Hold On to What the Spirit Has Taught You, Because the Antichrist Is Come

Italy Pope Ash WednesdayThe apostle John writes to the Church in Ephesus and surrounding churches in 1 John 2:18-25, because he’s encouraging her members to remain steadfast in the faith they had once received. He says that they are in the last days, which is proven by the fact that there are many antichrists out and about spreading false teaching about Christ. He writes,

1 John 2:18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

It is the last time. Ever since the Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again, ascended, and sat down at the Father’s right hand, his reign as Christ was inaugurated. He sent his Spirit to his disciples gathered at Pentecost, giving them their marching orders. His finished work on the cross, having been openly declared at the resurrection, was the last door to open in the hallway of God’s great plan of redemption. Ever since, and until this day, we’ve been in the last time, in the latter days. Do not let anyone fool you into thinking that there is any more revelation that is necessary. After Christ’s finished work of salvation was proclaimed by the apostles and written down in the New Testament, there is nothing left but to proclaim and obey this complete message until the Lord returns. We are indeed in the last time, and have been since Acts chapter 2.

There is one particular culminating office of Antichrist that will appear in the future, of which the Christians in Asia minor had already been taught by the apostles, certainly, and also from the prophecies of Daniel, which John refers to by the singular “antichrist.” This seems to me to be fulfilled by the pope of Rome, whose office seems to replace the power and Spirit of Christ in the Church, and who teaches another doctrine. (The Greek prefix anti- indicates something instead of or in place of, not simply opposed to.)  The doctrine of Rome is characterized by the marks that Paul writes to Timothy in 4:1-5.

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

It is the papacy that to this day prescribes rules for Lenten fasting, and forbids priests to marry. By these marks the Holy Spirit has taught us to watch out for the culminating Antichrist, whose reign of terror was already being set up in the apostle’s day in the form of many false teachers who had gone out of the Church. This spirit of antichrist, this Christ-denying, gospel-darkening activity which sets itself up in place of Christ and his true teaching was already making rounds even while the New Testament was still being written, particularly in the form of those who denied that Christ was fully human, but merely a divine spirit and apparition. This is a fatal error because without full humanity Christ could not be our Savior, since it was required for him to be fully man in order to represent us in God’s covenant and die in our place.

19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.
23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.

The apostle is assured of the abiding and eternal salvation, and the true hope of the promise of eternal life, that those to whom he is writing possess. He is writing not out of worry, but in order that these words might be an instrument of God, through the Holy Spirit, to keep them in the faith, by allowing them to continue to distinguish truth from error. God keeps his own without fail, and he also uses the means of the reading and the preaching of the Scriptures to do it. It is one of the tools in his pocket that he makes use of to keep his own faithful to him, especially by warning them of the dangers of falling away. In this way the warnings in Scripture against falling away are in perfect harmony with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which says that no one who is born again can ever fall away, because God keeps him.

The Lord uses John’s words to encourage the Christians in Asia Minor to continue to distinguish truth from error. Those antichrists who were going about peddling lies about Christ, as they do to this day, who had gone out of the Church, were to be viewed as not having ever been true Christians. When people depart from the true doctrine of Christ and from the true Church, we can be sure that they never truly belonged to Christ, because God keeps all his own.

24 Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
25 And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.

Those to whom John is writing are to hold on to eternal life by holding on to the doctrine of Christ, that is, to Christ. And holding on to him requires them to distinguish truth from error, contrasting that which the Holy Spirit had taught them from the beginning with the false doctrine of the antichrists. John’s message to them is:

Retain that which you have heard from the beginning, which the Holy Spirit has taught you, because the Antichrist will come, and many antichrists are in the world.

The prophecies of Scripture indicate that one pivotal figure or office would emerge to personify the spirit of Antichrist, noted by John’s singular use of the term “antichrist” while alluding, probably, to the prophet Daniel. The descriptions we find in 1 Timothy and elsewhere point to the pope of Rome as being the culminating Antichrist, and this has been the overwhelming majority opinion throughout the history of the Church. This application has fallen out of favor since the 19th century, when the papacy seemed to be waning in influence. But today we see that the papacy is gaining more power and influence than ever before over the minds of billions of people, and deceiving them with duplicitous doctrine that denies the finished work of Christ. And what influence it may yet have in turning more and more people away from the truth of God remains to be seen.  The papacy is on the ascendancy.

Yet, ever since the New Testament was written, there have been antichrists: from Marcion, who took scissors to the Scriptures and cut out mostly anything that he thought was overly Jewish and not in keeping with his idea of the gospel, to Arius, who taught that “in the beginning, the Son was not”, denying the full divinity of Christ. This teaching is represented today by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the 4th century Pelagius taught that man was born as a “blank slate”, able to save himself without needed any other “grace” than that which he had from creation, but just a firm resolve not to sin. This was in effect to deny the whole purpose for which Christ came to save sinners, and to make his office irrelevant, denying that it is Christ who saves us and not we ourselves. While not formally arguing against the personal nature of Christ, Pelagius denied his work and office in what he taught. Like Pelagius, the papacy wants to give man some part or credit for earning his salvation. It is according to Rome’s teaching that man is able to merit the merits of Christ by doing works of penance and attending to the sacraments. This is to deny the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross, and take a bit of credit for themselves. This teaching denies the true way of salvation, which is in Christ by faith alone, because he is the only one who merits salvation, and Christians are united to him by faith. At every point in history, the Lord has not left the earth without a Church.

Those who stalwartly defended the person and work of Christ against such errors have been raised up time and time again, from Athanasius to Augustine to Luther and Zwingli. The true teaching has been codified in the historic creeds and confessions of the Church, from the Nicene Creed, to the Definition of Chalcedon, to the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is a means that God has given for combating errors about who Christ is and what he came to do. It is by distinguishing between truth and error, as these creeds and confessions exemplify and help, that the people of God keep themselves in the faith and lay hold on the promise of eternal life.

Those to whom the apostle is writing have been reborn of the Holy Spirit and illuminated to receive the word. God works through the word preached ordinarily. When the gospel is preached faithfully, the Holy Spirit impresses its imprint on the soul and persuades the hearer of its truth and benefits for him. In this way he enables and draws the sinner to believe the good news of Jesus Christ which is preached. Those who have heard this teaching of the Spirit, with their physical ears as well as with the heart, do not need to receive a new doctrine. They already have believed that doctrine which is their salvation. What they need is to abide in what they have received. They can abide in the doctrine they have received by being diligent to guard the true doctrine of Christ, and contrast it with false doctrine.

It is not popular in today’s culture to point out errors in religious teaching. It is considered rude or offensive to “denigrate someones beliefs.” But this is just the thing that God has told us to do to keep ourselves faithful to him. This does not mean that we go around telling people how wrong they are about Christ in the most rude, offensive, and inappropriate way possible. (Although we should not be silent, this is a topic for another time.) The intention of this passage is to teach us to distinguish truth from error for ourselves, in order to keep hold on that promise of eternal life in Christ. Giving in or calling a truce with false teaching, lies about who Christ is and what he came to do, is gravely dangerous to the soul. It is a sure road to eternal perdition.

Retain that which you have heard from the beginning, which the Holy Spirit has taught you, because the Antichrist is come, and many antichrists are in the world.

The world would prefer to pretend that there is no truth at all than to think it might be important to know which it is, given conflicting teaching on a subject. As Pilate said, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) This is the attitude we most commonly run into today. But as Christians we know that it is absolutely vital for our own perseverance in the faith of Jesus Christ, that we learn to distinguish truth from error, and error from the truth. This is one of the reasons why church history is so important. Next to the Scriptures, and subordinate to it, church history is the best teacher to keep us from error in the important doctrines of the faith. Just as it is wrong to blindly follow tradition, it’s equally wrong to pretend as if the Christian faith were born yesterday, and we’re the first people to ever understand the Bible correctly. We must sift and interpret history by the Scriptures, and we must learn lessons from it to inform us in our Christian walk today, not blindly following the fathers of the past, but following Christ as they did. We benefit from the distinctions they made between truth and error, and validate them by the teaching of Scripture. In this way we keep ourselves in the true faith, and maintain the true doctrine of who Christ is and what he came to do.

“Bad company corrupts good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33) It is a known principle of psychology that behavior tends to impact attitudes, more than vice-versa. Let us take care that we stay in the true doctrine of Christ by continuing to gather together with like-minded brothers and sisters, at least weekly, and by avoiding company with those who deny Christ in his person or work. By having personal ties of fellowship with people who deny Christ, we may soon begin to doubt whether it is at all important to distinguish truth from error, and become susceptible to the lie and the doom that follows. Avoid those who claim to be Christians but deny the true and biblical doctrine of his person and the way of salvation that he accomplished.  So we lay hold on the way of salvation, and look forward to the promised eternal life to come, when we will enjoy fellowship with Christ forever.

Retain that which you have heard from the beginning, which the Holy Spirit has taught you, because the Antichrist is come, and many antichrists are in the world. Amen.


Calvin on the Papists denying Christ through “free will”

“So the Papists, at this day, setting up free-will in opposition to the grace of the Holy Spirit, ascribing a part of their righteousness and salvation to the merits of works, feigning for themselves innumerable advocates, by whom they render God propitious to them, have a sort of fictitious Christ, I know not what; but the lively and genuine image of God, which shines forth in Christ, they deform by their wicked inventions; they lessen his power, subvert and pervert his office.”

–Jean Calvin commenting on 1 John 2:22

The Apostle John’s Answer to Skeptics

Skeptics and naysayers love to do their best to poke holes in the Bible. They were attempting it even before it was completed, and they’re still at it. What little has changed! The apostle John responds to detractors in the introduction to his first epistle. He states with unvarnished credibility that the things that he and the other apostles had declared of the Lord Jesus Christ were based upon eye-witness testimony. He writes,

1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;

In a court of law the testimony of a credible eyewitness is received as evidence. In the same way we who believe are not following myths, fables, or wishful thinking, but established truth from credible eyewitness testimony. The Lord Jesus had personally chosen messengers to carry his good news to the entire world. These are known as the apostles or “sent ones”, similar to the role of ambassador. Their ministry was to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to the entire world. We do not have apostles today, although they still minister to us through the writings they left behind in the form of the Holy Scriptures. They had a unique ministry intended for the formative and foundational age of the Church of Jesus Christ. While they were walking with Jesus, they heard him preach of who he was, and saw him prove that it was true by performing miracles to validate what he had said about himself, like the time Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, in order that “you may know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins”, a thing that only God can do. This proved to the apostles that Jesus was God, as he said he was many times in different ways. Our faith in Jesus Christ the Savior is based on the reliable testimony of these chosen men.

John calls the Lord Jesus by the name of “the Word of Life.” This name is packed with meaning. In Greek thought “word” or logos was that rational principle which controlled and upheld the universe. John is saying that he who is the Word is the Creator in the beginning. In this passage we find an echo of the opening verses of John’s gospel. This Word is the Creator. He is the “Word of Life” in that he has life in himself. We have life that depends on God. We are created beings, but not he. He is the Creator, the one who has life in himself, “I AM THAT I AM.” This is what the covenant name of God: “YHWH”, pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah means at its root. He is the self-existent one. He has life in himself, and gives it to others. He is our Creator. Jesus said,

John 5:26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;

The Son has life in himself just as the Father has life in himself. He had no beginning. He was not born. He is eternally preexistent, eternally-begotten, as in the language of the fathers in the Nicene Creed, he is “begotten of the Father before all worlds.” He who gave us life at creation is the same One who gives new life to those who are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. If any man believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” John 11:25

1 John 1:2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)

This life is the Son of God, who was manifested in that he became a true human being and walked among John and his other disciples. The love of God the Father was made known to the world in his Son, who is the Word of Life. That Word of Life was seen on earth by thousands of people, and is the same Christ who was proclaimed in the first century A. D. by his chosen messengers, the apostles.

He who was “with the Father”, compare to “with God” John 1:2, was in the bosom of the Father from all eternity. He loved us so much that he became one of us, when he was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, remaining fully God and fully man forever in one person, the God-man that is Christ Jesus.

3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

One of God’s great purposes in this plan of redemption is to bring a people together. The children of God are not just a collection of individuals. We are one family in him. We belong together just as we belong to him. Through Christ, we have fellowship with the Father, just as the Son had fellowship with him since before creation. And having fellowship with the Father and the Son, we also have fellowship, communion with one another in the Church of Jesus Christ.

The apostles declared to us what they had heard, seen, and touched: The Word of Life, that we may have fellowship with one another, through the Father and the Son, and that our joy may be full.

The apostles were those chosen men who had been with Jesus when he was transfigured before them, who had heard the voice of the Father from heaven declaring, “This is my beloved Son, hear him.” They had seen him die. They saw him after he had risen from the dead. Thomas then touched his hands and his side to verify the wounds of his crucifixion. (John 20:27) The testimony of the apostles is worthy to be believed. It is eyewitness testimony. In their message, we have certainty of the truth of those things they spoke to us about the Lord Jesus, that he is the Son of God come to save us sinners. This is our eternal hope. It rests upon sure evidence.

In Christ, the Word of Life was manifested to us. This Word is not a thing, but a Person.  He became known to us by becoming one of us. Without losing any of his former glory or power that he had with the Father form the beginning, albeit disguising it, he came so that we would know him. What love is this that the Father has shown us, by sending his own Son to carry the message of his grace to us! Let us receive it and believe.

There is fellowship in the world based on commonality. Sometimes it’s relatively innocent, like clubs based upon ethnicity, or activities like baseball or hunting. At other times, the world has fellowship in sin, like drunkenness or other revelings. But in Christ, we who have been made alive by him have a fellowship, a “koinonia” or communion, that the world can never know. We have been brought from death to life, from darkness to life. We have experienced the grace of God, the peace that passes understanding, and joy in the Holy Spirit. This brings with it a bond of love between us, among all of God’s children, that the world of sin can never know. This is one reason why it is necessary for us to gather weekly (at a minimum) to pray together and sing God’s praises. There are no “lone ranger” Christians. If we have fellowship with the Father and the Son, we have fellowship with one another. Though some may pretend that they can be Christians just by praying and having devotions on their own at home, to forsake the assembling of ourselves together is not a reflection of that fellowship with one another to which the Lord has brought us.

This fellowship that we have with one another shows itself in many ways. We help each other when we need it. If we’ve experienced the love of God in Christ, how can we not also love those others who have received the same love that we have? We forgive one another, as the Lord has forgiven us our sins, without holding grudges against one another when we sin against each other. We pray together, bearing one another’s burdens and lifting each other up before the mercy seat of the Father. We share a common purpose in life, to glorify God by advancing the kingdom of Jesus Christ, by being his witnesses. We show this when we work together to make his name known, to build his church, and to bring others along too to worship him.

The apostles declared to us what they had heard, seen, and touched: The Word of Life, that we may have fellowship with one another, through the Father and the Son, and that our joy may be full.

If you have never embraced this Word of Life, if you have not yet received the hope of eternal life by taking hold of Christ through faith, he is freely offered to you today. Come to him and be saved. The whole world is going to die. If things continue as they are now, there is not one person who will not be dead in the future. But Jesus Christ offers everlasting life to whoever will believe in him. Do not let anything you love in this world hold you back from receiving that free gift. Leave everything if necessary to get it.

If you’ve received the love of God in Christ by faith, if you have the hope of eternal life, do not let the cares or enjoyments of this world entangle you. Guard your heart, so that nothing, whether love of family members, or friends, or reputation, or money, or influence, draw your heart away from your Lord and Savior. Let him be your hope, now and forever.
Let us have fellowship with one another. Ours is that blessed communion of the saints. We have Christ, and so we have each other. In one love, with one heart, one in prayer, let us help one another, forgive one another, and pray with and for one another. This is one of the greatest blessings of being a child of God.

Finally, let us rejoice in our Savior. For us who have experienced that hope of eternal life, nothing can ever take it away from us. We may have hardships and suffering in this world. But it cannot take away our joy. They may take away our houses, our family, our possessions, our income, or even our liberty by putting us in jail. But they can never take away the joy that we have by being God’s children, our hope of eternal life in Christ. Let us rejoice in him in this world, in all circumstances. Remind yourself to think about the hope that you have in Christ, especially when the world has got you down. It is important for us to remind ourselves to think about the joy that we have because of the grace that we have received in him. Let us rejoice in him now and forever.

The apostles declared to us what they had heard, seen, and touched: The Word of Life, that we may have fellowship with one another, through the Father and the Son, and that our joy may be full.  Amen.

“I’ve Been Down That Road Before.”

God’s Grace Has Appeared to Us, In Jesus Christ

“I’ve been down that road before.” said Hank Williams Sr., under the alias of Luke the Drifter. And so we have all been down that road before. What road is it that I’m talking about? It’s the road of foolishness. It’s the road of disobedience. It’s the road of letting ourselves be deceived by various lusts and pleasures It’s the road of living in malice and envy, and hating one another. But, what happened? The kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, in a little toddler on his mother’s knee, to whom the nations gathered to present gifts: of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were gifts fit for a King: gold, a priest: frankincense, that spice used in the incense of the temple, and myrrh, foreshadowing his sacrificial death that that boy would one day die for the sins of the world. For that boy was no ordinary boy, but the Lord of Glory himself, him who is from the beginning, who was eternally pre-existent with the Father. And how did he make this grace that appeared in Christ the Savior active in our lives? He applied it to us, by the Holy Spirit, who, renewing our will, made us able and willing to embrace Christ the savior by faith, as he was presented to us, in the gospel, that we have heard. Thus, God’s grace was poured out generously upon us, in our hearts and in our lives. We became the righteous ones in God’s sight. Not by works which we had done, but by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. That same Holy Spirit who made us new, worked in our lives, making us heirs of the promise, true children of our heavenly Father, and is even now making us fit to receive that inheritance by his work in our lives, making us more like our heavenly Father, remolding us in his likeness. So then, knowing what road we’ve been down, and what we’ve been saved from, how ought we to act in the midst of this fallen world towards those who are what we once were, who are like us, except that they have not received the same grace that we have, prior to this point. It is this application that the apostle Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, takes as an opportunity to expound upon the grace of God that appeared to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Titus 3:1 KJV Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,
2 To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.
3 For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.
4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,
5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.

The kindness and love of God appeared to us in the person of Christ our Savior.  The word translated “appeared” here is the Greek, epephane, which is where the word, “Epiphany”, comes from, a traditional feast on January 6th celebrating the appearance of Christ as the Son of God and Savior. While in the East the traditional topic of preaching has been on the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan, in the West it is the wise men bringing gifts to the boy Jesus. We can think of a connection between these two passages of Scripture, in that both reveal Christ to be the Savior of the World, the one who is both God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, who came to redeem Israel, and the nations.

In Christ, the kindness of the Father has appeared to us. Because of Jesus Christ, it is explained to us. It is set forth. When the Lord Jesus came into this world, and began his ministry in Judea, what was the first thing he began to do? He began to preach. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15 He let us know that the Father loved us, and had sent his only begotten son to save us, not from bondage in Egypt or captivity in Babylon, but from slavery to our own sin, and subjection to death and the devil. If the Lord Jesus had not proclaimed this good news. That was news bout himself, about what he came to do. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”, Jesus said (Luke 4:24). In him the love of our heavenly Father was made known. It appeared. It epephane.

It appeared not only to his disciples, but to the whole world, when he died on the cross. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” John 12:32 In him the kind of loving intention of the Father toward us was made known, in that he did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us, to make u s his sons and daughters. The Lord Jesus appeared to be who he said he was, at his resurrection, and when this message was preached to the whole world, like by Paul in Athens, that Christ is risen from the dead. In this way the kindness and love of God to all men appeared, in that Christ Jesus is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe. And whoever calls upon his name will be saved.

Through Christ, the Holy Spirit has regenerated us.  He has effected a change in our orientation, that manifests itself in our lives. This work of regeneration is the new birth. It is a new beginning, at true change. It translates into faith where there was once skepticism or apathy, and holiness, “set-apart” -ness for God, where there was once only rebellion and indulgence in the sinful flesh. And, although the change is gradual, and holiness is not perfect in an instant, nor, truthfully, at any time in this life for any Christian this side of glory, yet it is a real change, that begins at the moment that the dead sinner is born again of the grace of God, by the powerful act of the Holy Spirit upon the soul, by a miracle of love. It is a washing that makes the dirty clean, and sprinkles the conscience from adherence to dead works of sin or hypocrisy, to serve the living God.  This washing is the reason why the Lord saw fit to give us the sacrament that symbolizes it that uses water, that is, baptism.  Because this regeneration which is signified in baptism is a washing and a cleansing, just like you use water to wash your face.

This work is through Christ, in his redemption accomplished for us, and applied to us. Just as law enforcement officers carry out a court order that the judge makes, so the Holy Spirit applies to the dead sinner the redemption bought for him by Christ on the cross, in the effectual call that produces a new birth in the sinner. This work is in and through Christ from start to finish, so it is all of those for whom Christ gave his precious life, and those only, who receive this grace of regeneration that is explained in this passage. It is not as some have imagined, that there is a disconnect between the father’s electing love from before the foundation of the world, by which he chose some to be saved, and passed by the rest, and the love of God manifest in Christ on the cross. Both are in agreement, in respect to their object, that is, we who are chosen by God. And such that the Father planned, and the Son accomplished, the Spirit applies. So our faith is genuinely a trinitarian faith. Each person of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, works in concert, co-laboring in the blessed divine work of the redemption of sinners.

We have been justified by grace, and made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  This faith is a gift of God to us. “This [faith] is not of ourselves. It is the gift of God,” says the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:8. It is by faith that we receive Christ as our Savior. And based on this union that we have with him, the Father has declared us righteous in him. Just as Israel, according to the language of Scripture, was declared to be the “Son” of God in power (Exodus 2:22), in the day that God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and drown all of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, just as Christ was declared to be the Son of God in power to all the universe, on the day that he rose again from the dead, having left his grave clothes lying there in the stone cold sepulcher, so God has declared us righteous in Christ. Though we are sinners, yet when God sees us, he does not see our sins. No, he sees the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with which he kept the law his entire life, before laying down his life for our sins. He is the One who is called, “the LORD our righteousness.” Jeremiah 23:6 This righteousness of his becomes ours, by means of faith, that is our believing in him, which God has enabled us to do. And this state of being declared righteous the Scriptures refer to as the act of “justification.” It is something that all true believers in Christ have already experienced. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” declares the Holy Spirit in Romans 5:1.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.

Becoming an heir is not something that one earns. It is bequeathed by a will and testament. If you are blessed enough to inherit property or some other right, you didn’t do any work for it. You get it regardless of your personal character or worthiness. So it is with the hope of eternal life, that we have received through Jesus Christ, who died for us, the Testator of the eternal Testament and covenant that he made with us and for us. This gives us a blessed and indefatigable hope, that we who were his enemies have been made heirs of God, and will receive this blessing one day, and be happy with him forever.

However, just as an heir received something he didn’t earn, he may require some preparation to get ready to receive it. He’s got to get his thoughts and plans in order, and maybe even learn a thing or two about property management, personal finance, real estate, business, even agriculture, how to manage a rental property, or simply individual responsibility, so that he can make good use of the property that he is going to inherit. So it is with the heirs of eternal life. It would not do for someone who is to be made an heir of eternal life, who will enjoy God for eternity, to find his pleasure here on earth in the filthy pursuits of this world. If your heart is in the sins of the flesh, and of the eyes, what makes you think that you will enjoy God forever in heaven? Those whom God has justified by grace alone in Christ, he makes ready to receive the kingdom. He does this by progressively altering their desires and pleasures, so that they take delight in him and not in greed, malice, hatred, envy, lust, or those other things with which the world sullies itself, like a pig in the mud who just can’t get dirty enough.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.  

Therefore, let us be submissive to the authorities that God has established over us in this world.  It is simply a part of being winsome. Some champions of various causes in the modern world have not learned this lesson, becoming activists to the extreme. This is not a way to win people over to your message. We who have the most gracious message of all, that is reconciliation with the Creator, offered to all people without distinction, through Christ whom he has given to be the Savior of the World, ought to be the most submissive of all to the authorities that God has established in this world: to local governments, and the laws of the land, and law enforcement, and tax officials. For we have a hope that the world does not know. How could we let the petty concerns of this world, because the justice of this world is far less than perfect, to override our concern of the souls of dead sinners, so that we will waste our time fighting the powers that be in this world? Let us practice living peaceful lives, respecting all authorities, knowing that God is working everything for his good pleasure.

Therefore, let us be kind and gracious to all men. If we know the grace of God in Christ to us, which passes understanding, how can we not be gracious to others? It’s logical, but how quickly to we begin acting like somehow we deserve God’s grace? If the Scriptures teach us anything, it’s that we in no way deserve to be God’s chosen people. We didn’t earn it, and so how can we look down upon others who have no received the same grace as we have, when we were once just like they are, and when it is only God’s intervening grace that has made the difference in our lives? Let us not be haughty, walking around with our noses in the air, as if somehow our status of as heirs of eternal life is something that we have earned. For we did not. Even the faith that we have in Christ is a gift of God. So let us be loving and gracious to all people, not matter how annoying and unreasonable they might be. Because we were once exactly the same. Let us show love to them in the way that we act around them, and speak to them, and pray that God would give them the same gift of faith that he has given you. Otherwise, you’re acting as if you’ve never experienced God’s grace in Christ at all. Let us be loving and kind to all people.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.  Amen.

The Creator Who Became One of Us to Recreate Us

“Molinos La Mancha” from wikimedia commons

In the third century an insidious heresy infected the the still young Church of Jesus Christ. A presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt named Arius taught a new doctrine about Christ that seemed to make sense to the human mind, in an attempt to make the Lord Jesus more palatable to non-believers. He taught that Jesus the Son of God was the first creation of God the Father, not eternally with the Father. Frequently the motive of evangelism becomes the seed that produces false teaching in the Church, which is all the more reason for us to zealously guard the faith that we have been delivered. Because of the controversy that this teaching, known as “Arianism” produced in the Roman Empire, Emperor Constantine called a council of bishops representing all of the Christian Churches to a city called Nicaea in the year 312 A. D. Notable among the bishops was one St. Nicholas of Myra, who legendarily defended Christ’s divine nature at the council. The result of this godly council of church fathers was a creed, which, with some additions made at the Council of Constantinople some years later, produced what we confess as the Nicene Creed, a statement that summarizes our Christian Faith, especially when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ, who, being eternally begotten of the Father, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, became man, by taking unto himself a true human nature, in the womb of the virgin Mary. He is and remains God and man in one person forever. Following the Council of Nicaea, this doctrine was preached by great men of God such as the Cappadocian Fathers: Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus, and Basil the Great, and by John Chrysostom, that “golden-mouthed” preacher at the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. During this time the festival of the Nativity on December 25th was becoming popular in the churches. The Greek fathers used it as a tool to promote the true doctrine of Christ and to systematically eliminate Arianism by setting aside one day in the year to preach on the birth of the God-man. The chief feature of the festival was the preaching of Christ. As Gregory of Nyssa stated, “What better way is there to celebrate Him who is the Word, than by preaching the Word?” One of the key passages the church fathers used to derive the doctrine of Christ was the opening verses of John’s gospel, which says,

John 1:1 KJV* In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God.

The Greek work here translated “Word” is “Logos.” This is a term that the apostle John, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is borrowing from Greek Philosophy. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, “Logos” is “(Greek: “word,” “reason,” or “plan”) plural logoi, in Greek philosophy and theology, the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning.” John makes use of this term from Greek philosophy to teach us that God the Son is that divine reason who controls the cosmos.

In an echo of Genesis 1:1, which begins, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”, John starts off his gospel with the words, “In the beginning was the Word” aka. Logos. God the Son is from the beginning. He is not becoming as we are. We who are created beings are always changing. Even the cells of our body die and reproduce themselves throughout our lives, so that we are not what we were months ago. In contrast the Word never changes. He is from the beginning. He has no beginning himself. “In the beginning” here indicates that he already existed before anything had begun, meaning that he is without beginning. He was there before anything as we know it, before anything in this mutable creation, existed. He was “with God”, indicating in the original language a close intimacy, that of him who was in the bosom of the Father from the beginning.

3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

This Word is the Creator. It was he who is indicated by Moses in the words of Genesis 1:3, “God said let there be light, and there was light.” There is nothing made that he did not make. He is the Maker of everything that exists, other himself, that is, God.

4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Light indicates reason and knowledge, the opposite of ignorance and superstition. Not only Does Christ enlighten, illuminate those who come to him, there is no knowledge that anyone has on earth, except that which is a gift from him. Even those who deny and reject him still retain some glimmer’s of God’s image in them, like when they invent efficient data storage systems or paint inspiring paintings on canvas. This skill and knowledge they owe to the Son of God who is their Creator.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.  8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

John the Baptizer was he who was foretold by the prophet Malachi. He was the one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, who wore hair clothing and a leather belt just like Elijah the Tishbite. Malachi prophesies of the one who would prepare the way for the LORD YHWH. This is yet another proof that the to whom John pointed his hearers, that is Jesus of Nazareth, is none other than God himself. He prepared the way for the Lord Jesus by preaching repentance, a turning a way from sin to God, to the nation of Israel, preaching in the desert. He pointed his hearers forward to place faith in him who was to come, whose sandals John said that he was not worthy to stoop down and untie.

9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

God the Son is the origin of all knowledge. Every human being living in this world, or deceased in the past, owes him all credit for any knowledge that he has. He was rejected, not only by those he had created, but even worse, by the nation of Israel that he had taken under his special care and saved from slavery in Egypt, the people with whom he had made a covenant so that they would be his own cherished possession.

12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

But for all those who receive him by faith, of whatever nation, he grants the power, the authority, the legal adoption papers, to them as adopted children of their loving heavenly Father. This right or status is procured by faith, which is the open hand that simply receives God’s free gift of Christ the Savior, sent for them.

13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

This faith does not come naturally to man, who is fallen in sin, and would rather shake his fist at God and spit in his face every day than be adopted into his family. But there is a miracle of grace that the Holy Spirit mentions here, that changes the sinner, making the heart new. Then, instead of hating God, the reborn sinner loves and wants to serve him. This change is not achieved by an act of the will. It is a sovereign act of God upon the soul. It is the Lord Jesus who regenerates, who makes sinners to be born again, by his Spirit working in and upon them.

14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

This word was made flesh. He became man in the womb of a young woman named Mary, by taking to himself a full yet previously un-impersonated human nature, in one person. This is a very important teaching of Scripture, as the church fathers that we previously spoke of knew well. They knew that it was only through the Mediator who is fully God and fully man in one person forever, that we sinners can be reconciled to our heavenly Father whom we have offended by sin. The Mediator must be God, and he must be one of us, or he cannot be our Mediator, the Christ. He dwelt among us, or literally, he “made his tent” among us, by taking to himself a human nature.

Christ, being God and Creator, became human in order that those who believe in him will be adopted as sons, those who have been born of God unto faith.

Christ is God.  He is the true God. He is the one who controls the universe. This means that everyone is obligated to obey him, everywhere. No matter who you are or where you come from, Christ Jesus is God of you. You are required to obey him because you inhabit his universe. Because he works everything out exactly according to his plan, those who are his know that nothing can hurt them. He holds them in the palm of his hand and nothing can ever go wrong. They are in his plan and loving grip.

Christ is the Creator.  Everything was made by him. There is nothing in this word that was not made by him. The Creator also has the power to recreate. For although he made everything “very good”, as we learned in Sunday School, yet man has sinned against him. So because of his tender and loving mercy, the Creator became like one of his creatures, in order to restore what had been marred by sin, his image in man.

Christ became a human being in order to bring us adoption as sons of the Father. He accomplished this by dying for us on the cross, taking away the guilt of our sin, and reconciling the Father to us, and us to the Father, so that we would become recipients of the grace of God in him, and beloved children of the Father. The change that he wrought in us is ultimately not dependent upon any contribution of ours or act of our will. It is the gift of God.

Christ, being God and Creator, became human in order that those who believe in him will be adopted as sons, those who have been born of God unto faith.  Therefore, let us believe in him. Let us receive this free gift of God with an open hand, let us receive Christ. Let us trust and believe in him every day, when we sin, when we feel guilty, and when we stumble. For even though we have been born again of our heavenly Father, we are not free from sin in our lives entirely. It is a gradual process of restoration, as God’s image in us is brought back more and more, little by little until the day that we die or that Christ returns, whichever is first.

Let us rejoice in the Savior. We who deserve only the wrath of God, have been adopted as his dear children. Let us rejoice in our Lord Jesus Christ, who became one of us to save us from the wrath of God that we so surely deserve.

If we have experienced his grace, if we truly love our Father, as his own adopted children, we will not be able to keep this good news to ourselves. We who have experienced love will want others to experience it, too. We will take opportunities to share this good news with others, as witnesses to the grace of God, as he gives us opportunity, to friends, neighbors, family, co-workers, and strangers.

Let us beware of false teachers who teach contrary to the doctrine of Christ as revealed in Scripture, who teach like Arius in ancient times that the Son of God was made like Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses, and also shun any thought that he is less than fully human, like the Monophysites of old who thought that Christ was only of a divine nature, and only appeared as a man, for only the One who is God and Man in one person, the God-man, Jesus Christ the Lord, can save us. He is our Mediator.

Christ, being God and Creator, became human in order that those who believe in him will be adopted as sons, those who have been born of God unto faith.  Amen.

The preceding is a synopsis of a sermon preached on December 28, 2014 at the Reformed Fellowship of Bellevue in Bellevue, Nebraska.

*The King James Version is used here since it is free from copyright restriction within the United States.