Ask Steve: Ezekiel and the Glory of God

January 30, 2014 11:25 pm

Question: Steve, I am currently reading through the book of Ezekiel and trying to understand its central themes. What did the book of Ezekiel teach about the glory of the Lord and what did it teach about its past and future manifestations? 

Answer: The glory of the Lord is one of the major themes of the book of Ezekiel. The essence of God’s glory is revealed in the first chapter, where the prophet Ezekiel experiences a vision of Yahweh surrounded by His blazing glory. God’s glory is so radiant and the reality of His holiness so great that the author of Ezekiel uses these as a backdrop to highlight the utter grossness of Israel’s sins in the rest of the book. The glory of God is so hallowed and unique that for its presence to be among the people of Israel, they would need to be purified in holiness and obedience. Sadly, this is not what became of Israel. God not only judged the nation for its violation of His holy character, but took His glory out of the Jerusalem Temple, symbolizing the departure of God’s personal presence with the people. However, Ezekiel tells of a time when such glory will return to the house of Israel, coming at a time of an unprecedented spiritual revival that will make Israel conditioned to represent God’s glory forever. 

The concept of God’s glory is first revealed in Chapter 1. The prophet Ezekiel received the first of multiple visions in which he saw a fascinating scene of heaven. He witnessed four holy cherubs (v. 5), which a later vision identifies as the angels of God (10:15, 20). However, these supernatural living beings are not the focus of the vision. Ezekiel saw another sight above the cherub’s heads, which was a great expanse, and above that expanse was a throne with a lapis lazuli appearance (v. 26). Verse 27 goes on to describe a glorious figure in the throne room. He had the appearance of a man, and from waist up Ezekiel saw a “glowing metal that looked like fire all around within it,” and from waist down Ezekiel saw “a surrounding radiance around Him,” which verse 28 identifies as “the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” This figure is apparently God, surrounded by light that is the direct manifestation His glory. 

The vision of God’s glory is so great that Ezekiel fell prostrate to the ground, according to verse 28. This was the reaction of reverent fear toward God and an acknowledgment of one’s sinfulness and humility before a holy and transcendent God. This reaction also characterized other biblical people who encountered God’s holiness, such as with the Apostle Peter in Luke 5:8. God’s glory is meant to inspire fear, trembling, and reverence toward God. Such personal encounter with the living God followed with a divine commission given to the person, as was the case with other OT prophets such as Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-13) and Jeremiah (1:1-19). In Chapter 2:1-9, God commissioned Ezekiel to be His spokesman as well, in which Ezekiel was to be sent to Israel to warn them of how short they had fallen from God’s holiness and the divine judgment that was coming to the nation because of impenitence. Ezekiel’s vision ends with further confirmation that he had seen the glory of God on display. When the Spirit lifted him up, Ezekiel heard a great rumbling sound of, “Blessed be the glory of the Lord in this place” (Ezekiel 3:12). Ezekiel witnessed the essence and frightening beauty of God’s glory that he expressed great deference and obedience to God, falling on his face once again when he saw God’s glory standing at the plain (Ezekiel 3:23). 

Throughout Ezekiel’s ministry, he delivered God’s message to those who were in captivity and continued to receive divine revelation concerning God’s glory. In Chapter 8:2, Ezekiel saw the glory of God once again. He fell face down at the sight of the One who had “a likeness as the appearance of a man; from His loins and downward there was the appearance of fire, and from His loins and upward the appearance of brightness, like the appearance of glowing metal.” Verse 3 goes on to explain that the Spirit lifted Ezekiel up and brought him in the visions of God to Jerusalem, “to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the idol of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy, was located. And behold, the glory of the Lord of Israel was there…” Ezekiel saw that the glory of the Lord resided in the Temple, but was ignored while the people worshipped idols. In verses 5-17, God showed Ezekiel the depravity of Israel, which contrasted heavily with the holiness and purity of God shown to Ezekiel. This made the sins appear all the more inexcusable. Since the temple worship system had become so profaned and meaningless, God saw no need for its operation anymore, as He declared His plans to Ezekiel concerning the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, as well as the city of Jerusalem and the apostate people (9:1-11). 

Ezekiel learned of the disheartening news of the glory of God departing from the Temple in Chapters 9 and 10. The glory of the Lord is depicted as leaving the Temple and the city in three stages. The first stage is described in 9:3, where “the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the temple.” In other words, the glory of God moved away from its normal position above the Ark of the Covenant and moved to the Temple door. 10:18 describes the next step: “the glory of the Lord as departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim. When the cherubim departed…they stood still at the entrance of the east gate of the Lord’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them.” The third and last step is the glory of the Lord going up from the midst of the city and standing over the mountain which is east of the city (11:23). In summation, the glory of God left the Ark, left the Temple, and moved to the Mount of Olives. 

The departing of God’s glory equates to God hiding His face away from Israel, which Moses warned would happen if Israel were to be unfaithful to the Old Covenant (Deuteronomy 31). God’s presence and protection would leave them open to the effects of sin and exile from the Promised Land.Israel essentially reaped in the full curses of disobeying that Covenant and dishonoring God’s glory to the fullest. 

Despite the sad reality of Israel’s judgment from the Lord, God declared to Ezekiel that God’s glory would actually return to the people of Israel in the future, indicating God’s plans to stay true to the Abrahamic Covenant and redeem national Israel. Through the lesson of judgment upon Israel, God plans to preserve a remnant, the final generation which would find salvation in Him and have eternal security in the Promised Land with all of God’s blessings. Therefore, Ezekiel’s message to the exiles was not one of mere pessimism, but an optimistic assurance of reconciliation between God and His covenant people Israel. Chapter 11:14-25 describes the promise of restoration to the final remnant of Israel, in which those who have been scattered to pagan nations because of the curses of the Old Covenant will be restored to the Promised Land (v. 17). Verse 18-20 describes God’s plan to forgive Israelites of their sins and regenerate their lives through the institution of the New Covenant. 

Ezekiel 40-48 describes the New Jerusalem Temple that will be part of the messianic kingdom in the final days. By that time, the nation would have been restored, along with the remnant of Israel who would have been transformed through the New Covenant. In this glorious prophecy, the glory of the Lord is depicted as returning back to the Temple(43:2). The glory of God moved eastward out of the Temple and toward the Mount of Olives, and in the future it will return from the east. The glory of God will appear and never leave the Temple again (43:7). This is essentially saying that God will personally dwell with His people forever afterwards, never to turn away from face from them again. The Lord will live among His people, and they will never blaspheme His name or His glory ever again (39:7). 

In conclusion, the glory of God is an important theme that has significant meaning for past Israel and the Israel of the future. God’s glory is the manifestation of His great and holy character, which is why no one should ever treat it lightly. Ezekiel documents the tragic reality of God’s glory departing from the people, but because of God’s faithfulness to the nation, He will bring His glory back to the people in the future. Such must be the focus and prayer of Israel for the future.

Ask Steve: Doctrine of Election

January 27, 2014 6:35 pm

 

Currently Reading:

Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions

by Timothy Keller

Category: Christian Living

Dutton, 2013

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I’m not too sure if the Reformed/Calvinist definition of election is true. It does not seem fair to me and I think it violates man’s free will. Can you explain the doctrine of election to me? Maybe I am misunderstanding it. Doesn’t this doctrine violate the free will of man?

Answer: The doctrine of election is a major point of dispute between Calvinism and Arminianism because of the implications it has on human free will and God’s character. Both camps do not deny the teaching of election, but have different understandings of what election means. Election is certainly a biblical truth and has a clear meaning based on the many illustrations from Scripture. Election can be simply defined as God’s plan in eternity, before the creation of the world, to save certain sinners from hell and/or to accomplish His specific purposes for His glory.

The term can also be used interchangeably with predestination, meaning that God knew and choose people before the foundation of the world to come to repentance and have eternal life. God did not choose people because of any foreseen merit or goodness in them. It is not because they were worthy people or because they were capable of exercising exemplary faith that God chose them. God willfully chooses the sinner according to His own mysterious and sovereign purposes, which means He can choose the hardened murderer as much as He can choose the law-abiding citizen who grew up in a respectable family.

Contrary to opposing beliefs, election does not mean that God simply looked into the future and saw who was going to respond in saving faith, therefore electing them. Instead, election means that God personally and volitionally chose certain people to be saved while He passed by others to not be saved (reprobates). God not only knew about people’s salvation in the future, but personally carries out the certainty of their salvation by His grace.

The steps involved in this process vary from tradition to tradition, but according to most biblical understanding, the steps (ordo salutis) typically involve election, the gospel call, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, death, and glorification (roughly based on the theological contents of Romans 8:28-30). This means that everyone whom God elects will ultimately come to saving faith and experience glorification. No one whom God elects can fall away from the faith or not come to saving faith by the end of his life. This demonstrates that salvation is primarily a work of God from start to finish (although this does not negate human responsibility or accountability to act whatsoever). Those whom God has not elected will never experience God’s saving grace, whether they be the ones who commit the unpardonable sin or false converts of Christ who sincerely thought they were saved. The unelected are reprobates who end up being judged and sentenced to the lake of fire, not because they are shunned by God from coming to saving faith, but because they willfully reject the true gospel message due to their own accord (Jn 3:18; Gal 6:7).

Arminianists are the largest opponents of the Calvinist and Reformed definition of election because of what it implies. They think that God’s election is unfair, unloving, and unjust, since He chooses some to be saved and leaves others to be reprobated. Arminianists contend that this definition of election negates free will, which is the unhindered right of human beings to choose whether they want to be saved or not. They believe that election implies a sense of determinism and fatalism in that certain men are destined to hell, no matter what they do about it. These people essentially have no freedom to choose where they end up for all eternity. Arminianists believe that true love respects the free decisions of people to choose or reject God.

The Arminianist view of election is that God simply foresees the salvation of those in the future based on their merit, or ability to believe. God does not personally choose some people to be saved, “overriding” their freedom to choose to accept or reject Him. God allows prevenient grace to neutralize the sinner’s bondage to sin so that they can have enough freewill to actually choose Christ willingly, based on their own strength and merit. Therefore, the basis of election is on the person’s character, some actually being good enough to choose God while others reject Him because of the hardness of their hearts.

In defense of the biblical view of election, I must first say that the Reformed view of election is taught in many places in Scripture, including Mark 13:20, Ephesians 1:4-5, and Revelation 13:8. The Bible uses the term calling, election, and predestination to teach that God chose people from before the world to be saved. Thus, those who are chosen will be saved, no matter how wretched or depraved they are, before they die.

Now the question remains: Does this act violate the free will of men? Is it unjust or unfair? First, we have to understand whether men truly do have “free will” or not. Free will is the ability to choose based on no internal influences or motivations that makes one bias toward a particular decision. This is not entirely possible, as the Bible describes men as slaves of sin and dead to sin (Rom 6:15-23). They are totally depraved and incapable of choosing holy and righteous things. If this is true, then it must mean that men do not truly have free will, but their wills are bonded to sin. Therefore, men will always choose to reject God (Rom 3:10) because that is who they are by nature. This is why God’s gracious intervention (by granting regeneration, faith, and repentance) is necessary for any human being to respond in faith.

When I say that men have no free will, I do not mean that humans do not have the responsibility to act. The Bible clearly calls for men to respond in repentance and faith, showing that they have the duty to make a choice to respond to or reject the gospel. There is no external force that coerces or makes people come to Christ or reject Him. In this sense, people have the right to choose, which is why they will be held accountable for whatever they decide to do with the gospel. Because have this responsibility and accountability, they cannot be characterized as victims of fatalism or determinism, which states that things happen the way they are regardless of what men choose to do or react to. This is the not the case with Scripture, as the Bible presents a God who showers the world with common grace and allows people to continue to live in this world so that they may have an opportunity to respond to the gospel. However, men are spiritually dead (Rom 3:10), which means that none of them ever will come to God unless He intervenes in their hearts to grant them faith (Jn 6:44). And this process begins with election.

Election does not mean that God is unjust in that He chooses some arbitrarily and passes by the others. If God were truly just, then He would pass by everyone and sentence them to eternal punishment. It is because of God’s compassion and mercy that He chooses anyone to be saved from hell. This is why the doctrine of election cannot be characterized as an act of fairness or justice, but an act of love and grace.

Whether God elects individuals to be saved, individuals to be extremely gifted for ministry, or nations likeIsraelto carry out His covenant purposes, God’s election should always humble us. It should cause us to see our own sinful condition, our inability to please God through our own strength, and to see the rich value of God’s grace, which saves us and sanctifies us everyday. We rightly elevate God and praise Him for His sovereign goodness, since His election is not based on we have done, but something God does in His sovereignty. For that, we should praise God all the more for His kindness. 

Recommend Resource: Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul

Speaking Engagement

January 26, 2014 8:41 pm

I will be speaking at Valley Bible Church in Northridge this Sunday from Psalm 51. Here are the details:

Valley Bible Church

8212 Louise Avenue

Northridge, CA 91325

818-883-8204

Website: vbcnorthridge.com

Date: February 2, 2014

Time: 9:00 am – 10:30 am

Ask Steve: Soteriology

January 20, 2014 6:46 pm

Question: Steve, could you explain to me what the doctrine of soteriology is and why it is important to me? Also how is the doctrine of soteriology relevant to the church as a whole?

Answer: Soteriology is simply defined as the study of salvation. It is the doctrine that explores what saving faith is, what saving faith is not, and how exactly Christ’s death secures the salvation of all those who believe. Though popular salvific verses like John 3:16, Romans 10:9, and Ephesians 2:8-9 portray saving faith as something that is simple, there are surprisingly vast differences in interpretation about how a person gets saved, even in the evangelical community. This is why soteriology is a major study in Christendom, and a very significant one since it is foundational to faith. It is not a peripheral issue by any means.

One’s eternal destiny depends on one’s accurate understanding of saving faith. With a false view of salvation, there can be no saving faith, no matter how sincere one’s intentions are, since the preaching of a different gospel leads to one being accursed according to Galatians 1:8. That is why soteriology is a detailed study concerned with such doctrines as election, regeneration, justification, propitiation, penal substitution, sanctification, and glorification. A major twist on any of these core truths represent heretical falsehood that does not represent saving faith.

To begin with, we shall examine the issue of faith and works. Does someone get saved by faith alone, as Ephesians 2:8-9 states? Or are works involved as part of the justification process, as James 2:26 may possibly hint at? What is the relationship between faith and works? The study of soteriology becomes very helpful when it comes to this area. Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Mormons believe that such faith needs to be supplemented by works in order for one to find justification before God. These groups come to this conclusion by a wrong interpretation of salvific passages and reliance on traditions and extrabiblical documents to supplement or reinterpret what the Bible teaches.

However, the true biblical understanding of faith is that sinners are justified by repentant faith in Christ, trusting in Christ as Lord and Savior. Works play no part in getting someone saved, since this would contradict the free nature of God’s grace that is granted by faith (Rom 11:6). However, the book of James and 1 John speak of a type of works (fruits of the Spirit) that appear in a born again believer’s life because of his regenerated nature and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit in his life. Though the amount and type varies, these fruits are evident in every Christian. There is no such thing as an untransformed Christian. Fruits demonstrate the reality of a believer’s justification and are proof of his salvation.

If a person is transformed and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, he will perform good works, since that is what he is purposed for by God (Matt 7:17; Eph 2:10). This captures the sanctification process. Those who have not been transformed in their hearts will have no good fruit to demonstrate the reality of their salvation, which would give us reasons to doubt their faith, since they are most likely a false convert. This is the biblical relationship of faith and works in the Bible, which runs contrary to the false soteriology taught by non-Protestants.

My illustration also shows that a study of the doctrine of faith and works is inextricably linked to doctrines such as election, justification, and sanctification. This is why soteriology is important and is extremely important for you, especially if you want to understand the validity of your own faith or are actively involved in evangelism, where you need to explain your faith to “Christians” who have different ideas of saving faith. Even though such doctrines as election, justification, sanctification, and prevenient grace/effectual call may seem like trifling and complex theological disputes, they are surely not. A “Christian” may claim to abide by the teachings of John 3:16 and Titus 3:5, however, he may espouse a non-biblical view of justification, believing that it is not a one-time deal upon regeneration and faith, but is a process that comes to fruition at the end of one’s life after a lifetime of faith and works. If taken to an extreme, this teaching can be heretical and does not represent the same believe that the Bible says saves people. It is more in line with the Roman Catholic view of justification that is, in reality, a form of works-righteousness salvation that runs contrary to the Bible’s teaching about justification by faith (Rom 5:1).

Issues like these show that salvation is not as “clear” to everyone as we would expect, and thus a study of soteriology is entirely beneficial and necessary for personal assurance, evangelism, and apologetics. We live in a time, as like many others before us, where the gospel message is under attack from all directions, attempting to distort the message of salvation so that people are led eternally astray. This is why an effective study of soteriology should take into account all major doctrines such as election, predestination, atonement, God’s law, imputed righteousness, and even understanding the opposing views like prevenient grace, conferred grace, resistible grace, and baptismal regeneration. A study of soteriology makes one a stronger Christian, a stronger evangelist, and a stronger apologist for the Christian faith.

The doctrine of soteriology is relevant to the church as a whole because it is the foundation that affects the direction of the church and the health of the congregants. It affects everything from ecclesiology to eschatology. A wrong understanding of salvation obviously leads to a wrong gospel being preached on the pulpit, leading to false converts and unregenerate people. Even if the gospel is not entirely heretical but merely watered down, it affects the direction and health of the church tremendously. People will not have a high appreciation for the gospel and a high view of God’s holiness, justice, love, and grace. They may entertain a wrong notion concerning their moral nature and how necessary grace is in their everyday lives.

A distorted soteriology may also lead to a wrong view of missiology, in which the church may view evangelism and outreach as changing the city and improving lives instead of saving people from sin and hell. A wrong view of eschatology will also lead to a wrong implementation of sacraments such as baptism and the communion. If salvation is understood as a works-righteousness faith, then baptism will not be a public testimony of one’s justification, but will be the means by which a person is saved, or at least an important merit added to his resume before his death. Communion will not be viewed as a celebration of those who are in Christ, but will be seen as the means by which grace is conferred to them.

As you can see, a right understanding of soteriology affects everything from individual faith to the life of the church. A Christian should not only study soteriology, but study the right soteriology, one that has been timelessly affirmed by evangelical faith since the commencement of the church. It is now more practical than ever, especially since that are many religions, and even “Christian” groups, that claim to know salvation, yet their teachings contradict what Jesus and the Apostles spoke about saving faith. 

Recommended Resource: The Cross and Salvation by Bruce Demarest

The Preaching Ministry of Charles Spurgeon

January 17, 2014 11:28 pm

The Preaching Ministry of Charles Spurgeon

by Steve Cha

Out of all the prominent Christian leaders that have appeared since the church’s inception, there have been quite few that have been as influential and memorable as Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon was not regarded as a philosopher, an expository teacher, or a systematic theologian. Rather, Spurgeon was called a preacher. To take it a step further, he has been dubbed as “the Prince of Preachers.” He has also been called the greatest preacher of 19th century England and one of the most avid soul winners in church history. So what made Spurgeon such a good preacher? What made the Prince of Preachers so influential that he was an enormous impact in his era, and even shapes the lives of Christian leaders today? This short essay will answer some of these questions regarding the specific preaching ministry of Charles Spurgeon. It will provide a survey of Spurgeon’s life, his philosophy as a preacher, his techniques, the themes behind his message, and what lessons we should learn from his ministry.

Charles Spurgeon was a Reformed Baptist preacher who had an impressive four decade ministry. He was born on June 19, 1834 in Kelvedon, Essex, Englandto parents of French Huguenot and Dutch Reformed affiliation. He was converted at age 15 and bore much spiritual fruit in a short period of time. His zeal for the word of God was so strong that he dedicated his life to being a minister of God’s Word to his community. The following year at age 16, Spurgeon preached his first sermon in a small cottage at Teversham near Cambridge. By age 19, Spurgeon became the leading pastor of New Park Street Chapel until his death 38 years later. England watched as Spurgeon’s congregation grew from about 200 people to an impressive attendance of 6,000 during his lifetime. The flock became so large that Spurgeon had to move to a larger facility, leading to the construction of the Metropolitan Tabernacle on March 18, 1861, where he ministered until the time of his last sermon on June 7, 1891. Spurgeon died at age 57 on Jan 31, 1892 due to health failure.

Though Spurgeon died at a relatively young age, his impact was well known to the people of his time and to believers today. Spurgeon ministered to a grand total of 10 million people during his lifetime. By the end of end of the 19th century, more than 100 million sermons of Spurgeon’s sermons had been sold in 23 languages, an unmatched figure before and since. Today, this number has surpassed 300 million copies. He is history’s most widely read preacher, with over 3,800 messages and about 135 books (written by Spurgeon) in print.

There are a few key factors that have made Spurgeon’s preaching ministry compelling, powerful, and efficacious. It is appropriate to first begin by summarizing Spurgeon’s philosophy of ministry, or his tools to effective preaching. The foundation to his successful teaching is his belief in the divine authorship, inerrancy, authority, and truth of Scripture. In other words, Spurgeon highly treasured the words of the Bible and would not trust in anything else to accomplish his ministry goals. He once quoted, “I would rather speak five words out of this book than 50,000 words of the philosophers.” By giving high reverence to the authority and exclusivity of Scripture, Spurgeon never compromised when it came to challenges from traditions and church authority. Spurgeon was not a firm believer in shallow entertainment, cheap gimmicks, or emotionalism to draw in crowds, whether they are believers or unbelievers.

A second philosophy of Spurgeon was his commitment to evangelism. He loved theology, but loved evangelism more. He once stated, “I would sooner bring one sinner to Jesus Christ than unpick all the mysteries of the divine word.” Spurgeon believed that the mission of the church and the sole end of his teaching is to invite the unsaved to come to faith, which was a common practice in nearly all of Spurgeon’s sermons. Each of his messages contained an evangelistic fervor, as Spurgeon pleaded with sinners to be saved.

A third philosophy of Spurgeon was his understanding of evangelism in relation to the Doctrines of Grace. At a time and society when Arminian theology was popular, Spurgeon believed in and taught the Doctrines of Grace. In other words, Spurgeon was essentially a Calvinist. He believed in God’s grace (seen in the Five Points of Calvinism) alone that accomplishes a man’s salvation from beginning to end. However, Spurgeon was not a hyper-Calvinist. He believed that men had the responsibility to response, which is why Spurgeon was committed to pleading with men to respond to the gospel to be saved. Spurgeon’s healthy understanding of the balance between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility heavily influenced his approach to evangelism, and made his teaching ministry all the more effective.

A fourth philosophy of Spurgeon was his commitment to the Holy Spirit as the basis for his energy, wisdom, and evangelistic success. He once said, “To us, as ministers, the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. Without Him our office is a mere name.” As much as he was gifted in his oratory ability and knowledge with Scripture, Spurgeon always felt the constant need to believe in the Holy Spirit to humble him and grant him success in his preaching. He believed that God the Spirit did everything from balancing his gospel presentation to making his message compelling for the audience. In essence, Spurgeon’s entire ministry was subject to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, since he firmly believed that submission to the Spirit was foundational to any preacher’s ministry.

Spurgeon’s preaching style is one of the things that have made Spurgeon memorable as a minister of God’s Word. He always preached with a fiery passion that made his messages flame out to the hearts of the congregants. He was a loud, articulate, and bold orator who kept the attention of his audience throughout the service. Although Spurgeon used sermon notes to teach, he was never bound to it, as he always spoke spontaneously as the Holy Spirit led him. His messages were full of creative commentary, appropriate anecdotes, repetition of thematic phrases, and exhortations. He was comprehensive in his messages, displaying a good balance in topics such as heaven and hell, law and grace, and God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

The range of topics covered by Spurgeon is astounding, since he had an encyclopedic knowledge of and response to most every theological issue. Spurgeon was not an exegete like John Calvin and John MacArthur in the sense that he preached through the Bible in consecutive order, verse-by-verse. Spurgeon did preach on Bible verses, however he crafted each week’s message from a different book of the Bible. Most of his messages were theologically themed, although it was always based on a chosen passage which best captures that particular theme, and Spurgeon was faithful to exposit that verse in its context. The range of topics covered by Spurgeon varied, but Spurgeon preached many messages that capture his philosophy of ministry. These messages include Sovereignty and Salvation (which speaks about God’s sovereign work in salvation and the need of humans to respond in faith), Christ Crucified (the wisdom of the world in contrast to the wisdom and necessity of the Cross), The Power of the Holy Ghost (God’s indispensable involvement in the success of the church and the Great Commission), Heaven and Hell (the reality of the afterlife and a salvific theme that speaks to both the religionist and antinomianist), and Gospel Missions (faithfulness to the Scripture as the basis for an apostolic church). Whatever it is that Spurgeon preached, there were a couple of common themes that were evident. One, of course, was reverence for God’s Word that gives God all His due glory. Another was the urgent call to salvation. Every message had an evangelistic intent to it, which demonstrates the reality of Spurgeon’s commitment to reaching the lost, for that was his “chief business as a Christian minister.”

That are many things we can learn from Charles Spurgeon, which characterize his strengths as a preacher. First of all, Spurgeon provides an inspiring model for preaching, both the philosophy behind successful preaching and the delivery and content of such messages. Spurgeon also demonstrates the importance of feeding on God’s Word and being knowledge in it for both preaching and defending the Christian faith against attacks. His constant dependence on the Holy Spirit is also a great lesson for any Christian to practice, since a failure to do this can led to pride and inadequate equipping for ministry. Spurgeon’s commitment to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture is also a timeless model of any servant of God who wishes to do what is pleasing in God’s sight and to make an impact in the congregation. Finally, the end goal of all teaching must be evangelism, which is another benefit of Spurgeon’s approach to preaching. Spurgeon’s plea for sinners to come to saving faith at the end of his message exemplifies a heart faithful to the Great Commission, which is something that the modern church can always use more of. Effective evangelism and edification must always take into consideration the balance between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, so as to avoid the unbiblical tendencies of hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism. 

Book Review: The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steven J. Lawson

January 17, 2014 11:12 pm

The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon is another line of biographies by Steven J. Lawson about the great preachers of Christianity. This is the first book I’ve read in his short series, the others being Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, and George Whitefield. Although there have been large and exhaustive books written about Spurgeon in the past, none were really provided that great combination of being both short in length and convicting. The Gospel Focus reaches about 170 pages, but tells you everything you need to know about Spurgeon and more. Lawson has crafted a great little book that is aimed to not only give a true biography of the Prince of Preacher’s life, but to write about his theology, what inspired him, and how that applies to our lives.

Lawson begins Ch 1 by giving a brief overview of Spurgeon’s life. The author details the details of Spurgeon’s birth to the time of his conversion at age 15 to the point where he became the prominent preacher of Metropolitan Tabernacle. After mentioning his death, Lawson ends the chapter by detailing the amazing effects that Spurgeon’s ministry have had worldwide, including the distribution of his sermons and literature.

Chapters 2-6 is a thorough documentation of Spurgeon’s philosophy of ministry and theology, which is arguably the strongest and most inspiring part of the book. Lawson begins by stating that Spurgeon was a Calvinist and believed in the sovereignty of God, yet he also believed in the responsibility to plead with the lost to coming to saving faith. Ch 3 talks about Spurgeon’s theology and approach to evangelism/gospel because of his commitment to the Doctrines of Grace (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, etc).Ch.4 and 5 speak about Spurgeon’s evangelistic zeal and how that was part of every one of his sermons. Spurgeon never boasted in his own strength, but always relied on the Holy Spirit to supply empowerment, understanding of the word, wisdom, fiery passion, and focus during the sermons. These are all lessons we can definitely take to heart as both ministers and laypeople. Lawson ends the book, in Ch 7, with a “Plea for More Spurgeons,” which is another way of saying that our generation needs more men like C.H. Spurgeon, who represented holiness, preaching, and evangelism at its finest. This is relevant in our days when pastors are very prone to resort to pragmaticism, ecumenicism, seeker-sensitive approaches, and a very-watered down approach to preaching, which are all unbiblical. The Gospel Focus may just be that tool to inspire a new generation of preachers to a new sense of commitment to the word and preaching with zeal.

Lawson’s book is a great book. Like I mentioned before, it is short, but powerful and effective. It is instructional. It is inspirational. It is even a dire warning to a new generation of teachers and pastors who are drifting away from what made preachers and their preaching effective in the past – holiness of character, passion in preaching, commitments to the Doctrines of grace, commitment to battle falsehood and heresy, and zeal for the lost. This is a book I would recommend to others, especially those going into ministry. 

Note: I received this book complimentary from Reformation Trust Publishing. I was not obligated to give a good review, but only my honest critique. 

Ask Steve: Gospel Presentation

January 16, 2014 2:46 am

Question: Steve, I am somewhat new to the Christian faith, and I want to learn how to evangelize unbelievers. I have heard some good gospel presentations and some not-so-good gospel presentations. Can you give me a thorough, biblical, and convicting gospel message that I can learn and share with others, whether verbally or in printed form?

Answer: Genesis 1 shows that God (the one God who is composed of three separate Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is called the doctrine of the Trinity) is the Creator and Author of life on earth. This means earth and all its living inhabitants had a real, defined beginning in time and space. He created the world in six-days and created human beings, male and female. Isaiah 43:7 states that God created mankind for one purpose: God’s glory. Mankind was created to love, serve, and worship God. That is the meaning and purpose of their lives. Because God created all things, He has rightful ownership of all things, and is worthy of all worship, according to Psalm 24:1.

Though mankind was created morally perfect, the first two human creations of God, Adam and Eve, forever polluted their moral nature and became unrighteous when they sinned against the Lord by disobeying Him, according to Genesis 3. Disobedience, or sin, is essentially violation of God’s law and righteous character, going against the very thing that God created us for, which is worship and obedience to God.

The fall and disobedience of Adam and Eve had also corrupted the moral nature of their offspring, which comprises the entirety of the world’s population to this very day. Everyone since the beginning of time has been born with a sinful nature, which is why we are so easily inclined to do bad and morally questionable things, and constantly have to be taught to do right from childhood. This is why they Bible teaches that humans are depraved, which means that they are incapable of pleasing God and being saved from God’s eternal judgment. It is not in our nature to obey God’s greatest commandment of loving God with all our heart (Matthew 22:37). Instead, we sin against Him by lying, cheating, gossiping, lusting, being self-righteous, amongst other sins. That is why the Apostle Paul, in writing the book of Romans, said, “There is none righteous, not even one…All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one…” (Romans 3:10-12).

Though love is an eternal attribute of God, so is righteousness. Because God is perfectly just, He will uphold the honor and integrity of His righteousness, and will punish those who have violated His commandments. If He did not judge sin, He would be a corrupt judge for letting criminals go, no matter how “religious” or “moral” they claim to be in their life. God is so holy and just that He does not simply overlook the crime and pardon the guilty (Exodus 34:7). At the final judgment, God will consign the guilty to the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15), which is conscious torment that goes on forever with no end.

So what is God’s standard of righteousness? What exactly is a good person in God’s sight? How good do we have to be to go to heaven and escape God’s wrath against lawbreakers? Scripture defines this standard of good as total perfection in thought, word, and deed (Matthew 5:48). In other words, we have to be as perfect and holy as God.

To see whether you match up to God’s standard (whether you are truly a good person), answer the following questions: How many times have you lied and given false testimony in your life? Have you ever stolen anything or cheated on something? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Have you ever committed adultery? Jesus said in Matthew 5:27 that if you’ve ever looked at someone to lust after them (which includes pornography and sex outside of marriage), then you are an adulterer? Have you ever murdered anymore? Jesus also said in Matthew 5:21 that if you’ve ever hated or insulted someone, then you are guilty of breaking that commandment.

If you have done these things, whether once or a thousand times, then you would be considered in the Judge’s eyes as a lying, thief, blasphemer, adulterer, and murderer, and that is only a few of the commandments of God. So on Judgment Day, will you be innocent or guilty? The clear answer is guilty, if you have actually broken the law.

Will you go to heaven or hell? The Bible states that the guilty go to hell forever.

If this is true, how can any man be saved, since everyone is a sinner? The fact is: No one can achieve salvation through their own efforts. However, all things are possible with God, who has made a way for us to be forgiven of our sins and be allowed the opportunity to enter heaven to be with the Lord forever in restored eternal fellowship.

Though God would be perfectly justified in sending us all to eternal punishment, He loves us so much that He made a way where His justice can be upheld and show us mercy at the same time. 2000 years ago, God (the Son) came to this earth as Jesus Christ (the long prophesied Messiah spoken of 700 years before in the Old Testament by the prophet Isaiah). Jesus was born of a virgin named Mary, but was conceived by God the Spirit, which means that He was born of a virgin birth. Jesus was fully God yet also fully man, which is the known as the doctrine of the incarnation. As a man, He lived the perfect life that we should have lived. In other words, Jesus was sinless. He never broke any of God’s commandments. This made Him qualified to be our human substitute so that He can pay the penalty of sin.

That is the meaning behind Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross around A.D. 33. On the cross, Jesus took our guilt and death sentence upon Himself and paid the penalty for all the times we had broken God’s moral law. Basically, God satisfied His justice by punishing Jesus instead of us so we would not be held guilty anymore. That means now God can legally dismiss our case on Judgment Day. He can let us go because of the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and three days later Jesus rose from the dead (John 20), proving to the world that He was not just a human teacher/prophet, but was also God, and that He successfully paid off our eternal debt. His resurrection proved that He conquered death on our behalf and has the authority to grant us eternal life, since He has the authority and endorsement of God to do so.

Jesus’ atoning work on the cross is finished, which means that there is nothing we can do to add to or take away from what Jesus accomplished or worked out with the Father in heaven. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves or make ourselves righteous before God, which is why Christ did all the necessary work on our behalf with His own life, death, and resurrection. What we must do to be saved from hell and be in God’s presence forever in heaven is to humbly repent of our sin (which means to confess and turn from our sins) and trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (Romans 10:9, John 3:16).

The moment you repent, follow Christ, and trust in what He did for you on the cross, God justifies you (which means that He declares you legally innocent). God takes all your sins and imputes it onto Christ (which is why He was punished on the cross), and in return, God credits the righteousness (the perfect life) of Jesus into your account so you can be blameless before God. This is the great transaction of the Cross: your sins onto Christ and the righteousness of Christ into the believing sinner’s account. That is what 2 Corinthians 5:21 means when it says, “[God] made [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” On the cross, God treated Christ as if He committed all our sins, so God can treat us as if we had lived Jesus’ perfect life. And that only comes by repentant faith in Jesus Christ: “Believe in the Lord Jesus , and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31).

Believers are justified by faith alone and not by their works, merits, or physical lineage. Salvation is a gift of God, which is something we don’t earn, but is graciously given to us by the Lord when we repent and believe in Jesus Christ alone as Lord and Savior. This is so no one can ever boast that they were religious or good enough to get to heaven based on their merits and accomplishments (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

 

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Ask Steve: Common, Special, Prevenient Grace

January 13, 2014 8:46 pm

Question: Steve, what are your beliefs on the following categories of grace: Common, Special, and Prevenient? In addition to explaining what these categories are, do you believe they are biblical? 

Answer: Even though these three doctrines are not stated in such terms in Scripture, I do believe that the Bible gives clear evidence of God’s common and special grace at work in the world. Prevenient grace is a little trickier, because theologians have different ideas of what prevenient grace is and what it looks like in action. I do believe in what is called God’s effectual call and regeneration that allows a sinner to respond in saving faith, but there is not much biblical support for the Arminian concept of prevenient grace, which is something I call unbiblical.

Common grace is the simple, but sometimes controversial, truth that God showers His gifts and blessings to all people, whether they are Christians or not. This grace is common because it is available to all people and is not restricted to Christians only. It is an act of grace because it does not give us what we truly deserve. Since we are all born sinners and contribute sin to the world everyday, we are not entitled to any of God’s blessings, but justly deserve torment, death, and misery in hell. The fact that we are still alive even after we sin endlessly, and enjoy the pleasures of good air, a home, food to eat everyday, and lovely scenery to gaze at shows that God is granting all of the world, both believers and unbelievers, unmerited favor. There are a multiple realms in life where God has revealed His common grace.

The first area is in the physical realm. The world is governed in a way that provides abundant rain, food, clothing, and shelter to people. Matthew 5:44-45 and Acts 14:16-17 reveal the fact that God lavishes His benefits on both the righteous and unrighteous. God’s goodness and compassion to people all around the world, though not in equal proportions, is on display. God also grants common grace in the intellectual realm in that He grants everyone a basic knowledge of His existence, as seen in creation and the conscience, so that they may respond to Him. This common grace is also observed in the education that is provided to many people to read and write (especially so that they can read Scripture and come to saving faith). The intellectual realm also encompasses man’s use of his intellect for science, technology, and vocation for carrying out the cultural mandate.

God’s common grace is also seen in the moral realm, where God’s law has been revealed in every person so that they may know right and wrong and govern in society. God’s common grace in the moral realm is what restrains lawlessness and brings order to society, something that will be removed shortly before the 7-Year Tribulation begins. Other realms that evidence God’s common grace is in the creative arts (ex. paintings, movies, music, etc), societal structure (ex. family unit, government institutions, educational system), and the religious realm (ex. God’s moral law in various religions that understand basic right and wrong, Christian influence that positively affects the non-believing world).

The one thing to note about common grace is that it does not mean that God endorses a sinner’s lifestyle. Common grace does not save a person from hell nor is it indicative that God has elected someone to salvation. Even though God sovereignly allows common grace to bless a sinner, His wrath still abides upon him until the person comes to repentance and trusts in Jesus Christ for salvation. In fact, one of the functions of common grace is to display God’s kindness so that men can come to repentance (Rom 2:4). This is where special grace comes in.

Special grace goes beyond common grace and grants the grace that is the most important: the saving grace that leads to eternal salvation. Special grace is defined by P.E. Hughes as “the grace by which God redeems, sanctifies, and glorifies His people. Unlike common grace, which is universally given, special grace is bestowed on those whom God elects to eternal life through His Son Jesus Christ.” Special grace is all that God does to save and restore lost sinners from sin to eternal life. Unlike common grace, special grace is not something that a person receives passively, but must actively pursue it in order to benefit from it. The sinner is called to respond by exercising faith in the object, which is Christ Jesus. This special grace is a gift from God and is not deserved, but a sinner, as I have mentioned, needs to appropriate it by repentant faith (Eph 2:8). Then the benefits come, which is justification, restoration of fellowship with the Lord, and eternal life. This special grace becomes the basis for his justification and his sanctification until the final stage of glorification.

Only the believer in Christ benefits from special grace, whereas the unbeliever’s grace ends with the common grace. The benefit of special grace is eternal, whereas common grace is only temporary. Special grace is only composed of God’s elect, whereas common grace can be composed of both God’s elect and His reprobates.

Prevenient grace describes a particular grace of God that precedes the act of a sinner exercising saving faith in Jesus Christ. This mostly describes the Arminianist stance against the Calvinist idea of irresistible grace, which is why this doctrine has also been called resistible grace and pre-regenerating grace. Prevenient grace is the assumption that the Holy Spirit neutralizes inherited depravity and corruption in all people. Prevenient grace allows all men to exercise free will to accept or reject the offer of salvation in Christ. Arminanists say that it is because of this type of grace that men are able, with a clear mind, to respond unhindered to the gospel message and thus experience the regeneration and salvation.

This idea is clearly not biblical. There is really no biblical evidence that states that God neutralizes someone’s depravity so that they can be freed from the harmful effects of sin. Philippians 1:6 and Hebrews 12:2 speak of God as the Author and Perfector of faith and the one who brings it to completion as He wills. However, prevenient grace does not guarantee that a sinner will choose Christ, since such grace can be resisted, even in the person’s neutral position. This implies that God cannot be the true Author or Completer of the sinner’s faith come He had elected from eternity past. Another reason to reject this doctrine is that 1 John 5:1 clearly teaches that the cause of someone believing in Jesus Christ is that he was born again, or regenerated. God does not merely make someone partially alive or better capable of making a good decision, but resurrects his spirit entirely to newness of life, which is the only way a spiritually dead sinner (Eph 2:1; Col 2:13) can see the truths of the gospel and come to Christ with repentance and love.

The idea that better captures the pre-salvific grace that allows sinners to respond in saving faith is effectual grace. This is the doctrine that God revives dead hearts in regeneration so that hearts can be willing and powerful enough to respond freely to God’s offer of salvation in Christ. God causes His word to take root in our lives (Jer 31:33), gives us a new heart to know Him (Jer 24:7), frees us from the bondage of sin (Rom 6:18), draws sinners to Christ (John 6:37), and imparts spiritual life to us (Eph 2:4-5). The elect of God benefit the most from God’s three graces, because it is God’s common grace that allows believers to live long enough to experience God’s effectual grace and thus apply God’s special grace. Unbelievers who ultimately reject Christ know only of God’s common grace and nothing more. Thus common grace is temporary, whereas effectual and special grace lasts forever. 

Ask Steve: Total Depravity

January 7, 2014 3:14 am

 

Currently Reading:

Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond

Series Editor: Stanley N. Gundry

General Editor: Darrell L. Bock

Category: Christian Theology / Eschatology

Zondervan, 1999

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I have heard a lot of talk about the doctrine of “total depravity.” What is total depravity? I know some people, friends and even family members, who are not Christians but they actually seem pretty nice. Are they totally depraved? They are actually nicer and more gracious than a lot of Christians I know.

 Answer: Total depravity is categorized as one of the five historic points of Calvinism, and it is an accurate representation of the moral state of humanity. Therefore, it is a central tenet of Christian theology. An inaccurate understanding of total depravity can tremendously cripple evangelism, the gospel message, and one’s sanctification process. In fact, an understanding of total depravity is what makes the gospel make sense and shows the necessity of God’s grace in salvation and sanctification, and sets man in his rightful place in understanding who he is (an unrighteous person) and what he is and is not capable of without God’s aid.

Total depravity does not mean that every human being is as corrupt and evil as he could possibly be. Not every one in the world is an Adolph Hitler, a Michael Myers serial killer, or a terrorist. Total depravity does not mean that people are incapable of doing relative good at times or displaying kindness and compassion at times.

Rather, total depravity is, as well defined by John J. Davis, as “humans being polluted by original sin, which affects his entire disposition in such a way that it, in itself, is incapable of change…In extent, total depravity involves the whole individual and in scope it involves the whole human race.” In other words, total depravity teaches that every man (as a result of the Fall) has been corrupted by sin. Sin has affected and corrupted the will, mind, emotions, and flesh to the point where we cannot freely or willfully choose to obey God, seek God in salvation, live righteously, or merit salvation by works. Everything in our being is affected by sin, and because of that, even by righteous efforts are tainted by self-glory, selfish motives, and the need to appease the conscience. These deeds are not done for the love and glory of God, which makes even these righteous works “filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6). Total depravity demonstrates that everyone is innately unrighteous, condemned, and workers of iniquity, hostile towards God, lovers of darkness rather than lovers of the light, people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, and continue to live willfully in sin. For Romans 3:11 states, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks for God…”

Because total depravity has its origins in the original sin of Adam and Eve, there is no part of the human race that is untouched by this sinful condition. All humans in the world are born with a sinful nature and live a sinful lifestyle, which means that they lie, cheat, steal, and are filled with pride, lust, envy, etc. As previously stated, sin corrupts all aspects of the human soul including the mind, desires, and will. Because of men’s depravity, they no longer have free will to do good, but are forever entrapped to the powers of sin (unless broken by divine intervention through regeneration). Not only are they inclined to a life of sin and guilt (Rom 6:19, Titus 3:3), but they blinded to their need for saving grace that comes by faith. The most dangerous aspect of how total depravity affects men is that it is the cause of pride and self-righteousness, which is the reason why men hate God and reject His offer of salvation.

Total depravity does not negate the fact that men can still perform deeds of kindness or be gifted with certain traits of hospitality to show others, but even these things are granted onto unbelievers by God’s common grace and the restraining work of the Holy Spirit in the world (2 Thess 2:7). Regardless of what gifts God has given to unregenerate people, only His special grace can save them. Thus, men’s good deeds are of no merit in earning salvation or making the performer a truly “good person.” Total depravity takes into account the varying amount of good things that unbelievers can do, as well as the varying degrees of sin (ex. murder being worse than coveting) they can accomplish as well. But the reality is, if one breaks even one of God’s Law, he is guilty of breaking them all according to James 2:10-11, which makes him a child of wrath. He is a guilty depraved sinner in need of God’s redeeming grace and transformation.

Total depravity shows why the gospel is the necessary solution. When a depraved sinner (through the effectual call of God in his heart) comes to Christ in repentant faith, he is declared to be a righteous man by justification (Heb 10:38; Gal 3:10-14). Not only has the sinner been delivered from the consequences of sin, but his faith delivers him from the power of sin. In this process, God the Holy Spirit empowers the believer and reverses the effects of total depravity so that the believer can truly seek God and do righteous things in His sight. The believer’s good deeds are no longer motivated by pride or a desire for self-worth, but are motivated by the love of God and the desire to simply glorify God through the help of the Holy Spirit. Then upon the believer’s glorification, the believer is no longer totally depraved, but is thoroughly righteous and holy (Titus 3:5; 1 Cor 6:11).

This is why the gospel is necessary for both the “nice” unbelievers and the “not so nice” religionists. Both of these kinds of people are affected by original sin, and are totally depraved. No one is justified by external merits, since God’s Law is thorough that it judges even the intentions of the heart. That is why nice neighbors are also condemned, since God knows their secret sins which run deeper than what most people can see on the surface (1 Sam 16:7) This is why they need the gospel as well, so that if they shall boast of anything in life, their boast shall only be in Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Cor 1:27-28). Their trust shall be in His righteousness, which is necessary for anyone under the curse of total depravity.

As Christians who do not seem as nice as the unbelieving neighbors, only God knows their heart. It is not completely fair to assess total depravity just based on external behavior. It is possible that these “Christians” are only professing believers who are not saved, and are thus still help captive to the full power of their depravity. This is why they need patience, prayer, and the gospel as well. If these people are true believers in Christ, then it is also possible that they have major struggles with putting on hospitality, kindness, and goodness, which is why God’s grace is necessary in this department as well to overcome the power of sin in one’s life. The sanctification process, guided by the Holy Spirit, is all about conforming a believer to Christlikeness. Sanctification is all about God’s grace as well. During this phase, God grants the good works (Eph 2:10) onto the believer so that if they boast in their works, they must give due credit to the Lord who granted it onto them. They should never boast in their own strength, for without God’s help, there is only weakness and a vulnerability to the sinful flesh.

Total depravity rightly informs us of the condition of men. It informs us of the power that sin truly has over us. It informs us of our need for Christ’s righteousness. In essence, it informs us of our total dependence and need for God.

Ask Steve: Isaiah and the Purging of Israel

January 2, 2014 7:28 pm

Question: Steve, I am currently reading through the book of Isaiah and trying to understand its major themes. I see that one of the book’s themes has to do with holiness. Can you explain how God will eventually purge Israel of unholiness and make them fit to participate in His rule according to the book of Isaiah?

Answer: The holiness of God is one of the major themes in the book of Isaiah. God’s holy character is the reason why He demands holiness from all people, especially from His covenant nation Israel. However,Israel failed to live up to God’s standard, and they were eventually judged and exiled for their unrepentant rebelliousness and breaking of the Mosaic Covenant established by God in Exodus 19-24. Though God’s holy character justifies divine judgment and final separation from those who are guilty of sin, the Lord does not forever cast off Israel. Because of the unilateral, unconditional nature of the Abrahamic Covenant established with Israel’s forefathers in Genesis 12:1-3, God preserved Israel in the many years leading up to the days of Isaiah, and declared plans to continue to preserve them until the end of time. In fact, God plans to redeem the nation of Israel and forgive them of their sin. God declares though the prophet Isaiah that He plans to make Israel glorious in the future by forever purging it of unholiness and making them fit to participate in His earthly kingdom.

The first way that the Holy One of Israel will purge His people of unholiness is to judge His people with righteous wrath. The nation of Israel was guilty of empty ritualism, idolatry, and apostasy, which are some of the main themes explored in the book of Isaiah. These practices have characterized Israel since the day of their exodus from Egypt, but God had been patient not to destroy or scatter the nation of Israel. The sins of Israel had reached a new level by the time of Isaiah’s epoch, and God planned to no longer withhold His judgment. He moved forward to uphold His holiness and truthfulness to the Mosaic Covenant curses by allowing Assyria to capture and exile Ephraim (Isaiah 8) and allowing Judah to suffer a similar fate by Babylon in 586 B.C. (Jeremiah 52).

By executing holy judgment, God taught the nation of Israel the seriousness of His holy wrath against sin, which was meant to convict them to repent and turn to God in obedience. Passages such as Isaiah 27 demonstrate that God’s judgment on Israel usually precedes His promise of Israel’s repentance. God declares a day in which Israel turns to God in humility and faith, and God forgives them, declares them righteous, and makes them fit for the eschatological messianic kingdom.

God plans to purge Israel of unholiness by removing all hindrances that cause Israel to stumble. In other words, the Lord has executed judgment and will carry out final judgment for nations and peoples that have caused Israel to pursue idolatry, paganism, and alliances with other nations. Passages such as Isaiah 17, 18, 19, and 20 speak of the fall of Gentile nations such as Egypt,Ethiopia, and Damascus to underscore the book of Isaiah’s theme of the sinfulness of the nations. These Gentile nations are under God’s wrath because of not only their pride and unbelief, but their evil influences on Israel’s devotion to Yahweh. Israel abandons God by trusting in human alliances rather than God. An example is Israel’s deal with Egypt in Isaiah 30.

In the following chapter, the prophet Isaiah pronounces a woe on Judah for turning to Egypt for aid (v. 1-2) and not heeding the counsel of the Lord. Because of this, God vowed to embarrass the alliance by bringing defeat to both the helper (Egypt) and the one seeking help (Judah). Such alliances prove deleterious because it not only instigates Israel to misplace their faith, but allows pagan religion to infiltrate the lives of the Israelites, which is a constant theme that runs throughout the Old Testament (Ezekiel 20:7, Joshua 24:14, Jeremiah 2:17).

The purging of Israel and making them fit for God’s glorious kingdom finds its fullest power in the work of God’s Servant, the divine Messiah whom the prophet Isaiah declared would come to destroy the penalty, power, and presence of sin. It is because of this Servant that Israel, and believing Gentiles, can be purged from unholiness, be made holy, and be qualified to enter the kingdom of God.

The Servant’s work is rooted in the unilateral, eternal New Covenant that God establishes with Israel. Such a covenant is mentioned in Isaiah 59:20-21, in which a Redeemer is promised to be sent to save Zion and all faithful Israelites who turn from their transgressions. This eternal covenant is an extension of the Abrahamic Covenant in that it spells out specifically how God plans to preserve Israel, make them His holy people, and use them to bring lost Gentiles to Himself. The New Covenant is further elaborated in passages such as Jeremiah 31:33, in which God declared that He would put His law within Israel and on their heart, that He would be their God, they would be His people, and they would find forgiveness for their iniquity. The promise-plan of God to Israelis a theme that constantly runs throughout the Old Testament, and in the book of Isaiah, the promises of God become clearly delineated in the discussion the spiritual salvation and deliverance of Israel.

The New Covenant was enacted in the work of the suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, which became the source of mankind’s spiritual salvation. The Suffering Servant is one of the most prominent themes in the book of Isaiah because it speaks about the monumental achievement of the Suffering Servant in removing sin so sinners can be forgiven and made righteous. The Servant is depicted to be an innocent man (v. 9) who dies for the sins of those around Him (v. 4, 11). He bears their sin (v. 12) and is punished as the atonement so that people can find eternal justification before God. God’s wrath is satisfied, and He allows the Servant to see the light of life and observe the fruit of His blessed work (v. 11). It is because of the Servant’s work that Israel can have the penalty, power, and presence of its sins removed someday, which God promises will happen at the last days (Isaiah 62). The Suffering Servant’s atonement is the direct fulfillment of the New Covenant and makes possible the inevitable fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenant with Israel.

When the remaining remnant of Israel finds spiritual salvation in the final days, God will bring physical salvation to the nation of Israel by delivering them from their oppressors and setting up the messianic kingdom. Passages such as Isaiah 34 and 47 speak of the judgment of pagan nations that have either caused Israel to stumble into sin or have been constant oppressors to the sons of Jacob. In keeping with the blessings and curses promise of the Abrahamic Covenant, God plans to destroy such oppressors and bring them to an end (Isaiah 63:1-6).Israel will no longer be tormented or influenced by the forces of sin through the neighboring nations. However, passages such as Isaiah 59:20-21 describe the necessity of national repentance before God plans to deliver them from their enemies. In other words, the deliverance from spiritual sin through the New Covenant re-birth comes before the deliverance from the physical presence of sin. The purging of Israel spiritually is a necessary precursor to the purging of Israel physically, which has been described in the Old Testament (Isaiah 62) as a necessary reality before the messianic kingdom can come to Zion.

The last step of God’s plan to purge Israel of sin is through the actual rule of the Messiah in the messianic kingdom. Passages such as Isaiah 65 describe the conditions of the millennial kingdom, in which the world will flourish with righteousness, holiness, and justice. Even the animal kingdom is restored to peace and health (Isaiah 11:6-9, 35:9). The Messiah, son of David, will rule from His throne in Jerusalem and enforce His holy law throughout Israel and the world, resulting in a habitual pattern of obedience and righteous conduct among people (Isaiah 28:6, 32:16). False teachers, oppressors, and gross sinners will be dealt with (Isaiah 16:5, 24:23) so that they will not instigate sin anymore amongst the redeemed people of Israel. In essence, the messianic kingdom will be the period in which God continually draws people to the New Covenant, but also curbs the practice of sin through out Israel(and the world) by His governing authority.

In conclusion, God will make certain that His promises to Israel will be carried out. However, God is holy, so Israel must also be made holy to be fit for eternal worship. Isaiah describes the various ways that God plans to purge His people of unholiness so He can make them fit for His rule. God has paved the way through His Son’s death on the cross. Once Israel partakes of that covenant, then it will find spiritual purging, and purging of the land.