Reminding People of God’s Reality

Last week I was asked to give a devotional for our church’s deacon meeting. I used the time to issue the following challenge – perhaps it will be edifying to you as well.

Reminding People of God’s Reality

I want to suggest that most of us get caught up in a reality of our own making so easily, and for so long, that it is often difficult to see God’s reality. This is especially true for those who are suffering. It seems more and more often that as I minister to the body of Christ, that men lean on the shallowness of watered down devotionals, and trinkets of the Word of God taken out of context and plunked down in ‘5 easy steps to happiness’, or ‘how to successfully arrange your day by God’s word.’

Too often have I visited a sick person who has wandered through unsatisfying pages of tripe, when he needs the richness of God’s unvarnished Word. It is your mission to bring that richness to their lives.

Yet, by His grace He has given us several means through which we may see His reality more clearly. Some of these include sharing a testimony from our own lives. Sometimes God uses great literature with rich stories of adventures in other words to bring back a wandering mind into the realities of His governance over this world. Very often though, He uses the traversing of a great wilderness where all good things seemed stripped away, to bring us to nothing in order that we would be reminded that we have everything we need in Him.

Some of the people we are ministering to do not want to spend time in God’s Word. They do not know it, or they have too often allowed the words of men – mostly weak kneed and watered down devotionals – to come between them and the words of God.

When they encounter the Word of God in all its brightness, they are brought back to reality – a reality of God’s making. They realize both judgment and grace. This is the best and most effective way to bring someone back to reality. Yet for the unwilling, there are these other more subtle ways of grace that God uses as “first steps” back to His glorious word.

Well-written fantasy, or allegory, can do just that. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein wrote in such powerful prose that readers are transported from their world to another. In this other world they once again recognize the principles that rule our own world.

Tolkein wrote clearly about this saying…

“The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.”[1]

In Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, a conversation ensues between Lucy, Edward, and the Christ-like character Aslan, which brings out similar truths:

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are -are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”[2]

But not everyone we minister to will have this literary background. Sometimes we find people so lost in despondency, and in the desert of their own suffering, that the only escape for them is the few hours of restless sleep they glean every night. We catch them, as it were, in the wasteland.

And it does no good to nurture the idea that God did not ordain their circumstances. Indeed, that is the lie which undermines our very ability to comfort them. Rather, we must point them to the truths of the gospel, and bring them to the only one who can anoint them with the balm necessary to salve their scabbed and worn feet from the desert walk.

It is in the desert where God trained Israel to have affection only for Him. It was in exile that great leaders were born. It was out of Egypt that God called His Son.

For as Samuel Rutherford points out, in a reference to Hosea 2:

I rejoice that He is come and hath chosen you in the furnace; it was even there where ye and He set tryst; that is an old gate of Christ’s. He keepeth the good old fashion with you, that was in Hosea’s days (Hosea 2:14). “Therefore, behold I will allure her, and bring her to the wilderness and speak to her heart.” There was no talking to her heart while He and she were in the fair and flourishing city and at ease; but out in the cold, hungry, waste wilderness, He allureth her, He whispered into her ear there, and said, “Thou art mine.”[3]

No matter what these “first steps” are, they are God’s gracious gifts to bring back wandering sheep to His fold.

It is our mission as leaders of the church to set that truth in front of them. That truth is this: All you are going through now is not meaningless. It is preordained by God in Christ so that you will treasure Him and His reality above all things.

Therefore my charge to you as leaders is to prevent nothing from coming between the people you are ministering to, and the great realities of the gospel of Christ. Do not let the watered down devotionals of our day, which are often Christ-less and bloodless, be your first line of defense. Take up great allegory from titans of literature, take up great writing from the Puritans, take up experience from God’s work in your own life and show how He has been faithful. Yet above all, take up the Word of God, and use it to shake men and women from the false realities of their own making. Shine truth into their lives in vivid colors and clearly written phrases. Do all you can to showcase the bloody, costly, gracious, glorious gospel of Christ, and in boldness and gentleness pour love into the lives of those you minister to in the weeks and months ahead.

I’ll just close with some thoughts from John Piper to those who are suffering, and the importance of preaching God’s Word to themselves in the midst of the wilderness:

Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.

I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen.

When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.

Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.[4]

 

footnotes

[1]J.R.R. Tolkein, ‘On Fairy Stories’, http://www.rivendellcommunity.org/Formation/Tolkien_On_Fairy_Stories.pdf?utm_source=Desiring+God&utm_campaign=b5ec8d8fa5-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6da5f8315b-b5ec8d8fa5-99744309

[2] C.S. Lewis, ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, As quoted on goodreads.com, http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3349054-the-voyage-of-the-dawn-treader.

[3] Samuel Rutherford, ‘The Loveliness of Christ’, Pg. 64-65.

[4] John Piper, as found on desiringgod.com, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-song-for-the-suffering-with-john-piper

Millennial Charts of the Four Major Views

As I was preparing for tomorrow’s sunday school lesson, I thought it might be helpful to post up a few charts of the four predominant views on the millennium. I have to thank the folks at Postmillennialism.com for their work on these (I’m not endorsing everything on their site, but these charts were helpful).

amil disp-pre hist-pre postmil

John 15:2 and Remaining “In” Christ

John 15 is a beautiful passage and in our class, along with here in this space, I’ve devoted the last few weeks to exploring the first 6 verses.  As a follow up to this passage, I thought you all would enjoy a short listen to a recent Podcast of John Piper where he explains that verse 2 does not violate the traditional understanding that “once saved, always saved.”

Here’s John Piper’s Podcast:

In addition, you may have heard me state before in class or here that my understanding of verse 2 is modified by verse 6.  That is to say that I take verse 2 in the context of the entire passage, and that I didn’t want to push the metaphor too far.  Well, not surprisingly, D.A. Carson explains this much better than I could have, so I thought I’d just post his thoughts below for your edification!

It is more satisfactory to recognize that asking the in me language to settle such disputes (of losing salvation etc.) is to push the vine imagery too far. The transparent purpose of the verse is to insist that there are no true Christians without some measure of fruit. Fruitfulness is an infallible mark of true Christianity; the alternative is dead wood, and the exigencies of the vine metaphor make it necessary that such wood be connected to the vine (dead branches from some other tree, lying around in the vineyard dirt, could scarcely make the point).

Review: Introduction to the Bible

A few weeks ago Bo Dobbs gave us a great introduction to the Bible.  Below are his notes in outline form, and I believe a lot of them are derived from John MacArthur’s Fundamentals of the Faith study guide – an excellent resource if you’re interested in learning where to begin with your Biblical studies.  I hope you enjoy these and remember once again the amazing nature of Biblical revelation and His sovereign hand over all of history.

Merry Christmas!

PJW

 

Lesson 1:

INTRODUCTION TO THE BIBLE

Plan:

1)    Natural and Special Revelation

2)    General Information about the Bible, including its origin, titles, and translations

3)    The inspiration and believability of the bible

Scripture Memory Verse2 Timothy 3:16

  • Holy Scripture is the foundation from which we draw authority.
  • Scripture speaks for itself, for it is living and active (Hebrews 4:12)
  • The words of Scripture are powerful and able to change the hearts and thoughts of men
    • Ephesians 2:8-9

1)     Revelation

A.    Definition:

  • Revelation – The act of God whereby He discloses to man what would otherwise be unknown.
  • Inspiration – A process by which God, as the instigator, moved men by the Holy Spirit to write the words of God.

B.    Natural Revelation

  • Through creation – Romans 1:18-20
  • Through conscience – Romans 2:14-15 (read commentary in my Bible)

How has God revealed Himself to man?  Through His creation and through His law written within our hearts

What does creation show us about God?  We see His invisible attributes; His eternal power and divine nature.

What is the purpose of natural/general revelation?  To cause man to search for a fuller revelation of God.

How does natural/general revelation fall short of giving people enough information to lead directly to salvation? Natural revelation gives evidence that God exists, however, it does not reveal how man can be saved from his sinfulness and separation from God.  This is why God has also provided special revelation.  

  1. Special Revelation – What is it?

God revealing Himself to man through miracles and signs, dreams and visions, theophanies (appearances of God in tangible form), through the prophets and the greatest prophet Jesus Christ, and through the written words of god in the Bible.

(Hebrews 1:1-2)

  • Polumeros – in many portions (many books, many sections, many prophets)
  • Polutropos – in many ways (vision, prophecy, parable, type, symbol, ceremony, theophany and sometimes audible voice)
  • Types of special revelation:
    • Theophanies – A theophany is a manifestation of God in the Bible that is tangible to the human senses. In its most restrictive sense, it is a visible appearance of God in the Old Testament period, often, but not always, in human form.
  1. To Abraham – Genesis 17:1
  2. To Isaac – Genesis 26:2
  3. To Jacob – Genesis 32:30
  4. To Moses – Exodus 3:2-6
  • Dreams and Visions –
  1. Jacobs Ladder – Genesis 28:12-16
  2. Daniel – Daniel 2:19,28
  • Miracles and signs –
  1. Flood – Genesis 7
  2. Burning bush – Exodus 3
  3. Plagues in Egypt – Exodus 7-13
  4. Parting of the Red Sea – Exodus 14
  • The Sufficiency of special revelation
    • The Bible is sufficient to lead one to salvation but does not reveal everything about God to man.
    • 2 Timothy 3:15-17
    • Deuteronomy 29:29, Romans 11:33

2)    General Information on the Bible

How did we get the Bible?  (2 Peter 1:21)

Points:  ask to see if they know

  • Written over 1600 years:  1500 B.C. to A.D. 100
  • 40 different authors
  • 66 books (OT 39; NT 27)

Languages

  • Old Testament – Hebrew and Aramaic (Daniel 2-6 & Ezra 4-7)
  • Septuagint – Greek translation of the OT written in 3 B.C.
  • New Testament – Greek

Titles of the Bible

  • Bible
  • Cannon – Greek word means rule
  • Scripture – John 7:38
  • The Writings – 2 Timothy 3:15
  • The Word of God – 1 Thessalonians 2:13
  • The Law, Prophets, and Psalms – Luke 24:44

The Old Testament and the New Testament

  • “Testament” – Latin Testamentum meaning a will. The Greek word for “will” is suntheke, meaning an agreement or a covenant entered into by contracting parties.
  • The Old Testament (Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 28:1, 15) –
  • The New Testament (Hebrews 7:22; 8:6; 8:13; Luke 22:20; 2 Cor 3:5-6) –

The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed.

The Apocrypha – means “hidden”

  • There are 14 books of the Apocrypha.  We do not accept them as inspired of God because:
    • They are never quoted in the NT.  Also Christ never mentions them in his list in Luke 23/44
    • The lack the endorsement of the ancient Jewish writers
    • There are problems with the content.  Teachings are inconsistent with biblical teachings.  (Maccabees 12:43-46 states that one can make atonement for the dead)
    • They do not have prophetic power

Bible Translations

  • Saying the same thing in a different way

3)    Why is the Bible important?

THE INSPIRATION OF THE BIBLE

Inspiration is God overseeing and directing men to write His words.  It is the process by which God, as the instigator, worked through human prophets without destroying their individual personalities and styles, to produce divinely authoritative writings.

What was overcome or overridden by inspiration?  It was not human personalities, styles, or literary methods, but human tendencies to distortion, falsehood, and error.

How do we know the Bible is the inspired Word of God?

The Scripture claims to the be the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:13)

  1. In the OT, there are statements such as, “God said,” or “the Lord said,” or the Word of the Lord.”
  2. Inspiration – means “God-breathed”

The sovereignty of God in preserving His revealed Word

  1. God’s purpose cannot be challenged (Isaiah 46:10)
  2. God’s purposes and will preserve His Word (Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18; 1 Peter 1:25)

 THE CANONIZATION OF THE BIBLE

            How was the Bible Canon recognized?

            Why these 66 books?

1)    Testimony of God the Holy Spirit to the authority of His own Word

2)    Prophetic authorship (2Peter 1:20-21)

3)    God’s providential care in preserving that which He desires to preserve according to His own will (Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18; 1 Peter 1:25)

4)    God’s people responding in recognition of God’s Canon in faith and submission

5)    Many of the books in the present Cannon claim to be the Word of God

6)    In regard to the OT, Christ validated the OT books (Luke 24:44; 11:51; Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; 22:29-30)

7)    In regard to the NT, Peter recognized Paul’s witings as being equal with Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).  Paul recognized Luke 10:7 as Scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18

THE BELIEVABILITY OF THE BIBLE

Believers cannot prove to unbelievers that the Bible is God’s Word.  The reason is because unbelievers are spiritually dead (Romans 3:10-18) and thus incapable of affirming Scripture’s believability.  Unbelievers should be confronted with the gospel itself.  Once saved, the Holy Spirit will convict the person of the fact that the Bible is God’s Word.

Some reasons to find the Bible believable:

  • Ordinary men wrote the Scriptures.  John/Peter were fishermen, Matthew was a tax collector.  God didn’t use philosophers of the day, rather he used common men to write and uncommon book.
  • Internally consistent.  No errors/contradictions.  Many critics, most scrutinized book ever, yet nothing ever found in the Bible has ever been proved wrong.
  • Powerful and dynamic book that has not only changed the lives of millions of people, it also convicts God’s people of sin and leads them down the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  More influence than any book ever written.
  • Historically accurate giving credible evidence for creation, fossil records, and so on.
  • Jesus Christ Himself confirmed the believability of the Scriptures.  Jesus believed in the law and prophets (Matthew 5:17-18), believed in Jonah (Matthew 12:40-41), and believed in the historical narrative of Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 10:15)
  • There are various prophecies concerning the Messiah that confirm the believability of the Bible.
    • The birthplace of the Messiah was predicted 700 years before His birth, saying that he would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2 fulfilled in Luke 4-7)
    • Christ would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14 fulfilled in Matthew 1:18-25)
    • Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was predicted 700 years before it occurred (Zechariah 9:9 fulfilled in John 12:12-15)
    • Christ’s crucifixion and suffering were also prophesied 700 years before fulfillment (Psalm 22:14-18 fulfilled in John 19:23-37; Isaiah 53:4-7 fulfilled in Matthew 26:63)
    • Each of these prophecies can be used to help believers strengthen their resolve about the believability of the Scriptures.

Our language, and especially our language about God, Is never comprehensive and exhaustive in its ability to capture eternal truths, nevertheless it is adequate to give us truth without falsehood.  For example, if we made a statement that Dublin is a city in the state of Ohio, the truth communicated by that statement would in no way be exhaustive.

4)    The Doctrine of Inerrancy  

What do we mean when we speak of inerrancy?  We are speaking of the fact that the Bible does not violate its own principles of truth.  This does not mean that the Bible is free from grammatical irregularities or the like, but that it does not contain assertions that are in conflict with objective reality.

Inerrancy is a corollary (proposition that follows) of inspiration in that it is unthinkable that God should inspire that which is fraudulent, false, or deceitful.  Thus, though the word inerrancy is not explicitly used in the Scriptures, the word inspiration is, and the concept of inerrancy is designed to do justice to the concept of inspiration.

The term inerrant or inerrancy is not found in the Bible – The term trinity is not found anywhere in the Bible, but the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly taught throughout the NT.

  • Infallibility – has to do with the question of ability or potential;
  • Inerrancy – that which does not err

Something that is fallible could theoretically be inerrant.  But that which is infallible could not theoretically be errant at the same time.  (helps explain humans writing scripture)

If the Bible is the Word of God and if God is a God of truth then the Bible must be inerrant – not merely in some of its parts, as some modern theologians are saying, but totally, as the church for the most part has said down through the ages of its history.

Discussion of inerrancy is merely an academic exercise unless it concerns the individual Christian on the level of his growth in God. This is precisely what it does.  Confession of the full authority and inerrancy of Scripture should lead us to increasing conformity to the image of Christ, which is the God-ordained goal of every Christian.

We can believe in the inerrancy/infallibility of scripture and still lead godless lives

When the church loses its confidence in the authority of sacred Scripture, it inevitably looks to human opinion as its guiding light.  When that happens, the purity of the church is direly threatened.

Christ our Supreme Prophet

Last night I had the privilege of preaching on the role of Christ as our Prophet.  The next few weeks I’ll be preaching on his priesthood and kingship.  Here are the notes from that lesson.  Note: I’ve also included some Appendices which were more for my benefit, but also help provide context and more background on a few of the sections (should you make it that far!).

Soli Deo Gloria!

PJW

Christ the Supreme Prophet

He Preaches a Gospel of Liberation and then Fulfills the Office of Deliverer

December 1, 2013

It is the very beginning of advent season.  A time in which we excitedly anticipate Christmas – just as the Israelites anticipated the coming of the Messiah.

In His coming, Jesus would grow up to fulfill hundreds of prophecies and predictions and accomplish what no other man had ever accomplished.  In so doing He would fill three key offices: that of a prophet, a priest and a king.

Tonight we will examine the first of these, and see what Jesus’ role as prophet entailed, and what it is that He did to fulfill this role in His life and ministry. The text for this evening comes from Luke 4:16-21.

Luke makes two important points in this passage that we need to examine this evening.

  1. First, Jesus Christ is our Supreme Prophet, and His message is a gospel of liberation.
  1. Second, Jesus not only proclaims liberation, He also liberates. He is Daniel’s promised deliverer and covenant maker and ushers in a great antitypical jubilee.

What is a Prophet?

Now, before we go too much further, let me ask an obvious question: What is a prophet?  The answer is that, in short, a prophet is someone (in the Bible) who speaks on God’s behalf to God’s people.  Whereas a priest speaks to God on behalf of God’s people. 

Theologian Geerhardus Vos put it this way; “(a priest’s) function differs from that of a prophet in that the prophet moves from God toward man, whereas the priest moves from man toward God.”[i]

In the Old Testament, the office of a prophet was not a popular one.  God’s people had killed many of the prophets that He sent (Acts 7:51-52). And, I suppose in this way you could say Jesus was no different than the others!

However, what makes Jesus God’s supreme prophet is His proclamation of most important message God had ever sent His people: the Gospel of salvation.

It is this proclamation of Christ’s to which we now turn…

Exegesis of Luke 4:16-21

4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.

Historical Foreground

Jesus has been preaching in the surrounding region, and his fame was beginning to build.  Now it was time to come home for His first appearance at the synagogue in Nazareth where He grew up since the start of His ministry.  It was a homecoming for Him of sorts.

The people were no doubt anxious to hear Jesus speak. Here was one of their own who had been gathering popularity throughout the region, and they were no doubt poised to accept Him.  But were they ready to accept His message?

20th Century South African theologian and pastor Norval Geldenhuys says, “It was customary to give such an opportunity in the synagogue to visiting rabbis; and especially as all were curious to hear Jesus.”

As Jesus came into the synagogue, we are told that He “stood up to read.” The practice of the day was to stand up to read the word of God, this was done out of respect. Once the reading was done, the rabbi would sit down and give a sermon.  The sermons of that day were not like they are today, they focused almost exclusively on instruction, rather than a public oration or preaching style (see Geldenhuys).

NOTE: John MacArthur and Darrel Block both give some time to the order of ceremony in a Synagogue (see Appendix 3 for more info on Synagogues) and it was something like this:

  1. Thanksgiving or “blessings” spoken in connection with the Shema
  2. Prayer, with response of “amen” by the congregation
  3. Reading a passage from the Pentateuch (in Hebrew followed by a translation into Aramaic cf. MacArthur/Block)
  4. Reading of a passage from the Prophets (called the “Haftarah” cf. Block)
  5. Sermon or word of exhortation – by any qualified male (so long as 10 males were present per Block)
  6. Benediction by the priest (if there was one present) to which the congregation responded with “Amen” and then a closing prayer.

 

4:17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

Jesus Fulfills the Predicted Role

Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT longing for a new and greater prophet.  And therefore it would be appropriate for Him to show from the prophets of old who He was.

But this passage isn’t the only one which pointed to his arrival.  There are other foundational passages that speak of a prophet that would arise who was greater than Moses, two of which are really important and we’ll look at now:

First, in Deuteronomy 18 Moses wrote the key passage that most Jews thought of when they thought about “the prophet” that would arise in his stead:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—[16] just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ [17] And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. [18] I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.  (Deuteronomy 18:15-18)

Second, we see in the New Testament that Peter confirms that it was Jesus who fulfilled this prophetic role.  In his sermon in Acts 3 in the Portico of Solomon, Peter says this:

Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. [23] And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ [24] And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. [25] You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ [26] God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:22-26)

This prophet was Jesus Christ, and He was raised up to proclaim the gospel of repentance and “turning every one from…wickedness” in order that they would be “blessed.”

And so we see that this long-anticipated prophet has come, and the Apostles clearly believed that this role was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

4:18a  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
 because he has anointed me

The Holy Spirit in Christ’s Ministry

Now, let’s look at verse 18.  As Jesus opens the scroll He begins reading from the book of Isaiah – in what we would know today as chapter 61 verses 1 and 2 (though demarcations of this kind didn’t come for many hundred years later).

First and foremost we see that the Christ is one who has been “anointed by the Holy Spirit.”  This, as you recall, happened at the baptism of Jesus where John had been baptizing people and calling them to repentance.  Jesus, who would fulfill all the law perfectly, also went to be baptized.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. [14] John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” [15] But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. [16] And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; [17] and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17 ESV)

Everything that Jesus did was done being “filled with the Spirit.”  In fact, just prior to opening the scroll of Isaiah, in the passage before us today, it says, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country”  (Luke 4:14).

In fact Jesus Himself said that His work in the power of the Spirit (Acts 10:38) was evidence of the fact that the kingdom of God had been ushered in:

And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matt. 12:27-28)

I think we sometimes undervalue or misunderstand the work of the Spirit in the life and ministry of Christ. For instance, how could He be said to “grow in grace and knowledge” when He was already omniscient?  How could Jesus make it all the way to the cross in his humanity without sinning?  Well it wasn’t because the divine nature somehow reached over and controlled the human nature.  Rather, He fully submitted to the Spirit, and the Spirit imparted wisdom from the Father.  The Divine and the Human in Him did not “mix” or get lost somehow. Each was distinct, and we understand that union as communicating back and forth with each other.  And it is the Spirit who, somehow mysteriously, played a major part in this.

Geerhardus Vos explains: “Our Lord needed the Spirit as a real equipment of his human nature for the execution of his Messianic task. Jesus ascribed all his power and grace, the gracious words, the saving acts, to the possession of the Spirit (Matt. 12:28; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:36-38). And, through qualifying him in this manner for achieving his messianic task, the Spirit laid the foundation for the great Pentecostal bestowal of the Spirit afterwards, for this gift was dependent on the finished work.”

In His life and ministry Jesus submitted to the Spirit, but it is also important to recognize that the Spirit’s mission not to glorify Himself, but to shine the light of glory on Christ.  As Bruce Ware says, “All Scripture is given to us by the Spirit. And what the Spirit wants to talk about, most centrally, is Jesus!”

Therefore, Jesus is anointed with the Spirit, and in this way not only does He fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, but he also is empowered to proclaim the gospel. “The Spirit , then, does not work in an independent saving manner apart from the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is only by the knowledge of this gospel that an can be saved” (Ware).

4:18b  to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

Messianic/Eschatological Overtones

Here we get to the heart of Isaiah’s message, and the mission of the one who was “anointed” by the Lord.

When the Jews heard Jesus quote this passage their minds would likely have been awash in ideas of a dawning age of God’s salvation. Isaiah 61 brought to the Jewish mind of the time the promise of prosperity and a golden age of peace and blessing from God.  For them it had heavy eschatological/messianic overtones (cf. Block). We have a similar excitement and anticipation as we wait for the return of Christ (cf. Rev. 21).

When Jesus read this and connected it with himself, the Jews would have understood that He was saying that He was ushering in a new age of salvation – no doubt leading them to wonder if He was the long awaited Messiah.

So picture yourself in the room at that moment as a first century Jew listening to this man Jesus – who you might have known growing up – read words from Isaiah 61 that bring to your mind thoughts and emotions connected with the coming of God’s Savior.  Jesus hasn’t said anything yet, but dreams of peace and prosperity immediately fill your mind as you look down at your callused hands, and feel the empty money bag on your hip.  You might cringe a bit as you remember recent killings or abuses by the Romans.  Your heart might doubt if there will ever be a savior for Israel; but this Jesus has spoken things with authority you’ve never heard before.  And now He’s reading Isaiah 61…

So What Does This Really Mean?

Let’s look closer at the text itself. First, the “good news” that is proclaimed is the gospel, which is continued on the next line.  The good news is that Jesus has come to free people from bondage, heal those who are sick, and give sight to the blind etc. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount that, “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The second part of this message is that Jesus came to free captives.  Well, what kind of captives?  I believe that Jesus came to show that the prison He was freeing His people from was a prison of sin and death.  The Apostle Paul helps us understand example what was really meant by this when he says:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18).

Listen to the words of our Lord when He would later explain this in more detail:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [33] They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” [34] Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. [35] The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. [37] I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. [38] I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” (John 8:31-38)

But how is He going to set the captives free?  Through His sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection, and His triumph over the grave. He paid the penalty for the sins that had for so long held His people in bondage.

The second and fourth lines are similar because when spoken from the lips of Jesus they tell us that He came to proclaim His own death: I have come to do more than set you free from earthly bondage, I have come to set you free from the oppression of spiritual bondage.

Lastly, the third line says that He will give site to the blind. The sight that He gave was not only physical – for Jesus healed multitudes of people during his ministry – but most importantly spiritual.  In fact, the healing of blind men and women during his ministry actually pointed to a greater healing of their spiritual site. For the God of this world had blinded the minds of those who didn’t believe, and as Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Geldenhuys says, “God had sent Him to heal those who were broken-hearted and found themselves in spiritual distress; to proclaim deliverance to those who were captives in the power of sin and in spiritual wretchedness; to give back to the spiritually blind the power of sight; to cause those who were downcast and inwardly bruised to go forward in triumph.”

The physical promises and physical work of Jesus in his healing ministry – like many of those in the Old Testament – pointed to something greater.  Just as the promise of land in the OT pointed to our becoming a new creation in Christ, and the eventuality of a renewed heavens and earth, so too the miracles of Christ pointed to His ultimate work of spiritual redemption which began during His ministry here on earth and will be consummated one day when He returns.

Therefore the “good news” is this: that Jesus will heal your brokenness, will breathe new life into your spiritually dead soul, and will raise you to walk in newness of life. He is the Messiah, He is the anointed One, and He has come to usher in the kingdom of God in power – a kingdom where the blind see, and the poor have been made rich in the riches that only God can give.

Praise God that He sent a Savior to set us free from our bondage to sin! Not by our own efforts or will, but by the powerful work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus is the Fulfillment of the Year of Jubilee

Finally, let us examine the last part of this passage.  There are a few key points to be made, and the last one we will examine in-depth.

First, it tells us something about the nature of Jesus’ mission during His first advent. Baptist Theologian Tom Schreiner notes that when Jesus quotes the passage from Isaiah, He notably skips past the whole part on judgment. The rest of 61:2 says, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”

Perhaps what this tells us is that during Jesus’ first advent He has come to usher in his kingdom, to proclaim the gospel, and the fulfillment of the year of Jubilee.  But when He returns, He will judge both the quick and the dead.  Jesus is telling us something about his mission here on earth during the first advent – it is a mission of salvation – he came to seek and save the lost.

Secondly, this statement used in this context is Jesus’ way of ending the gospel message he’s just proclaimed with an exclamation point.  This gospel message he’s just proclaimed is so magnificent that marks the beginning of a new age of redemption.

And it is Jesus who is at the epicenter of this new redemptive age. He is the fulfillment of the (“typological”) past, and is the redeemer of all mankind. It is the announcement of the kingdom of God (His kingdom) and the Messianic age. Geldenhuys says, “It amounted to a declaration by Him that the words which He had read to them had finally come to fulfillment – in His own person…thus to ‘proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’, i.e. to announce the Messianic age – the period ushered in by His appearance, in which God will grant His salvation to His people.”

The phrase “year of favor” is Isaiah’s way of referencing the Jewish celebration of Jubilee. We find this celebration first described by Moses in Leviticus 25 (8-12):

“You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12 For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to all of the stipulations that Israel was to keep in this year. Here are the basics (summarized by Sam Storms):

  1. The return of all property, according to the original Mosaic distribution, to the original owner or to his family
  2. The release of all Jewish slaves
  3. The cancellation of debts
  4. The land is to lie fallow, i.e., it is neither to be sown, pruned reaped, nor gathered for an entire year.

The year of Jubilee ensured that the poor and needy were taken care of and the land was properly looked after and not overworked.  It also emphasized that it was God who owned the land (vs. 23), and that (like us today) they were sojourners in the land. Lastly, it laid down rules for redemption.  “If a person gets into difficulty or danger, then a relative (his “nearest redeemer,” v. 25) is to redeem him from his dire straits” (ESV Study notes) – A principle we find especially prominent in the book of Ruth, and in later on in our Lord and Savior’s redemption of us.

If the people of Israel kept these laws, then God promised that He would bless them greatly and they would “dwell in the land securely” (vs. 19)

So Isaiah is saying that when the prophet comes He will bring in a time of great jubilee. Sam Storms helps us understand the importance of how the Jewish people viewed the year of Jubilee:

The jubilee, therefore, was a year in which social justice, equity, freedom, pardon, release, and restoration were emphasized and experienced. The jubilee signaled a new beginning, the inauguration of moral, spiritual, and national renewal. Hence it is no surprise that the jubilee became a symbol and prefigurement of the ultimate redemption, release, and restoration that God would accomplish spiritually on behalf of his people.

Now, eventually, the anticipation of a coming deliverer (like Moses) and prince who would make a strong new covenant with His people, would soon be made known to a prophet living among the Babylonians.  That man was Daniel.

Let us turn to Daniel 9, and beginning in verse 24 we’ll read through the end of the chapter. This section of Scripture is important because it was Daniel who was told by the angel Gabriel to expect a coming Messiah who would fulfill these prophecies from Isaiah 61, and usher in a time of great deliverance and redemption:

“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks.

Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.

And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” (Daniel 9:24-27, ESV)

You may know this already, but Daniel’s 70-week prophecy anticipates two things: deliverance from the captivity of Babylon, and from the captivity of their sin. And that is the “good news” that Jesus has just declared. Daniel himself prays specifically for the former, but when God sends Gabriel to announce the vision we find that God has a bigger plan in mind. The deliverance from captivity in Bablyon would, like that of Egypt hundreds of years before, only symbolize the great deliverance of His people from sin and death.

That is why we have the 70 weeks.  Each week represents 7 years, and from the time of the decree of Artaxerxes in 457 B.C. to beginning of Christ’s ministry is 49 weeks.  The final week would land between 29-34 A.D. (per Gentry).

***Where the exact dates land isn’t as important as the theological idea that is being conveyed to Daniel here (cf. Storms), namely that Jesus is said to be “cut-off” for His people to die a vicarious substitutionary death for you and for me.[ii]

“This (the year of Jubilee mentioned in Lev. 25) all takes on special significance when we realize that there is decreed for Israel a total period of seventy sevens of years or 490 years, which is to say 10 JUBILEE ERAS, ‘an intensification of the jubilee concept point to the ultimate, antitypical jubilee.’ The jubilary year of God which the consummation of redemption and restoration is to occur is described in Isaiah 61:1-2” (Storms).

In Summary…

“When Jesus declares that in himself the jubilee of God has come he is saying, in effect, that the seventy weeks of Daniels have reached their climax. The new age of jubilee, of which all previous jubilees were prefigurements, has now dawned in the person and ministry of Jesus. The goal of the seventy-weeks prophecy is the consummate jubilary salvation of God!” (Storms)

Jesus was the man spoken of here. He is the “anointed one” and He is the one who makes a “Strong covenant” with the people and He is the one who puts “and end to sacrifice and offering” because He Himself was our sacrifice.

4:20-21 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In Conclusion 

When Jesus rolls up that scroll, and hands it to the attendant, He then turns to the whole room declaring that they will witness the in-breaking of the kingdom of God!  It’s as if He just handed the scroll aside and declared, “That. Just. Happened.”  BOOM!

It rocks every listener to the core – and it ought to shake us up as well.

Jesus, sitting in the role of the prophet of God (the Supreme Prophet) is declaring that HE is the one whom the former prophets anxiously awaited.

He is God’s Supreme Prophet to the world and is declaring the end of captivity for those held in the bonds of sin, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile. This is the Gospel of Christ. The captivity in Babylon, and in Egypt prior, were types and shadows of the captivity of sin and death that held us in bondage until He came.

Jesus is the one who has come to free the captives. He is the one who will be ushering in a kingdom and age of grace.  Furthermore, it is HE who is most worthy to be celebrated!  “I am here to fulfill the year of jubilee, and usher in the year of the Lord’s favor!”

He is the Message and the Messenger. He is the Word and the Prophet.  You see, a prophet of yesteryear could declare a message of liberty, but couldn’t bring it to pass. It took a deliverer to bring that message of liberty to the people. Jesus is both deliverer and message bearer. 

That is why He is the Supreme Prophet – He is an effectual Prophet who declares liberty (the gospel) and then proceeds to deliver (and usher in an age of liberty for millions of His chosen ones).

Christ has come to fulfill the entire law.  It is kept in His life of righteous obedience, and His sacrificial death on our behalf. His life and death mark the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. He has come to make a new covenant with us, to put an end to sacrifice and offering (for He is the fulfillment of the Temple), to release us from our captivity to sin, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor – peace in our hearts and a new creation in our lives.

Christmas Conclusion: We are on the precipice of celebrating the greatest birth in world history – the advent of God’s last and greatest Prophet.  We do it knowing that Jesus Himself is our great celebration – not simply because He was born, but because He came to SET US FREE.

Rightly did the prophets say of Him:
 
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted. (Isaiah 49:13, ESV)

 

Closing Prayer

 

Appendix 1 – Reading the OT through the Lens of Christ’s Words

I think it would be wise of us to recognize that there are often times in Scripture when we read of Jesus saying something that we don’t understand.  This was certainly the case with those who heard Him preach and claim to be fulfilling OT prophecies. In fact, many times we look at the passages He is quoting and even we, who have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us, do not immediately grasp the connection.  For instance I was recently reading in John 13 and came to verse 18 where Jesus says, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’”  He’s quoting David here who said “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who late my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Ps. 41:9).

If I were to read the Psalms without having read John 13, as many of the Jews had prior to Christ, I would simply assume that David was talking about Saul.  And that assumption would probably be correct with the limited knowledge I had. But this is my point: As we read the words of Jesus, and what He has to say about Himself, we need to trust those words explicitly.

In his commentary on Hebrews, Phillip Hughes says well that, “…over and over again in the New Testament shows that passages in the Old Testament have a significance and an application beyond and in addition to the original occasion of their composition, and this is especially so with reference to the redemptive work of Christ.”

Therefore, we need to understand that our sovereign God has placed words in the mouths of the prophets that even they might not have fully understood.  In other words, God knew all the words the prophets would write, for their words were inspired by the Spirit of God, and He had a plan for those words that may have been fulfilled both in their time, and in the coming of His Son Jesus Christ.  

Appendix 2 – Daniel’s 70 Weeks

As I compiled this sermon, I found that there are many competing views of Daniel’s prophecy, even within the reformed tradition. I spent time dealing mostly with two prominent (and current) theologians, Baptist Theologian Peter Gentry and Baptist Theologian Sam Storms.

Peter Gentry has some helpful remarks on Daniel’s vision:

The vision of Daniel’s seventy weeks, then, can be explained simply. It refers to a period of seventy sabbaticals or periods of seven years required to bring in the ultimate jubilee: release from sin, the establishment of everlasting righteousness, and consecration of the Temple.  During the first seven sabbaticals the city of Jerusalem is restored. Then for sixty-two sabbaticals there is nothing to report. In the climatic seventieth week, Israel’s King arrives and dies vicariously for his people.  Strangely, desecration of the temple similar to that by Antiochus Epiphanies in the Greek Empire is perpetrated by the Jewish people themselves, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem. The events are fulfilled in the person of Jessus of Nazareth. He is the coming King. His crucifixion is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices and the basis of the New Covenant with man. His death is not “for himself”, but rather vicarious. The rejection of Jesus as Messiah and the desecration of Him as the true Temple at his trial by the high priest result in judgment upon the Herodian temple, carried out eventually in 70A.D. The notion of a gap between the 69th and 70th week is contrary to a vision of chronological sequence. The prophecy is remarkable for its precision as it fits the events concerning Jesus of Nazareth.”

But Sam Storms, who has read Gentry, agrees that we have to read Daniel’s seventy weeks in terms of Sabbaticals (theologically instead of chronologically). Still, he has a different (and very helpful) take on this:

My point is that if Jeremiah’s “seventy years” turn out to be only “sixty-six” or even “fifty-eight” we should not be overly concerned that Daniel’s “seventy-sevens” end up being something other than precisely 490 years.”

This is different from Gentry who has done some gymnastics to show that the exact year of Christ’s dying on the cross is likely halfway through the final week of the 70 sabbaticals. But even Gentry seems to realize there is some ambiguity as to the exact year of Christ’s death.  Therefore, it is impossible to know for sure whether He died halfway through the week, or at the beginning of it, or near the end etc. from the historical record we have.

But Storms and Gentry both agree overall that this passage in Daniel is closely related to our passage in Luke.  As Storms says, “This is the passage that our Lord quotes in Luke 4:16-21 and applies to his own person and work. In other words, the fulfillment and anti-type of the prophetic and typical jubilary year has come in the person and work of Jesus Christ! Thus both Isaiah and Luke employ the Mosaic instruction (he had quoted from Leviticus 25 on the year of Jubilee before this) concerning the jubilee to describe the dawning of God’s kingdom in the person and work of Jesus.”

Bryan Chapell (of the Gospel Coalition) also summarizes the passage well, “Daniel’s vision I, unquestionably, ultimately about Christ’s gracious work in behalf of his people…Jerusalem and the temple will be restored, followed by a time of trouble, culminating in the appearance of the Messiah, who himself will be cut off before Jerusalem and its sanctuary are destroyed. These details align with Cyrus’ release of the captives, Jerusalem’s rebuilding, Christ’s coming, his crucifixion, and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem by the future Roman emperor Titus in 10 A.D.”

Gentry’s overview of Daniel’s prayer sounds like this: Daniels’s prayer is focused upon the physical return from Babylon – the first stage in redemption, but the angelic message and vision of the seventy weeks is focused upon the forgiveness of sins and the renewal of covenant and righteousness – the second stage in return from exile.

Appendix 3 – The Advent of Synagogues

John MacArthur has a fascinating short history of how synagogues came about in his commentary on the first five chapters of Luke’s Gospel. The rudimentary basics are that they could be established if there were at least 10 men in a village (this is something we saw during a study on the book of Acts – if there were not that many men in the town or village, as could be the case in the diaspora, then people would gather by the river if the town had one).

These meeting groups cropped up around the time of the Babylonian Captivity because the temple had been destroyed and there was no one central location of worship and sacrifice.  I’m not entirely sure where or if they even did sacrificing during that time.

The structures were made of stone, generally, and faced (or had windows that faced?) Jerusalem.

Appendix 4The Chiastic Structure of Luke 4:16b-4:20d (as outlined in Block)

the synagogue (4:16b)
  standing (4:16c)
     receiving the scripture (4:17a)
        opening the scripture (4:17b)
            preaching the good news (4:18c)
                  proclaiming release to the captive (4:18d)
                        giving sight to the blind (4:18e)
                  setting free the oppressed (4:18f)
            proclaiming acceptable year of the Lord (4:19a)
        closing the scripture (4:20a)
     returning the scripture (4:20b)
  sitting (4:20c)
the synagogue (4:20d) 
 

Appendix 5 – The Year of Jubilee

I liked and wanted to have in here the summary of the ESV Study notes on Leviticus 25 which state:

This provided a periodic restoration of the means to earn a living for each family in an agrarian society. (The jubilee did not equalize all possessions in Israel, however, since possessions such as cattle and money were not reallocated.) The prohibitions of the jubilee are the same as for the sabbatical year. The land is to lie fallow for two years in a row: the forty-ninth year (sabbatical year) and the fiftieth year (jubilee). This law prohibits the amassing of large estates, which would reduce many Israelites to tenant status on their ancestral land (cf. Isa. 5:8).

Also, I noted from the text that if an Israelite is forced to sell his land temporarily, he and his family retain the right of redemption. The land may be redeemed in one of three ways:

(1) a kinsman-redeemer buys back the land;
(2) the seller himself is able to buy it back; or
(3) it is restored to the rightful owner at the jubilee.
 
It is interesting that I have heard in the past that the people of Israel never celebrated the year of Jubilee! In other words, they were disobedient to the command they’d been given.  However, despite their disobedience, and eventual exile into the land of Babylon, God still had a great plan for His chosen people.

Now, I didn’t want to mention this in the sermon itself, mainly because I didn’t find any scholarship to back this up. I had heard it from the pulpit before (not sure where), but without hard evidence to support it, I couldn’t make it a major theme of the sermon.  Nonetheless, it is an interesting thought to consider.

Appendix 6 – The Kingdom of God in Luke 4

I didn’t spend a ton of time talking about the in-breaking of the kingdom in this passage, but some of the work of Baptist Theologian Tom Schreiner has been very helpful as I worked on the passage as a whole, and he has a little section on Luke 4 in his ‘New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ’ which is worth reading.  Here are some of the most interesting points he makes about the passage in relationship to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God in the ministry of Christ:

Jesus began by citing the OT Scriptures and claiming that they reach fulfillment in his person and ministry. The claim is a stunning one, for the OT text refers to the fulfillment of God’s end-time promises. Jesus claimed that he is anointed with the eschatological Spirit (cf. Is. 44:3; Ez. 11:18-19; 36:26-27; Joel 2:28). The good news of the release from exile had now been realized through him. The year of the Lord’s favor and the liberty of God’s people had arrived. It does not appear here that Jesus merely states that these promises will be fulfilled at the consummation of all things. Even now, through his healing ministry, the blind were receiving sight. The gospel that he proclaimed means that the poor were hearing the glad tidings in the present. Indeed, Jesus skipped over the line in Is. 61 that speaks of the Lord’s vengeance and referred only to the time of his favor. This suggests that the present time is not a time of vengeance but the day of salvation. The day of vengeance was delayed and yet, surprisingly enough, the day of favor and salvation had dawned in the person and ministry of Jesus.

ENDNOTES

[i] Vos elsewhere says, “The Son’s unique greatness, his exaltation above man constitutes his chief qualification for the revealership. As a revealer he represents not man but God; therefore the nearer he stands to God the better he is qualified.” So the office of prophet was an office of revelation. And Jesus was the supreme agent of God’s revelation. The same was true of Jesus, who came with a supremely glorious message, yet it offended the people of Israel because it didn’t fit into their presuppositions.

[ii] As Isaiah says:

Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages,
saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
They shall feed along the ways;
on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
(Isaiah 49:8-9, ESV)

Can You Pray for an Hour?

This past Thursday evening at our small group Bible study, we spent time simply in worship and prayer.  We read from Psalm 145, and we sung music to the Lord.  Then we took the remainder of our time to simply pray for all that was going on in our church, our small group and our nation.

During that time I challenged the group to consider praying on their own time for one hour in a single sitting. The reason I did so was because I have personally benefited from extended times of prayer, and know how wonderful that time can be.

Inevitably the question came up “how will I be able to pray for that long? I’m not sure I have enough to talk to God about for that long…” This innocent question is actually rather insulting when we consider the greatness of the God who we are addressing, however it is the first question I had myself several years ago as well. Therefore, I thought it would be profitable to mention a few ideas of how to enrich (and prolong) your time with the Lord:

Begin by Asking for Forgiveness – The first thing we ought to all do when we pray is to confess our sins before the Lord. If you have just confessed “generally” your sinfulness in the past, ask the Lord to bring to mind specific people and instances where you have wronged or been in the wrong. If there are instances that come to mind where you have wronged someone, I would encourage you to stop and call that person and ask for forgiveness. Then go back to your prayer (Matthew 5).

Pray for Humility and Faith – I know that there are some people who feel as though pride is not a big part of their lives, and that they also have faith – at least enough to believe in Jesus. I am here to disavow you of the notion that you don’t struggle with unbelief and pride because EVERYONE struggles with both of these items, even if they manifest themselves in different ways. You may not be a very haughty or arrogant person on the outside in speech, but you might be making very arrogant decisions every day with your life and not realize it. You might take life for granted and feel like certain things are “owed” to you. In a similar way, you might believe that Christ died for you and you have faith from Him to trust that is the case. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t acting out of unbelief on a regular basis. For instance you might feel sorry for yourself and be having an internal pity party about something – perhaps a lost job, or something else. You might be guilty of both pride and unbelief. Self-pity is pride masked as sadness, and it tells God that we don’t believe in His ability to provide for us, or that He has complete control over all things.  As you pray, ask God to reveal these sinful attitudes and for His help to overcome them.

Use Sunday School or Small Group Prayer Requests – our group sends these out in an email format, and your group may do something similar. Perhaps you have been in the habit of writing them down. But how often to do you really sit and pray over them? I would suggest printing them out (as opposed to viewing them on your phone which can lead to distraction) and praying over each concern and praising God for each praise. Also, pray for the people on the list in your own words, asking God to continue to work mightily in their lives, conforming them to His Son’s image.

The same idea holds true for those at your church – grab the church directory and start praying through the names! This is like a virtual prayer walk through the halls of your church.  As you begin to lift up individuals (some of whom you may not know very well if at all) you will come to appreciate all the God is doing in the lives of those who makeup your local body of believers.  Perhaps this experience will also spur you on toward getting to know these people more!

Pray for our Nation – This is something that is often urged, but few take the time to actually execute on the plea. When we lift up our nation, perhaps you ought to consider also looking beyond the normal request for just our President and Congress, and consider the people as a whole. As Americans we are falling into spiritual and moral morass. Pray for revival and for people to repent of their sins and turn to the Lord. Also, pray for our troops and the local leaders who govern our townships, cities, and villages. Pray not only for wisdom, but for their salvation.

Pray for Boldness – When Peter was released from prison in Acts 4 he joined the group of saints who were already praying for him. What did they ask God for? For boldness to continue the work of God. We also need to ask God for boldness, and discernment and for opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Acknowledge His Attributes and Work in Your Life – One of the things we can do as we pray for extended periods of time is to worship God and praise Him for all of His divine attributes.  Ask Him to give you insight as to how you can know Him more intimately, and to reveal His character to you through His Word. Take time to recount to God all that He has done recently, and in past years to bless you, and mature you. Thank Him for being Him! 

Use Scripture in Your Prayer – We are so trained to close our eyes during prayer (usually for the sake of concentration and to lessen distraction) that we often forget that its not a sin to pray with our eyes open! If you can get comfortable praying in this way as you spend time alone with God, then you can open up your Bible and pray certain passages to Him, acknowledging His greatness, His sovereignty, and His grace. Using the Psalms for this is a wonderful experience.  I find it best to know passages ahead of time so that I’m not searching the Scripture during my prayer time. As you begin to do this, you’ll likely see the benefit of memorizing Scripture so that when you don’t have your Bible nearby you can still repeat God’s truth back to Him in humble adoration for all that He has done for you and for the church.

Pray for Your Pastor – I think that sometimes we spend more time emphasizing the need to pray for our nation’s leaders than our church’s leaders. I would encourage you to spend time lifting up the pastoral staff, elders, deacons, and sunday school teachers in your prayers. These people are God’s servants and are spending their time, talents and treasure serving you and the body of Christ every week.  I am also convinced that for this reason they also get more spiritual attacks than the average Joe.  So lift them up and thank God for their work. Ask for protection for them and their family. Ask God for Him to reveal ways in which you can serve them or encourage them – consider dropping them a note to say that you prayed for them today.

Pray for Your Wife and Family – Perhaps this is one that doesn’t need to be mentioned, but sometimes we spend our prayers for these loved ones asking for the same thing over and over again “health, success, safety” and so on. Spend time in this extended period of prayer thinking over each person and asking God for specific things, and for spiritual growth. Ask God to help you serve them better. Ask God to show you ways in which you can help them grow, and ways in which you have failed them and need to ask for forgiveness.

Pray for the Fruit of the Spirit – In Galatians Paul lays out a list of what a Christian ought to look like, and he calls it “the fruit of the Spirit” because it is the Holy Spirit who is working out these beautiful traits in the Christian life (i.e. its not you who are responsible for this transformation). Ask God to help develop your character in order to become more like His Son Jesus, specifically taking inventory of reach “fruit” and asking God for help with specific fruit which may not be so evident in your life.

Conclusion – These are just a few ways you can spend your hour of prayer, I’m sure there are many others I’ve missed here, but I wanted to jot down a few to get your wheels turning!  It is a beautiful thing that God has allowed us to spend time with Him in this way. I’ll close by quoting Theologian Bruce Ware on this matter:

To know the riches of God and the poverty of our human lives is one of the key foundation pillars for prayer. As we pray in humble dependence, God grants from the storehouse of his treasury. And as we are enriched by God, we then give to him our heartfelt thanksgiving and honor and worship. It is the heart of God to give, so he calls his people to ask. 

The Necessity of Memorizing Scripture

In yesterday’s class we were able to listen to Pastor John Piper expound on why it is so necessary to be memorizing scripture.  I’ve posted the video below so you can see it if you missed class.  In addition, I would encourage you to find ways to memorize scripture with your family – maybe with your spouse or with the kids.

I am personally not a very great memorizer of Scripture, but I’m working toward being better.  I use an app(lication) called ‘Fighter Verses‘ that is available for download in the Android or iTunes App store.  It was originally designed by some folks from John Piper’s church (Bethlehem Baptist) as a way to people in the church memorizing scripture and was set to flashcards. If you go to their church website, you’ll notice that at the bottom of most pages they have the scripture memory verse for the week.  Such a heavy emphasis on scripture memorization church-wide is commendable

Now you can memorize with the aid of several helpful quiz styles, pick your own verses, listen to them with the audio feature and even in some cases hear them to music.  I’d highly recommend this app if you are comfortable with technology.

Now Below is another few reasons that Pastor John provides for memorizing scripture.  The link is here, and the rest is pasted below:

First, a few testimonies: I have it third hand, that Dr. Howard Hendricks of Dallas Seminary once made the statement (and I paraphrase) that if it were his decision, every student graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary would be required to learn one thousand verses word perfect before they graduated.

Dallas Willard, professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, wrote, “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization” (“Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and Whole Person” inVocatio, Vol. 12, no. 2, Spring, 2001, p. 7).

Chuck Swindoll wrote, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified” (Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994], p. 61).

One of the reasons Martin Luther came to his great discovery in the Bible of justification by faith alone was that in his early years in the Augustinian monastery he was influenced to love Scripture by Johann Staupitz. Luther devoured the Bible in a day when people earned doctorates in theology without even reading the Bible. Luther said that his fellow professor, Andreas Karlstadt, did not even own a Bible when he earned his doctor of theology degree, nor did he until many years later (Richard Bucher, “Martin Luther’s Love for the Bible“). Luther knew so much of the Bible from memory that when the Lord opened his eyes to see the truth of justification in Romans 1:17, he said, “Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory,” in order to confirm what he had found.

So here are a few reasons why so many have viewed Scripture memorization as so essential to the Christian life.

1. Conformity to Christ

Paul wrote that “we all, . . . beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18)) If we would be changed into Christ likeness we must steadily see him. This happens in the word. “The Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:21). Bible memorization has the effect of making our gaze on Jesus steadier and clearer.

2. Daily Triumph over Sin

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. . . . I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:911). Paul said that we must “by the Spirit . . . put to death the [sinful] deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). The one piece of armor used to kill is the “sword of the Spirit” which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). As sin lures the body into sinful action, we call to mind a Christ-revealing word of Scripture and slay the temptation with the superior worth and beauty of Christ over what sin offers.

3. Daily Triumph over Satan

When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness he recited Scripture from memory and put Satan to flight (Matthew 4:1-11).

4. Comfort and Counsel for People You Love

The times when people need you to give them comfort and counsel do not always coincide with the times you have your Bible handy. Not only that, the very word of God spoken spontaneously from your heart has unusual power. Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” That is a beautiful way of saying, When the heart full of God’s love can draw on the mind full of God’s word, timely blessings flow from the mouth.

5. Communicating the Gospel to Unbelievers

Opportunities to share the gospel come when we do not have the Bible in hand. Actual verses of the Bible have their own penetrating power. And when they come from our heart, as well as from the Book, the witness is given that they are precious enough to learn. We should all be able to sum up the gospel under four main headings (1) God’s holiness/law/glory; 2) man’s sin/rebellion/disobedience; 3) Christ’s death for sinners; 4) the free gift of life by faith. Learn a verse or two relating to each of these, and be ready in season and out of season to share them.

6. Communion with God in the Enjoyment of His Person and Ways

The way we commune with (that is, fellowship with) God is by meditating on his attributes and expressing to him our thanks and admiration and love, and seeking his help to live a life that reflects the value of these attributes. Therefore, storing texts in our minds about God helps us relate to him as he really is. For example, imagine being able to call this to mind through the day:

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-14)

I used the word “enjoyment” intentionally when I said, “communion with God in the enjoyment of his person and ways.” Most of us are emotionally crippled—all of us, really. We do not experience God in the fullness of our emotional potential. How will that change? One way is to memorize the emotional expressions of the Bible and speak them to the Lord and to each other until they become part of who we are. For example, in Psalm 103:1, we say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” That is not a natural expression for many people. But if we memorize this and other emotional expressions from the Bible, and say them often, asking the Lord to make the emotion real in our hearts, we can actually grow into that emotion and expression. It will become part of who we are. We will be less emotionally crippled and more able to render proper praise and thanks to God.

There are other reasons for memorizing Scripture. I hope you find them in the actual practice.

Continual Repentance

Tomorrow morning the class is going to turn attention to that most difficult and yet necessary of topics, repentance.

As I went through the material this week I found that the topic was simple in its intellectual depth, but far from easily studied from a purely practical point of view. My own heart was dealing with sin, and I began to wonder just how easy this lesson was going to be…

Part of being a leader is being a good teacher and that means openly acknowledging when you struggle with topics. Al Mohler explains in his book on leadership that great leaders are great teachers and are transparent and openly passionate about what they are teaching.

I wasn’t terribly excited to spend a week reading about repentance. But as you might imagine, God got a hold of my mind and heart. Because of this, my heart wandered back to the writing in a great Puritan prayer called ‘Continual Repentance’. Here is that prayer – I hope you enjoy it, and come to agree with me that we are all in need of that deep searching, painful admonishing, and beautiful healing of the Holy Spirit in repentance:

O God of Grace,

You have imputed my sin to my substitute, and have imputed his righteousness to my soul, clothing me with a bridegroom’s robe, decking me with jewels of holiness. But in my Christian walk I am still in rags; my best prayers are stained with sin; my penitential tears are so much impurity; my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin; my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.

I need to repent of my repentance; I need my tears to be washed; I have no robe to bring to cover my sins, no loom to weave my own righteousness; I am always standing clothed in filthy garments, and by grace am always receiving change of raiment, for you always justify the ungodly; I am always going into the far country, and always returning home as a prodigal, always saying, “Father, forgive me,” and you are always bringing forth the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it, every evening return in it, go out to the day’s work in it, be married in it, be wound in death in it, stand before the great white throne in it, enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding righteousness of salvation, the exceeding glory of Christ, the exceeding beauty of holiness, the exceeding wonder of grace.

Romans 8: How the Gospel Brings us all the Way Home

As I mentioned today in class, I am teaching twice tomorrow on Romans 8. I named the post here after one of my favorite little books for the layman on this chapter, Derek Thomas’ “How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home.” Check it out on amazon if you’re interested. In the meantime, I thought I’d post up my notes here on the chapter. There’s about 21 pages…so it will be a rather lengthy post. Enjoy!

Chapter 8

Introduction

Romans 8 has often been called the “best chapter in the Bible” and the “heart of Paul’s gospel.” Some have said that if Romans is the heart of the New Testament, then it is like an onion that is gradually being pealed back, and that chapter 8 is like the very heart of that onion.

Derek Thomas says of chapter 8, “It is a description of the Christian life from death to life, from justification to glorification, from trial and suffering to the peace and tranquility of the new heaven and new earth.”

Other major themes of chapter 8 can be summed up in the headers used by theologians as they approach the section in their commentaries. Thomas Schreiner calls the first section of Romans 8 the “ fulfillment of the Law by the Spirit” as part of “the triumph of grace over the power of the law” and that the last half of the chapter is the “assurance of hope.”

John Stott’s chapter heading simply and succinctly reads: God’s Spirit in God’s Children. What an amazing story that tells!

The Context

For several chapters now Paul has labored to describe the war that is waged within the Christian due to sin. It started in chapter 6 and wrapped up in 7 with the rhetorical question “who will deliver me from this body of death.” Paul’s answer is that its Jesus Christ who delivers us from this body of death – this sin nature that still hinders our walk and the sanctification process.

Now, in chapter 8, Paul will seek to show us what life in the Spirit is like, and how God’s sovereign purposes in our salvation are from of old. He will demonstrate through the power of the Spirit and through the use of his pen, that God not only predestined to bring us into an adoptive state, a saved and reconciled state, but that He and He alone has the absolute power to keep us in that state. What God began from before creation He will finish with new creation (Is. 66:22-23).

8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

This verse is so great that entire books have been written about it. Let me quote from the ESV notes to begin with:

The now in 8:1 matches the “now” in 7:6, showing that the new era of redemptive history has “now” been inaugurated by Christ Jesus for those who are “now” in right standing before God because they are united with Christ. But the summary relates further to the whole argument presented in chs. 3, 4, and 5.

“There is therefore” is a sounding bell across the moors of Satan’s domain, which has been shattered by the ushering in of the kingdom of God by Christ. It is a present reality and a future hope. It is the realization that even though we sin (see chapter 7) we have a glorious reality that awaits us, that is, a glorified purified state in which we will never sin and will be free of the nagging sins that “so easily entangle us” (Heb. 12:1).

Schreiner comments, “The ‘now’ in verse 1 signals a new era of salvation history, one in which God’s covenantal promises are being fulfilled, when his people are enjoying the freedom from condemnation God promised. The blessing belongs to God’s people because Christ took upon himself the punishment that his people deserved and the Spirit has been given to enable God’s people to keep the Torah.”

What a wonderful new reality! There is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is to say that for you Christian, no matter how you struggle with sin as I have (speaking as I am Paul in the context of ch. 7), you can and will have final victory at the Day of Judgment (2 Cor. 5:10).

Some indeed struggle with whether the sin that rages within them is an indicator that they are not saved – au contraire! For the battle itself is a sign of adoption and that we belong to Christ. J.C. Ryle says, “A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within” (Holiness, Ch. 2, pg. 20-21).

Now Paul sounds the clarion call to all saints that they need to heed the reality of what may not be seen now, but will be seen on the last day. Christ’s righteousness will indeed cover all your sins (see. Ch. 5) and you will stand with not one shred of condemnation.

In this way, 8:1 relates directly back to 7:6 which says, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”

Schreiner says, “The reason believers are not under condemnation is because they have been freed from the tyranny of the law, for sin exercises dominion over those under the law.”

Therefore, this is a verse that looks back in triumph and looks forward in hope.

8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

This is a reprise of chapter 6 in which Paul explained that:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)

The freedom that we have in Christ is from the Spirit of God. The phrase “the law of the Spirit” might be easier understood “the principle by which you are free is the fact that the Spirit is working in you.” In other words, the “law of the Spirit” is a new paradigm. Once you lived under the old paradigm of death, the Mosaic Law, now you live under the paradigm of life!

Stott suggest though that it is best to be more specific than just to say that the “law of the Spirit” is simply a new paradigm, though it ushers that in, but rather it is the Gospel itself. “This makes the best sense, as it is certainly the gospel which has freed us from the law and its curse, and the message of the life in the Spirit from the slavery of sin and death.”

The major purpose here in these opening verses is to show that Christ, not the Mosaic Law, is the instrument of redemption. As Thomas Schreiner says:

…the law does not break the power of sin but unfortunately and paradoxically exacerbates it. God’s saving promises to his people have not become a reality via the law. The solution lies in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s work on the cross provides the basis for the deliverance of believers from condemnation, while the Holy Spirit supplies the power for conquering sin so that the law can now be kept.

Sproul adds…

The Holy Spirit knows how weak we are in our grasp of the Gospel, and like dogs that keep returning to their vomit we keep falling back to the idea that somehow we can justify ourselves by our behavior, and morality.

8:3-4 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, [4] in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The Purpose of the Law

First, “the law” here is the Mosaic Law (some, like Sproul, say it’s the “moral law”), the law given to the people of Israel as they came out of Egypt. This law was perfect (Stott says “the law’s impotence was not intrinsic”), it was an expression of God’s perfect moral character, yet because we are weakened in our flesh because of sin we could never keep the law. That’s why Paul said that “weakened by the flesh” we could never be saved by the law. That’s what’s at stake here: salvation.

God knew that the law of Moses was never meant to be a saving instrument. People were never meant to be able to keep the entire law, it was a schoolmaster to drive to us Christ (Gal. 3:24). What does that mean? It means that the law exposes us for what we are: sinners. In that exposure we find we have a need. What is that need? Forgiveness from sin.

Therefore God allowed the people of Israel to trust in Him and use animal sacrifices as a way to point forward to the ultimate sacrifice that Christ would make on the cross. The people of old looked forward to something they could not see, in hope that one day their redeemer would come. We look back at the cross and see our Redeemer who “made an end of all our sin” (‘Before the Throne of Grace’).

The Work of the Son and the Spirit

When Paul says that Christ came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” he cannot and does not mean that Christ Himself was sinful, but rather that he had the same weak flesh we had. He had the same exposure to the world of sin, yet He never sinned. Instead He condemned sin to the flesh – I think the easiest way to think of this phrase is probably to say that He ‘banished sin to the temporary existence of the flesh’ knowing that one day He will raise us from these bodies and give us new bodies that are pure and spotless – in this way He is the first fruits of our resurrection (1 Cor. 15).

Stott works this thought out better than I though:

The law condemns sin, in the sense of expressing disapproval of it, but when God condemned sin in His Son, his judgment fell upon it in him.

Stott then quotes Charles Cranfield who says:

For those who are in Christ Jesus…there is no divine condemnation, since the condemnation they deserve has already been fully born for them by Him.

Sproul says:

Jesus was born as Adam was before the fall. Jesus was not in bondage to a corrupt nature. Christ came in the flesh as a human being, and he condemned the sin that binds us by taking it upon himself…In His Son there is no condemnation for His people. There is condemnation for their sin, but it is condemned in Christ and removed.

But not only did Christ conquer sin and justify us, He also gave us His Spirit to sanctify us. Stott explains:

First, he (the Father) sent His Son, whose incarnation and atonement are alluded to in verse 3, and then he gave us his Spirit through whose indwelling power we are enabled to fulfill the law’s requirement, which is mentioned in verse 4 and expanded in the following paragraph. Thus God justifies us through His Son and sanctifies us through His Spirit. The plan of salvation is essentially Trinitarian.

8:5-6 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [6] For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

What Paul has explained theologically he now works out practically. The reality is that those who are not saved don’t think on the things that are of God. Paul’s emphasis on the importance of what we set our minds on is given at the beginning of chapter 12 as we’ll see later.

But the Christian can be assured that they are in Christ simply by what they desire and what their minds are fixated on. This is not an overnight phenomenon, for surely it takes a lifetime of change and renewal. But there is a marked change between a man who was once lost and now has been found and quickened by the powerful life-giving Spirit of God. Suddenly that man thinks differently than he ever had before. I’m sure that you know what I mean. The blinders have been taken off, and suddenly perspective is added to life that you never had before – an eternal perspective.

The reason that the “mind on the flesh is death” is because those who have that mind also have a destiny with death, and are, in fact, still dead in their sins. The mindset here is not meant to be something we can effect on our own, but rather a fruit of what the Spirit is (or isn’t) doing within us.

8:7-8 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. [8] Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

This reminds me a great deal of the passage in Hebrews which says:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)

And indeed faith is a result of the Spirit work within us – it is a gift (Eph. 2). Therefore those who have faith will act in faith and will not be hostile to the things of God, in fact they will submit to His authority and will do the will of God because that’s what is in their heart. The Spirit is now at work within them to please God – it isn’t as though we please God with our own ideas, but rather the Spirit works with us to help us do things we would never do before (i.e. “love your enemies”).

Carnality: Inability to Please God

The second thing we see in this passage is the stark reality that “those who are in the flesh cannon please God.” Verse 8 reminds us that before we were saved we were at war with God. We were enemies of God. This sometimes offends people. We like to say that God loves everyone…really? Maybe He does have affection in a general way for His creation, but certainly it cannot be said that His particular love is focused on everyone, for indeed if that were the case all people would be saved. But that is not the case. Not all men are saved because not all men are the particular objects of His redeeming love.

R.C. Sproul talks a little bit about how we hear all the time about how “God loves the sinner but hates the sin” and addresses this in the context of these verses:

We hear that God loves everybody unconditionally, but that is the biggest lie of our day, because he does not. At the last judgment God will not send sins to hell; he will send sinners to hell. Even though sinners enjoy the blessings of God’s providential love, his filial love is not their desert. The Scriptures are graphic in describing God’s attitude toward impenitent, carnally minded people. God abhors them. Nobody talks that way anymore – except God in his word. To set our minds on the things of the world is death…the flesh is lived not in neutrality but in opposition to God…To be carnally minded is to be at enmity with God.

Sproul isn’t the only one to articulate this difficult truth, however. John Piper explains it as well:

Yes, I think we need to go the full biblical length and say that God hates unrepentant sinners. If I were to soften it, as we so often do, and say that God hates sin, most of you would immediately translate that to mean: he hates sin but loves the sinner. But Psalm 5:5 says, “The boastful may not stand before thy eyes; thou hatest all evildoers.” And Psalm 11:5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates him that loves violence.”

Six things the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and a man who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16–19)

God hates unrepentant sinners—which means that his infinite wrath hangs over them like a mountain of granite and will in the end fall. “Surely God will shatter the head of his enemies, the hairy crown of him who goes on in his guilty deeds” (Psalm 68:21)

Although this is a difficult truth to explain and perhaps harder to swallow, we must also understand that Paul is subtly laying the groundwork for chapter 9 in which he will explain this difficult doctrine some more. For now what he wants us to understand is that prior to your new birth you were not simply estranged from God, you were an enemy of God.

It’s a little easier for us to see this relationship played out in the lives of atheists who publically deny God’s existence in a very vituperating manner. However, the actions and hearts of those who we may hold dear but are not Christians are still evidences of their enmity toward God and His law. Sproul comments, “We are at war with God because we do not want to be subject to the law of God.”

8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

This is a quick reminder to those to whom Paul is addressing (Christians) that they are no longer enemies of God, but rather children of God. What is the definition of someone who is a child of God? What are the evidences? The Spirit’s indwelling presence and the fruit thereof.

Christ knows who are his (John 6) and if you do not have the Spirit of Christ you do not belong to Him.

Now, it might be noted as an aside, that when Paul says “the Spirit of Christ” he is not confusing the two members of the Godhead. It is not as though, as the ancient Modalists would have it, God is really only one person with different names and manifestations. Now, what Paul is saying here is that the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) can also be identified with Christ because while they are two persons, they are One God. They are of the same mind. Remember also the context here of how Paul is speaking to the fruit and mind of the Spirit-filled person. That person will have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16),which is from the Spirit. They are so much “on the same page” mentally that they convey the same thoughts to us, if that makes sense…Christ’s mind is given us by the means of the Spirit of God.

8:10-13 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. [11] If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. [12] So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. [13] For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

There is a great parallel track here that Paul is explaining. But first let me first explain what is probably most likely meant by “the body id dead because of sin.” This is a hotly disputed passage and a difficult one to understand. I think that Stott and others are probably correct to say that it is not speaking necessarily spiritually as to our dying to sin, but really physically.

In other words, because of the sin of Adam we have been dying since the day we were born. Llyod-Jones says, “The moment we enter into this world we begin to live, and also being to die. Your first breath is one of the last you will ever take!”

However, because of Christ’s righteousness and death we have been renewed to life in the Spirit. So we are a walking antithetical parallelism. At one time we are dying and yet still living unto life everlasting.

Stott explains “he must surely be saying that our bodies became mortal because of Adam’s sin (‘to dust you will return’), whereas our spirits are alive because of Christ’s righteousness (5:15-18, 21), that is, because of the righteous standing he has secure for us.”

Hope of Resurrection

As mentioned earlier, the hope of our resurrection is seen in the first fruits of Christ’s resurrection. That’s why Paul encourages us with the hope that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

In this way, not only is Christ our hope, but the Spirit also is our reminder that one day we will be made like Christ and resurrected from this body of death.

The Debt of Obligation

Paul now explains our new situation as not being in debt to the world or sin, but rather to Christ – as debt we can never repay. We aren’t to feel as though we have any obligation to the sinfulness of our former life. As Stott says, “It has no claim on us. We owe it nothing.”

Stott also explains that our debt to Christ is not necessarily/specifically worked out in our going to share the gospel, but rather in our living a righteous life. He sums it up this way:

How can we possess life and court death simultaneously? Such an inconsistency between who we are and now we behave is unthinkable, even ludicrous. No, we are in debt to the indwelling of the Spirit of life to live out our God-given life and to put to death everything which threatens it or is incompatible with it.”

In verse 13 Paul sets the table for a life and death choice. You cannot have both.

8:14-17 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

I wanted to lump these four verses together because there is one theme that pervades them: adoption.

Paul has spent the past few verses dealing with justification and then sanctification, and now he is going to remind us of the tremendous privilege we have that is greater and better than anything we could ever have imagined, namely that we have been adopted into the royal family of God.

The ‘Spirit of Assurance’

We also see that there are characteristics that must be noted here about those who are children of God. Namely that it is the Spirit of God who is doing all of the work here, and it is the Spirit of God who testifies to us internally that we are children. That’s why Paul says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” as if to say “in case you didn’t believe me, you know it internally if you are saved because your mind has been fully convinced of this fact by the Holy Spirit Himself!

I’m sure that many of us can testify to the truth of this, and what a wonderful reality it is. He doesn’t leave us guessing but rather gives us that internal evidence that we have been adopted. Not merely an outward certificate, but an inward peace.

Martyn Llyod-Jones spent 8 chapters talking about the fact that the inward testimony of the Spirit is our greatest assurance. He says, “This is the highest form of assurance possible; there is nothing beyond it. It is the acme, the zenith of assurance and the certainty of salvation.”

Because Jones influenced Stott’s commentary so much on this point, I want to quote Stott here as well:

Although ‘it is wrong to standardize the experience’ (Jones), since it comes with many variations of intensity and duration, yet it is a direct and sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, unpredictable, uncontrollable and unforgettable. It brings a heightened love for God, an unspeakable joy, and an uninhibited boldness in witness.

Yet Stott is also quick to ensure that experience doesn’t define doctrine/reality.

My anxiety is whether the biblical texts have been rightly interpreted. I have the uneasy feeling that it is the experiences which have determined the exposition. There is no indication in these four verses that a special, distinctive or overwhelming experience is in mind, which needs to be sought by all although it is given only to some. On the contrary, the whole paragraph appears to be descriptive of what is, or should be, common to all believers. Though doubtless in differing degrees of intensity, all who have the Spirit’s indwelling are given the Spirit’s witness too.

The bottom line here is that the Spirit’s indwelling is the main connection between all of these things. He bears witness, He gives us hope for the future, He testifies to our adoption and on and on.

The Nature of God’s Adoption: Love

Paul has thus far given us many reasons not to fall back into the slavery of sinfulness – we just mentioned that one of them is because we don’t owe sin or the world anything! But another reason that Paul gives us here is that we have been adopted. Our adoption should remind us that we don’t have to be ruled by fear because we not only know the reality of our adoption, we not only know the score at the end of the day, we not only know Who is in charge, but we also know that God our Father is a loving Father.

It is this truth about the loving nature of God that separates Him and our heavenly adoption from the kind of worldly adoption you might have in your mind. For some the very term adoption can carry baggage that isn’t appropriately attributable to God’s relationship with us.

God’s adoption was done in love – just as He “predestined us in love” (Eph. 1:3-6) – and that is why Paul says, “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit understands fully the nature of the relationship between us and God even if we don’t fully understand it. You see, “Abba” was the Aramaic way to say “daddy” – this was a loving term, an intimate term. Though this letter was not written to Jews specifically, it is worth noting that in the Jewish world God was seen as so transcendent that to refer to Him as “daddy” would be a slap in the face of everything they thought of who God was. They didn’t fully grasp the paradox of His character: He is both transcendent and immanent.

What Comes with Adoption

Paul moves us from justification to sanctification to adoption, and now brings up the reality of the consequence of this adoption, namely that if we are children of God we are also heirs with Christ.

This is almost too much to comprehend. The Lord of the universe clothed Himself in flesh and died for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God. But then He went a step further, He included us in His family – and not as a red-headed step-child – but rather as a fellow heir with Christ!

However, as Stott notes, there is a qualification. We must suffer as He has suffered. In other words, don’t expect this to be an easy path. Christ calls us to take up our cross daily. Listen to the words of Christ in John 15:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. [19] If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19 ESV)

Therefore it is the reality of our suffering and trials that testify outwardly of our adoption as heirs! What an antithetical thought to many churches in the evangelical world today! The health wealth and prosperity gospel preachers would have you believe that if your life isn’t going well then you must not be praying enough! You must not be trying hard enough! You need to give more money to the church! You need to read your Bible more!

All the while the truth is that God disciplines those whom He loves – it is a sign of adoption. Listen to what the author of Hebrews says:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. [6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” [7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11 ESV)

8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

When I was growing up this was one of my favorite verses – it was one of the ones I memorized and always recalled to mind, especially during my formidable teenage years. But the full weight of the verse cannot be merely summed up in the adolescent mind of a teen who looks forward to one day gaining his/her independence!

First of all, as we have seen earlier, it is pre-supposed that we will have sufferings in this present life. Any form of “Christianity” which denies suffering is straight from the pit of Hell. For this life is full of troubles, and Christ never hid those from us, but what He did teach was His preeminence over all these troubles, which is what Paul is teaching here as well.

Consider for a moment what Christ said in John 16 just prior to His majestic High Priestly Prayer:

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. [33] I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33)

What great hope is this! Through Christ we are more than conquerors (vs. 37 – also 1 John 4:4)! This verse gives us a look at the eternal through the eyes of a man who knew what it was to suffer. Schreiner says, “This future glory, however, is conditioned upon suffering with Christ in the present age.” And Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians of what he had to endure:

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. [24] Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. [25] Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; [26] on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; [27] in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. [28] And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. [29] Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? (2 Corinthians 11:23-29 ESV)

But all of these things He counted as “rubbish” next to the surpassing glory of knowing Jesus Christ. And that glory is still to be fully revealed to us! Schreiner says, “One reason suffering furthers hope is because present sufferings are minimal in comparison to future glory. To endure present suffering is worthwhile because our pain will be a distant memory I the light of the glory that is coming.”

Of course Paul’s great parallel text to this verse is found later in 2 Corinthians:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, [18] as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV)

8:19-25 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

This entire section is about the hope of a new creation and finds its roots in Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22 which state:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17 ESV)

“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. (Isaiah 66:22 ESV)

This hope of a new creation which was once promised to “Israel” is now given to the church (Schreiner). “The means by which the hope is secured, however, is suffering” Schreiner comments.

Peter Gentry comments on these passages in Isaiah and relates them to what God is doing in our lives:

…the creation itself has been subject to futility and destruction on account of human sin, and God is not finished until this is rectified. He will make a completely brand new universe: a new heavens and a new earth. We see, then, that the plan of salvation is no halfway fix-it job. God’s plan of restoration brings us back to the pristine state of Eden – in a world now much better and much greater. Augustine once said that he feared to entrust his soul to the great physician lest he be more thoroughly cured than he cared to be. God’s plan of salvation is absolutely thorough, and he is not going to be satisfied with some half job of reformation and renewal in our lives.

Groaning like a Tree!

Paul uses the tool of “personification” to help us understand the nature of fallen creation’s awaiting Christ. Certainly all things are in Him and for Him and to Him (Acts), but it isn’t as though the creation has a mind of its own, per se, rather it has fallen under the bondage of sin and has been tainted with the results of our sinfulness and will one day be renewed.

Schreiner says, “Paul dazzles his readers with the attractiveness and beauty of the future glory. He does this via personification by saying that even the creation longs for the revelation of the sons and daughters of God. The creation longs for this revelation of God’s children because that revelation will be the fulfillment and fruition of the creation’s function as well…What the creation waits for is the revelation of God’s children, that is, their future glorification.”

The main thrust of this passage is that just as creation has been subjected to “futility” (which means that creation has not fulfilled the purpose for which it was made), so we too have not experienced the fullness of our original purpose as God’s image bearers. Yet we long for the day when we will see Him, and be completely conformed to His image. In fact, we will be completely conformed to His image because we will see Him as “He is” (1 John 3:2; 2 Cor. 3:18).

In the meantime, the Spirit of God bears witness within us that this world is not our home, and because of that fact, we groan for the time when God in Christ will renew the world and usher in the consummation of His great purposes for us and the rest of creation.

Stott says, “For the Spirit’s indwelling and our groaning should not surprise us. For the very presence of the Spirit (being only the firstfruits) is a constant reminder of the incompleteness of our salvation, as we share with the creation in the frustration, the bondage to decay and the pain.”

The Nature of Faith and Hope

The thing that sort of bugs us sometimes as human beings is that we have to wait for all this – and what makes it worse is that we can’t see it! But, as Paul cleverly says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” In other words, it wouldn’t be called “hope” if we could see it!

Consequently this is where the Spirit is so wonderful because the Spirit gives us faith, and faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

It is not “blind” as some mind say, for we perceive the realities of the promise (as we learned above). But it is not something we can see with our eyes…yet! And this is the beauty of Paul’s theology. Paul understands that there is a reality which is already, and yet not already…the “already and not yet.” I love how Schreiner explains this:

…the genius of Pauline eschatology is that the future has invaded the present, the age to come has intruded into the present evil age.

John Stott says, “This whole section is a notable example of what it means to be living ‘in between times’, between present difficulty and future destiny, between the already and the not yet, between sufferings and glory.”

Waiting in Patience

I can’t help be see the clear tie between patience/endurance and God’s purposes in us. James puts it well:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, [3] for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. [4] And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)

Therefore, we are called to be patience for the sake of endurance and, in the end, our sanctification.

8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. [27] And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Now we see the amazing and very practical benefit to being a Christian. The Spirit of God – a divine part of the Triune Godhead – is helping us in our weakness. Paul humbles by reminding us of the reality that our words are not clean enough for His holy presence. But thanks be to God, His Spirit, who always knows His will, intercedes for us converting our heart’s imperfect prayers into requests before the throne of grace.

Stott comments:

So three persons are involved in our praying, First, we ourselves in our weakness do not know what to pray for. Secondly, the indwelling Spirit helps us by interceding for us and through us, with speechless groans but according to God’s will. Thirdly, God the Father, who both searches our hearts and knows the Spirit’s mind, hears and answers accordingly.

8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

This is an oft-misused verse, and the reason is usually because those who are quoting it forget the last part: “who are called.” This qualifies the former “all things work together for good.”

We also need to remember the context of the entire chapter. We’ve been reading about how we must suffer trials, temptations, difficulties in this life, with the full assurance that one day those will all be a distant memory. This verse builds on those truths.

For we see here exactly what type of “things” work together for good, namely “ALL things.” What can this mean except that both good and bad things work together to form the amazing weave of God’s plan for a believer’s life. John MacArthur says, “In His providence, God orchestrates every event in life – even suffering, temptation, and sin – to accomplish both our temporal and eternal benefit.”

The difficulty of this verse also lies in the word “work.” The ESV perhaps is not the best translation here because others explicitly tell us that it isn’t simply that “things work” but rather that “God works all things.” In other words, He is completely sovereign over all of these things. He allowed sin, He allowed suffering, He knew all of these things before He created the world. These kinds of things He does in order to show His glory and to receive glorification.

These concepts are so difficult to understand, but it is in these truths that we find the depths of the character and loveliness of Christ.

Juxtaposition…

The obvious juxtaposition of the truth of this verse is that for those who are NOT “called according to his purpose” there is no such great hope. This hope is reserved for the elect and for them alone. This is a benefit of adoption.

8:29-30 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30] And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

These two verses are known in the theological world as the “Golden Chain” because of how they tie together God’s purposes for us from eternity past to eternity future. The “chain” is also known in theology as the “Ordo Salutis”, which is the Latin term for the “order of salvation” because in these verses we see a sort of chronology of God’s working in our lives.

Sproul rightly mentions that Paul doesn’t mention all of the aspects of the Ordo Salutis (ie sanctification isn’t listed here), but that the major themes that he is seeking to highlight are put forth in grand display.

Let’s begin with His foreknowledge…

Foreknown

He knew us, but then also did something – action was taken. There’s more here than meets the eye with this word “foreknew”, as John MacArthur says, “it speaks of a predetermined choice to set His love on us and established an intimate relationship – or His election.”

The ESV Study Bible puts it this way, “Foreknew reaches back to the OT, where the word “know” emphasizes God’s special choice of, or covenantal affection for, his people (e.g., Gen. 18:19; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2).”

In his New Testament Biblical Theology Thomas Schreiner describes the concept as relatable to an Old Testament concept of covenantal love:

It is likely, however, that the term (proginosko) means even more that this when attributed to God. God’s knowledge of his people in the OT refers to his covenantal love, by which he set his affection on his people. God “knew” or “chose” Abraham as his own. Amos 3:2 also helps us define the term. God addresses Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” God obviously knows all who live upon the earth, but he has set his covenantal affection upon Israel alone. It is the only nation upon whom God has set his saving love…The word “foreknowledge” focuses on God’s covenantal choice of his people – his love in choosing them to be his own.

R.C. Sproul further explains that the root of that Greek word here for foreknowledge is “gnosis” which has two different nuances. The first is a cognitive nuance – as in something that we are aware of, or understand. The second meaning has to do with a deep understanding or intimate familiarity with something/someone (the subject/direct object). This second meaning is the one Paul is shooting for here.

Therefore, it is wrong to say that God’s predestination is based simply on how He knew we would react. It isn’t as though God looked down the portals of time and saw who would respond favorably to the gospel and then determined to save those people. Rather, God in the gracious and unsearchable counsel of His will “knew” what He was doing and predetermined that certain chosen ones would be His for all time. This foreknowledge could also be described in the way that Sproul paraphrased: “Those whom he foreloved [those whom he knew in a personal, intimate, redemptive sense from all eternity] he predestined.”

Predestined

He predestined us…to what? To “be conformed to the image of His Son.” He is obviously and necessarily speaking specifically of the elect here, to His children, otherwise the reprobate would prove the impotence of the will of God (the sovereign efficacious will), and because we know this isn’t the case we can easily deduce to whom the passage references.

Sproul says, “He has determined it (your salvation) according to the sovereign good pleasure of His will. Nowhere in Scripture is a foreseen, conditional, human response ever given as the rationale for the eternal decree by which God fixes for all eternity those whom he ordains and chooses for redemption.”

The ultimate end to this pre-determining plan is that God wants to make you like His Son. Piper says, “The purpose for which we are predestined is to share the glory of the preeminent Son of God.” The only way we are going to share in this glory is to be first fashioned by God in this lifetime, and that is all a part of His plan.

In another sermon Piper sums this up saying, “Having chosen us for his own, he then appointed for us the most glorious of all destinies—to be conformed to the image of his Son so that the Son could be the preeminent One with his glory reflected in millions of mirrors of himself.”

If you’re not catching this by now, the overall theme here is that God planned it, God did it, and God will see it through to completion.

Called

I sometimes run into trouble explaining to people God’s sovereignty, and specifically His plan of salvation from eternity past. They end up asking a lot of questions that revolve around the popular notion of “free will” – the idea that we make the choices and God accepts the results.

The idea that Paul is putting forth here when he uses the word “called” runs counter to that kind of man-centered thinking. Schriener puts it nicely, “Conversion is not primarily a matter of the human will choosing to know God but rather of God’s knowing of human beings.” And Piper adds, “So the call of God is based on God’s act of predestination which is in turn based on the election or choice that God makes without any respect to our distinctives at all.”

First, there are two kinds of “calling” in theology. The first is the General Call/Outward Call of the gospel. This simply refers to the proclaiming of the gospel and the public preaching of the word. This is the public call for all who hear the word to repent and believe.

The second “call” is the Inward Call or the Supernatural Call that the Holy Spirit affects in your heart. This is the sovereign calling of God upon your life. It is not a “wooing”, it is not a “courting”, but is the voice of the Holy Spirit calling you out of the tomb as Christ called Lazarus from the tomb (John 11).

John Piper describes it this way:

What does it mean to be called? It means that God has overcome the rebellion of our hearts and drawn us to Christ and created faith and love where there was once a heart of stone. The call is effectual. It creates what it commands. It is not like, “Here Blackie! Here Blackie!” It is like, “Lazarus, come forth!” or, “Let there be light!” The call happens in the preaching of the Word of God by the power of the Spirit of God. It overcomes all resistance and produces the faith that justifies.

So then, when we “hear” this call, it is by the grace of God. It is He who opens the ears of our heart. He is working mightily in our lives in order for us to come to repentance.

Only once He has done this supernatural “calling” will you have a desire to “choose” Christ. Before new birth you’ll never choose Christ – you’ll run away from Him because you’re at enmity with Him. Piper says, “The call is the creation of the faith. Therefore all who are called are indeed justified.”

Paul reminds Timothy of this high calling elsewhere and explains that the Lord’s calling has nothing to do with our own merit or work or plan:

“Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.” (2 Tim. 1:8-9)

This calling is an amazing and glorious truth. If you’re a Christian today it is because the most powerful Being in the universe cared enough about you to quicken you unto life everlasting. Your name was particular to Him and He died on the cross for your sins.

Justified

In answer to the question “What is Justification?” John Piper says, “As it is used here in Romans 8:30, it refers to the declaration of God to a repentant sinner that all his sins are forgiven, he is acquitted, the wrath of the judge is removed, and he stands righteous before God. God announces that something has been taken away and something has been added. Sins have been taken away. And a new righteousness has been given.”

Because of Christ’s cross work we are able to stand before God as men who are blameless – not because of anything we have done, but because of the payment that Christ made for us. To be justified means that we are “right” before God.

Of course the major thing standing in our way from being “right” with God was our sin. Although we still struggle with sin, Paul’s point here is that at the end of the day no matter how much you sin, God’s grace is sufficient to cover you. His blood has been shed so that you can stand before God with no cause of a justified accusation. The Devil can say what he wants but it doesn’t matter because Christ already paid the penalty for your sins – not simply the sins you did commit, but also the sins you will commit. He knew all the sins of His elect and died for those sins. He is God and sees all things and knows all things.

Glorified

It is a beautiful thing that Paul is inspired to write this word in the past tense. For Paul, this is something that, although it hasn’t happened in actuality, is already a reality. For him it’s as good as done. Why? Because he knows that God is faithful to the end. He will see you through to absolute victory!

Remember, the entire purpose is to conform you to the image of Christ, the new Adam. When Adam was made at the beginning of creation, he was made in the image of God. We are all still made in that image. Only there’s a problem, that image has fallen, its been tainted. But when the Spirit brought new life into your heart, it was the beginning of a new creation that will one day be completed when you are “glorified.”

I really like the fact that there are really two ways to think about glorification. The first is obvious and perhaps our default, it’s the praise and worship we give to God. When we think of “glorify” God we think about doing so with our minds and hearts and lips. This is a wonderful thing, and a brilliant truth.

The second way that Christ is glorified has to do with the revealing of His character in our lives. This is glorifying Him because it’s showing off (so to speak) who He really is! It is the revelation of His goodness and mercy and grace and justice that brings Him that praise I mentioned a bit ago. In this way we see His glory as well.

I think of our glorification as closely related to verse 19 of this chapter which says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” In this way our own character which is being worked on and fashioned by the Spirit, will be revealed, and we will be glorified. We will receive this glorification from Christ, it is all of Him. Perhaps this is a bad analogy, but it helps me to remember that it is God at work within me, both to will and to work for His own pleasure (Phil. 2:13).

8:31-32 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [32] He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

The idea here is that if God went so far as to send His own Son to earth, why would He not complete that work by giving us all things? In other words, He has gone to these lengths in His purposes and He cannot deny Himself. In His love He will not allow any circumstance or power that besets us to conquer His purposes which have been set from the foundation of the world.

What God starts, God finishes, that is the overriding theme of this section and reminds us of Paul’s comforting words in Philippians:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV)

Sproul comments:

One of the greatest Latin phrases in church history is Deus pro nobis: God for us. Paul is not suggesting that if God is for us, nobody will ever stand to oppose us. The import of his declaration is simple: all the human opposition that rises against us is meaningless in the final analysis, because all the opposition in the world cannot overthrow the glory that God has laid up for his saints from the foundation of the world.

Paul’s reasoning here is from logic. He stands in the shadow of the cross and looks up and marvels. Then he makes the fair assumption that, based on everything God in Christ has done for us, and the marvelous depths to which He stooped to save us, it seems only reasonable that He would “give us all things.”

This “all things” includes the good and the bad, with the full knowledge that He is using even the bad for our good. John Stott comments:

…all things must include the sufferings of verse 17 and the groanings of verse 23. Thus all that is negative in this life is seen to have a positive purpose in the execution of God’s eternal plan. Nothing is beyond the overruling, overriding scope of his providence.

8:33-34 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. [34] Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

We know that Satan is always accusing us before the throne of God (think of Joshua the high priest in Zechariah chap. 3). If we are concerned about Satan’s accusations we ought to take confidence here because we learn that the very Being set to judge us is also our defense attorney. The courtroom is rigged in our favor. Some have used the analogy of a judge whose son is in court for a speeding ticket. The judge pronounces the young man guilty, assesses a fine, then steps down from the bench, takes off his robe, and pays the fine himself – freeing his child not from justice but from payment of what it requires. In other words, we have reason to be confident in Christ for He is interceding for us. It’s an awesome truth.

That’s the brilliant truth of these verses. Who in the universe is going to have the authority to bring a charge against the elect of God? No one will be able to bring a charge that will stand.

As Charles Spurgeon says, “We have a bulwarks, none of which can possibly be stormed, but when combined they are so irresistible, they could not be carried, though earth and hell should combine to storm them.”

I think that the significance of these verses lies in the fact that Paul brings us the name of Christ. He said that “Christ Jesus is the one who died” and brings to mind the lengths to which God went to make certain our sin would be paid for. He had to have a perfect sacrifice.

The saying cannot be true though for those whose sin is not covered by the blood of Christ, and this is why we must heed the call of Christ our captain to go and seek out the lost. There is an urgency in the realities proclaimed here as well as a comfort. These words proclaim great comfort to the believer and great condemnation to the man not saved.

RC Sproul paints the picture:

It is Christ who died; it is Christ who was raised for our justification; it is Christ who ascended to the right hand of God, where he is seated in the position of cosmic authority. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. The highest tribunal in the cosmos is the one who died for us.

Lastly, there’s another great truth that’s proclaimed here, and that is articulated in the words, “more than that, who was raised.” What this means is that the same power by which God raised His Son from the grave will also keep us safely in His care until the Day of Judgment.

The assurance here (our assurance) is based in the reality of God’s power – power that has already been demonstrated in the resurrection of Christ.

8:35-36 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? [36] As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

The question that Paul poses is rhetorical, and in posing it he enumerates a laundry list of items that mankind fear might separate them from God’s presence.

By listing them, I believe, Paul is as much as saying that we should expect to encounter them. It is in light of this reality that Paul seeks to bring us ultimate comfort and a refreshing reminder of whom we ought to delight in and place all of our hope.

Like Sheep to the Slaughter

Once Paul lists these several items, he takes a moment to use an Old Testament passage from Isaiah to verify his point that believers will suffer all kinds of adversity. There is no doubt that it will occur…no prosperity gospel preaching here!

The presence of this OT quote balances out 8:28 and helps us remember that God uses trials and tribulations to bring about His purposes.

One of the greatest eschatological misconceptions in the evangelical church today is this idea that the church will not have to endure the tribulation(s) prior to the second and final coming of Christ. The entire witness of the New Testament stands against this kind of thought. In fact, we are told over and over again that life in Christ involves suffering. In this way we identify with Him in His sufferings.

I am reminded especially of the experience of the early church, and how they were persecuted. Early in the book of Acts the disciples were preaching and teaching in the temple in Jerusalem and were arrested for this, but eventually were beaten and released. What was their reaction to this persecution? Check this out:

…and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. [41] Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. [42] And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. (Acts 5:40-42 ESV)

The reason I bring up the misconception about end times tribulation is because it results from a direct misunderstanding of the character of Christ and our call to follow Him no matter what the circumstances. Recently, a dear lady at my church messaged me about these things saying she was struggling to understand them. She said, in effect, that ‘surely Jesus wouldn’t want us to suffer, would He?’

Such a presumption betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to follow Christ, and the realities associated with His Lordship. Furthermore, it isn’t as though we are looking for suffering, quite the contrary. This isn’t sadism. However, we can bear with the pain and even rejoice in it because it means we’ve been identified with our Lord and there is nothing more gratifying than to be so closely related to Jesus that we reap the consequences of that relationship – even if they be painful.

8:37-39 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [38] For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now in a sweeping conclusion to the section of this letter Paul answers his own rhetorical question. The will of the Father and the plan and power of Christ will not be frustrated, nor will He abandon us to face our trials alone. He comforts, molds, encourages, brings us home to absolute and complete victory.

Thomsas Schreiner explains what it means to be “more” than a conqueror:

To be more than a conqueror over affliction, distress, persecution, and so on indicates that these enemies are actually turned to the good of believers through the power of God…The point is that the love of Christ is so powerful that it turns our greatest enemies into our friends.

I absolutely love that point! In this way verse 32 is closely tied with Paul’s concept of “all things” in verse 28.

Next we see that it is through the love of Christ that we are enabled to be conquerors, and Derek Thomas reminds us that the reason we aren’t able to be separated from the love of Christ is because of the love of the Father. “Our security is grounded in the objectivity of the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Bt it is not, initially at least, the love of Jesus that is in Paul’s mind; it is the love of the Father who sent Him.”

John Owen delights in the love that the Father shows us in this context:

If the love of a father will not make a child delight in him, what will? Exercise your thoughts upon this very thing, the eternal, free, and fruitful love of the Father, and see if your hearts be not wrought upon to delight in Him.

Derek Thomas quotes Octavius Winslow on the fact that Jesus as the ransom shows us the depth of the love of God for us:

Who killed Jesus? Who killed Him? It wasn’t Judas out of greed. It wasn’t the Jews out of envy. It was His Father out of love. The Father killed Him. It was the Father who put Him to death.”

Being that this is indeed the case, what in the world (to rephrase Paul) could ever keep God the Father from completing this mission? Frankly, the stakes are too high. He’s not going to allow the work of His Son to not be brought to an absolute smashing victory.

I am Sure

Next Paul states something that ought to bring us into the most wonderful comfort. He says quite plainly: “I am sure.” If Paul is sure, the we can be sure!

Furthermore, after being “sure” Paul enumerates a new list of potential foes, this list is even more powerful and lines up really well with what he said when he described the struggle of the Christian life elsewhere:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)

Yes because of the armor of God, and the provision He has given us, we can survive the attacks of the Evil One and his forces.

Conclusion

What an amazing thought that we are the benefactors of the Father’s plan and love. We are the objects of His grace, and it blows me away that we get to be included in His sovereign plan of redemption. If it were up to us we might certainly lose our ways, and our salvation. But thanks be to God that salvation, from first to last, is extra nos and is wholly of the sovereign and benevolent predestining plan of our Father God.

From beginning to end, He has predestined, redeemed, sanctified, and glorified us. His plan is perfect, even though we sometimes can’t see the full outcome; we know that His purposes are motivated by love, and that His will is sovereign. The truths we learn in chapter 8 of Romans are truths that last a lifetime. They are truths that comfort, protect, and secure us for the day of storms and set our heart of fire in the day of pleasant skies.

Simul Justus et Peccator

Last week in class I used the Latin phrase “Simul Justus et Peccator” to explain the relationship between someone who has been justified by Christ, and yet still continues to sin. It means “at once (at the same time) justified and yet sinful (a sinner).” It describes one of those paradoxical relationships that we all know all too well.

Paul, who had written about His life in Christ and freedom from the damnation of sin (death) in Romans 6, then went on to describe the struggle he still maintained in the flesh in chapter 7.  Praise God that he got to chapter 8 which tells us that there is therefore now no condemnation for all those who are in Christ (8:1).

The point is that if you have been saved, you can never be un-saved. You can never do something so unrighteous that you jeopardize your position before God – Paul explains this at the end of Romans 8:

[29] For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30] And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

[31] What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [32] He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? [33] Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. [34] Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. [35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? [36] As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” [37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [38] For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:29-39 ESV)

The whole point of this passage was to give Christians the confidence to 1. know that no matter how much they sinned they still had forgiveness and salvation and justification in Christ and that nothing could separate them from His love, and 2. that no matter how morally good they were they would never have to worry about attaining to the love and righteousness that is provided us by Christ. It is HIS righteousness that will be given you on that final day, not your own.

And this is the amazing truth behind that little Latin phrase that Luther coined and that I bring up now and again.  I suggestion you memorize that phrase, and remind the Devil of it whenever he tempts you toward thinking that your own morality is something (when its not), and when you begin to fret that your sins are too great for our King to overcome, for they are not.

Once justified, always justified – now that’s something worth celebrating!

For more resources on this, check out R.C. Sproul’s blog post/video on how Luther’s discovery of the truth here.