The King in Zion and the kings on earth (Psalm 2)

It is evident from studying the psalms that the arrangement of these prayers and poems in the psalter is not random but is planned for a purpose. This is certainly true of the two psalms that open the psalter. Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 are placed at the head of the book of psalms to establish the themes that will be developed throughout the rest of the book. This will be a two-post series on the first two psalms.

Back on May 24, we had explored Psalm 1. From this psalm, we learned that there are two groups of people on earth, the righteous and the unrighteous. The LORD blesses the righteous, but the wicked will be destroyed in the judgment. The rest of the book of psalms, indeed the rest of the Bible, will resound with the truth that, “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against evildoers (the unrighteous), to cut off the memory of them from the earth (Psalm 34:15-16).” Psalm 1, then, commends the righteous and warns the wicked.

PSALM 2

            This second psalm introduces us to the rightful King in Zion, the Son, who deserves all glory and honor, and tells us about the rebellion of the nations.

1 Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!”

The psalm opens with the nations in open rebellion and the peoples plotting their evil opposition. The kings and the rulers join them in their scheming against the LORD and against His Messiah (anointed). Jesus is the rightful King, the Son, and the Messiah, but we see that long before His Incarnation in Bethlehem, the unrighteous were already arrayed against Him and were prepared to reject Him. Man has been in rebellion against their Creator since the fall. In his defiance he “takes his stand against the LORD” and shakes his puny fist at the omnipotent one. He is a rebel against all constraints and desires to be rid of all God’s commandments. “Give us no moral fetters or cords of obedience!” This psalm makes clear that natural man intentionally rejects God’s rule and rejects God’s Ruler.

He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

How does the LORD respond to man’s defiance? The LORD laughs at man’s pitiful rebellion because man’s defiance is of no consequence. But while the opposition of the nations cannot possibly threaten the LORD, their opposition does serve to anger the LORD. Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), and we have already seen that the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:6). No one defies the LORD or violates His holiness with impunity. There will surely be a just recompense on the unrighteous. Remember, “the wicked will not stand in the judgment (Psalm 1:5).” But to the rebellious nations the LORD has the final word: “I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.” And who is this King who has been installed in Zion? “Who is this King of glory? The LORD (Jesus), strong and mighty. The LORD (Jesus), mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8).” This King is Jesus.

“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”

Notice that this next stanza is spoken by the Son. The Son tells of the decree of the LORD. Again, we ask, “Who is the Son?” Can there be any question? There is only one Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, it is Christ who is speaking in this stanza. We read that the Son is begotten of the LORD. In John 3:16, we read that “God gave His only begotten Son, (Jesus)” to the world for eternal life. We also read here of both of Jesus’ roles, as Savior of the righteous and as Judge of the unrighteous. In His decree, to the Son the LORD “gives the nations as Your inheritance and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.” “The nations” and “the ends of the earth” are people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation that will praise the Lamb for all eternity (Revelation 7:9) in heaven, those who have been gathered through the preaching of the gospel. But there will also be those whom the Son “shall break with a rod of iron and shatter like earthenware.” These are the unrighteous who will be cast into the lake of fire in the judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).

10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
11 Worship the LORD with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

The psalm concludes with a sober warning. “Do homage to the Son” or “you will perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled.” The judgment will come suddenly like a flood, and then there will be no room for repentance. Your doom will be forever sealed. Now you have received warning, and today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to do homage to the Son, for tomorrow may be too late. But if you bow the knee to the Son and if you do homage to Jesus, you will receive His full blessing:

“How blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

SDG                 rmb                 5/30/2021                   #409

The righteous and the unrighteous (Psalm 1)

In studying the psalms, it is evident that the arrangement of these prayers and poems is not random but is planned for a purpose. This is certainly true of the two psalms that open the psalter. Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 are placed at the head of the book of psalms to establish the themes that will be developed throughout the rest of the book. This will be a two-post series on these first two psalms.

PSALM 1

Ever since Adam’s first sin in the Garden, mankind has been divided into the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore, from the beginning of history, there have been two, and only two, groups of humanity, the righteous and the unrighteous. All humanity is included in these two groups. You are either righteous or you are unrighteous, and there is no exception.

Psalm 1 explores the significance of this fact. We have before us the deeds of the righteous and the destiny of the unrighteous. If your life does not evidence the fruit of the righteous, then you will experience the fate of the unrighteous. Built into this psalm is the implicit call to evaluate your own life. Does your life reveal that you are among the righteous or the unrighteous? If among the unrighteous, will you heed the warning? The psalm certainly commends the righteous, but it also certainly warns the unrighteous that they are in great peril.

THE RIGHTEOUS

The psalm begins by pouring blessing and accolade on the righteous for the company he avoids (Psalm 1:1). He does not allow the deeds and the lifestyle of the unrighteous to influence him to ungodly behavior. Therefore, he will not walk with the wicked nor stand with sinners nor sit with scoffers. Notice that the righteous man is called blessed for that choice: “How blessed is the man.”

How, then, does the righteous spend his time? The righteous person delights in God’s word (Psalm 1:2), reading the Bible not with a sense of drudgery or duty, but with a sense of pleasure and privilege. “Here are the very words of the living God and so I will dwell and feast as on my necessary food.” The truth of the Word gives the righteous all things pertaining to life and godliness.

For the one who does not walk with the wicked but delights in the Law of the LORD, there is a fourfold promise of blessing. He will be firmly planted, his life will yield rich fruit, he will have a full life, and everything that he does prospers (Psalm 1:3).

THE WICKED (UNRIGHTEOUS)

“The wicked are not so.”

The contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous is abrupt and absolute. For the wicked, for those who remain unrighteous in the sight of God, there is no blessing, either now or in the future. Instead of a tree firmly planted, they are chaff blown away (Psalm 1:4), here today, gone tomorrow, and forever forgotten. Their legacy is like smoke in a gale and their memory is a morning mist.

Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. – Psalm 1:5

But while their impact on earth is forgotten, their lawless deeds are vividly remembered in heaven. There is a judgment coming when all unrighteousness will receive a just recompense. In God’s final judgment, the wicked will be declared guilty and forever condemned, and will be cast headlong into eternal torment. “The wicked will not stand in the judgment.” All unforgiven sinners will be excluded from the assembly of the righteous in heaven.

Again, the LORD makes a distinction between the righteous and the wicked.

“The LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” – Psalm 1:6

The LORD blesses the path of the righteous and the life of the righteous on earth, and the LORD will welcome the righteous into heaven forever. But “The way of the wicked will perish.” The word “perish” does not speak of oblivion or of annihilation but speaks of losing all sense of any good or mercy or peace forever while never being delivered from judgment. “Perish” is a word intended to evoke dread. “Perish” is a wrath word and a judgment word and a retribution word, a word of ultimate misery and hopelessness of relief. The LORD blesses the life of the righteous, but He curses the way of the unrighteous.

LESSON FOR THE RIGHTEOUS

Who are the righteous? Who are these who can proclaim before God their righteousness? The righteous are all those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. These have been declared righteous through faith in Jesus Christ and their faith has been reckoned to them as righteousness. For the righteous, this psalm commends their ongoing obedience and promises them blessings from the LORD.

LESSON FOR THE UNRIGHTEOUS

And what if you realize you are among the unrighteous? That is, what can you do if your deeds have been wicked, and you have long walked contentedly along the path with the sinners? Is there any remedy for the one who longs to escape the judgment and to stand in the assembly of the righteous? O, hear the good news! Salvation is promised to anyone who will repent of their sins and who will bow down to Jesus Christ as Lord of their life. “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).” Anyone who trusts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior has passed from death to life (John 5:24) and is, at the moment of initial faith, counted as righteous.

If you would be righteous, you must believe in Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 5/24/2021

Can wisdom produce purpose? (Ecclesiastes 2:12-23)

Is there any value in wisdom? And if so, how is that value obtained?

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon mentions “wisdom” or “wise” more than fifty times, yet never does he find any satisfaction or peace or joy in wisdom. For Solomon, wisdom is a god who cannot speak (Psalm 115:5), a scarecrow in a cucumber field (Jeremiah 10:5). For wisdom you can seek, but wisdom cannot speak. Solomon has put all his chips on the spot called “WISDOM,” and when wisdom fails him (Ecclesiastes 2:12-23), his only course of action is to hate life (2:17). Solomon believed that wisdom could promise him purpose, but that is not true. Wisdom does indeed have value, but the value of wisdom is only available to the one who already has a purpose.

PURPOSE IS THE MAIN THEME OF ECCLESIASTES

The study of Ecclesiastes has long fascinated me. Although a relatively short book, it is nevertheless profound in the questions the author asks about life and about death and about meaning. I have concluded that the dominant theme of this wisdom book is the search for purpose. Until a person lays hold of their God-given purpose in life, they will be forever restless and dissatisfied.

In Ecclesiastes 2:21, we read

When there is a person who has labored with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then gives his legacy to one who has not labored for it; this too is futility and a great evil.

Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill only yield a legacy to one who has purpose, because these are mere tools to be used to reach a goal. Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill are never an end in themselves, but are deployed to fulfill a meaningful desire. Of what value is all the knowledge in the world if that knowledge is not useful in accomplishing your purpose?

The main point is this: Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill can never yield purpose. These will support a purpose, but they can never produce a purpose. For all his immense wisdom, King Solomon missed this point, and so do many others. All the resources in the world will not benefit the one who has no God-given purpose.

PURPOSE MUST PRECEDE WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE AND LABOR

Purpose precedes labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill as automobile precedes gasoline.

A map is only necessary when you have an intended destination. Just so, you need only employ wisdom when you are moving toward a previously chosen purpose.

How do you set your GPS if you have not decided where you are going? And the world’s best GPS will never determine your destination. In the same way, you must already have a purpose if you are to get any value out of wisdom.

It is “vanity” and a “striving after wind” to believe that labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill can give you a fulfilling purpose.

It is foolish to ask a caterpillar or a turtle to fly. Just so, it is foolish to ask labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill to produce your purpose. You are asking the impossible. It is not a question of discipline or effort or determination. It is a matter of ability. The most disciplined turtle will never fly. The turtle may plummet but fly he never will. Just so, all the labor and wisdom and knowledge and skill in the world will never produce purpose.

SOLOMON MISSED IT

Solomon invested all his time and effort and determination to develop his wisdom and knowledge, and only when he had grown old does he realize that, without a God-given purpose, all his most keenly developed wisdom is mere “vanity” and “a striving after wind.”

How do we make sure that we do not make the same mistake that Solomon made? How do we make sure that, as we approach the end of our days, we do not decide that we hate life (Ecclesiastes 2:17), and that “everything is futility and a striving after wind?”

A LIFE OF PURPOSE

Avoiding a meaningless life begins with bowing down before the Lord Jesus Christ and crying out to Him for salvation. He who would have a life of purpose must first embrace the God who gives purpose. So first, repent and believe.

All those who come to the Lord Jesus in repentance and in faith have received a new purpose for their life. As a believer, you now have a Bible which guides you into new obedience so that you glorify God with your redeemed life. You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, so you are now able to hear God as He speaks to you and guides you. With all the rest of God’s redeemed people, you have the purpose of glorifying God in all you do. All believers have this purpose, and this purpose is fulfilling and satisfying and lifelong.

But the Lord who saved you is also the Lord who saved you for His unique purpose. That is, every believer has been chosen and saved for a purpose that no one else can accomplish (Ephesians 2:10). Among the great joys of being a follower of Jesus is finding that unique place where you sense that you are fulfilling God’s unique purpose for your life. After years or even decades of searching and sanctification, the Lord has sovereignly placed you in a place of great usefulness and service. I believe this is what “purpose” means, to find that place where God is most glorified by the life that we live for Him.

SDG                 rmb                 5/20/2021

The elect, the believing, and the one the Father draws (John 6:39, 6:40, 6:44)

NOTE: This article is a detailed study of three verses from John chapter 6 about those whom Jesus will raise up on the last day in the Resurrection. The result is fascinating, as my study revealed how God the Father ensures that all His elect will certainly come to believe in Jesus, the Son, and be raised up on the last day. I hope you find it an edifying study. rmb

Who are the ones that Jesus will raise up on the last day?

John 6:39 – “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing but raise it up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

Who are “all that He has given Me?” These are all the elect (righteous) of all time whom God has chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). These have been given to the Son by the Father.

What will Jesus do with all those whom the Father has given to Him? He will raise them all up on the last day. This “raise up” is certainly the Resurrection. Jesus even adds emphasis by saying that, of all that the Father has given Him, He will lose nothing. All the elect will be raised up on the last day. All the elect who are living will be resurrected, and all the elect who have died will be resurrected. Jesus makes no distinction between the living and the dead in terms of whom He will raise on the last day. “All that He has given Me” will be raised up on the last day. Thus, the Resurrection of all the elect occurs on the last day.

John 6:40 – For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

COMMENTS: At first glance, it might seem that Jesus is just repeating Himself, but that is not the case. Jesus is teaching that the Resurrection of the righteous is two sides of the same coin. In John 6:39, our Lord stated that He will raise up “all that the Father has given Him” on the last day, and it is clear that the expression “all that He has given Me” refers to all the elect. Thus, in John 6:39, Jesus is talking about God’s sovereign decree of election and declares that He will raise up all the elect on the last day. But in John 6:40, we are looking at the righteous through the lens of believing unto salvation.

Notice that in both verses we read of the “will of the Father.”

In John 6:39, “the will of Him who sent Me” is that Jesus will raise up on the last day all that the Father has given Him (all the elect). This is the Resurrection of all the righteous.

In John 6:40, “the will of My Father” is that Jesus will raise up on the last day everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him. And this is the Resurrection of all the righteous.

ALL THAT GOD HAS GIVEN JESUS” EQUALS “ALL WHO WILL BELIEVE IN JESUS

We know that the will of the Father will always come to pass (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11). Now, since it is the will of the Father, we know that all that He has given Jesus will be raised up on the last day (6:39), and, since it is also the will of the Father, we know that everyone who believes in Jesus will be raised up on the last day (6:40). What Jesus is teaching here is that “all that the Father has given the Son (6:39)” is identical with “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him (6:40).” Everyone who will ever behold the Son and believe in Him unto eternal life was given by the Father to the Son in eternity past, and all whom the Father has given to the Son will behold the Son and believe in Him unto eternal life. In simpler terms, we could say, “All the elect equals all who will ever believe.”

But this presents us with a difficult question. “How can the Father make sure that all those whom He has given to the Son will actually believe in the Son?” For election does not save. While it is true that God chose us, the elect (all the righteous), in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), it is also true that a sinner must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. So, again, how do the elect become those who believe in Jesus unto eternal life? Consider John 6:44.

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

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

COMMENTS: What does it mean in this verse “to come to Jesus?” For Jesus says, “No one can come to Me.” In most contexts, but especially in the gospel of John, we should understand “come to Me” as meaning “believe in Me,” because to come to Jesus has no significance unless the one who comes to Him also believes in Him.

But Jesus says, “No one can come to Me unless. . .” This word, “can,” speaks about ability. In fact, the original Greek could be written, “No one has the ability to come to Me.” In other words, “It is not possible for anyone to come to Me.” Then, if we added our interpretation, it would read, “No one has the ability to believe in Me.” This is an alarming verse, but we must remember that Jesus added a condition. “No one has the ability to believe in Me UNLESS the Father who sent Me draws Him; and I will raise Him up on the last day.”

From this, I have three ideas:

  1. Since no one can come (has the ability to come) to Jesus unless the Father draws them, it means only those that the Father draws will come to Jesus. (By the way, we can see here God’s sovereignty in salvation. If He does not draw you, you are not saved.)
  2. On the last day, Jesus will raise up all those whom the Father draws. John 6:44 implies, “If the Father draws them, I (Jesus) will raise them up on the last day.”
  3. From our previous work in John 6:39 and 6:40, we already know those whom Jesus will raise up on the last day. From John 6:39, we know that, on the last day, Jesus will raise up all the elect. And from John 6:40, we know that, on the last day, Jesus will raise up all those who believe in Him.

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER

I know that I have been going very slowly through this passage, but now we are ready to put the pieces together. Earlier in our study, we asked the question, ““How can the Father make sure that all those whom He has given to the Son will actually believe in the Son?” Then we asked that question another way, “How do the elect become those who believe in Jesus unto eternal life?”

Now in our study of John 6:44 we have the answer: The Father draws all those that He has given to the Son so that they all come to the Son to behold the Son and to believe in the Son.

Here is a simpler way to understand these verses: Jesus will raise up all the elect on the last day, and Jesus will raise up all those who behold the Son and believe in the Son, and Jesus will raise up all those the Father draws.

So, the Father draws (John 6:44) all the elect (6:39) to the Son so that they behold the Son and believe in the Son (6:40).

            SDG                 rmb                 4/28/2021

Justified by faith and justified by works (James 2:14-26)

“Does the Bible teach that we are justified by faith alone, or does the Bible teach that we are justified by our works?” This question was one of the central issues of the Protestant Reformation and remains the main dividing line between evangelical Christians and Catholics. “Justification by faith alone” is a non-negotiable doctrine of the Christian faith because it is a central teaching of the New Testament. On the other hand, a major doctrine of Catholicism is that the Catholic is saved by faith and works. This teaching was firmly established as Catholic doctrine at the Council of Trent and is still the doctrine of the Catholic Church today. Thus, the two positions contradict one another. Justification is either by faith alone or it is by faith and human works, but both positions cannot be true.

A PROBLEM PASSAGE?

And this brings us to a passage in the New Testament book of “James” that seems to create a conundrum, because James explicitly states in James 2:24,

“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

Now, it is a fact that the overwhelming majority of New Testament teachings on justification explicitly state that justification is by faith. “Works” are either expressly rejected within the passage or are prohibited by the context of the passage. (A list of these passages is given at the end of this article.) But now we see that this passage in James 2 seems to declare that justification is by works. In light of this verse and this passage, Catholics say that their doctrine of justification by faith plus works has biblical warrant.

Is this the case? Do Paul and James contradict one another in the fundamental doctrine of justification? Is there a contradiction in the New Testament, indeed, a major contradiction? Is the Bible ambiguous on how a sinner is justified? We will need to investigate this passage in James 2:14-26 to see if these things are so.

TWO DIFFERENT QUESTIONS

First, the good news is that there is no contradiction in the Bible’s teaching on justification. The Bible is the Holy-Spirit inspired, God-breathed infallible word of the living God and, as such, has no contradictions. The Bible is the Christian’s final source for all matters of faith and practice and is trustworthy. Therefore, we know from the outset that Paul and James do not contradict one another. But, having said that, we must nevertheless carefully consider this passage in James 2 and see why there is no contradiction with the rest of the New Testament.

Second, a reading of James 2:14-26 will reveal that James is addressing the situation where the person in view already has faith. James’ teaching in this passage requires that the person under consideration already professes faith in Jesus. In fact, the entire passage is predicated on a claim of saving faith. So, in this passage James is not addressing the question, “How does a person receive salvation?” Rather, this passage addresses the question, “Is the faith that you claim you have received a saving faith that manifests itself in works keeping with salvation?” The answers to these two questions cannot contradict each other because they answer two entirely different questions.

JAMES AND PAUL ON JUSTIFICATION

Paul’s teaching on justification is almost entirely focused on answering the first question above, “How is a sinner justified unto salvation?” Paul consistently and repeatedly answers that question with, “The sinner is justified by faith (alone).”

By contrast, in James 2:14-26, James is dealing with the second question; namely, “How is the faith that you claim justified (proven)?” James answers that question with, “The claim of faith must be justified (proven) by your works.” So, it may be said that James is, indeed, teaching “justification by works.” James is teaching that saving faith is “justified” by a changed life full of “works,” full of evidence that you are saved.

With that understanding as a background, the difficulties of James 2:14-26 disappear, and the passage flows easily.

INTERPRETING THE PASSAGE

  • 2:14-17 – James gives an example of faith without works. “What use is that (2:16)?” The expected answer is, “It’s not worth anything!” “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead.” A works-less faith is dead.
  • 2:18 – The difficulty of a claim of faith is that anyone can make such a claim. It may be a justified claim, or it may be an empty claim, but there is no way to tell based on the claim alone. Ah, but show me your godly works, and show me your obedience, and show me your fruit in keeping with repentance, and I will believe your claim of faith.
  • 2:19 – You can make a claim of faith and the demons can make a claim of faith, but if your claim is not justified by visible godly works, your claim will net you a demon’s reward.
  • 2:20 – James is now going to give illustrations of those who were justified by saving faith, because “faith without works is useless.”
  • 2:21-23 – Abraham proved the immensity of his faith by obediently being willing to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. The faith that had justified Abraham and that was reckoned to him as righteousness many years before (Genesis 15:6); that faith was justified and perfected when Abraham offered up Isaac on Moriah.
  • You see that Abraham was justified by faith, but Abraham’s faith was justified by his works.
  • 2:24 – “You see that a man is justified by works and not by (a claim of) faith alone.”
  • 2:25 – Even Rahab the harlot proved that she had saving faith because she risked her life by sending the spies out by another way. In this way, her invisible saving faith was made visible. So, she was justified by her works.
  • 2:26 – James concludes his argument, “Faith without works is dead.”

APPLICATION

            The first application of this teaching is to assure the believer that James and Paul are not at odds and the Bible is not unclear about justification. James and Paul are addressing two different questions and are using “justification” in two different ways.

            The second application would be as a possible Bible study opportunity for one of your Catholic friends. If your friend was willing to listen to this teaching from James AND also listen to the teaching on justification by faith unto salvation, you may be able to use this as an evangelistic opportunity.

            SDG                 rmb                 4/26/2021

It is faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.

“Justification by faith” verses or passages:
Romans 3:22, 24, 28, 30; 4:2-6; 5:1; 9:30-33; Galatians 2:16, 21; 3:6, 8, 11; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 11:6, 7, 17-19; 1 Peter 1:5, 9

The Cage (Romans 6:20-21)

Going to a college reunion can be an enlightening experience. You get the chance to see people you haven’t seen in thirty years and see what they have done with the last thirty years of drawing breath and taking nourishment on this planet. You may hear, “Oh, wow! You look just the same as you did thirty years ago!” Now, that is probably a bold-faced lie, but it is received with grace, because that is just what you say at college reunions. Another phrase that you may hear at the reunion weekend goes like this, “My, you haven’t changed at all!” This comment would alarm me. “What? You don’t see any change after thirty years? You mean that you still see the same arrogant, profane buffoon that you knew thirty years ago?” I would hope that the comment would sound more like, “You are not the same person you were.”

But the stark reality is that most people do not change. They remain the same “arrogant, profane buffoon” their entire lives. A more wrinkled version of the same person shows up at the forty-year reunion that attended the twenty-year affair. No growth. No change. The question we want to address with this article is, “Why do people not change?”

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit (“fruit”) were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. – Romans 6:20-21

SLAVES OF SIN

The Bible presents the truth that people are “slaves of sin.” Here in Romans 6:20, the apostle Paul states the truth that, “When you (the believers in Jesus) were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” What that means is that, as a slave of sin, I had no desire to change, and I had no ability to change.

NO DESIRE TO CHANGE

Before I trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I was a slave of sin. I did not know that I was a slave of sin, but slave I was, nevertheless. According to Romans 6:20, I did, however, have some freedom. I was “free in regard to righteousness.” That actually is a strong indictment. “Free in regard to righteousness.” This basically means I was free OF righteousness and free FROM righteousness. At that time, there was not a single shred of righteousness in me to restrain my sin. I was a willing slave of sin and zealously did my master’s bidding. This does not mean I was always actively pursuing sin, but it does mean that I was never pursuing righteousness. Since I was “free in regard to righteousness,” I exercised my freedom by carefully avoiding any taint of righteousness. All this says that one reason I did not change was that I had no desire to change. I enjoyed being unrighteous, so why would I want to change?

NO ABILITY TO CHANGE

But there was another, much more powerful and fundamental reason why I did not change. Because I was a slave of sin, I had no ability to change. The foundational reason I did not change was that I could not change. It was not a question of my lack of desire, it was a question of my utter inability. I was a slave of sin, and there was no one to set me free. I was trapped in the cage that Adam’s sin had built, and I did not have the power to break free. My willpower might allow me to modify my behavior, but the cage of sin prevented me from changing. The same broken man was in a new location or in a different situation, but the same man, nevertheless. This is what it means to be a slave of sin and to be free in regard to righteousness.

And the Bible declares that every unsaved man or woman, boy or girl is trapped in this cage, and you are unable to free yourself. You may be able to modify your behavior for a while, but you cannot leave the cage. You remain helpless, a slave of sin unless and until someone with power opens the cage and sets you free from your slavery.

IF THE SON SETS YOU FREE

There is only one Person with the power to free you from your cage of sin so that you can begin to make fundamental changes, and His name is Jesus Christ.

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.  36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.John 8:34, 36

For those who have trusted Christ as Lord and Savior, the cage has been crushed and the chains of slavery to sin have been shattered. Now in Christ Jesus, those who were slaves of sin who loathed righteousness have become slaves of righteousness who loathe sin. Those who are in Christ are transformed into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Transformed! What does that mean? Changed! Transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We are being transformed (changed) from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). And how can they change? They change because believers in Jesus have been delivered from the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:15) so that they hunger for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).

Jesus Christ changes those who come to Him for salvation. First, He sets them free from the power of sin so that they are no longer slaves to sin. But He also gives them a new heart that desires holiness. So, the believer in Jesus has the ability to change and they have the desire to change. And so, they change.

Has the Son set you free? Have you changed or are you still caged?

If Jesus has made you free so that you are free indeed, your next college reunion will be an interesting experience. ““I don’t remember you, but I do remember a guy that looked a lot like you. But it wasn’t you. No, it definitely wasn’t you.”

SDG                 rmb                 4/22/2021

The danger of merely tasting Christ (Hebrews 6:4-6)

In a recent post (April 9), we began a consideration of Hebrew 6:1-8, a passage that talks about the danger of “tasting” all the truths of the gospel and hearing all the glories of Christ without ever coming to true faith in Christ. This post will continue in that vein.

A SUMMARY OF HEBREWS 6:4-6

The best way to understand Hebrews 6:4-6 is as a strong warning about the danger of hearing the gospel of salvation and yet never actually coming to faith in Jesus. The author suspects that some in the fellowship are still unsaved because they remain on the fence, considering the claims of Christ but refusing to make a full commitment to Jesus. Here in this passage, the author warns that, if you delay long over the call to faith, and if you persist in refusing Him who calls, then there may come a time when your heart will grow cold and when the gospel no longer compels you to respond. If you merely taste the things of Christ without confessing Him as Lord and Savior, you may know that experience where “it is impossible to renew you again to repentance (6:6).” At that place, your eternal doom is forever sealed. Tasting Christ without trusting Christ will be regretted forever in hell. So, this is a very sober passage.

TASTING, BUT NOT BELIEVING – HEBREWS 6:4-6

The full gospel had come to the readers of this letter. “God had testified to the gospel by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit (2:4).” They had been called to enter God’s rest (3:7-4:13). They had heard the message about Jesus, their great High Priest (4:14-5:10). The gospel had been proclaimed such that they had heard the truth about Christ and about His salvation. How had they responded?

“For in the case of those who had once been enlightened (6:4)

These had heard the gospel proclaimed, probably many times. Upon hearing it, they had been enlightened. They had become aware that Jesus, the Son of God from heaven, had come and died on the cross, and risen on the third day. But, having heard the gospel, they have not believed the gospel and called on the Lord. (Romans 10:13-14) They are enlightened, but still unbelieving.

“and have tasted of the heavenly gift (6:4)

The “heavenly gift” is the gift of the One who came from heaven. The heavenly gift is Christ Himself. But Christ is not merely to be tasted but is to be received as Lord and Savior (John 1:12). “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves (John 6:53).” A tasting can never save. You must love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength (Matthew 22:37).

“and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit (6:4)”

I do not know what it mean to be a “partaker” of the Holy Spirit I know what it means to be sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Word teaches about being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). There are certainly gifts of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). These verses describe a vital, saving relationship with the Holy Spirit, but being a “partaker” talks about an association or a familiarity, but does not speak of a saving relationship. The true believer is empowered and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, not merely a “partaker” of Him.

“and have tasted the good word of God

These people had been in the assembly of the church and they had heard the pastors and the elders teach the Bible, and they had been moved. “Ah, surely here is power and truth! Yes, these men can preach!” They had enjoyed the Bible teaching, but they had not been changed by the Word. They tasted the Word, but they did not embrace the Word. If the Word did not agree with their opinions or desires, they just tuned it out or rejected it. A taste of the good word of God will not cleanse a filthy heart or open blind eyes.

“and have tasted the powers of the age to come

There were some people in the church who has seen signs and wonders and miracles (2:4) performed before their very eyes. They had tasted the powers of the age to come, but their interest in Christ remained lukewarm. 

Yes, they had been exposed to everything about the glory of God and the salvation offered in the Lord Jesus Christ. They had heard it all, and yet they remained unconverted. They still had not unreservedly run to Jesus. They had not bowed the knee to the Jesus and confessed Him as Lord. They were comfortable with these ideas and enjoyed associating with those in the church, but nevertheless they remained once-born.

THE DANGER OF MERELY TASTING

There is a danger in continuing to taste of salvation without coming all the way to full repentance. Today the word of the gospel may have an appeal and there is in your heart a curiosity about Christ, maybe even an attraction to Christ. You enjoy being in the company of believers and the Bible is an interesting book. You even had the thought, “You know, maybe I’ll become a Christian today.” You are tasting Christ, but you are not trusting in Christ.

For in the case of those who have tasted “and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” – Hebrews 6:6

But the danger of merely tasting Christ without embracing Christ as Lord and Savior is that one day, suddenly, you “have fallen away.” Suddenly, one day the gospel is foolishness to you. In a moment, your curiosity about Jesus has vanished like smoke. All of a sudden, you despise the people in the church and the Bible is a dead book. Your heart has gone from lukewarm to ice cold. You “have fallen away” and the collapse is both irreversible and complete.

Most chilling of all, your eternal destiny is now sealed, for if you “have fallen away, it is impossible to renew you again to repentance.” You are doomed to be damned. Repentance is now impossible. Hebrews 10:26-27 gives this warning:

If you have fallen away “after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

You have heard the gospel and have heard of the offer of salvation in Christ, but you delayed too long, and now the offer has been forever withdrawn. Now all that awaits you is a “terrifying expectation of judgment.”

SEVEREST WARNING POSSIBLE

Because of the eternal danger of falling away, the author of this letter is giving the severest warning possible. If you fall away, the opportunity for repentance is eternally lost. If you fall away, you can never be saved. Therefore, come to Christ now!

“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart (Hebrews 4:7).” Act now! Come to faith in Jesus now! The Lord will not call forever. There is an urgency to your response.

Do not hesitate until the call of the Holy Spirit has ceased. Then you will be like Esau, who trifled with the blessing too long, and then finally could not obtain it for any price (Hebrews 12:17). The gospel was proclaimed to you, but you refused to respond. Now your heart is cold, and the gospel is foolishness. The moment is forever lost, and it is impossible to renew you again to repentance (Hebrews 6:6).

When you sense the attraction of the gospel, when you feel the draw of the Holy Spirit, then cry out to Christ for salvation. Be like Bartimaeus, who knew that eternity hung in the balance (Mark 10:46-52). Jesus Christ is passing by! Call to Him now. Hesitate and He will be gone, and you will never have this opportunity again.

Do not be those who receive (meaning, “hear”) the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1). “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation (6:2).” Do not be among those who heard the good news but did not heed the good news (Romans 10:16). You have heard the message. What will you do? “Be saved from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40)!”

SDG                 rmb                 4/19/2021

Hearing a blind beggar’s cry (Mark 10:47)

For Bartimaeus, that day had begun like every other day. The blind man had been led down to his spot beside the Jericho road, sitting in the dirt and the dust and crying out for alms to passersby whom he could not see, most of whom intentionally tried not to see him. Few of them knew his name and fewer still had pity on him. After all, why should they be concerned about a blind beggar sitting by the road? Yes, it seemed like this would be another ordinary day.

But something was different about that day, for down the road coming out from Jericho was a large crowd, all apparently following the Man who was walking on ahead of them. The crowd was talking excitedly among themselves, as crowds do, but they were also listening intently to the words being spoken by the Teacher, the Rabbi who was leading the crowd.

Large crowds were not common on that road out of Jericho, so Bartimaeus asked about the Rabbi. Who is He?

And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” – Mark 10:47

It would be difficult to find a less significant person in all of Israel than this blind beggar in the dust of the Jericho road, whose lot in life was to cry out for alms. And it would be impossible to find a more significant Person in all of human history than Jesus, the Son of David, the Son of God sent from heaven “to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).” And at this moment, this most significant of men was fixed on accomplishing the most significant work in human history as He aimed for Jerusalem and His appointment with a cross.

Nevertheless, blind Bartimaeus “kept crying out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” – Mark 10:48

Could Jesus even hear the blind beggar’s cry above the din of the crowd? And even if He could, would He pay any attention? Why would He pay any attention? But Jesus does hear the beggar’s cry.

And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” – Mark 10:49

Jesus interrupts His journey to Jerusalem and His mission of dying as a sacrifice for sin to call a dirty, blind beggar to Himself. What manner of Man is this (Matthew 8:27)? Bartimaeus “jumped up and came to Jesus (10:50),” and then the Son of God gave Bartimaeus a blank check.

“What do you want Me to do for you?” – Mark 10:51

Jesus put no limitations on what could be requested, because there are no limitations on what He can supply. In essence, Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “Ask Me according to your faith.”   Then, as an act of pure faith,

the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight! – Mark 10:51

As only Jesus could do, He gave the blind beggar sight, then continued on His way to the cross with a new disciple following behind Him.

THE MESSAGE OF BARTIMAEUS

Why is this story of Bartimaeus in our Bible? It is here because all of us are born into this world as insignificant blind beggars, and we figuratively sit in the dust beside the road begging for mercy from passersby. Like blind Bartimaeus, we cannot change our situation or fix ourselves. Every day is basically the same as the last one, and we wait for someone or something that can give us hope of change.

Like Bartimaeus, we are waiting for Jesus the Nazarene. We are waiting for someone to tell us about Jesus, Son of David, who can give sight to the spiritually blind and who can give life to the spiritually dead. We are waiting for Jesus, the Man with divine power, to have mercy on us, to call us to Himself, and to allow us to follow Him forever.

For all those who know Jesus as Lord and Savior, you, like Bartimaeus, have a “that day” when you met Jesus. On “that day,” when the Lord Jesus came near, you cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And on “that day,” Jesus heard your cry and stopped and said, “Call them here.” When you realized that He was calling for you, yes, for YOU, you threw aside your cloak, and jumped up and came to Jesus.

Jesus said to you, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

“Lord, save me! Forgive me of my sins! Make me one of Your disciples. Let me walk with You.”

Then Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.”

So, that is one reason why this story of Bartimaeus is in our Bible. It gives a picture of who we are as fallen, sinful humans and how we can come to Jesus and be saved.

SDG                 rmb                 4/8/2021

Bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20) – Part 2

A recent post was on this same verse as we were examining doctrinal implications of this text from the apostle Paul. “What truths does 1 Cor. 6:20 reinforce or establish?”

For you have been bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.

The last post focused on “BOUGHT WITH A PRICE,” and from this, we saw that we could be confident about our salvation because Christ is the One who bought us. The verse indirectly teaches that, having been purchased by Christ’s blood, the believer can be assured that they will certainly persevere to heaven.

In this post, we will focus on the “YOU;” that is, we will focus on who was bought with the purchase price of Christ’s blood on the cross. Who is included in this transaction?

To review from last time, this verse describes what we might call a commercial transaction. There is a buyer, there is the item purchased, and there is the purchase price paid. In 1 Cor. 6:20, the buyer was Jesus Christ, and the purchase price was His death on the cross. Now the key question: Who did Christ buy with His death on the cross? A thoughtful reading of the verse makes it clear that the Corinthian believers were bought with the price of Christ’s death on the cross. Because they were bought with a price, they are obligated to “glorify God in their body.”

We need to pause here to think about what we have discovered so far. Paul states as fact that these Corinthian believers “were bought with a price.” But how does Paul know these people “were bought with a price?” Paul knows they “were bought with a price” because they are believers who have placed their faith in Christ and have thus been saved. Paul is not writing to the general population of Corinth letting them know that they “were bought with a price,” the price of Christ’s death on the cross. Paul has absolutely no warrant to write to anyone or to tell anyone that they “were bought with a price” unless that person manifests faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, because the only ones we know “were bought with a price” are those who have placed their faith in Jesus and thus have been saved. If there was no evident faith, the assumption would be that they were not bought with a price.

From this, it is obvious that the “default” for anyone is to assume that they were not bought with a price, for why would Paul make this grand pronouncement that the believers in Corinth “were bought with a price,” and why would he make the emphatic point that these believers were therefore obligated to glorify God in their bodies, if everyone were bought with a price when Christ died on the cross?

From this we can draw some doctrinal truths.

  • All those who have believed in the Lord Jesus and have thus been saved were bought with the price of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.
  • That a person was “bought with a price” is necessary for salvation.
  • The “default” for anyone is to assume that they were not bought with a price. It is only the manifestation of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that reveals that this person was actually bought with a price.

We have answered some important questions already, but the most controversial one remains. We have said that being bought with a price is necessary for salvation. That is, the sinner must have their sin atoned for by Jesus Christ or they cannot be saved. But there is another question, and that is, “Does the atonement of Jesus Christ guarantee salvation?” Another way of asking this is, “If a person was ‘bought with a price,’ will they certainly be saved?” That is, “Does Jesus save those for whom He atones?” There are many who answer these questions with an emphatic “Yes!” It is impossible to separate the atonement from salvation. Opposed to this view, there are others who maintain that Jesus atoned for everyone when He died on the cross, but only those who believe are saved. These people would acknowledge that atonement is necessary for salvation, but they would say that, just because Christ died for your sins, you have no guarantee of salvation. Christ died on the cross to atone for all sin and for every sin, but only those who believe are saved.

To help answer this dilemma, I offer the following example:

AN ENGAGEMENT RING EXAMPLE

When I had decided that I wanted Lisa to be my wife, I went to the jewelry store for “a commercial transaction.” I looked over the available rings and carefully selected the engagement ring that I wanted for Lisa. There were many possible rings, but I chose THAT one specific ring. I could have bought any ring that was for sale, assuming I could afford it. Or I could have bought several rings, again assuming I could afford them. I did not do that. Of all the diamond rings in the world, I chose that one particular ring, and then I bought the ring that I had chosen with the expensive purchase price. Once the transaction had been completed, most importantly, I left the store with my purchase. I was not going to pay an exorbitant price for a diamond engagement ring and then leave the ring on the counter! It would be absurd to choose a diamond ring and pay thousands of dollars for the ring and then not actually possess the ring. No! When I paid the purchase price for the ring, the ring was mine. (And now the ring is Lisa’s.) But the sequence here in my “commercial transaction” is important. I chose the ring, I bought the ring, and I possessed the ring. Chose, bought, owned. Every ring I chose, I bought, and every ring I bought, left the store in my possession. Also, there was not one single ring that I bought that did not leave the store in my possession. In other words, I did not pay an extravagant price for any ring that I left on the counter in the store. Every ring I bought was mine. That is just the nature of a commercial transaction.

In the same way that, when I paid the price for the engagement ring, the engagement ring was mine, so when Christ bought certain people at the price of His death on the cross, those certain people belonged to Christ. They will be saved and will not perish (John 6:37-40). “Does the atonement of Jesus Christ guarantee salvation?” Emphatic “Yes!” “If a person was ‘bought with a price,’ will they certainly be saved?” Emphatic “Yes!” All the ones that Christ has bought with the price of His death on the cross will certainly be saved.

On the other hand, those who hold that “everyone was bought” see Christ like the buyer of engagement rings who went to the jewelry store and paid the exorbitant price for the engagement ring, but he never took the ring out of the store. In fact, the illustration could really be taken further, because, in this view, Christ paid for all the rings in the store, and yet He did not leave with any. But does this make any sense? Who pays for a house, but never actually takes possession of it? Who pays for a car, but never drives it off the lot? Does Christ spill His blood on Calvary without ever actually saving anyone? Does Christ’s blood not atone for sin?

So then, all those who were bought with a price will certainly be saved.

SDG                 rmb                  4/6/2021

Bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20) – Part 1

The nature of a purchase transaction has not changed substantially in two millennia. The way we purchase things today is pretty much the same as the way that they purchased things in Corinth in the first century. This is helpful when we take a long look at what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers in 1 Corinthians 6:20.

For you have been bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.

In this post, I want to take a few minutes to examine this verse carefully with an eye to its doctrinal teaching.

PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS OR “ONCE BOUGHT, ALWAYS BOUGHT”

The first doctrine we want to consider is what is called “the perseverance of the saints,” that is perhaps better known as the believer’s “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved.” This is the idea that, once a person is genuinely converted (or “saved”), they will continue in obedience to Christ and will persevere in their faith to the end of their life (Revelation 2:10; Matthew 10:22). Those who persevere to the end will be saved and will go to heaven. Those who do not, will perish with the unrighteous.

What does this verse, then, have to teach us about perseverance?

We will begin by looking at the commercial transaction which Paul mentions in this verse. In this transaction, who was the buyer? Certainly, the buyer was Christ. What was the price used for Christ’s purchase? The price was Christ’s own blood (or His death). (Isaiah 53:5-6; Mark 10:45) Lastly, who was purchased? The Corinthian believers were bought with the price of Christ’s own blood. Notice the nature of this transaction: Christ bought them. “You have been bought.” Thus, the Corinthian believers did not “get a vote” in this transaction. They were passive in the transaction. What was the return policy? All sales FINAL!

When I was thinking about marrying Lisa, the wonderful woman who is now my wife, I went to a jewelry store and selected the diamonds that I wanted in her engagement ring. Then, a week later I went back to the store and picked up the finished ring. Then I paid for it. Gulp! And right at the bottom of the paper receipt it said in all caps: ALL SALES FINAL. Now, while that was a daunting idea that I could not return the ring, it was not a problem for me, because I had no intention of returning the ring. I had bought that ring with a price and I intended to use it to win myself a wife. And now, almost sixteen years later, that ring still sits on my wife’s left hand.

Here is the point: When Christ bought His people with the price of His own blood, there was a no return policy, because Christ has no intention of returning those He has purchased. Those He bought, He bought for eternity. Once you have been bought with a price by Christ, you are forever purchased. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus, then Christ has bought you. And so, you will always be with Christ. You are eternally secure.  

In the next post, we will see how this verse also contains implications for the doctrine of particular redemption, which is also known as “limited atonement,” the doctrine that Christ died only for those who will be saved; that is, only for the elect.

SDG                 rmb                 3/31/2021