Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Baptist Confession on Lawful Oaths and Vows

In the seventeenth century, certain sects of Christendom, such as the Anabaptists and, later, the Quakers, denied the legitimacy of taking oaths or making vows. The teaching of this chapter was designed to clarify the meaning and confirm the lawfulness of oaths and vows when properly used. The Baptist Confession (2LCF) retains the substance of the Westminster Confession (WCF), but it abbreviates the form.1

Concerning Lawful Oaths (23.1-4)

The first four paragraphs address nature, propriety, solemnity and sincerity of lawful oaths.

The nature of a lawful oath (23.1)

Original Text
A lawful oath is a part of religious worship, wherein the person swearing in truth, righteousness, and judgement, solemnly calleth God to witness what he sweareth,[1] and to judge him according to the truth or falseness thereof.[2]
Modern Version
A lawful oath is an element of religious worship in which a person swearing in truth, righteousness, and judgment solemnly calls God to witness what is sworn and to judge the one swearing according to the truth or falsity of it.
[1] Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 10:20; Jeremiah 4:2   [2] 2 Chronicles 6:22, 23
The first paragraph describes the nature of an oath. An oath is a solemn promise made to another party in which God is called upon to act as a witness and judge.

There are two kinds of oaths: (1) an assertory oath is used to confirm the truthfulness and reliability of one’s testimony. This type of oath is often used in the courtroom setting; (2) a promissory oath is used to confirm one’s intent to fulfill an obligation or promise. Those assuming some public office or a contractual obligation, like marriage, often use this type of oath. Traditionally, oaths have been viewed as religious in nature2 since God is evoked as a witness.3 However, in modern times oaths have begun to lose their religious character with the increase of secularism.

The Bible contains numerous examples of oaths. Sometimes civil or religious authorities would require an individual or community to confirm a plea of innocence with an oath when suspected or accused of a crime (Exodus 22:10, 11; Leviticus 5:1; 6:3; Numbers 5:11-28; Matthew 26:63, 64). Oaths were also employed to confirm one’s fidelity to his covenantal commitments and responsibilities (1 Kings 2:43; Ecclesiastes 8:2; Hebrews 6:16, 17).

Oaths often included such verbal formulas as “I swear by God” (1 Samuel 30:15; Nehemiah 13:25), “God is witness between you and me” (Genesis 31:50; 1 Samuel 12:5; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Philippians 1:8), “As the Lord lives” (1 Samuel 14:39; 19:6; 20:3; 2 Samuel 15:21), or “May the Lord do so to me if I do not” (Ruth 1:17; 1 Samuel 3:17; 14:44; 2 Samuel 3:35; 1 Kings 2:23).

Oaths were also often accompanied by physical gestures, such as raising one’s right hand heavenward (Deuteronomy 32:40; Psalm 106:26; Isaiah 62:8; Daniel 12:7; Revelation 10:5, 6) or, less commonly, placing one’s hand under another’s thigh (Genesis 24:2; 47:29).4 In modern times, the adjured raises his right hand or places it upon a Bible and swears to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help [him] God.”

The propriety of a lawful oath (23.2)

Original Text
The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear; and therein it is to be used, with all holy fear and reverence;   therefore to swear vainly or rashly by that glorious and dreadful name, or to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred;[3] yet as in matter of weight and moment, for confirmation of truth, and ending all strife, an oath is warranted by the word of God;[4] so a lawful oath being imposed by lawful authority in such matters, ought to be taken.[5]
Modern Version
People should swear by the name of God alone and only with the mot holy fear and reverence. Therefore to swear an empty or ill-advised oath by that glorious and awe-inspiring name, or to swear at all by anything else, is sinful and to be abhorred. Yet in weighty and significant matters, an oath is authorized by the Word of God to confirm truth and end all conflict. So a lawful oath should be taken when it is required by legitimate authority in such circumstances.
[3] Matthew 5:34, 37; James 5:12  [4] Hebrews 6:16; 2 Corinthians 1:23 [5] Nehemiah 13:25
Having briefly described the nature of an oath, the Confession defends the propriety of lawful oaths in the second paragraph.

First of all, “sinful” oaths are identified and condemned. Idolatrous oaths are those in which invoke any one or thing except the one true God as witness (Joshua 23:7; Jeremiah 5:7; Zephaniah 1:5). Vain oaths are those taken flippantly for trivial matters or with the intent to deceive (Exodus 20:7; Matthew 23:16-22). Rash oaths are those taken in haste without proper forethought or solemnity (Numbers 30:6; Ecclesiastes 5:2-5). All such oaths are forbidden and condemned by Scripture (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 6:13; Jeremiah 5:7; Matthew 5:33-37).

Especially strong is Christ’s censure in the Sermon on the Mount:
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.” But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No.” For whatever is more than these is from the evil one (Matt 5:33-37, NKJV).
Because Quakers and some Anabaptists frequently cited this censure, which is repeated by the apostle James (5:12), the Puritans felt constrained to defend the propriety of lawful oaths in the second half of this paragraph. They affirmed that, in certain circumstances, “an oath is warranted by the word of God.” In fact, the Puritans not only viewed lawful oaths as appropriate, but also as mandatory when imposed by a lawful authority.5

The Scripture offers the following support for lawful oaths:

1. The commands to swear in Jehovah’s name and the prohibitions against swearing falsely assume the propriety of lawful oaths (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus19:12; Deuteronomy 6:13; 10:20).

2. The Mosaic Law sometimes required the swearing of an oath (Exodus 22:10, 11; Leviticus 5:1; 6:3; Numbers 5:19-22; 1 Kings 8:31).

3. The example of many OT saints vindicates the use of lawful oaths: Abraham (Genesis 24:2); Jacob (Genesis 47:30-31); Joseph (Genesis 50:25); Elijah (1 Kings 17:1); Nehemiah (Nehemiah 5:12; 13:25); and Ezra (Ezra 10:5).

4. The example of Christ and the Apostle Paul vindicate the use of lawful oaths (Matthew 26:62-64; Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Philippians 1:8).

5. The example of God Himself vindicates the use of lawful oaths (Genesis 22:16; Numbers 14:28; Deuteronomy 32:40; Psalm 95:11; Jeremiah 22:5; Amos 6:8; 8:7; Luke 1:73; Hebrews 6:13-17).

But if lawful oaths are appropriate, then why does Jesus say, “Do not swear at all” (Matthew 5:34)? Why does He say, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37)?

In light of the ample biblical support for lawful oaths, we must not interpret Christ’s censure as an absolute prohibition against all oaths. Rather, as indicated by the context, Jesus is condemning Pharisaic casuistry and misuse of the Law.

The Pharisees took the Old Testament command “do not swear falsely, but perform [one’s] oaths to the Lord,” and they shifted the emphasis from the integrity of the oath to the formula of the oath. No longer was the emphasis upon keeping one’s promise, but now it was on the phrase “to the Lord.”

As a result, the Pharisees concluded that one might break his oath provided that he did not swear by the Lord.6 In fact, they devoted an entire book to distinguish between the kinds of oaths that could be broken and those that were obligatory! (cf. Matthew 23:16-22). Thus, Jesus’ censure was not against lawful oath-taking but against sinful oath-taking.7

The solemnity of a lawful oath (23.3)

Original Text
Whosoever taketh an oath warranted by the Word of God, ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he knoweth to be truth; for that by rash, false, and vain oaths, the Lord is provoked, and for them this land mourns.[6]
Modern Version
Whoever takes an oath authorized by the Word of God should consider with due gravity the seriousness of such a weighty act and to affirm nothing in it except what one knows to be true. For the Lord is provoked by ill-advised, false, and empty oaths, and because of them this land mourns.
[6] Lev. 19:12; Jer. 23:10
The third paragraph underscores the solemnity of oath-taking. Oaths should only be taken when required by a lawful authority or when circumstances demand it.8 The Baptists added a closing phrase, which highlights the consequences of sinful oath taking—God’s anger is provoked and society suffers. But Baptists also omitted a significant section of the WCF, which they apparently felt was sufficiently addressed elsewhere in the chapter.9

The sincerity of a lawful oath (23.4)

Original Text
An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation or mental reservation.[7]
Modern Version
An oath is to be expressed in the plain and ordinary meaning of the words, without any ambiguity or mental reservation.
[7] Psalm 24:4
The fourth paragraph addresses the need for absolute integrity in oath-taking. As pointed out earlier, some of the Pharisees were “spinsters.” They were experts at twisting the meaning of words and phrases (Matthew 5:33-37; 23:16-22).

But such dishonest “word games” were not limited to Jesus’ day. Today, an American president can justify perjury because he intended something different than his interrogator when he used the word “is.” Liberal pastors and theologians can confess adherence to evangelical doctrinal standards after they “reinterpret” such words and phrases as “inspiration,” “deity of Christ,” “virgin birth,” “resurrection” and so on. Taxpayers can justify “fudging” on their tax return form on the basis of a loose interpretation of the phrase “to the best of my knowledge and belief.”

This is precisely the kind of dishonest casuistry censured by this paragraph and forbidden by Scripture (Leviticus 19:12; Matthew 5:34-36). As G. I. Williamson appropriately remarks,
The taking of an oath with secret intention of double meaning, not disclosed to others, or with mental reservations, whereby the mind silently voices dissent from part or all of what is being sworn, is a sin of enormity.10
That is because the Bible commends absolute honesty and fidelity (Psalm 24:4; Matthew 5:37; James 5:12).

The WCF includes some important qualifying and clarifying remarks, not included the Baptist Confession:
[An oath] cannot oblige to sin; but in anything not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man’s own hurt. Nor is it to be violated, although made to heretics, or infidels.
I am uncertain why the Baptist Confession omitted these remarks. But I find them helpful.

To begin with, an oath to do something sinful is non-binding. For example, an individual might wrongly swear allegiance to an apostate church. Later he is converted and realizes his error. In such a case, he not only may, but he must break that oath. A. A. Hodge notes that in such a case, “The sin is in taking the oath to do the unlawful thing, not in breaking it.”11 One might add that breaking an oath that leads to sin is act of obedience.

On the other hand, the WCF indicates that oaths resulting in personal loss or inconvenience are not to be broken. The righteous man “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:4).

In the spring of 1992, I made a commitment to serve another year as a Graduate Assistant teaching Greek at seminary. Just before the school year I realized I would have to use a good portion of my savings to supplement our living expenses and regretted the commitment I had made. However, to resign my post would place the university in a difficult position. In light of the biblical teaching on the sincerity of oath-taking, I decided it would be better for me to suffer loss than to break my word.

The WCF also addresses the issue of oaths made to heretics or infidels. Historically, the Roman Catholic Church had justified the practice of breaking oaths to those judged to be heretics or infidels. One of the most notorious examples was the case of Bohemian Reformer Jan Hus. In 1414 the Emperor Sigismund invited Hus to a council in Constance and promised him safe conduct. But the Catholic authorities arrested and imprisoned Hus. Under pressure from the Church, the emperor informed Hus that he was not bound to keep his promise of safe conduct since Hus was a heretic.12

The Puritans rightly condemned such deceptive behavior. They commended the virtuous example of Joshua, who kept his oath with the Gibeonites though they had deceived him into making the oath (Joshua 9:1-20).

Concerning Lawful Vows (23.5)

Original Text
A vow, which is not to be made to any creature, but to God alone, is to be made and performed with all religious care and faithfulness;[8] but popish monastical vows of perpetual single life,[9] professed poverty,[10] and regular obedience, are so far from being degrees of higher perfection, that they are superstitious and sinful snares, in which no Christian may entangle himself.[11]
Modern Version
A vow must not be made to any creature but to God alone. Vows should be made and performed with the most conscientious care and faithfulness. However, Roman Catholic monastical vows of perpetual single life, professed poverity, and obedience to monastic rules, are by no means steps to higher perfection. Instead, they are superstitious and sinful snares in which Christians may not entangle themselves.
[8] Psalm 76:11; Genesis 28:20-22  [9] 1 Corinthians 7:2, 9  [10] Ephesians 4:28  [11] Matthew 19:11
The English terms “oath” and “vow” are sometimes used interchangeably. But the Old and New Testaments employ distinct vocabulary for each concept.13 Though oaths and vows are clearly related (cf. Numbers 30:2), an oath refers to a promise made in God’s presence to another human party; whereas a vow refers to a promise made directly to God.

The vows in Scripture often included both a negative and also a positive pledge. Negatively, the individual promised to abstain from some liberty, comfort, or necessity for a period of time. For example, the Nazarite promised to abstain from grape products, cutting his hair, and touching anything dead (Numbers 6:2-8; Judges 13:5-7; cf. Numbers 30:3ff.). David vowed to give himself no rest until he had found a resting place for the Ark (Psalm 132:2-5).

Positively, the individual pledged his (or another’s) time, energies, and/or resources to God’s service. Jephthah vowed to sacrifice the first living thing from his home that greeted him should God grant him victory in battle (Judges 11:30, 31). Hannah vowed to dedicate Samuel to God’s service (1 Samuel 1:11, 27, 28). As these examples demonstrate, vows were often conditioned upon God’s answering prayer (cf. Genesis 28:20-22). In other cases, vows were offered as a thankful response to prayers already answered (Psalm 22:25; 50:14; 116:14-19).

Since vows are closely related to oaths (cf. Numbers 30:2), much of the Confession’s teaching concerning the latter would also apply to the former. This may be the reason why the Baptist’s abbreviated three of the WCF’s paragraphs into one paragraph. Monastic vows were one issue the Baptists did judge worthy of reiteration. These included vows of celibacy, poverty, and unquestioned submission to the Church. Since all these practices are unbiblical,14 the Puritans rightly viewed such vows as “superstitious and sinful snares,” and as a result, non-binding.15

Closing applications

Below are a few practical "take aways" from our study.

Glorifying God and Doing Good to Men

In light of the potential dangers of oaths, we might be tempted to avoid them altogether. However, there are times when oaths are prudent and necessary. According to Scripture, a properly taken oath glorifies God (Deuteronomy 10:20-21).

By taking an oath in God’s name we publicly confess our faith in the one true God who is omniscient, omnipresent, and just. Furthermore, oaths have the potential to promote good among men. Jochem Douma explains,
A society that respects the oath is not easily disrupted. In this kind of society, people still recoil from lying and expend energy in taking their office or calling seriously. An oath-bound monarch is bound by the rights of his subjects that have been established in the constitution, so that his administration does not exercise tyranny. Oath-bound physicians are committed to healing their patients. An oath-bound officer serves the preservation of the state. An oath-bound property assessor can be expected to estimate property value honestly. By means of an oath in court, witnesses are restrained from declaring the innocent to be guilty, or the guilty to be innocent. By means of the oath, we are placed before the very face of God. Reverence for God has salutary consequences for society.16
It might be added that reverent oath taking can have salutary consequences for the church in settling unresolved interpersonal strife or conflict.

The Importance of Honesty and Commitment

The Bible and Confession require absolute honesty and unflinching commitment from those employ oaths and vows, especially those in positions of leadership. Those of us who have taken wedding vows or pledged commitment to a local church need to reflect upon the high demands under which we have placed ourselves. Too often, professing Christians quietly qualify their promises with all sorts of secret conditions and provisos. As a result, the marriage vow or church covenant loses much of its binding force.17

Christian leaders also need to take seriously their ministerial oaths and vows. Too often in our day, pastors and theologians publicly vow allegiance to a Confession of Faith while secretly at variance with substantial doctrines in that confession. This kind of behavior is unethical and irreprehensible among those who should be models of integrity. “It is little wonder,” writes G. I. Williamson, “that the spiritual condition of the churches is low, when it has become accepted practice to swear deceitfully, and that on the part of the shepherds of Israel.”18

Of course, such a commitment does not preclude a Christian taking “exceptions” to wording, propositions, or even doctrines in a Confession so long as he makes those exceptions known. No confession is infallible. And even those who can substantially affirm comprehensive confessions like the WCF or 2LCF may find some statements that need to be refined. But what the person must not do is be dishonest or deceptive. If he takes exceptions to any teachings in the confession, he should make those exceptions known.

Don't Be Too Hasty!

It’s common practice among evangelical churches today to pressure small children into making pledges of commitment to Christian service. Sometimes young children are encouraged to sign a pledge card or publicly to dedicate their lives to “fulltime” Christian service.

As the child grows, his family and friends, as well as his own conscience remind him of this pledge. As a result, he may struggle with feelings of guilt at the thought of pursuing a secular vocation. This practice not only betrays a false view of “fulltime” Christian service, but it also reflects a lack of wisdom among those who pressure children into these formal pledges.

Since oaths and vows should not be made lightly or rashly, we must be sure that those upon whom we call to make them are mentally and spiritually able to understand and fulfill the commitment they are making. The high ethical demands of oaths and vows should caution us against the practice of pressuring small children to make unwarranted or untimely pledges to God.


1 The Westminster Confession contains seven paragraphs; the 1689 five. The Baptist Confession omits part of the third and fourth paragraphs, and it combines the substance of the fifth, sixth, and seventh paragraphs of the WCF into one paragraph.
2 The WCF includes “religious oaths [and] vows” as elements of worship (WCF 21.5), but both the Savoy Declaration and Baptist Confession omit them.

3 Or “the gods” in the case of paganism (Joshua 23:7; 1 Kings 19:2; 20:10; Jeremiah 5:7; Zephaniah 1:5).

4 There is biblical evidence that the “thigh” (ירך) in this context was a metonym or euphemism for the genitals (cf. Genesis 46:26; Exodus 1:5). The significance of this gesture is uncertain though there is probably some connection with circumcision and God’s covenantal promise of a “seed.” Interestingly, the terms “testimony” and “attestation” originate from the Latin word testis (Eng. ‘testicle’) which suggests the possibility that Roman society may have associated certain oaths with the source of procreative powers.  See Bruce Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 327.

5 According to the third paragraph in the WCF, “It is a sin to refuse an oath touching anything that is good and just, being imposed by a lawful authority.” Though the 2LCF omitted this statement, they did retain the wording of paragraph two, which clearly affirms that when “imposed by a lawful authority” an oath “ought to be taken.”

6 The behavior of the Pharisees reminds one of the teenage son who, in spite of his father’s clear prohibition not to drink alcohol at the party, defends his disobedience by asserting, “Dad, you said not to drink at the party. You didn’t say I couldn’t drink when I left the party.”

7 For some helpful treatments of the passage in Matthew 5:33-37, see John Broadus, Commentary on Matthew (1886; reprint, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1990), 113-17; Donald Carson, Matthew, vol. 8 of Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 153-55; William Hendricksen, Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew in The New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1973), 306-09.

8 The Confession alluded to such circumstances in the previous paragraph when it spoke of an oath “ending all strife.” Occasionally, situations may arise when someone’s reputation is attacked by accusations that seem to be credible but that cannot be either proved or disproved. Under such circumstances, requiring the defendant to swear an oath may serve to bring the dispute to a close. See Jochem Douma, The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1996), 88-89.

9 The following section of the WCF has been omitted: “… neither may any man bind himself by oath to anything but what is good and just, and what he believeth so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform. Yet it is a sin to refuse an oath touching anything that is good and just, being imposed by lawful authority....”

10 The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1964), 175.

11 Commentary on the Confession of Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1901), 392; G. I. Williamson’s remarks are also helpful: “It was wrong to make such an oath in the first place. It would be doubly wrong to keep it after discovering that it was sinful.” For Study Classes, 176.

12 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (1910; reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 6:371-88.

13 The Hebrew vocabulary for “oaths” includes שבע (‘to swear’), שבועה (‘oath’), אלה (‘curse’), and for “vows” נדר (‘to vow,’ ‘vow’), אסר (‘to vow to abstain,’ ‘a vow of abstention’). The Greek vocabulary for “oaths” includes ὁρκίζω, ὀμνύω, ἐνορκίζω (‘to swear’), ὅρκος, ὁρκωμοσία (‘oath’), and εὐχή (‘vow’).

14 Against imposed celibacy, see Matthew 19:11; 1 Corinthians 7:2, 9; 1 Timothy 3:2; 4:1, 3; against imposed poverty, see Exodus 20:15; Acts 5:4; against unquestioned submission to ecclesiastical authority, see Acts 4:19, 20; 5:29.

15 It was this realization that freed Martin Luther to renounce his former monastic vow of celibacy and to marry Catherine von Bora. See Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 7:454-60.

16 The Ten Commandments, 90.

17 For Study Classes, 176.

18 Ibid.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Biblical Thoughts on Christian Patriotism

Photo by Scott McGuire
Introduction: Perhaps some of our blogs regular readers will remember that I have offered some reflections on the topic of Christian patriotism in the past. However, since we are celebrating Independence Day today, I though it would be good to offer some additional thoughts about the concept of patriotism and what that means for us as Christians. But before we get into the issue from the standpoint of Scripture, I will begin by briefly explaining my understanding of the word patriotism and then deal with my understanding of what it means to be a Christian patriot.

I understand the word patriotism basically to mean “love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it” (as defined by WordWeb). Wayne Grudem appears to agree with this basic definition when he addresses the matter in his book Politics According to the Bible:
What should the attitude of citizens be toward the nation in which they live? Because any nation can have rulers who are evil, or basically good rulers who still do wrong things from time to time, a Christian view of government would never endorse a kind of “blind patriotism” according to which a citizen would never criticize a country or its leaders. In fact, a genuine patriotism, which always seeks to promote the good of the nation, would honestly criticize the government and its leaders when they do things contrary to biblical moral standards.

But is patriotism a virtue at all? My conclusion is that the Bible gives support to a genuine kind of patriotism in which citizens love, support, and defend their own country.

Biblical support for the idea of patriotism begins with a recognition that God has established nations on the earth. Speaking in Athens, Paul says that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). (p. 109)
I agree with Grudem and his conclusion that “The existence of many independent nations on earth should be considered a blessing from God” (p. 110), and I would argue that we are especially blessed by God to live in the United States of America, where we enjoy so many freedoms that others around the world can only dream about.

But what are the limits or parameters within which we should exercise our patriotism toward our country? This is the issue I want to address in this post. In order to help us to think in a Biblical way about the matter, I would like to briefly set forth three basic propositions concerning Christian patriotism: 1) that Christians must be patriotic citizens of their heavenly country, 2) that Christians must be patriotic citizens of their earthly country, and 3) that Christians must always give priority to their heavenly citizenship.

I. Christians Must Be Patriotic Citizens of Their Heavenly Country

This is without a doubt the first principle we must remember when we consider the issue of Christian patriotism. Remember, for example, what the Apostle Paul said to the Philippian believers:
NKJ Philippians 3:17-21 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. 18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame – who set their mind on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
In other words, since we are ultimately citizens of Heaven, then our lives should reflect this higher loyalty. We should actually live as obedient citizens of Heaven no matter how mere citizens of the earth may live their lives all around us.

The author of Hebrews concurs with Paul's assessment and offers the Old Testament saints as an example of how we must persevere in faith as strangers and pilgrims on this earth, who look for a city and a homeland that is not found on this earth:
NKJ Hebrews 11:8-16 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude – innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers [ξένος, xénos] and pilgrims [παρεπίδημος, parepídēmos] on the earth. 14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
This city is later revealed to be the Heavenly Jerusalem, to which we have come in Christ, and of which we are citizens even now:
NKJ  Hebrews 12:22-24 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.
We are thus ultimately citizens of a heavenly country and a heavenly city, and we must live our lives here on earth as strangers and pilgrims who are just passing through. This means living lives that demonstrate our allegiance to our heavenly King. It means loving our heavenly country and being willing to sacrifice for it, even when doing so puts us at odds with those who are merely citizens of this earth. If we keep our focus where it should be and realize that we look forward to a far better place, then we will also be enabled to persevere in faith just as our forefathers did. But this doesn't mean that we cannot or should not be patriotic citizens of our earthly country, which leads us to the next point.

II. Christians Must Be Patriotic Citizens of Their Earthly Country

Jesus acknowledged such a responsibility when he taught us to “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” (Matt. 22:21b). And the Apostles expanded on this principle when they dealt with how we should relate to the earthly governments under which we live. Let's consider two passages, one from Paul and the other from Peter, in our attempt to understand their teaching:
NKJ Romans 13:1-7 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
As I understand this passage, there can be no doubt that Paul sees Christians as having a duty to support their country and its rulers insofar as it is possible for them to do so under God. In fact, I agree with Rick Phillips when he writes in an article entitled Thoughts on Christian Patriotism that:
July 4 reminds us that God has sovereignly placed us in this land and under this government. I praise God to be an American, precisely because of what Independence Day represents. As I have traveled on other continents and had personal interactions with government tyranny and injustice, I have learned once more to bless the sight of an American flag. Yes, Christians should frankly admit and oppose the evils of our nation, but we should not fail to be grateful for the many good things our country does and represents. Moreover, when Romans 13:1-7 commands us to honor and obey civil authorities, Christians should do so from the heart, with love and fervor for the blessings of the land in which God has placed us and with sincere loyalty to all public servants who are seeking to do good.
The Apostle Peter, I am sure, would also approve of such sentiments, such as when he writes:
NKJ 1 Peter 2:11-17 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners [πάροικος, pároikos] and pilgrims [παρεπίδημος, parepídēmos], abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. 13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men – 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
So, we see again that we must not forget that we are ultimately strangers and pilgrims on the earth, but that this does not mean that we are not actually also citizens of an earthly country to which we also owe allegiance and obedience. As a matter of fact, as sojourners and pilgrims on this earth we are to be good citizens who pray for and submit to those in authority for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of God. And this makes us even better citizens of our earthly country, not worse ones. Indeed, it means that we should be willing to show the love of Christ to and for our country, even to the point of sacrifice for the good of our country.

And so we have seen that we must be patriotic citizens of both our heavenly and our earthly countries, but this does not mean that they should have an equal claim on our devotion and allegiance, which leads to our final principle.

III. Christians Must Always Give Priority to Their Heavenly Citizenship

We have already recalled that Jesus taught us to “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” (Matt. 22:21b). But now we must also remember that He taught us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33a).

This means that, when there is a conflict between allegiance to our heavenly country and allegiance to our earthly country, our heavenly country must always take priority. And this means that civil disobedience is permissible and even necessary at times. Consider the example of the Apostles in this regard. The Book of Acts reports their response to the governing authorities when they were commanded to stop preaching the Gospel, and their response is instructive:
NKJ Acts 4:18-20 And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
Thus the apostles refused to obey a command of the governing authorities when it was in conflict with the command of God, just as they also did again later under similar circumstances:
NKJ Acts 5:27-29 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28 saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!” 29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
Of course we could add other Scriptural examples of civil disobedience, such as the Hebrew midwives in ancient Egypt (Exod. 1:15-21) or Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in ancient Babylon (otherwise known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, Dan. 3:8-18), or Daniel in Persia (Dan. 6:1-23). In each case these believers disobeyed the earthly governing authorities, but they disobeyed only at those points where these authorities expressly required them to disobey God.

Kerby Anderson, President of Probe Ministries, cites such examples in an online article entitled Civil Disobedience, and he makes the following helpful observations:
Notice that in each of these examples there are at least two common elements. First, there was a direct, specific conflict between God's law and man's law. Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill male Hebrew babies. Nebuchadnezzar commanded his subjects to bow before the golden image. King Darius ruled that no one could pray. And, in the New Testament, the High Priest and the Council forbade the apostles from proclaiming the gospel.

Second, in choosing to obey God's higher law, believers paid the normal consequence for disobedience. Although most of those previously cited escaped the consequence through supernatural intervention, we know from biblical and secular history that others paid for their disobedience with their lives.
Actually, we may be called upon to carry out such civil disobedience in the near future. As the 2009 Manhattan Declaration asserts in its final paragraph:
Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s. (This document was drafted October 20, 2009 and released November 20, 2009.)
Although I personally could not sign the “Manhattan Declaration” because of the way it leads to confusion concerning the nature of the Gospel, I certainly agree with these concluding sentiments. And I would even argue further that, if we truly love the country in which God has providentially placed us, then civil disobedience in such cases is actually the patriotic thing to do, since it is the most loving thing we could do for our country as we seek to help lead its citizens to Christ as the supreme authority over all the universe.

Conclusion: And so we have come to the conclusion of our brief survey of Scripture on the matter of Christian patriotism, and I hope we have all seen that Christians must be patriotic citizens of their heavenly country, that Christians must be patriotic citizens of their earthly country, and that Christians must always give priority to their heavenly citizenship. For it is to Christ that we owe our first and highest allegiance.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Apparently Scott Brown Will Never Respond to the Case He Said Could Not Be Made

The blog's regular readers may recall that some time ago I wrote a post entitled Answering Scott Brown's Challenge Concerning Age Segregated Education (back in august of 2014). This post sought to publicly notify Scott about a series of articles I had written in response to his own assertions that he had never heard a Biblical defense of age segregated education and that this was because there was no case that could be made. Then, after repeated attempts to contact Scott to let him now about the articles and to challenge him either to respond or to retract his assertions, I followed up with a post entitled Will Scott Brown Answer My Challenge?

Well, almost three years have gone by now, and I have yet to see any response from him. Should I then conclude, as he has done, that not hearing a public, Biblical defense of someone's position is due to the fact that that there simply is no credible defense that may be offered?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Updated Reformed Baptist Resources Page

I have just updated the Reformed Baptist Resources page for this site, and I hope our readers will find it helpful. I have added a few resources, and I have fixed any broken links as well (at least all of them that I could find). If you have any suggestions or corrections, please feel free to let us know. I am especially interested in schools I may have missed or prominent contemporary theologians I may not have mentioned.

Soli Deo gloria!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bob Schilling Reviews 'He Died for Me'

In a Facebook thread earlier today, Bob Schilling posted this brief, but helpful, review of Jeff Johnson's most recent book He Died for Me:
Having read the book, I'd recommend it to all as a title that challenges some modern assumptions among those who love the doctrines of grace. While defending the free offer of the gospel to all people, Johnson, a committed Calvinist, revisits the implications of the time-proven "Lombardian formula" - the famous statement articulated by Peter Lombard (1096-1164), that Christ's death is "sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect." Universal sufficiency and limited efficacy.

Pastor Johnson deals with Theodore Beza's (Calvin's successor) revision of the formula which was also later adopted by men like John Owen, Francis Turretin and A.W. Pink. They revised the sufficiency to be a "hypothetical sufficiency" - that is, Christ's death is not actually sufficient for all men, but would have been, if God had so intended it to be. You see both sides of this debate at the Synod of Dort, and language that delegates could take in both directions: the classic position, an extrinsic sufficiency, a real sufficiency for all men; or an intrinsic sufficiency - an atonement of infinite value, not a universal scope. Both could subscribe to the language used at Dort: "This death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sins, and is of infinite value and worth, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world."

Chapters 10 and 11 I found very helpful. Chapter 10 is a helpful critique, with the aid of many Reformed theologians, of John Owen's quantitative view of the atonement and his famous "trilemma." Owen's position, says Johnson, and many others - proves too much. The death of Christ does not immediately save anyone. Redemption, though accomplished on the cross, must be applied through faith. Even the elect, prior to their conversion are under the wrath of God (John 3:36; Eph. 2:3); they are not united to Christ personally, until they are justified through faith. "It is possible for Christ to be a sufficient sacrifice for unbelievers without the sacrifice being automatically applied to them" (pg. 126).

The "Case for Universal Sufficiency," chapter 11, is especially powerful. In preaching the Gospel, we are preaching the cross. We can't disjoin the death of Christ from the good news we are preaching to them. More than that, God is making His "appeal through us" (2 Cor. 5:20). On what basis is God promising eternal life and salvation to all people, if Christ has not in any sense died for them? "For this reason, John Bunyan was right when he said, 'For the offer of the gospel cannot, with God's allowance, be offered any further than the death of Jesus Christ doth go; because if that be taken away, there is indeed no gospel.'" (pg. 142)

The Reformed Tradition has a healthy diversity, and a cornerstone of Reformational thought is to be always examining what we believe in the light of the clear teaching of Scripture. Calvinists need to be more aware of the legitimate breadth of orthodoxy by those committed to our historical confessions.

There's lots of good material in this small book - I hope that many will pick it up and read through it carefully.
I couldn't agree more. As I have stated in a previous post on this blog, Jeff's book convinced me. Previously I would still have classified myself as being in the High Calvinist ranks, although allowing for common grace to be a benefit of the atonement for all mankind, until my conversations with Jeffrey Johnson as he worked on finishing the book, followed by my reading of the book when it was finished. It was reading the book with an open heart and mind, though, that won me over and moved me to the Moderate Calvinist camp. A subsequent conversation with Curt Daniel only helped to reinforce my newfound position. The seeds had already been planted, though, as a result of articles Bob Gonzales had written some years back and which are now being rewritten and posted again on his new blog. I now look back with astonishment that I had actually missed so much in my prior reading of men such as Charles Hodge. As Curt put it in my aforementioned conversation with him, I have finally given my Calvinist soteriology some needed "fine tuning." I had been heavily influenced by Owen early on in my development (although I took issue with his exegesis here and there), and I followed his mistake in not seeing clearly the difference it makes when we recognize that election does not flow from the atonement but precedes it. What an obvious point! But I missed its significance until I had my "Owen glasses" removed by Jeff's Scriptural observations.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Brandon Adams' Helpful Outline of Nehemiah Coxe's Discourse of the Covenants

Some years ago I was happy to post Brandon Adam's Collapsible Outline of Owen on Hebrews 8:6-13. Today I would like to post another such outline offered by Brandon, this time of Nehemiah Coxe's A Discourse of the Covenants that God Made with Men before the Law. These outlines should prove quite helpful when reading the important work Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, which contains both Coxe's Discourse of the Covenants and Owen's Exposition of Hebrews 8:6-13.

I would also highly recommend checking out Brandon Adams' 1689 Federalism website, as well as his blog Contrast, which has many excellent articles. Thanks Brandon!

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Why I Am a Reformed Baptist by James White

The above message reflects many of my own convictions, and I thought the blog's readers would also appreciate it.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Being Generous and Doing Good (Galatians 6:6-10 Teaching Outline)

Note: Read verses 1-10 in order to get the context in mind.

Introduction: Consider the following illustration from a past edition of Today In The Word:
Harvesting was a far more difficult task before Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical reaper. Even laboring long hours, farmhands using sickles could harvest no more than one acre per person per day.
When McCormick redesigned his father's defective prototype and presented the world with the first mechanical reaper, he revolutionized farming worldwide. The new machines could harvest more in one hour than one worker could in a whole day. One fact remained the same, however. Whether with sickles or McCormick's invention, farmers could reap only what they had sowed. (Tuesday, April 29, 1997)
And with this we have introduced the theme of today's passage, that of sowing and reaping. But before Paul lays out the principle of sowing and reaping, he first speaks of the importance of sharing in all good things with those who teach.
NKJ Galatians 6:6 Let him who is taught the word share [Present Active Imperative > κοινωνέω, koinōnéō] in all good [ἀγαθός, agathós] things with him who teaches.
This verse serves a dual purpose and provides a transition from one theme to another. It provides an example of bearing one another's burdens, which was the dominant theme of verses 1-5, but it also provides an example of sowing to the Spirit, a theme which Paul takes up in verse 7.

The focus here is clearly on the relationship of the members of the body with those who teach them the Word of God. Paul uses the present tense of the verb koinōnéō when he commands one who is taught to "share in all good things" with the one who teaches him. In this way he stresses the ongoing duty of those who are taught to those who teach them.

But what, precisely, does Paul mean when says to share in all good things? Many commentators take this as a reference to financial provision for pastor-teachers, but I do not think Paul's meaning should be so restricted. To be sure, sharing in all good things would include financial support, and such an idea can certainly be found elsewhere in the teaching of both Christ and Paul. For example, when sending out the Seventy missionaries, one of the instructions Jesus gave them concerned pay for their ministry:
NKJ Luke 10:7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house.
When writing to the Corinthians about the same issue, Paul had Jesus' teaching in mind:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 9:11-14 If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? 12 If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.
When Paul later addressed the issue of pay for elders in his first epistle to Timothy, he again reflected Jesus' teaching on the subject:
NKJ 1 Timothy 5:17-18 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain” [Deut. 25:4], and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages” [Luke 10:7].
Again, I think Paul's meaning here in Galatians 6:6 would include such financial remuneration, but I do not see how we can restrict his meaning either to financial support or to the office of pastor-teacher, even if we might rightly assume that he has these matters primarily in mind. So, for example, to share in all good things with the one who teaches may well include telling your teachers about what God is doing in your life as a result of their teaching, or perhaps giving them a card to show your appreciation for their hard work, or defending them when they teach the truth even if others attack them.

Perhaps an example from my own life might help. I recall when I first came across this verse as a young believer. I remembered as I thought about it that there had been those in my past who had taught me the truth of the Gospel, despite my consistently having rejected what they said. As many of you know, I grew up believing in works salvation, but despite my heretical views, God had placed godly teachers in my life. Later, after having believed the truth of the Gospel, and as I thought about this verse, I was convicted that I should contact those who had consistently and lovingly taught me the truth. So, for example, I found the address of an older lady named Rose Bailey, who had pulled me aside one Sunday morning as a child and explained to me that we cannot earn God's love and that we don't have to, because He saves us by His grace on account of what Jesus did for us when He died on the cross. I wrote her a rather lengthy letter explaining about how God had saved me and how she had played a role in it. I was then pleasantly surprised to find out that she was still alive, when she wrote me back, telling me how she had prayed for me and how excited she was about what God had done in my life. She also let me know how she had shared my letter with everyone in her small church and that it had been a great encouragement to them as well.

This is one example of how I was able to share in a good thing God had done for me as a result of teaching I had received when I was a twelve or thirteen year old boy. But I can also tell you as a teacher of God's Word that I love to hear about how God is working in your lives as a result of my teaching ministry. It is one of the most encouraging things you could ever do for me, and it helps the burden of the teaching ministry seem much lighter.

In this way, you can help bear my burden and the burden of others who regularly teach within the congregation (recall vs. 2), but in this way you can also sow to the Spirit, as Paul indicates in the next two verses.
NKJ Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
Here Paul warns those who might not want to help support the ministry of the Word that they are simply deceiving themselves and mocking God if they fail to realize that they will reap what they sow. I wonder how many faithful pastor-teachers have been under-appreciated – and under-payed as well – by congregations who are deceived into thinking that their selfishness will not come back to bite them in the end, who may not even realize that they are making a mockery of God and His Word, because in the end it is God Himself and His word that they are under-appreciating and devaluing!

Apparently, such a terrible state of affairs was present in the Galatian churches due to the influence of the false teachers among them. You can imagine how discouraged their true teachers were as they began to lose the support of their congregations. But Paul wants them to remember the important principle of reaping and sowing so that they will be convicted of their error and repent. He further describes this principle in verse 8.
NKJ Galatians 6:8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
I think Ronald Fung was correct when he said, “Paul here seems to regard the whole of a man's earthly life as a period of sowing, with harvest awaiting him on the last day: the eschatological yield  is  determined by present sowing” (The Epistle to the Galatians, p. 295, as cited by Thomas Constable, Notes on Galatians, e-Sword).

This is not to say that we may not reap from our sowing to some extent in this life, but rather that we will not ultimately reap the final reward until the future judgment.

William Hendriksen gets it right when he says in his commentary that:
Sowing to the flesh means to allow the old nature to have its way. So also, sowing to the Spirit means to allow the Holy Spirit to have his way. The one who does the latter is walking by the Spirit (5:16), and is being led by the Spirit (5:18). What happens to these contrasted representative individuals? Already in this life, but especially in and after the resurrection at the last day, he who has been sowing to please his flesh will from the harvest-field of the flesh reap destruction, decay. On the other hand, he who has been sowing to please the Spirit will from the harvest-field of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (BNTC, e-Sword)
However, we should not think that Paul intends to say that we somehow earn everlasting life as a result of what we sow in this life. This would deny everything he has taught in this very epistle about how we are justified by grace through faith alone, apart from works. But remember that, although we are saved by faith alone, the faith that saves is never alone. True saving faith always produces good works in the life of the true believer. True saving faith – faith wrought by the Spirit in our hearts – sows to the Spirit rather than to the flesh. Such faith assures us of our heavenly reward. And such faith never gives up, which leads us to the next verse.
NKJ Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season [καιρός, kairós], we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
As Leon Morris has aptly noted in his treatment of this verse, “It is easy for the servants of God to become discouraged: the opposition they meet is so constant and the good they are trying to do is so hard to accomplish” (Galatians: Paul's Charter of Christian Freedom, p. 183, as cited by Thomas Constable, Notes on Galatians, e-Sword).

Sowing to the Spirit means doing good, and it means not growing weary in doing good. But does Paul mean to indicate that we should never get tired as we serve the Lord? I don't think so. I think he is talking about the kind of weariness here that leads to losing heart – or becoming discouraged – to the point that we give up. If we serve the Lord in such a way that we keep our eye on the goal, with a faith that doesn't give up on His purposes and never quits believing that He can and will use our efforts, then we can be assured that we will reap the everlasting life that He has promised (vs. 8).

As I see it, Paul is not making our perseverance the basis of our salvation, but he is indicating that our perseverance is connected with our assurance of salvation. And such assurance of God's promise of everlasting life frees us up to serve God at every opportunity, as Paul says that we must do in the following verse.
NKJ Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity [καιρός, kairós], let us do good [ἀγαθός, agathós] to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
No wonder Paul has admonished us about the temptation to grow weary and discouraged in going good! He expects us to take advantage of every opportunity to do good to every person we can! Martin DeHaan offers this helpful illustration:
Several years ago an article appeared in Time magazine about a doctor who lived through the terrible bombing of Hiroshima. When the blast occurred, Dr. Fumio Shigeto was waiting for a streetcar only a mile away, but he was sheltered by the corner of a concrete building. Within seconds after the explosion, his ears were filled with the screams of victims all around him.

Not knowing what had happened, he stood there for a moment bewildered—one doctor wondering how he could ever handle this “mountain” of patients. Then, still somewhat stunned, Dr. Shigeto knelt, opened his black bag, and began treating the person nearest to him.

When I look at the staggering needs of a dying world, I can easily become overwhelmed. God certainly doesn’t expect me to frantically try to help everyone in need. That’s too big a burden. Galatians 6 says that we are to “do good to all,” but that doesn’t mean we have to reach everyone. We are to help anyone we can whenever we have the opportunity to do so.

When you are faced with the distressing spiritual needs of a lost world, don’t despair. All God asks is that you do what you can. (“Do What You Can,” Our Daily Bread, March 13, 2000)
Yes, we must do all the good we can for whomever we can. But Paul says this is especially true with regard to our fellow believers, for together with us they are a part of "he household of faith," our spiritual family. This means that, as we set our priorities, our commitment to the welfare of our brothers and sisters in Christ should come first in our thinking. And although we must never let our commitment to the body of Christ cause us to become so inwardly focused that we lose sight of our evangelistic testimony to the world around us, neither should we neglect our primary obligation to the body of Christ in our zeal to reach out to the world.

I will conclude with the words of the nineteenth-century Scottish commentator John Brown, who has done a good job of driving home the point Paul is making here:
Every poor and distressed man has a claim on me for pity, and, if I can afford it, for active exertion and pecuniary relief. But a poor Christian has a far stronger claim on my feelings, my labors, and my property. He is my  brother, equally interested as myself in the blood and love of the Redeemer. I expect to spend an  eternity with him in heaven. He is the representative of my unseen Savior, and he considers everything done to his poor afflicted as done to himself. For a Christian to be unkind to a Christian is not only wrong, it is monstrous. (As cited by Timothy George, NAC, p. 428)
I hope we will all remember that we will reap what we sow, whether it is through our giving financially and materially to others or through providing emotional support and encouragement. And how we sow in this respect is a very good indicator of whether or not we are true believers who can have assurance of God's promise of everlasting life.

Monday, May 15, 2017

He Died for Me by Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson's new book, He Died For Me, is now available in paperback. Jeff describes the book as essentially about an “in-house debate among Calvinists,” and that it is. But I think even non-Calvinists would learn a great deal from this book. It is an excellent introduction to the historical debate concerning the efficacy and sufficiency of the atonement that anyone interested in the issue ought to read. Whether one agrees with Jeff’s final answer or not, he or she will certainly come away with a better understanding of the issues, both biblically and historically, and, no doubt, a better understanding of his or her own position as well. As for me, I approached the book with a fairly high degree of skepticism, but I was surprised by it in several ways. First, I was surprised to discover that I did not understand the historical background of the debate nearly as a well as I thought I did. Second, I was surprised to discover that I hadn’t been nearly as consistent in my thinking on the matter as I thought I had been. And, third, I was surprised that the book won me over. Jeff convinced me of his position. In addition, the book is written in a very clear and accessible way. So, for all these reasons, I highly recommend it. Even if you are not convinced by Jeff’s own arguments in the end, you will certainly learn a lot from the book. However, you may just end up being as surprised as I was. You may just end up agreeing with it! Be sure to buy your copy now

Friday, May 12, 2017

Bearing One's Own Load (Galatians 6:3-5 Teaching Outline)

Note: As I have pointed out before, I have a habit of including references to Greek terms in my notes, whether I actually refer to them or not, so I have left them in with transliterations.

Introduction: Remember that in last week's post we saw that Paul describes the Christian life as a battle between the flesh and the Spirit (5:16-17) and that he further describes how crucial it is that we follow the Spirit's leading if we are to have victory in the conflict. He even describes walking in the Spirit as similar to the way a soldier follows his commander and heeds his commands. We are like soldiers at war, who must follow our leader –  the Holy Spirit – and heed His commands. And, just as when one soldier is exhausted or wounded, the others help to carry the load, even so we must all recognize our responsibility to bear one another's burdens. This was the focus of last week's study of verses 1-2, but the focus of today's study is on the responsibility each one of us has to bear his own load. After all, every soldier in battle is ultimately responsible for his own pack. This responsibility is emphasized in verse 5, where Paul gives the reason for what he says in verses 3-4.
NKJ Galatians 6:5 For [γάρ, gár] each one shall bear [Future Active Indicative > βαστάζω, bastázō] his own load [φορτίον, phortíon].
The Greek word translated load here is defined by the Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament as a “burden, a load which one is expected to bear. It was used as a military term for a man's pack or a soldier's kit” (p. 519). But how do we understand the two responsibilities Paul has enjoined upon us in this passage, on the one hand to bear one another's burdens, and on the other hand to each bear his own load? Is there a contradiction here? Of course I don't think so. In fact, I agree with the assessment of Spiros Zodhiates, who has ably addressed this matter in his Complete Word Study Dictionary:
Some critics contend that a contradiction exists in Gal. 6 between Paul's injunction that we should bear “one another's burdens” (Gal 6:2) and his assertion that “every man shall bear his own burden” (Gal 6:5). However, the conflict is only apparent. In Gal 6:2 the word for burden is báros, a burden or difficulty. In Gal 6:5 the word for burden is phortíon, responsibility. In the first case, Christians are being enjoined to help each other bear up under the vicissitudes of life. In the last case, Christians are told that each person must assume responsibility for his particular (ídios, one's own) duties in life; they have no right to shirk their responsibilities or to expect others to perform them. (e-Sword)
So, Paul teaches in this passage that mutual accountability and personal responsibility go hand-in-hand for the Christian. We must never emphasize one without the other. We must each “bear one another's burdens” (vs. 2), and we must also each “bear his own load” (vs. 5).

Scot McKnight wrestles with this issue in his commentary on this passage, where he writes that:
Our personal responsibility before God does not rob us of our accountability to others, nor does it put us on a deserted island to live a solitary life. These are Western problems that need to be faced, and the message of Paul – a mutual accountability that does not deny personal responsibility and a personal responsibility that includes a mutual accountability – stares our world in the face.

I make one more observation regarding personal responsibility. In our culture we have become acutely aware of the origins and causes of our behavior. I am aware, for instance, that certain aspects of my personality come from what I learned from my father and mother; I am aware as well that some of my traits (both good and bad) appear in my two children. This is a common perception today. But in this process, at times there is an implicit excuse for our personality traits or our behavior. “I cannot help it,” one might cry, “because this is how I was raised.” Or, “You would not blame me if you knew my past.” We must sympathize here with the obvious reality that what we do and who we are result from what others have made us, and we should not refrain from recognizing that certain bad dimensions of people are not solely their fault. But what the Bible teaches is that we are personally responsible for everything we are and for everything we do, regardless of the causes and problems we might have. This, of course, leads to an entire feature of application: urging people to accept responsibility for everything they do and are. Paul teaches that we must “bear our own burdens” in this regard.
I essentially agree with McKnight's position, but I think it is also important to point out that, when Paul says that “each one shall bear his own load,” he is speaking in the future tense. So, to be sure, although we must each recognize our own responsibilities now, what Paul has primarily in mind is a future accountability before God, which I think will happen at the final judgment. He also speaks of this future judgment for Christians in his first epistle to the Corinthians:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Clearly this judgment will not determine whether or not we are saved, which has already been determined in this life when, by God's grace, we embraced Christ as Savior and Lord. But there will be a future judgment that takes into account what we have done with the grace He has given us.

In my view, this is what Paul has in mind here in Galatians 6:5. It is not that he is unconcerned with the responsibility we each have to bear our own load now, but rather that we bear it now in light of the fact that we will have to bear it then. And, because each one of us must bear his or her own load, there are two things we must avoid: 1) conceit, and 2) comparing ourselves with others.

First, we must avoid conceit.

This is found in verse 3, where Paul says:
NKJ Galatians 6:3 For [γάρ, gár] if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
This relates both to what came before it and what comes after it. Such conceit will prevent us from bearing one another's burdens as we should, as in verses 1-2, but it will also prevent us from taking proper responsibility for our own burdens, as in verse 5. And it will prevent us from accurately examining and assessing ourselves before the Lord, (as we shall see in verse 4. Paul is concerned that we avoid the same kind of conceit he has warned us about in the preceding context:
NKJ Galatians 5:26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
That such conceit is a common temptation for Christians is assumed by Paul not only here, but also in his other writings. For example:
NKJ Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.

NKJ 1 Corinthians 4:7 For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

NKJ Philippians 2:3-4 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
As David Guzik has said, “If I esteem you above me, and you esteem me above you, a marvelous thing happens: we have a community where everyone is looked up to, and no one is looked down on!” (Commentary on Philippians, e-Sword).

At any rate, it is clear from passages such as these, as well as the text before us this morning, that Paul viewed pride as a grave danger that the Christian must avoid. Pride causes us to forget that we ourselves are completely dependent upon the grace of God, and it does this by deception. As Paul says in this verse, if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, “he deceives himself.” This led Matthew Henry to conclude that “Self-conceit is but self-deceit.” (Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword, italics mine)

It is pride that deceives us into thinking we are something when we are nothing. But what, exactly, does Paul mean when he uses the word nothing. Does he mean:
1) That we are “nothing” in the sense that we are totally worthless?

2) That we are “nothing” in comparison to God?

3) That we are “nothing” in comparison to what we are deceived into thinking we are?
I think Paul has in mind the latter of these three possibilities. After all, he is speaking in the context of the need to bear one another's burdens by helping one who is caught is some sin, and he warns us to be careful lest we too are tempted (as in vss. 1-2).

As we saw last week, if we are not careful, we can start to think that we are better than someone else who is struggling with some sin that we might not be dealing with ourselves. But a spiritual person (as in vs. 1) will realize that he too is capable of falling into sin and will be moved by compassion to help his brother rather than to look down on him.

The point here is really that we should be aware that a prideful attitude toward others in their struggle with sin necessarily means that we are self-deceived. In this sense we are tricked into thinking we are something when we are nothing. In reality we are no better than anyone else! We are all just sinners saved by grace!

Second, we must avoid comparing ourselves with others.

Conceit seems inevitably to lead to comparing ourselves with others, which is one reason we need to avoid it, and which is why I think Paul says what he says in verse 4:
NKJ Galatians 6:4 But let each one examine [Present Active Imperative > δοκιμάζω, dokimázō] his own work, and then he will have [Future active Indicate > ἔχω, échō] rejoicing [Noun καύχημα, kaúchēma] in himself alone, and not in another.
When Paul issues the primary command in this verse, that we must “each one examine his own work,” he assumes it is necessary because we are tempted to boast in comparison with others. He uses a Greek verb that means “to examine, to approve after testing or examination. The word was used for the testing of metals to see whether they were pure” (Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, p. 519). This word implies a very careful examination that we must each make of our own work, or whatever it is we do with our lives, particularly in service to the Lord.

When we each conduct such an examination and find something worthy of approval, then we will each have a cause for “rejoicing” in our own efforts rather than in comparison to the efforts of another. The Greek noun translated rejoicing here in the New King James Version refers to the ground or reason one has for boasting (Ling. Key, p. 519). This idea is better reflected in the ESV and the NASB. I think the KJV and NKJV prefer to translate it rejoicing because they want to avoid the idea that a Christian should ever boast in himself for any reason. They would certainly want to avoid the NIV's skewed translation that encourages a man to “take pride in himself.” Indeed, such an idea seems to go against the very concern Paul has in the context that we avoid conceit.

But is all boasting about something we find in ourselves to be considered prideful or sinful boasting? It certainly is if it is self-reliant or self-aggrandizing boasting. This is the kind of boasting James warns us about:
NKJ James 4:13-16 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” 16 But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
But, again, is all boasting about something we find in ourselves to be considered prideful or sinful boasting? I don't think so, for, after examining ourselves thoroughly and finding something worthy of approval, we will also discover that it is a result of God's working in us. Remember what Paul wrote to the Ephesians on this point:
NKJ Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
So, we should never boast in such a way that we trust in and glorify our own works rather than the grace and working of God in our lives. But if God is working in our lives, then there will be something worthy of approval and thus worthy of boasting about, won't there? I think so, and I think this is why Paul elsewhere teaches that it is always a good thing to boast about what God has done in and through us. For example:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory [καυχάομαι, kaucháomai, boast, verb related to the noun καύχημα, kaúchēma, in Gal. 6:4] in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and  sanctification and redemption – 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories [καυχάομαι, kaucháomai], let him glory [καυχάομαι, kaucháomai] in the LORD.”
NKJ 2 Corinthians 1:12 For our boasting [related noun καύχησις, kaúchēsis] is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you.
NKJ 2 Corinthians 10:17-18 But “he who glories [καυχάομαι, kaucháomai], let him glory [καυχάομαι, kaucháomai] in the LORD.” 18 For not he who commends himself is approved [δόκιμος, dókimos, adjective related to the verb δοκιμάζω, dokimázō, in Gal. 6:4], but whom the Lord commends.
We too may boast about what God is doing in and through us. And we may look forward to doing so when we stand before Him in the final judgment, placing all our confidence in what He has done rather than in our own efforts or abilities.

Conclusion: I will conclude by encouraging all of us to ask ourselves such questions as, “When I put my own life to the test, do I find in myself good reason to boast about what God is doing for, in, and through me? Or do I find myself constantly comparing myself to others so that I can feel better about myself?”

As James Montgomery Boice points out, “To use others as a norm is a kind of escape” (EBC, Vol. 10, p. 502).

Let us not try to escape the results of careful examination before the Lord, and if we find little or nothing worthy of approval, let us ask the Lord to so work in us that we might look forward to standing before Him at the judgment, whether through saving us from sin or through renewing repentance and faith in a wayward heart.

But, on the other hand, let us also avoid the kind of self-centered introspection that loses sight of God's Word as the standard by which we must always judge ourselves. As Timothy George has insightfully observed:
… there is a great difference between introspection and self-examination. The former can easily devolve into a kind of narcissistic, spiritual navel-gazing that has more in common with types of Eastern mysticism than with classic models of the devotional life in historic Christianity. True self-examination is not merely taking one's spiritual pulse beat on a regular basis but rather submitting one's thoughts, attitudes, and actions to the will of God and the mind of Christ revealed in Holy Scripture.
Amen! I hope we will all take time this week for such self-examination, and perhaps, if we need to, ask help in this regard from our brothers and sisters ion the Lord.