Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Bearer of the Curse

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).

In our day a curse is regarded as superstitious, but in biblical categories it has a different meaning. The curse in the Old Testament refers to the negative judgment of God—the opposite of blessing. When God gave the covenant to Israel, He listed the curses and blessings, the punishments and rewards, to be dispensed to the faithful or unfaithful (Deuteronomy 28).

In the Bible, blessedness means to be able to come near to the presence of God. The closer you come to a face-to-face relationship with God, the more blessed you are; and the farther you are from God, the more cursed you are. Thus, the curse of God was to be removed from His presence altogether, to be utterly cut off from Him.

John’s Gospel opens with the statement, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” The word translated with implies “face to face.” Originally, the Son of God was face to face with God.

When we read of the passion of Jesus, two things stand out. First, Jesus was judged by Gentiles. He was sent out of the covenant community of Israel into the realm of those who were strangers to the covenant. Second, according to the law, a man who was hanged on a tree was cursed (Deuteronomy 21:23).

When Jesus bore the punishment for our sins, He experienced God’s curse and rejection. In spiritual torment He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Why? So that He might die that we might live.

At the Cross we see the truest picture of the horror of our sin. Reflect on that for a few moments, and then thank God that Jesus was willing to undergo the curse on your behalf. As you ponder both the physical pain and the spiritual anguish which Jesus, the eternally Beloved Son and Innocent One, experienced, use a hymnal to read or sing several of the stirring hymns about the Crucifixion.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Brief Thoughts on Charlottesville

I shared the following impromptu remarks yesterday in worship following the Lord's Supper and before my sermon.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (JOHN 12:12–19)

"The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (John 12:12–13).

The first thing the crowd shouted was “Hosanna!” As they shouted this word, they waved palm branches and laid them in His path. The word hosanna was shouted as we cry “Hurray!” today. Beyond this, however, hosanna was a word that referred to a palm branch. Palm branches were symbolically associated with peace, particularly with peace that results from a crucial victory. When they waved palms and shouted “Hosanna” at Jesus, they were celebrating an anticipated victory over the Romans that they expected their Messiah to achieve.

Jesus did indeed come to defeat someone, but it was not Rome. Rather, the warfare to which Jesus committed Himself was a cosmic warfare against all the powers of sin and evil. The liberation He came to bring was not simply freedom from Rome, but freedom from sin and Satan.

Secondly, they shouted “Blessed is the King of Israel, who comes in the name of the Lord!” They were not just celebrating a king; they were indicating that this King was coming in the name of God. In saying this, they were using the vocabulary that was reserved for the Messiah, the One who would restore the kingdom to Israel.

Certainly Jesus was the King who had come to bring the kingdom of God, but the people did not understand. They were filled with political expectations, and this explains why these same people later shouted “Crucify Him!” Instead of leading them to victory against Rome, He had meekly submitted to Roman arrest and trial. He had not lived up to their expectations and they were bitterly disappointed.

It is easy to think that our greatest problems today are political problems. But the Bible teaches that man’s problem is sin, and the solution is redemption and sanctification. Christians should be active in society and in politics, but we must always keep first things first. How about you? Would you have been disappointed in Jesus?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"A Call to Separation" By A.W. Pink (1886-1952)

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14-18) 

This passage gives utterance to a Divine exhortation for those belonging to Christ to hold aloof from all intimate associations with the Ungodly. It expressly forbids them entering into alliances with the unconverted. It definitely prohibits the children of God walking arm-in-arm with worldlings. It is an admonition applying to every phase and department of our lives—religious, domestic social, commercial. And never, perhaps, was there a time when it more needed pressing on Christians than now. The days in which we are living are marked by the spirit of compromise. On every side we behold unholy mixtures, ungodly alliances, unequal yokes. Many professing Christians appear to be trying how near to the world they may walk and yet go to Heaven. 

“Be ye not unequally yoked together.” This is a call to godly separation. In each dispensation this Divine demand has been made. To Abraham Jehovah’s peremptory word was, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house.” To Israel He said, “After the doings of the land of Egypt wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do; neither shall ye walk in their ordinances.” (Lev. 18:3) And again, “Ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation which I cast out before you.” (Lev. 20:23) It was for their disregard of these very prohibitions that Israel brought down upon themselves such severe chastisements. 

At the beginning of the New Testament we are shown the forerunner of Christ standing outside the organized Judaism of his day, calling on men to flee from the wrath to come. The Savior announced that, “He calleth His own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.” (John 10:3) On the day of Pentecost the word to believers was, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” (Acts 2:40) Later, to the Christian Hebrews Paul wrote, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp.” (13:13) God’s call to His people in Babylon is, “Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” (Rev. 18:4) 

“Be ye not unequally yoked together.” This is God’s word unto His people today. Nor does it stand alone. In Rom. 16:17 it is said, “Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them.” In 2 Tim 2:20 we read, “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use.” 2 Tim. 3:5 speaks of those “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof,” then it is added, “from such turn away.” What a word is that in 2 Thess. 3:14, “If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him.” How radical is the admonition of 1 Cor. 5:11, “Now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner: with such an one no, not to eat.” 

“Be ye not unequally yoked together.” We are fully persuaded that it is disregard of this commandment, for command it is, which is largely responsible for the low state which now obtains so generally among Christians, both individually and corporately. No wonder the spiritual pulse of many churches beats so feebly. No wonder their prayer-meetings are so thinly attended; Christians who are unequally yoked have no heart for prayer. Disobedience at this point is a certain preventative to real and whole-hearted devotion to Christ. No one can be an unshackled follower of the Lord Jesus who is, in any way, “yoked” to His enemies. He may be a truly saved person, but the testimony of his life, the witness of his walk, will not honor and glorify Christ. 

“Be ye not unequally yoked together.” This applies first to our religious or ecclesiastical connections. How many Christians are members of so-called “churches,” where much is going on which they know is at direct variance with the Word of God either the teaching from the pulpit, the worldly attractions used to draw the ungodly, and the worldly methods employed to finance it or the constant receiving into its membership of those who give no evidence of having been born again. Believers in Christ who remain in such “churches” (?) are dishonoring their Lord. Should they answer: “Practically all the churches are the same, and were we to resign, what could we do? We must go somewhere on Sundays,” such language would show they are putting their own interests before the glory of Christ. Better stay at home and read God’s Word, than fellowship that which His Word condemns.

“Be ye not unequally yoked together.” This applies to membership in Secret Orders. A “yoke” is that which unites. Those who belong to a “lodge” are united in solemn oath and covenant with their “brother” members. Many of their fellow members give no evidence of being born again. They may believe in a “Supreme Being,” but what love have they for God’s Word? what is their relation to God’s Son? “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3) Can those who owe their all to Christ, both for time and eternity, have fellowship with those who “despise and reject” Him? Let any Christian reader who is thus unequally yoked get from under it without delay. 

“Be ye not unequally yoked together.” This applies to marriage. There are but two families in this world: the children of God, and the children of the devil. (1 John 3:10) If, then, a daughter of God marries a son of the evil one, she becomes a daughter-in-law to Satan! If a son of God marries a daughter of Satan, he becomes a son-in- law to the devil! By such an infamous step an affinity is formed between one belonging to the Most High and one belonging to His archenemy. “Strong language!” Yes, but not too strong. And oh the bitter reaping from such a sowing. In every case it is the poor Christian who suffers. Read the inspired histories of Samson, Solomon, and Ahab, and see what followed their unholy alliances in wedlock. As well might an athlete, who attached to himself a heavy weight, expect to win a race, as a Christian to progress spiritually by marrying a worldling. Oh what watchfulness in prayer is needed in the regulation of our affections! 

“Be ye not unequally yoked together.” This applies to business partnerships. Disobedience at this point has wrecked many a Christian’s testimony and pierced him through with many sorrows. Whatever may be gained of this world by seeking its avenues to wealth and social prestige, will but poorly compensate for the loss of fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Read Prov. 1:10-14. The path which the disciple of Christ is called to tread is a narrow one, and if he leaves it for a wider road, it will mean severe chastenings, heart- breaking losses, and perhaps the forfeiting the Savior’s “Well done” at the end of the journey. 

We are to hate even the “garment”—figure of our habits and ways—spotted by the flesh (Jude 23), and are to keep ourselves “unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27) What a searching and sweeping word is that in 2 Cor. 7:1, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” If any occupation or association is found to hinder our communion with God or our enjoyment of spiritual things, then it must be abandoned. Beware of “leprosy” in the garment. (Lev. 13:47) Anything in my habits or ways which mars happy fellowship with the brethren or robs me of power in service, is to be unsparingly judged and made an end of—”burned.” (Lev. 13:52) Whatever I cannot do for God’s glory must be avoided. 

“For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” How explicit and emphatic are the terms used there! No excuse whatever is there for failing to understand the terms of this exhortation, and the reason with which it is supported. “Fellowship, communion, concord, part, agreement” are so plain they require no interpreter. All unions, alliances, partnerships, entanglements, with unbelievers are expressly forbidden to the Christian. It is impossible to find within the whole range of Holy Scripture plainer language on any subject than we have here. “Righteousness, unrighteousness; light, darkness; Christ, Belial”—what have they in common? What bond is there between them? 

The contrasts presented are very pointed and searching. “Righteousness” is right doing; “unrighteousness” is wrong doing. The unerring and only standard of right doing is “the Word of Righteousness.” (Heb. 5:13) By this alone is the Christian’s life and walk to be regulated. But the worldling disregards and defies it. Then what “fellowship” can there be between one who is in subjection to God’s Word with one who is not? “Light” and “darkness.” God is light (1 John 1:5) and His saints are “the children of light.” (Luke 16:8) But the children of the Wicked One are darkness” (Eph. 5:8) What communion, then, can there be between members of families so dissimilar? “Christ” and “Belial”—what concord can there be between one to whom Christ is everything, and one who despises and rejects Him? 

“For ye are the temple of the living God: as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” How blessed is this! First, we have the exhortation given, “Be ye not unequally yoked together”; second, the reason adduced, “for what fellowship bath righteousness with unrighteousness ?”; third, the inducement proffered. This is a divine promise, and it is striking to note it is a sevenfold one: 1) “I will dwell in them,” 2) “and walk in them,” 3) “And I will be their God,” 4) “And they shall be My people,” 5) “And I will receive you,” 6) “And will be a Father unto you,” 7) “And ye shall be My sons and daughters.” 

“I will dwell in them,” is fellowship; “and walk in them,” is companionship; “and I will be their God,” is relationship. First, in them, then for them; and “if God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31) “And they shall be My people,” is ownership, acknowledged as His. ‘And I will receive you,” means being brought to the place of experimental and conscious nearness to God. “And will be a Father unto you” means “ ‘I will manifest Myself to you in this character, and impart to your hearts all the joys of such.” “And ye shall be My sons and daughters” means, that such godly separation from the world will afford demonstration that we are His “sons and daughters.” Compare Matt. 5:44. 

“Saith the Lord Almighty.” This is the only time the divine title “Almighty” is found in all the twenty-one Epistles of the New Testament! It seems to be brought in here for the purpose of emphasizing the sufficiency of our Resource. As another has said, “Let any Christian act on the command of separation given in 2 Cor. 6:14-17, and he will find his path so beset with difficulties and so tending to arouse the hostility of all, that if his eyes are not kept fixed on the Almighty God who has thus called him out, he will surely have a breakdown.” But let it be noted that these promises are conditional, conditional on obeying the preceding exhortations. Yet if the heart lays hold of this blessed inducement, then obedience to the command will be easy and pleasant.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What is Biblical Repentance?

Repentance is no more a meritorious work than its counterpart, faith. It is an inward response. Genuine repentance pleads with the Lord to forgive and deliver from the burden of sin and the fear of judgment and hell. It is the attitude of the publican who, fearful of even looking toward heaven, smote his breast and cried, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!" (Luke 18:13). Repentance is not merely behavior reform. But because true repentance involves a change of heart and purpose, it inevitably results in a change of behavior.

Like faith, repentance has intellectual, emotional, and volitional ramifications. Berkhof describes the intellectual element of repentance as "a change of view, a recognition of sin as involving personal guilt, defilement, and helplessness." The emotional element is "a change of feeling, manifesting itself in sorrow for sin committed against a holy God." The volitional element is "a change of purpose, an inward turning away from sin, and a disposition to seek pardon and cleansing." (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 486) Each of those three elements is deficient apart from the others. Repentance is a response of the total person; therefore some speak of it as total surrender.

It is true that sorrow from sin is not repentance. Judas felt remorse, but he didn't repent (Matt. 27:3). Repentance is not just a resolve to do better; everyone who has ever made New Year's resolutions knows how easily human determination can be broken. Repentance certainly is not penance, an activity performed to try to atone for one's own sins.

But neither is repentance a solely intellectual issue. Surely even Judas changed his mind; what he didn't do was turn from his sin and throw himself on the Lord for mercy. Repentance is not just a change of mind; it is a change of heart. It is a spiritual turning, a total about-face. Repentance in the context of the new birth means turning from sin to the Savior. It is an inward response, not external activity, but its fruit will be evident in the true believer's behavior (Luke 3:8).

It has often been said that repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. That coin is called conversion. Repentance turns from sin to Christ, and faith embraces Him as the only hope of salvation and righteousness. That is what conversion means in simple terms.

Faith and repentance are distinct concepts, but they cannot occur independently of each other. Genuine repentance is always the flip side of faith; and true faith accompanies repentance. As Berkhof stated in his Systematic Theology, "The two cannot be separated" (p. 487).

Isaiah 55:1-13, the classic Old Testament call to conversion, shows both sides of the coin. Faith is called for in several ways: "Come to the waters ... buy wine and milk without money and without cost" (v. 1 ). "Eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance" (v. 2 ). "Listen, that you may live" (v. 3 ). "Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near" (v. 6 ).

But the passage also enjoins repentance: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord" (v. 7 ).

As that verse demonstrates, the issue in repentance is moral, not merely intellectual. What repentance calls for is not only a "change of mind" but a turning away from the love of sin. A leading New Testament dictionary emphasizes that the New Testament concept of repentance is not predominately intellectual. "Rather the decision by the whole man to turn around is stressed. It is clear that we are concerned neither with a purely outward turning nor with a merely intellectual change of ideas." (NIDNT, 1:358) Another principal theological dictionary defines repentance as:
radical conversion, a transformation of nature, a definitive turning from evil, a resolute turning to God in total obedience (Mk. 1:15 ; Mt. 4:17 ; 18:3).... This conversion is once-for-all. There can be no going back, only advance in responsible movement along the way now taken. It affects the whole man, first and basically the centre of personal life, then logically his conduct at all times and in all situations, his thoughts, words and acts ( Mt. 12:33 ff. par.; 23:26 ; Mk. 7:15 par.). The whole proclamation of Jesus ... is a proclamation of unconditional turning to God, of unconditional turning from all that is against God, not merely that which is downright evil, but that which in a given case makes total turning to God impossible.... It is addressed to all without distinction and presented with unmitigated severity in order to indicate the only way of salvation there is. It calls for total surrender, total commitment to the will of God. ... It embraces the whole walk of the new man who is claimed by the divine lordship. It carries with it the founding of a new personal relation of man to God.... It awakens joyous obedience for a life according to God's will. (Kittel, TDNT, 4:1002-3)