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The Redeeming God Podcast
35 minutes | Jun 10, 2021
What is the Sealing of the Spirit? (Ephesians 1:13-14)
What is the sealing of the Holy Spirit? What does it do, how is it received, and how can you know that you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit? These are the questions we answer in this study of Ephesians 1:13-14. But first, let us consider a question from a listener about Calvinism and the fear of changing theological beliefs. Does Changing My Beliefs Make Me an Apostate? I have been reading your posts about Calvinism with much interest. For a while now I think I don’t believe it to be true. I have to say, the church we are members of is not very heavy on this, they never or rarely use the TULIP lingo I have been raised in a classic reformed, heavily legalistic family. I have always been afraid of not being chosen. What if I thought I believed in Jesus but just kidded myself? It hampers my own life and my witness to others. I would love to see many come to Christ, but the line: “God loves you,” is nearly impossible, because I cannot see in the counsel of God. Also, changing my view on for example Sunday being the Sabbath, makes me panic, because does changing my view on such an important matter mean that I am on my way to become apostate (or in Calvinistic terms, to have the proof that I wasn’t one of them after all). Does it make sense? This does make sense, and is exactly one of the reasons I write. I have faced many of these identical fears in my past, and I know that millions of other Christians are facing the same fears as well. I want to write to help liberate people from their bondage to bad ideas about God and bad theology that creates fear in the minds of so many. Here are a few principles I have learned along the way that helps with these sorts of questions, issues, and fears: God has not given us a Spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). If you have beliefs that lead you to fear for your future or fear that you might not have eternal life, then that belief is not of the Holy Spirit. God invites us to reason together with Him (Isaiah 1:18). Questions are invited and welcomed by God! Going back to 2 Timothy 1:7, God wants us to be of sound mind. This means that He gave us a mind and wants us to use it. It is wrong to avoid questions and doubts. Look, if what you believe is true, then that truth can stand up to any and all questions. But if what you believe is not true, then the only way you can discover the truth is by questioning what you believe. Either way, you will come to know the truth and the truth will set you free. Until we come to realize #1 and #1 above, we will NEVER progress as a disciple of Jesus because we will always be afraid to doubt or ask questions. Learning that we are fully loved and fully free is the first step in true Christian discipleship. None of this really answers the questions about Calvinism of the Sabbath, but the three principles above will free a person up to begin thinking clearly about these two topics. And if you want to know what I have taught on the two subjects, here are some links for further study: Calvinism: The Words of Calvinism and the Word of God Genesis 2:1-3 – The Sabbath (Part 1) Genesis 2:1-3 – The Sabbath (Part 2) Should Christians Observe the Sabbath? Luke 6:1-5 – Going Against the Grain on the Sabbath Luke 6:6-11 – Jesus Gives a Hand on the Sabbath What is the Sealing of the Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14)? In the previous study of Ephesians 1:13, we discussed the differences between the sealing of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit. In this study, we will take a closer look at what exactly the sealing of the Spirit is. So what is this sealing of the Holy Spirit that Paul writes about in Ephesians 1:13? Paul says we have been marked with a seal. In Paul’s day seals were used in at least four ways. First, seals were sometimes put on letters to guarantee that it was genuine and that it was written by who it claimed to be written by (1 Kings 21:8; Esther 8:8). Kings might seal their letters with a signet ring. We do something similar when we get a document notarized. A seal was also sometimes placed on goods or merchandise that was traveling from one place to another to indicate who they belonged to and where they were going. It indicated ownership (2 Corinthians 1:22; Revelation 7:2; 9:4). Again, we do this with our possessions today all the time. We write our names in our books, or on our kid’s clothes when they go to camp. Ranchers brand their cattle. They are placing a mark on it to show ownership. The third way seals were used in Paul’s day was to show something was authentic and approved (John 6:27). Sometimes when we buy clothes, in one of the pockets will be a little piece of paper saying it has been inspected and approved by someone. The fourth type of seal was for protection or warning. Remember when Jesus was put in the tomb, Pilate told the soldiers to put his personal seal upon the tomb (Matthew 27:66; Ephesians 4:30). This was to protect the tomb and warn everyone to stay away and keep out! So Paul says here that God has placed a seal upon us as well. It is to guarantee that we are genuine, it shows ownership, who we belong to, it shows that we are approved, and it provides us with protection or security. Now, is this mark visible to you and I? No. We cannot see it. We cannot put our finger on it and say “Here it is.” Neither is it revealed by some sort of spiritual manifestations like being slain in the spirit or speaking in tongues or laughing hysterically. The sealing of the Spirit is invisible to us in the physical realm. According to Galatians 5:22, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So if a person has some or all of these, it is a good indication that they also have the Holy Spirit. We cannot see the wind, but we can see what the wind does. It is the same with the Spirit. So this sealing of the Spirit is an invisible mark. We cannot see it or feel it, but we can know we have been sealed. We can know this by learning a bit more about the sealing of the Holy Spirit. The Seal and Deposit The only other book in the New Testament that talks about the sealing of the Holy Spirit is Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:22) So the question arises, “Why did Paul only mention this sealing in these two letters?” The reason has to do with the towns of Ephesus and Corinth themselves. Both Ephesus and Corinth were great centers of the lumber industry in ancient times. A raft of logs would be floated from the Black Sea and when they got to Ephesus or Corinth, the different lumber merchants would come and look over the logs and make their selections of which ones they wanted. One would say, “I will take these,” and another, “I’ll buy those over there.” Then they would do two things. They would cut a certain wedge upon each log that they had bought which marked that log as bought and paid for and to show who it belonged to. This was called the seal. The second thing they would do was to put a down payment on the logs – a deposit – and when the logs were delivered or picked up, they would then pay the rest of the money. Paul talked about this seal in Ephesians 1:13, and look what he mentions now in Ephesians 1:14. Ephesians 1:14. who (this is the Holy Spirit) is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. The Holy Spirit is a seal and a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. It is just like those logs. The Holy Spirit will provide us with new bodies and an inheritance when we finally get to heaven, but we have a sealing in the Holy Spirit right now which promises and guarantees that this inheritance is ours and is waiting for us. It is like a deposit, says Paul. God has made a purchase, and just to prove that He is going to follow through on His purchase. He has made a down payment. He has given a deposit in the form of the Holy Spirit. When we buy a car or a house, we make a deposit. We give a down payment. This tells the seller that we are promising to buy it. That is what God has done here. He has given a deposit to us. He has promised that what He has begun, He will finish. It is also interesting to note that the Greek word here for deposit is the modern Greek word for an engagement ring. And we all know what an engagement ring means. it is like a deposit. It means that two people are promised to each other or pledged to be married. God has promised to come for us and make us heirs of Himself. This deposit guarantees our inheritance in heaven. The deposit is a little bit of heaven here on earth. Also in Ephesians 1:14, there’s the inheritance that awaits us in heaven, and there’s the redemption of our bodies. We looked at redemption previously when we considered Ephesians 1:7, and Paul is just reminding us of the similar idea here. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Jesus Christ. We have been redeemed from our captivity to sin, and because of the sealing of the Holy Spirit, we will also experience the redemption of our bodies. We have been delivered from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and ultimately, finally, eventually, when we receive our new bodies in eternity, we will be delivered from the presence of sin. As great as the gift of the Holy Spirit is, He is only a deposit, a foretaste, a small glimpse of the beauty, glory, greatness, and majesty that awaits us in eternity with the redemption of our bodies. So how do we receive the sealing of the Spirit, and how can you know that you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit? We looked briefly at both of these questions last time in our study of Ephesians 1:13. When we believe in Jesus for eternal life, we are instantly and permanently sealed by the Spirit. The sealing happens the moment you believe in Jesus for eternal life. And though you cannot see it or feel it, you can nevertheless know you have been sealed by the Spirit because God does not lie. Just as you can know that you have eternal life because Jesus does not lie to us, we can know we have been sealed because God does not lie to us. If you have believed in Jesus for eternal life, then you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit. You can take it by faith because it is a promise of God and God does not lie. The indwelling Holy Spirit is a deposit in your life that God has given to you in advance of your final glorification, redemption, and new resurrected body in eternity. God has placed His mark on you, His seal of ownership, and has guaranteed that you will be glorified with Him in eternity. This is something to be grateful and thankful for. This is the end of Paul’s one long sentence which opens Ephesians. So next, in Ephesians 1:15, Paul begins to explain what he hopes we will do with the blessings, riches, and inheritance we have received from God. This is where we will pick up in our next study. Please share this post with others!
32 minutes | May 27, 2021
Sealing of the Spirit vs. Filling with the Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)
What is the sealing of the Holy Spirit? What is the filling of the Holy Spirit? How are they different? These are the questions we will answer in this study of Ephesians 1:13. We will also look at a question from a listener about why I changed by beliefs about hell. A Letter from a Listener What prompted you to reject the traditional view of eternal conscious torment widely held by Conservative Christianity? I grew up believing in the traditional view of hell, which is that unregenerate people go to a place of eternal conscious torment where they suffer and burn and scream in agony for all eternity. I attended a Bible College and a Seminary that taught this view as well. The first step in rejecting this view was in realizing that Jesus fully reveals God to us. Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9). Elsewhere in Scripture, we learn that Jesus is the exact representation of God and is the image of the invisible God (John 1:14, 18; 14:9-11; 2 Cor 4:4; Php 2:6; Col 1:15; Heb 1:2-3). See this article here for more. So here is the question: Was Jesus right? Was Paul right? They said that Jesus fully revealed God to us. That if we want to know what God is like, all we have to do is look at Jesus and what He did and how He behaved during His life here on earth. Is this correct? I hope you say yes. Jesus was not lying to us. The ramifications of this are significant. It means, among other things, that if you cannot imagine Jesus doing something, this means God doesn’t do it either. So … can you imagine Jesus torturing somebody in fire? Even for a few seconds? No. The one time His disciples asked Him to call down fire from heaven and burn a city, He rebuked them for such thinking (Luke 9:54-55). So if Jesus wouldn’t burn people or torture people in fire, and if Jesus fully reveals God to us, then God wouldn’t burn people or torture people in fire either. Not even for a few seconds, let alone for eternity. If someone believe that God does torture people in fire for all eternity, they that person must also believe that Jesus didn’t fully reveal God to us, and therefore, Jesus was lying when He said He did. I don’t want to call Jesus a liar, and so I was forced to re-think what I believed about hell. I wrote about my view on hell in my book What is Hell? if you want to learn more. The Sealing of the Spirit vs. Filling of the Spirit (Ephesians 1:13) This study is drawn from my sermon on Ephesians 1:13-14. We are in Ephesians 1:3-14, one long sentence from Paul telling us what our Spiritual Possessions are in Jesus. In Ephesians 1:3-6 we saw that we have Security from the Father. This means that He promises to make us holy through election and make us heirs through predestination. We saw last time in Ephesians 1:7-13a that our second blessing is Salvation from the Son. This salvation does not refer to going to heaven when we die, but instead points to the redemption and release from our captivity to sin so that we can live according to the will of God in our lives. In Ephesians 1:13-14, we learn about Sealing from the Holy Spirit. This sealing has special significance for the Christians. It is such an important topic, we will spend two podcasts discussing it. Today we will just look at the difference between the sealing of the spirit and the filling of the Spirit. We will answer the question “What is the difference between being sealed by the Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit?” When someone believes, they are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. I want to comment on this word promised first, and then we will discuss the sealing. The Spirit of Promise (Ephesians 1:13) Have you ever wondered why Jesus Christ had to leave the earth? Have you ever wished that He was still here, walking around, teaching and training? Have you ever wished you could touch Him and eat with Him and talk with Him? I know I have. Some days I just long to sit at Jesus’ feet and have Him teach me about God as only He can. This is especially a longing of mine when I struggle with the meaning of Jesus’ words in certain accounts from the four Gospels. I want to be able to go to Jesus and say, “Hey … what did you mean here?” I still long for this, but Jesus knows what is best for us, which is why He says this in John 16:5-8. Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment. Do you see it? If Jesus had not left, the Holy Spirit would not have come. I don’t know why this is, but it is what Jesus said, and we need to trust it. When Jesus was here, it was wonderful. He could be seen and heard, and touched. But the drawback was that He could only be in one place at one time. But when Jesus left, He sent the Holy Spirit which He had promised, so that now, instead of Jesus being in only one place at a time so that those who wanted to hear or see Him would have to travel half-way across the world, we have the Holy Spirit, who is in every Christian all the time, every moment of every day. So I would still like to have Jesus here, but I think it is better that we have the Holy Spirit. This passage in John 16 tells us that He is at work in the world convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. And the rest of John 16 tells us that the Spirit teaches Christians and guides us into truth. He can do this everywhere and all the time without growing weary or hungry as Jesus did. Yes, I sometimes wish Jesus was here, but I am thankful for the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come, and in Acts 2 He came, and has been with us ever since. That is the promise Paul refers to in Ephesians 1:13. But the sealing of the Spirit should not be confused with some of the other things the Spirit does for the believer, and specifically, the filling of the Holy Spirit. I see so many Christians getting confused about being filled with the Spirit and being sealed with the Spirit. What is the difference? Being Sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13) When discussing the difference between filled with the Spirit and sealed by the Spirit, we can talk about the conditions and the outcomes of both. The Conditions of Sealing vs. Filling As we have seen in Ephesians 1:13, the only condition for being sealed by the Spirit is believing. When we believe in Jesus, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. This means that every single believer is sealed with the Spirit. And this sealing is permanent. Once you are sealed with the Spirit, it is like being branded by the Spirit. The seal, or the brand, is a mark of ownership. It cannot be removed or taken away. We will talk more about this next week when we look at Ephesians 1:14. Being filled with the Spirit is different, however. Paul writes about being filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18, and we will discuss it more when we get there, but for now, just recognize that you are not automatically and permanently filled with the Spirit when you believe in Jesus. Being filled with the Spirit is conditional upon you submitting yourself to the Holy Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit is to let the Holy Spirit control you. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by the Spirit. Think of sealing vs. filling as if your life were a car. When you buy a car, you register it and put license plates on it. This is sort of like the sealing of the Spirit. It shows ownership. It shows that you own the car and helps identify you as a legal driver. When you are sealed with the Holy Spirit, God puts His mark on you to show that He owns you, that you belong to Him. However, you are still driving your car around. When you are filled with the Spirit, you let the Holy Spirit get into the car and drive it around for you. When you are filled with the Spirit, the Spirit takes control of the car. But you can kick the Holy Spirit out of the driver seat any time you want. If you don’t like where the Spirit is driving, you can say, “I’ll take over from here,” and the Spirit will let you. Of course, you’ll end up driving into a ditch, but hopefully that will teach you to let the Spirit keep control of your life. So you are sealed immediately and permanently when you believe in Jesus, but you are filled, or controlled, by the Spirit whenever you let the Spirit take control of where your life is headed. Ok, so what about the results of being sealed vs. filled? The Results of Sealing vs. Filling When you believe in Jesus for eternal life, four things immediately happen to you in relation to the Holy Spirit. They spell the acrostic RIBS. The Spirit regenerates us (John 3:3; Titus 3:5). This is the act of God which gives us eternal life when we believe. The Spirit also indwells us (John 14:16-17). This is the Spirit coming to live within us and abide or remain within us. The Spirit baptizes the believer (1 Cor 12:13). This is a spiritual baptism, not a water baptism. Water baptism symbolizes what has already happened to us spiritually. This spiritual baptism gives us the basis for victory over sin. We are also sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). This is what we are discussing now. It should be noted that all four of these things are one-time events that happen instantaneously the moment we place faith in Jesus for eternal life. Once they happen, they cannot be repeated and they cannot be reversed. In other words, during your life, the Holy Spirit will not repeatedly baptize you. Some people teach this, but that is because they do not understand the Spirit baptism. These events cannot be reversed either. You cannot become un-baptized any more than you can become unborn. You cannot become un-regenerated any more than you can become un-alive. So these four actions of the Holy Spirit, regeneration, indwelling, baptizing, and sealing, are one time events that happen at the moment we receive eternal life, and which cannot be repeated or reversed. But the filling of the Spirit is different. It is something that can be repeated and can be lost. It is not something mystical that takes place only when there is goosebumps, shivers, chills, and special miraculous signs. Being filled with the Spirit is most often not accompanied by miraculous signs and wonders. As already stated, being filled with the Spirit is simply being controlled by the Holy Spirit. That’s all there is to it. We stop being filled with the Holy Spirit whenever we try to take over the control of our lives. Whenever we let sin get a foothold in our lives. We need to frequently be filled because as sinful humans, we leak. The results of being filled with the Spirit are numerous. As the Spirit takes control of your life, you will learn to actually live your life. The Spirit does not want to take away your life, but to show you how to truly live life as God wants and intends. To use the analogy of the car from earlier, the Holy Spirit gives you driving lessons. As the Spirit drives you around, you will start to be conformed to the image and likeness of Jesus. You will learn to walk by faith, not by sight. You will start to produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. You will learn how to pray. You will start to understand Scripture more because the Spirit guides us into all truth. Do you see? The sealing of the Spirit is mark of permanent ownership that gets put on us when we believe in Jesus for eternal life, but the filling of the Spirit is part of the ongoing, transforming, sanctifying power of God in our life to help us live and love like Jesus. The reason Paul is talking about this now is because in Ephesians 4-6, he is going to give us a whole list of things we should be doing as Christians. And on our own power, by our own strength, these things are impossible. But with the indwelling and filling power of the Spirit, we are able to accomplish more than we ever thought or imagined. We will learn more about this as we continue our way through Ephesians. Please share this post with others!
36 minutes | May 20, 2021
We have Salvation in Jesus … but what is salvation? (Ephesians 1:9-13)
What is the mystery that was hidden for generations, but is now revealed in Jesus? And what is salvation? Is salvation when we get eternal life so we can go to heaven when we die? These questions will be answered in this study of Ephesians 1:9-13. We will also address the current violence in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, and answer a question from a reader about Jesus’ statement from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” Current Events: Israel and Palestine Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization, recently started launching rockets into Israel this last week. In response, Israel started shooting the rockets down and returning fire. It has been shocking to see how many people have responded to these events. Rather than condemning Hamas for launching the rockets in the first place, many are condemning Israel for defending themselves and retaliating. The idiocy of condemning Israel for defending itself is nicely summed up by a recent satirical Babylon Bee headline, which said: “Tensions Rise In Middle East As One Side Wants To Kill Jews And The Other Side Are Jews Who Don’t Want To Die And Neither Will Compromise” It’s satire, but like all good satire, it’s pretty close to the truth of what is actually being said by many leaders and politicians. “Why is Israel so mean in attacking the poor Palestinians?” they whine. “All the Palestinians want is to kill all the Jews.” My stance is that Israel has a right to defend itself against the unprovoked attacks from Hamas. But there’s the problem. Many on the left are saying that Hamas was provoked. And what did Israel do to provoke Hamas? Well … they defended themselves. I read one article this week in which the liberal journalist said that Hamas just wants the land back that Israel “stole” from them in the 1967 six-day war. But when you go back and look at what actually happened in 1967, some of the surrounding Arab nations decided to attack Israel. In preparation for this attack, they told the Arab people in Israel to temporarily leave so that they would not die in the attack. Israel, of course, defended herself from the attack and was victorious. And to further protect herself from future attacks, they kept the land that they won in the war, which had been abandoned by the Arabs. Of course, now, most of the world condemns Israel for “illegally taking and occupying” Palestinian territory. But that is not what happened at all. Israel defended herself, and continues to do so, against Hamas, which has publicly declared that their primary goal is to obliterate and destroy Israel as a nation. So Israel is simply defending herself against people who want to destroy her. Is that a crime? Of course not. The other criticism we recently hear from various politicians and journalists is that Israel does not have a right to exist because it is an apartheid state, much like South Africa was. Members of “The Squad” in congress say that Israel is a racist country that dehumanizes the Arab citizens of Israel and keeps them from being elected or having power. But this is a bald-faced lie. Israel is a democracy. Is is the only democracy in the Middle East. Israel affords its Arab citizens full rights. Arab Israelis are full participants in Israeli society. They vote in elections and Arab parties sit in parliament. There are Arab justices on the Supreme Court. About 20% of doctors in Israel and about half of pharmacists are Arab. Only 20%! Such racism! Well, Arabs are a minority in Israel, representing 20% of the population, so 20% representation is exactly what you would expect. The Palestinian territories, however, are the exact opposite. You cannot find an Arab-dominated country that affords Jews the same rights in Arab countries that Israel gives to Arab citizens in Israel. There is a complete lack of democracy among Arab nations. Jewish and Christian minorities are abused, mistreated, and given almost no voice at all in these other countries. Therefore, all Arab countries are more apartheid than Israel has ever been. All this is to say that I stand by Israel in her right to defend herself against attacks. And I condemn the violent and unprovoked attacks by Hamas upon the Israeli people. It should also be pointed out that none of this would be happening right now if President Trump had been re-elected. There was peace in the Middle-East during his years in office, largely due to his strong stance on foreign policy. The death and violence occurring right now in the Middle East can be laid squarely on Biden’s weak and incoherent foreign policy. I hope that all Christians can condemn the violence in Israel and call for Hamas to stop attacking Israel. We must pray and work for the peace of Israel. Letter from a Listener Here is a question I received from Joan Vitale: I have a question regarding Jesus “My God My God why have you forsaken Me?” Common beliefs are that God turned away from Jesus at the moment as He took upon the sins of the world. I am not convinced this is so. Why? Because God never leaves us never forsakes us. Why would He forsake His only Son? Instead I feel that Jesus did not become sin for us, but rather He became the sacrifice for our sins just as the Old Testament sacrifices did not take away people’s sins but instead they were sacrificially offered (sin offering) and that is why Jesus is also known as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. What are your beliefs on this? Joan, I like your thinking on this. Especially the fact that since God will never leave or forsake us, why would God leave or forsake Jesus? It doesn’t make sense. I have answered this question previously, here is the link: Why Did Jesus say “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” But here is a brief summary of what I wrote in that article: Jesus came to this earth to fully identify with us as humans. However, how could Jesus do this if He never sinned? We live in a constant state of sinfulness, which is a large part of the fear, pain, and frustration we experience as humans. How can Jesus identify with us if He never experienced this pain and frustration of sin? I believe Jesus did experience it when He took our sin upon Himself on the cross. It was only when the crushing despair of being separated from God came upon Him, that He finally felt what we humans have lived with since we were born. The pain and anguish we feel every day, the suffering of being separated from God that has so numbed our souls, the despair and fear that drives us to live as we do, was felt for the very first time by Jesus on the cross when sin came upon Him. His cry, “My God, my God, Why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 17:46; Psalm 22:1) is not the cry of the God-forsaken God, but is the heart cry of every single human being on earth. It is the cry we have been voicing since the beginning when we fell into sin. This is not just the cry of Jesus on the cross. This is the cry of every single person on earth. It is our pain, our fear, our hurt, our despair, finally being given a voice. It is the cry of God fully entering into our broken condition and fully experiencing the sense of separation from God that sin causes, and crying out in anguish and despair over this sense of loss, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” When we feel that God is ignoring us, or has abandoned us, Jesus knows what we feel, and He cries out to God on our behalf, “Why have You forsaken Me?” When we experience fear in the night about our future, Jesus knows what we feel, and He cries out to God on our behalf, “Why have You forsaken Me?” When bad things happen in this world, and we wonder what God is doing about them (if anything), Jesus knows what we feel, and He cries out to God on our behalf, “Why have You forsaken Me?” When we feel despised and rejected, abused and slandered, misunderstood and forgotten, and we wonder why God seems to be doing nothing to protect and defend us, Jesus knows what we feel, and He cries out to God on our behalf, “Why have You forsaken Me?” The separation from God that Jesus experienced on the cross is the separation from God that humans experience every day. Certainly, since He is God and since He bore every sin of every person, He experienced this separation to an infinite degree. But still, the cry of Jesus from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” is not just the cry of Jesus, but is our cry. It is the cry of every single human being on earth. Jesus was giving voice to our pain and anguish. Do you feel abandoned by God? Jesus knows what that feels like. Do you feel forsaken, neglected, forgotten, and overlooked? Jesus knows what that feels like. Do you feel like God has turned His back? Jesus knows what that feels like. But here is the thing… The original question was “How can Jesus say ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ when God did not actually forsake Him?” Just as Jesus felt what we all feel to be forsaken, so also, none of us have been forsaken, just as Jesus Himself was not. Though you may feel abandoned by God, you are no more abandoned than was Jesus. Though you may feel forsaken, forgotten, neglected, and overlooked, these things are no more true of you than they were of Jesus. Though you may feel unloved, this is no more true of you than it was for Jesus. Though Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” He was NOT forsaken. And neither are we. This is a feeling that Jesus experienced, which is a feeling we ALL experience. And this feeling does not come because we are forsaken, but because of sin. Sin has separated us from God; it has not separated God from us. This is why God had to reconcile the world to Himself (1 Cor 5:19). He didn’t need to reconcile Himself to the world, for He never left or abandoned us. Though we may feel forsaken, we are not forsaken any more than Jesus was forsaken. God did not forsake Jesus, and God does not forsake us. The presence of sin in our lives makes us feel like we are forsaken, like God has abandoned us, forgotten us, or left us alone to suffer and die, when in fact, God is right there all the time, holding us, loving us, and crying with us over our pain. It is sin that makes us feel separated from God, and this is the feeling Jesus expressed on the cross, and is one reason Jesus went to the cross – to take our sin and bear it away into death so that we can see that God has not left us, has not abandoned us, and has not forsaken us, but has fully entered into our pain, our suffering, and even into our sin, so that He might show us how much He loves and cares for us. This truth is explained in more detail in my book, The Atonement of God. Hope that helps a bit! Salvation in the Son (Ephesians 1:9-13) This study is drawn from my sermon on Ephesians 1:7-13. Ephesians 1:9-10. And he made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In Ephesians 1:9, Paul says that for many years, God had a secret, a mystery, which He has just now made known to the world. The fact that it is a mystery does not mean it was hard to understand, but simply that it was something previously unknown. There were clues and hints about this mystery throughout the Old Testament, but now God has made it plain as day and wants the whole world to know. Paul says this was a mystery of God’s will, according to his good pleasure and that it primarily involved Christ, and that the accomplishment of this mystery of God’s will would not be completed until the end of time. And what is that mystery? It is that God was going to unite all the people of the world into one family in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:9-10 says that God’s goal was to to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. This is a reference to the church as the body of Christ. The Church is the key to world peace. We previously discussed the ongoing violence in the Middle East between the Jews and the Arabs. According to Paul, the key to peace between warring people groups is not more violence, but to see that we are not two different people groups, but are rather one people under Jesus Christ. We are not enemies, but brothers, with one another. This truth will be unpacked in great detail in Ephesians 2. Ephesians 2 is all about how to bring peace to warring groups of people. Now when Paul says that everything is brought together into one head, Jesus Christ, Paul is not teaching that everyone will become a Christian here—or that Satan and his demons will be united to Christ. No, this is unbiblical. This verse is saying that Christ will rule over all—will have dominion over all. The kingdom of God has come upon the earth in Jesus Christ, and everyone and everything is under the rule of this kingdom, but the power and plans are still not accepted or followed everywhere, which is why the church is supposed to go forward in the name of Jesus to show the world how to live at peace with each other. Again, this is foreshadowing of Ephesians 2, where Paul will show how Jesus did all this, and how we can call the world to peace as well. Ephesians 1:11-12 summarize the blessings of God in Christ that we have so far been given, so I’m not going to spend much time on these verses because they are simply reiterating and repeating what Paul has already said. Ephesians 1:11. In him we were also [made heirs], having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, Again, Paul is just reiterating the fact that our predestination was not to eternal life, but to the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies, the giving of an inheritance to His children. The inheritance, the riches, the blessings, is what Paul is describing in these first three chapters of Ephesians. Ephesians 1:12. … in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. The first to hope in Christ were simply Paul and the first believers in Ephesus. But this still applies to us as well. It says that all of this that is done is for God’s glory. It is not for our glory, or our praise, but for the praise of God’s glory alone. The truth of these verses then is that as Christians, we have incredible riches in Christ. We are spiritual multi-billionaires. Finally, the first part of Ephesians 1:13 summarizes all of the riches we have in Jesus Christ by including them as elements within the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Ephesians 1:13a. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. The word of truth and the gospel of your salvation are different terms for the same message. This message is simply the good news of salvation. Understanding the word salvation is going to be very important as we continue to work our way through Ephesians, especially when we get to Ephesians 2:8-9. So let us pause briefly here in Ephesians 1:13 to point out once again that the word salvation does not refer to going to heaven when you die. Instead, the word means “deliverance” and the context reveals what we are delivered from. I will explain this word in great detail in my Gospel Dictionary online course. In Ephesians 1:13, the word salvation does not refer to escaping hell and going to heaven when we die. It does not refer to receiving eternal life. Instead, it refers to being liberated from the devastating and destructive consequences of sin in our lives so that we can live now, in this life, the way God wants us to live. How? By recognizing the vast storehouse of riches that we have in Jesus Christ, and then learning to live in light of those now. By starting to draw on our inheritance now. This is what the word salvation means in Ephesians. It is not talking about where we go when we die, but rather, how our life is to be lived now in light of the riches we have in Jesus Christ. This is also how Paul refers to salvation in Ephesians 2, which, again, we will discuss further when we get there. The concept of salvation in Paul’s writings is very close to the concept of the Kingdom of God in the teaching of Jesus. Just as the Kingdom of God does not refer to going to heaven when we die, and just as the Kingdom of God refers to God’s rule and reign in our lives right now, so also, salvation does not refer to going to heaven when we die, but refers to the redemption and release from our captivity to sin so that we can live lives of freedom, grace, glory, and joy within God’s family here in this life and for all eternity. So we have seen two great riches in Ephesians 1. The great riches we have in Jesus include the resources to break free from patterns of sin and to live in our lives as God wants, calls, and desires us to live. In this way, we can rule and reign with Jesus in the Kingdom of God on this earth and for all eternity. As we live this way, we show the world how to live in peace with God and with one another. But if this seems like a difficult task, there is another great blessing God has given to us, which gives us the power to live as God wants and desires. We will look at this next great blessing next time when we consider the rest of Ephesians 1:13. Please share this post with others!
42 minutes | May 14, 2021
What is Redemption? (Ephesians 1:7-8)
Christians love to sing and talk about redemption and forgiveness, but strangely, few Christians really know what the Bible teaches about these two topics. We look at both terms in this study of Ephesians 1:7-8. Though we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus, this does not mean that the blood of Jesus was used to pay God for our sins. God does not need to be paid off. He is not the mafia who demands payment for protection. Instead, the redemption of Jesus shows us how to live free from sin, which is what the forgiveness of God shows us as well. Listen to this study on Ephesians 1:7-8 to learn more. Current Event: Critical Race Theory We’re discussing some of the content in the best-selling book, FaultLines, by Voddie Baucham Jr. In this book, Dr. Baucham discusses Critical Race Theory and shows why it is so destructive, not only to our culture, but also to the church. We introduced the book and defined Critical Race Theory in a previous episode. In chapters 1 and 2 of Faultlines, Voddie Baucham shares some of his story about growing up as a black man in America, how he became a Christian, and why he ended up moving to Zambia to teach and minister there. He also explains how he became aware of Critical Race theory and how he arrived at his view that CRT is so destructive to the gospel and damaging to the church. Chapter 3 is so good, I wish I could read to you the entire chapter. In it, Dr. Baucham completely exposes and obliterates the false narrative that exists in our country (and sadly in many of our churches) that black people are getting hunted down and killed by police, that it is “open season” on black people, and that the murder of unarmed black people is “state sanctioned.” Near the beginning of this chapter (p.44), he says the following: … When I am evaluating people’s testimonies and pleas, and when people are shouting “Justice for George, Ahmaud, Breonna, Travon!” or anyone else, I always want to bear in mind the words of John 7:51: “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” I also want to remember that “the one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17), which is why “if one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame (Proverbs 18:13). Following this, Dr. Baucham goes on to examine the deaths of George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Philadro Castile, Michael Brown, and Breonna Taylor, to show that much of what is chanted and repeated in riots, news broadcasts, and even from some pulpits, was flat-out wrong. Dr. Baucham also goes on to point out that despite all the news attention that is given to the deaths of these black people, there are far more examples of deaths of unarmed white people at the hands of the police, and some of them are far worse. For example, have you heard of Tony Timpa? Probably not. He was a thirty-two year old schizophrenic who called the police on himself because he went off his meds and needed help. Like George Floyd, Timpa was handcuffed, and for nearly fourteen minutes pleaded with the officers, saying, “You’re gonna kill me! You’re gonna kill me!” But the police only mocked him and made jokes. But eventually, Tony Timpa did die, and no officers were charged or convicted (pp. 54-56). Why not? Because Tony Timpa was white and his death doesn’t fit the narrative. Few even know his name. And Tony’s case is not alone. There are many others just like him. Dr. Baucham knows that one common objection to this is that even though unarmed white people die in far greater numbers than unarmed black people, this is because black people only make up 13% of the population, and so when this is factored into the equation, black people die in higher proportion. Baucham completely dispels this myth as well, and shows that the only reason people skew the statistics to make this claim is because they have an agenda to create division and strife in our country, because this false narrative helps them gain money, power, and control. But I’ve spent too much space on this already, so I encourage to read the book to find out more about what Baucham says. As instructed by Proverbs 18:17 (one of my life verses, by the way), stop listening to one side of the issue, and instead consider both sides before making a decision. A Letter from A Listener I have been wondering about the nature of hell for a while. I’m a former Christian and for years I didn’t fear the idea of hell. Perhaps now as I’ve gotten older and I realize I’m not immortal the fear of potentially going to hell scared me. However, I don’t think someone should come back to Christianity because of fear of hell. That is assuming hell is a place of torture. I have been thinking about Christianity again but still have some objections. What does the hell course discuss? I have written a book about hell, and also have an online course about hell that is based on the content of the book. When you take the course, you can download the book for free. The book begins with a history of hell, and why we believe it is a place of suffering and torment. The book then considers several of the Hebrew and Greek words that sometimes get translated as “hell” in our English Bibles. Words such as Gehenna, Hades, and Tartarus, as well as the concept of “outer darkness” and “lake of fire” are all considered. Following this, I provide in-depth explanations of many key biblical passages that are often thought to be referring to hell. The book concludes with an explanation of what I believe the Bible teaches about hell. I do not end up in any of the three major positions about hell. The three common views of hell are (1) annihilationism – that people might go to hell for a while, but are ultimately destroyed so that they do not suffer forever, (2) Universalism – the view the people might go to hell for a while, but will eventually be able to escape hell and spend eternity with God, and (3) infernalism – the view that hell is a place of eternal conscious torment for the damned, where they will suffer and burn for all eternity. I explain and reject all three views in my book. My view – and this may be a shock to you – is that when the Bible teaches about hell, it is referring to the current experience of some people on this earth now. When the Bible exhorts us to deliver and rescue souls from hell, it is not telling us to make sure people don’t go the burning place after they die, but to go out and rescue people from how their life is being destroyed right now. Whether you are skeptical of that view, or find it attractive, I encourage you to read my book or take my course to discover how I arrive at that conclusion. By the way, if you go to Amazon and see that the book has some negative reviews, this is because there are many Christians who leave negative reviews of books without even reading the books. I have read the negative reviews, and it is obvious that they never even read the book. They claim I am teaching and saying things in the book that I never say. So anyway, do your own research. Read the book to discover a love-based, grace-oriented approach to all the biblical texts in the Bible about hell. Redemption and Forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7-8) Ephesians 1:4-11 is one long sentence in the Greek language, and it contains a long list of some of the great riches and blessings we have in Jesus Christ. We’ve looked at some of these already, such as Election, Predestination, and Adoption. In Ephesians 1:7-8, Paul lists two more blessings: Redemption and Forgiveness. Ephesians 1:7-8. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. Let us consider both key terms: 1. Redemption through His blood The first term to consider is redemption. In our study on adoption, I explained that when God adopts us as His sons, He is taking his own children, and adopting them as heirs. Redemption is a similar idea. Redemption occurs when God takes something that was already His, and is buying it so that it is twice His. In the ancient world, when a soldier was captured in battle, his country could buy him back from the enemy. Or, when a family was in a desperate financial situation, sometimes they would sell one of their family members into slavery, and then—hopefully—when they got enough money, they would buy back their family member (Lev 25:39-55). We can do the same thing today with pawnshops, except we do it with possessions rather than family members. If you need money, you can go down to the pawn shop and they will give you money for your watch or a ring, and you then have a certain amount of time to go back and redeem your item. If you do not, then they keep it and can sell it for a profit. So we see here that Jesus redeemed us, or bought us back, through His blood. But there is an important concept here to understand. When Paul writes about Jesus redeeming us through His blood, we shouldn’t think that Jesus was paying off God or Satan with His blood. It is not as though there was a debt of sin to God or to Satan which could only be paid with the blood of Jesus. Lots of Christians teach this, but it is not a biblical idea. God does not and has never required blood sacrifice or blood payment as a way to forgive us for our sins. Not even Hebrews 9:22 teaches this. The redemption that Jesus accomplished through His blood was a rescue or deliverance of humanity from humanity. We were enslaved to an endless cycle of sacred violence and the spilling of blood in God’s name, and Jesus, by dying as He did, exposed the myth of redemptive violence and the lies of sacred violence for what they were so that we can be redeemed or rescued from this endless cycle of violence and bloodshed once and for all. I explain this idea further in my Gospel Dictionary course in the entry on Blood. So when you think about redemption, think of it as Jesus buying us back from our slavery to sin. His blood shed for us was not actually “paid” to anyone, but was instead shed for us to show us that we kill other people in God’s name. His shed blood for us was to show us what we do and to call us to stop it. Yes, Jesus needed to shed His blood, but not so that He could pay off God. God is not a mafia boss who needs to be paid for His protection. Jesus shed His blood to show us the truth about ourselves that could not be shown to us in any other way. (see my book Nothing but the Blood of Jesus for more on this). Redemption shows us how to no longer be slaves to sin, and instead becomes friends with God. We have been redeemed from slavery to sin, and set free to love and serve God with our lives. So that’s redemption. This idea is further seen by what Paul says next in Ephesians 1:7. 2. The forgiveness of sins. There is so much confusion in Christian circles about forgiveness. But as I have pointed out in my Gospel Dictionary course, in my book The Atonement of God, and in numerous other places, there are two main types of forgiveness sin the Bible. The first is charizomai forgiveness. It is free and unconditional. God extends this forgiveness to all people in all the world for all their sins no matter what. It has been freely extended from the beginning of time simply because God is a loving and forgiving God. Jesus did not have to die to earn this forgiveness. God does not demand blood sacrifice to offer this forgiveness. It is free and unconditional, based solely on the grace of God. The second type of forgiveness is aphesis forgiveness. But it is not really what we think of when we think of forgiveness. It is closer to the idea of release, or liberation. It is the type of release or liberation we get when we gain freedom from the damaging and destructive power of sin in our lives. This type of forgiveness does have conditions. We must confess and repent and forgive others in order to experience this kind of forgiveness in our lives. What type of forgiveness is Paul referring to here? It is aphesis forgiveness. Paul is talking about how we can experience the riches and blessings of being in the family of God, and how God seeks to unify us into one family, and how we can live for the praise of His glory. While all of these things are riches of God’s grace, they also are conditional upon our living in light of them. Of understanding what we have in Christ and how to access and use these blessings. So this makes sense that aphesis forgiveness is in view, because we must know how this form of forgiveness works and how to make use of it in our lives. Even though God has freely forgiven us (charizomai), for all our sins, we still sin and need to be set free from our slavery to sin. This is where aphesis comes in. God has provided steps and instructions in Scripture about how to break free from the devastating and destructive consequences and patterns of sin in our life. And as we follow these steps toward aphesis, we will be released, set free, or redeemed, from sin, so that we can live as we were meant to live. So we can see that redemption and forgiveness are closely connected terms. Paul moves on from here to talk about the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence. These terms are just further ways of describing the great riches and blessings we have in Jesus Christ, which is Paul’s great theme in these opening verses of Ephesians 1. All of these gifts and blessings which God provided for us are due to His grace, His wisdom, and His prudence (or insight and understanding). God knows what we need to live our lives to the fullest and to live as members of His family, and He has made sure to provide us with everything we need for life and godliness. We will continue to see more riches and blessings from God next time when we pick up with Ephesians 1:9. Please share this post with others!
49 minutes | May 6, 2021
What is the Adoption as Sons in Ephesians 1:5-6?
Do you know what it means to be adopted? Of course you do. We all know people who have adopted children. Maybe you have adopted a child, or maybe you yourself are adopted. But did you know what the modern form of adoption has almost no similarities with adoption in biblical times? If we don’t know how adoption worked in Bible times, we will misread and misunderstand Scripture. This study on Ephesians 1:5-6 explains how adoption worked 2000 years ago, so that we can better understand Ephesians 1:5-6. But before we look at Ephesians 1:5-6, we will look at a current event and answer a question from a reader. Current Event: The Fault Lines in Critical Race Theory Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the Social Justice (SJ) movement are causing intense damage to the world, and to Christianity. Those who hold to CRT and SJ say they are trying to bring an end to racism, but their ideas actually do the exact opposite. And sadly, many Christians are falling prey to the ideas of CRT and SJ, which destroys the peace-bringing message of the gospel. If you don’t know what Critical Race Theory is, or why it is so destructive to the gospel, I highly encourage you to read FaultLines, the new book by Voddie Baucham Jr. It’s currently a best seller in numerous categories and is on the USA Today Bestseller list, but if you search Amazon for “Faultline,” it won’t show up on the first 10 pages of search results because Amazon and the proponents of CRT are trying to silence the information that Dr. Baucham includes in his book. So you can click the link above or search Amazon for “Faultlines by Voddie Baucham.” The book is so important, I’m going to use the “Current Events” section of the next couple podcasts to talk about it. Dr. Baucham begins the book by defining the key characteristics of Critical Race Theory. He points out that CRT is based on the theories of Karl Marx and class warfare (p. xii). So at it’s root, CRT is a form of Marxism. And Marxism has killed more people in the history of the world than any other political perspective. Marxism is inherently violent. Due to this, proponents of Critical Race Theory are not interested in reforming culture and society. They want a revolution (p. xiii). This is why they are not interested in reforming the police. They want to defund the police. The reason proponents of CRT want a revolution is because they believe that society is inherently racist … or is systemically racist … and so it cannot be fixed or redeemed; it must be destroyed. According to CRT, everything is based on white privilege and white supremacy (p. xv), including politics, education, economics, and business. So it all must be torn down. They even claim that things like logic and math are inherently racist. They say that minorities don’t primarily use logic and reason to make decisions and gain knowledge, but instead use stories, emotions, and experience (p. xvi-xvii). Therefore, any structure or society which is based on the sciences (which depend on logic and reason) is inherently racist because it favors white people. This is why, by the way, if you ever try to use logical arguments and reason against Critical Race Theory, you get accused of being a racist, because logic is racist. Now, a lot more could be said to explain CRT, and Dr. Baucham does in his book. But here is why Critical Race Theory is so destructive to society in general and to the gospel of Jesus Christ. According to numerous texts in the Bible, one of the things Jesus came to do was to tear down and destroy the divisions between the races. Proponents of CRT want to do the same thing, so that’s good. But proponents of CRT go about trying to destroy racism in exactly the opposite way as Jesus. As we will see when we study Ephesians 2, Jesus brought healing and reconciliation through forgiveness and grace. He killed the hostility between races, not by requiring others to die for Him, but by dying for the others. The gospel does not call everyone to act the same and think the same, but rather to celebrate and enjoy our differences, because our differences are exactly how God made us to be. And where we are hurt or wronged, we are not to seek vengeance, retaliation, or the destruction of others, but instead are to love and forgive. If justice can be achieved, this is the only way to do it. Dr. Baucham is extremely concerned about racism and justice. I am too. All Christians who truly follow Jesus want to see peace and reconciliation. But Critical Race Theory accomplishes nothing of the sort. If you want to learn more about this, I highly recommend you read FaultLines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Crisis by Voddie Baucham, Jr. I will discuss his book a bit more in future podcasts. Letter from a Listener I received this email from Michael Spina: Hi Jeremy! I’ve been a member of your Redeeming God website and absolutely love everything you teach. I love your courses and books because I can tell you’re very practical and truthful to what you say. Your judgements are very sound and don’t favor any extreme views. It’s people like you who I seek out for assurance that I’m on the right track. In my personal opinion, your take on the Gospel is the most clearest and convicting, and is the most comparable to that of the Apostle Paul. I hope you’re encouraged by that. Now I do have a theological question. It is the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts. I’m sure you know the story. Did they commit the unforgivable sin? Because if not, why did they die? Why not be given the chance to repent? Thanks for the encouraging email. That’s a great question! I have struggled with this very question quite a bit, and plan to try to address it in a future book. Here are my “notes” on this text … which are only theories at this point … sort of “leads” for me to follow when I get around to studying the passage in more detail: ————————— First, it is important to note that the text does not say God killed them. But this is the way it is often preached. All it says is that they fell down and died. Something very strange is going on here. Note as well the result of these actions: Great fear fell upon all. Fear? If this was God’s actions, how could fear be the result? One way to read the book of Acts is to see it has the two themes of “Filled with fear vs. filled with the Holy Spirit” or maybe we could say “Law vs. Love.” Acts shows a series of mistakes (based on the law resulting in fear) mixed with a series of miracles (based on the Holy Spirit resulting in love, joy, wonder, amazement, and awe). Luke tells us which it is by how he summarizes the response of the people. But in this case, great fear fell up on the people (Acts 5:5, 11) which hints that the Holy Spirit had nothing to do with these events. But there is more. If crime scene investigators looked into these deaths, Peter would be the prime suspect. Peter had a violent streak, and his violence was always “justified” by blaming it on God. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he tried to protect Jesus by attempting to behead Malchus, the servant of the High Priest. But Peter only got an ear, which Jesus then healed. Has Peter changed? Well, he is changing, but he has not yet fully changed. He is zealous for God and for the law. He still thinks some Jews and Gentiles are outside of God’s grace (cf. Acts 10 and Galatians 1). Then there are Peter’s words in Acts 5. Can a man lie to God? No. Despite what Peter says in Acts 5, the lie was directed at man (and specifically Peter); not at God. What am I saying? Though it cannot be proven, the evidence leads one to believe that Peter had more to do with the death of Ananias and Sapphira than did God. Luke might have hinted at the use of poison when he noted that both Ananias and Sapphira fell down and breathed their last. This is a very difficult text, so we must be careful to hold our conclusions lightly. One thing is for sure though … God did not kill Ananias and Sapphira, and He does not kill people today, no matter how greedy or deceptive they are. And no matter what, they did not commit the unforgivable sin, and we can be sure to see both of them in eternity with the rest of the saints. What is the Adoption as Sons in Ephesians 1:5-6? In previous studies we have learned that election is not to eternal life, but to service, and the predestination is similar; it also is not to eternal life but is God’s predetermined plan about what He will do for believers. The theme of adoption in Ephesians 1:5-6 wraps these twin ideas together. If you are part of my discipleship group, you have access to an entire lesson on adoption in the Gospel Dictionary Online Course. In Ephesians 1:5, Paul writes that God predestined us to be adopted as his sons. Now, most people think of adoption the way adoption occurs today. In the modern concept of adoption, only orphans are adopted. No one ever adopts their own children. But at the time of Paul, adoption was something altogether different. In the Roman world, fathers had what was known as patria potestas, or the father’s power. It meant that a father had absolute power over his children as long as he lived and as long as they lived. If he was in financial need, he could sell his children into slavery. If he was angered by his children, he could legally kill them, imprison them, or make them his slaves. The father maintained this right even when his son became old enough to have a family of his own, even if the son held political office, and even if he was honored by all men. There are instances in Roman history of all of these things happening. It was also Roman law that a child could never possess anything, no matter how old they became. If you were a father, and your son was the age of 30 years old, and became very rich, all that the son owned was considered to be the property of the father until the father died. It is also true that most fathers had many children by many different women. They were not polygamists; for the most part, they only had one wife. But many households also had slave women with whom the father often conceived children. These children were his children, they were not orphans, but—and this is the key—they were not heirs. So imagine the scene. A father could have multiple sons. He could have multiple sons by his wife, and he could have multiple sons by slave women. By default, the oldest son of the wife was considered the heir. But if the father didn’t like the oldest son, and he liked a younger son of his wife, or even a son of one of the slave women, the father could adopt one of his own sons as his heir, thereby disinheriting the eldest son. It was even a common practice for a father to adopt the son of some other family as his heir. This was a way to form alliance between rich and powerful families. One of the most famous examples of Roman adoption is when Julius Caesar named his grand-nephew, Octavian (who became Caesar Augustus), to be his heir. Some believe Julius Caesar already had a biological son with Cleopatra, named Caesarion, but who was never named as Caesar’s heir. But Caesar Augustus was not the only one who was adopted this way. Almost every Roman family used adoption as a way to create political ties with other rich and powerful Roman families. During the Roman Empire’s first 200 years, this adoption tradition became quite common, with Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, and Lucius Verus all becoming Emperor through adoption. So in biblical times, adoption had nothing to do with welcoming an orphan into your family and making them your son or daughter. Instead, it was a way to declare one of your sons as an heir, or even the son of someone else as your heir. It had nothing to do with becoming a son in the family, and everything to do with being named the heir of the family wealth, power, and position. The adopt a son was to legally give them the right to the family inheritance. The legal ceremony of adoption was quite impressive and it gave the adopted the child the title of “heir.” Paul, of course, was a Roman citizen, and the letters in which he mentions adoption were written to other Roman citizens, so it makes sense that Paul’s language about adoption matches the way it was practiced in Roman culture at that time. So when Paul says that God has predestined us to be adopted as sons, he is saying that God promises to make us His heirs. As long as the child remained unadopted, he was considered to be slave, even though he was a child born of the Father. Again, Paul talks about this exact idea over in Galatians 4:7: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” We are sons by birth when we placed faith in Jesus Christ, yet, though sons, it is as if we were still slaves. But because of our Father’s great love for us, He has decided that He will adopt us as heirs. We get into God’s family by regeneration—or the new birth, but we become heirs of God through adoption. And while we are adopted now, we don’t receive the full inheritance of our adoption until we enter into the eternal kingdom after death. That is what Paul says God is promising to us here. God has named us heirs. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Jesus Christ. This promise of predestination is not about God deciding who gets to heaven and who goes to hell; it is about God decided that rather than just one son getting all of His inheritance, all of His children get to share in the inheritance of His family. What a wonderful promise and blessing for His children! 3. Reasons for Predestination (Ephesians 1:5b-6) The rest of Ephesians 1:5 and on into Ephesians 1:6 tells us why God has decided to do this for us. We see it is because it pleases him. God does this out of His good pleasure. We see next he wants to adopts us because it is his will to do so. It is not our will. Romans 9:16 tells us that these things are not because of man’s will, man’s desire or man’s effort. It is all due to God’s will and God’s mercy. In Ephesians 1:6, we see that God does this because it will be to the praise of his glorious grace. Everything that God does, He does for His own glory and for His own praise. And here, it is all because of his grace. This grace is not earned, it is not merited, it is not worked for. This grace is freely given us in the One he loves. It is freely given. There are no strings attached to this gift. It is freely given. It is not something we worked for, or else it would be given to us as pay. If you remember back to Ephesians 1:3, Paul wrote that he was going to tell us about all the riches and blessings we have in Jesus Christ. This theme of blessings and riches dominates the first three chapters of Ephesians, but so far, in Ephesians 1:4-6, we have already seen several of these blessings. We have been chosen (elected) to be on God’s team for His plans and purposes in this world (Ephesians 1:4) We have been predestined so that no matter what, we will be glorified with God in eternity (Ephesians 1:5a) We have been adopted into God’s family so that we have all the rights and privileges of ruling with Him (Ephesians 1:5b) And in all three, He has poured out His love and grace upon us, both of which are infinite and free (Ephesians 1:4, 6). What blessing will Paul talk about next? We will see when we consider Ephesians 1:7 next time. Please share this post with others!
31 minutes | Apr 30, 2021
What is Predestination? (Ephesians 1:5a)
Have you ever struggled with the topic of predestination? This study of Ephesians 1:5 will define predestination and will help you find great encouragement in the truth of predestination. We will also look at the current event topic of racism in a Bible College, and answer a question from a reader about the Parable of the Ten Talents. Current Event: Theology Professor Asks God to Help her Hate White People Chanequa Walker-Barnes is a theology professor at Mercer University, and she recently published a book titled A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal. One chapter includes a prayer in which she says this: Dear God, Please help me to hate White people. I want to stop caring about them, individually and collectively. I want to stop caring about their misguided, racist souls, to stop believing that they can be better, that they can stop being racist. Later she writes: Grant me a Get Out of Judgement Free card if I make White people the exception to your commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And she is not alone. I see these sorts of statements and desires all over the internet from Liberals and Democrats who feel that white people and Trump voters are all racists who need to be wiped off the face of the earth. A Stanford university student recently called for the extermination of all white people. Now, thankfully, Dr. Walker-Barnes recognizes that what she is praying for is sinful and is a complete violation of the instructions of Jesus to love your enemies (see my sermon on Luke 6:27), and so she prays that God will not condemn her to hell for such a desire. And of course, God does forgive her. There’s no question about that. But what troubles me is that this sort of racist hate-speech is becoming more and more common from liberal leaders, and even from some pastors and Bible college professors. Worse yet, I have not heard a single liberal pastor or Christian denounce such hate speech. They either agree with such racist sentiments or explain them away as “understandable.” I was recently having a conversation with a friend of mine who is a pastor and democrat, and who is also a strong believer in non-violence. But he shocked me in our conversation by saying that he would like to punch Nazis in the face and beat them until they can’t get up. I asked him who the Nazis were, and he said, “Anyone who voted for Trump.” This is what many liberals believe, including may liberal Christians. This sort of thinking is not only destructive to our country and the world, but also to the cause of the gospel. Look, racism is evil. I condemn and denounce all racism, wherever it is found, and from whomever it comes, because God is against racism as well. Those Christians who condemn racism from white people, but excuse racism from others do not understand the gospel and do not understand why Jesus came to this earth. Jesus came to show us how to love, forgive, and accept all people … including our enemies … and if we do not follow Jesus in these ways, then we are not following Jesus at all. I am currently reading a fantastic book on these issues, and I highly encourage everyone to read it. It’s by Voddie Baucham, Jr. and is titled Fault Lines. I love this book so much, I will be talking about it next time in the “Current Events” portion of this podcast. Q&A: Is Jesus the Master in the Parable of Talents or not? A super alert reader recently sent me this question: Thank you so much for sharing your heart and truths you have studied-it has helped me on my journey! So the other day I was reading your post about the parable of the 10 Talents and how the master was NOT Jesus. Yet, today I was reading in Luke about Jesus’ triumphal” entry and read your post in which you state that Jesus IS the master going to the far off country. Which is it? Thanks for clearing this up for me in advance! GREAT question! (And very impressive that you found this!) The Triumphal Entry sermon was first taught nearly twenty years ago … and the explanation on the ten talents was within the last year, so the contradiction here just shows a progression in my thinking… I would argue now that in the Triumphal Entry, Jesus didn’t go to a far country, but just to Jerusalem. And there, we see how the kingdoms of this world treat people who do not play by their rules. So the Triumphal Entry does show an example of the parable of the ten talents, but it is an example of the third servant who is condemned by the earthly master… (I have updated the older sermon to match this… thanks for pointing it out!) What is Predestination? (Ephesians 1:5a) The first time I preached a sermon on Ephesians 1:5 was over 20 years ago. I was a young pastor in my first church. As I began to explain what I am going to share with you in this study, one of the elders in my church stood up and loudly said to his family, “Come on. We’re leaving!” He and his family filed out of their row, out the back of the church, and never returned. I later called him to find out why he left, and he accused me of being a heretic. The reason he thought I was a heretic was because he was a Calvinist and he disagreed with what I was saying about predestination. If you don’t know what Calvinism is, that’s okay. But if you do know, then you know that certain views of election and predestination are central to the doctrines of Calvinism. I used to be a 5-point Calvinist, but then I started really studying the issues from a biblical perspective, and ended up rejecting all five points of Calvinism. The sermon I preached on Ephesians 1:5 was near the beginning of that process. The elder in my church did not like what I said, and so he left the church and never came back. So now you get to hear what I taught, and I encourage you to study the Scripture for yourself to see what they have to say about predestination. Here is the part of Ephesians 1:5 we are looking at in this study: Epehsians 1:5a. In love He predestined us … Ephesians 1:4 was a key verse on election. Ephesians 1:5 is a key verse on predestination. They are similar ideas, but with one key difference. Election has to do with God’s people, predestination deals with God’s purposes. Election is the who; predestination is the what, and specifically, what God is going to do for believers in eternity. Now, a lot of people get pretty nervous about predestination. They are afraid about it, because they wonder if they are predestined or not. But this fear just shows that they have a misunderstanding about election, for we see right from the start of Ephesians 1:5 that although some people are scared of predestination, they should not be – for whatever predestination is, it begins with the love of God. And since predestination is founded upon the love of God, when it is properly understood, it will not lead anyone to fear. So what is predestination? Let us begin with defining it. To define it, you can take the word and cut it in two. Pre means “before” or “previously” and destined means “to decide.” So the word predestined means to previously decide, or to decide beforehand. From the Greek, it literally means “to mark out beforehand.” All of us predestine things every day. If we are thinking ahead, we are king of deciding beforehand what we will do in a certain situation. Have you ever thought about what you would do if you won a million dollars? If so, you have predestined the million dollars. Have you ever thought about what you might do when you retire? If so, you have predestined your retirement. As young parents begin to have children, they often predestine certain things about their child. If they learn the sex of the baby, they predestine the child’s name. They might also predestine the room the baby sleeps in, the clothes the baby wears, and what sort of schedule they will try to keep with the new baby. Of course, with humans, even though we decide things, that does not guarantee that it will happen, because we are not in control of everything. But God is all wise and all powerful. So when God predestines something, it is guaranteed to happen. So what is it that God has predestined? I have taught about predestination in numerous locations previously. Here is one example of how I answered a question from a reader about predestination. What Did God Predestine? I’ll be as blunt and straightforward as I know how: I do not believe that God predestines some people to go to heaven. I definitely do not believe in double predestination. If you don’t know what double predestination is, it is the view that God predestines some people to go to heaven and predestines others to go to hell. Although I used to believe this (that’s part of the “hyper” in hyper Calvinism), but no longer. I believe that predestination does not refer to God’s choice of which people get to go to heaven, but refers instead to God’s determination to bring into glory all those who receive eternal life by faith in Jesus. In other words, predestination teaches us about who gets glorified, not who gets justified. God’s predetermined (this is a synonym for predestination) plan was that He would bring into glory everyone who believed in Jesus for eternal life, that is, for justification. All who are justified will be glorified. As such, there is absolutely nothing in predestination about God’s choice of which people will get justified and which people will not. Predestination has nothing to do with that, and it is a categorical mistake to think it does. To put it another way, predestination is about the destiny of believers (all will be glorified), not about the destiny of unbelievers (some will get justified and some will get damned). Or to put it another way again, discussion about God’s predestination should not fall under the category of justification, but under the categories of sanctification and glorification. Predestination is a discipleship issue; not an evangelism issue. Romans 8:28-30 and Predestination Two of the key passages about predestination are Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:4-11. In both cases, Paul is pretty clear that predestination is about God bringing people to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), and that election and predestination are most properly understood in connection with being made holy and blameless before God (Ephesians 1:4-5). God does not choose some to be in Christ while passing over the rest. No, God chooses, elects, predestines, predetermines, decides, foreordains, commits Himself to make sure that every person who believes in Jesus for eternal life, will finally and ultimately be glorified into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. So predestination of the saints is about God’s commitment to the preservation of the saints. This is why no one can snatch us out of the Father’s hand (John 10:29), why nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39), and why God has given us the Holy Spirit as a promise and guarantee of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). Predestination is a controversial topic, but it need not be. The Bible teaches that predestination is about our glorification and sanctification; not about justification. Therefore, if we fight about predestination, we are not living according to what we were predestined for, namely, to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Predestination and Romans 8:28-30 I taught about this previously in a study on Romans 8:28-30 and the Golden Chain of Salvation, which you can go read for yourself. But here are a few key points from what I wrote there: In Romans 8:28-30, Paul is emphasizing God’s role while ignoring man’s role, but this does not mean that mankind has no role. Note that key elements of the process of redemption are left out, such as faith and sanctification. Why? Because these are partly the responsibility of humans. Paul does not mention these other elements of redemption, because he is focusing solely on God’s role in redemption. These verses in Romans 8:28-30 are sort of like the passage in Genesis 15 where God performs a “cutting of the covenant” ceremony with Abraham, but God walks through the severed animals all by Himself. Usually, both parties of the covenant walked through the blood of the divided animals together, essentially saying, “If I break the terms of this covenant, may I become like one of these animals.” But in Genesis 15, God puts Abraham to sleep and walks through the animals alone. He is saying that the terms of the covenant are unconditional. That Abraham and his descendants don’t have to do anything for God to fulfil the terms of the covenant. This is exactly what Romans 8:28-20 is saying as well. All the terms mentioned in these verses are aspects of redemption that God takes care of all by Himself. They require no human involvement. In the overall scheme of redemption, God alone is the one who foreknows what He will do, takes steps to make sure it happens, calls believers to a greater purpose in service to Him, justifies those who believe, and glorifies for eternity all whom He justified. In Romans 8:28-30, Paul is not talking about an eternal decree from eternity past about to whom He would give eternal life, but rather, God’s plan from eternity past to bring those who believe in Jesus into conformity to the image of Jesus Christ, which does not fully occur until glorification (cf. Eph 1:4; 4:1; 5:27; Col 1:22-23). In Romans 8:28-30, Paul is saying nothing about God’s predestination of some to eternal life. Instead, Paul is saying that God decided in eternity past to make sure that everyone and anyone who joins His family by faith will finally and ultimately be brought into conformity to Jesus Christ at their glorification. Foreknowledge is not God’s plan from all eternity about whom to give eternal life. It is simply God’s plan about what to do with those who believed. In the Context of Romans 8:28-30, Paul is writing to Christians who are facing severe testing and trials as a result of their faith in Jesus (cf. Romans 8:17-18). But Paul wants to encourage his readers by telling them that the suffering they face will result in glory, and that absolutely nothing can separate them from God’s love or God’s purpose in their lives (Romans 8:31-39). Many of the people to whom he is writing (just like many people today), were struggling with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, failure, fear, and doubt. Paul wanted them to know that God knew all about these things from eternity past, and it didn’t stop Him from initiating His plan to rescue and redeem the world, and since God predestined such a plan, He will take care of everything necessary to bring it to completion, which will result in our glorification (cf. Romans 8:31-39). Paul’s point in writing Romans 8:28-30 is to encourage Christians that no matter what happens to them, God is with them, will not abandon them, and just as He has had them in mind since before the foundation of the world, He will not abandon them to the trials and testing they are facing. If God is the only one who could bring a charge against them, but He will not do so, and instead, delivered His own Son up for us all (Romans 8:31-34), then we can be sure that absolutely nothing will separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39). If God is for us, who can condemn us? Jesus could. But rather than condemn us, Jesus intercedes for us! This is the beautiful truth of predestination. It is a promise of safety and security in the arms of God. It is a promise of eternal security. It is a promise of final and ultimate glorification with God and the saints in eternity. Predestination is the promise of God to His children that He will bring them through to the end. He promises to make us holy, and He promises to make us heirs. And that which God promises, He is able to keep. We are eternally secure in the hands of God because of his election and predestination. So what is predestination? It is not God’s choice in eternity past about who would receive eternal life and who would not. Rather, it is God’s plan from eternity past to make sure that everyone who believed in Jesus for eternal life, would keep that eternal life forever and would finally and ultimately be glorified with Him in eternity. Predestination is God’s promise to you that no matter what you have gone through, no matter what you are going through, no matter what you have done or will do, God will always love you, accept you, forgive you, and is always at work to bring you into eternity to be with Him forever. That’s an encouraging truth, right? And we will see more of this encouraging truth when we look at the rest of Ephesians 1:5 next time, as well as Ephesians 1:6. That study will focus on the word adoption in Ephesians 1:5 as further proof that predestination is not to eternal life, but rather concerns God’s promise that those who are justified will be glorified in Jesus Christ. Please share this post with others!
38 minutes | Apr 16, 2021
Why are some people Elect (Ephesians 1:4)?
What is election? Who are the elect? Why are they elect? How can you know if you are one of the elect? These are some of the questions we answer in this podcast study of Ephesians 1:4. We will also look at the Democrat effort to pack the Supreme Court and answer a letter from a listener about televangelists who don’t believe in eternal security. Democrats Want to Pack the Supreme Court The podcast begins with a brief discussion about the Democrat efforts to pack the Supreme Court. Listen to the podcast to hear my thoughts on the subject. Letter from a Listener Hello again Jeremy… I’m about to begin to read one of your books plus I’m still thinking about joining your discipleship group … I have some questions that I want to run by you… There are a lot of tv evangelists and prophecy teachers that do not believe in the security of the believer… They have all kinds of education yet they distort the message of life… Why is that Jeremy?? Brad Brad also had a question about an author named Dr. Thomas Horn. I have never heard of him or any of his book, so I can’t say anything about him. Listen to the podcast to hear my answer to Brad’s question. Why are some people elect (Ephesians 1:4). Ephesians 1:4 provides us with the the who, what, and why of election. This podcast is a summary of what I wrote elsewhere on my website about Ephesians 1:3-4, and I have also written a book on election titled The Re-Justification of God, and have a entire lesson in my Online Discipleship group about election. Also, here is an article I wrote titled “Election is to Service.” But let us see what we can learn from Ephesians 1:4. Ephesians 1:4. just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. The term election in not even in this verse. In fact, the word election is not found in the entire letter of Ephesians. But since “to elect” simply means “to choose,” I believe we can take this passage as a key text on election and predestination, because the term “he chose us” is found in this verse. Since being chosen is in view, there are three questions we can ask which will help us understand the text – and all texts similar to it. First, who is chosen, and second when are they chosen, and third, why are they chosen? Let’s answer them one by one. 1. Who is chosen? (And what is election?) The text says he chose us in Him. The phrase “in Him” tells us that this blessing of being chosen is something that we have in Christ. Jesus Christ is the first chosen person. Christ is the choice servant of God (cf. Luke 9:35; 23:35; 1 Peter 2:4, 6). The traditional view of election is that election was a choice God made in eternity past about which unregenerate sinners He would regenerate to spend eternity with Himself. But right away, we see problems with this from Ephesians 1:4, because Paul writes that God chose Jesus. Yet was Jesus an unregenerate sinner? No, of course not. But if election is God’s choice of which sinners He spend eternity with Him, then how can Jesus be an elect person? In response to this, people say “Well, Jesus was a special case. Jesus is elect, but He was not a sinner. He was chosen by God to perform a special task or purpose.” Okay. So in the case of Jesus, the definition of election changes? Maybe it would be better to use the same definition of election across the board for everybody, so that if, for Jesus, election means “choose Him to perform a certain task or function,” then election for other people could also mean “choosing people to perform a certain task or function.” Do you see the logic here? If we are going to say Jesus was elect, and that this means that He was chosen by God to perform a certain task, then the same meaning of election should apply to others also. And indeed, this is exactly what Scripture reveals when we study all the other passages on election in Scripture. Election has nothing whatsoever to do with God choosing which people get to be regenerated and receive eternal life so that they can spend eternity with Him. Instead, election occurs when God chooses certain people to perform certain tasks in world history. Election is not God’s choice of who gets eternal life; election is God’s choice of who will serve His purposes and how they will do it. Election is not to eternal life; election is to service. Note that if it was true that election refers to God’s choice to give eternal life to just certain people out of all the mass of unregenerate sinners, then Ephesians 1:4 would read “He chose us to be in Him.” But that is not what the verse says. It says, “He chose us in Him” not “He chose us to be in Him.” This is one of the points I argue in my book The Re-Justification of God, and there is another great book on the topic from Shawn Lazar titled Chosen to Serve. I also have a previous podcast episode on this topic also. The episode is titled “Election is to Service.” With this definition in mind, it helps us understand what Paul means in Ephesians 1:4 when it says that God chose us in Jesus Christ. Who is the “us” that Paul is referring to? From Ephesians 1:1-2, it refers to Paul and the believers to whom he was writing. In verse 3 the word “us” refers to those who are blessed in the heavenly realms. In verses 6, 7 and 8, “us” refers to those who have received the riches of God’s grace. So whom does the “us” refer to? In the context here, it refers to those who are already Christians. So here we see exactly the same thing we saw with Christ. Christ is the eternally begotten Son of God, and God chose Him for a special task. But in choosing Christ, God also chose those who are in Christ—in other words, Christians. This verse does not teach that God chose unregenerate people to become Christians. This verse teaches that God chose Christians. And just as God chose Jesus to perform a certain task, God also chose Christians to perform a certain task. Jesus ultimately is the chosen one, and by nature of being in Christ, we were chosen because He is chosen. God’s choice has nothing do with who will go to heaven and who will be sent to hell, of who has eternal life and who does not. His choice in Ephesians 1:4 and He chooses them to perform tasks while we are here on earth. God chooses Christian men and women to perform a task. A study of God’s choosing and election throughout Scripture will reveal the same truth. God does choose. He does elect. But never to eternal life or eternal death; He chooses groups or individuals for certain tasks. Now, it needs to be said that even though the in the context here, only Christians are in view, this does not mean that God cannot choose unbelievers to fulfil certain tasks. In fact, other passages show that God can and does sometimes choose unbelievers to perform certain tasks. This means that even unbelievers can be elect. Indeed, Scripture reveals that people like Pharaoh, King Cyrus, and Judas, were all chosen, or elect, even if they never received eternal life. They were chosen by God to fulfil a certain task or function in God’s plan for human history. So once again, we see that the definition of election holds true when we think of it as being chosen to serve. Paul goes on in verse 4 to state when Jesus Christ was chosen. This is the next question we want to ask the text to help us understand what election is. 2. When Did the Choice Occur? The next phrase in Ephesians 1:4 is before the foundation of the world. Since the primary chosen one is Christ, the primary focus of this phrase is also Christ. It is Christ who was chosen before the foundation of the world. This means that before the world was ever created, Jesus Christ was chosen, and by inference, all who would eventually be placed “in Christ” by faith in Him were therefore also chosen. So this choice took place in eternity past, before the foundation of the world. This then leads to the third question about election, which is the most important of all. 3. Why Were They Chosen? This is the missing piece of the puzzle that fits everything together. If you’ve ever been confused about election – here is the key. The question we are asking now is: “Why did God choose all those who have placed faith in Christ?” He chose them, according to the end of Ephesians 1:4, so that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. This is a task believers are to strive for and a future that God guarantees. Notice that there is nothing in this verse about God choosing some to receive eternal life, while leaving all others to be damned—as some teach. Neither is there anything about God looking ahead in time to see who would believe in Him for eternal life and then choosing them—as others teach. Instead, Paul writes that those who are chosen are those who are in Christ. In other words, believers are not chosen to receive eternal life—they are chosen to fulfill a task or purpose. As Paul describes it here, they are chosen to be holy and blameless! Here again we see the truth of election. Election is never to eternal life. God chooses certain individuals for a task, not for eternal life. The people of Israel are the perfect example. God chose Abraham, and in choosing Abraham, God also chose all the people who could come from Abraham, namely, all the people of Israel. So let me ask you, were all Israelites the chosen people of God? Yes, they were. But did all Israelites have eternal life? No, they did not. So you see that even with the people of Israel, election does not mean that God decides to give eternal life to some people. All Israel was elect, but not all Israelites had eternal life. What this means is that election has nothing to do with who has eternal life and who does not, and everything to do with God’s choice of certain people and nations to perform certain tasks and purposes in He plan for the world. Judas is another example. Did you know that Judas was chosen (John 6:70)? But most believe that Judas did not have eternal life. Therefore, how can we say that Judas is chosen? We must say that he was chosen, not to eternal life, but to fulfil a certain purpose or task. And that makes perfect sense with what we see Judas do in the Gospels. Both Abraham’s election and Christ’s election and all those who were in Abraham and all those who are in Christ are chosen, not to salvation, but to a task. So when it comes to election, you should not be asking yourself whether or not you are elect. Instead, if you are a believer, you should be asking yourself why you are elect. Because you ARE elect. God has chosen you to complete a certain task and job in this world. You are part of God’s team on planet earth, and He has a role for you to play on the team. Do you remember in grade school at recess or gym class standing in a line while two team captains picked who they wanted to be on their team? You never wanted to be chosen last. You wanted to be chosen first, right? Well, here in Ephesians 1:4, we see that God has chosen you first. You are on His team. And in those grade school settings, why were certain kids chosen first? Because they were among the best. They were chosen because they were fastest, tallest, strongest, the most athletic, or whatever. The same is true with God choosing you. You are chosen because God things you are the best at doing something. God has something for you to do with His team that only you can do. That’s why He chose you. Because He wants His team to win, and He needs you to help out. So if you have been chosen by God to be on His team, this means that you need to find out why God has chosen you to be on His team. You need to find out what role He wants you to play. What task He wants you to complete. What function He wants you to fulfil. And how can you do that? Well, that is what the rest of Ephesians is all about. The first three chapters of Ephesians are all about the blessings and privileges we have as members of Team God and then the last three chapters of Ephesians are all about what God wants you to do with those blessings and privileges. How you are supposed to contribute to the team effort of winning the battle on this earth. We will continue to learn more about this next time when we look at Ephesians 1:5. Please share this post with others!
36 minutes | Apr 8, 2021
You are in Heavenly Places RIGHT NOW (Ephesians 1:3)
Does God forgive suicide? Spoiler alert: YES! And what is Paul referring to in Ephesians 1:3 when he writes about heavenly places? Is that heaven or something else? These are a few of the questions that get addressed in this episode of the Redeeming God Podcast. Will God Forgive Suicide? I received a tragic email from a reader recently. Here is what she wrote: My brother recently took his own life due to depression. The last sentence of his letter that he left behind, he stated that he hopes to see us in God’s kingdom if it is in God’s will. As I’m reflecting back, my brother believes in God and believes in Heaven. He knows that what he is doing isn’t the right way to escape his emotions, but he’s going to do it anyways. While at the same time, he’s hoping that God will have mercy on his soul. I’m writing to seek answers to help bring closure. I’ve listened to your podcast on Hades in YouTube. My first question is, will my brother’s soul exist in a conscience state in Hades? When I die, will my brother and I still exist in a conscience state of mind where I can ask him why he did what he did? I know that the Bible teaches that our bodies will be resurrected, but before then, will I see my brother? Lastly, those who commit suicide, do they get to go to heaven? I have addressed similar questions about suicide and the unforgivable sin elsewhere, but here is what I wrote in reply to this woman: I am so sorry this happened. What a terrible tragedy. Depression is such a terrible thing, and it takes so many lives. I am so sorry for your loss. There is no reason to assume that your brother will not spend eternity with God. If he said that he hopes God has mercy on his soul, this seems to me to be an indication that he looked to God as the only source of hope and eternal life for himself. If that is what he did at any time during his life, even if it was in his last seconds, then he is already with God in eternity. And yes, suicide is completely forgivable. God always forgives us for all our sins. I have done a lot of study and teaching on forgiveness in Scripture, and the forgiveness of God is complete and universal. So do not worry that your brother’s suicide kept him out of heaven. It didn’t. I believe that you will see your brother again. I hope you find comfort and hope in your time of loss. What does the phrase “In Heavenly Places” mean? (Ephesians 1:3) Ephesians 1:3. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, The following teachings are drawn from my study on Ephesians 1:3-4 and my Gospel Dictionary entry on Heaven. Ephesians 1:3 is a summary of chapters 1, 2 and 3. It is kind of the thesis sentence. Paul begins with praise to God for these spiritual blessings. And Paul tells us where these blessings are from, heavenly places, and that all such blessings belong to us in Christ. Every Spiritual Blessings The first thing to note is that God has given us every spiritual blessing. God has not given you some spiritual blessings, but every spiritual blessing. There is not a blessing which God could give you that He has not given you. If there is a spiritual blessing God can give you, He has already given it to you. A couple things should be said about this. First, these are spiritual blessings. Paul is not saying here that we have in our possession every possible blessing, but that we have every spiritual blessing. I think that all of us can think of some physical blessings that we do not have. Better health. A better marriage. Or maybe a relationship. More money. A job. Such things are blessings as well, but they might not be ours. This is one of the great misunderstandings in the health-and-wealth-prosperity-gospel-name-it-and-claim-it teachings that you hear in some churches. They use texts like Ephesians 1:3 to say that God has given you every possible blessing, including all physical blessings, and that if you just have enough faith, if you just claim what is already yours in Jesus Christ, then you will get it. Even if it’s a nice car, or a perfect health, or a great marriage. But that is not what Ephesians 1:3 teaches. These are spiritual blessings. These include things like grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness from God. They include election, calling, and purpose for this life. They include hope, joy, peace about the future. One great spiritual blessing, of course, is eternal life. All such things have already been given to you. They are yours. So in the case of spiritual blessings, you don’t need to pray or ask for God to give them to you. You just need to recognize that you already have them, and then live in light of the fact that you have these spiritual blessings. When you sin, you don’t need to ask God for forgiveness, because He has already forgiven you for all your sins, past, present, and future. Instead, you can simply thank Him for the forgiveness have been given. When you struggle with a joyful outlook on life, you don’t need to ask God to give you hope and joy. Instead, you can ask God to give you a proper perspective on life so that you can see the truth about what is going on in this world and in your life, and thus, experience the hope and joy God has already given to you. When it comes to what you are supposed to be doing in this world, what your purpose is, you don’t need to ask God to give you a purpose. Instead, you can thank God for the goals, purpose, and tasks He has already assigned to you, and then ask Him for wisdom and insight to help understand what these tasks and purposes are. It might help to know the spiritual gifts you have already been given as well. I have an online course to help you know your spiritual gifts. Do you see? So in your life, when it comes to spiritual blessings, you don’t need to feel left out, forgotten, or neglected by God. He has already given you everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). You just need to recognize what these blessings are, and then learn how to benefit from them and use them in your life. Ephesians 1-3 will be explaining a lot more about how to do this. In Christ Notice at the end of Ephesians 1:3, it says that these spiritual blessings are “in Christ.” We are blessed because we are in Christ. Only believers are “in Christ.” If you have believed in Jesus for eternal life, then you are in Christ. This means that only believers have every spiritual blessing. Unbelievers don’t have every spiritual blessing because they are in Christ. It is important to recognize that our spiritual blessings are not in ourselves. They are not from ourselves. When life gets us down and we become discouraged, this is often because we are looking to ourselves for joy, hope, and fulfillment. But we will always let ourselves down. Jesus, however, will never disappoint us, and when we keep our eyes on Him, when we follow Him, when we look only to Him for joy and satisfaction, it is then that we are able to see and utilize the spiritual blessings that God has given to us in Jesus Christ. This is also important to remember because we sometimes make the mistake of comparing our spiritual blessings with worldly physical blessings. We see people who are not in Christ, and yet they have riches and fame, and we sometimes get jealous of that. We want a life of luxury and ease as well. But from an eternal perspective, the blessings we have in Christ far exceed and are of much greater value than any amount of physical blessings that this world can offer. So keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. In Heavenly Places The final thing I want to point out from Ephesians 1:3 is this concept of our spiritual blessings being in heavenly places. This is a recurring theme in Ephesians. Along with being here in Ephesians 1:3, it is also found in Ephesians 2:6 and Ephesians 6:12. Many assume that the phrase “in the heavenly places” refers to “being in heaven with God.” That is, not being on earth, but in some other place. And this does indeed seem to fit with how the term is used in Ephesians 1:3 and Ephesians 2:6. Our spiritual blessings are in heavenly places with Christ, who is in heaven, and we are seated with Christ, who is at the right hand of God in heaven (Acts 7:55-56). But does this mean we have to wait until heaven to gain these spiritual blessings? In other words, if God has given us every spiritual blessing, but we have to wait until heaven to receive, enjoy, or experience these blessings, then what good are they now? Well, Ephesians 6:12 helps us understand what Paul means when he refers to heavenly places. In Ephesians 6:12, the phrase “in heavenly places” is used in reference to spiritual hosts of wickedness that are here on this earth now, and how we are to struggle against them here and now during our earthly lives. Therefore, the phrase “in the heavenlies” does not refer to an otherworldly place in which God dwells, and where evil forces battle against God. Rather, the phrase refers to a spiritual reality that is present here and now on this earth. The phrase does not refer to some future existence after we die, or even to what occurs in some heavenly location far away from earth. The phrase has in mind the words of Jesus from Matthew 6:10, where He prayed that God’s will would be done on earth, as it is done in heaven. So the phrase “in the heavenlies” means “in the spiritual realm here on earth, during our lives now.” When this usage is understood from Ephesians 6:12, the other references to “in the heavenlies” make sense in similar ways. Our task as followers of Jesus is to help make heaven an earthly reality. We do this by recognizing that we have already been given innumerable spiritual blessings and riches in Jesus Christ (Eph 1:3-14), and that since we are seated with Christ (Eph 2:6), we have the authority on this earth to carry out God’s will. So while the phrase “in the heavenlies” does refer to a spiritual reality, it refers to the spiritual reality as it is carried out in the physical realm, here on this earth, during our lives now. Far too often, Christians focus so much on eternity and the afterlife, that they neglect the work that God has called us to do here and now in our lives. As someone once said, “Some Christians are so heavenly minded, they are no earthly good.” When this happens, we allow the spiritual hosts of wickedness to have their way on their earth. As Christians, we are seated with Christ in heavenly places so that we can rule and reign with Christ here on earth, not only in the future, but also (primarily!) during our lives now. The battle is a spiritual battle, but it has far-reaching ramifications and consequences in the physical world. One of the primary ways we do battle in the spiritual world by seeking to help people in the physical world. These spiritual hosts of wickedness are seeking to destroy people’s lives, inhibit the truth of the gospel from spreading upon the earth, and hinder the effectiveness of the church. We struggle against these forces with all our might so that lives can be saved, the gospel can spread, and the church can serve others in this world. The struggle is spiritual in nature, but physical in how it manifests in this world. All of this then means that the spiritual blessings which God has given to us in Jesus Christ are not for some future experience after we die and are resurrected to spend eternity with God and the saints. No, the spiritual blessings God has given to us in Jesus Christ are for this life here and now. You can draw on these blessings and experience these heavenly, spiritual blessings right now. If this excites you, and you want to know how to start experiencing some of these spiritual blessings right now, well, Paul begins to write about this exact thing in Ephesians 1:4, which we will look at in our next study. Please share this post with others!
40 minutes | Mar 25, 2021
The Two Greatest Blessings (Ephesians 1:2)
In this podcast episode about Ephesians 1:2, we discuss the gun violence and the shooting in Boulder, CO this week, answer a question from a reader about the warning passages of Hebrews, and take a detailed look at Ephesians 1:2, in which we discover two of the greatest blessings we have from God. Take a listen! Gun Violence in the USA A short plea for clear thinking and fact-based conversations about gun violence in the United States. Don’t listen to the lies from the news about this. They have an agenda and will not give you the facts. Question from a Reader about the Warning Passages of Hebrews When I was 7 I “accepted Jesus”. I grew up in a pastor’s home but was never discipled. When I hit my college years, I became involved in sexual sin and alcohol. Unfortunately I was unfaithful to my wife and had bad language. I taught Sunday School and was a deacon. 9 years ago I had a severe breakdown. Then I read that people who only profess Christ and then fall away, according to Hebrews, were never really saved and now cannot be. I believed everything I taught, I loved the church and everything involved. It wasn’t until after the breakdown that I found the Hebrews passages and the teaching on the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. I was mortified. I tried to repent but felt no relief. I believe I am forever lost because, according to Hebrews I spurned God’s grace and trampled. This crushed my heart because, even in sin, I was sharing the Gospel with relatives. I have never wanted others to go to hell, I have kids and grandkids. I want them to know Christ. I am 69 and terrified that I am now forever lost. Here are few links from my website for further reading: Hebrews 6:1-8 and the Warning About Falling Away Do the warning passages of Hebrews 6:7-8 and Hebrews 10:27 refer to Christians going to hell? Hodges on Hebrews (Part 6) Grace and Peace from God our Father (Ephesians 1:2) Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:2) This podcast episode is drawn from my notes on Ephesians 1:1-2 here. The text contains two blessings and two sources for these blessings. A. Two Blessings in Ephesians 1:2 First, he gives two blessings for believers. Grace and peace. This is the typical way that Paul starts almost all of his letters, but should not be ignored. Paul understood grace (Acts 9:1-18; 1 Tim 1:15-16). Paul, the chief of sinners, was chosen by God to share God’s grace to the Gentiles. Paul was the apostle of grace. He was the most qualified person to speak on grace. So what is grace? What made Paul so excited to share about grace? Grace is God’s unmerited favor. It is the blessings of God poured out upon those who do not deserve it. To better help you remember what grace means, you can use the acrostic: G-R-A-C-E – God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace does not cost us anything. Grace is another favorite theme of Paul’s, and so he starts with grace. Grace is the beginning and end of our life with Jesus Christ. Without grace we have nothing, and it is only by grace that we continue to live and walk with Jesus. This means that if you don’t understand grace, or have a weak view of grace (as most Christians do), you will never truly advance in your life as a disciple of Jesus. A proper understanding of grace is step one in the life of a disciple. In my Gospel Dictionary entry on Grace, I taught this: Grace is the key to every aspect of the gospel. Not the week-kneed, limp, powerless, feeble grace that you find in most Christian theology today, but the shocking, outrageous, scandalous, indiscriminate, senseless, irrational, unfair, irreligious, ridiculous, absurd, offensive, infinite grace which Jesus exhibited during His life and which is found everywhere in God’s activity toward humans. Biblical grace is so shocking, the only people who ever object to it are religious people who think that their behavior merits them some sort of special privilege or position with God. Such people are offended that the so-called “sinners” are put on equal footing. But this is exactly what God’s grace does, which is why the good news of grace is central to the gospel. By grace, God loves all, forgives all, and accepts all, with no strings attached, no fine print, no qualifications, no limits, and no ongoing requirements. There is no amount of sin that can restrict the flow or find the limit of God’s grace. The grace of God is so outlandish and foreign to every human way of thinking and living, it is absolutely impossible for any human being to place too much emphasis on grace. If I was required to preach and teach about only once concept for the rest of my life, I would choose the topic of grace. Of all the words in this Gospel Dictionary, grace is the most important, for without grace, there is no gospel. And while the same thing could be said about Jesus, grace existed before Jesus ever lived and died. Jesus came to reveal God’s grace to us, which means that when it comes to the gospel, grace preceded, spans, and follows the life of Jesus. The message of grace is the overarching theme of the gospel. It underscores every truth and ties every element together. As I look at Christianity and see some of the problems that many people have with understanding Scripture, understanding God, understanding current events, or even in understanding and interacting with other humans beings, the one consistent truth I have found is that where there are the greatest problems with such things in Christianity, there is also the greatest failure to understand grace. Once you understand grace, everything else falls into place. That’s why it’s the first blessing Paul mentions, and why he always focuses so much on grace in his letters. Grace will be discussed in greater detail as we work our way through Ephesians. The second blessing is peace. It is only because of God’s grace that we can have peace. Peace with God and peace with ourselves, and peace with others. Grace is the fountain from which the river of peace flows. In a world like ours, peace is a wonderful blessing for the saint of God. Now peace is the great longing of this world. Everybody longs for peace, but nobody seems to know how to achieve peace. Most countries of the world think that peace comes through war. Isn’t that odd? It’s called the myth of redemptive violence. We think that if we can just kill enough of the bad people, then the good people will be able to live in peace with each other. So governments spend exorbitant amounts of time and money killing others in the name of peace. Of course, our enemies do the same toward us, and so the cycle of violence never ends. But Jesus showed us a different way to achieve peace. And His way actually works. Paul will explain more of this as well in this letter to the Ephesians, especially in Ephesians 2. Just recognize for now that peace is also a rich blessing from God, and it is available to you and to the world through Jesus Christ. This brings us to the two sources for these blessings. Grace and peace come to us from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that these two sources of Christian blessing are also the two sources for Paul’s authority: he is an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God, and our blessing comes from God and Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:1). Let’s talk about God the Father first. We take it for granted that we can talk to God as our Father. We take it for granted that we can pray directly to God without the help of a sacrifice of or a human, priestly mediator. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He invited them to pray to God as Father, and at that time, this was a shocking and revolutionary idea. Most people believed that in order to talk to God, you had to go to the temple, offer a sacrifice, and then communicate to God through a priest. But Jesus showed us that we can pray directly to God, and we can talk to Him as our Father. Paul is hinting at the same thing here. God is our Father, and as our Father, He loves us and cares for us, and only gives good gifts to us. This tell us, by the way, that if something bad happens in your life, it did not come from God. God only gives good gifts to His children. Bad things happen to us because we live in a sinful world. God our Father helps us get through these difficult and painful experiences, but He does not send these experiences upon us to punish us or hurt us. Get that idea out of your mind. Here God our Father has given us grace and peace. There are many other blessings God has given to us, and some of these will be explained in more detail in the rest of Ephesians. The second source of blessings, then, is our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes people are confused when our Savior is addressed this way. Why are three names used? What do they mean? Briefly, the term Lord is a title—like King or President. The term Jesus is His actual name, and the term Christ is why He came—it reveals His mission to be the Messiah—the Savior of the world. Technically, Christ (or Messiah) is also a title, but it is used in a way to describe the mission of Jesus. I do have a lesson on the word “Christ” in my Gospel Dictionary as well. While all of God’s blessings come from Him, they come through Jesus Christ. We are blessed with every spiritual blessings because Jesus brought them to us from God. Again, all of this will be explained in more detail through the rest of Ephesians, so we will leave further discussion for other texts. We pick up next time with Ephesians 1:3 where Paul begins to explain further blessings and riches that are ours in Jesus Christ. Please share this post with others!
46 minutes | Mar 18, 2021
Who is a saint? YOU are! (Ephesians 1:1)
I am returning to verse-by-verse studies through books of the Bible. We begin in this podcast episode with Ephesians 1:1. The episode also contains a brief discussion of the humanitarian crisis at our southern border, and also a question from a reader about how to understand the violence of God in various biblical passages. Listen to the podcast for these two sections. Here are some brief notes on what I explain from Ephesians 1:1 The text says this: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 1:1) The author of the letter, of course, is Paul. First, he is an apostle of Christ Jesus. An apostle is one who is sent by God with a message to those who have not yet heard the good news. It should be noted that there are no more apostles today. We have all probably heard of apostolic churches, and men or women claiming to be apostles of Christ. The Catholic Church claims that the authority of the Pope is based on apostolic succession. But all of these teaching are wrong. Let me show you why. One of the requirements to be an apostle is to have personally seen and heard Christ (1 John 1:1-3), and to have witnessed His resurrection (Matt 28; Luke 24; Acts 1:22; 10:41; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:4) and ascension (Acts 1:9-13). An apostle was one who was hand-picked by Jesus for this office. Paul was an apostle, but as one abnormally born (1 Cor 15:8-9). He was the last apostle chosen by Jesus for this office. Since all of these events are not repeatable—someone alive today was not present when Jesus was alive, or saw Jesus after He rose from the dead, or watched Him rise into heaven—then there are no apostles today. They are irreplaceable by any subsequent generation. Scripture bears this out as well. There are almost eighty references to apostles in Scripture, and nearly all of them refer to either the Twelve Apostles, or to Paul. All of the other leaders in Scripture are known as ministers and fellow laborers, but not apostles. We’re going to see later in the book that there might still be the spiritual gift of apostleship, but this gift is not to be confused with the office of apostle. Those with the gift of apostleship today we most often know as missionaries to unreached people groups. To clear up confusion, we don’t call them apostles. Instead, we call them missionaries. But more on that later. So Paul’s first source of authority is that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ. He was set apart, chosen by God, to be sent with the message of the gospel to the Gentiles. This is what God called him to do. Secondly, he was an apostle by the will of God. This is not something he took upon himself. This is not something Paul earned. It is something God called him to be and do. Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus. And here we have two characteristics for the believers in Ephesus. He first calls them saints. The word “saints” in the Greek is hagios. It literally means “holy ones.” Saints, or holy ones, are those who are set apart for God’s use. When we think of saints, we often picture statues in cathedrals, stained glass, miraculous appearances, and mystical encounters. We get most of these ideas from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has a practice of “sainting” dead people who obtained a certain level of holiness during their life and who have at least two verifiable miracles to their credit. So in the Catholic Church, very few become saints. A while back as they were considering sainting Mother Theresa, I read this about her: All of India, and much of the Catholic world, has been buzzing about the presentation to the Vatican this week of the case of an Indian woman said to be the recipient of Mother Theresa’s first miracle—a significant step toward Theresa’s canonization. Monica Besra, a mother of five, tells TIME that on September 5, 1998—a year to the day after Theresa died—she was writhing in pain from an abdominal tumor at a home, run by the Missionaries of Charity. ‘There was no way any doctor would have operated on me at that hour,’ she says. ‘So the nuns just started praying and kept a Mother Theresa medallion on my stomach. The pain subsided, and the tumor vanished.’ Episcopal Bishop Salvatore Lobo, head of the team that will deliver 35,000 pages of Theresa’s good deeds to the Vatican, says, ‘This miracle meets the requirements. It is organic, permanent, immediate and intercessory in nature.’ A second miracle is still required for sainthood. Is this the way it works? To become a saint, do you not only have to have an impressive list of good deeds—35,000 pages worth in this case—but also at least two miracles to your name? No, Scripture everywhere tells us differently. And right here in verse one is one of these places. These saints in Ephesus were alive, not dead, and it is clear that they had never performed any miracles. Paul shows us here and elsewhere (Col 1:2; Php 4:21; 1 Cor 1:2) that all believers are saints. He is not writing to a few of the spiritual elite within the congregation. To Paul, a saint was anyone who had believed in Jesus. So he is writing to all Christians—and here he calls them saints. In fact, this will be a favorite theme of his in Ephesians. He refers to “saints” nine times in this letter (NASB: 1:1, 15, 18; 2:19; 3:8, 18; 4:12; 5:3; 6:18). All Christians are saints—even if we don’t act like saints, even if we don’t perform miracles. So when Paul shows that he writing to the saints in Ephesus, he is right away showing them one of the blessings they have in Jesus. Paul is writing to the saints of God in Ephesus. And I, in turn, am sharing this letter with all the saints that are here today. If you have believed in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life, you are saints! How do you think of yourself? We should see ourselves as sinners and in need of constant grace and mercy of God, but over and above this, we need to see ourselves as saints. When we all begin to see that in Jesus Christ, we are saints, I believe we will begin to act like it. Paul was an apostle, set apart, chosen by God for a task. Saints are also set apart, chosen by God for a task. What task? As we study through Ephesians, we will find out. So Paul is first of all writing to the saints in Ephesus. But also, Paul is writing to the faithful in Christ Jesus. This is the second characteristic of the believers in Ephesus. The church in Ephesus, as we have seen, was one of the strongest and most mature churches that existed at that time. So Paul is praising them here for that. He is saying, not only are you saints because you have believed in Jesus Christ, but even better, you are faithful saints. You have placed faith in Jesus, and you are standing firm in the faith. So, let me ask a question. Does this mean that there can be unfaithful saints? Can there be saints who do not act like saints? Can there be “sinning saints”? Saints who fail to live in obedience to God—but who are nevertheless still saints? Of course! The church is full of them, and so is Scripture. To find examples of unfaithful saints in Scripture, one just has to read some of Paul’s other letters. Almost all the believers in Corinth were not living faithfully. In 1 Timothy, Paul mentions two unfaithful saints by name: Hymenaeus and Alexander (1:20). And in 2 Timothy 2:13, Paul tells us to be careful lest we become faithless. But the saints in Ephesus were not like this. There were faithful saints in Christ Jesus. How did they become this way? Not by accident. Becoming a faithful saint is not something that just happens to you. You will not become a faithful saint simply by attending church on Sunday. No, faithful saints are made by discipline and hard work. Discipline in knowing who you are in Christ and what you are to do. Discipline in reading, studying and applying God’s Word to your live. Through discipline of prayer, of witnessing to others, and in living a holy life. Becoming a saint is easy—all you have to do is believe in Jesus for eternal life. Becoming a faithful saint, however, is the most challenging but also the most rewarding, enjoyable and exciting thing you will ever do in life. There’s never a dull moment for the man or woman who is trying to become a faithful saint. Notice also that Paul says they were faithful in Christ Jesus. This is a favorite term of Paul’s. Paul uses this term or one similar (in Christ; in Him) 164 times in the New Testament—and 36 of those (22%) are found in Ephesians. The term is rich with meaning and significance, and is a main theme in this letter. As we continue to study Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we will continue to learn what blessings and riches you have been given as a saint in Jesus Christ so that you can learn to live as faithful follower of Jesus in this world. You will learn of your riches in Christ so that you can better fulfil your responsibilities in Christ. Join us as we continue! See a more detailed explanation of this text in the sermon on Ephesians 1:1-2 here. Please share this post with others!
37 minutes | Mar 11, 2021
Will Licentiousness and Lewdness send you to hell? (Jude 4, Jude 7)
In this podcast episode, I discuss how to avoid hypocritical thinking in politics, answer a listener question about Jude 4, and discuss what the eternal fire in Jude 7 refers to. How to Avoid Hypocrisy in Politics Listen to the podcast for the full discussion, but the bottom line truth is that whenever you think about criticizing a political opponent or person for their actions, first consider whether you would say the same thing if someone from your own political party had done the same thing. (Chances are, someone from your own political viewpoint HAS done the same thing… when that happened, what did you say or do?) If you would be silent, then remain silent now. If you spoke out, then feel free to speak out now. Question from a Listener on Jude 4 How do you harmonize eternal security with the book of Jude? Especially the statement in Jude 4 about licentious men who deny God and Jesus Christ. It says they abuse the grace of God and turn it into licentiousness or lewdness If a person, pastor, teacher, etc promotes eternal security, aren’t they teaching and promoting licentious, saying we can sin/abuse God’s grace and still be saved? I read Zane Hodge’s Power to Stand, an exposition on Jude and it brought some confusion/questions, one of the many questions I had long ago. I was wondering if you might answer it. I am grateful for your website and ministry! Thank you! I appreciate it! I do believe in eternal security and grace is one of the primary reasons I hold to eternal security. In my Gospel Dictionary course I have a lesson on grace, and in it, I said this: It is extravagant, outrageous grace which shocks all sense of propriety. God is shameless in His love for us, so that even when we say and do things that would chase off any human being, God sticks with us and by us. As soon as we seek to limit God’s grace or restrict it to a holy few, we have stopped believing in grace and have plunged headlong into the hell of religion. Grace is free! Absolutely free. It has no limits, borders, restrictions, or conditions. It is freely given and freely received, and as such, can never be rescinded or revoked. There is nothing that can be done (or not done) to earn, merit, or deserve grace. Grace cannot be increased or decreased, merited or demerited. Grace is infinite, universal, and free. I can hear the objection already: But if grace is how I have been describing it above, won’t people take advantage of this kind of grace? The answer to that is “Of course they will!” But grace that comes with restrictions to avoid being abused is no longer grace. In fact, true grace, by definition, opens itself up to being abused. It is not true grace if it cannot be abused. So yes, by definition, grace can be abused. It opens itself up for abuse. If God limited grace so that it could not be abused, then it would no longer be free. It would instead be earned or deserved because we gained it or kept it through certain God-approved behavior. So what about these licentious teachers that Jude is writing about in Jude 4? Some translations say “lewdness.” Lewd behavior is that which is lustful, vulgar, lascivious. I like “licentious” though, because it gives the impression of “license.” A license allows you to do something. A driver’s license allows you to drive. A fishing license allows you to fish. So these teachers that Jude is warning about were saying that grace gives us a license to sin. You can sin all you want and it doesn’t matter. Now, I have written and taught in the past that grace does indeed allow you to sin all you want. So does the Jude 4 warning apply to me? Am I one of the teachers Jude 4 warns you against? No. And here’s why. From the context in Jude 4, it appears that these teachers were saying that Christians could go sin all they want, and such behavior doesn’t matter. There are no serious consequences to such behavior. In this form of teaching, grace is a license to sin. I teach no such thing. I teach that while grace does allow you to go sin all you want, when you really understand grace, it actually teaches you not to sin. Grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lust, as we read in Titus 2:11-12. Let me put it this way. The teachers Jude was writing against were saying that grace allows people to sin all they want and there are not serious consequences for their sin. I (and other eternal security teachers) say that grace allows people to sin all they want, but grace also teaches us that there are very serious consequences for such behavior. Like what? While you will not lose your eternal life, you will likely suffer serious devastation and destruction to your health, your marriage, your finances, you job, your psychological and emotional well-being, and even to your eternal reward in eternity. Do you see the difference? In the teaching of eternal security, free grace is not a license to sin but is rather a warning against sin. We say “Yes, grace allows you to sin all you want, but when you really understand grace and sin, why would you want to?” Grace allows you to sin all you want just like owning a knife allows you to stab it into your leg. Yes, you can do this if you want to, but why would you want to? So the teaching on eternal security is not a license to sin. It is not licentiousness. It is the opposite. We uphold the grace of God in all its glory, and also know that grace, when it is properly taught and understood, teaches us to live righteously and godly in this present world. Grace, when truly grasped, is not the freedom to sin, it is the freedom to truly start living. That is a brief explanation of Jude 4 in relation to the question of eternal security. As long as we’re here in Jude, let’s look ahead a couple verses and also consider Jude 7 for our Scripture text of this podcast episode. The Eternal Fire in Jude 7 The warnings of Jude 7 relate to what we just discussed from Jude 4. I have written and taught about this text previously in the lesson on “Fire” in the Gospel Dictionary Online course, and also in my book on Hell, titled What is Hell? Here is what we read in Jude 7 … as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 7) As frequently seen in this study, the image of fire in Scripture refers to the temporal destruction of cities. This is also what is described in Jude 7, where the author points to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of what happens to those who stray from the will of God. However, some point to the phrase at the end of the verse that the cities are “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” as evidence that Jude is talking about eternal suffering in the flames of hell. However, several contextual insights reveal that this is not what Jude had in mind. First, this reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is parallel to the preceding two examples. Jude loves to give examples in triplicate, and so prior to writing about Sodom and Gomorrah, he writes about the death of some of the Israelites in the wilderness because they did not believe (Jude 5), and the imprisonment of some angels in everlasting chains while they await judgment (Jude 6). The first example of the Israelites in the wilderness clearly refers to physical death, rather than to eternal torment in hell. The example of the angels is more difficult, since we are not quite sure what event Jude has in mind. But many believe he is referring to the “sons of God” who had sexual relations with the daughters of men in Genesis 6, and were imprisoned as a result. Yet notice that while these angels are imprisoned in chains and darkness, they are not being tortured with fire. In fact, darkness and fire are mutually exclusive. And since angels are immortal, they cannot be killed. Therefore, they were imprisoned and are awaiting judgment. This third example of Sodom and Gomorrah is a combination of the first two. Like the angels, the inhabitants of these cities committed sexual immorality and went after strange flesh. This is referring to the fact that the cities were inhospitable and attempted to rape the angels who visited them (Gen 19:4-7; Ezek 16:49-50). The result of this behavior was that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with fire. Yet how do we know that Jude is not referring to eternal torment in the flames of hell? We know this because Jude says that Sodom and Gomorrah were “set forth as an example,” which means that this example could be seen by humans. If Jude were referring to the eternal fires of hell, then Sodom and Gomorrah could not be set forth as an example to be seen and witnessed by humans. Jude cannot be referring to some sort of future punishment in hellfire, because then it would not in any way be set forth as an historical example to mankind. But we also know that Jude was not referring to the eternal flames of hell because of what he writes in Jude 23. Jude writes that it is possible to pull people out of the fire. This is, of course, exactly what happened with Lot and his family. They were rescued, pulled, or delivered from the flames that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and Jude indicates that similar deliverance can happen today. If Jude was referring to the flames of hell in this text, then he would be teaching that it is possible to rescue and deliver people from hell after they are already there. But few who believe that hell is a place of everlasting torment in fire are willing to say that it is possible to rescue the people who are there. It is better to recognize from the context that Jude is not thinking about eternal torment in the flames of hell, but rather the everlasting destruction of cities due to temporal flames. Indeed, this is exactly how to understand the phrase “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” To begin with, “suffering the vengeance” is probably not the best way of translating the Greek (Gk., dikēn hupechousai). In 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, the Greek word dikē means “penalty” or “justice” (Dikē was the Greek god of justice). The second word, hupechō, appears only here in the New Testament, and literally means “to undergo” or “hold under,” and carries the idea of experiencing something. So the phrase itself means “to undergo justice” or to “experience justice.” And as frequently mentioned elsewhere, this experience of justice, or this penalty, is not sent by God but is brought upon someone through their own actions. Sin carries its own penalty with it. This is exactly what Jude says in verse 10 when he writes that the false teachers “corrupt themselves.” The corruption and punishment that come upon people is not sent from God but is brought by a person upon their own heads. Jude says that this self-inflicted punishment upon Sodom and Gomorrah was “eternal fire.” This does not mean that the cities are still burning, for they are not. It means that the fire that fell upon these cities destroyed them completely, and they have not been rebuilt (cf. Rev 18:9, 18). This is true, for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were in the location of what is now the Dead Sea. According to historical accounts from the New Testament era, the Dead Sea was also known as the Lake of Fire, where there were frequent bouts of flame and smoke, burning sulphur, and where everything that went through it collected a tarnish of oily soot and grime (cf. Gen 19:24-28; Deut 29:23; Isa 34:9; Jer 49:17-18; Rev 20:10). In the days of Jesus, the valley was still smoking and smoldering, and they assumed it would go on that way forever. This is what Jude has in mind when he speaks of the cities suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. It is not hell, but is the ongoing, physical destruction and devastation that came upon those cities. And this is the overall truth that Jude is presenting in Jude 4 and Jude 7. Abandoning grace, or turning grace into a license to sin without consequences, is a recipe for disaster. Though grace does allow itself to be abused, the abuse of grace leads to devastation and destruction in the person’s life who does it. It invites fire into a person’s life, which sweeps through their life, leaving behind only dust and ashes. So don’t abuse grace. Grace is given to us so that we might live free. Therefore, live in the freedom for which you have been set free. To learn more about these sorts of truths, join my online discipleship group and take the Gospel Dictionary Online Course. Please share this post with others!
47 minutes | Feb 19, 2021
Harlots in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 21:31)
How can tax collectors and prostitutes be closer to the kingdom of God than religious leaders? We discuss this question in today’s study of Matthew 21:31. Before that, however, we look briefly at a current event and a letter from a reader. Election Fraud Cases Before the Supreme Court Joe Biden is in the Whitehouse, but tomorrow, February 19, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States is scheduled to consider five pending election fraud cases. This doesn’t mean they are going to hear the cases. It means they are going to decide tomorrow whether or not to hear the cases. My hunch is that they will decline to hear the cases based on some technicality as they have done before, such as a lack of standing or the fact that the election is already over. However, this would be a mistake. Even though the results of the election probably cannot be overturned at this point, the 2020 election was not the last election this country will ever have. There were significant and widespread problems with the 2020 election, and we can only exist as a country if there we have safe and secure elections. So regardless of what whether or not the 2020 election can be overturned, the Supreme Court has the obligation to make sure that future elections follow the constitution. I hope they take up all the cases. But we’ll see… Here, by the way, is a chart showing just some of the potentially fraudulent votes that were cast in the 2020 Presidential Election: Whether you voted for Trump or Biden, I think we can all agree that fraudulent votes should not be allowed in any election, ever. Question: Have I believed if I Agree to the Facts of the Gospel? Hi. I am 33 years old. I grew up in a Christian home. My dad was a pastor. I am not a Christian. I have had a handful of false conversions in my life. Ever since the coronavirus I have been on this journey of trying to figure out how to get saved. It is all I think about. I have not been eating as much as I should be and have lost a lot of weight. I am barely making it through each day right now. I believe there is a really good chance things are setting up for the end times. I am so scared of going to hell!! I have had so much confusion about repentance and faith. Since the beginning of this journey I have been praying to God to help me understand repentance and faith. I believe He is helping me understand repentance!! My dad found a book called, Turn and Live: The Power of Repentance by Robert N. Wilkin. I now understand that repenting of sins has nothing to do with how we get saved!! I am still confused about faith though. My dad has told me that it is not just believing the facts. That is part of it but it is hearing the gospel, being fully persuaded the facts of the gospel are true, and making a decision to put your trust in Jesus Christ as your payment for your sins. That is the decision I want to make. I have extreme OCD. It effects every area of my life. I am not even able to work because of it. I am not sure how to make the decision to put my trust in Jesus Christ as the payment for my sins. I am so scared of thinking I am making the decision and really just be agreeing the facts are true. I am not sure what to do or how to work through this. Also, if you could be praying for me I would really appreciate it!! I will definitely be praying for you. I have never been fond of the “make a decision for Christ” terminology, mostly for the very reasons you are having problems with it. How can any one know if they have made the decision? It is confusing. I hate to disagree with your dad on this, but in my book on faith (What is Faith?) I argue that faith is simply agreeing to the facts. It truly is mental assent. So if you agree that there is no way to receive eternal life than through Jesus, this is the same thing as believing in Jesus. You have agreed (or believed) that Jesus gives you eternal life because there is no other way to receive it. Anyway, don’t get in an argument about this with your dad. I understand where he is coming from, in that he doesn’t want Christians to just have mental assent, but we should also live our lives for Jesus. I agree with this desire, but the way to accomplish this is not to say that people who have mental assent haven’t actually believed. Instead, the best way to proceed is to say that people who have mental assent have indeed believed, and that discipleship is accomplished separately through following Jesus. By the way, based on what you have written to me … I think you are a Christian. I’m not sure why you think you have had false conversions, but don’t allow moral failure to make you think you are not actually a Christian. Eternal life is not based on our own good works, but is based entirely on the promises of Jesus. And He promises that if you have believed in Him, then you have eternal life. Why Tax Collectors and Prostitutes Enter the Kingdom of God Before Religious Leaders (Matthew 21:31) In my Gospel Dictionary Online course, I have a lesson on the Kingdom of God. In this lesson, one of the passages I discuss is Matthew 21:31. Here is what this verse says: … Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” In some ways, it is better to be a thief or a prostitute than it is to be a spiritual leader or Bible teacher. At least, that is what Jesus says in Matthew 21:31. In the context, Jesus is speaking to the chief priests and elders in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:23), and after they question Him about His authority, He tells them the Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-30). In this story, a father asks his two sons to work in his vineyard. The first son says he will not obey, but then he does. The second son says he will obey, but he doesn’t. Jesus asks the religious leaders which of the two sons actually did what the father asked, to which they correct answered “the first son.” As stated in the discussion of Matthew 13:24-30, when it comes to following Jesus and living as a disciple within the kingdom of God, what a person actually does is more important than what they say. Jesus then draws a conclusion from this point that when it comes to living within the kingdom of God, the tax collectors and prostitutes are better off than the priests and religious leaders of the community. Several elements of this passage help draw out the significance of Jesus’ words. We must consider the initial question from the religious leaders, the nature of the kingdom of God, and why tax collectors and harlots are entering the kingdom ahead of the spiritual leaders. What was wrong with the Spiritual Leaders? First, let us go back and briefly address the question from the spiritual leaders that led Jesus to tell this parable. Back in Matthew 21:23, the religious teachers ask Jesus where His authority comes from for His teachings and His actions. They say, “By what authority are You doing these things? Who gave you this authority?” In the days of Jesus, Rabbis, priests, and elders based their authority on which Rabbis they had studied under, or which Rabbinical school they belonged to. If a particular teacher had not learned from any reputable or famous Rabbis, or if they were not in good standing with either of the top two Rabbinical schools of thought, then it was assumed that such a teacher had nothing good to say and should not be listened to. This is very much like Christianity today. It is not uncommon at Pastor Conferences for pastors to ask each other similar questions: “What school did you attend? How many advanced degrees do you have? How many followers do you have on social media? How big is your church? How many books have you sold?” In other words, “By what authority are you teaching these things?” If you refuse to listen to certain teachers because they do not have a Ph.D. from your favorite seminary, or because they are not on staff with a mega-church, or have not sold a millions books, then you have fallen into the same trap that Jesus is speaking about here. Be careful about that mindset, for it can cause you to miss out on entering into or experiencing the kingdom of God. The Nature of the Kingdom of God This brings up the second issue, namely, the nature of the kingdom of God. Once again, if someone confuses “entering the kingdom” with “receiving eternal life” or “going to heaven,” then this text will create all sorts of problems. When misread this way, Jesus seems to be saying that tax-collectors and prostitutes have a better chance of receiving eternal life than spiritual leaders do. If that’s the case, then everyone should become a tax cheat and a prostitute! But of course, that is not what Jesus is saying. The kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God in our lives on this earth. When we enter into the kingdom of God, we enter into an experience of the life God wants for us here and now, during our lives, on this earth. Yes, our experience of the kingdom of God will continue on through eternity, but it can begin now, and it is based almost entirely on how we follow the teachings and example of Jesus in our daily lives. So entering the kingdom of heaven is not the same thing as going to heaven when we die. Therefore, in this text, Jesus is not saying anything one way or another about how tax collectors and prostitutes are more likely than religious leaders to receive eternal life. All people, regardless of birth, background, or behavior, have the same guarantee from God about how to receive eternal life. God gives eternal life to anyone who simply believes in Jesus Christ for it. The offer is the same to all people, whether they are pastors or prostitutes, drug dealers or divinity students. So why are Tax Collectors and Prostitutes Closer to the Kingdom of God? So why then are tax collectors and harlots closer to entering the kingdom of God than religious leaders? The answer lies in what tax collectors and prostitutes value versus what religious leaders value, and how both sets of values line up in comparison to the values of the kingdom. In general, religious leaders and spiritual teachers tend to live hypocritical lives, saying one thing while doing the opposite. They teach generosity, but then hoard up money and possessions for themselves. They call for grace, mercy, and forgiveness, but extend little of such things to other people. They often see themselves as more superior in intellect and righteousness than the uneducated sinners of society, and only listen to or have time for the people of their own religious clubs. This is demonstrated by the fact that the religious leaders in Matthew 21:23-27 had no interest in listening to Jesus unless He could prove that He was part of their group. Photo Credits: Sandi Hester Tax collectors and prostitutes, on the other hand, while they are blatant sinners, do not suffer from the deep sin of spiritual pride and self-righteousness, and therefore, tend to be more humble, welcoming, joyful, and relational than the spiritual elites. They know they are sinners, and so are more ready to admit their sin to God, and to accept others as friends, regardless of how sinful those others might be. Tax collectors and prostitutes might be “big time” sinners, but they are not hypocritical about it. They know who they are, and they do not try to hide it. While tax collectors may abuse the law to steal and rob from others, even from their own countrymen, they do not try to justify such behavior by saying they do such things in God’s name. Religious leaders, however, often steal from widows and the poor, all while claiming that such activity is God’s will. If two people are engaging in the exact same behavior, but one is blaming their behavior on God, that second person’s behavior is far more evil. Similarly, prostitutes often value freedom, liberty, honor, loyalty, and friendship above almost everything else. In the days of Jesus (as now), they often do what they do in order to provide for themselves and for their children because they live in a world where men have abused and neglected them. It is for these sorts of reasons that Jesus says the tax collectors and prostitutes are closer to entering the kingdom of God than are hypocritical religious leaders. The comparison between these two groups of people and the two sons in the parable is now obvious. The tax collectors and harlots are equivalent to the first son. Though they claim to not follow God, the truth is that many of their values and behaviors do in fact line up with the values of the kingdom of God. So although they (and many others) think that they are far from the experience of God in their lives, they are actually much closer than anyone imagines. The opposite is true for spiritual leaders. Though religious teachers claim that they do God’s will, and even teach others to do the same, their pride and self-righteousness keeps them from experiencing the true rule and reign of God in their lives. The lesson of Jesus from this account is simple. Regardless of your station, position, training, education, background, or occupation in life, if you want to experience the rule and reign of God in your life, do not depend on your own righteousness or abilities, but instead live as Jesus lived, with generosity, kindness, patience, grace, mercy, love, and liberty extended to all people, whether or not they are part of your group, club, organization, or church. The kingdom of God is experienced by those who open their arms wide to embrace all others. It is based on relationships of love rather than the regulations of law. Please share this post with others!
47 minutes | Feb 11, 2021
The Rich Young Ruler and You (Matthew 19:16-24)
Money! Money! Money! It’s the money episode! In this podcast study, I talk about cryptocurrency, a reader email about tithing, and the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19:16-24. We see that Jesus was NOT telling the young man that he had to give up all his money in order to go to heaven. The story is about something else entirely. Cryptocurrency like Bitcoin and Dogecoin are in the News! Have you heard of cryptocurrency? They’re in the news a lot this week, so I decided to talk a a bit about them. I explain what they are, why they’re important and gainin widespread acceptance, and how to get some if you want. Ten years ago, Bitcoin was $1. It hit $48,000 today. Dogecoin is the most entertaining cryptocurrency, which causes many to believe it will be the most successful. It currently sits at $.07, and many believe it will hit $1 this year. Where will it be in ten years? I personally bought a tiny fraction of one Bitcoin and several hundred Dogecoins this past week. Best and easiest is Coinbase. Use my link to get $10 of free Bitcoin if you buy at least $100. That’s 10% instant profit though, so you might as well take it. But Coinbase doesn’t sell Dogecoin. So if you want Dogecoin, use Robinhood. Use that Robinhood link to get a free stock when you sign up. Reader Email about Tithing A reader sent me a question about tithing this week. He wanted to know if he is really supposed to tithe 10% to his church or not. I have written a lot about this before. There’s a whole section on tithing in my book Church is More than Bodies, Bucks, & Bricks. Here are some links on my site you can read as well: The Tithing Tax Malachi 3 and Tithing Modern Tithing Tithe for Your Right to Party Tithe 3% to your church What Jesus taught about Tithing Render To Caesar The Widow’s Mite Devouring Widow’s Houses Don’t Tithe to a Decaying Temple The bottom line truth about tithing is that most of what we have been taught in our churches about tithing is flat-out wrong. In the Bible, tithing is closer to what you and I would think of as income tax. But even then, the tithe went to help local people, rather than to nameless and faceless governmental programs. Most surprisingly of all, that 10% tithe we so often hear about from our pulpits was primarily for the purpose of hosting a large community party for everyone who came. It was to help pay for everybody to come together once a year for a giant music, arts, and food festival. There’s a lot more to it than that, but there is nothing in Scripture to support the practice we have today of paying 10% of your annual income to cover the costs of an expensive church building and staff salaries. This doesn’t mean you can’t have buildings and church staff. You can. But what you cannot do is defend the practice from the Bible. Anyway, the bottom line answer to the question is this: “No, the Bible does not command us to give 10% of our income to the local church.” It is smart to use some of your money to support people, ministries, and causes that you believe in, and to help the poor and needy in your community, but also make sure you are using some of your money to make memories with your spouse and children, and to also enjoy life a bit. Read some of the articles linked to above (or just get the book) to learn more about what the Bible teaches about tithing. The Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19:16-24 I have previously taught about the Rich Young Ruler here and here. The passages of Matthew 19:16-24, Mark 10:17-31, and Luke 18:18-30 all tell the account of a rich, young ruler coming to Jesus to ask how he can have eternal life. Jesus tells him to give all his wealth away, and then come follow Jesus. The young man went away sorrowful, because he was very rich. After his departure, Jesus and His disciples have a discussion about wealth and the kingdom of heaven. This is a confusing text for many Christians because many people think that the term “kingdom of heaven” refers to heaven itself. And so many believe that when Jesus taught about how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, He was saying that it is difficult for the rich to receive eternal life and go to heaven when they die. Thus, it is taught, the rich must give away their wealth in order to have a chance at eternal life. But this is a works-based message of eternal life and is completely contrary to the free offer of eternal life found everywhere in Scripture. If eternal life is freely given to anyone and everyone who simply and only believes in Jesus for it, it would be a biblical contradiction for Jesus to also say that the rich must give away their wealth to receive eternal life. Thankfully, a proper understanding of the concept of the kingdom of heaven helps explain this apparent contradiction. When Jesus teaches about the dangers of wealth, He is not referring to the difficulty the rich will have in receiving eternal life, but to the difficulty they will have in experiencing the rule and reign of God in their life here and now on this earth. The Kingdom of God is about the Rule and Reign of God in our life NOW The context of these passages provides numerous lines of evidence to show that Jesus is talking about experiencing eternal life in our present life through the rule and reign of God, rather than about how to receive eternal life and go to heaven when we die. For example, other than the initial question by the rich, young ruler in Matthew 19:16, the rest of the passage is about inheriting eternal life, following Jesus on the path of discipleship, and entering the kingdom of heaven. So despite how the rich, young ruler phrased his initial question, Jesus answer a more important question for this particular person. The Gospel authors understood this, and so the parallel versions in Mark 10:17-31 and Luke 18:18-30 have the rich young ruler have the rich, young ruler asking how to “inherit” eternal life. Furthermore, Jesus later clarifies in Matthew 19:29 that He is only talking about inheriting eternal life (which refers to the present age experience of eternal life), Mark and Luke use the word inherit for consistency’s sake when they record the question from the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17; Luke 18:18). Now which question did the rich, young ruler originally ask? It is difficult to say. Probably he spoke in Hebrew or Aramaic, and so Matthew translated the man’s word one way while Mark and Luke translated it another. But regardless of what was in the mind of the rich, young ruler, however, Jesus answered his question in a way that reached to the heart of the issue, and the heart of the young man. Wealth in Jewish society In Jewish society, wealth was a sign of God’s divine blessing. Due to various promises in the Hebrew Scriptures, it was assumed that if a person was observing the law and was wealthy, God had blessed them with their wealth because of how successful they were in observing the law. This belief would obviously not apply to someone like Zacchaeus, who was clearly making no effort to observe the law, but would absolutely apply to someone like this young ruler. He believed that he had observed the entire law since his youth (Matt 19:20), and everyone else believed it also (cf. Matthew 19:25). When Jesus instructed the rich, young ruler to give away all his wealth and then come follow Him, Jesus was challenging this entire way of thinking about the connection between God’s law and human wealth. Jesus was showing that there is no true connection between the two. Wealth is not an outward sign of inner righteousness. Jesus wanted to show this young man, as well as the disciples, how to truly live in righteousness, which comes through following Jesus in discipleship and living in light of the kingdom of God. But Jesus cannot do this as long as a person is looking to their own ability to be righteous, or to their own wealth as a sign of personal righteousness. So he tells the young man to discard all evidence or thought of personal righteousness and then come follow Him to see what righteous living truly looked like. But the young man went away because he was unwilling to do this. The Kingdom of God is Entered Through Discipleship So the answer from Jesus is not about how to receive, gain, or have eternal life, but how to inherit or experience God’s will, purpose, and blessings for our life here and now on this earth. As we follow Jesus on the path of discipleship in this life we will experience the life God wants for us now and also gain treasure for our future life in eternity (Mark 10:21: Luke 18:22). All of this is about entering into the kingdom of God (Mark 10:23-25; Luke 18:24-25), which is shorthand for entering into the experience of the rule and reign of God in our lives here and now on this earth. But what about the word “saved”? Note that the disciples use the word “saved” (Mark 10:26; Luke 18:26), which also causes confusion in the minds of some. But when we recognize that the word “saved” also does not refer to receiving eternal life or going to heaven when we die, then the passage retains its message. Jesus is talking about being delivered and rescued from the problems that wealth brings, so that His followers can experience the rule and reign of God in their life now. The surrounding context makes it clear that Jesus and the disciples are talking about discipleship and eternal reward rather than justification and receiving eternal life (Mark 10:28-30; Luke 18:28-29). What Jesus Might Say to Us Today In modern, Western culture, while some people see wealth as a sign of God’s blessing on a person who is fully obedient to Him, this is not a widely held view. If Jesus were physically walking the earth today, I can imagine a scenario in which a well-known, young pastor comes to Jesus and says, “Good teacher, what must I do to experience God’s life?” The young pastor only asks this because he thinks he is already experiencing God’s life, and believes Jesus will praise Him for his great success at such a young age. Instead, Jesus says, “Well, what is it that you teach from your pulpit and write about in your books?” The young pastor would respond, “People must attend church regularly, tithe 10% of their income, read the Bible and pray every day, and not be given to alcohol or drugs. They should also be a good witness at their job by wearing Christian t-shirts, a cross-shaped necklace, and never laugh at crude jokes. Instead, they must hand out Gospel tracts and invite people to church.” Jesus would respond, “Okay. Go do all of that then.” To which the young man would proudly boast, “I’ve done all this since I was a kid.” “Well done!” Jesus would say. “Only one thing is left. Resign as pastor. Stop selling books. Quit preaching. Throw out all your gospel tracts and Christian clothes. Stop tithing to the church. Put your Bible on a shelf for a while, and go have a beer at the local pub. Then come follow Me and we’ll see what’s next.” But the young pastor would go away, thinking that Jesus was a false teacher, for the young man had it all figured out. In this text, Jesus is showing that there is no such thing as an outward manifestation of inward righteousness. However, if we want to truly experience the life of God in us, and all the riches and blessings that entails, we can stop following religion and instead follow Jesus into a life of discipleship. While Jesus always leads in surprising directions, but also leads us toward a true life with God. Matthew 19:16-24 therefore, is not about how to receive eternal life, but about how to get rid of the things in our life that we rely on as evidence that we are “good” Christians, and instead just follow Jesus wherever He leads. What things do you look to for proof that God loves and accepts you? That you are doing a “good job” for Jesus? Get rid of such things, and then come to Jesus empty-handed, saying, “Wherever You lead, I’ll follow.” When you do this, Jesus will lead you into a full experience of the kingdom of God. Please share this post with others!
41 minutes | Feb 4, 2021
What did Peter do with the Keys of the Kingdom (Matthew 16:19)?
In this Redeeming God Podcast episode, we discuss the Second Impeachment of President Trump, a question from a reader about the warning passage of Hebrews 6:1-8, and then look at Matthew 16:19 and what Peter did with the keys of the kingdom that he received from Jesus. Trump Impeachment 2.0 Impeachment 2.0 begins next week. The Democrats are seeking to impeach President Trump for causing insurrection on January 6 at the Capital building in Washington D.C. Pretty much like everything the Democrats do, this impeachment trial is completely unconstitutional and a waste of time and money. Trump did nothing wrong, and certainly did not incite an insurrection. The Democrats should focus on something that actually helps this country and the people in it. 1. Completely unconstitutional Only sitting elected officials can be impeached. President Trump is no longer in office, and so cannot be impeached. Impeachment trials must be presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roberts knows that this trial is unconstitutional, and so has declined to preside over the trial, which makes it makes it even more unconstitutional. 2. Complete waste of time and money Senator Rand Paul recently forced a vote in the Senate to condemn this trial as unconstitutional. 45 senators agreed, meaning 55 voted to proceed with the trial. For impeachment to occur, the Senate needs 67 votes. If only 55 senators voted to hold the impeachment trial, it is extremely unlikely that 67 will vote to impeach. This impeachment sham is dead on arrival, making it a complete waste of time and money. There are certainly bigger issues in our country right now that deserve the attention of our elected officials in Washington DC. But their hatred for Trump blinds them to the desperate needs of the people they are supposed to represent. 3. Trump did nothing wrong. He certainly did not incite an insurrection It is completely moronic for anyone to claim that Trump incited an insurrection. First, there was no violent rhetoric that incited an insurrection. If there was, fake news channels like CNN would be playing it nonstop. But there aren’t any statements from Trump that incited any sort of violence. I have been engaged in numerous email and social media exchanges in the last month were people accused Trump of “violent rhetoric.” In every case, I ask for actual Tweets or statements from Trump that called for violence, and so far, nobody has produced a single one. However, there are numerous statement from democrats over the past four years, including Biden and Obama, that actually do call for violence against others. If we are impeaching former (or current) political office holders for statements that incite violence, then quite a number of democrats should be immediately impeached. When people say that Trump engaged in hate speech, what they actually mean is that Trump said things that they hate. But there is a vast difference between hate speech and someone saying things you hate. Trump often said things that his detractors didn’t like, but, unlike many democrats, he never called for violence or an insurrection. Similarly, there are many, many things that other people say that I hate. But as a believer in the first amendment, I will always defend their right to say them. Second, there was no insurrection. Instead, there were a couple hundred thousand people who gathered at the capitol building to practice their right to assemble and their right to free speech. Third, those who did made it into the Capital Building were escorted in by Capital Police, and did not engage in any violence. Despite AOC’s irrational fears, she was not in danger of being murdered. She wasn’t even in the building! But even if she was in the building, nobody was going to cause her any harm. (And by the way, did you know that Susan Rosenberg, a board member of a BLM organization actually did detonate a bomb in the capital building on Nov 7, 1983? She was pardoned for her actual insurrection by Bill Clinton.) Watch the dozens and dozens of videos all over the internet about how the people at the capital were escorted in by the police and how they walked orderly and calmly between the velvet ropes into the capitol building. There was no violent insurrection. There was no insurrection, period. Fourth, even if it could be proven that there was a violent insurrection did occur, it cannot be proven that Trump caused it. Reports and studies have shown that the plans to enter into the capital building were made days before Trump ever spoke on January 6. If there had been an actual insurrection, it is impossible for Trump to incite it if the plans for it had already been made days earlier. All in all, impeachment 2.0 is a sham, just like it was the first time. All it reveals is that the Democrats don’t care about the constitution, don’t care about due process, don’t care about free speech, and most of all, don’t care about you and me, the people of the United States. Rather than do something helpful for the great needs of the citizens they serve, they are instead wasting time, money, and energy on a pointless impeachment. They are consumed by hatred for Trump and a lust for power. These things will become more and more obvious in the weeks and months ahead. Letter from a Reader I read a book that was talking about Hebrews 6 & that some “mature Christians” could possibly choose to turn away from God and renounce their salvation. And if they did, God would give them over to a reprobate mind and there would be no hope of returning to Him. Fear entered in and I literally started having mega blasphemous thoughts & felt like I was possessed, it was so bad. I thought I had committed the unpardonable sin & that’s why it was happening. But, I read your book on the unpardonable sin & realized that I had not committed it & I can’t commit it, as I was born again as a child. There are lots of terrible books and teachings out there about Hebrews 6, mostly due to the fact that people misunderstand several key terms in the book… I cover all these key terms in my online course “The Gospel Dictionary.” I also wrote about this passage in book What is Hell? and taught about it in a previous podcast episode. There are also several lessons in my online courses that deal with this text. Here are few links from my website for further reading: Hebrews 6:1-8 and the Warning About Falling Away Do the warning passages of Hebrews 6:7-8 and Hebrews 10:27 refer to Christians going to hell? Hodges on Hebrews (Part 6) The Keys of the Kingdom in Matthew 16:19 Here is what Jesus says to Peter in Matthew 16:19: And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” There are two main ways this verse has been misunderstood. The first is in Pentecostal theology where people use this for name-it-and-claim-it theology where if you just “bind” something on earth God in heaven is required to give to you what you claim. Other Pentecostals use this verse to teach about binding Satan and demonic spirits with the power of heaven. But these words from Jesus were spoken directly to Peter in response to his statement that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God (Matt 16:16). Due to Peter’s confession, Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to Peter. Since all the personal pronouns in Matthew 16:19 are second person singular (“you” rather than “you all”), Jesus is not making a blanket statement to all the disciples that we all have the keys of the kingdom. No, these spiritual and symbolic keys of the kingdom were given to Peter alone. Secondly, we also must also avoid the Catholic mistake of thinking that this verse teaches the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession. This doctrine teaches that in Matthew 16:19 Jesus gave special authority to Peter to make pronouncements about church doctrine and policy, and this doctrine was passed down from Peter to the various Popes in church history. This is an improper way of reading the text as well, for while the spiritual keys of the kingdom were “given” to Peter directly, he used them during his life to unlock the doors of the kingdom to the various people groups of the world, and once the doors were unlocked and opened, the keys of the kingdom served their purpose and we no longer needed. It is also important to note that the construction of the Greek terms in this verse (future perfect passive periphrastic participle, if you really want to know … and it’s just fun to say) indicate that what is bound and loosed on earth were already bound and loosed in heaven. Peter is to carry out on earth the decisions that were already made in heaven. The keys of the kingdom do not give Peter the ability to do whatever he wants with them, thereby forcing heaven to bind or loose whatever Peter chooses. No, Peter is to bind and loose that which has already been bound or loosed in heaven. So what are the keys of the kingdom and how were they used? What is it that Peter is binding and loosing? It helps to remember that the kingdom of heaven is the rule and reign of God on earth. So the keys of the kingdom are not a blank check which draws on the riches and power of heaven or a special authority to make rulings on all church-related matters. No, Jesus is telling Peter that it is his responsibility to take the message of the kingdom of heaven to the rest of the world and unlock the benefits and blessings of the kingdom for them. There are three times in the book of Acts where we see Peter use the keys of the kingdom for this purpose. These three times are foreshadowed in Acts 1:8. Scholars have often noted that Acts 1:8 contains the outline of the book. The good news of the kingdom started with Jesus in Jerusalem, but it spread from there to the rest of Judea, and then to Samaria, and ultimately to the end of the known world. But what is less often noted is the role Peter played in this spread of the message of the kingdom, and especially how Peter opens the doors of the kingdom to the Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. In Acts 1:7-8, Jesus said the sign of the coming of the kingdom will be the arrival of the Holy Spirit. As the truths of the kingdom come upon various people groups in Acts, Peter also gives them the blessing of the Holy Spirit, which is the evidence that they have been invited to participate in the kingdom of heaven. Peter opens the Doors of the Kingdom to the Jews in Acts 2 In Acts 2, Peter explains to the Jews that their King Jesus is on the throne, and that in Him and in all who believe in Him, the kingdom of heaven has arrived (cf. Acts 2:30-36). Peter explains in his sermon that the coming of the Holy Spirit indicates that the rule of God on earth had arrived (Acts 2:17-21). Peter indicates later that he knows this message will be spread further, to those who are afar off, to whomever God may call (Acts 2:39). In the next several chapters, the message continues to spread among the Jewish people. Peter opens the Doors of the Kingdom to the Samaritans in Acts 8 In Acts 8, Philip, one of the early church leaders, preaches the gospel to the Samaritans. As he does so, unclean spirits are cast out of people and the lame are healed (Acts 8:7), showing that the newly born church is beginning to storm the gates of hell, just as Jesus promised (Matt 16:18). However, none of the new believers in Samaria had received the Holy Spirit. Why not? Because Peter had not yet opened the gates of the kingdom to them. Yet in Acts 8:17, Peter travels to Samaria to do this very thing, and when he lays his hands upon them, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, proving that God has invited the Samaritans into the kingdom of heaven as well. Peter opens the Doors of the Kingdom to the Gentiles in Acts 10 Finally, Peter opens the door to the Gentiles in Acts 10:24-48. A Gentile named Cornelius summons Peter, and after Peter explains the gospel to him and his family, they believe the message and the Holy Spirit comes upon them all. This is the third use of the keys of the kingdom, and the doors of the kingdom have now been opened to the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles. After this, Peter fades away in the book of Acts, to the point where he is not even mentioned again after Acts 15. He fulfilled his task of opening the doors the kingdom so that the gospel could be preached to all people. The message of the Kingdom spreads to the Rest of the World in Acts 19 The gospel going to the rest of the world is found in Acts 19:1-10. A Jewish man named Apollos had been teaching and preaching about Jesus even though he only knew about the baptism of John (cf. Acts 18:24-25). So Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and taught him more fully about Jesus (Acts 18:26). When Paul arrived, he taught Apollos and the believers there about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and laid hands on them so that they might receive the Spirit (Acts 19:6). When some spoke in tongues and prophecy, this was the sign that the Spirit had moved beyond just the borders of Israel and was now spreading to the rest of the world. It was not necessary for Peter to unlock the doors of the kingdom in Ephesus, however, for the doors had already been unlocked to every people group. The signs and wonders of the Spirit simply indicated that the gospel of the kingdom of heaven was now spreading over the face of the earth. What the Keys of the Kingdom in the Book of Acts teaches us about miraculous signs, wonders, and tongues This brings up the important point about the miraculous signs and wonders that accompanied the initial giving the Holy Spirit to the various people groups. These miraculous signs were needed to prove that the gates of the kingdom had been opened to these new groups of people. We must not assume, as some do, that miraculous signs and events will always accompany the giving of the Holy Spirit. They don’t. After the initial arrival of the Spirit in Acts to the various groups of people, the Spirit thereafter comes immediately and silently to all who believe in Jesus for eternal life. No special anointing is needed, and no miraculous wonders are required as evidence for the regeneration, indwelling, baptism, or sealing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Peter used the keys of the kingdom to unlock the gates of the kingdom to all people on earth, so that now all are welcome to enter into the gates with thanksgiving and experience the rule and reign of God in their lives with great joy. The gates have been opened and will never be shut again (cf. Rev 21:25). Matthew 16:19 and the Keys of the Kingdom Matthew 16:19 shows that God has always accepted and invited everyone and anyone into His kingdom, that is, into His ways of doing things. Through the actions of Peter “unlocking” the doors of the kingdom on earth, what has always been true in heaven is also shown to be true on earth. Everyone is welcome to participate in the rule and reign of God, and all the blessings this rule entails. Please share this post with others!
46 minutes | Jan 28, 2021
The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) Does NOT Endorse Capitalism
In this podcast episode, we will discuss GameStop, answer a reader question about pornography and masturbation, and take a look at the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 to show why this parable does NOT endorse capitalism. Someone was Right: The System is Rigged If you haven’t heard about what happened in the stock market this week with GameStop, AMC Theaters, Nokia, and a few other stocks, then you probably are listening to fake news. In this podcast, I briefly explain what happened, and why this reveals that those in charge do NOT have your best interest at heart, and really only care about the rich and powerful, despite what they say with their words. As “someone” on Twitter repeatedly said over the last four years, “The System is Rigged” against us. It might be time as ants to rise up against grasshoppers. Not violently, but with our collective voices and actions. A Question on Pornography and Masturbation A reader sent in this question: I have been having problems and struggling with pornography for years, even into my marriage. I would fall into that sin for very short periods of time, stop, repent and in most cases dispose of the laptop. Then somewhere down the road I would fall again, stop, repent, and get rid of the laptop or phone. This cycle would repeat over and over again for years. Just recently I prayed to God to forgive me and forsook pornography forever. And I do not own a laptop anymore. My phone I use has blockers on it so I can’t watch pornography. That is how I am able to send you this message. Because of my sin over the years I thought I was was never saved 20 years ago. So I made a new profession of faith to God and accepted Jesus into my life as Lord and Savior. The problem I have now is I’m confused with where I stand with God. Will He forgive me for my past sins? Was I saved 20 years ago a just backslide or was I lost? Am I saved now or am I still lost? I am really confused and worried about my salvation. Can you help me with my situation I’m suffering for. Thank you so much for reading my story and God bless you. One more thing, I asked my wife to forgive me and she did. This question would be best answered in a one-on-one private conversation, but I get it a lot, and so in the podcast, I try to give some general guidelines that apply in all situations. The basic truth when it comes to defeating pornography and masturbation is to remember that God always loves and forgives you, and you are always accepted and welcomed by grace. Also, God is not nearly as upset or disgusted with your behavior and you are… Here are some of the links I mention in my answer: C. S. Lewis on Masturbation Is it wrong to masturbate? The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 In the last several years, there have been several politicians who have been elected to political office in the United States who call themselves Democratic Socialists, and they claim that this is where the United States needs to go. Many Christians and pastors have bought into this, and some are even going so far as to say that Jesus was a socialist. That the values and goals of socialism reflect the values and goals of Jesus. This is absolute bunk. Socialism is completely contrary to the values and goals of Jesus. Those who claim Jesus was a socialist do not know the first thing about socialism or Jesus. I want to do some more teaching and writing on this in the future. But before I do, I want to make sure you know that I also do not think Jesus was a capitalist. I have found some Christians say that Jesus was a capitalist, which is also complete bunk. Jesus was not a capitalist, and those who say so do not know the first thing about Jesus. One of the passages in Scripture which many use to defend the idea that Jesus was a capitalist is the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 (or the Parable of the Minas in Luke 19:11-27). I have taught and written about this parable several times over the years (see here and here for example). In my recently recorded lesson on Judgment for the Gospel Dictionary Online course, I spent some time teaching on it again. Let me summarize for you some of what I teach in that lesson. The timing on this is interesting as well because of what is going on in the stock market this week, as I briefly discussed earlier. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents. Most people believe that the Parable of the Talents is about how Jesus will reward faithful and unfaithful servants at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The typical explanation of this parable is that just as the first servant and second servant turned their talents into more and were rewarded as a result, we also should do the same with what God has given to us. But we must never be like the lazy, unprofitable third servant, who simply hid his talent in the ground. If we do, we will be punished, just like he was. This “traditional” understanding of the text is quite popular in materialistic, greedy societies. But it is likely the opposite of what Jesus meant or what His hearers would have understood. We live in a materialistically-driven culture, which is governed by greed and the accumulation of stuff. The Bible was written in an honor culture, where stuff and money didn’t matter. In an honor-shame culture, people want honor. Money is not an end in itself, but was a means to an end. Money and wealth was a tool which allowed a person to gain more honor. Of course, if they used their money unwisely, then they could lose honor. So in an honor-shame culture, someone might be insanely rich, but if they had no honor, they were not well-liked or respected. Furthermore, honor-shame cultures believe that wealth and possessions are in limited supply. They believe in a zero-sum economy. In other words, if one person gained wealth, it was only at the expense of someone else. The only way someone could accumulate wealth is if they took it from someone else. The rich get richer only at the expense of the poor, which, in an honor-shame culture, was an extremely shameful way to live. This is one reason why honor-shame cultures had so many “Patrons.” As the rich accumulated wealth, they saw it as their duty and responsibility to give this wealth back to society in the form of music, arts, schools, hospitals, and other such humanitarian works. This way, the wealthy gained greater honor, but not necessarily greater wealth. This is why Zacchaeus was so despised and rejected (cf. Luke 19:1-10, which immediately precedes the Parable of the Minas in Luke 19:11-27). Zacchaeus had not engaged in any criminal behavior, and yet had become extremely rich. People believed that he had robbed his fellow countrymen. Yet Zacchaeus had done nothing but what his earthly master wanted. He had taken the talents given to him, and multiplied them. As a result, Zacchaeus was praised and rewarded by his earthly masters. But he was despised and rejected by everyone else. However, in our materialistic, economic-driven culture, the heroes are the servants who accumulate more stuff. Zacchaeus would be a hero. He would have books and seminars about how you too can become rich like he did. But in an honor-based culture, the people who accumulate stuff are the villains. Why? Because the only way they were able to get more stuff was by taking it from someone else. In an honor-shame culture, the hero of the story is the third servant who did not become rich, but instead was content with what he was given. So in this second parable, who is the master? It cannot Jesus. Indeed, the master is nowhere equated with the “Son of Man” as in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:13) or the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31). The master behaves in ways that are opposite to Jesus. Therefore, the master represents the god of this age, the one who models and encourages the morally reprehensible behavior of stealing from the poor to make himself rich. The master is Mammon. Followers of Jesus should not behave in such ways. If they do, while they may receive the blessings and honor of the master of this world, that is all they will receive. So the faithful servants of Jesus are represented by the third servant in the parable. The third servant in the Parable of the Talents was content with what he had. He didn’t even put his one talent in the bank to collect “interest” (recall the prohibitions against “usury” in Exod 22:24; Lev 25:36-37; Deut 23:19; etc.). However, the master becomes angry at the third servant and tries to shame him by taking away (“stealing”) his possessions and giving it to the one who is already rich. He also calls this third servant “wicked and lazy.” However, since the master has already proven that his own behavior is wicked and shameful, his words hold no weight. He condemns the third servant to the darkness outside the earthly party (Matthew 25:30), but the third servant knows that the rulers of this world will not have the last word. Rejection by the evil rulers of this world is worn as a badge of honor by the faithful followers of Jesus. There are numerous other lines of evidence for this view. For example, while the preceding and following parables clearly describes the kingdom of God (cf. “kingdom of heaven” in Matt 25:1 and “Son of Man comes in His glory” in Matthew 25:31), no such terms are found in this parable. While many English translations do have the words “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew 25:14, these words were added by the translators and are not found in the Greek. Furthermore, this parable begins by saying that the master went into a “far country.” This term was also used in the Parable of the Prodigal Son to indicate someone who is walking away from fellowship with God (Luke 15:13). All of this reveals that the Parable of the Talents is set in contrast to the surrounding two. The parallel account in Luke 19:11-27, along with its surrounding context, also reveals that this is the proper way to read the parable. Luke’s account changes the details a bit, and also refers to the Talents as Minas, but the same understanding can be applied. This is especially true when it is recognized that the story of Zacchaeus immediately precedes the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus is the perfect example of a man who became rich by robbing and stealing from the poor. If Jesus truly is the master in the Parables of the Talents and the Minas, then Jesus should have praised Zacchaeus for his wealth. If the traditional interpretation of the Parable of the Talents (and Minas) is accepted, Jesus had no right to tell Zacchaeus to give back the money he had received by doing his job (there was nothing illegal about what Zacchaeus did). But Jesus told Zacchaeus to regain his honor by giving away his wealth. Furthermore, the final statements of the Parable of the Talents has the master demanding that his enemies be outcast and killed. Again, this does not represented something God will do, but foreshadows what will happen to Jesus Himself and those who follow Him when they stand up to the god of this age because “they do not [him] to rule over them” (Luke 19:27). This master wants his enemies slain before him. Immediately after this, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem where He knows He will be killed (Luke 19:27-28). When He arrives in Jerusalem, one of the first things Jesus does is clear the temple of those who were using it to enrich themselves by stealing from the poor (Luke 19:45-48). As a result, the wicked “servants” of the temple seek to destroy Jesus (Luke 19:47). So when the Parable of the Talents is studied in its various contexts, we see that it does not describe life in the kingdom of heaven. Rather, it describes life in the opposite of the kingdom of heaven, which is the kingdom of this world. The Parable of the Talents is about what life is like for faithful and unfaithful servants in the kingdom of the world. The kingdom of the world has the opposite values and standards as the kingdom of heaven. And so while unfaithful servants will not experience the joys and blessings of the kingdom of heaven, they may do quite well for themselves with worldly joys and blessings. Meanwhile, those who choose to faithfully honor Jesus by loving and serving others will likely be shunned and rejected by the power brokers of this world. If we are the “evil servant” in this parable, the world may praise us and we will be honored by some in this world. But if we truly live honorably (as the third servant did), the world will shame us and take away what we have and give it to those who are already rich. Please share this post with others!
58 minutes | Jan 21, 2021
The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30)
In this podcast episode, we look at what to expect from a Biden/Harris administration, how to know you have not committed the unforgivable sin, and a parable from Jesus that speaks to both issues (The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13:24-30). Predictions for Biden/Harris Administration I always find it interesting that when people who hate President Trump hear about his accomplishments, they say things like “Yeah, but he made a lewd comment about women fifteen years ago!” or “Yeah, but he called racists ‘very fine people’!” These sorts of rebuttals are laughable. Take the “very fine people” comment. If you actually go look at what he said, Trump totally condemned the white supremacists and neo-Nazis in the Charlottesville crowd that day, but said that apart from them, there were other very fine people there. If these sorts of arguments are the best you have in saying that Trump was bad, you may want to check your heart. Here’s the truth about politics. When it comes to politics, it doesn’t matter what politicians say … it matters what they DO. Many politicians lie. They say what they think the voters want to hear, and then when they get into power, they do the opposite. So I don’t really care if you think Trump was mean on Twitter or wasn’t the most polished speaker. All that matters is what he actually DID. And the facts speak for themselves. Take just two areas. Trump was the most pro-life and pro-peace president we have ever had. He is the only president in modern history to not start a war, but in fact, work to end them. He is the only president who took actual steps to end the slaughter of innocent, unborn babies. And since Jesus Himself is pro-life and pro-peace, these two factors alone mean that Trump was leading the nation in Christlike directions. And there are many other areas in which Trump did this as well. We have a verifiable and documented list of all the Trump Administration Accomplishments, most of which are the exact opposite of all the doom and gloom predictions that people made about a Trump presidency. They predicted he was going to get us into another war. Instead, he got us out of wars, brought our troops home, and helped bring peace to the Middle East, and eased tensions with N. Korea. I heard some people predict that he would round up and arrest gays and lesbians, which is simply absurd. They predicted the stock market would crash. It saw record gains. Anyway, since people made predictions about the Trump presidency when it began, let me make a few predictions of my own for what will occur under a Biden/Harris Administration. I will revisit this list prior to the next presidential election to see how I did. Biden won’t make it through the year. Probably not even 6 months. He is in serious cognitive decline. He will resign for medical reasons, allowing Harris to step in. When Trump became President, he left many Obama-era appointees in office, and they continually sought to undermine him and his presidency. Biden will not make the same mistake. He will remove from office as many Trump appointees as he can. Sadly, while the media would have blasted Trump for doing such a thing, they will praise Biden for such actions, thereby showing more of their hypocrisy. (1/21/21 update: Biden’s first firing was Jerome Adams, the Surgeon General) Under Biden and Harris, all of the economic gains achieved by Trump will disappear and be reversed. There will be widespread economic downturn. Tax increases for everyone Higher poverty and homeless rates Higher unemployment rates, especially for Blacks, Hispanics, and women (all made worse by a massive influx of immigrants) (1/21/21 update … job losses have already begun as tens of thousands of union workers have lost their jobs from the end of the Keystone Pipeline and a call to end all fracking, which, by the way, Biden promised during his campaign he would not do) Lower stock market This $15 minimum wage hike will be a disaster. It will lead to higher prices across the board for everything, and a loss of at least one million entry-level jobs. Higher gas, oil, and electricity prices since US will no longer be energy independent (1/21/21 update: has already begun with the end of the Keystone pipeline and the end of fracking) Higher prescription drug prices and healthcare costs as the Democrats seek to increase bureaucracy and decrease competition in the marketplace Lower household income for the middle class Under Biden and Harris, there will also be greater social problems in the US and around the world As we support terrorist nations with gas and oil purchases, they will fund more terrorist activity in the US and abroad Peace will be endangered in the middle east, and especially with Israel Tensions will rise with N. Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, many of which will seek to develop their nuclear weapon capabilities A declaration of war on at least one other country Less religious freedom in the US and around the world Less free speech for those who don’t agree with people in power (already begun as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Instagram are actively censoring Trump supporters, and even Trump himself) Greater violence in our cities Higher incarceration rates for Blacks and Hispanics More drug overdoses Gun control will increase, and along with it, gun crimes. As statistics reveal in the US, where there is more control there is more gun crime. Higher crime rates in nearly every community An increase in abortions (1/21/21 update, A Biden EO has provided taxpayer funding for abortions) Women’s rights and protections will go backward (for example, with a push to legalize prostitution, and to allow transgender men to participate in women’s sports. 1/21/21 update: already occurring through EO on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation) Trump and conservatives will be blamed by the democrats and by the media for all of the problems listed above One positive thing that will result from the Biden/Harris presidency, probably within the first 3 months, is that COVID will disappear. They will do a mask mandate, and maybe a vaccination mandate, and then claim victory over COVID. This will prove that all the COVID coverage was primarily only about destroying Trump’s economy and getting Biden into office. The Mail Bag Numerous questions about the Unforgivable Sin and God’s love and forgiveness: I bought your book about the unforgiveable sin. I don’t find any part talking about jokes that includes the Holy Spirit. I laughed a joke like that and I was terrified I committed the unforgiveable sin. Do you think I committed it? – Hernyak I sometimes have blasphemous thoughts and in a counseling session told the pastor the blasphemous thought the demons were trying to put in my head. It was against the Holy Spirit and was not from me so just telling the pastor what the thought was will not send me to hell will it? – Anonymous I fear that I’ve committed the unpardonable sin because I said something really horrible to the Holy Spirit in my mind. Hoping that you can give me some shred of hope. It’s killing me and I constantly doubt my salvation. These doubts have plagued me for years. – Mike If you fear that you have committed the sin, this proves you haven’t. Why? Because it proves that the Holy Spirit is still at work in you to draw you to Jesus and convict you of sin. Read my sermon on the unforgivable sin. This is not to say it is healthy to fear this sin. It isn’t. We should be able to rest in the love and and forgiveness of God, knowing that when we come to understand both, we will not fear, for there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18). How to know you are loved, forgiven, and have eternal life? Believe in Jesus for eternal life (John3 :16; 5;24; 6:47). Once you have eternal life, it is yours forever. You cannot lose it. Eternal life, by definition, is eternal. The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30) In the Bible study section of this podcast, we are looking at a passage that applies to both of the two previous sections, the politics section and the mail bag section. When there are different perspectives, different viewpoints, or different ideas about theology or politics, how can we know which view is correct, and which view is wrong? This is a big issue, right? We all want to know the truth. We want to do what is correct. We want to follow Jesus properly and do what is best for our families, our country, and this world. But how can we know which is the best and most Christlike way of walking? Jesus provides the answer in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30). This study is a summary of what I teach in my Gospel Dictionary online course, in the entries on Fire and the Kingdom of God. In the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a man who sows good seed in his field (Matthew 13:24). The kingdom of heaven, of course, is not heaven, but is the way God brings heaven down to earth as Jesus and His disciples spread the rule and reign of God over the earth. It begins with the sower spreading seed. But an enemy comes and sows bad seeds in the field, so that a bunch of weeds, or tares, spring up among the wheat. The seed that Jesus refers to should be read in light of the first parable of Matthew 13, the Parable of the Four Soils. There, Jesus teaches that the seed is the Word of God. But here in Matthew 13 we see that there are two types of seeds that can be scattered. There are the seeds of kingdom, and the seeds of the devil. These are two contrasting kingdoms, which result in two contrasting types of people. But initially, when the seeds first begin to sprout, there is great difficulty in deciding between the wheat and weeds. When the servants discover the weeds, they ask how the weeds came to exist and what the owner wants to do about them (Matthew 13:25-27). This is where some humor enters into this parable. As anyone who has ever had a field (or even a flower garden) knows, one does not need an enemy to sow bad seeds for weeds to pop up and grow. So when Jesus describes an enemy sowing bad seeds in the owner’s field, His audience would have likely snickered a little bit. No enemy would work so hard to ruin a crop. If an enemy really wanted to ruin someone’s crop, there were better and easier ways to do it. But the enemy does sow bad seeds in this story, which not only shows his own foolishness, but also provides a humorous backdrop for the rest of the story. Many commentaries and articles point out that the bad seed in the field is most likely darnel, which looks exactly like wheat until harvest time. It is a mimic weed. This is why the owner of the field tells his servants to just let the two plants grow side by side until harvest (Matthew 13:27-30). Prior to harvest, it would be nearly impossible to tell the two apart, and so any attempt to remove the darnel would likely result in the loss of wheat as well. Once harvest arrives, wheat turns golden and the heavy heads of grain droop down toward the ground, but darnel tends to remain greener for longer and will continue to stand upright. Since wheat and darnel appear so identical, the presence of the tares in the field goes unnoticed until the grain begins to “go to crop,” or develop a head. This is why the servants only notice the tares once the wheat begins to mature (Matthew 13:26). So they ask the owner if he wants them to pull out the tares, but since wheat and darnel look quite similar to each other prior to full maturity, the owner tells his servants to leave the weeds alone and let them grow along with the wheat. At harvest, the reapers will go through and gather the tares, and then they can harvest the wheat (Matthew 13:30). The tares are thrown into the fire to be burned. One of the reasons it was necessary to first harvest and then burn the tares is because darnel can be deadly to livestock and humans if consumed in large quantities. Smaller quantities will cause dizziness if baked into bread or brewed with beer. In fact, there are historical records of people actually cultivating darnel for this very reason, treating it like an ancient form of cannabis. But if too much is consumed, darnel can cause great sickness and even death. When Jesus explains this parable to His disciples, He begins by identifying the various characters in the story. He says that the sower is the Son of Man (Matthew 13:37), which is one of Jesus’s favorite titles for Himself. The field which the sower plants is the world, and so the good seeds which go out into the world are the sons of the kingdom (Matthew 13:38). The tares are therefore the opposite of the sons of the kingdom; Jesus calls them the sons of the wicked one. The enemy is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels (Matthew 13:38). Now each of these characters need to be more carefully explained, but first, it is critical to notice that there is one set of characters Jesus does not identify. This missing identification is the key to the parable. Who is it that Jesus does not identify? It is the servants. Jesus does not explain who the servants represent. I have heard some say that the servants are the reapers, but when the owner is speaking to the servants, he clearly identifies the reapers as a different group (cf. Matthew 13:30). The solution to this problem is to return to the image of the field as the world. The Son of Man sowed seeds in the field, and the servants went out and worked in the field. Since the field is the world, and Jesus is the one who sowed the seeds in the world, then the servants are the ones who tend, cultivate, and work in the fields. Who are they? They are the followers of Jesus. They are disciples. The servants in the story are the Christians. Christians, or followers of Jesus, are those who work in the world to grow and expand the kingdom of God which Jesus planted and initiated. But if the servants are Christians, then who are the “sons of the kingdom”? Jesus says the seed is the sons of the kingdom. But if the servants are Christians, then the sons of the kingdom (the seed) cannot also be Christians. To put it another way, since the servants are the followers of Jesus, then this means that the sons of the kingdom must be someone else. And when we understand the identity of the sons of the kingdom, we will also understand the identity of the sons of the evil one (which might be better translated as “sons of wickedness”; Matthew 13:38). To understand the identity of both, it is first necessary to understand how the word “son” is used in Scripture. Typically, a “son” is understood to be a child of someone else. But the word “son” can also be used metaphorically. When the word “son” is used in connection to a concept or idea, instead of to a person or family, it refers to the characteristics or inner attributes of someone, rather than to the person themselves. So “sons of this world” are contrasted with “sons of light” in Luke 16:8 (cf. John 12:36; 1 Thess 5:5). A student or disciple of the Pharisees could be called a “son of the Pharisees” (Matt 12:27; Acts 23:6). Scripture can also speak of “sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36), “sons of this age” (Luke 16:8; 20:34), “sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:2; 5:6), “sons of the devil” (Acts 13:10) and numerous other similar terms. Such descriptions are not literal (a son of the devil is not literally the biological offspring of the devil), but are instead figurative and symbolic ways of referring to someone’s character and behavior. So who are the sons of the kingdom and the sons of wickedness, and how can we tell? One more contextual key is needed before an answer is discovered. In the context before these seven parables of Matthew 13, the Jewish religious leaders accused Jesus of operating according to the power of Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24). Jesus responds with a teaching full of symbolism and imagery (Matthew 12:25-37) that shows up again in the parables of Matthew 13. He speaks of kingdoms (Matthew 12:25, 28), sons of the Pharisees (Matthew 12:27), gathering and scattering (Matthew 12:30), this age and the age to come (Matthew 12:32), and the fruitfulness (or lack thereof) of various trees (Matthew 12:33-37). All the parables of Matthew 13 must be read in light of this confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. While they were accusing Him of doing the devil’s work, He responded by saying that it was not Him, but they, who were committing blasphemy and speaking evil from their hearts (Matthew 12:35). But how could the onlookers, the disciples, tell who was right? They had grown up being taught to love, respect, and listen to the religious Pharisees. But now they loved, respected, and listened to Jesus. Yet the Pharisees were saying that the teachings of Jesus were from the devil, and now Jesus was saying the same thing about the teachings of the Pharisees. So what were the disciples to do? How could they know who was right and who was wrong? If you have ever had two Bible teachers, both of whom you greatly respect, disagree with each other, then you understand the dilemma of the disciples. How were they to choose between Jesus and the Pharisees? The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares is the answer to their question. In this parable, Jesus, the Son of Man, tells His servants, the disciples, that two types of seeds have been sown which result in two types of sons of two types of kingdoms. But which was which and how could they know? Jesus tells His disciples to wait until the harvest “at the end of this age” (Matthew 13:40). But this is not helpful for them if the end of the age is thousands of years in the future when the new heavens and new earth are created. So what if “this age” was the age in which Jesus and His disciples were living, and the age to come was the age that followed (cf. Matthew 12:32)? Indeed, Scripture indicates in numerous ways and places that a new age did indeed come into existence with the death and resurrection of Jesus and the birth of the church. The death and resurrection of Jesus gave birth to a new age, the age of the kingdom of God, the church age. There were birth pains and many travails as the old age died and the new age began (as Jesus discusses in Matthew 24–25), but the resurrection of Jesus and the birth of the church was the sign that the new age had begun. Jesus tells His disciples that while it is difficult for them to decide between the wheat and the tares right now, it will become clear to them at the harvest. Though they had trouble deciding between the way of Jesus and the way of the Pharisees, the end of the age would make it clear when the messengers of God arrived and took away the tares. Here we have the religiously subversive nature of the parable. The disciples of Jesus are faced with a choice: they can either follow the way of Jesus or the way of the Pharisees. Jesus tells them that they don’t need to figure it out. In fact, it would be dangerous for them to try to do so, for they will not be able to properly and perfectly tell the difference between the good teaching and bad. Instead, they should just wait for the harvest and let the reaping angels separate the wheat from the chaff. And this is indeed what happened in 70 AD. The way of the Pharisees was destroyed when Jerusalem and the temple were burned with fire. This does not mean that the Pharisees and all who followed their teachings were unregenerate sinners who will spend eternity burning in hell. Everlasting torture in hell is not anywhere in view with this parable. To the contrary, the “furnace of fire” imagery is drawn from Daniel 3:19-25 where Daniel’s friends are thrown into a furnace of fire, but only their bonds are burned as they walk around in the flame with one shining like the Son of God. (As a side note, the “Son of Man” imagery is drawn from Daniel 7:13-14, and the imagery of the righteous shining like the sun in Matthew 13:43 is drawn from Daniel 12:3). It can be assumed that when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army, many Christians were also consumed by the flames. But Christianity survived, as it was not (and is not) dependent upon a city, a temple, or a priesthood. Yet the Jewish Pharisaical religion was dependent upon such things, and so it died out when Jerusalem fell. And so we see that the burning of the chaff in the furnace of fire is not about God sending people to hell where they will burn forever and ever. Instead, it is about the disciples of Jesus allowing God to be the one to judge between right and wrong, good and evil, especially when it comes to deciding between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of the Pharisees. As a result of the events in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve tried to gain for themselves what should be left up to God, we humans have always done a poor job of judging between good and evil. So God invites us to leave all such judgment up to Him. And this is what Jesus tells His disciples to do as well. The same truth applies to us today. Humans make bad judgments, and when we do, we stumble and get burned. But this does not mean we go to hell; it means we face the consequences of our poor decisions. While such consequences are painful, we need not worry too much about them, for they do not say anything about our eternal destinies, and indeed, only serve to purify us so that we shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father (Matthew 13:43). The principle of this parable still applies to us today. It is sometimes very difficult to tell the difference between good teaching and bad teaching. Or even between good and bad politics. When this occurs, the advice of Jesus is that we withhold judgment and wait for the harvest to come, when the choice will be obvious. The harvest occurs when the natural results or logical outcomes of the various teachings begin to bear fruit. When a teaching results in the fruit of the kingdom of heaven (which Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23), then we can know that such teachings are good and godly. But when a teaching bears fruit that is worldly and of the devil (the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21), such teachings can be safely rejected. We cannot look to a person’s works to see whether or not they have eternal life, but we can (and should) look to a person’s works to see whether or not their teachings can be followed. As we do this, we can see whether or not the kingdom of heaven is truly taking root in their life, and therefore in ours as well if we follow their teachings and example. Please share this post with others!
40 minutes | Jan 15, 2021
The Parable of the Four Soils Explained (Matthew 13:1-23)
What is the meaning of the Parable of the Four Soils in Matthew 13:1-23, and why did speak in Parables? These are the main questions we answer in this podcast study. But before we address these questions, we first consider the following two topics: A few words about the impeachment of President Trump (for a second time) and him being censored by social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube A letter from a reader about Calvinism In the letter from a reader, she writes about a study on Acts and my series on Calvinism. Here they are: Acts 13:48 and Unconditional Election The Words of Calvinism and the Word of God The Parable of the Four Soils Explained Here are some studies you may want to also consider: The Parable of the Four Soils from Luke 8:4-15 The Parable of the Four Soils Revisited Why Did Jesus Speak in Parables? Here is a transcript of what I taught today (This is an excerpt from my Gospel Dictionary lesson on the Kingdom of God): Matthew 13 begins with the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23; cf. Luke 8:4-15). This is the introductory, longest, and most important parable of the group. Thankfully, this is also one of the few parables that Jesus explains. In the parable, Jesus talks about a sower who went out to sow seed in a field. The seed fell on four different types of soil, which each soil producing a different amount of harvest (Matthew 13:3-9; Luke 8:4-8). Before Jesus explains the parable, He first provides an explanation for why He speaks in parables (Matthew 13:10-17; Luke 8:9-10). Despite the claim of many pastors, Jesus did not tell stories in parable form to help illustrate or make His teachings more clear. According to Jesus, He told parables so that most of His listening audience would not understand what He was saying (Matthew 13:13-15). Jesus speaks in Parables Because He does NOT Want People to Understand Him Why would Jesus do this? Because some of His teaching was only intended for His disciples, and He only wanted those who were truly His disciples to hear and understand what He was saying. Some teaching can be dangerous if a person is not yet ready or willing to hear it. Only those who have put into practice what they have already learned are ready to receive more revelation from Jesus (cf. Luke 8:16-18). Furthermore, Jesus was always and only interested in making disciples. He spoke with confusing parables so that He would be given an opportunity to better disciple those who came to Him for an explanation. So if you are ever confused by the parables of Jesus, good! You are on the right track. But stop with being confused. Instead, go to Jesus and ask Him to teach and instruct you about what the parables mean. This discipleship method of Jesus is one of the first ways the kingdom of God takes root in our hearts and minds. The Meaning of the Parable of the Four Soils Following this brief explanation of why He speaks in parables, Jesus then explains the meaning of the Parable of the Four Soils (Matthew 13:18-23; Luke 8:11-15). He says that there are four basic responses to the truths of the kingdom. Some simply do not understand it (Matthew 13:19). Some hear and understand it, and are initially filled with joy, but troubles and trials of this world cause them to turn away and forget what they learned (Matthew 13:2-21). A third group also responds with joy, and even begins to make changes and progress in their lives based on what they heard, but the cares and pleasures of this world lure them away from the truths of the kingdom and they leave it behind (Matthew 13:22). The fourth and final group hear the truths, respond to them, and continue in them, resulting in a great harvest (Matthew 13:23). When people confuse the fact that the kingdom of heaven is not the same thing as going to heaven, they use this parable to teach some terrible (and false) ideas about the gospel. Many pastors and teachers who have made this mistake, use the Parable of the Four Soils to say that anyone who is not part of the fourth soil does not really have eternal life and will not spend eternity with God. This is a tragic mistake, and has caused great harm to many in the kingdom of God. Indeed, it could be argued that those who teach such things belong in the first soil, for they have not even understood some of the most basic and introductory truths of the kingdom, which is that eternal life is freely and permanently given to anyone who simply believes in Jesus for it. This is one of the most joyful truths of the gospel! It is much better, therefore, to recognize that anyone can respond to the truths of the kingdom in any of these four ways. Both Christians and non-Christians alike can hear the truths of the kingdom and respond in one of the four ways Jesus describes here. Jesus saw this occur with the Pharisees and religious leaders who hated him, with the multitudes that followed Him, and even with the close disciples who believed in Him. The four responses outlined in this text are the four possible responses that any person is able to make when they hear truths of the kingdom. What kind of soil is in your life? And it is not an all-or-nothing categorization. Since there are nearly innumerable truths of the kingdom, it is entirely possible for a single person to accept some of the truths but not others. A single person might be a fourth soil in regard to some kingdom truths, but a first soil in regard to others. Each of our lives is a field, and some aspects of our thinking and theology are fertile soil, ready to produce a great harvest. But other aspects of our lives are wayside soil, which have become hardened to the truths of God. Other areas of our life are somewhere in-between these two extremes. The goal of following Jesus is to till and tend the hard, rocky, and thorny soils so that more and more of our life becomes verdant and ready to produce a great harvest for the kingdom of God. This truth from the Parable of the Four Soils lays the foundation for the other truths of the kingdom that follow. With each truth that Jesus presents, the question for the listener is this: Which of the four soils will you be in regard to this truth? Please share this post with others!
44 minutes | Jan 8, 2021
God is Not Just
I’m back! 2020 was a rough year, and 2021 will likely be difficult as well, but I am going to try to get back into blogging and podcasting. In this first episode of 2021, I explain the new format for my podcast, and discuss three things: My thoughts on the response of some Christian pastors and authors on the January 6, 2021 election protest in Washington DC Mailbag: How to know you have eternal life and did not commit the unforgivable sin. Why God is not just, the Bible does not talk about justice, and how we can respond to injustice. Is God a God of love AND justice? Nope. On the topic of justice, here is a brief summary of what I say in the podcast, and also what I will be teaching in my soon-to-be-released Gospel Dictionary lesson on justice: “Justice” is not in the Bible. Indeed, the English word “justice” is not found anywhere in the New Testament of the King James Version. The trouble with justice begins in the Bible translation. On the one hand, there are several Greek and Hebrew words that often get translated as “justice” and then then are several other English words that are used as translations for the Greek and Hebrew terms. Usually, translation troubles come from one direction or the other. For example, we have one English word “love” that is often used to translate four different Greek words for love (agape, philia, eros, and storgē). Other times, there are numerous English words that are often used to translate one Greek word, such as both faith and belief being used as a translation for pistis. With the justice word family, both of these translation troubles exist. With justice, the two main Greek terms are krisis (2920) and dikaiosunē (1342). However, as seen previously, the best translation for krisis is judgment; not justice (see Judgment). In the passages where krisis is translated as justice, the term judgment (and specially, the concept of properly naming or identifying something) is a better translation (cf. Matt 12:18, 20; 23:23; Luke 11:42; Acts 8:33). Therefore, it seems best to always translate krisis as judgment rather than justice. That leaves the dikaiosunē word family. The dikaiosunē word family (including dikē, dikaios, dikaioō) is variously translated as justice, justification, justify, just, and righteousness and a few others. You will notice that the term righteousness and justification have no English semantic connection, and yet they are both used to translate the same Greek term, dikaiosunē. As argued elsewhere in The Gospel Dictionary, it is best, when translating a single Greek term and for clarity’s sake, to pick one English term and stick with it. No English reader who has little knowledge of Greek would ever imagine that a single Greek word lies behind the translation of both righteousness and justification. So it is of immense help to the English reader to pick a single English word (and its word family) as a translation for a single Greek word (and its word family). With dikaiosunē, we have two English choices. We can choose the “just” word family (justice, justification, justify) or the “right” word family (righteous, rectification—or rightification, rectify—or rightify). Since “rightification” is not an English word, the initial inclination is to go with the “just” word family. However, the Greek term dikaiosunē is most literally translated “to make right.” Since, as seen above, the term justice is so misunderstood and misapplied today, it seems that using the right word family is the “right” way to translate the dikaiosunē word family. The Hebrew words tsedeq (6664) and misphat (4941) have also been translated as justice, but tsedeq is best translated as “righteousness” and misphat as “judgment.” So again, justice is not in the Bible. But righteousness is. When humans cry out for justice, what we really want is righteousness. We want things to be set right. And God’s way of achieving righteousness is far better and far different than the human, earthly way of seeking justice. In fact, the two are usually at polar opposites of the morality spectrum. The human methods of achieving justice are often seen as unrighteous by God, while the divine methods of righteousness are often viewed by humans as unfair, unjust, and irresponsible. So it is not true, as people claim, that God is a God of love and justice. Rather, God is a God of love and righteousness, and the two are not at odds with each other. But justice and righteousness are at odds with each other. Human history, including biblical history, reveals that when humans call for justice, what they really want is vengeance. But God has said that vengeance is His and He will repay (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19). And how does God exact vengeance? How does He repay people for the evil they have done? Jesus shows us how. When God sets out to repay people for the sins they have committed, He dies for them. He freely forgives them. This “justice” of God does not fit any human definition or understanding of justice. Human justice calls for people to get what they deserve. To be punished in a similar measurement to the pain they have caused others. Divine “justice” extends only love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, all of which are the exact opposite of what people deserve. This is why we cannot call it justice. It is righteousness, but it is not justice. It is as Gandhi said, “Justice that love gives is a surrender. Justice that law gives is a punishment.” None of this is to say that injustice does not occur in this world. Quite to the contrary, injustice is everywhere, even (and especially) in the political and religious programs (which often become pogroms) for justice. Our world is awash with injustice. The biblical solution to injustice, however, is not a better form of justice. In the same way that more war is never the answer to war, so also “better justice” is never the answer to injustice. Why not? Because all forms of justice lead to greater injustice. In fact, cries for “justice” often hide the scapegoating mechanism. Scapegoats are never truly seen. If you are able to identify your scapegoat, he or she is not your scapegoat. People think a scapegoat truly is guilty, and therefore, killing or punishing them is not wrong, but is only justice. But scapegoating is always wrong, and scapegoating is always justified. Therefore, both scapegoating and cries for justice must be done away with. So what can we do about injustice? We can follow the way of God. God’s answer to injustice is righteousness. The righteousness of God is based on forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation, and redemption (see Righteousness), terms that are not usually related to justice. It is usually not considered “justice” to forgive the one who wronged you. But it is righteous. It is usually not considered “justice” to reconcile with the one who hurt you, unless that other person is first forced to make reparations (often unjustly), but reconciliation is righteous. So it incorrect to say that God is a God of love and justice. He is not. God is love (1 John 4:8). God is holy (Isa 6:3). God is righteous but God is not just. And there is a vast difference. Please share this post with others!
24 minutes | Jul 30, 2020
Is the Gospel Defined in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4?
1 Corinthians 15 does not contain the entire gospel. Nor is it a comprehensive list of what a person must believe to receive eternal life. To the contrary, how to receive eternal life is not even in view. Eternal life is assumed, and some elements of the gospel are proclaimed to help those who already have eternal life live in light of it. This study is an excerpt from my Gospel Dictionary online course. This course considers 52 key words of the Gospel and thousands of biblical texts. The course contains over 100 hours Bible teaching. You can take the course by joining my online discipleship group. The Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul’s explanation of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 is probably more controversial than any other gospel-related passage in the New Testament. This is because 1 Corinthians 15 seems to explicitly define “the gospel.” Paul writes, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Paul writes that he is going to reiterate to them the gospel he preached when he was among them, which they had received, and in which they still stand. All of this is very similar to the language he used in Galatians 2. The dilemma with what Paul writes, however, comes in the second half of 1 Corinthians 15:2: “…by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached.” By this, many believe that Paul is explaining what is necessary to believe in order to receive everlasting life. But note that if this is what Paul means then the last part of verse 2 (“unless you believed in vain”) implies that if a person doesn’t persevere in holding fast to the gospel, then they either lose their salvation or never really believed in the first place. If Paul is defining what a person must believe in order to be justified, then apparently, they have to continue to believe it to stay justified or prove themselves justified. The only other option is to recognize that the word “saved” is not referring to going to heaven when you die, but is similar in meaning to how Paul used the word in Romans 1:16-17. The word saved means “delivered,” and context determines what we are delivered from (see Salvation: The Most Misunderstood Word in the Bible). The word “saved” in 1 Corinthians refers to being “healthy” or blameless at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18, 21; 3:15; 5:5; 6:19). The word “saved” in 1 Corinthians is not about escaping hell and go to heaven when we die (It almost never means this in the Bible). Instead, it is about believers living in such a way so that when they stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ (a judgment for believers only), they receive praise and commendation from Jesus for a life well lived. So the gospel Paul defines in 1 Corinthians 15 is a message for believers to help prepare them for the Judgment Seat of Christ. This passage is not about the essential elements that must be believed in order to receive everlasting life. This is not a passage for unbelievers. Rather, 1 Corinthians 15 contains essential discipleship truths which affect our sanctification as believers and how we use the power of God in our lives (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18). What if 1 Corinthians 15 IS for non-Christians about how to receive eternal life? Nevertheless, some still want to use 1 Corinthians 15 as a central passage for the gospel that must be presented to unbelievers so they can receive eternal life. So for the sake of argument, let us briefly assume that such a view is correct. Let us assume that Paul is talking about essential “evangelistic” truths that a person must believe in order to receive everlasting life. In this view, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 delineate what these essentials are. Paul writes, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” When these two verses are used to define the essential gospel elements that people must believe in order to receive eternal life, they end up with three basic gospel truths. This passage, we are told, reveals three things a person must believe in order to receive everlasting life. They must believe that: Christ died for our sins. He was buried. He rose again from the dead. Some might add a fourth element on the top of this list which is implied by Paul but not stated explicitly, namely that we must also believe we are sinners. The logic is that since Paul writes that Christ died for our sins, people must first believe that they are sinful before they can believe that Christ died for their sins. Fine. Let us give the benefit of the doubt, and allow this implied truth of the gospel as well. But this approach leads to some serious problems about Paul’s definition of the gospel. For example, who within Christendom does not believe these three (or four) truths? Sure, there might be a few liberal pastors and scholars who deny that we are sinners or argue that Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead, but for the most part, these three (or four) truths are known, accepted, and believed by just about everybody who bears the name “Christian.” Even the “non-evangelical” fringe groups such as Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses believe these things. Furthermore, entire segments of Christianity which teach that eternal life is based on our own effort and good works will also wholeheartedly agree to these statements. There is very little in these statements to separate evangelical Christianity from all other forms. There is nothing here to separate orthodoxy from unorthodoxy; nothing which separates true Christianity from cultic Christianity. Let me put it another way: What if someone believed they were a sinner, that Jesus died on the cross for their sin, was buried, and three days later He rose again from the dead, all in accordance with what Scripture says, but at the same time, believed that Jesus was only human, was not born of a virgin, and sinned just like the rest of us? Has this person understood and believed the biblical gospel? Of course not! But nothing that Paul says here indicates anything wrong with these other beliefs. Furthermore, it would be possible to believe everything Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, but also believe that we still had to live a life of good works in order to make it to heaven. Has such a person understood and believed the gospel? I would say “No,” as would most evangelical pastors and authors. Some pastors and Bible teachers recognize this dilemma, and so they add some ideas to what Paul mentions here to help clarify the gospel. They argue that although Paul does not mention these other items here in 1 Corinthians 15, he does mention them elsewhere, such as in Galatians 2 and Romans, and so these other elements can be safely added to Paul’s list of essential gospel truths. Of course, as soon as people start to go outside of 1 Corinthians 15 to add elements to the gospel, there is no consistency in which elements people start adding. Some Bible teachers will add elements about the deity of Jesus and the necessity of justification by faith alone apart from works. Others will include the sinless life of Jesus, His virgin birth, His atonement, and whatever other “essential” gospel truths they think are necessary. But as soon as we start adding things to the list of what a person must believe in order to truly have everlasting life, there is no rational stopping place. It is all subjective to how much doctrine you want to throw into the mix. Some will have three essentials, another will have five, while someone else will have eight or ten. And of course, all of these truths can be shown to be essential to the “gospel” since all of them, in one place or another in the New Testament are included in the gospel. This arbitrary practice of augmenting Paul’s definition of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 proves that Paul is not defining the gospel after all. He is including some of the essential truths of the gospel, but by no means is he including them all. Evidence of this is further found in the fact that although most pastors and Bible teachers want Paul’s definition of the gospel to conclude at 1 Corinthians 15:4, this is not where Paul himself stops defining the gospel. He goes on to include numerous truths within his definition of the gospel which no pastor or Bible teacher ever includes in their augmented lists. Paul continues on through at least 1 Corinthians 15:8, and maybe further than that. In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, he says, “… and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” So if 1 Corinthians 15 defines what a person must believe to receive everlasting life, not only must we include the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but also the appearances of Christ to Cephas, then the twelve, then to over 500 at once, then to James, then to the apostles, then last of all to Paul. If Paul is truly defining the essential gospel elements in 1 Corinthians 15 that an unbeliever must believe in order to receive eternal life, we have no right to arbitrarily stop his definition in 1 Corinthians 15:4, but must include all of the elements he includes, and not add anything he fails to mention. But many pastors and Bible teachers do both—they first add to Paul’s supposed gospel definition in 1 Corinthians 15 and then they also cut things out. The only available solution to this problem is that Paul is simply me
19 minutes | Jul 23, 2020
What is the Gospel in Romans?
The gospel in Romans is the same gospel taught elsewhere in the New Testament. It is a message for both unbelievers and believers. Unbelievers should place faith in Jesus for justification and eternal life; believers should live a life of faith so that the power of God can deliver them from the power of sin in their lives. This study is an excerpt from my Gospel Dictionary online course. This course considers 52 key words of the Gospel and thousands of biblical texts. The course contains over 100 hours Bible teaching. You can take the course by joining my online discipleship group. What is the Gospel in Romans? If Romans is Paul’s magnum opus on the gospel, we should expect his letter to contain a clear explanation about the content of the gospel he preached. And this is exactly what we find. If Galatians is Paul’s defense of the gospel, Romans is where he defines the gospel. But we must be careful to include everything within the gospel that Paul himself does. From my own study of Romans, it seems that many stop short of including everything within the gospel which Paul includes in his letter to the Romans. Many want to stop at the end of Romans 5, or maybe the end of Romans 8, but a careful reading of Romans reveals that Paul’s gospel explanation carries all the way through Romans 16. Paul begins his letter right away by talking about the gospel. He wants to tell his readers what his letter is about, and so from the opening statement in his letter, he indicates that he will be writing about the gospel of God (Romans 1:1). Romans 1:1 indicates that all sixteen chapters concern the gospel, not just the first three, five, or eight chapters. The Gospel in Romans 1:1-5 In Romans 1:1, we read, “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.” The following verses explain what he was separated to. First, Paul states that the gospel of God was “promised before though His prophecies in the Holy Scriptures” (Romans 1:2). In other words, the gospel was a topic of prophecy. But in Romans 1:3, he really gets into the content of the gospel. This gospel concerns “His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” As can be immediately seen, Romans 1:1-2 contains several elements of the gospel which are normally not included in typical gospel presentations. Not only does Paul’s gospel include Old Testament prophecy, but it also includes the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the fact that according to the flesh, Jesus was born of the seed of David. Though many teach that the Lordship of Christ is essential to the gospel, almost nobody today includes the descendancy of Jesus from David. Thirdly, he goes on to write that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4). This can be understood in various ways, either as a reference to the deity of Jesus or to His royal kingship, but either way, Paul stipulates that he is thinking primarily of the power and authority Jesus received after the resurrection. Nobody denies that the resurrection is central to the gospel, though few mention the power and authority as the Son of God that Jesus received by the resurrection from the dead. In Romans 1:5 Paul explains why he was separated to the gospel, and why he preached. He says that he preached this gospel “for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name.” There are numerous ways this phrase “obedience to the faith” can be understood. The best option is that Paul is not primarily referring to initial faith in Jesus for justification, but the continual life of faith in Christ which results in obedience. So Paul’s gospel in Romans is not simply to tell unbelievers how to receive justification and everlasting life. Paul’s gospel in his letter to the Romans includes this truth, but much more as well. Paul wants to emphasize how justified believers can live the life of faithful obedience to God, thereby escaping the temporal wrath of God in this life which comes upon us as a result of sin. The Gospel in Romans 1:16-17 This idea is further seen in Romans 1:16-17, the key verses of Romans. The main point of these verses is that the gospel Paul preached is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. “Salvation” in the Bible is not primarily about how to receive eternal life, but is instead about deliverance from some sort of physical, temporal, or even spiritual calamity, we are led to look into the context for what kind of deliverance Paul has in view. And we need not look far. Romans 1:16 itself indicates that whatever deliverance Paul has in view, it is deliverance for believers, that is, it is for people who have already believed. The deliverance in view is not for people who have not yet believed, but for those who have believed, both Jews and Gentiles alike. And in Romans 1:17, we see a theme that reminds us of what we saw in Galatians, that believers should live their life in Jesus by faith. Going on into Romans 1:18 and following, Paul writes about how the wrath of God comes upon those who practice unrighteousness, and in Romans 2 Paul indicates that this wrath (which is not hell!) can fall upon anybody who practices unrighteousness, believer and unbeliever alike—for there is no partiality with God (Romans 2:8-11). Paul does not want this temporal discipline of God to fall upon anybody, and especially not the believers in Rome to whom he is writing, and so He calls them in the following chapters to live their lives by faith in the Son of God. This is the idea he introduced in Romans 1:16-17, and which he expounds throughout his entire letter. A Gospel for Believers So in Romans, Paul is not teaching a gospel for unbelievers, but for believers. He wants to tell those who have already believed how to be delivered from the “wrath of God” coming against those who practice unrighteousness. Paul’s gospel in Romans is a message about how all people, whether Jew or Greek, can escape the temporal devastation caused by sin in this life. And how does that occur? Unbelievers must believe in Jesus for justification (Romans 2–4). Believers must live a life of faith under the cross of Jesus Christ (Romans 5–8). But Paul’s gospel does not stop with chapter 8. He wants believers to live a life of faith, whether they are Jewish believers or Gentile believers. And so in Romans 9–11, Paul addresses some particular concerns that Jewish believers face concerning the wrath of God, the ingrafting of the Gentiles, and the future of the Jewish people as God’s chosen nation. To be delivered from temporal wrath, it is critical to see that Romans 9–11 are just as much a part of Paul’s gospel as Romans 1–8. His gospel explanation does not stop at Romans 8:39, but is only half finished. This is also true for Romans 12–16. Just as Romans 9–11 helps Jewish believers grasp the gospel as the power of God for delivering them from temporal wrath, Romans 12–16 similarly helps all believers (including Jewish believers) live in a way that will bring deliverance from temporal discipline. As evidence that the entire letter is part of Paul’s gospel, near the end of what he writes he reminds the Roman Christians that what he has written to them, though strongly stated in some areas, is so that he can be a faithful minister of the gospel of God (Romans 15:16, 19-20). Even in his concluding remarks, he says something almost identical to what he wrote in 1:5, 16-17, that what he writes is the gospel which is for obedience to the faith (Romans 16:25-26). So the gospel in Romans is the same gospel we have seen elsewhere in the New Testament. It is a message for both unbelievers and believers. Unbelievers should place faith in Jesus for justification and eternal life; believers should live a life of faith so that the power of God can deliver them from the power of sin in their lives. The gospel message in Romans includes a vast array of truths and ideas to accomplish these goals. Understanding the Gospel requires us to properly understand the key words and terms of the Gospel. Take my course, "The Gospel Dictionary" to learn about the 52 key words of the Gospel, and hundreds of Bible passages that use these words. This course costs $297, but when you join the Discipleship group, you can to take the entire course for free. Please share this post with others!
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