Posted in Beliefs, Covenant, gospel, Headship, Law, Salvation, Theology

Law and Gospel Distinct, but not Opposed

“You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord” (Lev 18.4-5; emphasis added).1

As I was traveling home one day after work I flipped on a Christian AM radio broadcast out of Columbus, OH, and the host at the time (a retired minister) gave some very good advice. He said, “The devil is in the extremes.” His point is that straying to the left or the right gets us off the path that God intends for us to walk.

What I have found over the better part of a decade in preaching ministry is that Christians seem to either tip to one side of the other when it comes to God’s Law-Word. Either they get really nervous and begin to think you’re bordering on heretical teaching when you start speaking of the Law of God as a requirement; or, they embrace the Law in such a fashion that their obedience to it is what saves them, not Christ. Both positions are false.

The Law and the Gospel are distinct, but they are in no way in opposition with one another.

The Law of God is always placed before mankind in covenantal status. All people have a covenantal status with God. They are either covenant-keepers or covenant-breakers. We must not view the Law of God as given outside of the covenant.

When Adam sinned he did so as a creature in covenant with his Creator God. As the first man God placed upon him the responsibility of the human race. The command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1.28) was not fulfilled until after the testing period in the garden in Eden (Gen 3). Adam named his wife Eve because she was to be the mother of all living; this took place after the Fall. It was Adam’s response to the Law-Word of God that determined the outcome for his progeny. His choice of acknowledging and submitting to the authority of God’s Word alone determined the type of inheritance he was purchasing for his children. This is true because Adam was stationed as the head of humanity by God, his obedience or transgression would have lasting consequences on all his children.

Rather than listening to the voice of God, Adam chose to listen to the voice of a fellow creature (his wife) and his own heart (he made his own choice, no one made him do it)—Gen 3:12, 17. This act of rebellion against the Creator earned Adam and his children after him the position of being covenant-breakers. In the language of the apostle Paul we read that it was Adam’s transgression that ushered “sin…into the world… and death through sin” and this “spread to all men [i.e. people] because all sinned” (Rom 5.12. In short, Adam’s trespass brought condemnation to all men for through him all his children became sinners (cf. Rom 5.16-20). Which means that in Adam our covenantal relationship with God is broken, but the standard NEVER changed!

The problem is not the Law of God.

How could it be when God’s Law is described as holy, good and spiritual (cf. Rom 7.12, 14)? What then is the problem? The problem is found in our hearts and minds. For what impure thing could ever come from the Holy God when it is man that is declared impure (cf. Job 9.2; 25.4)? The promise given to Adam was that if he did well, he would live (cf. Gen 2.16-17).2 The same promise is what we see given in the Leviticus 18:4-5 passage quoted above. The promise is that if we do what is good we will live—”the person who does them shall live by them.”

There is a problem, however, that arises. Just one infraction against the Law of God on one point is to be guilty of breaking all of it. As James the apostle explains to the Christians he is writing to in the first century demonstrates:

  • “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (Jam 2.10; cf. Deut 27.26).

The truth of the matter is this, “without [holiness] no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12.4; HCSB). Perfect obedience to the Law of God equals eternal life. If you do all that the Law instructs you, life is promised. If you are able to do this you will be (not strive to be—you will be) “perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5.48).

Yet it is here where we identify the root problem. Human beings fail to do this very thing:

  • “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God [why?], for it does not submit to God’s law [why?]; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8.7-8).3

Pay attention to the word “cannot” for it adds greater depth to the phrase “does not” before it. The reason the natural person (the way they are born into this world) “does not” keep the Law of God, the Holy Spirit says through Paul, is because he/she “cannot”—they (we) are unable to do so. This text reveals our own inability as human beings to follow the instructional voice of God because of (due to) our natural hostility to the Lord. God speaks and people by their very nature rebel. The commandment of God comes and we are appalled. Not only do we not keep the Law of God because we do not want to, we do not want to because we are not able.

This is the foundation of why it is said that when man is confronted with the Law of God our mouths are shut. We have nothing to boast in, because we are by nature rebels at heart. We demonstrate that we are covenant-breakers rather than covenant-keepers at every point in response to God’s Law-Word:

  • “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God [why?]. For the works of the law no human being will be justified in his [God’s] sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3.19-20; emphasis added).

The Holy Scriptures are adamant on this point; the Law of God proves that we are sinners. The Law of God which promises life to those who obey all of it brings forth condemnation to the whole human race because of our inability to keep it.

The reason this is important is…?

We need to understand our current relationship as God’s creatures. Our internal relationship towards God will determine our internal/external reaction to Gods Law-Word. In Adam we are all covenant-breakers; that’s our status. In Christ people become covenant-keepers; that’s the new status, not because of what we do, but only because of what He has done as our representative head.

Jesus obeyed the Law of God perfectly. He never sinned. Therefore, his life of holiness is what enables God to remain both just and the justifier; giving to the offspring of Christ the status through inheritance that He alone enjoyed—i.e. Holiness leading to life; eternally.

  • “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2Cor 5.17-18).

Why does the Bible say this?

Our standing before God as covenant-keepers has been changed, by what Christ’s life purchased on our behalf.

  • “For our sake he made him…” Who made who? God the Father made the Son… “to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor 5.21).
  • “He himself bore our sins in his body on a tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1Pet 2.24).

Righteousness speaks of living-rightly; something we in Adam are incapable of doing as the Law of God demonstrates. Holiness speaks of being separated from sin, purity; something we in Adam are incapable of having as the Law of God demonstrates. And in that state we will never see the Lord (Heb 12.14).

The standard of righteousness and holiness did not change when Adam fell. The requirement still stands:

  • “The one who does them [i.e. obedience to the Law] shall live by them [i.e. promise to continue living]” (Gal 3.12; emphasis added; cf. v.10).

But, we “don’t” and we “can’t” obey the Law of God that is our condition as covenant-breakers, and so…

  • “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the [nations; peoples]4, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gen 3.13-14).

**This is the gospel of God.

The Law and gospel are distinct, but they are not opposed to one another.

The standard of God for righteousness and holiness did not change when in Adam we all became covenant-breakers (i.e. sinners). However, due to our unwillingness and inability to do what is right so that we might live, the Father sent the Son into the world to save His people from their sins (cf. Matt 1.21). This transaction by God the Father on account of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit changed our status before God as covenant-keepers. Jesus became our new head replacing the former one (cf. 1Cor 11.3; 15.22).

With these things in mind—having set the stage so to speak—I want to speak on a few things related to the Law of God and the misunderstandings in terms of the supposed “harshness” or “awfulness” regarding it that I touched on when examining some philosopher’s arguments not long ago. Until then, God bless.

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ENDNOTES:

1 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2 All of God’s Laws have both a positive and negative aspect attributed to them. These are not always stated, but are implied. For example, the commandment not to steal means to enjoy the property that God has provided you. The commandment not to murder means to cherish and protect the life given by God to mankind. The command not to covet what is your neighbors means to covet (desire) that which God has provided you and what God alone can give which leads to contentment. Unfortunately, we do not take the time to mull over all the implications of the Law of God and so, as a result, we miss the full scope of the goodness that God has given us.

3 If you want to know why Paul reaches this conclusion, or if you are confused as to what it means to be “in the flesh,” I would suggest that you go back and read the chapters that lead up to this categorical statement. The scope of this post does not permit me to delve into it. If you would like my reasoning, feel free to ask and I will attempt to respond in a reasonable time frame.

4 The Greek term is “ethnos” which is defined as in a variety of ways, but carries the generalized meaning of nation or people groups. In the O.T. the concept regarded all “foreign nations not worshiping the true God….” Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001. Paul’s point here is that what Christ did fulfilled the promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations (cf. Gen 17.4). These true offspring of Abraham were not physical descendants, but children of the promise which is Paul’s argument throughout the Galatian epistle. As seen in Gal 4 and the argument given in regards to Isaac and Ishmael.

Posted in Covenant, dominion, Genesis 1-3, gospel, Grace, Theology

God’s Covenant with Adam

Today, I want to take what we learned about the five-point covenantal outline found (used) in Scripture and apply it to God’s covenantal relationship with Adam. This is often denoted the Covenant of Works by Reformed theologians and other orthodox teachers of the past. Some deny that there ever was a covenant between God and Adam due to the lack of “I will make a covenant with you…” type language, but this is an unfortunate misunderstanding. God did not say to Adam, “I will make a covenant with you…,” at least that we can know of. Rather, God created the first man in a covenantal relationship with Him. The entirety of Scripture confirms that God is a covenantal God, and so it would be an error on our part to assume that the concept of “covenant” came later as almost an afterthought.

As way of reminder the five-point covenant outline disclosed by Ray R. Sutton1 is as follows:

  1. Transcendence/immanence—God is distinct (transcendent) from His creation and yet personally present (immanence).
  2. Hierarchy/Representation—God is the ultimate authority as Creator (hierarchy) and He has created Image Bearers to Mirror Him (representation).
  3. Ethics/Law—God has the right to set the standard of how His creatures ought to live (Ethics), and He has established these moral precepts (Laws) which reflect His Holy heart.
  4. Sanctions/Blessing or Cursing—God as Judge with execute judgment (sanctions), giving good (blessing) to the obedient and bad (cursing) to the disobedient creatures He has made.
  5. Continuity/Inheritance—God promises either life or death (continuity), and our reaction to our Creator affects our future (inheritance) both temporally and eternally.

While, I find the above helpful I think that seeing them in question format makes it a bit easier to see their logical layout:

  1. Who is God?
  2. Who represents God?
  3. What are God’s laws?
  4. What are His sanctions?
  5. Who will inherit?2

What we find in the opening chapter of Genesis is that everyone of these points is touched upon.

Point One—Who is God? The Transcendent Personal Creator God

The Bible does not attempt to prove God, but assumes Him from the very first verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen1.1).3 Here we find point one answered, God is the Creator of all things. He transcends His creation because He is distinct from it. He is not a part of creation in a pantheistic sense for He spoke it into existence (cf. Gen 1.3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26; Psa 33.6, 9; 148.5).

And yet, we find that God not only transcends His creation, He shares a personal affinity towards it (immanence); part 2 of point 1. He is directly involved with it personally. This is demonstrated in a variety of ways. First, He puts His personal blessings on everything He made. When the Lord made the creatures of the air, land and sea He blessed them, gave them food and told them to be fruitful and multiply (cf. Gen 1.22, 29-30). Secondly, we find this personal aspect of God’s interaction with His creation in the forming of Adam.

First we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man…So God created man…male and female he created them. And God blessed them.” (Gen 1.26a, 27a & c, 28a). In Genesis 2 we are given more details regarding this creative act of God in making man on day 6 of creation.

“Then the Lord God formed the man of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen 2.7). Catch this, the Lord not only formed the man from the very clay of this earth (the potted vessel), but He then breathes into this man the breath of life making this new creature of dirt a living being. Life, precious life comes from God, but the Lord is not done yet.

In the very next verse we read that “the Lord God [had] planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden…” (Gen 2.8-9a).

Again, we find the personal tenderness and care of this Creator God who though He is distinct (transcendent) from His creation, He goes to great lengths to make His presence known to His creatures in the way that He provides for them (life, blessing and purpose); and as we shall see in a bit, in the way He instructs them. God who created everything “very good” (Gen 1.31) took the man who He made last—distinct from all other life on the planet—and placed this man in a garden in Eden. The man’s own private sanctuary of joy and beauty, where he was to be reminded, and in light of this reminder, enjoys his Creator.

Point Two—Who represents God? God the Chief Hierarch and man His representative

Just as the Bible assumes the Triune God of creation, so too is His authority presupposed. “The Lord is high above all nations and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” (Psa 113.4-6). “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…[for] Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales” (Isa 44.22, 15).

The Scriptures describe God as above all things and all other things (His own creation) as nothing. He alone has ultimate authority over all things. He alone is to be praised.

Yet, we find that God has established man as His representative. Not only did the Lord God create man in the beginning, but He made the man to mirror Him in all of life, giving him authority to rule over lesser creatures.

  • “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living that moves on the earth” (Gen 1.26-28).

The dominion or rule that God has given the man is to be done in a reflective manner after the Creator who created him (and her). Both genders, male and female, are the image bearers of God. They are both given the responsibility of displaying God’s likeness to the rest of creation. The subduing of the earth (v.28) and the dominion over the earth (v.26) is to be done in a godly fashion. Man was not created as an independent being, but a dependent creature. Much like a baby in the womb is dependent upon her mother via the umbilical cord, so too is the man and woman of God (His possession) to be so plugged into Him (i.e. dependency).

Point Three—What are God’s Laws? God’s Law/Ethics, His Instruction sets the Moral boundaries of His creatures

Because God has authority over mankind as the Transcendent Creator, and due to the fact that God has made mankind to image Him in the rest of creation, God necessarily sets the rules/codes of conduct. In short, God tells human beings how to think and live (act). We see this in the early details of Genesis 1-2.

God commands the man to be fruitful and multiple. They are to form family units and have babies in order to fill the earth (v.28). One of the things that ought to strike our attention is the detailed plot line in Genesis 2.

God formed the man first, and then the Lord began to bring various animals to the man on the sixth day, to see what he would name them. This was not pet naming as we do with cats and dogs, but classifying animals within their various kinds based upon their characteristics. God doesn’t do anything without a purpose behind it; so what’s the purpose here?

God knows things that His creatures do not—God is omniscient—and one of the things He knows early on day sixth is that “it is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper fit for him” (Gen 2.18). As Adam is naming the animals he no doubt notices that they have two genders, male and female. They have equal counterparts, but not so for him. Thus we are told in Gen 2:20, “But for Adam there was not a helper fit for him.” Adam learned this through God’s object lesson.

Therefore, once the lesson has sunk in the Lord performs the first surgery in history. He puts Adam into a deep sleep (by the way this is why/how anesthesia was invented) and takes some meat and bone from his side (Gen 2.21). From that flesh and bone the Lord forms the woman, and then after Adam is awake brings her to the man (Gen 2.22).

Notice Adam’s response: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen 2.23). In other words, Adam was so excited by this new gift of the Lord—a helper comparable to him—that he said “Woooo-man!” (Sorry, couldn’t resist a little humor here). In short, Adam learned what God already knew; God is seen forming Adam’s thinking, helping him determine what is good.

God also tells the man that he was created to work. He is given instruction (command/law) “to work it and keep” the creation given to him. Yes, it is, in a word, a paradise, but this is not a Sandal’s Resort. Adam cannot lazily lounge by the river drinking from a glass with an umbrella in it; he has been instructed to work, to exercise dominion (cf. Gen 1.26, 28). By the way, part of that instruction from the Lord in guarding (“keeping” means to build a hedge around it) what has been entrusted to him, is properly teaching and protecting his wife. Which, he does a poor job of doing as we see in Genesis 3.

The Lord also tells Adam what he is allowed to eat, and what he is not. Genesis 1:29-30 tells us that God gave all plant life for food. In Genesis 2:9 we see that God has created a wonderful orchard from which the man and woman may enjoy. However, in the middle of the garden the Lord put a “NO-TRESSPASSING” sign on one tree—The Tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2.9b). “This tree,” said the Lord “is off limits. You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2.16b-17).

This particular tree did not have “special knowledge,” and no the man did not need to eat of it in order “to learn” what was good and bad. That knowledge had already been established when God said “No!” This law of God established the boundary line of what was “good and evil,” as in all the other thing that God had been doing this instruction was given in order to teach the man and woman how to think and act. They were God’s representatives, not their own.

Point Four—What are God’s Sanctions? God Blesses Obedience and Curses Disobedience

God is judge: “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work” (Eccl 3.17). And, as judge God rewards faithfulness to His Law-Word, but promises negative acts of retribution to those who are unfaithful.

As long as Adam was obedient to the Law-Word of God he was promised Life. The other tree in the middle of the garden was the Tree of Life (Gen 2.9). Adam and his wife were not prohibited from eating from this tree.

If you remember in my last post I pointed out that the those in covenant with God in the O.T./N.T. (via circumcision/baptism), were allowed to eat at the table of the Lord. Both tables (Passover and Eucharist) symbolize life and blessing to the faithful. However, they also symbolize death and cursing. To attempt to partake of the Lords table in an unholy fashion promised separation from the goodness of God (cf. 1Cor 11.27-32).

Adam disobeyed the voice of the Lord. He disregarded the commands/instruction/law of his Creator, instead turning inwardly to the creature. He allowed the serpent to deceive his wife, he allowed his wife to coerce him to go against what he knew to be true, and in so doing he purposefully and willfully rebelled against his Creator in whose image he was made (cf. Gen 3.1-7; 17-19). The consequence is that the earth was cursed (Gen 3.17; Rom 8.19-22) as signified by “thorns and thistles” (Gen 2.18), and the days of man’s existence will be painful labor where eventually the body will waste away and return to the dust from which it came (Gen 3.19).

Point Five—Who will inherit? God Promises Temporal and Eternal Inheritances in light of one’s Reaction towards Him

The final judgment that day was being kicked out of the garden (cherubim were placed guarding it) and access was denied to the Tree of Life (Gen 3.22-24). That was the inheritance that Adam bought for his offspring. This is why Paul later says that all human beings in Adam were condemned as sinners (Rom 5.12, 18-19) and are therefore “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2.3; italics added). The Greek term for nature4 Paul uses here in his Ephesian letter, describing the fate of all mankind means by “birth, physical origin.” Therefore, we “were [born] dead in…trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1). Adam’s sin purchased death (separation) from God. The umbilical cord, so to speak, was severed by his transgression, and as the representative head of the human race we are born into this world in that state.

Closing Remarks…

The good-news is found in the grace of God. Adam could not cover (atone) for his transgression, but God could. This image of covering is displayed in Genesis 3:21 when “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” They attempted to cover (atone; clothe) their nakedness (Hebrew for sin/shame) in Genesis 3:7, but what they couldn’t do for themselves the Lord did for them. Why? Because of the promise He gave in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity [hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This has nothing to do with fear of snakes, that’s just foolish superstitious belief, but it has everything to do with God’s promise to redeem and ransom and regenerate fallen mankind in Jesus Christ.

All in Christ receive eternal life (Matt 19.29; Rom 6.23) having been adopted back as God’s children (John 1.12-13; Rom 8.15; Gal 4.5). Every one of the points above is found demonstrated in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the God-Man. He acknowledged God as Creator (He knew His Father; cf. Luke 10.22; John 10.15), and He acknowledged God’s authority (John 8.28; 12.49) and therefore
perfectly imaged Him in all creation (cf. Col 1.15;Heb 1.3) by doing all that the Father commanded Him (cf. Matt 5.17; John 14.31; Heb 5.8) He was richly blessed (cf. Rom 9.5; also see Isa 9.6-7; Dan 7.13-14) and inherited for His offspring an unfailing inheritance (cf. 1Pet 1.4).

I have more to say, but your eyes need a rest…until next time.

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ENDNOTES:

1 Outline points taken from: Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion by Covenant, 3rd Printing (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, [1987], 1997).

2 Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), 92.

2 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

4 5449
φύσις [phusis /foo·sis/] n f. Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001.

Posted in Biblical Questions, Christian Living, Christian Perspective, gospel, Theology, war, Worldview Analysis

The Battle of the Gospel Starts Here: Our Heart, Our Lives

So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1Cor 9.26-27)

If Christians are called to be at war with the surrounding culture. If the gospel may be rightly viewed as a battle motif. Then, where does the war…where does the battle begin? In other words, if we are going to combat wrong by standing for what is righteous and true, then where should our focus be primarily?

The apostle Paul understood that in preaching to others, he had a responsibility before God and to his fellow man to make sure his life modeled his words. If he were to be an effective witness for Christ (1Cor 9.23), then he needed to run the race (1Cor 9.24) with the attitude of determination. This is why he said he didn’t run without a purpose, or merely shadow box the air. Everything he did, he did for the Lord who had saved him from sin.

By definition a Christian is one who follows Jesus Christ. That is to say the standard our Lord appealed to is the same standard that we are commanded to live by. This is the meaning behind the Lord’s words to His disciples on the sermon on the Mount: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5.48).

Now if you have spent anytime at all walking with the Lord you should be able to readily testify that as Christians we fall horribly short of this standard. Neither is our love for God or our fellow man perfect. If we are honest with ourselves we fail quite frequently in mimicking God’s Holiness back at Him and in His creation as a whole. However, our inability to be perfect is not an excuse. The requirement of obedience still stands.

Paul understood something that we “moderns” have a hard time grasping today. Before Christ we were slaves of sin. For example, he explained to his Roman audience the following truth: “Do you not know that if you present to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6.16-18). Where did Paul get such an idea? From the Lord, naturally.

Jesus had explained this truth to the Jews during His earthly ministry. They assumed that it was their earthly status as members of the covenant by circumcision as the natural born children of Abraham that ensured they were truly children of God (His chosen; His elect). And yet, Jesus taught very clearly that it was not by means “of blood…[or] of the will of the flesh…[or] of the will of man” (John 1.13) that determined such things. He explained very clearly that every person who sinned was a slave of sin (cf. John 8.34), and the only hope of not continuing in that state of enslavement was if the Son set them free. For “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8.36).

Now you may miss the significance of this statement by our Lord (many Jews did), depending on the interpretative lens you are looking through. The essential point that Jesus is making in light of what the rest of the Scripture teaches is that there is not a single person on earth who can claim that they are not sinners for all men sin: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Eccl 7.20; cf. 2Chron 6.36; Rom 3.23; 5.19).

It was not until God knocked Paul off of his high horse and made the spiritual blinders fall off that he truly began to grasp the depths of his fallenness. The new birth opened the blinded eyes of Saul of Tarsus, whom we know affectionately as the apostle Paul1, which is demonstrated for the reader of Acts 9:18 when “something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. The he rose and was baptized…” (cf. 2Cor 4.3-4).

After Paul’s life was radically changed by our Lord Jesus Christ, he knew to be true what so many of his brethren did not that between Jew and Gentile there is no distinction of persons when it comes to being born a sinner; a slave of sin (Rom 3.9). Only through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit can a dead-person be changed to a living one. The exchange of old to new cannot take place unless granted from above.

Now my point today is that though this is true, the fact remains that putting on the new man (Christ) is at the same time a two-fold process. On the one hand we are immediately sanctified (set-apart) in Jesus, we have been given a new nature in Him. However, this transfer of a new Christ-like nature does not immediately remove in its entirety our sinful nature; the two are at war with one another as Paul taught on numerous occasions.

  • “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have a desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Rom 7.18-25).2
  • “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal 5.16-17).

I would be remiss if I did not show how these passages relate to the conclusion Paul draws about the Christian life in general: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5.25). What is meant by this statement of Paul is this: “If we have been granted new life by the Spirit—that is we have been born of the Spirit; we live because of Him (cf. John 6.63)—then we ought to walk in the manner to the newness of life we have been given.” In other words, we need to be consistent.

Therefore, this is the reason Paul says what he does in 1Cor 9:26-27. He does not aimlessly live his life in a fashion where he has no discipline or self-control. Rather, he disciplines his own life in order to align it with the Lord who has saved and redeemed him, and so that when he preaches and teaches others to conform their lives to the Word of God he is not disqualified for failing to do what is required of all Christians: “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1John 2.6).

The battle then starts in our own lives. Make no mistake about it, Christians are called to war. The gospel of Jesus Christ is militant in that everyone is commanded to repent (Acts 17.30). Either we bow the knee to Christ and kiss him in humility or there will come a day in the near future when we will be forced to bow the knee in fear (Psa 2; Matt 28.18; Phil 2.10-12; Rev 20.10, 15; 21.8).

We cannot hope to engage the culture around us if we are unwilling to allow the sword of truth to slay us first. We must be willing to fight sin in our own lives, nailing them to the cross of Christ. And then, in accordance with our God we stand against all forms of unrighteousness in our home, our churches, and our nation (Psa 9.8; 22.31; 82.2-5).

Contrary to popular belief 3 Christians are called to judge, but they are called to judge righteously, not according to personal standards that are subjective to the individual in question, but according to eternal standards that are objective to the God in whose character they reflect. This action on the part of Christians is not possible if we are not willing to fight the sin that remains in us. We do not do this on our power alone—we cannot—but we do so because the Holy Spirit equips us. It is by the Spirit through His Word that we are enabled to conform to the life of Christ, but this is a daily battle—i.e. carrying our cross, suffering for His sake.

____________________

ENDNOTES:

1 This was not a name change, as is sometimes supposed, but rather is Paul’s Greek name that he used to identify with his Gentile (Greek, etc.) audience.

2 The internal struggle that Paul is disclosing to his audience here, the two laws warring within his own heart as a believer is meant to be understood as a “governing principle.” As with any word the semantic range can be quite wide, but is limited according to the context in which the term is used. In this case, when Paul speaks of “law” he is not speaking of the Law of God as a set of precepts or commands, but the law of sin as a governing principle that desires to or is tempted to do evil, just as the law of righteousness is a governing principle of willing to do good from God’s vantage point; in accordance with His revealed Law-Word.

3 There is a world of difference between what is popularly held to as Christian practice versus what the Bible teaches as Christian doctrine.

Posted in Christian Living, Christian Perspective, dominion, gospel, Salvation, Theology

The Gospel: A Battle Motif?

What do we mean when we say gospel? Words do not speak for themselves they are interpreted and the baggage we carry effects how we understand their meaning. This is why context is so important. Context defines the word, it reveals the sense in which the term is being used.

In Christian circles we have a tendency of throwing words out in dialogue anticipating that our audience has the same understanding that we do. This is especially true when we speak the same language (i.e. English/Christianese), but we are committing a grave error when we refuse to take the time explaining what we mean when we say what we say.

The term gospel in its simplest form means “good-news.”

You got an “A” on your last assignment in class, or you received a raise in your hourly rate at work and you tell others about it…that is an example of sharing the gospel with others. You’ve told people the good-news of events in your life. Obviously, I am using the word “gospel” in a very generic sense, but I hope you get the gist at what I am driving at. The word “gospel” only has the meaning we assign to it.[1]

Well, when a Christian says gospel what is meant?

Some may point their audience to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV 1611). Or another may refer to 1Cor 15:1-4: “Now I would remind your, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (ESV).[2]

To be sure those are specific elements of the gospel of God, of Jesus Christ the Son, but they only provide a small portion of the gospel in light of biblical teaching. The gospel of Jesus (his life, death and resurrection) is the crown jewel to be sure, for there is no one greater, no one more precious, no one more significant that Jesus of Nazareth—the Living Word that put-on flesh and tabernacle among us (John 1.14) in order to save His people from their sins (Matt 1.21). To make use of another analogy, this gospel of Jesus is the sharpened tip of the arrow fired by God the Father and carried along by God the Holy Spirit; for this gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1.16b). And yet, this is not a complete explanation of the gospel.

Contrary to popular opinion the gospel is not limited to Jesus of Nazareth[3], nor the first four books of the New Testament, nor the entire N. T. canon; for, the gospel is found throughout the entirety of God’s Word. Both covenants, new and old, contain all the essential elements of the gospel of the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). From the very first verse when we are told “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1.1), to the very last portion of the book of Revelation “He who testifies to these things say, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev 22.20-21) encases the entirety of the gospel.

The gospel is the good-news of God starting from creation to consummation. But even after I have said all of that and many heads are found shaking in agreement if I were to ask you to define the gospel would you be able? A truncated version of it I have heard on countless occasions, but a deeper understanding of all it entails is often found wanting.

What makes the gospel of Jesus truly good-news? What is promised in Scripture from beginning to end? That God has created a special people, a peculiar people to be His prized possession for all eternity, and to them He has given the great gifts of His love. Life with Him and an inheritance that is imperishable (see 1Pet 1.3-5).

Salvation in Christ is offered in the gospel. His life for ours that is the crown jewel of this/his precious work. Yet, this is not salvation merely from hell, nor is it limited to the gift of heaven, but an entirely new life.

  • “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in the flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2.13-18; also see 4.16-24).

A brief summary of this text reveals to the reader that the wall of separation has been demolished between the Jew and Greek (cf. v. 12) and between God and man for in Christ’s atoning sacrifice “the dividing wall of hostility” is no more having been killed (v.14, 16; also see Rom 8.7-8; Col 1.20-21).[4] The former ordinances (ceremonial observances/laws) are removed as Christ’s life has been given as the perfect substitute nullifying the need for them any longer (v.15a; cf. Heb 7-10). Through Christ peace has been granted to all former covenant breakers (both Jew/Gentile) enabling them to be covenant-keepers as citizens of the kingdom of Christ under His headship (see vv. 19-22; cf. Isa 9.6-7; Col 1.13-22).

The gospel of God, of Christ…is the gospel of the kingdom. All four of the gospels (synoptics and Johannine) reveal this fact. Before Jesus began his earthly ministry, the forerunner known as the Baptist named John the son of a Levite preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3.2). The Lord’s message was the same, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1.15). As well as that of the apostles/disciples of Christ after His ascension: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24.14). Evidence that this is practiced by the disciples of the Lord (this includes more than just the twelve) is summed up in this statement recorded for us in Acts 17:7 where antagonists to the gospel were found complaining, “…and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”

A Battle Motif?

What I would like present to you is that the gospel is in reality a battle motif. That is to say, when Jesus stepped into history as the second (last) Adam he did so as the chief representative of God and man. After his anointing in the Jordan River by John, he is immediately driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested for 40 days; the start of war.

Satan comes probably anticipating the same sort of results with Jesus that he had enjoyed with Adam[5], but to his chagrin he fails. In what comes as a precursor to the smashing of his head when Jesus is crucified (a bruising of his heel; cf. Gen 3.15; John 12.31), the man from Nazareth demonstrates dominion[6] subduing the earth and all that is in it (cf. Gen 1.28)[7] including even demonic forces that have their mouths shut and are effectively driven off wherever Christ Jesus marches (cf. Luke 4.33-36; Mark 5.1-13).

Why a battle motif? Why label the gospel in such a light? Why call Christ’s gospel, which the gospel of the kingdom—His Kingdom—a battle motif? Because that is the thematic scheme we see presented in the gospels. True, the Gospel According to Matthew is often seen as the one that emphasizes Jesus’ kingship in the line of David, but the reality is that all four gospels demonstrate that Jesus is Sovereign over the creation to which He was sent. He is the only one capable of binding the strongman and saving His people from their bondage. The salvation He offers is not just salvation from hell, but salvation from sin. Not just personal sin, but sin that has marred creation since the Fall in the garden.

Therefore, when Jesus says to the Jews in John 8, “If you will abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (vv. 31-32). He is stating a total renewal of fallen mankind, for the ones who faithfully abide in His Word. Salvation from being a slave to sin, which is salvation from wrong thinking (i.e. being renewed in your mind according to godly wisdom, not earthly wisdom), from wrong speaking and acting (i.e. glorifying God with our words and actions through righteous/holy living; loving our neighbors as ourselves).

As Jesus told Pilate, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18.36-37). Jesus entered history as the rightful king and He established His sovereign authority over all of creation. His people, those who have been born again and by having done so have gained access to his kingdom (see John 3), are likewise charged to serve Him.

As king, he waged war against the forces of darkness. He addressed sinners, demons, and the ills that plague creation in individuals and societies, and He expects His children to do the same. The Lord waged war against sin and its effects and He leaves no room for neutrality for those who profess His Name.

The Battle Begins in Our Hearts

Of course, this war/battle first starts within individual hearts, but logically and naturally branches beyond personal aspirations to creational aspirations (all of creation). The gospel brings life and victory. As the old hymn goes, “Sing it, shout it, all day long! Victory unto the Lord now and forever!” We are at war with everything false posited against our Lord and Savior, and the gospel is the sweet-smelling victory to those who are being saved, but an unsavory scent of death to those who are perishing.

I suppose my encouragement to my brethren at this point is this: leave no stone uncovered, but expose all to the light of our Lord. Start first with your own life, but in turn address wrong with the truth wherever it may be found.  

ENDNOTES:


[1] I’m not insinuating that the gospel means different things for different people in a biblical sense. The gospel is defined biblically as God’s good-news. The gospel then is not subjective to man’s thoughts, but is submissive to God’s thoughts. Our definition must be shown to be drawn from Scripture, not our own personal whims.

[2] Henceforth, all Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[3] I want to be clear here. Jesus is the essence of the living gospel. There is no gospel without him! Although, I hate when people say (even though I do not doubt they are well-meaning enough) that we need to live the gospel. The gospel is propositional truth. You cannot live a propositional truth, although such truth will affect the way one lives their lives. This is the gospel applied, but it is not the gospel—living or otherwise. With Jesus, I suppose one might call him a living embodiment of all the gospel entails, as His life was a sinless anomaly humanly speaking. He embodied the fullness of God the Father in fleshly form (cf. Eph 1.23; Col 1.19; 2.9), and through Him God revealed perfectly what He expects of His creation (meaning man; Heb 1:3).  

[4] It is of paramount importance that we recognize at this point that the wall of hostility revealed in fallen man is two-fold. On the first our lives are really dead things. In order for us to be in right relationship with God another life must be substituted for our own. In the past (O.T.), the ceremonial laws of sacrifice were given to the children of Israel (Jacob) as a means of demonstrating this need, for without another’s lifeblood the person in question remains dead in trespasses and sins (something Paul discussed earlier in Eph 2.1-3). On the second our lives before Christ are in hostility to our Creator. Before the Holy Spirit’s intervention into our lives we are the natural enemies of God (cf. Rom 5.10), what the same apostle quoted above noted previously in Romans 8:7-8 is how this position of man plays out in normative life: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. That who are in the flesh cannot please God” (italics added).

[5] Satan in the garden usurped Adam’s position as head over earthly creation. He was in a sense enthroned as a mock king, but the promise given in Gen 3:15 marked a time in history when his usurping butt would be effectively kicked off the throne. The would be king would be dethroned by the one true king, the rightful king, the one labeled “King of kings and Lord of lords,” the one that all other lesser creatures are forced to bow down to and pay homage. It is not coincidental that Psalm 110 is quoted more in the N.T. than any other passage in reference to Jesus, nor should we be surprised that that apostles appeal to Psalm 2 in Acts 4:24-30 as proof that God would hear their prayer and bless their efforts.

[6] Kings by nature rule for that is their role (lot) in life. Adam was created as a son of God and therefore a prince (mighty chief) over created things on this earth. As God’s representative, he was presented with the special privilege of glorifying His maker. In this, he failed the task set before him, but where he failed the last Adam did not. He, unlike the former, was the perfect representative of God—reflecting His glory at every point of contact in creation; and of man—demonstrating what true human living was to look like in loving God and loving neighbor in all righteousness.

[7] This includes creatures of the sea (Luke 5.4-7; John 21.5-8), the elements of the air (Mark 4.37-41), of water—turning water into wine (John 2.3-11), and even tiny creeping microorganisms, including our DNA in order to heal lepers, the blind, the lame and the dead raising them from their graves (cf. Matt 11.5). There are actually a plethora of verses that testify to these mighty deeds of our Lord