Two Kingdoms

It saddens me to see so many Christians get wrapped up in politics. we have virtually no sense of history (the early days of what used to 26822be a representative republic were far wilder than the current election cycle) and seem to have lost sight of the two kingdoms in play. Augustine likened them to Two Cities.

The Bible is clear – God created three units of government for this age: the family, the state, and the church. We do not read of any of the apostles nor the Lord trying to overthrow the Roman government, although that is the charge brought against Jesus by the Jewish leaders.

We are not selecting a theologian-in-chief this year. We have not had a solid Christian man in the White House in the past 100 years; all of them have put politics above Truth for the most part. We play into the hands of the world when we try make this country into the mold we imagine for it. But no matter how much we desire a secure temporal future under a God-fearing government, that is not where our security lies.

The best thing for this country would be political leaders who cling to the Constitution, just as the best thing for our local churches are men who cling to the Scripture.

The political machinery in D.C. all works together to consolidate power at the national level (the Whig Party lives in the policies of both current parties). No matter if your favorite President was Woodrow Wilson, Ronald Reagan, GW Bush, or Bill Clinton (all professing Christians) – none of those men were able to put this country on the foundation of Scripture. That is not the job of the President.

If your view is that you must vote for a truly godly person as President, how is your position different from the Jews who clamored for a king like the pagan nations had, discontent with having YHWH as their King?

A President who will work against the status-quo and try to push the national government back to it charter document will do this country good, no matter what you or I think of his theology.

The Shepherd and His Sheepdogs

The Shepherd and His Sheepdogs

One of the things I am passionate about is closing the gap between Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers within the body of Christ. We have become so segregated in our roles that it is almost as if they never overlap. The Pastor is in charge of the sheep, and the Evangelist is in charge of bringing the lost sheep into the fold. My dear readers, this is wrong! Just as equally wrong is the idea that the Evangelist is incapable of preaching on any other topic other than evangelism, that the burden of biblical counseling should only be left upon the head Pastor, or that Eldership belongs only to the pastors or teachers of the congregation. In accordance with Ephesians 4:11-15, I would encourage all of us to view the roles/gifts these kind of men bring to our local congregations and the universal body of Christ.

I remember an illustration a famous preacher gave one time about how the sheepdog is like the Evangelist that barks at the sheep and the sheep run into the sheepfold. Meanwhile, the sheep are taken care of by the pastor(s) of the flock. I submit to you that I have a better illustration. The Evangelist and the Pastors and Teachers are all sheepdogs. And whether they hold to the office of Elder within a particular church or not, they are going to be called by God to gather the lost sheep, rally the sheep, guide the sheep, discipline the sheep, and keep the sheep bonded in the unity and fellowship of the Holy Spirit. But you know what, they do it all underneath the command of The Shepherd! Don’t miss this point. The Shepherd guides and gives commands to the sheepdogs as to what He wants, in accordance with His will. Let me further explain what I mean.

When I visited a farm in Washington, they were having a Scottish Border Collie demonstration. They showed how these dogs rally the sheep and guide them into the sheepfold underneath the command of the shepherd. The shepherd would whistle and call out commands that would inform the dog to run, lie down, or walk at a specific pace or in a certain direction. It is really a sight to see. I wanted to upload the video I captured, but my phone crashed before I could. So I could only find this video to give some visual illustration of what I am talking about. If you watched the video, you will notice that even though the dog may have some natural instinct on what to do, the sheepdog, nevertheless, must still be underneath the guidance and direction of the shepherd. And this is where Ephesians 4:11-16 comes in.

In the work of the ministry, all those who are gifts to the body as Ephesians says overlap in some way concerning their work among the sheep. I hope to write a book about how the Evangelist needs to be reclaimed and reintegrated back into our local churches, but for now, understand that true Evangelists are not lone wolves. They are sheepdogs, just like the pastors and teachers, among the body that listen to the voice of The Good Shepherd, my Lord Jesus. Although there can be street preachers who may not necessarily be Evangelists in accordance with Ephesians 4 (which isn’t a bad thing), and there may be some who claim to be Evangelists but preach a false gospel and disdain the body of Christ (which is a bad thing), an Evangelist called by God will fulfill their ministry not just by calling the lost to repentance and bringing people into the fold, but by building up the body, perfecting the saints, teaching sound doctrine, and many other things that seem to be only “the pastors job.”

If you think about this, this is one of the reasons why the plurality of Elders is not just biblical, but essential wisdom. I strongly assert that Evangelists are an essential piece on God’s chess board. Even if it was just one man in a small congregation, he should nevertheless do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5). Also, even though an Evangelist may be typified by church planting, missionary work (local or overseas), and/or proclaiming the gospel among the heathen in the local area, the pastors and teachers among us should be doing some of the very same things! And if you’re thinking consistently about the Great Commission, every Christian is called to do their part in the work of making disciples. But regarding our ministerial duty to the body, as sheepdogs, we are called as a team that heeds the voice of our Shepherd to do the joyous labor of serving the body while we endeavor in the very same mission. And whether it is building up the body by adding to the church, or by edifying and perfecting those already added, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers must rally together more than ever underneath the sound of Jesus’ voice to protect, guide, unify, and edify His sheep.

I am pleading with those of you who are leaders to stop putting Evangelists in the evangelistic sand box to play outside the church as if that is their sole domain.  We can do better than this! There are many Evangelists who are fit to lead and exegete the Scriptures and can provide relief to their fellow sheepdogs. Their heart may lie in a passion for lost souls, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a passion for God’s people either. We may differ in personalities, strengths, and abilities, but so do the many of pastors and teachers in our congregations. Evangelists are no different. We desire to train and build up and lead the sheep just as much as any of the others who are called to the work.

One thing I remember about my time at that farm was all the sheepdogs on the sidelines, chained to the fence, aching to get in the field and work among the sheep. They were zealous, eager, knowledgeable, and would jump up and down while they watched their fellow sheepdogs do the work they were also bred for. But when they were let loose, they all attentively obeyed the voice of the Shepherd. And if either them stepped out of line, or did not obey, they would be disciplined just as much as the sheep. And this applies to all sheepdogs! Some of us have been standing on the sidelines waiting for our local congregations to let us join in on the work for too long. Although anyone called by God will fulfill their calling whether blind leaders recognize it or not, they nevertheless desire to work hand in hand with other sheepdogs. The problem is, we have too many wolves in the pulpits who desire to devour the sheep and not obey the voice of the Shepherd. And unfortunately, there are too many goats that don’t mind serving themselves up on their plate every Sunday.

But that aside, if you are reading this, and you are a leader/elder/pastor among your congregation, I plead with you to join arms with your fellow sheepdog, the Evangelist. I’d love to help you on how you can best approach this. You can contact me here, and we can correspond through email. Or if you are reading this and you feel like you are called as an Evangelist, I would love to help you to study thoroughly what that means and equip you to know how you can support and approach your local church. You can also contact me here. Keep in mind, though, that in some churches, their ecclesiastical government may require that you submit underneath the Eldership. In other congregations, the Evangelist may be appointed as one of the Elders. But whatever government your church may have, one thing remains true – there are sheepdogs that are eager and called to do the work of the ministry within the body of Christ. Some are already obeying the voice of their Heavenly Shepherd. As a church, as leader, as a Christian, will you do the same?

-Until we go home

Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 3) – Eternal Punishment

Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 3) – Eternal Punishment

The distance that certain conditionalists will go to deny the obvious linguistic nature of eternal conscious torment is very disturbing. While I have already revealed in Part 2a why the fire is categorically different and in and of itself eternal, AND how it is semantically linked as the instrument and reason why those that are in it will continually endure eternal punishment (since it is indicative of God’s wrath, read Part 2b), the twisting of Scripture continues. The basic premise is that eternal punishment is not an eternal “punishING” but one of eternal “punishMENT.” In essence, what is proposed is that the eternal punishment that Jesus speaks of in Matthew does not refer to the process of being punished for an eternity, but that Jesus’ administration of the punishment (in their case the punishment is death/annihilation brought about by fire) is what is meant by eternal punishment. Therefore, that punishment which He administers lasts forever.

There are several personal observations that I must bring to the forefront before I address the linguistic/scriptural issue of this argument. 1) Language is messy business. It is one thing that I learned from studying linguistics is that many of what we take for granted everyday can often be arbitrary and ambiguous. Many of the points conditionalists make, from a linguistic standpoint, are notable nuances, but too often are exploited for their benefit. In other words, they capitalize on the ambiguities of language. This is to not say that I or anyone else is not guilty of doing such a thing, but they do it so often with clearly understandable texts like Matthew 25 that I have no choice but to assume deception (which is once again, what we are accused of). 2). A dictionary is not meant to regulate language. I know it is a habit for some to use dictionary definitions of words because it is an easy reference, but this wonderful tool simply records how the language can be used in any given context, not regulate how is should be used. In other words, it describes not prescribes. It tells you how words have been used and are conventionally used (that means by agreement) depending on the kind of dictionary you have. But they do not always capture every nuance. However, internet is changing that. So whenever we go to our dictionaries, remember that it is good to have an general understanding of what a word entails, but syntax, grammatical structuring, discourse structuring, and even idioms can break the “rules.” Therefore we are to be cautious how we bring dictionaries to make our points. Look up lexicography if you care to know more. It really is a fascinating field of linguistics. Now, unto my arguments.

Here is the first problem I see. In my last post, I mentioned how conditionalists believe that the result of the punishment is eternal. I wrote it this way because whether it is Chris Date in his podcasts/debates, or recently William Tinksley (a contributing author to Rethinking Hell), I am told something along the lines that this is not what they believe. Their correction to my statement is that they too believe in “eternal punishment,” and I am apparently wrong for saying that they believe in the results of the punishment. But then they go on to say (perhaps not all of them) that the punishment is the result of Jesus’ punishing action, or it is the duration of the punishment inflicted once which is eternal (the example given is capital punishment). So what we have here is an example of saying the same thing, just differently. By asserting that eternal punishment refers to “the result of Jesus’ punishing action” is to say, in essence, that you believe that eternal punishment in Matt 25 is implying the result, not the process. So to be corrected by saying that conditionalists do not believe that the results of the punishment is eternal is being semantically illusive. They are very good at making distinctions without making any difference, as well as proving their point without proving their position (which I’m sure I will be accused of doing).

Here’s the second problem. In order to prove their point, conditionalist compare the words redemption (using Hebrews 9:12 as an example) and punishment. Since redemption can refer to a one time act, or can refer to the results (there’s that word again) of an act, they say that this is a comparable example to the punishment administered by Christ in Matt 25. From a linguistic perspective, this is a notable nuance in any given context. Even though conditionalists are correct that punishment and redemption both can refer to a single act or a result of an act, they overlooked the very same Scripture tells us what exactly that punishment is (eternal fire), and they assume we will be burned up. But they also don’t realize that the suffixes of both punishment and redemption can imply a state or condition. Before I go to Matt 25, here is a quick breakdown of suffix usage.

The suffix -ment can refer to a state or condition. It is a way to “noun” a verb (notice I just verbed the word noun because how I placed it in the sentence. This kind of syntax is key when having these sorts of discussions. Not just how words are defined, but how they are used in any given utterance or text). For the word redemption, the suffix -tion does the same.  In both words, the suffix can imply a state or condition. In Jesus’ case, He went into the Holy place to obtain eternal redemption for us. In this case, eternal punishment refers to the state or condition of being punished. In other words, while Jesus’s obtaining the state of condition of eternal redemption for us is accomplished by the one time act of enduring the wrath of God and death, we experience the state or condition of punishment by being in eternal torment by the one time act of being thrown there (we I will explain below). But also in this case, if you are given a punishment, depending on the punishment, it can be temporary or eternal based off of how or by what means it is being administered. The effects can last even after the infliction has has passed (just like the death penalty), or you can remain in a state of condition of being punished (like a lifetime in prison). The downfall in our case is that any punishment that is meant to endure can only endure in our lifetime. And, if it does endure throughout our lifetime, it can be a punishment that is consistently being administered or undergone by an instrument or agent, or it can simply leave a lasting result (sort of like a physical scar, although emotional “scaring” is not outside the realm of semantics).  In Matthew 25, eternal punishment into eternal fire is a state or condition that the wicked find themselves in forever, eternal punishment being another way of appositionally (see Part 2b again to remember what I’m talking about here) describing that state.

Now, lest you think this can also sway in the conditionalist favor, one must understand that verbal nouns like punishment keep some semantic value of the verbal form, although they do not function as a verb. I can get pretty technical at this point, but I will save that for other posts or conversations that I may have with conditionalists. For now, punishment always has the sufferer in mind. That is, whatever the means, whatever the outcome, punishment always has the person receiving it as its focus. Seeing that the fire mentioned earlier in Matthew is eternal, and is the instrument that will forever administer the punishment, and since that fire is indicative of God’s wrath and judgment, if the fire is eternal, then the one who is experiencing that fire is in that state or condition for an eternity.

It is clear that any punishment administered in this life that is administered by man or by God, even physical death, is not eternal. The first death we experience is not forever. We will one day be resurrected. Jesus came to save us from the power of the first death (Rev 20:6; 1 cor 15:54), which by natural consequence saves us from second death. But the first death is not like the second in nature. And Scripture clearly demonstrates, at the very least in Matthew 25, as making the day of judgement and final judgment different by saying that out of all the punishments, this one will last forever. If death is the punishment as conditionalists make it out to be, then why would God have to resurrect them to only do the same thing again? This question cannot be redirected at us who believe in eternal conscious torment because while we may die, we have yet to face the wrath of God that Jesus took upon Himself on the cross before He died. And we can’t, because we would die in our current state. And if conditionalists continue to assert that the eternal fire in Jude 7 is equivalent to the eternal fire in Matthew 25 (in the sense of how they use it) then if Sodom and Gomorrah suffered punishment by eternal fire, why resurrect them and do it all over again? Eternal conscious torment is consistent in that the only thing that the wicked have not yet faced is God’s full wrath in the body. This is something Jesus did. And He doesn’t need to suffer eternally like we do to do it. Which is the reason why we need a resurrected body designed for such an occasion.  Because if we use the Old Testament as an example, which  Sodom and Gomorrah is just a taste of, then there is a reason why that body would have to be a body fit for eternal punishment. Because the current one we have will whittle away.

But guess what, in one sense, the conditionalists are right! When you read verses 41 and 46 of Matthew 25 which reveal that the wicked “go away into” eternal punishment while the righteous to eternal life, it is a one time act of sending them to their respective locations. And when they arrive, they will experience the bliss or the pain of what God has in store for them there, and they will experience that state or condition for an eternity. So to say that the punishment can be a one time act, or the result of the act really makes no difference seeing that the punished will experience their state of punishment eternally, just as the natural understanding of the text is to be interpreted. So even if this is what it means to be punished, this one time act of being thrown into the fire indeed has an eternity behind it, and those that are there will be in a state of eternal punishment. In other words, how conditionalists argue their points still doesn’t prove their position, nor does it prove that those that are thrown into the fire will be eventually annihilated.

But what of the words “eternal destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 and the parts in Scripture where Jesus uses parables to describe what happens to the wicked when they are judged? Like in Luke 13:40 where the Greek word katakiaw is used to illustrate the wicked being “burned up”? What about those? Those will be dealt with later on in upcoming articles. For now, remember to take all these article as a collective whole. What I mean is, each article is designed to build off of one another. It may be difficult to process all this, but I know many of you reading the New Testament understand the implications of eternal fire and punishment and that it lasts forever. It is something our Church Fathers understood (something I will prove as well), and it is something that has been easily understood by many generations, except for those that have an agenda (whether they realize it or not) to prove otherwise.

-Until we go home

Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 2b) – Eternal Fire

Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 2b) – Eternal Fire

Since I have written part 2a, there has been an attempt to dilute the argument concerning the article-noun-article-adjective construction (called the second attributive) in Matthew 25. But the attempt is, once again, a linguistic game that seems to be the trend amongst conditionalists. In essence, what is being stated is that there is no special emphasis placed upon this kind of construction in Greek, and that the other kinds of constructions, that are like this one, are used just as much, if not more, in the New Testament, and  they too have the same attributive meaning. In other words, there are other grammatical constructions that are used in the New Testament with adjectives that can express the same kind of attribution, but doesn’t give the special emphasis that I claim it makes.

For instance, if you remember from my previous article, “the fire, the eternal one” would be the somewhat literal but awkward translation of this fire. Now, whether the Greek uses another type of adjectival construction (first or third attributive as they are called) to describe eternal fire or not, is something that can be debated. But it doesn’t do away with the fact that the Greek language makes the fire categorically different from all other fires. This is something I mentioned in 2a of this series. Since the Scripture references this fire as a separate location also makes a significant difference. But, what is being rebutted is the fact that the construction I pointed out is no more significant than any other construction. And then, an appeal to multiple resources that point out that there isn’t any difference is how the diffusion is attempted (don’t be fooled). To this I will say a few things before we move forward.

1. There are at least three resources that show the construction I pointed out in 2a are significant. Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, A.T. Robertson’s, GRAMMAR OF THE GREEK NEW
TESTAMENT (which Wallace draws from), and Deeper Greek. These resources come from scholars who have practically spent their whole lives studying the Greek Language. However, the other respected scholars affirm that there are no differences in meaning. But it is no surprise to me that linguists would emphasis or not emphasis certain nuances within a language. Language is often complex, fluid, and nuanced. So even if there is a disagreement (which we can’t be sure if the authors are even aware that there is even a contention) concerning the kind of emphasis the word “eternal” places on the fire in Matt 25, there is one thing that is for sure – the adjective describes the fire in and of itself as eternal. An inescapable truth that is still being twisted.

2. Making a case that there are no differences in meaning between the types of constructions ignores the most fundamental thing that adjectives do to nouns. In language, adjectives describe, limit, modify or expound upon the noun and can attribute special characteristics depending on the context. It is clear, even in the English, that the noun (fire) is modified by the adjective (eternal), making the fire in and of itself eternal. This is especially significant since, as I said in 2a, that the fire is indicative of God’s wrath. So if you have a fiery wrath that burns forever, but no one is there to burn against it since they are consumed, you have a huge (perhaps heretical) problem. And yes, the fire exists because the wicked exist. One attempt was made to say that because no one is in the fire even while it is burning means that the fire does not need people to burn against. Once again, this is an attempt to deflect the obvious.

3. There is one other thing about these Greek constructions with adjectives that most people who do not study linguistics may not  know about that other languages demonstrate. It is called apposition. What apposition is is a phrase, word, or description that further expounds upon  another word, phrase, or description. A simple way of explaining this would be like saying, “Ricky, the tall dude over there, likes to eat…” The emphasized portion is the apposition. In our case of eternal fire, the way the Greek is constructed, even if one disagrees with the significance of grammar, the fact that the fire is appositionally described as “eternal” further makes the case that this fire is indeed categorically different than other fires. Therefore, if even some linguists of Greek see no difference in meaning between constructions, at base level, they are appositional. In laymans terms, eternal fire means that it will burn forever.

The next thing to point out is the attempt to say that the fire is eternal in the sense that it is from God. Since God is a consuming fire, then the eternal fire is just another way to point out that it is God doing the punishment of annihilation or consumption of the wicked. There may be nuances as to how this is argued, but the general attempt is to sweep away the obvious. The fire in which Satan, his angels, and the wicked are thrown into is going to be a fire that burns forever. And in Matt 25:46, the fire is semantically linked to eternal punishment (as well as unquenchable fire). This punishment is going to be eternal because, quite simply, the fire is eternal. If an attempt is made to say that the fire is only simply God, of God, or from God (something I wouldn’t holistically disagree with), that is ignoring the fact that the language portrays that this fire is still categorically different. It is created and located somewhere for a specific purpose. And, if it is God who is partaking of this burning, yet the wicked are eventually consumed, then who is He burning against if they are supposed to be eventually annihilated?

There is more to this, and this series will go on for quite some time I assume. But the main gist to grasp from this is that thr language is clear in that it makes a distinction  that eternal fire is just that, eternal. I only made this article less technical in the attempts to reach mass amounts of readers. There are more linguistic evidences and arguments that could be made. The only word of advice to the reader I have at this time is this. If you think that the wicked are not going to face eternal conscious torment, whether you realize it or not, it will affect your view of the atonement. This is something I plan to address in detail in the future, but for now, please know that some in the conditionalist camps have defended abhorrent theology like Evangelical Universalism, and there are others that reject the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ (like Edward Fudge, who is one of the main foundation stones). As you read further articles, I pray more connections would be made plain.

-Until we go home

The Confession Alone: The 6th Sola

The Confession Alone: The 6th Sola

Confessions and formalized creeds have been an edifying edition to the Christian faith. Since the beginning of the New Covenant (and even further back since the dawn of teaching), mankind has formalized and rehearsed many sayings, creeds, idioms, and other phrases that have refreshed our minds about a how we ought to think or understand life. Within Christendom, there are certain flavors of creeds and confessions that we Reformed folks hold to very dearly. Assuming that you understand which confessions exist, I seek to make my point quickly. If you have never read a creed, confession, or catechism, I highly suggest you do some research and learn from them.

Having said all that, there is an authoritative flaw in our Reformed circles. I call it he Sixth Sola: Confession Alone. It is this idea that if it is not a part of your confession, it cannot (or in some cases should not) be taught or even considered as biblical. Or, practically speaking, although we do not verbally admit this, when we are discussing Scripture with someone, and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is “X confession says…” when making their case, it is making the confession the ultimate authority in the conversation (unless they are just using the confession as a springboard to talk about Scripture). I am aware that this last statement may have ruffled more feathers than the first, but understand what I am actually saying and do not misinterpret my words. If your first or final authoritative response in any discussion about theology or what the Bible teaches concerning what you believe and why is “the confession says” you have turned a guidepost into a destination.

Most, if not all, creeds, confession, and catechisms are reactive. That is, they are written and formed based off of some other creed or confession that is in opposition, and those forming it wish to distinguish themselves for the opposing party. It can be in response to false teaching (or perceived false teaching), or it can be simply trying to make a stand about a certain belief within a specific community that affirms X belief(s). As I already said, this is not inherently wrong. These are great ways to find out where your stand in your faith. i would argue that it is impossible to say anything without it being “creedle” in some way. But if you do not study the Scriptures and seek to understand why you believe what you believe, and whether or not you think you can agree with these confessions, you are placing the cart before horse. The confessions can point you in a specific direction (guidepost), but they are not the final authority (destination). Our first response in any discussion should be Sola Scriptura, not Sola Confessio (Latin check). Yet, time after time, when I dive into the Scriptures with particular pastors, preachers, and believers who ascribe heavily to confessions and creeds, whenever there are any disagreements or whenever I make my points from Scripture, I am faced with “but the Confession says…” How can this be within a Reformed world whose foundational mindset is supposed to be Scripture Alone?

There can be many reasons why one authoritatively appeals to the a confession more than Scripture. But I think I have narrowed them down to two main roots: Traditionalism and laziness. There is nothing wrong with tradition. Every denomination and person has them. It is when that tradition begins to have authority over Scripture is when we have a huge problem. Some people find great joy in holding to the long standing tradition that some of our creeds and confessions teach. Nothing wrong with that if you understand what you believe and why. But it seems that this is not the case with many. By proxy, if you are a traditionalist in this area, you will quote the confession better than you can quote Scripture because you are relying on the confession to approve yourself before God (or men). Unless for whatever reason you don’t have any access to Scripture, or in some way you are only able to memorize Scripture by categorizing them via the confession, there should be no reason why you cannot study for yourself what the Bible teaches within the pages that the confessions are pointing to. Which brings me to my next point.

I find that it is easier to quote a saying, phrase, creed, etc., in place of actually making a verbal argument concerning what you actually believe and why. Nothing wrong with summarizing what you believe, or repeating a summarization of something you would affirm. But If I believe that the reason why man exists is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, why? Because the confession says so? Or because the Scripture quoted in the confessions says so? Have I looked at the listed Scriptures? Have I taken the time to study and reform my thinking in light of the Scriptures that a confession teaches? Will I be courageous to practice Semper Reformanda if I discover some nuance in the Scriptures? Or will I be taking the confession at face value because my community of believers/churches do? Or because the men before me were theological giants who were totally incapable of error even in the minutia? Laziness is what causes us to use the confessions as they were not meant to be used. These are guideposts, not destinations.

Notice, I am not challenging the confessions. Nor am I exhorting anyone to cast away the didactic luxury that they bring to our lives. I am challenging how we think concerning them. We all have a tendency to elevate anything good over God. That is evident in Scripture and in our daily lives. If we find ourselves running to the confessions and creeds as our primary authoritative source for understanding and assurance of our faith in Christ, and we can quote and explain a confession easier than we can explain Scripture and the gospel, we must immediately eject ourselves from the seat of traditionalism and laziness, and we must diligently seek God through the Scriptures for our assurance and understanding. This doesn’t mean we cannot use the confessions to help us in this direction. But once again, where does your affection, affirmation, and assurance of your faith lie? In Christ Alone, or in the Confession Alone? Is it because the confession says so that you believe X, Y, Z, or is it because you have studied and affirmed that the Scriptures teach it?

One last time, I am not bashing any confession, or the use of them in discussion. But I am standing against any form of authoritative proclamation or behavior that insists that the confession is the first and final say so in any biblical discussion and practice. If your “go-to” argument and assurance of your belief is “the confession says,” you’ve lost all credibility. And if the confession is your main source for approving yourself before God, your credibility may not be the only thing that is lost.

-Until we go home

What Must I Do To Be Saved?

Soteriology is the doctrine of salvation – how does one get reconciled to God? It is my desire to show you how essential it is to grasp this doctrine rightly and how humbling and wonderful it is to comprehend what the Lord God has done in redeeming people. salvation

While there are many religions in this world, with myriad differences, they all have a few things in common and many differences. But no matter the religion, no matter the salvation, no matter the god, all systems of religion, including biblical Christianity, are based on salvation by works. All systems of religion are based on salvation by works. The differences lie beneath that truth. All but one system bases salvation on the works of those who need to be saved. The sole exception is based on men being saved by the finished work of another, a particular man who had no sin of His own to pay for. A man who is God and paid the price for others. The Lawgiver became the Law keeper for Law breakers. This exception, as I’m sure you already know, is our faith – biblical Christianity, based on the work of the God-man, Jesus.

Among professing Christian groups, many variants and shades exist, with most falling into self-saving works of the creature. These views are known as Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, Universalism, etc. All of these are variations of synergistic modes of salvation – systems in which creator God is at best a co-pilot in redeeming people. The Scriptures, which are our only rule for truth and faith and godliness, depict God as the One Who created and sustains all things, directing the paths of kings and storm clouds, saints and Satan. Properly understood, the Word of God reveals a monergistic mode of salvation – children of God are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God alone (John 1:13). Since Scripture cannot be broken, monergistic salvation and synergistic salvation cannot both be true. The passages that appear to contradict each other do not. Our understanding and comprehension are limited and twisted by sin – the Word of God is perfect and by it the Lord searches out our intentions and thoughts. To rightly understand this doctrine of how sinners are made right with holy God, we must humbly submit to the Word of God and cry out for wisdom from the Spirit of God.

This dispute over how a sinner is reconciled to Holy God has been raging among men since Cain’s offering was refused. In the early 17th century a protest was filed with the ruling church court in the Netherlands by activist disciples of Jacob Arminius. Here are the five articles contained in the protest presented to the Council of Dort:

  1. God elects or reproves on the basis of foreseen faith or unbelief.
  2. Christ died for all men and for every man, although only believers are saved.
  3. Man is so depraved that divine grace is necessary unto faith or any good deed.
  4. This grace may be resisted.
  5. Whether all who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere in the faith is a point which needs further investigation.

Only the third point reflects biblical truth and was later denied by many of this view. The bedrock of the Arminian objection to monergistic salvation is the notion that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom and that ability limits obligation. This is complementary to the Pelagian view that God would never command man to do that which man was incapable of doing. However, the Scriptures are replete with commands from God to the creature to do that which nobody but God can do, such as be ye perfect, and love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. These commands are meant to drive self-righteousness from us and draw us to Christ. The Arminians claim God gives every human the ability to believe on Jesus, and that God will never refuse anyone who exercises that ability and comes to Him in the faith that God gives to everyone; but only some exercise it and are saved. If this is the case, who gets the credit for the sinner’s salvation? And what do we do with 2 Thess 3:2 which tells us not all men have this faith?

Most professing Christians hold to Arminianism, having never heard anything else because most churches do not teach the whole counsel of God’s Word. I personally believe that all Christians are born spiritually as Arminians because we are only accustomed to what our natural senses can discern. And when one is born again, the first thing he is aware of is that he chose Christ; without yet knowing that Christ first chose and first loved him. The Arminian system makes sense to the natural mind, confirmed by natural senses. It shows up in our language: when we say someone “accepted Christ” we imply the person needing salvation decided to get saved. But Scripture denies this. This is why it is of utmost importance that evangelism be firmly connected to and rooted in discipleship. A new-born child of God must be shown and taught the Bible – what he was before he was raised from the dead and what soil preparation the gardener performed to make the seed take root.

In understanding what it means for anyone to be redeemed, to have been reconciled to Holy God, to be made into a new creature, we must grab hold of the biblical reality of our union with Christ. Ephesians 1:3 tells us we were blessed with every spiritual blessing by God the Father – that these spiritual blessings are in the heavenly places and they are in Christ. We mortal sinners get no heavenly, spiritual blessings apart from being in union with Christ, in communion with Christ.

There are several terms that describe what happens when a person is raised from spiritual death, referred to as the order of salvation:

  1. Predestination: Rom. 8:29 & 30; Eph. 1:3-6 & 11-14
  2. Effectual Calling (Regeneration): John 1:12 & 13; 6:44, 63-65; Eph. 2:1-5
  3. Faith/Repentance:
    (Faith) – Eph. 2:8,9; Acts 13:48, 16:14
    (Repentance) – 2 Cor. 7:9 & 10
  4. Justification (Legal Declaration): Rom. 5:1 & 2; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 2:16
  5. Adoption: Rom. 8:15-17, 23-25; Gal. 4:4-7
  6. Definitive Sanctification: Rom. 6:1 & 2; I Cor. 1:2; 6:9-11
  7. Progressive Sanctification: Eph. 4:11-16; Phil 2:1-4, 13-15
    (Preservation of the Saints) – John 6:37-40; 10:27-30; Phil. 1:6
  8. Glorification: Matt 25:31-34; 2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:21-23; 3:20 & 21

The first of these, predestination, took place before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Predestination is not a reaction to The Fall. God has no “Plan B”. Predestination is “Plan A”. The balance of the steps in this process take place in time, although regeneration, faith, repentance, and justification cannot be separated; we know that they happen in this order but are unable to plot them out, they are so tightly connected. But notice – regeneration comes before faith and repentance. That which is dead cannot develop root nor produce fruit. The soil must be prepared before the seed can sprout. If we do not properly understand this, we are vulnerable of being drawn aside into the Arminian camp, who claim that the spiritually dead sinner exercising faith in Christ causes regeneration. It is this level of attention that is required to discern between good and evil, as we are told in Hebrews 5:14 – But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. We have the same fine degree of difference with the Roman Catholic doctrine of “salvation”, wherein the sinner is infused with grace and thereby enabled to be holy and pleasing to God, but never arriving at any assurance of having been saved. The Scriptures teach that sinners are imputed the righteousness of Christ and are thereby justified by grace that is apprehended by the faith that was itself a gift to us – lest anyone boast in anything other than the cross of Christ! Nothing in my hand I bring, only to the cross I cling – this is how we all come to saving faith, no matter what our senses or churches tell us.

Kevin DeYoung, in Chap 7 of his book, The Hole in Our Holiness exhorts us: “… it’s appropriate … to talk about an “order of salvation”, whereby we are called by the Spirit of God, born again, moved to faith and repentance. Justified, adopted, sanctified, preserved, and glorified, we must never separate these benefits from the Benefactor. Every blessing in the order of salvation flows from our union with Christ.” John Murray is quoted as saying, “Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation, not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ.” We often talk about gifts we get from God – provision in things of this world, for the most part – and need to remind ourselves to not confuse the gift with the Giver. So it is with this greatest gift of all; while we will not truly understand the depth and richness of God’s saving grace towards elect sinners, we must not get so fixed on that spiritual blessing that we lose sight of the One in Whom we have that blessing. If we be not in Christ, we are not His and we vainly imagine that the blessings of redemption and reconciliation are ours. Contrary to what the pope said, sincere belief in whatever god you have chosen is not going to reconcile any sinner to holy God. Responding to a list of questions published in a newspaper, Pope Francis wrote: “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience. Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

Sin is not the failure of a creature to obey his conscience! Sin is not a bad habit, a hurtful hangup, or “something less than God’s best” – as a couple of well-known preachers have called it (referring specifically to homosexuality). An inadequate understanding of sin necessarily results in an inadequate understanding of grace, redemption, reconciliation, and a number of other orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith. Sin is a moral act, word, or thought that contradicts the expressed will of God for human beings. In other words, it is a covenantal breach with the Divine covenant maker. It is not limited to the will, the intellect, or the emotion. Sin involves the whole person.

What is the practical aspect of getting this doctrine – how is one saved? – correct? There are many examples from church history, but this one is my favorite. If you have read any history of the church, you should be aware that the Church of England went through an extended period (after their separation from Rome) wherein they had difficulty finding regenerate pastors. Wesley and Whitefield and Spurgeon all rubbed up against this. In fact, both Wesley and Whitefield came to saving faith in college, after they each had spent themselves in trying to make themselves pleasing to God; following the doctrine of salvation of the Church of England. One pastor in the Church of England discovered this in a rather unique way.

William Haslam was an English country parson who was a hireling of the state, a warm body to fill the pulpit in small country church. One Sunday in 1851 following a period of deep conviction of sin, Haslam ascended into the pulpit with the intention of telling his congregation that he would not preach again to them until he was saved and to ask them to pray for his conversion.

He began to preach on the text ‘What think ye of Christ’ (Matt 22:42), taken from gospel passage handed down from the mother church. As he read about the Jewish leaders who did not see Christ as the Messiah, he saw himself as one of them – a Pharisee who did not recognize that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. Haslam said, “I do not remember all I said, but I felt a wonderful light and joy coming into my soul, and I was beginning to see what the Pharisees did not.” At that moment, the Holy Spirit breathed new life into him and the effect was so obvious and marked that a local preacher who was present stood up and shouted ‘the Parson is converted, the parson is converted! Hallelujah!’ and the people rejoiced loudly and with much commotion.

If one fails to see the dire consequences of sin, the hideous nature thereof; if he fails to see Holy God as the judge who weighs the universe in His hands; if he doesn’t see rightly the King of glory Who paid the price for sin that man could never pay – he will die in his sin and be lost forever.

The doctrine of soteriology is not a dry theological construct that has no relation to how we live. It is the very core of the identity we as Christians have – that of being found in Christ. The jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” So they (Paul and Silas) said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” It is simple in one aspect – believe on the Lord Jesus. But oh how deep and rich is the salvation we have in Christ Jesus! We are found by Him, secured in Him, preserved in Him, saved and sanctified in Him. We walk in Christ, labor in Christ, obey in Christ. We live and die in Christ; and we conquer and overcome death and hell in Christ!

The Apostle Paul fought against false doctrines that taught justification by any other means. It is an essential doctrine upon which our faith rests. All other systems of salvation rest on self-worth and deny the depth of man’s sin and the sufficiency of Christ’s finished work.

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  (1 Pete 1:3-5)

If Pelagius was right, Christ died for no purpose. If Scripture is right, and we were dead in our sins and trespasses, our life and worth depends on the death of Christ – in our place, to placate the wrath of God the Father.

Soteriology? It’s a matter of life and death.

Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 2a) – Eternal Fire

Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 2a) – Eternal Fire

It can be difficult for some people to digest large chucks of complex information. It is even harder for people to pick up on subtle nuances that certain teachers use in order to make their case. What’s even more difficult is the fact that not many Christians read the New Testament with a systematic and linguistic lens that is trained to detect and digest all these subtle nuances that certain teachers use to deceive them. But I have good news! You do not need to know all of how Greek works to understand what I am about to show you. As hopefully some of my readers already know, I like getting to the point. So in this particular article, I will challenge the idea from certain conditionalists that believe hell’s fires are only temporary. Or, to be accurate, the fire is only eternal in the fact that the effect of the punishment they provide the wicked endures forever. If you haven’t picked up on that subtle nuance already, some who believe in conditional immortality believe that the fires of hell are meant to eventually “consume” the person. They contend that this is what Jesus meant by “unquenchable.” That is, the fire cannot be “put out” rather than “die out,” and that it will not stop until the adversaries are totally consumed (or in their case annihilated).

Before I show from Scripture why this isn’t the case, here is the only difficulty I have, or anyone who wishes to make a case in writing. This isn’t conversation. In conversation you can investigate and probe in ways that writing cannot. In live debate and cross-examination, you can publically show why a person’s position in a particular area is in error. In blog posts, all people do is write in response to opposing blog posts, and will carefully pick and choose what they will or will not respond to, or write something in such a way that seems like a legitimate response, but it is not. Of course, anyone can use my previous sentence against me, and I should expect that. But the reason I went through all the trouble to write this paragraph is so that the reader is aware that what I am about to deal with in this article is so specific and easy to understand, it would take a linguistic twisting so incredible, that it would have to deny how certain grammars of Greek work. And while some opponents of eternal conscious torment believe this is “insignificant” in comparison to the stacks of evidence that seems to support conditional immortality (CI) or annihilationism, this is just one of the many semantic proofs that will be the proverbial snow ball that rolls down the mountain.

One of the text used by CI folks is Matthew 25:46 when Jesus says:

“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

I will deal with how the words “eternal punishment” does not mean that the results of the punishment lasts forever as CI presents it. But for now, let’s look at this Scripture in context. The first thing we have to see is that this whole chapter deals with Jesus and His judgment on the wicked at His return. Starting in verse 31 of chapter 25, He begins a discourse about those who will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and those that are wicked will be cast into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Other than the fact that some CI and annihilationists think that Satan and his angels will also be “consumed” by this fire, some others insist that this “eternal fire” is eternal in the sense that it is from God (because He is eternal), or that its punishment upon the wicked has eternal consequence, but not the fire itself. Don’t run, here comes the easy-to-understand-Greek-grammar that I mentioned earlier.

In Greek, you will sometimes have an article-noun-article-adjective construction. Don’t run. If I lost you, you will get it in a second. It would like literally writing, in Matt 25:41,  “the fire, the eternal one.” Adjectives describe or limit nouns. If I say I have a house. That’s the noun. If I have a yellow house. That adjective describes the noun. If I further mention that my house is eternal. then I have added another element to the noun, but it still describes or limits the noun in some way. If I say, “Hey, look at that house.” And you ask “which one?” It is probably because there is more than one house around and you seek to know which one I am looking at. If I reply, “The yellow one” I am implying that not only is the yellow house significantly different than all the other houses around it, but I am also saying that this one is a certain kind of house in context of all the other houses. In this Scripture, starting in verse 41, Jesus turns to the wicked and says:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

This is what it looks like in Greek. I will highlight the words you need to pay attention to in order to understand my illustration above.

ότε ἐρεῖ καὶ τοῖς ἐξ εὐωνύμων πορεύεσθε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ οἱ κατηραμένοι εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον τῷ διαβόλῳ καὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ

Notice that εἰς  means “into” and τὸ (article) πῦρ (noun), which means “the fire.” But not just any fire, but τὸ (article) αἰώνιον (adjective) – “the eternal one.” In essence, what this Scripture is making clear is that unlike all the fires that die out and/or are eventually put out, this fire that the wicked will be cast into, with the Devil and his angels, is itself eternal. This is not dealing with the consequences or results. The fire itself is of an eternal nature meant to burn for eternity. Despite what some opponents may say about this, this carries huge implications. Because what Jesus is saying that we will be cast into the fire, the eternal one, when we are judged. And here is the kicker. The eternal punishment mentioned in verse 46 sits within the context of this eternal fire that awaits us. This means that the fire that burns forever dictates how eternal punishment in this context is to be understood. No linguistic tricks attached. Even though the word “punishment” by itself can ambiguously represent the result of it dished out, in this particular text, it clearly illustrates that the punishment will be itself eternal. And that the fire, which burns eternally, will be the instrument used to carry out the sentence.

But wait there’s more!

In Matthew 18:8, Jesus uses this same Greek construction (article-noun-article-adjective) to illustrate our reaction toward sin. He says:

“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.”

This is what it look like in the Greek.

εἰ δὲ χείρ σου πούς σου σκανδαλίζει σε ἔκκοψον αὐτὸν καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ σοῦ καλόν σοί ἐστιν εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν ζωὴν κυλλὸν χωλόν δύο χεῖρας δύο πόδας ἔχοντα βληθῆναι εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον

Look familiar? It should. It is as Matthew 25 says, “the fire, the eternal one.” And Jesus not only says that the fire is itself eternal, but he parallels this with the next verse by saying:

“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

Another way to put this verse is fiery hell. The word hell used here is “Gehenna” which is the book of Revelation equivalent to the lake of fire. And Jesus spoke about Gehenna differently throughout the gospels then He did about Hades, which just generally meant the place of the dead. But CI and annihilationists want you to believe that this fire is not going to burn those in it forever, but that they will eventually be consumed. However, in this Scripture, Jesus semantically links the two – Gehenna and “the fire, the eternal one” – equally to make His point about what will happen to those who don’t take sin seriously and are not born again.

Hang in there, although I can go on, there is only one more thing I want to show you.

Just like in Matthew 18 where Jesus parabolically encourages you to slice your hand off in comparison to being thrown in hell, Mark 9:43 provides a parallel passage that describes the same teaching. But notice how the eternal fire is mentioned here.

“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.”

Here is how it looks in the Greek:

kαὶ ἐὰν σκανδαλίζῃ σε χείρ σου ἀπόκοψον αὐτήν καλόν ἐστίν σε κυλλὸν εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν ζωὴν τὰς δύο χεῖρας ἔχοντα ἀπελθεῖν εἰς τὴν γέενναν εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ ἄσβεστον

Do you notice something familiar about this verse? I bolded it for you so you can recognize it. Do you recognize the grammar/construction? You should. It is the art-noun-art-adj construction we’ve been talking about. Except we have a new word introduced. It is ἄσβεστον (asbeston) which means to be “unquenchable” in English. And it is only used three times in the New Testament (Matt. 3:12; Mark 9:43; Luke 3:17). It literally means that it cannot be extinguished, put out, or die out. In essence, what this verse is saying is people will go “into Gehenna, into the fire, the unquenchable (inextinguishable) one.” It’s a bit awkward sounding in English, but Gehenna, fire, and eternal burning are all interconnected ideas.

The proponents of CI like to say that unquenchable means that the fire can’t be “put out,” not that it won’t “die out.” This is a subtle nuance, and I find it manipulative and trite. But it is a nuance nevertheless. The difference is illustrated by knowing when I light a fire, it will either die out on its own, or I can snuff it out, extinguish it, or quench it with my fingers, water, blowing it out, etc. This isn’t an entirely bad case to make, because God’s eternal wrath cannot be quenched against those who are His enemies (except by atonement). The difference is that conditionalists believe that this only means that the fire will not be quenched until it has entirely consumed the wicked. In other words, it can’t be put out until it has finished consuming. But as we already learned from these other passages above, the fire itself is indeed eternal. So whether it cannot be extinguished or put out or die out, really makes no difference seeing that the fire will burn perpetually. Even if it meant that it can’t be “put out,” the point is the fire will not stop burning, ever! But perhaps the Scripture means what it has always meant for the majority who read it, and the Greek scholars who interpret it. That is, the fire burns forever because those in that place of punishment, as Matthew 25 implies, are there forever. Unquenchable means it can’t be put out, extinguished, or die out because God is the only one who can do it! And even if it is taken from Isaiah 66, and various other passages in the Old Testament that have similar semantic value, it does not negate Jesus’ exegesis that the fire will remain and so will those who are in it.

Although more could be said, for the sake of brevity, I will close with this. In a future article, I will deal with “unquenchable” fire and arguments that proponents of CI and annhilationists make to justify their reasoning as to why the fire is a “consuming” fire and not an eternal one. But for now, ponder the grammatical construction and think about how the fire could burn for eternity, and yet there will be nothing left to burn? A predictable rebuttal will be that God Himself is a (or The) consuming fire. I agree. But that is not what the Greek is implying. This fire resides within the “place” where the Devil, his angels, and all those who are wicked will go. It is its own fire. It is categorically different than other fires that burn. That is what the grammar reveals. Of course, it is a fire that comes from God, is kindled by God, and can only be put out by God. And, It is God administering the punishment, and it is God who is present within the fire. But if the persons are eventually consumed, why would the wrathful anger of God burn forever against an enemy that no longer remains? Therefore, the fire cannot be simply from God, because the implications are not as simple to deal with, and the grammar doesn’t point in that direction.

-Until we go home

*For more information on Greek grammar, I recommend getting a copy of Dan Wallace’s book “Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics” which verifies this grammar and many other constructions.