Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: January, 2018



The Ethiopian Eunuch


If Christ died, then, as an atonement for sin, and His death is of infinite value, does that mean, then, that everyone is automatically saved?  While that may seem like a logical conclusion, it is not what the Bible says.  There is a condition which must be met.  “He who believes in the Son; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36; NKJV).  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  We are justified (made righteous in the sight of God) by faith.  We must believe on Christ in order to be saved and have our sins forgiven.  We are save by faith in Christ.

But what does it mean to “believe on” Christ?  The Bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1; NASV, ESV).  Faith is the firm conviction that what God has said is true and will come to pass.  His word can be relied upon.  People demonstrated their faith by acting upon God’s promises.  “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6; NKJV).  Hebrews 11 goes on to give us a long catalog of those who acted in faith.  “These all died in faith, not having received the promise, but having seen them afar off, were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (v. 13).  In salvation faith means to put one’s faith and confidence in Christ, to rely actively on Him and trust Him only for your salvation.

Faith is more than mere assent to a religious dogma.  “You believe that there is one God.  You do well.  Even the demons believe – and tremble!” (James 2:19).  The demons, obviously, are not saved.  It is one thing to believe something about Christ; it is something different actively to put your trust in Him.  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved . . . “ (Acts 16:31).

True faith is accompanied by true repentance.  You cannot ask God to forgive your sins unless you genuinely acknowledge that they are sins and you desire to turn from them.  There must be a genuine sorrow over sin.

“’Now, therefore,’ says the Lord,

‘Turn to Me with all your heart,

With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’

So rend your heart, and not your garments;

Return to the Lord your God,

For He is gracious and merciful,

Slow to anger, and of great kindness;

And He relents from doing harm.”

(Joel 2:12,13)

And a genuine sorrow over sin will include a desire to be free from it and live a life that is pleasing to God.  “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8).  These are not works that you perform in order to earn your salvation or to merit anything from God, but rather evidence that your repentance is real and genuine.  God will save you from your sin; it is all a work of His unmerited favor.  But the question is, do you really want to be saved?  And if so, form what?

But then our faith in Christ should express itself by publicly identifying ourselves with Him, and this is done in baptism.  Peter could conclude his sermon on Pentecost by saying, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  Jesus said, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32,33; cf. Lu. 12:8,9).  Some evangelists have used this as a justification for the altar call, but there is no evidence from Scripture that such a practice existed in the early church.  Rather, baptism was the means of publicly identifying oneself with Christ.

Several things should be noted here.  First of all the assumption throughout the New Testament is that the person being baptized is a professing believer.  “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  You are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27,28; cf. Rom. 6:3), the implication being that everyone who has been baptized  has actually been incorporated into the universal church, the body of Christ.  Moreover, there is no direct command nor any clear example in the New Testament to warrant the practice of infant baptism.

Secondly, baptism is not a good work that somehow merits salvation, nor is a sacrament that somehow works automatically to impart salvation.  Rather, “. . .baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . .” (I Pet. 3:21; NASV; cf. ESV).  Baptism is the formal, outward means by which we declare our faith and allegiance to Christ, and as such formally begins the relationship with Him.  It is the faith itself, however, which makes us righteous in the sight of God.  Baptism is the outward expression of the inward reality, the sign and seal of our faith.

This, then, is how we are saved: we must repent of our sins, put our trust in Christ as our Savior, and publicly identify ourselves with Him in baptism.  “. . .if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9,10).



But if God is both just and compassionate, what should He do about man’s sin?  Justice demands that He punish it; but compassion wants to forgive the sinner.  And if He punishes sin He destroys man, whom He originally created.  What should He do?

It should be noted that the problem was created by man, not by God.  There is nothing wrong with justice; there is nothing wrong with compassion.  The problem is man’s sin, and man created the problem by doing things that he himself knows is wrong.  The problem lies with us, not with God.

But that being said, what should God do?  There is one possible way out of the dilemma.  If a substitute could be found, someone to take our place and pay the penalty for our sins, God could forgive us while at the same time uphold His justice.  Sins could be punished and forgiven at the same time.

But who would be willing to do such a thing?  And more to the point, who would even be qualified to do such a thing?  The substitute would have to be absolutely innocent himself, or else he would merely be paying for his own sins.   And he would have to be a person whose life would be equal to that of millions of human beings combined, or else he could be a substitute for only one other person.  The rest of us would be lost.  The whole scenario seems highly unlikely.

But then something extraordinary happened.  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4,5; NKJV).  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

As it turns out Jesus was the only Person qualified to fill the role.  First of all, He was completely sinless Himself.  He was “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).  He can sympathize with us, having lived here on earth as a human being, yet He never succumbed to temptation.  Yet because He was also God, God the Father’s own dear Son, His blood was of infinite value, and could atone for the sins of all those who would come to Him in faith.

And yet at what a cost to God the Father!  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .”  Jesus was the Father’s “only begotten Son.”  God has many adopted children, but Jesus was His only eternal Son by nature.  And it was His only begotten Son that He sent into the world to die for our sins.  Jesus was born under the humblest circumstances, was arrested under false charges and given a mockery of a trial.  He was mocked, scourged and suffered an agonizing death on a cross.  And all of this happened to God’s only begotten Son, the only human being who was absolutely without sin Himself, the last Person on earth who deserved to die.  No greater travesty of justice ever occurred in human history.  And He did that of us, to atone for our sins and obtain forgiveness for us.

Christ would not have done it unless it had been absolutely necessary to satisfy the demands of divine justice.  “. . .without the shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:23); and yet “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:4).  Therefore God “sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10).

At the same time God would not have sent His Son to die for our sins if He had not had a great love for us.  “But God demonstrates His own love towards us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  God sent His Son to die for us, not because we were lovable – “we were still sinners” – but because of the pity and compassion He has for His ruined and suffering creatures.  And He demonstrates His love for us, but by excusing our sin, but by sending His own Son to die on the cross and atone for it.

“Amazing love, how can it be

That Thou my God shouldst die for me?”

Charles Wesley

In this way the demands of both justice and compassion can be met simultaneously. Sin is both punished and forgiven at the same time.  God is able to “demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).  “Mercy and truth have met together; / Righteousness and peach have kissed” (Psalm 85:10).

It is important to mention that this is the reason why there is no salvation outside of Christ.  It simply not true that Jesus was one of several different great religious teachers down through history, and that “all roads lead to heaven.”  Man’s real problem is his sin and guilt before a holy God, and the only solution to that problem is Christ’s atonement on the cross.  Christ was much more than a great prophet or religious leader; He is the Savior, the only Savior.  “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all . . .” (I Tim. 2:5,6a).



Pieter Claesz: A Vanitas Still Life


Why do people die?  At first that seems like a rather stupid question – they just do.  It is an inescapable fact of human existence.  And if you are an atheist that is all there is to it – there is no special rhyme or reason to life.  We just exist, and we all die.  But if we were created by an intelligent Supreme Being, a God who is loving and compassionate, why would He create us to die?

An obituary is a sobering commentary on human existence.  Here is someone’s loved one – a husband or wife, a father or mother – who was once full of life and energy.  He or she worked, played and loved, and had a real impact on the lives of others.  And yet in that person’s later years he was feeble and frail; and now he lies silent in the grave.  If God created life, then why does He let us die?

“The days of our lives are seventy years;

And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,

Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;

For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

(Psalm 90:10; NKJV).

The biblical answer to this is sin: “. . .through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin . . .” (Rom. 5:12).  Death is an anomaly, but sin is also an anomaly; and the Bible connects the two together.  We die because we sin.  Death is the curse that God placed upon the human race because of our sin and rebellion.  We cut ourselves off from our Creator, the source of life, and so we die.  The amazing thing is that we live as long as we do.

Death actually has three aspects to it: spiritual, physical and eternal.  It is important to realize that before we die physically we are already dead spiritually.  We “were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).  “. . .we all once conducted ourselves in the lust of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath . . .” (v. 3).  Paul could say of the pagan Gentiles of his day that they “walk in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart, who being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Eph. 4:17-19).  Even though we are physically alive we are spiritually dead.  God is absent from our lives, there is an absence of any real love for God or for righteousness, and we go through life living for ourselves, seeking our own personal advantage, and gaming the system.  There is no spiritual life in us.

And then, of course, there is the fact of our actual physical death, and this points to a problem in nature itself, for death is often the result of outward circumstances, of injury or disease.  The fact of the matter is that all of nature has been affected by our sin and rebellion, and is, to a large extent, dysfunctional.  “For the creation was subjected to futility . . .  the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs . . .” (Rom. 8:20,22).  Even Christians are not exempt from physical pain and suffering: “. . .but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (v. 23).  Thus when we look at nature we are struck by a paradox: everywhere we can see evidenced of intelligent design, but at the same time we see pervasive dysfunction.  Things live and flourish; things die.  Life was designed to function one way; it now functions in a profoundly different way.  It is a creation out of concord with its Creator.  It is a creation wrecked and ruined by man’s rebellion against God.

But it does not end there.  Death is also eternal – we are cut off from God forever, and bear the brunt of His wrath for all eternity.  The Book of Revelation describes the Last Judgment, and says, “The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them.  And they were judged, each one according to his works.  Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death” (Rev. 20:13,14; “Hades” is a Greek word for the underworld, the abode of departed spirits).   “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).

It is terrifying to think about hell, but the Bible tells us this is what we must expect if we continue in our sin and rebellion against God.  We have offended a just and holy God.  He is infinite and all-powerful.  By rebelling against Him we have placed ourselves under His wrath and condemnation.  The consequences are fearful.

“For the wages of sin is death . . .” (Rom. 6:23).  “Wages” are what we have earned, what we deserve.  And what did we earn by rebelling against God and living our lives apart from Him?  A life of misery and woe here below and an eternity in hell.  These are the consequences of human sin and folly.

The reality, then, which confronts each and every one of us is the certain prospect of death; and the question each one of us must ask himself is this: “Where will I spend eternity?”  Let none be so foolish as to ignore the question.

But, as we shall see, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ibid.).



Caravagio: The Young Bacchus

The Bible tells us that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” (Rom. 1:18; NKJV).  But why would God be angry with us?  He knows that we are only human, right?  God is a loving Father; surely He can overlook our weaknesses and failures.

What the verse goes on to say is that the wrath of God “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . .”  The Greek word translated “ungodliness” might better be rendered “impiety.”  It denotes the lack of reverence and devotion to God.  “Unrighteousness” is the lack of conformity to God’s law.  And that, according to Scripture, is why God is angry with us.

But why?  As long as we mind our own business and do not harm others, what is the problem?

As we have seen, God is our Creator and Lord, and He expects us to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly” with Him (Mic. 6:8).  What happens in actual practice, however, falls far short of the mark.  We routinely ignore God in our lives.  Yes, we may pay lip service to God, or to some duty, but our “religion” amounts to little more than a mere formality.  We rarely pray; we rarely read the Bible.  Our decisions are mainly based on calculated self-interest.  We assert our independence, and then look for ways to rationalize our behavior.  Scientists and philosophers try to devise elaborate alternative explanations of reality.  The rest of us just fill our lives with money, pleasure or entertainment.  And when circumstances overwhelm us we turn to the psychiatrist or the bottle.  We will try anything and everything except turn to God.  And inwardly we resent the thought of God having any kind of authority over us.  This is what the Bible means by “ungodliness” or “impiety.”  It is the near total absence of God in our thinking.  We call it “secularism.”

And then we are guilty of “unrighteousness.”  We pursue our own individual self-interest, and it often comes at the expense of others.  We try to convince ourselves that we are not really hurting anyone else, but our actions often belie our words.  As a society we will created governments and pass laws; but as individuals we will look for ways to game the system.  We lie and we cheat.  We gossip.  We lose our tempers and seek revenge.  We are motivated by greed and ignore the suffering of others.  We eat too much; we drink too much; we lust after women.  We hurt each other through a thousand tiny cuts.  We know that all of this is wrong, and yet we do it anyway.  This is what the Bible means by “unrighteousness.”

But, you may ask, what about the many people who have made personal sacrifices for their fellow man?  What about Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King?  What about those who have given their lives on the battlefield or those who have devoted their lives to the care of the sick and the poor?  Aren’t they good people?  Aren’t their deeds noble and virtuous?

Yes, indeed, there have been many people who have done great things.  But in the sight of God they are often doing the right things for the wrong reasons.  Most people are guided by a kind of social morality.  They have been raised and educated in a certain culture, and the society in which they live expects them to act a certain way.  There are rewards and punishments.   If you do the wrong thing you could go to jail; if you do the right thing you might achieve recognition from your fellow man.  But the morality of a society is often determined by the social, economic and political needs of that society, and as a result sometime comes into conflict with God’s moral law.  America’s economic system is based on individual self-interest and the profit motive.  The Bible says that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Tim. 6:10).

Thus the behavior of individuals within a given society is motivated by a desire for social acceptance, and this often involves an element of hypocrisy.  We maintain a public persona that we project to others, but inwardly we can be quite different.  The true inner self can be stubborn, proud or resentful.

But all of this is quite different from what God requires.  What He wants is that we love Him with all of our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves (Dt. 6:4; Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:35-40).  We look at the outward appearance; God looks on the heart.  He discovers the hidden motive.  And “rational self-interest” is still self-interest.  Civilization is too often an attempt to better our lives without God.

In short, it is the underlying motive that counts.  What motivates us to do good things?  Is it a genuine love for God and for our fellow man?  Or is it a desire for esteem and success?  And what do we do when society’s standards conflict with God’s.

In other words, when God looks down from His throne in heaven, what He sees is not a bunch of basically good people trying their best to do the right thing.  What He sees is a human race that stubbornly refuses to recognize Him as Creator and Lord, routinely ignores Him in daily life, and breaks His commandments when it is convenient to do so.  He sees people who hurt each other in ways large and small.  And that is why God is justly angry with us.