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Satan

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

The spiritual world is unseen. Though it is felt in various ways, it is often ignored or disregarded because it is invisible. The visibility or lack thereof does not affect the reality of evil spiritual forces which oppose God. The chief of these forces is Satan. Satan is real. Often Satan is popularly depicted as red with horns, goat hooves, a tail, and a pitchfork. Very little of this would find its origin in how the Bible describes Satan. Likely, his popular image comes from an eclectic mix of folklore, mythology, and literature. But what does the Bible say about Satan? A comprehensive answer cannot be given here. But we will look at various names and titles given to Satan. We will also see his principal manner of attack against God and Christians. And we will lay out some strategies for Christians in resisting him.

Just as there is the kingdom of God, there is a kingdom of evil spirits (Matt 12:26; Mk 3:24; Luke 11:17-18). And at the head of this kingdom is Satan. He is the devil, the enemy, the accuser (Rev 12:10), Belial (Syriac for worthlessness), Beelzebul (Lord of the dwelling or Lord of the flies, Matt 10:25), prince of demons (Matt 9:34), the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph 2:2), the ruler of this world (John 12:31), the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), the great dragon and the ancient serpent (Rev 12:9; 20:2).[1] He is a murderer and the father of lies (John 8:44). He goes about like a roaring lion seeking whomever he can destroy (1 Pet 5:8).

Satan is always and everywhere the adversary of God, the opponent of Christ, and the deceiver of humans. His primary goal is to make people sin. He will use every imaginable tactic or tool to lead people into sin, violence, and even death. His hatred of God is so intense that he longs to destroy every creature who bears the image and imprint of God. Satan will do everything he can to prevent someone from coming to faith in Jesus Christ. And failing that, from the moment you believe, he will do everything he can to torment, trouble, and keep you from living a joyful and holy life.

The Dutch theologian Wilhelmus À Brakel notes that Satan will appear in three different manners. He will appear as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). He will appear godly and lovely. He might bring to attention some passage of Scripture, but he does so with intention to deceive and distort. He will distract from the preached Word with some other benign topic. His strategy in this is to take our gaze off of Christ and place it on things of lesser value. He will tempt us to be satisfied with virtue for the sake of virtue, and rob us of the comfort that comes in Christ. Satan will appear as the Prince of darkness. He will assail our senses in a way that we cannot tell reality from imagination. In this he induces fear. He will create scenarios where our lives seem to be in jeopardy, and we are tempted to doubt God’s power or kindness. But Satan most likely chooses to conceal himself. He will convince us that he does not exist. And quietly and without notice he will tempt and corrupt our hearts. He will lead us into evil, prevent us from good, or simply bewilder and confuse the soul.[2]

In each of these presentations, Satan will attempt to make the Christian sin. He will obscure your faith. Frivolous questions of the trustworthiness of God will creep into your minds. Doubts will bubble up in your hearts. The path of the cross will seem unbearable. He will then assail your prayer life. You will miss the comfort, strength, and power of prayer. You will believe that you are too busy to pray. He will also seek to prevent you from the blessing of the means of grace. You will be tempted to occupy your minds with drivel until late on Saturday, and then struggle with being drowsy on Sunday. Your minds will be cluttered with random thoughts, so that you do not focus on the preached word. He will also attempt to rob you of the joy and benefits of your sanctification. You will doubt every good thing you do. You will question whether you don’t do enough or that you attempt to do too much to earn God’s favor. Satan will attack your faith, prayers, reception of the Word, and sanctification. If he cannot destroy you, he will seek to sideline you.

Jesus was clear in his assessment of the reality of Satan. Either he is as Jesus says he is, or Jesus is wrong on this key aspect of faith and religion. In response, we should learn to resist the devil, and he will flee from us (James 4:7). We must remember that Satan is a conquered enemy (Zech 3:2). He is powerful but his power is limited by an all-powerful God. We know his schemes, so we should recognize his influence and turn all the more to Christ. God provides faith. We must remember to pray. We need to remember God’s Word. And we must live in the encouragement of Christian fellowship.

[1] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3.146.

[2] Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 Vols., 4.236–41.

Demons

Dr. David Talcott

With Halloween right around the corner, we are about to be confronted with something we usually don’t like to think about: demons. Pirates and princesses might be the costumes we prefer, but all too often the holiday is marked with darker elements.

Unfortunately, Halloween often makes light of something that is a pretty serious matter. Demons are real. They are evil spirits, personal beings with a mind and will, but no body. They are like evil angels. In fact, scripture suggests they are angels who God originally created good but who, like Satan, rebelled against God and are now fallen and evil. Matthew 25:41 says, describing the final judgment, “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’” Likewise, the apostle Peter tells us in 2 Peter 2:4 that angels “sinned” and are now being “reserved for judgment.” The flow of the passage suggests these angels sinned before the days of Noah. Revelation 12:7-9 describes the devil and his angels losing a fight with the archangel Michael and his angels. It seems that demons existed before man and will be judged in the last days along with man.

So, demons are real, and not something to make light of. They show up quite a bit in the gospel accounts where Jesus dramatically demonstrates His power over them, but only occasionally in other parts of Scripture. Demons don’t seem to play a role in Genesis (unless 6:2 is referring to them) or Exodus, for example, or the books of the prophets. In general it’s not common in Scripture to have a direct demonic encounter.

Many people today worry about “demon possession” like in the gospels, but the more common evil in scripture is “demon worship.” In Deuteronomy 32:17, Psalm 106:37, 1 Corinthians 10:20, and Revelation 9:20 we’re told that some people worship demons, sinning by worshipping and sacrificing to false spiritual powers rather than the one true God who made heaven and earth.

1 Corinthians 10 is a particularly strong warning for us as Christians. The Apostle Paul writes, “I do not want you to become sharers in demons” (1 Cor 10:20). That’s an astonishing warning to write to a church – that through their misuse of the gifts of God, and a turning away from true worship, they could come to worship idols like the Gentiles. Paul uses the Israelites as an example. The Israelites were given many blessings, all of which came from Christ: “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:2-4). Like us, today, the Israelites were brought through water and given spiritual food and drink to sustain them.

But, what did the Israelites do with these blessings? They were unfaithful, rebelling against God’s wise governance: Paul says that “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased” (1 Cor 10:5). Psalm 106:37 describes the Israelites practicing child sacrifice like the pagan nations around them. Just as many Israelites, who experienced all the blessings of the covenant, failed to truly worship God, we too can experience all the blessings of being in the visible church and yet fail to properly honor God. Just as “not all Israel is Israel” (Rom 9:6), not all who sit in church pews are Christians. For, as Paul writes, “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that of the flesh” (Rom 2:29).

These are challenging words for us today, but they are words filled with hope. For what comes next in Romans is this: true circumcision is “by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom 2:29). True followers of God love Him with their whole hearts, approach Him in humility and faith, trust in His provision for their salvation, and know that apart from Him they are lost. Their hope is not in external rituals but in the grace of God manifested in His Son Jesus and working in their hearts by the power of His Spirit. We can have great hope that God is our loving Father.

So, as costumed demons are about to be spread around our neighborhoods, we should remember the Israelites and how they turned away from the true God. We should spend more time resting in Christ’s finished work on the cross than we do worrying about encountering someone with “demon possession.” We should take more care to actively do our part in the worship of God and obedience to His perfect law rather than worry about what demons might do to us. True, evil spirits actively seek to deceive: Paul writes “in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1). But, it need not be so with us. God has given us His Holy Spirit and has bestowed on us ordinary means of grace that can sustain us through this life: His Word preached and read, the sacraments, prayer, and Christian fellowship. God has graciously given us all that we need, so let us hold fast to Him, a kind and loving Father.

Covenant Theology – A Primer

Assistant Pastor Chris Diebold

By my count, there are 164 churches in our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, with the word “Covenant” in their name. By the end of 2017, the PCA was comprised of 1,568 churches. Given all the options for naming a church, ten percent representation suggests to me that the idea of covenants is pretty important to us reformed and Presbyterian folk. But why are covenants so important to us? You’ll have to come to our Fall Theology Conference next week to find out. However, as a primer to the conference, I’ll spend a brief moment presenting a few general ideas about covenant theology. Hopefully this whets your appetite for next week.

Let’s cut to the chase. Why are covenants and covenant theology important to us? Dr. Ligon Duncan says, “Covenant Theology is the bible’s way of explaining: the atonement, the Christians’ assurance of salvation, sacraments, redemptive history, and the dynamic of God’s sovereignty and our human responsibility in living out the Christian life.” In short, covenant theology is important because it is the framework God has used to reveal his gracious plan of salvation.

If covenant theology is so important, then we should expect to see covenants at the center of the high points in Scripture. And that is, in fact, what we see. Think back to the flood in Genesis 6-9. The rainbow is the covenant sign that God will not destroy the earth again by flood (Gen 9:11). The relative stability of the seasons is an aspect of God’s covenant (Gen 8:22), and this stability points to God’s patience in judgment until all his chosen people have called upon his name (cf. 2 Pet 3:4-10). Covenant theology is thus central to our understanding of God’s patience in his plan of redemption.

But consider also that a covenant is at the center of the promises and sign given to Abraham in Genesis 15-17. The promise that all the nations would be blessed through Abraham and the sign of circumcision which gave assurance of the promise are tied together by a covenant ritual ceremony. Covenant theology is at the heart of the promise that would ultimately be fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

Finally, remember the words of our Lord as he instituted the Last Supper. “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Jesus uses covenantal language to explain the significance of his death. By these words, he ties language from Exodus 24 to language from Jeremiah 31. Covenant theology is thus a central way to understand the grand narrative of God’s plan of redemption that finds its climax in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Given the importance of covenant theology, two words on what covenant theology is not should be mentioned. Covenant theology is not a response to dispensationalism. While covenant theology speaks to the same issues as dispensationalism, it is not a reaction to that 19th century theology made popular in the Scofield reference Bible.

Covenant theology is also not a response to Baptists. Certainly it speaks to the reason why Presbyterians baptize infants, but it is not a reaction to believers-only baptism. In short, covenant theology is not a weapon employed against ideological adversaries. It is an honest look at the teaching Scripture to explain the framework of redemptive history.

By extension, the Fall Theology Conference is not a strategic assault on any reformed Baptists in the congregation. Rather, it is an opportunity for us to consider more carefully the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. It is an opportunity to grasp at the big picture of God’s work of salvation and how it can be that Adam and Jesus are connected. It is an opportunity to have all the more reason to give all glory, laud, and honor to our great God to the praise of his glorious grace.

So, I hope you will join us on October 13 and 14 for our Fall Theology Conference. We are blessed to have Dr. Nick Reid teaching on this subject for us. And since this is a primer for the conference, I’ll close out this reflection with a brief sketch of what Dr. Reid will be teaching.

In the morning session at 10:00 am on Saturday, October 13, Dr. Reid will present “The Ancient Near Eastern Backgrounds to Covenants.” The events of Scripture do not happen in a vacuum, so it is helpful to have some background. However, it’s always important to be mindful of the direction of influence between the world and Scripture.

In the evening session at 5:00 pm on Saturday, Dr. Reid will speak to us on the topic of the Abrahamic covenant. In “Father Abraham Had Many Sons: Our Father in the Faith?” he’ll present to us the importance of that covenant to us.

In Sunday school, Dr. Reid will present “What’s Love Got to Do With It: The Mosaic Covenant” as he lays out crucial teaching on the relevance of the Mosaic Covenant today.

On Sunday, Dr. Reid will preach on Isaiah 54:1-17 which presents God’s eternal covenant of peace that he promises to establish with his people. I do hope that you can join us and profit from this valuable opportunity to learn more about covenant theology.

Truth and Politics

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

I’ve been listening to a fascinating audio book on the nature of warfare in World War II. Giles Milton’s book, Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare details the unconventional and sometimes brutal methods employed to defeat the Nazis. Churchill’s belief was that the Nazis were inflicting total warfare on the British. Thus, the only response was to defeat them by any means. The idea of a genteel and gentlemanly war was discarded in favor of espionage, deception, and sabotage. This was a zero-sum game. It was either won or lost, and losing was not an option. It seems that many today are approaching modern American politics with the same zero-sum game attitude. And in this type of battle, the end justifies the means.

The truth is, I planned on writing this reflection weeks ago. When it was scheduled, I didn’t have any idea that the nation would be embroiled in a hyper-politicized “he said/she said.” But here we are; a nation that feels, in many ways, to be ripping at the seams. What is a Christian to make of it? How should believers in Jesus Christ evaluate their political opinions? How should Christians express their opinions (even political ones)? The Scriptures point us to the sanctity of truth, the necessity of honesty, and the maintaining of our own and our neighbor’s good name.

Truth is to be regarded as sacred because it is an attribute of God. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). God’s word is truth (Jn 17:17). God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his truth (WSC 4). But untruth and falsehood is rampant in this fallen world because of sin. Satan is the deceiver (Rev. 12:9). He is the father of lies (Jn. 8:44). Because of this, Christians are to cherish and uphold truth while rejecting what is false.

The ninth commandment instructs us, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exo. 20:16). The Larger Catechism 144 & 145 explains this generally by forbidding whatever is contrary to the truth and to the good name of any person. Honesty is necessary in all aspects of life. Honesty requires a defense of truth and the good name of ourselves and our neighbor. The Larger Catechism 145 forbids opposing this, especially in “public judicature.” Public judicature is the administration of justice in courts of the state or church. False testimony or accusations must be opposed. Likewise, “undue silence in a just cause” is wrong. Justice is perverted if those abused or those who witness abuse remain silent. Their silence only results in the innocent suffering and the guilty escaping. In this respect, the #MeToo movement has been tremendously helpful in encouraging the abused to speak up. Every accuser should have a right to be fairly heard. But every accuser does not have a right to be believed. Only what is true should be believed.

Modern politics excels at what the WLC calls “speaking the truth maliciously.” Though what is said may be technically true, it is wielded solely in an attempt to injure someone’s reputation. Half-truths and innuendo dominate modern political discourse. Social media is filled with memes and articles that purposely distort the truth for political purposes. And we in the church are often complicit in their propagation. Before posting or sharing something we should ask, “Does this fairly characterize or summarize the other person’s point of view? Am I addressing the issue or attacking their person? Are terms clearly defined? Does this statement address the topic at hand?” If we cannot appropriately answer these questions, then posting the meme or article probably violates the ninth commandment. Careless posting on social media without a concern for the whole truth is bearing false witness. It damages others and it damages the ability of the church to speak into important matters in this culture. Honesty is necessary.

Life works best when in line with God’s law. This means that even in political discourse we need to maintain the good of our neighbor’s name. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37) instructs us that our “neighbor” may include someone we’ve considered our enemy. The Larger Catechism warns against either “scornful contempt” or “fond admiration.” We must not treat others in our thought, word, or deed in a way that demeans or ignores their inherent human dignity. We must also not have a blind, foolish devotion to some person because they are part of our tribe. It is far too easy to overlook the faults and foibles of those with whom we agree and to target the very same faults and foibles of our enemies. This is sin.

The health of our political and social discourse is reaching a critical point. The words and actions of those in the church should be different. Our words should be true. Our actions should seek and promote the truth. We must strive to preserve our own good name and reputation and that of our enemies. We should debate and disagree with ideas. There is a right and wrong way to lead the nation. There are better and worse philosophies. These things need to be discussed vocally and passionately. But we must not stoop to deceitful or dehumanizing ways. For Christians, our current political discourse is not a zero-sum game. The end does not justify the means. We cannot violate the ninth commandment because doing so brings dishonor upon our Savior.

 

 

 

The Bible – Book by Book – 2 Corinthians

Jared Smith

Gospel ministry and life in the church are full of great difficulties and trials. These difficulties are on full display in Paul’s second recorded letter to the church in Corinth. The Apostle Paul’s most personal letter is the final letter of several that he wrote to the church: the letter mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:9, our canonized 1 Corinthians, which could arguably be the “severe” letter mentioned in 2 Cor. 2:3-4 (or the “severe” letter could be a separate letter altogether) and finally 2 Corinthians. 2 Corinthians was written while Paul was in Macedonia roughly one year after he wrote 1 Corinthians (55/56 AD).

Many times we read Paul’s epistles as theological treatises or systematic theologies. Though they are chock full of theology (it’s Holy Scripture; it’s all theological), we would do well to remember that Paul’s epistles are personal letters from an apostle and church planter to churches that he either planted or ministered to. 2 Corinthians reminds us of this personal nature in that the main thrust of the letter is Paul’s defense of his ministry. Ironically, Paul does not defend his ministry by discussing his great theological and rhetorical abilities, but rather by exposing and boasting in his suffering and weakness. In the midst of defending his ministry, Paul exhorts the church to give generously to their fellow Christians in need, particularly the Christians in Jerusalem (chs. 8-9).

After his customary greetings (1:1-2), Paul jumps right into discussing the “affliction we experienced in Asia” (1:8), reminding the Corinthians of the comfort that can only be provided by God himself. He then moves to explain why he didn’t visit them. The church saw Paul as fickle, so he explained that he stayed away to spare the church an inevitably painful visit rather than from a lack of confidence or decency (1:23-2:2). One of the disappointments that Paul had with the church was the lack of forgiveness for a repentant brother (2:7-8). His other disappointment is due to the church’s lack of discernment regarding false teachers (which he discusses later). Unlike the “peddlers of God’s word” who have seemingly bewitched some in the church, Paul and his companions are “men of sincerity, commissioned by God” (2:17). He continues to defend his ministry writing that his ministry is not due to his own sufficiency (3:4-5) but to the mercy of God (4:1). And it is not a ministry about him, but rather one that is empowered by the Holy Spirit to point the church towards Christ Jesus. Paul boasts that his Christological responsibility is to “give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6). This focus enables Paul to endure various trials without being destroyed or quitting the ministry. Rather, Paul’s Spirit-empowered resilience encourages the saints so that, in their own trials, they too can know that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (4:17).

The apostle knows that his despair is temporary, but life in Christ is eternal. He points the church to the day in which Christ will judge both good and evil (5:10). Yet the saints should not be fearful because they have been reconciled to God through Christ (5:18) and are therefore new creations (5:17). As an ambassador for Christ, Paul sees his ministry as one of reconciliation. The church can find joy in that they are reconciled to God because of the substitutionary work of Christ Jesus – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21). Due to the ministry and message that has been entrusted to Paul, he warns the church to have no partnership with those who practice and teach evil (6:14).

After his initial defense of his ministry (1:3-7:1), Paul writes to the Corinthians of the great joy he has for them upon hearing from Titus how the church was a repentant church (ch. 7). In the midst of their questioning of Paul’s ministry, the apostle can still rejoice because the majority of the church had accepted Paul’s authority via the letter sent to them (7:12) and Titus’ visit. Though a church should be very much known for its theological and ethical purity, it is just as vital that a church is known for its lifestyle of repentance. Upon writing these thoughts, Paul swiftly couples his commendation of their repentance with exhortations for their generosity (chs. 8-9). Paul exhorts them specifically by recalling the generosity of the Macedonian church in their poverty (8:1ff) and by reflecting on God’s love of and supply to cheerful givers (8:9ff).

Paul ends his epistle defending his ministry once again by boasting in sufferings.  The Corinthian church sees Paul as physically and rhetorically inferior (10:10), yet Paul sees his suffering and inferiority as proof of ministry. Over against the so-called “super apostles” (11:5), Paul boasts in the many dangers he endured for the sake of the gospel (11:24ff). Though he could boast of his pedigree (11:22-23) and his revelations (12:1-6), he would rather boast in his weakness so that “the power of Christ may rest upon me” (12:9). Paul makes his final plea by writing “aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you” (13:11).  A sober reminder even for the church today.

 

The Bible – Book by Book – 1 Corinthians

Assistant Pastor Christopher Diebold

A long time ago, a certain wise man said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Indeed, Paul’s first letter to Corinthians is a prime example of that truth. If you’ve ever thought that Christ’s church has been in a downward spiral since the death of the last Apostle, don’t worry; 1 Corinthians shows that Christ’s church is really in a closed loop. The same or similar problems that plague the modern church also plagued the churches in the time of the Apostles, and 1 Corinthians is an example of the on-going need for the bride of Christ to fix her eyes upon her groom. It reminds us that our problem is a universal sin problem that is only overcome by Christ and will only be finally overcome when Christ comes again to make all things new. Let’s now look at 4 “W” questions.

Who wrote 1 Corinthians? The Apostle Paul. And to whom did Paul write? The church at Corinth, which he founded during his second missionary journey (cf. Acts 18).

When did Paul write? He wrote in ~55 AD. This is based on the fixed timing of Gallio’s proconsulship (Acts 18:12), which we know from other sources was roughly 51/52 AD. During that time Paul was in Corinth. Paul then continued his travels, and approximately three years later wrote this letter from Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8).

Why did Paul write this letter? Two factors in particular prompted Paul’s writing of this letter. First, after leaving Corinth to continue his missionary journeys, he received verbal reports about the Corinthian church’s behavior (1:11, 5:1). In these verbal reports, Paul also learns that the church has misunderstood his first letter to them on at least one point (5:9-13). Yes, Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians before 1 Corinthians, but in God’s providence it was not preserved for the church universal.

Second, Paul received a written letter from the Corinthians in which the church laid out a number of issues facing it (7:1). This letter was delivered to Paul by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (16:17). The subjects addressed in 1 Corinthians remind us that temporal proximity to the Apostles did not equate to greater sanctification.

What does 1 Corinthians say? Structurally, it is divided by these two factors. After an initial greeting and thanksgiving section, Paul addresses the issues that came to him verbally in 1:10-6:20. These issues include false wisdom, internal divisions, scandal, litigiousness, and sexual immorality in general. Then, in 7:1-16:12, Paul addresses the issues brought up in the Corinthian’s letter to Paul. These topics are marriage (ch. 7), food offered to idols and proper table fellowship (chs. 8-10), conduct in the assembly of Christians (ch. 11), spiritual gifts (chs. 12-14), resurrection (ch. 15), benevolence (16:1-4), and Apollos’ visit (16:12). Paul concludes with a final exhortation and greetings.

Theologically, the fact that Paul is reacting to specific issues means that this letter is not “systematic” like Romans. Paul offers correction with respect to both theology and practice throughout this letter, but his corrections do form one sustained point.

Having said that, there still are certain themes that are woven throughout the various discussions. One of those themes is the reality that Christians are redeemed sinners. On the whole, 1 Corinthians is a negative letter. Paul has strong words of rebuke for this church. For example, Paul says, “Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? … Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not” (11:22), and “I say this to your shame” (15:34). Those are difficult words to swallow. Nevertheless, when Paul addresses his audience he calls them saints (1:2). Saints! People who are divisive, who are wise in their own eyes, who despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing, are saints! For all of their warts, they have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God (6:11), so they—and we—ought to rejoice because we are redeemed sinners.

A second—and related—theme that runs through this letter is union with Christ. These saints, or holy ones, are made holy in Christ Jesus (1:2). They receive God’s grace because they are in Christ Jesus (1:4). Because of God, they are in Christ Jesus, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1:30). Paul later says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? … He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. … You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (6:15, 17, 19-20). Finally, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are united to Christ through resurrection. Christ is the first fruits by his resurrection, and we who belong to him will also be made alive in resurrection bodies (15:20-13).

The universal nature of sin accounts in large part for why these words are so instructive for the church today. We continue to battle against sin. So also, the union with Christ that every believer from every age possesses is the reason we need to hear Paul’s words to the Corinthians. We continue to hope for the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting: new creation. For this reason, Paul ends his letter with this: our Lord, come!

The Bible – Book by Book – Romans

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

It can be argued that no other book of the Bible has impacted the formation and history of the Church more than the Epistle to the Romans. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it was the most important and most crucial book in the Bible. Augustine cites Romans as the place to which he turned after hearing the words, “Tolle lege” when he was converted. The early church pastor John Chrysostom, perhaps the greatest preaching in the early church, had Romans read to him twice ever week. Martin Luther came to an understanding of justification by faith alone while studying Romans 1:17. John Wesley considered his conversion to Christ to come after reading Luther’s commentary on Romans and feeling his heart “strangely warmed.” John Bunyan was converted through his study of Romans. Samuel Coleridge, the English poet, literary critic, philosopher, declared the Romans was the “profoundest piece of writing in existence.” Perhaps Luther summarized best by saying:

This epistle is the chief part of the New Testament…the purest gospel, which indeed deserves that a Christian should not only know it word for word by heart, but deal with it daily as with the daily bread of the soul, for it can never be read or considered too much or too well, and the more it is handled the more delightful it becomes and the better it tastes.

There is little doubt among scholars that the Apostle Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans. He likely wrote this letter while he was in Macedonia and Greece (Acts 20:1-3), specifically while staying in Corinth with Gaius (1 Cor 1:14, Rom 16:1, 2). The exact date is difficult to nail down, but a timeframe of 51-53AD works. It was prior to his delivery of the collection which he had taken up for the church in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17, Rom 15:25).

Non-Christian historical records indicate that the church at Rome had been around since at least before 50AD. Suetonius records, “Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because under the instigation of Chrestus they were incessantly making tumults.” Secular historical accounts frequently confused the common name Chrestus with the Greek form of Christ, Christus. Though some scholars debate the its composition, the church was most likely a majority Gentile body with a minority of Jewish believers. There is no indication in Scripture or in historical records that either Peter or Paul founded this church. In fact, the Scriptural records seems to imply that they did not. Paul had pledged to not “build upon another man’s foundation” (15:20). So, it appears that the church at Rome was not founded by any apostle. Likely, it was birthed as a result of Roman highway system. There was a constant and steady stream of movement around the area. Travelers from around the known world would hear the Gospel and inevitably end up in Rome, the world’s capital. Once there, believers in Christ would seek out one another for fellowship.

Paul’s letter does not focus just on the particulars of the church at Rome. It is more general in scope. As the capital of the world, the concerns of the people of Rome were the concerns of the people of the world. His letter spoke to the general needs of all people. Paul systematically explains the nature of the Gospel, but it is more than just a systematic textbook. It is a letter written to real people. This is not just ivory tower theology, but this is nitty-gritty real world application of the truths of the Triune God. Paul is presenting the hope of the Gospel to the world.

There are three basic sections to Romans. The first is an exposition of the Gospel (chs. 1-8). Then Paul addresses the question of Israel (chs. 9-11). Finally, he lays out some of the practical results of the Gospel (chs. 12-16). The theme of Paul’s exposition of the Gospel is found in Rom. 1:16, 17. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation. In it the righteousness of God is revealed. The righteous shall live by faith. The need (1:18-3:20), the way (3:21-31), the model (4), and the results (5-8) of the Gospel are explained in the first section. There is a crucial point made in chapter 4, where Paul explains that there is nothing new in the Gospel. Everything promised by faith in the Gospel was found in seminal form in the Old Testament model of Abraham. This becomes important in chapters 9-11 where Paul argues that Israel’s rejection was not a failure of the covenant, but rather it corroborates the promise of God to Abraham. Finally, Paul explains that because of the Gospel we must live in love toward one another and submission to our authorities (12-16).

This is a book of grace. John Murray notes that Paul’s transition from Pharisee to Apostle was one of grace. The spell of religion was broken by Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul responds by saying, “And the commandment, which was unto life, this I found to be unto death!” Paul’s life is a reflection of the antithesis he posits in Romans. Grace and law, faith and works, these are the poles of Paul’s life which was divided by his conversion experience. His zeal for persecuting the church was transformed into a zeal for reaching the lost. The story of Romans is a story of God’s grace poured out on a world in desperate need of Christ.

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The Bible – Book by Book – Acts

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

 

I am constantly surprised that there is enough interest in movies like Transformers and the Fast and the Furious, that they keep churning out sequels. Occasionally though, sequels like The Empire Strikes Back or the Godfather II come along and capture and progress the whole sweep of the original perfectly. The Book of Acts is the perfect sequel to the Gospels. More specifically, the Book of Acts is the perfect sequel to the Gospel of Luke.

The physician Luke wrote both the Gospel which bears his name and the Book of Acts. The Gospel of Luke opens with Luke’s explanation to Theophilus as to why he wrote a gospel. Acts picks right up where Luke left off. “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). Now, Luke endeavors to tell the rest of the story. What happened after Jesus ascended into the heaven and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Church?

Just as Luke undertook to compile an orderly account of the life of Jesus, he does so with the events following Jesus’ resurrection. He includes a perfect outline for the book of Acts in the first chapter. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Acts will focus initially on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the growth of the gospel in Jerusalem and Judea in chapters 1-7. Then it will document the expansion of the gospel primarily into Samaria but with a few episodes reaching beyond (e.g. The Ethiopian Eunuch and Cornelius) in chapters 8-12. Then the apostle Paul takes center stage as he takes the gospel to the end of the earth in chapters 13-28. The draw of God’s redemption for the nations seems to have a centripetal force (drawing inward like a funnel) prior to the Holy Spirit’s outpouring in Acts 2. But after that explosive act of God’s grace, His redemptive force is centrifugal (pushing outwards) to the end of the earth.

Luke’s narrative of the expansion of the Church is a story of great opposition and greater power. As the Holy Spirit moves in the lives of the disciples, they see tremendous fruit in their ministry. But this success is frequently met with conflict. And each conflict is met with a stronger still Spirit. Peter preaches a sermon at Pentecost and “there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). Peter preaches again and, “many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of men came to about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). But Peter and John are arrested for their preaching. They are instructed to not speak or teach about Jesus. They reply, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19, 20). Success in the growth of the Church is met with opposition, which is then met with added strength from the Holy Spirit. And the Church grew in the face of opposition (Acts 6:7, 9:31, 11:21, 12:24, 13:49, 14:21, 16:5, 19:20, 28:23).

We see in the Book of Acts that God is faithful to supply our every need. Where God wills, he provides. But God will often provide in unexpected times and ways. The martyrdom of Stephen is an example. Stephen is ordained as a deacon in the church and soon after is seized by the authorities. He is wrongly accused of speaking blasphemous words against God (Acts 6:11). But God does not deliver Stephen from the hands of his oppressors. They kill him (Acts 7:60). God does, however, give Stephen a spirit of peace throughout the melee. He gives Stephen a boldness to declare the gospel while being attacked. He gives Stephen courage to stand faithful. And God gives the Church an unexpected gift through Stephen’s death. In the midst of the crowd, stoking the flames of rage, stood Saul. “And Saul approved of his execution” (Acts 8:1). God would give Saul the gift of Christ.

Saul is converted in a remarkable encounter on the road to Damascus. Now Saul, who was also called Paul, is trained in the gospel. He is filled with the Holy Spirit. And with all the passion and gusto with which he had persecuted the Church, he now preaches Christ. And Paul’s preaching will take this Good News to the end of the earth. Luke is presenting the narrative of Acts as if it is a bridge connecting God’s promise in Genesis 12:2-3, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” with God’s faithful fulfillment in Revelation 7:9, “…and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”. God’s plan will succeed over this present evil age. “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28).

Evangelism – Concluding Thoughts

Assistant Pastor Chris Diebold

 

As a general rule, big heavy things don’t turn fast. Zipping around a hairpin turn in a two-seat sports car is one thing. Lumbering down the same road in an 18 wheeler is entirely different. The greater an object’s mass, the more difficult it is to overcome inertia. Think about how much easier it is to push a toddler on a swing set than a grown man. Or consider that it takes a cargo ship miles to turn around. A lot of work needs to be put into turning something heavy; patience is needed to see results.

This principle of physics is a helpful framework for our concluding thoughts on evangelism. If it is an appropriate metaphor for the rate of change in our personal and church lives, then it is helpful in that it offers to us a realistic expectation for changing our attitudes and actions related to evangelism. That is to say, the reality is that making evangelistic encounters an intentional part of your life will take time because you are more like an 18 wheeler than a sports car, more like a grown man on a swing set than a toddler. The remainder of this reflection will consider the means by which we encumber ourselves and the solution to our encumbrance.

At the beginning of July, I mentioned that fear of man is the number one reason cited by Christians for why they do not evangelize. This fear is rooted for some in a sense of inadequacy. I don’t know enough theology to defend the hope that I have. For others, it is rooted in the unknown. How will my family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers react if I share my faith? For everyone who experiences it, this fear of man has weight to it. Though we cannot measure in a physical sense the weight of fear, it lays heavy on those who experience it. As a heavy burden, fear of man weighs down the one who bears it so that fatigue creeps into each day. It slows you down, and makes turning around a slow process.

There are many other things that weigh us down. The cares of this world and the demands of hectic lives are only two examples. These weights encourage us to continue moving in the same direction. Just as the 19 wheeler resists the turn of the steering wheel as it lumbers down the highway, so our heavily laden lives resist any turning from our present course. And since evangelism is for many of us not on our present course, it makes sense why turning to a new course will take time for us.

At this point, I want to emphasize the biblical mandate to evangelize. In his biblical theological reflection on evangelism, Pastor Donny cited John Stott’s summary statement to that effect. “It is the Bible that lays upon us the responsibility to evangelize the world, gives us a gospel to proclaim, tells us how to proclaim it, and promises us that it is God’s power for salvation to every believer.” Moreover, the Apostle Peter acknowledges the weight of fear with respect to proclaiming the good news, yet he still directs the church to be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the church’s hope (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). So, we have a responsibility and an expectation to evangelize.

With that in mind, resistance to evangelism reveals a heart encumbered by the burdens of this world, whether fear, the cares of this world, the demands of hectic lives that distract us, or something else. Consider your own reaction to evangelism. What is your first response? Do you immediately resist it by pointing out all the ways it won’t work? Do you dismiss it as the work of the church but not you individually? Do you lament the infertile ground of our present culture and abandon all hope of conversion? Resistance to a lifestyle of evangelism reveals how heavy laden your heart is. The greater the resistance, the heavier the burdens on your heart are.

But what is the solution? Certainly it is not to try harder or do better on your own. If you’re behind the steering wheel of an 18 wheeler, you don’t turn the wheel sharper to get the truck to turn around. That just ends with all your cargo strewn about the road. Rather, in the words of the well-known philosopher-theologian Carrie Underwood, the solution is this: “Jesus, take the wheel.” Or, to change the metaphor and be biblical, the solution is this: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). Our solution is to take on the easy yoke of our Lord Jesus Christ to ease the burden.

But how do we get to this solution? In a word, prayer. Pray that God would unburden your life. Pray that God would open your eyes to the spiritual needs of your family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers. Pray that God would give you opportunity to present his life-transforming grace to those around you. As you pray, consider also how you can be specific. Pray for specific occasions with specific people.

Then, do not resist the prompting of the Holy Spirit when you find yourself in exactly the situation for which you prayed.