Sunday, January 13, 2019

War with Peace – Eph. 6:15

It at first might seem strange that the apostle puts the gospel of peace as part of the Christian warrior’s armament.  But this is what he does.  He exhorts the Ephesian believers to stand and wage war against our spiritual foes by the gospel of peace.  The KJV translates the verse this way: “and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace,” which is a very literal translation.  The ESV puts it this way: “and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

The reason why the mention of peace in this context might seem strange to us is because there are two different types of peace, one of which is in fact antithetical to waging war.  This would be external peace, peace in our circumstances, a cessation of hostilities between warring parties.  But there is no peace for the Christian in that sense.  There will never be a day when we will not have to fight our enemy, the Devil.  There will never be a day when we will not have to resist the world and the flesh.  As the hymn puts it: “Ne’er think the victory won,/ Nor lay thine armor down;/ The work of faith will not be done,/ Till thou obtain the crown.// Fight on my soul, till death/ Shall bring thee to thy God;/ He’ll take thee, at thy parting breath,/ To his divine abode.”[1]

Nor does the gospel give that kind of peace.  Our Lord himself cautioned us once and for all against falling into that frame of mind: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt. 10:34).  Following Christ does not mean we will have peace in this world. 

But there is another type of peace that is completely consonant with the outward confusion and clamor that comes with the din of war.  It is inner peace, and this is the peace that our Lord gives, that the gospel gives: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).  Here you have two promises: a promise of peace and a promise of tribulation.  They don’t cancel each other out.  However, the peace that our Lord gives is a peace that enables us to endure tribulation.  A submarine at the depths of the ocean is being pressed upon by the force of the water bearing down upon it in all directions; but if it is made right, it will withstand the pressure.  Even so the Christian is a person who has been engineered by the grace of God to withstand the pressures of the world which call it to capitulate.  The irony is that if we give in, if we stop fighting, we will achieve a sort of peace.  But it would be a false peace, a peace with the world that does not last.  It is the inner peace that Christ gives that enables us from giving up for a false and temporary external peace and that enables us to keep fighting.

I think this is what the apostle is referring to here in our text.  Though some have taken it to mean that we are to be ready to share the gospel at all times, I don’t think that is what the apostle is referring to here, though I agree with the sentiment.  We should always be ready to share the gospel, ready to give an answer to those who ask about the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).  But here the apostle doesn’t say that we are to have a readiness to proclaim the gospel, but that we are to have a readiness which is given by the gospel.  It’s not a readiness for the gospel, but a readiness of the gospel.  To put it another way, the gospel here is not the object of the readiness or preparedness of which the apostle speaks; rather, the gospel is the source of that readiness and preparedness.  He is saying that holding to the gospel of peace makes us ready to stand and fight our spiritual foe.

Now the question is, what is the connection here between the boots the warrior puts on and the readiness given by the gospel of peace?  It is thought that the apostle here is referring to the caliga, which was a sort of boot worn by the Roman soldier “with soles made of several layers of leather averaging 2 centimeters (3/4 inch) thick, studded with hollow-headed hobnails.”[2]  His footwear enabled the Roman soldier to march long distances as well as giving him sure-footedness in the battle.  Of course what you wear on your feet depends on what you are doing.  I remember once working cattle with the Shafer boys wearing sandals, and deciding very quickly that that was a mistake.  The same thing applies here: you wear combat boots into battle, not flip-flops. 

Good shoes on your feet give you two things: mobility and sure-footedness.  They enable you to move and move quickly; they also enable you to move without falling down.  Now I know the overarching command here is to stand (ver. 14), but we shouldn’t take that to mean standing still.  Rather, the apostle means something more along the lines of standing tall, or standing firm.  It is the opposite of falling down and becoming an easier prey for your enemy.  And you are never going to be able to stand without good footwear. 

To sum up, I think what the apostle is getting at is this: the readiness here, associated as it is with the combat boot the soldier wore, is a reference to our readiness to stand firm and stand tall.  No one is prepared to fight if they can’t stay on their feet in the battle.  So I think the readiness and preparedness here is specifically tied to one being prepared to stand on their feet.  In fact, in the LXX, this word (“preparation” or “readiness”) was used with the meaning of an “established place, foundation” (cf. Ezra 2:68; Ps. 89:14).[3]  Thus, the NEB translates this verse, “let the shoes on your feet be the gospel of peace, to give you firm footing,” which I think gives the sense of this verse very well. 

David, in Psalm 18, speaks about how God helped him in battle, and his words underline the importance of being sure-footed in battle.  He writes, “God . . . equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.  He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.  He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.  You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.  You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip” (Ps. 18:32-36).  I think that is similar to the idea in our text: when you put on the gospel of peace like boots on your feet, you will be ready to stand so that your feet will not slip.

Now how does the gospel of peace do that?  Before we answer that question, we need to think about what is meant by the gospel of peace.  The gospel, of course, is the good news that Jesus God’s Son has come and made peace between God and man, and between man and man (Eph. 2:11-22).  “For he himself is our peace, who has made both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (2:14-17).  The peace here is both subjective and objective.  It is subjective in the sense that hostility is removed and it is objective in the sense that the thing (sin) that separated us from God has been removed by the atoning sacrifice of our Lord.  The gospel is the gospel of peace in the sense that it is about peace and it brings peace: peace with God and peace with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever their background or nationality. 

But the Bible makes it clear that this peace ought to result in the tranquility and quietness of heart that rests in our being at peace with God.  Our Lord said to his disciples and he says to us today, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn. 14:27).  God is a God of hope who fills our hearts with joy and peace through believing the gospel so that we abound in hope through the power of the Spirit (Rom. 15:13).  The peace that comes from the gospel is not a peace that we simply have like money in the bank, it ought to be a peace that permeates our souls and enriches our lives.  It ought to be a peace that fills us with joy: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into the grace where we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2, KJV). 

Now how does this play into the battle?  Why is this important?  The point is this: you will never stand strong and stand firm if you do not have that inner confidence that comes from being at peace with God, a peace which only the gospel can give.  You don’t want soldiers on the battle line that go to pieces.  A soldier can be fully equipped but unless he is filled with confidence and courage he will never last.  Even so the Christian needs that confidence which only comes through peace with God. 

We don’t want to be fearful; we want to be courageous.  We want to stand firmly, not fall easily.  But my point is that you fight fear and gain courage by being at peace – and for the Christian this is rooted in our being at peace with God before anything else.  This is what the apostle implies when he tells us “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).  How do you fight fear and anxiety?  You fight it by taking your burdens to the Lord, and he gives you peace.  Fear is replaced and removed when peace from God fills its place.

So what this tells me is that if I want to stand firm and not run away out of fear, I need to have that inner confidence and stability that is the fundamental characteristic of a man who is at peace.  And if I want to have this peace, the only way I am going to get it is by going to the gospel, the gospel of peace.  Let the gospel fill you with peace.

How do we let the gospel fill us with peace? Well, by understanding what the gospel says and appropriating it by faith.  Consider the following points: these apply to all who are in the battle, who are following Jesus as Lord and you wear his armor and bear his name.  All who are in Christ can rightfully apply the truths of the gospel to themselves.

Primarily, we need to understand and believe that God is for us.  This is what the gospel tells us: Christ came and made peace between us and God, so that God is no longer hostile toward us.  He is no longer your enemy; he is your Father through the Son.  The apostle writes, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”  And then note how this expostulation is explicitly tied to the gospel: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32, KJV).  God is for us freely and fully through his Son and this is the only way God will be for anyone. 

Now it is easy to believe this in the abstract.  But that is not what is called for on the battlefield of life.  There are a million things that rise up in our lives and threaten us and our prosperity and earthly happiness and comforts, and we are often ready when they take place to think that God has abandoned us or that he hates us or at least doesn’t care about us.  We tend to tie our inner peace to our material happiness.  Like Job, we take our earthly successes as signs of God’s approval.  And when he takes it away, we think we are the subjects of his displeasure.

We need to hear the logic of the apostle.  We tend to measure God’s love by his gifts.  That is partly right.  But the problem is that we measure his love by the wrong gifts.  God doesn’t mean for you to measure his love by earthly trinkets, but by the supreme Gift of all – the gift of his Son.  The logic of Rom. 8:32 is that since God has already given you his greatest gift, he will therefore not withhold from you “all things.”  The giving of the Son for you is the greatest proof that he will withhold nothing that is for your ultimate happiness and joy.

So what I need to believe, above all, is that no matter what happens to me in this life, I cannot measure God’s smile by my earthly successes and comforts.  Indeed, Paul goes on to write of tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and peril and sword (Rom. 8:35) – and he says that these cannot separate us from the love of Christ.  And they do not separate us from his love, not by their absence, but in spite of their presence: “nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (ver. 37).  He is for us; no one and nothing can be successfully against us.

Think about what it means that God is for us.  First of all, it means that God loves you and desires your company.  The God of heaven and earth wants to be with you!  He thinks about you!  And not just every now and then, but all the time.  Isn’t that what David said in the Psalm?  “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!   If I would count them, they are more than the sand.  I awake, and I am still with you” (Ps. 139:17-18).  The God of the Bible is not some distant deity who just bears with his creatures.  God created us for fellowship with him.  Surely there is nothing so elevating in the world as that.  No matter what other people might think of you, if you belong to Jesus Christ, then God wants you to be with him.  You may be hated by everyone on Facebook, but if God loves you, what does that matter?

Second, it means that God is for you in particular.  We need to meditate on the particularity of God’s love.  Sometimes, people so emphasize God’s general love for mankind that they end up watering down the special and particular love that he has for those who are his chosen people in Christ.  Hear, for example, the way Paul puts it: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20, KJV).  “Who loved me.”  Can you say that?  Do you believe that?  Not that God loves everyone and so of course he loves me; but rather, God loves me with a love that specific to me.

When you read about the men and women in church history who were the boldest in the faith, you will often hear that what made them bold, was an assurance of the love that God had for them through Christ.  They did not need to fear anything, for they fully believed that God was for them, and that whatever happened it would be for their good.  They stood firm in the fight of faith because they were filled with the peace that comes from believing the gospel truth that in Jesus Christ God is for us.

Third, it means that God does not hold any of your sins against you.  Now, if we don’t repent of our sins, God is certainly willing to get your attention through the megaphone of pain and suffering.  And in this life, our sins often do come with a price.  Forgiveness of sins doesn’t mean that we escape all the consequences of our sins, at least in this life.  This is not a call to treat sins lightly or indifferently.  But it does mean that our sins can never dampen God’s love for us, not once, not ever.  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). 

We say we believe in salvation by grace.  We sometimes treat God, however, as if salvation were in fact by our works, and think of God’s love to us waxing and waning depending on the measure of our sanctification.  And though, like any good parent, God is not indifferent to our obedience (because our happiness is in large measure dependent on our holiness and he does want us to be holy), nevertheless, we must never think that our relationship with him depends on our works.  We are not just justified by faith at the beginning of our walk with God, but throughout the entirety of our lives.  God does not take into account your goodness or holiness when it comes to your relationship in his family; instead, he accepts us fully and completely because of what Jesus Christ his Son did for us and in our place.

Again, this does not mean that good works do not have a place; they are certainly necessary evidences of God’s work in the soul.  If we lack the evidence for a relationship with God, we have not reason to claim the relationship.  But neither should we confuse the evidence with the ground of our relationship with God.  Good works are not the ground of our justification, and we need to be careful that we are not trying to over and over again win God’s favor by being good enough.  You can’t do that, and you don’t have to do that.  Christ has already been good enough for you and he has already fully paid the debt you owe to God by shedding his blood for you on the cross.

Finally, it means that whatever happens in this life, you are the heir of immeasurable joy in the next: “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).  We may suffer with Christ now, but we will be glorified in the age to come (Rom. 8:17).  Isn’t it interesting that this is the word that God chose to describe your future state?  Glorified!  Full of glory!  Another way it is described is, “heirs of God and fellows heirs with Christ.”  Nothing in this world can even come close.  Bunyan was right to describe those who neglect the joys to come for the pleasures of this world as “muckrakers.” 

So take the gospel of peace and find firm footing.  And if you do not find yourself as yet in the bonds of the gospel, hear what our Lord says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30).

[1] Hymn by George Heath, 1781.
[2] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker, 2002), p. 842.
[3] Ibid.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Experiencing God as Trinity

When the Nicene Creed was formulated in A.D. 325, the Holy Spirit was barely mentioned.  Later, at the Council of Constantinople in 381, the Church saw the need to be more specific about the nature and worship of the Spirit of God.  It is instructive to read the Creed in its entirety:

I believe in one God the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets.  And one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.[1]

We should note that the Church was careful not only to postulate the full deity of Father, Son, and Spirit, but also the ways by which they related to each other.  Thus the Father, as Father, begets the Son and the Son is begotten of the Father; the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  We should see these descriptions (begotten, proceeding) as eternal acts by which the Persons in the Godhead are distinguished.  The Son was not begotten at some very distant point in time, but from eternity.  The Spirit did not begin to proceed from the Father and the Son at some point, but did so from eternity.  It is probably not wise to try to fully understand exactly what is going on by this divine begetting and proceeding; but it is helpful to maintain these distinctions because they remind us that the three Persons in the Godhead are not three undistinguishable Divine Triplets, but are actually distinguishable from one another.  The Father is not the Son nor is the Son the Father; neither would it ever do to call the Son the Father or vice versa.  Neither could the Spirit be called the Father or the Son.

If it is hard to understand how these acts of begetting and proceeding could be eternal, C. S. Lewis helps us out when he asks us to imagine the following:

Imagine two books lying on a table one on top of the other. Obviously the bottom book is keeping the other one up-supporting it. It is because of the underneath book that the top one is resting, say, two inches from the surface of the table instead of touching the table. Let us call the underneath book A and the top one B. The position of A is causing the position of B. That is clear? Now let us imagine-it could not really happen, of course, but it will do for an illustration-let us imagine that both books have been in that position for ever and ever. In that case B's position would always have been resulting from A's position. But all the same, A's position would not have existed before B's position. In other words the result does not come after the cause. Of course, results usually do: you eat the cucumber first and have the indigestion afterwards. But it is not so with all causes, and results.

Lewis goes on to say that

God is a Being which contains three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube contains six squares while remaining one body. But as soon as I begin trying to explain how these Persons are connected I have to use words which make it sound as if one of them was there before the others. The First Person is called the Father and the Second the Son. We say that the First begets or produces the second; we call it begetting, not making, because what He produces is of the same kind as Himself. In that way the word Father is the only word to use. But unfortunately it suggests that He is there first-just as a human father exists before his son. But that is not so. There is no before and after about it. And that is why I have spent some time trying to make clear how one thing can be the source, or cause, or origin, of another without being there before it. The Son exists because the Father exists: but there never was a tune before the Father produced the Son.[2]

This analogy could, of course, be applied equally to the relation of the Spirit to the Father and the Son.

Now the language of begetting and proceeding is not something that theologians cooked up; it is the language of Scripture.  If you have a Father, who have a Son who is begotten of the Father.  In other words, the names Father and Son don’t mean much apart from the ideas of begetting and being begotten.  This is important because not only is this language Scriptural, but it guards us from the false idea that the Son is created; he is begotten not created.  If he had been created like we are, he would not share the very nature of God, but since he is begotten not created, he is God from God, Light from Light, sharing the very substance of the Father.  To contrast, we may be made in God’s image and we may be adopted as sons and daughters into the family of God, but we do not share the nature of God as Christ does; we are made, not begotten.

What about the procession of the Spirit?  When we say that what distinguishes the Spirit from the Father and the Son is that he proceeds from the Father and the Son, we are using the language our Lord himself gave us in John 15:26, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”  The Spirit is sent from the Father through the Son (cf. Jn 14:26) precisely because he has always been the one who eternally proceeds from the Father.  As we have noted before, the Spirit is the bond of love and communion between the Father and the Son, and in redemption, the love of the Trinity overflows to include sinful men and women.

Now what’s the big deal about all this?  The big deal is that the way we see God affects how we relate to God.  Because God is a Trinity, we relate to him as a Trinity.  Our experience of God does in fact depend on our theological understanding of God.  But it is also true to say that the Church’s theology of God is a result of the Church’s experience and worship of God.  The Church has experienced God as Father, Son and Spirit, and therefore renders to each the worship due to God.  And since the Father, Son, and Spirit are all objects of the worship of the Church, they are seen to be equally and fully God. 

As we have already noted in a previous message, this experience is a product of the incarnation of the Son of God.  The purpose of the coming of the Son was to reconcile sinful men and women to God his Father, so that he becomes our Father also.  The one to whom we are reconciled is God – the Father is God.  But the Son of God, as the Son, shares the nature of the Father and so is fully God, equal with the Father in power and glory.  As such, he too is an object of the worship of the Church.  All throughout the NT, the Son is worshiped: our Lord himself said that “all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.  Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father” (Jn. 5:23). 

Finally, the Spirit is to be honored as the Father and the Son are to be honored.  One of the clearest proofs of this is the fact that the unpardonable sin is a sin against the Holy Spirit (cf. Mk. 3:29).  If all blasphemies against God (ver. 28) can be forgiven, but not the sin against the Spirit, then it seems clear that the Spirit must be himself God and ought therefore to receive the same honor and worship that is due the Father and the Son.

But again, though they are all three equally worthy of our worship and honor, yet we don’t relate to each Person in exactly the same way.  Over and over again in Scripture we see the following pattern: by the Spirit, through the Son, we approach the Father.  By the work of the Spirit in us, because of the work of Christ for us, we are able to approach God the Father as our Father.  We see this in the following passages.  “For through him [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18).  “To those who are elect exiles . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:1-2).  “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). 

Another way to put this is that the Father planned salvation, the Son purchased salvation, and the Spirit applies salvation.  “But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:13-14, KJV).  And so the Father is the one who is the originator of the plan of salvation, the Son is the one who is the mediator of salvation, and the Spirit is the one who is the applicator of salvation.  This order in the way God saves us surely stems from the order that has eternally existed in the Trinity itself.  From eternity, the Son is the Word of God, the expression of the Father; the Spirit is the one who freely and joyfully executes the will of the Father and the Son.

How does this affect the way we relate to God?  Well, from our perspective, it means that our movement towards God the Father must begin with the work of God the Spirit in us.  According to Scripture, we are not born into the world as a tabula rosa, but as descendants of Adam, bend inwards towards ourselves and outwards away from God.  Or, another way to put it, we are born (not become) dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3).  It is fitting that it is the Spirit of God who undoes the work of spiritual death upon the soul since the Spirit is the original giver of life: “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created” (Ps. 104:30).  The word for “Spirit” in the Bible is the same as “wind” or “breath” and so we should probably see a reference to the work of the Spirit in Gen. 2:7, “then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living creature” – especially given the way the creation narrative begins: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2).  The Spirit created life originally, and he recreates the life, both physical and spiritual, that men lost when they rebelled against God.  He beautifies and brings order out of chaos; he does the same thing to the spiritual and moral chaos into which we have descended, bringing life and restoring the image of God in man.

Therefore, Paul writes, “You … are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyway who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:9-10).  “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6).  It’s important to emphasize, however, that we have life because we have the Spirit.  Without the Spirit there would be no life.  And he doesn’t just give us life, he gives us himself which results in life.

In fact, this giving of the Spirit results in more than life, life abundant, and this is because the Spirit doesn’t just give us spiritual gasoline to get us down the heavenly road, but he introduces us to something infinitely more valuable: the fellowship of the Father and the Son.  Thus, our Lord himself put it this way: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.  … In that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you.  Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.  And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (Jn. 14:16, 17, 20, 21).  We can experience the love of the Father and the Son precisely because of the ministry of the Spirit in us.

Which, by the way, is another proof of the divinity of the Holy Spirit, for if he were less than God, or if he were just a force, it is hard to see how he could usher us into the very fellowship of the Godhead.

It also means that if we are truly indwelt by the Spirit, who is the bond of love between the Father and the Son, we too will truly love the Father and the Son and the Spirit.  And not in a merely intellectual manner, but in a way that produces holiness of life and conduct.  We will keep our Lord’s commandments, not because we have to but because we want to.  You become what you love, and if you love God you will become increasingly like God, which is the essence of godliness.

So what does this mean, practically?  Well, first of all, it means that if you would see the kingdom of God, you must be born again, which, according to our Lord, is the work of the Spirit (Jn. 3:3-8).  It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh profits nothing (Jn. 6:63).  We have to be washed by the regenerating and renewing influence of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5).  You don’t need bandaging, you need life.  You don’t need educating, you need to be recreated by the Spirit.  This is not the work of man, but the work of God.

But the Spirit doesn’t regenerate and then hand over the car keys.  The apostle Paul tells us that if we would have any power over sin, we must mortify it through the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:13).  All of sanctification, from beginning to end, is a work of the Spirit.  We cannot do it in our own strength.  We must look away from ourselves to God, specifically, to God the Spirit.  That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything, but it does mean that we recognize our absolute dependence upon the work of the Spirit in our hearts on a daily basis.  You and I will never outgrow our need for the indwelling and sanctifying influence of the Spirit of God.

This year, many of you have probably made at least a few resolutions.  If they will do your soul any lasting good, they will be aimed at increasing godliness in the coming year.  Well, the forgoing considerations ought to warn you against doing any of this in your own strength.  If you do so, you will eventually either wear out or wear thing.  Do it all in the power and grace of the Spirit.

But fellowship with God is not just a “spiritual” thing; it is impossible apart from the work of the Son of God.  In fact, the Spirit comes to us now as the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9-10); he mediates the presence of the risen Christ.  All that he does on earth, he does in the name of Christ and for his glory: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it unto you” (Jn. 16:13-14).  The Spirit is not out making a name for himself; he is out applying the work of Christ to the elect.

We cannot relate to God in anyway except as enemies, unless we come to God through the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  As the apostles put it, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Or, as our Lord testified, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). 

Why is this?  Remember that we are dead in sins.  All our sin is a result of an inward aversion to the true and living God.  We may pet the dog, help the old lady across the street, and pay our taxes, but in our hearts we by nature hate God.  And because we hate God we have no chance to ever inherit eternal life in his presence.  As a result we have accrued a debt that no human being can pay.  Therefore, the only way we can have eternal life is if God himself takes our sins upon himself and purges them.  That is exactly what happened through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the God-Man who bore our sins upon the cross and suffered the punishment we deserve in order that all who believe might have eternal life. 

No mere man could do this.  But it requires a man to do  it.  Therefore, the only solution to our plight can only be found in the only God-Man to have ever walked this earth and accomplished redemption, Jesus Christ. 

How do we relate to God?  Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  But how do we relate to Christ?  How do we make something that was done by another two thousand years ago my own?  The answer of Scripture (the word of the Spirit) is that we become connected to the saving benefits of Christ by faith: by surrendering ourselves completely and fully to Christ, by trusting in him, by resting alone in his grace and his forgiveness and his redeeming work.  The apostle Paul assures us, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). 

This is entirely counterintuitive to the way we think we should relate to God.  Most religions tell you that you can only relate to God through your good deeds, by effort.  But the gospel says that we relate to God, not through our deeds but through the death of another, Jesus.  We don’t do it by looking inwardly but by looking outwardly, away from ourselves and toward Christ.  We don’t do it by inspecting the balance of good to bad deeds, but by resting in the one who took all our bad deeds upon himself and gave us his righteousness instead.  We don’t do it by hiding our sins and covering them up but by confessing them: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). 

And the redemption is complete.  There is no sin that is not paid for, no guilt that is not covered, no past that can ever raise its head to haunt us again: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Our Lord is not the Spirit and the Spirit is not the Lord.  But they are on a mission together.  The Spirit applies the work of Christ to those for whom he died.  We relate to God by the Spirit through the Son; by the Spirit as the one who brings us life; through the Son as the one who gave his life so that he would become to us the resurrection and the life.

And as we face a new year, the only way we should do so is as those who are the redeemed of the Lord.  We must learn to find our identity in Christ, not in our work or our accomplishments, but in Christ who has made us sons and daughters of God.  Because of what Christ has done, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater that the greatest of the sons of men.  Our past may not be what we wanted, and our future may be a big question mark, but in Christ everything is sure, we are justified and fully accepted before God. 

And so, through the work of the Son and Spirit, we are brought near to God the Father.  It is an amazing thing to be able to relate to the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable God Almighty as our Father.  We no longer relate to him merely as a creature, though we will always be that.  We no longer relate to him only as Master and Sovereign, though he is that and we rejoice in this reality.  But more than all that, God is our Father and all the love that a father has for his children is but a faint shadow of the love that God has for those who belong to his Son.

It is important that you and I know how to relate to God the Father as Father, not just as an indefinable “Person” in the Trinity.   He is revealed to us as Father for a reason and one of the reasons is that you will take advantage of this relationship as a child of God.  It is important that we don’t come to him with the fear that a mere servant has, but with the love and affection and trust that children have for parents who truly care for their children.  Through Christ, we are not fulfilling the terms a contract but are enjoying community with the family of God and with God himself, Father, Son, and Spirit.

Do you struggle with the fear of inadequacy?  That you are not enough, that you don’t have what it takes to be a good parent or student or coworker?  That you cannot conquer those old habits and lusts?  Then come to God the Spirit and mortify your lusts through him.  Come to him for the power to live out the place in which God by his providence has put you.  He is full of power for those who are weak (Eph. 3:16).

Do you struggle with the fear of guilt and rejection?  Do you feel hopeless, that you can never measure up or be good enough, either before men or (especially) God?  Then come to God the Son and find your sins gone forever, never to be brought up or mentioned again.  Come to Christ and know that it doesn’t matter whether or not you are good enough because he has been good enough for you.  He is the perfect redeemer of the world.

Do you struggle with the fear of uncertainty?  Do you fear the unknown, the risks, the burden of an ambiguous future?  Then come to God the Father, and know that your Father already knows the future, and that he is completely sovereign over it.  He will exercise all his goodness and his wisdom and his power for your good and his glory (Rom. 8:28).  And this includes “bad” things.  Terrible as certain events might be, and which we might justly fear, they are not impediment to God, who will take those things and create beauty and joy and good that would never have existed without them. 

We need not fear, for our God is the God of the Bible, who reveals himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Rather, let us cast our cares upon him, for he cares for us.  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

[1] This translation of the Creed is given in Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994), p. 1169.  The phrase “and the Son” was added later (filioque).
[2] This is from Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, Book 4, Chapter 4.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Preeminent Christ – Col. 1:15-22

As we come to the end of the year 2018, we can probably all look back on the year and find a thousand reasons to be thankful and to see God’s grace in our lives.  It is true, of course, whether we see it or not!  And yet, at the same time, we would have to be blind not to look at the surrounding culture, which is becoming increasingly ungodly and hostile to the Christian faith, and not also find a thousand reasons to be dismayed.  And so here in the second decade of the twenty-first century we need to be ready to face an uncertain future with courage and faith.  We need to be ready to live as people who are pilgrims in a strange land.

As Christians, this means you and I have to absolutely committed to the lordship of Christ over our lives, even as others refuse to acknowledge his lordship at all.  Being a follower of Christ does not have the same cultural value as it did a few decades ago.  It is not a plus in your value column but a very big minus.  It’s no longer a wonderful bonus but woeful baggage.  So we will never remain faithful to Christ in a generation that hates him with a renewed and increasingly violent rage unless we are absolutely convinced he is who the Christian faith claims that he is: the Son of God and Savior of the world.

But how are you going to be that kind of person?  First of all, we need to be reminded that we are not the first to face cultural opposition to the faith.  What we have experienced in the last couple hundred years here in the West is an anomaly in the history of the church.  Even in our own day millions of believers all over the world face daily persecution.  And yet the church remains, and the faith grows even in the face of great opposition.  The same history that tells us that persecution is normal also tells us of a church that has been victorious over our vicious foe, the Devil.  Our Lord’s prophesy of the church has been vindicated over and over again: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18).

And then we need to be willing to hold the faith with courageous conviction.  Are you convinced that Jesus is who he said he was?  Can you say with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn. 6:68-69).

Athanasius was one such man.  He lived in the fourth century (296-373 A.D.), walking through the heat of debates that raged in the church about the deity of Christ.  He was a contemporary of Arius (though about 40 years younger) and actually served with Arius for a time in the same church in Alexandria, Egypt.  Arius was deposed in 320 for teaching that the Son of God was the first and greatest of God’s creatures, that there was a time when the Son was not.  It was in response to this teaching that the Council of Nicaea (325) was convened, which gave us the Nicene Creed.  However, this was not the end of the story; even though the overwhelming majority of the bishops signed the Creed, in the years following the council, there was a lot of debate and confusion over exactly how believers should view the person of Jesus Christ.  While most of the disagreements were between those who were essentially orthodox, yet this controversy gave an opportunity for the Arian party to make some serious and dangerous advances in the church.

Into this environment stepped Athanasius, who made the aim of his entire life and ministry the defense of the orthodox doctrine of the Son of God.  He was the bishop of the church in Alexandria from 328 to the end of his life.  He not only participated in the Council of Nicaea, he vigorously defended it against all comers.  Although the debates centering around the deity of Christ would not be finally settled until the Council of Constantinople in 381, several years after his death, yet his witness and ministry was, under God, a vital element for the final victory of orthodoxy over heterodoxy. 

It wasn’t easy: he was exiled five times by various emperors, spending seventeen of his forty-five years as bishop in exile.  And yet he never wavered.  According to the historian Edward Gibbon, Athanasius demonstrated “what effect may be produced, or what obstacles may be surmounted, by the force of a single mind, when it is inflexibly applied to the pursuit of a single object.  Then immortal name of Athanasius will never be separated from the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, to whose defense he consecrated every moment and every faculty of his being.”[1]  Like Luther would 1200 years later, Athanasius stood against emperors and false churchmen in support of truth at the hazard of his own life and ministry.  And yet, his courageous stand was crowned by God with victory.

What made Athanasius so courageous is that he understood the magnitude of what was at stake.  Debating the deity of Christ is not merely a cerebral and impractical matter that is fit only for scholars to debate.  The very life of the church depends on getting this right.  More than that, he understood that our eternal life depends on the fact that Jesus Christ is, in his divine nature, eternally and unchangeably and gloriously God over all.  He wrote:

No-one else but the Savior who in the beginning made everything out of nothing, could bring what had been corrupted into a state free from corruption.  No-one else but the Image of the Father could re-create human beings in God’s image.  No-one else but our Lord Jesus Christ, who is life itself, could give immortality to mortal humans.  No-one else but the Logos, who imparts order to everything and is the one and only-begotten Son of the Father, could teach us about the Father and destroy idolatry . . . He revealed Himself in a body that we might see the invisible Father; He suffered our insults that we might inherit immortality.[2]

I want each one of you to have the same conviction about Christ that Athanasius had.  In the face of a hostile society, you will be tempted to fall away from Jesus Christ unless you are absolutely convinced that he, and he alone, holds the keys to eternal life, that he is the Son of God, and the only way to the Father.

Now in terms of the doctrine of the Trinity which we have been considering the past few weeks, understanding who Jesus is, is absolutely crucial.  It is understanding that Jesus is himself divine that is the linchpin to the doctrine of the Trinity.  If you believe in the true and full divinity of Christ, chances are that you are going to be orthodox in your understanding of the Trinity.

In our last message, we considered John’s witness to the divinity of Christ, in terms of the glory that he manifested in his earthly life and atoning death.  However, there are a lot of folks out there who think that John represents an aberrant witness to the person of Christ.  Some will say that John does not represent the earliest witness to the faith of the church.  Though this is ridiculous, and can only be maintained if you argue that John’s gospel was not written by the apostle John (which is a very tenuous claim, to say the least), yet I want to show you that the other authors of the NT also clearly affirmed the deity of Christ.  In particular, I want a very important passage in Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  This passage is interesting, because, although it doesn’t say, “Jesus is God” in so many words, yet its testimony leaves us with the unavoidable conclusion that Jesus Christ is none other than the eternal Son of God who shares the very nature of the Father.

The Preeminent Christ

Speaking of the Son of the Father (1:13), Paul writes that he “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him where all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in the earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.  And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.  For it please the Father that in him should all fulness dwell” (15-19).

Some people will take passages like this and focus on words like “firstborn” and “beginning” in order to cement the claim that Paul believed that Christ was a creature just like you and me.  But before we consider the import of these words, think about what the apostle is claiming about Christ here.  He is claiming that Christ is the creator of all things (16).  Think about that: the entire witness of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is that God is the creator of all things.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” exactly what Paul here ascribes to Christ.  In contrast to the false gods of his day, the prophet Jeremiah makes this claim for the true God: “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion” (Jer. 10:12).  Again, this is exactly what Paul says of the Son of the Father.

He is not only the creator of all things, but by his providence he holds all things together (17).  In other words, Christ is the ultimate explanation for the laws of physics and chemistry.  It has been rightly said that though the laws of physics explain many things in the universe, one of the things they do not explain is the existence of such laws.  In contrast, the late Stephen Hawking has written that “because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”[3]  He uses this logic to get around a creator, but such a statement begs the question: why is there a law of gravity anyway?  Paul’s answer: because Jesus Christ created it!

Now such descriptions don’t fit the idea that Jesus Christ is a creature just like you and me.  They are properly descriptions of someone who eternally shares the very nature of God. 

Of course, some pseudo-Christian groups will argue that God created Christ, and then Christ created everything else.  The Jehovah’s Witness actually insert the word “other” in their translation in verse 16.  But that is not what Paul says here.  He says that “all things” absolutely were created by him; in other words, if it was created, Christ created it!  This precludes the idea that Christ is a created being, unless you are willing to believe that he created himself.  In fact, Paul goes on to be as inclusive as possible: he created all things “visible and invisible.”  This includes angelic beings (cf. 2:15, 18).  Christ is the creator, not just of dirt clods and mountains and animals and people; he is also the creator of the invisible unseen world of angelic beings.  This precludes the idea that the Son of God is an angelic being, even if he is supposed to be the first and greatest of them all.

Now let’s consider some of the other descriptions Paul gives to Christ in these verses.  First of all, he is said to be “the image of the invisible God” (15).  Now man in general is said to be the “image and glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7).  After all, human beings are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).  However, when mankind fell in sin, the image of God in man was effaced; consequently, one of the goals of redemption is the restoration of the image of God in man (cf. Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).  However, in Rom. 8:29, Paul says that “whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  Putting Rom. 8:29 together with these other passages, we see that being recreated in God’s image is the same thing as being recreated in the image of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  How could this be?  It is possible because, as Paul says here, Christ is the “image of the invisible God”: that is, he is the perfect representation and likeness of God’s nature.  “Christ is then the image of God in the sense that He is like God. Indeed, He is the exact likeness of God, like the image on a coin or the reflection in a mirror.”[4]  He is like God because he shares God’s nature, being God’s Son.  As such, his being God’s image didn’t begin with the incarnation; he has from eternity been the perfect image and representation of God.

The author of Hebrews uses a similar expression to describe the Son of God in the opening words of his epistle: “…in these last days he [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the world of his power” (Heb. 1:2-3, ESV).  To call a mere creature the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his nature is ridiculous.  These words describe the eternal Son of God, who shares deity with the Father and the Spirit.  This verse is very important for another reason; the phrase “the radiance of the glory of God” points to one of the illustrations the early church fathers used often to illustrate the fact that though the Son is distinct from the Father, he shares the undivided nature of God, like a beam of light from the sun.  You look at the sun and you see light; you are bathed in its light through the beams of light it sends to earth.  The beam is not the sun, but they both share the nature of light.  Thus, in the Nicene Creed, Christ is said to be “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not created, of the same essence as the Father.” 

Second, Paul writes that Christ is “the firstborn of every creature” (15).  Now here the heretics will pounce.  “Firstborn” can indicate the first of several sons to be born, and so they want to take this to mean that Christ was the first and greatest of God’s creatures.  In other words, they want it to mean “first created.”  But this is not what Paul is wanting to convey; nor is it what the words means.  Rather, he is wanting to convey the ideas of pre-existence and preeminence.  Being created, or even having a beginning, is not the point here.

In the ancient eastern culture, the firstborn son had certain privileges and status that the younger sons did not have.  Hence, over time, “firstborn” came to denote priority in rank, sometimes without respect for time.  This can be seen in a number of OT uses.  For example, in Exodus 4:22, the nation of Israel is called God’s firstborn, even though Israel was not the first nation God created.  Or, in Ps. 89:27, king David is also celebrated as God’s firstborn, although he was the youngest of Jesse’s sons. 

So here, when the apostle says that the Son of God is the firstborn, he is not making any statement about the creation of Christ, but rather that he is pre-existent to and preeminent over all creation (cf. ver. 18).  “Firstborn,” doesn’t mean “first created,” but first in position and rank over all creation.  As the creator of all things, he is its Lord and King.  Even if the term carries with it temporal connotations, as James White points out, in any case the term does “not speak to creation but to birth, and such a term could easily refer to the Son’s relationship to the Father, not to any idea of coming into existence as a creature.”[5]  The Son is the Son of God the Father, and as such is eternally begotten of the Father.  Though it is difficult to know what this means exactly, it in no way points to the Son as having a beginning at some point in time.  As N.T. Wright points out, though the word firstborn “conveys the idea of priority in time and rank . . . to opt for temporal priority does not imply that the pre-existent Son of God is merely the first created being. … It is in virtue of this eternal pre-existence that the Son of God holds supreme rank.”[6]

In verse 18, the apostle explicitly ties the idea of being “firstborn” to preeminence: he is “the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”  The point here is not just that Christ was the first to rise from the dead, but rather that in his rising from the dead, he has done something definitive and as the result holds first place over all.  He has not just risen from the dead: he is the resurrection and the life. 

The point of the apostle is to show that Christ is first over all, preeminent, exalted.  This is not the description of a creature, but of the Creator over all: God eternal.  As Brian Hedges has put it, “Paul’s argument for the Son’s supreme status and authority as the image of the invisible God, the ruler over all creation, the head of the church, and the firstborn form the dead now culminates in this exalted claim.  As the Lord of creation and new creation, the Son holds complete supremacy and claims full rights of ownership.”[7] 

It should therefore not surprise us that the apostle goes on to write, “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell” (19).  What does this mean?  Given what the apostle will say in 2:9 (“For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”), the fulness here is God’s fulness.  (ESV translates, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”)  Though we are invited to pray that we might be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph. 3:19), the fullness there is not that of deity as it is here, but the fullness of the communication of God’s love to sinful men.  Again, to quote N.T. Wright, “It is appropriate that Christ should hold pre-eminence, because God in all his fullness was please to take up permanent residence . . . in him.  The full divinity of the man Jesus is stated without any implication that there are two Gods.  It is the one God, in all his fullness, who dwells in him.”[8]

What difference does it make?

Some might say, and have said, “But what difference does it make, as long as we believe in Jesus?”  Well, it makes a world of difference.  To believe in Jesus doesn’t mean anything unless you believe in the Jesus who is revealed to us in Scripture.  We need to understand that we are not called to believe in a man of our own imagination who just happens to have the name Jesus, but that we are called to place our confidence in the Christ who is revealed to us in the pages of the New Testament.  Paul himself exhorts the Colossian church, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (2:6); in other words, as you received him as preached by the apostles, live your life in that faith (cf. 1 Jn. 4:6).

Moreover it is serious because a Christ who is not God cannot do what is at the heart of our faith: namely, faith in a Savior who has conquered sin and death for us.  A mere man cannot be a substitute for others in this case, for he cannot bear your guilt before God and punishment upon himself, and he cannot purge your sin.  Yes, it takes a man to stand in for another man (the reason the animal sacrifices of the OT were insufficient), but it takes God to completely atone for our sins.  Think of it: if there it a hell that is the just punishment for sins, how could any mere man quench the fires of hell for other sinners, let alone himself?  If God is infinitely holy and our sin is infinitely heinous and deserves an infinite punishment, then man alone cannot atone for sin.  Only an infinite God could bear an infinite punishment.  In other words, in order for atonement to happen, a God-Man must be our substitute.  This is the heart of the Christian faith.

This is why the apostle, having said about Christ what he said in verses 15-19, can go on to say, “And having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven, and you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” (20-22).  Only the God-Man of verses 15-19 can accomplish the reconciliation of verses 20-22. 

Because Christ is the God-Man, we can have absolute confidence that he has actually and completely purged the sins of all who put their faith in him.  First of all, he has “made peace through the blood of his cross.”  Peace with who?  Certainly, given what he writes in Eph. 2, and verse 21, this is peace with God.  This is a peace that goes both ways, for God is no longer our enemy because our penalty has been paid, and we are not longer enemies toward God because one of the effects of the atonement is not only justification but also sanctification, so that our hearts are changed and we love God instead of hate him.  The effect is summarized in verse 22: “to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight.”

Moreover, since Christ is creator over all, his work of reconciliation extends to all his creation.  By the cross, he will not only bring about salvation for sinful men and women but will also finally bring all the fallen elements of creation into harmony and peace (cf. Eph. 1:10). 

Finally, note the finality of redemption: “having made peace.”  On the cross, our Lord’s last words were, “It is finished!”  He is a successful Savior; he will have the price of his redemption.  Therefore those who trust in him can be fully assured that their sins will be completely purged.

All this makes sense only if Christ is the God-Man.  We can see clearly from these verse that the apostle Paul believed in the deity of Christ with just as much conviction as the apostle John.  Let us too, join with the apostles in a firm belief in the full deity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father shares the undivided nature and essence of the Godhead.  But let us go further: for the demons believe and tremble.  Let us go on to love him, to trust in him, and to obey him.  Faith without works is dead.  What we need to live the Christian life in any day and any place is that firm confidence, bestowed by the Holy Spirit, that rests in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  And the witness of Scripture is that all who place their faith in him will never be ashamed.

[1] Quoted in Nick Needham, Two Thousand Years of Christ’s Power, vol. 1 (Christian Focus, 2016), p. 228.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Quoted in John Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway? (Lion Hudson, 2011), p. 16.  There are several problems with this statement, including the fact that if there is a law of gravity, then there is something, not nothing.  Moreover, to say that the universe creates itself is to make the remarkable claim that the universe existed before it existed, which is absurd to say the least. Hawking was far, far more intelligent than I will ever be or even could be, but baloney in the mouths of the brilliant is still baloney.
[4] Curtis Vaughan, Colossians and Philemon (Zondervan, 1980), p. 38.
[5] James White, The Forgotten Trinity (Bethany House, 1998), p. 113.
[6] N.T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon: TNTC (IVP, 1986), p. 71.
[7] Brian Hedges, Christ All Sufficient: An Exposition of Colossians, (Shepherd Press, Kindle Edition), loc. 754.
[8] Wright, p. 76.

War with Peace – Eph. 6:15

It at first might seem strange that the apostle puts the gospel of peace as part of the Christian warrior’s armament.   But this is w...