Posted in Biblical Questions

Thoughts on Biblical Death: Part 2

OUTLINE

I. Death: Result (wages) of Sin

1. In Adam we all die. As his offspring we all inherit death as a consequent sentence of his disobedience in the garden. In Adam we become sinners, and as a result we die physically due to our separation from God. We are born unclean, unholy, unrighteous enemies of God; children of wrath.

2. We are all sinners, but that does not mean all our sins are crimes. Some sins are criminal in nature and result in the swift judgment of God in terms of a death sentence. I have identified three subsets under this category in studying the Old Testament (Tanakh; hereafter OT).

      • Major—Group Death Sentence.
      • Minor—Individual law-breaking death sentence
      • Cut-off—A death sentence in a metaphoric sense.

3. We are all sinners and this, if not repented of, results in everlasting condemnation. This is found in the New Testament (hereafter; NT) more than any other part of the Bible.

**Summation of the parts: All of us die physically as a consequence of Adam’s sin. Some of us may die in this life, having our lives cut short, if our sins are worthy of a punishment of death by violating God’s law. Some of us may experience death figuratively speaking, in the sense of being cut-off, but this is not necessarily a permanent state. Some of us will experience eternal punishment for rebelling against our Maker, having died in our sins. For such, there is no repentance of sins possible.

II. Death: Results (wages) of Christ’s Righteousness

1. In Christ we all die . However, what we die to is different than the death we were born into. We are born “dead in trespasses and sins,” but when we die in Christ, we are reborn “dead to trespasses and sins.” In Christ, we die so that righteousness may abound. In this way, He makes all things new, and we are new in that we are creations in/through Him. For these the power of death has been broken, and it is robbed from the victory that the evil one desired.

The Types of Death We Witness after the Fall (OT)

As was noted in the outline provided above (Part 1, point 2) there are three subsets of physical death that are directly/indirectly a result of Adam’s rebellion as seen in the OT. The first two we shall look at are sentences of death carried out by the Lord God and his representatives (civil magistrates). These result as a violation of His holy law. I have classified them as major and minor cases. These sections nor the footnoted texts in support of them are not meant to be exhaustive. They are given, however, to encourage the reader to knock some dust off their Bible’s if they’ve laid around for far too long. Or, if that’s not the case, maybe you need to get past some of your pet verses that you’ve spent the majority of your time stroking.

Death as Judgment… (Major Cases)

Many of the deaths that we witness in the OT are related specifically to judgments delved out by the Lord. The catastrophic Flood of Noah’s day is one example.[1] Another is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.[2] We have the plagues poured out on Egypt culminating in the death of the firstborn who failed to heed the Lord’s destruction.[3] When that wasn’t enough God destroyed Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea.[4] The rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram is one example of many where God judges a multitude for their sin.[5] The Israeli vs. Canaanite conquests where Moses and Joshua led many battle campaigns against the foes of the Lord.[6] The destruction of the Northern Kingdom Israel by the Assyrians,[7] the devastation wrought against Jerusalem and Southern Kingdom of Judah by Babylon[8] give ample proof of God’s retributive action.

Time and time again we witness war being waged by the Lord against sinful men. The reason they died is because they had broken God’s law and it was a just punishment for their sin.[9] Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it. The law is a nonnegotiable standard.  Law breakers are still guilty if they violate the law without detailed knowledge.[10] Each of these types of death were exercises of penal punishment—i.e., the death penalty being enacted.

Death as Judgment… (Minor Cases)

In this short space, I’ve spoken primarily about the major penal executions carried out in the OT, but there are more deaths that fall under this category. God established as the 6th commandment “Thou shall not kill [murder]…” (Exod 20.13), some mistakenly apply this to all manners of killing. However, there are some sins that are worthy of death (1John 5.16-17). Take for example the death of Lot’s wife.[11]

These would fall under the criminal statutes laid out in the case laws of the OT. Here are a few criminal offenses that receive the highest form of punishment, the death penalty: Adultery[12], Man-stealing (i.e., forced slavery/chattel slavery)[13], rape[14], attacking one’s parents (not little children but adults)[15], blasphemy[16] (includes lying under oath against one’s neighbor,[17] if the perjury would have granted the accused a death sentence), various manners of sexual exploits (incest[18], bestiality[19], sodomy[20] (which would cover the entirety of the LGBTQ? today), sacrificing of children[21] (i.e., abortion, infanticide, or child sacrifice), false worship (like Aaron’s sons),[22] and false teaching.[23]

Though the penalty for such sins—sins of a criminal nature and not merely private—was death, this does not mean that lesser punishments could not be delved out by the elders at the gate.[24] Moreover, it was not a simple matter to enact this strictest form of punishment. In order to get the death penalty, the civil system had to prove their case on the testimony of two-to-three (solid) witness.[25] They did not merely take the word of such individuals, but were required before God to inspect the crime fully. The accused were assumed innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around (or why else look for perjuring witnesses?).

Death Metaphorically Speaking…(Cut-off)

Death is spoken of, or referred to, in a number of circumstances in the OT that do not pertain to physical death. For example, you have the concept of being “cut-off” from the assembly of Israel due to uncleanliness. This can be seen in a variety of instances. We will briefly look at three.

Leprosy is spoken of in Leviticus 13-14. Those found with that contagion are cut-off from the congregation of Israel, unless or until a priest declares them clean (i.e., having been cured of the disease). This served as a living example of sin. Not that the leper necessarily committed a sin to contract the illness, but just as sin kept one from the sacraments and worship (i.e., access to God) so too does sin break the bond of fellowship with one’s creator. Though living, the leper was in a sense as good as dead. They were cut-off from their friends, their family, their jobs, and various rituals of worship given to God’s elected people.

I would recommend that the reader become familiar with the purpose behind circumcision[26] (the cutting off of that flesh demonstrated a transition from life and death, unclean to clean, apart from God to be a part with God). I would also point to what divorce actually entails in both OT and in the NT. To be divorced is a death of the relationship.[27] The innocent part therein was allowed by the Lord to remarry, but the guilty party was restricted (though many still did it). To break the bonds of the marriage covenant (i.e., adultery) earned the guilty with two or more witnesses a death sentence.

Unfortunately, those unfamiliar with the OT and the relationship of God’s law with His people (as further defined in the case laws) do more harm than good when they attempt to teach on these matters (cf. 1Tim 1.6-8).[28]

Forthcoming…

Next, we will look at the final type of death taught as a consequence of Adam’s sin as cited in the NT. In that post we shall look at the final state of those who die in their sin. 


ENDNOTES:

[1] Read Gen 6-9.

[2] Read Gen 18-19

[3] Read Exod 1-13

[4] Read Exod 14-15

[5] Read Numb 16

[6] Exod-Numb, Joshua-Judges-1Sam. These books provide the information you are looking for.

[7] E.g., Isa 10; Hosea 5-10

[8] See Jer 20.4; 29.21; 39.6-7; Ezek 12.13-16; Dan 1-4. Again, none of these references are meant to be exhaustive. They are merely pointers to get you started in your study. When reading prophetic books, pay attention to the timing of the prophecy given. This is usually in the opening sentences of the book in question. This provides historical context. Next look at the books of Kings and Chronicles for the kings of the period mentioned. In the prophetic books the name Israel sometimes refers to the whole nation as if it were united since their calling out of Egypt as sons/daughters of Jacob, but at other times this refers primarily to the Northern Kingdom (also called Ephraim) that split after the kingship of Solomon.

Check your assumptions at the door. Be aware of your traditions that might lead you falsely. Sometimes it is argued that these prophetic utterances only speak of the end of all things, but be aware that the vast majority of those prophecies were given as an indictment (a legal case) against the people, kings and prophets/priests of that day not our day or some future date. Also note that symbolic language has a literal meaning, but only when the symbol is correctly understood from what has been spoken of prior. Which means you cannot read your understanding of symbols today—in our generation—back into the period of the prophets. This is a bad hermeneutic (way of drawing a meaning from the exegeted text) to practice on any part of Scripture, let alone biblical prophecy.

[9] See Lev 18.24-25; Lev 20.22-23; Deut 12.32; 18.12. What these passages prove is that God judges a nation for breaking His holy law regardless of the knowledge they have. It is true that there are variances in “eternal condemnation” for violators of God’s edicts, but the physical penalty is death. And this was carried out on all nations at different times. Cherry picking texts or glazing over them due to traditional blinders is not an excuse for not knowing these things if you are a teacher of the Word of God. Understanding them in light of today’s context requires wisdom, but we must not do as some have done in ethical matters and dismiss God’s holy law as no longer applicable.

[10] The late Greg L. Bahnsen explains as much in his ethical work “By This Standard.” On this particular subject he writes, “Only Israel was given a written revelation of these laws, to be sure. All will grant that. But that fact alone does not imply that only Israel was bound to obey the moral standards expressed in such written revelation. After all,” Bahnsen continues, “though Paul, God wrote to the Ephesian and Colossian churches that children should obey their parents (Eph 6:1; Col 3:20), and nobody seriously takes that fact to imply that only children of Christian parents are under moral obligation to obey their parents. Therefore, the fact that only Israel was given a special revelation of certain political laws would not imply that only Israel was bound to keep such laws” (see also Rom 1.30-32; 2.12-15). Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, [1985], 1998), 234, PDF e-book.

For the reader that may still have difficulty with this idea of being held accountable where a law might not be known, I would merely refer them to our current traffic law system. To speed is a violation regardless of whether or not the driver is aware of the speed limit placed on a particular area (say a suburb). Though leniency might be shown, the guilty will still be held accountable by the law. The Judge reserves the right to make determinations that he finds equitable given the nature of the case (cf. Gen 18.25).

[11] See Gen 19:17, 26; Luke 17:32; compare with Acts 5:3-5, 8-10.

[12] Lev 20:10.

[13] Exod 21:16.

[14] Deut 22:25-26.

[15] Exod 21:15, 17.

[16] Lev 24:16.

[17] Deut 19.18-20.

[18] Lev 18:6,

[19] Lev 18.7-19, 20:11-12, 17-21.

[20] Lev 20:13.

[21] Lev 20:1-5; Exod 21:22-25.

[22] Lev 10:1-3. Some may wonder why some of these “sins” were labeled criminal offenses worthy of death. No doubt people today have a negative reaction toward such realities. But these crimes were seen as an attack on God first and foremost, and then also the spheres of governance that He had established. The most important of which was the family unit, a close second was society as a whole, and the final consideration was civil authorities. God gave His reasoning for enacting such penalties when necessary, “To purge evil from your midst” (Deut 13.5; 17.7, 12; 21.21; 22.22, 24; 24.7).

Bahnsen writes, “Not only are such penal sanctions necessary in society, they must also be equitable. The measure of punishment according to the just Judge of all the ear is to be an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life—no less, but no more (for example, Ex. 21:23-25; Deut. 19:21). The punishment must be commensurate with the crime, for it is to express retribution against the offender.” Idem., 273.

[23] Deut 13:1-5.

[24] Here James B. Jordan offers some helpful insight into the matter of the maximum penalty of the law. Speaking specifically on the subject of adultery, Jordan points to Mary and Joseph in the gospels. In “…a case of adultery…both would be put to death, unless it were a case of rape [ref. to Deut 22.25-27]. There seems to be some latitude here, however, since we read in Matt 1:19 that ‘Joseph, being a just man…was minded to put her [Mary] away privately.’ Here again we see a circumstantial application of the unchanging law of God; Joseph apparently regarded Mary as basically a good woman, who must have fallen into sin on one occasion, and os he determined that death was too severe a punishment for her. That this was perfectly just, the text itself tells us. This proves, by the way, that the death penalty is not mandatory in all cases where it is prescribed by law. It is the maximum penalty.” James b. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), 148-149, PDF e-book.

It should be noted that while I agree with Jordan’s conclusion that the maximum penalty of the law—death—was in fact the maximum penalty, but was not necessary to be enforced in every case, but should be judicially decided on a case-by-case basis. I think that Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy should also be viewed in light of missing evidence. The death penalty needed two-to-three witness in order to establish it (Deut 17.6). Whether or not Mary being pregnant and Joseph claiming that he was not the man was sufficient to seek her death (if that had been what he desired) I do not know. Surely, in this Joseph was driven by love to be merciful to the woman he was about to take as a wife and in this case, he reflects one “slow to anger” a communicable attribute of God.

[25] This does not limit this to “person-to-person” interaction. It had to be specific lines of evidence that served as a witness to verify that the crime had actually been committed. Circumstantial evidence in those cases were not sufficient lines of evidence to carry out a death sentence. This would interject reasonable doubt, which would nullify the grounds for executing the alleged criminal. “What if the person was guilty, though?” one might inquire. The biblical notion of justice is seen as finally resting in God’s hands. If the alleged perpetrator is in fact guilty, but the court system is unable to prove it, then that individual has the fearful reality of facing his/her Maker on judgment day.

[26] Gen 17:10-14; Deut 10:16; 30:6; compare with Col 2:11.

[27] “…if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him…But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved” (1Cor 7.12-13, 15; ESV, italics mine).  Here Paul is saying that the innocent party (the one not wanting a divorce) is not enslaved (bound) to remain married to the unbelieving person who has abandoned them. Bound by what? Enslaved under what? To what binds the two covenantal members of marriage? In what way are they being torn asunder? The answer lies in understanding what is previously known about marriage. I will be brief though since this is a footnote and not an article in and of itself. In Romans 7:1-3 Paul uses marriage as an analogy of how our union with Christ frees us from our former slavery to sin. The spouse is free from the bonds of marriage when the other spouse dies. The law no longer binds them. In the same way, the innocent party in a divorce is freed from being bound to the law of God since their spouse is considered dead (metaphorically), which is how Paul could tell the Corinthians that they need not worry if they desired to remain married but their spouse did not. In such an instance, that sort of covenantal violation freed the innocent party from guilt; though their spouse was counted as dead (again, metaphorically speaking).

[28] I am by no means claiming “teaching par excellence” in this, for I readily admit that I am still a student on such matters. But having studied them for some time I am confident in what I have thus far explained. I would recommend to the reader the two works cited in this post perhaps as introductory works in this particular field of inquiry.

“By This Standard” this work pertains to the ethical validity of the OT Law-Word of God in all areas of life. The argument presented by Bahnsen states that every jot and tittle of God’s Law is upheld by His Sovereign authority, and its status remains unless some prohibition has been provided regarding a specific statute announced by the Lord. God has the authority to change or eliminate His said law, we do not (e.g., Gen 1.29; Mark 7.19; Acts 10.15).

“The Law of the Covenant” by Jordan is exactly what it says it is, an exposition of the case laws provided in Exodus 21-23. These case laws expound and explain the fuller application of the Ten Commandments in daily life. Jordan’s treatment of these matters makes accessible what many modern Christians have a hard time understanding. His offered application to everyday life drawn from God’s holy law gives greater clarity to Paul’s words of teaching the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20.27) so that every man is fully equipped for a righteous life. (2Tim 3.17).

Posted in Biblical Questions

Original Relational Status of God and Mankind: What Changed?

The state of Mankind in the beginning was “very good” (Gen 1.31). Their relational status with their Maker before failing the test in the garden of Eden (Gen 3. ) was “very good.” But on the day that they ate the fruit that was forbidden them their relational status before the Lord God, the Maker of heavens and earth (Gen 1.1) drastically changed. Sin changed all of that.

My Former Traditional Understanding of Sin…

I grew up in a Wesleyan-Arminian tradition within the Church of the Nazarene. Being members of/and having a heritage founded in what is described as a “holiness tradition,” one of the things that they detested was “sin.” Unfortunately, they didn’t like to describe sin as that which is committed in “thought, word and deed.”[1] Instead they preferred to speak of sin as a willful transgression against the known law of God.[2] Ironic really, when you consider that the Bible describes sin as that which is first formed in the heart and then brought to fruition in word and deed (cf. James 1.13-15). Something that Jesus identified as an ailment of a corrupted heart (cf. Matt 15.18).

And, it is precisely what we find taking place in the garden. When did the sin occur? Was it after Adam ate the fruit? Or was it first conceived when they (wife and husband) desired to do what they knew they ought not have done? Didn’t the sin begin first in their heart/mind/conscious being? Isn’t it a violation to want to do that which is forbidden?

Temptation that Isn’t Sin…

Some will argue “No, to be tempted isn’t a sin.” Depends on how you are defining “tempted” doesn’t it? We are told in Scripture that Jesus was tempted in everyway as we are but without sin (Heb 4.15).   But the term translated tempted is not speaking about inward desires, but being outwardly tested with a choice. True Jesus was tested and He passed every test (e.g. Luke 4.2), but He had no inward desire to sin. His desire was to do the will of His Father in heaven (John 5.30), and this He did perfectly (Heb 5.9).

Temptation that is Sin…

The truth of the matter is that an inward desire to do that which is contrary to God’s Holy Law is a sin of thought. If you are not willing to go so far as to describe sin in this light, then you fail to consider what a dark violation lusting/coveting that of another truly is.[3] Do you not know that the Law of God is at the same time that which plays a dual part in reality, in terms of how we live or ought to live both physically and spiritually? Or do you suppose that the Law of God speaks only of physical interactions, and therefore is that which might be obeyed outwardly rather than inwardly?

Thoughts on what Adam did

No, when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they committed an act that was rebellious towards their Creator. What they did was not only physical (in the sense of eating the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil), but also spiritual (in the sense that they dismissed what God had said and pursued a righteousness all their own).

The Nature of Adam’s sin…

I say all of that to lead you the reader to a necessary consideration. What was the nature of Adam’s sin (since Adam is identified as the one chiefly responsible, I speak of him)? It was physical and spiritual. What was the nature of his relationship with his Creator before the sin? Physical and spiritual in the sense that he was created to image his Maker in all areas of life. Was the relationship in good standing before Gen 3:7? Yes. Did something change in Adam’s relational status with the Lord God after he rebelled? Yes. What changed?

Again, we must look back to Gen 3:7. We are told that the moment they ate the fruit, “the eyes of both of them were opened….”

Question: Were their eyes closed before they ate of the fruit? No. So then, in what sense should we understand this “eye opening” event? Well the text tells us that when this occurred “…they knew they were naked….”

Question: Did they not know they were naked before this event? No, we see earlier in Gen 2:24 that they “…were both naked and unashamed.” However, after eating the fruit they felt “shame” and in response to this “…they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.”

Question: Why were they hiding from each other? Well, we see in the very next verse they not only desired to hide their bodies from each other, but also from the Lord God. Immediately upon hearing “…the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…the man and woman hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen 3.8). Apparently, fig leaves were not enough. Now they needed entire trees to hide themselves.

Question: Why? Why hide in the trees at the sound of the Lord God’s coming? Listen to the man’s answer: “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Gen 3.10).

If you are in good standing with God is there any reason to fear? No. For love drives out fear. Fear of what? Fear of retribution. Fear of wrath. Fear of judgment regarding sin (see 1John 4.18).

What might have been…

What do you suppose was the response that Adam should have had when he heard the sound of the Lord God in the garden? Shouldn’t he have gone to Him? Doesn’t our Maker demand our attention, since we are His creatures? What do you think Adam’s response would have been had he not eaten from the forbidden tree, but rather had been obedient? Would he have not immediately sought out the Lord God? What reason would there have been for hesitation or hiding or refusing to seek after the Creator unless something has changed within the heart/mind/conscious being of man?

Sin, Death and Separation

Let me put it another way: Was Adam united or separated from his Maker after violating God’s command? The answer seems rather obvious, he was separated from God. Sin, an act of rebellion/lawlessness, separates Mankind from his Creator. Sin brings death to the relationship.

What did God promise would take place on the day (when) Adam ate of the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil? He would “surely die” (Gen 2.17). Isn’t that what happened immediately when Adam ate the fruit? Did Adam not die at once? Wasn’t his relationship severed from the Lord God? Isn’t the experience of shame, not seeking God, and doing all one can to steer as far away from the Lord evidence of a dead relationship?

Two Arguments of Denial…

Some say “no.” Why? Because death is said to be viewed in only one way “cessation of life.” And, since Adam and Eve did not immediately die but lived many years afterwards before they returned to the dust of the ground, then we cannot say that they really died. Or, so it is argued. Two objections are offered to buttress support for this claim. Two arguments presented that state that the only sort of death described in the Genesis 3 account is physical not spiritual death. Argument one denies that death means separation. Argument two says that the fruit of the Tree of Life had to be physical eaten to prolong life, since man is just a mortal being.

In my next couple of posts, we will entertain both arguments and see whether or not they consistent with what the early chapters of Genesis teaches in light of the rest of Scripture. I once attempted to explain to an individual that no one text sufficiently details or describes a biblical doctrine. You might point to one text that surely teaches a doctrine that is biblically held, but doctrines are developed as a result of a conglomerate of passages properly weighed contextually, performing sound exegesis. And so, I say that to offer a bit of a caveat ahead of time. My plan has been to show that Genesis lays the necessary bedrock for the doctrine of spiritual death, but in order to fully develop it or see it in its full light we must venture outside of that historical narrative. Which we shall begin to do, although I plan on keeping the majority of my focus on Genesis 3-5 in my forthcoming posts.


ENDNOTES:

[1] This was viewed as too Calvinistic by many of those that I had come into contact with over the years (either through writings or personal interactions).

[2] “We believe that actual or personal sin is a voluntary violation of a known law of God by a morally responsible person. It is therefore not to be confused with involuntary and inescapable shortcomings, infirmities, faults, mistakes, failures or other deviations from a standard of perfect conduct that are residual effects of the Fall.” Manual: Church of the Nazarene, 2009-2013 (Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 2009) Article 5.3, 29.

[3] The 7th commandment (Exod 20.14) states that adultery is a sin which has a possible criminal status, but Jesus explains that the underlying root of the statute is driven by lust, which may not be criminal in nature it is still sinful (Matt 5.28). The 10th commandment (Exod 20.17) is very broad in covering the sin of covetousness, while not a criminal offense, highlights many sins of thought in the area of being not content with one’s lot in life (cf. Phil 4.11; 1Tim 6.6).

Posted in Debate and Argumentation

Debate and Argumentation: Part III

This is the third and final installment of Debate and Argumentation (if you’d like to catch up here they are in order:  Debate and Argumentation for the Sake of Unity and LoveDebate and Argumentation: Part II ).

We live in a day and age that avoids all forms of debate like the Black Plague.  And yet, debate, argumentation even heated discussion is necessary and important when the truth is at stake. Our public square will shout you down, attack you personally, and attempt to censure you but that is only because they do not want what they propose as truth to be scrutinized and to be found wanting.  (Sometimes silence is attempted, but only insofar as you do not push the issue).

Back to Acts 15…

Last time, we were discussing Acts 15 and the heated debate that occurred in that day over “circumcision” and the “Law of Moses” (of God). The argument was over Scripture and flowed from two different interpretations of some very important key texts. I won’t rehash that here. If you’re really interested check out Part II linked above.

I do, however, need to address one issue that I left blank in the last post. Circumcision, although a vitally important element of the old covenantal system found its fulfillment in Christ Jesus (cf. Col 2.11-14; 3.11). The spiritual element is still mandatory, but the physical cutting of flesh has been done away with. That portion of ceremonial cleanliness is no longer necessary. Why? Because, the Lamb of God satisfied the purpose of those former shadows. Thus, the slaying of animals on an altar is no longer necessary. The separating of crops, of fabrics, even of various dietary restrictions have been met in the work of the Lord.

(NOTE TO READER: The book of Hebrews provides a wonderful explanation of why these former elements are no longer necessary, but the subject matter is too long to address in this relatively short article).

We are now going to turn our attention to the second major point of contention in Acts 15:5, “But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses” (emphasis added). How one responds to this statement will reveal a lot of what they know, what they’ve been told, and what they’ve come to believe (i.e. convictions).

The Law: Physical and Spiritual Elements

There is a general precept found in Scripture at three vital points. That a person should not presume to add or take away from God’s Holy Word. We find this warning twice in Deuteronomy (4.2; 12.32), once in the book of Proverbs (30.6), and once again in the book of Revelation (22.18-19).

Each statement should be considered contextually first. For example, the book of Revelation’s statement on this subject is limited to the writings of that book. That does not mean the principle is invalid or inapplicable outside of that text. However, if that was the only warning, we were given in that regard then we would be stretching the intent of the passage to attempt to apply it elsewhere. Which is why I believe God was adamant about repeating it.

This particular teaching also links itself to false prophets and false teachers (Deut 13.1-5; 18.20-22). Those who desire to speak for God, but deviate from His Word teaching false truths, false Christ’s, false gospels (cf. 2Cor 11.3-4; Gal 1.6-9; compare 1Thess 5.20-21; 1John 4.1). Thus, we read about the Bereans when they heard the gospel they “searched the Scriptures” to see if those things Paul taught were true; they tested his words (Acts 17.11).

The problem with the Law of God is not with the Law, but with our hearts (Rom 7.14; 8.7-8). The Law is described as good and holy (Rom 7.12; Neh 9.13; 1Tim 1.8). We on the other hand are not (Eccl 7.20). Two extremes spring forth from our lack of holiness and goodness. The first is legalism and the second is anti-law.

The Legalists…

These individuals look at God’s Law and find it insufficient in that they see the need to add extra guardrails to deter one from breaking them. This is an overreaction, and it is rooted in the false notion that we have within ourselves, the ability to live holy lives apart from the grace/power of God.  Some good example passages are found in Mark 7:6-13 and Isa 1.2-20.[i]

The Anti-Law Advocates…

These individuals look at God’s Law in an archaic fashion. They assume that grace has freed them from obligation to the Law of God. Often, they misappropriate the second half of Rom 6:14, “…you are not under law but under grace.” Paul is not saying in Rom 6:14 that Christians are free from obeying the law of God, but that we are free of the curse brought about by the law of God. The law of God does not save, it condemns. Sin is aggravated by the law, stirred up in our hearts and immediately seeks to rebel against God’s Holy standard (cf. Rom 7-8.8). Paul tells the Christians in Rome they need not fear for “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law but under grace” (Rom 6:14; entire verse).

In other words, you, who are in Christ, have been set free from the bondage that sin once had on you. The chains of sin have been broken, for when you were baptized in Christ you were raised to new life; therefore, sin lost its hold, its power over you. You have been freed from the power of sin, which is grace. That’s what it means to be under grace. That’s exactly what Paul is saying.

To attempt to argue otherwise is vanity. First of all, it pits Paul against Christ Jesus. Second, it twists God’s Word through the addition and subtraction of what He has revealed.

Jesus said very clearly that “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…” (Matt 5.19a). Jesus taught the smallest law is to be upheld (i.e. obeyed), and the person who taught another to not keep it will be called “least.” Before Jesus sent His disciples into the world, He said that they were to teach the nations “to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28.20a).

Some attempt to be wiser than they ought and say, “Well Jesus was only talking about the things He commanded during His ministry.” Really, where did He say that? Oh, he didn’t, you just assume it. Ah…so you’re in the habit of adding to the Word of God, are you?

There is no debate, Jesus settled it…

The fact of the matter is settled. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them [the Law or the Prophets] but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth passes away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5.17-18; emphasis added).  And before the person can argue (as some have done and others do) that Jesus’ fulfillment of the law is the end of the law reread his words: “Do not think…I have not.”

Fulfilling of the law is upholding the law, observing the law, obeying the law, living in accordance with the law; which is precisely what the apostle Paul says in the same epistle some run to in order to support their folly. And so, to those individuals we ought to say, “Have you not read[ii]…Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary we uphold the law” (Rom 3.31).

Returning to Acts 15:5…

So, on the surface the demand of some of the believers from the Pharisee party seem to be legitimate. It is right to teach new believers to obey the Law of God. Not because we are saved by the law, but because we desire to please God. That is where they are wrong, where they have erred from the truth, and it is the reason for the heated discussion in Jerusalem (Acts 15.7a).

To think that our activities save us is to fall into the fallacy of Cain. He brought to the Lord his very best, but his best was a stench in the nostrils of God. God wanted to vomit over Cain’s sacrifice, but Abel’s—his brother—well that was a different situation altogether. What made Abel’s sacrifice acceptable (pleasing) to God? His was offered in faith (Heb 11.4). Which is what precisely? Faith, true faith, is an act of obedience by the one who takes God at His Word and trusts (believes) He has spoken rightly.

James 2:14, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (italics added).

I realize that some get really confused on the meaning here of James, so please allow me to clarify. Notice James does not say that works save, which would ultimately pit him against God (cf. Rom 3.28). His point, however, is that faith without works (obedience towards God) is dead! Can faith without obedience be said to be genuine faith in God? No, that would be a false faith. Supposed belief without any fruit of righteous obedience to show for it, is the same sort of pseudo-faith that the devil has (James 2.19).

What the Argument was truly over…

This is the opposite of what the “circumcision party” believed. In their mind, the only way someone was saved was by what they did. In short, they were their own justifiers.  It is akin to the argument: “If God commands it, then I must be capable of doing it on my own. My own nature is essentially good, therefore, my works are good and ought to be honored by God: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get‘” (Luke 18.11-12).

What Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James were arguing is that not only did God never teach this (it is an incorrect interpretation of the Law), but history (both former and personal) proved that they could not bear the yoke they were attempting to prescribe to others (Acts 15.10). The Holy Spirit saved Cornelius’ household before they had done anything (see Acts 10). Just as God justified Abraham before he had done anything (see Rom 4:1-13).

The Closing Argument…

To put the matter to bed, let me point you to Christ. Did He obey the Law? Yes, on all points. Did His obedience save Him, or was His obedience evidence of having a heart that truly loved the Father? His love of the Father drove Him to obedience in all things: “not my will be done, but thine” (Luke 22.42). His faith was living not dead, therefore, He trusted and acted upon God’s Law-Word. And we who are called by His Name are likewise supposed to walk in the same steps that He has taken (1John 2.3-6; 3.22-24; 5.2-3; 2John 1:6).

This example, serves as a reminder of the benefit of argumentation and debate. We need to wrestle with the Scriptures, and not be afraid of discussing what they mean. Challenging some if needed, loving others when possible, so that we might prove our unity and love to our Lord first and foremost, and then as a necessary result…one another.


ENDNOTES:

[i] In both passages we find those that profess to love God, profess to uphold His Law, rules and statutes, and yet along the way they have added their own personal standards to the practice. They are more concerned with the letter (the outward action), than the Spirit (inward motivation of the heart/mind) of the Law. Such individuals find a way to add further extensions (amendments, if you will) to progress God’s Law in a fashion they find acceptable to the people. They think themselves holy. They believe themselves just, but inside they are white washed sepulchers (tombs).

[ii] The phrase “have you not read” was a favorite of our Lord’s to rebuke and correct his opponents. See: Matt 12.3, 5; 19.4; 21.16; 22.31; Mark 12.20, 26; Luke 6.3.  Sometimes he presents it as a rhetorical question that demands a negative answer as in Luke 10:26.

Posted in Freewill, Uncategorized

Sin after Consummation? Responding to Haden Clark’s Musings on Freewill and the Possibility of Sinning in Eternity

Sin in heaven? Possible or not?

A few weeks ago, I read an article (read here) by a fellow blogger Haden Clark that claimed it is a real possibility. Not just in heaven, but “in the final destination for believers, the new heaven on earth…we will be capable of [sin], but we won’t. Even if I’m wrong, and some people will sin in the new heaven on earth, it doesn’t really prove anything. Christ died for our sins once-and-for-all, as most Christians believe. That would include any sins committed in paradise, at least in theory, right? So, I don’t know what the big deal is.”

I waited a while before commenting on this teaching provided by Mr. Clark. I didn’t want to give a knee-jerk reaction. But I must confess I was astonished that a person whose motto is: “Strengthen the Believer. Answer the Critic” in regards to the Christian faith would teach something so unbiblical?

Gracious Differences on Matters of Truth…

There are peripherals in the area of Christian doctrine where grace is given. For example, there are differences in the manner/method of the Eucharist and Baptism within the orthodox Christian faith. Some Christians use wine others grape juice, leavened or unleavened bread when they remember what our Lord did for us at Calvary. Some fully submerge the person in running water, others in a pool or baptismal, still others pour the water or even sprinkle the water identifying with Christ’s death and resurrection.

Is there a correct way of doing these things? Yes. Is there one truth and not many in the practice of these sacraments? Yes. But we are gracious to those whose understanding differs.

Some eat meat, others are vegetarian, but both are accepted by the Lord who purchased them, and so we are gracious towards the brethren in areas of conscience. But even in that example, it is the stronger brother who is right not the weaker. The one who knows that all things are blessed from the Lord above if accepted by faith is acceptable and right to partake of[i]; that person is the stronger brother because he has learned not to go beyond what is written (1Cor 4.6).

Not Free Thinkers, but Submissive Ones…

As Christians we are commanded to bring everything thought captive to obey Christ (2Cor 10.5). If we desire to oversee Christ’s flock that is a noble pursuit, but only insofar as humility grants. Holy Scripture is given to fully equip the man of God for all righteousness. This is accomplished through rebuke, correction, teaching and training our hearts/minds to not be conformed to this world’s way of thinking, but to adopt the mind of Christ. Those who desire to be teachers of the Word need to bear in mind the great responsibility that bears down upon us. Those who claim to have been given more light will be held accountable to/by that light. Since our tongues cut like swords and burn like fire, we must continually seek to temper them in the knowledge of God.

Where Error Seeps in…

However, when your gospel is man-centered, and you fail to regard all that Scripture says on a given topic you will, at times, be prone to gross error.[ii] The chief among those errors is to deny what God says about man’s condition post-Fall. In particular, if your claim is that our will has been untouched by the mark of sin. If you profess that it is not held captive to sin, unless Christ frees it. Then you are traveling down a slippery slope, that will drag you to places you never should have gone. Like embracing an idea that states after the consummation of all things, after the final judgment, that man will still be capable of sinning. Why? Because human freedom is so precious, we need to be able to slap God in the face or we are not really human?!?

Clarifying Intentions, Motives and Looking at the Argument…

I realize that Mr. Clark was intending to respond to an atheist on the so-called Problem of Evil. I am not calling into question his intentions. I am not judging his motives. But his teaching is found wanting. That is the issue—the teaching. I hate to even add this qualifier, but with today’s ME TOO attitude you cannot challenge the teaching of someone without it being seen as a personal attack. So, I pray that the mature of heart know the difference. I have nothing against Mr. Clark as a person, but I do believe his teaching in a public forum needs discerning. As do all of us who speak on such matters.

To keep the integrity of Clark’s belief intact, I will quote the specific portion that I have chosen to interact with. Here it is:

Will we have freewill in heaven? My response: Will we be humans? Yes, so yes, we will have freewill. A human without freewill is not a human. What it means to be a human is to be a rational animal. And freedom of the will is necessary to be rational. A determined will cannot rationally justify anything.

Is there the possibility for rebellion in heaven? There was once. Christians believe the Satan rebelled against God in heaven. So, it fits within the worldview and is a real possibility.

However, remember this: the final destination on Christianity is not heaven. The final destination is the new heavens and the new earth, which really comes to mean heaven on earth.

The Bible begins in the garden of Eden, that picture becomes corrupted by sin, and the Bible ends in a new garden of Eden, made possible by Jesus the Messiah.

Adam and Eve had freewill in the original picture and I believe we will in the final picture.

One thing they had that we won’t have is the pesky serpent that got the ball rolling in the first place. At bottom, sin enters the world because of the Serpent. Yes, Adam and Eve had a choice, but the serpent gave them the choice, if you will. All I mean is that he tempted them.

What I believe, as many other Christians do, is that we will have free will to an extent, which is what we’ve always had. Nobody believes we have an unlimited free will. Only God has that. For example, I can’t just decide to jump to the moon. I’m limited by my own nature.

In the final destination for believers, the new heaven on earth, I don’t believe there will be anyone that wants to tempt us to do evil. We will be capable of it, sure, but we won’t.

Even if I’m wrong, and some people will sin in the new heaven on earth, it doesn’t really prove anything. Christ died for our sins once-and-for-all, as most Christians believe. That would include any sins committed in paradise, at least in theory, right? So, I don’t know what the big deal is.

Foundationless Freewill…

My main focus in this post is on sin and whether or not sinning in eternity with the Lord of Hosts is an accurate claim. However, the observant reader should note that the keynote issue for Mr. Clark’s claim is human freewill. He even goes so far as to say in the opening paragraph that without freewill, you cannot be human.[iii] He eventually relates this to Adam and Eve assuming that they were created with it.

Nowhere in the Bible is this taught. This is a philosophical presupposition that is unwarranted from the biblical text. It is true that Adam and Eve were presented with a choice between two particular trees.


God had set before them life and death:[iv]

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deut 30.19; cf. Gen 2.16-17).

However, that ability to choose life was removed as seen in their expulsion from the garden:

Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever— ‘therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3.22-24).[v]


A change of status took place after the eating of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. The biblical history (post-garden) confirms this fact: Man, who was created righteous, became the opposite as a consequence. Sin entered the world through Adam, not the Serpent, though it is accurate to say that this is what that murderer Satan wanted from the beginning. As a result, all the offspring of Adam became sinners, unclean in everyway before God. And yet, are we to assume that sin left the human will unchecked?

Defining Sin…

In order to address Mr. Clark’s assertion that sin will be a possibility in eternity, I thought it appropriate for us to spend a few moments answering the pivotal question: What is sin?

It is known by many names: rebellion, missing the mark, transgression, and lawlessness. No doubt there might be others that you can draw from the God’s Holy Word, but these four should suffice. Now let’s probe a little deeper by putting them in question form.

  • Who or what is the rebellion against?
  • What or whose mark are you missing?
  • The transgression is against who or what?

The final one we won’t look at in question form, but we will ask a question of it in just a moment. According to 1John 3:4 “sin is lawlessness.”  Therefore, sin is a violation of a law.

Whose law is being violated? Whose law is being transgressed? Whose law is the person rebelling against? Whose law is the individual straying from—i.e. missing the mark?

GOD’S.

What that Nasty Word shows us…

Law is a real nasty word in a lot of people’s books, but what it shows us about ourselves is of the utmost importance. As human beings we naturally want to kick against any command or edict or standard that seeks to have dominion over us. We do not want to be ruled, we want to rule. We want to determine right and wrong, not have right and wrong laid out for us. Our supposed freewill is really an exercise of insubordination to tyranny. We proclaim our freedom from all standards, all the while bowing the knee to the standard of sin that reigns in our hearts. That’s what that nasty word Law shows us.

Therefore, the Holy Spirit is quick to point out that we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1), “alienated [i.e., separated] from the life of God” (Eph 4.18), walking as “sons [and daughters] of disobedience” (Eph 2.2), due to our natural inborn hostility towards God and His law (Rom 8.7-8) because we are His enemies (Rom 5.10), and this from birth (cf. Eph 2.3; Job 15.14, 16; Psa 51.5).

And so, Jesus rightly calls us all slaves to sin, which is bred in our hearts/minds. Rotten trees that produce rotten fruit, unless we are made anew.

Purpose of Christ Jesus…

If we look back at 1John 3 we find that Jesus came to end all of that.

“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (v.5).

Surely, Mr. Clark knows this. He knows Eph 1, he knows the stress laid “in Him,” “in Christ,” even if he fails to see how one ends up “in the Lord” he at least understands this much.

Christ Jesus stepped in the flesh (John 1.14) “to save His people from their sins” (Matt 1.21; cf. Eph 2.11-22). How so? By setting them free from the constraints of sin, and “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8.36). In Christ one finds the death of sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8.2; emphasis added).[vi] When the gospel of Christ is declared as the power of God (Rom 1.16) that is what is being referenced. A breaking of the former life, gives way to the dawn of a new one.

Jesus’ Kingly Dominion…

Jesus is the king mentioned in Dan 7:13-14. He is the one who approached the Ancient of Days and received a kingdom (cf. Matt 28.18; Phil 2.9-11). The passage from the Tanakh cited more than any other in the New Testament is Psalm 110. Here David is found saying in the Holy Spirit: “The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”[vii]

Who are the “enemies” being referred to? If we were to look at Psalm 2 we would find it’s the rulers of the nations that plot against the rule of this king, but that is not all. There are many enemies of King Jesus. Chief among them is Satan and his horde of angel’s, but that is not all. That which is at back of all evildoers is the wicked root of pride that stirs rebellion in their hearts; which, is sin. And not just sin, but the wages of sin as well, which is death:

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1Cor 15.21-27).   

Christ’s dominion brings all of His enemies—everything opposed to His Holy Righteousness, the Righteous Holiness of the Triune God (Father and Son and Holy Spirit)—to the status of dust under the soles of His feet. A symbolic expression of the conquering King whose victory is untarnished. The final enemy, which is the result of sin (the wages this labor produces), is death. Christ has victory over death. Not just in spiritual resurrection which is wrapped up in the concept of being born again, but in a final perfected Resurrection to eternal life. In other words, what had been lost in the garden (freedom to life) is gained in the eternal sanctuary of God where the Tree of Life is said to be placed all along the river that runs through that blessed garden.

Real or Imagined Victory…

Are we to then suppose, as Mr. Clark does that sin is still a possibility in that eternal state? He assumes “…at least in theory, right? …we will be capable of it….” No, we won’t. If that were the case, even in theory, it would mean that Christ’s sacrifice was insufficient, and that His power as King, as God, would also be insufficient. For it would prove that He was incapable of defeating the enemy called death, which is only possible where sin reigns. But Scripture says that sin will not reign, since death (it’s wages) has been completely vanquished.

“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6.22-23).

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall be there mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21.3-4; cf. Rev 20.14).

Which means what precisely? That every evidence of the curse has been removed in the consummation. The former bondage that enslaved creation as a result of sin, has been eradicated. Did we not see a glimpse of this during the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth? We did. Did He not remove blindness, deafness, lameness, leprosy, enable the mute to speak, raise the dead to life, calm the storm and wave, even cast out demons with a command? He did. Have we not then witnessed the power of King Jesus; is this not the root of the gospel of God? It is.

Closing Remarks…

While, I believe Mr. Clark was well-intentioned in attempting to deal with a rebellious sinner who suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, his own argument is wrought with error. And while, he may cherish the concept of freewill he has no biblical justification for it. He is right when he admits that there is a limit to our freedom, and he attributes true freedom to God. But he errs when he fails to see that God’s freedom is governed by His own Holy nature, and we are governed by our nature which is unholiness.

Only God can free us from the state we are in, and so we are turned to Christ who like Almighty God was/is governed by holiness and not by unholiness. And sin will never have a part or parcel in the place God has prepared for us in Christ at the completion of all things.

Back to the beginning: Sin in Heaven? Possible or not? No, it is not possible in heaven. Nor is it possible at the consummation of all things—i.e., God dwelling with His people for eternity. For Christ’s work finished its destruction, and while we only see a glimpse of this victory now in this life, there is more to see in the next life when we see our Lord, our God face-to-face (cf. 1John 3.2).

ENDNOTES:

[i] This is drawn from the argument presented in Romans 14 over proper Christian service and perspective “that is acceptable to God and approved by men” (Rom 14.18). Which is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14.17).

[ii] The truth is that even the best intentioned, well-informed student of Scripture will commit errors in thought, reasoning, observation, interpretation and application of a biblical text; even elements of an entire doctrine. Truth definitionally avoids and subset that strays from its well beaten path. A red car cannot be at the same time a black car. The red car may be misidentified as a black car in the wee hours of the night, but that is a failure on the part of the observer/interpreter, not the truth statement regarding the color of the car.

[iii] This is an example of the No-True Scotsman Fallacy.

[iv] I realize that this passage is being spoken directly to the second generation of Israelites in the second giving of the Law of God—i.e., His Instruction for life vs. death. However, this is a repeated pattern from the earlier Genesis narrative in a more detailed form. The message is the same in principle in Gen 2:16-17 and Deut 30:19.

[v] This picture of a drawn sword shrouded in flame is symbolic of God’s judgment (Deut 9.3; 2Thes 1.8; cf. 1Chro 21.16-17). The man would desire to gain access to the Tree of Life, but God forbade him from doing so. Either the sword of God will be for you or against you (cf. Num 22.23; Josh 5.13). The only access to life is via God’s grace demonstrated in the life of the obedient (Prov 11.30; Rev 2.7, 22.14).

[vi] John Owen explains Paul’s usage of the term law (nomos) in Romans 6-8. He wrote, “A law is taken either properly as a directive rule, or improperly as an operative effective principle which seems to have the force of a law…in [the] SECONDARY SENSE, an inward principle that constantly moves and inclines someone towards any actions, is called a law. The principle that is in the nature of a thing, moving and carrying it towards its own end and rest…In this respect, every inward principle that inclines and urges something to operate or act in a way suitable to itself, is a law:” he then cites Romans 8:2 as an example. John Owen, “The Remainder of Indwelling Sin in Believer’s,” in The Works of John Owen, Vol 6, ed., William H. Goold, reprint 1850-53 (William H. Gross: March 2015), http://www.onthewing.org, Kindle Edition, loc 422-426.

[vii] See: Matt 22.42-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 22:41; Acts 2:34; Eph 1:20-22; Heb 12:2; 1Pet 3.22; 1Cor15.25; Heb 1.3, 13; 10.12-13 to name just a few. Every reference to Christ sitting on a heavenly throne equal with the Father (i.e., at His right hand) is in light of this passage or a close reference Psa 2.

Posted in Commandments, Election

God Commands Good for Those whom He Loves

Here’s a text that many Christians are familiar with and rightfully cherish:

  • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” (Rom 8.28a; italics added).

Unfortunately, this text is abused a bit either because of traditions or lazy reading.  For instance, when something tragic happens a person might conclude in reference to this verse, “Everything happens for a reason…God will bring some good out of it.”  While there is a hint of truth in the statement itself, all things do happen for a reason, God does not bring out of the situation good things.  Let alone bringing good for all people.  The text limits the “all things work[ing] together for good” for those 1) who love God and 2) are “called according to his purpose” (Rom 8.28b).  Those are specific individuals who are being “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8.29)—Jesus Christ.

Similarly, an error occurs when one suggests that God only commands that which is good for all people.  As you hopefully saw (learned perhaps?) in the last article I posted (Big Bad God or are We Looking at Past Events Wrong?; https://kristafal.wordpress.com/2019/04/25/auto-draft/) God does not always command for the good of all.  The reality that we want to skate by is that God chooses to whom He shall do good to.  I’m not sure why we are surprised to hear this, since we continually choose who we want to do “good” to in our daily lives.  I don’t buy other children gifts, but I buy my own children gifts.  Would it be a good thing for me to buy other kids gifts? I’m sure it would, but I choose not to because I share a special relationship with my own children that I do not share with another person’s child. (I am not speaking of charity here, as I do give those sorts of gifts when spiritually motivated.)

Whose benefit was the Command of God for?

Looking back at the Canaanites, we should be able to see that what God commanded regarding them was not for their benefit.  The benefit instead went to the people He had chosen to establish His Name in the earth, and the people through whom the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) would come.  It was to the children of Israel (Jacob) that the “land of milk and honey” was to go.

  • “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on your and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut 7.7-8)
  • “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deut 9.5).

Ultimately, the reason God chose Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is His own.  He does not share the reason, but only shares what He has done.  Likewise, it is on the basis of God keeping His Word (promise) to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob that He chose to love and redeem their descendants from slavery; giving them a land that they did not work for, homes that they did not build, wells that they did not dig, fruit trees and vineyards that they did not plant (Deut 6.10-11).  What we ought to remember is that creation is God’s and He does with it—the whole of it—as He sees fit, and He answers to no one.  God specifically chose to love (to elect) the Israelite’s and to demonstrate His awesome power not only in Canaan, but in Egypt and any other rebel who raised their ugly heads.

God did not love those nations (i.e. groups of people or people groups) in the same fashion that He did Israel, and He did not have too.  Throughout biblical history we see that God drew to Himself any He chose, and sometimes it was not Israel that He chose to love (see the book of Jonah).  This is something Jesus pointed out early on in His ministry and the people attempted to murder Him for it (cf. Luke 4.24-30).

God specifically commanded Pharaoh (through Moses His prophet), “Let my people go…” (Exod 5.1); and yet, this command was not given for Pharaoh’s good, but for God’s own.  For God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and purposefully would not let Pharaoh obey the command of the Lord:

  • “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exod 4.21).
  • “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh will not listen to you” (Exod 7.3-4a).
  • “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses” (Exod 9.12; cf. 10.1, 20).

God prevented Pharaoh from obeying a command He had given.  How did He do that, if God does not sin?  I think we need to be reminded what sin actually is, how it is biblically defined.

To sin is act lawlessly, to act rebelliously, to miss the mark.  What law? Rebel against what? Miss whose mark? In a nutshell, to sin is to disregard the voice of God.  To go against what He has spoken.

God commanded Pharaoh to let His people go, but Pharaoh would not.  When we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, we should not assume that Pharaoh’s heart was soft beforehand.  To have a soft heart (a heart of flesh, rather than stone) means that one is malleable to God’s Law—what He has spoken—but that is not what Scripture says of those in Adam.

  • “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…” (Rom 8.5a)

Question: Did Pharaoh have his mind set on fleshly things (carnal/sinful things) before God confronted him? What was Pharaoh’s state of being (his natural disposition) before God spoke to him?

Answer: Pharaoh’s mind was set on fleshly things.  He was carnal and self-serving, and the love of God was far from him.  He worship created things rather than his Creator, things made by the imaginations of mankind.  Moreover, Pharaoh saw himself as deity—a god/man king—as many pagan kings before and after him were fond of doing.

  • “For to set the mind on the flesh is death…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. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8.6a, 7-8).

Question: Was Pharaoh hostile to God before or after God revealed himself? Was Pharaoh’s life pleasing to God before God spoke to Him through Moses?

Answer: Pharaoh’s mind was set on fleshly things.  He was a rebel before God came and spoke to Him through Moses.  His hostility was already existent, although the presentation of God’s commandment provoked his heart further (cf. Rom 7.7-9).

In other words, all that God had to do to harden Pharaoh’s heart was present Himself before Pharaoh.  By speaking to Pharaoh, the sinful disposition (bent/nature) reared its ugly head “seizing an opportunity through the commandment” (Rom 7.8) to show itself.  The more God spoke to Pharaoh, the more Pharaoh hardened his heart (i.e. rebelled; was obstinate).  God did not make Pharaoh sin, for Pharaoh did that all on His own.  Shine the light in the dark and all those who hate the light shield their eyes and run from it.  That is the natural reaction of mankind aside from grace.

Why would God do such a thing?

The answer is simple: 1) To glorify Himself, and 2) To save (deliver) His people.  This is seen immediately after God’s declaration of hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

  • “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn2 son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son’” (Exod 4.22-23; italics added).
  • “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you [Pharaoh] up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exod 9-15-16; emphasis added; cf. Rom 9.17, 22).
  • “So Moses said, ‘Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there never has been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either to man or beast, that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.’ And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt’” (Exod 11.4-9; italics added).

God had predetermined His plan beforehand in the life of Pharaoh, in the land of Egypt (cf. Eph 1.11).  This was foretold to Abraham (Gen 15.14), revealed to Moses, and then demonstrated to all in and around Egypt. For the gods of Egypt could not deliver the Egyptians from the mighty hand of God (cf. Exod 12.12).

In the end, we find the following to be true:

God commands that which is good for His people, a people called according to His purpose and design.  He keeps His Word. He never breaks His promises, and to those in Christ those promises are fulfilled (cf. 2Cor 1.20; Gal 3.16).  There are several such examples in Scripture where we see that God commands, but the only ones intended to reap the benefit are Him and His people that He has chosen to love.  This choice is not dependent upon the people as we saw with Israel, and then find to be true in the writings of N.T. (e.g. 1Cor 1.18-31), but the glorious God, Creator of Heaven and Earth.

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ENDNOTES:

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

2 Firstborn signifies preeminence here as it does in the N.T.  Christ Jesus is called the firstborn of creation, not because He was the first thing created—the Living Eternal Word was not created for He was in the beginning with God, was God, and all things were made through Him, by Him and for Him—but because He has preeminence over all things (superiority). Cf. John 1.1-3; Col 1.15-20.  God holds His elect in special favor as they will inherit the earth and eternal life (Psa 37.11; Matt 5.5; Luke 18.30).

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