Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Friendly Rebuttal on “An Appeal on Race in the Presbyterian Church in America”

Reed DePace, who is a fellow pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, contacted me with some push back on my 5 part series on race in the PCA. I wanted to give him the opportunity express himself here. I may respond in the future, if time allows. His thoughts appear below the line.


I think your observations in your series “An Appeal on Race in the Presbyterian Church in America” express some sufficiency, but more at the macro level than the personal level. At the personal level, I’d suggest adding a couple of diagnostic questions: 1) Parish Degree, and 2) Brotherly Sympathy.

Parish Degree

By parish degree, I’m asking the question: how broadly does the concern apply? Your suggestions appear adequate at the broadest level, e.g., say at the denominational level. With you, I agree we’ve taken quite a few “denomination-wide” actions, more than enough to address any systemic concerns. What I think remains is addressing such concerns more closer to home, as it were. Anecdotally here (not throwing any accusations out, just generally observing), we might observe that there a number of local congregations that maybe should look into some sort of response to address present (or even previous) concerns. There are two examples from out congregation.

First, we needed to address an historical pattern of the sin of partialism in our ministry. We did so, not for any intentions related to reaching out to any other groups in our community (e.g., African Americans). Instead, we did so to follow the pattern of corporate repentance seen in the ministries of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Our actions were more of an owning our history for the sake of our witness to the integrity of God’s glory in His Son, rather than some application of secular theories.

The second example relates to the planting of a sister Korean PCA congregation. Given local considerations, we saw this as a relevant application of our Acts 1:8 imperative. Conversely, for different reasons, this imperative did not apply to African American nor Hispanic communities in this area. Yet with a recent re-location, these considerations flipped. We’re no longer in an area where ministry to/with Koreans is relevant. Conversely, reaching out to the Hispanic community now is. (for a number of socio-cultural reasons, reaching out to the African Americans in our community still faces some hurdles we’re not able to surmount.)

In both these examples, it is the parish degree diagnostic that helped us determine ministry imperatives. Following the pattern of the first Jerusalem NT church, reaching out to all the communities in their parish, we examined the degree to which Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts were in our parish. Then, prayerfully seeking God’s favor, we sought to minister to them. It seems to me that it is entirely possible to we might put to rest the denominational concerns (as your post suggests), and still need an awful lot of local parish attention. Asking a diagnostic “to what degree” will help us in determining if and where local concerns may still be prevalent.

Brotherly Sympathy

 The second, additional diagnostic question that I think might be added is the brotherly sympathy one. This is simply the examining of how my brother responds to these issues, and then adjusting my response to minister the gospel’s grace and mercy to him. For example, consider our denominational response to our Asian brothers’ concerns at this GA. On the one hand, the use of a “Korean prayer” imprecation that is gossip at best to support the argument for addressing their concerns is manipulative and beneath the integrity with which we are called to behave as elders in Christ’s church. On the other hand, I think our response was ham-fisted at best. We would have been much wiser to pause any response and ask for further clarification from Asian elders.

This brotherly sympathy diagnostic is based on passages like Acts 15 and Col 3:11. In the first, note that the prohibition against eating meat with its blood is based on brotherly sympathy. The Mosaic dietary provisions no longer applied, in toto. Thus, the “restriction” here was relative to Jewish believer sensitivities. It was a temporary restriction put in place due to Romans 14-15 weaker brother considerations. It was an expression of brotherly sympathy for the Jewish believers. Similarly, in Col 3:1, imagine the slave and Scythian responses to Paul’s teaching to the church in Colossae. The slave subject to socioeconomic prejudice, and the Scythians subject to the socioethnic prejudice variety, these words must have been a wondrous glory of the gospel to their ears. To be sure, the local congregation then had to work to put into practice this gospel truth. Nevertheless, the brotherly sympathy just from the mere expression was huge.

Going back to the Asian overtures this past GA, this is why I’d have preferred a pause and re-consider response. To be sure, there was some degree of younger Asian brothers responding out of a progressive informed hermeneutic. Yet the vast majority of the Asian elders (I did some checking) were respectfully disappointed in how we handled it. Yes, the problems being faced are more secular culture than sacred (e.g., the “Wuhan” virus effect). Yes, to the degree there are “systemic” problems in treatment of Koreans in our culture, it is more African, then Hispanic, before it is Anglo. And yet, what harm would it have been to take the time to show brotherly sympathy that the majority of our Asian elders would have appreciated? I expect had we done so, even though it would have taken more time, and we might have arrived at the same application, the time spent would have ministered to our Korean brothers in a manner that yielded increasing gospel dividends.

Again, as with my previous example under the parish degree discussion, my purpose here is not to persuade you of my opinion on this particular example. Instead, I bring it up only to demonstrate the necessary relevance of the brotherly sympathy diagnostic. Like the parish degree diagnostic, it forces us to bring into consideration other biblical; imperatives that are not necessarily surfaced by the three you’ve promulgated.

Thank you for the grateful reception of my ideas. Where I’m unclear I’ll be grateful attempt tidy up the mud. Where you disagree, I’ll be grateful to learn how I might think better on these things.


Reed DePace is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Montgommery, Alabama.

Part 3 » The Christian’s Relationship to the Civil Government: the Purpose of Its Power

“This whole discourse is concerning civil government; it is therefore to no purpose that they who would exercise dominion over consciences do hence attempt to establish their sacrilegious tyranny.”[1]

At the beginning of this series, I said this series was intended to help the Christian think through how to relate to the Civil Magistrate, or a national government. The mandates and shut-downs witnessed around the globe, have caused concern among Christians. To know how to rightly move forward requires an examination of the Bible’s teaching on the Civil Magistrate.

This installment examined the source of the government’s power. It showed how Romans 13:1-2 clearly establishes that the authority of the magistrate is derived from God himself. He gives it to whom He pleases. Historically this text has been used to assert the “divine right” of kings and governments. Proponents would say that, because God has given power to the government, its decisions cannot be challenged. But rather than give a carte blanche kind of power to governments, the Bible empowers them to a specific end.

There are some key descriptors about the civil magistrate in Romans 13 that help explain the specifics of their power. In verse 4, the magistrate is twice identified as God’s servant and once as an avenger who carries out God’s wrath. In all three cases the magistrate does not represent itself, but God. Identifying the magistrate as God’s servant gives a specific shape to its authority.

But Romans 13 says even more. By calling the civil magistrate God’s servant, it defines the scope of its work. The government is to be a servant “for your good” (v. 4). The Civil Magistrate is assigned a specific task as a servant of God: to establish what is good. Verse 3 talks about the task of the civil magistrate another way: the government is to be a terror to bad and approve of good conduct. Since the fall that kind of government has been necessary. Genesis 3 records Adam’s fall into sin, and the next account in Genesis 4 is of Cain slaying his brother Abel. From the moment of man’s corruption the world has needed protection from evildoers. Romans 13:3-4 identifies that task as the unique end to which God has empowered the government. The job of the civil magistrate is to approve the good and be a terror, or a deterrent, to the evil. The Westminster Confession of Faith says it this way:

“God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under him, over the people, for his own glory, and the public good.” (WCF 23.1)

In the Bible, the task of the government is defined using theological terms. The magistrate is to approve the good, and be a terror to the bad. These words are theological terms. The government, or anyone, can only determine how to define “good” and “evil” by looking at the moral law. That means the Civil Magistrate has been empowered to affirm what agrees with God’s definition and to be a terror to what does not. God is the only one who can define what is good or evil regardless of whether His creation agrees.

The civil magistrate is a servant. Servants do not define their own tasks. The master sets the parameters and the servant does what the master wishes. If a master instructs a servant to have a hamburger ready for him at 5:30 p.m., and the servant brings a box of crackers at 8 p.m. instead, there will be trouble for the servant. And this is the point at which things get complicated. In our society, the government is doing much to make its own definitions. The instructions of the master have been forsaken and the servants are taking over. 1 Cor 6:9-10 defines evil as sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, drunkenness, reviling, and swindling. And yet western governments are promoting such things, not punishing them.

At this point, I can hear the rumblings in the background: Theocracy! People begin imagining a mandatory Christianity with fines for failure to attend church and the civil code for Israel literally applied. However, that is not the objective of this article. It is not an attempt to establish specific policy, but rather to look at responsibility. To what end is the magistrate empowered by God? The government is God’s servant, being constrained to His definition of goodness and evil. When evil is done government is to carry out God’s wrath on the evildoer and is given the sword to do so.

National governments are servants of God. They are either faithful or unfaithful ones, but they have no divine right to do whatever they like. They have a divine master and they must carry out His agenda. The next article will look at whether there are any other limits to the government’s power.


Geoff Gleason is pastor of Cliffwood Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia. His passion is to see the people of God grow in their faith, and those who are lost become numbered among the faithful. He has been married for 28 years and, usually, is the joyful father of 11 children ranging in age from 28 to 6, and two grandsons.

[1] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XIX (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2009), 482.

True Christian Joy

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”

Those words form part of the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and they have been quoted as the beginning of the Christian life ever since. Christian joy is a mark of the work of the Spirit in the believer, and manifests itself as a response to a saving knowledge of God and includes the following expressions: 

Contentment. When the work of the Lord and His salvation is the ultimate anchor of your joy, the circumstances you face, although possibly difficult, will not rob you of your joy. A grumbling spirit will be replaced by a contented one.

Worship. Joy is not something you can simply hold, turn over, and examine as if it were a math problem, or a philosophical notion. Joy overflows out of the heart into an expression. When joy is expressed to God it always takes the form of worship: proclaiming His goodness in the presence of the saints.

Selfless Service. Joy is not only expressed to God, but also to man. Our joy in the Lord is also seen in how we care for each other. We love God’s people because He loves God’s people. The care we show to each other is not primarily an activity of doing good things, but rather living out the joy we have in Christ.

I pray that our joy in the Lord would increase. That as we learn to love Him together, we would grow in our love for each other too. 

Civil Unrest and the Christian

Wednesday at 3:18 p.m. I got a text from my younger brother “Did you see what’s happening in DC?” is all he wrote. We all know what was happening by now. A group of people stormed the Capitol, and we have all seen the videos. I have seen some responses from conservative Trump supporters who view this act as victory, and the violence justified. Ironically, these are often the same people who condemned the riots of the summer instigated by Antifa and/or Black Lives Matter. On the other end of the spectrum there has been outrage and condemnation for the occupation of the Capital. With just as much irony, many of these are the same people who ignored the riots of the summer and made accommodation because the anger of the protestors was somehow understandable.

The gamut of emotions in the world is also reflected among Christians. Some are outraged today, believing the election to be stolen and our republic to be in tatters. If that reflects your view, the denial of the courts to hear Trump’s cases of voter fraud are outrageous to you. Others, I think the majority, is horrified at the pictures of people occupying the very symbol of order and law, although there is a general uneasiness about how America’s politics is being conducted. Regardless of where you land, there seems to be a nervous churning in our nation. It is not my intention to solve those problems (as if I could). If possible, I would even like to conceal my own opinions on all that has transpired. This post is not meant to draw political conclusions, but rather to help the body of Christ to focus on a godly response to our current cultural climate.

Do not let current cultural outrage rob you of your peace in Christ. The Christian can be easily distracted from his main purpose: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The Christian is a subject of his heavenly king the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). It is true that Christ at times lead to division. But the anger and outrage in those moments should belong to the world, not the Christian. In so many places the Christian is called to live at peace with his neighbor (Mark 9:50; John 14:27; 16:33; Acts 10:36; Rom. 1:7; 5:1; 14:17, 19; 15:13; 1 Cor. 14:33; 2 Cor. 13:11; Gal. 5:22; Col. 1:20; 1 Thes. 5:13; 2 Tim. 2:22; Heb. 12:14; James 3:18). 

There may be exceptional circumstances where violence is necessary, such as self-defense or just wars. But the Christian should never delight in it, nor should he choose it if he can avoid it. The Swiss Reformer Pierre Viret has written: “There is nothing which Christians ought to hold in greater horror than the taking up of arms…and that there is nothing in which Christians ought to be more hesitant to engage, nor which agrees less with their profession of faith.” If you are tempted to side with those who occupied the capital, please reflect on the texts above and ask yourself if your heart reflects the call of Scripture.

Do not allow the lies of the world to elevate people of bad character. It is intriguing to me that the people who are outraged over the events of January 6, 2021 had a much different reaction to the events of October 4, 2018. The result of that day was the same, but the cause was different. The former was perpetrated by conservatives. The latter by the Women’s March outraged over the nomination of now supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh. 

To rush to condemn an action out of political expediency is not praiseworthy. It is a violation of the 9thcommandment. It is the height of naivité to claim innocence in either of our political parties. God is a God of truth, and desires His people to live according to the truth (Ps. 51:6; 86:11; 119:160; Is. 45:19; Jer. 5:3; Zech. 8:16; John 8:32; 14:6; 15:26; 17:17; 1 Cor. 13:6; Eph, 4:15). And when someone makes a truthful statement for a selfish purpose, as a whole he breaks the 9th commandment. 

Neither political party in the USA can claim moral high ground at this point in our nation’s history. And for Democrats to feign outrage over the actions of a few Republican that lasted less than 3 hours seems like a violation of the 9th commandment in light of the summer-long riots of 2020 and their relative silence on those occasions. It is good to condemn violence and destruction, even when done by your political allies. But please do not allow the lies of the world to elevate men of poor character, just because they say true things when it serves them to gain an advantage over their political opponents.

Do not forget about the absolute sovereignty of God. To look at current events apart from God’s on-going governing of all his creation will cause despair. In all of our circumstances, God is exercising control over His creation. Hebrews 12:1-11 explains that control in the context of discipline. The circumstances faced in life can be painful and hard to bear. But the Christian should recognize them as God’s discipline. When God’s chastenings come, the Christian must not resist or fight as the world does. The Christian is called to rejoice and accept God’s work, and respond with peace. Your peace will disappear if you forget that God is good, that He is governing the world, and that political turmoil in the United States is not catching Him by surprise.

This post is not meant to solve all the controversy of our nation’s election debacle. In a sense it seems obvious that God’s judgment has already fallen on this land and we’re simply reaping what we have sown. But more than at any time in an already tumultuous twelve months the Christian must focus on God’s word and get his eyes off his emotions. Peace and stability are only found in by looking to Him. The Christian serves the Prince of Peace and as such his response to the circumstances of the world should reflect that.

Should Christians Vote For Pro-Abortion Candidates?

There is a disturbing political trend emerging among some evangelicals in 2020: support for a Biden/Harris ticket. For one of several examples, Tremper Longman III, a former professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has recently encouraged Christians to vote Biden/Harris in 2020.

Without question, the 2020 Democratic Platform is passionately pro-abortion. The DNC platform states, “We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion” (pg. 32).

The Democrats are so zealously committed to the pro-abortion cause that they speak about it as a matter of “justice” and favor the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which seeks to prevent federal funding (read: your taxpayer dollars) for abortions. Surprisingly, Biden originally supported the Hyde Amendment before the radical leftists convinced him to change his mind—yet another example of how our culture is not merely drifting left but is being driven left, as Al Mohler recently observed in his excellent book, The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church.

Dislike for Trump appears to be the primary reason for these evangelicals to be losing their minds—and possibly their souls. To be fair, as certain as it is that the Democratic Party has become the Pro-Abortion Party, it’s equally certain that President Trump has an unflattering history of indiscretions. So let me be clear. To maintain, as I do, that Christians shouldn’t vote for pro-abortion candidates isn’t an endorsement of Trump’s character, though I do believe we live in the unfortunate reality of a two-party system, and Christians must consider the most good they can do with their vote. Nevertheless, nothing will change the fact that followers of Christ cannot in good conscience cast a vote for a political platform in direct opposition to God’s moral law. Have we lost our minds?

God’s commandment is clear: “You shall not murder.”

Westminster Assembly’s exposition of the sixth commandment accurately summarizes our duty: “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness, peaceable, mild, and courteous speeches and behavior, forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiring good for evil, comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.”

If you cast a vote for Biden/Harris in 2020, you are supporting their promotion of “safe and legal abortions.” That’s a fact. And that’s a fact completely inconsistent with the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Should any of these things really even need to be said?

Voting for this pro-abortion platform means that you are voting for a lie. Abortions are not “safe.” They are not safe for the women who have them. The psychological damage of murdering your baby is overwhelming. Nor are abortions safe for the little children who have their brains sucked out and are dismembered in the womb. And that’s not to mention the precious babies that survive botched abortions who some Democrats refuse to protect. Consider the Democratic opposition the Born-Alive Abortion Survivor Protection Act. Your hands are full of blood!

This also means you are voting for an unjust law. Isaiah says, “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression” (Isaiah 10:1). The DNC platform’s invocation of the word “justice” with regards to a woman’s right to choose (complete the sentence) to murder her baby is downright sickening. “I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands” (Psalm 119:158). Of course, when you reject God and His Word, you can twist language to suit your agenda because there is no longer any restraint on your God-forsaken heart and mouth other than your own seared conscience.

Instead of asking, Should Christians vote for pro-abortion candidates? perhaps we should be asking, Are Christians who vote for pro-abortion candidates even…Christians? “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).

I’m well aware that many Christians—and certainly many wishy-washy evangelicals—will say that pastors should stay out of politics. “This is an indifferent matter where good Christians disagree.” Honestly, such a perspective is truly astounding given the state of things in our country today.

This isn’t a political issue. It’s an issue of basic Christian morality. God’s true children are opposed to murdering babies. If you support murdering babies, then you are an evil person. If you support a leader who wants to protect the act of murdering babies, you are joining hands with the wicked to do evil. Your disdain for Trump doesn’t justify a vote for the most pro-abortion ticket in the history of this country. If you simply cannot vote for Trump in good conscience, I respect that. Vote for a third party, but, I beg you: don’t cast your vote for those who favor the shedding of innocent blood. It simply isn’t a Christian option.

The Curse of Apathy

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” –Romans 12:11

Apathy is a deadly spiritual disease. It gradually weakens zeal for God’s glory until there is nothing left but mush. What’s worse, the disease is highly contagious. When it begins in an individual saint, it soon spreads throughout the entire community, weakening the spiritual vitality of God’s elect people. Apathy steals away all concern about ultimate reality. The apathetic person couldn’t care less about what really matters. Eternity is far from his mind.

We must shun all false remedies for the plague! Enthusiasm devoid of doctrine is a false cure. Worked-up emotionalism is of no spiritual and eternal value. Fanaticism is simply the vice on the other extreme of apathy. Zeal without knowledge is a poor substitute for a heart aglow with the Spirit. The true cure for apathy is godly zeal, a needed virtue in today’s church but a rare gem to find.

Is anything more incongruous with Spirit-filled Christianity than apathy? May the Lord deliver us from this malady! Apathetic souls are unmoved by the present crisis, unconvinced of their own sin, unstirred by sound preaching, unimpressed with Christ’s glory, uninterested in God’s Word, and uncaring about lost souls.

An apathetic soul is a dead man walking. As such he is a contradiction in terms. Although having the reputation of being alive, he is dead. It takes a true miracle to reverse the spread of apathy once it has taken root in a congregation. Only the Holy Spirit of God can rouse sleeping saints!

Therefore we must pray for the Holy Spirit and be on guard against all spiritual declension in our lives. Preachers must be willing to blow the trumpet in Zion! They must sound the alarm to the apathetic. Only the most piercing truth will have the desired effect. Without fervent prayer and powerful preaching the church will become a graveyard, and generations to come will wonder why more dramatic measures were not taken to stop the spread of Satan’s lethal pandemic.

Thoughts on glorification

Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is a well-known source of wisdom for those in the world of business. Although the book is mostly self-help and pop psychology, many of the principles are gems from the realm of God’s common grace, truth accessible to believers and unbelievers alike. One of the book’s lessons has always gripped me: Begin with the end in mind. This means that highly effective people are goal-oriented. They know what they want to accomplish, and they tailor everything in life to achieve that goal. Well, this is certainly a biblical concept. We are called by God to live our lives with a teleological mindset. Since God created the world for His glory, life has a goal, an end. Students of the Westminster Shorter Catechism know the goal well. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” When it comes to the doctrine of salvation, glorification is the ultimate goal of God’s saving work in our lives. It should astound us that God saved us so that we might be glorified.

            Glorification is the final link in the golden chain of redemption. “And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified” (Romans 8:30). God saves His people, effectively bringing all His elect from grace to glory. In context, this glorification is to be fully conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). Jesus Christ fully reveals the glory of God as the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), and He is the pattern into which God will weave the tapestry of our lives. All other saving benefits (election, calling, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification) are aimed at this goal: the glorification of the redeemed sinner. This is where God is taking us.

            When Jesus looked into heaven as our great High Priest and prayed for all His people, he said, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that You have given me because You loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). How we need to grasp the sublime joy of Christ’s prayer for us! The Father and Son enjoyed a loving fellowship in eternity past. God the Son beheld the glory of His Father in perfect beatific vision. There wasn’t the slightest break in the integrity of that divine fellowship. And yet Jesus prays that we might share in that glorious fellowship and vision. Glorification entails being with Jesus where He was before the foundation of the world. It means that we share in the fellowship of the Trinity, basking in the glory of the great salvation Christ won for us at the cross.

            Again, this glorification is the goal of Christ’s saving work. “But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that He, for Whom and by Whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering “ (Hebrews 2:9-10). If we ask, “Why did Jesus come from heaven to earth, become a little lower than angels, and suffer on the cross?” The answer is ready: “to bring many sons to glory.”

            Like election, calling, regeneration, justification, adoption, and sanctification, glorification is the result of the free grace of God. When we arrive in heaven and are “saved to sin no more,” we will praise God for His grace to all eternity. Not one beam of our glorified state with shine from man’s merit. It is a reflected glory. God is like the sun, and we are moons. All the glory comes from Him and goes to Him. Our glorification is not the result of man’s cooperation. If it was, man would have grounds for boasting. However, we shall be glorified by free grace “so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 2:7). It will take an eternity of ages to exhaust the inexhaustible grace of God! “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.” When Jesus returns and our glorification is complete, it shall only be on account of the fact that He comes with grace. This is why we are told to set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at His Second Coming (1 Peter 1:13).

            Glorification comes in two stages. Taking our cue from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we understand that we receive certain benefits at death and others at the resurrection.

“What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death? The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection” (Shorter Catechism, Q. 37).

The first stage of our glorification is the glorification of our soul immediately upon death. When the believer dies, he instantaneously passes to the realm of the “spirit of the righteous made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23). Sanctification is now complete. Sin is gone. Holiness has ripened into perfection. We must stress the fact that this happens immediately upon death. There is no layover in purgatory. Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Elsewhere Paul makes it clear that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6, 8). The Scriptures tell us very little about this intermediate state (the state of the soul after death but before the resurrection). However, we can be sure that it is “far better” (Philippians 1:23) because we are with Christ.

Years ago my wife and I went to visit her brother and his family in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. While we were there, I insisted that we take a trip to Princeton Cemetery in Princeton, New Jersey. I wanted to see Jonathan Edwards’ grave. Well, not far from where I found Edwards’ grave was the resting place of Charles Hodge (1797-1878), the great Calvinistic theologian of old Princeton. And the inscription on his tombstone: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

But the benefits of glorification are not complete at death. There is more. . .

“What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection? At the resurrection, believers, being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity” (Shorter Catechism 38).

God’s saving work in our lives is holistic. God redeems us body and soul. Although the Fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery, God’s grace restores nature. Salvation is re-creation; God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5). This means that the perfection of soul that happens immediately upon death doesn’t bring the work of salvation to an end. God desires to restore our bodies and vindicate our persons at our public acquittal at the Day of Judgment. This is when “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 12:43).

The glorification of soul happens immediately at death; the glorification of our bodies happens at the return of Christ and general resurrection. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17). This passage makes clear that when Jesus returns, He will raise the dead. Those believers who are alive when He returns will be instantaneously changed. This change is described as occurring “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15:52). Here the perishable puts on imperishable and the mortal, immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53).

The nature of this resurrection body is the subject of large chunk of 1 Corinthians 15 and is a topic large enough to be covered in a separate study. Suffice it to say, though, that this resurrection body is a real physical body. Paul does indeed refer to it as a “spiritual body” in 1 Corinthians 15:44, but Paul doesn’t use the word “spiritual” to mean non-physical. Instead, it means permeated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Our resurrection bodies will be free from sin and all the effects of sin. Our resurrection bodies will be incapable of sin, sickness, disease, aches, pains, and death.

In terms of glorification, we will be part of the show when Christ reveals His glory on the last day. “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). Our glorification is not inherent. At the same time, we shall share in the glory of Christ by way of reflection. We shall appear glorious only in Him. Like all the other saving benefits, our glorification is through our union and communion with the Lord Jesus. The Apostle of love tells us that “when He appears we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). The Second Coming in conjunction with the Beatific Vision instantaneously transforms all the elect of God. And this hope of glorification is an incentive to holy living for John continues: “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). We should daily live, then, with an awareness of our blessed future. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21).

            Since glorification is God’s work, it’s a sure work. The power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself is the same power that He will utilize to save us completely from sin and sin’s effects. He shall not fail to bring us from grace to glory. “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Let us never forget that God began the work, and God shall complete the work. He finishes all His projects. He never fails to accomplish any of His purposes. And this is greatest of all God’s purposes. It is, to borrow a line from Jonathan Edwards, “the end for which God created the world.” This is goal of the entire created universe. It is why the whole creation is groaning for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19, 22). God is seeking to glorify Himself by saving a people for Himself, and He shall bring that people from grace to glory. SDG

A little fixing, or a resurrection?

Today I want to consider a word that has been adopted in the Christian church. It is a word that is used to describe the miserable effects of the fall. It is a word that describes all kinds of transgressions, and yet it is entirely the wrong word. I am referring to the word “brokenness.” It is used to speak of unnatural attractions between men, outbursts of anger, drunkenness, riots, racism, and on and on the list goes. The person who is using this term usually means that life is imperfect, not as it should be, and even not as the Lord created it. The concern I have is not so much in recognizing the world is not as it was originally designed. That much is clear. The problem is that “brokenness” softens and minimizes biblical categories and thereby reduces the great blessing of the work of Christ in salvation.

In reformed, confession doctrine, there is typically a two-fold concept of sin. The one which is most obvious is the category the Westminster Standards call actual sin: the sins all people commit in action. The second category is discussed less often. That is the category of original sin: the corruption of man’s nature and his participation in the sin of Adam. The term brokenness can be used replace either of these categories. In doing so the seriousness of man’s condition is minimized.

Biblically speaking, there is a significant distinction between something that is broken and something that is infected with the consequence of sin. Something that is broken simply needs a little fixing. But that is not the biblical view of unnatural attractions, anger, drunkenness, and the like. When Scripture uses the word broken, it is not talking about sin. Usually is talking about what God has done to man (Ps. 37:15; 60:1; 80:12; 102:23). On the weekends many men grab their “honey-do” lists and go about fixing their houses that having various items that are broken or in disrepair. It may be a big repair, or a small one, but the reason it is on the man’s list is because “honey” believes he can “do” the repair. But when Scripture uses words to describe the effects of sin, it does so with words that paint a far graver picture for man.

When Scripture describes man in his natural condition, it uses words that deal with death. God himself warns of the consequence of sin even prior to the fall into sin. He does not warn man that on the day he eats of the fruit he will become broken. He warns man that on the day he eats of it, he shall “surely die.” (Gen. 2:17). In his letter to the Romans, Paul does not warn that sin will require main to be repaired. Instead, he warns that the “wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23). In Ephesians the apostle paints a similar picture to describe the Ephesian Christians before they became believers when he says they were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” (Eph. 2:1-2). 

So why the fuss? Brokenness, death. Isn’t it just a matter of preference? God does not make mistakes in His words. When he describes man’s condition He does so in a way that rightly describes the urgency of his condition. To be dead is far more dire than to be broken. There is no “honey-do” lists that involve graveyards. It is intuitive that when a person is buried there is nothing left for anyone to do for them. No man can correct the condition of the dead. To be broken means you can be fixed. It is not a hopeless state. But to be dead means there is no hope for you.

Part of the joy of being a Christian is knowing that God has made alive one who was dead through the cross of Christ. He did not come to make repairs, but to bring life to those who were dead. I do not doubt that the people who use the word “broken” do so with good intentions. But the danger in changing the language of Scripture is that it causes a change in understanding of a concept as well. Man because of sin is not just broken and in need of a little fixing. No, man in sin is dead and in need of a resurrection. God alone can do this work, and when He does it the cause for rejoicing and gratitude is far greater. What was dead has been made alive. So talk about the concepts of sin and its effects using biblical vocabulary. It will protect your understanding of the magnitude of God’s gift in the gospel.

As When Prophet Moses Raised

Let me encourage you to use your hymnal in your daily devotions. Along with the joyful songs of praise, the hymnal supplies a much-needed freshness when our prayer life has become stale. It’s full of themes worthy of our spiritual mediation.

One of the hymns I’ve recently pondered is Isaac Watts’ “As When the Prophet Moses Raised.” It’s a reflection on the words of Jesus in John 3:14-15. Jesus says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

In light of Christ’s precious words, Watts composed these:

“As when prophet Moses raised the brazen serpent high,
the wounded looked and straight were cured, the people ceased to die.
So from the Savior on the cross a healing virtue flows;
Who looks to him with lively faith is saved from endless woes.”

The Old Testament background is found in Numbers 21:4-9. During the wilderness wandering, the children of Israel complain against God and Moses. The Lord sends serpents as an act of judgment. Many are bitten and die. When the people confess their sin and beg Moses for his intercession, the Lord gives Moses a solution. He tells him to make a pole with a fiery serpent on top. Then God says, “Everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” According to Jesus in John 3, this bronze serpent is a type of Christ. As Moses raised the serpent on the pole, so Jesus would be raised up on a cross. As everyone who looked to the serpent pole was healed, so everyone who looks to Jesus on the cross is saved.

The typology fixes our attention on Christ on the cross. This is where our faith looks. We turn away from ourselves and cast our eyes on Christ and his finished sacrifice. This is where “a healing virtue flows”; this is where we are “saved from endless woes.”
The “endless woes” to which Watts refers certainly include hell in the hereafter, but it also refers to the woes we experience as long as we remain in an unconverted state. Such woes include a defiled conscience, a burdened spirit, an enslaved will, and a life devoid of meaning.

The good news is that we are delivered simply by looking to Jesus! Can anything capture the free offer of grace better than to speak of faith as a mere looking? Looking is really doing nothing. It’s simply a matter of opening our eyes and seeing what is already there. It’s turning our attention to the virtue and merit of another. Can we not look? Is it really too much for us to cast our eyes on the One who shouldered the cross for us? All has been done! God has made the perfect provision for sin! We are only told to look and live.

Watts continues:

“For God gave up his Son to death, so gen’rous was his love,
That all the faithful might enjoy eternal life above.
Not to condemn the sons of men the Son of God appeared;
No weapons in his hand are seen, nor voice of terror heard:
He came to raise our fallen state, and our lost hopes restore;
Faith leads us to the mercy seat, and bids us fear no more.”

When we turn our eyes to Jesus, we see God’s generous love. We should never cease to be amazed when we hear those simple words: “God so loved us that he gave us his Son.” We deserve no good thing from God, but he gave us the best he had to give—his only begotten Son. But there’s more—keep looking to Jesus! What do we see? Jesus is not there to accuse or condemn but to lead us to the mercy seat and banish all our fears. The longer we look to Jesus, the more we see; the more we see, the more we enjoy. Let’s continue looking and drawing in the healing streams flowing from this precious fountain!

Justice and Mercy

Amazing Grace

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1, ESV)

The church, in some places, has truncated the presentation of the gospel. The gospel is the good news of God’s redemption of men. Paul defines it as “the power of salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16). This “power of salvation” is often translated into, “God will forgive my sins because of Jesus.” That is part of the gospel message. However, it is important for the church to consider more fully what this “power of salvation” is.

The power of salvation is more than a simple fix of my sin problem. To properly understand the significance of sin, the nature of God and man must be understood. God must be seen as the Creator of all things visible and invisible. His ownership over all the world must be recognized. Next, man’s rebellion against his Creator must be seen with all its lethal implications. Man’s sin leads to his death. These lines of thought are the first to be established in the accounts of the Bible. It is within that context that the gospel message is declared. God, who is just, has been sinned against, and justice should be expected.

However, though justice is right and should be applied to men, something different happens. God in his grace and mercy, sets apart some to be redeemed from their guilt. Though they are dead in their sins and trespasses, God makes them alive. He gives to them faith that they might to find salvation in Christ. He gives them repentance that they would not continue in sin. And one of the most amazing parts of the gospel follows out of this grace from God: where justice should be given, mercy is given instead.

Instead of condemnation, man is given justification. But I want to be clear about what happens in man’s justification. The good news of the gospel is found in the hopeless condition of man. What man is unable to do because of sin, God does on his behalf so that he may be justified.

To give clarity, it is important to define justification. I prefer the definition given in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. There justification is defined as: “an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” This definition divides justification into two parts, one negative in that it removes something from man and the other positive, in that it adds something to man.

In justification, God removes the guilt of my sins. He provides a pardon. He does that because the guilt of my sin has been laid on Christ. On the cross he bore this curse for his people. As the apostle Paul says: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). This curse of condemnation is removed by Christ because, though he was perfectly obedient to God and committed no sin, he became the object of God’s wrath in my place for my sin. So the guilt of my sins is removed.

However, something more is happening in the gospel than a simple removal of guilt. God does not move me from a position of condemnation to one of neutrality. God gives something positive to the believer in justification. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to me. Imputation is an accounting term that transfers something from one account to another. In justification, the righteousness of Christ is transferred from his account to that of his children. Again, Paul says, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19). Part of the gospel is that I am counted righteous in the sight of God because the merit of Jesus’ perfect works is credited to my account. Man moves from a position of eternal guilt to one of eternal favor.

So man, who rebelled against his Creator, and deserves punishment is given mercy instead. That is not because God ignores his justice. Rather, he satisfied it by pouring his wrath for sin out on his Son. With guilt removed, he now extends mercy to all those set apart for his mercy. That is a deeper understanding of the work of redemption. It shows the greatness of God’s gift of salvation more abundantly. This perspective gives God’s people far more reason not to take their salvation for granted, but to rejoice before the Lord all their days for his goodness and kindness to them in the gospel.