Happy Monday! Yesterday was the beginning of the church season known as “Advent.” The word “Advent” comes from the Latin adventus which means “coming.” So during this time leading up to Christmas as we remember the incredible truth of the incarnation, God becoming a man, we also, as Christians living on the other side of Christ resurrection, look forward to our Lord’s second advent. Below are a few available readings you can use during this season of Advent. A couple from Desiring God (both by John Piper), Good News of Great Joy and The Dawning of Indestructible Joy. Focus on the Family has an Advent reading particularly for those with young children. While it doesn’t include all the coloring sheets and stand alone calendar the version here has the message and activity.
“Z” is for Zeal. Here we are, the last letter of the English alphabet and the last “A to Z Theology” blog (for now). Webster defines zeal in this way, “In general, zeal is an eagerness of desire to accomplish or obtain some object” (1828 Dictionary). A more comprehensive definition is given at the end of this newsletter so continue reading. Zeal when misdirected or grounded in some false beliefs or assumptions can have devastating effects. In the case of many dictators or rulers throughout the history of the world their zeal to eliminate or exterminate whole people groups is wicked and sinful, a greatly misdirected zeal you could say. Zeal can be found in virtually every arena of life: religion, politics, science, academia, sports, and many other areas as well. We will not explore zeal in all these areas rather we will begin by taking a look at the zeal of our Lord and then see how His followers are to have such zeal.
During the course of Jesus’ ministry our Lord cleansed the temple twice. Once at the beginning of His public ministry (John 2:13-22) and once during passion week shortly before His crucifixion, the end of His public ministry (Matt. 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48). Only John records this first temple cleansing. We read in John 2, “And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (vv. 15-17).
Jesus enters the temple and observes the marketplace it has become. And this all taking place in the court of the Gentiles. The only place permitted for the Gentiles to worship God was instead a house of trade. In the second instance of the temple cleansing Jesus speaks of the temple as being a house of prayer yet they made it a den of robbers (Matt. 21:13). The disciples recalled here in John that it is written in Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17b). The zeal, or passion, Jesus had in seeing to it that His Father’s house not be treated as “a house of trade” (or a “den of robbers”) is seen when He makes a whip of cords and drives merchants and buyers out of the temple, out of the court of the Gentiles. Jesus’ zeal was so great that it would “consume” Him. Jesus displays a righteous zeal both times as He cleanses the temple. Certainly our Lord was also zealous to do His Father’s will and be obedient to God’s commands.
What of our zeal? Paul writes, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11). The picture Paul paints is great. Zeal is a passionate burning desire, and here Paul speaks about not being slothful, or lazy, in our zeal. Rather we are to be fervent, enthusiastic or zealous you could say, in spirit while serving the Lord.
Earlier Paul speaks about not having a zeal for God without knowledge (Rom. 10:2). One could understand how this could be taken to an extreme. Paul said of himself before his conversion to Christ, “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church” (Phil. 3:6a). Paul sought vehemently to stop this Christian sect from advancing further. His zeal to destroy followers of Jesus was extremely high. After the Lord met with Paul on the Damascus Road he still had a great zeal but the direction and focus of that zeal was forever changed. Paul would proclaim Christ crucified too much of the known world at that time. He was zealous for the glory of God (see also Num. 25:10-18) and the salvation of sinners.
When Paul’s zeal was being directed by false knowledge it equated to persecution of the church. RC Sproul Jr. said, “We don’t increase in our knowledge by decreasing in our zeal. Neither do we increase in our zeal by decreasing our knowledge. Rather, the two are supposed to feed and encourage each other” (Article: Knowledge Without Zeal). May we have a burning desire to understand the truth of God according to Scripture that our zeal to make Christ known would be like that of our Lord Himself.
In case you have any question about what zeal in religion looks like I close with this quote from J.C. Ryle. He said, “Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire which no man feels by nature—which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when he is converted—but which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called ‘zealous’ men” (Practical Religion, 1959 ed., 130). Do you have a burning desire to please God in all arenas of your life? Do you have a burning desire to do His will when it is hard and opposite of what many around you are doing? Do you have a burning desire to advance God’s glory in every possible way? May we have such a zeal for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
“S” is for sanctification. A simple definition is provided in Webster’s 1828 dictionary, “The act of making holy.” The Greek words translated “sanctified” and “sanctification” most frequently both have the root word for “holy” in them. I’ve also heard it defined as the process by which a believer becomes more like Christ. That is fitting since Christ is holy and perfect. Notice how it is a process of becoming more like Christ, or becoming more holy.
In our instant gratification culture the thought of a lifelong process sounds rather daunting and downright defeating. When we want something we want it now. Well it is good to want to become more like Christ, in fact that is great. We just need to recognize that it is a lifelong process and one that is not complete in this life. Some would disagree with this statement so let’s turn our attention to the biblical text to help clarify.
Mentioning a quick distinction will help us in understanding a number of biblical texts and for making a proper distinction between the truth of what we are and the truth of what God is making us, holier. Some call it the indicative and imperative of sanctification. Others speak of positional sanctification and progressive sanctification.
Believers are declared holy because they have been set apart by faith in Christ as God’s own possession (Demarest, The Cross and Salvation, 407). For example, Paul begins a number of his letters in the NT by addressing the believers as “saints in Jesus Christ” (see Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2). The word “saints” is literally “holy ones.” To the believers in Corinth Paul said, “To those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2). If you were to conclude here that the believers in Corinth had obtained moral perfection you would be incorrect. How do we know that? All you would have to do is get past the thanksgiving to vv. 10-12 of chapter one to see that these believers in Corinth were not perfect. So we would say that believers are positionally holy because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ that has been imputed (or counted or credited) to their account. Or to say it another way “Paul spoke approvingly to the Christians at Corinth not because of their deepening spirituality (progressive sanctification), but because of their justified standing in Christ (positional sanctification)” (Demarest, 407).
“Therefore since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). We stand justified in the sight of God because of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. But while we are holy positionally through justification we are to progress in holiness morally. How do we know this? “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor…For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thess. 4:3-4, 7). As a quick aside many people ask the question, “What is the will of God for my life?” Now usually this question comes with a focus on relationships, career choices, college selection, or another important decision. My response to those seeking the will of God in these areas above is to ask them, “How are you doing with the revealed will of God?” There are multiple times throughout the Bible that God’s will is made plain to us (see Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Thess. 4:3-4; 5:16-18). Let’s start by focusing on being faithful there and trust that God will take care of the rest. That was the long way of pointing out that “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (v. 3). How important is our sanctification to God? Important enough that it is His will for EVERY believer and so it needs to be that important to us as well.
Peter reminds us that, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pt. 1:14-16). We progress in sanctification by avoiding the sinful patterns of our old self and the sinful behaviors of those around us, but also by putting on the new self and obeying the commandments of our Lord (cf. Eph. 4:17-32). We are to be holy in all our conduct because we currently are not holy in all of our conduct.
Does the believer participate in this process of sanctification? After all we have been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. “Not a result of works” (Eph. 2:9). The answer to this question is found in Philippians where Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). This sounds like a cooperative effort to me. No I am not saying you justify yourself before God but that God has decided that believers should have a part in putting to death the old man and putting on the new self (cf. Col. 3:5-17). As a pastor friend has said,
“We can only work out what God is working in.” That is to say that there can be no sanctification apart from God’s grace. As Eph. 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We are saved apart from works but we are also saved for good works.
“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).
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.
This week’s Tuesday Tunes is brought to you by Sojourn. The title is May Your Power Rest on Me. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 12, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv. 7-10). Enjoy!
Here we are at the official halfway point of the alphabet. Quick review: A is for Atonement; B is for Born Again; C is for Christology; D is for Doctrine; E is for Ecclesiology; F is for Foreknowledge; G is for Glory; H is for Hamartiology; I is for Inspiration; J is for Justification; K is for Kenosis Theory; L is for Lordship Salvation and now “M” is for Monergism. On a brief side note, we (Katie and I) have read and continue to read numerous books on the alphabet to Emma and baby girl. So it is fun to explore the alphabet in the manner of theology with you and I am excited to do so with my daughters too.
To understand our word we must set it up against its counterpart. This as it turns out sets up two camps of Christian thinking namely, Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinist hold that God’s election, or choosing sinners, is solely a sovereign act of God while Arminians see it more as a joint effort. Both agree about the importance of grace but disagree over how that grace is needed. Here we see the two words up for debate, monergism and synergism. There is not really a third option available unless one wants to affirm Pelagianism (which you don’t). For Pelagianism affirms that all are born with the same purity and moral abilities as Adam. Advocates of this view don’t believe in original sin, or total depravity, or the imputation of Adam’s sin, or substitutionary atonement. Pelagianism was first condemned as heresy at the Council of Carthage in 418AD and again at the Council of Ephesus in 431AD. With that set aside, though much more could be said, let’s take a look at the two other words and there meanings.
Monergism contains the prefix mon- meaning “one” and the word ergon means “work.” Thus the idea behind monergism is “one working.” Synergism on the other hand contains the prefix syn- meaning “with” and again ergon meaning “work.” Thus synergism has at least two working together, a cooperative effort. The difference between monergism (Calvinist view) and synergism (Arminians view) is in regards to how each views their salvation being brought about. Is regeneration the sole work of God or is it cooperative?
A look at a passage of Scripture will clear things up and answer this question for us as we seek to understand the work of God in the salvation of mankind. We will take a look at Ephesians 2. Verses 1-3 says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Paul is telling the believers in Ephesus what they once were, specifically what they once were before Christ saved them. Three things stand out: first, they were dead in their trespasses and sin; second, they were sons of disobedience; and third, they were by nature children of wrath. What can a dead person do? Nothing. They certainly do not cooperate for left to themselves they do not choose the things of God and would not without the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration.
Paul continues in vv. 4-7, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Did you catch the great distinction Paul pointed out? “…even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (v. 5). In spite of the fact that we were dead, not cooperating in anyway, God made us alive together with Christ AND raised us up with Him AND seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Why did God go to such an extent for those who were His enemies, haters of the light, and dead in their sins? So the immeasurable riches of God’s grace might be seen in the kindness He showed the believer in Christ Jesus. Once the Holy Spirit regenerates the heart of a sinner we receive Christ by faith. Thus faith does not produce regeneration rather regeneration precedes faith. For the Holy Spirit doesn’t whisper in the ear of a sinner “Would you please cooperate with me and have faith so you can be born again.” We are born again and then have the ability to receive Christ by faith (which is also a gift).
Then the beautiful verses of Eph. 2 reach a climax, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (vv. 8-10). Here we see the marvelous wonder of the grace of God toward sinners in Christ Jesus. After looking at this passage in Ephesians you are hopefully ready to answer the questions, does God alone change the heart of a sinner or does that change of heart rest on the willingness of the sinner to be changed? It is God alone who changes the hearts of sinners.
RC Sproul points out, “Both sides in the dispute agree that grace is a necessary condition. They simply disagree over monergism and synergism, over whether the grace of regeneration is effectual or, to use more popular language, irresistible…We are simply unable to convert ourselves or even to cooperate with God in the matter. Any cooperation presupposes that a change has already taken place, for until that change takes place, no one cooperates. Those who believe that man cooperates in regeneration hold to a form of works righteousness” (Everyone’s a Theologian, 229-230). We have been saved by grace alone, a gift for the rebel sinner, not a result of works.
“H” is for hamartiology. What in the world does that mean? As you are likely picking up on now, this theological word is comprised of two Greek words. The one you have seen a few times, “-ology” comes from the Greek word logos which means “word” or can be understood to refer to “the study of” something. So “biology” is the study of life. Or “theology” in the broader sense is the study of God and all that entails. The beginning of our word comes from the Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία) which means, “sin.” “Hamartiology” is the study of sin. You were probably hoping for something a bit more fascinating.
Why take a closer look at this word? Today we hear a lot about how Jesus wants a personal relationship with you. This sort of warm fuzzy feeling. While the Gospel certainly includes a relationship with our Lord unlike any other relationship because through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection He reconciled enemies together. Not friends who were in a little feud like you maybe have gone through with a friend before. Not an employee/employer relationship that is on thin ice because you have failed to meet the quota again this quarter. Not even like a parent/child relationship that has gone sour because your son or daughter stayed out late one too many nights. None of these suffice for describing our relationship with God. We are alienated from God because we are wretched sinners. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
What is Sin?
Our sinfulness impacts every relationship conceivable. Man to God, man to man, man to nature, and even man to himself. We will look at this aspect of hamartiology in this newsletter but first we should define what sin is. We mentioned that the Greek word was hamartia (ἁμαρτία) which comes from the realm of archery meaning, “missing the mark or bulls-eye.” Yet as RC Sproul points out this “might imply the error is only minor.” For one could hit just outside the bulls-eye in the next section of the target. “The truth is that the standard of righteousness, the bull’s eye, is God’s law, and we are not even close to it” (Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, 106). If sin is “missing the bulls-eye” then we have not only missed the bulls-eye, we missed the target, and the barn that the target was leaning up against. Questions #28-30 of the children’s catechism that we have been reading with our daughters helps define sin for us quite well.
Question #28, “What is sin?” Answer, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Question #29, “What is meant by ‘want of conformity’?” Answer, “Not being or doing what God requires.” Question #30, “What is meant by ‘transgression’?” Answer, “Doing what God forbids.” So sin is both failing to keep God’s law by both not doing what we should do and doing what we should not do (cf. Ex. 20; Jam. 1:22; 4:17).
You may have heard before about sins of commission and sins of omission. We commit a sin of commission by doing something we ought not to do. Exodus 20:3 says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” We commit a sin of omission by failing to do something we ought to do. As James says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (4:17).
Let me state here, in case you are still wondering why we are talking about this, that when we lessen the sins we commit and the fact that we are sinners we make less not more of our great Savior Jesus Christ and the work He accomplished. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32). For those who think that all people are genuinely good or even that they themselves are righteous (apart from Christ) and that we just needed Jesus’ example not bloody sacrifice, they have left orthodoxy (right belief) and are still in need of repentance and faith.
Broad Effects of Sin
I mentioned earlier that sin impacts every relationship conceivable. When Adam and Eve broke God’s command they brought physical death and destruction to both humanity and the earth. Their sin also brought spiritual death to mankind, rupturing our ability to both worship and have fellowship with the Creator. Man’s wholeness and uncorrupted nature as God’s image bearers was replaced by a sinful nature. While we still bear the image of God it is corrupted because of our sin (cf. Jam. 3:9-10). We now use the good gifts of God for evil and destructive purposes. We see great atrocities committed against fellow image bearers, both on an individual scale and nation against nation. Senseless bombings and killings, a thriving child sex industry even in America, and 3,000+ abortions every day here in the states to name a few. Man’s relationship to the ground was also negatively affected (see Gen. 3:17-19). It is because of our sin that creation is subject to its present frustration (see Rom. 8:20-22). Lastly, sin impacts our relationship with ourselves. People are very self-centered and seek to increase their own self-esteem. You don’t have to teach a child to be selfish, why? Because they have a sin nature since all are born into sin (Ps. 51:5).
What about Original Sin?
Original sin does not refer to the first sin committed by Adam and Eve but rather the consequences of that sin. Original sin is our fallen, sinful nature. But before you complain about Adam’s unrighteousness transferring to you be reminded of Rom. 5:12-19, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 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 one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Thus Christ’s righteousness is imputed, which means to reckon to someone what does not belong to them, hence it is through no merit of your own that we receive His righteousness but solely by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone.