Jesus, Justification, Works, and Faith–The Law is not abolished

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Are good works needed for salvation? Yes, God’s good works.

But how about all of those passages where Jesus seems to demand from us to do good works? Is He contradicting Paul? Are Reformed Theologians misrepresenting Paul and missing out on what Jesus is saying? Let’s take a look at the “pro-works” passages of Jesus.

Christ fulfilled the Law. If the Law is fulfilled, can good works be part of what justifies a man before God?

 

Passage in question: “The Law is not abolished, so that means we have to do good works.”

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matt 5:17-18).

 

Questions to ask:

Indeed, Christians are compelled by the Holy Spirit to do good works. Given time, they must do them, they cannot help it. But, does the passage say we must do good works to be saved or justified before God? How did Christ fulfill the Law? By telling us to do it?

 

Context of the passage:

Before the passage in question we can see the following:

You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:14, 16).

One thing for us to consider, from the context, is not the salvific role of good works, but rather how they are a testimony. Good works glorify God.

Immediately following the passage, Jesus states the following:

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:18-20).

Let’s consider some of the specifics of what Jesus just said. The one who “annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same” is “least in the kingdom of heaven.” It is of interest for us to note that such a person is the “least,” but still actually in the kingdom of heaven.

One conclusion we can draw from this is that teaching against a commandment is not a damnable offense. If this be the case, it appears horribly out of context to assert that Christ is teaching that works save a man.

Then, Jesus drops a bombshell. We have to be more righteous than scribes and Pharisees to enter the kingdom of heaven. Some interpreters take this to mean you have to be really, really righteous because these men were as careful to follow the Law as possible. If one has to be even more of a stickler to enter the kingdom of heaven than even the Pharisees were, the standard appears to be impossible to meet.

Some might argue that these Pharisees were big hypocrites, so being more righteous than them really is not an impossible task. We can discount this idea for two reasons. First, the immediate context is that not a single Law will pass away nor should anyone teach otherwise. We cannot deny that the Pharisees would have concurred. Second, according to Christ, the most righteous man in existence was not good enough to enter the kingdom of heaven:

Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matt 11:11).

On what basis can works save that the greatest of men ever born is less than the least in the kingdom? Those in the kingdom of heaven are in union with Christ (Rom 6:5, Eph 5:31, 32). If we are truly in a profound sense in Christ and one with Him, God judges us by Him. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21). Christ suffered our judgement, we in exchange have become partakers in His righteousness.

The early Church Father Justin Martyr reflected on this fact:

He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors (Epistle to Diognetus, Chapter 9)!

How is this possible? Because Christ fulfilled the Law on our behalf, for “He is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4). This is why Paul can assert, by the Spirit, the following:

For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (Gal 2:19-21).

So, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the most righteous of men, because is righteousness comes from the One who is the end of the Law. This is why anyone who teaches against the Law or any commandment is the least, but not outside the grace of God.

Why teach against the very Law which is the basis of the only righteousness that saves? A man is only made righteous because Christ fulfilled the Law and all of its details. Jesus Christ’s righteousness, in fulfilling the Law, is detracted from when one teaches against that same Law. It would be, in effect, teaching against the very thing that makes you righteous to begin with.

Conclusion: This passage does not, and cannot, teach works salvation. First, those who lack the works Christ teaches in favor of are at least in the kingdom. Second, those who appear not to lack the works, the scribes and Pharisees, are not even in the kingdom. Third, the bar for righteousness to even be least in the kingdom is beyond what even the best men can meet. Lastly, the teaching of the early Church bolstered by the Scripture itself shows that Christ’s fulfillment of the Law is precisely what gives us righteousness contingent upon our faith in Him.

In light of all of these things, we can see that logically faith alone saves, “not works” (Eph 2:9).

Christophany: Is Jesus the Angel of the Lord?

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There is some debate among theologians whether or not Christ has any “pre-incarnate” incarnations throughout the Scripture. Neither side is heretical, though those who see pre-incarnate Jesus in one passage practically see Him everywhere: He’s Jehovah, He’s the Angel of the Lord, He’s Melchizedek, He’s any angel that appears to be doing anything important or cool, etcetera. Most Early Church Fathers ascribed to this, and most theologians into the modern era have done the same.

Interpreters commonly believe Christ was the Angel who appeared in the furnace episode in the Book of Daniel.

For a long time I believed that there were not any Christophanies in the Old Testament, because twice in the New Testament it says that “the Law was ordained by angels” (Acts 7:53, see also Gal 3:19). These “angels” are seemingly addressed as “God” or “Jehovah” when the Law is actually given in Exodus and recounted in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Therefore, it is not necessarily a stretch to imagine that these angels were messengers for the King so to say.

However, one passage in the Book of Genesis when properly exegeted makes it very likely that Christophanies are a common occurrence in the Old Testament. In it Jacob says the following:

The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
The angel who has redeemed me from all evil,
Bless the lads;
And may my name live on in them,
And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth (Gen 48:15, 16).

In the Septuagint (LXX) the terma “Ho Theos [The God]” and “Ho Aggelos [The Angel]
are used, so we know that the early Jews who translated the Book of Genesis were speaking of a singular, specific Person. Further, being that God redeemed Jacob from all evil, and the sentence construction is identical, the easiest explanation is that “the God” is “the angel.”

Being that “the Angel of the Lord” has a definite article in front of it, we know that this is a specific Angel, a special one set apart from the others. Being that Christ alone is the Redeemer, and He is God (John 1:1, 3), we have good reason to believe that any references to “the Angel of the Lord” are addressing the same Angel in Gen 48:16.

This is not a mere created being that acts as a messenger for God, but God Himself. Jesus Christ is the one who “exegetes the Father” (John 1:18). So, in this sense, Christ is indeed the Messenger of God the Father.

Who else can “the angel” of Gen 48:16 be? A random angel that happens not to be God? How can such an angel redeem Jacob from all evil? Jehovah’s Witnesses might take this to mean that Christ is merely an angel, and thereby a created being. However, context heavily mitigates against this. The Angel appears to be one and the same with the one true God.

The only reasonable conclusion is that Jacob wrestled with Christ, that he built altars to Christ, that his vision of the ladder (Gen 28:10-17) was that of Christ’s mediation between man and the Father, that Jesus is the God whom Jacob’s fathers walked before, and He is the one who redeemed him from all evil.

Reformed Doctrine in the Book of Baruch

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While many Protestants do not consider the Book of Baruch Canonical, what we can all agree upon is that this early Jewish writing did teach correct doctrine.

An artistic representation of Jeremiah and his younger scribe, Baruch.

God has complete foreknowledge of events, including man’s disobedience and monergistically fallen, depraved men are saved:

For I know that they will not obey me, for they are a stiff-necked people. But in the land of their exile they will come to themselves and know that I am the Lord their God. I will give them a heart that obeys and ears that hear…and turn from their stubbornness and wicked deeds (Baruch 2:30-31, 33).

For you have put the fear of you in our hearts so that we would call upon your name; and we will praise you in our exile, for we have put away from our hearts all the iniquity of our ancestors who sinned against you (Baruch 3:7).

The righteousness that saves is an alien righteousness given to us by God Himself:

[P]ut on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting…For God will give you evermore the name, ‘Righteous Peace, Godly, Glory’ (Baruch 5:1, 2, 4).

For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him (Baruch 5:9).

In the words of Paul:

I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Phil 3:8, 9).

Amen and amen.

Calvinism in Genesis: The Example of Rebekah

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Here’s a real obvious passage which shows the incomplete autonomy of man and God’s power over his will:

Abraham’s servant prayed when looking for a wife for Isaac, “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham…may it be that the girl to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’—may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac” (Gen 24:12, 14).

The Scripture then says:

Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder…[T]he servant ran to meet her, and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord”; and she quickly lowered her jar to her hand, and gave him a drink. Now when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw also for your camels until they have finished drinking” (Gen 24:15, 17-19).

The Scripture says elsewhere, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord” (Prov 16:1).

When God answered the servant’s prayer, is it not clear that God provided the answer of Rebekah’s tongue? And, if he can control her response to a question, how does He not also control her heart and her will?

I’m not quite sure how Arminians would explain this, and there is not a good explanation other than an exegesis that has been informed be Reformed soteriology.

Speculations on the “death of manhood”

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There seems to be a lot of murmuring about the “death on manhood.”

Honestly, I am not sure what to make of it. I do know that historically people have been complaining about the death of manhood since ancient Rome. Yet, there seems to have been marked changes as of late. My boss could not call his father “pops” without being thrown a beating. There used to be television shows with names like, “Father Knows Best.” My wife recounts keeping a respectful distance with her head down at all times when she was in the presence of her father (this was not in America). Many families could not eat until daddy sat down and was served “the big piece of chicken.” Parents, until fairly recently, could discipline their children over sexual matters without being guilty of “emotional abuse.” Being an “assertive man” was an Alpha quality.

Maybe there is something to it, who knows. Kay S. Hymowitz in the Wall Street Journal wrote quite a long, opinionated treatment of the subject that boils down to this: in post-industrial societies, increased economic opportunity has made it affordable to go to college, buy one’s own place, keep living for the weekend without ever assuming responsibility, and be more financially independent.

There’s some truth to this, but I think the issue ultimately is not economic, but it is social. Nothing man’s you up like taking care of a family of your own. However, due to abortion, birth control, children not being very useful for farming, and the social safety net, children are no longer a given nor a retirement insurance policy.

Not coincidentally, the “loss of manhood” is a western phenomena where birthrates have been dropping. Further, all of these societies have made the man “obsolete,” with child support, sperm banks, and the like. You do not need a man in order to have a family.

However, I think it digs a little deeper than this. Why would a woman want a family without a man, or not fight harder to keep him? In third world countries, even horrible husbands are retained due to cultural mores which make women that are not virginal unmarriageable and the financial advantage to having one far better, even if he is a cheat. These are not good reasons, but reasons nonetheless.

So, certainly culture plays a large role and economics enables women, where the cultural shift has taken place, to dump the men. The West has a solidly secular culture at this point. We now have generations of boys brought up in households without a father figure of any sort. Plus, you have a culture that penalizes male assertiveness (unless one is a Muslim in Europe or a racial minority in the US, because we want to be understanding and all.) Therefore, what one is told by society is to not be a prototypical man.

With the success of smutty romance novels, apparently somewhere deep down in the reptilian mind assertive men are desirable, but that is not enough to undo the loss of tradition. In the West, the lost of Christian values where even when the majority of people were not actual Christians at least respected Christianity, has devastated manhood. Male headship, head coverings, women submitting and winning their husbands without words are scandalous ideas. Yet, these things are in Scripture and were taught unapologetically until after World War II.

For example, the other day my wife inadvertently threw $75 in the trash. I freaked out inside and on the outside was quite perturbed without cursing or yelling, not doing anything that would be explicitly sinful. However, I was well aware that even subdued anger in which the hint of it exists constitutes “emotional abuse” these days. Ultimately, this is a disservice to Christian men who need to be equipped to head their households and set family expectations, and a disservice to women where it encourages sensitivity to minor things that would not be acceptable anywhere else in the real world (friendship, Church, family, etcetera.)

Okay, so what do we do? Most men complain, watch their SpikeTV and porn, and retreat to their man-cave. Of course, this is pathetic, because the whole house should be “the man-cave” if he is lovingly heading the household through Christ-like self-sacrifice, and his wife is lovingly submitting to and helping him. Hence, the solution is “not [to] be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2). We need to seek obedience to God, as revealed in His Scriptures. In Him, there is true life.

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