“X” is for eX Nihilo

“X” is for eX nihilo.  This is a Latin phrase where “ex” means “out of” and “nihilo” means “nothing.”  Thus ex nihilo means, “out of nothing.”  What in the world does that have to do with anything?  Well the world has something to do with it along with all of creation.  For creation itself was created by God ex nihilo, “out of nothing.”  In this week’s newsletter we will examine a number of Scripture passages and will expand our understanding of the phrase, ex nihilo.  Yes I do realize it begins with “e” but thanks for being gracious.

In the Beginning

Genesis 1:1a says, “In the beginning, God…”  Now some advocate for ex nihilo nihil fit which means, “out of nothing, nothing comes.”  The Christian view is not that from nothingness comes something.  For God Himself is not nothing, and He has always been.  God is the self-existent One (cf. Ex. 3:13-14).  God is eternal and alone has the ability to create something out of nothing.  Let’s clear things up.  There has never been nothing as though there were a time when God was not.  For Moses records for us in Genesis 1:1a, “In the beginning, God…”  What we are saying is that God created everything without any preexistent materials or things that have always been.  Only God has always been.  There was no prior materials at God’s disposal by which He formed and fashioned the universe by using a little bit of “this” and a whole lot of “that.”  Still confused?  Maybe an example will help.

When living in Grand Rapids, Katie and I visited Art Prize each year.  We have even gone since moving north.  There are many pieces of art on display throughout the city of Grand Rapids.  Let me quickly note here that I am not one who has a keen eye for art.  There are some things I look at and wonder what in the world the artist was thinking.  Nevertheless we enjoy seeing many of the displays of art from paintings to creative sculptures.  Let’s say we are all looking at a very nice painting.  We realize that the artist began their work with a blank white canvas before them, a number of paint colors, and brushes next to them.  And then from these things came this beautiful painting we are now looking at.  From the very same stuff, canvas, paint, and brush, I would not be able to duplicate the same work, or anything close to it.  Now you are probably seeing why I don’t have a keen eye for art, because by no means am I an artist, but I still enjoy some of it.  Well our artist in this story began with a canvas, a variety of paint colors, and a variety of paint brushes.  God did not create the universe with anything “on hand.”  There was no oxygen, nitrogen, methane, or to use the technical scientific language, primordial soup.  Now I am hungry.  So without the use of preexisting materials God created the entire universe.  How?

A Spoken Word

Hebrews 11:3 tells us, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”  God created the universe by His word.  We see this in Genesis 1.  God did not create with some preexistent material but rather by a divine command (sometimes referred to as the “divine imperative”).  We read in Genesis 1:3, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  You see this pattern continue as you go through the six days of creation: what God says, happens, and God sees that it is good.  As RC Sproul says, “Nothing can resist the command of God, who brought the world and everything in it into being” (Everyone’s a Theologian, 92).

Agent of Creation

What becomes abundantly clear in the NT is that Jesus, the second person of our triune God, the Word made flesh, was the Agent of creation.  And note that the Spirit of God is also present at creation (cf. Gen. 1:1-2).  John 1:1-3 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”  1 Corinthians 8:6 says, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”  Colossians 1:16 adds, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”  And lastly, Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”  Each of these passages makes it clear that Jesus, the Son of God, was the agent through which everything was created.  And as John 1 tells us, the Word (Jesus), was not only with God but is Himself God.

Creations Testimony

We often speak about sharing our testimony with others since we are commanded to be prepared to do just that (cf. 1 Pt. 3:15).  Creation itself is a testimony that is declaring something.  Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”  A starry night, a beautiful sunset, a flower blooming in early spring are all for the glory of God.  Romans 1:18-20 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”  Creation bears witness against us in that no one will have an excuse for not believing when they die and face the judgment.  Creation bears witness about our God.  However, no one can be saved by general revelation for we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.

 

 

“V” is for Virgin Birth

“V” is for Virgin Birth.  You have heard of Christmas in July, well this is Christmas in August.  The biblical understanding of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ has been questioned by many for different reasons.  Some think that no one can be born of a virgin and that includes Jesus.  Others believe it would be a miracle but one that is not necessary to believe in order to be a Christian.  What about you?  Is it necessary to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus the Christ in order to be a Christian?  Scripture makes it clear to us that Jesus was born of a virgin.  It also provides clear reasons why it is necessary for our salvation.  This newsletter will jump right into a number of passages of Scripture that will show us the miracle of the virgin birth and also the necessity of the virgin birth.

God’s Intervention

Matthew and Luke each describe for us the birth of Jesus Christ.  Matthew focuses more from the perspective of Joseph whereas Luke focuses more from the perspective of Mary.  So in Luke when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary, in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, he tells Mary she has found favor with God (Luke 1:30). “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus” (v. 31).  Mary asks the obvious question, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v. 34).  Or as the Greek literally says, “How will this be, since I do not know a man?”  However you want to say it Mary is making it clear that she has never had sex and thus cannot possibly have a child.  This is not rocket science.  Even today there is the necessity of a male’s sperm and female’s egg to come together to create new life.  While Mary and Joseph are betrothed to one another, they still have not consummated their marriage yet and thus Mary’s statement of still not knowing a man.

In answer to Mary’s question the angel Gabriel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).  And as Matthew correctly recognized, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matt. 1:23).  Matthew quoted from Isaiah 7:14 and states that this prophecy is fulfilled in the miraculous birth of Jesus the Christ who is born of the virgin Mary.

Not Merely Preference but Necessity

Have you ever wondered, why did Jesus have to be born of a virgin?  Or, as was stated earlier, is belief in the virgin birth of Christ a necessary belief of Christianity?  In other words, do I have to believe it in order to be a Christian?

Certainly the virgin birth is a miracle as is made clear by the Holy Spirit’s intervention in Mary’s life.  So when we realize that the Son of God, the glorious, infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, holy One became a human it is astounding!  For some it is humiliating or embarrassing that Christians believe such a thing.  But this is exactly what the Scriptures affirm and as we will see more than mere preference but something of necessity.

First, Jesus had to be born of a virgin since by this miraculous birth the uniting of full deity with full humanity was made possible.  This was necessary because only someone like us could redeem us, thus the Son of God became a man.  As Romans 5:18-19 says, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”  And His deity was necessary because only one who is infinite God could bear the full penalty for all the sins of those who would believe in Him.  In other words, one perfect man could substitute himself for one guilty person, though there are no perfect men.  But one perfect God-man could substitute Himself for all those who believe in Him (Heb. 7:23-25).

Second, the virgin birth was necessary since it reminds us that salvation is solely of the Lord (Ps. 3:8; Jon. 2:9).  For no human mind could come up with such a plan and even if they did they would not have the power to carry it out.

Lastly, the virgin birth was necessary because it makes possible for Jesus’ true humanity to be without original sin.  We all are born in sin.  David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).  As we just saw in Romans 5 the sin or trespass of one man, Adam, brought condemnation for all men.  Adam was our representative and failed, so as a result all of his descendants come forth in sin and choose sin.  So how is it that Jesus was not born in sin?  After all, Jesus is said to be born in the line of Adam (see Luke 3:23-38).  What separates Adam and Jesus from everyone else is both were born of the Spirit (see Gen. 2:7).  Luke 1:35 again says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”  Jesus is thus the New Adam.  He is the New Adam in that He is the second one, the “younger brother” who has inherited the promises of the firstborn (i.e. blessing and life for obedience versus cursing and death for disobedience) and replaces the older (i.e. Isaac and Ishmael; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers; Perez and Zerah; David and his brothers).  Jesus born of the Spirit, was the Lamb of God, one that was without spot or blemish, without sin (John 1:29; Heb. 9:14; 1 Pt. 1:19).  By being born of the Spirit, like Adam, Jesus is the new federal head over the new creation born in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5 & 6).

In answer to our question, yes the virgin birth is necessary for Christians to believe.  First, because it is taught clearly in Scripture and second, because it was necessary for our salvation in His name.

“Q” is for Query the Text

“Q” is for query the text.  We have arrived at that part of the English alphabet that does not lend itself to a plethora of words in general and so is the case when we speak about theology.  While we will get creative toward the end, this week’s newsletter is no less important for us as Christians.  Let’s then understand what is meant by query the text.

In Webster’s 1828 dictionary he defines the term “query” as follows: “a question; an inquiry to be answered or resolved.”  So a query is no more than asking questions so that something can be answered or resolved.  This particular newsletter is titled, “Query the Text” with the understanding that the “Text” refers to sacred Scripture.  So am I asking you to question the Scriptures?  In one sense I am.  We will first take a look at a couple of passages of Scripture that shed some light on what I am thinking and then we will see how we can implement this exercise into our Scripture reading.  But before going further the phrase is not original to me but rather part of a chapter title in John Piper’s book Brother’s We are Not Professionals.

To Think or Not to Think that is the Query

It can be argued that in order to learn something one must ask questions.  We recently received a new game for students (and adults) to play called 9 Square in the Air.  Some of the students didn’t know how to play so they were asking questions about how the game works and how one can win.  This provides them with a framework that having not even played the game before they begin to understand it.  It is likely that many of you had asked a question or two (or lots more) about the Christian faith and the Bible before the Father drew you to the Son (cf. John 6:44).  In fact, that was likely part of the process the Father used in doing so (not that He has to).  And even now as a Christian it is not as though all your questions about the Bible and Christianity have been resolved.

In Acts 17 we read about certain Jews who lived in Berea and this is what Luke records, “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (17:10-11, emphasis mine).  The Bereans were a people “more noble” than the Thessalonians.  Why were they more noble?  The Bereans “received the word with all eagerness” and part of that involved “examining the Scriptures daily” to see if what they were being taught was true.  These were Jews who were learning many new things about Jesus, the Christ.  Things like, He had come and it was Jesus of Nazareth.  Who was crucified, died, and was buried, and on the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures (Acts 17:2-3).  So with these things being taught to them by Paul and Silas, teachings they were certainly not hearing from their own religious leaders like the Pharisees and Sadducees, they examined the Scriptures to see if it was so, if it was true.

Now let’s say you were a Berean and you are hearing for the first time from Paul and Silas that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, who suffered and was raised up on the third day.  When you read Isaiah 53, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (vv. 5-6).  When you read this you likely are asking if this prophecy is about Jesus whom Paul and Silas say is the Christ.  How did Isaiah seem to write about crucifixion hundreds of years before Jesus was crucified?  Are my sins in fact forgiven not by the blood of goats and calves but by the blood of Jesus Christ?  As you can see it is quite natural to ask questions when trying to get at a right understanding of the biblical text.  Certainly not all the questions you can come up with can be answered but those pertaining to life and godliness and much more can.  So ask questions.

One other verse stands out for now and that is 2 Timothy 2:7 which says, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”  Now in its immediate context Paul is telling Timothy to think on the three metaphors he just utilized to help Timothy understand the road ahead, even particularly as he ministers in Ephesus.  Like suffering as a good soldier.  While the immediate context is Timothy applying Paul’s words to himself (particularly vv. 1-6) since all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16, see “I” is for Inspiration) there is truth to the fact that for you and I to think over what Paul is saying to Timothy here, or what Moses is saying to the Israelites in Exodus, or what Jesus is saying to the disciples in Mark, to think on these things means we are spending time studying the word.  Then as John Stott said, “We must do the considering, and the Lord will do the giving of understanding” (2 Timothy, 60).  The Holy Spirit will teach us (cf. John 14:25-26) but we cannot sit on our hands never opening up the pages of Scripture and expect to gain insight in it.  But neither should we solely rely on concordances and commentaries to the neglect of the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).

Beginning Steps

One of our goals is to find unity in divine truth.  For God is a God of order not disorder.  Part of the fear of asking questions is that it seems we are pinpointing problems with God’s word and that is not something we are comfortable doing.  While at first glance it may appear we’ve found an error when texts don’t seem to align the problem is not with the Scriptures but with you, the reader.  John Piper says, “It is impossible to respect the Bible too highly, but it is possible to respect it wrongly. If we do not ask seriously how differing texts fit together, then we are either superhuman (and see all truth at a glance) or indifferent (and don’t care about seeing the coherence of truth)” (Brother’s We are Not Professionals, 76 (older edition)).  Let’s not claim to be superhuman and let’s not be indifferent, or lazy, rather let’s be careful and thoughtful students of the word of God like the Bereans before us.

Consistently or Conveniently

My wife and I have been trying to get outside and run or walk a bit more recently.  The warmer weather is slowly fading and another winter is upon us.  Sure we can, and hopefully will, be exercising in the winter time but it will be done indoors making running a bit more difficult (a hundred loops around the house no thank you).  If we only decided to run or exercise when it was convenient it is likely we would not be doing much exercising at all.  Why?  All sorts of reasons.  “It is a bit chilly outside today.”  “The girls (our daughters) should probably have a nap first.”  “We only have an hour before we need to be back and it probably isn’t enough time.”  “My knee is bothering me a bit.”  “We just ate lunch…or…I am hungry for lunch.”  You get the idea.  But if we want to care for our bodies, which are a temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 6:18-20), we need to consistently exercise.  If we have a goal of running in a race or a marathon then consistency is going to have to win the day over convenience.

What about the Christians growth in godliness?  1 Timothy 4:7-8 says, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”  Bodily training is of some value and so it is good to consistently exercise and eat right-ish (I like pizza what can I say).  But as Paul writes to Timothy here “godliness is of value in every way.”  There are many ways to grow in godliness all of which we will not mention here today, but one way we will mention is consistently attending a gospel preaching, Bible believing, sacrament practicing local church.  The writer of Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).  Not much has changed in two millennia where we still see “the habit of some” is to attend church when it is convenient rather than attending consistently and doing so sadly, to the detriment of their own growth in godliness.  Why?  All sorts of reasons.  “It’s my only day to sleep in.”  “My kid has a sporting event.”  “It is football season and the Lions are playing in London so the game starts when I’d go to church.”  “It’s a bit chilly outside today” (so in northern Michigan that means six months are out).  “My kids nap time is right during service.”  “We have somewhere to be right after service so let’s not push it and we’ll skip church this week.”  Probably the most common answer of all, “We are busy.”  “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).  Your other “priorities” can be laid aside on the Lord’s Day since it is there that you NEED to be. Your growth in godliness is that important.

“P” is for Pneumatology

“P” is for Pneumatology.  Even though the “p” is silent it still begins with the correct letter.  What is pneumatology?  πνεῦμα (pneuma) means Spirit, wind, or breath in Greek depending on the context.  In the case of pneumatology it is the study of the Holy Spirit.  The third person of the triune God tends to get the least amount of press and Christians tend to know the least about Him.  This blog will be a little different from the others in this series but hopefully still beneficial as we think about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.  The two sections below are statements taken from my own doctrinal statement.  The first part “Blessed Trinity” is the beginning of my confession on God (Theology Proper).  The second part is my confession on the Holy Spirit (Pneumatology).  This second statement was written not in seminary but while I was preparing for my ordination and finalizing my full doctrinal statement.  We will finish by looking at a few areas mentioned in the confession a bit further.

Blessed Trinity

I believe the one true God is eternally self-existent (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 90:2, 4, 93:2; Jer. 10:10; John 1:1; Gal. 4:4-5; 1 Tim. 1:17, 6:16) as one essence in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; each person is fully God, and there is only one God.  In the unity of the Godhead there is neither a mixing of the persons nor a division of the one essence.  In regard to their persons the Father is unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father (John 1:14, 18; 3:16), and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son (Luke 24:49; John 15:26; 16:7; 1 Cor. 2:11; Gal. 4:6).  The Godhead is a community of self-giving lovers (Gen. 1:26, 3:22; 11:7; Is. 6:8; Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; John 3:16; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6).

RC Sproul (Everyone’s a Theologian, 179) says in regards to the work of the Trinity in our redemption that “…God the Father initiated the plan of redemption; Christ performed all that was necessary to effect our redemption; and the Holy Spirit applies Christ’s work to us and makes it ours by imparting new life to dead souls, which theologians call ‘regeneration’” (see “B” is for Born Again).  As the final part of the last verse of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” says, “Holy, Holy, Holy merciful and mighty; God in three persons blessed Trinity.”

Confession on Pneumatology

I believe in the Holy Spirit who is one in essence with the Father and the Son and also co-eternal with them (Matt. 3:16-17; Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; 2 Cor. 13:14; Heb. 9:14).  He is very God and eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son (Luke 24:49; John 15:26; 16:7; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11; Gal. 4:6).

I believe the ministry of the Holy Spirit after Christ’s ascension is to testify about the Son (John 15:26; Acts 5:30-32).  The Holy Spirit convicts of sin (John 16:8-11), regenerates (John 3:3-5; Tit. 3:5-6), sanctifies (Rom. 15:16), and assures the believer of their salvation (Rom. 8:16; 2 Cor. 1:22).  Upon repentance and belief in the Gospel, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer and remains with them forever (John 14:16; Rom. 8:9-11).  He counsels (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7), seals (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30), and teaches (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:11-13; 1 John 2:20, 27) the believer while guiding them to put behind the sinful desires of the flesh and clothe themselves with the fruit of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 5:16-23).

I believe the Holy Spirit distributes gifts to all believers for the glory of God and the edification of the church (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-31; 13:1-13; Eph. 4:11-12, 16; Heb. 2:4; 1 Pt. 4:10-11).  Believers are given different kinds of gifts so that they work together in unity and properly function as the body of Christ.  The “sign gifts” such as healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues were essential for the authentication of the apostolic generation to both confirm the message spoken and the authority of those speaking (Matt. 11:2-6; John 10:24-26, 37-38; 14:11; Acts 8:4-8; 14:3; Heb. 2:1-4).  These gifts were particularly necessary when a completed canon (the Bible) was not yet finalized, and therefore are not normative for today (Num. 11:10-25; 1 Cor. 3:10-11; 2 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 3:1-6; Heb. 2:1-4).  No individual gift serves as a sign of the Spirit’s indwelling, because the Spirit’s indwelling is itself the gift (Acts 10:45; 11:15-17; 1 John 4:13).

Taking a Closer Look

One can see that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is far reaching.  In fact it reaches back to the beginning when the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep (Gen. 1:2).  The Spirit was active in creation and, as the statement above declares, is active in the re-creation (or regeneration) of individuals who were dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3).  And the Spirit is active in the process of sanctification, where believers are transformed to become more like Jesus Christ, and will be active in the believer’s glorification.  The Holy Spirit is the One whom God sends to make the believer holy.  Without the work of the Spirit we would neither come to faith in Christ, in fact could not, nor would we desire the things of God.  It is rather ironic that the Holy Spirit is often overlooked and yet He is very active at every point in the believer’s life.

It was stated briefly above in my confession on pneumatology but is worth highlighting again and that is the Holy Spirit’s work in regards to the Scriptures.  Namely, the Holy Spirit inspired the writers and now illumines the text for us.  2 Peter. 1:21 says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  And 1 Cor. 2:11 says, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”  The Holy Spirit helps us understand the truths of Scripture by shedding light onto our dark minds.  He is the teacher of truth which is fitting since He is called the “Spirit of Truth” three times in John’s gospel (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).

Have you ever been stuck when praying?  What I mean is, have you ever not known the right thing to say?  Maybe you found yourself in a new situation and were unsure of how to proceed forward.  Or maybe a friendship or other relationship is on rocky ground and you don’t know whether to pray for healing or for God to cut the ties with the least amount of hurt possible.  Or maybe you agreed to pray for someone who then shares with you that they are seeking prayer for something you know is not biblical.  Have you ever had a hard time praying the “right words” afraid that if you don’t ask for something just right you won’t receive it, as if God is like one of those school lockers that won’t budge unless you get the right combination.  While we may not verbalize this, but based on how we pray we reveal a lot about what we actually believe.  The author of Hebrews tells us that we can approach God’s throne with confidence and “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).  Why can we approach God’s throne with confidence?  Because Jesus, the Son of God, our great high priest was tempted like we are but unlike you and me, Jesus never once sinned (vv. 14-15).  And because of Jesus’ substitutionary death (see “A” for Atonement) on the cross for sinners we who have been brought into God’s kingdom by the work of the Holy Spirit can be confident God is able to help us.  We can also pray confidently, even boldly, because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us on our behalf.  Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15) and the Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses.  The blessed Trinity is active when you and I pray.  May that realization spur us to approach God’s throne today!

“L” is for Lordship Salvation

“L” is for Lordship Salvation.  While the development of this exact phrase is more recent, in the scope of the history of the church, the particular focus of it is clearly articulated in Scripture.  No need to translate any Greek or Latin phrases this week since both words are pretty straightforward.  The idea behind Lordship Salvation is that submitting to Christ as Lord goes hand-in-hand with trusting Christ as Savior.  The opposite of Lordship Salvation would be “easy-believism,” or the idea that salvation comes through acknowledgment of certain facts.  In this week’s blog we will first see where Lordship Salvation can be found in the Gospels and Epistles.  Then we will see how we ought to go about our evangelism with this understanding since the churches mission after all is to make disciples (see Matt. 28:18-20).

A Look in the Gospels

Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13-14).  A little later in Matthew 7 Jesus says that not everyone who calls Him Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven (vv. 21-23).  This is shocking to easy-believism advocates since merely calling Jesus Lord is good enough and submission to Him as such is not required.   Move beyond the Sermon on the Mount and you see throughout the Gospels Jesus taught that there is a high cost to discipleship (cf. Matt. 8:19-22; 10:37-39; Mark 8:34-9:1; Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-33).  Luke 9:62, among others, stresses total commitment, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Compare this total commitment to those advocates of easy-believism who say you can cling to your sin and the Savior at the same time.  Or reject Christ Lordship over your life and not surrender to Him.  They will accuse advocates of Lordship Salvation that they teach salvation by works.  This most certainly is not the case.  For salvation is by grace alone, not of works (cf. Eph. 2:8-10).  Believers are saved without any good fruit to offer and before their faith produces good fruit.  Nevertheless biblical (thus genuine) faith will inevitably lead to a changed life.  And clear examples of this can be seen in the Epistles.

A Look in the Epistles

Advocates of easy-believism would look at 1 Cor. 3:1 as a verse that supports their view.  Paul writes, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.”  Paul, says easy-believism advocates, is telling the Corinthians that they are under the dominion of sin which is why it says, “people of the flesh” while still being “infants of Christ.”  What would they say about Paul’s words to the same church when he says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17)?  Not to mention the countless times Paul speaks of putting to death the old man or the old man being crucified with Christ (cf. Rom. 6:5-14; 8:12-13; Gal. 5:16-24; Eph. 4:17-32; Col. 3:5-17).  Paul says that we are not to go on sinning so that grace may abound because we died to sin (cf. Rom. 6:1-4).

When Paul describes the Corinthians as “people of the flesh” he is not saying Christ can be your Savior and not your Lord.  Paul is speaking of the ongoing struggle with sin in the life of a believer.  A new believer, an “infant,” will show more fleshy (aka sinful) characteristics than one who has matured in the faith.  The mature believer doesn’t “arrive” during his or her earthly life but continues to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Pt. 3:18).

How Do I Approach Evangelism?

The holes and weaknesses to easy-believism are hopefully clear at this point though certainly many more could be stated.  I know for most of you reading this you would agree that trying to separate Christ as Lord and Christ as Savior is foolish.  For to put your faith in Him as Savior is to submit to Him as your Lord for you have been bought at a price, His blood.  So why, you might wonder, the focus on Lordship Salvation this week?  John MacArthur answers that well for us: “This issue is not a trivial one. In fact, how could any issue be more important? The gospel that is presented to unbelievers has eternal ramifications. If it is the true gospel, it can direct men and women into the everlasting kingdom. If it is a corrupted message, it can give unsaved people false hope while consigning them to eternal damnation. This is not merely a matter for theologians to discuss and debate and speculate about. This is an issue that every single pastor and lay person must understand in order that the gospel may be rightly proclaimed to all the nations.”

What message are you communicating when you share the good news of Jesus Christ?  We may say we are advocates of Lordship Salvation, but does our message include repentance?  Or do we speak about a personal relationship that can be yours by faith, either failing to mention repentance or grouping it under faith as a mere synonym (like easy-believism advocates do)?

When Paul speaks to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 he shares with them, “how I did not shrink back from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 20-21).  Repentance and faith go together but they are not the same thing.  As MacArthur points out, “The gospel call presupposes that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to Christ’s authority.”  Repenting of sins means acknowledging I am a sinner and in need of salvation.  Thus we look to Christ as Savior and by the help of the Holy Spirit, who has been given to believers, we have a desire and ability to obey God and submit to Christ’s lordship.  And submit we must.