Agonizomai: January 2010

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Haitian Disaster and Churches
There's no sermon of the week this time. Instead here is Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle describing his recent visit to the Haitian disaster area on behalf of Churches Helping Churches - a new joint work with John MacDonald's Harvest Bible Chapel(s) organization. This is offered without comment.(HT - Roxylee).

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Intro to Systematic Theology
Here is a lecture from Biblical given by Bruce Ware. Part 2 follows next Saturday. There is some good balanced stuff in here giving reasons why systematic theology is valuable to our understanding of God. I especially appreciate this because many in the Emergent movement have framed systematic theology as "unnecessary", as a throw back from "modernism" and as epistemologically presumptuous. I think Ware has some good answers for such views, but without being overly polemical about it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Heb 8:6-7 - Christ - Minister of the New Covenant

Heb 8:06-07 - Christ - Minister of the New Covenant

Heb 8:6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

Once more the idea of the superiority of Christ is advanced, this time in connection with His ministry on our behalf. It has already been shown how vastly much superior the new covenant is to the old. And that it the basis upon which Christ’s ministry in heaven, before the throne of God, is vastly superior to the old ministry of the Levitical order.

The old ministry was based on a covenant of law and could only show how far short men really fell. All men, even the priests - including the high priest. The new ministry is based not upon anything men do, but upon what God has done in Christ on behalf of men. And beyond even that, what Christ did on behalf of men was based on the eternal counsel of God and was an entirely free gift arising from God’s grace - His unmerited favour. And the proof, the guarantor, the evidence is a Person - Jesus Christ the risen Son of God.

The writer, desiring in this sermon to disabuse the Hebrews of any notion that the old covenant still had some place in their worship and in their relationship with God, presses on relentlessly. The new covenant would hardly be needed if the old covenant actually effected salvation, instead of just pointing to the need for it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Putting a Nick Knock on the Shelf

Putting a Nick Knock on the Shelf

This is my final response to Nick's assertion that Reformed theology is "almost heretical" and legalistic when it holds to both the active and passive obedience of Christ. There is no dispute about the historical Reformed position. And we both seem to be fairly set upon our views of the topic. So I don't see any profit in beating it to death with a stick. Nick expected a response to his last post in the comments section here. This is it. We'll have to agree to differ, I think.

Nick said

While you might not like it, I fail to see how two different Gospels don't result from the affirming or denying of active obedience.

And I fail to see how they do. How does this move the ball forward?

Nick said

It certainly cannot be optional, for it determines two different ways of salvation.

It’s not a question of whether it's “optional” but whether it's “essential”. There is only one true answer but does the answer either way fundamentally affect the gospel we all believed? I say “no” and you say “yes”.

You make people like me who hold to active and passive obedience to be in one place “almost heretics” and in another place propagators of the Galatian heresy. I’m not quite so hard on you and our Dispensationalist brothers. I don’t make you antinomian heretics; not even close.

Nick said

You get on the point of "standards" but the Sermon on the Mount is clear that Christ's New Standards surpass the Mosaic standards

Now this is where I think you go wrong. Christ’s standards in the Sermon on the Mount weren’t “new”; they were the same law properly explained and exegeted; they showed once for all the absolute impossibility of law keeping as a means of justification before God. The Sermon on the Mount is almost all pure law taken to the nth degree and explained by the giver and keeper of it.

Nick said

Mark 10:2-12 is especially enlightening, for it showed one could be righteous under the Law while divorcing their wife (which was allowed), yet for Christ divorce was unacceptable (and thus holds believers to a higher standard). So the Law, while still good, isn't even a perfect standard.

I believe it was “for their hardness of heart” that MOSES permitted divorce. God always did hate divorce and still does. It wasn’t the law that was at fault or that was “imperfect” in this illustration.

Nick said

But even that's not the 'problem' I envision, as you rightly point out my reasoning: If the Law was abolished, then keeping it as a standard to be met is implicitly denying it was abolished.

My whole point is that the law is abolished as a means of the self-justification of sinful men BECAUSE of Christ and all that He came and did. What He did was to keep the law on our behalf SO THAT when we sin we can come to God the Father through our advocate who DID keep the law for us as representative man.

But these are the same two snowballs being tossed back and forth all over. I hold to one view while allowing you the other. You hold to the other view while counting me and the Reformers to be legalistic Galatian heretics. I give you latitude to hold a different view. Seems like a fair exchange to me.

Nick said

You really should be saying the Law was not abolished, because sinners are in fact justified through a vicarious keeping of it.

Again – the law was abolished as a means of self-justification – all hope in it other than to show us the impossibility of us helping ourselves through compliance with it was demonstrably dispatched before us when Christ, having kept it on our behalf and having ultimately died to save us from our sins was declared to be Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead.

It was the vicarious keeping of the law (the impeccable life of Christ) which made it possible for the law to be abrogated as the means of justification in the minds of men of faith. It was the life and death of Christ which were offered up to God.

But this is repetition of things already stated here and previously. Our ships keep passing in the night.

Nick said

For example, when the Colonialists rebelled against British authority, the Colonialists were no longer under English law, they didn't have to keep English law as a standard of what made an 'upright English citizen.' For someone to vicariously keep the English law for the Colonialists is illogical.

The problem with analogies is that they all break down eventually. There is no correlation in this example between English law and the law of God, under which BOTH nations found themselves regardless of their geo-political condition. Unless they were reborn of the Spirit of God, citizens of both nations were still accountable to God under the law of God.

Nick said

You mention Adam and Romans 5:17, but the key here is that Adam was not under the Law, the Law didn't exist until 450 years after Abraham (Gal 3:15-18). Rom 5:13-14 says "before the law was given, sin was in the world." This again affirms the Law wasn't God's standard but rather a temporary appendage of God's salvation plan (for 5:20 says the Law was "added").

Since the definition of sin is “lawlessness” let’s take a look and see if Adam’s sin met the criteria. What precept was given to Adam? “Of all the trees in the garden you may eat freely (note the generosity) but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you may not eat – for in the day that you eat of it, dying you shall die (or you shall surely die). Is that law or not?

Is the disobedience lawlessness or not? Is it the deliberate rebellion against an ordinance of the Most High? Is it refusing to love God with all his heart and mind and strength? Is it preferring the idol of his wife over the One True God? Is it stealing? Is it covetousness? Is it the murder of countless others (by condemning all future humans to spiritual death for the sake of a momentary lust)? You get the point.

You might ask whether God had specifically commanded or forbidden these things beforehand and I would answer “no”. But the act of disobedience was still lawlessness in the face of a specific ordinance. Had God laid down no law to Adam then Adam could not have transgressed. But Adam’s transgression was far worse than any subsequent one by him or any of his children because it was done in a more perfect light and from a heart not tainted by original sin.

So there was most certainly law with Adam. Law is a commandment or precept or ordinance of God. And since death reigned from Adam to Moses regardless of the absence of the Mosiac law per se, yet every imagination of the thoughts of men’s hearts was only evil continually. Evil means sin and sin means lawlessness. Or would you plead non-culpability for pre-Mosaic Amorites and all those who died in the Noahic flood? (That’s rhetorical, of course.)

The Decalogue is not something pulled like a rabbit out of God’s hat on Sinai. It is the confirmation of what men’s consciences and the wonders of the natural world ought to have taught men had they not suppressed the truth in unrighteousness from their youth (Read Romans Chapter 1). In fact the law is even written on the hearts of people who did not receive the codified Mosaic precepts (see Romans 2).

The Decalogue refocused God’s chosen people upon something they had lost or suppressed by willful sin. It did not save. It could not save. But it could reawaken conscience and convict so that people would come to the end of all hope in themselves.

If the law is not God’s standard for all men in all ages, then by what means are men justly judged and condemned? Ignorantia juris neminem excusat; ignorance of the law is no excuse – because all men have a moral duty to keep the law whether they know it or not.

I’d like to end this response by referring again to Psalm 119. O how I love Thy law! I love it because in it I see the perfect life of Christ given for me. When I see the precept I see not only the precept giver but the precept keeper. To love Christ is to love God’s perfect law. To love Christ is also to have rested (in Him) from striving to justify ourselves by keeping the law which, strangely, frees us to want to do all Gods revealed will, in the power of His Spirit.

All this said, Nick, I’ll give you last kick at the cat in this meta. I won’t be responding publicly to your next post, if you make it, because I don’t see any progress being made in either direction. Maybe some lurkers might be getting something but we’ve no way of knowing that. Feel free to follow up by email directly after that if you want.

Blessings to you and yours,

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hebrews 8:1-5 - Christ - Our Intercessor, Bodily in the Presence of God

Hebrews 8:01-05 - Christ - Our Intercessor, Bodily in the Presence of God

Heb 8:1-5 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

Hammering home the contrast between the ineffable glories of Christ and the total insufficiency of the Levitical system the writer again makes a comparison. It is by the death and resurrection (especially here, the resurrection) of Christ that the vast superiority of the gospel of grace alone is realized. Christ is risen and lives evermore to make intercession for those who believe.

The true place of worship is in heaven, where God’s presence abides unveiled. There ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands declare His praises. There the cherubim walk in the midst of the stones of fire before the throne, singing "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty". All this goes on day and night without ceasing. This is where the risen Christ is found - in the very presence of the Father. He is there bodily. He is at the right hand of God - the place of favour, power and honour. It is the place of majesty.

Christ is eternal man and has that place in the holy of holies in heaven as our champion and representative. The fact that He is there bodily is the reminder that He is a man and that He died. The fact that He is there bodily is an eternal reminder that He rose again and was declared to be Son of God in power according the Spirit of Holiness by His resurrection from the dead. The grave could not hold him because, though he became sin for us and bore our just punishment, He was perfectly righteous. God declared His life acceptable. God declared His sacrifice acceptable - all by His resurrection from the dead.

The entire Levitical system was given as an illustration, a type, a representation of the true reality that was to be realized in Jesus Christ. All the ceremonies, all the dire warnings, retribution, chastisement - rigorous enforcement, the stunning detail - all of it given to Moses was of no eternal value in and of itself. It all foretold the One True Sacrifice that was to come. The thundering from Sinai, the terror of entering the Most Holy Place, the injunction not to offer strange fire - all of this was to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Person able to enter into the True Presence in heaven on His own merits, as a member of the human race.

Yet we are reminded that Christ is not a Levite. He is apart from that whole system. He ascended into heaven not as a Levite priest, but as a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. He is the Priest of His people of the promise by an oath of God. His ascension was in order that he could enter the true Holy Place and intercede with God on our behalf. Not intercede in the sense that God the Father is unwilling and Christ is begging for a change of mind. That is a false picture. He intercedes as the One Who accomplished all that God desired for Him to do so that His people would be saved. There is no conflict between Father and Son. They are of the same mind.

And the pattern that God desired Moses to be so careful to follow in the things of worship and the tabernacle were so precisely given and enforced because they represented aspects of the ministry and Person of the coming (now come) Messiah. Of course, only true faith is able to accept these things. The minds of fallen men can perceive them - can be fascinated with the patterns and parallels - but they cannot receive them apart from true faith. They cannot appropriate them personally. And some men get it entirely the wrong way around - seeing in Christ something patterned after the tabernacle, rather than something in the tabernacle patterned after Christ.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Active and Passive Obedience of Christ Defended (Sort Of)

The Active and Passive Obedience of Christ Defended (Sort Of)

As I keep telling people, this isn’t a debate blog – it’s a devotional blog, and I’m not interested in the endless discussion of the finer points of theology, nor looking for cheerleaders in the blogosphere. Comments are open in order to keep me honest, but most of the time readers seem to be content to receive the material passively [/ironical smile].

A few days ago in the comments section of this post, my good friend and Christian brother Nick stated that he did not believe in the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ. Normally I wouldn’t bother to pick up on this in a public forum as it isn’t necessarily a matter fundamentally affecting the gospel. I don’t put Nick in the heretic category just because he, like many other Christian brothers and sisters, holds a different view than I on this topic.

But Nick went further by saying that he considered the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ to be “almost heretical”. For myself, I am content to leave room for even this opinion – though I think it wrong, but some readers of this blog might miss the “almost” and think that a perfectly good, historical and orthodox Reformed doctrine was potentially damaging to their beliefs. It isn’t.

Let me start by saying that the doctrine of the active and passive (both) obedience of Christ has been the view of almost all Reformed believers for centuries. Of itself, that proves nothing, of course, but the fact that the teaching has been held by many thoughtful and entirely orthodox believers ought to give pause to anyone who might question it.

The elements of the doctrine, though not mentioned specifically, are contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith. They were held by the Puritans (of whom I mentioned Poole earlier) and by later giants of Reformed theology like Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield. In fact Reformed believers, almost to a man, and down to this very day hold to the doctrine of both the active and passive obedience of Christ. The two teachings are actually considered to be distinct, but inseparable aspects of the same doctrine of redemption/substitution.

Simply put, the passive obedience of Christ involved His enduring all the torments and punishments of the crucifixion and, by them, suffering the just penalties due to we who believe. Reformed folks have also believed that, by His life of perfect obedience, Jesus also fashioned and provided a positive righteousness for His people. John Owen (a Puritan) sums it all up in this short quote from his Works in which we see both the sense of distinction and the unity of these two aspects of the teaching:
“First, By the obedience of the life of Christ you see what is intended, —his willing submission unto, and perfect, complete fulfilling of, every law of God, that any of the saints of God were obliged unto. It is true, every act almost of Christ’s obedience, from the blood of his circumcision to the blood of his cross, was attended with suffering, so that his whole life might, in that regard, be called a death; but yet, looking upon his willingness and obedience in it, it is distinguished from his sufferings peculiarly so called, and termed his active righteousness. This is, then, I say, as was showed, that complete, absolutely perfect accomplishment of the whole law of God by Christ, our mediator; whereby he not only “did no sin, neither was there guile fold in his mouth,” but also most perfectly fulfilled all righteousness, as he affirmed it became him to do. Secondly, That this obedience was performed by Christ not for himself, but for us, and in our stead.”
The main reason given by Nick for rejecting the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ is:

“I don't consider the notion of 'active obedience' Biblical for the very reason you state in your opening paragraphs: The Law was abolished.

The Mosaic Law is not (nor ever was) a standard that must be met for justification, so active obedience is a mistake at the very least, a form of Judaizing the the worst.”
We actually agree here in that my comments about the abrogation of the law were in the context of the law as a means of justification. We even agree that the law never was the means of justification for even Old Covenant believers. But it was most assuredly the standard that had to be met for any person to be acceptable in God’s sight. The fact that no natural man could meet that standard in no way diminished the standard. But the law, by its inflexible and unattainable standard took away all hope of self-justification through works of the law, and cast people upon God for Him to provide another way. That way is Christ. But God’s provision does not come to us without reference to the law. And the moral law was, is and always will be good.

I questioned Nick to be sure I understood him, since Reformed believers almost all hold to the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ. This was the response, in part:

My point about the Law was that, as you said, it was abolished. For Christ to impute his perfect obedience to the Law to us is illogical and even heresy for it makes the abolished remain as a standard we must meet (even vicariously).”
What Nick seems to miss is that the reason there is righteousness apart from law for those who have faith in Christ is on account of what Christ did. Yes, our righteousness is “apart from law” for we fallen beings could never attain to perfect obedience. But that righteousness which we now enjoy through faith as attributed to us was not rendered in a vacuum as a diffusion of God’s character without intermediation.

Christ was a fully human being. He lived a fully human life in which he fully kept the law of God in Spirit and deed, including not only the moral, but also the ceremonial and civil laws. It is the fruit of that human obedience that we appropriate through faith, along with the covering of our sin debt.

The view that denies the active obedience of Christ ignores the Federal nature of God’s dealings with men. In Adam all mankind sinned and therefore all died. In Christ all the redeemed are counted righteous through faith in God's provision, and therefore all have eternal life.
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. Rom 5:17
Don’t overlook the use of the descriptor “man” here. Jesus was representative man. He is the man – the only man – who ever lived a life entirely conformed to God’s law ab ovo. He had no original sin because of the virgin birth, and lived an impeccable life as a fully human being fashioning for us a life pleasing to God – His life – to be appropriated by faith alone. And don’t overlook the word “righteousness” either. It doesn’t say sinlessness, but righteousness. Sinlessness is a passive condition whereas righteousness is an active, living condition. A rock is sinless. A cow is sinless. But only a man can be righteous because, made in the image of God, he was intended to be active and interactive with God and his fellows. Righteousness is a positive attribute displayed through conformity with God's will. Because Christ's absolute conformity to the will of God (His precepts and ordinances) that we are accepted and empowered to live sanctified lives, loving and revering God's precepts, just like the writer of Psalm 119.

I am rambling on now. I tend to do that. And there are points I haven't addressed. But I wanted to show that belief in the passive and active obedience of Christ together is not "almost heretical" and is, in fact, orthodox Reformed theology. But neither do I go so far as to call "almost heretics" those who hold only to the passive obedience of Christ (or else many of our Dispensationalist brothers would also be condemned in a swoop [/aside]) I encourage all to look into the matter themselves, which is easily begun by Googling the phrase "active and passive obedience".

Blessings to all,

Monday, January 25, 2010

Heb 7:26-28 - Christ - The Fulfillment of God's Eternal Purpose

Heb 7:26-28 - Christ - The Fulfillment of God's Eternal Purpose

Heb 7:26-28 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

God could not have saved us apart from Christ. Some will say that we cannot know that. Maybe He had another way - or many other ways, but that He chose this way. But God is the author of all events and there are no probabilities to Him. All is certainty. Once the Divine Mind decides in infinite and unchangeable wisdom upon a course of action then no other course is even possible, much less desirable. God’s perfect thoughts lead to His perfect purposes and His perfect purposes lead to reality, of which there is only one, the philosophers notwithstanding.

It is better just to stick with the Bible and say that there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved. And from this to extrapolate the fact that the reason there is no other Name is because Jesus is Christ. Jesus the man is the Messiah and the Son of God. If Jesus had not been fully human then He could not represent men. If He had not been fully divine He could not have satisfied the demands of God’s holiness.

All this in order to make the point about the Son being "made perfect". He was never imperfect. But it was necessary, for the purposes of redemption, for Him to manifest all the characteristics of humanity, including maturing and growing and walking in the appointed task until the end. This is the sense of His being made perfect, and it refers to His full humanity being lived out in perfect obedience through faith. As a man, He walked in perfection, just as, as God, He was perfect in essence all the time. He had no taint of original sin, nor added any sin of His own.

The writer therefore rightly uses such words as "holy, innocent, unstained and separated from sinners" to describe our Great High Priest. Such language could not be used of any other member of the race since Adam and until the end of time. All have sinned. All but Christ.

Notice the phrase that described Christ as "separated from sinners." This doesn’t mean that He has no contact, no interaction, no relationship with sinners. Such are the ones He came to save. It means He is separated from the common fallen nature of men by which all but He are unholy, guilty and stained. He is the second Adam; He was like Adam before the fall, though I would argue that unlike Adam, He was immutable as to character and purpose. So it is fruitless to ask if Jesus could have failed. He could not, because He was God’s purpose from before creation of the world for the redemption of humanity - the nexus of that immutable, perfect and preordained reality from the counsels of eternity. As a human being, He walked in that reality through faith. But, unlike ours, His faith was perfect faith.

This is why we are not fatalists, despite the fact that all of history has been preordained. We are not fatalists because God in human flesh was not a fatalist. He drew a hand over His Own omniscience and lived by faith in the promises of God, just as we are to do. This is a part of what made Him fully human in every sense. He wasn’t just God in a human body, like a man in a machine. He was God as a human being - able to feel, suffer, be tempted, yet without sin. He is the pioneer of our faith, as well as its author; and He is the perfecter of our faith, also, having lived it perfectly as only he could do.

Note also that He offered Himself up as the infinite, eternal and perfect sacrifice. There was no hint of something happening that was ever outside the predetermined purposes of God. He came in order to die as the perfect sacrifice. It was not plan B. It was the only plan that ever existed and He came to fulfill it. And it wasn’t Jesus doing the compassionate thing to dissuade the Father from being angry at men. It was the Father sending the Son to accomplish His loving purpose of redemption - and the Son actually doing it.

So the contrast continues between the men who held the earthly office of high priest, sinful and in need of a Saviour as they were, and the perfect High Priest Who, both because of Who He was and what he did, was at one and the same time like them and utterly unlike them. He fills the office of true High Priest because He is different in very important and essential ways from the others; without sin, unstained, in a league apart, exalted above the heavens. No mere son of Levi or Adam could possibly be compared to this.

And His sacrifice was perfect and effectual because of Who He was and what he did. And His sacrifice was all these things because He came as the manifestation of the oath of God to appoint a Son to do what no fallen man could do. Then He did it as a man. So all who believe have a perfect High Priest who ever makes intercession for us, and on behalf of Whom, we are all made acceptable to the Father - just as He planned it from eternity.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Talk of the Week
Deconstructing Molinism

Here is a two-part program from James White's Alpha and Omega Ministries "Dividing Line". It was originally aired in May 2009. Just as I sometimes publish "Blasts from the Past" for a change of pace, so Dr. White and the crew sometimes put on "Radio Free Geneva", which is a program specifically designed to answer the critics of Reformed Theology.

For me, the introduction alone is worth the price of admission. Aside from the music you will hear various anti-Calvinists running on emotion, absent exegetical accuracy as they try to put down Calvinism.

But there is also in these two recordings a very useful deconstruction of the Molinist teaching of D. William Lane Craig. Luis de Molina (hence Molinism) was a Jesuit priest tasked with finding an answer for Roman Catholicism to the Reformed teachings of God's sovereignty in election and predestination. Molina came up with the so-called answer of "Middle Knowledge" wherein God computed all the possibilities of all the choices of all the people in all the possible worlds He could have created, and then decided to create only that world in which those people He wanted to actually did what He wanted. (If this confuses you - join the club.) This supposedly preserved freedom of the human will and reconciled it to the decretive and elective will of God. Craig propagates the Molinist view, even though he is a Protestant, and the Catholics long ago had the sense to abandon it.

This stuff makes my head hurt but I liked listening to Dr. White show the exegetical fallacies and the logical errors and inconsistencies of the Molinist view. This turns out to be an overview of the differences between the understanding of an academic philosopher (Craig) and an Biblicist theologian (White). If you have the stomach for it, it's a good listen.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Walk by Faith and Not by Sight
Roy Hargrave

Friday, January 22, 2010

Heb 7:22-25 - Christ - The Guarantor for All Believers

Heb 7:22-25 - Christ - The Guarantor for All Believers

Heb 7:22-25 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. 23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 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.

The new covenant in the blood of Christ is better than the old covenant - whether we take it to mean the old sacrificial system or the covenant of law in which it was given. The new is both simpler and permanent. There is but one High Priest Who remains in that office forever because He is the One Eternal God. Yet, having lived a perfect human life He is also representative man. As Adam was the federal head of all mankind, so Christ is the federal head of all the redeemed. The acts of each of them have consequences for all who are their descendants. Once born men are still under condemnation and the wrath of God abides on them. Twice born men have passed from death to life based entirely upon what God has done in Christ.

So when there is mention of saving to the uttermost what can this mean? Isn’t a person either saved or not? And once a person is saved can he become more saved? Obviously not. The word "salvation" must take its meaning from the context in which it is used. "Salvation" can refer to regeneration, justification and sanctification - and it can include all three. But the sense is sometimes limited by the context. What this most probably means is that God is able to both save and to keep safe those who draw near to Him through Christ.

If while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly, then how much more shall we live through Him? If by dying God justified us, then what can His (resurrected) life mean for us but continued acceptance, assurance, forgiveness, life and joy? We may not "feel" saved sometimes, but faith holds fast to the truth that we are, and comes boldly to God through Christ in the knowledge that acceptance and forgiveness is freely given. And that assurance is, of course, tied to the fact that true faith has given us a heart that is always repenting. We may sin and fall and wander, but the child of God is miserable in his wanderings until he is right with God - and he always comes back for the forgiveness that God holds out to him all the day long.

For the Hebrews this is another reminder that they ought not to even think about going back to the impermanent, imperfect, ineffectual sacrificial system. A single sacrifice of eternal and infinite value has been made by which believers are always and ever able to approach God in the full confidence of their adoption as sons for Jesus’ sake. Their approaching Him through faith does not make them safe, but it does lay hold of the One Who does. It believes in the love of God and apprehends it personally. It identifies the believer as an object of God’s infinite love in Jesus Christ. It believes that Christ is both perfect and acceptable, and that His perfections are what make the believer acceptable to God and that nothing more needs to be done. It abides in love and grows there.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Warfield at War
A Pelagianism which out Pelagianizes Pelagius himself in the completeness of its naturalism is in fact at the moment intensely fashionable among the self-constituted leaders of Christian thought. And everywhere, in all communions alike, conceptions are current which assign to man, in the use of his native powers at least the decisive activity in the saving of the soul, that is to say, which suppose that God has planned that those shall be saved, who, at the decisive point, in one way or another save themselves.

B.B Warfield, 1851-1921

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Heb 7:18-22 - Christ - The Faithfulness and Honor of God Personified

Heb 7:18-22 - Christ - The Faithfulness and Honor of God Personified

Heb 7:18-22 On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. 20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.”’ 22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

The writer comes right out with the re-assertion that the Mosaic Law and its means of providing acceptance with God through the sacrificial system administered by the priesthood of Levites was set aside. It wasn’t diminished, weakened, demoted or allied to a newer system. It was abrogated, cancelled, defunct, superseded, replaced. Old things were passed away. God had done a new thing in Christ.

Yet it was not such a new thing that the old thing did not teach us something about it. We always have needed, and always will need a High Priest. The law never could reconcile us to God. It could only show us what great sinners we were. As Paul said, "When the commandment came, sin revived and I died." {Ro 7:9} The law kills. The Hebrews could not be made perfect in God’s eyes by deeds of the law, for "By the deeds of the law is no man justified." {Ro 3:20,28}

The better hope came in Christ, through whom all believers are able to draw near to God. But what does this mean, that they were able to draw near in Christ? Were they not drawing near by obedience to the Mosaic Law in observing the sacrifices that were commanded? Weren’t the Jews justified all that time when they were slaying animals by the millions and offering them to God. Some were, but not on account of the dead animals. They were accepted by God on the basis of faith, even then, when they sacrificed trusting in God’s mercy and grace to cover their sins, and not acts of their obedience in and of themselves. What’s the difference? The difference is life and death. The difference is everything. The difference is the margin between the narrow gate and way that leads to life and the broad gate and way that leads to death. Few find the former, but many go in at the latter.

Not specifically mentioned here, but also highly relevant to what we learn from the Levitical sacrifices (but more from the Passover of the exodus) is the importance of the blood. The blood of a thing is the life thereof. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. Blood means that something (not the offender) died - gave up its life in place of the offender. God passed over former sins when He saw the blood that was offered by faith in His mercy and grace. The blood was not magic. But the blood of bulls and goats, though it never satisfied God’s justice of itself, prefigured the blood of the infinitely precious, perfect, obedient Son of God. And in that blood was the infinitely valuable life of God’s incarnate Son.

This life was given freely as it could only be given freely by omnipotence Himself. The merits of this life of the Son are sufficient for all men, especially those who believe. And this life was both lived and given in active and passive obedience. He passively took all the suffering He did not deserve on our behalf, and offered up a perfect life of human obedience in our stead. In one stroke our guilt was purged and the wrath of God assuaged - and at the same time, in the moment that we first believed, we were credited with His perfect obedience.

Again, the contrast between the old priesthood and the new High Priest is drawn - this time by reference to the oath that God made to Christ in Psalm 110. No oath was ever administered in the making of the Levitical order. It was hereditary and administrative. It was according to outward things - carnal, if you like, in the very best sense. But God’s oath to His Son, making Him a priest forever, at once perpetuated the office of intermediation and guaranteed it eternally. Thus, coming to God through Christ is, on account of the oath, a far better covenant than coming to God through a fellow fallen human being who inherited his human office without any such promise and who, in fact died. If we are in Christ - if we passed through the blood of the covenant - then we are eternally secured by the promise of God to Christ, for He endures forever to make intercession for us by being the eternal evidence of our justification.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Darwin Then and Now

Think I'm mistaken when I warn about evoltionism? Take a look at the above section from a recent online TV Guide listing (double click for a larger version). Read the words carefully - they say:
"Charles Darwin's extensive scientific research proved that man had developed through an evolutionary process."
But it did no such thing then, and it still does no such thing today. Darwin postulated that species evolved by the mechanism of the survival of the fittest. It was then, and remains now a theory. One would go so far as to say it will always and only ever be a theory since it is a postulation that can never be proven scientifically because it can neither be repeated nor disproven under controlled conditions.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Heb 7:14-17 - Christ - Eternal, Immortal God

Heb 7:14-17 - Christ - Eternal, Immortal God

Heb 7:14-17 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

Notice that the writer uses the phrase "our Lord" when addressing these people. This is the evidence of the writer’s hope for them - that they are indeed in Christ and have acknowledged themselves to be under His lordship.

This section expands and reiterates what was just said. Jesus was from Judah and not Levi and could not have been a priest under the Mosaic Law. He was, instead, the priest "after the order of Melchizedek" mentioned by David in Psalm 110 - which order was neither under Moses law, nor mortal like all the other priests. In fact, Christ was not a priest by legal or hereditary descent, but by the demonstration of the power of His eternal life, which could not be killed (though his body was).

Notice here that the writer is putting the gospel they had believed not into the death of Christ, but into His resurrection. If He had but died that would have made Him like all mortal men. But no man before or since has ever demonstrated the power to lay down and to take up again his life. Only Eternal Life Himself could do this. Only a Being of another order of existence could do such a thing. Only such a Being could be the foretold "priest after the (other) order of Melchizedek".

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sermon of the Week
Don Carson on John 11
Here again is Don Carson guest-speaking at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. There is a longish intro by Mark Driscoll which you can skip, if you wish, by going to the 4:05 mark on the slider bar.

This talk is on John 11, particularly the story of raising of Lazarus. In it he goes into the unexpected and sometimes counter intuitive ways by which God sovereignly accomplishes His purposes.

Dr.Carson also points out the traces of the theme of the glory of God in Christ through substitutionary atonement that lie just beneath the surface of the events surrounding this miracle.

There's a lot more, but I won't spoil it for you. Enjoy...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Declaring Evil to be Holy
God shows in Christ not only that He can punish sin, but that He can do the infinitely greater thing of justly declaring evil creatures Holy - and then make them so.

Gleanings 16.118

Friday, January 15, 2010

Heb 7:11-13 - Christ - The Fulfillment of the Law

Heb 7:11-13 - Christ - The Fulfillment of the Law

Heb 7:11-13 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar.

See the development of the thought about superiority here. Perfection was a requirement of God and this principle was not lost on the Jews. They understood well enough the need for perfection. Most of them (almost all) simply thought that perfection was attained through their own perfect obedience to the law. They had a deficient comprehension of the fall and the corruption of the human heart which had led to a total depravity by which the unaided human heart was incapable of any thought, deed or inclination that was pleasing to God - on account of which it was impossible for any fallen man to pass the perfection test.

The very law they had received could only condemn them - but could never save them from God’s wrath against all but continual, unbroken and perfect obedience. The law could make no one perfect; it could only point out how imperfect the people truly were. And the law was given under the administration of the Levites - the priests, who were all descendants of Abraham through Levi, including Aaron. In fact, it was forbidden for any but a person from the tribe of Levi to occupy the office of priest under the law. It was a hereditary office. The Levites were dedicated to the full time service of God as the tithe of the firstborn of Israel.

But though Melchizedek was a priest, he was neither a Jew, nor a Levite, nor yet was he under the Levitical laws, which he preceded. He was a Gentile - a Canaanitish prince. His authority, which Abraham himself acknowledged (and in him all Israel symbolically) was not derived from the Jewish history, but from God himself. (Which is actually where the Levite authority came from, too - but that is a large digression)

This is why the Psalm 110 passage attributed to David is enlisted to point to Christ as the "other priest after the order of Melchizedek". It is because under the law Christ, a son of Judah, not being a Levite, could not be a priest in the traditional and legal sense under the Mosaic Law. Yet he was a priest of the same sort as Melchizedek - a priest of the Most High God - a person who came between not just the Jews and God, but the whole of humanity and God. It was about the human race as a whole, and not just the Jews.

Now, since God is the originator of the law, and since he is the perfect law-keeper of his own laws, He could not leave the law untouched and have the Christ, a non-Levite, be in contravention of it. Therefore, it was absolutely essential that the law be changed. When was that ceremonial law changed? As we have seen, it was when he had purged all sin by offering himself up as the perfect sacrifice. {Heb 1:3-4} At this point he became the High Priest of His people (all who believe in Him), having offered up an acceptable sacrifice. At this point the Mosaic Law, with its sacrificial/ceremonial precepts, was abrogated in favour of the gospel for those who would believe it; the covenant of works was fulfilled by Christ on behalf of men, and was superseded by the covenant of grace, based entirely upon that vicarious work.

To the Hebrews, this abrogation of the sacrificial/ceremonial law was ground shaking. It was why so many could not accept Jesus as the Messiah. But these Hebrews to whom the author was writing and preaching had supposedly taken that step. How could they go back? How could they think about going back to such a superseded, obsolete, abrogated, fulfilled covenant when perfection had not only come, but been wrought on their behalf (if they truly believed)? They could not. They could do so only if there had never been a true work of conversion and repentance to begin with. But the author believed better things for them.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lack of Genetic Diversity
Ancient volcano's devastating effects confirmed
73,000 years ago, global temperatures dropped by as much as 28 degrees

The headline above is from this recent MSNBC article. Many of the dates are rendered from the accepted geological norms founded in Lyell's geology and refined since that time in many and various ways, including the circular evidence of fossil layers (which date the rocks they're found in, which date the fossils in the rocks - are you dizzy yet?) and various forms of radioisotopic decay. An excellent treatment of these subjects
from a Christian viewpoint can be found in Ian T. Taylor's book "In The Minds of Men" referred to previously on this blog here, here and here.

What grabbed my attention in the article was the following paragraph:
"The lack of genetic diversity among humans alive today suggests that during this time period humans came very close to becoming extinct."
Given that I disagree with the way modern evolutionist scientism dates things, I have no difficulty in understanding that the lack of genetic diversity in human beings today results from a catastrophe of another type - that of the global Noahic flood of about 5, 000 years ago, when only Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives survived to populate the earth. That'll mess with your genetic diversity a fair bit!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Heb 7:4-10 - Christ - King and High Priest of ALL Humanity

Heb 7:4-10 - Christ - King and High Priest of ALL Humanity

Heb 7:4-10 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! 5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. 6 But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. 8 In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. 9 One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

The whole point of these verses is not to show that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, but that Christ, of Who he is the "type" is greater than the whole priesthood of men under the law - because remember - Christ is "a priest forever over God’s house, after the order of Melchizedek." Which does not mean "equal to," or "descended from" the mere man, Melchizedek, but something much more; it means someone like Melchizedek in the ways typified by the historical record, but for Whom and by Whom the whole historical record was, in fact, laid down. God omnipotently wrote the history of Israel in real lives as a picture of the Messiah, for the glory of Whom all history exists.

Melchizedek, great though he was in his time, was a tool in the hands of God - a real person written into the story of Abraham with a contemporaneous purpose, but also for reasons that served God’s deeper plan of the revelation of Jesus Christ at the right (much later) time.

So we have seen that Melchizedek was a Canaanite ( probably a Jebusite, and certainly not a Jew) to whom both Abraham and the whole nation in him paid tithes and received a blessing. The promises to Abraham and his descendants were there for all Israel to believe - and the blessing was for all those who actually did. The "technical" point that the superior blesses the inferior (as in the Melchizedek/Abraham story) is immediately applied to Christ who is "the One of Whom it is testified that He lives". The contrast is between mortal men and the immortal Christ. It is the emphatic conclusion of what had gone before, where Melchizedek’s apparent lack of an end is used to give light to Christ’s true immortality.

Again, the thrust is to draw the Hebrew listeners away from a traditional, but wrong, view that saw Judaism as the pinnacle of God worship and the race of Abraham’s physical descendants as the ultimate "chosen" people. Melchizedek was not a Jew (for that matter neither was Namaan the Syrian, nor Job, nor the Sidonese widow who boarded Elijah during the famine), nor yet the 4 women mentioned by name in the Messiah's lineage. Judaism was not the pinnacle of God-worship. Both the nation and the religion were purposefully introduced in order to point to something (Someone) so stunningly superior that an incomparable spiritual relationship was to be heralded and debuted with the entire race of humanity in this Christ.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jib Jab Snowball Fight
Some bloggers are serious and others just can't resist joking around. I found this post at TheoParadox just before Christmas but didn't link to it at the time in case anyone was encouraged to do the same. If you ask me, the guy on the roof got just what he deserved. And so did the guy who was buried by the little girl's avalanche. (And what's with the ears anyway?)

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

"Happy Holidays" is ecumenispeak for "Merry Christmas"

Monday, January 11, 2010

Heb 7:1-3 - Christ - Eternal Priest and King

Heb 7:1-3 - Christ - Eternal Priest and King

Heb 7:1-3 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

Continuing in the deeper things, the writer returns to comparing Melchizedek with Christ. Note that he does not compare Christ to Melchizedek, but vice-versa, because he has already made the point that Christ is the reality of which Melchizedek was the "type". All comparisons are to Christ, who is incomparable. Christ is being adduced from the Old Testament; He is being sought and revealed. The book of Hebrews is a sermon about, among other things, the nature of God in Christ as seen in the Old Testament.

So let us look at Melchizedek; he is a king - and not just a king but the king of peace (Salem); he is a priest of the Most High God (a phrase meaning the One True God of all mankind); his name means "king of righteousness". Being careful here, we see that he has no genealogy (recorded in the scripture); he appears without a history or beginning and disappears without an end to his life.

Some of these things are facts, and some of them are typological inferences. Priest, king of a certain town (the names and meanings being self-evident) - these are facts. The application of the names as typical of Jesus is an adducement. His dealings with Abraham - fact. His being without beginning or end - inferences about the nature and origin of Christ of Whom Melchizedek is a type.

Now, some might argue differently, but I do not think that these latter things mean that Melchizedek literally appeared in history (say, just for the Abraham incident) and then disappeared into thin air. He wasn’t an apparition, a theophany or an angel. He was a real person who was a son of Adam, born as a baby from two human parents, who grew up, lived a life of indeterminate length and unknown detail and then died like all other men. What the writer to the Hebrews is doing here is preaching Christ by finding in the scriptures the things which typify, point to, describe and/or explain Christ; that is, the Christ in Whom alone they are to have placed their hope.

The writer therefore attaches significance to the name of the man, the name of his city and the nature of his "passing through" the Biblical record. Thus he resembles Christ in these ways - by being a priest and a king; by being the priest of the Most High God, the Prince of Peace; and the King of Righteousness; by coming, as it were out of the unknown of eternity past and moving through history before reentering eternity future, never actually having an end to his life.

For the Hebrews especially, these parallels are deeply significant. They had been the repository and the guardians of the law and the ceremonies. Most in Israel had probably never understood the mystery of the Christ by these things before the incarnation. Some had been given an inkling. But the coming of Christ revealed (by the Spirit and the Word of God) a greater fullness of His nature and purposes.

They could have seen, if they would, that the high priestly office was always - whether in Melchizedek (the Canaanite) or in Aaron and the Levites - a herald, a foreshadowing, a picture of the Christ. A historical reality of ceremony not devoid of its own meaning, but invested with much deeper truth than was outwardly apparent.

And all of these illustrations, explanations and revelations by the preacher here are given in order to both stop any tendency to apostatise by returning to Judaism and to get them to move on from the gospel of the newborn believer and into the gospel of the mature man of Christ, who understands how the histories and prophesies and typologies laid down by the Holy Spirit relate to God Incarnate in the Son.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sermon of the Week
Our Need to Answer the Critics

Dr. James White would probably fall into the category of so-called "High" Calvinism. Note - this is not HYPER Calvinism, which is a tag that some misinformed people attach to virtually all Calvinists. For those seriously interested in knowing the difference(s) I would suggest you read Phil Johnson's "Primer on Hyper Calvinism"

In this sermon he speaks as a guest at True Grace Baptist Church, Cape Corals, FL on the need to answer the critics. Give him a hearing...

True Grace of God

The text:

Acts 18:24-28 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

By Grace Alone...
'If anyone makes the assistance of grace [to believe the gospel] depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10).'

Second Council of Orange 529AD

Friday, January 08, 2010

Heb 6: 19-20 - Christ - Our Anchor Behind The Veil

Heb 6: 19-20 - Christ - Our Anchor Behind The Veil

Heb 6:19-20 we have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

The writer has already brought up the subject of Melchizedek, but he left off before developing the thought in order to scold those who had failed to pursue the deeper things of Christ by preferring, instead, to dwell mainly on those great, but simple, truths they had believed when they first professed faith. {see Heb 5:9-12}

Then, he went on to warn them that not going on to maturity through pursuing a deeper understanding exposed them to the danger of shrivelling on the vine, and falling away altogether. The Bible contains truth that will equip Christians for the harsh realities of life in a hostile world. Some of these truths go a little bit deeper than "Jesus loves me, this I know..." and go into the meat of HOW Jesus love his people, including discipline, chastisement and sharing in or "filling up" the sufferings of Christ.

Now the writer is ready to return to the topic of Melchizedek in order to bring deeper understanding of the nature of Christ which he believes they already ought to have reached by now.

So we come to this metaphor of a ship’s anchor, by which great vessels are kept fast against the storm. God himself, in the giving of his grace and in the making of his promises, hands us an anchor against the storms of this present life. {Ps 23:4-5} These promises are all "Yea" and "Amen" in Jesus Christ. Grace and Truth come not only from him, but in Him and through Him. Christ, our captain, has gone on ahead into the Holy of Holies (behind the curtain of the inner temple) as our federal representative - as fully human - as both the propitiator of our sin and the justifier of our souls. His righteousness is now our righteousness and, in Him, we are fully acceptable in the burning brightness of the presence of the thrice Holy God.

Note that it clearly says that Jesus has gone into the most holy place on our behalf. We could never and shall never go in on our own behalf. We can’t pay, nor can we afford the ticket for that ride. God Himself has paid it. So, as we make our way there to be with Him, we learn that God not only bought it, but also wrought it for us to walk in. He takes us by the hand and leads us in paths of righteousness, for his Own Name’s sake. {Ps 23:1-3}

And so now, the Hebrew listeners are reminded of Melchizedek and what he represented, even in Abraham’s time. Though not a Jew (he was probably a Canaanite) he was a priest of the Most High God with certain special characteristics that will be explained in the following chapter.