath of life (Gen 2:7), as His special creatures to have dominion over all others (Gen 1:26b).

(3) God appointed man as a vice-regent or royal steward over His creation (Gen 1:26, 28; 2:5,15) and made woman to be man’s special helper in this appointed task (Gen 2:18, 20b).

(4) The only sanctioned sexual activity for mankind is between one man and one woman in marriage (Gen 2:21-24). This union is a covenant relationship, clearly monogamous, and is rooted in God’s command for men to procreate and subdue the earth (Gen 1:28).[3]

The Gospels

Jesus did not deal with homosexuality specifically, but He did clearly call men to two very specific commands; (1) repentance from sins, and (2) belief in the Gospel (Mk 1:14-15). Christ uttered these words in his initial ministry to the Jews, who were certainly quite familiar with the OT law regarding sexual immorality and righteous living (Lev 18:22; 19:2). Christ certainly did not have half-measures in mind; “repentance and belief cannot be applied to certain areas of life but not to others; rather, they lay claim to the total allegiance of believers.”[4]

Holiness and purity of life are a vital components to lifestyle evangelism (Mt 5:13-16). Christians are to be a light to the world, in the same fashion the Israelites were commanded to be a kingdom of priests, drawing all nations to themselves and ultimately God (Mt 5:13-16; Ex 19:5-6).

The dispensation of the law was still binding at the time Christ spoke those words. Christ called His Jewish listeners to meet this standard; the same one God gave to Moses so long ago. His audience could not fail to recognize that Christ was calling them to repent of their sins, believe He was their Messiah, the fulfillment of the Mosaic law, and draw all nations to God by their own example. The law included clear prohibitions against homosexuality (Lev 18:22). Christ’s admonitions to “let your light so shine before others” (Mt 5:16), when understood in the context of His Jewish audience, clearly prohibited homosexual activity. If they could not fulfill the calling to be a testimony for Him, “they were useless as far as God’s purposes are concerned.”[5]

Christ had the same idea in mind when he identified the two “greatest commandments” which characterized Israel’s responsibility before God. (1) Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and (2) love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:37-39; Deut 6:5; Lev 19:34). These two commandments summed up the entire corpus of the Mosaic law (Mt 22:40). Christ was telling the Pharisees that a willing, all-encompassing love for God was essential; He echoed Moses’ words to Israel – God sought a circumcision of the heart (Deut 10:16). This necessarily entailed a whole-hearted commitment to the Mosaic law, including prohibitions against homosexuality and all other forms of immorality.

If Christ, in His early ministry to the Jews, was calling them to repent and conform to the Mosaic law out of love for Him, He surely condemned homosexual behavior.

The Pauline Epistles

Paul was emphatic about both the sin of homosexuality in general and God’s expectation that Christians live holy lives for the God who saved them.

Grace and apostleship in Jesus Christ will bring about obedience for those who are called to faith in Christ (Rom 1:5). Apparently, Christ intends to achieve a specific goal in the lives of the elect – namely, obedience of faith.

Dishonoring of Their Bodies

All men willfully suppress the truth about God in unrighteousness – this makes God very wrathful and angry precisely because natural revelation testifies to His power and glory. Men are left without excuse for rejecting Him (Rom 1:18-20). Nevertheless, men willfully dishonor the God who created them and creation itself. Men imagined God did not exist; they became vain in their imaginations and their foolish hearts were darkened. Their worldly wisdom was really folly and they exchanged worship of the one true God for worldly objects with no power or worth whatsoever (Rom 1:21-23).

It was for this very reason that God gave them over to sexual perversion, the “dishonoring of their bodies before themselves,” (Rom 1:24b). Paul provides specifics about this sexual perversion shortly (v. 26-28), but it is critical to note that God did not impel rebellious sinners to do these evil deeds. He simply removed His divine restraint on man’s sinful, fallen lusts and allowed them to go their own way – “God actively let people go.”[6] Men dishonored their bodies, which Paul repeatedly referred to as a temple of God in other epistles, by abusing them in a fashion dishonoring to God and His image which they bear in the flesh. They reject God and worship the creature more than the creator. “It is not that men grant God a relative honor in their devotion, but none at all. They have wholly rid themselves of Him.”[7]

These “dishonorable passions” (Rom 1:26) God gave them over to clearly included homosexual acts. Both women and men exchanged natural relations for those which are contrary to nature and were “consumed with passion for one another” (Rom 1:27). The basis for the term “dishonorable passions” is that the only natural sexual relationship the Bible recognizes is distinctly heterosexual between married men and women (Gen 2:21-24; Mt 19:4-6).

Once again men were allowed to pursue their sinful desires as the consequence of God’s wrath for their willful rebellion (Rom 1:26); “God simply took His hands off and let willful rejection of Himself produce its ugly results in human life.”[8] God abandoned men to their lusts (Rom 1:28). This removal of divine restraint produced all manner of wicked behavior, homosexuality being only one among many defiling acts (Rom 1:29-31). Attempts by some commentators to claim that Paul merely imposed cultural standards on his audience fail at this point. Paul was not addressing basing his condemnation of homosexual behavior on cultural mores of the time, “he addressed same-sex relations from the transcultural perspective of God’s created order.”[9]

Paul reminds us that men are entirely without excuse and know “God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die,” (Rom 1:32a). All men have God’s law written on their heart (Rom 2:14-15) because they are created in His very image. Yet still, men willfully and intelligently reject God and not only commit such evil acts, but positively approve of them (Rom 1:32b).

Holiness Expected

Christ is the only possible object of saving faith (Acts 4:12). Christians, including those who condone an unrepentant homosexual lifestyle, cannot lay a foundation which is not built upon Christ (1 Cor 3:11). He is the only foundation. Paul went on to state that God’s temple is holy, and Christians are that temple (1 Cor 3:17). This is very important – Christ is the only foundation and Christians have an inherent obligation to live holy lives. “Do you not know that youare God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy them (1 Cor 3:17). “God in His justice and holiness cannot allow part of His holy work to be damaged without bringing retribution.”[10] Because of what God did for them, Christians are called to conform to God’s standard – not their own. There are consequences for violating this standard.

God’s standard for sexual morality is enforced repeatedly throughout the Pauline Epistles. Any sexual behavior outside the established boundaries is unacceptable in the sight of God. Paul condemned a Corinthian Christian for sexual relations with his mother (1 Cor 5:1). The man was unrepentant and arrogant, and Paul recommended the offender be removed from fellowship (1 Cor 5:2,5). Christians should never even associate with believers involved in sexual immorality of any kind, necessarily including homosexuality (1 Cor 5:11). Paul even ordered the “evil person” be put out from among the fellowship of believers (1 Cor 5:13).

A Christian stands with Christ and judges the entire world at the end of days, including angels! (1 Cor 6:2; 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6). Yet, Paul accused the Corinthians of being incompetent to perform this task because of their sin (1 Cor 6:2). The wicked eill not inherit the Kingdom of God precisely because of their sin (1 Cor 6:9), but the saints were acting no differently. Neither homosexuals or the sexually immoral will ever inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).

A Christian saved by God’s grace belongs to the Lord; his body is not his own (1 Cor 6:13b-20; 2 Cor 6:16-18). “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body,” (1 Cor 16:13b). Paul went on to state plainly “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:18a). How can a Christian fulfill the command to “do all to the glory of God” and walk in a manner worthy of Him (1 Cor 10:31; Col 1:10; 2 Thes 2:12) if he dishonors God by abusing the temple of his body by homosexual behavior?

Sanctification cannot come about with unrepentant sin, including homosexuality. Paul wrote we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another,” (2 Cor 3:18). Sanctification is progressive; “Christlikeness is the goal of the Christian walk.”[11] As one commentator observed, the goal of Christlikeness and the means to Christlikeness mutually inform each other.[12] Homosexuality is in conflict with God’s standard – sanctification cannot occur with the barrier of unrepentant homosexual sin in place.

Christians must give up self-rule, or autonomy, and submit to have God as the authority over their life. Submission to God has necessary implications for lifestyle and holiness. Jesus Christ is Lord, and Christians are His servants (2 Cor 4:5b) This is not popular doctrine; the original sin of Adam and Eve, a desire for autonomy from God and His standards, lives on even today.

Those whom God, in His grace, saves from hell are a new creation. The old nature has passed away (2 Cor 5:17). This new nature, this regeneration should produce a desire for positive change towards God and His standards of holiness. “The new life of devotion to Christ means that one has new attitudes and actions.”[13] Absent a repentant heart and a desire to conform sexual behavior to God’s standards, a man is not regenerated and does not have saving faith in Christ.

Paul continues the theme of holiness demanded of the Christian in the epistle to the Ephesians. A Christian’s election, by God’s grace before the world was even created, is predicated on the expectation that “we should be holy and blameless before him,” (Eph 1:4). Prior to regeneration, men are dead in trespasses and sins in a world energized and influenced by Satan (Eph 2:1-2). God, in His mercy, made some alive in Christ to demonstrate His unending grace (Eph 2:4-7). Paul concludes this passage by reminded Christians of their obligations to God; “for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Eph 2:10). Salvation is intended to produce the good works that attest their reality; therefore Christians will prove their faith by works.[14] Shameless homosexuality [AH10] does indeed prove faith, but certainly not faith in Christ. Paul covered precisely the same ground later in the same letter (Eph 4:18-23), and drives the point home unequivocally;

But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:20-23).

Christians have an inherent responsibility to conform, to the best of their sinful ability, to the image of the God who created them. “Believers are new people in Christ, and hence they can no longer live as Gentiles live.”[15] There is a command to move towards God and all that entails, not remain separated from Him. Indeed, Christians must imitate God;

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints (Eph 5:1-3).

Homosexuality is incompatible with the basic conception of what it means to be a holy people. Sexual immorality is not proper among the saints. Scripture recognizes no middle ground on this issue. Paul exhorted Christians to “let your manner of life be worthyof the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27a). This is the duty of every Christian, and implicit in this command is the recognition that certain, specific standards exist which are “worthy” of the gospel. Homosexuality and all other manner of sexual immorality are not worthy of God or His holiness.

Christians are to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15). Blameless simply means “above reproach.”[16] They must align themselves with God’s values instead of their own, so the world cannot accuse them. They must seek things above, not on things on the earth. Earthly passions, including all sexual immorality, must be put to death. It is because of this sin that the wrath of God is coming upon mankind (Col 3:5-6).

Paul wrote joyfully to the Thessalonians, and wished the Lord would “establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints,” (1 Thess 3:13). The theme of progressive sanctification has re-surfaced; the goal is holiness before God – always looking forward to the glorious appearance of Christ.

Paul, writing to his disciple Timothy, plainly labeled homosexuality as contrary to sound doctrine, which alone is compatible with God (1 Tim 1:10-11). “Paul’s yardstick for measuring what is and is not sound teaching  . . . was the message of God’s great news in Christ.”[17] Any serious Christian would agree that God’s revelation is the only yardstick for holy living.

Paul urged Timothy to soldier on in the faith. He warned Timothy against false teachers and against irrelevant babble and exclaimed, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity,” (2 Tim 2:19). If Timothy kept and cleansed himself from what was dishonorable, he would be a vessel to the Lord for honorable use; “set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work,” (2 Tim 2:21b). This holds true for all Christians; to be used by God one must be vessels fit for honorable use. Homosexuality is dishonorable and incompatible with God’s holiness.

The prohibitions against sin are commandments from God, and if Christians love God His commandments are never grievous (1 Jn 5:3, KJV). Paul, in his epistle to Titus, taught him about the role of God’s grace in producing Godly behavior in a Christian’s life (Titus 2:11-14). There are several important principles to glean from this text.

The Gospel itself, as the message of the grace of God (Titus 2:11) teaches Christians to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions – necessarily including homosexuality. It teaches Christians to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while they await Christ’s return (Titus 2:12-13). This upright lifestyle is rooted in God’s holiness and thus, by definition, diametrically opposed to homosexual behavior.

Christ’s sacrifice, sufficient for all but efficient for only those who believe, was made for a specific purpose – to redeem the elect from lawlessness and purify a people for His possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). In a manner characteristic of the covenant with Israel at Sinai (Ex 19:5-6), God is faithful to keep His portion of the agreement. Are Christians?

A holy people was His purpose in paying such a fearful price. Therefore, knowing what all He has done and why He has done it, a Christian who truly loves Christ and looks forward to His return will pay any price to bring his life into conformity with his beloved Lord’s will.[18]

Disregarding God

Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to continue their growth in Christ. The very will of God, to aid them in sanctification, is that they explicitly abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess 4:3). “To a Christian the will of God is clear: holiness and sexual immorality are mutually exclusive. No appeal to Christian liberty can justify fornication.”[19] Christians must control their own body, which Paul has repeatedly called the temple of God, in holiness and honor, in a manner unlike those who do not know God (1 Thess 4:4-5).

Paul went on to justify, once again, the reasoning behind the prohibition against sexual immorality – God’s holiness. “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness,” (1 Thess 4:7). Unrepentant sin in a Christian’s life goes against God’s calling for His elect people. “A holy life demonstrates God’s supernatural power at work overcoming what is natural, and it glorifies God.”[20] Sin does not.

This is not a suggestion or merely helpful advice – it is a command from God. Paul minces no words in his conclusion on the matter; “therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you,” (1 Thess 4:8). Sexual purity is nothing more than a practical application of God’s calling to holiness.[21] Paul did not invent this decree; they were the logical consequences of divine revelation. To reject God’s standards for His elect people is to reject God Himself. God gave the Holy Spirit to believers as a helper after Christ’ ascension (Jn 14:16; 17:7-11). Christians will have help in their struggle against sin; but they must have a desire to change. That desire only comes as a product of a regenerated heart in a true follower of Christ.

Other Epistles

James

James does not discuss homosexuality explicitly, but he did demand Christians live holy lives. He called friendship with the world adultery against God. More than mere adultery, they are enemies of God! (Jas 4:4). God is opposed to people who lift themselves up and are filled with pride, but He gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:5-6). Christians cannot be double-minded about sin and worldliness – they must be cleansed inwardly and outwardly (Jas 4:8b). Homosexuality cannot be part of a Christian’s lifestyle; true desire change comes about from a repentant heart. Outward conformity flows naturally from a God-given inward regeneration of the heart.

Peter

Peter gave the most explicit command in the NT for Christians to live holy lives (1 Pet 1:13-16). He called Christians to be serious and prepare their minds for action, looking forward to the return of Christ. “Rather than being controlled by outside circumstances, believers should be directed from within.”[22]

Christians, just like obedient children, should not be conformed to their former passions (Rom 1:24-26). Rather, they must be holy in all their conduct (1 Pet 1:14-15). This echoes the same sentiments Paul wrote to the Romans (Rom 12:2a). There is a very clear command for a lifestyle change as a result of regeneration.

Peter’s justification is found in God’s expectations from OT Israel; “since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy,’” (1 Pet 1:16; Lev 19:2). Again, the same theme is repeated. Christians must imitate God to the best of their fallen ability; the mark they press towards is God’s own standard – complete holiness.

A Christian cannot demonstrate love for his neighbor unless he first loves God with all his heart, soul and might. These two imperatives are the commandments the law and prophets are built upon (Mt 22:34-40). One cannot love God and be engaged in unrepentant homosexual behavior at the same time; sin and holiness are at odds with each other. One is a wicked product of a fallen world, the other an attribute of the Holy God who rules over all creation.

Peter went on to tie the believer’s responsibilities back to the Mosaic Covenant once again;

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Pet 2:9-10; Ex 19:5-6).

Elsewhere, Peter specifically labeled the homosexual sin of Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of what would happen to the ungodly (2 Pet 2:6).[23] It is clear Peter was not sympathetic to homosexuality; it is a sin of the ungodly and unregenerate.

John

John was very blunt about the same double-mindedness that James spoke against. “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth,” (1 Jn 1:6). Christians will be known by their fruit. The polar opposites of “darkness” and “light” are used repeatedly throughout Scripture to signify Satan and God, respectively. Somebody who claims Christ but who participates in homosexuality and other lusts of the flesh is a liar. God’s people must walk in the light, and the blood of Christ will cleanse His people from all sin, including homosexuality (1 Jn 1:7).

John wrote that love of the world is the mark of an unregenerate heart (1 Jn 2:15). All sinful desires, lusts of the flesh and the eyes, are from the world (1 Jn 2:16). Elsewhere, Paul clearly identified sexual immorality as a work of the flesh (Gal 5:19). The world, along with all its desires, is perishing but God’s people will stand forever (1 Jn 2:17).

John was not suggesting a Christian will never struggle with sin (1 Jn 1:6), but rather, those who make a deliberate, unrepentant practice of sinning are not God’s children.

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 Jn 3:8-10).

John is very clear; love for the world and all that entails (including homosexuality), is opposed to God in every respect. Christians still struggle with sin such as homosexuality in this “vile body” (Phil 3:21) but their whole bent of life will be away from sin.[24] A true love for God will produce a desire to keep his commandments (1 Jn 5:2; 2 Jn 6).

Jude

Jude, like Peter, made a specific reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. He wrote of God’s faithfulness to judge and condemn false teachers who “pervert[ed] the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ,” (Jude 4b). These unbelievers, masquerading as Christians, turned God’s marvelous grace into a license to do whatever their sinful lusts desired (Rom 1:24-26; Gal 5:19-21). God, Jude asserted, is always faithful to judge those who rebel against Him (Jude 5-6).

It is in this context, that of the perversion of God’s grace into sensuality, that homosexuality is condemned;

“Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire,” (Jude 7).

The wicked sin of homosexuality is an explicit example of who will suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. Not homosexuals only, but all who follow their sinful passions and continue to willfully reject God (Rom 1:18).

Summary

The entire NT testifies to two very basic facts; (1) Christians are called to lead holy lives before God, and (2) Homosexuality is a sin, and therefore incompatible with the holiness of God. The thesis has been demonstrated both by Christ and the written epistles of His disciples throughout the entire NT.

Jesus preached conformity to the Mosaic law, which explicitly condemned homosexual behavior. This conformity to the law, itself based on God’s eternal attribute of holiness, was predicated on an all-encompassing love for Him. The apostles had a unified message on this point which upholds the thesis quite directly. Homosexuality and the holiness of God are mutually exclusive – they cannot co-exist.

One commentator wrote poignantly about the church’s responsibility to the homosexual;

The church does the homosexual no favor when it condones his behavior based on some ingenious interpretation or on some sentimental relationship it has with him. Homosexuals do not deserve a weakened spirituality, much less a sentimental pity. They need raw honesty from the church about their doomed state unless they come to repentance and faith in Christ.[25]

Along with honesty, Christian love is sorely needed. Nobody would advocate ministering to alcoholics by deriding them, barring the church doors to them or calling them “lushes” from the pulpit. Yet, some Christians would not hesitate to shout the word “sodomite” from the pulpit, almost relishing the chance to condemn this particular sin. It does need to be condemned, in no uncertain terms, but if we’re being deliberately spiteful while we’re doing it we achieve precisely nothing.

Homosexuals are not arbitrarily condemned to the flames as an exclusive group; rather, all sinners who continue to willfully reject Christ and prefer self-rule to God’s rule will justly suffer eternal damnation. God, by His grace, softens the hearts of sinners and changes their disposition away from Satan and towards Himself. Homosexuals are no exception, and the Gospel is the only cure for this and any other sin in a fallen world.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Constable, Thomas L. “Thessalonians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Edwards, James R. The Gospel of Mark. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Haas, Guenther. “Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice,” Global Journal of Classical Theology 01:2 (Feb 1999): no page numbers.

Harrison, Everett F. “Romans,” vol. 10, The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.

Hodges, Zane C. “1 John,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Hoehner, Harold W. “Ephesians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Holloman, Henry W. “The Relation of Christlikeness to Spiritual Growth,” Michigan Theological Journal 05:1 (Spring 1994): 57-85.

Lightner, Robert P. “Philippians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Litfin, A. Duane. “1 Timothy,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Litfin, A. Duane. “Titus,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Lowery, David K. “2 Corinthians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Malik, David E. “The Condemnation of Homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27,” Bibliotheca Sacra 150:599 (Jul 1993): 327-340.

Matthews, Kenneth A. “Genesis 1-11:26,” vol. 1a, The New American Commentary, ed. Roy Clendenen. Nashville: B&H, 1996.

Montoya, Alex D. “Homosexuality and The Church,” The Masters Seminary Journal 11:2 (Fall 2000): 155-168.

Raymer, Roger M. “1 Peter,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Toussaint, Stanley. Behold the King. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980.

Witmer, John A. “Romans,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Wood, A. Skevington. “Ephesians,” vol. 11, The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.


[1]. For an analysis of common pro-homosexual exegesis of Scripture, see Guenther Haas, “Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice,” Global Journal of Classical Theology 01:2 (Feb 1999), no page numbers.

[2]. Sherwood O. Cole, “Biology, Homosexuality and the Biblical Doctrine of Sin,” Bibliotheca Sacra 157:627 (Jul 2000), 350.

[3]. Kenneth A. Matthews, “Genesis 1-11:26,” vol. 1a, The New American Commentary, ed. Roy Clendenen (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1996), 222-225.

[4]. James R. Edwards, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 46.

[5]. Stanley Toussaint, Behold the King (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1980), 98.

[6]. John A. Witmer, “Romans,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 443.

[7]. Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” vol. 10, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 25.

[8]. Ibid, 24.

[9]. David E. Malik, “The Condemnation of Homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27,” Bibliotheca Sacra 150:599 (Jul 1993), 340.

[10]. W. Harold Mare, “1 Corinthains,” vol. 10, The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 208.

[11]. David K. Lowery, “2 Corinthians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 562.

[12]. Henry W. Holloman, “The Relation of Christlikeness to Spiritual Growth,” Michigan Theological Journal 05:1 (Spring 1994), 58.

[13]. Ibid, 568.

[14]. A Skevington Wood, “Ephesians,” vol. 11, The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 36.

[15]. Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 637.

[16]. Robert P. Lightner, “Philippians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victory, 1983), 656.

[17]. A. Duane Litfin, “1 Timothy,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 733.

[18]. A. Duane Litfin, “Titus,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 765.

[19]. Thomas L. Constable, “Thessalonians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 701.

[20]. Ibid, 702.

[21]. Ibid.

[22]. Roger M. Raymer, “1 Peter,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 843.

[23]. It is beyond the scope of this paper to engage the more liberal charge that homosexuality was not the sin of that wicked city. The author will assume, for the purposes of this NT study, that homosexuality was the defining sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.

[24]. Zane C. Hodges, “1 John,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 894.

[25] Alex D. Montoya, “Homosexuality And The Church,” The Masters Seminary Journal 11:2 (Fall 2000), 166

Intellectual and Moral Cowardice?

I purchased a copy of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion the other day. I teach an apologetics class at my church, and I wanted to actually read what one of the so-called “Four Horseman of New Atheism” has to say on the matter. My wife was horrified when I opened the package and held the tome aloft – she accused me of enriching a Godless heretic who seems content to remain on a path leading inevitably to the fires of hell. I suppose she has a point, so I retreated to pragmaticism – how can I know what the man says unless I buy the book? My wife reluctantly agreed but was still suspicious, and ordered me to banish the text to a faraway bookshelf, far from the reaches of our children.

Reading the first few chapters, I stumbled across a disturbing passage written by a well-meaning but ill-informed Christian to Albert Einstein. The missive was a response to a paper Einstein wrote in 1940 about why he did not believe in God. Dawkins evidenced contempt and scorn for this little letter, and I must agree he is justified in doing so. Here it is;[1]

We respect your learning, Dr. Einstein; but there is one thing you do not seem to have learned: that God is a spirit and cannot be found through the telescope or microscope, no more than human thought or emotion can be found by analyzing the brain. As everyone knows, religion is based on Faith, not knowledge. Every thinking person, perhaps, is assailed at times with religious doubt. My own faith has wavered many a time. But I never told anyone of my spiritual aberrations for two reasons: (1) I feared that I might, by mere suggestion, disturb and damage the life and hopes of some fellow being; (2) because I agree with the writer who said, “There is a mean streak in anyone who will destroy another’s faith.” … I hope, Dr Einstein, that you were misquoted and that you will yet say something more pleasing to the vast number of the American people who delight to do you honor.

This is a sad, pitiful little letter. Dawkins observed, “every sentence drips with intellectual and moral cowardice.”[2] What struck me was the astounding Biblical illiteracy displayed by the writer. We often look back on the pre-1960s era as a better, more noble time – a time when Christian values flourished and God was worshipped in spirit and in truth. People knew their Bibles, preachers stood for the truth, and everything was simply grand! This illusion is shattered by this letter, which could have been penned by the average Christian today. Dawkins hit the nail right on the head – it literally oozes with intellectual and moral cowardice.

God is a spirit and cannot be found through the telescope or microscope, no more than human thought or emotion can be found by analyzing the brain.

What about the glories of God in general revelation? Has the writer never read Psalm 8, where David extolls the glory of God and marvels that He condescended to even notice man and care for him? Or has he ever contemplated David’s statement from Psalm 19:1; “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Has the author never considered that all common blessings which God bestows on the just and unjust alike, this common grace, testifies to the glory of God? Christians can look round about them and see evidence for God everywhere; indeed, God’s common grace common to all testifies to both His existence and character (Acts 14:14-17).

Paul observed that his readers presumed “on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance,” (Rom 2:4). This statement is even more powerful because it directly follows his masterful exposition of man’s true state before God – all men are in willful rebellion and utterly without excuse (Rom 1:18-32). This principle is not confined to the New Testament; God’s humbling of King Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4) over his refusal to give glory to God for Babylon’s successes is the most definitive example of common grace I’ve read in Scripture. Likewise, in Hosea, God equates Israel with an adultress who leaves her husband for the promise of trinkets and luxury in the arms of another lover. “And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal,” (Hos 2:8).

The longsuffering and grace of God is truly impossible to fathom – and we haven’t even reached the Gospel yet! We’re just looking out at the world and making some random observations from Scripture on God’s goodness toward mankind in general!

“But wait,” the chorus cries, “you’re in ministry. It’s your job to know things like this!”

Wrong. Dead wrong. The man who penned this unfortunate letter typifies the average Christian from nearly 80 years ago. He is a window into the state of Biblical literacy during the halcyon days of Roosevelt, Churchill and The Maltese Falcon. I fear, however, that the average Christian in these days of Obama, Cameron and No Strings Attached lags far behind even this poor example.

I agree with the writer who said, “There is a mean streak in anyone who will destroy another’s faith

The watchword of Christian apologetics is 1 Pet 3:15b, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” This command is prefaced by a vital precondition that too many Christians hew off; perhaps considering it irrelevant, which itself is a rather damning testimony to serious Christianity. The preface is “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,” (1 Pet 3:15a).

The letter writer, along with the seeming majority of contemporary Christian apologists, misses the point that there is one, single objective truth – God is real. In our quest for tolerance, too many well-meaning Christians embrace de facto religious pluralism out of a fear not to “offend anybody.” If Christ is truly sanctified in our hearts as Lord, the practical outworking of this sanctification is a willingness to stand in the gap and proclaim, “Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him.” That a man, 80 years ago, would display an unwillingness to “offend” someone by proclaiming God is real and all pretenders are false is sad. Things have not improved since then.

Dawkins is quite right to sneer contemptuously at this silly, sad dispatch from days gone by. It is intellectually and morally cowardly. However, how many Christians today would write a similar letter? How many believers are too unenlightened about their faith to fashion a response to a “God doesn’t exist” challenge? How many Christians are too timid or wary to take a stand for the Truth, however small and seemingly “insignificant” it may be?

The feeble recourse of referring all “deeper” questions to our Pastors seems noble, but is ultimately pitiful and betrays a startlingly dangerous spiritual apathy. Knowing our faith is the responsibility of every believer. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Eph 2:10). We were each individually redeemed for a purpose – a specific purpose. Part of our reasonable service is to sanctify Christ in our hearts so that we may be able to give an answer for the hope that is within us, wherever we may be in the world and whenever the opportunity arises. It is not simply the Pastor’s job to be Biblically literate – it is every Christian’s job.

God chose to allow sinful men and women like you and me to participate in His unfolding plan to redeem His creation; how seriously do we take this privilege?


[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York, NY: Mariner, 2008), 38.

[2] Ibid.