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F r o m L i g o n i e r m i n i s t r i e s a n d R . C . S P RO U L

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February 2010

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R.C. Sproul Michael Horton Derek Thomas Cornelis Venema John Piper D.A. Carson J.V. Fesko Guy Waters Roger Nicole Paul Helm Sinclair Ferguson Thomas Schreiner Albert Mohler What N.T. Wright Really Said

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Contents

f a c e o f G o d

Justification for Everyone B y

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P a r s o n s

F E B . 2 0 1 0 | v o l . 3 4 | n o . 2 / / W h a t N . T . W r i g h t Re a l l y S a i d

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or years we have wrestled with the question as to whether we should produce an issue of Tabletalk devoted to the new perspectives on Paul on the doctrine of justification, and for years we concluded that many of our readers would be generally unaware of what has been, until recently, an academic discussion among studied churchmen the world over. However, with the release of N.T. Wright’s popular-level book What Saint Paul Really Said, coupled with his international ministry among laity and winsome personality, his popularity and teaching have spread like wildfire from the seminaries to the pulpits to the pews of churches around the world. The first popular-level response to N.T. Wright’s teaching came from the pen of Dr. John Piper. With pastoral care, academic integrity, and unrelenting graciousness, Piper gave us The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright, which in turn elicited a response from Wright. In correspondence with Piper’s pastoral assistant David Mathis, we agreed it would be appropriate to provide readers with a word of introduction from Dr. Piper to help explain our purpose and to help set the needed tone for this special issue of Tabletalk. I am truly thankful for his words: “Nicholas Thomas Wright is an English scholar and the Anglican Bishop of Durham, England. He is a remarkable blend of weighty academic scholarship, ecclesiastical leadership, popular Christian advocacy, musical talent, and family commitment. As critical as the articles in this magazine are of Wright’s understanding of the gospel and justification, the seriousness and scope of the issue is a testimony to the stature of his scholarship and the extent of his influence. I am thankful for his strong commitment to the authority of Scripture; his defense of the virgin birth, deity, and resurrection of Christ; his biblical disapproval of homosexual conduct; and the consistent way he presses us to see the big picture of God’s universal purpose for all peoples through the covenant with Abraham — and more. My conviction concerning Wright is not that he is under the curse of Galatians 1, but that his portrayal of the gospel — and of justification in particular — is so disfigured that it becomes difficult to recognize as biblically faithful. In my judgment, what he has written will lead to a kind of preaching that will not announce clearly what makes the lordship of Christ good news for guilty sinners, or show those who are overwhelmed with sin how they may stand righteous in the presence of God.” In quoting N.T. Wright directly and providing concise responses from some of the world’s most trusted churchmen, it is our sincere prayer that this issue will serve to equip the church to know and defend that precious doctrine upon which each individual stands or falls before the face of God, by faith alone and for His glory alone.  Burk Parsons is editor of Tabletalk magazine and associate minister at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, Florida.

P u b l i s h e r Ligonier Ministries e x e c u t i v e e d i t o r R.C. Sproul e d i t o r Burk Parsons S e n i o r A s s o c i at e e d i t o r Chris Donato a s s o c i at e e d i t o r s Keith A. Mathison, Robert Rothwell p r o d u c t i o n m a n a g e r Scott Devor C r e at i v e D i r e c t o r Geoff Stevens A RT D i r e c t o r Monty Morgan Ma r k e t i n g m a n a g e r John Cobb c i r c u l at i o n Dawn Sanders Tabletalk (usps 009-013) is published monthly by Ligonier Ministries, Inc., 400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746. Annual subscription price (12 issues): $23.00. Periodicals postage paid at Lake Mary, FL, and additional mailing offices. The daily Bible studies are copyright 2009, Ligonier Ministries, Inc. Unless noted, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Postmaster: Send address changes to Ligonier Ministries, 400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746-6229.

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4  Tilting at Scarecrows 

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Rethinking the Gospel? R. Albert Mohler Jr.

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A Future Justification Based upon Works?

Cornelis P. Venema

“Works of the Law” in Paul

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J. V. Fesko

What Does Justification Have to do with the Gospel? Sinclair B. Ferguson

Justification and Ecumenism

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R.C. Sproul A New Luther? Derek W.H. Thomas

Wright Is Wrong on Imputation

Thomas R. Schreiner

“Faith” and “Faithfulness”

D.A. Carson

The “Nonsense” of Justifying the Ungodly

John Piper, with David Mathis

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Michael Horton

Has the Church Misunderstood Justification?

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Guy Prentiss Waters

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Christ, Our Righteousness Roger Nicole

Salvation and the Life After Life

Paul Helm

The feature articles and columns from this issue of Tabletalk are available at www.ligonier.org/tabletalk.

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39 Into the Word

45 The New Covenant Iain D. Campbell 52 God Speaks Through His Son Ken Jones 61 The Church as God’s Prophet Kim Riddlebarger 68 Christ, the Wisdom of God John P. Sartelle

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36 Two Birds, One Stone R.C. Sproul Jr. // Seek Ye First 72 An Unpopular Vision George Grant // Truth & Consequences 76 Pilgrims (and Their Hosts) R. Scott Clark // For the Church 78 The Missing Motive Eric J. Alexander // Generation to Generation 82 On Controversy Keith A. Mathison // Beyond The Wicket Gate

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T i lt i ng at Sca r ecr ow s R.C. Sproul

“We are not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith. We are justified by faith by believing in the gospel itself—in other words, that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead.”

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n the past few years, the British bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has emerged as an icon of biblical theology around the world. His excellent work on the resurrection of Christ has influenced many people including his own country’s most famous philosopher and former atheist Antony Flew, who has converted to deism. Wright is also known, however, for being one of the chief architects of the so-called new perspective on Paul, in which he recasts the doctrine of justification in such a way as to transcend the historic dispute between Roman Catholicism and Reformation Protestantism. In a sense, Wright says, “A pox on both your houses,” claiming that both Rome and the Reformation misunderstood and distorted the biblical view of justification. In his response to John Piper’s critique of his work, Wright drips patronizing disdain for Piper and for those who embrace the traditional Protestant view of justification. He is critical of theological traditions that he thinks miss the biblical point. In the course of debate, one of the 4

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N .T. W r i g h t,

“New Perspectives on Paul,” in Justification in Perspective, p. 261

most effective and fallacious arguments often used is called the “straw man” fallacy. The value of a scarecrow is that it is a counterfeit human being designed to scare away a few crows. It is an effective device, but not nearly as effective as a real farmer patrolling his fields with a shotgun. The farmer made of straw is not nearly as formidable as the real one. This is usually the case in the difference between the authentic and the counterfeit. The straw man fallacy occurs when one creates a false view of his opponent’s position in a distorted caricature by which he then easily dismantles that position in total refutation. One of the statements that N.T. Wright employs, using this same stratagem, is the statement that “we are not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith.” To intimate that Protestant orthodoxy believes that we are justified by believing in the doctrine of justification by faith is the king of all straw men. It is the Goliath of scarecrows, the King Kong of straw man fallacies. In other words, it is a whopper. I am aware of no theo-

logian in the history of the Reformed tradition who believes or argues that a person can be justified by believing in the doctrine of justification by faith. This is a pure and simple distortion of the Reformed tradition. In Wright’s statement we see a straw man argument that falls by its own weight. It contains more straw than the stick figure can support. The doctrine of justification by faith alone not only does not teach that justification is by believing in the doctrine of justification by faith alone, but in fact, teaches that which is totally antithetical to the idea. The phrase “justification by faith alone” is theological shorthand for saying justification is by Christ alone. Anyone who understands and advocates the doctrine of justification by faith alone knows that the focal point is that which justifies — trust in Christ and not trust in a doctrine. One of the key terms in the phrase “justification by faith” is the word by, which signals that faith is the means or tool that links us to Christ and His benefits. The concept indicates that faith is the “instrumental” cause of our justification. What is in view in the Protestant formulation is a distinction from the Roman Catholic view of the instrumental cause. Rome declares the sacrament of baptism in the first instance and penance in the second instance to be the instrumental causes of justification. So the dispute of what instrument is the basis by which we are justified was and remains critical to the classical dispute between Rome and Protestantism. The Protestant view, following Paul’s teaching in the New Testament, is that faith is the sole instrument by which we are linked to Christ.

Closely related to this is the hotly disputed issue of the grounds of our justification before God. Here is where the biblical concept of imputation is so important. Those who deny imputation as the grounds of our justification declare it to be a legal fiction, a miscarriage of justice, or even a manifestation of cosmic child abuse. Yet at the same time, it is the biblical explanation for the ground of our redemption. No biblical text more clearly teaches this concept of transfer or imputation than that of Isaiah 53, which the New Testament church singled out as a crucial prophetic explanation of the drama of redemption. The New Testament declares Christ to be our righteousness, and it is precisely our confidence in the righteousness of Christ as the grounds for our justification that is the focus of the doctrine of justification by faith. We understand that believing the doctrine of sola fide will save no one. Faith in a doctrine is not enough to save. However, though we cannot be saved by believing in the doctrine of justification, the denial of that same doctrine can indeed be fatal because to deny the doctrine of justification by faith alone as the apostle Paul indicated in Galatians is to reject the gospel and substitute something else for it, which would result in what Paul declares to be anathema. The gospel is too important to be dismissed by tilting at scarecrows.  Dr. R.C. Sproul is founder and president of Ligonier Ministries, and he is author of the books Getting the Gospel Right and Justification by Faith Alone.

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Ret h i n k i ng t he G ospel? R. Albert Mohler Jr. “But the real point is, I believe, that the salvation of human beings, though of course extremely important for those human beings, is part of a larger purpose. God is rescuing us from the shipwreck of the world, not so that we can sit back and put our feet up in his company, but so that we can be part of his plan to remake the world. We are in orbit around God and his purposes, not the other way around.” N .T. W r i g h t,

Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, p. 24

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ishop Wright believes the Christian church has fundamentally misunderstood the gospel. If he is right about this, we must hear him and accept his corrective. But, if he is wrong, he will lead us away from the gospel. The stakes simply could not be higher. Bishop Wright is brilliant, creative, provocative, and fascinating. His writing is scintillating. His arguments, however, are exceedingly slippery and often dangerous. What he proposes is nothing less than a complete reconception of what Christians believe about salvation and the gospel of Christ. In his earliest work, he called for a revolution in our understanding of Jesus, Paul, and the gospel. He insisted that the church must reverse centuries of understanding and abandon what Christians, and Christians committed to the Reformation traditions in particular, have held to be the very essence of the gospel. The gospel, Wright insists, “is not an account of how people get saved.” The apostle Paul’s message, he pro6

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poses, was not “a doctrine about how to get saved.” This will certainly come as a shock to most Christians. The church, in virtually all its main traditions, has commonly understood the gospel to be exactly what Bishop Wright proposes that it is not — a message about how sinners are saved. In order to make his point, Wright first proposes that most Christians reduce the scope of the gospel by accepting the worldview of modern individualism. For many Christians, the gospel is reduced to nothing more than their personal salvation from sin, without any understanding of the eternal purpose of God to redeem a people through the blood of the Lamb. On this point, Bishop Wright deserves to be heard. Without doubt, contemporary evangelicalism is particularly given to the error of reducing the gospel in this way. Furthermore, individualism does indeed undermine the atonement of Christ and the saving purpose of God. Nevertheless, at this point it is im-

portant to note how Wright so often frames an argument. He is absolutely correct in lamenting the excessively individualistic focus of so many Christians and churches. But he then turns his argument on the assumption that any concern for the salvation of individual sinners must be secondary to something else. What else? Reviewing the message of the New Testament, Wright then turns to criticize contemporary Christianity for losing sight of the fact that the created order is also part of God’s redemptive plan and purpose. Wright argues that the remaking of creation is at the center of the gospel. “New creation” is the culmination of “God’s project” and the gospel is the declaration of this promise, revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Evangelism is to be reconceived as the announcement of God’s kingdom and the promise of new creation. Any claim “that the main or central thing that has happened is that the new Christian has entered into a private relationship with God or with Jesus” is to be avoided. Once aga in, there is tr uth in Wright’s lament that far too many Christians have little appreciation for the cosmic significance of the gospel. The Bible does point us to the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, even as we are reminded that creation is now groaning under the curse of sin. We should wholeheartedly agree with Bishop Wright that a failure to appreciate the eschatological promise of the new creation is to reduce the gospel as it is revealed in the Bible. Once again, however, Wright moves from a legitimate criticism to a deliberate reconstruction of the gospel. While missing or minimizing the meaning of

the gospel for creation is an error, the fact remains that the Bible reveals the redemptive purpose of God to focus primarily and pervasively upon the salvation of sinners. We must not miss what is at stake. If Bishop Wright is correct, the gospel is not mainly about the salvation of individual sinners through the redeeming work of Christ, but about God’s project of new creation. If this is true, evangelism is the act of declaring God’s purposes and pointing to Christ as the divine agent of accomplishing the redemption of the entire cosmos. At this point, Wright’s emphasis upon new creation and his insistence that the gospel is not primarily about “how one gets saved” can be seen to fit perfectly within his larger project. His argument that justification is about ecclesiology rather than soteriology, his insistence that the doctrine of justification by faith is not what Paul understood to be the gospel, and his assertion that the gospel is more about right action in this world rather than hope for the next, all fall into place together. In the end, N.T. Wright’s project, no matter how brilliantly presented, falls far short of the New Testament’s central focus on what Paul described as the gospel “by which you are being saved” (1 Cor. 15:2). As is so often the case with those who suggest a recasting of Reformation doctrine, the problem is not so much with what Wright proposes to add to our understanding, but what he wants to take away. 

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He is author of The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness.

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“We are either justified by a righteousness that is in us or by a righteousness that is apart from by faith alone for 38 years and counting.

us. There is no

See our library of resources at ligonier.org/Justification

third way.”

Standing firm on the doctrine of justification

– R .C . Sprou l

A F ut u r e Ju st i f icat ion Ba sed on Work s? C o r n e l i s P. V e n e m a “The whole point about ‘justification by faith’ is that it is something which happens in the present time (Romans 3.26) as a proper anticipation of the eventual judgment which will be announced, on the basis of the whole life led, in the future (Romans 2.1–16).” N .T. W r i g h t,

Paul in Fresh Perspective, p. 57

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ne of the remarkable features of N.T. Wright’s reformulation of the Protestant doctrine of justification is his emphasis upon a “future justification” on the basis of works. According to Wright, the apostle Paul clearly teaches that believers will be subject to a final judgment “according to works” (Rom. 14:10–12; 2 Cor. 5:10). This future judgment according to works constitutes, in Wright’s opinion, the eschatological completion of the believer’s justification. Wright defines justification as an act of God’s covenant faithfulness that involves an eschatological vindication of those who belong to His covenant family. When God justifies those who are members of His covenant community, He does so in anticipation of their “final justification” at the last judgment. Accordingly, we must recognize that justification occurs in three tenses or stages — past, present, and future. In the past event of Christ’s cross and resurrection, God has already revealed what He will do at the end of history. Jesus, who died as the “representative 10

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Messiah of Israel,” was vindicated by God in His resurrection from the dead. This event, Christ’s resurrection, represents God’s justification of Jesus as the Son of God — the Messiah through whom the covenant promise to Abraham (“in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed,” Gen. 28:14) will be fulfilled. The past event of Christ’s justification becomes a present reality through faith. All those who believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord are justified, that is, acknowledged by God to be members of the one, great family of faith composed of Jew and Gentile alike. Because the present reality of justification focuses upon membership in the covenant community, baptism into Christ is the present event that effects this justification. Though justification has these past and present stages, its primary stage lies yet in the future. At the final judgment or “justification,” God will declare in favor of His people (the covenant community promised to Abraham). This final justification or vindication of God’s

people will include a “justification by works.” Commenting on Romans 2:13, Wright insists that “those who will be vindicated [that is, justified] on the last day are those in whose hearts and lives God will have written his law, his Torah.” The “works of the law” that justification excludes are only those badges of Jewish identity that prevent Gentiles from becoming members of the covenant community. Justification does not exclude, however, those works of the Law that are born of the obedience of faith. Since Wright identifies the final judgment with the final chapter of the justification of believers, he radically compromises the scriptural teaching that justification is not based upon works or human performance (Rom. 3:20, 28; Gal. 3:10–14). From an historical perspective, Wright’s position is not unlike that of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, which also claimed that the Reformation’s view of justification by faith alone failed to do justice to the biblical theme of a final acquittal before God based upon works. If, as Wright insists, the justification of believers requires a final phase or “completion,” which will be determined by the works of the justified, then it seems evident that he teaches a doctrine of justification by grace through faith plus works. The apostle Paul’s teaching that works are wholly excluded as a basis for the justification of believers is incompatible with the idea that (final) justification will ultimately be based upon works. Paul regards justification as a thoroughly eschatological blessing, which anticipates definitively and irrevocably the final verdict that God declares regarding believers. The notion of a final justification on the basis

of works inevitably weakens the assertion that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). A final justification on the basis of works also undermines Paul’s bold declaration that no charge can be brought, now or in the future, against those who are Christ’s (Rom. 8:33–34). Rather than treating the final judgment as another chapter in the justification of believers, we should view Paul’s emphasis upon the role of works in this judgment in terms of his understanding of all that salvation through union with Christ entails. Because believers are being renewed by Christ’s Spirit, their acquittal in the final judgment will be a public confirmation of the genuineness of their faith and not a justifying verdict on the basis of works. Undoubtedly, because believers always receive Christ for both righteousness and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30), they are not saved without good works. But these good works are the fruits of faith, not the basis for a future justification. For this reason, Paul speaks of a judgment “according to,” not “on the basis of” works. Instead of embracing Wright’s confusion of justification and a final judgment according to works, we should recognize the biblical wisdom of the puritan Thomas Manton: “By the righteousness of faith we are acquitted from sin [justified], and by the righteousness of works we are acquitted from hypocrisy” [confirmed to be justified by a true faith]. 

Dr. Cornelis P. Venema is president and professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary and associate pastor of Redeemer United Reformed Church in Dyer, Ind. He is also author of Getting the Gospel Right.

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“ Work s of t he L aw ” i n Pau l J .V. F e s k o

“What, then, are the ‘works of the law,’ by which one cannot be ‘justified’ in this sense? …They are the ‘living like a Jew’ of Galatians 2:14, the separation from ‘Gentile sinners’ of Galatians 2:15. They are not, in other words, the moral ‘good works’ which the Reformation tradition loves to hate. They are the things that divide Jew from Gentile….” N .T. W r i g h t,

Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, pp. 116–117

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he definition of Paul’s phrase “works of the law” is one of the more significant disagreements between N.T. Wright and the Reformation understanding of justification by faith alone. On what basis can Wright claim that Paul does not have worksrighteousness in view? Wright maintains that the chief issue of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians is not works-righteousness (legalism) but table fellowship. Wright contends that the Jewish Christians at Galatia were perplexed as to how Gentiles could now sit with them and break bread. True enough, Christ had come to save both Jews and Gentiles, but how could these Gentiles be considered part of Abraham’s family unless they bore the marks of being Jewish — circumcision, the food laws, and Sabbath observance? These Jewish Christians were prepared to allow Gentiles in their midst but only if they bore the “works of the law” and submitted to circumcision, ate the 12

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proper food, and observed the Sabbath. Hence, according to Wright, Paul wrote to the Galatians so they would understand that Christ had done away with the “works of the law” and that Gentiles could be Christians without these Jewish identity markers. Jesus had lowered the flag of the works of the law and raised a new one in its place — faith in Him — to identify the people of God. The problem with Wright’s view is that he takes matters that are in the background of Paul’s letter and moves them to the foreground (as Doug Moo put it). In other words, Wright takes Paul’s message about salvation and how one is declared righteous in God’s sight and places it on the back burner. He then takes a secondary matter, that of table fellowship, and moves it to the front burner almost to the point that he eclipses the message about sin and salvation. Observe some of the following points. First, why would Paul be ex-

ercised over table fellowship to the point that he would warn the Galatians of damnation for embracing a false gospel (Gal. 1:8-9)? Second, when Paul uses the phrase “works of the law” he certainly has in mind circumcision, food laws, and the Sabbath. But he also has many other things in view. The triad of Jewish identity markers is but one small sliver of the pie of the Law. When Paul condemns reliance upon the “works of the law” he quotes from Deuteronomy in Galatians 3:10: “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (emphasis mine; see Deut. 27:26). Paul not only condemned relying upon circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath, but he also included everything written in the Law. That is, anyone who tries to offer his own obedience to the Law in the effort to be approved and declared as righteous (as obedient) in God’s sight would instead bring a curse upon himself. Third, when Paul illustrates what it means to rely upon works versus faith, he appeals to a time before God instituted circumcision, food laws, and the Sabbath. Paul appeals to Abraham and Sarah’s sinful efforts to bring about the divine promise by their sinful efforts rather than by faith alone in the seed who was to come — Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16; 4:21–31). And fourth, Wright opposes circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath against faith as the identity markers of Old and New Testament respectively. Wright’s definition, however, sets the Bible in opposition to itself. Was faith not an identity marker of the Old Testament saints? As the great hall of faith tells us in Hebrews

The proper definition of the works of the law means the difference between justification and condemnation, heaven and hell. 11, faith in Christ has always been the way to identify the people of God. The choice of the proper definition of the phrase “works of the law” is not one between Wright and the Reformation but one ultimately between Wright and the apostle Paul — indeed, between Wright and Scripture itself. Paul goes to great lengths to refute the Judaizer’s sinful reliance upon their own obedience (their works of the law) because it was a matter of their salvation, not simply table fellowship. Paul’s extended argumentation in Galatians can be distilled into a statement from his letter to the Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9). In a word, it is Christ’s works that are the legal ground of our declaration of justification, not our own good works. The proper definition of the works of the law means the difference between justification and condemnation, heaven and hell. 

Dr. J.V. Fesko is academic dean and associate professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California. He is author of Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine.

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W h at Does Ju st i f icat ion Have to do w it h t he G ospel? Sinclair B. Ferguson “I must stress again that the doctrine of justification by faith is not what Paul means by ‘the gospel’. It is implied by the gospel; when the gospel is proclaimed, people come to faith and so are regarded by God as members of his people. But ‘the gospel’ is not an account of how people get saved.” N .T. W r i g h t,

What Saint Paul Really Said, pp. 132–33

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here is a striking plausibility about saying that “justification by faith is not what Paul means by ‘the gospel.’” After all, as N.T. Wright elsewhere observes, we are not justified by believing in justification by faith but by believing in Jesus Christ. How Luther-like this all sounds. Did he not affirm that the gospel is “entirely outside of us”? Is this perhaps the longed-for antidote to evangelical individualism and a cure for subjectivism? Clearly Bishop Wright and others believe so. Elsewhere, Dr. Wright confesses the great relief he felt in discovering that we are not justified by believing in justification by faith. But this already suggests that the plausibility of this perspective is scarcely matched by the reality. These words seem to describe an escape from the theological immaturity of an earlier evangelicalism. But having been reared at the same time in that same evangelicalism, I seriously question that such teaching ever existed in any serious form. 14

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This should make us reconsider the apparent plausibility of what is being said here. At the end of the day, it may turn out to be a sleight of hand — for several reasons. What follows are three of them. First, there is a false dichotomy suggested in the notion that the gospel is not justification by faith but the latter is “implied” by the gospel. But this “either-or” way of thinking expresses the logical fallacy tertium non datur (if not A, then necessarily B). Thus, the gospel is Christ OR it is justification by faith. This is falsely to abstract justification from Christ, the benefit (the implication of what Jesus did) from the Benefactor (the person of Jesus who has accomplished His work). But as Paul notes, Christ Himself is made righteousness for us (1 Cor. 1:30). Justification cannot be abstracted from Christ as if it were a “thing” apart from or added to Him. Christ Himself is our justification. We cannot have justification without Christ! Nor can we have Christ without justification!

Insofar as this is true, we cannot say that Christ, not justification by faith, is the gospel. Second and perhaps more surprisingly, given N.T. Wright’s extensive commentary on Romans, Paul himself provides us with what he calls “my gospel” (Rom. 2:16). But this gospel is saving power (1:16–17) — thus “being saved” is part of the gospel. In addition it includes not only Romans 1–3 but Romans 4–16 as well. More pointedly, it includes Romans 12–16. In technical language it includes not only kerygma (the proclamation of Christ and His work) but also didache (the application of that work in and to the life of the believer and the community). Earlier, Paul believed that the distortion and falsifying of the gospel taking place in the Galatian church involved the application of redemption. Justification by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone, is as much part of the gospel as Christ becoming a curse for us on the cross (Gal. 3:13). Finally, unless we are familiar with the context of Wright’s words quoted above, we may not notice a further sleight of hand taking place. In the statement “when the gospel is proclaimed, people come to faith and so are regarded by God as members of his people,” “justification” itself is being radically redefined. Here it no longer means “counted righteous in God’s sight although a guilty sinner in oneself.” It means “being regarded as members of His people.” Justification no longer belongs to the definition of the gospel as such, to pardon and acceptance, but refers to membership in the covenant community. But this faces insurmountable problems. It is an eccentric understanding of Paul’s Greek terms. Were

“justification” the antithesis of “alienation,” the argument might be more plausible. But “justification” is the antithesis of “condemnation.” Its primary thrust has to do with transgression, guilt, and punishment — relatedness to God’s holiness expressed in legal norms, not primarily relationship to the community. Membership, therefore, is an implication of justification; it is not what justification means. That is why the gospel confession that “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3) must never be understood apart from the interpretation given it in 1 Corinthians 15:1–3 — that “Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures.” This Paul specifically calls the gospel. It deals first and foremost with our sin, pollution, and guilt as the reasons for exclusion from the presence of God. Yes, justification is relational language. But it is no less forensic language for that reason — since it deals with our relationship to the holy Lord and Lawgiver! It is right to be concerned that the objectivity of the gospel should never be swallowed up by subjectivity, or the church community destroyed by individuality. But the understanding of the gospel and of justification in Luther and Calvin, in Heidelberg and Westminster, provides all the necessary safeguards. The old wine is best. It satisfies both the requirements of biblical teaching and the deepest hunger of the awakened human heart. 

Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson is minister of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., and distinguished visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary. He is author of In Christ Alone.

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Ju st i f icat ion a nd Ec u men ism Michael Horton

“Once we relocate justification, moving it from the discussion of how people become Christians to the discussion of how we know that someone is a Christian, we have a powerful incentive to work together across denominational barriers.” N .T. W r i g h t,

“New Perspectives on Paul,” in Justification in Perspective, p. 261

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ne of the great connections that N.T. Wright emphasizes in his work is the one between soteriology (how we are saved) and ecclesiology (the church: who are the true people of God?). He properly (and repeatedly) reminds us that Paul saw these questions as inseparable. Interestingly, so did the Protestant Reformers, as historians have often obser ved. As on so many points, however, Wright distorts the Reformation positions and almost never footnotes his sweeping allegations. For example, in his latest book, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (IVP, 2009), Wright once more complains that the Reformers simply did not read Paul with his own concerns in mind, such as God’s plan “to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10), with the two peoples (Jew and Gentile) becoming one family in Christ in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham (p. 43). A cursor y reading of Calvin’s Ephesians commentary tells a differ16

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ent story. Nevertheless, Wright states confidently: “And, as I have argued before and hope to show here once more, many of the supposedly ordinary readings within the Western Protestant traditions have simply not paid attention to what Paul actually wrote” (p. 50). The Reformation tradition simply doesn’t see any “organic connection between justification by faith on the one hand and the inclusion of the Gentiles within God’s people on the other” (p. 53). In this, as in his earlier works, Wright practically never offers a single footnote for his manifold assertions concerning Reformation exegesis. However, he hangs much on the slender thread of several quotes from Alister McGrath’s expansive yet controversial study of the history of the doctrine of justification, Iustitia Dei. Assuming discontinuity more than refinement, McGrath argues (as approvingly cited by Wright, p. 80), “The ‘doctrine of justification’ has come to bear a meaning within dogmatic theolog y which is quite

independent of its Pauline origins” (Iustitia Dei, pp.2–3). A c c o r d i n g t o W r i g h t (a n d McGrath), justification “has regularly been made to do duty for the entire picture of God’s reconciling action toward the human race, covering everything from God’s free love and grace, through the sending of the son to die and rise again for sinners, through the preaching of the gospel, the work of the Spirit, the arousal of faith in human hearts and minds, the development of Christian character and conduct, the assurance of ultimate salvation, and the safe passage through final judgment to that destination” (Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, p. 86). This is simply not true. The main point of the Reformation was to stress the distinction between justification and the other gifts of salvation. It was Rome’s confusion of justification and sanctification that the Reformers challenged. For all of his concern about ecclesiology in Paul, Wright does not seem as concerned about the actual positions that Protestant churches have held. In this murkiness, he is able to put forward his own view as a “third way” beyond the impasse of Rome and the Reformation. As it turns out, his alternative surrenders the doctrine of justification as the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience in favor of a concept of justification as the anticipation of a final justification based on “an entire life lived” — ours, that is. At the heart of historical criticisms of the Reformation view has been the charge that it does not have any place for human activity. New Perspective trailblazers E.P. Sanders

and James D.G. Dunn approach Paul from an Arminian perspective (the latter having once been a Calvinist). N.T. Wright claims to avoid such debates (as do Sanders and Dunn), but everyone interprets Scripture from a particular theological perspective. Wright also has a clear agenda to get Christians to transform the world by “living the gospel” (complete with a very specific political prescription). He writes concerning justification: “If Christians could only get this right,” says Wright, “they would find that not only would they be believing the gospel, they would be practicing it; and that is the best basis for proclaiming it” (What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 159). Faith and holiness belong together, Wright properly insists, but the only way to keep them together, he seems to suggest, is to make them the same thing. “Indeed, very often the word ‘faith’ itself could properly be translated as ‘faithfulness,’ which makes the point just as well” (p. 160). Far from being suspicious, we should welcome any ecumenical consensus that emerges out of the clear biblical testimony to God’s justification of the ungodly by imputing their sins to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to them through faith alone. However, the consensus that seems to be emerging in our day, as in other eras, seems to find its core sympathy in a more synergistic (Arminian and Roman Catholic) framework. 

Dr. Michael Horton is J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido, California. He is also author of Christless Christianity.

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R e c o m m e n d e d

W h a t N .T. Wr i g h t R e a l l y S a i d

r e s o u r c e s

Faith Alone

Justification by Faith Alone

by R.C. Sprou l

by R.C. Sprou l

Martin Luther said the doctrine of justification is the article upon which the church stands and falls. This series is an overview of the biblical teaching on justification and the historical circumstances that led Luther to rediscover this doctrine. Dr. Sproul also explains imputation, the place of good works in salvation, and other important issues.

Justification

Justification by faith alone is a doctrine central to authentic Christianity, and yet it is one of the first to be abandoned in modern calls for Christian unity. Faith Alone is an essential overview for anyone who wants to better understand how we can be declared righteous in God’s sight based not on our works but on the merit of Christ, which is imputed to us when we trust Him alone. Fai02BP  Z  Paperback, 222 Pages  Z  (Retail $17) $13.60

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by Francis Turretin

Francis Turretin is one of the most important Reformed theologians who has ever lived, as seen in the fact that his writings have been continuously referenced throughout the centuries. This volume contains Turretin’s exposition of the doctrine of justification along with an introduction by R.C. Sproul.

By Faith Alone b y G a r y L . W. J o h n s o n a n d G u y P. Wat e r s

By Faith Alone is a definitive treatment of the recent challenges to the historic Protestant understanding of justification, especially those teachings that have gained a hearing among the Reformed in America.

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The Future of Justification

by R.C. Sprou l

by John Piper

John Piper’s response to N.T. Wright’s recasting of the doctrine of justification presents the errors of Wright’s position, while exploring some of the things that Wright has gotten correct. Nevertheless, Piper is clear that Wright has made significant mistakes regarding the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and he develops the pastoral implications of these errors FUT03BP  Z  Paperback, 240 Pages  Z  (Retail $18) $14.40

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We are mistaken to believe true unity can be found with those who deny the biblical gospel. This important work looks at the essentials of the gospel, the only message that can bring authentic unity. R.C. Sproul shows us why we can never compromise the biblical gospel. GET01BP  Z  PRBk, 208 Pages  Z  (Retail $18) $14.40 GET01BH  Z  HDCVR, 208 Pages  Z  (Retail $19) $15.20

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Has t he Church Misunderstood Just if icat ion? B y G u y P r e n t i s s Wa t e r s “[Justification] was not so much about ‘getting in’, or indeed about ‘staying in’, as about ‘how you could tell who was in’. In standard Christian theological language, it wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; not so much about salvation as about the church.” N .T. W r i g h t,

What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 119

F

or all their differences concerning the doctrine of justification, Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church have agreed on this: justification fundamentally concerns the salvation of the sinner. To draw this observation is not, of course, to minimize the importance of the differences between Rome and Protestantism concerning justification. It is to stress, however, that the ProtestantRoman Catholic debate makes little sense unless one recognizes that both sides understand the Scriptures to teach that justification belongs primarily in the realm of salvation. Imagine the shock of a prominent New Testament scholar and Protestant churchman declaring that Roman Catholics and Protestants alike have profoundly misunderstood the Bible’s teaching on justification. Justification in the present, N.T. Wright claims, is primarily about how you can tell who belongs to the church. It is not primarily about the salvation of the sinner. Wright, of course, is not 20

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saying that justification has nothing to do with the salvation of the sinner. It does. He is saying, however, that the church has missed what the Bible says is the heart of the doctrine: “how you can tell who is a member of the covenant family” (What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 122). Wright recognizes the ecumenical potential of his position. He claims that, if he is right, he has bridged a wide gap between Rome and Protestantism — on this point at least. Wright believes that he has the Bible on his side. He points especially to the epistle of Paul to the Galatians. The question that drives Galatians, Wright argues, is how you define the people of God. Paul’s opponents, the Judaizers, argued that faith-plus-works define the Christian as a member of God’s people. In other words, circumcision is necessary to Christian identity. Paul, however, writes this letter to say that faith is sufficient as a badge of Christian membership. Circumcision is not

necessary to Christian identity. This debate provides the background for “justification” in Galatians. When Paul says that a person is “not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16), he is saying that a person is identified as part of the people of God by the badge of faith. He is not so identified by the badge of circumcision and other works required by the law of Moses. To be sure, Wright advances a plausible case. On closer inspection, however, significant problems surface. Notice how Paul defines “works of the law” in Galatians 3. They are things that we do. In order to be justified by works of the law, one must “abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (3:10; see Deut. 27:26). Because we fail to keep this standard, we all have come under the Law’s curse (3:10; see also Gal. 5:3). We are justified through faith, however, because righteous Jesus “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (3:11, 13). Justification concerns sinners being brought out from the Law’s curse because of the curse-bearing death of Jesus. Or, observe how Paul speaks about justification to the church in Rome. Sinners cannot be justified by the “works of the law” (Rom. 3:20). The law requires perfection (2:13). Since we are “under sin,” and “none is righteous, no, not one,” no sinner can meet the Law’s perfect standard in order to be justified (3:9–10). God justifies the sinner only because of the work of the one who is perfectly righteous — Jesus. “[We] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by

faith” (3:24–25; see also 5:9). We are declared righteous “by the one man’s obedience” (5:19). We are justified solely on the basis of the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, imputed to us and received through faith alone. For Paul, then, justification fundamentally concerns salvation. It treats people as sinners under the curse of the Law. It presents Jesus as the one who perfectly obeyed the Law and has become a curse for sinners. Thus, Wright is mistaken to say that justification in the present primarily concerns membership in the church. Even so, there is a lesson for us to learn. The Bible teaches that justification is a powerful and compelling incentive for believers to live together in unity. Paul had to address a matter that had occasioned serious division in the church at Rome (see Rom. 14). How does Paul urge unity in the church? “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (15:7). The way that Christ received you — an undeserving sinner shown the justifying grace of God in Christ — should set the pattern for your life with fellow believers in the church, especially when you face the bumps and challenges that inevitably come. At the end of the day, responding graciously to our differences and bearing offenses in love is the best test of how deeply the Bible’s teaching on justification has taken root in our lives. 

Dr. Guy Prentiss Waters is associate professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He is author of The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology.

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A New Lut her? D e r e k W. H . T h o m a s

“What I am doing [with the doctrine of justification], often enough, is exactly parallel, in terms of method, to what Martin Luther did . . . . I for one am proud to carry on that tradition — if need be, against those who have turned the Reformation itself into a tradition to be set up over scripture itself.”

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he accusation that systematic theology (doctrinal formulations of the Reformation period in particular) overly governs (distorts) exegesis is not new, and Bishop N.T. Wright trots it out with renewed zeal in his latest book, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (SPCK, 2009). Thus, the Westminster Confession and the Thirty-Nine Articles were written in specific contexts, emerging “from the titanic struggle to preach the gospel, to order the church, and to let both have their proper impact on the political and social world of the day. . . . When people in that situation are eager to make their point, they are likely to overstate it, just as we are today. Wise later readers will honor them, but not canonize them, by thinking through their statements afresh in the light of scripture itself” (p. 29). And who could disagree with that? It all sounds so terribly reasonable and obvious. We all bring our own prejudices and worldviews to bear on the literature we read; indeed, in its more exaggerated form it leads to postmodernity’s skepticism of an exegesis of any text that is “true for all — for every 22

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individual at all times.” This is not Wright’s position. He is not abandoning the notion of truth claims — far from it! He simply wants to suggest that the truth claims of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were formulated with systematic/doctrinal concerns that shaped (mis-shaped) the exegesis of Scripture. Wright’s “critical-realist” approach suggests that we need to appreciate the “biblical worldview” at any given point in Scripture. Or, to put it in more Wright-like language: Can we identify the “stories” that shape and govern, for example, Paul’s understanding of reality, together with the “symbols” that define it? A case in point is the doctrine of imputed righteousness, which he and others claim is nowhere explicitly found in Paul but which Reformed orthodoxy claims is vital in any formulation of redemption accomplished and applied. The “bias” forced upon exegesis by social, ecclesiastical, and political concerns of the time forces us, Wright insists, to ask, “Why did they emphasize that point in that way? What were they anxious to safeguard, what were they eager to avoid, and why? What were

they afraid of losing? What aspect of the church’s mission were they keen to take forward, and why? And, in particular: Which scriptures did they appeal to, and which ones did they seem to ignore? Which bits of the jigsaw did they accidentally-on-purpose knock onto the N .T. W r i g h t, f loor? In t he “The Shape of passages they Justification,” highlighted, did www.thepaulpage. they introduce com/Shape.html distor t ions? Were they paying attention to what the writers were actually talking about, and if not what difference did that make?” (p. 29). The same questions must be asked of Wright’s exegetical method. What pre-considerations does he employ when getting at the meaning of a text? Wright will insist that to understand the New Testament, for example, we need to read it in its first-century context. Yes! And to do that we need to study first-century Judaism, archeology, and the Greco-Roman worldview for starters. Yes! Such findings — for example, the view that second-temple Judaism was essentially a worksrighteousness religion — needs to be proved by careful study, something that the first volume of Justification and Variegated Nomism (ed. D. A. Carson, P. T. O’Brien, and M. A. Seifrid) does, though Wright says it doesn’t. And further, that means that lexicographical studies of the meaning of words — finding, for example, that substantial concurrences exist in the usage (and meaning) of words and phrases in the literature of the time must in some way reflect on how a word or phrase is employed in the New

Testament. Yes, but not necessarily (the word agapē, for example is given an almost entirely new meaning in the New Testament), and John Piper’s strongly worded insistence that the usage of the word or phrase “right there in the Bible” must be given priority seems sensible and necessary as a controlling principle of interpretation (The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright, p. 36, n. 5). Of course, it all sounds as though Bishop Wright is claiming that unlike his opponents, his methodology is “back to the Bible” and, more significantly, “back to Christ.” Unlike the prejudicial interpretation of the Reformers and those who adhere to them today, his view begins with a tabula rasa, a fair-minded, non-prejudicial view that reads Paul firmly within the setting of the time rather than through the (distorted) lens of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century squabbles. That this sounds too clean, too innocent is a judgment that we must make for ourselves and to which the rest of the articles in this month’s Tabletalk must seek to convince. The stakes are high, for within the crucible of these debates is not some peripheral issue of little or no importance but the very doctrine of salvation itself, the answer to the most basic question of all: How can a sinner be saved? We are being asked to believe that the church has misunderstood the most foundational issue of all — until, that is, along came a bishop who saw things clearly. 

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is the John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and minister of teaching at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss.

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Wright Is Wrong on Imputation Thomas R. Schreiner

“It is therefore a straightforward category mistake, however venerable within some Reformed traditions including part of my own, to suppose that Jesus ‘obeyed the law’ and so obtained ‘righteousness’ which could be reckoned to those who believe in him. …It is not the ‘righteousness’ of Jesus Christ which is ‘reckoned’ to the believer. It is his death and resurrection.”

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Survey of Wright’s View

Is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer an artificial construct, an idea from systematic theology that does not truly come from the Bible? N.T. Wright argues that the traditional view of imputation veers away from the Pauline meaning. He defends his reading by emphasizing that justification language in Paul stems from the law court. Righteousness, then, has to do with one’s legal status and should not be confused with one’s moral character. When we think of a law court, says Wright, it is clear that the idea of imputation is ruled out, for in a law court no one is vindicated on the basis of the judge’s righteousness. The judge, Wright insists, cannot give or transfer his righteousness to the defendant. The issue is whether the judge declares the person being charged to be in the right — whether the judge finds in the favor of the one being charged. Hence, justification speaks to the status of a person, not to their moral character. Nor is there any idea that their behavior or misbe24

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N .T. W r i g h t,

Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, p. 232

havior is the basis of the verdict passed. Justification means that one has been acquitted or vindicated by the judge.

A Response to Wright’s View Wright’s interpretation is wrong and confusing on several levels, and so we need to examine the issues one at a time. First, he rightly says that justification has to do with the law court and represents a legal declaration. When we are justified, God as the judge finds in our favor and declares us to be in the right before him. Wright is right on this matter. Second, however, Wright leads us astray when he says that justification is a legal declaration and hence it is not based on one’s moral character. A couple of things need to be untangled here. In one sense, of course, justification is not based on our moral character, for God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). If justification depended on our moral worth, then no one would be justified. But Wright fails to state clearly the role that moral character plays in

justification, and because he separates moral character entirely from the law court he fails to see the role that Christ’s righteousness plays in imputation. When a judge in Israel declared a person to be innocent or guilty, he did so on the basis of the moral innocence or guilt of the defendant. The biblical text is quite clear that judges render a verdict on the basis of the moral behavior of the defendant. This is clear from Deuteronomy 25:1: “If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty.” For Wright to say, then, that one’s moral behavior has nothing to do with the judge’s declaration flies in the face of the biblical evidence. Indeed, the only basis for the legal declaration was one’s moral behavior — whether one was innocent or guilty. Third, what does all of this have to do with imputation? The fundamental question is how God can declare sinners to be righteous. How can a verdict of “not guilty” be pronounced over those who are ungodly and sinners? For a judge to declare that the wicked are righteous is contrary to the way judges should behave (see Prov. 17:15). So how can God be righteous in declaring the wicked to be righteous? The answer of Scripture is that the Father, because of His great love, sent His Son, who willingly and gladly gave Himself for sinners, so that the wrath that sinners deserved was poured out upon the Son (Rom. 3:24–26). God can declare sinners to be in the right because they are forgiven by Christ’s sacrifice. God vindicates His moral righteousness in the justification of sinners since Christ takes upon Himself the punishment sinners deserve. It is clear, then, that moral character plays a vital role in

justification, for God’s own holiness must be satisfied in the cross of Christ for forgiveness to be granted. Wright insists that no judge in the courtroom can give his righteousness to the defendant. The mistake Wright makes here is astonishing, for he should know that the meaning and the significance of the law court in Scripture cannot be exhausted by its cultural background. In other words, it is true that in human courtrooms the judge does not and cannot give his righteousness to the defendant. But we see the distinctiveness of the biblical text and the wonder and the glory of the gospel precisely here. God is not restricted by the rules of human courtrooms. This is a most unusual courtroom indeed, for the judge delivers up His own Son to pay the penalty. That doesn’t happen in human courtrooms! And the judge gives us His own righteousness (see Phil. 3:9 and 2 Cor. 5:21). The biblical text, then, specifically teaches that God, as the divine judge, gives us His righteousness. When we are united to Christ by faith, all that Christ is belongs to us. Hence, we stand in the right before God because we are in Christ. Our righteousness, then, is not in ourselves. We rejoice that we enjoy the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. Once again, moral character enters the picture, contrary to Wright. We stand in the right before God because our sins have been forgiven and because we enjoy the righteousness of Jesus Christ. 

Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is author of Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ.

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R e c o m m e n d e d

The Gospel of the Christ Who Justifies

r e s o u r c e s

Justification by Faith Alone b y J o n at h a n E d wa r d s

This treatment by the man considered the finest philosopher and theologian America has ever produced is among the foundational works on the Reformed and biblical understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Jonathan Edwards outlines, defends, and applies the doctrine for the benefit of the church and the glory of God. JUS02BH  Z  Hardcover, 154 Pages  Z  (RETAIL $19) $15.20

Justified by Faith Alone b y R .C . S p r o u l

R.C. Sproul has done the church a great service in writing this handy booklet outlining the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the essential elements of the biblical gospel. It can prepare anyone to understand and share the gospel more effectively. Jus09BP  Z  PRBK, 48 Pages  Z  (RETAIL $5) $4

The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ b y C o r n e l i s P. V e n e m a

The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ is Cornelis Venema’s more thorough assessment of the Reformation understanding of Paul and the errors of the so-called “new perspective” regarding the apostle’s thought.

Justification b y J .V. F e s k o

J.V. Fesko lays out the doctrine of justification by faith alone in terms of its historical and biblical context, demonstrating why we can never negotiate the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

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Getting the Gospel Right

Faith: The Evidence of Things Unseen by R.C. Sprou l

Christians talk about faith all the time, but do we really understand what the word means? This series looks at the biblical teaching on faith, helping us get a clearer picture of what it means to trust God. Fai03CC  Z  2 CDs  Z  (RETAIL $17) $13.60

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The “new perspective on Paul” is currently calling into question the traditional Protestant interpretation of the apostle’s writings. This book is a concise, biblical answer to the “new perspective,” demonstrating its weaknesses objectively. It is highly recommended as an introduction to the issues and problems related to the “new perspective on Paul.” GET02BP  Z  Paperback, 92 Pages  Z  (RETAIL $6) $4.80

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“Fa it h” a nd “Fa it h f u l ness” D.A. Carson

“Faith and obedience are not antithetical. They belong exactly together. Indeed, very often the word ‘faith’ itself could properly be translated as ‘faithfulness’, which makes the point just as well.”

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he Greek word pistis can mean, in English translation, both “faith” and “faithfulness”; no one disputes that fact (for the latter, see Rom. 3:3). N.T. Wright, however, takes two steps that cannot be fairly evaluated without understanding how they are integrated into his broader understanding of how the Bible fits together. First, in the handful of instances where our English translations have “faith in Jesus Christ” or “faith in Christ” or the like (Rom. 3:22, 26; Gal. 2:16; 3:22; Phil. 3:9), expressions in which Christ is the object of our faith, in every instance Wright takes the expression to mean “faithfulness of Jesus Christ” or its equivalent. In other words, what is at issue is the faithfulness that Jesus Christ exercised by being the faithful Israelite, doing His Father’s will and going to the cross, not the faith that Jews and Gentiles alike exercise, with Jesus Himself as faith’s object. At the level of mere grammar, the Greek expression (which does not use prepositions akin to English “in” or “of”) could be read either way. Second, in 28

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N .T. W r i g h t,

What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 160

some instances Wright thinks that when Paul speaks of the “faith” of Christians, he is really talking about their “faithfulness,” more-or-less equivalent to their obedience. What shall we make of these steps? First, in defense of Wright, it is important to recognize that he does not deny that human beings must place their faith in Christ. Rather, he argues that in some passages what is at issue is not human faith in Christ but either human faithfulness or the faithfulness of Jesus Christ Himself. Thus Romans 3:22, as he understands it, asserts that the righteousness of God that comes by (either) “faith in Christ” or “the faithfulness of Christ” is in any case for all who believe. Second, although the theme of Jesus being faithful and obedient to His heavenly Father is quite a strong one in the New Testament (especially in John and Hebrews, but witness also Phil 2:5–11; Gethsemane in the Synoptics), it is far from obvious that the theme is found in the half-dozen “faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ” passages. The issues, frankly, are

complex. A fair reading of the conPauline passages. For instance, contexts of these passages shows that sider Abraham as described in Rowherever the verb “to believe” is mans 4. Many Jewish documents used, the object is invariably Jesus of the time argue that Abraham reor the gospel; it would take extraorceived many great gifts from God dinar y evidence to hold that the — he became father of many nations, cognate noun “faith” is used in some was called the friend of God, had his different way. Wright thinks that prayers answered — precisely bethe evidence is extraordinary — escause he was found to be faithful (for pecially the way he reads the Bible’s example, Sir. 44:19–20; 1 Macc. 2:52; storyline. He understands the high Jub. 19:8–9). By contrast, when Paul point of salvation to turn on God’s in Romans 4:3 quotes Genesis 15:6 “righteousness” (more-or-less God’s (“Abraham believed God, and it was “covenant faithfulness”) in sendcounted to him as righteousness”), ing Jesus to function as the faiththe apostle sees that God justifies ful Israelite who goes to the cross the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). In dominant and is vindicated by His Father, Jewish understanding, God’s justifysuch that all who are in union with ing of Abraham is entirely appropriJesus, Jews and Gentiles alike, are ate: Abraham deserved it, for he was constituted God’s covenant people. “faithful.” In Paul’s understanding, The kindest assessment of this understanding of biblical theology — and shouldn’t Wright’s penchant for finding all of us want to be kind in assessing others? — is that “faithfulness” instead of “faith” it is not so much wrong as seriously misses the point in g uilty of putting emphasis in the wrong place. Wright many Pauline passages. concedes that Christ on the cross deals at some level or other with sin, righteousness, guilt, condemnation, and holiGod’s justifying of Abraham is in ness, but for him these are relatively defiance of Abraham’s ungodliness. minor themes compared with the Small wonder: for Paul, the justificacontrolling themes of God’s faithfultion of sinners turns absolutely on ness to the covenant and of Christ’s Christ crucified. obedient faithfulness to His role as Mistakes of this sort accumulate in the ideal Israelite. In the insightWright’s reading of Paul until one fears ful assessment of Douglas J. Moo, the bishop is leading his flock astray.  Wright backgrounds what the New Testament foregrounds, and foregrounds what the New Testament Dr. D.A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerbackgrounds. field, Illinois. He has been at Trinity since 1978, and is Third, Wright’s penchant for findan editor of Justification and Variegated Nomism. ing “faithfulness” instead of “faith” seriously misses the point in many

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T he “Non sen se” of Ju st i f y i ng t he Ungod ly John Piper,

w i t h Dav id M at h is

“If we use the language of the law court, it makes no sense whatever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom.” N .T. W r i g h t,

What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 98

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here are at least three problems with N.T. Wright’s claim that imputing God’s righteousness to a defendant is a category mistake and “makes no sense.” First, Wright’s definition of the righteousness of God is too shallow. He fails to go to the heart of the matter and stays at the level of what divine righteousness does rather than what it is. He defines God’s righteousness by saying that it keeps covenant, judges impartially, deals properly with sin, and advocates for the helpless. But none of those is what righteousness is; they are only some of the things righteousness does. The space we have here is not enough to focus in depth on the righteousness of God; a summary statement will have to suffice for what I think is a more faithful reading of Paul and the wider Scriptures concerning God’s righteousness: The essence of the righteousness of God is His unwavering faithfulness to uphold the glory of His name. And human righteousness is the same: the unwavering faith- fulness to uphold the glory of God. 30

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Here it must do to say that when Wright says the righteousness of the judge is His “trying the case impartially” and the righteousness of the defendant is his “being declared in the right,” his framework fails to get at the meaning of righteousness behind these different expressions. Therefore, he forces a portrayal of historic imputation which “makes no sense at all.” This is not because imputation itself makes no sense but because Wright has set things up in a way that makes it look nonsensical. And this is because he treats the righteousness of God merely in terms of the actions of the judge, not in terms of His deeper attribute of righteousness. The second problem with Wright’s law-court imagery is that it does not seem to come to terms with the fact that the judge is omniscient. The omniscience of the judge implies that the defendant must have a different righteousness than Wright would concede, that is, a righteousness that is more than the mere status of being acquitted, regardless of innocence or guilt.

Wright stresses that for the defendant, righteousness is not a character quality but a status, namely, that the court has found in the defendant’s favor. The defendant may or may not have committed the crime with which he was charged. Regardless, if the court finds in his favor, he is “righteous.” He has that status. This definition of “righteous” may work in human law courts where judges are fallible and their judgments must stand, whether they are right or wrong. But there’s a catch. In God’s courtroom, the judge is omniscient and just. And in such a courtroom there can never be a case where there is a discrepancy between the truth of the charge and the truth of the verdict. In this court, what would be the basis of saying, “I bestow on you the status of righteous, and I find you guilty as charged”? How could such a finding be intelligible, not to mention just? One right answer that I think Wright would agree with is that this is what the atonement is all about. Christ died for our sins to provide a basis for this finding, and therefore, though guilty, the court can exercise clemency (or in God’s case, forgiveness) because of Christ, and so we go free. God’s clemency in the courtroom and His personal forgiveness are certainly true and glorious. We will sing of it to all eternity. But the question is whether Paul has something to add — an even wider basis for our justification — something that makes our salvation even more wonderful and brings more glory to our Savior. I think he does. It emerges when we realize that in the courtroom, treating as innocent a defendant who is known in the court to be guilty (letting him go free without condemnation) on the basis of clem-

ency (or forgiveness) would not have been described as “justifying” him. If the omniscient and just judge found a person guilty as charged, the court would not say that clemency (or forgiveness) gives rise to the declaration of a status of righteous. Forgiveness and clemency can commute a sentence, but they cannot mean the judge finds in the defendant’s favor. An omniscient and just judge always vindicates the claim that is true. If the defendant is guilty, the omniscient, just judge finds in favor of the plaintiff. The judge may show mercy. He has it in his power to bestow clemency, to forgive, and not to condemn the guilty. But not condemning the guilty would never have been called “justification” or “finding in favor” or “bestowing the status of righteous.” The third problem in Wright’s way of setting up the law-court imagery is that he calls “nonsense” what in fact really does happen. Because of Jesus’ work, it is not in fact nonsense to speak of the defendant in some sense sharing in the righteousness of the judge. It is not a category mistake to speak of the defendant “receiving the judge’s righteousness.” This is, in fact, what the language of justification demands in a law court where the judge is omniscient and just and the charge is “none is righteous” (Rom. 3:10). Of course, it will jar the ordinary human categories. That is what the justification of the ungodly has always done — and is meant to do. 

Dr. John Piper is pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minn., and author of The Future of Justification. His executive pastoral assistant is David Mathis.

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Christ, Our R ighteousness Roger Nicole

“To know that one has died and been raised is far, far more pastorally significant than to know that one has, vicariously, fulfilled the Torah.”

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.T. Wright in his advocacy of a “new perspective” on Paul and his teaching makes a special plea that “justification” should relate to the question “who belongs to God’s covenant with the world?” rather than “how can you be saved?” Wright’s answer to the question is “Jews and Gentiles alike, who believe in Jesus the Messiah.” This position is discussed widely in the present issue of Tabletalk. The subject of our essay is to consider how the perfect obedience of Christ to the Mosaic law does apply to those who believe in Him. The answer to this question, according to the Reformed understanding of Scripture, is “the active obedience of Christ is imputed to the justified believers as their positive cover in the last judgment.” The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “Those whom God…freely justifieth…accepting their persons as righteous…by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them” (11:1). First, this position is articulated in an emphatic way in Romans 4:3–24. The pivot of this passage is the word logizomai, to credit, to include in 32

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N .T. W r i g h t,

Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, p. 233

one’s accounting. This word is used ten times in this context in Romans, and the word is used elsewhere in a similar fashion in Psalm 106:31, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23. What is credited is not the believer’s good works in obedience to God’s law (vv. 9–11). Not even his faith is meritorious, but one is justified by grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ (3:24). The effect of justification is that no one can boast of being better than others; rather, each one must own that, being no more worthy of the divine choice, he was saved by God’s grace alone (Eph. 2:5, 9). Second, the fact that salvation is a blessing apprehended here and now, and not merely a hope to be realized at some point in the future, is made very clear in Scripture (see John 5:24; Rom. 8:1; Eph. 2:5, 8; 1 John 3:14). This assurance of future salvation could not be had on the basis of perfection in people who have not actually reached perfection, but it is freely appropriated to those to whom the imputation of Christ’s perfection has been applied.

Third, the prophet made this clear in Zechariah 3:1–5. The taking away of the filthy clothes is a metaphor for the divine atonement for sins; the putting on of the rich garments represents the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ. But if the imputation of righteousness were not taking place, Joshua would have had to appear naked before God. The same concept is found in the parable of the wedding banquet (Matt. 22:11–13). Commonly, there are three objections that are raised against this understanding of imputation: • “If God cancels both the iniquity and the insufficient obedience of His people, this wipes out personal responsibility.” Answer. No, for responsibility remains and will be the basis of the ultimate judgment (Ezek. 18:4, 25–29; 33:17–20), but there are some elements of corporate responsibility, particularly in the covenantal unity, where the head of the covenant may absorb the punishment due to some members (Isa. 53:5–6, 11–12) and cover by His righteousness those whom He represents. This substitution has a double impact: forgiveness of past sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us. • “If Christians are viewed by God as covered with the righteousness of Christ, it is urged, it does not matter what sins they may commit.” Answer. This objection, already raised in Paul’s time (Rom. 6:1, 15; 1 Cor. 15:32–33), is a travesty of justification. A position that would achieve impunity and forget that our Savior suffered and died for our sins is the very reverse of what God teaches everywhere. If someone asserts that faith in Christ opens

the door to sinning, it is obvious that this faith is not alive but is dead! So Paul and James (2:14–18) are in agreement on their view of justification as follows: Paul: Faith that validates dead works is itself dead. James: Faith that is not accompanied by a renewal of obedience to God is also dead. Both teach salvation is apprehended by a faith that produces good works. • N.T. Wright asserts that Paul does not deal with the question “how can I be saved?” but simply with the question “may the church accept into its membership people who have not accepted circumcision as necessary?” Answer. It is true that many passages from Paul can be quoted in response to this query, but it remains that this answer was established by the church at large as early as 50 AD at the meeting in Jerusalem that gave a definitive answer long before Paul wrote Galatians or Romans. It is inconceivable that Paul would write so long a treatise like Romans after the matter was settled without using the church’s response that he had solicited (Acts 15). The gospel ministry with its proper emphasis on justification and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the repenting and believing sinner does not need a new perspective but a renewal of spirit-filled preaching. 

Dr. Roger Nicole is professor emeritus of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, and author of Standing Forth.

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Sa lvation and the Life A f ter Life Pau l H el m “People like Saul were not primarily interested in the state of their souls after death; that was no doubt important, but no doubt God would have the matter in hand. They were interested, urgently, in the salvation which, they believed, the one true God had promised to his people Israel.” N .T. W r i g h t,

What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 118.

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ow do we estimate what a person is primarily interested in? Perhaps by seeing how often they return to the subject, or what they mention on important occasions. And perhaps, also, by the manner in which people write about things: is it detached, or is it impassioned — “urgent,” as Wright says? How do we decide whether a person thinks that something is important for him but is nevertheless a matter that he is not primarily interested in? How does one weigh that kind of thing? That’s more difficult, I suggest, because many things may be important for a person that he does not keep talking or writing about. He may only talk about such things when they are challenged or when he is asked a question about them. Such people may be intensely personal, or private. So it’s not altogether easy to test Wright’s claim about Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles (as Saul became), and what was important for him. 34

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However, we can say this much: There are numerous occasions in which Paul writes about the destiny of his self after death and about the destiny of Christians more generally. Writing to Timothy, he refers to the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to him on that final day (2 Tim. 4:8). And more generally, he argues at length to the Corinthians that the resurrection of Christ is the key to their own resurrection. For if Christ is not raised, we are yet in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17). Bearing in mind his teaching in this passage, when Paul thinks of “the soul after death,” he clearly does not mean “the soul in exclusion from the body.” What about his desire to be with Christ and so not to remain in the body? (Phil. 1:23). And what about the marvelous passage in Philippians 3 expressing his determination to gain Christ and to be found in him, not having a righteousness of his own

but that which come through faith in people, the Jews, he did not actually Christ; this looks intensely personal, call upon God to curse him for their does it not? sake. There was certainly tension beBut of course, the importance that tween Paul’s concern for himself and Paul attached to the state of the soul his fellow Christians, and his concern after death (in 2 Cor. 5:6, for example) for his “own people.” was also one way of expressing his There may also be something of concern for the salvation of Israa false antithesis that Wright is posel. Look at Romans 9:2, where Paul ing in the quotation at the top of this writes movingly of his “great sorpiece. Why must we choose one oprow and unceasing anguish” for his tion to the exclusion of the other? In people the Jews, being willing to be this case, only if Paul did. But did he? “accursed and cut off from Christ for Why not both together, at once? the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen Why may not Israel’s salvation, howaccording to the flesh” (v. 3), for a furever this is understood, whether of ther example of this. The expression what remained of ethnic Israel or “cut off from Christ” seems pretty of the “true Jews” variety, be a corcomprehensive. Charles Hodge says porate salvation that is composed of that the word accursed “applied to all saved individual people? Is this not those who were regarded as deservedly Why may not Israel’s salvation be exposed, or devoted to the curse of God.” a corporate salvation composed The plight of the Jews was such that Paul of saved individual people? ha rbored t he w ish that he himself might be accursed for their sake. how, guided by the New Testament, There is another way of underwe usually understand these things? standing what Wright says. Perhaps Further, why may not the state he is hinting that there is no tension of a person’s soul after death be one in Paul between his concern for his way, perhaps the chief way, in which own individual, personal destiny and the salvation that the one true God his concern for the destiny of other had promised to His people Israel people. Here the evidence is rather was to be, or is, realized? Thus, God’s mixed, or unclear. This is because “promised salvation” and the “state we might take “Israel” to refer to the of the soul after death” may on some Jewish nation, or we might take it occasions be two ways of saying the to refer to those whom Paul called same thing.  “inward” Jews — those whose hearts were circumcised (Rom. 2:29), the “Israel of God.” Paul’s concern for Paul Helm is professor of theology at Highland Theological College in Scotland and teaching fellow the salvation of such people is unat Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. He is author bounded, but as we have seen, though of The Providence of God and John Calvin’s Ideas. he says that he could wish that he himself were accursed for his own

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Two Birds, One Stone R.C. Sproul Jr.

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hen error comes into the church we face a set of obligations. First, we must confront the error. The world has embraced a live-and-let-live relativism that will accept any foolishness, but will not accept the wisdom of calling foolishness by its name. Too often the church follows suit. We want to get along, and so pet the wolves in our midst rather than drive them away. Our calling, as faithful soldiers of the kingdom, is to combat error in whatever form it takes. Second, we must not err when confronting the error. If we would have sound and accurate thinking in the church, we must be sound and accurate in what we denounce. We are not serving well the kingdom of God when we fight carnally, using gossip, innuendo, and aiming our fire at our allies. Consider the almost civil war during the time of Joshua. Those tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan, you’ll remember, built an altar. Their brothers prepared to make war against those who would establish false worship within the land. These brothers came to understand, thankfully, that the altar wasn’t built for false worship, but as a reminder of the covenantal union those on the east had with the rest of Israel. Far from an occasion for division, the altar was a monument to 36

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unity. Zeal without knowledge, in this instance, could have led to unnecessary division and senseless slaughter. (See Joshua 22 for the full story.) We are given these stories, told of these events that we might learn from them. Consider, in our own day, the battles in some of our institutions and on the internet over the doctrines taught by N.T. Wright, as well as those doctrines that collectively go by the moniker “Federal Vision.” It is certainly fair to say that the teaching of N.T. Wright has had an impact on what has come to be known as Federal Vision. Often those who celebrate the one celebrate the other, and those who condemn the one condemn the other. Such doesn’t mean, however, that the two should be conflated. We ought not, sloppily, accuse all who appreciate Wright of embracing Federal Vision, nor accuse all who appreciate Federal Vision of embracing Wright. Far less, however, should we be accusing those who embrace neither of embracing both, which has somehow happened to me. I have been charged in the past with Wright’s errors, and though I do not now, nor have I ever embraced Federal Vision theology, I have been charged with its errors too. This difficult-to-define way of thinking hit most of our radars due to a conference held in 2002 at Auburn

Avenue Presbyterian Church in Louisiana. The hosts there, noting the concern they had raised the year before, invited four critics to come speak to those concerns. As one of those four, I took the opportunity to argue that Federal Vision’s view of apostasy was, as far as I could tell, a denial, however unintentional, of the biblical doctrine of perseverance of the saints. That is a rather serious problem. One cannot deny perseverance, or affirm a system of thought that leaves little room for perseverance, and still claim to be Reformed or confessional. Neither can one claim to believe in perseverance if one affirms God predestined that some would come to saving faith and then lose that saving faith. The doctrine of perseverance has never merely affirmed that those whom God foreknew would persevere but rather affirmed that all those who trust in the finished work of Christ will persevere, will so trust until their death. In sundry venues, over the years, I have highlighted this same problem and in turn noted a long series of other problem areas within the movement. These include its sanguine approach toward Rome and Orthodoxy and the efficacy of their sacraments; Federal Vision’s often muddled language on the relationship between our works, perseverance, and future justification; and, of course, their often rancorous rhetoric. (To be fair, that particular charge is rightly leveled all around. This peculiar debate has not exactly been marked by gentlemanly behavior.)

Reformed orthodoxy affirms both that people do change, and that people do stay the same. That is, we become soldiers of the King only after God changes our hearts, blessing us with the gift of faith. Before we are drafted into the army of the Lord we are soldiers in the army of the serpent. We are by nature children of wrath. His Spirit changes us. This supernatural work of the Spirit is, of course, irresistible. Once we have been drafted into God’s army, once we have been given a heart of flesh, we can never go back. Our Captain, our King, our Lord, has promised that we shall never again serve the lord of darkness. Jesus

Jesus has promised that nothing can take us from His hand. has promised that nothing can take us from His hand. We are reminded that those who appear to leave us were ultimately never with us (1 John 2:19). One can no more defect from the Lord’s army than one can be disowned after being adopted into the family of God. When Jesus commands that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, He leaves no room for not seeking the kingdom. Those who seek first the kingdom, by His grace and in His power, will seek always His kingdom. And praise God, He rewards all those who seek Him. 

R.C. Sproul Jr. is founder of Highlands Ministries and is author of Believing God.

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r e s o u r c e s

Romans

by R.C. Sprou l

Throughout church history, the study of the book of Romans has been pivotal to understanding Christian life and doctrine. Convinced that “Paul’s fullest, grandest, most comprehensive statement of the gospel” is just as vital today, R.C. Sproul delivered sixty sermons on Romans from 2005 to 2007 at Saint Andrew’s, where he has pastored for more than a decade. Sproul’s passage-by-passage expositions will not only enrich any preaching or teaching ministry but any thoughtful study of this weighty epistle. Rom07BH  Z  Hdcvr, 520 Pgs  Z  (Retail $35) $28

John

By R . C . S p ro u l

According to R.C. Sproul, John is the “most theological” of the four gospels, as it spotlights the redemptive-historical activity of Jesus during His earthly ministry. Now, in his first major published exposition of this biblical book, Dr. Sproul takes readers through John’s gospel passage by passage, revealing the unique themes that the apostle was so passionate to develop. John is the newest addition to the St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary series.

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daily bible Studies for February 2010

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e begin this month with a continuation of our study of the biblical covenants using Dr. R.C. Sproul’s series The Promise Keeper to unfold the covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. These covenants, which administer the kingdom of God, are laid out in the Word of God. Various aspects of Scripture will occupy the remainder of our study as we consider how they are developed in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. After considering the Word of God revealed in nature, we will “My conscience is captive to examine some of the attributes of Holy Writ, which is “living and the Word of God. . . . Here active, sharper than any twoI stand; I can do no other. edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints God help me. Amen.” and of marrow” (Heb. 4:12). This Martin Luther, From his speech before Old Testament reveals this Word the diet of worms in three major forms — in the Law, the Prophets, and in the Wisdom Literature — and we will examine the importance of these genres in establishing the terms of the Lord’s covenant. Ultimately, the Word of God finds fulfillment in the incarnate Word of God — Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:1). Our study will seek to demonstrate how He is the goal and end of this sacred Word.

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These verses parallel the themes of the studies each week. We encourage you to hide them in your heart so that you may not sin against the Lord:

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Abrahamic Covenant, part 2 MON | Feb

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Genesis 15:7–21 “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram” (vv. 17–18).

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nlike the covenant of works made with Adam and all his descendants, God unfolds the covenant of grace through several successive covenants. The Noahic covenant is the first of these, a pact wherein God promised to preserve the stability of nature as an arena in which to fulfill the covenant of grace (Gen. 8:20–22). Following the covenant with Noah and his posterity, the Lord called Abram the patriarch out of paganism and pledged to make from him a great nation (12:1–3). Later, the Abrahamic covenant is further clarified when Abram complains to God that he must make his servant the heir of his estate since he has no natural-born children (15:1–3). The Lord responds with a promise to give Abram a son, and Abram, believing this promise, is justified in God’s sight (vv. 4–6). Yet Abram’s faith soon begins to waver, just as we often have trouble believing God. Entertaining questions about the Creator’s ability to give Abram the land of Canaan, Abram asks the Lord for a sign that He will keep His promise (vv. 7–8). Instead of rebuking Abram for his doubt, God tells Abram to kill and cut up some animals and to lay their pieces side by side in two lines in order to form a pathway between them (vv. 9–11). With this command, the Lord shows Abram a vital truth, using an ancient Near Eastern practice. During covenant-making ceremonies in Abram’s day, the parties to the agreement often slaughtered and then divided the animals, walking between the pieces to signify that they would meet the same fate if they broke their oaths. When Abram kills the animals, he probably expects God to walk with him between the carcasses to seal the covenant. This is not what happens, however, for only a smoking pot and flaming torch, a visible manifestation of the Lord Himself, pass between the animal parts (vv. 12–16). God alone takes upon Himself the covenant curse if He does not keep His promise to Abram. God swears this oath before changing Abram’s name to Abraham and before instituting the sign of circumcision (chap. 17). The Lord is pledging to fulfill His promise no matter what His people do. Of course, our obedience is important. But God, knowing our sin will lead us to fail, reveals that He alone will be able to keep covenant. He must take the initiative and do the work to reckon us obedient to His standards.  C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

Our salvation is wholly of the Lord. He took the initiative in becoming incarnate to keep the covenant on our behalf and then died a violent death, which God intended to save us from the covenant curse (Gal. 3:10–14). We must respond in faith, and He is the one who gives us the faith (Eph. 2:8–9). Let us remember these great truths and, knowing that we have done nothing to earn salvation, live as humble servants of the kingdom.

The Mosaic Covenant Deuteronomy 7:6–8 “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples” (v. 7).

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oday we begin our examination of the Mosaic covenant, which is one of the most complex covenants found in Scripture. On account of this complexity, it will be helpful for us to keep in mind several things before we look at the details of the covenant that Moses mediated. First, the Mosaic covenant is part of the broader covenant of grace. It may include provisions that remind God’s people of the covenant of works, but we must not think that the Israelites who lived under the Mosaic covenant owed their salvation to works and not to grace. Secondly, we must also remember that the Lord’s revelation of redemption is progressively unfurled. Later covenants do not supersede previous revelation; rather, they help to reveal and expand the earlier covenants more fully. The Mosaic covenant further unfolds the Abrahamic covenant, both of these are unfolded by the Davidic covenant, and the new covenant displays the intent and purpose of these pacts most clearly of all. Under the Mosaic covenant, God makes huge strides toward realizing the promises He made to Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3). A large number of families are constituted as a nation during the exodus from Egypt and brought to Canaan, which begins the first major fulfillment of God’s promise to the patriarch. The Lord is present among Israel in the tabernacle as He keeps His word to bless Israel. All the nations of the earth begin to find blessing as the Law is written and later proclaimed to the nations (Jonah 3). There are four main elements of the Mosaic covenant: the exodus, the sealing of the old covenant, the giving of the Law, and the old covenant rituals. In particular, the exodus proves that the Mosaic covenant is rooted in the covenant of grace. For as we see in today’s passage, God is clear that nothing in the Israelites themselves moved Him to choose the nation and deliver it from Egypt. Instead, the Lord chose Israel simply out of His good pleasure and love, the same pleasure and love by which He swore oaths to the patriarchs (Deut. 7:6–8). Such is God’s electing grace at work. Also, the Israelites were not required to obey the Law in order for the Lord to save them. As the story goes, God rescued His people from slavery before revealing the Law (Ex. 20:1–17). Even under the old covenant, salvation was wholly of the Lord long before any good works could be present. 

For further study

For further study

Psalms 3:8; 23:3; 44:26 Micah 7:18–20 Romans 9:6–18 1 John 2:12

Exodus 15:1–21 Isaiah 41:8–10 Ephesians 2:8–10 Revelation 15:2–4

The bible in a year

The bible in a year

Exodus 27–28 Matthew 21:33–46

Exodus 29–30 Matthew 22:1–22

C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

The old covenant law testified to the perfect holiness God demands, and it also trained Israel to look for a Savior. It was not through keeping the Law that the ancient Israelites were commanded to seek salvation. As with us, their doing of good works as outlined in Scripture was to be the way in which they thanked God for saving them. We are to do good works, and the old covenant law can guide us in the kinds of works that please our Lord.

God’s Treasured Possession

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WED | Feb

Building David’s House

Exodus 19:1–15 “If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine” (v. 5).

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ovenants between God and mankind are central to Scripture, and so understanding the Bible requires us to understand the covenants found therein. Scripture is clear that the Lord has made two overarching covenants with humanity: the covenant of works between God and all human beings and the covenant of grace between God and His people. The covenant of grace is actually unfolded through several covenants, one of which is the Mosaic covenant, otherwise known as the old covenant. Thus far in our look at this covenant, we have seen how the Lord redeemed His people from Egyptian slavery before giving them the Law, depicting the principle that God saves fallen people by grace alone no matter the covenant under which they live. Besides the exodus, there are three other aspects of the Mosaic covenant. First is the enactment of the covenant with Israel as recorded in Exodus 19. Moses describes how at that point the nation of Israel gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai after being rescued from Egypt. The Israelites pledged to follow the Lord (vv. 7–8), but they had to go through a process of cleansing before God would reveal His Law to them (vv. 9b–15). In doing this, the Lord showed that His people must be clean before they will obey Him, which foreshadows the purification that Christ must give us before we will serve God with gladness. The giving of the Law is the second aspect of the Mosaic covenant. Exodus 20 reveals the Ten Commandments, which are applied in each of the individual laws in the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy). Doing this Law did not justify people, for only those who obey it flawlessly can find life therein (Lev. 18:5), and no one but Christ has kept all the commandments without sin. The ritual of the Law is the last facet of the Mosaic covenant that we will cover. By including sacrifices and other regulations in the law code, God demonstrated that He knew Israel would fail to obey and would need regular atonement for sin. These offerings covered disobedience for a time and pointed to the one who by His full obedience would keep the old covenant perfectly on our behalf (Heb. 10:1–18), thereby sustaining our peace with God forevermore.  C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

Jesus shows us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) that true faithfulness to God’s commandments involves both outward action and inward attitude. Based on those requirements, none of us can claim to have obeyed the Lord flawlessly. Nevertheless, by His Holy Spirit God has changed us so that every true Christian wants to please the Lord and do His will. How can you live out the Ten Commandments in the situations you face this day?

2 Samuel 7:1–17 “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name” (vv. 12–13).

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stablishing the Mosaic covenant marked a critical point in the history of redemption and the unfolding of the covenant of grace. Having been redeemed from slavery by grace, the people of Israel were constituted as a nation and received laws to identify them as the Lord’s holy people so that they might bear witness to the one, true creator God among the Gentile nations (Ex. 19:5). Although the Mosaic covenant is key to redemptive history, it was not the final covenant to unfold the covenant of grace. Instead, the Mosaic covenant pointed beyond itself to a day when the Law would be written on the hearts of God’s people and not just on tablets of stone (Deut. 10:12–22). In addition to looking for the Law to be written on the heart, the Mosaic law also gave the people of Israel hope for a righteous ruler. Deuteronomy 17:14–20 looks to the days when an Israelite king will sit over the nation and rule with justice and righteousness according to the Law. Under the Davidic covenant, the next “sub-covenant” in the covenant of grace, this hope begins to find fulfillment as God chooses the family from which this holy king will come. The Davidic covenant was established after David brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. At that point, David expressed his desire to build a house for God, but God replied that He would be the one to build a house for David (2 Sam. 7:1–17). The prophet Nathan was His mouthpiece through which the Creator delivered His great promises to David and the Israelite nation. These promises come in the context of a covenant with David, the greatest king of the old covenant. As we would expect, the covenant is based on the Lord’s sovereign grace. First, God chooses David without making any reference to the monarch’s achievements; rather, He is king simply because God has willed it (v. 8). Second, David is told that Israel will have peace under his reign and the reigns of his descendants, who will likewise be established as rulers over Israel (vv. 9–13). Finally, David and his sons will enjoy having God as their Father. They will receive His discipline, but the Lord’s love and mercy will never depart from David’s line, ensuring that there will always be a Davidite on the throne in the kingdom of heaven (vv. 14–16). 

For further study

For further study

Exodus 24 Jeremiah 32:36–44 Romans 13:8–10 Ephesians 5:15–21

Genesis 49:8–10 2 Kings 25:27–30 Psalm 89 Matthew 1:1–17

The bible in a year

The bible in a year

Exodus 31–32 Matthew 22:23–46

Exodus 33–34 Matthew 23:1–22

C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 26, tells us that Christ exercises the office of king “in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.” We do not hope for the lesser kings of the political process to save us in any ultimate sense, for Jesus alone has the might and authority to preserve us. Would others say you put your final hope in earthly kings or in King Jesus?

The Davidic Covenant

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Amos 9:11–15 “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and will raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old” (v. 11).

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new era for the people of God dawned when the Lord established His everlasting covenant with David (2 Sam. 7:16). Gone would be the days of insecurity, corrupt judges, and harassment from enemies. Peace and security would be the new state of affairs as Israel enjoyed the reign of a king who promoted justice and righteousness according to the Law (vv. 4–15). That was the intent of the covenant, anyway. Yet we know from the Old Testament that the sons of David did not live up to this ideal. Corrupt rulers led the people into idolatry, and as the result of their flagrant sin, God sent the people into exile just as He had promised (Deut. 28:58–68; 2 Chron. 36:15–21). Exile, however, would not be the final word concerning the line of David. The Lord pledged never to remove His steadfast love from David’s line (2 Sam. 7:14–15), so although his descendants would be disciplined, they would never be completely forsaken. Such a truth was hard to believe when the people were in exile and there was no throne in Jerusalem. But those who believed the Word of God realized that along with the chastisement of exile came the promise of restoration. Amos 9:11–15 contains one of the most well-known prophecies of restoration found in the old covenant. The prophet reminded the people that David’s booth would be rebuilt after falling — that Israel would return to the land and a new era of glory would be ushered in under the reign of a new son from David’s line. During the hundreds of years of prophetic silence following the death of Malachi, Israel truly began to yearn for the time when the throne would be restored to David. Hope for a Messiah grew strong as the people waited for Elijah to come and announce the Day of the Lord on which the final Son of David would be revealed (Mal. 4:5–6). They were waiting for the kingdom of God to come. This kingdom took many Israelites by surprise because it came in a manner many did not expect. Elijah came, but not the same Elijah who prophesied against King Ahab of Israel. Instead, one went forth in the spirit and power of Elijah proclaiming a baptism for the remission of sins (Luke 3:1–6). God’s kingdom came first as a spiritual kingdom and will later be consummated as a visible, political realm.  C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

Precisely because God is sovereign over all things, He will always be able to fulfill the promises He has made. Yet He is not obligated to keep them according to how we think they ought to be kept. The Lord is always faithful to His people and He always does what is best for us, but what we think is best is not always what He says is best. Let us learn to trust our Creator even when it is difficult and to love His sovereign will that controls all things.

For further study

Hosea 3:1–5 Zechariah 12:10 The bible in a year

Exodus 35–36 Matthew 23:23–39 The Weekend

Exodus 37–39 Matthew 24

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T he New Covena nt Iain D. Campbell One of the beauties of the letter to the Hebrews is its integration of two important themes: the continuity of God’s plan of salvation across the ages and the discontinuities that arise as a result of God’s consummate act of redemption in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some things are carried over from the Old Testament into the New and others are left buried in Jesus’ grave. Drawing on the evident familiarity of his readers with the Old Testament, the author of Hebrews is at pains to remind us that without the older covenant, replete with complex ceremony, ritual, and officialdom, our understanding of the work of Christ would be greatly impoverished. That is why he couches his presentation of the gospel in the language of Old Testament ceremony: “We have such a high priest . . . a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up” (Heb. 8:1–2). The older covenant made with Israel was the vehicle through which God’s saving purpose was advanced. By giving laws to Israel, God revealed the righteous standards He expects from everyone. Time and again, however, Israel broke God’s commands — “they did not continue in my covenant,” says God (v. 9).

Obedience to God’s law is the benchmark of continuing in God’s covenant. Yet no Israelite could be saved by law-keeping — that was the point Paul would argue forcefully in his letter to the Romans, showing that the true Israelite was not the one who gave mere outward regard to the required ceremonies. The true Israelite was the one whose heart was pure before God (Rom. 2:29), and who, like Abraham, was justified on the basis of faith in the covenant promise (4:22). Gloriously and graciously, the same law that spelled condemnation also made provision for sin. The sacrifices, the bloodshed, the priesthood — all these ceremonial requirements were God’s way of dealing with sin. The older covenant was both a national covenant with Israel and an administration of the covenant of grace. As a further elaboration of the covenant of grace, building on God’s promises to Noah and Abraham, it made provision for an

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everlasting priesthood (Num. 25:13), for atonement, for redemption, and for salvation. These elements of Israel’s religion were “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5). The final, glorious stage in the unfolding of God’s redemptive purpose was the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Great High Priest, who offered Himself for our redemption on earth, and presents Himself for our final salvation before God in heaven. Every element of Old Testament ritual derived its efficacy from Him and pointed forward to Him. Consequently, all true believers in every age have been saved in the same way: through faith in the covenant promise and justified through the covenant Mediator. In Christ, however, old things have passed away. There is now no single ethnic group, for example, whom God favors with the privileges of redemption. Israel, like Adam, broke covenant with God (Hos. 6:7). But the eternal life that Adam forfeited, and to which Israel could not reach, is ours in Christ Jesus. As a result, the covenant is recast — the new covenant anticipated in Jeremiah 31:31–34 (which is quoted in Heb. 8:8–12) is made with all believers in Christ. Yet this is no brand new gospel — God’s same laws are now written on the hearts of His people (Heb. 8:10), giving a new affection for them and a new inclination to them. The same principle of adoption Israel enjoyed God now extends to all who believe. The scaffolding of the building has collapsed: the ritual and sacrifice that prepared for the appearance of the Savior is now obsolete, and God’s purpose of grace is fulfilled. 46

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Unlike the ancient Israelite, I can now say that Christ the last priest has done His work, and the last sacrifice for sins has been offered. I need no lamb of my own, for God has provided a lamb for Himself (Gen. 22:8). By faith, I look away from myself to the Great High Priest, thankful that my approach to God is both enabled and emboldened by a sacrifice of eternal significance, efficacy, and worth. Consequently, I can rejoice in the absolute security of my inheritance in Christ. He, unlike both Adam and Israel, has kept the covenant for me. His law-keeping covers my law-breaking. I mourn over my commandment-breaking but rejoice in the strength of the covenant, which in Christ can never be finally broken. There were Old Testament saints who enjoyed that security too, as genuine believers in the covenant promises of salvation. Many Israelites, however, rested on external privileges without fulfilling the conditions that they demanded. Although they were a privileged people in covenant with God, many of them “were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:19). Now, however, I stand before God in Christ and He says to me: “I will be merciful . . . I will remember [your] sins no more” (8:12). That, at last, is the apex of our privilege: in Christ, the last Adam and final Israel, we are God’s covenant people forever. 

The Word of God in Nature Psalm 19:1–6 “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (v. 1).

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s we have seen, God’s kingdom is administered through the covenants revealed in the Word of God. This concept of the Word of God is central to the biblical revelation — it can be traced through the Old and New Testaments. The Word of God is contained in two books — the book of nature and the book of Scripture. Our concern today is with the book of nature or natural revelation, that knowledge about the Lord given in the created order. The Bible is clear that God reveals truth about Himself in the world around us, and today’s passage is one of the most important biblical texts on the reality of natural revelation. David focuses on the skies in Psalm 19:1–6, and within the span of these six verses he tells us much about what natural revelation reveals to mankind. Chiefly, the natural world affirms the existence of a creator God who is full of glory (v. 1). Verse one refers to the “heavens” and the “sky,” which is translated elsewhere as “firmament” or “expanse.” We hear an echo of Genesis 1 wherein we read how God designed the “heavens” (v. 1) and the “expanse” to separate the waters (v. 6). Natural revelation is spoken in a universal language — “there is no speech” where it goes unheard (Ps. 19:2–3). Therefore, the knowledge of God available in creation is a common ground with nonbelievers to which we can appeal to defend the existence of a Creator. In fact, natural revelation is so plain that it takes conscious suppression to deny it, as is seen in David’s use of the bridegroom analogy in verses 4–5. When a bridegroom left his chamber on his wedding day in the ancient world, his entire village would see it, and only liars or people intentionally indifferent could claim ignorance. Similarly, the rising and setting of the sun testifies clearly to the Lord’s work. Charles Spurgeon writes, “The witnesses above cannot be slain or silenced; from their elevated seats they constantly preach the knowledge of God, unawed and unbiased by the judgment of men” (comments on Ps. 19 from The Treasury of David). Finally, natural revelation tells us judgment is coming. Old Testament references to the “anger of God” in English Bibles are often idiomatic translations of the literal Hebrew phrase “his nose was hot.” That nothing is hid from the sun’s heat (v. 6) is a reminder that no sin can escape the fire of our Creator’s anger.  For further study

Dr. Iain D. Campbell is minister of Point Free Church on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. He is author of Seven Wonders of the World: The Gospel in the Storyline of the Bible.

Mon | Feb

Job 36:24–33 Psalm 97:6 Acts 17:22–34 Romans 1:18–32 The bible in a year

Exodus 40–Leviticus 1 Matthew 25:1–30

C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

The fact that God has revealed Himself in nature gives a meaning and purpose to education that is impossible with non-Christian approaches. When we study science, math, photography, business, or any other subject, we are studying laws the Lord has revealed in and through the created order. All truth is God’s truth, whether we discover it in the Bible or in the natural sciences or liberal arts.

The Book of Scripture

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Tue | Feb

Biblical Inerrancy

Deuteronomy 31:24–26 “Moses commanded the Levites . . . ‘Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God’” (vv. 25–26).

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atural revelation is useful to give us some basic information about God and His will, but there is a limit to what it can accomplish. Even though it testifies to the power, existence, and authority of our Creator (Rom. 1:18–32), it cannot explain how sinful human beings can be preserved through the divine judgment that is coming upon the world for its sin. But the Lord loved His people so much that He graciously chose to reveal the way of salvation, although not through the medium of creation. He has given us what theologians have often called a “special revelation” of Himself. Properly speaking, special revelation refers to any revelation God has given outside of the ordinary workings of the created universe. The dreams the Almighty sent, the audible prophecies He delivered through the prophets, and an historical event like the exodus can all qualify as special revelation. When we talk about special revelation today, however, we are referring specifically to the Scriptures, the sixty-six inspired writings of the Old and New Testaments. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1.1) explains that all other means of special revelation having ceased, God has committed into writing a record of the events of redemptive history and an explanation of their significance to preserve the church and protect us against Satan. In other words, He has given us the Bible as the final authority and surest guide for all matters of faith and practice. John Calvin notes in his commentary on today’s passage that due to our idolatrous proclivities, “religion would have been corrupted in a thousand ways, had not its rule been diligently written down for posterity.” So we should be grateful to have an infallible, written guide to correct us when we err (see 2 Tim. 3:16–17). Deuteronomy 31:24–26 is one of the earliest passages of Scripture to describe how God’s Word was put into written form or inscripturated. All Moses and the Israelites had was the Law and it bore witness against them, convicting them of sin and pointing out their need for salvation (v. 26). Under the new covenant, the Law can serve the same purpose, but we are fortunate to have the whole of the book of Scripture. With the written Law we also have the clearly written gospel, which gives us a confident hope for pardon and grace instead of the Law’s sentence (John 1:17).  C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

Many people today are looking for the Lord to guide them through a dream, vision, or audible voice. The way God guides His people today, however, is through His written Word, which the Holy Spirit applies to the hearts of all believers and to the life of the church. It is against this Word that we must test all things and hold fast to that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21). Do you submit to the Scriptures as the final authority for your life and practice?

Psalm 12:1–6 “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (v. 6).

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ne important fact about divine revelation is its veracity in all that it affirms. God’s disclosure about Himself and the nature of reality are always inerrant. Inerrancy applies first to natural revelation: whatever the Lord says to us in nature is without error. Our interpretation of this revelation is not always without error, as the continual revision of scientific hypotheses demonstrates; nevertheless, what the created order tells us is true, whether or not we understand it. Although God’s revelation in nature is no less true than His inscripturated or written revelation, we are usually thinking of the Bible when we use the term inerrancy. Psalm 12:6 is one of the many biblical texts that affirm inerrancy. The words of the Lord are pure, like silver that has been purified so thoroughly that no impurities remain. Unlike the speech of human beings that is filled with lies (vv. 1–4), the Word of God contains no dross — no error is mixed with His truth. Biblical inerrancy must be understood rightly, otherwise we run into all kinds of problems. Importantly, inerrancy applies only to what Scripture actually affirms, not to every statement a biblical character makes. Consider Joseph’s experience with Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:11–18. What is inerrant here is the record of what Potiphar’s wife said and did. Scripture does not affirm the inerrancy of the statement of Potiphar’s wife itself. Though she did say what the text attributes to her, the meaning of her words to the men of the house was false (vv. 16–18). The focus on the veracity of what Scripture actually affirms also allows us to take into account the use of poetic imagery. Isaiah 55:12 speaks of the trees clapping their hands when God redeems the exiles. Were the Bible to actually affirm here that trees have hands, this text would not be inerrant, for trees are clearly handless. But all that Isaiah is affirming is that creation itself will rejoice at the salvation of God’s people (Rom. 8:19–23), and he is using metaphor to do so. A full exposition of biblical inerrancy is impossible within the confines of this study, and a good resource on the topic like Scripture Alone by R.C. Sproul is commended for further study. And as Dr. Sproul and other scholars have shown, we can be confident in the absolute trustworthiness of the Bible. 

For further study

For further study

Exodus 31:18 2 Kings 22 2 Timothy 3:14–15 2 Peter 3:15–16

Deuteronomy 32:4 Psalm 119:160 John 17:17 Titus 1:2

The bible in a year

The bible in a year

Leviticus 2–3 Matthew 25:31–46

Leviticus 4–6 Matthew 26:1–35

C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

The health of the church depends upon a firm commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture. Once the idea that Scripture teaches some false things is accepted, what fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith will fall next? But inerrancy must be properly understood lest we falsely accuse others of denying it. We must also take care in interpreting the Bible, for while the text is inerrant, our interpretations are not necessarily so.

The Clarity of God’s Word Thu | Feb

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Revelation Incarnate

Deuteronomy 6:6–7 “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them . . . when you lie down, and when you rise.”

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he clarity of Scripture is another attribute of the Word of God that is developed throughout the Old Testament. Our Lord has made it plain in His Word that His inscripturated revelation is not to be locked up in libraries and universities and studied only by scholars; rather, it has been designed so that all people can read and understand its basic message. Scripture testifies to its clarity in several ways, the first of these being its understanding of divine accommodation. God did not speak to us in a lofty or strange language but instead accommodated Himself to our weaknesses, speaking to us on our level so that we might understand and obey His commandments. Exodus 33:11 says this of Moses, the first great biblical author: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Our Creator did not reveal Himself to Moses in a divine language no one could understand, nor did He give examples or analogies uncommon to human experience. Instead, he spoke as a friend would, in a manner that would be clearly understood by the hearer. God also illustrates the clarity of His Word in commanding everyone in the covenant community to have it on their lips and teach it to their children. Today’s passage assumes that every person in Israelite society, from the most educated priest to the most illiterate peasant, would be able to comprehend enough of the Word of God to teach it to others (Deut. 6:6–7). If the Lord had made His revelation so obscure that few could understand it, He never could have commanded His people, saying that there must be “no portion of time unoccupied with meditation on the Law” (John Calvin). Jesus also presumed that the people could understand God’s Word. In Luke 24:25–27 He expects the disciples on the road to Emmaus to have understood and believed the basic teaching that the Messiah must die and rise again. The problem with their understanding was not Scripture but their unbelief. Not everything in the Bible is equally clear; Scripture implies as much when it appoints teachers for God’s people (Eph. 4:11–14). Yet as Jesus’ encounter on the Emmaus road shows, the gospel is plain to anyone who will read the Bible.  C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

Some parents do not spend that much time talking about the Scriptures at home because they believe it is too hard to understand. But the Bible is clear enough that anyone who is willing to sit down and read can understand its basic message. If you have children at home, are you taking time to instruct them in the things of God? If you do not have children, how are you helping the church to teach children and support parents in their important work?

2 Timothy 3:16–17 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

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e have been tracing the theme of divine revelation through the Old Testament this week, and it is now time to consider its fulfillment in the New Testament. No study of divine revelation would be complete without a discussion of today’s passage, a key text for the doctrine of revelation. Second Timothy 3:16–17 is famous for using the Greek term theopneustos — “Godbreathed” — to describe the writings of Israel’s prophets and Christ’s apostles. With this word, Paul teaches that the Bible, though written by men, has been inspired to the point of being the very Word of God itself. To hear and obey the Scriptures is to hear and obey God Himself. Some adjust verse 16 to read “every God-breathed Scripture,” making a distinction within Scripture between those portions of the holy book that are inspired and authoritative and those that are not inspired and thus disposable. The grammatical arguments are complex, but Greek scholars agree that Paul uses “God-breathed” to qualify all of the Scriptures. For the apostles, every word of Scripture is the very Word of God. Setting one portion of Scripture against another is a common way people understand the old covenant revelation as being fulfilled in the new. Some discard the Old Testament entirely and accept only the New Testament. Others think that the teaching of Jesus is somehow more authoritative than other portions of the Old or New Testaments. But Jesus is clear that He did not come to abolish the older revelation of God found in the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17–20) and that to hear His apostles through their writings is to hear the Savior Himself (10:40). This Jesus is the culmination of divine revelation, the Word of God (John 1:1–18) and the clearest picture of the Father. He is the last Word from God, and we hear from Him when we submit to the authority of the entire canon of Scripture. B.B. Warfield writes, “The entirety of the New Testament is but the explanatory word accompanying and giving its effect to the fact of Christ. And when this fact was in all its meaning made the possession of men, revelation was completed and in that sense ceased. Jesus Christ is no less the end of revelation than He is the end of the law” (The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 96). 

For further study

For further study

Psalm 119:129–130 Proverbs 3:1–8 Matthew 12:1–8 John 3:1–15

Proverbs 8 John 14:6

The bible in a year

Leviticus 7–9 Matthew 26:36–56

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The bible in a year

Leviticus 10–12 Matthew 26:57–75 The Weekend

Leviticus 13–15 Matthew 27

C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

Just because Jesus is the incarnate Word of God does not mean that we need not study Scripture or hold it as supremely authoritative in matters of faith and practice. We learn about and from Christ throughout Scripture, and when we submit to it we are submitting to Christ Himself. Some people try to set up a conflict between following Jesus and following Scripture, but we must never fall into that error.

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God Speaks Through His Son Ken Jones The book of Hebrews opens with the acknowledgement that “long ago at many times and in many ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.” What is established here is that God spoke to the saints of old through the prophets, indicating the need for a mediatorial office for revelation from God to sinful creatures. While these prophetic revelations of God’s Word to His people were true and accurate, Calvin makes the point in his commentary on this verse: “The diversity of visions and of other dispensations which existed in the Old Testament was evidence that there was not yet a firm and stable order of things such as is proper when everything is perfectly settled . . . . God would have followed the same pattern in perpetuity right to the end if it had been perfect in every way.” In short, the old covenant prophetic office was a precursor of the coming messianic prophet. Moses speaks of this coming prophet in Deuteronomy 18:15–18. Hebrews 1:1–4 proclaims that the promised prophet of whom Moses spoke has come in the person of Christ. While the prophets of old 52

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were servants of God, Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. The prophets of old were sinners, and although God communicated His Word through them, they were at times frustrated in their task (like in Jer. 20:7–9) or reluctant (like in Jonah 1:1–3). But Jesus, who is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Heb. 1:3), is without sin, and there is no frustration in His task nor reluctance to declare the words of God. Furthermore, the Old Testament prophets prefaced their message with “thus says the Lord” because the message was not their own. This is in contrast to what Jesus does in, for example, the Sermon on the Mount — where He not only expounds the very essence of the Law but continuously rebuffs the religious traditions of the Jewish community by saying, “You have

heard it was said to those of old . . . but I say to you . . . .” Mark indicates that from the beginning of His public preaching and teaching ministry, Jesus spoke more authoritatively than the scribes (1:22). In John 5:24–25 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. . . . an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” What is expressed in Hebrews 1:1–4 is illustrated in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ public ministry. He is superior to the prophets of old in His position of preeminence, His person, and His prophetic utterances. But the writer of Hebrews is not just making the point that Jesus is qualitatively superior to the prophets of old. There is also an eschatological dimension to be considered. The former days consisted of types, shadows, and promises that pointed to the coming prophet-priest-king of a new covenant. The death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ have brought an end to those elements, practices, and offices that pointed to Him. This includes the prophetic office. Jesus’ death on the cross has brought animal sacrifices to a close, and His high priestly functions have abrogated the need for human high priests. Likewise, as the consummate prophet of God, Jesus has brought an end to the need of lesser prophets as the means of divine revelation. The finished work of Christ and the completion of the canon of Scripture have brought an end to the office of prophet in the Old Testament sense of the term. When

preachers expound the Scriptures, it is a “forthtelling” of what “thus says the Lord,” but they are not the recipients of new revelation from God. It may be commonplace for Christians to use or hear the phrase “the Lord told me . . . ,” but perhaps more caution should be exercised. I realize that in many cases what is meant is a strong impression on one’s conscience about a particular matter. Or perhaps a specific biblical text or its application is brought to bear on a given situation. This could be what is meant by “God speaking,” and I think those examples could be valid. Unfortunately, what is often meant is more akin to God speaking through individuals today in the same way He did with the prophets of old — that’s where the problem lies. This is equivalent to returning to the types and shadows of animal sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood. Those were abolished at the appearing glory of the substance — Christ, who is God’s final and definitive revelation of His Word and will. Christ has spoken in the Scriptures and continues to speak when Scripture is expounded. In short, there is no new revelation apart from Christ. He is the prophet that has come as the fulfillment of the long awaited promise. As the Son of God, Jesus not only declared the Word of God but manifested God to us as the Word of God in the flesh. What more do we need than what God has declared and manifested through His Son? 

Rev. Ken Jones is pastor of Greater Union Baptist Church in Compton, California. He is also co-host of The White Horse Inn.

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The Old Covenant Mediator

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Exodus 3 “Then the Lord said [to Moses] . . . ‘Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt’” (vv. 7–10).

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od’s Word was put into writing over many centuries through the efforts of men like Moses, whom the Holy Spirit inspired to give us a supremely authoritative written revelation. The biblical writers devoted much attention to Moses, the one through whom our Creator mediated the old covenant, and to Moses we now turn to see how his mediation is developed and fulfilled throughout the Bible. We all know the story of Moses — the Levite child whom God providentially rescued from the hand of a wicked pharaoh only to have him grow up in the Egyptian court (Ex. 1:1–2:10). By the time today’s passage begins, Moses has killed an Egyptian slavemaster and has fled to Midian, resigning himself to the life of a simple shepherd who tends the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro (2:11–25). As is often the case, however, God’s plans for His people are far different than our plans for ourselves. In the wilderness of Horeb, God appears to Moses in a bush that is burning without being consumed (3:1–5). He has heard the cries of His enslaved people and has chosen to send Moses to Pharaoh to gain their freedom (vv. 6–10). The Almighty grounds His redemptive goals in His own nature. He tells Moses that He is “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (v. 6), identifying Himself as the One who always keeps His covenants and who is moving to accomplish His promises to the patriarchs and their progeny (Gen. 12:1–3; 26:1–5; 28:10–15). God underscores this point in revealing to Moses His covenant name — Yahweh (“i am,” Ex. 3:14). The Lord is who He is; His character cannot change. He will remain utterly faithful and keep all of His promises. Moses doubts Yahweh’s choice, replying, in essence, “Why me? I’m not the man for the job” (v. 11; see also 4:1–17). We too often feel this way when God calls us to hard things, even if they pale in comparison to Moses’ task. It is a feeling J.R.R. Tolkein captures in The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo, chosen to face great evil and destroy the One Ring, says to Gandalf the wizard: “I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?” Yet the God who calls us to service also equips us to serve (2 Peter 1:3). Moses learned this during his life, and believers continue to experience this truth today.  C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

When God calls us to service, He also gives us what we need to perform that service. Sometimes He does this directly through spiritual giftings; at other times He opens up doors for us to get further education or training. What opportunities for Christian training are currently open to you? Are you taking advantage of them? Take advantage of those options you have and, seeking God’s help, strive to create opportunities for yourself as well.

The Reformation Study Bible E di t e d by R.C. Sprou l & K e i t h A. M at hison

The study notes, essays, and book introductions found in The Reformation Study Bible have helped many people understand the biblical doctrines recovered and proclaimed in the Protestant Reformation. Now with new color maps and the updated ESV text.

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Psalm 18:31–42 Jeremiah 1:1–10 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24 Hebrews 13:20–21 The bible in a year

Leviticus 16–18 Matthew 28 T O

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None Like Moses

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Deuteronomy 34 “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to do” (vv. 10–11).

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oses hesitated to accept God’s call at first, protesting that the Israelites would not obey him and that he was too “slow of speech and of tongue” to lead Israel out of Egypt (Ex. 3:1–4:17). Yet the Lord, in His patience and grace, remained with Moses and strengthened his hand. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Moses stared down the mightiest king on the planet (4:18–14:31), led the Israelites against the Midianites (Num. 31), and did many other mighty works. Despite years of serving the Lord, however, Moses never stepped foot in the Promised Land; rather, Joshua led Israel into Canaan (Deut. 31:1–8). Joshua may also have written Deuteronomy 34:1–8, one of the few texts of the Pentateuch (Genesis– Deuteronomy) that Moses did not pen. Certainly, Moses did not record his own death, so Joshua or some other close companion of Moses wrote it. The same person may also have authored verses 9–12, but many scholars believe a later person, perhaps Ezra, added this note about Moses’ prophetic office after Israel returned from exile. For as is clear from the Old Testament, no other period of old covenant history had the numbers and varieties of miracles as the days of Moses. Other prophets performed miracles (2 Kings 6:1–7), but the flurry of miracles in Moses’ lifetime was unsurpassed until the ministry of Christ. Even though Moses did not enter the land, God granted him a vision of it, reminding Moses that the promise to the patriarchs (Gen. 15) would come to pass. Moses died on Mount Nebo after seeing Canaan, and God Himself buried him (Deut. 34:1–8), probably to guard against the people later building an idolatrous shrine to Moses. Being buried by the Lord, of course, was also a great honor. Death before entering Canaan was earthly discipline for Moses, who failed to trust God at Meribah-kadesh (32:48–52; see Num. 20:1–13). Even the greatest old covenant prophet had to learn his place in the kingdom is through a grace that covers all his failures. No less than all the other saints of God, Moses had to recognize the truth Augustus Toplady so beautifully expresses in the hymn Rock of Ages: “Not the labors of my hands can fulfill the law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; thou must save, and thou alone.”  For further study

Deuteronomy 18:15–22 Psalm 106 Hebrews 11:23–28 Jude 8–10 The bible in a year

Leviticus 19–20 Mark 1

C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

The grace of God is large enough to cover all of our failures and sins. This great truth ought not be abused by us (growing callous toward sin); rather, it is to comfort us when we have sinned, for it reminds us that past failures and disobedience do not render us unable to serve Christ now, if we have repented. Consider how God’s grace has overcome your sin and how it should move you to serve Him today.

The Son Versus the Servant Wed | Feb

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The False Prophet

Hebrews 3:1–6 “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son” (vv. 5–6a).

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or all his greatness as the mediator of the old covenant, Moses, even if he wanted to, could not ultimately do what was necessary to effect salvation for God’s people. As a sinner, Moses was unable to render that perfect obedience needed to set men and women right with the Lord (Lev. 18:5; Num. 20:1–13). He was finally able to bring the nation to the edge of Canaan and thus fulfill the promises of God on that front, but he was not able to take them into their full inheritance (Deut. 34). Knowing that he would not be the one under whom Israel would inherit the earth, Moses looked forward to another prophet to lead the people of God (18:15). Today’s passage informs us that this prophet is none other than the man Christ Jesus (Heb. 3:1–6). But this Jesus is no ordinary man, the author of Hebrews informs us. While he could point to Moses’ faults in order to prove Jesus is superior to him, Hebrews instead looks at the status of Moses as a servant versus the status of Jesus as a son (3:6) — the Son of God coequal to the Father in power and authority. The author of Hebrews is unafraid to paint Moses as a faithful servant (3:2, 5), for indeed Moses can be accurately described as having lived a life that represented faithfulness to the Lord. Still, Moses was just a servant, and not worthy to receive the honor that a son, as the heir of his father, deserves as leader of the house. Jesus, on the other hand, is the faithful Son, the one who lived a life of utter faithfulness (v. 6; 1 Peter 2:22). As the incarnate God Himself, Jesus directs the church and is worthy to receive worship from the church. Moses, on the other hand, is never more than a member of the church of God. John Calvin comments, “Moses was committed to a doctrine to which he, in common with others, was to submit; but Christ, though he put on the form of a servant, is yet Master and Lord, to whom all ought to be subject.” Hence, Moses looked forward to the coming of the one who would surpass him in honor and glory (John 5:46). Jews in the first century, who greatly esteemed Moses for the honor God gave him (Num. 12:5–7), found this teaching hard to accept. But Christ is indeed greater than Moses, the One who as the only begotten Son of God has done what Moses could not do and has purchased eternal salvation for His people.  C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

Like Moses, we too are servants of God, and we want the Lord to pronounce us as good and faithful servants on the last day. While our service can by no means earn us a place in the kingdom and while it will always be imperfect, God will look at the pattern of His children’s lives and reward them for their deeds. Are you faithful to serve the Master of the house — the Lord Jesus Christ? Trust in God to give you what you need to be faithful to Him.

Deuteronomy 13:1–5 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder . . . and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods’ . . . you shall not listen” (vv. 1–3).

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aving examined the theme of the Word of God and the person of Moses, one who received this Word, we are now ready to look at the forms (genres) of the Word of God found in the Old Testament and how they are dealt with in the New. Since Moses is the paradigmatic prophet, we will begin with the concept of prophecy. Anyone whom the Lord inspired to give us revelation is a prophet, including those we normally consider prophets like Jeremiah and men such as David, whom we rarely think of as a prophet. Old covenant prophets reminded Israel of its covenant duties and announced blessings or curses according to the nation’s fidelity (Deut. 18:15–22; 28). Theologians often call the prophets “covenant prosecutors,” as they stated God’s case from the heavenly court against Israel based on His law. Scripture can use the term prophet for anyone in the Old Testament who claims to speak for the Lord, so God told Israel how to distinguish between true and false prophets. First, true prophets had the ability to do signs. A prophet whose “signs” never came to pass was not truly from the Lord (18:21–22). Yet the ability to do miracles was not itself enough to identify a true prophet, for he also had to teach right doctrine. A wonder-working prophet who impenitently led the people after other gods was to be rejected; in fact, he was to be killed (Deut. 13:1–5). As Dr. R.C. Sproul often says, the greatest threat to God’s people is the false prophet, and under the new covenant we must guard against those who twist Scripture. This can be hard because few of us like to face conflict or want to be involved in the disciplinary steps outlined to deal with false teachers (Titus 3:1–11). Compounding the problem is that being labeled a heretic is no longer a stigma. Televangelists boast of bucking church tradition and relativists proudly claim to be “orthodox heretics.” G.K. Chesterton’s words about the early twentieth-century church still apply today: “‘Heresy not only means no longer being wrong; it practically means being clearheaded and courageous. . . . ‘orthodoxy’ not only no longer means being right; it practically means being wrong.” Still, the church’s health requires all believers to be absolutely committed to orthodox Christianity as it has been handed down by the apostles even if others might hate us for it. 

For further study

For further study

Psalm 90 Mark 9:1–8 John 1:17 Acts 3:11–26

1 Kings 18:20–40 Jeremiah 28 Matthew 7:15–20 1 John 4:1–6

The bible in a year

The bible in a year

Leviticus 21–23 Mark 2

Leviticus 24–26 Mark 3

C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

False prophets exist in our day insofar as there are many men and women who are claiming to speak for God and yet teach aberrant doctrine. While we must not be contentious over minor matters, we should never be afraid to point out the errors of those who deny or pervert cardinal Christian doctrines. In love may we help those who are in bondage to false doctrines see the essential truths of the Christian faith as taught in God’s Word.

The Spirit of Prophecy FRI | Feb

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Numbers 11:16–30 “Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’” (v. 29).

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od promised to speak to His people under the old covenant through His true prophets, who were identifiable through their fidelity to the covenant and their ability to do signs and wonders (Deut. 13:1–5; 18:15–22). Yet despite the great privilege it certainly was to hear from prophets, the fact that only select individuals would have the spirit of prophecy was not ideal. In fact, old covenant prophets looked forward to a better day when all the people of God would have the fullness of the Holy Spirit writing God’s Word on their hearts, thus rendering their office obsolete. We see this hope in today’s passage when Moses rebukes Joshua for not rejoicing over the manifestation of the prophetic gifts in the elders of Israel (Num. 11:16–30). Moses understood that there was a day coming when the church would no longer need individuals to mediate to them new revelation from the Creator. Later prophets like Joel foresaw a day when all believers, from the lowliest servants to the most exalted rulers, would receive the Word of God and speak it to one another with understanding (Joel 2:28–32). As O. Palmer Robertson puts it, the old covenant prophets knew “the ultimate goal of God’s covenant [unity between God and His people] cannot be realized so long as a prophetic figure must stand between the Lord and his people” (The Final Word, p. 4). This unity was achieved when God Himself became incarnate and expressed His solidarity with His people by walking among them (John 1:1–18). Following the ministry of Jesus came a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on every believer in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Acts 2). As such, all of God’s people now stand in the line of the prophets with an even greater understanding of the Lord’s plan and purpose. Some believers are more gifted in the area of teaching than others (Eph. 4:11–14), but there is no longer any need for a prophetic mediator between God and the believer as was true during the old covenant (1 John 2:27). That all believers, in a sense, are God’s prophets in the new covenant does not involve new revelation of any kind; otherwise, we return to the days of prophetic mediators. God has spoken fully and finally in His Son (Heb. 1:1–4), and we are prophets insofar as we believe and teach only what the living, inscriptured Word teaches.  C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

There are views in the church today that say God is giving new revelation through prophets who can mix in some error as they misunderstand His Word. Such views are to be soundly and fully rejected. God has spoken fully and finally in Christ, and we are in no need of extra revelation. Instead, standing in line with the prophets, we are to proclaim the canonical revelation we do have to each other.

For further study

1 Samuel 10:1–13 Revelation 22:6–21 The bible in a year

Leviticus 27–Numbers 1 Mark 4 The Weekend

Numbers 2–7 Mark 5:1–20

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T he Chu rch as God ’s P rophet Kim Riddlebarger If there is any subject that makes Christians squirm, it is church discipline. In an age in which people change churches because the pastor wasn’t funny enough on Sunday, the mere mention of church discipline forces believers to consider the fact that the New Testament teaches that Christians are to be members of a particular local church, which is not an organization like a club with voluntary membership. It is an organism — the mystical body of Christ. We are bound to that local church until we die, are excommunicated, relocate to a new community (and join another church), or go through the painful process of withdrawing, and only then when weighty matters of conscience force us to do so. In the apostolic age, to be cast out of the church was a significant punishment. Banishment from the church meant there was nowhere else to go. Christians in the first century had no denominational options as we do, nor did they envision a situation like that in modern America wherein most towns have enough churches that if someone is removed from one church, they simply attend

another, with no one the wiser. Granted, church members do not like to think about church discipline because it implies authoritarian church leaders who seek to control someone’s personal business or opinions. But trust me when I say that church leaders do not like to think about church discipline either. There is nothing more difficult than to shepherd people who are in sin or who need to repent of certain conduct, yet are unwilling to do so even when they know themselves to be in the wrong. In Matthew 18:15–20, Matthew sets out the way in which members of the church are to deal with one another should a dispute arise between them. In verses 15–17, he records Jesus describing the procedures Christians should follow when one person sins against another: “If your brother sins against you, go and

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tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” The steps are very simple and straightforward. Jesus tells us to speak directly to the person who has offended us. If we get no satisfaction from this meeting, we are to meet again, the next time with one or more witnesses. If the person still refuses to repent, the matter is to be made public (the church is now to be involved), and the church is commanded to discipline such a person, with the provision that if he stubbornly refuses to repent, he is to be treated like a non-Christian. This means that the church must make a careful judgment based upon the person’s conduct to the effect that the person’s behavior is such that they cannot be considered to be a Christian. It is at this point that Matthew addresses the subject of “binding and loosing.” In verses 18–20, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” In these verses, Jesus gives to the officers of the church the authority to make whatever determinations that must be made regarding 62

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the conduct of unrepentant professing Christians that has come to the attention of the church. “Binding and loosing” is connected to both the Law and the gospel. Those who believe the gospel’s promises and who repent of their sins are “loosed” from their sins and allowed to fully participate in the life of the church. Those who refuse to believe the gospel’s promises or who refuse to obey God’s commandments are said to be “bound.” The church makes the determination that such people cannot be regarded as Christians unless and until they profess faith in Christ and demonstrate whatever repentance is required. Jesus adds that such discipline requires two or three witnesses. This reflects the requirement in God’s law that two or three witnesses are required to convict someone of wrongdoing (Deut. 19:15–19). Matthew’s point is that when Christians on earth come to agreement about such matters, this is regarded as reflecting God’s will in heaven. In this way, the church participates in Jesus Christ’s ongoing prophetic office, as the ascended Lord rules His people through His Word in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. In this case, when God’s people make a determination about a matter of discipline based upon what is taught in God’s Word, the church is not only disciplining the flock, it is rightly acting as a prophet. 

The Old Covenant Law Deuteronomy 31:9–13 “Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God” (v. 12).

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enturies of misunderstanding of the place of God’s law in history and in the life of the new covenant believer have caused a lot of confusion over the way the Law relates to us today. As we trace the biblical understanding of the Torah — the Mosaic law — through the canon of Scripture, we will endeavor to shine light on the subject and develop a true appreciation for this part of the Bible. Getting a better grasp on the purpose and use of the Law requires us to remember the context in which it was given and read in the old covenant period. Today’s passage describes the reading of the Law that was to take place every seven years when all the Israelites assembled to celebrate the Feast of Booths (“tents,” Deut. 31:9–13). This was not the only time the people heard or were taught the Law, for it was to be a part of their everyday life (6:4–9). Still, the seventh-year reading of the Law to the whole nation was unique in that the people collectively professed their allegiance to the Lord and their countrymen under His statutes, being reminded of their need to “live in submission to their awe-inspiring God,” as Dr. John MacArthur comments (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 238). Commentators suggest that the Law was to be read at the Feast of Booths for several reasons. First, the Feast of Booths was celebrated at the time of the fall grape (wine) harvest (16:13–15), a time of great rejoicing and feasting. Hearing the Law at this time would help Israel associate it with gladness and celebration, encouraging them to develop a great love for the Law (Ps. 119:97). Secondly, the Feast of Booths recalled how the Israelites lived as they made their way from Egypt to Israel (Lev. 23:33–43), so having the Law read during the festival would recall the Lord’s great salvation in liberating them from Egypt. This would also help them remember that they owed their status to God’s grace and so should not think they have earned their place in the kingdom through keeping Torah. Remembering the booths, their wilderness dwellings, should also have reminded the Israelites of the disobedience to the Law that forced them to wander in this wilderness (Num. 14:1–38). This was to tell them they needed rescue from the power of sin, a crueler master than Egyptian slavery (Gal. 3:15–29). 

For further study

Dr. Kim Riddlebarger is senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church (URCNA) in Anaheim, California. He is also visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California.

22 Mon | Feb

Deuteronomy 31:14–22 Psalm 119:33–40 Matthew 5:17–20 Romans 7:7–12 The bible in a year

Numbers 8–9 Mark 5:21–43

C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

Seeking the Law as an end in itself leads to legalism. Instead, as we study the law of God, we must remember the history of salvation in which it was delivered so that we understand it was given not to earn God’s favor but to do in gratitude for what He had done (the exodus). Every day we should renounce any efforts to make ourselves right with God by doing the right thing and lean wholly on Jesus — followed up by doing, in gratitude, good works.

Israel’s Response to the Law

23 Tue | Feb

Fulfilling the Law

Jeremiah 19 “Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods . . . I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem” (vv. 4–7).

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srael was supposed to do the Law according to God’s command and obey it not to secure redemption but as a means to reflect His glory and draw all the nations to worship the one, true God. When used to this end, the Law could make the old covenant saint rejoice (Deut. 31:9–13; Psalm 119). At the same time, the Israelites were to see their inability to do the Law perfectly and hope for God to remove their transgressions (Isa. 53; Gal. 3:15–29), repenting and offering the prescribed sacrifices to cover their sins temporarily until the coming of the Messiah. Of course, this was not how everyone in the nation responded to the Torah. Certainly, there were individuals like Samuel, Ruth, and David who understood the Law and lived in line with its purposes. But many lived impenitently and broke the covenant with abandon. The Lord eventually removed them from the Promised Land and brought great destruction upon them for forsaking His law. As we see in today’s passage, it was the repeated, gross, and unrepentant violations of the laws against idolatry and other sins that led to Israel’s exile (Jer. 19). Being gracious, God brought the people back to their land and gave them another chance to respond properly to His law. Determined to keep the Law so closely that the Lord would never judge them again, most Israelites devoted themselves to the Law with new zeal. Unfortunately, this zeal soon became misdirected. Many treated the keeping of the Law as an end in itself — as a fence to keep the nations away from God as opposed to drawing them — and did not truly return to the Lord (Deut. 30:1–10; Mal. 2:10–16). Some sects added laws and traditions that, if kept, would ensure that the letter of the Mosaic law would not be broken. Over time, the people granted these rules the authority of God’s Word, and therefore many of them failed to recognize the Savior to whom the Law points (Rom. 9:30–33). Legalism, says Jerry Bridges, is when “we build fences to keep ourselves from committing certain sins. Soon these fences — instead of the sins they were designed to guard against — become the issue. We elevate our rules to the level of God’s commandments” (Transforming Grace, p. 122). Though we know the Savior we must take care lest we respond wrongly to the Law and become legalistic.  C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

We are free to set standards for ourselves as long as we do not impose them on others. If I choose not to drink for fear of becoming an alcoholic, I am not a legalist until I project upon others my faults and fears. All of us are tempted to judge others based not on what Scripture says but on customs that we have elevated to the status of the Word of God. Where is legalism surfacing in your heart? Mortify it by God’s Holy Spirit today.

Romans 13:8–10 “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (v. 10).

24 Wed | Feb

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etting a grasp of Paul’s view of the Law is critical if we are to understand how the Law is fulfilled in the new covenant. Today’s passage, which tells us “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10), is especially relevant to our study. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul says Christians “are not under law but under grace” (6:14), though not being under the Law is not lawlessness (v. 15). In fact, the apostle expects all believers to conform to the ethical demands of the Torah in gratitude to God for our great salvation. This is plain in 13:8–10 where we see how Christian love reflects the portion of the Ten Commandments that emphasizes our treatment of others (see Ex. 20:12–17). So fulfilling the Law by love cannot mean that the Christian life endorses behaviors contrary to what we often call the moral law of God. Jesus’ own teaching on the Law in Matthew 5:17–20 confirms this truth. The Lord came not to “abolish” the commandments but to “fulfill them.” To fulfill means to complete or to bring to full expression the Law’s intention, not to cast it aside or abolish it. Thus, even the commands we think of as abrogated have not been cancelled entirely. For example, the Law’s intent was to constitute the nation of Israel as a holy people (Deut. 28:9), which ultimately requires full atonement, not the temporary, imperfect atonement available through the blood of bulls and goats. Jesus fulfills the intent of the Law’s sacrifices with His once-for-all death (Heb. 10:1–10), so we no longer offer up animals. But today we do offer to God the sacrifice of praise as we approach him through the shed blood of our Savior (13:15). God also gave the Law to lead His people to keep it inwardly, from the heart (Deut. 10:12–22; 30:6). Christ also fulfills this intent as the only one who has ever loved the Father perfectly; in doing this He ushers in through His resurrection and the sending of His Holy Spirit the state wherein we too will love God perfectly (1 Cor. 15:45). Since this time has yet to come fully, we participate in the ongoing fulfillment of the Law’s intent as we love one another, using the Law to help us define true love. When Jesus returns we will no longer need the Law, for then we will be able to do naught but love Him and our neighbor perfectly (1 John 3:2). 

For further study

For further study

Judges 2:11–23 2 Kings 17:7–23 Luke 18:9–14 Galatians 5:2–6

Leviticus 19:17–18 Proverbs 25:21–22 Luke 10:25–37 Galatians 5:13–14

The bible in a year

The bible in a year

Numbers 10–12 Mark 6:1–29

Numbers 13–15 Mark 6:30–56

C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

Matthew Henry comments on love, saying “more is implied than is expressed; it not only does no harm, but it does all the good that may be.” The kind of love that fulfills the Law is active and not just reactive; it looks for ways to do good to people before they have need. Take a moment today to consider your coworkers or other friends and family members. What can you do to show love to them in a concrete way this day (for example, 1 John 3:17)?

Solomon’s Wise Request

25 THU | Feb

The Fear of the Lord

1 Kings 3:1–15 “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (v. 9).

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isdom is an important theme that is developed throughout Scripture, and it also represents a genre of literature found in the Old Testament, especially in the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. There is no better place to begin an examination of this idea than with the man named as the wisest king of the old covenant — Solomon. Today’s passage records that well-known occasion on which Solomon asked the Lord for special wisdom to rule his kingdom. On the whole, 1 Kings 3 casts Solomon in a very positive light, although verses 1–3 contain some ominous signs for the future of Solomon’s kingdom. We read of how he made an alliance with the king of Egypt by marrying his daughter, which goes against the warning in Deuteronomy 17:16 that the Israelites not return to Egypt. Eventually, Solomon married hundreds of other foreign wives, and their pagan ways led him astray from the one, true God (1 Kings 11:1–8). This teaches us that any wisdom we receive from the Lord does us no good if we do not continue in it. Solomon’s heart was divided in its loyalty toward God early in his reign as evidenced in his marriage to the Egyptian princess, but he still knew that he would not have a successful reign over Israel without special wisdom from on high. When the Lord gave him the opportunity to ask for whatever he wanted (1 Kings 3:4–5), Solomon could have asked selfishly for his own riches or fame but instead he humbled himself and selflessly asked for wisdom by which he could discern good from evil (vv. 6–8). As some commentators have noted, Solomon recognized that having the Law would not be enough to create the righteous kingdom God desired; rather, he needed the Lord to do a special work in his heart for this kingdom to come about. Pleased with Solomon, God gave him not only that for which he asked but also riches and many other blessings besides (vv. 9–15). The whole incident is reminiscent of Matthew 6:33 wherein we are told to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and thus all of what we need will be added unto us. If we ask the Father for wisdom, that is, Christ Himself (1 Cor. 1:24), we seek the kingdom and can be assured of His loving care.  C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

Solomon’s life illustrates the need to persevere in the wisdom of God. Of course, all those who have truly put their faith in His promises through Christ will not die bereft of this wisdom and thus, salvation; but the way in which we are assured that we have faith is to persevere in seeking His wisdom. Seek God’s wisdom in His Word both preached and read, and you will certainly find it.

Proverbs 1:1–7 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (v. 7).

od used Solomon at various points in his life while he was fixed on pleasing Him to give His people much of the Old Testament wisdom literature. He wrote most of the book of Proverbs and is traditionally regarded as the author of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. The passage selected for today’s study is the core truth expressed in all the wisdom literature and, indeed, is found expressed in various ways throughout the Bible. Fundamental to salvation is the truth that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). The kind of fear that Solomon is talking about is not the same thing as the fear of harm from an enemy or other dangers. To be sure, all unregenerate people should have that kind of fear of the Creator, for His holiness will bring judgment upon all impenitent people (Rev. 21:6–8). Yet the fear of the Lord described in Proverbs 1:7 is the fear of a converted person, a reverent love that understands God’s grace toward the sinner who trusts Christ and who wants to do what is pleasing to the Lord. This kind of fear recognizes the Lord’s character and His holy love. C.S. Lewis’ illustration of this love in The Problem of Pain helps us understand the kind of fear we should have toward our God. His love is not “a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, nor the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests.” Instead, it is “the consuming Fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.” This description of God’s love is thoroughly biblical and moves us to see ourselves for who we are, to look for cleansing, and to worship Him in His purity and grace (see Isa. 6:1–5; John 20:24–28). To those who have such fear, God gives saving knowledge of His kingdom (Matt. 13:10–17). Those who forsake this knowledge are fools who despise wisdom and understanding (Prov. 1:1–7). Such persons are unable to recognize the fullest expression of the Creator’s Wisdom in our Savior (1 Cor. 1:24) who is revealed to us in the foolishness of the cross, which is, paradoxically, the wisdom of God unto salvation.  For further study

1 Kings 4 Proverbs 2:6–8 Colossians 2:1–5 James 1:5–8

Ecclesiastes 12:13–14 James 3:13–18

Numbers 16–18 Mark 7:1–13

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For further study

The bible in a year

FRI | Feb

The bible in a year

Numbers 19–21 Mark 7:14–37 The Weekend

Numbers 22–25 Mark 8:1–9:29

C oram d e o   

  Living before the face of God

In our casual culture we must take care that we always have a reverent fear of the Lord. While Jesus has made us His friends (John 15:15), we need to remember that His friendship is like none other, for He is worthy of our worship and praise. Meditating on the holiness and grace of God can help us maintain a reverent fear of Him, and we should take care in our speech how we speak of Him. As we reverence Him, He will give us wisdom.

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Ch r ist, t he Wisdom of God J o h n P. S a r t e l l e As I entered my first year of graduate school, Dr. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, a brilliant intellect of the twentieth century, said to me, “John, your academic education has been based on the premise that you cannot be educated or be a true intellectual if you are a Christian who believes the Bible.” Most of us have felt the intimidation of that premise at every level of our educational process. We are tempted to think that the world’s assessment of Christians as ignorant and undereducated is a modern phenomenon. We are led to believe that the world has come of age and the enlightened elite have moved passed the archaic superstition of the ancients. As we continued our conversation, Dr. Hughes went on to demonstrate that the world in every age has claimed to be too “modern” to believe the gospel and God’s Word. Paul, a first-century genius and scholar, observed, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing . . . we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). The gospel was folly to the “wise” of Paul’s day. The modern world that is too erudite for Christianity today is the same 68

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“modern” world that laughed at Paul on Mars Hill in Athens. It is also the same “modern” world that scorned Noah as he built the ark and preached to his contemporaries. But in every generation there have been great minds and scholars who were believers holding tenaciously to the truths set forth by God in His Word. So why does the world deem the gospel foolish? The problem lies right at the nucleus of man’s being. Paul said in Romans 3:11: “No one understands; no one seeks for God.” Many Christians only stress the legal problem sinful mankind has before God. We are guilty in God’s cosmic courtroom and thus need a Savior to take away our transgressions and guilt. However, Paul also stressed the biblical truth that we have a spiritual debilitation in our souls. Every part of our being has been deadened to the will of God by this killing infection. That is why

Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be “born again” (John 3:3). He needed to be changed at the very core of his existence. There are two major characteristics of this God-rejecting nature. First, the sons of Adam desire autonomy. We want to throw off the will and ways of God. David wrote of this in Psalm 2 (and it was noted by the early Christians in Acts 4): “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’” (vv. 2–3). Man prefers selfgovernance over God-governance. He wants to throw off the chains of God’s law. Second, man desires to create his own gods — gods made in his image. John Calvin graphically depicted this when he wrote, “The human heart is a factory of idols....Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” Thus, my non-Christian friend with his spiritually impaired sight and hearing cannot see and hear his dependence upon and responsibility to God. He sees himself as an “unlost” soul who has no need of salvation. The whole mission of Jesus is therefore foolishness to him. Very early in my ministry I was accosted by a music director who was also the wife of a deacon in the church where I was preaching. As we had come to the Lord’s Table I had spoken of the blood of Jesus given for the salvation of sinners, and she was livid. She thought such a concept and language were primitive. She was a religious moralist who had no respect or love for the cross. The biblical gospel was foolishness to her. Imagine the scorn that Noah

endured all the years he was building his ship. He warned his culture that judgment was coming, but they dismissed his warnings and went on with their lives. These were a self-ruled people who manufactured gods indulgent of their lifestyles. The “gospel” according to Noah was foolishness. Was Noah really the fool? Was his theology primitive? When the rain began to fall, Noah’s preaching and boat proved to be profound wisdom. That ark became the wisdom of God. So it is with the cross. Like the ark, the crucified Christ is the shelter of salvation and the wisdom of God. It is important we grasp this, for too many of us think of Christianity as an irrational leap of faith. As a student I frequented a small Christian bookstore. The owner loved to speak using clichés. One of his favorites was “I may be a nut, but, praise the Lord, I am attached to the right bolt.” Many Christians think like that man. They have felt ostracized by the world so long that they see themselves as fools. The book of Proverbs teaches us that the one who is truly godly is full of wisdom. Jesus said that it was the wise man who built his house on the rock. Dear Christian, remember this: In every age, the gospel has been considered foolish by the world. But God has said that it is the wise of every age who seek salvation in His grace. Christ on the cross is not only a demonstration of the love of God, it is a demonstration of the wisdom of God. 

Rev. John Sartelle is senior minister of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky. He is also author of What Christian Parents Should Know About Infant Baptism.

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Justification by Faith Alone

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith

by D on K i s t l e r , Ed i t o r

This collection of essays explores the doctrine of justification by faith alone and answers some of the objections that are most commonly leveled against it. The succinct chapters by scholars and pastors like Joel Beeke, John MacArthur, and R.C. Sproul allow the reader to get a good grasp of the subject after reading just a few pages. Jus03Bp  Z  Prbk, 163 Pages  Z  (RETAIL $12)

$9.60

The Doctrine of Justification by Ja m e s b uc h a n a n

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After Darkness, Light

Foundations

by R .C . S p ro u l J r , e d i t or

by R .C . S p ro u l

This collection of essays in honor of R.C. Sproul features Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul Jr., and other contributors writing on the five solas of the Reformation and the five

by Va r io us Au t h or s

Alistair Begg, James Boice, Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, R.C. Sproul Jr., and others address the authority of Scripture, election, justification by faith alone, perseverance of the saints, heaven, hell, the Holy Spirit, God’s covenants with man, and many other topics in this informative collection of lectures from Ligonier Ministries’ 1997 National Conference. ORL97CC  Z  12 CDs  Z  (RETAIL $65) $52

by Joh n Ow e n

John Owen ranks among the greatest of all the puritan theologians, and this volume contains his explanation and defense of the doctrine of justification by faith. It is a fine resource for anyone who wants to see how this essential doctrine has been asserted and defended throughout Christian history.

$26.40

O R D E R ,

1997 National Conference

The Doctrine of Justification by Faith

In the nineteenth century, James Buchanan wrote what is perhaps the finest one-volume treatment of the doctrine of justification ever published. Buchanan covers the biblical and historical background to the doctrine and addresses Roman Catholic misunderstandings of justification by faith alone while answering common critiques. Dr. R.C. Sproul regards this as one of the best works on justification and assigns it as a primary text in his courses on the doctrine of justification. Doc08Bp  Z  Prbk, 514 Pages  Z  (RETAIL $33)

Understanding Justification

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Justification by faith alone is but one of many essential Christian doctrines that are covered in this overview of systematic theology by R.C. Sproul. With his distinctive clarity, R.C. expounds the basics of the faith and demonstrates how they apply to our lives.

Themes from James

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by R .C . S p ro u l

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This series covers the major themes in the epistle of James, explaining how his teaching on faith and works fits with the doctrine of justification by faith alone and exhorting us to bear the fruit of service to others. THE06CC  Z  5 CDs  Z  (RETAIL $38) $30.40

Understanding the Gospel by R.C. Sproul

Few today have an accurate understanding of the gospel. This series is an excellent overview of the biblical teaching on salvation. Und02CC  Z  4 CDs  Z  (RETAIL $31) $24.80

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Essential Truths of the Christian Faith By R .C . S p ro u l

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith is an excellent resource that is intended as a go-to guide for students of systematic theology. Dr. R.C. Sproul provides succinct, two-to-four page summaries of over one-hundred doctrines of the Christian faith including the Trinity, creation, justification, sanctification, the millennium, and more. A bibliography suggests resources by Dr. Sproul and others for deeper study. Ess01BP  Z Prbk, 303 Pages  Z  (RETAIL $15) $12

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An Unpopular Vision George Grant

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enry Cabot Lodge once asserted, “Nearly all the historical work worth doing at the present moment in the English language is the work of shoveling off heaps of rubbish inherited from the immediate past.” What we need, in other words, is not so much “a new perspective” as a very old one. What we need is to recover a memory of those great men and movements obscured by the fashions and fancies of the moment. Some men’s greatness may be seen in how largely they loom over the movements they launched. But greater men are they whose movements loom large over them — even to the point of obscuring them from view. Gerhard Groote was just such a man. It would be difficult to find a single page of modern history written about him. But it would be even more difficult to find a single page of modern history that has not been profoundly affected by him. He lived in the tumultuous days of the fourteenth century. A contemporary of John Wycliffe, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Jan Hus, he saw the scourge of the Black Death sweep a quarter of the population of the world away in a wave of pestilence; he saw France and England locked in the intractable conflagration of the Hundred Years War; he saw the Western church sundered by the Great 72

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Schism that produced two, sometimes three, sometimes even four, popes; and he saw the rise of the universities and the smothering influence of humanistic scholasticism. Churches were riven by corruption, kingdoms were shaken by instability, families were splintered by adversity, and the very foundations of Christian civilization in the West seemed to be crumbling. They were dire days indeed. The problems facing men and nations seemed all but insurmountable. Doomsayers had a heyday. Sound familiar? Groote was raised in the home of a prosperous merchant and received the finest education available. Alas, he found it difficult to take the claims of his academic masters, his ecclesiastical mentors, and his church peers seriously. Like so many of his contemporaries, he concluded that the overt wickedness of the church and the blatant debauchery of the university mitigated against any serious belief in the gospel. As a result, he ran from conviction and spent his youth and his wealth on reckless and heedless dissipation. He moved progressively from spoiled brat to party animal to insufferable boor. When he was finally arrested by grace and converted, he had tasted all the pleasures the medieval world had to offer — and still he yearned for more.

As an ardent new convert in the was to disseminate the Scriptures and midst of a church awash in promiscubuild schools. His covenantal theolous impiety, he lifted up an urgent ogy had led him to have a generational prophetic voice against the evils of his vision, one that enabled him to invest day. He began to model a life of radical in a future he would likely never see on discipleship. And he attracted a strong this earth. following in his native Dutch lowlands. It was a wise strategy. Amazingly, Eventually, Groote’s movement in less than a century and a half the came to be known as the Brethren of strategy began to bear abundant fruit: the Common Life. He and his followit was in those scattered and seemingly ers were committed to the authority of insignificant Brethren of Common Life the Scriptures first and foremost. They schools that nearly every one of the promoted biblical preaching that was magisterial reformers would ultimatepractical and accessible to the ordinary ly be educated: Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Christian. They pioneered vernacular Melancthon, Bucer, and Beza. translations of the Bible. And they An obscure man changed the course founded schools to educate young men of history — albeit generations later — and women to be wise and discerning believers as well An obscure man changed as effective and successful citizens. history by living out the The revival wrought by the movement was genuine, implications of radical grace. vibrant, and even widely admired. Even so, it could hardly have been expected to put a dent by simply living out the implications of in the overwhelming problems of the radical grace and covenantal faithfulday. Indeed, the litany of fourteenthness right where he was. He faced the century woes continued, seemingly impossible odds of a culture gone terunabated. When Groote died, some ribly awry. He implemented a generaasserted that his efforts at renewal tional vision that laid new foundations were ultimately stymied by the fierce for freedom and prosperity simply by reality of the circumstances of the day; equipping and enabling future leaders. he was by all such accounts, a failure. Perhaps by looking back at Groote But throughout his life and minand his reforming work, we will be able istry, Groote was laying foundations to see our way forward for our own. for something that might endure well After all, his was a distinctly biblical beyond his own life and ministry. vision, a sound vision, and thus a rather He had a multigenerational plan. He unpopular vision. And it still is.  understood that it had taken a very long time for Western civilization to Dr. George Grant is pastor of Parish Presbyterian get into the mess that it was in and that Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He is also chancellor no man or movement, no matter how of New College Franklin and president of King’s potent or effective, would be able to Meadow Study Center. turn things around overnight. That was why the heart and soul of his plan

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From Our Contributor s This Month

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Children at the Lord’s Table? 

Counted Righteous in Christ 

B y C o r n e l i s P. V e n e m a

N.T. Wright and others are questioning the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, and in this book, John Piper defends biblically the imputation of the Lord’s perfect obedience in our justification.

Should baptized children be accepted at the Lord’s Table before making a credible profession of faith? This book examines paedocommunion and explains the rationale for holding back the elements of the Lord Supper until the child confesses Jesus publicly.

By John Piper

COU01BP  Z Paperback, 141 pages  Z  (RETAIL $13) $10.40

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Our Sovereign Saviour  The Gagging of God 

By D.A. Carson

Postmodern pluralism has shaped much of our culture, influencing many to believe that there is no ultimate truth. Faced with this problem, the church must stand firm for the authority of Christ, and this award-winning book critically examines postmodernism, encouraging believers to interpret the culture through the gospel — not vice versa.

Roger Nicole is regarded as one of the most influential evangelical theologians in the United States. This book collects several of his essays on the sovereignty of Christ. OUR03BP  Z Paperback, 184 pages  Z  (RETAIL $13) $8.84

Christless Christianity 

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In Christ Alone 

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By M i c h a e l H o rto n

Without knowing it, many American Christians hold beliefs that are more American than Christian. This work calls American Christians to turn from “moralistic, therapeutic deism” to Christ as the Lord of all.

By Sinclair B. Ferguson

This recently published collection of Sinclair Ferguson’s columns from Eternity Magazine and Tabletalk covers the doctrine of Christ in succinct and memorable essays. Learn from one of the most respected Reformed theologians in our day as he unfolds the magnificent riches of the biblical testimony to our Savior’s person and work.

By Ro g e r N i c o l e

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What Is Biblical Preaching? 

By Eric Alexander

This handy and concise guide to biblical preaching can help readers know what to look for in expository preaching and assist them in better understanding why biblical preaching is so important to the church’s life and health. WHA18BP  Z Paperback, 32 pages  Z  (RETAIL $4) $3.20

He Is Not Silent 

By R . A l b e rt M o h l e r

Let’s Study Galatians 

This book on the power, purpose, and practice of expository preaching is designed to help God’s people understand what it means to preach the Word in a postmodern world. It is recommended for any person who is trying to comprehend the enormity of the preacher’s task.

Galatians contains what is probably Paul’s most passionate defense of justification by faith alone. This guide to the epistle of Galatians helps readers to understand the apostle’s teaching in this famous letter.

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P i lg r ims (a nd T hei r Hosts) R. Scott Clark

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wise traveler adapts to the customs and languages of the host country. When we lived abroad, people never asked us about our health. It is considered rude. The day we left England, however, we were peppered with questions by an American woman who was being polite. What was rude in England was polite in Dallas. Changing theological traditions is like traveling abroad. Upon arrival, the visitor is likely to find new language and culture, that is, a new theology, piety, and practice. This cross-cultural encounter creates opportunities and obligations for hosts and pilgrims alike. There are about sixty-million evangelicals in North America. By contrast, the confessional Reformed communions number fewer than one million members. One effect of these disproportionate numbers is that the theology, piety, and practice of American evangelicals shape the expectations of many Christians. That ethos is the product of a series of religious revivals that began in the eighteenth century and continued through the nineteenth century. These two episodes were different in significant ways but they were similar in important ways too. They were both organized around various kinds of religious experience. They differed on how to arrive at that experience and even on what the experience means. Nevertheless, the com76

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mon thread of religious experience, whether it be a sort of direct encounter with the risen Christ or a conversion experience at the anxious bench, ties them together. Since the early eighteenth century, all American evangelicals have been shaped by a desire to have an intense, personal religious experience. By contrast, the theology, piety, and practice of confessional Reformed congregations has been shaped not so much by religious experience but rather by a certain kind of confession of faith, worship, and approach to the Christian life. These confessional churches believe strongly in Christ’s work in us, by His Spirit, through His gospel, but it all begins with what Christ did for sinners in history. For the revivalist traditions, the present work of the Spirit in us often displaces the objective work of Christ for us. American Protestant denominations trace their roots to the Protestant Reformation, and many invoke memories of that heritage. Most of those denominations and churches, however, came to agree with the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critics of Christianity and thus rejected the old Reformation tradition. Like the revivalists, they too turned to religious experience. They replaced the Jesus of history with the “Jesus of faith,” or the Jesus of personal experience.

There remain, however, churches a moment to get oriented. Enjoy the that not only trace their roots to the destination. Reformation but who also continue Now, a word to those congregations to believe the same faith confessed (such as mine) who find themselves by Calvin and his successors. Those host to such pilgrims. Please remember churches confess the same worship that our new friends are probably disand the same approach to the Christian oriented. The language, customs, and life that marked Calvin’s church. food are strange to them. They bring These Reformed churches have a vital with them expectations not shaped theology, piety, and practice, but it is by the Reformation. Our emphasis of a different sort than that shaped upon the gospel, sacraments, and the by American revivalism. It is more visible church may strike them as interested in nurture than in crisis. It is overly formal. We have two choices. more interested in what the Reformed We can pretend that we really belong call the means of grace (Word, sacrato their tradition or we can gently, ments, prayer) than it is in the anxious gradually welcome them to ours. I bench or the sinner’s prayer. recommend the latter. It may take time Because many parts of the for Americans raised on religious fastAmerican revivalist traditions retained a memory It may take time for of their Reformation roots, the confessional and revivAmericans raised on alist wings of American Protestantism coexisted religious fast-food to learn and cooperated temporarily. Eventually, however, the to enjoy a new diet. underlying tensions surfaced and the relationship failed. Now the confessional churches food to learn to enjoy a new diet, lanare isolated from both the old liberal guage, and culture. If we try to become mainline and the revivalist traditions. what the pilgrim has left behind, what Despite these shifts, pilgrims from use are we to the pilgrim? (Matt. 5:13). the revivalist and mainline traditions Let us welcome our brothers and sisoften find their way into confessional ters with open arms, open Bibles, and Reformed churches. If you are one of warm smiles. As we do so we will be those, I hope this map helps you underimitating our great-grand father John stand a little better why your first time Calvin who both welcomed pilgrims in a confessional Reformed congregaand maintained a faithful witness to tion felt so strange: It was. You crossed the Reformation faith.  a border, an international dateline, and did not know it. If you found yourself in an intentionally historic, confessional Dr. R. Scott Clark is professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary Reformed congregation, you may have California and associate pastor of Oceanside URC. He even done a little time traveling to the is author of Recovering the Reformed Confession. seventeenth or even the sixteenth century. Be a wise traveler. Give yourself

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T he Missing Mot ive Eric J. Alexander

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am notoriously bad at remembering anniversaries, and last year it was quite a surprise to discover that 2008 marked the fiftieth anniversary of my ordination to the Christian ministry. Not that the occasion was other than memorable. Indeed it was a very special day for many reasons. But I am bound to say that the truly unforgettable part of a moving service was one of the statutory questions put to me by the presbytery: “Are not zeal for the glory of God, and a desire for the salvation of men, so far as you know your own heart, your great motives and chief inducements in seeking this ministry?” I had to answer, “They are.” For the past fifty years that question has haunted me, especially as I have climbed the steps of various pulpits to preach, or attended the ordination service of others, or as I have reviewed the year each 31st of December. Abraham Kuyper, that extraordinary Dutch theologian who became the prime minister of his country, points out that the Reformation slogan is not just Deo gloria, but soli Deo gloria. It is a passion for the glory of God as the sole motive of everything. Now in recent years I have been troubled by the tendency in the evangelical church to be more taken up with methods rather than motives. So I frequently hear of conferences 78

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where brethren meet to share insights into new and better methods by which we may fulfill our ministry. I’m sure they are very valuable, and I hope I am not so naïve as to think that methods are unimportant in God’s work. But I have almost never heard of a conference where brethren have met together before God to ask each other: “In all honesty, what are the compelling motives that determine the direction of my ministry?” Yet Jesus laid great stress on motives: “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). Looking back over His ministry He says, “I have glorified you by finishing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4). The glory of the Father was the terminus of everything for Jesus. There was nothing beyond this. And He means it to be so for us. That is why it is such a serious thing to rob God of His glory. He will not share that glory with another just because He cherishes His own glory above everything else and is jealous of it; it is the motive of everything He does (Isa. 48:11). Paul tells us that the Father’s motive in exalting Christ to the highest place and giving Him a name that is above every name is “the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). If we have any other end in view, then quite simply we will labor without the blessing of God.

Zeal for the glory of God as the controlling motive of our thinking and working will deeply affect at least four areas of our life in the evangelical church. They are worship, evangelism, unity, and church growth.

Worship

Unity The reason Jesus brings together in John 17 the glory of the Father and the Son and the unity of the disciples in the church is that the motive deriving from the former is the only effective way of securing the latter. Unless our entire motivation is set on fire by an overwhelming desire for the glory of God — all wills bowing in the same direction, all hearts burning with the same flame, all minds united by the same obedience — we shall never know the unity for which Jesus prays.

What makes worship in heaven so remarkable and so different is that there is only one desire among God’s people there, and that is to bring glory to God and to the Lamb (see Rev. 4:11; 5:11–14). Our worship here on earth is intended to be a preparation for that Church Growth pure and perfect worship in the glory. How is God most glorified in the Yet, I suspect that in our concern growth of the church? Not primarily to make our worship acceptable to by growth in numbers but by growth those who come to our churches, we are more interested in their acceptance than God’s pleasure. The one quality that It is a serious thing to rob equips us to worship God in spirit and in truth is a hunGod of His glory. He will not ger for His glory.

Evangelism

share that glory with another.

If you ask members of an evangelical church what the motives for evangelism are, they will almost certainly respond with two accurate and acceptable answers. One would be the Great Commission, and the other would be the condition of the lost who are without Christ. But neither of these is the ultimate motive. The ultimate motive is that throughout the world there are places where God is being robbed of His glory: in our own street, at our place of work, in professions and governments — wherever we turn it is true that men and women have “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:18–32).

in depth and in quality ­— growth in the knowledge of God. So we really do need to allow that question to haunt us: “Are not zeal for the glory of God and a desire for the salvation of men, so far as we know our own hearts, our great motives and chief inducements in seeking this ministry?” God help us in the last day to reply, “They were.” 

Rev. Eric J. Alexander is former senior pastor of St. George’s-Tron parish church in Glasgow, Scotland. He is author of What Is Biblical Preaching? in the Basics of the Reformed Faith series from P&R. For further resources from Rev. Alexander, go to www.ericalexander.co.uk.

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By Grace Alone a n i n t e r v i e w w i th S i n c l a i r F e r g u s o n

We are pleased to introduce the newest Reformation Trust Publishing title, By Grace Alone, written by our friend and best-selling author, Sinclair B. Ferguson. Why do you think Christians fail to find God’s grace amazing? There are many reasons, but usually they involve three things. First, we have such a low sense of the holiness of God and we are insensitive to the sheer intensity of it. To whatever extent our sense of God’s holiness is diminished, to that extent our sense of amazement at God’s grace will be diminished. Second, we adopt superficial views of our sinfulness and too often guard against the ministry of the Word and Spirit exposing it. Jesus said that it is those who are much forgiven who love much. The reason is that those who are most conscious of their sin become most conscious of their need of grace, and therefore most aware of the wonders of grace. Third, we think too little of the costliness of grace. It comes freely to us because it was so expensive to Christ to satisfy the justice of God on our behalf. Sadly, in our contemporary “Christianesque” subculture, we are weak in reflection and meditation on Christ and the meaning of the cross.

You refer to Christians as “the living dead,” stating, “Only when I see that I am among the living dead will I begin to see that God’s grace is surprising and amazing.” How does this condition highlight the surprising beauty of grace? Only sinners need grace. If I do not see myself as a sinner then I will (however foolishly) expect “fairness” from God. If I believe I have behaved “decently” toward Him (after all, I never did Him any harm!), I will expect Him to behave “decently” toward me. That is probably the world’s most popular creed. But it is not the Christian’s creed, nor is it the gospel. Only when I see my sin do I seek grace from God. That is true at the beginning of the Christian life. It remains true right to the end. In the preface of the book, you write that grace is not a “thing.” What do you mean by this statement? It is legitimate to speak of “receiving grace,” and sometimes (although I am somewhat cautious about the possibility of misusing this language) we speak of the preaching of the Word, prayer, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper as

“means of grace.” That is fine, so long as we remember that there isn’t a thing, a substance, or a “quasi-substance” called “grace.” All there is is the person of the Lord Jesus — “Christ clothed in the gospel,” as John Calvin loved to put it. Grace is the grace of Jesus. If I can highlight the thought here: there is no “thing” that Jesus takes from Himself and then, as it were, hands over to me. There is only Jesus Himself. Grasping that thought can make a significant difference to a Christian’s life. So while some people might think this is just splitting hairs about different ways of saying the same thing, it can make a vital difference. It is not a thing that was crucified to give us a thing called grace. It was the person of the Lord Jesus that was crucified in order that He might give Himself to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

New books true to the historic Christian faith.

For information on Reformation Trust titles visit www. reformationtrust.com.

Sinclair B. Ferguson is recognized as one of today’s leading Reformed theologians. He is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, S.C., has also taught at several seminaries and conferences, and has served as an associate editor for the Banner of Truth Trust since 1976. Among Dr. Ferguson’s many books are The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction, The Holy Spirit, and In Christ Alone.

B e y o n d

t h e

W i c k e t

G a t e

On Cont rovers y Keith A. Mathison

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ohn Newton is best known as the writer of the hymn “Amazing Grace”. Were that all he bequeathed to the church, it would be an incredible legacy. There is another small work by Newton, however, that I believe could be of great benefit to the church if it was more widely read. The work to which I refer is a brief letter written by Newton to a fellow minister who was preparing to write an article criticizing another minister for his lack of orthodoxy. In the published collection of Newton’s letters, the editor has titled this one “On Controversy.” I first read this letter a little over a decade ago, and since I often write on controversial topics, I was profoundly affected by it. Newton begins by recognizing that his friend has truth on his side, and states that he is not concerned about his friend’s ability to win the argument. He is concerned that his friend conquers not only his opponent’s arguments but also that he conquers his own passions as well. Otherwise, he may win the battle but be seriously wounded in the process. He proceeds to offer him advice about his opponent, the reading public, and his own heart. Regarding his opponent, Newton commends him to prayer. If we pray for those against whom we write, this will affect the way we write. Newton 82

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adds that if we consider our opponent to be a fellow believer, albeit a mistaken one, we must remember that the Lord loves him and bears with him as He bears with us. “In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.” If, on the other hand, we think our opponent is an unbeliever, we must remember that were it not for the grace of God, we could be the one outside of the kingdom. Regarding the reading public, Newton notes that there are three types of readers. For those who differ with us, the same principles stated in connection with our opponent apply here. A second type of reader is one who is undecided on the issue. Although he may not have the ability to judge a theological argument, he probably is able to judge a writer’s tone. He will recognize meekness, humility, and love, or the lack thereof. This type of reader will often use our lack of love as a justification for his contempt of our arguments. “If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may

think we are doing service of the dangerous. What will it profit a man cause of truth, when in reality we if he gains his cause and silences his shall only bring it into discredit.” adversary, if at the same time he loses A third type of reader is one who that humble, tender frame of spirit agrees with us. We may edify them in which the Lord delights, and to if both truth and kindness guide our which the promise of his presence pen. Otherwise, we may cause them is made?” Newton concludes this harm. Newton explains: “There is a extraordinary letter with the followprinciple of self, which disposes us ing warning: “If we act in a wrong to despise those who differ from us; spirit, we shall bring little glory to and we are often under its influence, God, do little good to our fellow creawhen we think we are only showtures, and procure neither honor nor ing a becoming zeal in the cause of comfort to ourselves. If you can be God.” He argues that our Calvinism content with showing your wit, and should produce humility, but we gaining the laugh on your side, you often allow it to produce pride. “Selfhave an easy task; but I hope you have righteousness can feed upon doca far nobler aim, and that, sensible trines as well as upon works; and a of the solemn importance of gospel man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head If we contend with believers, is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiwe must remember that God ness of the creature and the riches of free grace. Yea, I loves them and bears with would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this them as He bears with us. leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our advertruths, and the compassion due to saries to ridicule, and by consequence the souls of men, you would rather flatter our own superior judgments.” be a means of removing prejudices Rega rding our own hea r ts, in a single instance, than obtain the Newton observes that we must empty applause of thousands. Go contend for the faith, but he also forth, therefore, in the name and observes that very few writers of strength of the Lord of hosts, speakcontroversy have not been hurt by it. ing the truth in love; and may he give “Either they grow in a sense of their you a witness in many hearts that you own importance, or imbibe an angry, are taught of God, and favored with contentious spirit, or they insensithe unction of his Holy Spirit.”  bly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and Dr. Keith A. Mathison is an associate editor of immediate support of the life of faith, Tabletalk magazine and academic dean of Ligonier and spend their time and strength Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies. His upon matters which are at most but newest book is From Age to Age: The Unfolding of of a secondary value. This shows, Biblical Eschatology. that if the service is honorable, it is

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Tabletalk Magazine, February 2010