A race against time (Ephesians 5:15-16)

POST OVERVIEW. A meditation on the use of our time as a disciple of Jesus.

From the time the disciple is called to faith, from the moment he begins following Jesus, the disciple is in a race against time. What do I mean by this? After a person comes to faith in Christ, the believer gains a new awareness of the brevity of life and of its fleeting nature. Having passed from death to life (John 5:24), the follower of Jesus begins to understand that “childhood and the prime of life are fleeting” (Ecclesiastes 11:10), and that “now” is the only time he has. With the new eyes of faith, the believer sees that life can only be spent and that life is to be given away in service to the Lord and to others (2 Cor. 12:15).

The new believer also has a sense of duty that did not exist before, a desire to glorify the Lord with his life. There is now a God-given purpose to the disciple’s life that replaces the previous selfish ambitions. “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and with this compelling purpose comes a greater awareness of the finish line. “We must work the works of [the Lord] as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). The disciple is increasingly aware that, unless the Lord returns first, night is coming. There is coming a day when his race will have been run (2 Tim. 4:7), and the question will be, “Have I fought the good fight, have I kept the faith?” So, before that day, the disciple is eager to “walk not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time for the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). In this sense, then, the disciple is in a race against time.


With the unknown finish line coming irresistibly closer, what is it that the disciple is racing against time to do? Here are some of my own ideas.

Every disciple has been called to Christ to accomplish the good works which God prepared beforehand for him to do (Eph. 2:10) and so I desire to complete these good works before I am taken away by death or the Lord’s return.

There is a race against time to leave a legacy, to accomplish “a great work” that the Lord has given only me to do. Nehemiah was called to leave his job as a cupbearer to the king and rebuild the wall in Jerusalem. He said to his two nemeses, Sanballat and Tobiah, “I am doing a great work” and I cannot be distracted (Neh. 6:3). Gideon was chosen to defeat the Midianites (Judges 6-8). Joshua led the nation of Israel into the Promised Land. Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem. Noah built an ark. Perhaps God will be gracious to give me a great work as well. So, there is a race to leave my legacy.

In Matthew 13:3, we read, “The sower went out to sow.” The Lord has given me a sack of gospel seeds to scatter and I want my sack to be empty before I am called home. So, there is a race against time to scatter gospel seeds.

There are so many who do not know about Jesus and His finished work on the cross and the salvation that He offers to lost sinners. But I do know Jesus, and it is a race against time to tell as many as I can about my great King.

From time to time, my fellow disciples can become discouraged by the trials and pressures of the world and by the evil in the world, and I am racing against time to encourage as many as I can, “to spur them on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). Also, I have been given gifts of teaching and so I am in a race against time to edify others with power from the Word.

When I came to Christ more than thirty years ago, I was morally polluted and had developed ungodly habits of life and thought and had a foul mouth. But God has been changing me day by day over these thirty years so that I have made progress in my sanctification. Now I want to display this ransomed life to the world to show God’s power to transform anyone into His useful instrument.

Finally, the Lord has entrusted me with significant financial resources and I am in a race against time to wisely spend the money entrusted to me so that I do not die with a lot of unused funds. The man in Luke 12 was a fool for building bigger barns and not being rich toward God. In the same way, I want to be generous in wise investments of the Lord’s money as a good steward.

So, I am racing against time to accomplish these things with my remaining years.

SDG                 rmb                 11/15/2022                 #586

A definition of discipleship

OVERVIEW. Over the past several months, I have been gathering ideas and writing about the broad topic of discipleship for the purpose of organizing these thoughts and ideas into a book on the subject. This post is my attempt at a comprehensive definition of discipleship to be used in that book. In this post, the definition is stated and then explained word by word. In all this work on discipleship, the key verse is Philippians 2:12, where Paul commands us, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. – Philippians 2:12

The purpose of this article is to state and explain the definition of discipleship I will be using in all my writing and my work on the subject of discipleship. My definition is based on Paul’s words in Philippians 2:12, where the apostle commands every disciple of Jesus to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” This “working out” is the task of discipleship, but what does this mean to the 21st century disciple? Answering that question begins with defining what we mean when we use the word “discipleship.”

Another comment is probably in order here. The definition that I am proposing for discipleship is demanding, but I think this is the challenging task to which we are called as followers of the Lord Jesus. It is the most glorious calling imaginable for any mortal, to be called to live in fellowship with the living God and to display His glory through this jar of clay. Therefore, the lifelong task of “working out my salvation” such that my life conforms more and more to the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to me through faith should be likewise demanding.


Discipleship is the lifelong process of conscious, intentional, purposeful actions taken by the disciple aimed at progressively conforming the disciple into the likeness of Jesus Christ in thought, word, and deed in all areas of the disciple’s life.

Lifelong – The process of discipleship is begun as soon after justification (conversion) as possible and then continues until the disciple’s last breath. This process lasts the rest of life because there is always more to learn and more “conforming” that needs to take place to move the fallen and redeemed man into the image of Christ. Thus, in discipleship there is no retirement, because the phase that follows discipleship is to be without sin, either in heaven with Christ as disembodied souls awaiting the resurrection or in eternity as glorified saints.

Process – While justification is an event that occurs at a point in time, discipleship is process of many incremental steps over a long period of time.

Conscious – The actions the disciple takes aimed at his own growth in Christlikeness are taken consciously. The disciple is aware that he is taking these actions and is aware why he is taking these actions. The actions are thus clearly volitional.

Intentional – The actions the disciple takes are selected based on the fact that these actions bring about the desired result. The actions are selected based on wisdom and are executed after planning.

Purposeful – In the ideal, each action is taken to achieve a specific purpose or objective. There is a target in mind, a reason for the action. The goal is not to merely generate activity but is to move one step closer to the perfection of Jesus Christ in some area of discipleship. Paul did not box as a man beating the air (1 Cor. 9:26). Metaphorically, Paul boxed in order to knock out his opponent. Therefore, he “exercised self-control in all things” (9:25).He “bruised his body to make it his slave” (9:27). These are discipleship words which speak of vigorous effort aimed toward a conscious purpose.

Actions (or activities) – The result of a discipleship plan is visible, intentional action. The disciple sees areas in his walk with Christ that need to grow and then moves confidently into those areas to work out that growth. Like the salmon that will jump up the waterfall until it gains the higher stream, so the disciple continues to act until he gains the desired spiritual growth. The disciple manifests his desire for spiritual growth by intentional actions.

Aimed at (see “Purposeful”)

Progressively conforming – The aim of each conscious, intentional action is to produce change in the disciple such that the flesh is weakened and opposed and that holiness and obedience to Christ are strengthened and are more evident in the disciple’s life.

In thought, word, and deed – Our thoughts are open before God (Hebrews 4:13) and will be manifested in our words (“out of the heart, the mouth speaks”) and evidenced in our deeds. “The LORD desires truth in the innermost part” (Psalm 51:6) and His disciple “hungers and thirsts for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6), so the goal of discipleship is for the disciple always to be growing in Christlikeness in all areas of life.

SDG                 rmb                 11/9/2022                   #585

Speaking of Melchizedek (Part 6) Hebrews 7:23-28

POST OVERVIEW. This sixth and final post in our series on Melchizedek from Hebrews 7 explains why Jesus is superior to any Levitical high priest who served under the first covenant established at Sinai. (See post #574, #575, #576, #577, and #580 for previous posts in this series.)

The objective of this series of posts is to explore and interpret Hebrews 7, which is devoted almost exclusively to a discussion about how Melchizedek relates to Jesus Christ. This sixth post concludes the author’s arguments about how our High Priest, Jesus, is far superior to any old covenant Levitical priest and is therefore a fitting high priest for the new covenant that He has ushered in.


As we have seen in the previous posts, the author has been comparing the Levitical priesthood established under the Law with the priesthood of Melchizedek established in eternity past (Psalm 110:4). The Levitical priesthood has been shown to be weak and inferior at every point, not only by comparison with the priesthood of Melchizedek, but in many cases weak in absolute terms.

Melchizedek himself, the king of righteousness and king of peace, was greater than Abraham and so was greater than Levi, the head of the entire priestly tribe (7:1-10). The Levitical priesthood was always temporary and was always going to be replaced by the permanent priesthood of Melchizedek (7:11-12). Jesus is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek based on an oath from the LORD (YHWH), while the old covenant priests were of the order of Aaron based on the Law’s commandment of physical descent (7:13-22). The Levitical priests were appointed by a commandment of the Law, but Jesus was appointed a priest forever according to an oath from God and so brings in a better hope as the guarantee of a better covenant (7:17-22).

Now, in 7:23-28, the author will make his final points of comparison and draw this portion of his argument to a conclusion. (As we have said before, have your Bible open beside you as you read these comments.)


7:23. Again we see the weakness of the Levitical priests highlighted because the former priests of the first covenant, died. This is a weakness so obvious that it might go unnoticed. These priests were mortal and were therefore “prevented by death from continuing.” Thus the Levitical priests were appointed by a commandment in the Law, their ministry did not accomplish anything “for the Law made nothing perfect” (7:19), and they were subject to death. This is on the one hand.

7:24. But on the other hand, Jesus is “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (7:17, 21). Therefore, Jesus “holds His priesthood permanently.” This High Priest was appointed by divine oath, has brought in a better hope as the guarantee of a better covenant, and continues as a priest permanently.

7:25. “Therefore, Jesus is able to save forever (save to the uttermost (ESV); save completely; save at all times) those who draw near to God through Him.” Unlike the Levitical priests, Jesus is a High Priest who is able to save. If you draw near to God in the name of Jesus, you will find Him to be a High Priest mighty to save. And Jesus is able to save forever and to the uttermost. In the original Greek, this phrase is “εἰς τὸ παντελὲς,” which means both “to the farthest extent” and “for all time.” The author is expressing both the physical and the temporal completeness of the salvation that Jesus brings to all those who draw near to God through Him. As our High Priest, Jesus always lives to make intercession for us. If we will embrace Jesus fully and unreservedly trust Him, then He will save us to the uttermost.

7:26. Our High Priest, the Lord Jesus, is holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. That is, the High Priest of the new covenant is completely different from the old covenant priests.

So first, Jesus is holy. We are counted as holy by imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us, but Jesus is essentially and eternally holy. He has always been and always will be holy, because His is a divine holiness.

Our High Priest is innocent, meaning that there is no evil in Him or associated with Him. In Psalm 92:15, the psalmist declares, “There is no unrighteousness (evil) in Him (YHWH).” Thus Jesus is incapable of evil or malice or harm. In His earthly ministry, Jesus “took our infirmities and carried away our diseases” (Matt. 8:17). Jesus healed multitudes, yet He never harmed any.

The Son of God is undefiled. In His incarnation, Jesus spent more than thirty years among sinners and at least once spent time being tempted by Satan, the father of lies (Matt. 4; Luke 4), yet He remained pure and utterly unstained by sin. The old covenant priests were tainted by Adam’s sin at birth (Romans 5:12) and increased in defilement as they progressed through life, but Jesus died on the cross as our once-for-all-time, undefiled, perfect sacrifice.

Jesus was separated from sinners. It is obvious that this quality does not refer to a physical isolation from sinners, for Jesus was among sinners His entire life. He was “separated from sinners” in the sense that He was completely unlike them. Jesus entered the world as one of a kind. He was the God-Man, the second Adam, the unique, only begotten “un-sinner.” Every other person who ever lives on this planet (including that Levitical priests) is in the group called “sinners,” but Jesus is in a separate group as the One who never sinned.

Finally, Jesus is exalted above the heavens. Our High Priest has perfectly completed His priestly work of atonement (John 17:4; 19:30) and so He has been “exalted above the heavens.” He is now the victorious Lamb, once again the theme of all heaven’s praises (Revelation 5:6ff). Having humbled Himself to death on a cross (Phil. 2:8), God has now highly exalted Him (2:9). “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3) where He now awaits the time when all His enemies will be a footstool for His feet (Psalm 110:1).

7:27. Even in the nature and the efficacy of His sacrifice, our Lord is far superior to the Levitical priests. For, because of the weakness and uselessness (7:18) of their sacrifices, those priests offered up sacrifices daily, morning and evening, year in and year out, the same sacrifices that could never take away sins (Hebrews 10:11). And not only did the Law require that these daily sacrifices be offered, but the priest had to offer sacrifice first for his own sins, then for the sins of the people. But Jesus, being sinless, had no need to offer sacrifice for His own sins, but instead He offered one perfect sacrifice for all time for all the sins of His people.

7:28. The author concludes this chapter by driving home his main point: Everything about the old covenant priests appointed under the Law revealed them to be weak and temporary, but the word of God’s oath, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” appoints as high priest the Son of God, who is made perfect forever.


Throughout the letter of Hebrews, the author has been demonstrating the superiority of Jesus and of the new covenant which He has ushered in. Jesus is superior to any and all angels (chapters 1-2). He is superior to Moses (3:1-6). True belief in Jesus will allow you to enter into the Lord’s rest (3:7-4:16). Jesus is a perfect priest according to the order of Melchizedek- Part 1 (5:1-10). Now in chapter 7, we have seen that Jesus is in every way a superior high priest to the priests of the Levitical order.

SDG                 rmb                 11/2/2022                   #584

Embarking on the path of discipleship (Matthew 28:19)

POST OVERVIEW. Thoughts about when I embarked on the path of sanctification and then on the path of discipleship and how I progressed as a disciple after that day. Distinguishing discipleship from sanctification. In practical terms, when does the sinner become a disciple?

Once I had passed from death to life (John 5:24), I became a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19) and, whether I understood it or not, I had embarked onto the path of sanctification. On that day I was as unlike the Lord Jesus as I would ever be and I was as far from God as I would ever be. My years of running away from God, of willful disobedience, and of giving myself over to my own selfish, fleshly desires were abruptly ended. On that day, now alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4), my life’s direction was reversed. I was born again (John 3:3) and, as a newborn disciple, I began to take my first stumbling steps toward holiness, obedience, and usefulness. By the end of that first day, whether I could recognize that day or not, I was a little bit more like Jesus than I had been and I was a little bit farther from my most ungodly place. I was a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and had begun my sanctification.


But while my sanctification began on the day of my conversion (Phil. 2:13), I would argue that my discipleship, my “working out my salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), did not. To understand this statement, you must realize that, as declared in Philippians 2:12-13, the sanctification of the disciple has a divine component and a human component. The divine component is the sanctification which is conducted by the Holy Spirit that increases our Christlikeness. Beginning at my conversion and continuing until my physical death, the Holy Spirit is at work within me, working without my cooperation and even without my awareness, to conform me to the image of Christ. But the human component of sanctification, that which is worked out by fear and trembling, the sanctification that is the result of the disciple’s own Spirit-empowered effort, is what I am calling “discipleship.” Since discipleship is conscious, intentional, and purposeful, it is obvious that significant growth in discipleship only begins when the disciple chooses, by an act of their will, to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” Discipleship is not automatic, but rather is willful and effortful, and involves decision, commitment, and perseverance.


Another comment may be appropriate here in terms of practical application of the disciple’s justification. We know that the moment of conversion is when a person actually becomes a disciple, but rarely does a person recognize that moment when they first believed. Much more common is that the converted person is led by God’s providence to a church where the gospel is proclaimed and explained, and it is then that the person becomes aware of what has happened to them. In addition to that, the New Testament models for us over and over again that the prescribed pattern for the disciple is to believe in the Lord Jesus, then to be baptized, and then to be joined to a church where he can learn obedience. For example, we need look no farther than the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) to see this pattern in seed form. Make disciples (proclaim the gospel), baptize them into the local church, and teach them, in the church, what it means to be an obedient disciple. So, I would argue that the believer’s baptism is most often when he or she consciously and formally becomes a disciple.


Because there are so many areas of development in which we, as disciples, need to grow, it may seem to us or to others that our growth is too slow and that there is something “wrong.” For example, I grew rapidly in Word and in knowledge of the Scriptures and in some prominent areas of discipleship (1 Cor. 8:1) but grew more slowly in putting sin to death and in personal holiness. There were areas of my life that were moving toward maturity, but there were other areas that were neglected and were lagging. Was something wrong? No, there was nothing wrong. God is sovereign in all things, including the sanctification of His children, and He was crafting my sanctification according to His perfect plan. Remember, “it is God (the Holy Spirit) who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”


At the moment of conversion, every disciple, whether he realizes it or not, begins the journey of sanctification, of growing in increasing Christlikeness in all areas of life, and he continues on that journey until the day he dies. This is true for every true disciple of Jesus. As physical growth is the inevitable result of physical birth, so growth in increasing Christlikeness is the inevitable result of the second birth. Sanctification is certain for every genuine believer because this is THE work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity.

As there should be concern when physical growth does not follow physical birth, so there should be concern when tangible growth in Christlikeness does not follow a claim of second birth. While the new disciple’s growth, which is typically quick and obvious, may start slowly and imperceptibly, an absence of spiritual growth over an extended time is most often an indication of a false birth, that the would-be disciple was stillborn.

SDG                 rmb                 10/24/2022                 #583

The disciple’s sanctification (Phil. 2:12-13)

POST OVERVIEW. This post is the second part of a series of articles on Philippians 2:12-13, exploring how the disciple of Jesus can “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” Having discussed justification in the previous post (#579), we now examine the disciple’s sanctification. We will also explore how sanctification relates to discipleship. This is a foundational article in my own consideration of the broad topic of discipleship.


If we were to give a simplified sequence of events in the life of the disciple of Jesus Christ from birth to eternity, there would be four major components: condemnation, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Condemnation is the condition of being an unforgiven sinner and being subject to the judgment and wrath of God for your sins. All people are born as sinners and all people are therefore born into this state of condemnation (Rom. 3:23). Justification describes the event when God declares the sinner to be righteous in His sight because of the sinner’s initial confession of faith in Jesus Christ. In justification, the disciple passes from death to life (John 5:24), becomes a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and no longer experiences condemnation (Romans 8:1). After the disciple has been justified (declared righteous), he enters the stage of sanctification, which lasts till the end of his earthly life. Sanctification is the process of growing in practical holiness and Christlikeness, which means decreasing sin and increasing obedience. (Note: “Discipleship” occurs in the sanctification stage.) The final state for every disciple of Jesus Christ is glorification, when all the saints are in heaven forever in glorified, resurrection bodies. All disciples will receive their glorified bodies on the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:14-17).


Since this consideration of justification and sanctification is in the context of discipleship, we need to see how these two ideas of justification and sanctification relate to the disciple of Jesus. In simple terms, the event of justification creates a disciple. We know that, prior to justification, the sinner is outside Christ, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). At justification, when the sinner believes in Jesus and is thus declared righteous, the sinner is converted into a disciple of Jesus. But if justification creates a disciple, sanctification grows a disciple into increasing Christlikeness. This is the process whereby the disciple learns “to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel” (Ephesians 4:1). It is apparent that sanctification is only possible if justification has already occurred, but we also know that, if justification has truly occurred, then it will certainly result in sanctification.


In further considering justification and sanctification, we can say that justification is necessarily “monergistic.” “Monergistic” means that justification, the event whereby God declares the sinner to be fully and forever righteous based on the sinner’s faith in Jesus, is exclusively the work of God. In the act of justification, God is the only actor. When God justifies the believing sinner, He imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to the sinner’s account as if Christ’s righteousness were the sinner’s own, while the sinner passively receives Christ’s imputed righteousness based solely on his profession of faith. The point is that in justification, God is active and the sinner-disciple is passive.

By contrast, sanctification – the progressive decreasing of sin and the progressive increasing of practical righteousness – is a joint effort between the disciple of Jesus and God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the clearest statement of this biblical truth is in Philippians 2:12-13:

12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.


In these verses, Paul is certainly speaking about the disciple’s sanctification. As we consider the bolded part of the passage, the cooperative, joint effort between the disciple and the Lord is apparent. First, Paul commands the disciple to “work out his salvation.” The apostle does not have in mind some ongoing work by which the disciple earns or merits his salvation, for the Bible rejects the idea of human works meriting salvation in many places. Rather, he is instructing the disciple who has already been justified by his faith to labor with all his might so that his changed life will be vividly displayed in the outward fruit of repentance. In other words, “work out your salvation” means “be diligent and vigorous in your sanctification efforts so that, as time goes on, there is a closer and closer agreement between the righteousness your life displays and the full righteousness that has been imputed to you.” The point is that progress in sanctification depends on the disciple’s active efforts to grow in holiness.  


But while it is clear that sanctification depends on the disciple’s efforts, we also see that sanctification is dependent on the ongoing work of God the Holy Spirit. “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” When a disciple comes to faith in Jesus, then not only is the person declared righteous, but that person is also “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13). Thus, from the moment of salvation, the disciple is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and He, the Holy Spirit, immediately begins to accomplish the ongoing, unconscious transformation of the disciple. For example, the disciple receives the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). The disciple also receives a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12), which allows him to serve and edify the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit reveals sin to the disciple and guides him into all truth (John 16:9ff). The Holy Spirit allows the disciple to put sin to death (Rom. 8:13), leads the disciple (8:14), testifies to the disciple that he is a child of God (8:16), and intercedes for the disciple in prayer “with groanings too deep for words” (8:26). This is the work of the Holy Spirit in all believers and the result of this unconscious work of the Spirit is that the disciple grows in sanctification.

We have seen, then, that the disciple grows in sanctification both by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, who is unconsciously and invisibly transforming the disciple, and by the disciple’s own efforts. While acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s necessary role in sanctification, we want to now turn our attention to the sanctification that is brought about by the disciple’s own efforts, for this is the sanctification that we can directly influence.


Now we want to address the question, “What is the relationship between ‘discipleship’ and ‘sanctification’?” We remember that we defined sanctification as “the progressive decreasing of sin and the progressive increasing of practical righteousness in the life of the disciple of Jesus.” From this, we can say that a functional definition of discipleship is “the sanctification that is brought about in the disciple’s life as a result of the disciple’s  own conscious efforts.” This discipleship is what Paul has in mind in Philippians 2:12 when he commands us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Thus, in discipleship, the disciple of Jesus takes conscious actions to intentionally attack their sin and purposefully grow in their practice of righteous, Bible-approved acts until they finish the race.

Discipleship, then, is a logical outgrowth of justification, when the sinner passes from death to life (John 5:24) and is made a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Being made new in Christ generates in every disciple a desire for holiness and an ambition to be pleasing to the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 5:9). This desire for holiness is part of the seed of justification and is a required product of the new birth such that, if the desire for holiness and the growth in Christlikeness are absent, the real occurrence of justification is brought into question.

In discipleship, then, the key words are “conscious,” “intentional,” and “purposeful.” This is because these conscious, intentional, purposeful actions to increase in holiness are the result of the disciple’s own planning and choices and reflections and efforts. This conscious, intentional activity is motivated by the disciple’s own desire for holiness and by his ambition to be pleasing to the Lord Jesus and is an example of the disciple “working out his salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). And while this activity is certainly empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit, its initiation and execution depend on the individual disciple.


In the sense, then, that progress in discipleship depends on the disciple’s own wisdom and diligence and desire and activity and persistence, discipleship is similar to other human endeavors. In any human activity, those who are more diligent and energetic will make more progress in that activity than those who are less so. It is the same with the degree of sanctification you achieve from your own discipleship efforts. The spiritual resources for your sanctification have all been supplied. You have been set free from your slavery to sin (Romans 6), you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13), you have been given full access to God’s throne to send Him your prayers (Hebrews 4:16), you have been placed in His body the church so that you have brothers and sisters to encourage you, and you have His Word to read and to meditate on. You have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). Now, with all these resources available to you, you are commanded to work out your salvation. Both because the disciple has received apostolic command to work out his salvation and because the disciple has been entrusted with divine resources for working out of his salvation, discipleship is each disciple’s own responsibility.

SDG                 rmb                 10/19/2022                 #582

Speaking of Melchizedek (Part 5) Hebrews 7:18-22

POST OVERVIEW. This fifth post in our series on Melchizedek from Hebrews 7 explores why the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical priesthood established by the first covenant at Sinai. (See post #574, #575, #576 and #577 for previous posts in this series.)

The objective of this series of posts is to explore and interpret Hebrews 7, which is devoted almost exclusively to a discussion about how Melchizedek relates to Jesus Christ. Our fifth post will continue to follow the author’s argument about how our High Priest, Jesus, is far superior to any old covenant priest and how the priesthood of Melchizedek is far better than the weak Levitical priesthood created by the Law.


In post #577 covering Hebrews 7:12-17, we concluded by saying that “the author has (in these verses) shown how Christ is far greater than any of the Levitical priests, for Jesus was not of the dying, sin-stained Levitical priests appointed to fulfill a commandment of the Law. Rather, He was a sinless Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek who was appointed by an oath from the LORD.”


It is true that it is difficult to follow the flow of the author’s argument in these verses, but the meaning will be revealed with persistence and diligence.

So, before we tackle these verses (7:18-22), we should begin by taking a step back from the details of the text and reminding ourselves of the author’s main point in the chapter. As he proved that Jesus is greater than angels (chapters 1-2), and as he proved that Jesus is greater than Moses (chapter 3:1-6), so here the author is demonstrating that Jesus is a greater High Priest than any priest of the Levitical order. Keeping that in mind will tend to keep us from wandering too far off the exegetical trail.

7:18. Before we again look at the details of these verses, some preliminary work is necessary. Here is Hebrews 7:18 (NAS):

18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness

A “former commandment” has been set aside because it was weak and useless. But the question is, “What is this ‘former commandment’?” As we scan back in the preceding verses of the chapter, we see no reference to “commandment.” What is going on here?

The solution involves a translational decision in 7:16. Where the NAS has “law of a physical requirement,” the literal Greek reads “law of a fleshly commandment.” The Greek word for “commandment” in 7:16 is the same Greek word for “commandment” in 7:18. Thus, the readers of the original Greek text would have seen the connection between 7:16 and 7:18. Therefore, the “former commandment” of 7:18 refers to the “fleshly commandment” of 7:16. The “commandment” here should be understood not as a single instruction in the Law, but rather as the entire temporary, weak Levitical priesthood and all its ceremonial laws, including the law of appointing mortal, sin-stained priests solely on the basis of physical descent.

Our exegetical work so far has yielded something like this: “For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of the old-covenant Levitical priesthood . . .” “Setting aside” is probably too weak a translation for the Greek word in the original. More to the author’s point would be “the cancellation.” Thus, “on the one hand, there is a cancellation of the old-covenant Levitical priesthood . . .”

But why was the Levitical priesthood cancelled; abolished? It was cancelled “because of its weakness and uselessness.” We have already seen the weakness of the Law’s priestly system, in that the priests were all subject to death and they were all sinners like the rest of the people. The sacrifices had to be repeated day after day and year after year because the Levitical sacrifices could only cover some unintentional sins but could not remove any. The priesthood was useless because it was unable to help men draw near to God and it was unable to bring about the justification of sinners before God. Thus, the priesthood failed at both of its chief functions.

“For, on the one hand, there is a cancellation of the old-covenant Levitical priesthood because of its weakness and uselessness”

7:19. After acknowledging what we have already shown in our exegesis, that “the Law made nothing perfect,” the author concisely states how Christ and His priesthood of Melchizedek surpass the useless Levitical priesthood. [NOTE. The word “perfect” in this verse does not convey the idea “sinless” or “without a single flaw,” as much as it means “complete” or “in its ultimate stage of development.”]

“On the other hand . . .” signals the complement to the “on the one hand” in 7:18. The Levitical priesthood has been cancelled because it was weak and useless, but Christ and His priesthood have been brought in (“there is a bringing in”). The idea is of replacement. The priesthood of Melchizedek with Christ as its great High Priest has replaced the temporary, weak, and useless priesthood of the Law.

And what do we know about this Priest according to the order of Melchizedek? We know that Christ brings in “a better hope.” He is a Priest who is able to remove sin and to provide forgiveness for any sin because He lives forever to make intercession for His people and because He has made His one all-sufficient sacrifice to atone for sin. Our Priest offers us a better hope for He has guaranteed our entrance into the heavenly dwellings.

But also, through Christ our High Priest we can draw near to God. Whereas the Levitical priests were unable to draw us near to the throne of grace because they, like us, were also sinners, through Christ the sinless one we can draw near to the Majesty on high.

So, Christ accomplishes for us all that the Levitical priests failed to do.

7:20-22. When God is going to make a solemn promise to someone, He seals that promise with an oath. Of course, all of God’s promises are certain to come to pass because God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18), but those promises which last forever are validated with an oath. The author has already given us an example of this when, in chapter 6, God guaranteed His promise to Abraham by means of an oath (6:13-18). So here in 7:20-22 we see the superiority of the priesthood of Melchizedek because this priesthood was established to last forever by an oath from the Lord. The Levitical priests became priests without an oath (7:21), but the LORD confirmed His promise to the Messiah with an oath: “You are a priest forever” (7:21, quoted from Psalm 110:4). Since an oath is far superior to a mere law of physical requirement, Jesus our High Priest “has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (7:22). The author is saying that, since the old-covenant Levitical priesthood has been replaced by the superior priesthood of Melchizedek, then the new covenant ushered in by this new priesthood is a better covenant.

Simply put, a better High Priest from a better priesthood guarantees a better covenant.

Our next article will be Part 6 and will conclude this series by covering Hebrews 7:23-28.

SDG                 rmb                 10/10/2022                 #580

The disciple’s justification (Phil. 2:12-13)

POST OVERVIEW. This post begins a short series of articles on Philippians 2:12-13, exploring how the disciple of Jesus can work out their salvation with fear and trembling. The first post examines the doctrine of justification as background for study of sanctification.

The New Testament introduces us to the incarnate Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and has as its central theme the gospel of salvation. This gospel states that, for anyone who will place their faith in Jesus and confess Jesus Christ as Lord, God will forgive their sins and will save them from His wrath and give them eternal life. After this salvation event, the believer commits to walk with Christ for the rest of their life in obedience to His commands. One of the words the New Testament uses for the event of salvation is justification, and the believer’s subsequent walk of increasing holiness is called sanctification. This short series is mostly on sanctification, but we first need to understand justification in order to fully understand sanctification.


We have already spoken about the salvation event as justification, but we need to be a little more precise. Justification is the event whereby a sinner is declared fully and forever righteous in the sight of God because of the sinner’s professed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

Three things should be noted about this definition. First, this justification is an event, not a process. Although the journey to the point of salvation may take years, justification itself occurs at a point in time. It is a one-time, once-for-all event that has eternal results. This is the moment when the sinner passes from death to life (John 5:24). This is the moment of spiritual birth when one is born again (John 3:3, 5). God justifies the sinner when he initially professes his faith in Jesus. So, event, not process.

But second, in justification, the sinner is declared righteous on the basis of their profession of faith in the Lord Jesus. God declares as righteous the one who confesses Jesus as Lord. Thus the believer, having been declared righteous upon their initial faith in Jesus, is forever viewed as righteous. This also means that all true followers of Jesus are equally justified and equally righteous, even though there may be great differences in terms of the disciples’ actual progress in practical holiness. Justification is God’s declaration of righteousness, not a reward for the disciple’s own efforts.

Third, justification is based solely on the repentant sinner’s initial profession of faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. That is, “having heard the message of truth, the gospel of salvation” (Ephesians 1:13) and having understood that Jesus has come from heaven to die on the cross as a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), the sinner believes in Jesus and publicly professes Jesus Christ as their own Lord and Savior.


Notice that, in justification, God is the only actor. The Bible presents justification as entirely the work of God. God is the One who justifies (Romans 8:33). God is just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26 in the powerful verses of 3:21-26). God is the One who justifies the circumcised (Jewish people) by faith and the uncircumcised (Gentiles) through faith (Romans 3:29-30). All this attests to the fact that our God is the One who does the work of justification. In justification, God is active and the believer is passive. God declares righteous and the believer receives righteousness. God is the actor and the believer is the object. It is God alone who “delivers us from the domain of darkness and transfers us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).

Having gotten a good handle on justification, in the next post in this series we will turn our attention to the corresponding subject of sanctification.

SDG                 rmb                 10/5/2022                   #579

Faithful in a little, in much and with another’s (Luke 16:1-12)

POST OVERVIEW. A Bible study from Luke 16:1-12 that examines the parable of the unrighteous steward and Jesus’ subsequent teaching about the use of money by His disciples.

Jesus spoke often to His disciples on the topic of money because money is such an excellent revealer of the true state of our heart. How you steward your money shows where your real priorities lie and is a good indicator of your maturity as a disciple of Jesus.


In Luke 16:1-12, then, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man and the manager of the rich man’s household to teach us the importance of being faithful with our earthy wealth. Take the time now to read through these twelve verses. The story is easy to understand. A rich man entrusted his possessions to his manager, but the manager squandered the rich man’s resources. Then, when he was caught and fired for his mismanagement, the manager further cheated the rich man so that he would find favor with the man’s debtors.

And then, most astonishing of all, the rich man actually praises the manager who has repeatedly cheated him because he acted “shrewdly.” “Yes, you did cheat me out of a bunch of money and you are thoroughly dishonest and untrustworthy, but you are also resourceful and clever, and I have to admire that.”

Notice that “the sons of this age,” the manager, the debtors, and the rich man himself, do not value honesty or faithfulness, trustworthiness or good stewardship, but instead praise the manager for his dishonest shrewdness.

Thus Jesus establishes the first half of the comparison. This is how the unrighteous view mammon. They are focused on achieving their own advantage and advancing their own best interests with little thought to righteousness. The rich man shows that “the sons of this age” also “give hearty approval” to those who practice unrighteousness. (See Romans 1:32.)

By means of this parable, then, Jesus has shown how the unrighteous behave with regard to money and possessions. They do not acknowledge the Lord as the owner of everything, who graciously gives to His creatures so that they can be His stewards, but instead they selfishly and cleverly cheat one another and try to accumulate the most “mammon.” After all, “he who dies with the most toys (gold, money, stuff) wins,” right?


As an aside, this parable can trouble Bible students who misunderstand Jesus’ teaching, because they interpret the rich man’s praise of his unrighteous manager as meaning that Jesus Himself is condoning the dishonesty of the cheating steward. Of course, Jesus, who never sinned (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15), would never condone any unrighteous behavior, but also the explanation given above should also clarify the passage. The parable means to spotlight the despicable way the unrighteous relate to possessions.

Having established the behavior of the unrighteous with respect to money, Jesus is now going to contrast that behavior with the expected behavior of His disciples. The key verses in this regard are 16:8 and 16:9, with 16:8 being a summary of the parable and 16:9 being a command from the Lord (“make friends” is an imperative, thus a command).


Luke 16:8. As has already been said, Jesus is not praising or condoning the dishonest behavior of the sons of this age. He is saying, however, that the unrighteous are more shrewd (“prudent,” even “wise”) than the sons of light in their use and management of unrighteous mammon, and this should not be. In a sense, this is a rebuke or at least an exhortation to His disciples to be wise, shrewd stewards of their “mammon.” For if the unrighteous are shrewd in their selfish, godless use of money, how much more should the sons of light be wise with what the Lord has entrusted with them. There is nothing inherently noble or godly in the poor stewardship of God’s possessions.

Luke 16:9. Now Jesus translates His veiled exhortation (16:8) into a command. To understand this command, we must unpack the phrase, “by means of the wealth (mammon) of unrighteousness.” Although “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20), we now live in a material world and therefore we need to learn how to be shrewd in our use of the material means at our disposal. Money is one of the most powerful means we have, so we should be wise (shrewd) in how we steward our money for maximum kingdom impact. Thus, the disciple is intent on learning how to more and more effectively us “unrighteous mammon” to empower the kingdom of God.

Eventually your mammon will fail. I think this simply means that no amount of money can buy you one more heartbeat. Eventually you will die and then you will need to give an account of how well you stewarded the Lord’s possessions (Matt. 25:21, 23; Luke 19:15-19). Steward them well now and you will be welcomed into heaven then.

Jesus has given His disciples a command to make friends in heaven by the shrewd use of money (16:9) and now He will give us some instructions about how to do that.

Luke 16:10. It goes against our fallen logic to think that, if I continually squandered and frittered away my modest salary for twenty years, I will also squander my $20 million in lottery winnings. For some reason, we think that my poor stewardship of my money is related to how much I have. If I just had more then I would suddenly learn how to manage money. But that is not the case, as hundreds of lottery winners can attest. It is only slightly more difficult to squander $20 million than it is to squander $50,000. Faithfulness in the wise use of money is independent of amount.

Thus, Jesus gives us a universal principle that is true for all times and all places: “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” The message is clear – If you are a disciple of Jesus, you are to be a faithful steward of the Lord’s resources.

Luke 16:11. Your use of money reveals your true attitude toward many things. This also is a general pattern, that the Lord entrusts you with some of His wealth and then He watches to see what kind of a manager you are. The Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) and He is able to dismiss a debt of 10,000 talents (Matt. 18:24-27) without noticing the loss, but nevertheless He tests His disciples with little to determine their faithfulness. And money is His most common test medium. If you are unfaithful with His money, then why should He entrust you with more?

Luke 16:12. If you have ever been a landlord, then you have had an opportunity to learn something about human nature. Virtually all landlords have stories about so-called human beings who rented from them and who did astonishing damage to their property without the least sign of remorse. How could these renters do such a thing? Because the property was not theirs. Rather, it belonged to another, and so they didn’t care how they treated this house which was another’s.

In the same way, as disciples of Jesus, we know that we have been entrusted with that which is another’s. The Lord has entrusted us with His wealth and He calls us to be faithful with it. We are accountable and He will call for a reckoning.


What, then, have we learned from this short parable and exhortation form the Lord Jesus? First, the disciple of Jesus is to be wise and prudent in the use of the Lord’s resources, and particularly of the financial resources the Lord has entrusted to him. There is simply no excuse for the believer to be careless or naïve or indifferent in the use of mammon. Money is a powerful tool here on earth for bringing about Kingdom advances and it is incumbent on the disciple to become skilled in its use.

Next, faithfulness in the managing of money is the goal, not accumulation of the greatest amount. Learn to use the money you have well, and it is likely the Lord will entrust you with more.

Third, be faithful with whatever you have. He who is unfaithful in little is unfaithful in much, and the Lord will not entrust His money to fools.

Also, while having a lot of wealth is not a sin, being entrusted with significant wealth can be a temptation for us to worship the treasure rather than the Giver of the treasure.

Finally, as almost every honest person will admit, it does not take a lot of money to reveal a person’s greed and covetousness. The goal is contentment with whatever God chooses to supply.

SDG                 rmb                 9/30/2022                   #578

Speaking of Melchizedek (Part 4) Hebrews 7:11-17

POST OVERVIEW. This fourth post in our series on Melchizedek from Hebrews 7 explores why the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical priesthood established by the first covenant at Sinai. (See post #574, #575, and #576 for previous posts in this series.) (Updated October 5, 2022)

The objective of this series of posts is to explore and interpret Hebrews 7, which is devoted almost exclusively to a discussion about how Melchizedek relates to Jesus Christ. Our fourth post will begin to unpack the author’s argument about how our High Priest, Jesus, is far superior to any old covenant priest and how the priesthood of Melchizedek is far better than the weak Levitical priesthood created by the Law.


We ended the last post by listing the weaknesses of the Levitical priesthood and then showing the ways that Christ’s priesthood, the priesthood of Melchizedek, was superior. (see post #576) Now we are going to go through Hebrews 7:12-17 verse-by-verse to follow the author’s theological argument.

As I had mentioned before, I will not generally be quoting the verses from the biblical text, so I am assuming that the reader has an open Bible as they go through this post. I use the NAS as my study Bible, but an ESV Bible should also work well.

Hebrews 7:12. This verse, is to be understood as parenthetical, since it does not address the subject of priest or of priesthood but speaks about the changing of the law. Also, note that, in this context, “law” and “covenant” can be used interchangeably.

The point that the author makes is that, when the Levitical priesthood, established by the old covenant (the Law), changes and is replaced by the priesthood of Melchizedek, then the old covenant must also be replaced by a new covenant. Simply put, old priesthood, old covenant, but now new priesthood, new covenant. This point is established here but comes into focus in Hebrews 8:6-10:18, when the author will demonstrate the superiority of the new covenant over the old.

Hebrews 7:13-14. Jesus was never associated with the imperfect, temporary priesthood of the first covenant, for Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, and the Law (first covenant) mentions nothing about priests from Judah.

Hebrews 7:15. Not only was Jesus definitely not part of the weak Levitical priesthood, but He definitely was “according to the likeness of Melchizedek” (7:15), and thus is a Priest of his order.

Remember in post #575, we had carefully collected the characteristics of Melchizedek given in Hebrews 7:1-10 (from Genesis 14:18-20) to arrive at his “likeness.” We saw that Melchizedek was king of righteousness, king of peace, priest of God Most High, without father, without mother, having neither beginning of days nor end of life (7:2, 3). It is apparent that Jesus conforms exactly to this “likeness” and, therefore, is the priest according to the permanent order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4).

NOTE. Having established that Jesus is the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, we will see that it becomes difficult to distinguish High Priest from priesthood, since the two are essentially one. The order of Melchizedek has only one Priest, and Jesus is our High Priest from the order of Melchizedek. Because this is the case, I may use priest and priesthood interchangeably in the rest of the passage.

Hebrews 7:16-17. The author now shows the superiority of Christ’s priesthood by comparing the appointment of the Levitical priests with Christ’s appointment to His priesthood. Every priest under the first covenant was subject to death and was appointed to fulfill a commandment in the Law, but Christ was uniquely appointed “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” by an oath from the LORD (Psalm 110:4). Clearly Christ’s appointment is far superior.


In this short passage, then, the author has shown how Christ is far greater than any of the Levitical priests, for Jesus was not of the dying, sin-stained Levitical priests appointed to fulfill a commandment of the Law. Rather, He was a sinless Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek who was appointed by an oath from the LORD.

Our next post will continue our verse-by-verse exegesis of this passage.

SDG                 rmb                 9/28/2022 (updated 10/5/2022)                    #577

Speaking of Melchizedek (Part 3A) Hebrews 7:11-22

POST OVERVIEW. This third post in our series on Melchizedek from Hebrews 7 begins to dive into the heart of the passage as we explore why the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical priesthood established by the first covenant at Sinai. (See post #574 and #575 for previous posts in this series.)

The objective of this series of posts is to explore and interpret Hebrews 7, which is devoted almost exclusively to a discussion about how Melchizedek relates to Jesus Christ. Our third post will begin to unpack the author’s argument about how our High Priest, Jesus, is far superior to any old covenant priest and how the priesthood of Melchizedek is far better than the weak Levitical priesthood created by the Law. This post will cover only Hebrews 7:11.

Now that the author has discussed the person of Melchizedek and described his priestly order (Hebrews 7:1-10, see post #575), he turns to consider the significance of there being a permanent priesthood which is better than the priesthood of Aaron. The author’s main purpose for presenting Melchizedek in such detail is to give us a clear picture of his “likeness” (see Hebrews 7:15). This “likeness” defines the characteristics of his priesthood and thus shows us the nature of the High Priest of that order.  

In addition to the “likeness” of Melchizedek, the author’s argument will also draw on the profound truths revealed by Psalm 110:4, in which the LORD (YHWH) makes an oath to Adonai.

The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.” – Psalm 110:4

In this study, I will not generally be quoting the verses from the biblical text, so I am assuming that the reader has an open Bible as they go through this post. I use the NAS as my study Bible, but an ESV Bible should also work well.

Hebrews 7:11. It is evident that perfection (completion, finality, fulfillment) was never possible from the Levitical priesthood, because Psalm 110:4 speaks about another priesthood, the order of Melchizedek, in which the priest abides forever. This logical conclusion establishes the point that the Levitical priesthood under the first covenant was a temporary priesthood and was in place only until “another priest arose according to the order of Melchizedek” (7:11).

But there is more here than merely realizing the temporary nature of the Levitical priesthood. Notice the author states that “perfection” (Greek  τελείωσις) was not through the Levitical priesthood. Because perfection was not through the Levitical priesthood, it was necessary that another priesthood arise which was perfect. This would be the answer to the question, “Why did we need another priesthood?” But that leads to another question: “What was imperfect or incomplete about the priesthood under the first covenant and how is Christ’s priesthood better?” It is the answering of this second question that constitutes the rest of the chapter and that reveals the glory of our great High Priest, Jesus Christ.

But, before we go on in the verse-by-verse interpretation of this passage, we should pause to make a preliminary list of answers to this second question. This will give us a good idea of where we are headed as we proceed through the rest of the chapter. To repeat the question,

“What was imperfect or incomplete about the priesthood under the first covenant? “

  • The Levitical priesthood was temporary, not permanent
  • Priests were appointed solely based on a law of physical descent from Aaron
  • The Levitical priests all died
  • The Levitical priests were all sinners
  • The priest under the first covenant could not offer forgiveness or salvation

“and how is Christ’s priesthood better?”

  • Because Jesus is a priest forever (Ps. 110:4), He holds His priesthood permanently
  • Jesus was appointed a priest forever by an oath from the LORD (YHWH)
  • Jesus never dies, but lives forever
  • Jesus is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners”
  • Jesus is able to save completely and entirely because He lives forever

Now everything is in place to proceed through the rest of the chapter verse-by-verse. That is what we will do when we pick up our study in the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 9/26/2022                   #576