Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Gospel’

(click this link to view the original article)

by John M. Frame

            It has become increasingly common in Reformed circles, as it has long been in Lutheran circles, to say that the distinction between law and gospel is the key to sound theology, even to say that to differ with certain traditional formulations of this distinction is to deny the gospel itself.

            Sometimes this argument employs Scripture passages like Rom. 3:21-31, emphasizing that we are saved by God’s grace, through faith alone, apart from the works of the law. In my judgment, however, none of the parties to the debate questions that justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. But it is one thing to distinguish between faith and works, a different thing to distinguish law and gospel.

1. The Traditional Distinction

            The distinction between law and gospel is not a distinction between a false and a true way of salvation. Rather, it is a distinction between two messages, one that supposedly consists exclusively of commands, threats, and therefore terrors, the other that consists exclusively of promises and comforts. Although I believe that we are saved entirely by God’s grace and not by works, I do not believe that there are two entirely different messages of God in Scripture, one exclusively of command (“law”) and the other exclusively of promise (“gospel”). In Scripture itself, commands and promises are typically found together. With God’s promises come commands to repent of sin and believe the promise. The commands, typically, are not merely announcements of judgment, but God’s gracious opportunities to repent of sin and believe in him. As the Psalmist says, “be gracious to me through your law,” Psm. 119:29.

            The view that I oppose, which sharply separates the two messages, comes mainly out of Lutheran theology, though similar statements can be found in Calvin and in other Reformed writers. [1] The Epitome of the Lutheran Formula of Concord, at V, 5, recognizes that gospel is used in different senses in Scripture, and it cites Mark 1:15 and Acts 20:21 as passages in which gospel preaching “correctly” includes a command to repent of sin. But in section 6, it does something really strange. It says,

But when the Law and the Gospel are compared together, as well as Moses himself, the teacher of the Law, and Christ the teacher of the Gospel, we believe, teach, and confess that the Gospel is not a preaching of repentance, convicting of sins, but that it is properly nothing else than a certain most joyful message and preaching full of consolation, not convicting or terrifying, inasmuch as it comforts the conscience against the terrors of the Law, and bids it look at the merit of Christ alone…

I say this is strange, because the Formula gives no biblical support at all for this distinction, and what it says here about the “gospel” flatly contradicts what it  conceded earlier in section 5. What it describes as “correct” in section five contradicts what it calls “proper” in section 6. What section 6 does is to suggest something “improper” about what it admits to be the biblical description of the content of gospel, as in Mark 1:15 and Acts 14:15. [2] Mark 1:15 is correct, but not proper.

2. Law and Gospel in Scripture

I have been told that proper at this point in the Formula means, not “incorrect” or “wrong,” but simply “more common or usual.” I have, however, looked through the uses of the euaggel- terms in the NT, and I cannot find one instance in which the context excludes a demand for repentance (that is, a command of God, a law) as part of the gospel content. That is to say, I cannot find one instance of what the Formula calls the “proper” meaning of gospel, a message of pure comfort, without any suggestion of obligation. And there are important theological reasons why that use does not occur.

Essentially, the “gospel” in the NT is the good news that the kingdom of God has come in Jesus (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, Mark 1:14, Luke 4:43, Acts 20:24f). [3] “Kingdom” is (1) God’s sovereign power, (2) his sovereign authority, and (3) his coming into history to defeat Satan and bring about salvation with all its consequences. [4] God’s kingdom power includes all his mighty acts in history, especially including the Resurrection of Christ. 

God’s kingdom authority is the reiteration of his commandments. When the kingdom appears in power, it is time for people to repent. They must obey (hupakouo) the gospel (2 Thess. 1:8, compare apeitheo in 1 Pet. 4:17). The gospel itself requires a certain kind of conduct (Acts 14:15, Gal. 2:14, Phil. 1:27; cf. Rom 2:16). 

When God comes into history, he brings his power and authority to bear on his creatures. In kingdom power, he establishes peace. So NT writers frequently refer to the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15; cf. Acts 10:36, Rom. 10:15), sometimes referring to the “mystery” of God bringing Gentiles and Jews together in one body (Rom. 16:25, Eph. 6:19). 

It is this whole complex: God’s power to save, the reiteration of God’s commands, and his coming into history to execute his plan, that is the gospel. It is good news to know that God is bringing his good plans to fruition. 

Consider Isa. 52:7, one of the most important background passages for the New Testament concept of gospel: 

How beautiful upon the mountains

            Are the feet of him who brings good news,

            Who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,

            Who publishes salvation,

            Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (ESV)

It is the reign of God that is good news, news that ensures peace and salvation.

Even the demand for repentance is good news, because in context it implies that God, though coming in power to claim his rights, is willing to forgive for Christ’s sake.

            So gospel includes law in an important sense: God’s kingdom authority, his demand to repent. Even on the view of those most committed to the law/gospel distinction, the gospel includes a command to believe. We tend to think of that command as in a different class from the commands of the decalogue. But that too is a command, after all. Generically it is law. And, like the decalogue, that law can be terrifying to someone who wants to trust only on his own resources, rather than resting on the mercy of another. And the demand of faith includes other requirements: the conduct becoming the gospel that I mentioned earlier. Faith itself works through love (Gal. 5:6) and is dead without good works (James 2:17).

      Having faith does not merit salvation for anyone, any more than any other human act merits salvation. Thus we speak of faith, not as the ground of salvation, but as the instrument. Faith saves, not because it merits salvation, but because it reaches out to receive God’s grace in Christ. Nevertheless, faith is an obligation, and in that respect the command to believe is like other divine commands. So it is impossible to say that command, or law, is excluded from the message of the gospel.

It is also true that law includes gospel. God gives his law as part of a covenant, and that covenant is a gift of God’s grace. The decalogue begins, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Only after proclaiming his saving grace does God then issue his commands to Israel. So the decalogue as a whole has the function of offering Israel a new way of life, conferred by grace (cf. Deut. 7:7-8, 9:4-6). Is the decalogue “law” or “gospel?” Surely it is both. Israel was terrified upon hearing it, to be sure (Ex. 20:18-21). But in fact it offers blessing (note verse 6) and promise (verse 12). Moses and the Prophets are sufficient to keep sinners from perishing in Hell (Matt. 16:31).

So the definitions that sharply separate law and gospel break down on careful analysis. In both law and gospel, then, God proclaims his saving work, and he demands that his people respond by obeying his commands. The terms “law” and “gospel” differ in emphasis, but they overlap and intersect. They present the whole Word of God from different perspectives. Indeed, we can say that our Bible as a whole is both law (because as a whole it speaks with divine authority and requires belief) and gospel (because as a whole it is good news to fallen creatures). Each concept is meaningless apart from the other. Each implies the other.

      The law often brings terror, to be sure. Israel was frightened by the Sinai display of God’s wrath against sin (Ex. 20:18-21). But it also brings delight to the redeemed heart (Psm. 1:2; compare 119:34-36, 47, 92, 93, 97, 130, 131, Rom. 7:22). Similarly, the gospel brings comfort and joy; but (as less often noted in the theological literature) it also brings condemnation. Paul says that his gospel preaching is, to those who perish, “a fragrance from death to death” and, to those who believe, “a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:15-16; compare 1 Cor. 1:18, 23, 27-29, 2 Cor. 4:3-4, Rom. 9:32). The gospel is good news to those who believe. But to those who are intent on saving themselves by their own righteousness, it is bad news. It is God’s condemnation upon them, a rock of offense.

3. Which Comes First?

            In discussions of law and gospel, one commonly hears that it is important, not only to preach both law and gospel, but also to preach the law first and the gospel second. We are told that people must be frightened by the law before they can be driven to seek salvation in Christ. Certainly there is a great need to preach God’s standards, man’s disobedience, and God’s wrath against sin, especially in an age such as ours where people think God will let them behave as they like. And very often people have been driven to their knees in repentance when the Spirit has convicted them of their transgressions of law.

            But as we have seen, it is really impossible truly to present law without gospel or gospel without law, though various relative emphases are possible. And among those relative emphases, the biblical pattern tends to put the gospel first. That is the pattern of the decalogue, as we have seen: God proclaims that he has redeemed his people (gospel), then asks them to behave as his covenant people (law). Since both gospel and law are aspects of God’s covenants, that pattern pervades Scripture.

            Jesus reflects that pattern in his own evangelism. In John 4, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that he can give her living water that will take away all thirst. Only after offering that gift does he proclaim the law to her, exposing her adultery. Some have cited Luke 18:18—30 as an example of the contrary order: Jesus expounds the commandments, and only afterward tells the rich ruler to follow him. But in this passage Jesus does not use the law alone to terrorize the man or to plunge him into despair. The man does go sadly away only after Jesus has called him to discipleship, which, though itself a command, is the gospel of this passage.

4. The “New Perspective” and Paul’s Gospel

Since the apostle Paul is most often in the forefront in discussions of the meaning of gospel, something should perhaps be said here about the “new perspective on Paul” in recent scholarship, based on writings of Krister Stendahl, E. P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, and others. In that perspective, the problem with Judaism, according to Paul, was not works righteousness, but its failure to accept God’s new covenant in Christ, which embraced Gentiles as well as Jews. On this perspective, Paul’s gospel is not an answer to the troubled conscience of someone who can’t meet God’s demands. Rather, it is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to bless all nations. The “works of the law” against which Paul contends are not man’s attempts to satisfy God’s moral law, but the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles such as circumcision, food laws, and cleansings.

Discussions of this new perspective are very complex, entering into details about the nature of Palestinian Judaism at the time of Paul, Paul’s own history, and the exegesis of crucial texts. I cannot enter this controversy in a short paper. I do agree with those who believe that Sanders and others have been too selective in their references to Palestinian Judaism, and I believe that the new perspective fails to deal adequately with a number of Pauline passages, such as Rom. 4:4-5, 11:6, Eph. 2:8-10, Phil. 3:9, which make plain that Paul rejects, not only legal barriers between Jew and Gentile, but also all attempts of people to save themselves by their works. Luther’s doctrines of sola gratia and sola fide are fully scriptural and fully Pauline. [5]

But the new perspective legitimately warns us against reducing Paul’s gospel to soteric justification by faith. Paul’s confrontation with the Jews was on several fronts. And his gospel deals with a number of different issues, as my earlier discussion also implies.

5. Legitimate Use of the Traditional Distinction

Now if people want to define gospel more narrowly for a specific theological purpose, I won’t object too strongly. Scripture does not give us a glossary of English usage. A number of technical theological terms don’t mean exactly what similar terms sometimes mean in the Bible. Regeneration and election are examples, as is covenant. [6] We can define our English terms pretty much as we like, as long as those definitions don’t create confusion in our readers. 

Over the years, we have come to think of gospel as correlative with faith and law as correlative with works. In this usage, law is what condemns and gospel is what saves. Although this distinction differs from the biblical uses of the terms, it does become useful in some contexts. For example, we all know a type of preaching that merely expounds moral obligations (as we usually think of them: don’t kill, don’t steal) and does not give its hearers the knowledge of Christ they need to have in order to be saved. That kind of preaching (especially when it is not balanced by other preaching emphases) we often describe as a preaching of mere law, legalism, or moralism. There is no good news in it. So, we are inclined to say, it is not preaching of the gospel. So in this general way we come to distinguish the preaching of law from the preaching of gospel. That is, I think, the main concern of the Formula: to remind us that we need to do both things. 

We should be reminded of course that there is also an opposite extreme: preaching “gospel” in such a way as to suggest that Christ makes no demands on one’s life. We call that “cheap grace” or “easy believism.” We might also call it preaching “gospel without law.” Taken to an extreme, it is antinomianism, the rejection of God’s law. The traditional law/gospel distinction is not itself antinomian, but those who hold it tend to be more sensitive to the dangers of legalism than to the dangers of antinomianism. 

Such considerations may lead us to distinguish in a rough-and-ready way between preaching of the law and preaching of the gospel. Of course, even in making that distinction, our intention ought to be to bring these together. None of these considerations requires us to posit a sharp distinction. And certainly, this rough-and-ready distinction should never be used to cast doubt on the integration of command and promise that pervades the Scriptures themselves. 

It should be evident that “legalist” preaching as described above is not true preaching of law, any more than it is true preaching of the gospel.  For as I indicated earlier, law itself in Scripture comes to us wrapped in grace.

6. Law/Gospel and the Christian Life

The Formula’s distinction between law and gospel has unfortunate consequences for the Christian life. The document does warrant preaching of the law to the regenerate, [7] but only as threat and terror, to drive them to Christ Epitome, VI, 4. There is nothing here about the law as the delight of the redeemed heart (Psm. 1:2; compare 119:34-36, 47, 92, 93, 97, 130, 131, Rom. 7:22). 

The Formula then goes on to say that believers do conform to the law under the influence of the Spirit, but only as follows: 

Fruits of the Spirit, however, are the works which the Spirit of God who dwells in believers works through the regenerate, and which are done by believers so far as they are regenerate [spontaneously and freely], as though they knew of no command, threat, or reward; for in this manner the children of God live in the Law and walk according to the Law of God, which [mode of living] St. Paul in his epistles calls the Law of Christ and the Law of the mind, Rom. 7, 25; 8, 7; Rom. 8, 2; Gal. 6, 2. (Epitome, VI, 5).

So the law may threaten us to drive us to Christ. But truly good works are never motivated by any command, threat or reward.

            In my view, this teaching is simply unbiblical. It suggests that when you do something in obedience to a divine command, threat, or promise of reward, it is to that extent tainted, unrighteous, something less than a truly good work. I agree that our best works are tainted by sin, but certainly not for this reason. When Scripture presents us with a command, obedience to that command is a righteous action. Indeed, our righteousness is measured by our obedience to God’s commands. When God threatens punishment, and we turn from wickedness to do what he asks, that is not a sin, but a righteous response. When God promises reward, it is a good thing for us to embrace that reward.

            The notion that we should conduct our lives completely apart from the admonitions of God’s word is a terrible notion. To ignore God’s revelation of his righteousness is, indeed, essentially sinful. To read Scripture, but refuse to allow its commands to influence one’s conduct, is the essence of sin.

            And what, then, does motivate good works, if not the commands, threats, and promises of reward in Scripture? The Formula doesn’t say. What it suggests is that the Spirit simply brings about obedience from within us. I believe the Spirit does exactly that. But the Formula seems to assume that the Spirit works that way without any decision on our part to act according to the commands of God. That I think is wrong. “Quietism” is the view that Christians should be entirely passive, waiting for the Spirit of God to act in them. This view of the Christian life is unbiblical. The Christian life is a battle, a race. It requires decision and effort. I am not saying that the Formula is quietist (Lutheranism rejected quietism after some controversy in its ranks), but as we read the position of the Formula, it does seem that quietism lies around the corner from it.

7. The Objective and the Subjective

Part of the motivation for this view of the Christian life, I believe, is the thought that one’s life should be based on something objective, rather than something subjective. On this view, our life is built on what Christ has done for us, objectively in history, not on anything arising from our own subjectivity or inwardness. So in this view, gospel is a recitation of what God has done for us, not a command to provoke our subjective response. 

This understanding focuses on justification: God regards us as objectively righteous for Christ’s sake, apart from anything in us. But it tends to neglect regeneration and sanctification: that God does work real subjective changes in the justified.

I have no quarrel with this understanding of justification. But in Scripture, though justification is based on the work of Christ external to us, it is embraced by faith, which is subjective. And faith, in turn, is the result of the Spirit’s subjective work of regeneration (John 3:3). [8] So nobody is objectively justified who has not been subjectively changed by God’s grace.

So the Westminster Confession of Faith 18.2, even in speaking of assurance of salvation, refers not only to the truth of God’s promises (objective), but also to the “inward evidence of those graces” and “the testimony of the Spirit of adoption,” which are in some measure subjective.

In fact, we cannot separate the objective and the subjective. Objective truths are subjectively apprehended. We cannot have objective knowledge, confidence, or assurance, unless we are subjectively enabled to perceive what God has objectively given us.  

8. The Two Kingdoms

            We should also note the “two kingdoms” view of Christ and culture, that draws on the sharp distinction between law and gospel. [9] In general, that view states that there are two kingdoms of God, one, as Luther put it, the kingdom of God’s left hand, the other the kingdom of his right hand. The former is secular, the latter sacred. In the former, God rules by law, in the latter, by his word and Spirit.

The problem is that the two-kingdom doctrine claims a duality, not only between law and gospel as such, but also in God’s standards, his norms. There are secular values and religious values, secular norms and religious norms. Secular society is responsible only to natural laws, the morality found in nature. So, Gene Veith says, “morality is not a matter of religion.” [10] The church is subject primarily to the gospel, but in a secondary sense (as we have seen above) subject to both law and gospel, the whole content of the word of God. Therefore, although the Christian can participate in the general culture, he should not seek to Christianize it, to turn it into a Christian culture. There is no such thing as a Christian culture; there is only secular culture, and a Christian church. Nor, of course, should he try to bring secular standards into the church: secular music, for instance. [11]

It is true that we should not try to force unregenerate people to become Christians through civil power. The church does not have the power of the sword. Nevertheless, there are not two sets of divine norms for civil society, only one. And those norms are in the Bible. Morality is most emphatically a matter of religion. The unregenerate have some knowledge of God’s law through natural revelation (Rom. 1:32), but believers see that law more clearly through the spectacles of Scripture. The biblical view of civil government does not require us to force unbelievers to behave as Christians in every way, but it does call upon us to restrain their (and our!) sin in certain areas. We should be active in society to promote those godly standards. [12]

Concluding Observation

The sharp distinction between law and gospel is becoming popular in Reformed, as well as Lutheran circles. It is the view of Westminster Seminary California, Modern Reformation magazine, and the White Horse Inn radio broadcast. The leaders of these organizations are very insistent that theirs is the only biblical view of the matter. One has recently claimed that people who hold a different view repudiate the Reformation and even deny the gospel itself. On that view, we must use the term gospel only in what the Formula calls the “proper” sense, not in the biblical sense. I believe that we should stand with the Scriptures against this tradition.

 


[1] Lutheran theologians, however, frequently complain that Reformed theology “confuses” law and gospel, which is in the Lutheran view a grave error. The main difference is that for the Reformed law is not merely an accuser, but also a message of divine comfort, a delight of the redeemed heart (Psm. 1:2). Also, the Reformed generally do not give the law/gospel distinction as much prominence within their systematic theological formulations. And, historically, they have been more open to the broader biblical language which the Lutheran Formula of Concord calls “correct” but not “proper” (see below).

[2] The passage cited by the formula, Acts 20:21, does not use the euaggello root, the usual term for “gospel” and “gospel preaching,” but the term diamarturomai. But Acts 20:21 is nevertheless significant, since it gives a general description of what Paul did in his preaching to “both Jews and Greeks.” That preaching was certainly gospel preaching. Paul resolved in his preaching to “know nothing but Christ and him crucified.” Luke 24:47 is also significant, for it includes both repentance and forgiveness of sins as the content Jesus gives his disciples to preach (kerusso) to all nations.

[3] N. T. Wright believes that this use of gospel has a double root: “On the one hand, the gospel Paul preached was the fulfilment of the message of Isaiah 40 and 52, the message of comfort for Israel and of hope for the whole world, because YHWH, the god of Israel, was returning to Zion to judge and redeem. On the other hand, in the context into which Paul was speaking, “gospel” would mean the celebration of the accession, or birth, of a king or emperor. Though no doubt petty kingdoms might use the word for themselves, in Paul’s world the main ‘gospel’ was the news of, or the celebration of, Caesar,” “Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire,” available at http://www.ctinquiry.org/publications/wright.htm. Of course both of these uses focus on the rule of God as Lord, and both involve what is traditionally called law.

[4] This a triad of the sort expounded in my Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publications, 1987), Doctrine of God (forthcoming from the same publisher in 2002) and elsewhere.

[5] Although I am critical of the general stance of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and their publication Modern Reformation on this issue, I would strongly recommend Kim Riddlebarger’s essay, “Reformed Confessionalism and the ‘New Perspective’ on Paul,” available at the Alliance web site, www.alliancenet.org, as an excellent introduction to this discussion. I fully endorse the conclusions of that article.

[6] The phrases “covenant of works” and “covenant of grace” found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, 7.2-4 are not found anywhere in Scripture. Covenant in Scripture refers to particular historical relationships between God and his people, mediated by Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. “Covenant of grace” generalizes the common features of these historical covenants, seeing them as successive manifestations of God’s redemptive Lordship. “Covenant of works” finds in God’s relation to our first parents features identical to his later covenants with, of course, significant differences.

[7] Theological literature speaks of three “uses of the law” : (1) to restrain sin in society, (2) to terrorize people in order to drive them to Christ, and (3) as a guide to believers. In Lutheranism (not in Reformed circles) there has been controversy over the third use, though the Formula affirms it. But in Lutheranism, it is often said that “the law always accuses.” So the third use is essentially the second use directed at believers, driving us to Christ again and again and away from our residual unbelief. Reformed writers do not deny our continual need for Christ and the importance of hearing again and again that we are saved only by his grace. But in Reformed theology, the law also plays a more direct role, giving us specific guidance in God’s delightful paths.

[8] So, again, saving faith works through love (Gal. 5:6) and is dead without works (James 2:14-26).

[9] See, for example, Gene Veith, “Christianity and Culture: God’s Double Sovereignty,” from The Whirlpool (Jan.-Feb., 1997), available at http://www.alliancenet.org.

[10] Ibid.

[11] There are, of course, reasons to criticize the use of secular music in the church other than the two-kingdoms concept. But if that concept is rejected, then the distinction between sacred and secular is relativized somewhat, and one must evaluate “secular” music piece-by-piece, rather than as a general category.

[12] In terms of the categories of H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture (NY: Harper, 1951), we should be “transformationalists,” not “dualists.”

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

While doing my short post on Facebook regarding the 10/40 Window, I googled articles that pertains to this topic and saw a link with an internationally recognized magazine. Of course, my first thoughts were, “hey this is a good source, this particular source is known for reliable journalism” – maybe….

The article has in its opening paragraph “the three Abrahamic faiths” and then another article writes “reconciling the three Abrahamic faiths”. At first instance, I am tempted to nod my head and give my approval to the term and the intention to reconcile.  However, a few moments later and after some thought it dawned on me that the term “three Abrahamic faiths” is some kind of an oxymoron (Merriam Webster definition: a combination of contradictory or incongruous words).  That’s it!  I find joining “three” and “Abrahamic faiths” contradictory.

The three groups referred here are Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Now, I do not profess to be an expert on the last two but I will try to put forward here how the Bible defines “Abrahamic faith”, in a briefest way possible, and then we will work out our conclusion from there.

Grammatically, we can understand the term “Abrahamic faith” as the “faith of Abraham”. It may also mean the content of faith which finds its root in Abraham. Let us therefore proceed with what the biblical Scriptures say:

The Promise: In Genesis 11, God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldea and made a unilateral covenant with him. By the time he reached 100 years old and with a wife, Sarah whose womb is past childbearing capability, it was an impossible for them to have a child.  God, with whom nothing is impossible, promised them a son. The Old Testament records that Abraham has 3 sets of children: Ishmael from Hagar their Egyptian servant, Isaac from his wife Sarah, and after Sarah’s death, six addtional boys (Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah) from his last wife Keturah. Yet God calls Isaac as Abraham’s only son (Genesis 21:15). Each time God mentions the promise, it is always to “Abraham and his offspring” – not offsprings. Genesis 21:12 narrates to us what God spoke to Abraham, “…for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” God then promised that from this offspring shall all the nations be blessed (Genesis 22:18).  Clearly, not all of the 3 sets of sons mentioned above  was the term “offspring” meant for. Neither was it meant exclusively to Isaac as the final fulfillment of the promise. History proves that not all the nations today were blessed through all of Abraham’s sons.  The “offspring” here must refer to someone coming in the future from the lineage of Abraham and Isaac.

Not by Genealogy: Now if it were a matter of genealogy beginning with Abraham then Isaac followed by Jacob, then at this point the forgone conclusion would be to point to the Jewish nation as blessed – that is hardly “all nations”.  During one of the confrontation of the prophet John the Baptist with the religious elders of Israel, he rebuked them, saying, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” (Matthew 3:9: Luke 3:8).  They presumed to be inheritors of the kingdom of God by virtue of genealogy and national identity while rejecting the call to repent and be baptized as John prepared the way of the coming of the Lord as prophesied in the Old Testament. By extension, neither was the religion of Judaism, with all its modifications done by the Pharisees, the kind of faith that connects a person to Abraham’s faith. This is not to negate Israel and Judaism altogether for still, it is through this nation and religious system shall the promised offspring come. However, national identity is not the means to be linked to Abraham’s faith.

Through this Offspring: By the time the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write the Roman and Galatian epistles, the fulfilment of that promise to Abraham is revealed.  In his letter to the believers in Galatia, he wrote the following:

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” – (Galatians 3:16, 26-29)

The enscripturated Word of God in the Bible streamlines the Abrahim faith to Christianity.  I do not refer to “Christianity” as a generic term but the kind that adheres exclusively the centrality of Jesus Christ as expressed in the whole counsel of God. Although the message is exclusive, the message is universally proclaimed – it is intended for all nations to hear and believe. Jesus is the promised offspring and all those who put their faith in Him becomes spiritually connected to Abraham.

In order for the Gospel of Christ to travel beyond the borders of one nation, the historian Dr. Luke, as carried by the Holy Spirit, wrote in the New Testament concerning Jesus Christ:

Then He said to them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” – (Luke 24:44-47)

Only One Way: Based on these, there are not three Abrahamic faiths nor are there three faiths that can trace their unity with Abraham. Rather, only the faith that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ is the true Abrahamic faith.  The remaining two major religions cannot accurately make their claim to Abraham’s faith. Otherwise, we will end with “one God, different ways” – now that is another oxymoron!

 

Read Full Post »

It has been a while since I wrote my personal observations but the activities these past few days brought  to mind what the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans in chapter 10:

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

I had the privilege of engaging, together with a brother, someone at Facebook who proposed that ‘holy communion’ (the term used by Roman Catholics for the ‘Lord’s Supper’) is a sure and quick means to heaven.

The biblical explanation for the Lord instituting this ordinance is to let  His people be continually reminded of  His death, resurrection and return (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-21, Acts 2:42 and 1 Corinthians 11:22-26). There was no explicit teaching that the bread and wine becomes the literal flesh and literal blood of the Lord. Even the Jews in John 6 thought they were being commanded to eat His flesh and drink His blood literally. To take that literally is to misunderstand the whole point of John 6 that as the bread in the desert sustains physical life, so the Lord  shall give eternal life through His death (a sacrifice of His body and blood) to those whom God shall give Him to save through faith in Him.

The discussion went on for almost the whole morning and our sole objective was to point Him to the Person of Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation through faith – a gracious gift and working of God. But each time, the person we engaged in would appeal to every conceivable wordly intellectual issue and church tradition that when placed side by side with Scriptures will not hold water at all.  We avoided what is called in evangelism “pandora’s box” – this is getting into all sorts of discussion by address every point of view thrown at us that the Gospel gets buried in the heap of secondary issues. I recall the words of the Lord in Mark 7:6-9:

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!

Nevertheless, our objective is to preach the Gospel. In the end, we can only pray for that soul that the eyes of his heart and his mind be opened by God to see the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that he may repent and turn to the Lord, and may receive the propitiation for  his sin and escape the wrath that is to come.

Much in Facebook today is the relentless exchange of information that feeds the self. Two friends succinctly said that this is the cheapest form of entertainment and the place to be noticed – all directed to the pleasures of self. Christians should continue to take advantage of this media platform to preach Christ. Otherwise,  many people will not hear, neither will they know who nor why nor how to receive eternal life as clearly expressed by God through the Gospel of His Son.

 

Read Full Post »

I find this excerpt from Bob DeWaay’s book helpful in understanding two terms:  “missionary” and “missional”.  For a while I have heard some Christians used the term missional and the assumption is always placed on the preaching of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  However, the term “missional” may have a different connotation altogether as explained hereunder.

EmmausTrekker

 

by Bob DeWaay

Missionary or Missional?
For hundreds, if not thousands, of years Christians have used the term “missionary” to describe one who goes out to preach the gospel to an unsaved world headed toward judgment—repentance for the forgiveness of sin found in the death and resurrection of Christ. The mission of the missionary was to proclaim the absolute truth of the gospel—a fact proven by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The gospel is “good news” because it provides condemned sinners with a certain escape from God’s wrath.

Missional means zealous—about what ?
Emergent’s word “missional” does not convey this meaning. “Missional” sounds like “missionary” except that the “mission” is undefined. Emergent leaders disagree among themselves concerning the definition of their “mission,” but the mission they tend to embrace is to improve society now. They borrow much from Catholic liberation theologians and liberalism itself—that Christianity’s mission is to make the world a tangible paradise immediately. Outside of bettering society, the missional concept has no content; it specifically denies a mission of proclaiming an escape from God’s coming wrath. For Emergent, “The journey is the reward,” and the journey will certainly end well for all—without exception.

According to Emergent thinking, being missional means following the journey wherever it leads as long as it corrects society’s evils. In their view, missional is more like the opposite of apathy; it is zeal to right the wrongs of society. Because the eschatological end of the journey is assured for everyone, the path the journey takes doesn’t matter much. One mission to fight social evil is as good as another; what matters most is that we are missional together.

“Escape from Coming Wrath” or a “Certain Future of Hope”
The content of the gospel (that God has offered a path to escape His coming wrath) is the core issue to a missionary but irrelevant to one who is missional. To the missionary, those who repent and believe the gospel are reconciled to God and enter His kingdom. That message is unimportant, or at least not central, to one who is missional. Why? Because to the Emergent there is no impending judgment and if we do something nice on our journey nothing more is needed. To them, a focus on the content of the message is a distraction at best and harmful at worst.

 

(Excerpted from Bob DeWaay’s book, The Emergent Church, pp. 31-32)

Read Full Post »

Excerpt of Tim Challies’ review on Philip Graham Ryken’s book entitled, City on a Hill. To view entire article, please click this link.

 

 

City on a Hill begins with an introduction to postmodernism. Ryken identifies these post-Christian times as being characterized by relativism and narcissism. In order to combat those forces and to be a remedy to society, the church needs to return to the model of the 1st century church – a church that was modelled on teaching, worshiping and caring. These three forces, when combined, caused the church to grow. Ryken identifies seven objectives for the church: expository preaching, worthy worship, Bible study and fellowship, pastoral care, educational programs, missionary work and service to the church and community. Each of these objectives forms a chapter in the book.

While these objectives are hardly unique, and could as easily be found in a book written by John MacArthur or any of the other Reformed or conservative church leaders, Ryken does something that gives this book great value. He shows how relativism and narcissism negatively impacts each of these seven objectives, and also shows how returning to the biblical model can be an antidote to the influences that pervade our culture. For example, he teaches that in a post-Christian culture, worship becomes less about Scripture, and less about honoring God, while becoming predominantly about the individual. Church becomes a place where needs are met rather than a place where God is worshiped. He teaches that we need a theology of worship to guide our practice so that we can avoid society’s negative influences. In the fifth chapter, which deals with pastoral care, the author teaches that “the revolt against the meta-narrative helps explain why people are so resistant to the gospel. Christianity has a story to tell. It claims to be the story, the story of humanity…However in these post-Christian times, people don’t want to listen to God’s story; they want to make up their own. When they read the script of salvation, they discover that it’s all about God and His glory. But they were hoping to play a bigger part. Hence the postmodern revolt against the meta-narrative, which is really a rebellion against the authority of God” (page 94).

Ryken determines that if we are wise, “we will recommit ourselves to expository preaching, God-centered worship, loving fellowship, pastoral care, costly discipleship, global evangelism, and practical compassion. But none of this will matter unless we recognize our need – our daily need – for the gospel. The church can only be a city on a hill if it confesses its sin and trusts in the crucifixion, resurrection, and intercession of Jesus Christ for any hope of salvation” (page 179).

For the church to succeed in its ministry during the post-Christian era, it must take care that it presents a biblical alternative to the forces of society, all the while ensuring that it does not accomodate them. When church does what it is called to do – to be a city on a hill; a light shining in the darkness – it will give the world what it most needs – the message of life and salvation in and through Jesus Christ.

This is a book that is sure to challenge the reader. It is consistently biblical, returning constantly to the Word of God. It calls the church to return not to the model of the twentieth century, but the model given to us in the Bible. I enjoyed this book and recommend it to others.

*     *     *     *     *

 

About the Author: 

Dr Ryken holds degrees from Wheaton (B. A.), Westminster (M. Div.), and the University of Oxford (D. Phil.).  He is on the Board of Trusties at both Wheaton College and Westminster, and is an Executive Board Member with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Philip Graham Ryken is Senior Minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, where he has preached since 1995.  He is Bible Teacher for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, speaking nationally on the radio program Every Last Word.  Dr. Ryken was educated at Wheaton College (IL), Westminster Theological Seminary (PA) and the University of Oxford (UK), from which he received his doctorate in historical theology.  He lives with his wife (Lisa) and children (Josh, Kirsten, Jack, Kathryn, and Karoline) in Center City, Philadelphia. 

Read Full Post »

By Dr. Albert Mohler

The images streaming in from Haiti look like scenes from Dante’s Inferno. The scale of the calamity is unprecedented. In many ways, Haiti has almost ceased to exist.

The earthquake that will forever change that nation came as subterranean plates shifted about six miles under the surface of the earth, along a fault line that had threatened trouble for centuries. But no one saw a quake of this magnitude coming. The 7.0 quake came like a nightmare, with the city of Port-au-Prince crumbling, entire villages collapsing, bodies flying in the air and crushed under mountains of debris. Orphanages, churches, markets, homes, and government buildings all collapsed. Civil government has virtually ceased to function. Without power, communication has been cut off and rescue efforts are seriously hampered. Bodies are piling up, hope is running out, and help, though on the way, will not arrive in time for many victims.

Even as boots are finally hitting the ground and relief efforts are reaching the island, estimates of the death toll range as high as 500,000. Given the mountainous terrain and densely populated villages that had been hanging along the fault line, entire villages may have disappeared. The Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation has experienced a catastrophe that appears almost apocalyptic.

In truth, it is hard not to describe the earthquake as a disaster of biblical proportions. It certainly looks as if the wrath of God has fallen upon the Caribbean nation. Add to this the fact that Haiti is well known for its history of religious syncretism — mixing elements of various faiths, including occult practices. The nation is known for voodoo, sorcery, and a Catholic tradition that has been greatly influenced by the occult.

Haiti’s history is a catalog of political disasters, one after the other. In one account of the nation’s fight for independence from the French in the late 18th century, representatives of the nation are said to have made a pact with the Devil to throw off the French. According to this account, the Haitians considered the French as Catholics and wanted to side with whomever would oppose the French. Thus, some would use that tradition to explain all that has marked the tragedy of Haitian history — including now the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

Does God hate Haiti? That is the conclusion reached by many, who point to the earthquake as a sign of God’s direct and observable judgment.

God does judge the nations — all of them — and God will judge the nations. His judgment is perfect and his justice is sure. He rules over all the nations and his sovereign will is demonstrated in the rising and falling of nations and empires and peoples. Every molecule of matter obeys his command, and the earthquakes reveal his reign — as do the tides of relief and assistance flowing into Haiti right now.

A faithful Christian cannot accept the claim that God is a bystander in world events. The Bible clearly claims the sovereign rule of God over all his creation, all of the time. We have no right to claim that God was surprised by the earthquake in Haiti, or to allow that God could not have prevented it from happening.

God’s rule over creation involves both direct and indirect acts, but his rule is constant. The universe, even after the consequences of the Fall, still demonstrates the character of God in all its dimensions, objects, and occurrences. And yet, we have no right to claim that we know why a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti happened at just that place and at just that moment.

The arrogance of human presumption is a real and present danger. We can trace the effects of a drunk driver to a car accident, but we cannot trace the effects of voodoo to an earthquake — at least not so directly. Will God judge Haiti for its spiritual darkness? Of course. Is the judgment of God something we can claim to understand in this sense — in the present? No, we are not given that knowledge. Jesus himself warned his disciples against this kind of presumption.

Why did no earthquake shake Nazi Germany? Why did no tsunami swallow up the killing fields of Cambodia? Why did Hurricane Katrina destroy far more evangelical churches than casinos? Why do so many murderous dictators live to old age while many missionaries die young?

Does God hate Haiti? God hates sin, and will punish both individual sinners and nations. But that means that every individual and every nation will be found guilty when measured by the standard of God’s perfect righteousness. God does hate sin, but if God merely hated Haiti, there would be no missionaries there; there would be no aid streaming to the nation; there would be no rescue efforts — there would be no hope.

The earthquake in Haiti, like every other earthly disaster, reminds us that creation groans under the weight of sin and the judgment of God. This is true for every cell in our bodies, even as it is for the crust of the earth at every point on the globe. The entire cosmos awaits the revelation of the glory of the coming Lord. Creation cries out for the hope of the New Creation.

In other words, the earthquake reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real message of hope. The cross of Christ declares that Jesus loves Haiti — and the Haitian people are the objects of his love. Christ would have us show the Haitian nation his love, and share his Gospel. In the midst of this unspeakable tragedy, Christ would have us rush to aid the suffering people of Haiti, and rush to tell the Haitian people of his love, his cross, and salvation in his name alone.

Everything about the tragedy in Haiti points to our need for redemption. This tragedy may lead to a new openness to the Gospel among the Haitian people. That will be to the glory of God. In the meantime, Christ’s people must do everything we can to alleviate the suffering, bind up the wounded, and comfort the grieving. If Christ’s people are called to do this, how can we say that God hates Haiti?

If you have any doubts about this, take your Bible and turn to John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. That is God’s message to Haiti.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Another question was emailed to me a few weeks ago primarily on the issue of divorce and remarriage among Christians. He had a 2-part question; the first dealt with salvation, and the second about remarriage.

 

First question: “Is salvation lost if a separated guy marry [sic] again? Even it is already annulled? Is the salvation of the partner whom he married also lost?”

My reply:  Well, firstly, the Bible teaches that salvation is of the Lord and nothing can be contributed by man to have it (Titus 3:4-7). The means to receive it is by faith – which is also a gift (Eph 2:8-9). Thus, salvation is believing in the Lord who is proclaimed through the Gospel (Romans 1:16).

Sin does not disqualify us, for if it does, then no one is saved for everything that we do is marred by sin.  Only the finished work of Jesus Christ through His sinless life, sacrificial and substitutionary death, and resurrection has made anything that we do (as saved people) holy and acceptable to God (see Hebrews 10:8-18).

Having the truth of our salvation, its basis, its merits and its security in Christ Jesus briefly established above, remarriage of a separated person does not disqualify him from such a wonderful salvation. However, there are other consequences, particularly the conveyance of a conflicting message concerning the Gospel and Christians divorcing and re-marrying even when their original spouses are still alive. This I find dishonorable, and based on the original question, disqualifies men from Christian ministry (eldership and deaconship). But more importantly, righteousness is the fruit of true faith in Jesus Christ, and every believer through the mediation of the Spirit and the Word heeds the call to love the Lord God above all else. And loving the Lord manifests in humility and submission to His will.

 

Second question: (originally in Pilipino) Can a person whose marriage is annulled re-marry?

My reply: (This is a shortened version of my lengthy reply). Referring to the texts in Matthew, particularly chapter 19:3-10, we take note of the original questions of the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any reason?”

I highlighted two words in the question so that we can ground our answer correctly.  The use of the word “lawful” refers to the requirements of the Law of Moses. Wanting to find fault, this question was directed at the Lord.  In His response, noted the following:

  • That God’s will has been declared even before Moses that when two people – man and woman – are joined together, they become one (Genesis 2:24)
  • That divorce was not of God’s but of Moses’ command because of “the hardness of their hearts” – meaning they would not obey the Lord concerning matters on marriage.
  • That divorce can only be meted out only if one of the spouses are sexually immoral.

Therefore, it is not lawful to divorce for “any” reason.  The only reason allowed for divorce is adultery of one of the spouses.  However, we must remember that under the Law, adultery (the only ground for divorce) is punishable by death.

If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” – Leviticus 20:10

The death of the adulterous spouse now frees the other spouse to remarry because it is only through the death of one spouse can marriage be dissolved. An allegorical view concerning the believer’s union with Christ ‘s death and resurrection was discussed by Paul in the first few verses of Romans 7. In it, the allegoryof marriage and its dissolution through death is used allowing for a remarriage.

Having said this, whether marriage is annulled (Philippine law does not allow divorce) or divorce as granted by the laws of any human government, remember that the Law of God is above these laws and no re-marriage can be allowed unless one of the spouses die.

I would also like to share with you what Albert Barnes Commentary said about this section of Scripture:

And I say unto you. Emphasis should be laid here on the word I. This was the opinion of Jesus—this he proclaimed to be the law of his kingdom—this the command of God ever afterwards. Indulgence had been given by the laws of Moses; but that indulgence was to cease, and the marriage relation to be brought back to its original intention. Only one offence was to make divorce lawful. This is the law of God. And by the same law, all marriages which take place after divorce, where adultery is not the cause of divorce, are adulterous. Legislatures have no right to say that men may put away their wives for any other cause; and where they do, and where there is marriage afterwards, by the law of God such marriages are adulterous.

 Barnes’ emphasis is on the authority of Jesus Christ.

One famous Philippine TV/radio personality who has already gone to be with the Lord is Helen Vela. When she became a born again Christian, she relates in her beautiful testimony of heeding the call of God to be separated from the man whom she cannot be married because that was not her true husband. Her original husband separated from her long before and lived in adultery with another woman. If  only that taped testimony is still available, it would be an encouraging word for Christians who are in the same situation.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »