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

Do we seek suffering? – Part 1 (Phil. 3:10)

            It seems that the statement is made at some point in most conversations about suffering, especially among American Christians. It is usually well intended and sounds like an appropriate thing to say in response to suffering for the name of Jesus. “Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek suffering. . .” But the more I think about that statement, the more uncomfortable I become. Is that true? Are we not to seek suffering? And if that is the case, then why do so many of my heroes in the Bible and in history suffer for their faith? Why does the Bible have so much to say about suffering if my experience of the Christian life can safely avoid it? Is it normal to be a serious Christian and not suffer? And what do I do if God is calling me to a course that will almost certainly result in my suffering to some degree?

            Because of these questions and because of the importance of the topic of suffering, I am going to spend the next several posts exploring what I see to be problems with this statement. The goal is to arrive at a solid perspective on suffering that makes me more useful to Jesus.

“Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering . . .”

PROBLEM #1

“Can you support that statement with Scripture?”

The first reaction to this statement may be to agree with it and let the conversation move on, but as discerning followers of Jesus, we must respond to these types of statements with at least a small challenge.

“That’s an interesting idea. Can you support that statement with Scripture?” Scripture is the place where all disciples of Jesus find a common foundation. Does a given theological position, or a faith practice find solid support in the word of God?

When I think about the fact that Jesus Christ was acutely aware of His appointed suffering on the cross from the beginning of His ministry and had, in fact, been sent to earth for the express purpose of suffering and dying on the cross, I seriously wonder if I can support the statement above. My entire salvation depends upon Jesus seeking suffering. Jesus’ mission could only be accomplished if He suffered and died on the cross. Where does the Lord Jesus tell His disciples that they are not to seek out suffering? Chapter and verse, please.

What about Paul? Paul intentionally did things that provoked persecution and inevitably resulted in his suffering. In Philippi he cast out a demon that ended the merchants’ revenue with the slave girl. He must have known that this was going to result in his being punished and his suffering.

Paul continued his way to Jerusalem knowing that conflict awaited him there (Acts 20-21). His own people pleaded with him to turn back and to change his plans, but Paul steadfastly refused even though he knew that he would suffer. Would Paul agree with the statement that the Christian does not seek out suffering?

And then there is Peter. Peter was warned repeatedly that, if he continued with his preaching about Jesus in Jerusalem, he was going to be severely punished (Acts 4-5), and yet he never even slowed down. If the Jewish or Roman authorities needed to punish someone for preaching about Jesus, Peter was not hard to find. Also, his first epistle has as its central theme the perseverance of the believer in the face of suffering for Christ. Would Peter say that the believer does not seek suffering?

            In the Old Testament, evil kings and false prophets warned the true prophets that, if they did not silence their prophecy or change their message, they would be punished, and the true prophets remained true to the message the LORD had given them to proclaim. For example, more than once, Jeremiah suffered for the message that he preached, but he would rather be punished with the stripes of men than fail to obey the LORD and deliver His message.

            So, while these heroes from Scripture may not have sought suffering, the prospect of suffering was not a factor in their decision-making. They sought to be obedient to the LORD, regardless. That is the view that the Scripture supports.

SDG rmb 1/5/2021

But let’s take a step back for a minute. Maybe the problem with the statement is the statement itself. That is, maybe we are saying what we mean in a clumsy way. My next post will explore that possibility in PROBLEM #2. rmb

To fulfill the Scriptures: Thoughts on Christ’s advents

“How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled? But all this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets (Matthew 26:54, 56).”

            When Jesus was being “betrayed into the hands of sinners (Matthew 26:45),” His disciples attempted to defend Him so that His arrest would not happen. But Jesus told them to put their sword back into its place and consciously allowed Himself to be taken away. Why did He do that? This was done because the Scriptures, written centuries before, must be fulfilled. Not the smallest letter or stroke could pass from the prophecies about His passion and His crucifixion until all was accomplished (Matthew 5:18). In a sense, Jesus was not free to conduct His arrest and crucifixion any way He wanted, because these events had already been scripted in the Law and the Prophets, and the Scriptures must be fulfilled. To know the events that lay before Jesus as He gave His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28) we would need only to carefully study the pages of the Old Testament to see what the prophets had written.

            The point that I am making is that the Scriptures, as the Word of God, will certainly be fulfilled. Every prophecy about the Lord Jesus will be accomplished because these prophecies have been etched forever in God’s Word and are, therefore, manifestations of God’s truth. This has direct bearing on our understanding of Christ’s first advent and especially on His second advent.

AS THE FIRST ADVENT, SO THE SECOND COMING

            As all the Scriptures’ prophecies about Christ’s first advent were fulfilled by the Lord Jesus in the events and circumstances of His earthly life, from His conception to His birth to His earthly ministry to His suffering and crucifixion to His death and resurrection and to His ascension into heaven, so all the prophecies about His Second Coming must necessarily be fulfilled before He will return.

            God’s prophets and His faithful people carefully examined the Scriptures to anticipate Christ’s first advent (1 Peter 1:10-12; Simeon in Luke 2:25-35; Anna in Luke 2:36-38). In the same way, Christ’s people rightly examine the Scriptures to anticipate His Second Coming and to wait eagerly for His return (Hebrews 9:28), when He comes to judge the earth (Psalm 96:13; 98:9) and to bring all His people to heaven.

            In this way, we can get a right perspective on the study of “eschatology,” also known as “last things” or “end times.” It is for the purpose of anticipating our Lord’s glorious coming and for the goal of increasing our eagerness that we carefully study the prophecies of the end-times that God has placed in His Scriptures. As we eagerly anticipate Christ’s coming, our strength to persevere is increased. The prophecies of the time before our Lord’s return include severe testing of the church through persecution and trial. A hope that is fixed on heaven and an eager anticipation of our soon-coming King will hold our feet firmly on the Rock.

            In Matthew 24, it is clear that the Lord Jesus expected His disciples to look forward to His return. He tells them of the events of the distant future (“Behold, I have told you in advance.” v. 25) so that they will know that He is the one who will bring these things to pass, and He tells them, “When you see all these things, recognize that He (the Son of Man) is near, right at the door (v. 33).” It seems to me that Jesus wanted us to be excited about His return, and He put all sorts of prophecies into His Word so that we would have a reason to get excited.

            The Lord has given us His Word, the Bible, so that we would know all He has chosen to reveal to us about the future and about the return of our glorious King. All the prophecies concerning Jesus’ return are “the things which must soon take place (Revelation 1:1).” All the Scriptures about our Lord’s coming will certainly be fulfilled, and when we see all these things, we know that He is right at the door. We therefore study the prophecies of the end-times to glorify God and to strengthen our resolve to persevere.

SDG                 rmb                 12/22/2020

The Lord tests our faith (Matthew 15:22-28)

The woman had a daughter who was being tormented by demons and she was not going to let the Healer go until she got her request. She believed that this Jewish Man had the power to heal her daughter and she was not going to miss this opportunity to bring her request before Him (Matthew 15:22).

When you are in a place where you must hear from the Lord and He must answer or all will be lost, what does it take to deter you? When the Lord is not the last resort, but He is the only resort, for He is the only one who has the power to change the situation, how much resistance does it take to cause you to give up? The disciple of the Lord Jesus has been invited into the throne room of the living God to make our requests known to Him (Hebrews 4:16). In Jesus, believers have been given “boldness and confident access through faith in Him (Ephesians 3:12).” The Lord Jesus Himself told us that “our Father who is in heaven gives good things to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11).” But do we take these promises as seriously as we should? When we must have an answer from the Lord, what will stop us from praying? We have much to learn from this Canaanite woman.

In this episode, Jesus has traveled outside of Jewish Galilee into Gentile territory. A Gentile woman approaches Him and His disciples and begins crying about her daughter, who is “oppressed by a demon (Matthew 15:22).” Jesus and His disciples try to ignore her, but she keeps making herself a pest. Finally, Jesus implies that she is a “dog” and that she is not entitled to His blessings, but she replies that even dogs get crumbs. Then Jesus grants her request.

THE LORD TESTS HER FAITH

What is going on here? What is going on here is that Jesus is testing this woman’s faith to reveal to her and to us that her faith is the genuine article. As Lord of the universe, Jesus reserves the right to test faith, but this is not so that we will be discouraged, and Jesus is not playing games with us. Jesus takes faith very seriously and He never plays games with His children. Jesus does test our faith, but we must remember that Jesus is God and, as God, He already knows that outcome of the testing. Also, true faith manifests itself in perseverance and in persevering prayer. If the woman’s faith is true, she will persevere. True faith will not rest until God answers.

THE WOMAN HAS BOLD FAITH

            Notice how the Canaanite woman cries out to the Lord Jesus: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon (15:22).” First, she cries out for mercy. There is no pride or feeling that she deserves a response, but rather a humble request for mercy. She calls Jesus “Lord,” meaning that she is seeing Him in some sense as the Hebrew God, Yahweh. Although not a Jew, she cries out to Him with the covenant title, “Lord.” And she calls Him the Son of David, meaning that she believes He is the promised Messiah, the one from the line of David who will be the King of the Jews. So, her request is marked by reverence and respect.

            But notice also that the woman made her request boldly and directly. Both her words and her actions (kneeling and begging) displayed reverence and honor to the Lord Jesus, but that did not blunt the force of her request. She needed the Lord to act on her behalf, and this was no time for undue politeness. “If You, Lord, do not act to change this situation, all is lost. Hear my cry! Do not delay! O Lord of the universe, my King and my God, answer me and grant my request!”

HOW HER FAITH WAS TESTED

            Instead of granting her request right away based on her faith, however, the Lord allows her faith to be tested.

  • She is a Canaanite and a woman. She is a “dog” outside the Abrahamic covenant promises. The initial test would be to believe that she had any part in the messianic blessings. Would the Jewish Messiah even respond to her? Does she have any part in the Messiah?
  • The next test is that Jesus does not even speak to her (15:23a). She calls out to Him, but He does not even talk to her. He ignores her. But it is important to notice that He did not say “no.” He has not given His answer yet.
  • Jesus’ disciples beg Jesus to send her away (15:23b). This must have been discouraging.
  • Jesus says that He has been sent only to the house of Israel (15:24), clearly implying He has not come to help Canaanites. But it is again important to notice that He did not say “no.” Jesus has not given His answer yet.
  • When she continues kneeling before Him and asking for help, the Lord tells her that the children’s bread should not be given to dogs (15:26), making painfully clear that she is outside the messianic community of the Jews and not entitled to their blessings. But please notice that Jesus has still not given His answer. He has tested her faith and He has rebuffed her, but He has not given an answer yet, yes or no. And since He has not given an answer, the woman continues to ask.

HER PERSEVERANCE IN FAITH

            Despite what I see as five separate tests to her faith and five separate opportunities to stop requesting and to give up, the woman only leans in harder. Her daughter needs Jesus to heal her, and this woman will not relent until Jesus either heals her daughter or gives her an unambiguous no. So, after being called a Gentile dog (maybe “puppy” would be a better translation, so it is not quite as insulting as it may sound), the woman accepts the label and continues pressing her case. “Yes, Lord (she always calls Him “Lord”), but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table (15:27).” The woman has gained her request. Her faith has proven true and the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, praises her. “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire (15:28).” The Lord answers, “yes.”

APPLICATION

            As the Lord tested this Canaanite woman, so He may test our faith and may delay His answers to our prayers. He may bring us all the way to the edge of the cliff before He gives us His answer. But does He not have the right to test the strength of our faith? But the question is, “How do we respond to these tests?” We persist and persevere in our prayers until the Lord gives us His answer. We do not take delays or periods of silence or even apparent setbacks and rebuffs as His “no,” but we persist until we either receive our request or the answer is unambiguously “no.” We maintain the fervency of our prayer, believing that the Lord will answer the prayers of His children made in faith (John 15:7).

SDG                 rmb                 11/27/2020

He set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51)

The plan that had been established in eternity past and that had been necessitated by Adam’s sin and by every sin since Adam’s first sin was reaching its climax. The Lord Jesus Christ had entered time and space at Bethlehem and had been anointed for ministry and was displaying His glory in His ministry on earth. But now there had occurred a critical shift in direction, for now Jesus was headed for Jerusalem.

When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51

            All the preliminary details had been accomplished and the preparation was done. Now Jesus’ face was set, and Jerusalem was His goal, and there was nothing in heaven or on earth that was going to prevent Him from reaching His goal. And what awaited Him in Jerusalem? Was He going to be crowned king and begin to reign? Oh, no. He was inexorably, irresistibly going to Jerusalem because a Roman cross awaited Him there. He set His face to go to Jerusalem so He could be “rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Luke 9:22).” His goal was Jerusalem because He knew that He had to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of His people, and He was the chosen sacrifice. And so, Jesus decisively set His face.

            Everything about Jesus displayed His authority and His holiness, but I wanted to make three observations about this part of His earthly ministry.

  1. Jesus was crystal clear on His mission. He knew what He was and what He was not to accomplish. There was no ambiguity in His mind, no waffling or wavering. Having a definite target on which to focus enabled Him to avoid distraction. There was a cross for Him in Jerusalem, and His mission was to reach it, and the rest was just noise.
  2. Jesus had unflinching resolve. Knowing the goal, Jesus made the commitment to reach that goal. Regardless of the cost or the difficulty of the path, Jesus was directing all His energies toward that goal.
  3. Jesus had confident trust in His Father. The Father had created the plan and the Father had called Jesus to accomplish this part of the plan. Jesus trusted that the Father would be with Him and would guide Him and provide for Him until He had fulfilled the mission. He trusted in God’s sovereign control of all things to bring about the desired end.

APPLICATIONS

            What can we learn from our Lord for our daily challenges?

  1. Be clear on my mission. Having a clear purpose and mission is a great help in directing our energies and activities. We are not going to be the savior of the world, but God has called us for a purpose and for a mission. What is my mission? Why am I here? Clarity on your mission will help you focus and avoid distraction.
  2. Resolve to press on and persevere. The best way to persevere is simply to resolve to not quit. All paths have monotony and difficulty, but a determination to continue and to persevere will make you an overcomer. “One thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).”
  3. Trust the Lord. If the Lord has called you to Himself, then He has adopted you as His child. He is for you. “If God be for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?” He is with you. “I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).” The Bible is a book of the Lord’s faithfulness to His people. He is trustworthy. In the midst of the battle or in the midst of the calm, we can trust His sovereign control of all things to bring about His desired end.

SDG                 rmb                 11/4/2020

Trading Retirement for a Mission (2 Timothy 4:7)

            There is in the American experience an expectation of “retirement.” That is, part of the American dream is this persistent idea that, after some number of years of working and struggling to make our mark in the world, the time has come to retire and to slow down the pace and to ”enjoy the golden years” hopefully “doing what we have always wanted to do.” Maybe we will get a hobby and spend some time with our grandkids and take it easy. At first glance, this seems like a great idea. And haven’t we earned it? Don’t we deserve to bask in the fruits of our labor? But as the Christian examines this idea against the teaching of Scripture, we may find that completing our mission too early is not a good thing.

KING SOLOMON

            Consider, for example, King Solomon. Solomon was chosen by the LORD Himself to be the one who would build His house in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 28:6, 10). Then King David, Solomon’s father, charged him with the task of building the house of the LORD (1 Chronicles 28:20). Additionally, Solomon himself had decided to build a magnificent royal palace for him and his wives. So, it can correctly be said that what defined King Solomon’s life was the completion of these two great building projects. And what an amazing task to be given and what a remarkable mission to accomplish, to be the one who would be known for all time as the builder of the house of the LORD in Jerusalem! After twenty years of construction, Solomon finished these projects (2 Chronicles 5:1; 6:10; 7:1; 8:1), and thus his life’s accomplishment was completed. He had successfully done what the LORD had called him to do.

            So, if we are armed with our current “bask-in-his-glory” mindset, we would expect to see Solomon reaping the fruits of his vast labors and that the rest of his life would be a glowing success, an example of a life well-spent. That expectation, however, is shattered as we witness this great man’s life slowly unravel in indulgence, opulence, and idolatry, marrying many foreign wives and building altars to pagan gods (1 Kings 11). After the mission of his life is accomplished, Solomon turns his heart away from the LORD and spends the remainder of his days in disastrous pursuits. Toward the end of his life, Solomon pens the book of Ecclesiastes in which, as an uncertain, cynical, pessimistic older man he asks essential questions about the meaning of life and about the purpose of existence. Without oversimplifying things, I think the main problem was that Solomon completed his life’s mission long before his life was done.

            This is the inherent danger of our modern idea of retirement; namely, that we complete our life’s work or accomplish our life’s mission, and then spend the rest of our days in leisure. The danger of retirement is intentionally putting an end to our life’s mission long before our life is over.

            Related to this are two fundamental truths that must be grasped. First, mankind was created by God for mission, and every individual man and woman is most fulfilled and most alive when they are most fully engaged in the mission God the Creator has given them to do. When Solomon was engaged in his building projects, his kingdom flourished, his advice was wise, and his life was fulfilled. But when his mission was over, he drifted downstream and ended up on the rocks. Again, I say, we are made to fulfill out God-given mission until we draw our last breath, not just until we decide to “retire.”

            The second truth that we must grasp is that we are fallen creatures and our entire being has been corrupted by sin. The Fall of man was very effective, and, because of it, all human beings are bent toward sin and are bent toward disobedience. By nature, we love sin and, even when we have been born-again through faith in Jesus Christ and our sins have been forgiven by His blood, we still live with our “flesh,” which tempts us toward indulgence, opulence, and idolatry. Therefore, since we are fallen and still live with our “flesh,” each of us needs a noble, compelling mission that infuses passion into our lives. Without a compelling, God-given mission, we are likely to waste our time and squander our lives in aimless pursuits. Because Solomon was fallen like all men, and because he had finished his life’s mission, he lost his zeal and aimlessly drifted. In the end, his life, which had such spectacular promise, disintegrated into a dubious legacy of disappointment.

A CONTRAST

            While the Bible gives us examples of people who, like Solomon, did not finish well so that we might be warned not to follow their course, the Bible also gives us other examples of people who pursued their mission to the very end and died while still pressing forward. One of those examples is the apostle Paul. For Paul, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).” In this verse, and in many others, Paul makes clear that he had received his mission from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and that he was going to accomplish that mission. In all of Paul’s writing there is no mention of “leisure” or of “retirement.” Instead, we read of fruitful labor, of striving, of pressing toward the goal, of spending and being expended for people’s souls, and of being poured out as a drink offering. Instead of indulging his flesh, Paul buffets his body to make it his slave. Rather than playing it safe, for the sake of the gospel Paul was constantly being exposed to real dangers, like beatings and shipwrecks. There is no record of Paul ever living in a palace or of him musing about the “golden years” of rest that are up ahead, unless you count the times the Apostle talked about heaven and his desire to go there where he would receive his crown (2 Timothy 4:8).

LESSONS ON MISSION

            One of the immense blessings of being a follower of the Lord Jesus is that, with our salvation we have also received a calling, a mission. The entire Christian life is about living on mission, about finding and living out that unique place to which the Lord has called you where you are most satisfied. We have all generally been called to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) and His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are all to be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19) and are all to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). But I am convinced that we are also all given a unique mission to accomplish that the Lord has entrusted to each one of us.

            Since that is the case, the first thing to do is to seek and find your mission. “How do I know what my mission is?” You will know it when you find it, but you will also know it when you have not found it, because when your life is not running on mission, you will know a level of dissatisfaction. The search for your mission may be a long search, but the treasure of the mission is worth the effort.

            What are the characteristics of an ideal “mission?” Your mission will probably not be a narrowly defined, specific task or endeavor. Rather, it will be somewhat broad. (Examples: “A ministry of prayer in which I lift up immediate needs of my church and also pray for our supported missionaries.” “Writing articles and blogs on Bible passages to increase the love of the Word among God’s people.”) Your mission should be context independent. That is, it can be done in any country, in any season; it can be done whether you are rich or poor, at any age of your life. The mission should be something that can be done until the day you die, whenever that is. The mission should allow you to still bear fruit in old age (Psalm 92:14). Your mission should be something about which you are passionate. Finally, your mission is something that you know that you will never complete. If you have a mission of praying for your church’s needs, you know that you will never finish praying, for there are always more needs. If your mission is writing articles, blogs, and books about the Bible, you know that you will never finish your mission, because there will always be articles to write and people to encourage. And this is a good thing, because it ensures that you will always have “missionary” work to do, and so your passion will ever flow hot.

            Finally, consider these two statements about mission:

“I have fought the good fight; I have finished the course (mission); I have kept the faith.” – (2 Timothy 4:7) written by the apostle Paul as he was awaiting his execution in a prison in Rome.

“I glorified You (God the Father) on earth, having accomplished the work (mission) that You gave Me to do.” – (John 17:4) spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ on the night of His betrayal.

            So, rather than thinking about retirement and how we can enjoy the leisure of your “golden years,” let’s think about laboring in a compelling mission from which we will never retire and which will allow us to hit the finish line at full speed.

SDG                 rmb                 7/29/2020