Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Fellowship of Undershepherds

t4g.jpgThe conference is under way. It is well attended; even a bit snug - you could say that we're really together here! But it has been a blessing to see so many pastors who have gathered together for fellowship in the precious Gospel of our risen Savior. I will make very brief posts as I have a very limited budget of time here, but I will mention that I was very encouraged to hear Mark Dever's presentation of The Pastor's Understanding of His Own Role. The one thing that continued to resonate with me is this theme of the pastor as an undershepherd. While I can't recall that he used this term per se - this was indeed his point, clearly argued from 1 Corinthians 4.

This important meditation turned my thoughts again to John 21:15-17, where the Savior charged Peter to tend His lambs; to shepherd His sheep and to tend His sheep. Three times Peter was given the reminder that his stewardship in Christ was that of an undershepherd, whose responsibility was to serve on behalf of the Chief Shepherd who purchased His sheep with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Without such a foundation a shepherd will only look to shepherd and feed the sheep after his own whims and appetites - this is no small principle - it is massive.

Ever since I began serving in pastoral ministry, I have used this term - undershepherd in order to describe this understanding of true pastoral ministry. However, I find that the knowledge of this principle is one that will never be fully exhausted during the days of human groaning and travail since every day of ministry is yet another opportunity to grow in my conviction and application of this truth. It is like the one who says "I love the Lord my God." That has been true ever since the Lord, in His precious and sovereign grace, enlivened our hearts to love Him - however, we will all go to the grave while seeking to know the breadth and length and height and depth of His infinite love, while seeking to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. We are like miners who seek to dig deeper and deeper for the riches of God's Word; even looking for the riches of how we should live in view of what He has revealed; and while we will find much wealth in such digging, our wealth in this life will be dwarfed by the perfection that will come in the world and life to come. Until then, I'll just put my hard-hat on and continue plummeting God's riches for the sake of my own life and doctrine, as well as for those whom I serve on behalf of the Chief Shepherd (1 Timothy 4:14-16).

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Where There is No Body, There is No Pity

The recent controversy concerning N. T. Wright's affirmation of Marcus Borg's profession of faith has been a very revealing one indeed. In an interview on The Australian, N. T. Wright (Bishop of Durham, Church of England) offered a belittling view of the resurrection in order to defend his personal friend, Marcus Borg (Professor of Religion at Oregon State University). In this controversial interview, in which N. T. Wright opined about the salvific relevance of believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, we find some very strained reasoning:

"I have friends who I am quite sure are Christians who do not believe in the bodily resurrection," he [Wright] says carefully, citing another eminent scholar, American theologian Marcus Borg, co-author with Wright of The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. "But the view I take of them - and they know this - is that they are very, very muddled. They would probably return the compliment. Marcus Borg really does not believe Jesus Christ was bodily raised from the dead. But I know Marcus well: he loves Jesus and believes in him passionately. The philosophical and cultural world he has lived in has made it very, very difficult for him to believe in the bodily resurrection. I actually think that's a major problem and it affects most of whatever else he does, and I think that it means he has all sorts of flaws as a teacher, but I don't want to say he isn't a Christian." [The Australian - Feature, April 13th 2006]

He wouldn't say that Borg isn't a Christian? Really? In some ways, this whole controversy has enabled the teachers of heresy, and those who defend them, to come out of their closets and account for what they really believe. All of this raises a very important question: do believers have the freedom to minimize the bodily resurrection of Christ, even concluding that a person can deny this doctrine and still be counted as a Christian? As the Apostle Paul would say - me genetai, may it never be! I fear that believers have become a bit sleepy over this matter, particularly if they are not violently repulsed by such a comment as Mr. Wright's. Too many people today seem to fear the opinions of men, rather than fearing God and reverencing His Word (Isaiah 66:1-2). If the Scriptures were not clear on this issue (the resurrection), then we would certainly have a different issue on our hands; but unbeknownst to these aforementioned "biblical scholars," the question concerning Christ's bodily resurrection is clearly answered by God's Holy Writ; yes, especially in the Gospels:

John 2:13-22: 13 And the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers seated. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, "Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a house of merchandise." 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Thy house will consume me." 18 The Jews therefore answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things?" 19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews therefore said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. [NASB, bold added for emphasis]
When it comes to establishing the reality of Christ's bodily resurrection, John 2 is unavoidably clear. In verse 21, John used the Greek word soma - body, which clearly identifies the reality of a physical, bodily resurrection. Thus Christ's reference to "this temple" clearly meant His own body, such that what would be physically destroyed through death, would also be physically raised again in resurrection life.

Not even a mountain of liberal education can hide the clarity of that statement!

But this is not all. The Apostle John helps us to understand the importance of Christ's clear statement as it relates to being a true disciple who believes the Lord and His word:
John 2:19-22: 19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews therefore said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken. [NASB, bold added for emphasis]
The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is not some chalkboard doctrine that can be wiped away with impunity. Ultimately, beliving in the bodily resurrection of Christ means believing the Scriptures, and the word which Jesus had spoken. Antithetically speaking, not believing in His bodily resurrection means not believing the Scriptures, and the word which Jesus had spoken. To speak frankly about it all: not believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ means calling the Lord of all truth a liar. This said, the fact that Mr. Wright has called Marcus Borg a "Christian" friend reveals that he is admitting complicity with this anti-resurrection heresy. His affirmation of Mr. Borg's profession of faith reveals a disturbing confederacy of doctrine:
PROFESSOR MARCUS BORG: "I have learned that the message of Jesus was not about requirements, was not about here is what you must do or believe in order to go to heaven. It was about entering into a relationship to God now in the present–I see in that–wisdom teacher and a social father. And for me as a Christian what Jesus was like as a figure of history is a powerful testimony to the reality of the sacred or the reality of God. Being a Christian doesn't mean that one has to believe that Jesus really walked on water, or really multiplied loaves, and so forth. And I think that a literalistic approach to scripture has in the minds of many Christians become a major obstacle. I think I would be willing to say that the teaching of Jesus makes profound religious sense to me, whether Jesus said it or not. I'll simply say that I think given my understanding of Christianity there's all the room in the world for disagreement about whether the resurrection of Jesus involved something happening to his corpse, things like that. I grew up in a tradition which stressed correct belief, and I now see it's not about correct belief it all. It's about, you know, being in relationship to that to which all this stuff points. I think the resurrection of Jesus really happened, but I have no idea if it involves anything happening to his corpse, and, therefore, I have no idea whether it involves an empty tomb, and for me, that doesn't matter because the central meaning of the Easter experience or the resurrection of Jesus is that His followers continue to experience Him as a living reality, a living presence after His death. So I would have no problem whatsoever with archaeologists finding the corpse of Jesus. For me that would not be a discrediting of the Christian faith or the Christian tradition." [PBS Interview, March 28th 1997]
Whenever I read this, I am grieved in my heart for what this means for Mr. Borg. Like the Apostle Paul, even the enemies of the cross should be the object of our compassion and sorrow, especially in view of their certain doom (Philippians 3:18-19). Not believing the central promise of Christ - that His temple would be destroyed and raised again on the third day - reveals a dark and damning epistemology. He who denies the bodily resurrection of Christ, has rejected the One who calls Himself the way, and the truth and the life (John 14:6); even the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). Thus, finding the "corpse of Jesus" would mean exposing Christianity as a pitiable fraud:
1 Corinthians 15:3,4,12-19: 3...I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
For a man to deny the centrality of the bodily resurrection of Christ is about as meaningful as saying that the human body does not require a heart in order to live. Without a beating heart, all that you have is a dead corpse; in like manner, without the bodily resurrection of Christ, Christianity is a lifeless religion and we are all still dead in our trespasses and sins (1 Corinthians 15:17, Ephesians 2:1-3). Should we find a body - then we are most to be pitied. But thanks be to God, by His immutable power and promises, the Savior who died in sinners' stead is risen.
Matthew 28:5-6: "......the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 "He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying."
He has risen - just as He said.

That's worth repeating: He has risen - just as He said! We have Good News to share with this world because the Savior's tomb is empty - He is no longer here - just as He said. What the Lord of glory said that He would do, He did with immutable perfection, and therefore the hope of the Gospel message is a sure hope - without wavering.

To close, let me offer the following: having mentioned Mr. Wright in this article as I have, I would challenge him to answer for his public comments concerning Mr. Borg. What a wonderful thing it would be to see him renounce such comments for the glory of the risen Savior. Frankly, in view of Christ's precious words of promise, it is only right that he do so:

John 8:31 "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine..."
Brethren - there is no "corpse of Jesus" to be found - anywhere. Being that there is no body in the tomb, there is therefore no pity needed for those who believe in Christ. The disciples of Christ are not the ones who are to be pitied in this world. Instead, we ought to pity those who have no hope because they have not believed in the Lord Jesus Christ - who has risen, just as He said.

Be Strong in the Lord, and in His Mighty Power, Put on the Full Armour of God...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

There Is No Injustice in God

There is no injustice in God - period.

Right? Most of you would consider this to be too simple a concept to be worthy of a debate since it is of course such a primitive concept - isn't it? Of course it is a simple truth, however, this statement's simplicity should not deceive us into thinking that its impact on Christian doctrine is in any way small. Those who compromise this simple truth, in any way, enter into the dark domain of idolatry; after all, a god who is unjust, is no God at all. This very truth is one that is stringently defended by the Apostle Paul throughout his epistle to the Romans as evidenced by the fact that the Apostle employs the term dikaios 64 times in reference to the righteousness of God, or the unrighteousness of man. Central to this theme is the crucial truth of justification by faith in Jesus Christ; and so central was this theme of the Justice of God that, in two instances in Romans, Paul raised the question of whether we should believe that God is unjust. In each of these cases, Paul forcefully responded with "may it never be!" Through this inductive process, Paul teaches us that such a hypothetical deity cannot save, nor judge humanity in any way. In one such instance, Paul reminds us that the Lord's sovereignty over evil, does not make Him an unjust God:

Romans 3:5-6, 5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 May it never be! For otherwise how will God judge the world?"

The Lord's sovereign dealings with sinful men do not taint His perfect holiness in the slightest bit. This is equally true concerning our salvation. When God saves a sinful man, He does not nullify His justice in any way. When a sinner is forgiven of his sin, it is not because God had chosen to forsake His holiness and justice - may it never be! No, God remains just when He graciously forgives the sinner, because Christ died for sinners as their righteous substitute (Isaiah 53:5): Christ personally bore their sin, and the penalty of their sin when He died upon the cross (Gal. 3:13):

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree."

The entire verbal adjective in this verse (circled in red above), further defines the work of Christ's redemption, and is therefore foundational to our understanding concerning the very means of our redemption. Periphrastically, we could present this verse in this way: "Christ, who become a curse on our behalf, redeemed us from the curse of the law." In other words, it is because Christ became our penal substitute on the cross, that He could redeem us from the curse of the law. By bearing our sin, and the wrath of God that we deserved in view of our sin, Christ perfectly satisfied God's demand for justice: He who knew no sin, became sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Without this reality of Christ dying as our substitute (having become a curse for us), there can be no redemption of sinners. Therefore, it is by Christ's righteous sacrifice that God remains just, while justifying the sinner who believes in Christ:

Romans 3:24-26: 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

God is just. He remains just when He justifies the sinner who has faith in Christ, because Christ died as his righteous substitute, having become a curse in his stead. This crucial reality is called the doctrine of penal substitution. While there are many, many other truths which flow from the doctrine of Christ's atonement, this crucial understanding of Romans 3:5-26 cannot be cast aside as though it were irrelevant or optional. Like the doctrine of the resurrection, the truth of Christ's penal substitution on our behalf stands as a crucial foundation for God's justice and our redemption in Him. Without such truths as these, we would remain condemned in our sins, having a worthless faith, being most pitied in this life as fools who are without hope (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

But thanks be to God that He is just, and He is the justifier of all who have believed in the One who became sin on our behalf, and now lives to intercede on our behalf.

Monday, April 17, 2006

POST 1920: Luther on the Perspicuity of Scripture

~Gleaning Light from the Luminaries of the Past~

Proverbs 19:20: Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (ESV).

Without a doubt, Martin Luther’s work - The Bondage of the Will is a favorite of mine. If there is one thing that I appreciate about Luther - he doesn’t beat around the bush when dealing with Biblical doctrine. I strongly recommend his work to you. In reading this work you will find that some of the very battles that he faced in his day are also with us today. In particular, this published contest of his with Erasmus reminds us that the primitieve roots of error are always deeply planted in the soils of human wisdom and reason, whether in the past or the present. In his counter argument against the popular doctrine of free will, Luther contested the tactics of those who sought to advance their doctrines by avoiding many clear texts of Scripture. It is the historic habit of liberal thinking to call clear texts ambiguous, especially when those texts seem to threaten any system of thought in liberal theology. In his section on the Clarity of Scripture (or the Perspecuity of Scripture, as some translations have it), Luther refuted the shallow tactics of those who sought to ignore clear doctrines, by falsely claiming that certain relevant Scriptures were simply unclear.

You may be tired of hearing me say - “there is nothing new under the sun” [Ecc. 1:10]...but that’s really too bad!

Of The Perspicuity of Scripture: All the things, therefore, contained in the Scriptures; are made manifest, although some places, from the words not being understood, are yet obscure. But to know that all things in the Scriptures are set in the clearest light, and then, because a few words are obscure, to report that the things are obscure, is absurd and impious. And, if the words are obscure in one place, yet they are clear in another. But, however, the same thing, which has been most openly declared to the whole world, is both spoken of in the Scriptures in plain words, and also still lies hidden in obscure words. Now, therefore, it matters not if the thing be in the light, whether any certain representations of it be in obscurity or not, if, in the mean while, many other representations of the same thing be in the light. For who would say that the public fountain is not in the light, because those who are in some dark narrow lane do not see it, when all those who are in the Open market place can see it plainly? [The Bondage of the Will, That the teaching of Scripture is clear and decisive, pp. 73-74].

That the Teaching of Scripture is Clear and Decisive: In a word, if the Scripture be obscure or ambiguous, what need was there for its being sent down from heaven? Are we not obscure and ambiguous enough in ourselves, without an increase of it by obscurity, ambiguity, and darkness being sent down unto us from heaven? And if this be the case, what will become of that of the apostle, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction?” (2 Tim. iii. 16.) Nay, Paul, thou art altogether useless, and all those things which thou ascribest unto the Scripture, are to be sought for out of the fathers approved by a long course of ages, and from the Roman see! Wherefore, thy sentiment must be revoked, where thou writest to Titus, (chap. i. 9) ‘that a bishop ought to be powerful in doctrine, to exhort and to convince the gainsayers, and to stop the mouths of vain talkers, and deceivers of minds.’ For how shall he be powerful, when thou leavest him the Scriptures in obscurity — that is, as arms of tow and feeble straws, instead of a sword? And Christ must also, of necessity, revoke His word where He falsely promises us, saying, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to resist,” (Luke xxi. 15.) For how shall they not resist when we fight against them with obscurities and uncertainties? And why do you also, Erasmus, prescribe to us a form of Christianity, if the Scriptures be obscure to you!

But I fear I must already be burdensome, even to the insensible, by dwelling so long and spending so much strength upon a point so fully clear; but it was necessary, that that impudent and blasphemous saying, ‘the Scriptures are obscure,’ should thus be drowned. And you, too, my friend Erasmus, know very well what you are saying, when you deny that the Scripture is clear, for you at the same time drop into my ear this assertion: ‘it of necessity follows therefore, that all your saints whom you adduce, are much less clear.’ And truly it would be so. For who shall certify us concerning their light, if you make the Scriptures obscure? Therefore they who deny the all-clearness and all-plainness of the Scriptures, leave us nothing else but darkness.

Sect. XXXVII. — BUT here, perhaps, you will say — all that you have advanced is nothing to me. I do not say that the Scriptures are every where obscure (for who would be so mad?) but that they are obscure in this, and the like parts. — I answer: I do not advance these things against you only, but against all who are of the same sentiments with you. Moreover, I declare against you concerning the whole of the Scripture, that I will have no one part of it called obscure: and, to support me, stands that which I have brought forth out of Peter, that the word of God is to us a “lamp shining in a dark place.” (2 Peter i. 19.) But if any part of this lamp do not shine, it is rather a part of the dark place than of the lamp itself. For Christ has not so illuminated us, as to wish that any part of His word should remain obscure, even while He commands us to attend to it: for if it be not shiningly plain, His commanding us to attend to it is in vain. [The Bondage of the Will, That the teaching of Scripture is clear and decisive, pp. 128-129]

Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Together for the Gospel

I am not a big conference person, but every now and then I get the chance to attend some of the better ones - as the Lord allows. This year I will be attending the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville KY. I registered for this one fairly early because I am particularly interested in learning more about the Southern Baptist Convention, particularly by Dr. Al Mohler’s doctrinal influences - his contributions have been very encouraging.

Prior to the event, Timmy Brister, of Provocations and Pantings, will be sponsoring a meeting at 3:00 pm, April 26th. If any are interested in attending this event, please e-mail Tim @, or go to his T4G post for more information.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The “Gospel” of Judas

A Different Judas: Ancient text sheds light on disciple as Christ’s collaborator, not his betrayer” reads one newspaper headline. Yes - we could call this “new light” - Judas the collaborator. It is amazing, isn’t it, that God’s Word rarely makes the headline news; but a heretical and pseudepigraphal text, which has the substantive sophistication of a comic book (less the pictures), gets top coverage - along with a two hour special on a National Geographic cable program. This fable frenzy is just another sad illustration of what the Apostle John taught: ...the whole world lies in the power of the evil one [1 John 4:19]. Like many of the “controversies” that surround the Bible today, the “Gospel” of Judas is just another overly-hyped, valueless flop, that will be heralded by a lost world which is content to feast on frivolity while forsaking the rich feast of God’s Holy Word. Despite all of the well-rehearsed talking points out there in the media, this is no controversy; instead, it is yet another moment of corruption that has been advanced by men who are at enmity with God and His Word. Frankly, if the fable frenzy were not so corrupt and foolish, it would actually be funny.

Sunday evening, at Pilgrim Bible Church, we had the opportunity to review the subject of the gnostic book called: The Gospel of Judas. It was my goal to equip the brethren with just enough background about this text so that they would be mindful of two things: 1. This is a non-issue; and 2. That this should be used as an opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ. The following is a summary of our two points of evaluation:

1). The Gospel of Judas: A Non-Issue: What is called “The Gospel of Judas” is in fact a pseudepigraphal and gnostic text that was written sometime in the 2nd century A.D., most likely by a heretical group called the Cainites (more on the Cainites later). While scholars have known about this manuscript’s existence from the beginning, an actual copy was only recently recovered in this century. It is pseudepigraphal because it was not written by Judas, but was a contrived document that sought to vindicate the “son of perdition” as a part of the system of doctrine peculiar to the Cainite dogma. It is gnostic, in that it upholds the basic tenants of a very broad system of religion that more fully developed during the 2nd century A.D. It is important to clarify that gnosticism has nothing to do with Christianity; but people become confused over this issue, especially since many gnostics adopted some constructs of Christian doctrine that only gave it the appearence of Christianity:

“The name (from the Greek gnosis = knowledge - since Gnostics claimed to have a secret knowledge which was the key to salvation) is given to a group of systems taking color, chameleon-like, from their intellectual surroundings. Their beginnings preceded Christianity by many years. These systems were philosophical in that the problem which concerned all Gnostics was the reconciliation of the existence of evil with God who is good; religious because they offered salvation.” [A History of Heresy, David Christie-Murray, Oxford University Press, p. 21].

Likening gnostic teaching, or gnostic writings, to the teachings and writings of Holy Writ is frankly rediculous - even heretical. Though the gnostics claimed to be Christian in their root form, they were very far from it. They devised a system of doctrine that was based upon Greek mythology (and Platonic dualism) that looked to reconcile the reality of God’s holiness and the existence of evil. While their systems of religion varied from group to group, they all patterened themselves after the following model: 1. God created a sphere of spiritual beings in what was called the “Pleroma”: these beings were said to be able to create and procreate; 2. Sophia (one of the spirit beings of the Pleroma) wandered away to the edge of darkness and procreated a being called the Demiurge who was said to be Jehovah, or the being who created Jehova; 3. It was this Demiurge who created the fallen world and it is by this system of separation that the existence of evil was thought to be clarified. Of course, this solves nothing and only produces a pagan religion that is utterly anti-Trinitarian:

Gnosticism is not a variant form of Christianity - it is an anti-Christian heresy. But of course, the gnostics of the 2nd century were very skilled at adapting their appearence in order to resemble Christianity, thus maintaining the perception that they were not heretical. Consider Irenaeus’ observation of the tactics of one gnostic group, the Valentinians:

“When the Valentinians meet people of the great Church [as Irenaeus himself records] they attract them by speaking as we speak to one another. They complain to us that we are treating them as excommunicated when, in this or that respect, the doctrines are the same, and thus, they unsettle our faith little by little by their questions. Those who do not resist, they make into their disciples: they take them aside to unveil before them the unspeakable mystery of their Pleroma.” [Jean Doresse, The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, MJF Books, New York, pp. 18, 19.].

For the gnostics, Christian vocabulary was a useful cloak that was used to hide error and draw new disciples. However, their teachings and mystical texts are not comparable to Scripture by any stretch of the imagination; and lest we think that this is the last that we might hear about such gnostic documents “shedding a new light” on our understanding of the Biblical record, let the reader be warned - there are many other such gnostic texts. So mark your calendar now, you’ll probably hear about others in the future:

Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles

Apocalypse of Adam

(First) Apocalypse of James

(Second) Apocalypse of James

Apocalypse of Paul

Apocalypse of Peter

Apocryphon of James

Apocryphon of John

Book of Thomas the Contender

Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth

Eugnostos the Blessed

Exegesis on the Soul

Gospel of Philip

Gospel of Thomas

Gospel of Truth

Hypostasis of the Archons

Letter of Peter to Philip

On the Origin of the World

Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men

Second Treatise of the Great Seth

Sophia of Jesus

Teachings of Silvanus

Testimony of Truth

Three Steles of Seth

Thunder, Perfect Mind

Treatise on the Resurrection

Valentinian Exposition

The interesting thing about the Gospel of Judas is that it was refuted as a heretical work in its own day by several early church fathers - most notably by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. In his work “Against all Heresies” Irenaeus invests 31 chapters of ink and paper in refuting the heresies of his day, to include the Cainites along with their heretical, pseudepigraphal “Gospel of Judas”:

Against all Heresies, Chapter XXXI. - Doctrines of the Cainites. Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury. …they declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.” Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.I : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. The apostolic fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

Irenaeus understood that this movement, along with their concocted writings, were a menace. They sought to make prophetic heros of men like Cain, Esau, Korah, the Sodomites and Judas. Their theological agenda should be clear here: Heretics are heros. The only light that this might shed upon the Biblical record is that those who mock the Word of God have been around from the very beginning - from their day to ours today.

2. This should be used as an opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ: The water-cooler conversations that we might have over this, or even the Davinci Code, should be opportunities for us to bring people to a contemplation of God’s Word. In the case of the Gospel of Judas, the record is clear concerning Judas’ defection:

John 17:12: 12 “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.”

Mark 14:17-21: 17 When it was evening He came with the twelve. 18 As they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me—one who is eating with Me.” 19 They began to be grieved and to say to Him one by one, “Surely not I?” 20 And He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who dips with Me in the bowl. 21 “For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Judas was the son of perdition, of whom the Savior said: “It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” Judas’ defection, condemnation and damnation is no laughing matter. His hellish torment should serve as a warning to others that those who reject the Savior stand as the enemies of God and as the collaborators of Judas, and even Satan himself. The valid warning that we ought to issue to the lost is that the Lord graciously calls them to salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. Should they resist the Redeemer’s offer of mercy and grace, then they will only join the confederacy of the fallen, along with Judas the traitor - the son of perdition.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

John 3: Behold the Love and the Wrath of God

Some of the recent discussions about the Gospel, especially as it is communicated through John chapter 3, have led some to conclude that it is not at all worth the time or effort. Perhaps this is true in some cases - especially with discussions that that don’t track well with the Scriptures, however, when we consider the importance of the Gospel itself we should not be so quick to cast aspersions on the debate. For many years, the Gospel message has been kicked around like a ball in a bad competition between extreme viewpoints, and John chapter 3 has often been one of the major playing fields in such contests. Amidst the realm of modern “Evangelicalism” the issue too often becomes reduced to a binary debate about whether God loves sinful men (John 3:16) or whether His wrath burns against them (John 3:18, 36).

The problem with this form of argumentation is that it establishes a false dichotomy.

A careful study of John 3 will remind us that it is not for us to pick and choose one reality over the other. What typically happens in various theological camps is that some will adopt an all-or-nothing approach, rather than accepting the biblical fact that the truths of God’s love, and His wrath, exist together in perfect harmony. Our greatest problem is found, not in the doctrines themselves (God’s word is non-contradictory), but in the frailty of our own human understanding; after all, the character of God is so far beyond our grasp that we must at some point recognize that such concepts are beyond the pale of human reason:

Romans 11:33-35: 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

God’s wrath against, and His love for the unbeliever is in many ways - unsearchable and unfathomable; but that doesn’t mean that we are not to accept it in faith. With respect to John chapter 3, it is most popular in the modern church to try to emphasize God’s love to the exclusion of His justice and wrath; but on the other hand, this problem is never remedied by minimizing the vast nature of God’s love; and especially with respect to John 3, such a de-emphasis is a textual impossibility:

John 3:16a “gar hegepesen ho theos ton kosmon...”

Mark this: the emphatic position of the verb in verse 16 [hegepesen] should be translated [or at least should be understood] as: “LOVED! God the world...” Though this reading might seem odd, it is the way in which the sentence is constructed for the sake of emphasis (Most translations employ the word so [so loved] in order to convey this emphatic idea). This emphatic expression is crucial. If we were to relegate God’s love for the world to some minor thought or point - then we have failed to herald what Christ Himself emphasized - and that’s not a good idea (that’s what’s called an understatement by the way). But on the other hand, it must be recognized that this message of God’s love ultimately loses its depth and profundity should we minimize or even remove the reality of man’s impending doom (v. 16 to perish), the judgment he deserves (v. 18) and the condemnation that he will face should he not believe in Christ (v. 36) - and that too is not a good idea. You see, the glistening gem of God’s love is most wonderfully magnified against the dark reality of man’s sin and deserved condemnation. Therefore, should we fail to present John 3 in the fullness of its glorious context, then we run the risk of corrupting the truth in some way.

The Gospel is not a buffet line where we can simply put on our platter only those things that we prefer. Our only real option is to serve up the full measure of God’s Word - and do our best to get out of the way in the process. The simultaneous realities of God’s love and holy wrath are often a stumbling block for the human mind, but even though it is a confounding thought, it is nonetheless true - the Lord loves and even hates His enemies:

Romans 9:6-13: 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is a word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

The Lord hated Esau? Yes, that’s what it says. God’s hatred of sin and evil is a doctrine that is often hidden with shame in the contemporary church; and yet, we must be careful not to stress this truth beyond the balance of the full counsel of Scripture. I say this because there are some who will take this text and emphasize it to such a level that they forsake the truth of God’s compassionate love for this world of rebellious sinners:

Matthew 5:43-45: 43 You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you 45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

If we were not to consult the full counsel of God’s word, then we would find ourselves with a monochromatic message of love (without justice) or justice (without love) - but neither of these offer us the Biblical option. Matthew 5:43-45 is a profound text. The children of God are to love their enemies so that they may imitate the Father’s universal love, for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. The idea of loving one’s enemy is not the product of human logic, but it is an imitation of God’s universal love, which includes a love for those who are His enemies. God has a love for men who are evil and unrighteous - even men like Esau! In light of Matthew 5:43-45 it is amazing to consider that the Lord simultaneously hated Esau while bestowing upon him a great bounty of compassion and love; this He did upon the very one who desired his forsaken birthright, rather than the Lord Himself. God’s love for the godless may be one of the most counter-intuitive truths in Scripture, but this only shows us that human intuition is not a trustworthy resource for truth - ever. We must avoid the common error that concludes that God has no love for those who are not His own. The Lord’s love is patient, kind and full of compassion. Thus, it is by His loving patience that He has endured the many generations of sinful men (1 Peter 3:20); it was by His loving-kindness that He appeared to mankind, endowed with salvation (Titus 3:4) and offered the gracious Gospel to all men (Matthew 28:18-20); and it is by His loving compassion that He does not delight in the death of the wicked, therefore He graciously calls the wicked to repentance (Ezekiel 18:23). By His perpetual beneficence, all men have physical life and on a daily basis they behold the chorus of praise declared from all creation (Psalm 19:1-6). He showers mankind with the sun and the rain, within this habitable earth which He created for His good pleasure, and which someday will be destroyed with intense heat. Until that day, all men will continue to be the recipients of God’s universal love, without exception. And so it is: This love of God is bountifully lavished upon all men universally.

Unfortunately, the modern error is one that makes God’s love one dimensional, thus nullifying the truth that His love is distinguishable and thereby ignoring the reality of God’s unique love for His own: “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated...” God’s love for Jacob here is not the same as His expression of love for His enemies (Matthew 5:43-45). This love for Jacob is the exceptional love that God has for His own children. This is a distinction that has been all but lost in the modern era and is directly impacting the ministries of churches throughout America. But it is necessary to affirm that God’s exceptional love is given uniquely to those who are in His Son, so that they would share in His holiness. The Lord’s love for His own children is - exceptional. It is of the very same quality of unique love that the Father has for his Beloved Son, therefore, the Lord deals with His redeemed as sons.

John 15:9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.

Such love from the Father is also a love that supplies the pedagogy, chastening, reproof, and correction that is needed in order to conform His children to the image of Christ Himself. It is called exceptional here because it is uniquely given to those who are His and is withheld from those who are not:

Hebrews 12:6-8: 6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.

In this important text, we have a clear distinction that is made between those who are the sons of God and those who are not. God’s love for all sinners is distinguishable - for those who are His enemies, it is a love of great mercy and compassion; for those who are in Christ, through faith in Him, it is exceptional and unique. This distinction must never be confused lest we confound the Gospel message itself.

As creatures of weakness, we are prone to go to extremes in our thinking, drifting to the left or the right of the biblical pathway. Because of this we must remember not to de-emphasize any aspect of truth in God’s Word. Thus, we must not minimize God’s universal love for all men without exception when defending the truth regarding God’s unique love for His own. As well, we must guard against a message that confounds the nature of God’s redemptive love. Yes, unbelievers are loved by God - but as His enemies (Romans 5:9-10). Because of this, the Gospel message is cohortative in nature - that is, it is a call of repentance and faith. It is a call for sinners, who are now being mercifully preserved in this life, to turn to Christ in faith so that they would be forever enveloped in the love that the Father has for His Beloved One - the Lord Jesus Christ.

Should we ever preach God’s universal love with such ambiguity that the unbeliever remains ignorant of, or satisfied with, his state of enmity - then we have failed to preach the complete message of God’s justice, mercy and holy love - all of which comprise the Gospel message of Christ and Him crucified. I can assure you that this is important: After all, we are speaking of the good news of our Savior and the very souls of men...

By God’s grace, may we never take these matters lightly!

Final note on John 3:16:

There are varying views concerning the scope of God’s love to the “world.” I hold to the view that this is an explicit and universal expression of God’s love to all men - without exception, and that God’s redemptive love is only given subordinately and implicitly in the latter portion of the verse; that is, believers (For a corollary example of God’s general and redemptive grace see 1 Peter 3:18-20 & 2 Peter 3:1-9).

Others believe that God’s love for the world, in verse 16, is to be seen as particular - for believers, from beginning to end. By itself, this is not a divisive issue among Calvinists (or at least it doesn’t have to be), nor should it be concluded that such distinctions in John 3:16 somehow become determinative concerning one’s views of God’s universal and exceptional love.