Thursday, March 31, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
It is the position of the elders of Providence Bible Fellowship that there is a literal, physical, eternal place of torment called hell, and that it is the certain destination of all those who die in their sin. All have sinned and deserve this judgment, but by God’s grace and through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, those who repent of their sin and trust in Christ alone to save them are forgiven of their sin, spared an eternity in hell, and given the gift of eternal life. We hold this position because the Bible teaches it, not because it is popular or because it is the traditional view.
The appropriate place to start with this doctrine is with the character of God. A skewed view of who God is a fertile ground for error. That is because all of theology finds its foundation in the character of God. The very word theology means “study of God.” So it should be no surprise that when we are wrong about the character of God, we end up in doctrinal error in many other areas of theology.
The doctrine of hell is no exception. This doctrine is rooted in who God is. One common way that we get into trouble with the doctrine of hell is by elevating one of God’s attributes above all the others. “God is love,” the Bible tells us (1 John 4:8, 16). Many people then infer that hell cannot be literal, physical, and eternal because “a loving God would not do that.” I’ll deal more with that objection in a later post, but what we need to understand at this point is that, yes, God is love, but He is not only love. He is also holy.
The Bible teaches that God is holy in two different senses. First, He is holy in the sense that He is unique, separate, and distinct from everything He has created (Ex 15:11; 1 Sam 2:2). This could be called the non-moral component of God’s holiness. This “otherliness” of God is related to the second sense in which He is holy: He is separated from all that is sinful. This is the moral component. One of the classic texts illuminating the holy nature of God is Isaiah 6:1-7.
1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
5 And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.
7 And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for."
That the word “holy” is pronounced three times in v3 represents a superlative in the Hebrew language. It essentially means that God is ultimately holy. He is perfectly separated from all that is sinful. The passage clearly demonstrates God’s majesty and separation, but it goes further in that it shows the implications that God’s holiness holds for man. Notice Isaiah’s response in v5 to being confronted with the searing holiness of God. There was not only an awareness of his own sinfulness (“…I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…”), but also a dread of judgment (“Woe is me! For I am lost…”), all because of seeing who God is (“for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”). God’s revealed holiness led to an awareness of sin and judgment. God’s holiness exposed that Isaiah was unholy.
Notice also, what v7 teaches us. Isaiah was able to be in God’s presence only because his guilt was removed and his sin was atoned for. This whole passage implies that God’s holiness is the basis for understanding sin and judgment.
Isaiah 6:1-7 shows us that God’s holiness is not just a description of who He is but also a standard for His creation. The main principle of the OT law is found in Leviticus 19:2 – “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” The same principle is found in the NT in Matthew 5:48, where Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as our heavenly Father is perfect.” Peter also applied this standard to the church when he quoted Leviticus 19:2 in 1 Pet 1:15-16. The righteousness that God demands from man is based on His own character, expounded in His word.
So when we break God’s law, we are not just breaking a rule. We are offending the very character of God. We are violating His holiness. That was the reason for Isaiah’s sense of doom in the presence of this Holy God.
Because of God’s holy character, He judges men according to their deeds (Rom 2:6; 2 Tim 4:14; Heb 9:27; 1 Pet 1:17; Jude 14-15). He is a righteous judge, which means not only that He is righteous, but that it is good and right for Him to judge men accordingly (Psa 7:11; 9:7-8; 96:13; Jer 11:20; Acts 17:31; Rom 2:5; 2 Thess 1:5; 2 Tim 4:8; Rev 19:11).
Scripture repeatedly speaks of the wrath of God as His response to sin. As Paul begins his explication of the gospel in the book of Romans, he writes in 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men...” Likewise, Jesus describes the fate of the disobedient in John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” An exhaustive list of cross-references would be too long to include here, but a few references include Num 11:33; 2Ki 22:13; Eph 5:6; Col 3:6; Heb 3:11, 4:3; Rev 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1; 19:15. God’s wrath is His righteous response to the sinfulness of men.
God is holy. His holiness demands a payment for sin. This is the foundation for a right understanding of hell.
Next time we’ll begin to look at what the Bible teaches about the nature of God’s wrath. Until then, consider this: if God is not a God of wrath, why do we need a Savior?
Posted by Greg Birdwell
Monday, March 14, 2011
Also, this Thursday at 2:30, Southern Seminary will be live streaming a round table discussion of the book. Participants will be Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, Denny Burke, and Justin Taylor.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Those are questions I was prompted to ask as I read the first chapter of Philippians this week. Paul wrote the letter from a Roman prison. As a general rule, prison has a deterring effect, if not on the prisoners themselves, then certainly on society as a whole. I’ve seen enough prison documentaries that even if my conscience wasn’t bound to the Word of God, I would be a model citizen. Most people don’t have to go to prison to realize they don’t want to go to prison. That’s true today and it was true in the Roman Empire 2000 years ago.
Just as important as knowing you don’t want to go to prison is knowing how to prevent that from happening. People who sell drugs go to prison. You don’t want to go to prison? Don’t sell drugs. People who rob banks go to prison. You don’t want to go to prison? Don’t rob banks.
In the first chapter of Philippians, Paul informs the recipients that it had become known to the whole imperial guard and to the rest of the people of Rome exactly why he was in prison. He was there for proclaiming Christ. What effect would we typically expect that kind of information to have on the city? Something like this: “People who proclaim Christ go to prison. You don’t want to go to prison? Don’t proclaim Christ.”
Logic would tell us that Paul’s imprisonment would have a deterring effect on the spread of the gospel. That makes what actually happened truly amazing: “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:14). Paul’s imprisonment had the opposite effect of what we would expect. The believers around him were much more bold to speak the truth. They were much more bold to proclaim Christ.
How can we explain such a thing? I think one key is what Paul writes about the foundation of these believers’ confidence. They had “become confident in the Lord” because of Paul’s imprisonment. There was something about how Paul conducted himself while in chains that led others to grow in their confidence in the Lord to such an extent that they were willing to engage in the very activity for which he was arrested.
I think we see at least three things in Paul that would have inspired confidence in the Lord. First of all, Paul modeled joy in the Lord. That is counterintuitive to the normal human mind. Prison and persecution are horrible. One would expect Paul to be in utter despair. Yet, he wasn’t.
There was joy in his prayer life (1:4). He rejoiced that Christ was being proclaimed, even by those who did so out of rivalry against him. So joyful was he about this that he said it twice in one verse (1:18)! His joy in the present circumstances was implied when he asked the Philippians to complete his joy by being of one mind (2:2). He was concerned that the Philippians have joy as well (2:17-18, 28; 3:1). In 4:1, Paul told them that they were his joy. Twice in 4:4, he exhorted them to rejoice in the Lord. He also rejoiced in the Lord that they were concerned for him (4:10).
And what was the ultimate reason for Paul’s joy? “…for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance…whether by life or by death” (1:19-20). Paul rejoiced in the Lord because whether he lived or died, Christ had secured his deliverance, not merely from a physical prison, but from the penalty and power of sin. This is why he was able to write in the very next verse, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
A testimony of joy in the midst of a serious trial can be almost unsettling to those around you. It speaks volumes about the value of the One in Whom you rejoice. There is so little joy in the life of the typical person that when one witnesses it first hand, especially in the life of a person enduring suffering or persecution, it garners their full attention. It matters the manner in which we suffer. Are we doing so with joy or in despair? What are we saying about Christ to those watching us?
Second, Paul modeled confidence in the Lord. The epistle to the Philippians is riddled with it. In 1:6, he wrote, “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” This confidence about the Lord’s accomplishment of their sanctification is echoed in 2:13. Later in the first chapter he confessed his certainty that the Lord would see him through his imprisonment (1:19). Much of the third chapter shows Paul declaring no confidence in his own flesh, but rather faith in Jesus Christ (3:1-11).
Paul’s confidence in Christ was demonstrated in his ability to be content in all circumstances. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:12-13). Some may think that last sentence to be a bold statement and it is. But it is not a fleshly dependence upon self, for in ch3 Paul denied any confidence in the flesh. Rather, Paul is convinced that he can survive any ordeal because of the strength of Christ in him.
He also trusted that Christ would sustain the Philippians: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19).
This confidence was based upon what Paul knew of the character of God. Paul lived in the certainty that the Lord would never leave him nor forsake him. The letter is devoid of any mention of anxiety…except for when Paul exhorts the recipients to be anxious for nothing, but to let their requests be made known to God (4:6). Paul had a peace founded on confidence in the Lord. What did that communicate to the people watching? The Lord can be trusted.
In whatever difficulty you find yourself today, or in that trial that you’ve just come through, have you demonstrated a steeled confidence in Him? Perhaps like Paul, we should focus not so much on the uncertainty of our circumstances, but on the absolute certainty of who God is.
Third, Paul modeled a hunger for the Lord. This seems to bleed through ever chapter of the letter. As already noted, Paul stated in ch1, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain…” (1:21). So enthralled was he with the Lord that to live was Christ, yet his preference was death: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (1:23).
One of the greatest pictures of longing for the Lord in all of Scripture, in my opinion, is found in that passage in ch3 where Paul disavowed any confidence in his own flesh. Although in terms of his pedigree and accomplishments in Judaism, he had as much reason as anyone to put confidence in his own righteousness, he considered it nothing:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (3:7-11).
He hungered for Christ to the extent that he wanted to share in His sufferings, to become like Him in His death.
Paul showed Christ to be worth all the persecution he was enduring by rejoicing in the midst of it, trusting in the Lord without wavering, and preferring Christ over even his own life. If we are not communicating the same things in our trials, it would do us and those around us some good to view our suffering through the lens of the gospel. Our suffering is not just about us and what God is accomplishing in us. It is also about His reputation among those around us and how our example might leaders others to confidence in Him.
Think for a moment about your current difficulty. What does the Lord want to demonstrate about Himself to those around you by how you endure that situation? What is your life teaching others about Christ? The church and the world could use some God-centered suffering in us, suffering that demonstrates the joy of following Christ in all circumstances, the trustworthiness of our Savior, and the surpassing value of knowing Him. Such suffering, rather than causing others to shun trials and persecution, might cause them to welcome it for all the intimacy it would afford with such a magnificent Savior.
Posted by Greg Birdwell
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
During our discussion the following passage was read. We briefly handled the text but I believe it is important to give a little more in-depth treatment to this passage and the two questions that may come from it.
1 Samuel 16:1-5 “The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”  And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’  And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.  Samuel did what the LORD commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?”  And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.”
The questions: 1. Is God suggesting to Samuel that he be deceptive and in essence lie? 2. Is deception or a lie taking place because Samuel is not disclosing the entire purpose of his journey?
Context is key. In Chapter 15, Saul is anointed King over Israel. However, he failed to obey the commands of God and is removed as King by God via Samuel. Samuel then grieves that Saul is no longer king (v.35).
Here, in Chapter 16, we see Samuel continuing to lament over Saul and God reproves him for his ongoing grief. God instructs Samuel to anoint a king from the household of Jesse. However, Samuel is fearful that he will be killed if Saul finds out about his orders from God to anoint a new king. Yet, God informs him to take a heifer for sacrifice and say, "I have come to sacrifice to the LORD."
The first question: Is God suggesting that Samuel be deceptive? No.
First, God is simply telling Samuel what to do. God has every right to require a sacrifice. When Saul was made king they sacrificed peace offerings (1 Samuel 11:15).
Secondly, Samuel could and did offer sacrifices (1 Samuel 7:9-10). These directions were within the scope of his role and responsibility.
Third, it is God’s prerogative to reveal as much of His will as He desires. Moses did not tell Pharaoh of God’s entire plan for the Israelites (Exodus 7:16, 8:1, 9:13). Although we do know Christ will return we do not know when (Matthew 24:29-31, 36).
Fourth, in order for God to suggest that Samuel be deceptive He must go against His own character. Scripture tells us that He is the “God of truth” (Isaiah 65:16, Psalm 31:5). God is not like a man that he should lie (Numbers 23:19).
Fifth, God commands us not to lie (Exodus 20:15). Certainly, God is not so small or weak that He must now make an exception to His command in order that David be anointed king. We also see the principle of speaking truth to others in scripture (Ephesians 4:25).
The second question: Is deception or a lie taking place because Samuel is not disclosing the entire purpose of his journey? No.
In order to correctly answer this question we must look back to the text. First, we know that Samuel never explicitly lied in this passage. Second, he properly answered the question, “Do you come peaceably?” with “Peaceably, I have come to sacrifice to the Lord”. The elders were concerned about their safety and Samuel addressed their concern.
The crux of the question is whether or not it was sinful to withhold information; particularly, privileged or sensitive information. Again, it is God’s prerogative as what to share and not share.
Is it wise to volunteer sensitive information to just anyone? No. Is Samuel under an oath or obligated in any way to the elders to reveal the total extent of his travel to Jerusalem. No.
Samuel followed the Lord’s instructions precisely and kept from sinning.
In closing, the thrust of this text is not to teach a moral truth about lying. However, we can examine this text in light of scripture that clearly teaches that God is truth and cannot lie, He commands us to speak the truth, and He always provides a way out when we may be tempted to lie in a difficult situation (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we scrutinize scripture in its context and in light of clear passages apparent contradictions rapidly dissipate.
Posted by Rick Jones