“We must not confuse the fruit of the Christian life with the root of it.”
“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
Not long ago a read a story about a man who became envious of his friends because they had larger and more luxurious homes. So he listed his house with a real estate firm, planning to sell it and to purchase a more impressive home. Shortly afterward, as he was reading the classified section of the newspaper, he saw an ad for a house that seemed just right. He promptly called the realtor and said, “A house described in today’s paper is exactly what I’m looking for. I would like to see it as soon as possible!” The agent asked him several questions and then replied, “But sir, that’s your house that you recently had me list. That’s your house you’re describing.”
So often we are like this man – discontent regardless of our circumstance.
Whether we are rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful, old or young, we always seem to want more – never content with our lot in life. We often allow our circumstances to dictate our contentment. Our joy depends so heavily on bank accounts, good health, and fulfilling relationships. One day, we could be on top of the world and then something negative happens the next day and we are in the valley of discontentment.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be content regardless of your circumstances? That is how life was for Paul. He had learned to be content in all situations of life. Look at how he describes himself here in this passage. He writes, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
In all circumstances of life, Paul had learned to be content. Even in the midst of persecution, imprisonment, and suffering Paul was content. What was his secret? Paul tells us in the next verse. He writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The reason Paul could be content in all situations of life was because he had Christ. He knew that in good times or bad times, in times of plenty or in times of want, no matter what, he had Christ and that was enough.
Paul’s contentment was not found in his circumstances, bank account, or status in world; his contentment was found in the God who gave His life so that he could live. Paul knew that one day He would spend eternity with God in heaven and that is where he found contentment.
This is a good reminder for us.
Regardless of our circumstances in life, if we have Christ we have it all, and in Him we can find contentment.
Psalm 63:2-3 says, “I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding Your power and glory. Because Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”
These verses in Psalm 63 have always stuck out to me because of the transition David makes within it. In 63:2 David says that He has seen God in His sanctuary and beheld Him in His glory and power. In 63:3 David then says in response “because Your love is better than life my lips will praise you.” A question rises up upon seeing this. Why would David not say “because Your glory is better than life?” Didn’t he see His glory? How does God’s love come into the mix here?
I think the answer is quite revealing about the manner in which God loves mankind as well as revealing about the manner in which man receives the love of God. Here’s what I think is happening in these two verses.
David saw the glory and power of God and he rejoiced in that glory by praising God. Particularly, in praising the love of God. What then is the connection between seeing God’s glory and power and praising God’s love? I think it’s this. After seeing God’s glory and rejoicing in that glory by praising God, David expressed his joy in God’s love because allowing us to behold His glory is the primary way God loves us.
This would mean that God’s love does not make much of us (man-centered view), but God Himself (God-centered view). God is beheld in His glory, God is then praised in response, man’s soul is filled with joy, and God is glorified and made much of. This displays that God is love precisely because He graciously gives the elect the greatest possession they could ever have – Himself!
Though controversial and debated, any study of eschatology worth your time must include an examination of the views of the millennium. So to set the stage for a brief overview of these views we must examine the passage dealing with the millennium most explicitly, Revelation 20.
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea” (Revelation 20:1-8).
Throughout the history of the Church there have largely been three positions concerning the millennium. Among the many distinctives these positions hold the chief distinctive (from which these positions derive their name) is when the second coming of Christ will occur. For the Premillennial it will occur before the millennium, for the Postmillennial it will occur after the millennium, and for the Amillennial, well there is no literal millennium, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
The Premillennial position has not always assumed the same form throughout Church history, so there is a need to distinguish between Historic Premillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism.
Historic Premillennialism believes Christ’s kingdom began after the ascension of Christ with the work of the apostles. They call this first phase the Church age. In this age the Church of Christ will be successful in many ways but will ultimately fail in its mission and succumb to complete apostasy. This fall into apostasy will be a steady decline as history progresses toward the end of the Church age. After this Church age the great tribulation will begin, which marks the beginning of the end times or last days. During this great tribulation believers will suffer greatly from the antichrist and unbelief will reign on the earth. After the tribulation is over Jesus will return to rapture His Church away and reward the righteous. Jesus will then descend to earth with His glorified Church, fight the battle of Armageddon, defeat Satan, and bind him for 1,000 years. This thousand year period is the millennium in which Jesus will set up His kingdom in full measure on the earth from Jerusalem. At the end of this millennium Satan will be freed from his bonds, he will deceive the nations, but he will ultimately and finally be defeated by God’s wrathful judgment. It is this moment of final judgment where God will also judge the wicked and rescue the Church fully and forever.
Dispensational Premillennialism is a different belief system. The term was coined in the mid 19th century by Lewis Sperry Chafer, Finnis Dake, C.I. Scofield, and other various theologians. This system is known for two things. First, a belief that redemptive history is separated into varying dispensations where God deal with His people in different ways. Second, there is a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church as two separate peoples with two separate promises from God. To the dispensationalist, all of the Old Testament prophecies about Israel will be fulfilled in the current Jewish geo-political nation state of Israel. They believe the entire Old Testament sacrificial system will be reinstituted in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.
In the dispensational view, Christ’s kingdom is entirely future and comes after the church age, whereas in the historic view Christ’s kingdom began after the ascension. In lines up with the historic view at this point when it says the Church will be successful in many ways but will ultimately fail in its mission and succumb to complete apostasy as history progresses toward the end of the Church age. At this point most dispensationalists believe the rapture will occur to remove the Church from the world before the tribulation begins so they won’t have to face such turmoil. I say ‘most’ because some believe the rapture not be here but will occur in the middle of the tribulation, while others believe it will occur after the tribulation. All dispensationalists divide the tribulation into two equal periods of three and a half years. The first three and a half year period called the tribulation, is where the antichrist is revealed. The latter three and a half year period called the great tribulation, is where the antichrist will take up power, persecute what’s left of the Church, set up his own kingdom, and sit down to rule and be worshiped in the Jerusalem temple. After this seven year tribulation Jesus will return, destroy the antichrist, bind Satan, and set up his kingdom and will reign on the earth for 1,000 years. After this millennium Satan will be released, he will attack vigorously, but Jesus will call down judgment from heaven and destroy His enemies. Then the final judgment will occur.
This is the most popular millennial view in the Church today, probably due to the mass production and popularity of end times material published throughout the past generation, culminating in the Left Behind novels and movies.
In contrast to the Premillennial position the Amillennial position believes Christ’s kingdom began with the first coming of Christ. This time we’re now in is synonymous with the end times or last days. This reveals one of important underlying foundational beliefs, namely, that the 1,000 year millennium spoken of in Revelation 20 isn’t a literal thousand years, but the time where Christ is ruling and reigning between His two advents. This is why the label, coined in the early 20th century, begins with ‘a’. For the amil believer there is no millennium, because we’re in the symbolic millennium now and have been for almost 2,000 years already. There is also a large covenantal, as opposed to dispensational, view of redemptive history where there is no distinction or separation between Israel and the Church in regard to the promises made by God to His people. Amillennialism sees the Church as the fulfillment of Israel. This new and true Israel of God is made up of all believers. “It is not an ethnically, politically, geographically defined people any longer. It has no geographic center. It has no single ethnic identity. It is not a political nation state. It has no system of sacrificing animals, no tabernacle, no succession of priests, no divinely authorized feast days, no requirement of circumcision or dietary particulars. All of these Old Testament patterns were temporary. Jesus has fulfilled them and ended them” (John Piper). And it will not ever return to these things any time in the future. Though these beliefs are prominent in the Amillennial view, the view does leave an opening for Jews to return to Christ in the end. There are varying opinions on this within the amil camp but it is agreed upon that if they’re to return to Him they will come to Him by faith alone.
As to how the Amillennial believes redemptive history will play itself out, here’s the structure. Satan was bound during the earthly ministry of Jesus, and where the gospel is preached and embraced Satan’s influence is held at bay. Believers, therefore, have a true impact on this world and even on the culture in which they live. But they will not ultimately transform the culture. Because, like the premil position, Amillennialism believes the Church will succumb to apostasy, grow in evil, and listen to the antichrist in the very end of days. But Christ will return once to end history, raise the dead, judge all men, and usher in His kingdom in full measure in the New Heavens and New Earth, which is a glorified earth.
Postmillennialism is very similar to Amillennialism and very different from Premillennialism. Rather than seeing the second coming of Christ as coming before the millennium, the postmil position sees the second coming of Christ after the millennium. In regard to the millennium most postmils believe it to symbolic while a few believe it will be a literal thousand year period. The Postmillennial view believes Christ’s kingdom began with the first coming of Christ and that the time we’re now in is synonymous with the end times or last days. It holds to a covenantal view of redemptive history along with the Amillenial view, and sees the New Testament Church as the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel. You may ask, what then is the difference between the amil and postmil views? There is one large difference that has been the one distinguishing belief of the postmil position that sets it apart from all the others. While both the premil and amil believers think the great commission will ultimately fail and that the Church will fall into apostasy, the postmil believer thinks the great commission will succeed and that the Church, though persecuted at times, will win in the end. So much so, that by the time of Jesus’ second coming the earth will be Christianized.
So we have Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism. These three views have been and likely will continue to be hotly debated within the Church. I hope you can see that with each position comes not only a view on what the millennium is all about in Revelation 20, but how one ought to approach, interpret, and apply the whole of God’s Word to the whole of God’s people today.
After my own study I have come to embrace the Amillennial position, because I think this view not only has the most evidence throughout Scripture, I think this view is the only one of these views present in Scripture. I do think Premillennialism has an over exaggerated view of the nation of Israel as well as a thorough misunderstanding of how the two Testaments relate to one another. I also admit, I want Postmillennialism to be true! But I don’t see evidence for an ultimate triumph by the Church throughout the world. I see great things for the Church, but I also see great error in the Church as well as the rise of unbelief in our world.
So, for better or for worse I am an Amillennial.
I say this fully convinced but knowing I may be truly wrong about this. Many of the theologians I admire and have learned much from hold to views I don’t. One thing is 100% sure, God did not inspire His Word in order to give us options of belief about Him and His ways in the world. Whatever position you hold, hold it strongly with deep conviction. Panmillennialism, the belief that it will all ‘pan out’ in the end is not an available option.
Most Christians that I know are well aware that waiting on the Lord is a large component of being a believer. Yet when it happens to us, when we’re forced to wait, we’re somehow taken aback by this unexpected intrusion of not getting to do what we wanted to (for the Lord of course!), or go where we think He wants us to go.
Many of us know well, stories in the Bible of characters who had to not only wait, but some never even saw promises fulfilled that God had made to them. Moses waiting for 40 years in the desert to go into the promised land, and then not being allowed to go in; Joseph waiting as a servant and then as a prisoner before God elevated him to great status in Egypt, yet not making it back alive to his homeland; David waiting many years between being anointed as king and actually reigning as king; and the list goes on.
If great saints in the Bible had to wait, what makes us think we won’t have to?
One reason we have found it so difficult to wait is simply that we live in a culture where we don’t have to wait for hardly anything. And then if we do come across something where we are forced to wait, we simply make a fuss and then we get what we want. We have drive through restaurants, dry-cleaners, banks, pharmacie; we rarely truly wait for anything. No wonder we Western believers are so bad at waiting. Our culture completely caters to our lack of being able to wait.
But yet here my family waits. It would not be a stretch to say these past three years of waiting to go to Paraguay have not been easy. We may have comfort in terms of housing, food, clothes, etc…but our hearts are quite restless as we long to go to Paraguay. This waiting has not been of our own making. At least not that we can see.
Right after finishing our training, one of Bill’s retina detached, forcing a 9-month medical delay. Our support-raising has been slow but when we reached the 75% of needed support, we had the green light that we could leave, only to find out that I need to get my citizenship, forcing another 6+ month delay. There is no need to ask why the delays. We know God is sovereign in orchestrating these delays, and what He is asking us to do in the delay is trust Him deeper. But honestly I’m not liking it. I find I’m floundering from time to time. I’ll have weeks where I’m on task, enjoying my time in His Word, content with where He has us at this time, seeing my need to depend on Him for clarity. And then at other times, well, I’m the opposite of what I just said.
Right now I’m in the season of the latter. Not liking where we are, discontent in our circumstance, cloudy in vision.
I looked on the internet for a good, Biblically accurate acronym for WAIT, and found my options wanting. So, I decided to make up my own. If there is one out there exactly like mine, it’s purely coincidental, although if anyone is a student of Scripture, it’s not a stretch to think two people could come up with the same acronym. I hope this is an encouragement to anyone else who is in a place of waiting on the Lord.
W – Worship in the Waiting
According to Romans 12:1-2, our whole lives are to be offered up as an act of worship. This is not nullified during a period of waiting. In fact, I would say striving for this would seem even more urgent during a time of intense waiting. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
A – Acknowledge and Acceptance
My mind goes immediately to Jesus praying in the garden, before His death. Three of the Gospels record His prayer. First, Jesus acknowledges to His disciples that His soul is very sorrowful. Then He prays. It’s a simple prayer, really. Mark 14:36 “And He said, Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” It’s OK to admit that the waiting is hard for us. But if acknowledging it is all we do, we’ll end up only complaining. When acknowledging it leads to acceptance, that’s when we are free to…
I – Imitate and Intimacy
Again, Christ is our supreme example here. Many times in Scripture we find Him retreating alone to commune with His Father, whether it was to prepare Himself for the temptations Satan would throw at Him, or just to get away from the pressing crowds who wanted anything and everything from Him. Luke 5:16 says, “But He would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” We gain everything from imitating Christ by pursuing intimacy with God.
T – Trust in Truth
Even though we may wrestle with doubts, those of us who have trusted in Christ’s finished work on the cross can trust that what He says in His Word is true. That not only will He complete the work He has started in us, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…” 2 Peter 1:3
Whether you are experiencing waiting, testing, or possibly even persecution, take heart from these words, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9).
“Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15).
So, we will continue to worship in our waiting, acknowledging that it’s hard yet accepting it, while imitating Christ by pursuing intimacy with our Abba Father, while trusting that He is working all things for our good.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old and one of my neighbor’s parents built their kids a half-pipe right next to their house. I remember it being about 1,453 feet tall from my little 65lb frame. Maybe it wasn’t 1400+ ft. but it was probably close. It was big enough that I was too afraid to take the plunge once I ascended the mountainous structure. I just remember thinking, “This is way higher than what it looked from the ground.”
So, I did what every scared 10 year old boy would do in front of his friends…I pretended my bike was messed up and sent my trusty steed down the ramp without its hero. Which, of course, left me perched at the peak of Everest with a bruised ego and a new plan. I would take the downward slide on the back-side padding the Good Lord gave me…Can you imagine where that left me? Every inch I descended, toward what I thought would be glory, fame, and fortune on the sandlots of South Roxana, left me with small splintered reminders of my downward slide.
Iain Murray reminds us of the splinters that arose in Spurgeon’s day as the Church began to ask “What gains might be made by Christianity if the church was willing to adopt a less rigid and less uncritical attitude to the contents of Scripture…”. Many of The Publicans readership is familiar with the Down-Grade controversy of Spurgeon’s day and the cry of the Prince of Preachers that stands as a prophetic voice, even still today. In the September 1887 issue of The Sword and the Trowel Spurgeon wrote:
“The house is being robbed, its very walls are being digged (sic) down, but the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth, and too much afraid of getting broken heads, to go downstairs to meet the burglars…Inspiration and speculation cannot long abide in peace. Compromise there can be none. We cannot hold the inspiration of the Word, and yet reject it; we cannot believe in the atonement and deny it; we cannot hold the doctrine of the fall and yet talk of the evolution of spiritual life from human nature; we cannot recognize the punishment of the impenitent and yet indulge the ‘lager hope’. One way or the other we must go. Decision is the virtue of the hour.”
Those words could just as easily have been written on June 2, 2017. The phrase “Down-Grade Controversy” may have been coined for Spurgeon and his battle but the American Church faces its own downward slide today. The American Culture & Faith Institute’s most recent study reveals a terrifying reality of spiritual adultery in the American Church and the virtual abandonment of a biblical worldview (https://www.culturefaith.com/groundbreaking-survey-by-acfi-reveals-how-many-american-adults-have-a-biblical-worldview/). This downward slide has generational consequences. The spiritual adultery (James 4:4) of the greater American church has left our pews virtually empty of two to three generations. What’s even worse is that this is indicative of their relationship with God through Jesus Christ; empty, void, absent.
I am on the cusp of the Gen-X and Millennial generations having been born in 1979. Regardless of where a researcher places me, my generation slides down the half-pipe on our splinter-ridden rears to an abysmal 4-7% espousal of Christian Orthodoxy and a Biblical Worldview. Take those adulterous numbers and pass that down to the Mosaic’s (18 and under, children of Millenial & Gen-X) and you’ll find that 0.5% of our latest generation see the world through biblical lenses. Spurgeon was right, “the house has been robbed.” And it’s being robbed by the very fathers and husbands who God has tasked with spiritual leadership of their homes. Abidcation is the sin and apostasy is its fruit.
Thankfully, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ will ever ring true: “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against [my Church].” Take heart, brothers & sisters, everything is not lost. The Lord Jesus himself assures us that the will of the Father is that he “should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” With this confidence of assurance in Christ’s work, what then shall we do? Let us, as reformers, turn to the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient, Word of God to give us direction.
James 4:7-10—10 Realities of Repentance
Submit—Submission to God is to voluntarily place ourselves under his authoritative Word. As believers submit to God’s Word we will find that his commands are not burdensome but a delight and our counselors
Resist—Resistance is, as Kurt Richardson suggests, a defensive posture. To actively resist the devil is to consciously secure a victory. Follow Christ’s model of resistance with God’s Word as your sword and faith as your shield.
Draw Near—Unlike the human heart, the heart of God is not repulsed by the wretchedness of man that approaches him in confession. Instead, as we actively draw near to the Throne of Grace, in repentance, the Father draws near to us as he runs toward us to welcome us home & clothes us with his ring & his robe.
Cleanse & Purify—These deliberate consecrating actions deliver the word picture to the mind of the Old Testament priests who would take intentional steps to remove the physical filth from their bodies that represented the spiritual filth of sin before they would approach God.
Wretch, Mourn, & Weep, Change from Laughter & Joy to Mourning & Weeping—A broken and contrite heart will not be despised by our Gracious God. The Church needs a new relationship with sin; perhaps not a new but biblical one.
Humble—Until we are humbled, either in recognition of our sin or by God’s judgement, there will be no exaltation. For “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
May God find it in his gracious love to grant us a national, godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Without his grace, we, our children, and our children’s children will find that we have more than plintered bottoms; our families will have an eternity separated from a loving and gracious God. Lord, let that not be found in my home.
 Iain Murray: The Forgotten Spurgeon, The Banner of Truth Trust
 Ibid., pg 152
 Matthew 16:18 ESV, Crossway, 2001
 John 6:39 ESV, Crossway, 2001
 1 John 5:2-4 ESV, Crossway, 2001
 Psalm 119:24 ESV, Crossway, 2001
 Kurt Richardson, New American Commentary. Vol 36, B & H Publishing
 Psalm 51:17 ESV, Crossway, 2001
 James 4:6 & Proverbs 3:34 ESV, Crossway, 2001
The life and history of the church is a very interesting business, filled with a variety of personalities and opinions. This is especially true when it comes to the areas of theology and doctrine. This is why in a country that has always prided itself on individualism we have seen a massive growth of Denominationalism and “Non-denominationalism.” In each camp there is something that is rallied around as supreme, and rarely is it the reality of the gospel, but usually a secondary issue. However we may have come to these distinctive division they do exist and to some degree that is not bad as long as it is not hindering the advancement of the gospel and the truth of the work of Christ. For the most part this is where Creedal and confessional unity has found its niche and revitalization, it would seem, in the church landscape.
Now what is this Creedal and Confessional idea? This is the basic tenant that we as a church local (or believer individually) agree to and uphold a set of Christian teachings and interpretation of the scriptures that are binding on our life and practice. The earliest forms of our modern confessions were the Creeds of the church which originated as early as Paul with the writing of Philippians 2:6-11 and developed over time as the church grew and wrestled with the apostle’s teachings. Eventually there developed two majority creeds; the Apostles Creed and the Nicaean Creed, and after the reformation we say the growth of confessions; two predominant ones are: The Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689. Today I want to take a moment and go over the benefits of Creeds and Confessions to the Modern Church.
They Bring Clarity
The Creeds and Confessions of the Faith helped to set the foundation for how we understand the scriptures. They in no way have replaced the scriptures, but rather in a succinct manner explained the basic tenants of the faith as reveled in the scriptures. Even to this day we still recite these statements in our churches. The Early creeds helped us to understand the scriptural teachings on the Trinity, gave clarity to the work and means of the Holy Spirit, and the importance of the communion of the saints. They helped us to know what we believed as Christians. In the midst of much confusion they helped new believers to see the basic teachings of the Scriptures.
They Connect Us to our History
The church where I currently pastor recites the Apostles creed following Communion to remind ourselves of the joyous banquet that awaits all the saints for all time that have trusted in the sacrificial death of Christ and await us at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. The creeds and later the Confessions helped us to see that we are not alone in the Christian journey; our faith is not a 21st century invention but rather a historic and beautiful faith that has stood the test of time, through war, persecution, and even times of peace Christ has maintained and grown the church. The Confessions help us to see that. The early church creeds arose out times of great persecution, and the confessions of London and Westminster arose out of the freedoms granted following the painful persecution that plagued the English reformation. In these writing we are reminded that God has been at work building is church for two millennia, lead by the Spirit and His Word.
They Connect Us to One Another
In the Creeds and Confessions we see an underlying interpretation and understanding of the Gospel. As such they help us to bridge denominational lines, they help us to see where we have commonality and not only our difference. Our blog is a good example of this. We are a confessional blog, not a denominational one. We feature guys from a variety of backgrounds but we unify around two important (and yet distinct) confession: Westminster and London. The key distinction in each is their interpretation of baptism, but every other tenant is almost exactly the same with a few variations. As such our writers must agree with one of these two historic documents of the reformed Christian faith. These documents help us to see our great commonality around the truth of scripture rather than our one disagreement on the application of it.
They Point Us Back to the Scripture.
I saved this one for last, because it is the most important. The confessions are not an end in and of themselves and are never meant to be, they are a tool by which we see and go back to the scriptures. If someone calls themselves confessional and yet the bible is not where they have found these truths then they are far from it. To be confessional is to see the truths of these confessions in scripture not in the confessions. If I hold to salvation by Grace alone because the London Baptist Faith says it is biblical but have not examined the scriptures and seen it to be true, than I am relying solely on the word of man and this is the furthest thing from the point of the confessions and creeds. They help us to see the scriptures more clearly not to replace them. Unfortunately, many in the “confessional” camp at times seem to miss this point. When we ascribe to a confession of faith we must be ascribing to the fact that it most clearly represents the truth as revealed in Scripture, not because it is trendy or cool.
In Acts 1:9-11 we find the following words, “As when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.’”
In this passage we find the promise of the second coming, or the second advent, of Christ. “This Jesus” as the angels in white robes said, will return Himself in the same visible way He left. How did He leave? With a sense of awe and wonder. He was taken up in a cloud of glory and He will come again in a cloud of glory. This is why Matthew in 24:27 can say of the return of Christ, “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Yet in spite of such a rich and comforting promise Jesus warned that His return would be a controversial matter. In the beginning of His famous Olivet discourse given to us in Matthew 24 we read, “As He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray” (Matthew 24:3-6).
So what will the second coming be like?
Scripture has three definitive things to say about it.
The Time of the Second Coming
Matthew 24:36, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, not the Son, but the Father only.” Two things only are certain, He is coming back and His coming is always near. This last statement, that His coming is always near, is an implication of 2 Peter 3:8 which says, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Because of this passage’s explanation of time to God, who is Himself outside of time as well as the creator of time, implies that His coming is always near because time as it is to us is not what it is to God. What may be very short to us could possibly be very long to God, and what may be very long to us could possibly be very short to God. The passage also could seemingly be teaching us both of these realities simultaneously. This is why we’re given the command to be ready at all time. Matthew 24:44, “…be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” The time of Christ’s return is, therefore, unknown to all except God the Father.
The Manner of the Second Coming
It will be personal, visible, and physical.
Recall Acts 1:11 that we began this evening with. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” So, the Jesus who left is the Jesus who will return. Acts 3:19-21, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets long ago.” Philippians 3:20, “…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” Colossians 3:4, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” 2 Thessalonians 1:10, “…when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed…” Christians are spoken of us people who “love His appearing” in 2 Timothy 4:8, as those who are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” in Titus 2:13, and as those are “eagerly waiting for Him to appear a second time” in Hebrews 9:28. Christ Himself will return as He left, in His physical glorified body visible for all to see.
It will be sudden.
1 Thessalonians 5:2-6, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” Similarly in Mark 13:35-37 Jesus says, “Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
These passages intend to teach us that the return of Christ will be sudden. But though it will be sudden God tells us to stay alert and watchful for His return so that we are not surprised when it occurs. So our lack of watchfulness is directly correlated to our measure of surprise when He comes again. That the return of Christ will be sudden also encourages us to live lives that are holy and pleasing to God in the present while we wait. Again Titus 2:11-13 shows us this. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” So how are we to live while we’re waiting for the blessed hope of Christ’s second advent? v12 gives us the answer. We’re to renounce ungodliness and worldliness while we embrace godliness and holiness.
The Purpose of the Second Coming
The second coming of Christ will be personal, visible, physical, and sudden, but we find the purpose of His second coming in this: it will be triumphant.
There’s something of a historical parallel for us to see here. In the Roman Empire when the Roman armies would come back from a military campaign they would camp outside the city and send word to the senate that they were victorious and waiting to enter the capital. Upon hearing of their return the senate and other leaders of the city would set up a large archway for the soldiers to walk through which marked the beginning of a victory parade. The armies and the senate of Rome would agree upon a time to enter the city once all the preparations had been made and when that time had come for this large conquering host to begin marching into Rome a large trumpet would be blown. This trumpet was the signal for the citizens of Rome to come out and join in and participate in the victorious march themselves. Paul uses this imagery to discuss the return of Christ throughout his letters. That when Christ returns He is returning in triumph, at the trumpet sound, with His Church who joins in His victory because of their union with Christ.
So this moment when He comes, He will not be coming in condescension to save. No, He will come in exaltation as the King of all kings and Lord of all lords, the Judge, and ultimate Victor. He will bring in the full measure of His Kingdom. The dead will rise, the Church will meet Him in the air, and all will go to the judgment. The righteous will go into eternal life in the New Heavens and the New Earth, while all the wicked will go into an eternal punishment in hell.
This second coming is the single global event in which, what is immortal will swallow up what is mortal, all that is wrong in the world and wrong in us will be made right, and the entire history of mankind will come to a close.
Growing up, one of the only verses I had memorized was Philippians 4:13, which states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” What boy doesn’t want to feel like he can do “all things”? Its a big world out there and there are lots of things which can intimidate us. Knowing that Christ helps us do anything we set out to do makes us feel good. Its almost like Jesus is our life cheerleader, standing on the sidelines shouting, “Way to go! You can do it! You got this!”
What It Doesn’t Mean
One famous UFC wrestler ran out to the ring under Philippians 4:13, on his way to beat someone to a bloody pulp. Defensive linemen in football write Phil. 4:13 in white letters under their eyes to motivate them to tackle the other team’s quarterback. But the Apostle Paul never intended his words in Philippians 4:13 to motivate us in these ways. Paul’s words weren’t meant as a pep talk for those going out into the world to achieve great feats. Rather, his words were meant to motivate us in a much deeper and long-lasting way.
What It Does Mean
Lets take a look at Philippians 4:11b-13, which read, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Here was the apostle Paul sitting in chains in a prison cell for preaching the gospel of Christ, probably chained to a guard on his left and right. He was no ivory tower theologian who enjoyed writing treatises from the comfort of his own home. He was a battle-worn soldier of Christ who had endured much persecution and hardship for the sake of the Gospel. We only need to read of Paul’s persecutions and sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11 to find out that the apostle Paul had suffered much for Christ. Yet in spite of all this, he had come to discover “the secret” of true contentment in any and every circumstance in life. He had gone without food, without sleep, and in fear of death often; and now here he sits in prison writing of his contentment. So when he comes to verse 13 and says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, what he meant was: “I can endure any hardships necessary as I live for Christ, because Christ lives in me.”
In his book Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones has pointed out, “The Christian is not just a moral man; the life of God has entered into him, there is an energy, a power, a life in him and it is that that makes him peculiarly and specifically Christian, and that is exactly what Paul is telling us here…the Christian life is not a life that I live myself and by my own power; neither is it a life in which I am obliterated and Christ does all. No, ‘I can do all through Christ.'”
What it means for us
Instead of giving us an ego boost or a peptalk to go on to do great things in our own power and for our own name, Philippians 4:13 assures us that Christ will empower us for every trial we must face.
This means the worst of life circumstances are not too much for the child of God because Christ gives them strength. Just imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen in your life: the death of a child, the loss of a spouse, a diagnosis of cancer, financial bankruptcy, a debilitating illness; If you are in Christ and Christ is in you, He will give you the strength to endure all of these.
I often hear people say, “God will never put on you more than you can handle”, but that just is not true. I agree with another friend who has said: God will put on you more than you can handle, but not more than He can handle through you. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul describes one particular instance of this in his own life. He and his team were, “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
So the next time you face a trial that seems too much for you to handle, remember Philippians 4:13 and know that Christ will give you the strength to get through this so long as you rely on Him and not yourself. If you seek contentment in your personal comforts, you are doomed to a life of disappointment and discontentment. But if you seek your contentment in Christ alone, nothing will be able to truly disappoint you and no trial will destroy your joy in Christ. You can endure it all, so long as you remember that the strength is found not in you, but in your union with Christ.
Encased between “the amber waves of grain” and infinite rows of corn is the small community in rural Illinois that God has called me to serve. It is by His grace and for His glory that He has called my family here to advance the Kingdom (Mt. 6:33) and we are truly blessed. Outside of millions upon millions of bushels of corn, wheat, and soybeans, there just isn’t much that is produced in the middle of fly-over country; except that one guy.
Recently, one of our high-school standouts was noticed by a Major League baseball scout and was drafted into one of their franchises. He, like so many others before him, is currently working his way through the Minors as he refines his skill-set with the hopes of one day donning the MLB logo and taking the field as a professional at the top of his game…corn, wheat, soybeans, and that one guy. I hope he makes it; what an inspiration he will be to the little leaguers who take the field that year!
Just last week, I had the blessing, and privilege, of serving on one of my best friend’s ordination council as he was commissioned and charged with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some might conclude that he has made it to “the Majors” as a pastor who bears the glorious title of “Reverend” (please take that with all satire intended). But it was he who spoke of being “out of his league” when he stated to his assessors, “I feel as if I’m still in Tee Ball as I sit with you all who are in the Majors.” I remember that feeling well as I sat being examined by my soon-to-be colleagues. I remember thinking, “I hope they don’t see how unprepared I am; how ill-equipped I am; how inadequate I am for the task.” And yet, this is exactly where I still find myself today.
My response to my now ordained brother in Christ was, “When the tables are turned and you are examining someone else for ordination you won’t feel that way anymore.” I didn’t mean that he was now also in the Majors but that we are all still in the Minors; strike that—we are all profound sinners saved by God’s marvelous grace, called out of darkness into his marvelous light, that we might proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us (that sounds less than Tee Ball like that). There are no “Majors, Minors, or Tee Ball” in God’s economy. Our Puritan brothers, with all their faults and failures, saw themselves so clearly:
Thou art good beyond all thought, but I am vile, wretched, miserable, blind; my lips are ready to confess, but my heart is slow to feel, and my ways reluctant to amend. I bring my soul to thee; break it, wound it, bend it, mould it. Unmask to me sin’s deformity, that I may hate it, abhor it, flee from it.My faculties have been a weapon of revolt against thee; as a rebel I have misused my strength, and served the foul adversary of thy kingdom. Give me grace to bewail my insensate folly, grant me to know that the way of transgressors is hard, that evil paths are wretched paths, that to depart from thee is to lose all good. I have seen the purity and beauty of thy perfect law…yet I daily violate and contemn in its precepts…yet I choose devises and desires to my own hurt, impiously resent, grieve, and provoke [your Spirit] to abandon me. All these sins I mourn, lament, and for them cry pardon…” (The Valley of Vision, pg. 124-125)
Does this sound like the pride of accomplishment from a “Major Leaguer?” The honest self-evaluation of the Puritans and their openness to provide, to all who would peer, a glimpse into their souls demonstrate to the world that even those who appear to “have arrived” are still a work in progress. This is why the Lord could pray, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth…I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through [the disciples] word…” (John 17:17-20). The Disciples didn’t have it all together, the Puritans didn’t have it all together, your pastor doesn’t have it all together, and I don’t have it all together.
This is, I’m certain, why my friend’s statement stung so deeply. It’s true, we ebb and flow in spiritual lives from time to time and I was definitely in an ebb; and elongated ebb…and I was likened to being in “The Majors.” You see, I knew where I was in my walk with Christ and regardless of what others may have seen, I knew I was not on the field with the pro’s; I was nursing some wounds and making my way back to the Great Physician who could heal my soul.
It has been attributed to many people throughout the years but I first heard it from a circuit speaker for Alcoholics Anonymous name Earl H. Earl said that he struggled all his life with this one thing: He was comparing his insides with other’s outsides and he was losing every time. What the recovering heroin junky and alcoholic was saying was that he knew who he really was; deep inside there was a scared, inadequate, weakling in desperate need of something greater; someone greater. And when Earl measured himself against the façade people often portray in public his fears and inadequacies were exacerbated.
But isn’t this where we should find ourselves before the cross of Christ; broken, desperate, and in need of something we cannot get anywhere else, searching for forgiveness, fulfillment and restoration? Isn’t this why the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, cried out in anguish, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a)
So, I can write today, pray today, read God’s Word today, praise and worship today because even though I may not be in “The Majors” I am in pursuit of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of me. I “press on” (Philippians 3:12, 14) as the Apostle says. God has saved me by his grace and called me to a life of Christ-likeness, yet I sin; “but he gives more grace.” (James 4:6) Aren’t those the most beautiful words for a work in progress like myself…But he gives more grace…Ahhhh; like cool drink from the Fountain of Life in the arid plains of sin and despair. And for that sweet grace I will ever proclaim his excellencies.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
In 1562 Zacharias Ursinus, born on July 18, 1534, was asked to draft a new catechism for Frederick III. Ursinus, then a professor at the University of Heidelberg, began work immediately and one year later the Heidelberg Catechism was published. It was received so well it was soon translated into Latin, Dutch, French, and English. Since it’s publishing it has become the most loved and devotional catechism of the Reformation as well as the fourth bestselling book in history (after the Bible, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ).
The 57th question of the catechism introduces us to our topic today.
Q: How does “the resurrection of the body” comfort you?
A: That not only my soul, after this life, shall be immediately taken up to Christ its head, but also that this my body, raised by the power of Christ, shall again be united with my soul, and made like the glorious body of Christ.
Question 57 of the Heidelberg Catechism speaks of the great biblical reality that one day our souls will be reunited with our bodies in the great resurrection. My aim in this post isn’t to discuss what our glorified bodies will be like or even to discuss the great and final resurrection. My aim is to talk about the in between time, when our souls are still separate from our bodies.
This time is called the intermediate state.
In the early Church the doctrine of the intermediate state wasn’t taught or written on because the return of Jesus was believed to be imminent. As the years progressed and a realization settled in that Jesus was tarrying, theologians began to discuss the intermediate state. These early accounts viewed this state as a temporary foretaste of the greater joy or greater terror to come. Among those who held this view were Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novation, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, and Augustine.
As time continued on into the Middle Ages this widely held belief was taken up by the Roman Catholic Church and it is here that we see the birth of purgatory. Which teaches that after physical death the souls of imperfect believers must go to a waiting place (or a limbo) where they will be purified to the point where they can enter into glory. In this sense purgatory is seen as the last step in a believer’s sanctification. How did they come to create such a doctrine? The Roman Catholics do defend and seek to prove the existence of purgatory from other passages, but they mainly go to 2 Maccabees 12. You may recognize that 1st or 2nd Maccabees isn’t in any of our Bibles. That’s because it’s found in what’s called the Apocrypha, or the Pseudepigrapha, as some Protestants call it. These books are historical books that show the details of what took place between the Testaments. The reason they’re not in our Bibles today is because the early Church fathers, Jesus and the apostles, as well as 1st century Jews didn’t believe them to be part of Scripture, so we don’t as well. They are helpful to read to get a historical perspective of what took place during that time, but in no way are these inspired texts of Scripture. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t officially believe the Apocrypha to be Scripture until 1547.
The context of 2 Maccabees 12, is that there has just been a large war where 25,000 Jews had been killed. The reason 25,000 men were killed was for secret idolatry. But afterward a leader named Judas leads the people to pray for these dead men “…that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out.” Then Judas took up an “offering for the dead, and had a special atoning sacrifice made them so that atonement would be made and they would be absolved from their sins.” Now you can see where the Roman Catholic Church gets their doctrine of purgatory as well as the doctrine of indulgences, which function as a kind of special offering for yourself or the dead taken up to shorten time spent in purgatory.
This view of purgatory was held as common belief until it’s rejection during the Protestant Reformation, though some reformers like Philip Melanchthon, believed it to be a matter of secondary importance and not worth arguing over. To this John Calvin said, “Since…purgatory is built on so very many blasphemies and is everyday reinforced by even bigger ones, creating untold scandals, it should never be ignored.” In our present time Roman Catholics and some Universalists still hold that purgatory exists (along with varying opinions of limbo), while the almost all the entire Protestant world rejects this concept due to lack of Scriptural evidence.
So what does the Bible say about the time between our physical death and the time when we’re reunited with our bodies at the resurrection? We could summarize it like this:
Upon death our bodies go into the grave while our souls will go immediately to heaven to be with Christ. In this state we will continue as conscious bodiless souls until the second advent of Christ where He will usher in His Kingdom in full measure, judge the world in righteousness, reunite the soul and body, send the wicked into hell forever, and bring the Church into the New Heavens and the New Earth for all eternity.
I do not believe the intermediate state to be a place of purification where we’re perfected until we’re holy enough to go to enter God’s presence, or even a place of soul sleep where we’re unconsciously waiting for Jesus’ second advent. No. I believe the intermediate state we get in the pages of Scripture is the time our bodiless and conscious souls spend in the direct presence of Christ in heaven, before the Second Coming of Christ.
We see this clearly in Revelation 6:9-11 where John the apostle says, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were killed as they themselves has been.”
Here we see the martyrs. Those who have borne witness boldly and bravely to the truth of the gospel in a place that didn’t welcome such things. For this they lost their lives. Upon their martyrdom their souls immediately go to the throne of God where they cry out for God to judge the world and avenge their blood. Here they will be until the full number of martyrs come in. This place where they are right now is the place where all believers go upon death – heaven, in the direct presence of the Lord. God hears their cries, knows their pain, and comforts them with robes of white until Jesus descends on the earth in a cloud of glory with His heavenly host to right all wrongs and make all sad things untrue.
The hope of heaven is that we will once again be united with our bodies and will reign upon the earth in the New Heavens and New Earth forever all because of Christ.
Generally speaking, though there are always thinkers who deny it throughout history, in every nation, people, tribe, and tongue regardless of religious belief and quality of life there has always been a belief in the immortality of the soul.
Plato taught that upon death the physical body dissolves into parts while the soul remains intact and cannot be dissolved into parts because it is spiritual in nature and not physical. C.S. Lewis argues in Mere Christianity, that “…if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.” Lewis is saying God gave men certain qualities (talents, aspirations, longings, etc.) that will not reach fruition in this world, and that from recognizing such realities he concludes that God has made another world where these qualities will reach their full potential, a world where we’ll live with Him forever. We could also speak of the lack of justice on the wicked. Our consciences testify that too often the evil grow in their evil deeds and those who suffer too often increase in sorrow in this life (think Psalm 73). That this is so often the case has led many to a belief in an afterlife where the wicked and the righteous receive what they’re due. Generally speaking, these thoughts sum up man’s opinions about why there must be an immortal state after this life and what that life entails.
Now, let’s get a bit more specific and go to the Scripture to see these things.
So let’s ask what appears to be a simple question on the surface. How does the Bible define the term immortality? We could use the term immortality in the sense that Paul uses the word in 1 Timothy 6 where speaking of God he says, “…He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion forever. Amen” (1 Tim. 6:15-16). Here Paul makes it clear that it is God who alone has immortality, and because He alone has immortality He is the only Sovereign, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, to whom belongs honor, weight, and glory forever. If anyone one else has existence, that existence comes from the God who has always existed. All others had a beginning, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit never did.
But, since this passage clearly states God alone has immortality, does this imply that no one else will experience or have immortality? That answer from the Bible is clearly no. Adam and Eve could rightly be considered immortal beings before the fall. If they had obeyed God’s command and abstained from eating the fruit they would’ve continued to be immortal. But they chose poorly. So now upon physical death the body does return to dust (Gen. 3:19). But we know, because of the work of Christ, the souls of believers gain a blessed conscious immortality with Christ in glory while the souls of unbelievers gain a horrific conscious immortality apart from Christ in hell.
So yes God alone has immortality in the sense that only He has always been and never had a beginning. But also no, God is not the only One who has or experiences immortality because in another sense we too have immortality. The difference between our immortality and God’s is that ours is a created immortality. Paul makes this clear in his second letter to Timothy when he says Christ Jesus “…abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10).
Theologians of old have described the immortality of the soul in these three ways:
Man in the Image of God
Man, as opposed to all the other creatures God made, was made different. Genesis 1:26-27 says God made man in His own image. This does means mankind is higher than the beasts because man has the ability to reason and ponder his own existence. Implied in this as well is the truth that mankind is higher than the beasts because man was made to commune with God, to worship God, to glorify God. How does man find out about the purpose he was made? God has placed eternity in his heart (Ecc. 3:11). Nowhere does the Bible give us any hint that God places eternity in any of the other creatures He made. That man is made in God’s image, and that God is eternal and immortal necessarily implies man, and man alone, will also have an eternal and immortal existence.
The Presence of Sheol and Glory
Throughout the Old Testament we see the wicked go to a place called sheol. In Psalm 49:14-15 the Sons of Korah declare, “Like sheep they (foolish man in his pomp, see v5-13) are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me.” Here sheol is explained as a place of judgment not blessing. There is even a contrast to the wicked who are appointed for sheol and the upright who will rule over them. Then in v15 the Psalmist gladly declares that God will rescue him from such judgment. That the place of sheol exists and that it is contrasted with a place of blessing throughout the Scriptures, implies that man has an immortal existence apart from the body after death.
In the New Testament we see a similar reality being taught. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says, “And do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The contrast between Satan who can only kill the body and God who can destroy both soul and body in hell assumes the soul of man continues on after physical death. Likewise in Luke 23:43 Jesus tells one of the thieves next to Him on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” Both Jesus’ and this thief’s body will expire very soon, but that Jesus pronounces the presence in paradise implies their souls lived on. Lastly a passage where no comment is needed, John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet he shall live…”
Confident and Delightful Expectation
The immortality of the soul is also seen in the numerous passages that speak of the confident and delightful expectation of the righteous. Job 19:25-27, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has thus been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” Psalm 16:9-11, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Paul in 2 Cor. 5:1-5 speaks of the same expectation saying, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”
Here the tent that is our earthly home is our body and the building from God eternal in the heavens is our entire glorified state. So while is here in this body he is longing to be clothed with the eternal, “…that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” We could also point to Paul’s monumental boast that is the entirety of Romans 8, where he delights in the no condemnation, no separation grace of God that will one day end in future glory where the sons of God will be revealed. These confident and delightful declarations of expectation imply the soul’s continuance after physical death.
Lesson? The activity of the soul is not a mere by-product of brain function that ceases when the brain dies with the body. We cannot after death live on in this life through our children and grandchildren though we love them dearly and will in a sense always remain in their hearts. Even if we make a name for ourselves in this life and leave behind a lasting and famous legacy or influence, we cannot after death live on inspiring many, eventually we all will one day be forgotten. That our souls will continue on for all eternity ought to sober us in this life. Indeed, living in light of eternity brings our present existence much clarity about what really matters.
No matter what profession you are in one of the key aspects to growth in that profession is continued education and refinement of your skills. For some that may mean going to a few conferences and learning about new products, for some maybe that is reading a book or two about new procedures and advancements in your given field. No matter what field you are in you usually want to take the opportunity to hone your skills and be better prepared to do the job before you, which is no different in the realm of pastoral ministry. In Pastoral ministry this refinement can take on many forms such as counseling workshops, theological conferences, or reading books and journals.
For me this past week it took on the form of a Simeon Trust Expositional Workshop. These workshops are hosted around the country and even internationally to help preachers get back to the basics of expositing a text. One of the best parts of the week was the reminder that no matter where we are at the goal is to be getting better as a preacher. As Dave Helm put it, “today you should be the worst preacher you will be the rest of your life.” As preachers our studying of scripture from beginning to end will help us refine our knowledge of God and His truth, making connections easier and quicker. The goal of these workshops is simply to help preachers refine their skills through a series of instructional lectures, through worship, through the hearing of the Word, and through their own personal exegetical work in small groups. In today’s post I want to work through why these four avenues helped me and why if you are in any form of teaching ministry they can help you.
First, the instructional lectures consisted of six designated times of direct instruction on how to study the book of Exodus in a way that prepares you to preach well to your audience. In this time we covered the importance first of prayer. Often overlooked and yet the key component of any sermon is the prayer that went into it, because at the end of the day the Lord can work through the most heretical sermons to change lives, and give no spiritual advancement through the most biblically exegetical sermon. This isn’t to say what we preach doesn’t matter, because Jesus had some strong words on that, but that if we believe it is our work and words that change lives and not God through the power of the Spirit we have already lost. Prayer in sermon prep is a must as we turn over every aspect of our prep work to God.
Once we properly established the foundation we went to work establishing our best practices for making sure the text being preached properly reflects the meaning of the Scriptures. First, we do this by ensuring that we are properly reflecting the original audiences’ understanding of the text before we connect it to today. We must be true to the text before it can truly speak. After establishing the original audience we make a straight line from the text we are in to the Gospel. Now this could take on a variety of different directions such as direct references to your text in the New testament, illusion in scriptures, overarching theological themes found in the text, etc. however the text connects back to the gospel make sure it is the clearest and most accurate representation of the text, do not try to wedge your gospel presentation into the text, it must flow properly from the text. If Jesus words on the road to Emmaus are correct and all roads lead to Jesus then it is possible, it just takes prayer and dedication to not be forced. After you have established these two things you now apply it directly to your audience in your context. This is where application and illustration come together. Here you want to make every effort to make it clear how this text and its connection to the cross affect your people’s lives today. This will look different depending on where you live and what your church is like, so while the original context and the connection to the gospel should be pretty similar how that is applied in your context may be very different, especially in the use of language, illustrations, textual critics, argumentation, etc. In the end the lectures help us to reorient our time in the study connecting God’s word accurately so that we can preach it biblically.
The next two parts of the workshop: Worship & Preaching, were equally beneficially in that with the preached Word we got to see the three men heading up the workshop put these very principles into action. For those of us from out of town we then were able to talk to them about it over dinner on Thursday evening and get a deeper insight into how they put their study into their delivery. But not only was it edifying on an intellectual level it was a blessing on a spiritual level to just simply be encouraged by the Word at the end of each of these log three days of study. The opportunity to hear the Word was not the only blessing because we were also able to sing in response to the word. It is a surreal experience at times to come together with 50 or so other pastors and just sing in response to the word. Because the faith isn’t simply pure intellectualism, we have been change by a true and living God and that should change how we live and respond, it does take on an emotional component that cannot be left out.
Finally, and really the most important part of the workshop was our small groups, here we spent time praying together reading the Word together and, in a very nice and pastoral way, grilling each other over our exegetical work on pre-assigned texts. This is the heart of the Simeon Trust workshops because it’s where we actually get to work together in community to refine our skills. I believe this is the key strength of the whole week. It is from here that I was able to see some of the areas where I was being a little careless in application, but also a place where through discussing the texts with guys that have been in ministry for 20 plus years realized we are all still learning and we don’t have it all together. When you first start out in the small groups it all seems a little intimidating, but as you work through them over the week you see how they make you a better preacher. They help you to see areas in your thought process that is just slightly skipping a beat, or that has become too dependent on commentaries to do the work that you have lost sight of how to properly connect the text and meaning yourself.
In the end this was a great week and I would encourage anyone to attend one in your area, unfortunately, for us in Florida not so much an option, but hopefully in the future. I would also say this workshop was better than any of the conferences I have attended as a pastor (not that conferences are bad) simply because I came back with skills to use in helping my people.
More Information can be found at their website: http://www.simeontrust.org/
There are a number of Bible verses that well-meaning people often quote at different times which twist Scripture into saying things it never intended to say. Some of us have probably heard or been guilty of using the phrase, “Where two or more are gathered, there am I among them.” This statement of Jesus from Matthew 18:20 is usually quoted when there is low attendance at some church function. Basically, we want to tell each other, “Hey guys, there may only be a handful of us here, but Jesus is with us.” It is true that Christ is among a small group of church members, but Matthew 18:20 isn’t saying it in that way.
Many people would be surprised to discover that Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20 deal with church discipline. I’ve always heard it said that a text without a context is just a pretext. So let’s look at the context. Context is best found by reading the verses and chapters before and after. To discover what Jesus means in verse 20, we only need to read verses 15 through 20. Jesus says there,
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
The concept of church discipline is foreign to many churches today because we live in a society that embraces inclusion and we don’t want anyone to feel left out. Also, we may have seen this practiced in an unbiblical way and thrown out the baby with the bathwater. But due to our throwing out church discipline, we have an even more serious problem: unregenerate church membership, or worse, unregenerate church leadership.
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has pointed out that Southern Baptists, America’s largest denomination, haven’t included a statement on church discipline in their doctrinal beliefs (The Baptist Faith and Message) since prior to 1925. Yet there is no avoiding it here; Jesus is talking very plainly and clearly about church discipline.
We can’t say with Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” When a person becomes a believer, they join a family, and families love one another. What compels families to hold interventions for an alcoholic parent? Love. As church members, we’ve got to ask ourselves, “Is it really love that motivates me to keep quiet when a brother’s foul language ruins his witness or when a sister’s addiction to pain pills enslaves her?” We may say it is love that silences us, but it is really fear. Love compels us to confront brothers or sisters caught in sin. Fear stands idly by and watches while someone’s life implodes, while love acts to rescue them. This is why we have a Good Samaritan’s Law which criminalizes onlookers who don’t help a person in danger. Real love is concern in action; a heart attached to hands, feet, and a yes, even a mouth.
But how is church discipline to be exercised? Are we to go around pointing out each other’s sins every time we see one another? Of course not. Jesus gives us some very clear steps to take and each imply some covenant relationship between both parties. These steps are to be carried out among members of a local church who have covenanted to care for one another spiritually. We’re not the spiritual police for the planet, but we are responsible to our fellow members.
According to Jesus, step one involves going to the sinning brother or sister on a personal level. Paul explains the spirit we should have in step one this way: “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 5:26-6:2). The aim in every step is restoration, yet loving confrontations enables this. If they do not “listen” and refuse to express any change of mind (repentance) about their sin, we move on to step two.
This involves bringing one or two others. Why? They can be extra witnesses, they add seriousness to the need for repentance, and this allows others a chance to persuade them. If repentance occurs, the process stops and restoration begins. If they refuse to listen even to these two or three gathered in Christ’s name, then the church body as a whole is to be notified.
And by “tell it to the church”, Jesus doesn’t mean the universal church! So sin that was once a matter between two members, due to ongoing unrepentance, has now become a matter for every member of that church who has covenanted to care for one another spiritually. This process probably goes on for a period of months and involves many prayers and tears first individually, then among the two or three, then as a unified church body. If however, this individual is so entrenched in sin that they refuse to repent even before the church body, the church is to respond by no longer treating them as a fellow member, but as an unbeliever in need of salvation. Paul uses the language of handing them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that their spirit might be saved in the end (1 Cor. 5:5). Even biblical ex-communication aims for eternal salvation!
So what does it mean when Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”? It means that if two or three believers go to an unrepentant brother or sister on behalf of the church, that individual should know they come with the authority and presence of Christ himself. We are all sinners, but we are all repentant sinners. Unrepentant church members must know that their sin not only brings them out of fellowship with fellow believers in their church, but out of fellowship with Christ himself. So in the event that you find yourself among the two or three going to confront another brother or sister living in sin, take Matthew 18:20 with you…and pray for the miracle of restoration.
In his book Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural David Wells says, “Conversions of all kinds are commonplace in our world today. An alcoholic turns from drink to sobriety. Westerners afflicted with boredom renounce their way of life and seek meaning from Eastern gurus. One person joins a cult and closes the door on his or her prior way of life; another looks for the power hidden within and turns away from institutional religion. Although these ‘conversions’ may be triggered by dramatic crises and result in changed behaviors, they are not conversions in any Christian sense. If they do not have Christ as their cause and object and His service as their result…If they do not involve turning from sin to God, on the basis of Christ’s atoning blood and by means of the Holy Spirit’s work, they cannot be called Christian.”
Perhaps you feel, even in this quote, the disdain our culture thinks of conversion? Conversion in our day conveys a negative image or a moment of forced decision, as if someone were strong-arming you into making a decision you don’t want to make. But I submit that this notion is largely an unfair view of conversion. For example if we were to look in a thesaurus we would find the following synonyms for the word conversion: change, adaptation, alteration, renovation, transfiguration, exchange, and even transformation. Interesting isn’t it? That our cultures view of the word conversion is so negative while the synonyms bring nothing but positive pictures into view. I suppose the negative idea of conversion has crept in from Church history; specifically those moments on both the Roman Catholic and Protestant side of the aisle when conversion was done by coercion. When it was forced either by trial, by inquisition, or by war. These are stains on the history of Christianity and are evidence that the Church is full of fallen men and women. Events like these have long lingered in the mind of man giving us our modern distaste for the idea of conversion.
When we come to the Bible we see an entirely refreshing and positive view of conversion. Rather than being seen as coercion we see it as the great work of the Holy Spirit in beginning the Christian life by raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life. It is the moment of transformation, when we become, by the work of the Spirit, something we never thought we would ever be. Conversion in the Christian sense of the word, in the biblical sense of the word is nothing less than a complete renovation of the soul.
Throughout the Scriptures there is one word rises to the top when we discuss conversion. This word in Greek is metamorphuo, which as you can probably guess is where we get the English word metamorphosis. When this Greek word shows up in the New Testament it is usually translated into English as ‘transformation.’ In regards to the transformation of conversion two passages drive this home to us.
An Unveiling Glory – 2 Corinthians 3:12-18
“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Here Paul is comparing the glory of the Old and New Covenants. To illustrate this comparison he speaks firstly of Moses, who had to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites wouldn’t be terrorized by the glory of God. Paul says even in his day when the Law is read there is still a veil over the hearts of the Israelites. “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (3:16). More so, Paul seems to interrupt his argument with a statement about the freedom that comes into the heart when the Holy Spirit removes the veils and takes up residence within us. But upon further examination Paul isn’t interrupting anything. Paul makes this statement about the Spirit in v17 in order to tell us that the One who does the work of removing this veil over our hearts is the Holy Spirit Himself, and because the Spirit does this, we now have freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from the Law, freedom from the veil over our eyes, freedom from the veil over our hearts. Freedom from the shadowy nature of the old covenant. Freedom in the crystal clear nature of the new covenant. Freedom to see the glory of God with nothing hindering our sight. Freedom to finally draw near to God without sheer and utter terror.
Then, in what has to be one of the most famous passages of Scripture, Paul summarizes by detailing this Spirit produced metamorphosis and transformation saying that in the New Covenant all those who come to Christ by faith, now, with an unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord. And from beholding God’s glory we are literally transformed by that glory into another kind of person. Initially this is the moment of conversion, or resurrection, of the new birth. But notice that once God transforms us, that transformation doesn’t end, it continues on progressively from one degree of glory to another. This progressive work of transformation is called sanctification, where God, by exposing us to more of His glory, makes us into His holy image. So the initial moment of transformation in view here is a one time act of God’s free grace on us, and the progressive transformation in view here is the continual work of God’s free grace in us. If there is any doubt in the reader as to who is responsible for this unveiling, transforming, metamorphosing work, Paul makes it clear in v18, “This (all of this grace!) comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
So from this first passage we learn that conversion is a transformative moment, where the Holy Spirit does the work of removing the veil over our hearts so that we can truly behold the glory of God. And from beholding the glory of God, what happens? We are transformed…initially and marvelously and throughout our lives God the Spirit continues to transform us to greater and greater degrees. Notice the end of v18 again, “For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” This is why Paul is able to call believers letters written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God in 3:3.
Creating A New Creation – 2 Corinthians 5:14-19
“…we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
Here Paul is laying out the ministry of reconciliation all believers have received from God. He died so that those who live would no longer selfishly live for themselves but for the glory of Christ who died and was raised for them in v14-15. Because Christ died that we would live for His glory Paul says he no longer regards those who believe in Christ according to flesh in v16. How then does Paul regard believers? v17 tells us, he regards us as what we truly are – new creations of God. The old has passed, the new has come. How did this happen? v18-19 tell us. All of this is from God, who sent His Son to reconcile us to Himself and then give us the ministry of reconciliation after His resurrection.
This is all good and well but where does the Holy Spirit come into this? Through the theme of creation. Back in Genesis 1 who was hovering over the waters? The Spirit. What then did God do to create all we see today? He spoke His Word by the power of His Spirit into the darkness and created all things. Paul uses this exact argument one chapter earlier to describe how God made new creations out of us at conversion. In 2 Cor. 4:6 he says, “For God, who said ‘Let light shine out darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Therefore, the meaning of 3:18 and 5:17 is that just as God accomplished creation through His Word and Spirit, so too, God accomplished our conversion by His Word and Spirit too, transforming us and making us new creations.
Yes, change is needed. Yes, change is possible. Yes, we must become new, not just better. Yes, we must know the gospel, believe the gospel, and bank on the gospel. And yes, all of these things, all of this great work of God inside the soul of man that we call conversion, is brought about by living and enduring Word of God.
In 1917 pastor and hymn writer Frederick Lehman wrote the following words, “The love of God is greater far, than tongue or pen can ever tell, it goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell; the guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win, His erring child He reconciled and pardoned from his sin…Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade, to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry, nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.”
These words describe the beauty and wonder of the boundless and wonderful love of God. This love is revealed to us all over the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation we see a holy God in love choosing, pursuing, rescuing, changing, and keeping sinful men and women for the glory of His name. There are literally 1,000 places we could go to in Scripture to see this love revealed to us in manifold splendor, but there is one place which rises above all others. John 3:16 is the most famous, the most well known, as well as the most prized verse in the whole Bible. This verse is literally everywhere: from Tim Tebow’s eye black to the lips of every evangelist, from countless posters at sporting events to innumerable bumper stickers, from the pulpits of churches around the world the millions of Christians in those churches, John 3:16 is without a doubt a massive source of comfort and security. But while this is without a doubt the most well known verse of all the Bible, I also think it is also without a doubt one of the most misunderstood and distorted verses in all of the Bible. I believe this to be true because one can know John 3:16 without really knowing what it teaches. Everyone loves it’s big, grand, and universal scope, but no one gives a thought to how particular the verse is.
See here the six glories of John 3:16
This first word of the verse isn’t a throwaway word for it connects John 3:16 to the larger context of John 3. So in order to know what John 3:16 means we must see it in the context it comes to us. In John 3:1-15 we witness the evening meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus where Jesus unfolds the details of what He calls the new birth and what it means to be born again. It was difficult for Nicodemus to hear and embrace these things, he was confused and a bit appalled at what Jesus had to say, even after Jesus used earthly imagery to explain what He meant Nicodemus still doesn’t get it. Jesus then in v14-15 draws a parallel between His own Person and Work with the bronze serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness in Numbers 21. Then seemingly in order to drive that point home, we then have John 3:16 being the very next verse and the ‘for’ means that v16 is a continuation and implication of v14-15. But pause and ask, who said v16? Most red letter Bibles use red in John 3:3, v5-8, and v10-21, leading us to believe the famous words of John 3:16 were given to us from the lips of Jesus Himself. But, I differ in opinion here, and think that the evening meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus ended at v15, which would mean John 3:16 is where the apostle John’s reflection on this meeting begins. And the first thing John has to say about this meeting has become the most famous verse in the entire Bible. This opening word, “For…” answers a question we have. What does this evening meeting’s dialogue ultimately mean? “For…” is the indication to us that the apostle John is about to tell us.
2) “For God…”
So John 3:16 is not only meant to be read and understood in the context of v1-15, but that the very next word is ‘God’ tells us that John 3:16 is first and foremost about God. Before this verse is ever about you or me this verse is about God. It tells us who He is, what He is like, and what He has done. “For God…” reminds us that there is a God who exists, that this world and we ourselves are not a cosmic accident or a result of chance, and that this God is not a distant God, but a God who is near to the creation and the creatures He has made. Many deny God’s existence saying He is a figment of our imagination similar to the tooth fairy, and just as we all grew up and out of our childish belief in the tooth fairy we must also grow up and out of our childish belief about God. I tell you today that God is not a mere symbol that mankind created and attaches meaning to. God is not a divine fairy tale character. God is not a figment of our imagination. What does John 3:16 say? The reality of John 3:16 is that before any of us existed, and before this world existed God was! The wonder of John 3:16 is that this God, who was and is fully sufficient, independent, lacking nothing, out of sheer grace created this world and every human on it so that we would glorify Him by enjoying Him forever. John 3:16 is rightly and surely a verse loaded with good news, but the first piece of good news John 3:16 gives us is this: “God is, and He has not remained silent.” What then did God do toward this world He made?
3) “For God so loved the world…”
Just like a full size crunch bar gets better and better with each bite, so too, the glory and beauty of John 3:16 gets better and better with each phrase. We have seen that there is a God – holy, just, independent, gracious, and fully sufficient. We have seen that this God isn’t aloof from the world He made. We now see here that this God who made the world has a certain disposition toward this world, toward us, He loves. “For God so loved the world…” Two things are important to see here:
a) How we interpret the word ‘so’ is incredibly important to how we interpret this verse. For example most of us, being native English speakers, interpret the word ‘so’ to carry a meaning of intensity as when a husband says to his wife ‘I love you sooo much.’ This is a legitimate use of the word ‘so’ in English but this notion of intensity is not in view in the original Greek word here. Rather than intensity, the Greek meaning of the word ‘so’ is one of ‘manner’ which makes John 3:16 say something like, “For God loved the world in this manner…” or “For God loved the world like this…”
b) How we interpret the word ‘world’ is also incredibly important. John’s use of the Greek word ‘cosmos’ which means ‘world’ is an all-encompassing word that includes the entire created order. It’s not so much referring to individual people, but referring to all God has made. God, therefore has a loving disposition toward all He has made. Knowing this should then lead to us being surprised because this world is a fallen world. We believe that when our first parents Adam and Eve bit the fruit they plunged mankind into death, and the entire created order fell from its original position. Thus, ever since Genesis 3 this world has been a fallen world, filled with a humanity that is hostile to God, unwilling to submit to God, and rebellious to God. Yet, in spite of this continual rebellion and hostility God what? He loved this world? John 3:16 says so. That God would love a world like this, filled with sinful people like us, does not communicate our own value or worth – no – it communicates the greatness of His love that is characteristic of who He is.
But this poses a new question: how did God love the world?
4) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…”
How did God love the world? He loved the world that He gave to it. So God isn’t merely a God of who is characterized by love, but this love moved Him to give. What did He give? He gave that which was most dear to Himself, His one, unique, and only Son. Now comes the larger question: why did He give His Son? Think of it like this. If you don’t like me, you could probably hide around the church until everyone left, pop out as I’m locking up and punch me in the face. There probably wouldn’t be very serious consequences to doing that, you probably could just leave like normal, go home and have lunch while I’m lying on the floor knocked out. Now contrast punching me in the face with trying to punch President Trump in the face. It is highly likely the moment you tried to get close enough to do so that a secret service member will take his gun out and shoot you. Why? He’s the President, there are very serious consequences and penalties to trying to harm him. But why is there a difference in punishment between harming President Trump and harming me? Because the nature of punishment is measured by who the crime is committed against.
Now come back to John 3:16. Remember, we have sinned against the highest One there is, God. And because we sinned against God who is the cosmic King of all, even the smallest of sins against Him is cosmic treason. Why then did God in love give His Son? To to live the perfect life we never could have lived and die the death we deserved to die. So Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, was given by God live for us, die for us, and wonder of wonders…the very thing we’re celebrating today…rise for us.
5) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him…”
Wrongly, many assume John 3:16 says something like “For God so loved the world that God sent His only Son to save everyone.” The word ‘whoever’ truly is universal in its scope, but do you see how the verse places a condition on how to gain the benefits of Christ’s work? ‘Whoever…believes.’ The great and loving work of God through Christ is not doled out to everyone in general. No, it only applies to those who believe, those who trust, those who come to Christ clinging to Him as we would cling to a parachute while skydiving. This is none other than the ‘way of salvation.’ God doesn’t say He gave His Son to whoever obeys His commandments, or that He gave His Son to whoever does not sin, or that He gave His Son to whoever does not struggle with doubt or despair. No, He gave His Son to whoever believes. Charles Spurgeon once said it like this, “Faith, however slender, saves the soul.”
I wonder, what are you believing in today? What are you trusting in? What are you clinging to? Perhaps some of you know the facts of the gospel, you may even believe that those facts are true, but you’re not believing in them one bit to save your soul. No, the life you’re now living is a life of unstable hopes and you’re looking to many other things in this world to give you stability and rescue from the evils you feel within your own fallen and sinful heart. If that’s you be challenged, hoping in the world or in other people will leave you distressed, only hoping in Christ will bring you rest. Or perhaps you’re discouraged and feel that you’re too weak or despairing to grab ahold of Christ by faith, that the pit you’ve fallen into is far too deep to get out of, so deep that the sun itself doesn’t even shine where you exist day by day. Be encouraged, for the smallest faith receives the same strong Christ as the strongest faith in the world. Whether you’re barely entering your teens, in the middle of life, or gaining more and more of a grey head – ‘whoever believes’ is a call from God that has no limit!
6) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
See here a contrast God intends us to see. The end of unbelief is the beginning of eternal suffering in hell, while the end of belief is the beginning of pleasure forevermore in heaven. This is not just a matter for the future. For all hard-hearted sinners who reject the Son of God will be hardened even more in this life, while all hard-hearted sinners who embrace the Son of God are softened and experience the spiritual blessings and benefits of the New Covenant Christ came to begin even now.
 R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 89.
 R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 44. See also Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 228.
 See Francis Shaeffer, He is There and He Is Not Silent, Tyndale House, 1972.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 230.
 Charles Spurgeon, Immeasurable Love, sermon delivered on 1850 in the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
 Jared Wilson, There is No Faith So Little That it is Not Saving, For the Church Blog, accessed 4/13/17.