“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.

 

 

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“W” is for Wrath

“W” is for Wrath.  While there is no need to translate or parse any aspect of this word it doesn’t mean that it isn’t regularly misunderstood.  The wrath of God is not a subject much spoken of in our culture today.  Our world would rather talk about the love of God and leave that wrath business out altogether.  This is not a surprise given the fallenness of man and of our nation.  What is the surprising offense is how the culture and its influence has seeped into the church and shaped it in regards to any number of theological subjects, the wrath of God being one, instead of the church being a light to the nations.  But as Christians many of us are oftentimes maybe embarrassed about the wrath of God because we don’t understand it.  JI Packer points out, “Why, when the Bible is vocal about it [referring to the wrath of God], should we feel obliged to be silent?” (Knowing God, 150).  Of course your liberal churches and denominations have tossed it out long ago but even inside an otherwise solid evangelical (meaning, gospel preaching and Bible believing) church, the subject of the wrath of God is all but eliminated.  Why is that?

In this week’s blog we will explore this particular attribute of God.  We will take a look at a few of the Old and New Testament texts that either speak directly about the wrath of God or are a demonstration of His wrath.  May our study of the wrath of God awaken in the Christian a burning desire for proclaiming the whole counsel of God for His glory.

What is the Wrath of God?

The wrath of God is an expression of His holiness.  Or “the doctrine that God intensely hates all sin” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1257).  Since God is holy (Matt 5:48; 1 Jn. 1:5) and He hates sin He cannot remain neutral in regards to it.  As Dr. Steven Lawson said, “There is divine wrath that by necessity must react against all that does not conform to the purity of His holiness” (The Attributes of God Teaching Series).  We struggle to understand this because we are not perfect, despite what a new mother might say about her child, and Scripture makes that abundantly clear (see Gen. 3; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:23).  Whereas humans misdirect and misapply our anger virtually daily, “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is…God is only angry where anger is called for” (Packer, Knowing God, 151).   God’s wrath is the justice of God in response to our sin.

Wrath of God in the OT

Some point to various accounts in Scripture like Noah and the flood (Gen. 6-7), Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18-19), and the Ten Plagues in Egypt (Ex. 7-12) as examples of the wrath of God gone out of control.  Even some Christians look at these texts among others and conclude, “Thank God that the God of the NT is a God of love.”  This too is ridiculous and reveals a lack of understanding the Bible.

Yes, God judged mankind and a catastrophic flood covered all the earth.  Yes, God rained down sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24).  Yes, God sent ten plagues against Egypt.  But let’s quickly recap why God did each of these things.  In reference to the worldwide flood we read, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).  Evil continually.  All the time.  God had been patient with man already since even just one sin deserves death and God withheld His wrath until the evil of mankind was “only evil continually.”  And thankfully God looked with favor upon Noah (6:8).  In the case of Sodom, Abraham interceded for the people there that if only ten righteous persons could be found would God destroy the city and God said He would not (Gen. 18:32).  God even had sent two angels to observe.  Certainly God knew, but He was showing them mercy by having not judged them already.  Everything was confirmed.  The men of Sodom sought to participate in homosexual acts, and while they were inhospitable among other sins (Ezek. 16:48-49) they were guilty because of an abomination (Ezek. 16:50, the same Hebrew word used in Lev. 18:22; 20:13 that links their sin to homosexuality).  Sodom knew of their sin and boasted about it (Is. 3:9).  And the people were rightly judged by God for their sin.  Lastly, in the ten plagues God was going to show the Egyptians, who worshiped many false gods, “that I am the LORD” (Ex. 7:5).  And by these plagues He was going to rescue the people of Israel from their slavery.  God gave Pharaoh plenty of opportunities to repent (Ex. 8:8, 19, 24-28; 9:11, 28; 10:5-6, 17, 24), there were ten plagues after all.  But Pharaoh continual hardened his heart and became monstrously evil, so God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and lured evil into the Red Sea where they were judged because of their sins (Ex. 14:27-28).  In the case of Pharaoh, the Sodomites, and the people living in Noah’s day each reaped what their words and actions had sown (Gal. 6:7-8).  And I pointed out how God was gracious even leading up to these just judgments.

Wrath of God in the NT

A quick look at a passage in Revelation (though more could be selected, John 3:36; Col. 3:5-6) shows how God’s wrath is very much present in the NT.  Rev. 6:15-17 says, “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’”  Did you catch that?  The wrath of the Lamb, Jesus the Christ.

Romans 1:16-17 beautifully shares the gospel message and the truth that “the righteous shall live by faith.”  Rom. 1:18-3:20 speaks of the utter depravity and sinfulness of man (a message consistent throughout Scripture after the Fall, Gen. 3) and mankind being without hope apart from God’s direct intervention.  Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  We are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).  We suppress the truth in our unrighteousness, our sin.  And while the day when God’s wrath will be fully realized is yet to come there are demonstrations of that wrath right now when Paul says “God gave them up…” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).

As with all the other attributes of God, the wrath of God is one we as Christians should not downsize or be embarrassed by but rather praise and glorify our awesome and holy God for.  The Father sent His Son out of a great love for His elect even when we were wretched sinners who deserved His wrath.  But thanks be to God for Jesus Christ His Son through whom we’ve received grace and mercy.  May we be motivated to share with others of the wrath to come upon sinners and that only by repenting of your sins and believing in Jesus Christ can the wrath of God be removed from us for it was paid in full by Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:25-26; 1 Thess. 1:9-10).

“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.

“U” is for Unconditional Election

“U” is for Unconditional Election.   In order for us to understand this biblical concept we must understand the total depravity of man first (hence the letter “T”).  A quick recap of man’s condition will be given first.  Then we will define our phrase unconditional election and see how this is not some concept forced upon the text of Scripture, like some may suggest, but that it is found directly within its pages.  And while we look at Scripture we will see why conditional election is false.  Lastly, we will see what the proper response of Christians should look like given this truth.

Man’s Condition

Many people today like to think, “All people are basically good.”  Sure there are the dictators, communist leaders, serial killers, child abusers, and the like but they are an exception to the norm.  While not everyone is a murderer in the strictest sense, first degree murder, we have all been extremely angry with someone before and Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:21-22; see Ex. 20:13).  When people speak of being basically good this is always based on our finite human understanding and our flawed human standard.  We are always looking on a horizontal level because we can always find someone worse than us, so we think.

Ephesians 2 makes it clear what the condition of man is really like.  We are dead in our trespasses and sins, sons of disobedience, and children of wrath (vv. 1-3).  In other words we are totally deprived.  This does not mean we are as bad as we could be but rather that every aspect of our existence has been negatively impacted by sin: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual state.  Dead people cannot do anything and this is our spiritual state according to Paul in Ephesians 2.  Therefore, without the work of God in removing a heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26-28) there will be no positive action (i.e. belief in the Lord Jesus Christ) toward God on the part of man.  So we now take a look at unconditional election.

From the Text of Scripture

A proper definition of election is, “An act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of His sovereign good pleasure” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1241).  God did not look through the corridors of time and see which individuals would respond positively to the gospel message and then choose them.  For this to be true we would have to deny the total depravity of man.  For in our fallen condition we said we are unable to make any positive action toward God.  It would also deny God’s sovereignty over all that He has made.  If it were true that God saw in us some positive action or response in advance than we would have reason for boasting for we would have contributed something to our salvation (cf. Eph. 2:8-10).  This then radically denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone (cf. Rom. 5:1-11; Gal. 2:16; 3:7-8).  Thus God’s election is not conditional, it cannot be.

Acts 13:48 says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” This verse makes it clear that some were appointed (other translations “ordained”) for eternal life and therefore they believed.  The clearest of places we see that God’s election of people is unconditional, meaning it is not based on anything foreseen in them, is found in Romans 9.

“And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” (vv. 10-13).

Paul speaks here about God choosing the younger son, Jacob, over the elder son, Esau.  When reading Genesis you might gather that this was simply common practice since God chooses Seth, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and Joseph all of whom were not the firstborn.  However, the practice in that day was for the firstborn son to receive a greater portion of the inheritance and blessing from his father.  So when Paul references back to Esau and Jacob he reminds his readers of Malachi 1:2-3, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”  Why did God choose Jacob and not Esau?  Was Jacob wiser, craftier, stronger, more handsome, a better son?  None of these things.  In fact Paul gives us the purpose for why Jacob was chosen over Esau “that God’s purpose of election might continue” (v. 11).  And this was not based on works because it was before either was born and before either had done anything good or evil.  The choosing of Jacob over Esau was based on Him who calls, that is, on God’s choosing.  And this is true for those whom are elect, saved by God, that it does not rest on anything foreseen in them but solely on the sovereign decision of our gracious God.

Paul expects the possible push back he might receive in v. 14 by saying, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!”  A few things should be understood here.  First, do you remember what our state was before the Holy Spirit regenerated our hearts?  We were dead in our trespasses and sins and fully deserving of the wrath of God to be poured out on us.  The fact is no one deserves salvation in the first place, not you, not me, no one.  Salvation belongs to the Lord (Ps. 3:8; Jonah 2:9).  Second, let’s say in a group of six people three are saved and three are not.  The three that are saved received grace and mercy.  The three that perish receive justice for their sins.  No one receives injustice (analogy from RC Sproul).  Thus Paul says in vv. 15-16, “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

Some will interject here, “What about man’s free will?”  Certainly Scripture makes it clear that we make choices that have real effects and consequences.  Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and later concluded that he was dead because of their actions (Gen. 37:25-28; 42:13).  And yet Gen. 50:20 makes it clear that what Joseph’s brothers meant for evil, God meant it for good.  So while Scripture does say man makes choices that have real effects it does not maintain that man is free from God’s control since everything is sustained and directed by our sovereign God (cf. Prov. 16:2, 9; 21:2).  While we speak of man’s free will we ought to be concerned first and foremost with the free will of God.

Praises to the King

The biblical idea of the unconditional election of God highlights above all else the grace of God.  For it stands out for what it truly is, a marvelous, amazing, nothing-else-like-it gift.  The believer’s response must be a humble one that destroys any ounce of pride, and one of thanksgiving and praise to our King.  And we know have greater fervor in sharing the good news because God has sovereignly elected men and women all over the world to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

“T” is for Total Depravity

“T” is for total depravity.  For some people immediate thoughts come to mind, oftentimes negative, when they hear these words.  However, this usually stems from a misunderstanding.  Because of the possible misunderstandings some prefer to change the phrase altogether.  While that is one way of doing it another way is to keep the word (or phrase) and help people properly understand its meaning.  We will begin by looking at what it is not to clear some initial and incorrect understandings.  Then we will see what the proper and correct understanding of total depravity.

What It Is Not

We won’t spend much time here but in order to help us better understand what total depravity is we should nevertheless clear one common misunderstanding about it.  Total depravity does not mean that we as humans are as bad as we could possibly be.  This is not hard to understand since even some of the most grotesque leaders, say in the 20th century alone, could have been even worse.  So total depravity does not mean we are as bad as we could be, but what does it mean?

What It Is

The church father St. Augustine wrote out a prayer that one British monk did not like.  Augustine said something along the lines of, “Oh God, command what thou wouldst, and grant what thou dost command.”  The British monk who did not like this was Pelagius and it was not the first part of Augustine’s prayer that he objected to so much as the second part, “grant what thou dost command.”  Pelagius did not like this because it assumes a creature is not morally able to do the will of God.  Pelagius believed that man was capable of pleasing God, obeying His commands, and choosing good and not evil without any divine intervention.

Original Sin

Pelagius, and those who adhere to Pelagianism have a false view of original sin.  Original sin is not the first sin ever committed by Adam and Eve but rather involves the consequences of that first sin.  The New England Primer was a text used to help colonial children learn their letters among other things.  For the alphabet beginning with the letter “A” it states, “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.”  In other words the entire human race is fallen, born into sin.  King David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).  David isn’t talking about when his parents came together in a sexual union that this was sinful but rather that he from the moment of conception was born sinful.  The reason looking at original sin is important is because of the meaning of total depravity.  Total depravity points out the seriousness of the fall and points to the fact that the totality of man’s being is depraved.  All of our being whether physical (death and disease), mental (darkened minds), emotional, or spiritual has been negatively impacted.  And many Christians would agree that we are fallen, and that this is a serious thing, and it impacts every part of our being.  But there is still disagreement on the level of its impact.  When people say that, “We are basically good” is this true?  Or are we at the core of our being evil?

The Bible Tells Me So

Psalm 14:1-2 says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

Proverbs 20:9 says, “Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”?  [Note – This is a rhetorical question and the answer is, no one].

Eccles. 7:20, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”

Ephesians 2:1-3, “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.”

Titus 1:15, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”

Many more verses we could look at but each of these shows how sinful we are and that we are not basically good people who need a few government reforms to be made right with God.  When people speak about being basically good they base that claim on a purely human understanding, on a horizontal plane.  This lessens the understanding of sin to something accidental and outside ourselves, rather than what it really is, rebellion and disobedience against a holy God that is found within our very hearts.  When fleshing out these verses to help us understand man’s condition and our word total depravity we see that we are enslaved to sin, we are spiritually dead, and we are living in rebellion against God.

We are not in need of a few tweaks here and a few adjustments there but a radical heart transplant is needed, and something only God can do.  For, “…no one can come to me [Jesus] unless it is granted him by my Father” (John 6:65).   Our condition is dead in our trespasses and sins and only by the grace of God through the work of the Holy Spirit in regenerating our hearts do we place our faith, a gift from God (see Eph. 2:8-9), in Jesus Christ.

“S” is for Sanctification

“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.

Biblical Texts

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.

Positional 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).

Progressive Sanctification

“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.

The Fifth of May

Today is Cinco De Mayo a day commemorating the Battle of Puebla (1862) where a band of Mexican troops defeated the invading French troops despite being outnumbered two to one.  The French troops still invaded Mexico City but with the aid of the Americans the French were pushed out for good and President Benito Juarez was restored.  While today is celebrated in Mexico, particularly in Puebla, the holiday has become larger in America.  We celebrated by having tacos for lunch (made with venison, yum).  In other words, we had an excuse to eat tacos, not that we really needed one.

Today is also an important day in the history of the church, one that is quite often overlooked.  Today is Ascension Day.  That is to say today marks the day that our Lord ascended into heaven after His resurrection from the grave.  It was forty days after our Lord’s resurrection that He ascended to the Father’s right hand (just as the date for Easter changes each year so does Ascension Day).  During those forty days Jesus appeared to Peter, two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, the rest of the apostles, and more than five hundred brothers at one time among others (cf. Matt. 28:8-9; Luke 24:13-35; 1 Cor. 15:5-7).  Jesus also enjoyed a meal with the disciples and commissioned them to make disciples of all nations, a commission that remains true for followers of Jesus today (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; John 21:9-14).

In Acts 1 we read the following,

“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight” (vv. 6-9).

Jesus said it was to the disciple’s advantage that He goes away (cf. John 16:7).  This must have shocked His disciples for they could not possibly imagine at that time how it would be better for their Master and Teacher to go away.  Yet as Jesus ascended into heaven the angel assures them that Jesus will come back in the same way (cf. Acts 1:10-11) and then in the very next chapter of Acts we read about the coming of the promised Holy Spirit.  Now rather than Jesus only being with the disciples when they were with Jesus, wherever they went, or wherever the believer today goes, the Holy Spirit was with them and is with us.

We could touch on a number of other areas about the ascension of our Lord but a quick look at Hebrews gives us a good picture of what Jesus is doing right now, after ascending and before His return.  “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but He [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:23-25).  Jesus is our Great High Priest who is interceding for us (see also Rom. 8:31-39).  After Jesus offered a single sacrifice for sins He sat down at His Father’s right hand and is there interceding for the believer (Heb. 10:12).  Jesus now is interceding for us and is waiting “until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet” (Heb. 10:13).  The Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered and all Christ’s enemies will be made a footstool under His feet.