Posted in Uncategorized

Clarity of Thought in a Day of Muddy Waters

INTRODUCTION:

In Scripture God speaks with clarity, but those marred by sin have difficulty seeing the truth in its proper light. Sin separates, it muddies, it clouds the perception, it makes straight lines appear crooked and crooked lines straight. An overarching assumption that I believe, sometimes gains some headway among those who profess the name of Christ, is articulated in this fashion: “it is only sinners that truly struggle with the plainness of the biblical text, but not I, for I have the Spirit to guide me into all truth.”

And yet, and honest reading of the Bible reveals that even those who were considered people of the book, men and women of faith, erred in seeing the truth as God intended it.

Muddy vision…

One such example is found in the Gospels where the Lord Jesus warns His disciples to “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16.6; ESV).1 This statement is on the heels of Jesus interaction with the so-called leaders (false shepherds) of Israel, where He rebukes them for not seeing the clearness of the revelation before them. They wanted a sign from Jesus to prove who He was claiming to be. He had healed all sorts of illness. He had cast out demonic forces. He had fed multitudes with scraps. And, He had taught with undeniable authority from the Scriptures. But…they wanted more proof. Jesus tells them,

You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

MattHEW 16:3

And, in similar fashion He says to His disciples,

O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets were gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets were gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven [the doctrine] of the Pharisees and Sadducees”

MattHEW 16:8-11

Jesus was warning His own to beware of false teaching (Matt 16.12). For the unwary allow it to stay and fester and grow, rather than throw out the lump that has been corrupted by it (e.g., 1Cor 5.1-7). The point I am making is that though biblical teaching has a perspicuity to it (a clarity/clearness), it is not just the wicked that fail to see the truth when it is smack dab in front of their face, but so too does the righteous wrestle with it.

Notice Jesus does not say to the disciples that they have “no faith,” but “little faith.” Unlike the so-called religious leaders of their generation they at least followed Jesus. They knew to some degree that hope rested in Jesus and no one else. But, they struggled with seeing things as clearly as they were revealed. Their vision was somewhat muddied.

Possible objection or excuse…

I suppose some might attempt to argue that this was before the Holy Spirit had been poured out. After which, they would be able to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. This type of response is given when one looks at the episode in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of Jesus arrest. Just as Jesus foretold, when “the Shepherd is struck the flock would be scattered” (Matt 26.31; Zech 13.7). They fled because they did not have the boldness of the Spirit yet (cf. Acts 2), it is offered. I disagree.

The Holy Spirit does lead us into truth as we follow His Word; with this sort of statement I will agree. The Holy Spirit also gives us boldness to testify before all that Jesus Christ is Lord and that salvation is found in no other but Him; with this statement I too find agreement. But the reception of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the believer does not make the person in question impervious to faults or frailties. Or else why do we still struggle from time-to-time with sin (cf. 1John 1.8-9)? Or else, why are we still sometimes prone to gross errors that in fact malign the clear teaching of Scripture (cf. Gal 2.11-14; 2Pet 3.16)? Why do believers at times, for a season, temporarily adopt teaching that has demonic roots: meaning, it is not rooted in the mind of God, but instead, is found, in the heart of the creature (e.g., Matt 16.23)?

As clear as the Scriptures are, our minds are so affected by the curse of the Fall, that it is a lifelong process of “rebuke, correction and teaching” that slowly trains us to think and live righteously (2Tim 3.14-17). And so, God rightly disciplines those whom He loves, like a good father will do to his own children, so that we might learn to live by every word that proceeds from His mouth rather than falling prey to leaning on our own understanding.

Personal-Pastoral study…

I have been studying the book of Daniel now for the better part of a year. Being an expositional preacher, I attempt, to the best of my ability, to teach accurately the Word of Truth as it is written. This requires much labor on my part, as it does any legitimate student of Scripture. Currently I am working through the 9th chapter of this book. Much has been spoken about this area of the Bible during the course of the societal/political upheaval we have been witnessing here in the United States (think 2020-2021). So-called prophecy experts are using their influence to muddy the waters further about our present circumstances.

Cultural Reflection…

Take our current cultural climate as a living example. Why are we seeing what we are seeing here in the West? Why are so many things so sharply divided? Why has panic found a comfortable seat in the heart of so many? Why is evil and wickedness promoted by those inside and outside of Christ’s Body (i.e., His congregation)? Why is the civil government flexing its metaphorical muscle against a large portion of the populace? Why is “Big-Eva’s” leadership (the so-called Evangelical arm of the Christian Church) so quick to adopt the language of today, to synchronize itself with current cultural trends (i.e., syncretism) so as to appear relevant, accepting, peaceful and fully woke? What is the root of the problem. Who is the desolater and who is bringing forth the desolation that we are now witnessing?

Brief lesson…

To the learning the term “desolate” can be taken in either its adjectival sense as an illustrative, describing word; or, “desolate” can be understood as the action (verb) of making desolate. From a biblical standpoint God is the author of the desolation.

He is the one that removes, or strips bare, the inhabitants of the land. Seen in various, interrelated forms of judgment: drought, famine, pestilence and war (this violence against life is either through beasts or the sword). This is a visual representation of what enslavement to sin (i.e., rebellion towards our Maker’s Law) looks like, and so, we should not be surprised that God in the past has used the enemies of His people to wage war, and to drag them off into captivity (cf. Book of Judges).

From the same viewpoint, mankind is the cause of the desolation. They are the ones responsible for bringing about God’s retributive action on this earth.2 As Nebuchadnezzar wisely opined,

[God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”

Daniel 4:34b-35

False assumptions…

Just as the king of Babylon said in his own heart, “Is not this greatness before me all that which I have built and established by my own power?” (Dan 4.30; paraphrased).3 Our current generation, here in the West, has assumed that our powers that be, our wealth, were wrought by ourselves without anything from God above. Moreover, this attitude the permeates unbelieving thought has infiltrated Christ’s covenantal body and has led those that bear the name of Jesus to withdrawal and abandon their high calling of loving Him in every area of life. They have played the role of the desolater, apostatizing from the faith along various veins of thought. How so? By adopting that which God hates and declaring it good. By not only being unaware of the leaven in our society, but eagerly setting down such leavened bread at the table, reserving those various lumps of dough in storage to be worked into more flour.

The prophet’s who cried for “peace, peace” in Jeremiah’s day find a kindred spirit with various Christian leaders in our own. They wanted peace as they married their hearts to the demagoguery of the political/societal forces that promoted every form of idolatry imaginable, and many of our own leaders are guilty of the same. But just as peace did not come when Daniel was a young man, neither will peace be given to our generation. Desolations are decreed. As our nation has moved further and further along the trail of abandoning the True God of All Creation, we have invited Him to wet His sword and sharpen His arrows, to train the string of His bow against us (Psa 7.12-13). And when our wealth is taken from us, when we lose all that is treasured above our Great God—who so many fail to acknowledge until it is too late—can anyone of us say, “How dare ye God? On what grounds? By what right have you waged war against us?”

The answer is this:

“It is you who have thought to strike at me by refusing to kiss the Son in whom I am well pleased. No mercy, no quarter is to be given until this rabble is done away with, and this that you have treasured is made desolate. For all My Son’s enemies shall be put beneath His feet, before the end, the final one being death!”4

Daniel, the Lord’s prophet, understood with clarity the reason for the state of things; in what brought them into being and what would bring them to their end:

As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth. Therefore hath the Lord watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the Lord our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice…we have sinned, we have done wickedly.”

Daniel 9:13-14, 15b; KJV

Responsibilities…

Our refusal to obey God’s voice has ushered in His wrathful judgment against a nation that slaughters her young, abuses them, perverts the doctrine of marriage and the family, has no respect for personal property and endorses theft at the national level, celebrates slander and hate based on superficial characteristics, promotes slothfulness, and every form of perversion that the human mind can imagine.

Now the prophecy speculators will tell you that this means that the writing is on the wall and that the end is near. This is true, in part. There is an end in sight and we are witnessing it with the increasing speed in which our cultural decay is made evident (the proverbial writing on the wall), but this is not the first end that has occurred. Neither will it be the last. Things are being shaken, so that what cannot be shaken will be left standing (Heb 12.27-28).

What we ought to be doing…

Rather than hope for an escape hatch to open up, let us with boldness and courage proclaim our Lord’s greatness. For He is in fact the one orchestrating this end that we are witnessing for His glory and for the benefit of the people whom He loves. Like Paul we need to learn what it means to rejoice in persecution. We need to be better students of the Word of God, so that we can see with clarity “what is good and acceptable and perfect” to Him (Rom 12.2), by applying them.

This means rather than abandoning the culture we being accepting the responsibility to change the culture from the bottom up. By leading godly family, training our children up in righteousness, giving them the means to stand against a culture that attempts to sway them towards lies, rather than the truth, and getting involved in our communities where we live. Understanding that when we declare Jesus Christ as Lord that we are saying His authority permeates every facet of life, in heaven and in earth, and so we seek to reform this world after His image; in politics, in science, in music, movies, as tradesmen, as businessmen, in education, in art, in architecture, etc., etc. If its on this earth, Christ owns it and we need to start making it known that all the earth is His, for He has made it for His glory.

We need clarity of thought, so that our works will properly reflect “our God, our Lord!” (John 20.28).

ENDNOTES:

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

2There is a sense where one can attribute the designation “desolater” to both God and mankind. The image bearer (mankind) who refuses to listen to the voice of His Maker obeying His Law-Word is the desolater in a causal sense. The sinner causes God to act in response to the desolater’s rebellion. In this fashion, then God is also a desolater, but one that serves as the effect. The apostle Paul writes that the “wages of sin is death.” Sin brings about the desolation of the desolater for God’s righteous judgment is against those acts of desolation (i.e., abandonment of God’s Holy standard). In acting God acts in removing the sinner from His life, which in an ultimate sense is the experience for destined to hell for their willful rebellion. Like God drove Adam and Eve from the garden, God drives the sinner from the wealth of His creation and ultimately from His presence, if the sinner continues in his or her rebellion. Thus, the cause and effect relationship between the two is intrinsically tied. Man’s sin (the cause of desolation) identifies the man as a desolater (the one who acts in rebellion against God), and yet, God’s retributive judgment of righteousness (the effectual act of desolation) against the reprobate identifies God as the desolater—i.e., the one who makes desolate. Knowing who is being referred to requires attention to the flow of thought given by the writer. Hopefully, you have been able to follow my own. If not, feel free to ask a question.

3Notice the warning that God gives to such thinking in Deuteronomy 8:17-20. Since all people are without excuse, one cannot claim that they were ignorant to the fact that they owed thankfulness to another besides themselves who made all things and gave to them the things which they now possess (see Rom 1.18-25).

4This statement is a smattering of verses that tie in a general concept revealed in Scripture. Either we submit to God so that His goodness might be poured out upon us, according to His Namesake and Glory—nothing of which is owed to us. Or, we rebel against Him, refusing to listen to His Word and enjoy the consequences of such tyranny on our part. See: Psalm 2; Matthew 17:5; Leviticus 26.31; 1Corinthians 15.26-27.

Posted in Biblical Questions

My Thoughts on Biblical Death Part IV: In Christ

Dying in Christ. The final talk on My Thoughts on Biblical Death

It has been a number of weeks now, but I am returning to a series of posts that I started entitled My Thoughts on Biblical Death. I began this particular series because of a notion that appears to be gaining traction in some sects of Evangelical Christianity regarding the biblical concept of death. It has become rather popular of late to say that “death” when spoken of in the Bible means physical cessation. In other words, when you die you cease to live. The argument goes on to say that any notion of spiritual living after physical death must be read into biblical thought. To argue for spiritual life after death (either in a state of bliss or torment; both awaiting the final judgment day) is said to introduce ancient Greek ideas of immortality. This was a popular argument by the late Edward Fudge.

He wrote,

“The ‘road to traditionalism’ is paved with many kinds of stones. Among those stones are pagan Greek philosophy…If the later church fathers had also confined themselves to biblical terms on this subject [i.e., death; eternal punishment], we would probably not be having this discussion. Unfortunately, this is not what happened. Soon after the time of the apostolic fathers, certain converts from Greek philosophy, known as the apologists, brought into the church the pagan doctrine of the immortality of the soul…[This] pagan theory…says that every human being has an invisible, immaterial part called the psyche or ‘soul,’ which can never die but will live forever. The traditionalist notion of everlasting torment in hell springs directly from that nonbiblical teaching.[1]”  

My initial reaction to this premise was a thought bubble full of question marks. Not only had I never heard of such nonsense before, but it sounded strangely familiar to a line of argumentation that I hear being tossed around about systemic racism and white privilege. Those that bite into the poisoned apple of Critical Race Theory (CRT) are convinced that a white person is unconsciously biased against People of Color (POC). Even if I say that I’ve never been a racist those on the LEFT will counter with “Yes, you have. You can’t help it. It’s just a part of your whiteness. You are racist without even thinking about it. You’ve been influenced by the privileged status of whiteness regardless of anything you may say or do.”

Similarly, those in Fudge’s circle argue that the only way you can understand “death” in a non-cessationist vein (i.e., figurative or spiritual) is to adopt ancient Greek thought. They will then specifically tie this to what is labeled the “traditional” belief about hell (hellfire) as a concept of eternal punishment and torment for the sinner that remains in an unrepentant state before their Maker. A belief about a biblical doctrine, Fudge and those like him will argue, that comes from Greek philosophers and their concept of the immortal soul and the type of punishment found in Tartus.

Deny this and they will come back with, “You just don’t realize it, but this is really how you’ve been influenced. It may be unconscious bias, but this bias derives from Greek thought whether you realize it or not.” Like little kids on a playground taunting you no matter how many times you deny the claims they are making about you they just cover their ears, close their eyes and shout all the more that it is true!

A Couple Quick Responses before Moving On…

First off, I do not get the idea of the spirit of man (male or female) living after his body has returned to the earth from Greek philosophical meanderings about eschatology (last things). There are enough biblical texts that at the very least imply (some more strongly than others) that some sort of spiritual existence occurs after the physical body has died. Fudge’s acolytes would need to prove that I and every other Christian who denies a cessationist understanding of death has in fact borrowed this idea from Greek versus biblical thought.

Secondly, the idea that death plainly means death, as in physical cessation, in the Bible seems to be either deliberate or accidental ignorance on the part of such an interpreter. Why do I say that? Because the normal use of language mitigates against such a conclusion. The same position will be found on various other terms; “destruction,” “consume,” “eternal,” and “fire,” to name a few. Each one of these words can be shown—given the context we might find them in—to mean something different. In short, the language of the writer in question determines the sense in which the word is used.

For example, the burning bush of Moses’ day was on fire, but not on fire in a “plain” sense as we would normally understand fire as a consuming agent (like in a forest fire, a campfire, or a cookstove fire). Logically you can apply that same methodology to consume, destruction and eternal. The context—the way in which the word is being used—helps determine the meaning. This is basic stuff, but sadly ignorance rules.

This brings me to my third and final musing regarding the argument that “death plainly means death” in the Bible. I stated that this is the result of either deliberate or accidental ignorance. Accidental ignorance just means you haven’t been taught. You don’t know, because you are lacking knowledge on the subject at hand. That is a legitimate form of ignorance. One that shouldn’t be slighted. However, deliberate ignorance is the opposite. It is purposeful. It knows that another possibility may exist, but blithely ignores it. Thus, a purposeful refusal to admit a counter argument. This form of denial is really a rescuing device by the individual(s) in question. Their conviction is challenged and rather than admit the contrary to what they hold, they dig their heels in and look for reasons of justification to hold onto their beliefs.

A person who argues that death must be taken in the plain sense (cessation), presupposes what the plain sense (use of the word/concept) is (cessation), and then argues for it (cessation). I don’t fault their circularity, but I do fault their refusal to admit that “plain” must be defined. The Bible speaks of death as separation: separation from God, separation from the body (i.e., physical/material living), and separation from sin. The Bible speaks of death in what some might deem a literal fashion (“Adam lived…nine hundred and thirty years, and he died”; Gen 5.5) and in a figurative sense (“If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord”; Numb 19.20).[2]

Looking at the Final Aspect of Biblical Death

It is often argued that Genesis 3 does not speak of spiritual death. The correct interpretation, it is stated, is one that sees “death” in the sense of Adam returning from the dust from which he came (Gen 3.19). There is no question that one of the consequences (there were many) of Adam’s sin was a return to the ground from which he was made. All humanity now suffers this fate, I agree. However, I do not find it very compelling or even genuine when someone argues that this is the ONLY way death can be understood.

Possible Source of the Confusion…

Perhaps it is the phrase “spiritual death” that throws people off. Does this mean that the “spirit” within the person dies? If we understand spirit as merely wind or breath (senses that can be drawn from the Hebrew or the Greek) then that cannot happen until physical death occurs. If we are speaking about the inner conscious self (our person-hood), then that too is somewhat confusing since after the fall of humanity continued to be persons (have an inner conscious self). However, that is not what is meant by “spiritual death.” Theologically, when we speak of someone being spiritually dead, we mean in the sense that the apostle Paul describes them in:

“And you were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph 2.1-3; NASB).

Offering Some Clarity…

Here Paul speaks of the entire human race, all those born of Adam, as dead. Dead in what way? Not dead physically, but dead spiritually. Completely spiritually dead? No, but dead in terms of God’s holiness. Rather than pursuing righteousness, which, is to long for the Spirit of God, fallen humanity chases another spirit’s leading who Paul identifies as the “prince of the power of the air.”

Now there is no question that Paul says we are dead before Christ. But if we keep reading, he makes it clear that

“God, [who is] rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) …” (Eph 2.4-5; emphasadded).

If we were not dead, then how can the apostle speak of us being made alive? If we were not spiritually dead before Christ, then how is it possible that by God’s gracious, merciful act of His love He raised us to life in Christ?

Paul’s not the only one…

An often-misunderstood verse by some further verifies that we are dead without Christ’s atoning regenerative work being applied to us (by the Holy Spirit). In John 5:40 Jesus tells those Jews who would take His life:

“…you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (NASB; emphasisadded).

They were standing before Him. They had essentially hunted Him down for violating the Sabbath laws that they had erected. Coming to Him was not the problem, but coming to Him in belief was. Though they professed to be believers they were not (John 5.38). Theologically, there is much being said here, but the only thing I want to highlight is that Jesus’ words ought to make it very clear…these individuals were dead. Dead? How so? What sense does it make for Jesus to say to them they need to come to Him in order to have life, if life is something they already possessed? If they were not dead in trespasses and sins, if they were truly alive, then why the need to come to Jesus in order to obtain life? The answer should be obvious, they were not alive in a spiritual sense towards God. Sure, they were alive spiritually in the sense of chasing after the passions of sin, which is why they were so antagonistic towards Christ Jesus, but they were not alive spiritually in terms of knowing God.

It is not possible…

If it is not possible for mankind to truly live, unless that man or woman live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt 4.4; Deut 8.3), then in no legitimate way can we say that sinners are truly living.  I realize that statement alone smacks in the face of what we believe life or living is. This is why there is a tacit denial that Adam truly died in the garden when he violated God’s revealed Law (cf. Gen 2.16-17). Both husband and wife walked out of the garden, albeit hurriedly, they went on to live for hundreds of years (if it is safe to assume that Eve lived as long as her spouse), they had children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond.  How can it be said that they were dead? Because that is the condition that God reveals they were left in after violating His command.

Life is what God gives. Sure, as sinners we live, but only in a sustaining sense, not in a fulfilling sense, not in a sense that really matters. We were created as image bearers. Image bearers by nature reflect that inner light that is within them. Image bearers are dependent upon that light, but if that light within is really darkness, then there is no way that person can ever truly function as God created them to be (cf. Matt 6.23). Being deprived of the light of God within, sinners reflect depravity not holiness, licentiousness not righteousness. And in this sense the sinner is declared (judiciously) by the Lord Almighty as dead.

Illustrative Aid…

I suppose the closest we could come to in understanding this idea is by turning to an example in pop-culture. Zombies are dead people, but they are animate. In a sense, though dead they continue living. But in another sense, they are robbed of the kind of living that really matters. They don’t enjoy relationships, they don’t build anything of value, they don’t learn, all they do in their current state is follow the wind of their own fleshly desires. They devour that which is living (the good) caring little that their actions destroy life.

Spiritual Death in Christ

The final aspect of death that I intend to speak on in regards to biblical teaching is that which pertains to the antithesis to spiritual death experienced in the garden. This spiritual death was passed onto all the sons/daughters of Adam through his one transgression (violation of the law; an act of rebellion) we all became sinners (Rom 5.18-19). The antithesis to this death is found in the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

Briefly Looking at Romans 6-8…

Paul explains this reality for us. This is the teaching found in Romans 6-8. After pointing to the greater gift of blessing found in Jesus as opposed to Adam (Rom 5.16-21), Paul begins to describe the spiritual state of things for those found in Christ.

**(My intention is only to hit some of the high points of this teaching. I will leave the rest to my readers to investigate these things for themselves).  

Grace is given where sin abounds. This is a gift by God to His people, those that bear the Name of His Son. In Romans 6:2, Paul asks a rhetorical question:

“How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (NASB).

Here the apostle teaches that those found in Christ have died to sin. Is this death physical? No, but it is a literal (real) death. The death is spiritual in nature. Before Christ all sinned and fell short of the glory of God (Rom 3.23), but after Christ a radical change of heart has taken place. The point of this death is found in our baptism in Christ.

**(Without delving into another subject, I will merely point out that true baptism is spiritual in nature, touching the inner nature of a man, regenerating him, not the mere washing away of dirt as with water. The water serves as a symbol of the purification/cleansing of sins into a new life in God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit).

Paul’s intention with this question is to demand a negative answer: “If we have died to sin, then we surely cannot continue to live in it.” This is drawn out in verses 3-7:

“Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (NASB).

I realize I’ve been a bit long here, so allow me to quickly summarize the important elements of Paul’s discussion here. Believers are found in Christ because they have been baptized into His death. What sort of death did Christ die? A righteous one, an obedient one (Rom 5.18b, 19b). Unlike Adam, Christ’s response to God was absolute adherence to His revealed Word. Jesus was obedient on all points to the Law-Word of God.

To be baptized into Him means to share in His righteous death. Because of this we now share in the likeness of Him who died. In other words, we share in His righteousness as newly born creatures who “walk in newness of life.” Our former selves—spiritual dead sinners—has been buried and “done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” Why? “for he who has died is freed from sin.”

An ‘At Once,’ and Yet ‘Ongoing Process’…

When Adam fell in the garden the sentence of death was two things at once: immediate, ongoing.

  • Immediately: Spiritually, the bent of Adam’s heart was not towards God, but away from Him. This was displayed in the covering of his nakedness (shame, sin), attempting to hide in the dark from the light of God’s presence, and in blaming others—including God, His Maker, for his own sin.
  • Ongoing: The process of returning to the dust from which he came was ongoing. Adam’s life would be plagued by sin. He would always struggle with this antagonistic nature towards God’s holiness and his own self-will (cf. Rom 7.21-23). Eventually, though the resultant judgement would be carried out and Adam would waste away into physical death.

I see in this picture of “dying you shall die” (Gen 2.17; often translated “surely die”) because of sin, also evident in the life of believers but in an opposite way. For in Christ, we who have died to sin through His life-giving sacrifice, having been immediately ushered into a blessed state with God. For from our wretched state of death in sin, God has saved us through Jesus Christ out Lord! (Rom 7.24-25), and we are found without condemnation for the dominion of sin has been broken (Rom 8.1-2). And yet, we will find a war still being waged in our hearts/minds throughout the duration of our lives as we are beings sanctified through and through. Having our minds conformed not to the old way of thinking, but to the Spirit’s through Christ’s Word (Rom 8.29; 12.2). Thus, the redeemed of Christ have immediately died to sin, and yet at the same time the process of killing sin in our lives is an ongoing process.

Closing Remarks…

The Bible speaks of death in a variety of ways. An overarching definition that might be helpful would be “separation rather than cessation.” In the garden Adam and Eve died being “separated” from the presence of the Lord, as well as being separated from the bliss of harmonious relationships that existed formerly before they violated God’s Law-Word. In the passing of time we all will experience the separation of our person-hood from our bodies, with the one returning to the earth and the other to the Lord who created it. This will either happen naturally through the passing of time on the day appointed by the Lord, or it will happen as a result of criminal activity that warranted our execution in order to protect society from our vile influence. For the unrepentant sinner this “separation” from the life of God will end in eternal punishment/torment, but for those who have been separated from sin into the righteousness of Christ Jesus an entirely different fate awaits where we shall never be separated from the presence of our Creator/King.


ENDNOTES:

[1] Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 184, 185. Fudge first touches on this subject on pg. 22, but for the most part avoids the argument until his rebuttal of Peterson, who noted what he viewed as an erroneous premise held to be Fudge. Obviously, Fudge does tie this to the traditional understanding of death and hell in the Church, but how much weight he puts on the argument I cannot say. No doubt he leans upon it, but just how much must be drawn from his other comments rather than relied upon by direct statements.

[2] To be excommunicated, which is how some understand the concept of being “cut-off,” is a figurative death sentence as the offending party is being driven from the presence of the Lord (cf. Gen 3.23-24). This concept is seen in the NT in 1Cor 5:1-6 in the incestuous relationship of a man with his father’s wife (i.e., his step-mother). And in regards to divorce as a comparison of Romans 7:1-3 and 1Cor 7:12-15 reveals. Marriage is a covenantal bond before God that is unbreakable except in the case of death. However, due to the hardness that sin brings in man’s hearts, divorce was granted in circumstances where the covenantal bonds were broken. In that case the innocent party, was free to remarry since the former union was considered dead. Such conclusions ought not to come quickly to us, but if we are diligent in studying all that Scripture says on the subject, I do not think you will find such conclusions outside the realm of what God is actually teaching.

Posted in Beliefs

An Evil World Ruled by Satan? A Critique of a Popularly Held Myth in Christian Thought

Today I wanted to take a look at a concept that is popularly held by many Evangelical Christians today. It is the dual interrelated belief that Christians should not love this world, and that the devil is actually the god of this world. These beliefs are drawn from two key texts: 1 John 2:15-16 and 2 Corinthians 4:4.

What I’ll do is present to you the reader those two texts and then offer some probing questions to help us get to the bottom of this issue. Let’s get started:

1 John 2:15-16 reads,

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”[1]

Initial probing questions:

Does this text teach Christians to hate the world as in creation or the world as something else? Is the world evil or is it really good? What is meant by the phrases “lust of the flesh,” lust of the eyes” and “boastful pride of life?” Does this mean that all lusting (desires) of the flesh are wrong? Suppose I’m hungry and I lust after a decent meal, perhaps with various treats on the side? Is that “lust of the flesh” bad? In a similar fashion is it wrong to lust after beautiful things, to long to look at the beauty in this world such as a scenic drive through the countryside on a warm summer morn? Or to take in the beauty of my wife from head to toe? Is that sort of “lust of the eyes” evil? What about taking pride in my labors, or in the success of my children, are these the sorts of “pride of life” that the apostle John is warning Christians to steer clear from?

Before we begin to answer those questions, let’s look at the second text.

2 Corinthians 4:4 reads,

“…in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Initial probing questions:

Is the text before us calling the devil god in the same way that God is referred to as God in Scripture? What significance does the “mind of the unbelieving” play in understanding this statement by the apostle Paul? How has the “god of this world… blinded” the minds of such people? How does a proper understanding of Scripture—particularly that which is in the Old Testament—help us in comprehending Paul’s meaning?

Considering Similarities…

At first glance it may appear that these two texts, which do have different contextual concerns in that they are written by different men, for different purposes, to different people, with different immediate needs/concerns, but the two share an underlying theme found in a way of life. John is warning those Christians he is writing to, to stay away from the type of living that dominates the lives of unbelievers. The desires (lusts) that are in the heart of believers vs. non-believers are radically different (cf. Eph 4.17-24). Paul is explaining to Christians why unbeliever’s fail to see the gospel in its proper light—they are blinded? What blinds them? The reign of sin in their hearts. He identifies this reign with a person. The “god of this world” is really an idiom speaking of a particular individual; whom the Scriptures reveal as the devil.

Understanding the Fundamental Presuppositions of the Apostolic Faith

Both Paul and John were Jews. Being Hebrews, their worldview was governed by the Tanakh. This means that they had a particular lens through which they viewed the world around them; including the seen (physical) and unseen (spiritual or immaterial). Both knew that the entire created order was brought into being by God:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and it was very good….” (Gen 1.1, 31).

Knowing God as Creator other truths fell in line. God is King, Sovereign over His creation:

“For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth…For God is king of all the earth…God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne” (Psa 47.2, 7-8; ESV).

And they knew well the declaration that God alone is God, there is no other who is like Him:

“Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me” (Isa 43.10b).

So then, if God alone is God with their being no other, and that He alone is King over the whole earth reigning over all people throughout history, how is it that Paul speaks of another “god of this world” and what of John’s commanding Christians to not love this world’s lusts?

The Diamond Standard

As I have said in the past, words have various shades of meaning. Contextual considerations are what helps us see the proper way in which a word or even a concept is being used by a biblical writer. Errors occur when we import ideas foreign to the text of Scripture and the overriding theology of Scripture. I realize that Christians come from a wide variety of theological convictions. That is not what I’m talking about when I speak of the “overriding theology of Scripture.” The Bible teaches a proper way to view God and His creation. Variances occur in the creatures understanding due to our limited abilities. Scripture teaches one theology; we tend to muck up the pure waters of the Word when our own traditions, biases, assumptions get in the way.

I have come to see biblical truth in the symbolic representation of a diamond. Diamonds are precious stones of much value.[2] A diamond is a solid rock that is strong enough to crush all others.[3] A diamond is also a thing of intense beauty.[4] One of the ways that a diamond’s beauty really resonates with us and catches our attention is when it is shifted ever so slightly in the light.[5] The light makes the diamond sparkle, bring out greater depth and beauty than if we looked at it from only one angle; which, in a sense makes our hearts leap with joy at what we’ve witnessed.[6]

In a similar way, but in a fashion that goes far beyond that of the diamond (a created thing), the truth of God’s Word is of infinite value.[7] It as a vestige of truth that as a solid rock makes the one who builds on it very wise.[8] When viewed properly through the light of the Holy Spirit we see the greater depths and beauty within, our attention is gripped[9], our hearts burn[10], and our minds are changed.[11] While a correct interpretation of Scripture reveals one truth, when we turn that perspective truth over and over, looking at it from a variety of angles, we notice wider applications than previously were noticed.

Shades of meaning

I say all of that to prepare you for something that you may or may not know. The term translated in English as God—(Elohim in Hebrew) and (Theos in Greek)—has a deeper/wider application that we often apply to it. For example, we see the term Elohim being applied to various individuals in the Old Testament (Tanakh), just as we see the term Theos being used similarly.

John 10…

When the Jews of Jesus’ day picked up stones to stone Him, they were about to do so for what they viewed as a clear violation of the Law of God; blasphemy (cf. Lev 24.16). It was not for good works that they wanted to kill Jesus it was because He made Himself equal with God (John 10.33). Jesus rebukes them by pointing out that they are being very inconsistent, since it is “written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’” (John 10.35a). He continues, “If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’” (John 10.35b-36).

References…

Now many Bibles will reference Jesus’ words here back to Psalm 82. I agree that this is probably the chief text in consideration, but it is not the only one where we see God calling those He has established for a specific purpose; god/gods. One other example is found in Exodus where the Lord God labels Moses in a similar fashion. Here are the texts of which I am speaking:

  • “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment…I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the most high, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince (Psa 82.6-7)
  • “He [Aaron, your brother] shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him” (Exod 4.16)
  • “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet’” (Exod 7.1).

So, what do we do with those texts? Well, would could say that they are proof positive that the Scriptures are in contradiction with one another. A skeptic would prefer that position. We could say that we must take them in a wooden literal fashion and say they are “little gods,” but not thee God. Various aberrations of the orthodox Christian faith would prefer that position (e.g., Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons). There is another option, we could define the term “god/gods” within their given context. This would be the wise response.

Thinking through Exodus 4:16 and 7:1…

Since Moses came first, we shall deal with him, and then allow this understanding (the simpler one) to guide our thoughts as we progress through biblical revelation (to some the more difficult passages). When God called Moses god, was He using the term Elohim in the same sense? In other words, was Moses identical to God? No. Moses was not the Creator, but a creature and so this is not the sense in which God is using the term to identify Moses.

Another key are the words “like” and “as” which offers the reader insight into the figurative way in which the Lord is speaking. Moses was made like God. In what way? He was in a position of authority over Aaron, for Aaron only spoke what Moses commanded. He was also in a position of authority over Pharaoh, although the king of Egypt sought to deny it. But every time he did deny Moses rained down plagues of judgment on his head (cf. Exod 4-12). Moses received this position of supremacy from the Lord God. It was given to him; he did not possess it of his own accord. Moses authority was delegated authority to rule in God’s stead, but he was to do it in God’s way.

According to a Hebrew lexicon “Elohim” has several shades of meaning.[12] The sense that it is being used in this passage, and as I will show in a moment the passage in the 82nd Psalm, is that of a supreme ruler and/or magistrate. As I said earlier, the position that Moses finds himself is one of delegated authority. God gave Moses the right to rule in His stead, before the people.

Considering Psalm 82…

Look back at the 82nd Psalm. Read through it. What do you see? Did you notice that the subjects in question fit within the context of human rulers/judges/magistrates? You ask, “How do you know that?” Look at verses 2-4. God says to these “gods,”

“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” (Psa 82.2).

    • Rather than vindicating “the weak and the fatherless” (v. 3a);
    • rather than giving “justice to the afflicted and destitute” (v. 3b);
    • rather than rescuing “the weak and the needy” (v. 4a);
    • rather than delivering “them out of the hand the wicked” (v.4b), these “gods” (supreme rulers/magistrates/judges) refused to do what was right in God’s sight.

God put them in positions of authority to uphold His Law-Word and they refused. And so, God (identified as “judge of the earth”) was arising to judge them, for he alone is God—sovereign over “all the nations” (Psa 82.8).  The declaration by the Lord that they would die “like men” could also be translated “like Adam” since the term is singular and is the same from where we derive the translation of Adam (see Gen 2.20; 3.17). The point is that they would be struck down from their station, because like Adam before them they chose their own standard of righteousness and ruled the people wickedly.

Looking back at 1 John 2.15-16…

The problem that John identifies with the world is not the world in and of itself (i.e., the created order). The problem with the world is the attitude of sin that dominates it. The lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life are deviations from God’s holy purpose. They refer to man’s sinful pursuits. Rather than follow the lead of God they follow another. Rather than submit to the rule of God, they bow before another.

We should love the world and the things in it (i.e., God’s creation, His creatures). We should have a proper form of desire, one that desires not the natural man’s perversion of goodness, but one that reflects the Creators heart. If you are not convinced, I only remind you that the Savior sacrificed Himself because He loved the world (John 3.16). Not just His people whom He been sent to redeem, but also the very creation itself that travails in distress under the corruption of sin (Rom 8.19-21).

Looking back at 2 Corinthians 4:4…

When Paul says that the gospel of Jesus is veiled (hidden due to blindness) to those who are perishing and then he points to the “god of this world,” he is not saying that Satan/the Devil is actually a god in the same sense that God is God. He is speaking of the ruler of natural men’s hearts (cf. Eph 2.2). He is referring to the one who rules this world through sin. Not the entirety of creation, but fallen mankind (male and female).

Don’t believe me? Think I’m wrong? Then weigh my words in light of Christ Jesus’ own testimony as recorded in John’s gospel:

  • “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12.31)
  • “I [Jesus] will not speak much more with you [My disciples], for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in me” (John 14.30).
  • “And He [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16.8, 11).[13]

The devil is nothing more than a despot. A tyrant that deceives sinners into believing that they are free, all the while they are in chains. However, the purpose of Christ Jesus’ coming into the world was to destroy the devil’s works, to break his grip, to bring him low in destruction (cf. 1 John 3.8). Satan has no power over the elect of God, for in resisting him he flees (James 4.7). His authority has been usurped and this is evidenced in the world under the dominion of Christ’s disciples (Luke 10.18). For Jesus has given His people power over serpents and scorpions—i.e., the curse and the cursor (Luke 10.19). And as the gospel of Jesus advances, God gives His people victory in the world—because it is His world and no others—to smite the devil (Rom 16.20; cf. 1 John 4.4).

Closing Remarks…

These words were meant to be a corrective to those who are fearful that the devil has power where he does not. That he rules over this entire planet when he does not. He is a creature and like all creatures He is subservient to the God of Glory.

This teaching is also meant to be an encouragement. We are living in some difficult times when despots and tyrants are unashamedly showing their faces. Panic and fear are driving the hearts of many, but in Christ Jesus there is nothing to fear. We have nothing to panic over, for all that comes to pass comes to pass under His watch. He is not weak and His strength is given to those who trust in Him.

Therefore, don’t let news and events break your resolve. Nor would I waste a moment’s breath giving glory to Satan as if he is really more than what he is…a vagabond living on borrowed time with a mortal injury. His days are numbered. He knows it, and so should we as we rejoice in his inevitable demise.

Godspeed!


ENDNOTES:

[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New American Standard 95’ Update (NASB).

[2] See Isa 28:16; also 1Pet 2:4.

[3] See Matt 21:44; also Dan 2:34-35, 44-45; Psa 110:5-6.

[4] See Psa 27:4; also Isa 28:5

[5] “For with you [O Lord] is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Psa 36.9). Also see: John 8:12; 2 Cor 4:6; James 1:17.

[6] See Mal 4:2

[7] Prov 2:1-6; also see: Matt 13:44.

[8] Ff. Matt 7:24; also see: 1 Cor 3:11.

[9] Psa 1:2.

[10] Luke 24:32.

[11] Rom 12:2.

[12] “rulers, judges, either as divine representatives at sacred places or as reflecting divine majesty and power.” Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Drivers-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers, Reprint 1906 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 43. S.v. Elohim, 1a.

[13] Italics added for emphasis and brackets added for clarity.

Posted in Beliefs

Thoughts on Biblical Death: Part 3

A couple of weeks ago I began discussing the varying ways in which the Bible goes about defining death. This particular study was brought about by some interaction that I shared with a fellow blogger over the teaching about Conditionalism/Annihilationism. Unfamiliar with that topic to some extent I began doing some digging. I ordered various books from our public library (I have a limited budget for book purchases and this is a nice way of circumventing unnecessary spending).

I also used my privileges as an enrolled student awaiting this spring’s graduation to download various scholarly works on the subject. Some of the books that I’d ordered from the library have been read and I’ve began taking notes. Unfortunately, events beyond my control stifled my studying habits a bit. Other priorities have overtaken my normal reading and writing, but this week has provided me a bit of a reprieve.

The other articles related to this are HERE, and HERE. In them I take some time revealing my thoughts so far on the issue of death as described in the Bible. This post will address the third point on my outline under the heading, Death: Result (wages) of Sin. If you have not read my thoughts on biblical death, and you have not clicked on the links above, then the outline is provided under the Appendix heading below. Scroll down and check it out.

The Set Up…

The late Edward Fudge, a proponent of the Conditionalist/Annihilationist position seems to look at death in Scripture in only one sense—the cessation of life; non-existence. Fudge finds support for his views in the divine punishments delved out in the Old Testament. He sees God’s retributive action against groups (the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah) for violating God’s law as descriptive to what happens to all in eternity. He is convinced that

“As we become familiar with these Old Testament symbols of judgment, we will be better able to understand the meaning of the same language in New Testament texts. And we will escape the easy temptation to explain biblical expressions in ways that have no basis in Scripture. More important, we can avoid interpreting biblical images in ways that contradict their ordinary usages throughout the Bible.”[1]

One of the things that I noticed as I was reading through his thoughts on biblical death is that he makes a huge category error in linking temporal divine judgments in the OT, with eternal divine judgment in the NT.[2] The one speaks of God’s wrath in a finite sense, the other in an infinite sense. At best what these passages show us, and I believe that this is the intended purpose of the Holy Spirit and the authors under His stead, is that God takes very seriously His Law-Word. To violate it on one point is worthy of death, for in so doing you are guilty of breaking it all (James 2.10).

The Final Type of Death Pertaining to Adam’s Sin (NT)

Why is Hell spoken about by Jesus more than any other? In the past I have mentioned that God’s speaks progressively in the Bible. Which means that God’s revelation has a beginning and an end. In the beginning we learn a little about God, a little about man, a little about the creation as a whole. However, as we progress through history God teaches us a little more. He fills in details where necessary and leaves others blank on purpose. But the one thing that He does do is hash out the details regarding several important things. How does He do this? Through Jesus Christ (cf. Heb 1.1-3). The final unveiling of the Lord Jesus is found in the book of Revelation (cf. 1:11-20; 22.6-21).

Fudge acknowledges that what Jesus says is of paramount importance. He writes,

“If we accept Jesus’ authority, we must believe that Hell is real and that it will be the ultimate fate of the lost. Indeed, Jesus tells us more about the final end of sinners than any other speaker in the New Testament. But is it possible that we have read into Jesus’ word meanings that we merely assumed to be correct about the nature of that fate?”[3]

On the first part of Fudge’s comments we find agreement. Hell is real. It is not just a verdict—the fate of the lost—but a place of unrest. Jesus being incarnate deity has absolute authority as He is before all things, rules over all things, made all things, and upholds all things (Col 1.16-17). Therefore, as Paul rightly tells the Colossians, Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1.15).[4] In other words, Jesus has absolute authority over all things.

Christ’s Authority…

This was demonstrated through His teaching (Matt 7.29). This was demonstrated through His actions (Luke 4.36). He even had authority over mankind’s sinful state of being:

“Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, ‘Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the man who was paralyzed—‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home’” (Luke 5.20-24).

This authority he also delegated to His apostles and His disciples (Luke 10.19; Matt 28.18-20)[5], who bore His name to all nations, in whose documents we now possess in the New Testament writings.

Since Jesus is over all things what did He have to say regarding death? Simply put to remain in our sins is a guarantee to die in them:

  • “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8.24).

Descriptions of this Death…

Jesus offers His hearers a variety of ways that this death shall be known. He calls this death “outer darkness” (Matt 8.12; 22.13; 25.30), an image repeated by His apostles (2Pet 2.4, 17; Jude 13). He referred to death as a “fiery furnace” (Matt 13.42, 50), “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9.43-49), which is later identified as the “lake of fire” (Rev 19.20; 20.10, 14-15; 21.8). An abode of torment and suffering where “weeping and gnashing teeth” are common expressions used by the Lord to describe this fate (Matt 8.12; 13.42, 50; 22.13; 24.51; 25.30; Luke 13.28). That the idea being conveyed in the New Testament is conscious suffering seems unavoidable when “weeping and gnashing teeth” is preceded by “In that place there will be…” which speaks of a continued state of being, not a temporary situation.

What these Images are Meant to Convey…

Wooden literalism is when you take a word, a concept, a theme, or a symbol used in Scripture and try to build a chair out of it. Some take the words of Scripture and turn them on their head interpreting and applying them in ways that go well beyond what the biblical author intended. We see this during Jesus’ preaching/teaching ministry. He says “you have heard it said, but I say…” as a way of offering a corrective. He uses this to correct the people’s viewpoint on how they are to treat enemies, how they are to respond to slander, when divorce is allowed, what constitutes murder or adultery, etc. (see Matt 5.21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43).

People struggle with David’s words in this imprecatory Psalm:

  • “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them as my enemies” (Psa 139.21-22).

They wonder how this bodes with the “All-consuming Loving God” of the NT? Another speaks of dashing the infants of rebels against the rock (Psa 137.9; see Isa 13.6; Hos 10.14; 13.6). How does this comport with Jesus of Nazareth? He who said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5.44; HCSB).

Understanding the imagery (i.e., the language) enables you to see that hating one’s enemy in sight of God, in the sense of seeking righteous judgment against those who do evil and do not repent, is a good thing. At the same time, it is a good thing for the children of God to act in a manner that reflects love towards even those who vilify, persecute and seek to take our lives. Loving our neighbor means treating them with respect and kindness in terms of God’s Law-Word (not stealing, not coveting, not murdering, etc.), but this does not mean we are required to sit around a camp fire singing songs and holding hands.

To Reject God your Maker, to treat His Law-Word lightly earns you the eternal condemnation you will receive. Refusing to acknowledge God in this life, refusing to confess Christ as Lord, such individuals are handed “over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Rom 1.28b-32; NASB; italics mine).

The Final Judgment…

What sort of death are they worthy of? Jesus gives us an answer before His crucifixion, the content of which we can compare after His re-glorification (cf. John 17.5; Rev 21.5-8; compare with Rev 4-5; 22.12-13). To His hearers Jesus explains the following:

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and he will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. ‘Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… ‘Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels [cf. Rev. 20.11-15]…These [the goats] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous [the sheep] into eternal life’” (Matt 25.31-34, 41, 46).

There are other passages we could turn to, but I think Jesus’ words here suffice.

Summing Up…

In the NT Jesus describes the final fate of the sinner who dies in their sin. Unlike the divine judgments in the OT which were temporal, the death the Lord defines is eternal. This raises in my mind some very interesting questions regarding the Conditionalist/Annihilationist position, but I’ll address them at some other point in the future. For now, what we ought to see is that the Bible defines death in a variety of ways, the assumption that “death” is only a one size fits all is a false one. What Jesus and other NT writers describe as the final fate of the reprobate is meant to trouble the mind. These frightful images serve as a warning and a witness. We don’t take His meaning with a wooden literalism, but neither do we slight the warning by minimizing the effect that He (God in the Flesh) intends to portray.

There is one more point on the outline that I would like to discuss in the days ahead. Until then, I bid you adieu….


APPENDIX

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).

i. Major—Group Death Sentence.

ii. Minor—Individual law-breaking death sentence

iii.   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.


ENDNOTES:

[1] Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 29.

[2] Later on, I found out that my own observations were similar to those of Robert A. Peterson. He writes,

“It is crucial to the debate to consider what aspect of God’s punishment is in view. The great majority of the Old Testament passages that Fudge cites in support of Conditionalism do not speak of the final fate of the wicked at all. Instead, they speak of God visiting the wicked with premature death. At first glance Fudge’s list of ‘destruction’ passages from the Old Testament seems impressive. On closer inspection, however, few of the passages he cites are relevant to the debate.” Ibid., 91.

[3] Ibid., 37.

[4] Protokos (Firstborn) is in interesting term. It can either refer to the order of being (Ishmael was the firstborn son of Abraham) or it can refer to preeminence (Isaac was the firstborn son of Abraham, the son of promise, as was Jacob over Esau). Used in a similar fashion in the Old Testament to identify David as supreme over all other earthly kings (cf. Psa 89.19-29). The context of Colossians 1:15-18 demands that preeminence—i.e., supreme authority—is the correct definition of the term.

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

[5] For the interested reader this delegated authority was a reinstatement of the Dominion mandate originally given to Adam and Eve in the beginning, but perverted by sin. Christ led people, Holy Spirit filled people, are now equipped to live faithful lives under God to glorify Him having put to death sin. This will be discussed in a future post.

Posted in Biblical Questions

Thoughts on Biblical Death

—My Thoughts so Far on Biblical Death—

Last week I promised to speak on the three types of death as a result of sin, and the one type of death that pertains to the righteousness found in Jesus Christ. I’ve been thinking through this process for a few weeks. I’ve also been writing on this subject for a little while now (much of which I have not published, but just kept a running file on my laptop). This particular post is a work in progress.

As with many of the things that I sit down to write I have a habit of hashing out a subject longer than what I initially intended. This particular instance is no different. Which is why I have been so delayed in getting this out there to my 2 or 3 dedicated readers (lol).

What I have decided to do is provide a brief outline of the material discussed below. I will then provide with this post point (a) under the heading Death: Result (wages) of Sin. After which each subsequent point will follow. I decided to break these up because of length.  Hopefully, this will give you the reader an idea of where I am going beforehand.

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[1]. 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.

Death: Result (wages) of Sin

Adam’s Sin…

Because of Adam’s sin we all die. Thus, the apostle Paul writes the following categorical statement of fact:

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Rom 5.12; NASB).

Both sin[2] and death were (are) foreign concepts to God’s “very good” creation (Gen 1.31). Notice the order given as to their entrance into creation. First came sin and then death came later as the result of sin. Adam’s sin (the antecedent) brought death (the consequent) “to all men,” this is verified by the fact that “all [mankind] sinned,” (v.12) that “death reigned from Adam until Moses” (v. 14) before “the Law…was in the world” (v. 13).  Why? Because Adam’s “transgression,” (v. 18) his act of “disobedience” (v. 19), brought “condemnation to all men” (v. 18) as “the many were made sinners” (v. 19).

Two senses…

This death entails two key truths; physical and spiritual death.[3] This is a judicial sentence of God. This is the condemnation that Paul speaks of.  We physically die, “returning to the dust from whence we came” (Gen 3.19; paraphrased). We are also born spiritually dead as an inheritance from our forefather (Eph 2.3; Job 25.4-6).

Who Subjected What?

Moreover, we are a part of the creation that was “subjected to futility, not willing, but because of Him who subjected it” (Rom 8.20). If this approach seems novel to you, I am not surprised. We normally think of “creation” as something outside of us. The hills, the clouds, the rivers, and all wildlife, but mankind likewise falls under this designation. And while, Paul may in fact be speaking about the created order as separated from mankind, he does tie the two together in vv.22-23 where he writes,

“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves….” (italics mine).

Who was the One that subjected creation—including the entirety of the human race—to futility if not God? Yes, Adam sinned and the consequences we received are a result of his disobedience. But God in carrying out a righteous judgment subjected all of creation to this “slavery to corruption,” and the “hope that the creation itself also will be set free” is found in the “glory of the children of God” (Rom 8.21). How so? Specifically, redemption found in Christ alone via the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power (cf. Rom 7.24-8.2).  (This will be discussed under the primary heading–Death: Results (wages) of Christ’s Righteousness in the days to come).

Forthcoming…

The three types of death we witness in the OT.


ENDNOTES:

[1] This speaks of those found in Christ via faith, which is the consequent of God’s activity beforehand (the antecedent). Cf. 1Cor 1.28-31; Eph 1.3-5.

[2] Though sin is often personified in Scripture it is not a substance. In terms of human nature, it is a stain, a corrupting influence. In terms of a legal transaction, it is a judicial judgment of condemnation, a relational break between the Creator and the creature. The Bible’s personification of it is done so that the reader might be better aware of its corrupting influence. It has broken the former bonds shared in the beginning when God first made the man and woman.

[3] For those that deny the reality of this claim, I wonder what state you believe mankind is in before Christ and the Spirit’s regenerating work? Why, if the person is good and not bent towards wickedness, then does the Bible say we need a new heart? If we are able to see the truth of God before the power of the gospel opens our blinded eyes, then why does the Bible say we cannot even see the kingdom of God unless we are born again? If we are able on our own strength to do what the law of God requires, then why does the Bible say that we are not open to the law of God, but hostile to it? Not only hostile to it, but unwilling and unable to obey?