Thursday, September 14, 2023

Circumcision, Baptism, and the Feasts

In Colossians 2:6-23, the apostle Paul writes about how Christians under the new covenant do not need to adopt the ceremonial ordinances of the old covenant, since they already have the substance of these ceremonies in Christ. Furthermore, Christ has appointed new ordinances like baptism that fulfill the role of the old ones and better fit the present administration of the covenant of grace (Col. 2:11-12). Here are a few brief thoughts on the sacraments and holy days of the old and new covenants (for a more in depth post on this passage, click here).

Circumcision and Baptism

In the old covenant, circumcision was the seal of the righteousness that is had by faith, as well as a symbol of regeneration and repentance (Rom. 4:11, Deut. 30:6, Jer. 4:4). This sign was to be received by professing believers and their infant offspring (Gen. 17:7, 10, Ex. 12:48).

In the new covenant, baptism fulfills the same role. It is a different sign that symbolizes the same things (Col. 2:11-12, Gal. 3:27-29, Acts 22:16). Baptism is now the sign and seal of justification and regeneration and it is to be given to professing believers and their children. God still establishes his covenant with believers and their offspring, to be their God and the God of their offspring (Gen. 17:7, Acts 2:38-39).

As the inability to profess their faith did not bar the children of believers from receiving circumcision in the days before Christ, so that inability does not bar the children of believers from receiving baptism today. Our babies are baptized as heirs of the covenant of grace and members of the visible church, to be raised as such in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Deut. 6:7, Eph. 6:4).

Festivals, Old and New

The festivals of the old covenant were shadows of the things to come, the substance of which belongs to Christ (Col. 2:16-17).
  • The Passover pointed to Christ, our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:6-13). 
  • The Feast of Firstfruits pointed to Christ, who rose as the firstfruits of the dead on that very day (1 Cor. 15). 
  • The Feast of Weeks pointed to Christ, who achieved lasting rest for his people (Heb. 3-4) and who poured out his Spirit on that day upon his disciples (Acts 2). 
  • The Feast of Trumpets prepared the Israelites for the next two events in that seventh month:
  • The Day of Atonement pointed to Christ’s atonement for our sins on the cross (Hebrews 9-10). 
  • The Feast of Booths pointed to Christ as the true bread from heaven (John 6) and the rock from which comes living water (John 4, 7:2, 37-39, 1 Cor. 10). 
These feasts are profitable to know from Scripture, but the observance of them is no longer binding now that the new covenant order as been established (Col. 2:16). We have their substance in Christ. The holy day of the new covenant is the Lord's Day, the first day of the week, which is the Christian Sabbath. The new covenant feast is the Lord's Supper. Even though these observances are fewer and simpler, yet the covenant of grace is held forth in this age with more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy to all nations by the power of the Spirit.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Infant Baptism

In the old covenant, circumcision was the seal of the righteousness that is received by faith, as well as a symbol of regeneration and repentance (Rom. 4:11, Deut. 30:6, Jer. 4:4). This sign was received by professing believers and by their infant offspring as heirs of the covenant (Gen. 17:7, Ex. 12:48). The sign was given only to male believers and male children, due to the nature of the sign, although both male and female believers and their children were members of the covenant (Deut. 29:10-13).

The new covenant is a new administration of the same promises with greater clarity and power to all peoples in light of the coming of Christ. In the new covenant, baptism fulfills the role that circumcision fulfilled in the old covenant. They are different signs that symbolize the same thing (Col. 2:11-12, Gal. 3:27-29). Baptism is a sign and seal of the forgiveness of sins and regeneration and it is to be given to those who profess their faith in Christ and to their children. 

The infant children of believers today are baptized as heirs of God's covenant of grace, members of the church of Christ, to be raised in the training and admonition of the Lord Jesus. They receive baptism as infants so that from their earliest years they might learn to rely on Christ for their spiritual washing and to live accordingly as saints. 

Baptism has the same significance for children as it does for adults, and its use endures throughout our lives. Both for the infant and for the adult, baptism is intended to represent justification and regeneration in Christ, to exercise and strengthen their faith, and to confirm their interest in Christ and his benefits.

Not everyone who is baptized is undoubtably justified and regenerated, just as not everyone circumcised in the old covenant was spiritually circumcised (Acts 8:13, 23, 1 Cor. 10:1-13, Jer. 4:4). The sign is beneficial to those who use it rightly, embracing the grace symbolized by faith. But in the case of children, this faith need not be professed by them at the time of administration. As the inability to profess their faith did not bar the children of believers from receiving circumcision in the days before Christ, so it does not bar the children of believers from receiving baptism today.

The sign is still valid whether or not the children are regenerate at the time of administration. They may be regenerate already - in fact, as members of the visible church, they should be thought of as regenerate by the judgment of charity unless and until they manifest the contrary by their life. But as children grow, they should be taught the right use of this sacrament, that it might be a means of grace to them. 

Friday, August 18, 2023

Daily Bible Reading

I have seen it argued that the Bible does not command people to read the Bible daily because not everyone would have had their own copy until modern times. It is true that the public reading of Scripture in the congregation was (and still is) important (Deut. 31:11-13, Neh. 8:2-3, 9:3-5, 1 Tim. 4:13). But while reading it cover to cover on your own would have been difficult without a personal copy, you could still recall memorized portions daily - “mentally reading” it you might say. You could recite it to yourself, meditate upon it, sing it, etc.

The Bible teaches that we should remember, meditate, and talk about Scripture every day (Deut. 6:6-9, Ps. 1:2, 119:11, 16, 97). This was done before the days of printing and widespread literacy.

That said, widespread Bible distribution and literacy is a great help to fulfilling this command and should be promoted and pursued. Let us not grow slothful in these days of prosperity, but diligently study Scripture from day to day and keep its teachings on our hearts, for it is the word of God.
"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." 
(Deuteronomy 6:6–9)

Monday, August 7, 2023

The Lamb, the Dragon, the Prostitute, the Beast, and the Bride

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12) 
The book of Revelation is a prophetic vision, and as such uses biblical imagery and symbols to present the history it describes and foretells. In the book, we meet “the Lamb,” Jesus Christ, who has ascended into heaven and is administering his reign over all. He judges “the great prostitute,” representing apostate Israel, and he vindicates “the bride” of Christ, his church composed of Jew and Gentile. The “beast” is Rome, both a blasphemous persecutor of the saints which is overcome by Christ and an instrument of his judgment on Jerusalem. The “great dragon” is the devil (12:9) who makes war on the church but has been cast down and bound and will be judged by Christ (12, 20).

The Lamb

Jesus is the Lamb that was slain, who ransomed people for God from every nation by his blood, who now reigns in heavenly glory (Rev. 5). Having conquered, he ascended into heaven to his Father and received the scroll. His death and resurrection enables him now to administer the kingdom and pour out covenantal blessings and curses. The whole book reveals and extolls the risen and ascended Christ, his care for his church, and his rule over all. He is "the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth" and "him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood" (1:5).

The Dragon 

The “great dragon” is “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). He sought to devour the promised Christ, but failed to do so (12:4). Following Christ's ascension, the devil was cast down with his angels by Michael and his angels (12:9). Satan is defeated, although not inactive. As much as he can, he wages war on the saints (2:10, 12:17). He worked through the beast (13:2, 4). But the dragon was bound in such a way as to not deceive the nations anymore (20:2-3). He is unable to prevent the spread of the gospel. At the end of the millennium, he will be let loose for a time, but only to be overcome by Christ at his second coming and cast into the lake of fire (20:9-10). 

The Prostitute 

Otherwise likeminded commentators debate whether the great city is Rome or Jerusalem, but I believe Jerusalem is the city in question. “The great city” is the city where our Lord was crucified (11:8), i.e. Jerusalem. It is the same as the “holy city” where the temple is (11:2). “The great city” is also described as “Sodom and Egypt” (11:8) and as “Babylon the great” and “the great prostitute” (16:19, 17:18). The prostitute is seated on a beast that symbolizes Rome (17:9-11), but she is distinct from Rome because the beast eventually rises up and destroys the prostitute (17:16-17). This “great city” is guilty of killing the apostles and prophets and saints (17:6, 18:20, 24), a description that fits Jerusalem especially well (see Matt. 23-24). The immoral prostitute is contrasted with the bride, as apostate covenant-breakers who rejected Christ are contrasted with the true church of Christ. Revelation prophesies the Jewish War (AD 66-70) and the fall of Jerusalem (AD 70).

The Beast

By the 60s, Rome had also begun to persecute Christians. Revelation portrays Rome and its emperors as the beast from the sea with seven heads and ten horns (13:1-10, 18:7-17). The seven heads are interpreted to be seven mountains and seven kings (17:9-11). Rome was well known for being built on seven mountains. Chapter 13 not only describes this beast, but also a second beast, rising out of the earth, described in 19:10 as “the false prophet,” symbolizing either the emperor cult or false religion generally (think of the false teachers in 2-3).

The number of the beast is 666 and it is the number of a man. In languages where letters are used as numbers, as is the case in Greek and Hebrew, you can calculate the numerical value of a person’s name. This practice is called gematria and was used in the ancient world. When Nero Caesar’s name is written in Hebrew, its numerical value is 666. This is not surprising since Revelation 13 echos Daniel 7 where beasts refer to kings/kingdoms (the fourth being Rome) and since Revelation 17:9-11 makes note of the sixth ruler of the city with seven mountains as it describes the beast (Nero was the sixth emperor of Rome; see previous post).

The danger was that people were encouraged to worship the beast and its image (13:12-15). The mark/name of the beast indicated those who worshipped the emperor (14:9, 16:2), just as the mark/name of God indicated those who worshipped God (7:3, 14:1). Compare this to Ezekiel 9:4 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9. To receive the mark was to receive the name, similar to how we are baptized into the Triune name (Matt. 28:18-20). Those who participated in Roman society were expected to worship Rome and the emperor, and to refuse to do so risked exclusion from society and death. Emperor worship was particularly strong in the province of Asia, the home of the seven churches to which John wrote. The mark itself was inherently sinful, a symbol of idolatry, loyalty to a false god. The need to have the mark to buy and sell is not what defined the mark or what made the mark bad - it was pressure to receive the mark. Just because something is required to buy or sell does not mean it is like the mark of the beast.

Even though the beast would blaspheme God and make war on the saints (13:6-7), the beast would be used by God to destroy the prostitute (17:16-17) and overcome by the victorious Christ (17:14, 19:17-21, 20:10).

The Bride, the wife of the Lamb

After the initial vision regarding the seven churches in 1-3, we find a vision of the church in chapter 7 that portrays it as the “144,000” and the “great multitude from every nation.” John heard their number and then saw the multitude. The church is described as the woman and “the rest of her offspring” in chapter 12, those who “keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (see also 14:12). The church moved to center stage in chapters 19-22, especially as “the Bride.” To understand “the marriage supper of the Lamb,” it is helpful to remember the parable in Matthew 22:1-14. It is a present and future reality. Revelation 21:1-4 describes the church in glory after the final judgment. Revelation 21:9-22:5 is a vision describing the Bride, the church - not heaven, nor the eternal state in particular, although the church is perfected in eternity, and is currently a work in progress. The invitation is presently open to come to wedding feast, to enter the city, to drink the living waters. 
"The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price." (Revelation 22:17) 

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

The Book of Revelation: Date and Context

Last year, I finished teaching a Bible survey course, in which I gave a lesson on each book of the Bible. One exception to this pattern was that I spent two lessons on the book of Revelation. This post is adapted from my first lesson on the book from that series. I plan to add the second part next week. You can also listen to the recordings of the lessons here


The book makes it plain that it came from Jesus Christ to his servant John, who wrote it down and sent it to the seven churches that are in Asia (1:1-4, 22:8). John was at this time banished to the island of Patmos on account of the testimony of Jesus (1:9).

This John was the apostle John, who also wrote the Gospel of John and three epistles (1-3 John). The author’s reference to himself simply as “John” implies that he is the well-known apostle John. This is also the testimony of the church fathers in the second century, including two writers from the very churches addressed in Revelation. While some have proposed the idea that this could be a different John, this mostly stems from a dubious reading of a statement by Papias and the different style used in Revelation. 

While the style is a bit different than the apostle’s gospel and other epistles, this is because it is a different kind of writing, a book of apocalyptic prophecy similar to Daniel and Ezekiel (Rev. 1:1, 3, 22:7, 10). Despite the different genre, many of John’s typical themes appear, such as “living water” (John 4:7-15, 7:37-38, 19:34, Rev. 7:17, 21:6, 22:1, 17), Jesus as “the Word” (John 1:1, Rev. 19:13), Jesus as “the Lamb” (John 1:36, Rev. 5:6, 12-13, 7:14, etc.), Jesus as “the Truth/the True one” (John 14:6, Rev. 3:7, 19:11), and Jesus as our “shepherd” (John 10:11-16, Rev. 7:17).

Historical Context

While there is a debate on the dating of this book, I believe John wrote this book in the 60s (c. AD 64), during the reign and persecution of Nero, in light of events that “must soon take place” (1:1, 22:6), including the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. The alternative understanding, which I believe to be incorrect, is that it was written in the 90s in the reign of Domitian.

Arguments for a date in the 60s:
  1. The book mentions seven rulers of Rome in Revelation 17:9-10 (Rome is identified by its well-known seven mountains). This passage mentions “five who have fallen,” and these would be Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius. It then mentions that “one is,” and this would be Nero (reigned AD 54-68). Then it says “the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.” After Nero came Galba, who reigned for 7 months. 
  2. Revelation 11:1 describes the temple in Jerusalem like it was still standing and in use. “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there…” Revelation 11:2 also describes Jerusalem like it had not yet been trampled by the nations.
  3. In the reign of Nero, there was both pressure to worship of the emperor (especially in Asia Minor) and persecution of Christians by Jews and Romans. 
Addressing arguments for a date in the 90s:
  1. Irenaeus knew Polycarp, who in turn was discipled by John. Around AD 180-190 Irenaeus wrote concerning the interpretation of 666 that, “if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.” While at first it may seem that Irenaeus is saying that the apocalyptic vision was seen near the end of Domitian’s reign (81-96), his statement is better understood to say that John was seen then. 
  2. Even though there was pressure to worship the emperor and probably persecution of Christians under Domitian, there was also in the reign of Nero both pressure to worship the emperor (especially in Asia Minor) and well-attested persecution of Christians by Jews and Romans. Under both emperors, their persecution of Christians would have directly impacted Rome itself, but would have influenced policy around the empire (and hostile Jews had been trying to get the Romans to persecute Christians for years). 
  3. It is claimed that the church of Smyrna did not yet exist when Paul wrote Philippians (AD 61-62) due to comments that Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, made in a letter to the Philippians. But Polycarp does not actually refer to the time of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, but simply notes that the Philippians knew God at a time when those in Smyrna did not (Paul arrived in Philippi in AD 51). 

Revelation’s prophesied events: primarily about the end times or the 1st century?

While some people approach Revelation as if it said, “this is a book about events that will take place in the final years of the age, in the distant future,” Revelation actually is mostly about events that were going to take place soon after it was written. This is said repeatedly and in different ways.

“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.” (Revelation 1:1)

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3)

“Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” (Revelation 2:16, see also 2:5)

“And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.’” (Revelation 22:6)

“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Revelation 22:7, see also 22:12, 20.)

“And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.’” (Revelation 22:10, compare this with Daniel 8:26, 12:4, 9)

In the concluding chapters, the book does describe events that follow from the events of the 1st century. It speaks of the millennium (20:1-6), which began in the 1st century but extends far beyond it and culminates with the final judgment and the new heaven and new earth (20:7-21:8). But the book is not primarily about the end times. It is primarily about events that took place soon after it was written.

This does not mean the book is not relevant to us. The prophecies of Jeremiah are still relevant for us, even though they were mostly fulfilled in events that took place in the 6th century BC. The book of Revelation continues to instruct the church about its Lord and Savior and about how to live and trust God amid the challenges of the present day. Additionally, the events of the 1st century are foundational for understanding the present new covenant era.

Original Recipients 

This book was originally written to churches in seven cities (1:4), each of which is given a particular message in chapters 2-3: Ephesus (2:1-7), Smyrna (2:8-11), Pergamum (2:12-17), Thyatira (2:18-28), Sardis (3:1-6), Philadelphia (3:7-13), Laodicea (3:14-22). 

These seven churches were all located in the Roman province of Asia, the western part of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). They are listed in chapters 2-3 in the order one would come to them on a journey beginning on Patmos, which is an island off the coast near Ephesus. These particular letters introduce the terms, images, and concepts of the book and apply them to the 1st century experience of these churches (for example, see Jesus’ coming in judgment in 2:5, 14-16, 22-23, 3:3). These churches faced problems like persecution from its enemies, slander from the synagogues, and false teachers within who promoted idolatry and sexual immorality.

The “angel” of each church, to which these messages are addressed, does not seem to refer to a spiritual being. How would John send a letter to an angel? And what would be the purpose? “Angel” is used here according to its meaning of “messenger” and refers to the preacher, who would read this book to the church. As John writes in 1:3, "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near."

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Desire "for" or "contrary to" in Genesis 3:16

I think the English Standard Version (ESV) had Genesis 3:16 right in its 2011 edition and messed up with the 2016 edition when it came to this verse. 

ESV 2011: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

ESV 2016: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

The 2011 translation make more sense on a number of levels, is more compatible with historical exegesis, and is the option most compatible with similar uses of the phrase in Genesis 4:7 and Song of Solomon 7:10. 

This sentence is a reaffirmation of the creation order in the context of the fall. It was indirectly a chastisement, in that they were fallen and this subjection was less voluntary and agreeable. But it was primarily a correction of the woman's waywardness and a mercy that reaffirmed marriage and the fulfillment of their original design. They would not be separated. Man would not be alone and the woman would still be a helper fit for him, under his rule and care.

The basic idea of the preposition in question, אֵל, is that of "toward." Since we are speaking of desire, it is most natural to translate it as "for." When a person's desire is directed toward an object, we say that he or she has a desire for it. 

The 2011 and 2016 translations offer very different meanings. In this context, “for” is a good thing and “contrary” is a bad thing. In Genesis 4:7, sin’s desire was for Cain, and that was bad because sin is bad. A “desire for” is the idea of possessing or having, which is good in the case of a husband and wife (Song 7:10, Gen. 3:16), but not good when sin wants to have you (Gen. 4:7). 

Likewise, "rule" in Genesis is a good thing, but it looks differently depending on what is being ruled. A bad thing like sin will be ruled by being crushed (4:7), while good things like day and night (1:18), a wife (3:16), a household (24:2), brothers (37:8), or Egypt (45:8, 26) will be ruled in a way that provides care, direction, protection, and well-being in a way that befits the particular relationship. Of course, Christ's benevolent rule of his church, exercised with self-sacrificial love, is the ideal for the way this is supposed to work in marriage (Eph. 1:22-23, 5:22-33). 

The pronouncements in Genesis 3:14-19 are actions of God. They are God's response to sin, expressing both his justice and his mercy. They are not merely his description of the situation, except for the "because" clauses in verses 14 and 17. It would be odd for God to make the woman's desire contrary to her husband, but it does make sense for him to reaffirm his design. As Matthew Henry observed, God put enmity between the woman and the serpent, not between the woman and the man. Thank God! 

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

The Image of God

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26–27)
What is the image of God? The creation of man is different than anything that preceded it. Man is created with divine deliberation and in the image of God. 

Mankind is the image of God.

God created man in his image, after his likeness. The inclusion of “male and female” means that mankind is made up of male and female and that therefore both male and female humans are made in the image of God.

Notice that God did not make some part of man in his image, but he made man in his image. Contrary to what some say, the image of God is not the soul or the mind or any other part of man, but man. It does not say the soul was created in God’s image, but that man was. Man is made in God’s image and is therefore God’s image.

Mankind is the image of God. This means two things: man represents God and resembles God in the earth.

Genesis 5:1-3 connects the ideas of image and son. The son resembles his father and represents his father. Especially in an ancient household, the son would represent his father and would bear his authority under him. Likewise, Adam was created as a son of God (Luke 3:38), to resemble God and to rule God’s earthly household on his behalf. As Paul said to the Athenians, “as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:28).

The doctrine of the image of God shows us what you are and what you are called to do. If you learn that a rock is a statue, you know what it is and what it is supposed to do. It is a statue that represents someone and it is suppose to resemble that person.

Mankind represents God.

Man is God’s representative on earth, his vice-regent. This status gives man special dignity and value. By making man with this status, God has crowned him with glory and honor (Ps. 8:5).

Besides sonship, two other analogies probably would have come to mind to the first readers of Genesis. First, in the ancient world, many kings regarded themselves as the image of God, as those who represented and ruled for him. Second, kings made images of themselves to symbolize their authority throughout their kingdom.

As one commentator as put it, “Just as powerful earthly kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erect an image of themselves in the provinces of their empire where they do not personally appear, so man is placed upon earth in God’s image as God’s sovereign emblem” (Gerhard von Rad). Just as a king might set up statues and flags and images on coins to assert his reign, so God has set up man as a symbol of his royal authority on earth.

And just as a king would take an attack on his images personally, so to mistreat man is to attack God. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6, see also Prov. 14:31 and James 3:9-10).

Since man is God’s representative, he ought to be respected and his life ought to be protected. Humans are owed a basic respect due to being made in the image of God, a respect which includes all lawful endeavors to preserve human life.

In Genesis 9, God explains that murder is wrong because it unjustly takes the life of one who bears God’s image. Biblical ethics provides a reason to value all humans, grounding their right to life not on their level of intelligence, physical abilities, racial identity, or usefulness to society, but as beings made in the image of God.

Contrary to this teaching is the practice of racism, that is, animosity, contempt, or injustice on the basis of race, for all people groups are descended from Adam, made in the image of God. This teaching also forbids abortion and contempt for the life of the unborn, because a person’s right to life depends not on independence or mental capacity, but on his or her identity as a human, made in the image of God. This is not imputed to them at some point in their life. To be human is to be in the image of God. Mankind, like the rest of creation, produces according to its kind. From conception, the child is made in the image of God (Gen. 5:1-3).

So avoid murderous thoughts, murderous and reviling words, murderous acts, and situations that needlessly endanger yourself or others. Use kind and courteous speech to your fellow man and promote peace. Defend and support human life by responsible provision, charity, care for health, self-defense, and supporting the state’s administration of public justice as it seeks to vindicate the dignity of God’s image.

Since you represent God, you ought to resemble him. You ought not misrepresent him, but rather reflect his nature in the earth, doing all to his glory.

Mankind resembles God.

Mankind was created with a resemblance to God. Man resembled God to display his glory on earth. In particular, as God’s representatives, we are made to resemble/reflect him in knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and dominion.

Mankind was created both with the ability to resemble God and an actual resemblance to God. He was made as a rational being with true knowledge. He was made as a moral being with true righteousness. He was made as a religious being with true holiness. He was made as a productive being with true and good dominion.

Dominion is an obvious resemblance in Genesis itself. God has been exercising his power and dominion, working on each day, forming and filling the earth. Now he creates a being who will have dominion over his creation and work the earth. We are sub-creators who image God in our work, resembling him and representing him, working on his behalf.
“The emphasis that is placed upon this dominion and its close relationship with the creation according to the image of God indicate conclusively that the image comes to expression in the dominion and by means of it must more and more explain and unfold itself.” (Herman Bavinck)
Man was made as a rational being with true knowledge. This aspect is pointed out in Paul’s discussion of the image’s renewal. Colossians 3:10, “and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Think also of how knowledge and wisdom is discussed in Proverbs, as active in God’s work of creation and as something which man is to take hold of and exercise.

With this knowledge, man can communicate with one another, and reason about and investigate this world. We learn about creation, about ourselves, about God. With this knowledge man can exercise dominion in wisdom in a way similar to God. While man’s knowledge is limited, it is sufficiently like God’s to communicate with God.

Man was made as a moral being with true righteousness and a religious being with true holiness. We find these two traits in Ephesians 4:24, “and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

True righteousness is conformity to the moral perfection of God. His nature is righteous. And his moral law is not an arbitrary expression of his whims, but a definition of what it looks like for man to reflect his righteous character. Unlike the pagan gods who expressed human vices on a supernatural scale, the true God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. He is faithful and just. His children ought to be as well.

True holiness is total consecration to God and separation from the defilement of sin. You shall be holy, for the Lord your God is holy (Lev. 19, 1 Peter 1). God is set apart, undefiled, and pure - completely good. He is “inclined to all moral purity and recoils from all impurity of sin.” Mankind reflects God’s holiness by being totally consecrated to God, conforming its will to love and reject what he loves and rejects, demonstrating its devotion to him in worship and service.

Does man’s body resemble God?

While man resembles God in certain ways, he does not physically resemble God, since God is invisible and has no divine body. (Jesus has a body now, but only because he became man in history - the divine nature is spiritual and infinite, without a physical body: 1 Tim. 1:17, John 4).

Nevertheless, our bodies do express these resemblances as instruments. We use our bodies to communicate and apply knowledge, to exercise righteousness and holiness, to take dominion. As Paul said in Romans, our bodies parts ought to be instruments of righteousness. Our bodies do not physically resemble God, but our resemblance to God does express itself through the body. The whole man is the image of God. The whole man ought to obey him and confirm itself to his example. And it is because of the body that we can be visible images of the invisible God.
“The Bible makes man a unity … This living creature, then, and not some distillation from him, is an expression or transcription of the eternal, incorporeal creator in terms of temporal, bodily, creaturely existence - as one might attempt a transcription of, say, an epic into a sculpture, or a symphony into a sonnet.” (Derek Kinder)
That man is made in the image of God does not mean that anything true about us is true about God. You cannot argue that since we have bodies, God has a body; since are male and female, God is male and female; since we are creatures, God is a creature - no! We are made in his image, he is not made in our image. Unlike God, we are physical, visible, and finite. Unlike us, God is invisible, a pure spirit, infinite and eternal in all his attributes. And yet, despite these differences, man is a visible likeness of the invisible God, manifesting his character and glory with our whole being.

The differences between us and God make the resemblances all the more remarkable. Who are we to be called children of God? Who are we to talk to God? Who are we to imitate his work and dominion and represent him in his earth? And yet God has created man in his image, after his likeness, crowing him with glory and honor, setting him above the works of his hands.

Sin distorts the image of God, so that it needs restoration.

Humanity still has some dignity as God’s image, and should be respected as such (Gen. 9:6). Yet man has marred the image and acts contrary to it. In one sense, man no longer resembles God.

The doctrine of the image of God shows us what we are and what we are called to do. If you learn that a rock is a statue, you know what it is and what it is supposed to do. If it gets defaced, it is still a statue, but it does not fulfill its purpose well, and it is in need of restoration.

Man remains a rational, moral, religious, and productive being, but his thinking is blind to God and futile, his righteousness is filthy rags, his religion is idolatrous, and his dominion is ultimately vain and often cruel. Man has false knowledge, false righteousness, false holiness. Fallen man is a glorious ruin, a defaced image.

Humans are still to be respected and their life is still to be protected, but their worth only make their disgraceful depravity all the worse and all the more tragic. Man is still God’s image, but he is an image of God that has been defiled and the devil’s likeness imprinted upon it.

Thanks be to God that he sent Jesus Christ to save his people that they might “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10).
“For as when a figure painted on wood has been soiled by dirt from outside, it is necessary for him whose figure it is to come again, so that the image can be renewed on the same material - because of his portrait even the material on which it is painted is not cast aside, but the portrait is reinscribed on it.” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation)
In Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4, Paul speaks of how Jesus restores the image of God in his people by the work of the Spirit, having crucified the old man on the cross and risen again that his people might be raised to new life. Those who follow him are being renewed in the image of God in every respect. The image of God is being re-engraved on the hearts of believers by the Spirit of God. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

Jesus is the only hope of restoration. Apart from him, there is only the descent into disgrace and depravity and damnation. You and I must embrace him and his grace.

These truths gives us reason to do evangelism. Out of love and respect for the lost, we bring them the saving gospel, that they might be restored to their ancient glory.

And as those being renewed after the image of your Creator, put off your old manner of life and be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Put on the ways of the new self, being imitators of God. Seek after true knowledge, true righteousness, true holiness, exercising true dominion under God.

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’” (Matthew 22:20–21)
Caesar had a claim on the money for the temporal benefits he had provided to his empire, having stamped the symbol of his authority on the coins. But God made man himself in his image, and therefore has a total claim on man himself. Give to God what is his! Give yourself, body and soul, to God, for you a symbol of his dominion. Live as representatives of God, endowed with dignity under him, called to resemble him in everything you do. Hold fast to Jesus Christ, the head of the new humanity, for it is by his grace that you may be restored. He is restoring the ancient glory of man, recalling him to his purpose under God, saving him from his doom, that the glory of God may cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

America, Bless God

“And it is further recommended, that, together with devout thanksgiving, may be joined a penitent confession of our sins, and humble supplication for pardon, through the merits of our Savior...”
-The Continental Congress, 1778

God Has Blessed America

There are many things we love about our country, from its natural beauty and abundance to the history of its people and their heroic sacrifices and achievements. We treasure our God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Our country truly has been blessed by God in many ways. Compared to much of the world and much of history, our country is incredibly prosperous, powerful, and full of opportunity.

God Bless America

It is good and right that we should ask for God’s blessing. In this way, we acknowledge our dependence upon him and seek his blessings for the present and the future. “Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1). If we desire the well-being of our country and our posterity, we will pray for the blessing of God upon America.

America, Bless God?

While it is good to call upon God for his blessing, we should not stop there. If someone gives you a gift, you should give them thanks. If someone saved your life, you would feel obligated to them. God has given you - and everyone you depend upon - life and everything. He has made a world full of good things that are beneficial, pleasant, and enjoyable. He sustains his creation and he sustains you. Therefore, you are obligated to God, to give him thanks and be devoted to him. “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits...” (Psalm 103:2).

Each of us, and our country as a whole, ought to bless God. And yet, our ingratitude is all too evident. Not only do we often neglect him and his worship, but we break his laws and despise his word. Proverbs 28:9 says, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” It is not fair to expect God to listen to us if we do not listen to him. But mankind has repaid his generosity with rebellion and selfishness. Have you given God his due? Have you loved him with all your soul? Have you always loved your neighbor as yourself? We find impiety, greed, lust, pride, and deceit, the root of evil words and deeds. While God is generous and patient, he is a just ruler and will not approve of the guilty.

How Does God Bless?

While God has pronounced a curse on sinners, he delays his judgment, giving time for repentance. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to bear this curse so that sinners may be blessed. Jesus satisfied divine justice by his death on the cross and rose again to offer forgiveness and reconciliation with God through faith in him. If you repent of your sins and believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you shall be free from the curse and be truly blessed with him forever.

And so, if we are to ask God for his blessing upon this country, we ought to do so with humble gratitude and faith in Christ, repenting of our sins, endeavoring after new obedience. Let us not presume upon his kindness, which is meant to lead us to repentance.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

The Iconoclast Controversy

The early church was very cautious with images. For example, the regional council of Elvira in Spain in 305 said, “Pictures are not to be placed in churches, so that they do not become objects of worship and adoration.” But over time, images came to be used more and more, and various practices developed. 

Beginning in 725, Byzantine emperors, who felt convicted that the worship of God by images was wrong, began to outlaw religious images of Christ and the saints. They and others who opposed the veneration of images became known as “iconoclasts.” They did not forbid all art (e.g. the emperor’s image), but argued against the use of images in religious worship on the basis of the second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6) and also argued that “the only admissible figure of the humanity of Christ … is the bread and wine in the Holy Supper.” They said the other side was dividing the natures of Christ like Nestorians by portraying only one of his natures. The Council of Hieria (754) affirmed the iconoclast position and claimed to be an ecumenical council, though it failed to gain widespread recognition as such.

Those who defended the veneration of images claimed that the iconoclasts were secret Monophysites who denied the reality of Christ’s humanity. Those who venerated images also argued that the emperor was overreaching into the affairs of the church. They had their chance when emperor Leo IV died and his widow Irene became regent for her infant son. Irene favored the use of icons and a general council was called to resolve the matter. It met in Nicaea in 787, and so is known as Nicaea II. The council approved the veneration of icons, distinguished this worship (προσκύνησις) from the worship due God alone (λατρεία), forbade the appointment of bishops by the civil rulers, and ordered that in each province of the church a regular synod be held at least once a year. While its provisions for church government were good, its position on icons was unbiblical and out of accord with the earlier teachings and practice of the church (in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the second commandment uses these very words, προσκύνησις and λατρεία, and forbids them both with respect to images: “You shall not bow down to them or serve them…”).

Despite the the fact that the bishop of Rome assented to the council, the Frankish clergy in Charlemagne’s kingdom wrote against the image worship affirmed by the council. A council at Frankfort (794) allowed that images may be set up in churches as books of the illiterate but forbade their veneration and denounced Nicaea II. A synod in Paris (825) also denounced Nicaea II and reproved the Pope for assenting to the council. Northern Europe would not recognize Nicaea II as an ecumenical council until the 12th century, and opposition would return during the Reformation of the 16th century. Even in the east, Emperor Leo V revived iconoclasm in 813 and it was another mother regent who favored icons, Theodora, who would restore them in 843. After this, the veneration of icons would become a distinctive emphasis of Eastern Orthodox churches, one of several positions that distinguishes them from Reformed churches.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Orthodox? Presbyterian?

The name of my church is Covenant Family Church and our denomination is the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. But what does it mean to be orthodox and Presbyterian?

What does it mean to be orthodox? 

While we do not claim to be the only orthodox church, we do use the word to describe ourselves. The word “orthodox” refers to “right doctrine” or “correct beliefs.” That is rather unfashionable language today. Who is to say what is orthodox? We would be rather arrogant to make it up ourselves. Orthodoxy is defined by the word of God. We believe the Bible is the word of God, given by him to be the rule of faith and life. We profess and love the truth of God’s word, which has been embraced and defended through the centuries. It is our aim to keep the faith, to contend for it, to walk according to it, and to hold it forth to the world.
“God's Word is our great heritage,
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way;
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant, while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure,
Throughout all generations.”
N.F.S. Grundtvig
What does it mean to be Presbyterian? 

Presbyterianism holds many doctrines in common with other churches. Presbyterians hold to the early creeds and the doctrines of the Trinity and Christ’s incarnation articulated by the early church. It also holds to the doctrines of justification by faith alone and the supremacy of biblical authority championed by the Protestant Reformation.

Some of the more distinctive doctrines of Presbyterianism are God’s sovereignty in history and salvation, the covenantal unity of Old and New Testaments, the present growth of Christ’s Kingdom, church government by councils of “presbyters” (elders), and the practice of worship that is regulated by Scripture.

Our Presbyterianism is best defined by the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, which have summarized the Presbyterian understanding of Scripture for centuries. Our ministers, elders, and deacons receive and adopt these statements as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. You can find them at this link

To learn more, send us a message, see our website, or join us this Sunday. We meet at 968 Meyer Road, Wentzville 63385 at 10:00 am for Sunday school and 11:00 am for worship.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Augustine on Eating and Drinking Christ's Flesh and Blood

The comments of Augustine, the bishop of Hippo (354-430), on the eating and drinking of Christ's flesh and blood in John 6, sound quite Reformed. Consider these quotes:
“For to believe in him is to eat the living bread. He who believes eats; he is nourished invisibly because he is reborn invisibly. He is an infant within; he is new within. Where he is renewed, there he is sated.”
(Augustine, Tractate 26, on John 6:41-59)

“Therefore, to eat that food and to drink that drink is to abide in Christ and to have him abiding in oneself. And, as a result, he who does not abide in Christ and in whom Christ does not abide, beyond doubt neither eats his flesh nor drinks his blood, but rather eats and drinks the sacrament of so great a thing to judgment for himself, because he presumed to approach unclean to the sacraments of Christ which one takes worthily only if he is clean.”
(Augustine, Tractate 26, on John 6:41-59)

“For they thought that he was going to disburse his body; but he said that he was going to ascend to heaven, whole, of course. ‘When you see the Son of man ascending where he was before,’ surely then, at least, you will see that he does not disburse his body in the way in which you think; surely then, at least, you will understand that his grace is not consumed in bite-sized pieces.”
(Augustine, Tractate 27, John 6:60-72)

“Scripture says, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you’ (John 6:54). This appears to enjoin wickedness or wrongdoing, and so it is figurative, a command to participate in the Lord’s passion and to store in our memory the pleasurable and useful knowledge that his flesh was crucified and wounded for our sake.”
(Augustine, On Christian Teaching)

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

"As a father..."

All those whom God justifies, he also adopts as his children in and for his only begotten Son. God is our Father in heaven through this grace of adoption. Accordingly, as our confession of faith says, we “are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him as by a father…” (WCF 12). 

God designed and fitted men for the calling of fatherhood, and this nature is evident and proverbial even among fallen man. From earthly fatherhood we get a basic concept of the fatherhood of God, which is free of all the errors and sins of fallen man. In turn, the fatherhood of God gives us an image of true fatherhood, to which all earthy fathers ought to conform themselves as they reject sinful distortions and pursue godliness in Christ. Consider these Bible verses that describe fatherly traits and our heavenly Father:

"The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place." 
(Deuteronomy 1:30–31)

“Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.” 
(Deuteronomy 8:5)

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.”
(Psalm 103:13) 

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”
(Proverbs 3:11–12)

“They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.”
(Malachi 3:17) 

“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
(Matthew 7:9-11) 

“For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”
(1 Thessalonians 2:11–12) 

“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? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 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? 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.”
(Hebrews 12:7–10)

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Two Resurrections in John 5:25-29

At the present time, the Son of God gives life to the dead spiritually (John 5:25). At a future time, the Son of God will raise all the dead from their tombs unto the final judgment (John 5:28-29).
"[25] Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. [26] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. [27] And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. [28] Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [29] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment." (John 5:25–29)
This dual resurrection is also, I believe, referred to in Revelation 20. There John writes of the spiritual “first resurrection,” which spares one from the “second death” following the second resurrection, which is a physical resurrection.

In this age, Jesus speaks through the ministry of the word and in this way effectually calls sinners to faith and salvation, reviving the dead. He makes this voice effectual through his Spirit. This is a spiritual, inner resurrection. You should attend to the words of Jesus, the Son of God, who is preaching his word through Scripture and through faithful preaching. He calls sinners to receive life through faith in him. The Father has provided salvation in the Son. As Jesus said, 
"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." (John 5:24) 
Jesus quickens and justifies sinners. The life he gives is spiritual and eternal. He makes a person a new creation, causing one to live to God. He reunites the sinner with God, the source of true life. The believer's justification is immediate and final. The believer does not come into judgment, now or later. He is not condemned, but forgiven and accepted as righteous. The believer has passed from death to life.

There is a coming hour, not yet here, when the voice of the Son of God will raise the dead. This is a bodily resurrection - “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out.” It involves coming out of tombs and it applies to both the saved and the condemned. They shall all rise together, for the Son will execute judgment at that time. The Son of God, as the messianic Son of Man, has been given authority to execute judgment (John 5:27). He will distinguish two groups and he will bless the one and condemn the other.

Those who have done good will be raised to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil will be raised to the resurrection of judgment. John 5:24 makes it clear that the basis for the resurrection of life is a person's believing reception of Christ, but John 5:29 makes it clear that the two groups will be distinguished from one another by their works. Those who are spiritually dead will not bear fruit, but those who receive life from Christ will be eager and able to bear much fruit (John 15:1-8). 

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Isaac and Ishmael in Galatians 4

Genesis 21 describes the miraculous conception and birth of Isaac and the sending away of Hagar and her son Ishmael. The apostle Paul saw in Genesis 21 an analogy or foreshadowing of the situation in his own day. He describes this in Galatians 4:21-31. There he contrasts two groups personified by the two sons of Abraham:
  • The son of the slave woman, born according to the flesh: "the present Jerusalem." The earthly Jerusalem was still under the law and in slavery with her children. Those who reject Christ and rely on works of the law are relying on the flesh and proving to be slaves not sons.
  • The son of the free woman, born through promise: "the Jerusalem above." The heavenly Jerusalem is free and she is our mother. Those who receive Christ are children of promise, born according to the Spirit, and thus sons and heirs and free. 

Under the old covenant, even the true sons were under the bondage of the ceremonial law, as sons under age (Gal. 3:23-24, 4:1-3), but with the coming of Christ, one either progressed to the new covenant and the freedom of mature heirs or clung to the old covenant without Christ as a way of works-based salvation, proving to be slaves and not heirs. 

The Galatian saints were being tempted by false teachers to return to bondage by receiving circumcision and to rely on their works, but Paul exhorted them to stand fast in the freedom of sons through faith in Christ.

Christ is the promised offspring (Gal. 3:16), and those who are in Christ are children of the free woman, of the spiritual Jerusalem, sons and co-heirs with Christ.  “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise” (Gal. 4:28).

Even as Ishmael persecuted Isaac (Gen. 21:8-9), so Paul could point to the persecution of Christians by the unbelieving Jewish establishment of that time (Gal. 4:29). It is common in general for those who are of the flesh to persecute those who are of the Spirit, just as within the believer there is war between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26). But who will remain and inherit the covenant blessings? What does Scripture say? Paul quoted from Genesis, “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman” (Galatians 4:30).

Therefore, do not trust in the flesh and do not rely on works of the law. Believe in Jesus Christ and the provision of grace. For it is through faith in him that one is justified and adopted as an heir (Gal. 2:6, 3:24-26).

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Church and Covenant, Visible and Invisible

The visible church is composed of all those who profess the true religion and their children (1 Cor. 1:2, 7:14). The invisible church is composed of all the elect (John 10:16, 29). These are both legitimate ways to speak of the one church of Jesus Christ. 

Not all who are in the visible church are members of the invisible church. Some of them are not elect and never come to saving faith in Christ, although they may profess to believe. (There are also some who are members of the church in both senses and yet are unsaved at the moment, their conversion being still future.) The church is being gathered through the visible administration of the covenant and presently contains a mixture, but it shall be purified and made perfect in the end (Matt. 13:47-50, 22:8-14). 

We can apply the same distinction when speaking of covenant membership. Those who profess the true religion and their children are members of the covenant of grace in its visible administration, but in another sense, the covenant of grace is made with Christ as the last Adam and in him all the elect.

The children of believers are visible saints, members of the visible church like their parents. This is why they are baptized as infants. As the Westminster Directory for Public Worship (1645) put it, the children of believers “are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized…” They are to be raised as disciples of Christ. And all members, young and old, ought to be regularly encouraged to believe in Christ, to make use of the means of grace, to repent of their sins, and to grow in Christ.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Two Kinds of Judicial Laws in the Old Testament

Regarding the judicial laws, Reformed theologians have distinguished between laws peculiarly fitted to Israel and laws on things common to all nations. They taught that the first category, while instructive in various ways, is not binding on the nations, but that the second category, resting on general equity, does bind them. I wrote about this earlier in The Judicial Laws, the 39 Articles, and the Westminster Confession and have taught in more detail on this subject in The Judicial Laws of the Old Testament. While there is some room for debate on what was peculiarly fitted to the commonwealth of Israel, as well as more details as to how the binding judicial laws should be interpreted and applied (see my lesson), here I want to give you an idea of how 16th-17th century Reformed theologians described this distinction.

Johannes Piscator, Disputations on the Judicial Laws of Moses (2015 [1605]).
“Things common to all nations (that is, which befall all) and are immutable with respect to their own nature and merits are moral offenses, that is, against the Decalogue, such as murder, adultery, theft, seduction from the true God, blasphemy, and smiting of parents.

“Those laws which are mutable and which were peculiar to the Jews for that time are things such as the emancipation of Hebrew slaves in the seventh year, Levirate marriage, releasing of debts in the appointed year, marriage with a woman from one’s own tribe, and if there were any other of the same sort.” 
Henrici Alting, Scriptorum theologicorum Heidelbergensium (1646)
“For whatever was a particular proper right, such as peculiarly concerned the Jews, of which sort was the law concerning the office of the Levites, as another concerning inheritances not being transferred from one tribe to another, all of this kind have ceased. But insofar as it concerned common right, enacted according to the law of nature for all men together, of which sort are the laws concerning the punishments for crimes, these same judicial laws all remain.” 
William Gouge, A commentary on the whole Epistle to the Hebrews (1655):
“Many branches of that law appertained to the Jewish priesthood; as, the particular laws about the cities of refuge, whither such as slew any unawares fled, and there abode till the death of the high priest. Num. xxxv. 25. And laws about lepers, which the priest was to judge. Lev. xiv. 3. And sundry other cases which the priest was to judge of, Deut. xvii. 9. So also the laws of distinguishing tribes. Num. xxxvi. 7 ; of reserving inheritances to special tribes and families, of selling them to the next of kin, Ruth iv. 4 ; of raising seed to a brother that died without issue. Gen. xxxviii. 8, 9 ; of all manner of freedoms at the year of jubilee, Lev. XXV. 13, &c.

“There were other branches of the judicial law which rested upon common equity and were means of keeping the moral law: as putting to death idolaters and such as enticed others thereunto ; and witches, and wilful murderers, and other notorious malefactors. So likewise laws against incest and incestuous marriages ; laws of reverencing and obeying superiors and governors ; and of dealing justly in borrowing, restoring, buying, selling, and all manner of contracts, Exod. xxii. 20 ; Deut. xiii. 9; Exod. xx. 18 ; Num. xxxv. 30; Lev. xx. 11, &c., xix. 32, 35.”

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Of Sanctification

Sanctification, sanctify, sanctity, saint, sacred are from a Latin root. Holy and holiness are from a Germanic root. But both word groups are used for the same Greek words: ἁγιασμός (holiness, sanctification), ἁγιάζω (make holy, regard as holy, sanctify), ἅγιος (holy, saint).

Sanctification is God’s work in which he transforms a person, making that person holy, conforming him to God's image. The Westminster Confession of Faith explains this doctrine here in its 13th chapter. Here is my paraphrase and brief explanation of that chapter, based on the lesson I gave last Sunday. 

Sanctification begins when God effectually calls a person to Christ. When that happens, the person becomes a new creation, is given a new heart and spirit, and the dominion of sin is destroyed (Romans 6:6, 14; Ezekiel 36:26). 

Sanctification is then progressive throughout the Christian's life (Col. 3:9-10). It is not done all at once. A person is further sanctified more and more. Sinful passions and desires are more and more weakened and mortified (Rom. 8:13, Gal. 5:16, 24). Believers are more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces (e.g. faith, repentance, the fruit of the Spirit) to the practice of true holiness (Ezek. 36:27, Col. 1:9-11). 

Sanctification is necessary, for without this holiness no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14, Matt. 5:8). 

Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his word and Spirit dwelling in the believer (Rom. 6:4-6, Ezek. 36:27). 

Sanctification is comprehensive, reaching to every aspect and faculty of man. At the same time, it is imperfect in this life and there are remnants of corruption that remain in every part of the believer. From this remaining corruption arises a “continual and irreconcilable war” of contrary desires. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:17) 

Sin may prevail in this struggle for a time (Rom. 7:23), but the supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ is continual (1 John 3:9). From that supply, the believer gets the victory over sin and so grows in grace, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God (1 John 5:4, 2 Cor. 3:18, 1 Cor. 7:1). 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The Resurrection of the Body: Christ's and Ours

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)
The curse for sin was death (Gen. 2:17). Death and corruption is not natural. Man was not made to die. God created man as a unity of body and soul. His body was just as much him as his soul. Death was the curse threatened for breaking God’s covenant. Death came upon Adam and his race as a curse for sin. Mankind was condemned to death. This included more than physical death, but not less. The earth’s bondage to corruption was imposed as a curse (Rom. 8:20-21), and man was sentenced to return to the dust: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

Jesus took on human nature, body and soul, to redeem us from this curse. The sins of his people were pinned on Jesus and he was cursed for them, partaking of their flesh and blood so that he might receive this condemnation and penalty. If Christ’s body was not raised, then the curse was not lifted and you are still in your sins.

But his bodily resurrection showed that the debt had been paid and the curse lifted. The resurrection was Christ’s justification, his declaration of righteousness from his Father. The power of death was broken. The pangs of death had been loosed. The keys to death and Hades had been obtained. The devil had been bound and his head crushed. And Jesus won this victory not only for himself, but for all his people. Just as Adam’s race fell in him, so the brethren of Christ were raised with him to justification, new life, and the hope of resurrection.

There is no condemnation upon Christ and his people, but rather justification, and therefore, resurrection. Because the sting and power of death, sin and condemnation, has been taken away, death will not be able to hold the believe when Christ calls him. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, the saints are justified as they receive Christ by faith and their moral bodies shall be raised immortal at Christ’s coming.

Even as death and corruption came through Adam, so resurrection and incorruptibility come through Christ. By a man came condemnation and death, so by a man comes justification and the resurrection of the dead.
“But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:23)
If you belong to Christ, you are justified now in him and you have been spiritually raised with Christ as a new creation to walk in newness of life (Rom. 4:23-25, 6:1-11). But the life Paul is speaking of in 1 Corinthians 15:21-23 is that of the future physical resurrection. You will be physically raised from the dead at his coming, as he was raised from the dead on the third day. The Greek word for his "coming" is parousia, his arrival, his glorious bodily return to judge the world. There are two Greek words for “coming.” The Greek word erchomai often refers to Christ’s exaltation, e.g. his ascension and his reign at the Father's right hand. The Greek word parousia, when referring to Christ, always refers to his bodily coming at the end of this present age.

As Christ's body ascended from earth into heaven, so he shall physically return to earth in the same manner (Acts 1:11). At that time, he shall raise the dead, judge all people, renovate the whole creation, and make those who belong to him perfectly blessed in the new heaven and new earth where righteousness dwells and death and pain and sorrow are no more. Death will be the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26). He is conquering and reigning and extending his kingdom now, but his return shall be the great and final triumph. Then, the effect of his own resurrection from the dead shall come to its fullest expression. In his resurrection, we see the beginning of the end of this age, the beginning of the age to come.

Christ saves you, body and soul. He took on a whole human nature, and he gave himself by it to judgment for our sins and he raised himself up by it for our justification and the release of our whole nature from sin and death. With that same body he rose to heaven and sits in glory.

God does not aim at the replacement of the body or your release from the body but the salvation of the body, its conversion and resurrection. It was an instrument of sin. It ought to be now an instrument of righteousness. The Christian's body is a member of Christ and is destined for immortality. As Paul had written earlier in his epistle: 
“The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? ... You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 19–20)

Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Three Uses of the Law (Calvin)

In The Institutes of the Christian Religion (2.7), John Calvin described the threefold “function and use of what is called the ‘moral law’” in this way: 
“The first part is this: while it shows God’s righteousness, that is, the righteousness alone acceptable to God, it warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns, every man of his own unrighteousness. … The law is like a mirror. ... Yet this is not done to cause us to fall down in despair or, completely discouraged, to rush headlong over the brink - provided we duly profit by the testimony of the law ... that, naked and empty-handed, they flee to his mercy, repose entirely in it, hide deep within it, and seize upon it alone for righteousness and merit.” 

“The second function of the law is this: at least by fear of punishment to restrain certain men who are untouched by any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law. … this constrained and forced righteousness is necessary for the public community of men … the law is like a halter to check the raging and otherwise limitlessly ranging lusts of the flesh.”

“The third and principal use, which pertains more closely to the proper purpose of the law, finds its place among believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already lives and reigns. … Here is the best instrument for them to learn more thoroughly each day the nature of the Lord’s will to which they aspire, and to confirm them in the understanding of it. … Again, because we need not only teaching but also exhortation, the servant of God will also avail himself of this benefit of the law: by frequent meditation upon it to be aroused to obedience, be strengthened in it, and be drawn back from the slippery path of transgression.”

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Christ's Return, the Resurrection, and Final Judgment

At the end of the age, Christ will physically return to earth, he will raise the dead from their tombs, and he will judge all mankind. These doctrines are basic doctrines of the Christian faith (Heb. 6:1-2, 1 Thess. 1:9-10). The truth, physicality, and future historicity of these things is clearly taught in Scripture.

In 1 Corinthians 15, it is “this mortal body” that will put on immortality (15:53). It is the body that is raised from the dead. While the body will be changed, it will still be a body. Our resurrection will be the same kind as Christ’s, which was bodily such that the tomb was empty (1 Cor. 15:20-23).

Paul binds Christ’s and our resurrection together such that the denial of one is the denial of the other (1 Cor. 15:12-16). And he teaches that this resurrection of the dead takes place at Christ's coming at the end, when death is destroyed - and death will be the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:23-26).

In John 5, Jesus speaks of a spiritual resurrection unto life (regeneration) that "is now here" (John 5:25), but then he goes on to speak of a future resurrection of the body. "Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28–29).

Although none of us know the day, we are told that God "has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed" (Acts 17:31), that is, by Christ. This day of judgment shall be a good day for those who have believed in him, for they shall be openly acknowledge and acquitted and blessed with their eternal inheritance.

And as Christ's body ascended from earth into heaven, so he shall physically return to earth in the same manner (Acts 1:11).

Those who deny these teachings and teach others to do so are dealt with in Scripture as false teachers (1 Cor. 15:33-34, 2 Tim. 2:16-18, 2 Peter 3:1-7). But for ourselves, these truths are matters of faith and hope and eager expectation, regardless of how long it will be until that great day:

"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself." (Phil. 3:20–21)

"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. For in this hope we were saved." (Rom. 8:23–24)

" live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ..." (Titus 2:12–13)

"...what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God ... But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." (2 Peter 3:11-13)

"For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first ... Therefore encourage one another with these words." (1 Thess. 4:16–18)

And so we confess in the words of the Nicene Creed, "...and He shall come again with glory, to judge both the living and the dead ... and we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen."

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The World of Saint Patrick

There are two ways of dating the life and ministry of Patrick, the earlier dating being more common. Either (1) he was born in Britain c. 385, began preaching in Ireland in c. 432, and died March 17, c. 461 or (2) he was born in Britain c. 415, began preaching in Ireland in the 450s, and died March 17, c. 493. To give some context, here are some other events that took place in that era:

410 - The sack of Rome by the Visigoths.

410 - The Roman army withdraws from Britain.

411-418 - The controversy between Augustine and Pelagius concerning original sin and divine grace, leading to the condemnation of Pelagianism.

429 - Germanus of Auxerre visits Britain to address the Pelegian controversy, convincing the British to reject Pelagianism. 

430 - Augustine dies in Hippo in North Africa while the city is besieged by the Vandals. 

c. 430-450 - The Anglo-Saxons begin to arrive in Britain. 

451 - The Council of Chalcedon, the fourth ecumenical council, meets with at least 520 bishops and affirms the orthodox position on the two natures of Christ. 

434-453 - The reign of Attila the Hun.

455 - The sack of Rome by the Vandals.

476 - The sack of Rome by Odoacer and his Germanic army, leading to the fall of the last emperor in Rome, Romulus Augustus.

c. 484 - Brendan the Navigator is born in Ireland. 

c. 500 - The battle of Mount Badon, a victory of the Britons against the Anglo-Saxons, in which the Britons are said to have been led by King Arthur.

Patrick's own writings, his Confessio and his Epistola, are available to read online here:

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

A Letter to the Exiles

Jeremiah 29 records a letter that God directed Jeremiah to write to the Jews who had already been carried off into exile around 597 BC (the final fall of Jerusalem occurred around 587 BC). This letter came to a community that was dislocated. They had become a minority and their whole world had been shaken. What were they to do? The letter provides an important message for the church today. It helps us to address the question: what should Christians do when they find themselves increasingly marginalized and caught up in the tumult of the nations?

In the letter Jeremiah stressed that this exile was not a mistake, that it would last for seventy years, and that despite appearances God's intentions were for their good. God's plans for them were for "for welfare and not for evil," to give them "a future and a hope" (29:11). He had sent them there, and he intended to bless them. “I have sent into exile… I will…bring you back…I will hear you…I will be found by you…I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations” (29:4, 10-14). God cares for his people, disposes all things for their good, and restores their fortunes in his timing.

Not all of Israel shared in this plan. Some were cast off and killed. Some would be uprooted. Yet a remnant would be blessed. The letter described how some had missed out on this: they had ignored God’s words and opposed his prophets. Some had proclaimed false and rebellious prophecies and committed adultery. That was the wrong way. 

So how should a person respond in difficult times to this message of a future and a hope?

1. Call upon the Lord with faith.

"Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you." (Jeremiah 29:12) 

Verses 12-13 describe how the people would receive God's restoration. They would find him through prayer. They would be blessed as they sought the Lord with sincerity. These years were intended to train the exiles to look to God with faith. And through faith, they would participate in this future he had prepared for them.

When Daniel read Jeremiah's prophecies at the end of those 70 years, he acted upon it by praying a prayer recorded in Daniel 9. “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake…” (Daniel 9:19) 

In other words, believe in God and his promises and call upon him to fulfill them. Persevere in faith, in prayer, in believing expectation. It is by faith in God and his promises that we participate in God’s grace. Those who seek the Lord with sincere faith will not be cast out. “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith” (Romans 11:20).

Like the exiles, we continue to await more of what is promised, both in what we expect in history and eternity. God’s word here teaches you to persevere in seeking the Lord and believing his promises.

And by this faith, a believer acts upon God’s word. The following points describe how God’s people express their faith by their deeds.

2. Build and plant.

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.” (Jeremiah 29:5)

Imagine them having just arrived in Babylon. What should they do? Should they expect a quick return? Should they give up hope of a return altogether? In either case, they would lack motivation to work on long-term projects.

But Jeremiah told them to invest themselves in improving their situation, digging in for a while, building homes and planting gardens. Just because they were exiles, that didn’t mean they were supposed to hold back and live in tents. They would be there for seventy years, so it was worth it to dig in. And their stay was not forever, so it was worth it to persevere. There was light at the end of the tunnel. 

Likewise, Christians are called to fulfill their callings and serve the Lord where they are. Dig in. Do not be held back by a pseudo-spiritual pietism that interprets our identity as exiles as if that means we shrink back from earthy things. You are called to take dominion of the earth in accord with your particular calling, building and planting. Develop where you live and use what you have so that it may be fruitful and productive. Do not linger in indecision, but work with what you have to maintain yourselves and others.

The apostle Paul sharply rebuked those who lived in idleness. He said, “we urge you, brothers … to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:10–12).

3. Get married and have children.

"Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease." (Jeremiah 29:6) 

Get married. Get your children married. They are imperatives, just as in Paul’s epistles (1 Cor. 7:2, 1 Tim. 5:14). While there are exceptions (1 Cor. 7:7-9, 1 Tim. 5:9-10), there is a general responsibility to seek marriage.

Getting married involves a number of steps. It includes preparing for marriage. But marriage is a goal to work towards. When a person is ready, finding a spouse is a task to pursue.

Notice in Jeremiah's letter that both singles and their parents have responsibility. Both those who are getting married and their parents should be working towards this goal together. Unfortunately, in our day parents are either generally uninvolved or involved in a primarily negative manner, with a focus on preventing bad marriages. But the emphasis here is positive. Parents should help their children to get married to good spouses and to form good marriages. Again, this includes preparation (character, skills, calling) and finding a spouse.

Why? To multiply and increase. Marriage provides the basis for the future of a community. One reason for marriage is to provide offspring. If the exiles were to multiply, their singles would need to get married and have children. 

Married couples should have children, as this perpetuates and multiplies the human race (Gen. 1:28), their nation (Prov. 14:28), the church (Mal. 2:15), and their family (Ps. 127:3, 128:3-4). In particular, the focus in Jeremiah 29 is on God’s people multiplying and increasing. Certainly that happens by evangelism as well, but this is in addition to natural increase and the covenantal nurture of children. 

This instruction implies a community of believers. The community of believers is a vital part of this survival plan! One cannot survive for the long term without a community. The community (or communities) of believers provides the spouses and it is the community of believers which is being increased. The letter is addressed to the exiles of Judah, a community with recognized leaders, their elders, priests, and prophets.

God teaches his people in this text to think multi-generationally: God’s plans extend beyond one generation. God also teaches his people to live with hope: there is a future for their children and grandchildren. So many people today do not have enough hope or enough purpose to have children. They don’t mind if their people, their family, or their church dies out. But God teaches his people to think otherwise. The church of Jesus Christ has a purpose and a future and a hope!

Therefore, even when the present is difficult or discouraging, the call to get married and have children remains. Yes, there may be some like Jeremiah and Paul, with the gift of continency, who may remain single, especially in times of distress. But the community in general are called to get married and multiply.

Remember Exodus 1:12: “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.”

4. Seek the welfare of the city where you dwell and pray for it.

"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jeremiah 29:7) 

I was talking to someone recently about patriotism. Is it a good thing? Should one be devoted to one’s country? Even when your country does many wicked things? Certainly this devotion can be taken to excess when it is pursued without qualification. Jeremiah was thought to be unpatriotic when he criticized his people and rulers and told them to surrender to Babylon. But consider this: the Jews were told by God to seek the welfare of Babylonian communities. Babylon was not godly - it was pagan. And not only were the Jews not religiously united with the Babylonians, they were not of the same nation either. They were doubly strangers. 

You and I may rightly feel alienated by the secularism of our country. We should not assimilate into secularism. Parents must be diligent to teach their children God's word and raise them to keep the way of the Lord. But if the Jews were to seek the welfare of Babylonian cities, how much more should we "seek the welfare of the city" when it is our own nation and people? You should seek the welfare of your city, county, state, and country. You should work for the good of those around you.

Think of biblical examples. Joseph brought blessing to his Egyptian household, prison, and country. Daniel was a blessing to the Babylonian and Persian kingdoms. Mordecai saved the Persian king’s life and served in his administration. Nehemiah served a Persian king as cupbearer.

How does your work bless others around you? How do you contribute to the welfare, the well-being, of your community or country? Your contributions might not be as visible as those of Daniel and Mordecai and yet still serve an important role in our interconnected society. Figure it out and work on it with diligence, knowing that you are serving the Lord. You are also serving your own interest! “...for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

One way to seek the welfare of your community that God specifies is to pray for it. Similarly, Paul urges the saints to pray for kings and all in high positions, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2).

5. Do not be immobilized by false prophets.

Do not be misled by false prophets. Instead, hold fast to the word of God. This is the focus of verses 15-32. God will judge false prophets (Jer. 29:22-23, 31-32, cp. Rev. 2-3). Do not be misled by messages of despair or messages of quick and easy prosperity. Be careful about who and what you listen to and where those messages are leading you. False prophets and teaches often lead people away from godliness into speculation, idleness, and/or immorality. 


God intends good for his people. His church has a future and a hope. Therefore, call upon him with with faith, and exercise that faith: build and plant, get married and multiply, seek the well-being of your community. Do not be immobilized by false teachers, but get to work, serving the Lord. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.