On the Contrast between the Promise and the Law

posted by R. Fowler White

As a complement to the three recent posts on the Hebrew Roots Movement (here, here, and here), consider the following synopsis of Paul’s argument in Gal 3:1–5:1, where he expounds the contrast between the Promise and the Law, between the Abrahamic covenant and the Sinai covenant. Put differently, in those chapters, the Apostle makes an inter-covenantal argument in which he contrasts Christ and the Law.

We might begin by asking, Why would Paul stress the Promise/Law contrast to the Galatian churches? I maintain that he does so because Paul’s opponents at Galatia (2:4) were teaching a heretical view of how to obtain justification and all the other eschatological blessings of Abraham. Specifically, contrary to the false brothers’ position, the Apostle insists that the Law is not the way to obtain those blessings, whether as an alternative to Christ (i.e., law-keeping without Christ) or as a supplement to Christ (i.e., law-keeping plus Christ). Christ is the only way, Christ alone is enough, to secure those blessings. To see how Paul’s argument unfolds, we will break it down section by section.

The “follies” at Galatia (Gal 3:1-9). The issue that Paul’s opponents had created in the Galatian churches can be reconstructed from several places in the letter. We’ll take as an example 3:1-9. There, Paul expresses his astonishment at the foolish Galatians. He lays bare their foolishness by highlighting the contrast between the way they had begun their Christian lives (3:3b) and the way they were now finishing their Christian lives (3:3c). They were at least seriously considering a way other than the one with which they had started (cf. you who want [or desire] to be under the Law, 4:21). The Galatians had begun their new lives under God’s promised blessing: it was by hearing with faith that He had provided them the Spirit and had worked miracles among them (3:2, 3, 5)! Misled by Paul’s opponents, however, the Galatians were, apparently, submitting to doing the works of the Law (3:3) and, as he will add later, to circumcision (5:2-3). The result of these choices was that they are now finishing under God’s threatened curse (3:10; 5:4; cf. Rom 2:25)! Evidently, the false brothers were luring the Galatians, if they had not already duped them, with a false gospel, a gospel different from that of the Apostle (1:6). So, Paul is required to refute that false gospel, and he does so by arguing both for and from the true gospel of Christ. To rebut the “follies” at Galatia, he takes the Galatians through the history of the Promise and the Law. From that history, he reminds them of several pertinent facts.

Redemptive history lesson #1: Before the Law came in (Gal 3:6-9). First, as summarized in 3:6-9, Paul shows the Galatians that, even before the Law came in, the way to obtain the eschatological blessings of Abraham—including justification (3:6, 8)—had not been by doing the works of the Law, but by hearing with faith. In fact, the way the Galatians were now seeking those blessings was contrary to the way in which God had credited righteousness to Abraham himself (3:6). Clearly, before the Law had been enacted, it had been by faith that God had justified Abraham. In addition, the way the Galatians were now seeking those blessings was also contrary to the way in which God had previously determined to credit those blessings to all among the nations who would be Abraham’s true heirs (3:7-9). Therefore, even before the Law came in, doing the works of the Law had not been the way to get the eschatological blessings that Abraham received.

Redemptive history lesson #2: What the Law itself testified (Gal 3:10-14). Second, Paul goes on to explain in 3:10-14 that the Law itself makes it abundantly clear that it is not those of the Law, but those of faith, who obtain eschatological blessings. The Law spells out this truth in its declarations about those who break it (3:10b): it curses each lawbreaker (3:10; cf. 3:13) and justifies no lawbreaker (3:11a; 2:16). In fact, the Law testifies that the curse of death falls on all who fail to keep it, while the blessing of life belongs only to him who does keep it (3:12b; cf. Rom 10:5). Consequently, the Law itself shows that its violators have no hope of justification, life, or any other eschatological blessings by their own doing of the works of the Law. Their only hope is by hearing with faith (3:11b), faith in the one Seed of Abraham who would be justified by the Law and would become a curse to redeem all under the Law who believe (3:13), even Christ. By so much, the Law establishes that it is not those of the Law, but those of faith, who obtain the eschatological blessings of Abraham.

Redemptive history lesson #3: After the Law was enacted (Gal 3:15-18). Third, going back in 3:15-18 to the Law’s enactment after the Promise, Paul insists that the Law neither annulled nor amended the Promise. Specifically, the Law’s introduction did nothing to change the means of securing Abraham’s eschatological blessings from faith to law-keeping. In addition, the parties to the Promise remained the same: Abraham and his seed, Christ—that is, Christ and those of faith blessed in Him (3:16, 29). Thus, even after the Law was enacted, the means of obtaining eschatological blessings was, as it always had been, by faith, not by law-keeping.

Redemptive history lesson #4: Why the Law then? (Gal 3:19-22). Fourth, if history shows that those of the Law have never been heirs of Abraham’s eschatological blessings, then the question arises, Why did God enact the Law (3:19-22)? According to Paul, God put it in place for a purpose different from that of the Promise (3:19b, 22), for a duration different from that of the Promise (3:19c), and by a procedure different from that of the Promise (3:19d-21).

The Law’s purpose (Gal 3:19b, 22). As for its purpose, the Law was added to deal with transgressions as breaches that, if not handled properly, would jeopardize the fulfillment of the Promise, whether the transgressors were Gentiles from outside or Jews from inside (3:19b; cf. 2:18). Moreover, the Law was added to keep transgressors under its yoke and in its custody so that the Promise by faith in Christ might be given to those transgressors who believe (3:22). The Law, then, was not introduced as the way to obtain Abraham’s eschatological blessings, but as the way to handle transgressors, subjecting them to its temporary probationary custody and pedagogy.

The Law’s duration (Gal 3:19c). Regarding its duration, unlike the Promise, the Law was revocable and thus temporary in that it was in effect only until the Seed for whom the Promise was reserved should come (3:19c; 4:4). That Seed having arrived, the Law’s probationary tenure came to its proper end; by contrast, the Promise, being irrevocable, is alone in operation to convey eschatological blessings.

The Law’s ratification (Gal 3:19d-21). With respect to its ratification procedure, the Law was enacted through angels by a mediator, whereas the Promise was enacted by God alone (3:20). That is, the Promise was guaranteed with an oath by God who therein revealed Himself to be the Divine Surety of the Promise for Abraham and his heirs (Gen 15:7-17). That oath was, moreover, progressively revealed to be that of God the Father to God the Son, the Surety proper (Ps 110:4; Heb 7:20-22). Therefore, it is God alone, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit (4:4-6), who is able to dispense the eschatological blessings of the Promise. The Law’s mediator, not being a party to the intratrinitarian pact, was not then and is not now able to dispense those blessings.

Redemptive history lesson #5: It is written. Lastly, as a kind of coup de grâce, Paul challenges the Galatians in 4:21–5:1 to hear once more what the Law itself says. He reminds them that it is written that Abraham had two sons by two different women (4:22). Both sons were circumcised, but only one was named Abraham’s heir. How was it that that one son was his heir? It was not according to circumcision or the Law, but according to the Promise. Ishmael, the disinherited son, was begotten of Abraham’s confidence in the flesh; Isaac, the heir, was begotten of his confidence in the Spirit. The mother of Ishmael was identified with the Law, the covenant that bears children into slavery and is linked to Jerusalem below, an earthly city of slaves. The mother of Isaac was identified with the Promise, the covenant that bears children according to the Promise and is linked to Jerusalem above, the heavenly city of the free.

Paul’s overall point reduces to this: if the Galatians hear the Law rightly, they will learn who are Abraham’s heirs and who are not. More than that, they will know to throw out any pseudo-evangelists who require circumcision and law-keeping. They will do so because the Law itself, rightly read, clarifies who Abraham’s heirs are and also prescribes the rejection of their persecutors, particularly false teachers. The Law, then, was never put in place to dispense the eschatological blessings of Abraham, and so it has never been the way to obtain them. As it was at that time, so it is now (4:29-31).

Love and Truth: Do We Sacrifice One for the Other? (2 John)

posted by R. Fowler White

In Scripture, Christians are called to devote themselves both to truth and to love. But can we pursue one without sacrificing the other? To get the bottom of this question, it helps us to reflect on John’s second letter. For our purposes here, we’ll understand the sender, the Elder, to be the Apostle John and the recipients, the elect lady and her children, to be a congregation and its members (as a whole and in its parts) or perhaps a mother church and the congregations born (planted) out of it.

The letter’s opening (2Jn 1-3) stands out for the way John describes the recipients’ relationship to himself and to others. First, he indicates how the recipients are related to him: whom I love in [the] truth. John most probably means that his love for them is not merely sincere, but is consistent with and required by God’s revealed truth. It is a love based in the truth they share. In fact, he will confirm this in 2Jn 7, 9. Second, he describes in a most striking way how the recipients are related to others: all who know the truth love the elect lady and her children in [the] truth. And why is this the case? He tells us: because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever (2Jn 2). In other words, they were bound in love because they were bound in truth. The love they shared was based in the truth they shared. After expressing his gratitude that these believers were living according to the truth despite opposition (2Jn 4), John takes up his exhortation in 2Jn 5-11.

John is careful to start off his appeal by establishing the link between truth and love. Basically, he says, “live your lives in keeping with love, just as y’all are living your lives in keeping with truth” (2Jn 5). Commitment to truth will bear fruit in commitment to love, and devotion to love will bear fruit in devotion to truth. Before moving on, John emphasizes, as he does elsewhere, that this duty to love is not new, novel, innovative, or even original with the Apostle himself. It’s the same obligation we’ve heard from the beginning. Whether we’re talking about the teaching of Jesus during His earthly ministry (Jn 13:34), the code of Moses at Sinai (Lev 19:18), or a duty binding even on Adam and his children (1Jn 3:11-12), our duty to love is a longstanding responsibility.

After John briefly reminds us of our duty to love, he states his reason for recalling that duty: For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist  (2Jn 7). Adding to his portrait of the deceivers, he says in 2Jn 9 that every heretic goes too far, goes beyond the bounds of truth—the teaching of Christ—documented by His Apostles. False teachers are often heard quoting some new word from the Holy Spirit to take us beyond the Apostles’ eyewitness teaching. The Holy Spirit, however, does not take us beyond the teaching of the Apostles. He gives us light to accept and abide in the revelation He has given. It is for this reason that we’re to devote ourselves continually to the Apostles’ doctrine. It is also for this reason that serious Christians will learn from the history of doctrine: that dimension of church history is the locus of the Spirit’s work of illumination, telling us where the boundaries of orthodoxy have been historically. Certainly, only Scripture is the rule of Christian faith and practice, but the church’s historic confessions and creeds are a help to us. They guide us as we strive not to progress beyond the Apostles’ doctrine but to progress in it.

Notice then that to lay the groundwork for the believers’ proper attitude toward heretics and their heresy, the Elder has deftly linked love and truth. He insists that genuine Christian love will discriminate against those who oppose the truth. Indeed, authentic Christian love means protecting ourselves and others against deception by false teachers. John reminds us that just as adherents to Christian truth know that love matters, so devotees to Christian love know that truth matters. Therefore, the Elder tells the elect lady and her children—congregations of Christ’s church—to watch themselves (2Jn 8), maintaining their composure as they work firmly but patiently with those who oppose God’s revealed will (cf. 2Tim 2:24-26). Such vigilance, John says, is particularly necessary for a congregation because to allow heretics or heresies to go unopposed puts the fruitfulness of that congregation’s own ministry in jeopardy. In fact, John says more: he highlights what a congregation should never do in response to a false teacher: do not receive him into your house (i.e., your house church) or give him any greeting (2Jn 10). To get John’s point here, we need to bear in mind a few critical features of hospitality in the biblical world: it wasn’t about inviting someone into our home for coffee or even a meal.

One feature of ancient hospitality is that it was commanded by God (e.g., Heb 13:2) and was directed toward traveling strangers (e.g., Gen 18:1-8). Remarkably, our hospitality, particularly toward itinerants such as the Apostles, will be one criterion of our judgment by the Son of Man, the King (Matt 25:31-46). Second, hospitality sent a message to those who saw it practiced: it announced that Christians who hosted itinerants were sponsoring them and affirming their standing as Christians to outsiders. In fact, part of hospitality was to welcome itinerants, a greeting that amounted to recognizing their good standing as Christians (cf. 2Jn 11). In short, Christians showing hospitality to itinerants was an act of shared Christian love.

With that background in mind, John is quick and emphatic to add here that hospitality to itinerant strangers is never to be indifferent to truth. His point to the elect lady and her children, then, is clear enough: “Don’t show hospitality to known false teachers or their disciples. To do so would be to give them a platform to promote their heresies and thus to become complicit in their evil deeds.”

So, says the Elder, let those entrusted with the ‘ministry of the keys’  in Christ’s church (cf. Matt 16:19) be careful to protect those in their charge. Just as they examine prospective members and officers of a congregation, so let them also examine itinerants such as missionaries and guest speakers. Let them also carefully counsel individual families on their response to itinerant heretics lest their homes become a snare of the devil. Why do this? Because Christians are devoted both to love and to truth. In other words, authentic Christian love means always protecting ourselves and others against false teachers and their teachings.

The Truths of Which We Now Sing (1 Tim 3:16)

posted by R. Fowler White

The Apostle Paul wrote in First Timothy 3:16 (NASB95): By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. 

As we have entered another season of celebrating the incarnation of God the Son, we sing of that great mystery of godliness that, as expressed in the phrases of 1 Tim 3:16, has now been revealed in Christ. So let’s be clear: by mystery we don’t mean something esoteric or cryptic, but rather truth made known only by divine revelation. About this particular mystery there is said to be common consent in God’s confessing church. It is a mystery summarized here in six lyrical phrases from what was most probably an early Christian hymn, sung in three stanzas of two lines each. Let’s consider the truth revealed in each line.

We sing of the incarnation of Christ: He who was manifested in the flesh. According to the Apostle Paul, our song begins with the fact that that Child in the feeding trough was the pre-existent Son of the Father, God of God, God with God, who has permanently taken to Himself human nature, having become forever thereafter one Person with two natures, divine and human. Miraculously conceived and preserved from sin’s defilement by the Holy Spirit, His birth began His suffering. That suffering became hostility and insult; then betrayal, abandonment, scorn, rejection, condemnation; then torment, facing the terrors of death, feeling and bearing the weight of God’s wrath as a sacrifice for sin, enduring painful, shameful, cursed crucifixion. His death brought an end to the earthly phase of His manifestation in the flesh. Of His incarnation we sing in our song, because with it the historical accomplishment of our redemption began. But there is more to our song.

We sing of the vindication of Christ: He was vindicated [justified] by the Spirit. When He was manifested in the flesh, the Son became the servant who submitted Himself to God’s law and conquered Satan, sin, and death. He became the one Man whom God has justified by His works. Made alive by the Spirit, everything Jesus said and did was certified as faithful and true. We sing, then, of Christ vindicated, the only immortal and now glorified Man.

We sing of the appearances of Christ: He was seen by angels. Even heaven’s angels have beheld Him, resurrected and ascended in theophanic glory. Through the incarnate and vindicated Son of Man, humanity has been restored to the heavenly sanctuary, and the angelic host now assist Him to maintain heavenly Mt Zion’s accessibility and inviolability even as they assist all who will inherit salvation. To paraphrase what another has said, the angels sang at His birth, ministered to Him in His hour of temptation, guarded His tomb, testified to His resurrection, witnessed His ascension, and look forward to His return. Just so, we sing now of His appearances to angels.

We sing of the proclamation of Christ: He was proclaimed among the nations. As the NT teaches us, the Apostles were equipped and authorized for their gospel ministry by Christ. Once He was vindicated by the Spirit and seen by angels, we read of how they labored hard to tell the nations about the saving mission, the justifying grace, and the transforming mercy of the patient and powerful Christ. They did indeed tell the nations in their day of Christ—and the church built on the foundation of Christ continues to tell the nations of Him, so that, at last, people from all families on earth will join in praise to Christ who is God our King. Even so, we sing the everlasting song of Christ proclaimed among all nations.

We sing of the reception of Christ: He was believed on in the world. For over 2,000 years now Christ has been believed on in the world. The first eyewitnesses of His resurrection believed: Mary, Peter, John, even Thomas, among others. After the Twelve believed, then Pentecost came and thousands believed on that day. The evangelistic mission only expanded to reach even the imperial capital of Rome. We see a global, worldwide mission bringing a global, worldwide harvest from all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, a harvest so great that no one can count its numbers. It is of this Christ—of Christ believed on in the world—whom we sing.

Lastly in our hymn, we sing of the ascension of Christ: He was taken up in glory. Raised from the dead in glory, Christ was taken up in glory into the highest invisible heavens. He is there at this very moment, crowned and enthroned, radiating majesty and splendor, preparing a place for all of us who believe, making intercession for us, answering all accusations against us, making sure that we have access with boldness to the throne of grace. From glory He came; to glory He has returned. And so of His ascension, His present coronation and reign, we sing.

These are among the truths of which we the church now do sing in this season of celebration. Singing of such things as incarnation, vindication, theophany, proclamation, reception, and ascension is outmoded for many today. Yet those who smear us who sing are full of balderdash and twaddle. We sing because we know ourselves to be sinners in the sight of God. We sing because we know ourselves to be justly deserving God’s displeasure. We sing because we know ourselves to be without hope except in God’s sovereign mercy. We sing because we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners. We sing because we have received and are resting upon Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel.

Don’t sneer at us who sing. Join us in our confession and sing with us the truths that express the great mystery of godliness, once hidden now revealed in Christ: Christ manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

Are We Genteel or Maśkîlîm (Dan 12:3, 10)?

posted by R. Fowler White

“In an age enamored by soft words that lead to deception, we still have a duty to speak ‘truth’ to the deceived.”—Philip G. Bowersox, Smooth Words: Daniel’s Perspective on the Great Commission

The quote above from Philip G. Bowersox, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Oklahoma City, OK, is nothing if not a sobering call to duty for pastors and teachers. It’s a call to discern and to confront the reality of deception—no, the danger of deception—a threat that often goes undetected and unchecked as it creeps into our lives. This call to duty is made the more earnest when we ponder the unrelenting menace to which the Apostle John alerts us in his first letter. “Children,” he writes, “it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18 NASB95). Let those words sink in. They bring us up short, don’t they? John would have us understand that, living as we do after Christ’s ascension (as even his first readers did), we’re living in the last phase of history. Talk about a “wake up and smell the coffee” moment for us in God’s church.

As if the gist of John’s words is not arresting enough, we realize that he describes this final stage of history as an age in which antichrists and false prophets flourish (1 John 4:1). They, with their followers, promote beliefs and behaviors that are contrary to the faith handed down once for all to the saints (Jude 3). The details John provides demand our attention: the number of these deceivers is many (1 John 4:1), and they are already here (1 John 4:3). More than that, they are not just out there, in the world. No, John tells us that they went out from us after being with us in the church. In fact, it is not just that deceivers were once in the church: it is that they can be presently in the church just as it was the case at Thyatira (Rev 2:18-28). All told, the call to duty that Pastor Bowersox gives us echoes the context that John describes: because deceivers are present both outside and inside the church, we must speak truth to those who might be enamored with soft wordssmooth words—and led astray wherever deceivers appear.

Skeptical as we are, you and I might ask, how seriously should we take these threats? Despite warnings from Christ and His Apostles, there seem always to be some in Christ’s church who simply deny reality. You probably know some of these folks. They prefer the pablum of therapeutic to-do lists that (allegedly) get them personal peace, influence, or affluence instead of the solid food of instruction necessary for them to develop discernment and endurance. The result? In their willfully childish rejection of nourishing food for their growth in holiness, they leave their souls defenseless against the waves and winds brought in the smooth, soft words of deceivers who would lead them to apostasy.

Whether, then, we look within the church or outside of it, we in Christ’s church find good reason to prepare ourselves to speak truth. The Apostle Paul tells us how to prepare in Eph 4:12-16. Through the ministry of the word, we grow up into Christ; we attain the faith of an adult Christian (cf. 2 Tim 3:14-17). Why? The reasons are straightforward. Only those who stay true to the Scriptures and mature in the faith are able to speak truth to others (Eph 4:15). Only those who learn to distinguish truth from error, good from evil, right from wrong are able, in turn, to speak truth to the deceived.

Knowing these things, we’ll devote ourselves to discipleship in community to learn from and with others the historic doctrines and practices by which Christ has built His church (Rom 6:17-18; Eph 4:20-23). We’ll place ourselves in the care of the shepherds and teachers whom Christ gives us through his Spirit, those who are committed and gifted to train us in what to believe and how to behave according to the faith handed down to the saints. We’ll do these things because the discipleship we need to counter the smooth, soft words of deceivers won’t become ours by just any means. It is the church’s unique purpose to gather and grow the saints. So, we’ll covenant with others of like mind to learn the historic truths of the faith—not least, those of justification and sanctification as highlighted by Bowersox.

Are our congregations prepared to speak wise words of truth to any who might be led astray (cf. Dan 12:3, 10)? Bowersox’s book is a fine resource to help get us ready. Take it up and read it. Then, like Daniel, in this last hour of smooth, soft, deceptive words, you’ll have wise words to speak, and you’ll stand with others, firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by [our] opponents (Phil 1:27-28 ESV).

Toward A Catechism on Mortification

posted by R. Fowler White

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth. Colossians 3:5 (KJV)

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. Romans 8:13 (KJV)

For most folks, that word mortify in the citations above is plainly just an antiquated term found in an antiquated Bible translation. That opinion, however, is more than a little naïve, showing only how afflicted we can be by the arrogance of the modern. The fact is, the more we study that word and concept in the context of the Bible and in the context of the church’s historic confessional and theological discussions, we realize that there is enduring benefit in recovering their usage. That is particularly true if we want to get a handle on the basics of the Bible’s teaching about the Christian life: after all, as indicated by the citations above, mortification is evidently fundamental to Paul’s conception of the believer’s new life. The continuing value of the term is also seen when we seek to understand and engage responsibly in the current debate over the meaning and relevance of mortification in the lives of men who aspire to occupy or already occupy the office of elder or deacon in Christ’s church.

It was precisely for the reasons just stated that the questions and answers below were drawn up. Oh, to be sure, the catechetical format might not appeal to everybody. The format is not so much the point, however; the content is. It aims to distill the insights on mortification from what is widely regarded in Reformed circles as the masterwork on that biblical doctrine by John Owen (1616-1683). No doubt improvements can be made; hence the word “Toward” in the title of this post. For the moment, however, let me mention that, in drawing up this catechism, great benefit came from consulting the annotated edition of Owen’s original work by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, the modernized edition of it by William Gross, and the popularized summaries of Owen’s teaching found in the books of Sinclair Ferguson, Kris Lundgaard, and Jerry Bridges. Readers may also notice that an attempt was made to integrate, wherever possible, language and concepts related to mortification found in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Finally, let me express my gratitude to Reed DePace, teaching elder and pastor of First Presbyterian Church (PCA), Montgomery, AL, as well as contributor here at Green Baggins. His patient interaction with multiple drafts of this catechism was very valuable. Of course, responsibility for the final form of this document must be my own.

Overall, my aim in drafting this catechism for myself and for others has been to get a firmer grasp on the serious business that mortification is, together with a greater appreciation for just how central mortification is to our Christian lives. This project has certainly motivated me to heed Owen’s stark reminder: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” As a result, my prayer is that we’ll all buckle down and go on to mature in holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor 7:1; Col 3:5-14; 1 Pet 2:24; Heb 12:14; Col 1:9-11; 1 Thess. 3:13; cf. Phil 3:12-14; 1 John 3:1-3), to grow in the saving grace and knowledge of Christ (1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), and to be transformed inwardly day by day (2 Cor 3:18; 4:16; Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23; Col 3:10).

Q. 1. What is mortification?
A. Mortification is both an initial and a progressive work of grace in believers by the Holy Spirit: the initial work of grace being that the Spirit unites believers to Christ in His death to sin, with the result that they are said to have been crucified with Christ and to have died to sin with Christ (Rom 6:3-7; Gal 2:20; 5:24; Phil 3:10b; Col 2:20; 3:3, 9); and the progressive work of grace being that the Spirit empowers believers to fulfill God’s command that through daily crucifixion they put to death the sin that remains in their mortal body, together with sin’s lusts and deeds (Rom 7:25; 8:13b; 13:14; 1 Cor 6:11; Gal 5:17-18, 22-25; Phil 2:12-13; Col 3:5; 2 Thess 1:11).

Q. 2. What specifically do we mean by the word “sin” when we speak of it as the target of mortification?
A. When we use the word “sin” for the target of mortification, we refer to sin and its lusts that remain in the mortal body of believers, corrupting their nature, defiling all the parts and faculties of soul and body, and inclining their mind, will, and affections habitually toward unholy thoughts, words, and deeds
(Gen 6:5; Jer 17:9; Rom 3:10-19; 5:6; 6:12-13; 7:5, 7-8, 17-18, 20, 23, 25; 8:7; Gal 5:17; Col 1:21; Titus 1:15).

Q. 3. What do we not mean when we speak of “mortifying sin”?
A. When we speak of “mortifying sin,” we do
not mean that sin is completely killed (i.e., eliminated or removed) in this life (Phil 3:12-13; cf. 1 Cor 9:24-27; 1 Tim 6:12, 19); nor that it is merely disguised in or diverted to a more socially acceptable or less discoverable expression (cf. Acts 8:23); nor that it is merely tamed, quieted, or only occasionally defeated (cf. Ps 78:32-37).

Q. 4. What do we mean when we speak of “mortifying sin”?
A. When we speak of “mortifying sin,” we mean habitually weakening sin, constantly fighting and contending against it, and realizing success over it, all through daily crucifixion.

Q. 5. What do we mean when we speak of “habitually weakening sin”?
A. When we speak of “habitually weakening sin,” we mean to say that, little by little, sin’s life, power, promptness, and eagerness are taken away,
with the result that it acts more seldomly and more faintly, cries out sparingly, and is hardly heard in the heart, and with the result that the habits of sin are not able to rise up in believers to incline them with the same intensity, seriousness, and frequency, nor to make them its slave as it did before their conversion (Rom 6:6; 1 Cor. 6:18-19; 2 Cor 4:16; cf. Jas 1:14-15).

Q 6. What do we mean when we speak of “constantly fighting and contending against sin”?
A. When we speak of “constantly fighting and contending against sin,” we mean to say that believers
recognize sin for what it is in the light of God’s wrath (Eph 2:3; 5:6; Col 3:6), recall the shame of past sin (Eph 2:1-2; 4:17-20; Col 3:7; Rom 6:21; Ezek 16:63), and learn the ways of sin’s success in their lives (Rom 7:15-25); and that believers also reckon with the reality that the Spirit has united them with Christ in His death to sin (Rom 6:2; Col 2:20; 3:3), and He empowers them to subject indwelling sin with its lusts and deeds to daily crucifixion (Rom 6:12-14; 7:21-25; 8:12-14; Gal 5:16-25; Col 3:5; Luke 9:23).

Q. 7. What do we mean when we speak of “realizing success over sin”?
A. When we speak of “realizing success over sin,” we mean to say that sin is no longer able habitually to keep believers from obeying God or to interrupt their peace with Him
(Rom 6:11-14, 19-22; 7:21–8:4; Gal 5:16).

Q. 8. Do believers have the power to fulfill God’s command that they mortify sin?
A. No, believers do not have the power in and of themselves to fulfill God’s command that they mortify sin
(Rom 7:18; Gal 5:17; cf. Rom 8:13).

Q. 9. Since believers lack the power in and of themselves to fulfill God’s command that they mortify sin, from whom do they obtain that power?
A. Only from Christ by the Holy Spirit and through faith do believers have the power to mortify sin
(Rom 8:13; Gal 5:16).

Q. 10. In what ways are believers empowered to mortify sin?
A. The ways in which believers are empowered to mortify sin include the following: by meditating on the grandeur of God’s glorious perfections
(John 17:24; 2 Cor 3:16-18; 4:6; Col 1:10-23; 1 Pet 1:14-21; 2:1-3) and earnestly seeking God for deliverance from their sin through Jesus Christ their Lord (Rom 7:24; Gal 5:17); by being convinced of their sin’s guilt, defilement, and corruption; truthfully diagnosing its severity (asking, e.g., if it is deep-rooted, long-indulged, often victorious, or only opposed to avoid shame or punishment) (cf. Isa 63:10; 2 Chron 36:15-16; 1 Cor 3:1-3; Eph 4:30; Heb 5:11-12; 6:1-3, 6); and being persuaded of the risks it poses to them (whether the risk is, e.g., that of being deceived, of being disciplined by God, of losing strength and peace, or of being exposed as unconverted) (Rom 7:14-25; Eph 4:17-24; 1 Pet 1:14; 4:2-6); by avoiding situations that incite sin and by dealing with sin when it first appears (1 Cor 6:18; 10:14; 1 Tim 6:3-11; 2 Tim 2:22; Jas 4:7); by considering the relationship between their sins and their natural temperament and being careful not to conclude too soon that the sin in them is really mortified; and by committing the considerations just mentioned to regular prayers of repentance and faith.

Q. 11. What benefits may believers enjoy through mortification?
A. The benefits that believers may enjoy through mortification include the following: that their
strength and peace—indeed, their power and comfort—in their life with God will be stirred up, increased, and built up through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of adoption (Col 1:10–11; Eph 3:16–19; Rom 7:4-6; Gal 5:16, 22-23, 25; Heb 6:11–12; Jude 20); that they will more and more die to sin as its power to produce unholy thoughts, words, and deeds in their lives is taken away (Rom 8:4, 13; Gal 5:16, 19-21); that they will more and more have power to fight and overcome sin (Rom 6:14; 1 John 5:4; Eph 4:15–16), to bear the fruit of the Spirit, and to grow in all saving graces (Ezek 36:25-27; Rom 6:11-23; 7:4, 6; 8:13b; 2 Cor 7:1; Gal 5:22-23; Col 3:8-14; 1 Pet 2:24); and that they will enjoy communion with Christ in His death to sin (Rom 6:2-4, 6, 14; 8:13; Gal 5:16, 25; Phil 3:10b; 2 Cor 1:5), the assurance of God’s love (Rom 5:5), peace of conscience (Rom 5:1), joy in the Spirit (Rom 14:17), and growth and perseverance in grace to the end of their lives (2 Pet 3:18Phil 1:6; 1 Pet 1:5).

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” — John Owen

More Than Meeting Our Connection

posted by R. Fowler White

The excesses of the Great Awakening appealed to those who lived for emotional highs. Arguably, that appeal has mutated and grown over generations into a degrading decline of the visible church. What do I mean?

It seems that lots of folks still look at church as a place to go to satisfy their desire for a weekly high, and we gravitate to speakers who get us or keep us inspired or motivated. Don’t get me wrong: inspiration and motivation are not bad, unless the inspiring and motivating content sounds like little more than a fix to get or stay high. What I mean is that it’s arguable that, especially since the 1960s, the fix being sought and offered has become linked with maintaining either or both of two emotional states. There’s the high of what has been called personal peace, an anxiety-free state in which “I’m ok” is combined with “It’ll all be ok.” But there’s also the high of what we could identify as constant outrage, an anger-stoked state in which “I’m ok but you’re not if we disagree on anything.” It seems useful, then, to listen to folks to learn why they come to our church gatherings, if and when they come at all. Do they come to recharge or alter their emotional state?

To be sure, not everyone gathers at our churches to satisfy these desires. There are certainly listeners and speakers who have determined to do something different. They’ve carefully chosen to make sure that the whole of their souls is engaged: that is, for our purposes, they’ve recognized the need to have their mind, affections, and will addressed. In fact, they’ve also been careful to see that the will and the affections are engaged through the mind. Whether hearers or speakers, they never bypass the mind; the whole soul is engaged.

Now, of course, we might ask, what is the effect of deliberately taking a detour around the mind? When we take a shortcut around the mind to appeal directly to the emotions and the will, what happens? Well, in a manner of speaking, the excesses of the Great Awakening happen. More specifically, that detour creates souls that are unhealthy and weak, unable to withstand winds of deception and error, even disabled from resisting waves of temptation. It’s like trying to get to adulthood by living only on pablum and baby formula instead of solid food. Maturing to adulthood requires a diet of solid food, so that we develop the capacities to recognize, desire, and choose what’s true, right, and good. Spiritual adulthood won’t happen any other way.

So, I ask myself, am I shaped by the conviction that I must (note: must) do something other than stay free of anxiety or stoked on anger, do something other than alter my emotional state? Do I have ears to hear speakers whom God uses to renew, transform, sanctify—dare I say, change—me by engaging my whole soul? Is my church seeking to placate, defend, or attract people who are seeking only to recharge or alter their emotional state? If we ask why our churches would do this, conceivably, it’s because they’ve slipped into conceiving of a local church as little more than a commercial enterprise. We can hear it in words like, “We’ve got to make sure that those in the pews are satisfied with the product we’re making available. After all, it’s the only way to achieve and maintain the critical mass of attendance and giving that’ll pay the bills and keep us open.” Arguably, such sentiments reveal that we’re still in the grip of, even addicted to, the excesses of the Great Awakening. “Church” has become degraded into a connection that sells folks a weekly fix, whether it gives them personal peace or stokes their outrage.

If our churches would gather and grow the saints, however, we have to do better, particularly in these evil days. Scripture offers a different vision of our church gatherings, doesn’t it? It’s more than meeting our churchly connection to get our weekly fix to sustain our anxiety-free or anger-stoked emotional state. Scripture offers a truly inspiring, motivating vision of renewal, growth, and edification. Converted as we are through hearing the elementary truths of the gospel, we gather to get our beliefs and behaviors in order according to the whole counsel of God. We gather to get transformed—even re-formed—with new habits of holiness, the better to know God and His will, to hear God’s gospel of forgiveness proclaimed, and to hear His law of love declared and applied to family, church, workplace, and society. Sign me up.

Taking Hell Seriously

posted by R. Fowler White

What does the Bible teach its readers about hell? It’s a very important topic, but it’s also a very uncomfortable topic. We may respond with fear. If we’re not Christians, we should respond with fear. But my prayer is that God will replace fear with faith in our Lord Jesus, God’s incarnate Son who saves sinners from hell. If we are Christians, let’s join together to praise God for Jesus who came from heaven to save us from hell.

So, let’s recall why it’s very important that we take seriously what the Bible says about hell. Why? Because the Bible is the revelation of God’s will to man; it’s the documented word of the only living and true God, the standard for what we’re to believe and how we’re to behave. Do we believe, then, what the Bible teaches about hell? We better, because what the Bible says, God says.

What, then, does the Bible mean when it speaks of hell? That is, what does God mean by hell? He means the punishments for sin in the life to come. He doesn’t mean the punishments for sin in this life, the miseries of suffering and death that we experience now because we’re sinners. No, He refers to the punishments for sin after we die, before we’re resurrected, and after we’re resurrected. If we know ourselves to be sinners, we must take seriously what God says about hell in the Bible. So, what does He say? Let’s summarize.

First, hell is a place more frightful than we can imagine. The Bible gives us many very graphic descriptions of hell. Each image, by itself, is terrifying enough, but the combination of images is even more horrifying than we can imagine. It’s a place of utter darkness (Jude 13), a place of outer darkness where weeping and gnashing of teeth are all that will be heard (Matt 8:12). It’s the lake that burns with fire and sulfur (Rev 21:8), a prison of eternal chains from which there is no hope of release (Jude 6), a fiery furnace of torment where the fire is not quenched, a place of misery where the worm does not die (Mark 9:28). The suffering in hell is beyond all comparison to the suffering experienced in this world. It’s a reality more frightful than any one of the Bible’s images for it. In other words, hell is worse than we can ever imagine.

Second, hell is a place where God is present. Yes, God is present in hell. We’re not to think of hell as a place from which God is absent. It’s not a place where sinners are forever separated from God. No, hell is a place where sinners are forever separated from God’s comforting presence. God is present in hell in His holy wrath and just punishment. The punishments of sin in the world to come will include everlasting separation from God’s comfort, but not from God’s wrath. The punishments there will be beyond the most grievous of suffering imaginable and will occur without interruption. So, don’t make the mistake of thinking that hell is a place from which God is absent. God is now and will be present in hell in His holy wrath and just punishment, and, as a result, hell is a place more frightful than we can imagine.

Third, hell is a place of God’s perfect justice. We’re not to think that hell is a place of “cruel and unusual” punishment. The only living and true God always does what is right. He always pays His creatures the wages that are due to them. He always rewards the obedient and punishes the disobedient. The punishments for sin in hell, then, are neither cruel nor unusual. No, they’re thoroughly just. As the place of God’s perfect justice against disobedience, then, hell is worse than we can ever imagine.

Fourth, hell is a place of eternal punishment. It’s not a place of temporary punishment. The torments of hell are everlasting. Suffering there will never come to an end. Some say that the miseries of hell do come to an end. They declare that unbelievers are annihilated, that they cease to exist. But Jesus teaches otherwise. In Matt 25:31-46, for example, Jesus teaches us about the Day of Judgment, that Day when He will appear as Judge of all the world. In His teaching, He speaks of two futures, one for the sheep, another for the goats. We should notice that, according to Jesus, both futures are eternal. The sheep will enter into life that is eternal. The goats will go away into punishment that is eternal. Clearly, the agonies of hell will last as long as the joys of heaven. Clearly, though heaven is a place of pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:11), hell is a place of unremitting pain. Thus, as a place of God’s perfect justice and holy wrath, hell is a place more frightful than we can ever imagine.

Fifth, consider the person in the Bible who teaches us the most about hell. Who is that person? It’s not Moses or one of the OT prophets after him. It’s not Paul, Peter, or John. It’s none other than Jesus. It is He who teaches us that hell is a place of eternal punishment and perfect justice, a place where God is present in His holy wrath. The Bible tells us that Jesus will come again as our Judge on the last day. We do well, therefore, to listen to all that Jesus teaches about hell. And we do well to learn that it’s a place worse than we can ever imagine.

Does the truth about hell horrify us? Does it terrify us? If we know ourselves to be sinners, it should terrify and horrify us. This truth should cause us to seek a place to hide, a way of escape. The good news is that God Himself has provided the place for us to hide, the way of escape for us. That place to hide is in Jesus. That way of escape  is through Jesus. How can this be? Because our Lord Jesus Christ died as God’s substitute for sinners. God poured out His holy wrath on Jesus; He inflicted His just punishments on the body and soul of Jesus. Jesus, then, endured the anguish and agony, the terror and torment of hell for sinners. As a result, our Lord Jesus Christ satisfied the perfect justice and holy wrath of God against any and all sinners who will trust in Him alone.

Friends, hell is worse than anything we can imagine. But in Jesus we find the place to hide from hell. Through Jesus we find the way of escape from hell. It is He who saves us from hell. It is He who gives us the assurance of eternal life. We’re to trust in Christ Jesus alone. We must rest on the Lord Christ alone. Our only hope, our only boast is in Him, now and forever.

“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.

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