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John MacArthur

(197 posts)

A Turning Point

This week, Pulpit Magazine began a series of posts on “Lordship Salvation” taken from the writings of Pastor John MacArthur on that subject. Today, they republished a 2003 article titled A 15-Year Retrospective on the Lordship Controversy, which begins by noting that it was fifteen years (now eighteen) earlier that MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus was published. The article gives a brief discussion of the nature of the controversy, and why a correct view of the lordship of Christ is so important to our Soteriology. The Pulpit article caused me to do a retrospective of my own. I remember very well when The Gospel According to Jesus was published. I was newly married and living in Fridley, Minnesota. I was driving a delivery van for a formal wear company, which gave me the opportunity to listen to the radio most of the day as I made my rounds around the Twin Cities and surrounding area. It was during this time that I was introduced to John MacArthur through the Grace to You radio broadcast. MacArthur was the first genuine expository preacher I had ever encountered, and it wasn’t long before I was hooked on Grace to You. I was no undiscerning listener, though. I had mentioned MacArthur to some friends from the Lutheran Bible School I had attended, and one of them had warned me that he was a Calvinist. I had not heard any overtly Calvinist teaching on Grace to You, but I was on guard lest I be taken in by that heresy. The first point of doctrine that impressed me while listening to Grace to You was MacArthur’s conviction that salvation was more than a pardon from damnation. A redeemed sinner cannot continue in sin. The “carnal Christian” is a myth. The Gospel According to Jesus completely changed my perspective on so-called “Free Grace” Theology. My opposition to this absurd heresy had formerly been legalistic. To think that one could be saved and still do whatever he wanted was repugnant. Although I affirmed that salvation was by grace alone, there was a sense in which I believed that salvation was contingent upon obedience. I would have denied it, but I really believed that we are saved by grace, and kept, at least in part, by works. I think things through slowly, and do not usually change my mind quickly (I regret the times that I have, as I have been wrong in almost every case), so it took me longer than just reading this book for the truth to sink in. I eventually came to understand that a true believer lives obediently not out of obligation, but because his desires have been changed. He is being conformed to the image of Christ, not by his own effort, but by “God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). As much as I appreciated MacArthur’s expositions of Scripture and his stand against the antinomianism of the “Free Grace” movement, I remained on guard against any sneaky Calvinism that might creep into my thinking. I still have my first-edition hardcover copy of The Gospel According to Jesus, with one paragraph marked where he snuck in his belief in eternal security. I was greatly disappointed, since the rest of the book was so good. Over a period of at least ten years, as I listened to Grace to You, read MacArthur’s books and study guides, increased my study of other theological sources, and searching the Scriptures “to see whether these things were so,” I learned two things. First, I learned that I had been right. Calvinism as I understood it is heresy. Second, I learned that I had been wrong. Arminianism is serious error, and some of what I had believed was heresy. Third, I began to see that genuine Calvinism is no less than Biblical theology, but it would still be a few years before I would understand that completely and be willing to say so out loud. In fact, there are some points that I have only recently come to terms with, and others that I know I never will. I am convinced that many of the debates over the finer points of Calvinist Soteriology are attempts to answer the unanswerable. The more I see of these discussions, the less they interest me. To conclude these somewhat rambling thoughts, the Pulpit Magazine series on “Lordship Salvation” takes me back to a major turning point in my life. That first edition of The Gospel According to Jesus on my shelf is a memorial to the day in my life when I really began to pursue theology seriously. Since then I have read many other books, including many that are better and more important, but The Gospel According to Jesus is the one that started it all. And I reached that turning point because I was working a low paying, dead end job that allowed me to listen to the radio all day.

The Necessity of Propositions

Monday··2008·01·07 · 3 Comments
The reason behind postmodernism’s contempt for propositional truth is not difficult to understand. A proposition is an idea framed as a logical statement that affirms or denies something, and it is expressed in such a way that it must be either true or false. There is no third option between true and false. (This is the “excluded middle” in logic.) The whole point of a proposition is to boil a truth statement down to such a pristine clarity that it must be either affirmed or denied. In other words, propositions are the simplest expressions of truth value used to express the substance of what we believe. Postmodernism, frankly, cannot endure that kind of stark clarity. In reality, however, postmodernism’s rejection of the propositional form turns out to be totally untenable. It is impossible to discuss truth at all—or even tell a story—without resorting the use of propositions. Until fairly recently, the validity and necessity of expressing truth in propositional form was considered self-evident by virtually everyone who ever studied logic, semantics, philosophy, or theology. Ironically, to make any cogent argument against the use of propositions, a person would have to employ propositional statements! So every argument against propositions is instantly self-defeating. Let’s be clear: truth certainly does entail more than bare propositions. There is without question a personal element to the truth. Jesus Himself made that point when He declared Himself truth incarnate. Scripture also teaches that faith means receiving Christ for all that He is—knowing Him in a real and personal sense and being indwelt by Him—not merely assenting to a short list of disembodied truths about Him (Matthew 7:21–23). So it is quite true that faith cannot be reduced to mere assent to a finite set of propositions (James 2:19). . . . Saving faith is more than a merely intellectual nod of approval to the bare facts of a minimalist gospel outline. Authentic faith in Christ involves love for His person and willingness to surrender to His authority the human heart, will, and intellectual consent in the act of faith. In that sense, it is certainly correct, even necessary, to acknowledge that mere propositions can’t do full justice to all the dimensions of truth. On the other hand, truth simply cannot survive if stripped of propositional content. While it is quite true that believing the truth entails more than the assent of the human intellect to certain propositions, it equally true that authentic faith never involves anything less. To reject the propositional content of the gospel is to forfeit saving faith, period. —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 14–15.

Ambassadors and Soldiers

As Christians, we are entrusted with the truth of the gospel. It is our duty to stand for truth, and against all enemies of truth. Postmodernism is simply the latest expression of worldly unbelief. Its core value—dubious ambivalence toward truth—is merely skepticism distilled to its pure essence. There is nothing virtuous or genuinely humble about it. It is proud rebellion against divine revelation. In fact, postmodernism’s hesitancy about truth is exactly antithetical to the bold confidence Scripture says is the birthright of every believer (Ephesians 3:12). Such assurance is wrought by the Spirit of God Himself in those who believe (I Thessalonians 1:5). We need to make the most of that assurance and not fear to confront the world with it. The gospel message in all its component facts is a clear, definitive, confident, authoritative proclamation that Jesus is Lord, and that He gives eternal and abundant life to all who believe. We who truly know Christ and have received that gift of eternal life have also received from Him a clear, definitive commission to deliver the gospel message boldly as His ambassadors. If we are likewise not clear and distinct on our proclamations of the message, we are not being good ambassadors. But we are not merely ambassadors. We are simultaneously soldiers, commissioned to wage war for the defense and dissemination of the truth in the face of countless onslaughts against it. We are ambassadors—with a message of good news for people who walk in a land of darkness and dwell in the land of the shadow of death (Isaiah 9:2). And we are soldiers—charged with pulling down ideological strongholds and casting down the lies and deception spawned by the forces of evil (1 Corinthians 10:3–5; 2 Timothy 2:3–4). Notice carefully: our task as ambassadors is to bring good news to people. Our mission as soldiers is to overthrow false ideas. We must keep those objectives straight; we are not entitled to wage warfare against people or the enter into diplomatic relations with anti-Christian ideas. Our warfare is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12); and our duty as ambassadors does not permit us to compromise or align ourselves with any kind of human philosophies, religious deceit, or any other kind of falsehood (Colossians 2:8). —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 24–25.

Theological Terrorists

Which is worse: atheists and other opponents of Christianity, or apostates within the church? John MacArthur answers: Can someone . . . be even more dangerous than the hostile critic who stands outside the church and overtly opposes everything the Bible teaches? Absolutely. False teachers and doctrinal saboteurs inside the church have always confused more people and done more damage than open adversaries on the outside. Is an attacking enemy who promises his arrival in advance and wears a uniform for easy identification as dangerous as a terrorist who is hidden and acts with deadly surprise? The answer is obvious. —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 81.

Postmodern Apostacy

As you know, I’ve been reading The Truth War by John MacArthur. Like everyone else whom I have read on the subject of the Emergent [whatever] and postmodernism, he points out the fact that the postmodern belief system is not easily defined. That is certainly true, and I am afraid that that fact makes many (but certainly not MacArthur) reluctant to condemn it outright, and uncertain about how to react to it. But is that hesitancy justified? The typical postmodernist’s response to criticism is, “You don’t understand us! We are not all alike!” The implication is that, since we don’t understand them, we cannot judge them. But is that necessarily true? Let’s suppose they are right: let’s assume D. A. Carson, John MacArthur, and anyone else who has written about Emergent and postmodernism has completely misunderstood them and has no idea what they believe. Does that disqualify us from judging them to be outside the Christian faith? If we don’t understand what they are saying, can we still say they are wrong? Yes, we can. It is enough to know what they do not believe, as deduced from what they do not—and will not—say. The fundamentals of the Biblical, Christian faith are clearly stated in Scripture and are easily understood by any believer who diligently seeks to know. Those fundamentals—the Trinity, the virgin birth and deity of Christ, the sovereignty of God, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, original sin and depravity, justification by faith, the atonement, the resurrection—are clearly stated propositions, and Scripture makes it plain that these truths exclude any other religion, no matter how sincere and devout. So I don’t have to know what Emergents believe. I don’t have to engage them in “conversation” in order to determine what they really believe. It is enough to know what they do not believe, and in knowing what they do not believe, I know who they are not. And they are intentionally vague and noncommittal on virtually everything. They consistently refuse to affirm the fundamentals of the faith, and so are unable to give a Biblical account for the hope that is in them (1 Peter 3:15). Furthermore, they ridicule anyone who claims faith in anything certain. This is not the Biblical, Christian faith. Our faith is certain. We know the truth, and it has set us free (John 8:32). And we are growing in our knowledge of the truth. We are not becoming more confused, “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7), “carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). The battle against postmodern heresy is no intramural disagreement. It is no less than a battle against apostasy. Our opponents are not brothers with disagreements on disputable matters. At stake is the Gospel itself, our opponents are enemies of “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3), and no negotiation is possible. The lines are drawn. Which side are you on?

Conceding the Battle

Not everyone who believes in Jesus actually believes in Jesus. Christians today often actually seem more distressed about believers who think the Truth War is still worth fighting than about the dangers of false doctrine. Their complaint has become a familiar refrain: “Why don’t you just lighten up? Why don’t you ease up on the campaign against doctrines you disagree with? Why must you constantly critique what others are teaching? After all, we all believe in the same Jesus.” But Scripture clearly and repeatedly warns us that not everyone who claims to believe in Jesus really does. Jesus Himself said many would claim to know Jesus who actually do not (Matthew 7:22–23). Satan and his ministers have always masqueraded as ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 2:11). After all, this has been his strategy from the very start. So it is the very height of folly (and disobedience) for Christians in the current generation to decide all of a sudden that in the name of “love” we ought to sweep aside every aberrant idea about the gospel and unconditionally embrace everyone who claims to be a Christian. To do that would be to concede the whole battle for truth to the enemy. We must continue the fight. —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 95–96. Not every Jesus saves.

The Pursuit of Relevance

The sad truth is that the larger part of the evangelical movement is already so badly compromised that sound doctrine has almost become a nonissue. The mad pursuit of nondoctrinal “relevancy.” Even at the very heart of the evangelical mainstream, where you might expect to find some commitment to biblical doctrine and at least a measure of concern about defending the faith, what you find instead is a movement utterly dominated by people whose first concern is to try to keep in step with the times in order to be “Relevant.” Sound doctrine? To arcane for the average churchgoer. Biblical exposition? That alienates the “unchurched.” Clear preaching on sin and redemption? Let’s be careful not to subvert the self-esteem of hurting people. The Great Commission? Our most effective strategy has been making the church service into a massive Super Bowl party. Serious discipleship? Sure. There’s a great series of group studies based on I love Lucy episodes. Let’s work our way through that. Worship where God is recognized as high and lifted up? Get real. We need to reach people on the level where they are. Evangelicals and their leaders have doggedly pursued that same course for several decades now, in spite of many clear biblical instructions that warn us not to be so childish (in addition to Ephesians 4:14, see also 1 Corinthians 14:20; 2 Timothy 4:3–4; Hebrews 5:12–14). What’s the heart of the problem? It boils down to this: Much of the evangelical movement has forgotten who is Lord over the church. They have either abandoned or downright rejected their true Head and given His rightful place to evangelical pollsters and church-growth gurus. —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 149–150.

The Perspicuity of Scripture

Protestant Christianity has always affirmed the perspicuity of Scripture. That means we believe God has spoken distinctly in His word. Not everything in the Bible is equally clear, of course (2 Peter 3:16). But God’s Word is plain enough for the average reader to know and understand everything necessary for a saving knowledge of Christ. Scripture is also sufficiently clear to enable us to obey the Great Commission, which expressly requires us to teach others “all things” that Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:18–20). Two thousand years of accumulated Christian scholarship has been basically consistent on all the major issues: the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, containing every spiritual truth essential to God’s glory, our salvation, faith, and eternal life. Scripture tells us that all humanity fell in Adam and our sin is a perfect bondage from which we cannot extricate ourselves. Jesus is God incarnate, having taken on human flesh to pay the price of sin and redeem believing men and women from sin’s bondage. Salvation is by grace through faith, and not a result of any works we do. Christ is the only Savior for the whole world, and apart from faith in Him, there is no hope of redemption for any sinner. So the gospel message needs to be carried to the uttermost parts of the earth. True Christianity have always been in full agreement on all those vital points of biblical truth. As a matter of fact, the postmodernized notion that everything should be perpetually up for discussion and nothing is ever really sure or settled is a plain and simple denial of both the perspicuity of Scripture and the unanimous testimony of the people of God throughout redemptive history. In one sense, the contemporary denial for the Bible’s clarity represents a regression to medieval thinking, when the papal hierarchy insisted that the Bible is too unclear for laypeople to interpret it for themselves. (This belief led to much fierce persecution against those who worked to translate the Bible into common languages.) In another sense, however, the postmodern denial of Scripture’s clarity is even worse that the darkness of medieval religious superstition, because postmodernism in effect says no one can reliably understand what the Bible means, Postmodernism leaves people permanently in the dark about practically everything. That, too, is a denial of Christ’s lordship over the church. How could He exercise His headship over His church if His own people could never truly know what he meant by what He said? Jesus Himself settled the question of whether his truth is sufficiently clear in John 10:27–28, when He said “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 157–158.

Truth: The Mind of Christ

Pontius Pilate famously asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Postmodernism asks the same question, and the answer is the same now as it was then. Truth is that word to which Jesus came to testify (v. 37), beginning with the Law and the Prophets, fulfilled in the Gospels, and expounded by the Apostles. What is truth? . . . Truth is not any individual’s opinion or imagination. Truth is what God decrees. And He has given us an infallible source of saving truth in His revealed Word. For the true Christian, this should not be a complex issue. God’s Word is what all pastors and Church leaders are commanded to proclaim, in season and out of season—when it is well received and even when it is not (2 Timothy 4:2). It is what every Christian is commanded to read, study, meditate on, and divide rightly. It is what we are called and commissioned by Christ to teach and proclaim to the uttermost parts of the earth. Is there mystery even in the truth God has revealed? Of course. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). In 1 Corinthians 2:16, Paul paraphrased Isaiah 40:13–14: “Who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But then Paul immediately added this: “We have the mind of Christ.” Christ has graciously given us enough truth and enough understanding to equip us for every good deed—including the work of earnestly contending for the faith against deceivers who try to twist the truth of the gospel. Although we cannot know the mind of God exhaustively, we certainly can know it sufficiently to be warriors for the cause of truth against the lies of the kingdom of darkness. And we are commanded to participate in that battle. God Himself sounded the call to battle when His spirit moved Jude to write his short epistle and it permanently entered the canon of Scripture. This is not a duty any faithful Christian can shirk. Earthly life for the faithful Christian can never be a perpetual state of ease and peace. That’s why the New Testament includes so may descriptions of the Christian life as nonstop warfare: Ephesians 6:11–18; 2 Timothy 2:1–4; 2 Timothy 4:7; 2 Corinthians 6:7; 10:3–5; 1 Thessalonians 5:8. I hope by now you understand that those unwilling to join the fight against untruth and false religion are no true friends of Christ. —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 183–184.

Andrews Needed

I love preachers, and I love listening to preaching, but I think I can say that the most important human agencies in my conversion were not preachers as such, but individuals who invested themselves in me on a personal level. And I am not the exception. Andrew’s witness to Peter took the form of a personal testimony: “We have found the Messiah” “(John 1:41). Our witness should always include a biblical explanation about Jesus, but it is also important for us to speak of our own experience with the Lord. Peter knew what Messiah meant. John tells his Greek readers that this term means “the Christ”—that is, the “Anointed One” who would come to save and lead Israel. But Andrew also shared his personal experience. [Alexander] MacLaren comments, “The mightiest argument that we can use, and the argument that we can all use, if we have got any religion in us at all, is that of Andrew, ‘We have found the Messiah.’” What kind of things should we tell others about Jesus? We should tell them what caused us to believe. We should tell what we have experienced in our hearts: the joy of knowing our sins are forgiven, the peace that comes through the Holy Spirit, the love we feel as children of God, and the excitement of seeing the truth with new eyes. If you have a good doctor, you tell your friends that they should see him when they are sick. Are your friends not sick in their souls? If you find a store with a great sale, you call your family members and friends to let them know. But here are blessings that money cannot buy—blessings that are, in fact, available to all by God’s free gift of grace—and that never perish or fade. We should tell people what it has meant to us to turn away from sins that had dragged us down for so long, and to have a power within that enables us to walk in faith with God. A personal testimony does not replace a biblical proclamation about Jesus, but it is an important complement. And it requires that we have a close relationship with the Lord. If we are not excited about God’s Word, if we are not warmed by close fellowship with God, and if we are not humbled by Christ’s suffering on the cross for our sins, we will not be very effective witnesses. Yet it is essential that we be able to give such a witness. MacArthur is right when he says: Most people do not come to Christ as an immediate response to a sermon they hear in a crowded setting. They come to Christ because of the influence of an individual. . . . In the overwhelming majority of [new believers’ testimonies], they tell us they came to Christ primarily because of the testimony of a coworker, a neighbor, a relative, or a friend. . . . There’s no question that the most effective means for bringing people to Christ is one at a time, on an individual basis. Between these two brothers—Peter and Andrew—we see the two main kinds of witnesses God provides in the church: the public preaching of the Word and the personal testimony of individual Christians. Every church needs a Peter who will preach the gospel publicly, and God greatly uses faithful preaching. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, when three thousand people believed on Christ, is one such example. But as important as preaching is, it is at least as necessary that a church have a legion of Andrews: those who bring people to Jesus one by one through their heartfelt testimonies. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 49–50.

Psalm 1: The Blessed Man

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the " />counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish. The Psalm begins with a description of the general state of the righteous: blessed. Thomas Watson wrote, “This Psalm carries blessedness in the frontispiece; it begins where we all hope to end . . .” Now, one might think that this blessedness is consequential to the traits of the righteous described in the verses that follow. Certainly, there are benefits that proceed from godly living; but I think it is better to see those traits as the blessings themselves. To see righteousness as the cause of blessedness is to forget that the only righteousness we possess is a righteousness that is not our own. The Psalm then contrasts the righteous and the wicked. The wicked and righteous are separated, first ethically, and then judicially.* Ethical Separation The Righteous The righteous man does not keep company with the wicked. This is not to say that he has no association with them. It is to say that he does not look to them for wisdom (walk in the counsel), and that they are not his friends. He may be a friend, to them, in the same sense that Jesus was called a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34), but he does not look to them for friendship (James 4:4). “Walk,” “sit,” “stand” may be seen as a progression from casual friendship to finally settling in and becoming one of them. The righteous man delights in God’s law. This is not to say that he is legalistically obsessed with rules and regulations. He simply loves God and wants to know him. He is driven by a desire to know God, and takes great pleasure in knowing and pleasing him. He loves God and his Word so much that it is always on his mind (meditates day and night). The righteous man is planted. He did not spring up wild, or of his own accord. He was intentionally planted, and nourished by streams of water. He will not be moved, and he will receive all the nourishment he needs for healthy life and growth. Consequently, he will bear the fruit that is expected (in its season) of a healthy, thriving tree. We are also reminded that the “streams of water” supplied by our Lord are “living water.” Like the living water promised by Jesus (John 4:7–14; 7:37–38), its effect is permanently life-giving’’its leaf does not wither.” The result is that “in whatever he does, he prospers.” This is not a reference to anything so superficial as physical or material health and prosperity. Success for the Christian is measured by one result only: that he bears good fruit and so displays the glory of God. The Wicked The wicked are not so. After nine lines describing the righteous and his fruit, the poet emphasizes the stark contrast between the righteous and the wicked by describing the wicked in only two. Theologians often define sins into two categories, sins of commission, and sins of omission. These are useful categories, but here we are reminded that all sins are sins of omission. All sin is simply not being righteous, or, as Question 14 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” So after a more lengthy description of the righteous, it is enough to state simply, “The wicked are not so.” Consequently, while the righteous “yields fruit,” “does not wither,” and “prospers,” the wicked “are like the chaff which the wind drives away.” Chaff is the husks of grain, bits of straw, and other debris that survive the initial harvesting process. But it is not grain, which contains the germ of life. It is dead and useless, and is blown away during the grain cleaning process, to go back into the ground and rot. Judicial Separation The Wicked The wicked will not stand in the judgment. The wicked will be judged. Their true character, which is not always discernible to us, is never hidden from God. It will will be brought to light, and a “guilty” verdict will be rendered. Sinners will not stand in the congregation of the righteous. the wicked will be separated from the righteous. Matthew 13, Parable of the Wheat and Tares 24 Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. 26 But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 27 The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” The way of the wicked will perish. They will be burned as the tares in the preceding parable. The Righteous The Lord knows the way of the righteous. This time, it is the righteous of whom little is said, only one line for three describing the fate of the wicked. But it is not really so little. “The Lord knows” is a phrase that is loaded with meaning. Being “known” by the Lord indicates a relationship of profound intimacy, love, and trust. It signifies sonship, having been adopted and made a joint heir with Jesus to eternal life. Being known by the Lord makes all the difference. There are no more fearful words than the sentence “I never knew you” from the mouth of Jesus. * Outline adapted from the MacArthur Study Bible.

The Natural Function

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. Romans 12:2627 In their efforts to promote their agenda, advocates of homosexuality have gone to incredible lengths to convince us that homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. It should surprise no one that most simply write off the Scriptural prohibitions as part of the larger fiction of the Bible. We should expect that. Harder to believe are the claims of those who attempt to manipulate Scripture to support their claims, and normalize homosexuality within the church. Addressing one of the more audacious examples of this Scripture-twisting, John MacArthur writes: . . . homosexual advocates argue that Paul is speaking [in Romans 1:2627] of an individuals sexual orientation (rather than the created order) when he uses the term nature. Thus, for homosexuals, their relationships cannot be described as unnatural, since they are perfectly natural to them [it is alleged by some that Paul is not condemning homosexuality, but homosexual acts committed by heterosexuals]. However, such far-fetched interpretations are easily refuted (both from the context in Romans and from the way kata physin [natural] and para physin [unnatural] were used in ancient times). Moreover, the thought of sexual orientation would have been completely foreign to Paul, and represents an anachronistic attempt to read modern conventions into the biblical text. So then, we have no liberty to interpret the noun nature as meaning my nature, or the adjective natural as meaning what seems natural to me. On the contrary, physis (natural) means Gods created order. To act against nature means to violate the order which God has established, whereas to act according to nature means to behave in accordance with the intention of the Creator. Moreover, the intention of the Creator means his original intention. What this was Genesis tells us and Jesus confirmed. . . . God created humankind male and female; God instituted marriage as a heterosexual union; and what God has thus united, we have no liberty to separate. [Stott, Romans 78. Internal citation from C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegelical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975) 1:125.] John MacArthur, Gods Word on Homosexuality, The Masters Seminary Journal (Fall 2008): 167168.

A More Sure Word

   2 Peter 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of ones own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. This is a classic text expounding the reason for our confidence in the Bible as the Word of God. While many people depend on their own experiences as a foundation for knowledge and wisdom, we have something far better on which to place our confidence. John MacArthur writes: made more sure. This translation could indicate that the eyewitness account of Christs majesty at the Transfiguration confirmed the Scriptures. However the Gr. word order is crucial in that it does not say that. It says, And we have more sure the prophetic word. That original arrangement of the sentence supports the interpretation that Peter is ranking Scripture over experience. The prophetic word (Scripture) is more complete, more permanent, and more authoritative than the experience of anyone. More specifically, the Word of God is a more reliable verification of the teachings about the person, atonement, and second coming of Christ than even the genuine first hand experiences of the apostles themselves. [The MacArthur Study Bible, underlining added] Scripture is more sure because its origin is not the mind of man, but of God. It is therefore, unlike our subjective experience, objectively true. ones own interpretation. The Gr. word for interpretation has the idea of a loosing, as if to say no Scripture is the result of any human being privately, untying and loosing the truth. Peters point is not so much about how to interpret Scripture, but rather how Scripture originated, and what its source was. The false prophets untied and loosed their own ideas. But no part of Gods revelation was unveiled or revealed from a human source or out of the prophets unaided understanding (see v. 21). [ibid.]

MacArthur on Gods Will

Part 1 (6:13) Part 2 (7:53) Part 3 (9:20) Part 4 (9:55) Part 5 (7:57)

Abandoned by God

Saturday··2009·05·02 · 1 Comments
America: Abandoned by God (8:18)

Depravity According to Calvin

John MacArthur explains Calvins view of human depravity: The phrase total depravity (not an expression of Calvins but a phrase descriptive of his view) has an unfortunate ambiguity about it. Many who are exposed to that terminology for the first time suppose it means Calvin taught that all sinners are as thoroughly bad as they possibly can be. But Calvin expressly disclaimed that view. He acknowledged that in every age there have been persons who, guided by nature, have striven toward virtue throughout life [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.3.3.]. Calvin suggested that such people (even though there are lapses . . . in their moral conduct [Ibid.]) are of commendable character, from a human point of view. They have by the very zeal of their honesty given proof that there was some purity in their nature [Ibid.]. He went even further: These examples, accordingly, seem to warn us against adjudging mans nature wholly corrupted, because some men have by its prompting not only excelled in remarkable deeds, but conducted themselves most honorably throughout life [Ibid., emphasis added.]. Nevertheless, Calvin went on to say, such thinking actually points the wrong direction. Instead, it ought to occur to us that amid this corruption of nature there is some place for Gods grace; not such grace as to cleanse it, but to restrain it inwardly [Ibid.]. Calvin was describing here what later theologians called common gracethe divine restraining influence that mitigates the effects of our sin and enables even fallen creatures to displaynever perfectly, but always in a weak and severely blemished waythe image of God that is still part of our human nature, marred though it was by the fall. In other words, depravity is total in the sense that it infects every part of our beingnot the body only; not the feelings alone; but flesh, spirit, mind, emotions, desires, motives, and will together. Were not always as bad as we can be, but that is solely because of Gods restraining grace. We ourselves are thoroughly depraved, because in one way or another sin taints everything we think, do, and desire. Thus, we never fear God the way we should, we never love Him as much as we ought, and we never obey Him with a totally pure heart. That, for Calvin, is what depravity means. Calvins thorough treatment of human depravity is one of his most important legacies. Next to his work on the doctrine of justification by faith, it may be the most vital aspect of his doctrinal system. He brought clarity to a crucial principle that had practically fallen into obscurity over the centuries since Augustines conflict with Pelagius: to magnify human free will or minimize the extent of human depravity is to downplay the need for divine grace, and that undermines every aspect of gospel truth. Once a person truly grasps the truth of human depravity, the more difficult and controversial principles of Calvinist soteriology fall into place. Unconditional election, the primacy and efficacy of saving grace, the need for substitutionary atonement, and the perseverance of those whom God graciously redeems are all necessary consequences of this principle. John MacArthur, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 137138

The Fruit of the Filling

Most of what we read these days on the filling of the Spirit is just flat wrong. This post is intended as an antidote. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Tangent: The filling of the Spirit, which is an on-going process throughout every Christian’s life, should not be confused with baptism of the Spirit, which is a one-time event that happens to every believer at the moment of regeneration. (See John MacArthur, The Baptism of the Holy Spirit.) Notice the word fruit in verse 22. It does not say that the fruits of the Spirit are, but that the fruit . . . is. The list that follows is not of fruits of the Spirit, but various manifestations of that singular fruit. These are the characteristics that flow from being filled with the Spirit. These manifestations are, it is vital to note, not works. This is not a list of things to do, as if we could produce spiritual fruit through fleshly effort. The Geneva Bible notes state succinctly: Therefore, they are not the fruits of free will, but so far forth as our will is made free by grace.1 Matthew Henry wrote: And here we may observe that as sin is called the work of the flesh, because the flesh, or corrupt nature, is the principle that moves and excites men to it, so grace is said to be the fruit of the Spirit, because it wholly proceeds from the Spirit, as the fruit does from the root . . .2 And John Gill: Not of nature or man’s free will, as corrupted by sin, for no good fruit springs from thence; but either of the internal principle of grace, called the Spirit, ver. 17. or rather of the Holy Spirit . . ; the graces of which are called fruit, and not works, as the actions of the flesh are; because they are owing to divine influence efficacy, and bounty, as the fruits of the earth are, to which the allusion is; and not to a man’s self, to the power and principles of nature; and because they arise from a seed, either the incorruptible seed of internal grace, which seminally contains all graces in it, or the blessed Spirit, who is the seed that remains in believers; and because they are in the exercise of them acceptable unto God through Christ, and are grateful and delightful to Christ himself, being his pleasant fruits; which as they come from him, as the author of them, they are exercised on him as the object of them, under the influence of the Spirit . . .3 Finally, John MacArthur: Contrasted with the deeds of the flesh is the fruit of the Spirit. Deeds of the flesh are done by a person’s own efforts, whether he is saved or unsaved. The fruit of the Spirit, on the other hand, is produced by God’s own Spirit and only in the lives of those who belong to Him through faith in Jesus Christ.4 The fruit of the Spirit is a list, then, of indications that one belongs to Christ and has therefore “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” It is a standard of measure to which we can refer when examining ourselves in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” The question this passage asks us is, Are we filled with the Spirit? The filling of the Spirit is something we need continuously. D. L. Moody, when asked why this is, reportedly replied, “Because I leak.” Whether that exchange actually occurred, or is apocryphal, it certainly is true. What are we to do? We can’t fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit. Contrary to the beliefs of many, there is no one we can go to for an “anointing,” no one who can zap us with the Spirit. Consider these two parallel passages: Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. 18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Can you see the parallel? Ephesians: Colossians:be filled with the SpiritLet the word of Christ richly dwell within you speaking to one another in psalms . . . teaching and admonishing one another with psalms . . . giving thankswith thankfulness . . . giving thanks be subject to one another Wives, be subject to your husbands in the fear of Christ as is fitting in the Lord We can see that the results of being filled with the Spirit are precisely the same as those of letting “the word of Christ richly dwell within” us. The Holy Spirit fills us as we devote ourselves to “the word of Christ.” On this parallel, John MacArthur writes, The result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same as the result of letting the Word dwell in one’s life richly. Therefore, the two are the same spiritual reality viewed from two sides. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by His Word. To have the Word dwelling richly is to be controlled by His Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is the author and power of the word, the expressions are interchangeable.5 This truth is seen also in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer (John 17), when he prayed that the Father would “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (verse 17). So, coming back to Galatians 5, we can conclude that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the fruit of letting the Word of Christ, which is the Holy Spirit’s voice, richly dwell within us. 1 1599 Geneva Bible, (Tolle Lege Press, 2006) 2 Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. 6 (Hendrickson, 2006), 545. 3 Exposition of the Old & New Testaments: Vol. 9 (Baptist Standard Bearer, 2006), 49. 4 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Moody, 1987), 163. 5 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians & Philemon (Moody, 1992), 159.

Bibliophilial Reminiscings

Wednesday··2009·10·21 · 2 Comments
1988 was a big year for me. For starters, that was the year I got married; a rather life-changing event, that was. Then, as if I wasnt in enough turmoil, John MacArthur published The Gospel According to Jesus. I had already been listening to Grace to You daily for a few months, getting my firstin my entire life!taste of expository preaching. I loved it, and was being fed like never before. I had been a Christian for about three years, but had as yet not done any serious theological reading. My entire library fit in one cardboard box, and excluding textbooks from my one year at a Lutheran Bible School, contained two Christian bookstwo of those cute little gift-size hardcovers by Charles Swindoll. Then John MacArthur started talking about his new book, and I immediately bought it. I had been a voracious reader before, but this was the first serious Christian book I had ever read. It was a new birth, of sorts. Every Christian book Ive bought since then is a godson of that one, and has been measured by that standard. In the following years, I bought every major MacArthur book published, and read them fanatically. Then came the internet. You see, I never had a computer until about 1999/2000, and the one I got then was an antique hand-me-down with Windows 3.1 and (I think) a hard drive measured in megabytes, and no modem. It was just a fancy typewriter and electronic toy (I got my Minesweeper time down to five seconds). I didnt get the internet until I upgraded in 2003, and thats when my library exploded. It is amazing to me how little I knew of Christian authors before I came online. But then, before the internet, all I had was Christian radio and local Christian bookstores, and frankly, neither are very helpful. Giving my bookshelves a quick once-over, I see only a few non-MacArthur theological books that predate my internet days: Strongs Concordance, Berkhofs Sytematic Theology, Hans Neilson Hauge by A. M. Arntzen, Pilgrims Progress, a few Lutheran texts, andhang onThe Works of James Arminius and Finneys Systematic Theology (there are a few others Ive gotten rid of, and, Im sure, some I dont see). So probably ninety-plus percent of my theological library was MacArthur. Then, as I said, came the internet. I found lots of people who liked MacArthur, and they liked people like Sproul and Piper; and MacArthur, Sproul and Piper, et. al., liked all these authors that Id never seen in bookstores with names like Dovess Nest and Rainbow Shop, and things really got out of hand. Most fiscally devastating of all, somewhere in there came Banner of Truth and Iain Murray, and I became mesmerized by all those dead guys. I have continued buying MacArthur just as faithfully as before, but now, with all those distractions, I have two or three unread MacArthurs on my shelf. Ive been itching to read him again, so when The Jesus You Cant Ignore arrived last week, I knew it had to be next. And just cracking the cover and reading the Prologue and Introduction was like coming home to a man who, though Ive met him but once for all of about thirty seconds, really is a father in the faith. Tune in tomorrow . . .

WWJD: Who Would Jesus Debate, and How?

Thursday··2009·10·22 · 2 Comments
We live in an age of overt hostility toward any theological, philosophical, ethical, or moral absolutes. All opinions must be held tentatively. They may be suggested, but never asserted. Anyone who has spent much time in internet forums has probably run into this attitude. A few years ago, one pusillanimous soul admonished me that I should always append IMO to every contention. Todays tolerant mindset refuses to say one thing is absolutely right, while its opposite is absolutely wrong. Both can be right! Todays tolerant mindset is absolutely intolerant of absolutes. How are we to interact with those with whom we disagree? Flexibly, of course, even when dealing with people of other religions. We must never hold our convictionsif I may use such a coarse wordtoo firmly. Be eager to make concessions and compromises. As John MacArthur quotes Doug Pagitt, Its important to note that dialogue is not debate; for dialogue to be effective, we need to resist the urge to cut people off and fix what they say. Healthy dialogue involves entering into the reality of the other. . . . In dialogue you are not allowed to stay right where you are; you must move toward the perspective of the other person. MacArthur shows just how dissimilar that approach is to the manner in which Jesus interacted with heretics and hypocrites: Jesus interaction with the religious experts of His time was rarely cordial. From the time Luke first introduces us to the Pharisees in Luke 5:17 until his final mention of the chief priests and rulers in Luke 24:20, every time the religious elite of Israel appear as a group of in Lukes narrative, there is conflict. Often Jesus Himself deliberately provokes the hostilities. When He speaks to the religious leaders or about themwhether in public or privateit is usually to condemn them as fools and hypocrites (Luke 11:40; 12:1; 13:15; 18:1014). When He knows they are watching to accuse Him of breaking their artificial Sabbath or their manmade systems of ceremonial washing, He deliberately defies their rules (Luke 6:l711; 11:3744; 14:16). On one occasion, when He was expressly informed that His denunciations of the Pharisees were insulting to the lawyers (the leading Old Testament scholars and chief academics at the time), Jesus immediately turned to the lawyers and fired off a salvo at them, too (Luke 11:4554). . . . Jesus never took the irenic approach with heretics or gross hypocrites. He never made the kind of gentle private appeals contemporary evangelicals typically insist are necessary before warning others about the dangers of a false teachers error. Even when he dealt with the most respected religious figures in the land, He took on their errors boldly and directly, sometimes even holding them up for ridicule. He was not nice to them by any postmodern standard. He extended no pretense of academic courtesy to them. He didnt invite them to dialogue privately with Him about their different points of view. He didnt carefully couch his criticisms in vague and totally impersonal terms so that no ones feelings would be hurt. He did nothing to tone down the reproach of His censures or minimize the Pharisees public embarrassment. He made His disapproval of their religion as plain and prominent as possible every time He mentioned them. He seemed utterly unmoved by their frustration with His outspokenness. Knowing that they were looking for reasons to be offended by Him, He often did and said the very things that He knew would offend them the most. John MacArthur, The Jesus You Cant Ignore (Thomas Nelson, 2009), xi, xivxv.

If Possible, Live Peacably

A fitting addendum to yesterdays post: Now, we need to keep this in proper perspective. Im not suggesting that every disagreement is an occasion for open combat, or even harsh words. Far from it. Many disagreements are so petty that it would be utterly unprofitable to engender strife over them. Merely personal conflicts, debates over arcane or unclear things, and semantic disputes usually fall into that category (2 Timothy 2:14, 23; 1 Corinthians 1:10). Not every issue on which we might hold strong opinions and disagree is of primary importance. Furthermore, no one who is mentally and spiritually healthy enjoys conflict for conflicts sake. No one who thinks biblically would ever relish strife or deliberately indulge in disputes over doubtful things (Romans 14:1). Most of us know people who are overly pugnacious or incurably argumentative about practically everything. That is not at all what Jesus was like. And Scripture gives us no warrant to be like that. Petty or insignificant personal disagreements usually ought to be either charitably set aside or settled by friendly dialogue. Anyone who is prepared to pick a fight over every minor difference of opinion is spiritually immature, sinfully belligerentor worse. Scripture includes this clear command: if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18). . . . dialogue does sound nicer than debate. Who but a fool wouldnt prefer a calm conversation instead of conflict and confrontation? In fact, lets state this plainly once more: Generally speaking, avoiding conflicts is a good ideal. Warmth and in geniality are normally preferable to cold harshness. Civility, compassion and good manners are in short supply these days, and we ought have more of them. Gentleness, a soft answer, and a kind word usually go farther than an argument or a rebuke,. That which edifies is more helpful and more fruitful in the long fun than criticism. Cultivating friends is more pleasant and more profitable than crusading against enemies. And its ordinarily better to be tender and mild rather than curt and combativeespecially to the victims of false teaching But those qualifying words are vital: usually, ordinarily, generally. Avoiding conflict is not always the right thing. Sometimes it is downright sinful. Particularly in times like these, when almost no error is deemed too serious to be excluded form the evangelical conversation, and while the Lords flock is being infiltrated by wolves dressed like prophets, declaring visions of peace when there is no peace (cf. Ezekiel 13:16). Even the kindest, gentlest shepherd sometimes needs to throw rocks at the wolves who come in sheeps clothing. John MacArthur, The Jesus You Cant Ignore (Thomas Nelson, 2009), xixii, 19.
George Swinnock on the moral capabilities of man: There are several things which may help the to make the life fair in the eyes of men, but nothing will make it amiable in the eyes of God, unless the heart be changed and renewed. Indeed, all the medicines that can be applied, without the sanctifying work of the Spirit, though they may cover, they can never cure the corruptions and diseases of the soul. . . . Such civil persons go to hell without much disturbance, being asleep in sin, yet not snoring to the disquieting of others; they are so far from being awaked that they are many times praised and commended. Example, custom, and education, may also help a man to make a fair show in the flesh, but not to walk in the Spirit. They may prune and lop sin, but never stub it up by the roots. All that these can so, is to make a man like a grave, green and flourishing on the surface and outside, when within there is nothing but noisomeness and corruption. George Swinnock, Do You Worship God, cited in John MacArthur, The Jesus You Cant Ignore (Thomas Nelson, 2009), 47.

Meek and Bold

Spurgeon on the unhesitatingly confrontational character of Christ: Brethren, the Savior’s character has all goodness and all perfection; he is full of grace and truth. Some men, nowaday, talk of him as if he were simply incarnate benevolence. It is not so. No lips ever spoke with such thundering indignation against sin as the lips of the Messiah. “He is like a refiner’s fire, and like a fuller’s soap. His fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor.” while in tenderness he prays for his tempted disciple, that his faith may not fail, yet with awful sternness he winnows the heap, and drives away the chaff into unquenchable fire. We speak of Christ as being meek and lowly in spirit, and so he was. A bruised reed he did not break, and the smoking flax he did not quench; but his meekness was balanced by his courage, and by the boldness with which he denounced hypocrisy. “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, ye fools and blind, ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” These are not words of the milksop some authors represent Christ to have been. He is a man—a thorough man throughout—a God-like man—gentle as a woman, but yet stern as a warrior in the midst of the day of battle. The character is balanced; as much of one virtue as another. As in Deity every attribute is full orbed; justice never eclipses mercy, nor mercy justice, nor justice faithfulness; so in the character of Christ you have all the excellent things. —Charles Spurgeon, “Sweet Saviour,” cited in John MacArthur, The Jesus You Can’t Ignore (Thomas Nelson, 2009), 99.

The Truth They Needed

One of the Pharisees biggest peeves with Jesus was his habit of associating with sinners; so they were particularly annoyed when he attended a party in his honor at the house of Levi the tax collector (i.e. Matthew, Luke 5:27ff). John MacArthur writes:    That a rabbi would be willing to fraternize at a party with such people was utterly repugnant to the Pharisees. It was diametrically opposed to all their doctrines about separation and ceremonial uncleanness. Here was yet another pet issue of the Pharisees, and Jesus was openly violating their standards, knowing full well that they were watching him closely. From their perspective, it must have seemed as if He was deliberately flaunting His contempt for their system. Because He was. Remember an important fact we stressed in the previous chapter; all the friction that has taken place out in the open thus far between Jesus and Israels religious elite has been entirely at His instigation. As far as we know from Scripture, they had not yet voiced a single unprovoked criticism or public accusation against him. Even now, the Pharisees were not yet bold enough to complain to Jesus directly. They sought out His disciples and murmured their protest to them. Again, all three Synoptics stress that the Pharisees took their grievances to the disciples. It was a craven attempt to blindside Jesus by provoking a debate with His followers instead. I like the way Luke says it; The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples (Luke 5:30 NASB). But Jesus overheard (Matthew 9:12; Mark 2:17), and He answered the Pharisees directly, with a single statement that became the definitive motto for His interaction with the self-righteous Sanhedrin and their ilk: It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17 NASB). For sinners and tax collectors seeking relief fro the burden of their sin, Jesus had nothing but good news. To the self-righteous religious experts, He had nothing to say at all. Harsh? By postmodern standards, this was a terribly strident thing to say. And (as many people today would quickly point out) there was virtually no possibility that a comment like this would help sway the Pharisees to Jesus point of view. It was likelier to increase their hostility against Him. And yet it was the right thing say at this moment. It was the truth they needed to hear. The fact that they were not open to it did not alter Jesus commitment to speaking the truthwithout toning it down, without bending it to fit His audiences tastes and preferences, without setting the facts of the gospel aside to speak to their felt needs instead. John MacArthur, The Jesus You Cant Ignore (Thomas Nelson, 2009), 105106.

Preaching That Cant Be Ignored

What if the WWJD fad had caught on with preachers? What if preachers asked, How would Jesus preach? and then actually aspired to follow his example? Things might be different in a lot of pulpits; because Jesus preaching showed no sensitivity to fashion and trends, or to the preferences of his hearers. MacArthur writes: . . . consider how Jesus preaching might come across if He spoke that way in a stadium filled with twenty-first-century evangelicals. Because lets be candid: Jesus style of preaching was nothing at all like most of the popular preaching we hear todayand His style of preaching isnt likely to generate the kind of enthusiastic arm waving and feel-good atmosphere todays Christians typically like to see at their mass meetings and outdoor music festivals. Survey the current plethora of websites devoted to supplying preachers with prefabricated sermon material, and youll get a very clear picture of what constitutes great preaching in the minds of most twenty-first-century evangelicals: trendiness; funny anecdotes; slick packaging; clever audio-visual aids; and short, stylish, topical homilies on themes borrowed from pop culture. Favorite subjects include marriage and sex, human relationships, self improvement, personal success, the pursuit of happiness, and anything else that pleases the audienceespecially if the topic or sermon title can easily be tied into the latest hit movie, must-watch TV series, or popular song. In the trendiest churches, you are more likely to hear the preacher quote lyrics from Bono and U2 than from David and the Psalms. One megachurch sponsored a four-part sermon series in which their pastor did a word-by-word exegesis of passages taken from Dr. Seuss books, starting with Horton Hatches the Egg. The pastor of one of Americas five largest churches put a king-size bed on the platform as a prop while he preached a five-week series on sex. A year or so later, the same church made national headlines by promoting yet another series with a sex challenge so blatantly inappropriate that even some in the secular media expressed shock and outrage. Such shenanigans come under the rubric of relevance in the catalog of contemporary church-growth strategies. Sermons featuring straight biblical exposition, precise doctrine, difficult truths, or negative-sounding doctrines are strongly discouraged by virtually all he leading gurus of cultural relevance. And the people filling the evangelical pews love to have it so (Jeremiah 5:31). Speak to us smooth things (Isaiah 30:10) is their constant demand. Teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, (cf. 2. Timothy 3:16) are out. Catering to itchy ears is in (cf. 4:23). No truly clued-in preacher nowadays would think to fill his message with reproof, rebuke, or exhortation. (cf. 4:3). Instead, he does his best to suit the felt needs, preoccupations, and passions of the audience. Many contemporary pastors study pop culture as diligently as the Puritans used to study Scripture. They let congregational opinion polls determine what they should preach, and they are prepared to shift directions quickly if the latest survey tells them their approval ratings are beginning to drop. That, of course, is precisely what Paul told Timothy not to do. Preach the word! . . . in season and out of season (v. 2). The contemporary craving for shallow sermons that please and entertain is at least partly rooted in the popular myth that Jesus Himself was always likable, agreeable, winsome, and at the cutting edge of His cultures fashions. The domesticated, meek-and-mild Savior of todays Sunday-school literature would never knowingly or deliberately offend someone in a sermonwould He? As we have seen, even in a cursory look at Jesus preaching ministry reveals a totally different picture. Jesus sermons usually featured hard truths, harsh words, and high-octane controversy. His own disciples complained that His preaching was too hard to hear! Thats why Jesus preaching heads the list of things that make Him impossible to ignore. No preacher has ever been more bold, prophetic, or provocative. No style of public ministry could possibly be more irksome to those who prefer a comfortable religion. Jesus made it impossible for any hearer to walk away indifferent. Some left angry; some were deeply troubled by what He had to say; many had their eyes opened; and many more hardened their hearts against hiss message. Some became His disciples, and others became His adversaries. But no one who listened to Him preach for very long could possibly remain unchanged or apathetic. John MacArthur, The Jesus You Cant Ignore (Thomas Nelson, 2009), 161162.

I have a few things against you

In the book of Revelation, Jesus (via the Apostle John) is very clear on the importance of opposing false doctrine. John MacArthur writes:    In His final recorded messages to the church, given to the apostle John in a vision several decades after Christs ascension into heaven, we see that the silencing of false teachers was still one of our Lords primary concerns, even from his throne in heaven. He addressed several churchesEphesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Only two of the churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, were commended for their faithfulness without any qualification or hint of rebuke. Both of them had remained true to Christ despite the influence of those who say they are Jews and are not, but a synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:9; 3:9). All five other churches received various measures of rebuke, based on how corrupt, unfaithful, or spiritually lethargic they were. A prominent theme in practically all Jesus messages to those seven churches is the issue of how they responded to false teachers and rank heretics in their midst. Ephesus, of course, was the church Jesus rebuked with the words: I have this against you, that you have left your first love (2:4). But Ephesus was nonetheless strongly commended twice because they refused to tolerate false teachers. Before he admonished them for leaving their first love, Jesus praised them for their steadfast resistance to false apostles: I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. and you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars (v. 2). Afterward, he told them, But this you have, that you hate the deeds of Nicolaitans, which I also hate (v. 6). The epistle to Pergamos was basically the flip side of that message to Ephesus. Christ commended the saints at Pergamos for holding fast to his name and not denying the faith, even though they dwelt where Satans throne was. In other words, they had successfully preserved in the faith despite external threats and persecution. Unlike Ephesus, they had not left their first love. Nevertheless, Christ had a list of rebukes for them, and these were all related to their tolerance of false doctrine in their own midst. It was if they were utterly insensible to internal dangers that came with a tolerant attitude toward deviant doctrines. He wrote, I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam. . . . You also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate (vv. 1415). Likewise to Thyatira he wrote: I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants. (v. 20). The church at Sardis was spiritually dead, and the church at Laodicea was lukewarm and smug. Those churches had clearly already lost their will to oppose false doctrine and purge sin from their midst. Their lack of energy, lack of zeal and (in the case of Sardis) lack of life was a direct result of their failure to keep themselves and their fellowship pure. They had not been sufficiently wary of false teaching, and therefore they had not remained devoted to Christ alone. The warnings of Christ gave them chilling reminders that churches do go bad. When that happens, it is almost it is almost never because they succumb to dangers from the outside. Rather it is almost always because they let down their guard and allow false doctrines to be disseminated freely inside the church. Apathy sets in, followed inevitably by spiritual disaster. It is clear from those letters to the churches in Revelation that battling heresy is a duty Christ expects every Christian to be devoted to. Whether we like it or not, our very existence in this world involves spiritual warfareit is not a party or a picnic. If Christ himself devoted so much of his time and energy during His earthly ministry to the task of confronting and refuting false teachers, surely that must be high on our agenda as well. His style of ministry ought to be a model for ours, and his zeal against false religion ought to fill our hearts and minds as well. John MacArthur, The Jesus You Cant Ignore (Thomas Nelson, 2009), 206208.

Every Man Enlightened

Thursday··2010·01·28 · 5 Comments
I am posting quite late today because my reading of Calvin ran into a snag. As I was appreciating his interpretation of John 1:9, I realized that it was dependent on a translation that disagrees significantly with my preferred translation, the NASB. Was I about to post nonsense? I needed to know. My first step was to look at the Greek text: ?? ь ܜ ь ????? ܜь??? Č?ь ??ŜČ? Ŝ?? ? ь? ?Ɍ? As Ive said on previous occasions, Im no Greek scholar. The text above is, as they say, all Greek to me. If not for my Greek lexicon and other helps, it would just be scribbling. I only include it for the benefit of genuine New Testament scholars, and because it looks kind of cool. It is also worth noting that this text is identical whether you read the Textus Receptus or Westcott-Hort, so KJV-only folks can relax (yes, I saw that vein popping out on your forehead). Now, look at a few English translations: Calvin: The true light was that which enlighteneth every man who cometh into the world. KJV: That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. Youngs Literal Translation: He was the true Light, which doth enlighten every man, coming to the world; NASB: There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. ESV: The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. I normally trust the NASB as the most literal translation, but (translators being fallible) I dont take it for granted. As you can see, Youngs translation maintains the word order of Calvin and the KJV, but with a single comma, changes the subject of the phrase coming to the world from every man to the true Light. The reason this matters (besides the fact that accuracy always matters) is that, as Calvin points out below, every man that cometh into the world is necessarily universal, meaning that every mannot only the elect, as some say are enlightened. The latter translation leaves room for (but does not require) a limited all, as in John 12:32. Matthew Henry follows the former translation, and specifies a universal all.1 John Gill likewise accepts that translation, but admits the viability of either interpretation.2 John Macarthur agrees with the NASB translationThrough his coming into the world, Jesus enlightens every man.3but also agrees with Calvin that every is meant to be universal. A. T. Robertson renders it every man as he comes into the world.4 While there are, no doubt, translation issues of which I am ignorant, I am reasonably confident that the older translation, in this case, is the correct one (if not, I will happily be corrected). In either case, Calvins interpretation appears to be correct. Being satisfied, then, that he was on the right track, I was freed to post the excerpt I had selected. So the last word goes, fittingly, to Calvin. The true light was. The Evangelist did not intend to contrast the true light with the false, but to distinguish Christ from all others, that none might imagine that what is called light belongs to him in common with angels or men. The distinction is, that whatever is luminous in heaven and in earth borrows its splendor from some other object; but Christ is the light, shining from itself and by itself, and enlightening the whole world by its radiance; so that no other source or cause of splendor is anywhere to be found. He gave the name of the true light, therefore, to that which has by nature the power of giving light. Which enlighteneth every man. The Evangelist insists chiefly on this point, in order to show, from the effect which every one of us perceives in him, that Christ is the light. He might have reasoned more ingeniously, that Christ, as the eternal light, has a splendor which is natural, and not brought from any other quarter; but instead of doing so, he sends us back to the experience which we all possess. For as Christ makes us all partakers of his brightness, it must be acknowledged that to him alone belongs strictly this honor of being called light. This passage is commonly explained in two ways. Some restrict the phrase, every man, to those who, having been renewed by the Spirit of God, become partakers of the life-giving light. Augustine employs the comparison of a schoolmaster who, if he happen to be the only person who has a school in the town, will be called the teacher of all, though there be many persons that do not go to his school. They therefore understand the phrase in a comparative sense, that all are enlightened by Christ, because no man can boast of having obtained the light of life in any other way than by his grace. But since the Evangelist employs the general phrase, every man that cometh into the world, I am more inclined to adopt the other meaning, which is, that from this light the rays are diffused over all mankind . . . For we know that men have this peculiar excellence which raises them above other animals, that they are endued with reason and intelligence, and that they carry the distinction between right and wrong engraven on their conscience. There is no man, therefore, whom some perception of the eternal light does not reach. But as there are fanatics who rashly strain and torture this passage, so as to infer from it that the grace of illumination is equally offered to all, let us remember that the only subject here treated is the common light of nature, which is far inferior to faith; for never will any man, by all the acuteness and sagacity of his own mind, penetrate into the kingdom of God. It is the Spirit of God alone who opens the gate of heaven to the elect. Next, let us remember that the light of reason which God implanted in men has been so obscured by sin, that amidst the thick darkness, and shocking ignorance, and gulf of errors, there are hardly a few shining sparks that are not utterly extinguished. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 3738. 1 Matthew Henrys Commentary Volume 5 (Hendrickson, 1994), 686. 2 Exposition of the Old and New Testaments Volume 7 ( The Baptist Standard Bearer, 2006) 741742. 3 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, John 111 (Moody, 2006) 32. 4 Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume 5 (Broadman Press, 1932), 9.

The Biblical View

Monday··2010·06·07 · 10 Comments
A couple of weeks ago, Ligonier Ministries’ Renewing Your Mind radio program broadcast a couple of old lectures—not really sermons, and not really a “debate” (as they were billed), either—on baptism. R. C. Sproul presented the traditional view of infant baptism, and John MacArthur presented the biblical doctrine of the baptism of believers alone. Now, if I was one of the Truly Reformed, I’d be annoyed by that last sentence, particularly by the adjectives. Of course, this is my blog, and I’m not pretending any kind of impartiality. I am also not introducing two speakers presenting opposing views, so I am under no burden to appear fair and unbiased. However, if that was the situation, describing the opposing views as I did above—even though that is exactly how I see it—would be prejudicial, and inappropriate for the moment. Consider, then, how the two messages were described on the Ligonier website: Baptism Debate With R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur The church’s practice of infant baptism came under attack in the sixteenth century. Since that time, many Christian churches have rallied against the practice, administering baptism only to believing adults. From Ligonier Ministries” 1998 National Conference, Drs. John MacArthur Jr. and R.C. Sproul discuss their views on the Biblical meaning and mode of Christian baptism. Dr. MacArthur presents the credo-baptist position and Dr. Sproul presents the historic paedo(infant)-baptist position. That’s “the credo-baptist position” vs. the “historic paedo(infant)-baptist position.” That really didn’t bother me at first, but after a comment about it was made on another blog, I began to think more about what the word “historic” means: Main Entry: his·tor·ic Pronunciation: \hi-’stȯr-ik, -’stär-\ Function: adjective Date: 1594 : historical: as a : famous or important in history <historic battlefields> b : having great and lasting importance <a historic occasion> c : known or established in the past <historic interest rates> d : dating from or preserved from a past time or culture <historic buildings> <historic artifacts> So which view is more “historic”? I’ll grant that paedobaptism is an historic practice, but, by Dr. Sproul’s own admission, we don’t find it documented until the third century. Credobaptism, we all know, is explicitly documented in the New Testament. Paedobaptism is clearly not the historic position. To Ligonier’s credit, the original Renewing Your Mind introductions did not use quite so prejudicial a term. The original audience heard the following descriptions: the Protestant views of infant baptism the traditional doctrine of infant baptism the traditional Protestant case for infant baptism the classical Protestant view of infant baptism the classical Protestant case for infant baptism the Protestant case for infant baptism the traditional view of believer’s baptism Those descriptions still indicate some bias—there is a “case for” infant baptism, but only a “view of” believer’s baptism—but I don’t find them quite so irksome. After all, the earliest Protestants were paedobaptists. Somewhat humorous to me, though, is the reference to the “classical Protestant view.” [ahem] Excuse me, Mr. Ligonier-Announcer, but wouldn’t that be the Lutheran view? Well, be that as it may, I’ve rambled on for some five hundred words without getting to the issue that is really on my mind. We could go back and forth indefinitely on which is the historic view, or the (historical, classical, or what-you-will) Protestant view. Those discussions are not entirely irrelevant, but neither are they decisive. What we really want to know is which view is biblical. Luther famously declared that popes and councils can err. He also proved that reformers can err. Reformed churchmen would point to his doctrine of baptismal regeneration as proof of that. Among his other errors, also recognized by the Reformed, were his insistence on the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper (consubstantiation), and the perpetual virginity of Mary. Calvin also either believed in or considered it unnecessary to deny the perpetual virginity. The Church Fathers present a wide variety of oddities (consider where Matthew 18:7–9 took Origen). The Fathers and Reformers, valuable as they are, must be left in their places. So I think it’s unfortunate that those terms (historic, classical, traditional, Protestant) were used at all. Being Protestant is of great importance to me. That the Reformation was and remains necessary and right is a presupposition in any of my discussions. Yet the bottom line is not being Protestant, or (mostly) Reformed. The bottom line is being biblical. I’m sure Drs. Sproul and MacArthur would agree.
I make no apologies for the fact that I have certain litmus tests for those who would earn my respectful attention. For example, if an astronomer writes a book favoring geocentricity, I will automatically write him off as a nut. He will not be credible as an astronomer. Heliocentricity is (unlikechuckleglobal warming) an undeniable matter of fact. Of far greater importance, and more interest to me, are theological litmus tests. I understand that there are disputable matters, but most of Scripture is quite clear, and there are some things that are beyond question. They are settled matters. If you cant get them right, you will not earn my esteem as a teacher. Consider Exhibit One: N. T. Wright. I picked up a copy of What Saint Paul Really Said because a friend was going on about how misunderstood he was, so I decided to give him a fair chance. I made it as far as page 22, in which Wright belittles ignorant boobs who still use Paul to legitimate an old-style preaching of the gospel in which the basic problem is human sin and pride and the basic answer is the cross of Christ. Strike one (if youll forgive the sports metaphor) and two! That sin is the basic problem of mankind is a settled matter. That the cross of Christ is the answerthe only answeris the gospel! Now Im supposed to hear him out on justification? Love to, but sorry, Ive got more pressing obligations at the moment. Now, where did I put that Sudoku book? While Wrights condescending attitude towards old-style preaching of the gospel is bad enough, more fundamentally erroneous is his über-intellectual approach to Genesis. Watch this video from the theologically bankrupt BioLogos Forum ([pseudo]Science and Faith[lessness] in Dialogue). According to Wright, the historicity of Adam and Eve and the days of creation is not important. These mythical stories are only true in that they represent whatever it is that really happened. This is where I would say strike three, except that the poor man is standing at the plate with a hoola-hoop instead of a bat. And this brings me to Litmus Test Number One: Can you get Genesis right? Can you manage to read the very first story in the Bible, in which God says, I did this, and believe that God did indeed do that? Or have you become so smart that you have no time for the obvious? Unless some need for specific knowledge of N. T. Wrights work arises, I wont be reading any more. His credibility is irretrievably gone; not primarily because he blows it on justification, but because he couldnt start at the beginning and get it right. Now, heres someone who can get it right, explaining why getting the opening chapters of Genesis right is so vitally important: The Battle for the Beginning Genesis 1:131 Everyone knows that evolutionists and creationists dispute how the universe began. And regardless of which side of the battle line youre on, most people harbor strong feelings about the issue of origins. Yet there are a host of important questions at the core of the battle that relatively few in either camp have bothered to askmuch less answer: Why is the issue of origins so universally controversial? How can creationists support biblical claims that so obviously seem to contradict modern science? Whose side of the argument does scientific evidence support? What roles should science and the Bible play in a persons beliefs about the physical universe? With the curiosity of a student and the precision of a veteran Bible teacher, John MacArthur takes you to the heart of the battle in his study The Battle for the Beginning. Based on an in-depth examination of Genesis chapter 1, The Battle for the Beginning takes you on an instructive, fascinating journey into the Bibles own claims about creation, evolution, and the vital issues at stake. Download (free) the 13-message series here, or buy the book.

Proclaiming the Word, Receiving the Word

From John MacArthur’s 2006 Together for the Gospel message:    Expository preaching that is theological is not easy. The stringent discipline required to interpret Scripture accurately is a constant burden, and the message we are required to proclaim is often offensive. Christ himself is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (Rom. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:8). The message of the cross is a stumbling block to some (1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 5:11) and mere foolishness to others (1 Cor. 1:23). But we are never permitted to trim the message or to tailor it to people’s preferences. Paul made this clear to Timothy at the end of chapter 3: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). This is the Word to be preached: the whole counsel of God (cf. Acts 20:27). In chapter 1 Paul had told Timothy, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me” (v. 13). He was speaking of the revealed words of Scripture—all of it. He urged Timothy to “Guard . .  the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (v. 14). Then in chapter 2 he told him to study the Word and handle it accurately (v. 15). He then brings the epistle to its summit by urging him to proclaim God’s Word no matter what. So the entire task of the faithful minister revolves around the Word of God—guarding it, studing it, and proclaiming it. —John MacArthur, (Crossway, 2007), 142. The applications for us are multiple. The most obvious concerns how we should handle Scripture in our own study and witness. Less obvious, but more immediate and on point, concerns how we should receive the Word delivered to us by the shepherds of our churches. Our pastors are called to work hard, diligently and faithfully studying, interpreting, explaining, and applying the Word for us. If they faithfully fulfill their calling, delivering the Word to us week after week, should we not also work hard to receive, understand, and apply it in our own lives? is a collection of messages from the 2006 Together for the Gospel Conference. You can download the entire message from which today’s quotation was taken here.

Christology in John 12:27–28

“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” —John 12:27–28 Just a few of the doctrines found in this passage: The humanity of Jesus: “My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’?” Nor was it unsuitable that the Son of God should be troubled in this manner; for the Divine nature, being concealed, and not exerting its force, may be said to have reposed, in order to give an opportunity of making expiation. But Christ himself was clothed, not only with our flesh, but with human feelings. In him, no doubt, those feelings were voluntary; for he feared, not through constraint, but because he had, of his own accord, subjected himself to fear. And yet we ought to believe, that it was not in pretense, but in reality, that he feared; though he differed from other men in this respect, that he had all his feelings regulated in obedience to the righteousness of God, as we have said elsewhere. There is also another advantage which it yields to us. If the dread of death had occasioned no uneasiness to the Son of God, which of us would have thought that his example was applicable to our case? For it has not been given to us to die without, feeling of regret; but when we learn that He had not within him a hardness like stone or iron, we summon courage to follow him, and the weakness of the flesh, which makes us tremble at death, does not hinder us from becoming the companions of our General in struggling with it. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume II (Baker Books, 2009), 32. Jesus’ submission to the Father’s will: “But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” But it may be thought, that it is unbecoming in the Son of God rashly to utter a wish which he must immediately retract, in order to obey his Father. I readily admit, that this is the folly of the cross, which gives offense to proud men; but the more the Lord of glory humbled himself, so much the more illustrious is the manifestation of his vast love to us. Besides, we ought to recollect what I have already stated, that the human feelings, from which Christ was not exempt, were in him pure and free from sin. The reason is, that they were guided and regulated in obedience to God; for there is nothing to prevent Christ from having a natural dread of death, and yet desiring to obey God. This holds true in various respects: and hence he corrects himself by saying, For this cause came I into this hour. For though he may lawfully entertain a dread of death, yet, considering why he was sent, and what his office as Redeemer demands from him, he presents to his Father the dread which arose out of his natural disposition, in order that it may be subdued, or rather, having subdued it, he prepares freely and willingly to execute the command of God. Now, if the feelings of Christ, which were free from all sin, needed to be restrained in this manner, how earnestly ought we to apply to this object, since the numerous affections which spring from our flesh are so many enemies to God in us! Let the godly, therefore, persevere in doing violence to themselves, until they have denied themselves. —Ibid., 33–34. The Trinity: “‘Father, glorify Your name.’ Then a voice came out of heaven: ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.’” It surprises me that neither Calvin nor any of my other commentaries directly address the Trinitarian doctrine in this text. J. C. Ryle touches on it implicitly, as does John MacArthur: For the third time in Christ’s earthly ministry, the Father’s voice came audibly out of heaven. On the other occasions, at Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3:17) and the transfiguration (Matt. 17:5), the Father’s voice affirmed that He was pleased with His Son. Now, as the cross approached, Christ’s impending death in no way signified His disapproval. On the contrary, just as He had already glorified His name through Jesus’ life and ministry, He would glorify it again through His death. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection would mark not only the successful completion of the mission the Father had given Him to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) and to “give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), but also His return to His full glory in the Father’s presence. —John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John 12–21 (Moody, 2008), 40.

Unlimited Atonement: More Heretical Than I Thought

Monday··2011·01·17 · 11 Comments
I had an epiphany yesterday. It happened like this. We were unable to attend worship, so we watched a video of John MacArthur at Grace to You. The sermon, chosen pretty randomly, was The Atonement: Real or Potential? While I already understood the issue pretty much as MacArthur presented it, he clarified my thinking considerably. In fact, a better defense of the doctrine of Limited Atonement Ive never heard. (You can read the transcript, access streaming video and audio, or download the mp3 here.) Unlimited Atonement is an absurd doctrine, which means it fits into Arminianism perfectly. But mixed with Calvinismas in, Im a 4-point Calvinistit is doubly absurd. 4-point Calvinists are really Arminians, or at least they might as well be, because Unlimited Atonement kills grace just as surely as decisional regeneration does. And that is my point today. The absurdity of Unlimited Atonement is this: Christ did not actually purchase for God with his blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God who will reign upon the earth (Revelation 5:910). He only made the purchase possiblemade the down-payment, if you like. Then, he defaulted on most of those purchases and let them go to hell. The sins of everyone, including those in hell, have been fully propitiated. The wrath of God against them has been satisfied. Yet they are in hell, being punished with eternal torment for their sins. If you affirm an Unlimited Atonement, ask yourself this question: what is the difference between those for whom Christ died, whose sins have been fully propitiated, and are therefore justified before God, and are in heaven, and those for whom Christ died, whose sins have been fully propitiated, and are therefore justified before God, who are in hell? The question is, of course, absurd, but its one all 4-pointers must answer. The answer must be in something they did; salvation is dependent upon the sinners response to Christ rather than Christs sacrifice on the sinners behalfas MacArthur says, they just werent clever enough, wise enough, emotionally moved enough, psychologically stimulated enough, to actualize that atonement. Which brings me to my epiphany: If you deny Limited Atonement, you havent simply made a silly theological blunder; youve interjected some act, some decision of man, into the act of saving. Youve denied grace alone and Christ alone.

They Ceased. Period.

Monday··2011·01·24 · 1 Comments
A great furor was raised last week over an interview of John MacArthur by Phil Johnson. I’ll not take a side or comment on that controversy (except to say that it consisted of knee-jerk reactions of the immature against the mature). Enough has been said about that, and I’ve provided a few links to it in the sidebar. I suppose the previously-mentioned controversy is the reason that the part of the interview that I expected to cause unrest received no attention. I really thought MacArthur’s comments on the Pentecostal and charismatic movements would cause a ruckus somewhere, but, as far as I know, charismatic tongues have remained miraculously silent. As I am in full agreement with MacArthur on this, I thought I would reproduce the relevant section here, slightly edited (note ellipses). Has your stance on the charismatic issue softened? No, and I’ll just give you a little bit of history on that; I’ll make a general statement, then I’ll back up: The charismatic movement is largely the reason the church is in the mess it’s in today. In virtually every area where church life is unbiblical, you can attribute it to the charismatic movement. In virtually every area—bad theology, superficial worship, ego, prosperity gospel, personality elevation—all of that comes out of the charismatic movement. I knew at the beginning that this was a disastrous embracing by the evangelical church . . . [It] leaped out of the contained Pentecostal tradition. The Pentecostal church with its claim of miracles and healing and signs and wonders was contained; it never spread to the mainline church; it was always seen as aberrant, its theology aberrant, but when an Episcopalian got the experience, it jumped out of its containment. Then the phenomena started being embraced by Baptists and dead-church Methodists and Presbyterians and Roman Catholics, and it invaded the church, and then what happened was it demanded to have acceptance. It demanded to have acceptance, it demanded to be embraced, it demanded to be included, and you had very strong leaders coming out and demanding that the evangelical church embrace them. And I knew at the time the deadly character of this, because once you’ve given place to bad theology, then theology is no longer an issue. Once you’ve corrupted worship, then worship is going to fall to the lowest tolerable level. And on and on it went, so I wrote the book The Charismatics back in the ’70s . . . and the evangelical church largely rose up and said, “Yeah, we see that . . . we’re there, this is where we belong.” It wasn’t too many years after that that the climate dramatically changed, and the charismatic movement has gained the ascendancy and become the public face of Christianity. It’s the face of TV Christianity, it’s primarily the face of radio Christianity, in the Christian bookstore the prevailing view is some form of charismatic mysticism . . . it has done a takeover and it has redefined Christianity in people’s mind. It’s an aberrant form of Christianity, of course, so no, my view has not changed. It’s theology is bad, it is unbiblical, it is aberrant, it is destructive to people because it promises them what it can’t deliver, and then God gets blamed when it doesn’t come. It is a very destructive movement. It has always been. There are people like C. J. [Mahaney], and other people like that, who have shed that theology, and simply hold on to what is known as a non-cessationist view . . . what’s left to them is, they’ve embraced good theology and I think they’re moving in the right direction, but many of them, people like John Piper and Wayne Grudem who are, generally speaking, theologically sound, will hold on to that non-cessationist view and say, “Well, God could do that, there could be miracles, and there could be tongues,” that’s sort of the last vestige of the movement, but the movement in itself, with all its components, is a disaster to the reputation of Christianity and a severe corruption of biblical teaching. Now, you mentioned cessationism . . . the view that the apostolic gifts and the apostolic office ceased, that they’re no longer in operation. That has fallen out of favor . . . I think maybe it was Martin Lloyd-Jones who started that trend, who said, “I don’t see any exegetical reason, there’s no passage of Scripture that says the apostolic gifts have ceased, so the argument goes, “if you can’t prove cessationism exegetically, then it’s not a valid doctrine, because we want our doctrine to be biblical. How do you respond to that? Well, I think 1 Corinthians 13 is where you prove that: Whether there be tongues, they shall cease. We just did that, going through 1 Corinthians 13, you can talk about the linguistics of that’I have the whole explanation of that in the commentary . . . I think there’s plenty of exegetical evidence to indicate that. Those are apostolic signs of an apostle, they’re called in 2 Corinthians 12:12. The apostles have ceased, they are the foundation (Ephesians 2:20); the church is built on the apostles and prophets. You don’t put the apostles and the prophets on the second floor or third floor; they’re the foundation of the church. Apostolic gifts ceased. You can go to the end of book of Acts: you see healings disappear completely, people get sick and there’s no one around to make them well. All of those things were signs to draw attention to the apostles” preaching the true gospel before there was written text of Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit. Now you don’t need miracles to verify a prophet; you only need to compare him with the scripture, and I’ve often said, if these signs and wonders did still exist, do you think they would be given to people with bad theology? Do you think God would give Benny Hinn the power to do miracles to authenticate really bad theology? . . . I mean, that is ludicrous. . . . If those gifts existed, they would belong to the purest, most faithful, sound teachers of the Word of God to authenticate their teaching, not to hair-brained people who are just spinning out whatever comes into their head and are prompted by Satan, not the Holy Spirit. The typical non-cessationist will say, “Yeah, that says tongues will cease, it doesn’t say when, and in fact, the context indicates it’s at the consummation of all things, etc. etc., so the argument goes, “If you don’t have a solid proof-text, you can’t prove this to me.” We believe . . . theology must be biblical, or it’s not valid. Does that mean there has to be a proof text for every doctrine? No. look, you can make a case for the verb [pauo] in 1 Corinthians 13 and for it ceasing. You can make a case for that in that text. You can make a case in general for the temporary gifts that were part of the apostolic deposit, you can make a case for that exegetically, but even without a proof text, the fact of the matter is, they ceased, and you have this historical argument, which is a very weighty historical argument. Same as the cessation of the canon itself, there’s no proof text on that. There’s no proof text on the cessation of the canon, but the universal consensus of the church is that it ceased, and it was the once for all delivered to the saints faith, and you have the same argument historically with regard—Cleon Rogers, some years ago, did this sort of seminal work on tracking the fact that tongues were gone, they belonged in history to groups like . . . the Sibylline priestess cult, and in bizarre tribal groups there was ecstatic speech, but there was never in the church ecstatic speech until the Azuza Street meeting in Los Angeles, which gave birth to the Pentecostal movement. It came absolutely out of nowhere when it hadn’t been a part of Christian history. You don’t read, for example, if you read the Anabaptists, read the Reformers, read the Puritans, they’re not debating tongues, because they didn’t exist. Comments on this post have been closed. You might be interested in participating here instead.

What Day Was the Crucifixion?

Friday··2011·04·22 · 2 Comments
Originally posted April 13, 2006. On which day was Jesus crucified? It seems like an odd question, doesn’t it? The gospels give a clear record of a Friday crucifixion, so why even ask? Well, that is what I said, too, but there are some who claim that Jesus must have been crucified on Wednesday or Thursday, and they are not entirely without justification. A Friday night burial and Sunday morning resurrection allows only one full day and two nights in the tomb, when Jesus clearly said that he would be in the grave for “three days and three nights.” Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, under divine inspiration, clearly chronicled a Friday evening burial and Sunday morning resurrection. So, who is wrong? Consider the Gospel accounts: Day 1, Friday: Death and burial 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. . . . 42 When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. 45 And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. —Mark 15 46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last. . . . 50 And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man . . . 52 this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain. 54 It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. —Luke 23 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. 31 Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. . . . 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. . . . 38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. . . . 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. —John 19 Day 2, Saturday: Guards posted 62 Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’ 64 Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” 66 And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. —Matthew 27 Day 3, Sunday: Resurrection 1 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. 2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. . . . 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.” —Matthew 28 1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. . . . 5 Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.” —Mark 16 1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. —Luke 24 1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. . . . 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. —John 20 These are obviously three consecutive days. Jesus was crucified and buried on the first day (the day of preparation for the Sabbath), guards were placed at the tomb on the second (the Sabbath), and Jesus rose from the tomb on the third (the day following the Sabbath, the first day of the week). Friday, Saturday, Sunday. If it is so obvious, why even bring it up? Because eventually, you may be faced with this question, and it is good to be able to answer with more than, “I don’t know, I never thought of that, that’s a good question,” like I did when I was first asked. This is not just a crackpot theory that you will hear from the eccentric oddball who talks too much in your adult Sunday school class. I heard it first from Charles Swindoll. It is also a choice argument for those who like to point out that “the Bible is full of contradictions.” Those who question the Gospel accounts will do so based on Matthew, who refers to Jonah. for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. —Matthew 24:12 And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. —Jonah 1:17 The gospels all agree that Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday, and rose early Sunday morning. It is easily understood that “three days in the belly of the fish/heart of the earth” does not have to mean a full seventy-two hours. He was buried on Friday, and rose on Sunday; three days. But it is only two nights. What about that third night? According to C.F. Keil, The three days and three nights are not to be regarded as fully three times twenty hours, but are to be interpreted according to Hebrew usage, as signifying that Jonah was vomited up again on the third day after he had been swallowed. —C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament (Hendrickson, 1996), 10:269. John MacArthur writes, The matter of three days and three nights is often used either to prove Jesus was mistaken about the time he would actually spend in the tomb or that he could not have been crucified on Friday afternoon and raised early on Sunday, the first day of the week. But as in modern usage, the phrase “day and night” can mean not only a full 24-hour day but any representative part of a day. . . . the Jewish Talmud held that “any part of a day is as the whole.” Jesus was simply using a common, well-understood generalization. —John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 8–15 (Moody, 1987), 329. Those who insist on interpreting Matthew 12:40 according to modern idiom must explain away the details contained in the gospel accounts. They also create for themselves a no-win situation. Jesus was buried in the evening, and rose in the morning. Therefore, if he was in the grave for three nights, then he was in the grave for only two days, if you only count full days, and he was in the grave for five days if you count partial days. It cannot be exactly three full days and three full nights. No matter how you figure it, it does not add up. This is a good example of why correct biblical interpretation requires that we understand what the text meant to its original audience. Whatever it meant to them is what it means to us. Related: Dr. Walter Kaiser agrees, as does Pastor Phillip Way.

A Few of My Favorite Things

Wednesday··2011·05·18 · 4 Comments
This is exciting. Banner of Truth, my favorite publisher, is publishing a biography by Iain Murray, my favorite historian, of John MacArthur, my favorite preacher. This interview from the 2011 Shepherds Conference includes commentary on Murrays biography (the relevant section begins at 31:40). John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock will be available from Westminster Bookstore in June. Clicking that link will contribute to the operation of this site, which is also one of my favorite things.

As Adam, So Christ

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:1221 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. . . . So also it is written, The first man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 1 Corinthians 15:2022, 45 Can one believe in theistic evolution and still be a Christian? Yes, he can, given enough ignorance,* and lacking logical thinking skills. But no one who knows what the New Testament says about the gospel and about Adam, and can perform simple mathematic functions, can hold to any evolutionary theory without denying the gospel. John MacArthur, commenting on Romans 5:1214, explains: The fact that Adam and Eve not only were actual historical figures but were the original human beings from whom all others descended is absolutely critical to Pauls argument here and is critical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. If a historical Adam did not represent all mankind in sinfulness, a historical Christ could not represent all mankind in righteousness. If all mankind did not fall with the first Adam, all mankind could not be saved by Christ, the second and last Adam (see 1 Corinthians 15:2022, 45). John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 18 (Moody, 1991), 294. * I know: given enough ignorance is not a logical phrase, but you know what I mean.
Those who claim to belong to Christ but persist in patterns of disobedience betray the reality of that profession. The apostle John explained: If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:6). Such is especially true of false teachers, whom the New Testament describes as slaves of corruption (2 Peter 2:19) and as slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites (Rom. 16:18). They are ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 4; cf. 2 Peter 2:1). The true man of God, by contrast, is the Lords slave making himself useful to the Master, prepared for every good work (2 Timothy 2:24, 21 HCSB). John MacArthur, Slave (Thomas Nelson, 2010), 47.

A Monumental MacArthur Milestone

Monday··2011·06·06 · 1 Comments
Title in honor of John MacArthur’s penchant for alliterated points. Yesterday, John MacArthur finished preaching through the New Testament, an odyssey he began in 1969. I feel like I should stop everything today in honor of this great accomplishment. As uncalvinistic and irreverent as it is, part of me wishes I could have been fifteen or twenty years older and sitting in Grace Community Church when MacArthur preached his first sermon there. I can’t help wondering who I would be today, after forty-plus years of such excellent biblical exposition. But as I said, it is irreverent, and even blasphemous, to wish for a different life than the one that God, in his unsearchable wisdom, has given me. Besides that, I can listen to every one of MacArthur’s sermons here, no charge, no time machine necessary. I watched his final sermon on the Gospel of Mark last night on the Grace Community Church live stream page. It was actually a postscript to Mark’s gospel, the final verses having been finished that morning. When I say “final verses,” I mean Mark 16:1–8. Last evening’s “Postscript” dealt at length with textual criticism. MacArthur explained how answering the questions raised by the apocryphal ending of verses 9 and following and similar passages, should increase our confidence in the biblical text. Read or hear that message here. I thank God for John MacArthur’s long ministry, and pray that God will give him many more fruitful years.

Through the Bible with John MacArthur

As noted yesterday, John MacArthur completed preaching through the New Testament this Sunday. All 43 years of his pulpit ministry at Grace Community Church can be found here. MacArthur has also written my favorite study Bible. Grace to You has posted the book introductions from the MacArthur Study Bible online. Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Esther Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes Song of Solomon Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi Matthew Mark Luke John Acts Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy 2 Timothy Titus Philemon Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter 1 John 2 John 3 John Jude Revelation Related: Through the Bible with Mark Dever
On that day, the Lord will grant unto his people an abundant reward for all that they have done. Not that they deserve any reward, but that God first gave them grace to do good works. Then took their good works as evidence of a renewed heart, and then gave them a reward for what they had done. Oh, what a bliss it will be to hear it said, Well done, good and faithful servant,and to find that you have worked for Christ when nobody knew it, to find that Christ took stock of it all,to you that served the Lord under misrepresentation, to find that the Lord Jesus cleared the chaff away from the wheat, and knew that you were one of his precious ones. For him, then, to say, Enter into the joy of the Lord, oh, what a bliss will it be to you. Charles Spurgeon, quoted in John MacArthur, Slave (Thomas Nelson, 2010), 5253.

Why You Must Read

Yes, we had a nice Independence Day; thanks for asking. It ended a little late, though. Thanks to the cooperative efforts of the geniuses* who cooked up Daylight Savings Time and the even greater geniuses* who decided our county should be on Central Time, the sun didn’t set until 10:46 PM. Then came the fireworks. Morning came at the usual time. I’m tired. I normally fall asleep reading. Last night, I picked up my book and fell asleep before I could even open it. What would Al Mohler say?† I’ve already posted these videos on Facebook, Twitter, Google, and now I’m posting them here for those who come via RSS, Kindle, etc. That’s how important reading, and exhorting you to read, is to me. I’m always discouraged to hear Christians, and even many in positions of leadership, say they don’t like to read. This is entirely unacceptable. It is as Mohler said: Reading is not an end in itself. Growth into godliness is the end. Being conformed to the image of Christ, that’s going to happen by Scripture, by the teaching and preaching of the Word of God, and it’s going to happen by reading. And so reading is not the thing; it’s not the end in itself; it is the way God has chosen to help his people grow, and it’s been that way from the beginning. The Jews were dependent upon the scrolls. Paul says to Timothy, “Bring the books and parchments—in a hurry.” And it’s just important we realize we’re not going to grow if we’re not reading and studying, and that means sitting in the chair and getting it done, but honestly, it’s appetitive. The more you do it, the more you love it. * Idiots † Go ahead, say it: “Clever segue, David!”

Sin vs. Christ

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. Romans 5:15 Jesus Christ broke the power of sin and death, but the converse is not true. Sin and death cannot break the power of Jesus Christ. The condemnation of Adam’s sin is reversible, the redemption of Jesus Christ is not. The effect of adam’s act is permanent only if not nullified by Christ. The effect of Christ’s act, however, is permanent for believing individuals and not subject to reversal or nullification. We have the great assurance that once we are in Jesus Christ, we are in Him forever. John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 18 (Moody, 1991), 304.

Silencing Christ

The Lord expresses His rule in His church insofar as the Scripture is preached, explained, applied, and obeyed. To diminish the dominating role of Scripture in the life of the church is to treat the Lord of the Church as if His revelation were optional. It is nothing short of mutiny. And the seriousness of such revolt cannot be comprehended. Nonbiblical ministry, non-expository preaching, and non-doctrinal teaching usurp Christs headship, silencing His voice to His sheep. That kind of devastating approach steals the mind of Christ away from the body of Christ, builds indifference toward His Word, and quenches the work of His Spirit. It removes protection from error and sin, eliminates transcendence and clarity, cripples worship, and sows seeds of compromise. It deflects the honor due to the true head of the church, and the Lord does not take kindly to those who would steal His glory. John MacArthur, Slave (Thomas Nelson, 2010), 75.

To All Those Who Obey Him

John MacArthur on the marks of genuine faith: Clearly, not all who claim to know the Lord actually do. Those who truly belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24). Rather than walking in the flesh, they now walk by the Spirit (v. 25), being characterized by a growing desire to obey the Word of God. As Jesus told the crowds in John 8:31, If you continue in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine. After all, each tree is known by its own fruit (Luke 6:44); and genuine conversion is always marked by the fruit of repentance and the fruit of the Spirit. Loving obedience is the defining evidence of salvation, such that the two are inseparably linked; as the author of Hebrews explains: he became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation (5:9). The rest of the New Testament issues similar warnings to anyone who might claim to belong of Christ while persisting in unrepentant sin. The first epistle of John is especially clear in this regard. There John wrote, If we say that we have fellowship Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:16). And later, Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices Sin is of the devil. . . . No one who is born of God practices sin. . . . By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother (3:710). Though many call themselves Christians, the true condition of anyones heart is ultimately seen in how he lives. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. The profession of faith that never evidences itself in righteous behavior is a dead faith (James 2:17), being no better than that of the demons (v. 19). This is not to say that true believers never stumble. Certainly they do. Yet the pattern of their lives is one of continual repentance and increasing godliness as they grow in sanctification and Christlikeness. John MacArthur, Slave (Thomas Nelson, 2010), 9193.

Grace Our galling Fetters Broke

" />Beneath the tyrant Satans yoke Our souls were long oppressed; Till grace our galling fetters broke, And gave the weary rest. Jesus, in that important hour, His mighty arm made known; He ransomed us by price, and powr, And claimed us for his own. Now, freed from bondage, sin, and death, We walk in Wisdoms ways; And wish to spend our every breath, In wonder, love, and praise. Ere long, we hope with him to dwell In yonder world above; And now, we only live to tell The riches of his love. John Newton, quoted in John MacArthur, Slave (Thomas Nelson, 2010), 114.

The Permanent Validity of Adoption

John MacArthur on the permanence of adoption: The doctrine of adoption establishes the reality that believers, once saved, are always saved. As one scholar, commenting on Pauls use of adoption imagery, has explained, The important term adoption bears a relationship to justification in that it is declarative and forensic (inasmuch as it is a legal term). Adoption bestows an objective standing, as justification does: like justification, it is a pronouncement that is not repeated. It has permanent validity. Like justification, adoption rests on the loving purposes and grace of God. . . . If our adoption were not permanent, we would have great reason to fear. Our sin might yet condemn us. But contrasted with this inner sense of dread before God, the righteous judge, is the sense of peace and security before God, our heavenly Father, that is produced by Gods Spirit in the heart of Christians. Paul could hardly have chosen a better word than adoption to characterize this peace and security. Thus Pauls point in Romans 8:15 is that the spirit of adoption casts out the spirit of fear that comes from slavery to sin. The Holy Spirit testifies to our spirits that we are the children of God (v. 16), and if we have the Holy Spirit, we have Gods unbreakable seal guaranteeing our future inheritance. Moreover, adoption does not depend on any worthiness in us, but upon unmerited favor. It is all of grace. We did nothing to earn our adoption into Gods family, and we can do nothing to lose it either. John MacArthur, Slave (Thomas Nelson, 2010), 170171.

That Which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Stronger

Outside of a tremendous mustache, there is not much to like about Friedrich Nietzsche. I only half agree with his most famous statement, which titles this post. That half is illustrated in real life by the persecuted church. John MacArthur shares lessons learned from ministry in the former Soviet Union: Over the years I have ministered quite a lot in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other parts of the former Soviet Union. The church in those countries, repressed by Communism for so many decades, is nonetheless vibrant and dynamic today. One of the significant things that struck me when I first began to minister there was the terminology that virtually all Russian-speaking believers us to describe conversion. They do not speak of accepting Christ as ones personal Savior. They would never say merely that someone made a decision for Christ or that the person invited Jesus into his or her life. The language they use is simple and entirely biblical: the new believer is someone who has repented. If a person shows no evidence of repentance, he or she would not be embraced as a Christian, no matter what sort of verbal profession of faith was made . . . by contrast, we live in a culture of such shallow religion that most o what goes by the name Christian in Western society has little or no emphasis on repentance of any kind. The call to repentance has been deliberately omitted from the most popular gospel presentations of our generation. John MacArthur, quoted in Iain Murray, John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock (Banner of Truth, 2011), 152. Observing the vibrant spiritual life of the church repressed by Communism for so many decades, he wrote, Your churchs greatest enemy isnt the government, the culture, Hollywood producers, or the liberal media. Scripture states and history confirms that churches are strengthened under persecution and adversity. If our churches are to be destroyed, or rendered ineffective and stagnant, that will happen at the hands of her own people . . . One of my greatest fears for the church I pastor is that we would unwittingly abandon the vital principles that keep us healthy, growing, and strong. The day we cease clinging to those principles is the day we grow cold and dishonor God before a watching world. Ibid., 153. On the American penchant for turning faith into a means of getting more from God: As I have studied Gods word and experienced both the exhilaration of spiritual victory and the discouragement of failure, Im convinced the key to powerful living is not on getting more from God. The key is just the opposite. The moment we stop making demands on Him and offer ourselves as a living sacrifice is the moment we begin to please Him . . . From my own experience I know that being a living sacrifice is not an easy path. But sacrifice is absolutely necessary if we are ever to know the fullness of Gods blessing and render to Him the service He is due. Ibid.

The Lord Never Changes

John MacArthur has lately been criticized for claiming never to have suffered from depression. It is thought that that cant possibly be true, or if it is, it exposes some great defect. I believe it is an evidence of grace in his life, and not difficult to believe at all. The source of that emotional stability, I believe, can be seen in the following excerpt from Iain Murray. The greatest privilege of my ministry that I have, is not the time I spend with people, it is the time I get to spend with Him. And the cultivation of the knowledge of Him in the study of the Word of God, and prayer and meditation, is the heart and soul of my life and the greatest joy of the ministry for me. Whatever may happen out there, or might not happen out there, whatever changes or doesnt change, whatever disappoints or encourages, the Lord never changes; and it is in His love that I find the constancy for my life, the strength for ministry, and the joy as well. John MacArthur, quoted in Iain Murray, John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock (Banner of Truth, 2011), 238. How much more spiritually, mentally, and emotionally stable might we all be if our thoughts were more focused on our Lord and his Word, and our expectations invested wholly in him?

Truth Matters at GCC

Wednesday··2011·09·21 · 1 Comments
Many thanks to Grace to You for making available the audio of the recent Truth Matters conference at Grace Community Church. • The Glorious Gospel, John MacArthur (2 Corinthians 4:1-18) • The Gospel Satisfies the Sinner’s Need, John MacArthur (Romans 3:21-25) • The Gospel Satisfies God’s Demands, John MacArthur (Romans 3:25-31) • Not My Own Righteousness, Phil Johnson (Philippians 3:9) • The Work of His Hands, Jeff Williams (Selected Scriptures). Come on, GTY, we really need video for this one. • How to Recognize True Repentance, Don Green (Selected Scriptures) • The Reconciling Gospel, John MacArthur (2 Corinthians 5:11-20) • An Introduction to the Sovereign Gospel, John MacArthur (Selected Scriptures) • An Explanation of the Sovereign Gospel, John MacArthur (Romans 9-11)

A Parable Is Not an Allegory

In the Introduction to A Tale of Two Sons, John MacArthur includes a section on interpreting parables: A good rule for interpreting any parable is to keep focused on the central lesson. Its not a good idea to try to milk meaning out of every incidental detail in a parable. Medieval theologians were notorious for that. They might expound for hours on the minute particulars of every parable, trying to find very detailed, symbolic, spiritual meanings in every feature of the storysometimes while virtually ignoring the real point of the parable. Thats a dangerous way to handle any scripture. But it is an especially easy mistake to fall into when it comes to interpreting the various figures of speech in the Bible. Parables are plainly and purposely figurative, but they are not allegories, in which every detail carries some kind of symbolism. A parable is a simple metaphor or simile conveyed in story form. It is first and foremost a comparison. The kingdom of heaven is like [this thing or that] . . . (see, for example, Matthew 13:31, 33, 44-45, 47, 52; 20:1; 22:2). The word parable is transliterated from a Greek word that literally speaks of something placed alongside something else for the purpose of pointing out the likeness or making an important association between the two things. Its a basic literary form with a very specific purpose: to make a focused analogy through an interesting word picture or story. Interpreters of the parables will always do well to bear that in mind and avoid looking for complex symbolism, multiple layers of meaning, or abstruse lessons in the peripheral details of the parables. The parable of the prodigal son, because of the richness of its detail, has perhaps been subjected to more fanciful interpretations than any other parable. Ive seen commentators spend page after page expounding on the supposed spiritual and allegorical significance of such incidental features as the swines leftovers (symbolic of evil thoughts, according to one writer), the ring the father placed on the sons finger (a graphic yet esoteric picture of the mystery of the Trinity, if we accept the ruminations of another commentator), or the shoes placed on the prodigals feet (these represent the gospel, yet another exegete insists, drawing on Ephesians 6:15 for proof). As a method of biblical interpretation, that kind of allegorization has been employed to create more confusion about the plain meaning of Scripture than any other hermeneutical device. If you can freely say this really means that and one thing is a symbol for something else based on no contextual clues but wholly invented in the interpreters imagination-and especially if you are willing to do that with layer after layer of detail in the biblical narrative-then you can ultimately make the Bible mean anything you choose. The invention of fanciful and allegorical meanings is never a valid approach to interpreting any portion of Scripture. And the obviously figurative elements in a parable dont change the rules of interpretation or give us license to invent meaning. In fact, when handling the symbolism of a parable, it is particularly important to keep the central point and the immediate context in clear focus and resist flights of imaginative fancy. John MacArthur, A Tale of Two Sons (Thomas Nelson, 2008), xiiixv.

A Friend of Sinners

The Pharisees accused Jesus of being a friend of sinners. The words of the accusation were true; the intended meaning was not. John MacArthur writes: But there is an important distinction to be made here: Jesus did not consort or seek fellowship with sinners in their sin. Scripture describes Him as “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). His overtures to sinners were always in the context of seeking their salvation, offering His grace and mercy, and extending to them forgiveness. He healed them, cleansed them, and released them from the prison of guilt and degradation. Yes, of course Jesus consorted with sinners, but always as their deliverer. He was a true friend of sinners—the most authentic kind of friend. He served them and reached out to them and laid hold of their lives. Jesus didn’t affirm them in their sin. Quite the contrary: He gave His whole self for them to redeem them from sin’s cruel bondage. —John MacArthur, A Tale of Two Sons (Thomas Nelson, 2008), 22.

How to Be a Pharisee

In Luke 15:1132, Jesus tells the story we know as The Prodigal Son. Most of us probably learned the lesson of forgiveness as modeled by the father in the story. We learned to see ourselves in the prodigal, and God in the Father. But that interpretation ignores the context of the story, and its intended audience. This parable was directed toward the Pharisees, who were not represented by the prodigal, but by the older son. The parable certainly contains a message for prodigals. But having learned that lesson, it is easynatural, in factto shake our heads at the older brothers who self-righteously ostracize prodigals. But in setting ourselves apart from them, we actually join them. It wouldnt do for us to make the same mistake as the Pharisees. Scripture doesnt give us room to stand in the distance, looking disparagingly at the Pharisees and thanking God were not like them. In fact, one of the clear implications of the story is that no one is free from the need for repentance. If the Pharisees needed to repent, despite their obsession with the minute details of the ceremonial law, how much more do we need to repent for not taking the holiness of God as seriously as we should? Notice that Jesus did not rebuke the Pharisees for counting out little seeds to tithe; He rebuked them for using that kind of thing as a cloak to hide their failure with regard to the more important moral aspects of the Law. He told them, You pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone (Matthew 23:23; emphasis added). If you can hear the parable of the prodigal son and not identify yourself, you are missing the unspoken point of Jesus message. It is a call to repentance, and it applies to prodigals (immoral, outcast sinners) and Pharisees (moral, respectable hypocrites) alike. Both the point and the counterpoint of the parable underscore this idea. On the one hand, we see how repentance unleashes heavens joy. On the other hand, we learn that refusing to see ones own need for repentance is nothing but stubborn, self-righteous opposition to heavens agenda. Therefore, the parable demands repentance from prodigals and Pharisees. The promise of redemption for penitent sinners goes hand in hand with that truth. Theres an unspoken but wholly gracious plea contained in these vivid images of profound joy in heaven whenever that which was lost is recovered. It reminds us of Jesus tender words in John 6:37: The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. John MacArthur, A Tale of Two Sons (Thomas Nelson, 2008), 3637.

A Tale of Two Sons


No Small Sins

After exposing the vile nature of the Prodigal’s sin, MacArthur turns to our sin, and removes any distinction between the prodigal and us. The Prodigal Son is a living symbol of every sinner who has ever lived���including you and me. And therefore we need to pay careful attention to the warning Jesus gives us in this part of the parable. All sin involves precisely this kind of irrational rebellion against a loving heavenly Father. Sin���s greatest evil lies not in the fact that it is a transgression of the Law���although it most certainly is that (1 John 3:4). But the real wickedness of sin stems from its nature as a personal affront to a good and gracious Lawgiver. Our sin is a calculated, deliberate violation of the relationship we have with our Creator. . . . When we sin, we show disdain for God���s fatherly love as well as His holy authority. We spurn not merely His law, but also His very person. To sin is to deny God His place. It is an expression of hatred against God. It is tantamount to wishing He were dead. It is dishonoring to Him. And since all sin has at its heart this element of contempt for God, even the smallest sin has enough evil to unleash an eternity full of mischief, misfortune, and misery. The fact that the entire world of human evil all stemmed from Adam���s simple act of disobedience is vivid proof of that (Romans 5:12, 19; 1 Corinthians 15:21���22). Moreover, sin always bears evil fruit. We cannot take the good gifts God has surrounded us with, barter them away as if they were nothing, and then not expect to reap the consequences of spiritual poverty that are the inevitable result. Here���s a shocking reality: the Prodigal Son is not merely a picture of the worst of sinners; he is a symbol of every unredeemed sinner-alienated from God and without a hope in the world (Ephesians 2:12). He is a precise and living effigy of the entire human race���fallen, sinful, and rebellious. Worse yet, his character reflects not only the state of our fallen race as a whole but also the natural condition of every individual ever conceived by a human father since the fall of Adam. We all begin this life with our backs turned against God; desiring to flee far from Him, with no regard for His love, no appreciation of His generosity, and no respect for His honor. It���s true: the evil motives that drove the Prodigal are the natural tendencies of every fallen human heart. ���The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God��� (Romans 8:7���8). We are ���by nature children of wrath,��� born with a sinful nature and helplessly dominated by fleshly desires (Ephesians 2:2���3). In other words, we are all prodigal sons and daughters. Every one of us is guilty of self-indulgence, dissipation, and unrestrained lust. We have been heedless to the consequences of sin and reckless in the pursuit of evil. Apart from God���s restraining grace, every one of us would have long ago sold our birthright, wasted our lives, and squandered every blessing God has given us-trading away His bountiful, daily goodness in exchange for a brief moment of cheap self-gratification. ���John MacArthur, A Tale of Two Sons (Thomas Nelson, 2008), 78���79.

Where Repentance Begins

But when he came to his senses, he said, How many of my fathers hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! Luke 15:17 Here, I am convinced, is where true repentance always begins: with an accurate assessment of one’s own condition. Everyone-from the profligate sinner who is a complete wastrel (such as this young man) to the most fastidious, patronizing Pharisee-needs to face the reality that the sinfulness we have inherited from Adam has made us spiritual paupers. No sinner has the means to atone for his or her own sin or the ability to overcome the power of sin that holds us. Our sin has put us in a desperate situation. John MacArthur, A Tale of Two Sons (Thomas Nelson, 2008), 8990.

Remorse vs. Repentance

Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. —Psalm 51:11 Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the nature of genuine repentance, as seen in Psalm 51: I do not hesitate to assert that this is perhaps the most subtle and delicate test as to whether we have repented, or where we are: our attitude towards God. Have you noticed it in the psalm? The one against whom David has sinned is God, and yet the one he desires above all is God. That is the difference between remorse and repentance. The man who has not repented, but who is only experiencing remorse, when he realizes he has done something against God, avoids God. . . . The man who has not been dealt with by the Spirit of God and has not been convinced and convicted, tries to get away from God, to avoid him at all costs. He does not think, he does not read the Bible, he does not pray; he does everything he can not to think about these things. But the extraordinary thing about the man who is convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit is that though he knows he has sinned against God, it is God he wants—“Be merciful to me, O God.” He wants to be with God—that is the peculiar paradox of repentance, wanting the one I have offended! —Martyn Lloyd-Jones, cited in A Tale of Two Sons (Thomas Nelson, 2008), 97–98.

The Most Dangerous Sin

This is possibly the most potent single sentence, outside of Scripture, that Ive ever read: Consider this: of all the iniquities the Prodigal had indulged in, the one sin with the most potential for evil was the great distance he had put between him and his father. John MacArthur, A Tale of Two Sons (Thomas Nelson, 2008), 102.

The Humble Father

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20 The prodigals father was so anxious for his sons return that, when he saw him, he ran to meet him. This indicates a great deal more than joyful haste to meet his long-awaited son. It indicates a profound humility on the part of the father. Even today, in our hurried western culture, adults do not run under normal circumstances. We normally run only in emergencies or in controlled contexts in which running is appropriate, such as sporting events. We dont normally see a man dressed in business attire, briefcase in hand, running down the sidewalk. That would be undignified. Yet, we can imagine a loving father running to meet a long lost son, and so we must enter the world in which this story was told to grasp the significance of the fathers race to greet his returning son. John MacArthur writes: And make no mistake: in the context of that culture, the fathers action of running to the boy and embracing him before he even came all the way home was seen as a shameful breech of decorum. In the jaded perspective of the scribes and Pharisees, this was just one more thing that added to the fathers shame. For one thing, noblemen in that culture did not run. Running was for little boys and servants. Grown men did not runespecially men of dignity and importance. They walked magisterially, with a slow gait and deliberate steps. But Jesus says his father . . . ran (v. 20; emphasis added). He did not send a servant or a messenger ahead to intercept his son. And it was not merely that he quickened his pace. He himself ran. The text uses a word that speaks of sprinting, as if he were in an athletic competition. The father gathered up the hem of his robe and took off in a most undignified manner. The image of a respectable, wealthy, honorable man such as this running seems so out of place in Middle Eastern culture that Arabic Bible translators have traditionally been reluctant to translate the phrase without resorting to a euphemism such as he hurried, or he presented himself. Kenneth E. Bailey, an evangelical Bible commentator who lived in the Middle East and made careful studies of the language and culture there, wrote: The reluctance on the part of the Arabic versions to let the father run is amazing. . . . For a thousand years a wide range of such phrases were employed (almost as if there was a conspiracy) to avoid the humiliating truth of the textthe father ran! The explanation for all of this is simple. The tradition identified the father with God, and running in public is too humiliating to attribute to a person who symbolizes God. Not until 1860, with the appearance of the BustaniVan Dyck Arabic Bible, does the father appear running. The work sheets of the translators are available to me and even in that great version the first rendition of the Greek was he hurried, and only in the second round of the translation process does rakada (he ran) appear. The Hebrew of Prov. 19:2 reads, He that hastens with his feet sins (my translation). The father represents God. How could he run? He does. The father was humbling himself, even though the Prodigal Son was the one who should have been doing so. John MacArthur, A Tale of Two Sons (Thomas Nelson, 2008), 113114.

Christ Receives Sinners

And the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his slaves, Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found. And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:2124 [The parable of the Prodigal Son] reminds us that Christ receives sinners who are in exactly the same situation as the Prodigal Sonunclean, clothed in filthy rags, utterly bereft of any assets, with nothing whatsoever to commend themselves to Christ. He receives them with the same kind of gladness seen in this parableand infinitely more. In the words of Romans 4:5, Christ justifies the ungodly. If that thought doesn’t make you want to weep with gratitude, then you have probably never felt yourself in the place of the Prodigal Son, and you need to pray for repentance. John MacArthur, A Tale of Two Sons (Thomas Nelson, 2008), 131.

The Rest of the Story?

John MacArthurs subtitle of A Tale of Two Sons hints at a different story than the one we learned in Sunday School: The Inside Story of a Father, His Sons, and a Shocking Murder. Murder? I dont remember that part. But you will remember that the story seems unfinished, with the elder brother angrily standing outside. A proper happy ending would have him repenting of his bitter resentment, begging his fathers forgiveness, and being welcomed into the celebration. The family would have been united in joy. But that ending is missing. The real ending, left untold, was finished in real life. Dont forget that Jesus told this parableincluding the abrupt endingchiefly for the benefit of the scribes and Pharisees. It was really a story about them. The elder brother represented them. The hanging resolution underscored the truth that the next move was theirs. The fathers final tender plea was Jesus own gentle appeal to them. If they had demanded to know the end of the parable on the spot, Jesus might well have said to them, That is up to you. The Pharisees ultimate response to Jesus would write the end of the story in real-life. We therefore know how the tale really ended, then, dont we? It is not a happy ending. Instead, its another shocking plot turn. In fact, it is the greatest shock and outrage of all time. They killed Him. Since the father figure in the parable represents Christ and the elder brother is a symbol of Israels religious elite, in effect, the true ending to the story, as written by the scribes and Pharisees themselves, ought to read something like this: The elder son was outraged at his father. He picked up a piece of lumber and beat him to death in front of everyone. John MacArthur, A Tale of Two Sons (Thomas Nelson, 2008), 194195. We also have a story. Whether we are the prodigal or the elder brother, the ending to our story depends upon our response to Christ. The invitation to be part of the great celebratory banquet is still open to all. It extends even to you, dear reader. And it doesnt matter whether you are an open sinner like the Prodigal Son, a secret one like his elder brother, or someone with characteristics from each type. If you are someone who is still estranged from God, Christ urges you to acknowledge your guilt, admit your own spiritual poverty, embrace your heavenly Father, and be reconciled to Him (2 Corinthians 5:20). And the Spirit and the bride say, Come! And let him who hears say, Come! And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17) Now, enjoy the celebration. Ibid., 198.

Worship Christ, the … King

Angels from the Realms of Glory Angels from the realms of glory, Wing your flight o’er all the earth; Ye who sang creation’s story Now proclaim Messiah’s birth. Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. Shepherds, in the field abiding, Watching o’er your flocks by night, God with us is now residing; Yonder shines the infant light: Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. Sages, leave your contemplations, Brighter visions beam afar; Seek the great Desire of nations; Ye have seen His natal star. Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. Saints, before the altar bending, Watching long in hope and fear; Suddenly the Lord, descending, In His temple shall appear. Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. Sinners, wrung with true repentance, Doomed for guilt to endless pains, Justice now revokes the sentence, Mercy calls you; break your chains. Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. Though an Infant now we view Him, He shall fill His Father’s throne, Gather all the nations to Him; Every knee shall then bow down: Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. All creation, join in praising God, the Father, Spirit, Son, Evermore your voices raising To th’eternal Three in One. Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. Don’t get me wrong, I like this hymn. I like the theology it preaches, and I’ll admit liking it on the sentimental grounds that I’ve grown up with it and have always liked it. Still, I don’t care for the last line of the refrain: “Worship Christ, the newborn King.” We are not called to worship a baby Jesus (as many Roman Catholics sometimes do), nor were the shepherds. The angels announced “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” That Savior just happened to be an infant at the time, but his age was not really relevant to the shepherds. They didn’t go to Bethlehem to worship a newborn king, they went to worship the King who was, at the moment, newly born. John MacArthur writes, Christmas is not about the Savior’s infancy; it is about his deity. The humble birth of Jesus Christ was never intended to be a façade to conceal the fact that God was being born into the world. —John MacArthur, God’s Gift of Christmas, (Thomas Nelson, 2006), 9. To slightly paraphrase the sixth stanza of the hymn, and the refrain, Though an Infant then they viewed Him, He shall fill His royal throne, Gather all the nations to Him; Every knee shall then bow down. Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the sovereign King.

The Firstborn of All Creation

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. —Colossians 1:15–20 Paul says Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Those who reject the deity of Christ have made much of that phrase, assuming it means Jesus was a created being. But the word translated “firstborn” is protokos, which describes Jesus’ rank, not His origin. The firstborn, the protokos, in a Hebrew family was the heir, the ranking one, the one who had all the rights of inheritance. And in a royal family, the protokos had the right to rule. Christ is the One who inherits all creation and has the right to rule over it. In Psalm 89:27, God says of David, “I also shall make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” There the meaning of “firstborn” is given in plain language: “the highest of the kings of the earth.” That’s what protokos means with regard to Christ—He is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:16). God has appointed His Son “heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). He is the primary One, the Son who has the right to the inheritance, the ranking Person, the Lord of all, heir of the whole of creation. —John MacArthur, God’s Gift of Christmas, (Thomas Nelson, 2006), 14–15.
Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” —Matthew 1:23 The name Immanuel is the heart of the Christmas story. It is a Hebrew name that means, literally, “God with us.” It is a promise of incarnate deity, a promise that God Himself would appear as a human infant, Immanuel, “God with us.” This baby who was to be born would be God Himself in human form. If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these would be the words: “God with us.” We tend to focus our attention at Christmas on the infancy of Christ, but the greater truth of the holiday is His deity. More astonishing than a baby in the manger is the truth that this promised baby is the omnipotent Creator of the heavens and the earth! Immanuel, infinitely rich, became poor. He assumed our nature, entered our sin-polluted world, took our guilt on Himself although He was sinless, bore our griefs, carried our sorrows, was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). All of that is wrapped up in “God with us.” —John MacArthur, God’s Gift of Christmas, (Thomas Nelson, 2006), 20–21.
Here’s a side to the Christmas story that isn’t often told. Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day walk up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant’s head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear. Jesus was born to die. —John MacArthur, God’s Gift of Christmas, (Thomas Nelson, 2006), 108–109.

Divine Justice

In spite of the clarity with which Scripture addresses this topic, many professing Christians today struggle with acceptance of Gods sovereigntyespecially when it comes to His electing work in salvation. Their most common protest, of course, is that the doctrine of election is unfair. But such an objection stems from a human idea of fairness rather than the objective, divine understanding of true justice. In order to appropriately address the issue of election, we must set aside all human considerations and focus on the nature of God and His righteous standard. Divine justice is where the discussion must begin. What is divine justice? Simply stated, it is an essential attribute of God whereby He infinitely, perfectly, and independently does exactly what He wants to do when and how He wants to do it. Because He is the standard of divine justice, by very definition, whatever He does is inherently just. As William Perkins said, many years ago, We must not think that God doeth a thing because it is good and right, but rather is the thing good and right because God willeth and worketh it. Therefore, God defines for us what justice is, because He is by nature just and righteous, and what He does reflects that nature. His free willand nothing elseis behind His justice. This means that whatever He wills is just; and it is just, not by any external standard of justice, but simply because He wills it. Because the justice of God is an outflow of His character, it is not subject to fallen human assumptions of what justice should be. The Creator owes nothing to the creature, not even what He is graciously pleased to give. God does not act out of obligation or compulsion, but out of his own independent prerogative. That is what it means to be God. And because He is God, His freely determined actions are intrinsically right and perfect. To say that election is unfair is not only inaccurate, it fails to recognize the very essence of true fairness. That which is fair, right, and just is that which God wills to do. Thus, if God wills to choose those whom he will save, it is inherently fair for him to do so. We cannot impose our own ideas of fairness onto our understanding of Gods working. Instead, we must go to the Scriptures to see how God Himself, in his perfect righteousness, decides to act. from John MacArthurs forward to Steve Lawsons Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 89.

Sovereign Election in Exodus

Divine justice plays no part in sovereign election. It is all of Gods mercy. Gods choice of undeserving sinners for salvation is an expression of His sovereign will and free grace. God does not owe salvation to any sinner. Saving grace is entirely unmerited; no sinful creature has any claim to it. All that sinful man rightly deserves is divine condemnation. So the lost human race desperately needs what it does not deserve. But because grace is a gift, God is free to bestow it upon whom He pleases without violating His justice. As He is absolutely sovereign, He chooses which sinners He will save: I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. Exodus 33:19b In this passage, God says nothing about His justice. He speaks only of His mercy. These two divine attributesjustice and mercybelong to totally different categories. Election is always a matter of sovereign mercy, not justice. Without any obligation to bestow grace upon any individual, God shows Himself to be infinitely loving by choosing to show mercy upon some. Grasping the profundity of this verse, John MacArthur writes, God is absolutely sovereign and does elect who will be saved without violating His other attributes. He determines who receives mercy. Albert Barnes adds, Jehovah declares His own will to be the ground of the grace which He is going to show the nation. St. Paul applies these words to the election of Jacob in order to overthrow the self-righteous boasting of the Jews (Rom. 9:15). The point is clearGod chooses by sovereign mercy whom He will save. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 80.

Divine Sovereignty (short version)

God is the decider and the determiner of every mans destiny, the controller of every detail in every individuals life, which is another way of saying, He is God. John MacArthur, Who Chose Whom? (sermon).

Irresistible Call in Zechariah

This excerpt has, I suppose, something to annoy almost everyone: the Arminian, with its denial of autonomous free will, and the Replacement theologian, with its affirmation of Gods faithfulness to ethnic Israel. What it should provide is great comfort to every Christian, and greater faith in the God who keeps his promises and unfailingly draws his people to himself. Saving grace is always irresistible grace. It is a work of God that inevitably triumphs in the lives of the elect. Zechariah taught that within the nation of Israel, a remnant would be called to faith in Christ and would surely be converted: And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. Zechariah 12:10 Zechariah looked ahead to a time when God would pour out His Spirit upon Israel. In that day, Israel would be brought to deep conviction of its sin, especially the sin of crucifying Christ, Zechariah said. At that time, which is still in the future, there will be a great turning to the Lord. God will do a work of sovereign grace in the hearts of many Jews, with the result that all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26)a reference to the vast majority in Israel. God will pour out His Spirit on the house of David, bringing conviction of sin and granting true repentance, so that many will call upon His name with saving faith. In other words, God Himself will overcome the natural inclination of the uncoverted heart, which is not able to seek God in and of itself. Recognizing the absolute certainty of this fulfillment, MacArthur writes, God, in His own perfect time and by His own power, will sovereignly act to save Israel. Boice adds that Israels understanding of Christs crucifixion will come about by the power of Gods Holy Spirit, for it is only as God pours out a spirit of grace and supplication that the repentance and turning depicted in these verses occurs. It is only by the power of Gods Holy Spirit that they occur anywhere or to anyone. It is Gods Spirit who causes unconverted sinners to look to the Savior they have long rejected. This is the basis of every true conversion. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 235.

Preserving Grace in Matthew

Scripture clearly teaches that the salvation of Gods people is guaranteed. As we see in the passage considered below, God does not guarantee our eternal salvation by making us unable to fall. He guarantees it (in part) by protecting us from circumstances in which we certainly would fall. In the Mount Olivet Discourse, Jesus unveiled the end of the age. Through this sermon, He taught His disciples that those who persevere to the end are, in reality, the elect of God. They are kept eternally secure by God: And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Matthew 24:22 (cf. Mark 13:20) Unquestionably, the elect have been chosen by God to be His people, and He will move heaven and earth to preserve them forever. They will be kept secure in their faith. Affirming this truth, MacArthur writes, This is the first use of the term elect in the New Testament, and through it Jesus introduced a new concept concerning those who belong to Him. They have been divinely chosen and called out as His own people and indeed His very own children. And when God chooses people for Himself, He will restructure the entire universe if that becomes necessary to protect them and to fulfill His promises concerning them. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 257.

Irresistable Call in 1 Peter

The excerpt that follows really ought to go without saying, and for most readers here, it probably does. Yet, among Christians, even those who identify as evangelical and fundamentalist, it represents the minority view. Evangelists like Billy Graham have expended great effort to talk people into making a decision for Christ. The heretic (and all-around oddball) Charles Finney taught that the Bible calls upon [the unregenerate] to repent, to make to themselves a new heart. The result of this, he said, was regeneration. In contrast, the bible teaches that regeneration is wholly an act of God. Peter exulted that all who are chosen and foreknown by the Father are regenerated by the Spirit. The truth of the sinner being caused to be born again is reason for great praise in the heart of every believer: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. . . . You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. 1 Peter 1:3, 23 The new birth is a work of sovereign grace within the human soul. No one can cause himself to be born physically. Neither can anyone cause himself to be born again spiritually. God, who alone is active in regeneration, must cause the unbelieving sinner to be born again. Boice comments, No one is responsible for his or her physical birth. It is only as a human egg and sperm join, grow, and finally enter this world that birth occurs. The process is initiated and nurtured by the parents. Likewise spiritual rebirth is initiated and nurtured by our heavenly Father and is not our own doing. Regeneration is entirely a divine work of sovereign grace that occurs at the deepest level of ones being. Leighton writes, Natural birth has always been acknowledged as belonging to Gods prerogative: Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him (Psalm 127:3). How much more is the new birth completely dependent on Gods hand! MacArthur adds, The new birth is monergistic; it is a work solely of the Holy Spirit. Sinners do not cooperate in their spiritual births (cf. Eph. 2:110) any more than infants cooperate in their natural births. Jesus told Nicodemus, The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8). Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 320321.

Persevering Grace in Romans

The salvation of believers is not secured by their perseverance. They persevere because their salvation is secured by the power of Gods indwelling Spirit. The elect will never be separated from Gods love in Christ. Nothing presently in this life, prospectively in death, or eternally in the future can sever a true believer from his relationship to God: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:3539 All the elect will be kept secure by God, even in the face of mounting persecution and even martyrdom. Such painful ordeals will be only the means by which they enter into glory. But Christ will never remove His saving love from them. MacArthur writes, Only the true believer perseveres, not because he is strong in himself but because he has the power of Gods indwelling Spirit. His perseverance does not keep his salvation safe but proves that his salvation is safe. Those who fail to persevere not only demonstrate their lack of courage but, much more important, their lack of genuine faith. God will keep and protect even the most fearful person who truly belongs to Him. On the other hand, even the bravest of those who are merely professing Christians will invariably fall away when the cost of being identified with Christ becomes too great. Only true Christians are overcomers because only true Christians have the divine help of Christs own Spirit. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 371.

Preserving Grace in 2 Corinthians

The faith God gives in regeneration is an enduring faith, able to stand through all adversity. No matter how much opposition a believer may face, there is a supernatural resiliency about this faith that causes him to persevere without falling away. The omnipotence of God upholds the believer in his weakest moments: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies . . . knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 2 Corinthians 4:810, 14 Regardless of what difficulty is thrown at a believer, his faith remains. His trust in God may bend, but it will never break. True faith will never implode; it will hold up under the severest stress and greatest challenges, because the power of God within the believer is greater than the external pressure brought against him. MacArthur explains, The power of God made Paul fearless and formidable. Nothing his enemies could do would destroy him. Even killing him would only usher him into the Lords presence (Phil. 1:21). Gods sustaining power enabled this otherwise weak man to triumph over his difficulties and his enemies (cf. 2 Cor. 2:14). Even the greatest threat of allmartyrdomwill not cause the believer to deny the Lord. This persevering grace is with him all the way to glory. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 399400.

Hope from Humility

Humanity is lost and fallen. We were separated from God because of our sin, and our only hope of forgiveness was for someone completely innocent of any wrongdoing to take all the punishment for our crimes. Such a perfect life and a perfect love were impossible for any human to achieve, so God Himself did it for us. He sent His Son from eternity into mortality, from glory into flesh, and from a throne to a manger. Ultimate hope was born in ultimate humility. —John MacArthur, God’s Gift of Christmas (Thomas Nelson, 2006), 6.

The Gaithers EXPOSED!!!

Wednesday··2013·06·12 · 5 Comments
Forgive the watchbloggeresque title. I couldn’t resist. In anticipation of John MacArthur’s newest book, Strange Fire, I decided to read his previous works on the charismatic movement. I’ve already read Charismatic Chaos (1992), so I grabbed his older book, The Charismatics (1978), which I had purchased used quite a while ago but never read. While Charimatic Chaos dealt mostly (as I remember) with the nuttiest charismatic extremes, this appears to be a more general treatment of the subject. Still, it’s not without its sensational revelations. Someone once wrote to the well-known and respected songwriters Bill and Gloria Gaither and asked them for a theological interpretation of their song, “The King Is Coming.” Following is an excerpt from a reply sent by their secretary: Regarding the interpretation of the song, “The King Is Coming,” of all songs that song has been a gift from God. Bill and Gloria do not profess to be theologians. The song came quickly to them and they do not care to discuss the theology of it. In fact, they feel that to dissect the song would be tampering with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who inspired the song. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 15. Well. I’ve know the Gaithers for years as singers of sappy songs (“Tender words, gentle touch, and a good cup of coffee . . .”), but I never suspected they were charismatic goofballs. the quotation above provokes a few questions: Why is there no First and Second Gaithers in the New Testament? Don’t they belong there? and if not, What am I going to do with my record collection now? No, but seriously: Why do so many people who “do not profess to be theologians” insist on writing theology? Why would any Christian writer not be delighted to discuss their own theology, especially when the topic is so ineffably joyful (“Praise God, he’s coming for me.”)? Most importantly, if explaining the meaning of the song is “tampering with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who inspired the song,” how must they feel about preaching? Would not preaching that explains the text of Scripture also tamper with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who inspired the text? As you can see, it’s nonsense, which is the inevitable destination of anyone who goes down the road of ongoing, extrabiblical revelation.

Post-Apostolic Charismata: Montanism

Once upon a time, I challenged Charismatics to present post-apostolic examples of the miraculous gifts (two and a half years later, I am still waiting). John MacArthur writes of one example that does not qualify: You are seated in a roomful of intense worshippers. The zealous singing is punctuated by cries of praise and fervent prayers. Suddenly someone standing near you begins to speak in rapid syllables that seem completely foreign to any language you have ever heard. The cryptic “message” is echoed by a number of others in a quiet, almost inaudible way. Then, as a response, another worshipper stands and gives a message or “prophecy,” spoken as if originated with God Himself: “Thus saith the Lord. If you my people will confess your sins, and seek my path, and call on my name, you will be blessed beyond measure.” The rest of the group, quiet during the short message of prophecy, now begins to praise God as others offer additional messages. Quite possibly you recognize this kind of scene. Surely, you say, it is a description of a charismatic prayer fellowship. You are familiar with it because you have witnessed similar occurrences when accompanying friends or even family members to such meetings. Groups like this have grown more and more numerous in the last few years. This kind of activity is typical today as Charismatics speak in tongues and prophesy as the dynamic witness to what they feel is a generation living in the last days. As familiar as this seems, it is not a modern meeting of Charismatics at all. Described above are a group called Montanists, who lived in the second century A.D. Following the teachings of their leader, Montanus, this group believed that every believer was a means of special revelation. As proof they exercised dramatic gifts of the Spirit including “prophecy” and “tongues,” which they claimed were prophetic signs of the end times. Montanus believed that Christians were living in the “last days” immediately before the return of Christ. Montanus even taught that the New Jerusalem would descend upon his own village of Pepuza in Asia Minor in his life time. One of Montanus’s key doctrines was the claim that he spoke with direct revelation from God through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Montanus claimed to receive revelation God of a nature supplementary to that communicated by Christ and the apostles. He taught a progression of revelation from the Old Testament prophets to the Lord’s disciples and then on into the “new age of the Spirit.” In the “new age” the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouths of Montanist prophets and prophetesses. Montanus boldly intimidated Christians by claiming the church was comprised of two groups: the “spiritual Christians” who followed his teachings and claimed direct revelation from God and the “carnal Christians” who only had the “dead letter” of the Scriptures. . . . The rest of the church branded Montanism as a serious heresy to be rejected. The Council of Constantinople (381) decided that repentant Montanists were to be brought back into the fellowship very carefully. They were examined regarding their grasp of salvation and were put into an intensified study of the Scriptures. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 27–28.

Already Profitable

John MacArthur refutes a notion that I first heard from the Gothard cult: Charismatics are caught in a terrible tension as they try to hold onto the Bible while at the same time making their experience their real authority. And the views of Charismatic leaders and theologians shoe their struggle. For example, Charles Farah, professor at Oral Roberts University, tried to harmonize the tension between the revelation of God and the experience with the two Greek words translated “Word.” He suggested that logos is the objective, historic word and rhema is the personal subjective word. However, neither the Greek meaning nor the New Testament use make any such distinction. The logos, says Farah, becomes rhema when it speaks to you. The logos is legal while the rhema is experiential. Farah wrote, “The logos doesn’t always become the rhema, God’s Word to you.” What Farah was saying is that the logos becomes rhema when it speaks to you. in other words, he was saying that the historic objective of logos really doesn’t do much for you until it “zaps” you. Then it becomes rhema—your own personal word from God. His ideas sound dangerously close to what neoorthodox theologians have been saying for over fifty years: the Bible becomes God’s Word when it speaks to you. But God’s Word is God’s Word whether it is experienced or not. The Bible does not depend on the experience of its readers to be the inspired Word of God. Paul said the Bible was already able to make Timothy wise unto salvation, not that “it would become able” if Timothy acted in a certain way (2 Tim. 3:15). Paul went on to say, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (v. 16). Paul was saying the Scriptures are already inspired and profitable, not that they will become inspired and profitable depending on the experience of the reader. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 69–70.

Not Without Assignable Reason

Miracles do not appear on the pages of Scripture vagrantly, here, there, and elsewhere indifferently, without assignable reason. They belong to revelation periods, and appear only when God is speaking to His people through accredited messengers, declaring his gracious purposes. Their abundant display in the Apostolic Church is the mark of the richness of the Apostolic age in revelation; and when this revelation period closed, the period of miracle-working had passed by also, as a mere matter of course. —B. B. Warfield, quoted in The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 77. [original source]

Expect a Miracle?

Have you ever been told to “expect a miracle”? Well, don’t. Many Charismatic believers insist that God wants to do a special miracle for every believer. They often say, “God has a special miracle just for you.” Are Christians supposed to seek their own private miracles? If you take all the miracles done by Jesus and chart them, the result will show that none of those miracles were ever done privately. While Jesus healed to cure people’s ailments and relieve suffering, these were secondary benefits. His major purpose was to authenticate His messiahship (John 20:30–31). Similarly, while the apostles also healed people, their primary purpose was to authenticate new revelation—and new revelation is never a private issue. B. B. Warfield wrote: It has not been God’s way to communicate to each and every man a separate store of divine knowledge of his own, to meet his separate needs; but He had rather spread a common board for all, and invites all to come and partake of the richness of the great feast. He had given the world one organically complete revelation. Adapted to all, sufficient for all, provided for all, and from this one completed revelation He requires each to draw his whole spiritual sustenance. Therefore, it is that the miraculous working which is but a sign of God’s revealing power cannot be expected to continue, and in point of fact does not continue, after the revelation of which it is the accompaniment has been completed. [original source] Charismatics circumvent this by insisting that today we have new revelation in addition to new miracles and new apostles. But apostles were special people for a special time. What they did does not need continual repetition. In none of his letters did Paul tell believers to seek the Spirit’s manifestations of signs and wonders. He simply said to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) or, putting it another way, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you” (see Col. 3:16).* Revelation is a book full of vision, wonders, and signs. It would be a perfect place for the writer to urge believers to seek these wonders and signs, but what does he say? “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it” (Rev. 1:3). Romans 15:4 states: “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” If we want hope, if we want an anchor, if we want something to carry us through life, it isn’t a miracle we need. We need the Scriptures. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 78–79. * See here.

By Signs and Wonders: Apostolic Authority

Last week, I posted the scriptural testimony on the purpose of the miraculous gifts in authenticating divine revelation. Here, John MacArthur demonstrates the uniqueness of the apostolic office to the age of revelation: Scripture makes it plain that the period of New Testament revelation and the apostles are inextricably connected. Paul said as much when he wrote to the Corinthians and said: “I have become foolish in glorying; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am nobody. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:11–12). Paul was clearly defending his apostleship to the Corinthians (who had challenged him concerning his apostolic authority) by referring to the signs, wonders, and miracles that he did among them. Now, if that kind of thing were common to all Christians, it would be a rather foolish way for Paul to prove his apostleship. Obviously, even during the apostolic age all Christians couldn’t do signs, wonders, and mighty deeds. But if that type of thing were unique to apostles, then it would certainly be proof of their power and authority. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 79–80.

Has God Lost His Zip?

The charismatic caricature of cessationists portrays a belief in an inactive holy spirit, and a god who no longer works in the world, who has, as one charismatic quipped, “lost all of his zip.” John MacArthur responds: Has God lost His zip? Has he done nothing significant in two thousand years? All around us we see evidence of God’s marvelous work: in the miracle new birth in the lives of millions around the world; in the healing of illness in answer to prayer; in the matching of people and resources in providential circumstances to bring glory to Himself; in the resilience of His church which has survived ruthless persecution and attack through the centuries and continues to do so today. Ephesians 3:20 gives a promise for our age and it is this: Our Lord “is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” What God does in us and through us today is not the same thing that He did in the apostolic age because He had a special purpose for the apostles, and that purpose was served. He also had a special purpose for us, and what he does in us and for us and through us will be marvelous because He is God and what he does is always marvelous. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 84.

Unique and Unrepeatable

Charismatics insist that anything that happened in Scripture, particularly in the New Testament, should still be expected today. Cessationists believe that certain events recorded in Scripture served a particular purpose and, once that purpose was accomplished, were not only unnecessary, but unrepeatable. Examples include creation—God is no longer creating—and, most apropo, the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. These things will never be repeated, because they have fully accomplished their purpose. Merrill Unger explains why Pentecost is likewise unique and unrepeatable: Pentecost is as unrepeatable as the creation of the world or of man; as once-for-all, as the incarnation and the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. This appears from the following simple facts: (1) The Spirit of God could only come, arrive, and take up His residence in the church once, which He did at Pentecost. (2) The Spirit of God could only be given, received, and deposited in the church once, which occurred at Pentecost. (3) The event occurred at a specific time (Acts 2:1), in fulfillment of a specific time (Lev. 23:15–22), in a specific place (Jerusalem; cf. Luke 24:49), upon a specific few (Acts 1:13, 14), for a specific purpose (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12–20), to introduce a new order. The event did not constitute the continuing and recurring features of the new order once it was introduced. —Merrill Unger, cited in The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 94. Humorously, MacArthur notes: In 1976 Pentecostals held a world conference in Jerusalem to celebrate “the ongoing miracle of Pentecost.” Significantly, they had to have interpreters and headphones for the various delegates to hear and to understand in their own language. —John MacArthur, Ibid.
According to the Assemblies of God, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate experience that follows salvation. It is not a requirement for salvation, but it is a benefit that every member of the body of Christ can enjoy. . . . it is an empowering experience for the Christian so that they [sic] can be supernaturally equipped. . . . With that experience comes intimacy where [sic] we will live a righteous, holy life. Also, there comes a power to witness.” [source] Furthermore, this experience, without which Christians are (I speak as a fool) powerless to live as they ought, must be sought. A believer could presumably live his entire life just limping along without the Holy Spirit. That is, of course, pure nonsense. God has not left us lacking anything. John MacArthur writes: The last part of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is particularly important. Christians “were all made to drink of one Spirit.” This is a beautiful thought. Not only have believers been places into Someone (Christ), but they have had Someone placed into them (the Holy Spirit). As Christians we have the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). God dwells in our bodies (2 Cor. 6:16). Not only are we immersed into an environment of the life of God, but the life of God is in us. All the resources we need are there. We have received the promise the Holy Spirit fully and totally. The Bible is absolutely clear on this point. There is nothing to wait for. All we have to do is yield to and obey Him who is already in us. . . . one can find as many variations in the ways to “get the baptism of the spirit” as he can find Charismatic writers. Why all the confusion and contradiction? Why don’t Charismatic writers simply quote the Bible plainly and let it go at that? The reason that no Charismatic writer can do this is that the Bible doesn’t tell us how to get the baptism of the Spirit. The Bible only tells us that we already have been baptized by the Spirit when we believed. One of the greatest realities the Christian well ever have is contained in two brief and fulfilling statements. One is by Paul, and the other is by Peter. “And in him you have been made complete” (Col. 2:10). “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). How? “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (v. 2) There is no point in seeking what is already ours. —John MacArhur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 129.

The Savior Will Not Discard

A battered reed He will not break off, And a smoldering wick He will not put out, Until He leads justice to victory. Matthew 12:20 (cf. Isaiah 42:3) Reading The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax by Ricard Sibbes, which is an exposition of Matthew 12:20 (above), it seems pretty obvious that Sibbes has a lot more to say than is actually contained in that single verse. It seems that he is expounding not only on the immediate text, but on every possible tangential theme (readers of Lloyd-Jones’s commentaries will understand what I mean). For the sake of not losing the tree in the forest, I thought it would be good to post a brief, on-point explanation of the text. Not surprisingly, John MacArthur’s Commentary fits the bill nicely. In ancient times reeds were used for many purposes, but once a reed was bent or battered it was useless. A shepherd would often make a flute-like instrument from a reed and play soft music on it to while away the hours and to calm the sheep. When the reed became soft or cracked, it would no longer make music and the shepherd would break it and throw it away. When a lamp burned down to the end of the wick, it would only smolder and smoke without making any light. Since such a smoldering wick was useless, it was put out and thrown away, just like a broken reed. The battered reed and the smoldering wick represent people whose lives are broken and worn out, ready to be discarded and replaced by the world. Because they can no longer “make music” or “give light,” society casts off the weak and the helpless, the suffering and the burdened. Those were the kind of people the Romans ignored as useless and the Pharisees despised as worthless. One of the most obvious legacies of the Fall is man’s natural tendency to destroy. Small children will often step on a bug just for the sake of killing it, or snap off a beautiful bud just before it flowers. A tree branch is broken for the sake of breaking it, and a stone is thrown at a bird just to see it fly away or fall to the ground. On a more destructive scale, adults devour and undercut each other in business, society, politics, and even in the family. The nature of sinful man is to destroy, but the nature of the holy God is to restore. The Lord will not break off or put out even the least of those who come to Him, and He gives dire warning to those who would do so. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble,” Jesus said, “it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6). In the hands of the Savior, the battered reed is not discarded but restored, and the smoldering wick is not put out but rekindled. —John MacArthur, Matthew 8–15 (Moody Press, 1987), 300.

Your Imaginary Heaven

Monday··2013·08·26 · 3 Comments
Charles Spurgeon on Heaven Is for Real and other heaven tourism books: It’s a little heaven below, to imagine sweet things. But never think that imagination can picture heaven. When it is most sublime when it is freest from the dust of earth, when it is carried up by the greatest knowledge, and kept steady by the most extreme caution, imagination cannot picture heaven. “It hath not entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Imagination is good, but not to picture to us heaven. Your imaginary heaven you will find by-and-by to be all a mistake; though you may have piled up fine castles, you will find them to be castles in the air, and they will vanish like thin clouds before the gale. For imagination cannot make a heaven. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered the heart of man to conceive” it. —Cited in The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 18.

Spiritual Lemmings

Following yesterday’s post, here are a couple of paragraphs from John MacArthur’s The Glory of Heaven. In a world in which spirituality is fashionable, it’s important to know that not all things “spiritual” are good and true. Failing to discern makes the church look more like Oprah than the bride of Christ, and an unwillingness to discern displays a low view of Scripture. Accepting the reality of supernatural things is not the same as believing the truth. When an unbelieving mind rejects the authority of Scripture but embraces the reality of the supernatural realm, the result is always catastrophic. . . . Contemporary evangelicals simply have a too-low view of Scripture and a too-high regard for trendy things. Perhaps no demographic is more suggestible or more lemminglike. Accordingly, evangelical readers have become the largest market for and the most voracious consumers of stories told by people who claim to have gone to heaven and come back. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 27, 34.

Pious Gullibility

I know I risk beating a dead horse with this third-of-a-kind post, but the problem of evangelical gullibility concerns me deeply. From The Prayer of Jabez to Heaven Is for Real, evangelicals are ready, and even anxious, to swallow every new, exciting addition to biblical Christianity, which they must find boring and inadequate. In short, the horse isn’t dead, and won’t be until until every Christian demands, with Luther, “Give me Scripture, Scripture, Scripture. Do you hear me? Scripture.” Those who demand to know more than Scripture tells us are sinning: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). The limits of our curiosity are thus established by the boundary of biblical revelation. The typical Christian today seems oblivious to the principles established by Deuteronomy 29:29 and 1 Corinthians 4:6 (“that you may learn . . . not to go beyond what is written”). In fact, people seem to be looking for spiritual truth, messages from God, and insight into the spirit world everywhere but Scripture. Today’s evangelicals have been indoctrinated by decades of charismatic influence to think God regularly bypasses his written Word in order to speak directly to any and every believer—as if extra biblical revelation were a standard feature of ordinary Christian experience. Many therefore think charity requires them to receive claims of “fresh revelation” with a kind of pious gullibility. After all, who are we to question someone else’s private word from God? So when dozens of best-selling authors who profess to be Christians are suddenly claiming they have seen heaven and want to tell us what it’s like, most of the Christian community is defenseless in the wake of the onslaught. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 39–40.

Yes, I know, it’s not original

Friday··2013·08·30 · 2 Comments
Okay, everyone, lower your expectations. I’ve got next to nothing today. As you might know, I’m reading The Glory of Heaven. I just want to give kudos to John MacArthur for writing an entire appendix on The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven by Kevin Malarkey without making a single joke about the author’s name and the appropriateness thereof. I could not have done it. Perhaps, when I have achieved MacArthur’s years of maturity, I’ll possess that level of restraint, but I doubt it. My wife doubts it more. As long as we’re indulging in childish humor:

John’s Vision

Defenders of heaven tourism books, reminded that the Apostle Paul was forbidden to tell of his heavenly experience (whatever that might have been—even he was not sure) will reply with the vision of John. Surely, this is an example of heavenly reportage. But the purpose of John’s vision is something else, entirely distinct from that of any of the heaven-and-back books. The apostle John’s vision of heaven is Scripture’s most detailed account of the heavenly realm, filling almost the entire book of Revelation. It makes an instructive contrast to the currently popular heavenly travel journals. John’s purpose in writing is not to tell us what heaven is like. This vision is mainly about “the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (to borrow words from Romans 2:5). The name of the book, Revelation, is a translation of the first Greek word that opens John’s message: apokalypsis (Revelation 1:1). That, of course, is the root of the English word apocalypse—which in popular usage is frequently applied to any kind of climactic catastrophe. What John describes in the book of Revelation is literally the catastrophe to end all catastrophes. John’s vision is apocalyptic in every sense of that word. What John saw from heaven’s perspective was a prophetic revelation of the appalling and awesome outpouring of divine fury that will eventually befall the whole earth. In the aftermath, in the closing chapters, John explains how these apocalyptic events will resolve in the triumph of God, the unveiling of the new heaven and the new earth, and the eternal rest of the faithful in the never-ending bliss of that domain. Thus the end of the book of Revelation gives us the best, most complete biblical window on the saints’ eternal rest. But bear in mind: that is not really the point of John’s vision. His real aim is to give us an extended account of how divine wrath and earthy tribulation will be poured out upon all humanity—on a scale unfathomable to our minds and unparalleled in our experience. John clearly wants to provoke wonder, awe, reverence, and fear—and it is in that context that he gives us the Bible’s most detailed description of heaven. So when dozens of best-selling authors who profess to be Christians are suddenly claiming they have seen heaven and want to tell us what it’s like, most of the Christian community is defenseless in the wake of the onslaught. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 56–57.
This world is not my home, I’m just passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. If those words don’t resonate deep within you, there is something seriously amiss spiritually. Perhaps you’ve never come to genuine faith in Christ, so you can’t understand them. Or maybe you’re like many Christians who have become distracted by worldly things. Sadly, having lost sight of the “sweet by and by,” too many Christians busy themselves with the harried here and now, and they themselves are consumed by consumable things. . . . Because the church doesn’t really have heaven on its mind, Christians tend to be self-indulgent, self-centered, weak, and materialistic. Our present comforts consume too much of our thoughts, and if we’re not careful, we end up entertaining wrong fantasies about heaven—or thinking very little of heaven at all. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 65. Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. —Colossians 3:1–4

Heavenly Minded

I am embarrassed to admit that I’ve repeated this old canard: “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” John MacArthur replies: From time to time someone will suggest that Christians are too concerned with heaven. I’m sure you have heard the common complaint about people who are “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” There is indeed a kind of ersatz spirituality that renders people worthless for good works and mutual edification. But such people are not really heavenly minded at all. They are typically like the Pharisees, going through the motions of ritual and public piety for the sake of self, with no real thought about the glory of God. “They do all their deeds to be seen by others” (Matthew 23:5). That’s the polar opposite of true heavenly mindedness. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 65.

Eternal Perspective

What if Paul had written, “For me to live is whatever I can get out of it, and to die makes no difference”? That is the nihilistic view of the hedonist. How depressing and hopeless life would be if all there was to it was to work our way to the end, and die. [L]et’s acknowledge that a nihilistic worldview is the most clear and logical alternative to Christianity. If our existence is the product of nothing and will lead to nothing, then life itself is really nothing. Or (as one skeptic expressed it), we are just protoplasm waiting to become manure. If that is the case, then there’s really no good reason we should not simply eat, drink and be merry while we wait to die. But Scripture tells us that is the worldview of a fool (Luke 12:19–20). How much better to have the eternal perspective! A pamphlet I once read related the following anecdote from the life of John Quincy Adams: One day in his 80th year . . . he was approached by a friend who said, “And how is John Quincy Adams today?” The former President of the United States replied graciously, “Thank you, John Quincy Adams is well, sir, quite well, I thank you. But the house in which he lives at present is becoming dilapidated. It is tottering on its foundations. Time and the seasons have nearly destroyed it. Its roof is pretty well worn out, and its walls are much shattered, and it trembles with every wind. The old tenement is becoming almost uninhabitable, and I think John Quincy Adams will have to move out of it soon; but he himself is quite well, sir, quite well.” And with this the venerable statesman, leaning heavily upon his cane, moved slowly down the street. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 70.

He Holds Forth the Sceptre

Richard Baxter on being heavenly-minded: A heavenly mind is a joyful mind; this is the nearest and truest way to live a life of comfort, and without this you must needs be uncomfortable. Can a man be at a fire and not be warm; or in the sunshine and not have light? Can your heart be in heaven, and not have comfort? [On the other hand] what could make such frozen, uncomfortable Christians but living so far as they do from heaven? . . . O Christians get above. Believe it, that region is warmer than below. . . . There is no man so highly honoureth God, as he who hath his conversation in heaven; and without this we deeply dishonour him. Is it not a disgrace to our father, when the children do feed on husks, and are clothed in rags, and accompany by none but beggars? Is it not so to our Father, when we who call ourselves his children, shall feed on earth, and the garb of our souls be but like that of the naked world, when our hearts shall make of this clay and dust their more familiar and frequent company, who should always stand in our Father’s presence, and be taken up in his own attendance? Sure, it beseems not the spouse of Christ to live among his scullions and slaves, when they may have daily admittance into his presence-chamber; he holds forth the sceptre, if they will but enter. —cited in The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 80–81.
Because, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, justification requires perfect inherent righteousness, sinners must be purged of any remaining impurities before entering heaven. This is where the doctrine of purgatory originates. Purgatory is nowhere mentioned in Scripture, but papists imagine it to be found in 1 Corinthians 3. MacArthur explains why that is a fatuous interpretation. Some claim that 1 Corinthians 3 describes purgatory, where the believer is put through a fiery judgement to purge out the dross of sin. But read that passage again. It describes the judgment of the believer’s works, to see if they are “ wood, hay, straw”or “gold, silver, precious stones” (v. 12). At issue is whether our works endure or are tested in the purging fire. This is the judgment that will take place in the eschatological future at the judgment seat of Christ. It is not describing on ongoing state of purgatory that believers pass through on their way to heaven: Each one’s work will become manifest for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (vv. 13–15) Notice again, that only the works, not the believers themselves, must go through the fire. Also note that rewards are what is at issue—not endurance to heaven. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 91.

When the Morning Comes

By and by, when the morning comes, When the saints of God are gathered home, We will tell the story how we’ve overcome, And we’ll understand it better by and by. How can heaven be perfect when there is such a place as hell? How can we spend eternity in a state of total bliss, knowing that many of our loved ones are in a place of eternal torment? MacArthur writes: Scripture does not give us a direct answer to that question. Some suggest that our memories of relationships on this earth will eventually fade. And there is a hint in Scripture that this may be a factor: In the Isaiah 65 passage describing the new heavens and new earth, God says, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (v. 17). However, I don’t think this can possibly mean we will forget everything about this earth and our relationships here. After all, we will continue many of those same relationships eternally. And we will spend eternity reciting the glory of how Christ redeemed us. Since our redemption was accomplished by his work on earth, it is impossible that we will completely lose our memory of all earthly events and relationships. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 110. While we will not completely forget earthly sorrows, we will see them differently. We now see things from a human perspective, we will then see them from God’s point of view (1 Corinthians 13:12). As for how this will work out in the hearts and minds of redeemed, Scripture simply does not tell us. We’re only promised that God himself will dry our tears. For now, is it enough to know that we can trust implicitly his infinite goodness, compassion and mercy. Furthermore, notice that when God says that he will make all things new, he adds a message to the apostle John: “write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)—as if to add an exclamation mark to the reliability of these great promises. We who truly know the Lord know we can trust him even with our unanswered questions. All his words are true and faithful, so when he says he is making all things new, it is a promise we can cling to despite our inability to know precisely how all the difficulties will resolve. Heaven will be utterly perfect, no matter how impossible it may be for us to understand everything now. —Ibid., 111.

In the Heavenly Places Now

Justification before God guarantees a place in heaven for all believers. But the benefits of justification are not off in the future. They are now. In terms of our moral and legal status, Christians are judged perfect immediately—not on the basis of who we are and what we have done, but because of what Christ has done for us. We are fully justified the moment we believe. We are forgiven of all our sin. We are clothed with a perfect righteousness (Isaiah 6:10; Romans 4:5), which instantly gives us a standing before God without any fear of condemnation (Romans 5:1; 8:1). This is the great position of privilege Scripture refers to when it says God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). And when Paul writes that God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6), he is again speaking of this position of favor with God that we have been granted by grace alone. We are not literally, physically seated with Christ in the heavenlies, of course. We are not mystically present there through some kind of spiritual telepathy. But legally, in the eternal court of God, we have been granted full rights to heaven. That is the high legal standing we enjoy even now. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 131.

Why Don’t I Feel New?

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. —1 Corinthians 5:17 At the moment of regeneration, we are united with Christ, baptized by and filled with the Holy Spirit. There is no “second blessing,” no “haves” and “have-nots.” “The old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Every believer is “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” But let’s be honest. Even for the most committed Christian, it doesn’t always seem like “the new has come.” We don’t always feel like a “new creation.” Usually we are more keenly aware of the sin that oozes from within us than we are of the rivers of living water Christ spoke of. Although we “have the first-fruits of the Spirit, [we] groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). And we groan this way all our lives. Remember that it was a mature apostle, not a fragile new Christian, who cried out in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” . . . As believers we are new creatures—reborn souls—vested with everything necessary for life and godliness, but we cannot appreciate fully the newness of our position in Christ because of the persisting presence of sin in us. Like Paul, we “delight in the law of God, in [our] inner being” (Romans 7:22). Only the principle of eternal life in us can explain such love for the law of God. But at the same time, the flesh constricts and fetters us, like tightly bound grave clothes on someone just up out of the grave. This flesh principle is at war against the principle of new life in Christ. So we feel like captives to the law of sin in our own members (v. 23). How can this be? After all, Paul earlier wrote in this very epistle that our bondage to sin is broken. We are supposed to “have been set free from sin” (6:22). How is it that just one scant chapter later, he says we are “captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (7:23)? But being captive is not quite the same thing as being enslaved. As unredeemed sinners, we were full-time slaves of sin—willing servants, in fact. As Christians who are not yet glorified, we are “captives,” unwilling prisoners of an already-defeated enemy. Although sin can buffet and abuse us, it does not own us, and it cannot ultimately destroy us. Sin’s authority and dominion are broken. It “lies close at hand” in the believer’s life (7:21), but it is no longer our master. Our real allegiance is now the principle of righteousness (v. 22). It is in this sense that “the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Even though we still fall into old patterns of sinful thinking and behavior, those things no longer define who we are. Sin is now an anomaly and an intruder, not the sum and substance of our character. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 132, 133–134.

Glorification versus Purgatory

If sanctification was our final transformation before eternity, we would surely be in need of some kind of purgatory before entering heaven, because sanctification in this life is incomplete. MacArthur writes, [T]he holiness our sanctification produces could never be sufficient to fit us for heaven by itself. In heaven we will be perfectly Christlike. Sanctification is the earthly process of growth by which we press toward that goal; glorification is the instantaneous completion of it. God graciously, summarily glorifies us and admits us into his presence. . . . there is no waiting period, no soul sleep, and no purgatory. Misunderstanding on this point runs deep. No less a scholar than C. S. Lewis wrote, Our souls demand purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy”? Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.” “It may hurt, you know.”—“Even so, sir.” Lewis was no theologian. He was prone (like too many Anglicans) to water down the clarity of biblical truth with Roman Catholic tradition. But this is surely one of his most glaring and baffling errors. It is as if he were totally oblivious to the biblical promise of glorification. Once more: Nothing in Scripture even hints at the notion of purgatory, and nothing indicates that our glorification will in any way be drawn out or painful. On the contrary, as we have seen repeatedly from Scripture, the moment a believer dies, his soul is instantly glorified and he enters God’s presence. To depart this world is to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23). And upon seeing Christ, we become like him. It is a graceful, peaceful, painless, instantaneous transition. Paul says to be absent from the body is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 136–137.

Our Highest Satisfaction

Many people imagine heaven to the best of everything they love now. But the glory of heaven cannot compare to earthly existence. Every joy and pleasure we can imagine will be totally eclipsed in the presence of Christ. As Christians, our highest satisfaction will come when we see our God and his Son, Jesus Christ, and when we stand before him in unclouded, undiminished, uninterrupted sight of his infinite glory and beauty, bringing us infinite and eternal delight. We can begin to understand why Peter, after seeing only a faint glimpse of that glory, wanted to make a camp on the Mount of Transfiguration and stay there permanently! (Matthew 17:4). Nineteenth-century songwriter Fanny Crosby expressed the hope of every believer in a well-loved gospel song titled “My Savior First of All”: When my life work is ended, and I cross the swelling tide, When the bright and glorious morning I shall see, I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side, And His smile will be the first to welcome me. . . . Thru the gates of the city in a robe of spotless white, He will lead me where no tears will ever fall; In the glad song of aged I shall mingle with delight But I long to meet my Savior first of all. Those words have special significance—Fanny Crosby was blind from infancy. She knew that literally the first person she would ever see would be Jesus Christ. In a way, the same thing is true of us all. Our sight here on earth is virtually like blindness compared to the clearer vision we will have in heaven (1 Corinthians 13:12). We ought to be eagerly looking for that day when our vision will be enlightened by the glory of his presence. I sincerely hope that’s your deepest desire. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 136–155.

Talking Back to My Betters

Tuesday··2013·10·08 · 2 Comments
All thinking people, one of whom I pretend to be, disagree with everyone about something, and that everyone should be just that: everone—including those we admire most. I can’t think of anyone with whom I disagree less often than John MacArthur, but today I might, if only on a minor matter. Read the following: First of all, note that our resurrection bodies are our earthly bodies, glorified. The bodies we receive in the resurrection will have the same qualities as the glorified resurrection body of Christ. “We know that when he appears we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). Christ’s resurrection body as before, not a whole new one. After he arose, the tomb was empty. The body itself was resurrected—the very same body, but in a glorified state. The wounds from his crucifixion were still visible (John 20:27). He could be touched and handled—he was not merely an apparition or a phantom (Luke 24:39). He looked human in every regard. He conversed a long time with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and they never once questioned his humanity (Luke 24:13–18). He ate real, earthly food with his friends on another occasion (vv. 42–43). Yet his body also had otherworldly properties. He could pass through solid walls (John 20:19). He could appear in different forms so his identity was not immediately obvious (Mark 16:12). He could suddenly appear out of nowhere (Luke 24:36). And he could ascend directly into heaven in bodily form, with no adverse affect as he went through the atmosphere (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9). Our bodies will be exactly like that. They will be real, physical, genuinely human bodies—the very same bodies we have while on this earth—yet wholly perfected and glorified. Second Corinthians 5:1 calls the resurrection body “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 141. I agree on the overall point: “our resurrection bodies are our earthly bodies, glorified,” but I don’t think “our bodies will be exactly like [Christ’s].” I think we will be different in two ways. First, the resurrected body of Jesus bore—and, we can safely assume, still bears—the marks of crucifixion. To be fair, MacArthur did not say, and I doubt he believes, that we will take with us marks of the injuries we have suffered here, but from what he has written above, one could easily draw that conclusion. Christ retained his scars for one reason: so that the disciples would, without a doubt, recognize him. He carries them today, and always will, as an eternal reminder of the gospel. I believe our resurrected bodies will be like that of pre-Fall Adam, or Jesus as he was born, perfect in every way. Lost and injured limbs will be restored. Scars will be healed. Brain injuries and birth defects will be undone. Second, I am not so sure we will possess all the same abilities as Christ, e.g., “pass through solid walls” and “suddenly appear out of nowhere.” Remember, Christ, while on earth, demonstrated his divinity by performing miracles. The Apostles performed miracles to show they were speaking for divinity. In heaven, there will be nothing to prove; everyone will know who is who. Moreover, we are not gods. In heaven, we will be perfectly human, but still not divine. Surely we cannot expect to possess all the powers of God incarnate. These are the smallest of small quibbles, the answers to which serve little purpose but to satisfy curiosity. While I’d like to have John MacArthur pop in some day and explain it better, or maybe set me straight, I guess I’ll find out sooner or later.

Talk Like Adults

Thursday··2013·10·17 · 2 Comments
With the Strange Fire conference comes the predictable complaints. “It makes me feel bad”; “But my experience says . . .” followed by the hilariously ironic “Quoting Calvin? Sola Scriptura!” and my favorite, “This is not helpful!” Then there are, of course, the inevitable Matthew 18 trolls who think John MacArthur should be having coffee, or at least a phone call, with every charismatic who wants his ear. Well, folks, here’s how it works (and I’m pretty sure you already know this, so knock it off). Matthew 18 does not apply. First, public actions require public responses. Second, private interaction is just not practical. Finally, this is how scholars have always hashed out disagreements: public debates, lectures, journal articles, and books. So all you “MacArthur should take the time to talk to charismatic leaders” people, he is talking to them. Right now, as I write this, as a matter of fact. And they are free to respond. Is it too much to expect that they respond seriously and honestly, or should we expect the kind of dishonest obfuscation and slander we get from the likes of Michael Brown? I’ve said before that we need to talk about this. So let’s talk, but like adults, without whining, and without slander. Addendum: This is relevant, I think. It's interesting to me: Driscoll makes fun of Cessationists & people laugh. MacArthur calls out Charismatics & people get angry #strangefire— Erik Raymond (@erikraymond) October 17, 2013

Touched by an Angel?

[D]espite the prevalence of stirring tales about angelic interventions (angels who rescue missionaries from cannibals and similar tales), there is no way any of these stories can be verified—except for the biblical ones. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t an angel whose invisible hand mysteriously steadied you when you were about to take a tumble down the stairs. But it means you cannot possibly know for sure whether it was an angel or not. We do know for sure that it is God whose providence preserves us from various disasters. Whether in a given instance he employs angels as his instruments or not, God is the One who should be the focus of our praise and gratitude, not the angelic beings. Scripture does teach that some “have entertained angels unawares“ (Hebrews 13:2). And for that very reason we are instructed to show kindness and hospitality to strangers. But the language of Scripture indicates that that these incidents are rare, and the key to understanding this verse is the word unawares. The verse is describing people who have hosted angels without knowing it. It is certainly possible, according to Scripture, that you might play host to an angel. But in all likelihood, if that occurs, it will be without your knowing it. Nowhere does Scripture encourage us to have and angel fetish, to look for evidence of angles in everyday life, or to have such an expectation of entertaining angels that we imagine them in every serendipitous encounter. The tales that fill today’s rendezvous-with-angels books are unverifiable stories—extraordinary displays of divine providence, perhaps, but not necessarily authentic account of angelic intervention. The whole fixation is of questionable value. Certainly it is causing far more spiritual harm than good. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 160–161.

Greater Works: John 14:12

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. —John 14:12 Ligonier Ministries recently published R. C. Sproul’s explanation of this passage (I only mention it because many of you may have seen it). I love Sproul, but I think he’s missed the mark on this one. I think John MacArthur gets it right. The astonishing promise to the one who believes in Christ is that the works that He does, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do. The greater works to which Jesus referred were not greater in power than those He performed, but greater in extent. The disciples would indeed perform miraculous works, as Jesus had (cf. Acts 5:12–16; Heb. 2:3–4). But those physical miracles were not primarily what Jesus had in mind, since the apostles did not do more powerful miracles than He had. When the Lord spoke of His followers performing greater works, He was referring to the extent of the spiritual miracle of salvation. Jesus never preached outside of Palestine, yet His followers would spread the gospel throughout the world. Jesus had only a limited outreach to Gentiles (cf. Mark 7:26ff.), but the disciples (particularly Peter and later Paul) would reach the Gentile world with the gospel. The number of believers in Christ would also grow far beyond the hundreds (Acts 1:15; 1 Cor. 15:6) that were numbered during His lifetime. The power to perform those greater works would only be available because Jesus was going to the Father. It was only then that He would send the Holy Spirit (John 7:39; cf. 14:16–17, 26; 15:26; 16:13; Acts 1:5) to indwell believers (Rom. 8:9–11) and empower them for ministry (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 12:4–11; cf. Eph. 3:20). Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit offered further comfort to the disciples. Though Jesus would no longer be visibly present with them, the Spirit would provide them with all the power they needed to extend the work He had begun (cf. Acts 1:8). —John MacArthur, John 12–21 (Moody, 2008). J. C. Ryle concurs.

Blaspheming the Spirit

The mailman was received with great joy, trumpet fanfare, etc. today, as John MacArthur’s Strange Fire was delivered into my grasping hands. Cessationist zealot that I am, you might have expected this sooner. On the other hand, no one would ever accuse me of riding the cutting edge of anything, so maybe not. Anyway, here I am, and better late than never. I love an adult who can deal in straight talk, and MacArthur, as usual, wastes no time in getting to the point, and tells it like it is. It is a sad twist of irony that those who claim to be most focused on the Holy Spirit are in actuality the ones doing the most to abuse, grieve, insult, misrepresent, quench, and dishonor Him. How do they do it? By attributing to Him words He did not say, deeds He did not do, phenomena He did not produce, and experiences that have nothing to do with Him. They boldly plaster His name on that which is not His work. In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders of Israel blasphemously attributed the work of the Spirit to Satan (Matt. 12:24). The modern Charismatic Movement does the inverse, attributing the work of the devil to the Holy Spirit. Satan’s armies of false teachers, marching to the beat of their own illicit desires, gladly propagate his errors. They are spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans. We can see an endless parade of them simply by turning on the television. Jude called them clouds without water, raging waves, and wandering stars “for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (v. 13). Yet they claim to be angels of light—gaining credibility for their lies by invoking the name of the Holy Spirit, as if there’s no penalty to pay for that kind of blasphemy. The Bible is clear that God demands to be worshipped for who He truly is. No one can honor the Father unless the Son is honored; likewise, it is impossible to honor the Father and the Son while dishonoring the Spirit. Yet every day, millions of charismatics offer praise to a patently false image of the Holy Spirit. They have become like the Israelites of Exodus 32, who compelled Aaron to fashion a golden calf while Moses was away. The idolatrous Israelites claimed to be honoring the Lord (vv. 4–8), but instead they were worshipping a grotesque misrepresentation, dancing around it in dishonorable disarray (v. 25). God’s response to their disobedience was swift and severe. Before the day was over, thousands had been put to death. Here’s the point: we can’t make God into any form we would like. We cannot mold Him into our own image, according to our own specifications and imaginations. Yet that is what many Pentecostals and charismatics have done. They have created their own golden-calf version of the Holy Spirit. They have thrown their theology into the fires of human experience and worshipped the false spirit that came out—parading themselves before it with bizarre antics and unrestrained behavior. As a movement, they have persistently ignored the truth about the Holy Spirit and with reckless license set up an idol spirit in the house of God, dishonoring the third member of the Trinity in His own name. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) viii–ix.

The Spirit’s True Work

The incredible irony is that those who talk the most about the Holy Spirit generally deny His true work. They attribute all kinds of human silliness to Him while ignoring the genuine purpose and power of His ministry: freeing sinners from death, giving them everlasting life, regenerating their hearts, transforming their nature, empowering them for spiritual victory, confirming their place in the family of God, interceding for them according to the will of God, sealing them securely for their eternal glory, and promising to raise them to immortality in the future. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) xvi.

The Fatal Flaw

According to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, more than ninety percent of self-identified Pentecostals in most countries hold to the beliefs known as the “prosperity gospel.” How is this possible for such a blatantly heretical philosophy to so thoroughly infest the movement? The answer explains more than just the embrace of prosperity teaching. It is a critical and systemic defect within charismatic theology—a flaw that accounts for just about every theological aberration or abnormality that makes its home within the Charismatic Movement. It is this: Pentecostals and charismatics elevate religious experience over biblical truth. Though many of them pay lip service to the authority of God’s Word, in practice they deny it. If Scripture alone were truly their final authority, charismatic Christians would never tolerate patently unbiblical practices— like mumbling in nonsensical prayer languages, uttering fallible prophecies, worshipping in disorderly ways, or being knocked senseless by the supposed power of the Holy Spirit. They ought to reinterpret their experiences to match the Bible; instead, they reinterpret Scripture in novel and unorthodox ways in order to justify their experiences. As a result, any aberrant teaching or practice can be legitimized, especially when a new “revelation from God” conveniently authenticates it as having His approval. Though written nearly a half century ago, the words of René Pache still ring true: The excessive preeminence given to the Holy Spirit in their devotions and their preoccupation with gifts, ecstasies, and “prophecies” has tended to neglect of the Scriptures. Why be tied to a Book out of the past when one can communicate every day with the living God? But this is exactly the danger point. Apart from the constant control of the written revelation, we soon find ourselves engulfed in subjectivity; and the believer, even if he has the best intentions, can sink rapidly into deviations, illuminism or exaltation. Let each remind himself of the prohibition of taking anything away from Scripture or adding anything to it (Deut. 4: 2; Rev. 22:18–19). Almost every heresy and sect has originated in a supposed revelation or a new experience on the part of its founder, something outside the strictly biblical framework. By abandoning the final authority of the text, the Charismatic Movement has made itself susceptible to the worst kinds of doctrinal deception and spiritual exploitation. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) 16–17.

Bread of Life (turns out it’s not real bread)

Wednesday··2014·04·16 · 2 Comments
Yesterday, my wife drew my attention to a comment on the Housewife Theologian blog in which I was named, with negative implication, in relation to the Gospel Coalition Food Pharisee post to which I responded here. That doesn’t bother me—in fact, it’s rather thrilling to be named at all in the comments of a post by an author who never mentioned me and has likely never heard of me. But then there is the following statement: [W]hen food is such a pervasive theme in Scripture (as opposed to say, oh, being a car mechanic), and when Jesus gives as one of His names the Bread of Life, investing some time to think on that is neither shallow nor useless. My first reaction was little more than, “Well, that’s silly,” but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me, and the more it bothered me, the more I thought about it, until I saw just how horrifying a statement it is. What bothers me, to put it mildly, is the evidence that one of the greatest gospel discourses in Scripture has been so horribly misconstrued. First, the claim that food is a pervasive theme in Scripture is less than tenuous. I think you’d be hard pressed to find any text of which food is the theme, not without entirely missing the point, anyway. That’s bad. But to think that the Bread of Life discourse should cause us to think about nutrition and ethical agribusiness is nothing less than tragic, and absolutely heart-breaking. Pay attention, because lives depend on it: The Bread of Life is spiritual food for spiritual life. That is all it is, and it is all of that. To miss that is a tragedy. To add to it, to mingle it with worldly concerns for a worldly agenda is spiritual malpractice, a gross violation of 2 Timothy 2:15. But all is not lost. God is still in his heaven, Jesus is still Lord, and the Holy Spirit is still ministering through the Word, which is sharper than any two-edged sword. Surely it can cut through this confusion. I recommend a careful reading of John 6, followed by a skillful exposition of the same.

Missionaries to the Gibbers

The Gibbers are, of course, the inhabitants of Gibb, speakers of—well, you figure it out. Pentecostal father Charles Parham was a nut by anyone’s standard. Contrary to cessationist—i.e., biblical—orthodoxy, he expected the gift of tongues. Contrary to today’s Pentecostal/charismatic dogma, he believed that biblical tongues were actual languages, intended to be understood. He boasted to the Topeka State Journal, “The Lord will give us the power of speech to talk to the people of the various nations without having to study them in schools.” Several weeks later, he told the Kansas City Times, “A part of our labor will be to teach the church the uselessness of spending years of time preparing missionaries for work in foreign lands when all they have to do is ask God for power.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 22. As the best laid plans of mice and mystics often go awry, so Parham’s plans were to be disappointed. S. C. Todd of the Bible Missionary Society investigated eighteen Pentecostals who went to Japan, China, and India “expecting to preach to the natives in those countries in their own tongue,” and found that by their own admission “in no single instance have [they] been able to do so.” As these and other missionaries returned in disappointment and failure, Pentecostals were compelled to rethink their original view of speaking in tongues. — Ibid., 23.

Spirit-Centered Is Off-Center

Tuesday··2014·04·22 · 1 Comments
A few years ago, I was down on Main Street with my family watching a parade. I forget the occasion, but I remember one entry in particular. It was an old pickup that’s wheels had been modified so that the hubs were eccentric, causing it to wobble up and down, front to back, side to side, and corner to corner. It was entertaining as a novelty, but no one would want to travel in a car like that, for obvious reasons. As a means of transportation, it was worthless. So it is with the religion of many. The glorious priority of the Holy Spirit is to point people to the Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus told His disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. . .  He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 14: 26; 16: 14). The Spirit’s work is always centered on the Savior. Any ministry or movement He empowers will share that same priority and clarity. In contrast to this, an emphasis on the person and work of Christ is not the defining feature of the Charismatic Movement—where an intense fixation on a caricature of the blessing and gifting of the Holy Spirit has instead taken center stage. As charismatic authors Jack Hayford and David Moore affirm, “In the Pentecostal potpourri only one thing is the same for all: the passion they have to experience the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. This is the common denominator. This emphasis on the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is what defines the ‘charismatic century.’” Ironically, they celebrate a misplaced priority. While claiming to honor the Holy Spirit, charismatics generally ignore the very purpose of the Spirit’s ministry—which is to draw all attention to the Lord Jesus. As Steve Lawson rightly observes, “The Holy Spirit’s desire is that we be focused on Jesus Christ, not Himself. That is the Spirit’s chief ministry. He is pointing us to Jesus. Bringing Christ more clearly into focus. When the Holy Spirit becomes an end in Himself, then we have misunderstood His ministry.” Within charismatic circles, a proper focus on Christ is obscured by a preoccupation with alleged spiritual gifts and supernatural empowerment. 6 Listen to the typical charismatic and you might think the Holy Spirit’s work is to manifest Himself and call attention to His own works. In the words of Kenneth D. Johns, a former Pentecostal, many charismatic churches “are Spirit-centered rather than Christ-centered.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 41–42. A Charismatic Bicycle

The Spirit Glorifies the Son

Three more quotations on the subordinate ministry of the Holy Spirit, all from Strange Fire (44, 45). The Spirit does not glorify Himself; He glorifies the Son. . . . This is, to me, one of the most amazing and remarkable things about the biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit seems to hide Himself and to conceal Himself. He is always, as it were, putting the focus on the Son, and that is why I believe, and I believe profoundly, that the best test of all as to whether we have received the Spirit is to ask ourselves, what do we think of, and what do we know about, the Son. Is the Son real to us? That is the work of the Spirit. He is glorified indirectly; He is always pointing us to the Son. And so you see how easily we go astray and become heretical if we concentrate overmuch, and in an unscriptural manner, upon the Spirit Himself. Yes, we must realize that He dwells within us, but His work in dwelling within us is to glorify the Son, and to bring to us that blessed knowledge of the Son and of His wondrous love to us. It is He who strengthens us with might in the inner man (Eph. 3:16), that we may know this love, this love of Christ. —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible: God the Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 2:20; emphasis added. If we are told that the Holy Spirit will not speak of himself but of Jesus, then we may conclude that any emphasis upon the person and work of the Spirit that detracts from the person and work of Jesus Christ is not the Spirit’s doing. In fact, it is the work of another spirit, the spirit of antichrist, whose work is to minimize Christ’s person (1 John 4:2–3). Important as the Holy Spirit is, he is never to preempt the place of Christ in our thinking. —James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986) 381. Mark it down: the Spirit glorifies Christ. I’ll go one step further: If the Holy Spirit Himself is being emphasized and magnified, He isn’t in it! Christ is the One who is glorified when the Spirit is at work. He does His work behind the scenes, never in the limelight. —Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1986), 188.

A True Work of the Spirit

Who do you suppose has a higher view of the Holy Spirit: those who describe his ministry as he does (i.e., scripturally), or those who attribute to him all sorts of nutty behavior? When the Holy Spirit commanded us to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), he did not leave us wondering what his true work looks like. Ask the average charismatic what the Holy Spirit’s influence looks like in his or her life, and you’re likely to get one of several answers. The classic Pentecostal will probably emphasize speaking in tongues, being slain in the Spirit, or some other imagined manifestation of miraculous gifts. The mainstream charismatic will likely reflect the teaching of popular televangelists by pointing to a form of faith healing or the hope of a financial windfall. Those in either category might claim to have had an extraordinary encounter with God—such as a revelatory vision, a word of prophecy, or a tingling sensation of supernatural empowerment. Based on such criteria, they identify themselves as Spirit-filled Christians. But what do they mean by that label? Within a charismatic context, almost any subjective experience is construed as evidence of the Spirit’s involvement. Charismatics may think they are being filled with the Spirit when they utter nonsensical (and often repetitious) syllables, fall backward in a mindless trance, speak fallible words of so-called prophecy, feel a sensation of emotional electricity, or donate money to their favorite health-and-wealth prosperity gospel preacher. But none of those things is any indication of the Holy Spirit’s presence. A spirit may be at work in such phenomena, but it is not the Spirit of God. Despite what is commonly emphasized in charismatic circles, the genuine evidence of the Holy Spirit’s influence in a person’s life is not material prosperity, mindless emotionalism, or supposed miracles. Rather, it is sanctification: the believer’s growth in spiritual maturity, practical holiness, and Christlikeness through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit (as He applies biblical truth to the hearts of His saints). A true work of the Spirit convicts the heart of sin, combats worldly lusts, and cultivates spiritual fruit in the lives of God’s people. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 56.

The Sword of the Spirit

John MacArthur on the relationship between being Scripture-saturated and Spirit-filled: The Bible is the Holy Spirit’s book; He inspired it and He empowers it. It is the primary instrument He uses to convict the world of sin (John 16:8–11; Acts 2:37); to point sinners to the Savior (John 5:39; 1 John 5:6); and to conform believers into the image of their Lord (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Peter 2:2). Accordingly, the Scriptures are described as “the sword of the Spirit.” For believers, that sword is a Spirit-empowered means of defense against temptation (Eph. 6:17); for unbelievers, it is an implement of precision used by the Holy Spirit to pierce hearts of unbelief (Heb. 4:12). A comparison of Ephesians 5:18 with Colossians 3:16 demonstrates that the command to “be filled with the Spirit” is parallel to the command to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” since they both produce the same results (cf. Eph. 5:18–6:9; Col. 3:16–4:1). As one commentator explains, “It is not possible for God’s Word to dwell in believers unless they are filled with the Spirit; and conversely, Christians can’t be filled with the Spirit without the Word of Christ dwelling in them.” Being Spirit-filled starts with being Scripture-saturated; as believers submit themselves to the Word of Christ, they simultaneously come under the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who illuminates their hearts so that as they grow in their knowledge of the Lord Jesus, their love for the Savior deepens accordingly (cf. 1 Cor. 2:12–16). —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 67. This theme is handled more fully here: The Fruit of the Filling.

Hearing God’s Voice?

Criticizing the Charismatic Movement is easy. From the speaking of gibberish to fake-healers and the prosperity gospel, charismatics present a target that just cannot be missed. But those, flashy and fraudulent as they are, are not the most problematic manifestations of charismania. The most insidious aspects of charismania are those that directly attack the sufficiency of Scripture, for example, the following statements quoted by John MacArthur in Strange Fire: Some object to the notion that God communicates directly with us, supposing that everything that God wanted to reveal He revealed in the Bible. This cannot be true, however, because there is nothing in the Bible that says it has 66 books. It actually took God a couple of hundred years to reveal to the church which writings should be included in the Bible and which should not. That is extra-biblical revelation. Even so, Catholics and Protestants still disagree on the number. Beyond that, I believe that prayer is two way, we speak to God and expect Him to speak with us. We can hear God’s voice. He also reveals new things to prophets as we have seen. —C. Peter Wagner, cited in John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 68. In order to fulfill God’s highest purpose for our lives we must be able to hear his voice both in the written Word and in the word freshly spoken from heaven. . . . Satan understands the strategic importance of Christians hearing God’s voice so he has launched various attacks against us in this area. One of his most successful attacks has been to develop a doctrine that teaches God no longer speaks to us except through the written Word. Ultimately, this doctrine is demonic even [though] Christian theologians have been used to perfect it. —Jack Deer, Ibid., 69. What troubles me most is that many evangelicals outside the charismatic asylum share similar notions, expecting to hear from God, though usually not audibly, but in some “still, small voice.” This looking for personal experience, as though Scripture has left us needing something more, is the zenith of folly. MacArthur, commenting on Peter’s account of the Transfiguration, writes, Speaking of his own eyewitness experience at the Transfiguration, the apostle Peter gave this revelation: For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:16–19 ESV 2007) At the Transfiguration, Peter witnessed an unparalleled supernatural spectacle. He had a genuine divine, heavenly experience. Even so, the apostle knew that Scripture (“the prophetic word”) is “more sure” than even the most sublime experiences. Peter’s point is precisely the issue that many charismatics fail to understand. Human experience is subjective and fallible; only the Word of God is unfailing and inerrant, because its Author is perfect. —John MacArthur, Ibid., 70.

Experience Driven

John MacArthur provides evidence that Charismatic doctrine has been driven by experience from the very beginning. When the original Pentecostals studied the text of Scripture, they were convinced that tongues in the Bible were authentic foreign languages. But what happened when it became obvious that their modern version of the “gift” did not consist of real languages? If Scripture had been their highest authority, they would have abandoned the practice altogether—recognizing the fact that what they were doing did not match the biblical precedent. Instead, they radically changed their interpretation of the New Testament, manipulating the text in order to justify and preserve a counterfeit. Thus, the clear teaching of Scripture about languages was twisted in order to redefine tongues as nonsensical gibberish and thereby fit the modern phenomenon. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 72.

Experience Trumps Truth

A casual survey of charismatic television further illustrates the fact that for many charismatics, personal experience trumps propositional truth. I have been waiting for many years to hear a charismatic television host interrupt a guest and say, “That is not true. That is not in the Word of God. We will not accept that. You cannot verify that by Scripture.” But that kind of confrontation never happens, no matter what is said. It can be the most bizarre theological assertion, or the most ludicrous misinterpretation of Scripture—where the text is ripped out of its context so that its meaning is hopelessly distorted—yet no one ever stops and says, “Hold it; that’s heresy. That is not true.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 73.


Charismatics are under the illusion, based on their misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 14:4, that self-edification is a good thing. Such self-centered motivation runs counter to the biblical commands to submit to one another and prefer others above ourselves. Seeking self-edification is really a failure to love others. To be sure, charismatics claim their movement is marked by genuine love for others. But Jonathan Edwards warned there is a counterfeit form of love that is often found in aberrant groups. His words of caution seem particularly applicable to the modern Charismatic Movement: Indeed, there is a counterfeit of love that often appears amongst those that are led by a spirit of delusion. There is commonly in the wildest enthusiasts a kind of union and affection that appears in them one towards another, arising from self-love, occasioned by their agreeing one with another in those things wherein they greatly differ from all others, and for which they are the objects of the ridicule of all the rest of mankind; which naturally will cause them so much the more to prize the esteem they observe in each other, of those peculiarities that make them the objects of others’ contempt: so the ancient Gnostics, and the wild fanatics that appeared in the beginning of the Reformation, boasted of their great love one to another: one sect of them in particular, calling themselves the Family of Love. But this is quite another thing than that Christian love that I have just described; ’tis only the working of a natural self-love, and no true benevolence, any more than the union and friendship which may be among a company of pirates that are at war with all the rest of the world. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 79. In other words, what passes for mutual love is largely just the pleasure of keeping company with those who share common goals.

The Apostolic Ministry to Afflicted Bovines

. . . or AMAB, as it is called by New Apostolic Reformation insiders.* Historically, the name “apostle Peter” has been reserved for only one individual: Simon Peter, the outspoken leader of the twelve disciples whose apostolic ministry is featured in Acts 1–12. But in the New Apostolic Reformation, that name has been co-opted by none other than Peter Wagner himself. Wagner began to recognize his own “apostleship” in 1995, when two prophetesses declared he had received an apostolic anointing. In 1998, his apostolic calling was confirmed by another prophetic word at a conference in Dallas. Wagner recounts the somewhat bizarre circumstances surrounding that event: I was sitting on the front row . . . when somehow or other I found myself kneeling on the platform with Jim Stevens of Christian International getting ready to prophesy over me in public. How I got there I still don’t know! I glanced up and there was Charles Doolittle, one of our recognized intercessors, standing over me. Charles was a six-foot-four muscular African-American police officer on the Glendale, California, police force, with an aggressive look on his face and holding a huge three-foot sword over my head! I quickly decided that I’d better behave myself and listen carefully [to] what Jim Stevens said. . . . I have since considered that time to be my prophetic ordination as an apostle. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 86–87. Thus, an apostle of the “New Apostolic Reformation” is commissioned. Conspicuously absent from the ceremony is the one who holds sole authority to create apostles. “Apostle” Peter Wagner went on to end mad cow disease in Europe. Never mind that mad cow disease, despite the best efforts of European governments against it, is still a problem—just like every other malady that Charismatic charlatans claim to fix. However, if you disagree with me, and a career in apostleship appeals to you, you may have a future in Wagner’s International Coalition of Apostles. Membership rates at the end of 2012 varied slightly, depending on the apostle’s nation of residency. The base fee was $350 for “International Apostles.” The fee for apostles living in North America began at $450 per year, or $650 for married apostles (meaning, apparently, a husband-and-wife team who both consider themselves apostles). Native Americans (“First Nation Apostles”) could join for the same fee as an “International Apostle.” —Ibid., 88. * Excercising my apostolic prerogative to make stuff up.

Apostolic Qualifications

Charismatics, and others who build entire theological systems on single verses or even words, will ask, “Where does the Bible say the apostolic office is no more?” This is unlikely to satisfy them, but it should convince you, the logical, biblical thinker. It would be impossible for any contemporary Christian to meet the biblical qualifications required for someone to be considered an apostle. The New Testament articulates at least three necessary criteria:(1) an apostle had to be a physical eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22; 10:39–41; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:7–8); (2) an apostle had to be personally appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2, 24; 10:41; Gal. 1:1); and (3) an apostle had to be able to authenticate his apostolic appointment with miraculous signs (Matt. 10:1 –2; Acts 1:5–8; 2:43; 4:33; 5:12; 8:14; 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3–4). Those qualifications alone conclusively demonstrate that there are no apostles in the church today. No living person has seen the risen Christ with his or her own eyes; no one is able to perform miraculous signs like those done by the apostles in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 3:3–11; 5:15–16; 9:36–42; 20:6–12; 28:1–6); and—in spite of presumptuous claims to the contrary—no one in the modern church has been personally and directly appointed as an apostle by the Lord Jesus. Of course, there are some charismatics who claim to have seen visions of the resurrected Lord. Not only are such claims highly suspect and impossible to verify; they simply do not meet the apostolic criteria—since an apostle had to see the resurrected Christ in the flesh with his own eyes. . . . Wayne Grudem, popular author and professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, is a committed charismatic himself and perhaps the best theologian and apologist for the movement. But even he acknowledges that “since no one today can meet the qualification of having seen the risen Christ with his own eyes, there are no apostles today.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 92–93.

The Negotiable Word

As posted last week, Charismatic C. Peter Wagner has founded an International Coalition of Apostles. Never mind that it is impossible for any contemporary Christian to meet the biblical qualifications required for someone to be considered an apostle. Wagner gets around that little obstacle by doing what Charismatics do. After articulating a version of “apostleship” that fits his New Apostolic Reformation, Wagner admits he intentionally leaves out the biblical qualifications in defining an apostle. In his words: There are three biblical characteristics of apostles which some include in their definition of apostle, but which I have chosen not to include: (1) signs and wonders (2 Cor. 12:12), (2) seeing Jesus personally (1 Cor. 9:1), and (3) planting churches (1 Cor. 3:10). My reason for this is that I do not understand these three qualities to be non-negotiables. . . . [I]f a given individual lacks the anointing for one or more of them, this, in my opinion would not exclude that individual from being a legitimate apostle. We might quibble over whether or not “planting churches” is one of the biblical criteria for apostleship. However, the other two characteristics certainly are. Yet Wagner dismisses them as being negotiable. He treats them as moot, for no evident reason other than that the biblical standard would overturn his own claim of apostolic authority. Having declared himself an apostle, he acts as if he has the authority to ignore the clear teaching of Scripture if “in [his] opinion,” something the Bible teaches is inconvenient, or if it might exclude Wagner himself from the office he believes he is entitled to. That kind of cavalier, condescending attitude toward Scripture pervades the New Apostolic Reformation. After all, the only way Wagner and his supporters can advocate modern-day apostles is by turning a deaf ear to what the Bible clearly teaches. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 93. “What Charismatics do,” as exemplified by Wagner in the quotation above, is redefine words to accommodate their desires. Prophesy is no longer the infallible Word of God; tongues (which are a form of prophesy, by the way) are no longer real human languages; miracles are not undeniable, verifiable acts of God with no other possible explanation; and apostles are pretty much whoever wants to be one.

A Foundation and a Blueprint

Jesus built the foundation. When writing his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul explained that his readers were part of God’s household, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:19–20 NASB). That passage equates the apostles with the church’s foundation. It means nothing if it doesn’t decisively limit apostleship to the earliest stages of church history. After all, a foundation is not something that can be rebuilt during every phase of construction. The foundation is unique, and it is always laid first, with the rest of the structure resting firmly above it. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 96–97. The Holy Spirit gave instructions for the completion of the building. When the apostles gave instruction regarding the future of the church and how the church ought to be organized, they did not suggest new apostles should be appointed. Instead, they spoke of pastors, elders, and deacons. Thus, Peter instructed elders to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2 NASB). And Paul told Titus to “appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 NASB); he similarly outlined the qualifications for both elders and deacons in the third chapter of 1 Timothy. Nowhere in the Pastoral Epistles does Paul say anything about the perpetuation of apostleship, but he says a lot about the organization of the church under the leadership of qualified elders and deacons. As faithful men filled those offices, the church would thrive. Thus, Paul told Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2 NASB). —Ibid., 97–98.

False Doctrine, False Prophet

John MacArthur provides “three criteria for identifying . . . spiritual pretenders [false prophets].” The first, which should be obvious, is false doctrine. [A]ny self-proclaimed prophet who leads people into false doctrine and heresy is a false prophet. In Deuteronomy 13:1–5, Moses told the Israelites: If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods”—which you have not known—“and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst. The New Testament is relentless in echoing that same warning. Anyone who claims to speak for God while simultaneously leading people away from the truth of God’s Word is clearly shown to be a false prophet and a deceiver. Even if such a person makes accurate predictions or performs supposed wonders, he is to be disregarded—since Satan himself is able to perform counterfeit miracles (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9). —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 106–107. Most notable to me is, first, the fact that false prophets will come “for the Lord your God is testing you.” False prophets do not come to confound God’s will, but to serve it; and second, that we are expected to pass judgment. God is testing not only our discernment, but our love for him. If we love him to the fullest extent of our beings, we will be willing to make the hard and controversial calls for his honor and glory.

Judging Modern Prophesy

Charismatics insist that God continues to give fresh revelation but, like the other miraculous gifts they claim, today’s revelation is not to be held to biblical standards. Today’s revelation may be erroneous. One wonders, then, how to tell what is genuine revelation and what isn’t. John MacArthur looks to Wayne Grudem for an answer. Wayne Grudem, for example, wrote his doctoral thesis at Cambridge University in defense of the idea that God regularly gives Christians prophetic messages by bringing spontaneous thoughts to mind. Strong impressions should be reported as prophecy, he says, though he freely admits that such prophetic words “can frequently contain errors.” Grudem goes on, “There is almost uniform testimony from all sections of the charismatic movement that prophecy is imperfect and impure, and will contain elements which are not to be obeyed or trusted.” In light of such an admission, one wonders, how can Christians differentiate a revelatory word of divine origin from one concocted in their own imaginations? Grudem struggles to find an adequate answer to that question: Did the revelation “seem like” something from the Holy Spirit; did it seem to be similar to other experiences of the Holy Spirit which [the person] had known previously in worship. . . . Beyond this it is difficult to specify much further, except to say that over time a congregation would probably become more adept at making evaluations of prophecies, . . . and become more adept at recognizing a genuine revelation from the Holy Spirit and distinguishing it from their own thoughts. Elsewhere, Grudem compared the evaluation of modern prophecy to a game of baseball: “You call it as you see it. I have to use an American analogy. It’s an umpire calling balls and strikes as the pitcher pitches the ball across the plate.” In other words, within charismatic circles, there are no objective criteria for differentiating prophetic words from imaginary ones. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 114–115.

How God Moves Us

[F]rom childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. —2 Timothy 3:15–17 Those verses make a solid, brief statement on the truth, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. It could hardly declare more clearly the folly of looking for more revelation than what is already given. To seek further unmediated communication from God is plainly contrary to the Word already given. However, we also want to know what this does not mean. MacArthur writes, Does this mean God has stopped speaking? Certainly not, but He speaks today through His all-sufficient Word. Does the Spirit of God move our hearts and impress us with specific duties or callings? Certainly, but He works through the Word of God to do that. Such experiences do not involve new revelation but illumination, when the Holy Spirit applies the Word to our hearts and opens our spiritual eyes to its truth. We must guard carefully against allowing our experience and our own subjective thoughts and imaginations to eclipse the authority and the certainty of the more sure Word. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 117.

Who Is the Cessationist Now?

It is another wonderful irony of the Charismatic debate: continuationists claim that with the New Testament age came a cessation of the Old Testament standard for prophesy, while cessationists insist on a continuation of the Old Testament standard of infallibility. John MacArthur responds to one Charismatic appeal to Scripture in defense of fallible prophesy: No doubt, someone will object by pointing to Romans 12:6, where Paul wrote, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.” Charismatics use this verse to argue that the accuracy of prophecy is dependent on the measure of a person’s faith. However, that is not even close to Paul’s true meaning in that verse . The word translated “our” in the New King James is actually the definite article in Greek. It is most accurately translated simply as “the.” Hence, Paul is instructing his readers that those with the gift of prophecy must prophesy in accordance with the faith—the body of previously revealed biblical truth (cf. Jude 3–4). Furthermore, the word prophecy in this context does not necessarily refer to future predictions or new revelation. The word simply means “to speak forth,” and it applies to any authoritative proclamation of God’s Word where the person gifted to declare God’s truth “speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (1 Cor. 14:3). So a fitting paraphrase of Romans 12:6 would be: “If your gift is proclaiming God’s Word, do it according to the faith.” Again, the idea is that whatever is proclaimed must conform perfectly with the true faith, being consistent with previous biblical revelation. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 121.

Semi-Lunatics with Stupid Messages

Charles Spurgeon had a way with words that could not be borne by this sissified, sensitive generation—and so I love him. Take care never to impute the vain imaginings of your fancy to him [the Holy Spirit]. I have seen the Spirit of God shamefully dishonoured by persons—I hope they were insane—who have said that they have had this and that revealed to them. There has not for some years passed over my head a single week in which I have not been pestered with the revelations of hypocrites or maniacs. Semi-lunatics are very fond of coming with messages from the Lord to me, and it may spare them some trouble if I tell them once for all that I will have none of their stupid messages. . . . Never dream that events are revealed to you by heaven, or you may come to be like those idiots who dare impute their blatant follies to the Holy Ghost. If you feel your tongue itch to talk nonsense, trace it to the devil, not to the Spirit of God. Whatever is to be revealed by the Spirit to any of us is in the word of God already—he adds nothing to the Bible, and never will. Let persons who have revelations of this, that, and the other, go to bed and wake up in their senses. I only wish they would follow the advice and no longer insult the Holy Ghost by laying their nonsense at his door. —Charles Spurgeon, cited in Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 130–131.
What Did Paul Mean When He Said Tongues-Speakers Speak to God, Not to Men? Charismatics sometimes cling to this phrase in 1 Corinthians 14:2 as a justification for their unintelligible glossolalia. But once again, the context belies that interpretation. The entirety of verses 1–3 reads as follows: “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” In those verses, Paul was not extolling the gift of tongues; rather he was explaining why it was inferior to the gift of prophecy. Whereas prophecy was spoken in words that everyone could understand, the gift of foreign languages had to be interpreted in order for others to be edified. Paul defined exactly what he meant by the phrase “does not speak to men but to God” in the very next line, “for no one understands.” If the language was not translated, only God would know what was being said. Clearly, Paul was far from commending such a practice. As he had already established (in chapter 12), the purpose of the gifts was the edification of others within the body of Christ. Foreign languages left untranslated did not fulfill that purpose. That is why the apostle put such an emphasis on the necessity of interpretation (vv. 13, 27). —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 149–150.

A Shiny New Buick

Oral Roberts exemplified the worldly mindset and the truly low expectations of the prosperity gospel. In Oral Roberts: An American Life, biographer David Edwin Harrell Jr. describes how Roberts discovered the prosperity gospel and how it became the centerpiece of his message. One day he opened his Bible randomly and spotted 3 John 2: “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” He showed it to his wife, Evelyn, and—utterly divorcing that one verse from its proper context—the couple “talked excitedly about the verse’s implications. Did it mean they could have a ‘new car,’ a ‘new house,’ a ‘brand-new ministry?’ In later years, Evelyn looked back on that morning as the point of embarkation: ‘I really believe that that very morning was the beginning of this worldwide ministry that he has had, because it opened up his thinking.’” Roberts testified that a shiny new Buick, acquired by unexpected means shortly after that experience, “became a symbol to me of what a man could do if he would believe God.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 155–156. Get this: “A shiny new Buick” is a symbol “of what a man could do if he would believe God.” A shiny new Buick. And here I was thinking God was a Ford aficionado. Be that as it may, new cars are hardly what the Holy Spirit had in mind when he wrote 3 John—is it even possible to have a lower view of God and his intended use of men and ministries? When Jesus promised that his disciples would do greater works than he did (John 14:12), he wasn’t promising new horse-drawn chariots or even old donkeys. But that, sadly, is what prosperity means to charismatics.

Fakes’ Failures Feeble Folks’ Fault

Ersatz faith-healers like to place the onus of failed healings on the recipients for their inadequate faith. Ironically, they claim to model their “ministries” after Jesus’, whose healings were given unconditionally. In Luke 17:11–19, only one of the ten lepers expressed faith, yet all were made clean. The demoniacs of Matthew 8:28–29 and Mark 1:23–26 did not express faith before being set free, the crippled man beside the pool of Bethesda did not even know who Jesus was until after he had been healed (John 5:13), and the blind man in John 9 was similarly healed without knowing Jesus’ identity (John 9:36). On several occasions, Jesus raised people from the dead, such as Jairus’s daughter and Lazarus; obviously, dead people are not able to make any kind of “positive confession,” much less respond with any show of faith. Our Lord also healed multitudes of people in spite of the fact that not all of them believed (cf. Matt. 9:35; 11:2–5; 12:15–21; 14:13–14, 34–36; 15:29–31; 19:2). The healing ministries of the apostles, likewise, did not require belief from the sick in order to be effective. Peter healed a lame man without requiring faith from him (Acts 3:6–8). Later, he revived a woman named Tabitha after she had died (Acts 9:36–43). Paul likewise delivered an unbelieving slave girl from demon possession (Acts 16:18) and later raised Eutychus after he fell to his death (Acts 20:7–12). A profession of faith was not a prerequisite for any of those healing miracles. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 163.

The Real Thing

The differences between modern miracle-workers (so-called) and the miracle-workers of the New Testament are glaring and undeniable. As we have seen, New Testament healings were never dependant on the faith of the one healed. New Testament healings were also not for sale. As [Benny Hinn] told a TBN Praise-a-Thon audience in 2000, “I believe that God is healing people while they’re making a pledge tonight. There are people getting healed making a pledge.” Hinn’s message at another Praise-a-Thon was equally forward: “Make a pledge; make a gift. Because that’s the only way you’re going to get your miracle. . . . As you give, the miracle will begin.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 166. Furthermore, New Testament healings actually healed. The healing miracles of Jesus never failed. Neither did those done by the apostles in the book of Acts. In Matthew 14:36 all who touched the hem of Christ’s garment “were made perfectly well.” When lepers were healed, their recovery was total, such that they could pass a thorough inspection by the priest (cf. Lev. 14:3, 4, 10). The blind were given 20/20 vision, the lame could run and jump, the deaf could hear a pin drop, and the dead were restored to full health. No New Testament miracle was ever attempted that was not ultimately a complete success. —Ibid., 167–168. On the other hand, As ABC Nightline reported in 2009, “Hinn admits he doesn’t have medical verification of any of the healings.” —Ibid.

A Process of Elimination

Jesus and the apostles performed miracles for a specific purpose. Knowing that purpose should make cessationists of us all, but at the very least, it enables us to rule out any possibility of genuine divine miracles through Benny Hinn and heretics like him. A final characteristic of New Testament healings is that they served as a sign to authenticate the gospel message preached by Christ and the apostles. As Peter explained on the day of Pentecost, the Lord Jesus was “a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs” (Acts 2:22). Christ Himself told the skeptical Pharisees, “Though you do not believe Me, believe the works , that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him” (John 10:38). And the apostle John explained the purpose of his gospel with these words: “Truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30–31). The apostles, as Christ’s ambassadors, were similarly authenticated by the miraculous signs they performed (cf. Rom . 15:18–19; 2 Cor. 12:12). Speaking of that apostolic witness, the author of Hebrews explained, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” (Heb. 2:3–4). Those signs validated the fact that the apostles were truly who they claimed to be—authorized representatives of God who preached the true gospel. Those who would preach any gospel other than that established by Christ and proclaimed by the apostles show themselves to be “false apostles” and “deceitful workers” (2 Cor. 11:13). Paul cursed such people—twice in quick succession , to make the point as emphatic as possible: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8 –9). The God of truth only validates the true gospel. He would not authenticate bad theology or give supernatural power to people who teach bad theology. Thus, self-proclaimed miracle workers who teach a false gospel either cannot perform miracles or do so by a power that does not come from God (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9). —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 173–174.

God’s Power Has Not Ceased

Biblical miracles had recognizable characteristics not found in today’s “healing ministries.” The miracle-working ministries of Christ and the apostles were unique. . . . the healings they performed were supernaturally powerful, entirely successful, undeniable, immediate, spontaneous, and purposeful—serving as signs that authenticated the message of the gospel. They were not predicated on the faith of the recipient, they were not performed for the sake of money or popularity, and they were not preplanned or choreographed in any way. They were true miracles that resulted in real diseases being instantly cured: the blind saw, the lame walked, the deaf heard, and even the dead were raised to life. Such biblical-quality healing miracles are not being performed today. Benny Hinn may claim to have an apostolic healing ministry, but he obviously does not. Healing miracles of the kind recorded in the Gospels and Acts were unique to the first-century church. After the time of the apostles, healings such as those ceased and have never since been part of church history. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 175–176. Charismatics like to misrepresent cessationism as diminishing or denying the power of God, but it is not God’s ability to heal that has ceased. God still can and does do as he pleases, according to his own purposes and in his own way. It is the revelatory purpose for and the accompanying means that has ceased. While the New Testament does instruct believers to pray for those who are sick and suffering, trusting the Great Physician to do that which is according to His sovereign purposes (cf. James 5:14–15), that is not equivalent to the supernatural gift of healing described in Scripture. Anyone who claims otherwise is fooling himself. —Ibid., 176.

The Spirit’s Work in Salvation

John MacArthur writes, “If we are to honor our divine Guest, treating Him with the reverence and respect that is His royal due, we must rightly discern His true ministry—aligning our hearts, minds, and wills with His wondrous work.” Toward that end, he lists “six aspects of the Spirit’s work in salvation.” The Holy Spirit Convicts Unbelievers of Sin As the general, external call of the gospel goes forth, through the preaching of the message of salvation, unbelievers in the world are confronted with the reality of their sin and the consequences of their unbelief . For those who reject the gospel, the Holy Spirit’s work of conviction might be likened to that of a prosecuting attorney. He convicts them in the sense that they are rendered guilty before God and are, therefore, eternally condemned (John 3:18). The Spirit’s convicting work is not about making unrepentant sinners feel bad, but about delivering a legal verdict against them. It includes a full indictment of their hardhearted crimes, complete with irrefutable evidence and a death sentence. Yet for those whom the Spirit draws to the Savior, His convicting work is one of convincing, as He pricks their consciences and cuts them to the quick. Thus, for the elect, this work of conviction is the beginning of God’s saving, effectual call. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 184. The Holy Spirit Regenerates Sinful Hearts Regeneration is a transformation of a person’s nature, as the believer is given new life, cleansed, and permanently set apart from sin (cf. 2 Thess. 2:13). Those who formerly operated in the flesh now operate in the Spirit (Rom. 8:5–11). Though they were dead, they have been made alive, indwelt by the very Spirit who raised Christ Jesus from the dead (v. 10; cf. 6:11). The Spirit of life has come upon them, empowering them to resist temptation and live in righteousness. This is what it means to be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). —Ibid., 188. The Holy Spirit Brings Sinners to Repentance A vivid illustration of this is found in Acts 11:15–18, where Peter reported the conversion of Cornelius to the other apostles in Jerusalem: ”As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” As Peter and the others realized, the undeniable proof Cornelius and his household had truly repented was that they had received the Holy Spirit. They had been convicted of their sin; their hearts were regenerated; their eyes were opened to the truth of Peter’s preaching; and they were given the gift of repentant faith (cf. Eph. 2:8; 2 Tim. 2:25)—all of which was the Holy Spirit’s work. —Ibid., 188–189. The Holy Spirit Enables Fellowship with God The Spirit produces an attitude of profound love for God in the hearts of those who have been born again. They feel drawn to God, not fearful of Him. They long to commune with Him—to meditate on His Word and to fellowship with Him in prayer. They cast their cares freely on Him, and openly confess their sins without trepidation, knowing that all has been covered by His grace through the sacrifice of Christ. Thus, the Spirit makes it possible for believers to enjoy fellowship with God, no longer fearful of His judgment or wrath (1 John 4:18). As a result, Christians can sing hymns about God’s holiness and glory without cowering in terror—knowing they have been securely adopted into the family of their heavenly Father. —Ibid., 190. The Holy Spirit Indwells the Believer It is important to emphasize that there is no such thing as a genuine believer who does not possess the Holy Spirit. It is a terrible error—one tragically promoted by many within Pentecostalism—to assert that a person could somehow be saved and yet not receive the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Spirit’s work, no one could be anything other than a wretched sinner. To reiterate Paul’s statement from Romans 8:9, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Put simply, those who do not possess the Holy Spirit do not belong to Christ. Genuine believers—people in whom the Holy Spirit has taken up residence—think, talk, and act differently. They are no longer characterized by a love for the world; instead, they love the things of God. That transformation is evidence of the Spirit’s power at work in the lives of those whom He indwells. —Ibid., 192. The Holy Spirit Seals Salvation Forever The Holy Spirit Himself personally guarantees that fact. As Paul told the Ephesians, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13–14). Believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. He secures them unto eternal glory. —Ibid., 193.

Spirit Filled

John MacArthur writes, “As those who claim to have the primary, if not exclusive, right to the title ‘Spirit-filled Christians,’ charismatics invariably define being filled with the Spirit in terms of ecstatic experiences.” Babbling gibberish, falling down, rolling or crawling on the floor, hysterical laughter, animal noises, drunken behavior, or, at least, being overcome with emotion, are all (according to charismatics) signs of being filled with the Spirit. Scripture describes the fruit of the Spirit somewhat differently. After commanding believers to be filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18, Paul continues in the subsequent verses by giving specific examples of what that looks like. Those who are Spirit-filled are characterized by joyful singing in worship (5:19), hearts full of thanksgiving (5:20), and selflessness toward others (5:21). If they are married, their marriage honors God (5:22–33); if they have children, their parenting patiently unfolds the gospel (6:1–4); if they work for an earthly master, they work hard for the Lord’s honor (6:5–8); and if they have people working for them, they treat their subordinates with benevolence and fairness (6:9). That is what it looks like to be a Spirit-filled Christian. His influence in our lives makes us rightly related to God and to others. In Colossians 3:16–4:1, a parallel passage to Ephesians 5:18–6:9, Paul explains that if believers “let the word of Christ dwell in [them] richly,” they will likewise respond by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. They will do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, “giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Wives will be submissive to their husbands; and husbands, in turn, will love their wives. Children will obey their parents, and parents will not exasperate their children. Servants will work diligently for their masters, and masters will respond by treating their workers with fairness. A comparison of Colossians 3:16 with Ephesians 5:18 demonstrates the inseparable relationship between the two passages—since the fruit produced in each case is the same. Thus, we can see that obeying the command to be filled with the Spirit does not involve emotional hype or mystical encounters. It comes from reading, meditating on, and submitting to the Word of Christ, allowing the Scriptures to permeate our hearts and minds. Said another way, we are filled with the Holy Spirit when we are filled with the Word, which He inspired and empowers. As we align our thinking with biblical teaching, applying its truth to our daily lives, we come increasingly under the Spirit’s control. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 205–206.

The Real Ministry of the Holy Spirit

Rather than being hopelessly distracted by charismatic counterfeits, believers need to rediscover the real ministry of the Holy Spirit, which is to activate His power in us through His Word, so that we can truly conquer sin for the glory of Christ, the blessing of His church, and the benefit of the lost. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 212.
John MacArthur on sola scriptura and the charge of bibliolatry: Occasionally, someone will suggest that such a high view of Scripture makes the Bible itself an object of worship. Point out that Scripture is vastly superior to (and infinitely more authoritative than) the dreams and visions of contemporary charismatics, and you are practically guaranteed to be labeled a bibliolator. Such an accusation utterly misconstrues what it means to honor God’s Word. It’s not the physical book that we revere, but God, who has revealed Himself infallibly therein. Furthermore, Scripture is pictured in 2 Timothy 3:16 as the very breath of God—meaning it speaks with His authority. There can be no more reliable source of truth. To entertain any lower view of Scripture (or to suggest that belief in the absolute trustworthiness of the Bible is a kind of idolatry) is a serious affront to God. He Himself has exalted His Word to the highest place. David made that point explicit in Psalm 138:2. Speaking to God, he exclaimed, “You have magnified Your word above all Your name.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 218–219.

Luther, Regeneration, and Faith

This might have surprised the Lutheran evangelists of my youth: Luther believed that regeneration precedes faith. The truth is that no sinner can believe and embrace the Scriptures without the Holy Spirit’s divine enabling. As Martin Luther observed, “In spiritual and divine things, which pertain to the salvation of the soul, man is like a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife, yea, like a log and a stone, like a lifeless statue, which uses neither eyes nor mouth, neither sense nor heart. . . . All teaching and preaching is lost upon him, until he is enlightened, converted, and regenerated by the Holy Ghost.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 225.

“This May Seem a Bit Strange …”

Continuationists who are otherwise orthodox like to think that they represent the mainstream of charismaticism, and that the extreme errors of the movement are found only on the fringes. In fact, it is they who reside on the fringe of an aberrant movement, performing the service not of moderating it, but of lending it credibility. Doing so requires either a redefining of the miraculous gifts, or, as seen below, some pretty amazing gymnastics. One of the most respected New Testament scholars in the evangelical world provides an example of this very thing [i.e., lending credibility to the broad charismatic movement]. As a careful exegete who seeks to be faithful to the New Testament text, this man correctly identifies the gift of tongues with authentic languages. However, his continuationist presuppositions inhibit him from concluding that the gift of languages has ceased. As a result, he is forced to devise a baffling hypothesis in which he asserts that modern babbling may seem like gibberish, but can constitute a rational language at the same time. In an extended discussion on this point, he provides the following example to illustrate his view: Suppose the message is: Praise the Lord, for his mercy endures forever. Remove the vowels to achieve: PRS TH LRD FR HS MRC NDRS FRVR. This may seem a bit strange; but when we remember that modern Hebrew is written without most vowels, we can imagine that with practice this could be read quite smoothly. Now remove the spaces and, beginning with the first letter, rewrite the sequence using every third letter, repeatedly going through the sequence until all the letters are used up. The result is: PTRRMNSVRHDHRDFRSLFSCRR. Now add an “a” sound after each consonant, and break up the unit into arbitrary bits: PATARA RAMA NA SAVARAHA DAHARA DAFARASALA FASA CARARA. I think that is indistinguishable from transcriptions of certain modern tongues. Certainly it is very similar to some I have heard. But the important point is that it conveys information provided you know the code. Anyone who knows the steps I have taken could reverse them in order to retrieve the original message. . . . It appears, then, that tongues may bear cognitive information even though they are not known human languages—just as a computer program is a “language” that conveys a great deal of information, even though it is not a “language” that anyone actually speaks. While such a suggestion is innovative, it has no exegetical basis and adds layers of unnecessary complexity that are not warranted by the New Testament description of the gift of languages. Unique explanations like this, though well intentioned, attempt to do the impossible. All efforts to reconcile the biblical miracle of speaking foreign languages and the modern practice of nonsensical jabber fail. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 235–236. The “respected New Testament scholar” quoted above is none other than D. A. Carson (Showing the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987), 85–86.), a man whose scholarship has indeed earned the respect he receives. That his charismatic presuppositions, juxtaposed on a biblical understanding of tongues, force him to concoct such a risible theory should be an obvious indicator of the impossibility of reconciling continuationism with biblical Christianity.

Early Church Cessationists

Once upon a time, I issued a challenge to charismatics to show historical proof that the gift of tongues did not pass away with the apostolic age. That challenge has yet to be met. On the other hand, John MacArthur provides several quotes from the Early Church Fathers, Reformers, Puritans, and notable theologians from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries supporting the cessation of the miraculous gifts. Most telling, of course, are the words of these two second century fathers: This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. —John Chrysostom, Commenting on 1 Corinthians 12, cited in Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 252. In the earliest times, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believe and they spoke with tongues, which they had not learned, as the Spirit gave them utterance. These were signs adapted to the time. For there was this betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues to show that the gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a sign, and it passed away. —Augustine, Ibid., 252–253. For who expects in these days that those on whom hands are laid that they may receive the Holy Spirit should forthwith begin to speak with tongues? But it is understood that invisibly and imperceptibly, on account of the bond of peace, divine love is breathed into their hearts, so that they may be able to say, “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” —Ibid., 253.

The Poison of Pragmatism

In the early years following my conversion, Ashamed of the Gospel is among the first handful of good Christian books I read. Sadly, I picked it from the bargain bin at one of the local “Christian” book stores. That was 1993, and since then, an updated version, including new chapters, was published in 2010. My wife and I received free copies at Together for the Gospel in 2010, and again at Reformation Montana 2014 (I gave away the extra copies). Not until today did I crack open this new edition. The following excerpt is from the 2010 Preface. John MacArthur writes of the ineffectiveness (for good) of the seeker-sensitive movement in post-Soviet Russia, and the damage left behind. I’ve included a footnote (thanks, Crossway, for eschewing endnotes) that is especially relevant. When the Iron Curtain fell, however, “missionaries” from the West flooded the former Soviet Union, not so much with gospel-based resources and Bible-study tools, but with highly questionable evangelistic strategies—and with the same poisonous philosophy of church growth that had made Western evangelicalism so superficial and worldly. Russian church leaders were appalled that so many tawdry trends came into their culture from the West under the pretense of evangelism. I was offended, too—and embarrassed. I remember watching glitzy American televangelists with comically big hair peddling their health-and-wealth message and other false gospels on Russian television during my earliest trips to Moscow.2 They probably had little effect on healthy Russian churches, but they injected a seriously false gospel into the public perception, totally confusing millions. Soviet people had been indoctrinated with atheism and shielded from the truth of Scripture. They therefore had no means of distinguishing truth from falsehood in religion. So much false Christianity on television no doubt inoculated multitudes against the real gospel. I also remember seeing a parade of “student missionaries” from America putting on a variety show in a public square in Kiev, using every circus trick from jugglers to clowns and every wordless type of entertainment from mimes to interpretive dance, all claiming to communicate “the gospel”—or something spiritual-sounding—across the language barrier. I frankly could not be certain what the actual message was supposed to be. I have a fairly good grasp of the gospel as Scripture presents it, and that was not the message being pantomimed in Independence Square. Again, I was embarrassed for the church in the West. Back in America, these performances were being reported as serious evangelistic work. Judging from the numbers of supposed converts claimed, we might have expected churches in the Iron-Curtain countries to be doubling and quadrupling on a monthly basis. Russian and Ukrainian churches were indeed growing, but the evangelistic buskers and street artists from the West had nothing to do with that. Those churches grew because Russian Christians, now free to proclaim the gospel openly, preached repentance from sin and faith in Christ to their neighbors. The response was remarkable. I sat in many Russian worship services for hours at a time, hearing convert after convert publicly repent— renouncing former sins and declaring faith in Christ to the gathered church, always in standing-room-only crowds. It was the polar opposite of what American church growth gurus insisted was absolutely necessary. But it was just like watching the book of Acts unfold in real life. As a matter of fact, most of the Westerners who rushed to the former Soviet Union when Communism collapsed missed the real signs of church growth in those years because they completely ignored the churches that were already there. They started parachurch organizations, opted for pure media ministry, sponsored Punch-and-Judy shows in the public square, or tried to start new churches modeled on Western worldly styles. Most of the visible results of that sort of “evangelistic” and church-planting activity proved to be blessedly short-lived. What did last was by no means all good. Americans injected into that culture a style of worldly evangelicalism that is now gaining traction and causing confusion within the Russian-speaking churches. Those churches that had weathered decades of government harassment and public ridicule now have to contend with something much subtler but a thousand times worse: trendy methods from American evangelicals—gimmicks and novelties that diminish practically everything truly important in favor of things that appeal to people’s baser instincts. By far the most subtle and dangerous Western influences came in through church growth experts, missiologists, and professional pollsters. Unlike the televangelists and street performers, these academicians and marketers managed to gain a platform within Russian-speaking churches. They were trusted because they were writers, career missionaries, seminary professors with credentials, and pastors with huge churches. They brought loads of books and ideas, virtually all of them advocating a highly pragmatic approach to ministry that was foreign in every sense to a church that had lived under Communist persecution for the better part of a century. One struggles to imagine anything more grossly inappropriate than the fad-chasing pragmatism that was deliberately injected into Russian and eastern European churches by Westerners tinkering with theories about contextualization. But the influx of shallow evangelicalism into Russia in the early 90s was barely the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to various means of instant, inexpensive mass communications, the stultifying influence of dysfunctional American religion soon inundated the entire world. The Internet in particular suddenly opened the floodgates so that it became impossible to contain and control such nonsense. Within just a few years, evangelical gimmickry became the most visible and influential expression of Western “spirituality” worldwide. The poison of religious pragmatism is now an enormous global problem. 2 I’ve often marveled at how much American evangelicals talk about the importance of “contextualization” compared to how little care they take when real cross-cultural communication is necessary. Head scarves (babushkas) and modest clothing were emblems of submission for Christian women in the persecuted church (as was the case in Corinthian culture—cf. 1 Cor. 11:5–6). Blitzing post-Communist Russia with Western pop culture and televangelist hairdos was probably the most culturally insensitive thing Western Christians could have done to their poor and oppressed brethren just emerging from behind the Iron Curtain. —John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Crossway, 2010), 16–18.

The Need Not Felt

There is a great difference between preaching to felt needs and preaching to actual needs. As John MacArthur writes, “people’s deepest need is to confess and overcome their sin.” No one, by nature, feels that need. Paul also gives Timothy instructions about the tone of his preaching. He uses two words that carry negative connotations and one that is positive: reprove, rebuke, and exhort (2 Tim. 4:2). All valid ministry must have a balance of positive and negative. The preacher who fails to reprove and rebuke is not fulfilling his commission. I recently listened to a radio interview with a preacher well-known for his emphasis on positive thinking. This man had stated in print that he assiduously avoids any mention of sin in his preaching because he feels people are burdened with too much guilt anyway. The interviewer asked how he could justify such a policy. The pastor replied that he had made the decision early in his ministry to focus on meeting people’s needs, not attacking their sin. But people’s deepest need is to confess and overcome their sin. So preaching that fails to confront and correct sin through the Word of God does not meet people’s need. It may make them feel good, and they may respond enthusiastically to the preacher, but that is not the same as meet­ing real needs. Reproving, rebuking, and exhorting is the same as preaching the Word, for those are the very same ministries Scripture accomplishes: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for cor­rection, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Notice the same balance of positive and negative admonition. Reproof and correction are negative; teaching and training are positive. Although the reproofs of God’s Word are essential and must never be neglected, the positive part of instruction is, for obvious reasons, where the majority of our energies ought to be invested. The word “exhort” is para­kaleō, a word that means “encourage.” The excellent preacher confronts sin and then encourages repentant sinners to behave righteously. He is to do this “with complete patience and teaching” (4:2). In 1 Thessalonians 2:11–12, Paul talks about how, “like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God.” This often requires great patience and much instruction. But the excellent minister cannot neglect these aspects of his calling. —John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Crossway, 2010), 47–48.
It is a great irony that people who don’t want to be told what to believe and what to do want teachers at all. But they do, just as Scripture said they would. There are thousands of supposedly evangelical churches worldwide that cannot stomach sound doctrine. They would not tolerate for two weeks strong biblical teaching that refutes their doctrinal error, confronts their sin, convicts them, and calls them to obey the truth. They don’t want to hear healthy teaching. Why? Because people in the church want to own God without giving up sinful lifestyles, and they will not endure someone telling them what God’s Word says about it. What do they want to hear? “Having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” [2 Timothy 4:3]. Ironically, they seek out teachers. In fact, they heap to themselves teachers—but not sound ones. They choose the teachers who tell them what they want to hear. They want what tickles their ears and feeds their lusts. They want what makes them feel good about themselves. Preachers who offend them, they reject. They accumulate a mass of teachers who feed their insatiable selfish appe­tites. And the preacher who brings the message they most need to hear is the one they least like to hear. —John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Crossway, 2010), 49.
Everybody admires Luther! Yes, yes; but you do not want any one else to do the same to-day. When you go to the Zoological Gardens you all admire the bear; but how would you like a bear at home, or a bear wandering loose about the street? You tell me that it would be unbearable, and no doubt you are right. So, we admire a man who was firm in the faith, say four hundred years ago; the past ages are a sort of bear-pit or iron cage for him; but such a man to-day is a nuisance, and must be put down. Call him a narrow-minded bigot, or give him a worse name if you can think of one. Yet imagine that in those ages past, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and their compeers had said, “The world is out of order; but if we try to set it right we shall only make a great row, and get ourselves into disgrace. Let us go to our chambers, put on our night-caps, and sleep over the bad times, and perhaps when we wake up things will have grown better.” Such conduct on their part would have entailed upon us a heritage of error. Age after age would have gone down into the infernal deeps, and the pestiferous bogs of error would have swallowed all. These men loved the faith and the name of Jesus too well to see them trampled on. Note what we owe them, and let us pay to our sons the debt we owe our fathers. It is to-day as it was in the Reformers’ days. Decision is needed. Here is the day for the man, where is the man for the day? We who have had the gospel passed to us by martyr hands dare not trifle with it, nor sit by and hear it denied by traitors, who pretend to love it, but inwardly abhor every line of it. The faith I hold bears upon it marks of the blood of my ancestors. Shall I deny their faith, for which they left their native land to sojourn here? Shall we cast away the treasure which was handed to us through the bars of prisons, or came to us charred with the flames of Smithfield? —Charles Spurgeon, quoted in Ashamed of the Gospel (Crossway, 2010), 54. MacArthur presents this passage from Spurgeon, appropriately, as a counter to the market-driven philosophy of ministry—and, of course, those people are rightly rebuked. But I think Spurgeon’s words are equally applicable much closer to home. In these days when “irenic” is tossed around as the ultimate virtue, we who hold to some form of Reformed faith need to ask ourselves what compromises we are making that the Reformers would abhor. Will we tolerate ungodliness and weird (to put it mildly) theology? The Driscoll debacle should teach us better. Will we soften our stand against homosexuality—and, consequently, our gospel witness to those bound by it—because some of our leading lights have decided it’s only sin if you actually do it? Will we tolerate the denial of the first chapters of Genesis because Tim Keller is such a clever man?* Will we compromise sola Scriptura because we know so many fine charismatics? I’m sure there are more good questions we could ask ourselves, but those will do for now. It is of no use to praise men who, centuries ago, did what we are now unwilling to do. * Will we refrain from naming names because it’s deemed impolite?

The Root Problem

The root problem of the seeker-sensitive, or user friendly, “church” is that they ignore the universal root problem. People’s felt needs are taken more seriously than the real but unfelt human deficiencies that are consistently highlighted in Scripture. Felt needs include issues like loneliness, fear of failure, feelings of inadequacy, codependency, a poor self-image, eating disorders, depres­sion, anger, resentment, and similar inward-focused inadequacies. The real problem—the root of all these other feelings—is human depravity, an issue that is carefully skirted (and sometimes in recent years overtly denied) in the teaching of the typical user-friendly church. —John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Crossway, 2010), 61.

Not Very User Friendly

Tales from the user-friendly church: I never hear the term “user-friendly church” without thinking of Acts 5 and Ananias and Sapphira. What happened there flies in the face of almost all contemporary church growth theory. The Jerusalem church certainly wasn’t very user-friendly. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. Luke tells us this episode inspired “great fear . . . upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things” (v. 11). The church service that day was so disturbing that none of the unchurched people “dared to associate with them.” The thought of attending such a church struck terror in their hearts, even though “the people held them in high esteem” (v. 13). The church was definitely not a place for sinners to be comfortable—it was a frightening place! —John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Crossway, 2010), 63.

It Must Be Good

Rick Warren and his kind have built their churches audiences on a pragmatic philosophy that says whatever draws the biggest crowd is a good and godly method. This pragmatism goes back farther than the modern megachurch movement. The role model for contemporary pastors is not the prophet or the shepherd—it is the corporate executive, the politician, or worst of all, the talk-show host. The contemporary church is preoccupied with audience ratings, popularity polls, corporate image, statistical growth, financial profit, opinion surveys, demographic charts, census figures, fashion trends, celebrity status, top-ten lists, and other pragmatic issues. Gone is the church’s passion for purity and truth. No one seems to care, as long as the response is enthusiastic. Tozer noticed that pragmatism had crept into the church of his day, too. He wrote, “I say without hesitation that a part, a very large part, of the activities carried on today in evangelical circles are not only influenced by pragmatism but almost completely controlled by it.” Tozer described the danger posed to the church by even so-called “consecrated” pragmatism: The pragmatic philosophy . . . asks no embarrassing questions about the wisdom of what we are doing or even about the morality of it. It accepts our chosen ends as right and good and casts about for efficient means and ways to get them accomplished. When it discovers some­thing that works it soon finds a text to justify it, “consecrates” it to the Lord and plunges ahead. Next a magazine article is written about it, then a book, and finally the inventor is granted an honorary degree. After that any question about the scripturalness of things or even the moral validity of them is completely swept away. You cannot argue with success. The method works; ergo, it must be good. —John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Crossway, 2010), 92.

Predestined to Dullness and Futility

Good news for preachers who labor long over the text of Scripture, preparing long expositions in order that your listeners might understand the Word and be transformed thereby: you can stop. According to Fosdick, you’re going about it all wrong. There is an easier way. Preachers who pick out texts from the Bible and then proceed to give their historic settings, their logical meaning in the context, their place in the theology of the writer, with a few practical reflec­tions appended, are grossly misusing the Bible. . . . Could any procedure be more surely predestined to dullness and futil­ity? Who seriously supposes that, as a matter of fact, one in a hundred of the congregation cares, to start with, what Moses, Isaiah, Paul, or John meant in those special verses, or came to church deeply concerned about it? Nobody who talks to the public so assumes that the vital interests of the people are located in the meaning of words spoken two thousand years ago. . . . Let them not end but start with thinking of the auditors’ vital needs, and then let the whole sermon be organized around their constructive endeavor to meet those needs. —Harry Emerson Fosdick, cited in Ashamed of the Gospel (Crossway, 2010), 94. Memo to those readers who don’t know me or this blog: I’m presenting this sarcastically. For the record, Fosdick is wrong, wrong, wrong, and furthermore, wrong.

A Transformed Life

The Christian life is a transformed life. The final paragraph of this excerpt describes that transformation perfectly. Hebrews 12:14 haunts me when I meet people who claim to be Christians but whose lives do not agree: “Sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Second Timothy 2:19 says that the Lord knows them that are His. And who are they? Those that name the name of Christ and depart from iniquity. Titus 1:16 says, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deeds.” Profession means nothing without obedience, without righteousness, without holiness, without departing from iniquity. Once, I actually heard a pastor preach, “Isn’t it wonderful that you can come to Jesus Christ and you don’t have to change anything on the inside or the outside?” . . . Of course we can come to Jesus just as we are, but if we come away from conversion just as we were, how can we call it conversion? Second Corinthians 5:17 sums it up well: “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Being righteous does not mean that we never sin. First John 1:9 says Christians are constantly confessing their sin. That certainly indicates that we do sin. But it is sin that we deal with sooner or later. We confess it, we turn from it, we repent of it, we despise it. We do not love it. “If any one loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). James puts it this way, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” There will be a whole new approach to life. We will have sin, yes, but when sin appears we will hate it as Paul did in Romans 7. We will hunger and thirst for that which is right. We will seek to obey; we will seek to love our brother and hate the evil system of the world. That’s the way it is, if true salvation exists. You cannot prove that you are a Christian by waltzing down the same old path. Having made a decision, having walked an aisle, having gone into an inquiry room, or having read through a little book was never the biblical criterion for salvation. . . . if a person does not come to Jesus Christ shattered to the very depths of his being and mourning over his sinfulness, with a hunger and thirst after righteousness more than anything else, there is a possibility that that person is not a Christian. —John MacArthur, Kingdom Living: Here and Now (Moody, 1980), 10–12 (emphasis added).

“He who lacks these qualities”

We must never believe that we are saved by any good works. We are saved by the work of Christ alone, applied to us through faith. At the same time, an obedient life is a necessary result of genuine saving faith (James 2:17). Therefore, while Christ alone is the ground of assurance, our sole source of hope and object of trust, we can have no assurance if our faith is not demonstrated in our lives (2 Corinthians 5:17). Assurance is a gift of God, not enjoyed by a disobedient believer. Read what Peter says. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, Christian love (2 Peter 1:5–7). What is the purpose of such a virtuous life, such true spiritual character? For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or shortsighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:8–10). The point is not that we are gaining salvation or even keeping salvation. Those great realities are bound up eternally with the sovereignty of God. Peter’s point is that we may enjoy the sense of assurance, confidence, security that should accompany our entrance into the kingdom. —John MacArthur, Kingdom Living: Here and Now (Moody, 1980), 10–13.

Popular Lies, Biblical Truth

Santa Claus is not the worst Christmas lie.

Many Widows, Many Lepers

God does what he does because of who he is, not because of what we expect. In Luke 4, a brief incident occurred that had tremendous impact. Jesus was speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth. He was handed the scroll of Scripture, and He turned to the next regular reading from Isaiah. Luke 4:18–19 says He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” Then He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him. And He said to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). In other words, the One the prophet said would come to preach had come. Then Luke records, “And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’” (v. 22). They knew Joseph. But they didn’t know anything about Joseph that could cause his Son to be as special as this man seemed to be. And then He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well’” (v. 23). Christ knew that they would want to see some proof that He was who He claimed to be—some miraculous manifestation of His power. Then He said: Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian. (vv. 24–27) What kind of an answer is that? What was He saying to them? His point was simple: God has not ordained that everyone be healed. Furthermore, God Himself has determined which widow gets healed and which leper gets healed. It doesn’t hinge on human free will. Even Christ’s miracles would be done according to the sovereign will of God, not in answer to the demands of people in Jesus’ own hometown. He was saying, in effect, “You may expect me to do in this town what was done in Capernaum, but God doesn’t work that way. God sovereignly chooses what He will do.” Then, verse 28 records the first New Testament reaction to the doctrine of election: “And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage.” —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 5–7.

For the Son, to the Son

Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago . . . —Titus 1:1–2 But notice the end of [Titus 1:2], which is the key: this whole unfolding miracle of salvation comes from God, “who cannot lie,” and, as it says at the end of verse 2, “promised [it] long ages ago.” “Long ages ago” is a biblical expression referring to eternity past—the age before time began (cf. Acts 15:18; Rom. 16:25). It is equivalent to the expression “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24; Matt. 25:34; 1 Peter 1:20). So Paul is saying God decreed the plan of redemption and promised salvation before the beginning of time. “Promised”—to whom? Not to any human being, because none of us had been created. And not to the angels, because there is no redemption for angels. Second Timothy 1:8–9 helps answer the question. There, it says, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (emphasis added). To whom did God make this promise? It’s an intra-Trinitarian promise; a promise from the Father to the Son. This is sacred ground, and our best understanding of it is still feeble, so we must tread carefully. We recognize that there is an intra-Trinitarian love between Father and Son, the likes of which is incomprehensible and inscrutable to us (John 3:35; 17:26). But this we know about love: it gives. And at some eternal moment, the Father desired to express His perfect love for the Son, and the way He determined to do so was to give to the Son a redeemed humanity—whose purpose would be, throughout all of the eons of eternity, to praise and glorify the Son and serve Him perfectly. That was the Father’s love gift. The Father wanted to give this gift to the Son, and He predetermined to do it. Not only that, but He predetermined who would make up that redeemed humanity, and wrote their names down in a book of life before the world began. He set them aside for the purpose of praising and glorifying the name of Christ forever. That means, in a sense, that you and I are somewhat incidental to the real issue here. Salvation is primarily for the honor of the Son, not the honor of the sinner. The purpose of the Father’s love gift is not to save you so you can have a happy life; it is to save you so that you can spend eternity praising the Son. —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 14–16.

To Be Conformed

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. —Romans 8:29 The purpose of election is not merely initial justification. It encompasses the whole of redemption, including continual growth in holiness. From heaven’s perspective, the ultimate end of election, the ultimate purpose behind God’s grace poured out on us, is the eternal glorification of the Son. But to understand God’s individual purpose in electing His people for salvation, we need to consider Romans 8:29: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” Two things stand out among the many points that could be addressed in that verse. First, we were predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s own Son. God’s elective purpose is not merely about the beginning of our salvation—He predestined us to the absolute perfection we will (by His grace) enjoy at the end of the process. Paul didn’t say, “He predestined them to be justified,” but, “He also predestined them to become conformed to the image of His Son.” When will that happen? It’s happening now, if you are a believer, even if the progress seems so slow as to be imperceptible. And it will be brought to instantaneous completion “when He appears” (1 John 3:2). That is a reference to the second coming, when the bodies of the saints are resurrected and glorified. Thus redemption will be complete. The verse goes on to say, “we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” That’s what Romans 8:19 refers to as “the revealing of the sons of God.” And Christ then becomes the chief One among many who are made like Him. As much as glorified humanity can be like incarnate deity, we’ll be like Christ, and He will not be ashamed to call us brothers. Paul said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). What’s the prize of the upward call? Christlikeness. If someone is saved in order to be like Christ in glory, then his goal here is as much as possible—by the power of the Spirit—to be like Him now. That’s the goal all believers must press toward. We will be made like Christ, conformed to the image of the Son, and He will be the chief one among us all. This is the elective purpose of God. And no one’s going to fall through the cracks. His perfect plan will come to pass, without fail. —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 21–22.

Divine Sovereignty versus Human Responsibility (1)

The first step in understanding the compatibility between God’s sovereignty and human will is to recognize that they are not mutually exclusive, and Scripture makes this absolutely clear. In God’s design, human responsibility is clearly not eliminated by God’s sovereign control over His creation. That’s true even though evil was included in His grand design for the universe even before the beginning of time, and He uses His creatures’ sin for purposes that are always (and only) good. Indeed, in His infinite wisdom, He is able to use all things for good (Rom. 8:28). Consider the Lord’s opening statement in Isaiah 10:5: “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger.” At first glance, this makes no sense. If Assyria is functioning as an instrument of God’s judgment, why is He pronouncing condemnation on the Assyrians? “Woe” . . . warns of calamity or massive judgment to come. But how can a people come under divine denunciation and judgment while at the same time functioning as a rod of God’s anger? The rest of the verse says, “the staff in whose hand is My indignation.” Assyria, this pagan, godless, idolatrous nation, is the instrument of divine judgment against God’s own rebellious people. In fact, the next verse says, “I send it against a godless nation [Judah, the southern part of the kingdom] and commission it against the people of My fury” (v.  6). The Jews are thus designated as the people of God’s fury. God holds Israel fully responsible for their disbelief; fully responsible for their idolatry; fully responsible for their rebellion and their rejection of Him, His Word, and His worship. So He commissions the Assyrians to come against them. Notice verse 6: “To capture booty, and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.” That’s strong, decisive language. Now here you have a divine decree in action. God grabs Assyria by the nape of its national neck and assigns it to be the instrument of His fury against the godless people of Judah who have rejected and rebelled against Him. And then He says in verse 7, “Yet it [Assyria] does not so intend, nor does it plan so in its heart.” Assyria is the instrument of God’s judgment—and the Assyrians themselves are clueless about it. It was never Assyria’s purpose, motive, or intention to serve God. . . . They thought they were acting in complete independence. They had no idea that God was using them as agents to deliver His judgment. . . . Not only did God pronounce judgment on Assyria for its wicked deeds but also for the motives behind the deeds. “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness. For he has said, ‘By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this’” (vv. 12–13). God will punish the Assyrians for their motives and for their failure to recognize His glory by taking credit for what they had done. . . . And Isaiah never makes an attempt to resolve or explain away what many would regard as a judicial paradox. Scripture gives no indication that God’s wrath against Assyria was anything but just, reasonable, and appropriate. The Bible is simply not concerned with reconciling divine judgment with any human assumptions about justice or fairness. Scripture simply explains what God did, and we are to understand that it was just and fair because He did it. —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 30–33. Part 2

Divine Sovereignty versus Human Responsibility (2)

Part 1 We see the same tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in bold relief in Acts 2. During Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, he said, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (vv. 22–23). Christ died under God’s authority, in His timing, and according to His plan. And yet Israel was guilty—both for their collective hand in His death and for their failure to believe in Him as Messiah. But the guilt of Christ’s murder was not isolated to Israel alone. In Acts 4:27, there’s another indictment: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel.” The point is clear: Christ’s death was a corporate act of sinful humanity aligned together against God. All are guilty. But the prayer of verse 27 continues in verse 28, saying that all these guilty souls conspired together “to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” Isaiah 53:10 agrees, identifying the Lord as the One responsible for the Son’s death: “The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.” That by no means exonerates the ones who carried out Christ’s execution. The perpetrators’ intentions were entirely rebellious and murderous, and for them, it was an act of pure evil. Bearing that in mind, Christ’s death is, therefore, the greatest fulfillment of the truth embodied in Joseph’s insightful words to his brothers in Genesis 50:20: “As for you, you meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good.” The fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan in the death of Christ in no way mitigates the guilt of His murderers. While the Lord ordained and orchestrated every event to bring about His desired ends, the wicked human hands that accomplished the work are no less guilty for the sinful role they played. We see those seemingly contrasting truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility repeatedly, in every part of God’s Word. But Scripture never attempts to ease the apparent tension. There’s no inspired explanation that spells out their complex relationship. Therefore, we need to be careful in attempting to conform God’s divine decrees to our own feeble sense of fairness. We need to remember that it’s not our job to hold God to whatever standards our meager minds might suggest. He Himself is the standard of true righteousness, and He never acts in a way that would contradict His righteousness or justice. —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 34–35.

On Theodicean Errors

It’s heresy to say the world is full of evil apart from a predetermined plan and purpose of God. The same goes for most of the answers to the problem of evil—they fail because they attempt to reconcile the truth about God and the existence of evil to the satisfaction of the unbelieving world. They’re too focused on rounding off the sharp edges of biblical truth in order to accommodate philosophies and worldviews that are openly hostile to God and His Word—to conform God’s goodness and power to the boundaries and limitations of the unilluminated mind (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18; 2:14). —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 54.

Sovereign over Evil

God speaks for Himself in unmistakable terms. He is sovereign over everything that exists, including evil. In Revelation 4:11, those in the throne room of heaven worship God: “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” That is the God of the Bible. The God who is in absolute control of everything, and nothing—not even sin and evil—can disrupt or derail His plan. The rebellion of Satan and his followers didn’t surprise God, nor did the fall of Adam and Eve force Him to resort to plan B. He makes it clear in Isaiah 46:9–10 that His plans will always come to pass: “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’” This is the God who exists. —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 58–59.
Why do so many work so hard to distance God from the world’s evil, even to the point of making man, effectively, his own sovereign? The notion that God has a purpose in evil strikes panic in the hearts of people who have not thought carefully about God’s sovereign omnipotence. They can’t envision how God might derive glory or fulfill His good purposes by letting evil exist in His universe. They imagine (wrongly) that if God sovereignly ordained a universe that could be cursed with evil, He must be the efficient cause of the evil. They wrongly assume that if God saves some sinners but not all, He must bear the moral responsibility for the fact that some are not saved. They want to rescue God from blame for all the bad things that happen. And having not thought carefully about God’s sovereignty and what it means, they wrongly assume that the only way to vindicate God is to reinvent Him. They don’t want to imply, of course, that He is not good, loving, holy, or omniscient. Therefore, their own faulty logic forces them to conclude that there must be some limitation to His sovereignty. Some . . . go so far as to conclude that He doesn’t have the power to stop evil. Others believe that He has the power, but some self-imposed limitation keeps Him from using it. They are operating with the assumption that the only way to save God from bad press is by believing that the human will reigns supreme. —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 59–60.

Unrighteousness Demonstrates Righteousness

Why did God permit evil in the first place? Why does He sovereignly, willingly allow it to keep infecting and distorting His creation? In His unfolding, preordained plan, what is the presence of evil accomplishing? In his epistle to the Romans, Paul gives us the answer. He writes, “If our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say?” (Rom. 3:5). Our unrighteousness demonstrates . . . the righteousness of God. In the context of Romans, Paul has been showing that God is faithful to His promises to Israel despite their sin and unbelief. Compared to the rebellious wickedness of Israel, God’s righteousness is truly and unmistakably glorious. And that’s the bottom line: We would never understand the full glory of God’s righteousness if we were not so familiar with the wretched fruits of unrighteousness. . . . The murder of Christ is unquestionably the greatest evil ever committed. But under the preordained plan of God, that act of supreme wickedness was also a supreme display of His grace, mercy, wrath, justice, righteousness, and countless other attributes. It gives us a glimpse into His loving character that we otherwise never would have seen. And revealing those aspects of His nature in turn causes us to love and glorify Him more. In short, God tolerates sin and evil because, in the end, it brings Him more glory. —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 62, 64–65.

Until We Are Glorified

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish. —Psalm 1 Scripture is loaded with warnings about living in this world, because unlike Christ, we are easily susceptible to the enticements of sin, even though we are redeemed. We may have been walking in the faith for many years and consistently studying the Bible for a long time, but this world is still a threat to us at every turn. Old habits, human weaknesses, and carnal desires remain with us—and will be there until we are fully glorified. That’s why we so easily respond to Satan and the world. Consequently, we must be regularly reminded not to love the world. We must be reminded not to walk in the counsel of the wicked, stand in the path of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers (Ps. 1:1). Not heeding Scripture’s repeated warnings would have devastating results for us. —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 75.
Why would God choose to love finite, fallen, sinful human beings at the cost of His own Son’s life? Why didn’t God just write us all off as wretched sinners, make us the objects of His wrath, and display His glory in judgment against us? It is truly a mystery even angels might find bewildering. Moreover, why is it that He lavishes us with the very riches of His goodness? Couldn’t God have displayed His mercy in a lesser way than giving His Son to die for us? Or having redeemed us and guaranteed us entry to heaven, couldn’t He have given us a lesser position? Yet, He has made us joint heirs with Christ. He has elevated us to the spiritual heights. Indeed, He has already given us His very best. He has already bestowed the most priceless, eternal blessing in all the universe—His own beloved Son. Therefore, we can be absolutely confident that He will withhold no good thing from us. “He who did not spare his own Son but delivered him over for us all, how will he not also with him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Have you ever truly pondered the mystery of such great love? Why is it that God’s greatest love isn’t bestowed on the faithful angels who never fell and who steadfastly throughout all time have been loyal to love and worship the God who made them? In short, why would God even love us, much less pay so high a price to demonstrate His love? Frankly, the full answer to that question is still shrouded in mystery. It is an immense, incomprehensible wonder. We do not know the reasons God chooses to love fallen sinners. And I must confess, together with each true child of God, that I do not know why God chose to love me. I know only that it is for His own glory, and certainly not because He finds me deserving of His love. In other words, the reasons for His love are to be found in God alone, not in those whom He loves. And what Scripture reveals is that the will to save is intrinsic to who God is. “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). It is not foreign to His nature to be a Savior—to seek and to save the lost. He is a Savior by nature. First Timothy 1:1 refers to the Father as “God our Savior.” One of the most vivid verbal images Jesus ever gave to describe God is the eagerness of the father in the parable of the prodigal son. This father looks intently for his lost son’s return, runs to meet the wayward boy when he returns, and lavishes him with undeserved gifts and status. That is the very character of the God we worship. He is a saving God. And He has always been known as a Savior. Theological liberals try to put a great gulf between the New Testament and the Old Testament. They often claim that the God of the Old Testament is an angry, vengeful, envious, vitriolic, hostile, punishing kind of deity. The God revealed in the New Testament is different—a compassionate, loving, saving deity. That’s a foolish and dishonest corruption of Scripture. The God of the Old Testament was known to His people as a Savior. Israel knew God as a Savior—a saving God. To use another word, He is a Deliverer. He rescues people from bondage and death. Of course, that’s not how it is in the science of ethnology and the world of religion and deities. Study ancient Middle Eastern religions and you’re not going to find gods who save. Virtually every man-made religious system ever known features some means by which the worshiper by his own efforts can save himself—or, at the very least, better himself. But you’re not going to find any man-made god who is by nature a Savior, a rescuer. —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 109–111.

God Is Not Moody

[O]ften when the subject is God’s mercy, the Bible stresses His faithfulness and immutability. Indeed, God—as Savior of His people—is the one true constant in all the universe. This is why He redeems His people rather than summarily destroying them when they sin: “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6). His wrath against sin is real, but it does not provoke Him to alter His Word, revise His will, revoke His promises, or change His mind: “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19). The necessary implication of God’s immutability is that He is not subject to shifting moods, flashes of temper, fluctuating dispositions, or seasons of despondency. In theological terms, God is impassible. That means He cannot be moved by involuntary emotions, suffering, pain, or injury. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, God is “infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions” (2.1). . . . Divine impassibility is not an easy concept to grasp. . . . Nowadays, even some Christian theologians shun the idea of divine impassibility because they think it makes God seem cold and aloof. But that’s a false notion. To say that God is not vulnerable, that He Himself cannot be hurt, and that He isn’t given to moodiness is not to say He is utterly unfeeling or devoid of affections. Remember, Scripture says God is love, and His compassion, His lovingkindness, and His tender mercies endure forever. “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22–23). The main problem in our thinking about these things is that we tend to reduce God’s attributes to human terms, and we shouldn’t. We’re not to imagine that God is like us (Ps. 50:21). His affections, unlike human emotions, are not involuntary reflexes, spasms of temper, paroxysms of good and bad humor, or conflicted states of mind. He is as deliberate and as faithful in His lovingkindness as He is perfect and incorruptible in His holiness. The unchangeableness of God’s affections is—or should be—a steady comfort to true believers. His love for us is infinite and unshakable. “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:11). His constant mercy is a secure and dependable anchor—both when we sin and when we suffer unjustly. “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him” (v. 13). Far from portraying God as unsympathetic and untouched by our suffering, Scripture emphasizes His deep and devoted compassion virtually every time it mentions the unchangeableness of God. Notice that I have quoted almost entirely from Old Testament texts to establish the connection between God’s compassion and His immutability. The commonly held notion that the Hebrew Scriptures portray God as a stern judge whose verdicts are always unrelentingly severe is an unwarranted caricature. In fact, God’s lovingkindness is often given particular emphasis in the very places where His fiery wrath against sin is mentioned (e.g., Neh. 9:17; Ps. 77:7–10; Isa. 54:8; 60:10; Hab. 3:2). Even the prophets’ most severe threats and harshest words of condemnation are tempered with reminders of God’s inexhaustible kindness and sympathetic mercy (Jer. 33:5–11; Hos. 14:4–9). —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 114–116.

The True Meaning of the Gospel

This was the whole reason God the Son became a man: “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:17–18). “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). Those statements show that divine mercy extends far beyond empathy merely for our physical sufferings. Of course, the lovingkindness of God includes a heartfelt concern for our temporal, earthly, physical welfare—but it is infinitely more than that. Both the compassion of God and the earthly work of Christ must be seen ultimately as redemptive. In other words, our Lord’s tenderest mercies are concerned primarily with the salvation of our souls, not merely the suffering of our bodies. . . . Those physical healings were vivid displays of both Jesus’ power and His compassion. They were proof of His deity and living demonstrations of His divine authority. They established His unlimited ability to liberate anyone and everyone from the bondage, the penalty, and the consequences of sin. As such, the healing ministry of Jesus was illustrative of the gospel message, a true expression of divine compassion, and a definitive verification of His messianic credentials. But physical healing was neither the central point of His message nor the main purpose of His coming. Again, He came to make propitiation for sin and to purchase redemption for sinners. And He did that by suffering in their place—dying for their sins. . . . The true meaning of the gospel—and its central truth that God is a saving God—is bound up in an accurate understanding of that famous prophecy in Isaiah 61:1–3, which Jesus read aloud in the synagogue in Luke 4:18–19: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” The “poor” whom He promised to bless are “the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). The “captives” to whom He proclaims liberty are “those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Heb. 2:15)—meaning those who are in bondage to sin (Rom. 6:17). The “blind” who recover their sight are those who “turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified” (Acts 26:18). And the “oppressed” who are set at liberty are those who were formerly under the oppression of sin and Satan (10:38). In other words, what the gospel announces is something that the physical healings merely symbolized—something more vital, more lasting, more momentous, and more real than temporary relief from the pains of earthly affliction. The gospel gives us the only true, abiding remedy for sin and all its guilt and repercussions. —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 117–120.

About Those “Missing Verses”

A few days ago on Facebook, concern was expressed over “missing verses” in modern Bible translations. The following is my response. (It was a quick response. I will happily accept correction* if I have erred in any of the details or omitted any indispensible facts. The general point, however, stands.) I’m glad to see you thinking about this. I considered the same questions myself, probably at about your age. These are important issues, and we need to have good answers for them. I think it’s very unfortunate that most Christians don’t give them much, if any, thought. The question I eventually had to ask, and that you should be asking, is, How do I know these “missing” verses are actually missing? How do I know they aren’t actually additions to the text? Isn’t adding to Scripture is just as bad as subtracting from it? The answer is found in the science of textual criticism (TC), the process by which scholars judge the authenticity and accuracy of texts. Some of what you might have heard or read from “King James Only” (KJVO) advocates probably dismisses TC as an ungodly practice, but that fails to recognize the fact that the KJV is also a product of TC (KJVO proponents are, in general, very poor scholars, no matter how many honorary “doctorates” they boast, many scoffing at the legitimacy of scholarship itself). Dismissing TC fails to understand how we got the texts and translations we now have, including the KJV. The KJV New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus (TR), which is based on the text compiled by Erasmus, first published in 1516. Erasmus drew from the very limited selection (about a half-dozen, vs. the 6,000 we now possess) of Greek MSS available to him at the time. To these he applied TC to determine which were the most accurate. However, he didn’t have Greek MSS of the entire NT. Those he lacked, he drew from the Latin Vulgate, and translated them back into Greek. Let that sink in for a minute: the KJV consists in part of passages whose oldest source is a Latin translation. But Erasmus was a competent textual scholar (in other areas, not so) who did the best he could with what he had, and produced a good text upon which our earliest English translations (most notably, the KJV) and Luther’s German translation are based. Time passed, and older MSS were discovered. These MSS added to the pool from which textual critics drew, enabling them to produce more accurate texts. Hence, we get translations that “omit” verses not found in the oldest MSS. However, they cannot rightly be called “omissions” if they were never there in the first place. There is a lot more to be said about this, especially about the “original” MSS (e.g., we actually possess no true originals, only copies, which is why TC is necessary), but this is a good start, and probably longer than you wanted to read. Note well, I’m not saying any modern translation will do. Paraphrases (The Living Bible, The Message, etc.) are not translations at all, and therefore, not Scripture. “Dynamic Equivalent” translations (NIV, etc.) are of varying quality, mostly bad (the original NIV was accidentally pretty decent—later incarnations not). “Essentially Literal” translations (NASB, ESV) are the ones to trust. In short, contra KJVO propaganda, those “missing verses” are not part of a liberal conspiracy or satanic plot to undermine God’s Word. They are the product of the best textual scholarship, which seeks to transmit God’s Word as accurately as possible—just as Erasmus, in his day, did. On this subject, here is how John MacArthur handled Mark 16:9–20. (The applause at the end is not usual at Grace Community Church. After forty-three years of preaching, MacArthur had just finished his verse-by-verse exposition of the New Testament.) If, like me, you find audio/video too time-consuming, the transcript is here. * Corrections from those who understand the issues involved, that is. I’m not interested in engaging with serious KJVO advocates. I know too well what a fool’s errand that is.

Threats from Within

John MacArthur, commenting on the controversies he has addressed over the years: Reflecting on all those controversies, what is most surprising is that in every case, the threat I was writing about had originated within the evangelical movement. When I was in seminary, I had prepared my mind and heart to answer assaults from the world against the authority of Scripture and the truth of the gospel. I did not anticipate that so much of my time and energy would be spent trying to defend the gospel against attacks from inside the visible church—including assaults on gospel truth from respected leaders in the evangelical movement. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), xxv. My observation is the same. It seems to me that a lot of energy is expended worrying about, and warning against, threats from the world, while heresies in the form of “worship” songs and the latest pop-theology books slip in unnoticed and unexamined. The sheeps’ clothing grows thinner, yet the wolves remain unrecognized.

A Defeated Foe

I’ve been invigorated and encouraged, and not the least bit disheartened, to see what inevitably happens when the people of God “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude v. 3). The Lord always vindicates His truth. I suppose there has never been a single moment in the history of the church when the gospel has been free from assaults and controversies. And it is uncanny how old heresies get resurrected and the same threats to the gospel resurface again and again, threatening to lead astray each new generation. Satan is a relentless foe. But “we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11). There are indeed times when “we are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (4:8–9). We know that all the combined forces of hell could never defeat God. Though they may rage against the truth and perhaps steer multitudes into skepticism and unbelief, they will never totally squelch the truth of God’s Word. Therefore, to take a stand with the truth is to be triumphant—even when it seems the whole world is against us. Christ proved that fact conclusively when He rose from the dead. Satan, despite his persistence, is an already defeated foe. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), xxv–xxvi.

One Gospel, Uncompromised

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. . . . when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel . . . —Galatians 2:11–14 So Paul rebuked and corrected Peter. John MacArthur writes, It was not a disagreement about the substance of the gospel message. The problem, rather, was that Peter was “not straightforward about the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). . . . —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 7. Peter wasn’t preaching a false or compromised gospel himself; he was merely accommodating those who did, to avoid offense. But that was a thin distinction, one that Paul apparently did not recognize. Paul’s point in recording this incident is not to embarrass or belittle Peter, but to defend the integrity of the gospel. The soundness of the gospel is infinitely more important than the dignity and prestige of even the most eminent apostles—including Paul himself. . . . Paul himself might have said the surest way to twist Scripture to one’s own destruction is by altering the gospel—or even by passively tolerating those who preach a modified gospel. He strictly cautioned readers to beware “if (someone) preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted” (2 Cor. 11:4). He said alternative gospels are rooted in the same brand of deception the serpent used to deceive Eve (v. 3). So this theme reverberates throughout Paul’s inspired epistles: there is only one gospel. —Ibid., 7–8. What would Paul say if he visited us today? Would he overlook our admiration of authors whose wit, eloquence, sincerity, and passion lead us to wink at their heretical views of justification, atonement, the after-life, etc.? Would he smile indulgently at the songs we sing about a god that exists only in the imaginations of emotion-driven mystics? Peter was no heretic. He was an apostle, part of an elite group of men hand-picked by our Lord himself, of which, in all of history, there are only twelve. He was the one upon whose confession Christ declared, “I will build my church.” If Paul was compelled to rebuke a man of such stature, can we expect less?

The Seal of the Gospel

MacArthur on the centrality of the resurrection to the gospel, as seen in 1 Corinthians 15: [T]he gospel is grounded in historic events; and above all, the resurrection is the seal and the linchpin of gospel truth. Elsewhere Paul says that Christ “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). Again, the resurrection was God’s seal of approval on the propitiation Christ offered. Without the resurrection, there would be no gospel. Every element in Paul’s outline [“of gospel facts in 1 Corinthians 15”] is equally significant. It is an ingenious summary of the critical historical events in the gospel story. But as we have said from the start, Paul himself would be the first to emphasize that there are many other indispensable gospel truths—chiefly doctrines—such as sin, justification, vicarious atonement, grace, faith, security, and others. Paul explains those doctrines and stresses their importance throughout his epistles, as we will observe. But here his design is to give the most simple, pithy account of gospel history possible—one that comprehends and implicitly affirms all the vital doctrines as well. Each point he lists is indeed a matter of primary importance: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . . . He was buried . . . He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and . . . He was seen.” That is the whole gospel. The rest is explanation. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 21–22.
But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. —Galatians 3:22 Without bad news, there is no good news. The word gospel is the Middle English version of an Old English term, godspel, meaning “glad tidings,” or “good news.” The Greek equivalent, evangelion, likewise means “good message.” The term evokes the idea of a welcome pronouncement or a happy declaration. So it is ironic that quite often the gospel is not gladly received by those who hear it. It is likewise ironic that when Paul begins his most thorough systematic presentation of the gospel message, he starts with a statement that is decidedly bad news: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. 1:18). Paul then goes on for the equivalent of two full chapters, making the argument that the whole human race is fallen and wicked and hopelessly in bondage to sin. “As it is written: ’There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). Furthermore, “the wages of sin is death” (6:23). Obviously there’s a close connection between the two ironies. So many people spurn the good news because they can’t get past the starting point, which requires us to confess our sin. Sinners left to themselves are neither willing nor able to extricate themselves from the bondage of sin. Therefore instead, they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). They are objects of God’s wrath—because “knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, [they] not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (v. 32). . . . all false religions are systems of human achievement. Many are harsh and rigorous with standards that are barely (if at all) attainable. Others feature such a minimal standard of righteousness that only the very grossest of sins are deemed worthy of any reproof. In one way or another, most false religions “call evil good, and good evil; [they] put darkness for light, and light for darkness . . . bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20). They teach people to be “wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (v. 21). At the end of the day, all of them are works-based religions. The focus is on something the creature is supposed to do for God—or worse, for oneself. (Indeed, the most thoroughly evil religious systems are those that literally aim at the deification of the individual—thus echoing the false promise the serpent made to Eve in Genesis 3:4–5: “You will not surely die. . . . You will be like God.”) By contrast, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of divine accomplishment. It is an announcement that Christ has already triumphed over sin and death on behalf of hopeless sinners who lay hold of His redemption by faith alone. This is grace-based religion. The focus is on what God has already done for sinners. But to appreciate how such a message is good news, a person must know himself to be a wretched sinner, incapable of making an adequate atonement, and therefore powerless to earn any righteous merit of his own—much less obtain redemption for himself. The sinner must feel the weight of his guilt and know that God is a righteous Judge who will not sanction sin. Indeed, he or she must be prepared to confess that perfect justice demands the condemnation of guilty souls. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 23–25.

A Stumbling Block

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,  And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. —1 Corinthians 1:18—25 Paul to the “seeker-sensitive”: In recent years, many churches have based their entire ministry philosophy on the assumption that lots of unbelieving people are seeking God. These churches have refurbished their music, teaching, and public worship with the stated goal of being “seeker-sensitive.” In order to achieve that goal, church leaders rely on opinion surveys and an almost obsessive fixation with cultural trends in order to gauge the tastes and expectations of unbelievers. Then every feature of their corporate gatherings is carefully reworked, dumbed down, or purposely desanctified in order to make unbelievers feel comfortable. But people are not really seeking God if they are looking for a religious experience where the music, entertainment, and sermon topics are carefully vetted in order to appeal to popular preferences. That kind of “seeker” is just looking for a cloak of piety in a context where he or she will also get affirmation, self-gratification, and companionship with like-minded people. The gospel according to Paul points the opposite direction. Paul fully understood the felt needs and cultural expectations of his diverse audiences: “Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:22). But the apostle’s response was the polar opposite of “seeker-sensitivity”: “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness” (v. 23). The Greeks who craved a philosophical discourse on wisdom heard a message Paul knew would sound to them like foolishness; and the Jews who demanded a sign instead got “a stumbling stone and rock of offense” (Rom. 9:33). But both groups heard exactly the same message from Paul. Here again, we see that he knew only one gospel: “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 38–39.

The Taint of Sin

All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one. —Romans 3:12 This . . . allegation condemning the character of humanity is a sweeping, significant, grave condemnation: fallen people don’t do anything that is genuinely good. The human character, in its fallen state, is totally depraved. (That’s the common term theologians use to describe this aspect of biblical anthropology.) The point is not that people are as thoroughly evil as they could possibly be. Rather, it means that sin has infected every aspect of the human character—mind, will, passions, flesh, feelings, and motives. Nothing we do is completely free from the taint of sin. That includes our very best deeds of kindness or altruism. This is perhaps one of the most difficult of all biblical doctrines for people to receive. We naturally want to think of ourselves as fundamentally good, praiseworthy, upright, compassionate, generous, and noble. Furthermore, Scripture does recognize and describe some astonishing examples of human virtue, like the kindness of the good Samaritan, or the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter when she rescued and adopted the infant Moses. God graciously restrains the full expression of human depravity (Gen. 20:6; 31:7; 1 Sam. 25:26; 2 Thess. 2:7). The restraint of sin and the mitigation of sin’s consequences are expressions of common grace, the benevolent care God extends to all his creation. Quite simply, things are not as bad as they could be in this fallen world because “the Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:9). But again, Scripture also makes abundantly clear that even the best of our good works are not truly good enough to gain any merit with God. “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Even the “good” things we do actually compound our guilt, because our motives are (at best) mixed with selfishness, hypocrisy, pride, a desire for the praise of others, or a host of other evil incentives. In order to portray ourselves or our works as “good,” we have to allow for all kinds of leeway in our definition of what is good—and that exercise in and of itself is a diabolical transgression. Much of contemporary culture goes to the extreme of “call[ing] evil good, and good evil.” They “put darkness for light, and light for darkness . . . bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isa. 5:20). But when we understand that God’s own absolute perfection is the only acceptable standard of good (Matt. 5:48), it’s easy to understand why Scripture says “no one does good, not even one.” This is the starting point of biblical anthropology: humanity is fallen. The human creature is totally depraved, fundamentally wicked—ignorant, rebellious, wayward, and in and of ourselves worthless. Our character is debauched and defined by our sinfulness. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 41–42.

Righteous before God

Job, the most righteous man who ever lived, asked this burning question: “How can a man be in the right before God?” (Job 9:2). The answer: But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. —Romans 3:21–26 This is the only possible solution to our sin. A righteousness must come down to us, a righteousness that is alien to us. “Rain down, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together. I, the Lord, have created it” (Isa. 45:8). This imputed righteousness is the sole ground of the sinner’s justification. God accepts sinners not because of something good or praiseworthy He finds in them. Remember, “we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Our good works contribute nothing at all to our righteous standing. Once more: if your trust is in your own goodness, you are doomed (Luke 18:8). God accepts only absolute perfection, which does not exist in the human realm, except in Christ. But here’s the good news: true believers are united with Christ “through faith” (Eph. 3:17), and therefore they too are “in Christ” (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 1:30). God accepts them and blesses them on that basis (Eph. 1:6). That is how He “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5). He credits them with a righteousness that is not their own—an alien righteousness, reckoned to their account. Paul prominently features this truth in his own testimony. His heart’s desire, he said, was to “be found in [Christ], not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). Notice what Paul is confessing: God Himself had to come to the rescue. He alone can save. The very One who gave the law that condemns us also supplies the righteousness needed to save us. And that is the only merit we need to have a right standing before Him. This is “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). And it’s the only way a person can be right with God. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 57–58.

Deeds of the Law

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. —Romans 3:19–20 Critics of sola fide are fond of pointing out that Paul doesn’t use the precise words “faith alone” But there’s no escaping his meaning: the immediate context makes it plain. Remember that final, devastating point in Paul’s lengthy discourse on sin: “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). In other words, works are worthless for justification. Paul’s very next statement is that “the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, [is granted] to all and on all who believe” (Rom. 3:22). That is a clear affirmation of the principle of sola fide. Most Roman Catholic theologians (and a fairly recent strain of nominal Protestants who reject the principle of sola fide) have claimed that when Paul speaks of “the deeds of the law,” he means only the formal rituals and other ceremonial features of the law—circumcision, rules governing ceremonial cleanness, and such. But Paul’s use of this phrase simply cannot be narrowed down that way, in a heretical effort to give sinners some credit for their salvation. In Romans 7, for example, when Paul wanted to illustrate the law’s utter inability to justify sinners, the one precept he chose to single out as an example is the tenth commandment: “You shall not covet” (Rom. 7:7; cf. Ex. 20:17). Coveting is arguably the least of all the sins named in the Decalogue. It deals with desire. Resisting or committing that sin is not something that entails any kind of action. So when Paul speaks of the deeds of the law,” he is using that expression in the broadest possible sense. His meaning cannot be limited to the rituals and ceremonial features of the law. Quite the contrary: the expression “deeds of the law” as Paul consistently employs it would include any thought, action, or attitude that aims to gain God’s approval through a show of obedience to the Old Testament’s 613 commandments. No matter how rigorously the sinner tries to follow the law, seeking justification before God that way is a futile exercise. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 61–62.

Gospel Distractions

There are many things the gospel is not. That needs repeating now, more than ever, as the issue is being confused daily by many who ought to know better. The gospel is one simple message. Everything else is a distraction. In the opening words of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, he wrote, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (v. 17). Just a few verses later, he wrote, “We preach Christ crucified” (v. 23). Then a paragraph or two after that, he wrote again, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (2:2). Thus Paul neatly summarized the gist of the gospel: it is a declaration about the atoning work of Christ. In the preaching of Christ and the apostles, the gospel was always punctuated by a clarion call to repentant faith. But it is not merely a summons to good behavior. It’s not a liturgy of religious ceremonies and sacraments. It’s not a plea for self-esteem and human dignity. It’s not a manifesto for culture warriors or a rallying cry for political zealots. It’s not a mandate for earthly dominion. It’s not a sophisticated moral philosophy seeking to win admiration and approval from the world’s intellectual elite, or a lecture about the evils of cultural and racial division. It’s not an appeal for “social justice.” It’s not a dissertation on gender issues or a prescription for “redeeming culture.” It’s not the kind of naive, indiscriminate congeniality that is content to sing “Kumbaya” to the rest of the world. Within the past half decade I have seen every one of those ideas touted as “the gospel” in various books, blogs, and sermons. They are all deviations or distractions from the true gospel as proclaimed by Paul. The cross of Jesus Christ is the sum and the focus of the gospel according to Paul: “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). And in Pauline theology, the cross is a symbol of atonement. “Christ crucified” is a message about redemption for sinners. How vital is that truth, and how crucial for the messenger to stay on point? To make the gospel about anything else is to depart from biblical Christianity. Paul’s teaching is not the least bit ambiguous about this. It’s the very definition of what he meant when he spoke of “my gospel.” Quite simply, the gospel is good news for fallen humanity regarding how sins are atoned for, how sinners are forgiven, and how believers are made right with God. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 75–76.

Atonement Heresies

John MacArthur provides brief explanations of “spurious theories of the atonement” that “offer some kind of false alternative to the truth that Christ's death was an offering to God meant to satisfy and placate His righteous anger against sin,” most of which “deliberately attempt to eliminate, as much as possible, the offense of the cross“. There’s the moral influence theory—the belief that Christ’s death was merely an example of personal sacrifice and self-giving love and not at all the payment of a redemption price. This is the view most theological liberals hold. For reasons that should be obvious, their perspective on the atonement inevitably breeds works-oriented religion. If Christ’s work is merely a model to follow, and not a substitutionary sacrifice, salvation must somehow be earned through one’s own effort. The ransom theory (a belief that was common in the post-apostolic era in the first century) is the notion that Christ’s death was a ransom paid to Satan for the souls of the faithful. There’s no biblical warrant for such a view, of course. It was originally based on a misunderstanding of the biblical term ransom, which simply means “redemption price.” But this view fails to take into account all the biblical data. Scripture makes abundantly clear that Christ’s death on the cross was “an offering and a sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2; cf. Heb. 9:14). The governmental theory was proposed by Hugo Grotius, a Dutch legal expert from the early seventeenth century. He said the cross was not a ransom at all; it was merely a vivid symbolic display of God’s wrath against sin—and therefore it stands as a public vindication of God’s moral government. Grotius’s view was adopted by American revivalist Charles Finney. It was shared by other leading New England theologians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And has been brought back into the limelight recently by a certain class of radical Arminians. They typically favor this view because it does away with the idea that Christ died as anyone’s substitute—a truth they consider unjust (even though Scripture stresses the fact that Christ voluntarily took that role). Another opinion that has been steadily gaining popularity for the past quarter century is the Christus victor theory. This idea is favored by many new-model theologians (including most of the architects of the now-failed Emerging Church movement). In their view, Christ’s death and resurrection signified nothing more than His triumph over all the foes of fallen humanity, including sin, death, the Devil, and especially the law of God. They want to scale down the significance of Christ’s atoning work to a very narrow spectrum of what He actually accomplished. It is certainly true enough that Christ “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us,” and “disarmed principalities and powers” (Col. 2:14-15). But the theme of victory over the enemies of the human race simply doesn’t do full justice to everything the Bible says about the cross. It’s a man-centered and severely truncated view of the atonement. Those who adopt the Christus victor theory favor triumphal language, and they eschew biblical terms like sacrifice for sin or propitiation. Most who hold this view would emphatically deny that Christ offered Himself to God on the cross. At the end of the day, this is just another unbiblical view that pretends to exalt and ennoble the love of God by overturning and eliminating the law’s demand for justice. All those theories attempt to sidestep the biblical principle of propitiation. Most of them do it on purpose, because they are rooted in a skewed view of divine love. People are drawn to these views by a common false assumption—namely, that God’s mercy is fundamentally incompatible with His justice. They believe God will forego the demands of justice in order to forgive. They conclude that divine righteousness needs no satisfaction; God will simply set aside His own righteousness and erase whatever debt is owed to His justice because of sin. Given those faulty presuppositions, the death of Christ must then be explained in terms that avoid any suggestion of retributive justice. The doctrine of penal substitution is the only view that incorporates the full range of biblical principles regarding atonement for sin. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 78–80.

The Gospel’s Center

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. —2 Corinthians 5:18–21 The central figure in the gospel is not you. Today’s evangelicals often speak about the gospel as if it were a means of discovering one’s own purpose, a message about how to have a happy and prosperous life, or a method of achieving success in one’s relationships or business. In the minds of many, the best starting point for sharing the gospel is an announcement that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” All those ways of presenting the gospel have become such common clichés among contemporary Christians that most people in the church today do not flinch when they hear the gospel framed in such language. They don’t notice how profoundly all those narratives deviate from the gospel Paul proclaimed and defended. A major problem with all of them is the way they turn the gospel into a message about “you”—your life, your purpose, your prosperity. You become the center and subject of the story. Those are concepts that would have appalled and outraged Paul. One truth that should stand out boldly in every text we have looked at is that the central figure in the gospel according to Paul is always “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The apostle takes great care never to let the narrative drift. Here in our text (2 Cor. 5:18–21), Paul’s intention is to explain how “God . . . has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ” (v. 18). He mentions both Christ and God in every verse. In the span of those four verses, he mentions God by name at least once in every verse (five times total). Three additional times he refers to God with pronouns (Himself twice and He once). He uses the Messianic title Christ four times. And in that final verse he refers to Christ twice with the pronoun Him. The entire passage is decidedly God-centered, not man-centered. That should be the case any time we talk about the gospel. It’s first of all a message about God’s purpose in the work of Christ; the sinner’s own purpose in life is secondary. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 89–90.

So Nearly Parallel

That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other. I do not believe they can ever be welded into one upon any earthly anvil, but they certainly shall be one in eternity. They are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the human mind which pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge, but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring. —Charles Spurgeon, cited in John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 92–93. [Original source: “a Defense of Calvinism” in The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, eds. Susannah Spurgeon and Joseph Harrald, 4 vols. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1899), 1:177.]

The Miracle of Regeneration

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. —Ephesians 2:1–10 This is a vital truth that bears frequent repetition: Don’t rush past the main point of that passage: whenever a sinner turns to Christ for salvation, it is because God has done a miracle of spiritual resurrection. The common theological term for this is regeneration, or the new birth. This is the same thing Jesus was speaking of when He told Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Our Lord went on to describe redeemed people—all true believers—as those who have been “born of the Spirit” (v. 8). Elsewhere He said, “It is the Spirit who gives life” (6:63). Paul likewise said believers are saved “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Here, then, is a simple definition: regeneration is a miracle wrought by the Holy Spirit, whereby He gives life to a spiritually dead soul. This life-giving act of God is a complete spiritual rebirth unto eternal life, no less a miracle than a literal bodily resurrection from the dead. By the way, resurrection and rebirth are kindred concepts, and the Bible uses both of them in reference to the risen Christ. He is “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5). “Now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Both rebirth and resurrection are likewise apt descriptions of the miracle that takes place when God regenerates a spiritually dead sinner and gives that person the gift of salvation. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 97–98.

Denigrating Grace

To be under grace and out from under the condemnation of law means that “sin shall not have dominion over you” (Rom. 6:14). It does not mean Christians no longer need to resist the coercive power of sin. It means grace equips them with the strength and the will to resist temptation. “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). On the positive side, grace teaches us that “we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Having a right standing before God because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, it is only fitting that we should seek to honor that perfect righteousness and seek (by God’s grace) to conform ourselves to it. How could grace teach otherwise? “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:1–2). For Paul, the idea that someone who had been redeemed from judgment and transformed by God’s grace could blithely or willfully continue in sin was absolutely unthinkable. In other words, grace does not deliver us from hell without also delivering us from our bondage to sin. Those who teach otherwise don’t exalt the principle of grace; they denigrate it. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 125–126.

A Worthless Pedigree

If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more . . . But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. —Philippians 3:4, 7 For all his life as a Pharisee, Paul had believed eternal life would be won through ritual, race, rank, religion, and right living. His religious credentials were second to none, according to how the Pharisees ranked advantages. He was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5)—maintaining the Hebrew language and customs, even though he was born in a Gentile region dominated by Hellenized Jews. He came from an especially noble tribe. (Benjamin was one of only two tribes that did not join the rebellion against the House of David after Solomon’s death.) He was born into the household of a Pharisee and circumcised as an eight-day-old—precisely as commanded in Genesis 17:12. In other words, he was still a newborn infant when his parents started him on a course of fastidious observance to the ceremonial law. He never overtly defiled the Sabbath or violated the Pharisees’ traditions regarding the sacrifices, washings, or other ceremonial law works. He had thus managed to keep his reputation unblemished, so in his own estimation, and from the perspective of any devoted Pharisee, he was “blameless.” The proof of his pharisaical zeal was his savage persecution of the church. Any Pharisee would be deeply impressed with such a pedigree. But when he met Christ, Paul saw that both his ancestry and his accomplishments were permanently and irreparably flawed. It was nothing but one large mass of liabilities. Therefore, he trashed it all in order to gain Christ (Phil. 3:8). Paul was not saying he gave up doing good works, of course, but that he realized first that those were not really good works at all, since there was nothing truly righteous about him. So he gladly gave up trusting that his own tainted, pharisaical “good works” might earn merit with God. Merely adding Christ to his religion would not have sanctified it. Remember, he said he counted it as excrement. Decorating skubalon doesn’t alter the reality of what it is. So Paul put all his faith solely in Christ. His only aim from then on was to “be found in (Christ), not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). He is, of course, describing justification by faith and the principle of imputed righteousness. If anyone tries to tell you Paul never spoke of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, point out that it is the focus of his own personal testimony. To be found in Christ is to be clothed in Christ’s own righteousness, “not . . . my own righteousness . . . but that which is through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:9). This establishes the most intimate imaginable relationship between the believer and his Lord. It is an inviolable spiritual union. What motive could possibly take a devoted, overzealous Pharisee like Saul of Tarsus and persuade him gladly to abandon his lifelong efforts and convictions, labeling them all “dung”? Paul himself gives the answer to that question. He did it “in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ” (Phil. 3:8 NASB). Having seen the radiance of Christ’s glory in the bright light of gospel truth, nothing else would ever again take first place in his heart. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 132–134.

The Full Weight of Divine Fury

What made Christ’s miseries on the cross so difficult for Him to bear was not the taunting and torture and abuse of evil men. It was that He bore the full weight of divine fury against sin. Jesus’ most painful sufferings were not merely those inflicted by the whips and nails and thorns. But by far the most excruciating agony Christ bore was the full penalty of sin on our behalf—God’s wrath poured out on Him in infinite measure. Remember that when He finally cried out in distress, it was because of the afflictions He received from God’s own hand: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34). “We esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4). We cannot even begin to know what Christ suffered. It is a horrible reality to ponder. But we dare not follow open theism in rejecting the notion that He bore His Father’s punishment for our sins, for in this truth lies the very nerve of genuine Christianity. It is the major reason the cross is such an offense (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18). Scripture says, “[God] made [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Our sins were imputed to Christ, and He bore the awful price as our substitute. Conversely, His righteousness is imputed to all who believe, and they stand before God fully justified, clothed in the pure white garment of His perfect righteousness. . . . this is the distilled meaning of what happened at the cross for every believer: God treated Christ as if He had lived our wretched, sinful life, so that He could treat us as if we had lived Christ’s spotless, perfect life. Deny the vicarious nature of the atonement—deny that our guilt was transferred to Christ and He bore its penalty—and you in effect have denied the ground of our justification. If our guilt wasn’t transferred to Christ and paid for on the cross, how can His righteousness be imputed to us for our justification? Every deficient view of the atonement must deal with this same dilemma. And unfortunately, those who misconstrue the meaning of the atonement invariably end up proclaiming a different gospel, devoid of the principle of justification by faith. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 145–146.

Unformed and Inadequate

John MacArthur on the vagueries of early church atonement theory: Few would argue that the church fathers had a well-formed understanding of the atonement as a penal substitution, but Augustus Hodge pointed out that the idea of vicarious atonement was more or less implicit in their understanding, even if it was “often left to a remarkable degree in the background, and mixed up confusedly with other elements of truth or superstition.” Specifically, some of the fathers seemed confused about the nature of the ransom Christ paid—especially on the question of to whom the ransom was due. Some of them seemed to think of it as a ransom paid to Satan, as if Christ paid a fee to the Devil to purchase release for sinners. That is the ransom theory of the atonement. Nonetheless, according to Hodge, “With few exceptions, the whole church from the beginning has held the doctrine of Redemption in the sense of a literal propitiation of God by means of the expiation of sin.” Selected church fathers’ comments about the ransom of Christ should not be taken as studied, conscientious doctrinal statements but rather as childlike expressions of an unformed and inadequate doctrine of the atonement. Philip Schaff, commenting on the lack of clarity about the atonement in early church writings, said, “The primitive church teachers lived more in the thankful enjoyment of redemption than in logical reflection upon it. We perceive in their exhibitions of this blessed mystery the language rather of enthusiastic feeling than of careful definition and acute analysis.” “Nevertheless,” Schaff added, “all the essential elements of the later church doctrine of redemption may be found, either expressed or implied, before the close of the second century.” —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 147.

Christ Died for God

For whom did Christ die? If you’re a Christian, your first thought is probably “for me,” or, if you’re thinking more theologically, “for his people” (Matthew 1:21). Neither of those answers are wrong, but neither is ultimate. Viewing the cross from the perspective of God is not the usual way of thinking about it. We almost exclusively think of the cross in regard to our own lives—focusing on what it means for those who believe. “Christ died for the ungodly, we say (Rom. 5:6). “Christ died for us” (v. 8). “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3). He died for our salvation. He died for our eternal benefit. He died to rescue us from judgment and hell. All of those statements are absolutely true, and certainly we should celebrate what the cross means for us. But looking at the atonement from heaven’s perspective, we also need to recognize and confess that Christ died for God. And all those other truisms hinge on this fact. “[Christ] gave Himself for our sins . . . according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:4). “What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin” (Rom. 8:3). The Father “did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (v. 32). Jesus Himself said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (6:38). “My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (10:17–18). God sent Christ to earth to die. . . . Everything points to God. Again, that was Jesus’ clear perspective throughout His earthly life. On the last night before He died, He prayed to His Father, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). He never sought anything other than the glory of the One who sent Him” (John 7:18). He said this about the Father’s will: “I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29). “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge, and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30). Everything Jesus ever did was for God. Including His death. . . . We tend to think too much of what the cross means to us and too little of what it meant to God. In order for the cross to mean anything to us, it must mean everything to God. The better we understand this, the more clearly we understand the cross. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 154–156.

Capital Crime

[T]he gravity of any offense is never measured merely by its immediate consequences, or by asking who was hurt by it. The real gauge of a sin’s seriousness is the question of whom the sin was against. If you are angry with your neighbor and you yell and insult him, you’re not going to prison for that offense. But curse a judge in his courtroom, and you will be sent to jail. Or send a letter to the White House threatening the president of the United States, and you will be charged with a federal crime. Again, the true enormity of any misdeed or insult is determined by whom the offense is committed against. For that reason, sin against almighty God is never a trivial matter. True justice demands a penalty for sin, and the penalty is commensurate with the offense. Since all sin is a violation of God’s infinite holiness and a challenge to His eternal authority, every sin is a capital crime (Rom. 6:23). —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 161.

God’s Glory

A popular worship song repeats the line, “Show us, show us your glory.” I’m convinced that most people don’t give much thought to the words they sing, because if they did, throughout this song, line by line, they would be asking, What in the world does this mean? And having contemplated that question, and what God has revealed in scripture about his glory, would never utter those words. Too often we speak of “God’s glory” without really contemplating what the expression means. It is not an easy concept to define. We are dealing with something that is infinite, unfathomable, inconceivable, and utterly foreign to fallen human minds—something so pure and powerful that an unobstructed, unmediated view of it would be fatal to our sinful flesh (Ex. 33:20; Isa. 6:5; 1 Tim. 6:16). “The Oxford English Dictionary defines glory as “resplendent majesty, beauty, or magnificence.” But the glory of God entails much more than that. It includes His holiness, His absolute perfection, and the stunning radiance of unapproachable light. God’s glory is the very essence of beauty, majesty, and splendor. It likewise includes His justice, power, and wrath. It is at once captivating and terrifying. It is a reality so sublime that if you were permitted one glimpse of it and it weren’t so overwhelming that you would die, you would never want to look away. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 167.

The End of All

God’s glory is the end [the goal and purpose] of all his works and actions; in creation, providence, and grace; in election, in the covenant, in the blessings and promises of it, in redemption, in effectual vocation, and in bringing many sons to glory. The same is the end of all Christ’s actions, as man and Mediator, of his doctrines and miracles, of his obedience, sufferings, and death in this world, and of his interceding life in the other; who, as he lives to make intercession for us, lives unto God, to the glory of God; and therefore the glory of God should be the end of all our actions, besides, without this no action can be truly called a good one; if a man seeks himself, his own glory, and popular applause, or has any sinister and selfish end in view in what he does, it cannot be said, nor will it be accounted by God to be a good action. —John Gill, cited in John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 168. [original source: Gill’s Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 6:219.]
The preacher’s one job is to proclaim the whole counsel of God in a way that makes the gospel clear and magnifies the glory of God. “We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord. . . . For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:5-6). The Word of God is our text; the gospel message is the crux of it; Christ is its main theme and central character, and the glory of God is the ultimate purpose. All of that is implied in the apostle’s instruction to Timothy: “Preach the word! . . . in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). Notice: “We do not preach ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:5). That statement is contrary to every dominant style of contemporary ministry. Pulpits today are full of narcissists, show-offs, and self-promoters. But no preacher who is thinking properly about the glory of God would ever want to uplift himself or make himself the focus of a sermon. Humility is the natural expression of a God-glorifying attitude. The person who is egotistical or self-absorbed has never really understood the grandeur of God’s glory. At the same time, our knowledge of God’s glory ought to make us bold for the truth. You can tell a preacher is focused on God’s glory when he fearlessly proclaims the hard or unpopular truths regardless of whatever opposition, criticism, or persecution he receives as a result. The preacher who keeps God’s glory in proper focus will likewise be indifferent to praise and flattery. To see the glory of God is to understand that nothing else really matters in the ultimate sense. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 168–169.
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. —Romans 2:14–16 Is not this expression “my gospel” the voice of love? Does he not by this term embrace the gospel as the only love of his soul—for the sake of which he had “suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish” (Phil. 3:8)—for the sake of which he was willing to stand before Nero, and proclaim, even in Caesar’s palace, the message from heaven? Although each word might cost him a life, he was willing to die a thousand deaths for the holy cause. “My gospel,” says he, with a rapture of delight, as he presses to his heart the sacred deposit of truth. “My gospel.” Does this not show his courage? As much as to say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” He says, “my gospel” as a soldier speaks of “my colors,” or of “my king.” He resolves to bear this banner to victory, and to serve this royal truth even to the death. “My gospel.” There is a touch of discrimination about the expression. Paul perceives that there are other gospels, and he makes short work with them, for he says, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). The apostle was of a gentle spirit; he prayed heartily for the Jews who persecuted him, and yielded his life for the conversion of the Gentiles who maltreated him. But he had no tolerance for false gospellers. He exhibited great breadth of mind, and to save souls he became all things to all men. But when he contemplated any alteration or adulteration of the gospel of Christ, he thundered and lightninged without measure. When he feared that something else might spring up among the philosophers, or among the Judaizers, that should hide a single beam of the glorious Sun of Righteousness, he used no measured language. He cried concerning the author of such a darkening influence, “Let him be accursed. . . . Let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8–9). —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 175–176 [Adapted from sermons by Charles Spurgeon].

A Bible in Miniature

This is one of the chapters that lie at the very heart of the Scriptures. It is the very Holy of holies of Divine Writ. Let us, therefore, put off our shoes from our feet, for the place whereon we stand is specially holy ground. This fifty-third of Isaiah is a Bible in miniature. It is the condensed essence of the gospel. —Charles Spurgeon, cited in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God (Crossway, 2018), 21. Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished at you, My people, So His appearance was marred more than any man And His form more than the sons of men. Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand. Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors. —Isaiah 52:13–53:12

The Fifth Gospel

The entire Old Testament contains messianic prophesies scattered throughout. The book of Isaiah is filled with prophesies that can refer to no one but Jesus of Nazareth. But no Old Testament passage is as packed full of Christ as Isaiah 52:13–53:12. John MacArthur writes, [O]f all the marvelous prophecies in Isaiah, this passage in chapter 53 rises above all the rest. It is a majestic description of Christ’s sacrifice for sins. Some commentators call it the most important text in the entire Old Testament. Isaiah 53 has received many such accolades throughout the history of the church. Polycarp, the second-century church father and disciple of the apostle John, referred to it as “the golden Passional of the Old Testament.” Augustine called the entire book of Isaiah “the fifth gospel,” and that name applies particularly to chapter 53. A collection of John Calvin’s sermons on Isaiah 53 is titled The Gospel According to Isaiah. Martin Luther declared that every Christian ought to have the whole of Isaiah 52:13–53:12 memorized. The noted nineteenth-century Old Testament commentator Franz Delitzsch famously wrote, “In how many an Israelite has it melted the crust of his heart! It looks as if it had been written beneath the cross upon Golgotha. . . . [It] is the most central, the deepest, and the loftiest thing that the Old Testament prophecy, outstripping itself, has ever achieved.” . .  Isaiah 53 is the precise passage the Ethiopian eunuch was reading in the Gaza desert when Philip encountered him. The eunuch read a portion of the passage aloud: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter . . .” (Acts 8:32). Then he posed a question to Philip—and it was exactly the right question. This is the key that unlocks the passage: “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” (v. 34). ”Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture [Isaiah 53] he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35)—the gospel according to God! . .  For anyone familiar with the New Testament account of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and high priestly intercession, there should be no mystery about what Isaiah 53 signifies. It is the complete gospel in prophetic form, a surprisingly explicit foretelling of what the Messiah would do to put away the sins of his people forever. It is the gospel according to God, set forth in the Hebrew Scriptures. —John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God (Crossway, 2018), 31–33.

The Forbidden Chapter

Isaiah 53 is so replete with gospel truth that those who see the passage for the first time might well think they are reading the New Testament. Jewish people whose exposure to the Scripture is limited to texts that are read aloud in their synagogues each week will be completely unfamiliar with Isaiah 53. The entire passage is always omitted from the scheduled public readings. Every Sabbath in every synagogue worldwide, two portions of Scripture are prescribed to be read aloud—one from the Pentateuch (the Torah), and the other (the haftarah) a selection of texts drawn from the prophets. The same schedule of readings is followed in all synagogues, year after year. Over a year’s time, the rotation covers every verse of the Torah in canonical order. But the haftarah readings are more selective. One of the featured haftarah excerpts is Isaiah 51:12–52:12. The next reading in the cycle is Isaiah 54:1–10. Isaiah 52:13–53:12 is therefore never read publicly in the synagogues. As a result, Isaiah 53 is an unfamiliar passage for multitudes of devout Jewish people. In mid 2015, an Israeli-based messianic (Christian) community known as Medabrim released a video on the Internet titled “The ’Forbidden Chapter’ in the Tanakh” (Hebrew Bible), featuring a number of Israelis reading Isaiah 53 from the original Hebrew text. All of them were seeing it for the first time. The astonishment is obvious on the faces of those dear people. Their surprise quickly gives way to thoughtful reflection. As an interviewer asks them to put into their own words the implications of the passage, it is obvious that every one of them sees the clear connection between the prophecy and the New Testament record of Jesus. Christians would do well to reflect on Isaiah 53 more carefully as well. This prophecy is like a bottomless well of biblical truth. The more we look into it, the more we realize that no human preacher or commentator could ever fully plumb its astonishing depth. This passage first arrested my attention when I was a young man, and every time I return to it, I am amazed at the fresh richness of its truths. —John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God (Crossway, 2018), 37–38.

The Crux of Isaiah

Now here’s another important thing to notice about the literary structure of Isaiah: the good-news portion of Isaiah (chapters 40–66) is an extended triptych. That part of Isaiah’s prophecy divides naturally into three sections of nine chapters each. Each subsection promises a different kind of salvation for God’s people. The first nine chapters (40–48) foretell Judah’s deliverance from the Babylonian captivity. The second nine chapters (49–57) focus on redemption from sin. The final section (chapters 58–66), looking forward to Christ’s millennial and eternal reign, speaks of full emancipation from the curse of Adam’s fall. . . . If we take the entire fifteen-verse pericope—Isaiah 52:13 through 53:12—verse 5 is literally the central verse of the whole passage: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” In other words, the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is the crux of the core verse in the middle chapter of the center panel in Isaiah’s triptych on deliverance. It is the heart and the focal point of everything the book of Isaiah has to say about the forgiveness of sin. That is fitting, because there is no more vital gospel truth. The literary symmetry is perfect and the focus is sharp. You can see it from every possible vantage point. Whether we look at Isaiah 53 in isolation, consider the nine-chapter section where forgiveness is the main topic, or expand our perspective to include the entire good-news section of Isaiah, the cross is always literally at the center. And there it remains, with a bright spotlight on the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. —John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God (Crossway, 2018), 40–42.

Deadly Self-Righteousness

John MacArthur explains why Isaiah 53 was, and is, so misunderstood. After the captivity ended and multitudes returned from exile, the Jewish people never again fell into the kind of widespread, wanton idolatry that characterized the nation during the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh. The Jews came back from captivity with a new devotion to the law. Perhaps the chief distinctive of postexilic Judaism was an unprecedented stress on strict legal obedience, with particular attention given to the law’s external and ceremonial features—dietary laws, dress, ritual washings, and visible symbols of piety like phylacteries and robe tassels (Matt. 23:5). But a show of religious zeal is no solution to the sin problem that plagues the human race. Sinners cannot make themselves holy, even by the most exacting attempts at obedience to God’s law. Rules and regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch. . . . These . . . are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:21–23). Nevertheless, an increasingly ascetic form of Judaism emerged, and it was perpetuated by an appeal to tradition rather than authentic faith. By the time of Christ, sheer legalism was the dominant religion in Israel. . . . Yet because the Jewish nation was chosen by God as the line through whom the deliverer would come, many believed that by virtue of their Abrahamic descent, they already had a claim on God’s favor and blessing. After all, “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” were all theirs by birthright (Rom. 9:4). They took the goodness and mercy of God for granted—exactly like multitudes in Christendom today. The notion that they needed a Savior to expiate their guilt or deliver them from God’s condemnation was as thoroughly offensive to the average Jew of Jesus’s time as it is to today’s cultured secularists, moral relativists, and people who think they became Christians by birth or baptism. Those who followed the Pharisees’ doctrines happily acknowledged that Gentiles and other reprobates were sinners, but they thought of themselves as “righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). They were “clean in their own eyes but . . . not washed of their filth” (Prov. 30:12). That is the deadly danger of works religion. That is the attitude Jesus was condemning when he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. . . . I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:12–13). And make no mistake: all false religions cultivate sinful self-confidence. That includes every brand of genteel “faith” and pseudo-Christianity that is stylish today. Self-righteous souls who don’t see themselves as hopeless sinners in need of a savior can never truly appreciate the message of Isaiah 53. That, I am convinced, remains the major reason (even today) why so many—Jews and Gentiles alike—remain unmoved by the account of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. —John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God (Crossway, 2018), 47–49.

The Servant’s Wisdom

Isaiah says the servant of the Lord will “act wisely” (Isa. 52:13). The Hebrew word speaks of someone who performs a task with skill and expertise. One modern translation says, “My servant will prosper” (NASB). Both translations are valid. The Hebrew word speaks of prudent action that gains prosperous results. Wisdom and success are often linked in Scripture (cf. Josh. 1:7–8; 1 Sam. 18:5, 30; 1 Kings 2:3 where the same verb appears). The language accents the fact that the servant’s exaltation is not owing to accidental success or good fortune. His ultimate triumph is an accomplishment attained by adroit know-how. The servant’s amazing wisdom will result in the attainment of his purpose. He will not fail to accomplish God’s will, because he prudently employs righteous means to achieve the noblest results. Moreover, “the Servant’s wisdom is deeply self-denying, for it means accepting ends determined by God and willingly shouldering a burden of untold suffering to make them possible. Here God’s wisdom and humankind’s decisively part company (cf. 1 Cor. 1:17–25).” —John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God (Crossway, 2018), 54.
Every unprejudiced person might have seen from [Isaiah 52:13–53:13] that the Messiah, when he came, was not to be surrounded with pomp, but would come as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” to be “despised and rejected of men.” Yet, though the truth was written as with a sunbeam, and the Jewish people were pretty generally acquainted with their own Scriptures, so that they had the opportunity of knowing it, yet when the Messiah came unto his own, his own received him not, and though favoured with the clearest prophecies concerning him they rejected his claims, and cried, “Let him be crucified!” —Charles Spurgeon, cited in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God (Crossway, 2018), 67. Why did the Jews reject their Messiah? The answer is found in the word “unprejudiced.” “Every unprejudiced person” who knew the words of Isaiah—that is, every Jew educated in the synagogue—should have known the Messiah would not be a political leader or military conqueror, but they were not unprejudiced. Neither are we, by birth (Psalm 51:5). Why did the Jews reject their Messiah? For the same reason we all do. By nature, we are predisposed to reject Jesus as Lord and Savior. We need a new nature before we can see him as our true Messiah. We must be born again (John 3:1–8).
The Jews of Jesus’ day expected a Messiah who would deliver them from oppression and set up his Messianic kingdom. In that, they were not wrong. One day, all their expectations will be fulfilled. What they did not realize is that they were under a much heavier oppressor than the Roman Empire. Jesus is the true Messiah, and he will one day return to reign as King over all the earth. But he could not establish his kingdom (with all its promised blessings for Jews and Gentiles alike) until he had provided salvation. People cannot be delivered from their suffering until they are delivered from their sin. The countless millions of sacrificed animals offered under the sacrificial system did not atone for sin. “Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered?” (Heb. 10:2). The constant offering of those sacrifices was designed to remind people of their sin and the need for an adequate atonement. “In these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year” (v. 3). The sacrifices pointed to Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Only the death of a perfect substitute would truly satisfy the demands of God’s justice and pay the penalty for sin. Isaiah 53 is God’s promise that he himself would provide a suitable Lamb (cf. Gen. 22:8). —John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God (Crossway, 2018), 76.
Even though the people of Israel collectively and overwhelmingly rejected their Messiah, his work carries on. Paul sorrowfully says that his “kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3) were “ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (10:3). They failed to grasp the truth that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (v. 4). In other words, they did not understand that they had no ground on which to stand before God and no possibility of earning his favor with their own good works. They therefore did not see their need for the servant’s sacrifice on their behalf. Had they believed, the perfect righteousness of their sinless Messiah would have been imputed to them (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24). Instead, they chose to clothe themselves with their own self-righteousness. By refusing God’s righteousness and trusting their own, they made themselves supremely offensive to God. In fact, Isaiah casts off all the normal rules of genteel discourse in the way he describes the guilt of those who trusted their own good works. He says it was as if they were dressed in used menstrual rags. That is the literal meaning of the Hebrew expression in Isaiah 64:6: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Like all self-righteous sinners, they imagined that God was less holy than he is and that they were more virtuous than they were. So they came to God on their terms, not his. An inadequate view of the sinfulness of sin kept them from understanding why the Savior died. Those who don’t understand the glory of divine righteousness will never see the necessity of atonement. —John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God (Crossway, 2018), 81.

Smitten by God

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. Isaiah 53:4–6 Most shockingly, the sufferings described in this passage include the outpouring of God’s wrath in righteous retribution for the sins of those who rebel against him. He was indeed “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (v. 4). In other words, the servant’s wounding and crushing were not merely unintended side effects of our sin. He was no martyr. He was not an accidental victim. His sufferings are not collateral damage somehow caused by a chain of events set in motion by mistake. Isaiah is describing a purposeful act of penal substitution carried out by the sovereign will of his Father, God. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” Both expressions mean his suffering made an atonement for our sins. The language is categorically punitive. “Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace.” That clearly means he bore the punishment sinners deserve—the full measure of God’s wrath “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. 1:18). The griefs and sorrows he bore for his people are not merely sin’s temporal consequences or side effects. The servant of Yahweh dies as a substitute and sin bearer for his people, shouldering their guilt and taking the punishment that was due them. This passage cannot be made to mean anything else. —John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God (Crossway, 2018), 93–94.

The Central Point of the Cross

The price our Savior paid to redeem his people from the guilt and bondage of sin was horrific, and Scripture never tries to soften the dreadful aspects of the truth–especially if it means toning down the awful reality of the righteous wrath of God. Unless we understand and embrace the truth that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31), we cannot truly appreciate the Father’s great mercy and love toward us in sending his own Son to die in the place of sinners. In fact, God’s love (not his wrath) is the central point of the cross. Jesus Christ willingly drank the full cup of God’s wrath so that his people could escape that judgment. It was an act of unspeakable love. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And his death accomplished precisely what he intended. Because he bore the full outpouring of divine vengeance against sin, those who trust him as Savior will never have to face God’s condemnation. Jesus told his followers, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment” (John 5:24). The apostle John, overwhelmed with how the sacrifice of Christ demonstrates the love of God, wrote: In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9–10) God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16–17) —John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God (Crossway, 2018), 94–95.

Random Selections: The Fifth Commandment (John MacArthur)

This random selection (odd page, third paragraph) is from John MacArthur’s commentary on Ephesians 6:1–3. The command honor your father and mother is two-fold. That it may be well with you relates to the quality of life, and that you may live long on the earth relates to the quantity of life promised. The original promise was to Israel and involved many tangible, physical, earthly blessings. But Paul’s reference to it here shows that it also extends to believers today. Though its blessings may not always be tangible, a family where children and parents live in mutual love and submission will have rich, God-given harmony and satisfaction that other families can never know. As for the promise of living long on the earth, the believer who honors his parents can know that his lifetime will be the full measure God intends, rather than cut short like those of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:5–10) and certain members of the church at Corinth (I Cor. 11:30). —John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians (Moody Press, 1986), 315.


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