Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Four – Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall (Q.18)

Earlier Studies –

Listen to the audio for this lesson here.

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Q.18: What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?

A. The sin whereby our parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit.1

1Genesis 3:6, 12

Today, we arrive at the actual deed of our first parents, the deed that led to their descendance into an estate of sin and misery and ours. On the surface, there does not appear to be very much here. It seems fairly forthright. Their sin was that of eating the forbidden fruit. Let’s move on, right?

It is important, though, that we pause and consider the nature of this act and what it has to teach us about our own sin today.

Satan. Let us begin by considering the tempter himself. What do we know about Satan from other passages of Scripture that also bear true in this one? First, we should consider the fact that Satan was a guardian cherub (Ezek. 28:11-18). He was placed in the garden of God and was more beautiful than all the other angels of God, and yet unrighteousness was found in him. His unrighteousness was found in his desire to usurp God and assume a higher throne (Isa. 14:12-17). In attempting this coup, Satan and all his angelic companions secured their eternal fate.

Satan would be cast from the blessed presence of God, just as our first parents would later be. His ability to attack God Himself had proven impotent. However, he saw for himself yet another opportunity at the creation of man: the finite, temporal, mutable image of God. An attack on God Himself had proven pointless, so an attack on His image would suffice.

The second thing we note is the fact that Satan came as a serpent (Gen. 3:1). Now we must not think of the serpent as some ugly, green, slimy thing. This was likely not the case. The serpent was not likely even foreboding. The woman certainly did not fear to talk with it. She spoke with it, as Balaam’s donkey spoke to him. How though, in God’s garden, did Satan find ability to possess an animal and tempt our first parents to fall from their holy and happy estate? You may have missed it when we studied Question 16, but Boyce takes this temptation of Satan to be a clear test from God.

“[God] had the right to test man at his will, and thus testing, to leave him to himself, without constraint to the contrary, to choose as he might see fit. This he did, and man fell; but his fall was not due to the lack of any natural perfection,” (Boyce, Abstract, pg. 217).

Satan’s temptation of man was just that: Satan’s temptation. However, it is not as though God was removed from the equation at all. He had made man upright and perfect, but He made him with volition. Having been so made, God also purposed to test the man. He did so, not by forcing the hand of Satan, but by enabling him in his natural unrighteousness to tempt the man in a manner suitable to God’s purposes.

We ought not look upon God’s sovereignty over this event and find fault with Him, though. God does ordain all things whatsoever come to pass, even our temptations, but He is not the author of sin. He Himself tempts no one (Jas. 1:13-15). Furthermore, He does not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle, but always provides a way of escape (1Cor. 10:13). Our first parents were made upright and were not forced into their sin. They had a choice, and they chose sin. They were tested, and they failed miserably.

Third, we note the method of Satan’s temptation. He disguised himself by possessing another vessel, a vessel perhaps less suspect. This method is in keeping with everything we know about Satan. He does not show up with horns and a pitchfork declaring, “Satan has arrived!” Rather, we are told that he often uses other vessels and in so doing disguises himself as an angel of light.

12But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. 13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works,” (2Cor. 11:12-15; NKJV).

Fourth, our Lord refers to Satan as a murderer. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him,” (John 8:44b; NKJV). Satan, in luring our first parents into this sin murdered them and all of their progeny. This one act was the greatest of all murderous acts ever committed.

The nature of our first parents’ temptation. When considering the temptation of Adam and Eve, we must pause to consider the nature of it. This temptation had less to do with the object or the culprit providing the temptation. Our temptations are never primarily external. The fall of man was not primarily external. We transgress the law and come to lack conformity to it as a result of allowing our hearts and minds to incline away from the revealed will of God.

Let us recall that Adam and Eve did not merely have general revelation at this point. They had been given direct, special revelation. The Lord told them not to eat of the tree. Had their sin been such that they only sinned against the light of nature, they would still have been cast out, but they had received direct, special revelation from God Himself, and still disobeyed. In A Body of Divinity, Thomas Watson theorizes that the fall must have happened on the very day that Adam and Eve were created, and he supports his theory with several proofs. Were this the case, the verbal command of God would be fresh on their minds. What could have facilitated such blatant rebellion?

The apostle John gives us three elements that are common among the temptations of this world, and all of them point to the human heart. “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world,” (1Jn. 2:16; NKJV). Theologians have long noted that all three of these elements were present in the temptation of Eve.

We’re told that the woman saw that the tree was good for food. That is to say that her flesh yearned for it. She had an abundance of other fruit of which she and the man were permitted to eat in this vast, glorious garden, including the Tree of Life! Yet, her flesh was drawn to this tree, the forbidden tree. This tree, this one is good for food. This one appeals to my flesh.

The fruit was also pleasant to the eyes. Long before her first bite, she took the time to examine it, to study it, to caress it and even to devour it with her eyes. This was the woman giving herself over to the fruit in her heart and, in so doing, her choice was sealed. By giving in to this intent gaze upon the fruit that had been given her, she was given her very heart over to the lust of the eyes.

All that was left was for her to give herself over to the pride of life. At this point, we are told that Eve judged the tree “desirable to make one wise.” The serpent declared to her that, in the day that she ate of it, she would become like God. Oh, what a thought! Such thinking has led to the spiritual shipwrecking of many men. Such thinking is the root of all kinds of unbelief. It begins by appealing to man’s natural pride, and ends with their doubting of God’s worth by comparison.

Such was the temptation of Adam and Eve, but it is also the temptation we all face. As we have already noted, it is not primarily an external temptation. It is a temptation that begins in the heart. We hunger for unrighteousness, so we set our eyes on that which has been forbidden us and take possession of it in our minds—or rather allow it to take possession of us—and then, thinking ourselves to be wiser than God, we follow headlong after it to our own destruction. This is the nature of all temptation that leads to sin.

We must remember also that we have a common tempter as our first parents. They were made in the image of God, so the enemy of God attacked. How much more, then, should we expect to be attacked who are now being made over daily into the image of Christ? Christ was tempted at this very point. “If You are the Son of God…” We should expect to be tempted in jus the same way. Some come into the Christian life with the false assumption that things will get easier, but conversion is only the beginning of our trials. We now have targets painted on our backs and should expect the enemy to amp up our temptations.

When we are tempted, and even when we fail, it is important for us to always remember that Christ was tempted and prevailed. We inevitably give in; we have some form of release. Christ’s temptation, from this angle, was far greater than our own. He was tempted, and He was faithful to the end.

15For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb. 4:15-16; NKJV).

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Four – Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall (Q.17)

Earlier Studies –

Listen to the audio for this lesson here.

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Q.17: What is sin?

A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. 1

11 John 3:4

Taking into consideration the fact that sin entered the world through our first parents, we now have set for us a scene, but with little doctrinal framework in which to couch it. We have seen that Adam and Eve were made upright and with volition, but that they used their free choice to sin against God. They sinned both against the righteousness with which He had endowed them and against the positive command He gave them when He placed them in the garden: not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

In these deeds they sinned. They demonstrated want of conformity unto God’s law and, further, they transgressed His law. They not only deviated from the uprightness in which they were created; they also willingly rebelled against God’s command. This was the nature of the sin of our first parents, and it is the persistent nature of sin to this day. All sins fall into these two categories. They are either want of conformity to God’s law or an active transgression of it.

“We may commit sin either by doing what we ought not to do, or by not doing what it is our duty to do. We may become guilty either by commission or omission. Want of conformity here means sins of omission, and transgression means the commission of actual deeds of sin. This two-edged definition is admirably observed and illustrated in the analysis of the Ten Commandments given in the practical parts of the Catechism. Under each commandment it is asked, What is required? and, What is forbidden? In other words, What is ‘conformity’ here? and what is ‘transgression’?” (Alexander Whyte, An Exposition on the Shorter Catechism, pg. 55).

When we arrive at our study of the Ten Commandments, then, it will be appropriate for us to consider anew this question and its answer as they relate to each commandment. For now, though, we will consider how they help us understand our sin more generally. We will consider them in two parts. First, we will consider how sin is any want of conformity unto God’s law and, second, we will consider how sin is transgression of God’s law.

 

Want of Conformity unto God’s Law

It has well be noted that men do are not sinners because they sin, but we sin because we are sinners. We have it within our nature to sin. There is a natural bent in man that turns him from the womb from God toward sin. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me,” (Ps. 51:5; NKJV). All men are corrupt from birth, and naturally bent toward corruption. As a result, even our reason is fallen. Every faculty of our being is now enslaved to sin such that we now sin even without oftentimes thinking about it.

This is because our very nature is to sin. We are sinful beings. We are naturally aligned with the ways of the world and not with the ways of God. We have the work of God’s law written on our hearts, but our inclination is against it. Our natural inclination is against His law, because our natural inclination is against Him. This is the state into which Adam’s sin has cast us. Sin is such a part of our nature now that the natural man can fool himself into believing that no such phenomena as sin exists. This is the dilemma in which the natural man finds himself. He is so blinded by sin that he is blinded to sin. He is so immersed in it that he can easily forget it even is. Sin has become to him like a part of the backdrop, something that is always there, but never deserving of much consideration.

Nevertheless, it is always there. Man cannot escape the reality of sin; he can only suppress it in his unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Man’s sin is just that overpowering. It can poison the mind of man to the point that he suppresses the very reality of it. It is under the influence, then, of sin that man suppresses truth—in this case, the truth about sin. Nevertheless, it is always there.

“Sin is one of the saddest but also one of the most common phenomena of human life. It is a part of the common experience of mankind, and therefore forces itself upon the attention of those who do not deliberately close their eyes to the realities of human life,” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 227).

Sin is so deceptive that, even when men think they are committing righteous deeds, they only further defile themselves, having done them with sinful motives from sinful hearts. We are so deceived that we can convince ourselves, in our sin, that we will stand before God on the day of judgment and be accepted on account of our own righteous deeds. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

God sees all things, even the thoughts of man. “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath,” (Ps. 94:11; NASB), and, “Then the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and He said to me, ‘Say, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘So you think, house of Israel, for I know your thoughts,’’’” (Ezek. 11:5; NASB). Nothing can be hidden from God. How foolish is the man, then, who thinks he will stand before Him on judgment day and be accepted on account of the deeds he has done in the flesh? If his iniquities are laid bear on that day, how will he stand (Ps. 130:3)? It is because he has, in his sin, deceived himself into believing that his sin is of little consequence. Perhaps he has even deceived himself into believing himself to be righteous.

“Sin is not only a defection, but a pollution. It is to the soul as rust is to gold, as a stain is to beauty. It makes the soul red with guilt, and black with filth. Sin in Scripture is compared to a ‘menstruous cloth.’ Isa. 30:22, and to a ‘plague-sore.’ 1 Kings 8:38,” (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, Q-14.2.II.[1]).

All of this to say that, even in our thinking that we have not sinned, there is great sin to be found. The man that thinks he has not sinned is the man who has not truly assessed his condition before an infinitely holy and righteous God. In fact, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us,” (1Jn. 1:8; NASB). Thus, even the sins we do not know that we commit do not fail to be discovered because of a neutral imperceptivity on our part. We fail to discover our sins of omission, because we choose not to root out and destroy them. As such, they are no better than sins of commission, but actually compounded by our negation of duty to mortify them.

 

Transgression of God’s Law

Not only is sin found in the want of conformity to the law of God, but also in the willing transgression of it. We not only have deviated from the proper path, but we have run roughshod through the safety rails and into enemy territory. We not only know Lord’s requirements of us and have not met them, but know what He forbids and have engaged in it.

In sinning against God in this manner, men demonstrate themselves to be of their father the devil. Thomas Watson well wrote: “It fetches its pedigree from hell; sin is of the devil. ‘He that committeth sin is of the devil.’ 1 John 3:8. Satan was the first actor of sin, and the first tempter to sin. Sin is the devil’s first-born,” (Ibid., Q-14.2.I). When we transgress the law, we play the part first played by the devil. We dress up and rehearse the lines, walk out on stage and find our mark. We wait for the curtain to rise and, as it does, we assume the very persona of the devil himself as we look out into a dark auditorium to see the only face we can make out: our beaten and bloody Savior. The Savior we kissed. The Savior we betrayed. And yet the show must go on. So we play the part.

As we consider the devilishness of sin, and the love of our on-looking Savior, we ought to recognize another great evil in our sin. When we sin, we spurn the One who has given us all good things. “God feeds the sinner, keeps off evils from him, bemiracles him with mercy; but the sinner not only forgets God’s mercies, but abuses them,” (Ibid., Q-14.2.II.[4]). Truly, our transgression are a trampling underfoot of Gods great kindness toward us.

Perhaps the greatest kindness God has done toward us, besides the sacrifice of His Son on the cross for our sins, is the giving of His Holy Spirit to indwell us. When the Christian sins, he goes even further than merely sinning against the God who blesses him. He also is said to grieve the God who indwells him (Eph. 4:30).

“Sin is said to grieve the Spirit; because it is an injury offered to the Spirit, and he takes it unkindly, and, as it were, lays it to heart. And is it not much thus to grieve the Spirit? The Holy Ghost descended in the likeness of a dove; and sin makes this blessed dove mourn. Were it only an angel, we should not grieve him, much less the Spirit of God. Is it not sad to grieve our Comforter?” (Ibid. Q-14.2.II.[2]).

Our transgressions, our commission of sins against our Creator, truly are of a greater quality of evil than we give them credit. When we do not think them of great significance, we demonstrate just how truly sinful we are. The world would say that we are desensitized to our sins. We know, though, that the reality is that we are self-deceived. A desensitized person can scarcely be made sensitive again to the thing he has regularly exposed himself. At a single touch of the hand of God, though, a heart of stone is made flesh (Ezek. 11:19-20).

Sin has truly made men sick. It has weakened us, caused us to be rebels against our King, deceived us, and brought us to deceive ourselves. Sin is the great ruin of mankind, because it robs us of conformity to God and moves us to the point of transgressing His law. Sin is the condition in which we live, and breath, and have our being. For those of us who are in Christ, we have been freed from it, but we must still live in the environment of it and under the influence of it. However, our senses have been awakened to it. It has gone from being a sweet aroma of life to being a foul stench of death in our nostrils. We are ever in the presence of it, but thanks be to God that it stands for us as a reminder of His mercy and not our condemnation.

“It is this state of affairs that lies behind and makes necessary the work of Jesus Christ. This creation/fall background is the Bible’s context for the work of Christ on the cross. To deny either man’s original state of integrity or his self-willed fall into the state of corruption and misery is to rob the cross of the only context in which it has any meaning,” (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, pg. 457).

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Four – Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall (Q.16)

Earlier Studies

Listen to the audio for this lesson here.

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Q.16: Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?

A. Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.1

1Genesis 3:6-7, 13; Ecclesiastes 7:29

Last we visited the Catechism, we observed the estate wherein our first parents were created. According to the Catechism for Boys and Girls, Adam and Eve were created “holy and happy.” They had everything they needed and much, much more. As we embark on the fourth section in our study, we will see how they did not long remain in this state of holiness and happiness but, by their disobedience, descended into a new estate: an estate of sin and misery. We will further observe how we, their descendants according to the flesh, fell along with them into an estate of sin and misery.

Free Will

Before considering the fall of man, we must consider one last aspect of his original estate. One of the great misrepresentations of a Reformed anthropology is the suggestion that the Reformed teaching presents man as a robot created with no will of his own. This simply is not the case. Note for instance the first two paragraphs of The Baptist Confession’s chapter on Free Will:

“God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that it is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil,” (The Baptist Confession of 1677/1689, 9.1).

…and…

“Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which was good and well-pleasing to God, but yet was unstable, so that he might fall from it,” (Ibid, 9.2).

Adam and his progeny, by nature, were given the liberty and the power to act with respect to choice. This is merely to say that we make choices every day to do either good or evil. In support of this thesis, the Confession need not offer any justification, because it is self-evident. Regardless, biblical justification is offered in the form of biblical citations:

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live,” (Deut. 30:19; NKJV).

God does put before us choices in this life, and these choices are not mere façades. Rather, mankind is offered real choices. The question is, though the choices are offered, are we capable in our own power of choosing the God-honoring choice and, if not, by what or by whom are we hindered?

We shall see in our future studies how the Bible answers the question of our inability to choose but, for our current study, we see that Adam and Eve were capable of choosing good. The “teacher” of Ecclesiastes explains, “Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes,” (Eccl. 7:29; NKJV). The nature of Adam was good and well-pleasing to God, but he was yet unstable so that he might fall.

He was made upright in that he there was no natural inclination against God’s moral law written into his being. In other words, it would not be by the finger of God impressed upon the nature of man that he would of necessity fall. He was made upright, with the ability to choose both good an evil. He was created perfect, but he was created with a will, fallible and mutable as he was in his creatureliness.

“Indeed fallibility belongs to the nature of created spirits. It is involved in their possession of the power of contrary choice, that whenever good and evil are presented, the latter may be chosen, and thus the spiritual creature may fall. Any idea of a probation implies such choice,” (James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, pg. 216).

Man was created in perfection with the ability to choose good and evil. God is not the author of evil, so He by no means forced his hand in the fall. He did, however, create him with the ability to fall of his own agency, and knew precisely how and when and to what end this fall would occur. This doctrine is perhaps one of the most difficult for the human mind to try to grasp, because it is so tied up in the mystery of God’s secret counsel.

“It is a very mysterious thing that God should so ‘innovate upon His own eternity’ as to summon into existence a race of creatures, and bestow upon them the perilous gift of free-will: a perilous and in the event a fatal gift: because, as experience proved, the possessor of it might rise up against his Maker, might oppose and obstruct His will, and introduce sin and misery and death where life and love and holiness had been intended to dwell,” (Alexander Whyte, An Exposition on the Shorter Catechism, pg. 52).

We began this discussion in the context of the covenantal estate in which man was created. We spoke of the righteousness and the holiness of man in his original state. This was truly a blessed position in which to be placed. It was also, as the above quote demonstrates, a perilous one. Man was created upright, but he was mutable and insecure in all his ways.

Man was like a log teetering on a precipice, a log into which freedom of choice was suddenly introduced. With this volitional nature, the outcome was inevitable. Man would certainly choose the wrong path; it was only a matter of time. As a free agent, the will of Adam would surely, eventually incline against the will of God.

“The covenant of works rested upon the strength of man’s inherent righteousness; which though in innocence was perfect, yet was subject to change. Adam was created holy, but mutable; having a power to stand and a power to fall. He had a stock of original righteousness to begin the world with, but he was not sure he would not break. He was his own pilot, and could steer right in the time of innocence; but he was not so secured but that he might dash against the rock of temptation, and he and his prosperity be shipwrecked; so that the covenant of works must needs leave jealousies and doubtings in Adam’s heart, as he had no security given him that he should not fall from that glorious state,” (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 3.17, II [3])

 

The Fall

The Fall of mankind presents itself in Scripture in narrative form. As we have seen, God created man upright, reasonable, holy, innocent, and unashamed. He placed man in the garden and provided him with all good things necessary for a comfortable living and, indeed, with far more. He created him upright, which is to say that He wrote the work of the law on his heart (Rom. 2:15). However, this uprightness was subject to change. Unlike God, man by nature is fallible and mutable. Let to his own devices, man would inevitably choose against God.

“[God] had the right to test man at his will, and thus testing, to leave him to himself, without constraint to the contrary, to choose as he might see fit. This he did, and man fell; but his fall was not due to the lack of any natural perfection,” (Boyce, Abstract, pg. 217).

This fall was occasioned not merely by the moral law sown into the heart of man. Man was given also a positive law—a law uttered by the very voice of God: “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die,’” (Gen. 2:16-17; NASB). Had Adam continued in perpetuity in his righteousness and his obedience to this positive command, mankind would never have fallen into sin and misery. Man did take and eat, and mankind did fall into an estate of sin and misery, but it was not for lack of perfection. Rather, as we have seen, it was due to the introduction of the agency of free choice. We read about this great fall from man’s original state in Genesis 3.

6When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she too from its fruit and ate; and she gave to her husband with here, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings,” (Genesis 3:6-7; NASB).

Our inclination might be to think that we would have chosen otherwise. If I had been created first, I would not have sinned like Adam did. We must be careful not to judge Adam too harshly. We tend to think that it is only the result of sin that causes a man and wife to endure such difficulties when they first marry. It is not only sin, but the competing of two different minds—two different wills. When free agency entered into the equation, a finite, mutable creature, the sin of our first parents was inevitable.

It was inevitable, but it was not excusable. In eating of this forbidden fruit, Adam rebelled against a holy, righteous, and beneficent God. God had given him everything, and yet Adam squandered it on a bit of fruit. We would all have done the same thing, but that does not make it right. Adam had sufficient knowledge of the One against whom he was sinning. He chose to sin anyway, plunging mankind into our current estate of sin and misery.

“Adam was brought into existence with a nature inclined to holiness, and a will able to choose either obedience or disobedience. He freely chose disobedience, and so sin originated, as it only could originate, in the free act of a free agent. It was at the beginning a voluntary act against sufficient knowledge. It was a free, inexcusable act of rebellion against the All-perfect and All-beneficent,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, pg. 30).

Introduction to Defining Evangelism

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

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This course is not designed to be a practical treatment on the subject of evangelism so much as—as the title suggests—an attempt to define a doctrine of evangelism by examining key texts. There will be times when we consult church history to see how godly men of earlier ages understood these topics, but these lessons are designed primarily for the purpose of getting us into the word. As such, we hope to deeply consider several major biblical themes touching evangelism and the Great Commission, and to make practical application to our own lives.

Since this is not primarily a “how-to” on evangelism, there are some practical matters we want to consider first. Of paramount consideration is our own relationships with God and with our neighbors. We read in Matthew’s gospel:

“And He said to him, ‘‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets,’’” (Matthew 22:37-40; NASB).

Love for God. We must consider how much time we spend in the word and on our knees in communion with the God with whom we claim to have been reconciled. If I do not spend adequate time with my wife and with my kids, it will show in the way that I talk about them and converse with them in public. As I seek to give marital or parenting advice to others, they will know by their observance of my own relationships that I am disqualified to offer such counsel. The same is true for evangelism. If we are to be qualified to bring people to Christ, both in the eyes of our hearers and in reality, we must regularly strive to bring ourselves to Christ in His word and in prayer.

If we hope that others are to know Christ, we must know Him as well. We’re not called to know Him on a merely academic level. We can have a great abundance of knowledge about people. Just talk to any avid baseball fan, and they will soon be rattling off to you player stats for their favorite players. If the player has been in the game for a while and has written an autobiography, they may have even read it. However, how foolish would it seem if, by virtue of this public knowledge of a public individual alone, they were to invite you over to his house for a cookout that is not open to the public.

In the same way, we are not to so belittle a relationship with our Redeemer as to invite people into such a relationship without first being in relationship with Him ourselves. Before we explain to men and women their dreadful state before God apart from Christ, we must have first taken stock of what it means for us. If we are then to educate them on the merits of Christ through which He accomplished our redemption, we must examine ourselves to see if we are truly living according to the grace that has been given us. If we are to call them to repentance and faith, we must first examine ourselves to see if we have truly repented and believed.

Love for neighbor. Love for God is the first Great Commandment. We must labor long and labor consistently at cultivating a love for our God. As we do, we will increase in yet another love: love for neighbor. This call to love our neighbor is the second great commandment. As we come daily to the word and to our knees in prayer seeking to grow in love for Christ, we should seek also to have our hearts inclined toward our neighbors.

Have you ever been excited at the prospect of meeting with a couple for dinner for the first time only to find that they had invited the whole neighborhood to their house for dinner and a sales pitch? They recognized that hospitality can be a great way to get people through your doors and gain a listening audience, but they did not care to use their home for the purpose it was originally intended. You came in the hope of a potential new friendship and instead were treated like a potential customer. What was lacking? Love.

Dynamics change drastically when love is at the core of the relationship dynamic. Jennifer and I had some friends at our last church who had us over to their house on a couple of occasions a year. They sold products through their home for one of these companies, but by the time they actually spoke with us about the products they had, it did not come off as a sales pitch. We were friends, brothers and sisters in the Lord. There was no suspicion there. We either bought their products or we didn’t but, either way, they still loved us and we loved them.

We must cultivate the same love for our neighbors to whom we hope to bring the gospel. It does no good to tell people your message is one of love if they perceive that there is no love for them in your heart. This isn’t an evangelism method I’m proposing to you. It doesn’t matter to me if churches knock on doors, host neighborhood cookouts, organize evangelistic conferences, rent booths at local festivals, hand out gospel tracts, or preach the gospel in the open air from on top of egg crates. Each of these methods will rub wrong people of different personality types.

Each of these methods will also be met with some measure of success. The difference is not necessarily in the method. The difference is in the love that we have for our neighbors. If we do not love them, they will know. In our skeptical world, it is much easier to spot someone who is lacking in love than to discern the authenticity of actual love. Nevertheless, let us pray for our neighbors, let us ask God to grant us a heart for our neighbors, and let us regularly seek His power and wisdom in conveying that love to our neighbors.

Structure. Our approach to defining evangelism will follow the structure of the “Working Definition” above. The first two parts of our study will be preparatory, while the last three parts will be definitive, explaining what evangelism is. In the first part, we will examine the foundation for evangelism: The Great Commission. The main verb in the Great Commission is the verb make disciples. This verb is modified by three participles: going, baptizing, and teaching, so our first three lessons will center on these three modifiers.

In the second part, we will consider the messengers and the hearers of the gospel in the act of evangelism. Is every Christian meant to be engaged in evangelism in exactly the same way as all others? Is evangelism solely the work of ordained, or recognized, leaders within the church, or is it the responsibility of every member? Who are the proper recipients of the evangelism? Is it only for those outside the church, or should it be a major emphasis of the preaching and teaching within the church? Part Two will be covered in lessons four and five.

It has been well noted that the good news of Christ does not make sense apart from the bad news. The cure for a terminal disease does not become precious to the patient until the doctor issues the dismal diagnosis. In the same way, the unregenerate must understand the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man before the good news of Christ’s work of atonement makes any sense. Part Three, comprised of a lesson on God’s holiness and a lesson on the sinfulness of man, will help us to understand the importance of these truths for evangelism.

In Part Four, we will finally come to an observance of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. In lessons eight through ten, we will note three acts of Christ essential to the gospel message: His obedience in life, His obedience in death, and His resurrection. As we observe each of these doctrines, we will see how Christ accomplished for us our full and final atonement and, through union with Him, come to have reconciliation with God in heaven.

Lessons eleven and twelve will comprise the fifth and final part of our study. In them, we will observe the gospel commands that come as a result of having heard the gospel of Jesus Christ: repentance unto life and saving faith. Having explained the joyous news of our accomplished atonement in Christ Jesus, the church has one final declaration to our hearers in our work evangelism:

30Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead,” (Acts 17:30-31; NASB).

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God

Table of Contents

Part I – Prolegomena

Part II – What Man Ought to Believe Concerning God

  • Section Two: Theology Proper
  • Section Three: God’s Decrees
  • Section Four: Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall
  • Section Five: Christ the Mediator
  • Section Six: The Work of the Spirit
  • Section Seven: The Death of the Righteous and the Wicked

Part III – What Duty God Requires of Man

  • Section Eight: Introduction to the Moral Law
  • Section Nine: The First Table of the Moral Law (Part One)
  • Section Ten: The First Table of the Moral Law (Part Two)
  • Section Eleven: The Second Table of the Moral Law (Part One)
  • Section Twelve: The Second Table of the Moral Law (Part Two)
  • Section Thirteen: The Proper Response to Law and Gospel

Part VI – The Communication of God’s Grace

  • Section Fourteen: The Ordinary Means of Grace
  • Section Fifteen: Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

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In writing this humble series, I don’t hope to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the great theologians who have already written on these subjects. What I do hope to accomplish is to make The Baptist Catechism a bit more accessible and clear for my generation. Having completed the third series of articles on the Catechism, you may now read it in its entirety below.

 

Q.10: What are the decrees of God?

A. The decrees of God are His eternal purpose according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.1

1Ephesians 1:4, 11; Romans 9:22-23; Isaiah 46:10; Lamentations 3:37

Moving along in our discussion of what man ought to believe concerning God, let us pivot a bit from what God is to what God does. Now, these two aspects of God should not be divorced from one another. Obviously, what God is will determine what God does. When we say that God is good, after all, we are claiming that God is the ultimate standard of all that is good. In order to properly define what good is requires that we do so in reference to what God is. It also requires that we do so in reference to what God does.

The first step in examining what God does is to look to His eternal decrees. In the decrees of God, we find the Source and Purpose for all that occurs, whether in the secret counsels of God or in the created order, from eternity to eternity. God Himself is the Source of everything that occurs. He is also the Purpose. The Westminster Assembly put it this way:

“The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass,” (The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.7).

William Collins, when penning The Baptist Catechism, changed nothing of substance in this answer. Why? This answer serves as one of the shortest, most succinct summaries of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty ever committed to the page. In it, we find that all that comes to pass is a result of God’s eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, and foreordained for the purpose of His own glory.

All that occurs, has occurred, or will occur is determined by the eternal will of God, comes from God, is guided and held together by God, and will ultimately culminate in His receiving all glory, honor, and power. In other words, the Source and Purpose of all things is God, God, God! “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36; NASB).

If you really stop to think about it, Romans 11:36, from a worldly perspective, is a somewhat counter-intuitive way to end the discussion Paul began way back in Romans 9. In Romans 9-11, Paul explains how the monergistic gospel he has been describing since chapter 1 is actually good news, since many of his kinsmen are not believing. He begins Romans 9 with these words:

1I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.,” (Rom. 9:1-5; NASB).

Many in Israel would not repent. As a result, they were broken off, as branches are broken off from a tree. Paul refers to this breaking off as a partial hardening. “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in,” (Rom. 11:25; NASB). How were many of Paul’s kinsmen according to the flesh coming to be hardened? They were hardened according to the sovereign will of God, according to Romans 9. God demonstrates His mercy upon whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills (9:14-18).

Paul knew this was a hard pill for his readers to swallow. It was a hard pill for him to swallow. However, it was the truth, and Christians are those who ultimately must come to the place where they affirm with Paul: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36; NASB).

Notice how, in the answer given in the catechism, God’s purpose is eternal. As we have already mentioned, God is immutable; He does not change. God has never changed His mind on a matter. What He decreed in eternity past remains unchanged to this day. Thus, the apostle Paul writes: “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him,” (Eph. 1:4a; NASB). If God can change His mind, what would it matter who He chose to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world? He could just as easily choose differently tomorrow, if indeed He is unstable in His decrees.

However, we know that He is not unstable. Whatsoever He has decreed will surely come to pass. It is on this truth that our hope in an eternal inheritance rests, for Paul also writes: “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,” (Ephesians 1:11; NASB). But, if God’s will is mutable, might our inheritance be given to another? Why should we hold to it with any surety? On the contrary, Louis Berkhof writes of God:

“He is not deficient in knowledge, veracity, or power. Therefore, He need not change His decree because of a mistake of ignorance, nor because of inability to carry it out. And He will not change it, because He is the immutable God and because He sis faithful and true,” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids. 1941, pg. 105).

God’s sovereignty and immutability in His decrees, then, are a great comfort to us. They ensure for us all of the great promises of God. Our comfort is not the ultimate purpose of the doctrine, though. How foolish, arbitrary, overly-romantic, and trite it would be if God had determined to mold His determinative faculties around something as ultimately insignificant as human feelings. No. God’s created order does not revolve around us: our wills, our feelings, our significance, our dignity, and our glory. Rather, it is all for His glory!

It is ultimately God’s glory that hinges on His purposes being established, not ours. It is ultimately His divine, eternal reputation that is at stake. Thus, He is the One whose “good pleasure” is paramount:

“Declaring the end from the beginning,

And from ancient times things which have not been done,

Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,

And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’,” (Isaiah 46:10; NASB).

We object that God’s good pleasure must make sense to us. We must be able to wrap our finite, fickle minds around His sovereign, eternal decrees, or He is a monster! “19You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ 20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” (Rom. 9:19-20; NASB). Just as the clay does not have a right to demand to know the secret counsels of the potter, neither do we have the right to demand from God His secret decrees.

We do not get to determine the definition of good, and then demand that God fit into that mold. Rather, we determine what is good by a proper examination of God. Hence the age old problem of questioning authority. In the military, it is a soldier’s duty to disobey unlawful orders, because the law is above command in rank. In theology, we never have right disobey an order of God, because He is the law.

We have no right to question the goodness or the justice of God, because He is the standard of goodness and justice. To lay a charge against Him is to speak out of sheer ignorance. Though one may observe several instances where Lord Tennyson’s often quoted The Charge of the Light Brigade is flawed in relation to subordination in the military, it holds true nonetheless in Christian theology.

“Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.”

 

Q.11: How doth God execute His decrees?

A. God executeth His decrees in the works of creation and providence.

Under the headings of creation and providence, God accomplishes all of His good purposes. Thereby, He creates, sustains, and directs all things toward His own desired, good, and glorious ends. Nothing that comes into existence does so without God’s decree. Likewise, nothing that comes to pass does so without God’s decree. God is the prime Actor in all of creation and is necessary for its continued existence.

 

Q.12: What is the work of Creation?

A. The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of His power, in the space of six days, and all very good.1

1Genesis 1; Hebrews 11:3

 

Ex Nihilo

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” (Gen. 1:1; NASB; cf. the rest of Gen. 1).

The Latin term ex nihilo can be somewhat misleading. The term means out of nothing, and it is used to assert just that: that God made the whole of creation out of nothing. Some may take this assertion a bit further and claim that, before God created all things, nothing existed. Of course, this could only be understood in terms of created things. Thus, it is important for us to clarify that no created thing existed, no temporal thing existed, no material thing existed. Put more plainly, before God created the cosmos (the created order), only God existed. According to A.A. Hodge:

“In the beginning of time God first, by a word of command, brought into being all the material elements of which the universe exists,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR. 2004, pg. 21).

This is a proper understanding of the testimony of the earliest portions of Scripture. There is no before God; God has always existed. There is only before the created order. Before all things were created, there was the one, triune, divine Being who is, and who was, and who ever will be. Hence, when we say that God created all things ex nihilo, we do not mean that nothing proceeded all things.

Taken in the negative, another idea represented in the notion of ex nihilo creation is the fact that God did not use pre-existing materials to make the world. Rather, all that is material was brought into existence from a purely immaterial non-existence. That which was not, by the power of God’s Word, became so. In the material sense, nothing preceded everything. These are important concepts for us to grasp, because there are many false notions of the relationship between God and all things.

The ancient Greeks taught, as Hindus still teach, that matter has always existed. In fact, ancient Greeks like Plato taught that even moral concepts such as good and evil transcended the gods. For Plato, both moral concepts and the material world is as eternal as the gods. Also, given the choice between the gods arbitrarily creating their own morality or a co-eternal morality external to the gods being imposed even on the gods themselves, Plato chooses the latter. As Christians, we affirm that God created all material things. We also affirm that God neither created nor is subject to a moral code outside of Himself. Rather, morality is a reflection of God’s eternal and immutable goodness and perfection.

By His Word

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light,” (Gen. 1:1-3; NASB).

It has well been noted that the first three verses of the Bible follow a Trinitarian pattern. The first verse is obviously a reference to our Father in heaven. The second verse makes explicit mention of the Spirit of God. Where, though is there any mention of the second Person of the Trinity: the Son? In order to answer this question, let us consider the one verse in the Bible that most parallels Genesis 1:1-3.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being,” (John 1:1-3; NASB).

We must note first that the apostle John begins his Gospel with precisely the same wording as the Septuagint (LXX; an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament used in the first century): “Ἐν ἀρχῇ.” John, in writing in this way, was clearly drawing a parallel between his gospel of the new creation and the account of creation in Genesis 1.

First, John tells his readers, “In the beginning was the Word,” (John 1:1a; NASB), clearly signifying the God who speaks. Second, he goes on to say that this Word was God putting Him on par with the Father in glory, authority, and essence. Third, he tells us that He was in the beginning with the Father, drawing our attention to the eternal, intra-Trinitarian oneness and fellowship existing within the Godhead. Fourth, and most important for our discussion today, he writes that all things came into existence through the Word, and nothing came into being apart from Him.

All of this discussion of the Word of God begs the question, who is this Word of God? John answers this question in verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14; NKJV). He further clarifies in verse 18 who this only begotten of the Father is: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him,” (NKJV; emphasis added; other manuscripts read: “the only begotten God”). The Word of God of which John writes is the only begotten of the Father, the very Son of God Himself, the only begotten God.

Thus, when God spoke, through the divine agency of the Son of God, all things sprang into existence. In fact, nothing that was created was created apart from the Word of God. This is an important assertion to highlight when speaking with Unitarians like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who assert that Christ was created. When confronted with the suggestion that Christ was created, we must ask how John could assert that nothing that was created was created apart from His agency. He could not have been created through Himself, could He? John obviously belabors this point so that there would be no question of Christ’s eternality. The Word is distinct from all creation, just as the Father and the Spirit are distinct from all created things.

Where then do we see the second Person of the Trinity in Genesis 1:1-3? In verse three: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (NASB; emphasis added). When God spoke the world into creation, He spoke through the agency of His Word, His eternally begotten Son.

Six Days

“So the evening and the morning were the first day. . . And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day. . . So the evening and the morning were the third day. . . So the evening and the morning were the fourth day. . . So the evening and the morning were the fifth day. . . Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day,” (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 25, 31; NKJV).

In the span of six days, God created all things that exist. This is a hotly debated issue in Christianity today, but the testimony of Scripture is plain. All things that were created were created in the span of six ordinary days comprised of both one evening and one morning. Whether these evenings and mornings put together comprised a 24, 23, or 25 hour day, the Bible does not say, but there is no reason to assume that each evening and morning spanned hundreds, thousands, and perhaps even millions of years.

Sam Waldron explains: “To state matters succinctly, the only sound interpretation of the Bible is the one which understands it to teach that God did, indeed, make the world in a literal work week,” (Waldron, An Exposition of the 1689 London Baptist Confession. Evangelical Press, Darlington, Eng. 2005, pg. 76). What Waldron means by literal is that the meaning of the text is to be accepted in its plainest sense. When Scripture says “evening and morning,” it clearly means to designate an ordinary day of the week.

Some have suggested that the days of creation are unimportant and that our focus really should be on God’s creative power and the beauty and perfection of His creation. Certainly they are right in the latter assertion. We truly ought to place a primary focus on the beauty and perfection of God’s creation. Furthermore, the focus of modernity on the materialistic, naturalistic science of creation is a faulty starting point, to be sure. However, this does not mean there is no significance behind God’s choosing to create the world in six ordinary days.

Certainly, were it God’s pleasure to do so, He could have created all things in the span of six minutes or six millennia. Instead, He ordained that the world should be created in six days. In doing so, He set the example for mankind of a six day work-week to be followed by a full day of covenant rest in Him.

“He ‘rested the seventh day;’ as if the Lord should say, Will you not follow me as a patter? Having finished all my works of creation, I rested the seventh day; so having done all your secular work on the six days, you should now cease from the labour of your calling, and dedicate the seventh day to me, as a day of holy rest,” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments. Scriptura Press, New York City. 2015, 2.4 [3]).

In short, God did not create the world in order to satisfy all of our naturalistic, materialistic inquiries. He did not create the world in the span of six days in order to help us “butter up” to the modern scientific community or to satisfy all of our vexations brought on by the Star Light theory and other such quandaries. He did, however, create all things in the span of six days. He did so as a model for us so that we might follow it.

Very Good

“Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day,” (Gen. 1:31; NKJV).

When God created all things, He created them good: the lights of the day and of the night, the land, the seas, the animals, the plants, the planets, the moon, the angels, and all other things whatsoever He created. There is nothing that God created that He did not in turn look upon and say, “This is good.” However, it was only after God completed one particular creation that He finally looked upon all that He had made and said, “Very good!” This particular creation was mankind.

Mankind is alone in all of creation in that we were made in the image of God. Insofar as we are created in His image, we are the pinnacle of all of His creation. As we will see in the answer to question 13, God’s image is not the only mark of favor He bestowed upon us.

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Alfred Hitchcock is accredited with having said, “Self-plagiarism is style.” While my views have changed since writing the paper “Trinitarian Foundations for Christian Education,” I have largely used its material in this next section of our Studies in The Baptist Catechism series. As you can observe, the sections taken from the paper have been altered to reflect a change in views. I no longer take the ESS view of the Trinity in marking the unity and diversity of man, but rather point to the economic Trinity.

_____________________________

 

Q.13: How did God create man?

A. God created man, male and female, after His own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.1

1Genesis 1:26-28; Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24

 

Having examined what the Bible teaches us about creation generally, let us now turn our gaze to the pinnacle of God’s creation: mankind. Mankind is unique in that we were created in God’s image. Now, before we say anything else about what it means that we’re created in God’s image, let us first note the universality of it. The Bible does not teach that some men are created in God’s image. It does not say that some men are more created in God’s image than others. Rather, we read: “So God created man in His own image,” (Genesis 1:27a).

The Dignity of God’s Image

One might argue that the fall of man into sin changed things. Certainly the image of God in us has been marred. However, there still remains a divine image on all men, which brings with it a great dignity. Notice in Genesis 9 that, after the fall, after the murder of Abel, and even after the flood, men are still to be treated with dignity by virtue of the fact that they have been made in the image of God.

6Whoever sheds man’s blood,

By man his blood shall be shed;

For in the image of God

He made man.

7And as for you, be fruitful and multiply;

Bring forth abundantly in the earth

And multiply in it,” (vv. 6-7; NKJV).

Capital Punishment

The Bible then teaches that all men without exception, as a consequence of having been created in the image of God, have a certain dignity bestowed upon them. This dignity persists beyond the fall of man into sin. As a result, Christianity does not make light of crimes like murder. In fact, God Himself has commanded that all men who destroy a life created in God’s image are to be put to death for the crime they have committed against God Himself.

It could be said that, in the museum of God’s grand creation, He has one gallery in particular upon which He has bestowed favor. This gallery is full of self-portraits. They are not the Artist Himself, but they bear His image and are to be honored with much the same care with which we would honor His very Person. When harm is done to one of His images, it is as though an attack has been made on His very Person.

1Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor,” (Romans 13:1-7; NASB).

Therefore, there is no debate in Scripture over the issue of capital punishment. When a man kills one or more human beings, given the proper amount of proof and the absence of any doubt, God’s image has been destroyed. A life has been taken; the life-taker’s life shall likewise be taken. A nation that treats this duty with contempt treats God’s very image, and thus God Himself, with contempt.

Abortion

Recently, a presidential candidate came under fire for saying that women who get abortions should be subject to penalties under law, to include imprisonment. Sadly, it was not the Pro-Choice movement that came out against the politician under question; it was the Pro-Life movement that came out and loudly denounced the statement as not representative of the Pro-Life movement. As a result, the politician retracted his statement.

Let us follow this logic, though. If abortion is murder (the destruction of the very image of God), it should be treated as murder by the governing authorities. Now, consider any other situation where a woman might pay someone to murder another human being. Let us take it even further, as the Pro-Choice movement often does, and say that the woman was raped or that she was the victim of incest. Should she have the right, under law, to pay a hitman to surgically dismember the perpetrator?

Now, perhaps we could make the case that such people should receive capital punishment from the government. That is different, though, then a woman hiring someone to murder the individual. Hiring a hitman to kill another human being, for any reason, is the same as committing the murder yourself. Why then is it any different for a woman to hire a hitman to murder the human being in her womb?

13For You formed my inward parts;

You wove me in my mother’s womb.

14I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Wonderful are Your works,

And my soul knows it very well.

15My frame was not hidden from You,

When I was made in secret,

And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

16Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;

And in Your book were all written

The days that were ordained for me,

When as yet there was not one of them,” (Ps. 139:13-16; NASB).

Dealing with Differences

Murder is not the only crime against God’s image, though. Racism has historically taught, from a Darwinian foundation, that man has evolved from lower lifeforms and some “races” are less evolved than others. Akin to racism is also the sin of ethnic favoritism. James condemns favoritism in James 2:

1My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?” (Jas. 2:1-7; NASB).

What is true of partiality in general is true also of ethnic partiality. We are not to hold our faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of ethnic partiality. Ethnic partiality can be practiced by people of any color and can be used to treat people of other races as either inferior or less deserving of one’s respect. We must recognize that all human beings deserve a certain amount of respect merely out of virtue of the fact that they are created in God’s image. We would not look at a self-portrait of God and curse it. Why then do we so easily curse men, who are the very image of God? To do so is sinful. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors,” (Jas. 2:9; NASB).

The disabled, the poor, the foreigner, the sick, the aged—all men are created in the image of God. Thus, we are called to treat all men with dignity and respect. If we are not used to a certain condition of man, it is understandable to have an involuntary reaction when we first meet one. The question is whether or not we take the necessary strides to accommodate for one another’s differences.

A man who has been poor his whole life is not naturally going to be comfortable in the presence of wealthy people, nor is a man who has never been to a homeless shelter going to immediately feel at home serving in a soup kitchen. A black man who grew up in a neighborhood has only known white people who are in positions of authority, like cops, teachers, etc., might have a great deal of discomfort to overcome when attending a predominantly white church. The same is true for white people who have never spent much time around non-whites suddenly attending a Korean church, a predominantly Hispanic church, or a black church.

There is discomfort to overcome when one begins to work with people with disabilities, or in a nursing home, or in hospice care. There is great difference among God’s people, but we are all created in the image of God. Though we may not do it perfectly or instinctively, we must each strive to accommodate for our differences.

 

Unity and Diversity

God did not merely create mankind with a common dignity; He also created us with personal uniqueness and value. Nowhere is this difference so immediately apparent than in our examination of unity and diversity. Men and women are both created in God’s image with the same nature and value, but men and women are also created unique in our roles and relationships. In the same way, the church was created to be one body, but each member of the body was created unique in our roles and relationships. The Bible teaches us that this uniqueness and diversity comes to all mankind as a result of having been made in the image of the economic Trinity.

Marriage

In 1Corinthians 11, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth and admonishing them to restore proper order in the church. In specifically addressing the issue of submission and headship among men and their wives, Paul draws on some rather gripping imagery. Paul writes, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (vs. 3). Paul’s word choice draws to mind a parallel between the complementary roles within the economic Trinity and the complementary roles God has instituted to exist within marriage.

This equality of nature and subordination of roles is what lies at the foundation of the biblical, complementarian view of marriage. The head of Jesus is God. Paul is not suggesting that the Messiah is of a lesser essence or value than God; He is of the same essence and nature in totality. Rather, it was determined in eternity past that Christ would willingly submit Himself to the Father in His incarnation and become fully obedient to Him, even to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). In like manner, women are called to submit to their husbands, not as a sign of inequality in essence or nature, but out of progressive conformity to the image of Christ (1Pet. 2:21-3:2).

Men and women do not arrive at the institution of marriage as two natural, complete wholes, both insisting that the integrity of their individual natures be given superiority over the union. Rather, they are united in essence and in goal. Similarly, men and women are not to see one another, as the egalitarians suggest, as having uniformity in function. They both offer unique and glorious contributions to the relationship. In their unique roles, they image forth the glory of the subordinate nature of the Godhead. As Gordon Clark writes:

“The hierarchy here is God, Christ, man, and woman. God and the Messiah are equally divine, but there is a subordination of function; so too, man and woman are spiritually equal, but one ranks above another in function,” (Clark, First Corinthians: A Contemporary Commentary. Nutley, N.J., P&R Publishing Co. 1975, 169).

The foundation of the principle of headship in marriage is the principle of headship within the economic Trinity. Paul states this emphatically so that in drawing agreement from his readers on the issue of divine, redemptive headship, they would be forced likewise to agree with him on the issue of marital headship (Charles Hodge, First & Second Corinthians. Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth Trust. 1978, 206). Furthermore, in making his case, Paul demonstrates that the principle of marital headship is first and foremost a creation ordinance, not merely an ordinance for the church (1Cor. 11:7-9, 12; see Clark, First Corinthians, pg. 169). As descendants of Adam and Eve, those who violate the principle of marital headship are guilty before God, regardless of their relationship to the church. They are guilty of marring the image of the triune God, which God Himself has placed within them (Gen. 1:26-27).

The Church

Churches also are to have within them certain structures that are put in place to image forth the Trinitarian nature of their loving God. Such structures are fitting insofar as the churches have been redeemed and assembled through the cooperative work of each Person of the Trinity. “The Lord Jesus calls out of the world unto Himself, through the ministry of His Word, by His Spirit, those that are given unto Him by His Father” (The Baptist Confession, 26.5). Based upon this understanding of the redemptive work of their triune God, the apostle Paul encourages the church at Ephesus to image forth Trinitarian uniqueness and unity.

After having shown each Person of the Trinity at work in each of the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul opens the second half of Ephesians by making mention of them as well. He reminds the church at Ephesus that the godly character and Christian unity to which they have been called (vv. 1-3) are rooted in the identity they enjoy as worshippers of one Spirit (vs. 4), one Lord (vs. 5), and one God and Father of all “who is over all and through all and in all” (vs. 6). In vv. 7-16, Paul commences to paint a word picture of a body (vv. 4, 12-16) in which each member is uniquely gifted (vs. 7) and plays a unique role (vs. 16). Yet, each member is part of the same body which is being built up into one mature man (vv. 11-14) the head of whom is Christ Himself (vs. 15).

William Hendriksen insists, “It is exactly unity that is promoted when all become busily engaged in the affairs of the church and when each member eagerly renders service for which the Lord has equipped him,” (William Hendriksen, Ephesians, New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House. 1995, pg. 199). This process in no way diminishes the unique and valuable identity of the persons involved. Rather, they each find their true value and identity as they use their unique gifts in contribution to the overall work of the body of Christ. “Christ, the head, unifies the body and causes it to grow, in which process every member has some part,” (Gordon Clark, Ephesians. Jefferson, MD., Trinity Foundation. 1985, pg. 144).

In Ephesians 1:1-4:16, Paul provides the church with some of the most vivid imagery of the economic Trinity by merely holding up a mirror. He demonstrates how, when every person in a local church is functioning properly, they will image forth the triune God who has called them into this glorious communion. Charles Hodge explains: “There are many passages to which the doctrine of the Trinity gives a sacred rhythm, though the doctrine itself is not directly asserted. It is so here. There is one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father. The unity of the church is founded on this doctrine” (Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians. New York, R. Carter. 1856, pg. 209).

This exposition can be taken a bit further, though. The doctrine of the Trinity not only provides churches with a foundation for their unity, but it also provides individuals within those churches with a foundation for their dignity. It is with the foundational understanding that each Person in the Trinity supplies a unique contribution to the work of redemption that Christians also come to understand that the whole body of Christ is “being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part” (vs. 16a). “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (1Cor. 12:17).

Made in the Image of a Triune God

The foundation for this doctrine does not originate with Paul, though; it goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When God created man, He created him in His very own image:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).

Many have warned against making an instant leap from the plural personal pronouns God uses in reference to Himself in this passage to an assertion of Trinitarian theology. It certainly is not enough to make a full argument for the Trinitarian nature of God. However, it is quite worth noting how quickly the passage goes from saying, “Let Us make man in Our image,” to saying, “in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Finally, he writes: “He created him (singular); male and female He created them (plural).” Man was created unique and man was created to be united in fellowship with others.

Man was never created to be an island unto himself. In fact, before God created woman, He saw fit to vocalize this truth: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), and after she was created, Adam saw fit to vocalize this truth: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). The woman was a unique, distinct person while at once being on flesh with her husband. As such, man images forth the Triune God who created him; man and woman image forth the Triune God who created them (1Cor. 11:7, 12).

Rational and Righteous

Another major aspect of what it means to have been created in the image of God is that we were created “in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.” These three ideas interplay with one another. Obviously, righteousness assumes holiness and vice versa. Knowledge, when referring to the original estate of man, also assumes righteousness and holiness.

Knowledge

Adam was not created a super intelligent being. He was not created with all knowledge. As we said earlier in our study, were we to have all knowledge, we would be God. Adam did not have all knowledge, but he did have pure knowledge. That is to say that the knowledge that he had was pure, undefiled, and God-glorifying.

We do not often think of knowledge as having an ethical element to it. Knowledge is seen, especially in modernity, as a rather neutral endeavor. We often think, “I may be wrong about this or that, but what does it ultimately matter?” It ultimately matters because, if we are to “think God’s thoughts after Him,”—if we are to reason biblically about things—we must think correctly about things. We are often so consumed with the mere acquisition of knowledge that we do not take the time to apply to it understanding and wisdom. This is the process by which the Bible would have us acquire knowledge.

9For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God,” (Col. 1:9-10; NASB; cf. Prov. 2:6; 9:10).

According to Paul, the way that we take in knowledge is to first acquire it, then to apply to it understanding and wisdom and, when this is done appropriately, we will bear fruit in every good work and increase all the more in knowledge. Adam was created a learning being. He did not have knowledge of all things (e.g. good and evil; see Gen. 3:4-7), but what he did have was pure and rightly coupled with understanding and wisdom.

We know that rational thinking is godly, because it is part of the very image of God. Paul understood this rational element of God’s image when he wrote: “and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him,” (Col. 3:10; NASB). When in the garden, Adam reasoned rationally. After the fall, men ceased to think the thoughts of God after him; our very thinking was marred. Now that we are in Christ, we are being renewed in this aspect of God’s image.

Righteousness and Holiness

That man was created upright is undisputed. “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices,” (Eccl. 7:29; NASB). Adam and Eve were originally created holy and happy. These two qualities of their first estate were intrinsically intertwined such that, when they sinned, they fell into a new estate of sin and misery, an estate that persists to this day.

Adam was able to sin and not to sin. Since the fall mankind is not able not to sin. Since Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, Christians are freed from slavery to sin, but not its presence and influence. In glory, we will be free from all aspects of sin: its power, its abiding influence, and even its very presence. These are what have come to be known as the four estates of man.

Though Adam was created in God’s image, holy and happy, we have all now fallen from that glorious estate. That is not our final end, though. As Christians, we are called and enabled to “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth,” (Eph. 4:24; NASB). We are daily being renewed according to the image of God the Son (Rom. 8:29). According to Beeke and Jones, “[John Owen] says that while ‘image’ denoted man’s original faculties properly oriented toward God, likeness denoted righteousness and the ability to respond to God in obedience,” (Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, pp. 670-671). In like manner, being made over (renewed) in His image means we have the righteousness of Christ and the enabling of the Spirit to respond to God in obedience.

Dominion

Finally, the image of God means that we have been granted dominion over the whole earth. The world was created for our benefit, and man was commanded to subdue it. Among other things, this means that natural resources, vegetation, the animals, and all of the other elements of the world around us could rightly have been harnessed by man in his original state to be used for his own benefit. Since the fall, even the creation has been distorted.

18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now,” (Rom. 8:18-22; NASB).

There is a sense in which creation itself has an innate understanding of the proper order of things. The fall of man essentially removed man from his rightful throne. Jesus refers to Satan as “the ruler of this world,” (John 12:31; 16:11). Paul refers to him as “the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience,” (Eph. 2:2).

Thankfully, though, we read that we are no longer under his rule. We have been freed from his influence through the great love and mercy of God (Eph. 2:4ff). Furthermore, we read that the ruler of this world has already been judged as a result of the sending of the Spirit after Christ’s ascension (John 12:31; 16:11). The Godman, Jesus Christ, has reestablished man’s reign through His resurrection (Col. 2:15; cf. Heb. 2:9-18). As a result, we now understand our position of one of ruling and reigning with him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:4-6).

 

Q.14: What are God’s works of providence?

A. God’s works of providence are His most holy,1 wise,2 and powerful preserving3 and governing of all His creatures, and all their actions.4

1Psalm 145:17

2Psalm 104:24; Isaiah 28:29

3Hebrews 1:3; Psalm 103:19

4Matthew 10:29-31

One way of considering the subject of God’s decrees is to ask the question: How does God relate to every created thing? Of course, we just spent several questions considering the fact that God relates to every created thing as its Creator. There is a great Creator / creature distinction embedded in the design of all things. However, this notion of God as Creator in relation to all things only addresses origins and design. The natural follow-up question remains: How does God still relate to every created thing? This will be the subject of our study today.

The Baptist Catechism breaks up this discussion into two sections. Just as the catechism started with a discussion of creation in general and then narrowed the focus to the creation of man, it also starts with a discussion of providence in general and then narrows the focus to God’s providential dealings with man. This week, we will simply be considering providence in general.

The Sovereign God

Another way to consider God’s decree is by considering His sovereignty. In God’s sovereignty, He created all things and, thereby, established His dominion over them. In love, He uniquely created man, stamping him with His very image. Likewise, God continues to exercise His sovereignty by His great works of providence in all created things. His special act of providence toward man is one of life, love, and redemption.

“The Calvinist finds peace in the conviction that behind God’s all-encompassing providence is the full acquiescence of the triune God. The sovereign grace and love that went to Calvary has the whole world in its hands. God’s fatherly sovereignty in Christ is the essence of who God is,” (Beeke, Living for God’s Glory, pg. 40).

All things that come to pass, even the murder of the only perfect Man to ever live, are part of God’s great decree. He not only allows the evil and calamitous events of our world to come to pass. He decreed that they would and, in His goodness, He has given them purpose and meaning that we could never fully grasp.

The Supernatural God

Some assume that God’s relationship to the current state of created things is like a watch on a beach. God molded and shaped it. He fastened it all together. He even put his mark on the back of it so that people could know who made it. Then he wound it up, set it down, and walked away. This view of God and His relationship to all created things is a modern, naturalistic perversion of who God is and how He relates to the cosmos.

There is no such thing as a natural world, if we are to define natural the same way that Darwin and his predecessors have. There is nothing that just is or just does. When we say that man knows who God is because the whole of creation tells of His glory, we do not merely mean that God designed the cosmos so that men seeking for Him might discover clues in it. God does not leave the reception of His glory to the finite, fallen faculties of man to be discerned from mere clues. God is always, ever acting in every atom of His creation. If a stone attests to the glory of God and a man recognizes the glory to which it attests, God has both acted through the stone and through the man to case the attestation and the recognition. God both speaks and opens the ears of those to whom He speaks.

The Immanent God

Whatsoever comes to pass in this world then is God acting in this world. God has determined whatsoever comes to pass, and He is working it all toward His entirely holy will. “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds,” (Ps. 145:17; NASB). Even that which is evil, though God ordains from eternity past that it shall come to pass, though men mean it for evil God means it for good (Gen. 50:20). The most evil deed ever committed, the murder of Christ, was used of God to bring about the greatest good ever wrought.

“Everything depends on God as the primary cause both of its substance and circumstances (Isa. 45:7; Lam. 3:37-38). God often works through means, though He does not need those means. His providence both preserves all things (Ps. 104:19-20; Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3) and governs all things (Ps. 29:10; Gen. 50:20),” (Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, pg. 163).

The All Wise and Holy God

How does God ensure that all of His acts are holy and good? God has infinite, eternal wisdom. In all of His works, His unsurpassed wisdom is on display. In love and mercy, He has ordained that we should be able to ascertain some of His great wisdom. We can fathom some of the wisdom behind His choices, but the whole of His counsel is to us entirely inscrutable (Rom. 11:33).

“This also comes from the Lord of hosts,

Who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great,” (Isa. 28:29; NASB).

In His wisdom and holiness, God has decreed that whatever comes to pass, regardless of any appearance of evil in its design, is nevertheless designed to accomplish God’s perfect and good design. The Baptist Confession states this doctrine most succinctly:

“The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin,” (The Baptist Confession, 5.4).

The All Powerful God

God’s providence is not only holy and wise. His meticulous and purposeful government of all things also required a third trait. God’s providence is girded not just with holiness and wisdom but also with infinite power. God is infinitely capable of accomplishing all He has ordained will come to pass.

As we saw in our study of creation, by His mere word, all things sprang into existence. Likewise, by the word of His power, all things are upheld. Indeed, it is through the Person of the Son that God has determined to hold all things together:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Heb. 1:3; NASB).

Conclusion

God rules all of His creation with absolute sovereignty. He is infinitely capable in His unsearchable wisdom and absolute holiness. In His absolute sovereignty, He governs both His creatures and all of their actions. “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens and His sovereignty rules over all,” (Psalm 103:19; NASB). There is nothing that occurs within the whole of creation apart from the decree of God. Every bird and every hair that falls to the ground does so only how and when it has been eternally determined by the God of glory (Mt. 10:29-31).

 

Q.15: What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?

A. When God created man, He entered into a covenant of life with him upon condition of perfect obedience: forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death.1

1Galatians 3:12; Genesis 2:17

 

“COVENANT THEOLOGY, SIMPLY STATED, is the view of God and redemption that interprets the Holy Scriptures by way of covenants,” (Earl Blackburn, Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, pg. 17).

What we see in Genesis 2 is not only an account of the creation of Adam and Eve. In the garden, God and man entered into a covenant. God bestowed certain benefits upon Adam; He gave him life and all the provisions he needed to sustain life in the garden. He created man sinless and in a state of joy and fellowship. Moses recounts the boundaries wherein this covenant was binding: the Garden of Eden. Finally, God established the conditions whereby man might remain in this estate: care for the garden, remain righteous, and do not eat of the tree.

This covenant between God and Adam was fully determined beforehand by God; man in no way takes part in negotiations with God over this agreement. God has given life to man, and man is expected to honor God’s just requirements in order to remain in the estate in which he was created.

“So we may say that man has not at any time entered into covenant with God but God has entered into covenant with man. It only belongs to his sovereign majesty and is the fuit of his infinite goodness to propose, as well as his wisdom to choose and order, the terms of a covenant relationship between himself and his creatures. Therefore the covenant that he has made with men is frequently in Scripture said to be the Lord’s covenant, as in Psalm 25:14, Isaiah 56:4, 6, and other places,” (Nehemiah Coxe, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, pg. 35).

This particular covenant between God and Adam has major implications for us today. Paul tells us that we are either in Christ or in Adam. Where Adam was unfaithful and broke his covenant with God, ensuring that all of his children would be born in bondage to sin, Christ was fulfilled it, redeeming His church from bondage to sin.

Benefits Bestowed by God

Life. The first detail that must be examined in relation to the original state of man is the fact that God gives him life (Gen. 2:7). There were no preconditions to God’s choice to bestow life upon mankind, nor could man have done anything to earn this gift. God, out of His own good pleasure, bestowed life upon man. We often do not think of life as a gift, especially when we’re going through hardships, but it is most certainly a gift of God (Deut. 32:39; Job 33:4; Eccl. 9:9; Acts 17:25).

All life is a gift from God. I am always confounded to hear of total strangers who see “large” families in the mall or in the grocery store and stop the mother to ask, “You know how to fix that, right?” Somehow, in our society, we have come to view the gift of life, and especially the lives of children, as a burden. We have forgotten the righteous prayer of Hannah (1Sam. 1:1-11).

Tellingly, The Baptist Catechism does not refer to this covenant by its more common moniker: the Covenant of Works. This moniker focuses on the condition of the covenant rather than the benefit. Rather, The Baptist Catechism calls the covenant the “Covenant of Life,” which focuses our attention on the benefit we receive. This is the mindset with which we ought to consider all of God’s covenant dealings with man. In this sense, all of God’s covenants are gracious in that they bestow upon us a benefit not previously merited by us.

Provision. Not only did God bestow life upon Adam, but he also provided him all he needed to sustain and enjoy life in the garden. God provided Adam with food (Gen. 2:16), companionship (Gen. 2:18-23), and fellowship with God (Gen. 3:8a). It had not yet rained on the earth, so Adam and Eve needed no shelter. Adam and Eve were not ashamed of their nakedness, so they needed no clothes. Thus, we see that God had provided for them everything they needed and more.

“Adam enjoyed the unmerited privilege of physical and spiritual life. He enjoyed communion with God. He knew God. He had affectionate fellowship with him. Scripture calls such a knowledge and fellowship with God ‘life’ (John 17:3). Thus Adam had life, physical and spiritual,” (Greg Nichols, Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants, pg. 338).

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus assures us that God provides for us all things that we need, and that we in turn are to be anxious for nothing:

25For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the filed grow; they do not toil or spin, 29yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:25-34).

If there is one thing that we as Christians in America tend to be guilty of, it is relying on our fallen world system to provide us with all we need. Contrary to this mode of living, we ought to look to man’s original state and see that God is the giver of all things. He placed man in a state of perfect, abundant provision. The height of this mentality is most potently displayed during election seasons in America. Our default assumption seems to be that our country will fall apart tomorrow if we do not get what we want today.

We need to be constantly reminded that God is the one who is in control. God provides for us, and if He decides to take our prosperity from us, so be it. He has not promised us prosperity; He has promised us provision.

The Character of Man’s Original Estate

Sinless. Whatever we might say about man in his original state, it is important to recognize that man was created sinless (Gen. 1:31a; Eccl. 7:29). When first created, Adam knew neither bondage to sin nor the effects of sin. His estate was not only ideal because of his external circumstances, but also because of his internal disposition. Man was created in a state of perfect communion and union with God (Gen. 3:8a).

This state of perfect communion and union with God is the ultimate goal of redemption (Rev. 21:3-4). God’s purpose in redeeming His elect is that they be conformed to the sinless and perfect image of His Son Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 4:15), ensuring an eternal union and communion with God in heaven. What Adam and Eve had in the garden, freedom from bondage and penalty of sin, we will have in glory, but with the full assurance that we will never again be subject to the dominion of sin over us.

Joyful. Regarding the joy man had in his original state, first, we should recognize the fact that Adam and Eve had no shortage of joy in the estate in which God created them. They not only had an abundance of necessary provisions, but God also provided them with the most delightful provisions. “Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9). In other words, God originally created man to enjoy his existence and enjoy the rest of creation.

Second, God created man to enjoy the blessing of relationship. This is one of the aspects of the Imago Dei. Just as the Trinity is eternally relational, so too man (His image bearer) is created to be in relationship (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18, 22-24). Man and woman were created for one another and, in their original state, their relationship did not bear the mark of shame (Gen. 2:25).

The Boundaries of Man’s Original Estate

The Garden of Eden. In the ancient Near-East, when two kings would sign a treaty, they always established the boundaries wherein that treaty was binding. For man, his arrangement with God was binding within the Garden of Eden. God created the garden especially for man and placed him there to tend it (Gen. 2:15), it was in the garden that God walked in their midst in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8), and it was in the garden that God placed the tree of life. When Adam sinned against God, he was kicked out of the garden and lost direct access to God and to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24).

When we ponder these realities, it should cause us to look forward to our glorious inheritance in heaven. All those who are no longer in Adam, but have been transferred into the New Covenant, in Christ, have the hope of experiencing all these things. God will transfer us to the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10-27) where He will once again walk among His people (Rev. 21:3-4) who will yet again have access to the tree of life (Rev. 22:2).

The Conditions of Man’s Original Estate

“Under this covenant, man must do what he was commanded in order to continue in a state of blessedness. If righteous man was [sic] to remain happy, all hinges on what he does! If man failed, then the curse falls. If man succeeded, blessing would be his and to all his offspring. Historically, this divinely-given arrangement by which man may be blessed has been called the Covenant of Works. That name was chosen because its focal point was on man’s working. Everything depended upon what man did,” (Walter Chantry, Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, pg. 91).

Care for the Garden. There were essentially two commands that God gave Adam in the garden. He placed him there to tend the garden (Gen. 2:15) and commanded him not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death (Gen. 2:16-17). Adam’s care and cultivation of the garden was one aspect of the dominion that Adam was to have over the earth. One thing of which to take note is the fact that Adam never complained of his work. In fact, it was not until after Adam sinned against God that we see that his toil and labor became toilsome and laborious (Gen. 3:17-19).

Work, in and of itself, is not evil. In fact, when we look at the fourth commandment, we see that it was not only God’s design that man rest on the seventh day, but that he work all six days leading up to it:

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle  or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy,” (Ex. 20:8-11; NASB).

Do not eat of the tree. In the Garden of Eden, God expected perfect obedience from Adam and Eve, upon pain of death. Man was made upright (Eccl. 7:29). “This uprightness or rectitude of nature consisted in the perfect harmony of his soul with that law of God which he was made under and subjected to,” (Coxe, Covenant Theology, pg. 43). Coupled with this “internal and subjective” law (Ibid.), which was encoded in his very nature, was a positive precept.

God verbally commanded him not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’” (Gen. 2:15-17).

Of course, we know that Adam did not obey God. That’s why we see in Romans 5:19: “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Adam was the first man. Through his disobedience, we all became sinners but, through Christ’s obedience, all who believe in him are freed from the dominion of sin.

Conclusion

In Adam, we see that the original covenant between God and man was broken. In Christ, there is a new arrangement, the New Covenant, in which all who are in Christ are made right with God. Where Adam disobeyed, Christ obeyed. Where we are condemned in Adam, we are redeemed in Christ. Thank God for His sovereign, redemptive dealings with His people.

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God (Q.15)

Q.15: What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?

A. When God created man, He entered into a covenant of life with him upon condition of perfect obedience: forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death.1

1Galatians 3:12; Genesis 2:17

 

“COVENANT THEOLOGY, SIMPLY STATED, is the view of God and redemption that interprets the Holy Scriptures by way of covenants,” (Earl Blackburn, Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, pg. 17).

What we see in Genesis 2 is not only an account of the creation of Adam and Eve. In the garden, God and man entered into a covenant. God bestowed certain benefits upon Adam; He gave him life and all the provisions he needed to sustain life in the garden. He created man sinless and in a state of joy and fellowship. Moses recounts the boundaries wherein this covenant was binding: the Garden of Eden. Finally, God established the conditions whereby man might remain in this estate: care for the garden, remain righteous, and do not eat of the tree.

This covenant between God and Adam was fully determined beforehand by God; man in no way takes part in negotiations with God over this agreement. God has given life to man, and man is expected to honor God’s just requirements in order to remain in the estate in which he was created.

“So we may say that man has not at any time entered into covenant with God but God has entered into covenant with man. It only belongs to his sovereign majesty and is the fuit of his infinite goodness to propose, as well as his wisdom to choose and order, the terms of a covenant relationship between himself and his creatures. Therefore the covenant that he has made with men is frequently in Scripture said to be the Lord’s covenant, as in Psalm 25:14, Isaiah 56:4, 6, and other places,” (Nehemiah Coxe, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, pg. 35).

This particular covenant between God and Adam has major implications for us today. Paul tells us that we are either in Christ or in Adam. Where Adam was unfaithful and broke his covenant with God, ensuring that all of his children would be born in bondage to sin, Christ was fulfilled it, redeeming His church from bondage to sin.

Benefits Bestowed by God

Life. The first detail that must be examined in relation to the original state of man is the fact that God gives him life (Gen. 2:7). There were no preconditions to God’s choice to bestow life upon mankind, nor could man have done anything to earn this gift. God, out of His own good pleasure, bestowed life upon man. We often do not think of life as a gift, especially when we’re going through hardships, but it is most certainly a gift of God (Deut. 32:39; Job 33:4; Eccl. 9:9; Acts 17:25).

All life is a gift from God. I am always confounded to hear of total strangers who see “large” families in the mall or in the grocery store and stop the mother to ask, “You know how to fix that, right?” Somehow, in our society, we have come to view the gift of life, and especially the lives of children, as a burden. We have forgotten the righteous prayer of Hannah (1Sam. 1:1-11).

Tellingly, The Baptist Catechism does not refer to this covenant by its more common moniker: the Covenant of Works. This moniker focuses on the condition of the covenant rather than the benefit. Rather, The Baptist Catechism calls the covenant the “Covenant of Life,” which focuses our attention on the benefit we receive. This is the mindset with which we ought to consider all of God’s covenant dealings with man. In this sense, all of God’s covenants are gracious in that they bestow upon us a benefit not previously merited by us.

Provision. Not only did God bestow life upon Adam, but he also provided him all he needed to sustain and enjoy life in the garden. God provided Adam with food (Gen. 2:16), companionship (Gen. 2:18-23), and fellowship with God (Gen. 3:8a). It had not yet rained on the earth, so Adam and Eve needed no shelter. Adam and Eve were not ashamed of their nakedness, so they needed no clothes. Thus, we see that God had provided for them everything they needed and more.

“Adam enjoyed the unmerited privilege of physical and spiritual life. He enjoyed communion with God. He knew God. He had affectionate fellowship with him. Scripture calls such a knowledge and fellowship with God ‘life’ (John 17:3). Thus Adam had life, physical and spiritual,” (Greg Nichols, Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants, pg. 338).

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus assures us that God provides for us all things that we need, and that we in turn are to be anxious for nothing:

25For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the filed grow; they do not toil or spin, 29yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:25-34).

If there is one thing that we as Christians in America tend to be guilty of, it is relying on our fallen world system to provide us with all we need. Contrary to this mode of living, we ought to look to man’s original state and see that God is the giver of all things. He placed man in a state of perfect, abundant provision. The height of this mentality is most potently displayed during election seasons in America. Our default assumption seems to be that our country will fall apart tomorrow if we do not get what we want today.

We need to be constantly reminded that God is the one who is in control. God provides for us, and if He decides to take our prosperity from us, so be it. He has not promised us prosperity; He has promised us provision.

The Character of Man’s Original Estate

Sinless. Whatever we might say about man in his original state, it is important to recognize that man was created sinless (Gen. 1:31a; Eccl. 7:29). When first created, Adam knew neither bondage to sin nor the effects of sin. His estate was not only ideal because of his external circumstances, but also because of his internal disposition. Man was created in a state of perfect communion and union with God (Gen. 3:8a).

This state of perfect communion and union with God is the ultimate goal of redemption (Rev. 21:3-4). God’s purpose in redeeming His elect is that they be conformed to the sinless and perfect image of His Son Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 4:15), ensuring an eternal union and communion with God in heaven. What Adam and Eve had in the garden, freedom from bondage and penalty of sin, we will have in glory, but with the full assurance that we will never again be subject to the dominion of sin over us.

Joyful. Regarding the joy man had in his original state, first, we should recognize the fact that Adam and Eve had no shortage of joy in the estate in which God created them. They not only had an abundance of necessary provisions, but God also provided them with the most delightful provisions. “Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9). In other words, God originally created man to enjoy his existence and enjoy the rest of creation.

Second, God created man to enjoy the blessing of relationship. This is one of the aspects of the Imago Dei. Just as the Trinity is eternally relational, so too man (His image bearer) is created to be in relationship (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18, 22-24). Man and woman were created for one another and, in their original state, their relationship did not bear the mark of shame (Gen. 2:25).

The Boundaries of Man’s Original Estate

The Garden of Eden. In the ancient Near-East, when two kings would sign a treaty, they always established the boundaries wherein that treaty was binding. For man, his arrangement with God was binding within the Garden of Eden. God created the garden especially for man and placed him there to tend it (Gen. 2:15), it was in the garden that God walked in their midst in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8), and it was in the garden that God placed the tree of life. When Adam sinned against God, he was kicked out of the garden and lost direct access to God and to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24).

When we ponder these realities, it should cause us to look forward to our glorious inheritance in heaven. All those who are no longer in Adam, but have been transferred into the New Covenant, in Christ, have the hope of experiencing all these things. God will transfer us to the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10-27) where He will once again walk among His people (Rev. 21:3-4) who will yet again have access to the tree of life (Rev. 22:2).

The Conditions of Man’s Original Estate

“Under this covenant, man must do what he was commanded in order to continue in a state of blessedness. If righteous man was [sic] to remain happy, all hinges on what he does! If man failed, then the curse falls. If man succeeded, blessing would be his and to all his offspring. Historically, this divinely-given arrangement by which man may be blessed has been called the Covenant of Works. That name was chosen because its focal point was on man’s working. Everything depended upon what man did,” (Walter Chantry, Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, pg. 91).

Care for the Garden. There were essentially two commands that God gave Adam in the garden. He placed him there to tend the garden (Gen. 2:15) and commanded him not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death (Gen. 2:16-17). Adam’s care and cultivation of the garden was one aspect of the dominion that Adam was to have over the earth. One thing of which to take note is the fact that Adam never complained of his work. In fact, it was not until after Adam sinned against God that we see that his toil and labor became toilsome and laborious (Gen. 3:17-19).

Work, in and of itself, is not evil. In fact, when we look at the fourth commandment, we see that it was not only God’s design that man rest on the seventh day, but that he work all six days leading up to it:

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle  or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy,” (Ex. 20:8-11; NASB).

Do not eat of the tree. In the Garden of Eden, God expected perfect obedience from Adam and Eve, upon pain of death. Man was made upright (Eccl. 7:29). “This uprightness or rectitude of nature consisted in the perfect harmony of his soul with that law of God which he was made under and subjected to,” (Coxe, Covenant Theology, pg. 43). Coupled with this “internal and subjective” law (Ibid.), which was encoded in his very nature, was a positive precept.

God verbally commanded him not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’” (Gen. 2:15-17).

Of course, we know that Adam did not obey God. That’s why we see in Romans 5:19: “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Adam was the first man. Through his disobedience, we all became sinners but, through Christ’s obedience, all who believe in him are freed from the dominion of sin.

Conclusion

In Adam, we see that the original covenant between God and man was broken. In Christ, there is a new arrangement, the New Covenant, in which all who are in Christ are made right with God. Where Adam disobeyed, Christ obeyed. Where we are condemned in Adam, we are redeemed in Christ. Thank God for His sovereign, redemptive dealings with His people.

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God (Q.10)

Q.10: What are the decrees of God?

A. The decrees of God are His eternal purpose according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.1

1Ephesians 1:4, 11; Romans 9:22-23; Isaiah 46:10; Lamentations 3:37

Moving along in our discussion of what man ought to believe concerning God, let us pivot a bit from what God is to what God does. Now, these two aspects of God should not be divorced from one another. Obviously, what God is will determine what God does. When we say that God is good, after all, we are claiming that God is the ultimate standard of all that is good. In order to properly define what good is requires that we do so in reference to what God is. It also requires that we do so in reference to what God does.

The first step in examining what God does is to look to His eternal decrees. In the decrees of God, we find the Source and Purpose for all that occurs, whether in the secret counsels of God or in the created order, from eternity to eternity. God Himself is the Source of everything that occurs. He is also the Purpose. The Westminster Assembly put it this way:

“The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass,” (The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.7).

William Collins, when penning The Baptist Catechism, changed nothing of substance in this answer. Why? This answer serves as one of the shortest, most succinct summaries of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty ever committed to the page. In it, we find that all that comes to pass is a result of God’s eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, and foreordained for the purpose of His own glory.

All that occurs, has occurred, or will occur is determined by the eternal will of God, comes from God, is guided and held together by God, and will ultimately culminate in His receiving all glory, honor, and power. In other words, the Source and Purpose of all things is God, God, God! “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36; NASB).

If you really stop to think about it, Romans 11:36, from a worldly perspective, is a somewhat counter-intuitive way to end the discussion Paul began way back in Romans 9. In Romans 9-11, Paul explains how the monergistic gospel he has been describing since chapter 1 is actually good news, since many of his kinsmen are not believing. He begins Romans 9 with these words:

1I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.,” (Rom. 9:1-5; NASB).

Many in Israel would not repent. As a result, they were broken off, as branches are broken off from a tree. Paul refers to this breaking off as a partial hardening. “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in,” (Rom. 11:25; NASB). How were many of Paul’s kinsmen according to the flesh coming to be hardened? They were hardened according to the sovereign will of God, according to Romans 9. God demonstrates His mercy upon whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills (9:14-18).

Paul knew this was a hard pill for his readers to swallow. It was a hard pill for him to swallow. However, it was the truth, and Christians are those who ultimately must come to the place where they affirm with Paul: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36; NASB).

Notice how, in the answer given in the catechism, God’s purpose is eternal. As we have already mentioned, God is immutable; He does not change. God has never changed His mind on a matter. What He decreed in eternity past remains unchanged to this day. Thus, the apostle Paul writes: “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him,” (Eph. 1:4a; NASB). If God can change His mind, what would it matter who He chose to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world? He could just as easily choose differently tomorrow, if indeed He is unstable in His decrees.

However, we know that He is not unstable. Whatsoever He has decreed will surely come to pass. It is on this truth that our hope in an eternal inheritance rests, for Paul also writes: “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,” (Ephesians 1:11; NASB). But, if God’s will is mutable, might our inheritance be given to another? Why should we hold to it with any surety? On the contrary, Louis Berkhof writes of God:

“He is not deficient in knowledge, veracity, or power. Therefore, He need not change His decree because of a mistake of ignorance, nor because of inability to carry it out. And He will not change it, because He is the immutable God and because He sis faithful and true,” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids. 1941, pg. 105).

God’s sovereignty and immutability in His decrees, then, are a great comfort to us. They ensure for us all of the great promises of God. Our comfort is not the ultimate purpose of the doctrine, though. How foolish, arbitrary, overly-romantic, and trite it would be if God had determined to mold His determinative faculties around something as ultimately insignificant as human feelings. No. God’s created order does not revolve around us: our wills, our feelings, our significance, our dignity, and our glory. Rather, it is all for His glory!

It is ultimately God’s glory that hinges on His purposes being established, not ours. It is ultimately His divine, eternal reputation that is at stake. Thus, He is the One whose “good pleasure” is paramount:

 “Declaring the end from the beginning,

And from ancient times things which have not been done,

Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,

And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’,” (Isaiah 46:10; NASB).

We object that God’s good pleasure must make sense to us. We must be able to wrap our finite, fickle minds around His sovereign, eternal decrees, or He is a monster! “19You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ 20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” (Rom. 9:19-20; NASB). Just as the clay does not have a right to demand to know the secret counsels of the potter, neither do we have the right to demand from God His secret decrees.

We do not get to determine the definition of good, and then demand that God fit into that mold. Rather, we determine what is good by a proper examination of God. Hence the age old problem of questioning authority. In the military, it is a soldier’s duty to disobey unlawful orders, because the law is above command in rank. In theology, we never have right disobey an order of God, because He is the law.

We have no right to question the goodness or the justice of God, because He is the standard of goodness and justice. To lay a charge against Him is to speak out of sheer ignorance. Though one may observe several instances where Lord Tennyson’s often quoted The Charge of the Light Brigade is flawed in relation to subordination in the military, it holds true nonetheless in Christian theology.

“Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.”

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part V – Galatians

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

___________________________________________________________________

Paul, in writing to the Galatian churches, explores some of the same themes as in his letter to the Romans. Paul had noticed in his travels that there were certain very insidious teachings that had seeped in as Jewish believers and Gentile believers began to worship together. He penned his letter to the Galatians to address one such teaching.

Another Gospel

Now, it must be noted on the outset that Paul’s introduction to the letter to the Galatian churches is by far his shortest, shorter even than that of his letter to the Colossians, whom he had not likely ever seen in person (Col. 2:1). The matter about which Paul was writing was of grave importance, and he wanted his readers to feel the urgency of it. Some who had come in among them were teaching a different gospel.

Infiltrating the churches of Galatia was a group theologians have come to call Judaizers. These Jewish “converts” were teaching that the gospel of Jesus Christ was not enough. They went further and argued that, in order to become a real Christian, one must first become a Jew through physical circumcision (Gal. 1:6-9; 3:10; 5:2-6).

Paul explains in chapter 1, verses 6-9, that this gospel is not even another gospel. In fact, he labors throughout the book to demonstrate that it is the opposite. Rather than being the gospel which compels us to follow our Father’s law as sons, the circumcision taught by the Judaizers subjected its adherents to the curse of the law. These Judaizers were wishing to be justified by the law (a futile undertaking for any man), not by faith.

In the same way, there are many today who add their pet views to faith as a prerequisite for salvation, thus creating a “new gospel.” Some claim that their approach to the problem of self-defense speaks to whether or not we are truly hoping in the gospel of Christ. Others claim that their philosophical approach to the very real problem of racism and their specific terminology in addressing it is essential to a proper understanding of the gospel. Still others claim that their particular view of economics and subsequent solutions to the problem of poverty are a necessary part of the gospel to the extent that one cannot even be a disciple of Christ unless one is willing to vote in an economic system designed to take from one group and give to another. Others, while not adding to the gospel per se, add abstinence from drink to the law and to the biblical qualifications for elders and church planters (see here and here). We will address this particular heresy more fully when we get to our study of Colossians.

This approach to the gospel may be useful for shaming others who disagree, but that is not all it accomplishes. It also serves to promulgate a “new gospel,” which is not really the gospel at all. It is a false gospel!

Notice that the Judaizers were not telling Gentile converts they could not be Christians. They did not want to keep Gentiles from entering fellowship with them. Rather, they wanted to impose prerequisites on them for entering the fellowship that are not imposed by the gospel itself. In the same way, legalists in the church today (infiltrating even as far as the Reformed and Reformed Baptist camps) do not claim that people who are different than them cannot fellowship with them. They simply have to agree with all their solutions to the problems they see in society. They must circumcise the foreskin of political, social, and economic disagreement before they can expect to be welcomed to the discussion. They have to read all the right books, listen to all the right teachers, imbibe all the right terminology, and subscribe to the right social narratives. Otherwise, they must remain outside the fellowship like the uncircumcised dogs they are. They have not come under bondage to the right works of the law, so they dare not dine with those justified by these works.

The Seed of Abraham

Of course, in both Romans and Galatians, Paul condemns the idea that man can be justified by the works of the law. Rather, it is by faith that we come to have all the blessings of union with Christ, including justification. Along with justification, we have the blessing of oneness with believers of all stripes. Paul explains that these privileges come to us by way of the promise made to Abraham.

“Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham,” (Gal. 3:6-7; NASB).

Paul goes on to remind his readers of the nature of the promise: “All the nations will be blessed in you,” and to explain further that this promise was made “foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith” (vs. 8; NASB). It is important to mention, at this point, that the term translated Gentiles and the term translated nations in this one verse are the exact same term in the exact same construction in the Greek: τὰ ἔθνη. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, Paul understands this promise made to Abraham to apply to believers of every nation, even non-Jewish nations. In fact, he goes on to say as much:

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise,” (Gal. 3:25-29; NASB).

Paul was not denying the existence of ethnic disparity between the Greeks and the Jews within the church. What he denied was the law-centered approach to addressing this disparity. Rather, he pointed his readers to unity with Christ. We who have faith in Christ—who have been baptized into Christ, who have clothed ourselves in Christ—belong to Christ and in Him are now considered descendants of Abraham, heirs according to promise.

This union with, and unity in, Christ does not know racial or ethnic subdivisions. Rather, it is an indivisible unit. Furthermore, to reiterate, this breakdown of ethnic divisions does not pave the way for the gospel, as was attempted by the Judaizers with their requirement of circumcision. No. The gospel laid the foundation for the breakdown of ethnic divisions. It laid the foundation, provided the fuel, and supplied all the justification necessary for the utter destruction of ethnic division between the Greeks and the Jews. Circumcision had no power to accomplish such a feat, but the gospel could see it through from beginning to end.

Freed!

Having been freed from bondage to the law (chapter 4), Christians are now free to walk by the Spirit (5:16). The Judaizers, however, would have had the Galatian believers rely on a fleshly circumcision. Paul understood that there was no power in such works of the flesh. Rather, relying on our flesh to save us only leads to more “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19b-21; NASB). Walking by the Spirit has a vastly different effect, though:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law,” (Gal. 5:22-23; NASB).

So, rather than pointing the Galatians to fleshly solutions for ethnic tension, like the Judaizers, Paul pointed his readers to the gospel. Note also that Paul did not equate the gospel with fleshly solutions to the problem of ethnic strife (e.g. adopting worldly terms like “safe spaces,” “micro-aggression,” “majority privilege,” etc.). The Judaizers went there, claiming “We will fellowship with people of other ethnicities only if they meet our extra-biblical prerequisites,” and Paul declared them accursed. Rather, Paul pointed them to the gospel of Jesus Christ as the sole sufficient and holistic solution for the ethnic strife that existed between the Jews and Greeks in the Galatian churches.

Conclusion

As we have seen in our study, both of Romans and Galatians, and as we will see in the rest of Paul’s letters, Paul was very concerned to see the churches of God unified in the gospel. The world will seek to divide the church of God according to gender, ethnicity, and anything else the devil might imagine. It is necessary for us, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, to return to our unity in the gospel, and to look for no other, no “better” solution. All such solutions are accursed! The gospel, however, is the power of God unto salvation.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part III – Romans 12, 14-16

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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As we observed in our last two articles, Paul’s desire to preach the gospel to the church at Rome provided him the necessary motivation to write his letter to the Romans. In fact, Paul’s mention of his desire in Romans 1:15-17 functions as the thesis statement of the letter:

“So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith,’” (Romans 1:15-17; NASB).

In the first two articles on Romans, we considered four themes found in this thesis statement: the gospel preached to the church, the gospel as the power of God unto salvation, God’s salvation to all without distinction and, in this way, God will save all His chosen people. These four major themes help us to understand why Paul spends the first eight chapters of Romans explaining the gospel of Jesus Christ and the following three chapters describing the relationship between Israel and the church. Since the thesis statement of Romans 1:15-17 sets the framework for all that follows, we are in our present study using it as the lens through which we examine the rest of the book of Romans. In this offering, we will focus on principles found in these verses that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 12, and 14-16.

From Faith to Faith

The gospel results in a life lived in the light of a justification that comes by faith. Paul writes that, in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith (1:17). As we learn of God’s righteousness, that He is both just and the Justifier of sinful men (Rom. 3:26), we are freed from the shackles of sin to walk by faith in the justification we have received through Christ. We are saved by faith; we are also called to walk by faith. Paul spends the last five chapters of Romans explaining how it is that we who have been saved by gospel faith might also walk by that very gospel faith.

Some mistakenly believe that, because they have been justified by faith, they do not have a responsibility to live by faith. This false notion is contrary to the teachings of Romans. The late Jerry Bridges wrote of a time in his life when he had adopted this false notion:

“During a certain period in my Christian life, I thought that any effort on my part to live a holy life was ‘of the flesh’ and that ‘the flesh profits nothing.’ I thought God would not bless any effort on my part to live the Christian life, just as He would not bless any effort on my part to become a Christian by good works. Just as I received Christ by faith, so I was to seek a holy life only by faith. Any effort on my part was just getting in God’s way,” (Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, pp. 78-79).

Well, Bridges was right about one thing during this time of his life: we can only accomplish what God has called us to do by faith. However, God precepts require that we walk according to faith, that we do according to faith, that we actively work according to faith. So, just as we are justified according to faith, we are called to live the Christian life according to faith. As we will see in this article and the next, this Christian life is one of relationships: relationships within the local church, within the church universal, and between us and governing authorities.

Body Life

In Romans 12, he urges by the mercies of God that the church of Rome be merciful toward one another in the local church. In this way, he first turns the church inward, drawing them to one another for strength and support for the road ahead. First, he tells them not to be conformed to the image of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of their minds (vs. 2). Paul does not tell his readers to remove themselves from the world, but rather to resist being conformed by it. Thus, they will escape two errors: conformity to the world and isolation from it. The task to which we are called requires much more faith and trust than merely seceding from the public square. Having been saved by faith, we are called to resist conformity to the world by faith while we sojourn in it. This imperative is necessary in our day, for one reason, because our conformity to the world can easily sap the strength of our Christian witness.

Notice that Paul’s first exhortation focuses on the mind of the believer. Prior to our initial repentance, we thought according to the precepts of this world, but when the Holy Spirit awakened us, our minds were changed. The mind is central because transformation comes from a renewed mind.

The first step in renewing one’s mind and resisting the influence of the world is that of recognizing the fact that we are each members of  the body of Christ. As members, we have each been granted a measure of faith, gifts of the Spirit. Now, there are myriad tests that have been developed to help people try to discern their spiritual gifts. All of these tests are flawed. The true test is found in living out one’s faith in the body of Christ.

Each local body of Christ has its own individual needs. As each Christian lives and serves among the body of Christ, certain needs naturally arise among that body. Not every Christian is meant to bear the full weight of every burden in the body but, as Christians seek to find ways to serve the body of Christ, they will naturally gravitate toward those needs that are most suitable to their unique giftings. It is through this process, not canned tests, that Christians throughout the ages have discerned their unique giftings in the body of Christ.

In chapter 13, Paul addresses the Christian’s unique relationship to the government. Given that this relationship is a paramount point in our discussion, we will devote an entire article to it separate from this discussion.

Christian Liberty

In Romans 14 and 15, Paul expounds on principles of Christian liberty urging concessions for and patience with weaker brothers and a godly practice of liberty in all things done in good faith. This too was meant to break down barriers between Jews and Gentiles. Many Jews, freed from the law, wished to practice their newfound liberty in eating meat. Believing Gentiles, having participated in pagan sacrifices and knowing those meats were likely sacrificed to idols, might not have known such liberty of conscience. Both were called to be mindful of their brothers in the faith for the sake of the gospel.

In our present day, there is an added dimension. Many Dispensationalists and New Covenanters, arguing from a subjective interpretation of the “Law of Love,” have become professional “weaker brothers.” They make much of their abstinence from things, when properly used, God has explicitly blessed in His word. They use passages like Romans 14 and 15 to argue that Christians’ love for one another means they can forbid their brothers from partaking in things God has blessed. This is not the spirit with which Paul is writing.

In Acts 10, Peter had a vision in which he was shown several animals whose consumption was forbidden in the Ceremonial Law of Israel. Peter was told to rise, kill, and eat the animals, and he begged God that he not be made to eat anything unclean. A voice came from heaven saying, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy,” (Acts 10:9-16; NASB). Were Paul in Romans 14 and 15 saying that weaker brothers could simply declare for themselves what is holy and unholy and impose their subjective standards of holy and unholy on their brothers, Peter’s vision would make no sense. Rather, Paul is recognizing that some of the novices in the church still considered certain things unholy that, used properly, were actually holy. Paul is calling for the more mature brethren to bear with these younger believers. He certainly was not giving license to Seminary professors and Seminary presidents to bind the consciences of mature believers on matters of consumption. If a believer partakes of food or drink to the glory of God, it is holy, and no one is to pass judgment.

On the other hand, we must be careful how we use liberty. In the hands of the immature, Christian liberty can be a very dangerous thing. Historically, the church has labored long to mine and consolidate from Scripture its teaching on Christian liberty. Apart from the teaching of the church on this matter throughout church history, one might take it merely to be a license to sin. Such is not the case. Consider the teaching of The Baptist Confession on the matter:

“The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel, consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the rigour and curse of the law, and in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin, from the evil of afflictions, the fear and sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation: as also in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind,” (The Baptist Confession, 21.1). Keep reading…

We must understand that we live in a very reactionary culture. For decades, we have been inundated with notions of political correctness, and this inundation has led to an unholy push for political incorrectness. Rather than policing our tongues, many in Western culture have taken to purposefully setting out to offend others. This is a clear violation of the principles Paul is teaching in Romans 14 and 15. To be sure, we do not want to be ruled by the weaker brother. However, neither is the Christian called to purposefully offend him. We are called to bear with him, lovingly, in his immaturity.

If he has not arrived yet at the place where he understands that all things properly used are holy unto God, we must bear with him until he does understand these things. We should not entice him to partake in something he still perceives to be unholy because, at least in his mind, he would be doing it out of rebellion against God. We are to help him to avoid any such rebellious attitudes toward God while he matures in his understanding of Christian liberty.

The Universal Church

Having examined two major points on relationships in the local church, let us now focus in on a matter that is also of vital importance to Christians: the universal church. Paul ends his letter, in Romans 16, by commending brothers and sisters in the faith to the church in Rome. His commendations are not without significance to us today.

If you have been in the church for any amount of time, you may have wondered why it is that churches require letters of transfer from other churches commending new members to their fellowship. This is not a purely modern practice. In Romans and in Colossians, Paul establishes this practice. He encourages local churches to receive and greet specific saints and offers words of commendation on their behalf (Rom. 16:1-24; Col. 4:7-14).

The other side of this coin is where the apostles specifically warn against certain individuals who have caused major problems either for him or for the church as a whole (1Tim. 1:18-20; 2Tim. 2:16-18; 4:10). This information was of vital importance for local churches, and it still is today. One of the roles of elders in a local church is that of shepherd, and shepherds are tasked with the unenviable duty of warding off wolves who come in seeking to devour the flock (Acts 20:17, 29). In this age of consumerism, wolves easily move from church to church sowing division and dissention. Pastors must be careful to examine each new member of the flock and determine their ecclesiastical history in order to guard the sheep from potential wolves.

In our next article in this series, we will continue to examine what it means to live from “faith to faith.” Specifically, we will zero in on the faith needed to live according to Paul’s teachings regarding the relationship between Christians and governing authorities in Romans 13.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part II – Romans 9-11

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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As we mentioned in our last article, Paul’s desire to preach the gospel to the church at Rome was the impetus for the letter he wrote to the Romans. Scholars have even proposed that Paul’s mention of this desire in Romans 1:15-17 functions as the thesis statement of the letter:

“So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith,’” (Romans 1:15-17; NASB).

In the last article, we considered two themes that arise out of this thesis statement: the gospel preached to the church and the gospel as the power of God unto salvation. These two major themes help us to understand why Paul spends the first eight chapters of Romans explaining the gospel of Jesus Christ. Being that these verses set the framework for all that follows, we are in our present study using them as the lens through which we examine the rest of the book of Romans. In this article, we will focus on principles found in this thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 9-11.

Salvation to All without Distinction

First, the gospel proclamation began in Jerusalem and spread throughout all the known world (Acts 1:8; Col. 1:3-6). Not only is this true geographically, but Paul’s custom when he went from town to town was to preach the gospel first in the synagogues and, only after he was rejected by the Jews, he would turn and take the gospel the Gentiles (Acts 9:20; Acts 13:5, 13-52; 14:1-7; 17:1-9, 10-14, 16-17; 18:1-7, 19-21; 19:8-10).

Paul was not a Christian Zionist like many of the televangelists we see on TV today. He was not concerned with supporting his kinsmen with money, political power, and military might like so many politicians running for office today. Paul was concerned that his kinsmen according to the flesh be supported by the proclamation of the gospel, the planting of new churches, and the ministry of the Word. To bring the discussion home, a 21st century American Paul would not be so concerned to combat an intangible, unquantifiable notion of American systemic racism against his kinsmen according to the flesh as he would have been to see them saved from their sins and (as we will see in Romans 13) respect those whom God had put in authority over them so that they might lead quiet, peaceful lives..

Paul was so concerned to see his “kinsmen according to the flesh” come to salvation in their Messiah that he might have even wished himself “accursed, separated from Christ” for their sakes (Rom. 9:3; NASB). Paul loved the Jews, because ethnically-speaking he is a Jew. He had no desire, in the flesh, to see them forsaken on account of their disobedience for the eternal benefit of pagan Gentiles. To use modern American language, Paul was born into “covenant privilege,” and he did not feel the need to apologize for it in the least. He desired to see all, Jews and Gentiles, saved. Yet, he was willing to accept that the partial reprobation of Israel was the will of God for the salvation of all of God’s elect (Rom. 11:25-27).

One might expect that Paul’s love for his kinsmen according to the flesh would have derailed him on his mission as the apostle to the Gentiles. It did not. Paul was content with God’s sovereign decree, even if that decree meant that a large portion of the Jews would be broken off from the covenant tree. Afterall, who is he but a man (Rom. 9:19-20)?

This discussion of the Jews and Gentiles did not begin in Romans 9. Rather, Paul interweaves his discussion of this topic throughout his letter to the Romans, from chapter 2 all the way to chapter 11. From chapters 2 to 8, he addresses false notions Jews and Gentiles had of the law and the gospel. However, once he gets to chapter 9, he commits himself to addressing a very specific question regarding the application of the atonement:

In this Way

Second, the gospel spread as a result of a partial hardening of the Jews. If many of the Jews’ hearts were not hardened toward the gospel proclamation, the church might never have been persecuted, and the gospel might not have gone forth to the Gentiles (Acts 8:1-4; 11:19). It is this thread that weaves its way throughout the book of Romans. In addressing the gospel of Christ, Paul also sees fit to address the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, and he does so from several different angles.

It is for the sake of the gospel, not social justice, that racial barriers needed to be broken down between believing Jews and believing Gentiles. Jews were considered the minority culture in ancient Rome. They were looked upon as insurrectionists and trouble-makers. The Jews, on the other hand, saw themselves as religiously privileged, the people of promise. From a religious standpoint, the Jews looked down upon the Gentiles. From a cultural standpoint, the Gentiles looked down upon the Jews.

The first century gospel preacher had to forget all of these social stigmas. The Gentile-born Christian could not rightly look down upon the Jews, even if they were of the hardened segment of the Jews, the broken off branches. Likewise, the Hebrew-born Christians had no right to look down upon the Gentiles. As Christians, they had to accept that they were now engrafted into one new tree. They were brothers in Christ, regardless of the earthly families, tribes, or ethnicities into which they were born.

It simply would not do for Jewish Christians to emphasize their Jewishness in relation to their Gentile brothers. Nor would the church function properly if the Gentile Christians had emphasized their pagan cultures over that of their Jewish brothers. They had to come to see themselves as something altogether new, and new wine is not fit for old wineskins (Mk. 2:21-22). Compare Paul’s teaching on the newness of the Christian identity with another notion prevalent in our culture today:

“Malcolm X was the prophet of black rage primarily because of his great love for black people. His love was neither abstract nor ephemeral. Rather, it was a concrete connection with a degraded and devalued people in need of a psychic conversion. This is why Malcolm X’s articulation of black rage was not directed first and foremost at white America. Rather, Malcolm believed that if black people felt the love that motivated that rage the love would produce a psychic conversion in black people; they would affirm themselves as human beings, no longer viewing their bodies, minds, and souls through white lenses, and believing themselves of taking control of their own destinies,” (Cornel West, Race Matters. Beacon Press, Boston, 1993, pp. 95-96).

Earlier in his book, West describes a Nihilism that is present in much of black culture. Anyone who is familiar with 20th century philosophical structures will recognize that, in promoting this view of Malcolm X, West has just promoted a form of ethnic Existentialism as the philosophical answer to ethnic Nihilism. If one’s view of ethnic strife leads one to have a bleak view of ethnic strife, the answer for West seems to be to adopt a carpe diem approach to ethnic strife. One must become the captain of one’s own destiny.

The Bible does not promote this “Take charge!” approach to ethnic strife. It does not present us as the masters of our own destinies. Rather, we are called to see our brothers and sisters in Christ as just that: brothers and sisters. This approach takes much more courage than West’s ethnic Existentialism. In this approach, God is the Master of our destinies. Our job is merely to trust and obey.

It was as a result of, and for the sake of, the gospel that many hard-hearted Jews (not all Jews, mind you) were broken off from God’s one covenant tree and Gentiles were grafted in (Rom. 11:11-24). This was not an easy pill for Paul to swallow. It was not easy for Paul to see Gentiles as being grafted into the one covenant tree of Israel at the expense of his kinsmen according to the flesh. In his weaker moments, perhaps he might have been tempted to succumb to a form of ethnic Existentialism rather than humbly receiving his “brothers from another mother.” This was not the way, though, that all Israel would be saved. The gospel of Jesus Christ broke down ethnic barriers between Jews and Gentiles so that they were no longer two but one new tree in Christ! So it is that, in this way, all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:25-27).

In our next installment, we will focus on principles found in Paul’s thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 12, 14-16.