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The Gospel according to Paul

(15 posts)

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.


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