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How to know GOD´s will- by Uwe Rosenkranz

CRUCIAL
QUESTIONS
No. 4
CAN I Know GOD’S WILL?

R. C. SPROUL
Reformation Trust
PUBLISHING
A DIVISION OF LIGONIER MINISTRIES • ORLANDO, FLORIDA

Can I Know God’s Will?

© 1984, 1999, 2009 by R. C. Sproul

Previously published as God’s Will and the Christian (1984) and as part of Following Christ (1991) by Tyndale House Publishers, and as Can I Know God’s Will? by Ligonier Ministries (1999).

Published by Reformation Trust
a division of Ligonier Ministries
400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746
http://www.Ligonier.org
http://www.ReformationTrust.com

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked RSV are taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 (2nd edition, 1971) by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from The Holy Bible, King James Version.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
[God’s will and the Christian]
Can I know God’s will? / R. C. Sproul.
p. cm.–(The crucial questions series)
First published as: God’s will and the Christian. 1984. Following Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, c1991. Can I know God’s Will? Ligonier Ministries, 1999.
ISBN 978-1-56769-179-5
1. Providence and government of God–Christianity. 2. God (Christianity)–Will. I. Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939– Following Christ. II. Title.
BT135.S745 2009
248.4–dc22
2009018820

Contents
One—THE MEANING OF GOD’S WILL

Two—THE MEANING OF MAN’S WILL

Three—GOD’S WILL AND YOUR JOB

Four—GOD’S WILL IN MARRIAGE

Chapter One

THE MEANING OF GOD’S WILL
Lost in Wonderland, Alice came to a fork in the road. Icy panic stung her as she stood frozen by indecision. She lifted her eyes toward heaven, looking for guidance. Her eyes did not find God, only the Cheshire cat leering at her from his perch in the tree above.

“Which way should I go?” Alice blurted.
“That depends,” said the cat, fixing a sardonic smile on the confused girl.
“On what?” Alice managed to reply.
“It depends on your destination. Where are you going?” the cat asked.
“I don’t know,” Alice stammered.
“Then,” said the cat, his grin spreading wider, “it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

The destination matters to the Christian. We are a pilgrim people. Though we do not wander in a wilderness in route to the Promised Land, we seek a better country, an eternal city whose builder and maker is God. Someday He will take us home to His kingdom.
So the ultimate destination is clear. We are certain that there is a glorious future for the people of God. However, what of tomorrow? We feel anxious about the immediate future, just as unbelievers do. The specifics of our personal futures are unknown to us. Like children we ask: “Will I be happy? Will I be rich? What will happen to me?” We must walk by faith rather than by sight.
As long as there have been people, there have been soothsayers and wizards exploiting our anxieties. If prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, surely fortune-telling is the second oldest. “Tell me of tomorrow” is the plea of the stock market speculator, the competitive businessman, the sports forecaster, and the young couple in love. The student asks, “Will I graduate?” The manager muses, “Will I be promoted?” The person in the doctor’s waiting room clenches his hands and asks, “Is it cancer or indigestion?” People have examined lizard entrails, snakeskins, the bones of owls, the Ouija board, the daily horoscope, and the predictions of sports handicappers—all to gain a small margin of insurance against an unknown future.
The Christian feels the same curiosity, but frames the question differently. He asks: “What is the will of God for my life?” To search for the will of God can be an exercise in piety or impiety, an act of humble submission or outrageous arrogance—depending on what will of God we seek. To try to look behind the veil at what God has not been pleased to reveal is to tamper with holy things that are out of bounds. John Calvin said that when God “closes his holy mouth,” we should desist from inquiry (Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. and ed. John Owen [reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House. 2003], 354).
On the other hand, God delights to hear the prayers of His people when they individually ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” The Christian pursues God, looking for His marching orders, seeking to know what course of action is pleasing to Him. This search for the will of God is a holy quest—a pursuit that is to be undertaken with vigor by the godly person.
The Biblical Meaning of the Will of God

We yearn for simple answers to difficult questions. We want clarity. We desire to cut through the entanglements to the heart of the question. Sometimes the answers are simple enough in themselves, but the process of finding them is laborious and confusing. Sometimes the answers are simplistic, giving us temporary relief from the pressures and the burdens of confusing questions.
However, there is a profound difference between the simple answer and the simplistic answer. The simple answer is correct; it accounts for all the data found in the complex problem. It is clear and can be easily grasped in its fullness. It abides, being able to stand the test of rigorous questioning. The simplistic answer is a counterfeit. On the surface it appears to be the genuine article, but under closer scrutiny it yields its bogus flaws. The simplistic answer may account for some of the data but not all of it. It remains fuzzy. Worst of all, it does not abide; it fails the test of deeper questioning. It does not satisfy in the long haul.
One of the most excruciating questions in theology is, “Why did Adam fall?” The simplistic answer, commonly heard, is that Adam fell by his own free will. Such an answer is satisfying until we probe the question more deeply. Suppose we ask: “How could a righteous creature made by a perfect Creator sin? How could Adam make an evil choice while possessing no prior inclination or disposition to evil? Was he simply deceived or coerced by Satan? If so, why would Adam then be blameworthy?” If he was merely deceived, then the fault is all Satan’s. If he was coerced, then it was not a free choice. If he sinned because he had a prior desire or inclination to sin, then we must ask: “What was the source of his evil desire? Did God put it there?” If so, then we cast a shadow on the integrity of the Creator.
Perhaps the simplest way to expose the weak character of the simplistic answer that Adam fell by his own free will is to ask our question another way: “Why did Adam exercise his own free will to sin?” It simply won’t do to answer, “Because he chose to.” This answer is a mere repetition of the question in a declarative form.
I would like to offer a simple answer to the difficult question of Adam’s fall, but I simply can’t. The only response I can give to the question is that I don’t know the answer.
Some readers will surely chasten me at this point by saying to themselves: “I know the answer! Adam fell because it was the will of God.”
I immediately ask: “In what sense was Adam’s fall the will of God? Did God force Adam to fall and then punish him for doing what he had no power to avoid?” To ask such an impious question is to answer it. Certainly the fall must have been the “will of God” in some sense, but the crucial question remains, “In what sense?”
So here we are, pressed squarely against a biting question that involves the matter of the will of God. We want to know how the will of God worked in Adam’s life; but more personally, we want to know how the will of God works in our own lives.
When questions are difficult and complex, it is a good rule to collect as much data about them as possible. The more clues the detective has to work with, the easier it usually is to solve the crime (note the word usually). Sometimes the detective suffers from too many clues, which only serve to compound the difficulty of the solution. The corporate executive faced with major decision-making responsibilities knows the importance of sufficient data- and record-keeping. His maxim may be: “If you have enough data, the decisions jump out at you.” Again we must add the qualifier usually. Sometimes the data are so complex that they jump out like screaming banshees, defying our ability to sort through them all.
I emphasize the point of data, complexity, and simplicity because the biblical meaning of the will of God is a very complicated matter. To approach it simplistically is to invite disaster. At times, wrestling with the complexities of the biblical concept of the will of God can give us an Excedrin headache. Yet ours is a holy quest, a pursuit that is worth a few headaches along the way. But we must guard against proceeding in a simplistic way, lest we change the holy quest into an unholy presumption.
We note at the outset that the Bible speaks of the “will of God” in more than one way. This is the key problem that complicates our quest and serves as a warning against simplistic solutions. In the New Testament, there are two Greek words that can be and have been translated by the English word will. It would seem that all we need is to identify precisely the meanings of the two words and check out the Greek text every time we see the word will, and our problems will be solved. Alas, it doesn’t work that way. The plot thickens when we discover that each of the two Greek words has several nuances of meaning. Simply checking the Greek text for word usage is not enough to solve our difficulty.
However, finding the meanings of the Greek words is a helpful starting place. Let’s examine the two words briefly to see whether they shed any light on our quest. The words are boule and thelema.
The term boule has its roots in an ancient verb that means a “rational and conscious desire,” as opposed to thelema, meaning “an impulsive or unconscious desire.” The ancient subtle distinction was between rational desire and impulsive desire. As the Greek language developed, however, this distinction was softened, and eventually the words became used at times as synonyms, with authors switching from one to the other for purposes of stylistic change.
In the New Testament, boule usually refers to a plan based on careful deliberation; it is used most often with respect to the counsel of God. Boule frequently indicates God’s providential plan, which is predetermined and inflexible. Luke is fond of using it this way, as we read in the book of Acts: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan [boule] and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).
Here the resolute decree of God is in view, which no human action can set aside. God’s plan is impregnable; His “will” is unalterable.
The word thelema is rich in its diversity of meanings. It refers to what is agreeable, what is desired, what is intended, what is chosen, or what is commanded. Here we have the notions of consent, desire, purpose, resolution, and command. The force of the various meanings is determined by the context in which thelema appears.
The Decretive Will of God

Theologians describe as the “decretive will of God” that will by which God decrees things to come to pass according to His supreme sovereignty. This is also sometimes called “God’s sovereign efficacious will”; by it, God brings to pass whatsoever He wills. When God sovereignly decrees something in this sense, nothing can prevent it from coming to pass.
When God commanded the light to shine, the darkness had no power to resist the command. The “lights” came on. God did not persuade the light to shine. He did not negotiate with elemental powers to form a universe. He did not achieve a plan of redemption by trial and error; the cross was not a cosmic accident exploited by the Deity. These things were decreed absolutely. Their effects were efficacious (producing the desired result) because their causes were sovereignly decreed.
A serious danger faces those who restrict the meaning of the will of God to the sovereign will. We hear the Muslim cry, “It is the will of Allah.” We slip at times into a deterministic view of life that says, “Que será, sera,” or “What will be, will be.” In so doing, we embrace a sub-Christian form of fatalism, as if God willed everything that happened in such a way as to eliminate human choices.
Classical theologians insist on the reality of man’s will in acting, choosing, and responding. God works His plan through means, via the real choices of willing and acting creatures. There are secondary as well as primary causes. To deny this is to embrace a kind of determinism that eliminates human freedom and dignity.
Yet there is a God who is sovereign, whose will is greater than ours. His will restricts my will. My will cannot restrict His will. When He decrees something sovereignly, it will come to pass—whether I like it or not, whether I choose it or not. He is sovereign. I am subordinate.
The Preceptive Will of God

When the Bible speaks of the will of God, it does not always mean the decretive will of God. The decretive will of God cannot be broken or disobeyed. It will come to pass. On the other hand, there is a will that can be broken: “the preceptive will of God.” It can be disobeyed. Indeed, it is broken and disobeyed every day by each one of us.
The preceptive will of God is found in His law. The precepts, statutes, and commandments that He delivers to His people make up the preceptive will. They express and reveal to us what is right and proper for us to do. The preceptive will is God’s rule of righteousness for our lives. By this rule we are governed.
It is the will of God that we not sin. It is the will of God that we have no other gods before Him; that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves; that we refrain from stealing, coveting, and committing adultery. Yet the world is filled with idolatry, hatred, thievery, covetousness, and adultery. The will of God is violated whenever His law is broken.
One of the great tragedies of contemporary Christendom is the preoccupation of so many Christians with the secret decretive will of God to the exclusion and neglect of the preceptive will. We want to peek behind the veil, to catch a glimpse of our personal future. We seem more concerned with our horoscope than with our obedience, more concerned with what the stars in their courses are doing than with what we are doing.
With respect to God’s sovereign will, we assume we are passive. With respect to His preceptive will, we know that we are active and therefore responsible and accountable. It is easier to engage in ungodly prying into the secret counsel of God than to apply ourselves to the practice of godliness. We can flee to the safety of the sovereign will and try to pass off our sin to God, laying the burden and responsibility of it on His unchanging will. Such characterizes the spirit of antichrist, the spirit of lawlessness or antinomianism, that despises God’s law and ignores His precepts.
Protestants are particularly vulnerable to this distortion. We seek refuge in our precious doctrine of justification by faith alone, forgetting that the very doctrine is to be a catalyst for the pursuit of righteousness and obedience to the preceptive will of God.
Biblical Righteousness

Habakkuk’s famous statement, “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4, KJV), is found three times in the New Testament. It has become a slogan of evangelical Protestantism, whose emphasis has been on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This slogan, containing a hint of the essence of the Christian life, has its focal point in the biblical concept of righteousness.
One of Jesus’ most disturbing comments was the statement, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). It is easy for us to assume that Jesus meant that our righteousness must be of a higher sort than that characterized by men who were hypocrites. The image that we have of scribes and Pharisees from the New Testament period is that of unscrupulous, ruthless practitioners of religious deceit. We must bear in mind, however, that the Pharisees as a group were men historically committed to a very lofty level of righteous living. Yet Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed theirs. What did He mean?
When we consider the biblical notion of righteousness, we are dealing with a matter that touches virtually every plane of theology. In the first place, there is the righteousness of God, by which all standards of rightness and wrongness are to be measured. God’s character is the ultimate foundation and model of righteousness. In the Old Testament, righteousness becomes defined in terms of obedience to the commandments delivered by God, who Himself is altogether righteous. Those commands include not only precepts of human behavior with respect to our fellow human beings, but also matters of a liturgical and ceremonial nature.
In Old Testament Israel and among the New Testament Pharisees, liturgical righteousness was substituted for authentic righteousness. That is to say, men became satisfied with obeying the rituals of the religious community rather than fulfilling the broader implications of the law. For example, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for tithing their mint and cumin while omitting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy. Jesus indicated that the Pharisees were correct in giving their tithes, but were incorrect in assuming that the liturgical exercises had completed the requirements of the law. Here, liturgical righteousness had become a substitute for true and full obedience.
Within the evangelical world, righteousness is a rare word indeed. We speak of morality, spirituality, and piety. Seldom, however, do we speak of righteousness. Yet the goal of our redemption is not piety or spirituality but righteousness. Spirituality in the New Testament sense is a means to the end of righteousness. Being spiritual means that we are exercising the spiritual graces given by God to mold us after the image of His Son. The disciplines of prayer, Bible study, church fellowship, witnessing, and the like are not ends in themselves, but are designed to assist us in living righteously. We are stunted in our growth if we assume that the end of the Christian life is spirituality.
Spiritual concerns are but the beginning of our walk with God. We must beware of the subtle danger of thinking that spirituality completes the requirements of Christ. To fall into such a trap—the trap of the Pharisees—is to substitute liturgical or ritualistic practices for authentic righteousness. By all means we are to pray and to study the Bible, and to bear witness in evangelism. However, we must never, at any point in our lives, rest from our pursuit of righteousness.
In justification we become righteous in the sight of God by means of the cloak of Christ’s righteousness. However, as soon as we are justified, our lives must give evidence of the personal righteousness that flows out of our justification. It is interesting to me that the whole biblical concept of righteousness is contained in one Greek word, dikaios. That same Greek word is used to refer, in the first instance, to the righteousness of God; in the second instance, to what we call justification; and in the third instance, to the righteousness of life. Thus, from beginning to end—from the nature of God to the destiny of man—our human duty remains the same—a call to righteousness.
True righteousness must never be confused with self-righteousness. Since our righteousness proceeds from our justification, which is based on the righteousness of Christ alone, we must never be deluded into thinking that our works of righteousness have any merit of their own. Yet as Protestants, zealously maintaining our doctrine of justification by faith alone, we must be ever mindful that the justification that is by faith alone is never by a faith that is alone. True faith manifests itself in righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees and the scribes, for it is concerned with the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy.
We are called to bear witness to the righteousness of God in every area of life—from our prayer closets to our courtrooms, from our pews to our marketplaces. The top priority of Jesus is that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All other things will be added to that.
An Allergy to Restraint

“Everybody do your own thing.” This cliché from the sixties characterizes the spirit of our age. Increasingly freedom is being equated with the inalienable right to do whatever you please. It carries with it a built-in allergy to laws that restrain, whether they be the laws of God or the laws of men.
This pervasive anti-law, or antinomian, attitude is reminiscent of the biblical epoch that provoked God’s judgment because “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). The secular world reflects this attitude in the statement, “Government can’t legislate morality.” Morality is seen as a private matter, outside the domain of the state and even of the church.
A shift has occurred in word meaning so subtle that many have missed it. The original intent of the concept, “You cannot legislate morality,” was to convey the idea that passing a law prohibiting a particular kind of activity would not necessarily eliminate such activity. The point of the phrase was that laws do not ipso facto produce obedience to those laws. In fact, on some occasions, the legal prohibition of certain practices has incited only greater violation of established law. The prohibition of alcoholic beverages is an example.
The contemporary interpretation of legislating morality differs from the original intent. Instead of saying that government cannot legislate morality, it says government may not legislate morality. That means government should stay out of moral issues such as the regulation of abortion, deviant sexual practices, marriage and divorce, and so on, since morality is a matter of conscience in the private sector. For government to legislate in these areas is often viewed as an invasion of privacy by the state, representing a denial of basic freedoms for the individual.
If we take this kind of thinking to its logical conclusion, we leave the government with little to do. If government may not legislate morality, its activity will be restricted to determining the colors of the state flag, the state flower, and perhaps the state bird. (However, even questions of flowers and birds may be deemed “moral,” as they touch on ecological issues, which are ultimately moral in character.) The vast majority of matters that concern legislation are, in fact, of a decidedly moral character. The regulation of murder, theft, and civil rights is a moral matter. How a person operates his automobile on the highway is a moral issue since it touches on the well-being of fellow travelers.
Questions relating to the legalization of marijuana often focus on the fact that a majority of certain age groups are violating the law. The argument goes like this: Since disobedience is so widespread, doesn’t this indicate that the law is bad? Such a conclusion is a blatant non sequitur. Whether or not marijuana should be decriminalized should not be determined by levels of civil disobedience.
The point is that a vast number of Americans reflect an antinomian spirit regarding marijuana. Such disobedience is hardly motivated by noble aspirations to a higher ethic suppressed by a tyrannical government. Here the law is broken as a matter of convenience and physical appetite.
Within the church, the same spirit of antinomianism has prevailed too often. Pope Benedict XVI faces the embarrassing legacy of his predecessors as he tries to explain to the world why a majority of his American adherents tell the pollsters they practice artificial means of birth control when a papal encyclical explicitly forbids such methods. One must ask how people can confess their belief in an “infallible” leader of their church and at the same time obstinately refuse to submit to that leader.
Within the Protestant churches, individuals frequently become irate when called to moral accountability. They often declare that the church has no right to intrude into their private lives. They say this in spite of the fact that in their membership vows, they publicly committed themselves to submit to the moral oversight of the church.
Antinomianism should be more rare in the evangelical Christian community than anywhere else. Sadly, the facts do not fit the theory. So blasé is the typical “evangelical” toward the law of God that the prophecies of doom that Rome thundered at Martin Luther are beginning to come true. Some “evangelicals” are indeed using justification by faith alone as a license to sin; these can be deemed properly only as pseudo-evangelicals. Anyone who has the most rudimentary understanding of justification by faith knows that authentic faith always manifests itself in a zeal for obedience. No earnest Christian can ever have a cavalier attitude toward the law of God. Though obedience to such laws does not bring justification, the justified person will surely endeavor to obey them.
To be sure, there are times when the commandments of men are on a collision course with the laws of God. In those instances, Christians not only may disobey men, but must disobey men. I am not talking here of isolated moral issues but of attitudes. Christians must be particularly careful in this era of antinomianism not to get caught up in the spirit of the age. We are not free to do what is right in our own eyes. We are called to do what is right in His eyes.
Freedom should not be confused with autonomy. As long as evil exists in the world, the moral restraint of law is necessary. It is an act of grace by which God institutes government, which exists to restrain the evildoer. It exists to protect the innocent and the righteous. The righteous are called to support it as much as they possibly can without compromising their obedience to God.
God’s Will of Disposition

While we understand that the decretive will and the preceptive will of God are part of His overall will, other aspects of the mystery of His sovereignty remain. One such aspect is “the will of disposition.” It is tied up with the ability of man to disobey God’s preceptive will.
This aspect of the will of God refers to what is pleasing and agreeable to God. It expresses something of the attitude of God to His creatures. Some things are “well pleasing in his sight,” while other things are said to grieve Him. He may allow (but not via moral permission) wicked things to transpire, but He is by no means pleased by them.
To illustrate how these differing aspects of the will of God come into play in biblical interpretation, let us examine the verse that says the Lord is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9, KJV). Which of the above-mentioned meanings of will fits this text? How is the meaning of the text changed by the application of the nuances?
Try first the decretive will. The verse would then mean, “God is not willing in a sovereign decretive sense that any should perish.” The implication would then be that nobody perishes. This verse would be a proof text for universalism, with its view that hell is utterly vacant of people.
The second option is that God is not willing in a preceptive way that any should perish. This would mean that God does not allow people to perish in the sense that He grants His moral permission. This obviously does not fit the context of the passage.
The third option makes sense. God is not willing in the sense that He is not inwardly disposed to, or delighted by, people’s perishing. Elsewhere, Scripture teaches that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. He may decree what He does not enjoy; that is, He may distribute justice to wicked offenders. He is pleased when justice is maintained and righteousness is honored, even though He takes no personal pleasure in the application of such punishment.
A human analogy may be seen in our law courts. A judge, in the interest of justice, may sentence a criminal to prison and at the same time inwardly grieve for the guilty man. His disposition may be for the man but against the crime.
However, God is not merely a human judge, working under the constraints of the criminal justice system. God is sovereign—He can do what He pleases. If He is not pleased or willing that any should perish, why then does He not exercise His decretive will accordingly? How can there be a hiatus between God’s decretive will and His will of disposition?
All things being equal, God does desire that no one should perish. But all things are not equal. Sin is real. Sin violates God’s holiness and righteousness. God also is not willing that sin should go unpunished. He desires as well that His holiness should be vindicated. It is dangerous to speak of a conflict of interests or of a clash of desires within God. Yet, in a certain sense, we must. He wills the obedience of His creatures. He wills the well-being of His creatures. There is a symmetry of relationship ultimately between obedience and well-being. The obedient child will never perish. Those who obey God’s preceptive will enjoy the benefits of His will of disposition. When the preceptive will is violated, things are no longer equal. Now God requires punishment while not particularly enjoying the application of it.
Yet does this not beg the ultimate question? Where does the decretive will fit in? Could not God originally have decreed that no one ever would be able to sin, thus ensuring an eternal harmony among all elements of His will: decretive, preceptive, and dispositional?
Often the answer to this question is superficial. Appeals are made to the free will of man, as if by magic man’s free will could explain the dilemma. We are told that the only way God could have created a universe guaranteed to be free from sin would have been to make creatures without free will. It is then argued that these creatures would have been nothing more than puppets and would have lacked humanity, being devoid of the power or ability to sin. If that is the case, then what does it suggest about the state of our existence in heaven? We are promised that when our redemption is complete, sin will be no more. We will still have an ability to choose, but our disposition will be so inclined toward righteousness that we will, in fact, never choose evil. If this will be possible in heaven after redemption, why could it not have been possible before the fall?
The Bible gives no clear answer to this thorny question. We are told that God created people who, for better or for worse, have the ability to sin. We also know from Scripture that there is no shadow of turning in the character of God, and that all of His works are clothed in righteousness. That He chose to create man the way He did is mysterious, but we must assume, given the knowledge we have, that God’s plan was good. Any conflict that arises between His commandments to us, His desire that we should obey Him, and our failure to comply does not destroy His sovereignty.
God’s Secret and Revealed Will

We have already distinguished among the three types of the will of God: His decretive will, His preceptive will, and His will of disposition. Another distinction must be established between what is called God’s secret, or hidden, will and His revealed will. This secret will of God is subsumed under the decretive will because, for the most part, it remains undisclosed to us. There is a limit to the revelation God has made of Himself. We know certain things about God’s decretive will that He has been pleased to set forth for our information in Holy Scripture. But because we are finite creatures, we do not comprehend the total dimension of divine knowledge or the divine plan. As the Scriptures teach, the secret things belong to the Lord, but that which He has revealed belongs to us and to our children forever (Deut. 29:29).
Protestant theologians have made use of the distinction between the hidden God (Deus obsconditus) and the revealed God (Deus revelatus). This distinction is valuable and indeed necessary when we realize that not all that can be known of God has been revealed to us. There is a sense in which God remains hidden from us, insofar as He has not been pleased to reveal all there is to know about Him. However, this distinction is fraught with peril since some have found within it a conflict between two kinds of gods. A god who reveals his character to be one thing, but who is secretly contrary to that revealed character, would be a supreme hypocrite.
If we say that God has no secret will and proposes to do only what He commands and nothing more, then we would perceive God as one whose desires and plans are constantly thwarted by the harassment of human beings. Such a god would be impotent, and no god at all.
If we distinguish between the secret aspect of God and the revealed aspect of God, we must hold these as parts of the whole, not as contradictions. That is to say, what God has revealed about Himself is trustworthy. Our knowledge is partial, but it is true as far as it goes. What belongs to the secret counsel of God does not contradict the character of God that has been revealed to us.
The distinction of God’s revealed will and hidden will raises a practical problem: the question of whether or not it is possible for a Christian to act in harmony with God’s decretive (hidden) will and at the same time work against His preceptive will.
We must admit that such a possibility exists—in a sense. For example, it was in God’s decretive will and by His determinate counsel that Jesus Christ was condemned to die on the cross. The divine purpose, of course, was to secure the redemption of God’s people. However, that purpose was hidden from the view of men who sat in judgment over Jesus. When Pontius Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified, Pilate acted against the preceptive will of God but in harmony with the decretive will of God. Does this make nonsense of God’s preceptive will? God forbid. What it does is bear witness to the transcendent power of God to work His purposes sovereignly in spite of, and by means of, the evil acts of men.
Consider the story of Joseph, whose brothers, out of jealousy and greed, sold their innocent brother into slavery in Egypt. At their reunion years later, and upon the brothers’ confession of sin, Joseph replied, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Here is the inscrutable majesty of God’s providence. God made use of human evil in bringing to pass His purposes for Joseph and for the Jewish nation. Joseph’s brothers were guilty of willful and malicious sin. By directly violating the preceptive will of God, they sinned against their brother and against God. Yet in their sin, God’s secret counsel was brought to pass, and God brought redemption through it.
What if Joseph’s brothers had been obedient? Joseph would not have been sold into slavery; he would not have been taken to Egypt; he would not have been sent to prison, from which he was called to interpret a dream. What if Joseph had not become prime minister? What would have become the historical reason for the brothers’ settling in Egypt? There would have been no Jewish settlement in Egypt, no Moses, no exodus from Egypt, no law, no prophets, no Christ, no salvation.
Can we, therefore, conclude that the sins of Joseph’s brothers were, in fact, virtues in disguise? Not at all. Their sin was sin, a clear violation of the preceptive will of God, for which they were held responsible and judged to be guilty. But God brought good out of evil. This reflects neither a contradiction in God’s character nor a contradiction between His precepts and His decrees. Rather it calls attention to the transcendent power of His sovereignty.
Is it possible for us in this day and age to obey the preceptive will of God and yet be in conflict with the secret will of God? Of course this is possible. It may be the will of God, for example, that He use a foreign nation to chastise the United States for sinning against God. It may be in the plan of God to have the people of the United States brought under judgment through the aggressive invasion of Russia. In terms of God’s inscrutable will, He could be, for purposes of judgment, “on the side of the Russians.” Yet at the same time, it would remain the duty of the civil magistrate of the American nation to resist the transgression of our borders by a conquering nation.
We have a parallel in the history of Israel, where God used the Babylonians as a rod to chastise His people Israel. In that situation, it would have been perfectly proper for the civil magistrate of Israel to have resisted the wicked invasion of the Babylonians. In so doing, the Israelites would have been, in effect, resisting the decretive will of God. The book of Habakkuk wrestles with the severe problem of God’s use of the evil inclinations of men to bring judgment on His people. This is not to suggest that God favored the Babylonians. He made it clear that judgment would fall on them also, but He first made use of their evil inclinations in order to bring a corrective discipline to His own people.
Knowing the Will of God for Our Lives

Pursuing knowledge of the will of God is not an abstract science designed to titillate the intellect or to convey the kind of knowledge that “puffs up” but fails to edify. An understanding of the will of God is desperately important for every Christian seeking to live a life that is pleasing to his or her Creator. It is a very practical thing for us to know what God wants for our lives. A Christian asks: “What are my marching orders? What should my role be in contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God? What does God want me to do with my life?” It is inconceivable that a Christian could live for very long without coming face-to-face with these gripping questions.
Having been a Christian for some fifty years, with the study of theology my main vocational pursuit, I find the practical question of the will of God pressing on my mind quite frequently. I doubt a fortnight passes that I am not seriously engaged by the question of whether I am doing what God wants me to do at this point in my life. The question haunts and beckons all of us. It demands resolution, and so we must ask ourselves, “How do we know the will of God for our lives?”
The practical question of how we know the will of God for our lives cannot be solved with any degree of accuracy unless we have some prior understanding of the will of God in general. Without the distinctions that we have made, our pursuit of the will of God can plunge us into hopeless confusion and consternation. When we seek the will of God, we must first ask ourselves which will we are seeking to discover.
If our quest is to penetrate the hidden aspects of His will, then we have embarked on a fool’s errand. We are trying the impossible and chasing the untouchable. Such a quest is not only an act of foolishness, but also an act of presumption. There is a very real sense in which the secret will of the secret counsel of God is none of our business and is off limits to our speculative investigations.
Untold evils have been perpetrated on God’s people by unscrupulous theologians who have sought to correct or to supplant the clear and plain teaching of sacred Scripture by doctrines and theories based on speculation alone. The business of searching out the mind of God where God has remained silent is dangerous business indeed. Luther put it this way: “We must keep in view his word and leave alone his inscrutable will; for it is by his word and not by his inscrutable will that we must be guided.”
Christians are permitted, in a sense, to attempt to discern the will of God by means of illumination by the Holy Spirit and by confirmation through circumstances that we are doing the right thing. However, as we will discover, the search for providential guidance must always be subordinate to our study of the revealed will of God. In our search, we must also come to terms with the dynamic tensions created by the concept of man’s will versus predestination. Before our inquiry can lead us into such practical avenues as occupation and marriage, we must face the thorny issues involved in the free will/predestination issue. We have seen what the will of God entails. What about the will of man? How do the two relate? How free is man, after all?

Chapter Two

THE MEANING OF MAN’S WILL
The term free will as applied to man is often glibly declared with little or no understanding of its meaning. There is actually no unified theory of man’s free will, but a variety of competing and often conflicting views about it.
The question of man’s free will is made more complicated by the fact that we must examine it in terms of how the will functioned before and after the fall of Adam. Most important is how the fall affected man’s moral choices.
Augustine gave the church a close analysis of the state of freedom that Adam enjoyed before the fall. His classic concept of freedom distinguished four possibilities. In Latin, they are:

1. posse pecarre—able to sin
2. posse non pecarre—able not to sin (or to remain free from sin)
3. non posse pecarre—unable to sin
4. non posse, non pecarre—unable not to sin

Augustine argued that before the fall, Adam possessed both the ability to sin (posse pecarre) and the ability to not sin (posse non pecarre). However, Adam lacked the exalted state of the inability to sin that God enjoys (non posse pecarre). God’s inability to sin is based not on an inner powerlessness to do what He wants, but rather on the fact that God has no inner desire to sin. Since the desire for sin is utterly absent from God, there is no reason for God to choose sin.
Before the fall, Adam did not have the moral perfection of God, but neither did he have the inability to refrain from sin (non posse, non pecarre). During his time of “probation” in the garden, he had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. He chose to exercise the ability to sin and thus plunged the human race into ruin.
As a result, Adam’s first sin was passed on to all his descendants. Original sin refers not to the first sin but to God’s punishment of that first transgression. Because of the first sin, human nature fell into a morally corrupt state, itself partly a judgment of God. When we speak of original sin, we refer to the fallen human condition that reflects the judgment of God on the race.
The Fallenness of Man

Christians differ in their views concerning the extent and seriousness of the fall. However, it is almost universally conceded that in dealing with mankind, we are dealing with a fallen race. Augustine located the depths of man’s fallenness in his loss of original powers of righteousness. No longer does man have the ability to not sin. In man’s fallen state, his plight is found in his inability to keep from sinning (non posse, non pecarre). In the fall, something profoundly vital to moral freedom was lost.
Augustine declared that in his prefallen state, man enjoyed both a free will (liberium arbitrium) and moral liberty (libertas). Since the fall, man has continued to have a free will, but has lost the moral liberty he once enjoyed.
Perhaps the most insightful study of the question of fallen man’s free will is the epic work of Jonathan Edwards, On the Freedom of the Will. Edwards and Augustine differ in terminology, but their meaning is essentially the same. Edwards distinguished between the natural ability of freedom and the moral ability of freedom. Natural ability deals with the powers of action and choice that we possess by nature. Man’s natural abilities include the power to think, to walk, to speak, to eat, and so on. Man lacks the natural ability to fly, to live beneath the sea as a fish, or to hibernate for months without food. We may desire to fly, but we lack the natural equipment necessary to live out our desire. Our freedom has a certain built-in restriction related to the limitations of our natural faculties.
With respect to the making of choices, fallen man still has the natural ability and the natural faculties necessary to make moral choices. Man can still think, feel, and desire. All of the equipment necessary for the making of choices remains. What fallen man lacks is the moral disposition, the desire, or the inclination for righteousness.
Stated simply, man still has the ability to choose what he wants, but lacks the desire for true righteousness. He is naturally free, but he is morally enslaved to his own corrupt and wicked desires. Both Edwards and Augustine said man is still free to choose, but if left to himself, man will never choose righteousness, precisely because he does not desire it.
Edwards took the question a step further. He said man still has not only the ability but the built-in necessity to choose according to his desires. Not only can we choose what we want, we must choose what we want. It is at this point that the protest is sounded: Is free choice an illusion? If we must choose what we choose, how can such a choice be called free? If we are free to choose what we want but want only what is evil, how can we still speak of free will? This is precisely why Augustine distinguished between free will and liberty, saying that fallen man still has free will but has lost his liberty. It is why Edwards said that we still have natural freedom but have lost moral freedom.
Why talk of freedom at all, if we can choose only sin? The crux of the matter lies in the relationship between choice and desire, or disposition. Edwards’s thesis is that we always choose according to the strongest inclination, or disposition, of the moment. Again, not only can we choose according to our strongest desires, we must choose according to our strongest desires of the moment. Such is the essence of freedom—that I am able to choose what I want when I want it.
If I must do something, then in a sense my actions are determined. But if my actions are determined, how can I be free? The classic answer to this difficult question is that the determination of my choices comes from within me. The essence of freedom is self-determination. It is when my choices are forced on me by external coercion that my freedom is lost. To be able to choose what I want by virtue of self-determination does not destroy free will but establishes it.
Choices Flow from Desires

To choose according to the strongest desire or inclination of the moment simply means that there is a reason for the choices I make. At one point, Edwards defined the will as “the mind choosing.” The actual choice is an effect or result that requires an antecedent cause. The cause is located in the disposition or desire. If all effects have causes, then all choices likewise have causes. If the cause is apart from me, then I am a victim of coercion. If the cause is from within me, then my choices are self-determined or free.
Think about Edwards’s thesis that we always choose according to the strongest inclination or desire of the moment. Think, if you will, of the most harmless choice that you might make in the course of a day. Perhaps you attend a meeting of a group and choose to sit on the left side in the third seat from the end of the fourth row at the front of the room. Why did you choose to sit there? In all probability, when you entered the room, you did not engage in a thorough analysis of your seating preferences. You probably did not make a chart to determine which seat was best. Your decision probably was made quickly, with little or no conscious evaluation and with a sense of apparent spontaneity. Does that mean, however, that there was no reason for your choice? Perhaps you sat where you did because you are comfortable sitting on the left side of the room in such meetings. Perhaps you were attracted to that seat because of its proximity to a friend or its access to the exit. In situations like this, the mind weighs a host of contributing factors so quickly that we tend to think our responses are spontaneous. The truth is that something in you triggered a desire to sit in a certain seat, or else your choice was an effect without a cause.
Perhaps your seat selection was governed by forces outside your control. Perhaps the seat you chose was the only seat left in the room, so that you had no choice in the matter at all. Is that completely true? The option to stand at the back of the room was still there. Or the option to leave the meeting altogether was still there. You chose to sit in the only seat available because your desire to sit was stronger than your desire to stand and your desire to stay was stronger than your desire to leave.
Consider a more bizarre illustration. Suppose on the way home from the meeting you encounter a robber who points a gun to your head and says, “Your money or your life.” What do you do? If you accede to his demand and turn over your wallet, you will become a victim of coercion, and yet in some measure you will have exercised free choice. Coercion enters by virtue of the fact that the gunman is severely restricting your options to two. The element of freedom that is preserved stems from the fact that you still have two options and that you choose the one for which you have the strongest desire at the moment.
All things being equal, you have no desire to donate your money to an unworthy thief. You have even less desire, however, to have your brain poured out on the sidewalk by the gunman’s bullet. Given the small number of options, you still choose according to the strongest inclination at the moment. We always do what we really want to do.
The Bible teaches, some will say, that we do not always do what we want to do. The apostle Paul lamented in Romans 7 that the good he wanted to do he did not do, and the thing he did not want to do was the very thing he did. Paul’s frustration over the wretchedness of his condition would seem totally to refute Edwards’s thesis of the relationship of choice to desire. Paul, however, was not giving expression to an analysis of the causal relationship between desire and choice. He was expressing a profound frustration that centers on the complex of desires that assault the human will.
We are creatures with a multitude of desires, many of which are in violent conflict with each other. Again, consider the “all things being equal” dimension of our moral choices. As a Christian I have a profound desire to please Christ with my life and to attain righteousness. That good desire for obedience to God is neither perfect nor pure, as it struggles daily with other desires in my sinful personality. If I had no conflicting desires, I would never be disobedient. If the only desire I had, or if the strongest desire I had, was to obey God continuously, I would never willfully sin against Him. However, there are times when my desire to sin is greater than my desire to obey; when that happens, I sin. When my desire to obey is greater than my desire to sin, at that moment I refrain from sinning. My choices reveal more clearly and more certainly than anything else the level of my desire.
Desire, like appetite, is not constant. Our levels of desire fluctuate from day to day, from hour to hour, and from minute to minute. Desire moves in an ebb-and-flow pattern like the waves of the sea. The person who goes on a diet experiences intensifying pangs of hunger at various times of the day. It is easy to make a resolution to diet when one is satiated. Likewise, it is easy to resolve to be righteous in the midst of a moving spiritual experience of prayer. Yet we are creatures of changing moods and fleeting desires who have not yet achieved a constancy of will based on a consistency of godly desires. As long as conflict of desire exists and an appetite for sin remains in the heart, man is not totally free in the moral sense of which Edwards spoke, and neither does he experience the fullness of liberty described by Augustine.
Choice as a Spontaneous Act

Over against the Augustinian view of free will is the classical notion that describes the action or activity of choice in purely spontaneous terms. In this concept, the will chooses and is free from not only external forces of coercion but from any internal rule of disposition or desire. The choice of the moment proceeds freely in the sense that no inclination or prior disposition controls, directs, or affects the choice that is made. It is safe to say that this is the dominant view of free will in Western culture and is the view Calvin had in mind when he stated, “Free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to man.” At bottom it implies that man can make choices that are effects without any causes. Here it is suggested that the power of man to produce an effect without a cause exceeds even the creative power of God Almighty. Moreover, the cardinal rule of causality—ex nihilo, nihil fit (“out of nothing, nothing comes”)—is broken. Such a view of freedom is repugnant not only to Scripture but to reason.
To understand freedom as purely spontaneous choice with no prior disposition controlling it is to rob freedom of any moral significance. That is, if I act with no prior motive or no previous inclination toward or away from righteousness, how can it be said that my act is moral at all? Such activity would be without reason or motive behind it; it would be a purely random action, with no moral virtue attached to it.
However, a deeper question remains: Is such a spontaneous action possible at all? If the will is inclined neither to the right nor to the left, how could it choose at all? If there is no disposition toward, or away from, the action, then the will suffers from complete paralysis. It is like the donkey that had set before him a bale of hay and a bucket of oats. The donkey’s inclination with respect to the hay and the oats was exactly equal, with not the slightest degree of preference toward one or the other. The story is told that the donkey in such circumstances starves to death with a banquet feast in front of him because he has no way to choose between the two.
The practical problem that remains with the classical view of freedom is one raised by behavioristic psychology. If man is indeed self-determined or free, does that not imply that if his desires were completely known, man’s action in every given circumstance would be completely predictable? There is a sense in which we must agree that such a predictability would be implied. However, there is no way that any genius short of God and His omniscience could possibly know all the complex factors present in the human mind weighing a choice.
We recognize with psychologists that preferences and inclinations are shaped in many respects by experience and environment, but we cannot predict with certainty what any human being will do. Hidden variables within the complex of human personality make for this unpredictability. It nevertheless remains a fact that there is always a reason for our actions, a cause for our choices. That cause stems partly from ourselves and partly from the forces operating around and over against us.
The Definition of Freedom

The safest course to steer is to define freedom as did the church fathers, such as Augustine: “the ability to choose what we want.” God’s sovereignty does not extinguish that dimension of human personality, but certainly rules over it.
Out of rigid forms of determinism comes the cry of despair: “If the complex factors that make up personality completely determine my choices, then what value is self-improvement or the search for righteousness? If my will is enslaved by my dispositions and desires, what hope do I have of ever breaking out of the patterns of sin that are so destructive to my present mode of behavior?”
In a real sense, the process of sanctification involves a radical reprogramming of the inner self. We are not the victims of blind mechanical forces that control our destiny. As intelligent beings, we can do something to change the dispositions of our hearts and the inclinations of our minds.
It is important to remember that desire is not a fixed and constant power that beats within our souls. Our desires change and fluctuate from moment to moment. When the Bible calls us to feed the new man and starve the old man, we can apply this injunction by taking advantage of the ebb and flow of moods to strengthen the new man when our desire for Christ is inflamed and to kill the old man’s desires by starving him in times of satiation. The simplest way to state the mechanism of sin is to understand that at the moment I sin, I desire the sin more than I desire to please God. Stated another way, my love for the sin is greater at the moment of its intense desire than is my love for obedience to God. Therefore, the simple conclusion is that to overcome the power of sin within us, we need either to decrease our desire for the sin or to increase our desire to obey God.
What can we do to effect such changes? We can submit ourselves to the discipline of a class or a teacher and devote ourselves to a rigorous study of the law of God. Such disciplined study can help renew our minds, equipping us with a new understanding of what pleases and displeases God. The development of a renewed mind is the biblical definition of spiritual transformation.
The mind and the will are linked, as Edwards noted. Understanding more deeply how abhorrent our sin is to God can change or reprogram our attitudes toward sin. We are to follow the biblical injunction to concentrate on whatever things are pure and good. It may be too much to expect that a man in the midst of an attack of profound lust will switch to pure thoughts. It would be difficult for him to push a button and change the inclination of his desire at that moment. However, in a more sober mood, he may have the opportunity to reprogram his mind by filling it with high and holy thoughts of the things of God. The end result is that he may well strengthen the disposition of his heart toward God and weaken the disposition of his fallen nature toward sin.
We need not surrender to a superficial form of rigid determinism or behaviorism that would cause us to despair of any hope of change. Scripture encourages us to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” knowing that not only are we applying the means of grace by our own effort, but that God Himself is working within us to bring about the necessary changes to conform us to the image of His Son (Phil. 2:12–13; 1:6).
Sovereignty of God and Freedom of Man

What about man’s will with respect to the sovereignty of God? Perhaps the oldest dilemma of the Christian faith is the apparent contradiction between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man. If we define human freedom as autonomy (meaning that man is free to do whatever he pleases, without constraint, without accountability to the will of God), then of course we must say that free will is contradictory to divine sovereignty. We cannot soft-pedal this dilemma by calling it a mystery; we must face up to the full import of the concept. If free will means autonomy, then God cannot be sovereign. If man is utterly and completely free to do as he pleases, there can be no sovereign God. However, if God is utterly sovereign to do as He pleases, no creature can be autonomous.
It is possible to have a multitude of beings, all of whom are free to various degrees but none of whom are sovereign. The degree of freedom is determined by the level of power, authority, and responsibility held by each being. However, we do not live in this type of universe. There is a God who is sovereign—which is to say, He is absolutely free. My freedom is always within limits. My freedom is always constrained by the sovereignty of God. I have freedom to do things as I please, but if my freedom conflicts with the decretive will of God, there is no question as to the outcome—God’s decree will prevail over my choice.
It is stated so often that it has become almost an uncritically accepted axiom within Christian circles that the sovereignty of God may never violate human freedom in the sense that God’s sovereign will may never overrule human freedom. The thought verges on, if not trespasses, the border of blasphemy because it contains the idea that God’s sovereignty is constrained by human freedom. If that were true, man, not God, would be sovereign, and God would be restrained and constrained by the power of human freedom. As I say, the implication here is blasphemous because it raises the creature to the stature of the Creator. God’s glory, majesty, and honor are denigrated since He is reduced to the status of a secondary, impotent creature. Biblically speaking, man is free, but his freedom can never violate or overrule God’s sovereignty.
I and my son are free moral agents; he has a will and I have a will. However, when he was a teen living in my home, his will was more often constrained by my will than was my will constrained by His. I carried more authority and more power in the relationship and hence I had a wider expanse of freedom than he had. So it is with our relationship to God; God’s power and authority are infinite, and His freedom is never hindered by human volition.
There is no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Those who see a contradiction, or even point to the problem as an unsolvable mystery, have misunderstood the mystery. The real mystery regarding free will is how it was exercised by Adam before the fall.
Options for Considering Adam’s Sin

If Augustine was correct that pre-fall Adam possessed an ability to sin and an ability not to sin, and that he was created with no prior disposition or inclination toward sin, then the question we face is, “How was it possible for such a creature with no prior disposition toward evil actually to take the step into evil?” As we grapple with this mystery, let me present several options that have served as explanations in the past.
First, we can hypothesize that Adam fell because he was duped by the craftiness of Satan and simply did not know what he was doing. The inspiration for this hypothesis is the biblical emphasis on the craftiness of the Devil. Satan, in his guile, was able to seduce Adam and Eve by confusing their thought patterns. Thus, the weakness of our primordial parents was not moral in nature, but intellectual, inasmuch as they failed to perceive the chicanery of the serpent. What complicates the picture is the fact that the Scriptures in this instance do not describe Adam and Eve as having been completely duped by their adversary; rather, they had full knowledge of what God allowed and did not allow them to do. They could not plead ignorance of the command of God as an excuse for their transgression.
There are times when ignorance is excusable, namely when such ignorance cannot possibly be helped or overcome. Such ignorance is properly described by the Roman Catholic Church as “invincible ignorance”—ignorance that we lack the power to conquer. Invincible ignorance excuses and gives one a reprieve from any accusation of moral wrongdoing. However, the biblical record gainsays this option in the case of Adam and Eve, for God pronounces judgment on them. Unless that judgment was arbitrary or immoral on the part of God Himself, we can only conclude that what Adam and Eve did was inexcusable. A just God does not punish excusable transgressions. Indeed, excusable transgressions are not transgressions.
A second option is that Adam and Eve were coerced by Satan to disobey God. Here we see the original instance of the statement “The Devil made me do it.” If, however, Satan, in fact, fully and forcibly coerced Adam and Eve to transgress the law of God, then once again we would find an excuse for their actions. We would have to conclude that they did not act with a reasonable measure of freedom, a measure that would at least have delivered them from moral culpability. Such a theory violates the clear teaching of the biblical text, which hints at no coercive manipulation on the part of Satan.
Consistently, the Scriptures place the responsibility, the blame, and the full culpability on Adam and Eve themselves. They committed evil. Their choice was an evil one.
By what means did Adam and Eve make an evil choice? If we apply the analysis of choice common to Augustine and Edwards to pre-fall Adam, we face an insoluble dilemma. If Adam had been created with a purely neutral disposition (with no inclination toward righteousness or evil), we would still face the same rational impasse that Edwards notes for those who would impose it for post-fall man. A will with no predisposition would have no motivation to choose. Without motivation, there could be no choice. Even if such a choice were possible, it would have no moral import to it.
We must examine the other two alternatives—that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil or with a singular predisposition toward good. Both of these options end at the stone wall of intellectual difficulty. If we assume that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil, we cast a horrible shadow over the character of God, for this would mean that God created man with a predisposition toward evil and then punished man for exercising the disposition that God Himself had planted within his soul. In a real sense, this would make God the author of, and the one ultimately responsible for, human wickedness. Every page of Holy Scripture recoils from such a thesis, as it would transfer the blame from man to God Himself, who is altogether good. Still, many take this option, following in the footsteps of the implied criticism of the first man, Adam, who excused himself before the Creator by saying, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12, emphasis added). Men from Adam onward have manifested their fallenness by trying to transfer the blame for that fallenness to the Creator.
A third option is that God created man with a disposition toward only righteousness. If this were the case, then we have an effect without a sufficient cause. How is it possible for a creature created with the disposition toward only righteousness to have chosen a wicked act?
Other Inquiries into the Mystery of Adam’s Sin

I have a built-in antipathy to dialectical theology—theology that proclaims the beauty of contradictions and nonsense statements. Thus, I must swallow hard to agree with one neoorthodox theologian about the origin of Adam’s sin. Karl Barth calls the sin of Adam the “impossible possibility.” Barth, of course, is calling attention to the utterly inexplicable mystery of Adam’s transgression—what was rationally impossible and inconceivable happened, and remains a bona fide and impenetrable mystery to us.
Other attempts have been made to seek a complex and sophisticated answer to the mystery of iniquity. One suggestion is that the sin of Adam was like all sin, namely, a privation, a corruption, or a negation of something that was inherently and intrinsically good. In other words, Adam was created with a good moral disposition. His appetites and desires were continuously good, and as a result, one would expect his activities to have been equally good. However, it is suggested that in the complexity of moral choices, sometimes a good will (which has a desire that in itself is good) can be misused and abused toward an evil end. The supreme example of such a twisting occurred at the temptation of Jesus, the second and new Adam.
In Jesus’ temptation experience in the wilderness, Satan came to Him in the midst of a prolonged fast. It is probably safe to assume that at that point Jesus had a consuming passion for food. That natural human desire to eat carried no immoral overtones in and of itself. One expects a hungry man to have a disposition to eat. However, Jesus wanted to obey God through this act of self-deprivation. When Satan came to Jesus and suggested that He turn stones into bread, Satan was appealing to a perfectly normal appetite and desire within Jesus. However, Jesus’ desire to obey the Father was deeper than His desire to partake of food. Thus, filled with an altogether righteous desire, He was able to overcome the temptation of Satan.
Now the theory goes like this: Perhaps it was something good that caused Adam to fall—something that in and of itself was good, but which could have been misused and abused by the seductive influences of Satan. Such an explanation certainly helps make the fall more understandable, but it goes only so far before it fails. At its most vital point, the explanation does not account for how this good desire could have become distorted, overruling the prior obligation to obey God. At some point before the act of transgression took place, Adam must have had to desire disobedience to God more than obedience to God; therein the fall already had taken place because the very desire to act against God in disobedience is itself sinful.
I leave the question of explaining the fall of Adam by virtue of the exercise of his free will to the hands of more competent and insightful theologians. To blame it on man’s finite limitations is really putting blame on the God who made man finite. Biblically, the issue has been, and always will be, a moral one. Man was commanded by the Creator not to sin, but man chose to sin, though not because God or anyone else forced him. Man chose out of his own heart.
Consequently, to probe the answer to the how of man’s sin is to enter the realm of deepest mystery. Perhaps all we can do in the final analysis is to recognize the reality of our sin and our responsibility for it. Though we cannot explain it, certainly we know enough to confess it. We must never attribute the cause of our sin to God or adopt any position that would excuse us from the moral responsibility that Scripture clearly assigns to us.
Some have criticized the Christian faith for its inability to give a satisfying answer to the question of sin. The fact is that other religions must come to terms with this same question. Some respond simply by denying the reality of evil—a convenient but absurd way out. Christianity alone deals head-on with the reality of sin by providing an escape from its consequences.
The Christian solution to the problem of sin is a radical departure from what other religions provide, for it is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through His perfect sacrifice, which has the efficacy of blotting out believers’ sins, we have become righteous in God’s eyes. However, that righteousness does not give us the license to do as we please. We must still seek to do God’s preceptive will, especially as we swim through the perilous waters of the moral, ethical, and social dilemmas of our age.
While we have discussed the more theological aspects of man’s will and God’s will, two other topics now beckon us: God’s will for our jobs and for our marital status. These two practical concerns take center stage in the drama of our personal lives. What can we learn about God’s will and man’s will in relation to these vital aspects of living? The next chapters offer guidelines to facilitate our decision making in these all-important areas.

Chapter Three

GOD’S WILL AND YOUR JOB
When we are introduced to people, the following three questions are generally asked: “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” The third question is the one that concerns us in this chapter.
“What do you do?” is obviously a question about one’s occupation, career, or vocation. People want to know what task or service constitutes our livelihood or helps fulfill our personal aspirations.
We are all familiar with the aphorism, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” We understand that life is more than work. We devote periods of time to recreation, sleep, play, and other activities not directly part of our principal employment or labor. However, the portion of our lives that is taken up by work is so encompassing and time-consuming that we tend to understand our personal identity in the light of our work.
Whatever else we are, we are creatures involved in labor. This was the design of creation—God Himself is a working God. From the very moment of creation, He conferred on our original parents the responsibilities of work. Adam and Eve were called to dress, till, and keep the earth, to name the animals, and to have dominion by way of managerial responsibility over the earth. All of these activities involved the expenditure of time, energy, and resources—in short, work.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that work is a punishment that God gave us as a result of Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden. We must remember that work was given before the fall. To be sure, our labor has additional burdens attached to it because of the fall. A mixture of thorns and thistles is found among the good plants we seek to cultivate. Our labor is accomplished by the sweat of our brow. These were some of the penalties of sinfulness, but work itself was part of the glorious privilege granted to men and women in creation. It is impossible to understand our own humanity without understanding the central importance of work.
Most of us spend the early years of our lives preparing and training for a lifelong activity of work. The sensitive Christian understands that in the labor of his occupation, he is responsible to make a contribution to the kingdom of God, to fulfill a divine mandate, to embark on a holy calling as a servant of the living God. Such a Christian is keenly interested to discover how best to serve God through his labor.
Vocation and Calling

The idea of vocation is based on the theological premise of a divine call. The word vocation comes from the Latin word meaning “calling.” In our secular society, the religious meaning of the term has lost its significance, having become merely a synonym for career. I will be using the term vocation in its original sense: a divine call, a holy summons to fulfill a task or a responsibility that God has laid on us. The question we as Christians wrestle with is, “Am I in the center of God’s will with respect to my vocation?” In other words, “Am I doing with my life what God wants me to do?” Here the question of the will of God becomes eminently practical, for it touches on that dimension of my life that fills most of my waking hours and has the greatest impact on the shaping of my personality.
If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that God is a calling God. The world was created through the call of the omnipotent Creator: “ ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:1). God also calls His people to repentance, to conversion, and to membership in His family. In addition, He calls us to serve Him in His kingdom, making the best possible use of our gifts and talents. Still, the question faces us: “How do I know what is my particular vocational calling?”
One of the great tragedies of modern society is that, although the job market is vast and complex with an infinite number of possible careers, the educational systems that train us tend to guide and direct us to a very small number of occupational choices. When I was a high school graduate embarking on college, a great deal of discussion centered on one’s major and career aspirations. At that time, it seemed as if everyone was setting out to become an engineer. The mechanized culture of the 1950s was opening up thousands of lucrative positions in engineering. College campuses were flooded with young aspirants for degrees in the field of engineering.
I also remember the engineer glut on the market that occurred in the 1970s. Stories circulated about people with doctorates in engineering who were collecting unemployment or washing dishes in the local diner because there simply were not enough engineering jobs available. The same could be said for education majors. Positions in education became fewer and fewer while the number of applicants became greater and greater. The problem was heightened by misguided publicity and counseling that steered people into occupational roles that society already had filled.
In the early twentieth century, the choices were much less difficult since the vast majority of American children spent their time preparing for a life in agricultural labor. Today, roughly two percent of the population is employed in farming—a radical decrease in one occupation that has opened the door for a vast number of other occupations.
Finding Your Vocation

The question of vocation becomes a crisis at two major points in life. The first is in late adolescence, when a person is pressured into deciding what skills and knowledge he should acquire for future use. Some college freshmen feel pressured to declare a major in their first year, before knowing the available options and the limits of their ability.
The second period in life when vocation becomes critical is in midlife, when a person experiences a sense of frustration, failure, or lack of fulfillment in his current position. He may ask: “Have I wasted my life? Am I sentenced forever to a job that I’m finding meaningless, unfulfilling, and frustrating?” Such questions highlight the fact that vocational counseling is a major part of pastoral counseling in America, second only to marital counseling.
We must also consider the fact that vocational frustration is a major contributing cause of marital disharmony and family strife. Thus, it is important to approach the matter of vocation with great care, both in the early stages of adolescent development and in the latter stages, when the sense of frustration hits home.
The problem of discerning one’s calling focuses heavily on four important questions:

1. What can I do?
2. What do I like to do?
3. What would I like to be able to do?
4. What should I do?

The last question can plague the sensitive conscience. To begin to answer it, we need to take a look at the other three questions because they are closely linked to the ultimate question, “What should I do?”
What can I do? Reasonably assessing our abilities, skills, and aptitudes is a crucial and basic part of the decision-making process in choosing a vocation. We need to ask: “What are my abilities? What am I equipped to do?”
We may object that Moses and Jeremiah both protested against God’s call by saying that they were not equipped for the task. Moses protested that he had limited speaking ability, and Jeremiah reminded his Creator of his youthfulness. Both experienced God’s rebuke for seeking to evade a divine calling on the basis of the flimsy claim that they lacked the ability to do the job.
Neither Moses nor Jeremiah had a full understanding of what was needed to carry out the summons God gave him. Moses, for instance, protested that he lacked speaking skill, but God had prepared Aaron to help Moses with that part of the task. What God was looking for was obedient leadership from Moses; public speaking could be delegated to another. God certainly took into consideration Moses’ gifts, abilities, and aptitude before He called him.
We must remember that God is the perfect Manager. He is efficient in His selection, calling people according to the gifts and talents that He has given them. Satan’s strategy is to manipulate Christians into positions for which they have no ability or skill to perform well. Satan himself is very efficient in directing Christians to inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
What can I do? This question can be answered by proficiency examinations, analysis of our strengths and weaknesses, and a sober evaluation of our past performance. Abilities and performances can be, and are, measured in sophisticated ways in our society. We need to know the parameters of our abilities.
People often apply for positions for which they have no skill. This is particularly and sadly true within the church and in related Christian service. Some hunger and thirst to be in full-time Christian service but lack the ability and the gifts required for the particular job. For example, they may have the academic training and credentials for the pastorate, but lack the managerial skills or the people skills to be effective pastors.
Perhaps the most important principle in Scripture regarding abilities is found in Paul’s injunction that we ought to make a sober analysis of ourselves, not thinking too highly of ourselves (Rom. 12:3). Through sober analysis, we can make a serious, honest, and clear evaluation of what we can and cannot do, and we should act accordingly.
The young person has a different question: What would I like to be able to do? Such a person may have developed very few skills or have little educational background, but he realizes that he has enough time to acquire skills and talents through education or vocational training.
At this point, the concept of aptitude is relevant. Aptitude involves a person’s latent abilities as well as his acquired abilities. A person may have a certain aptitude for mechanical things and have no aptitude whatsoever for abstract things. This person may desire to be a philosopher but would make a far better investment of his time by learning to be an airplane mechanic. However, preferences are still important. Here we tread into that critical and frightening area of human experience called the realm of motivation.
Motivated Abilities

Research indicates that most people have more than one ability, and that their abilities can be divided into two basic types: motivated abilities and non-motivated abilities. A non-motivated ability is a skill or a strength that a person has but is not motivated to use. Some people are very good at doing certain things, but find no particular fulfillment or enjoyment in doing them. Performing them is sheer drudgery and pain. They may be proficient in what they do, but for one reason or another they find the task odious.
I know of one young woman who in her early teenage years attracted national attention because of her proficiency at the game of golf. While still a teenager, she won a national tournament. Yet when the time came for girls her age to turn professional, she chose a different vocation, not out of a higher calling to seek a more spiritual enterprise than professional athletics, but because she found golf to be very unpleasant. Her displeasure came as the result of fierce pressure her father had placed on her in pushing her to become a proficient golfer at a young age. When she became of age and was out from under parental authority, she decided to do something else. She had the ability to become a professional golfer, but she lacked the motivation.
We might ask, “How could she have become so proficient in the first place if she had not been motivated to perform well in golf?” We have to realize that she had been motivated to become proficient, but the motivation was largely based on fear of her father’s wrath. In order to please him, she disciplined herself to acquire a skill that she never would have pursued on her own. Once free from the driving force of his authority, she turned her vocational pursuits in another direction. The moral to the story is obvious. The person who gives his full measure of time and energy to a non-motivated ability is a walking pressure cooker of frustration.
It is true that, as Christians, we don’t always have the luxury of doing the things we want to do. God calls us to sacrifice and to be willing to participate in the humiliation of Christ. To be sure, we live in the midst of warfare, and as Christians we have signed up for the duration. We should never neglect our awesome responsibility to the kingdom of God. Called to be servants, we are also called to obedience. Sometimes we are called to do things that we don’t particularly enjoy doing. Nevertheless, the overriding consideration is to bring our motivation into conformity with our call and our call into conformity with our motivation.
All things being equal, Jesus did not want to go to the cross, as He expressed in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet at the same time, He had an overarching desire and motivation to do the will of His Father. That was His “meat and drink,” the focus of His zeal. When it was confirmed to Him that it was the Father’s will that He lay down His life, Jesus was, in a very real and vital sense, motivated to do it.
Let us extend the concept of service and obedience to the analogy of human warfare. A crisis besets a nation, and people are summoned to the cause of national defense. Leaving the security and comfort of their homes and jobs, they make sacrifices by enlisting in the armed services. Are not Christians called to do the same? Certainly there is a sense in which we are. Yet within the context of the earthly military, there are a vast number of jobs, some for which we would be suited and others for which we would not. Some military tasks would be in line with our motivated skills and patterns of behavior, while others would be completely at odds with our motivated skills and behavior. Even within the context of sacrificial service, a consideration of motivation is a vital ingredient in determining our vocation.
Some rugged individualists in our society are self-employed and find it totally unnecessary to fit into an organizational working structure that involves supervisors, bosses, and lines of authority. Most of us, however, carry out our working lives within the context of an organization. Here we face the problem of fitting. Do our jobs fit our gifts, talents, and aspirations? Do our motivated abilities fit our jobs? The degree to which our job requirements and our motivated abilities fit often determines the usefulness of our contribution and the extent of our personal satisfaction.
When personal motivations do not fit job descriptions, many people suffer. The first to suffer is the individual, because he is laboring in a job that does not fit his motivated abilities. Because he is in a job for which he is unsuited, he tends to be less efficient and less productive. He also creates problems for others in the organization because his frustration spills over and has a negative effect on the group.
Some of us are “sanctified” enough to perform assigned tasks for which we lack motivation, doing them as proficiently as we do tasks that are more enjoyable. However, people who are that sanctified make up an infinitesimal minority within the workforce. Research shows again and again that there is a strong tendency for people to do what they are motivated to do, regardless of what is called for in their job description. That is, they spend the majority of their time and effort doing what they want to do rather than what the job, in fact, calls them to do. Such an investment of time and energy can be quite costly to a company or an organization.
The following simple diagrams show the relationships between motivated ability patterns and job descriptions. They have been borrowed from People Management, a Connecticut-based organization. People Management helps people to discern their motivated ability patterns and helps organizations to coordinate people’s gifts and motivations with the needs and aims of the organizations. This kind of guidance works not only in secular industry but also within the structures of the church and sacred vocations.
MISFIT DIAGRAM

Job Description
Unused Abilities
Frustration
Personal
Organizational
Frustration
Tasks Not Performed
Motivated Abilities
Job Fit

In this diagram, the top left block represents the job description of the employee, including the tasks required for optimal organizational functioning.
The lower right block represents the motivated abilities of the employee. The shaded area represents the area of job fit. It is not in balance. A large portion of the employee’s motivated abilities are not being used. This produces frustration for the employee.
Also, a large portion of the organizational job description is either left unperformed or performed at a low degree of proficiency. The result is organizational frustration. This pattern spells problems for both the individual employee and the organization. Changes must be made.
The diagram below represents an ideal matchup between job description and motivated abilities. The result is fulfillment for both the employee and the organization.
ORGANIZATIONAL FIT

Job
Description
Motivated
Abilities

Through the influence of the world-denying spirit of Manichaeism, early Christians got the idea that the only way they could possibly serve God would be by living their lives on a bed of nails. It was assumed that to embark on a pathway of service involved self-denial. Real virtue could be found only in being as miserable as possible in one’s job. However, if God indeed called us to devote ourselves to the most unpleasant tasks possible, He would be the cosmic Chief of Bad Managers.
The Scriptures describe God’s management style differently. God manages by building us into a body according to our abilities and our desires. He gives gifts to each one of His people. Every Christian is gifted of the Lord to fulfill a divine vocation. Along with the gift, God gives a desire or a motivation to make use of that gift.
What Should We Do?

This brings us to the final and paramount question: “What should I do?” The most practical advice I can give is for you to do what your motivated ability pattern indicates you can do with a high degree of motivation. If what you would like to do can be of service to God, then by all means you should be doing it.
One vital constraint is at work: the preceptive will of God. If a woman’s great ability and motivation were to be a prostitute and a man’s motivated ability were to be the world’s greatest bank robber, then obviously vocational goals would have to be adjusted. To fulfill such motivated abilities would bring individuals into direct conflict with the preceptive will of God.
If we carefully analyzed the root causes for the motivated ability of the bank robber and the motivated ability of the prostitute, we probably would find root abilities and motivations that could profitably and productively be channeled into godly enterprises. We must not only bring our motivated abilities into conformity with the law of God, but also make sure that the vocation we choose has the blessing of God.
There is certainly nothing wrong, for example, with devoting one’s life to the practice of medicine, for we see the good that medicine can do in terms of alleviating suffering. We also understand that the world needs bread to eat and that the vocation of baker for someone who is motivated and able to bake is a godly enterprise. Jesus Himself spent many of His years not in preaching and teaching but in being a carpenter, a craftsman in a legitimate trade. During those years, Jesus was in “the center of God’s will.”
Any vocation that meets the need of God’s world can be considered a divine calling. I underscore this because of the tendency in Christian circles to think that only those who go into “full-time Christian service” are being sensitive to divine vocation—as if preaching and teaching were the only legitimate tasks to which God calls us. A cursory reading of the Bible would reveal the flaw in such thinking. The temple was built in the Old Testament through not only the wise oversight of Solomon but also the craftsmanship of those who were divinely gifted in carving, sculpting, and so on.
David’s vocation as a shepherd, Abraham’s vocation as a caravan trader, Paul’s vocation as a tentmaker—all were seen as part of God’s plan to bring about the redemption of the world. When God made Adam and Eve, neither was called to be a full-time professional worker in the ecclesiastical structure; they were basically called to be farmers.
A vocation is something that we receive from God; He is the one who calls us. He may not call us in the way that He called Moses, by appearing in a burning bush and giving a specific set of marching orders. Instead, He usually calls us inwardly and by giving us certain gifts, talents, and aspirations. His invisible sovereign will is certainly working in the background to prepare us for useful tasks in His vineyard.
The External Call from People

In addition to the inner call of God, we recognize that there is such a thing as an external call to labor, a call that comes from people who request our services for their particular mission or purpose. We may be called by the church to be preachers or by a company to be foremen or shippers. Every time an organization places a want ad in a newspaper, a human call is going out for able workers to come and match their gifts and talents to a presented need.
Some Christians have argued that the need always constitutes the call. They say that there is a need for evangelists in the world and therefore everyone should be an evangelist. I agree that we must consider the needs of the kingdom of God as we make vocational decisions. However, the very fact that the world needs evangelists does not necessarily imply that everyone in the world is called to be an evangelist. Again, the New Testament makes it clear that not all are called to be preachers or administrators. The church is composed of people with a diversity of gifts, talents, and vocations. We must not make a simplistic, passive assumption that the need constitutes the call.
Certainly the presence of a need requires that the people of God strive to meet that need. However, it does not necessarily mean that people who are not equipped to meet the need are thereby forced into the gap. For example, it is every Christian’s responsibility to help carry out the mandate for evangelism. It is not every Christian’s responsibility to be an evangelist. I am not an evangelist, though I contribute to evangelism by teaching evangelists theology and by contributing money for the church’s task of evangelism. I do those things so that those who do have the gift and the motivation can be called out, trained, equipped, and sent into the world as evangelists. I participate in the responsibility of the body of Christ to see that the task is met, but I myself am not the one who delivers the goods as the practicing evangelist. I could say the same regarding a host of other vocations.
How do others affect our vocational calling? We do need to listen to the community of believers and friends. Sometimes our gifts and abilities are more evident to those around us than they are to us. The counsel of many and the evaluation of the group are important considerations in our search for our vocations. However, we must put up a red flag of warning. The group’s judgment is not always correct. The fact that a particular individual or group thinks we should be doing a certain task is not a guarantee that it is the will of God.
I went through a period in my life of being unemployed for six months. During that time, I had five different job offers in five different cities in the United States. Five different friends came to me and said out of sincerity and urgent zeal that they were sure God wanted me to take each of the particular jobs. This meant that if all five of them had a direct pipeline to the will of God, God wanted me to hold five full-time positions and live in five different cities in the United States at the same time. I explained to my friends that I knew I was iniquitous (full of sin), but had not yet discovered the gift of being ubiquitous (being everywhere at the same time). I simply could not possibly do all five jobs. Somebody was wrong in their estimation of the will of God for my life.
I find it very difficult to resist the pressures that come from people who are sure they know what God wants me to do with my life. We all experience that kind of pressure, so we must be careful to pay attention to those whose judgment we trust. We must be able to discern between sound judgment and the vested personal interests of other people.
As it turned out, I accepted a sixth position for which no one came to me in the middle of the night with a telegram from God. I was convinced that the sixth position was the one that matched my abilities with the job that needed to be done.
Considering Foreseeable Consequences

One last consideration that is often neglected but is of crucial importance is the foreseeable consequences of the job. To take a job simply for money or for geographical location is a tragic mistake. All things being equal, I would like to have a salary of a $1 million a year, to be a teacher of theology, and to live where the climate is mild twelve months of the year. At the present time I am a teacher of theology living in Florida, but I make far less than $1 million a year. Somewhere along the way, I had to make a decision about my priorities. Did I want to make a million dollars or did I want to heed my vocational calling? My residence was determined by the locale of my vocation.
Job decisions have both short-range and long-range consequences. Consider the case of Abraham and his nephew Lot, who lived and worked together in the Promised Land. Conflict between their hired hands made it necessary for them to divide the territory they were occupying. Abraham gave Lot the first choice, offering any half that he chose. Lot gazed toward the barren area of Transjordan and then looked toward the fertile valley near the city. He thought for a moment: “If I take the fertile valley, my cows can graze there and become fat. It’s a short distance to the city market. My profit will be great.” In consideration of his business, Lot opted for the fertile areas around the city and left Abraham the barren land. Lot’s choice was brilliant—from the perspective of raising cattle. He didn’t ask himself, “Where will my family go to school? Where will my family go to church?” The city he chose was Sodom—a great place to raise cows. The short-term consequences were fine, but long-term living in Sodom turned out to be a disaster in many ways.
How will our job decisions be conducive to fulfilling our other responsibilities? The person who chooses a vocation purely on the basis of money, location, or status is virtually guaranteeing his later frustration.
Much of the confusion we often experience in the job arena would be dispelled by asking ourselves one simple question: “What would I most like to do if I didn’t have to please anyone in my family or my circle of friends?” Another good question is, “What would I like to be doing ten years from now?” These questions are good to keep in mind even after one has settled into a particular job. Another thing to remember is the promise of God’s Word that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. As His children, that includes the area of our work.
While God’s decretive will may not always be clear to us even in our occupational pursuits, His preceptive will is more easily discerned. Wherever we are, in whatever work we find ourselves, His preceptive will must be done.
Finally, what does God expect of us in relation to our work? As Christians, we have been called to be spiritual salt in a decaying world, to be spiritual light in the midst of darkness. We are to be wise stewards of God’s gifts and talents. That means striving to be the most honest, patient, hardworking, and committed workers we can be. It means settling for nothing less than excellence. God help us to live up to His high call for each of us.

Chapter Four

GOD’S WILL IN MARRIAGE
Besides our work, the other topic of perennial concern is our marital status. Should we marry or remain single?
It is possible that Christians expend more decision-making energy over the subject of marriage than any other area of human existence. No wonder, since the decisions relevant to the marital relationship have such far-reaching effects on our lives. How a person feels about his marital status determines, in large part, his sense of fulfillment, his productivity, and his self-image. The reality and the seriousness of the marital relationship are brought home when we realize that the one who knows us most intimately, the one before whom we are the most fragile and vulnerable, and the one who powerfully shapes and influences our lives is our marriage partner. That is why entering the marital relationship is not something anyone should undertake lightly.
Before we tackle the general question, “Is it God’s will for me to marry?” several specific questions need to be considered.
Should I Get Married?

The answer to this question has often been assumed by our culture, at least until recent years. Even today, most of us absorb the idea while growing up that marriage is a natural and integral part of normal life. In many ways—from the fairy-tale characters Snow White and Prince Charming, the romantic plays of Shakespeare, and some mass media heroes and heroines—we receive signals that society expects us to be numbered among the married. Among individuals who fail to fulfill this cultural expectation, those of a more traditional mindset are left with the nagging feeling that perhaps something is wrong with them, that they are abnormal.
In earlier generations, if a young man reached the age of thirty without getting married, he was suspected of having homosexual tendencies. If a woman was still single by thirty, it was often tacitly assumed that she had some defect that made her unattractive as a marriage partner or had lesbian preferences. Such assumptions are by no means found in the Scriptures.
From a biblical perspective, the pursuit of celibacy (as Scripture expects for the unmarried) is a legitimate option in some instances. Under other considerations, it is viewed as a definite preference. Though we have our Lord’s blessing on the sanctity of marriage, we also have His example of personal choice to remain celibate, obviously in submission to the will of God. Christ was celibate not because of a lack of the masculine traits necessary to make Him desirable as a life partner. Rather, His divine purpose obviated the destiny of marriage, making it crucial that He devote Himself entirely to the preparation of His bride, the church, for His future wedding.
The most important biblical instruction that we have regarding celibacy is given by the apostle Paul in a lengthy passage from 1 Corinthians:

Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I have the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 7:25–40, RSV)

Paul’s teaching in this matter of marriage has been subjected to serious distortions. Some observe in this text that Paul is setting forth a contrasting view of marriage that says celibacy is good and marriage is bad, particularly for Christians called to service in the interim period between the first advent of Christ and His return. However, even a cursory glance at the text indicates that Paul is not contrasting the good and the bad, but rival goods. He points out that it is good to opt for celibacy under certain circumstances. Moreover, it is also good and quite permissible to opt for marriage under other circumstances. Paul sets forth the pitfalls that a Christian faces when contemplating marriage. Of prime consideration is the pressure of the kingdom of God on the marriage relationship.
Nowhere has the question of celibacy been more controversial than in the Roman Catholic Church. Historically, Protestants have objected that the Roman Catholic Church, by imposing on its clergy a mandate beyond the requirements of Scripture itself, has slipped into a form of legalism. Though we believe that Scripture permits the marriage of clergy, it indicates, at the same time, that one who is married and serving God in a special vocation does face the nagging problems created by a divided set of loyalties—his family on one hand, the church on the other. Unfortunately, the dispute between Protestants and Catholics over mandatory celibacy has become so heated at times that Protestants have often reacted to the other extreme, dismissing celibacy as a viable option. Let us return to the focus of Paul’s word, which sets forth a distinction between rival goods. His distinction, in the final analysis, allows the individual to decide what best suits him or her.
Paul in no way denigrates the honorable “estate” of marriage, but rather affirms what was given in creation: the benediction of God over the marriage relationship. One does not sin by getting married. Marriage is a legitimate, noble, and honorable option set forth for Christians.
Just a Piece of Paper?

Another aspect of the question, “Should I get married?” moves beyond the issue of celibacy to whether a couple should enter into a formal marriage contract or sidestep this option by simply living together. In the past few decades, the option of living together, rather than moving into a formal marriage contract, has proliferated in our culture. Christians must be careful not to establish their precepts of marriage (or any other ethical dimension of life) on the basis of contemporary community standards. The Christian’s conscience is to be governed not merely by what is socially acceptable or even by what is legal according to the law of the land, but rather by what God sanctions.
Unfortunately, some Christians have rejected the legal and formal aspects of marriage, arguing that marriage is a matter of private and individual commitment between two people and has no legal or formal requirements. These view marriage as a matter of individual private decision apart from external ceremony. The question most frequently asked of clergymen on this matter reflects the so-called freedom in Christ: “Why do we have to sign a piece of paper to make it legal?”
The signing of a piece of paper is not a matter of affixing one’s signature in ink to a meaningless document. The signing of a marriage certificate is an integral part of what the Bible calls a covenant. A covenant is made publicly before witnesses and with formal legal commitments that are taken seriously by the community. The protection of both partners is at stake; there is legal recourse should one of the partners act in a way that is destructive to the other.
Contracts are signed out of the necessity spawned by the presence of sin in our fallen nature. Because we have an enormous capacity to wound each other, sanctions have to be imposed by legal contracts. Contracts not only restrain sin, but also protect the innocent in the case of legal and moral violation. With every commitment I make to another human being, there is a sense in which a part of me becomes vulnerable, exposed to the response of the other person. No human enterprise renders a person more vulnerable to hurt than does the estate of marriage.
God ordained certain rules regulating marriage in order to protect people. His law was born of love, concern, and compassion for His fallen creatures. The sanctions God imposed on sexual activity outside marriage do not mean that God is a spoilsport or a prude. Sex is an enjoyment He Himself created and gave to the human race. God, in His infinite wisdom, understands that there is no time that human beings are more vulnerable than when they are engaged in this most intimate activity. Thus, He cloaks this special act of intimacy with certain safeguards. He is saying to both the man and the woman that it is safe to give oneself to the other only when there is a certain knowledge of a lifelong commitment behind it. There is a vast difference between a commitment sealed with a formal document and declared in the presence of witnesses, including family, friends, and authorities of church and state, and a whispered, hollow promise breathed in the back seat of a car.
Do I Want to Get Married?

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:8–9: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” The distinction is between the good and the better. Here Paul introduces the idea of burning, not of the punitive fires of hell, but of the passions of the biological nature, which God has given us. Paul is speaking very candidly when he points out that some people are not made for celibacy. Marriage is a perfectly honorable and legitimate option even for those who are most strongly motivated by sexual fulfillment and relief from sexual temptation and passion.
The question, “Do I want to get married?” is an obvious but very important one. The Bible does not prohibit marriage. Indeed, it encourages it except in certain cases where one may be brought into conflict with vocation, but even in that dimension, provisions are left for marriage. So to desire marriage is a very good thing. A person needs to be in touch with his own desires and conscience.
If I have a strong desire to marry, then the next step is to do something about fulfilling that desire. If a person wants a job, he must seriously pursue employment opportunities. When we decide to attend a college or a university, we have to follow the formal routine of making applications and evaluating various campuses. Marriage is no different; no magic recipe has come from heaven that will determine for us the perfect will of God for a life partner. Here, unfortunately, is where Christians have succumbed to the fairy-tale syndrome of our society. It is a particular problem for young, single women. Many a young woman feels that if God wants her to be married, He will drop a marriage partner out of heaven on a parachute or will bring some Prince Charming riding up to her doorstep on a great white horse.
One excruciating problem faced by single women—more so in past generations than today—is caused by the unwritten rule of our society that allows men the freedom actively to pursue a marriage partner while women are considered loose if they actively pursue a prospective husband. No biblical rule says that a woman eager to be married should be passive. There is nothing that prohibits her from actively seeking a suitable mate.
On numerous occasions, I’ve had the task of counseling single women who insisted at the beginning of the interview that they had no desire to be married but simply wanted to work out the dimensions of the celibacy they believed God had imposed on them. After a few questions and answers, the scenario usually repeats itself: the young woman begins to weep and blurts out, “But I really want to get married.” When I suggest that there are wise steps that she can take to find a husband, her eyes light up in astonishment as if I had just given her permission to do the forbidden. I have broken a taboo.
Wisdom requires that the search be done with discretion and determination. Those seeking a life partner need to do certain obvious things, such as going where other single people congregate. They need to be involved in activities that will bring them in close communication with other single Christians.
In the Old Testament, Jacob made an arduous journey to his homeland to find a suitable marriage partner. He did not wait for God to deliver him a life partner. He went where the opportunity presented itself to find a marriage partner. But the fact that he was a man does not imply that such a procedure is limited to males. Women in our society have exactly the same freedom to pursue a mate by diligent search.
What Do I Want in a Marriage Partner?

A myth has arisen within the Christian community that marriage is to be a union between two people committed to the principle of selfless love. Selfless love is viewed as being crucial for the success of a marriage. This myth is based on the valid concept that selfishness is often at the root of disharmony and disintegration in marriage relationships. The biblical concept of love says no to acts of selfishness within marital and other human relationships. However, the remedy for selfishness is nowhere to be found in selflessness.
The concept of selflessness emerged from Asian and Greek thinking, where the ideal goal of humanity is the loss of self-identity by becoming one with the universe. The goal of man in this schema is to lose any individual characteristic, becoming one drop in the great ocean. Another aspect of absorption is the notion of the individual becoming merged with the great Oversoul and becoming spiritually diffused throughout the universe. But from a biblical perspective, the goal of the individual is not the annihilation or the disintegration of the self, but the redemption of the self. To seek selflessness in marriage is an exercise in futility. The self is very active in building a good marriage, and marriage involves the commitment of the self with another self based on reciprocal sharing and sensitivity between two actively involved selves.
If I were committed to a selfless marriage, it would mean that in my search for a marriage partner I should survey the scene to find a person for whom I was willing to throw myself away. This is the opposite of what is involved in the quest for a marriage partner. When someone seeks a mate, he should be seeking someone who will enrich his life, who will add to his own self-fulfillment, and who at the same time will be enriched by that relationship.
What are the priority qualities to seek in a marriage partner? One little exercise that many couples have found helpful is based on freewheeling imagination. While finding a marriage partner is not like shopping for an automobile, one can use the new car metaphor. When one purchases a new car, he has many models from which to choose. With those models, there is an almost endless list of optional equipment that can be tacked onto the standard model.
By analogy, suppose one could request a made-to-order mate with all the options. The person engaged in such an exercise could list as many as a hundred qualities or characteristics that he would like to find in the perfect mate. Compatibility with work and with play, attitudes toward parenting, and certain skills and physical characteristics could be included. After completing the list, the person must acknowledge the futility of such a process. No human being will ever perfectly fit all the possible characteristics that one desires in a mate.
This exercise is particularly helpful for people who have delayed marrying into their late twenties or early thirties, or even later. Such a person sometimes settles into a pattern of focusing on tiny flaws that disqualify virtually every person he or she meets. After doing the made-to-order mate exercise, he can take the next step: reduce the list to the main priorities. The person involved in this exercise reduces the number of qualifications to twenty, then to ten, and finally to five. Such a reduction forces him to set in ordered priority the things he is most urgently seeking in a marriage partner.
It is extremely important that individuals clearly understand what they want out of the dating and eventually the marital relationship. They should also find out whether their desires in a marriage relationship are healthy or unhealthy. This leads us to the next question, regarding counseling.
From Whom Should I Seek Counsel?

Many people resent the suggestion that they seek counsel in their selection of a marriage partner. After all, isn’t such a selection an intensely personal and private matter? However personal and private the decision might be, it is one of grave importance to the future of the couple and their potential offspring, their families, and their friends. Marriage is never ultimately a private matter, because how the marriage works affects a multitude of people. Therefore, counsel can and should be sought from trusted friends, pastors, and particularly from parents.
In earlier periods of Western history, marriages were arranged either by families or by matchmakers. Today, the idea of arranged marriages seems primitive and crass. It is totally foreign in the American culture. We have come to the place where we think that it is our inalienable right to choose one whom we love.
Some things need to be said in defense of the past custom of arranged marriages. One is that happy marriages can be achieved even when one has not chosen his own partner. It may sound outrageous, but I am convinced that if biblical precepts are applied consistently, virtually any two people in the world can build a happy marriage and honor the will of God in the relationship. That may not be what we prefer, but it can be accomplished if we are willing to work in the marital relationship. The second thing that needs to be said in defense of arranged marriages is that in some circumstances, marriages have been arranged on the objective evaluation of matching people together and of avoiding destructive parasitic matchups. For example, when left to themselves, people with significant personal weaknesses, such as a man with a profound need to be mothered and a woman with a profound need to mother, can be attracted to each other in a mutually destructive way. Such negative mergings happen daily in our society.
It is not my intention to lobby for matched or arranged marriages. I am only hailing the wisdom of seeking parental counsel in the decision-making process. Parents often object to the choice of a marriage partner. Sometimes their objections are based on the firm conviction that “no one is good enough for my daughter [or son].” Objections of this sort are based on unrealistic expectations at best and on petty jealousy at worst. However, not all parents are afflicted with such destructive prejudices regarding the potential marriage partners of their children. Sometimes the parents have keen insight into the personalities of their children, seeing blind spots that the offspring themselves are unable to perceive. In the earlier example of a person with an inordinate need to be mothered attracting someone with an inordinate need to mother, a discerning parent might spot the mismatch and caution against it. If a parent is opposed to a marriage relationship, it is extremely important to know why.
When Am I Ready to Get Married?

After seeking counsel, having a clear understanding of what we are hoping for, and having examined our expectations of marriage, the final decision is left to us. At this point, some face paralysis as the day of decision draws near. How does one know when he or she is ready to get married? Wisdom dictates that we enter into serious premarital study, evaluation, and counseling with competent counselors so that we may be warned of the pitfalls that come in this new and vital human relationship. With the breakdown of so many marriages in our culture, increasing numbers of young people fear entering into a marriage contract lest they become “statistics.” Sometimes we need the gentle nudge of a trusted counselor to tell us when it is time to take the step.
What things need to be faced before taking the actual step toward marriage? Economic considerations are, of course, important. Financial pressures imposed on a relationship that is already besieged with emotional pressures of other kinds can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. That is why parents often advise young people to wait until they finish their schooling or until they are gainfully employed so that they can assume the responsibility of a family.
It is not by accident that the creation ordinance of marriage mentions that a man shall leave his father and mother and “hold fast to” his wife, and the two shall become “one flesh.” The “leaving and cleaving” dimensions are rooted in the concept of being able to establish a new family unit. Here, economic realities often govern the preparedness for marriage.
Entering into marriage involves far more than embarking on new financial responsibilities. The marriage commitment is the most serious one that two human beings can make to each other. A person is ready to get married when he or she is prepared to commit to a particular person for the rest of his or her life, regardless of the human circumstances that befall them.
In order for us to understand the will of God for marriage, it is imperative that we pay attention to God’s preceptive will. The New Testament clearly shows that God not only ordained marriage and sanctified it, He regulates it. His commandments cover a multitude of situations regarding the nitty-gritty aspects of marriage. The greatest textbook on marriage is sacred Scripture, which reveals God’s wisdom and His rule governing the marriage relationship. If someone earnestly wants to do the will of God in marriage, his first task is to master what Scripture says that God requires in such a relationship.
What does God expect of His children who are married or thinking about getting married? God expects, among other things, faithfulness to the marriage partner, provision of mutual needs, and mutual respect under the lordship of Christ. Certainly the couple should enhance each other’s effectiveness as Christians. If not, something is wrong.
While celibacy is certainly no less blessed and honorable a state than marriage, we have to recognize Adam and Eve as our models. God’s plan involved the vital union of these two individuals who would make it possible for the earth to be filled with their “kind.”
Basically, I cannot dictate God’s will for anyone in this area any more than I can or would in the area of occupation. I will say that good marriages require hard work and individuals willing to make their marriages work.
What happens in our lives is cloaked ultimately in the mystery of God’s will. The joy for us as His children is that the mystery holds no terror—only waiting, appropriate acting on His principles and direction, and the promise that He is with us forever.
Sproul, R. C. (2009). Can I Know God’s Will? (Bd. 4, S. i–102). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

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Crucial Questions- How can I know GOD´s will?-by Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA, DD.

CRUCIAL
QUESTIONS
No. 4
CAN I Know GOD’S WILL?

Babel Tower

R. C. SPROUL
Reformation Trust
PUBLISHING
A DIVISION OF LIGONIER MINISTRIES • ORLANDO, FLORIDA

Can I Know God’s Will?

© 1984, 1999, 2009 by R. C. Sproul

Previously published as God’s Will and the Christian (1984) and as part of Following Christ (1991) by Tyndale House Publishers, and as Can I Know God’s Will? by Ligonier Ministries (1999).

Published by Reformation Trust
a division of Ligonier Ministries
400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746
http://www.Ligonier.org
http://www.ReformationTrust.com

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked RSV are taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 (2nd edition, 1971) by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from The Holy Bible, King James Version.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
[God’s will and the Christian]
Can I know God’s will? / R. C. Sproul.
p. cm.–(The crucial questions series)
First published as: God’s will and the Christian. 1984. Following Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, c1991. Can I know God’s Will? Ligonier Ministries, 1999.
ISBN 978-1-56769-179-5
1. Providence and government of God–Christianity. 2. God (Christianity)–Will. I. Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939– Following Christ. II. Title.
BT135.S745 2009
248.4–dc22
2009018820

Contents
One—THE MEANING OF GOD’S WILL

Two—THE MEANING OF MAN’S WILL

Three—GOD’S WILL AND YOUR JOB

Four—GOD’S WILL IN MARRIAGE

Chapter One

THE MEANING OF GOD’S WILL
Lost in Wonderland, Alice came to a fork in the road. Icy panic stung her as she stood frozen by indecision. She lifted her eyes toward heaven, looking for guidance. Her eyes did not find God, only the Cheshire cat leering at her from his perch in the tree above.

“Which way should I go?” Alice blurted.
“That depends,” said the cat, fixing a sardonic smile on the confused girl.
“On what?” Alice managed to reply.
“It depends on your destination. Where are you going?” the cat asked.
“I don’t know,” Alice stammered.
“Then,” said the cat, his grin spreading wider, “it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

The destination matters to the Christian. We are a pilgrim people. Though we do not wander in a wilderness in route to the Promised Land, we seek a better country, an eternal city whose builder and maker is God. Someday He will take us home to His kingdom.
So the ultimate destination is clear. We are certain that there is a glorious future for the people of God. However, what of tomorrow? We feel anxious about the immediate future, just as unbelievers do. The specifics of our personal futures are unknown to us. Like children we ask: “Will I be happy? Will I be rich? What will happen to me?” We must walk by faith rather than by sight.
As long as there have been people, there have been soothsayers and wizards exploiting our anxieties. If prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, surely fortune-telling is the second oldest. “Tell me of tomorrow” is the plea of the stock market speculator, the competitive businessman, the sports forecaster, and the young couple in love. The student asks, “Will I graduate?” The manager muses, “Will I be promoted?” The person in the doctor’s waiting room clenches his hands and asks, “Is it cancer or indigestion?” People have examined lizard entrails, snakeskins, the bones of owls, the Ouija board, the daily horoscope, and the predictions of sports handicappers—all to gain a small margin of insurance against an unknown future.
The Christian feels the same curiosity, but frames the question differently. He asks: “What is the will of God for my life?” To search for the will of God can be an exercise in piety or impiety, an act of humble submission or outrageous arrogance—depending on what will of God we seek. To try to look behind the veil at what God has not been pleased to reveal is to tamper with holy things that are out of bounds. John Calvin said that when God “closes his holy mouth,” we should desist from inquiry (Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. and ed. John Owen [reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House. 2003], 354).
On the other hand, God delights to hear the prayers of His people when they individually ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” The Christian pursues God, looking for His marching orders, seeking to know what course of action is pleasing to Him. This search for the will of God is a holy quest—a pursuit that is to be undertaken with vigor by the godly person.
The Biblical Meaning of the Will of God

We yearn for simple answers to difficult questions. We want clarity. We desire to cut through the entanglements to the heart of the question. Sometimes the answers are simple enough in themselves, but the process of finding them is laborious and confusing. Sometimes the answers are simplistic, giving us temporary relief from the pressures and the burdens of confusing questions.
However, there is a profound difference between the simple answer and the simplistic answer. The simple answer is correct; it accounts for all the data found in the complex problem. It is clear and can be easily grasped in its fullness. It abides, being able to stand the test of rigorous questioning. The simplistic answer is a counterfeit. On the surface it appears to be the genuine article, but under closer scrutiny it yields its bogus flaws. The simplistic answer may account for some of the data but not all of it. It remains fuzzy. Worst of all, it does not abide; it fails the test of deeper questioning. It does not satisfy in the long haul.
One of the most excruciating questions in theology is, “Why did Adam fall?” The simplistic answer, commonly heard, is that Adam fell by his own free will. Such an answer is satisfying until we probe the question more deeply. Suppose we ask: “How could a righteous creature made by a perfect Creator sin? How could Adam make an evil choice while possessing no prior inclination or disposition to evil? Was he simply deceived or coerced by Satan? If so, why would Adam then be blameworthy?” If he was merely deceived, then the fault is all Satan’s. If he was coerced, then it was not a free choice. If he sinned because he had a prior desire or inclination to sin, then we must ask: “What was the source of his evil desire? Did God put it there?” If so, then we cast a shadow on the integrity of the Creator.
Perhaps the simplest way to expose the weak character of the simplistic answer that Adam fell by his own free will is to ask our question another way: “Why did Adam exercise his own free will to sin?” It simply won’t do to answer, “Because he chose to.” This answer is a mere repetition of the question in a declarative form.
I would like to offer a simple answer to the difficult question of Adam’s fall, but I simply can’t. The only response I can give to the question is that I don’t know the answer.
Some readers will surely chasten me at this point by saying to themselves: “I know the answer! Adam fell because it was the will of God.”
I immediately ask: “In what sense was Adam’s fall the will of God? Did God force Adam to fall and then punish him for doing what he had no power to avoid?” To ask such an impious question is to answer it. Certainly the fall must have been the “will of God” in some sense, but the crucial question remains, “In what sense?”
So here we are, pressed squarely against a biting question that involves the matter of the will of God. We want to know how the will of God worked in Adam’s life; but more personally, we want to know how the will of God works in our own lives.
When questions are difficult and complex, it is a good rule to collect as much data about them as possible. The more clues the detective has to work with, the easier it usually is to solve the crime (note the word usually). Sometimes the detective suffers from too many clues, which only serve to compound the difficulty of the solution. The corporate executive faced with major decision-making responsibilities knows the importance of sufficient data- and record-keeping. His maxim may be: “If you have enough data, the decisions jump out at you.” Again we must add the qualifier usually. Sometimes the data are so complex that they jump out like screaming banshees, defying our ability to sort through them all.
I emphasize the point of data, complexity, and simplicity because the biblical meaning of the will of God is a very complicated matter. To approach it simplistically is to invite disaster. At times, wrestling with the complexities of the biblical concept of the will of God can give us an Excedrin headache. Yet ours is a holy quest, a pursuit that is worth a few headaches along the way. But we must guard against proceeding in a simplistic way, lest we change the holy quest into an unholy presumption.
We note at the outset that the Bible speaks of the “will of God” in more than one way. This is the key problem that complicates our quest and serves as a warning against simplistic solutions. In the New Testament, there are two Greek words that can be and have been translated by the English word will. It would seem that all we need is to identify precisely the meanings of the two words and check out the Greek text every time we see the word will, and our problems will be solved. Alas, it doesn’t work that way. The plot thickens when we discover that each of the two Greek words has several nuances of meaning. Simply checking the Greek text for word usage is not enough to solve our difficulty.
However, finding the meanings of the Greek words is a helpful starting place. Let’s examine the two words briefly to see whether they shed any light on our quest. The words are boule and thelema.
The term boule has its roots in an ancient verb that means a “rational and conscious desire,” as opposed to thelema, meaning “an impulsive or unconscious desire.” The ancient subtle distinction was between rational desire and impulsive desire. As the Greek language developed, however, this distinction was softened, and eventually the words became used at times as synonyms, with authors switching from one to the other for purposes of stylistic change.
In the New Testament, boule usually refers to a plan based on careful deliberation; it is used most often with respect to the counsel of God. Boule frequently indicates God’s providential plan, which is predetermined and inflexible. Luke is fond of using it this way, as we read in the book of Acts: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan [boule] and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).
Here the resolute decree of God is in view, which no human action can set aside. God’s plan is impregnable; His “will” is unalterable.
The word thelema is rich in its diversity of meanings. It refers to what is agreeable, what is desired, what is intended, what is chosen, or what is commanded. Here we have the notions of consent, desire, purpose, resolution, and command. The force of the various meanings is determined by the context in which thelema appears.
The Decretive Will of God

Theologians describe as the “decretive will of God” that will by which God decrees things to come to pass according to His supreme sovereignty. This is also sometimes called “God’s sovereign efficacious will”; by it, God brings to pass whatsoever He wills. When God sovereignly decrees something in this sense, nothing can prevent it from coming to pass.
When God commanded the light to shine, the darkness had no power to resist the command. The “lights” came on. God did not persuade the light to shine. He did not negotiate with elemental powers to form a universe. He did not achieve a plan of redemption by trial and error; the cross was not a cosmic accident exploited by the Deity. These things were decreed absolutely. Their effects were efficacious (producing the desired result) because their causes were sovereignly decreed.
A serious danger faces those who restrict the meaning of the will of God to the sovereign will. We hear the Muslim cry, “It is the will of Allah.” We slip at times into a deterministic view of life that says, “Que será, sera,” or “What will be, will be.” In so doing, we embrace a sub-Christian form of fatalism, as if God willed everything that happened in such a way as to eliminate human choices.
Classical theologians insist on the reality of man’s will in acting, choosing, and responding. God works His plan through means, via the real choices of willing and acting creatures. There are secondary as well as primary causes. To deny this is to embrace a kind of determinism that eliminates human freedom and dignity.
Yet there is a God who is sovereign, whose will is greater than ours. His will restricts my will. My will cannot restrict His will. When He decrees something sovereignly, it will come to pass—whether I like it or not, whether I choose it or not. He is sovereign. I am subordinate.
The Preceptive Will of God

When the Bible speaks of the will of God, it does not always mean the decretive will of God. The decretive will of God cannot be broken or disobeyed. It will come to pass. On the other hand, there is a will that can be broken: “the preceptive will of God.” It can be disobeyed. Indeed, it is broken and disobeyed every day by each one of us.
The preceptive will of God is found in His law. The precepts, statutes, and commandments that He delivers to His people make up the preceptive will. They express and reveal to us what is right and proper for us to do. The preceptive will is God’s rule of righteousness for our lives. By this rule we are governed.
It is the will of God that we not sin. It is the will of God that we have no other gods before Him; that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves; that we refrain from stealing, coveting, and committing adultery. Yet the world is filled with idolatry, hatred, thievery, covetousness, and adultery. The will of God is violated whenever His law is broken.
One of the great tragedies of contemporary Christendom is the preoccupation of so many Christians with the secret decretive will of God to the exclusion and neglect of the preceptive will. We want to peek behind the veil, to catch a glimpse of our personal future. We seem more concerned with our horoscope than with our obedience, more concerned with what the stars in their courses are doing than with what we are doing.
With respect to God’s sovereign will, we assume we are passive. With respect to His preceptive will, we know that we are active and therefore responsible and accountable. It is easier to engage in ungodly prying into the secret counsel of God than to apply ourselves to the practice of godliness. We can flee to the safety of the sovereign will and try to pass off our sin to God, laying the burden and responsibility of it on His unchanging will. Such characterizes the spirit of antichrist, the spirit of lawlessness or antinomianism, that despises God’s law and ignores His precepts.
Protestants are particularly vulnerable to this distortion. We seek refuge in our precious doctrine of justification by faith alone, forgetting that the very doctrine is to be a catalyst for the pursuit of righteousness and obedience to the preceptive will of God.
Biblical Righteousness

Habakkuk’s famous statement, “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4, KJV), is found three times in the New Testament. It has become a slogan of evangelical Protestantism, whose emphasis has been on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This slogan, containing a hint of the essence of the Christian life, has its focal point in the biblical concept of righteousness.
One of Jesus’ most disturbing comments was the statement, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). It is easy for us to assume that Jesus meant that our righteousness must be of a higher sort than that characterized by men who were hypocrites. The image that we have of scribes and Pharisees from the New Testament period is that of unscrupulous, ruthless practitioners of religious deceit. We must bear in mind, however, that the Pharisees as a group were men historically committed to a very lofty level of righteous living. Yet Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed theirs. What did He mean?
When we consider the biblical notion of righteousness, we are dealing with a matter that touches virtually every plane of theology. In the first place, there is the righteousness of God, by which all standards of rightness and wrongness are to be measured. God’s character is the ultimate foundation and model of righteousness. In the Old Testament, righteousness becomes defined in terms of obedience to the commandments delivered by God, who Himself is altogether righteous. Those commands include not only precepts of human behavior with respect to our fellow human beings, but also matters of a liturgical and ceremonial nature.
In Old Testament Israel and among the New Testament Pharisees, liturgical righteousness was substituted for authentic righteousness. That is to say, men became satisfied with obeying the rituals of the religious community rather than fulfilling the broader implications of the law. For example, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for tithing their mint and cumin while omitting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy. Jesus indicated that the Pharisees were correct in giving their tithes, but were incorrect in assuming that the liturgical exercises had completed the requirements of the law. Here, liturgical righteousness had become a substitute for true and full obedience.
Within the evangelical world, righteousness is a rare word indeed. We speak of morality, spirituality, and piety. Seldom, however, do we speak of righteousness. Yet the goal of our redemption is not piety or spirituality but righteousness. Spirituality in the New Testament sense is a means to the end of righteousness. Being spiritual means that we are exercising the spiritual graces given by God to mold us after the image of His Son. The disciplines of prayer, Bible study, church fellowship, witnessing, and the like are not ends in themselves, but are designed to assist us in living righteously. We are stunted in our growth if we assume that the end of the Christian life is spirituality.
Spiritual concerns are but the beginning of our walk with God. We must beware of the subtle danger of thinking that spirituality completes the requirements of Christ. To fall into such a trap—the trap of the Pharisees—is to substitute liturgical or ritualistic practices for authentic righteousness. By all means we are to pray and to study the Bible, and to bear witness in evangelism. However, we must never, at any point in our lives, rest from our pursuit of righteousness.
In justification we become righteous in the sight of God by means of the cloak of Christ’s righteousness. However, as soon as we are justified, our lives must give evidence of the personal righteousness that flows out of our justification. It is interesting to me that the whole biblical concept of righteousness is contained in one Greek word, dikaios. That same Greek word is used to refer, in the first instance, to the righteousness of God; in the second instance, to what we call justification; and in the third instance, to the righteousness of life. Thus, from beginning to end—from the nature of God to the destiny of man—our human duty remains the same—a call to righteousness.
True righteousness must never be confused with self-righteousness. Since our righteousness proceeds from our justification, which is based on the righteousness of Christ alone, we must never be deluded into thinking that our works of righteousness have any merit of their own. Yet as Protestants, zealously maintaining our doctrine of justification by faith alone, we must be ever mindful that the justification that is by faith alone is never by a faith that is alone. True faith manifests itself in righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees and the scribes, for it is concerned with the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy.
We are called to bear witness to the righteousness of God in every area of life—from our prayer closets to our courtrooms, from our pews to our marketplaces. The top priority of Jesus is that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All other things will be added to that.
An Allergy to Restraint

“Everybody do your own thing.” This cliché from the sixties characterizes the spirit of our age. Increasingly freedom is being equated with the inalienable right to do whatever you please. It carries with it a built-in allergy to laws that restrain, whether they be the laws of God or the laws of men.
This pervasive anti-law, or antinomian, attitude is reminiscent of the biblical epoch that provoked God’s judgment because “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). The secular world reflects this attitude in the statement, “Government can’t legislate morality.” Morality is seen as a private matter, outside the domain of the state and even of the church.
A shift has occurred in word meaning so subtle that many have missed it. The original intent of the concept, “You cannot legislate morality,” was to convey the idea that passing a law prohibiting a particular kind of activity would not necessarily eliminate such activity. The point of the phrase was that laws do not ipso facto produce obedience to those laws. In fact, on some occasions, the legal prohibition of certain practices has incited only greater violation of established law. The prohibition of alcoholic beverages is an example.
The contemporary interpretation of legislating morality differs from the original intent. Instead of saying that government cannot legislate morality, it says government may not legislate morality. That means government should stay out of moral issues such as the regulation of abortion, deviant sexual practices, marriage and divorce, and so on, since morality is a matter of conscience in the private sector. For government to legislate in these areas is often viewed as an invasion of privacy by the state, representing a denial of basic freedoms for the individual.
If we take this kind of thinking to its logical conclusion, we leave the government with little to do. If government may not legislate morality, its activity will be restricted to determining the colors of the state flag, the state flower, and perhaps the state bird. (However, even questions of flowers and birds may be deemed “moral,” as they touch on ecological issues, which are ultimately moral in character.) The vast majority of matters that concern legislation are, in fact, of a decidedly moral character. The regulation of murder, theft, and civil rights is a moral matter. How a person operates his automobile on the highway is a moral issue since it touches on the well-being of fellow travelers.
Questions relating to the legalization of marijuana often focus on the fact that a majority of certain age groups are violating the law. The argument goes like this: Since disobedience is so widespread, doesn’t this indicate that the law is bad? Such a conclusion is a blatant non sequitur. Whether or not marijuana should be decriminalized should not be determined by levels of civil disobedience.
The point is that a vast number of Americans reflect an antinomian spirit regarding marijuana. Such disobedience is hardly motivated by noble aspirations to a higher ethic suppressed by a tyrannical government. Here the law is broken as a matter of convenience and physical appetite.
Within the church, the same spirit of antinomianism has prevailed too often. Pope Benedict XVI faces the embarrassing legacy of his predecessors as he tries to explain to the world why a majority of his American adherents tell the pollsters they practice artificial means of birth control when a papal encyclical explicitly forbids such methods. One must ask how people can confess their belief in an “infallible” leader of their church and at the same time obstinately refuse to submit to that leader.
Within the Protestant churches, individuals frequently become irate when called to moral accountability. They often declare that the church has no right to intrude into their private lives. They say this in spite of the fact that in their membership vows, they publicly committed themselves to submit to the moral oversight of the church.
Antinomianism should be more rare in the evangelical Christian community than anywhere else. Sadly, the facts do not fit the theory. So blasé is the typical “evangelical” toward the law of God that the prophecies of doom that Rome thundered at Martin Luther are beginning to come true. Some “evangelicals” are indeed using justification by faith alone as a license to sin; these can be deemed properly only as pseudo-evangelicals. Anyone who has the most rudimentary understanding of justification by faith knows that authentic faith always manifests itself in a zeal for obedience. No earnest Christian can ever have a cavalier attitude toward the law of God. Though obedience to such laws does not bring justification, the justified person will surely endeavor to obey them.
To be sure, there are times when the commandments of men are on a collision course with the laws of God. In those instances, Christians not only may disobey men, but must disobey men. I am not talking here of isolated moral issues but of attitudes. Christians must be particularly careful in this era of antinomianism not to get caught up in the spirit of the age. We are not free to do what is right in our own eyes. We are called to do what is right in His eyes.
Freedom should not be confused with autonomy. As long as evil exists in the world, the moral restraint of law is necessary. It is an act of grace by which God institutes government, which exists to restrain the evildoer. It exists to protect the innocent and the righteous. The righteous are called to support it as much as they possibly can without compromising their obedience to God.
God’s Will of Disposition

While we understand that the decretive will and the preceptive will of God are part of His overall will, other aspects of the mystery of His sovereignty remain. One such aspect is “the will of disposition.” It is tied up with the ability of man to disobey God’s preceptive will.
This aspect of the will of God refers to what is pleasing and agreeable to God. It expresses something of the attitude of God to His creatures. Some things are “well pleasing in his sight,” while other things are said to grieve Him. He may allow (but not via moral permission) wicked things to transpire, but He is by no means pleased by them.
To illustrate how these differing aspects of the will of God come into play in biblical interpretation, let us examine the verse that says the Lord is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9, KJV). Which of the above-mentioned meanings of will fits this text? How is the meaning of the text changed by the application of the nuances?
Try first the decretive will. The verse would then mean, “God is not willing in a sovereign decretive sense that any should perish.” The implication would then be that nobody perishes. This verse would be a proof text for universalism, with its view that hell is utterly vacant of people.
The second option is that God is not willing in a preceptive way that any should perish. This would mean that God does not allow people to perish in the sense that He grants His moral permission. This obviously does not fit the context of the passage.
The third option makes sense. God is not willing in the sense that He is not inwardly disposed to, or delighted by, people’s perishing. Elsewhere, Scripture teaches that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. He may decree what He does not enjoy; that is, He may distribute justice to wicked offenders. He is pleased when justice is maintained and righteousness is honored, even though He takes no personal pleasure in the application of such punishment.
A human analogy may be seen in our law courts. A judge, in the interest of justice, may sentence a criminal to prison and at the same time inwardly grieve for the guilty man. His disposition may be for the man but against the crime.
However, God is not merely a human judge, working under the constraints of the criminal justice system. God is sovereign—He can do what He pleases. If He is not pleased or willing that any should perish, why then does He not exercise His decretive will accordingly? How can there be a hiatus between God’s decretive will and His will of disposition?
All things being equal, God does desire that no one should perish. But all things are not equal. Sin is real. Sin violates God’s holiness and righteousness. God also is not willing that sin should go unpunished. He desires as well that His holiness should be vindicated. It is dangerous to speak of a conflict of interests or of a clash of desires within God. Yet, in a certain sense, we must. He wills the obedience of His creatures. He wills the well-being of His creatures. There is a symmetry of relationship ultimately between obedience and well-being. The obedient child will never perish. Those who obey God’s preceptive will enjoy the benefits of His will of disposition. When the preceptive will is violated, things are no longer equal. Now God requires punishment while not particularly enjoying the application of it.
Yet does this not beg the ultimate question? Where does the decretive will fit in? Could not God originally have decreed that no one ever would be able to sin, thus ensuring an eternal harmony among all elements of His will: decretive, preceptive, and dispositional?
Often the answer to this question is superficial. Appeals are made to the free will of man, as if by magic man’s free will could explain the dilemma. We are told that the only way God could have created a universe guaranteed to be free from sin would have been to make creatures without free will. It is then argued that these creatures would have been nothing more than puppets and would have lacked humanity, being devoid of the power or ability to sin. If that is the case, then what does it suggest about the state of our existence in heaven? We are promised that when our redemption is complete, sin will be no more. We will still have an ability to choose, but our disposition will be so inclined toward righteousness that we will, in fact, never choose evil. If this will be possible in heaven after redemption, why could it not have been possible before the fall?
The Bible gives no clear answer to this thorny question. We are told that God created people who, for better or for worse, have the ability to sin. We also know from Scripture that there is no shadow of turning in the character of God, and that all of His works are clothed in righteousness. That He chose to create man the way He did is mysterious, but we must assume, given the knowledge we have, that God’s plan was good. Any conflict that arises between His commandments to us, His desire that we should obey Him, and our failure to comply does not destroy His sovereignty.
God’s Secret and Revealed Will

We have already distinguished among the three types of the will of God: His decretive will, His preceptive will, and His will of disposition. Another distinction must be established between what is called God’s secret, or hidden, will and His revealed will. This secret will of God is subsumed under the decretive will because, for the most part, it remains undisclosed to us. There is a limit to the revelation God has made of Himself. We know certain things about God’s decretive will that He has been pleased to set forth for our information in Holy Scripture. But because we are finite creatures, we do not comprehend the total dimension of divine knowledge or the divine plan. As the Scriptures teach, the secret things belong to the Lord, but that which He has revealed belongs to us and to our children forever (Deut. 29:29).
Protestant theologians have made use of the distinction between the hidden God (Deus obsconditus) and the revealed God (Deus revelatus). This distinction is valuable and indeed necessary when we realize that not all that can be known of God has been revealed to us. There is a sense in which God remains hidden from us, insofar as He has not been pleased to reveal all there is to know about Him. However, this distinction is fraught with peril since some have found within it a conflict between two kinds of gods. A god who reveals his character to be one thing, but who is secretly contrary to that revealed character, would be a supreme hypocrite.
If we say that God has no secret will and proposes to do only what He commands and nothing more, then we would perceive God as one whose desires and plans are constantly thwarted by the harassment of human beings. Such a god would be impotent, and no god at all.
If we distinguish between the secret aspect of God and the revealed aspect of God, we must hold these as parts of the whole, not as contradictions. That is to say, what God has revealed about Himself is trustworthy. Our knowledge is partial, but it is true as far as it goes. What belongs to the secret counsel of God does not contradict the character of God that has been revealed to us.
The distinction of God’s revealed will and hidden will raises a practical problem: the question of whether or not it is possible for a Christian to act in harmony with God’s decretive (hidden) will and at the same time work against His preceptive will.
We must admit that such a possibility exists—in a sense. For example, it was in God’s decretive will and by His determinate counsel that Jesus Christ was condemned to die on the cross. The divine purpose, of course, was to secure the redemption of God’s people. However, that purpose was hidden from the view of men who sat in judgment over Jesus. When Pontius Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified, Pilate acted against the preceptive will of God but in harmony with the decretive will of God. Does this make nonsense of God’s preceptive will? God forbid. What it does is bear witness to the transcendent power of God to work His purposes sovereignly in spite of, and by means of, the evil acts of men.
Consider the story of Joseph, whose brothers, out of jealousy and greed, sold their innocent brother into slavery in Egypt. At their reunion years later, and upon the brothers’ confession of sin, Joseph replied, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Here is the inscrutable majesty of God’s providence. God made use of human evil in bringing to pass His purposes for Joseph and for the Jewish nation. Joseph’s brothers were guilty of willful and malicious sin. By directly violating the preceptive will of God, they sinned against their brother and against God. Yet in their sin, God’s secret counsel was brought to pass, and God brought redemption through it.
What if Joseph’s brothers had been obedient? Joseph would not have been sold into slavery; he would not have been taken to Egypt; he would not have been sent to prison, from which he was called to interpret a dream. What if Joseph had not become prime minister? What would have become the historical reason for the brothers’ settling in Egypt? There would have been no Jewish settlement in Egypt, no Moses, no exodus from Egypt, no law, no prophets, no Christ, no salvation.
Can we, therefore, conclude that the sins of Joseph’s brothers were, in fact, virtues in disguise? Not at all. Their sin was sin, a clear violation of the preceptive will of God, for which they were held responsible and judged to be guilty. But God brought good out of evil. This reflects neither a contradiction in God’s character nor a contradiction between His precepts and His decrees. Rather it calls attention to the transcendent power of His sovereignty.
Is it possible for us in this day and age to obey the preceptive will of God and yet be in conflict with the secret will of God? Of course this is possible. It may be the will of God, for example, that He use a foreign nation to chastise the United States for sinning against God. It may be in the plan of God to have the people of the United States brought under judgment through the aggressive invasion of Russia. In terms of God’s inscrutable will, He could be, for purposes of judgment, “on the side of the Russians.” Yet at the same time, it would remain the duty of the civil magistrate of the American nation to resist the transgression of our borders by a conquering nation.
We have a parallel in the history of Israel, where God used the Babylonians as a rod to chastise His people Israel. In that situation, it would have been perfectly proper for the civil magistrate of Israel to have resisted the wicked invasion of the Babylonians. In so doing, the Israelites would have been, in effect, resisting the decretive will of God. The book of Habakkuk wrestles with the severe problem of God’s use of the evil inclinations of men to bring judgment on His people. This is not to suggest that God favored the Babylonians. He made it clear that judgment would fall on them also, but He first made use of their evil inclinations in order to bring a corrective discipline to His own people.
Knowing the Will of God for Our Lives

Pursuing knowledge of the will of God is not an abstract science designed to titillate the intellect or to convey the kind of knowledge that “puffs up” but fails to edify. An understanding of the will of God is desperately important for every Christian seeking to live a life that is pleasing to his or her Creator. It is a very practical thing for us to know what God wants for our lives. A Christian asks: “What are my marching orders? What should my role be in contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God? What does God want me to do with my life?” It is inconceivable that a Christian could live for very long without coming face-to-face with these gripping questions.
Having been a Christian for some fifty years, with the study of theology my main vocational pursuit, I find the practical question of the will of God pressing on my mind quite frequently. I doubt a fortnight passes that I am not seriously engaged by the question of whether I am doing what God wants me to do at this point in my life. The question haunts and beckons all of us. It demands resolution, and so we must ask ourselves, “How do we know the will of God for our lives?”
The practical question of how we know the will of God for our lives cannot be solved with any degree of accuracy unless we have some prior understanding of the will of God in general. Without the distinctions that we have made, our pursuit of the will of God can plunge us into hopeless confusion and consternation. When we seek the will of God, we must first ask ourselves which will we are seeking to discover.
If our quest is to penetrate the hidden aspects of His will, then we have embarked on a fool’s errand. We are trying the impossible and chasing the untouchable. Such a quest is not only an act of foolishness, but also an act of presumption. There is a very real sense in which the secret will of the secret counsel of God is none of our business and is off limits to our speculative investigations.
Untold evils have been perpetrated on God’s people by unscrupulous theologians who have sought to correct or to supplant the clear and plain teaching of sacred Scripture by doctrines and theories based on speculation alone. The business of searching out the mind of God where God has remained silent is dangerous business indeed. Luther put it this way: “We must keep in view his word and leave alone his inscrutable will; for it is by his word and not by his inscrutable will that we must be guided.”
Christians are permitted, in a sense, to attempt to discern the will of God by means of illumination by the Holy Spirit and by confirmation through circumstances that we are doing the right thing. However, as we will discover, the search for providential guidance must always be subordinate to our study of the revealed will of God. In our search, we must also come to terms with the dynamic tensions created by the concept of man’s will versus predestination. Before our inquiry can lead us into such practical avenues as occupation and marriage, we must face the thorny issues involved in the free will/predestination issue. We have seen what the will of God entails. What about the will of man? How do the two relate? How free is man, after all?

Chapter Two

THE MEANING OF MAN’S WILL
The term free will as applied to man is often glibly declared with little or no understanding of its meaning. There is actually no unified theory of man’s free will, but a variety of competing and often conflicting views about it.
The question of man’s free will is made more complicated by the fact that we must examine it in terms of how the will functioned before and after the fall of Adam. Most important is how the fall affected man’s moral choices.
Augustine gave the church a close analysis of the state of freedom that Adam enjoyed before the fall. His classic concept of freedom distinguished four possibilities. In Latin, they are:

1. posse pecarre—able to sin
2. posse non pecarre—able not to sin (or to remain free from sin)
3. non posse pecarre—unable to sin
4. non posse, non pecarre—unable not to sin

Augustine argued that before the fall, Adam possessed both the ability to sin (posse pecarre) and the ability to not sin (posse non pecarre). However, Adam lacked the exalted state of the inability to sin that God enjoys (non posse pecarre). God’s inability to sin is based not on an inner powerlessness to do what He wants, but rather on the fact that God has no inner desire to sin. Since the desire for sin is utterly absent from God, there is no reason for God to choose sin.
Before the fall, Adam did not have the moral perfection of God, but neither did he have the inability to refrain from sin (non posse, non pecarre). During his time of “probation” in the garden, he had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. He chose to exercise the ability to sin and thus plunged the human race into ruin.
As a result, Adam’s first sin was passed on to all his descendants. Original sin refers not to the first sin but to God’s punishment of that first transgression. Because of the first sin, human nature fell into a morally corrupt state, itself partly a judgment of God. When we speak of original sin, we refer to the fallen human condition that reflects the judgment of God on the race.
The Fallenness of Man

Christians differ in their views concerning the extent and seriousness of the fall. However, it is almost universally conceded that in dealing with mankind, we are dealing with a fallen race. Augustine located the depths of man’s fallenness in his loss of original powers of righteousness. No longer does man have the ability to not sin. In man’s fallen state, his plight is found in his inability to keep from sinning (non posse, non pecarre). In the fall, something profoundly vital to moral freedom was lost.
Augustine declared that in his prefallen state, man enjoyed both a free will (liberium arbitrium) and moral liberty (libertas). Since the fall, man has continued to have a free will, but has lost the moral liberty he once enjoyed.
Perhaps the most insightful study of the question of fallen man’s free will is the epic work of Jonathan Edwards, On the Freedom of the Will. Edwards and Augustine differ in terminology, but their meaning is essentially the same. Edwards distinguished between the natural ability of freedom and the moral ability of freedom. Natural ability deals with the powers of action and choice that we possess by nature. Man’s natural abilities include the power to think, to walk, to speak, to eat, and so on. Man lacks the natural ability to fly, to live beneath the sea as a fish, or to hibernate for months without food. We may desire to fly, but we lack the natural equipment necessary to live out our desire. Our freedom has a certain built-in restriction related to the limitations of our natural faculties.
With respect to the making of choices, fallen man still has the natural ability and the natural faculties necessary to make moral choices. Man can still think, feel, and desire. All of the equipment necessary for the making of choices remains. What fallen man lacks is the moral disposition, the desire, or the inclination for righteousness.
Stated simply, man still has the ability to choose what he wants, but lacks the desire for true righteousness. He is naturally free, but he is morally enslaved to his own corrupt and wicked desires. Both Edwards and Augustine said man is still free to choose, but if left to himself, man will never choose righteousness, precisely because he does not desire it.
Edwards took the question a step further. He said man still has not only the ability but the built-in necessity to choose according to his desires. Not only can we choose what we want, we must choose what we want. It is at this point that the protest is sounded: Is free choice an illusion? If we must choose what we choose, how can such a choice be called free? If we are free to choose what we want but want only what is evil, how can we still speak of free will? This is precisely why Augustine distinguished between free will and liberty, saying that fallen man still has free will but has lost his liberty. It is why Edwards said that we still have natural freedom but have lost moral freedom.
Why talk of freedom at all, if we can choose only sin? The crux of the matter lies in the relationship between choice and desire, or disposition. Edwards’s thesis is that we always choose according to the strongest inclination, or disposition, of the moment. Again, not only can we choose according to our strongest desires, we must choose according to our strongest desires of the moment. Such is the essence of freedom—that I am able to choose what I want when I want it.
If I must do something, then in a sense my actions are determined. But if my actions are determined, how can I be free? The classic answer to this difficult question is that the determination of my choices comes from within me. The essence of freedom is self-determination. It is when my choices are forced on me by external coercion that my freedom is lost. To be able to choose what I want by virtue of self-determination does not destroy free will but establishes it.
Choices Flow from Desires

To choose according to the strongest desire or inclination of the moment simply means that there is a reason for the choices I make. At one point, Edwards defined the will as “the mind choosing.” The actual choice is an effect or result that requires an antecedent cause. The cause is located in the disposition or desire. If all effects have causes, then all choices likewise have causes. If the cause is apart from me, then I am a victim of coercion. If the cause is from within me, then my choices are self-determined or free.
Think about Edwards’s thesis that we always choose according to the strongest inclination or desire of the moment. Think, if you will, of the most harmless choice that you might make in the course of a day. Perhaps you attend a meeting of a group and choose to sit on the left side in the third seat from the end of the fourth row at the front of the room. Why did you choose to sit there? In all probability, when you entered the room, you did not engage in a thorough analysis of your seating preferences. You probably did not make a chart to determine which seat was best. Your decision probably was made quickly, with little or no conscious evaluation and with a sense of apparent spontaneity. Does that mean, however, that there was no reason for your choice? Perhaps you sat where you did because you are comfortable sitting on the left side of the room in such meetings. Perhaps you were attracted to that seat because of its proximity to a friend or its access to the exit. In situations like this, the mind weighs a host of contributing factors so quickly that we tend to think our responses are spontaneous. The truth is that something in you triggered a desire to sit in a certain seat, or else your choice was an effect without a cause.
Perhaps your seat selection was governed by forces outside your control. Perhaps the seat you chose was the only seat left in the room, so that you had no choice in the matter at all. Is that completely true? The option to stand at the back of the room was still there. Or the option to leave the meeting altogether was still there. You chose to sit in the only seat available because your desire to sit was stronger than your desire to stand and your desire to stay was stronger than your desire to leave.
Consider a more bizarre illustration. Suppose on the way home from the meeting you encounter a robber who points a gun to your head and says, “Your money or your life.” What do you do? If you accede to his demand and turn over your wallet, you will become a victim of coercion, and yet in some measure you will have exercised free choice. Coercion enters by virtue of the fact that the gunman is severely restricting your options to two. The element of freedom that is preserved stems from the fact that you still have two options and that you choose the one for which you have the strongest desire at the moment.
All things being equal, you have no desire to donate your money to an unworthy thief. You have even less desire, however, to have your brain poured out on the sidewalk by the gunman’s bullet. Given the small number of options, you still choose according to the strongest inclination at the moment. We always do what we really want to do.
The Bible teaches, some will say, that we do not always do what we want to do. The apostle Paul lamented in Romans 7 that the good he wanted to do he did not do, and the thing he did not want to do was the very thing he did. Paul’s frustration over the wretchedness of his condition would seem totally to refute Edwards’s thesis of the relationship of choice to desire. Paul, however, was not giving expression to an analysis of the causal relationship between desire and choice. He was expressing a profound frustration that centers on the complex of desires that assault the human will.
We are creatures with a multitude of desires, many of which are in violent conflict with each other. Again, consider the “all things being equal” dimension of our moral choices. As a Christian I have a profound desire to please Christ with my life and to attain righteousness. That good desire for obedience to God is neither perfect nor pure, as it struggles daily with other desires in my sinful personality. If I had no conflicting desires, I would never be disobedient. If the only desire I had, or if the strongest desire I had, was to obey God continuously, I would never willfully sin against Him. However, there are times when my desire to sin is greater than my desire to obey; when that happens, I sin. When my desire to obey is greater than my desire to sin, at that moment I refrain from sinning. My choices reveal more clearly and more certainly than anything else the level of my desire.
Desire, like appetite, is not constant. Our levels of desire fluctuate from day to day, from hour to hour, and from minute to minute. Desire moves in an ebb-and-flow pattern like the waves of the sea. The person who goes on a diet experiences intensifying pangs of hunger at various times of the day. It is easy to make a resolution to diet when one is satiated. Likewise, it is easy to resolve to be righteous in the midst of a moving spiritual experience of prayer. Yet we are creatures of changing moods and fleeting desires who have not yet achieved a constancy of will based on a consistency of godly desires. As long as conflict of desire exists and an appetite for sin remains in the heart, man is not totally free in the moral sense of which Edwards spoke, and neither does he experience the fullness of liberty described by Augustine.
Choice as a Spontaneous Act

Over against the Augustinian view of free will is the classical notion that describes the action or activity of choice in purely spontaneous terms. In this concept, the will chooses and is free from not only external forces of coercion but from any internal rule of disposition or desire. The choice of the moment proceeds freely in the sense that no inclination or prior disposition controls, directs, or affects the choice that is made. It is safe to say that this is the dominant view of free will in Western culture and is the view Calvin had in mind when he stated, “Free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to man.” At bottom it implies that man can make choices that are effects without any causes. Here it is suggested that the power of man to produce an effect without a cause exceeds even the creative power of God Almighty. Moreover, the cardinal rule of causality—ex nihilo, nihil fit (“out of nothing, nothing comes”)—is broken. Such a view of freedom is repugnant not only to Scripture but to reason.
To understand freedom as purely spontaneous choice with no prior disposition controlling it is to rob freedom of any moral significance. That is, if I act with no prior motive or no previous inclination toward or away from righteousness, how can it be said that my act is moral at all? Such activity would be without reason or motive behind it; it would be a purely random action, with no moral virtue attached to it.
However, a deeper question remains: Is such a spontaneous action possible at all? If the will is inclined neither to the right nor to the left, how could it choose at all? If there is no disposition toward, or away from, the action, then the will suffers from complete paralysis. It is like the donkey that had set before him a bale of hay and a bucket of oats. The donkey’s inclination with respect to the hay and the oats was exactly equal, with not the slightest degree of preference toward one or the other. The story is told that the donkey in such circumstances starves to death with a banquet feast in front of him because he has no way to choose between the two.
The practical problem that remains with the classical view of freedom is one raised by behavioristic psychology. If man is indeed self-determined or free, does that not imply that if his desires were completely known, man’s action in every given circumstance would be completely predictable? There is a sense in which we must agree that such a predictability would be implied. However, there is no way that any genius short of God and His omniscience could possibly know all the complex factors present in the human mind weighing a choice.
We recognize with psychologists that preferences and inclinations are shaped in many respects by experience and environment, but we cannot predict with certainty what any human being will do. Hidden variables within the complex of human personality make for this unpredictability. It nevertheless remains a fact that there is always a reason for our actions, a cause for our choices. That cause stems partly from ourselves and partly from the forces operating around and over against us.
The Definition of Freedom

The safest course to steer is to define freedom as did the church fathers, such as Augustine: “the ability to choose what we want.” God’s sovereignty does not extinguish that dimension of human personality, but certainly rules over it.
Out of rigid forms of determinism comes the cry of despair: “If the complex factors that make up personality completely determine my choices, then what value is self-improvement or the search for righteousness? If my will is enslaved by my dispositions and desires, what hope do I have of ever breaking out of the patterns of sin that are so destructive to my present mode of behavior?”
In a real sense, the process of sanctification involves a radical reprogramming of the inner self. We are not the victims of blind mechanical forces that control our destiny. As intelligent beings, we can do something to change the dispositions of our hearts and the inclinations of our minds.
It is important to remember that desire is not a fixed and constant power that beats within our souls. Our desires change and fluctuate from moment to moment. When the Bible calls us to feed the new man and starve the old man, we can apply this injunction by taking advantage of the ebb and flow of moods to strengthen the new man when our desire for Christ is inflamed and to kill the old man’s desires by starving him in times of satiation. The simplest way to state the mechanism of sin is to understand that at the moment I sin, I desire the sin more than I desire to please God. Stated another way, my love for the sin is greater at the moment of its intense desire than is my love for obedience to God. Therefore, the simple conclusion is that to overcome the power of sin within us, we need either to decrease our desire for the sin or to increase our desire to obey God.
What can we do to effect such changes? We can submit ourselves to the discipline of a class or a teacher and devote ourselves to a rigorous study of the law of God. Such disciplined study can help renew our minds, equipping us with a new understanding of what pleases and displeases God. The development of a renewed mind is the biblical definition of spiritual transformation.
The mind and the will are linked, as Edwards noted. Understanding more deeply how abhorrent our sin is to God can change or reprogram our attitudes toward sin. We are to follow the biblical injunction to concentrate on whatever things are pure and good. It may be too much to expect that a man in the midst of an attack of profound lust will switch to pure thoughts. It would be difficult for him to push a button and change the inclination of his desire at that moment. However, in a more sober mood, he may have the opportunity to reprogram his mind by filling it with high and holy thoughts of the things of God. The end result is that he may well strengthen the disposition of his heart toward God and weaken the disposition of his fallen nature toward sin.
We need not surrender to a superficial form of rigid determinism or behaviorism that would cause us to despair of any hope of change. Scripture encourages us to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” knowing that not only are we applying the means of grace by our own effort, but that God Himself is working within us to bring about the necessary changes to conform us to the image of His Son (Phil. 2:12–13; 1:6).
Sovereignty of God and Freedom of Man

What about man’s will with respect to the sovereignty of God? Perhaps the oldest dilemma of the Christian faith is the apparent contradiction between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man. If we define human freedom as autonomy (meaning that man is free to do whatever he pleases, without constraint, without accountability to the will of God), then of course we must say that free will is contradictory to divine sovereignty. We cannot soft-pedal this dilemma by calling it a mystery; we must face up to the full import of the concept. If free will means autonomy, then God cannot be sovereign. If man is utterly and completely free to do as he pleases, there can be no sovereign God. However, if God is utterly sovereign to do as He pleases, no creature can be autonomous.
It is possible to have a multitude of beings, all of whom are free to various degrees but none of whom are sovereign. The degree of freedom is determined by the level of power, authority, and responsibility held by each being. However, we do not live in this type of universe. There is a God who is sovereign—which is to say, He is absolutely free. My freedom is always within limits. My freedom is always constrained by the sovereignty of God. I have freedom to do things as I please, but if my freedom conflicts with the decretive will of God, there is no question as to the outcome—God’s decree will prevail over my choice.
It is stated so often that it has become almost an uncritically accepted axiom within Christian circles that the sovereignty of God may never violate human freedom in the sense that God’s sovereign will may never overrule human freedom. The thought verges on, if not trespasses, the border of blasphemy because it contains the idea that God’s sovereignty is constrained by human freedom. If that were true, man, not God, would be sovereign, and God would be restrained and constrained by the power of human freedom. As I say, the implication here is blasphemous because it raises the creature to the stature of the Creator. God’s glory, majesty, and honor are denigrated since He is reduced to the status of a secondary, impotent creature. Biblically speaking, man is free, but his freedom can never violate or overrule God’s sovereignty.
I and my son are free moral agents; he has a will and I have a will. However, when he was a teen living in my home, his will was more often constrained by my will than was my will constrained by His. I carried more authority and more power in the relationship and hence I had a wider expanse of freedom than he had. So it is with our relationship to God; God’s power and authority are infinite, and His freedom is never hindered by human volition.
There is no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Those who see a contradiction, or even point to the problem as an unsolvable mystery, have misunderstood the mystery. The real mystery regarding free will is how it was exercised by Adam before the fall.
Options for Considering Adam’s Sin

If Augustine was correct that pre-fall Adam possessed an ability to sin and an ability not to sin, and that he was created with no prior disposition or inclination toward sin, then the question we face is, “How was it possible for such a creature with no prior disposition toward evil actually to take the step into evil?” As we grapple with this mystery, let me present several options that have served as explanations in the past.
First, we can hypothesize that Adam fell because he was duped by the craftiness of Satan and simply did not know what he was doing. The inspiration for this hypothesis is the biblical emphasis on the craftiness of the Devil. Satan, in his guile, was able to seduce Adam and Eve by confusing their thought patterns. Thus, the weakness of our primordial parents was not moral in nature, but intellectual, inasmuch as they failed to perceive the chicanery of the serpent. What complicates the picture is the fact that the Scriptures in this instance do not describe Adam and Eve as having been completely duped by their adversary; rather, they had full knowledge of what God allowed and did not allow them to do. They could not plead ignorance of the command of God as an excuse for their transgression.
There are times when ignorance is excusable, namely when such ignorance cannot possibly be helped or overcome. Such ignorance is properly described by the Roman Catholic Church as “invincible ignorance”—ignorance that we lack the power to conquer. Invincible ignorance excuses and gives one a reprieve from any accusation of moral wrongdoing. However, the biblical record gainsays this option in the case of Adam and Eve, for God pronounces judgment on them. Unless that judgment was arbitrary or immoral on the part of God Himself, we can only conclude that what Adam and Eve did was inexcusable. A just God does not punish excusable transgressions. Indeed, excusable transgressions are not transgressions.
A second option is that Adam and Eve were coerced by Satan to disobey God. Here we see the original instance of the statement “The Devil made me do it.” If, however, Satan, in fact, fully and forcibly coerced Adam and Eve to transgress the law of God, then once again we would find an excuse for their actions. We would have to conclude that they did not act with a reasonable measure of freedom, a measure that would at least have delivered them from moral culpability. Such a theory violates the clear teaching of the biblical text, which hints at no coercive manipulation on the part of Satan.
Consistently, the Scriptures place the responsibility, the blame, and the full culpability on Adam and Eve themselves. They committed evil. Their choice was an evil one.
By what means did Adam and Eve make an evil choice? If we apply the analysis of choice common to Augustine and Edwards to pre-fall Adam, we face an insoluble dilemma. If Adam had been created with a purely neutral disposition (with no inclination toward righteousness or evil), we would still face the same rational impasse that Edwards notes for those who would impose it for post-fall man. A will with no predisposition would have no motivation to choose. Without motivation, there could be no choice. Even if such a choice were possible, it would have no moral import to it.
We must examine the other two alternatives—that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil or with a singular predisposition toward good. Both of these options end at the stone wall of intellectual difficulty. If we assume that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil, we cast a horrible shadow over the character of God, for this would mean that God created man with a predisposition toward evil and then punished man for exercising the disposition that God Himself had planted within his soul. In a real sense, this would make God the author of, and the one ultimately responsible for, human wickedness. Every page of Holy Scripture recoils from such a thesis, as it would transfer the blame from man to God Himself, who is altogether good. Still, many take this option, following in the footsteps of the implied criticism of the first man, Adam, who excused himself before the Creator by saying, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12, emphasis added). Men from Adam onward have manifested their fallenness by trying to transfer the blame for that fallenness to the Creator.
A third option is that God created man with a disposition toward only righteousness. If this were the case, then we have an effect without a sufficient cause. How is it possible for a creature created with the disposition toward only righteousness to have chosen a wicked act?
Other Inquiries into the Mystery of Adam’s Sin

I have a built-in antipathy to dialectical theology—theology that proclaims the beauty of contradictions and nonsense statements. Thus, I must swallow hard to agree with one neoorthodox theologian about the origin of Adam’s sin. Karl Barth calls the sin of Adam the “impossible possibility.” Barth, of course, is calling attention to the utterly inexplicable mystery of Adam’s transgression—what was rationally impossible and inconceivable happened, and remains a bona fide and impenetrable mystery to us.
Other attempts have been made to seek a complex and sophisticated answer to the mystery of iniquity. One suggestion is that the sin of Adam was like all sin, namely, a privation, a corruption, or a negation of something that was inherently and intrinsically good. In other words, Adam was created with a good moral disposition. His appetites and desires were continuously good, and as a result, one would expect his activities to have been equally good. However, it is suggested that in the complexity of moral choices, sometimes a good will (which has a desire that in itself is good) can be misused and abused toward an evil end. The supreme example of such a twisting occurred at the temptation of Jesus, the second and new Adam.
In Jesus’ temptation experience in the wilderness, Satan came to Him in the midst of a prolonged fast. It is probably safe to assume that at that point Jesus had a consuming passion for food. That natural human desire to eat carried no immoral overtones in and of itself. One expects a hungry man to have a disposition to eat. However, Jesus wanted to obey God through this act of self-deprivation. When Satan came to Jesus and suggested that He turn stones into bread, Satan was appealing to a perfectly normal appetite and desire within Jesus. However, Jesus’ desire to obey the Father was deeper than His desire to partake of food. Thus, filled with an altogether righteous desire, He was able to overcome the temptation of Satan.
Now the theory goes like this: Perhaps it was something good that caused Adam to fall—something that in and of itself was good, but which could have been misused and abused by the seductive influences of Satan. Such an explanation certainly helps make the fall more understandable, but it goes only so far before it fails. At its most vital point, the explanation does not account for how this good desire could have become distorted, overruling the prior obligation to obey God. At some point before the act of transgression took place, Adam must have had to desire disobedience to God more than obedience to God; therein the fall already had taken place because the very desire to act against God in disobedience is itself sinful.
I leave the question of explaining the fall of Adam by virtue of the exercise of his free will to the hands of more competent and insightful theologians. To blame it on man’s finite limitations is really putting blame on the God who made man finite. Biblically, the issue has been, and always will be, a moral one. Man was commanded by the Creator not to sin, but man chose to sin, though not because God or anyone else forced him. Man chose out of his own heart.
Consequently, to probe the answer to the how of man’s sin is to enter the realm of deepest mystery. Perhaps all we can do in the final analysis is to recognize the reality of our sin and our responsibility for it. Though we cannot explain it, certainly we know enough to confess it. We must never attribute the cause of our sin to God or adopt any position that would excuse us from the moral responsibility that Scripture clearly assigns to us.
Some have criticized the Christian faith for its inability to give a satisfying answer to the question of sin. The fact is that other religions must come to terms with this same question. Some respond simply by denying the reality of evil—a convenient but absurd way out. Christianity alone deals head-on with the reality of sin by providing an escape from its consequences.
The Christian solution to the problem of sin is a radical departure from what other religions provide, for it is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through His perfect sacrifice, which has the efficacy of blotting out believers’ sins, we have become righteous in God’s eyes. However, that righteousness does not give us the license to do as we please. We must still seek to do God’s preceptive will, especially as we swim through the perilous waters of the moral, ethical, and social dilemmas of our age.
While we have discussed the more theological aspects of man’s will and God’s will, two other topics now beckon us: God’s will for our jobs and for our marital status. These two practical concerns take center stage in the drama of our personal lives. What can we learn about God’s will and man’s will in relation to these vital aspects of living? The next chapters offer guidelines to facilitate our decision making in these all-important areas.

Chapter Three

GOD’S WILL AND YOUR JOB
When we are introduced to people, the following three questions are generally asked: “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” The third question is the one that concerns us in this chapter.
“What do you do?” is obviously a question about one’s occupation, career, or vocation. People want to know what task or service constitutes our livelihood or helps fulfill our personal aspirations.
We are all familiar with the aphorism, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” We understand that life is more than work. We devote periods of time to recreation, sleep, play, and other activities not directly part of our principal employment or labor. However, the portion of our lives that is taken up by work is so encompassing and time-consuming that we tend to understand our personal identity in the light of our work.
Whatever else we are, we are creatures involved in labor. This was the design of creation—God Himself is a working God. From the very moment of creation, He conferred on our original parents the responsibilities of work. Adam and Eve were called to dress, till, and keep the earth, to name the animals, and to have dominion by way of managerial responsibility over the earth. All of these activities involved the expenditure of time, energy, and resources—in short, work.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that work is a punishment that God gave us as a result of Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden. We must remember that work was given before the fall. To be sure, our labor has additional burdens attached to it because of the fall. A mixture of thorns and thistles is found among the good plants we seek to cultivate. Our labor is accomplished by the sweat of our brow. These were some of the penalties of sinfulness, but work itself was part of the glorious privilege granted to men and women in creation. It is impossible to understand our own humanity without understanding the central importance of work.
Most of us spend the early years of our lives preparing and training for a lifelong activity of work. The sensitive Christian understands that in the labor of his occupation, he is responsible to make a contribution to the kingdom of God, to fulfill a divine mandate, to embark on a holy calling as a servant of the living God. Such a Christian is keenly interested to discover how best to serve God through his labor.
Vocation and Calling

The idea of vocation is based on the theological premise of a divine call. The word vocation comes from the Latin word meaning “calling.” In our secular society, the religious meaning of the term has lost its significance, having become merely a synonym for career. I will be using the term vocation in its original sense: a divine call, a holy summons to fulfill a task or a responsibility that God has laid on us. The question we as Christians wrestle with is, “Am I in the center of God’s will with respect to my vocation?” In other words, “Am I doing with my life what God wants me to do?” Here the question of the will of God becomes eminently practical, for it touches on that dimension of my life that fills most of my waking hours and has the greatest impact on the shaping of my personality.
If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that God is a calling God. The world was created through the call of the omnipotent Creator: “ ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:1). God also calls His people to repentance, to conversion, and to membership in His family. In addition, He calls us to serve Him in His kingdom, making the best possible use of our gifts and talents. Still, the question faces us: “How do I know what is my particular vocational calling?”
One of the great tragedies of modern society is that, although the job market is vast and complex with an infinite number of possible careers, the educational systems that train us tend to guide and direct us to a very small number of occupational choices. When I was a high school graduate embarking on college, a great deal of discussion centered on one’s major and career aspirations. At that time, it seemed as if everyone was setting out to become an engineer. The mechanized culture of the 1950s was opening up thousands of lucrative positions in engineering. College campuses were flooded with young aspirants for degrees in the field of engineering.
I also remember the engineer glut on the market that occurred in the 1970s. Stories circulated about people with doctorates in engineering who were collecting unemployment or washing dishes in the local diner because there simply were not enough engineering jobs available. The same could be said for education majors. Positions in education became fewer and fewer while the number of applicants became greater and greater. The problem was heightened by misguided publicity and counseling that steered people into occupational roles that society already had filled.
In the early twentieth century, the choices were much less difficult since the vast majority of American children spent their time preparing for a life in agricultural labor. Today, roughly two percent of the population is employed in farming—a radical decrease in one occupation that has opened the door for a vast number of other occupations.
Finding Your Vocation

The question of vocation becomes a crisis at two major points in life. The first is in late adolescence, when a person is pressured into deciding what skills and knowledge he should acquire for future use. Some college freshmen feel pressured to declare a major in their first year, before knowing the available options and the limits of their ability.
The second period in life when vocation becomes critical is in midlife, when a person experiences a sense of frustration, failure, or lack of fulfillment in his current position. He may ask: “Have I wasted my life? Am I sentenced forever to a job that I’m finding meaningless, unfulfilling, and frustrating?” Such questions highlight the fact that vocational counseling is a major part of pastoral counseling in America, second only to marital counseling.
We must also consider the fact that vocational frustration is a major contributing cause of marital disharmony and family strife. Thus, it is important to approach the matter of vocation with great care, both in the early stages of adolescent development and in the latter stages, when the sense of frustration hits home.
The problem of discerning one’s calling focuses heavily on four important questions:

1. What can I do?
2. What do I like to do?
3. What would I like to be able to do?
4. What should I do?

The last question can plague the sensitive conscience. To begin to answer it, we need to take a look at the other three questions because they are closely linked to the ultimate question, “What should I do?”
What can I do? Reasonably assessing our abilities, skills, and aptitudes is a crucial and basic part of the decision-making process in choosing a vocation. We need to ask: “What are my abilities? What am I equipped to do?”
We may object that Moses and Jeremiah both protested against God’s call by saying that they were not equipped for the task. Moses protested that he had limited speaking ability, and Jeremiah reminded his Creator of his youthfulness. Both experienced God’s rebuke for seeking to evade a divine calling on the basis of the flimsy claim that they lacked the ability to do the job.
Neither Moses nor Jeremiah had a full understanding of what was needed to carry out the summons God gave him. Moses, for instance, protested that he lacked speaking skill, but God had prepared Aaron to help Moses with that part of the task. What God was looking for was obedient leadership from Moses; public speaking could be delegated to another. God certainly took into consideration Moses’ gifts, abilities, and aptitude before He called him.
We must remember that God is the perfect Manager. He is efficient in His selection, calling people according to the gifts and talents that He has given them. Satan’s strategy is to manipulate Christians into positions for which they have no ability or skill to perform well. Satan himself is very efficient in directing Christians to inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
What can I do? This question can be answered by proficiency examinations, analysis of our strengths and weaknesses, and a sober evaluation of our past performance. Abilities and performances can be, and are, measured in sophisticated ways in our society. We need to know the parameters of our abilities.
People often apply for positions for which they have no skill. This is particularly and sadly true within the church and in related Christian service. Some hunger and thirst to be in full-time Christian service but lack the ability and the gifts required for the particular job. For example, they may have the academic training and credentials for the pastorate, but lack the managerial skills or the people skills to be effective pastors.
Perhaps the most important principle in Scripture regarding abilities is found in Paul’s injunction that we ought to make a sober analysis of ourselves, not thinking too highly of ourselves (Rom. 12:3). Through sober analysis, we can make a serious, honest, and clear evaluation of what we can and cannot do, and we should act accordingly.
The young person has a different question: What would I like to be able to do? Such a person may have developed very few skills or have little educational background, but he realizes that he has enough time to acquire skills and talents through education or vocational training.
At this point, the concept of aptitude is relevant. Aptitude involves a person’s latent abilities as well as his acquired abilities. A person may have a certain aptitude for mechanical things and have no aptitude whatsoever for abstract things. This person may desire to be a philosopher but would make a far better investment of his time by learning to be an airplane mechanic. However, preferences are still important. Here we tread into that critical and frightening area of human experience called the realm of motivation.
Motivated Abilities

Research indicates that most people have more than one ability, and that their abilities can be divided into two basic types: motivated abilities and non-motivated abilities. A non-motivated ability is a skill or a strength that a person has but is not motivated to use. Some people are very good at doing certain things, but find no particular fulfillment or enjoyment in doing them. Performing them is sheer drudgery and pain. They may be proficient in what they do, but for one reason or another they find the task odious.
I know of one young woman who in her early teenage years attracted national attention because of her proficiency at the game of golf. While still a teenager, she won a national tournament. Yet when the time came for girls her age to turn professional, she chose a different vocation, not out of a higher calling to seek a more spiritual enterprise than professional athletics, but because she found golf to be very unpleasant. Her displeasure came as the result of fierce pressure her father had placed on her in pushing her to become a proficient golfer at a young age. When she became of age and was out from under parental authority, she decided to do something else. She had the ability to become a professional golfer, but she lacked the motivation.
We might ask, “How could she have become so proficient in the first place if she had not been motivated to perform well in golf?” We have to realize that she had been motivated to become proficient, but the motivation was largely based on fear of her father’s wrath. In order to please him, she disciplined herself to acquire a skill that she never would have pursued on her own. Once free from the driving force of his authority, she turned her vocational pursuits in another direction. The moral to the story is obvious. The person who gives his full measure of time and energy to a non-motivated ability is a walking pressure cooker of frustration.
It is true that, as Christians, we don’t always have the luxury of doing the things we want to do. God calls us to sacrifice and to be willing to participate in the humiliation of Christ. To be sure, we live in the midst of warfare, and as Christians we have signed up for the duration. We should never neglect our awesome responsibility to the kingdom of God. Called to be servants, we are also called to obedience. Sometimes we are called to do things that we don’t particularly enjoy doing. Nevertheless, the overriding consideration is to bring our motivation into conformity with our call and our call into conformity with our motivation.
All things being equal, Jesus did not want to go to the cross, as He expressed in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet at the same time, He had an overarching desire and motivation to do the will of His Father. That was His “meat and drink,” the focus of His zeal. When it was confirmed to Him that it was the Father’s will that He lay down His life, Jesus was, in a very real and vital sense, motivated to do it.
Let us extend the concept of service and obedience to the analogy of human warfare. A crisis besets a nation, and people are summoned to the cause of national defense. Leaving the security and comfort of their homes and jobs, they make sacrifices by enlisting in the armed services. Are not Christians called to do the same? Certainly there is a sense in which we are. Yet within the context of the earthly military, there are a vast number of jobs, some for which we would be suited and others for which we would not. Some military tasks would be in line with our motivated skills and patterns of behavior, while others would be completely at odds with our motivated skills and behavior. Even within the context of sacrificial service, a consideration of motivation is a vital ingredient in determining our vocation.
Some rugged individualists in our society are self-employed and find it totally unnecessary to fit into an organizational working structure that involves supervisors, bosses, and lines of authority. Most of us, however, carry out our working lives within the context of an organization. Here we face the problem of fitting. Do our jobs fit our gifts, talents, and aspirations? Do our motivated abilities fit our jobs? The degree to which our job requirements and our motivated abilities fit often determines the usefulness of our contribution and the extent of our personal satisfaction.
When personal motivations do not fit job descriptions, many people suffer. The first to suffer is the individual, because he is laboring in a job that does not fit his motivated abilities. Because he is in a job for which he is unsuited, he tends to be less efficient and less productive. He also creates problems for others in the organization because his frustration spills over and has a negative effect on the group.
Some of us are “sanctified” enough to perform assigned tasks for which we lack motivation, doing them as proficiently as we do tasks that are more enjoyable. However, people who are that sanctified make up an infinitesimal minority within the workforce. Research shows again and again that there is a strong tendency for people to do what they are motivated to do, regardless of what is called for in their job description. That is, they spend the majority of their time and effort doing what they want to do rather than what the job, in fact, calls them to do. Such an investment of time and energy can be quite costly to a company or an organization.
The following simple diagrams show the relationships between motivated ability patterns and job descriptions. They have been borrowed from People Management, a Connecticut-based organization. People Management helps people to discern their motivated ability patterns and helps organizations to coordinate people’s gifts and motivations with the needs and aims of the organizations. This kind of guidance works not only in secular industry but also within the structures of the church and sacred vocations.
MISFIT DIAGRAM

Job Description
Unused Abilities
Frustration
Personal
Organizational
Frustration
Tasks Not Performed
Motivated Abilities
Job Fit

In this diagram, the top left block represents the job description of the employee, including the tasks required for optimal organizational functioning.
The lower right block represents the motivated abilities of the employee. The shaded area represents the area of job fit. It is not in balance. A large portion of the employee’s motivated abilities are not being used. This produces frustration for the employee.
Also, a large portion of the organizational job description is either left unperformed or performed at a low degree of proficiency. The result is organizational frustration. This pattern spells problems for both the individual employee and the organization. Changes must be made.
The diagram below represents an ideal matchup between job description and motivated abilities. The result is fulfillment for both the employee and the organization.
ORGANIZATIONAL FIT

Job
Description
Motivated
Abilities

Through the influence of the world-denying spirit of Manichaeism, early Christians got the idea that the only way they could possibly serve God would be by living their lives on a bed of nails. It was assumed that to embark on a pathway of service involved self-denial. Real virtue could be found only in being as miserable as possible in one’s job. However, if God indeed called us to devote ourselves to the most unpleasant tasks possible, He would be the cosmic Chief of Bad Managers.
The Scriptures describe God’s management style differently. God manages by building us into a body according to our abilities and our desires. He gives gifts to each one of His people. Every Christian is gifted of the Lord to fulfill a divine vocation. Along with the gift, God gives a desire or a motivation to make use of that gift.
What Should We Do?

This brings us to the final and paramount question: “What should I do?” The most practical advice I can give is for you to do what your motivated ability pattern indicates you can do with a high degree of motivation. If what you would like to do can be of service to God, then by all means you should be doing it.
One vital constraint is at work: the preceptive will of God. If a woman’s great ability and motivation were to be a prostitute and a man’s motivated ability were to be the world’s greatest bank robber, then obviously vocational goals would have to be adjusted. To fulfill such motivated abilities would bring individuals into direct conflict with the preceptive will of God.
If we carefully analyzed the root causes for the motivated ability of the bank robber and the motivated ability of the prostitute, we probably would find root abilities and motivations that could profitably and productively be channeled into godly enterprises. We must not only bring our motivated abilities into conformity with the law of God, but also make sure that the vocation we choose has the blessing of God.
There is certainly nothing wrong, for example, with devoting one’s life to the practice of medicine, for we see the good that medicine can do in terms of alleviating suffering. We also understand that the world needs bread to eat and that the vocation of baker for someone who is motivated and able to bake is a godly enterprise. Jesus Himself spent many of His years not in preaching and teaching but in being a carpenter, a craftsman in a legitimate trade. During those years, Jesus was in “the center of God’s will.”
Any vocation that meets the need of God’s world can be considered a divine calling. I underscore this because of the tendency in Christian circles to think that only those who go into “full-time Christian service” are being sensitive to divine vocation—as if preaching and teaching were the only legitimate tasks to which God calls us. A cursory reading of the Bible would reveal the flaw in such thinking. The temple was built in the Old Testament through not only the wise oversight of Solomon but also the craftsmanship of those who were divinely gifted in carving, sculpting, and so on.
David’s vocation as a shepherd, Abraham’s vocation as a caravan trader, Paul’s vocation as a tentmaker—all were seen as part of God’s plan to bring about the redemption of the world. When God made Adam and Eve, neither was called to be a full-time professional worker in the ecclesiastical structure; they were basically called to be farmers.
A vocation is something that we receive from God; He is the one who calls us. He may not call us in the way that He called Moses, by appearing in a burning bush and giving a specific set of marching orders. Instead, He usually calls us inwardly and by giving us certain gifts, talents, and aspirations. His invisible sovereign will is certainly working in the background to prepare us for useful tasks in His vineyard.
The External Call from People

In addition to the inner call of God, we recognize that there is such a thing as an external call to labor, a call that comes from people who request our services for their particular mission or purpose. We may be called by the church to be preachers or by a company to be foremen or shippers. Every time an organization places a want ad in a newspaper, a human call is going out for able workers to come and match their gifts and talents to a presented need.
Some Christians have argued that the need always constitutes the call. They say that there is a need for evangelists in the world and therefore everyone should be an evangelist. I agree that we must consider the needs of the kingdom of God as we make vocational decisions. However, the very fact that the world needs evangelists does not necessarily imply that everyone in the world is called to be an evangelist. Again, the New Testament makes it clear that not all are called to be preachers or administrators. The church is composed of people with a diversity of gifts, talents, and vocations. We must not make a simplistic, passive assumption that the need constitutes the call.
Certainly the presence of a need requires that the people of God strive to meet that need. However, it does not necessarily mean that people who are not equipped to meet the need are thereby forced into the gap. For example, it is every Christian’s responsibility to help carry out the mandate for evangelism. It is not every Christian’s responsibility to be an evangelist. I am not an evangelist, though I contribute to evangelism by teaching evangelists theology and by contributing money for the church’s task of evangelism. I do those things so that those who do have the gift and the motivation can be called out, trained, equipped, and sent into the world as evangelists. I participate in the responsibility of the body of Christ to see that the task is met, but I myself am not the one who delivers the goods as the practicing evangelist. I could say the same regarding a host of other vocations.
How do others affect our vocational calling? We do need to listen to the community of believers and friends. Sometimes our gifts and abilities are more evident to those around us than they are to us. The counsel of many and the evaluation of the group are important considerations in our search for our vocations. However, we must put up a red flag of warning. The group’s judgment is not always correct. The fact that a particular individual or group thinks we should be doing a certain task is not a guarantee that it is the will of God.
I went through a period in my life of being unemployed for six months. During that time, I had five different job offers in five different cities in the United States. Five different friends came to me and said out of sincerity and urgent zeal that they were sure God wanted me to take each of the particular jobs. This meant that if all five of them had a direct pipeline to the will of God, God wanted me to hold five full-time positions and live in five different cities in the United States at the same time. I explained to my friends that I knew I was iniquitous (full of sin), but had not yet discovered the gift of being ubiquitous (being everywhere at the same time). I simply could not possibly do all five jobs. Somebody was wrong in their estimation of the will of God for my life.
I find it very difficult to resist the pressures that come from people who are sure they know what God wants me to do with my life. We all experience that kind of pressure, so we must be careful to pay attention to those whose judgment we trust. We must be able to discern between sound judgment and the vested personal interests of other people.
As it turned out, I accepted a sixth position for which no one came to me in the middle of the night with a telegram from God. I was convinced that the sixth position was the one that matched my abilities with the job that needed to be done.
Considering Foreseeable Consequences

One last consideration that is often neglected but is of crucial importance is the foreseeable consequences of the job. To take a job simply for money or for geographical location is a tragic mistake. All things being equal, I would like to have a salary of a $1 million a year, to be a teacher of theology, and to live where the climate is mild twelve months of the year. At the present time I am a teacher of theology living in Florida, but I make far less than $1 million a year. Somewhere along the way, I had to make a decision about my priorities. Did I want to make a million dollars or did I want to heed my vocational calling? My residence was determined by the locale of my vocation.
Job decisions have both short-range and long-range consequences. Consider the case of Abraham and his nephew Lot, who lived and worked together in the Promised Land. Conflict between their hired hands made it necessary for them to divide the territory they were occupying. Abraham gave Lot the first choice, offering any half that he chose. Lot gazed toward the barren area of Transjordan and then looked toward the fertile valley near the city. He thought for a moment: “If I take the fertile valley, my cows can graze there and become fat. It’s a short distance to the city market. My profit will be great.” In consideration of his business, Lot opted for the fertile areas around the city and left Abraham the barren land. Lot’s choice was brilliant—from the perspective of raising cattle. He didn’t ask himself, “Where will my family go to school? Where will my family go to church?” The city he chose was Sodom—a great place to raise cows. The short-term consequences were fine, but long-term living in Sodom turned out to be a disaster in many ways.
How will our job decisions be conducive to fulfilling our other responsibilities? The person who chooses a vocation purely on the basis of money, location, or status is virtually guaranteeing his later frustration.
Much of the confusion we often experience in the job arena would be dispelled by asking ourselves one simple question: “What would I most like to do if I didn’t have to please anyone in my family or my circle of friends?” Another good question is, “What would I like to be doing ten years from now?” These questions are good to keep in mind even after one has settled into a particular job. Another thing to remember is the promise of God’s Word that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. As His children, that includes the area of our work.
While God’s decretive will may not always be clear to us even in our occupational pursuits, His preceptive will is more easily discerned. Wherever we are, in whatever work we find ourselves, His preceptive will must be done.
Finally, what does God expect of us in relation to our work? As Christians, we have been called to be spiritual salt in a decaying world, to be spiritual light in the midst of darkness. We are to be wise stewards of God’s gifts and talents. That means striving to be the most honest, patient, hardworking, and committed workers we can be. It means settling for nothing less than excellence. God help us to live up to His high call for each of us.

Chapter Four

GOD’S WILL IN MARRIAGE
Besides our work, the other topic of perennial concern is our marital status. Should we marry or remain single?
It is possible that Christians expend more decision-making energy over the subject of marriage than any other area of human existence. No wonder, since the decisions relevant to the marital relationship have such far-reaching effects on our lives. How a person feels about his marital status determines, in large part, his sense of fulfillment, his productivity, and his self-image. The reality and the seriousness of the marital relationship are brought home when we realize that the one who knows us most intimately, the one before whom we are the most fragile and vulnerable, and the one who powerfully shapes and influences our lives is our marriage partner. That is why entering the marital relationship is not something anyone should undertake lightly.
Before we tackle the general question, “Is it God’s will for me to marry?” several specific questions need to be considered.
Should I Get Married?

The answer to this question has often been assumed by our culture, at least until recent years. Even today, most of us absorb the idea while growing up that marriage is a natural and integral part of normal life. In many ways—from the fairy-tale characters Snow White and Prince Charming, the romantic plays of Shakespeare, and some mass media heroes and heroines—we receive signals that society expects us to be numbered among the married. Among individuals who fail to fulfill this cultural expectation, those of a more traditional mindset are left with the nagging feeling that perhaps something is wrong with them, that they are abnormal.
In earlier generations, if a young man reached the age of thirty without getting married, he was suspected of having homosexual tendencies. If a woman was still single by thirty, it was often tacitly assumed that she had some defect that made her unattractive as a marriage partner or had lesbian preferences. Such assumptions are by no means found in the Scriptures.
From a biblical perspective, the pursuit of celibacy (as Scripture expects for the unmarried) is a legitimate option in some instances. Under other considerations, it is viewed as a definite preference. Though we have our Lord’s blessing on the sanctity of marriage, we also have His example of personal choice to remain celibate, obviously in submission to the will of God. Christ was celibate not because of a lack of the masculine traits necessary to make Him desirable as a life partner. Rather, His divine purpose obviated the destiny of marriage, making it crucial that He devote Himself entirely to the preparation of His bride, the church, for His future wedding.
The most important biblical instruction that we have regarding celibacy is given by the apostle Paul in a lengthy passage from 1 Corinthians:

Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I have the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 7:25–40, RSV)

Paul’s teaching in this matter of marriage has been subjected to serious distortions. Some observe in this text that Paul is setting forth a contrasting view of marriage that says celibacy is good and marriage is bad, particularly for Christians called to service in the interim period between the first advent of Christ and His return. However, even a cursory glance at the text indicates that Paul is not contrasting the good and the bad, but rival goods. He points out that it is good to opt for celibacy under certain circumstances. Moreover, it is also good and quite permissible to opt for marriage under other circumstances. Paul sets forth the pitfalls that a Christian faces when contemplating marriage. Of prime consideration is the pressure of the kingdom of God on the marriage relationship.
Nowhere has the question of celibacy been more controversial than in the Roman Catholic Church. Historically, Protestants have objected that the Roman Catholic Church, by imposing on its clergy a mandate beyond the requirements of Scripture itself, has slipped into a form of legalism. Though we believe that Scripture permits the marriage of clergy, it indicates, at the same time, that one who is married and serving God in a special vocation does face the nagging problems created by a divided set of loyalties—his family on one hand, the church on the other. Unfortunately, the dispute between Protestants and Catholics over mandatory celibacy has become so heated at times that Protestants have often reacted to the other extreme, dismissing celibacy as a viable option. Let us return to the focus of Paul’s word, which sets forth a distinction between rival goods. His distinction, in the final analysis, allows the individual to decide what best suits him or her.
Paul in no way denigrates the honorable “estate” of marriage, but rather affirms what was given in creation: the benediction of God over the marriage relationship. One does not sin by getting married. Marriage is a legitimate, noble, and honorable option set forth for Christians.
Just a Piece of Paper?

Another aspect of the question, “Should I get married?” moves beyond the issue of celibacy to whether a couple should enter into a formal marriage contract or sidestep this option by simply living together. In the past few decades, the option of living together, rather than moving into a formal marriage contract, has proliferated in our culture. Christians must be careful not to establish their precepts of marriage (or any other ethical dimension of life) on the basis of contemporary community standards. The Christian’s conscience is to be governed not merely by what is socially acceptable or even by what is legal according to the law of the land, but rather by what God sanctions.
Unfortunately, some Christians have rejected the legal and formal aspects of marriage, arguing that marriage is a matter of private and individual commitment between two people and has no legal or formal requirements. These view marriage as a matter of individual private decision apart from external ceremony. The question most frequently asked of clergymen on this matter reflects the so-called freedom in Christ: “Why do we have to sign a piece of paper to make it legal?”
The signing of a piece of paper is not a matter of affixing one’s signature in ink to a meaningless document. The signing of a marriage certificate is an integral part of what the Bible calls a covenant. A covenant is made publicly before witnesses and with formal legal commitments that are taken seriously by the community. The protection of both partners is at stake; there is legal recourse should one of the partners act in a way that is destructive to the other.
Contracts are signed out of the necessity spawned by the presence of sin in our fallen nature. Because we have an enormous capacity to wound each other, sanctions have to be imposed by legal contracts. Contracts not only restrain sin, but also protect the innocent in the case of legal and moral violation. With every commitment I make to another human being, there is a sense in which a part of me becomes vulnerable, exposed to the response of the other person. No human enterprise renders a person more vulnerable to hurt than does the estate of marriage.
God ordained certain rules regulating marriage in order to protect people. His law was born of love, concern, and compassion for His fallen creatures. The sanctions God imposed on sexual activity outside marriage do not mean that God is a spoilsport or a prude. Sex is an enjoyment He Himself created and gave to the human race. God, in His infinite wisdom, understands that there is no time that human beings are more vulnerable than when they are engaged in this most intimate activity. Thus, He cloaks this special act of intimacy with certain safeguards. He is saying to both the man and the woman that it is safe to give oneself to the other only when there is a certain knowledge of a lifelong commitment behind it. There is a vast difference between a commitment sealed with a formal document and declared in the presence of witnesses, including family, friends, and authorities of church and state, and a whispered, hollow promise breathed in the back seat of a car.
Do I Want to Get Married?

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:8–9: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” The distinction is between the good and the better. Here Paul introduces the idea of burning, not of the punitive fires of hell, but of the passions of the biological nature, which God has given us. Paul is speaking very candidly when he points out that some people are not made for celibacy. Marriage is a perfectly honorable and legitimate option even for those who are most strongly motivated by sexual fulfillment and relief from sexual temptation and passion.
The question, “Do I want to get married?” is an obvious but very important one. The Bible does not prohibit marriage. Indeed, it encourages it except in certain cases where one may be brought into conflict with vocation, but even in that dimension, provisions are left for marriage. So to desire marriage is a very good thing. A person needs to be in touch with his own desires and conscience.
If I have a strong desire to marry, then the next step is to do something about fulfilling that desire. If a person wants a job, he must seriously pursue employment opportunities. When we decide to attend a college or a university, we have to follow the formal routine of making applications and evaluating various campuses. Marriage is no different; no magic recipe has come from heaven that will determine for us the perfect will of God for a life partner. Here, unfortunately, is where Christians have succumbed to the fairy-tale syndrome of our society. It is a particular problem for young, single women. Many a young woman feels that if God wants her to be married, He will drop a marriage partner out of heaven on a parachute or will bring some Prince Charming riding up to her doorstep on a great white horse.
One excruciating problem faced by single women—more so in past generations than today—is caused by the unwritten rule of our society that allows men the freedom actively to pursue a marriage partner while women are considered loose if they actively pursue a prospective husband. No biblical rule says that a woman eager to be married should be passive. There is nothing that prohibits her from actively seeking a suitable mate.
On numerous occasions, I’ve had the task of counseling single women who insisted at the beginning of the interview that they had no desire to be married but simply wanted to work out the dimensions of the celibacy they believed God had imposed on them. After a few questions and answers, the scenario usually repeats itself: the young woman begins to weep and blurts out, “But I really want to get married.” When I suggest that there are wise steps that she can take to find a husband, her eyes light up in astonishment as if I had just given her permission to do the forbidden. I have broken a taboo.
Wisdom requires that the search be done with discretion and determination. Those seeking a life partner need to do certain obvious things, such as going where other single people congregate. They need to be involved in activities that will bring them in close communication with other single Christians.
In the Old Testament, Jacob made an arduous journey to his homeland to find a suitable marriage partner. He did not wait for God to deliver him a life partner. He went where the opportunity presented itself to find a marriage partner. But the fact that he was a man does not imply that such a procedure is limited to males. Women in our society have exactly the same freedom to pursue a mate by diligent search.
What Do I Want in a Marriage Partner?

A myth has arisen within the Christian community that marriage is to be a union between two people committed to the principle of selfless love. Selfless love is viewed as being crucial for the success of a marriage. This myth is based on the valid concept that selfishness is often at the root of disharmony and disintegration in marriage relationships. The biblical concept of love says no to acts of selfishness within marital and other human relationships. However, the remedy for selfishness is nowhere to be found in selflessness.
The concept of selflessness emerged from Asian and Greek thinking, where the ideal goal of humanity is the loss of self-identity by becoming one with the universe. The goal of man in this schema is to lose any individual characteristic, becoming one drop in the great ocean. Another aspect of absorption is the notion of the individual becoming merged with the great Oversoul and becoming spiritually diffused throughout the universe. But from a biblical perspective, the goal of the individual is not the annihilation or the disintegration of the self, but the redemption of the self. To seek selflessness in marriage is an exercise in futility. The self is very active in building a good marriage, and marriage involves the commitment of the self with another self based on reciprocal sharing and sensitivity between two actively involved selves.
If I were committed to a selfless marriage, it would mean that in my search for a marriage partner I should survey the scene to find a person for whom I was willing to throw myself away. This is the opposite of what is involved in the quest for a marriage partner. When someone seeks a mate, he should be seeking someone who will enrich his life, who will add to his own self-fulfillment, and who at the same time will be enriched by that relationship.
What are the priority qualities to seek in a marriage partner? One little exercise that many couples have found helpful is based on freewheeling imagination. While finding a marriage partner is not like shopping for an automobile, one can use the new car metaphor. When one purchases a new car, he has many models from which to choose. With those models, there is an almost endless list of optional equipment that can be tacked onto the standard model.
By analogy, suppose one could request a made-to-order mate with all the options. The person engaged in such an exercise could list as many as a hundred qualities or characteristics that he would like to find in the perfect mate. Compatibility with work and with play, attitudes toward parenting, and certain skills and physical characteristics could be included. After completing the list, the person must acknowledge the futility of such a process. No human being will ever perfectly fit all the possible characteristics that one desires in a mate.
This exercise is particularly helpful for people who have delayed marrying into their late twenties or early thirties, or even later. Such a person sometimes settles into a pattern of focusing on tiny flaws that disqualify virtually every person he or she meets. After doing the made-to-order mate exercise, he can take the next step: reduce the list to the main priorities. The person involved in this exercise reduces the number of qualifications to twenty, then to ten, and finally to five. Such a reduction forces him to set in ordered priority the things he is most urgently seeking in a marriage partner.
It is extremely important that individuals clearly understand what they want out of the dating and eventually the marital relationship. They should also find out whether their desires in a marriage relationship are healthy or unhealthy. This leads us to the next question, regarding counseling.
From Whom Should I Seek Counsel?

Many people resent the suggestion that they seek counsel in their selection of a marriage partner. After all, isn’t such a selection an intensely personal and private matter? However personal and private the decision might be, it is one of grave importance to the future of the couple and their potential offspring, their families, and their friends. Marriage is never ultimately a private matter, because how the marriage works affects a multitude of people. Therefore, counsel can and should be sought from trusted friends, pastors, and particularly from parents.
In earlier periods of Western history, marriages were arranged either by families or by matchmakers. Today, the idea of arranged marriages seems primitive and crass. It is totally foreign in the American culture. We have come to the place where we think that it is our inalienable right to choose one whom we love.
Some things need to be said in defense of the past custom of arranged marriages. One is that happy marriages can be achieved even when one has not chosen his own partner. It may sound outrageous, but I am convinced that if biblical precepts are applied consistently, virtually any two people in the world can build a happy marriage and honor the will of God in the relationship. That may not be what we prefer, but it can be accomplished if we are willing to work in the marital relationship. The second thing that needs to be said in defense of arranged marriages is that in some circumstances, marriages have been arranged on the objective evaluation of matching people together and of avoiding destructive parasitic matchups. For example, when left to themselves, people with significant personal weaknesses, such as a man with a profound need to be mothered and a woman with a profound need to mother, can be attracted to each other in a mutually destructive way. Such negative mergings happen daily in our society.
It is not my intention to lobby for matched or arranged marriages. I am only hailing the wisdom of seeking parental counsel in the decision-making process. Parents often object to the choice of a marriage partner. Sometimes their objections are based on the firm conviction that “no one is good enough for my daughter [or son].” Objections of this sort are based on unrealistic expectations at best and on petty jealousy at worst. However, not all parents are afflicted with such destructive prejudices regarding the potential marriage partners of their children. Sometimes the parents have keen insight into the personalities of their children, seeing blind spots that the offspring themselves are unable to perceive. In the earlier example of a person with an inordinate need to be mothered attracting someone with an inordinate need to mother, a discerning parent might spot the mismatch and caution against it. If a parent is opposed to a marriage relationship, it is extremely important to know why.
When Am I Ready to Get Married?

After seeking counsel, having a clear understanding of what we are hoping for, and having examined our expectations of marriage, the final decision is left to us. At this point, some face paralysis as the day of decision draws near. How does one know when he or she is ready to get married? Wisdom dictates that we enter into serious premarital study, evaluation, and counseling with competent counselors so that we may be warned of the pitfalls that come in this new and vital human relationship. With the breakdown of so many marriages in our culture, increasing numbers of young people fear entering into a marriage contract lest they become “statistics.” Sometimes we need the gentle nudge of a trusted counselor to tell us when it is time to take the step.
What things need to be faced before taking the actual step toward marriage? Economic considerations are, of course, important. Financial pressures imposed on a relationship that is already besieged with emotional pressures of other kinds can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. That is why parents often advise young people to wait until they finish their schooling or until they are gainfully employed so that they can assume the responsibility of a family.
It is not by accident that the creation ordinance of marriage mentions that a man shall leave his father and mother and “hold fast to” his wife, and the two shall become “one flesh.” The “leaving and cleaving” dimensions are rooted in the concept of being able to establish a new family unit. Here, economic realities often govern the preparedness for marriage.
Entering into marriage involves far more than embarking on new financial responsibilities. The marriage commitment is the most serious one that two human beings can make to each other. A person is ready to get married when he or she is prepared to commit to a particular person for the rest of his or her life, regardless of the human circumstances that befall them.
In order for us to understand the will of God for marriage, it is imperative that we pay attention to God’s preceptive will. The New Testament clearly shows that God not only ordained marriage and sanctified it, He regulates it. His commandments cover a multitude of situations regarding the nitty-gritty aspects of marriage. The greatest textbook on marriage is sacred Scripture, which reveals God’s wisdom and His rule governing the marriage relationship. If someone earnestly wants to do the will of God in marriage, his first task is to master what Scripture says that God requires in such a relationship.
What does God expect of His children who are married or thinking about getting married? God expects, among other things, faithfulness to the marriage partner, provision of mutual needs, and mutual respect under the lordship of Christ. Certainly the couple should enhance each other’s effectiveness as Christians. If not, something is wrong.
While celibacy is certainly no less blessed and honorable a state than marriage, we have to recognize Adam and Eve as our models. God’s plan involved the vital union of these two individuals who would make it possible for the earth to be filled with their “kind.”
Basically, I cannot dictate God’s will for anyone in this area any more than I can or would in the area of occupation. I will say that good marriages require hard work and individuals willing to make their marriages work.
What happens in our lives is cloaked ultimately in the mystery of God’s will. The joy for us as His children is that the mystery holds no terror—only waiting, appropriate acting on His principles and direction, and the promise that He is with us forever.
Sproul, R. C. (2009). Can I Know God’s Will? (Bd. 4, S. i–102). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Crucial questions- What is the relation between church and state?- by Archbishop Rosenkranz

CRUCIAL
QUESTIONS
No. 19
WHAT IS
the Relationship
between CHURCH
and STATE?

The Prim of Sennacherib
R.C. SPROUL
Reformation Trust
A DIVISION OF LIGONIER MINISTRIES, ORLANDO, FL

What Is the Relationship between Church and State?

© 2014 by R.C. Sproul

Published by Reformation Trust Publishing
A division of Ligonier Ministries
421 Ligonier Court, Sanford, FL 32771
Ligonier.org
ReformationTrust.com
July 2014
First edition

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust Publishing. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Cover design: Gearbox Studios

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
What is the relationship between church and state? / by R.C. Sproul.
pages cm. — (Crucial questions; No. 19)
ISBN 978-1-56769-374-4 — ISBN 1-56769-374-1
1. Church and state. I. Title.
BV630.3.S67 2014
261.7–dc23
2014006857

Contents
One—LEGAL FORCE

Two—CIVIL OBEDIENCE

Three—THE SWORD AND THE KEYS

Four—ESTABLISHED RELIGION

Five—AN INSTRUMENT OF EVIL

Six—CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE

Chapter One

LEGAL FORCE
A few years ago, I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the inaugural prayer breakfast for the governor of Florida. At that breakfast, I addressed not only the group of people who were assembled, but also the governor himself. I said that the event was similar to an ordination service in a church. At an ordination service, a man is consecrated to the sacred ministry of the gospel and is set apart for that vocation in the church. I tried to impress upon the governor the weight of his office:

Today is your ordination day. Today is your ordination sermon, or ordination ceremony. Your office is ordained by God, just like mine is as a pastor. It is because of God’s authority that there is such a thing as government. For this reason, you are called by God to be a minister, not as a preacher in a local church, but as an official of this state. However, in your office as governor, you are not given autonomous authority. Your authority, and the only authority that you have whatsoever, is an authority delegated to you by the One who possesses all authority, and that is God. Ultimately, God is the foundation of authority by which you will rule in government. I challenge you this day to always remember that you are accountable to God for how you exercise that office, and may you not be seduced by this mythological concept of separation of church and state. The state, as much as the church, is instituted by God, ordained by God, and derives whatever authority it has through the delegation of divine authority. The state, therefore, is answerable and accountable to God.
At that time, I was able to say this to the governor of our state. However, to speak in these terms today is to be a voice of one crying in the wilderness. We live in a society that has been radically secularized and where it’s assumed that the civil government is not answerable to God and, in fact, has a right to be godless.
In the United States, we often hear the phrase separation of church and state, but it should be noted that this phrase does not occur in the country’s founding documents. It is not found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights. It comes from a remark made by Thomas Jefferson about the principles that he believed were implied in the founding documents of the United States. But it has now become perhaps the only remaining absolute in American culture: the absolute principle of the absolute separation of church and state.
From the very beginning of Christianity, the relationship between church and state has been a matter of great concern. When we look at the Old Testament, we see that Israel was a theocracy, a state that was ruled by God through anointed kings. Though the church and state had certain distinctions—including distinctions between the work of priests (the church) and the work of kings (the state)—the two institutions were so closely integrated that to speak of separation of the two would be fallacious.
However, once the New Testament community was established, the church became a missionary church, reaching out to various nations, tribes, and peoples who were ruled by secular governments. Christians had to face the question of how they were to relate to the Roman Empire, to the magistrate in Corinth, or to the local authorities wherever the church spread. For centuries, the church has had to carefully examine its role in society—especially when that society does not officially hold to a Christian worldview. In order to understand the relationship between church and state from a biblical perspective, we must ask some fundamental questions.
There are many different types and structures of government, but what is the essence, the fundamental principle, of government? The answer to that question is one word: force. Government is force—but it’s not just any kind of force. It’s force that is supported by an official, legal structure. Government is a structure that is endowed legally with the right to use force to compel its citizens to do certain things and not do other things.
Some years ago, I had lunch with a well-known United States senator. We were discussing some of the issues involved with the Vietnam War—then being waged amid great controversy—when he said to me, “I don’t believe that any government has the right to force its citizens to do what they don’t want to do.” I almost choked on my soup! I said to him: “Senator, what I hear you saying is that no government has the right to govern. If you take legal force away from government, it is then reduced to simply making suggestions. But isn’t it true that when governments enact laws, the government functions as that which is designed to enforce whatever laws are enacted?”
Ultimately, the original form of government rests on the rule and authority of God Himself. God is the author of the universe, and with that authorship comes the authority over what He has made: “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 24:1).
We can see a form of government in the creation account. When God created human beings, He gave them a mission: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Adam and Eve were to act as rulers in God’s stead, as His vice-regents over creation. God delegated to Adam and Eve dominion over the earth, so that they were to exercise authority over the animals. It was not authority over people, but it was authority over the earth and the environs and the creatures therein, over all of the lesser forms of divine creation.
God also gave Adam and Eve a prohibition: they were not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God gave an ominous warning of what would happen if they transgressed His command: “For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). This means that penal sanctions would be imposed by His authority. When Adam and Eve disobeyed His rule and rebelled against His authority, they did not immediately undergo physical death, but rather spiritual death. Physical death was postponed until later, as God in His graciousness exercised mercy. However, one of the punishments that He imposed upon these rebellious creatures was to banish them from the garden of Eden.
We next see a manifestation of earthly government in the angel that God placed at the entrance to the garden of Eden. The angel stood at the gateway to Eden with a flaming sword. The flaming sword functioned as an instrument of force to prevent Adam and Eve from returning to the paradise in which they had been placed.
The next issue we should consider is the purpose of government. Early in church history, Saint Augustine made the observation that government is a necessary evil, for in this world among fallen human creatures, you will never find a morally perfect government. All governments, no matter what structure they manifest, are representative of fallen humanity because governments are made up of sinful people. We all know that human government can be corrupt. Augustine’s point was this: government itself is evil, but it’s a necessary evil; it’s necessary because evil in our world needs to be restrained. One means of this restraint is human government. In light of this, Augustine argued that human government was not necessary before the fall.
Thomas Aquinas disagreed with Augustine on this point. He still saw a role for government in managing the division of labor that one could imagine in a hypothetical unfallen creation. Thomas certainly agreed that the primary purpose of government was to restrain evil. To both Thomas and Augustine, the primary purpose for which government was instituted was to exercise restraint upon human evil and to preserve the very possibility of human existence. Therefore, the first task of government is to protect people from evil and to preserve and maintain human life.
Another role that government fulfills is protecting human property. Many people seek to violate other human beings by stealing, abusing, or destroying their property.
A final role for government is regulating agreements, upholding contracts, and ensuring just weights and balances. Government should seek to protect people from the injustice of fraud. The butcher who puts his thumb surreptitiously on the scale along with the meat that he is weighing has injured his customer by inflating the cost of the goods through a fraudulent practice. Government is necessary to regulate this behavior by devising just weights, measurements, and standards.
God created government in order to protect humanity—but not just humanity. Government is to protect the world itself as well. When Adam and Eve were placed in the magnificent garden, they were given the mandate from God to tend, till, and cultivate the garden. They knew they were not called to exploit or abuse this world. Therefore, governments, as a manifestation of man’s call by God to be His vice-regents, have a role in regulating how we treat God’s creatures and creation—not just human beings, but also animals and the environment in which we live.
Such regulation is a good thing, but it is worth noting that even in its most benign form, government involves restrictions on people’s liberty. We boast as Americans that we live in a free country, and that’s true, relatively speaking; but no people in any land have ever lived in an atmosphere of complete freedom. Every law that is ever enacted by any legislative body restricts someone’s freedom. If we enact a law against murder, we’re placing restrictions on the criminal’s right to kill a person with malice aforethought. Every single law that is passed restricts someone’s freedom. Some freedoms are good to restrict—such as the freedom to murder—and others are not. This is why we have to be exceedingly careful every time we pass a law. We need to realize what we are doing. We need to remember that we are taking freedom away from people, and the longer we do that in a careless manner, the less liberty we are left with in our lives.
Clearly, the state has been instituted by God and we do have government. The question then becomes, How are we as Christians to relate to that government? That is the question we will seek to answer in the rest of this book.

Chapter Two

CIVIL OBEDIENCE
Obeying authority is hard. We bristle anytime we hear someone say: “You must do this. You ought to do that.” We want to be able to say: “Don’t tell me what to do. I want to do what I want to do.” We want people to empower and entitle us. We hate receiving mandates. That’s our nature.
In light of this, I like to talk about a Christian world-view and how it differs from a pagan worldview. One way to differentiate the two would be to consider each worldview’s understanding of responsibility toward authority. If I were not a Christian, I certainly wouldn’t embrace submission to authority. But being a Christian makes me hesitate before I live in active disobedience to those whom God has put in authority over me.
To understand why, we must look at the New Testament’s explanation of the origin and function of government under God. This issue is clearly dealt with by the Apostle Paul in the thirteenth chapter of his epistle to the Romans.
Romans 13 begins: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (vv. 1–2). Paul begins this study of the government with an Apostolic command for everyone to submit to governing authorities. This lays a framework for Christian civil disobedience.
Paul’s teaching in Romans 13:1–2 is not an isolated instance in the New Testament. Paul is simply reiterating here what he teaches elsewhere, what is also taught by Peter in his epistles—and by our Lord Himself—that there is a fundamental obligation of the Christian to be a model of civil obedience. We as the people of God are called upon to be as obedient as we possibly can in good conscience to the powers that be. Remember that Paul is writing this to people who are under the oppression of the Roman government. He’s telling people to be submissive to a government that would eventually execute him. But he doesn’t do so in a blind sense that precludes any possibility of civil disobedience.
For now, I want us to see that Paul is setting the stage in Romans 13 for explaining why the Christian is supposed to be particularly scrupulous and sensitive in civil obedience. Paul begins to set forth his case by saying, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Why? “For there is no authority except from God.” Peter puts it another way. He tells us to submit ourselves to the earthly authorities for the Lord’s sake (1 Peter 2:13). That means that if I show no respect to a person whom God has set in authority between Himself and me, my disrespect carries beyond that person and ultimately lands on God as the giver of the authority.
The biblical concept of authority is hierarchical. At the top of the hierarchy is God. All authority rests ultimately in God, and there is no authority invested in any institution or in any person except through the delegation of that authority from God. Any authority that I have in any area of my life is a derived, appointed, and delegated authority. It is not intrinsic but extrinsic. It is given ultimately by the One who has inherent authority.
Within this hierarchy structure, God the Father gives all authority on heaven and earth to Christ, His Son (Matt. 28:18). God has enthroned Christ as the King of kings. So if Christ is the prime minister of the universe, it means that all the kings of this world have a King who reigns over them and that all the earthly lords have a superior Lord to whom they are accountable. We know that there are vast multitudes of people in this world who do not recognize Christ as their King, and because His kingdom is invisible right now, they say, “Where is this king? I don’t see any reigning king.” In light of this, the task of the church is of cosmic political proportions.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus gave a mandate to His disciples: “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They were to be witnesses, but witnesses to what? The immediate context of this verse is a discussion about the kingdom. Jesus was going to heaven, but He said, “In my absence you are to bear witness to the transcendent, supernatural truth of my ascension.” That’s why our first loyalty as Christians must be to our heavenly King. We are called to respect, honor, pray for, and be in subjection to our earthly authorities, but the minute we exalt the earthly authority over the authority of Christ, we have betrayed Him, and we have committed treason against the King of kings. His authority is higher than the authority of the president of the United States or Congress or the king of Spain or any ruler anywhere else.
If you don’t like the president of the United States, remember that the One who cast the deciding ballot in his election was almighty God. Of course, God doesn’t sanction or endorse everything that the president does; neither is it the case that God turns the authority over to the president and says, “Go ahead and rule these people however you want.” Every king is subject to the laws of God and will be judged accordingly. It may be that the president is completely ungodly, but for reasons known to God alone, God has placed him in that seat of authority.
This obviously raises the question of whether it is ever lawful to rebel against the appointed government. We will consider this question more in chapter six, but for now we should note that we ought to be wary of engaging in unlawful civil disobedience without just cause. Our fallen world is beset by evil, seen especially in lawlessness. The archenemy of the Christian faith is described as the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:3). It was lawlessness—the sin of Adam and Eve—that plunged the world into ruin in the first place. They would not submit to the rule and reign of God. This is why I say that sin is a political matter—not in the sense of modern politics, but in the sense that God is the ultimate governor of our lives. Every time I sin, I participate in the revolt against God’s perfect rule.
Paul continues in Romans 13, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (v. 2). Paul is obviously talking about unlawful resistance against the powers that be. In the Old Testament account of the struggle between Saul and David, we see David as a man who didn’t want to unlawfully resist God’s authority structures. He had many opportunities to kill Saul, but he refused to lift his hand against him. As evil as Saul was, David knew that he was God’s anointed king.
When I was in seminary, I had professors who radically denied the central truths of Christianity, things such as the atonement, the deity of Christ, and the resurrection of Jesus. They had no proper basis for being professors in a theological seminary, and I held them in disdain spiritually. But I believed it was my absolute duty in that classroom to treat them with respect. As derelict as they were, they were in the position of authority and I wasn’t. That didn’t mean I was supposed to believe everything they thought or slavishly accept their teaching, but from God’s perspective I owed them my respect.
It is important to note that Peter and Paul do not speak of the authorities to be obeyed as necessarily being godly authorities. But they do say that God has appointed them. God raises governments up and God brings them down. The Old Testament is filled with incidents (such as that recorded in the book of Habakkuk) in which people are rebellious against God, and God punishes them by giving them wicked rulers that cause them to struggle in oppression and pain until they repent.
God as the supreme authority delegates authority for the rule of this world to His Son, Jesus Christ. Then, under Christ we have kings, parents, schoolteachers, and everyone else in authority. Thus, if I am disobedient to any authority that God has put in place, I am disobedient to Him. That’s what Peter means when he says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13). We are obedient to human institutions as a means of bearing witness to the ultimate seat of cosmic authority.

Chapter Three

THE SWORD AND THE KEYS
The Protestant Reformers believed that civil magistrates, or officials, cannot assume to themselves the administration of Word and sacrament, which are the essential duties of the church. Even in Israel, a theocratic nation, there was a distinction between the role of the priest and the role of the king.
In the Old Testament, there are only a handful of kings in Israel or Judah who were even remotely godly, among them Hezekiah, Josiah, and David. But one of the greatest kings in all of Old Testament history was Uzziah. During his reign of more than fifty years, he brought about reforms and was a man committed to godliness. However, his story is one of the most tragic in the Old Testament. Despite his righteous deeds, he died in shame, having been removed by God from the throne. Later in his life, like a Shakespearean tragedy, he committed a fatal misdeed.
What was it that he did? He went into the temple and assumed for himself the authority to administer the sacrifices. In other words, under the authority of the crown, he usurped the role of the priest, and for that, God struck him with leprosy and left him to die in disgrace and shame. We thus see that the confusion of the roles of the state and of the church dates back to ancient Israel, where the state, or more specifically, the king, took on himself the authority to control the matters that are given specifically to the church.
In order to understand the biblical separation of these two institutions, we must remember that both church and state are ordained by God. In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul states that the primary function of the state is to protect its citizens against evil. During the Reformation, Martin Luther made a distinction between the two kingdoms: the kingdom of the state and the kingdom of the church. But throughout the Middle Ages and the Reformation, the distinction between church and state was often blurred, with the state having significant authority in the affairs of the church. In this chapter, we’ll consider these influences with respect to the United States, but first we’ll delve more deeply into Romans 13.
In the last chapter, we considered Paul’s statement: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Rom. 13:1–2). With these strong words, Paul is instructing Christians concerning their responsibility to obey the Roman government, in spite of the fact that Rome was an extremely oppressive regime. He then goes on to say:

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. (vv. 3–6)

There seems to be a certain level of idealism here. The Apostle Paul was not unaware that human governments can become considerably corrupt and perpetrate gross acts of injustice, but regardless, he sets forth the appointed role of civil government as instituted by God. Government is to minister as an instrument in the hand of God to promote justice and to punish evil. Therefore, the dual concepts of law and government are intertwined in this text.
It is the function of government to enact laws, and those laws are designed to promote justice. God never gives the state the right to do wrong. The state does not exercise its authority autonomously, as a law unto itself, but is subject to the ultimate government of God Himself. For this reason, the state is held accountable by God for the promotion of justice. The spirit of what Paul says is: “You should not live in fear of the civil magistrate, because if you are doing what is right, you will receive praise from them. You only need to fear the government if you are a transgressor. If you are engaging in wickedness, then you have something to fear from government.”
Of course, this presupposes that the civil magistrate is operating in a just manner. However, we know that there are governments that will endorse, support, and uphold evil practices and principles. Historically, there have been many nations that have oppressed goodness, and in so doing have caused the righteous to suffer. But in Romans 13, Paul is not describing all governments, but rather the purpose of civil government and its responsibility before God.
To aid us in our understanding of the role of the state, Paul teaches us that the civil magistrate does not bear the sword in vain. The power of the sword represents the right of the state to use force to make its citizens comply with the law. This is why God arms the officers of the state. The first example of this was the angel with the flaming sword whom God placed at the entrance to the garden of Eden to enforce God’s banishment of Adam and Eve. In like fashion, throughout history God has given the sword to the civil magistrate.
An important thing to note is that the power of the sword is not given to the church. The mission of the church does not move forward through coercion or military conflict. The emblem of Christianity is the cross. By contrast, the emblem of Islam is the scimitar or sword. In Islam, there is an agenda of conquest given to the religious authorities, but in Christianity, the church is not given the power of the sword. The power of the sword is bestowed upon the state alone.
The state’s bearing the power of the sword is the biblical foundation for the classical Christian view of just war theory. Adherents to this theory would say that all wars are evil, yet not everyone’s involvement in war is evil. For example, the use of the sword to protect citizens from an aggressive invasion from a hostile nation is just. In this view, an aggressive attack on innocent nations would be a violation of the state’s use of the sword. A perfect example of an unjust use of the sword is the German invasion of Poland and other surrounding nations in World War II. Conversely, according to just war theory, the invaded nations were just in using the sword to repel the invaders from their territory. The point here is not to delve into all of the ramifications of warfare, but to demonstrate that this text has bearing on the issue of war since Paul speaks of God’s giving the power of the sword to the civil magistrate.
It also has bearing on the controversial issue of capital punishment. God gives that power of the sword to the state, not simply to rattle the sword in its sheath, but to uphold justice and to defend the innocent and the weak from the powerful and guilty.
It is important that we understand that this power is not given to the church. The church’s sphere of influence and authority is spiritual. This is ministerial power, and it is very different than the power of the sword. The saying “The pen is mightier than the sword” speaks of a greater power than physical force. In a similar way, the church has not been given the sword as the means to spread the kingdom of God, but rather the power of the Word, the power of service, and the power of imitating Christ, who did not come with a sword (Matt. 10:34).
Conversely, there is power that is given to the church alone and not to the state. The Westminster Confession of Faith expounds upon this fact in section 23.3: “Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith.” This prohibition places certain authority in the hands of the church alone; this authority is called “the power of the keys.” Jesus said to His disciples, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19). Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to the church, not the state. As a result, matters of church discipline are not the state’s business.
In the United States, there have been occasions in recent years when churches have disciplined members and the member being disciplined has attempted to appeal the ecclesiastical decision in a civil court. Unfortunately, there have been cases as well where the civil court has overturned the church’s decision to excommunicate the unrepentant sinner. This is a clear usurpation of the ecclesiastical role by the civil magistrate.
In the United States, the First Amendment guarantees the church the right to free exercise of religion without interference by the civil magistrate. However, when the civil magistrate assumes the power of the keys, it not only stands in defiance of the First Amendment, but, more importantly, it stands in defiance of God.
The Westminster Confession goes on: “Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger” (23.3). The need for a clear division of labor between the church and the state was a principle that emerged out of the Protestant Reformation. The church was called to pray for the state and to be supportive of the state. The state was called to guarantee the liberty of the church and protect the church from those that would seek to destroy it. There was to be no favoritism to any particular denomination or group of believers. This is the root of the principle of separation of church and state.
Continuing on in the Westminster Confession: “And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief” (23.3, emphasis original). Churches should have courts, and the church court is to function without interference from the civil court. The two are to remain distinct and to respect each other’s jurisdictions.
As we struggle with the question of the relationship of church and state in our time, it’s difficult to remain objective. We all are products of our individual cultural contexts. As Christians, we need to form our viewpoints from the Word of God, so that we gain a clear understanding of how the church is supposed to function, what its mission is, and how that mission is different from the role of government.
The church is called to be a critic of the state when the state fails to obey its mandate under God. For example, in the controversy over abortion, when the church is critical of the state with respect to the idea of abortion, people are angered and say, “The church is trying to impose its agenda on the state.” However, the primary reason that government exists is to protect, maintain, and support human life. When the church complains about the abortion laws in America, the church is not asking the state to be the church. The church is asking the state to be the state. It is simply asking the state to do its God-ordained job.

Chapter Four

ESTABLISHED RELIGION
Among the longest words in the English language is antidisestablishmentarianism. However, this word is not merely a bit of trivia; it is key to understanding the relationship between church and state.
Let’s take a look at what the word means. It is a double negative: it refers to the view that is against disestablishmentarianism, which in turn is against establishmentarianism. Establishmentarianism is when a church is supported by taxes from the state and has exclusive rights over its competitors. Such a church, called an established church, enjoys the particular favor and protection of the government; historical examples include the Church of England, the Lutheran church in Germany, the Reformed church of Scotland, or the Swedish Lutheran church. Disestablishmentarians believe that establishmentarianism should be repudiated. Antidisestablishmentarianism—the double negative makes it a positive—means that you’re opposed to disestablishing a church. This view looks with favor on an established church.
If you consider American history, you can quickly understand why the United States does not have an established state church. It was customary in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe to have an established church. States were either officially Roman Catholic or some form of Protestant. England became Protestant under Henry VIII in the seventeenth century. Henry wanted to get a divorce and the pope wouldn’t allow it, so Henry declared himself free from Roman Catholic authority. When Henry declared himself and his country free from Rome’s authority, he gave himself the title defensor fide, or “defender of the faith.” The crown was then seen as sovereign not only in the civil arena, but also in ecclesiastical matters. This would have radical consequences for future generations in England.
Despite breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church, Henry was not all that Protestant in his theological perspective. When he died, he was succeeded by Edward VI. He was self-consciously Protestant and sought to bring the Church of England into a fully Protestant and Reformed understanding of Christianity. But his reign was very short, and when he died at an early age, he was succeeded by his sister Mary.
Queen Mary I is better known as Bloody Mary. She received this title because she brought England back to the Roman Catholic Church via an extensive program of persecution against Protestants. This led to the many martyrdoms of the English Reformation. Many were burned at the stake through the decrees of Bloody Mary. Numerous leaders of England’s Protestant Reformation movement fled into exile, often to Germany or Switzerland. The Geneva Bible was written by English exiles in Switzerland in the middle of the sixteenth century during the reign of Bloody Mary. It was the dominant English Bible for a hundred years.
When Mary passed from the scene, her half-sister, Elizabeth, replaced her. Queen Elizabeth I became known as Good Queen Bess or the Virgin Queen. She restored England to Protestantism and welcomed the return of the refugees who had fled from the persecution of her sister, Mary. Oftentimes, we think of Queen Elizabeth as the benign, compassionate queen who put an end to the bloody persecutions. This is not so. One would think that she would have made Roman Catholics the object of her persecution, but that was not the case either. Rather, she carried out an extensive campaign of persecution against certain Protestants within her realm. These Protestants were called Nonconformists because they were not satisfied with the established Church of England.
The Nonconformists believed that the Anglican Church under Queen Elizabeth was not Reformed enough and had retained too many practices reminiscent of the Roman Catholic style of worship. Stylistic elements included the rituals of the Lord’s Supper and the garments of the priests. In addition, the Nonconformists protested against the requirement to wear the white surplices of the priesthood during the celebration of worship. They believed this was objectionable because it confused the common people, who saw these vestments as a symbol of the Roman Catholicism they had rejected. Nonetheless, Queen Elizabeth passed legislation requiring the Nonconformists to wear the surplice. As a result, many ministers of the Church of England resisted and were removed from their positions. Some were thrown into prison and some were executed by the queen. These Nonconformists became known by the pejorative word Puritan.
These Puritans sought relief from persecution by fleeing to other countries for refuge. Many fled to the Netherlands and many others came to the United States. As a result, places such as New England and Virginia have a strong heritage of dislike for governmental interference in church matters. But people fled to America not only from England, but also from other countries in Europe, both Protestant countries and Catholic countries. At this time in history, Protestants were persecuting Catholics and Catholics were persecuting Protestants.
In light of this cultural context, it’s easy to see why the United States was founded as a place were religious freedom and toleration would reign. This is the principle of non-establishmentarianism. It declares that there will be no state church. It was designed to protect the rights of religious people to practice their religion without interference and without prejudice at the hands of the civil magistrate. It’s easy to understand, then, why the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. Protestants had to live in peace with Catholics and Catholics with Protestants. People of all religions—whether they were Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or Christians—were equally tolerated under the law.
One of the unfortunate consequences of this foundational principle is the common assumption that all religions are not just tolerated but are equally true and valid. However, the government has no right to make these claims. The law does not declare who is right and who is wrong. All it says is that those disputes should not be dealt with in the civil arena. Instead, those are religious and ecclesiastical matters and are to remain outside of the scope and the sphere of civil government.
Christians need to be very careful about trying to persuade the civil magistrate to take up their agenda. The United States is a nation in which we are supposed to be committed to the principle of separation and division of labors.
On the other hand, in today’s culture, separation of church and state has come to mean that the government rules without taking God into consideration. That is not the way this nation was founded. I certainly don’t believe this country was founded by a monolithically Christian body. I believe the Mayflower Compact of the seventeenth century was monolithically Christian, but not the Constitution or Declaration of Independence. There were many Christians and non-Christians involved, but it was clearly theistic. That is, the United States was founded on the principle of both church and state being under God. But today, we hate the concept of being answerable to God. We want to have a government that is free from the moral taint of theism. That’s not the original intent of the First Amendment or of the original articles that established our nation.
Our forefathers sought to keep the state out of religious matters, but today, the thing they wanted to avoid is happening. There are many examples of intrusion by the state into the life of the church. It is happening in very subtle ways, but it is happening nonetheless. It happens with zoning laws and it happens with restrictions placed upon church buildings and how large they can be, or how high their steeples can be. It is happening in reference to gay marriage and whether churches have a right to refuse wedding services to gay couples. In addition, employers are being asked to provide medical coverage for employees that includes coverage for abortion.
I believe we’re going to see more and more of these collisions between the secular state and the church as we move into the future. World history is full of examples of governments oppressing the church of Christ. We shouldn’t be all that surprised. We should resist where we are able, but we should also rest in the sovereignty of God. He will build His church, and His kingdom is forever.
It’s easy for us to take for granted the freedoms we do have in the United States. But we should be quick to remember the price that was paid for those freedoms. May we recall the historical circumstances of our forefathers who fled from the worst kinds of persecution at the hands of civil governments. Because people were not willing to embrace the established church, the state used the sword to impose a particular creed upon the people. This was patently wrong. It was wrong for them, and it would be wrong for us if we were ever to attempt the same thing.
The kingdom of God is not built by an edict from an emperor or the might of an army. It is built through one means alone: the proclamation of the gospel. That’s the power that God has ordained to build His church—not the power of the sword—and as Christians, we will continue to place our hope in this power and this power alone.

Chapter Five

AN INSTRUMENT OF EVIL
Christians in America sometimes have a tendency to mingle their religious devotion with a brand of super-patriotism. Some wrap our national flag in the banner of Christ, assuming that God is always on our side. However, no matter where we live, our first allegiance is to our King and to the heavenly kingdom to which we belong. And further, we have to understand that whether it’s Germany, Babylon, Rome, Russia, or the United States, any government can be corrupted.
As we continue to study the relationship between church and state, we must consider an aspect of that relationship which is mainly ignored and somewhat difficult to comprehend. Ephesians 6:10 is a familiar passage to many of us, but few ever apply it to the relationship of church and state. Paul writes:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph. 6:10–13)

This famous passage concerning the armor of God is given to us by the Apostle Paul in order to encourage Christians to stand against the craftiness of Satan. This may seem somewhat strange today, since there is little attention given to the realm of the satanic. It is common now to completely dismiss Satan from our consciousness.
But to Paul, the realm of the satanic was very real. When he talks about putting on the armor of God, he’s telling us to be girded for spiritual battle. It’s not a battle against flesh and blood, but it is a battle against spiritual forces. Paul identifies them as rulers and authorities and as spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. He’s telling us to become equipped to engage in spiritual conflict that involves the rulers of some kind of spiritual, hidden realm.
In the New Testament, the power, oppression, and tyranny of Rome are a recurring theme. For example, much of the eschatological vision in the book of Revelation is written to people experiencing persecution from the Romans. Most Christians think the Beast described in Revelation is referring to some future, earthly governor. But there are also serious scholars who believe that the primary reference of the beast is to Nero. He was the incarnation of wickedness in Roman history, and his nickname throughout the Roman empire was, oddly enough, “the Beast.” While it is disputed whether he was the one who is specifically in view in the book of Revelation, I mainly want to demonstrate that human governments can become instruments of spiritual powers and principalities that unleash all kinds of evil into the world.
Recent history has provided numerous painful examples of the demonization of the state. World War II provided a front-row seat to an unprecedented form of inhuman behavior in Hitler’s Third Reich. Hitler’s Nazi regime murdered millions, and he was followed by the atheistic regimes of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao Zedong’s China, and Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. How can governments become so corrupt that they actually become tools in the hand of satanic powers? First, we’ve established that the primary function of the government, as ordained by God, is to protect, sustain, and maintain the sanctity of human life. When governments engage in genocide, such as we saw in Germany, in Soviet Russia, or in Iraq, those governments become servants of the Enemy because they destroy human life without just cause.
An example of the state’s failing to project the sanctity of human life is the modern-day scourge of on-demand abortion. Hundreds and thousands of unborn babies are destroyed under the sanction of the government every year. When the church protests against this injustice, it is not trying to intrude into the domain of the state. It is simply reminding the state that its primary function is to protect life. Any government that sanctions the destruction of life has failed in its divine mandate to govern.
Second, governments are instituted to protect private property. Two of the Ten Commandments specifically protect the rights of individuals to the property they possess. When private property is not protected by or is confiscated by the government, the government abuses its right to rule by using its power to legalize the theft of people’s private property. For example, in the Old Testament, when King Ahab confiscated Naboth’s vineyard, the prophet Elijah pronounced the judgment of God upon him.
Recall the warning given to the people of Israel when they asked to have a king like the other nations. They didn’t want God to be their king; they wanted kings whom they could see with their eyes. God warned them that this king would go to war and take their children for his army. He would take their horses and fields and confiscate their property. He would burden them with unjust taxation (1 Sam. 8:10–18). And that is exactly what their kings did, and what rulers have done throughout world history.
As we see in Romans 13, God gives governments a legitimate right to tax their people to pay for the necessities of government, and Christians are called to pay their taxes. However, governments can become greedy and unjust in their taxation programs by mandating tax laws that are essentially confiscation.
One of the speakers at a national political convention discussed the dream of wealth redistribution. This is the socialist dream that says we should spread out the wealth of the country so we have everyone comfortably in the middle class. This is all done in the name of economic equality. You take from those who have more and give to those who have less. From each according to his ability; to each according to his need. In a classroom setting, it would be like taking someone who had earned an A and taking someone else who had earned a D, then giving them both C’s, along with the rest of the class. It wouldn’t matter how they performed on tests, how well they studied, or how they prepared or labored. Everyone would receive the same grade. Supposedly, that’s equality. But it’s not. Equality is not the same thing as equity, and this kind of distributive policy violates the very role God gave government, namely, to protect people’s private property.
When governments take the possessions of their people, they try to justify it by appeal to some higher goal or destiny. But no one has the right to do what is wrong, even if they are appealing to a greater good. For instance, it is still stealing if I take from you to give to someone else, even if I do it with my vote. We call that entitlement. But I am not entitled to your property, nor am I entitled to steal from you. It doesn’t matter what my intentions are or if my stealing is limited to taking from the rich. However, in our culture today, it’s considered acceptable to take from the rich because “they can afford it.”
As Christians, it is important that we don’t practice this kind of political activity. We don’t want to become a part of a system where you can use the ballot to enrich yourself for your own interests. Unfortunately, in the United States, special-interest groups devoted to wealth redistribution are not only tolerated but welcomed in the nation’s capital. As we’ve seen in God’s Word, we are prohibited from using political clout to take from others to enrich ourselves. As a result, we should not participate in government-sanctioned stealing.

Chapter Six

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
A wonderful lesson about the Christian’s responsibility before the state can be found in a surprising place in the Bible.
You might be familiar with the Christmas story in Luke 2. The story opens by noting an edict by Augustus Caesar. As part of his taxation program, Caesar commanded everyone to return to their city of birth so that they could be counted in the census. As a result, people were subjected to all kinds of hardships. Many had to make arduous journeys in order to satisfy Caesar’s demand for taxation. They were not returning to their roots for a vacation, but rather to be in submission to the governing authority.
Because of that decree, Joseph and Mary undertook the long journey from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem. Joseph could have protested, saying, “Wait a minute. My wife is nine months pregnant, and if I subject her to this journey to Bethlehem in order to sign up for the census, I could lose my wife and our unborn child.” He could have made a great case for the injustice of the law, and he could have simply refused to obey it.
But that’s not what he did. He risked the life of his wife and baby to be in compliance with the law even though the law was a great inconvenience to them.
Joseph’s example raises an important issue—that of civil disobedience. Is there ever a time when it is legitimate for the church or the Christian to act in defiance toward the state? This has been a highly controversial matter since the founding of the United States. Many Christians were divided on whether it was legitimate to declare independence from the crown of England. The issues are rather complex, and there is much disagreement among Christian theologians and ethicists when it comes to civil disobedience.
When Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1), he was writing to people who were suffering under the oppression of the Roman government. Yet, Paul taught the believers in Rome to be good subjects of the empire, to pay their taxes, to give honor to the authorities over them, and to pray regularly for those who were in positions of power and authority (v. 7).
The Westminster Confession of Faith says, “It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, does not make void the magistrates’ just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them” (23.4). This means that if the state is irreligious and differs from us in terms of our religious convictions, we are not freed from our responsibility to honor it as the government. We continue to pray for our government officials and pay taxes. This is our calling, even if we disagree with how we are taxed and how tax revenue is spent by the government.
Therefore, the first principle is civil obedience. The principle of civil obedience is that we are called to be in submission to authorities ruling over us—and not only when we agree with them. Indeed, Christians are called to be model citizens.
This was the defense of the Christian apologists of the first and second centuries when persecution arose in the Roman Empire against them. For example, Justin Martyr defended himself and others to Emperor Antoninus Pius, by saying that Christians were the empire’s most loyal citizens, commanded by King Jesus to honor the emperor. Justin understood the ethic of civil obedience that is deeply rooted in the New Testament. In fact, the ethic is so often repeated in Scripture that one could easily come to the conclusion that we must always obey the civil magistrate. As we will see, this is not the case, but the overwhelming emphasis in Scripture is that Christians should seek to be obedient to the government whenever possible.
Does that mean we must always obey? Absolutely not. There are times when Christians are free to disobey the magistrate, but there are also times when we must disobey the civil magistrate. Consider an episode from the book of Acts when Peter and John were called before the Sanhedrin, the rulers of the Jews, after healing a crippled man:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” (Acts 4:13–17)

By the power of Christ, Peter and John had healed the man that was crippled. The Jewish leaders knew that is was a miracle from God but understood the implications of acknowledging that fact. One would think they would have said, “Therefore, since this miracle was performed right in front of our eyes by the power of Christ, we ought to repent and subject ourselves to Him.” That’s what they should have said, but instead they said: “We can’t deny this. But we can slow the growth of this sect that we abhor with their miracles. Let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name. Let us use the power and authority that we have as rulers over them to give severe threats against them, to put a stop to their preaching in the name of Christ.”
What happened? “So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (v. 18).
It is important to pause and reflect on what the Jewish leaders were doing. The authorities commanded Peter and John never to speak or teach about Christ again. In light of that, consider this: Would you be reading this book right now if Peter and John had obeyed that mandate? Had the Apostolic community submitted to the authorities and became subject to that mandate, Christianity would have ended right then and there.
But what happened was very plain. The magistrate commanded them to be quiet, prohibiting them from doing what Christ had commanded them to do. In response, consider the principle that emerges in the next verses: “But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard’ ” (vv. 19–20).
Whom do you obey when there is a direct, immediate, and unequivocal conflict between the law of God and the rule of men? At times, human rulers require people to do things that God forbids, or forbids them from doing what God commands. The principle is very simple. If any ruler—a governing official or body, school teacher, boss, or military commander—commands you to do something God forbids or forbids you from doing something God commands, not only may you disobey, but you must disobey. If it comes down to a choice like this, you must obey God.
You can memorize this principle in a few moments, but the application can be exceedingly complex. As sinful people, we must realize that we are very prone to twist and distort things in our favor in order to benefit ourselves. Before we disobey the authorities over us, we should be sure to be painfully self-reflective and have a clear understanding as to why we plan to disobey.
If my boss told me to cook the books so that he could be protected from the charge of embezzlement, I would have to disobey. If a governmental authority told you that you had to have an abortion, you would have to disobey because you obey a higher authority. If the authorities say we’re not allowed to distribute Bibles or preach the Word of God, we have to do it anyway because we have a mandate from Christ to disciple the nations.
This is why the free exercise of religion is so important. It gives the right to act according to conscience, but unfortunately, this right is currently being eroded in the United States.
When I was teaching at a university during the Vietnam War, I had many students in my classes who were opposed to the war. They sought to opt out of involvement in the war through conscientious objection. They asked me if I would sign affidavits to verify that they truly held this objection, and I did. I signed several of these documents, but not because I thought the students had a good understanding of the complexities of the war, nor because I was convinced that America was wrong for being there. In fact, I wasn’t sure whether we should have been there. But these young people were sure that our involvement was wrong. I was simply testifying that they were sincere.
At that time in history, so many young people sought conscientious objector status that it became a crisis. In response, the government changed the regulations such that you could only receive the status of a contentious objector if you could prove that you were opposed to all wars, not simply that particular one. In other words, you had to be a certifiable pacifist. But for many Christians throughout history, such a black-and-white approach to war would be too simplistic and would put many believers in a very challenging position in regard to civil disobedience.
While the principle of conscience has eroded in our government, acts of civil disobedience have remained. This was demonstrated in the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century, when large groups of oppressed people transgressed local statutes. This movement sought to make it plain that local laws were unjust and violated the Constitution of the United States.
Because the matter of civil disobedience is complicated, it’s vitally important that we master the basic principles regarding the relationship between church and state. As Paul says in Romans 13, we are to be subject to the authorities that are placed over us, because their power is a derivative power, given to them by God Himself. This is the principle of civil obedience. But when those authorities command us to do something God forbids or forbid us from doing something God commands, we must obey God rather than earthly authorities.
God has established two realms on earth: the church and the state. Each one has its own sphere of authority, and neither is to infringe on the rights of the other. And as Christians, we are to show great respect and concern for them both.
Sproul, R. C. (2014). What Is the Relationship between Church and State? (First edition, Bd. 19, S. 1–56). Orlando, FL; Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust; Ligonier Ministries.

39 Old Testament Maps—One for Every Book- via Uwe Rosenkranz

39 Old Testament Maps—One for Every Book

Map of ExodusWhen the events of the Bible take place on the other side of the world, it’s easy to miss the significance of geography. A single verse could transport you miles away, and you might never notice. The books of the Bible deal with real, physical places, and even if we can’t be there, we can still use maps to get our bearings.

Sometimes the right map can help you see Scripture in a whole new way.

Related post: 26 Breathtaking Photos of Biblical Places

When you use Logos 6 and Proclaim Church Presentation Software together, you can share hundreds of pieces of exclusive church media with your church—including maps for every book of the Bible. (Try Proclaim free for 30 days here.)

Here you’ll find 39 of those maps—one for every book of the Old Testament, in canonical order.

Genesis

Map of Genesis

Exodus

Map of Exodus

Leviticus

Map of Leviticus

Numbers

Map of Numbers

Deuteronomy

Map of Deuteronomy

Joshua

Map of Joshua

Judges

Map of Judges

Ruth

Map of Ruth

1 Samuel

Map of 1 Samuel

2 Samuel

Map of 2 Samuel

1 Kings

map of 1 Kings

2 Kings

Map of 2 Kings

1 Chronicles

map of 1 Chronicles

Ezra

map of Ezra

Nehemiah

map of Nehemiah

Esther

map of Esther

Job

map of Job

Psalms

map of Psalms

Proverbs

map of Proverbs

Ecclesiastes

map of Ecclesiastes

Song of Solomon

map of Song of Solomon

Isaiah

map of Isaiah

Jeremiah

map of Jeremiah

Lamentations

map of Lamentations

Ezekiel

map of Ezekial

Daniel

map of Daniel

Hosea

map of Hosea

Joel

map of Joel

Amos

map of Amos

Obadiah

map of Obadiah

Jonah

map of Jonah

Micah

map of Micah

Nahum

map of Nahum

Habakkuk

map of Habakkuk

Zephaniah

map of Zephaniah

Haggai

map of Haggai

Zechariah

map of Zechariah

Malachi

map of Malachi

Maps make it easy to see how the cities and landmarks of the Bible fit together. When you’re trying to keep track of who went where, a map can help keep you (or your listeners) anchored in biblical context.

Study with Logos 6 and present with Proclaim Church Presentation Software to unlock 66 Bible book packs—complete with maps, timelines, and everything else you need to walk your congregation through Scripture.

HAPPY PURIM to MARWA and MARWAN- by Uwe Rosenkranz


Esther and Mordecai Writing the Second Letter of Purim, by Arent de Gelder
Shalom from Uwe Rosenkranz,
thankfully we apologize for having copied this message that has just arrived,
but we feel free to deliver this excellent PURIM-Celebration to You-
especially to Marwan and Marwa, living in Northern Iraque:
DannyThis is Danny our Persian Silver Shadow male cat.
He is head of 3 female family members and loves You!
Tonight and tomorrow, we celebrate one of the most joyous and fun-filled holidays on the Jewish calendarPurim (Feast of Lots).
This festive day commemorates God’s victory and deliverance of the Jewish People from their enemies in ancient Persia.
“This [victory] happened on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.”  (Esther 9:17)

Hamantaschen, the traditional filled pastry of Purim, are a reference to
Haman, the villain of the Book of Esther.  The cookie’s triangular shape is
thought to resemble Haman’s three-cornered hat.  The groggers
(noisemakers) are for drowning out any reference to his name.
Before the Purim feast tonight, we fast.
Ta’anit Esther (the fast of Esther) is held in honor of Queen Esther’s three-day fast before pleading with the king to spare the lives of her people.  She told her cousin and adopted father, Mordecai:
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Shushan, and fast for me.  Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.  I and my attendants will fast as you do.  When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”(Esther 4:16)
This fast traditionally falls on Adar 13, the day before Purim, which was the day Haman set aside for the destruction of the Jewish People.
Today’s fast begins an hour before sunrise and ends at nightfall.  Because this fast isnot one of the four public fasts called by the Prophets, its observance is more lenient.  Women who are pregnant or nursing, as well as the weak, are not required to fully observe it.

A Purim parade in Israel
The Fast of Joy
While most fasts have an element of mourning, this fast (tzom) is one of joy.  It affirms that Israel’s strength is not found in its military might, but in the Lord.  Our victory comes by keeping our eyes on the Lord through prayer and by God’s Divine mercy.
“‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6)
Although the Jewish People did take up arms and fight their enemies, that victory was only possible because courageous people prayed before taking action.
Rabbi Shraga Simmons writes that Ta’anit Esther is not a fast involving sadness(as is the commemoration of the destruction of the Temple on Tisha B’Av or on Yom Kippur when we repent for our sins of the prior year) but one of “elevation and inspiration.”
He compares it with the Torah injunction that soldiers should fast on the day prior to battle, thus recognizing that victory does not come through our own strength but from God.  (Aish)

Israeli Orthodox Jewish men read the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther).
Pls bless God for His faithfulness and Celebrate Purim by Giving to the Needy
Click to Help the Poor in Israel
Purim: A Day of Merrymaking
“Celebrate annually … observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”  (Esther 9:21–22)
The Book of Esther describes Purim as a time of “light, gladness, joy and honor for the Jewish people.”  (Esther 8:16)
One indispensable way of spreading joy on Purim is the giving of Purim baskets filled with delicious goodies to family and friends, as well as gifts to the poor.
Purim is such a festive celebration that it is marked by wearing costumes, feasting at elaborate meals, and the reading of the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther).
As we listen to the story of Purim read in the synagogue, we grind our groggers (noisemakers) to block out the hated name of Haman whenever it is mentioned during the reading.  With equal enthusiasm, cheering ensues when Mordecai’s name is spoken.
This is a reminder that throughout history, there have been Hamans that have tried to wipe out the Jewish nation as a people, but in every generation, God has protected us from complete destruction.

The importance of unity and friendship is emphasized on Purim by
sending gifts of food to friends called mishloach manot.  As well, it is
considered a special mitzvah (good deed) to give to the needy (Matanot
L’Evyonim) on Purim.  It is traditional to give to (at minimum) two poor
individuals on Purim day.
Another custom practiced by some to blot out the name of Haman is to drink until we are not able to discern between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordecai.”
This is one time of the year in which being drunk might be acceptable in Judaism.
Perhaps the rabbis encouraged such behavior because this is to be a joyous holiday, one in which we recall how God protected His People from total annihilation at the hands of an evil adversary. 
A more compelling reason, though, may be that God installed a Jewish queen on a Persian throne as a result of excessive drinking.
Of course, the Brit Chadashah (New Covenant) encourages Believers not to drink excessively:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.”  (Ephesians 5:18–19)
The Book of Esther, however, begins with a drinking spree sanctioned by the Persian king.

The Megillat Esther (Scroll of Esther)
The Story of Purim
“By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.”  (Esther 1:8)
In the Book of Esther, King Ahasuerus of Persia, who probably can be identified as Xerxes I who reigned during the fifth century BC, holds a drinking fest that lasts 180 days.
After months of excess, celebrating with his army, government officials, and the people of Shushan, he orders his queen, Vashti, to appear before the guests so that he can show off her beauty.
Vashti refuses, so Ahasuerus has her banished (executed, according to traditional Jewish accounts) at the urging of Persia’s seven nobles, who are concerned that women would follow her example.
“Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.”  (Esther 1:20)

A child wears a Purim costume as he listens to the reading of Esther
in a synagogue in Ofra, Israel.
To replace the queen, the king orders a kind of beauty contest featuring the most beautiful young women of his kingdom.
One of those was the Jewish orphan Esther, who is being raised by her cousin Mordecai, a Benjamite “who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachina king of Judah.”  (Esther 2:6)
Each of the women completes 12 months of beauty treatments and eats special food before they are taken in to the king.
Esther, who had not revealed her identity as a Jew, is most favored by him.
“So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.  And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials.  He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.”  (Esther 2:17–18)

A little girl dressed as Queen Esther for Purim places
hamantaschen in a basket.
While Esther is serving as queen, Mordecai uncovers a plot to kill Ahasuerus, saving the king’s life.
Yet, this loyalty does not earn him favor with the king’s chief minister, Haman, who is appointed after this event.
Mordecai, who sits daily at the palace gate, refuses to bow to Haman.
In retaliation, Haman plots his death, as well as the deaths of all of the Jews living in the empire.
With the king’s permission, he casts lots (purim) to determine the best date on which to carry out the massacre.  It falls on Adar 13.

Two Jewish men wear tefillin (phylacteries) for
morning prayer on Purim.
Celebrate Purim with the Jewish People, Uwe, by making a difference in Israel today
Click to Celebrate Purim with Us
Hearing of the plot, Mordecai instructs Esther, through the king’s eunuch, to approach the king in order to plead with him on behalf of her people.
In her reply to him, she reminds Mordecai that to enter the inner court without being summoned by the king would likely result in her death.
Mordecai reasons with her, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”  (Esther 4:13–14)
Esther realizes the wisdom in her cousin’s words and calls for a three-day fast, saying,“I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish,“(Esther 4:16) — which is to say, “God’s will be done.”

Esther before Ahasuerus, by Giovanni Andrea Sirani
With much united prayer, therefore, Esther approaches the king and reveals Haman’s plans to destroy her people.
Realizing that even Esther would be killed, Ahasuerus hangs Haman on the same pole Haman designed for Mordecai.
The king also allows the Jews to defend themselves against the evil edict, resulting in the deaths of 75,000 enemies on Adar 13, in addition to 800 deaths in the king’s citadel of Shushan on the 13th and 14th.  (Esther 9:6, 15–16)

An Israeli father and son deliver a mishloach manot, the traditional Purim
gift of treats.
Where Was God?
Much has been made of the fact that God’s name is not mentioned in the Book of Esther.
Many say that this was intentional — to teach us that what may seem to be random events, such as the ten plagues in Egypt, in fact are not.
Even when God seems “hidden,” He is still in control.  Nothing happens by chance.
The rabbis even link this apparent hiddenness of God to Esther’s name, as in “I will surely hide [as-tir] My face on that day.…”  (Deuteronomy 31:18)
This idea of hiddenness in Esther, including her hidden identity as a Jew, explains why costumes and masks are worn by children and adults alike on Purim.  The message of such masks is that though God may be hidden, He is there.

Part of the traditional Purim festivities is the Purim spiel, a comic,
informal dramatization of the events that transpire in the Book of Esther.
Purim and Modern-Day Hamans
Purim reminds us that a “Haman” seeking to destroy Israel arises in every generation.
To find our Haman today, we need look no further than modern-day Persia — Iran — where leaders openly call for Israel’s destruction.  As well, tens of thousands of Hezbollah and Hamas “freedom fighters” surround Israel ready to carry out Israel’s ruin.
Whether Haman is supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran or Germany’s Hitler, who orchestrated the Holocaust, the Bible plainly states that those who curse Israel are doomed to destruction and those who bless Israel will forever be blessed.  (Genesis 12:3)
The true message of Purim is that God does not break His promises to the Jewish People.  They will survive and prosper in the homeland that He is bringing them back to in these tumultuous end times.
Even in what might seem to be random events today, God’s presence is constant and His hand is evident.
“He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it.  He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.”  (Deuteronomy 30:5)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and
his wife Sara bring a little joy to sick children
in honor of Purim.
Like Esther, there are times God is calling us to act on His behalf for the Jewish People.
We may not supernaturally hear a voice from Heaven commanding us to do this or that; instead, He might speak to us through a trusted family member, spiritual leader, or friend.
Most often, however, we will come to understand His will through reading the Word of God.
For instance, in Mark 16:15, Yeshua (Jesus) told His Talmudim (Disciples), „Go into all the world and preach the Good News to all creation.”
And in Isaiah 58:10, we read: “You must actively help the hungry and feed the oppressed.”
Like Uwe and Marwan and Marwa- be like Queen Esther, knowing that AT SUCH A TIME AS THIS, you can make a difference for Israel and the Jewish People.
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Easter take-off , Archbishop Rosary

CRUCIAL QUESTIONS
No. | 13
WHO IS the HOLY SPIRIT?

Danny

Danny loves me and wants me to publish HIS PICTURE!

R.C. SPROUL

Reformation Trust
A DIVISION OF LIGONIER MINISTRIES, ORLANDO, FL

Who Is the Holy Spirit?

© 2012 by R. C. Sproul

Published by Reformation Trust Publishing
a division of Ligonier Ministries
421 Ligonier Court, Sanford, FL 32771
Ligonier.org
ReformationTrust.com

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust Publishing. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Cover design: Gearbox Studios

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
Who is the Holy Spirit? / R. C. Sproul.
p. cm. — (The crucial questions series; no. 13)
ISBN 978-1-56769-299-0
1. Holy Spirit. I. Title.
BT121.3.S67 2012
231′.3–dc23
2012027502

The Crucial Questions Series

By R. C. Sproul

Contents
Preface

One—THE THİRD PERSON

Two—THE LİFE GİVER

Three—THE ADVOCATE

Four—THE SANCTİFİER

Five—THE ANOİNTER

Six—THE ILLUMİNATOR

Preface
When I became a Christian in September of 1957, I found myself in a serious quandary. I was engaged to be married, but when I told my fiancée about my conversion, she thought I had lost my mind. That was upsetting enough, but I was also learning that I should not marry a nonbeliever, and so I began to wonder whether I would be able to marry the woman I loved. Several months passed with no resolution of this dilemma.
Finally, spring break approached. My fiancée was planning to go home to Pittsburgh from the college where she was studying, and I persuaded her to stop at my college, attend a campus Bible study with me, and then spend the night in the girls’ dorm. I cannot remember anything for which I spent more time praying. I spent virtually the whole day before she arrived on my knees, praying that God would work in her life. I came to the conclusion that if she did not soon become a Christian, I would have to break the engagement, as much as I did not want to do so.
We went to the Bible study that night and she sat through the whole thing without saying a word. Afterward, I took her to the girls’ dorm, and she was still very quiet. However, the next morning, when I went to meet her, she came out as if she were walking on air. She told me that she had had a hard time sleeping because something had happened to her the night before. She kept waking up in the night, pinching herself, and asking, “Do I still have it?” Each time she told herself, “Yes, I still have it,” and went back to sleep. She had been converted to Christ through the study of the Scriptures the night before.
One of my clearest memories of that wonderful morning is of the moment when we were getting into my car. As she was telling me about her experience, she looked at me with great excitement and said, “Now I know who the Holy Spirit is.” Of course, she had attended church for years. She had heard the Holy Spirit mentioned. She had heard the benediction pronounced in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But now, for the first time, she had a sense of who the Spirit really is.
That statement of my fiancée, who is now my wife, was very significant. Notice that she said, “Now I know who the Holy Spirit is,” not, “Now I know what the Holy Spirit is.” In her conversion, she made a transition from understanding Christianity in an abstract sense to understanding it as a personal relationship with God. And one of the first truths she grasped was that the Holy Spirit is a person, not a thing.
It is exceedingly important that Christians know who the Holy Spirit is and understand something of the vital role He plays in their lives. That is why I have written this booklet. Of course, the biblical teaching on the Holy Spirit is far too extensive to be covered adequately in a volume of this size. My purpose in this booklet is to simply provide the most basic of answers to the question of who the Spirit is and then to touch briefly on some of the important roles He plays in the lives of believers. For a fuller treatment, I encourage you to see my book The Mystery of the Holy Spirit.
I pray this short treatise on the Spirit will draw you into a deeper relationship with the God you love and serve, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Chapter One

THE THİRD PERSON
As Christians, we embrace a historic formula about God’s being. We say, “God is One in essence and three in person.” In other words, God is triune; He is a Trinity. This means there are three persons within the Godhead. These persons are understood in theology as distinct characters. The differences among the three, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are real differences but not essential differences. In other words, there is only one essence to the Godhead, not three. In our experience as human beings, each person we meet is a separate being. One person means one being, and vice versa. But in the Godhead, there is one being with three persons. We must maintain this distinction lest we slip into a form of polytheism, seeing the three persons of the Godhead as three beings who are three separate gods.
None of us can plumb the depths of the Trinity comprehensively, but we can take some small steps to understand it better. The words existence and subsistence can help us here.
EXISTENCE AND SUBSISTENCE

One of the games I used to play with my seminary students was to ask them, “Does God exist?” They would say, “Of course God exists.” I would then say, “No, God does not exist,” and it was always fun to see the looks of horror that would appear on their faces as they began to wonder whether their professor had abandoned Christianity and given up his faith. But I quickly had mercy on them and explained that I was playing a little philosophy game by asserting that God does not exist.
The word exist comes from the Latin existare, which means “to stand out of.” So the word exist literally means “to stand out.” That does not necessarily mean that if you exist you are outstanding at what you do. The obvious question is, of what does an existing being stand out?
The idea of existence has its roots in ancient philosophy, when the philosophers were very concerned with the question of being. We also are concerned with this question; in fact, when we make a distinction between God and ourselves, we identify Him as the Supreme Being and ourselves as human beings. However, that distinction is a bit misleading. Both descriptions use the word being, so we look to the adjectival qualifiers to find the difference between God and ourselves: He is supreme and we are human. In reality, the big difference between God and man is being itself. God is pure being, a being who has His life in and of Himself eternally. A human being is a creature, a being whose very existence from moment to moment depends on the power of the Supreme Being. God’s being is not dependent on anything or derived from anything. He has the power to be in and of Himself.
When the old philosophers talked about existence, using the Latin word meaning “to stand out of,” they were saying that to exist means to stand out of being. What does that mean? Imagine two circles that do not overlap. The first circle is “being” and the second is “non-being,” which is a fancy term for “nothing.” Now imagine a stick figure between the two circles with its arms outstretched. One arm is reaching into the circle labeled “being” and the other is reaching into the circle labeled “non-being.” This is a picture of humanity. We participate in being, but at the same time we are always just one step away from annihilation. The only way we can continue is to maintain our connection to the circle labeled “being,” for that circle represents the One in whom, as the Apostle Paul said, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)—that is, God. But even while we participate in that being and are sustained by that being, we are one step removed from non-being.
Our imaginary stick figure is a picture of what the philosophers had in mind when they talked about standing out of being. We might say that humans are in a state of “becoming.” We undergo change. What we are today is different from what we were yesterday and from what we will be tomorrow, if only in the fact that we age twenty-four hours in the passage from one day to the next. It is this facet of humanness, change, that defines existence. Change, generation, decay, growth, and aging are all characteristics of our lives. God, however, is eternally constant. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
In short, when the philosophers spoke of existence, they were defining what it means to be a creature. So, when I played my little game with my seminary students, when I asserted that God does not exist, I did not mean that there is no God. I simply meant that God is not a creature. He is not bound to space and time, subject to change, generation, and decay. He is always and eternally what He is. He is the “I AM.”
When we talk about the persons of the Godhead, we typically do not use the word existence, but we do use the word subsistence. What is the difference between these words? We typically use the word subsistence in our normal vocabulary when we talk about someone living in poverty. We talk about a subsistence income, which is a meager wage, or a subsistence diet, which provides only the basic nutrients. Note, however, that this word includes the prefix sub-, which means “under.” So, subsistence is existence that is under something else. This idea is implied in the concept of the Trinity. God is one being with three subsistences, with three distinct persons. They subsist within the being of God.
THE SPIRIT’S PERSONAL NATURE

The fact that the Holy Spirit is a person is seen in a multitude of ways in Scripture. One of the primary evidences is that the Bible repeatedly and consistently uses personal pronouns to refer to Him. He is called “He,” “Him,” and so on, not “it.” Also, He does things that we associate with personality. He teaches, He inspires, He guides, He leads, He grieves, He convicts us of sin, and more. Impersonal objects do not behave in this manner. Only a person can do these things.
But the Holy Spirit is seen in Scripture not merely as personal but also as fully divine. We see this in a curious story from the book of Acts:

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “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.” (5:1–4)

The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was that they pretended that their donation to the church was greater than it was. They lied about the nature of the gift they were making to God. Peter, I think, was more concerned about the state of their souls than about the amount of money they were contributing. Notice, however, the words of Peter’s rebuke to Ananias and Sapphira. He began by asking, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” But he concluded by saying, “You have not lied to man but to God.” So, the lie that Ananias told to the Holy Spirit was actually told to God. The clear implication is that the Holy Spirit is God.
ATTRIBUTES AND WORKS OF GOD

Furthermore, the New Testament often describes the Holy Spirit as having attributes that are clearly divine. For instance, the Holy Spirit is eternal (Heb. 9:14) and omniscient (1 Cor. 2:10–11). These are both attributes of God. Moreover, they are incommunicable attributes, attributes of God that cannot be shared by man.
We see in Scripture that the Spirit shares in the Trinitarian works of creation and redemption. Genesis 1 shows that the Father commanded the world to come into being. The New Testament tells us that the agent through whom the Father brought the universe into being was the Logos, the second person of the Trinity, our Lord Jesus Christ: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). However, the Spirit also was involved in creation: “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2). Out of this energizing work of the Spirit, life was brought forth.
Most importantly, redemption is a Trinitarian work. The Father sent the Son into the world (1 John 4:14). The Son performed all the work that was necessary for our salvation—living a life of perfect obedience and dying to make a perfect satisfaction (Phil. 3:9; 1 Cor. 15:3). But none of these things avail for our benefit until they are applied to us personally. Therefore, the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit into the world to apply salvation to us (John 15:26; Gal. 4:6). The role of the Holy Spirit chiefly and principally in the New Testament is to apply the work of Christ to believers.
Do you know who the Holy Spirit is? Do you understand the Holy Spirit in terms of a personal relationship? Or does the Spirit remain for you a vague, misty, abstract concept or an illusive, amorphous force? Forces in and of themselves are impersonal. But the Holy Spirit is not simply an abstract force. He is a person who empowers the people of God for the Christian life. In the next few brief chapters, we will consider some of the ways He carries out that mission.

Chapter Two

THE LİFE GİVER
During the 1976 campaign for the United States presidency, Jimmy Carter spoke of having been “born again.” Around that same time, Charles Colson, who had been an adviser to President Nixon, released a book recounting his conversion to Christ. It was titled simply Born Again. Suddenly, a term that had been common only among evangelical Christians was catapulted to national prominence.
Since then, the term “born again” has been adopted for all kinds of uses that have nothing to do with the kind of spiritual conversion Carter and Colson had in mind. For instance, an athlete who experiences a comeback in his career might speak of being “born again” with respect to his skills. There is a sense in which the true meaning of this important term has become obscured by its frequent use and misuse.
The idea of being born again, of experiencing a spiritual rebirth, comes directly from the teaching of Jesus. We find that teaching in the third chapter of John’s Gospel, where John records an encounter between Jesus and a Jewish leader named Nicodemus.
John writes: “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him’ ” (vv. 1–2). Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, apparently because he did not want to be seen with Him, but he came with flattery, complimenting Jesus as “a teacher come from God.” However, Jesus cut him short and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3). Jesus said that rebirth is a necessary condition for entering the kingdom of God. It is the sine qua non. If you are not regenerate, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus did not understand Him; he interpreted Jesus’ words in a crass, physical way. He asked: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (v. 4). Jesus answered him a second time and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5). So, the idea of being born again or experiencing rebirth was not invented by Jimmy Carter, Chuck Colson, or evangelical Christians in general. It is found in the teaching of Christ Himself. This teaching is extremely important, because in it, Jesus mentions a necessary condition for entering the kingdom of God.
It distresses me somewhat to hear a person say, “I am a born-again Christian.” What’s wrong with such a statement? Well, what other kind of Christian is there? If rebirth is absolutely essential in order to get into the kingdom of God, as Jesus said it is, there cannot be such a thing as a non-born-again Christian. To say “born-again Christian” is like saying “Christian Christian.” It’s a redundancy, a kind of theological stuttering.
On the other hand, is it possible to be a “born-again non-Christian”? I have heard people say, “I’m a born-again Muslim” or “I’m a born-again Buddhist.” I want to tell them that if they are born again in the New Testament sense, they no longer are Muslims or Buddhists. The only people who are born again are Christians.
FROM SPIRITUAL DEATH TO LIFE

It is very important that we have an accurate understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in spiritual rebirth. One of the best places to gain such an understanding is in the second chapter of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. We read there:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (vv. 1–6)

The language and imagery the Apostle uses in this text has to do with life and death. He declares that Christians have been “made alive.” But if they are now alive, what were they previously? They were “dead in trespasses and sins.” So, Paul is talking about some kind or resurrection, a transformation of people who are dead to new life.
We need to understand what kind of death is in view here. Paul is not talking about physical resurrection because he is not talking about physical death. The people who have been made alive by the Holy Spirit were living, breathing biological specimens before that experience. Before I became a Christian, my heart was beating, my lungs were filling and emptying, and my brain was active (although my teachers wondered at times). But I was spiritually dead. I was dead to the things of God because I existed solely and completely in what Jesus and the Apostles call “the flesh.”
In His conversation with Nicodemus, after He explained that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit, Jesus went on to say: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:6–8).
Here Jesus distinguished between the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of human flesh. He said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” He was speaking of people, and He was not simply saying that human beings are born with physical bodies, but that they are born fallen. This means they do not have spiritual life. Instead, they are born spiritually dead.
There may be nothing in all of sacred Scripture that is more repugnant to modern man than this assertion that every human being is born into a state of spiritual death. This idea is repugnant even to the broad Christian community. Most professing Christians acknowledge that there is some defect in the human race, that we are all sinners and none of us is perfect. But not one Christian in a hundred really believes that every human being is already spiritually dead when he or she comes into the world. Even Billy Graham used to talk about the natural man being mortally sick, to the extent that he is ninety-nine percent dead, but he would not go to one hundred percent. So pervasive is the rejection of this idea that some of the leading spokesmen for Christianity are willing to contradict it. They do not embrace the idea of total spiritual death.
Yet, that is clearly what Paul is saying. We are dead on arrival spiritually—not just weak, ailing, critically ill, or comatose. There is no spiritual heartbeat, no spiritual breathing, no spiritual brain-wave activity. We are spiritually stillborn, and so we remain—unless God the Holy Spirit makes us alive.
FOLLOWING A COURSE AND A PRINCE

Paul tells the Ephesians, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (2:1). He is addressing Christians, but all Christians at some point in their lives are non-Christians, and all non-Christians manifest a pattern of behavior. Paul says that those who are spiritually dead follow a course and a prince.
In Romans 3, Paul writes: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (vv. 10b–12). He says everyone has “turned aside,” has gone out of the way. If by nature we do not seek God, is it any surprise that we should depart from the way to God? It is fascinating to me that in the New Testament, followers of Christ did not refer to themselves as “Christians.” They were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26), but it is believed that the term was created by non-Christians to hurl derision on them. The word or the phrase that Christians used to describe themselves initially was people of “the Way” (Acts 19:9, 23), because they had heard Christ speak about two ways, a narrow way and a broad way (Matt. 7:13–14). The vast majority of people are moving down the wrong road. In fact, we all start on this road, for the broad way is the course of the world. Paul says, “This is the way we all lived at one time” (see Eph. 2:3). To be spiritually dead is to be worldly. It is to buy into and follow slavishly the values and customs of the secular culture.
Not only do the spiritually dead follow the course of this world, they follow “the prince of the power of the air” (v. 2). Is there any question about who Paul has in mind here? This is his title for Satan, “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (v. 2). All those who are spiritually dead follow the desires of Satan in rejecting God and His righteous requirements.
This, then, is our natural state. This is a picture of what theology calls original sin, that state of mortal corruption, of spiritual death, into which we all are born.
A WORK OF RE-CREATION

It is the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit to come to people who are spiritually dead, who are walking according to the course of this world and according to the prince of the power of the air, fulfilling the lusts of their flesh and of their minds, and to re-create them as He regenerates them. “To regenerate” means “to generate anew.” By means of regeneration, the Spirit gives life to people who have no spiritual life.
Regeneration is a work that the Holy Spirit does immediately upon the souls of people. When I say “immediately,” I do not mean “quickly” but “without any intervening medium.” He does not give a person a dose of medicine; instead, the Spirit directly brings spiritual life out of spiritual death. We see this immediate working expressed in the words the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). In that situation, Jesus’ life was generated immediately and directly, not through the normal reproductive processes.
In this sense, we see a kind of recapitulation in redemption of the power the Holy Spirit manifested in creation. The same God who created the world redeems the world. The work of creation was Trinitarian just as the work of redemption is Trinitarian. We see this clearly in Genesis 1, where we read: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep” (vv. 1–2a). These are the first sentences of sacred Scripture. Immediately after these verses, we read a brief description of God’s activity in the midst of this darkness, emptiness, and formlessness: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (v. 2b). The Holy Spirit is pictured in the New Testament as a dove; here He is possibly depicted as a mother bird hovering over her chicks to protect them. Jesus expressed something of this concept when He lamented over the city of Jerusalem and said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). The Spirit hovered over the creation to guide and protect it, and so He does in the work of regeneration.
Scripture makes clear that one of the things that God and God alone can do is to bring life out of death and something out of nothing. The next thing that happened in creation was God’s creation of light: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). God did not need to turn a switch or rub two sticks together to create a spark to create the light. His sovereign command formed the light. In the same way, His divine power brings life where there is no life.
Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus, who had been dead for four days, and shouted in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43). When Jesus spoke those words, Lazarus’ heart instantly began to beat and pump blood. Brain activity resumed. Life returned to the body, and he came forth from the tomb. That is exactly what happens to us in our rebirth. The same Spirit who brought life out of the abyss and who brought Lazarus back from the grave raises us from spiritual death by causing us to be born a second time.

Chapter Three

THE ADVOCATE
In the nineteenth century, two philosophers in Europe made an enormous impact on their culture and on subsequent history. Both of them were very concerned about the corruption of Western civilization. Both of them described nineteenth-century Europe as decadent. But the two of them saw very different reasons for that decadence and proposed very different solutions.
One of them was Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55), a Danish philosopher. He complained that the reason for the decadence of civilization in his age was a failure to apply Christianity in a vital way to daily life. He believed that Christianity had largely become a dead orthodoxy that was dispassionate and removed from day-to-day matters. As he put it, his age was “paltry.” Therefore, he cried out for the return of passion to the Christian life. When he became discouraged about this, he liked to turn to the pages of the Old Testament, for there he found people who seemed more real. They were saints and sinners, and there was nothing phony, fake, or artificial about them. God really worked in their lives, and they, in turn, had a passion for Him.
Another professor once asked me, “How do you assess the strength of the church today?” I replied that it was becoming increasingly clear to me that many people in the church have a vibrant faith, believe the cardinal doctrines of Scripture, and so forth, but few of them see the Christian faith as a mission, as a profound concern in their lives. That was what Kierkegaard longed to see.
The other philosopher who decried the death of civilization was Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), a German. However, Nietzsche believed the biggest problem with Western civilization was the baleful influence of Christianity. He was convinced that the ethic of Christianity, with its virtues of meekness and kindness, had emasculated the human race. He felt that Christianity denied and undercut the most basic human passion of all—the will to power. Life, Nietzsche said, is a power struggle. All of us are engaged in a competitive enterprise, seeking dominance over others.
So, Nietzsche called for a new civilization that would be brought in by a new kind of human being, a new kind of existential hero, which he called the übermench, the “superman.” He described the superman as one who would build his home on the slopes of the volcano Mount Vesuvius. Thus, he would build his home in a place where it might be destroyed at any moment, should the volcano erupt. Likewise, he would sail his ship into uncharted seas. He might encounter sea monsters or tempests that would capsize his ship and kill him, but that would be no hindrance to the superman.
According to Nietzsche’s concept, the superman is chiefly a conqueror and his chief virtue is courage, for Nietzsche believed that courage was the main thing lacking in nineteenth-century culture. But when Nietzsche spoke about courage, he gave it a strange spin. He called for “dialectical courage.” In philosophy, the word dialectical has to do with a state of contradiction, wherein something stands as an antithesis to something else. These things can never be resolved. What, then, is dialectical courage? Nietzsche came to the conclusion that life ultimately is nihilistic or meaningless. He believed God is dead, and since there is no God, there is no such thing as absolute goodness or truth. There is no objective significance to human existence; life’s meaning is only what we make it. Therefore, we have to manifest courage in a world that is not so much hostile as indifferent, and this is what the superman will do. This is dialectical courage—courage in the face of the universe’s indifference. Nietzsche was saying, in essence: “Life is meaningless; therefore, have courage. Your courage is meaningless, but have it anyway.”
“ANOTHER HELPER”

What do Kierkegaard and Nietzsche have to do with the work of the Holy Spirit? In the upper room on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus gave His disciples some important promises regarding the Spirit. He told them that He was about to depart and that they could not go with Him, but He promised, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16). Some translations use the word “Comforter” instead of “Helper.” The Greek word that is translated as “Helper” or “Comforter” is parakletos; it is the source of the English word paraclete. This word includes a prefix, para-, that means “alongside,” and a root that is a form of the verb kletos, which means “to call.” So, a parakletos was someone who was called to stand alongside another. It usually was applied to an attorney, but not just any attorney. Technically, the parakletos was the family attorney who was on a permanent retainer. Any time a problem arose in the family, the parakletos was on call, and he would come immediately to assist in the struggle. That is the way it is in our relationship with the Holy Spirit. We are part of the family of God, and the family attorney is the Holy Spirit Himself. He is always present to come alongside us and help in times of troubles.
I believe that most New Testament translations in English do a poor job of translating parakletos, particularly those that render it as “comforter.” That translation misses the point. When Jesus said He would ask the Father to send the disciples another Paraclete, He was not talking about Someone who would come and heal their wounds when they were bruised and broken. Of course, one of the vital works of the Holy Spirit is to bring consolation to broken hearts; He is a balm in Gilead when we are in the midst of grief and mourning. But we must remember the context in which Jesus promised to send the Spirit—He was telling His disciples that He was about to leave them. They were going to be without Him in the midst of a hostile world, where they would be hated as He had been hated. Every moment of their lives would be filled with pressure, hostility, and persecution from the world. No one wants to enter that kind of scenario without help.
The translators of the King James Version chose to render parakletos with the English word “Comforter” because at that time the English language was more closely connected to its historical roots in Latin. Today, we understand the word comfort to mean ease and solace in the midst of trouble. But its original meaning was different. It is derived from the Latin word comfortis, which consisted of a prefix (com-, meaning “with”) and a root (fortis, meaning “strong”). So, originally the word carried the meaning “with strength.” Therefore, the King James Version translators were telling us that the Holy Spirit comes to the people of Christ not to heal their wounds after a battle but to strengthen them before and during a struggle. The idea is that the church operates not so much as a hospital but as an army, and the Holy Spirit comes to empower and strengthen Christians, to ensure victory or conquest.
“MORE THAN CONQUERORS”

So, Nietzsche said, “Life is meaningless, but have courage anyway.” Jesus also called His people to be courageous in the face of difficulty, adversity, and hostility, but He did not call them to a groundless courage. As we know, Jesus told His disciples, “Take heart” (John 16:33), or, as some translations put it, “Be of good cheer.” However, He did not simply tell them to take heart for the sake of taking heart. He gave them a reason why they ought to have a sense of confidence and assurance for the Christian life. He said, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Nietzsche wanted a superman, a conqueror. He should have looked to Christ. He overcame the world, and He did it in the power of the same Spirit that He sends to His people. The Holy Spirit comes to give strength and power to the people of God. As a result, the Scriptures say, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). That is a step above Nietzsche.
So, the work of the Holy Spirit supplements the work of Christ. Christ was the first Paraclete, who came to strengthen us by His atoning death. Now, the empowerment to live the life that Christ has called us to live comes to us by the Holy Spirit.

Chapter Four

THE SANCTİFİER
Have you ever wondered why the Holy Spirit is called “the Holy Spirit”? He is holy, of course, but God the Father is also known for His unblemished holiness, and that holiness is an attribute also of God the Son. There is no sense in which the Holy Spirit possesses a greater degree or measure of holiness than the other two members of the Trinity. So, it is not His superabundant holiness that leads us to call Him the Holy Spirit. Likewise, the Spirit is indeed a spirit, but God the Father is also a spirit, and God the Son is a spirit in His being, as the Logos, the second person of the Trinity. Thus, it is clearly not because He is a spirit that we designate the third person of the Trinity as the Holy Spirit.
There are a couple of reasons why the third person is known as the Holy Spirit. First, the term holy is attached to His title because of the particular task the Spirit performs in our redemption. Among the persons of the Trinity, the Spirit is the principal actor who works for our sanctification, enabling the process by which we are conformed to the image of Christ and made holy.
Christians often ask me, “What’s the will of God for my life?” They have all kinds of questions about who they should marry, what career they should pursue, and myriad other decisions. But the Bible is very clear about the principal will of God for our lives. The Apostle Paul writes, “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3a). At other times, I hear Christians speak of being led by the Spirit to do something. Yes, the Holy Spirit at times leads people to specific destinations or to specific tasks, but the primary leading of the Spirit, as set forth in Scripture, is to holiness. It is His power working in us that helps us grow in holiness. We need to be very careful to go to the pages of the Scripture to learn about God’s will and the leading of the Spirit, and not simply to listen to the popular teachings of the Christian subculture in which we live. So, a primary reason why the Holy Spirit is called the Holy Spirit is because it is His specific task to enable followers of Christ in their quest for sanctification.
Second, the third person is called the Holy Spirit because there is more then one kind of spirit. The Scriptures make a distinction between the spirit of man and the Spirit of God. But even more important for our consideration here, the Bible speaks about evil spirits, spirits who are not from God, demonic spirits that desire to impede the progress of the Christian in his quest for sanctification. The key difference between these evil spirits and the Holy Spirit is precisely at the point of holiness. Evil spirits are unholy, but the Holy Spirit is holy altogether. It is because of this distinction that the Apostle John warns us, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1a).
JUSTIFYING OUR SIN

I emphasize these points for this reason: In the Christian world, many of us are masters at justifying our sin, and one of the chief ways we do it is by saying we were led to do such and such by the Holy Spirit. This is not a problem that I encounter once every ten years. At least once a week I talk to a professing Christian who tells me he or she is getting a divorce without biblical grounds, entering into a marriage in opposition to the biblical qualification for marriage, or running a business according to unscriptural principles. They are doing this and that, and without fail they tell me they feel free to do it because “I prayed about it and God has given me peace” or “The Holy Spirit has led me to do this.”
When I hear these kinds of justifications for unbiblical behavior, I realize the people may actually believe what they are telling me, but they are not speaking the truth. They are speaking in error—very serious error. I know this for two reasons, and these reasons are grounded in two crucial designations about the character of the Spirit of God. The first is that He is the Holy Spirit. The second is that Jesus repeatedly called Him “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). The Holy Spirit never entices us to do something that is unholy. Neither does the Holy Spirit ever incline us to embrace a lie.
We refer to the Bible as the Word of God, and so it is. One of the reasons why the church has confessed its faith that the Scriptures are the Word of God is the biblical claim that the words of sacred Scripture were originally inspired by God the Holy Spirit. Of course, the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit not only inspired the writing of the biblical books, He works to illumine the Scriptures and to apply them to our understanding. Paul writes, “God is not a God of confusion” (1 Cor. 14:33a), and that includes the Holy Spirit. This means that the Holy Spirit never teaches us to do something that He explicitly forbids in sacred Scripture.
So, when the Bible says we are to test the spirits to see if they are from God, how are we to do it? What kind of a test should we employ? Obviously the test must be a biblical test, because we know that in the Scriptures we have the teaching of the Spirit of truth. Therefore, if I have an internal inclination, a hunch, or a desire, and I want to associate that internal leading with the Holy Spirit, but I also see that this inclination in my heart is clearly opposed to what is taught in Scripture, I have proof positive that I am confusing lust, covetousness, or some other internal feeling with the leading of the Holy Spirit. That is a ghastly thing to do.
We almost never hear about this in the Christian community these days, because Christians easily make themselves seem spiritual by saying that God laid this or that on their hearts or God led them to do various things. Every time I hear such a claim, I want to say to the person: “How do you know God laid that on your heart? How do you know that’s not a manifestation of your own ambition or your own avarice?” I want the person to show me the biblical basis for his claim. As I said above, I do not doubt that the Holy Spirit can put a burden on a believer and can lead a believer supernaturally, but He always does this within and through the Scriptures. He never goes against His own revelation in the Bible. So, the way to test the spirits is to judge them by the Spirit’s own truth.
HOSTILITY TO DOCTRINE

Part of our growth in sanctification is growth in our understanding of the things of God. Unfortunately, I have grave concerns about a movement that seems to be sweeping through the Christian world. I find that there is a pervasive indifference and sometimes hostility to the study of doctrine or theology. I have actually heard it said that there are two kinds of people in the church, people who think theology is important and people who do not think it is important. But there was a corollary comment—it was said that people who care about theology are not loving, and that is a problem because God is more concerned that we be loving than that we know theology.
I was deeply distressed when I heard that. Of course, I had heard expressions of antipathy to doctrine before, and I grant that the study of doctrine can lead to a dead orthodoxy that is not godly at all. I think we all know that it is possible to study doctrine as an intellectual exercise and have no love for God or for other people. But it is another matter to generalize this problem and conclude that if we do pursue the study of Christian theology, we absolutely cannot be loving, so the best way to be loving is to avoid theology. Think of the implications of that. Such a conclusion means that the best way to be loving is to avoid as much as we possibly can an understanding of the things of God. The study of theology is simply the study of the character of God, whose crowning virtue is love. Sound theology actually teaches the central importance of love and inclines us to love the God of the Scriptures and other people as well.
Such antipathy to doctrine usually is expressed in the context of a theological controversy. People can get nasty on both sides of theological controversies. But others shy away from all controversy. They often say, “I don’t care about this controversy or about doctrine in general, I just think we need to be more loving toward one another.” But is it loving to allow serious theological error to continue unchallenged? Was Paul unloving when he disputed daily in the marketplace about the things of God (Acts 17:17)? Was Jesus unloving when He contradicted the teaching of the Pharisees? Were the prophets of ancient Israel unloving when they rebuked and admonished the false prophets? Was Elijah unloving when he disputed with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18)? I cannot imagine someone in the crowd on Mount Carmel that day saying: “You people can follow Elijah if you want to, but I’m not going to. He may have truth on his side, but he is not loving. Look what he did to these prophets of Baal. How unloving!” Contending for the truth of God is an act of love, not a sign of an absence of love. If we love God, if we love Christ, if we love the church, we must love the truth that defines the very essence of Christianity.
I once heard another disturbing comment: “Christianity is about relationships, not about propositions.” The person went on to say that Christianity is also concerned about truth, but I could not quite put those two statements together. If the Christian faith is not about propositions, what kind of truth is it about? I believe the influence of existentialism in the culture in general and in the church in particular has produced something that was unknown in previous generations: relational theology. Simply put, relational theology is a theological system that has content and meaning determined by relationships. It is only a half step removed from pure relativism. This is the kind of theology that says if you believe that God is one and I believe that God is three in one, what really matters is our personal relationship. Truth is determined by the relationships, not by the propositions. For example, if I say Jesus died on the cross as an atonement and someone else says His death was not an atonement, we do not discuss it lest we sever our relationship. The relationship must be preserved even if the truth is lost.
THE GOAL OF KNOWING GOD

Emil Brunner, the twentieth-century Swiss theologian and one of the fathers of neoorthodox theology, wrote a little book titled Truth as Encounter. His thesis was that when we study the things of God, we are not studying truth in the abstract. We want to understand theology not merely so that we can make an A on a theology exam. We want to understand the doctrine of God so that we can understand God, so that we can meet the living God in His Word and deepen our personal relationship with Him. But we cannot deepen a relationship with someone if we do not know anything about him. So, the propositions of Scripture are not an end in themselves but a means to an end. However, they are a necessary means to the end. Thus, to say Christianity is not about propositions but about relationships is to establish an extremely dangerous false dichotomy. It is to insult the Spirit of truth, whose propositions they are. These propositions should be our very meat and drink, for they define the Christian life.
Recently I read some letters to the editor of a Christian magazine. One of them disparaged Christian scholars with advanced degrees. The letter writer charged that such men would enjoy digging into word studies of Christ’s teachings in the ancient languages in order to demonstrate that He did not really say what He seems to say in our English Bibles. Obviously there was a negative attitude toward any serious study of the Word of God. Of course, there are scholars who are like this, who study a word in six different languages and still end up missing its meaning, but that does not mean we must not engage in any serious study of the Word of God lest we end up like these ungodly scholars. Another letter writer expressed the view that people who engage in the study of doctrine are not concerned about the pain people experience in this world. In my experience, however, it is virtually impossible to experience pain and not ask questions about truth. We all want to know the truth about suffering, and specifically, where is God in our pain. That is a theological concern. The answer comes to us from the Scriptures, which reveal the mind of God Himself through the agency of the Holy Spirit, who is called the Spirit of truth. We cannot love God at all if we do not love His truth.
It is very sad to me that in today’s sophisticated Western culture, people are more familiar with the twelve signs of the Zodiac than with the twelve tribes of Israel or the twelve Apostles. Our world likes to see itself as sophisticated and technological, but it remains filled with superstition. Christians are not immune to this. We, too, can succumb to the new-age desire for the power to manipulate our environment. We do not have to go as far as accepting the foolish idea that the courses of the stars determine our destinies, our prosperity, our achievements, and our successes. However, it is equally superstitious to equate our feelings and inclinations with the leading of the Holy Spirit. It seems so much more exciting to live with a freewheeling openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit rather than practicing the laborious discipline of mastering His Word. This is exceedingly dangerous ground. If we want to do the will of the Father, we need to study the Word of the Father—and leave the magic to the astrologers.

Chapter Five

THE ANOİNTER
Throughout the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is a fleeting presence. He appears from time to time, but His ministry is never described in great detail. The one role He plays repeatedly is that of empowering leaders of Israel for their God-given tasks. These leaders were those who were given the “anointed” tasks of prophet, priest, and king. The Spirit rested on these men, though His presence with them was usually temporary; He anointed them to empower them for specific tasks.
There are numerous Old Testament examples of the Spirit anointing leaders: “The Spirit of the LORD was upon [Othniel], and he judged Israel” (Judg. 3:10); “Then the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah” (11:29a); “And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul” (1 Sam. 11:6a); “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward” (16:13a). Similarly, we see examples of the Spirit resting upon the prophets when they received their call to speak for God (1 Kings 17:2; Jer. 1:4). And the Spirit’s anointing of the priests is portrayed by their anointing in oil (Ex. 29:21). Again, however, these examples show that the Spirit’s anointing for ministry was limited. But the Old Testament gave hints that the nature of the Spirit’s anointing would be much broader and lasting someday.
One of these hints is found in the book of Numbers. We read there:

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it. (11:4–9)

Let me set the scene here. God redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt. As He led them through the desert toward the Promised Land, He cared for their daily needs, giving them miraculous provisions from heaven in the form of manna. At first, the people of Israel rejoiced in their freedom and the kind hand of providence that gave them food to eat every day. But soon they became dissatisfied. They forgot the whips, the torture, the sweat, and the impoverishment of their slavery; now their deepest dreams were filled with visions of the fish, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic they had eaten in Egypt. They were unhappy about having to eat the same thing, manna, for every meal. When I read about their dissatisfaction, I cannot help but chuckle. The grass really is always greener on the other side, or so we assume.
As the account in Numbers continues, we read, “Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the LORD blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased” (v. 10). It seems everyone was displeased at this point. In Moses’ case, however, it was much more. He was beside himself:

Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.” (vv. 11–15)

We can judge the depths of Moses’ despair by the words of the desperate prayer he made on this occasion: “God, if You like me at all, if You care about me at all, kill me right now, because I can’t take this anymore.” He had thousands of people screaming at him to give them something he had no way to provide. At that point, death seemed preferable to continuing to lead the Israelites.
God’s response was not what Moses expected:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone. And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the LORD, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?” ’ ” (vv. 16–20)

I think that the lesson here is this: Be careful what you pray for. The people were crying for meat, so God said: “OK, if you want meat, I’ll give you meat. I’ll give you meat for breakfast, meat for lunch, meat for dinner, and meat for a midnight snack, and not just for one or two days but for a whole month, until it is coming out of your noses.” God said He would give them meat until they could not stand the sight of it anymore.
It would seem that Moses should have been relieved at this news. God was going to give the people what they wanted, taking the pressure off Moses. It would have been logical for Moses to say: “Thank you, Lord, for taking charge of this situation. I appreciate it very much.” But this is not what happened. Instead, Moses had a crisis of faith. He said to God: “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” (vv. 21–22).
When Moses spoke of six hundred thousand men of foot, he was referring to the size of the Israelites army, the men who were ready for battle. This figure did not include the young boys, the children, the elderly, the infirm, or the women. He probably was responsible for well over 2 million people. Moses could not see any way that God could fulfill His promises to give this vast host of people meat to eat for a month.
I love God’s response: “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not’ ” (v. 23). Basically, God asked Moses, “Am I God or am I not God?” Then He challenged Moses to simply watch and see what He would do.
Hearing that, Moses said no more. He simply did as God had commanded him: “Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it” (vv. 24–25).
ASSISTANTS FOR MOSES

As we begin to explore this important incident, it is helpful to consider an earlier event that is recorded in Exodus 18. We are told that after God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, came to visit him at the Israelite camp at Sinai. During his visit, Jethro saw that Moses sat to decide disputes among the people from morning till evening (vv. 1–13). Then we read:

When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves. (vv. 14–26)

Moses took Jethro’s advice and appointed men to serve as judges under him, while he functioned as the “chief justice,” hearing the most difficult cases.
In the account in Numbers, God did something similar. God had told Moses to gather seventy men who were elders of the people and to bring them to the tabernacle (11:16). God was saying: “I will ease the burden of leadership on you. I am going to give you not just one assistant but seventy.” When they gathered, God took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and placed it on the seventy elders. As a result, there was no longer just one anointed leader in the camp, there were seventy-one of them.
Moses had been anointed by the Holy Spirit to act as the mediator of the old covenant. Now, God anointed seventy more people to participate in this work. It is significant that He did not give them an anointing of their own; rather, He disbursed the Spirit that was upon Moses among the seventy elders. When He did so, they all began to prophesy in a unique way, a way they had never done before and never did afterward. This outward manifestation showed that they had been empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Almost as a footnote, we then read: “Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp’ ” (vv. 26–27). This was scandalous. The people did not yet know that God had commanded this distribution of the Holy Spirit beyond the person of Moses to the seventy elders. When they observed Eldad and Medad prophesying, they were horrified that this might be the sign of a false prophet. So, they ran to inform Moses about it.
When the news reached Moses, his assistant, Joshua, was particularly upset: “And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, ‘My lord Moses, stop them’ ” (v. 28). Why did Joshua make this request? Was he opposed to prophecy? Was he against the power of the Holy Spirit? No, Joshua was simply concerned that this was a threat to Moses’ leadership. He saw it as an attempted uprising against the duly constituted authority of the Old Testament church.
Moses’ response is vital for our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. We read: “But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!’ ” (v. 29). Whereas Joshua protested the expansion of the anointing of the Holy Spirit to empower God’s people for ministry, Moses delighted in it. He even expressed the desire that God would place His Spirit on each and every one of His people.
In ancient Israel, during the time of Moses, this idea that the Spirit might rest on every believer was merely a hope or a prayer on the lips of Moses. Later, however, that hope became a prophecy. The prophet Joel wrote: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit” (2:28–29). Under the Spirit’s inspiration, Joel said that in the last days, God would pour out His Spirit on “all flesh,” that is, on all the people of God. The empowering of the Holy Spirit for ministry would not be limited to isolated individuals or to a small core of people, but every person in the fellowship of God would be so endowed.
PRAYER AND PROPHECY FULFILLED

What was a prayer for Moses and a prophecy for Joel became a historical reality on the day of Pentecost, when God took of the Spirit that was upon Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and distributed Him not to seventy but to all the believers.
Jesus had told the disciples that this would happen. In the book of Acts, Luke writes: “And while staying with them [Jesus] ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’ ” (1:4–5). One of the last things Jesus told His disciples before He ascended to His Father was that they should stay for a short time in Jerusalem so that they might receive the fulfillment of a promise the Father had made. He was alluding to the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the prophecy of Joel. He told them it would happen in the very near future.
Luke continues: “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’ ” (vv. 6–8). Here Jesus associated the baptism of the Spirit with power to be His witnesses.
In all the passages we have discussed—Numbers 11, Joel 2, and especially here in Acts 1—the anointing of the Holy Spirit is associated with some sort of endowment, some gracious divine gifting. The Greek word for this kind of gift is charisma. Thus, the gifts the Spirit brings are known as the “charismatic” gifts or the charismata. The Spirit gives these gifts to Christ’s church to empower the people of God to carry out the mission that Christ gave to His people—to bear witness to Him to the uttermost parts of the earth.
So, that was the promise. On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit indeed came upon the disciples with power:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?… We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:1–11)

Pentecost was an annual feast that was held in Jerusalem. Jewish pilgrims from all over the world came to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. So, there was a huge assembly of Jews from many regions speaking many languages. But the feast was interrupted by a supernatural event that was marked by a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit—tongues of fire that rested over the heads of the disciples—and an audible manifestation—the disciples spoke about “the mighty works of God” in the languages of all of those who were present.
After that anointing by the Spirit, the disciples were changed men. They began to preach that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior, and they would not be silenced even by threats of execution. Soon, they began to take the message of the gospel everywhere, just as Jesus had commanded them, and soon it was said of them that they had “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Such is the power of the anointing the Spirit gives to each and every person who trusts in Jesus Christ under the new covenant.
Martin Luther, the great German Reformer of the sixteenth century, spoke of “the priesthood of all believers.” Some take this to mean that there is to be no distinction in the church between clergy and laity, but that is not what Luther meant. He was saying that the work of the kingdom of God is not given solely to those who have the vocations of preacher, teacher, deacon, or elder. Rather, every Christian is called to participate in the ministry of Christ and in the ministry of the church. That can be intimidating, but with that call comes the gift of the Holy Spirit, who anoints and empowers all of Christ’s people to serve Him.

Chapter Six

THE ILLUMİNATOR
In the first year of my academic career, I was teaching at a college in western Pennsylvania. In the spring semester, a coed made an appointment with me to discuss a personal problem. She was quite distressed because she was experiencing what is sometimes called “senioritis.” She was in her last semester of her senior year, but she was not married, she was not dating, and she had no prospects for a relationship with a man at the time. She was a devout and earnest Christian, so she wanted to know whether it would be wrong for her to pray to find a mate. I told her that there was nothing at all wrong with praying that God would provide her with a husband, and I urged her to do so.
About two weeks later, she came to see me again, and this time she was filled with joy and elation. She said, “I’ve been praying for two weeks that God would give me a husband, and He’s answered my prayers.” I said, “You have met someone?” She said: “No, I haven’t met him yet. But I know I will very shortly. You see, last night I lucky dipped.” Now, I had never heard of such a thing as “lucky dipping,” so I asked her what she meant. She said: “Well, I was praying, and I had my Bible in front of me, and I asked God whether He was going to provide me with a husband. Then I closed my eyes, opened my Bible at random, and dropped my finger on the page. When I opened my eyes, my finger was pointing to Zechariah 9:9, which says: ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ That was God’s answer to my prayer. The Spirit revealed to me that I am going to be married.”
This was an example of “pneumatic exegesis,” which is just a fancy term for lucky dipping. It has to do with interpreting the Bible through some kind of spiritual machination. It does not simply border on magic and superstition, it crosses that border. This dear college student of mine had engaged in a way of interpreting Scripture that really is an offense against God the Holy Spirit. Turning the Bible into a magic talisman is certainly not according to the intent of the Spirit in His work of inspiring the Bible.
HOW THE SPIRIT USES THE WORD

There was a similar episode in the life of Augustine, the great theologian of the first millennium. Before his conversion, Augustine earned a reputation for living a wild, unbridled, and licentious lifestyle. His godly mother, Monica, prayed earnestly for a long time that her son would come to Christ. One day, as Augustine recounts in his memoir, Confessions, he was meditating in a garden, trying to understand the truth amid his confusion over the various philosophical systems of his day. Some children were playing a game nearby, and Augustine could hear them chanting an odd refrain: “Tolle lege, tolle lege,” which means, “Take up and read, take up and read.” Augustine found a copy of the Christian Scriptures and began to read where the pages fell open. They fell open to the book of Romans, where Paul said: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:13–14). When Augustine’s eyes fell on that text, he was stricken with guilt and awakened to the things of God. At that moment, he was born again by the Holy Spirit.
What is the difference between Augustine’s experience and the experience of my student in college? Augustine did not try to discern God’s will through a magical process. He simply picked up the Scriptures and happened to read in a certain place. Most important, God did not give the text Augustine read some meaning that the Holy Spirit did not intend when He inspired Paul to write it. Rather, the Spirit enabled Augustine to understand what the text really meant. There was no magic in it.
I was converted to Christ through a discussion in a college dormitory one evening in 1957. A fellow student who was a Christian was talking to me about the things of God and quoting all kinds of things from the Bible. Most of it went right over my head and I do not remember what he said. But he began to speak about the wisdom of God, and when he did, he opened his Bible to the book of Ecclesiastes and read a few verses, including this one: “If a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie” (11:3b). As I heard those words, suddenly I was overwhelmed by thinking about myself as a tree that had fallen and was lying inert, torpid, rotting in the woods. I saw that I was in just that spiritual condition; I was a fallen tree, and I would lie there forever unless God did something. That was not a misapplication of that text. I believe that God the Holy Spirit used that text to awaken me to saving faith.
These are examples of what we call divine illumination, yet another important work of the Holy Spirit. We must distinguish the Spirit’s work of illumination from His vitally important work of revelation. The Holy Spirit inspired the biblical revelation, the truth of God that is unfolded and unveiled for us in the Bible. This is information that comes to us ultimately from the mind of God Himself. Illumination, by contrast, brings no new information. It rests upon the information the Spirit has already given in the Scriptures. When the Spirit used that childish chant to provoke Augustine to read the text of Romans, He did not at that moment give new information for Augustine’s sake. Rather, He simply directed Augustine to read a passage of Scripture that was there for everyone else to read. But thousands and thousands of people had read that text and not seen themselves in it. They had not been convicted by it but remained untouched because they remained blind to its import and power. But Augustine experienced the illumination of the Spirit. In other words, the Spirit worked in Augustine to help him understand the truth of God in the words he read.
SEARCHING “THE DEPTHS OF GOD”

Christians are to be numbered among the illuminati, those who have been enlightened—not by some guru from the Himalayas, but by the Holy Spirit employing the light of God’s Word. We see this clearly in the Apostle Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, where we read:

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (2:6–10)

What does Paul mean when he says “the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God”? When we use the word search, we usually are referring to the act of trying to find something that we want to locate or discover. If I am on a quest for knowledge, a search for knowledge, I am trying to learn something I do not presently know. So, when Paul says the Spirit searches the depths of God, he seems to be implying that the third person of the Trinity is pursuing some knowledge that He lacks. But if we conclude that there are certain things the Holy Spirit does not know and needs to learn, our doctrine of the Trinity is destroyed. Such a lack of knowledge in the Spirit would deny His deity as a member of the Godhead. So, we must come at the question from the other direction, accepting what the rest of Scripture teaches about the Spirit—that He is a part of the Godhead and therefore omniscient. Thus, He does not search the depths of God to increase His own knowledge.
On the contrary, Paul is telling us here that the Holy Spirit searches the depths of God for us. The Spirit acts as a searchlight and shines on the text of Scripture when we read it, giving us the capacity to understand the meaning of it. When this happens, we see the truth of God intensely and sharply. Every one of us who is a Christian has had this experience sometime in his or her life. We are reading from the Scriptures, and suddenly a particular truth seems to jump off the page and pierce our souls. That is the work of the Holy Spirit in illumination.
In the year 1734, a sermon was preached at Northampton, Massachusetts, which I believe was one of the most important sermons ever preached on what is now U.S. soil. The man who preached it, Jonathan Edwards, is more famous for a different sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which he preached in Enfield, Connecticut, in 1741. Many anthologies of American literature include “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as a representative example of writing in Colonial New England. But the earlier sermon that I believe was so very important was given this title: “A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to Be Both Scriptural and Rational Doctrine.” This sermon is not very well known or widely circulated, but I think that if any sermon captures Edwards’ genius, it is this one. In this sermon, Edwards was speaking about supernatural illumination.
Edwards defines this spiritual light by saying:

And it may be thus described: a true sense of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the word of God, and a conviction of the truth and reality of them thence arising. This spiritual light primarily consists in the former of these, viz., a real sense and apprehension of the divine excellency of things revealed in the word of God. A spiritual and saving conviction of the truth and reality of these things, arises from such a sight of their divine excellency and glory; so that this conviction of their truth is an effect and natural consequence of this sight of their divine glory.

According to Edwards, the primary effect of the Spirit’s work of illumination is to awaken in us a sense of the divine excellence of the things of God. We may be persuaded that Christ is divine and still not grasp the sweetness of that idea. There may not yet be affection for Him in our hearts or souls. The Spirit awakens in us a sensibility to the excellence of the things of God. But He does not operate against the Word of God. The Spirit works in the Word, with the Word, and through the Word. In other words, He takes us to the revelation of God and shows it to us in such a way that He overcomes our natural hostility or bias against the truth of God and shows us the loveliness of it. Just as Ezekiel swallowed the scroll with its bitter words and found them suddenly sweet as honey in his mouth (3:3), so the words of God become sweet to all who view them under the searchlight of the Spirit.
Sproul, R. C. (2012). Who Is the Holy Spirit? (Bd. 13, S. iii–72). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

Easter Countdown- crucial questions, Archbishop Rosary

Crucial
Questions
No. 1
WHO IS JESUS?

IMG_0833

R. C. SPROUL
Reformation Trust
PUBLISHING
A DIVISION OF LIGONIER MINISTRIES · ORLANDO, FLORIDA

Who Is Jesus?

© 1983, 1999, 2009 by R. C. Sproul

Previously published as Who Is Jesus? (1983) and as part of Following Christ (1991) by Tyndale House Publishers, and as Who Is Jesus? by Ligonier Ministries (1999).

Published by Reformation Trust
a division of Ligonier Ministries
400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746
http://www.Ligonier.org
http://www.ReformationTrust.com

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from The Holy Bible, King James Version.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
Who is Jesus? / R. C. Sproul.
p. cm.–(The crucial questions series)
First published as: Who Is Jesus? 1983. Following Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1991. Who Is Jesus? Ligonier Ministries, 1999.
ISBN 978-1-56769-181-8
1. Jesus Christ–Person and offices. I. Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939– Following Christ. II. Title.
BT203.S67 2009
232–dc22
2009018825

Contents
One—WILL THE REAL JESUS PLEASE STAND UP?

Two—THE TITLES OF JESUS

Three—THE LIFE OF JESUS

Chapter One

WILL THE REAL JESUS PLEASE STAND UP?
There are vast numbers of portraits of Jesus in the art galleries of this world. These images are often so conflicting that they offer little help in achieving an accurate picture of what Christ looked like during the period of His incarnation. This multiplicity of images parallels the widespread confusion about Jesus’ identity that exists in the world today.
We need Christ—the real Christ. A Christ born of empty speculation or created to squeeze into the philosopher’s pattern simply won’t do. A recycled Christ, a Christ of compromise, can redeem no one. A Christ watered down, stripped of power, debased of glory, reduced to a symbol, or made impotent by scholarly surgery is not Christ but Antichrist.
The prefix anti can mean “against” or “instead of.” In language, there is a difference, but in life, it is a distinction without a difference, because to supplant the real Jesus with a substitute is to work against Christ. To change or distort the real Christ is to oppose Him with a false Christ.
No person in history has provoked as much study, criticism, prejudice, or devotion as Jesus of Nazareth. The titanic influence of this man makes Him a chief target of the arrows of criticism and a prime object of revision according to the interpreter’s prejudice. Thus, the portrait of the historical Jesus has been altered to suit the fancies of those seeking to line Him up on their side, to make of Him an ally in a host of militant causes, many of which are mutually exclusive. In the theologian’s laboratory, Jesus is treated like a chameleon; He is forced to adapt to the backdrop painted by the theologian.
Rigorous academic attempts have been made to get behind the New Testament portrait of Jesus, to discover the “real” historical Jesus. These attempts to penetrate the wall of history, to peek behind the veil of the so-called primitive apostolic witness, have taught us much about the prejudice of the scholars but have added little or nothing to our understanding of the real Jesus. What the scholars discovered behind the veil was a Jesus created in their own images according to their own prejudices. The nineteenth-century liberals found a “liberal” Jesus; the existentialists found an existential hero; and the Marxists discovered a political revolutionary. Idealists found an idealistic Jesus and pragmatists discovered a pragmatic Christ. To search behind or beyond the New Testament is to go on a snipe hunt equipped with the flashlights of pride and prejudice.
Then there is the scissors-and-paste Jesus. He is fashioned by those who seek within the Bible a core or kernel of tradition about Christ that is authentic. The things they see as unnecessary extras, the accretions of myth and legend, are excised by the scissors to expose the real Jesus. It seems so scientific, but it is all done with mirrors. The magician’s art leaves us with the portrait of Rudolf Bultmann or John A. T. Robinson, and again the real Jesus is obscured. By preserving a modicum of New Testament data, we think we have avoided subjectivity. However, the result is the same—a Jesus shaped by the bias of the scholar wielding the scissors and getting his hands sticky from the paste.
The story is told of the vagrant who knocked at the farmer’s door and politely inquired about employment as a handyman. The farmer cautiously put the man to work on a trial basis to measure his skill. The first task was to split logs for firewood, which the stranger finished in record time. The next task was to plow the fields, which he did in just a few hours. The farmer was pleasantly astonished; it seemed he had stumbled on a modern-day Hercules. The third task was less laborious. Taking the hired man to the barn, the farmer pointed to a large pile of potatoes and instructed him to sort them into two piles: those that were of prime quality were to be put in one receptacle and those of inferior grade in another. The farmer was curious when his miracle-working laborer failed to report in as rapidly as he had with the other tasks. After several hours, the farmer went to the barn to investigate. No perceptible change was evident in the pile of potatoes. One receptacle contained three potatoes and the other had only two. “What’s wrong?” demanded the farmer. “Why are you moving so slowly?” A look of defeat was written on the hired man’s face as he threw up his hands and replied, “It’s the decisions in life that are difficult.”
The scissors-and-paste method suffers from the problem of determining in advance what is authentic and what is myth in the biblical portrait of Jesus. What Bultmann discards into the basket of husks, another scholar puts into the basket of kernels. What Bultmann calls prime, another discards as inferior.
Evidence Is Compelling

The problem is simple. It lies not with the “shoddy” reporting of the New Testament authors or the “sloppy” documents of history we call the Gospels. It was Emil Brunner, the Swiss theologian, who blew the whistle on nineteenth-century liberalism. Brunner’s verdict was as simple as it was inflammatory. The problem, he said, is unbelief.
Brunner was not speaking about unbelief based on insufficient evidence. To withhold belief because the evidence doesn’t support the claims is an honorable and wise response. Likewise, to believe against poor evidence is credulity, the mark of the fool, and brings no honor to God.
However, the evidence about Jesus is compelling, so withholding belief in Him is to commit an immoral act. Unbelief is judged by Jesus not as an intellectual error but as a hostile act of prejudice against God Himself. This sort of unbelief is destructive to the church and to the people of God.
How could such blatant unbelief not only attack the Christian church but in several instances capture whole seminaries and even entire denominations? Why don’t people who reject the New Testament portrait of Jesus simply abandon Christianity altogether and leave the church to less-educated mortals who need a fanciful Jesus as a religious crutch?
The nineteenth century brought an intellectual and moral crisis to the church—the rise of liberal theology that flatly rejected the supernatural core of the New Testament. This crisis eventually pressed hard on very practical matters. If the leaders of a church or the faculty of a seminary wake up one morning and discover they no longer believe what the Bible teaches or the church confesses, what are their options?
The most obvious option (and the first expected of honorable men) is that they would declare their unbelief and politely leave the church. If they control the power structures of the church, however, they have practical questions to consider. By vocation and training, their jobs are tied to the church. The church represents a multibillion-dollar financial investment, an established cultural institution with millions of active constituent members and a proven effective vehicle for social reform. These factors make declaring unbelief to the world and closing the doors to the churches less attractive. The course of least resistance is to redefine Christianity.
Redefining Christianity is no easy task. Christianity has been given definition by two weighty factors: (1) the existence of a body of literature that includes primary sources about the founder and teacher of the Christian faith, Jesus of Nazareth; (2) the existence of two millennia of church tradition, which includes points of disagreement about particular issues of debate among denominations, but which reveals a remarkable unity of confession about the essentials of Christianity. To redefine Christianity requires one to neutralize the authority of the Bible and relativize the authority of the creeds. The struggle of the church for the past 150 years has been precisely at these two points. It is not by accident that the eye of the storm of controversy within the seminaries and the church in our day has focused on issues concerning the Bible and the creeds. Why? Not simply because of words on paper, but because of Christ. One must banish the Christ of the Bible and the Christ of the creeds in order to redefine Christianity.
The church is called “the body of Christ.” Some refer to it as “the continuing incarnation.” Surely the church exists to embody and carry out the mission of Christ. For this reason, the church is inconceivable without Christ. Yet the church is not Christ. It is founded by Christ, formed by Christ, commissioned by Christ, and endowed by Christ. It is ruled by Christ, sanctified by Christ, and protected by Christ. But it is not Christ. The church can preach salvation and nurture the saved, but it cannot save. The church can preach, exhort, rebuke, and admonish against sin, it can proclaim the forgiveness of sin and it can give theological definition to sin, but the church cannot atone for sin.
Cyprian declared, “He cannot have God for his Father who does not have the church for his Mother.” We need the church as urgently as a starving baby needs his mother’s milk. We cannot grow or be nourished without the church. Possessing Christ and despising the church is an intolerable contradiction. We cannot have Christ without embracing the church. However, it is possible to have the church without truly embracing Christ. Augustine described the church as a corpus permixtum, a “mixed body” of tares and wheat, of unbelievers and believers existing side by side. This means unbelief can gain entrance into the church. But it never can gain entrance into Christ.
The Christ we believe, the Christ we trust, must be true if we are to be redeemed. A false Christ or a substitute Christ cannot redeem. If it is thought unlikely that the biblical Christ can redeem, it is even less likely that the speculative Christ of human invention can redeem. Apart from the Bible, we know nothing of consequence concerning the real Jesus. Ultimately our faith stands or falls with the biblical Jesus. Lay aside theories of biblical inspiration if you must, doing so at our own peril, but even apart from inspiration the New Testament represents the primary sources—the earliest documents of those who knew Him, the record of those who studied under Him and were eyewitnesses to His ministry. They are the most objective historical sources we have.
Men Who Wrote with an Agenda

Some demur at this point, calling attention to the obvious fact that the New Testament portrait of Jesus comes to us from the pens of biased men who had an agenda. The Gospels are not history, they say, but redemptive history, with the accent on efforts to persuade men to follow Jesus. Well, certainly the writers had an agenda, but it was not a hidden agenda. The apostle John says forthrightly: “These [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
The fact that the biblical writers were believers and were zealous to persuade others counts for their veracity. Had they been unbelievers while exhorting others to believe, they would have been guilty of duplicity. Of course, men can be mistaken about what they proclaim, but the fact that they believed their own message, even unto death, should enhance rather than weaken their credibility.
Theirs was indeed a record of redemptive history. It was redemptive because they were not writing from the standpoint of neutral, disinterested historians. It was history because they insisted that their testimony was true.
At this point, a practical question emerges from the streetwise and the hard-nosed skeptic, who seeks to discredit the biblical Christ by exposing the apostolic Christ as a fantasy. They argue that if the closest associates of Jesus were biased (in that they were believers), laborious scholarship to discover the “real” Jesus makes little sense. If all we know about Jesus is learned through the witness of the apostles—if they are the “screen” through which we must gaze to see Him—our efforts seem pointless.
The answer is that the historical Jesus did not live in a vacuum; He is known at least in part by the way He transformed those around Him.
I want to know the Jesus who radicalized Matthew, who transformed Peter, who turned Saul of Tarsus upside down on the Damascus Road. If these firsthand witnesses can’t get me to the “real” Jesus, who can? If not through friends and loved ones, how can anyone be known?
If the apostles can’t lead me to Jesus, my only options are to scale the fortress of heaven by sheer mystical subjectivism, embracing the oldest of all heresies, Gnosticism, or to pitch my tent with the camp of skeptics who dismiss Jesus from the realm of significant truth altogether. Give me the biblical Christ or give me nothing. Do it quickly, please, as the options give me nothing save the frustration of fruitless laborious research.
Jesus said: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:36–37). Jesus put an enormous price tag on the human soul. For that, I am grateful. I like to think my soul has worth, and I would hate to squander it on an empty Christ, a Christ of subjective speculation. However, this is what we are doing when we embrace anything less than a real Christ. We are playing with human souls—the very souls Christ poured out His life to redeem.
Gaining a True Picture of Jesus

There are different methods we could use to arrive at our picture of Jesus. We could examine the classical creeds of the church, gaining valuable insight about the collective wisdom of the ages. We could restrict our study to contemporary theology in an attempt to study Jesus in light of our own culture. Or we could try our luck at our own creativity and produce yet another speculative view.
My choice is to look at Jesus as He is presented to us in the New Testament. Even if one rejects the revelatory character of the Bible or its divine inspiration, he must face one unassailable fact: virtually all we know about Jesus is recorded in the Scriptures. The New Testament writers are the primary sources of our knowledge of Jesus. If these sources are ignored or rejected, we are left with speculation and speculation alone.
We echo the cry of Erasmus, “Ad fontes!” (“To the sources!”), as we focus attention on the New Testament. No matter what advantages we may have from two thousand years of theological reflection, those years remove us from the virginal response of the contemporaries of Jesus who knew Him, who walked with Him, who observed Him in action, and who interpreted Him from the perspective of the Old Testament Scriptures. The biblical writers themselves are the primary sources, and it is their portrait of Jesus that must take priority in any serious study of this person. Outside of the New Testament writers, there are no more than three paragraphs of literature written in the first century about the person and work of Jesus.
When we go back to the biblical sources, we recognize that any attempt to understand Jesus must take into account the dangers imposed by our own minds. Though the New Testament is not a product of the twenty-first century, those of us who read it today are. Each of us has had some exposure to the idea of Jesus since we were children, if from no other source than from the simple displays that we saw in Christmas crèches during the holiday season. Though we may not have an exhaustive knowledge of the biblical Jesus, we are not ignorant of Him either. Every literate American has some information about Jesus and some opinion about Him. Our opinions may or may not be in harmony with the biblical portrait, yet we bring those assumptions to the text and sometimes create an attitude of prejudice that makes it difficult for us to hear what Jesus’ contemporaries were saying.
We also must be aware that Jesus is no mere figure of historical interest whom we can study dispassionately. We are aware of the claims that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. We realize that we must make a decision about Him for or against. We are also aware that many believe such a decision determines one’s eternal destiny. We sense that so much is at stake in our understanding of Jesus that we must approach the question not with indifference but with the understanding of who Jesus is. It is a question of ultimate significance to each one of us. Whether or not Jesus brings to my life an absolute claim is something I cannot intelligently ignore.
The New Testament writers give us an eyewitness account of Jesus of Nazareth. Luke begins his Gospel with the following words:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1–4)

Peter adds the following statement:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Peter 1:16)

The biblical records claim to be firsthand accounts given to us by men who were self-consciously and openly committed to following Jesus. Let us look briefly at the testimony of those who knew Him, loved Him, and gave their lives for Him.

Chapter Two

THE TITLES OF JESUS
A few years ago, a distinguished professor of New Testament was invited to address an academic convocation at a large seminary. A convocation in a university or seminary usually is attended with pomp and circumstance: The faculty members are adorned in full academic regalia as they march in procession to the front of the auditorium, and the guest speaker is expected to bring an address of weighty, scholarly material. Thus, on this occasion, when the New Testament professor entered the hall, there was a hush of expectancy as students and faculty waited with eager anticipation for his remarks. Being an expert in the field of Christology, the lecturer was expected to present an address revealing his most recent research in the field.
However, he stood at the lectern and began to recite a litany of the titles of Jesus drawn from the Scriptures. The litany went on for several minutes as the full impact of the titles, given without commentary, was felt by the audience. The professor stood and simply said with pauses in between: “Christ … Lord … Rabbi … Son of Man … Son of God … Son of David … Lion of Judah … the Rose of Sharon … the Bright and Morning Star … the Alpha and Omega … the Logos … the Advocate … the Prince of Peace … the only begotten of the Father … the Lamb without blemish.…” On and on it went as the man recited all of the titles that the biblical writers had conferred on Jesus.
These titles reveal something of His identity and give us a hint as to the meaning of His actions. It is customary in theology to distinguish between the person of Christ and the work of Christ. The distinction is an important one, but it must never involve a separation. Jesus is known in part by what He did. On the other hand, the significance of what He did is strongly conditioned by who He is. Though we may distinguish between person and work, we must never isolate the one from the other. When we look at the titles conferred on Jesus in the New Testament, we see an interplay between person and work.
Space does not permit an examination of all the titles ascribed to Jesus biblically, but let us examine briefly those that are generally considered His chief titles.
The Christ or the Messiah

The title Christ is so often used in conjunction with the name of Jesus that it has virtually become His name. One does not normally refer to Jesus as “Jesus bar Joseph” or even as “Jesus of Nazareth.” Rather, His full name is considered to be “Jesus Christ.” Because the term Christ is perceived to be a name, the full significance of it may be lost. Actually, Jesus is a name but Christ is a title. It is used more often than any other title for Jesus in the New Testament.
Christ comes from the Greek word christos, which means “anointed.” It corresponds to the Hebrew word translated “messiah.” When Jesus is called “Christ,” He is being called “the messiah.” If we were to translate the name and the title directly into English, we would say “Jesus messiah.” With this title, we are making a confession of faith that Jesus is the long-awaited anointed one of Israel, the Savior who would redeem His people.
In the Old Testament, the concept of the Messiah grew over a period of many years as God unfolded the character and role of the Messiah progressively. The term messiah initially meant “one anointed of God for a specific task.” Anyone who was anointed to perform a work for God, such as a prophet, a priest, or a king, could be called “messiah” in the broad sense. Slowly, through the prophetic utterances of the Old Testament, a concept was developed of the Messiah, one who would be uniquely anointed of God to fulfill a divine task. When the New Testament writers ascribed the fulfillment of those prophecies to Jesus, they made a statement of tremendous importance. They were saying that Jesus was the one “who was to come.” He fulfilled all the promises of God that converge in the person of the Messiah.
In the Old Testament, the concept of the Messiah is not a simple one, but has many nuances. There are different strands of messianic expectancy woven through the tapestry of these ancient books. At first glance, some of these appear contradictory. One of the main strands of messianic expectancy is the idea of a king like David who would restore the monarchy of Israel. There is a triumphant note in the expectation of a Messiah who would reign over Israel and put all enemies under His feet. This was the most popular variety of messianic expectancy at the time Jesus appeared on the scene. Israel had suffered since its conquest by the Romans and was bristling under the oppression of this alien yoke. A vast number of people were yearning for the fulfillment of the prophecies of the coming Messiah who would overthrow the Roman government and restore independence to Israel.
Another aspect of the concept of the Messiah was that of the Suffering Servant of Israel, the one who would bear the sins of the people. This notion is found most clearly in the Servant Songs of the prophet Isaiah, with Isaiah 53 being the chief text that the New Testament writers used to understand the ignominy of Jesus’ death. The figure of a despised and rejected servant stands in stark contrast with the concept of a royal king.
A third strand of messianic expectancy is found in the so-called apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament, the highly symbolic writings of men such as Daniel and Ezekiel. Herein the Messiah, or Son of Man, is seen as a heavenly being who descends to earth in order to judge the world. It is difficult to conceive how one man could be both a heavenly being and an earthly king, a cosmic judge and a humiliated servant, at the same time. Yet these are the three major varieties of messianic expectancy that were very much alive at the time of Jesus’ entrance to the world. In the following sections, I want to look more closely at these strands of expectancy.
The Son of David

The Old Testament reign of King David was the golden age of Israel. David excelled as a military hero and as a monarch. His military exploits extended the frontiers of the nation, and Israel emerged as a major world power and enjoyed great military strength and prosperity during his reign. But the golden age began to tarnish under Solomon’s building program and turned to rust when the nation split under Jeroboam and Rehoboam. The memories of the great days lived on, however, in the history of the people. Nostalgia reached a peak under the oppression of the Roman Empire as the people of the land looked to God for a new David who would restore the former glory to Israel.
The expectation surrounding the hope of a political Messiah was not born simply from nostalgia, but had its roots in Old Testament prophecies that gave substance to such a dream. The Psalms declared that one like David would be anointed as king by God Himself. Psalm 132:11 says: “The LORD swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: ‘One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne.’ ” Psalm 89 declares: “I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens. I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure for ever, his throne as long as the sun before me” (vv. 29, 34–36).
Not only in the Psalms but also in the Prophets we read of the future hopes for one like David. Amos, for example, proclaimed, “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen” (9:11).
These national hopes went through periods of fervor and dormancy in Israel, often depending on the degree of political freedom the nation enjoyed. In times of crisis and oppression, the flames of hope and expectancy were rekindled in the hearts of the people as they yearned for the restoration of David’s fallen booth.
With the advent of Jesus, the notion of the fulfillment of the seed of David’s royal Messiah was sparked afresh. It was not deemed a coincidence by the New Testament authors that Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, which had been promised the royal scepter by God. It was from the tribe of Judah, the tribe of David, that One was to come who would bring the new kingdom to Israel. The New Testament writers clearly saw the fulfillment of the Old Testament hope of a royal Messiah in the person of Jesus. This is seen in the central place of importance that the ascension of Jesus is given in the New Testament. Jesus is regarded as the Son of David who announces and inaugurates the kingdom of God.
There were times in Jesus’ ministry when He had to flee from the multitudes who sought to make Him king because their views of kingship were so narrow. Theirs was a kingdom that would be inaugurated without the price of death and suffering. The crowds had little time for a king who was to suffer. Jesus had to withdraw from the crowds repeatedly, and He cautioned His disciples about declaring openly that He was the Messiah. At no point did He deny that He was the Christ. When His disciples boldly proclaimed their confidence in His messiahship, Jesus accepted the designation with His blessing.
The poignant moment of messianic unveiling took place at Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Luke 9:18). The disciples told Jesus the scuttlebutt of the mobs: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Finally Jesus put the question to His inner core of disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replied with fervency, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:14–16). Jesus’ response to Peter’s confession is pivotal to the New Testament understanding of the identity of Christ. Jesus replied: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (v. 17). Jesus pronounced His benediction on the one to whom God had revealed His true identity. He acknowledged that Peter’s recognition of His identity was correct. It had not been gleaned from an examination of external manifestations; rather, Peter had recognized Jesus because the scales had been removed from his eyes by the revelation from God the Father.
On another occasion, John the Baptist greeted Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). But when John was arrested and cast into prison, his faith began to falter and he sent messengers to Jesus asking a pointed question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus responded to the messengers by saying, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (Luke 7:20–22). These words were not idly chosen. Jesus was calling attention to the prophecy of Isaiah 61, the text that He had read the day He entered the synagogue in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19). After He finished reading the scroll, Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). Essentially, Jesus’ reply to the message of John was this: “Tell John to read again the prophecies of Isaiah, and he will know the answer to his question.”
The Suffering Servant of Israel

The figure of the Servant of the Lord or “the Suffering Servant” spoken of by the prophet Isaiah is normative to the New Testament understanding of Jesus. Debates rage as to the identity of the author of Isaiah and the identity of the Servant in the author’s mind. Some argue that the Servant referred to Israel corporately, while others apply the role to Cyrus, and some to Isaiah himself. This debate will surely continue, but the fact that the New Testament authors found the ultimate fulfillment of this figure in Jesus is beyond dispute.
It is also clear that Jesus thought of His own ministry in terms of Isaiah’s prophecy, as we have seen from His statement in the synagogue and from His reply to John the Baptist’s inquiry.
It is not by accident that Isaiah is the most frequently quoted prophet in the New Testament. Prophecies from Isaiah quoted in the New Testament are not limited to Jesus’ suffering, but refer to Jesus’ entire ministry. It was the death of Christ, however, that riveted the attention of the New Testament authors to the Servant prophecies of Isaiah. Let’s look at Isaiah 53:

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Repeated study of Isaiah 53 augments rather than diminishes our astonishment at its content. It reads like an eyewitness account of the passion of Jesus. Here the principles of corporate solidarity and imputation of sin are clearly demonstrated. The scandal of Jesus is found in the centrality of His suffering as the way of redemption. The Messiah comes not only as King, but as a Servant who receives the chastisement for the iniquity of the people. In this, the one dies for the many. Any interpretation of the life and work of Jesus that fails to take this aspect seriously does radical violence to the text of the New Testament.
That the concepts of the royal King of Israel and the Suffering Servant of Israel were merged in one man is seen dramatically in the heavenly vision that unfolded before the apostle John on the Isle of Patmos. In one part of the vision, John was given a glimpse behind the veil of heaven. He heard the cry of the angel, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (Rev. 5:2). John reports with subdued emotion that no one was found worthy of the task. His disappointment gave way to grief: “I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it” (5:4). At that point, an elder consoled him, saying, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (5:5). An abrupt and marked change in the mood of the narrative follows, as a sense of excited expectancy replaces the atmosphere of despair. John awaits the appearance of the triumphal Lion. The irony is completed when John sees not the Lion but a slain Lamb standing in the midst of the elders. He records that the Lamb took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne, and thousands of angels sang, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive … honor and glory and blessing!” (5:12). Here the Lion and the Lamb are one and the same person. The Servant reigns as King.
The Son of Man

At the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century, the Christian church sought to find a formula that would call attention both to the full humanity of Jesus and to His full deity. The words the church settled on in A.D. 451 were “vere homo, vere Deus.” The formula meant that Jesus was truly man and truly God, calling attention to His two natures.
In the New Testament, we find that Jesus is called both the Son of Man and the Son of God. These two titles appearing in this way offer a strong temptation to assume that “Son of God” refers exclusively to Jesus’ deity and “Son of Man” refers exclusively to His humanity. However, approaching these titles in this way would lead us into very serious error.
With the title Son of Man, we stumble on something strange and fascinating. This is the third-most-frequently-used title for Jesus in the New Testament. It occurs eighty-four times, eighty-one of them in the four Gospels. In almost every case in which we find the title, it is used by Jesus to describe Himself. Thus, though it is only third in order of frequency of the titles that describe Jesus in the New Testament, it is number one with respect to Jesus’ self-designation. It was obviously His favorite title for Himself. This is evidence of the integrity of the biblical writers in preserving a title for Jesus that they themselves chose so infrequently. They must have been tempted to put their own favorite titles in Jesus’ mouth. It is commonplace in our day to argue that the biblical portrait of Jesus is merely the creation of the early church, rather than an accurate reflection of the historic Jesus. If this were the case, it would be extremely unlikely that the early church would put into Jesus’ mouth a title they almost never used themselves to describe Him.
Why did Jesus use the title Son of Man? Some assume that it was because of humility—that He shunned more exalted titles and selected this one as a humble means of identifying with lowly humanity. Certainly there is an element of that identification in it, but this title also appears in the Old Testament, and its function there is anything but a humble one. References to the figure of the Son of Man are found in Daniel, Ezekiel, and some extrabiblical writings of rabbinic Judaism. Though scholars disagree, the historic consensus is that Jesus adopted the meaning of the term Son of Man as it is found in Daniel’s visionary work.
In the book of Daniel, the Son of Man appears in a vision of heaven. He is presented before the throne of the “Ancient of Days” and is given “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14). Here the Son of Man is a heavenly being, a transcendent figure who will descend to the earth to exercise the role of supreme judge.
The testimony in the New Testament to the preexistence of Jesus is inseparably linked to the Son of Man motif. He is the one who is sent from the Father. The theme of the descent of Christ is the basis for His ascension. “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13).
It is not enough to declare that the New Testament writers confessed Jesus was a heavenly being. Jesus was not just any heavenly being—angels are heavenly beings, but they are not like Jesus. He was described in language restricted to deity alone.
It is interesting to compare the graphic description of Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days with John’s description of the Son of Man in the book of Revelation. Here is Daniel’s description of the Ancient of Days:

“As I looked,
thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.” (Dan. 7:9–10)

By comparison, here is John’s description of the exalted Son of Man:

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.… Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 1:12–16; 5:11–12)

That the Son of Man was a figure of splendor and power cannot be missed. His deity is seen not only in the Old Testament portrait, but in Jesus’ understanding as well. Jesus linked the Son of Man with creation by saying, “The Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). To claim lordship over the Sabbath is to claim it over creation. The Sabbath was not merely a piece of Sinaitic legislation but a creation ordinance given by the Lord of Creation. Jesus also said, “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins …” (Luke 5:24). Here, Jesus claimed an authority that, to the Jew, was a prerogative of God alone. The Jews did not miss the inference of these claims. They sought to kill Jesus precisely because His claims to deity came through loud and clear. The Son of Man came from heaven to judge the world. He would separate the sheep from the goats; He would come in clouds of glory at the end of the age.
The Son of Man who comes from heaven, however, is not one who is exclusively deity, but one who enters into our humanity through incarnation. It is probable that Paul’s concept of Jesus as the second Adam was an elaboration of the Son of Man motif.
In addition to the titles that came from these three strands of expectancy—Son of David, Suffering Servant, Son of Man—the New Testament uses a number of other titles for Jesus. Let us now look more closely at some of these.
Jesus as Lord

We have seen that Christ is the most-often-used title for Jesus in the New Testament. The second-most-frequent designation for Him is Lord. So important is this title to the biblical understanding of Jesus that it became an integral part of the earliest Christian creed, the simple statement, “Jesus is Lord.” Lord is the most exalted title conferred on Jesus.
Sometimes it is difficult for people in the United States to grasp the full significance of the title Lord. An Englishman of my acquaintance came to this country in the 1960s and spent his first week in Philadelphia visiting historic landmarks such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in order to familiarize himself with American culture. He also visited several antique stores that specialized in Colonial and Revolutionary memorabilia. In one such shop, he saw several posters and signboards that contained slogans of the Revolution such as “No Taxation Without Representation” and “Don’t Tread on Me.” One signboard particularly attracted his attention. In bold letters, the sign proclaimed: “WE SERVE NO SOVEREIGN HERE.” As he mused on this sign, he wondered how people steeped in such an antimonarchical culture could come to grips with the notion of the kingdom of God and the sovereignty that belongs to the Lord. The concept of lordship invested in one individual is repugnant to the American tradition, yet the New Testament boldly makes this claim for Jesus, asserting that absolute sovereign authority and imperial power are vested in Him.
The New Testament synonym for lord is the Greek word kurios. That word was used in several ways in the ancient world. In its most common usage, it functioned as a polite word for sir. Just as our English word sir can be used in an ordinary sense and in a special sense, so it was with kurios. In England, men who are knighted are given the title sir, and in that instance the word moves from the common use to the formal.
A second use of kurios in the Greek culture was as a title given to men of the aristocratic class who were slave owners. This title was used figuratively for Jesus throughout the New Testament, where He is called “Master” by His disciples. Paul frequently introduced his epistles by saying, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” The word he used is doulos. There could not be a slave (doulos) without a lord (kurios). Paul declared, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19–20). Here the believer is seen as a possession of Jesus. Jesus owns His people. He is not a despot or tyrant, as we might expect in an earthly slave/master situation. The irony of New Testament lordship is that only in slavery to Christ can a man discover authentic freedom. The irony is pushed further by the New Testament teaching that it is through a slave/master relationship to Jesus that a person is liberated from bondage in this world. This twist in teaching is found particularly in the writings of the apostle Paul.
The third and most important meaning of kurios was the imperial usage. Here the title was given to one who had absolute sovereignty over a group of people. It is a usage that was usually understood politically.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the title Lord was its relationship to the Old Testament. The Greek translation of the Old Testament used the word kurios to translate the Hebrew word adonai, a title used for God. The sacred name of God, Yahweh, was unspoken, often replaced in the liturgy of Israel with another word. When a substitute was used for the ineffable name of God, the usual selection was adonai, a title that called attention to God’s absolute rule over the earth.
In many versions of the Bible, both Yahweh and adonai are translated by the English word Lord, though a distinction between them is found in the method of printing. When Yahweh is translated, the word is usually printed with a large capital letter followed by small capitals: “LORD.” When adonai is the Hebrew word, it is printed “Lord.” Psalm 8, for example, begins: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” The Hebrew would be: “O Yahweh, our adonai, how majestic.…” Here, Yahweh functions as the name of God and adonai is used as a title.
One Old Testament passage that is quoted frequently in the New Testament is Psalm 110. Here we find something strange indeed. Psalm 110 reads, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand!’ ” Yahweh speaks to Adonai, who is seen as David’s Lord and is seated at God’s right hand. In the New Testament, Jesus is the one who is elevated to the right hand of God and receives the title Lord. This is the title that is “above every name” and is conferred on Jesus at His ascension. Jesus, being seated at the right hand of God, is elevated to the seat of cosmic authority where all authority in heaven and earth is given into His hands, and He receives the title Adonai that formerly had been restricted to God the Father. The exalted nature of the title can be seen not only from this context, but also from usage in its superlative form. When Jesus is called “Lord of lords,” there is no doubt what is meant.
The title Lord is so central to the life of the New Testament Christian community that the English word church derives from it. The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which is brought over into English in the word ecclesiastical. The English word church is similar in sound and form to other languages’ word for church: kirk in Scotland, kerk in Holland, and kirche in Germany all derive from the same root. That source is the Greek word kuriache, which means “those who belong to the kurios.” Thus, church in its literal origin means “the people who belong to the Lord.”
One puzzling note in the New Testament is this statement, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Some have pointed to this as a contradiction because Jesus says on other occasions that people do in fact profess that He is Lord without meaning it. Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with the somber warning, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord.’ … And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me’ ” (Matt. 7:22–23). Since it is evident that people can honor Christ with their lips while their hearts are far from Him, so that they can speak the words “Jesus is Lord,” what does the Bible mean when it says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit”?
There are two ways in which we can answer this question. The first would be by asserting what is tacitly understood in the text but left unspoken. That is, no one can say that Jesus is Lord and mean it except in the Holy Spirit. That would be sound theology, and we have literary license to fill in the unstated qualifier. However, there may be something more concrete in view here. At the time the text was written, Christians were considered enemies of the established order of Rome and guilty of treason for their refusal to subscribe to the cult of emperor worship. The test for loyalty to the empire was the public recitation of the words “Kaiser kurios” (“Caesar is lord”). Christians refused to recite this oath, even when it cost them their lives. When they were called on to utter it, they would substitute “Iesous ho Kurios” (“Jesus is Lord”). Christians were willing to pay their taxes, to give honor to Caesar where honor was due, to render to Caesar those things that were Caesar’s. However, the exalted title Lord belonged to Jesus alone, and Christians paid with their lives to maintain that assertion. The statement in the biblical text, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit,” may have referred to the fact that in those days people hesitated to make such a bold statement publicly unless they were prepared to take the consequences.
The Son of God

The New Testament recounts few instances when God was heard speaking from heaven. When He did, it was normally to announce something startling. God was zealous to announce that Jesus Christ was His Son. At Jesus’ baptism, the heavens opened and God’s voice was heard, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Elsewhere, the Father declared from heaven, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7). Thus, the title conferred from on high to Jesus is Son of God.
This title has engendered a great deal of controversy in the history of the church, particularly in the fourth century, when the Arian movement, taking its cue from its leader, Arius, denied the Trinity by arguing that Jesus was a created being. References to Jesus as “the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15) and “the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14, KJV) led Arius to argue that Jesus had a beginning in time and was thus a creature. In Arias’ mind, if Jesus was begotten, it could only mean that He was not eternal, and if He was not eternal, then He was a creature. Thus, to ascribe deity to Jesus was to be guilty of blasphemy, because it involved the idolatrous worship of a created being. The same controversy exists today between Christian believers and the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, both of whom acknowledge a lofty view of Jesus over angels and other creatures but deny His full deity.
This controversy precipitated in the great ecumenical Council of Nicea. The Nicene Creed provides an interesting answer to the charges of Arianism. The answer is found in the strange statement that Jesus is “begotten, not made.” To the Greek, such a statement was a contradiction in terms. In normal terms, begotten implies a beginning, but when applied to Jesus, there is a uniqueness to the way in which He is begotten that separates Him from all other creatures. Jesus is called the monogenes, the “only begotten” of the Father. There is a sense in which Jesus and Jesus alone is begotten of the Father. This is what the church was getting at when it spoke of Jesus being eternally begotten—that He was begotten, not made.
This uniqueness is found not only in Jesus’ eternal character, but also in the fact that Jesus’ sonship carries with it a description of intimacy with the Father. The primary significance of sonship in the New Testament is in its figurative reference to obedience. Thus, to be a son of God biblically is to be one who is in a unique relationship of obedience to the will of God. Likewise, the motif of the firstborn has more to do with preeminence than with biology. The term begotten is a Greek word filled with Jewish content. Nicea was not flirting with irrationality, but was being faithful to Scripture by using the strange-sounding formula “begotten, not made.”
The Logos

The title Logos is rarely used in the New Testament for Jesus. We find it prominently in the prologue to the Gospel of John, where we read, “In the beginning was the Word [Logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In spite of its infrequent use, this title became the focal point of the theological development of the Christian church’s understanding of Jesus in the first three or four centuries of church history. It was the dominant concept by which the theologians of the church considered their doctrine of Jesus. The great minds of Alexandria, of Antioch, of East and West, poured themselves into an exhaustive study of the meaning of this title. There were significant reasons for that. The title lends itself, perhaps more than any other, to deep philosophical and theological speculation. That is precisely because the word logos was already a loaded term, pregnant with meaning against the background of Greek philosophy.
As in the case with other titles we have considered, there is a common meaning and a more technical meaning to logos. The common meaning for the word is simply “word, thought, or concept.” English translations of the New Testament normally translate logos as “word.” However, from the prologue of John we see that logos had an exalted meaning as well. The word logic in English derives from logos, as does the suffix—ology, which often is attached to words designating academic disciplines and sciences. For instance, theology is “theoslogos,” a word or concept of God. Biology is “bioslogos,” a word or concept of life.
One Christian philosopher, Gordon H. Clark, has suggested that the early verses of John’s Gospel could be fittingly translated as follows: “In the beginning was logic, and logic was with God and God was logic … and the logic became flesh.” Such a translation may raise the hackles of Christians because it seems to represent a crass form of rationalism, reducing the eternal Christ to a mere rational principle. However, that is not what Dr. Clark had in mind here. He was simply saying that in God Himself there is a coherence, unity, consistency, and symmetry by which all things in this world hold together under His rule. God expresses this principle of coherency that comes from within His own being by His Word, which is itself coherent, consistent, and symmetrical. Christ is identified with the eternal Logos within God Himself, which brings order and harmony to the created world.
This principle of coherency forms the link between John’s Christianized view of the Logos and the concept that was found in ancient Greek philosophy. The ancient Greeks were preoccupied with finding the ultimate meaning of the universe and the stuff from which everything was made. They perceived the vast diversity of created things and sought some point of unity that would make sense of it all. As in the case of Greek art, the thinkers of the day abhorred chaos and confusion. They wanted to understand life in a unified way. Thus, in many theories of philosophy that came before the writing of the New Testament, the Greek word logos functioned as an important concept. We think for example of Heraclitus, an early Greek philosopher, who is still revered by many as the patron saint of modern existentialism. Heraclitus had a theory that everything was in a state of change and that all things were composed ultimately of some form of fire. However, Heraclitus required some explanation for the origin and root of things, and he located that in an abstract theory of a logos.
We find the same concept in Stoic philosophy and even earlier in pre-Socratic philosophy. In early Greek thought, there was no concept of a transcendent personal God who created the world in order and harmony by His wisdom and sovereignty. At best, there was speculation about an abstract principle that ordered reality and kept it from becoming a blur of confusion. This abstract principle they called a “nous” (which means “mind”) or the “logos,” an impersonal, philosophical principle. The concept of logos was never considered as a personal being who would become involved with the things of this world; the idea functioned merely as an abstraction necessary to account for the order evident in the universe.
The Stoics whom Paul debated at Mars Hill had a notion that all things were composed of an ultimate seminal fire, which they called the Logos Spermatikos. This referred to the seminal word, the word that contains procreative power, the word that begets life and order and harmony. We have all heard the expression, “Every person has a spark of divinity in him.” This notion did not originate from Christianity but from the Stoics. The Stoics believed that every individual object had a piece of the divine seminal fire in it, but again, the logos in the Stoic concept remained impersonal and abstract.
By the time the Gospels were written, the notion of logos was a loaded philosophical category. The apostle John dropped a theological bombshell on the philosophical playground of his day by looking at Jesus and talking about Him not as an impersonal concept but as the incarnation of the eternal Logos. He did not use the term in the same way that the Greeks did, but he baptized it and filled it with a Jewish-Christian meaning. For John, the Logos was intensely personal and radically different from that which was found in Greek speculative philosophy. The Logos was a person, not a principle.
The second scandal to the Greek mind was that the Logos should become incarnate. For the ancient Greek, nothing was more of a stumbling block than the idea of incarnation. Because the Greeks had a dualistic view of spirit and matter, it was unthinkable that God, if He really existed, should ever take on Himself human flesh. This world of material things was viewed as being intrinsically imperfect, and for the Logos to clothe Himself in the garb of a material world would be abhorrent to anyone steeped in classical Greek philosophy. The apostle John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, looked at the personal, historical Christ and saw in Him the manifestation of the eternal person by whose transcendent power all things hold together. This concept, perhaps more than any other, gave clear attention to the deity of Christ in His total cosmic significance. He is the Logos that created the heaven and the earth. He is the transcendent power behind the universe. He is the ultimate reality of all things.
John said the Logos is not only with God, He is God. There is no more direct statement or more clear affirmation of the deity of Christ to be found anywhere in Scripture than in the first verse of John’s Gospel. The Greek literally reads, “God was the Word” (usually translated in English as “The Word was God”). Modern Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have tried to obviate this passage by clever distortions. Some of their translations change the text and simply say, “The Word was like God.” The Greeks had a word for “like” that is found nowhere in this text of John. The simple structure, “God was the Word,” can mean only an identification between Jesus and deity. Another way the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses seek to get around this passage is by arguing that the definite article is not present in the text. They assert that since the Bible does not say the Word was the God, it simply says the Word was God, and that this does not carry with it the weight of an affirmation of deity. Thus, we would be left with the statement that the Word was “a god.” If that was what John was trying to communicate, the problems that this solution raises are greater than those it solves. It leaves us with John affirming a crass kind of polytheism. In the context of biblical literature, it is clear that there is but one God. The Bible is monotheistic from the beginning to the end. The absence or presence of the definite article has no theological significance whatsoever in this text.
There is some difficulty with the text in that the Word is said to be both with God and to be God. Here we find that the Word is both distinguished from God and identified with God. It is because of texts such as this that the church found it necessary to formulate its doctrine of God in terms of the Trinity. We must see a sense in which Christ is the same as God the Father and yet be able to distinguish Him from the Father. The idea of distinguishing and yet identifying is not something that is an intrusion on the New Testament text but a distinction that texts such as John 1 demand. The Father and the Son are one being, yet distinguished in terms of personality as well as by the work and ministry they perform.
In the first chapter of John, the idea of the Logos being “with” God is significant. The Greek language has three words that can be translated by the English word with. The first is sun, which is rendered in English as the prefix syn. We find it in words such as synchronize, syncretism, synagogue, and so on. A synagogue, for example, is a place where people come together with other people. To “be with” in the sense of sun is to be present in a group, to be gathered with other people. This refers to a collection of people.
The second word that can be translated by the English word with is meta, which means “to be alongside.” When we think of people being alongside each other we think of them standing side by side. If I were to walk down the street side by side with a person, I would be with him in the sense of meta.
The Greek language has a third word that can be translated “with,” and it is pros. This is found less frequently than the others, but it is in the root word for another Greek word, prosepone, which means “face.” This kind of “with-ness” is the most intimate of all types. John is saying here that the Logos existed with God, pros God, that is, face to face in a relationship of eternal intimacy. This was the kind of relationship the Old Testament Hebrew yearned to have with his God. The Logos enjoys this kind of intimate, face-to-face relationship with the Father from all eternity. The Father and Son are one in their relationship as well as in their being.
In John’s prologue (1:1–14), the concept of the Logos comes to a climax as we read, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us … we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” The word translated “dwelt” here literally means to “pitch his tent among us.” Even as God dwelt with the people of Israel in the Old Testament by means of a tabernacle, so the New Testament tabernacle is the incarnate Word, the Logos who embodies the truth of God Himself. He is the mind of God made flesh, coming to dwell with us in flesh and blood. When He makes His appearance, it is a manifestation of glory. As John tells us, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (1:4).
Jesus as Savior

There are other titles of note ascribed to Jesus. He is the Rabbi, the second Adam, the Mediator. But no title captures His work more completely than Savior. The believers of the early church bore witness to this when they used the sign of the fish as their cryptic signal of identification. The acrostic formed by the letters of the Greek word for “fish” stands for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”
God Himself named Jesus as an infant. Jesus means “the Lord saves” or “the one through whom the Lord saves.” Thus, Jesus’ own name carries within it the idea of savior. His titles—Logos, Messiah, Son of Man—all indicate Jesus’ qualifications to be the Savior of men. He alone has the credentials to offer atonement, to triumph over death, to reconcile people to God.
Here is where the relevance of Jesus crashes into our lives, bringing crisis. Here is where we step over the line of detached scholarly investigation and into the realm of personal vulnerability. We argue endlessly over matters of religion and philosophy, about ethics and politics, but each person must ultimately face the personal issue squarely: “What do I do about my sin?”
That I sin and that you sin is debated by none save the most dishonest of men. We sin. We violate each other. We assault the holiness of God. What hope do we have in such dreadful turmoil? We can deny our sin or even the existence of God. We can exclaim that we are not accountable for our lives. We can invent a God who forgives everybody without requiring repentance. All such avenues are established in delusion. There is but one who qualifies as Savior. He alone has the ability to solve our most abysmal dilemma. He alone has the power of life and death.
The titles of Jesus tell us who He is. Contained in them, however, is a thesaurus of insights into what He did. His person and His work meet in the drama of life. We move now to a consideration of the chronology of His career, highlighting those episodes in which person and work merged in the divine/human plan of redemption.

Chapter Three

THE LIFE OF JESUS
The records of Jesus’ life and ministry cause controversy from the very start. The extraordinary narrative of the circumstances surrounding His conception and birth provokes howls of protest from the critics of supernaturalism. They must begin their work of demythologizing early, wielding scissors on the first page of the New Testament. Following Matthew’s table of genealogy, the first paragraph of the first Gospel reads as follows: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18).
Though the New Testament is replete with miracles surrounding the person of Jesus, none seems more offensive to modern man than the virgin birth. If any law of science is established as immutable and unbreakable, it is that human reproduction is not possible without the conjoining of the male seed and the female egg. We may have developed sophisticated methods of artificial insemination and “test-tube” intrauterine implantations, but in some manner the reproduction process requires the contribution of both genders of the race to succeed.
Thus, the birth of Jesus violates the inviolable; it mutates the immutable; it breaks the unbreakable. It is alleged to be an act that is pure and simple contra naturam. Before we even read of the activities of Jesus’ life, we are thrust headfirst against this claim. Many skeptics close the door on further investigation after reading the first page of the record. The story sounds too much like magic, too much like the sort of myth and legend that tends to grow up around the portraits of famous people.
The arguments against the virgin birth are many. They range from the charge of borrowing mythical baggage from the Greek-speaking world, with parallels evident in pagan mythology (Ovid’s Metamorphosis is cited as “Exhibit A”), to the scientific disclaimer that the virgin birth represents an empirically unverifiable unique event that denies all probability quotients. Some have offered a desperate exegetical argument trying to show that the New Testament doesn’t teach the idea of virgin birth. This we call the exegesis of despair.
The real problem is that of miracle. It doesn’t stop with the birth of Jesus but follows Him through His life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. The life of Jesus carries the aura of miracle wherever it is described in the primary sources. A “de-miraclized” Jesus is not the biblical Jesus, but the invention of those who cannot abide the biblical proclamation. Such a Jesus is the Jesus of unbelief, the most mythical Jesus of all, conjured up to fit the preconceived molds of unbelief.
Behind the problem of miracle are certain assumptions about the reality of God the Creator. Matthew’s infancy narrative raises questions not only about parthenogenesis but about genesis itself. Creation is the unique event to beat all unique events. It’s not so amazing that a God who has the power to bring the universe into being from nothing (ex nihilo)—without preexistent matter to work with, without means, but by the sheer omnipotent power of His voice—can also produce the birth of a baby by supernaturally fertilizing a material egg in a woman’s womb. What defies logic is that a host of theologians grant the former but deny the latter. They allow the supernatural birth of the whole but deny the possibility of the part. We have to ask the painful question: Do they really believe in God in the first place, or is espoused belief in the Creator merely a societal convention, a veil to a more fundamental unbelief?
The Ironclad Law of Causality

Perhaps the most ironclad law of nature is the law of causality. Effects require causes. If the universe is an effect, in whole or in part, then it requires a cause that is sufficient to the effect. The cause may be greater than its effect, but it certainly cannot be lesser. Modern science has not repealed the law of causality, though some injudicious thinkers have sought to do so when prejudice requires it. The other option to causality is that something comes from nothing—no cause is asserted: no material cause, no efficient cause, no sufficient cause, no formal cause, no final cause. Such a theory is not science but magic. No, it cannot even be magic; magic requires a magician. The law that something cannot come from nothing (ex nihilo nihil fit) remains unassailable.
Does not Christianity assert a universe that comes from nothing? Do we not assert an ex nihilo creation? Indeed we do. However, that “nothing” has reference to the absence of a material cause. There is a sufficient cause for the universe. There is an efficient cause for the universe. There is a God who has within Himself the power to create. God has the power of being within Himself. Such an assertion is not gratuitous, nor is it the mere dogmatic assertion of religion. It is a dictate of science and reason. If something is, then something intrinsically has the power of being. Somewhere, somehow, something must have the power of being. If not, we are left with only two options: (1) being comes from nothing or (2) nothing is (a contradiction). These options would be more miraculous than miracles if such were possible.
Some seek to escape the dilemma by pointing to the universe itself or to some undiscovered part of it as the eternal source of being. They try to explain the present world by saying that a supernatural or transcendent being is not required to account for the presence of being. To argue in this manner is to slip into a serious confusion of language. The universe daily exhibits effects. Nature changes. The very meaning of supernature or transcendence refers to questions of being. A being is said to be transcendent not because it is spatially or geographically located on the far side of Mars but because it has a special power of being—a higher order of being—defined precisely as that which has the power of being within itself. Wherever or whatever it is is beside the point. I know it does not reside in me. I am not it. My very existence depends on it—without it I pass into nothing. I know I am an effect and so was my mother and her mother before her. If we retrace the problem infinitely, we compound the problem infinitely. Modern man strains out the gnat and swallows the camel when he thinks he can have an existing world without a self-existing God.
The question of the virgin birth is not so much a philosophical question as it is a historical one. If one whom we call God has the power of being—sovereign efficient and sufficient causal power—then we cannot rationally object to the virgin birth on the grounds that it couldn’t happen.
The real issue is not could it happen but did it happen. It becomes then a question of history and drives us once again to the historical sources. Those sources must be accepted or rejected on the basis of their credibility, a credibility that may not be predetermined by philosophical prejudice. The purpose of this chapter is not primarily to assess the veracity of these historical sources—that requires a separate work—but to rehearse their content that we may examine the only historical portrait of Jesus we have.
The Birth of Jesus

Matthew begins with a sober and bold declaration: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way” (Matt. 1:18, emphasis added). Matthew purports to tell us not only what happened but how it happened.
Matthew focuses sharply on the extraordinary character of Jesus’ birth, capturing the agony of Joseph’s consternation. Joseph was a simple man, not privy to the sophisticated technology of our day. He knew nothing of in vitro fertilization and was unfamiliar with debates about parthenogenesis. He did not understand the simple rules of biology that are common knowledge to today’s tenth-grade student. He lived in a prescientific age in a prescientific community. Still, Joseph did not have to be a skilled biologist to know that babies don’t come from the stork. We must remember that virgin births were as rare in the first century as they are in the twenty-first.
Joseph was vulnerable in extremis. He had committed his life to Mary, trusting her purity in a society where adultery was scandalous. His betrothed came to him with a crushing revelation: “Joseph, I am pregnant.” Mary then proceeded to explain her condition by telling Joseph that she had been visited by an angel who declared that she would be with child by the Holy Spirit. Joseph responded by tenderly considering “to divorce her quietly.” There is no evidence of acrimony or furious rage by Joseph. He chose not to have her stoned, but began thinking of ways to protect Mary from the consequences of her delusions.
It is clear from the biblical text that Joseph was the first hard-core skeptic of the virgin birth—until an angel visited him and made him a convert to the “delusion.” Nothing else would do. What man would believe such a story with less than miraculous evidence to attest it?
The road from Jesus’ conception to His birth, from Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph to the shepherds outside Bethlehem, was surrounded by angels. They appeared at every turn, saturating the event with the supernatural.
With the activity of angels in full play, the critic works overtime with his scissors. He needs an electric knife to do the job, as angels appear at the birth, the temptation, the resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus. They are promised as part of the retinue of His return. The words angel or angels appear more frequently in the New Testament than the word sin. They appear more often than the word love. Put the scissors to angels and you are engaged, not in biblical criticism, but in biblical vandalism.
Pilgrims flock daily to the sacred sites of the life of Jesus. They follow the route of the Via Dolorosa; they argue about the authentic site of Golgotha and the garden tomb. Modern mountains compete for recognition as the locus of the Sermon on the Mount. Yet the field outside Bethlehem is not under dispute as the place where the glory of God was made visible to peasant shepherds, where the feet of angels stood in the dust of earth. The panorama of blazing effulgence sent these men to Bethlehem, obeying the mandate, “Go and see.”
The Baptism of Jesus

The beginning of Jesus’ public ministry was marked by His coming to the Jordan River and presenting Himself to John the Baptist for baptism. Baptism is commonplace for us today, one of the most established of all liturgical activities in the practice of the Christian faith. Twenty-first-century Christians are not surprised by the fact that Jesus was baptized, nor are we particularly excited about the ministry of John the Baptist. To a first-century Jew, however, the activity of John the Baptist was regarded as radical.
In light of the New Testament’s teaching, Christians today understand baptism to be a sign of cleansing from sin. Yet the New Testament teaches that Jesus was without sin. Why would the sinless Son of God come forward and present Himself for baptism when it symbolized a cleansing from sin?
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” (Matt. 3:1–3)
The biblical narrative does not begin with the public ministry of Jesus but rather with the public ministry of John the Baptist. The voice of prophecy had been silenced in Israel for four hundred years. Between the time of Malachi and the ministry of John the Baptist, there had not been heard a single prophetic utterance. The coming of John the Baptist marked a significant departure, not only in the national history of Israel, but in what we call redemptive history. Something new was on the scene as John came fulfilling the portrait and the character of the forerunner of the Messiah.
The last prophecy found in the last paragraph of the Old Testament reads:

Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Mal. 4:4–6)

The last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, said that before the Messiah would appear, the prophet Elijah would return. For centuries the people of Israel waited, planned, and looked for the return of Elijah. When Elijah left this world, his departure was extraordinary. He escaped the normal pangs of death, being taken up bodily into heaven in a chariot of fire. Because of his unusual departure, there was a mystique attached to this man.
The figure of John the Baptist was a strange one. He came out of the desert, the traditional meeting place between God and His people, where prophets went to commune with God and receive their marching orders from Yahweh. He was dressed in bizarre clothes, wearing a loincloth of camel hair. He ate wild locusts and honey. In short, he looked like a wild man, a misfit in society. In this, he echoed the style of Elijah.
The public response to John the Baptist was electric. As the masses poured out to see Him, the Sanhedrin sent delegates to the Jordan River to investigate. The first question they asked was, “Are you Elijah?” John replied mysteriously, “I am not … I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’ ” John said he was not Elijah. When Jesus was asked the same question about John the Baptist, He declared to His disciples, “He is the Elijah who was to come” (Matt. 11:14, NIV). His declaration was couched in enigmatic words of preface: “If you are willing to accept it.” Jesus was announcing that the Old Testament prophecy of Malachi was fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist. There was no exact identity between John and Elijah—John was not the reincarnation of Elijah. However, he reestablished the ministry, the power, and the office of Elijah. He came in the spirit of Elijah, fulfilling the mission of Elijah.
When we pose the question, “Who is the greatest prophet in the Old Testament?” the list of candidates usually includes such prophetic titans as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or Daniel. One stands above them all, laying claim to this singular honor—John the Baptist. John was an Old Testament prophet. His ministry is recorded in the New Testament, but his activity took place in what was still Old Testament history. Jesus declared, “All the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John” (Matt. 11:13). The word until in the text carries the force of “up to and including.” John both closes the Old Testament line of prophets and provides a bridge, a transition to the New Testament.
Jesus declared that “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11). How can this be? Suppose I qualify for the rank of least in the kingdom. Does that make Sproul greater than John the Baptist? Greater in what sense? More devout? More righteous? More knowledgeable? God forbid. Jesus was saying that anyone who lives on this side of the cross, this side of the resurrection, this side of the new covenant, this side of the inauguration of the kingdom of God, enjoys a far better situation, a far greater blessedness than John the Baptist. John was an eyewitness of Jesus of Nazareth and the herald of the coming kingdom of God, but he died before the kingdom was inaugurated.
John belongs to the Old Testament line of prophets, yet he differs from all of them at a crucial point. The Old Testament prophets predicted that someday the Messiah would come, a “someday” obscured by vague references to the future. John was tapped by God to be the herald, the escort who ushered in the Messiah. The “someday” became John’s day. His message was not, “Repent for the kingdom is coming,” but rather, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). It was at hand!
John used two important metaphors to call attention to the urgency of the hour. He said, “the axe is laid to the root of the trees” and “his winnowing fork is in his hand” (Luke 3:9, 17). John’s images conjure up the vision of a woodsman who goes into the forest with his axe and begins to chop away at a huge tree. He penetrates the outer edge of the wood and sees that an enormous task remains. As his work progresses, the axe penetrates to the inner core of the tree, and the giant oak totters on one slender thread of wood. One more blow from the axe brings the tree crashing to the ground. This is the moment of breakthrough. John was declaring that the kingdom was about to come crashing through.
The image of the farmer with his “fork” in his hand was drawn from the agricultural environment of John’s day. John was referring to the winnowing tool farmers used to separate the wheat from the chaff. The farmer scooped up the mixture of wheat and chaff and pitched it in the air, where the zephyrs of wind were strong enough to carry the chaff away. The farmer had gone beyond the time of preparation. He had already been to the tool shed to fetch his winnowing fork. The moment had come to pick up the fork for the task of separation. John speaks to the moment of history, the crisis moment when men will be judged whether they are for the kingdom of God or against it. The King has arrived, and His arrival brings crisis to mankind.
The baptism John initiated had many points of continuity and parallel with the later rite of baptism Jesus instituted, which became a church sacrament, but they were not precisely the same. John’s baptism was designed and directed exclusively for Israel, to call the Jewish nation to readiness for the coming of their king. The roots of baptism are found in the Old Testament, where converts to Judaism from the Gentile world were subjected to a cleansing rite called proselyte baptism. For a Gentile to become a Jew, he had to do three things. He had to make a profession of faith in which he embraced the teachings of the law and the prophets; he had to be circumcised; and he had to be purified by the bath of proselyte baptism. The Gentile was considered impure and unclean. To enter into the household of Israel he had to take a bath. The radical dimension of John’s ministry was that he suddenly demanded that Jews submit to baptism. The rulers of Israel did not miss the scandalous offense of John’s message. John was saying: “The kingdom of God is coming and you are not ready. In the sight of God, you are as unclean and as impure as a Gentile.” The humble people of the community acknowledged their need for cleansing, but the clergy were furious. John’s ministry stirred up so much popular reaction that the great Jewish historian Josephus gave more space to his record of John the Baptist than to Jesus.
When Jesus appeared at the Jordan, John burst into a litany of praise, lauding Jesus as the Lamb of God. He declared that Jesus must increase while he must decrease, and that he, John, was unworthy to reach down and untie Jesus’ shoes. These exalted statements fell to the ground when Jesus stepped forward and said to John, “I want you to baptize Me.” John was incredulous and shrank in horror at the suggestion that he should baptize the Christ. John sought to turn the tables and have Jesus baptize him, but Christ refused.
John’s understanding of theology was limited. He knew the Messiah must be the Lamb of God and he knew that the paschal lamb must be without blemish. But he was distressed that Jesus approached the river as a soiled Jewish person who needed to take a bath.
The precise words that Jesus spoke to John are important for our understanding of this event: “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). With these words, Jesus stifled a lengthy discussion about theology. In effect, He said: “Just do what I tell you, John. There is time later to seek understanding of it.”
Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. This was consistent with His mission to keep every jot and tittle of the law. Jesus took on Himself every obligation that God imposed on the Jewish nation. To be the sin-bearer of the nation, it was incumbent on Him to fulfill every requirement that God demanded of Israel. Jesus was scrupulous, meticulous, indeed punctilious in His zeal for His Father’s law. He was presented in the temple as an infant, He was circumcised, and He embraced the new obligation of baptism that God had imposed on the nation.
The baptism of Jesus not only carried the sign of His identification with a sinful people, it marked His consecration, His anointing for the mission the Father had given Him. His baptism sealed His doom, causing His face to be set like flint toward Jerusalem. On a later occasion, Jesus spoke to His disciples, saying, “Are you able … to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38). He was baptized to die. He was appointed to be the sacrificial lamb, and at His ordination the heavens opened and God spoke audibly, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).
The Temptation of Christ

The New Testament records that immediately after Jesus underwent the rite of baptism, He was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. He had just heard the voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” and the Spirit had descended on Him in the form of a dove. This same Spirit “drove” Jesus (He did not invite, request, or entice Him) into the wilderness.
How can the New Testament speak of God leading Jesus into temptation? We are explicitly told in James 1:13 that no one should say when he is tempted that he is tempted of God, for our temptations come as they arise out of our own lusts or sinful dispositions. Was Jesus an exception to this rule? The word tempt is used in at least two different ways in Scripture. On the one hand, there is the sense of temptation that suggests an enticing or wooing into sin. God never indulges in that. On the other hand, there is the temptation that carries the meaning of “being put to the test” or passing through a trial of moral probation. It is this meaning that describes the trial of Jesus in the wilderness.
The temptation of Christ offers a striking parallel to the probation of Adam in the Garden of Eden. We note both similarities and differences between the first Adam of Genesis and the one whom the New Testament calls the second Adam, Jesus. Both were tested not only for their own sakes but on behalf of others. Adam’s trial was for the entire human race. As the federal head of mankind, Adam represented all humanity. His fall was our fall. Jesus stood for a new humanity as He faced the ardors of the new probation.
The respective locations of the tests provide a study in contrasts. Jesus’ temptation took place in a desolate section of the remote hills of the Judean wilderness, a dreadful piece of real estate. The only creatures indigenous to the area were spiders, snakes, scorpions, and a few wild birds. It was rocky, barren, and hot, fit for neither man nor beast. Adam’s test took place in a garden of paradise adorned with lush and glorious surroundings. Where Adam beheld a landscape of floral luxury, Jesus stared at a rock pile.
Jesus endured temptation in isolation, in what Søren Kierkegaard called the worst situation of human anxiety, existential solitude. Jesus was utterly alone. Adam was tested while enjoying the help and encouragement of a companion whom God had created for him. Adam was tested in the midst of human fellowship, indeed intimacy. However, Jesus was tested in the agony of deprivation of human communion.
Adam was tested in the midst of a feast. His locale was a gourmet’s dream. He faced Satan on a full stomach and with a satiated appetite. Yet he succumbed to the temptation to indulge himself with one more morsel of food. Jesus was tested after a forty-day fast, when every fiber of His body was screaming for food. His hunger had reached a crescendo, and it was at the moment of consuming physical desire that Satan came with the temptation to break the fast.
It is the similarity, however, between the tests that is most important for us to grasp. The central issue, the point of attack, was the same. In neither case was the ultimate issue a matter of food; the issue was the question of believing God. It was not an issue of believing in God, but believing God. There was no doubt in Adam’s mind that God existed; he had spent time in face-to-face communication with Him. Jesus was equally certain of God’s existence. The trial centered on believing God when it counted.
The serpent, described in Genesis as the most subtle of the beasts of the field, intruded on the idyllic domain of Adam and Eve. His initial assault was not forthright but came by way of innuendo. He raised a simple question, which thinly veiled a blasphemous thought. A gossamer film of doubt was suddenly applied to the integrity of God’s word. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’ ” (Gen. 3:2).
This was a ridiculous question, so blatantly false that Eve could not miss the error of it. Like a primordial Lt. Columbo, the serpent set Eve up by appearing naive, by manipulating her to underestimate his cleverness. Eve was quick to correct the error. Of course God had made no such all-inclusive negative prohibition. Quite the contrary, God had declared that they could eat freely of all the trees of the garden, save one. The restriction was slight and trivial compared with the broad expanse of liberty granted in the garden.
The subtle hint was already made. The hidden agenda was doing its work, suggesting the idea that the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre formalized: If man is not totally free, if he does not enjoy autonomy, he is not truly free at all. Unless freedom is absolute, it is but an illusion, a facade hiding the reality of servitude. This was the innuendo of the serpent, a hint received not only by Eve but by all her children. If we give our assent for our children’s requests fifteen times in a row, then break the streak with one no, the response is immediate: “You never let me do anything!”
Give Eve credit. She met the first wave of the serpent’s assault with valor. She defended the honor of God by setting the record straight. But the serpent adroitly switched tactics, moving at once to a direct attack with a diabolical sledgehammer: “You will not surely die.… you will be like God” (Gen. 3:4–5). Satan was not offering a piece of fruit, but held out the promise of deification. His words were a clear and direct contradiction to what God had said.
There is tragic irony in the motto some theologians of our day have embraced. Allergic to rationality and suspicious of logic, they glory in the mixing of Christianity and existential philosophy. The motto decrees that “Contradiction is the hallmark of truth.” It is said that truth is so high, so holy, that it not only transcends the power of reason, it goes against it as well. Religious truth is not only suprarational; it is deemed contrarational as well.
Apply the motto to Adam’s trial. Adam, enjoying a facility of intelligence as yet unaffected by the consequences of the fall, hears the serpent’s words. Immediately he recognizes that the serpent’s words collide with God’s. God had said that if they ate of the tree, they would die. The serpent said that if they ate, they would not die. Adam applies the canons of logic to the proposition. “If you do A, B will necessarily follow,” said God. “If you do A, non B will follow,” said the serpent. “Aha,” muses Adam, “that violates the law of noncontradiction.” Adam pursues the thought with rigorous analysis. The serpent speaks a contradiction. Contradiction is the hallmark of truth. God is truth. Q.E.D., by resistless logic, Adam’s only conclusion is that the serpent is an ambassador of God. Now it is not only Adam’s privilege to eat the once-forbidden fruit, but it is his moral duty. To resist the contradiction is to resist the hallmark of truth. In this mode of thinking, Adam’s fall was not a fall but a great leap forward for mankind.
To call contradiction the hallmark of truth is to reach the nadir of theology. It can sink no lower. If contradiction heralds truth, we have no means to distinguish between truth and falsehood, between obedience and disobedience, between righteousness and unrighteousness, between Christ and antichrist. Biblically, contradiction is the hallmark of the lie. Truth may be mysterious, indeed even paradoxical, but never, never, never contradictory. The serpent spoke the first contradiction, and Jesus rightly declared him to be a liar from the beginning, the father of lies. Adam bought the lie. He grasped for the very throne of God, slandering the veracity of his Creator in the act.
Jesus faced the same issue in his trial. The same subtleness is employed with Satan’s opening lines: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matt. 4:3, emphasis added). Notice Satan did not introduce his words of temptation by saying, “Since you are the Son of God.…” What were the last words to ring in the ears of Christ before He entered the wilderness? God had audibly announced from heaven, “This is my beloved Son.…” Such words may grow difficult to trust after enduring forty days of deprivation. Jesus was hardly enjoying the prerogatives of the Prince of Heaven. Satan’s subtle attack was the same point of invasion that worked so successfully in Eden: “Did God actually say?”
Jesus foiled the subtlety by an unequivocal response: “It is written.…” These words were a Semitic formula for saying, “The Bible says.…” He rebuked Satan with a citation from Scripture: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). It was as if Jesus were saying: “Of course I am hungry. I already know I can turn stones into bread. But some things are more important than bread. I live by the Word of God. That is My life.”
The Devil refused to quit. He took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and tested Him again: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ ” (Matt. 4:6, emphasis added). Satan recited Scripture, twisting it for his own purposes. The test was clear: “If God’s Word is true, put it to the test—jump, and see whether the angels catch you.”
Jesus answered Scripture with Scripture, reminding Satan that the Bible prohibits tempting God. Perhaps the dialogue went like this: “I perceive, Mr. Satan, that you are an astute student of the Bible. You have even committed salient parts of it to memory. But your hermeneutics are shoddy; you set Scripture against Scripture. I know the Father has promised that He would give the angels charge over Me. I don’t have to jump off pinnacles to confirm it. Right now the Father is testing Me; I am not testing Him.”
Still Satan refused to surrender. He took Jesus to a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and said, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:9). They were in a far country beyond the eyes of observers. No one would notice a small act of betrayal. Only a slight genuflection was necessary. Why not?
The Father had already promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, but the price tag was the cross. There could be no exaltation without humiliation. Satan offered an easier way. No bitter cup, no passion, no mockery. One bend of the knee and the world was Christ’s.
Jesus replied, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’ ” (Matt. 4:10). There could be no compromise.
Can you hear the dialogue couched in twenty-first-century terms? Satan charges: “Jesus, you are rigid and narrow-minded. Are you so pedantic about Scripture that you will choose death rather than compromise a single line of it? Don’t you understand that the Law you cite is out of date? It comes from the Pentateuch, and we now know that Moses didn’t even write it. It reflects the primitive beliefs of unsophisticated man, encased in primitive mythology and superstitious taboos.”
“I am sorry,” Jesus says. “It is Scripture, and Scripture cannot be broken.”
Jesus believed God, so Satan departed from Him. Where Adam collapsed, Jesus conquered. Where Adam compromised, Jesus refused to negotiate. Where Adam’s trust in God faltered, Jesus’ never wavered. The second Adam triumphed for Himself and for us.
One parallel remains to be noted. At the end of Jesus’ trial, angels appeared to minister to Him, precisely as the Father had promised. Adam saw an angel too. His angel was carrying a flaming sword as he stood guard at the gates of paradise. That sword banished Adam to live east of Eden.
The Passion of Christ

If any event that has transpired on this planet is too high and too holy for us to comprehend, it is the passion of Christ—His death, His atonement, and His forsakenness by the Father. We would be totally intimidated to speak of it at all were it not for the fact that God in His Word has set before us the revelation of its meaning. In this section, I want to focus on the biblical interpretation of Christ’s death on the cross.
Any time we discuss a historical event, we review the facts, and sometimes we argue about what really took place, what was said, what was observed. However, once we agree on the facts (or agree to disagree), we are still left with the most important question we can ask: What is the meaning of the event?
The people who witnessed Christ stumbling toward Golgotha, who saw Him delivered to the Romans, and who watched His crucifixion, understood the significance of this event in a variety of ways. There were those present who thought that they were viewing the just execution of a criminal. Caiaphas, the high priest, said that Christ’s death was expedient and that He had to die for the good of the nation. He saw the crucifixion as an act of political appeasement. A centurion who watched how Jesus died said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:54). Pontius Pilate, the two thieves who were crucified next to Jesus—everyone, it seems, had a different understanding of what the cross signified.
The cross has been a favorite theme of theological speculation for two thousand years. If we would peruse the various theological schools of thought today, we would find a multitude of competing theories as to what really happened on the cross. Some say it was the supreme illustration of sacrificial love. Others say it was the supreme act of existential courage, while still others say it was a cosmic act of redemption. The dispute goes on.
However, we have not only the record of the events in the Scriptures, primarily in the Gospels, but we also have God’s interpretation of those events, primarily in the Epistles. In Galatians 3:13, Paul discusses the meaning of the cross, summarizing the entire teaching of the chapter in a single verse: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’ ”
This curse motif would have been understood clearly by a knowledgeable Jew in the ancient world, but in our day it has a foreign sound to it. To us, the very concept of “curse” smacks of something superstitious. When I hear the word curse, I think of Oil Can Harry in The Perils of Pauline, who says, “Curses, foiled again” when the hero saves the heroine from his clutches. Someone else may think of the behavior of primitive tribes who practice voodoo, in which tiny replica dolls are punctured by pins as a curse is put on an enemy. We may think of the curse of the mummy’s tomb in Hollywood horror movies with Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi. A curse in our day and age is considered something that belongs in the realm of superstition.
In biblical categories, a curse has quite a different meaning. In the Old Testament, the curse refers to the negative judgment of God. It is the antonym, the opposite, of the word blessing. Its roots go back to accounts of the giving of the law in the book of Deuteronomy when the covenant was established with Israel. There was no covenant without sanctions attached to it, provisions for reward for those who kept the terms of the covenant and punishment for those who violated it. God said to His people, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse—the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods which you have not known” (Deut. 11:26–28, NIV). The curse is the judgment of God on disobedience, on violations of His holy law.
The meaning of the curse may be grasped more fully by viewing it in contrast with its opposite. The word blessed is often defined in Hebrew terms quite concretely. In the Old Testament, after fellowship with God was violated in Eden, people could still have a proximate relationship with God, but there was one absolute prohibition. No one was allowed to look into the face of God. That privilege, the beatific vision, was reserved for the final fulfillment of our redemption. This is the hope that we have, that someday we will be able to gaze unveiled directly into the face of God. We are still under the mandate, “man shall not see [God] and live” (Ex. 33:20). It was always the Jewish hope, however, that someday this punishment for the fall of man would be removed. The Hebrew benediction illustrates this:

The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
(Num. 6:24–26)

This is an example of Hebrew parallelism. Each of the three stanzas says the same thing: May the Lord bless; may the Lord make His face shine; may the Lord lift up His countenance upon you. The Israelite understood blessedness concretely: to be blessed was to be able to behold the face of God. One could enjoy the blessing only in relative degrees: the closer one got to the ultimate face-to-face relationship, the more blessed he was. Conversely, the farther removed from that face-to-face relationship, the greater the curse. So by contrast, in the Old Testament the curse of God involved being removed from His presence altogether. The full curse precluded a glimpse, even at a distance, of the light of His countenance. It forbade even the refracted glory of one ray of the beaming light radiating from the face of Yahweh. To be cursed was to enter the place of absolute darkness outside the presence of God.
This symbolism was carried out through the history of Israel and extended to the liturgy of the Jewish people. It applied to the position of the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, which was designed to symbolize the promise that God would be in the midst of His people. God ordained that the people would pitch their tents by tribes in such a way that they were gathered around the central point of the community, where stood the tabernacle, the dwelling place of Yahweh. Only the high priest was permitted to enter into the midst of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, and only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Even then, he could enter the sacred place only after lengthy ablutions and cleansing rites. God was in the midst of His people, but they could not enter the inner sanctum of the tabernacle, which symbolized His dwelling place.
On the Day of Atonement, two animals were involved in the liturgical ceremonies, a lamb and a scapegoat. The priest sacrificed the lamb on the altar for the sins of the people. The priest also took the scapegoat and placed his hands on it, symbolizing the transfer of the sins of the nation to the back of the goat. Immediately the scapegoat was driven outside the camp into the wilderness, that barren place of remote desolation—to the outer darkness away from any proximity to the presence of God. The scapegoat received the curse. He was cut off from the land of the living, cut off from the presence of God.
In order to grasp the significance of this action as it relates to Christ’s death, we must turn to the New Testament. John begins his Gospel by writing, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The mystery of the Trinity has puzzled our minds for centuries. We know that there is a sense in which the Father and the Son are one, yet they are to be distinguished, and they exist in a unique relationship. The relationship, as John explained it, is described by the word with. The Word was with God. Literally, John was saying that Father and Son have a face-to-face relationship, precisely the type of relationship Jews were denied with the Father. The Old Testament Jew could go into the tabernacle and be “with” (Greek sun, meaning “with” in the sense of present in a group) God, but no one could ever be face to face with (Greek pros, meaning “with” in a face-to-face sense) God.
When we examine the crucifixion, it is important for us to remember that Jesus’ relationship with the Father represents the ultimate in blessedness and that its absence was the essence of the curse. When we read the narrative of the passion of Jesus, certain things stand out. The Old Testament teaches us that His own people delivered Him to the Gentiles, to strangers and foreigners to the covenant. After His trial before the Jewish authorities, He was sent to the Romans for judgment. He was not executed by the Jewish method of stoning, for the circumstances of world history at that time precluded that option. When capital punishment was exercised under the Roman occupation, it had to be done by the Roman courts, so execution had to be by the Roman method of crucifixion. It is significant that Jesus was killed at the hands of the Gentiles outside the camp. His death took place outside the city of Jerusalem; He was taken to Golgotha. All of these activities, when woven together, indicate the reenactment of the drama of the scapegoat who received the curse.
Paul tells us that in the Deuteronomic law, the curse of God is on anyone who hangs from a tree, a curse not necessarily given to those who suffer death by stoning. Jesus hangs on a tree, fulfilling in minute detail all of the Old Testament provisions for the execution of divine judgment. The New Testament sees the death of Jesus as more than an isolated act or illustration of courage or love, though His death may illustrate those things. Rather, it is a cosmic event, an atoning death; it is a curse that is poured out on Christ for us.
The Swiss theologian Karl Barth said that the most important word in the whole New Testament is the little Greek word huper. The word huper means simply “in behalf of.” The death of Jesus is in behalf of us. He takes the curse of the law for me and for you. Jesus Himself said it in many different ways: “I lay down my life for the sheep … No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:15, 18); “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NIV). These New Testament images underscore the concept of substitution.
I once delivered a public lecture on the relationship between the old and new covenants. In the middle of my lecture, a man jumped up in the back of the room. He became outraged when I suggested that Jesus Christ’s death was an atoning death, a substitutionary death on behalf of other people. He shouted from the back of the room, “That’s primitive and obscene!” After I got over my surprise and collected my thoughts, I replied, “Those are the two best descriptive words I have heard to characterize the cross.”
What could be more primitive? A bloody enactment like this, with all the drama and ritual, is reminiscent of primitive taboos. It is so simple that even the most uneducated, the most simpleminded person, can understand it. God provides a way of redemption for us that is not limited to an intellectual elite but is so crass, so crude, that the primitive person can comprehend it, and, at the same time, so sublime that it brings consternation to the most brilliant theologians.
I particularly liked the second word, obscene. It is a most appropriate word because the cross of Christ was the most obscene event in human history. Jesus Christ became an obscenity. The moment that He was on the cross, the sin of the world was imputed to Him as it was to the scapegoat. The obscenity of the murderer, the obscenity of the prostitute, the obscenity of the kidnapper, the obscenity of the slanderer, the obscenity of all those sins, as they violate people in this world, were at one moment focused on one man. Once Christ embraced that, He became the incarnation of sin, the absolute paragon of obscenity.
There is a sense in which Christ on the cross was the most filthy and grotesque person in the history of the world. In and of Himself, He was a lamb without blemish—sinless, perfect, and majestic. But by imputation, all of the ugliness of human violence was concentrated on His person.
Once sin was concentrated on Jesus, God cursed Him. When the curse of the law was poured out on Jesus, He experienced pain that had never been suffered in the annals of history. I have heard graphic sermons about the excruciating pain of the nails in the hands, of hanging on a cross, and of the torturous dimensions of crucifixion. I am sure that they are all accurate and that it was a dreadful way to be executed, but thousands of people in world history have undergone the excruciating pain of crucifixion. Only one man has ever felt the pain of the fullness of the unmitigated curse of God on Him. When He felt it, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, NIV). Some say He did that simply to quote Psalm 22. Others say He was disoriented by His pain and didn’t understand what was happening. God certainly did forsake Him. That is the whole point of the atonement. Without forsakenness, there is no curse. God, at that moment in space and time, turned His back on His Son.
The intimacy of the pros relationship that Jesus experienced with the Father was ruptured (in His human nature). At that moment God turned out the lights. The Bible tells us that the world was encompassed with darkness, God Himself bearing witness to the trauma of the hour. Jesus was forsaken, He was cursed, and He felt it. The word passion means “feeling.” In the midst of His forsakenness, I doubt He was even aware of the nails in His hands or the thorns in His brow. He was cut off from the Father. It was obscene, yet it was beautiful, because by it we can someday experience the fullness of the benediction of Israel. We will look unveiled into the light of the countenance of God.
The Resurrection of Jesus

The life of Jesus follows a general pattern of movement from humiliation to exaltation. The movement is not strictly linear, however, as it is interspersed with vignettes of contrast. The birth narrative contains both ignominy and majesty. His public ministry attracts praise and scorn, welcome and rejection, cries of “Hosanna!” and “Crucify Him!” Nearing the shadow of death, He exhibited the translucent breakthrough of transfiguration.
The transition from the pathos of the cross to the grandeur of the resurrection is not abrupt. There is a rising crescendo that swells to the moment of breaking forth from the grave clothes and the shroud of the tomb. Exaltation begins with the descent from the cross immortalized in classical Christian art by the Pieta. With the disposition of the corpse of Jesus, the rules were broken. Under normal judicial circumstances, the body of a crucified criminal was discarded by the state, being thrown without ceremony into gehenna, the city garbage dump outside Jerusalem. There the body was incinerated, being subject to a pagan form of cremation, robbed of the dignity of traditional Jewish burial. The fires of gehenna burned incessantly as a necessary measure of public health to rid the city of its refuse. Gehenna served Jesus as an apt metaphor for hell, a place where the flames are never extinguished and the worm does not die.
Pilate made an exception in the case of Jesus. Perhaps he was bruised of conscience and was moved by pity to accede to the request for Jesus to be buried. Or perhaps he was moved by a mighty Providence to ensure fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah that Jesus would make His grave with the rich or of God’s promise that He would not let His Holy One see corruption. The body of Christ was anointed with spices and wrapped in fine linen to be laid in the tomb belonging to the patrician, Joseph of Arimathea.
For three days the world was plunged into darkness. The women of Jesus’ entourage wept bitterly, taking but small consolation in the permission to perform the tender act of anointing His body. The disciples had fled and were huddled together in hiding, their dreams shattered by the cry, “It is finished.”
For three days God was silent. Then He screamed. With cataclysmic power, God rolled the stone away and unleashed a paroxysm of creative energy of life, infusing it once more into the still body of Christ. Jesus’ heart began to beat, pumping glorified blood through glorified arteries, sending glorified power to muscles atrophied by death. The grave clothes could not bind Him as He rose to His feet and quit the crypt. In an instant, the mortal became immortal and death was swallowed up by victory. In a moment of history, Job’s question was answered once and for all: “If a man die, shall he live again?” Here is the watershed moment of human history, where the misery of the race is transformed into grandeur. Here the kerygma, the proclamation of the early church, was born with the cry, “He is risen.”
We can view this event as a symbol, a lovely tale of hope. We can reduce it to a moralism that declares, as one preacher put it, “The meaning of the resurrection is that we can face the dawn of each new day with dialectical courage.” Dialectical courage is the variety invented by Frederick Nietzsche, the father of modern nihilism. Courage that is dialectical is a courage in tension. The tension is this: Life is meaningless, death is ultimate. We must be courageous, knowing that even our courage is empty of meaning. This is denial of resurrection bathed in the despair of a truncated existential hope.
However, the New Testament proclaims the resurrection as sober historical fact. The early Christians were not interested in dialectical symbols but in concrete realities. Authentic Christianity stands or falls with the space/time event of Jesus’ resurrection. The term Christian suffers from the burden of a thousand qualifications and a myriad of diverse definitions. One dictionary defines a Christian as a person who is civilized. One can certainly be civilized without affirming the resurrection, but one cannot then be a Christian in the biblical sense. The person who claims to be a Christian while denying the resurrection speaks with a forked tongue, and we should turn away from such.
The resurrection narrative offended David Hume’s test of probability quotients. It is consigned by Rudolf Bultmann to the husk of mythology that is unnecessary to the kernel of biblical truth. For Paul Van Buren, the death-of-God theologian, the resurrection is not even taught in the Bible as a real historical event. He dubs it a “discernment situation” in which the disciples suddenly came to “understand” Jesus, “seeing” Him in a new light. Van Buren’s treatment violates every canon of sober literary analysis of the biblical text. That the New Testament writers were purporting to declare that a dead man came back to life is beyond serious literary dispute. One may reject the idea, but not that the idea is proclaimed.
Even Bultmann concedes the historical reality of the “Easter faith” of the early church. He reverses the biblical order, however, by arguing that it was the Easter faith that caused the proclamation of the resurrection. The Bible argues that it was the resurrection that caused the Easter faith. This subtle difference in causal nexus is the difference between faith and apostasy. The biblical writers claimed to be eyewitnesses of the risen Christ and certified the integrity of their faith with their own blood. The ancient church was willing to die for it; the modern church negotiates it, as evidenced by one major denomination’s reluctance to reaffirm the bodily resurrection on the grounds that it is divisive. Faith in the resurrection of Christ is indeed divisive, as it divided the Christians from the gladiators and prompted the hostile Nero to illumine his garden with human torches.
The resurrection of Jesus is radical in the original sense of the word. It touches the radix, the “root” of the Christian faith. Without it, Christianity becomes just another religion designed to titillate our moral senses with platitudes of human wisdom.
The apostle Paul spelled out the clear and irrefutable consequences of a “resurrectionless” Christianity. If Christ is not raised, he reasoned, we are left with the following list of conclusions (1 Cor. 15:13–19):

1. Our preaching is futile.
2. Our faith is in vain.
3. We have misrepresented God.
4. We are still in our sins.
5. Our loved ones who have died have perished.
6. We are of all men most to be pitied.

These six consequences sharply reveal the inner connection of the resurrection to the substance of Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus is the sine qua non of the Christian faith. Take away the resurrection and you take away Christianity.
The biblical writers do not base their claim of resurrection on its internal consistency to the whole of faith, however. It is not simply a logical deduction drawn from other doctrines of faith. It is not that we must affirm the resurrection because the alternatives to it are grim. Resurrection is not affirmed because life would be hopeless or intolerable without it. The claim is based not on speculation but on empirical data. They saw the risen Christ. They spoke with Him and ate with Him. Neither His death nor His resurrection happened in a corner like Joseph Smith’s alleged reception of special revelation. The death of Jesus was a public spectacle and a matter of public record. The resurrected Christ was seen by more than five hundred people at one time. The Bible presents history on this matter.
The strongest objection raised against the biblical account of Jesus’ resurrection is the same objection raised against other biblical miracles, namely, that such an event is impossible. It is ironic that the New Testament approaches the question of Christ’s resurrection from exactly the opposite direction. In Peter’s speech on Pentecost, he declared: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24).
To set forth the principle stated here, I must indulge myself with the use of a double negative. It was impossible for Christ not to have been raised. For death to have held Christ would have required the supreme and unthinkable violation of the laws of death. It is viewed by modern man as an inexorable law of nature that what dies stays dead. However, that is a law of fallen nature. In the Judeo-Christian view of nature, death entered the world as a judgment on sin. The Creator decreed that sin was a capital offense: “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17) was the original warning. God granted an extension of life beyond the day of sin, but not indefinitely. The original sanction was not completely rescinded. Mother Nature became the paramount executioner. Adam was created with both the possibility of death (posse mori) and the possibility of avoiding it (posse non mori). By his transgression, he forfeited the possibility of avoidance of death and incurred, as judgment, the impossibility of not dying (non posse non mori).
Jesus was not Adam. He was the second Adam. He was free from sin, both original and actual. Death had no legitimate claim on Him. He was punished for the sin imputed to Him, but once the price was paid and the imputation was lifted from His back, death lost its power. In death, an atonement was made; in resurrection, the perfect sinlessness of Jesus was vindicated. He was, as the Scriptures assert, raised for our justification as well as His own vindication.
Hume’s probability quotients discard the resurrection because it was a unique event. He was right on one count. It was a unique event. Though Scripture relates other resurrection accounts, such as the raising of Lazarus, they were all in a different category. Lazarus died again. The uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection was tied to another aspect of His uniqueness. It was tied to His sinlessness, a dimension of the person of Jesus that would be even more unique if uniqueness were capable of degrees.
For God to allow Jesus to be bound forever by death would have been for God to violate His own righteous character. It would have been an injustice, an act that is supremely impossible for God to commit. The surprise is not that Jesus rose, but that He stayed in the tomb as long as He did. Perhaps it was God’s condescension to human weakness of unbelief that inclined Him to keep Christ captive, to ensure that there would be no doubt He was dead and that the resurrection would not be mistaken for a resuscitation.
The resurrection sets Jesus apart from every other central figure of world religions. Buddha is dead. Mohammed is dead. Confucius is dead. None of these were sinless. None offered atonement. None were vindicated by resurrection.
If we stagger with unbelief before the fact of resurrection, we would do well to consider the plight of the two walking to Emmaus that weekend. Luke records the event for us (Luke 24:13–35.). As the two men were walking away from Jerusalem, Jesus joined them incognito. They presumed to inform Jesus about the events of the crucifixion and showed obvious impatience with His apparent ignorance of the matters. When they related the report of the women concerning the resurrection, Christ rebuked them:

“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?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

When the two had their eyes opened and they recognized Jesus that night, they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
A Christian is not a skeptic. A Christian is a person with a burning heart, a heart set aflame with certainty of the resurrection.
The Ascension of Christ

My graduate work in theology in Amsterdam provoked a crisis in my Christian life. The crisis was triggered by a technical study of the doctrine of the ascension. Like most Protestants, I had neglected this theme, considering it an unscientific postscript to the life of Christ, not worthy of special commemoration like Christmas and Easter. The event is described only twice in the New Testament. I am now convinced that no single event in the life of Jesus is more important than the ascension, not even the crucifixion or the resurrection. It is dangerous business to assign relative values to the episodes of Christ’s life and ministry, but if we underestimate the significance of the ascension, we sail in perilous waters.
What could be more important than the cross? Without it we have no atonement, no redemption. Paul resolved to preach Christ and Him crucified. Yet without the resurrection, we would be left with a dead Savior. Crucifixion and resurrection go together, each borrowing some of its value from the other. However, the story does not end with the empty tomb. To write finis there is to miss a climactic moment of redemptive history, a moment toward which both Old and New Testaments move with inexorable determination. The ascension is the apex of Christ’s exaltation, the acme of redemptive history to this point. It is the pregnant moment of Christ’s coronation as King. Without it, the resurrection ends in disappointment and Pentecost would not be possible.
My crisis experience in Holland was provoked by a study of one obscure statement from the lips of Christ. On an occasion when Jesus told His disciples of His impending death, He said, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now” (John 13:36), and, “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more” (John 14:19). Jesus continued His discourse by explaining, “It is to your advantage that I go away” (John 16:7). Here Jesus was making a value judgment about His departure. The thrust of His comment was to suggest that His absence was better for His disciples than His presence. This must have strained the understanding of His friends to the uttermost limits. Prima facia, it is unthinkable that under any circumstances people could benefit more from the absence of Jesus than from His presence, save for those unfortunate ones who face His judgment and would welcome a respite from Him. The Christian longs for the abiding presence of Christ. The contemporary Christian grows wistful imagining what it must have been like to have seen and known the incarnate Christ when He walked the earth. Millions travel annually to Palestine just to see where He lived and ministered. Surely the church has either failed to grasp the import of Jesus’ words or has simply been unable to believe them. We live as if there had been no ascension.
The disciples were slow in grasping the expediency of Jesus’ departure. They resisted His determination to go to Jerusalem and took umbrage at His announcements of His coming death. Between the resurrection and the ascension, new light dawned on them as they began to undergo a remarkable change of attitude. The culmination in the change was evidenced by their immediate reaction to Jesus’ visible elevation into heaven. They did not exhibit the normal human reaction to such a departure. The record says the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52, emphasis added).
Parting may be sweet sorrow, but the normal measure of sweetness is unable to turn sorrow into rejoicing. When men ship out for war or sailors go to sea, there are more tears than smiles on the faces of loved ones left behind. I remember tugging at my father’s duffle bag when he started for the troop train at the end of a furlough during World War II. There was no joy in it. I remember the end of Christmas vacation and the ritual that took place at the Greyhound bus terminal during my college days, when I would put my fiancée on a bus to return to school after we had enjoyed a brief interlude together. I did not return to my school rejoicing.
To be sure, the disciples had to be prodded by an angel to leave the spot where Christ departed on the Mount of Olives. They stood there transfixed, savoring the vision of the glory cloud enveloping Jesus. They were rooted to the spot, spellbound by the vista of majesty surrounding them. Their reverie was broken by the words of the angel: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
They returned to Jerusalem. They must have been giddy: laughing, skipping, and singing the whole way. They recalled the words of Jesus in the upper room of the promise of another Comforter who would come. They were glad in heart because they finally understood where Jesus was going and why He was going there.
Earlier, Christ had said, “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven” (John 3:13). He was speaking of Himself. These words placed the ascension squarely in the category of the unique event. In His ascension, Jesus displayed again that He was in a class by Himself. No one before or since has “ascended” to heaven. The prerequisite for ascension was a prior descent. As the only-begotten incarnate Christ, Jesus was singularly qualified for this event. Others had gone to heaven. Enoch was “translated” and Elijah was “taken up.” One could “ascend” a ladder (Jesus had told Nathanael that he would see angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man, and Jacob beheld a ladder in his midnight dream at Bethel) or one could “ascend” to Jerusalem, moving to a higher elevation from sea level. The term could be used figuratively to refer to the elevation of a king to his royal office. But no one ever had “ascended to heaven” in the sense in which Jesus was speaking.
The ascension of Jesus was the supreme political event of world history. He ascended not so much to a place as to an office. He departed from the arena of humiliation and suffering to enter into His glory. In one moment, He leapfrogged from the status of despised Galilean teacher to the cosmic King of the universe, jumping over the heads of Pilate, Herod, and all the other rulers of the earth. The ascension catapulted Jesus to the right hand of God, where He was enthroned as King of kings and Lord of lords. Here the political “expediency” of His departure stands out in bold relief.
The implications of this event for the church are staggering. It means that though we suffer persecution and the scorn of hostile power structures—though we groan under the demeaning status of an unwelcome minority—our candidate sits in the seat of sovereign authority. The kingdom of God is not an unrealized dream or religious fantasy. The investiture of our King is a fait accompli. His reign is neither mythical nor illusory. It corresponds to a real state of affairs. At this very moment, the Lord God omnipotent reigns with His Son at His right hand, in the seat of imperial authority. To be sure, the kingdom is yet to be consummated—that is future. However, it has been inaugurated. That is past. He reigns in power, possessing all authority in heaven and earth. That is present. His kingdom is invisible but no less real. It is left to His church to make His invisible kingship visible.
Christ’s ascension to the right hand of God is inseparably linked to the coming of Pentecost. In a certain sense, Jesus lacked the authority to dispatch the Spirit prior to His ascension. One of the first acts of authority He exercised after His enthronement was to endow His church with power from on high. His disciples were given a great commission, a mandate to penetrate the whole world bearing witness to the kingdom. These were and are to be the authentic witnesses of Yahweh. However, no border was to be crossed or mission undertaken until first the Spirit came down. The disciples returned to Jerusalem rejoicing for the purpose of their wait; they were waiting for Pentecost. When the new King of the cosmos sent the Holy Spirit, the power of the kingdom was unleashed on the world.
Christ’s elevation was not only political, it was also sacerdotal. He assumed not only the scepter of the King but the garments of the High Priest as well. In His ascension, Jesus entered the sanctuary as well as the palace. Not only does Jesus sit at the right hand of God, He kneels. He has entered the sanctus sanctorum, the Holy of Holies, to make daily intercession for His people. We are a people whose King prays for us by name.
Do you wonder, then, at the disciples’ joy? Once they understood where Jesus was going and why He was going there, the only appropriate response was celebration. They danced back to Jerusalem. His physical presence was gone, but His spiritual and political presence was enhanced. His words console his “absent” bride: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Sproul, R. C. (2009). Who Is Jesus? (Bd. 1, S. i–105). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

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