Land, Seed, and Blessing in the Abrahamic Covenant
Note: This is actually an article I wrote some time ago. But it has never been published on ReformationTheology, and since it is foundational to much of what I have to say about the Old Testament in particular, I thought it may be warranted to post it here.
The character of the promises first made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, and later reiterated and expanded in 12:7; 13:15-17; 15:1,4-21; 17:1-9,19; 21:12; and 22:16-18 has long been recognized, in some sense, as foundational to all of redemptive history subsequent to this epochal event. How we understand the precise nature of these promises, therefore, will largely shape our understanding of all of redemptive history from the call of Abraham to the eternal state. An understanding of these promises that concentrates predominantly on their physical aspect, and therefore sees an ongoing necessity for Middle Eastern geography to be reserved for the ethnic offspring of Abraham has several problems: first, it little accords with the understanding that the patriarch himself had of the covenant promises; second, it is in violation of clear fulfillment formulas found later in the Old Testament; and finally, it fails in its intent to understand literally the promise of eternal possession of the physical land by the physical offspring of Abraham. The discussion of the first of these points will be reserved for the main body of this article; but it will not be out of place here to touch briefly on the other two. As regards the former of these, we find stated in Joshua 21:43-45, in very specific terms, that God had fulfilled all that he swore to the fathers. Later, in I Kings 4:20,21 and II Chronicles 9:26, we see the precise geographical boundaries promised to Abraham in the actual possession of Solomon, at the height of Israelâ€™s political history. Immediately subsequent to this complete fulfillment of the land promise in its physical aspect, its typical purpose then having been realized, Israel as a nation began to lose possession of the extreme portions of its geography, never again to recover them. Can this historical reality be consistent with the promise made to Abraham that â€œall the land which you see I will give to you, and to your seed foreverâ€(Gen. 13:15)? Those who understand the permanence of the promise to mandate a renewed future possession of these boundaries by the nation of Israel have the same fundamental problem that they criticize in the interpretation which considers the physical aspect of the promise to be done away with upon its fulfillment under Solomon: namely, that this geographical possession will one day end; the one interpretation is no more consistent with an eternal fulfillment than the other. The old earth will one day melt with a fervent heat to make way for the new (II Pet. 3:10); and as soon as this dissolution of the old earth takes place, (including the geographical regions promised to Abraham), a literal fulfillment of the land promise becomes impossible. The nature of the promise made to Abraham is such that, any fulfillment which is not eternal does not do it justice. Godâ€™s promise to Abraham must extend to him and his seed for all eternity, including that portion of eternity in which the land of Palestine no longer exists. There must be a time, therefore, when the physical land promise is done away with, and only that aspect of the promise which was eternal remains. Whether this transition is placed immediately subsequent to the height of Israelâ€™s glory or immediately prior to the dissolution of the earth has no bearing on the reality that what was promised to be for Abrahamâ€™s seed forever is actually not forever. The Abrahamic promise, then, could never be eternal unless something other than the physical land of Palestine is fundamentally intended by the promise. And if something other than the physical land is intended by the promise, then it would be vastly beneficial for us to ascertain the nature of this original intention, together with the ramifications that it has for our understanding of Godâ€™s unfolding plan of redemption. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that the fundamental intention of the land, seed, and blessing aspects of the Abrahamic covenant was, respectively, (1) An eternal place of restored fellowship with God; (2) An eternal people enjoying a restored fellowship with God; and (3) A universalization of the promised blessings of this fellowship which is, at the same time, a specific localization of those blessings within Abraham. This understanding will be demonstrated, first, by an examination of the promises in connection with Abrahamâ€™s history; and second, by an examination of the promises from a New Testament perspective.
The Active Obedience of Christ - No Hope Without It!
Shortly before he died (January 1, 1937), Dr. J. Gresham Machen sent a final telegram to his friend Professor John Murray. The words of the telegram were these: "I'm so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it." I'm convinced that in these short words, Dr. Machen was able to express the essence of the biblical Gospel. Let me explain:
Theologians talk of a double function of Christ as our Savior in saving us - His passive and active obedience. The passive obedience refers to His laying His life down for us His sheep. He died an atoning death paying the full penalty for sins. Yet, what is often missed is the function of His 33 years of life on earth perfectly fulfilling all the demands of the law. This righteousness, one that has fulfilled the entire law of God is what is credited to our account as believers in Christ. Christ is our righteousness!
Some time ago, I wrote the following:
CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS, AND LIVED FOR OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS - The Lord Jesus Christ not only died an atoning death for our sins, but He also lived a sinless life that perfectly fulfilled the righteous standards of the law. If all that was necessary for our justification was the death of Jesus on the cross, He could have come down to earth on a parachute on Good Friday, died on the cross for us, and three days later, risen again. But we all know that this is not what happened. Why? Because that would never have been enough.
A story to break the ice...
A reformed pastor friend of mine called Graeme Adams from Dundee, Scotland e-mailed me today because he is due to speak to the Dundee University Christian Union on Friday evening and has been asked to address the topic of the Trinity. His big request was for a funny story he could use as a warm up to the subject... Here's my response...
Graeme, you might start by saying this...
Well good evening everyone. It is a privilege to be with you tonight, especially as for much of the week, it didn't look like I would make it here to be with you... That's because early in the week I was walking in the main Dundee park when all of a sudden a man came from behind and hit me THREE TIMES over the head... but he left only ONE huge lump on my head... I was wondering why this happened, and then it dawned on me... I am due to be talking on the subject of the Trinity later this week, and maybe God is trying to give me an illustration I can use.
I prayed, "if that is you Lord... can you do it again?"
Just then, another man came up to me, this time from the front, and stabbed me with a knife THREE times.. but even though I was stabbed in three different places, I only went to ONE hospital.
"Gosh, this is great," I thought to myself. "God is really helping me with my message preparation."
But later on in the day, while the pain medication was having very little effect and doctors were scrambling to stop the bleeding, all alone on my hospital bed, I began to get discouraged, and even thought that all of these events might be mere coincidence... I mean, Dundee is a VERY rough place to live, and it could all be just a series of coincidences that led the attackers to me...
So I said, "Lord, please excuse my unbelief here.. but if these events are from you...can you give me a sign?"
Synod of Dordrecht Poster
Newly printed poster now available!!!. At an impressive 24"X36", it is printed on 100 pound cover stock paper and treated with an aqueous protective coating. It is a truly beautiful poster. In addition to the engraving of the Synod of Dordrecht, which took place in the Netherlands from 1618-1619, the sides of the poster are lined with the names of all the commissioners, including what district they represented. The title and registry are in Dutch, giving it a further historical richness
The Synod of Dordrecht is important because of its strategic importance in the Reformed tradition. It was at this synod in 1618-1619 where the Dutch Reformed Church issued its response to Jacob Arminius and his followers, the Remonstrants. A common summary of this response has since been given the nick-name "The Five Points of Calvinism." The Canons of Dordt continue to be one of the three forms of unity used by Dutch Reformed Churches today..
Click Here for Enlarged View
Keep Looking at the Unseen!
Coming from England, the birthplace of soccer (or football as it is called there), I maintain an interest in "the beautiful game." As I read this story online today, my first thought was that this must be some elaborate joke, but apparantly this is real. The World Blind Soccer Championship is taking place right now in Argentina (please check out the story on the CNN web site here). All players (excluding the goalkeepers) are legally blind, they use a ball which sounds like a rattlesnake, the crowd isn't allowed to make too much noise to help the players hear the sounds around them, and they play on a hard surface rather than grass for the same reason... Those who observe this spectacle, are amazed at how sightless players are so attuned to the sounds, vibrations and the quick-changing position of their opponents and adjust accordingly. These highly gifted players are extremely attuned to their surroundings, making lightning fast decisions based on the kind of sounds and noises they are hearing at the time.
As I read the story, I have to admit, my imagination kicked into gear as I pictured myself being in the stands of the stadium, really trying to get into the spirit of the game. I've got a pretty good imagination and I laughed out loud as I imagined obnoxious fans around me shouting out at the referee when they didn't agree with a call... something like, "O come on ref, are you a SEEING PERSON or something!!!" or "hey ref, your SEEING EYE DOG isn't real!!!"
Who is this Jesus? by Pastor John Samson
In a communist Russian dictionary, Jesus is described as "a mythical figure who never existed." Of course, no serious historian could hold to that position today. The evidence is overwhelming as to the fact that Jesus existed, not just from the Gospels and other Christian literature around the first century, but also from non-Christian sources.
Well respected historians of the day, including Tacitus (a Roman) speak of him, as well as the noted Jewish historian Josephus. He writes "Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him, both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians so named after him, are not extinct at this day." Josephus: Antiquities XVIII 63f
The Nature of Justifying Faith by Dr. John Gerstner
The following is taken from Dr. John Gerstner's Justification by Faith Alone: Affirming the Doctrine by Which The Church and the Individual Stands or Falls:
Eternal life depends on Christ alone â€” nothing, but nothing, else. Predestination will not bring it. Providence cannot produce it. It does not rest on foreknowledge, divine decrees, or even the atonement itself. Eternal life is Christ dwelling in His righteousness in the soul of the justified person. So eternal life is union with Jesus Christ. And the word for that union with Jesus Christ is faith. The sinner comes to Him, rests in Him, trusts in Him, is one with Him, abides in Him and this is life because it never, ever, ends. The united soul abides in the Vine eternally. Weakness, sin, proneness to sin never brings separation, but only the Fatherâ€™s pruning, which cements the union even and ever tighter. This is the heart of the Bible. This is the heart of the gospel. This is the heart of Christianity. This is the heart of the saint. This is the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those are the reasons it was the heart of the Reformation; and this is the reason the contemporary attempt of some Protestants to unite with those who do not even claim this heart of the life of Jesus Christ is to commit spiritual suicide. No lover of Jesus Christ can consent to this apostasy.
Thankful for the Biblical Gospel
From all of us at www.reformationtheology.com - A Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers!
This Thursday (November 23rd) marks the American holiday of Thanksgiving. It is a day marked off on our national calendar when we as citizens of this great nation, reflect on the many blessings we have received from God and return thanksgiving to Him for His merciful Providence towards us. As we do so this year, may each of us be especially thankful to God for the only gospel that saves, the one true biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ! With Scripture alone as our firm foundation we affirm that justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, all to the glory of God alone.
Rightly Handling the Word of Truth
"Exegesis (correct interpretation) involves much more than the bare analysis of words. It involves context, train of thought, historical considerations, situational considerations, cultural considerations, etc. The analysis of words is merely the starting point." Eric Svendsen
In 2 Timothy 2:15, God, through the Apostle Paul commands Timothy (and us as God's people) to study to show ourselves approved by God, and to rightly handle His word. The obvious inference here is that without dilligent study it is very likely that we will wrongly divide the word, or give an illegitimate interpretation of it. This takes place with great regularity, and the trouble is that we can often times see when others do this, but we are blind to our own traditions. It takes a humble heart, graced by the Holy Spirit, to be prepared to constantly expose our traditions up to the light of God's word to find if what we believed was true actually is true. We tend to think that we have no traditions - when in fact, we might be blinded by them more than anyone else.
Some time back, April 26, 2006 to be precise, I wrote a short article here called "Playing Marbles with Diamonds." There I suggested the use of a dozen ground rules to help each of us in the holy task of rightly handling the word of God. I believe the way we handle the text of the Bible can very much offend God as its Author, and to be hap-hazard in our approach is very displeasing to Him.
Along this line, I came across two things today online that I felt would be helpful for everyone to read:
A Work Beyond our Ability
"For a man solemnly to undertake the interpretation of any portion of Scripture without invocation of God, to be taught and instructed by His Spirit, is a high provocation of him; nor shall I expect the discovery of truth from any one who thus proudly engages in a work so much beyond his ability." - John Owen
Cited in The Word Became Fresh:How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts by Dale Ralph Davis
A Sampling of Substantive Lyrics
If most of you out there have a background anything like my own, you probably associate the rap/hip-hop scene with base, perverted lyrics and ungodliness in excess. Thatâ€™s certainly the impression I had of rappers, at any rate â€“ but recently I was blown away by the deep, Reformed theology in the lyrics of certain Christian rappers, whose projects can be found here. Just in case anyone is disbelieving or curious, I took the liberty to type out the lyrics to one of these songs I recently discovered. The artist is a brother named Shai Linne, and the song is called â€œJustified,â€ from Shaiâ€™s debut album, The Solus Christus Project. Itâ€™s basically a brief exposition of Romans, chapters one through three. The rest of the album has much more of the same.
Unconditional Election Quote
If all of us are so depraved that we cannot come to God without being born again by the irresistible grace of God, then it is clear that the salvation of any of us is owing to God's election. Election refers to God's choosing whom to save. It is unconditional in that there is no condition man must meet before God chooses to save him. Man is dead in trespasses and sins. So there is no condition he can meet before God chooses to save him from his deadness. We are not saying that final salvation is unconditional. It is not. We must meet the condition of faith in Christ in order to inherit eternal life. But faith is not a condition for election. Just the reverse. Election is a condition for faith. It is because God chose us before the foundation of the world that he purchases our redemption at the cross and quickens us with irresistible grace and brings us to faith. - Dr. John Piper, in "What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism"
John Knox the Preacher
This is an extract from a new book by Iain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (416 pp., clothbound, ISBN 085151930X, available from Banner of Truth at www.banneroftruth.org)
If it were to be asked what is the recurring theme in Knox's words and writings the answer is perhaps a surprising one. Sometimes he could be severe, and sometimes extreme. Given the days and the harshness of the persecution he witnessed, it would be understandable if these elements had preponderated in his ministry. But his keynote was of another kind altogether. From the first years that we have anything from his pen, we find him engaged in a ministry of encouragement. It forms the substance of his many letters to his mother-in-law. He handles the doctrines of election and justification as causes for bright joy in believers, 'Your imperfection shall have no power to damn you,' he writes to Mrs Bowes, 'for Christ's perfection is reputed to be yours by faith, which you have in his blood.' 'God has received already at the hands of his only Son all that is due for our sins, and so cannot his justice require or crave any more of us, other satisfaction or recompence for our sins.' He writes to the believers facing suffering and possible death in the reign of Mary Tudor and likens their situation to that of the disciples in the tempest on the lake of Galilee and says, 'Be not moved from the sure foundation of your faith. For albeit Christ Jesus be absent from you (as he was from his disciples in that great storm) by his bodily presence, yet he is present by his mighty power and grace - and yet he is full of pity and compassion.' Or again he writes: 'Stand with Christ Jesus in this day of his battle, which shall be short and the victory everlasting! For the Lord himself shall come in our defence with his mighty power; He shall give us the victory when the battle is most strong; and He shall turn our tears into everlasting joy.'
One thing stands out above all else in the life of John Knox. At many different points in his life we have the comment of individuals who saw him, and the testimony most frequently repeated has to do with one point, namely, the power of his preaching.
Be Eager to Remember the Poor
He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD. - Jeremiah 22:16
Deuteronomy 15:7-8 7"If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be...10You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'
The Question of God's Foreknowledge by Pastor John Samson
Almost a year ago to the day (11/15/05), I posted an article here on this blog regarding God's foreknowledge. Since that time I've had some very encouraging feedback from people concerning the impact it had on them, with many saying that it caused them to examine very firmly held traditions in this area. I post it once again here in the hope that it might be helpful to those who may not be in the habit of regularly checking through the archives.
Question: In Romans 8:29, the text reads "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son..." Does this not therefore suggest that because foreknowledge comes before predestination in the text, then predestination is simply based on God's foreknowledge: because God foreknows or sees in advance (with full and complete knowledge) what a person will do, and who it is that will respond in faith to the Gospel, He simply predestinates those whom He knows ahead of time will believe?
Answer: Certainly this is how I understood this passage for many years and it is the way that many deal with the issue of predestination in our day. Previously, I also pointed to 1 Peter 1:1-2 which talks of those who are "chosen, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father..." and assumed that this verse would add weight to the idea that election and predestination is based on God knowing ahead of time what we will do - God merely chooses those whom He sees ahead of time will choose Him.
At first glance, it certainly seems to be a legitimate interpretation, yet the fact that foreknowledge comes before predestination should in no way surprize us. That's because God would need to foreknow a person He is going to predestinate to something. God does not predestinate unknown persons, but specific individuals whom He knows. So this not really an argument for either side in this debate. In both systems, Arminian and Reformed, foreknowing would need to come before predestination. The real question then is "what exactly does it mean for God to foreknow somebody?"
Images of the Savior (9 - His Healing of the Nobleman's Son)
John 4:49-50 The nobleman says unto him, Sir, come down before my child die. Jesus says unto him, Go your way; your son lives. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.
We have already observed, in the account of his discourse with the Samaritan woman, that Christ possesses in himself the living waters from which all true life springs and is sustained. This is true both with respect to his physical creation and with respect to his spiritual creation. All things were created by the almighty power of Christ (John 1:1-3); and to this day, they continue to subsist only in him (Colossians 1:16-17). Likewise, all who are his were given life by the power of his word (I Peter 1:23); and it is only in him that they continue to live day by day (Galatians 2:20). This is indeed a remarkable and comforting truth, and ought to be sufficient to constrain us to seek life in him as long as we remain on this earth. All life flows continually from the Creator and Sustainer of all things; and so, when Christ is ours, life, true and abundant life, is ours as well.
The Gospel Versus Accountability Groups
Let me begin by saying that your definition of "Accountability Groups" [from here on, AGs] may differ from what I'm talking about here, and that's okay. I'm just going to examine a particular aspect of AGsâ€”one which much personal experience has led me to believe is pervasive in Evangelicalism todayâ€”but it may not be a part of your experience of AGs. So bear with me.
I meet weekly with a small group of men from our church who struggle with sexual addiction. When I was introducing the new quarter, which saw the addition of a few fellows to the group, these were some comments I made:
I am not interested in fighting one sin by using another sin. What good is it to strengthen our pride in order to overpower our lust? Why would we want to use guilt or the fear of man to make progress in freedom and holiness? Will feeding the flesh in one area to starve it in another really bring us closer to God and godliness? These methods are not The Gospel Method, and if we preached them to each other, we are not servants of Christ (Gal. 1:8-10).
What in the world am I talking about, you ask? I'm talking about the tendency of people in AGs to prod each other toward apparent holiness by unbiblical, non-Christian, anti-Gospel methods. These methods are not just unhelpful, they're actually harmful to true holiness.
The Gospel According to Galatians, Pt. 8 by C. R. Biggs
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO GALATIANS: "LAW AND GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PAUL"
In chapter 3 of Galatians, we approach Paulâ€™s teaching of Law and Gospel and their biblical relationship one to the other.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of law and grace: â€œIt is only when one submits to the law that one can speak of graceâ€¦I donâ€™t think it is Christian to want to get to the New Testament too soon and too directly.â€ Letters and Papers from Prison, pg. 50.
One theologian remarked: â€œSatan would have us to prove ourselves holy by the law, which God gave to prove us sinners.â€ (Andrew Jukes, quoted in Stottâ€™s Commentary on Galatians, pg. 90).
Summary statement of our study today in Galatians 3: â€œIf you are Christâ€™s (that is, if you belong to Christ by faith and are in union with him), then you are indeed Abrahamâ€™s offspring (seed) too! Therefore, you are heirs according to the promises made to Abraham through Christ Jesus whether you are Jew or Gentile, Slave or Free, Male or Female!
By this time in our Galatians study, I hope you can more passionately sing the great hymn â€˜Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessingâ€™:
â€œO to grace how great a debtor daily Iâ€™m constrained to be,
Let that grace now, like a fetter, bind my wandâ€™ring heart to thee.
Prone to wander- -Lord, I feel it- -prone to leave the God I love:
Hereâ€™s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.â€
Book Review: The Lamb of God, by Robert L. Reymond
(Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford)
Synopsis: The Lamb of God, by Robert Reymond, is an admirable attempt, everywhere edifying, to trace, not the thread, but the â€œthick cableâ€ which runs from Genesis to Revelation, and binds together all of scriptures in one unified story. Reymondâ€™s well-supported conclusion is that the Lamb-work of Christ is that thick cable; and that the scriptures are nothing but an ever-increasing unveiling of this Lamb-work in all of its rich significance.
Our Bible opens with the prophecy of a Seed of the woman, who would destroy the Serpent (Genesis 3:15); it closes with a description of Jesus Christ, the womanâ€™s seed, riding forth to destroy the devil (Revelation 19:11-20:15). These two parallel passages, the first promise and final accomplishment of one great event, bind together all of scriptures into one unified story of the suffering yet victorious Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Beginning with this basic premise, Reymond traces the theme of the Lamb-work of Christ throughout the scriptures. In the opening pages of the Bible, the Lamb is prophesied, symbolized, and typified; throughout the Prophets, the Lamb is depicted much more extensively as the personal and almighty Immanuel, at once the suffering servant and the eternal God. In the New Testament, the Lamb is identified, crucified, and raised victorious â€“ and in the final book of our Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Lamb is displayed in all his glory.
Search my heart O God
"The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? "I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind..." Jer 17:9-10
"Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me." Ps 51:10
Tim Challies' article here on the Ted Haggard scandal shook me to the core as I read it today. It literally drove me to my knees. Please read it prayerfully. - Pastor John Samson
Confessions and Pleas
O God, my Father, how often I dishonor you by supposing that I may find joy and contentment in the world, apart from you!
Show me again the field where lies hidden the treasure of immense worth. Counsel me to trade all my worthless baubles for the matchless pearl of great price. Bring to my mind the rust and moths and subtle thieves who steal away all earthly delights. Lead me to Christ, my eternal treasure!
The Amyraldian View Undone
Have a look at the following defintion of Amyraldianism, and then I have a follow-up question at the end which should put to rest all arguments against limited atonement by the universalists once for all. At the end of the essay I will demonstrate why this is important and may help us become more consistent with the word of God, and recognize this not just a debate about semantics but about the work of Christ in our salvation:
What is Amyraldianism?
Amyraldism developed historically following the Synod of Dort as a compromise between Calvinism and the early Arminianism by giving up some aspects of Calvinism which some found hard to embrace. The Amyraldian view, named after French Theologian Moses Amyraut, 1569-1664, is associated with Calvinism because it retains a particularistic element by acknowledging God's distinguishing grace in the election of individuals.
Amyraldians, however, place divine election after the decree to provide an atonement. This makes the atonement universal in nature and the application of the atonement particular in nature through divine election. This view is sometimes referred to as Four-Point Calvinism since it gives up the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement in favor of a universal atonement. It is also known, perhaps more descriptively, as Hypothetical Redemptionism. Although Amyraldianism may be a recognizable form of Calvinism because it retains the principle of particularism in election, it is not necessarily a good form of Calvinism. According to B. B. Warfield, "it is a logically inconsistent and therefore unstable form of Calvinism. For another more important reason, it turns away from a substitutionary atonement, which is as precious to the Calvinist as his particularism," (Plan, p. 98).
The Gospel According to Galatians, Pt. 7 by C. R. Biggs
â€œChrist will do all for you, or nothing for you.â€
â€“J. Gresham Machen (Gal. 2:21)
In our last study we celebrated the 489th anniversary of the Reformation by considering exegetically and biblically the Apostle Paulâ€™s doctrine of justification by faith alone in Galatians chapter 2.
Todayâ€™s study is the second part of a study on justification by faith alone, and why it is vitally and eternally important for us to understand this important doctrine, just because this is the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:5, 14). As a reminder, twice in Galatians, the Apostle Paul calls the doctrine of justification by faith alone â€œthe truth of the gospelâ€:
ESV Galatians 2:5 â€¦[To the false brothers] we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
ESV Galatians 2:14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospelâ€¦
Throughout Church history there has been a tendency to recover by Godâ€™s grace a focus on Christ alone and his righteousness received by faith alone, only to find that within a few years we lose our focus, and the same old problem of false teaching and error with regard to the gospel arises again from within Christâ€™s Church to turn our attention from Christ and what he has done, to turn to a righteousness found in Christ and manâ€™s cooperation.
Remember as we learned in our first study on Galatians 1, the Galatian Churches were â€œquicklyâ€ turning from the truth of the gospel which was â€œgrace alone in Christ aloneâ€ to â€œanother gospelâ€ which was â€œgrace plus Christ,â€ that was no gospel at all.
In what sense did Christ "empty" Himself?
In the midst of preparing a sermon on Philippians 2: 5-11, I began searching out what others have taught on this passage. I came across an outstanding article called "Beyond the Veil of Eternity" by my friend Dr. James White. He writes, "There are only a few times when Godâ€™s Word grants to us creatures the opportunity to peer back before creation itself and delve into the very relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. These passages have formed the core of a precious treasure, entrusted to the Church, wherein we find the very definition of what makes Christianity completely unique. Few passages, however, provide us with the breadth of revelation, the depth of theology, and the weight of importance, as the â€œCarmen Christi,â€ the â€œHymn to Christ as God.â€ This section stands with John 1 and Colossians 1 as the pinnacle of Scriptural revelation on the eternal personality and deity of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the Father."
Many untrue things have been said and written about this passage as people have attempted to answer questions such as "what exactly did Christ empty Himself of?" or "Did Christ cease to be Divine?" or "Did Christ empty Himself of His Divine attributes?" Throughout the centuries, the cults have badly mangled and twisted the passage to their own destruction. But what is the correct interpretation of the passage? How are we to understand it?
So here's my recommendation... sit yourself down with a good cup of English tea (hey, I'm from England - its what we do, whatever the occasion) and read this article here. I believe it will prove to be a very worthwhile use of your time.
Enjoy! - Pastor John Samson
Warning Against False Teachers
"But we labour, both by preaching and writing unto you, to uncharm that sorcery wherewith ye are bewitched, and to set at liberty those who were ensnared therewith." - Martin Luther
"...remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions." (1 Timothy 1: 3-7)
I found this passage particularly helpful in its assertion that the goal of Paul's instruction to charge persons not to teach false doctrines is love. His charge to expose unaided speculation and error in the church is done with the motive of love. While we must always teach with gentleness and respect, yet this passage affirms that the purpose of exposing bad doctrine is loving, in fact, the most loving thing a person can do for you. Telling a person that he is a slave to sin and needs the grace of Jesus Christ may indeed hurt, but it hurts like the surgeons knife which cuts out the cancer (for the patient's ultimate good). Many times we worry about speaking up when we hear bad doctrine being taught or spoken of, perhaps because we feel it could cost the friendship. And oftentimes even when we are careful to be patient and respectful of our brothers and sisters in Christ, it always carries the risk of a rift. But truth divides from error and Paul explains that the goal of this is love.