Ask Steve: Kenosis

March 31, 2014 9:09 pm


Currently Reading:

Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians

by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea

Category: Persecution & Conflict / General

2013, Thomas Nelson





Question: Steve, what is the kenosis? What did Christ empty Himself of? How can it be applied to statements that Christ made in verses such as John 5:30 and John 14:28? 

Answer: The study of the deific nature of Christ and how that nature was affected when He became human at the incarnation is called the kenosis. This term comes from the Greek verb kenoo, which means “to empty.” Some take this “emptying” to mean that Christ emptied Himself of His deity in some manner to accommodate His human nature. However, this is not biblical, as Christ remained both fully God and fully man in His incarnation before and after death. This essay will demonstrate kenosis by exploring the meaning of Jesus’ emptying, Jesus’ incarnation, and Jesus’ position in relation to the Father during His incarnation.

The kenosis means that Jesus emptied Himself of His heavenly privileges, which included His face-to-face relationship with the Father (Matt 27:46), the continuous outward display and personal enjoyment of that glory (Jn 17:5), His independent authority in contrast to His constant submission to the Father on earth (Jn 5:30), His divine prerogatives in which He set aside the independent exercise of some of His divine attributes and submitted Himself to the Spirit’s direction (Matt 24:36), and eternal riches since Christ owned little on earth in contrast to His heavenly riches (2 Cor 8:9).

Kenosis is not about what Jesus gave up, but rather what Jesus put on, which is the essence of incarnation. Jesus was fully God (Jn 1:1, 14; Heb 1:3) who took on, or added to Himself, a human nature (Phil 2:7-8;Col2:9). The kenosis is Christ taking on a human nature with all of its human limitations (like us), with no sin. This is absolutely necessary if Christ is to be our substitute on the cross to die on our behalf. If he is less human, then Jesus cannot qualify to be our human substitute or our High Priest (Gal 4:4-5; Heb 4:15). As previously mentioned, Jesus did not divest Himself of His deity, but the privileges that He enjoyed in heaven, and took on human nature so as to live out a fully human life to fulfill the law on our behalf (Matt 5:17). This is how Jesus could be fully God and fully man at the same time.

In relation to verses like John 5:30 and 14:28, Jesus speaks of being less greater than the Father in His humanity, not His deity. When Jesus says, “I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me,” He is not implying that He is inferior than the Father in essence. The same can be said about verse 14:28, when Jesus says, “…for the Father is greater than I.” If Jesus were speaking about divesting Himself of deity, then this would imply Jesus was less God than the Father, which is heresy. These passages speak of Jesus’ earthly submission to the Father as a human (Phil 2:5-8; Jn 5:30; 17:5), since Jesus gave up His divine prerogatives of heavenly privileges to come to earth in order to accomplish salvation for humanity. In this sense, Jesus did became less greater than the Father, which is why He, in His human limitations, was in a greater sense of submission to the Father and was empower by the Holy Spirit’s in all that He did (Lk 4:14; Acts 10:38). However, this in no way takes away from His deity or from our need to worship Him as God. Jesus is both fully God and fully man, eternally equal to the Father and Spirit in essence, but different in role and function in than the Father.

Jesus’ incarnation and limitations may make it appear as if He were less God or that He submitted Himself to the Father in an unprecedented way, but that is not the case. A right understanding of kenosis informs us that Jesus did not empty Himself of His deific nature, but of His divine privileges in the taking on the fullness of humanity (with all of its limitations). This made Him fully man yet fully God at the same time, in which He was still equal with the Father in essence but submitted to Him and could be called lesser than Him while on earth. This full picture of Christ’s nature gives us an accurate understanding of kenosis. 

With Iain Murray

March 27, 2014 8:25 pm









Famous biographer and assistant to the late Martin Lloyd-Jones, Iain Murray, came to speak at the chapel this week, and I got to take a photo with him. Quite something.

Ask Steve: Inspiration and Infallibility

March 26, 2014 8:51 pm


Currently Reading:

The Expository Genius of John Calvin

by Steven J. Lawson

Category: Christian Ministry / Preaching

2007, Reformation Trust





Question: Steve, I am a new Christian and am still learning some new things about the Bible. I have often heard of the Bible as being “inspired.” What does this mean? Also, what does infallibility of the Bible mean and what is its relationship to the authority of the Bible?

Answer: Inspiration, as it relates to the entire Bible, means that all of Scripture was spoken by God and was accurately penned by the biblical writers as such. In its most literal sense, inspiration means that the Bible is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This does not mean that the Bible fell out of the sky or that it was fully dictated, word-for-word, to the scribes. Rather, the process involved God moving in the hearts of the biblical writers, both in the Old or New Testament, to write and record the very words that He intended for them to write, using the personalities of the human writers to write the words of Scripture so that each book of the Bible is a characteristic work of the particular author. The result is that the Bible is both a human and a divine book. As a human book, humans have finitude when writing and are prone to error, yet the Holy Spirit (who is the Spirit of truth, righteousness, and holiness) overrode human weakness so that the words of Scripture would be recorded accurately, efficaciously, and without error.

The Bible is essentially the Word of God. The Holy Spirit inspired all the writers of the Old and New Testament (using their individual vocabulary and creative personalities) to fully record the entire will and revelation of God for humanity. Because the Bible is inspired, Scripture is inerrant, infallible, all-sufficient, has total consistency, and has binding authority over human lives (both believers and non-believers). It must be noted that only the autographs of Scripture can rightly be deemed as inerrant and not the translations or commentaries that came out of it. However, the Bible is still trustworthy because the inspired, true word of the autographs is found in the manuscripts that we have to this day. Therefore, God’s word is true and living.

Inspiration is a central tenet of the Christian faith because it is the Christian’s confidence that the word alone is capable to bring salvation and sanctification to a person’s life. Because the Bible is God-breathed, it is a unique book amongst all other religious and philosophical books in the world. 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 declares that every part of the Bible comes directly from God, implying that it is neither the work of demons nor the arbitrary thoughts of humanity. Therefore, Scripture is profitable for us and worthy of being trusted for salvific and sanctifying instructions for the Christian faith. Any other religious, philosophical, or ethical books that contradict the teachings of Scripture are erroneous and are purely the works of either human or devil. Any “evangelical” theories that attack the inspiration of Scripture, such as errancy of Scripture or historical-critical theories found in neo-orthodox circles, is heretical and must rightly be discarded, since they neither honor God nor have any power in sanctifying a believer to the optimal in this life.

Like inspiration, infallibility and authority are also non-negotiable doctrines of the Christian faith. Without them, we have no reason to believe in the words of the Bible (or at least portions of it) and submit to its governance over our lives. Infallibility of Scripture means that God uses the Bible to accomplish His intended salvific and sanctifying purposes for all people and all times. God’s Word cannot fail to accomplish its specific purposes, since Scripture is inspired, inerrant, and sufficient. God’s Word is incapable of failing, because God Himself is without fail. He is perfect, holy, and true (Matt 5:48). Various parts of Scripture also testify to the fact that God’s works, especially in regards to saving and perfecting His people, are perfect, complete, and unfailing (Deut 32:4; Ps 19:7). The essence behind infallibility is that the Word of God can be fully trusted and should be utilized in evangelism, discipleship, and counseling. It must be utilized to convince, rebuke, and exhort (2 Tim 4:2). Where God’s Word is, the Holy Spirit is surely moving. No other religious or human books have the same power to change the sinner or produce efficacious results like Scripture does, which subsequently leads to its implied authority over our lives.

Understanding infallibility of the written Word allows us to clearly see the Bible’s authority over our lives. Authority of Scripture states that God’s Word alone is the vehicle that edifies, strengthens, corrects, and teaches the Christian to be all that God desires him to be. Because God created the heavens, the earth, and all living creatures that belong in it (Gen 1:1; Ps 24:1), He owns our lives and has the right to seek worship, love, and obedience from us. To disobey or disbelieve God is to blaspheme Him and rebel against His authority. Similarly, to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God, since the Bible is God’s Word. God cannot lie, therefore all the words in Scripture are completely true, without error, and emblematic of God’s unbending, ultimate will. 

Scriptural support for the authority of Scripture includes Matthew 4:4, 2 Timothy 3:16, and Deuteronomy 18:19. Because God’s Word will last forever (Matt 5:18) and cannot be broken (Jn 10:35), it stands even now and has the right to demand compliance from every human being living on earth. This reality is also represented in the fact that the teachers of God’s Word (evangelists, pastors, etc.) are given authority when ministering the Bible’s content to other people (1 Thess 4:2; Titus 2:15). When church members rebel against their elders or are unrepentant to sin, the elders are given authority by God, through the written word, to exercise church discipline, in which Jesus claimed that heaven would be in full agreement with their decisions as long as they faithfully abide by God’s revealed standard (Matt 18:18).


Recommend Resource: Defending Inerrancy by Norman Geisler and William C. Roach

Ask Steve: Dating and Courtship

March 24, 2014 6:03 pm











Question: Steve, I have been a Christian for a year, and I noticed that Christians practice dating differently than the secular world. It seems to be a lot more sanitized. Can you explain to me the difference between the Christian’s view and the world’s view of dating and why that’s relevant to issues like morality, and maybe even marriage?

Answer: Dating is a common practice in Western society, if not most of the world, for both right and wrong reasons. The right reason is to be in a purposeful courtship that would eventually lead to a lifelong marriage. The wrong reason for dating is to pursue a person in order to satisfy a sexual craving without any real desire for marital commitment, which is sin according to the Bible (Matt 5:27; 1 Cor 6:9). There is a real difference between biblical courtship that leads to marriage and the secular idea of a relationship that could potentially lead to nowhere.

Before we discuss the difference between the biblical and secular notion of dating/courtship, we must analyze what the purpose of a male and female relationship is. Scripture always states that the only time a male and a female can engage in any sexual and romantic activity is in the covenant of marriage (Song of Solomon; Prov 5:19). Anything outside of that is considered lust, which Jesus considered adultery (breaking the Seventh Commandment) according to Matthew 5:27. Therefore, it takes great discernment and self-control when entering that area in between singleness and marriage so as not to fall into sin and temptation. And that area is where dating/relationships fall.

If that is the case, then where does that leave dating according to biblical ethics? It’s interesting to note that dating was never a cultural practice during biblical times, or even in much of the world until the 20th century. In other words, dating is a recent phenomenon. Before that, a majority of people got married through either courtship or arranged marriages via parental guidance. Much of this, of course, was culturally conditioned, but there was a sense that this was also done to safeguard both sides before marriage. In courtship, there was no kissing or intimate caressing, and parents were usually present as the man and the woman sought to know each other in a general sense without the pressures of physical intimacy. In essence, people would be courting for the purpose of seeing if it would lead to marriage. It certainly was not a medium to get sexual pleasure out of a partner.

This is essentially the difference between secular dating and Christian dating. Pop culture dating is highly influenced by the sex driven immorality of the 21st century. This is not a careless attempt to broad brush all adherents into one category, but it is, nonetheless, an observable movement that has swept the times. Secular dating looks deceptively like courtship, but it is actually marriage without the covenant commitment. In other words, couples who date, whether casually or seriously, do things in their “courtship” that they are not suppose to be doing according to God’s law, such as lustfully kissing each other, touching each other inappropriately, cohabiting, having sex, and at times, having children out of wedlock. Scripture commands a male and female to remain pure before marriage, which means keeping appropriate boundaries in manners of action, thoughts, and speech (1 Cor 6:18-20). We are not to defile our bodies by having premarital sex (1 Cor 6:9; 2 Tim 2:22). Doing so would not only be sinning against God (1 Cor 6:18; 1 Thess 4:3), but it would be taking away something that rightfully belongs to our future spouse, and vice versa.

The tragedy of modern dating is not only the immoral nature of such method of courtship, but the lack of commitment and purpose of such dating. It’s common to hear stories in social circles and in celebrity news about “relationship breakups,” after the man goes through the last five or six women with no intention to really marry them, no less guard their purity for their future spouse. These are common occurrences in the dating world, where integrity for the process is no longer held in high esteem because the consciences of many have been seared due to love of sin. This happens when we become lovers of self and lovers of pleasure (2 Tim 3:4). The high number of these casual dating and breakups demonstrate that dating and relationships are no longer the means to marriage, but have actually replaced marriage itself! They are the new marriage, in which people can jump in and out of them easily because they have never made any wedding commitments to begin with, although they have done most everything in the relationship without the actual desire to sacrificially commit to each for life.

In contrast, biblical form of dating provides a wise, safe, and prosperous alternative to the immoral path of secular dating. I am not advocating that Christians return to the old fashioned form of courtship that was characteristic of the 1st-19th century. The fact is: We simply do not live in a society where this form of courtship is practical or cultural anymore. When a man pursues a woman to “date” her, he should, in the words of author Joshua Harris, “be more than friends, but less than lovers.” This means that the couple should be more than just casual friends, but not so intimate as if already married. This is the perfect analogy. Only when the two become officially married should they be labeled: friends and lovers.

I’m not dogmatic as to whether one labels it “dating” or “courtship” or how one approaches it – in terms of safeguards, boundaries, and even liberties in the dating process that is not sinful. The important thing is whether it is done biblically and to the glory of God, as 1 Corinthians 10:31 declares. If you are a Christian and are wanting to date and have a prospect in mind, then you should ask yourself these helpful questions:

1). Are you looking to get married? If not, then why are you looking to date, especially if dating this person would hold him/her up from considering another prospect?

2). Are you spiritually and emotionally mature? Are you allowing the Lord to work in you to make you teachable in preparation for your spouse?

3). Is your prospect a true, born again believer? If not, then why are you pursuing this unbeliever?

4). Have you had illegitimate divorces in the past that forbids you from pursuing further relationships/marriages? If you did, then seriously consider Jesus’ words from Matthew 19:1-19.

5). Is sexual desire/lust playing too big of a part in wanting to date a particular person? At the other extreme, do you feel virtually no sexual attraction in dating a particular person? Find the right balance in this key issue.


If courtship gets serious and marriage is contemplated, you will eventually want to reflect on some of these questions:

1). Is the prospect in line with you in terms of goals and major biblical issues? In other words, are you two headed in the same direction (spiritually) in life?

2). Do you both agree on the teachings of Ephesian 5:25-33 regarding male and female responsibilities? If not, then how do you plan to get along in your marriage?

3). Do you have common interests, hobbies, and inclinations to sustain joy and compatibility in the marriage?

4). If your prospect is of another ethnicity or nationality, can you handle the cultural differences for the rest of your life? Are you compatible with the language, the food, the mannerism, and the fellowship with his/her family on a constant basis?

5). Would other people support this marriage? Or would others be very hesitant? Why?

6). Are you willing to sacrificially serve and love this person for life, as Christ loves and serves the church? In other words, do you want to marry this person?


This is not an exhaustive list, but definitely some of the more important registry of questions that anyone can ask, not only for dating, but for marriage. Scripture states that the only requirement for marrying a person is that he/she be a believer in Christ (1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14 ). Every other factor beside that are not requirements, but wise suggestions in order to make that marriage more peaceable and edifying.

The biggest challenge in our age right now, both in the church and in the secular world, is purity in the relationship before marriage. To some, it may seem like an impossibility. Even though the godless world may arrogantly declare that one is “expressing love” by kissing or having sex with another before marriage, we know from God’s truth that this is nothing but emotional puff. God’s propositional truth, which is eternal and timeless, states in 1 Corinthians 13:4: “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth…”

Since true love does not seek its own and does not rejoice in unrighteousness (but in truth), this means that love cannot agree with that which is sinful. Therefore, if you are dating someone and truly love him/her, the most loving thing for you to do is to safeguard his/her purity so as not to defile her. That would not only be your supreme act of love to him/her before marriage, but your act of worship to God according to 1 Corinthians 10:31.


Recommended Resource: Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris

Ask Steve: The Meaning of Sanctification

March 20, 2014 9:26 pm







Question: Steve, I’ve been a believer for three years but lately I heard a brother mention a word I have never heard before–“sanctification.” What in the world is sanctification? Is this concept important to me as a Christian? If so, how?

Answer: Sanctification is an indispensable part of the Christian life. The word sanctification comes from the word sanctify, which according to both the OT and NT, means being cut out and set apart in holiness for God’s purposes. It is a state of separation from the world (and sinful things) onto God in which all believers enter into after conversion. If a believer is not sanctified, then he has never been regenerated and justified. In other words, he has never truly been saved. It is important to understand the doctrine of sanctification for the welfare of your spiritual health, and for the others whom you evangelize and disciple.

There are three stages of sanctification. The first one is called positional sanctification, which happens upon justification. After we are justified, we have been declared holy and righteous because of the imputed righteousness of Christ to our account (2 Cor 5:21). Therefore, we are officially set apart as children of God. It is a once and for all separation onto God and our connection with Christ. It is an unrepeatable event and is a guarantee on someone’s inclusion into as heir of thekingdomofGod. It basically means we have been saved, and delivered from the penalty of sin (1 Cor 6:11).

The more practical aspect of sanctification is what is called progressive sanctification, which is the experiential aspect of sanctification. It is the practical experience of being set apart for God’s purposes, in which we grow in holiness, righteousness, and seek to do God’s will. In other words, progressive sanctification is the process of growing into Christlikeness, and decreasing in the ways of the former life of sin and disobedience (1 Pet 1:15; Heb 12:14). God is the one who controls the degree to which we are sanctified in this life. Some are holier than others, and some bear more fruit than others. However, this does not negate human responsibility, as we are constantly commanded in Scripture to obey the Lord (Jn 14:15), even to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). In the process of doing so, it is God the Holy Spirit working in us to accomplish His sovereign purposes. We grow in Christlikeness through biblical discipleship, through which we learn everything we need to know from God’s word and put it all into practice. Progressive sanctification is God delivering us from the power of sin, which is a lifelong journey.

This is not to say that in our experiential sanctification (post-salvation) that we can somehow attain a state of perfection. The Bible affirms that those in the sinful flesh, even Christians, cannot become sinless and perfectly holy in this life (1 Jn 1:8). We should never teach perfectionism, which is not only unrealistic, but unbiblical. It advocates somewhat of a works-based faith that wrongly elevates human potential and merit. At the same time, we must not see this as an excuse to give up and be licentious in life. We are definitely not called to live an antinomian life and to abuse grace. We are called to be set apart to be God’s people, representing the character of God in all of His love, righteousness, justice, and holiness. Sanctification is essentially about direction of life, not perfection of life.

Such direction is prompted by heart motivation and a love for Christ that can only be experienced by those who are born again by the Holy Spirit and saved. Unsaved believers cannot live a sanctified life, and properly submit to Jesus as their Lord, because they are still dead in their sins (1 Cor 12:3). This is why they exhibit an untransformed heart, do not care about discipleship, or are trying to earn salvation based on their external works rather than trusting in Christ. Progressive sanctification is a heavy indicator of whether someone has been positionally sanctified (or saved). Those who advocate a salvation without sanctification is essentially preaching a false saving message, since there is no such thing as a Christian who can get saved but not sanctified.

Though we never achieve a state of perfection through sanctification in this life, this is what sanctification ultimately leads to. The third, and final, stage of sanctification is called final sanctification, which is when God delivers us from the presence of sin forever by glorifying our bodies (1 Jn 3:2; Phil 3:20-21). This happens at the rapture of the church. We become completely sanctified in holiness, regaining the perfect image of God, when we experience glorification at the rapture of the church. Only then will we be perfectly sanctified (freed from all sinful habits) and made holy as Christ is holy. As I previously mentioned), positional sanctification removes us from the penalty of sin. Progressive sanctification removes us from the general power of sin. And final sanctification removes us from the entire presence of sin.

Those whom God elected will experience salvation, and in turn experience sanctification and then glorification. Those who do not undergo sanctification or fall away from the faith show that they were never saved to begin with. True salvation always leads to transformation of character that is displayed during the lifelong process of maturing like Christ in character and conduct. This is what sanctification is. This is why understanding sanctification is important to every Christian, so that they know what they are getting themselves into when if they want to become a true Christian. Understanding sanctification also informs one of their identities in Christ and gives them good motivation and instruction on what kind of life they should be living and what they are not called to pursue, which is sin. The doctrine of sanctification is entirely necessary when evangelizing, teaching the gospel, building up new believers, and defending the faith against skeptics who question the power and efficacy of the gospel in a person’s life.

Understanding the right view of sanctification is also necessary because of the opposing views that constitute a threat to the gospel and proper Christian living. Some views include the theory of sanctification as the process of personal reformation, which places undue emphasis on the power of human ability and teaches that sanctification is all about following the precepts of Jesus so that they can one day live a sinless life. Another view of sanctification is the sacramental process which is characteristic of the Roman Catholic Church, meaning that sanctification is the process in which people become righteous enough to gain God’s favor at the final judgment. Sanctification and justification are the same process in this view.

Another view is the second blessing experience popular within the Wesylan tradition. This view states that Christians experience a “second work of grace” sometime in their life when they become anointed and inspired enough to enter the sphere of Christian perfection, Christian love, or entire sanctification. This means that once Christians experience this “second blessing” in life, they can reach perfection and become sinless.

These views do not have enough biblical support. The gradual process of becoming holy, which is characteristic of most evangelicals, is the biblical model of sanctification. This model rightly informs us of the sovereignty of God in the salvific and sanctification process, humbling us to know our weaknesses, but also giving us the responsibility to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Having the right view of sanctification is important because it informs us of what kind of Christian life we are living: a works-based system, a licentious faith, a legalistic type of moral faith, and an experience based type of faith. 


Recommended Resource: The Cross and Salvation by Bruce DeMarest

Sorrow and Lamentations

March 20, 2014 9:20 pm











Question: Steve, I am currently reading through the book of Lamentations. How did Jeremiah respond to the destruction of Jerusalem as recorded in the book of Lamentations? 

Answer: The content in the book of Lamentations is based on the events described in Jeremiah 52, in which Jerusalem is invaded, the Temple is destroyed, and the Israelites are exiled out of the Promised Land into Gentile territory. The prophet Jeremiah mourns the destruction of Jerusalem and the consequent plight of the Israelites. The book of Lamentations is therefore a lament genre, a collection of laments by Jeremiah over fallen Judah. The content of the laments encompasses multiple themes, including the sin of Judah, God’s holiness offended, and God’s judgment on His covenant people. Yet in the midst of such tragedy, Jeremiah also expresses hope in God’s compassion, which highlights the preservation theme of the Abrahamic Covenant. The book of Lamentations is predominantly a sad response to the Old Covenant curses that came upon Judah, although the author closes the book by expressing hope in God’s salvation. 

The first and foremost response of Jeremiah to the destruction of Jerusalem was total sorrow. The book of Lamentations opens with a chapter that describes the devastations that came upon Zion and the grief expressed by the people. Jeremiah also grieved, stating, “For these things I weep; My eyes run down with water; because far from me is a comforter, One who restores my soul. My children are desolate because the enemy has prevailed” (1:16). Verse 20 also expresses the depth of Jeremiah’s distress, stating, “My spirit is greatly troubled; my heart is overturned within me, for I have been very rebellious.” The last part of this sentence indicates that part of what caused Jeremiah distressed was his sinfulness against God, which shows that Jeremiah’s expression of grief was also coupled with repentance. Jeremiah repented on behalf of Israel.

Another response of Jeremiah to the destruction of Jerusalem, which comes after the expression of sorrow, is a plea for mercy. This theme is most clearly expressed in chapter 5, in which verses 1-18 describes the nation’s wounds which Jeremiah offered up to the Lord in prayer. The plea for mercy culminates in Jeremiah’s prayer forIsrael’s restoration and salvation. Verse 21 reads, “Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old, unless You have utterly rejected us…” This verse calls upon God to remember the covenant that God established with Abraham and David. It is based on this fact that Jeremiah can plea to God, otherwise God would have no reason to forgive and restoreIsrael.

The book of Lamentations is a sad picture of Israel’s mourning following the destruction of Jerusalem. It is serious look into the danger of sin and apostasy. However, it ends with a hopeful note, like most other OT books, that speak of God’s compassion and plan to restore Israel, which serves as a deacon of light despite the dark and depressing overtures of this book.

Ask Steve: Ecclesiastes and Living Wisely

March 14, 2014 11:08 pm










Question: Steve, what did the book of Ecclesiastes teach concerning how to live wisely in this world of futility? 

Answer: The book of Ecclesiastes is wisdom literature that focuses on the theme of vanity. The author Solomon writes of his everyday experience in which he sought meaning in work, pleasure, wealth, and other endeavors, but found it be ultimately vain. Everything in life seems to be meaningless since we all die. This theme makes the book of Ecclesiastes one of the most thought provoking if not pessimistic books in the Old Testament. However, the book ends with an uplifting note in that it points all of life back towards the Creator God. Solomon ultimately concluded that life lived solely for one’s own pleasure is what makes life meaningless. In contrast, if one perceives each day of existence, labor, and basic provision as a gift from God, and accepts whatever God gives, then that person lives an abundant and meaningful life. 

The first lesson that the book of Ecclesiastes teaches about wise and satisfying living is to fear God. Fearing God is written by Solomon in his other wisdom books such as Proverbs, where he described fearing God as the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). This theme is no less downplayed in the book of Ecclesiastes. 8:12-13 reads: “Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God.” In the end, those who fear God eternally prosper (as they attain eternal life), but the evil man will go to his death (and be punished eternally because of his rebellion against God). The theme of fearing God is so important that the book of Ecclesiastes ends with this exhortation. 12:13 reads, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God, and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”

The second lesson that the book of Ecclesiastes teaches about wise living is rejoicing in hard, honest work. Even though Solomon portrayed work in a negative light because of he found no meaning or purpose in it of itself, he commends labor that is done in wisdom and honoring of God (2:25). 2:12-13 affirms the value and satisfaction of work when done in recognition of God’s goodness, “I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor – it is the gift of God.” In accepting everything as a gift of his Creator and Provider, even in a sinful world, people are enabled to see “good” in his labor and pursuits. This makes life satisfying and less vain than if done without recognition of God’s existence or providence.

Recognizing God’s existence, fearing Him, and appreciating life’s gifts as coming from Him, Solomon is able to claim that “nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot.” Whatever the Lord has given to His children to do in this life, they are expected to do it with all their might (9:10). In contrast to the folly of riches and possessions without God, those who consider God as the source of wealth are able to take pleasure in the gifts and achievements of life. Such work proves to be a person’s reward from God, which makes life purposeful and satisfying. That is why Solomon (the Preacher) can say in 9:7: “Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink you wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.”

The book of Ecclesiastes is a wise work that rightly analyzes the futility of life’s purpose without the existence and providence of God. Because God exists and He has a purpose for His children, believers can live with confidence that life and all its pursuits have meaning and satisfaction. As long as people recognize the good gifts that God has given them and carry out pursuits in life to the honor of God with fear and reverence, then they can have satisfaction in all that they do.

Meeting Mitch Glaser

March 13, 2014 10:01 pm









Mitch Glaser came to speak at The Master’s Seminary Chapel this morning. Dr. Glaser is the president of Chosen People Ministries, an organization devoted to reaching the Jewish people with the gospel, and is the author of several books including To the Jew First. A pleasure. 

Next week…Iain Murray!

Ask Steve: N.T. Wright and Justification

March 10, 2014 6:17 pm











Question: Steve, what is the biblical doctrine of justification? Some guy I know at work is reading N.T Wright and he is saying that justification is not really about the Gospel. Is that true?  

Answer: The doctrine of justification is a soteriological concept that has much to do with the gospel. It is a non-negotiable part of the gospel. In fact, it is a major part of the gospel. With a distorted understanding of justification, a person is in big danger of following in on another gospel, which cannot save a sinner. This is why it is important to have a truthful understanding of this important doctrine.

Justification can be simply defined as the act of making a person right with and just before God. Justification is God’s declaring those who receive Christ by faith to be blameless. Believers are declared righteous not because of their own merits, for no man is inherently righteous in God’s eyes (Rom 3:10). Rather, believers are seen by God as righteous because of an alien righteousness that is credited or imputed to their account (2 Cor 5:21). This is the righteousness of Christ, His perfect life that is credited to believers so that they may be counted as innocent and righteous in God’s eyes. This righteousness is a legal status granted to the believer, and does not speak of personal works before God. This principle is seen in passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Romans 3:21-26.

This justification is a one-time event that happens when we repent and put our faith in Jesus Christ. It is not a lifelong process where we demonstrate our righteousness in order to find justification at the end of life. Justification does not make us righteous, but rather pronounces us righteous. Our righteousness comes from Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that are counted to us by our faith in Him. His sacrifice covers our sins and allows God to see us as perfect, innocent, and unblemished, as if we had lived the perfect, law-abiding life of God the Son. This meets God’s standard of perfection, and on account of this, we are declared just in God’s sight at the moment of our conversion.

Justification is essentially what the gospel is about – that we are guilty sinners unable to justify ourselves by our works. Christ satisfies the law on our behalf so that He can satisfy God’s justice and appease His holy wrath against sin (propitiation). By faith in Him, we can be declared innocent and have Christ’s righteousness as means to find eternal favor before the Father. Justification becomes the assurance of our salvation during the sanctification process.

Although this is the way that Bible consistently presents justification, there are many even within the evangelical camp who oppose the true doctrine of justification. They propose a theory of justification that is unbiblical and more closely resembles that of the Roman Catholics and other false monotheistic religions. A good example is N.T. Wright’s view of justification, as you have mentioned.

Wright does not believe that justification is a one-time event that happens upon the conversion of the sinner, but rather a process than finds its verdict at the end of a believer’s life. This may seem like a replica of Roman Catholic soteriology, but Wright is adamant to note a few important differences in his view. Wright’s view of justification is based on how he understands such doctrines as Christ’s atonement and the religious atmosphere of 2ndTempleJudaism. Wright’s interpretation of justification is based on his interpretation of the ‘righteousness’ which Paul spoke of in the book of Romans. Wright claims that this righteousness does not mean imputed righteousness, but really stands for “covenant faithfulness.” Wright comes to this conclusion by subordinating the law-court analogy as merely a tool to affirm that a believer is in God’s covenant family, and not the means by which someone is declared righteous and fully qualified to have eternal life.

By this illustration, it becomes obvious that Wright does not believe in penal substitution, which is the doctrine that is appropriately linked with imputed righteousness and forensic justification. In fact, Wright does not see imputed righteousness as a valid concept in both the OT and the NT, but rather the idea that once someone comes to faith, he is included in the “covenant family of God,” which is what it means to be forgiven of sin and be declared righteous. Wright does not see the religion of the Pharisees and the Sadducees as a works-righteousness system that replaced biblical Judaism.

Wright understands Second Temple Judaism to be much like Christianity – a grace based religion where people are saved when they come to faith in Yahweh and their works only testify to the reality of their inclusion in God’s covenant family. Their obedience to the Torah both testifies to and is the grounds in which believers stay within the covenant community of God. Wright claims that the thing that Paul was criticizing was not Judaism’s works-righteousness, but their imposition of Jewish cultural markers (ex. circumcision, Sabbath observances, apparel) onto the Gentiles, and their failure to recognize Christ as the new object of faith. This theory of Paul’s teaching as it relates to salvation and the era of theSecondTempleis called the New Perspective on Paul. This theory by Wright is not true, substantiated, or biblical. It is based on a historical-critical interpretation of Scripture, which is essentially theory based and not taking Scripture for what it says in its plain sense (grammatical-historical). 

This is important to document because it gives us the rationale behind Wright’s understanding of justification. Since the Jews believed that justification happened at the end of one’s life after a lifetime of covenant law obedience, Wright takes this cue and applies it to Christianity as well to keep the sense of continuity between the OT and NT method of salvation. According to Wright’s theology, a Christian is not justified at the time of his faith in Christ, but enters into the process when he becomes a believer. He finds full justification at the end of his life after having successfully persevered in faith and bearing the fruits that are supposed to be evident in every believer’s life.

As we can see from Wright’s view of justification, this is not a picture of what the gospel is. It is a distortion of the gospel and leans dangerously close to a works-righteousness type of religion pretty similar to Catholic and Islamic soteriology. The Catholic view of the justification (and sanctification) process is that the believer keeps the law and does works as merit to find acquittal upon death. N.T. Wright also views justification and sanctification as the same process, whereas the believer keeps the law because he has been included in God’s covenant family, yet there is a possibility that he can lose his salvation or be declared guilty if he has not performed yet enough.

Whatever the case is, both Catholicism and New Perspectivism justification with sanctification, thus making the gospel into a message not about Christ’s righteousness that covers a sinner, but his own that maintains or works for his salvation, whether the believer was ever included in a covenant community or not. This is the danger of ridding of the doctrines of Christ’s righteousness, forensic justification, and penal substitution from the gospel message. When that happens, the gospel is no longer good news. It is no longer different from the false hopes offered by other religions that stress the importance of human achievement in the salvific process.

We must stand up for the truth of what Scripture teaches and affirm that justification is really about the gospel. Without a proper view of justification, the gospel is utterly destroyed. In essence, there is no gospel, and possibly no salvation. 


Recommended Resource: The Future of Justification by John Piper

2014 Shepherd’s Conference

March 10, 2014 1:05 am

I attended the 2014 Shepherd’s Conference hosted by Grace Community Church of Sun Valley, CA. It was a three day event that went from March 5-7. Speakers this year included John MacArthur, Steve Lawson, Mark Dever, Phil Johnson, Tom Pennington, and Paul Washer. Here are some pictures from the event:









A view from outside the street.


















People gathering to eat breakfast next to the Seminary office/library.










With pastor/author Mark Dever










The bookstore from all the major Christian publishers in the Family Center










With Mike Fabarez, as heard on 99.5 KKLA at 3:30 pm!










Meeting Paul Washer during one of the seminars












A power outage during the sermon. However, John MacArthur continued to preach from the pulpit, in the dark, using a flashlight! Inspirational.








Al Mohler even framed the picture!


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