Category Archives: Verse of the day

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, 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 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, 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, 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 15, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

2:38 Peter’s answer indicates three major components in conversion. One must repent, which means turning from sin. To be baptizedin the name of Jesus publicly declares our repentance and faith, plus it symbolically identifies us with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The Holy Spirit is given as a gift and seal of conversion, empowering the believer for the life of faith.[1]


2:38 Though repentance/faith and baptism go together in Acts, baptism is an indication of belonging to Christ, not a condition for it. For example, Cornelius and his relatives believed and received the Spirit before receiving water baptism (10:44–48).[2]


2:38 “Repent” is second person imperative, indicating a mandate for all to repent. Repentance is a Christian absolute both doctrinally and experientially (Luke 13:3). “Be baptized” is third person passive imperative, thereby stressing individual responsibility to obey. To submit to such apostolic kerygma (Gk.), or “proclamation,” is one of the first outward evidences of the genuineness of repentance and faith. Baptism, therefore, follows justification and is not a prerequisite for salvation. Baptism is important; it is not, however, essential for salvation. These words might be understood to mean “because of the remission of sins.” See Matt. 12:41 where this same preposition (eis, Gk.) means “because” (see note on Acts 10:47).[3]


2:38 Repent and be baptized. Repentance (turning to God in sorrow for sin) and baptism were important parts of the message of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:1; Mark 1:4) and of Jesus (Matt. 4:17; 11:20; Luke 13:3, 5), and were central in the church’s preaching and teaching (Matt. 28:18, 19). See “Baptism” at Rom. 6:3.

in the name of Jesus Christ. A summary of Matt. 28:18, 19 (baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), with only Jesus mentioned here, since Peter’s sermon had to do with Jesus and His ministry.

for the forgiveness of your sins. Baptism is a sign and seal of spiritual cleansing the Spirit effects through the forgiveness of sins (Titus 3:5).

the gift of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the indwelling Person of the Holy Spirit, as well as the gift of forgiveness (Eph. 1:7), and of empowering for ministry. It is significant that Peter does not speak here of receiving the gift of tongues. The gifts of forgiveness and the indwelling Holy Spirit are essential for producing the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of believers (Gal. 5:22, 23) and for exercising the gifts the Spirit chooses to give at different times to different believers (1 Cor. 12:4–11).[4]


2:38 Repent The Greek word used here, metanoeō, denotes a change of mind, will, or actions. Peter calls the people to believe that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the ot.

Peter’s exhortation involves two actions: repentance and baptism. These are connected with two promises: forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Acts, Luke presents saving faith, repentance, forgiveness, baptism, and the gift of the Spirit as interrelated aspects of embracing Jesus and coming to belong to the people of God in Christ.

be baptized Just as circumcision served as a visible external marker of inclusion in the covenant community of Israel, so baptism serves as the public sign and seal of a person’s solidarity with Christ and participation in the new covenant community of faith, which encompasses both Jewish and non-Jewish people (compare Acts 8:36–38; 9:17–18; 10:47–48; see note on Col 2:11; note on Col 2:12).

in the name of Jesus Christ Baptism identifies a person with Jesus in His life, death, burial, and resurrection (see Rom 6:3–4). See note on Acts 3:6.

forgiveness God does not overlook or ignore sin, but graciously frees those who belong to Jesus from its condemnation and power.

gift of the Holy Spirit Before His ascension, Jesus promised to send the Spirit to dwell in those who belong to Him, enabling them to trust and follow Him as their Savior and Lord (see 1:5, 8).[5]


2:38 repent and be baptized. This does not imply that people can be saved without having faith in Christ as Savior, because the need to believe is implied both in the command to “repent” and also in the command to “be baptized … in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” The willingness to submit to baptism is an outward expression of inward faith in Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21). (On baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ,” see note on Acts 10:48.) The gospel can be summarized in different ways. Sometimes faith alone is named as the one thing necessary for salvation (see John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9; Eph. 2:8–9), other times repentance alone is named (Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19; 5:31; 17:30; 2 Cor. 7:10), and sometimes both are named (Acts 20:21). Genuine faith always involves repentance, and vice versa. Repentance includes a change of mind that ends up trusting God (i.e., having faith). On repentance, see notes on Matt. 3:2; 3:5–6. The gift of the Holy Spirit does not mean some specific spiritual “gift” as in 1 Corinthians 12–14 but rather the gift of the Spirit himself, coming to dwell within the believer.[6]


2:38 Repent. This refers to a change of mind and purpose that turns an individual from sin to God (1Th 1:9). Such change involves more than fearing the consequences of God’s judgment. Genuine repentance knows that the evil of sin must be forsaken and the person and work of Christ totally and singularly embraced. Peter exhorted his hearers to repent, otherwise they would not experience true conversion (see note on Mt 3:2; cf. 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20; Mt 4:17). be baptized. This Gr. word lit. means “be dipped or immersed” in water. Peter was obeying Christ’s command from Mt 28:19 and urging the people who repented and turned to the Lord Christ for salvation to identify, through the waters of baptism, with His death, burial, and resurrection (cf. 19:5; Ro 6:3, 4; 1Co 12:13; Gal 3:27; see notes on Mt 3:2). This is the first time the apostles publicly enjoined people to obey that ceremony. Prior to this, many Jews had experienced the baptism of John the Baptist, (see notes on Mt 3:1–3) and were also familiar with the baptism of Gentile converts to Judaism (proselytes). in the name of Jesus Christ. For the new believer, it was a crucial but costly identification to accept. for the forgiveness of your sins. This might better be translated “because of the forgiveness of sins.” Baptism does not produce forgiveness and cleansing from sin. See notes on 1Pe 3:20, 21. The reality of forgiveness precedes the rite of baptism (v. 41). Genuine repentance brings from God the forgiveness of sins (cf. Eph 1:7), and because of that the new believer was to be baptized. Baptism, however, was to be the ever-present act of obedience, so that it became synonymous with salvation. Thus to say one was baptized for forgiveness was the same as saying one was saved. See note on “one baptism” in Eph 4:5. Every believer enjoys the complete forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:28; Lk 24:47; Eph 1:7; Col 2:13; 1Jn 2:12). the gift of the Holy Spirit. See notes on 1:5, 8.[7]


2:38 Repent: Repentance for the Judeans involved rejecting their former attitudes and opinions concerning who Jesus was. In faith they had to accept Him for who He declared Himself to be while on earth, a declaration that was confirmed by His resurrection and ascension. be baptized: When a person recognizes who Jesus Christ really is, the result is the desire to do what He commands. The first action that Jesus requires of a new believer is baptism (Matt. 28:19, 20), the outward expression of inward faith. The idea of an unbaptized Christian is foreign to the NT (v. 41; 8:12, 36; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15, 33; 18:8). Faith and baptism are integrally connected. Baptism comes after faith in Christ but it is the first Christian sign of faith in Christ. Faith is to baptism what words are to ideas. It is possible to have ideas without words but for the ideas to be understood by others words are needed. The same is true with baptism and trust in Christ. If a person says that he has placed his faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior, then he or she should want to obey Him as Lord and do what is pleasing in God’s sight. for the remission of sins: Is Peter saying that we must be baptized to receive forgiveness of our sins? Scripture clearly teaches that we are justified by faith alone, not by works (Rom. 4:1–8; Eph. 2:8, 9). The critical word in this phrase is the word for, which may also be translated “with a view to.” A comparison of Peter’s message in 10:34–43 makes it clear that “remission of sins” comes to “whoever believes.” Believers are baptized in view of God’s work of forgiveness, not in order to receive that forgiveness. God’s forgiveness in Christ gives baptism its significance. Baptism is a public declaration that a person’s sins have been forgiven because of Christ’s work on the Cross. Another grammatical option may be to understand it as “(you) repent for the remission of your sins, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Others have interpreted baptism as a sign and seal of God’s grace, similar to circumcision, which was a sign of the Abrahamic covenant. The gift of the Holy Spirit was the promise of Jesus in John 14:16, 17. The Holy Spirit puts us in communion with the Father and the Son. This indwelling of the Spirit is a beautiful promise of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:33, 34), an indication not only that our sins are forgiven, but also that the Lord has placed His law within us.[8]


2:38. Repentance provided the answer to their dilemma. They needed to reestablish their relationship with the Messiah they had just believed in. Peter does not here require additional conditions for eternal life. Belief in Jesus counts as the singular condition for guaranteed eternal life in both the OT and the NT. Apparently in the case of those who had had the privilege of seeing Jesus’ earthly ministry (cf. v 22), and yet disbelieved both Him and John (cf. Luke 7:31–35), God required a public identification with Jesus by baptism (and a corresponding rescinding of participation in the sin of that generation). Much like the way God requires confession of sins in order for Christians to maintain and enjoy fellowship with Him, in these unique cases God required repentance and baptism for the initiation of the Christian life.

The Gentile Cornelius and those in his household who believed received the Holy Spirit before their baptism (10:43–48; 11:15–18). Palestinian Jews, however, believed in Jesus and received eternal life before receiving the Holy Spirit (2:37–39). The initial Samaritans who believed—after the Crucifixion—also received the Holy Spirit after their baptism as well as the laying on of hands by the apostles Peter and John (cf. 8:14–17). Repentance, although required for fellowship, did not constitute a condition for eternal life, since Peter recommended it to believers in Jesus already. Likewise, baptism was not a condition for eternal life.

Jesus had likened His own baptism to the death He would suffer (cf. Luke 12:50). Furthermore, the Holy Spirit came upon Him at His baptism (cf. Luke 3:21–22). Now those of that generation who condemned Him would publicly associate themselves with Him and receive the Holy Spirit by whom they would join other believers in the Body of Christ. They did not recant their Jewishness, but rather their role in the crucifixion of the Messiah. Furthermore these conditions do not hold today, since no one of that particular generation remains.[9]


2:38 Peter’s answer was that they should repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. First, they were to repent, acknowledging their guilt, and taking sides with God against themselves.

Then they were to be baptized for (or unto) the remission of their sins. At first glance, this verse seems to teach salvation by baptism, and many people insist that this is precisely what it does mean. Such an interpretation is impossible for the following reasons:

  1. In dozens of NT passages, salvation is said to be by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:12; 3:16, 36; 6:47; Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9, for example). No verse or two could conceivably contradict such overwhelming testimony.
  2. The thief on the cross had the assurance of salvation apart from baptism (Luke 23:43).
  3. The Savior is not stated to have baptized anyone, a strange omission if baptism is essential to salvation.
  4. The Apostle Paul was thankful that he baptized only a few of the Corinthians—a strange cause for thankfulness if baptism has saving merit (1 Cor. 1:14–16).

It is important to notice that only Jews were ever told to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (see Acts 22:16). In this fact, we believe, is the secret to the understanding of this passage. The nation of Israel had crucified the Lord of glory. The Jewish people had cried out, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). The guilt of the Messiah’s death was thus claimed by the people of Israel.

Now, some of these Jews had come to realize their mistake. By repentance they acknowledged their sin to God. By trusting the Lord Jesus as their Savior they were regenerated and received eternal forgiveness of sins. By public water baptism they dissociated themselves from the nation that crucified the Lord and identified themselves with Him. Baptism thus became the outward sign that their sin in connection with the rejection of Christ (as well as all their sins) had been washed away. It took them off Jewish ground and placed them on Christian ground. But baptism did not save them. Only faith in Christ could do that. To teach otherwise is to teach another gospel and thus be accursed (Gal. 1:8, 9).

An alternative interpretation of baptism for the remission of sins is given by Ryrie:

This does not mean in order that sins might be remitted, for everywhere in the New Testament sins are forgiven as a result of faith in Christ, not as a result of baptism. It means be baptized because of the remission of sins. The Greek preposition eis, for, has this meaning “because of” not only here but also in such a passage as Matthew 12:41 where the meaning can only be “they repented because of [not in order to] the preaching of Jonah.” Repentance brought the remission of sins for this Pentecostal crowd, and because of the remission of sins they were asked to be baptized.

Peter assured them that if they repented and were baptized, they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. To insist that this order applies to us today is to misunderstand God’s administrative dealings in the early days of the church. As H. P. Barker has so ably pointed out in The Vicar of Christ, there are four communities of believers in the Book of Acts, and the order of events in connection with the reception of the Holy Spirit is different in each case.

Here in Acts 2:38 we read about Jewish Christians. For them, the order was:

  1. Repentance.
  2. Water baptism.
  3. Reception of the Holy Spirit.

The conversion of Samaritans is recorded in Acts 8:14–17. There we read that the following events occurred:

  1. They believed.
  2. They were baptized in water.
  3. The apostles prayed for them.
  4. The apostles laid their hands on them.
  5. They received the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 10:44–48 the conversion of Gentiles is in view. Notice the order here:

  1. Faith.
  2. Reception of the Holy Spirit.
  3. Water baptism.

A final community of believers is made up of disciples of John the Baptist, Acts 19:1–7:

  1. They believed.
  2. They were rebaptized.
  3. The Apostle Paul laid his hands on them.
  4. They received the Holy Spirit.

Does this mean there were four ways of salvation in the Book of Acts? Of course not. Salvation was, is, and always will be on the basis of faith in the Lord. But during the transition period recorded in Acts, God chose to vary the events connected with the reception of the Holy Spirit for reasons which He knew but did not choose to reveal to us.

Then which of these patterns applies to us today? Since Israel nationally has rejected the Messiah, the Jewish people have forfeited any special privileges they might have had. Today God is calling out of the Gentiles a people for His Name (Acts 15:14). Therefore, the order for today is that which is found in Acts 10:

Faith.

Reception of the Holy Spirit.

Water baptism.

We believe this order applies to all today, to Jews as well as to Gentiles. This may sound arbitrary at first. It might be asked, “When did the order in Acts 2:38 cease to apply to Jews and the order in Acts 10:44–48 begin?” No definite date can be given, of course. But the Book of Acts traces a gradual transition from the gospel’s going out primarily to Jews, to its being repeatedly rejected by the Jews, to its going out to the Gentiles. By the end of the Book of Acts the nation of Israel had been largely set aside. By unbelief it had forfeited any special claim as God’s chosen people. During the Church Age it would be reckoned with the Gentile nations, and God’s order for the Gentiles, outlined in Acts 10:44–48, would apply.[10]


2:38. Peter’s answer to the anguished question of his countrymen is good news, yet raises some controversial issues about the relation of repentance, forgiveness, and baptism. The Jews were familiar with John’s message emphasizing repentance and baptism (see the comments on Mt 3:5–12). On the imperative verb repent, Louw and Nida write, “Though in English a focal component of repent is the sorrow or contrition that a person experiences because of sin, the emphasis [in the Gk. words “to repent” and “repentance”] seems to be more specifically the total change, both in thought and behavior, with respect to how one should both think and act. Whether the focus is upon attitude or behavior varies somewhat in different contexts” (L&N, 509). Peter was calling the hearers to change their minds about their participation in and approval of the crucifixion of Jesus. Darrell Bock notes that repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. One cannot turn to Christ in faith for forgiveness without also turning away from reliance upon something else. He proposes, however, that there is a distinction between faith and repentance: “Repentance stresses the starting point of the need for forgiveness, whereas faith is the resulting trust and understanding that this forgiveness comes from God, the one turned to for the gift (Acts 20:21)” (Acts, BECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007], 142). Peter introduced two new elements. First, he said baptism must now be in the name of Jesus. This means a commitment to and identification with Jesus as Lord and Christ. For an explanation for why the name of the triune God is not used in the baptismal formula here, see the comments on Mt 28:18–20. Second, he promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit Himself, as in 2:33 (“the promise of the Holy Spirit” is the Spirit Himself), and not the “gifts” that the Spirit gives to believers.

Some believe that both repentance and baptism are required for the forgiveness of sins (baptismal regeneration). This view, however, is inconsistent with the overall teaching of Scripture. In addition, in Lk 24:47; Ac 3:19; 10:43; 13:38, and 26:18, forgiveness (aphesis, the same Gk. word translated with “forgiveness” in each verse) is promised without baptism to those who respond appropriately (i.e., with faith or repentance). The grammatical construction of the sentence does not support the idea that baptism is essential for salvation. The command to repent is plural (“all of you repent”) as is the word your in for the forgiveness of your sins, forging a close connection between repentance and forgiveness. On the other hand, the command be baptized is a third person singular verb, implying that baptism is not directly connected to forgiveness. As in 10:47–48 and 16:33, baptism is the appropriate response for those who have found salvation in Christ, but it is not the means effecting that salvation.

Others believe in a second work of the Spirit after conversion, usually signified by speaking in tongues. The context, however, suggests the reception of the Spirit is a one-time experience. No mention is made about the 3,000 who believed speaking in tongues (though admittedly this is an argument from silence—but sometimes the silence is deafening), nor is the laying on of hands mentioned as the means for conveying the Spirit as a gift to others, nor for enabling others to speak in tongues.

Clearly, the apostles were believers prior to their reception of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Nevertheless, this does not teach that all believers must receive the Holy Spirit subsequent to their salvation experience. Rather, the described events demonstrate the transition from the way the Holy Spirit worked in the OT, to the Spirit’s work in the NT church. In the OT, the Holy Spirit came upon some believers to empower them for a limited time to accomplish a specific task. In the NT, the Holy Spirit permanently indwells all believers (Jn 14:16–17). The falling of the Holy Spirit on the apostles marked the transition to the new way the Holy Spirit would work.

The three elements of the conversion experience are repentance (implying also faith), baptism, and the gift of the Spirit. If a person will turn from sin in faith and repentance (essential and internal) and be baptized (nonessential and external), God will forgive his sin and he will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.[11]


[1] Sills, M. D. (2017). Opportunities and Challenges in Global Missions. In E. A. Blum & T. Wax (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes (p. 1721). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

[2] Klassen, M., & Porter, S. E. (2017). Acts. In S. McDowell (Ed.), The Apologetics Study Bible for Students (p. 1345). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

[3] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Ac 2:38). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1563). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[5] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ac 2:38). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[6] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2085). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ac 2:38). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[8] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1370). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[9] Valdés, A. S. (2010). The Acts of the Apostles. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (pp. 493–494). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[10] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1586–1587). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[11] Marty, W. H. (2014). Acts. In The moody bible commentary (pp. 1676–1677). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

August 15, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

5. For if we have been ingrafted, &c. He strengthens in plainer words the argument he has already stated; for the similitude which he mentions leaves now nothing doubtful, inasmuch as grafting designates not only a conformity of example, but a secret union, by which we are joined to him; so that he, reviving us by his Spirit, transfers his own virtue to us. Hence as the graft has the same life or death in common with the tree into which it is ingrafted, so it is reasonable that we should be partakers of the life no less than of the death of Christ; for if we are ingrafted according to the likeness of Christ’s death, which was not without a resurrection, then our death shall not be without a resurrection. But the words admit of a twofold explanation,—either that we are ingrafted in Christ into the likeness of his death, or, that we are simply ingrafted in its likeness. The first reading would require the Greek dative ὁμοιώματι, to be understood as pointing out the manner; nor do I deny but that it has a fuller meaning: but as the other harmonizes more with simplicity of expression, I have preferred it; though it signifies but little, as both come to the same meaning. Chrysostom thought that Paul used the expression, “likeness of death,” for death, as he says in another place, “being made in the likeness of men.” But it seems to me that there is something more significant in the expression; for it not only serves to intimate a resurrection, but it seems also to indicate this—that we die not like Christ a natural death, but that there is a similarity between our and his death; for as he by death died in the flesh, which he had assumed from us, so we also die in ourselves, that we may live in him. It is not then the same, but a similar death; for we are to notice the connection between the death of our present life and spiritual renovation.

Ingrafted, &c. There is great force in this word, and it clearly shows, that the Apostle does not exhort, but rather teach us what benefit we derive from Christ; for he requires nothing from us, which is to be done by our attention and diligence, but speaks of the grafting made by the hand of God. But there is no reason why you should seek to apply the metaphor or comparison in every particular; for between the grafting of trees, and this which is spiritual, a disparity will soon meet us: in the former the graft draws its aliment from the root, but retains its own nature in the fruit; but in the latter not only we derive the vigour and nourishment of life from Christ, but we also pass from our own to his nature. The Apostle, however, meant to express nothing else but the efficacy of the death of Christ, which manifests itself in putting to death our flesh, and also the efficacy of his resurrection, in renewing within us a spiritual nature.[1]


5 Verse 5 affirms what has been implied in v. 4b: the participation of the believer in the resurrection of Christ. The verse takes the form of a conditional sentence, in which the protasis (the “if” clause) states what is already known—the believer’s connection with Christ’s death—as the basis for the conclusion drawn in the apodosis (the “then” clause): that this connection with Christ in death assures participation in his resurrection.381 Complicating Paul’s assertion, however, is his use of the phrase “the form of [Christ’s] death.” Two issues must be resolved.

First, what is the syntactical function of the phrase (a dative in Greek)? Many scholars think that “likeness of his death” is the means by which the believer is united with Christ or, more generally, the location at which this union takes place. See, for instance, the rendering in the NAB: “if we have grown into union with him through a death like his [my italics].” But this is not the most natural reading of the syntax. It is preferable to take “likeness of his death” as the object with which we are “joined”; see our translation: “we have become united with the likeness of his death” (so most English versions).

Second, what does Paul refer to with the phrase? The decisive issue is the meaning of the Greek word homoiōma. Two basic meanings are possible.

(1) Homoiōma can refer to something that resembles something else: a “copy” or “image.” Many scholars argue that this “something” here relates to baptism, in the sense, perhaps, of the “copy” or “image” of Christ’s death that is present in baptism (vv. 3–4). But this interpretation suffers from two serious drawbacks. First, “likeness of his death” makes sense as a reference to baptism only if it refers to the means by which we are joined to Christ. But I have argued that this is not the most likely reading of the syntax. Second, the movement of Paul’s thought in this passage is away from baptism. Other scholars who argue that homoiōma here means “image” assert that Paul is referring to the Christian’s own death to sin, a “copy” of Christ’s death (which was itself a “death to sin,” v. 10). But the language “become joined with” seems too strong if the union is with our own death to sin.

(2) Homoiōma can also mean “form,” in the sense of the outer appearance, or shape, of the reality itself. “Likeness of his death” may, then, simply be the death of Christ itself.389 Substantiation for this can be found in the parallel v. 8, where Paul speaks simply of “dying with Christ.” However, while I think this interpretation is on the right track, Paul’s use of homoiōma suggests that he wants to portray Christ’s death in a particular light. Some think that Paul uses it to designate Christ’s death as the death that is sacramentally present in baptism. But, again, this ignores the plain teaching of v. 4 that baptism mediates our union with Christ—it does not “contain” it. A better alternative, then, begins with the recognition that, as we have seen, the believer’s death and burial “with Christ” is a redemptive-historical association that cannot be precisely defined in terms of time or nature. Homoiōma, while not differentiating the death to which we are joined from Christ’s, nevertheless qualifies it in its particular redemptive-historical “form.” Further, by speaking of the “form” of Christ’s death, Paul may also be reminding us that our “dying with Christ” initiates a conformity with Jesus’ death that is to have a continuing effect on our existence. Reference to this ongoing conformity to the death of Christ explains the perfect tense of the verb Paul uses:394 we have been joined to the form of Christ’s death and are constantly being (and need to be) conformed to it. We may, then, paraphrase: “we (at ‘conversion-initiation’) were united with the death of Christ in its redemptive-historical significance, and are now, thus, in the state of conformity to that death.”

The “but also” introducing the second part of the verse stresses the certainty that our union with “the form of Christ’s death” will mean union with the form of Christ’s resurrection.396 But what are we to make of the future verb “we will be”? Paul may put the matter this way because being “joined to the form of Christ’s resurrection” follows logically upon “being joined to the form of his death.” In this case, the reference could be to the already realized “spiritual” resurrection of believers “with Christ” (as in Col. 2:12 and Eph. 2:6), or to the imperative of living in the “form” and power of Christ’s resurrection life in the present.399 Either of these options is possible, considering the fact that Paul himself infers in this text that believers in this life live in the resurrection power of Christ (vv. 4b, 11, 13). However, I believe the scales are tilted slightly to a true future here by v. 8, which asserts a similar point but with a construction that is more difficult to read as a “logical” future. With most interpreters, then, I take it that Paul is referring to the physical resurrection of believers “with Christ” (see 2 Cor. 4:14)—to that time when God will transform our earthly bodies, “making them conformed to the body of his [Christ’s] glory.”

This does not mean, however, that all allusions to the present are eliminated. For, even as union with the “form” of Christ’s death at baptism-conversion works forward to the moral life, so the union with the “form” of Christ’s resurrection at death or the parousia works backward. It is in this sense that the believer can be said to have been “raised with Christ” and to be living in the power of that resurrected life. Perhaps, then, as our union with Christ’s death cannot be fixed to any one moment, so we should view our union with Christ’s resurrection as similarly atemporal. But, while the spiritual effects of resurrection are felt now, we must not commit the mistake of some in the early church (see 2 Tim. 2:18) and spiritualize the resurrection. We await a real, physical resurrection, and this physicality destroys the parallel at this point with our “dying with Christ.” The futurity of our resurrection reminds us that complete victory over sin will be won only in that day; until then, we live under the imperative of making the life of Jesus manifest in the way we live (see 2 Cor. 4:10).[2]


5. For if we have been planted together—literally, “have become formed together.” (The word is used here only).

in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection—that is, “Since Christ’s death and resurrection are inseparable in their efficacy, union with Him in the one carries with it participation in the other, for privilege and for duty alike.” The future tense is used of participation in His resurrection, because this is but partially realized in the present state. (See on Ro 5:19).[3]


Ver. 5.—For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. So the Authorized Version. But the English word “planted” (though the idea expressed by it has the support of Origen, Chrysostom, and other ancient Father; also of the Vulgate, and, among moderns, Beza, Luther, and others; while some, including Erasmus, Calvin, Estius, Cornelius à Lapide, understand “engrafted”) probably suggests what was not intended. Σύμφυτος is from συμφύω (not συμφυτεύω, and need only express being made to grow together in close association. In classic authors it commonly means innate. It seems here used, not to introduce a new figure, whether of planting or grafting, but only to express the close union with Christ, already intimated, into which we entered in baptism. The Revised Version has “have become united with him,” which may perhaps sufficiently express what is meant, though hardly a satisfactory rendering of σύμφυτοι. Tyndale and Cranmer translate “graft in deeth lyke unto him;” and perhaps “graft into” may be as good a rendering as any other. Meyer, Tholuck, Alford, and others take the dative τῷ ὁμοιώματι as governed by σύμφυτοι, equivalent to ὁμοίως ἀπεθάνομεν ὥσπερ αὐτὸς (Tholuck). But it may be better to understand Χριστῷ: “Graft into Christ, in the likeness of his death,” τῷ ὁμοιώματι being added because Christ’s death and ours, in the senses intended, are not the same kind of death literally, ours only corresponding to, and in a certain sense like his. The main purpose of this verse, as of ver. 4, is to press resurrection with Christ as following death with him. But why here the future ἐσόμεθα? Did we not rise with Christ to a new life when we emerged from our baptismal burial? Future verbs are used also with a similar reference in ver. 8 and ver. 14. Now, there are three senses in which our resurrection with Christ may be understood, (1) As above (cf. Col. 2:12, etc., where the expression is συνηγέρθητε). (2) Our realization of our position of power and obligation in subsequent life—actually in practice “dying from sin and rising again unto righteousness” (cf. below, vers. 12–14). (3) The resurrection of the dead hereafter. Some (including Tertullian, Chrysostom Œcumenius) have taken sense (3) to be here intended; but, though the words themselves, ἐσόμεθα and συζήσομεν in ver. 8, suggest this sense, it can hardy be intended here, at any rate exclusively or prominently, since the drift of the whole passage is to insist on the necessity of an ethical resurrection now; and it is evident that the clause before us corresponds with οὕτω καὶ ἥμεις, etc., in the previous verse, and to ver. 11, et seq. The future ἐσόμεθα is understood by some as only expressing consequence—a necessary conclusion from a premiss, thus: If such a thing is the case, such other thing will follow, If so, sense (1) might still be understood; so that the idea would be the same as in Col. 2:12, etc., viz. that of our rising in baptism itself to a new life with Christ, in which sin need not, and ought not to, have dominion. But still the repeated use of the future tense (especially ἁμαρτία ὑμῶν οὐ κυριεύσει in ver. 14), together with the whole drift of what follows, seems rather to imply sense (2); that is, our realization of our position in our actual lives subsequent to baptism. If it be objected that in this case we should expect “we ought to be” rather than “we shall be,” it may be replied that it is what God will do for us, rather than what we shall do for ourselves, that the apostle has in view. If he has made us partakers in the atoning death of Christ, having forgiven us all trespasses, etc. (Col. 2:13, seq.), he will also make us partakers, as our life goes on, in the power of his resurrection too, delivering us from sin’s dominion. Further, if this be so, the thought may also include sense (3). For elsewhere the future resurrection seems to be regarded as only the consummation of a spiritual resurrection which is begun in the present life, Christians being already partakers in the eternal life of God, of which the issue is immortality; cf. Eph. 1:5, 6; Col. 3:3, 4; Gal. 2:20; also our Lord’s own words, which are peculiarly significant in this regard, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live” (John 5:24, 25). Again, “I am the Resurrection, and the Life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25, 26).[4]


5. For if we have become united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.

The close connection between verses 3, 4 and verse 5 is indicated by the word For. Hence, the idea of some, that verse 5 refers to the future bodily resurrection of believers must be rejected. Verse 5 repeats the thought of the immediately preceding context, namely, the believers’ union with Christ in (a) his death and (b) his resurrection, considered respectively as the source of (a) their death to sin, and (b) their resurrection to newness of life. But it also adds something to the thought expressed in the preceding. Note the word certainly.

The meaning of verse 5, then, is as follows, “For if we have become united with Christ in a death like his, so that his death brought about our death to constantly living in sin, we shall certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his; that is, then surely his (bodily) resurrection (understood in its most comprehensive sense, as explained above, see p. 196) will bring about our spiritual resurrection; that is, our walking in newness of life.” The emphasis Paul placed on this fact must be ascribed to the ominous character of the antinomian heresy.[5]


[1] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (pp. 222–224). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] 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. 392–396). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[3] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 235). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[4] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). The Pulpit Commentary: Romans (pp. 157–158). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[5] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 12–13, p. 197). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 15, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

3:4 — “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.”

God says, “put off the old man with his deeds,” and “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Col. 3:9, 10). We must wear Jesus like a garment.[1]


4 The NIV, probably correctly, identifies the unnamed (see MT) speaker as the “angel” of the Lord. The removal of the filthy clothes (apparently by angels—“those who were standing before him”) may connote that Joshua is thereby deprived of priestly office. If so, he is reinstated in v. 5. Theologically, however, there also seems to be a picture here of the negative aspect of what God does when he saves a person. Negatively, he takes away sin. Positively, he adds or imputes to the sinner saved by grace his own divine righteousness (cf. v. 5). The act of causing Joshua’s sin to pass from him (cf. Heb.) represents justification, not sanctification. It is forensic forgiveness that is in view, as seen from v. 9, which interprets Joshua’s cleansing by applying it to the land (i.e., the people)—another evidence that more than Joshua himself is in view here.

Next, Joshua is to be clothed with rich or fine garments—God’s representative clothed in God’s righteousness. God’s servant goes from filthy clothes to festive garments. The “rich garments” (the Hebrew word is used only here and in Isa 3:22) speak of purity, joy, and glory; but their chief significance is that they symbolize the restoration of Israel to her original calling (Ex 19:6; Isa 61:6). There is a contrast here: Joshua in filthy garments, representing Israel as a priest but defiled and unclean, versus Joshua in festive garments, representing Israel’s future glory in reconsecration to the priestly office.

“I have taken away” emphasizes the agent of the forgiveness. It is God who causes sin to be removed, ultimately on the basis of the messianic Servant’s substitutionary death. But here it was actually the Angel of the Lord who forgives sin, thus identifying him with deity (cf. Mk 2:7, 10), or at least as God’s representative.[2]


4 After the slight pause for narrative description of Joshua, the action begins in earnest as the messenger of Yahweh (see translation above) takes the initiative to rectify Joshua’s deplorable condition. This verse introduces a new set of characters: the ones standing before him, who also participate in 3:5 and are referred to in 3:7. These figures are most likely members of the divine court who serve under the messenger of Yahweh, much like the riders on the horses in the first vision report. As members of this heavenly royal court they parallel similar earthly figures who “stood before” (that is, attended) kings in the ancient world (see above, also commentary on 4:14 below).

These attendants in the court are commanded by the messenger of Yahweh to remove the filthy clothes described in 3:3 (see commentary there) from Joshua. Removal here is expressed with the verb sûr Hiphil, which is used for Tamara removing her widow’s mourning garments in Gen. 38:14, for a prophet removing a disguising bandage in 1 Kgs. 20:41, and for David removing Saul’s armor in 1 Sam. 17:39. This normal action of removing clothes, however, has symbolic value according to the messenger’s subsequent words to Joshua, in which he declares that this act has removed his guilt. Although the verb for removal here (ʿāḇar Hiphil) is a synonym for the previous verb and is also followed by mēʿal (from; cf. Jonah 3:6), here it reveals that the physical removal of the clothing is a symbolic act of a removal of something related to sin.

The word translated here as guilt (ʿāwôn) can mean the act of sin, the resultant guilt from the act of sin, or the resultant consequence of the act of sin. It appears with the verb used here in 3:2 on a few other occasions in the OT: 2 Sam. 24:10//1 Chr. 21:8; Job 7:21. In 2 Sam. 24:10//1 Chr. 21:8, David asks for removal of ʿāwôn, but since God never says he is forgiven and then offers him three different consequences, it is not certain whether David was asking God to remove the guilt or the consequences. In Job 7:20–21, Job wonders if he has sinned to deserve his suffering and so asks God why he doesn’t pardon his transgression and take away his ʿāwôn. Again, this could refer to the removal of the guilt or to the consequences he was experiencing at the moment. Either of these meanings would fit the present context, because the problem appears to be associated with the earlier destruction of Jerusalem. Either the guilt that stained the community and priestly line and prompted the destruction or the consequences of their sin—that is, the punishment itself—is what has been removed. In either case, the removal of the filthy clothing is far more than an external act which qualifies Joshua for priestly service, but is related to the removal of the guilt which brought on, or the consequences of, the earlier discipline of Judah. Such removal of guilt is key to the future role of Joshua as priest, since the priest was essential to the removal of the guilt of the community according to the Torah (Num. 18:1), and according to Exod. 28:38 the removal of the guilt of the community was related specifically to the high-priestly clothing. This probably foreshadows the expected removal of sin associated with the coming Sprout figure in 3:8–10.

After identifying the symbolic value of the removal of the filthy clothes, the messenger of Yahweh expresses his intention now to replace these filthy clothes with festal clothes. This type of clothing (maḥalāṣôṯ) is only mentioned elsewhere in the OT in Isa. 3:22, where it is part of a long list of fine clothing and jewelry which Yahweh will strip from the daughters of Zion (Isa. 3:18–23). An earlier connection of this noun to the verbal root ḥālaṣ, which in the Qal means to “draw off” (a sandal; Deut. 25:9), led to the understanding that this term referred to a robe which was “taken off in ordinary life,” that is, a robe of state. Winton Thomas connected it to other Semitic roots related to purification (Arabic ḥalaṣa, “to be pure, unmixed”; Akkadian ḫalāṣu, “to purify”), resulting in the gloss “pure vestments.”[3]


4. those that stood before him—the ministering angels (compare the phrase in 1 Ki 10:8; Da 1:5).

Take away the filthy garments—In Zec 3:9 it is “remove the iniquity of that land”; therefore Joshua represents the land.

from him—literally, “from upon him”; pressing upon him as an overwhelming burden.

change of raiment—festal robes of the high priest, most costly and gorgeous; symbol of Messiah’s imputed righteousness (Mt 22:11). The restoration of the glory of the priesthood is implied: first, partially, at the completion of the second temple; fully realized in the great High Priest Jesus, whose name is identical with Joshua (Heb 4:8), the Representative of Israel, the “kingdom of priests” (Ex 19:6); once clad in the filthy garments of our vileness, but being the chosen of the Father (Is 42:1; 44:1; 49:1–3), He hath by death ceased from sin, and in garments of glory entered the heavenly holy place as our High Priest (Heb 8:1; 9:24). Then, as the consequence (1 Pe 2:5), realized in the Church generally (Lu 15:22; Rev 19:8), and in Israel in particular (Is 61:10; compare Is 3:6; 66:21).[4]


Ver. 4.—He answered. The Angel of Jehovah answered the mute petition of Joshua. Those that stood before him. The attendant angels, who waited on the Angel of Jehovah to do his pleasure (see note on ver. 1). Take away the filthy garments. This symbolized remission of sins and restoration to favour, as the following words explain. I will clothe thee with change of raiment; Revised Version, with rich apparel. The word machalatsoth occurs also in Isa. 3:22, and may mean either “change of raiment,” or “costly raiment;” or the meanings may be combined in the sense of “festal robes,” only worn on great occasions and changed after the occasion. They are used here as symbols of righteousness and glory. Not only is the sin pardoned, but the wearer is restored to the full glory of his state. The LXX. makes the words to be addressed to the attendants, “Clothe ye him in a robe flowing to the feet” (ποδήρη, the word used for Aaron’s priestly garment, Exod. 28:4; Ecclus. 45:8).[5]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Zec 3:4). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[2] Barker, K. L. (2008). Zechariah. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, pp. 755–756). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Boda, M. J. (2016). The Book of Zechariah. (R. K. Harrison & R. L. Hubbard Jr., Eds.) (pp. 236–238). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[4] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 719). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[5] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Zechariah (pp. 28–29). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

August 14, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Principle

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (16:24)

When Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me,” they were doubtless reminded of the time He had called each of them. Some two and a half years earlier they had left families, friends, occupations, and everything else in order to follow Jesus.

To unbelievers among the multitudes who were present on that occasion (see Mark 8:34), Jesus’ words come after Me applied to the initial surrender of the new birth, when a person comes to Christ for salvation and the old life of sin is exchanged for a new life of righteousness. To the believers there, including the Twelve, come after Me reiterated the call to the life of daily obedience to Christ.

It is sadly possible for believers to lose the first love they had when they received Christ as saving Lord and surrendered all they were and had to Him (see Rev. 2:4). It is a constant temptation to want to take back what was given up and to reclaim what was forsaken. It is not impossible to again place one’s own will above God’s and to take back rights that were relinquished to Him. It is especially tempting to compromise our commitment when the cost becomes high. But the fact that believers sometimes succumb to disobedience does not alter the truth that the character of a true disciple is manifest in obedience. Although imperfect obedience is inevitable because of the unredeemed flesh, the basic desire and life-direction of the true Christian is obedience to the Lord.

Discipleship is on God’s terms, just as coming to Him is on His terms. The Lord here reminds us that the key discipleship principle of winning by losing involves self-denial, cross-bearing, and loyal obedience.

The first requirement of discipleship is self-denial. A person who is not willing to deny himself cannot claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Deny is from aparneomai, which means to completely disown, to utterly separate oneself from someone. It is the word Jesus used to describe Peter’s denial of Him while He was being questioned by the high priest (Matt. 26:34). Each time he was confronted about his relationship to Jesus, Peter more vehemently denied knowing Him (vv. 70, 72, 74). He disowned his Master before the world.

That is exactly the kind of denial a believer is to make in regard to himself. He is to utterly disown himself, to refuse to acknowledge the self of the old man. Jesus’ words here could be paraphrased, “Let him refuse any association or companionship with himself.” Self-denial not only characterizes a person when he comes in saving faith to Christ but also as he lives as a faithful disciple of Christ.

The self to which Jesus refers is not one’s personal identity as a distinct individual. Every person is as a unique creation of God, and the heavenly Father knows each of His children by name. He has every believer’s name “recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20). The self of which Jesus is speaking is rather the natural, sinful, rebellious, unredeemed self that is at the center of every fallen person and that can even reclaim temporary control over a Christian. It is the fleshly body, the “old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” (Eph. 4:22) and is yet to be redeemed in glorification (cf. Rom. 8:23). To deny that self is to confess with Paul, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18). To deny that self is to have the sincere, genuine conviction that one has nothing in his humanness to commend himself before God, nothing worthwhile to offer Him at all.

The believer is made acceptable before God when he trusts in Jesus Christ, and he stands before the Lord in perfect righteousness, clothed in “the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24). But as Paul also declared, even after salvation a believer has no more goodness in himself, “that is, in [his] flesh,” than he had before salvation. To deny self is to “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14) and to “put no confidence in [it]” (Phil. 3:3). To deny self is to subject oneself entirely to the lordship and resources of Jesus Christ, in utter rejection of self-will and self-sufficiency.

Jesus proclaimed that the first requirement for entering the kingdom is to be “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), to have the spirit of utter poverty in regard to one’s own goodness, righteousness, worth, and merit. It is to humbly recognize one’s spiritual destitution. It is only the person who realizes how poor he is who will ever know the riches of Christ. It is only the person who realizes how sinful and damned he is who will ever come to know how precious the forgiveness of God is. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). It is the broken and contrite heart that God loves and will never despise (Ps. 51:17). It is not the self-righteous and self-satisfied but the penitent and humble whom God saves. It was not the proud Pharisee who had such a high image of himself, but the brokenhearted tax collector who asked God for mercy, who Jesus said “went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:14).

The whole purpose of the Old Testament, reflected pointedly in the law of Moses, was to show man how spiritually and morally destitute and powerless he is in himself. The law was not meant to show men how they could work their way into God’s favor but to show them how impossible it is to live up to God’s holy standards by their own resources.

Arthur Pink wrote, “Growth in grace is growth downward; it is the forming of a lower estimate of ourselves; it is a deepening realization of our nothingness; it is a heartfelt recognition that we are not worthy of the least of God’s mercies.”

To be saved calls for a sinner to deny self so as to “consider the members of [his] earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Col. 3:5). It is to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and … be renewed in the spirit of [one’s] mind” (Eph. 4:22–23).

The second requirement of discipleship is to take up one’s cross. This idea has profound meaning which must be understood. Taking up one’s cross is not some mystical level of selfless “deeper spiritual life” that only the religious elite can hope to achieve. Nor is it the common trials and hardships that all persons experience sometime in life. A cross is not having an unsaved husband, nagging wife, or domineering mother-in-law. Nor is it having a physical handicap or suffering from an incurable disease. To take up one’s cross is simply to be willing to pay any price for Christ’s sake. It is the willingness to endure shame, embarrassment, reproach, rejection, persecution, and even martyrdom for His sake.

To the people of Jesus’ day the cross was a very concrete and vivid reality. It was the instrument of execution reserved for Rome’s worst enemies. It was a symbol of the torture and death that awaited those who dared raise a hand against Roman authority. Not many years before Jesus and the disciples came to Caesarea Philippi, 100 men had been crucified in the area. A century earlier, Alexander Janneus had crucified 800 Jewish rebels at Jerusalem, and after the revolt that followed the death of Herod the Great, 2,000 Jews were crucified by the Roman proconsul Varus. Crucifixions on a smaller scale were a common sight, and it has been estimated that perhaps some 30,000 occurred under Roman authority during the lifetime of Christ.

When the disciples and the crowd heard Jesus speak of taking up the cross, there was nothing mystical to them about the idea. They immediately pictured a poor, condemned soul walking along the road carrying (which is an accurate translation of airō, meaning “to raise, bear, or carry”) the instrument of his execution on his own back. A man who took up his cross began his death march, carrying the very beam on which he would hang.

For a disciple of Christ to take up his cross is for him to be willing to start on a death march. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be willing, in His service, to suffer the indignities, the pain, and even the death of a condemned criminal.

Obviously the extent of suffering and persecution varies from believer to believer, from time to time, and from place to place. Not all the apostles were martyred, but all of them were willing to be martyred. Not every disciple is called on to be martyred, but every disciple is commanded to be willing to be martyred. “Beloved,” Peter wrote to his fellow believers, “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet. 4:12–14).

To come to Jesus Christ for salvation is not to raise a hand or sign a card, although such things may sometimes play a part. To come to Jesus Christ is to come to the end of self and sin and to become so desirous of Christ and His righteousness that one will make any sacrifice for Him.

Jesus had earlier said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household” (Matt. 10:34–36). He had also said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master.… If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!” (vv. 24–25). Christ was now in effect saying to His disciples that if He, their Lord, would have to “suffer many things … and be killed” (Matt. 16:21), how could they expect to escape the same treatment?

The cross represents suffering that is ours because of our relationship to Christ. As Jesus moved unwaveringly toward Jerusalem, the place of execution where He “must go” (v. 21), He had already taken up His cross and was beginning to bear on His back the sins of the whole world. And in His train, millions of disciples, all with their own crosses, have since borne reproach with Him.

Christ does not call disciples to Himself to make their lives easy and prosperous, but to make them holy and productive. Willingness to take up his cross is the mark of the true disciple. As the hymnist wrote, “Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free? No, there’s a cross for everyone, and there’s a cross for me.” Those who make initial confessions of their desire to follow Jesus Christ, but refuse to accept hardship or persecution, are characterized as the false, fruitless souls who are like rocky soil with no depth. They wither and die under threat of the reproach of Christ (Matt. 13:20–21). Many people want a “no-cost” discipleship, but Christ offers no such option.

The third requirement of discipleship is loyal obedience. Only after a person denies himself and takes up his cross, Jesus said, is he prepared to follow Me. True discipleship is submission to the lordship of Christ that becomes a pattern of life. “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6). “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus declared; “but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). To continue in His Word is to be His true disciple (John 8:31).

Paul calls salvation the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Peter describes God’s sovereign saving work in a life as “the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood” (1 Pet. 1:2). Obviously, obedience is an integral feature in salvation and is as characteristic of a believer as is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and the sacrificial saving work of the Son. Peter told the Jewish Sanhedrin that the Holy Spirit is given only to those who obey God (Acts 5:32), and since every believer has the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), every believer is also characterized by obedience to God as a pattern of life.

“If anyone serves Me,” Jesus said, “let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26).[1]


24. Then Jesus said to his disciples. As Christ saw that Peter had a dread of the cross, and that all the rest were affected in the same way, he enters into a general discourse about bearing the cross, and does not limit his address to the twelve apostles, but lays down the same law for all the godly. We have already met with a statement nearly similar, (Matthew 10:38.) But in that passage the apostles were only reminded of the persecution which awaited them, as soon as they should begin to discharge their office; while a general instruction is here conveyed, and the initiatory lessons, so to speak, inculcated on all who profess to believe the Gospel.

If any man will come after me. These words are used for the express purpose of refuting the false views of Peter. Presenting himself to every one as an example of self-denial and of patience, he first shows that it was necessary for him to endure what Peter reckoned to be inconsistent with his character, and next invites every member of his body to imitate him. The words must be explained in this manner: “If any man would be my disciple, let him follow me by denying himself and taking up his cross, or, let him conform himself to my example.” The meaning is, that none can be reckoned to be the disciples of Christ unless they are true imitators of him, and are willing to pursue the same course.

He lays down a brief rule for our imitation, in order to make us acquainted with the chief points in which he wishes us to resemble him. It consists of two parts, self-denial and a voluntary bearing of the cross. Let him deny himself. This self-denial is very extensive, and implies that we ought to give up our natural inclinations, and part with all the affections of the flesh, and thus give our consent to be reduced to nothing, provided that God lives and reigns in us. We know with what blind love men naturally regard themselves, how much they are devoted to themselves, how highly they estimate themselves. But if we desire to enter into the school of Christ, we must begin with that folly to which Paul (1 Cor. 3:18) exhorts us, becoming fools, that we may be wise; and next we must control and subdue all our affections.

And let him take up his cross. He lays down this injunction, because, though there are common miseries to which the life of men is indiscriminately subjected, yet as God trains his people in a peculiar manner, in order that they may be conformed to the image of his Son, we need not wonder that this rule is strictly addressed to them. It may be added that, though God lays both on good and bad men the burden of the cross, yet unless they willingly bend their shoulders to it, they are not said to bear the cross; for a wild and refractory horse cannot be said to admit his rider, though he carries him. The patience of the saints, therefore, consists in bearing willingly the cross which has been laid on them. Luke adds the word dailylet him take up his cross daily—which is very emphatic; for Christ’s meaning is, that there will be no end to our warfare till we leave the world. Let it be the uninterrupted exercise of the godly, that when many afflictions have run their course, they may be prepared to endure fresh afflictions.[2]


24 Though addressed to Jesus’ “disciples” (see comments at 5:1–2), the thought is expressed in widest terms—“if anyone.” As in 10:33, Jesus speaks of “disowning” or “renouncing.” The Jews renounced the Messiah (Ac 3:14); his followers renounce themselves (cf. Ro 14:7–9; 15:2–3). They “take up their cross” (cf. 10:38). Any Jew in Palestine would know that the man condemned to crucifixion was often forced to carry part of his cross (see comments at 27:32)—a burden and a sign of death. Though Jesus does not explicitly mention the mode of his death until a few days before it takes place (20:19), the impact of this saying must have multiplied after Golgotha. Death to self is not so much a prerequisite of discipleship to Jesus as a continuing characteristic of it (see comments at 4:19; cf. Jn 12:23–26). (On the differences between discipleship to Jesus and discipleship to first-century rabbis, see Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth, 144–45.)[3]


24 Following his declaration of what it will mean to fulfill the role of Messiah, Jesus now spells out the consequences for those who aspire to follow him. The first two imperatives in this verse are aorist and the last present, so that it may be inferred that “denying oneself” and “taking up the cross” are single, initiatory acts, to be followed by a continuing life of “following,” though this may be to press the usage of tenses too far. To “deny” means to dissociate oneself from a statement or a person, as in 10:33, and most famously of Peter in 26:34–35, 70–75. This is the only time in the gospels when the verb is used reflexively; in the rest of the NT it occurs reflexively only in 2 Tim 2:13 where for God to “deny himself” apparently means to prove untrue to his nature. In the light of what follows it must mean here to dissociate oneself from one’s own interests, which in this case means the willingness to risk one’s own life. It means putting loyalty to Jesus before self-preservation. The demand to “take up one’s cross and follow” has already been made in 10:38; see comments there for the image this would convey in first-century Palestine. It is interesting that the specific term “cross” is thus twice used of the disciples’ fate (following Jesus) before it is made explicit in this gospel that that is the way Jesus himself is to die; this will first be predicted in 20:19 and repeated in 26:2. The crucifixion of some of Jesus’ followers is also predicted in 23:34. Crucifixion is thus not associated exclusively with Jesus; its widespread use by the Romans makes it a realistic prospect also for those who will come to the hostile attention of the authorities as his followers. The NT does not record the crucifixion of any of Jesus’ disciples, but Christian tradition has filled the gap with reference at least to Peter, Andrew and Philip.[4]


Ver. 24.—St. Mark tells us that Jesus called the multitude unto him together with the disciples, as about to say something of universal application. The connection between this paragraph and what has preceded is well put by St. Chrysostom. Then “When? when St. Peter said, ‘Be it far from thee: this shall not be unto thee,’ and was told, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’ For Christ was by no means satisfied with the mere rebuke of Peter, but, willing more abundantly to show both the extravagance of Peter’s words and the future benefit of his Passion, he saith, ‘Thy word to me is, “Be it far from thee: this shall not be unto thee;” but my word to thee is, “Not only is it hurtful to thee to impede me and to be displeased at my Passion, but it will be impossible for thee even to be saved, unless thou thyself too be continually prepared for death.” ’ Thus, lest they should think his suffering unworthy of him, not by the former words only, but by those that were coming, he teaches them the gain thereof.” If any man will (θέλει, wills to) come after me. To come after Christ is to be his follower and disciple, and the Lord here declares what will be the life of such a one (see a parallel passage, ch. 10:38, 39). Jesus mentions three points which belong to the character of a true disciple. The first is self-denial. Let him deny himself. There is no better test of reality and earnestness in the religious life than this. (See a sermon of Newman’s on this subject, vol. 1. serm. 5.) If a man follows Jesus, it must be by his own free-will, and he must voluntarily renounce everything that might hinder his discipleship, denying himself even in things lawful that he may approach the likeness of his Master. Take up his cross. This is the second point. St. Luke adds, “daily.” He must not only be resigned to bear what is brought upon him—suffering, shame, and death, which he cannot escape, but be eager to endure it, meet it with a solemn joy, be glad that he is counted worthy of it. Follow me. The third point. He must be energetic and active, not passive only and resigned, but with all zeal tracking his Master’s footsteps, which lead on the way of sorrows. Here too is comfort; he is not called to a task as yet untried; Christ has gone before, and in his strength he may be strong.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 3, pp. 46–50). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, pp. 303–304). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 431). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew (p. 638). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.

[5] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). St. Matthew (Vol. 2, p. 139). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

August 14, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Purpose of Grace

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. (1:15–16)

The phrase it is a trustworthy statement is unique to the Pastoral Epistles, appearing five times (cf. 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8). These statements were familiar, recognized summaries of key doctrines. That they were common in the church by the time of the writing of the Pastoral Epistles indicates that a well-articulated theology had developed. Paul indeed quotes them as if they were common knowledge. This one and the one in 1 Timothy 4:9 have the phrase deserving full acceptance appended for added emphasis.

The trustworthy statement in 1:15 acts as a condensed articulation of the gospel. In only eight Greek words is found a marvelous summation of the gospel message. Each word is chosen carefully. Christ Jesus is the word order preferred by Paul in the Pastoral Epistles. He uses it twenty-five times compared to six uses of “Jesus Christ.” Bound up in those two words is all that He is. Christ is the anointed King who came to redeem, and became the earthly Jesus at the Incarnation. That He came into the world implies not only His incarnation but His preexistence. Note carefully that it does not say that He came into existence, or that He was created. He existed somewhere else before coming into the world. This phraseology is used frequently by John, who often speaks of Christ’s coming into the world (cf. John 1:9; 3:19; 6:14; 11:27; 12:46; 16:28; 18:37).

The world refers to the world of humanity, blind, lost, and condemned to hell because of its hostility to God (cf. 1 John 5:19). It is into that world of sinners, of darkness and unbelief, that Jesus came. John 3:17 says, “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (cf. John 12:46–47).

Christ’s purpose in coming into this fallen world was to save sinners. Before his birth the angel told Joseph “it is He who will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). In Luke 19:10 our Lord stated the purpose of His coming into the world: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” To save is to deliver from death and darkness, from sin, hell, and judgment. Sinners was a term used by the Jews to describe Gentiles (cf. Gal. 2:15), but our Lord used it to refer to all of fallen mankind (cf. Matt. 9:13). It denotes man’s constant violation of God’s law; men are sinners by nature.

In the realm of sinners, Paul saw himself as foremost of all (cf. 1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:8). Many in our day would hasten to correct Paul’s self-image and restore his self-esteem. But that was a healthy self-view for Paul because it was accurate. It’s hard to imagine anyone worse than a blasphemer of God and persecutor of His church. Such a view of himself also served to keep Paul humble and grateful.

It was for this reason that Paul found mercy. God didn’t save him merely to get him out of hell or into heaven. Nor did He save him to preach the gospel or write the epistles; God could have had others do that. The purpose of salvation, whether Paul’s or ours, is to display God’s grace, power, and patience and produce a true worshiper of God (John 4:21–24). It is for His glory primarily, our benefit is secondary.

It was through saving Paul that Jesus Christ could most clearly demonstrate His perfect patience. Makrothumia (patience) means to be patient with people. Paul’s point is that if the Lord was patient with the worst of sinners, no one is beyond the reach of His grace. As an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life, Paul was living proof that God can save any sinner. He was the hupotupōsis, the model, type, or pattern. Those who fear that God cannot save them would do well to consider the case of Paul.[1]


15. It is a faithful saying. After having defended his ministry from slander and unjust accusations, not satisfied with this, he turns to his own advantage what might have been brought against him by his adversaries as a reproach. He shews that it was profitable to the Church that he had been such a person as he actually was before he was called to the apostleship, because Christ, by giving him as a pledge, invited all sinners to the sure hope of obtaining pardon. For when he, who had been a fierce and savage beast, was changed into a Pastor, Christ gave a remarkable display of his grace, from which all might be led to entertain a firm belief that no sinner, how heinous and aggravated soever might have been his transgressions, had the gate of salvation shut against him.

That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He first brings forward this general statement, and adorns it with a preface, as he is wont to do in matters of vast importance. In the doctrine of religion, indeed, the main point is, to come to Christ, that, being lost in ourselves, we may obtain salvation from him. Let this preface be to our ears like the sound of a trumpet to proclaim the praises of the grace of Christ, in order that we may believe it with a stronger faith. Let it be to us as a seal to impress on our hearts a firm belief of the forgiveness of sins, which otherwise with difficulty finds entrance into the hearts of men.

A faithful saying. What was the reason why Paul aroused attention by these words, but because men are always disputing with themselves about their salvation? For, although God the Father a thousand times offer to us salvation, and although Christ himself preach about his own office, yet we do not on that account cease to tremble, or at least to debate with ourselves if it be actually so. Wherefore, whenever any doubt shall arise in our mind about the forgiveness of sins, let us learn to repel it courageously with this shield, that it is an undoubted truth, and deserves to be received without controversy.

To save sinners. The word sinners is emphatic; for they who acknowledge that it is the office of Christ to save, have difficulty in admitting this thought, that such a salvation belongs to “sinners.” Our mind is always impelled to look at our worthiness; and as soon as our unworthiness is seen, our confidence sinks. Accordingly, the more any one is oppressed by his sins, let him the more courageously betake himself to Christ, relying on this doctrine, that he came to bring salvation not to the righteous, but to “sinners.” It deserves attention, also, that Paul draws an argument from the general office of Christ, in order that what he had lately testified about his own person might not appear to be absurd on account of its novelty.

Of whom I am the first. Beware of thinking that the Apostle, under a pretence of modesty, spoke falsely, for he intended to make a confession not less true than humble, and drawn from the very bottom of his heart.

But some will ask, “Why does he, who only erred through ignorance of sound doctrine, and whose whole life, in every other respect, was blameless before men, pronounce himself to be the chief of sinners? I reply, these words inform us how heinous and dreadful a crime unbelief is before God, especially when it is attended by obstinacy and a rage for persecution. (Philip. 3:6.) With men, indeed, it is easy to extenuate, under the pretence of heedless zeal, all that Paul has acknowledged about himself; but God values more highly the obedience of faith than to reckon unbelief, accompanied by obstinacy, to be a small crime.

We ought carefully to observe this passage, which teaches us, that a man who, before the world, is not only innocent, but eminent for distinguished virtues, and most praiseworthy for his life, yet because he is opposed to the doctrine of the gospel, and on account of the obstinacy of his unbelief, is reckoned one of the most heinous sinners; for hence we may easily conclude of what value before God are all the pompous displays of hypocrites, while they obstinately resist Christ.[2]


15 The first of five “trustworthy sayings” (pistos ho logos, GK 3412, 3364) quoted in the PE is this: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The added phrase “that deserves full acceptance” (also in 4:9) is also attested in Hellenistic literature (e.g., Philo, Flight 129; Rewards, 13). The present saying is reminiscent of Jesus’ statement in Luke 19:10. While “sinner” in Pharisaic Judaism (Paul’s tradition) referred to those who did not stringently keep the law, particularly Gentiles (cf. Gal 2:15), here—as regularly in Paul—“sinner” is a universal term encompassing Paul and the rest of humanity.

What is more, Paul calls himself “the foremost” (NASB) of sinners. (Note the present tense “I am” and the emphasis on “foremost” in the original.) While some consider the statement a hyperbole exaggerating the apostle’s consciousness of guilt, Paul’s conscience was deeply seared by his past persecution of the church, so that in the manner of true saints he may honestly have believed himself to be quite literally the foremost of sinners (cf. Augustine, Sermons 175. 6–7; Calvin, 29). If so, Paul’s conversion from persecutor of the church to fervent propagator constitutes a paradigm of God’s merciful dealings with human beings (see A. D. Clarke, “ ‘Be Imitators of Me’: Paul’s Model of Leadership,” TynBul 49 [1998]: 354–55). The church father Ignatius may copy the apostle’s self-effacing attitude when he calls himself “the least of the faithful” (Eph. 21.2) and says that he is “not worthy to be called a member” of the Syrian church (Magn. 14).[3]


15  Now Paul lays the capstone of his argument for the authority and relevance of his gospel for this world. He begins with a formulaic appeal to the gospel that urges the hearers to accept his articulation of the gospel as authoritative. The formula, “here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance,” continues the theme of faith/faithfulness in the term translated “trustworthy.” Now the gospel itself comes to be seen as the source of the theme. In the NT it is only in these letters to coworkers that this formula is found. Its stable form (expanded here and in 4:9 by the addition of “and deserving full acceptance”), however, suggests it is either widely known or will be perfectly understood. Its purpose is to authenticate Paul’s immediate expression of the gospel as apostolic and to be accepted as true. Although implicit in each occurrence of the formula, the expansion “and deserving of full acceptance” emphasizes the need for hearers to make an appropriate rational response to embrace and esteem what is said and act accordingly.41[4]


1:15–16 / Having given this personal word about how the grace of Christ overflowed to a former persecutor, Paul is reminded that what happened to him is in full accord with a (probably) well-known saying, which apparently has roots in Jesus himself (Luke 19:10; cf. John 12:46; 18:37). He begins with the formula here is a trustworthy saying (lit., “faithful is the saying”), which will recur four more times in these letters (3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8) and which has been the subject of considerable discussion. In this instance, the formula precedes the saying, and the extent of the saying itself is clear. Such is not always the case (e.g., 3:1 and 4:9). Furthermore, nothing quite like it occurs elsewhere in the nt. However, the similar formula, “faithful is God,” is common in Paul (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor. 1:18) and probably is the source of this present formulation.

The emphasis in Greek, as in niv, lies on the trustworthiness of the saying. This is emphasized further by the addition that deserves full acceptance. There is some ambiguity here about whether there is an intensive (niv, full; cf. rsv, neb, gnb), or extensive (“accepted by all,” Weymouth, Book of Common Prayer), sense to the adjective pasēs. A similar formula in 6:1 that can only be intensive (“worthy of full respect”) lends support to the niv translation; however, a good case can also be made from the context for an emphasis on its being worthy of universal acceptance.

In the saying itself, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, two points are made: Incarnation and Redemption, with the emphasis on the latter. To say that he came into the world, of course, does not in itself necessarily imply pre-existence, but such an understanding would almost certainly have been intended. Here the reason for his coming, and Paul’s reason for including it, is emphasized—to save sinners. Sinners! That was a term common enough in Pharisaic Judaism (Paul’s own tradition). It referred to all those who did not stringently keep the Law, especially Gentiles (even Paul can so use it in Gal. 2:15). But here, and elsewhere in Paul, sinners is a universalizing term. All humanity, both Jew and Gentile, belong together at this one point (Rom. 3:19–20, 23). But Christ came to save such.

Salvation for Paul is primarily an eschatological term; that is, it has to do with human destiny, what happens to people at the end (Gk., eschaton). But such eschatological salvation has already begun in the present in the work of Christ, hence “saving sinners” also means to save them from their present sinfulness. Both the present and future aspects seem to be in view here (cf. v. 16, “believe unto eternal life”).

To personalize the saying, Paul adds of whom I am the worst, not as a form of hyperbole, as some would have it, or because he was morbid about his sinful past, but precisely because of his own experience of God’s mercy and grace. Such statements are to be understood in light of the intersection in Paul’s life of the simultaneous overwhelming sense of his own sinfulness and utter helplessness before God and the fact of God’s grace lavished freely on him and God’s unconditionally accepting him despite his sin. It should also be noted that he says I am, not “I was.” Even one like Hanson who believes the letter to be a forgery admits that this is a “truly Pauline touch.” But it is so, not because of Paul’s abiding sense of sinfulness (as Bernard and others), but because he recognized himself as always having the status of “sinner redeemed.”

With the addition of that last word, of whom I am the worst, Paul is now in position to make his final point in this testimony to God’s grace. The reason for Christ’s saving Paul, the worst of sinners, was that he could thereby set Paul forth as a primary exhibit for all other sinners who would believe on him for salvation. Paul’s point is simple: “If God would—and could—do it to me, given who I was and what I did, then there is hope for all” (cf. 2:3–7). And so he repeats, I was shown mercy, but now adds this new reason.

By saving Paul, Christ Jesus has demonstrated his unlimited patience (or, “the full extent of his forbearance”) in dealing with sinners. Forbearance as a characteristic of the deity in dealing with human rebellion is a thoroughly Pauline idea (Rom. 2:4; 3:25–26; 9:22–23; cf. 2 Pet. 3:9, 15). Such patience is seen in his dealing with me, the worst of sinners, precisely so that Christ might have an example, a prototype, for those who would believe on him and thus also receive eternal life. The Greek for eternal life means not so much life with endless longevity as it does the “life of the coming age,” life that is ours now in Christ to be fully realized at his “appearing” (see 6:12–15; 2 Tim. 4:6–8; Titus 2:11–14).[5]


15. faithful—worthy of credit, because “God” who says it “is faithful” to His word (1 Co 1:9; 1 Th 5:24; 2 Th 3:3; Rev 21:5; 22:6). This seems to have become an axiomatic saying among Christians the phrase, “faithful saying,” is peculiar to the Pastoral Epistles (1 Ti 2:11; 4:9; Tit 3:8). Translate as Greek, “Faithful is the saying.”

all—all possible; full; to be received by all, and with all the faculties of the soul, mind, and heart. Paul, unlike the false teachers (1 Ti 1:7), understands what he is saying, and whereof he affirms; and by his simplicity of style and subject, setting forth the grand fundamental truth of salvation through Christ, confutes the false teachers’ abstruse and unpractical speculations (1 Co 1:18–28; Tit 2:1).

acceptationreception (as of a boon) into the heart, as well as the understanding, with all gladness; this is faith acting on the Gospel offer, and welcoming and appropriating it (Ac 2:41).

Christ—as promised.

Jesus—as manifested [Bengel].

came into the world—which was full of sin (Jn 1:29; Ro 5:12; 1 Jn 2:2). This implies His pre-existence. Jn 1:9, Greek, “the true Light that, coming into the world, lighteth every man.”

to save sinners—even notable sinners like Saul of Tarsus. His instance was without a rival since the ascension, in point of the greatness of the sin and the greatness of the mercy: that the consenter to Stephen, the proto-martyr’s death, should be the successor of the same!

I am—not merely, “I was chief” (1 Co 15:9; Eph 3:8; compare Lu 18:13). To each believer his own sins must always appear, as long as he lives, greater than those of others, which he never can know as he can know his own.

chief—the same Greek as in 1 Ti 1:16, “first,” which alludes to this fifteenth verse, Translate in both verses, “foremost.” Well might he infer where there was mercy for him, there is mercy for all who will come to Christ (Mt 18:11; Lu 19:10).[6]


Ver. 15.—Faithful is the saying for this is a faithful saying, A.V. Faithful is the saying (πιστὸς ὁ λόγος). This formula is peculiar to the pastoral Epistles (ch. 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8), and seems to indicate that there were a number of pithy sayings, maxims, portions of hymns or of catechetical teaching, current in the Church, and possibly originating in the inspired sayings of the Church prophets, to which the apostle appeals, and to which he gives his sanction. The one appealed to here would be simply, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” This, St. Paul adds, is worthy of all acceptation—by all, and without any reserve. Acceptation (ἀποδοξῆς); only here and ch. 4:9, in connection with the same formula. The verb ἀποδέχομαι occurs in Luke 8:40; Acts 2:41; 15:4; 18:27; 24:3; 28:30. It contains the idea of a glad, willing acceptance (see note on Acts 2:41). So doubtless ἀποδοχή also means “hearty reception.” I am chief; in respect of his having been “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious.” That great sin was indeed freely forgiven by God’s grace, but it could never be forgotten by him who had been guilty of it. “Manet alth mente repostum” (comp. Eph. 3:8).[7]


15. Moreover, what holds for Paul holds for all saved sinners. Hence, there is first the statement of a truth applicable to all sinners whom Christ came to save. This is followed immediately by a clause of personal appropriation. Reliable (is) the saying, and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world sinners to save, foremost of whom am I.

Paul’s saying with respect to the glorious purpose of Christ’s first coming, this is the theme of the marvelous declaration which may be regarded as the very core of the gospel, its sum and substance. (It is comparable to John 3:16, on which see N.T.C.).

The saying is viewed from three aspects: 1. its reliability, 2. its contents, and 3. its personal appropriation.

  1. Its reliability

Simple and great, like a granite rock, stands the word reliable, at the head of the sentence, without any connecting particle. It indicates that the proposition which it introduces has sustained the very crucial, fiery test of experience. It is not a mere formula but a considered judgment. It has been passed from mouth to mouth, as such sayings have the habit of doing, and, having embedded itself in the heart of the Christian community, where all the fears, hopes, struggles, and joys of these early Christians played around it, has survived gloriously. It has, in fact, become a sparkling epigram, a pithy, current commonplace, demanding and receiving the immediate, spontaneous, and enthusiastic assent and endorsement of all believers who hear it. The saying is the testimony of Christian experience, and is now also the utterance of the Holy Spirit.

The Pastorals contain five of these reliable sayings: 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:8, 9; 2 Tim. 2:11–13; Titus 3:4–8. Although the clause, “Reliable is the saying,” occurs only in these five passages of the Pastorals, and exactly in that form nowhere in the other ten epistles, this does not give anyone the right to conclude that Paul cannot have written the Pastorals. Surely no reason can be shown why the one who wrote, “Reliable (is) God,” (1 Cor. 1:9) and “Reliable (is) the One who calls you,” (1 Thess. 5:24) could not have written the grammatically exactly similar statement, “Reliable (is) the saying.”

The famous saying, having been subjected to the flames of persecution and ridicule of Satan, had emerged from this crucible more sparkling and glorious than ever. Though not even four decades had elapsed since the death of the Savior, it had become even at this early date an unshakable conviction, “worthy of full acceptance,” that is, entitled to wholehearted and universal personal appropriation with no reservations of any kind (or as we say colloquially “with no strings attached”).

  1. Its contents

The saying is, “That Christ Jesus came into the world sinners to save.” Something should be said, first, about the form of this statement; then, about its meaning.

As to the form, it is asserted by several commentators that the saying is distinctly Johannine, since only John speaks of the Savior as “coming into the world.” Some, even among those who regard Paul as the author of the Pastorals, proceed farther, and do not hesitate to connect this Johannine character of the language with the fact that the destination of 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy was Ephesus (where Timothy was carrying on his work as Paul’s special envoy), the very headquarters of John! Accordingly, it is maintained that Timothy and the membership of the Ephesian church (on the assumption that the epistle was also read to the church), having become used to John’s style, through his labors in their city, would appreciate such phraseology more than would believers who lived elsewhere.

However, this representation is open to the following objections:

  1. The name “Christ Jesus” is Pauline rather than Johannine (it is never found in John’s writings, often in Paul’s).
  2. It would seem altogether probable that the apostle John did not reach Ephesus until after Paul’s death, hence also after the date of composition of 1 Timothy. The fact that Peter had received his “inheritance” in the heavens, and Paul his “crown” may have induced John to take charge of the orphan churches of Asia Minor. When we surmise that John reached Ephesus in the year 67 or 68, we cannot be far amiss (see also N.T.C. on John, vol. I, p. 29). But Paul wrote 1 Timothy in the year 63 or 64!
  3. To a considerable extent the phraseology is, indeed, Johannine, but only in this sense that John has preserved and transmitted it. He did not coin it! It was Jesus himself who, according to the Fourth Gospel, again and again referred to himself as having “come into the world” (John 3:19; 9:39; 12:46; 16:28; 18:37). His earliest disciples learned it from him and copied it. Hence, it is not surprising that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” began to use it (John 1:11); and so did others, for example, Martha (John 11:27). Accordingly, here in 1 Tim. 1:15 Paul is simply making use of the Savior’s own way of speaking about himself, and is employing language which, having been adopted from his lips by the earliest disciples, had been spread far and wide. It is only natural—in view, for example, of the close contact between Jerusalem and Ephesus, and of the “scattering” of the disciples due to persecution—that the saying had also reached Ephesus. And in this connection it is not at all improbable that the great apostle John, before leaving Palestine, had contributed his share toward perpetuating it.

As to the meaning of the expression, the combination “Christ Jesus” has already been explained (see N.T.C. on 1 Thess. 1:1, and footnote  in the present Commentary). The fact that this divinely anointed Savior “came into the world” indicates not merely a change of location, a “descent” from one place to another (from heaven to earth), but a change of state and of moral and spiritual environment. Hence, it implies the supreme sacrifice, the climax of condescending grace. From the infinite sweep of eternal delight in the very presence of his Father, Christ was willing to descend deeper and deeper into the realm of sin and misery. (The “coming into the world” includes incarnation, suffering, death.) In the original the word sinners immediately follows the word world; hence, not as most versions have it, “… came into the world to save sinners,” but “… came into the world sinners to save.” The juxtaposition of world and sinners shows that world is an ethical concept. For the meaning of world see also N.T.C. on John 1:10, 11, including footnote 26. The Lord of glory, so pure and holy that before his presence even the most consecrated men fall down as though dead (Rev. 1:17; cf. Is. 6:1–5), voluntarily entered the sphere to which he does not seem to belong, namely, the sphere in which the curse reigns. The reason for his entrance into this realm of sin is given in the words “sinners to save.” This shows that the paradoxical coming was, after all, fully justified and gloriously motivated.

It took a former Pharisee to pour full and terrible meaning into that word sinners. As Pharisees saw it, even to eat with sinners was scandalous (Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30; 15:1, 2). With a sinner a prophet was not supposed to have any dealings (Luke 7:39). When the Pharisees wanted to heap insults upon Jesus, they would call him “a glutton, a drinker, a friend of (tax-collectors and) sinners” (Luke 7:34). They divided mankind into two groups: “the righteous,” which was tantamount to saying, “ourselves,” and “sinners,” that is, “everybody else,” “the riffraff,” “the scum,” “the people of the soil,” “those who do not know the law.” The Holy Spirit through Paul takes this opprobrious epithet “sinners,” and applies it to all persons who are brought under conviction through the proper use of God’s law. For them, for them alone, Christ Jesus came (Matt. 9:13; Luke 15:7; 19:10):

“Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,

Weak and wounded, sick and sore;

Jesus ready stands to save you,

Full of pity, love, and power;

He is able, He is able,

He is willing, doubt no more;

He is able, He is able,

He is willing, doubt no more.

“Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,

Bruised and mangled 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.

Not the righteous, not the righteous,

Sinners Jesus came to call.”

(Joseph Hart)

If those in Ephesus who were using the law unlawfully were ever going to be saved, they would have to experience a fundamental change. These “righteous” persons would have to become “sinners” before God. Thus it is seen that verse 15 stands in close connection with everything that precedes (not only with verses 12–14 but also with verses 3–11).

It was to save sinners that Christ Jesus came into the world. He did not come to help them save themselves, nor to induce them to save themselves, nor even to enable them to save themselves. He came to save them!

In Paul’s writings the expression to save means:

NEGATIVELY

 

POSITIVELY

 

to rescue men from sin’s:

 

to bring men into the state of:

 

a    guilt (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14)

b    slavery (Rom. 7:24, 25; Gal. 5:1) and

c    punishment:

 

a    righteousness (Rom. 3:21–26; 5:1)

b    freedom (Gal. 5:1; 2 Cor. 3:17) and

c    blessedness:

 

(1)        alienation from God (Eph. 2:12)

(2)        the wrath of God (Eph. 2:3)

(3)        everlasting death (Eph. 2:5, 6)

 

(1)        fellowship with God (Eph. 2:13)

(2)        the love of God “shed abroad” in the heart (Rom. 5:5)

(3)        everlasting life (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 3:1–4).

 

Note that over against each evil stands a corresponding blessing. To be saved, then, means to be emancipated from the greatest evil, and to be placed in possession of the greatest good. The state of salvation is opposed to the state of “perishing” or being “lost.” Cf. Luke 19:10; John 3:16.

  1. Its personal appropriation

“… Christ Jesus came into the world sinners to save, foremost of whom am I.” This final clause (beginning with the word “foremost”) has caused a wider variety of interpretation than almost any other in Paul’s writings. The difficulty is this: it does not seem right that one who himself declares that before his conversion to the Christian faith he had lived according to the strictest sect of his religion as a Pharisee (Acts 26:5), should now call himself “chief of sinners.” For various interpretations which I reject, and the reasons why I reject them, see the footnote.

Complete objectivity in exegesis demands that we state that the immediate context would seem to leave room for only one explanation, and that this explanation is the very one which the ordinary student of Scripture in reading his Bible, in quiet meditation, and also in song, generally gives to it. When the apostle, his heart troubled by the vivid recollection of the gruesome deeds of the past, gives written expression to the deeply rooted conviction and the poignant sorrow of his inner soul, and states, “Christ Jesus came into the world sinners to save, foremost of whom am I,” he must have meant, “Of all sinners whom Christ Jesus came into the world to save, I am the greatest.”

In fact, he not only states but emphasizes that no one else than he himself is “the chief of sinners.” In the original he reserves for the first personal pronoun singular a place at the very end of the clause. I can see no good reason for radically changing this word-order. The translation should be, “of whom foremost am I,” or “foremost of whom am I.” Paul fixes the attention upon himself as a clear illustration of the depth of human sin, in order that in verse 16 he may return to that wonderful theme on which he has just dwelt (see verses 12–14), namely, the exaltation of the power of divine grace, mercy and longsuffering.

This interpretation of the disputed clause not only suits the context but is also in line with what Paul says about himself elsewhere:

“For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9).

“To me, the very least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).

In both these cases, just as here in 1 Tim. 1:15, the apostle is making a comparison between himself and other people whom Christ came to save (whether they were destined to become apostles or believers not clothed with any special office), and he makes the humble confession that he is the least of all saints, the foremost (or “chief”) of sinners whom Christ came to save.

Taken in that sense and as a description of what Paul felt, the words of the familiar hymn are entirely correct:

“Chief of sinners though I be,

Jesus shed his blood for me;

Died that I might live on high;

Lives that I may never die.”

(William McComb)

That the apostle, who certainly knew his own past, was able in all sincerity to describe himself as being “of sinners foremost” is less difficult to grasp if the following facts are borne in mind:

When, years before this, Paul for the first time heard the good tidings of salvation in Christ, he disbelieved. This disbelief he shared with many. Had his attitude to the Christian faith remained on this level, namely, one of unbelief, he would probably never have called himself, “of sinners foremost.” However, he became a persecutor, and not only “a” persecutor but the most bitter persecutor of all! His entire soul was wrapped up in the work of annihilating the church. He breathed threats and slaughter (Acts 9:1). Ruthlessly he bound and imprisoned both men and women. He did not confine his efforts to Jerusalem but was bent on uprooting the new religion wherever it was found, even if this would necessitate a trip all the way to Damascus. He was busy persecuting God’s people “unto death,” as he himself subsequently declared (Acts 22:4, 5). Had his plan succeeded, the church would have been smothered in its very birth; God’s eternal decree would have been annulled; and Satan would have triumphed. Indeed, so very great was his sin that, had it not been done in ignorance (see on verse 13), it would have been unpardonable. Accordingly, when the apostle now says, “… sinners to save, foremost of whom am I,” we must not begin to attenuate the meaning of “foremost.” We should permit this glorious confession to stand within its own context, without either adding to it or subtracting anything from it.

Paul writes “am I,” not “was I.” This indicates that even now, years after his conversion, he deeply regrets his past. Besides, even a fully pardoned sinner is a sinner.[8]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (pp. 32–33). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (pp. 38–41). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Köstenberger, A. (2006). 1 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 506–507). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Towner, P. H. (2006). The Letters to Timothy and Titus (p. 143). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5] Fee, G. D. (2011). 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (pp. 52–54). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[6] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 406). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[7] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). 1 Timothy (p. 5). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[8] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 4, pp. 75–82). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 14, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

100:2 — Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing.

If the Lord’s presence makes us joyful, then so should serving Him make us happy. Only when one takes no pleasure in God does serving Him seem like a chore and a burden.[1]


2. “Serve the Lord with gladness.” “Glad homage pay with awful mirth.” He is our Lord, and therefore he is to be served; he is our gracious Lord, and therefore to be served with joy. The invitation to worship here given is not a melancholy one, as though adoration were a funeral solemnity, but a cheery, gladsome exhortation, as though we were bidden to a marriage feast. “Come before his presence with singing.” We ought in worship to realise the presence of God, and by an effort of the mind to approach him. This is an act which must to every rightly instructed heart be one of great solemnity, but at the same time it must not be performed in the servility of fear, and therefore we come before him, not with weepings and wailings, but with Psalms and hymns. Singing, as it is a joyful, and at the same time a devout, exercise, should be a constant form of approach to God. The measured, harmonious, hearty utterance of praise by a congregation of really devout persons is not merely decorous but delightful, and is a fit anticipation of the worship of heaven, where praise has absorbed prayer, and become the sole mode of adoration. How a certain society of brethren can find it in their hearts to forbid singing in public worship is a riddle which we cannot solve. We feel inclined to say with Dr. Watts—

“Let those refuse to sing

Who never knew our God;

But favourites of the heavenly king

Must speak his praise abroad.”[2]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Ps 100:2). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[2] Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). The treasury of David: Psalms 88-110 (Vol. 4, p. 233). London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers.

August 13, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

20. For we cannot. Many things which are found out by hearing and seeing may, yea, ought to be concealed, when as the question is concerning the redeeming of peace. For this is a point of discourtesy and of wicked stubbornness to move and raise a tumult about unnecessary matters; but the apostles do not speak generally, when as they say they cannot but speak. For the gospel of Christ is now in hand, wherein consisteth both the glory of God and the salvation of men. It is an unmeet thing, and sacrilegious wickedness, that the same should be suppressed by prohibitions and menacings of men; for God commandeth that his gospel be preached, especially since they did know that they were chosen to be witnesses and preachers of Christ, and that God had opened their mouth. Therefore, whosoever putteth them to silence, he endeavoureth so much as he is able to abolish the grace of God, and fordo [destroy] the salvation of men. And if so be that a prohibition so wicked do stop our mouths, woe be to our sluggishness. Now, let all men see what confession God requireth at their hands, lest, when they keep silence because of men, they hear a fearful voice proceed out of the mouth of Christ, whereby their unfaithfulness shall be condemned. And as for those which are called unto the office of teaching, let them be terrified with no threatenings of men, with no colour of authority, but let them execute2 that office which they know is enjoined them by God. Woe be unto me, saith Paul, if I preach not the gospel, because the function is committed unto me, (1 Cor. 9:16.) Neither ought we only to set this commandment of God against the tyrannous commandments of men, but also against all lets which Satan doth oftentimes thrust in to break off and hinder the course of the gospel. For we have need of a strong buckler to bear off such sore assaults, which all the ministers of Christ do feel; but howsoever we speed, this is a brazen wall, that the preaching of the gospel doth please God, and therefore that it can for no cause be suppressed.[1]

[1] Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (2010). Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 1, pp. 179–180). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

August 13, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

the content of revelation

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (1:20)

Next Paul specifies the content of the revelation of Himself that God makes known to all mankind. Since the creation of the world, he declares, God has made His invisible attributes visible. The particular attributes that man can perceive in part through his natural senses are God’s eternal power and His divine nature. God’s eternal power refers to His never-failing omnipotence, which is reflected in the awesome creation which that power both brought into being and sustains. God’s divine nature of kindness and graciousness is reflected, as Paul told the Lystrans, in the “rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).

The noted theologian Charles Hodge testified, “God therefore has never left himself without a witness. His existence and perfections have ever been so manifested that his rational creatures are bound to acknowledge and worship him as the true and only God” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983 reprint], p. 37).

God’s natural revelation of Himself is not obscure or selective, observable only by a few perceptive souls who are specially gifted. His revelation of Himself through creation can be clearly seen by everyone, being understood through what has been made.

Even in the most ancient of times, long before the telescope and microscope were invented, the greatness of God was evident both in the vastness and in the tiny intricacies of nature. Men could look at the stars and discover the fixed order of their orbits. They could observe a small seed reproduce itself into a giant tree, exactly like the one from which it came. They could see the marvelous cycles of the seasons, the rain, and the snow. They witnessed the marvel of human birth and the glory of the sunrise and sunset. Even without the special revelation David had, they could see that “the heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Ps. 19:1).

Some birds are able to navigate by the stars. Even if hatched and raised in a windowless building, if shown an artificial sky, they immediately are able to orient themselves to the proper place to which to migrate. The archerfish is able to fire drops of water with amazing force and accuracy, knocking insects out of the air. The bombardier beetle separately produces two different chemicals, which, when released and combined, explode in the face of an enemy. Yet the explosion never occurs prematurely and never harms the beetle itself. No wonder David declared that “power belongs to God” (Ps. 62:11) and that Asaph (Ps. 79:11) and Nahum (1:3) spoke of the greatness of His power.

Robert Jastrow, an astrophysicist and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has said:

Now we see how the astronomical evidence supports the biblical view of the origin of the world.… The essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same. Consider the enormousness of the problem: Science has proved that the universe exploded into being at a certain moment. It asks what cause produced this effect? Who or what put the matter and energy into the Universe? And science cannot answer these questions.…

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been there for centuries. (God and the Astronomers [New York: Norton, 1978], pp. 14, 114, 116)

With giant telescopes such as the 200 inch-diameter instrument at Mount Palomar in California astronomers can observe objects 4 billion light years away, a distance of more than 25 septillion miles! (James Reid, God, the Atom, and the Universe [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968).

At any given time, there are an average of 1,800 storms in operation in the world. The energy needed to generate those storms amounts to the incredible figure of 1,300,000,000 horsepower. By comparison, a large earth-moving machine has 420 horsepower and requires a hundred gallons of fuel a day to operate. Just one of those storms, producing a rain of four inches over an area of ten thousand square miles, would require energy equivalent to the burning of 640,000,000 tons of coal to evaporate enough water for such a rain. And to cool those vapors and collect them in clouds would take another 800,000,000 horsepower of refrigeration working night and day for a hundred days.

Agricultural studies have determined that the average farmer in Minnesota gets 407,510 gallons of rainwater per acre per year, free of charge, of course. The state of Missouri has some 70,000 square miles and averages 38 inches of rain a year. That amount of water is equal to a lake 250 miles long, 60 miles wide, and 22 feet deep.

The U. S. Natural Museum has determined that there are at least 10 million species of insects, including some 2,500 varieties of ants. There are about 5 billion birds in the United States, among which some species are able to fly 500 miles non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. Mallard ducks can fly 60 miles an hour, eagles 100 miles an hour, and falcons can dive at speeds of 180 miles an hour.

The earth is 25,000 miles in circumference, weighs 6 septillion, 588 sextillion tons, and hangs unsupported in space. It spins at 1,000 miles per hour with absolute precision and careens through space around the sun at the speed of 1,000 miles per minute in an orbit 580 million miles long.

The head of a comet may be from 10,000 to 1,000,000 miles long, have a tail 100,000,000 miles long, and travel at a speed of 350 miles per second. If the sun’s radiated energy could be converted into horsepower, it would be the equivalent of 500 million, million, billion horsepower. Each second it consumes some 4 million tons of matter. To travel at the speed of light (ca. 186,281 miles per second) across the Milky Way, the galaxy in which our solar system is located, would take 125,000 years. And our galaxy is but one of millions.

The human heart is about the size of its owner’s fist. An adult heart weighs less than half a pound, yet can do enough work in twelve hours to lift 65 tons one inch off the ground. A water molecule is composed of only three atoms. But if all the molecules in one drop of water were the size of a grain of sand, they could make a road one foot thick and a half mile wide that would stretch from Los Angeles to New York. Amazingly, however, the atom itself is largely space, its actual matter taking up only one trillionth of its volume.

Except to a mind willfully closed to the obvious, it is inconceivable that such power, intricacy, and harmony could have developed by any means but that of a Master Designer who rules the universe. It would be infinitely more reasonable to think that the separate pieces of a watch could be shaken in a bag and eventually become a dependable timepiece than to think that the world could have evolved into its present state by blind chance.

Even a pagan should be able to discern with the psalmist that surely the One who made the ear and the eye is Himself able to hear and to see (see Ps. 94:9). If we can hear, then whoever made us surely must understand hearing and seeing. If we, His creatures, can think, then surely the mind of our Creator must be able to reason.

Men are judged and sent to hell not because they do not live up to the light evidenced in the universe but because ultimately that rejection leads them to reject Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment,” Jesus said; “concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:8–9). But if a person lives up to the light of the revelation he has, God will provide for his hearing the gospel by some means or another. In His sovereign, predetermined grace He reaches out to sinful mankind. “As I live!” declared the Lord through Ezekiel, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:11). God does not desire “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). He will give His elect the privilege of hearing the gospel and will bring them to Himself. “You will seek Me and find me,” the Lord promised through Jeremiah, “when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).

Because the Ethiopian eunuch was sincerely seeking God, the Holy Spirit sent Philip to witness to him. Upon hearing the gospel, he believed and was baptized (Acts 8:26–39). Because Cornelius, a Gentile centurion in the Roman army, was “a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually,” God sent Peter to him to explain the gospel. “While Peter was still speaking, … the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message,” and they were “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:2, 44, 48). Because Lydia was a true worshiper of God, when she heard the gospel, “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (Acts. 16:14).[1]


Without Excuse

Romans 1:20

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

No human being is infinite. Infinitude belongs exclusively to God. Yet, in spite of our finite nature, human beings do seem to have an almost infinite capacity for some things. One of them is for making excuses for reprehensible behavior. Accuse a person of something, and regardless of how obvious the fault may be, the individual immediately begins to make self-serving declarations: “It wasn’t my fault,” “Nobody told me,” “My intentions were good,” “You shouldn’t be so critical.” The two least spoken sentences in the English language are probably “I was wrong” and “I am sorry.”

Some people try to brazen things out by denying the need to make excuses. Walt Whitman once wrote, “I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood.” The French have a saying that has a similar intent: “Qui s’excuse, s’accuse” (”He who excuses himself, accuses himself”). But that is an excuse itself, since it means that the person involved is too great to need to make apologies.

Our text says that in spite of our almost infinite capacity to make excuses, we are all “without excuse” for our failure to seek out, worship, and thank the living God.

“I Didn’t Know God Existed”

The first of our excuses is that we do not know that God exists or at least that we do not know for sure. Every era has had its characteristic excuses for failure to seek and worship God, but in our “scientific age,” this is certainly a very common rationalization. We remember that when the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin returned to earth from his short time in space, he said with typical atheistic arrogance, “I did not see God.” The fact that he could not see God was supposed to be proof of God’s nonexistence. Unfortunately, what Gagarin said is typical of many millions of people in our time, both in the communist East and the capitalistic West. It is the argument that science either has disproved God or else has been unable to give adequate evidence for affirming his existence.

It should be clear by this point, however, that if the Bible is from God, as Christians claim, then whatever we may think about the matter, God at least does not agree with our assessment.

We say, “There is no evidence for God.” Or, “There is insufficient evidence for God.”

God says that quite the contrary is the case. God says that nature supplies evidence that is not only extensive but is also “clearly seen” and fully “understood.” In other words, there is no excuse for atheism.

The alternative put forward today is that the universe is eternal because matter is eternal, and that all we see has come about over a long period of time as the result of chance or random occurrences. This is the view of Carl Sagan, who affirms the eternity of matter. “In the beginning was the cosmos,” cries Sagan. But think through the problems. Suppose everything we see did evolve over long periods of time from mere matter. Suppose our complex universe came from something less complex, and that less complex something from something still less complex. Suppose we push everything back until we come to “mere matter,” which is supposed to be eternal. Have we solved our problem? Not at all! We are trying to explain the complex forms of matter as we know them today, but where did those forms come from? Some would say that the form or purpose we see was somehow in matter to begin with. But, if that is the case, then the matter we are talking about is no longer “mere matter.” It already has purpose, organization, and form, and we need to ask how these very significant elements got there. At some point we must inevitably find ourselves looking for the Purposer, Organizer, or Former.

Moreover, it is not just form that confronts us. There are personalities in the cosmos. We are personalities. We are not mere matter, even complex matter. We have life, and we know ourselves to be entities possessing a sense of self-identity, feelings, and a will. Where could those things come from in an originally impersonal universe? Francis Schaeffer has written, “The assumption of an impersonal beginning can never adequately explain the personal beings we see around us, and when men try to explain man on the basis of an original impersonal, man soon disappears.”

Until recently, the most popular fallback from these truths has been the argument that whatever the difficulties may be for supposing an evolution of what we see from mere matter, such is nevertheless possible, given an infinite amount of time and chance occurrence. But there are two problems here.

First, what is chance? People talk as if chance were an entity that could bring about the universe. But chance is merely a mathematical abstraction with no real existence. Suppose you are about to flip a coin and were to ask, “What are the chances of its coming up heads?” The answer is fifty percent (ignoring the possibility that it may stick in the mud on its side). Suppose further that you do flip the coin and that it comes up heads. What made it come up heads? Did chance do it? Of course not. What made it come up heads was the force of your thumb on the coin, the weight of the coin, the resistance of the air, the distance from your hand to the ground, and other variables. If you knew and could plot every one of those variables, you would be able to tell exactly what would happen—whether the coin would land either heads or tails. You do not know the variables. So you say, “Chances are that it will come up heads fifty percent of the time.” But the point I am making is that chance didn’t do it. Chance is nothing. So to say that the universe was created by chance is to say that the universe was created by nothing, which is a meaningless statement.

What about there being an infinite amount of time? As I have pointed out, even with an infinite amount of time nothing with form or purpose comes into being apart from an original Former or Purposer. But supposing it could. Even this does not explain the universe, for the simple reason that the universe has not been around for an infinite amount of time. Science itself tells us that the universe is in the nature of fifteen to twenty billion years old. It speaks of an original beginning known popularly as the Big Bang. True, fifteen to twenty billion years is a long time, more time than we can adequately comprehend. But such time is not infinite! That is the point. And if it is not infinite, then an appeal to infinity does not explain the existence of our very complex universe.

“I didn’t know God existed”? Can anyone really affirm that in face of the evidence for the existence of God in nature? The Bible says we cannot, and even a secular analysis of the options supports the Bible’s statement. Ignorance is no excuse for failing to seek and worship God, because we are not ignorant.

“I Have Too Many Questions”

There are people who might follow what I have said to this point and even agree with most of it but who would nevertheless excuse themselves on the ground that they still have too many questions about Christianity. They recognize that the God we are talking about is not just “any god” but the God who has revealed himself in Scripture. And when they think about that they have a host of questions. They suppose that these are valid excuses for their rejection of the deity. For example:

  1. What about the poor innocent native in Africa who has never heard of Christ? Every preacher gets asked this question. In fact, it is probably the question most asked by Christians and non-Christians alike. But it is also true that Romans 1:18–20, the text we have been studying, answers it. The implication behind this question is that the “innocent” native is going to be sent to hell for failing to do something he has never had an opportunity to do, namely, believe on Jesus Christ as his Savior, and that a God who would be so unjust as to condemn the “innocent” native cannot be God. And that is true! God must be just, and God would be unjust if he condemned a person for failing to do what he or she obviously did not have the opportunity of doing.

But that is not the case in regard to the so-called innocent in Africa. To be sure, the native is innocent of failing to believe on Jesus if he or she has never heard of Jesus. But it is not for this that the native or anyone else who has not heard of Jesus is condemned. As Romans 1 tells us, the native is condemned for failing to do what he or she actually knows he or she should do, that is, seek out, worship, and give thanks to the God revealed in nature. Everyone falls short there. A person might argue that the native actually does seek God, offering in proof the widespread phenomenon of religion in the world. Man has rightly been called homo religiosus. But that is no excuse either, for the universality of religion, as Paul is going to show in the next verses, is actually evidence of man’s godlessness. Why? Because the religions that man creates are actually attempts to escape having to face the true God. We invent religion—not because we are seeking God, but because we are running away from him.

To repeat what we have seen in the last two studies: (1) all human beings know God as a result of God’s revelation of himself to us through nature, but (2) instead of allowing that revelation to lead us to God, we repress the revelation and instead set up false gods of our own imaginations to take the true God’s place. The reason, as we have also seen, is that (3) we do not like the God to which this natural revelation leads us.

  1. Isn’t the Bible full of contradictions? This is an excuse we also often hear, but it is as unsubstantial as the first one. We are told that as the data from science has come in, so many errors have been found in the Bible that no rational person could possibly believe that it is God’s true revelation. It follows that at best the Bible is a collection of insightful human writings, so no one can intelligently buy into Christianity on the basis of the biblical “revelation.”

The problem with this argument is its premise. It assumes that the accumulation of historical and scientific facts has uncovered an increasing number of textual and other problems, but actually the opposite is the case. As the data has come in over the decades, particularly over the last few decades, the tendency is for the Bible to be vindicated. Time magazine recognized this in a cover story in the December 30, 1974, issue. The story was captioned “How True Is the Bible?” In this essay the magazine’s editors examined the chief radical critics of the recent past—Albert Schweitzer, Rudolf Bultmann, Martin Dibelius, and others—but concluded:

The breadth, sophistication and diversity of all this biblical investigation are impressive, but it begs a question: Has it made the Bible more credible or less? Literalists who feel the ground move when a verse is challenged would have to say that credibility has suffered. Doubt has been sown, faith is in jeopardy. But believers who expect something else from the Bible may well conclude that its credibility has been enhanced. After more than two centuries of facing the heaviest scientific guns that could be brought to bear, the Bible has survived—and is perhaps the better for the siege.

Even on the critics’ own terms—historical fact—the scriptures seem more acceptable now than they did when the rationalists began the attack.

It is hard to see how anyone can use the alleged “contradictions” in the Bible to justify a failure to seek out and worship the Bible’s God, especially after he or she has investigated the evidence thoroughly.

  1. If there is a God and the God who exists is a good God, why does he tolerate evil? The argument has two forms. One form is philosophical, asking how evil could have entered a world created and ruled by a benevolent God. The other is personal and practical, asking why things happen to me that I do not like or why God does not give me what I ask him for or do what I tell him in my prayers I want him to do.

The philosophical problem is difficult. If we ask how evil could originate in an originally perfect world, there is no one, so far as I know, who has ever answered that puzzle adequately. If God made all things good, including Adam and Eve, so that nothing within them naturally inclined toward evil in any way, then it is difficult (if not impossible) to see how Adam or Eve or any other perfect being could do evil. But I must point out that although Christians may not have an adequate explanation for the origin of evil (at least at this point in the history of theological thought), our difficulty here is at least only half as great as that of the unbeliever. For the unbeliever has the problem not only of explaining the origin of evil; he has the problem of explaining the origin of the good as well. In any case, our failure to understand how evil came about does not disprove its existence any more than it disproves the existence of God.

The second form of this problem is personal and practical. It is the form of the question that probably troubles most people: “Why does God tolerate evil, particularly in my life? Why do bad things happen to me? Why doesn’t God answer my prayers as I would like?”

Part of the answer to this problem is that if we got what we deserved, we would be suffering not merely the evils we now know but rather those eternal torments that are to be the lot of the unregenerate in hell. In other words, instead of saying, “Why do bad things happen to me?” we should be saying, “Why do good things happen to me?” All we deserve is evil. If our life has any good in it, that good (however minimal) should point us to the God from whom all good comes. That we do not follow that leading, but instead complain about God’s treatment, only increases our guilt. It shows us to be precisely what Paul declares we are in Romans 1:18: godless and wicked.

Let me illustrate how this works. After I had preached the sermon that is printed as chapter 16 of this volume (“The Psychology of Atheism”), I received an unsigned note in which someone objected to my comments about the natural man’s hatred of God’s sovereignty. He (or she) said, “Preach sermons to your congregation, not to the radio audience. Deal with the hard questions. The difficulty is not that I am not sovereign but that the sovereignty of God does not seem good. When the answers to my prayers seem to make no sense, what then am I to think of God? Deal with that one.”

The tone of this note was a bit insulting, as you can see. But the problem is not that it was insulting to me. The problem is that it was insulting to God. Moreover, it was itself a refutation of the point it was making. The questioner was saying that he or she had no difficulty with the concept of God’s sovereignty, only with what God does—if God exists. But, of course, what is that if not a challenge to God’s sovereignty? It is a way of saying, “God, I am not going to believe in you unless you come down from your lofty throne, stand here before little me and submit to my interrogation. I will not acknowledge you unless you explain yourself to me.” Could anything be more arrogant than that? To demand that God justify his ways to us? Or even to think that we could understand him if he did? Job was not challenging God’s sovereignty. He was only seeking understanding. But when God interrogated him, asking if he could explain how God created and sustains the universe, poor Job was reduced to near stammering. He said, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).

It is interesting that the same week in which I got this note, demanding that God explain himself on our level before we believe on him, I got another letter that was quite different. This person described a particularly horrible week that he had just gone through. But then he said, “Seeing the situation in the light of God’s sovereignty made it possible for me to ask forgiveness for my anger and open my eyes to what God wants me to see, namely, that my life will frequently be ‘disordered,’ but he will never let it get out of control.” Do you see the difference?

Is it right to have questions about why God acts as he does? Of course! Who has not had them? It is right to believe and then seek understanding. But to use an inability to understand some things as an excuse for failing to respond to what we do know is that deliberate repression of the truth about which Paul was speaking in our text.

“I Didn’t Think It Was Important”

The weakest excuse that anyone can muster is the statement that “I just didn’t think it was important.” That is obviously faulty—if God exists and we are all destined to meet him and give an account of our actions some day. Nothing can be as important as getting the most basic of our relationships right: the relationship of ourselves to God. And yet, for one reason or another—perhaps just because the press of life’s many demands seems more important—we push this greatest of all issues aside.

How do you think that is going to sound when you appear before God at the last day?

“I didn’t think it was important”?

“I didn’t think you were important”?

“I didn’t think my repression of the truth about you mattered”?

A little later on in Romans, Paul tells what is going to happen in that last day. Men and women are going to appear before God with their excuses, but when they do, says Paul, “Every mouth [will] be silenced and the whole world [will be] held accountable to God” (Rom. 3:20). Even in this day there are no valid excuses, as Paul declares in Romans 1:20. But in that day the excuses will not even be spoken, so obvious will it be that all human beings—from the smallest to the greatest—are guilty of godlessness.

Since today is not yet that final day, there is still time to turn from the arrogance that pits finite minds and sinful wills against God.

Do you remember Methuselah? He lived longer than any other man—969 years. His name means “When he is gone it shall come.” “It” was the great flood of God’s judgment. That flood destroyed the antediluvian world. But the reason I refer to Methuselah and his longevity is that he is a picture of God’s great patience with those who sin against him. During the early years of Methuselah’s life God sent a preacher named Enoch to turn the race from its sin. Enoch preached that judgment was coming: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14–15). After Enoch died, Noah continued the preaching. For the entire lifetime of Methuselah, all 969 years, the flood did not come. God was gracious, “patient … not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). But, though patient, God was not indifferent to sin, and at last Methuselah died, and wrath did indeed come.

We live in a similar age today. Today is the day of God’s grace. But wrath is gathering. We see it about us like the rising waters of the flood. Do not wait to be overtaken by it. Do not make excuses. Admit that you are “without excuse” in God’s sight and quickly take refuge in the Savior.[2]


20. Since his invisible things, &c. God is in himself invisible; but as his majesty shines forth in his works and in his creatures everywhere, men ought in these to acknowledge him, for they clearly set forth their Maker: and for this reason the Apostle in his Epistle to the Hebrews says, that this world is a mirror, or the representation of invisible things. He does not mention all the particulars which may be thought to belong to God; but he states, that we can arrive at the knowledge of his eternal power and divinity;3 for he who is the framer of all things, must necessarily be without beginning and from himself. When we arrive at this point, the divinity becomes known to us, which cannot exist except accompanied with all the attributes of a God, since they are all included under that idea.

So that they are inexcusable. It hence clearly appears what the consequence is of having this evidence—that men cannot allege any thing before God’s tribunal for the purpose of showing that they are not justly condemned. Yet let this difference be remembered, that the manifestation of God, by which he makes his glory known in his creation, is, with regard to the light itself, sufficiently clear; but that on account of our blindness, it is not found to be sufficient. We are not however so blind, that we can plead our ignorance as an excuse for our perverseness. We conceive that there is a Deity; and then we conclude, that whoever he may be, he ought to be worshipped: but our reason here fails, because it cannot ascertain who or what sort of being God is. Hence the Apostle in Heb. 11:3, ascribes to faith the light by which man can gain real knowledge from the work of creation, and not without reason; for we are prevented by our blindness, so that we reach not to the end in view; we yet see so far, that we cannot pretend any excuse. Both these things are strikingly set forth by Paul in Acts 14:17, when he says, that the Lord in past times left the nations in their ignorance, and yet that he left them not without witness (ἁμάρτυρον,) since he gave them rain and fertility from heaven. But this knowledge of God, which avails only to take away excuse, differs greatly from that which brings salvation, which Christ mentions in John 17:3, and in which we are to glory, as Jeremiah teaches us, ch. 9:24.[3]


20  The “for” introducing this verse shows that Paul continues the close chain of reasoning about the knowledge of God that he began in v. 19. He has asserted that what can be known of God is visible among people generally and that this is so only because God has acted to disclose himself. Now he explains how it is that God has made this disclosure. Two different connections among the main elements in the verse are possible: (1) “his invisible attributes … have been seen through the things he has made, being understood”; (2) “his invisible attributes … have been seen, being understood through the things he has made.”60 Probably the latter makes better sense because, on the former rendering, the word “being understood” is somewhat redundant. The subject of this complex clause, “his invisible attributes,”62 is further defined in the appositional addition, “his eternal power and his deity.” What is denoted is that God is powerful and that he possesses those properties normally associated with deity. These properties of God that cannot be “seen” (aorata) are “seen” (kathoratai)—an example of the literary device called oxymoron, in which a rhetorical effect is achieved by asserting something that is apparently contradictory. God in his essence is hidden from human sight, yet much of him and much about him can be seen through the things he has made. Paul is thinking primarily of the world as the product of God’s creation (see, e.g., Ps. 8), though the acts of God in history may also be included.

But just what does Paul mean when he claims that human beings “see” and “understand” from creation and history that a powerful God exists? Some think that Paul is asserting only that people have around them the evidence of God’s existence and basic qualities; whether people actually perceive it or become personally conscious of it is not clear. But Paul’s wording suggests more than this. He asserts that people actually come to “understand” something about God’s existence and nature. How universal is this perception? The flow of Paul’s argument makes any limitation impossible. Those who perceive the attributes of God in creation must be the same as those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness and are therefore liable to the wrath of God. Paul makes clear that this includes all people (see 3:9, 19–20).

The last clause of v. 20, “so that they are without excuse,” states a key element in our interpretation of vv. 19–20. For Paul here makes clear that “natural revelation,” in and of itself, leads to a negative result. That Paul teaches the reality of a revelation of God in nature to all people, this text makes clear. But it is equally obvious that this revelation is universally rejected, as people turn from knowledge of God to gods of their own making (cf. vv. 22ff.). Why this is so, Paul will explain elsewhere (cf. Rom. 5:12–21). But it is vital if we are to understand Paul’s gospel and his urgency in preaching it to realize that natural revelation leads not to salvation but to the demonstration that God’s condemnation is just: people are “without excuse.” That verdict stands over the people we meet every day just as much as over the people Paul rubbed shoulders with in the first century, and our urgency in communicating the gospel should be as great as Paul’s.[4]


20. For the invisible things of him from—or “since”

the creation of the world are clearly seen—the mind brightly beholding what the eye cannot discern.

being understood by the things that are made—Thus, the outward creation is not the parent but the interpreter of our faith in God. That faith has its primary sources within our own breast (Ro 1:19); but it becomes an intelligible and articulate conviction only through what we observe around us (“by the things which are made,” Ro 1:20). And thus are the inner and the outer revelation of God the complement of each other, making up between them one universal and immovable conviction that God is. (With this striking apostolic statement agree the latest conclusions of the most profound speculative students of Theism).

even his eternal power and Godhead—both that there is an Eternal Power, and that this is not a mere blind force, or pantheistic “spirit of nature,” but the power of a living Godhead.

so that they are without excuse—all their degeneracy being a voluntary departure from truth thus brightly revealed to the unsophisticated spirit.[5]


20. For since the creation of the world his invisible qualifies—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood through (his) works, so that these people are without excuse.

The little word “For” is again very meaningful. It is not only continuative but also supportive, showing that what was said in verse 19 is indeed a fact. The sentence introduced by “For” may even reflect on what was said earlier, namely, in verse 18; that is, it may be viewed as indicating why the wrath of God is being revealed against the wicked: their wicked deeds are inexcusable!

In verses 16, 17 Paul had been speaking about God’s revelation in the gospel unto salvation. It is clear that here, in verses 19, 20 he has made the transition from special to general revelation. He is now speaking about “the things that are made,” that is, about God’s revelation “in his works,” meaning, in creation or nature.

Note the expression “God’s invisible qualities.” That God is indeed invisible is taught everywhere in Scripture. Note especially the following passages:

“God himself no one has ever seen” (John 1:18).

“(the Son of his love, who is) the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).

“the King of the ages, the imperishable, invisible, only God” (1 Tim. 1:17).

“… seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27).

A further explanation of these invisible qualities or attributes is given in the words “his eternal power and divine nature.”

As to this eternal power or never-failing omnipotence, it is evident in all God’s works (Ps. 111:2; 118:17; 119:27; 139:14; 145:10); in Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (Exod. 20:1, 2) and in God’s tender care bestowed on his people (Deut. 33:27). Again and again psalmists and prophets refer to God’s mighty deeds. No one is able to stay his hand (Dan. 4:35). He does whatever he pleases, for nothing is too difficult for him (Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:27).

In the present context, however, it is not—at least not primarily—God’s mighty deeds in history that are being contemplated. The reference is rather to the works of creation: the works of God which for a very long time, in fact ever since the creation of the universe, have been visible to men and have made their indelible impression upon their minds.

Paul is thinking of the God who created the heavens and the earth and who establishes them by perpetual decrees (Gen. 1; Ps. 104). He is reflecting on the One who made “the Pleiades and the Orion, who turns the shadow of death into the morning, and makes the day dark with night” (Amos 5:8).

The term “his divine nature” indicates the sum of all God’s glorious attributes, in the present connection especially those attributes which make and leave an impression on everybody’s mind: the exhibition of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness in the created universe. Such passages as Ps. 8, Ps. 19:1–6, and Isa. 40:21, 22, 26 shed further light on the subject.

The rendering “His invisible qualities … have been clearly seen” correctly reproduces the sense of the original, but fails to do justice to its beauty. The original (Greek), even somewhat more clearly than the usual English translation, employs a pair of words which, though resembling each other in form, express a seeming contradiction. Call it a paradox or an oxymoron if you prefer. A closer approach to the original would be: “his unseeable qualities … are clearly seen.”

But how is it possible to see the unseeable? Is it not true that physical eyes are unable to see God’s invisible qualities? True; yet, while these eyes are observing the glories of the universe which God created, the soul, with its invisible eye, is being deeply impressed. It clearly sees God’s power displayed in “the things that were made,” that is, in God’s works.

The Belgic Confession, Article I, commenting on Rom. 1:20, speaks about “the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God, even his everlasting power and divinity, as the apostle says, ‘All these things are sufficient to convince men and to leave them without excuse.’ ”

“… so that these people are without excuse.” Even though they have been constantly surrounded by the evidences not only of God’s existence but also of his infinite power, adorable goodness, and incomparable wisdom, they have refused to acknowledge him as their God, and to worship him.

Even without the benefit of such products of human invention as microscope and telescope, they were able to reflect on the vastness of the universe, the fixed order of the heavenly bodies in their courses, the arrangement of the leaves around a stem, the cycle of the divinely created water-works (evaporation, cloud formation, distillation, pool formation), the mystery of growth from seed to plant—not just any plant but the particular kind of plant from which the seed originated, the thrill of the sunrise from faint rosy flush to majestic orb, the skill of birds in building their “homes” without ever having taken lessons in home building, the generous manner in which food is supplied for all creatures, the adaptation of living creatures to their environment (for example, the flexible soles of the camel’s feet to the soft desert sands), etc., etc. In addition to this voice of God in the works of creation there was also the voice of that same God in conscience (2:15). The evidence was overwhelming. And still no response of adoration and gratitude. Then surely their conduct is inexcusable![6]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Vol. 1, pp. 78–82). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: Justification by Faith (Vol. 1, pp. 153–160). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[3] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (pp. 70–71). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 104–106). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 224–225). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[6] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 12–13, pp. 69–71). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 13, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

34. Opening his mouth. We have already said, that the Scripture useth this phrase when it doth signify that there was any grave or weighty oration or speech made. In the fifth of Matthew, (Matth. 5:1,) it is said that Jesus opened his mouth when he would preach to his disciples, and intreat of most weighty matters, as if a man should say in Latin, he began to speak, having first well bethought himself what he would speak.

In truth I find. Καταλαμβανεσθαι is to apprehend, or to gather by reasons, signs, and conjectures. Cornelius was a Gentile born, yet God heareth his prayers; he vouchsafeth to show him the light of the gospel; he appointed and sendeth an angel to him particularly; thereby doth Peter know, that, without respect of persons, those do please God which live godly and innocently. For before, (being wholly possessed with this prejudice, that the Jews alone were beloved of God, as they alone were chosen out of all people,) [nations,] he did not think that the grace of God could come unto others. He was not, indeed, so gross that he thought that godliness and innocency of life were condemned because they were in a man that was a Gentile; but, seeing he did simply snatch at that, that all those were estranged from the kingdom of God, and were profane, which were uncircumcised, he entangleth himself unawares in that so filthy an error, that God did despise his pure worship and an holy life, where there was no circumcision; because uncircumcision made all virtues unsavoury to the Jews. By which example, we are taught how greatly we ought to beware of prejudices, which make us oftentimes judge amiss.

Furthermore, we must note what the word person doth signify, because many are thereby deceived, whilst that they expound it generally, that one man is preferred before another. So Pelagius denied in times past that some are chosen and some are [re] proved of God; because God did not accept persons. But by this word we must understand the external state or appearance, as they call it; and whatsoever is about man himself, which doth either bring him in favour, or cause him to be hated; riches, nobility, multitude of servants, honour, do make a man to be in great favour; poverty, baseness of lineage, and such like things, make him to be despised. In this respect, the Lord doth oftentimes forbid the accepting of persons, because men cannot judge aright so often as external respects do lead them away from the matter. In this place, it is referred unto the nation; and the meaning is, that circumcision is no let, but that God may allow2 righteousness in a man that is a Gentile. But it shall seem by this means that God did respect persons for a time. For, when as he did choose the Jews to be his people, passing over the Gentiles, did he not respect persons? I answer, that the cause of this difference ought not to be sought in the persons of men, but it doth wholly depend upon the hidden counsel of God. For, in that he rather adopted Abraham, that with him he might make his covenant, than the Egyptians, he did not this being moved with any external respect, but (all) the whole cause remained in his wonderful counsel. Therefore, God was never tied to persons.

Notwithstanding, the doubt is not as yet dissolved, because it cannot be denied but that circumcision did please God, so that he counted him one of his people who had that token of sanctification. But we may easily answer this also, that circumcision followed after the grace of God, forasmuch as it was a seal thereof. Whereupon it followeth that it was no cause thereof. Nevertheless, it was unto the Jews a pledge of free adoption; in such sort, that uncircumcision did not hinder God, but that he might admit what Gentiles he would unto the society of the same salvation. But the coming of Christ had this new and especial thing, that after that the wall of separation was pulled down, (Ephes. 2:14,) God did embrace the whole world generally. And this do the words in every nation import. For so long as Abraham’s seed was the holy inheritance of God, the Gentiles might seem to be quite banished from his kingdom; but when Christ was given to be a light of the Gentiles, the covenant of eternal life began to be common to all alike.

35. He which feareth God, and doth righteousness. In these two members is comprehended the integrity of all the whole life. For the fear of God is nothing else but godliness and religion; and righteousness is that equity which men use among themselves, taking heed lest they hurt any man, and studying to do good to all men. As the law of God consisteth upon [of] these two parts, (which is the rule of good life,) so no man shall prove himself to God but he which shall refer and direct all his actions to this end, neither shall there be any sound thing in all offices, [duties,] unless the whole life be grounded in the fear of God. But it seemeth that this place doth attribute the cause of salvation unto the merits of works. For if works purchase favour for us with God, they do also win life for us, which is placed in the love of God towards us. Some do also catch at the word righteousness, that they may prove that we are not justified freely by faith, but by works. But this latter thing is too frivolous. For I have already showed that it is not taken for the perfect and whole observing of the law, but is restrained unto the second table and the offices of love. Therefore, it is not the universal righteousness whereby a man is judged just before God, but that honesty and innocency which respecteth men, when as that is given to every man which is his.

Therefore, the question remaineth as yet, whether works win the favour of God for us? which, that we may answer, we must first note that there is a double respect of God in loving men. For seeing we be born the children of wrath, (Ephes. 2:3,) God shall be so far from finding any thing in us which is worthy of his love, that all our whole nature causeth him rather to hate us; in which respect, Paul saith that all men are enemies to him until they be reconciled by Christ, (Rom. 5:10.) Therefore, the first accepting of God, whereby he receiveth us into favour, is altogether free; for there can as yet no respect of works be had, seeing all things are corrupt and wicked, and taste of [bespeak] their beginning. Now, whom God hath adopted to be his children, them doth he also regenerate by his Spirit, and reform in them his image: whence riseth that second respect. For God doth not find man bare and naked then, and void of all grace, but he knoweth his own work in him, yea, himself. Therefore, God accepteth the faithful, because they live godly and justly. And we do not deny that God accepteth the good works of the saints; but this is another question, whether man prevent the grace of God with his merits or no, and insinuate himself into his love, or whether he be beloved at the beginning, freely and without respect of works, forasmuch as he is worthy of nothing else but of hatred. Furthermore, forasmuch as man, left to his own nature, can bring nothing but matter of hatred, he must needs confess that he is truly beloved; whereupon, it followeth that God is to himself the cause that he loveth us, and that he is provoked [actuated] with his own mercy, and not with our merits. Secondly, we must note, that although the faithful please God after regeneration with good works, and their respects of works, yet that is not done with the merit of works. For the cleanliness of works is never so exact that they can please God without pardon; yea, forasmuch as they have always some corruption mixed with them, they are worthy to be refused. Therefore, the worthiness of the works doth not cause them to be had in estimation, but faith, which borroweth that of Christ which is wanting in works.[1]


34–35 The sermon is prefaced by the words “opening his mouth, Peter said” (anoixas de Petros to stoma eipen). This was one way to introduce a weighty utterance (cf. Mt 5:2; 13:35 [quoting Ps 78:2]; Ac 8:35). In Luke’s eyes, what Peter was about to say was indeed momentous in sweeping away centuries of racial prejudice. It begins by Peter’s statement that God does not show “favoritism” or “partiality” (prosōpolēmptēs [GK 4720], which appears only here in the NT but whose synonym prosōpolēmpsia is found in Ro 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; Jas 2:1; 1 Pe 1:17), “but accepts [people] from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” While some consciousness of this may be implicit in Israel’s history and at times have been expressed by her prophets (cf. Am 9:7; Mic 6:8), it was only by means of a revelational clarification—i.e., a “pesher” interpretation of what was earlier considered to be a highly enigmatic “mystery” (cf. Eph 3:4–6)—that Peter came to appreciate the racial challenge of the gospel.[2]


34–35 The expression “Then Peter spoke up” (literally, “Peter opened his mouth”) is one that is used to introduce some weighty utterance. The first words that Peter spoke were words of the weightiest import, sweeping away the racial and religious prejudices of centuries. The words of Cornelius confirmed the lesson that Peter himself had learned in Joppa: God has no favorites as between one nation and another, but anyone, from whatever nation, who fears him and acts rightly44 is acceptable to him. This may be the veriest truism to us, but it was a revolutionary revelation to Peter. Yet it was implicit in the teaching of the early prophets. They insisted that God’s choice of Israel was an act of grace, not of partiality, and that it called for a response of obedient service, not of careless complacency. If God brought Israel out of Egypt into the land of their inheritance, he had also brought the Philistines from Crete and the Syrians from Kir (Amos 9:7). On a coming day God would bless “Egypt my people” and “Assyria the work of my hands” along with “Israel my heritage” (Isa. 19:25). If, as Micah said, the Lord’s primary requirements were that men and women should act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God (Mic. 6:8), then Gentiles might fulfil these requirements as readily as Israelites. Luke, himself a Gentile by birth, had good reason to emphasize the narrative of the bringing in of the Gentiles, by the cumulative repetitions within the narrative and by other means.[3]


10:34–35 / This speech is the first recorded preaching of the Good News to the Gentile world. It must be assumed, of course, that these were almost entirely “devout” people like Cornelius himself and that they were familiar, therefore, with the Jewish Scriptures. It must also be assumed that they knew something of the story of Jesus. Thus they were more or less prepared for what they heard and to that extent hardly typical of the Gentile world as a whole. Peter was able to preach to them much as he had to the Jews; it is not until we come to Paul’s speeches in Lystra and Athens that we find a distinctive approach to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, these people were Gentiles, and that fact marks a new and important departure for the church.

In other respects also this speech holds a peculiar interest. It has often been remarked that verses 37 to 40, with their attention to the earthly life of Jesus and being unique among the speeches of this book, could well have formed the ground plan of Mark’s Gospel. In view of the traditional association of Peter with Mark, this can hardly be accidental (see also disc. on 3:7f.; 10:14; 12:1–5). There is, moreover, a clear theological development in comparison with Peter’s earlier speeches (2:14–39; 3:12–26), and this, together with the fact that it sits so well with his experience at Joppa and Caesarea, gives us every confidence that we have in these verses a fair indication of what he said on this occasion. How Luke came by the speech we can only guess, but the evidence points strongly to his use of a source. “It is one of the most ungrammatical pieces of Greek that Luke ever wrote. One cannot avoid the impression that though, as usual, Luke has fixed its final form, older elements are included in it” (Hanson, p. 124).

Peter’s sense of the occasion is expressed by Luke’s use of the formula “he opened his mouth” (v. 34, niv began to speak), which often marked a particularly solemn occasion. He began by commenting on the change in his own thinking: I now realize … that God does not show favoritism (v. 34). The phrase “upon the truth” expresses both his surprise at this discovery and his grasp of what had now been revealed. It was not something new (cf. Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron. 19:7; Job 34:19; Mal. 2:9), but it was a truth that the Jews had largely lost sight of. And for Peter, it did come as a new discovery that God was impartial. From this it followed that a person’s acceptance with God rested, not on nationality, but on a proper disposition of the heart: he accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right (v. 35). This is not to say that nothing else is needed. The emphasis on Jesus in this speech gives the lie to that. Jesus is integral to our salvation. Rather, what Peter meant is that if the attitude is right, then given the Good News, there is no one who cannot be saved. And so, without further ado, he spoke the saving word that they had gathered to hear.[4]


34. Peter said: “I truly understand that God shows no favoritism.”

This is Peter’s first address to a Gentile audience. As a representative of the Christian church, he is fully aware of the uniqueness of this situation. He realizes the significance of his vision in Joppa and knows that he is doing God’s will. He says, “I truly understand that God shows no favoritism.” The Jews of Peter’s day lived by the doctrine that God had made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants and that they were God’s chosen people. They despised the Gentiles because, according to the Jews, God had rejected the Gentiles and had withheld his blessings from them.

The Jews also knew that God had told Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). So, then, believers of all nations would claim Abraham as their spiritual father. Interestingly, in his sermon at Solomon’s Colonnade Peter had quoted the words God had spoken to Abraham: “And through your offspring all the families of the earth will be blessed” (3:25). But at that time, Peter had not fully fathomed the depth of this divine saying. Now, however, Peter sees the fulfillment of God’s word to Abraham. The Roman centurion, the members of Cornelius’s household, and all his invited relatives and guests receive God’s blessing.

Peter appeals to the Scriptures when he says that God shows no favoritism. For instance, Moses tells the Israelites in the desert, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes bribes” (Deut. 10:17, NIV).41

God does not look at a person’s external appearance, nationality, wealth, social status, and achievements. In the light of God’s teaching given in a vision, Peter sets aside his ingrained bias against the Gentiles and, as he states, truthfully accepts the doctrine of God’s impartiality. He is convinced that salvation belongs to all nations and not merely to Israel. He knows that his earlier view of God was defective.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,

Like the wideness of the sea;

There’s a kindness in his justice,

Which is more than liberty.

For the love of God is broader

Than the measure of man’s mind;

And the heart of the Eternal

Is most wonderfully kind.

—Frederick W. Faber

35. “But in every nation, the man who fears him and does what is right is accepted by God.”

The expression in every nation stands first in the sentence for emphasis. God excludes no country on the face of this earth but accepts believers from every nation into the church. God has removed the barrier between the nation Israel and the Gentiles. Nevertheless, God accepts a Gentile only when such a person fears him and obediently does his will. God accepts no sinner on his own merit; everybody, be he Jew or Gentile, must be saved through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. If Cornelius were acceptable on the basis of his own moral purity and personal religiosity, Peter would not have to preach Christ’s gospel in the officer’s home.

What is the meaning of Peter’s remark that God accepts a man who fears God and does what is right? Peter is saying that a person who seeks God and strives to keep his law is, on that account, eager to hear the good news of salvation. In Acts, Luke shows that God-fearers who earnestly do what is right readily place their trust in Jesus. When the apostles preach the gospel to them, they believe (see 16:14–15; 17:4, 12; 18:7–8). God receives people from every race, tribe, or tongue, not on the basis of their reverence for God and their striving after righteousness, but because they put their faith in Jesus. Thus, Peter reminds his audience of their knowledge of the Christ.[5]


[1] Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (2010). Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 1, pp. 436–440). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Longenecker, R. N. (2007). Acts. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 880). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (pp. 211–212). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] Williams, D. J. (2011). Acts (pp. 191–192). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, pp. 391–392). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 12, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

41. The sentiment more fully carried out. God’s mercies and salvation, as revealed in His Word, provide hope of forgiveness for the past and security in a righteous course for the future.[1]


Ver. 41.—Let thy mercies come also unto me, O Lord; rather, and let thy mercies come unto me. Each verse of this stanza begins with the vau conjunctive. Even thy salvation, according to thy Word; or, “thy promise” (imrah). God’s Word was pledged, that he would grant mercy and salvation to all his faithful servants (Deut. 28:1–13).[2]


41. “Let thy mercies come also unto me, O Lord.” He desires mercy as well as teaching, for he was guilty as well as ignorant. He needed much mercy and varied mercy, hence the request is in the plural. He needed mercy from God rather than from man, and so he asks for “thy mercies.” The way sometimes seemed blocked, and therefore he begs that the mercies may have their way cleared by God, and may “come” to him. He who said, “Let there be light,” can also say, “Let there be mercy.” It may be that under a sense of unworthiness the writer feared lest mercy should be given to others, and not to himself; he therefore cries, “Bless me, even me also, O my Father.” Viewed in this light the words are tantamount to our well-known verse—

“Lord, I hear of showers of blessing

Thou art scattering, full and free;

Showers, the thirsty land refreshing;

Let some droppings fall on me,

Even me.”

Lord, thine enemies come to me to reproach me, let thy mercies come to defend me; trials and troubles abound, and labours and sufferings not a few approach me; Lord, let thy mercies in great number enter by the same gate, and at the same hour; for art thou not the God of my mercy?

Even thy salvation.” This is the sum and crown of all mercies—deliverance from all evil, both now and for ever. Here is the first mention of salvation in the Psalm, and it is joined with mercy: “By grace are ye saved.” Salvation is styled “thy salvation,” thus ascribing it wholly to the Lord: “He that is our God is the God of salvation.” What a mass of mercies are heaped together in the one salvation of our Lord Jesus! It includes the mercies which spare us before our conversion, and lead up to it. Then comes calling mercy, regenerating mercy, converting mercy, justifying mercy, pardoning mercy. Nor can we exclude from complete salvation any of those many mercies which are needed to conduct the believer safe to glory. Salvation is an aggregate of mercies incalculable in number, priceless in value, incessant in application, eternal in endurance. To the God of our mercies be glory, world without end.

According to thy word.” The way of salvation is described in the word, salvation itself is promised in the word, and its inward manifestation is wrought by the word; so that in all respects the salvation which is in Christ Jesus is in accordance with the word. David loved the Scriptures, but he longed experimentally to know the salvation contained in them: he was not satisfied to read the word, he longed to experience its inner sense. He valued the field of Scripture for the sake of the treasure which he had discovered in it. He was not to be contented with chapter and verse, he wanted mercies and salvation.

Note that in the first verse of He (33) the Psalmist prayed to be taught to keep God’s word, and here in Vau he begs the Lord to keep his word. In the first case he longed to come to the God of mercies, and here he would have the Lord’s mercies come to him: there he sought grace to persevere in faith, and here he seeks the end of his faith, even the salvation of his soul.[3]


119:41 We must not take God’s mercies and salvation for granted. We are as dependent on His compassion and protection as when we were first saved. So we claim His promise to care for and keep us day by day.[4]


[1] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 382). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Psalms (Vol. 3, p. 105). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[3] Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). The treasury of David: Psalms 111-119 (Vol. 5, pp. 226–227). London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 739). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

August 12, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

Comfort Comes from Trusting Christ’s Proclamation

And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (14:4–6)

Since He had already told them that He was returning to the Father (e.g., 7:33; 13:1, 3), Jesus expected the disciples to know the way where He was going. But by this time their minds were so rattled (cf. the discussion of v. 1 above) that they were not sure of anything. Thomas vocalized their perplexity when he said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” (cf. Peter’s similar question in 13:36). By now they understood that Jesus was going to die. But their knowledge stopped at death; they had no firsthand experience of what lay beyond the grave. Furthermore, Jesus Himself had told them that at this time they could not go where He was going (13:33, 36). If they did not know where the Lord was going, how could they know the way to get there?

Jesus’ reply, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” is the sixth “I AM” statement in John’s gospel (cf. 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; the seventh comes in 15:1, 5). Jesus alone is the way to God (10:7–9; Acts 4:12) because He alone is the truth (John 1:14, 17; 18:37; Rev. 3:7; 19:11) about God and He alone possesses the life of God (John 1:4; 5:26; 11:25; 1 John 1:1; 5:20). The purpose of this gospel is to make those things known, so they are repeated throughout the book so as to lead people to faith and salvation (20:31).

The Bible teaches that God may be approached exclusively through His only-begotten Son. Jesus alone is the “door of the sheep” (10:7); all others are “thieves and robbers” (v. 8), and it is only the one who “enters through [Him who] will be saved” (v. 9). The way of salvation is a narrow path entered through a small, narrow gate, and few find it (Matt. 7:13–14; cf. Luke 13:24). “There is salvation in no one else,” Peter boldly affirmed, “for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Thus, it is “he who believes in the Son [who] has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36), and “no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11), because “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

The postmodern belief that there are many paths to religious truth is a satanic lie. F. F. Bruce writes,

He [Jesus] is, in fact, the only way by which men and women may come to the Father; there is no other way. If this seems offensively exclusive, let it be borne in mind that the one who makes this claim is the incarnate Word, the revealer of the Father. If God has no avenue of communication with mankind apart from his Word … mankind has no avenue of approach to God apart from that same Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us in order to supply such an avenue of approach. (The Gospel of John [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983], 298)

Jesus alone reveals God (John 1:18; cf. 3:13; 10:30–38; 12:45; 14:9; Col. 1:15, 19; 2:9; Heb. 1:3), and no one who rejects His proclamation of the truth can legitimately claim to know God (John 5:23; 8:42–45; 15:23; Matt. 11:27; 1 John 2:23; 2 John 9). It was because the early Christians taught that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation that Christianity became known as “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).[1]


The Only Way Home

John 14:6

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The exclusive claim of the Lord Jesus Christ to be “the way and the truth and the life” is wrapped up in three phrases. He claims to be the way to God, indeed, the only way; he claims to be the truth about God, himself the truth; and he claims to be spiritual life, not merely the way to life. We would think, as we read that phrase, that it has said all that needs to be said. Yet, as we read the Lord’s own words, we find that immediately after saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” he says the whole thing over again in different words, lest we misunderstand it. He says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” If the Lord stated this a second time, lest we misunderstand it, then we should look at it a second time also.

Only through Jesus

Taken together, these phrases mean that Christianity makes an exclusive claim. People sometimes suggest that we are narrow-minded as Christians when we say that Christ is the only way to God, and we have to confess that this is precisely what we are at this point. We are as narrow as the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord said—this is the emphasis of the verse—that he is the only way to God. There is no other way. So while it would be nice for us to equivocate on this point and say, in order to win friends and influence people, that other ways have some value—though we would like to say this, we are nevertheless unable to do so. Rather, we find ourselves affirming with the Lord Jesus Christ and with all the biblical writers that there is no salvation apart from Jesus.

Many verses teach it: 1 Corinthians 3:11—“No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ”; Acts 4:12—“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men, by which we must be saved”; 1 Timothy 2:5—“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

If you are one who is rejecting all this, if you are one who perhaps is interested in Christianity but not exclusively, if you think that perhaps Jesus Christ is a way to God but not the way to God, I want to stress that, according to his teaching, he is the only way and that any attempt to find another way is folly, is bound to produce despair, and is perverse. The tragedy is that apart from the grace of God folly, despair, and perversity characterize each one of us. We are fools because we seek another way. We despair because there is no other way to be found. We are perverse because God has told us that there is only one way. Therefore, in turning from him to try to find another way we dishonor him.

The Fool Has Said

First, there is the folly of trying to find another way. Why is it folly? It is folly because, if a way to God has been provided, it is nonsense to look for another. Who would seek for a second cure for cancer if a perfect cure had been found?

Yet this is the folly of the human heart in spiritual things. Jesus told about it in a parable that concerned a rich man. This man thought the way to life was through material possessions, so he spent a lifetime accumulating worldly goods. He was a farmer. He had produce. His wealth was in the storage of his barn. When the barn became too small for what he was accumulating, he said, “I’ll tear down my old barn and build a bigger one that can hold my possessions.” The Lord’s comment on that man’s life was: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20).

It is not the preacher who calls the unbeliever a fool. If that were the case, it would mean little indeed. The unbeliever could simply say to the preacher, “You are the fool for believing as you do.” No, God is the one who calls men fools, fools for refusing to come to him in the way he has provided.

If we explore a bit deeper to find out why this is so, we find that it is because we are determined to provide for ourselves. During World War II, my father served as a doctor in the air force in the southern part of the United States. When he was released from military service he and the family began to drive northward to the family home in western Pennsylvania. It was only a few days before Christmas. So it was no surprise that on the way we ran into an early blizzard in the mountains of Tennessee. The storm got worse and worse and eventually halted our progress. At one point, however, before we had stopped for the night and as we were going uphill in a little mountain area with a dangerous precipice at our right, a car up ahead stopped. My father realized that, if the car ahead stopped, he would have to stop and, if he stopped, he would immediately begin to slide over the precipice. So he grabbed a blanket, jumped out of the car, ran around to the back wheels and stuck the blanket under one of them to stop our descent. We were stopped. But there we were, stranded in the blizzard on the mountainside.

My father was an Irishman, and at this point two things characterized him: first, pride in his achievement and, second, determination to bring off another. He had saved us from going over the precipice. Now he was going to get us up the mountain. So he began to work, shoveling snow and placing boards and blankets under the tires. He worked for about an hour, but without much success. All the time my two sisters and I, my mother, and my aunt were in the car, getting colder and colder. We were very depressed. Suddenly a truck with wonderful traction came by. This truck moved ahead of us and stopped. It was obvious that the driver knew he could get going again. He got out, came back to my father and said, “I have a chain. Would you like me to hitch onto your car and take you up the mountain?”

Do you know what my father said? He said, “No, thanks. We’re doing fine.” And he did do fine! But it was about sixty cold and gloomy minutes later!

God says that we are exactly like this spiritually, except for the fact that it does not matter whether we spend an hour, two hours, a year, or a lifetime. We are never going to get ourselves going up the road to salvation. So Jesus says, “Look, I’ve come to provide the way to salvation. I am the way. Don’t be so foolish that you turn your back on me out of pride.”

No Exit

Second, you are not only foolish, you are also on a trip to despair. If Jesus is right when he says, “I am the way … no one comes to the Father except through me,” then no other way can be found. The Father is the source of all spiritual blessings. The way to the Father is through Jesus. If you are trying to find another way, you are never going to get those spiritual blessings. To go in any other way is to embark upon a road that has no exits and no destination.

Paul spells it out in the Book of Romans, pointing to the different ways men and women try to reach God. There are three categories. First, there is the way of natural theology. This is the way of the man who goes out into the field at night and says, “I am going to commune with God in nature.” It is the man who says, “I worship God on Sunday afternoon in my golf cart.” Paul says that this is a dead end, because you cannot find God in nature. No man has ever found God in nature. You can find things about God in nature, but these condemn you.

Romans says that nature reveals two things about God. It reveals the “Godhead” of God, that is, his existence, and it reveals his “power,” because obviously something or someone of considerable power stands behind what we observe. That is all that can be known of God in nature. So if you think you are going to find God in nature, you are destined to emptiness in your search. You cannot worship an eternal power; you cannot worship a supreme being; you cannot worship a law of nature. Moreover, says Paul, “You don’t even try!” Because when you say to yourself, “I’m going to worship God in nature,” what you are really doing is using nature as an excuse to avoid God. Actually you do not want to be with Christian people, nor do you wish to be under the preaching of the Word. You find it disturbing. What you are really trying to do is to escape from God into nature. If you worship anything at all, it is nature you worship; and the worship of nature is idolatry.

Some years ago, after I had given a message along these lines, a woman said, “I found that to be true in my work with the beach crowd in California.”

I asked, “What do you mean?”

“Well,” she said, “we used to have meetings on the beach, and I used to witness to the surfers. When I would speak to them about God, they would reply that they worshiped God in nature. At first I didn’t know what to say, but after a while I caught on. I learned to ask, ‘And what is God?’ They would reply, ‘My surfboard is my god.’ ” At least that is honest, but it is paganism and idolatry.

Second, there are people who try to find God in the way of human morality. They say, “God certainly likes good men and women; therefore, I’ll be good, and I’ll get to him that way.” Paul says that this line will lead you to despair also. Why? We see the answer when we reason as follows. If God loves good people—and it is true that he does—how good do they have to be? The answer is that they have to be absolutely good, perfect, because God can settle for nothing less. But no one is perfect. So Paul says, “When you start like that, when you start thinking that you are going to please God by getting better and better, you fail to see that even if you could achieve the maximum goodness possible to anyone in this world, you would never get to God in that way because it would not be good enough.

We have a strange situation in the church today. The church has a message to proclaim; it begins with the total depravity of man. But this is offensive to most people. So the church gets cold feet at this point—ministers do, of course—and it backs off from preaching these things. Ministers say, “We admit that the Bible does say that all are sinners; it does say that all are dead in trespasses and sins; but it does not really mean that. It is hyperbole. What it really means is that we just need a little help. People are really pretty good underneath. So if we just appeal to their natural goodness, they’ll come and be Christians. Besides, they’ll join our churches and give us money.”

Does the world congratulate the church for congratulating the world? Not at all! The world knows that this is not true. So you have people like Jean Paul Sartre and other existentialists leaping to their feet to say, “If the church is not going to tell the truth, we are going to tell the truth! We know that when you scratch beneath the veneer of mankind, when you get rid of the social conventions, when you get rid of the desire to be acceptable with other people by matching up to certain preestablished patterns of behavior, what you find beneath the surface is garbage. You find a sewer of corruption.” The existentialist does not have the answer. The despair of the existentialist is proof of what lies at the end of his road. But at least he speaks out; he is not silent.

Then, in Romans 2:17–29, Paul says that there is a third way that people try; it is the way of religion, a sort of formalism. This person says, “If I cannot be righteous, at least I can do things that God likes. I’ll be baptized. I’ll be confirmed. I’ll go to communion.” Paul says that this leads to despair also. Why? Because it is based on a false conception of God. It suggests that God will settle for externals. Does he? No! People may settle for externals, but not God; he looks on the heart. God sees that although you can go through the rite of baptism, it does not mean a thing if your heart is not cleansed. He sees that although you may come to communion, it does not mean a thing unless you have first fed on Jesus Christ by faith and have drunk at that stream that he provides.

An Insult to God

To say that one is a fool for looking in another direction than Christ sounds insulting. To say that it leads to despair sounds grim. But there is worse to come. For seeking a way other than Jesus is not only foolish and leads to despair, it is perverse. It is insulting to God. How is it insulting? It is insulting because Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” So if you go another way, it is not merely that you are doing something for yourself, and it is certainly not the case that you are doing something praiseworthy. What you are really doing is saying to the Lord Jesus Christ, “Lord Jesus Christ, you are a liar!”

Do you think that God is going to be proud of you for trying to find your own way? Do you think that God is going to admire you for that, love you for that, praise you for that? God is going to regard this for what it is, an insult to the Lord Jesus Christ his Son, because that is the equivalent of saying, “You, Lord Jesus Christ, you in whom the Father is well pleased, cannot be trusted.”

Furthermore, to seek another way is not only an insult to Christ, it is an insult to the love of God who planned the way of salvation out of his great love for the sinner. What the Lord Jesus Christ did was in fulfillment of the desires of his Father. He said, “I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do your will, O God” (Heb. 10:7). It was God’s will that Jesus Christ, his Son, should die in your place. So it is an insult to God to ignore it. Do you think that it was easy for God to send Jesus Christ to die for you? I am asking you fathers: Would it be easy for you to give up your son or your daughter, to see that son or daughter killed, in order that someone else might be saved? I ask you mothers: Would it be easy for you to have a son or daughter killed in your sight, to turn your back when you could save that son or daughter, in order to have someone else saved? Of course not! You who are brothers: Would you give up a sister? You who are sisters: Would you give up a brother? If it is not easy for you, why should you think that it would be easy for God? Yet that is what God did for you.

Do you think it was easy for the Lord Jesus Christ to stand with his disciples on the verge of his crucifixion and say, “I am the way”? He knew what it meant to be the way. It meant that he had to go to the cross; he had to die; he had to suffer; he had to have the Father turn his back on him while he was made sin for us; he had to have the wrath of God poured out upon him. That is what it meant when the Lord Jesus Christ said, “I am the way … no one comes to the Father except through me.” Yet he said it.

Come … Come

So I ask: Is it anything but sinful, obstinate perversity for someone to say, “That is all very nice, but I am going to go another way”? To go another way is to condemn yourself to hell! For there is no other way. “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

How foolish it would be, how much despair is involved, how perverse on your part to go away, saying, “Well, that is all very interesting, of course; but I’m going to look a bit farther.” Today is the day of salvation! This may be the last opportunity you will ever have! I cannot promise that you will ever hear the gospel again. I cannot promise that the Holy Spirit will ever speak to your heart again, if he is speaking at this moment. Heed the invitation and come! The Bible says, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17).[2]


I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life

John 14:4–6

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Christians are sometimes dismayed by the world’s opposition to our gospel. For this reason, many Christians emphasize having a nonoffensive attitude toward unbelievers and seek to use expressions that avoid giving offense. So long as we do not compromise our message or biblical standards of behavior, it is proper for believers to show such care in their dealings with non-Christians. Yet as we do this, we will soon find that the gospel’s real offense is one that we cannot easily avoid. Christianity’s true offense is none other than Christ himself. This is especially true when we consider Jesus’ exclusive claims as the one Lord and only Savior of mankind.

One modern critic has spouted contempt for Christianity’s exclusivity in these words: “Christianity is a contentious faith which requires an all-or-nothing commitment to Jesus as the one and only incarnation of the Son of God.” We can endorse this author’s assessment, though not perhaps all that he goes on to say: “[Christians are] uncompromising, ornery, militant, rigorous, imperious and invincibly self-righteous.” This is not a recent opinion of our faith: Philip Ryken asserts that “for the past 2,000 years, Christianity’s claims about the unique truth of Jesus Christ have aroused no end of opposition from Jews, pagans, Muslims, Communists, humanists, and atheists.”2

We might think this opposition to have lessened with the advent of post-modernity, given its emphasis on tolerance. Instead, the opposite has happened. Postmodern unbelievers grant tolerance to every religion except Christianity, precisely because the gospel is seen as the ultimate intolerant creed. The gospel’s message that only Jesus can save offends postmodernity’s relativist mantra, since Christians insist that all other religions are false and any other route to God is a dead end. Objections to these doctrines have marked the world’s hatred for Jesus ever since he spoke the words that John’s Gospel continues to proclaim today: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

Uncompromising Exclusivity

This is the sixth of Jesus’ seven famous “I am” sayings, each of which is radically exclusive in setting Jesus apart as the one and only Savior. In each of these statements, Jesus uses the word the rather than a. He is “the bread of life” (John 6:35), not a bread of life: that is, Jesus is the one and only source of satisfaction for the hunger of our souls. Likewise, Jesus is “the light of the world” (8:12), the only guide who can lead mankind out of darkness into the light of God. Jesus said, “I am the door” (10:7), since through him alone we can enter the fold of God, and “I am the good shepherd” (10:11), who alone lays down his life for the sheep. To these, Jesus added the remarkable statement, “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25), claiming to be the Conqueror even of death—a claim that he backed up by raising Lazarus from the grave (11:43–44). Each of these statements is radically exclusive, asserting that none but Jesus can save us from sin, bring us to God, and grant us eternal life.

This same focus on the person of Jesus is seen all through this portion of John’s Gospel, which centers on four questions asked by the disciples, each of which Jesus answered by directing them to himself. Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36). Thomas continued, “How can we know the way?” (14:5). Philip added, “Lord, show us the Father” (14:8), and Judas (not the betrayer) asked, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” (14:22). These are slightly different questions, and each receives a slightly different answer. But each of the answers is a variant on John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Despite the world’s disdain for John 14:6, the content of this saying tells us why we must not surrender Christ’s exclusive claims, however offensive they may be. For not only is John 14:6 true, but it offers the only real answer to the great needs of the world. Man’s tragic plight is that we are alienated from God, ignorant of truth, and condemned to both physical and spiritual death. Jesus has come as the answer to sin’s dreadful predicament. He is the way for sinners to be reconciled to God, the truth that God has revealed to correct our ignorance, and the life that we need to regenerate us from the power of death.

The Way: Reconciliation

There is an obvious priority to the first of Jesus’ descriptions. While Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, the context focuses on Jesus as the way. We can see this in the dialogue, going back to John 13:33. Jesus informed the disciples that he would soon depart, adding, “Where I am going you cannot come.” This was disturbing to the disciples, so Peter demanded, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward” (13:36). Jesus was referring to his return to the glory of heaven, and perhaps also to the cross that he would bear on the way. But Peter was not settled, insisting that he would follow Jesus even to death (13:37). This statement prompted Jesus’ prophecy of Peter’s three denials that very evening. Then, to comfort the disciples, Jesus told them that he was going to his “Father’s house” to prepare a place for them and that he would return to get them (14:1–3). He concluded in verse 4, “And you know the way to where I am going.” This time it was Thomas who answered: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (14:5). He meant that if one does not know the destination, he cannot know the way there. To clarify his meaning that the disciples’ relationship to himself was the way of which he spoke, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).

Like Thomas, if we are to understand what Jesus means, we have to know the destination to which he was referring. Verse 6 makes it clear that Jesus is speaking of God the Father and his glorious presence in heaven. That is where Jesus was going, and that is where we are to follow him. But we need also to know where we are. A way is the path between a starting point and an ending point. So, spiritually speaking, where does man start? In what condition does man find himself in his search for God? According to the Bible, mankind is utterly ruined. We are condemned before God for the guilt of our sin. Paul writes, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and are thus barred from God’s holy presence and his blessing. Our need is to be reconciled to him.

So bad is our condition that there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves to God. Even if we should turn a new leaf and begin leading a morally upright life, we still have the guilt of our previous sins to pay for. Moreover, we are not only condemned in sin, but utterly corrupted by sin. Therefore, we are not able to perform an adequate moral reformation. In the light of the Bible’s teaching of God’s unrelenting justice, our past haunts us, our present confounds us, and our future dismays us. For this reason, not only is it true that sinful mankind cannot come to God, but sinful mankind does not even want to come to God. Just as Adam and Eve clothed their shame with fig leaves and fled from God in the garden, we are alienated not only by God’s justice but by our own God-loathing consciences.

We see now where the true offense of Jesus’ gospel lies. Christianity scandalizes because the gospel declares that man’s alienation from God is humanly hopeless because of sin. The gospel says that we could be reconciled only if God sent a Savior to die for our sin. Only Jesus, as God’s sinless Son, could atone for sin through his death. His way of salvation requires us to confess our sin, humble ourselves seeking pardon, and surrender our claims to self-rule: the very acts that sinful mankind refuses to do. Man hates the message that he cannot save himself! Man would come to God, but not by this way! Jesus offers only a salvation from sin, and a world that will not confess its sin takes offense in him and refuses reconciliation with the God who sent him.

Yet it remains good news that Jesus came from heaven to earth in order to reconcile sinners to God. Jesus said that he was returning to his Father’s house, and this makes us wonder why God’s Son departed the glory of heaven to live in our world. The answer is given in all the Gospels, which record Jesus’ explanation for why he came. Luke records: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). In Matthew, Jesus explained: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). John’s Gospel records another of Jesus’ explanations: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Thus, when Jesus said that he is “the way,” he meant that sinners may come to God only through the ministry of reconciliation for which he came. Jesus is the way because God in his grace has provided for sinners to be justified in his sight through faith in his Son. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Paul laments. But the good news is that we may be “justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23–24).

Skip Ryan tells of having served on a special project for the United States Department of State. The working group to which he was assigned once held a briefing at the White House. The meeting took place in the Roosevelt Room, a conference room across the hall from the Oval Office. After the meeting, the State Department official in charge asked whether Ryan would like to see the Oval Office, the official working place of the President of the United States, since the President was out of town. Ryan recalls two things about that visit. The first was the awe he felt at being in such a place. The second was that he could not possibly have entered the Oval Office unless he was taken there by someone authorized to bring him.

If that is true of the office of the President of the United States, how much more true is it of the glorious presence of almighty God in heaven? People who would never think to enter the White House simply assume that they will go to heaven after they die. But heaven is far more restricted than any high-security location here on earth. Heaven is guarded by mighty angels armed with swords of divine power (Gen. 3:24). Entry into heaven is governed by the perfect and unyielding justice of God’s holy law. How much more true of heaven are the words that Psalm 24 spoke about God’s temple in Jerusalem:

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?

And who shall stand in his holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart,

who does not lift up his soul to what is false

and does not swear deceitfully.

He will receive blessing from the Lord

and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Ps. 24:3–5)

To enter heaven and approach God on your own rights requires you to present hands that have never sinned, a heart that has never known impure thoughts, and lips that have never spoken falsely. None, of course, can meet this holy standard. For us, therefore, there must be someone authorized to bring us into heaven, and it was for this that Jesus came: he said, “I am the way” (John 14:6). It is through his perfect life and atoning death that we may “receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Ps. 24:5).

The Truth: Revelation

The second and third statements that Jesus made about himself in John 14:6 are rightly seen as subordinate to the first. Jesus is first the way, and coordinated with this is his claim to be the truth and the life. Some scholars have therefore wanted to translate the verse to read, “I am the true and living way.” But that is not what Jesus said. He said that he is the way, and that he is the truth and the life.

Man needs the revelation of truth because it was through ignorance and lies that we first fell into sin. Our first parents did not merely happen to sin, but they were led into sin by Satan. The Serpent of the garden beguiled Eve by asking, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1). God had not said that: they could eat of every tree in the garden except one, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (2:16–17). Satan’s lie suggested that God’s commands are not for our good and that the way for mankind to experience freedom and blessing is by breaking God’s commands. This lie has marked the way of sin ever since.

A great part of mankind’s plight in sin is ignorance of God and blindness to God’s truth. Paul explained, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:18). In order for us to be saved, we must therefore be enlightened by the revelation of God’s truth, the fullest expression of which comes through Jesus Christ.

Most specifically, Jesus is the truth “because he embodies the supreme revelation of God—he himself ‘narrates’ God (1:18), says and does exclusively what the Father gives him to say and do,” and is himself one with God the Father as his only begotten Son. Jesus is the way to God not only by what he did for lost mankind, dying on the cross for our sins, but also in revealing the truth of God so that we might believe and come to God through faith in him.

God had been revealing the truth about himself and his salvation before the coming of Christ. But Jesus is the truth in that all that God ever revealed points to Jesus and comes into focus in him. D. A. Carson writes, “The test of whether or not Jews in Jesus’ day, and in John’s day, really knew God through the revelation that had already been disclosed, lay in their response to the supreme revelation from the Father, Jesus Christ himself.” This is why the writer of Hebrews said that God had previously spoken in many ways through the prophets, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1–2). All that God ever revealed comes into clarity, focus, and ultimate truth in the coming of his Son, Jesus Christ.

We must expand this principle beyond the realm of mere religious knowledge, for when Jesus said that he is “the truth,” he spoke of all truth. Even when men and women know things and those things are true, unless this knowledge is held through faith in Christ, it is not known truly. Truth itself is known falsely if opposed to Jesus. It is out of accord with its true purpose and meaning. The great model of this falseness is Satan, who knows many truths but knows none of them truly. “There is no truth in him” (John 8:44), Jesus said about Satan, for despite his great genius and vast knowledge, in his rebellion to God and his Son there is no truth.

This reality explains so much of the darkness and ignorance of our well-educated times. For all of mankind’s increasing knowledge, unless it is held in obedience to him who is the truth, there can be only ignorance, folly, and darkness. Ultimately, as A. W. Pink wrote, “Truth is not found in a system of philosophy, but in a Person—Christ is ‘the truth’: He reveals God and exposes man. In Him are hid ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2:3).”

The obvious application of this teaching is that Christians must therefore be students of Jesus, which means that we must be devoted in study of his Word in the Bible. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus said, “but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,” he taught, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32). In the light of heaven, Christians will wish they had read their Bibles more frequently and looked at newspapers or the Internet less often. How much more true will this be of unbelieving men and women who neglected him who is the truth and thus entered into eternity unsaved and unforgiven by God.

The Life: Regeneration

Jesus’ third claim is that he is “the life” (John 14:6). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), and man in sin has fallen under death’s power and curse. Apart from Christ we are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1–3), unable to do anything spiritually for our salvation, so that life increasingly becomes a living death, without satisfaction or hope. But Jesus came “that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). John said of him at the beginning of his Gospel: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (1:4).

Jesus is the source of eternal life for those who believe and follow him. It would not have been enough for Jesus as the way to gain our reconciliation with God, tearing down the veil by his death on the cross for our sins. It likewise would not be enough for Christ the truth to grant us a revelation of God. We would yet remain dead, morally corrupt, and spiritually disabled, so that we would never be able to follow in the way that he has made or believe the truth that he has revealed. Jesus made this known to the Pharisee Nicodemus, saying, “Unless one is born again …, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5). In order to be saved, we must be not only forgiven but also regenerated. We must be made alive spiritually, so that we believe and are made willing and able to follow after Jesus.

Jesus is the source of the life that we need, and he conveys his power of life through his Word. Thus he called to dead Lazarus, who had been four days in the grave, “Lazarus, come out,” and “the man who had died came out” (John 11:43–44). All who are saved come to Jesus by the power of life in his call through the gospel. And those who come to Jesus as the way of salvation and believe him as the Revealer of God’s truth receive life in him. His is the way of truth that brings life. Jesus said, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (5:24). For “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (3:36).

Only Jesus

Jesus’ answer to Thomas’s question was, according to James Montgomery Boice, “probably the most exclusive statement ever made by anyone.” Jesus’ claims so assume deity that we must either reject Jesus or worship him as Savior and Lord. Just in case we missed his radical claim to be the exclusive and only Savior, Jesus added, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Little wonder that this Jesus has aroused such opposition and hatred from the world. How bold were these words on the eve of the cross! Leon Morris comments: “ ‘I am the Way,’ said one who would shortly hang impotent on a cross. ‘I am the Truth,’ when the lies of evil people were about to enjoy a spectacular triumph. ‘I am the Life,’ when within a matter of hours his corpse would be placed in a tomb.” How could Jesus speak so boldly when he knew what was about to happen? The answer is that Jesus also knew that he would rise from the grave, that his truth would be proclaimed with power across the world, so that multitudes who believed and followed—in the earliest times they were called followers of “the Way” (Acts 19:9, 23)—would be reconciled to God and enter into glory with him. As the bearer of resurrection life, Jesus can give eternal life to those under death’s power. As the incarnate truth, Jesus can reveal the truth amid the errors and lies of the world. And as the only way to the Father, Jesus has the right to demand our faith and exclusive devotion, as our only Savior and Lord. No wonder the apostle Paul stated of salvation that “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). For as Peter declared, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Since only Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, he calls us to faith in himself. Notice that when Thomas asked the way to the Father, Jesus did not hand him directions, or point out a path of good works or spiritual achievements that must be followed. He directed Thomas, and us, to himself. “I am,” he declared, and we are not saved by following a way, believing a truth, or seeking after life. We are saved by Jesus, and he is the way, the truth, and the life. We therefore do not need to discover or make a way for ourselves, but we need to trust in Jesus and follow him. We do not need to master all truth, but we need to know Jesus and then grow in his truth. We do not need to achieve the life that we desire, but we need to receive Jesus and the life that he gives.

The question may be asked what kind of life we will have if we simply trust in Jesus. The answer is that as he is the way, he will lead us to the Father and we will gain a life of love as dear children. As Jesus is the truth, he will teach us the wisdom of salvation so that our lives are freed from the darkness of ignorance and folly. As he is the life, he will grant us entry into the courts of heaven and we will know an increasing measure of life as we draw nearer to him. Apart from Jesus, the world offers many things, but they are all godless, darkened, and deadly. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus said (John 14:6). He presents himself to us, demanding no achievements, not waiting for our improvement, but calling us simply to receive him in trusting faith, and ready to give to us by grace all that he has and all that he is. We will never receive a better offer, and we will never have a better time to receive Jesus than now.[3]


6. I am the way. Though Christ does not give a direct reply to the question put to him, yet he passes by nothing that is useful to be known. It was proper that Thomas’ curiosity should be checked; and, therefore, Christ does not explain what would be his condition when he should have departed out of this world to go to the Father, but dwells on a subject far more necessary. Thomas would gladly have heard what Christ intended to do in heaven, as we never become weary of those intricate speculations; but it is of greater importance to us to employ our study and labour in another inquiry, how we may become partakers of the blessed resurrection. The statement amounts to this, that whoever obtains Christ is in want of nothing; and, therefore, that whoever is not satisfied with Christ alone, strives after something beyond absolute perfection.

The way, the truth, and the life. He lays down three degrees, as if he had said, that he is the beginning, and the middle, and the end; and hence it follows that we ought to begin with him, to continue in him, and to end in him. We certainly ought not to seek for higher wisdom than that which leads us to eternal life, and he testifies that this life is to be found in him. Now the method of obtaining life is, to become new creatures. He declares, that we ought not to seek it anywhere else, and, at the same time, reminds us, that he is the way, by which alone we can arrive at it. That he may not fail us in any respect, he stretches out the hand to those who are going astray, and stoops so low as to guide sucking infants. Presenting himself as a leader, he does not leave his people in the middle of the course, but makes them partakers of the truth. At length he makes them enjoy the fruit of it, which is the most excellent and delightful thing that can be imagined.

As Christ is the way, the weak and ignorant have no reason to complain that they are forsaken by him; and as he is the truth and the life, he has in himself also what is fitted to satisfy the most perfect. In short, Christ now affirms, concerning happiness, what I have lately said concerning the object of faith. All believe and acknowledge that the happiness of man lies in God alone: but they afterwards go wrong in this respect, that, seeking God elsewhere than in Christ, they tear him—so to speak—from his true and solid Divinity.

The truth is supposed by some to denote here the saving light of heavenly wisdom, and by others to denote the substance of life and of all spiritual blessings, which is contrasted with shadows and figures; as it is said, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, (John 1:17.) My opinion is, that the truth means here the perfection of faith, as the way means its beginning and first elements. The whole may be summed up thus: “If any man turn aside from Christ, he will do nothing but go astray; if any man do not rest on him, he will feed elsewhere on nothing but wind and vanity; if any man, not satisfied with him alone, wishes to go farther, he will find death instead of life.”

No man cometh to the Father. This is an explanation of the former statement; for he is the way, because he leads us to the Father, and he is the truth and the life, because in him we perceive the Father. As to calling on God, it may indeed be said, with truth, that no prayers are heard but through the intercession of Christ; but as Christ does not now speak about prayer, we ought simply to understand the meaning to be, that men contrive for themselves true labyrinths, whenever, after having forsaken Christ, they attempt to come to God. For Christ proves that he is the life, because God, with whom is the fountain of life, (Ps. 36:9,) cannot be enjoyed in any other way than in Christ. Wherefore all theology, when separated from Christ, is not only vain and confused, but is also mad, deceitful, and spurious; for, though the philosophers sometimes utter excellent sayings, yet they have nothing but what is short-lived, and even mixed up with wicked and erroneous sentiments.[4]


6 Unwittingly, the mundane question by Thomas led to one of the most far-reaching and provocative statements ever made by Jesus. For Thomas, the way to an unknown destination cannot be known. Jesus answers, “I am the way.” Jesus is not one who shows the way but the one who himself is the way. He is the way—the only way—to the Father, for “no one comes to the Father except through [him].” The particularism of Jesus’ teaching has caused many to stumble. The mind-set of secular society regards such exclusive claims as intolerant. Certainly there are other paths that lead to God. Not so! To accept Jesus Christ involves accepting all that he said, even though open support of his claims may cause a bit of embarrassment when brought up in certain circles of contemporary society.

Jesus is the only way to God because he is also “the truth.” Note that each of the three nouns (way, truth, life) is preceded by a definite article. “Truth” and “life” do not modify “way,” as though Jesus were saying, “I am the real and living way” (Moffatt). He is the truth. Ultimate truth is not a series of propositions to be grasped by the intellect but a person to be received and therefore knowable only by means of a personal relationship. Others have made true statements, but only Jesus perfectly embodies truth itself. He is the truth. And he is also “the life.” Eternal life is to know Jesus Christ (17:3; cf. 1 Jn 1:2; 5:20). Apart from him is darkness and death.

Barclay, 2:157, mentions that in this sublime statement Jesus took three of the great basic conceptions of Jewish religion and made the tremendous claim that in him all three found their full realization. The fifteenth-century Augustinian priest Thomas à Kempis (The Imitation of Christ [1441; repr., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983], 208) joined the three as follows: “Without the way, there is no going; without the truth, there is no knowing; without the life, there is no living.”[5]


6 Jesus now introduces a somewhat different topic. He has been talking about leaving the disciples, and it is with this that Thomas is concerned. But Jesus is to go to the Father (13:3; 16:5, 10, 17), and he now speaks of the way (“way” is emphasized by repetition, vv. 4, 5, 6). He not only shows people the way (i.e., by revealing it), but he is the way (i.e., he redeems us). In this connection “the truth” (see Additional Note D, pp. 259–62) will have saving significance. It will point to Jesus’ utter dependability, but also to the saving truth of the gospel. “The life” (see on 1:4) will likewise take its content from the gospel. Jesus is both life and the source of life to believers. All this is followed by the explicit statement that no one comes to the Father other than through Christ. “Way,” “truth,” and “life” all have relevance,18 the triple expression emphasizing the many-sidedness of the saving work. “Way” speaks of a connection between two persons or things, and here the link between God and sinners. “Truth” reminds us of the complete reliability of Jesus in all that he does and is. And “life” stresses the fact that mere physical existence matters little. The only life worth the name is that which Jesus brings, for he is life itself. Jesus is asserting in strong terms the uniqueness and the sufficiency of his work for sinners. We should not overlook the faith involved both in the utterance and in the acceptance of those words, spoken as they were on the eve of the crucifixion. “I am the Way,” said one who would shortly hang impotent on a cross. “I am the Truth,” when the lies of evil people were about to enjoy a spectacular triumph. “I am the Life,” when within a matter of hours his corpse would be placed in a tomb.[6]


6 Although Thomas speaks for all the disciples, Jesus replies at first “to him” alone: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6). This is the first “I am” pronouncement since “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25), which it resembles in two ways: first, in that Jesus says it only once, and second, in having more than one predicate (one of which is “the Life”). The dominant predicate here is “the Way.” Jesus could have just said, “I am the Way. No one comes to the Father except through me,” and the dynamic of the exchange would have been the same. “The Truth” and “the Life” simply spell out for his disciples the benefits of the salvation to which “the Way” leads. Jesus has already told Martha explicitly that he was “the Life” (11:25), and he implicitly claimed to be “the Truth” by telling a group of “believing” Jews at the Tent festival that “the truth will set you free” (8:32), and “if the Son sets you free, you will really be free” (8:36, italics added).

The central pronouncement, “I am the Way,” is profoundly significant within the chapter as a whole, for it states in so many words what Bunyan knew, that “the way” is not what Thomas thought it was, a literal route or pathway, but a Person, Jesus himself. The destination, accordingly, is not a place (not even precisely “my Father’s house”), but also a Person, the Father himself: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (italics added). The terms of the whole discussion now begin to change, from talk of a departure, a journey, a “way,” and a destination, to talk of Jesus and the Father. There is profound mutuality in their relationship, for the claim that “No one comes to the Father except through me” stands as a kind of sequel to the principle stated much earlier that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him” (6:44), or “unless it is given him from the Father” (6:65). That is, only the Father can bring anyone to Jesus, and only Jesus can bring anyone to the Father. Those who are quite willing to press the exclusivity of the latter principle—that is, that salvation is possible only through Jesus Christ—are sometimes less willing to acknowledge the exclusivity of the former—that is, that no one comes to Christ without being “drawn” or “given” by the Father to the Son. But both things are true, and therein lies the characteristic exclusivism, even dualism, of the Gospel of John.53 At the same time, the invitation is universal, for the last phrase, “through me,” recalls an earlier pronouncement that accented its positive side: “I am the Door. Through me, if anyone goes in he will be saved, and will go in and go out and find pasture” (10:9). Such is the dialectic of salvation throughout this Gospel.[7]


6. Jesus said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life.

This is another of the seven great I AM’s of John’s Gospel (for the others see on 6:48; 8:12; 10:9; 10:11; 11:25; and 15:1). In the predicate each of the words way, truth, and life is preceded by the definite article.

“I am the way.” Jesus does not merely show the way; he is himself the way. It is true that he teaches the way (Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21), guides us in the way (Luke 1:79), and has dedicated for us a new and living way (Heb. 10:20); but all this is possible only because he is himself the way.

Christ is God. Now God is equal to each of his attributes, whereas he “possesses” each attribute in an infinite degree. Hence, not only does God have love (or exercise love), but he is love, nothing but love; he is righteousness, nothing but righteousness, etc. So also Christ is the way: in every act, word, and attitude he is the Mediator between God and his elect.

Notice also the pronoun I. In the last analysis we are not saved by a principle or by a force but by a person. In the school the pupil is educated not primarily by blackboards, books, and maps, but by the teacher who makes use of all these means. In the home he is brought up by father and mother. So also the means of access to the Father is Christ himself. We are persons. The God from whom we have been estranged is a personal God. Hence, it is not strange that apart from living fellowship with the person, Jesus Christ, who exists in indissoluble union with the Father, there is no salvation for us (cf. Rom. 5:1, 2).

Now Jesus is the way in a twofold sense (cf. also on 10:1, 7, 9). He is the way from God to man—all divine blessings come down from the Father through the Son (Matt. 11:27, 28); he is also the way from man to God. As already indicated, in the present context the emphasis falls on the latter idea.

“I am … the truth.”

Much of what has been said in connection with “I am the way” applies here also. Jesus is the very embodiment of the truth. He is the truth in person. As such he is the final reality in contrast with the shadows which preceded him (see on 1:14, 17). But in the present context the term the truth seems to have a different shade of meaning. It is that which stands over against the lie. Jesus is the truth because he is the dependable source of redemptive revelation. That this is the sense in which the word is used is clear from verse 7 which teaches that Christ reveals the Father. Cf. Matt. 11:27.

But just as the way is a living way, so also the truth is living truth. It is active. It takes hold of us and influences us powerfully. It sanctifies us, guides us, and sets us free (8:32; cf. 17:17). Basically, not it but he is the truth, he himself in person. Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (18:38). Jesus here in 14:6 answers, “I am the truth.”

“I am … the life.”

Jesus is not referring here to the breath or spirit (πνεῦμα) which animates our body. He is not thinking of the soul (ψυχή) nor of life as outwardly manifested (βίος), but of life as opposed to death (ζωή). All God’s glorious attributes dwell in the Son of God (see on 1:4). And because he has the life within himself (see on 5:26), he is the source and giver of life for his own (see on 3:16; 6:33; 10:28; 11:25). He has the light of life (8:12), the words of life (6:68), and he came that we might have life and abundance (10:10). Just as death spells separation from God, so life implies communion with him (17:3).

All three concepts are active and dynamic. The way brings to God; the truth makes men free; the life produces fellowship.

How are these three related? As more or less separate, wholly coordinate entities? Or, as forming a single concept: “the true and living way”? It is not necessary to choose either of these alternatives. Truth and life are nouns, not adjectives. Christ is the truth and the life, just as well as he is the way. Nevertheless, the context indicates that the idea of the way predominates. The meaning appears to be: “I am the way because I am the truth and the life.” When Jesus reveals God’s redemptive truth which sets men free from the enslaving power of sin, and when he imparts the seed of life, which produces fellowship with the Father, then and thereby he, as the way (which they themselves, by sovereign grace, have chosen), has brought them to the Father. Hence, Jesus continues: No one comes to the Father but by me.

Since men are absolutely dependent upon Christ for their knowledge of redemptive truth and also for the spark that causes that truth to live in their souls (and their souls to become alive to that truth), it follows that no one comes to the Father but through him. With Christ removed there can be no redemptive truth, no everlasting life; hence, no way to the Father. Cf. Acts 4:12. Both the absoluteness of the Christian religion and the urgent necessity of Christian Missions is clearly indicated.[8]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2008). John 12–21 (pp. 102–103). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 1081–1086). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Phillips, R. D. (2014). John. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (1st ed., Vol. 2, pp. 202–211). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[4] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel according to John (Vol. 2, pp. 84–86). 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. 561). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[6] Morris, L. (1995). The Gospel according to John (pp. 569–570). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[7] Michaels, J. R. (2010). The Gospel of John (pp. 774–775). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[8] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Vol. 2, pp. 267–269). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 12, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

3. Who forgiveth all thy iniquities. He now enumerates the different kinds of the divine benefits, in considering which he has told us that we are too forgetful and slothful. It is not without cause that he begins with God’s pardoning mercy, for reconciliation with him is the fountain from which all other blessings flow. God’s goodness extends even to the ungodly; but they are, notwithstanding, so far from having the enjoyment of it, that they do not even taste it. The first then of all the blessings of which we have the true and substantial enjoyment, is that which consists in God’s freely pardoning and blotting out our sins, and receiving us into his favour. Yea, rather the forgiveness of sins, since it is accompanied with our restoration to the favour of God, also sanctifies whatever good things he bestows upon us, that they may contribute to our welfare. The second clause is either a repetition of the same sentiment, or else it opens up a wider view of it; for the consequence of free forgiveness is, that God governs us by his Spirit, mortifies the lusts of our flesh, cleanses us from our corruptions, and restores us to the healthy condition of a godly and an upright life. Those who understand the words, who healeth all thy diseases, as referring to the diseases of the body, and as implying that God, when he has forgiven our sins, also delivers us from bodily maladies, seem to put upon them a meaning too restricted. I have no doubt that the medicine spoken of has a respect to the blotting out of guilt; and, secondly, to the curing us of the corruptions inherent in our nature, which is effected by the Spirit of regeneration; and if any one will add as a third particular included, that God being once pacified towards us, also remits the punishment which we deserve, I will not object. Let us learn from this passage that, until the heavenly Physician succour us, we nourish within us, not only many diseases, but even many deaths.[1]


3 The forgiveness of “sins” (ʿāwōn, GK 6411, lit., “guilt”) is God’s gracious act of removing the consequences of sin as well as the sin itself (cf. 32:1; 51:2; 90:8). It is synonymous with “heals all your diseases.” The “diseases” may be forms of sickness (cf. Mk 2:7); but more likely it is a metaphor for adversities or setbacks (cf. Dt 29:22; Jer 14:19; 16:4), similar to punishment (“sins”). For “healing” as an act of restoration, see 147:3 and Jeremiah 30:12–17; 51:8–9.[2]


forgiveness (v. 3) He first mentions the forgiveness of sins—not just some of his iniquities! What good would that be when one sin is sufficient enough to condemn before a holy God. The forgiveness of God covers ‘all’ iniquities. And the forgiveness of iniquities—let us never forget—flows from God through the channel of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.

healing (v. 3) David moves to the next blessing: God’s healing of diseases. Henry T. Mahan writes: ‘The diseases of this body are the results of sin and God will heal them when it is according to his will and when it serves his purpose, but the diseases referred to here are spiritual diseases, which, like our sins, are all healed in Christ. He bore all our spiritual sicknesses and diseases in his body on the tree and by his sufferings we are healed for ever.…’[3]


3. diseases—as penal inflictions (De 29:22; 2 Ch 21:19).[4]


Ver. 3.—Who forgiveth all thine iniquities. This is the first and greatest of “benefits,” and is therefore placed first, as that for which we ought, above all else, to bless God. God’s forgiveness of sin is a frequent topic with the psalmists (see Pss. 25:11, 18; 32:1; 51:9; 85:2; 86:5, etc.). Who healeth all thy diseases. This is best understood literally—not as mere “parallelism.” Among the greatest blessings which we receive of God is recovery from sickness.[5]


3. “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities.” Here David begins his list of blessings received, which he rehearses as themes and arguments for praise. He selects a few of the choicest pearls from the casket of divine love, threads them on the string of memory, and hangs them about the neck of gratitude. Pardoned sin is, in our experience, one of the choicest boons of grace, one of the earliest gifts of mercy,—in fact, the needful preparation for enjoying all that follows it. Till iniquity is forgiven, healing, redemption, and satisfaction are unknown blessings. Forgiveness is first in the order of our spiritual experience, and in some respects first in value. The pardon granted is a present one—forgiveth; it is continual, for he still forgiveth; it is divine, for God gives it; it is far reaching, for it removes all our sins; it takes in omissions as well as commissions, for both of these are in-equities; and it is most effectual, for it is as real as the healing, and the rest of the mercies with which it is placed. “Who healeth all thy diseases.” When the cause is gone, namely, iniquity, the effect ceases. Sicknesses of body and soul came into the world by sin, and as sin is eradicated, diseases bodily, mental, and spiritual will vanish, till “the inhabitant shall no more say, I am sick.” Many-sided is the character of our heavenly Father, for, having forgiven as a judge, he then cures as a physician. He is all things to us, as our needs call for him, and our infirmities do but reveal him in new characters.

“In him is only good,

In me is only ill,

My ill but draws his goodness forth,

And me he loveth still.”

God gives efficacy to medicine for the body, and his grace sanctifies the soul. Spiritually we are daily under his care, and he visits us, as the surgeon does his patient; healing still (for that is the exact word) each malady as it arises. No disease of our soul baffles his skill, he goes on healing all, and he will do so till the last trace of taint has gone from our nature. The two alls of this verse are further reasons for all that is within us praising the Lord.

The two blessings of this verse the Psalmist was personally enjoying, he sang not of others but of himself, or rather of his Lord, who was daily forgiving and healing him. He must have known that it was so, or he could not have sung of it. He had no doubt about it, he felt in his soul that it was so, and, therefore, he bade his pardoned and restored soul bless the Lord with all its might.[6]


103:3 But above all else, we should be thankful to Him for forgiving all our iniquities. It is an unspeakable miracle of divine grace that crimson sins can be made whiter than snow. I can empathize with the man who chose one word for his tombstone—FORGIVEN. And also with the Irishman who said, “The Lord Jesus has forgiven me all my sins, and He’s never going to hear the end of it.” To know that our sins have been put away forever by the precious blood of Christ—well, it’s just too much to take in. The second benefit to be remembered is the healing of all our diseases. Before we get into the problem that this raises, let us notice that healing comes after forgiveness. The physical is closely related to the spiritual. While not all sickness is a direct result of sin, some of it is. Where the connection exists, forgiveness must precede healing.

But the obvious problem is still there. The verse says “… who heals all your diseases.” Yet as a matter of practical experience we know that not all diseases are healed, that we will all die sooner or later if the Lord does not come in the meantime. So what does the verse mean? In seeking an answer, we would make the following observations.

First, all genuine healing is from God. If you have been sick, and then have recovered, you can thank God for your recovery because He is the source of all healing. One of the names of God in the Old Testament is Jehovah Rophi—the Lord your Healer. Every instance of true healing comes from Him.

Second, the Lord is able to heal all kinds of diseases. There is no such thing with Him as an incurable disease.

Third, the Lord can heal by the use of natural means over a period of time or He can heal miraculously and instantly. No limit can be placed on His power to heal.

Fourth, when He was on earth the Lord actually healed all that were brought to Him (Matt. 8:16).

Fifth, during the Millennium He will actually heal all diseases (Isa. 33:24; Jer. 30:17) except in the case of those who rebel against Him (Isa. 65:20b).

But whatever else the verse means, it cannot mean that the believer can claim healing for every disease, because in other verses of the Psalm we are reminded of the shortness of life and of the certainty of its coming to an end (see vv. 15, 16). What the verse says to me is that whenever a believer is healed, this is a mercy from God, and He should be acknowledged and thanked as the Healer.[7]


[1] Calvin, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 4, pp. 126–127). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 757). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Ellsworth, R. (2006). Opening up Psalms (p. 133). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[4] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 376). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[5] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Psalms (Vol. 2, p. 382). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[6] Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). The treasury of David: Psalms 88-110 (Vol. 4, pp. 276–277). London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers.

[7] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 703–704). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

August 11, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

Salvation Is of the Lord

Romans 9:16

It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

We are in a section of the Bible in which every sentence has exceptional importance. Because of this, we have been moving very slowly. In the last study we looked at Romans 9:15. In this study we look at verse 16.

Verse 16 can be considered an inference drawn from the truth in verse 15, which is a quotation from the Old Testament. If that is the case, the thought would be: If God has mercy on whom he wills to have mercy and shows compassion to whom he wills to show compassion, then salvation is of God who shows mercy and not of man. That is true enough. But it is probably better to see verse 16 as a statement of the truth behind the quotation. If this is the case, it means that salvation is not of man but of God; therefore, God shows mercy on whom he wills to show mercy and has compassion on whom he wills to have compassion.

This is better, because the chief point of verse 16 is the exclusion of any human role in salvation. The verse says, “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” Or as the King James Version has it, “So then it is not of him that willeth, not of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”

Today’s Evangelism

This text has enormous implications for the way we do evangelism. In fact, it is a rebuke of most popular evangelism in our day.

You may recall from our studies of Romans 6 that when I was writing about sanctification in that context, I said that we tend to approach it in either of two wrong ways. Either we introduce a formula: “Follow these three [or four] steps to sound spiritual growth.” Or we recommend an experience: “What you need is the baptism of the Holy Spirit [or meaningful worship or whatever].” I pointed out that neither of these is introduced by Paul. Rather, he bases his approach to sanctification on sound teaching. He tells us that we are to go on in the Christian life for the simple reason that we have become new creatures as the result of God’s work in us, and we cannot go back to what we were.

The situation is exactly the same in most of our current approaches to evangelism. We choose either a formula or a feeling.

The formula represents something we must do: “Give your heart to Jesus,” “Pray the sinner’s prayer,” “Hold up your hand and come forward,” “Fill out this card.” The feeling is something we try to work up in evangelistic services by certain kinds of music, moving stories, and emotional appeals.

Let me say that I do not doubt for a moment that God has sometimes used these methods and that he has sometimes worked through feelings, just as he has also sometimes used quite different things. The problem with these ways of doing evangelism is not that God has not occasionally been gracious enough to use them, but that they distort the truth about salvation by making it something we do or to which we can contribute and thus, to that degree, detract from the glory of God.

Besides, these approaches contradict our text, which says that salvation “does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”

These approaches are also ineffective, as we would expect them to be, for they have filled our churches with thousands of people who think they are saved because they have made a profession or come forward at a meeting, but who are not born again. In many cases, those who have done these things are not even any longer present in the churches.

The Negative Teaching

Romans 9:16 contains both negative and positive teaching, each of which is meant to be comprehensive. Negatively, we are told that salvation does not come by man’s desire or effort, that is, neither by his will nor by his personal attainments. Positively, we are told that salvation comes from God.

The words desire and effort are meant to include everything of which a human being may be capable, and they thus reduce everyone to the position of being saved by the mercy of God or not saved. The first word concerns volition. The second refers to active exertion. Specifically they deny that we are saved by “seeking God” or “wanting to be saved” or, to run with the other term, by “choosing Jesus,” “surrendering our lives to Jesus,” “taking Jesus into our hearts,” or doing anything else of which we may think ourselves to be capable. It is true that there is a faith to be exercised, a choice to be made, a life to be surrendered, and seeking to be done. But those are the result of God’s working in us according to his mercy, and not the conditions on which he does.

Robert Haldane wrote rightly, “It is true, indeed, that believers both will and run, but this is the effect, not the cause, of the grace of God being vouchsafed to them.”

I know there are objections, some of them scriptural.

“What about John 1:12?” says someone. “Doesn’t that verse say, ‘To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’?” It does, of course. But the answer to the implied objection—that we become born again as the result of our receiving Jesus—is found in the next verse, which describes those who are saved as “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (v. 13). That fixes the sequence rightly, just as Paul has expressed it in Romans 8; Ephesians 1 and 2, and elsewhere: first, election; then, rebirth; third, faith accompanied by repentance; and lastly, adoption into the family of God along with other benefits.

Together, John 1:12 and 13 actually teach that “it does not … depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Rom. 9:16).

Another verse that some people will quote is Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Then they ask, “Doesn’t that teach that we have to give our hearts to Jesus and then confess him as Lord to be saved? Doesn’t it mean that we are the ones who ultimately determine whether or not we will be saved? If we are saved, isn’t it because we want to be saved? If we are lost, isn’t it because we choose to be?”

Well, we know the mouth speaks what is in the heart. Jesus said, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34b). So the critical question is: What kind of a heart is it that confesses, “Jesus is Lord”? Is this the new heart, which is given to us by God,—or the old, Adamic heart, which is enmity against God? It cannot be the latter, because the Bible everywhere teaches that the old heart is thoroughly corrupt. Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9). Ezekiel called it a “heart of stone” (Ezek. 11:19). Can a stony heart repent of its sin and come to God? Can a heart as wicked as this “choose” Jesus? Impossible! We can no more change our hearts than a leopard can change its spots.

Therefore, if we are to repent and believe the gospel, we must be given a new heart. A “heart of flesh” is Ezekiel’s term for it. This heart is given to us by the new birth. It is this heart only that believes on Jesus.

The Positive Teaching

This brings us to the positive teaching of this verse, namely, that salvation is entirely of God. God has mercy on whom he wills to have mercy, and he shows compassion on whom he wills to show compassion.

I have titled this study “Salvation Is of the Lord,” which comes, as I am sure you realize, from the Old Testament. It is from the story of Jonah, from chapter 2, and I refer to this now because Jonah is a good illustration of our text in Romans, namely, that salvation “does not … depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” The story of Jonah is a story of God’s mercy from beginning to end: mercy to the sailors, mercy to the people of Nineveh, and, above all, mercy to Jonah. Moreover, as far as man’s desire or effort is concerned, not only did Jonah not desire God’s will or strive to do it, he actually willed and tried to do the opposite. He tried to run away from God as deliberately as he could.

Jonah was a prophet, and God came to him with a command to proclaim a message of judgment on Nineveh, the capital of Assyria: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2). We would have expected Jonah to be responsive to such a call at once. Instead, “Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish” (v. 3a). Scholars debate the location of this ancient city, but most believe it was on the far coast of Spain beyond the Rock of Gibraltar. This fits the story, of course, for it means that Jonah was so determined to resist God’s sovereign call that he set out in precisely the opposite direction and for a destination as far away as possible. God said, “Go east.” Jonah went west, as far west as anyone knew to go. If he went farther than that, he would presumably have fallen off the edge of the world, which is, in a sense, what happened to him.

Why did Jonah disobey God? Strangely, at the end of the story, we find him explaining that it was because he suspected that God was going to be merciful to these people (Jonah 4:2)—and he did not want that, because they were the enemies of his people. No one can successfully run away from God, however. So, although Jonah went west instead of east, God went after him and brought him back. The text says that God hurled a great storm after Jonah.

At this point the mariners come into the story, for the judgment on the disobedient prophet affected them, too, and they were soon in as much danger of drowning from the fierce gale as Jonah was. They were pagans, but they had some spiritual perception and understood that the storm was unusually fierce, supernaturally so, in fact; they reasoned that some powerful god was angry with one or more of them. When they drew straws to find out who it was, the lot fell on Jonah.

Jonah understood that God had found him out and was now exposing his disobedience. He confessed what he was doing. But he was still unrepentant. He had that “heart of stone” Ezekiel had written about. So, when the sailors asked what they should do to him to make the sea calm down for them, Jonah replied, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you” (v. 12).

I like to point out that Jonah did not know that God had prepared a great fish to swallow him and eventually return him back to land. So, if he was asking to be thrown overboard in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, it meant that he was willing to be drowned. It meant that in his heart he was still unrepentant, for he was saying, “I would rather die than submit to God’s will.”

That is what it means to have a hard heart. It is what every one of us has until God replaces it.

Was Jonah a genuine believer at this point? Good question! I used to say he was. We would expect it of a prophet. If he was, he is an example of how stubbornly disobedient some Christians are with God, at least for a time. Today, however, I am not so sure. It is clear that Jonah was not right with God, and his is more an example of an unregenerate heart than a regenerate one. At any rate, Jonah seems to have experienced what we would call a conversion inside the great fish, which is where the verse “Salvation comes from the Lord” occurs (Jonah 2:9).

What happened inside Jonah while he was inside the fish is the heart of this great story.

Prayer from the Depths

When Jonah was turning his back on God to go to Tarshish, it did not bother him at all that he was abandoning God. But suddenly, when he was thrown overboard to his death and found himself in the position of apparently being abandoned by God, and Jonah actually calls his condition hellish, saying, “From the depths of the grave [that is, from Sheol] I called for help” (Jonah 2:2). As the story shows, God had not abandoned Jonah. But Jonah thought he had, and his despair was the very first step in his conversion.

What Jonah did in that great fish was to pray. God brought him to that point. As he prayed, he discovered that God was using the very depths of his misery to show him mercy.

Jonah’s prayer has four characteristics of all true prayer, and these have bearing on the question of correct biblical evangelism, which is where we started.

  1. He was honest. The first thing we notice about Jonah’s prayer is that it was honest. That is, his disobedience had gotten him into a mess, and he acknowledged it. Before we get to this point, when God is working in our lives, we tend to explain away the hard hand of God’s judgments. We tell ourselves that we are only having a temporary setback, that things will get better, that they are not as bad as they seem. But when God begins to get through to us, the first thing that happens is that we admit our misery and desperate circumstances for what they are. Moreover, we admit that God has caused them. This is what Jonah does. You hear it in his prayer.

You hurled me into the deep,

into the very heart of the seas,

and the currents swirled about me;

all your waves and breakers

swept over me.

I said, “I have been banished

from your sight;

yet I will look again

toward your holy temple.”

Jonah 2:3–4

To acknowledge that God was behind his misfortune increased his terror, for it was not the sailors or even mere circumstances he was fighting. It was God. God had summoned Jonah to trial, cast a verdict of “guilty” against his sinful prophet, and sentenced him to death. This is a terror almost beyond words! But, in another sense, the acknowledgement of God’s hand in his misery also provided comfort. For God is merciful, and it is always better to fall into the hands of God, even the angry God, than of men.

It is often in judgment that mercy may be found.

  1. He repented. The second characteristic of Jonah’s prayer is a spirit of repentance. We see it in two ways. First, he acknowledged that what had happened to him, while caused by God, was nevertheless his own fault. This is the meaning of verse 8, where Jonah says, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” An idol is anything that takes the place of God. So Jonah is confessing that he had rejected God, just as surely as those who literally worship idols. Therefore, he had renounced the source of all mercy.

The second way we know Jonah was genuinely repentant is that he does not ask God for anything. If he had, we might suspect that he was repenting only to get something from God. That is, he would have been treating his repentance as a good work that somehow was supposed to put God in his debt. Salvation does not come that way. Remember: Deserving something and receiving mercy are two entirely different things. Jonah knew now that all he deserved was damnation. Therefore, he was willing to wait upon the mercy of God, if it should come, without demanding anything.

  1. He was thankful. “Thankful?” we might ask. “From the belly of a fish? Only a few hours or days away from death? What could Jonah possibly be thankful about?” Well, if we continue to think of his plight in physical terms, there probably is no good answer. But it is vastly different if we think spiritually. True, Jonah had no hope of any bodily deliverance. But he had found the grace of God. His entire prayer shows he had. His word for what he had found is “salvation” (v. 9).

This is the greatest miracle of the book. Not the great fish. Not the storm. The greatest miracle is Jonah’s salvation.

  1. He was willing to take his position alongside the ungodly, all of whom need salvation by the mercy of God only. The final characteristic of this prayer is likewise significant. For when Jonah prayed, as he did at the end, “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good” (v. 9, emphasis added), he was promising to do exactly what the pagan mariners had been willing to do, and did do, in the previous chapter. When they saw the power and holiness of Jonah’s God, “They offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him” (Jonah 1:16). It was right that they should. But here, in the second chapter, Jonah is taking his place alongside of them.

Earlier he had said, “I don’t want to preach to pagans. I am a Jew. I want God to judge the pagans.” But now, after he had discovered how much he deserved God’s judgment himself, he was willing to come to God as the mariners came—as a suppliant seeking mercy.

“Jesus Saves”

I have two final points. The first is a restatement of the truth that salvation is by the mercy of God and is without conditions.

What conditions could there be? Robert Haldane asks that question and answers with a telling paragraph:

Is it faith? Faith is the gift of God. Is it repentance? Christ is exalted as a Prince and a Savior to give repentance. Is it love? God promises to circumcise the heart in order to love him. Are they good works? His people are the workmanship of God created unto good works. Is it perseverance to the end? They are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.… “Thy people,” saith Jehovah to the Messiah, “shall be willing in the day of thy power.” Thus the believer, in running his race, and working out his salvation, is actuated by God and animated by the consideration of his all-powerful operation in the beginning of his course, of the continuation of his support during its progress, and by the assurances that it shall be effectual in enabling him to overcome all obstacles and to arrive in safety at the termination.

Second, what does this say about the proper way to do evangelism, the point with which I started?

Well, the weaknesses of our contemporary evangelism have been recognized and critiqued by many, among them Walter J. Chantry, Ernest C. Reisinger, and Gordon H. Clark, all of whom have written things that have been helpful to me. As I have read their books, I have found that there is a common bottom line. Evangelism is to teach the Word of God. Not just a certain evangelistic core, or only certain doctrines, or only truths that will move or motivate the ungodly. It is to teach the Bible and to do this as carefully, consistently, and comprehensively as possible, while looking to God (and praying to God) to give new life. Gordon Clark expressed it by saying quite succinctly, “Evangelism is the exposition of the Scripture. God will do the regenerating.”6

“Just preach Jesus!” someone says.

Did I hear, “Just preach Jesus”?

Let’s do it. But remember what Jesus means. Jesus means “Salvation is of the Lord,” the very words uttered by Jonah from the belly of the fish. To preach Jesus is to preach a Calvinistic gospel.[1]


16. It is not then of him who wills, &c. From the testimony adduced he draws this inference, that beyond all controversy our election is not to be ascribed to our diligence, nor to our striving, nor to our efforts, but that it is wholly to be referred to the counsel of God. That none of you may think that they who are elected are elected because they are deserving, or because they had in any way procured for themselves the favour of God, or, in short, because they had in them a particle of worthiness by which God might be moved, take simply this view of the matter, that it is neither by our will nor efforts, (for he has put running for striving or endeavour,) that we are counted among the elect, but that it wholly depends on the divine goodness, which of itself chooses those who neither will, nor strive, nor even think of such a thing. And they who reason from this passage, that there is in us some power to strive, but that it effects nothing of itself unless assisted by God’s mercy, maintain what is absurd; for the Apostle shows not what is in us, but excludes all our efforts. It is therefore a mere sophistry to say that we will and run, because Paul denies that it is of him who wills or runs, since he meant nothing else than that neither willing nor running can do anything.

They are, however, to be condemned who remain secure and idle on the pretence of giving place to the grace of God; for though nothing is done by their own striving, yet that effort which is influenced by God is not ineffectual. These things, then, are not said that we may quench the Spirit of God, while kindling sparks within us, by our waywardness and sloth; but that we may understand that everything we have is from him, and that we may hence learn to ask all things of him, to hope for all things from him, and to ascribe all things to him, while we are prosecuting the work of our salvation with fear and trembling.

Pelagius has attempted by another sophistical and worthless cavil to evade this declaration of Paul, that it is not only of him who wills and runs, because the mercy of God assists. But Augustine, not less solidly than acutely, thus refuted him, “If the will of man is denied to be the cause of election, because it is not the sole cause, but only in part; so also we may say that it is not of mercy but of him who wills and runs, for where there is a mutual co-operation, there ought to be a reciprocal commendation: but unquestionably the latter sentiment falls through its own absurdity.” Let us then feel assured that the salvation of those whom God is pleased to save, is thus ascribed to his mercy, that nothing may remain to the contrivance of man.

Nor is there much more colour for what some advance, who think that these things are said in the person of the ungodly; for how can it be right to turn passages of Scripture in which the justice of God is asserted, for the purpose of reproaching him with tyranny? and then is it probable that Paul, when the refutation was at hand and easy, would have suffered the Scripture to be treated with gross mockery? But such subterfuges have they laid hold on, who absurdly measured this incomparable mystery of God by their own judgment. To their delicate and tender ears this doctrine was more grating than that they could think it worthy of an Apostle. But they ought rather to have bent their own stubbornness to the obedience of the Spirit, that they might not surrender themselves up to their gross inventions.[2]


16  Paul now spells out the conclusion (“therefore”) he wants to draw from his quotation: “it is not a matter of the person who wills or the person who runs, but of the God who shows mercy.” The sentence reads like a general principle (note the present tenses of the verbs). But to what does the principle apply? Our translation preserves the ambiguity of the original in not making clear the subject of the sentence (“it”). We might substitute “salvation” or “God’s purpose in election” (cf. v. 11b), but the connection with v. 15 suggests rather “God’s bestowal of mercy.” In keeping with a popular view of this passage as a whole, many commentators think that the “mercy” involved here is God’s mercy in choosing different persons or nations in the outworking of his historical plan.25 But, as we have seen earlier (see esp. the notes on v. 13), Paul’s use of OT examples of God’s choosing and rejecting develop a principle that he applies to the salvation of individual Jews and Gentiles in his own day (see 9:3, 6a, 22–23, 24). Here, the principle Paul formulates moves beyond the positive assertion of v. 15—God’s bestowal of mercy has its origin in his own will to be merciful—to its negative corollary—God’s mercy does not, then, depend on human “willing” or “running.” The former denotes one’s inner desire, purpose, or readiness to do something28; the latter the actual execution of that desire. Together, then, they “sum up the totality of man’s capacity.”30[3]


[1] Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: God and History (Vol. 3, pp. 1083–1090). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[2] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (pp. 357–359). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 592–593). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

August 11, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

Having the Right Attitude

… all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; (3:8b)

Everything begins with the right attitude. Five spiritual virtues constitute this God-honoring perspective.

First, believers are to be harmonious. The compound word rendered harmonious (homophrones) literally means “same think.” Believers are to live in harmony together, maintaining a common commitment to the truth that produces an inward unity of heart with one another (cf. Rom. 12:5, 16; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:12; Gal. 3:28; Phil. 2:1–5). They must not be in conflict with each other, even under severe persecution:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. (Phil. 1:27–28)

Jesus instructed the disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35). In His high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed earnestly for the spiritual unity of all believers (John 17:20–23), which prayer was answered. Believers are all one in Christ (Eph. 4:4–6; cf. 1 Cor. 6:17; 8:6). This spiritual reality should be the basis for the church’s visible harmony. The early church was a model of visible oneness (Acts 2:42–47).

Sympathetic, the second factor in experiencing the fullness of Christian life, is virtually a transliteration of sumpatheis, which means “sharing the same feeling.” Christians are to be united on the truth, but also ready to sympathize with the pain of others, even of those they do not know (cf. Matt. 25:34–40; Heb. 13:3; James 1:27). Like Christ, the sympathetic high priest (Heb. 4:15), they must share in the feelings of others, in their sorrows as well as their joys (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:26; 2 Cor. 2:3; Col. 3:12; cf. John 11:35; James 5:11). Believers must not be insensitive, indifferent, and censorious, even toward the lost in their pain of struggling anxiously with the issues of life (cf. Matt. 9:36; Luke 13:34–35; 19:41). Saints must come alongside them with empathy to declare God’s saving truth (cf. Acts 8:26–37).

Third, Peter used the term philadelphoi, translated here as brotherly. The first part of the word stems from the verb phileō, “to love,” and refers to affection among people who are closely related in some way. Those who demonstrate that affection will do so by unselfish service for one another (Acts 20:35; Rom. 14:19; 15:2; 2 Cor. 11:9; Phil. 4:14–16; 1 Thess. 5:11, 14; 3 John 6). Such service begins in the church among believers and extends out to the world.

Kindhearted translates eusplagchnoi, the root of which refers to one’s internal organs and is sometimes translated “bowels” or “intestines” (e.g., Acts 1:18). Affections and emotions have a visceral impact, hence this word signifies a powerful kind of feeling (Eph. 4:32; cf. 2 Cor. 7:15; 1 Thess. 2:8). Much like sympathetic, the expression calls for being so affected by the pain of others as to feel it deeply, following the kind of tenderhearted compassion God, through His Son, has for sinners (cf. Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34; 19:41–42; John 11:35).

The final factor in Peter’s list for enjoying the goodness of the Christian life, humble in spirit, is actually one word in the Greek, tapeinophrones (“humble-minded”). Humility is arguably the most essential, all-encompassing virtue of the Christian life (5:5; Matt. 5:3; 18:4; Luke 14:11; 18:14; Eph. 4:1–2; Col. 3:12; James 4:6; cf. Ps. 34:2; Prov. 3:34; 15:33; 22:4). Paul used a form of this Greek word in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Years earlier Jesus demonstrated the importance of His own example of humility when He said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29; cf. Phil. 2:5–8).

The joys of their lives in Christ are maximized when believers are united in truth and life with one another, peaceful in disposition, gracious toward those who need the gospel, sensitive to the pains of fallen sinners, sacrificial in loving service to all, compassionate instead of harsh, and above all humble like their Savior.[1]


8 Peter signals the conclusion of the household code admonitions with “finally, all of you.” The concluding exhortation is addressed to everyone in the community. What applies specifically to individual groups regarding respect and harmony applies to the community. The Christian ethic will exhibit unity, sympathy, brotherly affection, compassion, humility, and nonretaliation. Together these six qualities possess a corporate character that will strengthen the Christian community’s witness to society.

To be of the same mind (homophrōn, GK 3939; NIV, “live in harmony with”) is to be on guard against divisions that would hinder Christian unity. Because of the imperative of unity as witness to the world, Jesus prays, on the eve of his crucifixion, for his disciples to realize a degree of unity that he and the Father have shared in eternity (Jn 17:1–5). Jesus’ prayer is “that all of them may be one … so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:21). The accent on Christian unity is found throughout the NT (e.g., Ac 4:32; Ro 12:4–5, 16; 1 Co 1:2, 10; 3:5–9, 21–23; 10:17; 12:4–7, 12–13; 2 Co 13:11; Eph 4:4–6; Php 1:27; 2:2; 4:2). Unity does not require uniformity; being of the same mind is not predicated on simple agreement with others. It is, however, founded on a common Lord, a common confession, and a common goal of witness to the world. No Christian can live the Christian life in isolation, but only as he or she is joined, with one mind, to other members of God’s church, living stones that together comprise one building. The church is not church if there is no inherent, manifested unity. If the readers are encountering hostility from society around them, Christian unity is no luxury; it is critical for survival.

A related attitude is that of being sympathetic (sympatheis, GK 5218). It is the essential nature of the human body to be “sympathetic” (cf. 1 Co 12:26), to which Peter calls his readers. Sympathy, as Barclay, 227, reminds us, is the opposite of self-absorption, the ability to identify with the sufferings and pains of others. To share in the sufferings of others is both the cause and effect of Christian unity. The believers’ model once again is Christ, the high priest, who sympathizes with [sympathēsai] our weaknesses (Heb 4:15). Significantly, sympathy is not merely a Christian virtue; it was also held in high esteem by Hellenistic moralists (e.g., Plutarch, Mor. 432; Strabo, Geogr. 6.3.3). Like unity, sympathy strengthens Christians in the world.

Furthermore, being “affectionate” (NIV, “love as brothers”; philadelphos, GK 5789), “compassionate” (eusplanchnos, GK 2359), and “humble” (tapeinophrones, GK 5426) all stand in direct relation to sympathy and Christian unity. Moreover, all are vital to the community’s survival in a hostile environment. Brotherly affection is also included in the catalog of virtues appearing in 1 Peter 1:5–7, where it is related to—though distinct from—love (agapē, GK 27). While the distinction should not be pressed too far, the former is a virtue valued by pagans, appearing frequently in Stoic virtue lists, for example. A practical test in any cultural context is whether the Christian will love his fellow human. Moreover, a hearty affection for one’s brothers and sisters in the community will attest to the vibrancy of the community’s faith. Philadelphia has a notably social trajectory.

The word rendered “compassionate,” eusplanchnos, vividly conveys feeling and emotion. Deriving from splanchna (GK 5073), one’s inner organs, the term by extension conveys deep, intense emotion. Its only other NT occurrence is in Ephesians 4:32, contextualized in Pauline admonitions toward tenderheartedness, though the verb form is found in the Synoptic Gospels, notably in depicting the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:33), who “took pity,” and the father of the prodigal (Lk 15:20), who on seeing his son returning home “was filled with compassion.” And it finds its fullest expression in Jesus himself (Mk 1:41), who is said by the evangelist, when approached by a leper, to have been “filled with compassion.”

Among secular Hellenistic moralists, to be “humble” was not considered a virtue, given the primacy of self-sufficiency (autarkeia, GK 894). Hence it is a peculiarly Christian ethical distinctive. The Christian ethic reorients and transforms one’s outlook. Humility springs in part from an awareness of our creatureliness and thus of our utter dependence on the Creator. But this contrast is not intended to be demeaning, provided that the creature draws on divine provision (i.e., grace). Humility that acknowledges and appropriates grace is a humility that does not humiliate; rather, it is buoyed by gratitude (cf. 1:6–9, 18–21) and results in attitudes and actions that are active rather than passive.[2]


8  Using an unusual expression for “finally,” which means something like “in summary” (the idiom appears in 1 Tim. 1:5 as well), Peter encapsulates his summary in five imperatival adjectives arranged artfully with philadelphoi, the love of those in the Christian community, in the center. The first and last adjectives speak of how one thinks, the second and fourth of how one feels. The first two terms, “united in spirit” and “sympathetic,” are unique in biblical literature, but common in Greek ethical discussion. Yet while the words are unique, the ideas are well known in the NT. As Paul repeatedly argues (Rom. 15:5; 2 Cor. 13:11; Gal. 5:10; Phil. 2:2; 4:2), unity in heart and mind is critical for the Christian community. This is not the unity that comes from a standard imposed from without, such as a doctrinal statement, but that which comes from loving dialogue and especially a common focus on the one Lord. It is his mind and spirit that Christians are to share (1 Cor. 2:16; Phil. 2:5–11), and therefore have access to a unity that they are to experience. Because humility was the mark of Jesus (Matt. 11:29; Phil. 2:8), this unity will revolve around being “humble” (Eph. 4:2; Phil. 2:3; Col. 3:12; 1 Pet. 5:5). This does not mean a poor self-concept (“I’m no good”), but a willingness to take the lower place, to do the less exalted service, and to put the interests of others ahead of one’s own interests. This attitude of Jesus is surely a necessity if a disparate group is to be “united in spirit.”

To have unity one must “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15 RSV) and thus be “sympathetic” (i.e., enter into and experience the feelings of another). This is precisely what Christ does for us, for he has had similar experiences (Heb. 4:15, which uses a verb closely related to this adjective), and it is what we can do for other suffering Christians (Heb. 10:34). This term has a practical bent, for because we understand the feelings of another we act appropriately to assist our fellow-Christian.  On the other hand, “compassionate,” used also by Paul (Eph. 4:32; cf. the related noun in 2 Cor. 7:15; Phil. 1:8; 2:1; Col. 3:12; Philem. 12; 1 John 3:17, and the verb used exclusively for Jesus, Mark 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22), shows that a Christian’s caring is not to be simply because he or she understands what another feels.  Instead, Christians care deeply about fellow-Christians so that the suffering of one becomes the suffering of the other. Christians are to be emotionally involved with each other.

These virtues can be summed up in “loving your brothers and sisters,” a single Greek term found in its nominal form in Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; Heb. 13:1; 1 Pet. 1:22 (cf. the comment on this verse); 2 Pet. 1:7. Jesus commanded Christians to love one another—this was the mark by which a person could recognize a Christian (John 13:34–35). It is no wonder, then, that the virtue appears so commonly in Christian teaching and that Peter puts it in the center of his virtue catalogue.

Three of these terms are used in the Greek OT and are also paralleled in the Dead Sea Scrolls; for example, in the Rule of the Community (1QS 4:3ff.) the sons of light have “a spirit of humility, patience, abundant charity, unending goodness … great charity towards all the sons of truth.” But the NT puts them in a new context, that of Christ, who embodies them all and enables them all.[3]


3:8 / Finally (not to end the letter but to complete this passage) there comes a general exhortation to the whole Christian community, married and unmarried alike. Peter commends a set of attitudes which together depict what relationships within the Christian fellowship should be.

Christian believers must live in harmony with one another, literally, “being of one mind” (a single word in the Greek). The term is intended to convey a unity of aim and purpose, a oneness in attitude. Idealistic? But this was the actuality at the very beginning of the Christian church, rejoicing in the glow of the early days of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when “believers were together and had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). On a purely practical level, unity among Christians was in any case highly necessary in the hostile environment in which they were living.

They must be sympathetic, sharing one another’s feeling. Believers’ hearts should go out to one another in love, during times of joy as well as sorrow (Rom. 12:15). The truly sympathetic attitude is the antithesis of selfishness.

They must love each other as brothers and sisters (1:22), for in truth they all belong to the one family of God in Christ. They are to treat one another (and both male and female are included under brothers) as having an equal standing in the sight of God—a notion that challenges the competitive nature of so much in the modern Western world. Such a sensitiveness to the feelings of other Christians will follow from a growing appreciation of belonging to the one body of believers (1 Cor. 12:26). Peter is simply relaying the teaching of Jesus that he heard in the Upper Room: “By this all … will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). The vertical relationship, God’s love for men and women in Christ, creates a horizontal relationship, the love between those who know themselves to be the objects of divine love (Cranfield, p. 76).

They must be compassionate, tenderhearted, caring deeply for one another—a powerful and rich term in the Greek for which there is no adequate English translation. All the emotions are involved.

They must be humble toward one another. The idea of humility as a desirable characteristic is promoted in the nt as a virtue of Christlike living (Gal. 5:23; Eph. 4:2; Phil. 2:3) and follows the teaching of Jesus himself (Matt. 11:29). To the Hellenistic world such a notion came as a startling novelty, for Greeks had always considered humility as a sign of weakness. Yet in truth, as the believer grows in the Christian life, there come constant reminders that an attitude of humility is entirely appropriate. Human abilities and wisdom all too often prove to be insufficient to cope with life’s ordinary experiences and relationships, let alone when the Christian is faced with the standard of perfection set by Jesus in both his teaching and example (Matt. 5:48; John 8:46). Peter will repeat the admonition to be humble later when he addresses young men in particular (5:5).[4]


8. General summary of relative duty, after having detailed particular duties from 1 Pe 2:18.

of one mind—as to the faith.

having compassion one of anotherGreek, “sympathizing” in the joy and sorrow of others.

love as brethrenGreek, “loving the brethren.”

pitiful—towards the afflicted.

courteous—genuine Christian politeness; not the tinsel of the world’s politeness; stamped with unfeigned love on one side, and humility on the other. But the oldest manuscripts read, “humble-minded.” It is slightly different from “humble,” in that it marks a conscious effort to be truly humble.[5]


Ver. 8.—Finally. St. Peter is bringing to a close the exhortations to submission, which depend on the imperative in ch. 2:13. He turns from particular classes and relations to the whole Christian community, and describes what they ought to be in five Greek words, the first three of which are found nowhere else in the Greek Scriptures. Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another; literally, sympathizing; feeling with others, rejoicing with them that do rejoice, and weeping with them that weep. Love as brethren. An adjective (φιλάδελφοι) in the Greek; the corresponding substantive occurs in ch. 1:22. Be pitiful. This word (εὔσπλαγχνος) has undergone a remarkable change of meaning. In Hippocrates, quoted by Huther, it is used literally of one whose viscera are healthy; it is also sometimes used figuratively, as equivalent to εὐκάρδιος, ἀνδρεῖος; “goodhearted” with the heathen would mean “brave;” with Christian writers “tender,” “pitiful.” Be courteous. This represents a reading (φιλόφρονες) which has very little support. The true reading is,ταπεινόφρονες, humble-minded.[6]


Harmony

3:8

Here is Peter’s conclusion to the topic submission, which he introduced in 2:13. In this conclusion he delineates how Christians ought to live; therefore, he gives them a pattern for Christian conduct.

Notice that at both the beginning and the conclusion of this topic Peter addresses all the readers. To leave no doubt that he is bringing this particular discussion to a close, he writes,

8. Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.

Peter’s concluding exhortations are for all the recipients of his letter. Thus he admonishes everyone to follow his instructions. In this verse, Peter writes five admonitions that, when heeded, present “an ideal portrait of the church.”

  1. “Live in harmony with one another.” In the Greek, the text has the reading [be] like-minded. Does Peter mean that all Christians have to think in the same manner? No, not quite. Paul focuses attention on the same question in his letter to the Philippians: “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you” (3:15). In view of the variety of gifts and talents God has given his people, differences of opinion exist. Peter, however, wants Christians to be governed by the mind of Christ, so that differences do not divide but rather enrich the church. Therefore, he exhorts the believers to “live in harmony with one another” (compare Rom. 12:16; 15:5; Phil. 2:2).
  2. “Be sympathetic.” Christians should demonstrate their concern for and interest in their neighbor, especially in times of joy or sorrow. They are to “rejoice with those who rejoice; [and] mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15; also see 1 Cor. 12:26).
  3. “Love as brothers.” Peter repeats what he has already written, for already in his first chapter he observes that the readers “have sincere love for [the] brothers” (v. 22). The Greek term Peter uses is general, so it includes both brothers and sisters in God’s household (refer to Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9–10; Heb. 13:1).
  4. “Be compassionate.” In the Greek, the word translated “compassionate” is far more descriptive. It depicts feelings that appear to come from our inner parts (literally, our intestines), especially when we observe the suffering which another person endures. Translators usually associate the Greek word with the heart and thus render it “tenderhearted.” The term compassion is one that appears in a list of Christian virtues (Col. 3:12).
  5. “[Be] humble.” Humility is a virtue Jesus taught when he washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:4–17). Jesus set the example of selfless service by his willingness to be the least in the company of his disciples and to be the servant of all. In the fifth chapter of his epistle, Peter repeats his admonition to be humble when he addresses young men: “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (5:5; also see Eph. 4:2; Phil. 2:6–8).

These virtues reflect the glory of the church when brothers and sisters live harmoniously. Spiritual brothers and sisters exemplify these virtues when together they acknowledge God as their Father and know Christ as their brother (Heb. 2:11). Then, as the body of Christ, believers indeed experience God’s marvelous blessings.[7]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 187–189). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Charles, D. J. (2006). 1 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 330–331). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Davids, P. H. (1990). The First Epistle of Peter (pp. 124–125). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] Hillyer, N. (2011). 1 and 2 Peter, Jude (pp. 100–101). 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. 507). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[6] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). 1 Peter (p. 130). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[7] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 126–128). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 11, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

42:1 — As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God.

God’s highest priority for our lives is to develop an intimate and growing relationship with Him. He made us to thirst for Him as we thirst for water and to seek Him as we seek relief from a parched throat.[1]


1. As the hart crieth for the fountains of water, &c. The meaning of these two verses simply is, that David preferred to all the enjoyments, riches, pleasures, and honours of this world, the opportunity of access to the sanctuary, that in this way he might cherish and strengthen his faith and piety by the exercises prescribed in the Law. When he says that he cried for the living God, we are not to understand it merely in the sense of a burning love and desire towards God: but we ought to remember in what manner it is that God allures us to himself, and by what means he raises our minds upwards. He does not enjoin us to ascend forthwith into heaven, but, consulting our weakness, he descends to us. David, then, considering that the way of access was shut against him, cried to God, because he was excluded from the outward service of the sanctuary, which is the sacred bond of intercourse with God. I do not mean to say that the observance of external ceremonies can of itself bring us into favour with God, but they are religious exercises which we cannot bear to want by reason of our infirmity. David, therefore, being excluded from the sanctuary, is no less grieved than if he had been separated from God himself. He did not, it is true, cease in the meantime to direct his prayers towards heaven, and even to the sanctuary itself; but conscious of his own infirmity, he was specially grieved that the way by which the faithful obtained access to God was shut against him. This is an example which may well suffice to put to shame the arrogance of those who without concern can bear to be deprived of those means, or rather, who proudly despise them, as if it were in their power to ascend to heaven in a moment’s flight; nay, as if they surpassed David in zeal and alacrity of mind. We must not, however, imagine that the prophet suffered himself to rest in earthly elements,2 but only that he made use of them as a ladder, by which he might ascend to God, finding that he had not wings with which to fly thither. The similitude which he takes from a hart is designed to express the extreme ardour of his desire. The sense in which some explain this is, that the waters are eagerly sought by the harts, that they may recover from fatigue; but this, perhaps, is too limited. I admit that if the hunter pursue the stag, and the dogs also follow hard after it, when it comes to a river it gathers new strength by plunging into it. But we know also that at certain seasons of the year, harts, with an almost incredible desire, and more intensely than could proceed from mere thirst, seek after water; and although I would not contend for it, yet I think this is referred to by the prophet here.[2]


Ver. 1.—As the hart panteth after the water-brooks. Stags and hinds need abundant water, especially in hot countries, and, in time of drought, may be said, with a slight poetical licence, to “pant,” or “cry” (Joel 1:20) for it. They are still found in Palestine (Tristram, ‘Land of Israel,’ pp. 418, 447), though rather scarce. So panteth my soul after thee, O God. The “panting” of the soul does not mean any physical action, but a longing desire for a blessing that is, at any rate for a time, withheld.[3]


1. “As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” As after a long drought the poor fainting hind longs for the streams, or rather as the hunted hart instinctively seeks after the river to lave its smoking flanks and to escape the dogs, even so my weary, persecuted soul pants after the Lord my God. Debarred from public worship, David was heartsick. Ease he did not seek, honour he did not covet, but the enjoyment of communion with God was an urgent need of his soul; he viewed it not merely as the sweetest of all luxuries, but as an absolute necessity, like water to a stag. Like the parched traveller in the wilderness, whose skin bottle is empty, and who finds the wells dry, he must drink or die—he must have his God or faint. His soul, his very self, his deepest life, was insatiable for a sense of the divine presence. As the hart brays so his soul prays. Give him his God and he is as content as the poor deer which at length slakes its thirst and is perfectly happy; but deny him his Lord, and his heart heaves, his bosom palpitates, his whole frame is convulsed, like one who gasps for breath, or pants with long running. Dear reader, dost thou know what this is, by personally having felt the same? It is a sweet bitterness. The next best thing to living in the light of the Lord’s love is to be unhappy till we have it, and to pant hourly after it—hourly, did I say? thirst is a perpetual appetite, and not to be forgotten, and even thus continual is the heart’s longing after God. When it is as natural for us to long for God as for an animal to thirst, it is well with our souls, however painful our feelings. We may learn from this verse that the eagerness of our desires may be pleaded with God, and the more so, because there are special promises for the importunate and fervent.[4]


42:1 Our inner longing for fellowship with God can be compared to the vehement craving of the deer as it wanders through the parched countryside, its sides throbbing and its breathing quickened as it longs for the brooks. Gamaliel Bradford transferred the picture to himself when he said:

My one unchanged ambition

Wheresoe’er my feet have trod

Is a keen, enormous, haunting,

Never-sated thirst for God.[5]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Ps 42:1). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[2] Calvin, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 2, pp. 128–130). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Psalms (Vol. 1, p. 330). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[4] Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). The treasury of David: Psalms 27-57 (Vol. 2, pp. 270–271). London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers.

[5] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 615). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.