A Dispensational View of the Spiritual Life, or Homage to He That Is Spiritual, part 2

At the outset of this series I made the assertion that there is a Dispensational view of of the spiritual life.  In fact, I determined that the Dispensational view of the spiritHe That Is Spiritualual life is the truly biblical view.  I attempted to lay out my rationale for such a bold statement by detailing two of the sine qua non of Dispensationalism, the consistent usage of a normal hermeneutic, and the resultant distinction between Israel and the Church, in particular with reference to the Spirit’s new work within each individual believer.  I will endeavor to begin to build upon the second particular here.

As we begin our study we must first look at God’s work in the life of the believer. He is the source of life for all creation in general (Gen. 1-2) and the source of eternal, spiritual life for those who are newly born by grace through faith in Christ (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-10). Since the Christian life begins with Him we should begin by examining His provision for the Christian life.

God’s Provision for the Christian Life

The state of every man prior to the moment of salvation is said to be that of spiritual death. Paul explains that “just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Every man ever born is the seed of “the first man, Adam,” (1 Cor. 15:45) and “in Adam all die” (v.22). Physical death is a product of and therefore follows spiritual death. Yet God was not satisfied to leave man in this state, so He provided for man’s rebirth. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Likewise through Paul we learn that before exercising faith in Christ we were dead, but God made us alive: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked…But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:1-2a, 4-5). In this one passage two different experiences of life are identified. The first is merely natural, human life void of the spiritual whereas the second is an act of God’s mercy displayed in love toward those spiritually dead by making them alive with, or in, Christ. Here we have a description of that which Jesus spoke of in John 3:3 when He explained to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (born from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Christ further clarifies in His follow-up statement, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Thus, Christ makes the distinction between the natural man of the flesh and the spiritual man who is born of the Holy Spirit.

What is also seen in the aforementioned verses is the fact that all three persons of the Godhead are active in making provision for spiritual life for everyone who believes in Christ. Of the many works of God that take place at the moment one believes, those that we will examine here are: regeneration, justification, sanctification, baptism of the Holy Spirit, as well as the indwelling of the Spirit.

Regeneration

Regeneration means to be born again. Although the word regeneration only appears twice in Scripture (Matt. 19:28; Titus 3:4-5), the doctrine is unquestionably presented throughout the New Testament. We most often think of death as the cessation of life. While this is true, a more proper view is that death is separation. Physical death occurs when the human body is separated from human life. Spiritual death occurred when Adam rebelled against God at which point Adam and his descendants were separated from God, the giver and sustainer of man’s spiritual life. Sin created a barrier that separates man and God. Therefore, natural man is in a perpetual state of separation from the source of spiritual life. However, as stated earlier, God was not satisfied leaving man in a state of spiritual death. When one conducts a thorough study of the whole of Scripture he finds that in eternity past God designed a plan to remove the barrier. When the predetermined time in history came, “the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, [and] He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5). We conclude by returning to Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.”

God’s plan included the payment for sin, which Christ the Son supplied through sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26). Christ is also said to give new life to those dead in sin. The Lord Himself describes this fact when He said, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes” (John 5:21). In fact, Jesus Himself is “the way and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). It may be said that Christ, by His death, removed the barrier of sin and made regeneration possible for those who believe.

The Spirit’s work in the new birth is that of actually applying it to the believing one. Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (born from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Christ further clarifies in His follow-up statement, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Thus, Christ makes the distinction between two different men. The natural man is that one born of the flesh. The spiritual man is the believer who has been born of or by the Holy Spirit. The new birth is the product of the Spirit’s work in us. The believer does not experience this work of the Spirit. That is it is not something that registers with the emotions or the senses. Yet it is a definite work nonetheless.

Justification

At the moment one believes in Jesus Christ unto salvation he not only partakes in the new birth he is also justified and sanctified. Justification is a one-time act of God whereby He declares the believer to be righteous. It is a legal judgment. Like salvation itself, justification is non-meritorious and unearned. It is a gift (Rom. 3:24). As Robert Lightner describes it:

Because of our position in Christ (Eph. 2:13), whereby Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21), God declares us righteous because we are clothed with his righteousness (Rom. 5:1). . . . Justification is more than simply God viewing the sinner as though he had never sinned. Instead, it is God looking upon the sinner to whom the righteousness of Christ earned at the cross has been added.[i]

Thus we can conclude that justification is God declaring the believing one to be righteous.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans the doctrine of justification is presented in great detail. Romans 3:21-26 outlines the role of the Son in justification. God’s righteousness demands the judgment and punishment of sin as attested to by the Law and the Prophets (v.21). Righteousness is provided to the Christian at the moment he places his faith in Jesus Christ (v.22). The problem is that all men sin and fall short of God’s glory, but based on the redemption provided by the death of Christ God justifies the believer as a gift once again, received through faith (vv.23-25). Because sin was judged and paid for by Christ in His death on the cross God is able to maintain His perfect righteousness and yet proclaim the believing sinner justified (v.26). Because of this work of God in Christ, Paul tells the church in Corinth, “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. 5:20).

God pronounces man justified, Christ provided the sacrifice needed for man’s justification, and the Holy Spirit applies the righteousness of Christ to the believer so that he may be proclaim just by God. It is the Holy Spirit who brings new life to the believer by placing Him into Christ and His righteousness. Thus, Paul writes, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:1-2).

Baptism and Sanctification

We’ll begin with sanctification first. The word sanctification comes from the Greek word hagiazo meaning to set aside, consecrate, or dedicate. In our specific setting it refers to being set aside by God and for His purpose. While justification and sanctification are simultaneous works accomplished by the Spirit, they are not synonymous. They are intimately tied together and inseparable. Lightner correctly sums up this connectedness: “To be justified is to be declared righteous before God, and to be sanctified is to be set apart; the one presupposes the other.”[ii]

Sanctification differs from both regeneration and justification in that it is a work accomplished in the believer and is meant to be experienced in the Christian life. Regeneration is a one-time work of God never to be repeated. Looking again to the inseparable relationship between sanctification and justification it should be noted that on the one hand justification is a single act of God declaring man righteous and places him in a right relationship with God. On the other hand sanctification is an “initial”[iii] work of God that sets the believer apart for God’s purpose, but it also has ongoing, or progressive and final, or ultimate aspects. Sanctification sets the believer apart as a holy being for God’s purpose and use, and his holy position is to be reflected in the believer’s daily walk. In its experiential (progressive) sense it is in fact the crux of the Christian life.

Scripture gives ample description of the work that each member of the Godhead accomplishes in producing the believer’s sanctification. For example, Paul desired that God the Father would sanctify the believers in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:23) and Christ Himself prayed that the Father would sanctify His disciples through His word (John 17:17). Likewise we find that Christ sanctifies those who believe in Him (John 17:19; Heb. 2:11). Christ’s sacrifice sanctifies those who have faith in Him (Heb. 9:13; 10:10). It is said of the Church that Christ loves her “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26). Paul exclaims that Christ is the source of life in him that allows him to live in obedience to God.

However, to be true to the teaching of Scripture the work of the Spirit is featured foremost in the sanctification of the believer. As Ryrie explains, “…to be faithful to the emphasis of Scripture we must observe that the work of the Holy Spirit is given prominence in the process of sanctification….it is the Spirit who changes us “into the same image from glory to glory (II Cor. 3:18).”[iv] He is correct in his appraisal. Elsewhere, Paul identifies the Spirit’s power in the believer enabling the believer to “[put] to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13). In other words, the Spirit that indwells the believer also empowers the believer to choose obedience to God over enslavement to the flesh. The Spirit floods the heart of the believer with assurance and stability (Rom. 5:5). The Scriptural presentation demonstrates that sanctification in its initial phase is the work of God the Father and the Son, in its progressive sense it is a work shared by God the Son and God the Spirit, but in both the progressive and ultimate senses the bulk of the work belongs to the ministry of the indwelling Spirit.

The baptizing work of the Holy Spirit is that ministry in which He unites us with Christ in His death and places us into a position that opens the door to the possibility for the Christian to walk in a new way of life. It occurs once at the moment of saving faith. As Ron Merryman explains, “The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the ministry whereby He takes the believer at the moment of saving faith retroactively through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and places him/her into living union with the Lord Jesus Christ.”[v] Colossians 2:12-13 describes in with vivid language the truth that by faith we are buried with Him through this baptism, raised in new life with him (cf. Rom. 6:4) and made us “alive together with Him” having forgiven us all transgressions. In this union we are co-crucified (Rom. 6:5), co-buried and co-resurrected with Christ (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).

Paul provides a more full treatment of the baptizing work and its intended results to the Roman believers:

How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Rom. 6:2b-7)

As Paul specifically states it is the Spirit’s work to unite us with Christ by baptizing us into His death. As Kenneth Wuest explains[vi], the word “baptized” is actually a transliteration of the Greek word baptisma meaning “dipping” or “baptism.” In determining its meaning in the current context, Wuest explains, “The usage of the word…resolves itself into the following definition of the word baptizo…‘the introduction or placing of a person or thing into a new environment or into union with something else so as to alter its condition or its relationship to its previous environment or condition.”[vii] It can be concluded from Paul’s word usage that the Spirit unites us with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. He goes on to explain that the purpose is “so that…we too might walk in newness of life” (v. 4). Therefore, we are placed into a new environment or in union with Christ in His death thereby dying to sin (v.7) resulting in the possibility of consistently living in that new, divine life imparted to us. This union with Christ is of utmost importance for the believer. It is this union produced by Spirit’s baptizing ministry that places us into a position to live the Christian life.

At the risk of being redundant allow me to further underscore the truth of the believer’s baptism into Christ for it cannot be overemphasized. Time and time again Paul references the result of the Spirit’s baptizing work upon the believer with the phrase “in Christ” (en Christo) and various parallel phrases in order to emphasize this most important relationship. The Spirit baptizes every believer into Christ, and it is this position of privilege, power and possession from which the believer receives the ability to live the Christian life.

Indwelling

In John 14:20 Jesus taught His disciples that after His departure, “you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me and I in You.” It is the Spirit’s obligation to bring this to pass today as He takes up residence in every believer in Christ. That this is true is expressed by Jesus earlier in the chapter when He said, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (vv.16-17).

Paul further illustrates this marvelous work of the Spirit when he describes the believers in the church in Rome as “not in the flesh but in the Spirit” because of the Spirit’s indwelling (Rom. 8:9).[viii] In fact, Paul explains that if the Spirit is not indwelling a person that one “does not belong to Christ” (v.9). In accord with this discussion Paul equates this indwelling of the Spirit with “Christ…in you” (v.10). It is on the basis of the Spirit’s indwelling that we have the hope of the resurrection (v.11), and it is the indwelling that enables the us to “[put] to death the deeds of the body” (v.13).

To sum up we find that by regeneration the Spirit births a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). In justification the new believer is made righteous based on his new connection to Christ’s righteousness. The Spirit’s work in the believer in the ministries of sanctification, baptism, and indwelling are central to the believer’s ability to live the Christian life. Sanctification sets the believer apart by God for His purpose. In baptism the believer is placed in vital union with Christ, and through the Spirit’s indwelling the believer has access to the divine enablement provided by Him.

NOTES:

[i]Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1995), 203.

[ii]Ibid., 205.

[iii]Ibid.

[iv]Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 63.

[v]Ron Merryman, Divine Operating Assets for the Believer in Time, vol. II of God’s Grace Provision for Man’s Success: An Analysis of All Phases of Salvation by Grace (Casa Grande, AZ: Merryman Ministries, 2012), 27.

[vi]Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), Logos Bible Software.

[vii]Ibid.

[viii]eiper may be translated as “If as is the case” (see A.T. Robinson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), Logos Bible Software)

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A Dispensational View of the Spiritual Life, or Homage to He That Is Spiritual

Most people, if they know anything at all about Dispensationalism, believe that it really only affects the area of end-times prophecy, and certain books of the Bible such as Daniel and Revelation.  However, it is not possible for this to be the case since each individual area of theology is inextricably connected to and intertwined with each of the other divisions of Biblical Theology, and its systematized cousin, Systematic Theology.  If that is true, as I believe it is, then there should be a Dispensational view of each of the major divisions, and subdivisions of Systematic Theology.  One of these subdivisions is found in the area of the Christian life, or also know as the spiritual life.  I will attempt to demonstrate that truth in this series of posts.

Although the topic of the Christian life is one that generates much debate, and could easily occupy many more pages than will be used in this series of blogs, rarely do systematic theologies dedicate a specific chapter or section to it. Therefore, our goal will be to develop a general understanding of the issue in brief and to discover the basic mechanics found in Scripture concerning how to experience what Scripture teaches concerning this doctrine.

Introduction

The major topic at hand is the origin and experience of the new life that begins when God’s grace is applied to the person who exercises faith in Christ. The Christian life is a quality of life that is available to all those who believe in Christ, but is not necessarily experienced by every believer. It typifies what the normal Christian life is meant to be. As Lewis Sperry Chafer declared, “(It) is a life of no regrets” that “consists of having done the will of God.”[i] That description pinpoints the outcome of the Christian life while simultaneously implying what a careful study of Scripture proves to be true, that not all believers experience living out the will of God on a consistent basis.

An important aspect of this post is the fact that it is being presented from a distinctly Dispensational viewpoint. In other words I am going to present a Dispensational view of the Christian walk, or spiritual life. That this is possible is a matter of disagreement for some. Yet, that there exists a Dispensational view of the Christian life is not only demonstrable, more importantly, it is biblical. As such it can be discovered through the hermeneutic principles commonly referred to as the grammatical-historical method of interpretation, which, simply stated, is the normal reading of Scripture. It is through the consistent implementation of this normal reading of Scripture that Dispensational theology is developed and it is through this method alone that the whole of Scripture may be properly understood including what it teaches concerning the Christian life.

Rationale for a Dispensational Theology of the Christian Life

Before we dig more deeply into the subject of the Christian life we should first briefly examine the rationale behind the assertions concerning a Dispensational view of the Christian life. Charles Ryrie has identified the sine qua non, or absolute essentials of Dispensationalism.[ii] Two of these play key roles in reaching a Dispensational view of the Christian life.  As has been previously alluded, Dispensationalism is first and foremost based upon a particular system of interpretation – the literal, historical-grammatical hermeneutic, otherwise known as normal interpretation.  This reflects the first of Ryrie’s essential elements. A Dispensationalist insists on using a consistent, literal or normal system of interpretation. The historical-grammatical hermeneutic system is not only the foundation of Dispensational theology it is the only way to gain a correct understanding of God’s message to man. Mal Couch has offered a clear and concise explanation of this form of interpretation: “One must take the words in their normal, literal, plain, historical sense. Literal would imply the natural or usual construction and implication, following the ordinary and apparent sense of words rather than an allegorical or metaphorical sense.”[iv] It is from the consistent use of a normal interpretation that the Dispensationalist reaches his theological conclusions. The same is true in regard to the subject of the Christian life.

There are multiple reasons that this normal hermeneutic approach holds such influence over the development of the Dispensational view of the Christian life. For our study, one reason will suffice. A major point of contention that arises when discussing the topic of the carnal Christian is easily overcome by a normal interpretation of Scripture that is untainted by a theological system. It is clear from First Corinthians 2:14-3:3 that not only are there three divisions of men, but there are two divisions of Christians: those who are “spiritual” (2:15)[v] and those who “are still fleshly” (carnal). When this passage is viewed through the strict usage of a normal historical-grammatical hermeneutic, the proper view, as seen above, becomes obvious.

The consistent distinction between Israel and the Church is the second of the sine qua non that bears influence on this subject and is a product of the first. One may question how this could possibly influence any view of the Christian life. The answer also leans heavily on a normal interpretation of Scripture particularly in the understanding of the subject of Pneumatology, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Robert Dean, Jr. describes this aspect of our discussion:

. . . because this model is based on a consistent literal, historical-grammatical hermeneutic, the conclusions will also be consistent with the dispensational distinctive – a distinction between Israel and the church. Since one of the distinguishing characteristics between Israel and the church is the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, especially in the spiritual life, we will discover that, despite protestations to the contrary, there truly is a view of the spiritual life that is dispensational.[vi]

Scripture clearly teaches that every Christian has the Holy Spirit indwelling him as part of His multifaceted ministry in our lives. Paul drives this truth home when he states, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9b). However, Scripture also presents the truth that not every individual Old Testament believer had the Spirit and those who did at times fall under the influence of the Holy Spirit could just as quickly have the Spirit depart from them. This was obviously understood by King David as is attested by Psalm 51:11. David feared that the Spirit would depart from him because of his great personal sin and he pled with God, “Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” As Couch explains, “This does not imply a loss of salvation for David but it tells us David feared the Lord would no longer be using him as before.”[vii] On the other hand Christians in the present dispensation have no fear of the Spirit’s departure for Christ Himself promised, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:16).

Therefore, by utilizing the grammatical-historical form of biblical interpretation it is discovered that there are major differences between Israel and the Church; the Spirit’s relationship with the Christian is only one. Unlike the Old Testament saint, the Holy Spirit permanently indwells each individual New Testament saint who then always has the ability to have access to the Spirit’s power and ministry. In particular, it is the ministry of the indwelling Spirit available to each individual believer that not only imparts life to the believer but also serves as the means by which the special and supernatural character of the Christian life may be experienced by every believer.

As we begin our study we must first look at God’s work in the life of the believer. He is the source of life for all creation in general (Gen. 1-2) and the source of eternal, spiritual life for those who are newly born by grace through faith in Christ (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-10). Since the Christian life begins with Him we should begin by examining His provision for the Christian life.  This we will do next time.

Endnotes

[i]Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That Is Spiritual, rev. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967), 87.

[ii]Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 46-48.

[iv]Mal Couch, An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics: A Guide to the History and Practice of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2000),

[v]All Scripture quotations taken from the NASB unless otherwise noted.

[vi]Robert Dean, Jr., “Abiding in Christ: A Dispensational Theology of the Spiritual Life (Part 1),” CTS Journal 7, no. 1 (January-March 2001), http://chafer.edu/content.cfm?id=367#01 (accessed July 10, 2012).

[vii]Mal Couch, The Coming of the Holy Spirit (Springfield, MO: 21st Century Press, 2001), 28.

A Response to an Old College Friend on Facebook

A pastor whom I knew back in my college days recently linked with this article on his Facebook page (Michele Bachmann: proof that end-times theology will poison your worldview).  I think that the article typifies at least a portion of what is wrong in the Church today.  Let it be known at the outset that I am one of the dangerous ones that he discusses since I hold to the dispensational view of Scripture.

What follows is the message that I sent to my college friend.  His name is removed in order to not upset anyone, or get sued, or something along those lines.

I am saddened that you would place your stamp of agreement on that article.  I am not here to argue.  Instead I would like to simply direct our attention back to what Scripture teaches since it is the standard of truth, and doctrine.

2 Peter 3:3-4, 7, 10-11, “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation…But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men…But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!”

I could continue with Peter’s words, but simply notice what he said that the practical outcome of understanding the severity of “day of the Lord” and the coming judgment/destruction of the present earth should be – it is to have a purifying effect on God’s people – “what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness…”  1 John 2:28-3:3 gives the same basic message that the imminent return of the Lord should cause His people to live pure lives.

1 Peter 4:7, “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit of the purpose of prayer.”

Peter claimed that in his day the end had already drawn near.  This verb, “is near” is in the perfect active indicative meaning that it is a “completed action with a resulting state of being…with the emphasis on the resulting state of being.”  In other words we are living at the end of all things, and if the end of all things had already drawn near at Peter’s time, logically it is even closer now.

Just as he had done in the previous passage, Peter describes what this knowledge should produce in the life of the Christian; 1.) sound judgment, 2.) sobriety in spirit (in control of one’s thought process  so as not to think irrationally) 3.) in order that we are able to pray in a focused manner.  All-in-all Peter again is teaching that knowing that we are living in the last days, that Christ may return at any time, is to have the effect of causing us to live in obedience to the word of God.

1 Peter 4:17, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

I’m sure that I’ve acted like a Pharisee even more times than I am aware, but this is not one of them.  Peter said that we are living in the time he called the end of all things, and here he says that judgment is beginning first in God’s own household, meaning us.  Our brothers and sisters around the world are being put to the test in ways we cannot imagine.  It very well may come to us also.  However, a much more severe judgment is reserved for those “who do not obey the gospel of God.”  Those who refuse to trust in Jesus Christ alone will face God’s judgment.  Revelation 20:11-15 is painfully clear;

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it…And I saw the dead, the great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book…which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds…And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Any Dispenstionalist, of which I am one, who is worth his salt takes all of this together and realizes that we aren’t to be hunkering down in our bunkers, but we are to be sharing the gospel of salvation in Christ alone with those who need to know before they must stand before the Righteous Judge.  I don’t condemn anyone to hell.  It is not up to me.  God will be the one who hands down final judgment.  I’m just the one waving a flag warning the drivers to stop because the bridge ahead is out.

I’m not sure that you want to be in agreement with a man who is a scoffer concerning the end times – especially since they were specifically called out by Peter.  I would encourage you to look again at what the Word says.  It is the standard by which we are to judge any teaching.  Contrary to what the author of the article wrote, Paul told Titus that the grace of God has appeared and instructs us how to live “in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13) – grammatically Paul identifies the appearing of the Lord as our blessed hope.  We should be looking for it, longing for it.  Yet, the brother who wrote the article says that it is a dangerous doctrine.  Paul told Timothy that “there is laid up for me (Paul) the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day (day of the Lord); and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 2:8).  I want that crown, and believe that I will get it because I am looking for and will love the coming of our Lord.

I pray that you will too.

The Sufficiency of Scripture: Is God’s Word Enough? Part 2

Hoky BibleYesterday I began a series of articles dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture.  I began by giving a definition and description of sufficiency.  By way of introduction I will briefly review.

Sufficiency means that something is enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end.  It refers to something being what is necessary or desirable for a specified need.  Simply put, if something is sufficient it is just what the doctor ordered.  When it comes to Scripture, God’s Holy Word, it means that the Bible is totally adequate, and competent to meet the needs of every individual Christian in every circumstance of life (see 2 Peter 1:2-3).  Nothing else is needed to guide us in our everyday living.

Most of us would agree that the greater portion of the Church has abandoned this long-held belief in the sufficiency of Scripture.  What some of us may not know is the history of how we have arrived at this place in the life of the Church.  What follows is my attempt to trace the history of biblical interpretation and misinterpretation of Scripture that enabled and emboldened the Church to conclude that God’s word alone is not a sufficient guide for an individual Christian’s life.  I would add to the previous statement that I am by no means alone in my understanding of the history that follows.

Historical Perspective: The Battle for Authority and Sufficiency

Origen and Allegorical Interpretation –

As Philip Schaff has stated, “The question of the source and rule of Christian knowledge lies at the foundation of all theology.” Without a solid foundation all theology must rest on shifting “sand…and great (shall be) its fall” (Matt. 7:26-27). Not withstanding the original attack upon the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in the Garden, the shift from the authority and sufficiency within the Christian Church can be seen with the first formal theory of interpretation, that of Origen (A.D.185-254). His hermeneutic system was fashioned after that of Philo, a Jewish Platonist who adopted the allegorical method in approaching the Hebrew Scriptures. Likewise, Origin applied the allegorical method in his exegesis of Scripture.  Although born out of the best of intentions the problem with Origen’s s hermeneutic method is that it abandoned a normal interpretation for a fanciful, imaginative interpretation that placed the interpreter in the place of authority instead of Scripture itself being the authority. Instead of Scripture having a static meaning (although alive and active as Hebrews 4:12 states) and simply having a basic, intended meaning that anyone could understand, “(he) considered the Bible a living organism (not as Hebrews states), consisting of three elements which answer to the body, soul, and spirit of man, after Platonic psychology.” The outcome was that Origen, like Plato, would allegorize, or spiritualize vast portions of Scripture completely undermining, or destroying the plain, historical sense in which it was intended. In so doing the authority of the word of God was made to be subservient to the interpreter, thereby making it insufficient in itself to direct men into proper living.

Augustine and Dualism –

Following Origen’s lead, Augustine (A.D. 354-430), once again desiring to do good, duplicated the allegorical method, but with a twist. His system is known as dualism, and the modification that he introduced was seen in his practice of limiting allegorical interpretations to prophetic passages, while taking other passages in their normal, literal sense. This dualistic method of allegorical interpretation once again pushed the subtle shift from the sufficiency of Scripture as it tore at the foundation of the authority of Scripture. Paul Tan described the overwhelming acceptance of Augustine’s practice; “Unfortunately for the church, Augustinian dualism was accepted without much debate into the Roman Catholic church, and later also by the Protestant reformers.”  It is that last fact concerning the Protestant reformers that has led to many of the problems in the modern Church.

Arguably, one of the negative outcomes of Augustine’s dualism is the birth of Amillennialism. This view of the millennium was absorbed whole by the Roman Catholic Church and their theology. This had a devastating impact upon the Roman Catholic hermeneutic method, and, therefore, to the authority and, in turn, the sufficiency of Scripture.

Catholic Allegorism –

Directly effected by Augustine’s form of allegorical interpretation is the Catholic system of hermeneutics. The Catholic system is very closely related to Augustine’s dualism, and completely swallowed up the Amillennialist idea of prophetic Scriptures.

Bernard Ramm asserts that “[i]t would be over-simplification to assert that the only method of exegesis during the Middle Ages was the allegorical method. It would not be, however, be an exaggeration to assert that the preponderance of exegetical work was allegorical.” The Romanists divided Scripture into two categories; 1.) Literal and 2.) Spiritual, or mystical. Yet, as damaging as this aspect of their system was, it was merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The real greater damage is found in another of Ramm’s observations;

The Catholic interpreter obediently accepts whatever the Catholic Church has specifically said about matters of Biblical Introduction, and authorship of the books of the Bible…The Catholic interpreter accepts all verse which the Church has officially interpreted in the sense in which they have been interpreted.”

Here we have the logical outcome of the destruction of the authority, and therefore the sufficiency of Scripture by the introduction of the allegorical method of interpretation. When the normal sense of Scripture is not the true or deepest meaning of Scripture, then interpretation must be left up to those who have been granted the divine right of interpretation, i.e., the Church. In turn, that transition of the divine right of interpretation from the individual Christian to the Church placed the individual Christian under the authority of the Church, and since the method of interpretation placed the interpreting body in control of what Scripture means the Church became the authority, Scripture lost both its authority and sufficiency, and direction for all areas of life fell under the authority of the church; the Roman Catholic Church held the sufficiency. The Bible was taken out of the hands of the average man on the street and given only to the church to dictate to the individual what was held within its pages.

The Catholic Church’s denial of sola Scriptura was solidified at the Council of Trent in 1545. Although affirming the Bible as inspired revelation from God, as has already been established, the Church became the only competent interpreter of Scripture.

Two major errors occurred. Upon the church’s establishment of itself as the only sound interpreter of Scripture, membership in the Catholic Church became necessary for salvation. Therefore, the church and not Scripture, is sufficient for salvation.

Secondly, they established that the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church is absolutely necessary for correct understanding of the Bible. Popes and bishops are the only competent interpreters of the Scriptures; therefore, the individual cannot grow, serve or obey without the guidance of the Catholic Church. Scripture alone is not sufficient for salvation or daily living.

With the Bible taken from those who were not in authority in the church the natural progression was to drift into deep superstition and mysticism. Although mysticism came along with the allegorical interpretation, its filtering into public life in the form of superstitions and pagan practices was caused by the individual’s inability to read, let alone understand the words of Scripture, as well as by example of their “spiritual” leaders.  The results were horrific in the life of the Church in general, and devastating to individuals overall.  None had assurance of salvation.  Many lived in fear of evil spirits, or even in fear of their own religious leaders.  The Roman Church became oppressive and overbearing, and millions suffered greatly.

Praise God that the history of the Church and biblical interpretation did not end there.

To be continued.

The Words of the Gospel of Eternal Life | 1024project.com

The Words of the Gospel of Eternal Life | 1024project.com.

I would like to introduce you to the 1024project.com if you have not yet discovered it on your own.  I am one of the founding members and would like to invite you to sample some of the sites work.  The above article is by one of the other founding members, Dr. Mike Stallard.  I hope you enjoy reading it.

Below is a brief description of the 1024project:

1024projectlogo

What is the 1024 Project?

The 1024 Project is a collaboration of Christian leaders, based on Hebrews 10:24 – “and let us consider ways to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” One way we can accomplish this mandate is by working together to provide encouraging and edifying resources on issues that arise in the lives of individual believers and in corporate church life. The 1024 Project is a clearinghouse of teaching, resources and information from likeminded leaders of Biblical churches, who are committed to Two Key Distinctives:

First, the Bible (the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament) is the inspired, inerrant (in the original manuscripts), revealed word of God, and is authoritative and sufficient for the equipping of saints for every good work.

Second, the Bible provides the model for its own interpretation, and should be understood in its natural (literal grammatical-historical) sense, considering context and the progress of revelation. The 1024 Project and its members are committed to the consistent application of the literal grammatical-historical method for understanding the entire Bible.

These Two Key Distinctives have some obvious implications. One implication worth noting here is that the 1024 Project means by “considering context and the progress of revelation” that the earlier Biblical texts provide grounding and definition for later Biblical texts, and not the other way around (the OT is not to be reinterpreted by the NT, rather the NT is to be understood in light of the OT). Consequently, hermeneutic models that advocate NT primacy, like the canonical or complementary approaches, do not consider context and progress of revelation in keeping with the literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic.

How An Evangelical Christian Can Support a Mormon for President | Bible Prophecy Blog

My friend, Dr. Andy Woods, recently wrote an article outlining how it is possible for a Christian to vote for a Mormon as president. This is a major issue for all who take orthodox Christianity and Cults as serious matters. There are those in the church that I pastor who struggle with this question.

There is no doubt in my mind, nor should there be a doubt in any informed Christian’s mind whether or not Mormonism is a cult, a false religion that is leading millions away from the true Jesus. However, we are not electing a pastor or religious teacher. Does that make a difference? It is an extremely difficult question that does not have an easy answer.

What does Scripture say if anything? That is our final authority. God’s word must inform our decisions if we are going to be mature Christians who honor Him with those decisions and at the same time do what is best for our nation’s and children’s future. His word gives us principles to follow that will help us make a good decision as we enter the voting booth this November. The best way to protect freedom in this country is to obey the word of God.

Because of the complexities of this question and the monumental nature of the upcoming election I have decided to offer this link to Dr. Woods’ article, which was posted on the website Bible Prophecy Blog.com. Please take some time to read it, especially if you are struggling with voting for a Mormon.

How An Evangelical Christian Can Support a Mormon for President | Bible Prophecy Blog.