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Christian Liberty: Should The Strong Always Yield to the Weak?

June 19, 2012 3 comments

Much has been said, and often, about Christian liberty.  In some cases it is misrepresented, or certain aspects of it are emphasized while other areas neglected.  Romans 14 and 15, and the S. Lewis Johnson Romans series, consider the proper balance.

Paul’s text presents both sides:  the strong Christian should not look down on the weaker brother who eats only vegetables, and the weak Christian should not despise the strong one who eats everything.  The strong Christian should also take care to not do anything that would cause the weaker brother to stumble or wound his conscience.  In normal situations, though, the strong believer recognizes that everything is of the Lord, that there are no other gods, and so has greater Christian liberty to eat meat and other things which might bother the conscience of a weaker believer.

Christian liberty (of course) refers to morally indifferent things, and not to things which are revealed in the scriptures as clearly wrong or unclean.  The tendency among many believers, though, is to overemphasize only the part about the stronger believer giving up his liberty so as not to injure the weaker brother.  However, as SLJ points out, the strong Christian should not always give up his liberty.  In the first place, all Christians are in the growing process, and the weaker Christians will (or at least should) grow and mature to become strong Christians.  That at least is the goal and the desired outcome.  More significantly, though, when the stronger Christians always give up their liberty, a dangerous situation results in which only the most narrow and “lowest common denominator” belief is set forth as representing true Christianity.  Then the outside world, unbelievers, see this very narrow interpretation – the view of the weakest Christian – as actually being true Christianity.  As Johnson observes:

At times, it is probably proper for us to indulge in our liberty, because after all, what the Bible teaches is important for us to understand.  The cause of Jesus Christ is never advanced by having every strong Christian in a congregation always and completely forego his rights, because what happens then is that the question is settled on the basis of the narrowest and the most prejudiced person in the congregation.  The person who is most narrow in his viewpoint and most prejudiced, it is his viewpoint that ultimately prevails.  … what eventually becomes involved in this is that the outside world then begins to think that a Christian is a person who, if in order to be a Christian, must give up this and must give up that and must give up the other thing, and the result is that our salvation by grace becomes confused with things that have to do with human works.  And thus we give a false picture of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus, I think, illustrates this in the way in which he treated the Sabbath.  It was a day.  And some observe the Sabbath very strictly and others observed it more leniently.  The Lord Jesus did not hesitate to do some things on the Sabbath days that offended the weaker consciences of some of the people in his day.

A few further thoughts … as understood from the context of Romans 14-15, and the similar texts in 1 Corinthians, Christian liberty also has nothing to do with the question of how we handle doctrine, the things revealed and taught in God’s word.  Yet I have seen the concept of “Christian liberty” taught, by the doctrinally shallow and weak, as an excuse for not being dogmatic and certain about what God’s word teaches.  Christian liberty is thus misconstrued to encompass the overall post-modern worldview and its attack on the clarity of God’s word, rather than those things which truly are indifferent.  By such distorted reasoning, certain doctrines, things set forth in God’s word, are equated with the morally indifferent issues of food and drink.  (I have in mind particularly the prophetic word, that which Peter even said we would do well to pay attention to, 2 Peter 1:19.) That error is compounded with imbalance: the idea that one group must always defer to the other; in their case, the ones that are certain about a particular doctrine must yield and “not cause division.”  Thus this twisted view attempts to justify continual biblical ignorance and spiritual babyhood, because after all, these are really things of indifference and those who dare to have an opinion about them are really the ones being divisive and causing trouble.

Romans 12: Observations from S. Lewis Johnson

June 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Continuing through Romans with S. Lewis Johnson, the twelfth chapter begins the section often referred to as the “practical” part.  Of course, as SLJ notes, it isn’t that “doctrine” isn’t practical.  All doctrine is practical.  Rather, this section, Romans 12-16, is the concrete part of doctrine, as distinct from the theoretical part, Romans 1-11.

In the Romans 12 messages Dr. Johnson emphasizes the difference between God’s decretive will of everything that happens, versus God’s preceptive will — that which is pleasing to God.  We don’t know God’s decretive will until after the event transpires. But we learn God’s preceptive will from studying His word.  SLJ also taught about God’s two wills in several other places, including some of his Old Testament series, as for instance in From Egypt to Canaan: Studies in the Exodus, Gideon, and The Life of Samson.

In reference to hospitality (Romans 12:13), we remember the historical setting of ancient Rome. They didn’t have national chain motels along the roads, and the inns were not pleasant places.  Johnson relates further interesting historical information, the custom of certain families/clans within Roman society to establish their own hospitality with another family. If a member of one family that lived in Rome wanted to visit Jerusalem, they could contact this other family that lived in Jerusalem.  Identification between the two clans would be provided through tokens, each family having a part of a broken object, and the individual’s identity verified by seeing that their broken piece fit to the other family’s matching part.

John Chrysostom observed a very good point regarding Romans 12:15 (Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep), that it is much easier for us, even as believers, to relate to others’ miseries and sympathize in those situations, than to rejoice with others in their good news.  How very true that is.  Envy gets in the way when we hear of the good things that happen to others, the things of which they rejoice.

Romans 11: And So All Israel Shall Be Saved

May 21, 2012 Leave a comment

From my study through Romans with S. Lewis Johnson, I now come to the great chapter of Romans 11.  Note:  S. Lewis Johnson also did a more extensive study of this chapter in “The Future of Ethnic Israel,” a six part study.  The full-book Romans series (which I’m currently listening to) includes four messages in Romans 11; in a few places he says he doesn’t have time to go into further detail on certain points, so I expect that his other, separate series on Romans 11 expanded more concerning these details.

It’s been a while since I’ve studied the Romans 11 text.  Concerning verse 26, “And so all Israel shall be saved” (ESV:  And in this way all Israel will be saved), SLJ discusses several of the interpretations that have been suggested, and the errors in the incorrect ones.

The “Dutch view” of the Holland Covenant theologians is that the text refers to the remnant trickle of all Jews saved throughout the Church age, rather than to a national conversion at Christ’s Second Coming.  A look at the context, though, shows that the referent for “and so” or “and in this way” is the immediately preceding verse, which has to do with the salvation of Gentiles:  the mystery, the partial hardening of Israel UNTIL the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Gentile salvation).  Thus, “all Israel” will be saved as a result and after the fullness of the Gentiles, as a result of the Jews being made jealous (verse 14).  Furthermore, these verses indicate future time, not present: verse 12 “how much more will,” also verse 15 “what will their acceptance mean.”  Some might try to argue that these are referring to the present, but then what about verses 23-24: “will be grafted in,” for God is able to graft them in.  The text is also national, referring to the nation Israel, not to individuals.

But the preceding context is most closely related, not to the salvation of Israel as it is to the salvation of the Gentiles.  He has just said, “Hardening in part has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles be brought in.  And so, by the bringing in of the full number of the Gentiles all Israel shall be saved.  What is meant is not what our Dutch friends mean, but rather, by the total salvation of the Gentiles, when that has been completed, Israel shall have been brought to jealousy and to return to the Lord.  “And so all Israel shall be saved” is the provocation by the full number of the Gentiles which will lead to Israel’s salvation.

Regarding John Calvin’s idea that this means “spiritual Israel” instead of ethnic Israel:  well, then all the verse means is that all the elect are going to be saved.  We already know that; that is not a mystery.

“I would not have you to be ignorant brethren of this mystery.  What does he mean when he says “this mystery,” this secret?  … Well, that’s not a mystery, that’s not a divine secret in the true sense.  There’s hardly anything that is clearer from the apostle’s writing than that the elect shall be saved.  There must be something more to the point when Paul says, “I don’t want you to be ignorant of this secret,” this divine secrets, “lest ye should be wise in your own conceits.”  I think that what he means is explained by the “that” clause.  That hardness, in part, has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.  The time, the meshing of the time of the salvation of the nation and the salvation of the nations, and how this is all to be worked out in the thousands of years of human history, is the secret.  In other words, we may put it by simply saying that the mystery is the divine program of the salvation of the nations in its various steps, that’s the mystery, it would seem.

Note, too, that the text cited immediately after “and so all Israel shall be saved” is from Isaiah 59:20-21, a text that is talking about the Second Coming.  The preceding verses (Isaiah 59:17-19) describe Him putting on garments of vengeance, repaying wrath to His adversaries and repayment to His enemies, and the people, worldwide, fearing the name of the Lord.  SLJ also notes a few other scriptural references and allusions here, blended together:  Isaiah 27:9 (Therefore by this the guilt of Jacob will be atoned for) and Psalm 14:7 (Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!).  Also, the background of all these quotations and allustions here – Isaiah 59, Isaiah 27, and Psalm 14 – includes the Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants, and thus reference to Israel’s election and salvation.

I’ve heard the spiritualized attempts to say that all of what the prophets said was really talking about what happened at the cross and our glorious church age.  But again, such a distortion of meaning leaves us with nothing more than Paul saying the mystery is that all the elect shall be saved.  Words do have meaning, and these verses are describing a condition that did not happen at the First Advent: Christ coming in judgment, which is His Second Advent.

Finally we consider if “all Israel” means every single individual:  of course other prophetic texts give more detail, such as Zechariah 13 (that two-thirds of the people will be cut off and perish during the Great Tribulation).  Further, the term “all Israel” is a technical term, an expression that refers to Israel as a whole, as a nation.  S. Lewis Johnson specifically notes the following interesting references to “all Israel”: 1 Kings 12:1, 2 Chronicles 12:1-5, and Daniel 9:11.  Additionally, Romans 11 itself gives us the clue to the answer:  the rejection of Christ by the nation at His First Coming.  We recognize, as something clear and undisputed, that the nation Israel rejected their Messiah at His First Coming.  Yet not every single individual Israelite of the first century rejected Him; Paul, the other apostles, and at least several thousand other Jews, did receive Him.  So too, at the Second Coming, the nation will accept Him, but not every single individual. The context of Romans 11 is again affirmed, that Paul is here talking about nations: the nation Israel and the gentile nations.  Yes, nations are composed of individuals, but the Bible still talks sometimes, as in Romans 11, about national entities.

Romans 9-11 with S. Lewis Johnson: The Middle Chapter

May 14, 2012 Leave a comment

In going through S. Lewis Johnson’s Romans series, from 1980-81, I’m now in the great section of chapters 9-11.  Romans 9 and 11 have been familiar material for quite a while.  The local “Sovereign Grace” church, where I first learned of Calvinism and Arminianism (and the names of the terms), the great Doctrines of Grace, has provided ample emphasis (even over-emphasis, in a church that tends toward hyper-Calvinism and neglect of human responsibility) through the years to Romans 9 and God’s sovereignty in election.  Romans 11 is material that comes up often in the various sermons, eschatology series and articles concerning Israel’s future and the issue of supersessionism; Barry Horner’s Future Israel book and related teachings in particular include great exposition of Romans 11.

From my own studies, Romans 10 is an area previously neglected.  This SLJ series is my first for going through the full set of chapters 9 through 11, and SLJ devotes three great messages to Romans 10:  Christ, the End of the Law (Romans 10:1-4), Salvation and Confession (Romans 10:5-13), and Israel’s Inexcusable Unbelief (verses 14-21).  Romans 9 highlights God’s Sovereignty in Election, the divine viewpoint, whereas Romans 10 gives the human reasons involved in salvation, as well as the human reasons for Israel’s rejection of their Messiah.

The first message in Romans 10 looks at three ways in which Christ is the end of the law: all three ways are scripturally valid and supported elsewhere.  Christ is the fulfillment of the law, the anti-type of the law, and the end point termination of the law.  SLJ discusses each in detail, concluding with his own view, that this verse specifically refers to Christ as the end point termination of the law, while noting it’s nothing we can be completely certain of.

Chapter 10 also tells us that zeal is not enough, that zeal misplaced is in fact very wrong.  Here we also read the five-link chain (verses 14-15).  First, some must be sent by God; they preach; the people hear (in an understanding way), then they obey and believe, and call upon the Lord. S. Lewis Johnson devotes attention to ways (again from the side of human responsibility) in which people come to have faith and grow in faith, with good discussion of the importance of studying the Bible – and not by mere reading or memorizing it, but going beyond that to ponder it:

that’s the way that some people treat the Bible, believe it or not.  This is just something that they read in order to memorize, or read in order to say, “I have read something from Scripture.”  But they’ve never really sat down and pondered some things that are in the Bible.  The danger of Bible reading and the danger of Bible memorization is not in reading and memorizing.  Those are excellent things.  That’s the place to begin.  But the danger is in not reflecting on the significance of the things that we are reading.  There are some people, who because they see that, say, “Let’s go read the Bible.  Let’s go memorize the Bible.  Let’s go study the Bible.  But we don’t want the doctrine.”  That’s foolish, that should go with the other three.  What we want is the word of God.  We want to memorize it, and we want to hide it.  But we also want to ponder it, because it is through pondering it that we come to faith; the faith that saves and the faith also that sustains us.

Also here, the ways that people do not come to have faith:  the hereditary defense (through Christian parents), or the sacraments, or through dreams, the eloquence of the preacher or even through some therapy.

Mr. Spurgeon pointed out (reference this Spurgeon sermon) that men like Nebuchadnezzar had dreams, and Balaam had a visit from an angel, but he was a man who died saying, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my latter end be like him,” but he perished, fighting against the God of Israel.  “Listen,” he said, “though you should see all the angels in heaven, it would not prove that you would go to heaven any more than my having seen the Pope’s body guard is proof that I shall be made a Cardinal.”

In Romans 10:18 (“But I ask, have they not heard?”), the texts cited here indicate that Paul specifically means: have they (Israel) not heard that they would be rejected because of unbelief.  Not only has the gospel been preached extensively and universally (throughout the Roman empire in Paul’s day), but the scriptures themselves make it abundantly clear, and they should have known their scriptures well enough to realize, that there would come a time when they would be rejected.  By the end of Romans 10, the apostle has stressed the universality of the gospel, the availability of this good news.  The responsibility has been set forth.  We are to believe the gospel. 

Doctrine and the Spirit

May 10, 2012 2 comments

This week has seen some excellent blog articles on the ever-important topic of doctrine and the Holy Spirit:

Phil Johnson at Pyromaniacs:  “What is Written”

The Cripplegate:  Driscoll vs. Calvin, Doctrine vs. the Spirit

Then, from listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s Romans series (in Romans 10) recently, the following great words:

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.  …  Mr. Moody said, “I prayed for faith and thought that some day faith would come down and strike me like lightning.  But faith did not seem to come.  One day I read in the tenth chapter of Romans, ‘Now faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.’  I had closed my Bible, and prayed for faith.  I now opened my Bible and began to study the word of God, and faith has been growing ever since.”

If you want to know how to have faith, begin and grow, it’s through Scripture.  The reason the apostles had faith was because they had contact with Jesus Christ.  The only way in which you can have contact with Jesus Christ is through the Scripture.  By the Scriptures you may be with our Lord Jesus Christ.  You may be with Him when He preaches the word.  You may be with in that boat on the Sea of Galilee when the storm comes.  You may be with Him in the synagogue when He casts out the money changers.  You may be with Him as he makes his way toward Calvary.  You may even be with Him around the cross of Calvary, and Hear him cry out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”  You may be with Him in his resurrection.  You may hear the lessons that He taught the apostles.  You may really be there by the Holy Spirit.  You see, faith comes through contact with Jesus Christ in the word of God.  That’s the only place that you can find faith, but we go looking for every other place than that place.

The Romans 7 Struggle: Prone to Wander, but also ‘Prone to Worship, Lord, I feel it’

April 18, 2012 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Romans series, a few interesting illustrations regarding the Romans 7 struggle:

Salvation is of the Lord

Take Jonah as an illustration.  There he was in the belly of the great fish.  When did he get delivered?  When he had given up all hope of delivering himself.  If you’ll read the 2nd chapter of Jonah, he was in great misery.  He prayed.  He was still in the belly of the great fish.  He cried.  He was still in the belly of the great fish.  He promises, “I will look again toward Thy holy temple.”  He’s still in the belly of the great fish.  He moralizes.  He sacrifices.  He vows, but he’s in the belly of the great fish still.  At length he finally says, “Salvation is of the Lord.”

Mr. Spurgeon said, “He learned that line of good theology in a strange college.”  “Salvation is of the Lord.”  And, the very next verse, he’s on dry land.

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

(Speaking about Lewis Sperry Chafer at a Bible conference in Alabama in the 1940s):  in the midst of one of his messages he said, now Campbell Morgan, who has traces of Arminianism in his teaching, changed a verse of a well-known hymn that we often sing. …  Dr. Chafer said, “Campbell Morgan had traces of Arminianism.”

Now I heard that.  I didn’t know exactly what that meant but it sounded bad. [Laughter] And so I paid attention.  He said, “I know that hymn has a verse in it that reads, ‘Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.'”  But he said, “Campbell Morgan who has traces of Arminianism changed it to ‘Prone to worship, Lord I feel it.  Prone to serve the God I love.'”  And then Dr. Chafer turned to the audience and he said, “Now how many of you think that Campbell Morgan was right?”

Well, we heard that clause, “that has traces of Arminianism,” and that sounded bad and so nobody raised their hand.  He said, “How many of you think the hymn writer was correct?  Prone to wander?”  And so we all raised our hands, and that little smile came over Dr. Chafer’s face.  He was a man before his time.   He had a mustache.  Anyway, a smile came over his face and he said, “Both were right.”  And of course, he was right, because it is true there is an aspect of each one of us as believers that is prone to wander.  And there is also an aspect of us as a result of our conversion that is prone to worship.  We are divided persons.

S. Lewis Johnson’s Romans series: Sanctification Expressed in Four New Types of Union

April 10, 2012 Leave a comment

In my study through Romans, I’ve completed the first five chapters, which deal with justification.  These chapters emphasize our salvation from the penalty of sin, from the power of sin, and from the presence of sin.

Included in this is the great doctrine of justification by faith, that act by God by which he declares the believer righteous by virtue of the imputation of the merits of Jesus Christ upon faith.  It is something done for us, and done for us by a substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Chapters 6 through 8 cover sanctification, and 6:1 through 8:17 is considered the biblical normative passage for Christian living.

Here Paul stresses four new things, depicted in different types of union:

  •  Dynamic union: Romans 8:1-17

After the sanctification passage, the latter part of Romans 8, verses 18 – 39, could be called an “Eternal Union”: a subject which Johnson also spoke of in other studies.

The first section, the judicial union, emphasizes Christ’s payment of the (judicial) penalty.  Our Lord has died, has been buried, has been raised again and we are judicially regarded as having been in him.  When he bore the penalty for our sin we are reckoned to have been in him and bearing our penalty in him.  And when he was raised again from the dead we are reckoned to have been raised in him.

The moral union points to the fact that we are no longer slaves to sin, but are now the slaves of Christ and slaves of righteousness.

In the marital union, we were married to the old man.  Now we are married to the new man who has been raised from the dead.  In being married to Christ we are delivered from the old sphere in which the Law of Moses operated.  Johnson further points out some interesting parallels to the marriage idea.  The physical marriage produces fruit (children), and similarly our spiritual marriage, our marriage union to Christ, produces fruit: our Christian lives, what Paul refers to elsewhere (Galatians 5:22) as the fruit of the Spirit.  Also, among the three types of relationships (acquaintances, friends, and marriage), the marriage relationship only allows two; if a third enters it, a serious problem results: adultery.  Likewise, we are married to Christ, and so to have anything else enter into that picture is to commit adultery: idolatry, covetousness (which is idolatry), friendship with the world.  We commit spiritual adultery when something else comes into that marriage union with Christ.

Finally comes the dynamic union, the new power in life.  The true power of the Christian life resides in the Holy Spirit, the wonderful message of Romans 8, which concludes this key passage on sanctification.

The Davidic Covenant in the New Testament

July 16, 2010 2 comments

I’ve now completed the mini-series (within Lessons from the Life of David) on the Davidic covenant, so here are some more study notes and observations concerning this great covenant, itself an expansion of the Abrahamic covenant:

The New Testament has many references to the Davidic covenant, including:

  • Luke 1:31-33
  • Matt. 4:17, 21:43, 22:41-46, 26:29
  • Acts 13:29-37, and 15:15-16
  • Romans 1:3-4 and 15:7-13
  • Revelation 3:7, 5:5, and 22:16

Revelation 3:7 makes a reference to Isaiah 22:22, the “key of David.”  Revelation 22:16, the end of the New Testament, sums up the truth of the Davidic promises with Jesus’ sure words, “I am the root and the offspring of David.”

To those who would re-interpret references to David as meaning the church (as with the Acts 15 text:  David is mentioned 54 times in the New Testament, and always the word refers to David, not the church.  Furthermore, the Amos text cited in Acts 15 talks about “rebuilding” the tabernacle of David.  When is the Church ever referred to as something to be RE-built?  (No, Christ told Peter He would “build” His church.)  Or as something to be rebuilt from ruins, “as in the days of old”?  What does one do with the beginning phrase “after this”?  As always, we look at the context, which is talking about Gentiles being saved, and understand that the prophecy is talking about the future restoration, what will happen “after this,” the Gentile church age.

S. Lewis Johnson describes the difference between the Jews of Jesus’ day and the present-day Church in an interesting way:  The Jews received the promises, but rejected the seed (Jesus Christ, the seed of David).  We (the visible Church) receive the seed (Jesus), but reject the promises.

As for the common question, “what about the land promises? They’re not mentioned in the New Testament,” the obvious and clear answer is that both the Old and New Testaments are equal in importance.  We must follow the example given by the apostles, for who the Scriptures were the scriptures of the Old Testament, as pointed out in 2 Peter 3:2, “That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.”  Peter’s statement is a strong answer to those who give the New Testament priority and would discard anything from the Old Testament unless it is explicitly mentioned in the New Testament.  Rather, we interpret the Old Testament on its own terms, and only discard something from the Old Testament if the New Testament specifically says to do so.

To think otherwise is to disparage the scriptures, and to lose a lot of the joy of understanding the purpose of God.

The Misuse of Scripture: Examples from Romans and Ezekiel

July 1, 2010 Leave a comment

From recent Bible readings comes Romans 10:1, part of Paul’s discussion about Israel and God’s election in chapters 9 through 11.  The ESV translates the verse as, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”  The NIV translates the “for them” as “Israel,” and though that apparently is not in the original texts, the context is clearly talking about Israelites.  Yet often that verse has been pulled out of its context and listed as a reference in a prayer list, for “the salvation of our loved ones.”

Perhaps such is a valid application.  I certainly cannot think of any other Bible verse to use if one wanted to list a Bible verse reference to go with the topic of praying for salvation for friends and family members.  Over the past few years I have noticed that the local church emphasizes prayers for salvation of loved ones in far greater proportion than the occurrence of such prayers in the Bible.  Often these prayers are especially said in regards to the many unsaved children — “God save our children.”  Some time back I blogged about this more passive parenting attitude in some churches, noting that the scriptures often teach the importance of proper training and discipline instead of that more passive, fatalistic approach to God’s sovereign grace.  I would now add that the Bible says nothing about praying for the salvation of our loved ones (children or others), unless one counts this prayer of Paul in Romans 10:1 — which is really talking about something quite different from general prayers for individuals.  Of course there’s nothing wrong with praying for lost loved ones, and as believers it is something we naturally do quite often — and yet it’s never mentioned in the New Testament, which focuses more on actions and behaviors, such as obedience of children to parents, slaves to masters, etc. as ways in which we “work out our salvation” and show our belief by how we live.

It’s really not uncommon, though, for people to reference a particular scripture and apply it to something completely unrelated to what the text is actually saying.  Given that even preachers do so, the layperson who applies Romans 10:1 to prayers for lost loved ones can be more easily excused.

Interestingly, many of the common misapplications of scripture, like Romans 10:1, involve texts that specifically deal with Israel — passages which Gentiles in the Church Age give other, unintended meanings to.  A great example of this is Ezekiel 37:1-10, a text clearly talking about the restoration of Israel, yet so often taught as being about the resurrection.

Spurgeon had some great words to say concerning this misuse of Ezekiel 37:  (Sermon #582, from 1864):

This vision has been used, from the time of Jerome onwards, as a description of the resurrection and certainly it may be so accommodated with much effect. … But while this interpretation of the vision may be very proper as an accommodation, it must be quite evident to any thinking person that this is not the meaning of the passage. There is no allusion made by Ezekiel to the resurrection and such a topic would have been quite apart from the design of the Prophet’s speech. I believe he was no more thinking of the resurrection of the dead than of the building of St. Peter’s at Rome, or the emigration of the Pilgrim Fathers! That topic is altogether foreign to the subject at hand and could not by any possibility have crept into the Prophet’s mind.

He was talking about the people of Israel and prophesying concerning them. And evidently the vision, according to God’s own interpretation of it, was concerning them and them alone, for, “these bones are the whole house of Israel.” It was not a vision concerning all men, nor, indeed, concerning any men as to the resurrection of the dead—it had a direct and special bearing upon the Jewish people. This passage, again, has been very frequently and I dare say very properly, used to describe the revival of a decayed Church. This vision may be looked upon as descriptive of a state of lukewarmness and spiritual lethargy in a Church when the question may be sorrowfully asked—“Can these bones live?” . . . But while we admit this to be a very fitting accommodation of our text, yet we are quite convinced that it is not to this that the passage refers. It would be altogether alien to the Prophet’s strain of thought to be thinking about the restoration of fallen zeal and the rekindling of expiring love. He was not considering the Reformation either of Luther or of Whitfield, or about the revival of one Church or of another.

No, he was talking of his own people, of his own race and of his own tribe. He surely ought to have known his own mind, and led by the Holy Spirit, he gives us as an explanation of the vision. Not—“Thus says the Lord, My dying Church shall be restored,” but—“I will bring My people out of their graves and bring them into the land of Israel.”

Bible Prophecy and Practical Christian Living

May 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Again and again in my Bible study I encounter exhortations to holy living, in the light of our understanding of the prophetic word: from J.C. Ryle, S. Lewis Johnson, John MacArthur, David Jeremiah, etc.  Certainly I can see some change within my own thoughts, over the last two years, as I continually conform my thoughts to the word of God (Romans 12:2) and appreciate the wonders of what God has revealed in His word.

Specifically, I can more readily accept the hardships and craziness of our world, knowing what the future holds.  During a recent spell of extremely hot weather, for instance, I remembered Romans 8:20-21, the promise from God that the creation itself will one day be restored to how it was in the original perfect creation, and what awaits during that glorious Millennial Kingdom age when the weather patterns will no longer bring extreme heat and cold, or the terrible natural disasters; the ground will yield forth food instead of the thistles and thorns brought about in the curse.  Just as we await the redemption of our bodies, so the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage.  Such understanding brings God’s grace to patiently endure the heat which I used to complain too much about.

Another area of difference:  understanding the seeming craziness of the world and the rise and fall of nations, and the true nature of the visible Church.  Certainly God’s word in general (basic evangelical gospel) tells us to trust God, that He is in control of the big things as well as our lives, and that He is the one who appoints the governments and leaders, and one day we’ll die and go to be with God in heaven.  Without the added understanding from prophecy, though, it is much harder to accept the specifics of the things we actually see going on in the world.  I first started learning about the rise and fall of nations from reading John MacArthur’s sermon series through the book of Daniel in early 2009, a new, biblical perspective contrary to the popular “Christian America” moral message I imbibed during my early Christian years.

What I now realize that the Bible has to say concerning the future of certain locations — especially Israel, Asia (its very large population), and Babylon — makes perfect sense of the rapidly increasing decline of the U.S., and of the U.S.’s now declining relationship with Israel.  It even makes sense of specific news items, such as what I found so disturbing a few years ago: that the U.S. was sending mega-bucks of our taxpayer money over to Iraq to rebuild its economy, even subsidizing its economy with cheap gasoline at the pump.  When I consider the amazing implied prophecy in Revelation 11:9-12, that the Bible predicted over 1900 years ago a world that would have instant, worldwide communication including the transmission of visual images, I am that much more awestruck by our great God.

That the Bible predicts great apostasy within the visible Church, and increasing apostasy as the end nears, gives me peace of mind concerning the reality observed in the Church today, in contrast to the optimistic kingdom (as in the Church is the Kingdom) language that so popularly expresses the misconception of many confused believers.

Understanding what God’s word has to say regarding the believer’s rewards compels me toward holy and righteous living — not as though my salvation were dependent on works, but to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” recognizing the need to redeem the time, since we must give account to God for how we used our gifts and spent our time — not in frivolous things of no value (wood, hay, straw), but in those things which build up God’s people and glorify Him (gold and silver).  John MacArthur’s emphasis on the value of studying and meditating on the things of God, and the great reward ahead for those who do so — a reward that will include greater capacity to know, enjoy and love God — is an encouragement to persevere toward that end, to run the race to win the prize.

By contrast, the anti-futurist Christian view emphasizes the equality of all believers in Christ without distinctions, a view that is actually quite uncomfortable with the idea of rewards or differences among believers (as I even heard one such preacher admit recently): we’re all equal, the Church has replaced Israel, and we will be judged along with unbelievers at the Great White Throne — to show that we’re just as guilty as them but for the blood of Jesus.  Yet such incomplete and unbiblical teaching lacks the extra motivation (the believer’s rewards) — provided by the study of biblical eschatology — toward holy living in believers, instead destroying our great blessed hope of our Lord’s imminent return for His people (1 Thess. 4:17-18, John 14:3).  Truly, God’s word including the prophetic picture is a great blessing that God has revealed to us, and those who endeavor to search and study the scriptures will gain this blessing (Revelation 1:3) and not be disappointed.