The obedient disciple: Rejoice, pray, give thanks (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

POST OVERVIEW. A series of posts based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 describing how simple obedience to basic commands in Scripture can overcome persistent disobedience. This first post gives an overview of the principle of simple obedience.

16 Rejoice always; 

17 pray without ceasing; 

18 in everything give thanks;

for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

How does the disciple of Jesus get into trouble?

The disciple gets into trouble when he is DOING what he is commanded NOT TO DO or he is NOT DOING what he is commanded TO DO.

This includes not only what the disciple is doing in their external behavior, but more importantly includes where he allows his thoughts to roam. The truth is that it is very possible for a disciple’s external obedience to disguise a heart that is contaminated by disobedient thoughts. It is “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) that marks the truly mature disciple.

THE “TROUBLE” STATEMENT CONSIDERED

A moment’s reflection will reveal that the above “trouble” statement is not terribly profound. It is, in fact, pretty obvious, for this is basically the definition of sin. But until the truth of this statement is manifested in a disciple’s life, the disciple will regularly be in a place of disobedience. In my own walk with the Lord, I experienced an immense breakthrough when I decided to conform my thoughts to this message. In other words, I began to be intentionally aware of my thoughts and made an effort to evaluate my thoughts to increase my obedience. And here is the reason we are looking at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: these three verses are simple and straightforward, so whenever I found myself in places where Scripture commands me not to go, I could quickly turn to 1 Thess. 5:16-18 to get back onto the path of obedience.

SOME EXAMPLES FOR ILLUSTRATION

Let me give a couple of examples to help clarify what I have in mind. I am a person who is prone to judge others. By that I mean that I will quickly assess (“judge”) someone based on the most threadbare of information and mentally place them in a particular box with a nice, neat label. I do this, by the way, because I feel that people are safer when they are in boxes and have been assigned a label. The problem with this behavior is that the Lord Jesus (among others) has expressly condemned this behavior in Matthew 7:1-5. Our Lord commands His disciples not to judge in this way. So, what do I do? First, I become aware when I am judging someone, and I am taking something they have done or said as a reason to put them in a particular box with their own label. I realize this judging is sinful (doing what I am commanded not to do) and then consciously decide that I need to discontinue this sinful behavior. But instead of saying to myself, “I will not judge people; I will not judge people,” I say to myself, per 1 Thess. 5:16, “I will begin to rejoice.” So, I was unconsciously doing something that was disobedient, and I replaced that by consciously doing something that is obedient. I realized I was judging others, so I decided to rejoice.

Another example might be when I fret about the things that our government is doing and get concerned that they are intentionally ruining our country. Perhaps this concern is understandable at some level, but it is also explicitly disobedient to the commands of Scripture. Psalm 37 begins with, “Do not fret because of evildoers and be not envious of wrongdoers,” and I am fretting and being “envious.” This disobedience is sin, but to stop this sinful behavior, I decide to consciously turn my mind to 1 Thess. 5:17 (“Pray without ceasing”) and I begin to pray. In a short time, my sinful fretting is turned to prayer.

A third example could be that there are disciples of Jesus who are anxious and fearful about many things, but our anxious and fearful thoughts become a problem when one of the most common commands in the entire Scripture, Old Testament and New, is the command, “Fear not,” and Jesus Himself, in the Sermon on the Mount, gave a long teaching about the sin of anxiety (Matt. 6:25-34). Scripture is clear that anxiety and being fearful are disobedient and therefore sinful. What is the anxious disciple to do? First, acknowledge that you are anxious, then confess the anxiety as sin (doing what you are commanded not to do), and then, in obedience, begin to give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18). The obedient behavior of giving thanks in everything will stop the disobedient behavior of worry and fear.

THE PRINCIPLE STATED

The principle is very simple yet profound: consciously replace disobedient thoughts and behaviors with obedient ones. I have chosen 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 because these three verses are easy to memorize and thus, they are easy to have at the ready when needed. When I find myself involved in some thought pattern that the Bible condemns as sinful, then I immediately reach for one of these three commands and put it into effect. Rejoice or Pray or Give thanks. The Lord has ordained things such that any act of conscious obedience will thwart disobedience. I have found that, if I am at a place where I am being plagued by a particular sin, I can reach for one of these simple verses and see victory.

With that as a background, I want to spend the next several blog posts thinking through these three verses so that the disciple of Jesus can have these cocked and ready when he finds himself wrestling with sin. The next post will be about 1 Thess. 5:16 – “Rejoice always.”

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/6/2024                     #608

Thoughts on my righteousness before and after Christ

OVERVIEW. These thoughts on my righteousness, both absolute and practical, were captured from writing on December 29, 2022. Several terms will be discussed including “wholly unrighteous,” “absolutely righteous,” “practical righteousness,” and, in a subsequent post, “relative righteousness.”

WHOLLY UNRIGHTEOUS BEFORE CHRIST

Before salvation, that is, before a person’s initial saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, all people are wholly unrighteous. The Bible makes clear that “unrighteous” is the state of all unbelievers without exception. All are born absolutely unrighteous and, in that state, they remain unless they are rescued from that domain of darkness by Christ (Col. 1:13). There is no righteousness in them. All their righteous deeds are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Any efforts at works-righteousness despise the offering of Christ on the cross as the only atonement for sin (Acts 4:12; Eph. 1:7; Mark 10:45), because they substitute man’s sinful efforts for Christ’s perfect sacrifice. The Bible declares that, before my justification, there was no righteousness in me at all. I was a child of God’s wrath (Eph. 2:3) and was subject to His full condemnation.

ABSOLUTELY RIGHTEOUS BY FAITH IN CHRIST

But at the moment of my salvation, I was justified. That is, I was declared righteous by the Holy One of Israel because of my faith in Jesus and immediately there was imputed to my account the full righteousness of Christ. In a moment, I moved from wholly unrighteous to fully righteous (John 5:24; Acts 13:48; 16:31). At salvation, I was wrapped in a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10; confirm 2 Cor. 5:21)) and, from then on, I am viewed by God to possess (by the Lord’s imputation and declaration) the full righteousness of the Lord Jesus Himself. As a disciple of the Lord Jesus, I have received an absolute righteousness and I will be fully righteous for all of eternity.

PRACTICAL RIGHTEOUSNESS

This biblical doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness to all who believe in Jesus can, however, cause some confusion, especially among those who have recently come to Christ. The confusion can take one of two forms. The new believer can think, “Well, since by faith the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to me, I do not need to be overly concerned about my ongoing sin.” This is a grievous error, because it suggests that the Lord does not make holy those He saves. (See also Matthew 5:6 and Romans 6:1-2; etc.) The other end of the spectrum is the idea that, “Since by faith the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to me, I should quickly cease from all sinning.” This latter error reveals a misunderstanding about the process of sanctification and about the disciple’s necessary growth in practical righteousness.

The Bible teaches that there are two types of righteousness that come to the person who trusts Christ as their Lord and Savior. We have already addressed the absolute righteousness of Christ that is imputed to every believer at the moment of salvation. This event is called justification when God declares the sinner righteous. But justification necessarily ushers in the process of sanctification, which is the lifelong journey in which the disciple of Jesus grows in practical righteousness. In the process of sanctification, through the use of the means of grace and by “working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), the disciple of Jesus strives to close the gap between Christ’s perfect righteousness, which has been imputed to their account at salvation, and the disciple’s current experience of practical righteousness in their life. Slowly, steadily, “little by little” (Ex. 23:29-30; Deut. 7:22) God the Holy Spirit works together with the disciple as the disciple’s hunger and thirst for righteousness is satisfied (Matt. 5:6). As practical righteousness grows, the disciple becomes more evidently conformed to Christ (Romans 8:29) and brings forth more of the fruit of righteousness (Luke 3:8).

There is another term that I want to consider in this subject of righteousness, and it is the term “relative righteousness.” In his salvation, the believer has received the absolute righteousness of Christ and has embarked on the path of growing practical righteousness. What, then, is this “relative righteousness” of which we speak? Tune in next time!

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/4/2023                     #607

Identifying as a disciple rather than a Christian (Part 3)

POST OVERVIEW. The third in a series of posts talking about the advantages of identifying as a “disciple of Jesus” instead of as a “Christian.” This post is about the association of “Christian” with religions.

We have been exploring reasons why it is preferable for the follower of Jesus Christ to identify as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as a “Christian.” Our first consideration was that it is more strategic and more effective for the believer to identify as a “disciple of Jesus” in the task of evangelism (Post #601, 12/18/2022). The second post (#603, 12/24/2022) looked at how it is more empowering for the believer’s own self-identity and self-concept to see himself as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as the more ambiguous name of “Christian.” Now this third post will show that the identity of “Christian” carries with it religious baggage that clouds the real nature of being a true “disciple of Jesus.”

Before we dig deeper into this subject, I want to again make very clear that I am a Christian. I am a heaven-bound, Bible-believing, born-again, water-baptized, church-going, Holy Spirit-sealed, blood-washed disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. In short, I am a Christian. It is not the word “Christian” that creates obstacles, but it is the use of the word and the ambiguity of the word and the over-familiarity of the world in our culture that causes the problems, and these problems become especially sticky when we consider the “religious use” of “Christian.”

RELIGIOUS USE OF “CHRISTIAN”

What do I mean by the “religious use” of the word “Christian?” First, we need to define a religion. Since mankind has invented many and varied religions, one comprehensive definition of the word is very difficult to establish. Nevertheless, I would suggest that:

RELIGION. A religion is a named set of man-made rituals and practices which are performed from time to time by the adherents of the religion to achieve some subjective “spiritual” benefit. Religious adherents typically hope for 1) some imagined relief from the guilt they experience as a result of their sin; and 2) some hoped for calming of their terror of death. Religions also commonly, but not necessarily, involve trying to appease some deity.

In religion, the emphasis is on the performance of the same rituals and practices over and over again. There is no expectation by the religious adherent that these external rituals will produce any internal or personal change or growth. Again, the emphasis is on the external forms and the performance. If the performance is good enough, then the religionist can hope to have merited some reward.

Some well-known religions are Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Judaism, and Sikhism, but there are many other forms of religion that are practiced across the globe.

Having defined what we mean by “religion,” we can say that the “religious use” of the word “Christian” is when the word refers to an adherent of the “Christian religion.” For, unlike religions, Christianity does have a living, life-changing genuine article. The genuine follower of Jesus, the one who has repented of his sin and has trusted Christ for salvation, has been born again (John 3:3, 5) and has passed from death to life (John 5:24) and has become a living “Christian.” But the word “Christian” is more commonly used as a religious term to describe one who, to some degree or other, identifies with the Christian religion without any reference to Jesus or the Bible or having been born again. This latter is the “religious use” of “Christian.”

THE BAGGAGE CARRIED BY THE WORD “CHRISTIAN”

After this necessary aside to talk about religions, we remember that the point of this article is to show that “disciple of Jesus” is preferred to the identity “Christian” because of the religious baggage carried by “Christian.” In our American culture, when the word “Christian” comes up in a conversation, either in the public forum or among unbelievers or among “religious Christians,” it is these false “baggage” images that are almost certainly in their mind. Here are some examples of this baggage.

A “religious Christian” is a person who identifies as a Christian but there is nothing distinctly Christian about their words or their behavior that would mark them as followers of Jesus Christ. Their life is no different than a person who does not identify as a “Christian.”

A “religious Christian” (RC) typically has vague ideas about the basic tenets of biblical Christianity, like beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible, the Holy Spirit, the local church, salvation, sin, or the condemnation that abides on the sinner, to name a few. There are no convictions.

For the RC, “Christian” is just one of the roles he plays in life. He may occasionally go to church on Sunday (or he may not), but “Christian” is just a Sunday role for him.

For the RC, “Christian” is his religious label, like Buddhist or Muslim. He received the label at some point in the past (at birth or at his baptism or at confirmation or at a revival event), but there is no current, living experience with God or evidence of a vital, living faith.

A RELIGIOUS LABEL CONVEYS A FIXED STATE OF BEING

When an RC uses “Christian” as a religious label, he is conveying a fixed state of being. This is because the declaration of one’s religion implies that a destination has been reached and is now unchangeable. Religious positions intentionally give this impression. Religion is presented as a fixed characteristic of a person, like gender or ethnicity. In fact,

Whether it is “Catholic” or “Hindu” or “Muslim” or “Christian,” the declaration of one’s religion implies that a destination has been reached and is now unchangeable. Religious labels intentionally communicate a fixed characteristic of a person, like gender or ethnicity. This is as true of the label “Christian” as it is of any other religion. Thus, when a genuine follower of Jesus declares he is a Christian, it is very likely that his hearers assume this is a religious label.

RELIGION IS DEAD BUT “DISCIPLE OF JESUS” IS ALIVE

One other comment should be made about religions. In religion, there is no growth because lifeless things do not grow. Religion is dead and cannot offer growth. That means that, when used as a religious term, a “Christian” is also not growing.

All of this baggage is possible when a follower of the Lord Jesus identifies themselves as a “Christian.” But now consider what happens if instead the follower of Jesus identifies themselves as a “disciple of Jesus.” As we have said before in these posts, the environment is materially changed. A disciple is a learner which conveys the idea of growth. A disciple is learning about the Bible and about how to pray and learning how to share their faith. One who is a disciple has begun a journey and he is moving toward a destination. There is motion and growth and life.

And he is a disciple of Jesus. Whether you love Him or hate Him, Jesus is the most interesting, compelling, controversial, fascinating person who has ever walked this planet. No dusty, dull religion here when we are walking with Jesus! The disciple of Jesus has a personal relationship with the great one, the Lord Jesus, so the disciple has a living relationship, not a dead religion.

For these reasons, a “disciple of Jesus” is a more powerful identity than “Christian” with none of the religious baggage.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/30/2022                 #606

Belief and baptism, but no Holy Spirit (Acts 8:12-17)

POST OVERVIEW. Another study from Acts 8 as the gospel spreads to the Samaritans. Here we consider the difficulty of the Samaritans believing in the name of Jesus Christ and not immediately receiving the Holy Spirit.

This post is part of a short series of articles wrestling with the difficulties of the events of Acts 8. Earlier we considered the situation of Simon the magician (post #597, #598) and now we look at the Samaritans who truly believed and were baptized and yet did not immediately receive the Holy Spirit in Acts 8:12-17.

GENERAL THOUGHTS ON INTERPRETING ACTS

Before we dig into this very interesting episode, we need to remember that we are reading the book of Acts, which is part of the New Testament’s history section. Acts covers a time of rapid change as the work of God on earth transitions from the ministry of Jesus to the ministry of the church.

To review our teaching from post #597 (12/7/2022), Jesus was sent from heaven to earth primarily to accomplish the atonement and to ransom His people from sin. In His crucifixion, He finished His work (John 19:30). Then He was resurrected, He commissioned His church to proclaim the gospel to the end of the age (Matt. 28:19-20) and to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8), and He ascended into heaven until the Father’s appointed time for His return. That was Jesus’ ministry.

When Jesus ascended to heaven, the ministry of the church began. The book of Acts describes the initial spread of the church from one hundred twenty timid Jewish disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem with no new-covenant doctrine or practice to many thousands of mostly Gentile believers scattered all over the Mediterranean world with well-established doctrinal teaching and church practice. The result of this massive transition is that, while all the events of Acts certainly occurred and occurred as described, all the events that occurred were not normative for the church age. In other words, the student of Acts must carefully discern if the event under study is merely descriptive (just describing what happened) or if this event is prescriptive (giving a normative practice of the church until Jesus returns). Some of the events that occur in Acts are unique and simply occurred as part of this transition landscape.

How do we discern what is merely descriptive? There are two basic principles to detect these events. The first principle asks, “Is the event unique in the Scriptures?” For example, Acts 2 relates the coming of the Holy Spirit. This event is marked with a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire resting on the disciples (Acts 2:2-3). Do we expect this to occur again? Should this be a regular occurrence in our local church? No, it is not normative. The events of Acts 2 are unique and unrepeated.

But a second principle is to consider whether the events of the scene are consistent with New Testament teaching on this subject. What do the epistles teach about this and did Jesus say anything about this subject during His ministry? For example, in our current study in Acts 8, we see that the Samaritans believe in Jesus and are baptized before they receive the Holy Spirit. Should we in our churches today teach that the Holy Spirit is received some time after we believe by the laying on of someone’s hands? No, we should not teach that, because the epistles contradict that doctrine (e.g. Ephesians 1:13-14).

With these principles, we read in Acts 8:12 that the Samaritans “believed Philip preaching the good news about the name of Jesus Christ.” There is no reason to doubt that these Samaritans genuinely believed. Philip had proclaimed Christ to them (8:5), he had performed signs of casting out unclean spirits and of healing the paralyzed and the lame (8:6, 7; see also 8:13). The expected result of preaching Christ and performing attesting miracles is that the people would believe. After they believe, the Samaritans are baptized, exactly according to the pattern at Pentecost.

KEY CONCEPT BASED ON ACTS 1:8

“When the apostles in Jerusalem (8:1) heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John” to Samaria (8:14). Why did they send Peter to Samaria?

These events serve to introduce a KEY CONCEPT for understanding some of the events of Acts. Recall that Acts 1:8 is the theme verse for the book of Acts. According to that verse, the gospel of Jesus Christ will spread from Jerusalem to (all Judea and) Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth (to the Gentiles). What we see happening is that, as each new threshold is crossed (the Jews in Jerusalem, the Samaritans in Samaria, and the Gentiles in Caesarea), the apostle Peter is required to confirm that salvation has actually come to each group and so that group may receive the Holy Spirit as a sign of their salvation. Accordingly, Peter is the one who preaches the sermon at Pentecost and declares that all those who repent and believe will receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Here in Acts 8, although Philip has faithfully proclaimed the gospel and the Samaritans have genuinely believed, the Holy Spirit is withheld until Peter prays for them and lays his hands upon them (Acts 8:15-17). This is because Peter, as the lead apostle (Matt. 16:18-19; John 21:15-17), must confirm that the Samaritans are indeed included in the gospel before the Holy Spirit can be received. Finally, in Acts 10, when the gospel goes to the Gentiles, to Cornelius and his relatives in Caesarea, Peter is again there to confirm that “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message” (Acts 10:44), when “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” (10:45). Peter “ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (10:48) because they had “received the Holy Spirit” (10:47) just as the Jews in Jerusalem had received Him on Pentecost.

CONCLUSION

The point is that, in this transition period, as the gospel of Jesus Christ is going out first to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, and finally to the Gentiles, the apostle Peter must confirm that each new group is truly included in the gospel before the Holy spirit is received. Thus, what occurs in Samaria in Acts 8, where there is genuine belief without the receiving of the Holy Spirit, is a one-time, unrepeated event and is not normative for the church age.

What is normative for the church age? Now that Peter has confirmed that the gospel has gone to all groups, whether Jew or Gentile, anyone from any group who has genuinely believed in the Lord Jesus receives the Holy Spirit immediately at salvation (see Romans 8:5, 9, 11, 14; 1 Cor. 12:7, 11, 13; Eph. 1:13-14; etc.). The teaching of the New Testament is that all believers are sealed and in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit from the moment of initial faith.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/29/2022                 #605

Caleb followed the LORD his God fully (Joshua 14)

POST OVERVIEW. A look at the life of Caleb, a biblical hero who followed the LORD his God fully. Caleb was a man whose faith was constantly on display in his actions.

Caleb is a Bible hero. He appears in only three scenes in the Scriptures, but his force of character and his evident faith cause him to stand out as a man of God and as a strong role model for us. His faith in the LORD and his trust in the word of the LORD was constantly on bold display.

CALEB AT KADESH

Caleb is one of the twelve spies sent by Moses to report on the land of Canaan. As they travel through the land, all twelve spies saw the descendants of Anak (giants) living in Hebron and all twelve spies saw that many of the cities of the land were fortified with high walls. When the spies return to Moses, ten of them are terrified of the descendants of Anak they saw in the land and they instill fear in all the people by telling of the power of the Anakim. The ten fearful spies also warn of the Amalekites and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Canaanites living in the land. Their conclusion? “They are too strong for us” (Num. 13:31). The spies and all the people overtly doubt the truth of God’s word and they question His ability to carry out what He has declared He will do. Their words and their actions reveal that they have no faith in the LORD.

We must recall that those who walk by sight and who live by what makes sense to their fallen reasoning always have a ready excuse for not trusting the LORD. There is always a “but” or a “however” or a “nevertheless” that justifies why they should not move ahead or should avoid the risk. Their god is small and the threats are big. “Never mind that God is with us and that He has promised to bless those who trust in Him. He can’t help us out against this obstacle.”

But Caleb was a man of an entirely different character. Six times the Bible declares that Caleb “followed the LORD his God fully” (Num. 14:24; 32:12; Deut. 1:36; Joshua 14:8, 9, 14). This means that if the LORD said it, Caleb obeyed it without question. He accepted the LORD’s word as true and reliable. Thus, his faith in the LORD was constantly on bold display. No matter what men said, no matter what his eyes told him, no matter what his reasoning or his experience suggested, he followed the LORD fully. The LORD’s word was his trusted guide. If the LORD had spoken about a subject, that immediately became Caleb’s truth. The LORD’s word was not to be questioned but was to be fully accepted.

“Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven.” – Psalm 119:89

Caleb walked by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Yes, Caleb saw the sons of Anak in Hebron and he knew that there were risks in going against them, but he was eager to move ahead nevertheless. “Yes, there are dangers and obstacles but our God answers prayer and our God is with us and our God reigns. Let’s move forward!”

Everything about Caleb’s words and actions manifest his strong trust in the LORD. “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it” (Num. 13:30). Caleb was confident because he was sure of what God could do and he trusted that God would do what He had promised.

“If the LORD is pleased with us then He will bring us into this land and give it to us” (Num. 14:8). “Only do not rebel against the LORD, and do not fear the people of the land. The LORD is with us; do not fear them” (14:9). Caleb was assured that the LORD was faithful and the LORD could be trusted. So Caleb followed the LORD his God fully. And so Caleb is commended by the LORD for his steadfast trust in Him.

CALEB ON THE PLAINS OF MOAB

Caleb is mentioned very briefly in Numbers 34 as Israel is on the plains of Moab preparing to invade the land of Canaan. Though only a brief mention, this mention is significant.

Recall that, forty years before, when Israel was at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran, the LORD had told Moses to send out as spies “a man from each of their fathers’ tribes, every one a leader among them” (Num. 13:2). Caleb of the tribe of Judah had been one of those leaders (Num. 13:6). When Israel gathers on the plains of Moab, forty years have passed and the entire unbelieving generation that came out of Egypt has died in the wilderness for their unbelief (Num. 14:28-35; confirm Hebrews 3:7-4:11). Again the LORD commands Moses to “take one leader of every tribe to apportion the land” (Num. 34:18). The first leader He mentions is “of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh” (34:19).

That’s right. The same Caleb who was the chosen leader of Judah as Israel came out of Egypt is still the leader of Judah forty years later as Israel prepares to enter Canaan. Caleb was a leader of men and the LORD twice appointed him to a role of leadership.

CALEB IN CANAAN

Finally, we see Caleb after the conquest of the land of Canaan, after his fellow spy Joshua has defeated thirty-one kings (Joshua 12:24). Caleb speaks to Joshua and reminds him of the LORD’s word concerning the inheritance that will go to Caleb, namely, Hebron. Caleb demands his reward, the inheritance that the LORD has promised to him forty-five years before. “Give me Hebron.”

Of course, Caleb wants Hebron. Forty-five years before, when the twelve spies first traveled into Canaan, even then Caleb had seen Hebron and wanted it for his own (Num. 13:22). Note that Hebron is the only place where the spies had seen the descendants of the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, but for the ten faithless spies, these giants grew in size and strength as their fears grew. But for Caleb, these giants were never a threat, because the LORD was with him and the LORD would vanquish them. The most fearsome of the Anakim is nothing before the LORD. And now Caleb was claiming his reward. For forty-five years he had waited to take Hebron away from the Anakim and now, at eighty-five years of age, Caleb is ready to move in.

The faithless spies would not even enter the land because of their fear of the sons of Anak in Hebron, but Caleb dreamed of Hebron for forty-five years because of his desire to destroy the sons of Anak in Hebron.

Caleb is a hero because his faith in the LORD was constantly on display. He regarded the foolish fears of faithless men as so much noise to be ignored. The LORD had commanded him to go up and take Hebron. Caleb was not going to disobey and forfeit the blessing the LORD had promised him.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/26/2022                 #604

Identifying as a disciple rather than a Christian (Part 2)

POST OVERVIEW. The second article about why it is preferable for the follower of Jesus Christ to think of themselves and to identify themselves as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as a “Christian.” Post #601 (12/18/2022) had discussed the strategic advantages of “disciple of Jesus” in evangelism. This post talks about its advantages in self-concept or self-identity.

In my previous post on this topic (Post #601 on 12/18/2022), I had argued that, for the follower of Jesus Christ, the identity of “disciple of Jesus” is preferable to the more common identity of “Christian” for the reason that “disciple of Jesus” has greater strategic value in evangelism. (See Post #601 for those comments.) In this post, I will consider how “disciple of Jesus” is preferable for strengthening the believer’s own self-concept and self-identity.

A DISCIPLE IS A STRONGER IDENTITY

There was a time in this country when identifying as a Christian carried weight. The Christian was a person of the Bible. He carried a Bible and he believed what it said. He went to church and he prayed. He lived a simple life and he had principles and strict moral guidelines in his life, and he did not mind if that drew ridicule or if that made him seem odd to others. “Christian” meant that this man was a follower of Jesus and he was serious about it. When someone was declared to be a “Christian,” there was a cultural understanding of what that meant. The word “Christian” had substance.

“CHRISTIAN” HAS BECOME VAGUE AND UNDEFINED

Needless to say, those days are no more. The identity of “Christian” has gradually lost its definition and the idea of a “Christian” in America has come to have a very broad range of meanings. More than that, the confusion of what is a “Christian” exists for those who hear the word and for those who use the word to describe themselves. The word carries ambiguity and subjectivity and finding a working definition for a “Christian” is hard to do.

This subjectivity and ambiguity creates an identity crisis for the follower of Jesus Christ, and can especially be a problem for the new believer. For example, when the new believer excitedly tells his parents or his fraternity buddies or a friend at the gym that he has become a Christian, he is likely to get a puzzled response or a response that reveals that the hearer is between unimpressed and bored with this news. The new believer has passed from death to life and has experienced the most profound change of life that is possible for a human being, but, because he uses the word “Christian,” his hearers are blasé. They have known others who claimed to be “Christians” and there was nothing different about their lives. “Oh, here we go again! Another phase or fad.” What is the one who has recently come to Christ to do? His life has been radically altered and he knows that he has been born again and has become a “Christian.” At least, that’s the word everyone at the church uses. “Praise God! I am now a Christian!” But no one else seems to be nearly as excited as he is.

Now, I am not going to suggest that simply changing a believer’s self-identity from “Christian” to “disciple of Jesus” is going to immediately remove all confusion and is going to force everyone else to see that a profound change has taken place, but it can be very helpful for the believer himself. If I think of myself as a “Christian,” then I have to explain to myself how I am different from those other “Christians” who are ignorant of the Scriptures and who openly question its truths, whose lives bear no fruit of repentance, who do not believe in the virgin birth or in the resurrection of Christ, who infrequently attend a dead, apostate church, and who have never told a single soul about their alleged faith in Jesus and about the coming judgment. Perhaps the truly born-again Christian can add adjectives to his identity, like a real “Christian” or a true “Christian” or a really true, sincere, born-again “Christian” to make a distinction between a genuine follower of Jesus and one of the counterfeits, but another solution might be to see yourself as a “disciple of Jesus.”

SELF-IDENTITY AS “DISCIPLE OF JESUS”

There are definite advantages to this identity of “disciple of Jesus” which help remove much of the ambiguity and subjectivity created by the identity of “Christian.”

First, there is the word “disciple” itself. The Greek word translated “disciple” means a learner who follows a particular teacher. Further, the life of a disciple is a life of discipline, an intentional way of behaving that learns from and imitates the master. The disciple is devoted to imitating the master to become like the master. This concept of disciple fits very well with the concept of a New Testament follower of Jesus.

THE DISCIPLE IN THE GREAT COMMISSION

Observe also that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) calls upon the church to “make disciples” of all nations. The one who identifies as a “disciple of Jesus” can immediately see themselves as a fulfillment of the Great Commission of our Lord. According to these two crucial verses, the church “makes disciples” (evangelism), the church baptizes disciples, and then the church teaches disciples to observe His commands, and the church does this until the end of the age. The follower of Jesus can see that the “disciple of Jesus” is the central player in the kingdom of God on earth. With this identity, ambiguity and subjectivity are removed.

We had mentioned before that any disciple is associated with a specific teacher or master. Thus, the key question for one who claims to be a disciple becomes, “Who is the master you are following and imitating?” The believer whose identity is “disciple of Jesus” directly associates himself with the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is none other than the King of kings and the Lord of lords. I am a disciple of Him who came from heaven to earth to be God in human flesh. I am a chosen and beloved disciple of the Prince of peace.

THE “DISCIPLE OF JESUS” HAS A PURPOSE AND A PATH

Finally, the identity of “disciple of Jesus” gives the follower of Christ a purpose for their life and a path to walk through life all the way to the end.

For the disciple of Jesus, every promise of God is Yes and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20). His purpose is to do all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). For the disciple of Jesus, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). The disciple takes up his cross daily and follows Jesus (Luke 9:23).

His path is to intentionally grow in holiness, in obedience, and in usefulness as long as the Lord gives him breath; to fight the good fight, to finish the course, to keep the faith (2 Tim. 4:7); to press toward the goal for the prize (Phil. 3:14).

These are the joys of the one who identifies as a disciple of Jesus.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/24/2022                 #603

How to vanquish fear of man in evangelism

POST OVERVIEW. Consistently listed among the obstacles to evangelism and the hindrances to speaking about the Lord Jesus in the world is the fear of man. This article argues that the way to vanquish the “fear of man” is by developing a fiery zeal for Christ.

A RECURRING OBSTACLE TO EVANGELISM

Often when a church conducts training on evangelism to consider how the church can be more effective in the tasks of proclaiming the gospel and of being witnesses for Jesus, the subject “fear of man” comes up. The trainer asks the question, “What are some reasons that we fail to evangelize?” and usually the first or second response from the class is, “Fear of man.” There is then an acknowledgement from class and trainer alike that “fear of man” is indeed a problem and the class moves on. But here I want to address this fear so that we can defeat it.

DEFEATING THE FEAR OF MAN

What we are discussing in this post is this idea of “the fear of man” in evangelism and how we can overcome this obstacle so that the name of Jesus comes up easily in our talks with unbelievers and “many will see and fear and trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3).

To do that, I will follow four steps:

  1. Define the “fear of man”
  2. Acknowledging the sin and repenting of the sin
  3. Paul as our role model for zeal
  4. Exhortation to be bold

DEFINING “FEAR OF MAN”

We begin, then, by defining “fear of man.” [NOTE: I will abbreviate this FoM.] FoM is a feeling that manifests itself in timid actions. FoM is that tension that seems to rise up in our throat and suddenly choke off bold words about the sin of man and the glory of our Savior. FoM is also responsible when we decide the other person is “not ready” for the gospel or to hear about Jesus. When we are face to face with someone who is on our prayer list and we continue to talk about the trivial rather than the eternal, FoM may be to blame. There are many other examples of ways that FoM can thwart our evangelism, but basically, FoM has won the day anytime you and I are convicted by the Holy Spirit that we have not been faithful to use a gospel opportunity.

ACKNOWLEDGING THE SIN AND REPENTING OF THE SIN

We must acknowledge that fear of man is a sin, and therefore is an offense against our holy God. FoM effectively exalts frail, mortal sinners above the Lord Jesus, because we fear man’s rejection or ridicule more than we love the Lord and obey His commands (John 14:21). We have been commanded to proclaim the gospel to all the nations. If we don’t because we are fearful of what men might say or think, then we have elevated man above God. We should, therefore, repent from this sin of fearing man.

I have found that a helpful pattern of repentance is recognize, confess, and repent. Recognize that you were silent about the gospel or about Jesus when you know that the Holy Spirit was prompting you to speak. Recognition leads to confession of the sin. You agree with the Lord that you have willfully disobeyed and have been silent when you know that you were to speak. Having confessed the sin, you express the desire to change and to live a more obedient life. You repent of your silence or your cowardice, or you repent because you were unprepared when the Lord presented you with a gospel opportunity. In repentance, you turn away from the sin and you turn toward the obedient behavior. You pray for boldness and courage and confident obedience (Eph. 6:19-20; Acts 5:41; Col. 4:5-6; Rev. 2:10) and continue to press toward the prize with renewed vigor.

The point is that FoM that silences or softens my witness is sin and so should be treated as any other sin. We should quickly establish a plan of repentance from that sin so that it does not occur again. Put to death (Col. 3:5) the “fear of man” in any and every way that you can.

PAUL AS OUR EXAMPLE FOR ZEAL

When it comes to zealously proclaiming the gospel, Paul is our example. There was nothing that could prevent Paul from gospel proclamation. In his ministry, he had every opportunity to shrink back from telling about Jesus and he never did. (Acts 9 in Damascus – brand-new convert threatened with death; Acts 14 in Derbe and Lystra – stoned for preaching the gospel; Acts 17 in Athens – philosophers to impress; Acts 24 before Felix – preached righteousness and the coming judgment to the man who could set him free; Acts 26 before Agrippa and Festus – preached Christ before the king and the governor)

Consider this verse: “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). Here is a classic Pauline statement that speaks directly into our current discussion. Paul was motivated by his fear of the Lord, and this compelled him to persuade men to believe the gospel. In other words, the apostle did not have a fear OF men, as though men were a threat to him, but Paul had a fear FOR men, that they would spend eternity in hell. Because Paul was zealous in his devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, FoM had no opportunity for a foothold. Rather, when the glory of Christ and the fear of the Lord are the blaring twin trumpets in our ears, the FoM fades into the background as so much white noise.

This focus on the fear of the Lord gave Paul a zeal for the gospel. Like Paul, we should develop a zeal for Christ that cannot be silenced even by threats of death. Paul said, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). For Paul, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). “For the love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). We also read that the apostle had as his controlling ambition to be pleasing to the Lord (2 Cor. 5:9). His fear of the Lord, his desire to please the Lord, and his love for the Lord worked together to create a fiery zeal for the gospel that could not be quenched. Thus, Paul provides for us an example to follow.

EXHORTATIONS TO PROCLAIM JESUS AND HIS GOSPEL

The Scriptures give us many exhortations to proclaim the gospel. The disciple of Jesus is to be a fisher of men (Matt. 4:19), an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), a sower of the Word (Matt. 13:3-8), and a witness for Jesus (Acts 1:8) to the remotest part of the earth. We are to “Tell of His glory among the nations” (Ps. 96:3), “Make known His deeds among the peoples” (Isaiah 12:4), and “Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day” (Ps. 96:2). The disciple of Jesus is to compel, to beg, to persuade, to exhort, to urge, to reason with, and to testify to unbelievers to believe in Christ and to receive the salvation that He offers to sinners.

As those who “have been chosen of God, holy and beloved” (Col. 3:12), we put to death the sin of the fear of man as we simultaneously fan into flame our passion for the gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria            rmb                 12/21/2022                 #602

Identifying as a disciple rather than a Christian (Part 1)

POST OVERVIEW. The first of a couple of articles about why it is preferable for the follower of Jesus Christ to think of themselves and to identify themselves as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as a “Christian.”

The basic idea of the next several posts is this: in my opinion, it is preferable for the follower of Jesus Christ to identify to the outside world as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as a “Christian.”

Now, before I begin to justify this statement, I need to make perfectly clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the appellation of “Christian.” It is without question that I am a Christian. I am a born-again, water-baptized, Bible-carrying, church-attending, Holy Spirit-filled, heaven-bound Christian. For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. I will declare “Jesus Christ is Lord” in any circumstance regardless of the consequences. Even the New Testament three times uses the word “Christian,” so there is nothing wrong with the word. Certainly, it is completely legitimate to call yourself a Christian.

But, while it is legitimate to identify as a Christian, it is not the most strategic or helpful way for the follower of Jesus Christ to identify themselves. There are three reasons that I will present for why the identity “disciple of Jesus” is preferable to “Christian.”

  1. “Disciple of Jesus” is more useful for evangelism.
  2. “Disciple of Jesus” is more helpful for my own concept of myself
  3. “Disciple of Jesus” distinguishes our faith from the religious use of “Christian”

“DISCIPLE” MORE USEFUL FOR EVANGELISM

The great task of the church of Jesus Christ is to introduce Jesus to those who are outside the church, to those who have never heard the good news or perhaps have never even heard the name of Jesus. To accomplish this Great Commission of making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20) requires that we first establish meaningful contact with the people we are trying to tell about Jesus. In America, making meaningful contact with unbelievers is increasingly difficult because our modern culture has widened the gap between those who hold to a moral standard and those who do not. What was a gap has become a huge chasm. The days when most Americans respected biblical morals are long gone, as everyone can attest. My observation is that most unbelievers under the age of thirty-five or so seem to think that there is no right or wrong about anything. This moral collapse has had an impact on the way that the word “Christian” is perceived.

“CHRISTIAN” IDENTITY IS NOT AS STRATEGIC

To an American unbeliever, “Christian” generally has no definite or predictable meaning and is more likely to communicate a political agenda than it is to communicate something about Jesus. My impression is that most of those in America who fall outside the reach of the evangelical church, which is an increasing majority of people, make no connection between “Christian” and the Bible or Jesus. I would say that most people under the age of thirty-five know as much about “Muslim” as they know about “Christian.”

What this means is that, if I identify or present myself to those I am trying to influence for Christ as a “Christian,” at best I have communicated nothing meaningful and I may have instead prematurely exposed my position and thus raised the other person’s defenses. “Oh! This guy is a ‘Christian.’ Take evasive maneuvers!” In my evangelism strategy, I want to introduce Jesus or the Bible or some aspect of my testimony to the unbeliever long before and rather than present myself as a “Christian.” In America, among unbelievers the word “Christian” rarely opens doors and potentially creates barriers to the gospel, and so is an unwise identity when we consider those whom we hope to reach.

The point is that, when the disciple of Jesus is considering how to impact his sphere of influence for the glory of Jesus, identifying as a “Christian” is a weak strategy. And we must think strategically! Jesus has sent us out as sheep in the midst of wolves and we are therefore to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16). A wise sheep thinks strategically.

“DISCIPLE OF JESUS” IDENTITY

On the other hand, the identity “disciple of Jesus” is an uncommon and unexpected expression. Since that is the case, this identity has much less baggage with it and most unbelievers do not automatically have a negative response. That is one advantage of “disciple of Jesus.” But another advantage is that, with this identity, the name of Jesus has entered the dialog. In evangelism, one of the key objectives is to guide the dialog such that Jesus enters the discussion and, with “disciple of Jesus,” there He is! If the unbeliever is now antagonistic, he is antagonistic because of Jesus. If he is indifferent, he is indifferent to Jesus. This idea of a response to Jesus carries more weight than a response to the name “Christian.” Also, any discussion that includes Jesus is automatically of more substance and is more serious. When Jesus “enters the room,” so to speak, trivial banter quickly subsides. The King is here, and we must deal with Him. If I present myself as a “disciple of Jesus,” my King has entered the room. Now, since His name has already been mentioned, it can be mentioned again and we can talk about who He is and what He has accomplished. Thus, the identity of “disciple of Jesus” has many advantages over the identity “Christian.”

Having considered the advantages of the identity “disciple of Jesus” in our evangelism in this post, in our next post we will think about why “disciple of Jesus” is preferred over “Christian” first, in our own self-concept and second, in distinguishing our faith in Jesus from religions.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/18/2022                 #601

He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Psalm 130:8)

POST OVERVIEW. A detailed exegesis of Psalm 130:8 with the objective of discovering the identity of “Israel,” the entity whom the LORD promises to “redeem from all his iniquities.”

Psalm 130 begins with the psalmist in the lowest of the depths, crying to the LORD in his iniquities, but the psalm finishes with the joyous shout of the redeemed. “Israel” hopes in the LORD because of His lovingkindness (Hebrew “hesed”) and His abundant redemption (130:7). The crescendo occurs in the last verse when the LORD’s promise is proclaimed: “He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (130:8). The LORD has heard the cry of His servant and has granted him redemption from all his iniquities. By His mercy and His lovingkindness, the LORD has pulled His penitent servant “Israel” from the misery of guilt to the joy of full redemption. This is certainly salvation language, and it is certain that the “Israel” of verse 8 is saved.

INTERPRETIVE CHALLENGE

As we reflect on this last verse of Psalm 130, we are faced with an interesting interpretive challenge. For while the psalmist begins as one person crying to the LORD for forgiveness (“Out of the depths I have cried,” “hear my voice,” “my supplications,” “I wait,” “I hope”), he concludes the psalm as a member of the group “Israel” exhorting all “Israel” to hope in the LORD and communicating to “Israel” the promise that the LORD “will redeem ‘Israel’ from all his iniquities.”

THE INTERPRETIVE CHALLENGE STATED. (Short form) “Who is the ‘Israel’ of verse 8?” (Expanded form) Since it is clear that, in Psalm 130:8, “Israel” is promised redemption from all his iniquities, and by definition, “redemption from all iniquities” means salvation, it is theologically important to clearly identify who this “Israel” is. Who is in this group “Israel” who will be redeemed from all their iniquities?

THREE POSSIBLE IDENTITIES FOR ISRAEL

Beginning our interpretive task, then, I would maintain that, in the Bible, there are three possible identities for “Israel.” First, “Israel” could refer to Jacob, the man who wrestled with God and with man and prevailed (Gen. 32:28). But second, “Israel” could also refer to the nation made up of the twelve tribes of Israel. That is, this could be the ethnic group known as the Hebrews, the physical descendants of the patriarch Jacob. The third option would be that this “Israel” refers to all the elect, to all those chosen by God for salvation before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5; see also Rom. 8:29-30; 9:8, 23-24).

So first, does this “Israel,” refer to the patriarch Jacob, who was named Israel? No, it does not. The exhortation in verse 7 to “hope in the LORD” makes no sense if it is made to a man who had been dead hundreds of years when this psalm was penned.

Next, could this refer to national Israel, to the ethnic group known as the Hebrews? No, it could not. While it is true that some of the Hebrews in the Bible were redeemed from their iniquities, the biblical record in both Old and New Testaments is very clear that the majority of people in national Israel perished. Just one example among many is in Numbers 14 when, except for Caleb and Joshua, the entire multitude of the sons of Israel coming out of Egypt rebelled against the LORD and therefore died in the wilderness (see also Psalm 95). But in addition to those Hebrews who perished as recorded in the pages of Scripture, virtually all Jewish people (ethnic, national Israel; Jews) who have lived in the last two millennia have not been redeemed but have died in unbelief. In no way, then, can the “Israel” of Psalm 130:8 refer to national, ethnic Israel.

“ISRAEL” IN PSALM 130:8 REFERS TO THE ELECT

Is it possible, then, that the “Israel” in Psalm 130:8 is referring to the elect? Yes, I think it is. In fact, I think “Israel” must refer to God’s elect, to those whom God has chosen for redemption (salvation) in eternity past. “Israel” must refer to God’s elect because only these people fit the words of the verse.

Consider first that Israel, as an entire group, is exhorted to “hope in the LORD” (130:7a). This hope is not the world’s baseless “hope” that somehow, despite all appearances to the contrary, everything will work itself out for my personal happiness. Rather, biblical hope is the conviction that the LORD who loves me will certainly fulfill all His promises to me, and so I can trust in Him as I wait for Him to work out His will. But remember that “God causes all things to work together for good (only) for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Those whom God calls are certainly His elect (Rom. 8:30).

Notice also that the basis of Israel’s hope (130:7a) is the LORD’s lovingkindness (130:7b). Now, the LORD’s lovingkindness is His covenant love given to His chosen people, and this in the sense that these chosen people are forever His. Those who have by faith received the LORD’s lovingkindness have a reason to hope, because all His promises are given for them and they are all “yes” (2 Cor. 1:20). But all these terms, of “covenant love” and “promises” and “hope,” are poured out in the hearts of His elect through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).

It is also clear that “will redeem” is equivalent to “will save.” The LORD will save (all) Israel from all his iniquities (modified 130:8). It follows that, if Israel is saved from all his iniquities, then Israel is also forgiven of all his iniquities. But consider this, that in the Bible, there is only one group of people in which every member of the group is forgiven of all their iniquities, and that group is the elect. Those whom God has chosen will come to faith in Christ and will be forgiven of all their iniquities.

CONCLUSION. Based on these considerations, our conclusion is that “Israel” in Psalm 130:8 is referring to the elect, to those chosen by God for salvation before the foundation of the world (Ephesian 1:4). In this instance, “Israel” is the name for God’s elect.

PROFOUND IMPLICATIONS OF THIS INTERPRETATION

A moment’s reflection will make clear that there are far-reaching implications and applications from this discovery. That, in at least some instances in the Scriptures, the word “Israel” can refer to the elect of God, to those chosen by God for salvation in eternity past, gives a new dimension especially to prophetic passages in the Old Testament. We will explore some of these ideas and implications in a follow-up post in the near future.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/15/2022                 #600

Revisiting imprecatory psalms and imprecation

POST OVERVIEW. Another consideration of the imprecatory psalms and the other acts of imprecation in the Old Testament. This article once again evaluates whether imprecation of enemies is still a weapon in the disciple’s armory and, if not, why not. Other posts on this same topic are Posts #500 (3/8/2022), #503 (3/11), #502 (3/15), #505 (3/18), #509 (3/30), and #514 (4/6) back in March and April of this year, and Post #563 (8/26/2022).

DEFINITION OF IMPRECATION

The first thing we need to do in this revisiting of imprecation is define what we mean. In the Bible, “imprecation” is when a believer calls on God to curse or destroy his enemies. So, in the “imprecatory psalms,” the psalmist (often David) is in distress and his life is being threatened by enemies, and in response, the psalmist cries out to the Lord to give him relief by cursing or punishing or judging the psalmist’s enemies. The question that needs to be answered with regard to imprecation is, “After the first advent of the Lord Jesus, is the believer still allowed to imprecate (call down curses on) his enemies, or has that forever changed with the coming of Jesus?” At the end of my Post #514 (4/7/2022), I wrote this conclusion:

“And so we conclude our study of the imprecatory psalms. We have seen that these psalms which called down curses on the enemies of the righteous are no longer useful to the disciple of Jesus. Jesus Himself commands His people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, which renders an imprecatory psalm obsolete. But also, since we are to be wise ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), we realize that imprecating others is a poor strategy for sowing the gospel.”

In a later post on this topic of imprecation (#563, 8/26/2022), I concluded:

“Thus, the sanctioned New Testament response to persecution and affliction appears to preclude any retaliation, revenge, or imprecation of enemies. We would thus conclude that the disciple of Jesus is allowed to lament the suffering and to groan underneath it, and to long for the day when God will judge the wicked and set all injustice right but is not to imprecate his enemies. Rather, he is to trust the Lord with the administration of all justice and is to endure the suffering in the strength that Christ supplies.”

STILL MORE THOUGHTS ON IMPRECATION

All my study of imprecation has consistently led me to the conclusion that the disciple of Jesus is not to curse or to ask God to curse his enemies, but is rather to endure the persecution and the suffering. This is clear and incontrovertible. This is what the New Testament teaches.

THE FINAL QUESTION TO SETTLE THE MATTER: It seems to me, however, that the discovery of this New Testament doctrine requires a further step to fully settle the matter. That is, why is the disciple of Jesus not permitted to call down the LORD’s curses on his enemies when the Old Testament saints could do this?

As we explore this question, we begin by acknowledging that the solution is somehow tied to Christ and His death on the cross. The challenge, then, is to discern how Christ’s death on the cross has silenced the imprecatory psalms and removed them from the believer’s arsenal. The Lord no longer hears the believer’s imprecatory prayers because Jesus Christ has died and rendered all our imprecation of earthly enemies trivial by comparison. In the ultimate act of injustice, Jesus has died and yet our Lord “uttered no threats nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:23).

Not only has our Lord demonstrated for us that imprecation is no more, for He uttered no threats in His death (1 Peter 2:23), but He has also commanded His disciples to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-30). Thus, the imprecatory psalms are obsolete, like the day of atonement and the cities of refuge. These psalms are part of the old covenant when the LORD would demonstrate His power by vanquishing His peoples’ enemies and when His people would call upon Him to rescue them physically. But under the new covenant, Jesus the Messiah has come and has already rescued His people. “It is finished” (John 19:30). Now that our Lord has accomplished His atoning work on the cross and has been raised from the dead as first fruits of all those who will rise on the last day, physical threat and physical death have lost their sting (Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 Cor. 15:54-55; etc.). Because of the resurrection, the disciple of Jesus no longer fears those who kill the body (Matt. 10:28). Instead, we love and pray for our enemies because our enemies may be of the elect (like Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9). One of my persecutors today could be worshiping the Lord Jesus with me next Sunday.

Under the old covenant, enemies were hated (Hinted in Matt. 5:43; explicitly stated in imprecatory psalms). The sons of Israel often asked the Lord to destroy their enemies and to rescue them from physical danger. But in the new covenant, the Lord Jesus has now vanquished sin, our greatest enemy, and He has rescued us from death. Because of Jesus’ victory on our behalf, we no longer hate our enemies, but instead we proclaim to them our message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20).  With the giving of the Great Commission, the disciple of Christ is no longer focused on sustaining his own physical life but has instead fixed his eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) for the purpose of proclaiming the good news to friend and foe alike.

ENJOYING THE IMPRECATORY PSALMS

But now, on this side of the cross, we can enjoy the imprecatory psalms because they point forward to that time when our great Savior would render all our imprecation meaningless and unnecessary. As the day of atonement (Leviticus 16) and the suffering servant (Isaiah 53) pointed unerringly to Christ in His first advent, so the imprecatory psalms also point to Christ as the One who, by His death on the cross, will rescue us from the most fearsome of all our enemies, sin and death, and will thus set us free to love our enemies and plead with them to come to faith in the Lord Jesus. We can enjoy these psalms because they remind us that Christ has died and risen from the dead and has thus rendered all cursing of enemies obsolete.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/12/2022                 #599