Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Importance of the Moral Law

     Matthew 5:17 introduces the longest section of the Sermon on the Mount, running to the end of chapter 5, beginning with the indication that Jesus was addressing the thinking of the people around Him as He began His ministry. Without question, Jesus’ ministry was attracting attention (Matthew 4:23–25). He was doing this characterized by meekness and lowliness that distinguished Him from the religious leaders. Yet, He was doing things that clearly evidenced His divine commission, like healing every disease and all who were demon possessed, which also could not be duplicated by the religious leaders. Nevertheless, none of them was willing to endorse Him. This brought many questions to mind. Who was Jesus? Did He come to replace the Jewish religion? Did He come to abolish the Law of Moses?
     Jesus was getting ahead of the rumors: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (v. 17). The reference is to the whole of the Old Testament, usually designated in this way (Matthew 7:12; 11:13; 22:40). However, note that here Jesus does not join the two with and but or. In other words, Jesus is arguing that He is not dismantling either the Law as given to Israel through Moses or the Messianic predictions of the prophets. He was fulfilling it all. He was the end of the Law for righteousness (Romans 10:4), and He was fulfilling everything spoken of Him by the prophets. No less than thirteen times in Matthew do we read, “this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet . . .” (1:22; 25, 17, 23; 4:14, etc.).
     The law, as we have seen, forms the very foundation of all moral governance. The moral law of God resides in the Ten Commandments. This moral law was then applied to Israel in two ways: through the rules and ordinances it governed their worship of God and civic life in society.  These two areas of application were made obsolete in the new covenant, but not the Ten Commandments.
     Jesus summarized the Ten Words, as they were known, in two basic rules: love for God and love for neighbor (Matthew 22:37–40). Nevertheless, Jesus did not change the Law. The Ten Commandments reflect the moral nature of God and are eternally binding on all His image bearers (believers and unbelievers; Jews and Gentiles, alike). It is on the basis of Law that all judgment is to take place (Romans 2:12). This responsibility includes the fourth commandment. 
    Christians have generally misunderstood the nature of this commandment because they worship on the first day, not the seventh, celebrating the resurrection. Although Jesus fulfilled this commandment, personally becoming the believers’ Sabbath rest (Matthew 11:25–30), the moral responsibility of all people to keep this commandment remains. The Sabbath commandment ties into the first three by serving as the regular weekly means of trusting God (the first), worshiping God (the second), and honoring His name (the third). How do we accomplish this? We shall see.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Law of God

Law is defined by Samuel Hopkins (1721–1803) as “the eternal rule of righteousness which is essential to the being and glory of God’s moral government and kingdom.”* Hopkins argues that the divine law is the foundation of moral government, defining the obligation of moral agents to God as moral governor. God is God, Creator of all that exists. As moral creatures, humans have a conscious duty to God. Law defines that relationship of the creature and his accountability to God. None are free from the law.
Iniquity (anomia, “no law,” translated “lawless-ness” in the ESV) is the condition of one who believes himself to be free to act independently of God’s Law. This is the inheritance of Adam’s children. Satan deceived Eve and lied to her that she was free to be god, “knowing good and evil”—that right to determine one’s own moral course. That is iniquity and the root of human depravity. All Adam’s offspring are fully corrupted by the notion that they are gods, capable of determining the rightness of their own behavior.
Citing Psalm 14, Paul wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10, 11). Righteousness is the condition of one who is judged by God to be in full conformity to His law. The Bible plainly teaches that no one is so judged. Further, no one understands the required obligation, nor does he even care to. Thus, no one seeks God. Nevertheless, all are to be measured by the rule of law.
Adam’s failure is offset by Christ, the Second Adam. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17, 18), Jesus declared His relationship to the law and His intention to fulfill all righteousness by perfect conformity to the law. Some might think that human guilt could be cancelled by annulling the law and replacing it. As God, Jesus, however, asserts His authority in the words, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”—to cause God’s will (made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be. In fulfilling all the law’s commands, Jesus qualified Himself to become righteousness for those He saves, justifying them before God. In taking the sins of His people upon Himself, He also took the penalty for their sins in order for God to forgive them (1 Corinthians 1:30).
 Jesus further asserted the value and place of the law, stating that it would be easier for the creation to pass away than for a small letter-mark (jot or iota) to be removed from the law. This supports the observation that the law is also permanently linked to Scripture. The Old Testament is basically divided between law (the Pentateuch) and the Prophets (God’s watchkeepers of the law). This affirms Paul’s observation that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12).

*Samuel Hopkins, chapter 2 (pg. 17), Salvation in Full Color, Richard Owens Roberts, Ed. © 1994 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Holy Influence

Arthur Pink argues that Matthew 4:13–16 should be applied to ministers of the gospel. True, those who have the greatest public exposure are most likely to suffer persecution for their testimony in Christ. However, what is said must also apply to all followers of Jesus Christ. First, Jesus revealed the character necessary for one to be a true believer. Second, He warned that living out the holy principles reflected in Christlike character would put His followers at odds with the culture around them, which most likely would result in open opposition (persecution). We are never more like Jesus Christ than when we suffer like Him at the hands of wicked people. Third, Jesus doubled down to discourage any thought of withdrawal or seclusion to avoid suffering. He declared that His followers were salt and light in the world.
Jesus did not urge anyone to consider their responsibility and to decide to do something to be salty as they found opportunity. Their only responsibility is to remain pure in their holiness of life. When a saint is worldly, he is worthless. Salt cannot be altered and remain salt, but it can be contaminated. Holy and righteous living in obedience and conformity to God’s rule and will defines the believer’s influence in his culture. Salt preserves and purifies the culture, which means that God’s plan to restore righteousness in the world is to plant His holy people in the culture. When He does so, the culture typically reacts to expel the salt.
To support holiness and to establish righteousness in the culture, God called His people to be light in the world. Light is a symbol for the spiritual awakening brought by the gospel. Light dispels the darkness and exposes reality. Light is truth. The Word of God is truth. Believers are light when they declare the Word of truth.
Jesus used two analogies, a city and a lampstand. Without stretching the analogy too much, the city corresponds to an aggregate of people—a true gospel-preaching church. The lampstand corresponds to the home where the Word of God gives light to all that are in the house. Our culture is descending into greater darkness because people are abandoning the church. The light of a city is the preaching of the Word of God. The more the preaching, the greater the light. Our homes, likewise, have become dark dens because the Word of God is not illuminating all corners of the house. Satan has distracted families from what is most important, and many children are being lost to eternal hope.
Lastly, Jesus applies the light process to individual believers in their good deeds. One may do good deeds and be charitable among his neighbors without ever being a believer. However, in this case, who gets the glory? Christians may also do good deeds and not bring glory to God. Jesus made it plain that when one does good works, he must also speak the Word of God (“let your light shine”) so that God will receive the glory for what he does.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Fidelity to Truth

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matthew 5:13).

A. W. Pink* argues that the Lord’s reference to salt and light (vv. 13–16) apply to the apostles in particular, not to the disciples in general. He gives three reasons for his claim: (1) the pronoun changes (they in verse 12 to you in verse 13) show a shift from a general principle to a specific application. (2) Christ’s public servants would be most likely to receive the brunt of persecution (vv. 10, 11). (3) This is supported by the phrase, “for so they persecuted the prophets [not the saints] who were before you.” Pink cites Matthew Henry, noting that in 4:19 Jesus had just called the first apostles to “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Here He tells them further that they are designed to be salt and the light in the world.
It would be best to apply this text to those who have the greatest public exposure, but it equally applies to all believers who openly witness the gospel of Christ. Nevertheless, the specific reference is to the effect of the character of those who testify of Christ in the world and the reaction of the world to them: “You are the salt of the earth.”
Salt is indispensable to life. Its antiseptic qualities are renowned, being well suited to the figure of truth, arresting the natural corruption that prevents holiness and purity in the world. Only those whom the Lord pronounces blessed are suitable to be so. The clear evidence of the effect of their person and witness is the negative reaction—persecution. Herein lies the danger that Christ immediately presents. Negative assault on anyone’s person is naturally met with self-defense and protective action. Would not a little sugar find a better reception than pure salt? So, the temptation is great to soften the sting of truth.
This is what Jesus means when He observes, “if salt has lost its taste.” We understand that salt is a chemical compound that cannot be altered. The only way it can lose its saltiness is by diluting it. Paul warned Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2 Timothy 4:2–4, KJV).
“How shall its saltiness be restored?” Compromisers, who to preserve self and would be unfaithful to the truth, will find it difficult, if not impossible, to be restored to kingdom usefulness. This fact is clear in Christ’s warning, “It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Unfaithful ministers are not only worthless to God and man but are condemned by both as well. “But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction”  (Malachi 2:8, 9).

*A. W. Pink, An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, Baker Book House, pp. 43–46, ©1953         

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Blessing of Persecution

The eight beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–10) end with “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” This seems like a strange place to conclude these classic statements of blessedness. Some commentators argue that there are only seven, the last being peacemakers. They see the reference to persecution as a separate discussion. However, verse 10 fits the pattern of each beatitude before it. Particularly, observe that the pronouns in verses 3–10 are the third person plural. However, in verse 11 the pronoun shifts to the second person plural, you, explaining how His followers would be very blessed when they are persecuted. And they will be.
The term makarios translated blessed means more than “happiness.” True, it refers to the happy condition of one who is in favor with the Lord, but it means more. This term is one of recommendation. In other words, the blessed ones are those who possesses qualities to be envied and emulated. However unpromising the quality of one’s life may appear in the short term, it is recommended as necessary to that life which God commends. This recommendation is further evidenced by the fact that each beatitude is followed by the reward promised for that way of life for which the believer will never be the loser.
This last beatitude addresses the most serious of the unpromising qualities of life. Persecution is opposition that threatens harm, even death. The root of the term means to flee. The persecuted one is, believes, and stands for something that places him in imminent danger of his very life. “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:22, 23). Commenting on this passage, the New Bible Commentary says, “To follow Jesus is not a route to popularity and influence; it leads to life on the run.” Persecution is not an option. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). So, how can such circumstances be recommended as a way of life in which one will never be the loser?  
Christ adds the commentary of verses 11 and 12. First, this suffering is on Christ’s account. It assures the believer is in step with the Lord, His purpose, and His work (addressed in verses 13 and 14) in this age. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” As one does the will of God, the Lord promises His presence and protection (Hebrews 13:5, 6). Second, the very great reward promised is heaven itself (Revelation 7:9–17). Third, the persecuted one can take comfort in the fact that he is keeping good company: “For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Persecuted for Righteousness

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
Each of the eight beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount builds on the previous one. They define what a true follower of Jesus is and does. This last beatitude is a shocker, especially following the one on peacemaking. One would think peacemakers should be loved and appreciated, not persecuted.
Jesus explains this paradox in the statement, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is the second time Jesus makes this assertion, the first ending the first beatitude and now this closing the last. These bookends are attestation of citizenship, confirming both the goal of salvation—the kingdom of heaven—and the restoration of righteousness as the character of its citizens. Kingdom citizens will be persecuted in this world. When Jesus prayed for His own, He explained: “The world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).
True believers will be persecuted simply because they are identified with Jesus and live out their faith. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). To his unbelieving brothers, Jesus declared, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil” (John 7:7). Because Jesus is a rebuke to the world, His followers must also suffer His rejection. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18, 19).
In other words, believers do not need to do anything to be hated and persecuted; they just need to be identified as Christ’s people. That means that they are righteous, living in an unrighteous world. Verses 13 and 14 explain that true righteousness establishes believers as salt and light in the world. Salt restrains evil and preserves the culture from the effects of evil. Light exposes evil and reveals the truth. Note, Jesus did not exhort His followers to be salt and light; they already are by virtue of their relationship to Him. It is on Christ’s account that they are reviled, persecuted, and falsely accused (vv. 11, 12).
This simple truth exposes all false Christianity. How do mere professors respond to persecution? Some will deny Christ, but, “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33). Others will compromise and soften the truth: “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works” (Titus 1:16). True saints will endure: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved [a true believer ‘kept by the power of God unto salvation,’ (1 Peter 1:5)] (Matthew 10:22; Hebrews 10:23–39).

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Pure in Heart

The sixth beatitude is another difficult statement. What is purity? How may one gain such purity? There is in religion a notion that purity can be attained by strict devotion to religious principles. Some go so far as to assert that one may attain to sinless perfection, using such verses as this to prove their point. Such advocates point to their external religious practices as evidence of their claims. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day would be quick to claim and pridefully acknowledge this status for themselves. Jesus, however, presses the point that the purity here described is that of the heart, an inward condition as opposed to outward practice.
It may be that the Lord was referring to Psalm 18 in setting forth this and the previous beatitude. Verse 26 states, “With the purified you show yourself pure.”  The passage continues by stating that God saves a humble people while resisting those who are proud and haughty. The Lord requires truth in the inward parts: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being” (Psalm 51:6). True inward condition is set against outward conformity, which, if practiced, entitles a person to be declared ritually pure. God’s argument with Israel was that outward conformity to ritual standards, while it made one acceptable in the community, was not sufficient to make one right with God.
The Old Testament ritual system was designed to present the inflexible standard of holiness and to provoke the practitioner to realize his utter insufficiency to meet the standard. Sadly, the natural man deceives himself into thinking that his outward conformity to rules is enough to make himself acceptable to God, even while his own heart condemns him (Jeremiah 17:9). Ritual purity, properly understood, was to promote a longing for true purity of heart before God. However, such a state is possible only through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, the perfect sacrifice and fulfillment of all the types and shadows.
One must also keep in mind that no one this side of glory can be called pure in the purest sense. Nevertheless, in Jesus Christ one is positionally pure while growing in practical holiness, awaiting the coming of Christ, when all His people will be as pure as He is pure. That this ultimate purity is the focus of the verse is evident by the promise attached: “He shall see God.” John plainly states that “no one [on this sin-plagued earth] has ever seen God” (John 1:18). In spite of the many false claims to the contrary, human sinfulness makes viewing God impossible. In addressing Moses’ petition that God reveal Himself, the Lord said, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). However, when the redeemed saints are finally and fully sanctified, purified, and glorified, “they shall see His face” (Revelation 22:3). The psalmist anticipates this glorious time: “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).