Living in Light of Eternity

When the evangelist Leonard Ravenhill was asked what made the Puritans so different from Christians today, he replied, “That’s easy, they lived in eternity.”  Today, we are not just preparing for the rest of our lives, but for the next billion years.  This life is merely a prelude to eternal life.  That makes our life now both extremely valuable and slight and momentary (2 Cor 4:17).  Our present existence in this sinful world is the front porch of eternity.  And how we respond to the gospel in the little time that we have will determine whether our eternal destiny is spent with Christ or away from him.  Every person that you have ever met will one day be infinitely blessed in the presence of God or infinitely miserable apart from him.  The only thing in this world that will last forever are the people who live here.

There are two common mistakes that people make with regard to eternity.  The first is the mistake of making this world our home, to build heaven on earth.  This was not the attitude of God’s holiest servants in Scripture.  As the author of Hebrews says, “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Heb 11:16).  A person who lives as if eternity does not exist will not lay up treasure in heaven but only focus on the here and now (Matt 6:19-20).  The second mistake is not improving the talents we have been given because this life is so short (Matt 25:21).  They ask, “Why polish the brass on the Titanic when it is sinking?”  This was the mistake of many of the Thessalonians who were expecting Christ to return soon and therefore refused to work hard (2 Thess 3:10-11).  But a right view of eternity recognizes that because this life is so short, we must work diligently for the building of Christ’s church because God has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matt 16:18).  That means we invest in others because they are the only thing that will still be here in the New Heavens and New Earth (2 Pet 3:12-13).

God has put eternity into our hearts and no amount of chasing after the wind will ever satisfy us (Eccles 3:11).  We should respond with the hymn writer Isaac Watts that, “All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.”  What will it take for you to follow Jesus and find lasting joy and satisfaction in him?  Salvation is both completely free and extremely costly.  It is free for us because it cost the Son of God his own life.  God’s justice and wrath were completely satisfied when Christ bled and died to take away our sin by bearing it in his body on the cross (1 Pet 2:24).  That is why salvation must be by grace alone because everything that was necessary to reconcile us to the God was accomplished by Christ on the cross.  And this free salvation will cost you your life.  As Jesus says, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).  You must count the cost of whether you are willing to repent and forsake your sin to follow Christ down the narrow road that leads to life (Luke 14:28).  The only alternatives to the gospel are despair, hedonism, or legalism.  And why would you choose a path that you know will only lead to misery?

Living in light of eternity also means we recognize that there is an invisible war going on all around us for our souls.  Angels seek to minister to the children of God while demons tempt and afflict them.  While our victory is secure, it is easy to become discouraged and depressed.  But when we look by faith into those nail-pierced hands and see the side from which blood and water flowed, we are assured of his love for us.  And while indwelling sin may remain, its day of execution is approaching.

When youngsters yell, “YOLO,” they are not far from the kingdom of God.  But the conclusion they should draw from this truth is that because they only live once, they should live for God and not for themselves (2 Cor 5:15).  Life is short, don’t waste it.

Sunday Meditation – Our Reward Is Future

“When lust is up and eager for fulfillment, all considerations of eternal glory and blessedness are laid aside to give it satisfaction. Many part with the joys of Christianity for the vilest price. A little pleasure, a little gain, a little happiness in the world, will make men part with all that is honest and sacred. A man would wonder at their folly, but the great reason is, they live by sense: ‘For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me’ (2 Tim. 4:10). Here lies the bait, these things are present; we can taste the delights of the world, and feel the pleasure of the flesh, but the happiness of the world to come is unseen and unknown, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’ (1 Cor. 15:32). This is the language of every carnal heart. Present advantages and vanities, though they are small and but trifles, have more power to pervert us than good things at a distance, and the promises of God, even, to allure and draw our hearts to God. Here lies the root and strength of all temptations; the inconveniences of strictness in religion are present trouble to the flesh, and our rewards are yet future.”

Thomas Manton

Immigration and the Image of God

The Syrian refugee crisis has once again brought to the forefront the evil of war and the barbaric mistreatment of our fellow human beings. As we read story after story of people perishing and children drowning in their desperate attempt to flee the violence of the al-Assad regime, our hearts break. The sickening cruelty of man against man and the hostility the refugees receive from those they flee to only makes the situation more tragic.

As those who profess faith in Christ, we believe that we are all descendants of Adam. There is a sense in which all men are brothers and sisters of one another. We all share one blood which makes racism and prejudice impossible for those who claim to believe in the historicity of the book of Genesis. We have all been made in the image of God to reflect his attributes and subdue the earth on his behalf instead of subduing each other.

Despite the heroic evangelism of the Muslim world by faithful missionaries since the dawn of Islam, the fruit of the church’s labor has been almost completely barren. The only Evangelical Protestant churches in Muslim countries exist in the form of underground house churches or those composed primarily of expatriates who were not born into Islam. To my knowledge, there has never been a mass revival in Muslim lands where whole communities have turned from Islam to Christ. Muslims in these countries fear leaving Islam not only because of the punishment of death, but also the worst torments of hell in Islam are reserved for those who abandon the faith and commit shirk by associating others with God. Christianity is viewed as a form of shirk by Muslims because of their misunderstanding of the Trinity which has been set in stone by the Qur’an. Surah 5:116 reads:

“And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? he saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then Thou knewest it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy Mind. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Knower of Things Hidden?”

Muhammad mistakenly thought that Christians worshiped Mary together with Jesus and God. It is impossible for Muslims to have a correct understanding of Christian beliefs because to do so would be to admit that the Qur’an misrepresents the teachings of the Christian church that were already defined hundreds of years before Muhammad was born. Combine these barriers with the lack of religious freedom that exists in the Muslim world and it makes these communities almost impregnable to the gospel. It is illegal to openly share the gospel message in these countries or try to convert Muslims to Christ. Muslims must come to Christians for evangelism or else the Christians risk being deported and losing their gospel witness.

But now these same people whom we have been unable to reach with the gospel are coming to us – we who live in countries that still have freedom of religion. But rather than seeing this as an opportunity for Christian evangelism and outreach, we have become afraid. All we can think about is terrorism and the potential danger these immigrants may bring to us. And we will not witness to those we are afraid of. If we view these immigrants as terrorists instead of those fleeing from violence to seek a better life, something we all want, they will be just as unreached as if they still lived in the Middle East. We need to prepare ourselves to share the gospel with Muslims and be proactive in our witnessing and discipleship. We must become outwardly focused instead of inwardly focused.

Remember that these people are our brothers in Adam and we want them to be our brothers in Christ as well. Viewing lost people in light of the image of God and the purpose for which we have all been created changes our view of immigrants. Remember that we too are strangers and exiles on earth (Heb 11:13). At one time we were just as lost as them. But now in Christ we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). The only alien we should know as Christians is the alien righteousness of Christ. And there is nothing illegal about that.

Sunday Meditation – An Incorruptible Inheritance

“He is a portion that none can rob or wrong you of; he is a portion that none can touch or take from you — he is a portion that none can cheat or spoil you of. God is such a portion, that no friend, no foe, no man, no enemy, no devil—can ever rob a Christian of. O Christians, God is so yours in Christ, and so yours by covenant, and so yours by promise, and so yours by purchase, and so yours by conquest, and so yours by donation, and so yours by marriage union and communion, and so yours by the gift of the Spirit, and so yours by the feelings and witnessings of the Spirit — that no power or policy on earth can ever lay a finger on your portion; or cheat, or rob you of your portion.”

“But God is a portion that the fire cannot burn, nor the floods cannot drown, nor the thief cannot steal, nor the enemy cannot seize, nor the soldier cannot plunder a Christian of. A man may take away my gold from me — but he cannot take away my God from me! The Chaldeans and the Sabeans could take away Job’s estate from him — but they could not take away Job’s God from him, Job 1. And the Amalekites burnt Ziklag, and robbed David of his substance, and of his wives — but they could not rob him of his God, 1 Sam 30. And those persecutors in Heb 10:34, plundered the saints of their goods — but they could not plunder them of their God.”

Thomas Brooks

The Anti-Trinitarianism of the Stone-Campbell Movement

The Stone-Campbell movement, also known as the Churches of Christ, was founded by Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell with the aim to restore Christianity to its primitive purity. This restorationist movement was one of many in nineteenth century America that claimed to have rediscovered the doctrines and practices of first century Christianity. While the modern Churches of Christ profess the doctrine of the Trinity, not many people know that its original founders did not. Those in the Church of Christ who are aware of this fact do not speak about it often for fear that people might consider their movement a non-Christian cult. I wonder how many people would leave the Church of Christ if they knew that their founders promoted a kind of Arianism that denies the eternal existence of the Son of God?

Barton W. Stone was more explicit in his denial of the doctrine of the Trinity than Alexander Campbell. He writes in An Address to the Christian Churches in Kentucky, Tennessee & Ohio on Several Important Doctrines of Religion concerning trinitarianism:

“Their conclusions respecting him are not to be received as true, because they were blind and knew him not. This of his making himself equal with God was undoubtedly wrong; for Jesus labors in the following verses to convince them of it, ‘Then answered Jesus and said, verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself but what he seeth the Father do,’ etc. Surely if Jesus had been equal to the Father, he would not have used such language as this, directly calculated to mislead the people.”

In the same document, he denies that the Son of God has existed from eternity:

“My own views of the Son of God, are, that he did not begin to exist 1820 years ago; nor did he exist from eternity; but was the first begotten of the Father before time or creation began. . . . He is not equal in essence, being or eternity; else he could never be subject to the Father – and such an equality would destroy the unity of God. . . . For our authority, we have already produced the scriptures. Let our brethren prove that the Son was eternal and independent; then we will acknowledge that he was eternally divine.”

His statement that, “He is not equal in essence, being or eternity” is Arianism even though Stone refuses to use that label for himself. He writes to Alexander Campbell in the The Millennial Harbinger:

“Myself and thousands of others have been called Unitarians by our enemies, though I ever denied the name. How cordially did I agree with you in the Apostles’ Creed. Were I to adopt any other besides the Bible, it would certainly be this ex-animo. Have you altered your views? Do inform me.”

Campbell responds to Stone’s letter in the same volume:

“You have long disavowed Unitarianism, and I have also disavowed Trinitarianism and every other sectarianism in the land.”

If you are looking for evidence that Alexander Campbell denied the Trinity, it doesn’t get any more definitive than that. He continues in his response to Stone:

“Many persons have been called Unitarians, and some have so called themselves, who believe in the death of Christ as a sin-offering, who reject Trinitarianism because of its unscriptural, unintelligible, and barbarous phraseology; regarding it as a system of polytheism; who, nevertheless, know not what to say or think of the pre-existent or ante-human state of the author of Christianity; some repudiating the phrases ‘eternal son,’ ‘second person,’ ‘consubstantial,’ ‘co-equal,’ ‘very God of very God,’ ‘Supreme Deity,’ &c. &c. They reject these terms because to them they seem barbarous and incomprehensible; but have no distinct idea or name for the antecedent state, relation, or character of Him that was made flesh. These differ, in my judgment, very materially from the Unitarian, who has no other use for Jesus than as a prophet, a king, or a martyr; therefore virtually rejecting every thing that concerns his high priesthood. . . . I have long taught that the Trinitarian, Arian, and Sabellian theories are wholly a corrupt speech – irrational and unscriptural speculations . . . I have sometimes seen a sense imposed upon them wholly modern, and which would ultimate in a doctrine as certainly unapostolic as either Arianism or Trinitarianism.”

He also writes in The Christian Baptist:

“In the first place I object to the Calvinistic doctrine of the Trinity for the same reasons they object to the Arians and Socinians. They object to these, because their views derogate in their judgment from the eternal glory of the Founder of the Christian religion. They will not allow the Saviour to have been a creature, however exalted, because they conceive this character is unbecoming him, and contrary to the scriptural statements concerning him. They wish to give him more glory than they think the Arians are willing to do. Now I object to their making him and calling him an ‘Eternal Son’ because I think that if he were only the Son of God from all eternity, he is entitled to very little, if any more glory, than what the Arians give him.”

Campbell was attempting to create a new understanding of God that was different from trinitarianism, modalism, and Arianism. Some have suspected that Campbell’s view of God was binitarian in nature, but binitarianism actually requires that a person believe that the Son eternally existed as God which Campbell appears to deny. My guess is that Campbell held to a form of Logos Christology that views the Son as not eternally existent with the Father as a distinct person from him.

In light of these facts, why would any Christian want to be part of the Restoration Movement? Why would you associate yourself with an organization that has its origins in denying who Jesus is? Remember the words of 1 John 2:23: “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” 2 John 1:9 is even more relevant to this question: “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” Since Stone and Campbell confessed a different Jesus from the one depicted in the New Testament, their writings demonstrate that they do not have God and are false teachers. By elevating Alexander Campbell to the position of restorer of primitive Christianity, you demonstrate that you do not really believe the phrase “No Creed but the Bible,” but “the Bible as interpreted through the teachings of Alexander Campbell.” And why on earth would any trinitarian believe that God chose to use anti-trinitarians to restore his church?

Edit – Many of the hymnals in the Churches of Christ change the lyrics of “Holy, Holy, Holy” from “God in three persons, blessed Trinity” to “God over all and blessed eternally” demonstrating that Campbell’s aversion to the Trinity is alive and well today in the Church of Christ.

I am aware that Campbell in many places referred to the Logos as divine. This is because he drew a strict distinction between the Logos which is eternal from the Son who is not eternal. This is a version of incarnational sonship that denies being trinitarian. I believe his view of God became more unbiblical over time as he distanced himself from the trinitarianism of his upbringing.

Sunday Meditation – God as Your Happiness

“Would you be certain whether you are converted or not? Now let your soul and all that is within you attend. Have you taken God for your happiness? Where does the desire of your heart lie? What is the source of your greatest satisfaction? Come, then, and with Abraham lift up your eyes eastward, and westward, and northward, and southward, and look around you; what is it that you would have to make you happy? If God should give you your choice, as He did to Solomon, or should say to you, as Ahasuerus to Esther, ‘What is your petition, and what is your request, and it shall be granted you?’ what would you ask? Go into the gardens of pleasure, and gather all the fragrant flowers there—would these satisfy you? Go to the treasures of mammon; suppose you may carry away as much as you desire. Go to the towers, to the trophies of honor. What do you think of being a man of renown, and having a name like the name of the great men of the earth? Would any of these, would all of these satisfy you, and make you to count yourself happy? If so, then certainly you are carnal and unconverted.

If not, go farther; wade into the divine excellencies, the store of His mercies, the hiding of His power, the unfathomable depths of His all-sufficiency. Does this suit you best and please you most? Do you say, ‘It is good to be here. Here will I pitch, here will I live and die’? Will you let all the world go rather than this? Then it is well between God and you: happy are you, O man—happy are you that ever you were born. If God can make you happy, you must be happy; for you have taken the Lord to be your God. Do you say to Christ as He to us, ‘Your Father shall be my Father, and your God my God’? Here is the turning point. ‘Whom do I have in heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever’ (Psalm 73:25-26).

An unsound convert never takes up his rest in God; but converting grace does the work, and so cures the fatal misery of the fall, by turning the heart from its idols—to the living God. Now the soul says, ‘Lord, where shall I go? You have the words of eternal life.’ Here he centers, here he settles. It is the entrance of heaven to him; he sees his interest in God.”

Joseph Alleine

Why Penal Substitution is Essential to the Atonement

Throughout the centuries, many different theories of the atonement have been put forward by Christian theologians. The church father Origen taught that Jesus ransomed himself to Satan on the cross in order to trick the devil into releasing his dominion over sinners. He said that Jesus offered himself to Satan in exchange for the lost world, but escaped his clutches through the resurrection which Satan did not expect. Aspects of this theory are seen in C. S. Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Aslan offers himself to the White Witch in exchange for Edmund. It does not take much reflection on this theory to conclude that it is completely contrary to the Word of God. The Atonement is not offered to Satan, but to God as an act of propitiation. Hebrews 9:14 says that Christ, “offered himself without blemish to God,” not to Satan. Many other theories of the atonement have been put forward including that of Christus Victor, the governmental theory of the atonement, the moral influence theory of the atonement, and the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement. I will explain in this article why penal substitution is essential to the atonement of Christ and why the other theories fall short of giving a comprehensive explanation for how the death of Christ saves us.

The Christus Victor theory states that Christ saves us by conquering Satan through his cross. There are many passages of Scripture that speak of Christ’s death as the defeat of Satan. One example is Hebrews 2:14-15 which says that Jesus destroyed Satan in his death and set free those who were held by him. But Christus Victor by itself cannot explain why we are freed from the penalty for our sins. Even with Satan defeated by the cross, our sins would still condemn us if they were not dealt with on the cross (Col 2:14). If our sins were not paid for on Calvary, then Satan would still have a basis for accusing us. He is called “the accuser of our brothers” (Rev 12:10). But our accuser has been conquered “by the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 12:11). Since Christ has paid the penalty for our sins (1 Pet 2:24; 3:18), Satan no longer has a basis to accuse us before God because the penalty has been paid and we are now clothed in the garments of Christ’s righteousness (Zech 3:1-5). Christus Victor by itself without Penal Substitution presents us with a god who can forgive us of our sins without his justice being satisfied. God would then be an unjust judge because he would justify the wicked without punishing them in his Son (Prov 17:15; Rom 4:5). But God can justify us even though we are wicked and deserve to die because he punished his innocent Son who did not deserve to die for our sins (Isa 53:10; 2 Cor 5:21). Without penal substitution, there can be no Christus Victor.

The governmental theory states that Christ did not pay the penalty for our individual sins on the cross, but made a change in God’s moral government by his death allowing God to forgive us by making salvation possible for everyone. I recognize that there is more than one model of the governmental theory so I am painting it with a rather broad brush. This theory states that Christ died for every category of sin on the cross by suffering as an example of what sin deserves. In this theory, every kind of sin was laid on Christ and he was treated as if he committed every kind of sin that can be committed without having every individual sin of those who are saved imputed to him on the cross. For example, the sin “idolatry” was charged to Christ’s account on the cross, but not my individual idolatry. The governmental theory is popular among Arminians because they believe that it enables them to avoid universalism since everyone cannot be saved if Christ did not pay the penalty for everyone’s sins. But 1 Peter 2:24 says that, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.”  Isaiah 53:5 says that the Messiah, “was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” And verse 12 says that, “he bore the sin of many.” The governmental theory of the atonement falls short of Scripture by denying that Christ died for our individual sins.

Another unbiblical theory of the atonement is the moral influence theory which states that Christ’s death saves us as an example which we imitate and so achieve salvation. This was the view of the heretic Pelagius who said that we can merit eternal life through good works. Contrary to the previous theories of the atonement that I have listed, this theory of the atonement is directed toward man whereas the others are directed to either God or Satan. And there are many passages in Scripture where we are called to imitate the life and death of Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 16:24 that, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Peter says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). But like Christus Victor, it fails to take into account the many passages of Scripture where the death of Christ is presented as a propitiation or sacrifice of atonement that removes the wrath of God (Rom 3:25-26). We are called to follow Christ, but it is not our following of Christ that saves us, but Christ himself. Following Christ is the result of justification, not the cause of justification (Eph 2:8-10). If we could merit eternal life, then there would be no reason for Christ to die at all (Gal 2:21).