Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of New Georgia Baptist Church.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Heart and Life: Notes and Gospel Reflection on Proverb 4:23


Text

With all preservation, watch over your heart, because from it [flow] the springs of life. (Prov 4:23)

Cross-Reference

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45 NASB)

5Ws

Who? This is a general command, and yet the contents of the heart, expressed through speech, reveal two kinds of people: the good and the evil.

What? The heart—the faculty of the soul which is the seat of our desires—“the springs of life;” “treasure” (and a portion of that treasure), which is good or evil; speech.

When? The springs of life are always flowing and are particularly evident when we speak.

Where? The condition of our heart is particularly evident when we open our mouths to speak to others.

Why? Our heart, reflected by our speech, sets the whole course of our life, even into eternity.

How? We choose according to our greatest desire.

So what? These are verses of absolute good or absolute evil: of eternal life or eternal death.

2 Tim 3:16

Teaching: these passages teach us concerning the necessary God-created connection between heart, speech, and life.

Correcting: these passages correct us when we falter in vigilance concerning our hearts.

Rebuking: these passages rebuke us if we imagine that we can reform our lives or our speech without a fundamental change of heart.

Training in righteousness: these passages help train us to watch over our hearts for our own good, for the benefit of others, and for God’s glory.

Gospel Reflection

Due to the sin of Adam, our hearts have been radically corrupted, bent against God. Our vigilance and deeds in reforming our hearts—if we do begin to realize the adverse effects our corrupted hearts have on our lives—our will and works are utterly insufficient. We need the power of the Holy Spirit. We need redemption for our hearts. As our hearts are, by nature, in rebellion against God, we stand condemned as traitors against our Sovereign. We need the legal obstacle to our redemption—our condemnation under the justice of God
—removed.

Christ died, taking our condemnation in our place. But we must have more than forgiveness from the penalty of our sin; we must have redemption from the power of sin. Our hearts must be set free from the prison of sin. We must have our hearts cleansed from the pollution of sin. And as the old hymn celebrates:

[Christ] breaks the power of cancelled sin, 
He sets the prisoner free,
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

Having died for our sins, Jesus rose again on the third day, demonstrating that He was victorious over sin, death, and Hell. He now lives forever, offering salvation from sin and eternal life to all who believe in Him. He offers the power of the Holy Spirit, that we might guard our hearts, living lives that honor Him. By His grace and for His glory, dear reader, watch over your heart.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Christ and Angels: Notes on Ephesians 1:9-10; Colossians 1:19-20


Focus Passages

He made known the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention, which He purchased in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times– that is, the summing up of all things in Christ– things in the heavens and things on the earth. (Eph 1:9-10 NASB)

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on Earth or things in Heaven. (Col 1:19-20 NASB)

Cross-References

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. (Matt 6:10)

You have made Him a little lower than the angels. (Heb 2:7a)

Don’t you know that we will judge angels? (1 Cor 6:3a)

Reflection

These passages focus readers’ attention on gospel truths from past, present, and future: 1. the past, “the fullness of the times,” when Christ’s work of penal substitution took place; 2. the present, as we are continually praying for God’s will to be done; 3. the future state, in which we who are redeemed will judge angels.

God is glorified in Christ in the Heavens and on the Earth. The benefits of God’s grace in Christ are “purchased” “through the blood of His cross.” This is according to the divine will: it is the Father who made Christ a little lower than the angels during Christ’s pre-resurrected incarnate existence. The revelation of the gospel of reconciliation also takes place according to the kind intention of God’s will (“the Father’s good pleasure”). The gospel of reconciliation uniquely demonstrates God’s grace. Due to His atoning work, establishing the gospel of reconciliation, all things have been summed up in Christ, and all of the manifest created order will be at peace with God.

In reflections upon Christian theology and piety, there is much discussion of “mystery.” These passages correct faulty understandings of “mystery:” a term that must be understood in light of the person and work of Christ. These passages, by implication, offer a rebuke to those who would fail to grant Christ and His Cross their proper place of preeminence. These passages train us to glorify Christ and His work on the Cross in all aspects of our lives.

Commentaries

“[O]ut of Christ all things were disordered, and that through him they have been restored to order. And truly, out of Christ, what can we perceive in the world but mere ruins? We are alienated from God by sin, and how can we but present a broken and shattered aspect? The proper condition of creatures is to keep close to God. Such a gathering together (νακεφαλαίωσις) [AKA: "recapitulation"] as might bring us back to regular order, the apostle tells us, has been made in Christ.” [Calvin’s Commentary, Ephesians 1:10]

“The apostle opens up a view of the atonement as embracing angelic intelligences as well as men…. In one sense, the efficacy of the atonement reaches to [angels], but in a different way from the reconciliation of those alienated by sin. God reconciles all things to Himself, celestial and terrestrial, and the angels seem to have been confirmed by the Son of God. It is not to be affirmed that Christ was the Mediator of angels, for the language of Scripture is that He is the Mediator between God and men (1 Tim 2:5), but He is their Head, the uniting bond of the universe, gathered up anew or recapitulated under Him (Eph 1:10).” [George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Atonement According to the Apostles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988), 297-299.]

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Christ is Life: Reflections on John 1:4

Focus Passage

In [the Word] was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:4)

Cross-References

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)

Jesus said to [Thomas], "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples [after His resurrection], which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

For to me, to live is Christ. (Phil 1:21a)

Reflections

Jesus is Life. He is revealed as Life in His incarnation and in His teaching. Jesus is revealed as the Life by the divine will through the Cross and in His resurrection. Jesus declared that He is the Life when He was in close communion with His disciples. We too need communion with fellow believers that we would be ever more convinced that life is uniquely in Him.

Jesus is the Life because He is God, He is Man, and as the God-Man He conquered death. He took the death that we deserved in our place. Believing in Him, we have life in His name, both in this life and the life to come.

Jesus has life in Himself. The incarnate Word is—as we see throughout the Gospel of John—the eternal “I AM” of the Old Testament. “I AM” represented YHWH, the covenant name of God in the Old Testament. But whereas that name came to represent judgment and condemnation, since—by the weakness of our sinful flesh—people were entirely unable to keep the Old Covenant demands, the name Jesus literally means “YHWH saves.” The New Covenant established in His blood brings about life and peace with God.

The Word of God does not only create, but sustains all things. The Word of God does not only create and sustain, but He reveals who God is (He is the Light). The Word of God directs our paths (He is the Way). The Word of God is the Truth by whom all ideas must be evaluated.

The Word of God does not only create—does not only give life—in the natural realm, but in the supernatural and eternal realm as well. We ought not seek for life anywhere else. There is one Mediator between God and Man, the Man Christ Jesus. Jesus’ teachings offer us clear guidance. We obtain eternal life by faith alone; we gain access to God through Christ alone.

Jesus is the Life. These passages rebuke anyone who would seek to proclaim another source or end for life. These passages correct those who are confused about life, and who have something other than Jesus Himself as their chief concern in life. These passages train us to look to Jesus as the grounding for our lives, as the way to live our lives, and as the truth about life by which all other ideas must be evaluated.

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Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Image and Firstborn of God: Notes on Colossians 1:15-17

[The following blogpost is re-edited and expanded from posts originally published on 3/19/2009 and 6/26/2012.]

Text


15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For everything was created by Him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities: all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17 HCSB)

Who and What is “He”?

Son, Firstborn, and Image. The antecedent of this pronoun–He–had been revealed two verses prior: “He” is “the Son He [that is, God] loves” (Col 1:13). In relation to God, He is God’s “image”. In relation to creation, He is the “firstborn,” holding preeminence over all things. Both terms–“image” and “firstborn”–are indicative of Christ as the new Adam. "Image of the invisible God" is "at least in part, an allusion to Gen 1:27.... Paul's language here is virtually identical with his reference elsewhere to 'man' being in the 'image and glory of God' (1 Cor 11:7, where clear reference is made to Gen 1:27)…. Christ has come in human form and accomplished that which the first Adam did not; consequently, as…ideal human, Christ reflects the image that Adam and others should have reflected but did not." [G.K. Beale, "Colossians," Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 851-852.] “Jesus is the firstborn in the sense that He has the preeminence (1:18) and that He possesses [like Adam possessed, before the Fall] the right of inheritance ‘over all creation’ (Heb 1:2; Rev 5:1-7, 13)” [MacArthur Commentary, p. 1735]. "[Firstborn] signifies his dominion over all things, as the first-born in a family is heir and lord of all, so he is the 'heir of all things' (Heb 1:2)" [Matthew Henry’s Commentary]. Christ is first in rank and exercises lordship over all creation.

Distinct. Colossians 1:16 provides grounds for verse 15, and begins to demonstrate Christ’s deity, but it also demonstrates the role distinction of His Person in that everything was created “through” Him. "[Colossians 1:16] indicates that Christ is in a quite different category from creation, since all things (ta panta) are said to have been created 'in him,' 'through him,' and 'for him.' The scope of the items mentioned in this verse indicates that this creation is not some partial or local event but the sum total of physical and 'spiritual' reality. Christ is not said here to be [the ultimate source of being for all things]: they are created (by God) 'in him'; but neither is his role simply that of agent or mediator, since the 'in him' and 'through him' are supplemented by the striking 'for him' (eis auton) at the end of 1:16. Comparing this formula with that in 1 Cor 8:6 (another confessional statement) highlights the importance of this addition, since there 'all things' are said to come into existence 'from' and 'to' (eis) God... Thus here in Colossians Christ is seen not merely as the instrument of creation, the tool of God's creative power, but as the one to whom all creation tends, the goal and purpose of its existence" [John Barclay’s Commentary (Sheffield, 2001, p. 80)].

Divine. “Image” and “firstborn” are significant for our understanding of Christ’s humanity, being indicative of Christ as the new Adam. However, these terms are both also significant for our understanding of Christ’s divinity. Christ perfectly reveals who the Father is.

In Colossians 1:15-17, “image” speaks not only to Christ’s identity as ideal Man, but it speaks to His ontological identity with God as well. The term “image” certainly indicates that Christ is the new Adam, but "at the same time, we gather also from this [term] his (μοουσία) identity of essence [with God], for Christ would not truly [and fully] represent God, if he were not the essential Word of God" [Calvin’s Commentary]. "In His essence, God is invisible; but Jesus Christ has revealed Him to us (John 1:18)…. The author of Hebrews, in a passage that certainly speaks to Christ’s deity, affirms that Jesus Christ is 'the express image of [God’s] person' (Heb 1:3)"  [Warren Wiersbe’s Commentary].

Firstborn” in verse 15 similarly speaks to Christ’s ontological identity with God, carrying the exact opposite import than what is imagined by the Arian heretics. Christ does not become “firstborn” at the incarnation, but this passage speaks to the state of Christ as He was “before all things”. “All things” includes time, and so we confess that there NEVER was a time when Christ was not in existence. “Firstborn over all creation” (some versions translate the phrase “firstborn of all creation, ” which is true to the Greek form, though “over” does give the proper sense of the passage): this phrase does not mean that Christ is part of creation, for “all things have been created by Him.” (The text does NOT read ‘all other things,’ as if He Himself were created.) Creation, made by the Son, is not the source of His title “firstborn”. Nothing within creation is the source of the Son’s nature. From whom does one who is born receive his nature? Is it not from his parents? The Son receives His nature from His Father. God the Son is consubstantial with His Father. He is eternally generated.

Hypostatically United."[T]here is a close association between the doctrine of man's creation in the divine image and the doctrine of our Lord's incarnation. It is because man in the creative order bears the image of his Creator that the Son of God could become incarnate as man and in his humanity display the glory of the invisible God” [F.F. Bruce’s Commentary]. As seen in Colossians 1:17, Christ is the Creator and Sustainer– these are the cosmic functions of the Son; in his deity, the incarnate Christ upheld all creation even in His nativity and all throughout His life.

How Can These Things Be?

The realities concerning Christ that are proclaimed in these verses come about by the power of God (Col 1:12), who is the Source of all being. These realities come about due to the eternal divine will. The Son or Word was in active existence previous to the creation of all things, and He transcends the heavens and the earth (Col 1:16-17).

So What?

Christ in Creation and Revelation. This passage teaches us concerning the preeminence of Christ in revelation and creation. Each person is made in God’s image (Gen 9:6). However, Christ is uniquely declared to be the image of God. As Calvin notes, "We must, therefore, beware of seeking [God] elsewhere, for everything that would set itself off as a representation of God, apart from Christ, will be an idol" [Calvin’s Commentary]. Mystical experiences or religious ceremonies are no substitute for Christ Himself.

Christ in Our Thoughts and Words. This passage certainly offers a rebuke against those who would deny Christ’s divinity or affirm that He was only a good teacher. But this passage also offers correction to those who are prone to frivolous thoughts concerning our Lord [i.e., “buddy Jesus” or “Jesus is my homeboy”]. This passage trains us regarding the kind of language that we must use to identify our Lord: exalted, worshipful language. More accurate knowledge of who Jesus is allows us to improve our worship and our witness.

Christ in Our Redemption. This passage is introduced by the phrase, “We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him” (Col 1:14). Colossians 1:15-17 provides grounding for how the Son is able, according to the divine will, to bring us “redemption, the forgiveness of sins”. Christ’s Person is the basis for His work.

As God, all things are created through Christ and for Christ. God cannot be successfully robbed. He will possess His creation.

As Man, Christ entered into creation. As Man, He became a suitable substitute for us: we, who have been made in God’s image, but who have become alienated from God and hostile in our minds towards Him because of our evil actions (Col 1:21). In His physical body, on the Cross, Christ took the penalty of death that we deserved, as we had made ourselves rebels against our Sovereign Creator and Sustainer (Col 1:20, 22). Christ thus secured our reconciliation to God.

As the God-Man, death could not hold Christ. He became the firstborn from the dead (Col 1:18). Christ thus secured our resurrection unto God.

DEAR READER: Trust in Christ today. In Christ, find the peace with God that you so desperately need. Find the hope of eternal life in Him. 

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Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Humiliation and Exaltation of the Incarnate Word: Notes on Philippians 2:5-11


[The following blogpost is re-edited from a post published on 7/27/14. After prayerful consideration of the text itself, the first commentaries that I looked to were John Chrysostom and John CalvinAdditionally, my understanding of this passage has been sharpened by comments in Simon Gathercole's book The Preexistent Son, James White's book The Forgotten Trinity (Chapter 8), and class notes from Dr. Stephen Wellum.]

Text

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who–existing in the form of God–did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men, and–when He had come as man in His external form–He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that–at the name of Jesus–every knee will bow (of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth), and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (HCSB)

Observations

In this passage, the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul commands us to humility. This passage calls us to follow Christ as our example for humility. It also, implicitly, holds out a promise to us. God exalted Christ Jesus due to His humble obedience. We who have been united to Christ by faith (1 Cor 6:17) will share in His exaltation as we follow His example.

The Apostle Paul gives an argument from the greater to the less. Christ exercised humility, as Calvin notes, “[B]y abasing Himself from the highest pinnacle of glory to the lowest ignominy.” We, on the other hand, exercise humility simply by not thinking higher of ourselves than we ought.

Form” in Philippians 2:5-11 is equivalent to “nature”. Christ emptied Himself by taking on a human nature. The Word became flesh (John 1:14). The Word–who “was God” (John 1:1)–was called a man (1 Tim 2:5). Christ forever retains His bodily form (Col 2:9).

John Chrysostom
Of these concepts, John Chyrsostom helpfully remarks: “Let us not then confound nor divide the natures. There is one God, there is one Christ, the Son of God; when I say ‘One,’ I mean a union, not a confusion; the one Nature did not degenerate into the other, but was united with it.”

The incarnation and crucifixion were due to a voluntary act of the divine will as expressed through the subsistency within the Trinity known as the Word (as in John 1) or Son, identified in the text under present consideration as Christ Jesus. As Gathercole notes, "[Christ's] act of emptying himself in the incarnation is paralleled with his act of humbling himself to the point of death." As Christ chose to go to the Cross (John 10:18), He had previously chosen to be born of the virgin Mary. No one chooses the manner of his own birth: no one save Christ, [who] emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. Notice the human existence the Christ chose: not a life of fame and fortune, but one that (for most of His time on this earth) was characterized by obscurity and poverity.

Assuming the form of” and “taking on” modify the ‘emptying’ mentioned in this passage. The ‘emptying’ is thus not a losing but a gaining. The Son does not lose anything of His divinity, but he adds a human nature to His divine nature, which is an emptying because it temporarily masks His divine glory and becomes the opportunity for His suffering on behalf of others.

John Calvin
As Calvin notes, “[T]he abasement of [Christ's] flesh was… like a veil, by which His divine majesty was concealed. On this account, He did not wish that His transfiguration should be made public until after His resurrection” (Matt 17:9; Mark 9:9; Luke 9:36). The incarnate Christ was publicly manifested as the Son of God by means of His resurrection (Rom 1:4).

Prior to His resurrection, Christ suffered humiliation in the manner of His death: “cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13). Christ was hanged between two robbers, sharing in their ill repute, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “And He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isa 53:12). Christ crucified is a stumbling block and considered foolishness by those who are proud in their religious or philosophical endeavors (1 Cor 1:24).

Once the incarnate Christ was exalted, following His resurrection, the Word was returned to the glory that He had with the Father from “before the world began” (John 17:5). Nothing was added to the Son’s divinity (for it is impossible that the all-glorious One could increase in glory), but now His humanity, which was previously a vehicle for humiliation, has become glorified, manifestly partaking in the divine nature, allowing everyone who is united to Christ by faith (1 Cor 6:17) to become a partaker in the divine nature as well (2 Pet 1:4).

The above thoughts are key to rightly understanding the term "emptied" as it is used in Philippians 2:7 and help indicate how Christians must obey the command to 'make our own attitude that of Christ Jesus' in the way indicated by this passage (see Phil 2:5). Humility, as James White has observed, consists of: "having privileges, and laying them aside in service of others." As Martin Luther noted in On the Freedom of a Christian, whereas a Christian is "a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none" (due to the privileges we have in Christ through faith, John 8:36; Eph 2:6), a Christian is also "a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all" (due to the fact that the Holy Spirit has commanded us to practice humility). We cannot empty ourselves of divine attributes (as some would wrongly suggest is indicated by "emptied" in Phil 2:7), but we can empty ourselves though self-sacrificial service to others.

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Friday, August 01, 2014

The Deity of Christ


[The following blogpost is re-edited from a post originally published on 7/23/10. The first part of this post is the outline I used for the 7/22/10 devotion at the pre-work prayer meeting that I had with my friends from UPS on Thursdays.]

The Deity of Christ

I. Jesus is identified as God by His own words: John 10:30-31; 14:8-9.

II. Jesus is identified as God by His actions: Mark 2:1-12.

-NOTE: The above points need only assume that the Gospel records are accurate eyewitness testimony (or, in the case of Luke, based upon careful investigation of several eyewitnesses [Luke 1:1-4]), as they claim to be: John 19:35. By these points we know, if we have any sure historical knowledge of Jesus at all, that it is beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus considered Himself divine.

III. Jesus is identified as God by theological statements made by the apostles: John 1:1; Colossians 2:9.

IV. Jesus is identified as God by titles used for Him by the apostles:

A. Savior: 2 Timothy 1:10 [Isa 43:11];

B. Lord: 1 Peter 3:15.

-NOTE: The above points assume that the apostles' teaching, recorded as New Testament Scripture, comes from God: John 14:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 3:15-16. By the teaching of the New Testament regarding the deity of Christ, we know that Jesus is to be worshiped and served in a way that befits Him as God.
---
In their book Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2007), Robert Bowman and Ed Komoszewski give the acronymn HANDS to help readers remember the biblical evidence for the deity of Christ. HANDS stands for: Honors, Attributes, Names, Deeds, and Seat. [More examples could be given for each lettered sub-point that follows.]

I. Jesus deserves the Honors only due to God

A. Whereas worship is to be given to God alone, Exo 34:14; Deut 6:13,

B. Jesus receives worship, Matt 2:11, 28:9-10, 17; John 5:23, 9:35-39).

II. Jesus shares the Attributes that only God can possess

A. Eternity, Isa 9:6; John 1:3;

BImmutability, Psa 102:25-27; Heb 1:10-12; 13:8.

III. Jesus is given Names that can only be given to God (as noted above)

ASavior: 2 Timothy 1:10 [Isa 43:11];

BLord: 1 Peter 3:15.

IV. Jesus performs Deeds that only God can perform

A. Jesus reads thoughts and forgives sin: Mark 2:1-12.

B. Jesus created everything: John 1:3; Col 1:15-16; Heb 1:2.

C. Jesus sustains everything: Col 1:17; Heb 1:3.

V. Jesus possesses a Seat on the throne of God (Rev 3:21)

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Jonathan Edwards on Original Sin, Part 3 (Man's Unfailing Propensity to Moral Evil)


[The following post is re-edited from notes originally published on this blog on January 15, 2011.]


  • Man has an unfailing propensity to moral evil.
  • Man's propensity to evil is offensive to God, bringing upon Man His wrath and curse.
  • Due to God's infinite worth, there is "infinite demerit in all sin against God."
  • Edwards cites the parable from the end of Matt 18 to demonstrate our great offense against God.
  • It is objected that our good deeds may outweigh our bad deeds. Edwards answers this objection through means of analogies: if a servant, otherwise faithful, spits in his master's face only one, he is not considered faithful or exempt from punishment; if a wife commits adultery once, she is considered an adulteress, regardless of how well she may perform all her other duties.

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    Wednesday, July 30, 2014

    Jesus Without Disease


    [The following blogpost was originally published on 12/13/2010. I re-published it here on the tenth of this month, but since that time I added a couple of points, so I'm re-posting it now.]

    Near the end of his article declaring that Jesus made mistakes, Sam Storms offers speculation regarding the physical life of the fully human Christ during His earthly ministry. Storms asks questions which include the following:

    Sam Storms
    "Did Jesus ever get sick? When he hit his thumb with a hammer while working in his father's carpenter shop (assuming he did!), would he have been susceptible to getting an infection? ... Could Jesus have caught the flu from one of his family members? Could Jesus have suffered from a 24-hour stomach virus (with all its unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diahhrea) caused by drinking dirty water from the Jordan River?"

    Storms concludes: Yes, most likely.”

    In an article titled, "Did Jesus Ever Get a Stomach Virus?" Dr. Russell Moore emphatically answered, "[Jesus] was not exempt from something as common as sickness."

    Russell Moore
    While I do NOT think that differences on this issue have such immediate negative consequences as the assertion that Jesus made errors or mistakes, I DO think that we should consider that Christ was not subject to disease. Reflect, dear reader, upon the following:

    1. Sickness is not a necessary element of humanity; Adam, before the Fall, would not have gotten sick. Illness was not was not a necessary experience for Christ, as He is the new and better Adam (Rom 5:141 Cor 15:45). 

    2. Human weaknesses of Jesus are specifically mentioned in the Gospel accounts; He hungered after fasting (Matt 4:2), He grew tired after physical exertion (John 4:6), etc. These experiences ARE necessary to humanity, due to our physicalityfinitude, and mutability. The inspired Gospel writers seem keen to record the truly human experiences of Christ. But the Gospels never mention Jesus being sick, which-if He had gotten sick-would have been similarly notable.

    3. On the other hand, the Gospels DO record that Jesus faced situations in which we who are affected by sin would normally contract disease, yet in the accounts of these situations there is no hint that He contracted a disease. For example, Matthew 8:1-4 records that Jesus healed a leper by touching him. Jesus certainly did not cease to be human when He touched the leper. Yet, unlike any of us, Jesus did not contract leprosy. His true humanity did not necessitate that He catch the disease.

    4. Matthew 8:16-17 is (I believe) key in this consideration: "When evening came, they brought to [Jesus] many who were demon-possessed, and He cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were ill. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: 'He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases'" (NASB). IF we only had the textual information from the prophecy in Isaiah WITH the theological information concerning Christ's true humanity, THEN it may be reasonable to assume that "He Himself took our infirmities" should be understood in terms of Jesus Himself-like us-becoming sick. But this is NOT the only information that we have been given. Matthew 8:17 records the Holy Spirit-inspired interpretation of Isaiah's prophecy: "[Jesus] healed all who were ill to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet," etc. ["This was" is not in the original text, but only supplied by translators.] HOW did Jesus take our infirmities and carry away our diseases? FIRST through His healing ministry, which provides a preview of the kingdom of God that (when fully manifested) will include no disease. THEN-as the function of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 in the New Testament is considered as a whole-we understand that Jesus bore sin, sickness, and death on the Cross in our place and rose again to conquer these enemies of Man, as He is the first-fruit of resurrection. NOTICE: the idea of Jesus personally becoming sick never enters into this account. The idea that Jesus must have become sick is an inference, which-due to the reasons presented here-seems both textually unnecessary and theologically problematic (at best).

    5. The primary reason that the inference concerning Jesus becoming sick (prior to His passion) is theologically problematic is that sin, sickness, and death appear to be related in the Bible (for example: Isaiah 53:4Matthew 8:17). Just as Jesus, being sinless, would not have "naturally" died as we "naturally" die-rather, He laid down His life on His own accord (John 10:18)-Jesus wouldn't have "naturally" fallen ill.

    6. In so emphasizing the Incarnation, I fear we run the risk of under-estimating the uniqueness of the Cross. We may miss the idea that Jesus, at a specific point in His ministry, began to bear the sins of His people upon His own body and endure divine wrath on our behalf. Jesus did not experience the wrath of God against sin throughout His entire life; He would not have cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" (Matt 27:46) at His baptism.

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    Saturday, July 26, 2014

    Jesus Without Mistakes: Christ as the New Adam and Inerrant Word

    Someone has made a mistake:
    either the Lord of glory,
    or this gentleman preaching
    in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt.
    [This blogpost was originally published on the ninth of this month. As I was re-reading Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, I found a pertinent quote from Klaus Issler, so I'm re-publishing this with the Issler quote.] 

    To Be Human is to Err?

    "To err is human..." This proverb, though not found in Scripture, is certainly reflective of our normal daily experience. But is the obverse true as well? Is 'to be human to err'?

    Mark Driscoll, in discussing the true humanity of Christ, seems to think that the answer is 'yes,' and-responding to objections against Driscoll on this issue-Sam Storms has emphatically answered in the affirmative. Driscoll and Storms both believe that in order to be truly human, Jesus must have made errors or mistakes.

    Driscoll and Storms are both careful to say that they are not asserting that Jesus made any moral errors or mistakes. Rather, Driscoll believes-and Storms asserts-that Jesus made factual errors or mistakes.

    On The Distinction Between Moral and Factual Errors

    5, 280!
    The distinction between moral and factual errors or mistakes can indeed be meaningful. The antiChrist himself (as a Reformed Baptist, I mean Pope Francis) may be able to say how many feet are in a mile (or meters are in a kilometer) without making a factual error or mistake. Yet, due to the radical corruption of human nature through Adam's fall, none of us can relate even the most commonplace facts in a way is free from moral error. This is because God created all things for His own glory, but when we consider the things that He has made and principles that He has established, we never glorify Him to the level we ought. When we fill out our multiplication tables in elementary school, even if we make no factual errors, we never perform this activity in a way that is characterized by complete, untainted love for God: heart, soul, mind and strength.

    So, making moral errors or mistakes is a necessary part of what it means to be a fallen human being. But-laying aside the question of fallenness, as Jesus was (and is) sinless-is making factual errors or mistakes a necessary part of what it means to be a human?

    On the Proper Distinctions Between God and Man

    What are the necessary characteristics of humanity? Specifically, what are the necessary characteristics that distinguish God and Man (considered apart from the Fall)? Most obviously, Man is embodied: as the Baptist Catechism declares, "God made the body of Adam out of the ground and formed Eve from the body of Adam" (Gen 2:7, 21-23; 3:19; Psa 103:14). On the other hand, "God is a Spirit, and does not have a body like men" (John 4:24; 2 Cor 3:17; 1 Tim 1:17).


    The other necessary characteristics of humanity-the characteristics that distinguish people body and soul from God-are summed up in two terms: finitude and mutability. Man is finite and mutable, which is to say that people (unlike God) have limits and are subject to change. God alone is infinite and immutable. Jesus' (post-resurrection) statement to His disciples that He is with us always, even unto the end of the age, as we go into all nations (Matt 28:19-20)-a statement indicating that He is limitless-and the declaration by the author of Hebrews that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb 13:8): these are indicative of His divine, not His human, nature.

    Jesus is fully human. Jesus is embodied (even now, as Colossians 2:9 declares in the present tense). Touching His humanity (at least during His earthly ministry), Jesus was finite and mutable. During His time on earth, "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52).

    Growth in Wisdom: Some Needed Distinctions
    Sam Storms

    Driscoll and Storms believe that the human characteristics mentioned above imply that Jesus must have made factual errors. Sam Storms writes, "[D]id Jesus ever 'mistakenly' think that 5x5=30? ... When, as a young boy, he looked up at the sky, did [Jesus] ever wonder whether the sun might orbit the earth?" Storms gives a few other examples, and he asserts that these kinds of questions should be answered "yes."

    Not all of Storms' examples are alike, and when writing about Jesus' education, Storms fails to distinguish between ignorance, confusion, and false assertions.

    In His human experience, Jesus-like all other people-went from not knowing to knowing. In this sense, the Son of Man experienced ignorance, which had to be overcome through education. There is no culpability in this. As with all other children, Jesus had to learn to walk and talk, and He had to be educated day by day. The experience of ignorance, and having one's ignorance overcome through education, does seem to be a necessary part of human experience.

    But not knowing is different from being mistaken. I believe that Driscoll and Storms go astray-and lead others astray-from a right understanding of Christ when they indicate that He experienced confusion and seem to indicate that He may have made false assertions concerning matters of fact.

    Unlike ignorance and growth in knowledge, confusion is not a necessary part of what it means to be human. When God created Man and declared him "very good" (Gen 1:31), was Man in a state that necessarily included confusion and error? Is the promised paradise of God (Rev 2:7) a place-because people are present-that will contain confusion and error? (I have no doubt that we will be ignorant about many things when we arrive in the new heavens and new earth, and that we will spend eternity growing in knowledge.) God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33). Without diabolical influence, the people in Eden would have lived in simple faith: growing in knowledge certainly, but never experiencing confusion.

    Even more problematic is the idea that Christ may have made false assertions concerning matters of fact. Notably, Storms-in making inferences concerning Jesus' education-never directly states that he believes Jesus spoke statements contrary to fact. Storms clearly believes that Jesus would have, at times, held to mistaken notions about factual subjects like Math or Astronomy. Would He have ever spoken about such mistaken notions? If not-if He actually held to erroneous beliefs concerning matters of fact, but was somehow prevented from speaking these beliefs-then His experience of human life was certainly unusual. (Storms seems zealous to promote Jesus as having a rather normal daily human experience, including confusion and error.) If, on the other hand, the Son of God spoke factual errors, then hopefully no one wrote them down!

    The Practical Importance of This Consideration

    The idea that Jesus would have thought-or possibly voiced-false assertions leads to a matter of practical importance in this consideration. While the distinction between factual and moral errors is meaningful on one level (as noted above), a great deal of overlap between these categories seems unavoidable. Klaus Issler sees this clearly, noting, "That Jesus would not develop fallible beliefs in these important matters [the 'important matters' Issler has been discussing include categories such as Literature and History] is crucial for maintaining his sinlessness." Even the most basic factual error (say, to take one of Storms' examples, an assertion that 5x5=30) improperly reflects the created order. In this sense, factual errors are indicative of something broken or marred in the way that humans display the image of God. This is one reason, when defending biblical inerrancy, the Chicago Statement declares, "We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science" (more on this below).

    You say Jesus made mistakes?
    I agree!
    But many questions of fact have even more immediately apparent, long-lasting spiritual consequences. To give two examples: in Matthew 19, Jesus gives authoritative statements concerning marriage, divorce, and adultery; in John 14:6, Jesus declares that He is the exclusive way to the Father. Both of these passages involve assertions of fact. Now, if Driscoll and Storms are correct, then Jesus was liable to making factual mistakes. Isn't it possible, taking this view, that Jesus was unknowingly wrong concerning questions of fact touching the doctrine and practice of the Church? If Jesus-like the rest of us-is liable to make factual mistakes, then maybe we should reexamine His statements and see if we should take different views: re-defining marriage; being more inclusive in our view of other religions. This is the position held by many liberal theologians.

    Evangelicals who follow Driscoll and Storms' line of thinking on this subject, and who wish to avoid giving credence to liberal questions or denials of Jesus' teaching, may wish to assert that the words of Jesus found in Scripture are free from mistakes or errors. But on what basis are the words of Christ in Scripture inerrant? Isn't it because the Holy Spirit superintended the writing of Scripture? As the Chicago Statement again declares, "We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write."

    In writing true and trustworthy Scripture, free from error, the prophets and apostles did not become omniscient. They did not become more than human. In writing the New Testament, the apostles received prophecy and clarity concerning Christ from the Holy Spirit (John 2:22; 16:13-14). They began in ignorance concerning some of these matters, and they grew in knowledge. On the other hand, when penning holy Scripture, the apostles were never confused about what they should write down. They certainly never included false assertions in the Bible.

    The beliefs that evangelicals readily affirm concerning the production of the Spirit-inspired written Word of God should also be affirmed concerning the life of the Spirit-anointed incarnate Word of God. Scripture, though penned by humans, is inerrant. Jesus, though truly human, is (and always has been) without error or mistakes.

    Ignorance Without Errors

    If I am correct, then Jesus, while having experienced ignorance and growth in knowledge as a human, was never confused, nor did He make any false assertions. How could this distinction be maintained in Christ, practically speaking? Certainly, no mere human being knows another's thoughts (1Cor 2:11), and we can never come close to fully comprehending the thought-life of a theanthropic Person who is able to read our thoughts (and was able to read other's thoughts during His earthly ministry, even before the resurrection: Matt 9:4; 12:25; Luke 11:17). But I believe that Mark 13:32 provides a helpful basis for considering how Jesus could be ignorant without being confused or led to false assertions. As recorded in this verse, Jesus declared concerning the destruction Jerusalem, "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (NASB).

    As a human being like us, Jesus-during His pre-ascension earthly ministry-experienced ignorance concerning certain matters of eschatology. How, then, did Jesus deal with ignorance in a way that did not involve confusion or false assertions? He admitted it! Jesus was perfect in humility. When-as a Man-He did not know something, He did not offer up fallible speculations. Instead, He said, 'I don't know.'

    This presupposes, of course, that Jesus-as an unfallen human being, not suffering the noetic effects of sin-did not experience confusion. He never thought He knew something that He didn't actually know. In this way, He was free from the error of making false assertions.

    Conclusion

    Driscoll and Storms are correct to declare that Jesus was and is truly and fully human. We should understand this to mean that touching His humanity (at least during His earthly ministry), Jesus was like us in being finite and mutable. Jesus experienced ignorance, which had to be overcome through education. This placed Jesus in the position of needing humility.

    In their consideration of His humanity, I fear that Driscoll and Storms have failed to properly account for certain aspects of Jesus' human existence. Jesus is the new and better Adam (Rom 5:14b; 1 Cor 15:45). Taken out of the mass of humanity-as the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15) and the descendant of David (Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8)-Jesus became a new beginning. Sinless like Adam, Jesus did not experience the noetic effects of sin. He never experienced confusion. When His disciples woke Him up during the middle of a storm (Matt 8:23-27)-though He was obviously very weary (showing His real humanity)-Jesus did not respond to the situation with the shock and confusion that we all would have likely experienced. He did not make any confused statement, which He did not really mean.

    Driscoll and Storms also fail to properly consider the inerrancy of the Word. They would, I believe, affirm the inerrancy of the written Word of God. The inerrancy of Christ should be affirmed on the exact same principles as scriptural inerrancy. I sincerely pray that they-and those on whom they have influence-will see that the incarnate Word of God is (and always has been) free from errors or mistakes.

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    Friday, July 25, 2014

    Learning From What We Don't Know

    Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25 ESV)
    ---
    The above verse indicates that the wonderful actions of Christ, even during His short (approximately three year) public ministry, were innumerable. Though we have sufficient material to inform our faith, practice, and worship, an earth-sized library would not hold the volumes that the apostles could have written about the activities they personally witnessed between the Lord's baptism and ascension.

    In addition to Jesus' unrecorded works, it is also interesting to note how many basic personal facts go unmentioned in the Gospel accounts. Four different kinds of biographies of Christ are recorded in Holy Scripture. Yet there are a host of details that-in this world-we will never know concerning the Son of Mary.

    We're pretty certain that Jesus
    looked nothing like this guy.
    What did He look like? Though He was apparently physically unremarkable, and certainly no Aryan superman, given the prophecy in Isaiah 53:2b and the genealogies in Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38, we have no details concerning His height, eye and hair color, etc.

    What did He sound like? Now that He has been glorified, Christ's voice is overwhelming, like a trumpet blast (Rev 1:10). During His pre-ascension public ministry, Jesus spoke with unusual authority (Matt 7:29). But what was His tone as He delivered His authoritative teaching? Did He speak with the Middle Eastern equivalent of a country twang, or was His voice a booming baritone? There is no way to know.

    What was His favorite food? This is a question that my six-year-old son asks. I've told him that the answer might be "fish," since Jesus-after His resurrection-apparently ate fish with His disciples on at least two occasions (Luke 24:42-43; John 21:9-15). However, we can't be sure.

    What was He like as a child? Prior to when He amazed teachers in the temple at twelve years old (Luke 2:46-47), we know basically nothing about Jesus' personality and experiences as a child, except that He grew in wisdom, stature, and God's favor (Luke 2:40). The lack of biblical information concerning the childhood of God incarnate has successfully tempted some authors to wild mythologizing. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas asserts that the boy Jesus gave life to clay birds and that He struck another child dead then raised him back to life. Some Arthurian legends clam that Jesus travelled to Britain with His uncle. More recently (and less fantastically), I read an article by an evangelical leader who portrayed the infant Jesus living as an illegal alien in Egypt (though we obviously have no information on what steps Joseph did or didn't take-or exactly what societal expectations were-regarding possible immigration laws).

    What were His political views? Jesus definitely believed in a kind of separation between Church and state obligations, and He upheld the propriety of paying taxes (Mark 12:17). But notice how many important political issues Jesus did not address. For example, Jesus did not speak about slavery, torture, or Caesar vs. republican rule. If the burning political issues in the Roman Empire of His day were reduced to a political platform, it is hard to know where Jesus would have stood on every issue or how He would have ranked the relative importance of each plank.
    ---
    Set His face like flint:
    not this Flint.
    The lack of personal information concerning the incarnate Word is no mere oversight. Near the end of His ministry, Jesus set His face like flint to go to Jerusalem, full of determination to accomplish His atoning work on the Cross and to be restored to His rightful glory in the ascension (Isa 50:7; Luke 9:51). But even before that time, Jesus-during His entire public ministry-has a laser-like focus on His mission: to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) through the crucifixion and resurrection (Mark 10:33-34).

    Jesus' ministry on earth was a ministry of humiliation. In humility, Jesus did not glorify Himself. He glorified the Father, trusting the Father to vindicate Him and to return Him to the state of glory that they had together "before the world began" (John 17:4-5).
    ---
    The lack of personal information concerning the incarnate Word is especially instructive to us in the digital age. We live in a situation where it is possible, accepted, and almost expected that we broadcast a great amount of personal information. Especially with smart phones, which can keep the Internet at our fingertips 24/7, our public presence can become dominated by personal pictures and likes or dislikes on gourmet food, fashion, cars, entertainment, political issues, etc., etc.

    I am NOT suggesting that we cannot speak or write about anything unaddressed by Jesus. We have a whole Bible-not just the Gospel accounts-for a reason. The Apostle Paul, for example, gives instructions on how Christians should think about a wider range of issues, such as: homosexuality, divorce due to abandonment, ecclesiology, etc.

    Also, I recognize that Jesus' ministry was unique. He alone came to live, die, and rise again in order to bring justification before God to undeserving sinners. Followers of Christ must proclaim the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done, but we cannot replicate His work.

    Christians today may find ourselves in all manner of various vocations. It may be appropriate, and even necessary, for a Christian for a Christian chef to constantly broadcast information concerning recipes, a Christian politician to broadcast information on healthcare or immigration reform, or a Christian film critic [I'm thankful for resources such as Plugged In Online] to broadcast information about movies.

    I am concerned, however, with how we Christians often spend our discretionary time, as reflected by our presence on the Internet. Many Christians have Facebook status pages (for example) that are dominated by personal information, entertainment likes, or political views. I believe that, if we are not careful, this kind of public presence will have two results:

    1. We may make much of ourselves and little of Christ. John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). This must be the attitude of every follower of Christ.

    2. We may tacitly present the gospel as relatively boring or unimportant. What captures our minds' attention and our hearts' affection? What gives us the most joy? Is it the entertainments of this world or the hope that we have for the world to come? What causes us the most concern? Is it the agenda of a political part, or the condemnation faced by anyone who does not accept Christ (John 3:18)?

    Remember, beloved: Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do [even post to the Internet!], do everything for God's glory. (1 Cor 10:31 HCSB)

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