Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Thursday, July 20, 2017
The Apostles’ Creed gets its name from its supposed authorship. Legend says that the Apostles composed it ten days after the ascension of Christ when the Holy Spirit was poured out from heaven. The Roman Catholic Church has even claimed to know which Apostle wrote each part of the creed. But while Apostolic authorship has been summarily disproven, the creed is still appropriately named since it faithfully communicates the inspired Apostolic teaching of the NT.
Various phrases found in the Apostles’ Creed can be traced back to the Roman Symbol which developed as early as the late second century. This symbol was preserved in three subsequent formulations (cf. John Leith, Creeds of the Churches, 3rd ed., 23-24):
- The Interrogatory Creed of Hippolytus (215 AD): Do you believe in God the Father all governing? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was begotten by the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died and was buried and rose the third day living from the dead, and ascended into the heavens, and sat down on the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, in the holy church, and in the resurrection of the body?
- The Creed of Marcellus (340 AD): I believe in God, all governing. And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, our Lord, who was begotten of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried, who rose from the dead on the third day, ascending to the heavens and taking his seat at the Father’s right hand, whence he shall come to judge both living and dead. And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, life everlasting.
- The Creed of Rufinus (404 AD): I believe in God the Father almighty, invisible and impassible. And in Christ Jesus, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit from Mary the Virgin, crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried; he descended to hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead, he ascended to heaven, where he sits at the Father’s right hand and from whence he will come to judge both living and dead. And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of this flesh.
We believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of all things, ruler of the ages, immortal and invisible. We believe in Jesus Christ his Son, our Lord, born of the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried, on the third day he rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father, thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead,. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, the life everlasting through the holy catholic church.The Textus Receptus of the Creed
Leith writes, “The date and place of the origin of the present form of the Apostles’ Creed cannot be fixed with precision. There is considerable evidence for a date late in the sixth or seventh century somewhere in southwest France” (24). The Textus Receptus (i.e. received text) of the Apostles’ Creed dates to 710-24. It was adopted by Rome and became a common creed of the Western Church. It states:
I believe in God the Father Almighty,The Use of the Creed
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
And is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Historically, the church has used the Apostles’ Creed as a catechetical guide and profession of faith for new converts. It serves as a brief summary of the Christian faith, which, combined with the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, and the Athanasian Creed, defined Christian orthodoxy in the NT church up to the time of the Protestant Reformation. Since then that definition has also included the doctrines of sola Scriptura and sola fide. The Apostles’ Creed, therefore, helps us to recognize and avoid any inadequate or incomplete versions of Christianity that may arise today. It also reminds us that Christian identity is not simply a matter of subjective feelings. It is an objective reality based on the doctrines we profess to believe. Saving faith may involve more than knowing these doctrines but it never involves less. It may be true even while our knowledge is incomplete and inaccurate, but it cannot be true while we consciously reject the doctrines of the creed. Saving faith is not a matter of individual preference. It is to have one’s heart and voice joined with others in a common confession of faith about the triune God and his works. The Apostles’ Creed is useful to that end. It is a time-tested confession of faith suitable for the church’s life and liturgy. It is a towering monument and trustworthy guide to the Spirit’s work in his church over the last 2000 years.
Thursday, June 29, 2017
The word “creed” comes from the Latin word credo, which is the first word in the Apostles’ Creed. It means “I believe.” Sometimes called a rule or symbol, a creed is a confession of the content of one’s faith. Confessions of faith can be any length, long like The Westminster Confession of Faith or short like the creeds. A creed is a short confession of faith which can be more easily memorized and recited.
What is creedalism?
In what has become the gold standard compendium of the Christian creeds, John Leith writes, “Christianity has always been a ‘creedal’ religion in that it has always been theological. It was rooted in the theological tradition of ancient Israel, which was unified by its historical credos and declaratory affirmations of the faith. No pretheological era has been discovered in the New Testament or in the history of the Christian community. From the beginning Christianity has been theological, involving men in theological reflection and calling them to declarations of the faith.” (Creeds of the Churches, 1). While some contemporary Christian denominations may eschew creeds in principle, they are nonetheless creedal in the broadest sense of the term. The short quip, “No creed but Christ,” or “No creed but the Bible,” is itself a creed—although a bad one to be sure! The moment a minister opens his mouth to interpret and apply the teaching of Scripture, he is declaring and encouraging those who hear him to share his belief (i.e. his creed). Our choice is not therefore between creedalism and non-creedalism but between good creeds and bad creeds. To reject a robust and self-conscious creedalism is really to prefer one’s own private creed over the public creeds that have time-tested pedigrees in the church. In his excellent book The Creedal Imperative Carl Trueman writes, “Christians are not divided between those who have creeds and confessions and those who do not; rather they are divided between those who have public creeds and confessions that are written down and exist as public documents, subject to public scrutiny, evaluation, and critique, and those who have private creeds and confessions that are often improvised, unwritten, and thus not open to public scrutiny, not susceptible to evaluation and, crucially and ironically, not, therefore, subject to testing by Scripture to see whether they are true” (15).
Oftentimes the use of creeds is rejected on the grounds that it undermines the Protestant tenet sola Scriptura (i.e. the Scriptures are our only infallible rule for faith and practice). But, ironically, the formal rejection of creedalism actually undermines that tenet. Sola Scriptura requires the creedal tradition of the church for its implementation. After all, the Scriptures teach that Christian faith and practice, including biblical interpretation, must be worked out in the context of Christian community.
Proper biblical interpretation cannot coexist with individualism. Christians need one another across the centuries as well as today, because the Holy Spirit didn’t begin his work of illumination in our time or with any single individual. Jaroslav Pelikan writes, “Christian doctrine is the business of the church. The history of doctrine is not to be equated with the history of theology or the history of Christian thought. If it is, the historian runs the danger of exaggerating the significance of the idiosyncratic thought of individual theologians at the expense of the common faith of the church. The private beliefs of theologians do belong to the history of doctrine, but not simply on their own terms. For one of the most decisive differences between a theologian and a philosopher is that the former understands himself as, in Origen’s classic phrase, ‘a man of the church,’ a spokesman for the Christian community” (The Christian Tradition, Vol. 1, 3). Creedalism recognizes and applies this truth by employing publicly received statements of faith from the past as authorities in the life of the church today.
No doubt, the Scriptures are the primary and only infallible authority for our theological reflection, answering the most basic question, viz. what has God revealed? But the creeds serve as secondary authorities, answering the less basic—but no less necessary—question about what we believe God’s revelation teaches. Every heretic has his proof text; therefore it is the second question that forms the line between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, between Christian doctrine and non-Christian doctrine.
What are some of these creeds?
The Bible itself contains several creeds. The most ancient is the shema of Deut. 6:4. The text says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” This text was recited each time the priest presided over Israel’s public worship. It is what set Israel apart from the pagan nations around her. Israel believed in the one true and living God; the nations believed in many gods. We find similar formulations in the NT. Most NT scholars believe that Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 15:3-4 is a creedal formulation that was being used in the public worship of the church. The apostle writes, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” We see a similar kind of formulation in 1 Tim. 3:16. The text says, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” This is most likely an example of the “words of the faith,” “good doctrine,” and “the teaching” that Paul charges the young Timothy to guard and faithfully set before the church in 1 Tim. 4:6-16.
In the time after the Apostles the church continued to produce and use creeds. Just as Israel’s shema was taken up in an apologetic context to distinguish her from the nations (i.e. those without) and the sound doctrine about which Paul wrote Timothy was taken up in an apologetic context to distinguish true teachers from false teachers (i.e. those within), so we find the post-apostolic church doing the same. Pelikan writes, “When the the church confessed what it believed and taught, it did so in answer to attacks from within and from without the Christian movement” (11). Leith agrees, writing, “Generally speaking, creeds have not been written in the quiet periods of history but in those moments of historical intensity when the Church has been engaged by foes from without, or when its mission or life has been endangered from within” (2).
In the late third and early fourth centuries one of the most ancient creeds was formulated in defense of the full deity of Christ. A teaching called Arianism, named after the north African presbyter Arius (256-336 AD), had arisen within the church. The Arians taught that the Son was not eternal like the Father. He was the first and highest creation of the Father but not his equal. Arius summarized his teaching by saying of the Son, “there was when he was not.” In 318 AD the church called an ecumenical (i.e. universal) council to decide the matter. In 325 AD that council produced the Nicene Creed, defending the full deity of the Son against the Arian detractors. The creed was later revised and updated at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. In its final form it states:
We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets; and we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.By the late fifth century several challenges had also arisen with respect to the nature of the Son’s incarnation. Some taught that Jesus was only divine (i.e. the docetists). Others taught he was only human (i.e. the adoptionists). Still others taught that his divine nature was complete but the human incomplete (i.e. the Apollynarians). Others taught that his divine and human natures combined to make a third nature that retained aspects of each but was neither fully (i.e. the Eutychians). Others taught that Jesus was both divine and human but never simultaneously (i.e. the Nestorians). An ecumenical council met at Chalcedon and in 451 AD and issued the creed known as the Definition of Chalcedon. It says:
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.Along with the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and the Definition of Chalcedon, the Athanasian Creed and the Apostles’ Creed are typically considered the ecumenical creeds that established Christian orthodoxy in the early to medieval church (100-1500 AD).
How have creeds been used?
In the early church creeds were used to train and identify recent converts. In his book “I Believe”: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed, Alistair McGrath notes that Jews who had already been trained in the Scriptures from birth were only required to recognize that Jesus was the promised Messiah before being baptized. This belief was formally professed through the simple creed: “Jesus is Lord” (Acts 2:36; Romans 10:9; 1 Cor. 8:6; 12:3; 2 Cor. 4:5; Php. 2:11; Col. 2:6). But for Gentiles who had no such Scriptural foundation more was needed. The church produced more substantial creeds for that purpose. Such catechetical training typically lasted three years. After that time converts were required to profess their faith before the assembly by reciting the creed on Easter Sunday. Afterward they were baptized and received the Eucharist for the first time (11-12).
Creeds have also been used in the church’s liturgy. Christians not only need to make public profession of their faith in the interest of becoming members of the church. They need to continue to make such professions as an aspect of their collective identity as the church. Therefore, an element of the church's public worship is its common confession of faith. As the Apostle writes, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6, emphasis added).
Beyond these two most basic uses, and because creeds are confessions of faith, we might apply to creeds some of the same uses Carl Trueman ascribes to confessions in his booklet Why Christians Need Confessions. Among them we should include: (1) Creeds delimit church power, (2) Creeds offer succinct summaries of the faith, (3) Creeds highlight that which is of importance, (4) Creeds relativize the present and connect us to the past, (5) Creeds represent the substance of our worship, and (6) Creeds fulfill a vital part of Paul’s plan for the post-apostolic church.
- The Origin and Use of Creeds in the Church
- The Origin and Use of the Apostles’ Creed
- Overview of the Apostles’ Creed
- I Believe
- God the Father Almighty
- Maker of Heaven and Earth
- Jesus Christ, His Only Begotten Son, Our Lord
- Who Was Conceived by the Holy Spirit, and Born of the Virgin Mary
- Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was Crucified, Died, Was Buried; He Descended into Hell
- The Third Day He Rose Again from the Dead.
- He Ascended into Heaven and Is Seated at the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty
- From There He Will Come to Judge the Living and the Dead
- The Holy Spirit
- The Holy Catholic Church
- The Communion of Saints
- The Forgiveness of Sins
- The Resurrection of the Body
- The Life Everlasting
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ,
His only begotten Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
- Leith, John H., Creeds of the Churches: A Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present, Westminster John Knox Press, 1982. (Advanced)
- McGrath, Alister, “I Believe”: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed, InterVarsity Press, 1997. (Introductory)
- Miller, Samuel, The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions, Presbyterian Board of Education, 1839, Reprinted by A Press, 1991. (Advanced)
- Olevianus, Caspar, An Exposition of the Apostles Creed, Reformation Heritage Books, Trans. Lyle D. Bierma, 2009. (Intermediate)
- Packer, J.I., Affirming the Apostles’ Creed, Crossway, 2008. (Introductory)
- Pelikan, Jaroslav, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, vol. 1, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), The University of Chicago Press, 1971.(Advanced)
- Pelikan, Jaroslav, Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition, Yale University Press, 2003. (Advanced)
- Trueman, Carl R., The Creedal Imperative, Crossway, 2012. (Intermediate)
- Trueman, Carl R., Why Christians Need Confessions, The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2013. (Introductory)
- Witsius, Herman, Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles’ Creed, vols. 1 and 2, Reformation Heritage Books, reprinted 2010. (Advanced)
Monday, June 12, 2017
A further objection might arise after delivering such an answer, viz. “Do you hate me?” In other words, if there is some sense in which your God hates those who approve the practice of homosexuality, does that mean there is some sense in which you hate me as well? As we will see, the answer to this question is also complex.
The Bible describes the church as hating the wicked (and vice versa!) on numerous occasions. Prov. 29:27 says, “An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous, but one whose way is straight is an abomination to the wicked.” Also, at least fourteen of the Psalms (5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140) are imprecatory prayers in which the psalmist calls out to God for the destruction of the wicked. Ps. 58:6-8 says, “O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD! Let them vanish like water that runs away; when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted. Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.” We see the same relationship between the church and the world in the New testament as well. Rom. 12:9b says, “Abhor (i.e. hate) what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” And 1 Jn 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” James 4:4 is similar. The text says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” But perhaps the most shocking example of this teaching comes from Jesus’ own public ministry. In Luke 14:26-28 he teaches his disciples, saying, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” What does Jesus mean? He means that if we are to follow him we must learn to unreservedly love the things he loves and hate the things he hates regardless of our earthly relations. So there is a sense in which we are called to hate those who approve of the practice of sin. The Scriptures are crystal clear about this.
But if we stop there in our understanding of church-world relations, then we have stopped short. The church is also called to love the world! Jesus teaches in Matt. 5:43-48, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” And Rom. 12:14-21 says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
So how is the church to simultaneously hate and love those who approve the practice of evil? We get an important clue in Rom. 12:19. The text says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Here we see how the expression of our hatred for those who approve of the practice of wickedness should differ from the expression of God’s hatred of the same. God has the right to exact vengeance. The church does not. Now, it’s important to recognize that at this stage in the Apostle’s argument in Romans he is speaking to the church as the church and the way it should relate to the world. He is not speaking to individual Christians in their various relations as citizens of the world. For example, when Paul says “Never avenge yourselves,” he is not teaching pacifism. Individual Christians most certainly have the right to punish evil doers in the world for the purpose of seeking reparations. But the church as the church does not. The church as the church never enacts discipline in order to exact reparations. The church enacts discipline in the interest of repentance and reconciliation. Church discipline is not punitive but restorative.
So how should the church’s hatred for the wicked be expressed? It should be expressed as disapproval, revulsion, and separation. Rather than approving the practice of sin, we should disapprove it. Rather than rejoicing in wrongdoing, we should grieve over it and be repulsed by it. Rather than joining ourselves with those who practice wrongdoing in order to fellowship with them as if nothing is wrong with their behavior, we should maintain a proper degree of separation. This is how our hatred should manifest itself. It should never manifest itself as vengeance.
But what about loving our enemies? How should the church simultaneously love those who approve of the practice of sin? Our love for the wicked should be expressed in the same way God’s love is expressed. Jesus bases his teaching about loving our enemies on the character of the Father in Matt. 5:45, saying, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” As we have seen, God loves the wicked in a general providential sense by providing for their needs. We should do the same. As Jesus says in Matt. 5:41-42, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” In other words, the command to love our neighbors is not limited by a religious litmus test. We should be ready and willing to show hospitality and mercy to our neighbors, providing for their basic needs as we are able, regardless of whether they approve of the practice of sin or not. Moreover, as we have seen, God loves the wicked in a salvific sense vis-à-vis the free offer of the gospel. We should participate in that love too by inviting those who practice sin to repent and believe in Jesus Christ and by standing ready to welcome any who would come to him.
In conclusion we might answer the question, “Do you hate me?” by saying, “Yes and no. I hate you in the sense that I disapprove of, am revulsed by, and must maintain an appropriate degree of separation from those who approve the practice of any sin, including homosexuality. But I love you in the sense that I am ready to show you hospitality and mercy as my neighbor and to invite you to receive the free gift of forgiveness, reconciliation, and eternal life through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.”
Thursday, May 4, 2017
“God hates the sin and loves the sinner,” has become an axiom within broad evangelicalism. But is it true? Is it biblically defensible? Oftentimes those who hold this view do not realize that it is, at best, a second-class deduction based on the theory that God’s love is chiefly expressed in providing the possibility of salvation for each individual sinner, which is a tenet of classical Arminianism. In this view God hasn’t acted to actually save anyone. He has only acted to secure its possibility. Changing the possibility into an actuality is a function of the human will to determine its own destiny. This view of salvation only works if sin is depersonalized, i.e. separated from the sinner himself. Just as God hates the sin and loves the sinner, so also Christ died for a depersonalzed concept called sin but not for the actual persons who sin. So the question becomes: is the depersonalization of sin biblically defensible? (By the way, this is one of the strengths of the Calvinistic understanding of sin and grace. But if you go this direction, you must arrive at the doctrine of definite atonement because if Christ died to actually secure salvation and not all are saved, then he must have only died for some.)
The Bible never depersonalizes sin. It always describes it as a personal offense against a personal God. It is either our sin or my sin but never simply sin. We see this most clearly when we consider the definition of sin in 1 John 3:4. The text says, “Sin is lawlessness.” Thus we teach our children from SC Q. 14: “What is sin? Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Sin is the violation of an agreement (i.e. a law) between two or more parties. In other words, it is covenantal and, therefore, personal by nature. There is no such thing as sin separated from the persons who commit it. So we read in Ps. 11:5, “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” And again in Rom. 9:13, the Apostle Paul, quoting Malachi, reminds us saying, “As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” According to Scripture, God hates sinners because of their sin against him. And who are these sinners? They are those born by ordinary generation from the time of Adam's fall forward. Paul is crystal clear about this in Rom. 3:10-20. “None is righteous, no, not one,” he says. The Apostle John teaches the same in 1 John 1:8, saying, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Therefore, we conclude that one answer to the question “Does your God hate me?” is “Yes. God hates all those who practice sin. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 6:9-10, ‘Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.' God’s wrath and curse justly fall upon such people. That includes everyone born in the world except Jesus. I deserve God’s wrath and curse because of my sin just as much as anyone else." But there is more to our answer than that. There is more to the Bible than the law and sin. There is also the gospel and grace.
“Does your God hate me?” is essentially a question about the love of God. We could rephrase it negatively, asking, “Does your God not love me?” The answer to this question is complex. The Bible speaks of the love of God in several ways. One way in which God loves is with respect to his general providence over all that he has created. We read about this kind of love in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus teaches that Christians should love their enemies. His reason? “For he (the Father) makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). In other words, God loves his enemies in a general providential sense, and, therefore, we should do the same. So in this sense God loves the one who approves the practice of homosexuality. God provides for his temporal needs despite his rebellion against him. This is what makes the continued practice of sin so heinous. The practice of sin is the rejection of the love that God expresses to the sinner each and every moment. As God loves his enemies, being patient with them, giving them ample opportunity to repent, they continually reject him by suppressing the truth he has clearly revealed to them (cf. Rom. 1:18ff). This expression of God’s love only condemn sinners. It cannot save.
What about God’s love in a salvific sense? Is there any sense in which God salvifically loves those who practice sin? There is. God expresses his love to all sinners by inviting them to believe the gospel and be saved. This is where the Reformed distinction between the general and effectual calls becomes so important. God only extends his effectual call to his elect. But he extends his general call to all people without discrimination. All those who hear the proclamation of the gospel and receive the invitation to believe it are in fact receiving an expression of God’s love to them in a salvific sense. The offer of salvation in Jesus Christ is freely given and freely taken by any who would believe. As John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Whoever hears that message is only a breath away from receiving eternal life in him (cf. Rom. 10:8). This is a genuine offer of salvation. Any who will believe will be saved. I can think of no better summary of this doctrine than WCF 15.1 and 4: “Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ….As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.” LC Q. 32 also asks, "How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?" And it answers in part: "The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provides and offers to sinners a mediator, and life and salvation by him."
So a further answer we might give to the question “Does your God hate me?” (after we have explained the condemnation of the law) is to say “God also loves you. He expresses his love to you by providing for all your temporal needs each day. Moreover, he is loving you right now by offering you life and salvation if you would only repent and believe in Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 6:11 goes on to say, ‘And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’ This offer of cleansing is a free gift. Will you receive it?”
Does God hate those who approve of the practice of homosexuality? Yes and no. He hates them because of their sin against him, which ironically is a rejection of the love he freely gives. It is a personal offense against his greatness and goodness. But he also loves them in the sense that he provides for their temporal needs. And, when the gospel is proclaimed in their presence, he loves them by inviting them to receive the free gift of life and salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
Now there is another, deeper, sense in which the Bible speaks of the love of God. We touched on this earlier when we distinguished God's effectual and general calls. God’s love is also expressed in his unconditionally choosing to save some out of the estate of sin and misery. This is what the Apostle teaches in Rom. 9:13 when he writes, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” We cannot know whether God has loved anyone in this sense until he has made a credible profession of faith. Thus a WRONG answer to the question, “Does your God hate me?” would be to say: “No. God loves you and he has a wonderful plan for your life. He sent his Son to live and die for you to provide a way for you to be saved.” We search the Scriptures in vain to find a single instance of the Apostles or their associates sharing the gospel in this way—and for good reason! It presumes a knowledge of that which is unknowable at the time (cf. Deut. 29:29). It may be true that God has a wonderful plan for that person’s life. It may be true that he sent his Son to live and die for that person, but we cannot know either of these things until the person has made a credible profession of faith. All we can know prior to such a profession is that salvation is freely offered to them in Christ if they will believe, and that free offer is an expression of God’s love for them. If they respond by truly repenting and believing in Jesus, then we will know that God has loved them in the sense that he has unconditionally elected them to be saved by the work of his Son. If he hasn’t loved them in THAT way, then they will persist in their rejection of the gospel, refusing to repent and believe in Jesus.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
- From the perspective of humanity’s creation as male and female: It’s not true that God made anyone homosexual. In God’s finished good creation there was no homosexuality. Therefore, it must be a result of humanity’s fall into the estate of sin and misery. It is an unnatural and sinful perversion of what God made, including you.
- From the perspective of the image of God and the one flesh union: It’s not true that God made anyone homosexual. The image of God in which humanity was created was expressed through the smaller husband and wife marriage community which was commanded to propagate a community of offspring. Homosexuality runs contrary to this expression. Therefore it must be part of the defacing of the image of God that occurred after the fall.
- From the perspective of God’s intended end for his creation: If homosexuality runs contrary to this end, then it cannot be true that God made anyone homosexual. By appealing to Eph. 5 and Rev. 19 we see that homosexuality denies this end in at least three ways: (1) It denies the headship of Christ over his church, both in the sense of his deity and his covenantal authority, (2) It denies the one-body union of Christ with his church, and (3) Because of (1) and (2) it denies Jesus’ ability to save sinners unto the renewal of the expression of the image of God in being fruitful and multiplying and filling the earth.
The argument from morality might be phrased in terms of “Jesus never condemned it!” Last time we developed this answer to that argument: “No. Jesus did condemn it when he appealed to Gen. 2 in order to define God’s design for marriage and sexuality and when he spoke favorably of God’s destruction of Sodom. Besides these texts from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we should also receive the rest of the Bible as God’s authoritative word. In numerous other places the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as sin.”
In this lesson we’ll look at an objection from authority. This objection typically takes the form of Jesus’ teaching in his sermon on the mount. Matt. 7:1 and Luke 6:37 say in the KJV, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” This objection is essentially an appeal to authority. The basic idea is that no one has the right to judge anyone else’s behavior as good or bad. The reasons behind this objection vary. Some would say no one has the right to judge another because all people do bad things. This actually comes closest to what Jesus meant by “Judge not.” Others would say that no one has the right to judge another because such “religious” judgments are not based in fact but in personal, individual preferences. So what are we to make of such an objection?
We should begin with what Jesus actually meant by “Judge not.” Did he intend for this command to be taken in an absolute sense? In other words, did he mean to forbid all kinds of judging or a particular kind of judging? In John 7:24, Jesus teaches the crowd saying, “Judge not by appearances but judge with right judgment.” So in one passage he says, "Judge," and in another, "Judge not." What are we to make of this? If we believe that John’s gospel is just as authoritative as Matthew’s and Luke’s, we must conclude that Jesus’ command to “Judge not” cannot be meant in an absolute sense. Jesus must be forbidding a wrong kind of judgment. But what kind? Let’s look at Jesus’ teaching in context.
Luke 6:37-42: “‘Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.’ He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,” when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.”
Jesus is forbidding an ungracious judgmental attitude that would cause one to hypocritically "look down his nose" at others. He is rejecting any spirit that would exalt itself as morally superior to another based on one’s own supposed righteousness. This was the spirit imbibed by Jesus’ chief antagonists, the Pharisees. This is the unrighteous judgment he is forbidding. The Apostle Paul rightly judges this same kind of judgment in Rom. 2:1 which says, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” Later he even uses the same illustration of spiritual blindness that Jesus uses in his sermon on the mount, writing in vv. 17-24, “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’”
If as Christians we ever hear the objection, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” we should first examine ourselves to make sure we are not approaching the subject in a self-righteous manner. To do so is to blaspheme God (i.e. the third commandment) by denying his law and gospel. It is a denial of the law in the sense that it requires one to exalt himself over the very law he purports to believe. If we are not judged and found guilty by the same law with which we judge, then we are not judging in a Christian manner. It is also a denial of the gospel. That person who judges in a self-righteous manner functionally rejects the need for the grace of God extended to him in Jesus Christ. Recently a popular politician was asked if he had ever asked God for forgiveness. He responded negatively, saying in effect that he had never done anything so bad that he felt he needed to be forgiven for it. That’s called self-righteousness. That’s what Jesus is forbidding in the sermon on the mount. Christian judgment must be filled with grace and rendered NOT for the purpose of condemnation but repentance and reconciliation with God. In other words, the only legitimate manner in which a Christian should ever pass such a judgment is gently with grace and love. And the only reason for passing such a judgment is to call a person to repentance and reconciliation with God.
So how should we respond to the person who objects to the Christian teaching that homosexuality is sinful by saying, “Judge not lest ye be judged”? We should say we agree with Jesus. Jesus did not mean to forbid all kinds of judging. He meant to forbid a particular kind of unrighteous judging, namely self-righteousness. We should explain that the same law by which we judge homosexuality as sinful condemns us as well. We are not the authority. God is the authority. His word is our only infallible rule for such judgments. And we should share the good news of forgiveness, the imputation of righteousness, and the transformation into a new creation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Thursday, February 2, 2017
- From the perspective of humanity’s creation as male and female we might answer: It’s not true that God made anyone homosexual. In God’s finished good creation there was no homosexuality. Therefore, it must be a result of humanity’s fall into the estate of sin and misery. It is an unnatural and sinful perversion of what God made, including you.
- From the perspective of the image of God and the one flesh union we might answer: It’s not true that God made anyone homosexual. The image of God in which humanity was created was expressed through the smaller husband and wife marriage community which was commanded to propagate a community of offspring. Homosexuality runs contrary to this expression. Therefore it must be part of the defacing of the image of God that occurred after the fall.
- From the perspective of God’s intended end for his creation we might answer: If homosexuality runs contrary to this end, then it cannot be true that God made anyone homosexual. By appealing to Eph. 5 and Rev. 19 we see that homosexuality denies this end in at least three ways: (1) It denies the headship of Christ over his church, both in the sense of his deity and his covenantal authority, (2) It denies the one-body union of Christ with his church, and (3) Because of (1) and (2) it denies Jesus’ ability to save sinners unto the renewal of the expression of the image of God in being fruitful and multiplying and filling the earth.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
- God Made Me This Way! (Part 1)
- God Made Me This Way! (Part 2)
- Jesus Never Condemned It!
- Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged!
- Does Your God Hate Me?
- Do You Hate Me?
Saturday, February 20, 2016
Sinclair Ferguson makes this connection in his excellent book The Holy Spirit. Ferguson considers the pouring out of the Spirit at Ephesus in ch. 19 to be of a different kind than the previous three. Thus he proposes a three stage Spirit baptism from Jerusalem (ch. 2, Jews) to Samaria (ch. 8, Samaritans) to Caesarea (ch. 10, Gentiles, "end of the earth"). The weaknesses of this view are the disqualification of the ch. 19 event and the discontinuity with Acts 1:8 with respect to the kingdom's advance into "all Judea."
R.C. Sproul sees things differently. In a recent lecture he proposes a four stage Spirit baptism based on four kinds of people: (1) Jews, (2) Samaritans, (3) God-fearers, and (4) Gentiles. In ch. 2 the Spirit is poured out on the Jews. In ch. 8 he is poured out on the Samaritans. In ch. 10 he is poured out on the God-fearers (i.e. Cornelius's household). And finally in ch. 19 he is poured out on the Gentiles. The weakness with this view is that it is not entirely clear that those who received the Spirit in ch.19 were Gentiles, and, if they were, that they shouldn't be considered God-fearers like Cornelius. After all, they had already received John's baptism, a baptism that was preached specifically for the Jews and only applied in Judea. It seems much more likely that these men were Jews who had encountered the ministry of John during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem some years earlier.
I think there may be a simpler explanation. Perhaps the four stage Spirit baptism aligns with the four stage geographical advance of the kingdom laid out in Acts 1:8?
The first stage is easy to identify. The Day of Pentecost is Jerusalem. The second stage is easy to identify. Ch. 8 is Samaria. The fourth stage is easy to identify. Ephesus becomes the center of Paul's mission to the Gentiles, so ch. 19 is "the end of the earth." But what about the third stage? What about Caesarea where the Spirit was poured out upon Cornelius's household? Could Caesarea represent Judea? If you look at the maps in the back of your Bible, you wouldn't think so. But those maps represent a Jewish understanding of the regions in question. What if Luke is thinking about them from a Gentile point of view? The Roman region of Judea was much bigger. It extended further north and included Samaria and Galilee. Caesarea was a capital city for the region. This is why Paul was eventually sent from Jerusalem to stand trial before Felix in Caesarea. We see more evidence for a Gentile rendering of Judea in Luke's gospel. Luke 4:14-9:50 focuses on Jesus' ministry in Galilee. But we read in Luke 4:44, "And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea." Now, if Luke intends to refer to the region of Judea as the Jews conceived it, this verse is out of place. In 4:43 and 5:1 Jesus is in Galilee. Why would he all of a sudden be 60 miles south in v. 44? Interestingly, there is a textual variant at this point. Some later manuscripts replace "Judea" with "Galilee." Could this be a scribal attempt to clarify Luke's Gentile usage of the term? I think that is likely.
So now the third stage of the geographical advance of the kingdom is in alignment with the pouring out of the Spirit in Caesarea. Thus the four stage "geographical advance/Spirit baptism" is as follows:
- Jerusalem- Ch. 2
- Samaria- Ch. 8
- Judea- Ch. 10
- The end of the earth- Ch. 19