Christ Still Teaches (Murray)

  In the first few sentences of Acts, Luke said that in his former book (which we now call the Gospel of Luke), he wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach… (Acts 1:1 NIV).  One thing this means is that the book we now call Acts (Luke’s second book) is a record of what Jesus continued to do and teach even though he had ascended into heaven.  As John Murray wrote, Jesus “is ever active in the exercise of his prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices.”

The fact that Jesus continued to teach after his ascension is of paramount importance for the authority of Christ in the teaching of the apostles and in the books of the New Testament.  Prior to his ascension Christ’s teaching was directly by word of mouth.  But afterwards he taught by a different mode.  He taught by the ministry of appointed witnesses and inspired writers.  The New Testament, all of which was written after Jesus’ ascension, is not one whit less the teaching of our Lord than that delivered verbally during the days of his flesh.  How utterly false it is to set up a contrast between the authority of Jesus’ spoken words and the authority of the New Testament as Scripture.  The latter is the teaching of Christ given in his own appointed way after his ascension.

We are reminded of Jesus’ word to the disciples: ‘I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, comes he will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:12, 13).  It is from his own lips the certification of Luke’s statement in our text (Acts 1:1-2).  The guiding of the Holy Spirit into all truth does not suspend Jesus’ own speaking.  ‘I have yet many things to say to you.’  But he says these things through the Holy Spirit and thus there is the seal of both divine persons, the Son and the Spirit.

So we don’t need a red-letter Bible, nor do we need to put Jesus’ spoken words on a higher level than the Spirit-inspired words of Paul (or the other human authors of the New Testament)!  Murray ends the paragraph like this:

Let us prize with the ardor of our soul what Jesus continues to do, and teach.  He is the living, acting, and teaching Lord.

John Murray, Collected Writings, volume 1, pages 41-41.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Red Heifer Law: What? Why?

There are some obscure and difficult sections of the Old Testament.  One example is Numbers 18-19, where we are given quite a few details about the duties of the priests and the Levites who served the priests.  In those chapters we also read about a purification law concerning the defilement that a dead body brings: it’s been called the “red heifer law!”

Some people read texts like these and it makes them think (or say) that the OT is irrelevant, sub-Christian, dated, and too obscure to be of any use.  Others dismiss the entire OT because of texts like these.  In light of this criticism, I like how Ronald Allen explained Numbers 18-19 in his commentary.  He asks – then answers – the question: “What is in these chapters for me?”

  1. The reader of Scripture needs to have general knowledge about the major institutions of the biblical period just for Scripture to make sense.
  2. Our understanding of the true worship of God begins with the sense that he controls and directs true worship; who the priests are and how they function are first his concerns.  This means that worship is not a game where we may make up the rules as we play.
  3. A general knowledge of the work of the priests in the Hebrew Bible gives many insights to the modern reader as to the interests of God in our own worship.  Often we think of worship in terms of what we like and appreciate.  This misses the mark; worship is principally for God’s pleasure.
  4. A general knowledge of the work of priests in the time of Hebrew worship gives the Christian reader significant insights into the priestly work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The book of Hebrews has an intense priestly orientation in its presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ, priest of God in the manner of Melchizedek.
  5. In contrast with the highly regulated, highly structured patterns demanded of the priests in the Hebrew economy, the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ today has a direct access to God through the Savior that is nearly unbelievable.  We are all priests; we can come near the presence of the Lord without an intermediary.  Yet our privilege as believer-priests can only really be appreciated against the background of priests in the biblical period.

These are some good points: even the obscure and harder texts in the OT serve God’s purpose to instruct, inform, and give us a preview of the person and work of our Savior, Jesus, the great and final High Priest!

Ronald Allen, Numbers in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 850.

Shane Lems

End of Life: On Refusing Treatment (Meilaender)

 Tragically, it happens: we are diagnosed with an illness or condition that means death is inevitable sooner rather than later.  To knowingly face death is one of the hardest things in life, and it leads to some very difficult choices.  Should we undergo treatment(s) trying to prolong life?  Or should we forego them and perhaps better enjoy the short time we have left?  This isn’t a black-and-white ethical area.  There are various factors that lead Christians to different decisions in this area.

I like Gilbert Meilaeander’s wisdom here.  In chapter seven of Bioethics: A Primer for Christians he talks about refusing treatment.  The entire chapter is very much worth reading, but since I can’t put it all here, I’ll summarize:

“On the one hand, we ought not choose death or aim at death.  But on the other hand, neither should we act as if continued life were the only, or even highest good.  It is not a god, but a gift from God.  Thus, we should neither aim at death nor continue the struggle against it when its time has come.  ‘Allowing to die’ is permitted; killing is not.”

“If I commit suicide (an am of sound mind), I intend to die.  I aim at my death or choose death.  But, of course, there might be occasions when, if I refuse a certain treatment, I will also die.  Are they therefore morally equivalent?  Is treatment refusal the same as the forbidden suicide?  Although they could sometimes be morally equivalent – I could refuse treatment so that I will die – they need not be.  To see why we must think about the aim and the result of the action.”

“[For example] a soldier may charge the enemy, knowing that he faces almost certain death in so doing.  He does not thereby commit suicide.  He does not choose to die, even though he foresees that death is the likely, perhaps almost certain, result of his action.  …Dying is not part of his plan of action, just its very likely result.”

“This distinction between an act’s aim and its result is crucial to bear in mind when we consider decisions to refuse or withdraw treatment.  The result of such decisions may be that death comes more quickly than it might have.  Nevertheless, the fact that we ought not aim at death for ourself or another does not mean that we must always do everything possible to oppose it.  Life is not our god, but a gift of God; death is a great evil, but not the ultimate evil.”

“There may come a time, then, when it is proper to acknowledge death and cease to oppose it.  Our aim in such circumstances is to care for the dying person as best we can.  …Because life is not our god, we need not accept all burdens – no matter how great – in order to stay alive.  …Treatment may be refused or withdrawn when it is either useless or excessively burdensome.  In either of those instances, refusal of treatment is not the forbidden suicide or euthanasia.”

These are just a few highlights of an excellent chapter that gives some ethical Christian wisdom on when to accept treatment and when to refuse it.  If you have – or are – wrestling with this difficult decision, I very much recommend Meilaender’s contribution in Bioethics.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Regeneration: Ascribed Entirely to God Alone

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 2 The Bible teaches that God gives life to dead sinners.  Scripture says that people by nature are dead in sin and in bondage to it until God sovereignly breathes new life into the heart by the power of his Word and Spirit (cf. Eph. 2:1-10).  This is an act of grace and mercy; no sinner deserves to receive new life from God.  Reformed theology teaches that regeneration is not conditional upon faith.  That is, we disagree with the Arminian teaching that faith precedes regeneration.  It is true that the regenerated sinner receives new life, and a new heart, and truly does embrace Christ by faith.  But regeneration is monergistic: God alone changes the dead heart.  Regeneration is not conditional.  The sinner is passive in regeneration.  I like how Francis Turretin stated it when he talked about regeneration and conversion (I’ve added [brackets] for clarification):

…Although in every instance [of conversion] God and man concur, still they concur in different ways. God is the sole cause of habitual conversion [regeneration]. He effects it by the heart-turning power of his Spirit without any cooperation from man. Here man (since it treats of his renewal) is only passive and subjective inasmuch as he is a mere subject receiving the action of God.

But with respect to the actual [conversion], the principal cause is indeed God, but the proximate and immediate cause is man, who – excited by the Holy Spirit and imbued with the habits of faith and love – believes and loves. Hence although the act of believing is produced by God, yet because it is exercised by man as the proximate cause, it is ascribed not to God, but to man. Thus man holds himself here, both passively to receive the motion of prevenient and exciting grace (for the will does not act unless acted upon) and actively and efficiently because he actually believes and works under God. Still thus he is said to be the cause of his own conversion that he is not such from himself, but from grace, both because the power of believing is only from God and because the very act of believing depends upon God himself exciting the faculty to its operation.

Turretin also said,

“…God, by his omnipotent acting produces in the man (or in the will) new qualities; then he excites those faculties to action.”

In other words, a sinner cannot believe, repent, accept the gospel and come to Christ unless God first sovereignly and graciously gives that sinner new life by the power of his Word and Spirit.  As the old hymn says, “Thy free grace alone from the first to the last; hath won my affections, and bound my soul fast!”

You can read this section in volume 2, pages 522-526 of Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Saved by Love (Machen)

What is Faith? Here are some great words from a great book:

“Even before we could love as we ought to love, even before we could do or feel anything aright, we were saved by faith; we were saved by abandoning all confidence in our own thoughts or feelings or actions and by simply allowing ourselves to be saved by God.”

“In one sense, indeed, we were saved by love; that indeed is an even profounder fact than that we were saved by faith.  Yes, we were saved by love, but it was by a greater love than the love in our cold and sinful hearts; we were saved by love, but it was not our love for God but God’s love for us, God’s love for us by which he gave the Lord Jesus to die for us upon the cross.  ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’  That  love alone is the love that saves.  And the means by which it saves is faith.”

“Thus the beginning of the Christian life is not an achievement but an experience; the soul of the man who is saved is not, at the moment of salvation, active, but passive; salvation is the work of God and God alone.”

J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith, p. 196-7.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Seven Points on Spiritual Gifts (J. Bridges)

True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia God gives all his people gifts to use for the service and enrichment of others.  Peter put it this way: God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts.  Use them well to serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10 NLT).  Because the Bible talks about gifts this way, the Westminster Confession echoes this truth: “Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification” (ch. 26.2).  I appreciate how Jerry Bridges talks about this in his excellent book, True Community.  Here are Bridges’ seven points on spiritual gifts (I’ve summarized/edited the following for length):

The purpose of all spiritual gifts is to serve others and glorify God. Our gifts are not our property to use as we please; they are a trust committed to us by God to use for others and for His glory as He directs.”

Every Christian has a gift, and every gift is important.  We have already stated earlier in this chapter that God has assigned every believer a function in the body of Christ and that God has, consequently, gifted every member to fulfill that function.  To say ‘I don’t think I have a gift,’ is to say, ‘I don’t think I have a function in the body of Christ.  Such an idea flies in the face of the whole of New Testament teaching.  God has a job for every believer.  It may be seen or unseen, big or small, but each of us has a job to do.”

“Not only do we each have a gift but each one of our gifts is important.  Again, we tend to recognize the more public, noticeable gifts as important and the low-profile gifts as perhaps not so important.  The apostle Paul anticipated this tendency when he envisioned the foot saying, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ and the ear saying, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’ (1 Cor. 12:15-16).”

Gifts are sovereignly bestowed by God.  You possess the gifts you have because the sovereign God of the universe wanted you to be that way.  He ordained a plan for your life even before you were born, and He has gifted you specifically to carry out that plan.  Never disparage your gift.  If you do, you are disparaging the plan of God and perhaps complaining against Him.  Similarly, never look down on the gift of another.  If you do, you are scorning the plan of God for that person.”

“Every gift is given by God’s grace.  None of us deserves the gift he or she has been given.  All gifts are given by God’s undeserved favor to us through Christ (Rom 12:6, 1 Pet. 4:10).  The highly gifted person should not think he is so gifted because of his hard work or his faithfulness in previous service to God.

“All gifts must be developed and exercised.  Even though gifts are given by God’s grace, it is our responsibility to develop and exercise them.  Paul exhorted Timothy to rekindle or ‘fan into flame the gift of God,’ and elsewhere Paul told him, ‘Do not neglect your gift’ (2 Tim. 1:6; 1 Tim. 4:14).  The effective use of our gifts does not occur without diligent effort on our part.”

The effective use of every gift is dependent on faith in Christ.  Although gifts are sovereignly bestowed and their effective exercise involves hard work and diligent effort, it is also true that no gift is exercised apart from faith in Christ.  The necessity of conscious dependence on Christ for His enabling power is a fundamental fact for every aspect of the Christian life, whether in spiritual growth in our own lives or in serves within the body.”

Only love will give true value to our gifts.  In any discussion of spiritual gifts we should give careful attention to the fact that the classic Scripture passage on Christian love, 1 Corinthians 13, is set right in the middle of the Bible’s most extensive treatment on spiritual gifts.  If we have not love, it all amounts to nothing.”

These seven points are very helpful biblical notes on spiritual gifts.  In fact, it is one of the best treatments on spiritual gifts that I’ve read.  I very much recommend this chapter to those who want a solid treatment of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ.  Furthermore, I recommend this entire book!  It’s an outstanding resource on the fellowship of the saints: True Community by Jerry Bridges.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Love: Affection and Action

When people think of the word love, most of the time they think of an emotion, feeling, or desire.  If this is all they think of love, it is a very incomplete view of love.  In fact, it might be argued that an emotion alone is not love at all, but something else.  I appreciate how Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan discuss this in their book on biblical ethics.  They have quite a few helpful and biblical things to say about love in this chapter; I can’t summarize it all here.  Instead, I’ll quote just part of a larger section:

“From the Bible’s viewpoint, the choise to act lovingly, not the intensity of the feeling, is the test and ultimate proof of love.  The concept of volitional love overriding affectional love is of paramount importance for we may not be able to control our emotional response.  But by the grace of God we can choose to act lovingly no matter how we feel.”

“So those who claim that this emphasis on will over emotions is dishonest and not being ‘true’ to oneself are mistaken.  To assume it is deceptive if one does not act in conformity with one’s feelings is to reduce personhood to emotion.  Yes, each of us is a person with feelings, but also with the capacity to choose, to honor commitments, to use one’s reason, to consider one’s primary obligations to God.  To be honest to myself means I must be honest to my whole self before God – to act in conformity with his will and my committment to him.”

“To truly know ourselves as humans, John Calvin rightly affirmed, we must first truly know God’s character and his priorities for us.  This is indeed a liberating truth – I can choose to act for the welfare of another no matter how I feel about him or about the action God desires of me.”

“To say that acting lovingly takes precedence over the emotion of love does not mean that bibilical love is exhausted by acting lovingly.  Without the emotion, love can be authentic, but it is not complete.  If we act in love, ordinarily the affection will follow.  Thus one can love in a biblical, active sense, without liking.  In fact, it is required that we act lovingly no matter how we feel.”

Of course there is a lot more to the meaning of love (specifically God’s love shown in giving his Son to save sinners, which the authors do note well). The above section was helpful to me in thinking that we as Christians should not just have an affectional love, but active love that is seen in self-giving, self-sacrificing deeds.

Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics (DownersGrove: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 34-35.

Shane Lems