Jesus, The Bible and You

Throughout history, the church has rarely seen an attack on the inerrancy, inspiration and authority of the Bible of the magnitude of modern debates—debates which really only gained academic credibility in the last two centuries and popular consensus within the last generation. And make no mistake, the attack against inerrancy is inextricably linked to inspiration—certainly in the way we have traditionally responded to our critical scholars. By proving the words of the Bible are accurate, we are, at the very least implicitly, answering the attack on the inerrancy of Scripture. Therefore, the answers to inerrancy and inspiration will be given together.

Inspiration, like its sister doctrine, inerrancy, is not something invented by theologians and forced on the church—the arguments for them arise from the Bible and are based upon the internal consistency of the Bible. And make no mistake, the Scriptures are equated with God’s revelation in words (Matt. 19:4-5; Heb. 3:7; Acts 4:24-25; see also 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21).

This truth is something that we have seen throughout this series, most recently in Aaron’s post offering a definition of verbal plenary inspiration. My goal in this post is to build upon these truths we’ve already discussed by addressing the question of how Jesus understood (and understands) the Bible before looking at four important conclusions on the matter of why this doctrine really does matter.

How Jesus Understood (and Understands) the Bible

As we look to Scripture, it’s crystal clear that Jesus recognized the authority and inerrancy of Scripture—indeed, the way he uses it explicitly affirms their inspiration. He made constant appeal to it when tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:1-11) and used it often in his ministry to defend his actions (Matt. 11:15-17, 26:54-56). This demonstrates the authority Jesus placed in the Scriptures, but we are not left to make assumptions on the basis of Jesus’ actions alone. He, on at least four occasions taught the Scriptures in such a way as to make clear His position on inerrancy.

In a confrontation with the Sadducees over the doctrine of the resurrection, which that group denied, Jesus silenced His opposition, arguing the entire resurrection belief on the tense of a simple verb, “to be” (Matt. 22:32). Jehovah had told Moses at the burning bush, “I am the God of Abraham,” but as Jesus implied, Abraham had been dead 480 years when the statement was made. Arguing that God was the God of the living, not the dead, Jesus claimed life after death must be true. Jesus used the tense of a verb to prove Abraham was not simply physically dead, but was living in the presence of God. The fact that Jesus used a word and it’s tense to demonstrate His deep confidence in inspiration and inerrancy. [Read more…]

A Readers Guide to the Inspiration of Scripture

There’s been quite a few posts here lately about the nature and authority of the Bible—and for good reason. As Christians, we are to be people of the book. Men, women and children who observe and obey God’s Word, who love it and long to know the God who reveals Himself through it.

There’s an important question that comes up when we start trying to understand the nature of Scripture, and that is: What do we mean when we say that the Bible is inspired? Do we mean the same thing as when we say that a great song, book or movie was inspired? Or is there something else going on that we need to wrap our minds around?

My goal in this post is relatively simple: I want to provide you with a ground-level understanding of the doctrine of inspiration that will help you as we continue on in this series looking at the nature of Scripture and its implications.

“Verbal Plena—what now?”

The doctrine of inspiration has to do with the origins of Scripture—where it came from and how it came to be. Theologians like to refer to it with a fancy term: “verbal plenary inspiration.” (I dare you to say that three times fast.) Despite being a painfully vague term (not to mention being a bit of a tongue twister), the concept behind it is pretty simple. In a nutshell, the term means is that every word of Scripture is inspired by God and written down by human authors. Inspiration in this view is not limited merely to ideas but to exact words—indeed, every “iota” and “dot” as Jesus says in Matt. 5:18. Every word is there because God intended it to be so.

But let’s break this term down in a little more detail:

Verbal. This term addresses subject. And the subject being defined is the words of Scripture. Simple enough, right? Let’s move to the next point.

Plenary addresses scope or extent. In other words, all the words of Scripture are equally inspired, from the most incredible description of a battle or miracle to the most detailed instruction about how the Israelites were to dress. There aren’t some parts that are more or less inspired than others.

Inspiration addresses method of transmission. God guided the human authors of Scripture—“carried them along by the Holy Spirit,” as Peter wrote—using their unique perspectives, writing styles and experiences to record the exact message He desired to be expressed to humanity.

Clear as mud? Alright, let’s look quickly at the Scriptural support for such a notion.

Where does the Bible Talk about Inspiration?

Biblically, the two passages that deal most directly with this idea are found in the epistles of Paul and Peter:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable…” (2 Tim. 3:16, emphasis added).

“…no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Pet. 20-21, emphasis added). [Read more…]

All It Took Was A Question

With the creation of the first man and woman, God saw “everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” The divine work of creation was now complete. Genesis chapter two leaves us with a picture of the “very good”-ness of creation as the man and the woman enjoy a perfect relationship with one another, with the rest of creation, and most importantly with their Creator. It was a world in which poverty could not exist. A world free from any material, relational, or spiritual need. It’s the world we still long for today.

In this perfect world, there was only one rule, found in Genesis 2:16-17: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” We don’t know how many days, months, or years passed, but for some time Adam and Eve obeyed that single command. Then the serpent came, a cunning creature that was no mere reptile. He was apparently the devil himself, come with one agenda: to tempt God’s image-bearers to reject their Creator.

What makes the serpent so cunning is that he doesn’t grandstand. His technique for tempting Adam and Eve to disobey God is subtle and understated. He starts by simply slithering up to the woman and starting a conversation.

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” the serpent asks. At first glance, it almost sounds like the serpent is merely asking for clarification. But something else is going on. God had made a ruling about one single tree. By suggesting that God’s prohibition extended to every tree, the serpent misrepresents God. He also positions Eve to begin to think differently about God and his commands. That’s the way temptation is: subtle, multi-layered, and easy to miss.

The serpent’s temptation leads Eve to fix her eyes on what she doesn’t have—freedom to eat of the fruit of this one tree—rather than on all that God has graciously provided, and this discontentment gives the serpent his opportunity to strike. You can almost hear the twisted delight in his voice as he says, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

With Eve already contemplating disobedience, the serpent gives her a final incentive to sin: she will be like God. If she does the one thing she is forbidden from doing (eating from that particular tree) she will have the one thing she does not now possess: a supposed equality with God—the God who suddenly seems so unreasonable and oppressive.

All it took was a single question—a conversation starter—to move Eve along the serpent’s train of thought. She went from devoted follower and faithful friend of God to not merely doubting God’s goodness, but wanting to be like him.

—from Awaiting a Savior, pp. 14-16

Inerrancy, the Church and the Cults

Today’s post continuing our series on the doctrine of inerrancy is by Dave Jenkins, Director of Servants of Grace.

The doctrine of inerrancy means that the Bible is entirely truthful and reliable in all that it affirms in its original manuscripts. The Bible does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. As Aaron pointed out last week, the Bible’s authority is derived from the character and authority of God. A tree has a root structure that supports the base and the weight of the tree. Inerrancy is the root structure and base upon which the doctrine of Scripture is built. God has given special revelation of Himself, and inspired His servants to record it. Believers want assurance that the Bible is a dependable source of revelation from and about God. The doctrine of inerrancy gives believers the assurance that God’s Word is without error, and entirely reliable in all that it teaches.

Inerrancy, the Church and Cults

There is evidence that when a theologian, school or a movement begins by regarding biblical inerrancy as unimportant or optional, and abandons this doctrine that such a move is frequently joined by other doctrines such as the deity of Christ or the Trinity. Church history is the laboratory in which theology tests its ideas. From church history one learns that moving away from the doctrine of inerrancy is to move away from the complete trustworthiness of Scripture. This move away from the doctrine of inerrancy is a serious step not only because of what it does to one’s doctrine of Scripture, but because of what happens to other doctrines as well.

Some may object at this point that I am overstating my case about inerrancy. Inerrancy is a test for orthodoxy, but it is not a test for salvation. One can deny inerrancy and be saved, but he/she is being inconsistent in his/her beliefs. All salvific truths are found in the Bible, but how can one trust those salvific truths without inerrancy? What if the salvific statements are wrong? To be consistent in her/her beliefs, one should affirm the inerrancy of Scripture. Further, one can be orthodox or evangelical in all other areas and still be unorthodox on inerrancy. For example, the neorthodox theologian Karl Barth affirmed the Virgin birth, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and Christ’s bodily resurrection, but denied the inerrancy of Scripture.

Inerrancy is not only an issue that is facing the Church, but it is also one that is under attack from cults. The Mormons teach that the Bible is correct only so far as it is correctly translated. It is basically trustworthy according to them. It is the only one of the four standard works (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price) and is not considered infallible. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God but only in so far as they use their own translation (New World Translation) as the basis of their belief in inerrancy.1

Over and against all of these views is what the Word of God says about itself. The Bible teaches that it is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, most prominently in 2 Timothy 3:16—“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” All Scripture in distinction “from the sacred writings” in 2 Timothy 3:15 means everything which, through the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the church, is recognized by the church as canonical, that is, authoritative. Paul is referring here to the Old Testament, and later “all scripture” at the close of the first century A.D. had been completed. [Read more…]

Inerrancy, Inspiration and Authority: A Clearing of the Throat

Recently, I wrote about whether or not it matters if Paul wrote the pastoral epistles. As I briefly explained, what we believe about these letters is a huge issue, particularly in how it impacts our view of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. As I wrote previously:

So, if Paul didn’t write these letters, then they would be falsified documents that would have been unwelcome in the early church.

Why? Because they would contain a lie.

More than that, they would be based upon a lie. And if these documents were based upon a lie—that is their authorship—then they absolutely cannot be trusted whatsoever, meaning you have to reject them or reinterpret what it means for something to be inspired of God. This then becomes even more problematic, in that then the entire doctrine of inerrancy evaporates, because you’re left with a position that forces you to say that Scripture errs. And if Scripture errs, then it throws your entire view of the Bible into question and in the end you’re left with either a collection of documents that you choose to trust out of preference (a subjective view) or you’re left having to throw the whole thing away because it’s not trustworthy.

This last point, that you either have to embrace a subjective view of Scripture or chuck the whole thing, is fairly contentious. It is very black and white. So, I want to begin digging a bit deeper into the issue of inerrancy to help give you a sense of why I believe it truly is a matter of the utmost seriousness.

The doctrine of inerrancy is one of the most important—and one of the most misunderstood. What do we mean when we say that the Bible is inerrant? Is it a man-made doctrine? Is it something that we have to read into Scripture, or is it something that Scripture reveals to us?

Like all the debates surrounding Scripture, like the existence of Adam & Eve, gender roles within the Church and so many others, there is another question at the heart of the issue—a question of authority. What we believe about Scripture says a great deal about who we believe to be in authority over us. If Scripture is truly what it says it is—the Word of God—then it is our ultimate earthly authority in all matters.

Before we start really digging into what Scripture says about itself, it’s important to lay a foundation for discussing the subject. And to do that, we need to understand what inerrancy does not mean. [Read more…]

The Enormous Cost of Grace

To deny the irresistibility of God’s saving grace is to say that God can be resisted, against His will, by mere man. The Scriptures teach us that no one can thwart God’s will (Eph. 1:11) or stop His hand (Dan. 4:35), and the electing God is the calling God (Rom. 8:29-30). Thus, salvation is monergistic grace (Eph. 2:1-10); it is not a work that we accomplish in whole or even in part (2 Tim. 1:9). It is not a joint venture between the Holy Spirit and us; we do not even cooperate in bringing about our salvation. The elect are not born again because they believe; rather, they believe because they are born again by the Spirit of God (1 John 5:1).

A rather legalistic Christian once criticized another Christian’s testimony, saying: “I appreciated all you said about what God did for you. But you didn’t mention anything about your part in it.”

“Oh yes,” the other Christian said. “I apologize for that. I really should have said that my part was running away, and His part was running after me until He caught me.”

Monergistic grace comes to us at enormous cost. The good news of the gospel is that the cost of our sin was paid by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not by us. Pardon and forgiveness did not come to us at a moment of God’s weakness; they came when He was being most mighty. His righteousness, justice, and truth are maintained when He adopts believing sinners into His family. The law came by Moses, but grace comes in Jesus Christ (John 1:17). God condones no sin, not even when He shows mercy to us.

Adapted from Joel R. Beeke, Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism (Kindle Edition)

Bringing Back a Sense of Balance

Today’s post is by Nate Palmer. Nate is the author of Servanthood as Worship: The Privilege of Life in a Local Church (Cruciform Press, 2010). You can follow him on Twitter at @palmernate.

The 2008 US Presidential Election was the most reported-on election in history. According to the Pew Research Center, the election was the subject of one-third of all media stories (across all mediums) in 2008. Given the amount of fervor and energy for political news in a 24hr news cycle, imagine if the media stopped covering politics entirely once the election was over—not one single copyedit, blog post, commentary, or headline.

Of course, this scenario would never happen – it is absurd. The campaign is not more important than the actual execution of the office. Yet, Christians often treat Jesus Christ in a similar fashion. Christ’s Humiliation is often the focus of our Christian study at the expense of his exaltation. But as we learned last time, the exaltation of Jesus is a vital piece of the Gospel.

Christ himself provides the most compelling justification for the importance of his exaltation and its inclusion in his Gospel message. In response to some of his follower’s expressed dismay of his pending ascent into heaven, Jesus tells them, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11)

The exaltation secures work of the Holy Spirit, who produces both the spiritual awakening of the unbeliever as well as the process of spiritual growth in the believer. From his Throne, Christ directs the Holy Spirit in building his church and sustaining his people (Hebrews 9:14). Without the Holy Spirit’s work, our hearts remain hardened and our eyes closed to the truth of Christ. For Jesus, his Gospel message was deficient with His exaltation.

Omitting both the ascension and session from the Gospel is to think of Jesus like an actor, who having performed heroically in the first act, now rests comfortably backstage awaiting his dramatic return at the end. Yet, Christ is not backstage nor is he resting. Instead, he is actively involved in building and sustaining God’s kingdom from the very throne of Heaven. John Calvin states, “Christ by rising again began to show forth his glory and power more fully. Yet he truly inaugurated his Kingdom only at his ascension into Heaven.”1 Christ now sits triumphantly on the heavenly throne, having defeated once and for all the power of sin and death, still working as the old hymn goes “to ever life and plead for me”. [Read more…]

Chosen to Holiness

The elect are called to holiness through the Spirit’s sanctifying work. Peter says this, affirming that sinful, depraved people cannot enter into the presence of a holy God and live a holy life unless God, through His Spirit, sanctifies them. Peter says the Spirit does this work of sanctification in those whom the Father elects. The original Greek here indicates that growth in holiness is an ongoing process rather than a one-time act. This ongoing work draws the elect to pursue holiness in dependence on the Spirit. So Peter says to believers later in this chapter, “As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:15).

In this, Peter refutes the greatest objection Arminians have about the doctrine of election. “If election is true, men can live as they please,” Arminians say. “Therefore election is a dangerous and demoralizing doctrine. If people glean their assurance in any way from election, their holy walk with God will be compromised.” Peter replies that the very purpose of election is to make men holy. God’s election does not destroy moral effort; rather, as Spurgeon notes, “God’s choice makes chosen men choice men.” And Thomas Watson says, “Sanctification is the earmark of Christ’s elect sheep.”

God wants to make His elect holy, for He has predestined them to be conformed to the image of His Son. No one can then say, “I am elect; therefore, I do not need to be Christlike.” Rather, as Peter implies, a believer should say, “Because I am elect, I cannot avoid being Christlike.” God’s elect cannot be at peace living in sin; they cannot live under sin’s domination (Rom. 6:11-14) or live counter to Christ and His will. If we are elect, God has committed all the fullness and glory of His resources to make us like His Son. As surely as God has determined to save the elect from eternity past and provided the cross of Calvary as the means of that salvation, so He has determined that the effects of that salvation will be holiness, even into eternity.1

More Than a Footnote

Today’s post is by Nate Palmer. Nate is the author of Servanthood as Worship: The Privilege of Life in a Local Church (Cruciform Press, 2010). You can follow him on Twitter at @palmernate.

Despite being one of the earliest and oldest of Christian holidays, the Ascension Day is nowhere to be found on the modern church calendar. It doesn’t even have its own hallmark card section or a catchy mascot like the Easter bunny. No one passes candy nor does anybody hang decorations. Each year, the once revered day passes by without any fanfare or remembrance. Ascension Day has vanished from our calendars and our consciousness. R.C. Sproul writes, “The significance of the Ascension is often overlooked in the modern church… Most churches, however, make little or no mention of the Ascension.”1 I not am arguing for another reason to eat at an overprice buffet, but the exclusion of the day Christ ascended into Heaven in our calendars is a symptom of much more dire ailment—an exclusion of its importance to the Christian life.

In today’s Christian culture, Christ’s birth, life and death are often the main in not sole focus in our celebrations, preaching, and publishing. Theologian Louis Berkhof makes observation that: “Even in evangelical circles the impression is often given, though perhaps without intending it, that the work accomplished by the Savior on earth was far more important than the services which He now renders from Heaven.” This is not to say that we shouldn’t study the amazing and life altering truths of Christ’s earthly ministry. Nor is to deny that all Christians should thoroughly seep themselves in their application. Yet modern churches unevenly focus in on these doctrines at the expense of Christ’s heavenly ministry – his ascent into heaven (Ascension) and sitting at the right hand of God (Session).

Often, Christians have a lopsided view of the work of Christ. We fail to see the complete spectrum of the entire work of Christ which includes both his humiliation and exaltation. A.W. Pink, in his commentary on Hebrews, writes, “There are many Christians who dwell too much on the crucifixion of Jesus in a one-sided way. We cannot dwell too much on the glorious truth that Jesus was crucified for our sins. Yet it is not on the crucifixion, but on Christ the Lord, that our faith rests…The ultimate object of his death upon the cross was His resurrection and ascension.”2 This unbalance has left many modern evangelicals with an incomplete view of the Savior. Consequently, this has given rise to an unbalanced gospel. [Read more…]

Jesus Christ, The Mediator Between God and Man

Today’s post is by Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership, continuing his series on The Apostles’ Creed. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter ( @BrianGMattson), and read his blog (

…and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord…”

Outside of the anomaly of Latino and Hispanic communities, there are not a lot of boys running around with the name “Jesus.” While I have no explanation whatsoever for the use of the name in those particular communities, I suspect that its absence among other cultural groups signals a lingering sense of reverence for the name. Somehow in the Western world people have named their children after dozens of biblical characters, yet “Jesus” is a name usually reserved for Jesus of Nazareth. To see that this is unique, one only has to ask how popular “Mohammed” is among Muslims.

Ironically, some parents would never dream of naming their child “Jesus,” and settle instead for “Joshua,” not realizing that they are the same name! Jesus is simply the Greek version of “Yeshua,” or “Joshua,” and it means “God saves.” And there we find the reason the name is so reserved for Jesus of Nazareth. There were lots of little “Joshuas” running around in Jesus’ time, but none of them wore the name the way Jesus did. For Jesus was, in the truest sense possible, “God saves.” He is the perfect embodiment of God’s saving action in the world. He is the Anointed One, the One by Whom God would rescue and save his people. The word for “Anointed One” is messiah or “Christ.” “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It is his office. It is the role he fulfills. He is anointed to be the one who would mediate between God and humanity. He is Immanuel, “God with us.”

And that is what the Apostles’ Creed confesses. After telling us the identity of the one in whom we believe, “Jesus Christ,” the creed tells us two relationships Jesus has. First, Jesus is “his only Son.” He is his Father’s Son. He has a unique relationship on the divine side of things. But this Jesus Christ is also “our Lord.” He has a unique relationship on the creaturely side of things, as well, a relationship with us. We are really confessing what the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” A mediator is somebody who stands “between” two parties. And in order to bring about a reconciliation between two parties, he must have a relationship with the two parties. And this is expressed for us in the creed by declaring that Jesus is God’s “only Son”—that is his relationship to His Father—and “our Lord”—his relationship to us. [Read more…]

God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth

Today’s post is by Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership, continuing his series on The Apostles’ Creed. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter (@BrianGMattson), and read his blog ( 

The late Douglas Adams begins his book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (a sequel to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), with these words:

The story thus far:

In the beginning the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Not only is this humorous in its fashion, but it is also a perfect expression of the pagan concept of creation. And the root of it is the notion that the dysfunction of the present world in which we live is “given” with creation itself. This is why all the ancient cosmogonies or origin myths held in common the view that creation was the result of strife of some sort, a battle between rival gods and so forth. According to paganism, creation was born under a bad moon.

No less was this the view of the heretical Gnostic sects in the early centuries. The church found itself contending with groups that emphatically denied that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the creator of the universe. Yes, they spoke of Jesus and his “Father,” but they did not identify this “Father” as the God of Genesis 1:1. Yahweh, the creator of heaven and earth, was a “demiurge,” an ignorant, low-level deity who basically made a “bad move” by creating the world of space, matter, and time. Jesus revealed, in fact, a god heretofore completely unknown, a “Father” above and beyond the creator of heaven and earth.

And so the Gnostics, following standard operating procedure for pagan worldviews, were among those whom, as Adams puts it, widely regarded creation as a “bad move.” The source of our problems and dysfunction is that we live in a world given to suffering, and the cause of that suffering is matter and time. Think of it: are we not betrayed by our bodies when we lust and envy? Are we not betrayed by time, as things continually change and our accomplishments seem so fleeting? Surely the “good” life must transcend this messy place, and our true home must be spiritual instead of material.

Was this only a challenge to the early church? By no means! Neo-paganism (Druidism, Wicca, Deep Ecology, etc.) believes that death is the natural state of affairs and that history is the continual cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Buddhism and Hinduism believe that our “problem” is that we are caught up on an endless “wheel of existence,” the illusory world of matter and time. We must transcend our bodies and achieve “oneness” with the spiritual reality above and beyond us. [Read more…]

What I Deserve vs. What I Get

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.—Rev 2:11

There is nothing of which I am more deserving than the second death. There is nothing more fitting, more just, more righteous than that I should suffer forever in the lake of fire. And the only reason why I won’t is that Jesus has endured in himself the judgment it entails. Jesus has exhausted in his own person the wrath of God that I otherwise would have faced in the lake of fire.

As I reflect on that reality I can’t help but feel complete dismay at those who reject penal substitutionary atonement, or flippantly and blasphemously dismiss it as “cosmic child abuse.” What hope have we for deliverance from the second death if not the suffering of its pains, in our stead, by the Son of God? If I receive the crown of life, which I don’t deserve, in place of the lake of fire, which I do deserve, it can only be for one reason: Jesus Christ, by a marvelous and ineffable exchange, has died that I might live, has suffered that I might be set free, has for me faced and felt the wrath of God and absorbed it in himself. . . .

As for the Christians in Smyrna, no sweeter words were ever spoken than these. Tribulation was tolerable, knowing that the second death died in the death of Jesus. Slander and imprisonment, yes, even martyrdom, were but “light momentary affliction” when compared with the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17) that is ours because Jesus died and rose again on our behalf.

Thinking about hell and the second death has immense practical benefits. . . . It is remarkable how tolerable otherwise intolerable things become when we see them in the light of the second death. Think often, then, of the pains of hell. Think often, I say, of the lake of fire. It puts mere earthly pain in perspective. It puts tribulation and poverty and slander and imprisonment and even death itself in their proper place. The collective discomfort of all such temporal experience is nothing in comparison with the eternal torment of the second death in the lake of fire.

The one who conquers, said Jesus, “will not be hurt by the second death.” Not even when Satan viciously accuses me of sins we all know I’ve committed? No, never, by no means ever will I be hurt by the second death. Not even when others remind me of how sinful I still am, falling short of the very standards I loudly preach and proclaim? No, never, by no means ever will I be hurt by the second death. Not even when my own soul screams in contempt at the depravity of my heart? No, never, by no means ever will I be hurt by the second death.

And that for one reason only: Jesus, in unfathomable mercy and grace, has suffered that hurt in my place.

So, be faithful, Christian man or woman. Rejoice, oh child of God. And give thanks that you will never, by no means ever, suffer harm from the second death!

 Adapted from Sam Storms, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3, Kindle Edition

The Apostles’ Creed: A Trailer

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter ( @BrianGMattson), and read his blog (

Before I launch into my series of meditations on the Creed, I think it helpful to first examine it as a whole. Seeing the broad sweep of things before attending to its details, looking at the big, blown-up illustrations on our map, will make our reflections more fruitful.

What follows, then, might be called: “The Apostles’ Creed: A Trailer.” This is just a teaser designed to whet the appetite, to show us that there is so much more in this simple creed than meets the eye. Reciting this creed in church can often feel so ho-hum, so boring. Actually, it is a beautiful piece of writing, almost like a piece of Baroque music. We only need ears to hear. It encompasses in succinct form the whole of God’s works: creation, redemption, and consummation. Here is my brief, stream-of-consciousness commentary on this ancient map, bequeathed to us by our spiritual fathers and mothers:

I believeCredo. A Latin term. Not “I suppose.” Not “I surmise.” Not “maybe.” Not “I hope.” I believe. Christian faith is not the result of a giant “leap.” It is the place from which we leap.

in God, the Father Almighty” God is our Father, our source, our benefactor, the one on whom we rely and depend, who cares for us, protects us, admonishes us, forgives us. He is all-mighty. There is nothing to thwart him, nothing to stand in his way, nothing that lives, moves or has its being outside of his absolutely sovereign will. He is not a demiurge, a bumbling, low-level divine being, but almighty, transcendent above all, the one to whom all else must give an account.

Maker of heaven and earth.” Heaven and earth. A Hebrew idiom meaning, everything. God created all things out of nothing. He is not a sculptor, who works with preexisting material; rather, he speaks and it comes into existence. He is not the creation itself. He is not part of the creation. The creation is not him, nor is it a part of him. God brought the universe into being, distinct from his own being. He was, is, and will forever be Creator, and everything else was, is, and always will be creature.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord” Jesus=Hebrew, Yeshua, “God saves.” Christ=Messiah, Anointed One, God’s “right hand” who acts for the salvation of his people. He is the only begotten Son, divine, eternal, always with the Father in eternity. But he is also our Lord, the exalted one, David’s Son, the inheritor of the eternal kingdom of a new heavens and a new earth. He is the Lord to whom every knee will bow and every tongue will one day, willingly or unwillingly, confess. [Read more…]

Maps, Cobblestones & Mortar and Spiritual Parenting

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter (@BrianGMattson), and read his blog (

A few summers ago I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Rome. It was an amazing trip, including an after-hours private tour of the Vatican museums. I stood in the normally quiet Sistine Chapel and listened to an art historian explain in great detail (with no apparent axe to grind) how Michaelangelo’s masterpiece, “The Final Judgment” indicates that the great artist was heavily influenced by Luther and Calvin and was likely himself a Protestant. Not the kind of thing you hear every day!

Another odd thing about this trip is that the travel agent responsible for my trip rather monumentally fouled up the arrangements for the trip. I got to the airport and wasn’t a ticketed passenger! I had the remarkable experience of walking up to a ticket counter and saying, “Round trip to Rome, leaving today, please.” Thankfully, the plastic that I whipped out had enough to cover it while awaiting reimbursement!

When I got to Rome I had, of course, a map. It was one of those maps designed for tourists, with all the major sights blown-up and arranged for easy finding. One evening I and my companions set out to find a particular restaurant located on a small side street somewhere in the hustling and bustling city. I knew of the restaurant because my sister had eaten there only a few short months earlier and highly recommended it. However…

The restaurant was not there. In fact, the street itself was not there. I stood at an intersection, map unfolded, getting my bearings. Yes, I was oriented. The street should be right… there! Alas, no street. The reality of what stood before me made a liar of my map. Either the cobblestones and mortar had shifted and moved in the intervening months, or my map was wrong. Those were my two explanatory options.

Now, the conclusion I must reach is obvious, isn’t it? Maps can be wrong. They might not accurately or fully depict the cobblestones and mortar that are actually there. So I resolved that never again would I allow myself to be deceived by a fallible document like a map. They are clearly worthless. They cannot be trusted. People who trust in maps are gullible. Far better to forego the use of a map and just wander out and find things yourself, with only cold, hard, reality to guide you. Better to not use all the sorts of aids and guides people use when preparing for a trip. Not just maps, but language helps like Rosetta Stone or common phrase dictionaries. Better to just get on the plane, arrive, flag a cab, get dropped off on a street corner and make a go of it. That’s the only way to make sure you won’t be deceived. Right?

Rather silly conclusion, isn’t it? Yet that is exactly the conclusion many people reach when they discover that ancient Christian traditions, particularly the great creeds of the church, can be wrong. Upon learning that tradition is not infallible, they decide that tradition is worthless. Having rejected Roman Catholicism’s hyper-trust in tradition, they decide, with the Anabaptists, that creeds are of no use at all. “No Creed but Christ!” they cry. One might as well decide that all maps are worthless. After all, they might mislead you. [Read more…]