30 April 2010

Angels of light

by Phil Johnson

he gospel's most dangerous earthly adversaries are not raving atheists who stand outside the door shouting threats and insults. They are church leaders who cultivate a gentle, friendly, pious demeanor but hack away at the foundations of faith under the guise of keeping in step with a changing world.

No Christian should naively imagine that heresy is always conspicuous or that every purveyor of theological mischief will lay out his agenda in plain and honest terms. The enemy prefers to sow tares secretly for obvious reasons. Thus Scripture expressly warns us to be on guard against false teachers who creep into the church unnoticed (Jude 4); wolves who sneak into the flock wearing sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15); and servants of Satan who disguise themselves as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Theological liberalism is particularly dependent on the stealth offensive. A spiritually healthy church is simply not susceptible to the arrogant skepticism that underlies a liberal's rejection of biblical authority. A church that is sound in the faith won't abandon the gospel in order to embrace humanist values. Liberalism must therefore take root covertly and gain strength and influence gradually. The success or failure of the whole liberal agenda hinges on a patient public-relations campaign.

That is precisely how neo-liberals have managed to get a foothold in the contemporary evangelical movement.

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(Excerpted from an article published earlier this year in the 9Marks eJournal. Read the whole thing HERE.)

29 April 2010

Women must preach in church

by Dan Phillips

...on one occasion.

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28 April 2010

Kinda Christianity

by Frank Turk

My friend Zach Bartels and his friend Ted Kluck have published a new book, which is available for the first time in history at Amazon.com: Kinda Christianity. I bring it up because I wrote the foreward, and because we get more readers here at TeamPyro on Wednesday than Zach gets at his blog in any given year, and because Ted and Zach need your help. They want this thing to go completely viral, completely "The Shack". Except in a wholly-orthodox and Gospel-centered way. And maybe as Oprah's book of the month.

They want you to buy it and get your friends to buy it. It's like a portable version of Phil's PoMotivators. And just to sample it for you, here's the foreward I wrote for them in its "red-band" version (the one which names names, not the limp-wristed version with tepid references to nameless people which Ted and Zach wanted to avoid any problems) because you people are that tough.

I recently received that as a tweet from a friend of mine. It’s a great quote, and of course it doesn’t apply to you personally at all – it applies to everyone else except you.

I point that out because Ted and Zach wrote a little handbook here which, even if it doesn’t go The Shack for them and blow up the world of self-publication, is going to get the criticism, “they’re just a bunch of jerks, dude.” Ted will be called a hater or maybe some kind of misogynist homophobe jock, and Zach will be named as infamous in spite of his ubiquitous use of Hebrew to spell his first name. (Poser)

But here’s the thing: Are they the haters? It seems to me that they are not the haters – they are simply the ones who are not jealous. They are not the ones calling each other John Bunyan and Martin Luther, naming their movement a “new reformation” in the midst of also lowering moral standards, eliminating the things which are distinctive about the Christian faith, and dressing in a shabby way rather than a way which says, “I am in the image of my creator, so I want to keep the place looking nice.”

That is, of course, not to say that the objects of the bright lights and shiny sharp objects in this book are the only ones who flub the Christian life. It is to say, though, that these people have made an art of it. Under the guise of doing something indispensible with a 2000-year tradition of philosophical, political, economic, social and spiritual wins they have simply done what George Costanza would do – they have done the opposite.

What to do if there are glaring moral issues in our day – speak in a prophetic voice echoing Isaiah and Elijah and Moses? Oh heck no – do the opposite: embrace the moral failings of our day and say that this is who we are. Don’t hate me because I’m fabulous and famous like Perez Hilton or Spencer and Heidi.

What to do when worship is itself something everyone finds somewhat unconscionable and unfit for our daytimers – dress up our time together and inform it so that we cannot forget that we’re talking about the creator of all things, thinking about how Paul spoke to the folks at Corinth or maybe how the writer of Hebrews puts together a vision of our savior and our faith? Oh please – do the opposite: paint the place black, light a few candles, and sit on ratty sofas and talk about ourselves and the story we find ourselves in. Don’t ask more of me, but less.

And while we’re talking about us, how do we know who “we” are – how do we know what the church itself is, here and now? Do we raise up leaders who are kind and discerning men who are leaning on Scripture and on the promise of Christ, who are using baptism as a gate to bring disciples to Christ and who are admonishing the people of God to believe in Christ and live as if his resurrection is true the way your DVR schedule is true and your paycheck is true? C’mon now: do the opposite! We should be looking up to guys like Donald Miller who can’t be bothered to join with other believers for worship, and Rob Bell who won’t tell people about the life after life after death when he’s interviewed by the national press, and Brian McLaren who must have a New Kind of Christianity rather than the one the rest of us have inherited, and Doug Pagitt who shames people with passive-aggressive zingers and stops talking to them when they ask him what he specifically means by that – and as for baptism and a solid hope in the return of Christ, who cares? What’s that got to do with my favorite treat at Starbucks?

There’s nothing to be jealous of there, to get back to my point. There’s nothing to be jealous of in a movement that is exactly like what you find in Spencer’s at the Mall or maybe what’s in the used record joint across the street -- people who might in some sense like the smell of what they are selling, but they only like you if you are buying.

Ted and Zach aren’t buying it, and neither am I. However, I do have a really-cool on-line t-shirt shop where you can buy t-shirts that say “Spurgeon is my Homeboy” or “orthodox gangsta”, and I encourage you to indulge yourself since Ted and Zach cut me out of the commissions for this book. Kids these days …

Grace and Peace to you,

Frank Turk
The t-shirt shop
twitter: Frank_Turk
hatemail: jonestony@gmail.com

27 April 2010

Colossians studies 14: thanking God — twofold reason (1:4)

by Dan Phillips

Last time we studied the timing and significance of the thanks Paul and Timothy gave for the Colossians. Now we begin to study why they thanked God, today focusing on Colossians 1:4 — "having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love which you have for all the holy ones."

What in a congregation would bring Paul joy, and lead him to give thanks? Expressions of honest doubt, social programs, massive numbers, popularity with the world, artistic worship? Hardly. Paul gave thanks to God because of two signs of life he saw in the Colossian church, two particular species of spiritual fruit: faith and love.

First fruit: FAITH
The participial expression literally rendered "having heard of" is causal (= "because we heard of"), and it introduces the reasons why Paul and Timothy always thanked God for the Colossians. they thanked God, first, because they had heard of "your faith in Christ Jesus."

Faith is the indispensable element, the sine qua non, of the Christian life; and the word of God is the indispensable element in faith.
  • The Word of God gives birth to faith (Romans 10:17)
  • We are rescued from the power and penalty of sin through faith (John 3:16)
  • We live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7)
  • We continue to please God by faith (Hebrews 11:6)
Thus, faith was a crucial sign of spiritual life in Paul's eyes. If a person has genuinely been saved, he will exhibit faith in Christ. If a person exhibits no faith in Christ, there is no indication that he has been genuinely saved. This truism was Christianity 101 to the apostles, but seems to have eluded their much better-educated (and much less wise) modern would-be successors.

What is faith? Faith is never just a free-floating quality, valuable in and of itself regardless of its object. Biblical faith is all about the object. Biblical faith, as I recently discussed in another connection, involves at least two fundamental elements:
  1. A word from God
  2. Personal embrace of that word, involving the whole man
What is the specific word from God that Paul has in mind? It is God's testimony to Christ. Paul says it is "faith in Christ Jesus," which is to say faith in God' Anointed and sole Savior. Now, that is the point. You see, Paul is not thanking God merely that they have faith of some sort. Paul is specifically thanking God that they have faith in Christ Jesus.

Nor can we imagine, in our most feverish hallucinations, that Paul meant anything like, "Faith in Christ Jesus — whatever you mean by those two words." Paul is concerned only with what God means by those two words. He would have no part in reinventing, or creating "another Jesus" (2 Corinthians 11:4). I don't think you'd ever catch him speaking of a resurrection-denier as having passionate faith in and love for Jesus.

As Paul will go on to teach, forgiveness, redemption, love, life, real wisdom ─ everything of spiritual value —  is in the real Christ Jesus. So Paul rejoices that they have come into possession of all that by believing in that Christ.

This, too, is why Paul can call them "faithful," as he did earlier. Clearly, they are being troubled and tempted by false teaching. But at present they as a church still hold to the real Christ Jesus in faith. If they lose that, they will have nothing.

Second fruit: LOVE
Paul speaks of thanking God for "the love which you have for all the holy ones." This is the second dimension of Christian living. The primary dimension is vertical: our relationship with God ("your faith in Christ Jesus"). The secondary dimension is horizontal: our relationship with others ("the love which you have for all the holy ones").

This is one of the thirty-seven times that he uses the Greek word for "all" in this letter. This is a significant fact. The false teaching was evidently splitting the Church up into the "haves" and the "have-nots." Paul rejoices that the Colossians, in their faithfulness, still embrace all their fellow-saints in love.

When Paul speaks of "all the holy ones," he lightly touches on the fact that all who have trusted in Christ, without exception, are holy. (For a study of the aspects of holiness, see part 11.) This is positional holiness, a holiness all Christians share by definition. Everyone who trusts in Christ is set apart to God's ownership and service in Christ, and is therefore positionally holy in Him.

The common translation "saint" is unfortunate. Nobody today understands it without specific instruction, and we have this utterly unbiblical idea (thanks to Rome) that there are special believers who deserve to be called saints, in distinction from all the other believers. Paul does not use the word to part believer from believer. Rather, in speaking of "all the holy ones" Paul underlines that which all believers have in common, as well as the love which binds us all together.

What is love? The word agapē is not a magic word. Its richness is not inherent, but comes from the ways it is used. Consider three passages of Scripture:
  • Luke 10:29-37
  • Galatians 5:13-16
  • 1 John 3:17-18
What can we deduce from those passages?
  1. Love is not primarily an emotion, a mood, friendship, or just a nice thing to say
  2. Love is a personal commitment to pursuing the highest good of another, born of a mental attitude and expressed through action
This love may or may not affect our emotions at any given moment. It certainly will affect our words and our deeds. It is, after faith, a crucial Christian virtue (cf. Colossians 3:14; 1 Corinthians 13:13).

The health of any local church depends on Christians growing in love for one another. True, the local church is the place of learning. But it is also the place of practising what we learn. That practice must involve learning of and meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters in the assembly in love.

So the false teaching was troubling the Colossians, but it had not yet parted them as a church from Christ, and it had not yet parted them as believers from one another. Notice the rather emphatic phrasing: "which you have [i.e. which you still maintain] for all the holy ones." They were still fundamentally accepting one another, loyal to one another, and striving to meet each other's needs. The false teaching threatened this. In time, were it embraced, it would destroy it. But as of yet, the bond held sure, in real Christian unity.

For these two sure signs of spiritual life, Paul gave thanks to God.

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26 April 2010

Tom Wright, T4G, and "Unity": "Can We All Get Along?"

by Phil Johnson

hristianity Today has posted an opinion piece by Brett McCracken comparing this year's Together for the Gospel (T4G) sessions unfavorably with Wheaton College's recent Theology Conference: "Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright."

The speakers at T4G, of course, firmly believe that "The Gospel" is what binds us "Together." All of them agree that the heart of gospel truth is summed up in the doctrine of justification by faith, and getting that doctrine correct is vital to sound, biblical Christianity. All of them also believe the atonement Christ rendered on the cross was a penal substitution—a propitiatory sacrifice offered to God by His Son on behalf of sinners. There is much more to the atoning work of Christ than that, of course, but the T4G speakers all are convinced that part is essential to a right and full-orbed understanding (and proclamation) of the gospel. In short, all of the T4G speakers hold the historic position on these matters that is spelled out in all the Protestant confessions of faith.

And the theme of the T4G conference this year was "The (Unadjusted) Gospel."

N. T. Wright, on the other hand, is controversial chiefly because he wants to make significant adjustments to the doctrine of justification by faith and our understanding of the atonement. He doesn't like the language of imputation. He's uncomfortable with the idea of penal substitution and the language of propitiation.

For Wright, justification is more about ecclesiology than about soteriology. Indeed, he says, "The doctrine of justification . . . is not merely a doctrine in which Catholic and Protestant might just be able to agree on, as a result of hard ecumenical endeavour. It is itself the ecumenical doctrine, the doctrine that rebukes all our petty and often culture-bound church groupings, and which declares that all who believe in Jesus belong together in the one family. . . . The doctrine of justification is in fact the great ecumenical doctrine" (What St. Paul Really Said [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 158).

Between 2002 and '05 I did seminars at a couple of conferences on both sides of the Atlantic critiquing Wright's doctrine of justification (transcripts HERE and HERE). One of the things I keep trying to point out is that despite Wright's professed contempt for reading Reformed and Augustinian concerns back into the Pauline text, high on his own agenda is a determination to bring Paul's doctrine of justification into line with 21st-century standards of political correctness. Wright's whole hermeneutic seems driven by the credo of Rodney King. Wright seems to be looking for a new perspective on the gospel that would allow Catholics, Protestants, and all kinds of wayward Anglicans to set their "differences" aside and have a great group hug in the name of ecumenical unity.

It comes as no surprise, then, that in Wright's mind, "Nothing justifies schism."

Now: let's bear in mind that statement comes from an Anglican bishop who is currently in communion with this bishop, this bishop, this bishop, and a menagerie of other bishops including several agnostics, heretics, and theological miscreants of virtually every stripe.

That fact surely sheds light on what Bishop Wright might be aiming at in his radically ecumenical re-reading of the doctrine of justification. And the mess that we know as "The Anglican communion" also must be carefully borne in mind when we read this solemn assurance in the CT op-ed piece: "Wright, perhaps the world's leading Christian theologian/writer/intellectual, was calling for the church to prioritize unity and emphasize common ground, not at the expense of doctrine and not in a universalist way."


The shopworn not-at-the-expense-of-doctrine warrantee is of course standard language these days in everyone's ecumenical efforts—ranging from "Catholics and Evangelicals Together" to the early rhetoric of the Emergent fiasco (where, in fact, everything came at the expense of doctrine). Such assurances especially ring hollow when the people making such promises in the very same breath relegate a principle like sola fide to "the details of theological minutia."

"After all," Brett McCracken says, "[Paul] speaks of justification only in a few places (Romans, Galatians, etc.), while unity is a topic that shows up constantly in nearly everything he writes."

Yikes. Seriously?

That's about the worst summary of the Pauline perspective I have ever heard.

McCracken should have listened more closely to the T4G messages. His cynical description of T4G ("like a club patting each other on the back for their mutual buttressing of the 'unadjusted gospel' against threats from various corners") puts his yearning for "unity" in clear focus. If we're not willing to relegate all our differences with everyone who claims to "love Jesus" to the category of "theological minutia," we are the "schismatic" ones—not the Anglicans (and their ilk) who have winked at (and even given their benediction to) virtually every kind of sin and apostasy, as long as their own bishops are involved.

The cost of that kind of cosmetic unity is simply too high. Far from being "a sign to the world" and "a message to the would-be rulers of the world," it dishonors Christ. The artificial peace of compromise and mandatory-cease-fire solidarity isn't authentic unity anyway. It is nothing like the kind of unity Paul called for. It certainly is not the kind of unity Christ prayed for.

Of course some points of doctrine are theological minutiae, and we don't need to argue endlessly about them. Most of us don't. But justification by faith is not one of those peripheral points. Luther and the other Reformers were driven by the unshakable conviction that the doctrine of justification by faith is the primary soteriological essential, the article by which the church stands or falls. Unless we're willing to declare the Reformation a mistake (something Bishop Wright needs to do—and may yet do—in order to be consistent with his own rhetoric), we should resist these incessant pleas from so many quarters to see "church unity" through postmodern eyes. Instead, we need to keep striving for the kind of unity Scripture describes—a unity that is possible only when we are walking in the light (1 John 1:6-7).

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25 April 2010

Should we velvetize the Bible's hard truths to suit a culture that hates moral clarity?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Mongrel Religion," a sermon preached Sunday morning, 2 October 1881, at the Met Tab in London.

    know of no surer way of a people's perishing than by being led by one who does not speak out straight, and honestly denounce evil. If the minister halts between two opinions, do you wonder that the congregation is undecided? If the preacher trims and twists to please all parties, can you expect his people to be honest? If I wink at your inconsistencies will you not soon be hardened in them?

Like priest, like people. A cowardly preacher suits hardened sinners. Those who are afraid to rebuke sin, or to probe the conscience, will have much to answer for. May God save you from being led into the ditch by a blind guide.

And yet is not a mingle-mangle of Christ and Belial the common religion of the day? Is not worldly piety, or pious worldliness, the current religion of England? They live among godly people, and God chastens them, and they therefore fear him, but not enough to give their hearts to him. They seek out a trimming teacher who is not too precise and plain-spoken, and they settle down comfortably to a mongrel faith, half truth, half error, and a mongrel worship half dead form, and half orthodoxy.

God have mercy upon men, and bring them out from the world; for he will not have a compound of world and grace. "Come ye out from among them," saith he, "be ye separate: touch not the unclean thing." "If God be God, serve him: if Baal be God, serve him." There can be no alliance between the two. Jehovah and Baal can never be friends. "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon." "No man can serve two masters." All attempts at compromise or comprehensiveness in matters of truth and purity are founded on falsehood, and falsehood is all that can come of them. May God save us from such hateful doublemindedness.

C. H. Spurgeon

24 April 2010

Pyro: the next generation?

by Dan Phillips

Find out who Grandma's holding, more pix, and the full story, here.

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23 April 2010


by Phil Johnson

Since we have featured two posts about Calvinism already this week, why not a third? I've always liked the symmetrics of three-point sermons anyway.

What follows is an excerpt from one of my Shepherds' Conference seminars in 2007. You can download the entire message for free HERE. In that seminar I argued that everyone who truly believes the gospel has already embraced the core principles of Calvinist truth. Even the most ardent Arminian, if he is truly evangelical, is a Calvinist when it really counts. Here's an excerpt:

y trek from Arminianism to Calvinism took more than ten years. Every time one of my arguments against Calvinist doctrines would fall, I would be forced to embrace some doctrine that I had heretofore been desperately trying to argue against.

But I never had any sense of defeat. It was more like I was resolving nagging conflicts in my own mind. Because I kept discovering that the truths at the heart of Calvinism truly are the doctrines of grace—principles that I had always affirmed: God is sovereign, Christ died for me, God loved me before I loved Him, He sought me and drew me and initiated my reconciliation while I was still His enemy. Those are all biblical truths, and I believed them even when I was a gung-ho Arminian.

So embracing Calvinism was natural—and inevitable—because all I was doing was ridding my mind of wrong ideas and faulty assumptions about human free will and other notions like that, which are not even taught in the Bible—so that I could wholeheartedly affirm what I really believed anyway: That God is God, and He does all His good pleasure, and no one can make Him do otherwise, and He is in control and in charge no matter how much noise evildoers try to make.

And not only is He in charge, He is working all things out for my good and His glory.

That's Calvinism. And if you believe those things, you have affirmed the heart of Calvinist doctrine, even if you call yourself an Arminian. Those are the basic truths of Calvinism, and if you already believe those things, you are functioning with Calvinist presuppositions.

There's more. If you are an authentic Christian, you know in your heart of hearts that you weren't born again because you were morally superior to your unbelieving neighbors. You were worthy of God's wrath just like them (Ephesians 2:1-3). According to Ephesians 2:4-6, it was God who quickened you and showed you a special mercy—and that is why you are a believer. You already know that in your heart. You don't really believe you summoned faith and came to Christ in your own power and by your own unaided free will. You don't actually believe you are morally superior to unbelievers. You therefore must see, somewhere in your soul, that God has given you special grace that He has not shown everyone.

You also believe God is absolutely sovereign over all things. I know you do, because you lean on the promise of Romans 8:28. And that promise would mean nothing if God were not in control of every detail of everything that happens. If He is not in control of all things, how could He work all things together for good?

Furthermore, you pray for the lost, which means in your heart, you believe God is sovereign over their salvation. If you didn't really believe He was sovereign in saving sinners, you'd quit praying for the lost and start doing everything you could to buttonhole people into the kingdom by hook or by crook, instead. But you know that would be folly.

And you pray about other things, too, don't you? You pray that God will change this person's heart, or alter the circumstances of that problem. That's pure Calvinism. When we go to God in prayer, we're expressing faith in His sovereignty over the circumstances of our lives.

You believe God operates sovereignly in the administration of all His providence. You say things like, "If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that" (James 4:15)—because you believe that God works all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11), and nothing happens apart from his will.

Nothing is more biblical than these doctrines that are commonly labeled Calvinism. In a way, it is a shame they have been given an extrabiblical name. Because these truths are the very essence of what Scripture teaches.

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Selfish requests

by Frank Turk
Short, sweet, and bumpable today.

[1] I'm making my first-ever trip to Europe this weekend to return next week, on business. It's to Amsterdam, which I understand is beautiful, historic and, um, let's say "liberal" to avoid any unnecessary shouting, so please pray for me as I fly through the volcano plume to meet with my Viking overlords to discuss things Viking overlords want to discuss.

[2] In that, if there's any Pyro readers in Amsterdam who want to get together on Sunday afternoon to find out how short and fat I am in person, make a list here in the comments and we can figure out a place to meet. Someplace close to the airport would be best for me. The rest of my week is fully booked, though maybe Thursday afternoon might also work.

[3] I'm also looking for suggestions regarding a power coverter for my trip. Obviously it can't be mail-order, but if you know something really good at Radio Shack or Best Buy, I'd appreciate it.

22 April 2010

Must a Jew, by definition, disbelieve Jesus? — 2

by Dan Phillips

[Concluding a post begun here.]

Sharp cookies that you are, you may have noted that I am approaching this primarily from an Old Testament perspective. That is deliberate and purposeful. Refer back to the "I believe Jesus / I believe the OT" portion beginning to the first part. I don't grant that one self-appointed segment of Jews holds a copyright on the letters J, E and W. I think God does. The issue is how does He define being a Jew-in-good-standing, in His word. Even if one grants some role to tradition, one either accords ultimate veto-power to the Word, or he forfeits a voice.

Stay with me here, and let's ask....

Have Messiah-rejecting Jews the right to define
who is, and who is not, a Jew?
Three thought-experiments
Play a thought-experiment with me.

Put yourself in the picture in Numbers 13. You are a Jew, in Kadesh-Barnea, poised to enter Canaan. You knew Yahweh's will: He Himself had led you to this very point, and He had informed you that He was about to give you the land whose borders you were approaching. It is God's will for you to enter that land — at His word.

But then the spies bring back their report. Ten out of twelve Jewish spies reject the call to enter the land. That is, eighty-three percent of Jewish leaders say that Jews should not attempt to take Canaan. A paltry seventeen percent demur.

What is a faithful Jew, then, at that moment? Well, 83% of Jewish leadership defines a Jew as someone-who-does-not-enter-Canaan... even though Yahweh had said they should. Refusal to follow God's word defined them; not submission to it.

Read on, and you see that Yahweh's response in essence is "Fine. Don't enter. Die in the wilderness. I'll bring your children in, along with the 17% minority of Jewish spies who trusted My word." (What percent of the total population of Jewish adults would that be?)

So Yahweh's will for all Jews at this point is that they remain in the wilderness until all unbelieving adults had died off.

Does Israel accept God's word this time? Yet again, no. When God said "Enter," they said "We won't." Now God says "Don't enter," and they retort, "We will!"

So who is a Jew-in-good-standing now? Jews who try to take the land (as Yahweh had formerly said to do, but now said not to do)? Or Jews who stay in the wilderness (as Yahweh had formerly said not to do, but now said they should do)?

Put another way, who are the apostate Jews? Among the spies, the vast majority of Jews are apostate. Among the nation, the vast majority of Jews are apostate.

Who are the faithful Jews? The tiny minority who continues to take Yahweh at His word.

Play another thought-experiment. Without arguing about Jesus as such, imagine yourself in the days of fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18:15-19, whenever they might be. This Prophet has come. He has spoken. Some heed His words (which are the words of Yahweh); some do not.

Among that mass of Jewish population, who gets to define the Jew-in-good-standing-with-God? The number who do accept His words (which was a minority initially, in Moses' case)? Or the number who reject His words (which was a majority initially, in Moses' case)?

Who, then, are the apostate Jews? Those who accept the Prophet's words? Or those who reject them?

A third and final experiment. Consider Jeremiah's prophecy:
"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-14)
This OT prophet specifically and explicitly predicts in Yahweh's name that the Mosaic Covenant will one day be supplanted by a New Covenant.

From that, focus on just one consideration. Say that the covenant has come. Yahweh has acted to initiate this New Covenant. In so doing — according to His mouthpiece, Jeremiah — Yahweh has Himself set aside the Mosaic Covenant.

If we learn anything at all from Israel's history, we must assume that some Jews will accept this Covenant, and some will not. This has been true at every turn; there is no reason to suppose that suddenly the pattern will be broken.

That being the case then, in this experiment, riddle me this: who are the apostate Jews? The Jews who abandon the Mosaic Covenant to embrace the New? Or the Jews who adamantly stick with the Mosaic Covenant, no matter what their stated rationale?

According to the Torah, it would be the latter, not the former.

The issue, and the point
The factor that isolates and defines a Jew as a Jew-in-good-standing-with-God, in these narratives, is not whether or not he takes Canaan. It is not whether or not he stays in the wilderness. What defines a Jew-in-good-standing-with-God is whether or not He takes Yahweh at His word.

When the majority shifts, as it often did in Israelite history, that definition did not change. At some points, the remnant was very small (1 Kings 19:18). Prophecy said it would be small in the future (Isaiah 6:11-13; Zechariah 13:8). The majority per se never has the right to define faithful Judaism. God alone retains that right. It is faithfulness to God's Person and Word that defines faithful Jewishness.

Application to the question of "Jewish Christians"
Very broadly speaking, then, we have two kinds of Jews today, and only two:
  1. Those who affirm Jesus as Messiah
  2. Those who reject Jesus as Messiah
Does the latter have the right to deny the former the ability to call themselves "Jewish Christians"? If so, on what grounds? On the grounds that they are the majority? But there is no OT precedent for such a thought. In fact, the pattern of OT history is that the majority is usually apostate. The center of authority in the OT is never those who claim to be prophets, priests, or kings. The center is always the word of God.

I made a point about my blog-name and web-site name previously: Biblical Christianity. (Of course, I am far from alone in holding it as my desideratum to be faithful to the entire Canon.)

But note, I could find no blog nor any web site named "Biblical Judaism." Why? Though the Jew intent on rejecting Jesus will try to find Biblical reasons for doing so, he has nothing with God's authority to replace such faith with. How so? Well, there is no such thing as "Biblical Judaism" today. How can I say that? Simple: there is no Temple. There is no active priesthood. There are no (Mosaically-warranted) sacrifices being offered.

[UPDATE: weeks after this was posted, a friend pointed out that one does get hits searching for the phrase "Torah Judaism." If I revisit this, I'll need to surf those sites beforehand, see how they try to square that circle.]

Why not? In 70 AD, for the last time to date, Yahweh acted to dismantle the Temple utterly, and Israel became scattered to the four winds. Since that time, genealogy has been unprovable, and there has been no Levitical cultus. It's gone, finished, done-with at present.

Why? What national event had preceded this catastrophe? I have not read that Israel went into the sort of idolatry that had previously led to their expulsion from the land. What other event had occurred?

No point in being coy; you know exactly what climactic watershed event preceded 70 AD. Messiah came, the Prophet like Moses. He spoke God's words. As usual, the majority of Jews did not listen to Yahweh's words, words that He spoke in Yahweh's name. As promised, Yahweh Himself required it of the nation.

God Himself made it impossible for them to practice Biblical Judaism. The majority continues to see this as an unfortunate tragedy perhaps, or a coincidence (since so many have a low, un-Biblical view of God — or are atheists), or as signifying something else. But if one connects it with the decisive, critical rejection of Christ, all becomes clear.

We must conclude that it is necessary to say that there are such things as apostate Jews, even as there are such things as apostate Christians.

Beginning with the second, what is an apostate Christian? It is a professed Christian who rejects some fundamental truth of the whole Bible given today. A formal professor of Christian faith who denies the truth of the Gospel, of Christ, of God — he is an apostate Christian, Biblically defined.

So who is an apostate Jew? According to the OT as we have seen it, same answer, with slight verbal adjustment: it is a Jew who rejects some fundamental truth of the whole Bible given today. Since that Bible contains the promise of Messiah, since Jesus has fulfilled and will fulfill the promise of Messiah, since the NT contains the words Yahweh gave Messiah to speak in His own person and through His prophets and apostles, the definition is provided by 66 books rather than 39.

But to stick with the OT alone, an apostate Jew is a Jew who rejected the Prophet like Moses when He came. He is one who swerved aside from the progress of revelation to create his own religion, crafted selectively on a few bones from that portion of the Word of God which was supplanted by the New Covenant, who continues in the rebellion of unbelief rather than accepted God's whole word.

And that apostate does not have the right to deny the faithful their right to speak of themselves as Jews who believe Messiah, or Messianic Jews — or, put another way, Jewish Christians.

[Note: a few related thoughts can be found here.]

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21 April 2010

Election Results

by Frank Turk

So spring fever has apparently sprung amongst those who find Calvinism offensive -- Phil gave his perspective on the topic on Friday (bringing out the usual suspects and their kin to fuss against such a thing), and over at Evangel Anthony Sacramone (they will obviously let anyone contribute over there) shook a fist at the "weird or noxious ideas" that "a God this horrible just happens to explain why the world looks the way it does" (meaning: Calvinism is bad).

And it all comes down to one thing, really: election results.

Now, by that I don't mean, "the tally of all the votes so we can finally end the discussion by democratic consensus." By that I mean thinking about what it means to say that God saves men.

Listen: the argument over election is not over anything else. It is only over how intentional God was and is and shall be to save anybody. The Calvinist and the non-calvinists of all stripe all believe that man needs to be saved. The Calvinist and the non-calvinists of all stripe believe that Jesus is the Savior of men. These are not the questions. It is also not the question of whether or not God intends to save men: both the Calvinist and the non-calvinists believe that God wants to save men.

The question is only this: are those who are saved saved specifically and intentionally by God because it was His plan all along to save them personally by drawing them into the assembly of all believers, or does the phrase "whosoever will" guide our understanding theological so as to understand that the divine will is not in fact determinative for who specifically will be saved, but is rather an open invitation through which God will have a very pleasant surprise at the end of all things to find that many men have in fact taken him up on the offer?

"That's not very fair, cent," comes the sincere and irenic non-calvinist. "We believe that God has foreknowledge of whosoever will, so it's not a 'surprise' to him at all. God knows who will and will not come to faith, and that's how the elect are numbered, for example, in the Lamb's book of life."

Let me be honest: I admit that my formula there is not very fair and I agree that the non-calvinist formulas for defining God's foreknowledge leaves God unsurprised by what seems to us to be "the future". But it troubles me deeply to see the non-calvinist argue as if they themselves don't believe their own explanations -- and therefore I make my unfair arguments to cause them to retreat to their foundations in the hope of showing them their biblically-fatal flaws.

I'm not mean or stupid: I just want people to be honest with themselves.

Here's what I think -- I think that what we want as Christians is to show people that God can be understood and somehow inserted into the world we think we live in. We think that bringing people to God is like bringing people to meet a friend of ours whom they ought to know and like because we have so much in common -- or maybe they are just interesting folk. The problem is that God is not like anyone, and when we compare us to him, we are the pale imitation. We are the ones who come up lacking.

So when we say things like, "well, God sort of 'remembers the future' -- he doesn't cause it, but he 'knows' it because he can 'see' it, sort of like Sonny & Cher ..." we are making God like us. But here's what God says about His relationship to the future:
Remember the former things of old:
for I am God, and there is none else;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning,
and from ancient times the things
that are not yet done,
saying, My counsel shall stand,
and I will do all my pleasure:
Calling a ravenous bird from the east,
the man that executeth my counsel
from a far country:
yea, I have spoken it,
I will also bring it to pass;
I have purposed it, I will also do it.

Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted,
that are far from righteousness:

I bring near my righteousness;
it shall not be far off,
and my salvation shall not tarry:
and I will place salvation in Zion
for Israel my glory.
[Is 46:9-13, KJV]
There are a lot of things that you can say about that passage, I guess, but there are a few couple of things you have to admit about it:

[1] This is a passage where God speaks explicitly about two things at least: the inevitability of salvation, and the basis of the inevitability of salvation. Zion is going to receive salvation and righteousness -- and it's not because God can see how it comes together. It is because He is God, and there is none like him, and he declares the end of things from the beginning. This has to put to rest any talk of God passively knowing the future -- somehow taking it in. God doesn't get awareness of the future: He declares it -- that is, what he says, goes.

[2] God is not merely declaring the ends, but also the means. That part about the ravenous bird and the foreign agent -- that's saying that not only will God say, "here's what I'm going to do," but also, "this is how I am going to do it." This may be poetic language, but if it is, then as a metaphor is it using the lesser example to point to the greater reality -- and that if the metaphor is, "I will use either a bird or a man as I please," the reality is that God will use all things as he pleases, and He does please.

So when we start talking about election results -- that is, the consequences of God's choice to save -- we should be certain that we are somehow connecting to what God actually says about the consequences of His choice to save. He will certainly save "whosoever will" repent and believe -- from our human perspective, which is not prescriptive of the future but is in fact consequential to the passage of time. But God's relationship to the future is not like ours, and we shouldn't try to make it like ours -- because let's face it: we would screw up the future if it was up to us, and we have hope that the future is in fact not screwed up but eschatologically perfect.

And with that big theology word to satisfy the watchbloggers, I leave the discussion open. Play nice.

20 April 2010

Must a Jew, by definition, disbelieve Jesus? — 1

by Dan Phillips

"Jewish Christian": contradiction in terms?
I've heard the argument made many times and in many forms: "Jewish Christian" is a contradiction in terms. Once it came from a coworker, in whose hearing I'd passingly referred to a "Jewish Christian friend" at church. She stopped me, and used a bisyllabic barnyard term to indicate her categorical rejection of such a creature. "No such thing," she said. You can't be Jewish and Christian. One, the other — never both.

My reply was to the effect of, "What were the apostles, then? Mexicans?"

So now comes another essay on the politically conservative bulletin board Free Republic, home to a wild assortment of (many many) Roman Catholics, Mormons, Christians, atheists, and very varied variouses. The post in question is titled Messianic Jews: Just Plain Creepy?

I happen not to have much patience with some manifestations of Messianic Judaism (though very slightly more than Pastor Ed Balfour, a Christian Pastor converted from Orthodox Judaism [thanks to reader Chuck Bridgeland for the tip]). Those I have in mind, I find more self-servingly ostentatious than anything else. Some Jewish Christian (or Gentile) starts saying "Yeshua" and "Shaul" and (worse still) "G-d" and "haShem," goes to church on Saturday, and thinks he's special. Not to Jews, he isn't. Well, except "special" in a meshuggah way.

One Jew (of many) who says "Yes — and cut it out"
But that isn't really my focus. Let me just extract some from the post, and then I'll launch:
Can you imagine if you had a friend who did not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but who went on and on about their Christian faith and Christianity? What if "Christianity" was their core identity, deeply woven into every facet of their visible life, and one about which they spoke almost incessantly? What if your friend had, in many circles, made himself a veritable spokesman for Christianity - and yet he avowedly did not accept Jesus?

...I have always been a Jew. By birth, by faith, by choice. ...Jews are Jews. We may disagree about almost everything else, but on messianic matters, we are in almost complete agreement. His name is not Jesus from Nazareth.

...Jews are the fragile, beautiful, brave, extraordinarily powerful guardians of monotheism. I believe we are here because G-d wants us to be here. I have often wondered, with all of our problems, whether the Jews would simply die off some day. But I never thought our name would be stolen from us.
Does he have a point?


Check the blog name
You may have noted what I named both my web site and my blogBiblical Christianity. Why? Simple: because God converted me from what I was (New-Agey Christ-hater) to someone who believed Jesus; and Jesus believed in the Bible — so I needed to believe the Bible, because I believed Jesus. I don't know how to put it simpler than that.

Focus on that phrase: "someone who believed Jesus." I did not embrace a religious tradition. I did not change club memberships. It was about Jesus, and about God, and about me. I had come to know my sin, knew I did not know God on His terms, came to find Jesus credible, which means "worthy of belief." Jesus' character and life were a seamless fabric of the miraculous and the righteous, the true and the urgent.

Believing Jesus, I wanted — needed — to learn of Him. Start doing that, and it isn't long before you notice something: Jesus believed in the "Old Testament." All of it. Every jot and tittle, to Him, required fulfillmentwas inerrant, conveyed literally-true statements about actual historycommunicated God's moral imperativeswas infinitely superior to all human traditionspoke of Him, and would condemn to Hell anyone who did not heed its Messianic testimony to Jesus.

Let's now fasten our minds on those last three: the Old Testament —
  1. Was infinitely superior to all human tradition
  2. Spoke of Jesus, and
  3. Would condemn to Hell anyone who did not heed its Messianic testimony to Jesus.
1. The OT is infinitely superior to all human tradition
The irony has been bitter every time I try to dialogue with a Jew, Roman Catholic or Orthoborg. In each case, the Bible is struck down and rendered impotent by choking, strangling human tradition.

In the case of the Jew, it is ironic to me because this is exactly the scene that Jesus confronted. Though Judaism may not be dominated by people identified as Pharisees or Sadducees, still Jewish thought is dominated not by the Torah itself, but by traditional religious thought which (at best) may be 37 steps removed from the text of Scripture.

Waving aside the necessarily complicated chain of attempted defense of this state of affairs, I'd point out that this is one facet that caused Jesus to stand out in His day. "When Jesus finished these sayings," we read, "the crowds were astonished at his teaching." Why? Precisely because "he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes" (Matthew 7:28-29).

Unlike the teachers who would say "Rabbi X said this, but Rabbi Y says this," Jesus either went right back to the text itself, or He said "Truly, truly I tell you." He revered the Law as the Word of God, and held Himself to be the Prophet whose coming it predicted.

So Jesus had no patience for the traditional teaching of men which, by its convoluted change of "reasoning," resulted in an annulment of the Word itself (Mark 7:1-13). This was a clash He had again and again from the very beginning: the naked Word had become so buried beneath the barnacles of human thought that it was unrecognizable. It was that which led to His betrayal and lynching: His shattering refusal to honor the traditions of men.

This, by the way, is what renders the irony of RC and Orthoborgial drowning in tradition so particularly bitter. The Jews make no pretense of faith in Jesus. Those other two groups do make that pretense, a formal profession of faith in Him who so despised human traditional perversions of the Word, while themselves perpetuating precisely such traditions in His name.

But I digress.

2. The OT spoke of Jesus
This has been developed in many books and articles. My point in this connection is simply that Jesus did not make the case that He was something new and unanticipated. The OT's direct prophecies, its history and institutions and types, were all Messianic. He saw and presented His person, His message, and His mission all in terms framed by the OT. The OT is the sine qua non to understanding Jesus, and vice-versa.

UPDATE: I have since had the pleasure of giving two talks in a conference on Messiah in the Old Testament.

3. The OT will condemn to Hell anyone 
who does not heed its Messianic testimony to Jesus
In fact, the OT so emphatically and clearly pointed to Him that anyone not heeding its lessons would be judged by God for the refusal (John 5:45-47).

Was this dire warning warranted by the OT text, or was it a wild bit of improvisation? The former is the truth. Hear Moses:
"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers--it is to him you shall listen —  16 just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.' 17 And the LORD said to me, 'They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him" (Deuteronomy 18:15-19)
The question as to exactly when Deuteronomy 34:10 was written is tantalizing, because by that date this prophet had not arisen. The point is moot, however: no OT prophet is presented in terms equating him with the fulfillment of this prediction. The prophet Moses spoke of is the Messiah.

And what is the consequence of rejecting the words of Messiah, the prophet like Moses? Verse 19 warns that "whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him." This wording reminds me of those rare occasions when my parents would threaten me with consequences if I did not do something. Smartaleck that I was, I'd ask, "What happens if I don't?"

"You'll see," was the ominous response.

Though my dear parents were far from disciplinarians, "You'll see" was not what I wanted. It was open-ended. I wanted a concrete consequence, so I could do a cost-benefit analysis on my projected rebellion. Without that, my imagination was left to run wild.

So it is here. The OT leaves it open-ended but terrifying: "You will have Me to answer to," threatens the infinite-personal, inescapable, holy and righteous God who is a consuming fire. What will that mean? It will mean "Depart from me, I never knew you." Depart where? "To the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels" (conflating Matthw 7:23 and 25:41).

In the next and concluding post, I plan to introduce Mr. Rubber to Mr. Road.

[UPDATE: concluded here.]

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19 April 2010

Notes from a Reluctant Calvinist

by Phil Johnson

The following excerpt is from a message I gave to a group of college students about five years ago. I'm posting this excerpt to encourage you to listen to the entire message, titled, "The Story of Calvinism," which you can download (or stream) from HERE.

     have not always been a Calvinist. As a matter of fact, I was raised in the context of a liberal Methodist church, so long before I ever became a Christian, my mind was poisoned with a blend of liberalism and Wesleyan theology. And after I became a Christian, it was several years before I finally came to the point where I could affirm the biblical doctrine of election without trying to explain away clear statements of Scripture like Ephesians 1:4 (which says that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world). Or Romans 9:15-16, where God says, "'I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.' So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy."

I resisted those ideas for years. I knew the word election is biblical, but I had a friend who explained it this way: "God voted for you the devil voted against you. You cast the deciding vote."

That made perfect sense to me.

Very early in my Christian experience, I went to a small church in the town where I attended college, and my Sunday-school teacher there was decidedly anti-Calvinistic. Almost every week, he would warn us against the dangers of putting too much stress on the sovereignty of God. Almost every week he would work into his lesson the idea that human free-will is sovereign, and the choice is ultimately left entirely up to each sinner to decide what to do with Christ. That seemed reasonable to me. It reinforced what I was inclined to believe anyway.

But at the same time, in my own study of the Scriptures and my reading of church history, I kept running into biblical statements and doctrinal issues that posed a severe challenge to that sort of free-will theology.

Then one Sunday while this guy was taking prayer requests, a girl in the class raised her hand and asked, "Should we really be praying for our lost relatives? It seems like it's a wasted effort to pray to God for their salvation if He can't do any more than he has already done to save them."

And I vividly remember the look on the face of this Sunday School teacher. This was clearly a question that had never occurred to him. So he thought about it for a moment, and you could see the wheels in his head turning while he tried to think of a good reason to pray for the salvation of the lost. And finally, he said, "Well, yeah, I guess you're right." And from that Sunday on, he never accepted any more prayer requests for people's lost loved ones.

That didn't seem quite right to me, even as a dyed-in-the-wool Arminian. I had just done a Bible study in Romans 10:1, where Paul says, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved." Not only that, I began to wonder why we should pray about anything in the realm of human relationships if God never intrudes on the sanctity of human free will. You know: Why should I pray for God to move my English teacher to look favorably on my work when she graded my paper if she is ultimately sovereign over her own heart? Those were questions I couldn't answer.

And the more I studied the Bible, the more it seemed to challenge my ideas about free will and the sovereignty of God. One by one over a period of more than 10 years, the doctrines of election, and God's sovereignty, and the total depravity of sinners became more and more clear to me from Scripture.

It was a sermon series by John MacArthur on the doctrine of election from Ephesians 2 that finally turned me into a full-fledged Calvinist, and that was at least 15 years after I first came to the Lord.

So I know what it is like to be baffled by these truths and to resist what seems like a dangerous tendency to go overboard with the doctrine of God's sovereignty. I've been there, and I feel your pain.

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18 April 2010

What Price Truth?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "A Prophetic Warning," a sermon preached by Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle that remained unpublished until Thursday, May 9th, 1912—more than twenty years after Spurgeon died.

hristian love also embraces the truth. Them that love God and his divine Son, love the truth which he has committed to them. The Church is the trustee of the gospel: she is "the pillar and ground of the truth." And when men begin to play with the truth, and think that one set of doctrines is as good as another, and that nothing is of any particular importance, evil must come.

In former days, our fathers counted it a small thing to go to prison for a doctrine, or to be burnt to death for a testimony. Look at the multitudes in Holland who were drowned, or who were tied to ladders and roasted to death for nothing but their conviction that believers should be baptized. Nowadays, people consider Scriptural views of baptism to be a mere trifle.

I question whether our present Broad Churchmen think that there is any doctrine worth a person's losing the first joint of his little finger for: as to burning to death for a truth, that must seem a great absurdity to these liberal theologians. Now that things have reached this pass, need we wonder that heresies and all manner of errors rush in torrents down our streets? When she can afford to trifle with truth, what is the church worth?

C. H. Spurgeon

15 April 2010

Colossians studies 13: thanking God — timing and significance (1:3)

by Dan Phillips

[The series all starts here.]

In Colossians 1:3-8, Paul tells the Colossian believers when and why he thanks God for them. He writes, "We always thank God, the Father of  our Lord Jesus Christ, while praying concerning you...."

It is worth noting the prominence of thankfulness in this letter. Again and again, Paul urges the Christians in Colosse to give thanks to God. Consider the following:
  • "...thanking the Father who qualified us  for our portion of the lot of the holy ones in the light" (1:12)
  • "...abidingly rooted and being built up in Him, and being confirmed by the faith just as you were taught, abounding in it  in thanksgiving" (2:7)
  • "And let the peace of Christ keep ruling in your hearts, unto which also you were called in one body; and become thankful people" (3:15)
  • "And everything, whatever you may do — in word or in deed — do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, thanking God the Father through Him" (3:17)
  • "Keep persisting in prayer, staying alert in it with thanksgiving" (4:2)
Since the apostle stresses thanksgiving so much, it is fitting and characteristic for him to set the example.

This in turns leads us to consider the importance of thankfulness, particularly in this setting. Briefly put:
  1. Saying "thank you" focuses us on what we have.
  2. False teaching invariably would focus us on what we supposedly don't have.
Almost four years ago, we looked at the dangerous vulnerability of discontentment. Think of it again in connection with the Colossians' situation. The false teacher was trying his best to make the Colossians feel left out, excluded, deprived. He wanted them to feel that there was a higher level of spirituality to which they hadn't attained. The Gospel hadn't gotten them there. He wanted to convince them that they needed this special doctrine, this special teaching, that only he could bring.

This is what false teachers have always done, and will always do. This is temptation, in a nutshell: what you have isn't good enough; you need this. Satan did it in the Garden  — and it worked. Bathsheba represented that to David  — and it worked. The false gods took that guise to Israel  — and it worked.

Paul's message, by contrast, is going to be that a human being finds and receives everything he truly needs in Jesus Christ (cf. 2:9-10 for a summary-statement). Any and every Christian by definition is forgiven, rescued, redeemed, reconciled, loved, indwelt, filled full, and marked out for God's service. It simply does not get better than that, except in the visible presence of Christ on that day.

Convinced of the truth of Christ's great salvation, each and every Christian can and must be totally unimpressed by any teaching that says otherwise. Suppose some charismatic person comes and says, "Oh, but you need the second blessing...and this level of grace...and this special teaching...and this experience ─ or you miss out!" The slightest flicker of interest betrays defective faith. Faith would produce glazed eyes, a yawn and a dismissive shrug.

Surely this is how we want to be. What, then, is a sure way to enjoy that invulnerable contentment in Christ, to realize it and grow in it, and to get full value out of it?

The surest way is to say "Thank You" for Christ — for His person, His work; for all we have in Him. Say it often, loudly, and regularly.

Paul sets the stage in this note of thankfulness. When he himself says "thank you" to God for the Colossians, is it going to be because some few of them are attaining some new standing in grace? Is it going to be because they received some "second blessing," or delved into deep secret teachings not open to rank-and-file, garden-variety, blood-bought Christians?  No!

When Paul says "thank you" to God, it will be for the Colossians' faith and love (v. 4). Are these reserved for an elite sub-set of Christians? Not at all. They are attributes which grow in the heart and life of every healthy, growing disciple of Christ.

Thus, we can see that the cagey apostle is already starting to counter the false teaching, in a very subtle way. Thankfulness is a heresy-antidote. A people thankful for Christ's person and work is a people immune to false teaching.

Note too that, no matter how faithfully Epaphras labored in the Gospel, it is God who gets Paul's thanks. This is the principle of "credit to whom credit is due." Popular teaching is dead wrong in its notion that numeric "success" is a sure sign of God's blessing on the right method. Only God can bring a genuine response to the Gospel, and genuine spiritual growth.

Remember Paul writing in 1 Corinthians 3:6, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth." Epaphras (and you, and I) can plant and water, but only God can give life and growth.

Finally, note the frequency of Paul's thankfulness: "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, while praying concerning you." His other letters show us that the apostle had quite a prayer list. This doesn't mean, of course, that Paul did nothing but give thanks. But it does mean that, when he prayed for the Colossians, he gave thanks for them.

This is an encouraging note, and it shows Paul's tactfulness. He is going to correct them, to be sure, and warn them off from this doctrinal temptation. But before he does so, Paul assures them that he still has much for which to thank God, every time he prays for them.

The application does not require much imagination, I think. When we tell others of Christ, do we pray that God will bring spiritual results? Or are we closeted Pelagian Calvinists — focusing on an excellent presentation of the Gospel, with proper measures of law and Gospel and sovereignty, as if that "should do the trick"?

Do we personally thank God for every spiritual benefit that comes of our attempts to serve, whether as pastors or members or parents?

Probably the single best dietary change any of us could make would be regular helpings of generous, hearty, loud thankfulness to God for all His riches to us in Christ.

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