Ask Steve: The Meaning of Jesus’ Death

April 28, 2014 4:50 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I am still new to the Christian faith. Why did Christ have to die?

Answer: There are many historical and modern day answers to this question, but only one is correct. Christ died to bring about our eternal salvation. It was in accordance with God’s plan from before the creation of the world, in which this way of salvation was set in response to the anticipation of the Fall of Man so that God’s wrath against sin and injustice would be satisfied, and that He would have for Himself a redeemed people (His church) for all eternity. Christ’s death on the cross was absolutely necessary to satisfy God’s justice and to bring about our salvation from the penalty of sin, which is eternity in hell.

As mentioned in a previous question, men were made in the image of God. However, they have alienated themselves from God and incurred an eternal debt by breaking His law. Because God is righteous and just, He will punish the guilty. This is the purpose of the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). At this event, God will expose every evil deed to light (Romans 2:6), and if a sinner is guilty, he will be served justice and end up in the lake of fire for all eternity.

Through Christ’s crucifixion onCalvary, God was able to satisfy His justice so that He can show mercy to sinners. Christ lived a perfect and sinless life, and He offered Himself on the cross as the substitutionary (penal) sacrifice for our sins, satisfying God’s wrath against sin. God punished Christ instead of us. Christ suffered on our behalf. This is the essence of the atonement. Therefore, God can dismiss our case and declare us eternally innocent. We are presented as righteous before God because of Jesus’ imputed righteousness to us, which is Jesus’ perfect life that is credited to our account so that God can see the perfect life of Christ lived in us (2 Corinthians 5:21). That righteousness is credited to us on account of our faith in and union with Jesus. We abide in Christ by repenting and believing in Him as Lord and Savior (John 3:16, Romans 10:9).

In summation, Jesus’ death fulfilled the demands of God’s law (Matthew 5:17), fulfilled the types of the Old Testament that pointed to Him (Hebrews 9), and fulfilled the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). With Jesus’ death, we have the opportunity to have eternal life if we cash in on what Christ had finished on the cross. We are fit to come into God’s presence forever, and to be healed of sin and its effects when we are glorified. The cross is the place where God’s justice (against sin) and God’s love (for believing sinners) meet, so that the Son can purchase for Himself a bride for all eternity. Those who reject the finished work of Christ on the cross will die their own deaths on the cross by suffering for their sins in hell in the final judgment. This is why Christ came to die, and no other gospel message must be proclaimed, or else that person or institution is to be accursed (Gal 1:1-8). There is no other way, religion, or methods that can save a person from eternal damnation and reconcile a sinner onto God. 

Ask Steve: Justification by Faith

April 24, 2014 9:35 pm

 

Currently Reading:

The Gospel Call & True Conversion

by Paul Washer

Category: Theology / Soteriology

2013, Reformation Heritage Books

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I am learning new concepts from Reformed theology, such as “justification by faith alone.” Can you tell me what this phrase means?

Answer: Even though the term “justification by faith alone” is a doctrine that was defined during the 16th century Reformation, its truth is apparent throughout Scripture. The principle of justification by faith is the teaching that all sinners are saved in the Bible by repentant faith in Christ. Even the Old Testament saints were saved by faith in God, in which God credited the righteousness of Christ to their accounts when they believed in the salvific promises of God (Gen 15:6; Heb 11). One’s personal morality or works have nothing to do with this salvation process, and is not compatible with the idea of faith (Rom 3:28; Eph 2:8-9, Tit 3:5).

Justification by faith as an instantaneous legal act of God in which He (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in His sight. This doctrine is at the core of Christian soteriology because it speaks of the means by which salvation comes to sinners. We do not achieve salvation by our works, self-righteousness, or any sense of personal morality. In other words, we do not add to our salvation, and to the finished work of Christ, by any actions or merits of our own. Rather, salvation comes to us by God’s grace alone, which is applied to us when we exercise faith in Jesus alone (Jn 3:16; Rom 10:9).

It is by faith alone that we are justified in God’s sight, which means we are judicially declared no longer guilty and culpable for our sins, but are innocent in the forensic sense. Our guilt and debt is not only taken away, but we are counted as perfect and righteousness because of Christ’s righteousness. We are imputed the righteousness of Christ (Christ’s perfect, sinless life lived on our behalf) when we are united to Jesus Christ by faith. This act brings us a righteous standing before God (Romans 3:20, 26, 28). God sees the righteousness of Christ in us when we abide in Christ by faith (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our own righteousness is as filthy rags in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6) and will be judged justly by God. That is why we need the righteousness of Christ to clothe us. That righteousness comes to us solely by faith and not by any of our own personal merits to earn or deserve it. 

Because of Christ’s active obedience (perfect conformity to God’s moral law), He was acknowledged by the Father as the only righteous and just man who ever lived. On the cross, He fulfilled the justice of God and turned God’s wrath away from the elect. When a sinner believes by faith, God takes Christ’s just life and imputes it to the sinner’s life, counting him as just in God’s sight as if he had perfectly fulfilled the law.

This is the essence of justification by faith. By faith alone, the work of Christ is credited to our account so we can be declared innocent, just, righteous, and holy, and have eternal life in the presence of a righteous, holy Lord forever. Any teaching that distorts justification by faith (ex. faith plus works, justification as not a one-time event but a process) attacks the heart of the gospel and does not lead to saving faith, for it is a different gospel altogether.

Ask Steve: Anthropology

April 21, 2014 8:03 pm

 

Currently Reading:

Pleasing God: Discovering the Meaning and Importance of Sanctification

by R.C. Sproul

Category: Christian Living

2012, David C. Cook

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I am studying biblical counseling and trying to understand the relationship between secular science and biblical theology. What role does anthropology play in counseling theory and practice?

Answer: Since anthropology is the science and study of humanity, it plays a significant part in any counseling theory and practice. Effective biblical counseling must begin with understanding who and what humanity is. When we understand that humanity is not a random product of evolution, but rather a purposeful creation by God made in the divine image (Genesis 1:27), we begin to understand the significance of men and their purpose here on earth. Furthermore, when we understand the innate depravity and fallenness of humanity (Romans 3:23), we correctly address the problem with people, which is their sinful nature which needs to be changed by the Lord. Transformation only comes through the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit when the sinner repents and trusts in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11).

A wrong understanding of anthropology would be to assume that man evolved from primitive forms, is not anymore special than other life forms, has no moral absolutes to abide by, is innately good by nature, and can transform or reform himself. If one adopts a humanistic worldview, then he already builds a weak foundation to counseling practice. It would seek to change counselees in the superficial sense, placing little emphasis on the supernatural elements of the counselee’s healing (ex. regeneration, sanctification by the Spirit, sin). It would also mimic secular psychology practices of shifting personal blame and guilt on other factors such as societal influence or genetic makeup, and appeal to the person’s sense of inner “goodness” or self-esteem to bring about the desired change. These enlightenment approaches of behavior science must not be the underlying theories that propel true biblical counseling. This is the problem with secular anthropology and psychology, which biblical counselors must be aware of when trying to relate anthropology to effective biblical counseling and practice.

Counseling theory and practice must begin with a faithful biblical worldview. It all starts with a correct understanding of the history and nature of man, as well as His maker, Yahweh. Counselors must recognize that there is a supernatural world that exists alongside the natural one, that God is the Creator of all things, that men are made to worship God and are accountable for their responses to God, are sinful and incur the eternal wrath of God, need to be reconciled to a holy God through the perfect God-Man Jesus Christ, and need to be grow daily in Christlikeness according to God’s perfect and sufficient word, the Bible.

When this is established, the counselor has an accurate anthropological lens in which to approach every counselee. To the unbeliever, the counselor’s task is to evangelize them so that the counselee may repent of sin and trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. No unbeliever is receptive to the teachings of Scripture because they are spiritually appraised (1 Cor 2:14-15), therefore it is useless to counsel him like a believer. Once he gets saved, then the counselor understands that his primary task is to exhort the counselee to pursue Christlikeness by abandoning the sinful habits that they are being counseled for and putting on the fruits of the Spirit in its place (Eph 4:24; Gal 5:22-23). In other words, the counselor understands his role to edify the saints, so that the counselee may grow in his sanctification. 

Ask Steve: Who is Man?

April 16, 2014 9:51 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, can you explain to me, in a biblical definition, who or what is man?

Answer: Man is a creation of God who is made in God’s image, according to Genesis 1:27. He is composed of both a physical body and a spiritual soul. Within the six day creation, God created living creatures, but man is the pinnacle of God’s creation. As one made in God’s image, man reflects the capacity to understand moral absolutes, the existence of God, life, death, and eternal matters. He also has the capacity to understand stewardship and to have dominion/rule over the earth (Gen 1:28), which is something that has not been granted to angels or animals. Man was made for one purpose: to glorify God. Man was created by God to enjoy God, take delight in Him, and have an eternal relationship with Him. He has a responsibility to love God with all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength (Mk 12:30) and, in keeping with the first commandment, to love his neighbor as himself (Mk 12:31).

However, the fall of Adam and Eve destroyed the innate goodness and innocent of man and caused all of humanity to be born with a sinful nature. Men are born spiritually dead, depraved, and prone to an inescapably sinful lifestyle (Rom 3:10, 23). Though men are still crafted in God’s image, the image of God within them has been distorted. They have lost the ability to seek after God and be righteous, both judicially and practically (Romans 3:10). When man applies the redemptive work of Christ in his life, he is re-birthed by the Holy Spirit and given the ability to seek after God and worship Him. This is a progressive recovery of God’s image which is part of the sanctification process. Man fully recovers his God-intended nature upon his future glorification (2 Corinthians 3:18).

It is imperative to define who man is because of the implications it has on his life, including counseling. Man is not an evolved animal, which would rid him of moral accountability to God and give him no sense of real hope of spiritual healing. Every person living today is an offspring of the first two human beings God created (Adam and Eve), who both sinned against God and brought original sin into the world. When this is understand, we see that we are all born sinners since we are all descended from a common ancestry. There is no such thing as a truly good and righteous person who is in no need of God’s salvation. Thus, a human being is spiritually dead, totally depraved, and on their way to God’s eternal judgment when they die, unless they are made righteous by faith in Christ. Christ’s death on the cross is efficacious and is necessary for man. It can save anyone who has been affected by the Fall. In summation, man is made in God’s image, yet his image was distorted by sin. He is depraved and in need of God’s saving faith, which God grants through His Son Jesus Christ alone. Through faith in Him, man is saved from the penalty, power, and presence of sin, and becomes fully human again as God originally intended (morally spotless, impeccably obedient, and holistic).

 

Recommended Resource: Created in God’s Image by Anthony Hoekema

Ask Steve: General Revelation vs. Special Revelation

April 14, 2014 6:04 pm

 

Why Church Matters: Discovering Your Place in the Family of God

by Joshua Harris

Category: Christian Living

2011, Multnomah Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I have often heard of the term “general revelation.” Can you explain to me what general revelation is, and what is the Bible’s authority in contrast to general revelation? 

Answer: General revelation is the disclosure of God in nature and the constitution of man whereby all people gain an introductory knowledge of God. It is the universal means by which God reveals His existence to the entire world so that no person can claim ignorance about God’s existence and His moral requirements, whether in this life or when they face God on Judgment Day (Rev 20:11-15). God reveals Himself in general revelation in two ways: 1). Through creation (Rom 1:18:25; Acts 14:15-17; Ps 19:1-6) and, 2). Through the human conscience (Rom 2:14-16), where everybody on earth has a basic understanding of absolute right and wrong. These two facts testify to an ultimate Creator and Lawgiver that is the one true God.

According to Romans 1:18-25, general revelation is authoritative in the sense that it will hold sinners accountable for rejecting God. God created the world in six days and continues to sustain it to this day, revealing His power and divine nature through what has been created. Some of these attributes include His goodness, wisdom, and eternality (Acts 17:23-28; Ps 19). For this reason, all men have no excuse of rejecting God. Even if people have never heard of the gospel, Christ, or the Bible, they are still under the accountability of general revelation, for if they reject such truths, they reject any means for the gospel to come to them. General revelation is also authoritative in that God’s moral law is binding on all people and informs them that they must obey His statues, otherwise there will be consequences. The sinner’s conscience tells the sinner what is right and wrong, just and unjust (Rom 2:14-16). The fact that people can respond to the voice of their conscience in obedience (ex. to not murder, cheat, disrespect others) shows that they are indirectly submitting to a God who calls for obedience, and has ultimate authority.

However, general revelation does not have the same authority as God’s special revelation – the Bible. General revelation cannot save a sinner or help him fully understand the will and character of God. General revelation does not supernaturally or directly inform sinners about such things as the lake of fire, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and what they must do to be saved (believe in Jesus by repentant faith). That information comes from Scripture alone, which is a theological concept called special revelation.

Salvation is only possible when one responds to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12, John 14:6). This demonstrates the fact that the Word of God (found in the Bible) is more authoritative and more necessary than the works of God found in general revelation, because without the Bible, no one can ever be saved or come to live the life that God purposes for humans to live (sanctification). This is why evangelism and missions (the propagating of special revelation to the ends of the earth) is crucial for the spiritual well-being of every sinner on earth. 

 

 

Ask Steve: Theological Controversies

April 9, 2014 9:41 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what is the Bible’s authority on theological controversies?

Answer: Theological differences arise from different readings and interpretation of Scripture. Theological controversies also happen when the traditions of men and human reasoning are placed on equal or higher authority than the Bible. As I explained in the previous questions, the Bible clearly states that it alone is authoritative and infallible in a person’s life. Thus, it must be the final arbiter in all theological and doctrinal disputes.

Theological systems define what churches and denominations believe about topics of the Bible or what is the dominant framework of the Bible (e.g. Covenantal Theology, Dispensational Theology). However, theological systems can never be on par with the authority of Scripture. Unlike the Bible, theological systems and doctrinal statements are not inerrant and infallible. The Word of God is the only authority over the church and the world, therefore it needs to be the standard to which every theological controversy and difference is measured against. Jude 1:3 points to the importance of contending earnestly for the faith and standing up for the truth when false teachers attack the sufficiency and purity of Scripture. Theological errors and controversies are to be clarified using the words of Scripture alone, which provide the answers to theological controversies that may have arise because of fallen reasoning, human wisdom, or sinful personal motives.

Because God is sovereign and authoritative over the world (Rev 4:11; Ps 22:28), He is the ultimate Judge, and His verdict is supremely binding (Ps 119:89; Jn 10:35). Because the Bible is God’s Word, the Bible is supreme and binding against all other authorities. All proper formulation of doctrines and theological systems must be derived from Scripture and not from personal opinion, subjective feelings, humanistic theories, competing world religions, or cultural traditions. To go against Scripture in such manner would be to compromise the faith and could cease to be Christian. A proper understanding of Scripture can be reached through grammatical-historical hermeneutics, which is a timelessly tested way to read Scripture and decipher its God-intended meaning. Some false theological systems and controversies arise when one reads Scripture using poor hermeneutics or misreads with an impure motive.

However, 2 Timothy 2:24 instructs Christians to “not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition…” The end goal is not to win a debate or display prideful knowledge over another, but to tell the truth in love, and keep the spirit of fellowship. There are times when theological disputes will be over peripheral issues and not over central beliefs of the Christian faith. In such cases, discernment is advisable so as to keep unity within the church. But when opportunity allows for doctrinal refinement in peripheral issues like modes of baptism or rapture theories, then Scripture must be the arbiter to test, define, and formulate the beliefs and practices of the church.  

Ask Steve: Sign Gifts

April 7, 2014 5:25 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what is your view on the gift of healing, miracles, tongues and the interpretation of tongues? Do these gifts still exist today? 

Answer: The gift of healing, miracles, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues were gifts that the Lord granted to the apostles and to certain Christians during the 1st century apostolic era. These are sign gifts, to be distinguished from other practical gifts such as administration, teaching, hospitality, discernment, etc. A noticeable debate of this age is whether these gifts are still operative today or if they had ceased during the 1st century apostolic era. If they had ceased, then what was their function during the apostolic age that is no longer applicable today? The Bible teaches that the sign gifts were meant to be temporary, to authenticate God’s new revelation, and to establish the foundation of the church.

Scripture and church history both testify that the miraculous sign gifts were not normative for Christians of all ages and were temporary in nature. The word of God became the self-authenticating, standard of revelation to teach and edify the saints thereafter, and has proven to be adequate for the instruction of the saints (2 Tim 3:16-17; Matt 5:17-18), showing that there was no need or purpose for the miraculous sign gifts in the church. Whenever these “sign gifts” appeared from time to time in history, they were always questionable versions that did not match the biblical description of what their appearances and functions were in the apostolic times, and were demonstrated by heretical groups who were preaching false gospels and false doctrine (such as the Montanists).

In the Bible, God granted His spokesmen the gifts of miracles, prophecy, and tongues to authenticate the gospel (Heb 2:3-4). It was meant to confirm the apostles (Acts 5:12; 2 Cor 12:12), and to confirm the messenger and messenger (Acts 4:29-30). In other words, the miraculous sign gifts were a visible demonstration that God was bringing in new prophetic revelation that was to be followed and binding thereafter. When the writing of the New Testament books were completed, the sign gifts were no longer mentioned in the latter NT books, and progressive church history (from the early church fathers through to the Reformation Period) shows that these miraculous gifts most likely ceased.

Finally, the sign gifts were meant to establish the foundations of the church. Peter had the gift of healing (Acts 3:6-8), which affirmed his message and helped to establish the church. Once God’s Word was authenticated, the New Testament words became self-authenticating, authoritative, and efficacious for building up the church in holiness and love, which is why the apostolic sign gifts ceased (1 Cor 13:8). This means that continuing revelation had also ceased when the New Testament canon closed with the writing of the book of Revelation (Rev 22:18-19). In other words, there was no longer any need for gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing. Although God continues to perform miracles and healing throughout history to demonstrate His mercy, His glory, and to progress His sovereign purposes, He does not gift individuals (ex. prophets and apostles) like He did in biblical times to perform miraculous signs, speak in foreign languages, or speak inerrant prophecy for the sake of revealing new truths for the church.

Though there is still much confusion regarding the issue of tongues, interpretation, healing, prophecy, careful biblical interpretation and church history rightfully inform us that the sign gifts were never meant to be normative for all ages, but were exclusive to the apostolic era, were meant to authenticate God’s apostolic witness, and to establish the foundation of the church. Since these causes (new revelation, building of the church) were non-repeatable events, the effects (sign gifts) are not necessary today and not practical, which is why we should not elevate signs and wonders, especially at the expense of more important core truths of the faith. 

 

Recommended Resource: Strange Fire by John MacArthur

Ask Steve: The Trinity

April 2, 2014 6:15 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what is the Trinity? Why do you believe it is biblical? How is each member of the Trinity the same? How are they different in their roles?

Answer: Although the word Trinity does not appear in the Bible and is a doctrinal formulation of the Council of Nicea, its truths are nevertheless found throughout Scripture, making the concept of the Trinity, or the Triune God, not only absolute, but an indispensable doctrine of the Christian faith, without which anyone can be saved. A proper understanding of the Godhead is important for salvific purposes, and even for the life of the church in terms of worshipping God in spirit and in truth, and for doctrines that are related to the Trinity. This short response will set out to define what the Trinity is, why belief in the Trinity is important, how each member of the Trinity is the same, and how each member of the Trinity is different.

First off, it important to begin by understanding what is the Trinity. The Trinity is the One living God who exists eternally in three separate Persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. The triune nature of God is first revealed in Genesis 1:26. Although Trinitarian Old Testament references cannot be as dogmatically affirmed as with New Testament references, passages such as Genesis 1:26 and 3:22 give a strong indication of a plurality of Persons within the Godhead. God’s Trinitarian nature, however, is fully ascertained in the New Testament, particularly in the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16-17, where the Son of God is present, the Father speaks from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove onto the Son for empowerment of ministry. There is no more persons and no less persons in the Godhead.

This is why belief in the Trinity is important. Every Christian must believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because this is what distinguishes the Christian faith from every other religion. To disbelieve in the Triune God is to strike at the heart of the gospel and the Christian faith. There is no saving faith if one gets the Trinity wrong. Every other monotheistic religion is Unitarian and even attack the idea of the Trinity, why is why Christians must be on guard against this onslaught. Scripture makes it clear that Jesus is God (Jn 1:1; Jn 10:30) and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3). To be saved, a person must believe that Jesus is God (Rom 10:9; Jn 20:28), therefore a belief in the Triune nature of God is indispensable in saving faith. 

The members of the Trinity are the same in that each person is fully, irreducibly God, with all the attributes of God. The Father is eternal, omniscience, omnipotent, loving, just, righteousness as much as the Son is and the Spirit is. Each Person is fully God and to be worshipped. Each Person is different in that each are separate Persons, and there exists an order to the Persons, which is not an ontological ranking of superiority in essence or being, but of responsibility. The Father honors loves and honors the Son (Phil 2:9); the Son submits to the Father (1 Cor 5:11; Acts 4:27), and the Holy Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son (Jn 16:13; 7:18). To further illustrate how their roles differ: The Father is the source of all revelation and who foreknew our salvation and demonstrated His love for us by giving His only Son (Rom 8:29); the Son is the one who incarnated Himself and gave Himself as a sacrifice for sin and now intercedes as the eternal God-Man for us (Jn 1:1; Phil 2:8); the Spirit indwells the believer and works to sanctify the believer through the illumination of the Word of God (Jn 16:13; Phil 2:12). They are three separate Persons, but in indivisible communion as the one true God.

The Trinity may seem to be a complex issue, but it is at the heart of the Christian faith and cannot be compromised. Scripture teaches that the Triune God is a reality. It demonstrates what the Trinity is, why Christians must believe, how the members of the Trinity are the same and how they are different from each other. In this, we know how we are to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. 

 

Recommended Resource: Father Son & Holy Spirit by Bruce A. Ware