Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Church, Part 1

Most people identify a church with a location and building. How does the Bible identify a church? Read Colossians 1:21–23 and carefully notice who Paul is addressing: “And you” (pronoun second person plural) refers to the collective—the believers in Colossae, the church, a particular congregation (ecclesia, an assembly), not individuals and not a building. This collective is identified by the former, present, and future condition of its members. They “once were alienated [from God] and hostile in mind [toward the things of God], doing evil deeds [in disobedience to God](v. 21). However, through the gospel, these are “now reconciled in [Christ’s] body of flesh [the church] by his death.” (Note 1:20 where Paul states that Christ is to reconcile all things, making peace by the blood of His cross.) His goal is to present the church “holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (v. 22; Ephesians 5:26, 27). However, there is a condition: “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (v. 23). Is this a warning to individual believers? That would be a mistake, for it is a church thing. Here is where one must focus if he is to understand the current church problem.
If Christ saves a person, it is forever (John 10:27–30). He cannot fall away. Churches, however, can fall away, as evidenced in Revelation 2 and 3. Congregations can be overrun by false believers, deceived through false doctrine, and infiltrated by false teachers. This has been the problem since the church began. For example, Paul admonished the elders from Ephesus: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:28–32).
The church is compared to a flock needing care and protection, not a corporation that uses people in order to prosper. The church is a collective of redeemed and reconciled people struggling against sin and rebellion in the slow and painful process of sanctification. The church is a body of people sharing the same burdens in their joint pursuit of holiness. The church is an army of spiritual warriors standing shoulder to shoulder against principalities and powers, striving together and persevering in prayer. The church’s condition depends on God and His grace, not human programs and means. Read again Colossians 1:21–23 and study this passage and learn to think of the church in biblical terms.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Exhortations Reveal, Not Convince

The exhortations in Scripture are often misunderstood by casual Bible readers. Yes, they are God’s means to guide His people into holiness, but they are often seen as hopeful but vain attempts to convince the reluctant to obedience. Things could be wonderful if only more people would be convinced to heed His counsel and do what He wants them to do.
There is a notion that the church either succeeds or fails as people are convinced to cooperate. However, when the culture becomes worldly, doing “church” can be difficult if not impossible. “If only Christians could be coaxed to pray for revival, then the church would thrive.” People tend to see God like themselves, wringing His hands in frustration and disappointment at the lack of interest in His program. It would appear that the church’s strategy needs some tweaking. A 2013 statistic reveals that 80% of Americans find more fulfilling ways to spend their weekends than attending church. It is probably worse in 2018.
Scripture, however, paints a totally different picture of God’s kingdom-building program for this age. God does not try anything. He is sovereign over all things. “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance’” (Isaiah 45:23). “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose. . . . I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it’” (Isaiah 46:9–11).
Jesus affirmed that He would build His assembly (Matthew 16:18). Acts 2:47 states, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” In Ephesians 1 Paul extols “the immeasurable greatness of His power . . . [when] according to the working of His great might . . . He put all things under [Jesus’] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (vv.19–23). In other words, His church is exactly what He wants it to be. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
God’s work in the church will progress “until all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). His will is unfolding exactly as He planned through the “grace given to each one according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7).
Nevertheless, many have attached themselves to the church who have not received the grace of salvation. As a result, they can be a problem. Paul warned Timothy of those who “will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4). Therefore, exhortations not only prod the saints to obedience; they reveal the disobedient.

The Last Enemy

Paul addresses a concern in the Corinthian church regarding some who taught that there is no resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12). If these people were right, then Christ must still be dead. If that is the case, Christian preaching is false and foolish; Christian faith is nonsense; Christian doctrine misrepresents God; and, worst of all, there is no salvation—no hope of eternal life (I Corinthians 15:13–19).
The deniers were the ones in error as Paul proved in the first eleven verses of chapter fifteen. Christ did indeed rise from the dead as confirmed by irrefutable testimony. On that fact Paul drills down on the hope that this truth brings to those in Christ. Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits, the beginning of the greater harvest to follow. In other words, because Christ was raised from the dead, having borne the penalty of His people’s sin, they too, must be raised from the dead because they are no longer under the curse of sin (Romans 6:23).
All for whom Christ died will be raised just as He was raised. That is Paul’s argument in verses 21 and 22. The first man, Adam, was the representative head of the human race. Because he sinned, all his posterity sinned in him. Like Adam, all in him incur sin’s penalty, death. In the same way, all in Christ will benefit from Christ’s obedience and will pass from death to life. They will, like Christ, be raised from the dead to eternal life.
So, when will this resurrection take place? In the following verses (23–28), Paul lays out a simple and profound map of the end of time. Christ, as firstfruits, was raised in the first century of the “last days” with the promise that He would return to earth again (John 14:3). Paul confirms this by showing that all who belong to Him will be raised at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:23). In four words (v. 24), Paul literally destroys most of the popular and sensational teachings about end times: “Then comes the end” (v. 24). The end is when Christ delivers the kingdom to God.
Christ defeated the devil at the cross and took back the kingdom Satan usurped from Adam. Christ rose from dead and ascended to the right hand of God where He is to reign until all God’s enemies are conquered (Psalm 110:1, 2). Paul clearly references these verses from Psalm 110 as his proof of argument (vv. 24, 25). When all the enemies are subdued, the King gives the kingdom back to God.
 Finally, the nail in the coffin is verse 26, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Jesus will raise all the dead for judgment (John 5:28, 29; note also Daniel 12:1–4). This means that Christ’s ruling and the conquering of all his enemies must take place before His return and the resurrection of His own. This simple teaching eliminates any future “millennial” kingdom on earth in which people will die, if death has been destroyed. Neither can this kingdom end with the battle of Armageddon if the last enemy is no more.  

What Is Wrong with the Church?

I recently read an article entitled, “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore.”* The piece debunked an article by Ed Stetzer (Christianity Today) contending that the church in America is not dying, just transitioning. Steve McSwain countered by citing the Hartford Institute of Religion Research that more than 40% of Americans “say” they go to church weekly, but less than 20% actually do. “In other words,” says author McSwain, “more than 80% of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends.” To him, the church in America is dying and he has the evidence to prove it.
I contend biblically that the church is not dying. No, the true church is doing just fine. Indeed, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37).
One might disagree and turn to Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia minor recorded in Revelation (2 and 3). Ephesus lost her first love. Pergamum tolerated false teachers. Thyatira suffered a professed prophetess, Jezebel, to seduce Christ’s servants to commit terrible sins. Sardis pretended life, but her works were incomplete. Self-deceived Laodicea shut out Jesus in her supposed prosperity. Only suffering Smyrna and obedient Philadelphia escape the Lord’s the stinging rebukes.
The issue here, however, is not apostasy but sanctification. Every true church is made up of imperfect believers who are on the path of sanctification, becoming progressively more like Jesus (Romans 8:29).  Each church is admonished, “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). True believers have ears to hear, the Spirit speaks to them through His word so that they will overcome, persevere, and conquer (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). Nevertheless, Satan has infiltrated the churches with false believers, and there lies the problem.
There will be a great apostasy ending the new covenant era, involving those who refused the truth and take pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:3). These will be deceived and perish (2:9–12). On the other hand, the true but confused saints in Thessalonica were reminded that they were chosen to salvation and sanctified through the spirit for belief in the truth (2:13). These were called through the gospel to obtain the glory of the Lord (v. 14). Understanding this, they should “stand firm and hold to the traditions” taught them (v. 15).
The victorious and conquering church is not always evident because of the overwhelming number of false believers who obscure, suppress, and discourage the saints. The hope of true saints is God, for whom they are to do good (1 Timothy 6:17–19). They “put on” “as God’s chosen ones” “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” forgiving offenses, and holding to “love which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12–17).
The encouragement of the true church rests in Jesus’ work to “put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25). This work will appear to the uninformed observer that the church is failing. For example, in 2013, 7000 churches closed up permanently. However, that is actually good news. Let the true church shine forth!
* The Blog (, updated January 23, 2014.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Our Great Evil

Isaiah 14:12–14 records the five “I wills” of Satan. Ezekiel also records the same prideful spirit as the power behind the king of Babylon. Satan is driven by prideful ambition, the same ambition he works in “the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1).
The great evil of human existence is pride—the self-deception that one can rightly trust himself (Proverbs 8:13). God says that He hates evil, which is identified in the proverb as pride. Pride drives a person to destructive living and speaking. The Hebrew for perverse or froward means “habitually disposed to disobedience and opposition.” Eve sinned in Eden when Satan deceived her into believing God was dishonest, keeping something good from her. She was convinced she deserved this power to choose for herself and would have it if she just disobeyed God’s prohibition. Adam, however, was not deceived but knowingly followed Eve in her experiment. Pride now controlled their hearts and would be genetically passed to all their offspring (Romans 5:12). Of the seven things God hates, a proud look—the exalting of oneself—heads the list (Proverbs 6:16–19; Psalm 18:27).
God’s remedy for pride is humbling (Isaiah 2:11, 17; Zephaniah 3:8–13). God charged His remnant in Zephaniah 8 to “wait for me (for salvation) in the day I pour out my indignation and remove the proudly exultant ones” (paraphrasing vv. 8 and 11). The same catastrophic judgment that destroys the proud saves the “humble and lowly” (v. 12; James 4:10).
Pride is deceptive, often lurking in a believer’s expectations of God. There is a very pervasive but false doctrine that God is just waiting to bless and reward people with greatness and prosperity if only they will believe that He will. Someone may greatly desire something, praying long and hard. He expects that God will grant his request simply because the one praying wants it? When the request is not realized, the expectant believer becomes discouraged, discontented, and perhaps angry, frustrated, and filled with doubt. That is a reaction of pride. The truth is that God is not there to reward our ambitions or to fulfill all our dreams and desires. 
True faith believes what God says in His Word, acting in obedience to God’s will, not the believer’s. In Gethsemane, Jesus asked God to remove the cup of suffering. However, He humbly submitted to God’s will and trusted God’s purpose. God did not remove the cup, but “saved” Him through His suffering, raising and exalting Him and, thereby, “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10).
Humble saints wait on the Lord. They know that He is working all things for their good and His glory. While they do have desires and seek His face in prayer for these, they also submit to His will and rejoice in His goodness, even when their request is denied.
Jim Elliff of Christian Communicators Worldwide recently posted about what God wants of us: “to always know how much we need Him, and to always be amazed at Him.” How simply and profoundly does this describe a truly humble believer who has died to himself to live in Christ (Colossians 3:3).

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Day of the Lord

There is a coming day of God’s final judgment on earth referred to as the “day of the Lord.” Its “first mention” is Isaiah 13:6: “Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!” (See also Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; 3:15; Amos 5:18, 20; Obadiah 15; Zephaniah 1:7, 8, 14.)
There have been a series of “days of the Lord” in history, such as the flood of Noah. Peter reminds nay-sayers denying Christ’s coming that they should remember the flood (2 Peter 3:3–10). The Jews experienced two days of the Lord: the first was the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (587 b.c.), and the second was the Roman destruction of the city (a.d. 70). All these were, as Peter shows, precursors for the grand and final day (2 Peter 3:10).
The Revelation introduces the seven-sealed scroll, which is the title deed to the earth over which He has been exalted to rule (Revelation 5:12–14). Jesus declared that God had given all judgment over to Him (John 5:22, 27). Thus, the Lamb is given the scroll, and opening the seals commences that “day.” Upon opening the sixth seal, the elite, both rich and poor alike, flee to caves and dens in the mountains, “calling” for them to hide them from God and the Lamb, “for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand” (Revelation 6:17).
The seventh seal is that day of wrath, but the first five seals precede and prepare the earth. Seals one through four describe the fall of the globalist world-system under the image of the four horsemen bringing in the apocalypse (Revelation 6:1–8). The rider on the white horse is generally viewed as the coming “man of sin” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4) or antichrist. It is my opinion that the rider is Jesus Christ Himself, metaphorically conquering the kingdom of Satan and building His earthly kingdom through the gospel (compare Revelation 19:11–16). The other three horses and their riders describe the New World Order satanic cabal that is ruling the world, responding to the advance of Christ’s kingdom. The fifth seal reveals the martyrs of Jesus “slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (6:9). They prayed that the Sovereign Lord would avenge their blood (v. 10). The answer to their prayer is the sixth seal, threatening the wrath of the Lamb. Christ returns to judge the earth in the day of the Lord, described by the seventh seal (8:1–5).
    A secret cabal rules the earth through the power of Satan, hiding behind duly constituted governments. They often reveal their plans in coded messages through music, movies, games, symbols, and other means that few even notice, much less understand. The horsemen of the apocalypse mimic globalist tactics to subdue nations and keep them in tow, showing that God is aware. They use wars, conflicts, famines, and pestilence, from which they profit greatly while remaining isolated from the just retribution they deserve. God is keeping account, and the day of the Lord is coming soon!

Keeping and Holding

In Revelation 12 the dragon, Satan, is powerless against the woman because she is protected by Almighty God. The woman is God’s covenant community, identified in this age as Jesus’ covenant assembly, the church (Matthew 16:18). In that reference, Jesus declared that the gates of hell would not be able to withstand the advance of His church. That advance involves the rest of her offspring (v. 17), individual believers living on earth engaging the enemy. They are soldiers on the frontlines of this eternal conflict. This means that they are us—right here, right now.
Specifically, note how these soldier/saints are identified. The Lord will not put His troops on the frontline ill-equipped and unprepared. That would be foolish. So, His ideal and necessary preparation of these servants to engage in this spiritual conflict is enabling their obedience to His orders. Thus, they are described here as keeping the commandments of God—obedient to the Word and the Spirit. Jesus said, “He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me” (John 14:21). Tell me, what does the army do with soldiers who won’t obey orders?
Second, they hold the testimony of Jesus. What is it to hold the testimony of Jesus? The Greek word here for testimony is the one from which we get the word martyr. A martyr is a witness, one who gives a true testimony, no matter what it costs him. Jesus gave orders to the faithful church at Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. . . . Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Why? A faithful witness to Jesus is more important that self-preservation. Every true child of God is a first-hand witness to the truth of Jesus and His great work of salvation. They hold this truth faithfully, keeping it close, and proclaiming it widely, letting the Lord deal with the consequences.
More importantly, this is the testimony of Jesus—it is Jesus’ own testimony. It is not our testimony about Jesus. It is not about what we do or believe; it is about Jesus. The whole hope of eternal life rests on Christ and His work on our behalf—what He has done, is doing, and will do, not only saving us from our sin and its penalty but saving us from ourselves (Romans 6:10, 11). Soldiers must let go of their own self-interests to serve the king rightly (2 Timothy 2:4). Tell me, what does the army do with soldiers who are so self-involved that they can’t work together against the enemy?
Jesus’s testimony is that He came to do the Father’s will and to finish His work (John 4:34). He promised His followers that they will also have His life in them so that they, too, will do His will and accomplish His work (John 14:12, 13).  Let me ask you again: what does the army do with disobedient soldiers who get so distracted with their own pursuits that they fail to engage the enemy? Are you doing the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21)?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Introducing the Problem (Jude 4)

Jude was compelled to warn his readers of the enemy’s attempt to neutralize the church from within by inserting false believers into the congregation. The very nature of the Christian faith demands that believers extend loving and welcoming gestures toward all sinners, following the example of Christ (Mark 2:15–17). Such a desire to reach people with the gospel and bring them to Christ, however, has a great negative aspect—failure to determine carefully the sincerity of those showing interest. Sadly, some “interested” people have wicked designs to harm the body of Christ. This is why Jude writes his epistle and does so with such intensity.
It is without question that many churches in this modern age have long ago become utterly devoid of spiritual power. In the words of the Puritan, Thomas Manton, “We think to fill the church, but we do but fill the house with thieves: wicked men ever prove a trouble.” These “thieves” are robbing the church of its spiritual power and kingdom influence in the community. This tragedy has occurred because the church in its zeal to increase numbers has abandoned careful examination of inquirers. Then, in order to keep them, the church no longer practices discipline (Titus 1:7, 8). Paul warned, “a little leaven leavens the whole” (Galatians 5:9).
Scripture points us to what a true church looks like in this respect. In Acts 5 a couple, following the example of Barnabas (Acts 4:36, 37), sold a parcel of land and gave the proceeds to the church. Their motive, apparently, was to get the recognition showered on Barnabas for his godliness. Tragically, Ananias and Sapphira were not doing what they did in obedience to Christ. Their spiritual poverty was apparent because greed tempted them to lie to the church and retain a portion for their own use. The land was theirs. They did not need to sell it nor did they need to give the money at all. Their whole design was to appear falsely as spiritual people in order to impress the church.
Because the church was spiritually vital, the Spirit of God was free to work mightily. Ananias and his wife were quickly exposed and suffered punishment from God. The bottom line is found in verses 13 and 14: “None of the rest [those like Ananias] dared join them, but the people held them [the true spiritual leadership] in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.”
The question we must ask is why God allowed these ungodly people to operate within the body? Jude plainly states that “they were before ordained to this condemnation.” They crept in unnoticed by the church but not unnoticed by God. They were His agents to provoke watchfulness in the body, a watchfulness attended by earnest prayer and careful observation. Christ commended the Ephesian saints for “testing those who call themselves apostles and are not” (Revelation 2:2). On the other hand, Thyatira is called out because the church “tolerate[d] that woman, Jezebel” teaching “the deep things of Satan” (Revelation 2:20, 24). Jude is earnest that his readers also be watchful, “praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20; see Mark 14:38).

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Necessity (Jude 3, 4)

Having greeted and blessed his readers, Jude proceeded to state the purpose of his epistle. We noted last week that Jude was very eager to share with the saints the blessings of their common salvation. However, a far more urgent need forced his pen in another direction.
We are in a raging spiritual war and we hardly notice. If guns were blazing and bombs exploding all around us, we would be taking decisive action. A spiritual war is unseen and unfelt but just as real and deadly. In Satan’s futile effort to prevent God’s repair of sin’s devastating effects on creation and His progress in retaking the kingdom he usurped, he has launched an all-out assault on the instruments, the home and the church, God has chosen to accomplish this plan. The enemy believes that he can stop God’s plan if he infiltrates the church and destroys its effectiveness. God is sovereign, and although Satan may do much damage, he is already defeated. He is cunning and powerful, which makes him very dangerous, nonetheless.
Jude’s epistle is aimed at awakening the churches to Satan’s crafty schemes against them. The key verse of this small book is verse 3, particularly the exhortation “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Three very important things stand out: (1) the need for the appeal, (2) the action appealed, and (3) the importance of the action. The issue prompting this call to action is found in verse four: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed . . . ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
The enemy has infiltrated the church with false teachers and false believers; therefore, the saints need to be aware of his methods and discerning of his doctrines. It is far more important to defend the faith than to celebrate it. Failure to contend has left modern evangelical Christianity almost unrecognizable compared to the early church. It is as Paul warned that in the final hour there would be a great departure from the faith (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1–5). Judas betrayed Jesus; false professors betray His body, the church. That is why the Bible warns us, Jesus prays for us (John 17:11, 12, 15; 2 Thessalonians 3:3), and God guards us (1 Peter 1:5), but we also must be prepared to withstand in the evil day (Ephesians 6:10–18).
Jude urges his readers to earnestly contend for the faith (from epi and agonidzomai). The saints are to fight with great savagery to maintain the purity of truth. Such action calls for the saints to devote themselves wholly to this project. It must not be left to others to undertake. Every believer must set himself to watch (1 Corinthians 10:12; Ephesians 5:15; Hebrews 3:12), pray (Romans 15:30), and fight (Colossians 1:29; 1 Timothy 6:12). This faith, this truth concerning salvation, has been delivered to us once and for all time. It is a great treasure that has been entrusted to us. We have a great responsibility (2 Timothy 1:13, 14).

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Our Common Salvation (Jude 3)

After the initial greeting (vv. 1, 2), Jude proceeds to preface the occasion of his epistle (v. 3). He first expresses his original desire to speak of their common salvation. Three things should grab our attention. First, Jude addresses his intention to those he labeled as beloved. We must not pass this off as scenery that comes with the territory, missing its significance. The term reflects the very ground of our common salvation, resting in Christ’s “new” commandment that we love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34). We are to be operating by this core principle because all believers are united in the same body under the one head, Jesus Christ.
The brotherhood of Christ has far greater implications than that of mere family. Siblings share a mutually unifying principle, the same mother, and thus belong to one family. However, as we all have seen, siblings can be divided in their interests and affections. Believers, on the other hand, have a far more intimate relationship, being members of the same body (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:4–6). Dysfunctionality in one’s family can be painful but nothing like a disruption in one’s own body (1 Corinthians 12:26; see Ephesians 5:28–30). Another consideration is that in the family, children are expected to honor parents by respect and obedience (Ephesians 6:1–4). Children do not always do that, but in the body, all members are wholly subject to the will of the head (Mark 3:35; Romans 12:2).
Second, Jude demonstrates the attitude that we are to have in pursuing care of the body. He writes, “I was very eager to write to you.” The AV has, “I gave all diligence.” This term speaks of earnestness in pursuing a common interest, of doing so sacrificially to promote the common good (2 Corinthians 12:15). This attitude implies seeking out every opportunity and all means to do whatever is good for those in the body, promoting its welfare at all costs. Peter urged the elders to exercise oversight with a “ready mind” (1 Peter 5:2), which the ESV translates as eagerly (note also 1 Corinthians 9:16, 17). The importance of this carefulness and earnestness is aggravated both by the evil of our times and the lateness of the hour (Ephesians 5:16).
Third, Jude’s heart or priority was the common salvation. So, what was this “common salvation”? It consisted of the shared experience of the one body in Christ, as previously addressed. Peter referred to it as “like precious faith” or “faith of equal standing” (2 Peter 1:1). All who are saved by Christ are united in the communion of faith, the fellowship of the saints in light (1 John 1:7). Further, Jude’s concern was for those in the same body but in a distant location, so he wrote to these about this glorious faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” A true believer cannot get enough of this wonderful news. He cannot hear enough, study enough, or converse enough about this common salvation. It captivates his attention, thrills his heart, engages his mind, and overwhelms his emotions because it is superior to everything else.

Mercy, Peace, and Love (Jude 2)

The introductory benediction for the recipients of this epistle (v. 2) is unique among the biblical epistles. “Grace (charis) and peace (eirene) is the typical form used by Paul, Peter, and John. Jude alone uses mercy (eleos), peace (eirene) and love (agape). We must be very careful not to ready Scripture with modern concepts of biblical terms but to see them from the understanding of those who wrote or spoke them in the beginning. Jude was a Jew writing in Greek with a Hebrew understanding of OT concepts. The three items in his blessing relate to the calling of his recipients as loved in the Father and kept (by the Spirit) for the Son, who purchased and redeemed them for Himself.
Mercy (eleos) relates to the Hebrew term, racham, for compassion, as evidenced in God’s revelation of Himself to Moses (Exodus 33:18, 19; 34:5–8). Grace (khane) is the favor or acceptance shown to those who have received mercy (Exodus 34:9; see also Zechariah 4:5–7; 12:10). Mary’s “magnificat” (Luke 1:46–55) reveals her deep understanding of God’s purpose in mercy. Her praise reflects the truths set forth in Psalm 103:8 and 11, which shows the correspondence of mercy with covenant love (hesed). The condition for one to have the favor of God and receive His mercy is that they fear Him. This is possible only to one whose heart and eyes are open to understand God and His ways (Romans 3:9–18; 11:8–10).
Therefore, we must understand that mercy assumes three things: (1) all are guilty of sin and liable for God’s justice, being the children of Adam (Romans 5:12–14). (2) The mercy of salvation from sin and judgment is the only hope for any of Adam’s descendants (Romans 5:18–21). (3) Mercy is shown only to those included in God’s elective choice (Romans 1:5–7; 8:28, 29, 33). These elect are a people chosen by God in eternity past (Ephesians 1:4) and given to Jesus to save (John 17:2–10).
Peace is the result of mercy and is made when a breach is repaired and hostility ceases. Peace (shalom) is the result of a process. When things are not right with God, sin brings guilt to the conscience (Isaiah 48:22). Jesus came to make peace, that is, to repair the broken relationship with God by providing both justification and righteousness for those He saves (Isaiah 32:1). The Septuagint sometimes uses the word salvation to translate peace because salvation restores and completes (Isaiah 26:3).
Finally, love (agape) is the atmosphere of God’s faithful covenant kindness to His own (Romans 5:1–5). What a glorious heritage God’s people enjoy! This is the true prosperity gospel (Psalm 35:11; Romans 8:37; Isaiah 54:10). Indeed, the Hebrew shalom (peace) is sometimes translated prosperity (Psalm 72:3).

Beloved and Kept (Jude 1)

Jude is addressed to people who are referred to as called. Two qualifying statements identify these called: they are loved in God and kept for Christ. This calling also involves being sanctified or set apart to God (Romans 1:7) and the fellowship of saints, the church (1 Corinthians 1:9). We turn now to the two qualifying marks of those who are thus called, beloved, and kept.
Those who are called of God to salvation are loved in God the Father. The preposition used in the Greek is en (the locative, within). The English translation of en is “in”—“beloved in God.” It is my personal opinion that this preposition has been abused by those whose theology is not served by translating the word consistently and simply by in. I firmly reject the imposition of the so-called instrumental use (by or of). Scholars will disagree, and a scholar I am not. Eternity will either correct me or affirm me.
The Authorized Version reads “sanctified by [in] God,” which accords with Colossians 1:12 and 1 Peter 1:2. The Greek terms in the received text (KJV) and the modern text look almost identical. The problem seems to be a scribal misreading in a copying process. The best textual evidence, however, supports “beloved in God” (Ephesians 2:4, 5). The truth is unchanged, as sanctification is a necessary act motivated by His love (1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 John 3:1).
Believers are loved in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3). In John 15:9 Jesus stated an incredible truth that is rarely understood by Christians: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” John amplifies this: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16). The Trinity exists in an atmosphere of pure and glorious love. God desires to include Adam’s redeemed children into that circle. Imagine that, if you can. To be included, they are covered with Christ’s merit and enabled to love God (1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Peter 1:21; John 15:10). Jesus pointed out to the Jews that their refusing to believe Him was due to God’s love not being in them (John 5:42).
Love is the foundation and motive for God’s work in the world. Salvation originated with the Father because of His love for His creation and desire to restore His original plan for creation (Romans 8:19–21). Thus, Paul concludes, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
The called are kept for Jesus Christ. The probable meaning here is that those in whom the Spirit is working grace are being preserved in the midst of trial and temptation for Christ at His return (see Jude 18–21). This keeping involves their being in the world, the enemy’s territory. The Spirit is keeping them in the world but from the world and from the flesh. Believers are not being kept because they are good but because Christ paid for them (1 Peter 1:3–5) and prays for them (John 17:9, 15–19; Hebrews 7:25). Does not the Lord deserve the fruit of His suffering?

Called (Jude 1)

After identifying himself to his readers, Jude identifies the recipients of his epistle by three distinguishing characteristics: called, beloved, and kept. The called are identified as those who are loved in God and kept for Christ. First, notice the clear Trinitarian reference to the work of salvation. Believers are called by the Spirit because they were loved in the Father and, thus, kept or preserved for Jesus Christ who purchased them.
First, believers are called (Romans 1:6, 7; 8:28; Revelation 17:14). There are two aspects of this call to repentance and faith; one is outward and general (Matthew 22:14), and the other is inward and specific (1 Corinthians 1:9). Not everyone who is called by the outward work of the gospel is saved but only those who are inwardly called by the Spirit. As the gospel is preached, there are those who hear it, being awakened from spiritual death by the quickening power of grace (Ephesians 2:4, 5). In this awakened state, the hearer responds to the truth presented and repents, calling upon the Savior to save him (Romans 10:13). Many hear words, but do not hear the Spirit call them to life. That is why Jesus declared, “He who has ears to hear [with gospel awakened ears], let him hear [to exercise effectual faith in the gospel].
Pay close attention to what Christ said in John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word [of judgment, see v. 22] and believes him [the Father] who sent me has [not gets but already has] eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has [past perfect, already has] passed from death to life.” No one who is dead can hear. Only those who have been quickened to life can hear. Those who hear the gospel actually hear Christ’s voice speaking resurrection life (eternal life) into them, not by audible syllables but inwardly through the Word and Spirit. Jesus declared that His sheep hear His voice and that He knows them savingly. They respond to His voice by following Him in obedience (John 10:27).
Therefore, the called are effectually brought to salvation, resulting in their being a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21). This new creation is demonstrated in Abraham’s servant’s prayer: “By this I shall know that you have created [Hebrew, asah] steadfast love [saving grace] in my master” (Genesis 24:14; see also Galatians 6:15; Romans 4:17). God speaks life into dead sinners through the creative power of His Word. Abraham’s servant was thus assured of the promises to Abraham concerning Jesus Christ because God had created covenant life in Abraham. None dare identify with Christ and His cause who cannot evidence their effectual calling. In Matthew 22:11–14 Jesus illustrated this truth by the wedding guest who did not have a wedding garment as provided by the king. He was summarily cast into outer darkness. On the other hand, those properly attired in salvation evidence that they are savingly called and are wecomed into His kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Peter 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14).

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Contending for the Faith: Introduction to Jude

Like 2nd and 3rd John, Jude is a short book of just 25 verses. The author is Jude or Judas, a very common name for Jewish men at that time. He introduces himself by first describing his relationship to Jesus Christ as a doulos, a slave. English translations do not like to use “slave” to translate doulos, but rather servant (the ESV translates slave only 18 out of 126 references). A slave is one who has no rights and belongs solely to another to be used at his master’s whim. Jude understands what many “believers” don’t seem to realize, that is, a true believer dies to himself in order to follow Jesus, submitting to His interests and will.

There are three ways in which doulos is used in Scripture. (1) It is used of those who serve God’s will as instruments in the execution of God’s decrees. Even pagans, such as Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28–45:1) and Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 27:6), are God’s servants to accomplish His will, often without knowing that they did so. (2) Doulos is used of true saints whose love for the Lord prompts them to give up their lives to serve God and His kingdom (1 Corinthians 7:22). (3) Those who serve in public offices, whether secular or sacred, are said to be God’s servants (Romans 13:4; Psalm 133:21). This includes priests (Psalm 134:1), prophets (Amos 3:7), and those who serve Christ’s assembly (2 Timothy 2:24). Even Jesus was regarded as God’s servant (Isaiah 49:3; 53:11).

A slave has no position of honor in any culture, yet, Jude gives his position an honorable title. Apparently, Jude was not concerned about how that might appear to the world. The simple truth is that all are in the service of a master, whether Satan or self (Ephesians 2:2, 3; Romans 1:25; 16:18) or Christ (John 12:26; Romans 14:18). To serve Christ, we must serve others (John 13:12–17, 20).

Also, observe that this first identifying statement linked him to brother-servants: Jude is a slave of Christ and a brother of James. It is probably true that James was his actual brother in the flesh (Matthew 13:55), however, it would be best to understand Jude as referring to a brotherhood enjoined by service to Jesus Christ. This is the true and eternal brotherhood, fellow-servants of the gospel, belonging to Jesus Christ by creation and redemption. Those whom Christ has purchased by His redemption are not their own (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). If a believer lives for himself, he defrauds Christ of His rights by purchase. When our own lust or interests are contrary to His will, then we must acknowledge that we are susceptible to the verdict of whether we are indeed His servants at all (Matthew 7:21–23).

This identifying statement also implies a duty for which all will give a full accounting to Christ, the Master (Matthew 25:19). This understanding should, then, motivate us to faithful service (Galatians 1:10), which requires His servants to wait on Him in earnest seeking after His direction (Psalm 119:125). Jude, himself, illustrates this service to Christ’s will in the very writing of his book (v. 3).

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Winning a Full Reward (2 John)

John's second epistle was written to the “elect lady,” which was probably one of the local house churches that this elder (John?*) was overseeing (v. 1). An elder (presbuteros, overseer or ruler) originally designated an older person. Respect for the elderly made it easy to look to them for wisdom and guidance, thus it became a term for rank and office. This pattern was used for the Jewish Sanhedrin who chose their rulers from older and more mature men. The early church also chose elders as their leaders (1 Tim. 3:1–7; 5:1, 17–25; Titus 1:5–9).
John’s concern for this assembly was very similar to that of I John, warning of false “brethren”—deceivers, who did not confess that Jesus Christ was God come in the flesh (v. 7). The best defense against such error is truth“the truth that abides” (v. 2). The one new focus, carried into III John also, was to caution the saints about their hospitality because loving others necessarily involves that. Welcoming and providing for the needs of strangers was a clear expression of Christ’s “new” commandment (v. 5; John 13:34). Feel-good religious acts appeal to the flesh, but it is not obedience if discernment is absent. Satan banks on those who would rather let their feelings rather than truth dictate their behavior. Such people enable false teachers to bring in destructive heresies. Therefore, John cautions these saints to ascertain first whether these “brethren” hold to right doctrine before extending their welcome (vv. 10, 11). If those extending hospitality are not careful and discerning, they are complicit.
However, before this caution, John warns them, “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward” (v. 8). Read that verse again very carefully because it sounds so foreign to many. We strongly defend the doctrines of grace—that no one can earn his way to salvation, which is by grace alone. We believe that we get to heaven only by Christ’s righteousness and not by anything that we do. Obviously, works are important, so, what role do they play? What do the Scriptures say (Phil. 1:6 cf. 1:9–11; see also 2:12–18)?
What was John saying to these saints in verse 8? Our redeemed but imperfect life is to be filled with means (obedience) toward God-planned ends (Eph. 2:10). John assumes that these saints have worked for something for which they hope to win a reward (Matt. 10:41, 42; 1 Cor. 3:14; Col. 3:24; Heb. 10:35). However, their careless inattention to false brethren placed that reward in jeopardy. So, how does one reconcile grace alone with the expectation that saints “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12)? John Piper rightly concludes, “God is just as sovereign over means as He is over ends.” The doctrine of perseverance assumes that the grace that saves you will also sanctify you and take you to your reward and to glory (Phil. 2:13).

*It is the consensus of scholarship that John is the author, although John is not named.