From Predestination to Glorification: Defining Twelve Words Every Christian Should Know

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And those whom he predestined he also called,
and those whom he called he also justified,
and those whom he justified he also glorified.
— 
Romans 8:30 —

Last Sunday I preached a sermon with lots of big but important words. In two verses (Romans 3:24–25), Paul uses justification, redemption, and propitiation to speak of the saving work of God in Christ’s death and resurrection. Tomorrow, I will add to that list a number of other big words as our men’s group discusses John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. In Part 2 of his book, Murray outlines the order of salvation (ordo salutis) starting with regeneration and ending with glorification. Added to this list we could describe God’s eternal plans for salvation in things like predestination, election, and adoption.

All in all, there are a lot of -ion words that Christians (at least English speaking Christian) need to grasp in order to understand their salvation. To be clear, salvation does not depend upon knowing how it works. We can fly on a plane without understanding aerodynamics. Just the same, we can be saved by faith in Christ, without understanding everything about it. There are many, indeed all of us, who possess wrong ideas about salvation who are still saved. So great is God’s grace.

Nevertheless, for those who delight in God and his salvation, we are urged (Ps. 111:2), even commanded (Matt. 28:19), to grow in a knowledge of our salvation (2 Pet. 3:18). And to that end, I share the following selection of definitions that start in eternity past, move to eternity future, and cover a basic pattern of salvation that is true for all those whom God has saved, is saving, and will save. I hope they will serve you as you study the Scriptures and work out your salvation with fear and trembling, grace and knowledge.

Sources

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What Did the Cross Achieve? Seven Truths and Sixteen Quotes from John Murray

crossIn 1955 John Murray released his classic work on the cross and salvation, Redemption Accomplished and AppliedThis week, the men in our church are discussing this book. And in preparation, I re-read the opening chapters on the necessity and the nature of the cross.

For those who have asked questions about why the cross was needful and what the cross accomplished, Murray is a great start—even if you might need to keep Dictionary.com close at hand. In his book, he gives a solid defense of the faith and he offers cogent from a Reformed perspective. Over the years, I have often assigned this book for class and returned to it myself.

In what follows I offer sixteen quotations from the book organized around seven truths related to the necessity and nature of the cross. Indeed, if you want to know what the cross achieved, Murray’s book is a great introduction. And hopefully what follows will give you a helpful introduction to Murray.

(N.B. The page numbers that follow are based on the 1955 Eerdmans copy, the one without Carl Trueman’s forward. Additionally, if you are interested you can find the e-book on Hoopla.) Continue reading

The Righteousness of God Revealed: A Sermon for Social Justice (Romans 3:21–31)

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The Righteousness of God Revealed: A Sermon for Social Justice (Romans 3:21–31)

No justice, no peace.

Know justice, know peace.

For the last few years, the theme of justice has filled city streets, social media posts, and more than a few church pulpits. Yet, for all the attention given to social justice, there remains an insufficient understanding of this precious virtue.

In Scripture, the God of justice, the righteous God of Israel, displays his justice in ways beyond the sending of prophets to decry Israel’s sin. Yes, the Old Testament has numerous prophets condemning Israel for their sins of injustice and idolatry. Just read Isaiah 5 or Amos 5. Yet, the prophets’ main message centers on the coming messiah and the justice, make that the justification, that he will bring (1 Pet. 1:10–12).

Indeed, justice apart from justification is a pronouncement of law without gospel. Not surprisingly, a world that does not know the grace of the gospel will call for justice based upon their fallen understandings of law. For Christians, however, when we speak of justice, we must begin with God and follow his Word until it brings us to Christ’s cross. For on the cross, we see justice and justification. And from Paul’s careful attention to God’s righteousness in Romans 3:21–31 we see what justice truly looks like.

In this sermon, I outline seven truths about God’s justice and justification. Of all the sermons I have preached touching on social justice, this is the one I would recommend to anyone inclined to chase social justice causes. You can also find an entire sermon series on the subject here.

In any case, when it comes to the contemporary cries for justice, we must continue to go back to Scripture to learn what justice is and what it isn’t. Hopefully, these sermons can help.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Thou Shalt Not (Believe) Lie(s): Faithfulness in an Age of Fake News

people holding a poster asking about facts on coronavirus

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy,
and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.
— Isaiah 8:12 —

In our church, one of our elders often reminds us that Isaiah 8:12 is a verse that neither confirms nor denies the presence of a conspiracy. In our world there are many reports that are fake news, and because of that there are many who also discount true news. By the same token, there are reports that some label conspiracies that turn out to be true. And conversely, there are “true” reports that turn out to be false. In short, since the world fell by believing Satan’s Primordial Lie—“you can be like God”—we have lived in a world of lies, half-truths, conspiracies, and fake news. And in that world, the people of the truth must learn not just how to tell the truth (Exod. 20:16), but how to spot a lie.

In the original context of Isaiah 8:12, the Lord has told Isaiah to “fear God, not human armies” (G. V. Smith, Isaiah 1–39, 220). In the historical context, God has promised to preserve Judah, even if the king has foolishly rejected God’s help. In that context, the Lord says,

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:12–15)

In Isaiah 8, the particular sin is fearing man (i.e., human armies) instead of fearing God. But the enduring principle is fearing God according to what God has said. Again, in this case, God has promised a way of salvation, and Isaiah is calling the people to trust him and not human armies. In another context, however, fearing God might mean something else. In the case of Habakkuk, fearing God meant submitting to the coming destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. In the case of Jeremiah, fearing God meant surrendering to Babylon and not fighting God’s instrument of judgment, as strange as it was to do so. Accordingly, the command to fear God does not always have the same application for God’s people.

Put this all together, and it is a foolish principle to fear God and never recognize or resist the threat of bad actors. Moreover, it is a foolish principle to read Isaiah 8:12 and conclude that everything that people call conspiracy is errant. History teaches us that rulers plot evil schemes (i.e., conspiracies) and that nations conspire together to accomplish wicked ends. Even more, sacred history—the history found in Scripture—teaches the same thing.

Echoing the first sin, the number of times that God’s people have been lied to—by their leaders, by their neighbors, by their prophets, and by themselves—cannot be counted with both hands. While the law of God can be numbered on our fingertips, and digit number 9 stands for “Do not bear false witness,” the number of times God’s people have believed false witnesses is too numerous to count. And thus, we should learn from Scripture how God’s people have believed lies and become liars, so that we who walk in the truth would not believe lies. Continue reading

Picturing the Word without Caricaturing the Text: Fifteen Statements on Inerrancy and Interpretation

eduardo-pastor-pDAipmK6eRg-unsplashIn his six-volume opus, God, Revelation, and Authority, Carl F. H. Henry unpacks 15 Propositions about Revelation. These propositions include statements related to the source, nature, and purpose of God’s speech. And for anyone interested wrestling with the theological debates surrounding God’s Word and its inerrancy, this would be an excellent, if lengthy, place to begin. Henry was one of the chief architects of neo-evangelicalism and a defender of biblical inerrancy. He with 300 others authored the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978 and his enduring legacy includes not only his books on theology but his influence on other theologians. 

As noted by Kevin Vanhoozer, Henry was a part of evangelicalism’s “greatest generation,” a spin on the nickname given to the Post WWII generation (The Basics of the Faith). And in that generation, Henry and others argued against liberalism’s rejection of the Bible and for a view of the Bible that was infallibly true in “all matters upon which it touches.” This statement on inerrancy is part of the legacy that Henry and others passed on, but it also has been a legacy regularly contested.

As we should expect, the Word of God will always be questioned. “Did God really say?” is not a query left in the Garden of Eden. It is a question that persists at all times and in all fallen hearts. Thus, it is not surprising that today, those within evangelicalism and those without have raised questions about biblical inerrancy. In fact, to get a good lay of the land, just consider the book, Five Views on Biblical InerrancyIn that volume, you find two voices championing inerrancy, albeit with different terms (Albert Mohler and Kevin Vanhoozer), two voices denying inerrancy (John Franke and Peter Enns), and one voice basically affirming the contents of the Chicago Statement without giving it his international endorsement (Michael Bird).

From that volume, it is clear that the doctrine of inerrancy is not clearly understood today. That is, many who reject it fail to appreciate the nuance offered in the 1978 statement. And those who affirm it seek to provide clarity on what inerrancy is and is not. To that end, I think Kevin Vanhoozer is the most helpful. And in another of his books, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition, he lists—although by authorial intent, as far as I can tell—15 Propositions on Scripture that clarify what biblical inerrancy is and is not. Continue reading

What God Has Joined Together Let No Man Separate: A Few Words on Scripture and Tradition

jenny-marvin-u3py_1Tcnuc-unsplashLast week, I offered a few (here and here), reflections on the important and challenging relationship between Scripture and tradition. This week, I offer a few more, beginning with a three-paragraph summary of sola Scriptura from Kevin Vanhoozer and Daniel Treier. Avoiding the error of thinking we can interpret Scripture by ourselves (solo Scriptura), it is important to understand that sola Scriptura affirms a proper, yet secondary, place for church tradition. That is, any historic church teaching is always evaluated and when necessary corrected by Scripture, even as creeds, confessions, and catechisms aid the church to read and understand Scripture. Put differently, the apostle’s possess a magisterial authority that comes from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, while the church catholic enjoys a ministerial authority that rises or falls as it properly understands and applies Scripture.

Bringing these three ideas together—Sola Scriptura, apostolicity, and catholicity—Kevin Vanhoozer and Daniel J. Treier, in Theology and the Mirror of Scripture, remind us how to avoiding separating what God has joined together. They write,

Mere evangelical theology is both catholic and apostolic. To say apostolic affirms the supreme authority of the commissioned testimony from the prophets and apostles—those “sent” to extend in writing Christ’s self-communication. Apostolic thus signifies the inspired human writings borne along by the Holy Spirit, who “speaks only what he hears” in bearing witness to the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ. To say apostolic identifies what anchors both faith and theology: the canonical gospel. To say catholic explains what is “mere” about evangelical theology’s focus, namely, what it believes with the whole church about the gospel of God and the God of the gospel. Continue reading

The Rejected and Resurrected Cornerstone: Seeing Salvation and Judgment in the Cross of Christ

1920x1080-it-is-finished‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’
— Psalm 118:22 —

There are few sentences in the Bible more important for understanding the cross of Christ than Psalm 118:22. And on Sunday we examined this verse through the eyes of Jesus, who in Luke 20:9–18 concluded his parable of the wicked tenants by citing the these words. Moreover, in that parable Jesus told a story of Israel’s longstanding rejection of God and the forthcoming judgment on Jerusalem’s temple. Though shocking to all who heard Jesus, this coming judgment was the way of salvation for those who trusted in Christ.

Indeed, this is parable not only teaches something about Jesus’s death, but it recalls the fact that all humanity will rise or fall in response to his cross. Even more, Christ’s cross is the dividing line that will ultimately determine what side of history someone will stand. Even now, the message of the cross is dividing humanity with its twofold message of salvation and judgment. And only those who respond in faith will enjoy the peace of God now and forever. For that reason, there are few more important messages than Jesus’s parable in Luke 20 and the meaning of the rejected stone who has become the cornerstone of a new temple and the founder of new humanity.

If you want to know more about God’s plans for his people and for all people, take time to consider Jesus’s parable of the wicked tenants. And this sermon will help give you a few insights into God’s salvation and judgment.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

In Defense of Tradition: Five Reasons Protestants Should Not Protest The *Proper Use* of Tradition

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In yesterday’s blogpost, I outlined a doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency, arranging Kevin Vanhoozer’s articulation of sufficiency into a fourfold taxonomy—sufficiency caricatured (i.e., what sufficiency is not), sufficiency simpliciter, material sufficiency, and formal sufficiency. The last of these is the most debated, because it gets wades into the intersection of Scripture, tradition, and interpretation, as well as the insufficiency of human knowledge. While Scripture is sufficient for all that it promises to do, we are insufficient in ourselves to understand the Word of God.

But this is the point that Vanhoozer addresses with respect to formal sufficiency. Instead of solving the problem of our insufficiency with a church authorized interpretation (i.e., the Roman Catholic magisterium) or a personally authorized experience of God and his Word, Vanhoozer presses us back to the Scripture with the all-sufficient aid of the Spirit. In this articulation of formal sufficiency, Vanhoozer addresses the ministerial role of tradition. And it is this proper use of tradition that I want to outline here.

In his book, The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer gives six reasons for accepting and applying tradition, when done under the greater authority of Scripture. In other words, the tradition that Protestants seek is not written with a capital ‘T’. It is not put on the same level as Scripture, but as children of God who have come to life by the Spirit and the Bride (Rev. 22:17), we need the teaching of the church, along with the creeds and confessions that help articulate biblical truth. Similarly, we need to rightly understand the role of tradition and avoid wrong uses and absolute dependence on human institutions. However, affirming the fact that the church is not a mere human institution, but the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit, we can and should seek to benefit from the church universal and the church local.

With that positive approach to the church in view, I want to share five of Vanhoozer’s six ways that tradition can and should be applied in the life of the believer and the life of the church. Again, you can find these points outlined in Vanhoozer’s, The Drama of Doctrine. Continue reading

Sufficient for What? Four Aspects of the Doctrine of Scripture’s Sufficiency

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Writing about Sola Scriptura in his book Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity, Kevin Vanhoozer notes that the reformation principle of Scripture Alone “implies the sufficiency of Scripture” (114). But then he asks and important question: “Sufficient for what?” What does the sufficiency of Scripture promise? And what does it mean?

To that question, he gives four answers—one negative and three positive. Here they are in abbreviated form.

  1. Scripture is not sufficient for anything and everything that it may be called upon to do or describe.
  2. “Scripture is sufficient for everything for which it was divinely inspired. ‘[My word] shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it’ (Isa. 55:11).”
  3. “Scripture is materially sufficient (‘enough’) because God has communicated everything we need to know in order to learn Christ and live the Christian life: ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’ (2 Pet. 1:3).”
  4. Scripture is formally sufficient, which means when it comes to interpretation “Scripture interprets Scripture” so long as the interpretive community (i.e., the church) relies upon all the means of grace created by the Holy Spirit.

Understandably, these four answers need further elucidation, and in his chapter on “Scripture Alone,” Vanhoozer explains each point that I have abbreviated above. Here are a few quotes and explanations to help round a sufficient doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency.

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Good News for Blemished Priests: A Resurrection Meditation on Leviticus 21

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16 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
17 “Speak to Aaron, saying,None of your offspring
throughout their generations who has a blemish
may approach to offer the bread of his God.
— Leviticus 21:16–17 —

In Leviticus 21, we come across a passage that is easily misunderstood. From a first reading of Leviticus 21:16–24, it appears that God does not associate with the disabled, the deformed, or the dismembered. And by extension, this seems to imply that God is cruel to those who deserve compassion. Or at least, as Old Testament scholar, Katherine Smith, has observed this passage is difficult for Westerners who would find themselves in trouble with the law if they mistreated those with a physical disability.

So what is going on in Leviticus 21? And how can the Law of God be holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12), if it teaches Israel to withhold blemished priests from the offering sacrifices to God? Can we honestly say these laws are good and should be followed today? Or, do we need to make apology for Leviticus 21 and unhitch the Old Testament from the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Affirming the unity of Scripture and the goodness of everything contained therein (see Rom. 15:4 and 2 Tim. 3:16–17), I will argue that verses not only bear witness to God’s unswerving holiness but in the fullness of time, and with finished work of Christ in view, we have in Leviticus 21 a glorious declaration of what the resurrection of Christ accomplishes—namely, the good news that blemished priests will be brought into the presence of God, but only after they have been raised from the dead. But praise be to God, that is the good news of the resurrection! Continue reading