“The Life Everlasting: A People Glorified, A Promise to Keep”

posted by R. Fowler White

Having considered the place God prepares for the life everlasting of His people, we turn finally to consider the life everlasting as the church’s hope of glorification and as the promise that God will keep.

In our day, it comes as a shock to many that the God of the Bible has no plan to save everyone without exception. In fact, as the Divine Judge who is completely just, He is under no obligation to save any sinner. Yet, because the God of the Bible is a merciful Savior as well as a just Judge, He has made known to us that His plan is to save any and all who repent of their sins and trust in Christ as He is offered in the gospel. Indeed, He has purposed to save a remnant from all nations (Rev 5:9), a multitude of sinners that no human can number (7:9).

The Apostle John describes in a remarkable way that multitude who will go into the place of the life everlasting we described in our previous post. They are the thirsty to whom Christ gives the water of life: To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment (Rev 21:6). They are those who, formerly unclean, have washed their robes: Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates (Rev 22:14). They are those who conquer: The one who conquers—the one who perseveres in faith despite suffering or death—will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son (Rev 21:7). These are the heirs of God (Rom 8:17), the Bride, the Wife of Christ the Lamb (Rev 21:9). They stand in stark contrast to the people who will suffer the second death. John describes them as the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars (Rev 21:8). They are those outside, the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (Rev 22:15). This dramatic and sobering disparity provokes us to ask, would we be among the people who will enter the place of the life everlasting? Then, examine yourself. Are you thirsty? Come and be satisfied by Christ who gives living water. Are you defiled? Come and be cleansed by the blood of Christ. Are you suffering or even dying? Come and receive from Christ that life which is without tears, death, mourning, crying, or pain (Rev 21:4).

Friends, the life everlasting that the historic church confesses is not just polite talk, is it? It is a promise that God will keep. His words, documented in Scripture, are true and trustworthy. Ponder the realities that His words hold out to all who embrace them: life will overcome death, good will conquer evil, light will dispel darkness, blessing will defeat curse! Since the beginning of history, because of God’s promise, sinners who have trusted Him have looked for these realities in that city where He dwells with His people, in that city of the world to come that is, at long last, secure and pure, beautiful and bountiful, and at rest. In other words, God has documented in Scripture that promise in which He offers us a hope like no other, a promise that is no mere soothing but empty word.

How can the Bible make such audacious claims? Because the Bible, as the documentation of God’s revealed will, makes known to us that the evils of sin and death are not eternal. Yes, they had a beginning, but because God is just, they will meet their end in the lake of fire. God is also merciful, in that He sent Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, to be the only way to life for sinful and dying people who repent and believe in Him. How is it that only Christ can save? Because in His life He was entirely faithful where sinners are entirely unfaithful, and in His death He bore the punishment sinners justly deserve. In His resurrection, God the Father furnished proof that He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness through this same Jesus Christ, His only Son (Acts 17:31). Presently, then, while seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, Christ commands sinners everywhere to repent and trust in Him as their only hope of the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting (Acts 4:12; 16:31; 17:30).

Following Scripture and using the words of the Apostles’ Creed, the historic confession of the church has been I believe in … the life everlasting. In keeping with God’s revealed plan to save an innumerable company of sinners, faithful congregations of His church make known to us that He will give a final demonstration of the glory of His mercy and His justice on the Day of Judgment. On that last day, those who have looked away from themselves to receive and rest in Christ Jesus alone for their salvation will be raised to honor, their bodies conformed with Christ’s own glorious body (Phil 3:21), and ushered into everlasting life in the comforting presence of the Lord Himself (Rev 7:15-17; 21:3-4). Meanwhile, those who have not seen fit to acknowledge God (Rom 1:28) and have refused to obey the gospel of Jesus Christ will be raised to dishonor and cast into the lake of fire to endure everlasting torment in the wrathful presence of the Lord (John 5:29; Rev 21:8; 2 Pet 3:7, 13). So, again, we examine ourselves: would we live with God, forever enjoying Him, fully and finally freed from sin and death, in the splendor of a New Jerusalem on a new earth under new heavens? Then, adapting the words of Heb 10:23, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

“The Life Everlasting: A Place Prepared”

posted by R. Fowler White

What appeal, if any, does everlasting life hold for you? For us who confess I believe in … the life everlasting, those words are a reminder that this present fallen world is not all there is. Oh, yes, we already experience in our hearts and affections the beginning of eternal joy. Yet we know that the best is yet to come, and with an understated accommodation of language, we call it the life everlasting. For our better understanding of exactly what we confess in this twelfth article of the Apostles’ Creed, we divide our final installment on the Creed into two parts: the first under the heading “A Place Prepared,” and the second under the heading “A People Glorified, A Promise to Keep.” With our topic thus divided up, let’s consider the place prepared according to Article 12 of the Creed, I believe in … the life everlasting.

When we confess belief in the life everlasting, we speak of life in what Isaiah describes as new heavens and a new earth (Isa 65:17), in what Christ describes as His Father’s house with many dwelling places prepared by Him for His people (John 14:2-3), in what Peter, echoing Isaiah, describes as new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet 3:13). It’s life in what Scripture comprehensively describes as the world to come (cf. Heb 2:5), conceived as John presents it in Revelation 21–22. Carried away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, John was shown New Jerusalem in a garden setting from which the river of life-giving water flows down the mountain to all the new earth (21:10; 22:1-2). This is more than Paradise Regained: it is Paradise Glorified. It is Immanuel’s Land where God and man will live together in beauty and in bounty.

Still further, the life everlasting is life in the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom 8:18), life in a creation set free from bondage to decay (8:21). This is life in what OT prophets foresaw as creation so transformed that former deserts become thick with blossoms (Isa 35), that the earth becomes full of grain and fruit, milk and honey, oil and wine (Isa 4:2; 27:2-6; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13). It’s life where springs of water become a river so fountainous that it fills the seas (Zech 14:8), so satisfying that the city of God is glad (Ps 46:4), so refreshing that the salty become sweet (Ezek 47:8-9), so purifying that it washes away iniquity (Zech 13:1), so healing that it sustains the health of the nations (Ezek 47:12; Rev 21:1-2).

The life everlasting is life where God and man live together in security. It’s a life that exceeds what Moses foresaw on the day of Israel’s exodus: God’s people brought into the land, planted on the mountain of His possession, with the place for His dwelling prepared and the sanctuary established (Exod 15:13, 17). It’s the life that the Prophets foresaw, where the nations have hammered their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Isa 2:4; Mic 5:10-11; Ps 46:10), and where their animals and plants, though diverse, are in harmony and balance (Isa 60:6-7, 13-14). It’s life in New Jerusalem, the city of peace whose gates will never be shut because all threats, natural and supernatural, will be no more.

The life everlasting is also life where God and man live together in purity. As the Apostle sees it, it’s life in Paradise forever fortified against all that is unclean, all that might defile, all that is evil. In other words, all who live there—both God and man—are holy and nothing profane, and thus the temple is no more. It’s a portrait that reminds us of what Moses taught us about the original Paradise, but better. We remember Eden, a garden-sanctuary surrounded by regions with precious stones and metals, a meeting place for God and man, lush with trees (the trees of knowledge and life in their midst) and brimming with the world’s life-giving waters that welled up and flowing from the garden to the four corners of the first earth (Gen 2:8-14). John gives us a word picture of the final Paradise. Life there will also be in a mountain-top city, having for its light the glory of God, a radiance like that of a very costly jewel. It’s life in a city that is four-square like the holy of holies (Rev 21:3), surrounded by gates and a wall made of every kind of precious stones and metals. Clearly, Christ, who brings His own out from this world, will yet bring them into a new world with Paradise Glorified, a new world with a mountain-top city in which God dwells with His people, at long last, secure, pure, beautiful, bountiful, and at rest.

The life everlasting that we confess in the Apostles’ Creed is, in part, life in a unique other-worldly place, a new, transfigured world to come, in which God and man are to live together forever. With such a panoramic vision before us, we cannot help but ponder the question: does the life everlasting hold for us the appeal that it should have?

We take up the second part of the Creed’s twelfth article in our final post of this series here.

“The Resurrection of the Body”

posted by R. Fowler White

Death raises questions to which most of us anxiously want answers. What exactly is death, and where did it come from? Will it ever end? Though the thought leaders in our day suppress the answers God has given to these questions, it remains the case that if we want answers from God about death, we have to take Scripture seriously. There we read that death has not always been part of human existence. It had a beginning. At creation God fashioned the first man Adam from the dust. By sin Adam failed to keep God’s commandments, and for judgment God returned Adam—and his posterity—to the dust. From then until now, the human race has been groaning for death’s defeat, aching for the body’s deliverance from death. Meanwhile, Article 11 of the Apostles’ Creed—I believe in … the resurrection of the body—faithfully points us to Scripture where we find answers about the future of the body and of death itself.

From Scripture we learn, first, that death comes to believers and unbelievers alike and that, at death, our bodies and souls are separated. Specifically, the immortal souls of believers and unbelievers go, respectively, to heaven or hell, but our mortal bodies return to dust where they are kept until the day of resurrection and judgment (Dan 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15;  Luke 16:23-24; Acts 1:25; Jude 6-7). From Scripture we also learn that the souls and bodies of believers and unbelievers will be reunited at the last day. When Christ returns, the bodies of the dead will be reunited with their souls and raised up by the power of Christ (Job 19:26; 1 Cor 15:51-53; 1 Thess 4:15-17; John 5:28-29; Rom 8:11). Believers’ bodies will be raised to honor, like Christ’s glorious body, and ushered into the new world to enjoy everlasting glory (1 Cor 15:21-23, 42-44; Phil 3:21). Unbeliever’s bodies will be raised to dishonor and cast into the lake of fire to suffer everlasting agony (John 5:27-29; Matt 25:33). Reading that souls and bodies will be reunited on the last day, we must be careful how we hear the confession I believe in … the resurrection of the body: do we hear encouragement or warning (Dan 12:2)?

In light of what’s been said above, someone might ask: just how certain can we be of the body’s resurrection? The Apostle tells us: because Christ’s body was raised, we can be certain that our bodies will be raised. Remember what Paul wrote: Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:20). In biblical terms, to be the firstfruits is to be the first sample from a full crop. That sample was seen as a sign of God’s pledge and of the people’s confidence that the rest of the harvest would follow. As the firstfruits, then, Christ is the first one to have been raised from the dead never to die again. As one commentator puts is, He is God’s down payment in guarantee of more to come, the assurance of a full harvest. Because Christ’s body was raised, then, we can be sure that our bodies will be raised.

There’s a second reason to be certain of the body’s resurrection: God’s blessed future for the human race requires it. Consider Paul’s words in 1 Cor 15:21-22: by a man came death; by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. … in Adam all die, … in Christ shall all be made alive. In the beginning, God announced the future of man: He blessed man to rule and fill the earth. But because the first man Adam failed to rule the beast that opposed God, God cursed Adam with death, and, ever since, the dead and dying children of Adam have been filling the earth. God’s future for the human race would not be frustrated, however. God promised a second man to succeed where the first man failed (Gen 3:15). As the Creed itself reminds us, God the eternal Son became that second man. In His life and death, God blessed Him to overcome sin, raising Him to resurrection life and making Him the one source of resurrection life for soul and body to all who obey His good news. You see, what Adam did does not have to affect our future. Anyone privileged to hear about Jesus should realize that He is the eternal Son who became the second man to gain victory over sin and death in order to give that same victory to all who entrust themselves to Him. United to Adam, our souls succumb to spiritual death, our bodies to physical death. United to Christ, our souls rise to new spiritual life, and our bodies to immortality. The resurrection of our bodies, then, is essential to God’s blessed future for the human race, a future belonging to all united to Christ by faith alone.

There’s a third reason to be certain of the body’s resurrection: unless our dead bodies are raised, we can’t enter the world to come. Ponder Paul’s point in 1 Cor 15:48-49. We have been like the first man Adam, with a body made for life in this present creation. Resurrection has to happen, then, so that we become like the second man Christ, with a body made for life in the new creation to come. Bodies made for this world won’t fit in the world to come (1 Cor 15:50, 53). That world will be God’s final and glorious kingdom. Neither the living nor the dead, in their present condition, can ever enter that kingdom. Our bodies must be changed to be adapted for immortal life in God’s everlasting kingdom.

What, then, is our confession about the future of the body and of death? In the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, we have God’s pledge that, as believers, our groans and aches over our mortality will end. Scripture tells us that our bodies will be delivered from death, never to die again, for death itself will die. Thus, following Scripture, we confess with the Creed: I believe in … the resurrection of the body.

We’ll meditate on Article 12 of the Creed in two installments, the first of which is here.

“I believe in … the forgiveness of sins”

posted by R. Fowler White

As we come to Article 10 of the Apostles’ Creed—I believe … in the forgiveness of sins, we’re still in what we take to be the third section of the Creed, where the focus is on the person and work of God the Holy Spirit. It might strike us as odd that the forgiveness of sins is placed in this section. After all, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus assumes that we will make our requests for pardon to our Heavenly Father (Matt 6:12). Meanwhile, the Apostle Paul tells us that it was Christ the Son who purchased forgiveness for us in His cross work (Eph 1:7). Nonetheless, we also remember that the Spirit’s ministry is to prove the world of sinners wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11). In God’s application of salvation to sinners, we can say that the Spirit makes the first move necessary for us to receive forgiveness. So, what is it that we confess when we declare, I believe in … the forgiveness of sins?

To unpack this article we’ll start with this question: do we share God’s view of sin? In Scripture, of course, God talks about sin and condemns it as failure to conform to His nature and moral law in our actions, attitudes, affections, and nature. In briefer terms, sin is failure to be or do as God requires. Sin is also described as a debt. In the Lord’s Prayer, the forgiveness of sins is the forgiveness of debts. We should know why our sins are debts. It’s because we owe God obedience; that is, we have a debt of obedience to Him, particularly when we disobey. Our disobedience, in truth, expresses hatred of and indifference to God and His requirements, quite the opposite of what we owe Him. Recognizing the reality of personal sin, then, is affirming that we aren’t what God requires us to be, and we don’t do what He requires us to do. In fact, we can’t be or do good as He requires (Eph 2:1-3; Rom 3:23; 5:18-19). Yet, as recently as 2020, almost two-thirds of people surveyed believe that most people are good by nature. Friends, if this survey is accurate, deception about human nature is rampant. The Apostle John is clear: If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. … If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar and His word is not in us (1 John 1:8, 10). The Apostle Paul is blunt: none is righteous, no, not one; … no one does good, not even one (Rom 3:10, 12). The point? Only by affirming God’s view of sin can we also rightly affirm the forgiveness of sins as we confess it in the Creed’s tenth article.

When, therefore, the God of the Bible is said to forgive sins, what does that statement mean? It means that God releases us from paying the debt we owe for our sins. It means that He does not count our sins against us (Rom 4:7-8), in that He declares our debt for breaking His law satisfied. On what basis does God forgive us? It is based on the fact that Christ has paid the debt we owe and could never repay. In saying our debt is paid, we’re not to think that forgiven sinners are like convicts who have paid their debt to society and are released from prison, but without the full rights of citizenship. No, forgiven sinners receive back the full rights of citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. God restores to friendship those who were once His enemies. He washes defiled sinners clean from all the unrighteousness of their sins. He does these things because He has seen to it that His justice is satisfied. Thus, He shows His kindness to wrongdoers who deserve only His wrath, and He renews the relationship that the offender’s sin had ruined. Yes, the God of the Bible is a forgiving God, and in Article 10 of the Creed, we bear witness to this astounding truth.

Remarkably, to bear witness to God’s forgiveness of sins is, at the same time, to bear witness to God’s justification of the ungodly. The God who forgives sinners is the God who justifies the ungodly. Thus, in the Creed’s tenth article, we do indeed confess justification by grace alone through faith alone. How so? As follows, in what has been called ‘the great exchange.’ Having transferred our sins to the Lamb of God (Isa 53:6) so that, as our substitute, the Lamb paid the penalty for our sins, God declared, “Penalty paid in full,” forgiving the debt we owed. Moreover, completing ‘the great exchange,’ God credited Christ’s righteousness to our account and accepted us as righteous (not merely as innocent) in Christ (2 Cor 5:21). It’s the same for us as it was for Abraham and David (Rom 4:3-6). God counted sinful Abraham to be righteous, though Abraham himself was not. He counted unfaithful David to be faithful, though David himself was not. God counted Abraham and David as having met His demands, though neither had done so. In effect, God the Son says of those like Abraham and David to God the Father, “She has done Us wrong, and she cannot make it right. He owes Us a debt, and he cannot repay it. Charge their wrongdoing to Me and their debt to My account, and then reckon My righteousness to their account.” Little wonder that the testimony of Abraham and David can be heard in words like these: I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness (Isa 61:10; cf. Ps 32:1-2).

Evidently, in our day, too many don’t share God’s view of sin. Instead, they insist that they’re good by nature and can earn God’s acceptance, having no need to seek from Him the forgiveness of sins. The truth is, however, that we sinners have a debt to God that we cannot pay. As such, our only hope is in God Himself, who graciously credits the full payment of debt to all who receive and rest on Christ alone. Wrapped in the robe of righteousness that He provides, we exult in our God, confessing as one, I believe … in the forgiveness of sins.

We consider the Creed’s eleventh article on the resurrection of the body here.

“The holy catholic church [and] the communion of saints”

posted by R. Fowler White

In our series of blogposts on the Apostles’ Creed, we now turn to Article 9: I believe in … the holy catholic church and in the communion of saints. Here in the Creed’s third section, we’re focused on the person and work of God the Spirit. Especially regarding His work, we affirm in Article 9 that He brings believers into fellowship with God the Father and God the Son (cf. 1 John 1:4), a fellowship realized in the church and in the communion of saints. Like Article 8, the wording of Article 9 was perfected and expanded in the Nicene Creed. So, once again, our thoughts below will reflect the additions of the Nicene Creed.

The article before us has us confessing our belief in the church created by the Holy Spirit as the holy, catholic, and (with the Nicene Creed) apostolic fellowship of the triune God. First, as a holy assembly, we confess that the church has been set apart from the world for God’s use. Though we once were slaves to sin, we have become slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:17-18), God’s sons and daughters committed to His yoke of discipleship. Second, as a catholic assembly, we confess that the church is universal, reaching as far as God’s saving will, Christ’s saving work, and the church’s mission—in other words, extending across time, place, class, and race. Third, as an apostolic assembly, we confess that the church was founded on and is devoted to the Apostles’ doctrine. The church recognizes that, in keeping with Christ’s promise, the Spirit of truth gave through the Apostles all the revelation necessary for building His church. The Apostles’ official testimony cannot be repeated, revised, repealed, or replaced. It was enough, and it was final. Through the Spirit, then, the church is one (as the Nicene Creed puts it) in her common confession from heart and mouth: Jesus is Lord (1 Cor 12:3; cf. Rom 10:9-10). By the Spirit there is one holy commonwealth, one household of faith, one temple (Eph 2:12-22), one covenant people, one olive tree (Rom 11:17-24), one body (1 Cor 12:12-13). Across all times, places, classes, and races, converted offenders have been united—made one—insofar as they are each and all washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:10-11). Therefore, together we confess belief that the church is that company which is joined together by God the Spirit, into one holy, catholic, and apostolic fellowship.

In Article 9, belief in the church goes hand-in-hand with belief in the communion of saints. All three Persons of the Godhead have been involved in creating the church. By the Father’s involvement, the church is the assembly of His children and people. By the Son’s involvement, the church is the company of His disciples, the citizenry of His kingdom, the membership of His body. By the Spirit’s involvement, the church is the fellowship and temple of the living God. The Spirit is the One who creates that fellowship, that community of which believers are a part with the Godhead and with one another. The Spirit is the One who makes believers new creatures in Christ; who gives beauty to Christ’s church through the ministries of the Word, sacraments, and discipleship; and who brings bounty to Christ’s church as He bears His fruit among us, binds us together in love, guides us with wisdom, and stirs us with zeal. All this He does for the good of God’s people, each and all. Thus, we can say that the communion of saints is particularly the Spirit’s work.

There is still more to say about the communion of saints. Through our stewardship of the Spirit’s gifts for ministry, He nurtures in us the graces of faith, hope, and love. He gives us increasing assurance of faith as He bears witness through the Word that we belong to the Lord and that we are sealed for the full harvest of our final redemption. He nurtures hope in us despite the sufferings of this present time, interceding for us Himself according to God’s will with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26-27), but also by putting us together with others to rejoice and to weep together (1 Cor 12:25-26). The Spirit also teaches us that love is indispensable, selfless, and everlasting—indispensable in that we amount to nothing spiritually when love is absent; selfless in that through love we promote the good of others such that we are fitted and held together as the temple of God and the body of Christ; and everlasting in that He teaches us that love is ours not only in this age but in the age to come. The Westminster Confession of Faith (ch. 26, par. 2), following Scripture, sums it up well: “It is the duty of professing saints to maintain a holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God and in performing such other spiritual services as help them to edify one another. It is their duty also to come to the aid of one another in material things according to their various abilities and necessities. As God affords opportunity, this communion is to be extended to all those in every place who call on the name of the Lord Jesus.”

In Article 9 of the Apostles’ Creed, faithful to Scripture, we confess: I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints. To be sure, the congregations of Christ’s church are not all that they should be in this age. We take confidence, however, from the truth that to each congregation of His church, Christ has given His Spirit and the means of saving grace both to gather His saints and to grow them. Moreover, we take confidence that Christ, by His Spirit and according to His promise, makes these provisions effective. Knowing these things, we must continue to confess, with much gladness, courage, and hope, that we believe in … the holy catholic church and in the communion of saints.

We take up the Creed’s Article 10 on the forgiveness of sins here.

“I believe … in the Holy Spirit”

posted by R. Fowler White

As we continue our series on the Apostles’ Creed, we come to Article 8 and confess that we believe in the Holy Spirit. As we do, we’re actually starting the third section of the Creed. The first section (Article 1) focused on the person and creating work of God the Father. The second section (Articles 2-7) focused on the person and saving work of God the Son. Now we come to the third section to focus on the person and work of God the Spirit.

Some describe the Holy Spirit as the “forgotten” Person of the Trinity. This is not, however, historically accurate. In fact, over the centuries, students and teachers of Scripture have made the Spirit the focus of much helpful attention. Still, with nearly 60% of Americans agreeing that “The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being,” we should concede that the Spirit is the lesser known of the Three Persons. We also do well to recognize that The Nicene Creed (AD 325, 381, 589) perfected and expanded the wording of Article 8 by affirming, “And [I believe] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son: Who together with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified: Who spoke by the prophets.” We’re not surprised, then, when catechisms and confessions from the Reformation era explained Article 8 of the Apostles’ Creed in light of the Nicene Creed. Our comments below will do the same.

Confessing our belief in the Holy Spirit, we bear witness that He is, together with God the Father and God the Son, true and eternal God. Proceeding from the Father and the Son, He is the Third Person of the Godhead. He was active in the work of creation, forming and filling the visible creation. He has been active in the work of salvation, making all things new, particularly God’s people, in and through Christ. In His ministry, He gives the definitive, conclusive testimony (witness) to the Father who sent the Son and to the Son sent by the Father. As the Spirit relates specifically to the Son, Scripture describes Him as constantly present in and with the incarnate Son, from womb (conception) through tomb (death) to throne (ascension). As such, the Spirit is designated as Paraklete, that is, as Divine Defense Counsel, Advocate, Chief Witness, Eyewitness, Character Witness to Christ, the Son of the Father. We must, accordingly, take care to receive the Spirit’s witness. To do otherwise is to blaspheme Him.

The Spirit’s ministry as Divine Witness has had two aspects: revelation and conviction. As minister of revelation, He is the One who has provided all Christ-glorifying revelation through the Prophets and Apostles, guiding them into all aspects of the truth as revealed in Jesus, disclosing to them the fullness of His person and work in His ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. Because of this ministry of the Spirit, the church should be confident that the Scriptures are Spirit-taught words (1 Cor 2:13). He who is minister of revelation is also minister of conviction (John 16:8-10): He convicts the world of sin, on account of their unbelief and unrepentance; of righteousness, on account of the Son’s ascension to the Father’s throne; and of judgment, on account of the Son’s judgment of Satan.

The work of the Spirit goes beyond revelation and conviction too. In Scripture, we learn that, at creation God, by the Spirit and the word, overcame darkness and deep and made all the world into a veritable palace of the Majestic Creator on high. Then, through Moses, by the Spirit and the word, God overcame Egypt, made Israel a holy nation, and took up residence in the tabernacle as His holy dwelling place. Later, by the Spirit and the word, God overcame the Canaanites under Joshua and David, and had the first temple built under Solomon as His earthly holy house. In the present age, since His first coming, Christ, by the Spirit and the word, has been overcoming Satan’s kingdom and making His people into God’s earthly dwelling place in the Spirit. At His return Christ, by the Spirit and the word, will overcome death, and His people will thereafter reside forever with God in His eternal dwelling place. Clearly, from the beginning, the Spirit has bound Himself to the word, and, by that bond, God has brought and will bring beauty and bounty, security and purity to all the world.

There is one more point for us to bear in mind here about the Spirit in whom we believe. Because true faith is discerning faith, we who confess faith in the Spirit will test both speakers and listeners who claim to be of God (1 John 4:1-6). Not all speakers (4:1-3) or listeners (4:4-6) should affirm that they are of God. No, according to the Apostles, speakers and listeners who truly are of God are created by the Spirit of truth (1 Cor 2:6–3:4). For wherever the Spirit of truth has been at work, speakers and listeners make a common confession that is in keeping with the Apostles’ teaching now documented in Scripture. Preeminently, they confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Eternal Son incarnate, fully God and fully man, one person with two natures, human and divine. If, then, we would discern speakers and listeners who are of God, we will look for the work of the Spirit of truth evident in their common confession of the Christ of the Apostles’ gospel now documented in Scripture.

In Article 8 of the Apostles’ Creed, following Scripture, we confess, I believe … in the Holy Spirit. We do so bearing in mind that the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error are both present in this world. How will we know the one from the other? We will know the Holy Spirit of truth because His work is to give sinners new ears to hear the Apostles’ gospel of Christ and new mouths to confess the Christ of the Apostles’ gospel. What, then, will our confession be in these days of widespread confusion about the Holy Spirit? Let’s be sure not to answer in an offhanded, cavalier way.

Our attention turns to Article 9 of the Creed here.

“He Will Come to Judge”

posted by R. Fowler White

Continuing this series of posts on the Apostles’ Creed, we focus now on Article 7: from there—from the right hand of God the Father Almighty—He will come to judge the living and the dead. Just as we did with Article 6, it’s important to go back in history to get the most out of Article 7.

Remember the question that has haunted dying sinners since the fall: Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? In the liturgy of Leviticus, God provided Moses His answer to the question: only a man undefiled by sin and death is welcomed on His mountain. Thus God made known that the way to enter His presence undefiled was through the sacrifice and the priesthood that He required. Following God’s direction, Moses set up the sacrifices and the priesthood for the first old covenant worship service, and then he and Aaron were ceremonially cleansed to enter the Holy Place to meet with God and to intercede for the people. The drama of that first old covenant worship service was not over, however, when Moses and Aaron went into the Holy Place. No, the culmination of that service was when Moses and Aaron came out of the Holy Place to bless the people as the glory of the Lord appeared to them.

It is at that point that we engage with the seventh article of the Creed: Jesus our High Priest and King will emerge again from Heaven’s Holy of Holies, descending from His seat at His Father’s right hand. In other words, we confess what the Apostles heard when Christ ascended: This same Jesus, who has been taken … into heaven, will come back in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven (Acts 1:10). In the Creed, following Scripture, we confess His purpose in returning: He will come back to judge. As we know, depending on the context, the verb to judge can be negative, or positive, or both. Both is the Creed’s point. Christ’s purpose when He returns is to hand down His rulings, whether negative or positive. The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 52, makes this point well when it declares, He will cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, and He will take me and all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joy and glory. Here we can pick up again the events that unfolded back in Leviticus. After Moses and Aaron came out of the place of meeting, they pronounced God’s blessing on the people, and all the people saw the fiery glory of the Lord, and they let out shouts of joy and fell on their faces, overcome with awe. That was the positive result of Moses and Aaron’s return from the Holy of Holies. Yet that’s not all that happened. There was also the negative result in that first old covenant worship service: Aaron’s two oldest sons Nadab and Abihu decided that any priest could enter the Most Holy Place at any time and in any manner. In response, the fiery glory of the Lord came out and consumed them. When Moses and Aaron reemerged from the tabernacle, then, Israel saw God’s glory alright—not just in His stupefying splendor, but in His terrifying anger. Likewise, when Christ returns from His seat in the heavenly Holy of Holies to judge, all will see His glory. His return will bring comfort to everyone who trusts in Christ, who submitted Himself to God’s judgment in their place and removed all curse from them. To all others, who would enter God’s presence on their own at any time and in any manner, there will only be agony and anguish.

But there is more in Article 7: dead or alive, each and all will be judged by Christ. Notice that it is the living and the dead whom He will judge. To this effect the Apostle John recounts the words of Jesus in John 5:26-29: all people who have ever lived on earth will personally appear before Christ the Judge. By His power the bodies of all who have believed His gospel will be raised to honor and brought into conformity with His own glorious body. Likewise, the bodies of all who have disbelieved His gospel will be raised to dishonor, and their souls united with their bodies in which they formerly lived. All people will appear before His judgment seat to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds and to receive judgment according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil. Those who disbelieve Christ’s gospel and remain in their sins will be thrown into the lake of fire to suffer eternal punishment, both in body and soul, along with the devil and his angels, having been expelled from God’s gracious presence and from the marvelous fellowship with Christ and His angels. Those who repent of their sins and believe Christ’s gospel will enjoy full and final deliverance, hearing their vindication made known to all as Christ confesses their names before God His Father and His elect angels and wipes away all their tears and, for a gracious reward, brings them into possession of a glory beyond all that they can imagine.

Skeptics mock our confession. They focus on the present, ignore the past, and deny the future. They ask, “Where is the promise of his coming?” but their question is no innocent request for information. Rather their question is a mockery of the truth that God intervenes in this world. In all their vanity, skeptics deliberately and conveniently ignore His past interventions. Scripture documents how God intervened to create the first world and to destroy it with a flood, to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah with fire, to destroy Egypt with plagues, to destroy Canaan with the sword, and to destroy Jerusalem—not once, but twice—by invading armies. Because of God’s supernatural interventions, the inhabitants of all of these places either perished or were deported.

So don’t be shaken when skeptics mock your confession about Christ’s return. Contrary to what they say, God will intervene to destroy the present world with fire (2 Pet 3:4-10). And that last Day will not only be a Day of Destruction, but also a Day of Judgment. From His seat in the Holy of Holies in heaven, Christ will return to judge, and all will see His glory. Until that Day, we must bear witness of His return to judge. For all who would enter God’s presence on their own, there will only be unending agony and anguish. But for all who trust in Christ who submitted Himself to God’s judgment in their place and removed all the curse from them, there will be everlasting comfort and consolation. Even so, we pray, Come, Lord Jesus.

We reflect on Article 8 of the Creed here.

On the OPC GA and Apologies

The General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church recently concluded. No one could say it was uneventful. While I was not in attendance this year, an incident occurred that I believe needs some comment. Eastern University hosted the GA this year. Very near the beginning of GA, Eastern alerted the OPC to four alleged incidents of egregious racism. Two of them were by an OPC minister (I do not know who at this point, and it doesn’t really matter, anyway, in terms of what I wish to say), attempting to make jokes, and achieving what I would call “an unsuccessful attempt at humor.” The third incident, if it even happened at all, was not by an OPC delegate or member. The fourth incident was a misunderstanding in the cafeteria later cleared up, as I understand. This is what I understand second hand, let the readers be clear, and this evaluation of the four incidents was only possible later.

At the beginning, Eastern would only tell the OPC that there were these four incidents, and that if another such incident happened, EU would enforce its zero tolerance policy (which would have the effect of nullifying the contract). Eastern conducted no thorough investigation before the communication that was read on the floor. The OPC’s reply was an immediate statement:

“The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby expresses to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly. There is no place in the church for such conduct. The church seeks to magnify and honor Christ as the Creator of every human being, each one reflecting dignity and value as the image of God. Therefore, in accordance with God’s Word and the two great laws of love, we repudiate and condemn all sins of racism, hatred, and prejudice, as transgressions against our Holy God, who calls us to love and honor all people. In keeping with the law of God and the right order of the church for Christ’s honor, we resolve to deal directly and biblically with any such sins of hatred committed by members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In keeping with the gospel, we resolve to offer our assistance to Eastern University to confront offender(s) and seek reconciliation.”

As I understand it, no amendment was effectively allowed to occur, and very little time allowed to dissent or object. This “apology” (I put this in quotation marks since, as I understand it, the intent was not an apology, though it seems to have been interpreted as one by EU) was issued on the basis of witnesses, but not a thorough investigation to examine whether there might have been mitigating circumstances, or whether the alleged offences amounted to what Eastern thought they did. As it turned out (from where I sit, admittedly looking at this from a distance), there was little to apologize for in the end. The most egregious was the third, which was not committed by an OPC member/delegate at all. The first sentence is one I still regard as problematic, even though my understanding of what was meant has been tweaked by people in the know. The “disgust” of the first sentence is at the sins reported, and is not meant to imply that the alleged offender was automatically guilty. While this is the intended meaning, it could easily be interpreted as an actual apology. It seems to have been so interpreted by EU, which pronounced the matter as closed upon receiving this communication. This whole situation raises some very important questions in my mind.

Why did we make an apologetic sounding statement before conducting a thorough investigation? Why did Eastern University shoot first and ask questions later? While I am told they cooperated with the OPC in a cordial fashion afterwards, why the ultimatum at all? The ultimatum makes it sound as though they already believed the initial reports. The statement of the OPC (which kinda sorta looks like an apology, or at least has an apologetic tone to it) in its effect, is easily misunderstood. I am getting lots of different reactions as to what it means already. Why was no amendment effectively allowed to the apology? Why was pressure exerted to pass this “apology” with no dissent? The whole thing was rushed in its adoption. Apparently, the “apology” was enough for Eastern, and they thought the matter closed. Why, when no thorough investigation had been done up to that point? From where I am looking, there were no incidents of egregious intentional racism, only misunderstanding, and possibly lack of wisdom, certainly not intentional racism. At the very least, it seems clear that the OPC GA should not be held at Eastern University again, if “guilty until proven innocent” is going to be their mindset.

UPDATE: I am getting lots of valuable feedback from members of the GA who were present, and they are refining my understanding of what went on. I have already updated the post twice, and I expect to update it more to achieve greater accuracy. There are many different perspectives already on what went on that I have heard, many of them contradictory of each other. It will probably take some time before a final understanding of what happened is actually possible.

“He Ascended into Heaven and Is Seated”

posted by R. Fowler White

Taking up again this series of posts on the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, we focus this time on Article 6: He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

To appreciate the riches of this article, we should go back in history, back to the beginning of creation to remember that, when God created man male and female, He gave them a home in a holy garden paradise at the top of His holy mountain. There, God would have lived together with our parents in beauty and bounty, in security and purity. After they sinned, however, God drove them from His mountain paradise and stationed angels to keep them from returning to His summit in their state of sin and death. From then on, the issue that has haunted dying sinners was, who will ascend the hill of the Lord? Especially when Israel arrived at Mt Sinai, the issue was, where is the sinless, never-dying man qualified to return to God’s holy presence on His holy mountain top? Even when Israel entered the land and arrived at earthly Mt Zion, the issue was still, where is that man qualified to ascend God’s holy mountain to live together with Him? All of OT history and prophecy was about the search for and the promises of that qualified Man to come. So, we should ask ourselves, have we found that Man yet? Are we even searching for Him? The good news of the NT is that that promised Man has arrived, that that glorified Man has returned to the summit of God’s holy mountain. In fact, following Scripture, that good news is the focus of the Creed in Article 6.

The article begins with the confession that Christ ascended into heaven. The previous articles of the Creed confess that the Eternal Son came from heaven to earth. In the sixth article, we confess even more: that the incarnate Eternal Son returned from humiliation on earth to exaltation in heaven. To grasp what the ascension is about, we should remember the picture of ascension in the order of tabernacle worship. Specifically, we should look back at the tabernacle and at the horizontal movement of the high priest from its outer court into its innermost court. His movement was a divinely designed picture of the qualified Man, the sinless and never-dying Man, ascending God’s holy mountain to return to His holy presence at the summit of His holy mountain. Thus, to watch Jesus ascend to heaven as the disciples did was to watch the incarnate Eternal Son ascend to the heavenly Holy of Holies to take up residence on heavenly Mt Zion in heavenly Jerusalem.

In fact, more than a simple return to heaven, His ascension tells us two other important facts. First, it tells us that Christ was being installed as the High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. It’s vital to notice that Jesus fulfills His priestly office from heaven. Indeed, He does so because He is not of the earthly priesthood, which can only serve the earthly copy and shadow of the original heavenly sanctuary (Exod 25:40; cf. Heb 9:23-24). Christ serves only in the heavenly original, where the earthly priest could not. This is to our great advantage as sinners. As priest, Christ offered Himself once for all as a spotless sacrifice to God to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for us, intervening for our interest from His throne.

Second, Christ’s ascension tells us that He was being installed as King in heaven. The Father installed His resurrected Son as King of the nations, commanding sinners everywhere to repent and believe in Him as their only hope of salvation from the wrath to come. As King, He calls His chosen people out of the world, bringing them under His power while restraining and overcoming their enemies and then, at the last day, carrying out just retribution against all who neither know God nor obey His gospel. In short, Christ powerfully orders everything for His own glory and the well-being of His people. Thus, when we confess that Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, we declare that the Father has installed Christ as both the Priest and the King of His appointment.

We also confess in Article 6 of the Creed that Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. By this witness we tell the world that we know where the (still) incarnate Christ now is. He is in the heavenly Holy of Holies, on the heavenly holy mountain top where the heavenly capital of the universe is. We might be inclined to ask, why does it matter where Jesus is now seated? Because His location at the Father’s right hand tells us and others that He occupies the seat of highest favor with God the Father, the place of supreme power and cosmic kingship, as the one and only Mediator between God and man. In the heavenly sanctuary upon heavenly Mt Zion, He is not only accessible to all who take refuge in Him; He is also powerful to lavish upon all who believe, anywhere in the world, all the benefits that He purchased for them.

In confessing that Jesus Christ has taken His place at the Father’s right hand, we note emphatically that He is seated. What does it matter not only where He is seated, but also that He is seated? Because His seated posture tells us that He has offered the last sacrifice. The many Levitical priests were continually offering the same ineffectual sacrifices, and they were always standing (Heb 10:11): there was no chair in the earthly tabernacle. Christ, however, has taken His seat, having offered the single, permanently powerful sacrifice. No longer standing, He is seated … He has taken His seat. He is thus a priest at rest because His work of sacrifice is finished. By the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all, sins are forgiven. Oh, to be sure, His work of intercession continues. Our great high priest is now in office, in session, to intercede for all who believe, pleading the merits of His sacrifice of obedience on earth to be applied to them, answering all the accusations against them, making sure they have peace of conscience despite their daily failings, welcoming them without hesitation to the throne of grace, and accepting who they are in Him and what they do for Him.

When we bear witness that Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and is seated at the Father’s right hand, we make known that there is hope for dying sinners who would live forever with God. That hope is in Jesus Christ, God the Son incarnate, the sinless, immortal, and glorified Man, who has returned to the summit of God’s holy mountain. In His life He was entirely faithful where we sinners are entirely unfaithful. In His death He bore the punishment we sinners justly deserve. On the third day He rose again from the dead, and forty days later He ascended from earth to heaven to take His seat at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Therefore, with one voice we gladly confess that in Christ alone we find the sinner’s only hope of salvation from the wrath to come.

We turn our attention to Article 7 in the Creed here.

A Change of Opinion

Reed DePace


Getting ready for the PCA’s general assembly meeting next week, I thought I might offer an opinion on one of the issues facing us. I don’t expect my opinion is any more important than anyone else’s. Neither do I expect that it is inconsequential. Rather, given the doctrine of the plurality of elders, and the Spirit’s use of that plurality in Jesus’ rule of his church, I expect offering my opinion is part of my obligations in seeking the peace and purity of our denomination. There are certainly other opinions that are both more intelligently examined and expressed. Nevertheless, to the degree I’m about an average batter, some of my fathers and brothers may find an observation or two here helpful in their thinking on this issue.

I offer this opinion knowing that there will be a number of fathers and brothers who disagree with me, some mildly, and others thoroughly. I mean no disrespect toward them or anyone, and ask your forbearance in reading my words. I promise I am seeking to do my best to write with the graciousness that is the fruit of the Spirit who unites us to the gentle and lowly One. Finally, with regard to differences of opinion, while I sense the Spirit has led me to a stable concluding conviction in this matter, I remain (as appropriate) humbly open to challenges to my opinion.

This opinion is with regard to the presence of what is generally (now, at least) identified as Side B theology. I’ll not seek to define this further, as this has been discussed, in some detail, since beginning right before the first Revoice conference in the summer of 2018. If for some reason a reader needs more background on the subject, there are numerous online resources to access. Sifting through a few will yield a sufficient background understanding.

To state my opinion up front: I do not believe Side B theology (SdB) is biblically sound, and therefore it should not be present in the ministry of the PCA. Let me sketch this out a bit, before turning to a specific application of this opinion.

SdB is at best premised on the moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD) model of the gospel and its ministry. This is not a claim that SdB in all its features expressly lines up with all the features of MTD (i.e., point for point). E.g., others may find deistic connections between the two, but (so far) I have not. Thus I am not asserting such a connection.

Rather, I am asserting connections with regard to moralisms and therapeutic aspects. SdB begins with rightly (in my opinion) bemoaning the harm done by a moralistic ministry of the gospel on LGBTQ issues (albeit, in other denominations, and none in the PCA). But then instead of jettisoning that flawed model of the gospel, SdB offers a gospel that gets stripped of moral expectations and offers nothing more than therapeutic solace. SdB proposes that the gospel ministered to LGBTQ sufferers is one that consoles them in their suffering, denies (functionally) any possibility of change, and teaches (flesh-based) strategies for living with (coping under a lifetime of suffering) unfulfilled sexual desires that are (in some manner) essential to one’s being.

In short, SdB offers a gospel to LGBTQ folk that proposes a neutering that doesn’t actually work. This is horribly offensive to both the LGBTQ and God in whose name this neutered gospel is offered. I recognize these are strong words, possibly even read as offensive to those supporting SdB. Please acknowledge that I’ve intentionally chosen such language out of love for God, the LGBTQ, and my fathers/brothers who support SdB. The intentions of SdB are indeed noble (to alleviate the LGBTQ’s suffering). Yet it offers an alleviation that relies on the same foul fleshly resources that created the problem. In principle, we all know that won’t work. Might a closer scrutiny of SdB’s litanies demonstrate this principle is present?

Shifting gears a bit, it is most likely that none of the overtures before us at this GA address this general opposition to SdB. (I struggle to consider what such an overture might look like.) Yet, there are a number of overtures that address what might be helpfully called a particular application of denying SdB’s presence in the PCA. Specifically, the overtures that address LGBTQ men serving as officers in the PCA are such applications.  Without speaking to any one of these overtures specifically, I’d like to offer an opinion with regard to LGBTQ men serving as officers.

It is vital that we recognize that the application in view is ONLY applicable to the question of who is biblically qualified to be an officer in Christ’s church. This suggests two relevant considerations of what is NOT in view vis-à-vis contemporary hot-button issues: LGBTQ members and women officers.

With regard to the first, in the application of SdB to the question of church officers, we are not discussing membership in a PCA church. Anyone who makes a credible profession of faith in Christ, as examined by the elders of that church in accordance with the doctrinal explanations in the Westminster Standards (and the practical explanations in BCO), is eligible for membership. To be explicit, and thereby asking all readers to NOT make this error, LGBTQ individuals can make such a credible profession of faith in Christ, and so can be warmly welcomed into membership in PCA churches.

With regard to the question of women officers in the PCA, this application of SdB is even more not in view, simply because it is irrelevant to the question. We agree that God’s word (and our standards, in submission to the Bible) already joyfully submit to God’s will for the roles of men and women in the church.  Specifically, we already agree that women will NOT be called by the Spirit to serve in any capacity reserved for church officers, and so we will NOT install them in such callings (formally or functionally). Thus, while this SdB consideration is relevant in denominations allowing women officers, it is not in the PCA.

The short of it here is that no one should read this opinion as categorically denying any LGBTQ individual from membership, nor an LGBTQ woman member from her otherwise rightful callings in any PCA church.

What is in view is the qualification of any man (male member of a PCA church) who seeks to be an officer in a PCA church. If such a man:

— Uses the world’s definitions in any manner to describe his sinfulness with regard to LGBTQ issues, then to that degree he raises a strong presumption that he is not above reproach. This is simply a baseline application of what it means to be above reproach, namely that a man is known for a profession and practice of faith in Jesus that expressly marks him as different from the world (1Ti 3:7, Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders …).

— Professes that he is still actively engaging in any LGBTQ sin, including internally to the extent that he has not over a sustained period of time seen any diminishment of such sin (e.g., desire, motions toward) then he is not above reproach. This is simply a baseline application of what it means to be marked as someone who previously was marked by such sins, but is no longer (1Co 6:11, and such were some of you …).

In either of these cases, such a man is not qualified for office in Christ’s church. To be specific, in accordance with the declared will of God in the Scriptures, a man marked by either of these conditions has not experienced the Spirit’s call to office in the church (nor can he, unless/until these conditions no longer apply).

I recognize that these are but summaries of the considerations in view. Even when agreed with there are still things that require a bit of unpacking. In particular, I don’t propose these opinions actually resolve the issues before us. Instead, I believe they are a necessary starting point, agreements that must be in place before we can hope to, in unity, determine how the Lord would have us address these things.

Concluding here, I recognize that these are difficult words for some of my fathers/brothers to read. With sincerity I appeal to the Spirit for, I affirm that I’ve offered them solely to be of help in our deliberations. With confidence in our Savior’s work among us, reed depace.

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