The Good News

The word “gospel” simply means “good news.”  The gospel is the historic, revealed message concerning Jesus Christ. It is that record of events which focuses upon Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for sinners. It is important to understand this as some Christians with good intentions maintain that believers should “live the gospel.”  Technically, one cannot live the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for sinners – it is a message, it is a declaration, it is good news. One can live in light of it or one can let his conduct be worthy of it or one can pursue holiness; but to live out the events of Christ’s redemptive work on behalf of sinners, is simply not our calling. J. Gresham Machen said,

 We can preach the gospel, they tell us, by our lives, and do not need to preach it by our words. But they are wrong. Men are not saved by the exhibition of our glorious Christian virtues; they are not saved by the contagion of our experiences. We cannot be the instruments of God in saving them if we preach to them thus only ourselves. Nay, we must preach to them the Lord Jesus Christ; for it is only through the gospel which sets Him forth that they can be saved.[1]

In 1 Cor 15, the Apostle Paul addresses the doctrine of the resurrection. In verses 1-4, he sets forth the gospel of Jesus Christ as the foundation for the argument that follows. We note several things concerning the gospel in this section of Scripture.

In the first place, the gospel is rooted in history. Before the foundation of the world, God decreed to save a people by His Son Jesus Christ. The gospel is the execution of that decree in history. Paul says that Christ died, was buried, and rose again. These are historic, dateable and non-repeatable events. In fulfillment of the Old Testament word of promise, Christ came in the fullness of the times, was born of a woman, and born under the law. He lived in obedience to the law of God, died to satisfy divine justice in the place of sinners, and rose again.

Secondly, the gospel is revealed by God. The Scripture speaks of two types of revelation, general and special. Ps 19 and Rom 1 set forth the truth that God reveals Himself to His image bearers through the created order. The heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19:1) and what God has manifested of Himself to man leaves man without excuse for his sin and disobedience (Rom 1:19-20). However, general revelation does not communicate the necessity for blood atonement. It does not reveal the work of Christ on the cross for sinners. Special revelation is God’s having made Himself and His ways known through the Scriptures. Paul highlights this in 1 Cor 15:1-4 by indicating that Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection happened “according to the Scriptures” (vv.3,4). The work of Christ was not an after-thought or a reaction in the mind of God; the Old Testament conspicuously promised a coming Redeemer who would crush the head of Satan through His redemptive work which Christ carried out in His first coming.

Thirdly, the gospel is the record of Christ’s work for sinners. The Triune God is actively involved in salvation (Eph 1:3-14) and the gospel message is the outworking of the Father’s decree to save the elect. As well, it is the gospel that the Holy Spirit brings to bear upon the elect:  when sinners are born again by His power, they believe the gospel of Christ.  Because of this, the church and her preachers must set forth Christ in His person and in His work to all mankind. Paul determined to know nothing among the Corinthians “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2); the modern church does well to imitate the Apostle.

Fourthly, the gospel is received by faith alone.  Christianity is not moralism; it is not a message of “try-harder” and you will be accepted by God.  The gospel addresses the root of the matter:  man before God is completely undone because of his sin.  There is no ability in the sinner to gain acceptance with God. The gospel is the revelation of the One who kept the law; who always did what pleased His Father; who died as a sacrifice and a substitute for His people.  The means by which His people are justified is through faith alone.  Paul highlights the role of faith in 1 Cor 15 — “which also you received [by faith] in which you stand” (v.1), “by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (v.2) and “so we preach and so you believe” (v.11).  Verse 2 also indicates the absolute necessity of the gospel for salvation, for if one does not believe and hold fast that word, one is not saved.[2]

The final observation is a very practical one:  the gospel is powerful to save the worst sinners.  In verse 9, Paul writes, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”  Paul declares in Rom 1:16 that the gospel “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.”  He highlights his own sinfulness in Gal 1:13 and makes a wonderful declaration in 1 Tim 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”  In light of these observations, we should praise God Almighty for His wonderful gospel!

 

[1] J. Gresham Machen, Education, Christianity, and the State (Jefferson: MD, The Trinity Foundation, 1987), p.21.

[2] Other passages speak to the absolute necessity of Christ and His gospel for salvation.  See for example, Jn 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom 1:16-17; Eph 1:13-14; Jas 1:18; 1 Pet 1:23.

The Cessation of the Miraculous

In Joshua chapters 3-4, the children of Israel cross the Jordan into the Promised Land due to the wondrous power of God. In chapter 5, the children of Israel celebrate by the sacramental signs: circumcision and Passover. During the Passover celebration, the author emphasizes that the children of Israel “ate of the produce of the land” (Josh 5:11, two other references in v.12). This emphasis highlights an important point: the God who promised the gift of the land with all of its attendant grain, was now fulfilling that promise and His covenant people were reaping the benefits of His faithfulness.

In Josh 5:12, we read “Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year.” This highlights an important principle: the cessation of the miraculous (God’s provision of manna) does not imply the cessation of God’s active power in sustaining His covenant people. Whether through the extraordinary manna or the ordinary produce of the land, God is faithful. It is a curious fact that we are inclined to see God’s power displayed when He spares a young man’s life in an automobile accident, but less likely to see God’s power in keeping most of us from automobile accidents each and every day.

If I may draw a parallel: the church today in some quarters seems discontent with the produce of the land and appears to be seeking manna from heaven. Of course, God is still sovereign, still omnipotent, and still able to perform the miraculous. However, in this new covenant setting, the gift of the Spirit in the normal, ordinary events of church life is still our Sustainer and Shield. God is as present in a corporate prayer meeting that is conducted without bells and whistles, as He was in the prayer meeting recorded in Acts 4. The absence of tongues and prophesying, the absence of miraculous displays of healing through human instruments, and the absence of the sort of things we read regularly in the book of Acts does not mean the absence of God. We are to faithfully employ the means of grace given by our good God and enjoy His sustaining power, even if it is just the produce of the land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Helpful Sites for Reformed Baptist Theology

Brandon Adams has created an excellent site designed to explore the specific contours of Reformed Baptist covenant theology as summarized in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. There are several interviews with Dr. Jim Renihan, Dr. Richard Barcellos, and Pastor Sam Renihan which contrast the 1689 Confession of Faith with the Westminster Confession of Faith, dispensational theology, New Covenant theology, and 20th century Reformed Baptist covenant theology. There are also some helpful charts and a section of recommended books. There is good stuff here — http://www.1689federalism.com/

Also, three “ordinary fellas” have put together a website called The Confessing Baptist (http://confessingbaptist.com/) which is designed to be “your one-stop shop for all things Reformed Baptist” (from the “About” section at the site).

 

The Bible and Abortion

The late John Murray said, “Nothing shows the moral bankruptcy of a people or of a generation more than disregard for the sanctity of life.”[1] Abortion is an indicator of the moral bankruptcy of people in this generation and demonstrates the exceeding wickedness of sin. The Bible reveals that man is created in the image of God, and therefore to murder man is to assault the divine majesty.[2] The fact that man is created in the image of God is not true only of healthy adults, but is true of man in every phase of his life. Man is the image of God before the fall into sin (Gen 1:26-28), after the fall into sin (Jas 3:9), in the womb (see below), as a child (Lev 18:21; Eph 6:4), as one physically handicapped (Lev 19:14; Mk 10:46-52), as an elderly person (Lev 19:32; Prov 16:31; 1 Tim 5:1), and as having dominion over the animals (Gen 1:28; Ps 8:6-8).

With specific reference to the preborn, the Bible speaks of nations coming from the womb (Gen 25:18-23). Job highlights the providence of God in his life which began in the womb (Job 10:8-12; cf. also 31:13-15). When David confessed his sin before God and traced his native depravity, he did so to his mother’s womb (Ps 51:5).  David was not suggesting that marital intercourse was sinful, but that at the moment of conception he (David, not a product of conception) was a sinner.  The Psalmist marvels at the omniscience and omnipresence of God in Ps 139 and in verses 13-16 he rehearses God’s power in creating man in the womb.  The Prophet Jeremiah was called from his mother’s womb (Jer 1:5) as was the Apostle Paul (Gal 1:15).  In the birth narrative concerning Christ recorded in Luke’s gospel, John the Baptist was called “the babe” in verse 41 which is the same word used in Lk 18:15 for “out-of-the-womb” children.  In Lk 1:44, Christ is referred to as “Lord” while in the womb! If the modern proponents of abortion had their way and successfully influenced Rebekah, Job’s mother, David’s mother, Jeremiah’s mother, Mary, and Paul’s mother with the propaganda of “choice,” nations would not have been, Job, David, Jeremiah, and Paul would not have been, and all of us would have died in our sins.

The Bible does not only reveal the dignity of man; it also regulates conduct with reference to man. When we understand the personhood of man as summarized above, we must understand that every prohibition given regarding murder, applies equally to babies in the womb. In addition to this, there was a specific case law given in Ex 21:22-25 that demanded punishment for those who would inadvertently murder a baby in the womb. The law specified that if two men got into a fight and during the fight a pregnant woman was struck, if she went into premature labor and her children (the word is plural) came out (the OT language for birth) but were not harmed, then the guilty man had to pay a fine. If however, the children came out and there was harm to mother or children, then the guilty man was subject to the lex talionis (the law of retaliation) up to and including death for the guilty man. Before our modern sensitivities are violated by such a proposal, remember that most nations operate according to the lex talionis principle today; it is the basis upon which we say “the punishment must fit the crime.”

In light of this particular passage, it is interesting to note that the Bible demands increased protection for the preborn.  If men engaged in a fight were held legally accountable and punished for accidentally causing an abortion, how much more are state-licensed, government subsidized abortion “clinics” guilty of this horrendous crime?  John Calvin rightly commented, If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.”[3] Solomon records what God hates in Prov 6:16-19 and one of them is applicable to the abortion situation:  “hands that shed innocent blood.”

Finally, abortion should be criminalized by the state. Not all sin is necessarily crime (covetousness), nor is all crime necessarily sin (preaching Christ in a Muslim nation), but abortion is both sinful and criminal. The modern state rightly applies the 6th word, “You shall not murder,” in most situations. In order to be consistent, abortion must be a criminal offense which is punishable by the governing authorities, not paid for by the governing authorities.



[1] John Murray, Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans Publishing, [1957] 1984), 122.

[2] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology:  Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans Publishing, re. 1991), 54.

[3] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume III (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, re. 1996), 42.

The Story of Revival

Sola Scriptura Ministries will host a conference on revival at the Free Grace Baptist Church in October. Here is a brief summary of the event (taken from the Sola Scriptura website) —

“Two sessions will focus on what the Scriptures have to say about this amazing and spectacular out pouring of the Spirit of God. Mark Jones will focus on Acts 2, the first New Testament record of Revival and then followup with a session entitled Diligent Plodding. The periods of Revival, though dramatic and spectacular only encompass a small span of Church History. The Church still grows through the day to day hum drum practices of the local church.

The two other sessions will look at points of history that saw Revival but are little talked about today.”

Here is a link to the flyer for the conference.

http://solascripturaministriesinternational.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/sola_vancouver2012_draft3.pdf