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.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Bearing One Another's Burdens (Galatians 6:1-2 Teaching Outline)

Note: Begin reading the passage at 5:16 and read through 6:5 in order to get the context in mind. Note also that 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: These days it is not uncommon to hear people say, “I am a spiritual person.” It is a statement not infrequently heard from celebrities such as actors and pop singers, and it is becoming an increasingly popular sentiment. I’m not sure, however, precisely what is meant by the statement, and, frankly, I’m not sure those who make the claim know what they mean by it. Yet the Apostle Paul spoke of certain people as being spiritual, and he had a very definite understanding of the term in mind, one that he expected his fellow Christians to share. We shall begin to see what he means by the term as we examine the preceding context of our passage, in which Paul has described the Christian life as a battle between the flesh and the Spirit. For example:
NKJ Galatians 5:16-17 “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts [Pres. Act. Ind. > ἐπιθυμέω, epithuméō, continually desires] against [κατά, katá] the Spirit, and the Spirit against [κατά] the flesh; and these are contrary [Pres. Mid. Ind. > ἀντίκειμαι, antíkeimai, constantly opposed] to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”
Not surprisingly, then, Paul goes on to stress how crucial it is that we follow the Spirit's leading if we are to have victory in the conflict:
NKJ Galatians 5:25 “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
As we have seen, earlier in the epistle Paul already commanded us to walk in the Spirit (vs. 16), and then he also spoke of our being led by the Spirit, in which the active role of the Spirit Himself was emphasized (vs. 18). In those statements, as well as this one, Paul used the present tense to denote a continual or habitual walking or being led. In other words, being led by the Spirit, and thus walking in the Spirit, is not something we do once and then we are done. It is something that characterizes the whole life of the believer, day in and day out.

But in verse 25 Paul used a different word for walk than he used in verse 16. There he used the typical Greek word for walking – περιπατέω, peripatéō – but here in verse 25 he used a specialized Greek word – στοιχέω, stoichéō – which literally means to “be drawn up or advance in line, belong in the ranks” and was used of soldiers marching or advancing in line (Friberg #25001, BibleWorks). But it is used figuratively here with the sense of walking in the steps of the Spirit as He leads. The ESV Study Bible is thus on the right track when it says that this verb means to “walk in line behind a leader.” And J. I. Packer is also close to the mark when he takes it to mean that we must “keep in step with the Spirit” (in the book by that title). G. Walter Hansen has even been so bold as to assert:
Keep in step is a military command to make a straight line or to march in ordered rows. The Spirit sets the line and the pace for us to follow. Keeping in step with the Spirit takes active concentration and discipline of the whole person. We constantly see many alternative paths to follow; we reject them to follow the Spirit. We constantly hear other drummers who want to quicken or slow down our pace; we tune them out to listen only to the Spirit. (IVPNTC, e-Sword)
Paul has taught in this passage that we are in a battle with the flesh, in which “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other,” as he put it in verse 17 (ESV). In this battle we must learn to be led by the Spirit and to keep in step with His every command. This walking in the Spirit is similar to the way a soldier follows his commander and heeds his commands. So, we might say that, just as soldiers at war all have a pack to carry, so do we. 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. We see this necessity in the central command of today's passage, which is found in verse 2:
NKJ Galatians 6:2a Bear [Present Active Imperative > βαστάζω, bastázō] one another's burdens [βάρος, báros]
But how should this be done? In what way are we to bear one another's burdens? We will see that we do this by restoring others and by loving others. Both of these ideas are taught by Paul in these verses. He begins by giving a specific application (restoring others) and then goes on to focus on the general principle behind it (loving others). We will follow this same order, then, in our examination of the text. And we will see that 1) we must bear one another's burdens by restoring others, and 2) we must bear one another's burdens by loving others.

I. We Must Bear One Another's Burdens By Restoring One Another
(vs. 1)

We see this principle clearly stated in verse one:
NKJ Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken [προλαμβάνω, prolambánō] in any trespass [παράπτωμα, paráptōma], you who are spiritual [πνευματικός, pneumatikós] restore [Present Imperative > καταρτίζω, katartízō] such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
When he gives the command to restore one another, Paul uses a Greek verb (καταρτίζω, katartízō) that basically means to “put in order, restore to a former condition, mend, [or] repair” (Friberg #15350, BibleWorks). It was used in the Gospels to describe the disciples' mending of their nets (Matt. 4:21; Mark 1:19). But it also had a technical meaning as a medical term used to refer to setting a bone or joint (Linguistic Key, p. 518). So we can understand why it could have been used figuratively to describe the restoration of a sinning brother. The late James Montgomery Boice applied the term this way:
The verb is a medical term used in secular Greek for setting a fractured bone. What is wrong in the life of the fallen Christian is to be set straight. It is not to be neglected or exposed openly. (EBC, Vol. 10)
John Stott also offers some helpful observations about the implications of this command:
Notice how positive Paul’s instruction is. If we detect somebody doing something wrong, we are not to stand by doing nothing on the pretext that it is none of our business and we have no wish to be involved. Nor are we to despise and condemn him in our hearts, and if he suffers for his misdemeanor, say 'Serves him right' or 'Let him stew in his own juice.' Nor are we to report him to the minister, or gossip about him to our friends in the congregation. No, we are to 'restore' him, to 'set him back on the right path' (JBP). (The Message of Galatians, p. 160)
Or as David Guzik puts it, “The overtaken ones need to be restored. They are not to be ignored.  They are not to be excused. They are not to be destroyed. The goal is always restoration” (Commentary on Galatians, e-Sword).

Restoration is indeed the focus Paul wants us to have. But he not only commands us to restore one another; he also provides crucial information that we need in order to fulfill this responsibility. He says something about who should be restored, who should do the restoring, and how the restoration should be done. Let's briefly consider each of these points as we seek to understand Paul's teaching here.

1. Paul tells us who should be restored (vs. 1a).

He says that one “overtaken in any trespass” should be restored. The Greek verb translated overtaken (προλαμβάνω, prolambánō) here means “to overtake by surprise, to overpower before one can escape” (Linguistic Key, p. 518). The use of this verb probably indicates that the person is not deliberately or remorselessly sinning, but, even if he is deliberately sinning, the idea is that he has been caught or trapped in the sin.

I don't think, then, that Paul intends for us to be constantly confronting every possible sin we can find in a brother. Indeed, if that were the case, I don’t think we would have time for anything else! Rather he wants us to confront any trespass by which one has been overtaken. And this certainly means that no nagging or persistent sin should be let go without seeking to correct and restore the person caught in it.

2. Paul tells us who should do the restoring (vs. 1b).

He says that those “who are spiritual” should do the restoring. Given that he uses the plural when he addresses “you [plural] who are spiritual,” without any further qualification, we may assume that Paul is not referring to a select few here but to the majority. And we may not assume that Paul has in mind different classes of Christians, as some might be tempted to assume. When he refers to those who are spiritual, he means those who have attained a basic level of Christian maturity and consistency in their walk. If we recall the preceding context, we can say a number of things about those who are spiritual:
1) The spiritual are those who are trusting in Christ alone for salvation. They are those, for example, who can say with Paul:

NKJ Galatians 2:20-21 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.

2) The spiritual are those who have received the Spirit by faith. Remember, for example, Paul's earlier challenge:

NKJ Galatians 3:2-3 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?

3) The spiritual are those who are walking in the Spirit and battling the flesh. As we have already seen, for example:

NKJ Galatians 5:16-17 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

4) The spiritual are those who are demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit.

NKJ Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness [πραΰτης], self-control. Against such there is no law.

5) The spiritual are those who humbly realize that they have not yet arrived at a point where they themselves cannot fall into sin. For example:

NKJ Galatians 5:25-26 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited ….

Or consider Paul's warning at the end of verse one, where he makes it clear that those who are spiritual may also be tempted to sin:

NKJ Galatians 6:1d … considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
This leads us to the next point.

3. Paul tells us how restoration should be done (vs. 1b-c).

He says at least two things about how restoration should be done.

First, restoration must be done caringly. I think this is indicated when Paul says that restoration should be done in a spirit of gentleness [πραΰτης, praǘtēs].

Here Paul is actually recalling an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned earlier in 5:23. The Greek word translated gentleness there in most modern translations may also be translated meekness, as in the King James Version. The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament defines it “as a quality of gentle friendliness gentleness, meekness (as strength that accommodates to another's weakness), [or] consideration” (Friberg #22840, BibleWorks). Jesus, who was God incarnate, demonstrated this attribute in his gentle calling to His disciples:
NKJ Matthew 11:28-29 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle [πραΰς, praǘs, adjective related to the noun πραΰτης, praǘtēs] and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Here we see Jesus as the ultimate example of “strength that accommodates to another's weakness,” for here we have One who is God Himself accommodating Himself to our weakness! And we are to follow His example when we seek to restore a fallen brother or sister in Christ. We too are to be gentle and lowly of heart as we confront their sin and encourage them to repent.

When Paul refers here to “a spirit” of gentleness, he may simply mean that we should have a gentle attitude or demeanor. But it is also possible that he means that we should restore a fallen brother by the Spirit who produces gentleness. Either way, in the context gentleness is definitely the attitude or demeanor we must have, and gentleness is definitely also that which comes from the Holy Spirit.

Second, restoration must be done cautiously. I think this is indicated when Paul says “considering yourself [singular] lest you [singular] also be tempted.”

The Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament says concerning the verb translated considering here that “the verb indicates being sharply attentive, very diligent and the pres. tense indicates continually doing so” (p. 518). In other words, we need to be constantly on our guard lest, in our attempt to help another who is caught in sin, we too are tempted to sin.

But in what way might you or I be tempted to sin as we seek to restore a sinning brother or sister? Paul does not say precisely, but it might include several possibilities. For example:
(1) We might be tempted to fall into the same sin as the one we are trying to help.
(2) We might be tempted to be harsh or unforgiving.
(3) We might be tempted to be prideful and feel superior to them.
I think that Paul definitely has at least this this last problem in mind here, for he goes on to say in verse 3, “For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

Pride will certainly get in the way of our effectiveness in bearing one another's burdens by restoring one another, but it will also keep us from loving one another as we should, and this leads to the second main point.

II. We Must Bear One Another's Burdens By Loving One Another (vs. 2b)

This is found in the second part of verse 2:
NKJ Galatians 6:2b and so fulfill [ἀναπληρόω, anaplēróō] the law of Christ.
Paul means by this that we must love one another, because this is what he means when he speaks of “the law of Christ.” This becomes clear when remember what he has said earlier in the context:
NKJ Galatians 5:13-14 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled [πληρόω, pleróō] in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
It is important to remember also in this regard Jesus' own teaching, which I think Paul has in mind here:
NKJ John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
So, we bear one another's burdens by loving one another, or, better still, we love one another by bearing one another's burdens.

Thus, in this passage we have the general moral obligation to love one another, leading to the general principle that we must bear one another's burdens, and this in turn involves the specific application with which we have spent most of our time this morning, namely the restoring of a fallen brother or sister who has been caught in a sin.

So, we restore fallen brethren because it is the loving thing to do. The command to love others is what drives our interest in restoring others. Let us never think, then, that we are truly loving others if we neglect to confront a persistent sin in their lives! In fact, we would do well remember the original context of the command to “love your neighbor as yourself”:
NKJ Leviticus 19:17-18 You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
But if loving others is the most important command, and restoring others is just one application of how we lovingly bear one another's burdens, we may assume that loving others will certainly involve bearing one another's burdens in other ways as well. For example, we could say further that:
1) We should bear one another's economic burdens. A good example of this would be Paul's challenge to the Corinthian church concerning giving. After noting of the example of sacrificial giving by the Macedonian churches, Paul says:
NKJ 2 Corinthians 8:8-15 I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. 10 And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; 11 but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. 12 For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; 14 but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack-- that there may be equality. 15 As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”

2) We should bear one another's emotional burdens. I think we can find a couple of examples of Paul's teaching about this elsewhere in Scripture as well. For example:

NKJ 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.

Or, as he puts it more simply to the Roman Christians:

NKJ Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
Conclusion: I would like to conclude simply by observing that Paul's teaching here assumes that, as we mature as Christians – as we learn to be more spiritual, which is to say, Spirit-led – we will bear one another's burdens. But doesn't this also assume that we will share our burdens with others so that they can help to bear them? I think John Stott insightfully addresses this matter in his commentary on verse 2:
Notice the assumption which lies behind this command, namely that we all have burdens and that God does not mean for us to carry them alone. Some people try to. They think it a sign of fortitude not to bother other people with their burdens. Such fortitude is certainly brave. But it is more stoical than Christian. Others remind us that we are told in Psalm 55:22 to 'cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you', and that the Lord Jesus invited the heavy-laden to come to Him and promised to give them rest (Mt. 11:28). They therefore argue that we have a divine burden-bearer that is quite adequate, and that it is a sign of weakness to require any human help. This too is a grievous mistake. True, Jesus Christ alone can bear the burden of our sin and guilt; He bore it is His own body when He died on the cross. But this is not so with our other burdens – our worries, temptations, doubts, and sorrows. Certainly, we can cast these burdens on the Lord as well. We can cast all our care on Him, since He cares for us (I Pet. 5:7, AV). But remember that one of the ways in which He bears these burdens of ours is through human friendship (The Message of Galatians, p. 156)
I hope we will all better learn not only to take our burdens to the Lord in prayer, but also to allow our fellow believers to be instruments of the Lord in our lives by humbly sharing our burdens with them and even accepting correction from them when we need it. In fact, I hope we will learn even to share the burden of a besetting sin if need be. As the Apostle James admonishes us:
NKJ James 5:16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Self-attesting Authority of Scripture (Teaching Outline)

Introduction: The Baptist Confession of 1689 speaks of our strongly held belief in the self-attesting truth and authority of Scripture when it states:
We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church of God to a high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God. Yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. [Jo. 16:13-14; 1 Cor. 2:10-12; 1 John 2:2, 20, 27.] (Ch. 1.5)
Thus our confession succinctly describes both the idea of the self-attesting, or self-evidencing, nature of Scripture and the idea that the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is necessary in order for us be fully persuaded and assured that Scripture really is the Word of God. Today I would like to take some time to briefly review some of the ways in which Scripture testifies to its own truthfulness, inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency, with the hope that the Holy Spirit will indeed work “by and with the Word in our hearts” in order to help strengthen our “assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof.”

I. The Truthfulness of Scripture

The truthfulness of Scripture is assured because Scripture is the Word of God and because God cannot lie. Thus we can be confident that we have the very word of God Himself in Scripture because He worked through the writers of Scripture in order to ensure this very thing. Remember, for example, David’s prayer of gratitude after God established His covenant with him:
NKJ 2 Samuel 7:28 And now, O Lord GOD, You are God, and Your words are true, and You have promised this goodness to Your servant.
Recall also the words that the LORD put in the mouth of Balaam after Balak had asked him to curse Israel:
NKJ Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
In other words, God never lies, and He never fails to keep His promises. This is a fact that the Apostle Paul also affirms in the opening of his Epistle to Titus:
NKJ Titus 1:1-2 Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began …
The author of Hebrews also stresses this important fact as the basis for our assurance:
NKJ Hebrews 6:11-18 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. 13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, ‘Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.’ 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16 For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. 17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, 18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.
Because God cannot lie, we also know, then, that Scripture is true, since Scripture is the Word of God. The Apostle Peter describes how God gave us Scripture this way:
NKJ 2 Peter 1:19-21 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation [NET = “No prophecy of Scripture ever comes about by the prophet's own imagination”], 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Scripture thus testifies of the truthfulness of God and of the fact that God gave us the Scriptures as a revelation of His own Word. We are therefore not surprised to find that Scripture repeatedly proclaims its own truthfulness as the Word of God. For example, the Psalmist asserts the truth of the entirety of Scripture when he writes in praise to God:
NKJ Psalm 119:160 The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.
Our Lord Jesus also asserted that the Word of God – and thus Scripture –  is true when He prayed for us:
NKJ John 17:17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
It is no wonder, then, that the Apostle Paul admonishes pastors to be careful in their handling of the Word of God when he writes to Timothy:
NKJ 2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing [or accurately handling, as in NASB] the word of truth.
Thus we see how Scripture testifies both to the truthfulness of God and to its own truthfulness as the Word of God. Yet this has other implications as well. For example, if all of Scripture is true because it is the Word of God Himself, then it necessarily follows that it is also infallible, which leads us to our next point.

II. The Inerrancy of Scripture

Scripture repeatedly assumes its own infallibility or inerrancy, not only as a necessary conclusion to be drawn from its complete truthfulness, but also in other ways. For example, David wrote:
NKJ Psalm 12:6-7 The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, Purified seven times. 7 You shall keep them, O LORD, You shall preserve them from this generation forever.
When David says that the words of the LORD are “pure,” the context indicates that he means to say that they are “untainted by falsehood or deception” (NET Bible notes, BibleWorks). This is in stark contrast to the words of the wicked mentioned previously in verse 2, who speak “with flattering lips and with a double heart.” Their words cannot be trusted, and they are also ever changing, unlike the words of the LORD, for he “shall preserve them from this generation forever.” Thus the implication is that the Word of God is also trustworthy; it is reliable.

The truth and reliability of the Word of God is also a repeated theme in Psalm 119. For example:
NKJ Psalm 119:86 All Your commandments are faithful [sure, trustworthy]; they persecute me wrongfully [ESV = “with falsehood”]; help me!
NKJ Psalm 119:151 You are near, O LORD, and all Your commandments are truth.
And, although we have already considered this next verse from Psalm 119, we would do well to consider it again here:
NKJ Psalm 119:160 The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.
The complete truthfulness and trustworthy character of God and His Word, which means also the infallibility or inerrancy of God and His Word, are thus a consistent source of assurance for believers and a consistent reason for praising God.

Our Lord Jesus also constantly assumed the truthfulness and reliability of Scripture when He said such things as, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18), or that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). In fact, when Jesus appeals to Scripture to support an argument against the Pharisees and thus says that “the Scripture cannot be broken,” He assumes not only the truth and reliability of God’s Word but also the complete authority of God’s Word, which leads us to our next point.

III. The Authority of Scripture

Since God is Creator and thus the absolute authority for all men everywhere and at all times, it necessarily follows that Scripture, which is the very Word of God Himself, is also the absolute authority for all men everywhere and at all times. This is a necessary inference.

Yet Scripture also repeatedly testifies of its own authority in other ways as well. For example, we are told that the people of Israel were supposed to have learned to accept the absolute authority of God’s Word as a result of the forty years they spent wandering in the wilderness:
NKJ Deuteronomy 8:1-3 Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.
Later, Moses taught about the prophetic office through which God would continue speak to His people:
NKJ Deuteronomy 18:15-19 The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, 16 according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, “Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.” 17 And the LORD said to me: “What they have spoken is good. 18 I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. 19 And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”
Thus the Word of God as spoken through the prophets was understood to have the authority of God Himself, and to disobey this Word was to disobey God Himself. There are many examples of this in Scripture, but one will have to suffice for our purposes today. Consider the example of Saul, whom the LORD had commanded through the prophet Samuel to “go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them (1 Sam. 15:3a). But Saul did not obey, and we read about Samuel’s confrontation of Saul in 1 Samuel 15:
NKJ 1 Samuel 15:18-23 “Now the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD?” 20 And Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21 But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.” 22 Then Samuel said: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.”
To disobey the Word of God is a very serious thing indeed! For God is the one to whom all obedience is due, as our sovereign Creator and absolute authority. His Word must therefore be obeyed as an absolute authority, and, as we have seen, we have that Word recorded for us in Scripture.

Later, when Jesus began His teaching ministry as the Messiah, He also appealed to the authority of Scripture as the Word of God in His confrontation of the devil:
NKJ Matthew 4:1-4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Thus Jesus cited Deuteronomy 8:3, which we have already read, after which He twice more cited Scripture in His confrontation of the devil. He clearly saw Scripture as the authority upon which He relied as the Messiah and which even the devil ought to have recognized as such. This is also why Jesus regularly cited Scripture in His teaching and in His refutation of error, and it is why He rebuked those who wickedly undermined the authority of Scripture in their own teaching. Recall, for example, an encounter that Jesus once had with a group of Sadducees:
NKJ Matthew 22:23-32 The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, 24 saying: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. 25 Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. 26 Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. 27 Last of all the woman died also. 28 Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. 31 But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
Thus Jesus rebuked the Sadducees for their failure to properly understand and apply Scripture, and He appealed to the proper understanding of Scripture as His authority in correcting them.

Jesus also challenged the Pharisees and scribes for their own undermining of Scriptural authority:
NKJ Mark 7:9-13 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’ [citing Exod. 20:12]; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death [citing Exod. 21:17].’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban’ -- (that is, a gift to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Thus our Lord Jesus would not countenance the distortion of Scripture or the undermining of its authority by anyone, especially by those who ought to have known better. In the process, His own appeals to Scripture, and His careful handling of it, demonstrate not only His commitment to the absolute authority of Scripture but also His reliance on Scripture as a sufficient guide to which nothing needs to be added by us. And this leads us to our fourth and final point.

IV. The Sufficiency of Scripture

When we speak of the sufficiency of Scripture, we are talking about the fact that it fully serves the purpose for which God has given it to us. As Wayne Grudem has stated, “We can define the sufficiency of Scripture as follows: The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Systematic Theology, p. 127).

Such a view of Scripture necessarily follows from much of what we have already considered. But we shall nevertheless consider briefly a couple of additional passages in which Scripture clearly testifies as to its own sufficiency. David spoke, for example, of this idea in Psalm 19 when he wrote:
NKJ Psalm 19:7-9 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
 I think John MacArthur correctly states the point David is making in verse 7 when he writes:
In the first statement (v. 7), David says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.” This word “perfect” is the translation of a common Hebrew word meaning “whole,” “complete,” or “sufficient.” It conveys the idea of something that is comprehensive, so as to cover all aspects of an issue. Scripture is comprehensive, embodying all that is necessary to one’s spiritual life. David’s implied contrast here is with the imperfect, insufficient, flawed reasoning of men.
[And he goes on to add:] God’s perfect law, David says, affects people by “restoring the soul” (v. 7). To paraphrase David’s words, Scripture is so powerful and comprehensive that it can convert or transform the entire person, changing someone into precisely the person God wants him to be. God’s Word is sufficient to restore through salvation even the most broken life—a fact to which David himself gave abundant testimony. (TMSJ 15/2 [Fall 2004] 167-168)
Such was also the teaching of the Apostle Paul, when he admonished Timothy that:
NKJ 2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
We need go nowhere else to find all that we need in order to be saved, to be sanctified, and to properly serve God in this world.

Conclusion: Charles Spurgeon is often quoted as saying that “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.”

I have tried not to get in the way of that lion in this teaching! Instead, it has been my hope that the Holy Spirit has worked “by and with the Word in our hearts” in order to help strengthen our “assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof.”

Saturday, April 22, 2017

"The Inspiration and Authority of the Old Testament" by Bob Gonzales



As usual, Bob Gonzales offers excellent teaching. He gives an overview of the Biblical doctrine of the inspiration and authority of Scripture, with special emphasis, of course, on the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament Scriptures. He covers 1) the Self-Attestation of Scripture, 2) the Self-Authentication of Scripture, and 3) the Spirit's Saving Authentication of Scripture.

I never fail to learn from Bob, and I hope you will find his teaching a blessing to you as well. Also, be sure sure to check out his personal blog It Is Written. as always, we welcome your comments or questions.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Is God Selfish to Seek Worship and to Act for His Own Glory?

The following post was a Lord's Supper message given by Ben Murphy, with whom I am privileged to serve as an elder at Immanuel Baptist Church.

In 1998, during my first semester at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I was in a car accident and was taken from the scene of the accident to the hospital in an ambulance. While I was in the ambulance, I began to witness to the EMT that was taking care of me. After I had begun to share with him about the Lord, he said he believed in helping others, but that a God who wanted and required others to worship Him would be a selfish God. I was very surprised by this objection to Christianity. I had never heard something like this before. I cannot remember how I answered his objection at the time. I think I included in my answer that I enjoyed worshiping God and living for Him.

In 2010, Carrie and I attended Passion, a Christian conference for college students with several college students from our church, where we heard John Piper preach the sermon, Is Jesus an Egomaniac? In this sermon, Piper tackled similar objections to Christianity raised by Erik Reece, C.S. Lewis before his conversion, Michael Prowse, and Oprah Winfrey.

The objection by Erik Reece was that Jesus’ words were egomaniacal when he said, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" in Matthew 10:37. In other words, Reece claimed that such a statement would reveal that Jesus was selfish, obsessively caring too much about Himself and not enough for others.

Piper rightly argues from Scripture that God is indeed God-centered, and that everything that God does including our salvation is for His own glory, but this does not make him egomaniacal or selfish because God is most glorified in showing His grace toward us, and because we find the completion of our joy in praising Him.

Although I agree with Piper's sermon and his conclusion that it is good and right for God to be God-centered and that we benefit from His God-centeredness, my intention today is not to repeat what he has already said but to answer the objection differently. Yes, it is right for God to be God-centered and to seek His own glory because, as Piper says, the apex or highest point of His glory is His grace and the apex or highest point of our joy is praise. But there is another reason that God's God-centeredness and desire that others love Him first and worship Him is not egomaniacal or selfish. God is unique in the sense that He is triune, and, therefore, when He acts for His own glory, He is also acting for the glory of another.

The Father acts for the glory of the Son, and the Son acts for the glory of the Father. Consider Philippians 2:9-11, "Therefore God [the Father] also has highly exalted Him [Jesus, who is God the Son] and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” God the Father seeks His own glory through the glory of God the Son--Jesus. He exalts Jesus and gives him the name above every name so that Jesus will be worshiped. Jesus, who said in Matthew 10:37, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" is bringing glory to God the father when men worship Him and love Him more than their father or mother or son or daughter because Jesus is the image of the Father (Hebrews 1:3), and the Father is glorified through the exaltation and glorification of the Son. Remember, Jesus said in John 14:9, "He who has seen me has seen the Father."

Now I want you to consider that when God gave Jesus for our salvation, He sent Him because He loved the world, but His ultimate goal was not our salvation, but the glory of His Son Jesus Christ through our salvation. And when Jesus died for our sins, He died for us, but ultimately He was dying for us because He loved the Father and wanted to obey, please, and glorify Him by laying down His life for the sheep.

John 10:15-18 says, "As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father."

John 10:27-30 says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one."

From these verses, we can observe that the Father gave the sheep to Jesus as a gift of love and Jesus responded by dying for the sheep that His Father gave Him. The Father loves Jesus and is pleased with Him because He laid down His life for the sheep, which the Father gave Him. Jesus laid down His life willingly in obedience to the Father's command. Jesus’ love for the sheep and willingness to die for the sheep is an expression of His love and obedience to the Father. Indeed the whole of our redemption is an outworking of the loving relationship between God the Father and God the Son.

Now let's examine John 17:1-5. "Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: 'Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was."

Jesus is asking the Father to glorify Him [the Son] through his death, which would give eternal life to all of those whom the Father had given Him to redeem. He is asking the Father to glorify Him so that He might glorify the Father by redeeming those whom the Father had given Him. Once again, we see that Jesus is acting for our salvation for His own glory so that, through His own glory, the Father might be glorified. We also see in Jesus' prayer that the Father's purpose for sacrificing the Son for our eternal life is to glorify His Son. But when the Father answered Jesus' prayer, did the Father glorify the Son so that He would also be glorified? Yes, He glorified the Son so that He the Father would be glorified through the glory of the Son and also so that they might share in the glory, which they had together before the world was. So the Father and the Son were working together for mutual glory, each seeking not only their own glory but the glory of the other.

In this we see that the Father's greatest love is not for us, but for His Son, and the Son's greatest love is not for us, but for the Father. Our salvation is the means by which the Father loves and glorifies the Son and the means by which the Son loves and glorifies the Father. Does this truth diminish the reality of God's love for us? Certainly not! God the Father's love for us is bound up in His eternal love for His Son and in His eternal passion for His Son's glory, and God the Son's love for us is bound up in His eternal love for the Father and in His eternal passion for the Father's glory.

Let me conclude with an analogy. A human father should love his wife more than his children, and his love for his children and even their very existence is a result of the expression of his love for his wife, yet his love for his children is also very great and real. In the same way, God the Father and God the Son are our co-parents. We belong to them because of the priority of their love for each other. Their love for us is great because it is bound up in their love for each other. Indeed, the immeasurable passion and fire of their love for each other fuels the fire of their love for us so that everything good in our lives is an outworking of their eternal relationship.

As we share in the Lord's Supper today, remember that Jesus laid down His life for you because you were the Father's gift to Him, and that His love for you is the expression and result of His eternal love for God the Father and God the Father's eternal love for Him.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Captive to the Word of God

Stuart Brogden has given us an excellent resource on what it means to be a Reformed Baptist in his book Captive to the Word of God: A Particular Baptist Perspective on Reformed and Covenant Theology.

This book has the perfect title. Though Baptists are not the only one’s who affirm Sola Scriptura, in my opinion, they are the most consistent in following out this principle when it comes to the liberty of conscience.

In fact, liberty of conscience is at the heart of what it means to be a Baptist. Liberty of conscience requires a separation between church and state, and this separation requires a distinct view of covenant theology. Historically, Baptists have rightly understood that the church, the Kingdom of God, and the covenant of grace consists of believers and believers alone. This understanding impacts their doctrine of the local church and its authority. That is, God has not subjected the government or the doctrine of the local church to any higher authority than the Word of God. These distinctives impact the membership and discipline of the local church. And, these distinctives, as Brogden explains, even impact the practice and worship of the local church. 

Baptists do not simply have a few distinct and unrelated doctrinal beliefs that distinguish them from other denominational traditions, but rather their distinctives—that identity them as Baptists—are interconnected and flow from their belief in Sola Scriptura. 

Brogden masterfully explains and builds a Scriptural case for these important distinctives. Along with several helpful appendixes, the book is divided into four sections: Section 1 explains what Baptists believe on the ordnances and the nature of the church. Section 2 explains what it means to be Reformed. Section 3 explains the distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology. Section 4 concludes with how these Baptist distinctives influence the everyday life of the local church.

Though Brogden covers a lot of ground, he remains thorough. This book is not an overview or an introductory work. Each section is well argued and defended. In this book you will find a formidable defense of credobaptism, Baptist Covenant Theology, liberty of conscience, the five solas, and the purpose and use of confessions. These could have easily been stand alone books, but having them grouped together makes for a valuable resource.

After reading this book, I have become more grounded in my own beliefs and more grateful for our Baptist heritage. As I say in my endorsement, “In my opinion, this helpful work needs to be required reading for all Baptist seminary students. In fact, everyone who wants to know what it means to be a Baptist should read this book. Since I love the historic Baptist faith, I love this book.”

You can order the book here.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Psalm 32 – Happiness Through Forgiveness (Teaching Outline)

Introduction: The first word of this psalm is blessed, from the Hebrew word ’esher (אֶ֫שֶׁר), which refers to the true happiness that one can only find through a right relationship with God. The Reformation Study Bible thus correctly asserts in a footnote on the use of ’ešer in Psalm 1:1 that it is “A stronger word than 'happy'; to be 'blessed' is to enjoy God's special favor and grace” (p. 755).

Such true happiness is the theme of this psalm, and, as we examine the psalm, I will highlight seven things that David teaches us in it about true happiness in the LORD.

I. True Happiness Is Found in Complete Forgiveness

This truth is stressed in verses 1-2:
NKJ Psalm 32:1-2 Blessed [אֶ֫שֶׁר, ’esher] is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed [אֶ֫שֶׁר, ’esher] is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
In describing the need for forgiveness and the nature of forgiveness, David uses three distinct words for sin and three distinct words for forgiveness.

1. Three Words for Sin

First, the word translated transgression (vs.1) is the Hebrew pesha‛ (פֶּ֫שַׁע), which basically refers to “rebellion” or “revolt” (Holladay #7004, BibleWorks). As Alexander Maclaren once wrote:
You do not understand the gravity of the most trivial wrong act when you think of it as a sin against the order of Nature, or against the law written on your heart, or as the breach of the constitution of your own nature, or as a crime against your fellows. You have not got to the bottom of the blackness until you see that it is a flat rebellion against God himself. (British preacher, 1826-1910, as quoted by James Montgomery Boice, Psalms, Vol. 1, p. 278)
This is what David realized so clearly on yet another occasion when, after the affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, he said to God, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight – that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge” (Ps. 51:4).

Second, the word translated sin (vs.1) is the Hebrew ḥaṭā’āh (חֲטָאָה), which conveys the idea of “missing the mark” and here refers to failure to live up to God's holy standard (TWOT #638e, BibleWorks).

Third, the word translated iniquity (vs.2a) is the Hebrew ‛āvōn (עָוֹן), which refers to a conscious or intentional offense, or to guilt incurred by such an offense (Holladay #6147, BibleWorks). Here David seems to have in mind God's not holding us guilty for such offenses.

These three words used by David seem to be aimed at giving a complete picture of our sin. This picture includes open, conscious rebellion, as well as any sin that falls short of God's standard (which would include sins of omission as well as commission), and it also includes the guilt that such sinning brings upon us.

After using these three words to express sin in such a complete manner, David seeks to be just as complete in his description of forgiveness, as we shall see next.

2. Three Words for Forgiveness

First, the word translated forgiven (vs.1) is the Hebrew nāśā’ (נָשָׂא), which literally means to “lift, carry, [or] take” (TWOT #1421.0, BibleWorks). Here the word is used to refer to taking away sin, to having sin “lifted off” of the sinner. Sin is thus seen a burden that is removed, and for this reason the word may be used to speak of sin as forgiven.

Second, the word translated covered (vs.1) is the Hebrew kāsāh (כָּסָה), which means to “cover, conceal, hide. In a few places used in the sense of 'forgive'”(TWOT #18.0, BibleWorks). The imagery is of our sin being forever hidden from God's sight.

Third, the word used to state that God does not impute sin (vs.2a) is the Hebrew word ḥāšaḇ (חָשַׁב), which means “to reckon” (HALOT #3295, BibleWorks) or “to count” (TWOT #767.0, BibleWorks) something as belonging to someone. This same word is used of God's acceptance of Abraham:
NKJ Genesis 15:6 And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted [חָשַׁב, ḥāšaḇ] it to him for righteousness.
It is worth noting here that Paul refers to both Genesis 15:6 and Psalm 32:1-2 in Romans. After concluding that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law (3:28), Paul goes on to argue:
NKJ Romans 4:1-8 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness [Gen. 15:6].” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin [Ps. 32:1-2].” 
Thus, when David spoke of God's forgiveness as His not imputing our sin to us, he implied also that it involved God's imputation of righteousness instead, and that by faith.

3. The Point of the Three Words for Sin and the Three Words for Forgiveness

The three words for sin accompanied by the three words for forgiveness seems to indicate that the totality of our sin receives the totality of God's forgiveness. And this is only by the grace of God, not by any merit of our own. Yet this is in response only to genuine repentance, as David indicates in the second half of verse 2:
NKJ Psalm 32:2b And in whose spirit there is no deceit.
David emphasizes that we cannot fake true confession and repentance. We can only receive God's forgiveness when the confession and repentance is sincere, and when we hold nothing back!

With this in mind, we move on to the second point.

II. True Happiness Is Hindered When We Try to Hide Our Sins

This truth is stressed in verses 3-4: 
NKJ Psalm 32:3-4 When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah
Here David describes the depressing and debilitating effect that his unconfessed sin had upon him, and he does so in at least three ways.

First, David had not only emotional (“groaning”), but also physical, effects from unconfessed sin. He describes the physical effects when he says “my bones grew old.”

Second, David was continually plagued both by the unconfessed sin and by the accompanying symptoms. He says these things troubled him “day and night.”

Third, David had these ailments as a result of God's discipline, which he indicates when he says to the LORD, “Your hand was heavy upon me” (vs.4a)

That we, too, may be disciplined by God in this way is clear from the example of the church at Corinth:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 11:26-30 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
Consider also the assertions of James and the author of Hebrews on the matter:
NKJ James 5:14-15 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
NKJ Hebrews 12:5-8 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.' 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.
Application: In what ways do we try to hide our sins from God? Perhaps we 1) blame others, or 2) lie about our sins, or 3) try to justify our sin, or 4) try avoid thinking about it at all. But will any of these things work? I wonder how many of us may be struggling with depression or some physical ailment due to a stubborn refusal to deal with our sins by confessing them to the Lord and receiving His forgiveness.

III. True Happiness is Experienced Through Confession of Sin

This truth is stressed in verse 5:
NKJ Psalm 32:5 I acknowledged [יָדַע, yāḏa‛] my sin [חֲטָאָה, ḥaṭā’āh] to You, and my iniquity [עָוֹן, ‛āvōn] I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess [יָדָה, yāḏāh] my transgressions [פֶּ֫שַׁע, pesha‛] to the LORD," and You forgave [נָשָׂא, nāśā’] the iniquity [עָוֹן, ‛āvōn] of my sin [חֲטָאָה, ḥaṭā’āh]. Selah
In these verses we will see that David repeats the three words for sin as he offers three expressions of contrition.

1. Three Words for Sin Repeated

Observe that David repeats each of the three words he had earlier used in verses 1-2 to describe sin. He uses the word translated sin twice. He uses the word translated iniquity twice. And he uses the word translated transgression once, although we should observe this time that it is plural – transgressions – which indicates in this context that David is thinking not just of one particular sin but of all of his previously unconfessed sins.

2. Three Expressions of Contrition

First, when David said that "I acknowledged my sin," he used the Hebrew word yāḏa‛ (יָדַע), which simply means “to know.” But here the Hiphil form of the word is used with the sense of “let someone know something” (HALOT #3570, BibleWorks) and thus is translated to show that David acknowledged his sin to the LORD. He did not keep the knowledge of his sins pent-up inside; he openly acknowledged them before God.

Second, when David said, "my iniquity I have not hidden," the word he used for hidden is the Hebrew kāsāh (כָּסָה), which means to “cover, conceal, [or] hide” (TWOT #1008, BibleWorks).

There is a play on words here, for David has used the same word that he used earlier is verse 1 to describe God's “covering” (forgiving) his sin. In other words, David is making the point that, as long as he “covered” (hid) his sins, he could not experience the joy of God's “covering” (forgiving) them!

Third, David refers to an internal dialog, to his decision to fully confess his sins, when he writes, "I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.'" So, he made the firm decision within himself to openly confess his sins to the LORD, and this was no spur of the moment decision, made impulsively or without thought or sincerity.

3. The Point of the Repetition of the Three Words for Sin and the Three Expressions of Contrition

David used these poetic repetitions, known as parallelism, along with the change from the singular transgression to the plural transgressions, to show that he fully confessed his sins. David came clean and quit harboring sins in his heart. And no sooner had he declared his intention to fully confess than he was forgiven! God's forgiveness was immediate, as David declared when he simply wrote, "And You forgave the iniquity of my sin." How ready God is to forgive us our sins! As David wrote in another psalm:
NKJ Psalm 86:5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.
We, too, should be ready to confess our sins, since our heavenly Father is so ready to forgive them!

IV. True Happiness is Contagious Among God's People

This truth is stressed in verses 6-7:
NKJ Psalm 32:6a For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You in a time when You may be found;
The words for this cause may mean “because of this everyone who is godly shall pray to you,” meaning that because of the happiness he has found through repentance and forgiveness others will also be led to do the same. David – as the King of Israel – is conscious of the example he sets for others.

It may also be translated as in the ESV: “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you....”  Understood this way, David is calling directly upon others to follow his example. The main point is the same, however, namely that someone who has found such happiness becomes contagious, and he wants others to have the same happiness!

David's experience should encourage others that God is ready and willing to forgive them even now. But the phrase in a time when You may be found also indicates that a time may come when God may not be found! So, David doesn't want anyone to put off seeking the forgiveness of the Lord. Recall in this regard to words of the Prophet Isaiah:
NKJ Isaiah 55:6-7 “Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”
With this in mind, let us return to the text of Psalm 32:
NKJ Psalm 32:6b-7 Surely in a flood of great waters they shall not come near him. 7 You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround [sāḇaḇ, סָבַב] me with songs [or shouts, rōn, רֹן] of deliverance. Selah
First, notice that with forgiveness comes a confident assurance that God will protect and preserve from harm. Although David had before experienced great pain due to unconfessed sin, he now looks forward to peace and assurance in even the most difficult of circumstances!

Second, notice that David speaks of the songs of deliverance that will surround him. I take these to be the songs of the others that he has expected will also seek God's forgiveness. Thus David has spoken expectantly of the way in which his testimony will impacts others, and now he thinks of the way in which their testimony will impact him in return. And David clearly sees this encouragement as one of the ways in which God will preserve him from trouble.

Question: Do you and I have such a contagious joy that comes from a deep awareness of our sins and of how much God has forgiven us? Are we moved to share this joy? If not, consider the additional words from David in Psalm 51:
NKJ Psalm 51:7-13 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. 9 Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.”
Let us not be like the one who “is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins” (2 Peter 1:9). Instead, let us seek a deeper appreciation of God's forgiveness and a more ardent desire to share this message of forgiveness with others.

V. True Happiness Includes God's Guidance for the Repentant Sinner

We find this truth in verse 8-9:
NKJ Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.
This last part of this verse may be translated a slightly different way, as in the NASB:
NAU Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
Here David tells us more about God's response to his confession, which is not only forgiveness but also a promise to guide and teach him in the future, so that he may avoid getting into such a fix again!
NKJ Psalm 32:9 Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you.
If we are to receive God's promised guidance and teaching, we must not be stubborn – as David had been before the repentance he has recorded here! God desires us to be teachable before Him. We must not be like those who will only respond when they are forced to, but we should be like those who come near to God willingly and with eagerness.

VI. True Happiness Comes Through Trusting God and Experiencing His Love

This truth is found in verse 10:
NKJ Psalm 32:10 Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he who trusts in the LORD, mercy [ḥeseḏ, חֶ֫סֶד] shall surround [sāḇaḇ, סָבַב] him.
David has left the sorrows of the wicked behind and now looks forward to the continued experience of God's grace, which shall surround him just as we have seen that the songs of deliverance would surround him (vs. 7). The repetition of the same Hebrew word here shows that for David there is a connection between the two. We are always a part of a community through which God desires to work in our lives.

VII. True Happiness is Expressed in Worship

This final point may be seen in verse 11:
NKJ Psalm 32:11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous; and shout [rānan, רָנַן] for joy, all you upright in heart!
First, observe that the righteous here are not those who have not sinned, but those who have been forgiven their sins by the grace of God and who by faith have not had their sins imputed to them (recall verse 2).

Second, observe that David had earlier spoken of his expectation of being surrounded by songs [rōn, רֹן] of deliverance, using the noun rōn to refer to these songs of worship. But now he uses the related verb rānan to encourage the shouts/songs of worship to begin. Just as there is no time like the present to seek God's forgiveness (“in a time when [He] may be found” vs.6), so there is no time like the present to get started praising Him for His marvelous grace!

David's wonderful experience of God's grace toward him again overflows in worship that is contagious. Anyone who has truly known this deep and complete forgiveness of which David has spoken cannot help but worship. And they cannot help but desire that others share this forgiveness and join them in worshiping the LORD.

Conclusion: As James Montgomery Boice reminds us:
This was Saint Augustine's favorite psalm. Augustine had it inscribed on the wall next to his bed before he died in order to meditate on it better. He liked it because, as he said... “the beginning of knowledge is to know oneself to be a sinner.” (Psalms, Vol. 1, p. 277)
Do you know yourself to be a sinner? If so, then I pray that you will also know the forgiveness of God that comes through repentance and faith. I pray that you may know the happiness that comes through the forgiveness that comes only through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.
NKJ Ephesians 1:3-7 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace ....