an expository sermon on Acts 9:32-43 preached by Pastor Jordan Atkinson on October 23, 2022
How to Walk in Christ (Colossians 2:6-7)
an expository sermon on Colossians 2:6-7 preached by Pastor Jordan Atkinson on February 13, 2022
The Baptist Faith and Message concludes Article IV by describing sanctification and glorification: “Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God’s purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life. Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.” As the Bible teaches, The Baptist Faith and Message affirms that sanctification is both objective and progressive and that glorification is the culmination of sanctification.
The New Testament often speaks about sanctification in objective terms. Though it is most common for us to think about sanctification in its progressive sense (see below), the New Testament just as often speaks of sanctification objectively. Sanctification is not only something that we do over time, but something that God does to us at the moment of conversion. Consider Paul’s statement:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Paul is contrasting the Corinthians’ past lifestyle as unbelievers and their present reality as Christians. Some of the Corinthian Christians were formerly fornicators, idolaters, and thieves. But Paul says they are now Christians; they are those who at some point in the past were “washed,” which Paul elsewhere uses as a metaphor for regeneration (Titus 3:5), and justified, which we know happens at conversion when a person trusts in Christ for salvation (Rom 3:21-26). Likewise, being sanctified in 1 Corinthians 6:11 is a conversion experience. When the Holy Spirit regenerates a person so that they immediately repent and believe the gospel, the Holy Spirit likewise sanctifies that person. He sets them apart to God as holy.
Furthermore, when Christ came into the world, He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will,” in fulfillment of Psalm 40:8 (Heb 10:9). The author of Hebrews then draws out an implication of this quotation: “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10). The sanctification present in this verse is not progressive but punctiliar. It takes place not over time but at one moment. Jesus’s obedience to the will of God, even unto death on the cross, set us apart to God as holy. That sanctification that He accomplished at the cross gets applied to us at conversion.
But Hebrews 10 goes on to affirm progressive sanctification, as well. By his self-sacrifice, Jesus “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14). We are set apart to God as holy when we are born again. But we become increasingly holy (or should, as Christians) over the course of the rest of our lives on earth as Christians. As our statement of faith says, we “progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in [us].”
God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3). The Holy Spirit is at work in us as Christians. Nevertheless, we actively work out our salvation as God is actively at work within us (Phil 2:12-13). So Peter goes on to command us: “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Pet 1:5-7).
And Paul agrees with Peter. As Christians, we are freed from the domination of the flesh, and we are constrained instead by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9-10). This reality gives us hope of eternal resurrection (Rom 8:11). As those indwelled by the Spirit, we are indebted to Him, not our flesh (Rom 8:12). And we have the great promise: “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13).
The End of Sanctification
Continuing in Romans 8, Paul shows that the end or goal of sanctification is glorification. God set us apart as holy at regeneration, He empowers us to be increasingly holy for the rest of our lives on earth, and He will make us perfectly holy in body as well as in spirit at the Second Coming of Christ. We have been redeemed, but we still “wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23). At death, we depart to be with the Lord spiritually in heaven (Phil 1:21; 2 Cor 5:8). At death, our spirits are set free from sinning, but our bodies lie “asleep” in the grave. However, at the resurrection, we will receive glorified bodies, and we will never again sin, either in spirit or body.
The apostle John makes this connection between present sanctification and future glorification clear: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). In heaven, we will have glorified bodies, free from sin. If we are living for that eternal reality, then we will progressively purify ourselves more and more as we live our lives on earth.
The early church pastor-theologian Augustine had a biblically-faithful rubric for thinking through people’s relationship to sin:
- Adam and Eve before the Fall: able not to sin, able to sin
- Unsaved people after the Fall: not able not to sin
- Saved people after the Fall: able not to sin
- Glorified people in eternity: not able to sin
In terms of redemptive history, we Christians find ourselves in a state similar to Adam and Eve but better, for we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who is empowering us to gain victory over sin in this life. In the new heavens and new earth, we will find ourselves in the best position of all: fully free from the presence of sin, unable to sin at all, whether in feeling, thought, word, or deed. Surely this hope will make us cry out with John, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).
In many ways, The Baptist Faith and Message progresses along a natural presentation of the gospel. We learn from Scripture that God has created us, but we have all rebelled against Him, and we thus earn His eternal condemnation. The good news is that God graciously saves people from sin, which is the subject of Article IV of Friendship’s statement of faith. “Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.”
Salvation as Redemption
The Baptist Faith and Message first describes salvation in terms of redemption. To redeem something is to buy it back. The price of redemption is a ransom. In contemporary culture, we are most familiar with redemption and ransom payments in hostage situations. But Jesus spoke of His own death as “a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). As a ransom, Jesus died to pay the price we owed to God for our sin. He took God’s wrath in our place. As Isaiah had prophesied, “it was the will of the LORD to crush him; He has put him to grief,” and Jesus’s death was “an offering for guilt” (Isa 53:10). We have “redemption … in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). And Jesus, who offered Himself as the God-man, gives us “an eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). Salvation as redemption, then, encompasses all aspects of salvation that we experience from conversion to eternity: “regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification.” (Each of these aspects of salvation will be the subject of future blog posts.)
The Baptist Faith and Message rightly affirms that salvation is “redemption of the whole man.” Jesus died not only to save our souls but also to save our bodies. Salvation will ultimately and perfectly be experienced in the new heavens and new earth, where we Christians will have new, resurrection bodies, like Jesus’s own resurrection body (1 John 3:2). Our statement of faith thus stands in solidarity with the church throughout history. Early church theologians Irenaeus, Athanasius, and Gregory of Nazianzus all taught, “Only that which is assumed is redeemed [or healed].” Since Jesus was fully man, as well as fully God, we ourselves are wholly redeemed in salvation.
Salvation Offered to All
The Baptist Faith and Message also rightly says that salvation should be “offered freely to all.” The Gospel of Matthew concludes,
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:18-20
We call this text the Great Commission, and the commission truly is great in its scope. Jesus tells His disciples to “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus is the Redeemer not only of Israel but also of people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). Earlier in Matthew, Jesus had taught that gospel preachers should be indiscriminate with regard to the people whom they evangelize (Matt 13:1-9, 18-23). Even if people will reject the gospel immediately or fall away later (whether in a time of persecution or of prosperity), Christians should tell the good news of Jesus to everyone.
Paul develops this theology of the universal offer of salvation in his magnum opus, Romans. The main point of Romans is that “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). The good news of the gospel is that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” (Rom 10:13), as they confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their heart that God raised him from the dead (Rom 10:9-10). But those who call on Him must believe in Him, and to believe in Him they must hear of Him, and to hear of Him someone must preach Him to them (Rom 10:14). Paul’s own ambition was “to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Rom 15:20). So it is vital for us Christians to tell the gospel to everyone we can.
For someone to experience the redemption of salvation, though, he must “accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.” Jesus’s death on the cross is the only basis on which anyone is saved. He obtained eternal redemption for believers by His own blood (Acts 20:28; Eph 1:7). Jesus’s atoning death was not potential but actual. He accomplished redemption at the cross, and that redemption is applied without distinction to everyone who believes.
The universal offer of the gospel, then, is based on an exclusive claim: Christ alone gives salvation. He claimed as much in His life (John 10:25–28; 14:6). Peter confessed this truth, as well (Acts 4:8–12). Christ alone saves, but those He saves, He saves eternally.
Salvation truly is the redemption of the whole man. We are wholly redeemed because Jesus the God-Man offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sin on the cross. By His own blood, He redeemed believers from their sin. All who trust in Jesus for salvation are indeed saved by Him. So we Christians are to proclaim this exclusive salvation to everyone we possibly can. We have no way of knowing who will believe and who will reject the gospel. We have no way of knowing if someone after rejecting the gospel for years will later believe in Christ for salvation, possibly even after we have died! We joyfully hold all these biblical truths together. Praise God for the grace He has shown us in saving us from our sins! We’ll continue considering His saving grace over the next many blog posts.
Man Fallen in Sin
God originally created man in His image, and the sixth day of creation ended with God proclaiming everything, including the creation of man as male and female, to be “very good” (Gen 1:31). Genesis 2 gives a complementary and more detailed account of the sixth day of creation (Gen 2:4-25). But then Genesis 3 comes, with its account of how man fell from his original sinlessness and God cursed all creation with decay. As the third article of The Baptist Faith and Message says,
In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.
Man was originally sinless, but Adam’s fall resulted in all his progeny being sinful thereafter. Nevertheless, all people still remain divine image-bearers.
From Sinless to Sinful
As the goodness of gender was one implication of the “very good” nature of God’s original creation (Gen 1:31), so the sinlessness of man is another. And God in His grace gave Adam a choice whether to obey God’s command not to eat from the forbidden tree (Gen 2:16-17). In the original creation, without a sin nature, Adam had absolute choice whether to continue in his sinless state or to introduce sin not only into his own life but also into all the created world if he ate the forbidden fruit.
Tragically, Adam chose to disobey God and therein became a sinner. Satan in the form of a serpent tempted Eve directly (Gen 3:1-5), but Adam “was with her” (Gen 3:6). Satan distorted God’s word (Gen 3:1) and then after Eve inaccurately quoted God’s command herself (Gen 3:3) denied God’s word outright (Gen 3:4-5). Adam was with her, Eve—but he didn’t correct the serpent himself or even correct Eve’s misquotation. Adam didn’t stop
Eve from eating, he allowed her to eat the forbidden fruit, and when she didn’t drop dead immediately, he joined her. Eve was deceived into sinning—but Adam sinned with eyes wide open, willfully, flagrantly. Adam failed as Eve’s husband, as a man of God, as priest-king of the garden of Eden. And in so doing he abdicated his throne over the rest of creation to Satan. By getting Adam and Eve to obey him in the garden and give in to temptation to disobey God, Satan gained mastery over the human race. He is “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30), “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). Satan boasted to Jesus in his own wilderness temptation, “all this authority and their [nations’] glory … has been delivered to me” (Luke 4:6). Indeed, as John summarizes, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).
In describing the original fall into sin, the Bible shows that temptation comes not only from external sources (e.g., Satan) but also from internal desires (Gen 3:6). Eve saw the threefold goodness of the tree: its goodness for food, its physical beauty, and its desirability for acquiring wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. God Himself proclaimed the tree to be good in these ways (Gen 2:9; 3:22). But it was wrong for Adam and Eve to take the tree’s fruit apart from God’s permission. Their desire for a good thing was greater than their desire for God, who is the greatest good, so they sinned.
Adam’s sin had immediate consequences. He and Eve felt shame. Sin broke their relationship not only with God but also with each other. Having broken trust with God, Adam and Eve could not trust one another. So they hid from one another by sewing together leaves into loincloths (Gen 3:7), and they attempted to hide from God, as well (Gen 3:8). Of course, they can’t hide from God, and God the just Judge passes judgment on them. Eve will have pain in childbearing, and there will be conflict between her and Adam (Gen 3:16). God’s judgment on Adam is most lengthy and last, because Adam bears covenantal responsibility for humanity’s fall into sin and the subsequent curse on the rest of creation. God curses the ground on account of Adam, and Adam’s work will be tiresome and troubled (Gen 3:17-19). Because of sin, Adam and Eve must be separated from God’s relational presence in Eden and be in exile to the east (Gen 3:23-24).
Because of sin, every life will end in death (Rom 6:23). Such is evident from the near-universal refrain of Genesis 5: “and he died” (Gen 5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31). “This unique litany of death … functions as the death-knell of the judgment in Eden.”1 Paul explains why everyone dies:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.Romans 5:12-14
In Adam all die, because in Adam we all fell. Adam was the founding father of the whole human race. He was our head. But he fell. He sinned. He
transgressed God’s law, and mysteriously, we sinned in him, also. From Adam, we all inherit “a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.” But as soon as we all have the ability to choose to sin, we sin. We rebel against God and are set against Him (Rom 3:9-20). None of us are able or willing to save ourselves. We need God’s grace in order to save us, as our plight is so severe that we are in fact dead in our sins (Eph 2:1, 8-9).
Sacred though Sinful
God had created to be His image bearers (Gen 1:26-27). By sin, Adam marred that image. Ever since Adam’s original sin, we all by nature and by choice continue to be like carnival house mirrors. We distort God’s image even more than we portray it. Only Jesus, the sinless perfect man, is “the exact imprint of His nature” (Heb 1:3). Though the divine image in each of us is effaced by sin, it is not altogether erased. All people continue to be made in God’s image. Through faith in Christ, that image may begin to be restored.
Jesus died for sin, so all people are “worthy of respect and Christian love,” as our statement of faith affirms. Christian unity transcends all ethnic differences because of Jesus’s death for our sins (Gal 3:28; Eph 2:13-18). Jesus commissioned us His people to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). The gospel should be proclaimed to “every nation and tribe and language and people” (Rev 14:6). By His blood, Jesus “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). In the end, this pan-ethnic group will be “a great multitude that no one could number” (Rev 7:9). So we Christians should treat everyone we encounter with great respect and love, both through acts of sacrificial service and through telling them the good news of Jesus.
Man Created in God’s Image
After grounding all matters of doctrine and practice in Scripture and setting forth what Scripture teaches about God, The Baptist Faith and Message next summarizes what the Bible teaches about humanity. Article III first describes man’s original created state: “Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation.” As this paragraph affirms, all people are created in God’s image, as male or female.
The Image of God
According to Scripture, on the sixth day of Creation Week, God resolved to “make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26). Furthermore, God’s purpose in creating man in His image and likeness was “so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Gen 1:26 NIV). Being made in God’s image speaks to man being His representative ruler over the rest of earthly creation. As God rules beneficently over all creation, so should mankind rule beneficently over the other earthly creatures (Ps 8:5-8). Even in relationships with other people, those in authority should not be authoritarian (Lev 25:43, 46; Mark 10:42-45). Being made after God’s likeness shows that mankind relates to God as a son relates to his father (Gen 5:1-3). Luke calls Adam the “son of God” (Luke 3:38). Paul proclaims that all people are God’s “offspring” (Acts 17:26-28).
God’s blessing of Adam and Eve shows how they are to exercise their God-given rule over the rest of creation and expand their dominion over it: by populating the earth and spreading out over it (Gen 1:28). As they do so, they are to steward the earth’s resources well (Gen 1:29-30; 9:3).
The Baptist Faith and Message rightly affirms, “man is the special creation of God.” Genesis 1, as well as the Bible as a whole, is incompatible with modern theories of macro-evolution. According to Scripture, humanity is not the product of millions of years of macro-evolution; rather, God specially created Adam and Eve as the first people on the sixth day of creation week. Indeed, the special creation of Adam and Eve is “the crowning work of His creation.” God’s creation of man is the climax of creation week. In Genesis 1, God’s creation of man takes more ink than His creation of anything else. The next chapter gives even more details about God’s creation of Adam and Eve (Gen 2:4-25). The gendered creation of man is also noted in that God created man “male and female” (Gen 1:26, 27).
The Goodness of Gender
God’s resolution to “make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26) is Trinitarian; God says that He (one) will make man in our (plural) image. Genesis has already shown the Holy Spirit to be active from the beginning of creation (Gen 1:2). Even from the first chapter of the Bible, we have a subtle hint to the plurality within the unity of God. And John would begin his Gospel by saying that Jesus, God the Son (“Word”), was also instrumental to creation (John 1:1-4, 14). The triune God created all the universe, including man, by the word of His power. And the Trinity (one God eternally existent as three Persons) appropriately creates man (singular) as both male and female (plural) from the beginning (Gen 1:27).
The gendered creation of humanity, then, is part of God’s original good creation. In fact, it is only after creating man, specifically as male and female, that God calls creation “very good” because it is complete (Gen 1:31). Being male or female is good, even from the beginning of creation, for at least two reasons:
- Being male or female is good because whether a person is male or female, he or she is fully an image-bearer of God (Gen 1:27).1
- Being male or female is good because God’s design for man to subdue and rule the earth depends in part on humanity being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth, which is possible only through the cooperation between both sexes (Gen 1:28).2
Gender distinctions are not the result of the fall. Abuses of these distinctions result from the fall of mankind (Gen 3:16), but gender distinctions themselves existed prior to the fall of mankind. God created Adam before Eve. When God gave Adam the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Eve had not yet been created (Gen 2:16-18, 21-22). So Adam would have been responsible to pass this command along to Eve. God even refers to Eve as Adam’s “helper” (Gen 2:18), which points to Adam’s responsibility to lead her well in their relationship.
As gender distinctions are increasingly maligned in our culture and as gender confusion becomes increasingly prevalent, it is increasingly important for us Christians to stand on the truth of God’s word that God from the beginning created man as male and female. Both genders bear equal dignity and worth as divine image bearers. Both genders have distinct roles in together fulfilling God’s mandate in creation.
We at Friendship Baptist Church gladly affirm The Baptist Faith and Message‘s summary of God’s original creation fo man as faithful to Scripture. The Bible is our final authority for all matters of faith and practice, and we are thankful for God’s clarity on the original good creation of humanity in His image, as both male and female. May we as men and women redeemed by the blood of Jesus strive to glorify Him as men and women in all we think, say, and do!
The Holy Spirit and the Church
The Baptist Faith and Message first describes the Holy Spirit’s relationship to Scripture. Having concluded that paragraph by discussing the Holy Spirit’s use of Scripture to convert sinners, the next paragraph about the Holy Spirit focuses on his relationship to the church, both individual Christians and local congregations. “He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church. He seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ. He enlightens and empowers the believer and the church in worship, evangelism, and service.”
The Holy Spirit in the Individual Christian
The Holy Spirit cultivates Christian character. Paul famously talks about this as the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). The Holy Spirit produces these fruits to replace the works of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Gal 5:19-21). The works of the flesh characterize non-Christians. Works are the flesh are things that come naturally for us as sinners. However, the fruits of the Spirit are unnatural to us in sin; they are the result of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing grace in our lives, as he dwells in us and empowers us to grow in righteousness (Gal 5:16-18, 24-25). Paul also wrote about the Spirit’s work in Christians’ lives in Romans 8. Our bodies are still dead because of sin, but the Holy Spirit within us is giving us life (Rom 8:10). The Spirit has set us free from the law (Rom 8:2) so that we Christians no longer live for the passions of the sinful flesh (Rom 8:12) but rather put to death those sins that once characterized us so that they characterize us no longer (Rom 8:13).
The Holy Spirit also comforts us Christians. The Holy Spirit’s comfort is the emphasis of the next verses in Romans 8:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him(Rom 8:14-17)
The Holy Spirit assures us of our adoption as God’s sons. He doesn’t make us fear that we are slaves of sin. He bears witness to us that we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. He comforts us as we suffer for Christ that we will one day be glorified with Christ. He comforted the early church so that it multiplied (Acts 9:31). He comforts us Christians with his constant presence (John 14:16). He also comforts us by teaching us through the Scriptures (John 14:26; 15:26).
The Holy Spirit bestows spiritual gifts on Christians. In fact, the gifts are “spiritual” gifts precisely because they come from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:1-11; Rom 12:3-8; 1 Pet 4:10-11). Whether a gift is more extravagant or more low-key; whether a gift is to speak or to serve physically; whether a gift blesses many people or only a few, all spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives each Christian spiritual gifts so that the church may be built up and strengthened.
Finally, the Holy Spirit is the seal and guarantee of our salvation. Paul calls the Holy Spirit “the guarantee of our inheritance” (Eph 1:14; cf. 2 Cor 1:21-22). The Holy Spirit is the evidence we need that the Lord Jesus one day will come again and make all things new. God has also similarly sealed us with the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13; 4:30). We can know that we will in fact persevere to the end and be saved because the Holy Spirit is indwelling us.
The Holy Spirit in the Church
As the Holy Spirit indwells each individual Christian, so the Spirit is also active in the church as a whole. “He enlightens and empowers the believer and the church in worship, evangelism, and service.” The Holy Spirit empowers the church’s worship. Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). The Holy Spirit causes us to worship God, and he enables us to worship God (Phil 3:3). We have access to God only because of the Spirit (Eph 2:18). We pray to God “in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18).
The Holy Spirit also empowers the church’s evangelism. Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would bear witness to him, and they would bear witness to him (John 15:26-27). This progression of thought implies that the Holy Spirit empowers Christian evangelism. After his resurrection, Jesus instructs his disciples not to go out and bear witness beyond Jerusalem until they have received power from the Holy Spirit to do so (Acts 1:8). Later, the Holy Spirit fills Christians so that they continue to speak the word of God with boldness in the face of increasing persecution (Acts 4:31).
Finally, the Holy Spirit empowers the church’s service. The spiritual gifts mentioned above point to this reality. Furthermore, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and subsequent conversion of thousands of people resulted in Christians being “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The Holy Spirit birthed the church in Thessalonica and empowered them to forsake idols for the living God and to be a very united church in spreading the gospel in their area (1 Thess 1:4-10).
We at Friendship Baptist Church are thankful for God’s gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We are thankful for the fruit he has graciously produced in our lives so far, and we trust that he will continue to produce more and more fruit in our lives that glorify God. We also long to be faithful to follow the Spirit’s leadership in equipping us for worship, evangelism, and service. May we be faithful temples of the Holy Spirit every day of our lives, to the glory of God and for the sake of spreading his gospel!
The Person of Christ
The Baptist Faith and Message has important confessions about both the person of Christ and his work. “Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin.” Friendship’s statement of faith discusses Christ’s person in terms of his incarnation and human nature.
The confession’s discussion of Jesus’ incarnation begins with a re-affirmation of Jesus’ eternal deity: “Christ is the eternal Son of God.” This contention was a major point in a previous blog post on the Trinity. Christ’s incarnation deals with how the eternal Son of God became a human being. God the Son became the God-Man, Christ Jesus. “He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.” Both Matthew and Luke begin their Gospels by teaching that Jesus is the eternal God the Son incarnate.
Matthew teaches that Jesus is Immanuel in fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 (Matt 1:22-23). Jesus was virgin-conceived and virgin-born. The angel affirms Jesus’ conception in the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit to Joseph (Matt 1:20-21). Matthew teaches that Mary was still a virgin when Jesus was born (Matt 1:25). Jesus perfectly fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, which was that not only would the Savior be born of a virgin but that the Savior would in fact be God incarnate.
Luke likewise opens his Gospel with an affirmation of Jesus’ identity as the incarnate Son of God. In perfect agreement with Matthew, Luke teaches that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). Gabriel told Mary that her son “will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33). For his kingdom to be eternal, he must similarly be no mere man but the God-Man, even as prophesied by Daniel, “one like a son of man … was presented before [God]. And to him was given a dominion … an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away” (Dan 7:13-14). Jesus’ incarnation shows that he is the eternal Son of God, but his special conception in no way diminishes from his full humanity. As the second Adam, it is fitting that Jesus, like Adam, would have no human biological father. It is fitting that the offspring of the woman to crush the head of the serpent would be conceived and born of a woman without the biological help of any human man (Gen 3:15).
Christ’s Human Nature
Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man. As a man, he had a full “human nature with its demands and necessities and identif[ied] Himself completely with mankind yet without sin.” Each part of this statement is important. Jesus took on the demands and necessities of human nature. He was fully human physically, intellectually, emotionally, and volitionally.
Fully human, Jesus was in his humanity constrained by space and time, even as God is spirit and omnipresent. As a man, Jesus experienced hunger that Satan strove to exploit (Matt 4:1-3). He got thirsty in the heat of the day (John 4:6-7). Jesus experienced the tragedy of homelessness (Matt 8:20). He needed sleep (Matt 8:24). As a human, Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom,” and he “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:40, 52). From the excruciating agony of the cross, Jesus thirsted (John 19:28-30).
Jesus as a man also knew the limitations of human knowledge. The most direct statement of the human limitation of Jesus’ knowledge, in addition to Luke’s statements that Jesus grew in wisdom as he grew from a child to an adult, comes late in Jesus’ ministry: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt 24:36). As a human being, Jesus experienced the reality of Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.”
Fully human, Jesus had human emotions. He felt pity (Mark 1:41). He marveled at unbelief (Mark 6:6). He had compassion on people (Mark 8:2). He loved people (John 11:5). He got angry (John 11:33). His soul was greatly troubled on the eve of his crucifixion (John 12:27).
Finally, Jesus had a fully human will, as well as a divine will. As a boy, Jesus had to submit to Mary and Joseph as his parents, which he did (Luke 2:51). Even as an adult, his will is subservient to that of Father God (John 5:19, 30). Jesus’ submission of his human will to the divine will is most apparent in Gethsemane:
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”Mark 14:32-36
As a man, Jesus very naturally did not want to die. As a perfectly righteous man, Jesus very rightly did not want to experience the cup of the wrath of God. But even at this moment of greatest temptation, Jesus submitted his human will to that of God the Father. Donald Macleod describes Jesus’ triumph over temptation most poignantly:
he was not being called upon to mortify a lust. He was being called upon to frustrate the holiest aspiration of which man is capable … We must be careful not to misconstrue the effect of Jesus’s sinless integrity at this point. Far from meaning a shorter, painless struggle with temptation it involved him in protracted resistance. … The very fact that he was invincible meant that he endured the full force of temptation’s ferocity, until hell slunk away, defeated and exhausted.The Person of Christ (Downers Grove: IVP, 1998), pp. 226-228
And Macleod’s quote gets at the truth of the last aspect of the Baptist Faith and Message’s discussion of Jesus’ human nature: his sinlessness. Scripture teaches that Jesus was both without a sin nature and that he never once committed a sin.
Numerous Bible verses affirm that Jesus did not have a sin nature. Paul calls Adam a type of Christ (Rom 5:14). Just as Adam originally did not have a sin nature, so did Christ not have a sin nature. His miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit also miraculously preserved his humanity from receiving a sin nature. Throughout his life, Jesus was in the position that Adam was in the Garden of Eden. But unlike Adam, Jesus never sinned. Both Paul and John explicitly state that Jesus was and is sinless: Jesus “knew no sin” Paul said (2 Cor 5:21), and John says, “in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). These statements not only affirm the sinless actions of Christ but also the sinless nature of Christ.
In addition to being sinless, Jesus never committed a sin. He was “like his brothers in every respect” and “suffered when tempted” (Heb 2:17-18). Because he never gave in to temptation, “he learned obedience” and was “perfect” (Heb 5:8-9). Because he was perfect, his sacrifice was acceptable to God (Heb 7:27-28). Peter teaches plainly, “he committed no sin” (1 Pet 2:22). Macleod’s comments are again helpful, “Nowhere in the structures of his being was there any sin. Satan had no foot-hold in him. … There was no affinity with sin. There was no proclivity to sin. There was no possibility of temptation from within. In no respect was he fallen and in no respect was his nature corrupt” (ibid., 222).
We at Friendship Baptist Church are so thankful that God became man in the person of Christ Jesus. We are so thankful that he was perfectly obedient in his full, human life. We are thankful for his sinlessness, which he credits to us through faith in him.
God the Father
After affirming the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, Friendship’s statement of faith confesses our understanding of God the Father in more detail: “God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise. God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men.” The Baptist Faith of Message teaches that God the Father reigns with providential care and grace, is perfect, and is Father of all people, especially Christians.
The Father’s Reign with Providential Care and Grace
The Baptist Faith and Message connects God’s Fatherhood to his reign over all things. God reigns over the universe, his creatures, and the flow of human history.
Scripture repeatedly affirms God’s providential reign over the universe. This reign begins with his act of creation but persists throughout history. Even after the Fall, God reigns over the universe with providential care and grace. David praises God’s reign over the daily cycle of the sun, “which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat” (Ps 19:5-6). God makes the sun rise every morning. He daily gives all the earth its heat. Another Psalm similarly teaches, “Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity'” (Ps 96:10). God reigned with care by establishing the earth and sustaining its continued existence. This providential care assures us that one day he will fully judge all the people of the world throughout history. One of the final “Hallelujah” Psalms especially emphasizes God’s ongoing care for the universe as abundant cause to praise him (Ps 147). We should praise God because he created the stars (v. 4), he provides rain (v. 8), he provides food for wild animals (v. 9), he makes the seasons pass one into another (vv. 16-18).
The Bible also teaches that God providentially cares for his creatures. We’ve already considered this from Ps 147:9, but it is taught throughout Scripture. It is a major theme of God’s first speech to Job in Job 38-39. Psalm 146 similarly affirms God’s care for the people he has created. He provides justice for oppressed people, food for hungry people, and freedom for captive people (v. 7). He gives sight to the blind, lifts the heads of those bowed down, and loves righteous people (v. 8). He protects sojourners, widows, and orphans, even as he punishes the wicked (v. 9). Well did Jesus comfort us, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt 10:29-31).
God also providentially reigns over the course of human history. This truth is a major theme of Daniel. Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dream as a vision of the succession of world empires until the beginning of God’s own eternal kingdom from heaven (Dan 2:36-45). Daniel later reveals the meaning of an even more personally troubling dream to Nebuchadnezzar: he will lose his mind and kingdom until he learns that God “rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Dan 4:25). Daniel’s prophecy is fulfilled, and Nebuchadnezzar confesses at the end,
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,Daniel 4:34-35
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
Paul later makes the same point: God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). God the Father is sovereign over all things, from the stars in the sky, to the number of hairs on our heads, to the course of human history.
The Father’s Perfections
God’s eternal power and infinite knowledge were the subject of previous blog posts. Left to be treated are God’s perfect love and perfect wisdom.
God’s perfect love is a major theme of the New Testament. It is especially prevalent in the writings of the apostle John. One of the most well-known verses in the Bible teach us about God’s love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). But the Father’s love for the world is rooted in his love for Jesus Christ: “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (John 3:35). Jesus prayed that he wanted the world to “know that you sent me and loved them [Jesus’ disciples] even as you loved me” (John 17:23). And God is constantly answering this prayer: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). John even gives us the most sustained teaching about God’s love in the Bible:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins1 John 4:7-10
We Christians are to love one another because God has loved us by saving us from our sins.
God is also perfectly wise. His wisdom is evident in his creation of all things (Ps 104:24-30; Prov 3:19-20; 8:22-31). God’s wisdom is also manifest throughout salvation history:
Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generationLuke 11:49-51
Jesus taught that God’s wisdom mercifully sent prophets and apostles to Israel to warn them to repent and fear him. And God’s wisdom also determines to avenge himself against those who sinned against him. The glorious salvation and judgment of God regarding both Israel and Gentiles makes Paul exclaim, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom 11:33). God is so wise that Paul elsewhere says, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Cor 1:25).
The Father’s Fatherhood
God the Father is Father not only of Jesus Christ eternally, but he is also the Father spiritually of all who have faith in Jesus Christ. In addition to texts considered regarding this in the last blog post, consider also Romans 8:14-17,
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
We Christians are not slaves but sons.
But by virtue of creation, God is also the Father of everyone on earth, as mentioned in the previous blog post (cf. also Matt 5:44-45).
What can we learn from the Fatherhood of God for our own lives as Christians? The repeated refrain concerning God’s Fatherly reign in the Psalms was to worship him and to give thanks to him. Jesus also teaches us to pray to God as our Father, which is also a point Paul makes in the passage above. Finally, the Fatherhood of God is a truth that should comfort us in the midst of the various trials we face. If God is in providential control over the course of human history, then he is also in providential control over the twists and turns in our own lives.
The Bible not only describes God as eternally powerful and infinite in all perfections, but it also teaches that God has eternally existed as the Trinity. The One God has always existed as three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because the Bible is Trinitarian, the Baptist Faith and Message is Trinitarian: “The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.” This confession makes the same point as the following diagram, a common visual conception of the Trinity for hundreds of years:
There is one God who exists eternally as three Persons. Each Person is fully God, and each Person is distinct from the others. The rest of Article II discusses each member of the Trinity in greater detail. This blog post will therefore focus on presenting the biblical evidence for how the Bible refers to each member of the Trinity as God and how the Bible describes the distinct personal attributes of each.
Scripture affirms the Fatherhood of God from the beginning. God’s creation of Adam and Eve in his image points to his Fatherly relationship to them (Gen 1:26-27; 5:1-2). Luke explicitly refers to Adam as “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). Later, God refers to Israel as his “firstborn son” (Exod 4:22). God was also father to the Davidic kings (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7). God’s Fatherhood is even clearer in the New Testament. Jesus refers to God repeatedly as his Father (Matt 7:21; 10:32–33; 11:27; 12:50; 16:17; 18:10, 14, 19; 20:23; 25:34; 26:29, 39, 42, 53). In the Sermon on the Mount, he reveals that he has come so that his disciples can also call on God as “your Father” (Matt 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6, 8, 14, 15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11). In fact, as Creator, God is the Father of everyone, in a sense (Acts 17:28–29; Heb 12:9).
As Father, God the Father has the distinct personal attribute of being unbegotten. Jesus especially teaches the Father’s distinction in role from him as the Son in John 5:19-27. The Father is the origin of divine works (v. 19). The Father has life in himself and has granted the Son to have life in himself (vv. 21, 26). The Father has ultimate authority to judge and has given that authority to the Son, as well (vv. 22, 27). John Frame helpfully explains, “That the Father has some sort of primacy is implicit in the name Father in distinction from Son and Spirit. … The Son and Spirit become voluntarily subordinate to the commands of the Father, because that kind of subordination is appropriate to their eternal nature as persons” (Systematic Theology, p. 501).
The New Testament repeatedly affirms Jesus’ divinity. John affirms it from the beginning of his Gospel (John 1:1, 14, 18). He refers to Jesus as the “Word of God” who is eternally coexistent with God and identified with God (v. 1). As the Word, he “tabernacled” among people just as God dwelled in the Tabernacle during Israel’s wilderness wanderings (v. 14). He is the only-begotten God at the Father’s side who reveals the Father (v. 18). When he sees the resurrected Jesus, Thomas exclaims and calls him “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
Various epistles also refer to Jesus as God. He refers to Jesus as “Christ, who is God over all” (Rom 9:5). He calls Jesus “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13). Peter likewise calls Jesus “our God and Savior” (2 Pet 1:1). Though the New Testament only directly refers to Jesus as God only a few times, Jesus is called “Lord” scores of times. Since “Lord” is the word used for “God” in the Old Testament, affirmations of Jesus as “Lord” actually affirm Jesus as God.
The Son’s distinct personal attribute is his begotten-ness, something that John hinted at even in John 1:14, 18. Though the ESV translates monogenes here as “only,” the word in fact is better translated “only-begotten,” as in the KJV or NASB (cf. also John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). The word monogenes communicates sonship. The Son is the “begotten” of the Father. But since the Son is God, he is “eternally begotten.” The Nicene Creed affirms that Jesus Christ is “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all time, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not created” (translation in Frame, Systematic Theology, p. 491). The only-begotten-ness of Jesus is also called “eternal generation.” “To say that the Son is eternally generated from the Father is to say that something about his eternal nature makes it appropriate for him to be begotten in time,” rather than the Father or Spirit (ibid., p. 494).
The Holy Spirit
A few important New Testament texts explicitly affirm the deity of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29). The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit has generated much debate, but whatever precisely it is, it points to the deity of the Holy Spirit, since blasphemy is directed toward God.
Acts 5 is perhaps even more telling. When Ananias sold his land and lied about the proceeds, Peter confronted him, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Notice Peter’s logic: Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit, and he lied to God. The Holy Spirit is God.
Finally, consider Paul’s statements about Christians being the temple in 1 Corinthians. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17). “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor 6:19). A temple by definition is a dwelling place of God. For Paul to say that the Holy Spirit dwells within Christians, who are temples, is for Paul to call the Spirit God. Furthermore, Paul refers to Christians’ bodies as the temple of God and as the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God.
The distinct personal attribute of the Holy Spirit is that he proceeds from the Father and the Son. Jesus said, “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” (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and the Son sends him. John Frame again is helpful: “The Spirit is the member of the Trinity whom the Father and Son send, over and over again, to do their business on earth. Unlike the Son, he is not generated or born into a human body. … So perhaps there is value in defining eternal procession as that quality of the Spirit that makes it appropriate for him to receive these missions from the Father and Son and to proceed as he does into the temporal world” (ibid., 497).
The Unity of the Trinity
In its affirmation of the Trinity, the Baptist Faith and Message concludes by saying that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist “without division of nature, essence, or being.” Jesus taught his disciples that he and the Father were “in” one another (John 14:10-11). He also described his unity with the Spirit to them (John 14:16-18). Paul similarly said, “the Lord [Jesus] is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:17-18). “Each of the three persons is ‘in’ the other two, and therefore each exhausts the divine nature” (ibid., 432-433).
This essential unity of the Persons of the Trinity expresses itself in their great works throughout history. All three members of the Trinity were active in creation (Gen 1:1-2; John 1:3). All three were also integral to the redemption of God’s people (Eph 1:3-14). The Father planned salvation (vv. 3-6, 8-10, 12); the Son accomplished salvation (vv. 7, 11, 13a); and the Spirit applies salvation (vv. 13b-14). Peter describes salvation in this way: “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 1:2). Finally, all members of the Trinity mutually glorify one another. Jesus prayed about his and the Father’s glorification of one another (John 17:1, 4-5). He taught his disciples about how he and the Father glorified the Spirit, and vice-versa (John 14:12; 16:7, 13-14).
Some people may complain, “The Trinity’s not a Scriptural term! It’s extrabiblical!” But the above Scriptures show that although the term “Trinity” is not in Scripture, the teaching and concept of the Trinity certainly is. We at Friendship Baptist Church are unapologetically Trinitarian because the Bible teaches that God from eternity past has existed as a Trinity: one God, in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
God’s Infinite Perfections
After confessing God’s eternal power and divine nature, the Baptist Faith and Message affirms God’s infinite perfections. By virtue of his deity, God is perfect in every way: ” God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience.” The Baptist Faith and Message not only lists God’s perfections but also teaches how people should respond to God’s perfections.
The Baptist Faith and Message first lists holiness as the perfection of God. The New Testament affirms, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and that is wonderfully true, but the Bible even more loudly proclaims God’s holiness. The late R. C. Sproul’s comments are most apt:
Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, that the whole earth is full of His glory.R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1998), p. 26
Sproul is referring to Isa 6:1-3, Isaiah’s vision of God’s glory in the temple. But what exactly does God’s holiness mean? When we say that God is infinite in holiness, what do we mean? Peter Gentry helpfully defines God’s holiness:
God is absolutely holy. Holy means that He is completely devoted and in this particular context, devoted to his justice and righteousness which characterizes his instruction of people of Israel in the Covenant, showing them not only what it means to be devoted to him but also what it means to treat each other in a genuinely human wayPeter J. Gentry, “No One Holy Like the Lord,” Midwestern Journal of Theology 12, no. 1 (2013): 33
The Psalms especially demonstrate the soundness of Gentry’s definition of God’s holiness. The great messianic psalm of lament, Psalm 22, begins with an affirmation of God’s holiness in terms of salvation even in the midst of suffering: “Yet you are holy,” David says to God, which God had demonstrated by delivering and rescuing previous generations of Israel (Ps 22:3-5). Similarly, Psalm 99 says of God, “Holy is he!” (Ps 99:3). The Psalmist then describes God’s holiness as his love for justice and as his faithfulness to answer his people with forgiveness (Ps 99:4-8). God is holy, and he is devoted to work salvation for his people and to judge their wicked enemies.
The next perfection of God in The Baptist Faith and Message is his omnipotence. Certainly God is all-powerful, and his exercise of that power was a major point in the previous blog post.
God’s perfect knowledge is the perfection that gets most attention in this part of Article II, and rightly so. Our faith in the perfection of God’s knowledge distinguishes us as Southern Baptists. God is “all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures.” Every piece of that affirmation is vital to our faith as Southern Baptist Christians.
God’s perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future. We believe God’s knowledge is temporally exhaustive because the Bible says so. God commanded Israel through Isaiah,
Remember this, and stand firm,Isaiah 46:8-10
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, “My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,”
According to these verses, one of the ways we know that the God of the Bible is the true and living God is because unlike every other so-called God, this God actually knows “the end from the beginning.” His counsel stands, and he accomplishes all his purpose. This lesson is what Job learned at the end of his great suffering: “I know you can do all things,” he admitted to God, “and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). These verses show, “God’s knowledge depends only on himself. God knows all things by (1) knowing himself, and (2) knowing his own plan for the universe” (John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013], 306).
If God knows the end from the beginning, that would necessarily include his knowledge of the future decisions of his free creatures. Things not yet done would be contingent upon the future decisions of free creatures, who may make any number of choices. For God to declare those things from ancient times, he would have to know the decisions his creatures would make before they made them. This affirmation is a point of controversy, even among evangelicals, and even among some Baptists. But we Southern Baptists affirm this truth because (again) the Bible teaches it.
Consider Isaiah 45. God names Cyrus as the one who would decree the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the release of the Jews from exile. God foretold this through Isaiah hundreds of years before Cyrus’s birth! During Isaiah’s ministry, Assyria and Babylon were the two great empires; the Persians were not on anyone’s radar for being the next empire to come afterward! Consider all the decisions of free creatures God had to know to predict this: most broadly, he had to know that Cyrus would decide to wage war against Babylon and succeed, and he had to know that Cyrus’s parents would name him Cyrus. But these events are contingent upon countless other events before them. God’s knowledge truly is exhaustive and meticulous and includes the future decisions of his free creatures.
The death and resurrection of Jesus is the clearest proof that God knows the future actions of his free creatures. In the first Christian sermon, Peter proclaimed, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24). Jesus’ death was the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. God had planned Jesus’ death for the salvation of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation from before the foundation of the world, and Jesus’ death necessitated the free choice of the Jewish leaders and lawless pagans to execute him. God knew the decisions they would freely make, and they were accountable for those sinful choices.
Our Response to God’s Perfections
God’s infinite perfections demand our love, reverence, and obedience. We should love God for his infinite perfections (Matt 22:37-40), especially for the way that he expresses his holiness in acting to save us, and in the way that he uses his perfect knowledge to effect our salvation through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. We should revere or honor God for his infinite perfections. The Bible most often refers to our reverence for God as “fear” of God (e.g., Deut 6:13; Ps 25:11-15; 1 Pet 1:17). Finally, God’s infinite perfections should inspire our obedience. Such is the thrust of 1 Peter 1:14-16, ” As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” The holiness of God calls us his people to be holy likewise.
We at Friendship Baptist Church are not perfectly holy. But we serve a perfectly holy God. And we are striving to grow in increasing conformity to his holiness, day in and day out, week in and week out. We love him, and seek to show him our love by our reverence for him and obedience to his commands. We would invite you to join us in this lifelong journey!
The Bible’s Christ-Centered Testimony
We at Friendship Baptist confess, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ.” Previous blog posts have shown that both Jesus and the apostles teach us to read the Bible in a Christ-centered way. This blog post gives examples of how both the Old Testament and the New Testament testify to Christ.
Old Testament Testimony to Christ
Three word pictures in the Old Testament are especially clear in their testimony to Christ: offspring, son of God, and prophet.
First, Christ is the offspring anticipated throughout the Old Testament. This prophecy goes all the way back to Genesis 3:15, when God judged the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This prophecy foretold that someone would someday ultimately overcome the source of evil, though suffering in the process. Later biblical passages picked up on this prophecy (e.g., Num 24:17; Isa 28:3; Hab 3:13). Adam seems to have believed in the good news of this prophecy, based on his name of Eve (Gen 3:20). This prophecy also seems to have been handed down through the generations, as Lamech echoes it when he names his son, Noah (Gen 5:28-29). God further specifies that this offspring will descend from Abraham (Gen 22:17-18) and later David (2 Sam 7:12-13). Christ is this long-awaited offspring (Gal 3:16).*
Second, Christ is the perfect Son of God. In a previous blog, I noted the Adam-Christ typology that Paul uses in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. In addition to being a tied to biblical covenants, the Adam-Christ typology is also rooted in both Adam and Christ’s identity as sons of God. Genesis itself portrays Adam as the son of God. God made Adam “in the likeness of God,” and Adam later “fathered a son in his own likeness” (Gen 5:2-3). “Likeness” communicates the idea of sonship. In his Gospel, Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam, whom he identifies as “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38). Jesus is the long-awaited perfect Son of God. Jesus existed as God the Son from eternity past, and he became incarnate as the Son of God. He was Son of God in his incarnation first by virtue of his virgin birth (Luke 1:35). He was also son of God as the Davidic heir (Luke 1:32). Davidic kings were referred to as God’s sons (e.g., 2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2). Davidic kings were God’s sons in that they were the representative head of Israel, which was collectively God’s son (Exod 4:22-23). All the failed sons of God in the Old Testament, from Adam to Israel to David and the subsequent Davidic kings, are foils for the one Perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Third, Christ is the perfect prophet. Moses had prophesied, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Deut 18:15). Moses told the people that they would be obligated to listen to this prophet (Deut 18:19), but they should not listen to false prophets, who would be known by their immorality or by the untruthfulness of their prophecies (Deut 18:20-22). Though true prophets ministered after Moses, Deuteronomy ends with an indication that a final, perfect prophet was expected: “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deut 34:10). But Jesus was this long-awaited prophet, as the Messiah (John 4:16-19, 25-26), and as the one identified as better than Moses and Elijah at the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8). All the faithful prophets of the Old Testament foreshadowed Jesus, and all the false prophets were the inverse of him.
New Testament Testimony to Christ
It may seem obvious that the New Testament testifies about Christ, but even sermons and Bible studies based on various New Testament passages may be Christ-less and gospel-less. Such is a travesty, for indeed the New Testament testifies to Christ as the Savior and Lord of the world. For the sake of space, the rest of this post will only summarize how various sections of the New Testament testify to Christ and the gospel of his salvation.
Jesus is the long-awaited Davidic king (Matt 1-4) and new Moses (Matt 5-7) who brings about the kingdom of heaven (Matt 8-28). Christ is the Son of Man, with power over diseases, demons, disasters, and death (Mark). Jesus is the Son of God, who inaugurates God’s new covenant not only with Jews but also with Gentiles (Luke). Christ is the Word of God who inaugurates God’s new creation through the destruction and resurrection of God’s temple, his body (John). Jesus is the Lord whose gospel spreads to all (Acts). The epistles (Romans-Jude) collectively proclaim that Christ is the Lord of the church, which should submit to him by obeying all his commands. Revelation concludes the New Testament and all Scripture by identifying Jesus as the Lord who will return to judge all the earth.
We Christians should attend to all of Scripture, not only the New Testament but also the Old Testament, as testimony to Jesus Christ. We should read and apply the Old Testament to our lives today in light of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament and as the head of the new covenant. Let us therefore read all of Scripture as a testimony to Christ and as a means of conforming us more into his image!
*A former pastor and professor of mine, Jim Hamilton, has written two really helpful articles about Genesis 3:15 and the identification of the offspring of Abraham with the offspring of the woman.
Apostles on the Christ-Centered Nature of Scripture
Not only does Jesus instruct Christians to read the Old Testament in a Christ-centered way, but the apostles also teach Christians to read the Old Testament in a Christ-centered way. The Christ-centered nature of the Old Testament is especially clear in Paul’s letters, Hebrews, and 1 Peter.
Paul on the Christ-centered Nature of Scripture
Both of Paul’s longest epistles, Romans and 1 Corinthians, model for Christians how to read the Old Testament as a testimony to Christ. In both epistles, Paul employs an Adam-Christ typology. Paul says, “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom 5:14). Adam’s sin and death leads to the sin and death of everyone after him, even before God’s written law arrived with Moses. Paul understands this as an inverse parallel of Christ:
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.Rom 5:18-21
According to Paul, Christ is the antitype of Adam. Adam is an antihero, but Christ is the great Hero. Adam’s sin led to death for all before there had been any track record of righteousness. Christ’s righteousness, by contrast, leads to eternal life for all those who trust in him, even after people have lived whole lives of unrighteousness.
Paul maintains this Adam-Christ typology in 1 Corinthians 15:42-49. Christians, from birth, bore the image of Adam, and therefore will one day die physically in weakness and thus experience dishonor. But through faith in Christ, Christians now bear the image of Christ, and therefore will one day be resurrected physically in power and thus experience glory. In Adam, Christians were perishable, but in Christ, Christians will be imperishable.
Paul’s identification of an Adam-Christ typology seems to work on the basis that both Adam and Christ are covenant heads. Adam was the head of humanity at the original creation covenant (Hos 6:7). Christ is the head of the new humanity within the new covenant (Luke 22:20). By extension, Christians can continue to compare and contrast Christ with other covenant heads from the Old Testament: Noah, Abraham, Moses, David. All of the Old Testament occurs within these covenant epochs (or dispensations). Therefore, all of the Old Testament may be profitably (2 Tim 3:16) compared and contrasted with our current new covenant era.
Paul applies this very principle in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11. He portrays the exodus from Egypt as a foreshadowing of Christian baptism (vv. 1-2). He identifies the rock from which Israel drank in the wilderness as, in fact, Christ (v. 4). These sorts of observations enable Paul to refer to these things from Old Testament history as examples for Christians’ own instruction to abstain from idolatry, sexual immorality, and grumbling (vv. 6-11).
Christ is in fact God (1 Cor 10:9), so we Christians can read things said about God in the Old Testament and rightly apply them to Jesus, albeit being careful to hold to Trinitarian orthodoxy as we do so. Paul teaches us that the Old Testament in fact is a testimony to Christ.
The Christ-centered Nature of Scripture in Hebrews
Perhaps more thoroughly than any other New Testament book, Hebrews shows the Christ-centered nature of all Scripture. Christ is “a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:10). Hebrews 7 spends a chapter unpacking this statement, which shows that Psalm 110 prophesied of Jesus (a point also made by Jesus himself in Matt 22:41-46 and by Peter in Acts 2:34-35). Similarly, the other Psalms also point forward to Jesus and the new covenant (cf. Acts 1:16-20; 2:25-28; 4:23-30; 13:32-39; Heb 1:5-14; 2:5-9, 11-13; 3:7-12; 5:5-6; 10:5-10).
The author of Hebrews gives us another way to interpret the Old Testament as a testimony to Christ. Hebrews 11 is known as the hall of faith chapter, and it describes the faith of Old Testament saints. But it concludes,
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.Heb 11:39-12:2
According to the author of Hebrews, all the heroes of the faith in chapter 11 are just “a great cloud of witnesses” spurring us on to follow after “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” himself. We certainly can gain good moral lessons from various Old Testament figures, but they all were sinners like us. Their imperfect examples point us to the perfect example of Christ himself (cf. 1 Pet 2:21-25; 4:1).
The Christ-centered Nature of Scripture in 1 Peter
1 Peter also emphasizes the Christ-centered nature of Scripture. Peter explicitly says that the Old Testament prophets prophesied of Christ by the Holy Spirit: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person tr time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Pet 1:10-11). Peter acknowledges that the Old Testament prophets didn’t know many of the specifics about the coming Christ, but they did truly know that the Christ was coming, and they prophesied of him. Peter also says, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Pet 1:12). Doesn’t 1 Pet 1:10-12 sound a lot like Heb 11:39-12:2?
In fact, Peter is basically drawing out the argument of Heb 11:39-12:2 over the course of his whole book. Just as Israel was holy in the old covenant, Christians should be holy in the new covenant (1 Pet 1:13-2:3). Jesus is the cornerstone of the true temple of God, and Christians are being built up into that temple (1 Pet 2:4-8). Therefore, Christians are in fact God’s covenant people now just as the nation of Israel was under the old covenant (1 Pet 2:9-10). Peter addresses his audience as his “beloved” who should abstain from sin and keep their conduct pure instead (1 Pet 2:11-12). He commands them to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Pet 2:13), first to government (1 Pet 2:14-16). He tells them to relate to everyone rightly (1 Pet 2:17-4:11). Christian slaves should submit to masters, ultimately because Christ suffered for his people and left them an example to follow, prophesied by Isaiah 53 (1 Pet 2:18-25). Christian wives should “likewise,” following the example of Christ, submit to their husbands (1 Pet 3:1-6), and Christian husbands should “likewise” honor their wives (1 Pet 3:7). All Christians should follow Jesus’ example of enduring unjust suffering (1 Pet 3:8-22), ceasing from sin (1 Pet 4:1-6), and living a holy life (1 Pet 4:7-11). The Old Testament prophesied the fiery trials that befall Christians as the people of the Messiah, so they should not be surprised (1 Pet 4:12-19). Peter concludes by exhorting all Christians to be humble, again based on the Old Testament (1 Pet 5:1-7), and by exhorting them to resist the devil and endure suffering until God exalts them in Christ, even as “Babylon” presently causes them trouble as the Roman Empire (1 Pet 5:8-14).
The New Testament letters take Jesus’ teaching about the Christ-centered nature of the Old Testament and show that it remains normative for Christians even today.
Jesus on the Christ-Centered Nature of Scripture
Article I of Friendship’s statement of faith ends by affirming that Scripture is Christ-centered. This is an implication of its earlier statement that Scripture has “salvation for its end.” Since salvation is the aim of Scripture, it makes sense that the Savior would be the focus of Scripture. Indeed, all of Scripture is Christ-focused. Both the OT and NT provide testimony throughout their pages to Christ. Article I rightly concludes, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.” We believe this first because Jesus himself instructs us to read all of Scripture as a testimony to himself.
The Gospel of John includes many teachings of Jesus not contained in other Gospels. John shows how Jesus on multiple occasions taught people that he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. On one occasion, Jesus taught the religious leaders who were opposing him,
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people.But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?John 5:39-47
In this passage, Jesus tells his opponents plainly: “the Scriptures … bear witness about me” (v. 39). Jesus was not introducing a new reading of the Old Testament. He was not reading the Old Testament contrary to the intentions of either their human or divine authors. Rather, Jesus was pointing out that the Old Testament all along was bearing witness to him. They were preparing the Jewish people for him. They were setting the stage for him.
Jesus is even more direct (if that were possible) later in the same paragraph. He tells his opponents that he will not accuse them to the Father, but Moses will (v. 45). Jesus audaciously claims that Moses “wrote of me” (v. 46). Jesus’ opponents don’t believe him because they don’t believe the Old Testament (v. 47).
John records another instance of Jesus teaching that he fulfilled the Old Testament. “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Jesus goes even further back in biblical history. Not only did Moses look forward to Jesus, but the very Founding Father of the Jewish people, Abraham, looked forward to Jesus’ coming!
If John records how Jesus taught even his enemies to read the Old Testament as a testimony to him, then Luke records how Jesus taught his disciples to read the Old Testament this way. On the day of his resurrection, Jesus rebuked two disciples walking to Emmaus as they mourned his recent death,
O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?Luke 24:25-26
Luke then tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Biblical scholars who argue that Christians shouldn’t read the Old Testament in a Christ-centered way are quick to point out that this verse doesn’t say that Jesus told those two disciples that everything in Scripture concerns him. But this verse does tell us that there are multiple threads both in the Law and also the Prophets of the Old Testament that point forward to Christ and indicate that he had to suffer before he entered glory. And the New Testament repeatedly shows us how to identify these threads, and following that method, they are in fact everywhere in the Old Testament.
Luke also records that Jesus taught all the apostles likewise. “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Jesus taught the apostles how to read the Old Testament as a testimony to him, and Peter immediately applied various Psalms of David to the infant church (Acts 1:16-20). Peter’s Pentecost sermon similarly models Christocentric preaching from various Old Testament texts (Acts 2:14-36). The Christocentric Old Testament interpretation of the New Testament epistles is itself the fruit of Jesus’ own Christocentric reading of the Old Testament.
We read all of Scripture as a testimony to Christ because Jesus himself read Scripture this way and taught others to do the same.
The Bible’s Holy Authority
God’s authorship of Scripture implies not only the absolute truthfulness of Scripture but also the authority of Scripture. Scripture is authoritative over all areas of our lives. Friendship’s statement of faith confesses of Scripture: “It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.” These statements mean that Scripture is the authoritative standard for how God will judge us. It also is the standard by which we are united to fellow believers in a local church, and it should be the standard by which we evaluate all truth claims that we encounter.
Scripture: The Standard for God’s Judgment
Scripture reveals God’s righteousness. God judges people according to the standard of his perfect righteousness. One Bible passage that teaches this is Psalm 98:7-9,
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together,
before the Lord, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
Scripture reveals God’s righteousness. It teaches us that God will judge with righteousness, as in Psalm 98 (cf. also Pss 9:8; 72:2; 96:13). As Paul reminds us in the New Testament, “God shows no partiality” (Rom 2:11). God will judge all people perfectly fairly, and Scripture shows us the perfect righteousness of God by which he will judge the world.
Scripture also presents God’s commands for us, according to which we will be judged. In Romans 2:6-8, Paul teaches, “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” The New Testament repeatedly instructs us that God will judge all people according to their works (2 Tim 4:14; 1 Pet 1:17; Rev 2:23; 20:12, 13). Scripture is the standard for righteousness. God’s law is in Scripture. Scripture is the standard, then, for God’s judgment.
Scripture: The Standard of Christian Unity
Scripture is also the standard for Christians’ unity within a local church. For Christians to have fellowship with one another in a local church as fellow church members, they must have a common understanding of how Scripture defines the church. Friendship Baptist Church gladly confesses with our fellow Southern Baptists that Scripture has clear standards for church membership and church governance, which our church strives to maintain.
Scripture puts two basic requirements on people for church membership: repentant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 3:10; 1 Tim 3:15) and baptism as a public profession of that faith (Acts 8:12; 16:14-15, 30-34, 40; 18:8).
The New Testament also teaches that each local church is autonomous under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 8:1-5; Rev 2-3). Each church democratically determines its doctrine (Rev 2:6, 14-15, 20), membership (1 Cor 5:1-2, 4-5, 7, 12-13), and leadership (1 Tim 5:19-20).
(Future blog posts on Article VI of Friendship’s statement of faith will defend the above biblical definitions of church membership and governance.)
Scripture: The Standard of Our Judgments
If John 3:16 was the most widely-known Bible verse in 20th century America, then Matthew 7:1 may be the most widely-known Bible verse in 21st century America: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” People devoted to religious pluralism latch onto that verse more than any other in the Bible, often in order to combat a Christian’s obedience to the Bible (e.g., in evangelism or confrontation of sin). But as Friendship’s statement of faith affirms from the outset, Matthew 7:1 does not forbid all human judgments. Rather, our human judgments should be based on Scripture, which is the “supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.”
The subsequent context of Matthew 7:1 is vital for not misapplying that verse. Multiple Christian thinkers rightly remind us: “a text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” And the context of Matthew 7:1 shows that Jesus was not prohibiting all judgments but a particular kind of judgment. Matthew 7:1 was but the introductory sentence of a full paragraph that runs through Matthew 7:5.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Jesus was warning his disciples not to be too severe (v. 2) or hypocritical (vv. 3-5) in their judgments of others. Certainly Jesus’ statement did not mean that Christians should expose sin. Rather, Jesus’ statement was telling Christians to expose sin in a certain way: lovingly, and only after they have examined their own hearts for the very same sin. In fact, the commitment of Article I to judge everything according to the standard of Scripture is obedient to Jesus’ command, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).
As Friendship’s statement of faith reminds us, we should judge “all human conduct” by the standards of Scripture. We should evaluate behaviors by Scripture’s teachings. We should apply timeless Scripture to time-bound cultural practices of 21st century America.
We should also judge “all human … creeds” according to Scripture. We should evaluate everything we believe about God, salvation, humanity, the world, etc., according to Scripture. Whenever we find a contradiction between our beliefs and Scripture’s clear teaching, we must submit to Scripture. Creeds and doctrinal statements are good, but they (even the Baptist Faith and Message!) must be measured against the ultimate standard of Scripture.
Finally, we should judge “all human … religious opinions” according to Scripture. Certainly, if we evaluate Christian beliefs against Scripture, we should certainly critically appraise non-Christian religious beliefs against Scripture! When another religious system confronts us and seeks to entice us, we must reject its claims on the basis of God’s holy word, the Bible. We should seek to share the true gospel with the other religion’s adherent with whom we are speaking.
The Bible’s authority is the ultimate standard, not only of God’s judgment of us, but also our unity as a church and our own judgments of all things in life. Based on truly biblical principles, the Baptist Faith and Message helpfully articulates our belief as Southern Baptists that we ought to conform every aspect of our life to the standards of Scripture.
The Bible’s Holy Aim
In addition to affirming the Bible’s holy authorship, Friendship’s statement of faith also confesses the holy aim for which the Bible was written and preserved for us. The Bible has not only “God for its author” but also “salvation for its end.”
The Bible is a big book, and salvation is a big aim. According to Scripture, salvation is both a present and future reality. One passage that discusses both aspects of salvation is 1 Peter 1:3-5. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time.” Salvation has present benefits: new birth, living hope, and being guarded through faith. But salvation will not be fully realized until “the last time,” which Peter specifies as “the revelation of Jesus Christ” at his second coming (1 Pet 1:7).
The apostle Paul summarized various aspects of salvation in this way: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:30). God planned salvation from eternity past and saves us as he calls us and declares us righteous in the present, and the final stage of salvation is the glory we will receive in the new heavens and the new earth with immortal physical bodies (cf. Rom 8:18-25).
When The Baptist Faith and Message says that the Bible’s aim is salvation, it is saying that the Bible teaches people how to enter salvation in the present and how to persevere in faith as they await their final salvation. In other words, the Bible seeks to convert sinners and to help Christians become more Christlike.
Much of the Bible is written to people already following God, but the Bible also shows people how to begin following God. In the Old Testament, Psalm 19:7-9 describes the converting power of God’s word: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.” For us Christians, David’s statement that God’s law is capable of “reviving the soul” may sound paradoxical, given Paul’s statement: “by works of the law no human being ill be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). But we must remember that David is talking about Scripture when he talks about “the law of the Lord,” and that the Books of the Law (Genesis through Deuteronomy) not only contain commands to obey but also promises of God’s intention to save the world from the sin problem (e.g., Gen 3:15; 12:1-3; 22:17-18; cf. Gal 3:16, 22).
The New Testament also talks about the converting power of God’s word. Paul told Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you have learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:14-15). Paul agrees with David: the Bible contains the teaching that, if heeded, leads to salvation through faith in Jesus!
In addition to leading people to begin the salvation journey, Scripture teaches people how to continue along their salvation journey. Paul immediately continues, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is 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” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Scripture is profitable for things that primarily benefit those who are already converted. Christians do not immediately become perfect people when they trust Christ for salvation. Salvation is an ongoing process that will not be complete until the second coming of Christ! Christians need the Bible just as much as non-Christians do.
Paul encouraged the Romans similarly: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4; cf. 1 Cor 10:1-14). The Old Testament is not something from which Christians should unhitch themselves. We need the whole Bible to instruct us and encourage us to endure and to have hope. Christ is revealed clearly in the New Testament, but even the Old Testament predicted him in types and shadows. The frequent disobedience of God’s people in the Old Testament warns us not to be unfaithful to God today.
Written by men so inspired by God that their words were God’s own words, the Bible seeks both to convert sinners and to sanctify saints. May we daily attend to God’s word: reading it, meditating on it, memorizing it, storing it up in our hearts so that we might not sin against God (Ps 119:11).
The Bible’s Holy Authorship
Friendship Baptist’s statement of faith begins, “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.” We gladly affirm the Bible’s holy authorship, holy aim, and holy accuracy. This blog post shows the Scriptural support for the Bible’s holy authorship.
The Bible is a book comprised of 66 smaller books. Each book of the Bible has two authors simultaneously: a divinely-inspired man and God himself. The Baptist Faith and Message rightly affirms the dual authorship of all of Scripture, since the Bible repeatedly claims that it is both a human and a divine product.
No one questions human involvement in the Bible’s production. You may be surprised, though, that the Bible itself often acknowledges the human authors. The fifth book of the Bible begins, “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness” (Deut 1:1). Many of the Psalms also identify their author in superscriptions, such as David (e.g., Ps 23), Asaph (e.g., Ps 50), the sons of Korah (e.g., Ps 42), Heman the Ezrahite (Ps 88), Ethan the Ezrahite (Ps 89), Moses (Ps 90), and Solomon (e.g., Ps 127).
Similar to Psalms, the Book of Proverbs leaves multiple traces of its human authors and compilers. Proverbs opens by identifying their primary author as “Solomon, son of David, king of Israel” (Prov 1:1). A similar heading appears at Proverbs 10:1. Solomon compiled thirty sayings of the wise (Prov 22:17-24:22) along with additional sayings (Prov 24:23-34). Hundreds of years later, King Hezekiah’s scribes appended additional proverbs of Solomon in Proverbs 25-29. Proverbs concludes with an oracle of Agur (Prov 30) and an oracle by the Queen Mother of Lemuel (an otherwise-unknown middle Eastern king: Prov 31).
All of the Latter Prophets identify their authors by name, as well (the Books of Isaiah through Malachi).
Non-Christians (and even some self-styled “progressive Christians”) deny the Bible’s divine authorship, but the Bible clearly affirms its own divine origins from first to last. Jeremiah claims that “the word of the Lord came” to him six times in his book, and Ezekiel uses that phrase eight times. The Latter Prophets claim “thus says the Lord” 927 times. Well does Peter affirm the divine authorship of the Old Testament: “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:20-21). Paul is even more direct: “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16).
The New Testament is just as much the word of God as the Old Testament. Jesus promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; cf. John 15:26-27; 21:24). The eyewitness Gospels of Matthew and John are therefore trustworthy. Mark’s Gospel is written by the spiritual “son” of Peter (1 Pet 5:13). Luke’s Gospel is similarly based on eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4). Interestingly concerning Luke, Paul writes, “the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages'” (1 Tim 5:18). Paul refers not only to Deut 25:4 but also to Luke 10:7 as “Scripture.” And Peter affirms that Paul’s own epistles are Scripture: “There are some things in them [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Pet 3:16, emphasis added).
As Southern Baptists, we are unapologetically people of the Book. We seek to base all our beliefs and practices on Scriptural commands and precedents. We at Friendship Baptist Church gladly affirm The Baptist Faith and Message as our statement of faith because its statements are Scriptural. We believe the Bible was written by men divinely inspired by God not because our statement of faith says so, but because the Bible says so. The next blog post in this series will show how the Bible undergirds our statement of faith’s claim about the holy aim of the Bible.