Pearls from the Word: Philippians 1:6

INTRODUCTION. A series of posts on my musings on selected verses from Philippians. This post is on Philippians 1:6.

The book of Philippians was written by the apostle Paul from prison. But despite his circumstances, Paul writes to his beloved Philippians with joy, thanksgiving, confidence, and hope as he instructs them how to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27).

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. – Phil. 1:6

This verse gives strong encouragement to every believer in Jesus that he or she will continue to follow Christ all their days and will, on the last day, be perfected with a glorified body to live forever with the Lord. Yes, all that is here in this verse!

GOD BEGAN A GOOD WORK

In this verse, we read that Paul is confident because God has done an amazing work here in this church in Philippi. “He began a good work.” This “good work” can be restated as, “God has saved you. You were dead in your transgressions and separated from Christ, but then you heard the gospel and believed.” The “good work” that God began in you is the work of your salvation. You have been delivered from the domain of darkness. You have passed from death to life. By grace you have been saved. The “good work” that God began in you is that you have been born again and you are now a new creation in Christ. You have been justified by faith. So Paul’s confidence about God’s good work applies to every believer, to everyone in whom God began the work of salvation.

HE WILL PERFECT IT UNTIL THE DAY OF CHRIST JESUS

But Paul’s confidence is also this: If God indeed began a good work in you and you have become a born-again follower of Jesus, God has guaranteed that you will persevere in your faith until the end of your life and that finally, on the last day, when Jesus returns, you will receive your perfect glorified body for your eternity with the Lord in heaven.

The New Testament is consistent and clear: every single person who has believed in Jesus Christ will believe in Him to the end. This doctrine has been called “the perseverance of the saints” and is explicitly taught in the Scriptures, not only here in this verse, but also in passages like Romans 8:30, which says, “and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Justification is the beginning of our salvation and glorification is the end. Thus we can say with confidence that every person who has been justified by faith will certainly receive their glorified body on “the day of Christ Jesus.” The God who began the work of salvation by our justification will keep us until He perfects the work by our glorification.

BUT THERE’S MORE! And God also preserves us until the day of Christ Jesus. From the moment of our justification, the Lord is actively preserving us in the faith. We persevere because God is preserving us. As we journey through this world of sin, we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), but the real power is from “God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (2:13). Since God the Father chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), and since we have been redeemed by Christ’s blood (Eph. 1:7), and since we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13), we can be confident of this very thing, that God will keep us until the day of Christ Jesus.

So, fellow believer, be confident of this very thing: God has saved you, and God will preserve you, and God will give you a perfect glorified body when Jesus returns.

SDG                 rmb                 5/24/2022                   #535

Meditations on the righteous and on righteousness – Part 2

INTRODUCTION. This is a collection of thoughts on the absolute nature of being righteous and being unrighteous, and of the absolute nature of righteousness and unrighteousness. Degrees in the manifestations of (expressions of, displays of) unrighteousness and of righteousness, and the reason for these degrees. This is the second post in this series.

A USEFUL ANALOGY: PHYSICALLY ALIVE OR DEAD

In my previous post about the righteous and about righteousness (#533, May 20, 2022), we have been talking about the fact that, in the Bible, when used to describe a person’s standing before God, “righteous” is an absolute term, having no degrees or relative achievement. It is a state of being in which you either are or you aren’t. A good analogy to “righteous or unrighteous” is “alive or dead.” In the spiritual realm, a person is either righteous or unrighteous, and in the physical realm, a person is either alive or dead. As there are no degrees of physically dead, so there are no degrees of spiritually unrighteous. As you cannot be “mostly dead” (with apologies to Miracle Max, played by Billy Crystal, in “The Princess Bride”), so you cannot be “mostly unrighteous.” Just as a person is either physically alive or physically dead, so every person is either spiritually righteous or spiritually unrighteous.

MOVEMENT FROM ONE ABSOLUTE STATE TO ANOTHER

But this analogy is also helpful in describing the movement over time from one absolute state to another. For in each pair of absolute conditions in this analogy, there can be movement from one state to another, the movement, if it occurs, is always in the same direction, and the destination state, once reached, becomes the permanent state. Let me explain what I mean.

THE PHYSICAL PAIR

We will begin by considering the pair, physically alive and physically dead. It is plain that physically alive is the beginning state. When a person is physically alive, that person is completely alive, but at some point in time, the person stops being physically alive and immediately becomes physically dead. At the person’s death they completely change states and move from 100% physically alive to 100% physically dead. Once the person has changed states and has reached the “destination state,” “dead” becomes the person’s permanent state. That is, the person will not move from physically dead to physically alive.

REVIEW. I have gone through this process slowly and deliberately to show that:

  • it is possible (and in this case, it is inevitable) to change states and to move from alive to dead,
  • the movement from one state to another is always in the same direction, namely, a movement from alive to dead, and
  • the destination state of “dead” becomes the permanent state for that person. From that point on, the person is always physically dead.

THE SPIRITUAL PAIR

Having examined this movement in the absolute pair of physically alive and physically dead, we will now do a similar examination in the absolute pair of spiritually righteous and spiritually unrighteous. As we have already seen from the plain teaching of the Bible, being spiritually unrighteous is every person’s beginning state (Romans 3:10-18, 23). When a person is spiritually unrighteous, that person is completely unrighteous, and there is no righteousness in him. But because of the gospel, because God sent Jesus to die on the cross so that those who are unrighteous can believe on Jesus for salvation, it is possible for the person by faith to move from the state of absolutely unrighteous to the state of absolutely righteous. The gospel also teaches that once you have moved from spiritually unrighteous to spiritually righteous, “righteous” has become your eternal state. This is because when you place your faith in Jesus, God declares you, the unrighteous, to be righteous in His sight, and God’s declaration of your righteousness is an eternal declaration. The one whom God has declared to be spiritually righteous can never be spiritually unrighteous again.

REVIEW. Once again, I have gone through this process very deliberately to show that:

  • it is possible, through the gospel of Christ, to change states and to move from unrighteous to righteous
  • the movement from one state to another is always in the same direction, namely, from spiritually unrighteous to spiritually righteous, and
  • the destination state of “righteous” becomes the eternal state for that person. From that point on, the person is eternally declared righteous.

As we have considered this movement between absolute states, hopefully it has become clear why the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for condemned sinners. Through the gospel, the one who is fully spiritually unrighteous in God’s sight and condemned by their sin is not hopelessly doomed to hell, although that is what they deserve. All other means of rescue fail utterly, but for the one who will repent of their sin and confess Jesus Christ as Lord, their faith is credited to them as righteousness. By trusting Christ as Lord and Savior, God declares that person as being righteous, and righteous they remain eternally.

SDG rmb 5/22/2022 #534

Meditations on the righteous and on righteousness – Part 1

INTRODUCTION. The first of a short series of posts giving my thoughts on topics like the absolute nature of being righteous or unrighteous, how it is that one who is wholly unrighteous can become fully righteous in God’s sight, how to reconcile a declaration of God’s righteousness with unrighteous behavior, and others. Degrees in the manifestations of (expressions of, displays of) unrighteousness and of righteousness, and the reason for these degrees.

I want to spend the next few posts considering the concept of righteousness and what it means to be righteous, but before we get too far into these critical topics, it would be good to establish some basic ideas.

“RIGHTEOUS” IS AN ABSOLUTE TERM

Every person who ever lives is either completely righteous or completely unrighteous. That is, “righteous” and “unrighteous” are terms which represent two states or two conditions that are mutually exclusive. You are either 100% righteous or you are 100% unrighteous, and there is nothing in between. “Righteous” and “unrighteous” are words like up or down, top or bottom, yes or no, right or left, on or off, positive or negative. These “either/or” words are called “absolute words” or “absolute terms” because they have no presence of degrees; it is either one or the other.

KEY CONCEPT: In the Bible, “righteous” and “unrighteous” are absolute terms. Every person is either righteous or they are unrighteous, and there is no third category.

This is a very important concept to understand because it nullifies many of the most common descriptions of our own moral condition, descriptions which are full of relative and vague terms. When people are asked about their own righteousness or about their condition before God, they will offer something like, “I think I’m a pretty good person.” Whatever that means, it leaves THE question unanswered: “Are you righteous before God? Yes or no.”

            But why spend time thinking about righteousness? And why is it important to know whether I am righteous or unrighteous in God’s sight? Righteousness a critical topic because it is essential for salvation. To enter heaven, you must be perfectly righteous in God’s sight, and yet we are all helplessly trapped in our unrighteousness and are, therefore, under the condemnation of God. We require perfect righteousness but possess perfect UNrighteousness and are without any available means of escaping from our unrighteous state. The question thus becomes, “How can anyone be righteous before God?” This would be impossible were it not for the gospel.

DECLARED RIGHTEOUS

Since there is “none righteous, no, not one” (Psalm 14:1, 3; Romans 3:10ff; cf. Psalm 143:2; Jeremiah 5:1; etc.) and all are therefore unrighteous before a holy God, the Lord has graciously provided the gospel as a way to save sinners. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lord will declare a person to be righteous on the basis of that person’s faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord’s declaration of their righteousness in time forever transfers that person into the kingdom of the righteous.

We have just stated the good news of the gospel that God will declare any person to be righteous if that person will place their faith in Jesus Christ. So, the Lord declares them righteous by their faith and, at that moment, their righteous eternal life in Christ begins. (Have you responded to the gospel? Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ?)

This is the most important message that could ever be proclaimed, that by faith God will justify (declare righteous) the ungodly (Romans 4:5), and my writing could be complete right at this point. 

BUT NOT DECLARED UNRIGHTEOUS

But, as I continued to think about the unrighteous and God’s declaration of righteousness, I noticed another idea that caught my attention.

We have said that, by faith, God declares the unrighteous person to be righteous. On the other hand, the Lord does not declare a person to be unrighteous. Why is this so? If the Lord declares a person righteous based on their faith, why would the Lord not also declare a person to be unrighteous?

The main reason is that, since every person is, by nature and by action, unrighteous (John 3:17-18), a declaration from God about our unrighteousness is unnecessary. We have all fully merited our unrighteousness by our sins. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Law of God given at Sinai clearly renders us all unrighteous and our unrighteousness is evident for all to see. The sad fact is that all of us are born in a state of unrighteousness and in that state, we remain (unless we place our faith in Jesus Christ) and in that state we will die. Then, on the last day, we will be judged by Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16) and cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). Unless we have come to faith in Jesus Christ, we are absolutely unrighteous and stand fully condemned before God. God graciously warns us about our unrighteousness and our consequent condemnation not only in the pages of the Bible, but also by the inner voice of our conscience (Romans 2:14-15), in the power and the glory of God’s creation (Romans 1:19-20), in the reading of the Law, and in the proclamation of the gospel, so man is without excuse. In short, there is so much evidence of our inherent unrighteousness that a declaration from God is unnecessary.

But there is another, perhaps more important reason God does not declare the sinner to be unrighteous. Recall that when an unrighteous person initially and savingly places their faith in Jesus, God declares them to be righteous, and because of God’s declaration, that person is eternally righteous and will never be unrighteous again. The point is that God’s declaration creates a permanent state that cannot be changed. The person’s righteousness can never be lost.

Now, if God’s declaration of righteousness created an eternal state of righteousness, then God’s declaration of unrighteousness would likewise create an eternal state of unrighteousness which could never be changed and from which the unrighteous could never escape. If God declared the person to be unrighteous, that person would be eternally unrighteous because God’s declaration (or decree) establishes the final state. Therefore, to prevent an unrighteous person from being permanently and irredeemably fixed in an unrighteous state, God withholds His declaration of unrighteousness and instead issues warnings to the unrighteous person through the Law and by means of the conscience and through the proclamation of the gospel so that the unrighteous person will repent of their sins and will place their faith in Jesus. Then God will issue His decree that this unrighteous person has now been declared eternally righteous and is bound for heaven.

SDG                 rmb                 5/20/2022                   #533

John 6:31-65 – Part 2: The Father draws him (6:41-44)

INTRODUCTION. An in-depth Bible study on John 6:31-65 in several parts. This section of the gospel of John is important for several reasons. In these verses, Jesus gives some of His clearest teaching about the sovereignty of God in salvation, from initial choosing to final glorification. Also, Jesus here instructs us about the timing of the resurrection, that it will occur on the last day. Thirdly, in this passage, Jesus teaches using different metaphors and analogies to explain what it means to believe in Him and so helps the reader have multiple readings of the same concepts. This second part of the study is a continuation of Post #523 on 4/29/2022 and will cover John 6:41-44.

In this short passage (John 6:41-44), Jesus continues His teaching about who He is. He is the bread of life that came down out of heaven sent by God the Father so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life and will be raised up on the last day. This is a bit much for these unbelieving Jews to grasp, so they grumble.

John 6:41-42. Since the Jews continued to believe that Jesus was a mere man, simply the human son of Joseph and Mary, they grumbled at the arrogance of His saying, “I have come down out of heaven.”

6:43-44. Jesus continues His previous teaching about God’s sovereignty in salvation and about the last day (6:44). Before going on to explain 6:44, however, I wanted to review what we  covered in John 6:35-40.

REVIEW

  • In the previous section (6:35-40), we were introduced to two key phrases: those who “come to Me” (6:35, 37 (2)) and those whom the Father has given to the Son (6:37, 39), and we saw that these two phrases describe exactly the same group of people.
  • From John 6:35, we also saw that those who “come to Jesus” are the same group of people who “believe in Jesus.”
  • We also recall that John 6:39 taught us that “all the Father has given to [the Son] (i.e., all those chosen in Christ before the world began; Ephesians 1:4), these the Son will “raise up on the last day.” That is, all those given by the Father to the Son before the foundation of the world will surely be resurrected (glorified) on the last day (see Romans 8:29-30; 1 John 3:1-2). In other words, we see that God ordained the beginning and the end of salvation, and everything in between. God the Father began salvation by giving the elect to the Son in eternity past, and the Son will end salvation by raising up all the elect on the last day.
  • Finally in 6:40, Jesus again states the connection between believing in Him and having eternal life (previously stated in John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24), and we see that everyone who believes in Jesus has eternal life. So there is a 1:1 correspondence between believing in Jesus and having eternal life. And from this verse there is also a 1:1 correspondence between believing in Jesus and being raised up on the last day. So, everyone who believes in Jesus will be resurrected (glorified) on the last day. [NOTE: It is obvious from this passage that the resurrection occurs on The Last Day. Literally, on The Last Day.]
  • In John 6:40, Jesus also teaches us that eternal life is not the same thing as having a glorified body or even the same thing as being in heaven. Eternal life begins when a person believes in Jesus. This is clearly stated in John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.” But we know that Jesus will not raise up believers until The Last Day. Therefore, all believers will spend some time having eternal life in our fallen bodies, and all believers will spend eternity having eternal life in our glorified bodies, and most believers will spend some time having eternal life as disembodied souls in heaven awaiting the resurrection.

Having reviewed Jesus’ previous teaching on God’s sovereignty in salvation and the certainty of the last day, we return to John 6:44 to discover what Jesus adds to His lesson.

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:44

6:44. Jesus introduces us to another necessary part of our salvation. We have learned that it is necessary for us to come to Jesus to be saved, but here we read that not all have the ability to come to Jesus. “No one can come to Me (unless).” In the original Greek, the verb translated “can” speaks of ability. A possible paraphrase of this verse might be, “Everyone is unable to come to Me (unless).” A man may want to fly through the air like a bird, but he is physically unable to do that. He cannot fly. Just so, Jesus is saying that you cannot come to Him unless the Father does something first. Also, as the verse reads in the text, it appears that the “rule” is that a person is unable to come to Jesus, and that the “unless” speaks of the exception to the rule. That is, most cannot, but a few can. But regardless of whether those that come are the exception or the rule, Jesus is definitely teaching that, unless the Father draws the unsaved person, that person cannot come to Jesus for salvation. In other words, that person’s eternal salvation depends entirely on the Father’s action.

The question that must follow is, “Whom does the Father draw?” Is His choice arbitrary, just a random selection? Or is it based on the goodness of the people who are drawn, that they are the ones who are more righteous and holier than the rest? But of course Jesus’ teaching already makes clear those whom the Father will draw. The Father will draw those whom He has given to the Son so that these can (are able to) come to Jesus, and these will believe in Him for eternal life. Those who are drawn to Him and who come to Him and who believe in Him, He will certainly not cast out (6:37c), but “I will raise Him up on the last day” (6:44).

SUMMARY SO FAR

This is a good point to stop and try to summarize what Jesus has taught so far in this passage. In eternity past, the Father has given some people to Son. In time, the Father draws those whom He has given to the Son, and those whom the Father draws will come to Jesus and will believe in Jesus. Those who believe in Jesus have eternal life and they will be raised up (resurrected, glorified) by Jesus on the last day.

SDG                 rmb                 5/12/2022                   #529

Reaching those in religion

INTRODUCTION. Encouragement for ambassadors for Christ who encounter people devoted to a religion. Thoughts on how to evangelize unbelievers in religions. Also, the power of the gospel.

Martin was a Vietnamese man who also worked at SGI. I had recently made his acquaintance and had invited him to lunch. As we were returning to work, I had asked Martin, “What would you say is the most important experience is your life?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know. What’s yours?” Eager for the opportunity, I told Martin how I had met Jesus Christ and had become a follower of Jesus when I was thirty-one years old.

“So, Martin, what do you think about that?”

He paused for a second and then pointed to the jade green statue of the Buddha that hung from his rearview mirror. “Roy, I’m a Buddhist. My grandfather was a Buddhist, my father is a Buddhist. I’m a Buddhist.” Thus I encountered the immovable object of “religion.”

RELIGION ENCOUNTERED AND DEFINED

It can be frustrating to the witness, the ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) who has stepped out in obedience and begun to tell the gospel to someone only to encounter the stone wall of religion. Religion comes in many guises, but these various religious guises have a common trait.

A religion is a formal spiritual system which is given to the adherent at birth, and which becomes part of a person’s self-identity.

Let’s consider this definition for a second.

That a religion is “formal” means that it has a structure and is recognized as a system of thought or behavior by the adherents. So, poker players do not make up a religion because poker playing does not constitute a formal system, but Islam is structured as a formal religion.

Another distinguishing aspect of a religion is a “spiritual” component. Broadly speaking, the “spiritual” component of a religion is that part that provides a counterfeit or substitute for the one true and living God. Buddhism is “spiritual,” but atheistic. Hinduism offers millions of false gods. Islam presents the false god of Allah.

A religion is given to the follower at physical birth. Strictly speaking, of course, the newborn infant is not a Catholic or a Hindu, but the newborn infant raised in a Catholic or Hindu family will certainly take on that family’s religion. If asked, a Catholic or a Hindu will tell you they have been in their religion since birth. That a person has been in this “formal spiritual system” since birth is a distinguishing mark of someone in a religion.

Finally, this “formal spiritual system” is an integral part of the person’s self-identity. Now, by itself, the characteristic of “self-identity” could be religious or not religious. Those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ certainly self-identify as believers, as Christians. But the self-identity of those in a religion is of a different flavor.

RELIGIOUS SELF-IDENTITY

The adherent of a religion certainly identifies strongly as a member of that religion, but that identification is not by choice, but is by obligation. The person identifies with that religion because they must. Their religion is believed to be unchangeable, and so it is unchallengeable. The person entrenched in a religion has probably never thought deeply about their religion and has never considered any alternative to their religion. In fact, many of those who follow a religion are not aware that an alternative even exists. It has never occurred to them to question their religion. Their religion is “right” because it is the only thing they have ever known.

When one follows a religion, the religion is simply a fact of their existence, like the color of their eyes and like the color of their skin. And, like the color of eyes and skin, it cannot change. What the religion believes or does in its practice is irrelevant to the adherent. By that I mean that the beliefs or practices do not need to “make sense” with experience or with logic or even with any religious book. As the falcon flies because that is part of its essential “falcon-ness,” so the religionist does what he does without question simply because he is of that religion, and that’s what those in that religion do.

So, my friend Martin was born a Buddhist, and he will live as a Buddhist as long as he lives, and then he will die as a Buddhist. That’s just how it is with religion.

Unless . . .

That’s just how it is, unless there is a message that is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The situation is hopeless for those trapped in the grip of religion unless there is some means available to set these people free (John 8:36; Galatians 5:1).

ONE GOSPEL CONVERSATION AWAY

And the good news is that the person who is trapped in his religion, even the one who is zealous for his religion may be one gospel conversation away from true freedom and salvation. The Bible declares that if someone will preach the gospel, then anyone may hear and believe and then call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:14-15) and be saved.

Before he was converted to Christ, the apostle Paul was as zealous a Jew as ever lived (Galatians 1:13-14), who persecuted the church and threw believers in prison (1 Tim. 1:13-15; Acts 8:1-3). He was born a Hebrew of Hebrew parents and had every pedigree of a religious Jew (Philippians 3:5-6). I suspect no one was praying for unsaved Paul, except perhaps that he would drop dead or go away. Then this zealous Jew was converted by the Lord Jesus Himself (Acts 9:4-6) and was sent out as an apostle to proclaim the gospel of salvation.

Thus, the Bible makes clear that the gospel is more powerful than the stone wall of any religion. Religion is one of Satan’s tools for creating confusion and for generating zeal in the wrong direction, but the gospel is “mighty before God for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor. 10:4) and we can be confident that the gospel will do its work.

A POSSIBLE STRATEGY FOR REACHING THOSE IN RELIGION

Like you, I do not have a “silver bullet” for winning anyone to Christ, let alone a perfect strategy for reaching those in religions, but I have thought about it some and suggest this as a possible approach. Since evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel to the unsaved, any strategy should lead to a gospel presentation as quickly as possible. The challenge is that the one who is trapped in a religion is predisposed against Christ and the gospel. But the evangelist and the religionist do have something vital in common. They both face death. So, once the witness has discovered that the other person is in a religion, he might say, “That is very interesting. I am a follower of Jesus, so obviously I do not share your religion. But there is something we both have in common, and that is that, as human beings, we both face death. What is your religion’s answer for death? How does your religion help you deal with death?” From here you would bring up Jesus Christ and how He has conquered death, which would hopefully lead to a discussion about the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 5/5/2022                     #526

John 6:31-65 – Part 1: Come to Me, believe in Me (v. 31-40)

INTRODUCTION. A Bible study on John 6:31-65 in several parts giving insight into the metaphors and analogies Jesus uses with the crowd to explain what it means to believe in Him. This is the first part of the study, John 6:31-40.

OVERVIEW. As our passage opens, Jesus has just fed the five thousand from “five barley loaves and two fish (6:9). The Lord created food from heaven to feed the five thousand in order to make clear to the crowd that He was the bread that came down out of heaven, but the people are spiritually blind. They understand Christ’s metaphors literally and thus become confused and even disgusted. We want to be sure, as we go through this story, that we are not likewise confused by Jesus’ analogies and metaphors, but instead are encouraged to draw closer to Him and to enjoy Him more.

JESUS IS THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN. One of the main messages that we should receive from this passage is that Jesus is the bread that the Father has sent from heaven. Jesus says this many times and in many ways to make unambiguously clear that He is the bread of life (6:35, 48) and that, by believing in Him, you will be satisfied. Eat Him, and you will have life. The Father has sent Him from heaven to be the bread of life for the world. Jesus did not just show up one day and start making outrageous claims. Rather, Jesus was sent by the Father to the world to accomplish a specific mission (17:4; 19:30). So, Jesus = bread from heaven. This is the message. Let’s see how Jesus communicates this.

6:32. “My Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.” Jesus is the true bread from heaven and has been given by the Father.

6:33. “The bread of God (from heaven) gives life to the world.” Jesus gives life.

6:35a. “I am the bread of life.” Can’t get much clearer than that!

HE WHO COMES TO ME, HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME. Jesus now shifts slightly from proclaiming to teaching. In 6:35b – 6:47, Jesus teaches about the significance of His being the bread of life. For the value of bread is not merely beholding the bread or acknowledging that bread exists, but the value of bread comes from eating the bread. Bread cannot sustain life unless it is eaten. Just so, Jesus will not give you life unless you come to Him and believe in Him.

6:35b. “He who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Jesus now introduces these two critical phrases, “he who comes to Me” and “he who believes in Me.” The two phrases mean essentially the same thing. The one who comes to Jesus comes to Him because they believe in Him, and the one who believes in Him has first come to Him. Thus, they are equivalent expressions and mean “to trust in Christ savingly.”

6:37a. Here Jesus speaks of God’s election of those He will save. “All that the Father gives Me” makes clear that the Father is the One who initiates salvation. The people who come to Jesus for salvation come, not because they personally have made a decision, but because the Father has given them to the Son. And whom does the Father give to the Son? The Father gives to the Son those “the Father chose in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).

6:37b. “will come to Me.” Jesus now moves from God’s election, those whom the Father chose for salvation, to God’s certain calling. The math in this verse is clear: If the Father has “given you to the Son” (chosen you for salvation), you will (definitely, irresistibly) come to Jesus for salvation. Or again, if you have been given to Jesus, you will certainly (eventually, before you physically die) believe in Jesus. That is simply what these words mean. Jesus is not here speaking about possibilities but about divine certainties. Those who are chosen will be saved.

6:37c. “and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Having declared God’s sovereignty in salvation in His election and in His calling (see above), Jesus now tells us that, once a person has come to Christ (that is, once they have believed in or trusted in Christ), they will never be “cast out.” That is, those whom the Father has given to the Son are given forever. These are saved, and they will never be lost. (See John 10:27-30 for another strong statement of this doctrinal truth.)

6:38a. Jesus now returns to His essential message in the gospel of John, but here He leaves out the bread. “I have come down from heaven.” Jesus again makes a clear declarative statement about His origin. There is no ambiguity. You either believe what He said or you don’t, but there is nothing to be misunderstood. Simply put, Jesus came from heaven.

THE WILL OF THE FATHER

6:38b. Now another central theme in the gospel is voiced, namely that Jesus came to do the will of the Father. “not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Notice again that Jesus was sent from heaven, and the One who sent Him was the Father. Jesus, as God the Son, has submitted His will to the will of God the Father. Jesus has been sent to accomplish the will (or possibly “mission”) of the Father who sent Him.

6:39. And what is the will of Him who sent Jesus? It is explicitly stated in this verse. “Of all that He (the Father) has given Me (see 6:37a) I lose nothing (see 6:37c) but raise it (or “them”) up on the last day.” Much theology is packed into this verse. First, the Lord affirms that He will certainly not let anyone who has come to Him be lost. This is not only a statement that gives the believer security in their salvation, but it is also a statement of Jesus’ deity, for He is claiming the power to guarantee that no one who comes to Him for salvation will ever be lost. How can He make such an outrageous claim? He can do so without arrogance and with complete confidence because He is God.

TEACHING ABOUT THE END OF THE AGE

But second, there is much here about the end of the age. Notice that Jesus says He will be there on the last day. This is another testament to His deity. The Man who is here making statements to this crowd about being the bread of life will also be the One who will raise up in glorious resurrection all those who believed in Him throughout the ages. Jesus is God, and He will be there on the last day of human history to speak to those who are in the tombs, and “all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come forth” (John 5:29). So, the message is that, on the last day, Jesus will personally raise up all those who have come to Him. He will lose nothing.

Notice also that there is certainly coming a last day. Many people live as if things will just keep going along like this forever and there will not be a day of reckoning when God will judge the living and the dead, but that is foolish. There is coming a last day when the resurrection will occur and the final judgment will take place. God will surely render recompense to the unrighteous for their sins and will finally redeem the righteous. It will be an awesome day. I know where I will be on that last day. How ‘bout you?

6:40. This verse parallels 6:39 and says essentially the same thing in different words. This is a common occurrence in John’s gospel. Jesus will say the same thing several different ways in order to make the message unmistakably clear. This teaching method also allows us to see that there is more than one way to state a theological truth.

Phrase in John 6:39Phrase in John 6:40
the will of Him who sent Methe will of My Father
all that He has given Meeveryone who beholds the Son and believes in Him
I lose nothing **will have eternal life **
I raise it (them) up on the last dayI Myself will raise him up on the last day
** not exactly parallel, but similar

Now we can see how this teaching method helps us understand phrases in this passage and in other passages in John. Below I lay these ideas out explicitly.

  • “Him who sent Me (Jesus)” = “My Father”
  • “all that” = “everyone who”
  • The person given by the Father to the Son (Jesus) = The person “who believes in Him” Every person given by the Father to the Son will believe in the Son.
  • This is not an exact parallel, but “I lose nothing” tells of the believer’s eternal security and “will have eternal life” also gives assurance, because an eternal life that can be lost is obviously not eternal
  • “I raise it (them) up on the last day” = “I Myself will raise him up on the last day”

This study is taking more time than I thought, but it is an edifying experience, so I will cut off this part here at the end of John 6:40 and pick it up with John 6:41 with the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 4/29/2022                   #523

1 Peter 2:9 (Part 1) – The believer’s new identity

INTRODUCTION. The first letter of Peter provides a sound foundation for the newly converted disciple of Jesus Christ to begin their journey with their Savior, and the heart of their conversion is captured powerfully in 1 Peter 2:9-10. Here Peter declares the disciple’s new identity, their new purpose, and their new people. This post is about the disciple’s new identity.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10

Our study text above begins by Peter telling us about our new identity, and the apostle gives us four characteristics that are now true of us that were not true of us before. But the presence of a new identity requires the existence of an old identity. And this is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that “the old man” can and must die and “the new man” must rise to take his place. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to convert a human soul, to “rescue us from the domain of darkness and transfer us into the kingdom of Christ” (Col. 1:13). Only by bowing the knee to Jesus and trusting Him alone for my salvation can I receive my new identity.

But before we explore the four characteristics of our new identity in Christ, we need to look at the old identity we had without Christ.

THE OLD IDENTITY OF “SINNER”

Formerly, unrepentant sin was the dominant and defining characteristic of our life. It may seem strange for me to say that, because, for the sinner, sin is just not that big a deal, and for someone to say that “sin is the defining characteristic of your life” seems like hyperbole. But keep in mind that we are now seeing the issue of our sin from God’s point of view. From God’s point of view, unrepentant sin defines a person’s life. From God’s point of view, unrepentant sin results in condemnation and judgment. So, sin is big deal to God. Having unrepentant, unforgiven sin gives us the identity of “sinner.”

So, formerly, with our old identity as “sinner,” our sin established a separation between us and God, the Holy One (Isaiah 59:2). On our part, we sinned with delight and we sinned without remorse (Romans 1:28-32; 6:20-21; Ephesians 4:17-19; 1 Peter 4:3; etc.). We sinned without regard to consequences and without regard to “the wrath of God revealed from heaven against our ungodliness and our unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Regardless of the degree of our sin, whether small or great, we were defiant rebels who willfully remained ignorant of our sin. We were happily oblivious to the fact that we were “storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5).

Then came the day when those who were happy in their sin heard the gospel. An ambassador for Christ proclaimed to them that God is holy and that they were sinners and that God’s wrath abided on them (John 3:36) because of their sin. But Christ, the Son of God, had exchanged heaven’s glory for the agony of the cross so that anyone who believes in Him would not perish, but would have eternal life (John 3:16). They had believed that message and embraced that Christ and had passed from death to life (John 5:24).

THE DISCIPLE OF CHRIST IS “SINNER” NO LONGER

Recall that, before we had repented and trusted in Christ as our Lord and Savior, we had our old identity of “sinner.” But now in Christ, believers are sinners no longer. This is the amazing reality of our new life in Christ. While it is true that we continue to sin, we are no longer “sinners.” Even though we will not be free from all sin until we die, when we finally shed the flesh that indwells this mortal body, our old identity as “sinner” is no more. God now relates to us as saints who are wrapped in Christ’s robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). Our sins, which were as scarlet and which were on proud display for all to see, have been made whiter than snow (Isaiah 1:18).

The Bible does not refer to believers as sinners because heaven no longer sees our sins. All our sins – past, present, and future – have been nailed to Christ’s cross (Col. 2:14) and are, therefore, no longer a barrier between the believer and the living God. All the believer’s sins, whether flagrant or mild, whether intentional or unintentional, whether acknowledged or unknown, are as far from the believer as east is from west (Psalm 103:12). Because of the cross of Jesus Christ, the Lord has cast all my sins behind His back (Isaiah 38:17), yes, He has cast all my sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Those whom the Lord has declared as righteous can no longer be “sinners.”

NEW IDENTITY

So, if we are no longer sinners and our old identity has been buried with Christ, who are we now? Who have we become? That will be the subject of the next post on 1 Peter 2:9 as we look at the four characteristics of the disciples of Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 4/27/2022                   #522

Isaiah series: Principles of Isaiah’s prophecy (Part 2)

“ISAIAH” SERIES INTRODUCTION. One of the fruits of my conversion to Christ, now more than thirty years ago, was an almost immediate love for His Word. As I became more familiar with the Bible, even as a young Christian, I was fascinated by the power and beauty and mystery of the prophecies of Isaiah, and that fascination has only increased over time. As a result of my love for the book of Isaiah, I have decided to begin making occasional but regular posts about passages from the book, trying to capture the beauty of the writing while also attempting to interpret the complexity of the prophecies.

PRINCIPLES OF PROPHECY. Before writing in detail about particular passages from the book of Isaiah, I wanted to take a few minutes to examine Isaiah’s writing in general. Isaiah covers a broad range of themes but knowing some basic principles about how Isaiah wrote should be helpful in grasping his ideas and in benefiting from his prophecy. This is the second of two posts on these principles. (See post #520, April 25, 2022, for the first post.)

THE IMPORTANCE OF IDENTIFYING THEMES IN ISAIAH

Thirdly, a helpful approach for interpreting a passage from Isaiah’s prophecy is to begin by identifying the main “big” theme of the passage. Although Isaiah writes on a broad range of themes, identifying the specific theme of a given passage is usually not difficult. The chapter breaks in the book often serve as theme breaks or as theme identifiers. Identifying the theme also helps identify the time frame of the prophecy, whether the passage is talking about the sin of national Israel in 700 BC or about the first advent of Jesus or about God’s call to come to Him for salvation or about the day of the Lord, “that day,” when the glorified King Jesus comes back to gather all His people to Himself forever and to judge the wicked. Correctly identifying the theme of the passage will greatly help your interpretation of the passage.

For example, we have talked already about Isaiah 24. The whole chapter is about the judgment that comes upon the unrighteous on the last day. Thus, the theme is the day of the LORD and the timeframe is the last day. Isaiah 53 is obviously about the life of Jesus the Messiah with an emphasis on His passion when He atoned for the sins of His people. So, the theme would be Jesus’ first advent.

The following chapter, Isaiah 54, the theme is about the LORD’s blessings that He will certainly pour out on His people. The chapter overflows with compassion and redemption and tells of the LORD’s demonstrations of His love for His people. This theme is as relevant today as it was when Isaiah wrote the prophecy.

Isaiah 55 sees the LORD calling His people to Himself and offering free pardon for all who come to Him. The theme, then, is the availability of a yet-to-be-defined salvation. Now that the gospel has been clearly proclaimed in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, this call to salvation and pardon is much more defined. We can see in the LORD’s call in Isaiah the call of the evangelist in our own day. This, by the way, is a common theme in Isaiah, that salvation and pardon for sin is available, but the exact details of that salvation are not made clear in Isaiah. In Isaiah 55, we see a hint in the mention of “David” being a “witness to the people (55:4), a leader and a commander for the people,” but this veiled statement awaits its fulfillment in the New Testament when the gospel is made visible in the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God.

The point is that identifying themes and then defining the timeframes of a given passage can be very helpful in interpreting the passage and grasping the meaning of complex imagery.

So, having spelled out some suggestions for understanding the prophecies of Isaiah, it is time to plunge into the ocean of this prophet’s writings.

SDG                 rmb                 4/25/2022                   #521

Isaiah series: Principles of Isaiah’s prophecy (Part 1)

“ISAIAH” SERIES INTRODUCTION. One of the fruits of my conversion to Christ, now more than thirty years ago, was an almost immediate love for His Word. As I became more familiar with the Bible, even as a young Christian, I was fascinated by the power and beauty and mystery of the prophecies of Isaiah, and that fascination has only increased over time. As a result of my love for the book of Isaiah, I have decided to begin making occasional but regular posts about passages from the book, trying to capture the beauty of the writing while also attempting to interpret the complexity of the prophecies.

PRINCIPLES OF PROPHECY. Before writing in detail about particular passages from the book of Isaiah, I wanted to take a few minutes to examine Isaiah’s writing in general. Isaiah covers a broad range of themes but knowing some basic principles about how Isaiah wrote should be helpful in grasping his ideas and in benefiting from his prophecy. This is the first of two posts on these principles.

HOLY SPIRIT INSPIRED PROPHECY
First, Isaiah did not write his prophecy from his own brilliance as a result of his own human insight. Isaiah, like all biblical writers, wrote what he did because he was “moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” In his second epistle, Peter writes, “20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Isaiah was inspired by the Holy Spirit and so his writings are God-breathed. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes, “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (ESV). Therefore, when we read from the book of Isaiah, we are reading the very words of the living God. This explains how Isaiah could pen for us with astonishing accuracy prophecies about events that would take place hundreds and even thousands of years after he wrote them.


CONSISTENCY OF A GIVEN THEME THROUGHOUT ISAIAH
Second, Isaiah’s prophecy about each specific theme is consistent throughout his prophecy, regardless of when in his prophecy he writes about that theme, and his overall concept of history is consistent throughout his prophecy. This is a complex idea, so I will explain below with some examples.
A frequent theme of Isaiah’s writing is the topic of the last day, also known as “that day” or as “the day of the LORD.” For example, in Isaiah 24, the prophet declares that “the LORD lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants” (24:1). The reader would identify this as a prophecy about the theme of the last day when the LORD returns to destroy the earth and render recompense to the unrighteous. But it should be noted that what Isaiah writes in chapter 24 is consistent with what the prophet writes in other passages about this theme of the last day. By consistent, I do not mean they are identical, but that they are complementary. They are obviously about the same event (in this case, the last day) and they share the same features. Passages about the same theme “fit together.”
Another of Isaiah’s prominent themes is prophecy about Jesus’ first advent, most notably in the passages on “the suffering Servant.” The best known of these is in Isaiah 53, where we see the suffering of the Servant with dazzling clarity, but there are numerous other passages on the theme of Jesus’ first advent (His birth, His earthly ministry, and His passion, etc.) and these prophecies are consistent with one another. They “fit together” and are obviously about the same person. The fact that there is consistency within a theme also makes it easier for the reader to identify the theme. That is, the reader will have the experience of thinking, “Wait a minute. This sounds a lot like what I read elsewhere in Isaiah.”


WORLD HISTORY IS LINEAR WITH A DEFINITE END
But also, Isaiah’s view of world history is consistent throughout his prophecy and is in agreement with the rest of the Bible. That is, Isaiah sees history as linear, with a clear beginning and a definite end. Isaiah’s worldview has the LORD as the ruler of the universe He created. The LORD is in sovereign control of all events, and He directs history according to His perfect plan. Isaiah’s world is a world where the LORD is Holy, Holy, Holy (6:3) and man is ruined (6:5). The LORD is merciful, and man is in rebellion against the God who created him. Man is, therefore, subject to God’s judgment. But Isaiah also envisions the LORD sending a suffering Servant (Isaiah 53; etc.), the Messiah, who will bear their iniquities (53:11). This One will be crushed for our iniquities (53:5) and on Him the LORD will lay the iniquities of us all (53:6). Remarkably, by His scourging, we are healed (53:5).
Additionally, Isaiah’s prophecy tells of a God who is merciful to rebellious mankind. The LORD calls us to come to Him for salvation (Isaiah 55:1-3). The LORD is Redeemer, Savior, the Holy One of Israel, your Husband is your Maker, Creator, the LORD of hosts. For Isaiah, the LORD is the patient Holy One of Israel, calling rebels to repentance and inviting sinners to draw near to their God. In Isaiah’s worldview, there is redemption, forgiveness, and atonement.
Finally, a linear view of history means that there is coming a last day. Isaiah’s prophecy is full of warnings to the unrighteous, calling them to repentance and telling them of the disaster that awaits all who will not forsake their wicked ways. And these warnings are not to no purpose, for as surely as there was a beginning, there will certainly be an end. Isaiah writes about Jesus’ first advent, but he also writes about His Second Coming. There will be a last day, “that day,” when the LORD’s patience will end and will be replaced with His wrath poured out on the unrighteous. Isaiah writes of the suffering Servant coming back as the crowned and conquering King. Isaiah knows that history will end, and that end will be terrifying for those who have not rejoiced in the LORD. But for those who have known the LORD and who have been wrapped with the robe of righteousness (61:10), the last day is a day of rejoicing as they will finally and forever be redeemed by the LORD.
In summary, Isaiah is consistent in the way he presents each of his themes throughout his prophecy and his view that history is being directed to a definite end “on that day” is consistent with the clear teaching of the rest of Scripture.

In the next post, we will look at a third principle for understanding Isaiah, that of beginning our interpretation by carefully identifying the theme of the passage.

SDG                 rmb                 4/25/2022                   #520

Psalm 116:4 – I called upon the name of the LORD (Part 4)

INTRODUCTION. My fourth and final post on Psalm 116:1-4. These four verses of this psalm tell why every believer prays and how every believer was rescued. (see previous Post #518, 4/19/2022)

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!” – Psalm 116:4

Psalm 116 is an outpouring of thanks to the LORD for His amazing grace extended toward the psalmist. The LORD has taken all the initiative in rescuing this helpless sinner from his sin and from the cords of death and has dealt bountifully with him and has placed in his hand the cup of salvation. The psalm, then, is thanksgiving for the goodness of the LORD. In this post we will be meditating on the fourth verse. .

116:4 CALL UPON THE LORD – “SAVE MY LIFE!”

When we had last seen the psalmist at the end of Psalm 116:3, he was in a desperate place. Having been convicted of his sin and having realized the wrath of God that was directed upon him because of his transgressions, the writer felt the awful weight of condemnation. His sin must be punished and so, he appeared doomed. Who but himself could pay the penalty?

THEN . . . MERCY!

“Then . . .” (116:4) It is such a simple word, but in the right context, it can have life-changing significance. “Then . . .”

Then I thought to myself that the Holy One of Israel may also be merciful to me, the sinner (Luke 18:13). Then I dared to think that perhaps ‘the Lord GOD takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live’ (Ezekiel 33:11). Then I imagined that it could be that ‘while I was still helpless, Christ died for the ungodly’ (Romans 5:6). In the depths of my sin, I had looked within, but there was no salvation in me. I had looked to the Law to see if I could obtain forgiveness there, but the Law could only condemn and show me my sin. The Law’s sacrifices could not remove my sin. ‘Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil?’ (Micah 6:7). Ah, but then I turned to the LORD for His mercy. ‘I confessed my transgressions to the LORD, and You forgave the guilt of my sin’ (Psalm 32:5). Could it be that simple? Could it be that ‘If I confessed my sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9)? Then I remembered that ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Romans 10:13). And so, what would be the only reasonable thing to do?”

To call upon the LORD!

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!” – Psalm 116:4

THE CRY OF INITIAL FAITH

When I had no reason to receive mercy and deliverance, when I had lost all hope, then I called upon the name of the LORD. Out of the depths I have cried to the LORD (Psalm 130:1). I cried aloud with my voice to the LORD (Psalm 142:1). “In my distress I called upon the LORD and cried to my God for help” (Psalm 18:6). In an outburst of initial faith and with a cry to the One whom I cannot see but whom I suddenly trust and believe for my salvation, “Then I called upon the name of the LORD” (Psalm 116:4). Hopelessness is vanquished by faith, and I am compelled to call upon the name of the LORD.

And what do I cry out to Him? “O LORD, I beseech you, save my life!” Lord, rescue me from sin and death and bring me into Your kingdom! Save my life from death and Sheol!

By faith, Bartimaeus asked Jesus for the impossible, to receive his sight (Mark 10:51). By faith, the leper asked Jesus to make him clean (Matthew 8:2). By faith, Jairus begged Jesus to save his daughter from death (Mark 5:23). And Jesus responded to their faith and granted their requests.

In the same way, the sinner comes to Jesus in repentance and faith, requesting the impossible: “Save my life!” And Jesus assures us that “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). And we know from the rest of this psalm that the Lord is faithful to fulfill His promises.

Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For You have rescued my soul from death. – Psalm 116: 7-8

SUMMARY OF THE STUDY OF PSALM 116:1-4

In this brief study of Psalm 116:1-4 we have seen there are sound reasons to pray to the Lord. To those who know Him, the Lord has inclined His ear to hear their calls for help. And to those who do not know Him, the Lord has promised to hear them when they beseech Him in faith and ask Him to save their life.

SDG                 rmb                 4/20/2022                   #519