Guided by Gurnall: Part Six

A Brief Recap of Gurnall’s Work

William Gurnall, in The Christian In Complete Armour, is a monumental work. The Banner of Truth’s edition totals six hundred,  double-columned pages. It covers Ephesians 6:10-20. That’s right, you read that correctly. Six hundred, double-columned pages for ten verses of Scripture. Such is the depth of Scripture, a bottomless chasm of truth and life. It also illustrates the capacity of God’s saints to provide excellent expositions of Scripture for the sheep.

Objections to the Power of God in the Believer’s Life

After discussing a doctrine, its evidences, and its applications, Gurnall then begins to answer this objection,

O but, saith some disconsolate Christian, I have prayed again and again for strength against such a corruption, and to this day my hands are weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are so strong, that I am ready to say, All the preachers do but flatter me, that do pour their oil of comfort upon my head, and tell me I shall at last get the conquest of these mine enemies, and see that joyful day wherein with David, I shall sing to the Lord, for delivering me out of the hands of all mine enemies. I have prayed for strength for such a duty, and find it come off as weakly and dead-heartedly [sic] as before. If God be with me by his mighty power to help me, why then is all this befallen me? (Gurnall, 37)

Gurnall’s objection is a call for help when there seems to be no help. It is a hopeless cry, one that seems to go unanswered. The hypothetical objection declares the preacher’s declaration that he will go onto victory seems to be a mockery.

Surely, if you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have found yourself in this very position. You have a particular sin that seems to trip you up constantly. You have begged and pleaded with God to provide a way out, but the prayer always seem to go unanswered.

We find ourselves crying out, “If God be with me by his mighty power to help me, why then is all this befallen me?

Gurnall’s Third Answer

Gurnall’s third answer is wonderful. To this objection he replies,

If after long waiting for strength from God, it be as thou complainest [i.e., your prayers for deliverance are unanswered], inquire whether the το κατεχοις, that which hinders, be not found in thyself. (Gurnall, 40,emphasis his)

What Gurnall is saying is, that in the midst of unanswered prayers for deliverance, examine whether or not you are not found thankful. He goes on to elaborate ways in which we can display thanklessness with incredible lucidity. However, his second reply is what stood out to me today. He writes,

Art thou weak? Bless God thou hast life. Dost thou through feebleness often fail in duty, and fall into temptation? Mourn in the sense of these; yet bless God that thou dost not live in a total neglect of duty, out of a profane contempt thereof, and that instead of falling through weakness, thou dost not lie in the mire of sin through the wickedness of thy heart. The unthankful soul may thank itself it thrives no better. (Gurnall, 41)

Gurnall is saying that, even in the midst of the trials faced as a result of failures to resist temptation and to employ our efforts in duty, we can be thankful.

Gurnall’s Encouragement to Thankfulness

This is an incredible point. Gurnall is focusing on God’s work even in the midst of our failures. Perhaps you have met with failure after failure. That one sin may have tripped you up for the six-hundredth time. While not ignoring the need for sanctification and growth in holiness over that sin, you can rejoice that God is working in your heart and life. You can rejoice that, though you have fallen again, God is at work in other areas of your life. You can take joy in the fact that you do not “lie in the mire of sin through the wickedness of thy heart.” (Gurnall, 41)

This should encourage us! While we certainly mourn, as Gurnall remarks, over our sins, we do not mourn without hope. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, ESV)

Rejoice, then, that even in the midst of failure you can be thankful!

Guided by Gurnall

For previous posts, see below:

Guided by Gurnall: Introduction

Guided by Gurnall: Part One

Guided by Gurnall: Part Two

Guided by Gurnall: Part Three

Guided by Gurnall: Part Four

Guided By Gurnall: Part Five

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Wise Words from Augustine

I am reading through Augustine’s City of God for the next few months. I came across this helpful statement in book V. Augustine is discussing the development and might of the Roman Empire. Specifically, he is delving into the question of how the Romans became so powerful. In his discussion, he brings up to common reasons for why events and such turn out the way that they do: fate and chance. Concerning fate, he writes, “If anyone attributes them to fate because he uses the term ‘fate’ to mean the will or power of God, let him keep to this judgment but correct his language.” (City of God, 187)

There are several important points on which to focus our attention.

  1. He acknowledges that, at times, our language may be accurate theologically, but not linguistically.

    Here Augustine recognizes that there are times in which language is accurate theologically but not linguistically. He goes on to clarify, “For when men hear this word as it is used in ordinary speech, they understand it to mean nothing other than the force exerted by the position of the stars when anyone is born or conceived.” (City of God, 187) So, for example, it is theologically accurate to say that Jesus is like us. However, it may be difficult to say the same thing linguistically. For example, when most people here that phrase, they may assume that means Jesus is only human, not divine.

  2. He reminds us that our language must be accurate in our own context.

    Augustine notes, “Some distinguish this from the will of God [that is, fate], while others affirm that it indeed depends upon His will.” (City of God, 187) Augustine shows that language means different things to different people. Even when using biblical language, it is important for us to consider our context. We can see an example of this in Acts 17:22-31. Paul worked within the understanding of the people of Athens to communicate Gospel truth. He was also careful in what he did not say.

Language is important. How we communicate as Christians, especially in matters related to our sovereign God, are of inestimable importance. So, think theologically, express it accurately, and may God be glorified.

(Image Credit: By Fra Angelico and workshop – Unknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1022879)

3 Reasons Genealogies Are In the Bible

We all wonder why God allowed genealogies in the Bible. If you find yourself reading through the Bible in a year (or any other length of time), you may even dread it! The endless list of names you can barely spell, the mountains of individuals whose pronunciation you will butcher, and the disconnect from little to no knowledge about the individual causes genealogies to leave a bad taste in our mouths (think of burnt popcorn).

But Paul writes that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17, ESV) This means that, yes, even genealogies are profitable. We are like children taking medicine. It tastes horrible, and our little brains cannot imagine how something so gross could possibly help us.

So, how do genealogies help us? How are they profitable? This list is certainly not exhaustive, nor is it original. I have read different commentaries, articles, and journals over the years. (If one of them sticks out, please send me the source so I can properly cite it!) The thoughts I am sharing this morning stem from that research. However, I want to offer three reasons why genealogies are in the Bible. My hope is to inspire you to cling to the truths of Scripture (see II Timothy 3:16-17), and to build your confidence in God’s wisdom.

Genealogies teach us that God works with individuals in His plan of redemption

One of the benefits of genealogies is that it shows us that God works with individuals. We tend to think of groups such as Israel, Judah, or the Levites. Or, when we do think of individuals, we think only of the big whigs: David, John the Baptist, or Paul. But what about the Loises and Eunices of the Bible (see II Timothy 1:5)? Even “insignificant” people have profound impacts in God’s plan of redemption. No one knows the names of the pit crew members (unless you are a fan of Nascar), but without them the racers would never be known. Genealogies teach us that God works with individuals, many of whom we will never really know, in His plan of redemption. What is your part in this plan? Perhaps you have thought your own life too common to make any significant impact in God’s work of redemption. Take encouragement from the genealogies. They show us that God works with individuals like you and like me.

Genealogies teach us that God works in the mundane

The second reason genealogies are in the Bible, though not second in order or significance, is that they teach us that God works in the mundane. Now, don’t get me wrong, the birth of the child is a miracle. Besides my salvation and marriage, the most exciting moments in my life we’re meeting three of our four children. There is nothing mundane about the birth of a precious baby. At the same time, however, it is mundane, at least in the broad sense. Parents have children, those children grow up, get married, and have children. It is mundane. Genealogies are not unlike this. After the tenth “And (insert name you cannot pronounce) begat (insert second but equally un-pronounceable name)…” you realize just how mundane genealogies truly are. The glaze over your eyes and the blank stare bring you back to fourth grade. But an amazing truth lies underneath the common experiences of life: God works in them. Have you ever stopped and considered that for rough thirty years Jesus did the mundane elements of life? He would wake up, eat, work, come home, attend synagogue, and repeat. Day after day. Year after year. Yet, this was part of God’s redemptive plan to save countless numbers of people. Genealogies are an expression of God’s work in the mundane. How do you view the mundane of life? Did you ever stop to consider that the mundane of life my be God’s way of using you in His plan of redemption?

Genealogies teach us humility

The final reason genealogies are in the Bible is to teach us humility. There are several ways this is observed. First, it shows us some of the great people of the Bible and some of the worst. It’s The Incredibles and the Malcoms in the Middles thrown together. It’s the Uncle Bobs the mean grannies. Our humility comes from the fact that God uses both. Second, genealogies teach us humility because it shows us that it is not all about us. We come, and we go. We do not live for ever. But God’s work does not stop with us. It goes on and will go on. Does that not humble us?

Conclusion

Let’s face it: genealogies are not the most exciting part of our Scripture reading. They can be a little boring. But, if we take the time to consider a few reasons God gave them to us, it may, like the redemption of sinners by the grace of God, transform something boring into a reminder of God’s Grace.

Rags to Riches: How Jesus’s Incarnation Changes Us

John Calvin, in his massive work Institutes of the Christian Religion (translated by Henry Beveridge), describes the glorious exchange wrought by the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

I am guilty of not meditating on the wonders of the incarnation. The thought that God became man is simply astounding, and yet I do not think about it nearly enough. In my reading of Calvin’s Institutes, I came across this comparison of what we gained and what Jesus loss. It is a thought that draws my mind into deeper meditation and appreciation of Christ’s work in becoming man.

Calvin paints this exquisite picture,

This is the wondrous exchange made by his boundless goodness. Having become with us the Son of man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness. (896-897)

Christian, are you discouraged? Think about Jesus. I end with Paul’s thoughts, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21, ESV)

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

Kevin DeYoung, in his book Crazy Busy, writes, “What is wrong—and heartbreakingly foolish and wonderfully avoidable—is to live a life with more craziness than we want because we have less Jesus than we need.” (118)

That is how DeYoung ends his book. The chapter is, “The One Thing You Must Do.” I must admit, this is a danger for me personally. I am a driven individual. I like setting goals and achieving them. But I am constantly in danger of making Jesus a goal. “Oh, I read my Bible for the day!” is a dangerous statement to make. I need Jesus, moment by moment. I must meditate o His Word constantly. In times of particular busyness, it is paramount that I maintain daily time in Scripture reading and prayer.

I will be sharing a review of the book soon (if the Lord wills), but for now I wanted to leave you with this challenging thought.

May God give us this day our daily bread, and may we thoroughly feast on the Wondrous Word.

3 Benefits of Pruning: John 15:2

I read John chapter fifteen this morning. It is a wonderful chapter, filled with glorious truths, personal warnings, and sweet love. It is part of the last exhortations of Jesus to the disciples, and it is packed with exquisite truth for life.

In verse two Jesus says, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” (KJV)

The first half of the verse deserved it’s own treatment. It was the second half of the verse that stood out to me. In our society, we are obsessed with comfort and ease (aren’t we all?). We seek for projects to be as easy as possible. We want our food to be readily available. We need our packages shipped the next day. It is every where. We want “1 click buy options,” and a card that we can simply move over the card reader.

We could go on with this, but I think we can all agree that it is true. We are creatures who are protective of our comforts. Now, comfort is not wrong in and of itself. It is wrong when we place it above what is necessary or better.

This is where John 15:2b comes into play. When we bear fruit for Jesus, Jesus promises that the Father will purge the branch to produce more fruit. The word translate purge (or prune, as in the ESV), comes from καθαιρω. Interestingly, this is the only instance in the New Testament of this word. Its basic meaning is to cleanse or prune. Surprise, right? But what does this look like?

Jesus is illustrating the biblical truth of sanctification with the cultivation of grapes. Gardeners know that in order to help plants grow better (or produce more fruit/vegetables), they must trim and keep healthy. Sanctification is God’s process of growth to be more like Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). It is God’s pruning of our lives, if you will.

Why does this matter? Because it means that there may be things in our lives, good things, that God removes in order to help me be more like Jesus. I think there are three helpful points to note.

1. God may cause us pain in order to make us more like Jesus.

This is huge. Understanding that painful and terrible experiences in our lives are allowed and produced by God for our good and His glory redeems our sufferings. We all have had Romans 8:28 quoted to us, but it is a depthless verse. All things work together for our good and God’s glory. All suffering prunes us to bear more fruit. All experiences, no matter how impossible for us to understand, helps us bear more fruit.

2. God may bring people into our lives that help us to be more like Jesus.

We all have that one person that knows how to push every button that irritates us. There is that guy at work, or that lady on Instagram, and it seems every thing they say and do is like an arrow shot from a crossbow two inches from your chest into your heart. Could it be that God has allowed him or her into your life to prune you and me? The Scriptures are packed with references to how we treat other people. Even in John 15 Jesus says that we should love one another (verse 12). Rather than complain about the individual, rejoice in God’s sovereign goodness in allowing that tool of pruning to enter your life. Rather than seeking to minimize or eliminating the relationship, why not embrace it and through the power of God (see John 15:4) produce more fruit.

3. God may allow irritating events in your life to make you more like Jesus.

One thing about blogs that I do not like it that you do not really know the blogger. We usually have a romanticized view of those we read. One thing that you may not know about me is that I get irritated over little things. Now, I do not mean that when one little thing happens I fly off the handle. It is when 100 little things happen, ether simultaneously or sequentially. That is irritating, right?

But I am slowly learning (emphasis on slowly) that it is God’s way of helping me be more like Jesus. He was patient with people. He was kind. He trusted in the Father’s sovereign rule of His life. Don’t you want to be like Him? I do!

So, you may be experiencing a little issue or a life-changing trauma. Will it be easy to work through? Probably not. Will it be enjoyable? Only if you are warped. Will it produce more fruit? Only if you yield to God’s leading, and through God’s power allow it to mold you more into the precious image of Jesus Christ.

“Every branch in my that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” (KJV)

How to Worship: Me or Us?

I have been on staff at two very different churches. I have also been a member of several different churches as well. These churches have different emphasis that produce a variety of expressions in their worship. I am sure there are others who have experienced similar differences in churches.

Yet, one question that is not often asked is, “Is worship for me or us?” Or, perhaps the more accurate question is, “Is worship only for me?”

This question is pregnant with implications. If worship is individualistic, then my tastes, my desires, my outward expressions serve as the rule for proper and actual worship. So, for example, I am not an outward, emotional individual. I do not raise my hands, nor do I sway from side-to-side (unless I am holding one of my precious children). So, for me, worship excludes the raising of hands. To do otherwise may violate my conscience. My wife, however, often raises her hands. While I would be uncomfortable doing that, she is completely free in her spirit. What does this have to do with us? Much!

Worship is not primarily an individual experience.[1] Worship, in the corporate sense, is about the church, gathering together and expressing praise to the gloriously sovereign God of heaven. Now, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with my personal experience in worship?

Again, I say much. One of the marks of our current society is individualism. Individualism, however, finds no place in Sacred Scripture. We are called to be the church (that is, believers). It is us, not me. With regards to public worship, we worship as a congregation.

How does this look, practically speaking? Hart and Muether write, “If, for instance, we close our eyes and lift our hands in a congregation where no one else does this, we are cutting ourselves off from other worshipers in order to pursue a personalized and privatized experience with God.”[2] That is, if a congregation is used to maintaining a somber attitude, without bodily expressions, then an individual should focus on us rather than me. Likewise, if a church is more open to outward expressions, then the individual who feels so disposed should not hesitate in expressing accordingly. At the church I am currently at, we have men and women who do both. The main focus of this post is not how you worship, but how we worship.

Have you ever considered how others in your congregation worship? Have you ever thought about how you worship in connection with how the rest of the church worships? Are they contradictory? Are they conducive?

My hope, with this post, is to help us look at the church as a whole. Paul’s words, though addressing the consumption of meat, has special emphasis here, “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decided never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13, ESV)

In worship, brothers and sisters, let us not put a stumbling block in front of one another.

 

 

 

[1] D. G. Hart and John R. Muether write, “When we come to worship [referring to corporate worship], we are not engaging in an individual experience.” D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: 2002), 139.

[2] Hart and Muether, With Reverence and Awe, 139-140.

 

 

 

Photo by James Barr on Unsplash

The Ancient and Modern Church

The below post was for an assignment regarding the separation engaged in by the ancient church. To what extent should a church separate from certain practices? Is there anything in culture a Christian abstain from? Please share your thoughts below!

Separation Based on Acceptance

When Constantine granted freedom to the Christian religion, many people would have rejoiced. The terrible persecutions ended, and now practicing Christians could enjoy open worship of God.[1] Austin notes the detrimental effect Constantine’s decision had on the church, “While Christianity converted the world, the world also converted Christianity. The natural impulses of pagan humanity were openly displayed among professing Christians. Doubtless tens of thousands had followed their emperor into the fold of the church without ever experiencing true regeneration or new birth.”[2] Because Christianity was legal, everyone wanted to join. Whereas the illegal religion was once looked upon as a blessed protection, it was now enjoyed by all.[3]

There is a similarity between the legalization of Christianity in ancient Rome and the once, wide-acceptance of Christianity in the United States. Though there is a decline at the moment, there are cultural benefits to “being Christian.”[4] One might place their involvement in a leadership position in a youth group on a resume. One may say that he is a Christian in order to be well received at work.[5] However, these people may not be true Christians. They reject the commandments of God and live as if He does not exist.[6] The Ancient Church would have rejected the inclusion of these professed believers, individuals who may look and act the part but not truly be Christians.

Separation Based on Culture

The early church received persecution for many reasons, but one of the reasons for their persecution was their refusal to engage in the cultural norms of the day. One group of authors note, “Christians gathered in private, and their exclusive monotheism compelled them to refuse all participation in pagan religious observances….they were marked out as a small group of willful dissenters from the very basis of communal life.”[7] Roman culture was anything but Christian.[8] The early Christians, then, separated from the social norms of the day.[9] They separated from the culture, though it cost them everything.[10]

The modern church, however, has allowed much of the American culture to infiltrate and devastate the church. Views of music, dress, and personal sanctification are cast aside in order to “by all means save some.”[11] The Ancient Church would separate from the culture, not embrace it.

Separation Based on Methodology

The Ancient Church experienced a traumatic event in AD 313. The Edict of Milan provided unparalleled freedom to the Christians, in addition to many financial and political advancements.[12] This changed everything. One group of writes discuss this monumental shift, “Thus the church passed from persecution to privilege. In an amazingly short time, its prospects changed completely. After centuries as a counter-culture movement, the church had to learn how to deal with power.”[13] There were many advantages to becoming a Christian after the Edict of Milan.[14] The Church, then, was able to utilize many methods (including financial gain) to gather people into her membership. The Ancient Church, no doubt, rejected these underhanded methods, ultimately bringing further persecution.[15]

The modern church would do well to follow their example. The variety of unbiblical and downright sinful methods utilized in churches today is sickening.[16] The Ancient Church would have separated from this, following Paul’s example of “preach[ing] Christ crucified.”[17]

 

[1] This is a highly simplified description of the events. For more information, see Bill Austin, Austin’s Topical History of Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1983), 85-93.

[2] Austin, Austin’s Topical History, 90.

[3] “Rome, the imperial order, was perceived not as the real source of the evil by which Christians were afflicted but rather as a power which, in God’s providence, kept things from getting much worse—and this was a judgment which, no doubt in a very rough way, reflected the actual state of affairs.” Williston Walker, Richard A. Norris, David W. Lotz, and Robert T. Handy, A History of the Christian Church 4th Edition (New York, NY: Scribener’s Sons, 1985), 53.

[4] David Kinnaman, UnChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007.

[5] This is the idea that Mark Dever discusses briefly in, Mark Dever, Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 14-16.

[6] For a deeper treatment of this, see John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? Revise & Expanded Anniversary Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 9-11.

[7] Walker, et. al, History of the Christian Church, 51.

[8] Cynthia Long Westfall, “Roman Religions and the Imperial Cult,” Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[9] Jonathan Hill, Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 54-57.

[10] J. Hebert Kane notes the differences between Christian and Roman culture, and the cost of following Christ. See J. Herbert Kane, A Concise History of the Christian World Mission: A Panoramic View of Missions from Pentecost to the Present Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1982),24-33.

[11] 1 Corinthians 9:22, KJV.

[12] Hill, Handbook to the Christian Church, 74-77.

[13] A. Kenneth Curtis, J. Stephen Lang, and Randy Petersen, The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1998), 34.

[14] Walker, et. al, History of the Christian, 129-130.

[15] The space does not allow a full discussion on this topic. The reader should consult the following materials for additional information: Walker, et. al, History of the Christian, 130-131; William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996); and Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists: New and Illustrated Edition Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication, 1958)

[16] For one example, see Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Megachurch pastor Steven Furtick’s ‘spontaneous baptisms’ not so spontaneous,” Religious News Service (24 February 2014, https://religionnews.com/2014/02/24/megachurch-pastor-steven-furticks-spontaneous-baptisms-spontaneous/ accessed 30 November 2018).

[17] 1 Corinthians 1:23, KJV.

 

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash

Creation Meets the Christian

It is currently that wonderful time of the year where the wind becomes chilly, the sky deepens in its blueness, and the leaves of the trees become a wonderful display of the variety found all over creation. It is the time of pumpkin spice, of warmly, welcoming fires, and the renewed joy of drinking coffee. It is a time to look upon the changes of the season and reflect on the changes that come to us all.

One of my favorite aspects of fall is the change of leaves. The brilliant reds and the flashy yellows, the vibrant greens and burnt oranges, they all present a certain joy in simply beholding them. The trees range in sizes, some just a few feet in height, others towering above everything around them. Just as the ant can provide us with instruction (Proverbs 6:6-8), so too, the trees which paint our fall landscapes with breathtaking beauty can also take us under their wings and help us grow in our faith.

Sanctification is often view in an academic and intellectual manner.[1] Sanctification, as John MacArthur helpfully defines, is “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).”[2]

You may ask, “What does sanctification have to do with fall, or trees?” That is an excellent question! During this time of the year, I find myself constantly looking at the trees and their leaves. While engaged in the beauty of creation, I remembered a quote I previously heard, “When God wants to make an oak, he takes a hundred years, but when he wants to make a squash, he takes six months.”[3] The massive spread of the ancient oak provides shade during the summers, protection during the storms, and safety for the squirrels and birds. That same oak also provides a glimpse into the sanctification process.

Think about how long it takes for the tiny sapling to grow into the colossal hardwood. Years past, seasons come and go, children are born and grow up and have their own children. Sanctification is similar. Paul discusses this process in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”[4] Get that? We are being transformed. It is a process. Just as the oak takes years to grow, so too the Christian takes years to become more like Jesus (see 1 John 3:2).

I think there are two helpful truths from this:

  1. Do not despise the process!
  2. Brothers and sisters, we all get discouraged with our constant failures. They are daily reminders of our sinfulness, of the infiltration of the world into the very fibers of our beings. The constant and unstoppable war between our flesh and the Spirit is exhausting. It left Paul asking, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”[5] Have we not all struggled with wanting to do right but failing? Take heart! Our sanctification, our becoming like Christ is a process. It is grueling, at times. Let the trees encourage you, because just as it takes time for them to grow, so too it takes time for us to grow. But there is a delightful difference between the oak and the Christian. A horrible hurricane can demolish the tree. Nothing can prevent the Christian. Thanks be to God, because “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[6] Therefore, do not despise the process!
  3. Learn from your failures.
  4. While our failures are sin and must be confessed (1 John 1:9), we can still learn from them. One of my favorite authors, Thomas Brooks, writes on this thought, “Ah! you lamenting souls, that spend your days in sighing and groaning under the sense and burden of your sins, why do you deal so unkindly with God, and so injuriously with your own souls, as not to cast an eye upon those precious promises of remission of sin which may bear up and refresh your spirits in the darkest night, and under the heaviest burden of sin?”[7]Brooks later offers reasons for the constant battle of sin. He writes, “…partly to keep them humble and low in their own eyes; and partly to put them upon the use of all divine helps, whereby sin may be subdued and mortified; and partly, that they may live upon Christ for the perfecting the work of sanctification; and partly, to wean them from things below, and to make them heart-sick of their absence from Christ, and to maintain in them bowels of compassion towards others that are subject to the same infirmities with them; and that they may distinguish between a state of grace and a state of glory, and that heaven bay be more sweet to them in the close.”[8]As we approach to Thanksgiving, spend time in prayer on these thoughts, especially those of Thomas Brooks. Do not be discouraged by the process, stay faithful to the spiritual disciplines! Contrary to our “have-it-now” society, our progressive sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) takes time. Look to the oak, and meditate on it. Finally, learn from your failures. Let each sin point you to the Savior. Let each mistake cause you to marvel as His magnificent grace. Let each heart break cause you to long for the wonders of heaven.

Remember Strong’s words, “When God wants to make an oak, he takes a hundred years, but when he wants to make a squash, he takes six months.”[9]

[1] A perusal of many systematic theologies will provide ample proof for this. See, for example, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible has this, “Term meaning being made holy, or purified, it is used broadly of the whole Christian experience, though most theologians prefer to use it in a restricted sense to distinguish it from related terms, such as regeneration, justification, and glorification.” Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. “Sanctification.” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1898.

[2] John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2013), 56.

[3] Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace Book Designed for the Use of Theological Students (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1909), 871.

[4] ESV

[5] Romans 7:24, ESV.

[6] Philippians 1:6, ESV.

[7] Thomas Brooks, The Works of Thomas Brooks: Volume I (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1980), 93.

[8] Brooks, Works of Thomas Brooks, 94.

[9] Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace Book Designed for the Use of Theological Students (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1909), 871.

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The Unpardonable Sin: An Exposition of Hebrews 6:1-8

 

(Photo by Ben White on Unsplash)

This passage yields a variety of interpretations. The following is an edited version of a two-part sermon I gave recently. I am lightly editing it. I hope that it blesses your heart.

Doctrine: When blessed with full revelation, if you fail to accept Jesus as Messiah, you damn yourself to eternal hell.

This doctrine, as such as revealed in this passage, is unrepeatable today. By this I mean, the Jewish people to whom the author is writing had received as much revelation as humanly possible and were still unsure about the Messiahship of Jesus. As John MacArthur notes addresses a similar situation in Matthew 12:31, where he writes, “The sin He was confronting was the Pharisees’ deliberate rejection of that which they knew to be of God (cf. John 11:48; Acts 4:16).” (The MacArthur Study Bible NKJV, 1414)

The topic of the unpardonable sin is a weighty topic. It is a deep doctrine, for its implication is that a sin cannot be pardoned. That is a heavy thought. Which leaves us to ask the questions: Is there a sin that God cannot forgive? Is there a state that man can reach that is beyond the reach of the mercy of God? Men and women have discussed this, argued about it, and contemplated it for centuries. With that knowledge, this is my humble attempt to faithful exegete this passage, comparing Scripture with Scripture, and seeking to apply it to our present lives.

Let us remember the context in which our author is writing. He is writing to Jewish people. Within this larger group of Jewish people are two sects, if you will. One group accepted Jesus as the Messiah. They are, in the words of one author, “completed Jews.” (Gartenhaus, 163) 1516305939 (1)This same author, a Jewish man who accepted Jesus as the Messiah, writes, “Christianity not only does not oppose basic Judaism but it is Judaism itself fulfilled.” (Gartenhaus, 163) The Jewish men and women who accepted Jesus as the Messiah were not leaving Judaism behind, rather they were embracing its biblical essence. However, there was another group, a group that rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Whether blatant rebellion or simple apathy, these individuals reject Jesus.

Our author has spent five chapters developing the doctrines of Jesus. He is God, greater than Moses and Abraham, He is the high priest and faithful minister of the true people of God. It is this thought, the high priesthood of Christ, that creates a switch in the author’s mind. The readers were immature in their understanding and unable to bear deep thoughts on Melchizedek (see chapter 5, specifically verses 12-14). Our author could not speak on the deep things of God due to their immaturity.

This immaturity leads to two assumptions: immaturity due to a failure to grow, and immaturity due to a failure to be reborn (whatever terminology is used, salvation is the point). It is this thought, a failure to be reborn, that is the focus of Hebrews 6:1-8. We will notice several points:

  1. The basis of Jewish faith- Hebrews 6:1-3
  2. The danger of rejecting revelation- Hebrews 6:4-6
  3. The illustration of damnation- Hebrews 6:7-8

We note, first:

  1. The basis of Jewish faith- Hebrews 6:1-3

    Now, as we begin this discussion, it is vital to remember the context. Many individuals who read the first few verses take this as basic Christian doctrine because of the word Christ, but this is referring to the Jewish faith. Our author, who is Jewish, is writing to Jewish people, about the Jewish Messiah. It is inherently Jewish. So why would our author use the word Christ? Simply because this was the Greek version of the Hebrew term Messiah. There are many connections to Hellenistic influence in this letter. The writer frequently uses the Septuagint (commonly abbreviated as LXX). This is the Greek version of the Tanakh. One of the possible authors of this letter is a Hellenistic Jew, meaning he was a Grecian Jew. This follows the logic that he was familiar with the word Christ (anointed one in the Greek) rather than the Hebrew term Messiah (anointed one in the Hebrew). I belabor this point because it must be anchored within that Jewish context to properly interpret this passage. Otherwise, as many people have done, it will be misinterpreted and misapplied.

    We will discuss the basis of the Jewish faith by understanding the thoughts behind each concept.

    1. Repentance from dead works and of faith toward God

      The idea behind this concept is repentance and faith. Now, you may immediately think, “Repentance and faith is in the Gospel!” And you are partially correct, for there is an absence of the essential individual. The absence of Jesus leaves this teaching (or doctrine) within the framework of the Tanakh, thus an incomplete picture of repentance and faith. John the Baptist, in introducing the Messiah, preached this same message in Matthew 3:2. He is the last of the prophets (Luke 16:16), still preaching repentance but not yet in the person of Jesus. You see, they repented and had faith but failed to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Messiah, the only Name given under heaven whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Repentance from dead works and faith toward God points to salvific faith in Messiah Jesus.

    2. Instructions about washings (or baptisms)

      The idea here is the washings in the Torah. One need only look at the book of Leviticus. The word wash appears 36 times (in the ESV). Washing was an essential aspect of remaining pure, clean. If you look to the Gospels we are given a wonderful example in Mark 7:1-23. Washing was an aspect that would point to the holiness of God and the necessity for purity among God’s people. It is something that was repeated, many times. However, it was a shadow of the washing by the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5. Also, if you simply search for “Jewish washings” you will still see the influences to present day Judaism.

    3. The Laying on of hands

      Here we may be tempted to place the act of laying hands from the book of Acts in this passage. The apostles and elders of the church were seen throughout the establishment and development of the churches as laying hands on people. However, remember, this is a Jewish book, to Jewish people. What, in the Tanakh, do we see involving laying hands? When you look to Leviticus 1:4; 3:8 and 13 you see a completely different purpose for laying on of hands. This action represented the transference of guilt from the individual to the animal. It is the act whereby the sinner imputes his sin into the innocent victim. This action points to the act whereby Jesus becomes sin for us (Isaiah 53:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

    4. The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment

      This sounds like Christian doctrine, right? I mean of all the phrases mentioned surely this is Christian. I am afraid not. Resurrection and judgment were doctrines of the Jewish faith. Now, if you were to pick up a handful of books on the Jewish faith you will see a variety of opinions on this subject. Some deny that the Tanakh even addresses life after death. Others see it as essential to the Jewish faith. The Jewish people of Jesus’s day, and even Orthodox Jewish people of today, held this biblical truth. I encourage you to look through Isaiah 35, a passage that develops the teaching on the world to come. You can also check out Ecclesiastes 12:14 as well. Both of these passages illustrate belief in an afterlife and judgment to come.

      We see, then, that the framework of Judaism springs one into the presence of the Messiah. We are to repent from dead works and place our faith in Messiah. We are to be washed by the Holy Spirit. We are to accept the substitutionary atonement of Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God. Additionally, we are to look to the time when Messiah will come and make all things new. Judaism points directly to Jesus Messiah.

    5. The desire for growth

      Our author makes one final note for this section, that he desires to move beyond this elementary doctrines on to maturity, and for the readers to move on to maturity. But he adds one phrase, “if God permits.” Please remember that God is sovereign, as we can see in Ephesians 1 and 2.

      Because of all of this, our author then moves on to the dangerous, precarious situation of these Jewish readers:

  2. The danger of rejecting full revelation- Hebrews 6:4-6

    After this brief review of the “elementary doctrine of Christ (or Messiah)”, our author then brings the point to a stark point: rejecting full revelation brings damnation.

    1. The finality of rejection- it is impossible

      The very first point the author makes it that renewal after rejection of full revelation is impossible. I asked, at the beginning, are there sins that God will not, or cannot, forgive? The biblical answer is yes. Now, before we get too far into this passage let me paint you a broad picture. This rejection of full revelation is not repeatable. That is, this situation was specific to this generation. While we breathe a sigh of relief, please understand that rejection of God’s truth today is no less serious. After looking at our passage in Hebrews, we will turn to Matthew 12:22-32 to see this played out in a narrative fashion.

    2. The specifics of this rejection:
      1. Those who have once been enlightened

        This phrase seems to suggest salvation. That is how many throughout church history have taken this passage. However, I believe when we examine the context and compare Scripture with Scripture, it refers to Jewish people who had access to full revelation. In other words, these Jewish people had received as much truth as humanly possible without bringing about conversion. Let us look at what this enlightenment entails. Remember the Jewish context. Turn to Isaiah 9:1-2 where the same idea can be found. This divine light shined on all who saw it, but not all who saw it rejoiced in the Messiah. As with the other phrases, this does not imply nor is it used to refer to salvation in a specific way. And since our author has placed every warning within the context of the Tanakh, this passage is no different. You will notice in your sermon notes additional references. I encourage you to look these up as you work your way through this rather difficult passage. There is also an interesting connection to Exodus 13:21 and Nehemiah 9:12.

      2. Tasted of the heavenly gift

        There are two allusions to this idea of tasting a heavenly gift. For one, those that ate of the manna from heaven in Exodus 16:4. They tasted that heavenly gift (a similar word used by our author in Hebrews). Nehemiah 9:15 gives the same idea, as well as Psalm 78:24. Think, as well, of Jesus. In John 6:22-59 where Jesus is the Bread of Heaven, and Jesus graphically states, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” (John 6:47-47) These individuals had tasted of the heavenly gift.

      3. Shared in the Holy Spirit

        Can one share in the Holy Spirit and not be saved? Indeed, I believe Scripture clearly communicates this. Nehemiah 9:20 speaks about this giving of the Holy Spirit. If you can run through your minds all the accounts where “the Holy Spirit came upon” so and so, you get the idea. Numbers 11:16-29 also speaks of this. Unfortunately, we do not have the time to present a full treatment of pneumatology (the doctrine/study of the Holy Spirit). But you can briefly see that the Holy Spirit operated differently in the Old Covenant than in the New Covenant. Think about the life of Jesus, who by the power of the Holy Spirit completed some amazing miracles!

      4. Tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come

        The Israelites (and the people in Hebrews) have tasted the goodness of the Word of God. They experienced God’s goodness through the Tanakh, what we call the Old Testament. They also experienced incredible miracles. This is referenced in Hebrews 2:4. It is an allusion to Exodus 7:3 and the wonders of the plagues against Israel. The powers of the age to come is a reference to the miracles wrought by Jesus on earth (and in the Tanakh by Moses and the prophets), a breakthrough-look to the future kingdom of God in which all wrongs are righted and all sickness, pain, and tears and done away with. In the second sermon in this series we discussed the phrase found in Hebrews 1:2 where the author writes, “…in these last days…”. We discussed the implications of the phrase in regards to the Messianic promises and kingdom to come.

    3. The Implication of rejection- Crucify Him!

      We turn our attention, now, to the verse six. The thought of impossibility begins in verse four. Our author, then, takes the time to discuss the specifics of this rejection. Now we see the implication. What does it mean to reject Messiah? For this, our author describes in a graphic way what happens. He states, “It is impossible….to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” (Heb. 6:4, 6) When they reject all the revelation presented, all the truth preached, the miracles wrought, and they have fallen away, shout with the crowds: Crucify Him! Crucify Him! By their actions they are claiming Jesus is guilty as charged. The seriousness of this verse cannot be overstated.

      One more thought before moving to the illustration of damnation. The idea behind “have fallen away” gives the same ideas found in the other warning passages. Hebrews 2:1 says we must pay attention, lest like a boat, we drift away. Hebrews 3:12 mentions the danger of unbelief leading us to “fall away” (a different Greek word). Hebrews 4:11 states that we must strive to enter the rest of God lest we “may fall”. All the ideas are of gradual, slow, and steady rejection. I used the illustration of Bart Ehrman, a brilliant New Testament scholar who, after witnessing the evil of the world, slowly rejected the idea that God existed. It is a process. Imagine the individuals of whom our author is speaking. They had seen everything, and still rejected Messiah Jesus.

      David Klinghoffer’s Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History, discusses the precariousness of rejecting Messiah Jesus. He writes,

      If Jesus was the Messiah, then the Jews today are in big trouble, as all their ancestors have been for the past two millennia, along with a lot of gentiles who haven;t grasped what a vital truth the Christian idea is. Even setting aside the belief that the disposition of one’s immortal soul depends on recognizing him in this role, if Christians are right about Jesus, then many generations of Jews and other peoples have missed out on the very climax of history, the ministry and death of Jesus Christ. It happened, but we weren’t paying attention.

      Brothers and sisters, we are in the same danger if we reject the truth of God in our lives.

  • The illustration of damnation- Hebrews 6:7-8

    The author takes the remaining two verses to provide a natural illustration of this biblical truth. We will break it down to the positive response and negative response. Keep in mind, however, the statement made by our author in 6:3, “And this we will do if God permits.” God is sovereign over all.

    1. The Useful Crop- Heb. 6:7

      The rain falls on both types of plants. Just as God’s word, power, miracles, and everything accompanying them did on the hearers and readers of this letter. However, the response is quite different. The useful crop cultivates (the word we get geography from) to the rain and earth to produce food. That is, it takes the enlightenment, the heavenly gifts, the Holy Spirit, the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come and cultivates it with belief and action. This is where we need, must be! We must take the truths of God’s Word and believe and act on it.

    2. The Worthless Crop- Hebrews 6:8

      The same rain falls on this plant as it did with the useful crop. Again, God’s Word, power, miracles, and everything accompanying them did on their hearers and readers of this letter. The worthless crop bears “thorns and thistles”. I am certainly not a farmer, but I do know that if you are growing food (or flowers for that matter) you do not want thorns and thistles. What is the difference? Why did one yield a useful crop and the other yield thorns and thistles?

      There are several clues, both from this passage as well as other Scripture, which give us the difference. In our own letter of Hebrews we have seen that our response is to be filled with faith (belief) and action. These two are proper responses to the wonderful revelation given to us by God. However, the language is found in the Tanakh as well. For one, in God’s judgment on Adam and Eve he speaks of thorns and thistles. Genesis 3:14-19 speaks of God’s judgment on the earth. However, all of these aspects of the judgment can be summed up with the words from Genesis 2:17. It is death! From which we know from Ephesians 2:1-8 that it is only by God’s grace that we are brought back to life (If God permit, remember?).

      There is one other passage that I think is particularly pertinent for our passage this morning. Deuteronomy 28 is the chapter which presents the blessings for obeying the covenant and the curses for disobedience. At the heart of both obedience and disobedience is belief, whether positive or negative. If they believed the Torah they would obey and be blessed; if they failed to believe the Torah they would disobey and be cursed. As with the Torah, so with the belief in the Messiah, belief and action are essential to holding fast, of true biblical conversion. Failure to respond in biblical faith and action is impossible to repent from. This is the danger that these Jewish people faced. They had been presented the full source of revelation that no one before nor since has had the privilege, and they failed to believe. It is staggering. However, lest we think that we are not able to experience damnation we must take heed. For, while we do not see physical miracles take place, we do not witness the resurrection of dead men and women, we do not taste the powers of the Word of God, we have, as Abraham reminded the rich man in hell, “Moses and the Prophets.” (Luke 16:29) We have something that no one before us had, the Sacred Scriptures. If we reject, constantly, slowly, gradually, the Word of God then we are illustrating that we are the worthless crop that is doomed to be burned.

    3. The Blasphemous Pharisees- Matthew 12:22-32

      This narrative illustrates, in a narrative fashion, what Hebrews 6:1-8 discusses. The Pharisees witness a miracle. Jesus casts a demon out and heals a man. The crowds, witnessing this wonderful event respond, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:23, NKJV) How did the Pharisees respond? “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of demons.” (Matthew 12:24, NKJV) They maintain that the only way Jesus did miracles was through demonic power.

      The Pharisees were privileged to see incredible miracles, hear powerful preaching, and witness God in the flesh (see John 1:1, 14; Hebrews 1:1-3). They enjoyed revelation in a way no other human beings did. What was their response? Unbelief. They remained dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).

Applications:

How are we to apply this, if this passage is time-specific? While the actual passage may not be repeatable, the act of unbelief is. Rejection of revealed truth is dangerous. One is reminded of Paul’s address to the saints at Rome. In Romans 1:18-32 discusses, in graphic detail, what the rejection of truth brings.

Brothers and sisters, do not reject truth. If you are not a Christian, please consider the truth of Scripture, repent of your sins and believe in the Messiah Jesus.