Daily Archives: February 22, 2018

February 22 Cultivating the Fruit of Righteousness

“… having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:11).


Bearing spiritual fruit is the acid test of a true believer.

After facing life-threatening situations, people often say, “I saw my entire life flash before my eyes.” That’s the picture we get in Philippians 1:11.

“The fruit of righteousness” refers to what is produced in you as you operate in love, pursue excellence, and maintain your integrity. It includes every attitude and action consistent with God’s standard of what is right.

“Having been filled” speaks of something that happened in the past with continuing results. At your salvation the seed of righteousness was planted within you. It bears righteous fruit throughout your lifetime. On the day of Christ that fruit will confirm your salvation.

Fruitfulness has always been the acid test of true salvation. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31). When John the Baptist admonished his followers to “bring forth fruits in keeping with your repentance” (Luke 3:8), he was speaking of good deeds (vv. 10–14). Paul said we are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). John said that all who profess Christ should live as He lived (cf. 1 John 2:6).

Bearing spiritual fruit is not something you can achieve on your own. It “comes through Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:11). Jesus Himself said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4–5).

You were redeemed to glorify God through righteous deeds. Make that your priority today.


Suggestions for Prayer:  Psalm 71 is a psalm of praise to God for His righteousness and faithful provisions. Read it and meditate on its truths. Then praise God for His righteousness toward you. ✧ Ask for opportunities to demonstrate righteousness to others today.

For Further Study: Read Proverbs 11:1–9, 15:8–9, and 21:2–3, noting the characteristics and benefits of righteousness.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 65). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.


…So is every one that is born of the Spirit.

JOHN 3:8

Only the servants of truth can ever know truth. You can fill your head full of knowledge but the day that you decide that you are going to obey God, it will get down into your heart. You shall know!

I once read a book about the inner life of a man who was a sharp intellectual. By his own admission, he stood outside and examined spiritual people from the outside but nothing ever reached him. And that’s possible!

You cannot argue around this. Read your Bible—any version you want—and if you are honest you will admit that it is either obedience or inward blindness. You can repeat the book of Romans word for word and still be blind inwardly. You can know the doctrine of justification by faith and take your stand with Luther and the Reformation and still be blind inwardly. For it is not the body of truth that enlightens: it is by the Spirit of truth. If you are willing to obey the Lord Jesus, He will illuminate your spirit, inwardly enlighten you; and the truth you have known will then be known spiritually, and power will begin to flow up and out and you will find yourself changed marvelously changed.

It is rewarding to believe in a Christianity that really changes men and women. In that great day of Christ’s coming, all that will matter is whether we have been inwardly illuminated, inwardly regenerated, inwardly purified!

The question is: do we really know Jesus in this way?[1]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

No Repentance in the Grave

The Bible clearly teaches that what we are when we die, whether converted or unconverted, whether believers or unbelievers, whether godly or ungodly, so we will be when we rise again at the sound of the last trumpet. There is no repentance in the grave: there is no conversion after the last breath is drawn. Now is the time to believe in Christ, and to lay hold of eternal life. Now is the time to turn from darkness to light, and to make our calling and election sure. The night comes when no man can work. As the tree falls, there it will lie. If we leave this world refusing to repent and believe, we will rise in the same condition on resurrection morning, and find it would have been “better for us if we had never been born.”

– JC Ryle

Practical Religion – p.410

Is Billy Graham in heaven?

The End Time

220px-Billy_Graham_bw_photo,_April_11,_1966Billy Graham, aged 99, has passed away. Best known for his itinerant global evangelism, his Decision Magazine, his Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and the popular radio show Hour of Decision from 1950 to 1954, Graham spent his life preaching to the masses.

He developed mass evangelism events that came to be known as “Crusades”. His first major outdoor preaching Crusade occurred in Los Angeles in 1949, with 350,000 attending over 8 weeks. Afterward, when Singer-songwriter Stuart Hamblen announced on air that he had been converted, national newspapers and radio personalities perked up over this new fiery preacher. Newspaper Magnate William Randolph Hearst telegrammed his editors across America to “puff Graham” meaning, to write pleasant and complimentary features on Graham in order to promote him. As a result, Graham rapidly became a coast-to-coast figure. His fame and name only increased since that moment to within five years, Graham was featured…

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John MacArthur on Roman Catholicism, Billy Graham, and ‘Evangelical’ Inclusivism

Ken Silva posted this short piece back in 2012 to warn the Church about evangelical inclusivism. “There are those who feel that reporting on issues like this brings pleasure, well, it truly doesn’t,” Ken wrote, clearly disheartened over apostate evangelical leaders he once respected. “Billy Graham was always someone I had looked to as an example and someone I greatly admired in Christ. That is until troubling quotes and questionable associations he’d been making through the years kept coming up in research. Some of what you will see here has been available in different formats but it seemed good in the Lord to put it together in a more accessible form.”

And he did just that. Here’s his piece:

Apprising Ministries brings you the audio clip below where Dr. John MacArthur gives some background on the current apostasy in which evangelicals are now accepting apostate Roman Catholicism as genuine Christianity. He also quotes from the transcript of an appearance by Billy Graham on Hour of Power with Robert Schuller.

This is program #1426 entitled Say “Yes” To Possibility Thinking, which was originally broadcast May 31, 1997:

Schuller: Tell me, what do you think is the future of Christianity?

Graham: Well, Christianity and being a true believer–you know, I think there’s the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the Body of Christ. And I don’t think that we’re going to see a great sweeping revival, that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think James answered that, the Apostle James in the first council in Jerusalem, when he said that God’s purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name.

And that’s what God is doing today, He’s calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.

Schuller: What, what I hear you saying that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they’ve been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you’re saying?

Graham: Yes, it is, because I believe that. I’ve met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they’ve tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.

Schuller: I’m so thrilled to hear you say this. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.

Graham: There is. There definitely is.

Below is the segment with Billy Graham and his friend Robert Schuller referenced above. See it for yourself:

Well, the sad fact is this “Evangelical” Inclusivism is Older Than You Think. And it’s also the root rot of the Church Growth Movement as evidenced e.g. by sinful Southern Baptist ecumenicist Rick Warren and his Emergent counterpart Living Spiritual Teacher and EC guru Brian McLaren who’re following Graham’s footsteps.

For example, Warren has said, “It really doesn’t matter your denomination, folks. We’re all on the same team if you love Jesus.”[1] And McLaren has opined that if people are “happy being Muslim, or Buddhist or Jewish or atheist,” he doesn’t think it’s right to try to “shoe-horn them out of their religion” into Christianity.[2]

That’s why John MacArthur is dead-on-target in what he says about this evangelical inclusivism below:

End notes:

[1] http://bit.ly/L3VkR7, accessed 5/8/12.

[2] http://bit.ly/IWeMmq, accessed 5/8/12.

See also:





Source: John MacArthur on Roman Catholicism, Billy Graham, and ‘Evangelical’ Inclusivism

February 22, 2018 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Inquiry

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (3:1–3)

The placing of the chapter break here is unfortunate, since the story of Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus is logically tied to the previous section (2:23–25). As noted in chapter 7 of this volume, John 2:23–25 described Jesus’ refusal to accept shallow, sign-based faith, since in His omniscience, He understood the people’s hearts. The story of Nicodemus is a case in point, since Nicodemus himself was one of those superficial believers whose heart He read like an open book. Instead of affirming his profession, the Lord refused to accept Nicodemus’s faith, which was solely based on the signs he had witnessed (v. 2). Jesus pointed him to the life-transforming nature of true saving faith.

Nicodemus (“victor over the people”) was a Greek name common among the Jews of Jesus’ day. Some have identified Nicodemus with a wealthy man of that same name mentioned in the Talmud. But since that Nicodemus was still alive when Jerusalem was destroyed in a.d. 70, he would probably have been too young to have been a member of the Sanhedrin during Jesus’ ministry four decades earlier (cf. 7:50–51). The implication of verse 4 that Nicodemus was already an old man when he met with Jesus argues further against that identification.

Nicodemus was a member of the elite religious party the Pharisees. Their name probably derives from a Hebrew verb meaning “to separate”; they were the “separated ones” in the sense of being zealous for the Mosaic law (and their own oral traditions, which they added to it [cf. Matt. 15:2–6; Mark 7:8–13]). The Pharisees originated during the intertestamental period, likely as an offshoot of the Hasidim (“pious ones”), who opposed the Hellenizing of Jewish culture under the wicked Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes. Unlike their archrivals the Sadducees, who tended to be wealthy priests or Levites, the Pharisees generally came from the middle class. Therefore, though few in number (there were about 6,000 at the time of Herod the Great, according to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus), they had great influence with the common people (though, ironically, the Pharisees often viewed some with contempt [cf. 7:49]). Despite being the minority party, their popularity with the people gave them significant influence in the Sanhedrin (cf. Acts 5:34–40).

With the disappearance of the Sadducees in a.d. 70 (after the temple was destroyed) and the Zealots in a.d. 135 (after the Bar Kochba revolt was crushed), the Pharisees became the dominant force in Judaism. In fact, by the end of the second century a.d., with the completion of the Mishnah (the written compilation of the oral law, rituals, and traditions), the Pharisee’s teaching became virtually synonymous with Judaism.

Ironically, it was their very zeal for the law that caused the Pharisees to become ritualized and external. Having unchanged hearts, they would only replace true religion with mere behavior modification and ritual. In response to their pseudo-spirituality, Jesus scathingly pointed out: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Matt. 23:23; cf. 6:1–5; 9:14; 12:2; Luke 11:38–39). Even worse, the wide gap between their teaching and their practice led to gross hypocrisy, which both Jesus (e.g., Matt. 23:2–3) and, surprisingly, the Talmud (which lists seven classes of Pharisees, six of which are hypocritical) denounced. As a result, despite their zeal for God’s law, they were “blind guides of the blind” (Matt. 15:14), who made their proselytes doubly worthy of the hell to which they themselves were headed (Matt. 23:15). Even if they had not been hypocrites, keeping the law could never have saved them, “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Rom. 3:20; cf. 3:28; Gal. 2:16; 3:11, 24; 5:4)—a truth that the zealous Pharisee Saul of Tarsus eventually discovered (Phil. 3:4–11).

But Nicodemus was no run-of-the-mill Pharisee; he was a ruler of the Jews. That is, he was a member of the Sanhedrin (cf. 7:50), the governing council of Israel (under the ultimate authority of the Romans). Jewish tradition traced the origin of the Sanhedrin to the seventy elders who assisted Moses (Num. 11:16–17). Ezra, also according to tradition, reorganized that body after the exile (cf. Ezra 5:5, 9; 6:7–8, 14; 10:8). However, the Sanhedrin of New Testament times probably originated during the period of Persian or Greek rule. It consisted of seventy-one members, presided over by the reigning high priest. It included men from the influential priestly families, elders (family and tribal heads), scribes (experts in the law), and any former high priests who were still alive. Under the Romans, the Sanhedrin exercised wide-ranging powers in civil, criminal, and religious matters (though the Romans withheld the power of capital punishment [18:31]). It had the authority both to make arrests (Matt. 26:47; Acts 4:1–3; 5:17–18) and to conduct trials (Matt. 26:57ff.; Acts 5:27ff.). Although its influence extended even to Jews of the Diaspora (cf. Acts 9:1–2; 22:5; 26:12), the Sanhedrin’s direct authority seems to have been limited to Judea (it apparently wielded no power over Jesus while He was in Galilee; cf. John 7:1). After the failure of the Jewish revolt (a.d. 66–70), the Sanhedrin was abolished and replaced by the Beth Din (Court of Judgment). Unlike the Sanhedrin, however, the Beth Din was composed solely of scribes (lawyers), and its decisions were exclusively limited to religious matters.

The fact that Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin probably explains why he came to Jesus by night. He might not have wanted his coming to imply the approval of the entire Sanhedrin, nor did he want to risk incurring the disfavor of his fellow members. Nighttime would also have afforded more time for conversation than during the day, when both he and Jesus would be occupied. The important point, however, is not when Nicodemus came, but that he came at all. Though coming to Jesus does not always guarantee salvation (cf. the rich young ruler, Luke 18:18–23), it is a necessary beginning.

By using the respectful term Rabbi, Nicodemus, although a member of the Sanhedrin and an eminent teacher (v. 10), addressed Jesus as an equal. He did not share the suspicion and hostility that many of his fellow religious leaders had toward Christ (cf. 7:15, 47–52). Nicodemus, and others like him (cf. the plural, we know), accepted that Jesus had come from God as a teacher—even though He had not received proper rabbinic training (7:15). As Nicodemus acknowledged, “No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Like the people in the previous section (2:23), he was impressed with and believed that the undeniable power manifested in Jesus’ miracles was divine. Undoubtedly, he was also aware of John the Baptist’s testimony about Christ. That, coupled with the evidence of them, may have caused Nicodemus to wonder if Jesus was the Messiah.

But Jesus was not interested in discussing His signs, which had resulted only in superficial faith. Instead, He went straight to the real issue—the transformation of Nicodemus’s heart by the new birth. Jesus answered Nicodemus’s unasked question (cf. Matt. 19:16) and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The phrase amēn amēn (truly, truly) appears in the New Testament only in John’s gospel. It solemnly affirms the veracity and significance of what follows. In this instance, Jesus used the phrase to introduce the vitally important truth that there is no entrance into God’s kingdom unless one is born again. The new birth, or regeneration, is the act of God by which He imparts eternal life to those who are “dead in … trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1; cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Titus 3:5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18), thus making them His children (John 1:12–13).

The kingdom of God in its universal aspect refers to God’s sovereign rule over all of His creation. In that broadest sense of the term, everyone is part of God’s kingdom, since “the Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19; cf. 10:16; 29:10; 145:13; 1 Chron. 29:11–12; Jer. 10:10; Lam. 5:19; Dan. 4:17, 25, 32).

But Jesus is not referring here to the universal kingdom. Instead, He is speaking specifically of the kingdom of salvation, the spiritual realm where those who have been born again by divine power through faith now live under the rulership of God mediated through His Son. Nicodemus, like the rest of his fellow Jews, eagerly anticipated that glorious realm. Unfortunately, they thought that being descendants of Abraham, observing the law, and performing external religious rituals (particularly circumcision) would gain them entrance into that kingdom. But in thinking this, they were severely mistaken, as Jesus made clear. No matter how religiously active someone might be, no one can enter the kingdom without experiencing the personal regeneration of the new birth (cf. Matt. 19:28).

The implications of Jesus’ words for Nicodemus were staggering. All of his life he had diligently observed the law (cf. Mark 10:20) and the rituals of Judaism (cf. Gal. 1:14). He had joined the ultrareligious Pharisees, and even become a member of the Sanhedrin. Now Jesus called him to forsake all of that and start over; to abandon the entire system of works righteousness in which he had placed his hope; to realize that human effort was powerless to save. Describing the consternation Nicodemus must have felt, R. C. H. Lenski writes:

Jesus’ word regarding the new birth shatters once for all every supposed excellence of man’s attainment, all merit of human deeds, all prerogatives of natural birth or station. Spiritual birth is something one undergoes, not something he produces. As our efforts had nothing to do with our natural conception and birth, so in an analogous way but on a far higher plane, regeneration is not a work of ours. What a blow for Nicodemus! His being a Jew gave him no part in the kingdom; his being a Pharisee, esteemed holier than other people, availed him nothing; his membership in the Sanhedrin and his fame as one of its scribes went for nought. This Rabbi from Galilee calmly tells him that he is not yet in the kingdom! All on which he had built his hopes throughout a long arduous life here sank into ruin and became a little worthless heap of ashes. (The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel [Reprint; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1998], 234–35)[1]

Becoming New Men

John 3:3–5

In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

A young Arab was proceeding down the road on a donkey when he came upon a small bird, a sparrow, lying upon his back in the road. There he was, a small scrawny object with two thin legs pointed skyward. At first the Arab thought the sparrow was dead. When he found that the bird was alive, however, the Arab got down from his donkey and went forward to speak to him. “Are you all right?” he asked.

“Yes,” the sparrow answered.

“Then what are you doing lying on your back with your legs pointed up at the sky?”

“Haven’t you heard the rumor?” the sparrow asked in return. “They say that heaven is going to fall.”

“If it does,” said the Arab, “surely you don’t think you’re going to hold it up with those two scrawny legs?”

The bird looked at him with a solemn face for a moment and then retorted, “One does the best one can.”

We laugh at the story, of course, but the folly of the sparrow is only an illustration of the folly of human beings who think they can hold off the wrath of divine judgment by the scrawny legs of human achievements. According to the Bible, this cannot be done. Thus, the first few verses of John 3 have been showing that no man can please God either by his own achievements or by his intellect. Instead a man must be born again. At this point, however, Nicodemus asks the question that anyone might quite properly ask, “All right, you say that a man must be born again. How, then, is it possible? How can a man be born again?” To this question—perhaps the most important question that anyone can ask—the third chapter of John gives two answers.

Birth from Above

The first answer to Nicodemus’s question is the answer Jesus gave even before he asked it. Jesus said, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (v. 3). Later he said the same thing by repeating, “You must be born again” (v. 7). The answer involved in this statement lies in the meaning of the Greek word translated “again.” It is one of two Greek words that are often translated “again” in our Bibles. One is palin, which refers quite simply to the repetition of an act. The other word, the one used here, is anōthen, which also refers to the repetition of an act but which implies more.

In the first place, anōthen can also be translated “from above.” This is the meaning of the word in John 3:31 that says, “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” “Above” points to heaven. So when the Bible uses anōthen instead of palin in the first part of the chapter, it is suggesting that the new birth is supernatural and has its origin in God.

Then, too, there is an even finer distinction that also bears this out. Palin, as I have said, refers to the repetition of an act. Anōthen also refers to the repetition of an act, but it involves one additional detail, the fact that the repetition of the act has the same source as the first act. Suppose that the pianist Van Cliburn and I are in a room and that Van Cliburn has just completed playing the piano parts of Tchaikovsky’s great piano concerto. People want to hear it again. Now if they were Greek and should say, “Play it again (palin),” that would mean that I could sit down at the piano and try and do it. It would only mean that they wanted to hear the music repeated. However, if they should say, “Play it again (anōthen),” it would mean that the repetition of the music would have to have the same source as the first playing. In other words, Van Cliburn would have to play the concerto. Thus, when Jesus said, “Unless he is born again,” he was suggesting that the new birth would have to have the same source as the original birth. That is, Nicodemus would have to be brought to life spiritually by God.

This distinction takes us back to the early chapters of Genesis, before the fall, where we are told that “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). When Adam sinned he lost God’s life, first spiritually and then physically. Thus, Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again as Adam was born. God was the source. Therefore, Nicodemus needed to have a fresh impartation of spiritual life; there had to be a new creation.

Water and Wind

The second answer to Nicodemus’s question—“How can a man be born again?”—is the answer given in verse 5. Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (rsv). This verse carries Jesus’ explanation of the new birth a bit further, for having explained it in reference to its source he now begins to explain in a more technical way how the new birth takes place. It takes place literally by “water” and “breath” or, as most translations say, “of water and of the Spirit.” In other words, Jesus first spoke of the source of the new birth. He now speaks of the means by which it occurs.

At this point we must acknowledge that several interpretations of the phrase “of water and of the Spirit” have been given. One of these interpretations takes the word “water” as referring to physical birth. I heard this explanation first during my years in college. It is based on the fact that physical birth is accompanied by the release of the embryonic fluid from the womb of the mother. If this were the proper explanation, Jesus would be saying that in order for a person to be saved he must first be born physically and then his physical birth must be followed by a spiritual birth.

True as this may be, it does not seem to be the proper interpretation of the statement. For one thing, the word “water” is never used in this way elsewhere in Scripture. For another, a reference to the necessity of physical birth is so self-evident that the question arises whether Jesus would waste words in this fashion. The third and decisive problem with this view is that since Jesus was probably claiming that a person is born again by water as well as by the Spirit, if water refers to physical birth, this is simply not true. Physical birth is not part of the answer.

The second interpretation of the phrase is that which sees water as referring to water baptism. Unfortunately, this is not substantiated either by the text or by biblical theology. The text says nothing at all about baptism, and the Bible elsewhere teaches that no one is saved by any external rite of religion (1 Sam. 16:7; Rom. 2:28–29; Gal. 2:15, 16; 5:1–6). Baptism is a sign of what has already taken place, but it is not the agent by which it takes place.

Some years ago a young woman came to me wanting to be married to a young man whom I had not yet met. I arranged for us to get together and in the course of the resulting conversation discovered that neither the young woman nor the young man were Christians. The man was quite open about it and regarded the church service as merely a public ceremony. The young woman thought she was a Christian, largely because she had come from a family of churchgoers and had been baptized in her infancy by a bishop. When I pointed out that baptism never made anyone a Christian this woman was greatly offended. She was even more offended when later I declined to perform the ceremony.

Someone will object to this on the grounds that John the Baptist supposedly baptized people for new life, but this is wrong teaching. John called for repentance, and when men or women repented he baptized them as a sign to others that this had happened. The proof of this is seen in the fact that John actually refused to baptize certain of the Pharisees and Sadducees because they did not show evidence of any genuine change in their lives.

The third interpretation of the phrase “of water and of the Spirit” is one that takes both parts of the phrase symbolically. “Water,” the argument goes, refers to cleansing; “Spirit” refers to power. Therefore, one must be both cleansed and filled with power. William Barclay is one who holds this view. It is true, of course, that the sinner must be cleansed from his sin and that it is the Christian’s privilege to be endued with power from on high, but it is questionable whether this is the primary meaning of this passage. Strictly speaking, both cleansing and power accompany the new birth, while these verses are dealing with the way in which the new birth itself comes about. Moreover, neither of the ideas is related at all to the birth metaphor as the context seems to require.

One of the great students of the Greek New Testament, Kenneth S. Wuest, proposed a fourth explanation. It is based upon the use of the word “water” as a metaphor in other New Testament texts. Wuest points out that “water” often is used in Scripture to refer to the Holy Spirit. He thinks that this is the case in John 4, for instance, where Jesus tells the woman of Samaria that he will give her “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). Another case is John 7:37–38, where almost the identical language is used. After this statement John himself adds, as if in parentheses, “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (v. 39). Wuest also refers to Isaiah 44:3 and 55:1, both of which should have been known to Nicodemus. If this is the correct interpretation of the phrase “of water and of the Spirit,” then we have a repetition of ideas, and the word “and” should be taken in its emphatic sense. We would normally indicate this by translating the word as “even.” Thus, Jesus would be saying, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water, even the Spirit.”

The explanation given by Wuest is a good explanation. Nevertheless, it seems to me that another must be preferred. Wuest begins by pointing out that the word “water” is often a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. This is true, but it is not the only spiritual reality that is suggested by that metaphor.

Water is also a metaphor for the written Word of God, the Bible. Thus, Ephesians 5:26 says that Christ gave himself for the church “to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” In 1 John the same author who composed the fourth Gospel distinguishes between the witnesses to Christ on earth of “the Spirit, the water and the blood” (1 John 5:8). Since he then goes on to speak of God’s written witness to the fact that salvation is in Christ, in this context the Spirit must refer to God’s witness within the individual, the blood to the historical witness of Christ’s death, and the water to the Scriptures. Psalm 119:9 declares, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.” Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3).

A related text is James 1:18, which actually cites the Scriptures as the channel through which the new birth takes place, although without using water as the metaphor. “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

When we see Christ’s words in this light, we see that God is here pictured as the Divine Begetter, the Father of his spiritual children, and we learn that the written Word of God together with the working of his Holy Spirit is the means by which the new birth is accomplished. That is why the Bible tells us that it pleased God to save people by the foolishness of preaching, for people are reborn through the efforts of others who proclaim God’s Word (Rom. 10:14–15; 1 Cor. 1:21).

Spiritual Conception

One more verse makes this even clearer: 1 Peter 1:23. It says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

There are many symbols for the Word of God in the Bible. We are told that the Bible is “a lamp” to our feet and “a light” to our path (Ps. 119:105). The Word is like “a fire … and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces” (Jer. 23:29). It is “milk” to the spiritual infant and “strong meat” to those of a more mature age (1 Peter 2:2; Heb. 5:11–14). It is a sword (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17), a “mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12; 2 Cor. 3:18; James 1:23), a “schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” (Gal. 3:24). It is a branch grafted into our bodies (James 1:21). These are great images, but none is so bold as the one used by Peter in this passage.

In the first chapter of 1 Peter, Peter has been talking about the means by which a person enters the family of God. First, he has discussed his theme objectively in terms of Christ’s death, writing that “it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (vv. 18, 19). Second, he has discussed the basis of the new birth subjectively, pointing out that it occurs through faith: “Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God” (v. 21). Finally, having mentioned these truths, Peter goes on to discuss the new birth in terms of God’s sovereign grace in election. This time, however, he emphasizes that God is the Father of his children and that we are born again spiritually by means of the Word of God, which Peter likens to the male life germ. The Latin Vulgate makes this image of Peter’s even clearer than our English versions, for the word used there is semen.

When we take these passages together and then add to them all that the Bible has to say about faith and about the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation, we find that we are able to grasp the essential nature of the new birth in terms of human conception. What happens when a man or a woman is born again? The answer is that God first of all plants within the heart of the person what we might call the ovum of saving faith, for we are told that even faith is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Second, God sends forth the seed of his Word so that the seed of the Word, which contains the divine life within it, pierces the ovum of faith that God has already placed within our hearts. The result is conception. By this means, a new spiritual life comes into being, a life that has its origin in God and that therefore has no connection whatever with the sinful life that surrounds it.

God did not use anything of Abram when he made Abraham. He did not use anything of Simon when he created the new Peter. He did not use anything of Saul when he made Paul. He does not use anything of your old sinful and Adamic nature when he produces the new life of Christ within you. That is why we can now say, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). Thus did Jesus speak to Nicodemus.

Thus does Jesus speak to you, whoever you may be. If you are one who has never believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, you must realize that you will never be able to enter God’s family by any achievements of your own. The work is God’s alone, and it was accomplished objectively through the death and resurrection of Christ. If you are a believer, you should find encouragement in the fact that all the people of God, from Abel on down to the last believer who will ever live, are born again by the same process and are therefore in the family of God through God’s activity. This should be your confidence, if you are a Christian. “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). Moreover, we know that what God has promised “[he has] power to do” (Rom. 4:21).[2]

3 It is reasonable to assume that Nicodemus had come prepared to ask Jesus much the same question as did the rich young man—“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17 par.). But even before the question can be asked Jesus provides the answer. It is prefaced with the double amēn (“I tell you the truth,” GK 297), which stresses the validity of what is about to be said. Unless a person is “born again” he cannot see the kingdom of God. Anōthen (GK 540) is an adverb either of place (“from above,” as in Mt 27:51) or of time (“again,” “anew,” as in Gal 4:9). In this context the former meaning is primary. To be born “from above” means to be born of God (cf. the use of anōthen, 3:31). However, since spiritual birth is in fact a second birth, the temporal idea of “again” is included. Unless a person is reborn from above he or she is unable to “see the kingdom of God.” To see God’s kingdom means to enter into and have a part in the final establishment of God’s sovereign rule. As a Jew, Nicodemus would understand the kingdom of God as the long-awaited age to come. To “see” this kingdom would mean to experience resurrection life at the end of the age. What he did not understand was that to have a part in that kingdom required a second birth.[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 99–103). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 197–202). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, pp. 395–396). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

Romans 10:4

Our lost race has always been prone to discount and reject the wonderful fact of the individual factor in the love of God. Far, far too many men and women in this world are convinced that God’s love for the world is just one big lump—and the individual is not involved.

We have only to look around us with serious observation to confirm the fact that the devil has been successful in planting his lie that no one cares for the individual person.

Even in nature around us, there appears to be very little individual concern. The burden of concern is always for the species.

But Jesus did not preach to the multitudes as though they were a faceless crowd. He preached to them as individuals, and with a knowledge of the burdens and the needs of each one. Our Savior did not come into the world to deal with statistics!

Each of us must come with full confidence that it is a personal word God has spoken to us in Christ, that “whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish.”

Lord, Your Word says that each of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that You are concerned about the one lost sheep in a flock of a hundred. Thank You for purchasing my redemption by Your death and resurrection. I love You, Lord.[1]

[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

40 Days to the Cross: Week One – Thursday

Confession: Psalm 25:16–18

Turn to me and have mercy on me

because I am lonely and afflicted.

Remove the troubles of my heart;

bring me out from my distresses.

Consider my affliction and trouble,

and forgive all my sins.

Reading: Mark 10:1–12

And from there he set out and came to the region of Judea and the other side of the Jordan, and again crowds came together to him. And again, as he was accustomed to do, he began to teach them. And they asked him if it was permitted for a man to divorce his wife, in order to test him. And he answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” So they said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” But Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your hardness of heart. But from the beginning of creation ‘he made them male and female. Because of this a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh,’ so that they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

And in the house again the disciples began to ask him about this. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”


See a teacher’s wisdom.… By His argument He showed that it was the commandment of His Father, and that not in opposition to Moses did He command these things, but in full agreement with him. Notice Him arguing strongly not only from the creation, but also from His command. For He not only said that He made one man and one woman only, but that He also gave this command that the one man should be joined to the one woman.… But now both by the manner of the creation, and by the manner of lawgiving, He showed that one man must dwell with one woman continually, and never break off from her.

—John Chrysostom

Homolies of St. John Chrysostom


Jesus comes with authority. How are you eager for Him to reign in all parts of your life—your relationships, your work, your thoughts, and your goals?[1]

[1] Van Noord, R., & Strong, J. (Eds.). (2014). 40 Days to the Cross: Reflections from Great Thinkers. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

February 22 Gentleness as Defined by Jesus

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.—Matt. 5:5

In this verse, “gentle” (a word often rendered “meek” in other translations) means mild or soft. Looking ahead to His triumphal entry, the prophet hailed Christ this way: “Behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey” (Matt. 21:5; cf. Zech. 9:9).

From Old Testament times, gentleness has been God’s way for mankind. The book of Job says God “sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety” (5:11; cf. Ps. 25:9). “Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3).

Gentleness does not connote weakness, but rather a way of utilizing all its resources and emotions appropriately (cf. Prov. 16:32; 25:28). The gentle person has died to self and therefore does not resort to violence to defend himself, knowing his person has nothing to commend before God. Gentleness is not cowardice, lack of conviction, or niceness. It is the spirit of Christ, who defended the Father’s glory, not His own, and left us an example: He “committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:22–23).

Christ’s gentleness, however, did not mean He was passive in defending righteousness. He guarded the temple against the moneychangers (John 2:14–15), denounced the hypocritical religious leaders (Matt. 23:1–33), and warned the disobedient of judgment (Matt. 25:45–46). His gentleness was power completely surrendered to God’s control.


What’s been your interpretation of “meekness” or “gentleness”? Is this a quality you value and aspire to? If gentleness was more a part of your demeanor, what benefits would you begin to see in your daily life?[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 61). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

February 22 Loving Obedience

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.

John 14:21

If I could simplify the Christian life to one thing, it would be obedience. I don’t mean just external obedience but a spirit of obedience. It’s not like the little girl who defiantly continued to stand up after her father had told her many times to sit down. Finally her father said, “Sit down, or I’ll spank you.” She sat down but looked up and said, “I’m sitting down, but I’m standing up in my heart!” That’s obeying outwardly but disobeying in the heart. A Christian should be willing to obey.

One evidence of spiritual maturity is loving God enough to obey Him even when it is difficult. God is glorified when we willingly obey Him no matter what the cost. Each time we obey, we grow spiritually, and each time we disobey, we retard our growth.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 65). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

February 22, 2018 Morning Verse Of The Day

The False Coronation

Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. (6:14–15)

Astonished by the sign which Jesus had performed, the people said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” The reference is to the messianic prophecy given by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15–19 (cf. Acts 3:20–22). No doubt Jesus’ miraculous provision of food reminded the crowd of Moses and the manna God provided for Israel in the wilderness. The feeding of the huge crowd was a true creative miracle—not, as some skeptics argue, a story of how Jesus manipulated the crowd into sharing their lunches with each other. If that were all that happened, the crowd would hardly have viewed it as a miraculous sign pointing to Jesus as the Christ. The people correctly realized that the miracle was supernatural and proved Jesus was the Messiah, though they drew wrong conclusions as to what that identification meant.

The crowd’s statement, made immediately after Jesus had healed their sick and filled their stomachs, revealed what the people were really looking for in a messiah. They wanted an earthly deliverer, one who would meet all their physical needs—and food and health were at the top of the list—as well as freeing them from the hated yoke of Roman oppression. Thus they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king. With Him as their provider, they would never want for food, and would have the potential to be healed of every illness. They could march to Jerusalem, overthrow the Romans, and establish the ultimate social welfare state. Jesus, however, refused to be forcibly made king on their selfish (and unrepentant) terms. Therefore, He sent the disciples away by boat (Matt. 14:22; Mark 6:45), dispersed the crowd (Matt. 14:23; Mark 6:45–46), and withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.

Jesus does not acquiesce to whims or fancies. He comes to no man on that man’s terms. People cannot manipulate Him for their own selfish ends. Some modern evangelists, in an attempt to be “seeker-friendly,” present Jesus to unbelievers as a quick fix for felt needs like health, wealth, and self-esteem—superficially marketing Him as providing everything unbelievers want. But that turns the gospel message upside down. People do not come to Christ on their terms, so that He can heal their broken relationships, make them successful in life, and help them feel good about themselves. Instead, they must come to Him on His terms. Jesus graciously loves believers and grants them a rich legacy of joy (John 15:11), peace (John 14:27), and comfort (2 Cor. 1:3–7). But at the same time, He calls sinners to mourn over their sin (Matt. 5:4), repent (Matt. 4:17), and acknowledge Him as the sovereign Lord (Rom. 10:9; cf. Phil. 2:9–11), to whom they owe complete obedience (John 14:15, 21; 1 John 5:3). Even today, He continues to withdraw from those who seek Him for their own self-serving ends, just as He did from the crowd that sought to make Him king on their terms. And, as becomes clear later in chapter 6, He drives others away with the hard demands of the gospel (v. 66).[1]

14–15 When the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they reasoned that this certainly must be the prophet of whom Moses spoke. In Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses counseled the nation not to listen to those who practice sorcery but to listen to a prophet from among their own brothers whom God would raise up to speak for him. While the OT promise referred to a series of prophets (see Dt 18:20–22), it is the basis for a messianic expectation that received unique fulfillment in Jesus (see NIVSB note at Dt 18:15; cf. Mt 11:3). Having witnessed the supernatural power of Jesus, the crowd reckoned that if the first Moses were able to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, a second Moses would certainly be able to remove the heavy burden of Roman control. So the people saw “the miraculous sign,” i.e., they saw Jesus feed an enormous crowd with the meager provisions brought by one small boy, but they did not grasp what it meant or what it foreshadowed. They did not understand that the miracle was not simply a humanitarian response to an immediate need but that it portrayed Jesus as the supplier of people’s deepest hunger. They missed the import of the sign. In fact, they completely misconstrued it by interpreting it in terms of national political advantage (v. 15). So Jesus, knowing that they were about to seize him and declare him king, withdrew again to the mountain to be alone. He may have recognized in their rising enthusiasm the same temptation he had withstood earlier in his ministry (Mt 4:8–10).[2]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 225–226). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, pp. 437–438). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.

—Jeremiah 9:24

I just listened today while we had our dinner to a sonata by Beethoven and it was beautiful. But I suppose it would have been more wonderful if I could have shaken hands with the great Beethoven and said, “It’s an honor to shake your hand, sir. I consider you one of the greatest composers that ever lived—a genius!”… It would have been wonderful.

And so with Michaelangelo, the greatest artist of his day…. Perhaps he would have called me by my first name and I could have called him by his first name. I would introduce him to my friends and say, “I’d like to have you meet the great Michaelangelo.” That would have been better than knowing his works. I have seen his tremendous sculpture of Moses, but it would have been better if I could have seen the man himself.

So let men turn their telescopes on the heavens and their microscopes on the molecules. Let them probe and search and tabulate and name and find and discover. I can dare to say to them, “I know the One who made all this. I’m personally acquainted with the One who made it.” AOG081-082

I bow before You, great God, realizing the awesome privilege that is mine: the privilege of knowing You personally. Amen.[1]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

February 22 Being Merciful

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Luke 6:36


Since we have received mercy from God, we are obligated to show mercy to those with physical or spiritual needs.

Jesus demonstrated His mercy many times as He went about healing people and casting out demons. Two blind men cried out, “ ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’ … And moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight, and followed Him” (Matt. 20:30, 34). He was also deeply moved in spirit and wept when He saw the sorrow that Lazarus’s death caused (John 11:33–36).

His greatest mercy was shown, though, to those with spiritual needs. Not only did He heal a paralytic, but He forgave his sins (Luke 5:18–25). He also prayed for His executioners, saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

We can show mercy by our physical acts. John says, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:17–18).

We must also show mercy spiritually. Because we have experienced God’s mercy, we should have great concern for those who have not. We show spiritual mercy by proclaiming the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to the unsaved and by praying that God would show His mercy to them.

We also demonstrate spiritual mercy by lovingly confronting sinning Christians: “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourselves, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Sinning Christians bring reproach on Christ and His church and will fall under God’s discipline. In such cases it is wrong to say nothing and let the harm continue.

God has promised us in Matthew 5:7 that we will receive mercy from Him if we are merciful to others. If we have received unlimited mercy from our loving God, if we have been lifted from our poor, sinful, wretched state to become citizens of heaven, how can we withhold mercy from others?


Suggestions for Prayer: Pray that you would be sensitive to opportunities to show mercy today.

For Further Study: Read Matthew 23:37–39. What was Jerusalem’s condition in verse 37? ✧ How does that intensify the nature of Christ’s compassion and mercy toward His people?[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

February 21 Daily Help

YOU may think of a doctrine forever, and get no good from it, if you are not already saved; but think of the person of Christ, and that will give you faith. Take him everywhere, wherever you go, and try to meditate on him in your leisure moments, and then he will reveal himself to you, and give you peace.

We should all know more, live nearer to God and grow in grace, if we were more alone. Meditation chews the cud and extracts the real nutriment from the mental food gathered elsewhere.

Read the Bible carefully, and then meditate and meditate and meditate.[1]

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1892). Daily Help (p. 56). Baltimore: R. H. Woodward & Company.

February 21, 2018 Evening Verse Of The Day

One With Other Christians

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (3:28)

Paul focused on the existing, well-defined distinctions of his society that drew sharp lines and set up high walls of separation between people. The essence of those distinctions was the idea that some people—namely Jews, free men, and males in general—were better than, more valuable than, more significant than others. The gospel destroys all such proud thinking. The person who becomes one with Christ also becomes one with every other believer. There are no distinctions among those who belong to Christ. In spiritual matters, there is to be made no racial, social, or sexual discrimination—neither Jew nor Greek, … slave nor free man, … male nor female.

It is not, of course, that among Christians there is no such thing as a Jew, Gentile, slave, free person, man, or woman. There are obvious racial, social, and sexual differences among people. Paul, however, was speaking of spiritual differences—differences in standing before the Lord, spiritual value, privilege, and worthiness. Consequently, prejudice based on race, social status, sex, or any other such superficial and temporary differences has no place in the fellowship of Christ’s church. All believers, without exception, are all one in Christ Jesus. All spiritual blessings, resources, and promises are equally given to all who believe unto salvation (cf. Rom. 10:12).

It was only with great difficulty that Peter finally learned that there are no racial distinctions in Christ, “that God is not one to show partiality” among Jew or Greek, “but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:35). Among the five prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch was “Simeon, who was called Niger,” which means black (Acts 13:1). Paul’s beloved son in the faith was Timothy, whose father was Gentile and whose mother and grandmother were Jewish (Acts 16:1; 2 Tim. 1:5).

Likewise there are no distinctions according to social or economic status. Paul told the Christian slave to be obedient to his master, “as to Christ,” and he told the Christian master, a free man, to “give up threatening, knowing that” the Master of both “is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him” (Eph. 6:5, 9).

James warned, “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?… If you show partiality, you are committing sin” (James 2:1–4, 9). The oneness of the Body of Christ focuses on common spiritual life and privilege, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:3–7).

Nor are there spiritual distinctions according to sex. There is neither male nor female. In recognizing believing women as the full spiritual equals of believing men, Christianity elevated women to a status they had never known before in the ancient world. In matters of rule in the home and in the church God has established the headship of men. But in the dimension of spiritual possessions and privilege there is absolutely no difference.[1]

28 This verse has often been made to carry the weight of questions regarding economic injustice or the role of women in the church. As valid as such questions are, Paul’s point here has to do with redemptive identity in Christ as a result of faith in contrast to the observance of law. It is doubtful that Paul’s words here can therefore be made specifically to address such questions.[2]

3:28 / Being clothed with Christ results in a new self-perception. The implication of this statement is that to regard oneself or others primarily in ethnic (Jew or Greek), social (slave or free), or gender (male and female) terms is to use categories inappropriate to the present, for after the coming of faith, those who believe are “sons of God,” “clothed with Christ,” and “in Christ.” For those Galatians “in Christ,” the law, which maintains ethnic boundary lines and delineates social and gender distinctions, has no relevance. Paul makes statements similar to Galatians 3:28 in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Colossians 3:11. These two other letters were written from and to circumstances different from those in Galatia, which suggests that this statement was an early and widely used description of the faith.

Only Galatians 3:28 contains the phrase neither male nor female. In the Greek the phrase stands out because it reads literally “male and female” in distinction from “Jew nor Greek,” “slave nor free.” The phrase exactly echoes the Septuagint of Genesis 1:27: God created man “male and female.” Perhaps early Christians chose this phrase deliberately so as to signify that in baptism a new creation occurs (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17), one that redefines even the most basic features of the original creation.

The inclusion of the phrase “male nor female” in Galatians may be because of the issue of circumcision. In this regard it is interesting to read Justin Martyr, whose comments indicate the positive way that the church’s rejection of circumcision could redound to women. Justin comments that

the inability of the female sex to receive fleshly circumcision, proves that this circumcision has been given for a sign and not for a work of righteousness. For God has given likewise to women the ability to observe all things which are righteous and virtuous; but we see that the bodily form of the male has been made different from the bodily form of the female; yet we know that neither of them is righteous or unrighteous merely for this cause, but [is considered righteous] by reason of piety and righteousness. (Dialogue with Trypho 23 [ANF 1.206])

The center of gravity in the confession of 3:26–28 is Christ. Christ is the transformative locus of the faith the Galatians know. Through reference to what may have been a widely used baptismal confession, Paul reminds the Galatians of their initial understanding of the faith. Their original commitment was to a worldview in which they understood themselves to have gained a new identity, one rooted in and defined by Christ. This identity transcended all typical social distinctions and the moral distinctions that resulted from such social differentiating, and upon this shared understanding the affirmation in verse 29b is based. Paul expects the Galatians to fully embrace the self-understanding articulated in 3:27–29a, and so he uses it as another way to support his point that Gentiles are inheritors of the promise to Abraham without following the law.[3]

In Christ we are all one (verse28)

Literally, ‘You are all one person in Christ Jesus’ (neb). In Christ we belong not only to God (as His sons) but to each other (as brothers and sisters). And we belong to each other in such a way as to render of no account the things which normally distinguish us, namely race, rank and sex.

First, there is no distinction of race. ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek’ (verse 28). God called Abraham and his descendants (the Jewish race) in order to entrust to them His unique self-revelation. But when Christ came, God’s promise was fulfilled that in Abraham’s seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. This includes all nations of every race, colour and language. We are equal, equal in our need of salvation, equal in our inability to earn or deserve it, and equal in the fact that God offers it to us freely in Christ. Once we have received it, our equality is transformed into a fellowship, the brotherhood which only Christ can create.

Secondly, there is no distinction of rank. ‘There is neither slave nor free.’ Nearly every society in the history of the world has developed its class or caste system. Circumstances of birth, wealth, privilege and education have divided men and women from one another. But in Christ snobbery is prohibited and class distinctions are rendered void.

Thirdly, there is no distinction of sex. ‘There is neither male nor female.’ This remarkable assertion of the equality of the sexes was made centuries in advance of the times. Women were nearly always despised in the ancient world, even in Judaism, and not infrequently exploited and ill-treated as well. But here the assertion is made that in Christ male and female are one and equal—and made by Paul, who is ignorantly supposed by many to have been an anti-feminist.

A word of caution must be added. This great statement of verse 28 does not mean that racial, social and sexual distinctions are actually obliterated. Christians are not literally ‘colour-blind’, so that they do not notice whether a person’s skin is black, brown, yellow or white. Nor are they unaware of the cultural and educational background from which people come. Nor do they ignore a person’s sex, treating a woman as if she were a man or a man as if he were a woman. Of course every person belongs to a certain race and nation, has been nurtured in a particular culture, and is either male or female. When we say that Christ has abolished these distinctions, we mean not that they do not exist, but that they do not matter. They are still there, but they no longer create any barriers to fellowship. We recognize each other as equals, brothers and sisters in Christ. By the grace of God we would resist the temptation to despise one another or patronize one another, for we know ourselves to be ‘all one person in Christ Jesus’ (neb).[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Galatians (pp. 99–100). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Rapa, R. K. (2008). Galatians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 603). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Jervis, L. A. (2011). Galatians (pp. 106–108). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book.

[4] Stott, J. R. W. (1986). The message of Galatians: Only one way (pp. 99–101). Leicester, England; Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

February 21: Grace among the Graphic

Leviticus 9–11; John 7:53–8:11; Song of Solomon 6:6–10

“Then he slaughtered the burnt offering, and Aaron’s sons brought the blood to him, and he sprinkled it on the altar all around; and they brought the burnt offering to him by its pieces, as well as the head, and he burned them on the altar” (Lev 9:12–13). There are graphic scenes like this throughout the Bible, especially in Leviticus. But they act as a reminder of what sacrifice looks like and what it really means.

Even though Jesus would ultimately make the greatest sacrifice of all—laying down His life for the sins of others—He did not hold people’s sins against them. Although Jesus understood that He would be brutalized like the animals sacrificed during Aaron’s day, He chose to forgive people. When a woman “caught in adultery” was brought before Jesus, He did not sentence her to death, as was demanded by the Jewish authorities and laws of His time. Instead, He said, “The one of you without sin, let him throw the first stone at her!” (John 8:7). And Jesus says the same to us today. Only those without sin can throw a stone or cast judgment on others—and that’s none of us.

We shouldn’t use this as an excuse, though. We shouldn’t say, “What happens between you and God and between you and others is up to you.” Instead, we must call each other forward to follow Christ. Jesus has forgiven us, but this doesn’t excuse our sins. Similarly, we can’t use Jesus’ graciousness as an excuse to continue sinning.

We must remember grace and offer that grace to one another. Indeed, we must not judge, but we must not excuse sin in the process. In being gracious both to ourselves and others, we must remember why we have the ability to do so: Jesus died the brutal death of a sacrifice. It was His body that was torn apart and His flesh that was flung. (It’s just as harsh as it sounds.)

I don’t say any of this to make us feel guilty, but to remind all of us of the price Jesus paid for our freedom.

Jesus died so that we could be one with God, not so that we could continue to sin against the God He unified us with. As Jesus says at the end of this scene, after everyone had left, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).

In what ways are you misappropriating grace?

John D. Barry[1]

[1] Barry, J. D., & Kruyswijk, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.