Category Archives: Daily Devotional Guide

August 17 Molded by the Master

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 18:1–6

Key Verse: Jeremiah 18:4

The vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.

Young Christians often complain that the Christian growth process is slow and tedious. They become discouraged and stop growing because they want instant knowledge without exerting any effort. Seasoned Christians have some of the same difficulties only in a different way. They perceive themselves as having all the knowledge necessary to live the Christian life, so they stop growing and risk becoming hardened to the intimate love of God.

The Lord has a solution for both of these spiritual abnormalities. It is called being molded into the likeness of Christ, and it’s much more than a one- or two-year process. It is a process through which we grow abundantly as children of God. There is no time for boredom or pride because we are too much in love with Christ.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote: “God will never disappoint us. He loves us and has only one purpose for us: holiness, which in His kingdom equals joy.” Holiness is a priority with God. When we seek to be like Christ, we seek holiness.

But to become holy, we must submit ourselves to the shaping and molding of God’s loving hands. Clay cries out to be molded into something of beauty. The Potter longs to mold and shape your life. Allow Him to take whatever time He needs to create in you joy and devotion of immeasurable worth.

Heavenly Father, mold me into the likeness of Your Son. The clay of my spiritual being cries out to be made into something of beauty.[1]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (1999). On holy ground (p. 240). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

August 17 A Casual View of Sin

Scripture reading: Romans 6:1–7

Key verse: Romans 6:12

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.

How do you describe sin? Separation from God? Yielding to temptation? The bottom line to sin is rebellion against God where we make a conscious decision to step away from what we know is God’s best for us.

Is anyone immune to temptation? No. Even Jesus was tempted to trust His own strength above the provision of God. However, the Son of God was not swayed by Satan’s lies. He refused to listen to the enemy’s words as viable options. Instead, He used Scripture as proof that God was and is sufficient for every need we have.

Sin begins when we fail to see God as our Provider. The enemy whispers lies, stating that we need something more than what we have. He appeals to our five senses (touching, hearing, smelling, tasting, and seeing) and sets emotional traps for us along the way, knowing that we will see his mile markers and be weakened in our desires to have and hold more than what God has provided.

Sin answers the call of misguided desires. Satan stands ready to aid in your wandering, but don’t look to him to help or encourage you when your world falls apart. He will only condemn and ridicule you for your blundering.

Only God is loving enough to rescue one of His wandering flock. Have you strayed? If so, turn back to Jesus, and you will find Him waiting for you.

I reject the lies of the enemy. You are my Provider, God. I thank You that all I need is in You.[1]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (2000). Into His presence (p. 240). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

August 17, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

Reconciliation Is by the Will of God

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, (5:18)

The phrase all these things points back to the immediately preceding section of this epistle, which described the total transformation taking place at conversion (vv. 14–17). In that passage Paul described believers’ death and resurrection in Christ as being transformed into new creatures. All these things, that is, those related to the transformation, come from God (cf. 1 Cor. 8:6; 11:12; James 1:17); sinners cannot be reconciled to Him on their own terms. Unregenerate people have no ability to appease God’s anger against sin, satisfy His holy justice, or conform to His standard of righteousness. They are guilty of fatally violating God’s law and face eternal banishment from His presence. The deadly, deceptive premise of all false religion is that sinners, based on their own moral and religious efforts and achievements, can reconcile themselves to God. But God alone designed the way of reconciliation, and only He can initiate the reconciliation of sinners; that God … reconciled us to Himself is precisely the good news of the gospel.

God so loved the world that He made the way of reconciliation. He desired to reconcile sinners to Himself—to make them His children. Such a desire is not foreign to God’s holy character but consistent with it. One of the glorious realities of God’s person is that He is a Savior by nature.

From before the foundation of the world, God freely and apart from outside influence determined to save sinners in order to eternally display the glory of His grace. He chose those He would rescue from His own wrath on sin and wrote their names in the Book of Life. He is no reluctant Savior; in fact, Scripture frequently gives Him that title (Ps. 106:21; Isa. 43:3, 11; 45:15, 21; 49:26; 60:16; 63:8; Hos. 13:4; Luke 1:47; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; Titus 1:3, 4; 2:10, 13; 3:4, 6; Jude 25).

From Genesis 3:8–9 where God said, “Where are you?” He has been seeking to save sinners. Ezekiel 34:16 says, “I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick.” He Himself is the eager reconciler, as Paul wrote to the Romans:

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Rom. 5:9–11)

It is to God’s plan through Jesus Christ that we owe the gratitude for our reconciliation.

Both the verb katallassō (reconciled) and the noun katallagē (reconciliation) appear in the New Testament only in Paul’s writings. The terms always portray God as the reconciler and sinners as the ones reconciled, since it was human sin that ruptured the relationship between God and man (cf. Isa. 59:2). In Romans 5:11 Paul declares, “We also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” To the Ephesians Paul wrote,

But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Eph. 2:13–16)

Colossians 1:20–22 affirms that God chose

through [Christ] to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.

Thus, reconciliation is not something man does but what he receives; it is not what he accomplishes but what he embraces. Reconciliation does not happen when man decides to stop rejecting God but when God decides to stop rejecting man. It is a divine provision by which God’s holy displeasure against alienated sinners is appeased, His hostility against them removed, and a harmonious relationship between Him and them established. Reconciliation occurs because God was graciously willing to design a way to have all the sins of those who are His removed from them “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12), “cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Mic. 7:19), and “cast all [their] sins behind [His] back” (Isa. 38:17).

In the most magnanimous expression of sacrificial love the universe will ever know, God reconciled believers to Himself through Christ; that is, at His expense. God the Son’s perfect sacrifice is the only one that could satisfy the demands of God the Father’s holy justice. Jesus Christ is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5; cf. Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24), and “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). God, for His own purpose and by His own will, designed the sacrificial death of His Son to reconcile believers to Himself:

But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Eph. 2:13–16)

“[Christ] has now reconciled [them] in His fleshly body through death,” making them “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” in the sight of God (Col. 1:22). “Now once at the consummation of the ages [Jesus Christ] has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26); “He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12). His sacrifice propitiated God’s holy wrath (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), making reconciliation possible.

It is to all reconciled people that God gives the ministry of reconciliation. This is equal to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19–20) and all calls to proclaim the gospel. Diakonia (ministry) denotes humble service, such as serving meals (cf. Luke 10:40; Acts 6:1). But though the messengers may be humble (see the discussion of 4:7 in chapter 10 of this volume), the message they proclaim to the lost world is the most exalted one ever proclaimed.[1]


18. All things are of God. He means, all things that belong to Christ’s kingdom. “If we would be Christ’s, we must be regenerated by God. Now that is no ordinary gift.” He does not, therefore, speak here of creation generally, but of the grace of regeneration, which God confers peculiarly upon his elect, and he affirms that it is of God—not on the ground of his being the Creator and Artificer of heaven and earth, but inasmuch as he is the new Creator of the Church, by fashioning his people anew, according to his own image. Thus all flesh is abased, and believers are admonished that they must now live to God, inasmuch as they are a new creature. (verse 17.) This they cannot do, unless they forget the world, as they are also no longer of the world, (John 17:16,) because they are of God.

Who hath reconciled us. Here there are two leading points—the one relating to the reconciliation of men with God; and the other, to the way in which we may enjoy the benefit of this reconciliation. Now these things correspond admirably with what goes before, for as the Apostle had given the preference to a good conscience above every kind of distinction, (verse 11,) he now shows that the whole of the gospel tends to this. He shows, however, at the same time, the dignity of the Apostolical office, that the Corinthians may be instructed as to what they ought to seek in him, whereas they could not distinguish between true and false ministers, for this reason, that nothing but show delighted them. Accordingly, by making mention of this, he stirs them up to make greater proficiency in the doctrine of the gospel. For an absurd admiration of profane persons, who serve their own ambition rather than Christ, originates in our not knowing, what the office of the preaching of the gospel includes, or imports.

I now return to those two leading points that are here touched upon. The first is—that God hath reconciled us to himself by Christ. This is immediately followed by the declaration—Because God was in Christ, and has in his person accomplished reconciliation. The manner is subjoined—By not imputing unto men their trespasses. Again, there is annexed a second declaration—Because Christ having been made a sin-offering for our sins, has procured righteousness for us. The second part of the statement is—that the grace of reconciliation is applied to us by the gospel, that we may become partakers of it. Here we have a remarkable passage, if there be any such in any part of Paul’s writings. Hence it is proper, that we should carefully examine the words one by one.

The ministry of reconciliation. Here we have an illustrious designation of the gospel, as being an embassy for reconciling men to God. It is also a singular dignity of ministers—that they are sent to us by God with this commission, so as to be messengers, and in a manner sureties. This, however, is not said so much for the purpose of commending ministers, as with a view to the consolation of the pious, that as often as they hear the gospel, they may know that God treats with them, and, as it were, stipulates with them as to a return to his grace. Than this blessing what could be more desirable? Let us therefore bear in mind, that this is the main design of the gospel—that whereas we are by nature children of wrath, (Eph. 2:3,) we may, by the breaking up of the quarrel between God and us, be received by him into favour. Ministers are furnished with this commission, that they may bring us intelligence of so great a benefit, nay more, may assure us of God’s fatherly love towards us. Any other person, it is true, might also be a witness to us of the grace of God, but Paul teaches, that this office is specially intrusted to ministers. When, therefore, a duly ordained minister proclaims in the gospel, that God has been made propitious to us, he is to be listened to just as an ambassador of God, and sustaining, as they speak, a public character, and furnished with rightful authority for assuring us of this.[2]


18 The unemphatic particle (de) at the head of this sentence marks a further development in the writer’s line of thought. Paul begins by affirming that God is the source of all things (“All things [are] from God”). He then declares God to be the subject of two acts:5 (1) his action by which he “reconciled us to himself through Christ,” and (2) his gift to “us” of “the ministry of reconciliation.”

But all things are from

 

God,

 

   
  who reconciled

 

us to himself

 

 
      through Christ

 

  and gave

 

us the ministry of

 

      reconciliation.

 

Whereas verses 14–17 were christocentric, v. 18, with v. 19, is theocentric. God is the subject of the verbs in these verses, most strikingly of the verb “reconcile,” which has “the world” as its object in v. 19. The assertion “All things [are] from God” (cf. 1 Cor 8:6; 11:12b) appears to apply particularly to God’s action in reconciling “the world” to himself. “All things” also picks up the “all” for whom Christ died in vv. 14, and 15, as well as the cosmological “new creation” of v. 17.

Christ, however, is the agent of the reconciling work that emanates from God. In vv. 14–17 are clustered universal (“all”—vv. 14, 15) and cosmological (“new creation”—v. 17) categories in consequence of the eschatological action (“no longer … now”—vv. 15–17) in which Christ died and was raised (vv. 14–15). In 5:18–6:2 Paul declares that cosmological reconciliation (“of the world”—v. 19) has been achieved “through Christ” (v. 18), signaling a new eschatological and soteriological moment (“now is the day of salvation”). Nothing could be clearer than that Christ—crucified and risen (vv. 14–15)—is the locus and the means of fulfilling God’s purposes for history, humanity, and the world and creation.

Since “all things” flow “from God” and are brought to pass “though Christ,” it follows that God and Christ are in perfect agreement, sharing the same mind as to the needs of humanity and the world, and what should be done to meet those needs.

The phrase “through Christ” is explained by the wider context as “through Christ’s death” (vv. 14, 15, 21; cf. “we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son”—Rom 5:10). This is supported by the parallel phrase in the next verse, namely, “not counting their sins against them.” It is through Christ’s death, by which he does not count sins against people, that God has reconciled the world to himself. This is made clear in the climactic text, v. 21, where, on account of the sinless one being “made … sin, we become the righteousness of God.” The relational blessing (“reconciliation with God”) rests on forensic forgiveness (“righteousness”), as in the parallel passage in Romans where “being reconciled to God” (5:10) depends on “being justified” (5:1, 9). Here the aorist tense, “reconciled,” is significant, pointing to the completed character of the divine action. God has effected reconciliation objectively, prior to and independent of subsequent human response, and, indeed, in the face of human hostility (see Rom 5:8, 10). By his initiative God has dealt with the trespasses that alienated humankind from him, removing from his side the obstacle to peace with him, his settled displeasure (“wrath”) aroused by human sin.

With v. 18 is introduced into this letter—and indeed into Paul’s epistolary corpus—the theme of “reconciliation,” whose most extensive treatment occurs here (but see also Rom 5:10–11; cf. Rom 11:15; Eph 2:16; Col 1:20, 22). In vv. 18–21 the verb “reconcile” or the noun “reconciliation” occurs no less than five times.

Reconciliation, one of the blessings of the end time, is, like all the eschatological blessings of God, “realized” in Christ “now.” This cosmic restoration (cf. Rom 11:15), while pointing ultimately to the reordering of all that is chaotic and distorted in the created world alienated from God and hostile to him, here applies specifically to human alienation from God. It is “their trespasses” that are “not reckoned to them.” Reconciliation with God, however, implies reconciliation among God’s people (cf. Eph 2:16), something Paul later calls “your mending” or restoration (13:9, 11). There is a close connection between “new creation” (v. 17) and “reconciliation”; both are cosmic and end-time blessings, and both impact humans, to be accepted and given expression “now.” Astonishingly, this cosmic reconciliation arises from a death, the death of that One (vv. 14–15) who, although without sin, was “made sin” by God to impute the “righteousness of God” to all who believe (5:21). The “righteousness of God,” too, appears to be a blessing of God belonging to the end time, which, however, has “now” been brought into the present “in Christ.”

Who, then, is the “us” whom God has reconciled to himself and to whom he has given the ministry of reconciliation? Is the second “us” to be, or not to be, identified with the first? Here there is no consensus among commentators. It is widely held that both references to “us” are to the community of believers. Some hold that the first “us” refers to Paul, with the second referring to believers.14 But most who do not equate the two references see the first pointing to the believing community, with the second pointing to the apostles.

In our view both references to “us” apply in the first instance to Paul, with the first reference also inclusive of all believers (as in 3:18; 4:14, 16–5:10). This verse belongs to a wider passage (5:11–6:13), that is implicitly or explicitly autobiographical and that brings to a climax Paul’s extended apologia for his apostolic office (2:14–7:4). As the passage moves on to its conclusion, the “we”/“us” references are unambiguously apostolic and personal (5:20–6:13). Paul the writer (“we”/“us”), who is defending himself to the Corinthians, also appeals directly to the Corinthians (“you”—5:20; 6:1, 11; cf. 5:12–13). The Corinthians are not those to whom the ministry and word of reconciliation have been given. Rather, they are to submit to that ministry and word, given to God’s minister, Paul (6:3–4), which is directed to them.

In short, Paul is here saying, autobiographically, “God reconciled me … gave to me the ministry of reconciliation.” But his words “reconciling the world” in the next verse immediately indicate that his words “reconciling us” are not narrowly autobiographical; he is speaking representatively for all believers (as also in vv. 14–17) and for “the world.” However, the clause, “and entrusted to us the word of reconciliation” (v. 19), balancing “and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,” suggests that this ministry/word is to be understood rather more narrowly, that is, as relating to Paul in his apostolic office. Paul, to whom God has given this ministry and word, will immediately address the Corinthians, calling directly on them to be reconciled to God and to his apostle (5:20–6:2, 11–13).

Consistent with the profoundly eschatological character of the passage 5:14–6:2 (“no longer … now”), God’s gift of this “ministry” (diakonia) must likewise be seen as eschatological. By means of the “one” who died for “all,” Christ, through whom God reconciled his enemies, God established his eschatological midpoint, his moment of “new creation” (v. 17). At that point he also established the ministry of reconciliation, which Paul earlier referred to as the ministry of a “new covenant” (3:6), a ministry of “the Spirit” and of “righteousness” (3:8, 9). As an apostle, Paul is “minister” in “this ministry” (4:1; cf. 6:3).[3]


5:18 / The new world order in Christ is from God in the sense that God took the initiative in providing it in accordance with his divine plan. Apocalyptic literature of the ot and early Judaism consistently emphasizes that in the last days God himself will intervene in world affairs to establish his kingdom. Ultimately, joint effort plays no part in this process; God is at work from start to finish.

God is described by means of two, parallel participial clauses that emphasize his reconciliatory deed, on the one hand, and the consequent reconciliatory word, on the other. About the deed, the first clause makes clear that participation in the new creation presupposes that God reconciled Paul to himself through the substitutionary death of Christ. Here again the apostle portrays his experience as prototypical of that of all believers (cf. 5:1, 16–17), although it is not impossible that the first person plural actually includes all believers at this point. As we have seen, Paul’s use of the first person plural can shift quite suddenly in any given context (cf. 1:3–11). But in verse 20, which draws an inference from the previous context, the first plural clearly refers to the apostle. Furthermore, the second participial clause almost certainly refers to Paul’s own ministry of reconciliation.

The verb reconciled is used in the sense of making peace between enemies (cf. Rom. 5:10–11; 1 Cor. 7:11). In Hellenistic-Jewish texts, it is hoped and prayed that God will turn away his wrath and reconcile himself either with individual people or with Israel as a whole (cf. 2 Macc. 1:4; 7:33; 8:29; Philo, On the Life of Moses 2.166; Josephus, Ant. 3.315). Ephesians 1:14–18 gives us an encompassing picture of the reconciliation that Christ, in his body, has accomplished between former enemies—between Jews and Gentiles, on the one hand, and between God and humanity, on the other—creating “one new man” and making “peace.” Likewise, according to Isaiah 53:5, the Suffering Servant of the Lord was expected to be “wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that brought us peace, and by his bruises we are healed” (O. Hofius). The “peace” of Isaiah 53:5 is the same as the “reconciliation” of which Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 5:18–21. The atoning, substitutionary death of Christ for sinners effects “peace with God” and “reconciliation” (Rom. 5:1–10). Hence, Paul begins his letters with the formulaic greeting that refers to this peace: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (e.g., 2 Cor. 1:2).

The second participial clause, about the reconciliatory word, shows the apostle’s involvement in proclaiming God’s reconciliatory deed: Paul has already used the word ministry (diakonia) and “minister” (diakonos) in the previous context to refer to his own ministry of the new covenant in contradistinction to Moses’ “ministry” of the old covenant (cf. 3:6, 7, 8, 9; 4:1). Here, too, he implies a typological comparison to Moses. Both Philo (On the Life of Moses 2.166; Questions and Answers on Exodus 2.49) and Josephus (Ant. 3.315) portray Moses as “reconciler” (katallaktēs, diallaktēs), in the sense that he intervened before God on behalf of the people after the golden calf incident (Exod. 32:11–13; cf. Exod. Rab. 43:2; Deut. Rab. 3:15). Paul sees himself as being commissioned with a similar ministry of reconciliation and mediation, although, as we shall see, Paul’s ministry is greater since it encompasses the whole world and comes solely from divine initiative. Paul’s role is primarily one of preaching the gospel and of persuading people (cf. 2 Cor. 5:11). On the way to Damascus, God himself revealed his Son to Paul and gave Paul the commission to preach the gospel of the Son of God among the nations (Gal. 1:16). When Paul states that God gave him the ministry of reconciliation, this is another way of saying that he has an apostolic office directly from God.[4]


18. allGreek, “the.”

things—all our privileges in this new creation (2 Co 5:14, 15).

reconciled us—that is, restored us (“the world,” 2 Co 5:19) to His favor by satisfying the claims of justice against us. Our position judicially considered in the eye of the law is altered, not as though the mediation of Christ had made a change in God’s character, nor as if the love of God was produced by the mediation of Christ; nay, the mediation and sacrifice of Christ was the provision of God’s love, not its moving cause (Ro 8:32). Christ’s blood was the price paid at the expense of God Himself, and was required to reconcile the exercise of mercy with justice, not as separate, but as the eternally harmonious attributes in the one and the same God (Ro 3:25, 26). The Greek “reconcile” is reciprocally used as in the Hebrew Hithpahel conjugation, appease, obtain the favor of. Mt 5:24, “Be reconciled to thy brother”; that is, take measures that he be reconciled to thee, as well as thou to him, as the context proves. Diallagethi, however (Mt 5:24), implying mutual reconciliation, is distinct from Katallagethi here, the latter referring to the change of status wrought in one of the two parties. The manner of God reconciling the world to Himself is implied (2 Co 5:19), namely, by His “not imputing their trespasses to them.” God not merely, as subsequently, reconciles the world by inducing them to lay aside their enmity, but in the first instance, does so by satisfying His own justice and righteous enmity against sin (Ps 7:11). Compare 1 Sa 29:4, “Reconcile himself unto his master”; not remove his own anger against his master, but his master’s against him [Archbishop Magee, Atonement]. The reconciling of men to God by their laying aside their enmity is the consequence of God laying aside His just enmity against their sin, and follows at 2 Co 5:20.

to us—ministers (2 Co 5:19, 20).[5]


18. And all things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

  • “And all things are from God.” No one can ever say that renewal has its origin in human beings, for Paul clearly teaches that God is the originator and source of renewal. God created all things through Christ Jesus (John 1:3; Col. 1:15–18; Heb. 1:2) and recreates all things for his children. They are in Christ Jesus, for God is the cause of their membership in the body of Christ (refer to 1 Cor. 1:30).
  • “Who reconciled us to himself through Christ.” This astounding statement reveals God’s infinite love. We offended God by breaking his commands and sinning against him. Therefore, the initiative for reconciliation should have come from us, for we are the offending party. Instead we read that God, as the offended party, reached out to us to achieve restoration of relationships. God took the initiative and completed the work of reconciliation before we, as sinners, began to respond to God’s gracious invitation to be reconciled to him (Rom. 5:10–11). In brief, God restored the relationship between himself and us, so that his new creation for us could be fully realized.

In apostolic times, the Jews believed that man had to initiate reconciliation with God, chiefly by prayer and confession of sin. For instance, the writer of II Maccabees uses the verb to reconcile four times, but all of them are in the passive voice. They disclose that human beings petition God to be reconciled to them.

By contrast, the New Testament teaches that God restores us to himself by “putting us in right relations with himself.” God is the subject and we are the object whenever the verb to reconcile is in the active voice. But when in the same context this verb is in the passive voice, we are the subject (see v. 20). God did not cause alienation between himself and us and, therefore, did not have to reconcile himself to us. Yet in love God reconciles us to himself through the atoning work of his Son Jesus Christ. For this reason, Paul says that God brings about restoration through Christ, that is, through Jesus’ redemptive work. The phrase through Christ alludes to his death and resurrection (vv. 14–15), which bring about both a new creation (v. 17) and a reconciliation (vv. 18–20).

  • “[God] has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” God himself commissioned Paul and his co-workers to acquaint the readers of this epistle with his work. God wants his servants to be engaged in a restorative ministry by preaching, teaching, and applying the gospel. For Paul, this is ministry of the Spirit of the living God (3:3, 8), and is glorious in bringing forth righteousness (3:9). Also, this ministry secures peace between God and human beings (Rom. 5:1, 10; Col. 1:20; see Acts 20:24). Peace is the result of restoring personal relations that were broken and is “a denotation of the all-embracing gift of salvation.”[6]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2003). 2 Corinthians (pp. 199–201). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Vol. 2, pp. 234–236). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (pp. 301–305). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] Scott, J. M. (2011). 2 Corinthians (pp. 136–138). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 309). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[6] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 19, pp. 194–195). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 17 Tenets of a Spiritual Walk

scripture reading: Colossians 3:5–10
key verse: Colossians 1:10

That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Walking in the Spirit certainly is not as simple as one, two, three; but a pyramid of biblical truth can help you keep step with His cadence.

When you walk in the Spirit, you are doing what God tells you to do. That entails a consistent reading and hearing of God’s Word and obedience to His commands. You progressively discover what the Spirit of truth reveals through the Scriptures.

When you walk in the Spirit, you are doing what God says to do and how He says to do it. Learning God’s methods comes only through systematic, persistent study of God’s Word. It is not enough to read His truth. You must investigate, explore, and examine His principles.

Finally you walk in the Spirit when you do what God says, how He says to achieve it, and why He says to accomplish it. You apply the why through deliberate meditation on God’s Word. You read and study, but then you delight in, revel in, and ponder the awesome truths designed to glorify Christ that it reveals.

Keep these cornerstone tenets in focus each day, and walking in the Spirit will become natural for you.

Heavenly Father, through Your Spirit, reveal to me today the what, how, and why of each situation. Help me apply the principles I learn in solitude to the hectic arena of my everyday life.[1]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (1998). Enter His gates: a daily devotional. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

17 august (1856) 365 Days with Spurgeon

Pride and humility

“Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honour is humility.” Proverbs 18:12

suggested further reading: Romans 12:3–6

What is humility? The best definition I have ever met with is, “to think rightly of ourselves.” Humility is to make a right estimate of one’s self. It is no humility for a man to think less of himself than he ought, though it might rather puzzle him to do that. Some persons, when they know they can do a thing, tell you they cannot; but you do not call that humility. A man is asked to take part in some meeting. “No,” he says, “I have no ability”; yet if you were to say so yourself, he would be offended at you. It is not humility for a man to stand up and depreciate himself and say he cannot do this, that, or the other, when he knows that he is lying. If God gives a man a talent, do you think the man does not know it? If a man has ten talents he has no right to be dishonest to his Maker, and to say, “Lord, thou hast only given me five.” It is not humility to underrate yourself. Humility is to think of yourself, if you can, as God thinks of you. It is to feel that if we have talents, God has given them to us, and let it be seen that, like freight in a vessel, they tend to sink us low. The more we have, the lower we ought to lie. Humility is not to say, “I have not this gift,” but it is to say, “I have the gift, and I must use it for my Master’s glory. I must never seek any honour for myself, for what have I that I have not received?”

for meditation: Pride can lead us to misuse God’s gifts for selfish ends. A false humility can lead to laziness and disobedience which causes someone else to have to do what we should be doing ourselves. The right balance is to serve the Lord with all humility as the apostle Paul could truthfully claim to have done (Acts 20:19).

sermon no. 97[1]


[1] Spurgeon, C. H., & Crosby, T. P. (1998). 365 Days with Spurgeon (Volume 1) (p. 236). Leominster, UK: Day One Publications.

17 AUGUST 365 Days with Calvin

Examining Ourselves for the Supper

But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 1 Corinthians 11:28

suggested further reading: 1 Peter 1:3–11

This teaching is drawn from the foregoing warning: “If those that eat unworthily are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, then let no man approach who is not properly and duly prepared. Let every one, therefore, take heed that he may not fall into this sacrilege through idleness or carelessness.” Now Paul exhorts us to an examination of another sort that may accord with the legitimate use of the sacred Supper.

You see here a method that is most easily understood. If you wish to rightly use the benefit afforded by Christ, bring to it faith and repentance. Trial must be made of these two things if you would come duly prepared. Under repentance I include love, for the person who has learned to so renounce himself that he gives himself wholly to Christ and his service will also, without doubt, carefully maintain that unity which Christ has directed.

At the same time, the faith or repentance that is required is not perfect, for some, by urging beyond due bounds a perfection that can nowhere be found, would forever shut out every individual from the Supper. If, however, you seek after the righteousness of God with the earnest desire of your mind, and, humbled by a view of your misery, do wholly lean upon Christ’s grace, you may rest upon it, knowing that through him you are a worthy guest to approach the Table. You are worthy in this respect, that the Lord does not exclude you, even though from another point of view something in you is not what it ought to be. For faith, even when it is just begun, makes worthy those who were unworthy.

for meditation: The Lord’s Supper is not for those who are perfect. It is for those who are sinners but who have repented of their sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Thus, examination for Communion is not a search for perfection but a search for a living relationship with Christ; only through his merits may we attend his Supper. Do you practice such examination before Communion?[1]


[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 248). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

August 17, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

Prophetic Confirmation

and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?… And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” (1:41b–43, 45)

Like her unborn son, Elizabeth too was filled with the Holy Spirit. As mentioned earlier, such filling was often connected to speaking a message from God. In 2 Samuel 23:2, David declared, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.” After John’s birth “Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied” (1:67; cf. vv. 68–79). Simeon

came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” (2:27–32)

Acts 2:4 records that on the day of Pentecost the believers “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues [recognized foreign languages; vv. 8–11], as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” Later in Acts,

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8–12)

After Peter and John were threatened and released by the Sanhedrin, the believers “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). The writers of Scripture were “men moved by the Holy Spirit [who] spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).

After being filled with the Spirit Elizabeth cried out with a loud (a term associated with the speaking of divine truth in such passages as John 1:15; 7:28; 37; Rom. 9:27) voice. She literally shouted out the message God gave her, both from excitement over its content, and to emphasize its authority. What followed was a hymn of praise, the first of five associated with Christ’s birth that Luke records (cf. 1:46–55, 67–79; 2:14, 25–32). This hymn of praise pronounced blessing on Mary, her child, Elizabeth herself, and ultimately everyone who believes God’s word.

The phrase blessed are you among women is a Hebrew superlative expression that describes Mary as the most blessed of all women (cf. Judg. 5:24). In Hebrew culture, a woman’s status was based to a great extent on her children; her significance was directly tied to their significance. Thus, when a woman wanted to honor Mary, she called out to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed” (Luke 11:27). Elizabeth’s point was that Mary was the most blessed woman of all because she would bear the greatest child. Although Gabriel had informed Zacharias that their own son would be great, Elizabeth humbly acknowledged that Mary’s would be greater. Elizabeth’s child would be Messiah’s forerunner, but Mary’s was the Messiah. Thus, Elizabeth acknowledged that Mary had received the greater privilege and the greater honor. Being a righteous woman (1:6), she was thrilled not only at the privilege of bearing Messiah’s forerunner, but even more so that Messiah was coming.

Elizabeth then blessed Mary’s Son, crying out, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb!” That familiar Old Testament phrase (cf. Gen. 30:2; Deut. 7:13; Ps. 127:3; Isa. 13:18), used only here in the New Testament, refers to the holy Child that Mary would bear. He is the Messiah (John 4:25–26); the Savior of the world (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14); the recipient of all of heaven’s praise (Heb. 1:6); the one who is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:26); the one whom “God highly exalted … and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9); the one who will inherit all that the Father possesses (John 16:15; 17:10); the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8).

Elizabeth’s exclamation of wonder and awe, “And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” is in effect a pronouncement of blessing on herself. In her true humility, she felt unworthy to be in the presence of such an honored person (cf. Luke 5:8). That Elizabeth, still speaking under the control of the Holy Spirit, referred to Mary’s Son as my Lord attests to His deity. Lord is a divine title, used more than two dozen times in the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel to refer to God. Therefore, to call Jesus Lord is first to call Him God (cf. John 20:28). Later the emphasis will include the consequent total submission to His sovereign lordship (6:46).

Despite the teaching and liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, the New Testament nowhere gives Mary the title “mother of God.” God, being eternal (Gen. 21:33; Deut. 33:27; Ps. 90:2; Isa. 40:28; Hab. 1:12; Rom. 16:26), was never conceived or born, but has always existed. Mary was the mother of the human Jesus, not His eternal divine nature.

Elizabeth’s closing statement, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord,” supplements her earlier blessing of Mary. Mary was blessed not only because of her privilege in being the mother of the Messiah, but also because of her faith in believing that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord. But Elizabeth’s use of the third person pronoun she broadens the blessing beyond Mary to encompass all who believe that God fulfills His promises.

Mary is not the mother of God, or the queen of heaven. She plays no role in the redemption of sinners, and does not intercede for them or hear their prayers. But she is a model of faith, humility, and submission to God’s will. She is an example to all believers of how to respond obediently, joyfully, and worshipfully to the Word of God. Therein lies her true greatness.[1]


45. And blessed is she that believed. It was by a hidden movement of the Spirit, as is evident from a former statement of Luke, that Elisabeth spoke. The same Spirit declares that Mary is blessed because she believed, and by commending Mary’s faith, informs us generally in what the true happiness of men consists. Mary was blessed, because, embracing in her heart the promise of God, she conceived and brought forth a Saviour to herself and to the whole world. This was peculiar to her: but as we have not a drop of righteousness, life, or any other benefit, except so far as the Lord presents them to us in his Word, it is faith alone that rescues us from the lowest poverty and misery, and makes us partakers of true happiness.

There is great weight in this clause, for there shall be a fulfilment to those things which have been told her. The meaning is, faith gives way to the divine promises, that they may obtain their accomplishment in us. The truth of God certainly does not depend on the will of men, but God remains always true, (Rom. 3:4,) though the whole world—unbelievers and liars—should attempt to ruin his veracity. Yet, as unbelievers are unworthy to obtain the fruit of the promises, so Scripture teaches us, that by faith alone they are powerful for our salvation. God offers his benefits indiscriminately to all, and faith opens its bosom to receive them; while unbelief allows them to pass away, so as not to reach us. If there had been any unbelief in Mary, that could not prevent God from accomplishing his work in any other way which he might choose. But she is called blessed, because she received by faith the blessing offered to her, and opened up the way to God for its accomplishment; while faith, on the other hand, shuts the gate, and restrains his hand from working, that they who refuse the praise due to its power may not feel its saving effect. We must observe also the relation between the word and faith, from which we learn that, in the act of believing, we give our assent to God who speaks to us, and hold for certain what he has promised to us that he will do. The phrase, by the Lord, is of the same import with an expression in common use, on the part of God; for the promise had been brought by the angel, but proceeded from God alone. Hence we infer that, whether God employs the ministrations of angels or of men, he wishes equal honour to be paid to his Word as if he were visibly descending from heaven.[2]


45 “Blessed” describes the happy situation of those God favors. Elizabeth gave the blessing Zechariah’s muteness prevented him from giving. See vv. 68–79 for the blessing he later pronounced on the infant Jesus. Luke uses the blessing Elizabeth gave Mary to call attention to Mary’s faith.

The way in which v. 45 supplements v. 42 is noteworthy. In v. 42, Mary is called the “blessed” one because of her maternal relationship with her son Jesus. In v. 45, however, Mary is recognized to be truly “blessed” because of her faith in and obedience to God. The same contrast is developed later in the Lukan material. In 8:19–21, for example, Jesus redefines family relationship in terms of one’s faith in and obedience to God: “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (v. 21).[3]


45 Elizabeth’s second pronouncement of blessing employs the term known to us especially from the Beatitudes: “blessed”—spoken over those who are judged to possess what is necessary for a joyful life and especially over those who are the recipients of God’s gift of redemption. While the basis of the former “blessing” was Mary’s motherhood and, thus, signal role in the realization of God’s purpose, here she is declared fortunate because of her faith. The contrast with Zechariah could scarcely be more stark: he did not believe but she did; and in any case, it is affirmed, what had been spoken would come to pass. Elizabeth speaks to Mary of what had been spoken “by the Lord,” thus emphasizing the fact that Gabriel had delivered God’s own message. The result of this wording is to underscore first Mary’s response of faith and, second, the certainty surrounding the fulfillment of the divine purpose.

It is notable that Elizabeth’s first blessing is in the second person (“Blessed are you …”), while the second blessing is in the third (“Blessed is she …”). Thus are others invited to respond, like Mary, with faith.[4]


45. And blessed is she who believed,

Because there will be a fulfilment of the words

Spoken to her by the Lord.

Although the rendering “And blessed is she who believed that there will be,” etc., is also possible, the first translation has the following in its favor:

  1. The positive assurance that God is going to fulfil his promises to Mary is a more solid ground, a more valid reason, for calling her “blessed” than her own subjective faith in the fulfilment of these promises.
  2. “Blessed is she who believed” is a richer expression than “Blessed is she who believed that,” etc. The first rendering more definitely than the second describes Mary as a woman of faith.
  3. “Blessed is she who believed” is in line with “Blessed are those who, though not seeing, are yet believing” (John 20:29). See also Gen. 15:6 (cf. Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6, 9; James 2:23).
  4. As to conciseness of phraseology, the beatitude “Blessed is she who believed” is also more in line with the familiar beatitudes of Luke 6:20 f., cf. Matt. 5:1 f.
  5. Finally, the construction, “Blessed is she who believed,” describes more adequately than does its alternative what had been Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s message.

That reaction, it will be recalled, had been: first, alarm and astonishment (verse 29); then, an earnest request for an explanation (verse 34); and finally, the complete surrender that characterizes the person who lives by the rule, “Trust and obey” (verse 38). For the rest, see the note on verse 45 on p. 99.

As to … “there will be a fulfilment,” etc., note the following: the words of the Lord (via Gabriel) recorded in 1:31a, 35a (unique conception) had already been fulfilled, and the promises contained in 31b, 32, 33, 35b (still largely unfulfilled) were going to be realized, as the rest of the Gospels, etc., abundantly prove.

What deserves special attention is this outstanding fact, namely, that in Elizabeth’s entire exuberant exclamation (verses 41b–45) envy never raises its head. Elizabeth was, after all, much older than Mary (cf. 1:7, 18, 36 with 2:5). Yet this aged woman is deeply conscious of her own unworthiness and genuinely rejoices in the joy of her much younger relative!

How can this complete absence of the begrudging attitude be explained? The answer is found in 1 Cor. 13:4: “Love does not envy.” Is not this a good reason for calling this poem “Elizabeth’s Song of Love”?[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2009). Luke 1–5 (pp. 69–72). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 1, pp. 50–51). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Liefeld, W. L., & Pao, D. W. (2007). Luke. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 64). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Green, J. B. (1997). The Gospel of Luke (pp. 96–97). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, pp. 97–98). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 17 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

1 Samuel 9; Romans 7; Jeremiah 46; Psalm 22

 

a common theme among the biblical prophets is that God is sovereign over all nations. To most who read these pages that seems obvious. But in the ancient world, most nations had their own gods. So when a nation went to war, the people prayed to their own gods; if a nation was defeated, so were their gods. Clearly they were not as strong as the gods of the ascendant nation.

But the God of Israel keeps telling her that he is the God over all the universe, over all the nations. He is not a tribal deity in the sense that they own him or that he is exclusively theirs. That is why in many chapters of Isaiah and Jeremiah God insists that he himself is the One who is raising up Assyria or Babylon to punish the people. In other words, the defeat of Israel does not signal the defeat of God. Far from it: this God keeps insisting that if Israel is defeated and punished, it can only be because he has ordained it—and he does this by utilizing the very nations Israel fears.

But there is another side to the story. If God uses these various pagan nations, so also does he hold them to account. Of course, they cannot be expected to submit to the entire Law of Moses—after all, they are not part of the covenant community. Nevertheless God holds pagan nations to standards of decency and basic righteousness. So after using Assyria to chasten the northern kingdom of Israel, God turns around and chastens Assyria for her arrogance (Isa. 10:5ff.; see meditation for May 12). In the same vein, some of Israel’s prophets pronounce words of judgment and warning, and sometimes of hope, against the surrounding nations over which their own God is utterly sovereign. That is what is found in Jeremiah 46–51 and elsewhere (e.g., Isa. 13–23; Ezek. 25–32; Amos 1:3–2:3).

The chapter before us (Jer. 46) opens the larger section with a word from the Lord concerning Egypt. The first part (46:2–12) details Egypt’s decisive defeat at the battle of Carchemish in 605 b.c., when the Babylonians rose to supremacy in the region. The second part (46:13–26) anticipates a further defeat of Egypt at the hands of Babylon, this time under Nebuchadnezzar. This almost certainly refers to the same assault predicted in 43:10—part of the reason why the Jews remaining in Judah were not to go down to Egypt (as they did, about 586). That assault is not reported in Scripture, but inscriptional evidence records that Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt in a punitive expedition in 568–567.

Why is this chapter included in the book at this point?[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

August 17 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

1 Samuel 9; Romans 7; Jeremiah 46; Psalm 22

 

occasionally someone comes along who shows exceptional promise from his or her youth, and then lives up to that promise. But that does not seem to be the common way of things. Who would have thought that a minor painter from Vienna could become the monstrous colossus the world knows as Adolf Hitler? Who would have thought that a failed haberdasher from Missouri, a chap with a high-school education, would succeed Roosevelt, drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, sack General Douglas MacArthur, and order the racial integration of the armed forces?

Consider Saul (1 Sam. 9). He was a Benjamite, and thus from the little tribe reduced in numbers and prestige by the horrible events recorded in Judges 19–21 (see meditations for August 5–7). He was not even from a major clan within that tribe (9:21). Physically he was a strapping young man, getting on with the farming chores his father assigned him, with no pretensions—so far as we know—of glory or power. Indeed, in the next chapter he has to be cajoled from his hiding place in the luggage to come out and accept the acclaim the people wanted to give him.

It is not yet the time to trace all the things that went wrong—some of them will be mentioned in later meditations. But people with even a cursory knowledge of Scripture know what a mixed character Saul turned out to be, and how tragic his end. What should we learn?

(1) If we ourselves are on an upward curve of great promise, we must resolve to persevere in the small marks of fidelity and humility. A good beginning does not guarantee a good end.

(2) If we are responsible for hiring people, whether pastors and other Christian leaders or executives for a corporation, although some of us prove more insightful and farsighted than others, all of us make mistakes—for the simple reason that, quite apart from the bad choices we make, a good choice can turn into a bad choice (and vice-versa) because people change.

(3) It follows that every organization, not least the local church, needs some sort of mechanism for godly removal of leaders who turn out to be evil or woefully inadequate. That wasn’t possible in ancient Israel, so far as the king went. It is not only possible but mandated so far as New Testament leadership is concerned.

(4) Only God knows the end from the beginning. After we have exercised our best judgment, nothing is more important than that we should cast ourselves on God, seeking to please him, trying to conform our judgments to what he has disclosed of himself in his Word, trusting absolutely in the only One who knows the end from the beginning.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

August 16 Living in God’s Grace

Scripture reading: Psalm 84

Key verse: Psalm 84:11

The Lord God is a sun and shield;

The Lord will give grace and glory;

No good thing will He withhold

From those who walk uprightly.

Many Christians have no trouble confessing their salvation through faith in God’s grace, but many Christians at the same time do not understand that they are to live in God’s grace.

Romans 5:1–2 (nasb) states: “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”

Notice that believers “stand” in God’s grace, meaning it remains with us in our daily walk. It was a gift in the beginning, when you accepted Christ, and it is a lasting gift to you every day. You can add nothing to His grace. Since it is a gift, you owe God nothing. Besides, you could never repay Him for the death of His Son or for loving you enough to justify you into His fellowship. Grace is God’s kindness and graciousness toward humanity regardless of our worthiness and the fact that no one deserves it.

Trying to repay God by doing good works or by drawing an imaginary line, however noble the intention, is an ill-conceived idea. Accept God’s grace as evidence of His love for you because that is exactly what it is: unconditional, undeserved love. All He wants is your love in return. Works and obedience naturally follow as sweet by-products.

Oh, God, thank You for the grace You extended to me, even though I didn’t deserve it. I love You![1]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (2002). Seeking His face (p. 239). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

August 16, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

How to Be Right with God

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. (3:21–25a)

Job asked the most important question it is possible to ask: “How can a man be in the right before God?” (Job 9:2). He then said,

If one wished to dispute with Him, He could not answer Him once in a thousand times. Wise in heart and mighty in strength, who has defied Him without harm? It is God who removes the mountains, they know not how, when He overturns them in His anger; who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; who commands the sun not to shine, and sets a seal upon the stars; who alone stretches out the heavens, and tramples down the waves of the sea; who makes the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades, and the chambers of the south; who does great things, unfathomable, and wondrous works without number. Were He to pass by me, I would not see Him; were He to move past me, I would not perceive Him. Were He to snatch away, who could restrain Him? Who could say to Him, “What art Thou doing?” God will not turn back His anger; beneath Him crouch the helpers of Rahab. How then can I answer Him, and choose my words before Him? For though I were right, I could not answer; I would have to implore the mercy of my judge. If I called and He answered me, I could not believe that He was listening to my voice. For He bruises me with a tempest, and multiplies my wounds without cause. He will not allow me to get my breath, but saturates me with bitterness. If it is a matter of power, behold, He is the strong one! And if it is a matter of justice, who can summon Him? Though I am righteous, my mouth will condemn me; though I am guiltless, He will declare me guilty. (vv. 3–20)

Because God is the kind of God He is, Job wondered how a person could ever hope to approach Him, much less become right and acceptable before Him. Can a mere human being have a right relationship with a God who is perfectly holy, infinite, and mighty? Bildad echoed Job’s question, saying, “How then can a man be just with God?” (Job 25:4).

Upon hearing John the Baptist’s fearful warnings about God’s judgment, “the multitudes were questioning him, saying, ‘Then what shall we do?’ ” (Luke 3:10). The crowd that Jesus had miraculously fed the day before asked Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” (John 6:27–28). The rich young ruler asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). After hearing Peter’s sobering message at Pentecost, some of the listeners said to him “and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ ” (Acts 2:37). As he lay blinded on the road to Damascus, Saul cried out to Jesus, “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10). The Philippian jailor asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).

Throughout history men have asked much the same questions as did Job and the others. The very reason that religion is so universally common to mankind reflects man’s attempts to answer such questions. As noted in the last chapter, people cannot escape feelings of guilt, not only for doing things they know are wrong but for being the way they are. Man’s sense of lostness, loneliness, emptiness, and meaninglessness is reflected in the literature and archaeological remains of every civilization. So are his fear of death, of existence, if any, beyond the grave, and of divine punishment. Nearly every religion is a response to those fears and seeks to offer a way of reaching and satisfying deity. But every religion except Christianity is man-made and works-centered, and for that reason, none of them can succeed in leading a person to God.

Scripture makes clear that there is indeed a way to God, but that it is not based on anything men themselves can do to achieve or merit it. Man can be made right with God, but not on his own terms or in his own power. In that basic regard Christianity is distinct from every other religion. As far as the way of salvation is concerned, there are therefore only two religions the world has ever known or will ever know—the religion of divine accomplishment, which is biblical Christianity, and the religion of human achievement, which includes all other kinds of religion, by whatever names they may go under.

When threatened by the fierce and powerful Babylonians, the people of Judah asked Jeremiah to intercede for them before God, “that the Lord your God may tell us the way in which we should walk and the thing that we should do.” To reinforce their seeming sincerity, they then “said to Jeremiah, ‘May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us, if we do not act in accordance with the whole message with which the Lord your God will send you to us. Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God.’ ” But when Jeremiah brought them God’s answer, which was to stay in their own land and trust Him to save them, they rejected His word and went to Egypt (Jer. 42:1–43:7).

Their response is typical of myriads of people who ask how to get right with God. They seem very sincere, but when they hear about the true and only way, which is through trust in Jesus Christ, they are unwilling to comply. Their response makes it evident that they are seeking salvation on their own terms, not God’s.

All men are equally incapable of coming to God in their own power. They can be saved only by the provision of God’s grace. Since Adam and Eve fell, faith responding to the offer of God’s grace has always been the only means of salvation, of providing a right relationship to God. Man cannot be saved even by God’s own divine law given through Moses. That law was never, under any covenant or dispensation, a means of salvation. Its purpose was to show how impossible it is to measure up to God’s standards by human effort. The moral standards commanded and the ceremonies prescribed in the Mosaic covenant were never intended and were never able to save. A sincere desire to obey the law and a proper observance of the rituals were pleasing to God, but only as they reflected faith in Him.

One of the major and repeated themes of the book of Romans is righteousness. As mentioned in the previous chapter, the common Greek root behind righteousness, justification, and their various verb and adjectival forms is found more than sixty times in Romans. The present passage (3:21–25a) is one of many in the epistle that focus on God’s righteousness, by which all righteousness is measured.

The only righteousness man possesses or attains within himself is unrighteousness, because that is the character and substance of his fallen nature. Man’s “righteous deeds,” Isaiah declares, “are like a filthy garment,” referring to a menstrual cloth (Isa. 64:6).

The light of righteousness comes only from above. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied of Jesus that He would be “the Sunrise from on high [who] shall visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78–79). As the godly Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms, he declared, “My eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:30–32). John describes the Lord Jesus Christ as “the true light which, coming into the world enlightens every man” (John 1:9). Jesus Christ was God incarnate, bringing in His own self the light of salvation to the world.

Ancient Greek and Roman poets loved to write overly dramatic tragedies in which the hero or heroine was rescued from impossible situations by the last-minute intervention of a god (the deus ex machina literary device). However, the more reputable among them opted not to bring a god onto the stage unless the problem were one that deserved a god to solve it.

The supreme human tragedy is man’s sin, and only the true God can solve it. Only the perfectly righteous God Himself can provide the righteousness that men need to be acceptable to Him.

God’s righteousness is different from all other kinds of righteousness in many ways. First of all, it is different because of its source, which is God Himself. “Drip down, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds pour down righteousness; let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, and righteousness spring up with it. I, the Lord, have created it” (Isa. 45:8).

Second, God’s righteousness is different in essence. It is a comprehensive righteousness that fulfills both the precept and the penalty of God’s law, under which all men stand judged. The precept of God’s law is the perfect fulfillment of it, in other words sinless perfection, which only the man Christ Jesus has ever fulfilled. He kept every requirement of God’s law without even the most minute deviation or shortcoming. Although He endured every temptation to which man is subject, He was completely without sin (Heb. 4:15). Yet, in order to fulfill the penalty of the law for sinful mankind, God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24; cf. Heb. 9:28).

Third, God’s righteousness is unique in its duration. His righteousness is everlasting righteousness, existing from eternity to eternity. Throughout Scripture His righteousness is referred to as everlasting (see, e.g., Ps. 119:142; Isa. 51:8; Dan. 9:24). The person, therefore, who receives God’s righteousness receives everlasting righteousness.

In the Iliad of Homer, the great Trojan warrior Hector was preparing to fight Achilles and the invading Greeks. As he was about to leave home, Hector wanted to hold his young son Astyanax in his arms and bid him farewell for what ended up being the last time. But Hector’s armor so frightened the infant that he shrank back to his nurse’s caress. The father, laughing out loud, then removed his bronze helmet and took up his little child in his arms. The boy discovered the father of his love behind all that armor.

That is akin to what Paul does in his letter to the Romans, beginning with 3:21. After having shown God the judge and executioner, as it were, he now shows the God of love, who reaches out His arms to sinful men in the hope that they will come to Him and be saved.

In 3:21–25a Paul gives seven additional elements of the righteousness that God divinely imparts to those who trust in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is apart from legalism (v. 21a), built on revelation (v. 21b), acquired by faith (v. 22a), provided for all (v. 22b–23), given freely through grace (v. 24a), accomplished by redemption (v. 24b), and paid for by atoning sacrifice (v. 25a).

Righteousness Is Apart from Legalism

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, (3:21a)

But translates an adversative, indicating a contrast, in this instance a wonderful and marvelous contrast-between man’s total depravity and inability to please God and God’s own provision of a way to Himself. Except for the introduction (1:1–18), the epistle has portrayed an utterly dark picture of man’s wickedness and hopelessness apart from God. In that introduction Paul gave a brief glimpse of light when he spoke “of the gospel, [which] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’ ” (1:16–17).

Now, after backing all sinful mankind, Jew and Gentile alike, into the totally dark and seemingly inescapable corner of God’s wrath (1:18–3:20), Paul begins to open the window of divine grace that lets in the glorious light of salvation through the righteousness that God Himself has provided.

First of all, Paul says, the righteousness that God imparts to believers is apart from the Law. Nomos (Law) is used in the New Testament in a number of senses, much like its English equivalent. In a negative sense, it sometimes refers to legalism, the strict, self-dependent trust in one’s own efforts to perform to the level of divine morality (see Luke 18:9). Sometimes it refers to the commandments and ceremonial rituals prescribed by God in the Old Covenant through Moses. Sometimes it refers simply to divine standards in general. Sometimes it refers to the entire body of Scripture that God had revealed before the time of Christ, what we now call the Old Testament. Sometimes it is a synonym for a general principle or rule. In interpreting the New Testament, therefore, the specific meaning must be determined from the context.

Because they capitalize Law in this passage, it is evident that the translators of the New American Standard Bible understood nomos to refer to God’s divine revelation, either in the narrower sense of the Mosaic law or the wider sense of the entire Old Testament. But I believe that in this passage Paul primarily has in mind the sense of legalism, of men’s attempt to become acceptable to God by means of their own human efforts.

But the apostle’s main point is the same, whichever of those senses he had in mind for Law. He is declaring that the righteousness God gives to believers is entirely apart from obedience to any law, even God’s own revealed law. God’s righteousness is in no way based on human achievement, on anything that man can do in his own power.

The Jews’ own Scriptures did not teach salvation by obedience to God’s law, much less by obedience to the many man-made laws and traditions that had been devised by the rabbis and elders during the several hundred years before Christ. Nevertheless, members of the Jewish majority in Jesus’ and Paul’s day placed their trust in those man-made regulations. In fact, most of them had more faith in rabbinical traditions than in God’s divinely revealed law in Scripture. Before his conversion, Paul was himself the epitome of Jewish legalism (see Phil. 3:4–6).

The spirit of legalism was carried over into the church by many Jews who had taken on the name of Christ. They were referred to as Judaizers, because they attempted to add to the gospel the legalistic requirements of the Old Testament, such as circumcision and obedience to the Sabbath laws. Paul admonished believers in Colossae, “Let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (Col. 2:16). He reminded the believers in Galatia that they were “justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16). Later in that epistle he wrote, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you … For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything” (Gal. 5:1–2, 6). To the Romans he declared, “We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28).

Even under the Old Covenant, good works based on God’s own standards were worthless as far as salvation was concerned. Paul says, “David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works” (Rom. 4:6) and then proceeds to quote from Psalm 32:1–2

God holds before men the standards of His righteousness in order to demonstrate the impossibility of keeping them by human effort. Because of that inability, “the Law brings about wrath” (Rom. 4:15), God’s judgment on man’s sin. “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; … Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith’ ” (Gal. 3:10–11). “By grace you have been saved,” Paul told the Ephesians; “and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works” (Eph. 2:8–9). Countless other New Testament passages (see, e.g., Phil. 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5) repeat the basic gospel truth that rightness with God can never be achieved by human effort.

Whether the law of God is the Mosaic law of the Jews or the law written in the hearts and consciences of all men, including Gentiles (Rom. 2:11–15), obedience to it can never be perfect and therefore can never save. That is a devastating truth to everyone who seeks to please God on his own terms and in his own power-which is why the gospel is so offensive to the natural man.

Now, however, Paul declares that the righteousness of God, the divine and eternal righteousness by which men can be made right with God, has been manifested. As he will explain in the following verse, that righteousness has been manifested “in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (v. 22).

Righteousness Is Built on Revelation

being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (3:21b)

Before he presents the means for men to receive God’s manifested righteousness, however, Paul declares that it not only is apart from legalism but is also divinely revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.

That truth was obviously directed primarily at Jews, whose whole religion centered in the Law and the Prophets, a phrase commonly used to encompass all of God’s written Word, what we now call the Old Testament. In other words, the apostle was not speaking about a new kind of righteousness but about the divine righteousness that is spoken of throughout the Jewish Scriptures.

Not only do the Law and Prophets proclaim God’s perfect righteousness but they affirm what Paul has just stated-that, without exception, men are unable to achieve that righteousness in their own way or power.

The Jews had great reverence for their Scriptures, but most of them failed to realize that, although divinely revealed, those Scriptures in themselves had no power to save. “You search the Scriptures,” Jesus told a group of Jewish listeners, “because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me” (John 5:39). In other words, the Law and the Prophets did not show men how to achieve their own righteousness but pointed to the coming Messiah, the Savior and Son of God, who Himself would provide the righteousness that God demands of men. Although the full revelation of salvation through Christ was not given in the Old Testament, that had always been the way of salvation to which that testament pointed.

The Mosaic laws were not given as a means of achieving righteousness but of describing God’s righteousness and showing the impossibility of men’s living up to it. The Mosaic sacrifices were not prescribed as a means of atoning for sin but of symbolically pointing to Jesus Christ, who Himself became the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. The commandments, rituals, sacrifices, and godly principles taught in the Old Testament were, and still are, a part of His divinely inspired Word. But they could never remove sin, forgive sin, atone for sin, or give a new and righteous life to a sinner-no matter how zealously and sincerely he tried to abide by them.

Righteousness Is Acquired by Faith

even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (3:22a)

To avoid any possible misunderstanding, Paul mentions again that he is speaking of the absolute and perfect righteousness of God, not the relative and imperfect righteousness of human achievement.

His point here is that the perfect, saving righteousness of God not only is received apart from legalism and built on revelation, but is also acquired only by faith. That has always been the only way of salvation as far as man’s part is concerned. The very point of Hebrews 11 is to show that there has never been a means of salvation other than faith in the true God.

That is also a repeated theme of Paul’s Roman epistle. In chapter 4 he says, “To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (v. 5), and, “The promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith” (v. 13; cf. v. 20). He begins chapter 5 by declaring that “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There is, of course, such a thing as false faith, even in the name of Christ. John reports that many people who had a superficial faith in Jesus did not have saving faith. “Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine’ ” (John 8:31). In other words, obedience to His Word is evidence of true faith, whereas continual disobedience is evidence of false faith. “Faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself,” James declared (James 2:17). In other words, disobedient faith is spurious faith. It is “by itself,” that is, unrelated to faith in God. False faith may be faith in good works, faith in ritual, faith in a religious experience or system, faith in one’s own goodness, or simply a nebulous faith in faith that is so common in our day.

A person is saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone, apart from anything else. But Scripture makes clear that saving faith is immeasurably more than simply making a verbal declaration of believing about Him.

The late A. W. Tozer perceptively commented:

Something has happened to the doctrine of justification.… The faith of Paul and Luther was a revolutionizing thing. It upset the whole life of the individual and made him into another person altogether. It laid hold on the life and brought it unto obedience to Christ. It took up its cross and followed along after Jesus with no intention of going back. It said good-bye to its old friends as certainly as Elijah when he stepped into the fiery chariot and went away in the whirlwind. It had a finality about it. It snapped shut on a man’s heart like a trap; it captured the man and made him from that moment forward a happy love-servant of his Lord. (The Root of the Righteous [Harrisburg, Pa.: Christian Publications, 1955], pp. 45–46)

The saving faith in Jesus Christ that the New Testament teaches is much more than a simple affirmation of certain truths about Him. Even the demons acknowledged many facts about Him. One of the demons who possessed the man from Gadara said to Jesus, “What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Mark 5:7). The demon who gave the slave girl the power of divination described Paul and his friends as “bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17).

Saving faith is a placing of oneself totally in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ, and it has certain indispensable elements that the New Testament clearly teaches.

Saving faith in Jesus Christ involves the exercise of will. Paul told the Roman believers, “Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom. 6:17). Salvation begins (from the human standpoint) with a person’s willful obedience in turning from sin to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

Saving faith also involves the emotions, because, as in the verse just mentioned above, it must come from the heart as well as from the mind. A person cannot be saved by good feelings about Christ, and many people throughout the ages and in our own day have substituted good feelings about Christ for saving faith in Him. But on the other hand, a person whose life is transformed by Christ will be affected in his emotions in the deepest possible way.

Saving faith also involves the intellect. No one can think his way into heaven, but neither can he receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior without some comprehension of the truth of the gospel (see Rom. 10:17ff.).

Jesus Christ is the very embodiment of God’s righteousness, and it is because of that truth that He can impart divine righteousness to those who trust in Him. During His earthly incarnation, Jesus demonstrated God’s righteousness by living a sinless life. In His death Christ also demonstrated God’s righteousness by paying the penalty for the unrighteous lives of every human being.

The seventeenth-century English minister Joseph Alleine wrote:

All of Christ is accepted by the sincere convert; he loves not only the wages, but the work of Christ; not only the benefits, but the burden of Christ; he is willing not only to tread out the corn, but to draw under the yoke; he takes up the command of Christ, yea, the cross of Christ.

The unsound closeth by halves with Christ: he is all for the salvation of Christ, but he is not for sanctification; he is for the privileges, but appropriates not the person of Christ; he divides the offices and benefits of Christ. This is an error in the foundation. Who so loveth life, let him beware here; it is an undoing mistake, of which you have been often warned, and yet none is more common.

Jesus is a sweet name, but men “love not the Lord Jesus in sincerity”. They will not have him as God offers, “to be a Prince and a Savior.” They divide what God has joined, the king and the priest; yea, they will not accept the salvation of Christ as he intends it; they divide it here.

Every man’s vote is for salvation from suffering; but they desire not to be saved from sinning; they would have their lives saved, but withal would have their lusts. Yea, many divide here again; they would be content to have some of their sins destroyed, but they cannot leave the lap of Delilah, or divorce the beloved Herodias; they cannot be cruel to the right eye or right hand; the Lord must pardon them in this thing. O be carefully scrupulous here; your soul depends upon it.

The sound convert takes a whole Christ, and takes him for all intents and purposes, without exceptions, without limitations, without reserve. He is willing to have Christ upon any terms; he is willing to have the dominion of Christ, as well as deliverance by Christ; he saith, with Paul, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Any thing, Lord. He sends the blank to Christ, to set down his own conditions. (The Alarm to Unconverted Sinners [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980 reprint], pp. 46–48)

John Wesley went to heaven on March 2, 1791, at the age of eighty-eight, after having preached the gospel for about sixty-five years. One of his favorite hymns to sing on his deathbed was:

I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath

And when my voice is lost in death

Praise shall employ my nobler powers.

My days of praise shall ne’er be past

While life, and thought, and being last,

Or immortality endures.

Righteousness Is Provided For All

for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (3:22b–23)

The provision of salvation and the righteousness it brings is granted for all those who believe. Anyone will be saved who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, for there is no distinction.

Preaching in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, Paul declared, “Through Him [Christ] everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). In his letter to the church at Galatia, the apostle said, “A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 2:16).

Jesus Himself said, “The one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ—whether a murderer, prostitute, thief, rapist, homosexual, religious hypocrite, false teacher, pagan, or anything else—will be saved. Just as no one is good enough to be saved, no one is so evil that he cannot be saved.

That is the wonderful point of Romans 3:22. All those who believe will be saved, because in God’s sight there is no distinction. Just as everyone apart from Christ is equally sinful and rejected by God, everyone who is in Christ is equally righteous and accepted by Him. Even the “foremost of all” sinners, as Paul called himself (1 Tim. 1:15), was not too wicked to be saved.

There is no distinction among those who are saved, because there is no distinction among those who are lost, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Hustereō (fall short) has the basic meaning of being last or inferior. Every human being comes in last as far as the glory of God is concerned.

Righteousness Is Given Freely Through Grace

being justified as a gift by His grace (3:24a)

By the same token, no one is ahead of anyone else as far as salvation is concerned. Being justified refers back to the “alls” of the previous two verses—all those who have believed, of whom all were sinful. Just as there is no distinction among those who need salvation, there is no distinction among those who receive it, because they all are justified as a gift by His grace.

Dikaioō (justified) means to declare the rightness of something or someone. Justification is God’s declaration that all the demands of the law are fulfilled on behalf of the believing sinner through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Justification is a wholly forensic, or legal, transaction. It changes the judicial standing of the sinner before God. In justification, God imputes the perfect righteousness of Christ to the believer’s account, then declares the redeemed one fully righteous. Justification must be distinguished from sanctification, in which God actually imparts Christ’s righteousness to the sinner. While the two must be distinguished, justification and sanctification can never be separated. God does not justify whom He does not sanctify.

Yet God justifies believers as a gift by His grace, not because of any good thing in the one who is justified.

By definition, a gift is something given freely, unearned and unmerited by the recipient. God’s greatest of all gifts is that of salvation through His Son, given completely out of His divine grace. “If righteousness comes through the Law,” that is, through human fulfillment of God’s divine standard, Paul declares, “then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21).

The law reveals God’s righteousness and exposes man’s unrighteousness. Grace, on the other hand, not only reveals God’s righteousness but actually gives His righteousness to those who trust in His Son. That gift of grace cost God the suffering and death of His own Son on the cross, so that, for the believer, there is nothing left to pay.

Righteousness Is Accomplished by Redemption

through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (3:24b)

Apolutrōsis (redemption) is a strengthened form of lutros̄is, which carries the idea of delivering, especially by means of paying a price. It was commonly used of paying a ransom to free a prisoner from his captors or paying the price to free a slave from his master.

Because of man’s utter sinfulness and inability to bring himself up to the standard of God’s righteousness, the redemption of a sinner could come only by that which is in Christ Jesus. Only the sinless Savior could pay the price to redeem sinful men.

Righteousness Was Paid by Atoning Sacrifice

whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. (3:25a)

Because man cannot become righteous on his own, God graciously provided for his redemption through the atoning sacrifice of His own Son, Jesus Christ.

That sacrifice was not made in the dark or even in the hidden and holy recesses of the sacred Temple, but openly on the hill of Calvary for all the world to see. God displayed His Son publicly as a propitiation.

Hilastērion (propitiation) carries the basic idea of appeasement, or satisfaction. In ancient pagan religions, as in many religions today, the idea of man’s appeasing a deity by various gifts or sacrifices was common. But in the New Testament propitiation always refers to the work of God, not of man. Man is utterly incapable of satisfying God’s justice except by spending eternity in hell.

The only satisfaction, or propitiation, that could be acceptable to God and that could reconcile Him to man had to be made by God. For that reason, God in human flesh, Jesus Christ, “gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6). He appeased the wrath of God.

That ransoming propitiation made by Christ was paid in His own divine blood. To believers scattered throughout the Roman Empire, Peter wrote, “You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18–19).

The Hebrew equivalent of hilastērion is used in the Old Testament in reference to the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies, where the high priest went once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to make a sacrifice on behalf of his people. On that occasion he sprinkled blood on the Mercy Seat, symbolizing the payment of the penalty for his own sins and the sins of the people.

But that yearly act, although divinely prescribed and honored, had no power to remove or pay the penalty for a single sin. It could only point to the true and effective “offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.… For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:10, 14).

Those who are sanctified by the offering of Christ are those who receive that sanctification through faith in Him. To the Colossian believers Paul wrote,

In Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way having nailed it to the cross. (Col. 2:11–14)

In his beautiful hymn, Horatius Bonar wrote,

Not what my hands have done

Can save my guilty soul;

Not what my toiling flesh has borne

Can make my spirit whole.

Not what I feel or do

Can give me peace with God;

Not all my prayers and sighs and tears

Can bear my awful load.

Thy grace alone, O God,

To me can pardon speak;

Thy power alone, O Son of God,

Can this sore bondage break.

No other work save thine,

No other blood will do;

No strength save that which is divine

Can bear me safely through.[1]


Righteousness Apart from Law

Romans 3:21–24

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

In Romans 3:21–31 we are dealing with themes that are the very heart, not only of Paul’s letter, but of the entire Bible and therefore of reality itself. In all life and history there is nothing more important than these teachings. But who today thinks this way? Who is willing to acknowledge this in an age when abstract thought—indeed, even thinking itself—is suspect? Who even among the masses of Christian people really appreciates what Paul is saying here? Ours is an age in which people are self-absorbed and focus on immediate gratification. We tend to evaluate any religious teaching according to its apparent relevance to our present “needs” and short-term goals.

No one can have success teaching basic truths about man and the universe unless our closed ways of thinking are changed. But, then, this has always been the case. It was no easier for the apostle Paul to preach the message of salvation to a generation that was busy entertaining itself by sex and circuses than for today’s Christians to minister that same word to an age that has anesthetized itself through television.

But we must try! We must try as Paul did! We must teach the Word of God, because it is by the Word alone that God speaks to us about what really matters.

Four Great Doctrines

We have already seen how Paul introduces this section of his letter—with the words “but now.” These words indicate that something of great importance has taken place, and that this is the substance of the good news being proclaimed by Paul and the other messengers of the gospel. Here is a simple outline of this teaching:

  1. God has provided a righteousness of his own for men and women, a righteousness we do not possess ourselves. This is the very heart or theme of the Word of God. Although it is new in its fulfillment, it had nevertheless been fully prophesied in the Old Testament.
  2. This righteousness is by grace. We do not deserve it. In fact, we are incapable ever of deserving it.
  3. It is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ in dying for his people, redeeming them from their sin, that has made this grace on God’s part possible. This is the reason for the “now” in “but now.” It is because of Jesus’ death that there is a Christian gospel.
  4. This righteousness that God has graciously provided becomes ours through simple faith. Believing and trusting God in regard to the work of Jesus is the only way anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, can be saved.

The importance of these teachings will become increasingly clear in our exposition of them. But we can see their importance even at this point by noticing that they are a nearly exact repetition of what Paul has already stated as the thesis of the letter. They were stated in his opening address, for example: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (Rom. 1:1–5). The teachings of Romans 3:21–31 are all there. It is the same gospel.

Again, it is also what we have found in the initial statement of Paul’s thesis in Romans 1:16–17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ ”

So I repeat what I said at the beginning of this study: There is nothing in all life and history that is more important than these teachings. The issues of eternity hang on these truths, and we must be faithful to them regardless of the resistance or scorn of our contemporaries.

Objective and Subjective Genitives

We begin with the first of these four doctrines, namely, that “God has provided a righteousness of his own for men and women.” You will notice, if you read the text carefully, that in Romans 3:21 the New International Version speaks of “a righteousness from God,” while I have implied (echoing the King James Version) that this is the “righteousness of God,” that is, suggesting that it is God’s own righteousness. Which is correct? Is this a righteousness from God? Or is it the righteousness of God? And is there a difference?

The variations in translations stem from the fact that the Greek text contains a simple genitive construction, which we usually translate in English by using the word “of.” But in Greek, as in English, this can be either what grammarians call a subjective genitive or an objective genitive. A subjective genitive is one in which the word following “of” is the subject or source of the idea. An example is “love of God.” The phrase usually means that this is God’s love. He is the source of the love and the subject of the action. A nonbiblical example is the “novels of Charles Dickens.” It means that Dickens is the author of the novels. He wrote them. It does not mean that they are about him. The other type of genitive is what grammarians call an objective genitive. It refers to a situation in which the word following “of” is the object of the first word. An example might be “world of misery.” This does not mean that misery is the source of the world or even the source of the world’s problems but rather that the world is characterized by misery. It is a miserable world. The word misery functions as an adjective in this construction.

How, then, is the phrase “righteousness of God” to be interpreted? If this is a case of an objective genitive, it is a righteousness determined by God’s own nature. That is, as we can also say, it is his righteousness or divine righteousness. This is what the editors of the Scofield Bible seem to have thought, for they appended a note to Romans 3:21, which reads: “The righteousness of God is all that God demands and approves, and is ultimately found in Christ himself, who fully met in our stead every requirement of the law.” They support this interpretation by a reference to 1 Corinthians 1:30: “Christ … has become … our righteousness.”

I find support for this idea in the text, because Paul’s chief point is that the righteousness of God has been disclosed in the person and work of Christ. Before, we did not have any truly adequate way of understanding what this righteousness is like. But now we do, since we can see it in the Savior.

On the other hand, if this is a subjective genitive (rather than an objective genitive), we should then understand Paul to be teaching that God is the source of this righteousness and that it is in Jesus Christ that God makes it available to us. The translators of the New International Version seem to have preferred this idea, for they have written: “But now a righteousness from God … has been made known.”

Surely this is a case where we do not have to choose between the two ideas, for both are correct. Righteousness is to be seen in the Lord Jesus Christ, but it is also his righteousness, rather than our own, that we need. Apart from him we might compare ourselves only with one another and thus have an utterly inadequate idea of what the holy God requires. This is what Paul himself had been doing prior to his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. He had compared himself with other people, even the most moral people of his day, and had concluded that there was much he could boast about: “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more” (Phil. 3:4). But when he saw Jesus in the Damascus road vision, for the first time he came to understand what true righteousness is and learned to reckon his own good deeds as worthless. “For [his] sake,” wrote Paul, “I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (vv. 8b–9).

At the same time—it is explicitly stated in the last of those three verses from Philippians—the righteousness of God, which is revealed in Christ, is also a righteousness that comes to us from God. For if God did not give it, there is no way any of us could possibly win it for ourselves. This is another way of saying that salvation is a gift. It is the ground on which the redeemed will ascribe all their praise to God for saving them.

Apart from the Law

These ideas need to be held together. And they need to be remembered in everything we say both about our inability to attain righteousness by ourselves and about the way God has provided it for us through the work of Jesus Christ.

The phrase Paul uses in our text to state how the righteousness of God can not come to us is “apart from law.” This does not mean that the law has no value, of course. The very sentence reminds us of one of its values, for it says that “the Law and the Prophets” testified to the righteousness that would come (and eventually did come) in Jesus Christ. (In our last study we looked at some of the texts that do just that.) Again, at the very end of Romans 3, we find Paul returning to the subject of the law, saying, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (v. 31). The law clearly had value in the Old Testament period and continues to have value in the Christian era.

Theologians usually speak of the function of God’s law in two areas: (1) to restrain evil, much as secular law is meant to do; and (2) to reveal man’s sin and thus point us to the need for Jesus Christ. These are important functions. But the one thing the law cannot do and was never meant to do was save a person by his or her observance of it.

This is why Paul speaks of a righteousness of God “apart from law” and why this announcement is such good news, although hard for unsaved people to understand or accept. The law, as Paul will say later in Romans, is “holy, righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). If we could be saved by law, the law of God would save us. But we cannot! And it cannot! We cannot keep God’s commandments. If the law is to have any benefit for us, it must be by enabling us to see our inability to satisfy the standards of God by our own efforts and thus turn us to Christ. That is why Paul says that “this righteousness from God comes [not by law but] through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe …” (Rom. 3:22).

Another way of putting this is to say that when the law was given to Israel on Mount Sinai, the very books that listed these unyielding commandments of the holy God also contained instructions for the sacrifice of the lamb on the Day of Atonement. God gave the commandments, but he also gave the altar and taught the principle of substitution. It is as if he were saying, “These are my commandments; you must keep them or be lost. But I know you cannot keep them. So, rather than trusting in your ability to do what you never will be able to do, I point you to my Son, who will die for you. It is on the basis of his future work that I am giving you a righteousness you could never achieve yourselves. Trust him.”

A Unique Religion

This idea is so important that I want to state it another way, showing the utter uniqueness of Christianity in this fundamental matter. Paul has said that this righteousness from God, which we need, is “apart from law,” by which he means primarily “apart from the law of God given to Israel.” He means, as John Murray has said in his commentary, that “in justification there is no contribution, preparatory, accessory or subsidiary, that is given by works of law.”

But “law” also embraces all human effort to attain righteousness, and this means that the fundamental principle of this verse (as well as of the Bible as a whole) is that God’s righteousness is to be received apart from any human doing whatsoever.

This is the point at which Christianity is distinguished categorically from every other human religion. All religions have their distinguishing points, of course. Some call God, the Supreme Being, by a different name. Some emphasize one path to God, some another. Some are mystical, some very ritualistic. But all, except for Christianity, suppose that there is something human beings can do for the Deity to convince him to save them. They teach a human way to achieve eternity, a man-made ladder to the bliss of the life to come. Only Christianity humbles man by insisting that there is nothing at all we can do to work out our salvation.

Of course, once we are saved we have the obligation and privilege of doing much, since Jesus calls us to discipleship. But we are not saved by such doings. All our actions can bring upon us, even the best of our actions, is the judgment from God that we deserve. Therefore, it is vitally important to examine ourselves to see if we are really trusting in Jesus and what he has done, or whether we are trusting in what we suppose we can do. Commentator Donald Barnhouse has written:

Look into your own heart and see whether you are trusting, even in a small fraction, in something that you are doing for yourself or that you are doing for God, instead of finding in your heart that you have ceased from your works as God did from his and that you are resting on the work that was accomplished on the cross of Calvary. This is the secret of reality: Righteousness apart from law. Righteousness apart from human doing. Christianity is the faith that believes God’s Word about the work that is fully done, completely done.…

Righteousness without law. Righteousness apart from human character. Righteousness without even a consideration of the nature of the being that is made righteous. Righteousness that comes from God upon an ungodly man. Righteousness that will save a thief on the cross. Righteousness that is prepared for you. Righteousness that you must choose by abandoning any hope of salvation from anything that is in yourself. And underline this—it is the only righteousness that can produce practical righteousness in you.

The Really Good News

When a person is first presented with this pure core of Christianity, the reaction is usually revulsion. We want to save ourselves, and anything that suggests that we cannot do so is abhorrent to us. We do not want a religion that demands that we throw ourselves entirely upon the grace and mercy of God. But Christianity is not only the religion we need so desperately. It is also the only religion worth having in the long run. Let me explain.

  1. If salvation is by the gift of God, apart from human doing, then we can be saved now. We do not have to wait until we reach some high level of attainment or pass some undetermined future test. Many people think in these terms, because they know (if they are honest with themselves) that their lives and actions are far from what they should be now and they keep striving. But this means—I am sure you can see it—that salvation can never be a present experience but is something always in the future. It is something such persons hope to attain, though they are afraid they may not. It is only in Christianity that this future element moves into the present. And the reason it can is that salvation is not based on our ability to accumulate acceptable merits with God, but rather on what God has already done for us. When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” he meant what he said. His finished work is the sole grounds for our being declared righteous by God. And since it is a past accomplishment, salvation can be ours now, solely by the application of Christ’s righteousness to us as God’s gift.

This is why Paul can say, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). It is also why he declared, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

It is why Joseph Hart, one of our great hymnwriters, wrote:

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,

Bruised and broken by the Fall;

If you tarry till you’re better,

You will never come at all:

Not the righteous, not the righteous,

Sinners Jesus came to call.

Let not conscience make you linger,

Nor of fitness fondly dream;

All the fitness he requireth

Is to feel your need of him:

This he gives you; this he gives you;

’Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.

  1. If salvation is by the gift of God, apart from human doing, then salvation is certain. If salvation is by human works, then human works (or a lack of them) can undo it. If I can save myself, I can unsave myself. I can ruin everything. But if salvation is of God from beginning to end, it is sure and unwavering simply because God is himself sure and unwavering. Since God knows the end from the beginning, nothing ever surprises him, and he never needs to alter his plans or change his mind. What he has begun he will continue, and we can be confident of that. Paul expressed this confidence in regard to the church at Philippi, saying that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
  2. If salvation is by the gift of God, apart from human doing, then human boasting is excluded, and all the glory in salvation goes to God. I doubt any of us would want to be in a heaven populated by persons who got there, even in part, by their own efforts. The boasting of human beings is bad enough in this world, where all they have to boast of is their own good looks (for which they are not responsible), their money, their friends, or whatever. Imagine how offensive it would be if they were able to brag about having earned heaven: “Old Joe down there—he’s in the other place—just didn’t have what it takes, I suppose. He should have lived a good life, like me.” Even if the only thing that determines a person’s salvation is faith (thought of as something of which we are capable), it would still be intolerable for some people to boast of having believed, though others had refused to do so.

But it is not going to be like that! Salvation is a gift. It is receiving God’s righteousness—apart from law, apart from human doing. It is, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:9). No one in heaven will be praising man. In heaven the glory will go to God only. Soli deo gloria!

Thank God it is that way.

Amazing Grace

Romans 3:22–24

There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

In the last study I introduced four doctrines found in Romans 3:21–31: (1) God has provided a righteousness of his own for men and women, a righteousness we do not possess ourselves; (2) this righteousness is by grace; (3) it is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ in dying for his people, redeeming them from their sin, that has made this grace on God’s part possible; and (4) this righteousness, which God has graciously provided, becomes ours through simple faith. We have already looked at the first of these four doctrines: the righteousness that God has made available to us apart from law. Now we will examine the second doctrine: that this righteousness becomes ours by the grace of God alone, apart from human merit.

That is the meaning of grace, of course. It is God’s favor to us apart from human merit. Indeed, it is favor when we deserve the precise opposite. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has written, “There is no more wonderful word than ‘grace.’ It means unmerited favor or kindness shown to one who is utterly undeserving.… It is not merely a free gift, but a free gift to those who deserve the exact opposite, and it is given to us while we are ‘without hope and without God in the world.’ ”

But how are we to do justice to this great concept today? We have too high an opinion of ourselves even to understand grace, let alone to appreciate it. We speak of it certainly. We sing, “Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—That saved a wretch like me!” But we do not think of ourselves as wretches needing to be saved. Rather, we think of ourselves as quite worthy. One teacher has said, “Amazing grace is no longer amazing to us.” In our view, it is not even grace.

There Is No Difference

This is why the idea expressed in Romans 3:23 is inserted at this point. For many years, whenever I came to this verse, I had a feeling that it was somehow in the wrong place. It was not that Romans 3:23 is untrue. Obviously it is, for that is what Romans 1:18–3:20 is all about. What bothered me is that the verse did not seem to belong here. I felt that the words “there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” belonged with that earlier section. The verse seemed somehow an intrusion here, because Romans 3:21–31 is not talking about sin but about the way of salvation.

I think differently now, however. And the reason I think differently is that I now understand the connection between this verse and grace. The reason we do not appreciate grace is that we do not really believe Romans 3:23. Or, if we do, we believe it in a far lesser sense than Paul intended.

Let me use a story to explain what I mean. In his classic little book All of Grace, Charles Haddon Spurgeon begins with the story of a preacher from the north of England who went to call on a poor woman. He knew that she needed help. So, with money from the church in his hand, he made his way through the poor section of the city to where she lived, climbed the four flights of stairs to her tiny attic apartment, and then knocked at the door. There was no answer. He knocked again. Still no answer. He went away. The next week he saw the woman in church and told her that he knew of her need and had been trying to help her. “I called at your room the other day, but you were not home,” he said.

“At what time did you call, sir?” she asked.

“About noon.”

“Oh, dear,” she answered. “I was home, and I heard you knocking. But I did not answer. I thought it was the man calling for the rent.”

This is a good illustration of grace and of our natural inability to appreciate it. But isn’t it true that, although most of us laugh at this story, we unfortunately also fail to identify with it? In fact, we may even be laughing at the poor woman rather than at the story, because we consider her to be in a quite different situation from ourselves. She was unable to pay the rent. We know people like that. We feel sorry for them. But we think that is not our condition. We can pay. We pay our bills here, and we suppose (even though we may officially deny it) that we will be able to pay something—a down payment even if not the full amount—on our outstanding balance in heaven. So we bar the door, not because we are afraid that God is coming to collect the rent, but because we fear he is coming with grace and we do not want a handout. We do not consider our situation to be desperate.

But, you see, if the first chapters of Romans have meant anything to us, they have shown that spiritually “there is no difference” between us and even the most destitute of persons. As far as God’s requirements are concerned, there is no difference between us and the most desperate or disreputable character in history.

I have in my library a fairly old book entitled Grace and Truth, written by the Scottish preacher W. P. Mackay. Wisely, in my judgment, the first chapter of the book begins with a study of “there is no difference.” I say “wisely,” because, as the author shows, until we know that in God’s sight there is no difference between us and even the wildest profligate, we cannot be saved. Nor can we appreciate the nature and extent of the grace needed to rescue us from our dilemma.

Mackay illustrates this point with an anecdote. Someone was once speaking to a rich English lady, stressing that every human being is a sinner. She replied with some astonishment, “But ladies are not sinners!”

“Then who are?” the person asked her.

“Just young men in their foolish days,” was her reply.

When the person explained the gospel further, insisting that if she was to be saved by Christ, she would have to be saved exactly as her footman needed to be saved—by the unmerited grace of God in Christ’s atonement—she retorted, “Well, then, I will not be saved!” That was her decision, of course, but it was tragic.

If you want to be saved by God, you must approach grace on the basis of Romans 1:18–3:20—on the grounds of your utter ruin in sin—and not on the basis of any supposed merit in yourself.

Common Grace

It is astonishing that we should fail to understand grace, of course, because all human beings have experienced it in a general but nonsaving way, even if they are not saved or have not even the slightest familiarity with Christianity. We have experienced what theologians call “common grace,” the grace that God has shown to the whole of humanity. Jesus spoke of it when he reminded his listeners that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45b).

When Adam and Eve sinned, the race came under judgment. No one deserved anything good. If God had taken Adam and Eve in that moment and cast them into the lake of fire, he would have been entirely just in doing so, and the angels could still have sung with great joy: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Rev. 4:8). Or, if God had spared Adam and Eve, allowing them to increase until there was a great mass of humanity in the world and then had brushed all people aside into everlasting torment, God would still have been just. God does not owe us anything. Consequently, the natural blessings we have are due not to our own righteousness or abilities but to common grace.

Let me try to state this clearly once more. If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, you are still a recipient of God’s common grace, whether you acknowledge it or not. If you are alive and not in hell at this moment, it is because of God’s common grace. If you are in good health and not wasting away in some ward of hopeless patients in a hospital, it is because of common grace. If you have a home and are not wandering about on city streets, it is because of God’s grace. If you have clothes to wear and food to eat, it is because of God’s grace. The list could be endless. There is no one living who has not been the recipient of God’s common grace in countless ways. So, if you think that it is not by grace but by your merits alone that you possess these blessings, you show your ignorance of spiritual matters and disclose how far you are from God’s kingdom.

Unmerited Grace

But it is not common grace that Paul is referring to in our Romans text, important as common grace is. It is the specific, saving grace of God in salvation, which is not “common” (in the sense that all persons experience it regardless of their relationship to God), but rather is a gift received only by some through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from merit.

This is the point we need chiefly to stress, of course, for it takes us back to the story of the preacher’s visit to the poor woman and reminds us that the reason we do not appreciate grace is that we think we deserve it. We do not deserve it! If we did, it would not be grace. It would be our due, and we have already seen that the only thing rightly due us in our sinful condition is a full outpouring of God’s just wrath and condemnation. So I say again: Grace is apart from good works. Grace is apart from merit. We should be getting this by now, because each of the blessings enumerated in this great chapter of Romans is apart from works, law, or merit—which are only various ways of saying the same thing.

The righteousness of God, which is also from God, is apart from works.

Grace, which is the source of that righteousness, is apart from works.

Redemption, which makes grace possible, is apart from works.

Justification is apart from works.

Salvation from beginning to end is apart from works. In other words, it is free. This must have been the chief idea in Paul’s mind when he wrote these verses, for he emphasizes the matter by repeating it. He says that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (v. 24, italics mine).

One of the most substantial works on grace that I have come across is by Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, and it goes by that title: Grace. In the very first chapter Chafer has a section captioned “Seven Fundamental Facts About Grace.” I am not happy with everything he says in this section, particularly the last two of these points. But I refer to him here because of what he says about grace and demerit:

  1. “Grace is not withheld because of demerit” and
  2. “Grace cannot be lessened because of demerit.”

These are important points, since they emphasize the bright side of what usually appears to us as undesirable teaching.

Most of us resent the thought of “free” grace. We want to earn our own way, and we resent the suggestion that we are unable to scale the high walls of heaven by our own devices. We must be humbled before we will even give ear to the idea.

But if we have been humbled—if God has humbled us—the doctrine of grace becomes a marvelous encouragement and comfort. It tells us that the grace of God will never be withheld because of anything we may have done, however evil it was, nor will it be lessened because of that or any other evil we may do. The self-righteous person imagines that God scoops grace out of a barrel, giving much to the person who has sinned much and needs much, but giving only a little to the person who has sinned little and needs little. That is one way of wrongly mixing grace with merit. But the person who is conscious of his or her sin often imagines something similar, though opposite in direction. Such people think of God’s withholding grace because of their great sin, or perhaps even putting grace back into his barrel when they sin badly.

Thank God grace is not bestowed on this principle! As Chafer says:

God cannot propose to do less in grace for one who is sinful than he would have done had that one been less sinful. Grace is never exercised by him making up what may be lacking in the life and character of a sinner. In such a case, much sinfulness would call for much grace, and little sinfulness would call for little grace. [Instead] the sin question has been set aside forever, and equal exercise of grace is extended to all who believe. It never falls short of being the measureless saving grace of God. Thus, grace could not be increased, for it is the expression of his infinite love; it could not be diminished, for every limitation that human sin might impose on the action of a righteous God has, through the propitiation of the cross, been dismissed forever.

Grace humbles us, because it teaches that salvation is apart from human merit. At the same time, it encourages us to come to God for the grace we so evidently need. There is no sin too great either to turn God from us or to lessen the abundance of the grace he gives.

Abounding Grace

That word abundance leads to the final characteristic of grace to be included in this study. It is taught two chapters further on in a verse that became the life text of John Newton: Romans 5:20. Our version reads, “.… But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” But the version Newton knew rendered this, “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound,” (kjv.)

John Newton was an English clergyman who lived from 1725 to 1807. He had a wide and effective ministry and has been called the second founder of the Church of England. He is best known to us for his hymns.

Newton was raised in a Christian home in which he was taught many great verses of the Bible. But his mother died when he was only six years old, and he was sent to live with a relative who mocked Christianity. One day, at an early age, Newton left home and joined the British Navy as an apprenticed seaman. He was wild and dissolute in those years, and he became exceedingly immoral. He acquired a reputation of being able to swear for two hours without repeating himself. Eventually he deserted the navy off the coast of Africa. Why Africa? In his memoirs he wrote that he went to Africa for one reason only and that was “that I might sin my fill.”

In Africa he fell in with a Portuguese slavetrader in whose home he was cruelly treated. This man often went away on slaving expeditions, and when he was gone the power in the home passed to the trader’s African wife, the chief woman of his harem. This woman hated all white men, and she took out her hatred on Newton. He tells us that for months he was forced to grovel in the dirt, eating his food from the ground like a dog and beaten unmercifully if he touched it with his hands. For a time he was actually placed in chains. At last, thin and emaciated, Newton made his way through the jungle, reached the sea, and there attracted a British merchant ship making its way up the coast to England.

The captain of the ship took Newton aboard, thinking that he had ivory to sell. But when he learned that the young man knew something about navigation as a result of his time in the British Navy, he made him ship’s mate. Even then Newton fell into trouble. One day, when the captain was ashore, Newton broke out the ship’s supply of rum and got the crew drunk. He was so drunk himself that when the captain returned and struck him in the head, Newton fell overboard and would have drowned if one of the sailors had not grabbed him and hauled him back on deck in the nick of time.

Near the end of the voyage, as they were approaching Scotland, the ship ran into bad weather and was blown off course. Water poured in, and she began to sink. The young profligate was sent down into the hold to pump water. The storm lasted for days. Newton was terrified, sure that the ship would sink and he would drown. But there in the hold of the ship, as he pumped water, desperately attempting to save his life, the God of grace, whom he had tried to forget but who had never forgotten him, brought to his mind Bible verses he had learned in his home as a child. Newton was convicted of his sin and of God’s righteousness. The way of salvation opened up to him. He was born again and transformed. Later, when the storm had passed and he was again in England, Newton began to study theology and eventually became a distinguished evangelist, preaching even before the queen.

Of this storm William Cowper, the British poet who was a close friend of John Newton’s, wrote:

God moves in a mysterious way,

His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea

And rides upon the storm.

And Newton? Newton became a poet as well as a preacher, writing some of our best-known hymns. This former blasphemer wrote:

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds

In a believer’s ear!

It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,

And drives away his fear.

He is known above all for “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found—

Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,

I have already come;

’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.

Newton was a great preacher of grace. And no wonder! He had learned what all who have ever been saved have learned: namely, that grace is from God, apart from human merit. He deserved nothing. But he found grace through the work of Jesus.[2]


23 The reason all must come to God through faith in Christ is that “all have sinned and fall short of [or lack, as in Mk 10:21] the glory of God.” This crisp summarizing statement repeats the point already established by Paul in 3:9, 19. The glory in view cannot be eschatological (as in 5:2), since even believers, for whom the sin problem has been solved, lack the future glory now. The suggestion that the glory is God’s approbation or praise (Denney, 610) is unlikely, since this meaning of doxa (GK 1518), common in Luke, is somewhat rare in Paul. Dodd, 50–51, seeks to link the glory with the image of God in man (cf. 1 Co 11:7), which is marred by sin. This is suggestive, but it would be more acceptable if Paul had used the past tense (“have fallen short”) to match the sense in the previous statement about sin. Probably the best interpretation is to associate the glory with the divine presence and the privilege Adam and Eve originally had of direct communion with God. This ever-present deprivation is depicted in the restriction of the glory to the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and the denial of the right of access to the people except through the high priest once a year. God’s glory is the majesty of his holy person. To be cut off from this direct fellowship is the great loss occasioned by sin.[3]


22b–23 In something of a parenthesis, vv. 22b–23 remind us why this righteousness is available to all, and why, also, all need this righteousness. “There is no distinction” summarizes a key element of Paul’s presentation in 1:18–3:20, and is likely, therefore, to have special application to Jew and Gentile. In v. 23, Paul elaborates this point. His “no distinction,” as we would expect, has to do with the absence of any basic difference among people with respect to their standing before God. Jews may have the law and circumcision; Americans may lay claim to a great religious heritage; “good” people may point to their works of charity; but all this makes no essential difference to one’s standing before the righteous and holy God. Paul reduces the argument of 1:18–3:20 to its essence in a justly famous statement of the condition of all people outside Christ: “all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God.” The second verb states the consequences of the first: because all have sinned, all are falling short of the glory of God. “Glory” in the Bible characteristically refers to the magnificent presence of the Lord, and the eternal state was often pictured as a time when God’s people would experience and have a part in that “glory” (e.g., Isa. 35:2; Rom. 8:18; Phil. 3:21; 2 Thess. 2:14). And just as this sharing in God’s “glory” involves conformity to the “image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29–30; Phil. 3:21), so the absence of glory involves a declension from (though not removal of) the “image of God” in which human beings were first made. “The future glory may be regarded as the restoration of the lost, original glory.”736 Paul, then, is indicating that all people fail to exhibit that “being-like-God” for which they were created; and the present tense of the verb, in combination with Rom. 8, shows that even Christians “fall short” of that goal until they are transformed in the last day by God.[4]


3:23 / For all have sinned. This is Paul’s categorical summary of the human experience. In chapter 3 he repeats this judgment nine times (vv. 4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 19, 20, 22, 23)! Regardless of the distinctions humans draw among themselves, in God’s sight “there is no difference.” All have sinned is an essential prelude to verse 24. Only in the light of grace can humanity recognize and lament its rebellion; only in the light of its rebellion is humanity humbled to receive grace. If humanity is to be saved, salvation must come from outside it, for on its own humanity stands under wrath. The Reformers referred to this as “alien righteousness,” salvation from outside, salvation not from humanity, but freely and entirely from God. Karl Barth presses this idea into service when he says, “Genuine fellowship is grounded upon a negative: it is grounded upon what men lack” (Romans, p. 101). There is no denominator common to humanity, whether social status, nationality, race, or whatever interests, which constitutes the fellowship of righteousness. All humans share a solidarity of impoverishment with one another in God’s sight. The one thing they have in common is that which makes them objects of both wrath and grace, their unworthiness before God.

Unworthiness is characterized by a falling short of the glory of God. Paul said earlier of those who sought glory and did good that “glory, honor, and peace” would await them (2:10). It might be supposed that the human predicament is actually a failure to “come of age” or attain its destiny. This is quite an alien thought for Paul. Falling short of the glory of God is surely a reference to Adam’s sin in Genesis 3. Humanity lacks glory not because it has failed in its potential, but because it has lost it through disobedience. The lacking of glory draws our attention not to a hopeful evolutionary spiral, but to the state of sin (“under sin,” 3:9), resultant from humanity’s exchanging the glory of God for its own will (1:21–23).[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Vol. 1, pp. 197–210). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: Justification by Faith (Vol. 1, pp. 347–362). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[3] Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 70). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Moo, D. J. (2018). The Letter to the Romans. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (Second Edition, pp. 246–247). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[5] Edwards, J. R. (2011). Romans (pp. 101–102). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

August 16 Guilty Feelings

Scripture Reading: Psalm 103:6–12

Key Verse: Psalm 103:12

As far as the east is from the west,

So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just when we think we are free of some past sin, the enemy discreetly reminds us from where we came. He places sin around our necks like an albatross. Is it possible to shed those feelings of guilt forever and find spiritual peace?

The motive of the devil is to lie to us so that we become confused and wander away from the narrow path that leads to our heavenly Father. That’s why we must ask the Lord for discernment from the enemy’s lies so that we can put them aside and move forward.

When we ask God to forgive us of any sin we have committed—whether it be in the distant past or just today—He gladly obliges us. Suddenly, the sin that was a barrier in our relationship with God is removed. God never reminds us of our past sins.

David wrote that God removes our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). We know that, yet we still struggle with past sins. In overcoming those feelings of guilt, we must be in constant remembrance that it is God’s grace that brings freedom.

Whenever the enemy brings our past to mind, we can defeat him by recalling our source of forgiveness and reminding ourselves of what God’s Word says: our sins are gone as far as the east is from the west.

Lord, when I am reminded of past sins, I know it is not You who is dangling them under my nose. I renounce the works of the enemy in trying to discourage me.[1]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (2006). Pathways to his presence (p. 239). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

August 16 The Great All

Scripture Reading: John 14:21–23

Key Verse: Hebrews 11:6

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

  1. A Tozer underscored the vital necessity of reckoning with the unseen reality of God and His power:

The spiritual is real … We must shift our interest from the seen to the unseen. For the great unseen reality is God. “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). This is basic in the life of faith.

Every man must choose his world … As we begin to focus on God, the things of the Spirit will take shape before our inner eyes.

Obedience to the Word of Christ will bring an inward revelation of the Godhead (John 14:21–23).

A new God-consciousness will seize upon us, and we shall begin to taste and hear and inwardly feel the God Who is our life and our all.

More and more, as our faculties grow sharper and more sure, God will become to us the great All and His Presence the glory and wonder of our lives.

Tozer concluded with this prayer. Lift it as your own today:

Dear Lord, open my eyes that I may see; give me acute spiritual perception; enable me to taste Thee and know that Thou art good. Make heaven more real to me than any earthly thing has ever been.[1]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (1999). On holy ground (p. 239). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

August 16 Shattering Strongholds

Scripture reading: Matthew 4:1–11

Key verse: Psalm 56:2

My enemies would hound me all day,

For there are many who fight against me, O Most High.

To tear down the enemy’s strongholds so you can enjoy the freedom in Christ that belongs to you, you must first restrict his work and influence.

You remember from 2 Corinthians 10:3–5 that you cannot fight him by ordinary means. Bringing every thought captive to Christ is a job for Jesus Christ. Jesus does it for you when you use scriptural principles for warfare.

First, get rid of any objects and materials that belong to Satan. The Bible is clear that astrology and occult practices are Satan’s domain (Deut. 18:10–14; Gal. 5:20). If you have any occult paraphernalia, destroy it at once. It would be a good idea to have a pastor or Christian friend with you as a witness.

Second, pray in Jesus’ name for the stronghold to be shattered. Before you pray, find some Bible verses that pertain to your situation, and use them in your prayer. There is real power in the name and blood of Christ, and Satan cannot stand in the presence of the Son of God.

Always bear in mind that you are not the one doing the binding or crushing of Satan’s influence. Pride or a desire for personal power has no place in battling the evil one. Your liberation lies only in humble faith in the power of Christ. Jesus came to set you free; claim that freedom today.

In the name of Jesus, every stronghold in my life is shattered by the power of the blood! Jesus came to set me free, and I claim that freedom today![1]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (2000). Into His presence (p. 239). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

August 16, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Answer for Unbelief

“No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (3:13–17)

Only someone who has been to heaven can truly know what it is like. Yet human beings, short of death, do not have the ability to visit heaven since they are confined to time and space. Thus Jesus said that no one has ascended into heaven (cf. Prov. 30:4) because it is humanly impossible to do so. John declared in the prologue to his gospel, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (1:18). “Not that anyone has seen the Father,” Jesus agreed, “except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father” (6:46). It may be noted that Lazarus was to return from the dead (11:23–24), and after the crucifixion of our Lord, the graves were opened and some saints returned (Matt. 27:52–53). These rare exceptions prove the rule. The other unique event was the visit of the apostle Paul to “the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2).

The only one possessing true knowledge of heavenly reality is He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. God “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:2). He is “the bread of God … which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world” (John 6:33; cf. 6:51). “I have come down from heaven,” He declared in John 6:38, “not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” In John 6:62 He asked, “What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” In John 8:42 Jesus said to His accusers, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.” John prefaced his account of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet with the statement that Jesus “had come forth from God and was going back to God” (John 13:3). Later that same evening in the Upper Room Jesus told the disciples, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father” (John 16:28). In His High Priestly Prayer Jesus prayed, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). To the Corinthians Paul wrote, “The first man [Adam] is from the earth, earthy; [but] the second man [Jesus] is from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47).

Beginning in verse 14, Jesus appealed to an Old Testament illustration to make His point, further emphasizing that there was no excuse for Nicodemus, an expert in the Scriptures, to be ignorant of the way of salvation. As a type of His sacrificial death on the cross, the Lord referred to an incident recorded in Numbers 21:5–9:

The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

The event took place during Israel’s forty years of wilderness wandering before entering the Promised Land. As a judgment upon the people’s incessant complaining, the Lord sent venomous snakes to infest their camp. In desperation, the Israelites begged Moses to intercede on their behalf. And Moses’ prayerful petition was answered with a display of divine grace, as God showed mercy to His rebellious people. He instructed Moses to make a bronze replica of a snake and raise it above the camp on a pole. Those who were bitten would be healed if they but looked at it, thereby acknowledging their guilt and expressing faith in God’s forgiveness and healing power.

The point of Jesus’ analogy was that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up (crucified; cf. 8:28; 12:32, 34). The term must emphasizes that Christ’s death was a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation (cf. Matt. 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22; 17:25; 24:7, 26; Acts 2:23; 4:27–28; 17:3). He had to die as a substitute for sinners, because “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), and “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). Therefore God, “being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us” (Eph. 2:4), “sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9–10). The stricken Israelites were cured by obediently looking apart from any works or righteousness of their own in hope and dependence on God’s word at the elevated bronze serpent. In the same way whoever looks in faith alone to the crucified Christ will be cured from sin’s deadly bite and will in Him have eternal life.

This is the first of fifteen references in John’s gospel to the important term eternal life. In its essence, eternal life is the believer’s participation in the blessed, everlasting life of Christ (cf. 1:4) through his or her union with Him (Rom. 5:21; 6:4, 11, 23; 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:3–4; 2 Tim. 1:1, 10; Jude 21). Jesus defined eternal life in His High Priestly Prayer to the Father: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). It is the life of the age to come (Eph. 2:6–7), and believers will most fully experience it in the perfect, unending glory and joy of heaven (Rom. 8:19–23, 29; 1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:20–21; 1 John 3:2).

Verse 16 is undoubtedly the most familiar and beloved verse in all of Scripture. Yet its very familiarity can cause the profound truth it contains to be overlooked. God’s motive for giving “His indescribable gift” of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 9:15) was that He loved the evil, sinful world of fallen humanity. As noted earlier in this chapter, all humanity is utterly sinful, completely lost, and unable to save itself by any ceremony or effort. Thus, there was nothing in man that attracted God’s love. Rather He loved because He sovereignly determined to do so. The plan of salvation flowed from “the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind” (Titus 3:4). “God demonstrates His own love toward us,” wrote Paul to the Christians in Rome, “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). John wrote in his first epistle, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.… We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:10, 19). Such love is so vast, wonderful, and incomprehensible that John, shunning all adjectives, could only write that God so loved the world that He gave His own Beloved Son (cf. 1 John 3:1). World is a nonspecific term for humanity in a general sense. The statement in verse 17, “that the world might be saved through Him,” proves that it does not mean everyone who has ever lived, since all will not be saved. Verse 16 clearly cannot be teaching universal salvation, since the context promises that unbelievers will perish in eternal judgment (vv. 16–18). Our Lord is saying that for all in the world there is only one Savior (1 John 2:2), but only those who are regenerated by the Spirit and who believe in His gospel will receive salvation and eternal life through Him. (For a more extensive discussion of this point, see my book The God Who Loves [Nashville: Word, 2001], especially pp. 99ff.)

Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:19 used the term world in a similar way: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not in the sense of universal salvation, but in the sense that the world has no other reconciler. That not all will believe and be reconciled is clear from the pleading in verse 20: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (For a further discussion of those verses, see 2 Corinthians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 2003]).

There are no words in human language that can adequately express the magnitude of God’s saving gift to the world. Even the apostle Paul refused to try, declaring that gift to be “indescribable” (2 Cor. 9:15). The Father gave His only begotten (unique; one of a kind; cf. the discussion of 1:14 in chapter 3 of this volume) Son—the One of whom He declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matt. 3:17; cf. 12:18; 17:5; 2 Peter 1:17); the One whom He “loves … and has given all things into His hand” (John 3:35; cf. 5:20; 15:9; 17:23, 26); the One whom He “highly exalted … and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9); the One with whom He had enjoyed intimate fellowship from all eternity (John 1:1)—to die as a sacrifice on behalf of sinful men. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf,” wrote Paul, “so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). In his majestic prophecy of the Suffering Servant Isaiah declared,

He was pierced through for our transgressions,

He was crushed for our iniquities;

The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,

And by His scourging we are healed.

All of us like sheep have gone astray,

Each of us has turned to his own way;

But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all

To fall on Him. (Isa. 53:5–6)

By “sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). To the Galatians Paul wrote, “when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4–5). Just as the supreme proof of Abraham’s love for God was his willingness to sacrifice his son (cf. Gen. 22:12, 16–18), so also, but on a far grander scale, the Father’s offering of His only begotten Son was the supreme manifestation of His saving love for sinners.

God’s gracious gift of salvation is freely and only available (Rom. 5:15–16; 6:23; 1 John 5:11; cf. Isa. 55:1) to whoever believes in Christ (Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 3:36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 8:24; 11:25–26; 12:46; 20:31; Acts 2:44; 4:4; 5:14; 9:42; 10:43; 13:39, 48; 16:31; 18:8; Rom. 3:21–22; 4:3–5; 10:4, 9–10; Gal. 2:16; 3:22; Phil. 1:29; 1 John 3:23; 5:1, 13). The free offer of the gospel is broad enough to encompass the vilest sinner (1 Tim. 1:15), yet narrow enough to exclude all who reject Christ (John 3:18). But to those who come to Him on His terms Jesus gave the marvelous promise, “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).

The guarantee given to those who possess eternal life is that they will never perish. Genuine salvation can never be lost; true believers will be divinely preserved and will faithfully persevere (Matt. 10:22; 24:13; Luke 8:15; 1 Cor. 1:8; Heb. 3:6, 14; 10:39) because they are kept by God’s power (John 5:24; 6:37–40; 10:27–29; Rom. 5:9; 8:29–39; 1 Cor. 1:4–9; Eph. 4:30; Heb. 7:25; 1 Peter 1:4–5; Jude 24).

To perish is to receive God’s final and eternal judgment. It is true that God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; Jesus Himself declared in John 12:47, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” In Luke 19:10 He said, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost,” and Jesus made a similar statement in Luke 5:31–32: “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” God will judge those who reject His Son (cf. the discussion of v. 18 below); that judgment, however, was not the mission of the Son in His first coming, but the consequence of sinners rejecting Him (John 1:10–12; 5:24, 40).

Jesus’ statement in verse 17 also repudiated the popular belief that when Messiah came, he would judge the heathen and the Gentiles—but not the Jews. The prophet Amos had already warned against that foolish misinterpretation of the Day of the Lord:

Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord,

For what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you?

It will be darkness and not light;

As when a man flees from a lion

And a bear meets him,

Or goes home, leans his hand against the wall

And a snake bites him.

Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light,

Even gloom with no brightness in it? (Amos 5:18–20)

The point of Jesus’ coming was not to redeem Israel and condemn the Gentiles, but that the world might be saved through Him. God’s gracious offer of salvation extended beyond Israel to all mankind. Once again, Nicodemus (and by extension the Jewish nation he represented) should have known that, for in the Abrahamic covenant God declared, “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3; cf. 18:18; 22:18; Acts 3:25). Gentile salvation was always God’s purpose (Isa. 42:6–8; 55:1).[1]


The Love of God

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

There are many passages in the Bible that have been chosen by some great person or other as a favorite text. John Wesley often said that his favorite verse was Zechariah 3:2: “Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” David Livingstone preferred the last words of Matthew 28:20: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” John Newton said that his favorite verse was Romans 5:20: “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” Luther had Romans 1:17 as his life text: “The righteous will live by faith.” Each of these verses has spoken to some man in his own particular condition and has become for him the greatest text in the Bible. But the verse we come to now is everyone’s text.

There is hardly a place in the world to which the gospel of Jesus Christ has gone that this verse has not become almost instantly known. It is the first verse that translators put into another language. Millions of people have been taught to recite it. It is inscribed on books and buildings. It is reflected in songs. John 3:16! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This great verse with its emphasis upon God’s love and the gift of his love in Jesus Christ is stupendous.

In the early 1960s, the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth was in this country for a series of lectures, speaking in Chicago and in Princeton, New Jersey. There were discussion periods occasionally, connected with these addresses, and at one of the discussion periods an American asked a typically American question: “Dr. Barth, what is the greatest thought that has ever passed through your mind?” Barth paused for quite a long time as he obviously thought about his answer. Then he raised his head and said with grace and childlike simplicity:

Jesus loves me! This I know,

For the Bible tells me so.

This is a truth that Christians in all ages have acknowledged, and the more that they have discovered the person of Jesus Christ in the Bible, the more they have realized it.

I want to look at God’s love in this study, our first study of John 3:16, and I want to begin by reviewing some of the verses that speak about it.

A Great Love

The first verses are Ephesians 2:4–5. These are verses in which the apostle Paul speaks of God’s love, saying, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” These verses tell us that God’s love is great.

In preparation for this study I began to think about the term “great” in ways that I had never done before, and I came to the conclusion that we have lessened the force of what God means by the way we use the word. During the week before I wrote this chapter, I had attended a “Current Events Week” at a Christian school. While there I said that some of the points made by the speakers were “great.” After the meetings were over I told the president of the school that I felt that the points made would have a “great” effect on the students in the weeks and months ahead. Later in the week I attended a Young Life banquet in Philadelphia, and I said in that context that the evening was “great,” that the speakers were “great,” that the program of Young Life was “great.” I used the term honestly. Yet none of these things even begins to measure up to what the Bible means when it says that the love of God is great. God is the master of the understatement. Consequently, when he tells us that his love is great, he is telling us that it is so great that it goes beyond our own ideas of greatness or our own understanding.

John 3:16 was the verse through which D. L. Moody learned to appreciate the greatness of God’s love. Moody had been to Britain in the early days of his ministry and there had met a young English preacher named Henry Moorhouse. One day Moorhouse said to Moody, “I am thinking of going to America.”

“Well,” said Moody, “if you should ever get to Chicago, come down to my church and I will give you a chance to preach.”

Moody did not mean to be hypocritical when he said this, of course. He was merely being polite. Nevertheless, he was saying to himself that he hoped Moorhouse would not come, for Moody had not heard him preach and had no idea of what he would say should he come to Chicago. Sometime later, after Moody had returned home, the evangelist received a telegram that said, “Have just arrived in New York. Will be in Chicago on Sunday. Moorhouse.” Moody was perplexed about what he should do, and to complicate matters he was just about to leave for a series of meetings elsewhere. “Oh, my,” he thought, “here I am about to be gone on Sunday, Moorhouse is coming, and I have promised to let him preach.” Finally he said to his wife and to the leaders of the church, “I think that I should let him preach once. So let him preach once; then if the people enjoy him, put him on again.”

Moody was gone for a week. When he returned he said to his wife, “How did the young preacher do?”

“Oh, he is a better preacher than you are,” his wife said. “He is telling sinners that God loves them.”

“That is not right,” said Moody. “God does not love sinners.”

“Well,” she said, “you go and hear him.”

“What?” said Moody. “Do you mean to tell me that he is still preaching?”

“Yes, he has been preaching all week, and he has only had one verse for a text. It is John 3:16.”

Moody went to the meeting. Moorhouse got up and began by saying, “I have been hunting for a text all week, and I have not been able to find a better text than John 3:16. So I think we will just talk about it once more.” He did. Afterward Moody said it was on that night that he first clearly understood the greatness of God’s love.

Infinite Love

The Bible not only says that the love of God is great; it also says that it is infinite. This is what Paul means when he writes in the third chapter of Ephesians that his prayer for Christians is that they “may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18–19). How can we comprehend the infinite love of God? We can know it, but only in part. We have been touched by his love and bathed in part of it; yet the fullness of such love lies forever beyond us as the vastness of the universe lies beyond the finite, probing eye of man. God’s love is boundless and unfathomable.

One of our seldom sung hymns puts this aspect of God’s love in memorable language. It was written by Frederick M. Lehman; but the final stanza was added to the song afterward, when it was found written on the wall of a room of an asylum by a man who, before he died, had obviously come to know the immeasurable extent of God’s love.

The love of God is greater far

Than tongue or pen can ever tell,

It goes beyond the highest star

And reaches to the lowest hell.

The guilty pair, bowed down with care,

God gave His Son to win:

His erring child He reconciled,

And pardoned from his sin.

Could we with ink the ocean fill

And were the skies of parchment made;

Were every stalk on earth a quill

And every man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry,

Nor could the scroll contain the whole

Though stretched from sky to sky.

Chorus

O love of God, how rich and pure!

How measureless and strong!

It shall for evermore endure—

The saints’ and angels’ song.

This is our song, if we have come to know in part that great and immeasurable love of God toward us through Christ Jesus.

A Love That Gives

Third, God not only tells us that his love is great and is infinite, he also tells us that his love is a giving love. This is the heart of John 3:16. How much does God love you? God loves you so much “that he gave his one and only Son.”

We are going to be considering the gift of God in the next study, but we do not want to miss even here the great lesson there is in that statement. Once in the early days of my ministry, when I was still working in Washington, D.C., I became interested in the subject of God’s love and discovered as I studied the Bible that there is hardly a verse in the New Testament, in speaking of God’s love, that does not also speak in the immediate context (and sometimes within a space of a few words) of the cross. How do we know that God loves us? Because we are able to love one another a little bit? Because the world is beautiful? Because we value love? Not at all! We know that God loves us because he has given us his only-begotten, his unique, Son. It is in the face of the selfless, self-sacrificing Jesus Christ that we learn of God’s character.

God loves you! Do you know that? God loves you! He has demonstrated that love for you in Jesus Christ!

Unchangeable Love

Finally, God not only tells us that his love is great, infinite, and giving; he also tells us that his love is unchangeable. This is perhaps the most wonderful aspect of all. The heart of the matter is that God loves in such a way that nothing you or I have done or will ever do will alter it.

This is a point made by one of the greatest stories in the Bible, the story of Hosea and his unfaithful wife, Gomer. Hosea was a preacher. One day the Lord came to him and said, “Hosea, I want you to marry a woman who is going to prove unfaithful to you. You are going to love her, but she is going to turn from your love. Nevertheless, the more faithless she becomes, the more faithful and loving you will be. I want you to do this because I want to give Israel an illustration of how I love them. Your marriage will be a pageant. You will play God. The woman will play the part of Israel. For I love Israel with an unchangeable love, and she runs from me and takes other gods for lovers.”

Hosea did as God had told him to do. So the Book of Hosea tells us, “When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.’ So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son” (Hosea 1:2–3).

At this point of the story God intervened, for he had said that he was going to order each stage of the relationship between Hosea and Gomer. God intervened to give a name to this son. “Call his name Jezreel,” God said. Jezreel means “scattered,” for God was going to scatter the people of Israel all over the face of the earth. After a time Gomer conceived again and bore a daughter. “Call her Lo-Ruhamah,” God said. Lo-Ruhamah means “not pitied.” God was saying that the time would come when he would “no longer show love to the house of Israel” (v. 6). Finally, another son was born and Hosea was told to call him Lo-Ammi. Lo-Ammi means “not my people.” “For,” said God, “you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

If the story stopped at this point the ending would be exceedingly dismal, and the pageant would be illustrating the opposite of the unchangeable love of God. But it does not stop here, and God intervenes again to tell how the story will end. “I am going to change the names of those children one day,” God promised. “I am going to change Jezreel to Jezreel.” It is the same word but with a second meaning, a change from “scattered” to “planted,” because in the ancient world the same gesture by which a man would throw something away was that by which he would plant grain. God was promising to plant the people once again in their own land, as he has done in our own generation. “Moreover,” said God, “I am going to change Lo-Ruhamah to Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi to Ammi because the time is coming when I will again have pity upon those who will have again become my children.” The Bible says, “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God’ ” (v. 10).

The time came in the marriage when the events that God had foretold happened. Gomer looked around and caught the eye of a stranger. Before long she had left with him, and Hosea was alone.

The life of a woman like that goes downhill. For if she had left Hosea for the company of a man who could give her a Cadillac and a fur coat this year, it is equally certain that the year following, when the first lover had grown tired of her, she would be found with a man who could only give her a fur-lined collar and an Oldsmobile. The year after that she would be in fake fur and a Volkswagen, and the year after that she would be pulling something out of the garbage heap. So it was with Hosea’s wife. The time came when she was living with a man who did not have the means to take care of her, and she was hungry.

“Now,” said God to Hosea, “I want you to go and see that she gets the things she needs, because I take care of the people of Israel even when they are running away from me.” Hosea went and bought the groceries. He gave them to the man who was living with his wife, but he said that Gomer did not even know he had bought them. The story tells us, “Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace. She said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.’ … She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold” (Hosea. 2:5, 8).

Does God love like that? Yes, he does! Have you ever run away from God? Of course, you have! What happened? God paid your bills! If you have been running away from God, do you realize that it is God who gives you the strength to run? Here is a girl who says, “I don’t care if God is calling me into Christian work. I’m going to turn away and marry this young man.” God says, “Who gave you the good looks that made the young man interested?” Another person says, “I want to be famous.” So he goes to New York and writes a book that later becomes a movie. He makes lots of money. But God says, “Who gave you the talent to write the book in the first place? Did not I, the Lord?” You cannot run away from God’s love successfully. You can run, but God pursues you. He steps before you and says, “My child, I am the One who has been providing for you all this time. Won’t you stop running and allow me to take you to myself?”

The final act of the drama was approaching. The time came when Gomer sank so low that she was sold as a slave in the city of Jerusalem, and God told Hosea to go and buy her. Slaves were always sold naked. Thus, when a beautiful girl was on sale, the men bid freely and the bidding always went high. Here was Gomer. Her clothes were taken off. The bidding began. One man bid three pieces of silver. Another said five … ten … twelve … thirteen. The low bidders had dropped out when Hosea said, “Fifteen pieces of silver.” A voice from the back of the crowd said, “Fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel of barley.” “Fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel and a half of barley,” said Hosea. The auctioneer looked around for a higher bid. Seeing none he declared, “This slave is sold to Hosea for fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel and a half of barley.” So Hosea took his wife (whom he now owned), put her clothes on her, and led her away into the anonymity of the crowd.

You say, “Is that a true picture of God’s love?” Yes, it is! That is how God loves you. Listen to what the Bible says about it: “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, ‘You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you’ ” (Hosea 3:1–3).

Oh, the greatness of the unchangeable love of almighty God! God loves you and me like that! We are the slave sold under the bondage of sin. We are the one placed upon the world’s auction block. The bidding of the world goes higher and higher. “What am I bid for this person’s soul?” At this point Jesus Christ, the faithful bridegroom, enters the slave market of sin and bids the price of his blood. “Sold to Jesus Christ for the price of his blood,” says Almighty God. So he bought you. He clothed you in his righteousness. And he led you away with himself, saying, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.”

God’s Love, Our Pattern

You say “What does that have to do with me?” It has everything to do with you. Are you one who has never known that love, never realized that Jesus Christ loved you like that, that he still loves you? To be touched with such love is to throw yourself at his feet in adoration and marvel that you could ever have violated such a great and unalterable compassion. The Bible tells us that God “commends” such great love toward us (Rom. 5:8). Won’t you allow the hardness of your heart to melt before God’s love and allow Jesus Christ to be your great Savior and bridegroom?

Perhaps you are one who has already done that. You have believed in Christ, but the reality of that love has become distant for you and you have never fully realized that the love of Christ is to become the pattern of your love. He is to be your model. You need to ask whether your love has been great, whether it has the character of that love which is infinite, whether it is a giving love, whether it is unchangeable. Ask it now. Does your love change when the person whom you love does not respond quickly? Or does it hold firm? Do you continue to love when your wife, husband, child, or friend does not seem to see things the way you do and contradicts you? Do you love as Christ loves? You are called to show forth that love; for as others see it they will be drawn to the Lord Jesus.

God’s Greatest Gift

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

It is commonplace in our day to say that God loves men. But many who say this fail to recognize that we know this is so only because of Jesus Christ. How do we know that God loves us? Not because of creation certainly, for the evidence of creation is ambiguous. There are tidal waves and hurricanes as well as gorgeous sunsets. Not because we tend to value love, for not all of us do. Not because love is “wonderful” or “grand” or because it “makes the world go round.” We know that God loves us because he has given his Son to be crucified for us and thereby to bring us back into fellowship with himself. Thus, if the love of God is one of God’s greatest attributes (as we saw in our last study), the gift of Christ is most certainly his greatest gift. For it is through Christ that we come to know God’s love and love God.

Sometime ago I came across a little card upon which someone had printed John 3:16. The verse was arranged almost word by word down one side of the card, and on the other side of the card across from the words of the verse was a list of descriptive phrases, one for each part. The person looking at the card would read: “God (the greatest Lover) so loved (the greatest degree) the world (the greatest company), that he gave (the greatest act) his only begotten Son (the greatest gift), that whosoever (the greatest opportunity) believeth (the greatest simplicity) in him (the greatest attraction) should not perish (the greatest promise), but (the greatest difference) have (the greatest certainty) everlasting life (the greatest possession).” And then over it all, revealing a spiritual perception that was most accurate, there was the title “Christ—the Greatest Gift.”

Have you ever come to appreciate God’s greatest gift to you, the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ? We are going to look at some of the reasons why he is a great gift and why you should believe on him.

God So Loved

The first reason why Jesus Christ is the greatest of God’s gifts is that Jesus is the best God had to give. God so loved the world that he gave the very best.

This truth is seen in several ways in John 3:16. First, it is obvious from the word “only-begotten,” which is used of Jesus. To our way of thinking, this word (it is one word in Greek) refers mainly to physical generation, but it means more than that in the original language. A great deal of theological controversy in the church was once caused by those who took it as simply physical generation; they argued that since the Bible says Jesus was the “only-begotten” Son, there must have been a time before he came into being. In other words, he did not exist from eternity but rather was the first being God created. This was foolish, of course, because the Bible does not teach this and the word does not have this meaning primarily. Primarily the word means “unique.” Jesus is the unique Son of God; there is no one like him, no one who is his equal. Therefore, because Jesus Christ is the very image of God and because there is no one like him, when God gave Jesus, he gave the best gift in the universe.

God also gave the best in another sense. For Jesus Christ is not at all a creature made in the image of God, as man is; he is God incarnate. Consequently, when God gave Jesus he gave himself. To give oneself is the greatest gift anyone can give. Sometime ago I read a story of a minister who was talking to a married couple who were having marital difficulties. There was much hardness and bitterness, coupled with a lack of understanding. At one point the husband spoke up in obvious exasperation. “I’ve given you everything,” he said to the wife. “I’ve given you a new home. I’ve given you a new fur coat. I’ve given you a new car. I’ve given you …” The list went on. But when he had ended the wife said quietly. “That much is true, John. You have given me everything … but yourself.”

We hear that story and we recognize the truth of the principle: the greatest gift that anyone can give is himself. Then we look at Jesus, who is God incarnate, and we recognize that God gave the very best—himself—for us.

An Eternal Plan

The second reason why Jesus Christ is God’s greatest gift is that Jesus was a gift planned from before the foundation of the world. God had always intended to give Jesus. This is why so many of the verses in the Bible speak of God having put Jesus to death. Isaiah 53:10 speaks of the crucifixion eight centuries before it took place, saying, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” Peter knew this truth. On the day of Pentecost he spoke of Jesus who “was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). For the same reason the Book of Revelation speaks of Jesus as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).

We must not think that the entrance of sin into the world through Adam and Eve was an event that somehow caught God by surprise or that it caused God to begin to ponder what he should do to correct it. God knew all from the beginning. Consequently, before he even set the universe in motion, before he created us, he had determined to send Jesus Christ to die for the salvation of our race.

Perhaps the greatest declaration of this principle lies in a poignant story from the life of Abraham, the story of the call of God to Abraham to offer up his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. It is told in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. I believe that Jesus was referring to this event when he told the Jews of his day, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56), and that through it Abraham learned that God was to give Jesus Christ to be our Savior.

To see the story in its proper perspective we must begin with the fact that Abraham was an old man by our standards when God came to him to ask him to offer up Isaac. He had been eighty-six years old when his first son, Ishmael, had been born to Hagar, Sarah’s slave girl. He was one hundred years old when Sarah at last gave birth to Isaac. Now Isaac had become a young man, perhaps fifteen years of age or more, and Abraham was more than one hundred fifteen. Moreover, Abraham had loved his son from birth, as any father would, and he now loved him deeply with a love that had grown stronger over the years in which he had seen him grow to young manhood. He loved him doubly, not only because he was the son of his old age, the result of a miracle, but also because he was the son of promise.

At this point God came to Abraham again—as he had many times before—and said to him, “Abraham.”

“Yes, Lord.”

“I am going to ask you to do something.”

“Yes, Lord.”

“I want you to take Isaac, the son of promise, the one through whom you are going to have a great posterity and through whom I am going to send the Messiah—I want you to take this Isaac to a mountain that I will show you and there offer him for a burnt offering. I want you to kill him.”

I do not know the extent of the trial this must have been to Abraham’s faith or how much of the night he wrestled with this great problem. But whatever the struggle was, and however deep, it was all over by the following morning, for the Abraham that emerged in the morning was an Abraham committed to obedience. The story says, “Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about” (Gen. 22:3).

There are many lessons in this story, of course, but there is one in particular that we should see before we go on. On one level at least, the test of Abraham was a test of his devotion to God. Was God going to be everything to Abraham? Or was something else, even God’s gift, going to share and cloud that vision? It was Abraham’s triumph that he did not put the gifts before the Giver.

Isaac can stand for many things that have become quite precious to you. The Chinese evangelist Watchman Nee once wrote, “He represents many gifts of God’s grace. Before God gives them, our hands are empty. Afterwards they are full. Sometimes God reaches out his hands to take ours in fellowship. Then we need an empty hand to put into his. But when we have received his gifts and are nursing them to ourselves, our hands are full, and when God puts out his hand we have no empty hand for him.” When that happens we need to let go of the gift and take hold of God himself. Nee adds, “Isaac can be done without, but God is eternal.”

God Will Provide

Yes, the testing of Abraham was certainly a test of his devotion to God, but it was something else also. It was a spiritual test or, as we could also say, a test of his spiritual perception.

Think of the things Abraham had learned in the years before Isaac’s birth. He had been tempted to think that God would not keep his promises and that a household servant would be his legal heir. God had taught him that the blessing would not come through the household servant. Abraham had once wanted to substitute Ishmael, the son of Hagar, for Isaac—before Isaac was born. But God had told him that the blessing would not come through the son of the Egyptian slave girl. God had shown Abraham through a miracle that the blessing was to come through Isaac, and now God had asked Abraham to kill him.

We must imagine the reasoning that passed through the mind of Abraham in the dark hours of that desert evening. He must have said something like this: “I know that Isaac is the son of God’s promise, and God has shown me time and again that he will not send the blessing through another. Yet, this same God tells me to sacrifice him, to put him to death. How can this be? If I put him to death, as God has demanded, how can God fulfill his promise? How can God do it?” The puzzle was real. But then, as Abraham wrestled with this supreme test of God’s logic, it must have come to him that the God who performed a miracle in bringing about Isaac’s birth was also capable of working a miracle to bring him back from the dead. This was the solution he discovered during the long desert night. Thus, as Abraham started for the mountain in the morning he must have been saying mentally to Isaac, “Come on, boy, we are going to see a miracle. God has asked me to sacrifice you on Mount Moriah. But if God is going to be faithful to his promise, he is going to have to raise you up again from the dead. We are going to see a resurrection.”

Someone may think that I have merely made up this part of the story, but this is the way it happened. The proof of it occurs in at least two parts of the Bible. The first is in the story itself. Abraham had come to the foot of the mountain with the boy, and he was ready to go on without the young men who were with him. As he takes the kindling and he and Isaac prepare to climb the mountain, Abraham says to the others: “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you” (Gen. 22:5). Think of that: we will come back to you. Who would come? Abraham and Isaac! What does that mean? It means that although Abraham believed that he was going to offer the sacrifice, he also believed that God was going to perform a resurrection and that he would be able to come back down the mountain with his boy.

The second proof is Hebrews 11:17–19, which is the full New Testament commentary on the incident. “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” That means that Abraham looked for a resurrection.

Thus far the story has already been great in itself, but the point I wish to make is the point that is found in the sequel. Abraham did go up the mountain, as God had commanded him, and there bound Isaac to the altar. He raised his hand ready to plunge a knife into his son. He would have killed him. But just as the knife was ready to fall, God intervened. God provided a substitute, a ram caught in the bushes. And he said (in effect), “Abraham, you don’t need to sacrifice your son. I never intended that you should go through with it. I only wanted to test your willingness to obey me and to show you in this way what I will do one day for your salvation and for the salvation of all who will believe in my Son, the Messiah.” This, I believe, was the moment in which Abraham saw the day of Jesus Christ and, seeing it, was made glad.

God revealed his ways to Abraham. The Bible says, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). So the time came when the events God had planned from before creation and had revealed to Abraham two thousand years beforehand took place. Abraham was only called upon to offer his son. But when the time came for God to offer his Son, the hand that was poised above Christ fell. God put his Son to death, and God’s greatest gift had been given.

The Need of Man

The third reason why Jesus Christ is the greatest of God’s gifts to fallen man is that he is perfectly suited to the needs of fallen man. Nothing else is! What are the needs of man? What are your needs?

Your first need is for a sure word from God, for knowledge of God. Jesus is the answer to that need, for it is Jesus alone who brings us the knowledge of who God is, what he is like, and what he desires for mankind. This is why Jesus is called the Word so many times in John’s writings. Do you want to know what God is like? If so, do not spend your time reading the books of men. Do not think that you will find out by meditating. Look to Jesus Christ. Where will you find him? You will find him in the pages of the Bible. There you will find the strength, mercy, wisdom, and compassion that are the essence of God’s character.

Your second great need is for a Savior. We do not merely have a need for sure knowledge. We have knowledge of many things, but we are unable to live up to our knowledge. We are sinners. Consequently, we not only need a sure word from God, we need a Savior. Jesus is the Savior. He died to save you from sin and from yourself. Do you know him as Savior?

Finally, we have those needs that are part and parcel of living a finite sinful life. What are those needs? One way of looking at them is the way popularized by the American psychiatrist Erich Fromm. Fromm suggests that man is confronted with three existential dilemmas. The first is the dilemma of life versus death. We want to live, but we all die. Jesus is the answer to that problem, for he gives eternal life to all who believe on him. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25, 26). The second of Fromm’s dilemmas is the dilemma of the individual and the group. Jesus is the answer to that problem too, for he has come to break down all walls and to make of his followers one new man which is his mystical body (Eph. 2:14–16). The last of Fromm’s dilemmas is that arising from the conflict between our aspirations and our actual achievements. We all fall short of what we would like to be and believe ourselves intended to be. Jesus is the answer to that problem also, for he promises to make us all that God created us to be in the first place. We are to be conformed to Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29). One of our hymns looks forward to that day when our salvation shall be complete, and declares:

Then we shall be where we would be,

Then we shall be what we should be;

Things that are not now, nor could be,

Soon shall be our own.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest gift that God has ever offered or could ever offer to the human race. Are you indifferent? Or do you respond to the offer, joining the millions of others who have believed in Christ with all their heart and mind and who now say, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15)?

To All Who Believe

John 3:16–17

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Early in my ministry I talked to a young man about Christianity. He told me that he firmly believed he was a Christian. As we talked further, however, I discovered that although he believed he was a Christian, he did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. For him Jesus was only a man. He did not believe in his atoning death or in the essential or complete reliability of the New Testament documents concerning him. He had not even read most of them. He did not believe in the resurrection of Christ. He did not acknowledge Christ as Lord of his life. I pointed out that all these matters are involved in a person’s being a Christian, but he simply answered that in spite of what I said he still firmly believed in his heart he was a Christian. Such faith was merely acute subjectivity.

What is real faith? This question is important, for although in one sense the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ is as wide as humanity—the Bible tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son”—on the other hand, it is also as narrow as the company of those who have faith in him, for the same verse goes on to tell us that only those who believe on Christ will be saved. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Faith is the indispensable channel of God’s saving grace, according to these and many other verses. Consequently, our understanding of John 3:16 will be incomplete until we deal with the nature of saving faith and seek to apply the truths of this verse personally.

An attempt to deal with the true nature of faith is made necessary merely by the nature of Christianity, for we are told that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6) and “by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Besides this, however, the study is made particularly necessary for us simply because of the extraordinary emphasis upon faith in the fourth Gospel.

It is true, of course, that if one looks up the word “faith” in an English concordance he will not find the word listed under any book written by the apostle John, except for a single case in 1 John 5:4. But this is merely because John prefers the verb form of the same Greek word (pisteuō rather than pistis), which is generally translated by the word “believe” in our English New Testament. “To believe” in someone and “to have faith” in someone are exactly the same thing. Consequently, it is only when one looks up the word “believe” that he finds out what John says about faith and notices John’s particular emphasis. Actually, we have encountered the word “faith” or “believe” eight times in this Gospel already. It occurred three times in the first chapter and three times more in chapter two. In our present chapter it is used no less than seven times, twice already. All together there are ninety-eight uses of the word in the Gospel’s twenty-one brief chapters. This compares with a combined usage of the words “faith” and “believe” just eighteen times in Mark and only fifty-five times in Romans.

With an emphasis such as this, we need to see precisely what faith is. Moreover, since the blessings of salvation are said to become ours only through faith, and since John claims that the Gospel was written to lead us to faith (John 20:30–31), we are wise to ask how we can exercise faith personally. How does faith operate to make this wonderful salvation mine?

The Nature of Faith

Unfortunately, there is much confusion about the meaning of faith in our day simply because we apply it to people, and people are untrustworthy. Every so often we read detailed reports of some negotiations between labor and management in which the partners are encouraged to work out their demands in good faith. This means that each side is to bargain honestly, believing that the other party is doing likewise. However, when the agreement is reached the first act is to draw up a detailed written agreement each of the parties must sign. Why? Obviously because, although each side wants to believe in the good faith of the other, each also knows that people are untrustworthy and must therefore be bound by written guarantees. The same recognition lies behind the formalities of the marriage ceremony, penalty clauses in building contracts, and many other things.

With this background to the use of the word, it is no wonder that faith has often taken on overtones of wishful thinking and then has been applied to God and to spiritual things with that meaning. The unsaved world thinks of faith as a “pie-in-the-sky” philosophy and prefers only what it can “see” or “hear” or can be assured of “now.”

Similar thinking lies behind any definition of faith that tries to turn it into subjectivity. Actually, this view is probably the most common misunderstanding of faith in our own century due to the impact of existentialism in the church through such thinkers as Rudolph Bultmann, Paul Tillich, Bishop John A. T. Robinson, and others. In such formulations faith becomes merely that which I wish to hold and not something that is related to truth or evidence.

Against these distortions of the meaning of faith, because nothing about men is ever entirely reliable, the Christian must insist that biblical faith is of a different order entirely and that faith in the biblical sense, simply because it is faith in God, is reliable. That is why faith can be “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” for the Christian (Heb. 11:1). Some have used this verse in support of a “pie-in-the-sky” type of religion but, actually, it teaches the reverse. The word “substance” does not mean “substitute,” as though faith were a substitute for evidence. It means “a title deed to a piece of property.” That is what faith is. God tells us that although none of us has entered fully into the inheritance that is ours through faith, nevertheless, faith is our title to it. Faith is itself the evidence of things not yet fully seen.

I admit that if this were a human title deed, there would still be some room for doubt. In human terms there would still be the possibility that some office clerk could have mixed up the deeds or that he might have sent them to the wrong person. It would be possible for a deed to be issued when there was still a prior claim on the property or a lien against it. However, in dealing with God such errors are impossible. God is omnipotent and infallible. The infallible God gives the deed. The all-powerful God stands behind it. When God calls upon people to believe what he tells them he calls upon them to do the most sensible thing they will ever do in their lives; that is, believe in the only being in the universe who is entirely reliable. That is what John means in his first epistle when he writes: “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater” (1 John 5:9).

Faith’s Content

What precisely does God call upon us to believe? The answer is that he tells us many things and expects us to believe them all. The Bible is full of them. However, if we want to simplify the matter of salvation to its most basic points we may say that God wants us to believe two things primarily and that he then calls upon us to do a third.

First of all, God asks us to believe that we are less perfect than he is and, therefore, deserve to be separated from his presence forever. Another way of saying the same thing is to say that we are sinners and that God must punish sin. The Bible says that this is precisely why we need a Savior. In fact, John 3:16 says it, for it speaks of the possibility of perishing. If we could somehow get by, if we could somehow rate with God either by being a little less sinful than we are now or by trying harder (“we’re still number 2”), then there would be no need for a Savior. But this is not the case. We are sinful. God is perfect. Consequently, since God cannot tolerate sin, we must admit that we deserve to be separated from him.

Sometimes people object to this teaching because they think that it makes them the same as the worst criminals. In one sense, it does. Both equally need a Savior. Yet that confuses the point. The main point is that God is perfection. Thus, no matter how far short of his perfection we come, we still come short and, coming short, we miss it all.

Several years ago in America a bit of deadly botulism poison was found in a particular brand of vichyssoise soup. This is one of the most deadly poisons known to man, and one person at least died and another was paralyzed before the source of the poison was discovered and the contaminated soup destroyed. Let me ask this question: How much botulism poison was needed to make the soup unsuitable for human consumption? A whole canful? Of course not! Several milligrams? No! The smallest amount of poison would ruin the can. In the same way, God asks you to take his word that you are a sinner, whether small or great, and to believe that sin has ruined you.

The second truth that God asks you to believe is that he loves you in spite of your sin and that he has acted in Jesus Christ to remove that sin and to begin to make you perfect once more by conforming you to Christ’s image. This is the heart of John 3:16 and 17. We are sinners. We deserve to perish. In fact, we are already under God’s condemnation. But John tells us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” God loves you. Christ died for you. There may be much about this that you cannot now understand. There is much about it that I do not understand. But God wants you to believe that he did this in order that you might not perish but rather enter into his eternal life.

Do you believe these things? Do you believe that you are a sinner? Do you believe God when he tells you that you deserve to perish ultimately? Do you believe that God sent Jesus to die for you and by his death to bring you salvation? If you do, then he calls upon you to do something. He asks you to bring your faith out of the realm of mere intellectual conviction into the area of action, saying, “Yes, Lord, I do believe these things. Thank you for dying for me. I commit my life to you and promise to go in the way you lead me whatever that may involve.” If you will make that commitment, God has already given you eternal life and has begun the transformation that will one day make you like the Lord Jesus Christ forever.

Strong in Faith

I do not want to leave the matter of faith there, important as the point may be. For we have only been talking about the initial moment of saving faith, when faith first seizes upon Jesus Christ as Savior. Faith does not stop there. When the Christian is called to faith in Jesus Christ, he is called to a life of living by faith, a life in which his belief in God is meant to grow stronger as he comes to know God better and to trust him more completely.

Someone is going to say, “But that is what scares me. I know that my faith is not strong, and I am afraid that if I begin to follow Jesus I will faint at some point and want to draw back. My faith is weak.” Praise God that you recognize that! What you must learn, however, is that one of God’s purposes in saving you is to make your faith strong, and for that he will continue to work with you and lead you in every aspect and moment of your earthly life.

Take the faith of Abraham as an example. Abraham is cited many times in the Bible as an illustration of a man who had great faith, but Abraham’s faith did not begin great. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews gives us the progression of this faith as God sees it. Abraham is praised for his faith four times. The first verse on Abraham says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (v. 8). That was faith, but such faith did not need to be strong. It was only faith in God’s ability to lead the Hebrew patriarch out of Mesopotamia and into Palestine.

Actually, the fact that Abraham’s faith was weak at this point is dramatized by a very interesting detail from his story. When God came to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees, Abraham was called upon to leave that place, journey up the Mesopotamian river valley, cross over the northern end of the great Arabian desert, and then travel down through the areas that are now modern-day Syria and Lebanon to what is now Israel. The entire journey measured over a thousand miles. Abraham began in the best of faith. Yet when we come to the end of the first chapter of his story, as told in Genesis (Genesis 11), we find that Abraham had stopped at Haran, a little town in Syria. Haran was a long way from Ur, it is true, but it was also a long way from Palestine. Unfortunately, Abraham stayed in Haran until his father died, and it took another call of God to him to get him moving again, this time when he was seventy-five years old. At this point in the story Abraham’s faith was weak, but God’s promises to him were not withdrawn because of it.

Abraham’s faith was not allowed to rest at this initial level. The next verse of Hebrews 11 goes on to say: “By faith [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise” (v. 9). This level of faith was stronger, for it was faith exercised in the face of many dangers and difficulties. During these years, Abraham’s faith grew remarkably.

In verse 11, the author of Hebrews goes on to speak of the faith that both Abraham and Sarah exercised in believing that God would give them a son when both were past the age of being able to have children. Here faith had become strong, for it was a faith based on the assurance that God was able to perform miracles. The fourth and final reference to Abraham’s faith refers to that complete trust in God which he had when God asked him to offer up his son. This was a faith that led Abraham to believe that God was going to perform a resurrection. Hebrews says: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (vv. 17–19).

I do not know where you are along this pathway of faith. Perhaps you are one who has not even taken the initial step of believing what God has to say about your sinful condition and about his offer of complete salvation through Jesus Christ. If so, this is where you should begin. God says, “How can you believe in my ability to do miracles in your life, if you cannot even believe the truths that I have to teach about Jesus?”

Perhaps you have begun to walk by faith, but you have found difficulties. That is not strange. God sends storms as well as calm. The difficulties are intended to help you grow strong. Learn to trust him. The God of Abraham is the same today; he can help you as he helped the patriarchs.

Finally, you may be one whom God is asking to believe in miracles. I do not know what the particular miracle may be in your life. It may be a personality trait that God is promising to change. It may be a difficult situation at work or at home. It may involve finances. Whatever it is, you grow strong in faith by learning to trust him. In some of these experiences you may learn something about God’s plans and nature that you would learn in no other way. What is your attitude? Doubtful? Rebellious? Do not let it be. Instead, say, “Yes, Lord, I believe all you are saying. Help me to believe and grow strong.”[2]


The Greatest Verse in the Bible

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Because so many Americans watch sports events, Christians often attempt to present some kind of gospel witness in stadiums and arenas. Perhaps you have seen the signs, held up in the crowd or posted on a wall. Most commonly, the signs have this short message: JN 3:16. The idea is obviously that people either know or will find out that JN is shorthand for the Gospel of John, and that 3:16 means chapter 3, verse 16. The hope is that great things will happen if people will merely pick up a Bible and read this one verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Some people argue that Genesis 1:1 is the most important verse in the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Others say the Ten Commandments are most important. Significant as it is to learn that our world has a Creator and to know what is right and wrong, however, these truths can be known without the Bible. Nature itself reveals its Maker, and all mankind has an inward conviction about morality. But John 3:16 presents a message that cannot be known apart from the Bible. How does God feel about us, and what has he done, if anything, to help us? There is no greater question and no more glorious answer than that given in John 3:16. Bruce Milne says that it “is a masterly and moving summary of the gospel, cast in terms of the love of God.” Martin Luther called this verse “the Bible in miniature,” because it contains the heart of God’s entire message. This is why John 3:16 is the greatest verse in the Bible.

God’s Amazing Love

Another way to see the greatness of John 3:16 is to point out that it presents the Bible’s greatest theme: God’s love for us through Jesus Christ. Naturally, John is not the only biblical writer to extol God’s love, and we can profit from looking at how others describe it.

Paul says that God’s love is great: “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4–5). We tend to overuse the word great. We say that we had a “great time” if we enjoyed ourselves at all. If God blesses us a bit in ministry, we say that we had a “great success.” Overused like this, the word great loses some of its force. But when the Bible says that God’s love is great, it means it! We see that God’s love for the world is great in the amazing care he exercised in creating it; nature reveals the marks of the most loving craftsmanship. The Greek word that Paul uses for great (pollein) is used to describe an overflowing harvest or intense emotions. God’s love truly deserves to be called great.

Paul elsewhere describes God’s love as unfathomable. In the third chapter of Ephesians, he prays that believers “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18–19). What we are to comprehend about the dimensions of God’s love is that they are beyond measure. It is possible to exhaust the love of a spouse, friends, or even parents. But it is not possible to exhaust the love of God. Frederick M. Lehman wrote:

The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell;

It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.

God’s love is joined to all his other attributes. A great mistake that many make is to pit one of God’s attributes against another. Many of us, for instance, prefer God’s love to God’s holiness. But we must never think that we must or even can choose between the two. God’s holiness is a loving holiness, and God’s love is a holy love. Our generation has spoiled much of the idea of love—particularly romantic love—by joining it with sin. But God does not and cannot do that. His love is joined to holy purposes, and his love for us will have the ultimate result of bringing us to a gloriously holy condition. When I am counseling couples before their marriage, I often hear one of them (usually the bride) say, “I never want to change him!” I always pause, lean forward, look her in the eye, and say, “You will! You will!” God’s love never says, “I don’t want to change you.” Because God’s love is holy, he intends to change us by loving means, so that we will become the holy people that we were always meant to be.

God is almighty, and therefore his is an almighty love. This means that he is able to do all that his love desires for us. J. I. Packer writes that God’s love “has at its heart an almighty purpose to bless which cannot be thwarted.” Who, then, can separate us from this love? Paul asks (Rom. 8:35). “I am sure,” he answers, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38–39).

Moreover, as God is unchangeable, so also his love is unchangeable. John Owen writes, “Though we change every day, yet his love does not change. If anything in us or on our part could stop God loving us, then he would long ago have turned away from us. It is because his love is fixed and unchangeable that the Father shows us infinite patience and forbearance. If his love was not unchangeable, we would perish.”

God is eternal, and so is his love. Paul teaches, “He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). God’s love for us originated in eternity past, and its end flows to eternity future. God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you” (Isa. 54:10). Moreover, as God is sovereign, so is his love. Ephesians 1:4–6 explains, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.” James Montgomery Boice writes, “God’s love is a sovereign love.… His love is uninfluenced by anything in the creature. And if that is so, it is the same as saying that the cause of God’s love lies only in himself.… In Scripture no cause for God’s love other than his electing will is ever given.” This was God’s explanation to Israel for the love he showed the people in the exodus: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you” (Deut. 7:7–8).

Finally, we should note that God’s love is infinite. There is no greater proof of this idea than John’s statement that God loved the world. There is an infinite distance between God and this wicked world, but God’s love is infinitely great to span that distance. God tells us, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). But he still loves us! Our world has rebelled against God, flouting his authority and mocking his ways. Most people reject God’s rule over their lives. Paul notes, “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). That is an accurate description of our world today. The distance between us and God is infinite in every way, yet God has loved the world.

When John speaks of “the world,” he is being intentionally provocative. Old Testament Jews believed that God loved them, but rejected the idea that God loved anyone else. Leon Morris explains, “It is a distinctively Christian idea that God’s love is wide enough to embrace all people. His love is not confined to any national group or spiritual elite.” The same is true today. John does not say that God loves religious people or that God loves Christians, but that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). This is why the message of Jesus Christ is good news for everyone. Romans 5:8 tells us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God’s Giving Love

This brings us to the particular point that John 3:16 stresses: God’s love is a giving love. The Greek language has four words for love. The first is storge, which is family love. Whatever they think of each other, family members are to be loyal. The second is eros, which is romantic or sexual love. The third kind of love is philos, which is the love of friendship or attraction. The word philosophy means “a love of wisdom.” This is a receiving love; it is based on what we get and how good something or someone makes us feel. But the New Testament stresses a fourth kind of love, using the Greek word agape. This is a giving love. It is not based on what we receive but on what we give. Agape love has its classic definition in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.”

The greatness of God’s love for the world is most clearly seen in the gift that he gave: “his only Son.” John says not merely that God loved the world, but that “God so loved the world.” The word so indicates both the manner in which God loved the world—by giving his Son—and the intensity of God’s love for the world. How do we measure God’s love for us? By calculating the infinite value of his precious Son, Jesus Christ.

John refers to Jesus as God’s “only Son.” We are undoubtedly intended to reflect on this truth in light of our love for our own children. Even though we are corrupted by sin, it is natural for us to love our children with great intensity. Mothers exhaust themselves rocking babies to sleep. Fathers spend long hours fixing bikes and playing games that they would have no interest in were it not for their children. Parents weary themselves with extra jobs to clothe and feed and educate their children. To neglect our children, as many do today, is so obviously wrong that it is universally condemned. Nature knows no greater love than that of a parent for his or her child, and Christ is God the Father’s only child. God many times spoke of his love for his Son, and Jesus often basked in the love of his Father. So in giving his only Son, God was truly giving his very heart. John Flavel asks, “Who would part with a son for the sake of his dearest friends? But God gave him to, and delivered him for enemies: O love unspeakable!” God could not possibly love this world more or better than in giving his beloved only Son.

In saying that God gave his only Son, John 3:16 corrects a terribly common mistake in thinking about God the Father. Because Jesus died to satisfy God’s justice, some think God’s love is caused by Christ’s sacrifice and is even reluctant or halfhearted. But John 3:16 teaches exactly the opposite. “The gift of Christ … is the result of God’s love to the world, and not the cause. To say that God loves us because Christ died for us, is wretched theology indeed. But to say that Christ came into the world in consequence of the love of God, is scriptural truth.” God loved this evil world not after but before the Savior came to turn our hearts back to heaven; God’s love is the reason that we can be forgiven and born again to inherit eternal life.

When John says that God “gave” his only Son, exactly what does that mean? According to the Bible, the Father sent the eternal and glorious Son into this world to take our mortal nature, with all the weakness and suffering that involved (see Heb. 2:17). Jesus states thirty-nine times in John’s Gospel that the Father “sent” him into the world with a mission of salvation to perform. God sent him to reveal his truth, to proclaim the good news of salvation, and especially to do the work needed for the salvation of those who believe. J. C. Ryle declares:

Christ is God the Father’s gift to a lost and sinful world. He was given generally to be the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Friend of sinners,—to make an atonement sufficient for all,—and to provide a redemption large enough for all. To effect this, the Father freely gave Him up to be despised, rejected, mocked, crucified, and counted guilty and accursed for our sakes.

This means that when we read that God “gave his only Son,” we should think of the cross where Jesus suffered and died, that we might be forgiven of our sins. So great is his love that if our redemption from sin required the torturous death of his only Son—even the outpouring of his own wrath on his most beloved child—God was willing to give him for this purpose. Jeremiah Burroughs marvels:

Behold the infinite love of God to mankind and the love of Jesus Christ that, rather than God see the children of men to perish eternally, He would send His Son to take our nature upon Him and thus suffer such dreadful things. Herein God shows His love.… It pleased the Father to break His Son and to pour out His blood. Here is the love of God and of Jesus Christ. Oh, what a powerful, mighty, drawing, efficacious meditation this should be to us!”

During the darkest times of World War I, a war that claimed the lives of a shocking number of English sons, a man took his little boy out for a walk at night. The boy noticed that some of the houses had stars in the windows. “That comes from this terrible war, laddie,” the father explained. “It shows that these people have given a son.” They had walked a bit farther when the young boy stopped, and pointed up to the sky where a bright evening star had appeared. He said, “Daddy, God must have given a Son, too.” Leon Morris remarks, “That is it. In the terrible war against evil, God gave his Son. That is the way evil was defeated. God paid the price.”

God’s gift therefore was not only infinite in value, but also perfectly suited to our greatest need. Here again is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” We might prefer that God would do something other than send his only Son to be our Savior. But God’s love addresses our true and greatest need. Whenever the New Testament speaks of God’s love, it almost invariably does so in terms of the atoning work of Christ on the cross. John 3:16 is a typical example. In the previous two verses Jesus told Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (3:14–15). That was an allusion to his death on the cross. This, then, is how the world knows God’s love and receives God’s love: not because we are able to love one another a bit; not because there is beauty in the world; but because God sent Jesus to die for our sins. John writes in his first epistle, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world.… He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9–10).

Receiving God’s Love

The Puritan John Flavel concluded his study of John 3:16 with three keen observations. First, he says, this verse shows us “the exceeding preciousness of souls, and at what a high rate God values them, that he will give his Son, his only Son out of his bosom, as a ransom for them.” Surely this argues—God’s having given his only Son for the saving of souls—that we ought to labor with all our might to bring people to salvation. John 3:16 says that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It is through our witness that they can believe. It is because we take an interest in their souls, because we speak earnestly to them about Jesus, and because we invite them to join us at church and hear God’s Word that souls are saved today. This must apply most urgently to our own children. It is dismaying to see how little interest so many parents take in the souls of their children. Since we love them, and since their souls are so precious to God, we should be especially determined to set them a godly example, to pray with and for them, to teach them God’s Word, and to involve them in the worship and life of the church.

Second, Flavel notes, since God has given us his Son, we may be confident of receiving every other help and mercy we need to endure this life and arrive safely into heaven. Knowing this should give us peace in every storm and confidence in the face of life’s trials. Knowing how much God has already given us—his very best in the person of his own Son—we should trust his love and come to him with a holy boldness in prayer. Paul reasoned, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). God will not withhold anything we need, having already given his Son, Jesus, so we should not shrink back from asking for and confidently awaiting anything we truly need.

Third, Flavel observes, “If the greatest love hath been manifested in giving Christ to the world, then it follows that the greatest evil and wickedness is manifested in despising, slighting, and rejecting Christ.” There can be no greater condemnation of our hearts than for us to disregard this amazing love of God in giving his only Son to suffer in our place. What does God ask and expect of us? God demands what love always desires: to be received. Jesus said in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” John 3:16’s message is that God calls us to believe on Jesus Christ—to receive his love-gift through personal faith in Jesus. If we believe, he promises us “eternal life.” But if we are so hardened of heart to refuse this matchless gift from God, John warns, the result is that we will “perish.” Having spurned God’s love on the cross, we must receive the just penalty for all our sins and especially for the chief sin of rejecting God’s only Son. As the writer of Hebrews warns us, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Heb. 2:3).

There is one last application for those who believe in Christ and who are thus born again into eternal life. If God loved us by giving us his Son, we ought to love him with all that we have in return.

Shortly after the end of the American Civil War, a man in farm clothes was seen kneeling at a gravestone in the soldier’s cemetery in Nashville. An observer came up and asked, “Is that the grave of your son?” The farmer replied, “No, I have seven children, all of them young, and a wife on my poor farm in Illinois. I was drafted and, despite the great hardship it would cause, I was required to join the Army. But on the morning I was to depart this man, my neighbor’s older son, came over and offered to take my place in the war.” The observer solemnly asked, “What is that you are writing on his grave?” The farmer replied, “I am writing, ‘He died for me.’ ”

With that same devotion, we should love God for his love in giving Jesus Christ to die for us. Like the farmer in the story, we should make an effort to serve the Lord and give a testimony to his love for us. We should further express our devotion by loving others with the same kind of love that God has shown to us. We are to show a love that the world does not know—a love not based on getting, not one that seeks mainly for ourselves, but a love that says, “God has given to me, so I want to love him by giving to others.” This giving love should beautify our marriages, should enliven our friendships, and should glorify God in the church. This was John’s own application in his first epistle, having spoken first of God’s love for us in the giving of his Son: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). If we live out God’s amazing, giving love, that will be our strongest testimony to a loveless world, so that others will learn of God’s amazing love from us, and that by believing in him they, too, will have eternal life.[3]


16. For God so loved the world. Christ opens up the first cause, and, as it were, the source of our salvation, and he does so, that no doubt may remain; for our minds cannot find calm repose, until we arrive at the unmerited love of God. As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Saviour. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish. And this order ought to be carefully observed; for such is the wicked ambition which belongs to our nature, that when the question relates to the origin of our salvation, we quickly form diabolical imaginations about our own merits. Accordingly, we imagine that God is reconciled to us, because he has reckoned us worthy that he should look upon us. But Scripture everywhere extols his pure and unmingled mercy, which sets aside all merits.

And the words of Christ mean nothing else, when he declares the cause to be in the love of God. For if we wish to ascend higher, the Spirit shuts the door by the mouth of Paul, when he informs us that this love was founded on the purpose of his will, (Eph. 1:5.) And, indeed, it is very evident that Christ spoke in this manner, in order to draw away men from the contemplation of themselves to look at the mercy of God alone. Nor does he say that God was moved to deliver us, because he perceived in us something that was worthy of so excellent a blessing, but ascribes the glory of our deliverance entirely to his love. And this is still more clear from what follows; for he adds, that God gave his Son to men, that they may not perish. Hence it follows that, until Christ bestow his aid in rescuing the lost, all are destined to eternal destruction. This is also demonstrated by Paul from a consideration of the time; for he loved us, while we were still enemies by sin, (Rom. 5:8, 10.) And, indeed, where sin reigns, we shall find nothing but the wrath of God, which draws death along with it. It is mercy, therefore, that reconciles us to God, that he may likewise restore us to life.

This mode of expression, however, may appear to be at variance with many passages of Scripture, which lay in Christ the first foundation of the love of God to us, and show that out of him we are hated by God. But we ought to remember—what I have already stated—that the secret love with which the Heavenly Father loved us in himself is higher than all other causes; but that the grace which he wishes to be made known to us, and by which we are excited to the hope of salvation, commences with the reconciliation which was procured through Christ. For since he necessarily hates sin, how shall we believe that we are loved by him, until atonement has been made for those sins on account of which he is justly offended at us? Thus, the love of Christ must intervene for the purpose of reconciling God to us, before we have any experience of his fatherly kindness. But as we are first informed that God, because he loved us, gave his Son to die for us, so it is immediately added, that it is Christ alone on whom, strictly speaking, faith ought to look.

He gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him may not perish. This, he says, is the proper look of faith, to be fixed on Christ, in whom it beholds the breast of God filled with love: this is a firm and enduring support, to rely on the death of Christ as the only pledge of that love. The word only-begotten is emphatic, (ἐμφατικὸν,) to magnify the fervour of the love of God towards us. For as men are not easily convinced that God loves them, in order to remove all doubt, he has expressly stated that we are so very dear to God that, on our account, he did not even spare his only-begotten Son. Since, therefore, God has most abundantly testified his love towards us, whoever is not satisfied with this testimony, and still remains in doubt, offers a high insult to Christ, as if he had been an ordinary man given up at random to death. But we ought rather to consider that, in proportion to the estimation in which God holds his only-begotten Son, so much the more precious did our salvation appear to him, for the ransom of which he chose that his only-begotten Son should die. To this name Christ has a right, because he is by nature the only Son of God; and he communicates this honour to us by adoption, when we are ingrafted into his body.

That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favour of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.

Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith. Here, too, is displayed a wonderful effect of faith; for by it we receive Christ such as he is given to us by the Father—that is, as having freed us from the condemnation of eternal death, and made us heirs of eternal life, because, by the sacrifice of his death, he has atoned for our sins, that nothing may prevent God from acknowledging us as his sons. Since, therefore, faith embraces Christ, with the efficacy of his death and the fruit of his resurrection, we need not wonder if by it we obtain likewise the life of Christ.

Still it is not yet very evident why and how faith bestows life upon us. Is it because Christ renews us by his Spirit, that the righteousness of God may live and be vigorous in us; or is it because, having been cleansed by his blood, we are accounted righteous before God by a free pardon? It is indeed certain, that these two things are always joined together; but as the certainty of salvation is the subject now in hand, we ought chiefly to hold by this reason, that we live, because God loves us freely by not imputing to us our sins. For this reason sacrifice is expressly mentioned, by which, together with sins, the curse and death are destroyed. I have already explained the object of these two clauses, which is, to inform us that in Christ we regain the possession of life, of which we are destitute in ourselves; for in this wretched condition of mankind, redemption, in the order of time, goes before salvation.[4]


16 The heart of the gospel is not a philosophical observation about the character of God as love but a declaration of that redemptive love in action. “For God so loved … that he gave.” The Greek verb is agapaō (GK 26). It is common to discuss three Greek words for love: eros, philia (GK 5802), and agapē (GK 27). The first is used of passionate desire (not found in the NT) and the second of a fondness expressed in close relationships. The third word (agapē) was rather weak and colorless in secular Greek, but in the NT it is infused with fresh significance and becomes the one term able to denote the highest form of love. Bible scholar A. M. Hunter highlights the significance of agapē by noting that while eros is all take and philia is give-and-take, agapē is all give.

Love must of necessity give. It has no choice if it is to remain true to its essential character. A love that centers on self is not love at all but a fraudulent caricature of real love. It is instructive to note that only here in the fourth gospel is a result clause placed in the indicative rather than the subjunctive. Brown, 134, notes that this construction stresses the reality of the result: “that he actually gave the only Son.” The Greek monogenēs (GK 3666) means “of sole descent,” i.e., without brothers or sisters; hence the KJV’s “only-begotten” (from the Latin unigenitus). It is also used in the more general sense of “unique,” “the only one of its kind.” Jesus is the sole Son of God the Father. John refers to believers as “children of God” (tekna, GK 5451; 1:12; 11:52), but Jesus is the only Son (huios, GK 5626).

The object of God’s love is “the world” (kosmos, GK 3180). The giving of his Son was for the salvation of the entire human race. H. Sasse concludes that the cosmos epitomizes unredeemed creation, the universe of which Jesus is the light (Jn 8:12) and to which he comes (cf. TDNT 3:893–94). Any attempt to restrict the word kosmos (GK 3180) to the elect ignores the clear use of the term throughout the NT. God gave his Son for the deliverance of all humanity (cf. 2 Co 5:19). This giving extends beyond the incarnation. God gave his Son in the sense of giving unto death as an offering for sin. The universal scope of God’s love would have appeared novel and quite unlikely to the Jewish reader of the first century. After all, was not Israel the recipient of God’s special favor (cf. Ro 3:1–2; 9:3–5)? True; but in Christ all boundaries had been broken down (Eph 2:11–22). God’s love extends to every member of the human race. He died for all (cf. Ro 5:8; 1 Jn 2:2).

God’s role in redemption was the giving of his Son; the role of human beings is to believe. To believe in Christ is to accept and love him (Jn 1:12; 8:42). The Greek expression pisteuō eis (“to believe into”) carries the sense of placing one’s trust into or completely on someone. Paul’s teaching of believers as being “in Christ” is a theological reflection on the same expression. Those who believe in Christ escape destruction and are given “eternal life.” Barrett, 216, writes that “destruction is the inevitable fate of all things and persons separated from God and concentrated upon themselves.” The love of God has made it possible for people to turn from their self-destructive paths and receive from God the gift of everlasting life. This gospel comes as “good news” to all who, recognizing their plight, receive the priceless gift of God, even Jesus Christ, his Son.[5]


16 God loved “the world” (see Additional Note B, pp. 111–13). The Jew was ready enough to think of God as loving Israel, but no passage appears to be cited in which any Jewish writer maintains that God loved the world. It is a distinctively Christian idea that God’s love is wide enough to embrace all people. His love is not confined to any national group or spiritual elite. It is a love that proceeds from the fact that he is love (1 John 4:8, 16). It is his nature to love. He loves people because he is the kind of God he is. John tells us that his love is shown in the gift of his Son. Of this gift Odeberg finely says, “the Son is God’s gift to the world, and, moreover, it is the gift. There are no Divine gifts apart from or outside the one-born (sic) Son.” It should be noticed that God’s love is for “the world”; in recent times some scholars have argued that John sees God’s love as only for believers, but here it is plain that God loves “the world.” In typical Johannine fashion “gave” is used in two senses. God gave the Son by sending him into the world, but God also gave the Son on the cross. Notice that the cross is not said to show us the love of the Son (as in Gal. 2:20), but that of the Father. The atonement proceeds from the loving heart of God. It is not something wrung from him. The Greek construction puts some emphasis on the actuality of the gift: it is not “God loved enough to give,” but “God loved so that he gave.”78 His love is not a vague, sentimental feeling, but a love that costs. God gave what was most dear to him. For “one and only” see on 1:14, and for “believes” on 1:12 (also Additional Note E, pp. 296–98). The death of the Son is viewed first of all in its revelatory aspect; it shows us the love of the Father. Then its purpose is brought out, both negatively and positively. Those who believe on him do not “perish.” Neither here nor anywhere else in the New Testament is the awful reality behind this word “perish” brought out. But everywhere there is the recognition that a dreadful reality awaits the finally impenitent. Believers are rescued from this only by the death of the Son. Because of this they have “eternal life” (see on v. 15). John sets perishing and life starkly over against one another. He knows no other final state.[6]


16 Here the same question arises as in verse 13. Is Jesus still speaking, or does the Gospel writer now intervene to reflect on what has just been said? This time there is no title “Son of man” to assure us that Jesus is still the speaker, and the conjunction “for” (gar) is one of the characteristic ways of introducing authorial comments or narrative asides in this Gospel. Some English versions, therefore, place quotation marks after verse 15, signaling that Jesus’ speech has ended and that what follows are the Gospel writer’s words. The majority, however (including the most recent versions), extend Jesus’ speech to the end of verse 21, and the wisest course is to follow their example. While few interpreters would seriously argue that Jesus actually uttered the words found in verses 16–21 to Nicodemus and his companions at the first Passover in Jerusalem, Jesus has been introduced as “the Word,” the only Revealer of God. It is fair to assume that once he is so introduced all authoritative revelation in the Gospel comes from him, whether through his own lips or the pen of the Gospel writer. Without a clear notice in the text that his speech is over, the reader should keep on listening as to the voice of “the One who came down from heaven, the Son of man,” for only he can speak of “heavenly things” (vv. 12–13). As we have seen, it is still too early in the Gospel for Jesus to use the pronoun “I” in delivering these oracles of God, as if he is God himself, so the text resorts to first-person plurals (as in v. 11) or to the third person (as here). The conjunction “for” does introduce an explanatory comment, but the comment is Jesus’ own. Jesus builds on the language and thought of verses 14 and 15 to explain precisely why “the Son of man must be lifted up” (v. 14). He confirms that the necessity is divine, grounded in “God,” and God’s love for the world. Having looked at the cross from the human side, by a strange analogy with a snake fastened to a pole, he now places it within the eternal purposes of God. The grammar of the verse reflects this, as Jesus echoes the correlative construction of verse 14 (“And just asso”) with a corresponding one (“God so loved … so that he gave”).

This is the first mention of love in the Gospel of John, and it is rather untypical in that the object of God’s love is “the world” (ton kosmon). Nowhere else in John’s Gospel (or anywhere else in the New Testament!) is God explicitly said to “love” the world, yet it cannot come as a surprise to any reader who remembers that “the world came into being through him” (that is, through the Word, 1:10), and consequently that the world was “his own” (1:11). Jesus has already been identified as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29), and will be identified as “the Savior of the world” (4:42). God’s love for the world, though seldom explicit, is a given. At the same time, God has a unique and specific love for “the One and Only Son.” We have already learned that a “One and Only” shares in a father’s glory (1:14), and that Jesus as God’s “One and Only” is himself God, “right beside the Father” (1:18). Now it becomes explicit that “the One and Only” is God’s “Son” (see 1:34, 49), and that both terms are interchangeable with “Son of man” (vv. 13, 14).

The striking, even shocking, thing about God’s love for the world in relation to God’s love for his “One and Only Son” is that the former takes priority! The verb “to love” (agapan) in this Gospel implies not so much a feeling as a conscious choice. Often it implies a preference for one person or thing or way of life over another.108 The shock of the pronouncement is that here God puts the well-being of “the world” above that of “the One and Only Son.” The notion that God “gave” or “gave up” his only Son points unmistakably to Jesus’ death, confirming the interpretation of “lifted up” (v. 14) as crucifixion. We might have expected “God sent the One and Only Son” (as in 1 Jn 4:9), because “sent” is the operative verb for the mission of Jesus throughout the rest of the Gospel, beginning in the very next verse. But it is important that this first reference to Jesus’ mission specify its purpose as a redemptive mission. The “giving” includes all that the “sending” does and more, for in sending his “One and Only” into the world, God gave him up to death on a cross.111 The analogy that comes to mind is Abraham, and his willingness to offer up his “one and only” son Isaac as a sacrifice in obedience to God (Gen 22:1–14). This analogy, unlike that with Moses and the bronze snake, is never made explicit, but hints elsewhere in the Gospel suggest that what God asked of Abraham was something God himself would do in the course of time. Like the Moses analogy, it has its limits because God is not acting out of obedience to anyone but out of love for the world he has made. But while God’s love is universal, it guarantees eternal life not for the whole world indiscriminately but for “everyone who believes.” The last clause of verse 16 sounds like a refrain, echoing verse 15 with only two small changes: first, it is a matter not simply of “believing” but of “believing in” Jesus; second, to “have eternal life” is further explained by its natural opposite, to “not be lost” (mē apolētai; compare 6:39–40; 10:28; 12:25). This is the first hint of dualism in the discourse. Just as “eternal life” is more than simply the prolongation of physical life, so “being lost” is more than just physical death. It is, as the next verse will show, eternal condemnation and separation from God. There are no “lost sheep” in the Gospel of John (contrast Mt 10:6; 15:24; Lk 15:6), for Jesus’ “sheep” will never be lost and those who are “lost” are not his sheep (see 10:26–28).[7]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 112–117). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 226–245). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Phillips, R. D. (2014). John. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (1st ed., Vol. 1, pp. 167–176). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[4] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel according to John (Vol. 1, pp. 122–126). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[5] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 400). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[6] Morris, L. (1995). The Gospel according to John (pp. 202–204). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[7] Michaels, J. R. (2010). The Gospel of John (pp. 200–203). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

August 16 Walking in the Spirit

scripture reading: Galatians 6:7–9
key verse: Galatians 6:8

He who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.

You are driving on a long trip to visit your folks for Thanksgiving. In the backseat, friction is rising between your ten–year–old and twelve–year–old. You have a decision. Will you lose your temper and discipline the children, or will you firmly correct them with your emotions under the Spirit’s control?

Such are the constant choices each individual makes to “walk in the Spirit.” It is not a mystical experience but practical submission to God’s will in everyday circumstances. Walking in the Spirit is thus a cultivated lifestyle, learning to act and react under His direction and influence rather than being controlled by temperament or personality.

Each day brings increasing cooperation with the Spirit’s will and power. You can walk in the Spirit one trusting step at a time. Begin with the next decision you must make.

One step at a time—and let me take it under the control of Your Spirit, O God. Teach me to act and react under Your direction. Make me Spirit led instead of temperament controlled.[1]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (1998). Enter His gates: a daily devotional. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

16 august (1857) 365 Days with Spurgeon

The good man’s life and death

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21

suggested further reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18

Not the greatest master-minds of earth understand the millionth part of the mighty meanings which have been discovered by souls emancipated from clay. Yes, brethren, “To die is gain.” Take away, take away that hearse, remove that shroud; come, put white plumes upon the horses’ heads, and let gilded trappings hang around them. There, take away that fife, that shrill sounding music of the death march. Lend me the trumpet and the drum. O hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah; why do we weep the saints to heaven; why need we lament? They are not dead, they are gone before. Stop, stop that mourning, refrain your tears, clap your hands, clap your hands.

“They are supremely blest,

Have done with sin, and care, and woe,

And with their Saviour rest.”

What! Weep for heads that are crowned with garlands of heaven? Weep for hands that grasp the harps of gold? What, weep for eyes that see the Redeemer? What, weep for hearts that are washed from sin, and are throbbing with eternal bliss? What, weep for men that are in the Saviour’s bosom? No; weep for yourselves that you are here. Weep that the mandate has not come which bids you to die. Weep that you must tarry. But weep not for them. I see them turning back on you with loving wonder, and they exclaim “Why weepest thou?” What, weep for poverty that it is clothed in riches? What, weep for sickness, that it has inherited eternal health? What, weep for shame, that it is glorified; and weep for sinful mortality, that it has become immaculate? Oh, weep not, but rejoice. “If you knew what it was that I have said unto you, and where I have gone, you would rejoice with a joy that no man should take from you.” “To die is gain.”

for meditation: There is probably at least one Christian whom you miss terribly. The temporary loss and sorrow may be very hard for you (Philippians 2:27), but the dead in Christ enjoy eternal blessedness (Revelation 14:13).

sermon no. 146[1]


[1] Spurgeon, C. H., & Crosby, T. P. (1998). 365 Days with Spurgeon (Volume 1) (p. 235). Leominster, UK: Day One Publications.

16 AUGUST 365 Days with Calvin

Guilty of the Body and Blood

Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 11:27

suggested further reading: 2 Corinthians 13

If the Lord requires our gratitude in receiving this sacrament, and he would have us acknowledge his grace with the heart and publish it with the mouth, that person will not go unpunished who has put insult upon Christ rather than honor, for the Lord will not allow his commandment to be despised.

Now, if we would catch the meaning of this declaration, we must know what it is to eat unworthily. Some restrict that to the Corinthians and the abuse of the Lord’s Supper that has crept in among them, but I believe that Paul, according to his usual manner, passes here from a particular case to a general statement, or from one instance to an entire class. One fault prevails among the Corinthians. Paul uses this to speak of every kind of faulty administration or reception of the Lord’s Supper. “God will not allow this sacrament to be profaned without punishing it severely,” he writes.

To eat unworthily, then, is to pervert the pure and right use of the Lord’s Supper by our abuse of it. There are various degrees of this unworthiness, and some offend more grievously, while others less so. Some fornicator, perhaps, or perjurer, or drunkard, or cheat (1 Cor. 5:11) intrudes on the Supper without repentance. As such downright contempt is a token of wanton insult against Christ, there can be no doubt that such a person receives the Supper to his own destruction. Another, perhaps, who is not addicted to any open or flagrant vice, comes forward to the Supper. But he is not prepared in heart to receive Communion. Since this carelessness or negligence is a sign of irreverence, it also deserves punishment from God. As there are various degrees of unworthy participation, the Lord punishes some slightly, while on others he inflicts more severe punishment.

for meditation: It is a terrifying prospect to be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Let Paul’s warning drive you to make sure that you never attend the Table unworthily. You will always attend as a sinner, but come as a sinner saved by grace and be prepared in your heart to remember him.[1]


[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 247). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

August 16, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ (4:15b)

This loving, authentic testimony assists believers in growing into the very likeness of Jesus Christ. The phrase in all aspects calls for a comprehensive Christlikeness such as that described in verse 13 (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 5:2; 1 Pet. 2:21; 1 John 2:6).

The head … Christ expresses a familiar Pauline analogy indicating Christ’s authority (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18), leadership (Eph. 5:23), and here, as in Colossians 2:19, controlling power. He not only is the sovereign Head and the ruling Head but also the organic Head. He is the source of power for all functions. Human beings are declared officially dead when the EKG is flat, signifying brain death. As the brain is the control center of physical life, so the Lord Jesus Christ is the organic source of life and power to His Body, the church.

To grow into His likeness is to be completely subject to His controlling power, obedient to His every thought and expression of will. It is to personify Paul’s prayers “For to me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21) and “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).[1]


Spiritual Adults

Ephesians 4:14–16

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Several years ago the elders of Tenth Presbyterian Church spent a great deal of time thinking about a succinct statement of the unique purpose of the church. When it was finished it read like this:

Tenth Presbyterian Church is committed to developing and maintaining a strong teaching pulpit in center city Philadelphia, an effective network of fellowship groups aimed at meeting individual needs, a program of Christian education to promote the steady growth of our church family to spiritual maturity and, in cooperation with other Christians, an evangelistic outreach to our city and the world beyond.

Then, after this purpose statement was finished, it was passed on to a long-range planning commission, by whom it was expanded into five specific goals:

  1. To uphold our tradition of strong expository preaching by skilled men of God from our center city location.
  2. To integrate each member of the congregation into smaller fellowship groups where individual needs can be met and each can minister to others.
  3. To provide an effective Christian education program to inform, train, and disciple all segments of our congregation.
  4. To advance the missionary work of the church in the Philadelphia area and throughout the world, and
  5. To serve the social and physical needs of our community.

The next step in this plan will be to compile a list of particular objectives that would accomplish these goals, and then to set up a specific timetable for accomplishing them and a process of measurement afterward to see if they really have been accomplished.

The whole process sounds like a modern approach to church management, but it is as old as Ephesians 4. In that chapter dealing with the church, the apostle Paul states God’s purpose for the church and mentions his goals and objectives.

God’s Purpose for God’s Church

Without looking at this passage closely, what would you say the purpose of God for his church is? Some answer that question in terms of the missionary mandate. They remember that Jesus instructed his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Since this command is repeated with variations in each of the four Gospels and an additional time in the book of Acts it is obviously of great importance. It is neglected at the church’s peril. Yet, is this the church’s purpose? Those who think so think of the church as a mighty army engaged in a great, worldwide invasion. Their favorite image of the people of God is the church militant.

Others think of the church in terms of its social concern. They remember that Jesus spoke of separating the sheep from the goats on the basis of whether those involved fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, looked after the sick, and visited the ones who were in prison (Matt. 25:31–46). People who emphasize this ministry generally think of the church as an international social service agency. But is this the proper emphasis? Is this God’s greatest purpose for his people?

Still others regard the church as a retreat from the world, and their image of it is a fortress. In the world we have conflict. We take batterings from those who do not own Christ’s lordship and are opposed to manifestations or extensions of his rule. To these people the church is a place where we can nurse our wounds and be fired up to fight another day. Is this the proper view? Did God establish the church chiefly to be a refuge from earthly conflicts?

In the verses I am speaking of Paul handles the issue of God’s purpose for his church quite differently. No doubt Paul would have had little quarrel with these other emphases. These are things the church is called to do and areas in which it is to function. But “purpose” is a more embracing concept, and when Paul writes about it, as he does here, he thinks of it as God’s developing wholeness or maturity in his people. His image is that of a body, Christ’s body, and his concern is that it be built up. See how he puts it. God gave “some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (vv. 11–13).

Then, after speaking of the opposite possibility, namely, of the church remaining spiritually immature, like children, he says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (vv. 15–16).

In these verses Paul speaks of maturity once and of building up or growing up four times more. It means that for Paul God’s chief purpose for the church is that it might become full-grown and that each of its members might contribute to that maturity by becoming spiritual adults.

Unity to Be Attained

Paul is not just painting the scene with some broad brush of imagery, however. He is also being specific, as a careful examination of these verses shows. Granted that the church is to become spiritually mature. In what does that maturity consist? The first answer Paul gives—the first specific goal under his overriding purpose—is unity, the very point he has been making all along.

Up to this point Paul has been speaking of unity as a given, as something the church has and must maintain. He recognizes that there is diversity within the church, but far more important than the diversity are the things the people of God hold in common. He says, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (vv. 4–5). The church possesses these seven great unities. Since that is so, Paul’s admonition is: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (v. 3). A unity like this can only be maintained.

But it is entirely different in verse 13, where Paul speaks of reaching “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” This unity is something to be attained. It does not yet exist but is an expression of the full maturity to which the church and its members should aspire. It has two parts: “Unity in the faith” and “unity … in the knowledge of the Son of God.”

“Faith” usually means an individual’s subjective response to the Word of God and the gospel, and “knowledge” usually refers to the content of what a child of God is to believe. But in this expression—“Unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God”—it is actually the other way around. “The faith” refers to the theological content of Christianity; it is “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).

“Knowledge of the Son of God” refers to experiential knowledge of Jesus attained through day-by-day discipleship; it is what Paul refers to in Philippians 3 where he writes of his desire “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (v. 10). Paul means knowledge that goes beyond what can be packed into the head, knowledge that also trickles down into the heart and flows out into the life in obedient and loving service to the Lord.

This twofold knowledge—of the head and of the heart—is what Paul says the mature church should attain. Where possible we should have an outward, visible unity, for Jesus prayed that his church might have a unity on the basis of which unbelievers might be stimulated to faith (John 17:23). But far more important than any outward show of unity is that deep, inward, motivational unity that comes from believers growing in a knowledge of the truth, as we find it in the Bible, and living that truth out experientially in day-by-day fellowship with Jesus Christ. This reality transcends denominational and all other barriers.

Christlikeness

The second specific goal under the general heading of maturity is what we would today probably call “Christlikeness.” It is what Paul is speaking of in the phrase “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” In other words, it is not only that we are to have an experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ and his ways. In addition we are to become increasingly like him through such fellowship.

This goal has a personal side, namely, that individuals might become Christlike. Ironically the temptation that first came to Adam and Eve in the garden was precisely at this point. The devil had succeeded in getting the man and the woman to doubt God’s goodness and then question his word. But the clinching argument was when he said to them, “God knows that when you eat of it [that is, the forbidden tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). This was a lie, of course, although like all good lies it had a measure of truth mixed with it. It was true that if the man and the woman ate of the tree, they would come to know good and evil. Before this they had known the good but not the evil. The lie was in the fact that they did not become “like God,” knowing good and evil. They became like Satan, who not only knows what evil is, as God knows, but also practices it.

Here is the irony. Before the Fall the man and the woman actually were like God. That is the meaning of the thrice repeated phrase “in our [his own or God’s] image” from the creation account in chapter 1. In their unfallen state our first parents actually were like God, and this is precisely what they lost by succumbing to Satan’s temptation. The wonder of the gospel is that this original image, once lost through the Fall, is now progressively restored as individuals are made like Christ within the church’s fellowship.

Does anyone feel the need of performance standards for the achieving of this goal? They are in Galatians, where Christlike character, termed “the fruit of the Spirit,” is unfolded: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). This describes Jesus Christ. It also describes the direction in which individuals grow by the power of Christ’s Spirit.

There is another aspect of this that is also worth considering. I have been writing of Christlikeness on the personal level as involving each individual member of the church, and this is important. It is how the church matures. Yet it is also true that in this great passage of Ephesians, dealing with maturity, Paul is thinking not so much of individual believers as of the church as a whole. He is saying that just as there is a growth in maturity for the individual, so also there is a growth in maturity for the church corporately. I think this means that, as the church goes about its business in this world, God works in it to develop one aspect of the character of Jesus Christ in a particular way here and another aspect of the character of Christ in a special way there, so that the entire church in every place is necessary to manifest the full character of the Lord.

Are you aware of that? Do you pray for that? It is what the Lord Jesus Christ wants to see in the people who constitute his body.

Growing in Truth

The third specific goal of maturity for the church is truth; without truth there is no real maturity. Paul writes in verse 15, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

The contrast here is with the nature and conduct of infants described in verse 14: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Children are delightful little creatures to have around, but they do have their limitations. Two are instability and naïveté. Children are notoriously fickle. They will be interested in one thing for five minutes; then they change their minds and focus on something else entirely, and five minutes later they move on to a third concern.

Again, children may be easily fooled. It is easy to deceive them. That is why parents have a special responsibility for the sound education and careful guidance of children; it is part of what it means to be a child. However, it is an unfortunate thing when those same characteristics hang on into adult life, weakening a person’s character and limiting his or her usefulness. It is particularly unfortunate when the same marks of immaturity mar a Christian’s development. Neither individual Christians nor the church as a whole are to be so weakened. If the church is not to be weakened, it must grow in the truth of God.

This is why Paul began by speaking of teaching gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. It is not that these are the only gifts; they are not. Paul lists others elsewhere. But he lists these since they are the ways the church is to grow out of spiritual infancy to maturity. One of the tragedies of our day is that the church is so immature in this area. Consequently, it is always being carried along by the world’s fads or being led astray by false theology. The only real cure is teaching followed by teaching and then still more teaching.

Truth Wedded to Love

Yet it is not truth in isolation, as if we only needed to bombard people with facts. Truth is important! But we also need to speak the “truth in love.” Love is the fourth and last of these specific expressions of maturity. Indeed, Paul emphasizes love. This is not so evident in our English translations, but in the original text the word “truth” is actually a participle. So a more literal translation than “speaking the truth in love” would be “truthing [it] in love.” The combination means both speaking and living the truth in a loving manner. In the combination of these goals, love (the noun) is emphasized.

I was impressed with this emphasis some years ago when I was studying the seventeenth chapter of John in which Jesus prays for his church, highlighting six marks by which the church is to be recognized: joy, holiness, truth, mission, unity, and love (John 17:13–26). Each of these is important. But it struck me that love is most important, which can be seen either by subtracting it from the other marks or by expressing it in every way possible. Subtract love from joy. What do you have? You have the kind of hedonistic reveling found in the secular world, the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake. Joy is distorted.

Take love from sanctification. The result is self-righteousness, the kind of thing that distinguished the scribes and Pharisees of Christ’s day but allowed them to be filled with hatred, so that they crucified the Lord Jesus Christ when he came. Sanctification is destroyed.

Take love from truth. The result is bitter orthodoxy. Truth remains, but it is proclaimed in such an unpleasant, harsh manner that it fails to win anybody.

Take love from mission and you have colonialism. In colonialism we work to win people for our denomination or organization, but not for Christ.

Take love from unity and you have ecclesiastical tyranny, in which a church imposes human standards on those within it.

But if instead of subtracting love, you express love—for God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible, one another, and the world—what do you have? You have all the other marks of the church, because they naturally follow. Love for God leads to joy; nothing is more joyful than knowing and loving him. Love for the Lord Jesus Christ leads to holiness; as he said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). Love for the Word of God leads to truth; if we love the Bible, we will read it and grow in a knowledge of what the Word contains. Love for the world leads to mission. Love for other believers leads to unity.

When Paul speaks of the church’s maturity, as he does in these verses, he does so in terms of bodily growth. And the point of that is that growth is a process. Growth takes time. The church does not become mature overnight any more than we as individuals become mature overnight. But if God is nevertheless working to accomplish this in us, we must trust him to do it and be patient as he works. I am sure you have seen that little pin that quite a few Christians have taken to wearing. It contains just a string of letters (PBPWMGIFWMY), and it is meant to provoke curiosity. The letters stand for “Please be patient with me; God isn’t finished with me yet.”

We want everyone to be patient with us. Let us learn to be patient with them, and with the church—as God works in each believer, in all places and at all times to build and perfect Christ’s earthly body, of which we are a part.[2]


15. But, speaking the truth. Having already said that we ought not to be children, destitute of reason and judgment, he now enjoins us to grow up in the truth. Though we have not arrived at man’s estate, we ought at least, as we have already said, to be advanced children. The truth of God ought to have such a firm hold of us, that all the contrivances and attacks of Satan shall not draw us from our course; and yet, as we have not hitherto attained full and complete strength, we must make progress until death.

He points out the design of this progress, that Christ may be the head, “that in all things he may have the pre-eminence,” (Col. 1:18,) and that in him alone we may grow in vigour or in stature. Again, we see that no man is excepted; all are enjoined to be subject, and to take their own places in the body.

What aspect then does Popery present, but that of a crooked, deformed person? Is not the whole symmetry of the church destroyed, when one man, acting in opposition to the head, refuses to be reckoned one of the members? The Papists deny this, and allege that the Pope is nothing more than a ministerial head. But such cavils do them no service. The tyranny of their idol must be acknowledged to be altogether inconsistent with that order which Paul here recommends. In a word, a healthful condition of the church requires that Christ alone “must increase,” and all others “must decrease.” (John 3:30.) Whatever increase we obtain must be regulated in such a manner, that we shall remain in our own place, and contribute to exalt the head.

When he bids us give heed to the truth in love, he uses the preposition in, (ἐν,) like the corresponding Hebrew preposition ב, (beth,) as signifying with,—speaking the truth with love. If each individual, instead of attending exclusively to his own concerns, shall desire mutual intercourse, there will be agreeable and general progress. Such, the Apostle assures us, must be the nature of this harmony, that men shall not be suffered to forget the claims of truth, or, disregarding them, to frame an agreement according to their own views. This proves the wickedness of the Papists, who lay aside the word of God, and labour to force our compliance with their decisions.[3]


15 By way of contrast, Paul designates the positive component of the purpose (still governed by the conjunction hina in v. 14) for building up the church. No longer ought we to be infants, but (adversative de) we should “in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Paul said earlier that Christ is Head over all things for the church, his body (see on 1:22–23). As its Head, Christ occupies the prominent place in the body. (The idea of “source” may also fit here, given Paul’s declaration in v. 16 that the body grows “from him.”) Repeating the idea of “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13), Paul champions growth (“we are to grow,” NASB) “in all things” (ta panta, accusative of reference)—i.e., in every conceivable way—to or toward Christ to avoid the potential shipwrecks instigated by deceivers. Again, Paul stresses the corporate growth of the body. The goal of the church is to become like Christ, its Head, in every possible way. The idea of growth into Christ parallels the metaphor of the church as a building in 2:20–22.

One means to achieve such growth is to continue “speaking the truth in love” (instrumental use of the present tense participle), an appeal well suited to the present theme of unity. The verb alētheuō (GK 238) means “to be truthful,” or “to tell the truth” (see Gal 4:16 for its other NT occurrence; cf. Eph 4:25). It counters the schemes “of error” (NIV, “deceitful,” from the Greek planēs, GK 4416) of v. 14. Note that Paul’s concern here is not with individual believers’ personal speech and truthfulness or honesty. In this context concerning unity, faith, knowledge, and maturity, “speaking the truth in love” denotes teaching orthodoxy against those who would pervert the truth of the message—yet all under the constraints of love. A few contend that Paul’s instruction here does not refer to speaking the truth but to living the truth, that Paul does not limit “truthing” to speaking. A better case can be made, linguistically (see its uses in the LXX and Gal 4:16) and contextually, however, for “speaking the truth,” as most versions and commentators agree. “In love” occurs six times in the letter (1:4; 3:17; 4:2, 15, 16; 5:2). Only teaching orthodoxy in a loving way will maintain the twin requirements of unity in the faith. Mitton, 156, wisely counsels, “Of any proposed action or word we ask not only ‘Is it true and right?’ but also ‘Is it kind and loving?’ ”

Unity at the cost of truth, or “truth” that sacrifices unity—both come with prices that are too high. To grow up into Christ requires the speaking of truth, for only there reside true salvation (1:13; 4:21) and orthodox Christianity. But any speaking that destroys unity is not truth-speaking, for there is only one body. A teaching that divides the body is not truth. Love, not deception or trickery, must govern how Christians speak the truth.[4]


15  Over against such false teaching, let them embrace and follow the truth. Some Western witnesses to the text exhibit a reading which means “doing truth,” and possibly “doing truth” as well as telling it is included in the sense of the injunction. “Doing truth” (or “acting truly”) is an OT expression used especially when fidelity between two parties is the subject.88 Whether spoken or expressed in action, the truth is never to be dissociated from love. The confession of the Christian faith can be cold and indeed unattractive if it is not accompanied by the spirit of Christian love. It may not be irrelevant to recall the testimony of the Fourth Evangelist, that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

In truth and love together, then, the readers are exhorted to grow up in all parts of their being so that the body of Christ may be properly proportioned in relation to the head. This idea of the growth of the body of Christ until it matches the head has been compared to the normal development of the human body: in infancy the body is small in comparison with the head, but it grows until it attains the proportions which the body bears to the head in a fully grown human being. This analogy may be helpful up to a point, but the language used here about the interrelation of body and head is conditioned by the relation existing between Christ and his people. They grow up to the measure of his full stature, but at the same time it is from him that they draw the resources necessary for growth. Christ is the head, but the full man comprises both head and body, so Christ the head is also, from another point of view, Christ corporate.91[5]


4:15 / From the negative, the apostle returns to the positive direction that the church is to take. A divided church is characterized by rivalry, suspicion, hatred, pride, selfishness, lack of direction, and so forth (cf. Phil. 2:2–4). Instead, he pleads that the church should be characterized by the qualities of truth and love (speaking the truth in love). Literally, the phrase should be translated “truthing in love” because there is no verb in the Greek text for speaking, and the essential meaning is that truth needs to be conveyed in love and not by deceit and craftiness.

Truth and love form two essential components of the church’s life. The significant teaching in this phrase is how these two virtues belong together. Christian truth has a moral as well as an intellectual side; it affects the entire person, not just the brain. And though the possession of truth is crucial to the life of the church, it also is important how that truth is obtained and maintained. Christian teachers clearly cannot resort to the kind of trickery that characterizes the false teachers (4:14).

“Truthing in love” suggests the idea of living out the truth in a spirit of love. Some congregations may have all “the truth,” but no love; others may have considerable love, but no truth. What is needed is a combination and balance between the two. Stott makes a fitting and astute statement on this point when he writes: “Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth. The apostle calls us to hold the two together.… There is no other route than this to a fully mature Christian unity” (p. 172).

As with the apostle’s other exhortation, this one is directed toward the corporate life of the church as well. The individual must learn to live as a part of a greater whole—we, that is, the entire body, will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. The church is a living body, capable of manifesting such growth because of its relationship to Christ, the Head.[6]


15. speaking the truth—Translate, “holding the truth”; “following the truth”; opposed to “error” or “deceit” (Eph 4:14).

in love—“Truth” is never to be sacrificed to so-called “charity”; yet it is to be maintained in charity. Truth in word and act, love in manner and spirit, are the Christian’s rule (compare Eph 4:21, 24).

grow up—from the state of “children” to that of “full-grown men.” There is growth only in the spiritually alive, not in the dead.

into him—so as to be more and more incorporated with Him, and become one with Him.

the head—(Eph 1:22).[7]


Ver. 15.—But speaking the truth in love. Ἀληθεύοντες is hardly translatable in English—it implies being true as well as speaking the truth and following the truth. Truth is the element in which we are to live, move, and have our being; fidelity to truth is the backbone of the Christian ministry. But truth must be inseparably married to love; good tidings spoken harshly are no good tidings; the charm of the message is destroyed by the discordant spirit of the messenger. The more painful the first impression which a truth is fitted to produce (e.g. ch. 2:1–3), the more need is there for dealing with it in love—a much-needed and much-neglected exhortation. May grow up into him in all things who is the Head, namely, Christ. Growing up into Christ is like baptizing into the Name of the Father, etc.; it implies that the growth tends to a closer union to Christ, as, on the other hand, union to Christ causes the growth: the two act and react on each other. This growth is to be “in all things”—in the whole man—in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, in all the communicable properties of Christ. How great the work of growth is that should be sought in the case of every living believer, is evident from the enormous gulf there is between his spiritual and moral state and that of Christ. Yet such growth is reasonable, considering the relation of the body to him, its Head. The fact of this relation should encourage us to seek and expect the growth, and encourage ministers to labour hopefully towards promoting it.[8]


14, 15 … so that we may no longer be children tossed to and fro by the wives and whirled around by every gust of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by (their) talent for deceitful scheming; but, adhering to the truth in love, may grow up in all things into him who is the head, even Christ.

The ideal of full Christian maturity is characterized in verse 14 from its negative aspect; in verse 15 positively. In striving to reach the goal and in advancing in that direction believers are goaded by the desire that they may no longer be like helpless children in a tempest-tossed boat which they cannot manage. Paul knew what it meant to be “driven to and fro” by the waves. While he was writing this, the trip which had brought him to his present Roman imprisonment must have been before him in all its vivid terror (Acts 27:14–44; note especially verse 27). But to be tossed to and fro and whirled around “by every gust of doctrine” is even worse than to experience the dangers of the sea. Just what did the apostle have in mind when he thus admonished the Ephesians? Here we do well to bear in mind two facts: a. that most of the addressed were rather recent converts from heathenism; and b. that, although we must, therefore, conclude that his description was particularly fitting with respect to them, yet the apostle cannot have been thinking solely of these converts from the Gentile world, for he uses the first person plural, and says, “that we may no longer be children tossed to and fro,” etc. The fact that heathen in their blindness and superstition are often swayed by the waves and winds of public opinion, believing whatever they have heard last, is vividly illustrated in Luke’s account of the experience of Paul and Barnabas at Lystra. First the multitude held Paul to be Hermes, and Barnabas to be Zeus, and was ready to offer sacrifices in their honor. A little later these same people allowed themselves to be persuaded by wicked Jews, and stoned Paul nearly to death (Acts 14:8–20). But even followers of Jesus have much to learn in this respect. A typical example of unsteadfastness, before he became in very deed “a rock,” was Simon Peter. In the Gospels he is pictured as a man who is constantly oscillating from one extreme to the other. Now he is seen walking courageously on the waters (Matt. 14:28); a little later he is crying, “Lord, save me” (Matt. 14:30). At one moment he makes a glorious confession (Matt. 16:16). Hardly have the echoes of that wonderful declaration faded, when he begins to rebuke the very Christ whom he has just confessed (Matt. 16:22). He promises to lay down his life for Jesus (John 13:37). A few hours later he is saying again and again, “I am not his disciple” (John 18:17, 25). After Christ’s victorious resurrection he lags behind John to the tomb. Arrived, he enters the tomb before John does (John 20:4–6). At Antioch he first casts aside all ideas of racial segregation and eats with the Gentiles. Soon afterward he withdraws completely from the converts of the pagan world (Gal. 2:11, 12).

In addition to his bout with Peter, Paul had had other sad experiences with fluttering and fluctuating mankind. On his first missionary journey John Mark had deserted him (Acts 13:13; 15:38). The Galatians had deserted the gospel (Gal. 1:6). And at this very time, while Paul was writing his “prison epistles,” some of the members of the Colossian church must have been in real danger of lending a listening ear to false philosophers. The apostle knows that there is nothing so stabilizing as performing day by day loving service for Christ. No one learns truth faster than he who, with consecrated heart, teaches others. Let the Ephesians, therefore, withdraw their attention from “the trickery of men,” and plunge into the work of the kingdom. That is the context here: all the saints, under the leadership of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, “pastors and teachers,” united for the work of ministry.

The term “trickery,” applied to those who in effect were attempting to lead believers astray, is kubeia, from kúbos, meaning cube, die. Paul is thinking, therefore, of dice-playing in which tricks were used in order to win. Hence, the word came to mean trickery; here “human trickery,” “the talent literally, readiness to do anything for deceitful scheming.” Constantly the thoughts and plans of these crafty fellows were directed toward (Greek πρός) “the method of deception.” Cf. Col. 2:4, 8, 18, 23; then also Rom. 6:17, 18; 2 Cor. 2:17; 11:13; Gal. 2:4.

Now error is never overcome by mere negation. Over against the deceitfulness of the errorists the Ephesians should adhere to the truth, that is, practice integrity. And what ministry (see verse 12) can be more noble than that which, while resolutely opposing deceit, setting truthfulness “of life and lip” over against it, does all this in the spirit of love? There are two great enemies of a successful ministry, whether carried on among believers or among unbelievers. One is departure from truth, compromise with the lie, whether in words or deeds. The other is chilling indifference with respect to the hearts and lives, the troubles and trials, of the people whom one is ostensibly trying to persuade. Paul has the real solution: the truth must be practiced in love (3:18; 4:2; 5:1, 2), which was exactly what he was constantly doing (2 Cor. 2:4; Gal. 4:16, 19; 1 Thess. 2:7–12); and telling others to do (1 Tim. 4:11–13). In fact, love (for which see on 4:2) must mark all of life. By means of such behavior we will impart a blessing not only to others but to ourselves also, for we will “grow up in all things into him who is the head, even Christ.” We must grow up into union with him. The same intimacy of conscious oneness with Christ is stressed in Rom. 6:5, where the idea is expressed that believers are “grown together” with him. Such statements do not in any way obliterate the infinite distinction between Christ and Christians. They do not indicate identity but intimacy. The distinction between believers and their Lord is clearly enunciated here, for the latter is called “the head,” while the former are designated “the entire body.” What is meant by growing up into Christ is interpreted by the apostle himself in Phil. 1:21, “For to me to live (is) Christ, and to die (is) gain.” In other words:

“So shall no part of day or night from sacredness be free,

But all my life, in every step, be fellowship with thee.”

(Horatius Bonar)[9]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 160). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (pp. 145–151). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.

[3] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (pp. 286–287). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 121–122). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (p. 352). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[6] Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 245–246). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[7] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 351). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[8] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Ephesians (p. 150). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[9] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Ephesians (Vol. 7, pp. 200–203). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 16 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

1 Samuel 7–8; Romans 6; Jeremiah 44; Psalms 20–21

 

so far as we know, jeremiah 44 contains Jeremiah’s last prophecy. The prophecy of the next chapter is explicitly dated to an earlier period, and probably the miscellaneous prophecies against the nations, found in chapters 46–51, all stem from an earlier period as well. So far as the record goes, the words before us are Jeremiah’s last public utterance.

One cannot say that Jeremiah’s ministry ended on a high note. We are all called to be faithful; some are called to be faithful in troubled and declining times. One dare not measure Jeremiah’s ministry by how many people he convinced, how many disasters he averted, or how many revivals he experienced. One must measure his ministry by whether or not he was faithful to God, by whether or not God was pleased with him. And so, finally, it is with each of us. I doubt that many of us living in the West have fully come to grips with how much the success syndrome shapes our views of ourselves and others—sometimes to make us hunger at all costs for success, and sometimes, in a kind of inverted pseudospirituality, to make us suspicious at all costs of success. But success is not the issue; faithfulness is.

What we find in this chapter is irretrievable rebellion. The Jews in Egypt—both those who have just descended there, and those who apparently had settled there earlier in an attempt to escape the troubled times back home—have merely replaced the Canaanite gods they used to worship at home with the Egyptian gods all around them. Their reading of their own history is entirely different from Jeremiah’s. They hark back to the time when they “stopped” their pagan worship (44:17–18): probably they are thinking of the reform under King Josiah. All the disasters that have befallen them have taken place since then. So what they must do, they reason, is serve the Queen of Heaven and the other pagan deities, and they resolve on this course.

There are two important lessons to be learned. First, you can always read history to make it prove almost anything you want. This does not mean that we are not to learn anything from history, for God himself tells the people what they should have learned. It means that what the people of God should learn from history must be shaped by the lens of God’s written revelation, by his prophetic word, by our covenantal vows. We cannot expect pagans always to agree with our reading of history. Second, this chapter demonstrates, in the harshest terms, that there is no hope for the covenant race, none at all, apart from the intervention of grace.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.