Friday, February 22, 2019

Church Membership


       Ephesians 5 says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”, but who is the church? How does a person become a member of the church or is becoming a member even a Scriptural concept? If it is Scriptural what are the requirements?

       The first time that we see the word church in Scripture is in Matthew 16:18 after Jesus asked the disciples “who do you say that I am?” Peter responded with, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then says to Peter, “on this rock I will build my church.” The word for church there in Greek is ἐκκλησία, ekklēsia and it means the called or called out referring to those whom Christ has called out to Himself to be saved. It is also used to signify the gathering of such people. In Scripture we see two main aspects of the church. There is the general use which refers to all believers of all time and then a more specific use referring to the local church such as the church of Ephesus or Corinth or the First Baptist Church on Main Street.

      Jesus says he gave “the keys of the kingdom of heaven”, being the Gospel truth of Christ, to the church. He went on to say, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mat 16:19). In other words, by the affirmation of the truth of the gospel, the church is given authority to say who are its members and who are not by the affirmation or denial of the gospel truth by confession and way of life. This is reemphasized in Matthew 18:15-20. Church membership is the churches ability to affirm who is confessing the gospel rightly and to be able to identify who is the local church.

       The Church is made up of those who are in Christ—all believers of all time. And the names of these members are kept in the book of the Lamb’s book of life. “…All who dwell on earth will worship [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” (Rev 13:8). Even Jesus keeps a record of the members of His church. If anyone were to know who all the members of their church are it would be Jesus and yet He keeps a formal record of His members. It is by this book that Christ rewards His member with the entrance of Heaven. “But nothing unclean will ever enter [into heaven], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.” (Rev 21:27). Likewise, the local church should keep a formal attendance especially for the purposes of make church decisions and disciplines.

      Either we are talking about the Church in general or the local church the Church only consists of true believers. The local church is a representation of the Church which means it should only consist of true believers as well—Those whom Christ gave himself up for. “The biblical basis for seeing the church as composed exclusively of believers is so strong and obvious that the difficulty is in seeing how this idea was ever obscured. The very idea of the church as the called-out ones presupposes that the members of the church have heard and responded to God’s call. The image of the church as the people of God assumes that these are people who belong to God.” (Hammett).

      Though the Church is a pure church, the local church is a mixed church. In the local church there are going to be three kinds of people attending. Those who confess Jesus as Lord and are truly saved (Romans 10:9-10), those who confess Jesus as Lord and are not saved (Matthew 7:21-23), and those who neither confess Christ as Lord nor are saved (Jude 1:4). Out of these three groups of people who attend there are those whom we can and should remove and there are those whom we cannot and should not remove. We want to do this because, even though it will not be achieved perfectly, we want the local church to be as pure as possible.

       In the local church there is always going to be a mixture of “wheat and weeds”. “[Jesus] put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field…his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away…the plants came up and the weeds appeared also…he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So, the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” (Mat 13:24-30). In this passage we can clearly see that there will be false converts among those in the congregation and in this particular case we should not try to weed them out to prevent the weeding out of the wheat. That being said, there are plenty of other passages that not only encourage the local church to remove “the weeds” but command the church to remove those who do not affirm the gospel by confession or way of life.

      In Matthew 18:15-20 there are steps laid out in the case a believer sins against another believer and is not repentant. Whoever is the victim should confront the person who sinned against them. If they do not repent or listen them, they should bring another person or two people with him again to see if he will repent. If the person still does not repent, then they should bring the issue before the church. “If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mat 18:17-18).

      An example of the steps in Matthew 18 being carried out is found in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. There is a man who is a member of the church who is having sexual relations with his father’s wife. This man even bears the name “brother” (v. 11). Within these thirteen verses the church of Corinth is commanded seven times to remove and not associate with such people from their church. “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (v. 2), “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (v. 5), “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.” (v. 7), “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.” (v. 9), “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (v.11), “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (v.12-13). Even in the pastoral epistle of 1 Timothy Paul removes two people because they have rejected the gospel. “…Holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Tim. 1:19-20). “We need to be able to show that there is a distinction between the church and the world—that it means something to be a Christian. If someone who claims to be a Christian refuses to live as a Christians should live, we need to follow what Paul said and, for the glory of God and for the person’s own good, we need to exclude him or her from the membership in the church.” (Dever). Also, in 2 Thessalonians they are told by Paul to keep list of people who reject the gospel and to not associate with them. “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2Th 3:14)

      On the contrary, those who affirm the gospel by confession and way of life are to be received into the church and added to the number as a member. We can see in the beginning of the book of Acts that there was a number being kept in the church of believers. As the Holy Spirit moved and was granting salvation to more and more people the church rejoiced. “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Act 2:47). You cannot add names to a register unless one is being kept. This concept is carried throughout the book of Acts and not only did they add names to their register but kept record of men, women, and children. “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women…” (Acts 5:14).

      Many people believe that as long as they believe in God and attend a church on a regular basis that makes them a member of that local church. Some may argue that what we see in the book of Acts is just a record of who became a Christian and not referring to local church membership. Though this may be true there are verses that may indicate that a person can be a saint, being a member of the Church, but also calling them a member of the local church or calling them brother making them a member of the Church but also barring them from the local church as a member because of sin. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints [the Church] and members of the household of God [the local church]” (Eph 2:19).

      Also, again from 1 Corinthians 5:11, “But now I am writing to you not to associate [loss of membership in the local church] with anyone who bears the name of brother [still a member of the Church] if he is guilty of sexual immorality…”. One last example is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 makes a distinction between being a member of the Church and member of the local church. “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” (2Th 3:6). Either this verse is saying he is a brother, a member of the Church, and is to lose his local church membership or it is saying he is a false convert, not a member of the Church, but has local church membership and thus they call him brother.

      In either case these decisions of accepting someone as a member or denying their membership is done by the local church members and that by some kind of vote. In 2 Corinthians Paul tells Corinth to reaffirm a man’s membership that, due to sin, was lost. He tells the church they do not need to shun him anymore because he has repented. “Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So, I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.” (2Co 2:5-8). In this verse it is by the majority that he is to be reaffirmed. Would they just let anyone vote? Would they just let anyone who showed up that day to vote on such a matter? Or does the responsibility fall on those who belong to that church? There would need to be a formal record of who is who. Another example of knowing who is part of the church is in 2 Corinthians 14:23, “If, therefore, the whole church comes together…” how would they know the whole church came together if there was no formal membership? “Surely they would have known who was supposed to be present in a churchwide meeting and who was missing. But how else could they have known when “the whole church” was “Together in one place” without knowing who was a member and who wasn’t? This implies a verifiable membership.” (Whitney)

      Becoming a member of a church is more than just a formality. Joining a church is a public confession of faith, a commitment to love God and His people, and submission to the authority God has ordained. No one likes the word or idea of submission, but the truth is God has ordained it in all parts of life. All of creation is to submit to God the Father as it’s creator. God has ordained the governments of the land and its leaders and commands us to submit to them. God commands the church to submit to Christ, husbands are to submit to Christ, wives to husbands, children to parents, employees to employers, etc.

      As members of the church we are to submit to the church as a whole and especially the pastors and elders. If no one were to become members of the local church how could the church formally perform church discipline as laid out in Matthew 16, 18, and 1 Corinthians 5? God has ordained the pastor and elders to care for the church and protect it from false teachers, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Act 20:28) and has called the church to submit to them “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb 13:17). We cannot obey these commands unless we not only attend the church but belong to the local church as members. “Christians should submit themselves to their local churches ethically. This does not mean making the church an absolute authority any more than a child should regard his or her parents this way. Rather, Christians should look to the church for ethical instruction, counsel, accountability, and discipline in matters that are addressed by God’s Word.” (Leeman)

      We now ask what are the requirements to become a member? Though local churches may ask that members agree to a confession of faith simply to clarify their profession of faith, the only standard to become a member is to be a Christian. What is required to be a Christian? To know Jesus, have faith in Jesus, and a way of life that produces the fruits of the Spirit. The person wanting to become a member must know the gospel at the least. They need to know who’s name they are gathering under. Islam, The Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon Church, United Pentecostal Church, and the Roman Catholic Church all claim to know Jesus, but each proclaim a different Jesus than what is revealed in the Scriptures. They must know what it is they are being apart of and what they are standing for and who they are representing. Maybe they do not know how to describe the gospel perfectly but must have a good idea of the gospel (This is where a statement of faith can be helpful).

      Not only does a person need to know who Jesus is, they need to have faith in Jesus. If we have learned anything from the Reformation it is that Scripture is clear that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The person must have true saving faith. They cannot just have knowledge of Jesus or know Theology well, but they must have an actual relationship with Christ and His word. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom 5:1-2). “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8) Secondly, one cannot have faith without having repentance—a way of life that produces the fruit of the Spirit. A sure sign of faith is repentance. A changed way of life that runs from sin. The person wanting to become a member of the church must have a hatred for sin and be fighting sin. Jesus proclaimed, ‘“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”’ (Mar 1:15). These are the bare minimum scriptural requirements to become a member. To know Jesus, have faith in Jesus, and a life of repentance. There can be one additional step added and that is because the Scripture speaks frequently of this outward sign of the inward faith a Christian has and that is Baptism. “The first step of the Christian life in the New Testament is baptism—always. The crowds asked Peter what to do to be saved, and he answered, “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Paul, writing to the Roman church, simply assumed that all of them had been baptized (Rom. 6:4). And it’s the first thing Jesus commands his disciples to do when making disciples (Matt. 28:19). Baptism does not save a person, but Jesus means for his saved individuals to publicly identify with him and his people. It’s one piece of how his citizens become official. It’s how they wave the flag.” (J. Leeman). There are other examples of where baptism was emphasized before they became official members in the local church. “Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Act 2:38) Look at the order of a few verses down, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Act 2:41). They received the gospel, then were baptized, then were added to the church.

      As far as church history is concerned and the difference between Baptist and most historical denominations the historical faiths believed that to be a member of the church one must be admitted to both baptism and the Lord’s Supper. “Even the paedo-Baptist, those who baptize infants believe the children are members of the church are careful to call them ‘non-communicable’ members. The Baptist of course don’t accept the idea that infants are to be members in any sense at all. But the overwhelming majority of ecclesiastical history, which does favor the baptism of infants, infants are non-communicate members which means they are not entitled to the Lord’s Supper even though they have received the right to baptism, the Baptists of course deny that one can make that distinction because a person who is admitted to baptism is admitted to the Lord’s Supper because the only way he can be admitted to baptism is on a profession of faith which simultaneously authorizes him to be admitted to the Lord’s Table” (Gerstner).

      Baptist are very strong in that unless a person can make a profession and be admitted to both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he should not be considered a member of the church. “Within the Reformed view neither paedo or credo-baptism causes regeneration or being admitted to the Lord’s Supper until the child can discern and make a profession of faith. One cannot be a true member until one makes a profession of faith either the church practices credo or paedo baptism.” (Gerstner). When a person cannot be sure if he trusts in Christ the church cannot accept him as a member no matter the evidence because the person knows their own heart better than anyone else. If and when the Lord grants faith to that person then the church may accept him as a member. A person needs to have a sound faith and a sure faith.

      In conclusion, joining a local church is more than a formality. It is submitting to the church, it is an act of love and obedience to God, and his people. Christ has given authority to the church to discipline its members and to bind and loose the things on earth by the aforementioned criteria— knowing Jesus, faith in Jesus, a life of repentance and one that produces the fruits of the Spirit including baptism which is the first act of obedience to Christ. Though many contemporary churches do not have formal membership, the word of God is clear that local church membership is important and historical faiths such as Presbyterians and Baptist, though they may differ in certain details, hold to this importance.

Dever, Mark. "Biblical Church Discipline." Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2013. 184.

Gerstner, Dr. John. "Chruch Membership pt. 1, lecture 81." Handout Theology. 2019.

Hammett, John S. "Regenerate Church Membership." Hammett, John S. Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications , 2005. 83.

Leeman, Johnathan. "What Are the “Standards” of Membership? (Becoming a Member) ." Leeman, Johnathan. Church Membership. Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2012. 89.

Leeman, Jonathan. "How Does a Christian Submit to a Church?" Leeman, Jonathan. Church Membership. Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2012. 101.

Whitney, Donald S. "Why Join a Church." Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1996. 47.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Person and Work of Christ

           The Divine Person who made the world and upholds and governs all things that he has made, is the son of God, the second person of the Trinity—Jesus Christ. Being vere homo, vere Deus—truly man, truly God, Jesus is our new federal head. He not only came to restore what we lost in Adam but to guarantee what we can never lose by His death, burial, and resurrection. Christ is now at the right hand of the Father and is the mediator and interceder of the elect as we await the Parousia—His return.

            God is a Trinity, He is one God in three Persons. As stated in the Athanasian Creed, “The Father is made by none, nor created, nor begotten. The Son is from the Father alone, not made, not created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is not created by the Father and the Son, nor begotten, but proceeds. Therefore, there is one Father… one Son…one Holy Spirit. And in this Trinity there is nothing prior or posterior, nothing greater or less, but all three persons are coeternal, and coequal to themselves. So that through all, as was said above, both unity in trinity, and trinity in unity is to be adored.” Since eternity past, Christ was living harmoniously and happily as one with the Father and Holy Spirit in the Godhead. Christ has created and upholds all things by the word of his power as John 1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (Joh 1:1-3) and Colossians 1, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together…that in everything he might be preeminent.” (Col 1:15-18).

            “It is [Jesus] who, at the appointed time, took upon Himself the nature of man, with all its essential characteristics and its common infirmities, sin excepted. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, a woman who belonged to the tribe of Judah, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her and the power of God most High overshadowing her…In this way it came about that the two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the divine and the human, were inseparably joined together in one Person, without the conversion of the one nature into the other, and without the mixing, as it were, of one nature with the other; in other words, without confusion. Thus, the Son of God is now both true God and true man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.” (1689 LBC 8.2). This doctrine is called the hypostatic union of Christ.  It is because Jesus is truly God and truly man that he is able to be a mediator between man and God. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1Ti 2:5).

            It was necessary for Jesus to be very man to be our representative and obey the law of God in our place. “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Rom 5:18-19) and “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:16-18). From this verse in Hebrews it is clear that Christ had to be very man because He was not concerned with saving or reconciling angelic beings, but He was concerned with reconciling and saving human beings (The offspring of Abraham). Christ was made like his brothers in every respect, so he could be a high priest for God to make a propitiation— “A sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us in favor.” (Grudem). The verse goes on to say, “he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” The only way Christ could have done this is by becoming man because James informs his readers, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” (Jas 1:13). So, in that respect, Jesus had to be a man to represent us on our behalf to be tempted and to endure it perfectly and being a mediator between God and man.

            Christ does not act through the human nature as an instrument; rather, Jesus acts according to both natures. If Christ were to mediate solely as human that would logically mean that any man could have been the mediator between man and God before or after Christ. “By anchoring the natures of Christ in the unity of the person, Reformed theologians refused to speak of Christ’s mediatorial work simply the work of a human. Therefore, based on the unity of the person and communication of properties and operations, the church can be said to be purchased by the blood of God (Acts 20:28).” (Joel R. Beeke). Thomas Goodwin said, “We say that God and Man died, though the Manhood only did die, yet it is attributed to the whole, it is called the blood of God, and we say God-Man rose, though his body only rose, yet it is attributed to the whole, Totus Christus [ Christ as a whole person], though not Totum Christ [the whole being of Christ].”

            It is obvious from this point that Christ remained very God while He was very man. The only one who could represent mankind is a human and likewise, the only one who can represent God is God. As the Psalms states, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life,” (Psa 49:7). “Only someone who is infinite God could bear the full penalty for all the sin of all those who would believe in him—any finite creature would have been incapable of bearing that penalty…only someone who was truly and fully God could be the one mediator between God and man, both to bring us back to God and also to reveal God most fully to us.” (Grudem).

            The distance between God and mankind is so great that, although men, endowed as they are with reason, owe obedience to God as their creator, yet they can never attain it and fall short of His glory. Therefore, without a gracious salvific act from God, all mankind, being wicked, would be cast into hell, where they would remain forever in torment and utter darkness.

            “Man, as he came from the hand of God, his creator, was upright and perfect. The righteous law which God gave him spoke of life as conditional upon his obedience and threatened death upon his disobedience. Adam's obedience was short-lived. Satan used the subtle serpent to draw Eve into sin. Thereupon she seduced Adam who, without any compulsion from without, willfully broke the law under which they had been created, and also God's command not to eat of the forbidden fruit. To fulfill His own wise and holy purposes God permitted this to happen, for He was directing all to His own glory. By this sin our first parents lost their former righteousness, and their happy communion with God was severed. Their sin involved us all, and by it death appertained to all. All men became dead in sin, and totally polluted in all parts and faculties of both soul and body.” (1689 LBC 6.1-2). God made Adam in such a way that he represented the whole human race. When it came to obeying or disobeying God in the garden his actions represented our actions. Adam was our federal head and, in our case, sinned against God. This incurred the holy and righteous wrath of God against sin.

            This fall into sin, guilt, and shame is passed down to all of Adam’s posterity to the point that we are all born, as Ephesians two says, dead in our sins and trespasses following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all live in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and are by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Thus, leaving man totally depraved and inclined to sin. That being said, man’s relationship with God was in desperate need of a propitiation and atonement, this is why Christ had to die. As the Canons of Dort state, “God is not only supremely merciful but also supremely just. And as He Himself has revealed in His Word, His justice requires that our sins, committed against His infinite majesty, should be punished not only in this age but also in the age to come, both in body and soul. We cannot escape these punishments unless satisfaction is made to the justice of God.” (C.D. 2.1).

            God is not capricious in that God is not “free” from His love, grace, or righteousness and holiness. God cannot and will not forgive someone of their sins without a propitiation because this would be an infringement to His holiness. The wages of sin is death. Four verses from Romans make this clear, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:23-26). These verses show that man has sinned and fall short of the glory of God and they are saved by the redemption of Christ as a gift of Grace and received by faith. The weight is on why Christ died. To show His righteousness so that He will be the just and justifier of those who have faith. It was necessary for Christ to die for those who were the elect believers before the incarnation of Christ because as God in His divine forbearance passed over former sins it appeared as though God did not care about His holiness; it appeared that God disregarded His righteousness and wrath against sin.

            As the present elect saints look back to what Christ did for salvation the elect saints before Christ looked forward to the Messiah. Those saints of old had their payment of sin pending in the divine forbearance. By Christ dying, it showed the severity of sin in the face of God’s holiness and that it truly does incur the wrath of God. Christ died, not for sins of His own, but for the sins of His elect. In John 10 Christ calls His elect His sheep, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (Joh 10:14-16). “Christ gives the name of sheep to unbelievers, who in themselves were the farthest possible from being entitled to be called sheep and not only does [Augustine] point out, by this term, what they will be, but rather refers this to the secret election of God, because we are already God’s sheep, before we are aware that He is our shepherd. In like manner, it is elsewhere said that we were enemies, when he loved us, (Rom 5:10) and for this reason Paul also says that we were known by God, before we knew him, (Gal 4:9) Them also I must bring. He means that the election of God will be secure, so that nothing of all that he wishes to be saved shall perish. For the secret purpose of God, by which men were ordained to life, is at length manifested in his own time by the calling, — the effectual calling, when he regenerates by his Spirit, to be his sons, those who formerly were begotten of flesh and blood.” (Calvin).

            Christ’s death was a penal substitutionary atonement. The legal aspect of Jesus’ atonement is evident in that He was made under the Law and he obeyed the Law perfectly. He lived a perfect life satisfying the law of God for us. He was also our substitute in that Jesus took our place and taking on the full wrath of God in our stead. Christ’s death was also an atonement as He appeased the wrath of God as a propitiation for the elect unto God.

            Not only is the life and death of Jesus necessary for our salvation but the resurrection and ascension of Christ is just as crucial. Just looking in the book of Romans, every aspect of our salvation rests on the resurrection of Christ. Christ proved He was the son of God by His resurrection, “and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 1:4). Our faith is counted towards us as righteousness who believe and are justified by the resurrection “It[faith] will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Rom 4:24-25). We have the ability to walk in newness of life and are guaranteed a resurrection like His by His resurrection, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rom 6:4-5). Christ resurrected in order that we will bear fruit, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (Rom 7:4). Our eternal life is sealed by the resurrection of Christ, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom 8:11). 

            In the book of Hebrews the resurrection of Christ is only mentioned one time at the end of the book, “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,” (Heb 13:20). The resurrection is implied by the amount of times and emphasis the book places on the ascension and session of Christ. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:12). It was necessary for Christ to not only resurrect from the dead but to ascend and make His session with the Father as our Hight Priest. As Charles Hodges states, “It was necessary that as our High Priest He should, after offering Himself as a sacrifice, pass through the heavens, to appear before God in our behalf. An essential part, and that a permanent one, of his priestly office was to be exercised in heaven. He there makes constant intercession for his people. As He died for our sins, He rose for our justification. All this was typified under the old dispensation. The victim was slain without in the court of the temple; the high priest bore the blood with much incense within the veil and sprinkled it on the Mercy Seat. What the high priest did in the earthly temple, it was necessary for the High Priest of our profession to do in the temple made without hands, eternal in the heavens. This is set forth with all clearness in the Epistle to the Hebrews.” (Hodges).

            The ascension of Christ was also necessary so that redemption should not only be acquired but applied as He took his session with the Father. Christ ascension was necessary to finish His work to prepare a place for us. Jesus said, ““Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” (Joh 14:1-4).  The ascension was also necessary to send us the Holy Spirit, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (Joh 16:7).

            There has always been one people of God, the elect and there has always been just one plan of salvation and that is through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. There is also going to be a single Parousia or return of Christ. He will return to resurrect the righteous and the unrighteous in a general resurrection for a single final judgement. “God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ, to whom the Father has given all authority and power to judge. At that day the apostate angels will be judged. So too will all persons who have lived upon the earth; they will appear before Christ's judgment throne to give an account of their thoughts, words and deeds, and to receive His award in accordance with what they have done in this earthly life, whether good or evil.” (LBC 32.1)

            In conclusion, Christ is the second person of the Godhead with a hypostatic union of two natures yet one person—divine and human. He is the creature and sustainer of all things. Jesus lived a perfect life fulfilling the law of God, died upon the cross to lay down His life for His sheep as a penal substitutionary atonement for the elect, resurrected from the dead to seal their salvation and ascended to heaven to make His session with the Father to not only acquire salvation but to attain it.

A. P. Stanley (Dean of Westminster): The Athanasian Creed . Lond. 1871.
Association at Philadelphia. 1689 London Baptist Confession. Philadelphia : Association at Philadelphia, 1689.
Calvin, John. Calvins Complete Commentary. Public domain, 1555.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1994.
Hodges, Charles. Systematic Theology. New York, London and Edinburgh: C. Scribner and company, T. Nelson and sons, 1871–1873.
Joel R. Beeke, Mark Jones. A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. Grand Rapids MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012.
The Synod of Dordrecht. Canons of Dort. November 13, 1618—May 9, 1619.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Overview of The New Testament

There is a single grand narrative and rich theological themes that are revealed throughout all of Scripture. Mankind was made in the image of God with a perfect relationship with God until all of mankind sinned in Adam. The Scriptures tell us that God, in the Old Testament, made a promise to send the Messiah to restore the relationship between man and God. As the people of God waited and waited for the Messiah God remained faithful. God sent the promised savior, Jesus, the only begotten son of God. Jesus, born of a virgin, proved He was the Messiah as He fulfilled the law of the Old Testament, lived a perfect life, was crucified, buried, and resurrected from the dead, as was prophesied in the Old Testament, to make a definite atonement for His people. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to give His people power and boldness to live holy lives and to proclaim the gospel until the return of Christ.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. (Mat 1:18); “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Mat 1:23); “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Joh 1:1-4, 14). As one comes to the new covenant and approaches the Gospels the reader is exposed very quickly to the fulfillment of prophecy, a presentation of the Trinity, the incarnation of Christ, and that Christ has a dual nature called the hypostatic union.
            “The gospel genealogies strive to show that Jesus is the son of both David and Abraham. What God had been doing from the beginning, and what he foretold through his prophets concerning the fulfillment of his promise to Abraham, was about to happen. God did not begin a new work as much as he was writing the concluding chapter to the story he began when he first created the world.” (Pg. 213). From eternity passed and now and forever God is a Trinity. He is one God in three persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are one in substance, in power, and in eternity.  Each is fully God, and yet the Godhead is one and indivisible. The doctrine of the Incarnation is “a term to express what happened when Jesus, who had been with God for all eternity, stepped onto the historical scene as a human being.”(Pg. 223).
 That being said, that brings us quickly to Jesus’ dual nature the hypostatic union of Christ. Jesus was not mostly God or mostly man and He was not just God with human aspects or human with divine aspects. Jesus is Vere Deus, Vere Homo truly God, truly man. The way that Jesus was sent from the Father was through a virgin named Mary. This was prophesied by God through the prophets that the Messiah would come by way of a virgin. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isa 7:14) and “for to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:6). As you can see this verse from Isaiah says, “a child is born and a Son is given.” A child is born showing the incarnation—in the flesh—Jesus was born and a Son is given showing that Christ was always of the Trinity He was not created but was given by the Father. “Because Jesus was [truly] man, he could have sinned; but, because he was [truly] God (born of the Spirit), he also had the option not to sin.” (Pg. 228).
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’…[and John the Baptist] preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mar 1:2-3,7-11). “John the Baptist functioned as a bridge between the Old and New Covenants; he was the conclusion of the old—he served as a forerunner for the new, proclaiming the outpouring of the Spirit as a promised by the prophets” (Pg. 234). John the Baptist was to baptize Jesus so that in His baptism Jesus identified with sinful humanity and it anointed him for ministry and proclaimed that he was the Messiah. Right after Jesus was baptized, Jesus was lead by the Spirit into the wilderness and there was tempted by Satan. Satan came against Jesus three times, “the first temptation dealt with the issue of identity and perceived need…the second temptation attacked Jesus’ relationship with God…the last temptation was the temptation to reach for one’s goals without God.” (Pg. 238-240).
Afterwards, Jesus set out to choose twelve disciples. “By calling twelve disciples, Jesus symbolically announced that God was restoring the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus’ main message was that the Kingdom of God had come near.” (Pg. 243). Throughout scripture there is a distinction of ages(times). There is the present age and the age to come. The age to come is the Kingdom of God. “According to the teaching of the New Testament, God has already broken into history through Christ. God has restored his kingdom on earth, and the “age to come” has already begun. God’s kingdom has not come in full, however. Evil still roams. The present age will not end until Christ returns to establish his kingdom on earth. Until then God’s creation lives between the times.” (Pg. 247). In order to enter the Kingdom of God one must have repentance and faith towards Christ alone and this faith in Christ will produce good works and obedience.  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Joh 14:6). This salvation in Christ, repentance and faith, and producing good works and obedience is part of the promise that was made by the prophets. This promise can be found in Jeremiah 31:31-33 and Ezekiel 36, I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Eze 36:24-27).
This salvation is a monergistic work of God as a gift to us. Everything from the grace, faith, and the working out of good works and obedience, “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:8-10).
 “The most significant portion of the gospel story deals with the last week of Jesus’ life. Referencing Jesus’ suffering during the last days of his life, the Christian church calls this week Passion Week.” (Pg. 272). Part of Passion Week is Jesus’ last supper and the crucifixion. The last supper was Jesus’ last Passover meal with his disciples. “The meal was originally intended as a meal of thanksgiving and remembrance for what God did during the exodus from Egypt. It now became a meal of thanksgiving and remembrance for the new Covenant salvation that became a reality through Jesus’ work on the cross.” (Pg. 279). When Jesus had this last celebration with His disciple he took the elements of the Passover meal and gave them new meaning. Looking at the four gospels Jesus said, “this is my body” referring to what He was about to do—give His life as a sacrifice for His people. He said, “This is my blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.” When Jesus died on the cross His death was our penal substitutionary atonement. He offered an atonement. His atonement was not to satisfy God’s justice for His own sins, but for the sins of others. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death. (Rom 3:23) Our relationship with God was destroyed by sin and making that relationship right again requires a propitiation (satisfying the wrath of God against sin) because we deserve eternal damnation since we have sinned against an eternal God. The word atonement means to be at-one-with God. Jesus stepped into the role of the Substitute, representing His people. He didn’t lay down His life for Himself; He laid it down for His sheep. He is our ultimate Substitute. Penal means legal and, of course, “substitutionary” means that he took our place.  The legal aspect of Jesus’ atonement is evident in that He was made under the Law and he obeyed the Law perfectly. He lived a perfect life satisfying the law of God for us.
Furthermore, Christ did not only live the perfect life we could not live and die the death that we deserved, he also resurrected from the dead securing out eternal life in Him. Christ did not do this for just anyone but He did it for those who have a faith in Christ, the church, His bride—His elect. Jesus made this clear when He said, “This is my blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many” Scripture further says this that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:25-27).
All that Jesus had done was the building up of a great eschaton. Jesus was going to ascend back to the Father and send the Holy Spirit to give power and boldness to proclaim the gospel of Jesus. This salvation in Christ alone is nothing new. Again, this is the fulfillment of the promise made in Genesis 3:15. God has always had one people and one plan of salvation. Jesus said He must ascend so that He could send the Holy Spirit. He told His disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Act 1:8). The Holy Spirit was going to come to be their comforter and to give them power and boldness to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. This happened on the day of Pentecost. “From the beginning, God had guided his people by his spirit and through his prophets. Under the old covenant, God had declared his Law on tablets of stones mediated through Moses. When Israel discarded God’s Law and directives, prophets filled with God’s Spirit were able to hear this word and would try to call the people back to God’s law. Under the new covenant, promised by the prophets, God would write his law on human hearts, guiding and conviction them directly with his Spirit.” (Pg. 3:16)
 Jesus told them to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mat 28:19-20). The followers of Jesus were to going to be filled with the Holy Spirit to fulfill this great commission until the Parousia—the return of Christ.
Just as there is one people of God and one plan of salvation there is also just one return of Christ, one general resurrection, and one final judgement. “Common to all Christian believers is the anticipation of Christ’s return to earth. The Gospels, Acts, and the letters of Paul refer to Jesus’ second coming as a point of hope and comfort for Christians…Jesus comes back to announce the beginning of the end, a time of judgement that will be joyful for believers and painful for unbelievers.” (Pg. 393).  The present time of the church “on the earth [is a] time when good and evil struggle against each other or exist intertwined like a field that grows both wheat and weeds (Matt 13:24-30). Evil may even get the upper hand until harvest time, the time of Christ’s return, when everting is sifted, and the weeds are burned (Matt 13:36). (Pg. 395).    
In conclusion, there is a single grand narrative throughout all of Scripture. Mankind was made in the image of God with a perfect relationship with God until all of mankind sinned in Adam. God sent the promised savior, Jesus, the only begotten son of God. Jesus proved He was the Messiah as He fulfilled the law of the Old Testament, lived a perfect life, was crucified, buried, and resurrected from the dead. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to give His people power and boldness to live holy lives and to proclaim the gospel until the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God at the return of Christ.

Page numbers and citations from:
(Pages)Preben Vang, Terry G. Carter. Telling God's Story. Nashville : B&H Publishing, 2013.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Overview of the Old Testament

When analyzing the Old Testament, one will find, though it is complex, that there is a single grand narrative and rich theological themes that are revealed. The Old Testament, as a whole, is a description and revelation of how God created all things including mankind, mankind was made in the image of God with a perfect relationship with God until all of mankind sinned in Adam. The rest of the Old testament is how God is fulfilling His promise called the protoevanglium by making a people group just for Himself to bring about the Messiah to restore the relationship between man and God. God will do this through election, covenant, and covenant membership to bring about the grand eschaton.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1). From the opening of Scriptures we see that it was God and no one else that created the heavens and the earth. From the onset, a strong theological theme is made, monotheism. There is only one true and living God. He has the attribute of aseity—He is of Himself or self-existent. There is no other God besides Him. “He simply existed as the only being already in existence”(pg. 23). God created everything ex nihilo—out of nothing. This means that “God is powerful beyond all imagination. He required nothing but Himself to create. He created from His own resources and will.” (pg. 23).  

The one true God did not create everything all at once. Instead, God created everything in six days. On the first day He created light and separated the light from the darkness. On the second day He created the firmament or the sky, “the sky separated the earth from all other entities in the universe.”(pg. 24). On the third day God created water, dry ground, and vegetation. On the fourth day God made the sun, moon, seasons, and set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night. On the fifth day God created fish for the water and birds of the sky. All these things God saw and said it was good. On the sixth day God created the beast of the field. Then, “after God had made all other creatures, He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, rendering them fit unto that life to God for which they were created; being made after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change.”(1689 LBC 4.2). From this point, the reader is introduced to the doctrine imago Dei—the image of God. This means they have “the ability to know right from wrong…and to relate to God in a personal way.”(pg. 25).

Everything was declared, “good” by God and the relationship between God and Adam and Eve was good and perfect until the fall. “Besides the law written in their hearts, they [Adam and Eve] received a command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which whilst they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.”(1689 LBC 4.3). Then, Genesis three opens with, “now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1). “Even though the serpent sits as subordinate to Adam and Eve, he raises questions in the mind of the humans concerning the trustworthiness of the Creator.”(pg. 31). Satan’s goal was to cause Eve to eat of the tree that God specifically said not to, disobeying God, and bringing mankind down into sin. “How could the serpent so successfully tempt a human? The serpents greatest tool was Eve’s own desire” (pg. 31). As Genesis says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Gen 3:6). When Eve ate of the forbidden fruit she then in turn gave it to her husband Adam who was with her and he likewise transgressed the law.

Adam was made in such a way that he was a federal head for the whole human race. Therefore, when he sinned all mankind sinned in him, his sin and guilt was imputed to us. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—in him[Adam]”(Rom 5:12). Because they disobeyed God their perfect and good relationship with God was broken and because God is holy and righteous He does not tolerate sin and cast them out of the garden of Eden after delegating specific punishments to each party involved. “The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;” (Gen 3:14-17)

Because God is also loving, gracious, and merciful within the curse He made a promise of hope to restore the relationship between man and Himself. Here we have the protoevangelium—the first gospel or good news. It is found in Genesis 3:15, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. This is a promise that God made to mankind saying that He will send the Messiah to restore the relationship between man and God. Within that promise the Messiah will destroy Satan and in turn suffer to do so.  

That being said, in order for God to fulfill the protoevangelium He has to make a people group for Himself. “God began his plan by establishing a covenant with one man and through him creating a whole nation of people. That man was Abram. Abram lived in the city of Ur of Chaldees. Abram, who was undoubtedly a wealthy and well-known man, lived at the southeastern end of the Fertile Crescent. Abram resided in the midst of a pagan society. The inhabitants [along with Abram] of Ur worshipped deities such as Sin, the moon god. Out of this setting God elected and covenanted with Abram. As the Sovereign, God elects based on His will and choice.” (pg. 41). The covenant that God made with Abram was a unilateral or one-sided agreement between God. “Abram had to trust God. Even when Abram disobeyed God he still received God’s blessing and protection” (pg. 42). The main purpose of this covenant was to restore the relationship that man once had with God. In this covenant God told Abram these following promises, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:2-3). Part of this covenant and these promises God changed Abrams name to Abraham which means “father of a multitude.” “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. (Gen 17:4-6).

 God was faithful and made this happen even though Abraham at that point had no children. God allowed Abraham and his wife to start having children at 100 years old. They had a son named Isaac and God further fulfilled His promise to make a nation for Himself when Isaac and his wife Rebecca had twins named Jacob and Esau. Esau departed the faith, but Jacob persevered by God’s grace. God renewed the covenant with Jacob. God said to Jacob, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (Gen 28:13-14). Jacob fell in love with a girl named Rachel and made a deal with her father to marry her if he worked for her father, Laban, seven years. When Jacobs seven years of work was up Laban gave Jacob Leah, Rachel’s sister, to be married because she was the oldest. Jacob was so in love with Rachel that he worked another seven years to marry Rachel. When everything was said and done Jacob had two wives. To move along with the narrative, while Jacob was alone, a man came and wrestled with him all night. Eventually the man touched Jacob’s hip and it fell out of socket, but Jacob would not let go without a blessing. Jacob wrestled with God! Just as God changed the name of Abram to Abraham with the covenant God changed Jacob’s name to Israel which means, “striven with God”. This name would be the name of the people group God was making for Himself to send the Messiah. Eventually Jacob had four wives! Leah, Rachel, Zipah(Leah’s servant), and Bilhah(Rachel’s servant). From his four wives he had twelve sons which became the twelve tribes of the nation Israel.

One of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, was nearly killed and traded for slavery by his brothers. Then was accused of attempted rape, when actually being a righteous man, and ended up in prison. But by an illustrious act of God’s providence Joseph became second in command in Egypt. Because of this the Israelites moved to Egypt and began to grow. “Some estimate as many as three million. God’s covenant promise to Abraham and Jacob to make a great nation from their seed was becoming a reality.” (pg. 61). Unfortunately, the narrative does not stop there, Exodus chapter one tells us this, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them…and set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses… they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. (Exo 1:8-14).

God is still faithful and raised up a man named Moses. Moses survived an edict from Pharaoh to kill the male children of the Israelites to slow the growth of the people. God raised him up to deliver them from the hand of Pharaoh. After God demonstrated many awesome miracles through Moses to rescue Israel out of Egypt God made a covenant with His people. “God established a covenant with Moses and the Hebrews at Mount Sinai. God told Moses that the people would worship at the same place where he encountered the burning bush. God bestowed his expectation on the people in the form of laws, regulations for life, and religious ceremony. These served to distinguish Israel from all other peoples of the region, the most important distinction being that these people would serve only one God—Yahweh.” (pg. 76).

 At this point Israel was in covenant membership with God. In this covenant God offers grace and forgiveness of sin. They were responsible, through faith, to believe in the promises from the protoevangelium, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and now Moses. They would grow in spiritual maturity by obeying these laws and statutes and teaching them faithfully to their children. To remind the people of Israel of the Law and to keep their face towards God, God sent prophets to reinforce the Law. These prophets would call out sin and pronounce judgements. God would speak “hope, warning, or direction” through these men (pg. 145). This would be how God spoke to His covenant people—through His word and through His word through the prophets. Occasionally, these prophets would also proclaim the future.

On that note, some of the prophets proclaimed the future of a New Covenant and the grand eschaton—Last Things. One of the prophets that did this was Jeremiah when he proclaimed, “This one will not be like the covenant I made with your fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant they broke…Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel…I will place my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be My people” (Jer 31:32-33). Ezekiel was another prophet who proclaimed this New Covenant, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (Eze 36:26-28). This gives way to the grand eschaton—the Messiah! Isaiah proclaims and prophecies the coming of Christ. Isaiah says, For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa 9:6) and, “He was despised and rejected by men…surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt…out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isa 53:10-12).

In conclusion, there is a single grand narrative and rich theological themes that are revealed. God made man to be in a perfect and right relationship with Him. Man had disobeyed God and broke that relationship. The rest of the Old Testament is about God’s promise to save mankind and bring them back to Himself. God did this through election, covenant, and covenant membership to bring about the grand eschaton.  

Page numbers and citations from:
1689 London Baptist Confession
(Pages)Preben Vang, Terry G. Carter. Telling God's Story. Nashville : B&H Publishing, 2013.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Why Reformed Theology Will Ruin You and Your Ministry

- Because it focuses on the work and words of Christ... Not yours.

- It aims to bring glory and honor to God... Not you.

- It labors to show how vast and grandiose God is and all of His attributes... Not you, your church, or your ministry.

-Reformed Theology puts mankind, including you, in its biblical place—enslaved, depraved, and spiritually dead.

-It reminds us that God has exalted two things above all creation: His name and His word... Not you or your ministry.

-Glorifying God, Reformed Theology, points out that we cannot save ourselves either that be by our works, will, or merit. We, including you and your ministry, can do nothing apart from Christ.

-Lastly, Reformed Theology will ruin you and your ministry because it instills in us that we must be saved and live by scripture alone, by Grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone, and to give glory to God alone. All of this is to point everything away from you and your ministry and to point everything to Christ.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Are You Guilty of Henotheism?

You might be wondering what Henotheism is. Henotheism is the belief that there is a single supreme God while worshiping or accepting smaller gods. Needless to say it is a form of polytheism and idolatry.

God has commanded that He and He alone should be worshiped.

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:1-6)

Caricatures are pictures that are drawn to exaggerate or simplify characteristics of a person or thing. They are typically used for political statements or for pure entertainment. You have most likely seen these pictures; drawings of famous people with extremely large ears or very tiny noses. The picture is made to bring out characteristics of the person but to an extreme. The reason I am drawing your attention to this type of art form is to ask you, have you done this with God?

When you read the bible, God’s word and revelation of Himself to us, you will find pictures of the true and living God. He reveals His attributes and His character to us in His word. When you see these things you, hopefully, agree with them and worship Him and praise Him for those things. But the question is, when you are not reading God’s word are you still praising Him for the way He has revealed Himself? Or do you let your feelings and emotions get in the way and distort what God has revealed about Himself and turn it into one of these amusement park caricatures to entertain your fallaciousness and personal desires?  

People today do not want a God who is Righteous, Holy, and Just. They only want a God who is loving, gracious, and merciful. God has revealed Himself as a God who is Righteous, Holy, Just, Gracious, Loving, and Merciful, amongst other things, at all times, not compromising one attribute for another. People do not want a God who is all powerful, all knowing, and present everywhere at all times. Because of our sin we only want a God who is there to give us the “warm fuzzies” when times get tough or when things are going especially well for us. But God is not that at all. He is much more than that. He is much better than that. God is not a God who simply predict things. God is sovereign and causes things to happen.

When you decide to ignore a certain attribute or character of God you then start to create your own god in your own image. When you start to ignore an attribute or character of God that He has revealed about Himself in His word, the Bible, you then are worshiping another god. God does not reveal things about Himself to people outside of His word. That is why it is crucial and critical for you to read and know God’s word. The more you read and know God’s word the more you can know God and His character and attributes. Which leads to you being able to worshiping Him for who He really is.

Of course there are other ways to commit Henotheism and that is by worshiping material things, money, food, sex, and yourself while trying to worship the God of the Bible as well.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:19-24)

Other articles on this subject: Love vs. Truth and  Who Do You Think You Are?