Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Living ‘in-Christ’ (1)

Bible Readings

  • Ephesians 5:1-10
  • Colossians 3:1-12

Introduction

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Our topic for this morning is United with Christ—living ‘in-Christ’.  This is the first in a short series of three sermons

This sermon is the next in a series from the letter of Paul to the church in Colossae which I have placed under the heading United with Jesus Christ.  The first in this series was about the Effect of the Gospel 1:3-8); then followed the Call of the Gospel (1:9-12); then the Content of the Gospel (1:13-14); what followed then was the Origin of the Gospel (1:15-23).  Then we moved on to the Defence of the Gospel (1:24-2-23).

Sometimes the apostle Paul interrupts himself in his line of argument by introducing a new theme; he then later comes back to the original line of thinking to complete that argument, and then he moves on to the new line of thinking to elaborate on that more precisely.  This is exactly what happens in chapter 2.  He first points out the need for us all to grow in our understanding of the Gospel and warns about those who might distort the message of the Gospel by all kinds of philosophies. Then, beginning from verse 11, he introduces a new argument about our union with Christ. This goes through to verse 15.  He then in verse 16 goes back to complete the original point about why we must be able to defend the Gospel against some who might try to establish certain traditions in place of or alongside the Gospel.  In chapter 3 he returns to the theme of union with Christ and elaborates on that point.  This is what we understand as the Living ‘in-Christ’.

So, let’s go back to chapter 2:11-15 which deals with our union with Christ in his death and resurrection.  I call on your full attention to follow the foundations for the argument to put to death our earthly nature.  

Association and participation

There is a very interesting shop in the Blue Mountains in NSW.  This particular shop is home to the largest collection of teapots in the world. On shelves about pelmet height, displayed right through every room of this old home which now serves as a shop, are displayed more than 4,000 teapots.  This, they say, is only half the collection; the rest is in containers stacked in the garage of the owner of the shop.  But that’s not all:  apart from this very extensive collection of teapots, you can find every conceivable piece of glassware – not only displayed on shelves out of your reach.  No, wherever to put your foot down or swing your arm or point your finger at, you bump into precious glassware.  Don’t go there if you have to use a walking stick!

Your presence in that shop binds you to the condition of entry, ‘You brake it, you pay for it’. Accepting this condition makes you a partner of the business for the duration of the visit, sharing in the risk of running it.

The operative words here are association and participation.  This takes us back to Colossians 2:11-15. I will try to explain this fairly complex paragraph in the word of God by breaking it up in little bits.  May God give me the wisdom to explain and plant in your heart his Spirit of understanding!

 God’s covenant with his church in Old Testament times

The background of the verses 11-14 is the Biblical doctrine of God’s Covenant with his people.  God called Israel, which is the Church in Old Testament times, to be his people.  He made an agreement with them in which He was the principal partner, and they the minor partners.  Because God was the only God, who could save, provide, protect and assure safety, by grace took Israel to be his people. He placed upon them obligations stipulated in His covenant, requiring them to live holy lives as people of God.

He also gave them signs as a seal of this covenant: the circumcision. This circumcision was ultimately a circumcision of the heart, something not done by hands but by the Holy Spirit of God. This sign was a sign of God’s grace, but by this sign they would be set apart from the rest of the nations as God’s holy nation.  They had to turn from their evil practices, not live like the nations around them and worship God only as He commanded them. The term we may use for their sanctification within this context is the term we find in our verse of Col 2:11 – they had to put to death their sinful nature.

Let’s go to one chapter in the Old Testament to illustrate. In Leviticus 19:2 God commanded Moses to speak to the people:  “Say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’” He saved them and made a covenant with them.  That’s why they were called to holiness.  He owns them, and the stipulations of his covenant demanded it.

All sacrifices had their fulfilment in the Passover Lamb (the other Old Testament sacrament). The sacrifices they were to bring to the Lord assured that they could enjoy communion with Him because of their sins being forgiven.  They did not die for their sins, but the animals did.  Their participation in the act of sacrifice and their association with the blood of the animal brought them forgiveness.

God’s covenant with his church in New Testament times

Let’s go back to Colossians.  God extended his covenant of mercy to all nations through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  People from all tribes and tongues and nations now become members of the household of God.  How?  The same way as the people of the Old Testament:  by grace, by agreement (covenant) and through sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ superseded the sacrifice of animals, now just tremendously more complete and ultimately more perfect than animal sacrifice.

God also gives to his New Covenant people a sign of his covenant.  It is the same circumcision not done by hands; it remains the mysterious and gracious work of the Holy Spirit. He gives them a circumcision of the heart, here called the circumcision of Christ. 

The people did not die and pay the price of sin during the sacrifice; but by association and participation in the death and blood of the sacrificial animal, God granted them forgiveness.  We don’t die or pay the price for our sins, but by faith we associate with Christ and therefore participate in his death.  So, when He died on the cross, we died.  When He was buried, we were buried.  When He rose again, we rose.

Now, and this is a very legitimate question, how do I know it is for sure?  God gave us signs as a seal and guarantee like He gave to the people of the Old Testament.   To them He gave the sign of circumcision, to us He provides us with the circumcision of Christ’s complete righteousness, and baptism is the new sign of the very same covenant of grace.  When we are baptised, all Jesus Christ did to meet the righteousness of God, by faith became ours.  Baptism is the sign that Jesus Christ is the One who died and was raised again in my place so I can become part of God’s family.  As God worked in Jesus Christ to raise Him from the dead, so we are raised with Him through the eternal power of God.  We only need the sign that associates us with Him and assures us of our participation in his redemption.  The rest is God’s act of mercy and grace.  Listen:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

 What is described in this verse is the second sign, or the other sacrament:  The Passover Lamb nailed to the cross of Calvary to take away our sins.  He cancelled the written code, always reminding us of our unrighteousness having all our trespasses written in and He nailed it to the cross.  This is what we remember and celebrate at the Lord’s Table.

There on the cross Jesus Christ also triumphed over all powers to that they may never have a claim over our lives (verse 15). 

Two signs in the Old Testament and two signs in the New Testament, pointing to the same act of grace from God in two different dispensations.  Circumcision is replaced by baptism; the sacrificial system replaced by the cross of Jesus as we remember it at the Lord’s Table.  In both these cases, the principle to have part in salvation applies: association and participation.

By faith, we have part in his redemption.  What Christ did to meet the righteousness of God now becomes ours.  This is the amazing, remarkable and incredible fact of the grace of God.

One with Christ in holy living

Now, just as circumcision did not save God’s Church in the Old Testament, so baptism does not save the people of God’s Church in the New Testament. It was a sign of God’s grace; it is not grace itself. But what is included into God’s covenant meant to the people of the Old Testament signified by circumcision, baptism now means to us as members of his body:  living holy lives, dedicated to God.  We need to put to death our earthly nature.

This then takes us to chapter 3 where Paul resumes the argument:

 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1,3)

Here the principle of association and participation comes in again.  The Sacraments bind us to Christ.  This assures our participation in his death and resurrection, but it calls for our association with Him in setting our hearts on things above where He is because our lives are hidden in Him. This is essentially the same as what Paul says in Romans 12:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

He also stresses the same point in Romans 6:

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6:8, 11-13)

We will continue with this theme in a future gathering of worship to see what God wants of his people as they live the Gospel.

Application

Let’s for one moment get back to where we started.  Remember the glassware shop and the notice You brake it, you pay for it? We pointed out the principle of association and participation.  Going into that shop poses a risk:  I might enjoy what I see, but I might walk away from it a lot poorer than I walked into it.

It is so much different when I walk into God’s grace.  

  • First of all, I enter into his grace by his invitation, not by my decision. 
  • Secondly, my broken life and the rest of God’s creation that I affected so severely because of my sinfulness, do not have a notice You brake, you pay for it on it.  

The wonder of God’s grace is that, although I am truly responsible, and therefore accountable to God, someone else paid to make it whole and repair what I broke.  Jesus Christ is that one.  By faith what He did becomes mine.  Faith gives what belongs to Him to me.  I associate with Him and participate in Him.  That’s grace!  

Conclusion 

Two or three years before the death of John Newton, the well-known minister of the Word in the 18th Century and author of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace, when his sight was so dim that he was no longer able to read, a friend and brother in the ministry called to have breakfast with him. Their custom was to read the Word of God following mealtime, after which Newton would make a few short remarks on the Biblical passage, and then appropriate prayer would be offered. That day, however, there was silence after the words of Scripture “by the grace of God I am what I am” were read.

 Finally, after several minutes, Newton spoke, “I am not what I ought to be! How imperfect and deficient I am! I am not what I wish to be, although I abhor that which is evil and would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be, but soon I shall be out of mortality, and with it all sin and imperfection. Though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor yet what I hope to be, I can truly say I am not what I once was: a slave to sin and Satan. I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge that by the grace of God I am what I am!” Then, after a pause, he said. “Now let us pray!

Let’s thank God.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 14 October 2018

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God’s act of redemption: Perseverance

Important points

  • Our salvation does not rest on our performance in sanctification
  • We were not saved, in the first instance, because we were better than others, and we will not be saved, in the last instance, because we improved ourselves on the way
  • God’s grace to us is his promise that we will continue in the state of holiness and righteousness to which he has called us through the work of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit until we are brought to final glory
  • This does not mean that we will be so strong in faith that we will never stumble, but it means that the evil one will never have the last say over our lives

TULIP

A concise summary of the Reformed understanding of the Bible as we teach in the Presbyterian Church is called the Five Points of Calvinism.  Some refer to it as TULIP, which is an acronym using the first letters of the five points.  They are:

  • Total depravity – man can do good works, but he can do nothing to save himself: sin has corrupted his soul and robbed him of a free will
  • Unconditional election – God does not save man because of anything good in man; we are saved by grace alone
  • Limited atonement – Not all people will are saved and will go to heaven.  Christ died to be an atonement for those whom the Father gave Him
  • Irresistible grace – God calls by the Holy Spirit who works in the hearts and minds of the elect to bring them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly and freely come to God
  • Perseverance of the saints – Because the Father has elected, the Son has redeemed, and the Holy Spirit has applied salvation, those thus saved are eternally secure

There are scores of Christians, and many theologians, who might call themselves Four Point Calvinists.  They can live with total depravity, unconditional election, some have a problem with limited atonement, some have a problem with irresistible grace, but when it comes to perseverance, they bail out.

For us humans who everyday faces unfaithfulness and broken promises, it is hard to believe that man cannot lose his salvation.  This comes from a wrong understanding of sanctification.  We touched on the idea of sinless perfection in our previous section and the burden that train of thought can leave on the mind of a Christian.  

Discussion:  How can God still look at me as his child when I know about the imperfections, and even gross sins, in my life?

 

Discussion: Is it not so that God who is holy and perfect will one day give up on me and say, I gave you plenty of opportunities to grow in your spiritual life to attain some sort of standard of Christian living, but you just don’t get it.  I had enough of you. You will not inherit my Kingdom.

 

This is a scary thought.  On the surface, there are some examples in the Scriptures.  

  • What about king Saul?  The first king of Israel was an impressive man.  He seemed to start out well, but things started to change along the road.  In the end, he enquired not of God, but of a witch.  
  • What about Demas who deserted Paul and loved the world?  What about Ananias and Sapphira?  These are real people whose lives are recorded in the Bible.  Were they lost, even from the beginning?  Of course, there is a point that man should not probe into the mind of God, but we need to understand what the Bible teaches about our eternal salvation.

John writes:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1John 2:19)

So, is the phrase “Once save, always saved” a Biblical one?

Perseverance: a definition

  • According to the Word, a saint is one who is both separate and separated. 
  • A saint is one chosen by the living God from all eternity through Jesus Christ our Lord. 
  • He was no better than others but is lifted out of that miry clay of sin and death by undeserved grace only. 
  • He is regenerated, called, converted, begins to repent from his sin so that now he lives in conscious union with his Lord Jesus Christ. 
  • He is separated then from this world because God declared him righteous and holy. 
  • By faith in Christ alone, he is numbered among the saints.
  • By God’s grace, led by the Holy Spirit, he perseveres, and he continues in the state of holiness and righteousness to which God called him based on the work of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit.
  • He continues in this state until he is brought finally to glory.
  • Perseverance speaks about God’s safeguarding against dangers or threats to that new life which one has received. The enemy of the soul seeks to drag one down, to destroy, to take away that living faith which he confesses, but God’s safeguards him (preserves) for Jesus’ sake.

Armenian and Roman views of Justification and Sanctification

We can observe these two views as if they are basically the same.  Those in the different camps, however, will say they are very different. 

Views on Justification and Sanctification

Roman Catholic
Armenian
Christ’s work or righteousness is infused to those who receive the sacraments, beginning with baptism Man is depraved, but not entirely or utterly corrupt
Christ and the Holy Spirit help the lost through the use of the sacraments God provides salvation to all of mankind in Jesus Christ
Sinners add their own good works to the infused righteousness of Christ The choice is solely in the hands of man to decide for or against Christ.
Sanctification is a continued effort to attain a state of acceptance to get to heaven.  There is no distinct difference between justification and sanctification. The work of Christ is complete, but only a provisional possibility until accepted
There is a distinction between venial and mortal sins: venial sins do not erase grace, mortal sins do erase grace The work of Christ only comes to fruition after the sinner’s decision to receive his grace.
Restoration from mortal sins is through the sacrament of penance The work of Christ comes to nothing when the sinner chooses not to receive it

Where Roman Catholics and Armenians logically agree

God is not the sovereign author of salvation but depends on our cooperation.  We complement Gods’ acts of mercy by adding something of our own to assure us of salvation.
Man is not sinful, only a sinner.
God does not declare us righteous despite our inborn sinfulness. God makes us righteous based on our decision to receive Christ’s righteousness and be forgiven from our sins.
Sanctification adds to justification and necessarily includes good works as a condition for salvation. The Holy Spirit assists in doing good works.
Because our salvation partly depends on us, the eternal outcome stands on shaky ground.
Because our salvation partly depends on us, it is possible to fall from grace, making void the righteousness of Christ.

This way of thinking does not represent Biblical teaching.  Opposing the acronym of TULIP, it instead suggests something like DAISY:  He loves me, He loves me not!

One can understand why Armenian theologians, of which John Wesley was one, make this statement:

“… those who are sanctified by the blood of the covenant, may nevertheless fall from God and to perish everlastingly.”  (Emory, John:  The Works of the Reverend John Wesley (in seven volumes), ‘An Dialogue between an Antinomian and his friend’; John Collard; New York; 1831)

Begin at the beginning

God is God: this means He is sovereign—He is not driven be anything else but his Divine will, council, decree and power.  

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36, ESV)

Election: From all eternity the Divine Council it was decreed that there will be a church for his Son, Jesus Christ.  This is referred to in the Scriptures as divine election:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight (Ephesians 1:3–8, ESV)

Sin: No person on the face of the earth can ever say that he has not sinned, and therefore he is not a sinner.  And because of the fulness that causes him to sin, he is spiritually dead.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8, ESV)

Therefore the Bible teaches:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins … carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1,3, ESV)

Therefore:

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. (Isaiah 64:6–7, ESV)

God’s sovereign mercy: Without our input, pleading, searching, influence or intention of any kind, God acted on account of his eternal decree in Jesus Christ, based on his unfathomable grace towards sinners who defended his mercy.  He sent his Son:

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:6–9, NIV)

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, ESV)

Jesus Christ:  Christ came into this world to seek and to save the lost.  He declared:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37–40, ESV)

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture… My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10: 9, 27–29, ESV)

In his priestly prayer He prayed: 

While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:12, ESV)

We come to this conclusion: 

  • God called us while we were sinful sinners, dead in our trespasses. 

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17, ESV)

  • The Word is about God’s eternal plan to call a church together for his Son, redeemed and saved by his blood.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)

  • God provides the righteousness—which we can’t work out by ourselves—in his Son Jesus Christ.  We have no righteousness of our own.  We …

… are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24–26, ESV)

  • By grace, God declares us not guilty.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit who applies the redemption of Jesus Christ to our hearts we are adopted into the family of God, not be what we have done:

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:6–7, ESV)

Jesus Christ prays to his Father:

Sanctify them in the truth; your Word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:17–19, ESV)

… I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:11–12, ESV)

Can we now just carry on with life regardless?

It’s a bit of a silly question.  Paul answers this:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1–2, ESV)

Let’s get some help from the Canons of Dordt (a document drafted in Dordrecht in 1618-1619 to expose the errors of Arminianism):

  • Those people whom God according to his purpose calls into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, He also sets free from the reign and slavery of sin, though in this life not entirely from the flesh and from the body of sin.
  • God’s Spirit convicts us of our sin and sinfulness and brings us to humble ourselves before God.  We flee for refuge to Christ crucified.  By the Spirit, we put the flesh to death more and more by holy exercises of godliness.  We strain toward the goal of perfection until we are freed from this body of death and reign with the Lamb of God in heaven.
  • Christians can be seduced into the lusts of the flesh; they must, therefore, be constant in watching and prayer, that they may not be led into temptation. By the righteous permission of God actually, we are sometimes drawn into these evils. Thus, the lamentable fall of example David, Peter and others.
  • God, who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not allow them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption and forfeit the state of justification,  nor He does permit them to be totally deserted and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.
  • Thus it is not in consequence of their own merits or strength, but of God’s free mercy, since His counsel cannot be changed nor His promise fail.

Conclusion

We began our study with Jeremiah 31.  Israel’s sin stood against them.  They rebelled against God. Let’s go to verse 29-30:

In those days they shall no longer say: “ ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge. (Jeremiah 31:29–30, ESV)

However, God says in verse 20:

Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:20, ESV)

God promised a new Covenant, and as we have seen, this is filled in Jesus Christ.  It is based on the mercy of God expressed in verse 34:

For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34, ESV)

Why does God do such things?  Why does He still bother with us and display his mercy daily to us?

Thus says the Lord: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 31:37, ESV)

Bottom line: it’s God’s work, based on God’s mercies, maintained by God’s faithfulness, granted by God’s justice and righteousness in Jesus Christ.

And now I bow my head in shame and ask:

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24, ESV)

 

Study

The question now is: 

“If our justification rests upon the initiative and grace of God in Jesus Christ; if He adopted us as his children based on the righteousness of Christ; if He sanctified us to be holy because He is holy; can we or something/someone else undo his grace and be lost forever?”

Let’s go to where we began.

1.  Read Jeremiah 31:35-37

1.1 Name the acts of the Lord Almighty listed in verse 35.

 

1.2 If astronomers can precisely predict the course of the stars and comets, what does it say about the sun, moon and stars?

 

1.3  How are the paths of the stars, moon and sun described in verse 36?

 

1.4 In the normal scheme of time, will the stars, moon and sun “vanish” or “depart”? Why/why not?

 

1.5  Let’s say the heavenly bodies would disappear (and they will at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will give us a new heaven and a new earth), what will never disappear?  Read verse 36 carefully.

 

1.6 Do we know how big the universe is?  Do we know all that can be known of the things God has made?  Read verse 37.

 

1.7 Can we ever fathom the grace and faithfulness of God?  What is it that He will never do?  Read verse 37.

 

2. Read Jeremiah 33:20-26

2.1 Did Israel’s Covenant-breaking effect God’s faithfulness?  What would the effect be if it did?

 

2.2 What does God say about his Covenant with his people?

 

2.3 Are these verses only and exclusively referring to the nation of Israel, or does it have something to say to us?  Why?

 

3. Turn to Isaiah 59

3.1 Verse 1-4: Describe the spiritual condition of God’s Covenant people.

 

3.2 Read verse 15b-17.  What was the reaction of the Lord upon this spiritual darkness of his people: did He reject them?  Why/why not?

 

3.3 Read verse 20: What is required to restore God’s Covenant people? There are two things.

 

3.4 Read verse 21: Why do the people of the Lord receive grace and restoration?

 

4. Turn to Psalm 51

4.1 What happened in the life of David before he wrote this Psalm.  Look at the heading.

 

4.2 Read verse 1: What was the basis for David’s cry for mercy?

 

4.3 Read verses 11-12: What did he pray about the Holy Spirit?  What did he want to be restored?

 

David did not primarily pray to be saved, but to be forgiven: this was based on the grace of God even before he was born!  If God did not forgive him, he would have been lost.  God did forgive him and now he sings: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1–2, ESV)

4.4 Read verse 14: What would David sing about after God forgave him?

 

5. Read Psalm 32:3-6

5.1 Verse 3-4: What happens if we do not confess our sins?

 

5.2 Verses 5-6: What happens if we do confess our sins?

 

6. Read John 10:28

What comfort does this verse give you, even knowing that you are a sinner?

 

God’s act of redemption: Sanctification

Important points

  • Being saved by grace, and adopted as God’s children, we now live in the household of God
  • To be holy is to be set apart to glorify God
  • We cannot continue to live the same way as we lived before we became children of God
  • In God’s household, God sets the rules
  • Keeping to these rules does not make us his children, but shows that we are indeed his children
  • Sanctification means that we more and more become what we already are in Christ
  • Sanctification does not make us more righteous, but indeed more useful in the Kingdom of God

Definition

Definitive sanctification as an initial gift from God

We are by faith united to Christ, we are joined to Him at all points of his activity on our behalf: 

  • We share in his death (we were baptised into his death—He does not die all over again when we take the sacraments; they are the seal and sign that we share in his death)
  • We share in his resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ—He did not raise from the dead when we believed. The sacraments are the seal and sign that we share in his victory over death.)
  • We share in his ascension (we have been raised with Him)
  • We share in his heavenly session (we sit with Him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God)
  • We will share in his promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with Him in glory) (Romans 6:14; Colossians 2:11-12; 3:1-3).

Definitive sanctification is:

  • is “a once-for-all” event
  • happens simultaneously with effectual calling and regeneration
  • transfers us from the sphere of sin to the sphere of God’s holiness, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God 
  • marks us out (or separates us) as God’s chosen people – His treasured and covenantal possession (Acts 20:32; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11)
  • redeems us from the dominion of sin by uniting us to Christ, particularly in His death, resurrection and ascension. 

Sanctification, in this sense, refers to a decisive and radical break with the power and pleasures of sin. 

Progressive sanctification

  • is a progressive work of God the Holy Spirit and man, freeing us more and more from sin to be like Christ in our daily lives 
  • is the outworking of the new life we received in regeneration 
  • it involves the gradual, incremental work of the Holy Spirit of both putting to death the remains of “indwelling sin” as well as putting on the likeness of Christ.

Illustration

The effect of the Gospel message is even more surprising than this little illustration:

A man is charged with a crime – let’s say he committed murder.  All evidence points in his direction, even his defence lawyer cannot come up with anything better than to plead for a lesser penalty.  The judge listens to the charges laid; he weighs up the evidence and faces the reality of condemning the charged murderer with the death penalty.  He looks at the accused and begins to love him, and in his own heart, there is big sorrow that this young man appearing in court might never see his wife or children again.  But as the judge he must be impartial:  the law demands that a murderer is charged—even with capital punishment.

The judge now does the unthinkable: He does not have the crime of murder go unpunished—the law demands punishment—but he commands his own son to stand in the place of the accused, and charge the innocent son with murder to provide ground for the murderer to go free.  Because his own son completely pay the penalty, the law is satisfied, and the murderer may go free after the judge declared him not guilty.  

The judge now does something even more unfathomable: he takes the murderer as his own child and promises to be his father, to care for him, to give him shelter, and to provide him with a daily guard to protect him as a child of the new household.

  • We stand as accused before God.  We fall short of his glory because we are sinners.  The reward for sin is death. 
  • Now, the unthinkable: He commands his Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place.  Christ do so willingly, because He is the only one without sin, and yet He took on the nature of us human beings, and He died on the cross as God’s curse upon sin.  
  • We gratefully believe, and His righteousness becomes our righteousness because God declares us not guilty: He imputes Christ’s righteousness to us.  
  • God freely, without our influence, adopts us as sons into his household, and gives us his Holy Spirit to teach us, guide us and protect us. The charge against us is wiped out, and the guilt of sin is removed.

This is the Gospel.  

We do not become members of God’s Covenant people based on our merits in the past, or on the good things we might do in the future.  A well-known theologian says we need to “keep the muscles of sanctification attached to the tendons of our faith.  Only thus will it be apparent that sanctification embraces all of life.

We now live in God’s household.  In his house, there are rules for good order.  We can’t carry on living as we lived before God declared us righteous in Christ; it is not fitting, it does not become Christians to live like unbelievers.  We are called to sanctification.  

Sanctification is not something we do out of fear that we might up on the streets again.  We live to serve the One who had pity on us when we were on our way to eternal condemnation.

Recent shifts in Biblical teaching

Hardly anything has shaken the Reformed world as much as the so-called New Perspectives on Paul.  Authors like EP Sanders (in Paul and Palestinian Judaism), and NT Wright (in What St Paul Really Said) reinterpreted the doctrine of justification, blurring the lines with sanctification.

According to this interpretation, justification is not God’s declaration based on the righteousness of Christ. We get into the Kingdom by faith, but we need to please God to stay in the Kingdom.  Justification and sanctification are mixed into the same recipe!

Sanders writes:

“Salvation is by grace but judgment is according to works’…God saves by grace, but… within the framework established by grace he rewards good deeds and punishes transgression.” (see: https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/new-perspective-paul-calvin-and-nt-wright/

The issue is not concerned with how to get into a right relationship with God, but how to stay in his covenant. This has sometimes been compared to the issue of “keeping” or “losing one’s salvation.” 

Difference between justification and sanctification 

Justification Sanctification
Based entirely upon the work Christ has already done for us Principally a work God does in us
A righteousness without us A holiness brought about in us
By Christ as Priest, and has regard to the penalty of sin By Christ as King, and has regard to the dominion of sin
Cancels the condemning power of sin Delivers from its reigning power of sin
A judicial act, by which the sinner as declared righteous A moral work, by which the sinner is made holy
Solely to do with our standing before God Chiefly concerned with our state in Christ
Based on the merits of Christ’s satisfaction Proceeds from the result of Christ’s satisfaction
Bestowing a title to everlasting glory the way which conducts us there.

If we cut sanctification loose from justification we will drive a wedge between them. We will then be in danger of slipping into moralism (good works), and we will find ourselves between two extremes: 

  • self-conscious pride (“I have done my part and should be saved”), 
  • nagging uncertainty about being saved (“Have I done enough to be saved?”).

Blurring the lines between sanctification and justification leads to:

  • Sanctification being described as a series of meritorious acts performed by the previously justified man to make him more justified 
  • A battle of the subject of each action: God or man—who is responsible for what? 
  • Salvation becomes a 50-50% arrangement between God and sinner:  God does one half, and we must do to the other half; if we can’t do our part, we lose all hope of being saved
  • Salvation ultimately then does not rest on God’s saving grace, but the sinners’ completion of that salvation. This is Rome in full bloom!

Scripture teaches something completely different:

And because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, (1 Corinthians 1:30, ESV)

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23, ESV)

Christ prays:

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:17–19, ESV)

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13, ESV)

Substance of Sanctification

God himself chose his people Israel and separated it, He made it a holy people. This separation did not, in any sense, rest on Israel’s moral strength or piety, but had its foundation solely in divine election. 

When God commands his people to be holy, He does not introduce a new element in the relation between Him and his people. Instead, He demands of them to become conscious of the sanctity with which He has sanctified them and to walk and live accordingly.

God disciplines his children because He owns them.  Over and over again we read, “I am the Lord.”  He called them out of slavery, saved them by grace, and now demands them to live to his glory.  Because they belong to Him, they are different, they are separate from the rest of the world.  They are to be different, or set apart because God is holy.  

God’s children are not called to be like God, but to act God-like.  Sanctification, some say, is God’s appeal to our hearts not to live Christ’s life, but to live a Christ-like life.  Someone else says we need to think God’s thoughts after Him.

Holiness does not mean perfect sinlessness.  Jesus taught us to pray for forgiveness of sins because we are still living in this broken world.

Holiness means to act with the mind of Christ.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2, ESV)

Romans 1-11 first describes the mercies of God, then follows the call to a life displaying something of a sacrifice which is holy and acceptable to God.

Sanctification is not a sort of second blessing which we will escape us until we surrender entirely to the Lord and subsequently receive the Spirit in His fulness.

Sanctification is also not a lengthy process by which will the Christian is made fit for Heaven. We are made fit for heaven through justification.  Arthur Pink asks: “At what point was the penitent prodigal unsuited to the Father’s house?

However, process and progress are not the same.  Paul writes:

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1, ESV)

Peter writes:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18, ESV)

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thessalonians 1:3, ESV)

Sanctification is not a cooperative relationship between divine grace and human action.

Summary

Sanctification is that work of Divine grace in the believer which brings him back into allegiance to God, regulating his affections and actions in harmony with His will, writing His law on the heart (Hebrews 10:16), moving him to make God’s glory his chief aim and end. That Divine work is commenced at regeneration and completed only at glorification.

 

Study

1.  Read Exodus 19:1-6

1.1 Think about our previous chapter about Adoption. We looked at Exodus 6:6-7 where it says God “brings out” and “takes” us his own his elect.  Which words in Exodus 19:4 would have the same meaning?

 

1.2 God wants his people to keep covenant with Him (verse 5).  He wants them to be holy (verse 6).  Does God expect his people to be holy before or after they are saved?  (Keep verse 4 in mind.)

 

1.3 One of the purposes of God’s Covenant Rules (the Ten Commandments) is that God’s people would live lives “different” to the other nations.  When did the Israelites receive the Ten Commandments, before or after the rescue out of Egypt? (Read Exodus 20:1)

 

2. Read Leviticus 11:45 and 19:2

On what does God’s requirement to be holy rest?  Think of two things.

 

3. Read 1Corinthians 6:11

According to this verse who is the author of our sanctification?

 

4. Read John 17:17-19

What does Jesus ask of his Father in verse 17, and on what ground are the disciples of Jesus sanctified?

 

5. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:13

Who, according to this verse, sanctifies us?

 

6. Read Galatians 4:6 and 5:24-25

Who lives in our hearts?  What does the Spirit of God do in our hearts according to 5:22-25?

 

7. Read Leviticus 20:7-8

Who does the consecrating (sanctification) mean here?

 

8. Read Romans 12:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5, Hebrews 12:14, 1Peter 1:14-15

 Sanctification in these verses seems to be a command.  Do you agree? Why/why not?

 

9. Read Ezekiel 32, 25:8, 1Peter 1:17 and Romans 12:1-2

9.1 What is the difference between Israel in Ezekiel and God’s people in the other verses?

 

9.2 With this in mind, write down your definition of holiness/sanctification.

 

10. Read Romans 6:11-14

What does practical sanctification look like?

 

11. Read Philippians 3:12 and Romans 7:18

Does sanctification mean perfect sinlessness?

 

From what we have learned up to this point we understand that God’s acts of mercy in our lives are that He:

  • justifies us in Christ Jesus – He declares us righteous because of the complete work of Christ!
  • adopts us as his children – He cares for us, promises to protect us, provide for us and prepare for us an inheritance as heirs of his Kingdom
  • sanctifies us – we need to display the character of our Father who is holy – but also calls us to be sanctified

God’s act of salvation: Adoption

Important points:

  • Abraham was a sinner saved by grace
  • Abraham believed God and received the gift of righteousness
  • Our natural birth does not make us children of God
  • The Holy Spirit gives us a new birth to be adopted as God’s children
  • The Holy Spirit applies the righteousness of Christ to our lives
  • Through Jesus Christ, we are adopted as sons
  • By being adopted as sons, we became heirs of the kingdom of God
  • We stop living for ourselves and begin to live to God’s glory only

We need a new birth

At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ.  We usually hear sermons from the first few chapters of the Gospels.  You might have listened to a sermon from John Chapter One, teaching about the deity of Jesus Christ, who 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1–2, ESV)

Paul puts it this way:  

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15–20, ESV)

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews states the same truth:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1–4, ESV)

Going back to John 1, we read about the sad news that his own people rejected Him. This was in spite of John the Baptist, and many other prophets before him, directly pointing to Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah.

He [John] came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:7, 10–11, ESV)

Some, however, did believe and receive Him.  The question is now, “How is it that some could see the light and others not; why did some receive Him and others rejected Him?

Before we get to verse 12, which all of us should know by heart, we need to understand what verse 13 says:

… who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:13, ESV)

What does verse 12 say?  

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:12, ESV)

All of us are born in sin, and as such we cannot see the Kingdom of God.  Yet, some people can now see the kingdom of God while others can’t.  Why? 

Between seeing the kingdom and recognising Christ as Saviour, something momentous needs to happen:  a new birth.  Our eyes are opened only after the Holy Spirit gives us a new birth.  We are not children of God by birth, or by a husband’s will, but from God (John 1:13).

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:

None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:8, ESV)

Paul continues in verse 14:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV)

Galatians 3 spells it out very clearly:

…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:26–27, ESV)

Israel the adopted “son” of God

When God called Abraham, we read Abraham was living in sin, worshipping foreign Gods. 

Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. (Joshua 24:2–3, ESV)

God “took” Abraham (this “take” is another term for “call” as we will see later). Within the context of the rest of the Scripture, this “take” means to take as his own or to adopt.  To Abraham, He gave extraordinary promises, which were not only for the generation of Abraham but all generations born along the line of Abraham —they became the Covenant People of the Lord.

God gave Abraham spiritual eyes (Hebrews 11:10) to see a spiritual kingdom as God regenerated Him to become his child (Romans 4:19-21).  God imputed his own righteousness to him, not based on good works, but only because he believed in God.

To Abraham God made this promise: 

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. (Genesis 15:13–14, ESV)

His descendants surely went into Egypt to serve as slaves for 430 years.  But God did not forget his covenant promises to Abraham and his people.  Exodus 3:3 is the Gospel in a nutshell:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey … (Exodus 3:7–8, ESV)

Israel did not save itself.  Their salvation rested in the faithful love of God promised and sealed to Abraham.  Years later Isaiah describes God’s love for his people at that time in these words:

In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63:9, ESV)

In Exodus 4:21-23 Israel is described as the son of God.  God adopted Israel from among the nations as his own.

And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ” (Exodus 4:21–23, ESV)

So, when Moses called the people and announced their deliverance from Egypt, he spoke the Word of God:

Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’ ” (Exodus 6:6–8, ESV)

Moses reminded them:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7–8, ESV)

Israel had a spiritual father, Abraham.  Like him, they were called to trust the Lord, love Him, obey Him and believe in Him.  By bloodline, they were included in the Covenant of God, but this heritage alone would not save them.  When John the Baptist commenced his preaching he said to the Pharisees and Sadducees:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (Matthew 3:7–9, ESV)

They thought that their blood relationship with Abraham made them children of God.  Our Lord confronted them with this truth:

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” (John 8:39–41, ESV)

Jesus then drove the nail very deeply into their spiritual state:

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.  You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:43–44, ESV)

How are we adopted as sons of God?

Let’s turn to a verse in 1Corinthians 2.  Paul here quotes from Isaiah 64:4.  Let’s read 1Corinthians 2:9

None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1Corinthians 2:8–10, ESV)

The quote from Isaiah 64 recalls God’s extraordinary act of salvation from Egyptian bondage.  Such a thing no-one has ever seen:  a God who controlled the heavens and the earth, who could cause mountains to shake and fire to descent from the skies called a people for Himself, saved them and made them a kingdom of priests for his glory.

Paul now says God reveals these things to us by his Spirit.  He continues:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:12–14, ESV)

In Galatians 4:4-7 we read:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4–7, ESV)

By the Spirit, we receive what John is referring to – “not by a man or through the will of a husband, but born of God” – the adoption of sons. 

On what ground does God make us his sons?

The Spirit takes what Jesus Christ has done, and applies it to us so we can understand who Christ is, what He has done, and how God saved us from sin (John 14:26, 16:13-14).  In other words, the Spirit applies the righteousness of Christ to our lives—as we saw it in the first chapter.  

The Spirit does not awaken us to do good works to get a righteousness and be accepted by God.

Ephesians 1:4-5 is clear:

… even as He [God] chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him [God]. In love, He [God] predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will … (Ephesians 1:4–5, ESV)

Through Jesus Christ, we are adopted as sons.  Another verse:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4–5, ESV)

This brings us back to John 1:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God … (John 1:12, ESV)

What are the rights of adopted children of God?

a. Love drives out fear

Fear for God’s punishment on sin is replaced with love for God.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15, ESV)

This speaks of a very intimate relationship with the Father through  Jesus Christ.  The Spirit testifies with our spirits:  “You are children of God.”

Although we naturally live in fear of God because of our sins and sinfulness, God accepts us through the work of the Holy Spirit based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

b. We are not treated like slaves

We are no longer treated as slaves, but as sons, and therefore heirs.  This expression has two meanings.  

  • In the first instance, it speaks of the tyranny of sin that has been broken and replaced with a new master.  Paul, in Romans 8:12-14, writes:

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:12–14, ESV)

The righteousness of Christ dealt with sin—completely.  The price and the penalty of sin is paid.  Christ has become our propitiation—on Him, the wrath of God rested because of our trespasses. He crushed the head of the serpent.  Hebrews 2:14-16:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that He helps, but He helps the offspring of Abraham. (Hebrews 2:14–16, ESV)

Paul declares:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him. (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)

  • But we are not slaves in another sense too.  The basic principles of this world, the sacrificial system with all its trappings are fulfilled in Christ.  If Christ did not come, we would have been treated as slaves, Paul says:

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way, we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. (Galatians 4:1–3, ESV)

c.  We became heirs of God’s Kingdom

By being adopted as sons, we became heirs of the kingdom of God.  Paul writes:

and if [because] children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:17, ESV)

So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:7, ESV)

d. We look forward to a future that cannot be shaken  

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:22–25, ESV)

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11, ESV)

What obligation do we have as adopted children of God?

We will not go into this deeply, because it touches the next topic.  For the moment just this:

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. (Romans 8:12, ESV)

Or as Paul puts it in another verse:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16–17, ESV)

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24–25, ESV)

Conclusion

Lloyd C. Douglas in his religious novel The Robe helps us to understand something of our adoption into the family of Christ.  He uses the Roman practice of adoption.  

Marcellus describes the occasion of him becoming a Roman citizen to a friend named Paulus: 

“When a Roman of our sort comes of age, Paulus, there is an impressive ceremony by which we are inducted into manhood. … Well do I remember—the thrill of it abides with me still—how all of our relatives and friends assembled, that day, in the stately Forum Julium. My father made an address, welcoming me into Roman citizenship. It was as if I had never lived until that hour. I was so deeply stirred, Paulus, that my eyes swam with tears. And then good old Cornelius Capito made a speech, a very serious one, about Rome’s right to my loyalty, my courage, and my strength. I knew that tough old Capito had a right to talk of such matters, and I was proud that he was there! They beckoned to me, and I stepped forward. Capito and my father put the white toga on me—and life had begun!” 

Montgomery-Boice comments:

I am convinced that this is what Paul has in mind in verse [Romans 8:23]. You will recall that earlier he had spoken of our being “heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings” (v. 17). We are sharing in the sufferings now, but the day is coming when we shall enter into the full rights of our inheritance in glory.

 

Study

1.  Read  Joshua 24:2-3a

1.1 Who did Abraham and his forefathers worship before God called Abraham?

 

1.2 Do you think Abraham deserved to be called by God?  Why/why not?

 

1.3  What is the meaning of the expression “I took your father Abraham from the land …”?

 

2. Read Genesis 12:1-3

2.1 Abraham did nothing to deserve the grace of God, yet in these verses, we find one promised blessing after the other.  Do you see any privileges pledged for Abraham and his descendants?  If so, what are they?

 

2.2 Is there any promise of protection in these verses?

 

3. Read Romans 4:1-13 and Genesis 15:6 

3.1 Did Abraham receive righteousness before he was circumcised?

 

3.2  Did Abraham receive righteousness because he kept the Law?

 

3.3  What was the righteousness of Abraham?

 

4.  Read Exodus 4:21-23

Israel, the descendants of Abraham, is the Church of Christ in the Old Testament; what applied to that nation then now applies to the Church of Christ in the New Testament, but in a much fuller and complete sense. What does God call his people in verse 22?

 

5. Read Exodus 6:6-8

5.1 Do you think the expression “I am the Lord” at the beginning of this verse means anything special? Why/why not?

 

5.2 God’s saving act to rescue Israel out of Egypt is described in three different words.  What are they, and what do they mean in the light of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ?

 

6. Read Hosea 11:1-4

6.1 What does God call his people in verse 1?

 

6.2 Describe some of the acts of mercy that God bestowed on his son, Israel.

 

7. Read Galatians 3:26-4:7

7.1  According to 3:29, what are we called if we belong to Christ? Can you see the continued line of the grace of God’s covenant right through the Old into the New Testament?

 

People living under the Old Covenant lived “under the basic principles of the world” (4:3); that is “before the faith came” (3:23) which led us to Jesus Christ (3:24).

  • Verse 5: What did Jesus Christ come to do?  

 

  • Verse 5: How did it change our relationship with God?

 

  • Verse 6: How does the Holy Spirit help us to understand our relationship with the Father?

 

  • Verse 7: What is the privilege of being an adopted son of God?

 

8. Read Ephesians 1:3-8

In the first chapter we learned about God’s gracious gift of the righteousness in Jesus Christ: He justifies us in the salvation of his Son.

8.1  Verse 4: How can we be “holy and blameless” in the sight of God?

 

8.2  Verse 7: tells us how we are saved and by what means.  What are they?

 

8.3  Through Jesus Christ we now have a special relationship with God.  Verse 5 talks about it.  What is it?

 

8.4 As sons (children) of God, what is our sole predestined purpose (verse 6)

 

9. Read Hebrews 12:6, 10

As legitimate children of God, what does God do to make us share in his holiness?

 

God’s act of salvation: Justification

A new Covenant

Jeremiah 31:31-37 is the chapter in the Old Testament that speaks of a New Covenant; verses 31-34 is one of the largest portions of the Old Testament to be directly quoted in the New Testament.

Let’s look at a few themes in this chapter:

  • everlasting love: Jeremiah 31:3 and 20 tells of everlasting love—and surely it speaks of God’s love (which is not dependant on man’s love), and also of how He preserve those He saves
  • salvation: Jeremiah 31:7 and 11 tells about salvation that comes from the Lord, which is like a ransom paid
  • father-son relationship: Jeremiah 31:9 and 20 tells about a father-son relationship between God and his people
  • secure future: Jeremiah 31:17 tells about a secure future and a land to be inherited
  • God’s faithfulness: Jeremiah 31:35-47 tells about God’s faithfulness to never break covenant with his people.

The people broke the covenant

To make all of what we read about in the rest of the chapter possible, something extraordinary must happen: God had to make a new covenant.  Or better put: God had to renew the old.

Characteristics of the Old Covenant:

  • The Old Covenant was temporary because of the unfaithfulness of the people. 
  • The blood of animals was insufficient and temporal – over and over again sacrifices were needed to atone for the sins and rebellion of the people.  
  • The priests as mediators themselves were falling short too:  they were just like other sinners and needed blood to atone for their own sins.  

But God has not changed regarding the substance of his relationship between Himself and man. 

  • The Law both demands a perfect life, and shows the way of salvation
  • Types and figures of the old covenant pointed to Christ, the Head of the new covenant.

This means that whatever is necessary to know about God and have a relationship with Him is clear right through the Scriptures, even the Old Testament.

“I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 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. (Jeremiah 31:31–32, ESV)

The expression “husband” here means to be “lord” or master.  As master of the unilateral covenant, God exercised his sovereign right in ruling over them, prescribing to them the way they were to live for his glory.  Yet, they rejected Him.  

That a new covenant was needed, was not because a deficiency in the Law (for the Law was abundantly sufficient);  the weakness was in the unfaithfulness of the people.

Chapter 11 of Jeremiah describes the covenant-breaking and the results of it in more specific terms:

They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers. Therefore, thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. The Lord of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal.” (Jeremiah 11:10–11,17, ESV)

In short: Israel lived in a state of continual faithless unrighteousness towards God.  They broke God’s law and was incapable of doing something to restore their relationship with God. 

A universal condition

  • All of us are born with the same attitude and heart of stubbornness and rebellion.  

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Romans 3:23–24, ESV)

  • We are by nature corrupt and unable to fulfil the Law of God:  

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20, ESV)

  • Our only hope is grace:  it depends on God.  

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3, NIV)

  • To be restored to God we need someone who can stand between God and us – someone who is perfect, but someone who can take away our sin.  That Person is Jesus Christ, our High Priest.  

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15, NIV)

The New Covenant promised 

Calvin writes about Jeremiah 31:31:

“He now shows a difference between the Law and the Gospel, for the Gospel brings with it the grace of regeneration: its doctrine, therefore, is not that of the letter, but penetrates into the heart and reforms all the inward faculties, so that obedience is rendered to the righteousness of God.”  (Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations (Je 31:33). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)

The Law could not penetrate into the sinful heart to permanently change it; but the Holy Spirit, through the Gospel, applies the righteousness which is from Christ Jesus and brings about the necessary change.

To write the Law on the heart means to make it possible that the Law should rule in our hearts.  Our hearts have no inclination to conform and to submit to God without this work of the Holy Spirit. Even if we would decide to obey the Law the best we can by doing good works, we will not attain God’s righteousness.  We need the regeneration by the Spirit of God:  the Bible calls it “to be born again”:  

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, ESV)

I will be their God and they my people

In these words, we find the covenant-establishing formula.  The same is found in Genesis 17:7

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. (Genesis 17:7, ESV)

Numerous other references in the Bible confirm this: God restores his people to Himself, He makes a covenant with them, and He binds Himself to the people through the covenant.  Jeremiah 7:23-24 is a good example:

But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. (Jeremiah 7:23–24, ESV)

In these verses, the covenant-breaking disobedience of Israel is pictured.  It called for covenant renewal. 

They will know Me

The New Covenant is different from the Old Covenant:  God would send a fuller light so that they would know and enjoy Him.  The Gospel about Jesus Christ under the New Covenant is that bright light. The Gospel of Christ reveals God more openly because its truth shines like the sun at noonday. 

John Calvin comments:

People under the Old Covenant were like children, therefore God kept them in the basic principles of knowledge; now under the Gospel, as we are grown up, He favours us with a fuller doctrine, and He comes, as it were, nearer to us. (Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations (Je 31:33). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)

Under the Old Covenant, there was no perfect sacrifice to bring God’s people closer to Him.  A sinful priest who used the blood of animals could not do it, the curtain of the Most Holy separated the people from God.   It kept the people at a distance from God.  

However, when the perfect sacrifice was offered by a High Priest without sin—Jesus Christ— the curtain of the Most Holy was torn, and sinful people could enter into the presence of God.  

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. (Matthew 27:50–51, ESV)

God removed what kept us at a distance from Him, so we now have communion with God – but only by the blood shed by the Perfect Lamb.  There are just no other grounds to go to God.

After the personal sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God gave his chosen people the mercy to approach Him in the Name of Jesus Christ.  The copies of the Old Covenant have been superseded by the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. 

Sins are forgiven

Based on Christ’s righteousness God’s people under the New Covenant may know that He set them free from sin by not imputing (no reckoning) their sins to them. This is the foundation of the New Covenant: God reconciles Himself to his people.  There is no need for more sacrifices.

Sins are forgotten

I will remember their sins no more”, says the Lord about the New Covenant.

Under the Old Covenant God forgave the people their sins based on the blood of the sacrificial animal on the altar.  But the blood of any animal was not good enough to completely erase the sin out of the mind of God.  Once again Calvin writes:

“Whenever then God severely handled his people, He seemed to remember their iniquities; but when He made the new covenant, all iniquities were then buried, and cast, as another Prophet says, into the depths of the sea.” (Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations (Je 31:33). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19, ESV)

The New Covenant confirmed

Remember, our main point in this section is to point to God’s gift of justification: He gives a righteousness which satisfies Him so that we may live in a relationship with Him.  Our sinfulness and our sins disable us from doing anything that can meet the wrath of God.

The Good News of the Gospel is that God did something to restore our relationship with Him: He indeed provided our righteousness and justified us in and through the work of Christ.

The passage in the New Testament referring to this passage in Jeremiah in its entirety is Hebrews 8 and 9.  Let’s go there now.  Hebrews 8.

The primary function of the high priest was to take the blood of atonement on behalf of the people into the Most Holy to the presence of God: God’s wrath on sin had to be satisfied, and the sin of the people had to be forgiven.  This is the only basis to live in a relationship with God; only after these conditions are met could they say, “We belong to the Lord.”

Leviticus 16 is the chapter about the Day of Atonement.  It speaks of the presence of God, the priest, death, blood, forgiveness, almost in that order.

Hebrew 8 contrasts the Old with the New, and the argument pivots on Jesus Christ, the only One to provide righteousness by which God justifies us.

  • The first thing we read about is that the Old was a copy and shadow of what is in heaven (Hebrews 8:5)
  • Then, the ministry of Jesus is superior to the Old, because it is founded on better promises (Hebrews 8:6)
  • To make sure that we understand that what Jesus Christ did as High Priest, the writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31 (which we earlier looked at).
  • In Hebrew 9:1-10 the writer refers back to the Old Covenant sacrificial system with the tabernacle, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place with the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant, the mercy seat (or atonement cover).  He then concludes saying that those were:

gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation (or “new order – NIV). (Hebrews 9:9–10, ESV)

  • When Jesus Christ came
    • His tabernacle was “perfect” because it was not “man-made” (9:11, 24)
    • He entered into this tabernacle not by the blood of calves and goats, but by “his own blood” (9:12, 23)
    • He entered “once for all” – the High Priests had to do it over and over again, year after year (9:12, 25, 28, 10:1-4)
    • He gave his blood through his death to cleanse the conscience because his offer is “unblemished” (9:14)
    • He, therefore, is the Mediator of the New Covenant, for “He has died as a ransom to set them free from sins committed under the first covenant.” (9:15)
    • He ushered the church into the New Covenant because He sealed it with his blood (9:16-22)
    • He entered “heaven itself”, not the earthly tabernacle.
    • He took away once for all “the sins of many people” and will return to bring to glory those whom He ransom who are waiting for Him (9:28). He does so, and He has the right to do so because he gives them his righteousness; they now have the hope to enter his glory.  They are justified in the eyes of God.
    • He did the will of the Father by setting aside the Old to bring about the New and made us holy under Him:

“Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:9–10, ESV)

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14, ESV)

  • The New Covenant is instituted:

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds. I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (Hebrews 10:16-17, ESV)

  • Justification is completed, and the relationship between God and his people is restored:

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:18, ESV)

 

Study

1. Read Romans 3:21-26

We are created for one purpose: to glorify God.  What does verse 23 teach us about our sinful state?

 

2. Now go to verse 25:

2.1  What did God do in Jesus Christ?

 

2.2 What does this verse say about God’s justice? 

 

2.3 Verse 24: On what foundation does our righteousness rest?

 

2.4 Verse 24: What do we need to pay to acquire God’s righteousness (or: what price tag is there on living in a God-satisfying relationship)?

3.  If we are “freely justified” how do we understand faith?  Is faith something we do to be justified?

 

4. In the light of what the Bible says about Christ as the Mediator of the New Covenant (in Hebrews 8-10 as we heard it in the study earlier), how do we understand verse 22?

 

5. Read Verse 26: What does God do when we have faith in Jesus?  

 

6. Try to explain the agreement between this paragraph and 1 John 1:7-10.

 

7.  Read Romans 5:1-2

7.1  Verse 1: What gives us peace with God?

 

7.2  Verse 2: What does it mean to have “gained access” through Jesus Christ (do you remember something about Him being our High Priest)?  Read also Hebrews 9:24-25.

8.  Read 2Corinthians 5:21

God’s righteousness and justice demand that sin is dealt with – exhaustively and eternally.  Our problem is similar to the High Priest of the Old Testament: we are all sinful, and therefore we are sinners – we cannot bring a sacrifice good enough.  How did God solve our problem?

 

9. Read Galatians 3:10-14

9.1 The Galatians started out with grace, but soon find themselves on another path.  What was it?

 

9.2 Can good works, apart from faith in Jesus Christ, save anyone?

 

10. Read Philippians 3:7-11

10.1 What big discovery did Paul make about righteousness?

 

10.2 What became his overwhelming desire when he realised that his “righteousness” was worth nothing?

 

10.3 Is Paul’s desire your desire too?  Read verse 9-10 again.

 

God’s act of salvation: God’s effectual call

The Scriptures teaches us to distinguish between two types of calls:

  • A universal call
  • An effectual call

The universal call of the Gospel

Some refer to this call of the Gospel as the external or verbal call.  A valid Gospel offer includes: 

  • a presentation of the plan of salvation 
  • an invitation to come to Christ in repentance and faith, and 
  • the promise of sure forgiveness and salvation. 

This free offer may be met with indifference or outright rejection, and so the invitation may prove unfruitful. Why?

The universal offer of the Gospel is not a sham, nor a grand deception. Deception occurs only when the one who makes a promise does not keep to his side of the bargain.  

If someone hears the Gospel and does not respond to it, the fault for that person not being saved does not lie with God. The problem with unregenerate sinners is twofold: 

  • spiritual inability because spiritual death to make any successful contribution
  • moral insubordination of the person because of inborn enmity with God

1 Corinthians 2 is clear:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV)

Every person born after the fall of Adam cannot repent and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works to faith and calling upon God; this is only possible after God regenerates a sinner by giving him/her a new birth by the Holy Spirit. This means that even the good works we might consider pleasing and acceptable to God, cannot save us.  Without the grace of God through Christ, our sinful nature prevents us to please Him, and all BYO-efforts to save ourselves will always come to nothing.

Sinful man is still a free agent, able to make choices for which he must take responsibility.  In his relationships with other people he has the ability to discharge moral duties: he has the obligation to love, be honest, not covet, not commit murder, etc. 

After the fall sinful man lost his free will in regards to his salvation.  He lost the absolute entitlement to exercise free choice as he pleases in regards to his relationship with God. He is like a fish in water that can swim wherever it likes, but it is limited to water.  The sinner can only swim in the lake of sin. 

“A man always wills as upon the whole he pleases, but he cannot will himself to please differently from what he does please. The moral condition of the heart determines the act of the will, but the act of the will cannot change the moral condition of the heart.” (Hodge, A. A. (1869). A Commentary on the Confession of faith: With questions for theological students and Bible Classes; (pp. 225–226). Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work.)

The outward call shows men what they ought to do to receive salvation and therefore leaves them inexcusable should they disobey. 

The effectual call of the Gospel

“By this call, the heart is renewed, and the will effectually be drawn to embrace Christ. The outward call brings men to a profession of Christ, the inward to a possession of Christ.” (Watson, T. (1855). The Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, Comprising His Celebrated Body of Divinity, in a Series of Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, and Various Sermons and Treatises (p. 148). New York: Robert Carter & Brothers.)

When God calls, He calls sovereignly and effectively by an inward call which goes beyond the ears into the soul and into the heart. This call brings about regeneration which God achieves by the power of his Spirit through the Word.

God does not only offer salvation; He brings it about. It is God who regenerates the spiritually dead soul by his almighty power.  Nothing can resist his almighty power, which means this call is effectual and irresistible.  

The effectual call of the Gospel is a working of the Spirit in the heart of the sinner.  

  • He does not merely heighten our natural faculties and powers, but He acts upon the spiritually dead soul from within, gives it a new birth to produce a new principle of spiritual action.
  • God does not require sinners to mentally agree to the truth of the Scriptures; He gives them an understanding of the Scriptures.  
  • By the effectual call of the Gospel, a sinner is brought to life, resulting in a spiritually and moral response to the demands of the Gospel. 

When the Gospel call is effectual it regenerates the soul.  The new man in Christ has a new view of God, Christ, sin, holiness, the world, the gospel, and of the life to come. He begins to understand of all Biblical truths necessary for salvation which God’s Spirit is revealing to him.

A baby does not ask to be born, and it does not contribute to its birth. Similarly, when the Holy Spirit effectual calls through the Scriptures, his call is based on the completed work of Christ.  By the Holy Spirit sinners are born into the Kingdom of God, not by their own decision, but by God’s sovereign call.  The once spiritually dead mind is illuminated, the eyes of the understanding are opened; the heart is renewed; the will is conquered, and man is made willing to obey God’s gracious call and commands.  

The universal call and effectual call of the Gospel compared

Universal Call Effectual Call
A call from God through his Word
A call to repentance based on the redemptive work of Christ
It is an external call for all, including the elect It is an internal call, only for those whom the Spirit gives new birth
It is an universal call to all who hear the Gospel It is a call limited to those whom the Father gave to his Son Jesus Christ whom He atoned for  by his blood
It is not irresistible  It is irresistible 
Some hear and harden their hearts. Others  respond, but ultimately fall away Those ordained to eternal life are spiritually made alive to respond to the call and believe in Jesus Christ 

Study

The Gospel of Mark records the ministry of Jesus Christ in a quick succession of events:

  • John the Baptist, as the link between the Old and New Testaments, proclaimed the arrival of the promised Messiah (Mark 1:1-6)
  • The Divine approval of the public ministry of Christ when He was baptised (Mark 1:9-14)
  • The calling of the first disciples.  This calling was effectual: they left their nets at once (immediately) and followed Jesus (Mark 1:18)
  • Christ demonstrates his power over the Evil One (Mark 1:21, 39)
  • Christ heals many (Mark 1:29, 40)

All along the disciples accompanied Christ.  They learned, observed and were trained to become fishers of men (Mark 1:17).  They learned about the stubborn hearts of the Pharisees (Mark 3:5), and they observed the large crowds who followed Christ and whom He healed (Mark 3:7-10)

Mark then records something very interesting:  Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him.” (Mark 3:13) With Him were The Twelve and other who became disciples through his ministry (Luke 8:1-3). 

He then began to teach them.  According to Mark, the Parable of the Sower as the first parable Jesus told. 

The teaching locked up in the Parable of the Sower was extremely important for the Apostles and other disciples to grasp at that point of their discipleship training.

  1. Read Mark 4:13.  What is the implication of the remarks of Jesus in this verse?

 

2.  Read Mark 4:14, Luke 8:11.  What does the seed represent in this parable?

 

3.  Do all who receive the seed of the Word respond?

 

4.  In what way is responding to the Word, and bearing seed (a crop) different?

 

5.  Read Mark 4:26.  What did Jesus want the disciples to know about their future task of sowing the seed of the Word and the harvest?

 

6.  Mark 4:11-12.  What do we learn here about the universal and the effectual call of the Gospel?

 

7.  In Romans 8-10 Paul explains God’s modus operandi (so to speak) in bringing sinners to the new life in Christ.  

7.1  Read Romans 8:28-30.  What are the Divine actions of God in relation to our salvation?

 

7.2  Read Romans 8:31-32.  On what does our calling, justification and glorification rest?

 

7.3  Read Romans 9:1-5.  Were the Jews spiritually “underprivileged”?

 

7.4  Read Romans 9:5-6.  Why can Paul say did God Word not fail? In what does the Parable of the Sower help us to understand  Paul’s argument?

 

7.5  Read Romans 9:11 and John 1:12-13.  Who becomes children of God?

 

7.6  Read Romans 9:24.  Who are called into the family of God?

 

7.7  Read Romans 10:13-16.  How does God call sinners?

 

7.8 Read Romans 10:17.  What is the connection between the Word of Christ and faith?

 

8. Read 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

8.1  According to verses 12 and 17, what was Paul’s primary ministry?

 

8.2  Verse 12 and 14:  Who opened the door and who made it possible?

 

8.3  Verse 15:  Describe the reaction to Paul’s message.

 

9. Read 2 Corinthians 4:1-6.

9.1 verse 2:  to whom did Paul preach the Word of God?

 

9.2  Verse 4:  Some did not receive Paul’s message.  Why not?

 

9.3  Verse 6:  Who gives light to receive the Gospel?

 

10.  Read Acts 13:44-53.

10.1  Verse 46:  How does Paul describe his ministry? (Think about the Parable of the Sower)

 

10.2  Verses 48, 50.  How was the seed of the Gospel received?

 

10.3  Verse 48:  Who believed?  Why?

 

11.  What do you understand about the universal call of the Gospel, and the effectual call of the Gospel?

 

For further study

  • Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24
  • John 6:61-71
  • John 10:22-30
  • John 17:1-5
  • Ephesians 1:3-14
  • 2 Timothy 1:8-12

God’s act of salvation: God’s covenant

General 

In Biblical times, following a war, the nations that were involved drew up covenants (or agreements) which stipulated the conditions and obligations of both the victorious and the defeated armies.  These covenants were not pacts in which both parties contributed to the agreement on equal grounds.  The victorious king set the rules, while the defeated army promised to keep the rules in exchange for the protection of the victorious king.

These covenants were characterised by five points: 

  • who is the king (or the stronger covenant partner)
  • the historical framework which led up to the covenant agreement (pre-war conditions)
  • an oath or promise including stipulations (both parties made vows to keep to the covenant)
  • a curse for violation (what happens if the weaker party breaks covenant)
  • stipulations regarding covenant succession (safeguards to ensure that the agreement will continue into the future)

God’s covenant(s) with his people follows the same structure.

  • He, the sovereign, enters into a covenant with us, the weaker party.
  • His covenant is based on his faithful love but was needed because of our rebellion against Him.
  • He promises to be our God, gives us salvation in Christ, provides living space, and protects us by his Name through his Holy Spirit; we promise to live according to his stipulations— his Word—under the Spirit,.
  • Disobedience to the covenant agreement invokes God’s judgment and discipline.
  • The only basis on which God’s covenant can be eternal is the complete redemption of his Son Jesus Christ, our perfect Redeemer and Intercessor.

The Covenant between God and his people 

Covenant Theology underscores all theology in the Bible.   Charles Spurgeon writes: 

“The doctrine of the covenant lies at the root of all true theology.  It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, is a master of divinity.  I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture are based on fundamental errors with regard to the covenant of law and of grace.” 

1. Read Genesis 2:4-17 and see if you can identify the five points which formed the basis of God’s Covenant with Adam and Eve

  • identification of the king

 

  • the historical framework which led up to the covenant agreement

 

  • the oath or promise including stipulations

 

  • a curse for violation

 

  • stipulations regarding covenant succession

 

Adam and Eve, even before falling into sin lived in a covenant with God: it was called the Covenant of Works.  They disobeyed God, ate of the forbidden fruit, and as such, made a covenant with the devil.  They had to face to consequences: they would surely die.  

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, ESV)

The covenant of grace is 

  • unilateral (it is based on the actions of God only) 
  • indissolubly (it cannot be dissolved)
  • grounded in the merciful promises of the sovereign God. God cannot break his promise; He has sworn Himself to uphold it.  

The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful— for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:11–13, ESV)

Gods covenant fulfilled in Jesus Christ

God did not leave Adam, Eve and their descendants in misery: He promised One who would crush the head of the serpent.  

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, ESV)

God established a Covenant of Grace.  God’s mercy triumphs over judgment.  But, now the path of glory must pass through suffering for man and woman. In the promise of Genesis 3, we find the gospel in a nutshell and, in principle, the entire history of the human race.

Ligon Duncan writes:   

Covenant theology explains the meaning of the death of Christ in light of the fullness of the biblical teaching on the divine covenants, undergirds our understanding of the nature and use of the sacraments, and provides the fullest possible explanation of the grounds of our assurance. (https://ligonduncan.com/2012-convocation-on-covenant-theology-566/)

To put it another way, Covenant theology is the Biblical record of how we must understand and, grow in our understanding, of: 

  • the atonement (the meaning and scope of the death of Christ); 
  • assurance (in what does our faith rest, how we have communion with God, and how we may enjoy his promises); 
  • the sacraments (signs and seals of God’s covenant promises — what they are and how they work); and
  • the continuity of redemptive history (the unified plan of God’s salvation through the Old Testament into the New—also known as the Old Covenant and the New Covenant). 

God is holy, just and immutable (unchanging) in his promises. On the other hand, man’s utter natural sinful depravation makes him unreliable and ever untrustworthy; in whatever he does, he falls short.  

Without God’s intervention in the form of a covenant, there would have been a constant tension between God and man, making it impossible to have communion with each other.  It would be impossible to know Him, love Him, serve Him and fully enjoy anything He created.  

Man would have been left destroying himself and the world he lives in, were it not for the grace of God expressed in his covenant with man. Of this covenant Christ, our perfect Mediator is the Head.

To know God and to have an eternal hope we need salvation; we need: 

  • God to grant us a righteousness that will satisfy his holiness; 
  • God to make us what Adam was before sin came into this world – created in the likeness and image of God and man; 
  • God to make us holy; 
  • God to protect us in his hands through this life into eternity.

God’s Act of Salvation: Biblical framework for salvation

Important themes

There are main themes running through the Scriptures. To understand how God’s grace and our salvation come together, we need to keep the following truths in mind:

God

  • God, the Creator, is holy, loving, just, righteous, merciful and faithful (Isaiah 6:3; 1John 4:8, 16; Exodus 34:6-7; Nehemiah 9:32-33.) 

Man

  • Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, and were capable to choose between good and evil—however, they believed Satan, chose evil, and as a result lost their free will. (Genesis 3:1-6, John 8:44, James 1:13-15, Revelation 12:9)

Sin

  • Every person ever born after Adam and Eve is born in sin (Psalm 51:5; Job 15:14; John 3:6; Romans 5:12-17; 1Corinthians 15:21-22.) 
  • Sin separates us from God (Genesis 3:6-8; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23).
  • Sinful as we are, based on our own efforts, we don’t have the capacity in ourselves to establish a relationship with God (Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 3:10-12; Colossians 2:13).

Christ, the Holy Spirit and new birth

  • God demands a perfect redemption to make us his children.  Jesus Christ, being perfect God (sinless) and perfect man (born as a human being, yet without sin) is the only answer to our need to live in a relationship with God (Hebrews 7:18-25; 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1John 3:5).
  • Based on the perfect redemption of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us birth from above and enables us to live, work and pray as children of God (John 3:3-6, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 8:9-10)

The Bible

  • The Bible is the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God through which we know God, hear of God’s grace, know our sinfulness, and learn about the gifts of grace through Jesus Christ.  (1Corinthians 15:1-2, 1Peter 1:23-25, 2Peter 1:20-21, Hebrews 4:12)

Christian living

  • Jesus’ death and resurrection satisfied God’s righteousness: this is the only means by which God declares us righteous to be adopted as His children.  God made us holy to live holy lives, honouring Him in what we do.  (Romans 5:6-8; Galatians 3:10-14; Hebrews 9:11-14; Matthew 5:13-16, 1 Peter 1:15, 22, 2Peter 2:9-12)

Eternal life

  • Faith unites us with Christ, and faith in Him makes us share in his inheritance, which is eternal life with God (Romans 6:5-6; Colossians 2:9-12).

Application 

1.  Read through the verses under each of the headings above.  Write in your own words what the Bible says about 

1.1 God

 

1.2 Man

 

1.3 Sin

 

1.4 Christ, the Holy Spirit and new birth

 

1.5 The Bible

 

1.6 Christian living

 

1.7 Eternal life

 

2.  Now, using the structure of the headings above and write your testimony of how God called you to be his child

2.1 How did you learn more about God?

 

2.2 How did you become aware that you need salvation?

.

2.3 Once you became aware of your lostness in sin, who did you go to for forgiveness?

 

2.4 What role does the Bible play in your spiritual development?

 

2.5 How do you apply Biblical principles in your daily living?

 

2.6 Does eternity matter?  Why?

 

3. In a short paragraph apply what you know from this section to tell others about the grace of God’s gracious salvation for sinners?

 

God’s Act of Salvation: Introduction

 

Introduction

One of the recurring prayers of Paul is that Christians should grow in the knowledge of the Lord.  He writes, 

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people… (Ephesians 1:17–18, NIV)

To the Colossians, he wrote,

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, (Colossians 1:9, NIV)

Too many Christians are not growing in the knowledge of the Lord.  What led to the destruction of Israel, has become common practice in our churches: 

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6, ESV)

The knowledge which Paul refers to is clearly the knowledge of God’s revealed will in the Scriptures. 

of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the Word of God fully known… (Colossians 1:25, ESV)

 The Bible is the Word of God, and growing in the knowledge of it will inescapably result in spiritual growth.  

“If we are to grow in grace and to go forward and exercise our senses, as the author of the epistle to the Hebrews puts it (Hebrews 5:14), then we must of necessity ask certain questions and be anxious to know how the things that have happened to us really have come to take place.” (Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1997). God the Holy Spirit (p. 64). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)

Christians today simply need to spend more time studying the Bible!  Moreover, Christians need to get used to eating the solid food of the Word (1 Corinthians 1:1-3).  We can’t keep on keeping ourselves busy with the “elementary teaching about Christ, [but] go on to maturity…” (Hebrews 6:1)

The subject matter of this study may indeed be solid for many, however, it’s foundational:  once we develop an understanding of these major themes of the Bible, other things will fall into place.

About the studies

To get the most out of the questions and answers, and to grow in your knowledge of the Word of God, you would need to put and effort into reading through the studies before you begin with the discussions.

I plead with you to make an effort to grow in your knowledge of the Lord, so that, with Paul, you will be able to say, “… I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” (2 Timothy 1:12, ESV)

Remember, hasten slowly.  There is no need to get through a chapter every week.  

Go to the study meetings prepared, and share your thoughts with other; be enriched and be enriching.

May the Lord equip us all through the enlightening work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ only – no if’s, no but’s (4)

Scripture Readings

  • 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2
  • Colossians 2:9-15

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Today is the last in our sermon series from Colossians 2.  Our topic over the last three weeks was Jesus Christ only, no if’s no but’s. 

  • In the first of this mini-series, we learnt from Scriptures that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of all promises of the Old Testament. Knowing Him is knowing the one through whom God created the world, and through whom He revealed Himself as God above all treasures and wisdom.  The apostle involved himself in an agonising battle to make Christ known in all his majesty.  His prayer is the church would know Christ in all his fulness.
  • We followed with the next main point in the chapter which stresses the point that we are initiated into the family of God plainly on account of our faith in Jesus Christ.  To be in-Christ is to receive, by faith, all He accomplished on our behalf.  Based on his complete work of salvation, baptism, and even Holy Communion are nothing more than signs and seals of his gracious work — in Him, we have been given fullness.  The signs don’t save but clearly points to what God has done in Jesus Christ.
  • In the next, we learnt that moralism, legalism and even puffed up holier-than-thou spiritualism takes away from the complete work in Christ, who is the Head from which the whole body is supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews.  The person who relies on moralistic legalism, or even vain spiritualism, practices is a self-imposed form of worship with the appearance of wisdom, but is not in-Christ, and will not grow in the knowledge of Christ. In fact, such a person has lost connection with Christ.

The heart of the Gospel

Today we want to turn back to the heart of the Gospel. Read with me verses 13-15:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)

Let’s just take one phrase at a time.

Our common denominator:  we were dead in sin

Who is Paul addressing here?  Who is the “you” who were dead?  

He is addressing the Gnostics who had this idea that they had the spark of light somewhere deep in them and therefore saw themselves as better than those who did not have it. 

He is also addressing the Jews on their spiritual high horses who claimed to be part of the people of God based on their heritage along the line of Abraham, purely because they received the sign of circumcision. 

And of course, there were those who joined the church coming from raw idol worship, or even godless hedonism and cultural pride.

What is the common denominator between all these backgrounds?  In God’s eyes, they were spiritually dead.  This is the common denominator between people who are members of the church, and even those who are not:  we were all born sinful, spiritually dead, unfit for the Kingdom of God.

Sin is the great equaliser.  Those in high society, coming from learned backgrounds, leaders in the business world or political spheres, labourers sweeping the streets, washing the dishes, digging coal in deep mines, architects who design masterpieces, pilots taking responsibility for thousands of passengers, or swaggies finding shelter under a piece of newspaper—let’s add judges and druggies, the morally impeccable and the pedophile, the hardworking businessman as well as the greedy banker — we all share a common heritage: sin. 

Paul writes: 

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10, ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1–3, ESV)

But in Colossians 2:13 Paul writes to the “you”.  Who were “they”?

  God made “you” alive together with Him.  

Once they were outsiders, dead, not part of the church, straight on their way to eternal hell.  What happened?  Did they improved themselves to be included?  Some Gnostics were still trying to improve themselves to eventually get into eternity—and with them, there are scores of people who are on the DIY and BYO righteousness train leading to eternal hell.

There were some who relied on the sacrament of circumcision, and today maybe baptism as a form of acceptance into the kingdom of God.

But there were others who just received the new life in Christ and trusted God for the perfect salvation He provided in Christ.  They did nothing else, because God did it all.  

God made you alive together with Him… (Colossians 2:13, ESV)

This is God’s work of grace, forever connected to the righteousness which Christ made possible.  Listen:  

God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13–14, ESV)

The legal demands of the Law were condemning and always charging the sinner as not acceptable in God’s sight.  But out of his love, God gave his only begotten Son to go to the cross of shame to bear the sin of the world, and to die like a criminal—although He was holy, innocent and without sin.  He then nailed to that cross everything that caused death in us; He nailed the accusations against us which made us stand against God and opposed to God, and He reconciled us to God.  This is the only bases on which God will ever forgive anyone, irrespective of his background or standing.  Redemption are for those who realise they are dead in God’s eyes, unfit for heaven, opposing his holiness—but then cling to Christ alone.  It’s Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no but’s.

Because the sinless Christ met the righteousness of God by making a full atonement for those were dead in their sin, God rose Him victorious from the grave.  The gate of Eden which slammed shut when sin entered into the world and man became estranged from his Creator.  But it was reversed on Calvary’s Hill and the open grave. 

Now we’re back to the doctrine of being in-Christ.  Everything God did in Jesus Christ was beyond our capabilities—we were dead when all of this happened.  But what being in-Christ means is that what God did in his Son, depending on Christ’s righteousness only with all our heart, soul and strength, by faith all He did is now ours.  

The enemy disarmed and made a spectacle  

The Gnostics could hear this good news:  if you were thinking there is still warfare between the gods of the air for you soul, think again.  They were defeated.  

Jesus on one occasion had harsh words for the Jews who relied for their inclusion into the Kingdom of God because of the blood heritage.  He said:  

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. (John 8:43 ESV)

Now they can hear the good news:  their accuser was slain.

And it is good news for everyone who discovers the grace of God in Christ Jesus:  the battle for our souls is settled.  Our enemy is defeated.  When Christ rose He disarmed the powers and the authorities and made a public spectacle of them, in the fashion of a victorious General leading his army down the streets of the city, dragging the commanders of the defeated army in chains for every one to despise.  

Only Christ could do it.  When He was a little boy Herod wended to kill Him, but He couldn’t.  When He entered public life and the holy Spirit sent Him into the desert, He triumphed over Satan who tried whatever He could to defeat Christ.  When the crowd wanted to kill Jesus on several occasions, He plainly walked away.  When they arrested Him in the garden, He surrendered, not kicking and screaming, but willingly.  And when they thought they nailed Him to the cross, they did no know that He gave his life out of his own accord to fulfil his mission.  When He refused to rescue Himself from the cross, He died to pay the penalty of our sins.  When He rose victoriously no army, and no earthly or force in the air could stop Him.  And because of this victory, He sent his church into the world, because all power and authority on earth and in heaven has been given to Him.

Conclusion

My dear friend, do you understand why we say it’s Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no but’s? 

Were it not for Christ you’d be dead in your sin.  Were it no for Christ, you be facing eternity without hope.  Were it not for Christ you’d be against God and opposed to God.  Were it not for Christ you’d live under a burden of guilt and condemnation.  Were it not for Christ eternity would be just dark.

With Christ it all changes.  But then, you have to put you faith in His completed work only.  There is just no room for any DYI of BYO righteousness.  His righteousness is the only the Father approved of.

Do you hear his offer of grace? Do you see the door of heaven open before you?  Leave all your own efforts behind, answer the call, and enter into a life in-Christ.  Paul writes:  

For he says, “In a favourable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation(2 Corinthians 6:2, ESV)

Amen.