On the night that Jesus was born, shepherds came to the manger to worship Him. They found the experience so spiritually beneficial that they said to Joseph, “All of Bethlehem should be joining us! Go out and find more worshipers!”
“Will we have enough room?” Mary asked. “Bethlehem is not a large town, but even so, I’m not sure we can fit them all.”
“We’ve already seen miracles tonight,” Joseph said. “The Lord will provide for the worshipers.”
So Joseph went out into the streets of Bethlehem to invite the residents to come worship their king. When he got to the first door, he knocked and a young man answered. Continue reading
“Ruth and Boaz” by Barent Fabritius, circa 1660
The torrent of sexual misconduct allegations that have overwhelmed us these past few weeks were a long time coming. This type of sin has existed in every culture and at every point in history. The gender revolution of the past few decades allowed us to believe that we as a society had put such things behind us: that women would be treated as equals, child abuse was no longer acceptable, and people would show each other a certain amount of respect. After all, we thought, we’re not barbarians.
I am sorry to inform you that we are, in fact, barbarians. There is no getting around the fact that powerful men still abuse less powerful women. In fact, it would be far more accurate to say that powerful people abuse less powerful people, because we see males abused by males, males abused by females, and females abused by females. While the greater number of complaints fit the standard powerful male/less powerful female model, I do not wish to minimize anyone’s suffering by pretending that it doesn’t exist.
Perhaps you are beginning to feel that when the man who’s been reading you the news for years, the beloved college football coach, the kindly priest, the president of the United States, and the actor waxing eloquently about social justice all have dirty hands, there is no one left for you to trust. Perhaps you are tempted to think that sexual harassment and abuse are simply par for the course, and those with power will always abuse it. You do not reach this conclusion because you believe it is morally right, but as a way of protecting yourself from further disappointment.
There is some truth in the phrase, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” which was first coined by John Dalberg-Acton but had been expressed in slightly different ways much earlier. Power does not actually make us sinful, but it allows sin to become much more damaging…and excusable. Therefore, we might begin to assume that there is a kind of inevitability to this all: men with power will always take advantage of that power. They cannot do otherwise. They’re only human. Continue reading
“The Marriage of the Virgin” by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-6 (from “Scenes from the Life of the Virgin”)
As we near that magical day when children will eat far too many sweets and parents will get far too little sleep, we are continually reminded that the Christmas season isn’t just about Santa Claus, elves, and reindeer (a.k.a. caribou). Slogans such as “Put Christ back in Christmas!” and “Jesus is the reason for the season!” abound, all of them meant to call our minds back to the true meaning of the holiday, or at least question whether or not atheists should be allowed to join in the fun.
One saying that seems to have a stronger theological grounding is some variation on the following: “Jesus Christ was born in order to die.” The motivation behind this choice of phrase is a good one. While the manger, angels, and donkey are all nice, the story of Christmas cannot be properly told without mentioning the problem Jesus came to solve. He was not born merely to proclaim peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Rather, He came to save us from our deadliest enemy: sin. The peace He brought us is not a temporary, earthly one, but rather an eternal, heavenly one. He made it possible for us to be permanently at peace with God.
Therefore, it is entirely appropriate and even necessary to link the incarnation of Jesus Christ with His atonement. Christmas means nothing without Easter. The first step in appreciating Christmas is to understand that the Son of God took on flesh to make an end of death and sin. His sacrifice allows us to be forgiven. We must never lose sight of that fact or diminish its importance.
Nevertheless, stating that Jesus was born to die puts us in danger of minimizing other parts of His work that were equally important and necessary. The Son of God became incarnate as a human being not only to remove our sin, but also to make us righteous. Yes, those two things are connected, but they are not exactly the same. Continue reading
I was recently honored to appear on the Mortification of Spin podcast and talk with my friend Aimee Byrd and frenemy Dr. Carl Trueman about my new historical novel, The Girl Empress. You can listen to the podcast at this link or through the iTunes store. I thoroughly recommend Mortification of Spin to you for all your theological podcast needs, provided you remember they are all lapsed Baptists in need of God’s grace. (That’s a little joke. Nice Presbys.)
NASA photo of the Omega Nebula
Why does God love us? How does He love us? These seem like appropriate questions to be asking at a time of year when we are celebrating God’s love as evidenced in Christ’s Incarnation. A thousand hymns proclaim to us the love of God, and yet there is some disagreement as to exactly how and why we receive that love. Does God love everyone equally? Does He love you now as much as He ever will? Is there anything you can do to gain more of His love?
Perhaps you have heard a statement like this at some point in your life: “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more. He loves you unconditionally.” I have certainly heard such things on numerous occasions. They are typically spoken as words of comfort to doubting hearts, or words of correction to those who pursue works righteousness. However, there are some who proclaim them unbiblical.
This is a topic of great practical importance for the average believer. It is no crime to want to understand if, how, and why God loves you. If we go to great lengths to pursue the love of human beings, then we surely ought to be putting in an even greater effort to earn the love of God Almighty. But is there any amount of effort that can earn God’s love?
Some debate whether God’s love is conditional or unconditional, or if in fact it is partially one and partially the other. These terms can have different meanings for various people, but the real issues at hand are whether God loves all human beings, if He loves them all in the same way, on what basis He loves, and if there is anything we can possibly do to increase His love. Continue reading
“Abraham’s Journey from Ur to Canaan” by József Molnár, circa 1850
In the previous article, I began my consideration of the Abrahamic Covenant on its own, without specifically tying it to the Old Covenant. I made my case, based on the writings of the Apostle Paul, that Abraham had two progenies: a physical progeny and a spiritual progeny. Each had its own way of being connected to Abraham, received a different set of promises, and was brought into its own covenant. There was some overlap between these two progenies, as some of Abraham’s physical descendants became part of his spiritual progeny through faith. However, there is a general distinction made between the two, and Gentiles can only be connected to Abraham through faith. Having made these points, I would like to move on and consider some other aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant that are necessary for determining its overall nature.
Was the Abrahamic Covenant a Saving Covenant?
As I discussed earlier, some of the confessionally Reformed argue that the Abrahamic Covenant was not part of the Old Covenant. Therefore, when Christ fulfilled the Old Covenant and it became obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), the covenant with Abraham remained in force. The stronger connection is not between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant, but between the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant. Now, as I have explained, this is a distinction without much of a difference, for such Christians usually still believe that the Old (Mosaic) Covenant was part of the Covenant of Grace and had the same substance as the New Covenant. However, the goal of their argument is to prove that certain aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant are maintained in the present Church.
For example, such a person would argue that the New Covenant community is comparable to national Israel of the Old Testament, because we are all under the Abrahamic Covenant. The Church is therefore a mixed community of both regenerate believers and the unregenerate. You are initiated into the covenant by birth, even as Abraham’s physical descendants were. You receive the covenant sign, which is now baptism instead of circumcision. As physical circumcision required all covenant members to be circumcised in their hearts through faith, so baptism now places a demand on New Covenant members to be united to Christ by faith or be cut off from the covenant promises. Continue reading
“The Sacrifice of Isaac” by Caravaggio, circa 1603
Hello again, friends! I seldom drone on for this long about one particular subject, but it seems you have drawn the short straw. Thank you for returning once again and tolerating my continued chatter.
Up to this point, in seeking to determine if the Old and New Covenants have the same substance, I have largely focused on the differences between the covenants made at Sinai and Calvary. This is for two reasons: 1) Most of the contrasts made in the New Testament that mention the “Old Covenant” or “first covenant” clearly refer to things that were part of the Mosaic Law. 2) Many of the confessionally Reformed persons with whom I converse reject the view that the Mosaic Covenant had any kind of different nature from the New Covenant in terms of being works-based or grace-based.
To be perfectly honest, defining the Mosaic Covenant and contrasting it with the New Covenant is a fairly straightforward business. Sure, there are people who raise objections, but I believe the Apostle Paul and the writer of Hebrews have presented us with ample evidence to suggest that the Mosaic Covenant is inferior to the New Covenant in every way. It offered temporal blessings in exchange for human works, as opposed to eternal blessings in exchange for Christ’s works.
There is, however, a more subtle argument out there that pins its hopes on the Abrahamic Covenant. In making a sharp distinction between the Old Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant, this view partially concedes the works-based nature of the Old Covenant while maintaining that there were similar grace-based natures in the Abrahamic and New Covenants. This argument has some merit to it, as we have already seen the importance of Abraham in salvation history. The Apostle Paul tells us that those who are united to Christ by faith are truly Abraham’s descendants, while also stating that the promise of a Savior was given as part of the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore, there is no question of a link between Abraham and those Gentiles who have faith. The disagreement comes in regard to the precise nature of that link and the covenant made with Abraham. Therefore, we must ask the following question. Continue reading
“Moses Striking the Rock” by Pieter de Grebber, circa 1630 (Note that Aaron is dressed like a Catholic bishop.)
Many thanks to all who have hung in there and read everything up to this point. May the Lord bless you for your kindness. I have covered enough ground that I feel almost ready to answer the question, “Do the Old Covenant and the New Covenant have the same substance?” However, it would not do for me to rush things. (Here I permit you to laugh.) I want to deal with some final points that might be raised to suggest that either the Mosaic or the Abrahamic Covenants were saving covenants. I shall continue without delay.
Was the Mosaic Covenant a Saving Covenant?
In my previous articles, I argued that the Mosaic Covenant was one and the same with the Mosaic Law, it did not have Christ as a mediator, the sacrifices were not sufficient to atone for sins, the priests could not really bring people into God’s presence, and practically everything about it was typological. In short, it was a covenant based on human working. It was not part of the Covenant of Grace. Everyone who was justified by faith prior to the coming of Christ actually received that imputed righteousness through the New Covenant.
Two objections have commonly been raised in response to this argument: 1) Although God’s people under the Mosaic Covenant had different and typological sacraments, they nevertheless received Christ through these sacraments. 2) It would not have been possible for the Old Testament saints to have been saved under a covenant that had not yet been inaugurated. Therefore, they must have been saved through the Old Covenant. Continue reading
WARNING: After reading this article, you may have a sudden desire for a glass of wi…err…grape juice and some ciabatta dipped in olive oil.
Back again? How kind of you! Today I am going to discuss an issue of great practical importance. Every person longs for assurance of salvation. God has promised that those He knew and loved before the foundation of the world will not only be justified, but also sanctified and glorified. They will persevere to the end.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
Christians who hold to the view of soteriology known as monergism believe that those who are elected by God for salvation will most certainly be brought to life spiritually by the power of the Holy Spirit. They will just as assuredly be united to Christ and justified by His imputed righteousness. However, one disagreement among monergists comes in regard to the nature of the Old and New Covenants. Continue reading