by Steven J. Lawson
The Genevan Reformer John Calvin said, “Preaching is the public exposition of Scripture by the man sent from God, in which God Himself is present in judgment and in grace.” Faithful pulpit ministry requires the declaration of both judgment and grace. The Word of God is a sharp, two-edged sword that softens and hardens, comforts and afflicts, saves and damns.
The preaching of divine wrath serves as a black velvet backdrop that causes the diamond of God’s mercy to shine brighter than ten thousand suns. It is upon the dark canvas of divine wrath that the splendor of His saving grace most fully radiates. Preaching the wrath of God most brilliantly showcases His gracious mercy toward sinners.
Like trumpeters on the castle wall warning of coming disaster, preachers must proclaim the full counsel of God. Those who stand in pulpits must preach the whole body of truth in the Scriptures, which includes both sovereign wrath and supreme love. They cannot pick and choose what they want to preach. Addressing the wrath of God is never optional for a faithful preacher—it is a divine mandate.
Tragically, preaching that deals with God’s impending judgment is absent from many contemporary pulpits. Preachers have become apologetic regarding the wrath of God, if not altogether silent. In order to magnify the love of God, many argue, the preacher must downplay His wrath. But to omit God’s wrath is to obscure His amazing love. Strangely enough, it is merciless to withhold the declaration of divine vengeance.
Why is preaching divine wrath so necessary? First, the holy character of God demands it. An essential part of God’s moral perfection is His hatred of sin. A.W. Pink asserts, “The wrath of God is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin.” God is “a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29) who “feels indignation every day” (Ps. 7:11) toward the wicked. God has “hated wickedness” (45:7) and is angered toward all that is contrary to His perfect character. He will, therefore, “destroy” (5:6) sinners in the Day of Judgment.
Every preacher must declare the wrath of God or marginalize His holiness, love, and righteousness. Because God is holy, He is separated from all sin and utterly opposed to every sinner. Because God is love, He delights in purity and must, of necessity, hate all that is unholy. Because God is righteous, He must punish the sin that violates His holiness.
Second, the ministry of the prophets demands it. The prophets of old frequently proclaimed that their hearers, because of their continual wickedness, were storing up for themselves the wrath of God (Jer. 4:4). In the Old Testament, more than twenty words are used to describe the wrath of God, and these words are used in their various forms a total of 580 times. Time and again, the prophets spoke with vivid imagery to describe God’s wrath unleashed upon wickedness. The last of the prophets, John the Baptist, spoke of “the wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7). From Moses to the forerunner of Christ, there was a continual strain of warning to the impenitent of the divine fury that awaits.
Third, the preaching of Christ demands it. Ironically, Jesus had more to say about divine wrath than anyone else in the Bible. Our Lord spoke about God’s wrath more than He spoke of God’s love. Jesus warned about “fiery hell” (Matt. 5:22) and eternal “destruction” (7:13) where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12). Simply put, Jesus was a hellfire and damnation preacher. Men in pulpits would do well to follow the example of Christ in their preaching.
Fourth, the glory of the cross demands it. Christ suffered the wrath of God for all who would call upon Him. If there is no divine wrath, there is no need for the cross, much less for the salvation of lost souls. From what would sinners need to be saved? It is only when we recognize the reality of God’s wrath against those deserving of judgment that we find the cross to be such glorious news. Too many pulpiteers today boast in having a cross-centered ministry but rarely, if ever, preach divine wrath. This is a violation of the cross itself.
Fifth, the teaching of the Apostles demands it. Those directly commissioned by Christ were mandated to proclaim all that He commanded (Matt. 28:20). This necessitates proclaiming God’s righteous indignation toward sinners. The Apostle Paul warns unbelievers of the “God who inflicts wrath” (Rom. 3:5) and declares that only Jesus can “deliver us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). Peter writes about “the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Pet. 3:7). Jude addresses the “punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). John describes “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16). Clearly, the New Testament writers recognized the necessity of preaching God’s wrath.
Preachers must not shrink away from proclaiming the righteous anger of God toward hell-deserving sinners. God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). That day is looming on the horizon. Like the prophets and Apostles, and even Christ Himself, we too must warn unbelievers of this coming dreadful day and compel them to flee to Christ, who alone is mighty to save.
This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.
Most people you know believe in a god—since about 90% of Americans do. References to God are ubiquitous in our culture, but not everyone who talks about “God” is talking about the God of the Bible. 21 more words
I don’t want to be a single mom, but I am one. I am in good standing with my elders, and if anyone has a concern about that, my elders welcome questions on my behalf. But the fact that I have to add that last sentence highlights why we don’t see many orthodox Christian writers…
by Lindsey Medenwaldt
Before we start diving into world religions, it’s important that we have a firm grasp of what Christianity teaches. It is fairly common knowledge that when federal agents train to spot counterfeit money, they study the real thing first. The theory is that if the agents become very familiar with genuine money, they will be able to spot a counterfeit a mile away. This is true of Christianity. If we study God’s word and are completely in touch with the truths found in Scripture, we will be able to spot heresies and errors in our own churches, as well as other belief systems. It’s exciting to think about world religions, but let’s make sure we understand basic Christian beliefs before we dive into other beliefs.
How easy is it for you to tell others what you believe about God, creation, or Jesus? Can you adequately explain the Trinity? What about the afterlife? How is it that we are saved? Some of you may already know all of the Christian answers, and that is awesome! For those of you who struggled a bit to come up with a response, this article is for you! Here’s a crash course in the fundamental beliefs of Christianity, complete with some Scripture references to help you out.
Founding. As you likely know, Christianity was founded around AD 30, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Middle East. Jesus was the founder, but Christianity was carried forth by his disciples and other followers, like Peter and Paul. Yes, Jesus was Jewish, and most of the early church consisted of converted Jews, but his followers were (and are still) called Christians.
God. If someone were to ask you to describe God, what would you say? No seriously! Before you read the rest of this, turn away from the computer and see if you can describe God.
What’s the first thing that came to mind? Some people can’t get past visualizing a big bearded man in the sky. To understand God, it is important that we understand the orthodox attributes ascribed to God. While knowing these attributes cannot replace a personal relationship with God, a personal relationship should always start with knowing the one with whom you are having this relationship. Here are the main attributes described in the Bible…
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The messages from T4G are already posted on the T4G website. All the plenary sessions and the panels posted in order below. Lig Duncan’s is one you’ll want to listen to, so I featured it above.
A Weighty and Wonderful Responsibility
Pastors have the weighty and wonderful responsibility of preaching Christ from all the Scriptures. Biblical theology, therefore, is a vital help for pastors to faithfully declare the glorious truth that Jesus is the main point of the whole Bible. How do we know this? Because he tells us so.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44–49)
Jesus explains two things in this text. First, he makes the shocking statement that all of the Old Testament—from the Pentateuch to the Prophets to the Psalms—was actually written about him. In other words, Jesus identifies himself as the promised Messiah. Second, he says that his followers will be witnesses of these things to all nations, that is, to all peoples in all places. Simply put, you won’t understand the story of the Bible unless you see that it’s all about Jesus.
Christ himself, the promised King, is the one who holds everything together (Colossians 1:17), including the grand story of Scripture itself. The Old Testament points forward and prepares the way for the coming of the King. The New Testament proclaims the arrival of the King and his mission to all nations. But to read the Bible faithfully, we need the proper tools. The discipline of biblical theology is one of those helpful tools. Biblical theology, therefore, is a way of reading all of Scripture as the story of God’s King and his glorious plan to rescue and redeem for himself a people for his praise.
How Good Theology Serves the Church
Keeping Luke 24 in mind, let’s briefly consider four ways biblical theology can serve pastors in their teaching ministries in the local church.
From Genesis to Revelation, Jesus is the hero and the point of the story.
1. Biblical theology helps us read, understand, and teach the Bible the way Jesus said we should.
Jesus himself says in Luke 24 that he is Scripture’s interpretive key. So if we fail to read and understand Scripture in a way that leads us to Jesus, then we will miss the point of the Bible, and as a result we will teach others to commit the same error. The bottom line is this: missing the point of the Bible’s story produces false gospels and false churches. What we need now is a framework for understanding the whole Bible. Biblical theology provides that framework because it guides our reading of the Bible and therefore guards against bad interpretation. Biblical theology is an approach to reading the whole story of the Bible while keeping our focus on the main point of Scripture: Jesus Christ. In other words, biblical theology is the scriptural road map that leads us to Jesus.
2. Biblical theology helps clarify the Bible’s main purpose.
Some people approach God’s Word as if it were a collection of independent stories, or an assortment of advice and counsel, or even a universal cookbook with recipes for “the good life” scattered across its sixty-six books. But these approaches fail to bring to light the central purpose of Scripture. In the Bible, the triune God explains who he is and what he is like and how he’s at work throughout history by his Spirit and in his Son, Jesus Christ the King, and how we ought to glorify him in this world. Biblical theology helps us to grasp this main purpose by looking at each passage of Scripture in light of the whole Bible so that we understand how every part of Scripture is related to Jesus.
From Genesis to Revelation, Jesus is the hero and the point of the story. What’s more, you won’t understand who Jesus is unless you understand the larger story that’s all about him. Jesus is the interpretative key to the Bible, which means a careful Bible reader will find him in the beginning, middle, and end of this story. God has revealed for us in the Bible the King’s purposes, the King’s plans, and the King’s promises. As they’re worked out in history, we need to pay attention to this story and read it as Jesus says we should. God’s story is a grand story—the grandest of them all, in fact—and it’s centered on his plan of redemption in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
3. Biblical theology helps us in our evangelistic outreach.
Sharing the good news with those who are unfamiliar with Christianity requires explaining much more than “four spiritual laws” or the “Romans road.” People first need to grasp that the Christian worldview accompanies a total transformation of mind-set. In our evangelism, we must start with God and creation to see what’s gone wrong. From there, we’re able to follow what God has been doing throughout history, which will help us discover why he sent Jesus and why that matters today. Not until we rightly understand these past events in their proper contexts will we be equipped to uncover what God is doing right now and what he’ll do in the future.
4. Biblical theology helps guard and guide the church.
Reading Scripture rightly means knowing where each book fits into its overarching narrative. And knowing the overarching narrative helps us read and understand accurately each event, character, or lesson that’s been given to us as part of God’s progressively revealed Word. Understanding the whole story of Scripture clarifies who Jesus Christ is and what his gospel is. God has promised to rescue a people from every tribe and nation and tongue for his own glory through his Son and by his Spirit. These redeemed people are members of Christ’s body, the church.
What is the church of Jesus Christ supposed to be and supposed to do? Jesus said to his followers—those who’ve repented of their sins and trusted in him alone—that the Scriptures testify “repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). So the proclamation of Jesus Christ ought to be at the heart of the church’s mission to disciple the nations. In this way, biblical theology guards the church from the deadly error of proclaiming a false gospel and guides the church toward keeping the proclamation of the true gospel as the centerpiece of its mission to the world for the praise of God’s glory.
May all of Christ’s shepherds feed the flock of God by proclaiming the glories of the Chief Shepherd from all the Scriptures until he comes.
Nick Roark (MDiv, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the pastor of Franconia Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. Nick previously served on the pastoral staff of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He is married to Allison and they have three children.
- 3 Ways to Define Biblical Theology (Michael Lawrence)
- 10 Things You Should Know about Biblical Theology (Chris Bruno)
- Short Studies in Biblical Theology (Dane C. Ortlund)
For the worship of God alone (against the invocation of saints and the worship of creatures), the orthodox saints is rejected contend: First, with express command of God by which by Exod. 20:3 and he forbids having any other gods before himself—“thou shalt have no other gods before me” or as the Septuagint has it “besides me.” Here the Lord decrees that nothing should be religiously worshipped except himself, the alone and supreme God. For that is said to be God to us and to be regarded as God whatever we adore and serve with religious worship, whatever that may be otherwise, either in itself or with us—namely because we transfer to it the honor which belongs to God alone. This is confirmed by Christ disputing against Satan: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Mt. 4:10). Now although the exclusive particle “alone” does not occur in Deut. 6:13 and 10:20 (whence the quotation is made), yet necessarily from the nature of the thing it is included (as it is expressed in 1 Sam. 7:3, “serve him only”). And if there was no other reason, the expression of the Savior is sufficient for us to conclude that religious worship must be paid to God alone..
Source: Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Vol. 2), 42.
The Wall Street Journal wrote last week that “Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, a friend and frequent interviewer of the pope, reported that the pontiff had denied the existence of hell.”
Sinners who die without achieving eternal salvation “are not punished,” the pope said, according to an article by Mr. Scalfari in the Itlaian newspaper La Repubblica. “There is no hell; there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”
Predictably the Vatican would later release a statement that partially denied the report, but also “stopped short of a specific denial.” This clever dialectic maneuver is a perfect example of two steps forward, one step back. Now the issue of hell is on the table and up for debate, once again illustrating how the Pope Francis has “shaken up perceptions of Catholic doctrine.”
The Pope is merely following in the steps of other theologians and leaders who have professed orthodoxy out of one side of their mouth while teaching new doctrine.Their strategies appear to be the same. The Wall Street Journal’s Vatican correspondent, Francis X. Rocca, describes it:
For more conservative critics, the pope’s approach amounts to promotion of a “low-intensity Catholicism that can be easily welcomed by those far from the faith and even hostile to it,” said Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert who writes for Italy’s L’Espresso magazine.
The nun turned her back on the class. (We were still not safe from scrutiny… we all knew she also had eyes in the back of her head.) Jimmy Cummings could make these strange voices and sounds and get us giggling… and then when the good sister turned around to find the culprit, Jimmy could instantly take on the countenance of a cherub and someone else would be blamed. His unique ability served him well. He is now Voice Actor Jim Cummings… the voice of Winnie the Pooh!
I digress… Back to what the nun had written on the green blackboard. She took the pointer, a weapons grade staff with a rubber tip that looked like a ballistic missile, and pronounced the phrase she had written:
She then went on to explain that whenever the Pope was seated in the chair (also called the throne of St. Peter) whatever he said was infallible. He was not to be questioned for he was speaking in the place of God. The Latin phrase ex cathedra means “from or out of the chair”
There was another Latin term we would learn:
Imprimatur was the term used to describe the authority of the Church when it came to anyone publishing anything that had to do with the teachings of the Church. It was an official endorsement or sanction… a seal of approval. Yet another Latin phrase would be the official Imprimatur:
It means “Nothing is in the way or is unacceptable or offensive.”
Two days ago, I was listening to a national talk show. I actually got on the air and was able to engage the host on a topic that is important to me… how the media is intentionally trying to undermine our values and beliefs. After the conversation and just before the commercial break, the host teased the topic for the next segment:
“Stick around folks, did you hear the Pope said there is no Hell?”
The current Pope has made numerous remarks that seem to confute not only Catholic Dogma, but the Bible itself. He took a lot of heat when he opined about the whole issue of homosexuality. “Who am I to judge?” I mean no disrespect, but I said out loud when I heard it, “I know who you are… You are Vicar of Christ on earth, the unquestionable representative of God to over a billion people. You sit on a throne, and utter remarks that are deemed to be infallible. You and those who rule with you can excommunicate people, hence cut them off from the means of grace… ergo consigning them to the Hell you said is not what the Bible describes, and Jesus believed to be real. In the New Testament, Jesus mentioned the word Hell more than He did Heaven.”
The implications of all this are far reaching. What else in the Bible will be deemed to be inaccurate or false? Does the word infallible mean… sometimes or ‘sort of’? And what of all the tormented souls who died believing that they were damned to Hell? The Pope is reported to have said that the unrepentant ones don’t go to Hell. They just disappear. The Bible describes torment that never ends… a Dante’s inferno.
There is an angst that is palpable in our world… Constitutions mean nothing. Vows mean even less than nothing and we, lemming-like, rush to fall into the abyss as the institutions of power in our country disassemble all that was based on God’s word.
Listen to this noble school mission statement:
For Christ and the Church! This is the founding mission statement of Harvard! Princeton had this lofty goal for its students, “To know God in Jesus Christ… to live a godly sober life.”
God said, “For I am the Lord. I change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”(Malachi 3:6) The writer to the Hebrews said under the unction of The Holy Spirit, “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God!” (Hewbrews 10:31) We have for a long time meekly submitted to the abandonment of the very notion there is such a thing as Truth. One writer quipped “God created man in his own image and likeness… and now man has returned the favor.”
I remember preaching a message years ago in which I talked about the Bible’s use of the word authority. Now for Catholics, authority rests in a man who speaks ex cathedra… from the chair. For those who rule us politically their authority can be described as ex officio… out of the office they hold. But for the believer in Jesus, the authority that He grants us is based on our relationship with Him. The word translated authority in the Greek is exousia. It is a derivative of the verb “to be” It can be rendered ‘Out of who I AM’.
Is there a Hell? Is it how the Bible describes it? I read in the Bible that there is a hell and that Jesus affirmed it and warned that some will go there. I have staked my life on its veracity.
I hold that the answer does not rest with a man, or an organization, or a tradition. The Bible says, “All Scripture is God breathed.” (1 Timothy 3:16) “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” said Jesus, “but My Words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33) That is proof enough for me.
For the truth about hell, see Pastor Larry DeBruyn’s excellent article, “An Imaginary Cosmic Reality,” where he refutes the denial of hell. Here is a brief excerpt:
Many, even Christians, reject the teaching of the Lord Jesus and His Apostles regarding the eternal punishment of the wicked. They point out that no biblical word expresses the concept of “eternity,” but only “a long period”or “remotest time” (Hebrew ‘olam) or “age” (Greek aion). They argue that because of these words’ multifaceted meanings there is no word in Scripture expressing a forever category of time. Therefore it is presumptuous for anyone to think hell will never end. But the Apostle John describes the state of being consigned to the Lake of Fire as one of being “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). The time frame expressed is in multiples of forever-s, one of ages of ages. These multiples of ages is the longest concept of time the Greek language, or perhaps any language, can express (Greek plurals, eis tous aionas ton aionon, Revelation 20:10). Combined with “day and night” (Greek, hemeras kai nyktos), “for ever and ever” nuances a timeless existence in which 24/7, for ages of ages, the unholy trinity—the beast, the false prophet, the devil—and others will be confined. Together, the clauses express the “the unbroken continuity of their torment” in perpetuity.
Be not afraid of them that kill the body,
and after that have no more that they can do.
But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear:
Fear Him, which after He hath killed
hath power to cast into hell;
yea, I say unto you, Fear Him.”
(Jesus, Luke 12:4-5)
I am the way, the truth, and the life:
no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.”
1. Francis X. Rocca, “Shifting lines: Pope’s Uncertainty Principle,” The Wall Street Journal, March 31-April 1, 2018, p. A9.
4. See Pastor Larry DeBruyn’s “Love Loses,” a review of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins: http://herescope.blogspot.com/2011/05/love-loses.html and his article “An Imaginary Cosmic Reality” reviewing Wm. Paul Young’s book, Lies We Believe About God: http://herescope.blogspot.com/2017/06/an-imaginary-cosmic-reality.html
5. Rocca, Ibid.
6. Everett Piper, The Wrong Side of the Door, p. 23.
How is the resurrection of Christ linked to the idea of justification in the New Testament? To answer this question, we must first explore the use and meaning of the term justification in the New Testament. Confusion about this has provoked some of the fiercest controversies in the history of the church. The Protestant Reformation itself was fought over the issue of justification. In all its complications, the unreconciled and unreconcilable difference in the debate came down to the question of whether our justification before God is grounded in the infusion of Christ’s righteousness into us, by which we become inherently righteous, or in the imputation, or reckoning, of Christ’s righteousness to us while we are still sinners. The difference between these views makes all the difference in our understanding of the Gospel and of how we are saved.
One of the problems that led to confusion was the meaning of the word justification. Our English word justification is derived from the Latin justificare. The literal meaning of the Latin is “to make righteous.” The Latin fathers of church history worked with the Latin text instead of the Greek text and were clearly influenced by it. By contrast, the Greek word for justification, dikaiosune, carries the meaning of “to count, reckon, or declare righteous.”
But this variance between the Latin and the Greek is not enough to explain the debates over justification. Within the Greek text itself, there seem to be some problems. For example, Paul declares in Romans 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Then James, in his epistle, writes, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar” (2:21) and “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (2:24).
On the surface, it appears that we have a clear contradiction between Paul and James. The problem is exacerbated when we realize that both use the same Greek word for justification and both use Abraham to prove their arguments.
This problem can be resolved when we see that the verb “to justify” and its noun form, “justification,” have shades of meaning in Greek. One of the meanings of the verb is “to vindicate” or “to demonstrate.”
Jesus once said, ” ‘Wisdom is justified by all her children’ ” (Luke 7:35). He did not mean that wisdom has its sins remitted or is counted righteous by God by having children, but that a wise decision may be vindicated by its consequences.
James and Paul were addressing different questions. James was answering the question: “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (2:14). He understood that anyone can profess to have faith, but true faith is demonstrated as authentic by its consequent works. The claim of faith is vindicated (justified) by works. Paul has Abraham justified in the theological sense in Genesis 15 before he does any works. James points to the vindication or demonstration of Abraham’s faith in obedience in Genesis 22.
The Resurrection involves justification in both senses of the Greek term. First, the Resurrection justifies Christ Himself. Of course, He is not justified in the sense of having His sins remitted, because He had no sins, or in the sense of being declared righteous while still a sinner, or in the Latin sense of being “made righteous.” Rather, the Resurrection serves as the vindication or demonstration of the truth of His claims about Himself.
In his encounter with the philosophers at Athens, Paul declared: ” ‘Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead’ ” (Acts 17:30-31).
Here Paul points to the Resurrection as an act by which the Father universally vindicates the authenticity of His Son. In this sense, Christ is justified before the whole world by His resurrection.
However, the New Testament also links Christ’s resurrection to our justification. Paul writes, “It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:24-25).
It is clear that in His atoning death Christ suffered on our behalf, or for us. Likewise, His resurrection is seen not only as a vindication of or surety of Himself, but as a surety of our justification. Here justification does not refer to our vindication, but to the evidence that the atonement He made was accepted by the Father. By vindicating Christ in His resurrection, the Father declared His acceptance of Jesus’ work on our behalf. Our justification in this theological sense rests on the imputed righteousness of Christ, so the reality of that transaction is linked to Christ’s resurrection. Had Christ not been raised, we would have a mediator whose redeeming work in our behalf was not acceptable to God.
However, Christ is risen indeed!
This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.
- The wicked shall be turned into hell, And all the nations that forget God. (Ps. 9:17)
- Let death seize them; Let them go down alive into hell, For wickedness is in their dwellings and among them. (Ps. 55:15)
- Her house is the way to hell, Descending to the chambers of death. (Prov. 7:27)
- “Hell from beneath is excited about you, To meet you at your coming; It stirs up the dead for you, All the chief ones of the earth; It has raised up from their thrones All the kings of the nations. (Isa. 14:9)
- “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother,`Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says,`You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matt. 5:22)
- “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 10:28)
- But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! (Lk. 12:5)
- For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)– then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord. (2 Pet. 2:4-11)
1. The cross is a Trinitarian event.
The Christian faith is distinctively Trinitarian and cross-shaped. Therefore, the cross must reveal the Trinity. God the Father sent the Son to save the world, the Son submitted to the Father’s will, and the Spirit applies the work of redemption to Jesus followers. Redemption is predestined by the Father (Eph 1:3–6), accomplished by the Son (Eph 1:7–10), and applied by the Spirit (Eph. 1:13–14). God did not withhold the Son, and the Son surrendered to the Father. Yet the Father is not sacrificing the Son. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit all possess a single will. The sacrifice, while uniquely the Son’s work, is also the will of the three persons.
2. The cross is the center of the story of the Scripture.
A Bible without a cross is a Bible without a climax, a Bible without an ending, a Bible without a solution. The spiral of sin that began in Genesis 3 must be stopped; the death of Jesus terminates the downward spiral. In Jesus’s body, he took on the sin of the world and paid the price of all humanity. At the cross the new Adam, Abraham, Moses, David arises to create a new humanity, family, and kingdom. That is why Paul doesn’t say he decided to knowing nothing except the incarnation, resurrection, or the ascension of Jesus, but the nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Wisdom was found not beyond the cross, not above the cross, not below the cross, but in the cross.
3. The cross redefines power in the kingdom.
Jesus’s announcement that the kingdom of God has come is conclusively revealed in the Christ-event on the cross. The Scriptures narrate how God will manifest his kingship on the earth. He gives Adam and Eve the task of ruling and reigning over the earth as his representatives, but they attempt to seize power for themselves (Gen. 3:5). In fact, all of their children do the same. Babel (or Babylon) is the city opposed to the reign of God. Jesus comes as the true Son and redefines power by displaying strength through weakness. He does not exploit his power like Adam, but empties himself (Phil. 2:5–6). He becomes a servant of all, and thereby is exalted as ruler of all (Phil. 2:9–11).
The cross is not only where our sin is paid for, where the devil is conquered, but the shape of Christianity.
4. The cross inaugurates the new covenant.
At the Last Supper Jesus interprets his death as bringing in the new covenant. It is by his body and blood that his new community is formed. Just as the people of Israel were sprinkled with blood as they entered a covenant with Yahweh, so the disciples are members of the new community by the pouring out of Jesus’s blood. The new covenant community now has the Torah written on their hearts and they all know the Lord because of the gift of the Spirit (Jer. 31:33–34).
5. The cross conquers sin and death.
The cross cancels the record of debt that stood against humanity (Col 2:14). On the cross Jesus bore our sins in his body, so that we might die to sin and death (1 Pet. 2:24). The curse of sin and death was placed on Jesus so that we might obtain the blessings of Abraham (Gal 3:13). Understanding the cross and resurrection as a single event is important here, for it is through the death and resurrection of Christ that death is swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:54–55).
6. The cross vanquishes the devil.
On the cross, Christ did not only conquer sin and death, but he conquered the spiritual forces of darkness. A cosmic eruption occurred at Golgotha; a new apocalyptic force entered the world and the old magic was conquered by a deeper magic. He disarmed the power and authorities, putting them to open shame, and triumphs over them on the cross (Col. 2:14). When Christ rises from the dead he is seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power (Eph. 2:20–21).
7. The cross is substitutionary.
The cross is for us, in our place, on our behalf. He laid down his life for His sheep. He is our sacrificial lamb. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Just as Abraham raised his eyes and looked and saw a ram to offer as a burnt offering in the place of his son (Gen 22:13), so too we look up and see Jesus as our replacement. He became a curse for us (Gal 3:13), meaning he takes the place of all the enslaved, the rebels, the idolaters, and the murderers. If the conquering of the spiritual forces is the goal, then substitution is the ground or basis for this conquering (Gal. 1:4). “The cross represents not only the great exchange (substitutionary atonement), but also the great transition (the eschatological turn of the ages).”
8. The cross is foolishness to the world.
In a PBS television series the narrator said, “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central focus the suffering and degradation of its God.” And Paul acknowledges that this message of Christ crucified will be a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). It is not an inherently attractive message, until spiritual eyes of sight are granted. The world looks at the cross and sees weakness, irrationality, hate, and disgust. In the early decades of the Christian movement the scandal of the cross was most self-evident thing about it. It was not only the death of the Messiah, but the manner of his death that is an offense.
9. The cross brings peace, reconciliation, and unity.
At the cross the whole world has the opportunity to be reconciled to the Father. The peace that the world has been seeking, the unity of all people is found in blood. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14). Reconciliation for the world, peace, shalom, and unity comes only by the blood of the cross (Col 1:20). No blood means no harmony.
10. The cross is the marching order for Christians.
After Jesus explained to his disciples that he must suffer, he tells them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24). Paul embodies the cross in his ministry, becoming the fragrance of death as he is lead on the triumphal procession (2 Cor. 2:14–17), and he evens says he has been crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20). But Paul does not merely apply the cross to his own ministry, but he instructs the new community at Philippi to have the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5) which is defined by Jesus’s humility on the cross (Phil. 2:8). The cross is not only where our sin is paid for, where the devil is conquered, but the shape of Christianity. As Rutledge has said, “the crucifixion is the touchstone of Christian authenticity, the unique feature by which everything else. . . is given true significance.”
Popular Articles in This Series
(Tim Challies) This sponsored post is adapted from The Gospel According to God: Rediscovering the Most Remarkable Chapter in the Old Testament by John MacArthur—a book explaining the prophetic words of Isaiah 53 verse by verse, highlighting important connections to the history of Israel, the New Testament, and our lives today.
A Shocking Truth
The reality of Christ’s vicarious, substitutionary death on our behalf is the heart of the gospel according to God—the central theme of Isaiah 53.
We must remember, however, that sin did not kill Jesus; God did. The suffering servant’s death was nothing less than a punishment administered by God for sins others had committed. That is what we mean when we speak of penal substitutionary atonement. Again, if the idea seems shocking and disturbing, it is meant to be. Unless you recoil from the thought, you probably haven’t grasped it yet. “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). This is one of the major reasons the gospel is a stumbling block to Jews, and it’s sheer foolishness as far as Gentiles are concerned (1 Cor. 1:23). “But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, [the message of Christ crucified embodies both] the power of God and the wisdom of God” (v. 24).
There’s no way to sidestep the fact that the doctrine of penal substitution is unequivocally affirmed in the plain message of Isaiah 53. It is also confirmed and reiterated by many other passages throughout Scripture (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:24). The servant of Yahweh, though perfectly innocent, bore the guilt of others and suffered unspeakable anguish to atone for their sins.
Source: Sin Didn’t Kill Jesus—God Did
1. The Covenant of Works. Reformed covenant theology teaches that the New Testament shows that God made a covenant with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Because God created Adam in His own image, he was created in knowledge, righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10), which means that Adam had the work of the moral law, the Ten Commandments, written on his nature. Romans 2:14-15 says, “For when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness.” Adam was the first Gentile (Lk 3:38), made in God’s image, which means that the “work of the law” was written on Adam’s heart.
But what law is Paul talking about in Romans 2? Paul goes on and lists laws of the Ten Commandments: “stealing” (Rom 2:21), “adultery” (Rom 2:22), and idolatry (Rom 2:22). Paul even distinguishes this moral law of the Ten Commandments from the “positive law” (law that is uniquely posited by God in each distinct covenant) in verse 26, where he says it is possible to “keep the law” without being “circumcised.” Thus, Adam had the work of the moral law of God, the Ten Commandments, written on his heart by nature, but not the Old Covenant positive laws. And the sinfulness of Adam’s disobeying God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was rebellion against God, which is a moral transgression against the Ten Commandments.
God created Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden, and required of him perfect obedience to the whole moral law of God (the Ten Commandments). His obedience to the Ten Commandments would be tested by whether or not he obeyed the positive law of that covenant of works (not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). If Adam had passed the test and fulfilled all righteousness by perfect obedience to the law, he would be justified, granted eternal life, and glorified. Of course, Adam sinned against God’s good law, and as a result, Adam and all of his posterity were condemned and became justly liable to eternal punishment in hell. Because of Adam’s failure in the covenant of works, those who descend from Adam by ordinary generation inherit from him a sinful nature that rebels against the work of the moral law written on their hearts (Rom 5:12, 18-19).
The Second London Baptist Confession clearly teaches that there was such a covenant with Adam in the Garden. The confession says, “Although God created man upright and perfect and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof . . . [Adam] did willfully transgress the law of their creation, and the command given unto them in eating the forbidden fruit” (6.1). It also says, “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant” (7.1). And it says, “The covenant of works, being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life” (20.1).
In summary, the covenant of works promised justification and eternal life to Adam on the condition of perfect obedience to the law of the Ten Commandments, which was imprinted on his nature, and obedience to the positive law of the Garden of Eden, which God revealed by way of covenant.
2. The Covenant of Redemption. Temporally speaking, the covenant of redemption was formed in eternity past, but Christ actually obeyed its terms in His incarnate life (2 Tim 1:9-10). But logically speaking, the covenant of redemption comes after the covenant of works because Christ undoes what Adam did in the fall. That’s why Paul speaks of Adam as the federal head of the human race and then Christ as the federal head of His people. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience, the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). Christ answers the problem Adam created in the covenant of works. That’s why Paul calls Christ the “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45), referring to His work in the covenant of redemption.
The covenant of redemption was an arrangement, principally between the Father and the Son, about the redemption of the elect. Our Lord Jesus covenanted with the Father to do what Adam failed to do. As a substitute for the elect, He agreed to obey the Ten Commandments perfectly to merit justification, and to suffer condemnation and death to satisfy the penalty of the violated law. For Christ, this covenant of redemption was a covenant of works, not a covenant of grace. He had to obey the terms of this covenant in order to satisfy the law’s penalty of death and to earn the law’s blessing of life, and His resurrection proves that He earned justification and life for all His chosen people. This is Christ’s substitutionary work of law-keeping, which is the basis of free and gracious justification by faith alone. Jesus did what Adam and his descendants failed to do so that we only need to trust Him to be justified and reconciled to our holy God.
The Scripture explicitly calls this arrangement between the Father and Christ a “covenant.” In Luke 22:29, Jesus says, “I assign [diatithemai] to you, as my Father assigned [dietheto] to me, a kingdom.” The word “diatheme” can mean “to make a covenant or to enter into a covenant.” And here Jesus tells us that the Father made a covenant with Him to give Him a kingdom. The arrangement between the Father and the Son is also called a “covenant” in Isaiah 54:10, referring to the work of Christ to make peace between God and men in Isaiah 53. Many passages speak of such a covenantal arrangement between the Father and the Son (Ps 40:6-8; Is 42:1-9; 49:1-26; Jn 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 10:17-18; 17:1-5; Eph 1:3-14).
The Second London Baptist Confession speaks of this covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son. It says “This covenant is revealed in the gospel . . . and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the son about the redemption of the elect; it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all of the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency” (7.3).
In summary, Adam sinned against God’s law in the covenant of works and so failed to obtain justification and life for those covenantally united to him, and instead brought condemnation and death upon them. But Christ perfectly obeyed God’s law in the covenant of redemption, earning its blessing and paying its penalty, and so merited justification and eternal life for the elect who are all united to Him in time.
3. The Covenant of Grace. Founded upon the covenant of redemption with Christ, God made the covenant of grace with His elect people for their salvation from condemnation and punishment. This covenant of grace was inaugurated in Genesis 3:15, immediately after the fall, when God promised His people that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. This covenant is revealed by farther steps throughout the Old Testament (eg., Isa 61:8-10; Hab 2:4), such that Old Testament saints were saved only by this one covenant of grace. Hebrews 9:15-17 explains that the covenant of grace saved those in the old covenant but that it was legally established at the death of Christ and the inauguration of the new covenant.
“Therefore, he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive” (Hebrews 9:15-17).
And what are the graces of this covenant of grace? They are the merits of Jesus in the covenant of redemption. Christ’s perfect obedience to the law and His death merited His resurrection life and resurrection life for all who are united to Him.
Union with Christ. The saving benefits of the covenant of redemption come to the elect in union with Him in the covenant of grace. God has blessed His people “in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Eph 1:3). That is every single saving blessing of the Holy Spirit comes to the elect after they are united to Him. The Holy Spirit works regeneration in the elect in union with Christ. He works repentance in the elect in their union with Christ. And justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are all in union with Christ. Every blessing of the Holy Spirit comes at the point in time when the elect are united to Christ.
How does the covenant of grace undo the lawlessness of Adam in the covenant of works? The covenant of grace reverses Adam’s lawlessness and the lawlessness of His elect posterity with the two blessings, of justification and sanctification, which Calvin called the “duplex gratia.”
The Duplex Gratia: Undoing Lawlessness
Justification. In union with Christ, God imputes the perfect righteousness of Christ, earned by His perfect obedience to the law in the covenant of redemption, to His people for their justification. Jesus obeyed the law and paid its penalty; therefore, when the elect are united to Him and His righteousness, they receive His justification. They receive justification by faith alone and not by works because Christ has done all the works necessary to merit justification. In the context of union with Christ in the covenant of grace, Paul says, “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 Jess Christ” (Rom 5:17). The elect consciously accept Christ’s righteousness by faith in union with Him, but even their faith is a fruit and purchase of His perfect meritorious righteousness (2 Pet 1:1). The term “justification” here stands for every objective blessing. Adoption and positional sanctification are merited by Christ’s work in the covenant of redemption in the same way.
Sanctification. In union with Christ, God regenerates and produces a progressive holiness in believers on the basis of Christ’s merits in the covenant of redemption (Rom 8:10). Christ’s work in the covenant of redemption earned life and freedom from sin and its miseries for His chosen bride, which is why the Spirit gives the elect freedom from actual sins in the covenant of grace. That means, He makes them to walk in His law (Rom 8:4). They freely and willingly keep the Ten Commandments from the heart. In Hebrews 8:10 God says that in this covenant of grace “I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts.”
The Second London Baptist Confession speaks of the covenant of grace: “Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, His Holy Spirit to make them willing and able to believe” (7.2).
The Covenant of Works: The Law as a Covenant
Adam broke the law of God in the covenant of works and brought the curse of condemnation and actual sinfulness upon himself and his posterity.
The Covenant of Redemption: The Gospel Accomplished
But Christ obeyed the law of God in the covenant of redemption and purchased the resurrection life of justification (a righteous law status) and holiness (actual lawfulness) for His people.
The Covenant of Grace: The Gospel Applied
The Holy Spirit applies Christ to God’s chosen people by uniting them to Christ in the covenant of grace and giving them the double blessing of justification and sanctification. In justification, the law’s curse is cancelled and righteousness is imputed, giving them the right and title to eternal life. In sanctification, the Spirit works actual holy obedience to God’s good law, making them more and more like Christ for their joy and His glory.
Thus covenant theology preserves justification, which is at the heart of the gospel, and it preserves sanctification, which is likewise one of the gospel’s very precious promises. Those who love the Reformed understanding of the gospel should not neglect the Reformed doctrine of the covenants. There is richness and life to be found here.
– Episode 2253 –
John Macarthur: Tithing, Women Elders, Calvinism vs Arminianism
Segment 1 (00:00) – The tithe amount in the New Testament
Segment 2 (09:56) – Women elders is actually a question of scriptural authority
Segment 3 (19:56) – Offending everybody else!
Wretched Surprise! (26:09) – Grace Gem, Henry, Meekness
The post John Macarthur: Tithing, Women Elders, Calvinism vs Arminianism appeared first on Wretched.
What is a theologian?
For many in the church, it’s an intimidating term applied only to spiritually elite believers. It’s an achieved status—one earned through years of seminary, writing, and the other exploits of ivory tower academics.
But that is not a biblical distinction. The truth is, everyone is a theologian.
In simple terms, theology is what we believe about God. And in that sense, everyone has a particular theological perspective. Practically speaking, even atheists are theologians.
The real question then is not who is or isn’t a theologian, but what is the quality of a given person’s theology? Is it biblically based and doctrinally sound? Or is it a carelessly constructed hash of worldly wisdom and pseudo-scriptural ideas? Perhaps even more tragic are those who fight for precision on peripheral theological issues while confusing and corrupting the essentials.
We must not make the mistake of assuming we can spot good theologians by their clerical garb or credentials. We have to measure them by their fidelity to the gospel. On the other hand, if they’re wrong about the gospel, they might as well be wrong about everything.
In Luke 23 we observe an encounter between Christ and a truly great theologian. His brief, four-verse cameo succinctly communicates a tremendous wealth of doctrinal truth. In fact, widely-celebrated scholars have spent thousands of pages muddling what this man clearly enunciated in three short sentences.
One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39–43)
The thief on the cross presents us with a basic but powerful systematic theology. His words give us a synopsis of essential gospel truth.
The Fear of the Lord
The first essential truth the repentant thief (from now on referred to as “the thief”) understood was that God should be feared. In fact, his first recorded words are a stern rebuke to the unrepentant thief: “Do you not fear God?” (Luke 23:40). John MacArthur points out that this sudden outburst represented a startling change considering both thieves had earlier hurled insults at Christ in unison (Matthew 27:44).
He confronted the tragic condition that only moments before had been his own. In a moment, he went from being part of it to being unable to comprehend it. He was convicted by the Holy Spirit that he was a violator of God’s law. By his own admission, his sentence from a human judge was fair and just, and he realized that the torment he was enduring for breaking the law was insignificant compared to what he could expect for his sin from the divine Judge. He was afraid, not of those who were destroying his body, but of God, who would destroy both his body and his soul in hell (Luke 12:4–5).
It is characteristic for the unregenerate to have no fear of God (Romans 3:18). But the conviction wrought by the power of the Spirit of God produces a holy fear of divine judgment. Convicted sinners cry out like the repentant tax collector in Luke 18:13, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” True salvation is not from material poverty or poor self-esteem, but from God’s wrath, justice, and judgment. 
As the thief faced the just consequences of his wicked lifestyle, he clung to the foundation of all true knowledge—“the fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:7). He heeded Solomon’s counsel: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7). That was clearly evident in his refusal to join the chorus of unbelievers surrounding him.
The words of the thief stand in stark contrast to the blasphemous utterances coming from everyone else around him. The unrepentant thief, the Jewish rulers, and the Roman soldiers were all scornful and irreverent in their mockery of Christ. Their behavior showed no fear of God whatsoever—if anything, they were gleefully venting their unbelief.
The Jewish “rulers were sneering at Him, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One’” (Luke 23:35). The Roman “soldiers also mocked Him . . . saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’” (Luke 23:36). The unrepentant thief “was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’” (Luke 23:39). Their taunting statements eerily echo Satan: “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3); “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here” (Luke 4:9).
Those disparate people shared one thing in common: they refused to acknowledge the deity of Christ. They would only worship God on their terms, according to the evidence they demanded. They stood in judgment over who God is and how He reveals Himself. In essence, they established themselves as sovereign over the Lord and Creator of the universe.
In a situation where all the visible power on display belonged to those on the ground—religious leaders, political rulers, and Roman soldiers—the thief made his appeal to the Man hanging beside him. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42). Surrounded by sneering human authorities, the thief recognized who was really in charge, and cried out to the King of God’s kingdom.
Note also that the thief didn’t make demands or deliver ultimatums. He recognized the Lord Jesus as Messiah, and pleaded with Him for his soul. The thief understood the guilt he bore, and the righteousness of the One crucified next to him: “This man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). And although he hadn’t read a book on the attributes of God—he probably couldn’t even read—the thief could recognize true sovereign authority when he saw it.
What we initially see in the thief’s cry of repentance and faith is a healthy, reverential fear of God. It’s the starting point of all good theology, and it set him on a path that culminated with his humble willingness to beg for forgiveness and salvation. His right view of God led him to, among other things, a right view of himself and his sin.
And that’s where we will pick it up next time.
Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B180323
COPYRIGHT ©2018 Grace to You
You may reproduce this Grace to You content for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Grace to You’s Copyright Policy (http://www.gty.org/about#copyright).
“You drive for show and putt for the dough.”
That’s a popular golfing proverb with more than a grain of truth to it. You can have every other technical detail locked down. But if you can’t master the basics and complete the fundamental goal, the rest of your proficiency is wasted and irrelevant. And that’s not just a problem for golfers—it’s a serious fault with many theologians today.
Plenty of celebrated theologians can wax eloquent about doctrinal fine points, but they can’t simply explain how a person can have his or her sins forgiven. They may be proficient in Hebrew and Greek, able to decipher the timing of Daniel’s seventieth week, and even know all the finer points of second-temple Judaism. But the clarity and simplicity of the gospel message eludes them—it’s lost in a sea of caveats and qualifiers.
We’ve devoted plenty of time on this blog to the immense dangers of gospel minimization and oversimplification. But overcomplicating the message of salvation is no less dangerous.
We recently asked John MacArthur about theological overcomplication and the need to keep the gospel pure and clear. His response points us to an outstanding theologian who displayed rare expertise. Surprisingly, this great Christian thinker didn’t go to seminary. In fact, he probably never went to school at all.
We should never complicate a message that’s meant to be clear and accessible to all people. The repentant thief, who spoke with Jesus while the two hung side by side at Calvary, provides a powerful biblical example of uncomplicated excellence in the theology of salvation.
His brief conversation with Jesus—just four verses (Luke 23:40–43)—reveals that this criminal was a theologian of the highest order when it came to matters of first importance. He clearly understood the essentials of theology, anthropology, eschatology, Christology, and soteriology.
Please join us in the days ahead as we examine “The Theology of the Thief.”
Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B180321
COPYRIGHT ©2018 Grace to You
You may reproduce this Grace to You content for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Grace to You’s Copyright Policy (http://www.gty.org/about#copyright).
“We’re losing the nerve to call people to repentance.”
That’s what a retired pastor recently told me, expressing his concern that while the next generation loves to champion the unconditional love and grace of God, rarely does their message include Christ’s call to repentance. Younger pastors, he said, want to meet people where they are, in whatever mess they’re in, and let the Spirit clean them up later. God will deal with their sins down the road.
But in the Gospels, Jesus seems much more extreme. His good news was the announcement of God’s kingdom, and the first word to follow? “Repent!” No wonder Jesus didn’t tell the rich young ruler to walk with Him for a while until he stopped coveting. No, He got to the root of an unrepentant heart when He said, “Sell all your possessions and give them to the poor.” In other words, Repent. Turn around.
“I’m cheering for the next generation,” the pastor said, “but I feel like an ogre for stressing repentance all the time.”
Maybe you feel like that pastor. You’re concerned that the evangelical church is shaving off the hard edges of the gospel. You agree with the sentiment recently expressed by Kevin DeYoung, that repentance has become the “missing word in our gospel.” And yet you are concerned that that you may appear harsh and unloving if you stress repentance. Shouldn’t we just focus on grace?
Who Separated Grace and Repentance?
Here’s where we so easily take a wrong turn. Wherever did we get the notion that the call to repentance is opposed to the championing of grace? When did truth and grace get separated? Or repentance and faith?
To think that the message of grace and the call of repentance are opposed to one another is to miss the beautiful, grace-filled nature of what repentance actually is. The call to repent is one of greatest expressions of the love of God.
Christians, We Are Repenters
During the years I spent doing mission work in Romania, I came to see myself not only as a Christian, but as a repenter – a derogatory term applied to Romanian evangelicals, but one that was embraced as an accurate description of the full Christian life. Martin Luther kicked off the Protestant Reformation by reclaiming this truth, that the whole of the Christian life is to be one of repentance.
That’s why it puzzles me whenever I hear Christians talk about repentance as if it’s a harsh word that needs to be “balanced” by grace and love. We could make the case that grace is even more scandalous and offensive. And love in action, as Dostoevsky wrote, is a harsh and fearful thing compared to love in dreams.
God’s Compassion Behind His Command
For some reason, Christians frequently pit God’s compassion over against God’s command. No, no, no. God’s compassion doesn’t do away with His command. God’s compassion is the basis for His command. God commands us to repent not because He is an angry tyrant who wants to squash our fun, but because He is a loving Father who wants our best.
Our youngest child is four. Let’s say that his idea of fun is taking toys and stuffing them into the wall outlets at home. As his father, I raise my voice and say, “Son, stop! Don’t do that again.” His four-year-old mind may wonder why I’m making such a big deal of his little game. Why is Daddy being firm? Why does he sound so mean? Why is he squelching my fun? Imagine a counselor who comes along and says, “You know, a father needs to show some compassion. You need to show grace.”
Amen to compassion and amen to grace! The question is: What form does grace take on in this situation? Would it be compassionate for a father to let his son run into danger? Would it be gracious to fail to warn a child of painful consequences? No. The father’s command—his warning and the raising of his voice—is not a failure of compassion, but the very way he demonstrates his love for his son.
The Call to Repentance as an Expression of Grace
Likewise, when we call people to repent, we are not opposing God’s grace; we are expressing it. The kindness of the Lord is behind His call to repentance.
When you read the Old Testament prophets, you see that their main message is Repent or else! But read a little closer. Their call is far from the comic strip with the long-haired prophet walking around casually with a sign, clear on the message but cold and distant to the reader. The striking aspect about the warnings we find in the prophets is how often God’s anger is expressed in a context of grieving and weeping. The angry, fiery God of judgment is the spurned Husband who wants to woo back His wayward people from the brink of destruction.
The call to repentance is the call to return home. It’s the call to be refreshed by our tears. It’s the call to be cleansed from all our guilty stains. We need the scalpel of the Spirit to do surgery on our diseased hearts, so that we can be restored to spiritual health.
Don’t pit the call to repentance against the championing of grace. Jesus didn’t. Paul didn’t. We shouldn’t either.
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.” [Citation Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, The Definitive Edition, Translated by Susan Massotty (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1995), 333.] Those are heartbreaking words for a couple of reasons.
They were penned by Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl, while she spent two years hiding in Nazi-occupied Holland. She died tragically in a concentration camp soon after, but her writings would go on posthumously to become a widely celebrated bestseller: The Diary of a Young Girl.
It’s staggering to think that in spite of the unimaginable atrocities she must have witnessed and experienced, she still clung to the belief that people are basically good. She even admitted her beliefs were “in spite of” the evidence, not because of it. For her, the alternative was simply too unthinkable. It would seem her beliefs hinged more on hope than conviction.
The other reason Anne Frank’s words are so heartbreaking is because she believed a widespread and popular lie.
The belief that people are basically good is an ancient falsehood going back to the fourth-century AD. It was first propagated, at least in a theological sense, by a British monk called Pelagius. He fervently and persuasively argued against the biblical doctrine of original sin—the belief that all of mankind has been morally corrupted through Adam’s fall.
The Pelagian heresy was defeated at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. But Pelagius’s beliefs have been readily imbibed by most secular cultures and are alive and well in the present day. Atheism and Darwinism may have toned it down by embracing an anthropology of moral neutrality rather than goodness. But their worldview remains essentially Pelagian because they still deny the inherent sinfulness of man.
In that sense, Pelagius still stalks the hallways of government, higher education, and the mainstream media. Most foreign policy disasters are connected to the naïve assumption that people are basically good. Welfare programs flounder because of beneficiaries who prefer to extort the system rather than behave ethically. Psychologists continue to exclude the possibility of a sinful nature from their study of the human experience. Behavioral experts relentlessly try to solve bad behavior with better education. And society at large is now burdened with a younger generation that identifies as victims rather than perpetrators, refusing to be held accountable for its actions.
The realm of parenting has also been poisoned by the belief that people are basically good. Our children should be the greatest empirical proof of original sin. After all, we don’t have to teach them to lie, throw tantrums, or be selfish—they are all born with ready-made expertise in sinning. But like Anne Frank, many parents prefer to believe in the inherent goodness of their kids despite the massive weight of evidence to the contrary. Consequently, appeasement and medication have usurped the role of discipline in far too many families.
We get an even harsher dose of reality when we honestly assess our own lives. God has written His morality upon our hearts and consciences (Romans 2:14–15)—we instinctively know right from wrong. But we live with the natural desire to rebel against what we know is right. Those who choose to deny this truth end up affirming it through their denial anyway.
Clearly then, the Pelagian lie is incredibly pervasive in the world. Churches thus carry an enormous responsibility to repudiate it. Unfortunately, that isn’t happening. The belief that people are basically good is now a thriving heresy in some of the most popular churches in America.
Bethel Church in Redding, California, is a prime example. Pastored by Bill Johnson, Bethel is perhaps the most influential charismatic church in the country. They are most widely known for their Jesus Culture music, testimonies of trips to heaven, gold dust “miracles” pouring out of their ventilation system, and many other bizarre claims and antics. But undergirding these strange recent phenomena is well-worn ancient heresy.
Eric Johnson (the son of Bill Johnson) is one of the pastors on staff at Bethel. In his sermon “The Joy of Consecration,”  he argues:
You’re not born evil. It’s amazing how many teachings and theologies start with that thought. Anytime you start with that you will create a controlling, manipulative environment.
Every government, every structure . . . every system fundamentally and theologically must start with the concept and the idea that people are good and they mean to do good. Even if they are not saved, we have to start from that premise.
Like a pope speaking ex cathedra, Eric Johnson usurps the clear teaching of Scripture and insists on redefining it according to his own theological preferences. And just to make himself clear, Johnson explicitly restates his Pelagian worldview later in the sermon:
We have to adjust our theology. We have to adjust our fundamental stance when we look at people. . . . We have to adjust our perspective of people. We have to realize that people are good and they mean to do good.
Johnson’s error is nothing short of catastrophic. In one fell swoop he has made repentance redundant in the lives of his massive audience and completely obliterated the reason for the gospel. His false gospel will damn those who embrace it.
Man Is Totally Depraved
The undeniable truth is that man is totally depraved. That doesn’t mean unregenerate sinners are incapable of doing anything good or noble. But it does mean that sin has permeated every part of their nature, and even the seemingly good things they do are ultimately done with sinful motives.
Keeping one’s head in the proverbial sand is the only way to ignore the doctrine of total depravity. It is the reason we have arguments, assaults, and wars. It’s the reason we need governments, police, and the military. It’s the reason for locks on our doors, walls around our prisons, and armed guards at our borders.
And the wrong things people do aren’t because of ignorance or a lack of education. Sinners deliberately rebel against what they know to be true about God and His righteousness. As the Lord Jesus Himself said,
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19–20)
As far back as Genesis 6—prior to God’s judgment in the Flood—the depravity of man’s sinful heart was obvious. “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
The apostle Paul delivered a powerful reminder to all believers that the primary struggle for unbelievers is never the lack of evidence for God, but their love for every form of defiance against Him.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18–20)
Atheism, Darwinism, hedonism, and victimhood are all excuses for the fact that people love sin, hate God, and refuse to be held accountable for their guilt. And that’s because all people are sinners by nature—a nature passed on to every descendant of Adam after the Fall (Genesis 3). “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). “Through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19).
In his book The Gospel According to Paul, John MacArthur explains the imputation of Adam’s sin to all of his descendants:
All humanity was plunged into this guilty condition because of Adam’s sin. “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19). This is the doctrine of original sin, a truth that is expounded by Paul in Romans 5:12–19. . . . We prove our willing complicity in Adam’s rebellion every time we sin. And since no one other than Jesus has ever lived a sinless life, no one is really in a position to doubt the doctrine of original sin, much less deem it unjust. 
We need to abandon the lie that people are basically good, and instead embrace the truth that man is totally depraved. Understandably, it is an unsavory subject for most people. And without the gospel, it is only bad news.
But without the bad news, the gospel becomes strange and nonsensical. The cross becomes confusing. And there is no good reason for Christ to die as a sin-bearing substitute. If mankind is basically good, the gospel is an unnecessary farce, and the death of Christ a tragic waste. Choosing to deny the imputation of Adam’s sin demands that you also reject the imputation of our sin to Christ, and the imputation of His righteousness to our account. It cuts you off from the Savior, and any hope of salvation.
Ultimately, the difference between believing the soothing lie of Pelagius or the harsh truth of depravity is the doctrinal divide that separates heaven from hell.
Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B180308
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