The Lampstand

“You shall also make a lampstand of pure gold; the lampstand shall be of hammered work.  Its shaft, its branches, its bowls, its ornamental knobs, and flowers shall be of one piece.  And six branches shall come out of its sides:  three branches of the lampstand out of one side, and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side.   Three bowls shall be made like almond blossoms on one branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower, and three bowls made like almond blossoms on the other branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower – and so for the six branches that come out of the lampstand.  On the lampstand itself four bowls shall be made like almond blossoms, each with its ornamental knob and flower.  And there shall be a knob under the first two branches of the same, a knob under the second two branches of the same, and a knob under the third two branches of the same. according to the six branches that extend from the lampstand.  Their knobs and their branches shall be of one piece; all of it shall be one hammered piece of pure gold.  You shall make seven lamps for it, and they shall arrange its lamps so that they give light in front of it.  And its wick-trimmers and their trays shall be of pure gold.  It shall be made of a talent of pure gold, with all these utensils.  And see to it that you make them according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain, Exodus 25:31-40 NKJV.

He also made the lampstand of pure gold; of hammered work he made the lampstand.  Its shaft, its branches, its bowls, its ornamental knobs, and its flowers were of the same piece.  And six branches came out of its sides:  three branches of the lampstand out of one side, and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side.  There were three bowls made like almond blossoms on one branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower, and three bowls made like almost blossoms on the other branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower – and so for the six branches coming out of the lampstand.  And on the lampstand itself were four bowls made like almond blossoms, each with its ornamental knob and flower.  There was a knob under the first two branches of the same, a knob under the second two branches of the same, and a knob under the third two branches of the same, according to the six branches extending from it.  Their knobs and their branches were of one piece; all of it was one hammered piece of pure gold.  And he mad its seven lamps, its wick-trimmers, and its trays of pure gold.  Of a talent of pure gold he made it, with all its utensils. Exodus 37:17-24 NKJV.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron, and say to him, ‘When you arrange the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand’.”  And Aaron did so; he arranged the lamps to face toward the front of the lampstand, as the LORD commanded Moses.  Now this workmanship of the lampstand was hammered gold; from its shafts to its flowers it was hammered work.  According to the pattern which the LORD had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand, Numbers 8:1-4 NKJV.

This article of furniture must have been beautiful beyond description – and yet hidden away in a room only a few men were ever permitted to enter.  It was the source of light for that room.

Scripture has a lot to say about light, from its creation as a separate thing from the One who created it, who is light, 1 John 1:5; Genesis 1:3, to its being unnecessary in the New Jerusalem, where the glory of God illuminated it.  The Lamb is its light.  And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, Revelation 21:23-24a.  There shall be no night there:  They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light, Revelation 22:5a.

“The Lord God gives them light.”

The Psalmist understood this:

For with you is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light, Psalm 36:9.

This is true in the natural realm, certainly, and very few would deny light’s existence, though many deny its creation by God, but it is also true in the spiritual realm, a realm which many deny, seeking to explain everything by natural processes.

The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; not can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned, 1 Corinthians 2:14.

But there is an agent beyond man’s natural frailty who contributes to this inability:

whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them, 2 Corinthians 4:4.

Notice Paul’s emphasis:  “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God….”

Of all the truths of Scripture, the deity of the Lord Jesus is one of the most disputed.  Sinful men will perhaps allow Him to be a teacher, thought they ignore what He taught, or they might allow Him to be a good man who was caught up in the intrigue of His time. but the idea that He was and is the second person of the Trinity is just a bridge too far, as is His statement that He is the only Savior and the only way into the presence of God,

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me,” John 14:6.

What do you think of the Son of Man?

Your eternal destiny depends on that answer.

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“Christmas in July”

Though not recently, I’ve seen businesses advertise “Christmas in July” specials to draw customers in, but that’s not what this post is about.  On satellite TV, there was recently a series called, “Christmas Memories,” where for several weeks, they showed nothing but “Christmas” stories.  The thing is, there wasn’t a minute in that series, apart from a very occasional carol, that had anything to do with what Christmas is supposed to be about, namely, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.  There was all sorts of stuff about family and decorations and Santa and getting the right tree and restoring broken relationships, but there wasn’t even the obligatory nativity set somewhere in the background.

There’s not a verse of Scripture telling us to celebrate our Lord’s birth.  We don’t even know for sure when during the year He was born or even what year, for that matter.  He Himself told us to remember His death, not His birth.

His birth could only condemn us.

Why is that?

Because He demonstrated that it is possible for a [sinless] human being to be righteous and to live a blameless life.

The trouble is that we’re not sinless – or righteous or blameless in any sense that God will accept.

That’s why the Lord Jesus came into this world – to do for us what we could never do ourselves:  living a righteous life, and, failing that, to be able to provide the sacrificial death that could pay for our sins.

O that we might see that only in the Lord Jesus Christ is there salvation from the sin that plagues us, and will condemn us.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…,” Acts 16:31.

 

 

March Memories: The Third Genealogy.

[As we continue in our March Memories post reprints, I’ve become impressed with the necessity of emphasizing the unique person of the Lord Jesus.  Islam is resurging, and it views Jesus as just another prophet, important though He may be in their view of things, but nevertheless much inferior to their own prophet.  Certainly not God, nor did He die on the Cross.  And much of professing Christendom denies His deity and His redemption.]

Most people know of the genealogies of Matthew and Luke.  Matthew’s genealogy is condensed and intended to connect Jesus with the great covenants of the Old Testament:  the Abrahamic and the Davidic.  Matthew’s is the genealogy of Joseph.  His is the genealogy of Christ’s royalty, though both genealogies trace Jesus back to King David.  Luke’s genealogy is longer, some 75 generations, and goes through a different son of David all the way back to Adam.  This is Mary’s genealogy.

That’s two.  Where’s the third one?  I really hadn’t thought about it quite like this until recently, like this morning.  Perhaps in the strictest sense, it isn’t a genealogy, and yet it is.  It’s contained in two verses, though a few other verses add some explanation.  Here it is – you’ll recognize it immediately”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, John 1:1, 14.

This is the genealogy, if you will, of Christ’s deity.  In a few words, simple words in the Greek original, words so simple that beginning Greek students translate them in their first attempts at translation, – in a few words, John expresses truths that 2000 years of Church history haven’t begun to understand.

“Now, wait a minute!”  Someone who might knock at your door will say, “That’s not what John meant at all.  There’s no “the” in front of God in the Greek, so John was saying that Jesus was ‘a’ God.”  They also teach that the “beginning” John wrote about was when God created the Word, or Jesus.  He was the beginning, and then He created all the rest.  They might take you over to Proverbs, where the writer personifies wisdom and describes its role in creation.  “That,” they will say, “is Jesus.”  They might even tell you that He is really Michael, the archangel, brother of Lucifer.

Is that all John meant in these verses?  That Jesus was the first thing created by God, and He created everything else?  That He isn’t “God” at all, just “a god”?

It’s true that John didn’t write, “the Word was the God.”   There’s no article – no “the” – in front of God.  In the Greek language, there is no indefinite article – “a”, “an” – either.  As Martin Luther pointed out centuries ago, and someone probably pointed it out centuries before he did, John couldn’t have written, “The Word was the God,” because then he would have been saying that the Word and the Father were the same, and the Oneness folks, who deny the Trinity, would be right.  If John says one thing, it’s that the Word and the Father are distinct from each other.  They aren’t just different “manifestations” of the One God.

There’s another difficulty with the idea that Jesus is only “a” god.  What kind of “god” is He?  How many “gods” are there, or is He the only one?

They answer that by saying that Jesus was an angel, and in the OT, angels are called sons of God, Job 1:6.  He is, therefore, rightly called son of God.  It’s true that angels are called “sons of God.”  Does this, then, put them and Jesus in the same class?

The writer to the Hebrews anticipated this idea.  In 1:5 (NKJV), he wrote, …to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You?’  The expected answer is, “There are no angels to whom that was said.”  Not as a Jehovah’s Witness once told me, “Jesus is that angel,” and then quoted this verse to me.  He completely missed the point of the verse.  That is not what the writer was saying.  The Father was not speaking to ANY angel in that verse!

In fact, after discussing what the Father did not say to the Son, Hebrews goes on in v. 8 with what He did say, But to the Son He says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.”  The New World Translation (NWT), the JW Bible, has it, “God is your throne forever and ever.”

I’m sorry, but that doesn’t even make sense.  Not to be irreverent or anything, but do they believe that Jesus is sitting on God’s lap?  The Greek text reads, “The throne of You, the God, into the ages of the ages.”  Note the presence of the article with God in this verse:  “the God”.  The contrast between Jesus and angels couldn’t be clearer.  In fact, in v. 6, Hebrews says, Let all the angels of God worship Him.  Even older versions of the NWT say that – I have a copy.  Granted, in newer editions, it’s changed to “Let all the angels of God do obeisance to Him,” but even then, it translates the Gk. word as “worship” when it doesn’t refer to Jesus.

How can two beings both be “God,” in view of all the Scriptures which tell us there is only “one God”?  There are a lot of illustrations of the Trinity, which is what this is really all about.  A cube is the best one I know.

A cube has length, width and height, all at the same time, but it’s not three cubes.  It’s just one cube.  The length isn’t the width or the height, the width isn’t the length or the height, and the height isn’t the length or the width.  And the cube doesn’t “manifest” itself as height one day, width another day, and length yet another day, as some try to teach that the One God manifests Himself differently at different times.

The cube has three measurements, but they all coexist in the one cube at the same time.  Like His creation, God is, if you will, three-dimensional:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Father isn’t the Son or the Spirit.  The Spirit isn’t the Father or the Son.  The Son isn’t the Father or the Spirit.  Three different Persons, for lack of a better word, all different, but all coexisting together as the One God.

The Word was God.

One final thought on this.  Some folks say that Jesus never claimed to be God.  Funny, but the people who heard Him say in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” understood that was exactly what He was claiming.  That’s why they tried to kill Him.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…, John 1:14.

This is the reason for the other two genealogies.  The story of Jesus doesn’t start, “Once upon a time….”  It’s rooted in and grounded firmly on the history of Israel as revealed in the Old Testament.  I know there are those who deny that He ever existed, but after all the attempts over 2000 years to get rid of Him, and He’s still here – must be something “real” about Him.

Notice John’s comparison.  The Word was God – the Word became flesh.  Nowhere does John or the Bible say that the Word “became,” that is, that it came into existence, or that it became God.  In other words, there has never been a time, if we can refer to eternity like that, when the Word did not exist, or that it was not God. There was a time, however, when the Word became flesh.  Matthew and Luke gives us a glimpse of that time.

The Word became flesh.

Four words.

The Word became flesh.  Four words.  Describing an event which has no parallel in human history.  Psalm 113:5, 6, says, Who is like the LORD our God, Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?

The Lord God “humbles” Himself even to look at this speck of dirt off to one side of His creation.  What must it have been like for the Lord Jesus to live on it?  We think we know so much, with our “Doctors of Theology,” our books, our “mega-churches,” etc. [and I’m not opposed to education or books or church], but I don’t think we understand even as much about our Lord’s “humiliation,” to use the theological term, as a newborn understands about its mother’s agony in bringing it to birth.  How can we?

It’s not for nothing that Paul refers to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in 2 Corinthians 8:9, where he continues, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor….  The Lord didn’t come to this world to be feted in Rome, or to live in a place like the White House or Buckingham Palace, although those places would be mere shacks compared to what He was used to.  He came to live a relatively minor, troublesome, province of Rome.  Except for one incident, He was unknown for nearly thirty years, and in the last three, “fame” was fleeing, and hostility and opposition were lasting and increasing.  Even though He rose from the dead, as far as the world is concerned, He might as well still be dead.  Indeed, much of the world thinks that He still is.  Even if people class Him with the religious leaders of this world, they are more likely to live by their teachings than His.

So, you see, the third genealogy gives us a more complete idea of Who Jesus of Nazareth really was.

And is.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,…  And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us….
_______________

(Originally published March 12, 2013.)  edited.

The Splendor of Christmas

And, no, we’re not writing about all the glitter and glitz of Christmas as it’s celebrated today.  Without doubt, there are some gorgeous displays of lights and ingenuity this time of the year, but, as with our last post on Christmas, we’re thinking of another day, a day which could not have been more opposite to today.

True, there were a couple of bright spots in that day of scandal, as we labeled it.  There was a visit by a few shepherds at the birth itself.  There was a visit perhaps a year or two later by an entourage which had traveled hundreds of miles to bring gifts to and worship the little one.  Their gifts, by the way, probably financed the family’s trip to and stay in Egypt.  This is not to leave out the angelic visits to Mary and Joseph explaining what was going on.

But for the most part, there was more shadow than light in that event.

So what was it that made this day worthy of remembrance?

Why should we care about something that happened 2000 years ago?  Is there anything else that happened back then that anybody cares about today?

Why this day?

It’s not about anything that happened “outside”.  It’s not even about Joseph or Mary, though a large part of professing Christendom has made it about her.  Indeed, it seems, for the most part, that they’ve made everything about her.

No, no, the day is special because of the Baby Himself.

But why this baby?  There may have been several other babies born in Israel that day. Certainly, world-wide, there were probably hundreds of babies born that day.

So. why this One?

John 1:14 says that He became flesh.  Philippians 2:7 says He took the form of a servant. 

What?

“Became”?

“Took”?

Who does that?  Nobody has any choice in the matter.  We don’t ask to be born.  Our kids will sometimes remind us of that.

This One did ask.

All the arrangements for what happened at Bethlehem, both leading up to and after, were made before God said, “Let there be light,” Genesis 1:3.  See 1 Peter 1:20.

You see, John 1:1 says that this One Who became flesh was God.  Oh, I know there are some who knock on your door who will say that He was only “a” god.  But if that were true, and it isn’t, then there is no salvation.  If only a creature, as JWs insist, then Jesus would have had all He could do to make it back to heaven Himself, let alone bring anyone else with Him.

Philippians 1:6 says that this One Who took the form of a servant, before then was in the form of God .  He didn’t think that exalted position was something to be selfishly clung to, but made Himself of no reputation.

“The form of God” means that He was truly God, just as “form of a servant” means that He was truly human.

“Made Himself of no reputation.”

Reputed illegitimate Son of a reputed adulteress.

Scandal.

No reputation.

Indeed.

There is an old hymn which says, The Son of God goes forth to war.”

Yes, He did.

As a baby.

That is the splendor of Christmas.

Jesus and His Revelation

This is the post I started to write under the title “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”  That’s not the first time this has happened – starting off in one direction and winding up somewhere else.  Not complaining, just commenting.

The point I was planning to make in that post, and in this post, too, was that we need to get away from all the inadequate views of the Lord Jesus that are floating around contemporary Christianity, and have been probably have been floating around in different forms since His life and ministry.  We need to get away from the “bumper sticker theology – ‘My boss is a Jewish carpenter'” kind of stuff.  And a lot of the stuff that gets posted on facebook.

Yes, He was a carpenter, although the word behind that translation simply means, “craftsman.”  Yes, He did walk among men and women.  As Hebrews 4:15 puts it, we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

He has walked in our shoes.

The thing is, we can never walk in His shoes.  We can never even begin to understand what it meant for Him to leave the glories of Heaven, to inhabit a body formed in the womb of His mother by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We can never know what it must have been like for He Who gave men and women legs to have to learn how to walk; for the One Who gave them tongues to have to learn how to talk.  For Holiness to walk among sinners.

He never complained about it, though He did indicate a few times how it affected Him.  For example, in Luke 12:50, He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with [referring to His coming Crucifixion and all that accompanied it], and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!” (NKJV)  In Luke 22:15, He said, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”  His suffering was about to come to an end, even though the worst of it lay before Him.

So, even though a large portion of professing Christendom still has Him on the Cross, we’re not dealing any more with that One Who hung naked on a Roman cross, to the jeers of His enemies and the tears of His supporters.  We’re not dealing with a Christ Who still lies in the tomb or Who never actually existed.  That’s what the world thinks.

We’re not dealing with the incarnate Christ Who lived in obscurity, but with the glorified Christ, Who again resides in the heavenly splendor He left when He came to redeem us.

As we wrote in the other post, “the people to whom John wrote needed to know they served a Christ Who was greater than what they were going through.  They needed to know that what they were suffering, and were going to suffer, wasn’t just some ‘accident of history.’  They needed to know that when Satan did his worst, he was still a defeated foe and that his wouldn’t be the final word.”

So John describes the Lord Jesus as He is, not as He was.

I started this post a few days ago.  It’s been simmering on the stove since then.   In the other post, I divided the Revelation as “the revelation of Jesus Christ to the reader, to the churches and to the world.”  It occurred to me, though, that not only does “the reader” need to understand Who the Lord Jesus is, so do the churches!  Too often, we have more a Christ of sentiment or supposition or Sunday School than of Scripture.  That’s why, in chs. 2 and 3, in each letter to a church, there is reference to the vision of ch. 1.

I was going to write about each aspect of that vision in some detail, and still might, but the whole picture tells us what we need to know.  It all points to one thing.

In Revelation 1:13, John said he saw One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band, standing in the midst of seven lampstands.  This is somewhat reminiscent of the attire of the High Priest in Israel, and, indeed, it’s in that role that the Book of Hebrews presents Him – not only as Prophet, nor even yet as King, but as High Priest, interceding for His people at the right hand of the throne of God.

One of the duties of the High Priest was to make the lamps burn continually, … He shall be in charge of the lamps on the pure gold lampstand before the LORD continually, Leviticus 24:3, 5.

So John presents our Lord as examining His churches to see if and how they are “burning”.  And He has a lot to say to each one of them.

But “churches” aren’t about buildings or denominations, but about people, the people who are their members.  Each believer can find himself or herself in the descriptions of the seven churches.  What the Lord said to them, He says to us.

 

 

 

Half A Christ

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…,” Acts 16:31.

What did Paul and Silas mean when they said this to the Philippian jailer and then probably later to his household?  Surprisingly, there’s quite a discussion about this, with widely varying views set forth by otherwise equally “Bible-believing” pastors and teachers.  The discussion centers around one particular idea, namely, does one have to “accept” Jesus as Lord as well as Savior, or can one just “get saved” and then later make Jesus his Lord?

This post is a response to an article by Charlie Bing, posted on 1024project.com.  It’s titled “Why Lordship Faith Misses the Mark For Salvation.”  His opening sentence says, “Lordship salvation has a very confused view of the gospel that results in very confused Christians who hold it.”  Then he goes on to make what he considers a detailed case against it.

The first thing he says about his viewpoint is an old joke told by George Burns about never joining a club that would have him.  Though he does tie it in later, I found it common among fundamentalists when I was among them that they seemed  to think mocking and making fun of those with whom they disagreed somehow bolstered their own position.

In his opening remarks, he objects to his view being called “easy believism.”  Further, he thinks it unfair that Lordship advocates have been allowed to frame the question in a way that favors them  He uses the example, “Have you quit beating your wife” to characterize Lordship questions.

In attempting to “frame the question” in a way favorable to his view, he asks his own question:  “Are their [Lordship] standards for salvation even attainable by people?”  Then he refers to an incident written about by Charles Prices in his book “Real Christians” in which a young man who attended an evangelistic meeting and responded to the message.  The tale ends with the evangelist giving the young man several reasons why the young man shouldn’t “become a Christian tonight.”  These included “the young man’s need to surrender his whole life, his future, his ambitions,” etc., etc., “…to God”  These were “the cost of being a Christian” and the young man was advised that only when he was willing to deal with all these things would he be ready to become a Christian.

I don’t know that I particularly agree with the evangelist’s method, but even the Lord Jesus told people to “count the cost” of becoming His disciple, Luke 14:25-33.  He used two illustrations:  of a man “counting the cost” of building something, and of a king deciding whether or not to fight a superior foe, or to seek conditions of peace.  Jesus’ conclusion, v. 33:  “So, likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (NKJV).  Did Jesus have a “confused view of the gospel”?  Or is being “saved” different from being a “disciple”?

Bing writes, “There’s a lot at stake in this whole debate about faith and its meaning. … But let’s not forget the main thing at stake is not theology, but the souls of people who can be misled.”  To this, I add a hearty “Amen!”  I agree completely.

In the article, Bing gives four objections to the idea of “Lordship Faith.”  They are:

1.  Lordship Faith Includes Works.
2.  Lordship Faith Grounds Assurance in Our Works.
3.  Lordship Faith Must Be Qualified.
4.  Lordship Faith Is Inaccessible to Most.

We’ll look at them, one at a time.

1.  Lordship Faith Includes Works. 

Bing quotes Kenneth Gentry, who says, “The Lordship view expressly states the necessity of acknowledging Christ as the Lord and Master of one’s life in the act of receiving Him as Savior.  These are not two different, sequential acts (or successive steps), but rather one act of pure trusting faith.” (“The Great Option: A Study of the Lordship Controversy,” Baptist Reformation Review 5 (Spring, 1976): 52.)

Bing objects to this idea because “Lordship Salvation disagrees with the Free Grace understanding of faith as being convinced and persuaded that something is true (emphasis added.)  Though we’ll deal with his view of “different” kinds of faith later, does his definition mean that “saving faith” is no different from and, in fact, is the same as, the “faith” which allows one to be “convinced and persuaded” that evolution is true?

Bing objects to the idea that Lordship salvation involves submission to Christ as Lord as well as Savior, and that it “also” involves “obedience.”  But doesn’t the idea of submission include obedience?  He maintains that Lordship salvation is wrong because it goes beyond trusting in Jesus as Savior, but requires also receiving Him as Lord as a “condition” for salvation.  However, faith is not a “condition” to being saved; it is the means of being saved.  The idea of a “condition” moves salvation from being gracious to being a matter of justice or “right.”  We are saved by faith, never because of.

Bing makes this interesting observation:  “We know that the Roman Catholics teach that we are saved by faith plus works.  Lordship salvation teaches that we are saved by faith that works.  But do not both definitions includes works as a condition for faith to be valid, …to be effectual?”  We don’t agree with the Catholic dogma that faith alone is insufficient, that works must be added to it, something not a part of faith, but in addition to it.  With regard to the other, has Bing never read Galatians 5:6, For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love? (emphasis added).

You see, the discussion isn’t about the “conditions” of faith, but about its character. What is saving faith?  Is “faith” simply believing something is true, whether salvation or evolution or The Great Pumpkin?  For that matter, what is “salvation,” a thought to which we’ll return.

Bing continues this section with the idea that “it confuses justification with sanctification.”  He defines justification correctly as the legal declaration [by God] that we are righteous before Him and sanctification as “the outworking of that righteousness in everyday practical living.”  Though this is a little incomplete, we can go with it.  He recognizes that they are related, but insists that we must keep them distinct, “lest we confuse the gospel and undo the Reformation.”

I wonder, does he think we can have one without the other?  That is, can we be justified without at the same time being sanctified?  I know there are a lot of different ideas about sanctification floating around, but just using his own definitions – is it possible to be “declared righteous” without there being some “outworking” of that in the life?  Ephesians 2:10 says, …we are His workmanship….  Is God such a workman that there will be no evidence of it in the life?  Or is a mere “profession of faith” enough?  Cf.John 2:23-25.  In John 8:30, 31, 50, some Jews who “believed in Him” wound up trying to stone Him to death.  Were they “saved”?

Bing quotes Romans 4:4-5, Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.  But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.  That is absolutely true.  Our justification rests on no work of our own.  We’re “ungodly” when God justifies us – and so are our “works”.  The question is, can we remain ungodly after God declares us righteous?  I’m not saying we can reach some state of “sinless perfection” in this life, but that becomes our goal and desire for it.

Bing implies that we’re sanctified by works, though not justified by them.  However, the Scripture quotes the Lord Jesus as saying that believers are sanctified by faith in Him, Acts 26:18.  The faith through which we’re justified is the same faith through which we’re sanctified: “faith working through love.”

Bing further looks to John 6 and the people who were following Jesus simply because He fed them.  Bing says “Jesus saw how earnestly they were seeking Him and they said to Him, ‘What shall we do that we may work the works of God?’ (John 6:28)”.

That isn’t exactly how it happened.  Crowds were “earnestly” following Jesus, to be sure.  However, He Himself recognized why.  He said to them, “…you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.  [This is a reference to the feeding of the five thousand men, or perhaps 15,000 or more in the crowd including women and children a day or so before, John 6:10.  The “signs” were the things He did which proved He was the Messiah.  The crowds weren’t following Him because He was the Messiah, but because He fed them.  We have a lot of their descendants today, following Jesus only for what they can get out of Him.]  Then Jesus continued, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, ….” John 6:26, 27.  Then they asked him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”

I don’t know that it had anything in particular to do with “the baggage that they had from the Pharisees made up of the minutia [sic] of laws,…and thousands upon thousands of man-made interpretations” as Bing claims.  Perhaps.

Regardless, the Lord uses their own question:  “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent,” John 6:29.  Not works, by which we merit or earn salvation, but “work,” that is, faith, through which we receive salvation: believe in Him….”.  Jesus goes on to explain what He meant, to receive Him by “eating His flesh” and “drinking His blood.”  John 6:54-56 summarizes this.  We’ll return to these thoughts in a moment.

Then Bing makes one of the most astonishing statements I’ve ever heard or read:  “It’s interesting that He would choose that kind of word picture to illustrate what faith is: a passive appropriation of something.  Not doing, not working, not an active work, but a passive appropriation of something.  That’s the essence of faith” (emphasis added).

I’ve been a Baptist all my life.  First, because that’s just how I was raised, then, later, because I believe that Baptist principles are the closest to the New Testament of any group.  And, yes, I know there are lots of different kinds of Baptists!  And, yes, there are good Christians in other groups.  The point is, Baptists like to eat.  I’ve been to a lot of fellowship dinners and I have yet to see Baptists sitting at the table, passively waiting for the food to jump into their mouths!  Nor, perhaps to be more accurate to Bing’s statement, passively being fed through an IV tube.  Other groups, as well.  Same thing.  I’m sorry, but eating and drinking are things we DO ACTIVELY, not something PASSIVE.  How does one “passively ‘appropriate'” anything, anyway?  The very idea of “appropriate” involves activity, not passivity.  This brings us back to John 6.

Jesus’ audience in John 6 was Jewish.  As such, they were very familiar with the sacrificial system and how it worked.  Some of the sacrifices were completely burned up; others were partly burnt, but part of them was for food for the priest and his family.  It’s how they lived.  Some of them, the one bringing the sacrifice ate part of it.  Jesus’ audience was familiar with all this, though they were greatly puzzled as to how Jesus applied it to Himself, John 6:52, 60.

Our Lord was very careful to explain what He meant.  He was not referring to an actual eating of His flesh and blood.  In John 6:35, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  In John 6:47, He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.  It’s interesting He didn’t say, “He who believes in me receives everlasting life,” though that’s how it’s usually understood.  We receive through faith, “eat” and “drink,” the benefits of His death and resurrection and nourish ourselves spiritually, just as the Old Testament Israelite received physical nourishment through eating the OT sacrifice. Faith is the means of our salvation, not some ritual in which we are said to partake of His actual body, or in which His body is somehow involved.  Faith is that by which we actively “appropriate” Himself  – who He is and what He did for sinners.

Even when He instituted the Lord’s Supper and told the disciples that the bread was His body and the fruit of the vine His blood, He was careful afterward to refer to the cup as the fruit of the vine, Matthew 26:28,29; Mark 14:24, 25.  He meant in all cases that the elements of the Lord’s Supper, as well as what He said in John 6, were representative or symbolic.  We receive the benefits of His sacrifice, not through actual partaking of it as the OT saint did, but by faith in the finished work of our Lord.  No ritual, no symbol has anything to add to it.

But Bing isn’t done.  Quoting Ephesians 2:8, 9, he says that “to make works a necessary condition of faith confuses grace with merit.”  Again, we note that what is at stake here is the character of faith, not some condition required of it, or in addition to it.  He is absolutely right as to the obedience of Christ, not ours.  I can honestly say that I believe in works for salvation – just not mine!  (Don’t leave out those last three words!)  Christ obeyed the Law in all areas and suffered the consequences of breaking it, though He never did.  His obedience forms the righteousness believers are credited with through faith.  It’s an insult beyond words to say that something needs to be added to what He did to make it “work.”

2.  Lordship Salvation Grounds Assurance in Our Works.

In this section, Bing quotes MacArthur, “The fruit of one’s life reveals whether that person is a believer or not.  There is no middle ground.” (The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 178.)  I think the rest of MacArthur’s paragraph is worth including in the discussion:  “Merely knowing and affirming facts apart from obedience to the truth is not believing in the biblical sense.  Those who cling to the memory of a one-time decision of ‘faith’ but lack any evidence that faith has continued to operate in their lives had better heed the clear and solemn warning of Scripture:  ‘He who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on Him’ (John 3:36”) [NASB]  Sounds like a critique of Bing’s own definition of faith:  “Being convinced and persuaded that something is true.”

Bing applies MacArthur’s thought to the idea of our becoming “fruit inspectors” examining other people’s lives to see if they “measure up” to some standard or other.  He wants to know who determines the standard, who writes the list, by which such judgments are made.

Though it’s been a long time since I read MacArthur’s book, I think Bing misses the point here.  It’s not about judging other people’s lives to see if they’re saved; it’s about judging our own.  James makes the same point, which is why Luther had so much trouble with him.  Coming out of a system which greatly emphasized “works” and in effect minimized or distorted or even really denied faith, and becoming convinced of the truth that “the just shall live by faith,” Luther was loathe to give “works” any place in salvation.  But James wasn’t contradicting Paul; he was simply making the same case that MacArthur makes: that the only “evidence” of faith is “works.”

James asks a pointed question, What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?  Can faith save him?” James 2:14  That whole section of James 2:14-26 emphasizes the truth that faith can only be known by works.  Not “faith” and works”, that is, as works separate and distinct from faith, but, as Paul put it, “faith working through love,” that is, works flowing and resulting from faith.  James’ conclusion to his discussion? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also,” v. 26.

It’s not about judging others; it’s about judging our own spiritual condition, our own hope of heaven, our own eternal destiny.  It’s a matter of surpassing importance.  Some people treat it as if it’s no more important that deciding which outfit to wear today.  It’s about where I’ll spend eternity.  It ought to be considered important.  Our Lord thought it important:  “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire.” Matthew 7:17-19.  While this refers specifically to false prophets, I think it’s applicable in this case.

3.  Lordship Faith Must Be Qualified.

In this section, Bing refers to Lordship proponents’ habit of referring to “spurious faith,” “intellectual faith,” “emotional faith” or even “true faith,” “saving faith,” etc., etc. He objects that none of these designations is Scriptural.  He’s right, though he admits they can be convenient “to know what we’re talking about.”

He does make the excellent point that such distinctions tend to make us look at something other than the object of our faith, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ.  That is absolutely true.  Faith isn’t the savior.  He is.

At the same time, have you ever heard a preacher, in urging people to “get saved,” “God’s done all He can do and now it’s up to you”?  I have, numerous times.  The focus is put entirely on the individual, not on the Savior.  But, if God has done all He can do and we’re still not saved, either He’s not much of a God, and I tremble even to write that, or there’s no hope for any of us.

Bing says that such unhealthy emphasis on faith leads to an unhealthy introspection and questioning.  It de-emphasizes the object of our faith, which is the Lord Jesus.  “Genuine faith in a worthless object is useless,” he says, and tells a story of a lady who was given medicine with the belief that it would do her good, and it nearly killed her.  The object of faith is what saves us.

Bing denies that there are different kinds of faith.  If we believe this, he says, assurance is impossible.  He says, “There is only one kind of faith.”

Is there?

James deals with this problem in James 2:19:  You believe that there is one God.  You do well.  Even the demons believe – and tremble.  According to James, demons “believe.”  Is their faith the same kind of faith as the faith of a believer?

It must be, if

“There’s only one kind of faith.”

4.  Lordship Faith Is Inaccessible to Most. 

Lordship proponents believe that faith is a gift of God.  And Bing admits that some who disagree with Lordship salvation also believe that faith is a gift of God.  Bing says he has “a little problem with that interpretation, though, when I understand what faith is.”  He says that to do so confuses grace with faith.  According to him, grace is “the efficient means of salvation” and faith is “the instrumental means of salvation.”  However, grace is the basis of salvation – without it, there wouldn’t be any.  Faith is the means through which we are saved.  I agree with him there.

He quotes Ephesians 2:8, 9, by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, and says that it refers to “the process” of salvation by grace through faith that Paul was writing about and not just about faith itself.  That doesn’t change anything.  If “faith” is part of a process that is a “gift of God”, then faith itself, as part of that process, is a gift of God, as well.

However, there’s more to Bing’s argument than that.  He disagrees with MacArthur that faith is a “supernatural ability to apprehend spiritual reality.”  He also objects to the idea, as we’ve already seen, that faith “includes obedience….  He gives it to us, so we automatically obey” (emphasis added).  This is a straw man.  Believers are not robots or puppets.  If that were so, most of the New Testament is unnecessary, because it is filled with instructions and exhortations about obedience.  If we obey “automatically,” why are we told to?  We do it already.

Bing says “if faith is a gift of God, it nullifies our human responsibility.”  He argues that if God requires us to believe, but has to give us the faith to do so, and then “condemns” us for not believing, “that is unjust and unfair.”  But we’re not condemned because we don’t believe; we’re condemned because we’re sinners in rebellion against God.  We’re already condemned before we ever hear the Gospel.  If we reject it, that just adds to our condemnation; it doesn’t “start” it.  We’re not just “neutral” or misguided in this matter of unbelief, just needing a little persuasion, a little nudge, to believe the Gospel is “true”.  Unbelievers are not just wayward sons straying away from the love of a doting Father, as seems to be the belief of much of Christendom – “we’re all the children of God” – but criminals, defiantly breaking the Law of God, and rebels against their Creator, committing treason against their King.

That’s true even of those who’ve never seen a Bible or heard a sermon.  Paul teaches in Romans 2:12-16 that even those who were never given the Law as a moral code still have a moral code in themselves.  Every person has some sense of “right” and “wrong.”  It may not agree with what God says is right or wrong, but it’s still there.  None of us even live up to our own understanding of right and wrong, let alone what God says about it.  We’re mostly not interested in what He thinks about it.  Because of that, every single person stands condemned in God’s sight, worthy only of judgment.  

Just a word about this idea of injustice and unfairness when it comes to God’s dealing with man.  If God were only “just” in dealing with us, we’d all be in Hell instead of reading [or writing] this post.  That’s what we “deserve.”  Nothing else, nothing more.  He’s not being “unfair” in giving something to one person who doesn’t deserve it and not giving it to another person who doesn’t deserve it.  Or do we “deserve” to be saved, or at least have that opportunity?  If we “deserve” it, for any reason, then salvation isn’t a matter of grace, at all.

That’s all of his four objections against Lordship salvation.

Conclusion

Bing concludes his post by saying that “salvation is not meant to be an exclusive club.”  I guess this is where George Burns came in.  Of course, it is.  Salvation is exclusive to those who believe.  No one else is saved.  It is available to all, but only those who believe are saved.

Continuing his thought, he says, “…anybody can come to Jesus.  Not everybody can keep the seven pillars.  Not everybody can do the five steps.  Not everybody can keep the law, or all the other systems that the religions of the world offer, but anybody can come to Jesus” (emphasis added).

“Not everybody can keep the law”??  Has anybody, except the Lord, ever kept the law? If he’s referring to the Mosaic Law, then he has a far higher view of human ability than the Scripture does.  The Law was given to show man his need of salvation, not how to get it.  It’s true that, if one kept it, then that one would be counted righteous, justified, because of his obedience, but Israel’s long and sad history demonstrates that’s it’s not possible.  If that were true, then when that person got to heaven, he could go up to the throne and say, “Move over, Jesus, now there’re two of us.”    There’ll not ever be a single person in heaven who will be able to say, “I did it!”  If it were, Jesus would never have had to live and die.

Actually, Bing does have a far higher view of man’s ability than the Scripture has.  He says, “…anybody can come to Jesus. … …even a child can believe. A man on his deathbed can believe.  A thief on a cross can believe (emphases added).  Our Lord said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day,” John 6:44 (emphasis added).  Was Jesus “confused” about the Gospel?  Who are we to believe – a man, or Jesus?

I find it ironic, considering the subject of these posts, that Bing mentioned the thief on the cross.  While there’s a lot more that could be said about it than space permits, let me just point out that the thief called Jesus, “Lord.”

Earlier in the post, Bing admitted that “God draws us to Himself….”  Is this the same thing as Jesus was talking about?  Since Bing doesn’t elaborate, we can’t know what he thinks about it. However, most Christians believe that, even if it may be true that God draws us, we can refuse to come.  Is that what Jesus was talking about?

Jesus had more to say on the subject.  He continued in v. 45, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’  Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”

Jesus’ teachings in John 6 about His flesh and blood upset His audience.  Their reaction?  “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” v. 60.

Jesus’ response? Does this offend you? … It is the Spirit who give life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.”  For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.  And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to me unless it have been granted [given] to him by My Father,” John 6:61-65.

Apparently our Lord taught that the ability to come to Him, so far from being something “anybody” can do, was only in those to whom the Father gives that ability.  Contrary to Bing, we do not have it naturally.  And we don’t deserve to have the Father give it to us.  That’s why it’s called “grace.  Since we come to Christ by faith, it stands to reason that “faith” is a gift of God, not something we have “naturally.”  “Saving faith” isn’t the same faith by which we go out in the morning, put the key in the ignition and believe the car will start, even if it’s “true.”

Mark well the words of our Lord.  All those whom the Father draws (teaches) will come to Jesus.  Without exception.

All this brings up the question, “What is salvation?”  Is it just some sort of eternal fire insurance?  A fire escape from Hell?  Can we just “accept” Jesus and the salvation He “offers,” and then never pay any attention to who He was, or what He says?  Can we get by with “half a Christ”?

I think not.  Others disagree.

What does the Scripture say?

Paul answered this question himself in Titus 2:11-14, For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good  works (emphasis added.)

We’re not saved by works; we don’t have any apart from the Lord Jesus.  But can we be saved, and not have good works?  Even varying degrees of them, because we’re all different and still fallible?  Scripture seems to indicate otherwise.

You can’t cut the Lord Jesus into two.  He is Lord.  That’s how He saves people.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

John 8: The Woman Taken in Adultery

I’ve seen several recent posts mentioning this Scripture.  Admittedly, this is a controversial portion.  Earlier, it was thought possibly to encourage immorality because the woman seems to have “gotten away with it,” and Jesus didn’t enforce the Mosaic Law.  (Actually He did; we’ll see this shortly).  More recently, it’s disputed because of textual criticism: the “best” manuscripts don’t include it.

For what it’s worth, and I’m no “scholar,” it seems to me that textual criticism, which tries to determine the actual text of the Old and New Testament from the variants that are found in the manuscripts and the early translations – and they are there – borders on sanctified unbelief.  For example, one of the most highly regarded authorities on this subject has clearly said that 2 Peter is not canonical, that is, it shouldn’t be in the NT.  A friend of mine had a book on the Elephantine papyri, ancient Jewish manuscripts dating from the 5th century BC, published by Brigham Young University.  I’m sorry, but what does Mormonism, with its additional “holy books,” a large portion of one of which is a verbatim repeat of the King James Version, down to verse and chapter divisions and punctuation, what does Mormonism have to do with determining the text of Scripture?  But, I digress….

Back to John 8….

The usual understanding of this portion is that it’s all about forgiveness.  Jesus forgave this woman of her sin.  Others have said that it teaches that we’re not to judge others.  Jesus didn’t judge this sinful woman.  Are these what it teaches?

The Setting, v. 2. 

The Feast of Tabernacles had just concluded the day before, John 7:2, 37, so there would still have been larger than normal crowds in Jerusalem.  Jesus was sitting in the Temple, teaching those who had gathered to hear Him.  Perhaps the Jewish leaders thought this would be an ideal time to expose and get rid of this threat to their power, cf. John 11:48.

The Set-up, vs 3-6.

In the midst of the quiet with only the sound of the Master’s voice, suddenly there was a commotion.  A group of men, scribes and Pharisees, leaders of the people, were dragging a struggling, disheveled woman toward the front of the gathering.  A strident voice rang out over the shocked silence:

“Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now Moses commanded us that such should be stoned.  But what do you say?”

A challenge to the Savior.  Perhaps these men, or at least some of them, had heard Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount saying several times, “You have heard that it was said…, but I say to you….”   The “you” is emphatic:  “Moses commanded…, but YOU, what do YOU say?”

The only reason these men were interested in what the Lord would reply was that they might have something of which to accuse Him, v. 6.  These men were never there actually to hear what the Lord had to say; they were just looking for something they could use against Him.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t engineer the whole thing.  Granted, the men probably knew the woman could be tricked into this – a godly Israelite lady would never have done what she did, but that still gives them no excuse for their mistreatment of her.

The Silence, v. 6. 

But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear them.

I love this verse.

There have been numerous suggestions as to what the Lord wrote.  Of course, no one can really know, because John doesn’t tell us what He wrote.  Any conjecture is just that, conjecture.  My own “conjecture” is that He wrote, “Where is the man?”

You see, Leviticus 20:10, which is probably what the men were referring to, says, among other things, the adulterer and adulteress shall surely be put to death.  So it seems reasonable to me that Jesus wrote, “Where is the man?”  If the woman had been caught in the very act, there had to be a man involved.  Where was he?

The sentence, v. 7, 8. 

Many who read this portion of John don’t seem to realize that the Lord told them to go ahead and stone her.  Granted, and this is important, He put a condition on it. Nevertheless, he told them to do what Moses had commanded them to do.

The “condition” was that the one throwing the first stone at her had to be without sin among them.  Now, was the Lord requiring that they be “sinless” in order to execute this guilty woman?  Not at all, otherwise such sentencing could never have been carried out, even in Moses’ time.  My own view, and I won’t be dogmatic about it, is that Jesus was really saying to them that the one who was without sin in this particular matter should be the first to throw a stone at her.

After all, they had set her up, and they were trying to set Jesus up.  Though not participants in the actual act of adultery, they were as guilty as she was.  And the Lord know it, cf. John 2:24.

Again, He stooped and wrote on the ground.  And, again, we don’t know what He wrote. This time, I won’t “guess”.

The Struggle, v. 9.

Again, silence.  The strident voices of the woman’s accusers were quiet.  The Master was again writing on the ground.  Silence.  Perhaps the men looked at the ground and/or at each other.  Perhaps they shuffled their feet or cleared their throats.  The Scripture says that, though there may have been silence on the outside, their consciences were quite loud on the inside.  Suddenly, there was movement.  After a few uncomfortable moments, the eldest of them began to move toward an exit.  Then another, then another, then all of them, with as much “dignity” as they could still muster from the oldest even to the last.  Again, silence.   Just Jesus, the woman and the crowd, waiting to see what would happen next.

The Sequel, vs. 10-11.

This is the climax of the whole story.  Jesus finally raised Himself us, to see only the woman standing in front of Him.  Her accusers were all gone.  He said to her, “Woman, where are your accusers?  Has no one condemned you?”  You see, in cases where the death sentence was to be imposed, and there are more than 40 such cases in the Law, at least two witnesses had to testify to the guilt of the accused party.  But in this case, the case of the adulterous woman, there were no accusers.  Legally, there was no ground for her to be condemned or to be executed.  It is on this basis, and not because He “forgave” her, that Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.”  It’s not because we’re not “to judge.”   There were no witnesses to her guilt.  She could not be condemned.  It was the Law.

The woman was not standing before Jesus in His capacity as the Judge of all mankind.  He will be that one day, and she will stand before Him again.  So will we all.  She was standing before Him as a Jewish Rabbi, who was required to uphold the Law.  He did so. The “scribes and Pharisees” did not, but were simply using it in their efforts to “get” the Lord Jesus.

The Single Word, v. 11.

The woman only said three words so far as the record goes.  And we have no further record of her at all.  But one of those three words gives us hope that this experience had also worked conviction in her, conviction which brought her to the Lord, not conviction like that of the scribes and Pharisees, which drove them away.

She called Him, “Lord.”