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Crucifix or Cross?

16 May

Have you ever wondered why, as a general rule, Protestants display an empty cross rather than a crucifix (a cross with Christ’s body nailed to it) as the Roman Catholics? It has to do with theology. Both believe in the real death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but Protestants insist on representing the Christian faith to the point of its furthest fulfillment.*

Yes, it is necessary to remember and believe in Christ’s voluntary, substitutionary suffering and death on the cross; the climax of his passion is crucial to salvation. It is, however, also necessary to declare his resurrection. Salvation would be powerless and incomplete if Christ remained on the cross or in the grave. The cross alone was insufficient to save sinners in the sense that it cannot be separated from the necessity of Christ’s resurrection. Without it, sin would remain upon God’s people and there would be no salvation (1 Cor. 15:12-19, esp. 17-19). Eternity depends on a living Saviour.

Since we worship and serve a risen, victorious, reigning Saviour and Lord, Protestants refuse to picture Christ’s work in suspended animation in his state of suffering. They worship the King who conquered the curse of the cross.

*There are other reasons for the difference too, e.g. the Roman Church’s stress on the Mass, some Protestants’ understanding of the 2nd Commandment, etc.


What Happens to Those Who Die in Infancy?

7 Jul

There are few situations that have the potential to cause as much pain as the death of a child. When a young one dies, not only parents, but siblings and others who have a close bond with the child can suffer post-traumatic stress, deep depression, and other forms of emotional, psychological, or even physical pain. The overwhelming grief can put strain on marriages and other relationships. It can test one’s faith and affect one’s work. It can alter the parents’ plans on trying for more children. No single situation can represent the myriad of painful effects such a death can leave. But there is hope with the support of loved ones, the ministry of the Church, the comfort of Scripture, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. There can be peace and growth when faced with such trials.

When faced with this devastating situation, the question arises for the Christian: “What happens to those who die in infancy? Is my child in heaven?” It is true that Scripture speaks to all areas of faith and life, but it does not always speak with equal clarity or detail. Consider the following two examples. Scripture is clear that salvation is only found in Jesus Christ (John 14:6), but there is not an explicit statement in the Bible that says, “God saves all children who die in infancy,” or, “All children who die in infancy are elect.” Even among Reformed Christians there are different understandings and levels of conviction on what Scripture teaches. Because of the different views, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)—a Reformed document that summarizes the Bible’s teaching—answers with hopeful vagueness. The WCF states in chapter 10.3 that, “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.”[1] The Confession does not state that all infants are elect and saved; neither does it say that some infants are not saved. It acknowledges what is beyond dispute—that every person God elects is saved, young or old. This is a faithful, biblical stance. The Christian could stop here and be at peace, trusting in God’s goodness and his promise to do what is right. Many others believe that there is enough biblical evidence to clarify this further. If Scripture provides more, then it should not be ignored. What follows is a biblical case for what is arguably the view most Reformed Christians (likely most of Christendom) hold, i.e. the conviction that all children who die in infancy are part of God’s elect people and saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Before giving evidence for this thesis, some truths must first be declared to keep us from falling into error.


The Bible teaches that even the smallest, frailest, most dependent child still developing in the womb is considered a living person. In context, Scripture even speaks judgment against those who cause the death of one of these unborn children—life for life (Ex. 21:22–25). Since every child in the womb is a living person, each is made in God’s image and must have a home in eternity. The question then remains, what will be that home? Every person must spend the rest of eternity either in the blessed presence of the Lord or in the unfathomable dread of eternal hell. There are only two possibilities.


The doctrine of Original Sin, which is drawn from passages such as Romans 5:10–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 47ff, begins with the notion that God treated the first human being, Adam, as the head, or representative, of all humanity. The way Adam responded to God would have lasting effects on all people. The Bible does not teach that every person was in the garden and plucked the fruit of the tree, submitted to the devil-controlled serpent, and hid in their shame and disobedience. It teaches that the effects of the first sin pass to each member of the human race because Adam was our representative in the first covenant between God and mankind. This principle of headship is also true for all who are represented by Christ in the New Covenant (Rom. 5) where his righteousness becomes our righteousness and we share in his death and resurrection. Headship is not foreign even to us in contemporary America: whole countries can be considered guilty for the actions of their leadership, and when a president or board of a company commits malpractice, the whole corporation can be fined and receive a poor reputation. In both of these situations, all the people participate in the sins of the leadership to some degree and all bear some of the consequences.

While every person did not commit the same sin as Adam, all are found guilty in Adam and all are therefore born into sin, inherit a corrupted nature, are at enmity with God apart from grace, and die (with the exception of Enoch and Elijah). Even a child in the womb carries this dark burden (Psa. 51:5). Like a drop of dye in a bottle of water, once sin entered the human race, it spread to all of mankind (except for Christ Jesus). Given the chance, every person willingly commits sin because of an inherited sinful nature (Eph. 2:3).

By way of review, infants: (1) are precious, living children who bear God’s image (though it is now corrupted); (2) have inherited the guilt and punishment of Adam’s sin prior to willingly committing sin; and (3) like all people, are deserving of divine punishment. Fortunately, we turn to the hope and promise of the Gospel of Grace.


The Bible is clear that salvation from sin and judgment is by God’s grace alone as revealed in passages such as Ephesians 1:3–7:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;

or Titus 3:4–7:

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

 Whether adults or children, born or in the womb, there are no other means for people to be saved than by grace alone. Children who die in infancy can only be saved by God’s grace in Christ Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12; c.f. John 14:6).


While Scripture does not explicitly state all children who die in infancy are saved, it does give considerable implicit evidence—enough evidence to convince a great many Christians, Reformed and otherwise, that all these children are saved. Scripture must be the approach because Christians must rely on the truth of Scripture and not empty hopes resulting from painful emotions.

Consider Job 3:16–17, “ Or why was I not hidden like a stillborn child, like infants who never saw light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest.” In his desperation, Job says that it would have been better if he had died in the womb, for they (the unborn) are not troubled by the wicked but are at rest. It is unlikely that Job was referring simply to death and the grave, for Job later states that he believes in a Redeemer and in the resurrection of the body (chapter 19). He knows that death is not the end; the grave offers no rest in itself, for the soul lives on. It would seem that Job is confident that the unborn are in a perpetual state of rest and comfort (with the Lord), free from the enemies and troubles of this life and surely then from those in hell.

Notable pastor and teacher, John MacArthur, references King David’s contrasting responses to the death of his first child with Bathsheba and the death of his adult son, Absalom. When the first child died very young, David was at peace because he said that he would “go to him” again someday (2 Sam. 12:19–24). Upon hearing of the death of Absalom, however, David wept bitterly and for a prolonged time (2 Sam. 19:24–20:7). MacArthur argues, “This is the exact opposite. He stopped mourning when the baby died, he started mourning when Absalom died. What’s the difference? He knew the baby was in the presence of the Lord. He knew Absalom was not. In that first son there was hope of a reunion, in the second there was horror. No sorrow for the death of the first, almost unrelieved sorrow in the death of the second.”[2] It seems that both Job and David, men of great faith, believed in the salvation of infants who had died.

Supporters of this view also see Jesus’ words as evidence that all infants who die are saved by grace.  Jesus spoke a lot about children; his disciples were amazed at his love for them. In Mark 10:13–16 is the following account:

And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

 Jesus welcomes the children, calls them to himself (Luke 18:16–17), embraces, lays hands on, blesses, and he says that the kingdom belongs to such as these. When Christ blesses and speaks of the blessed it is significant: the loaves and fishes are multiplied (Mark 6:41; 8:7); the bread and wine are made holy (Mark 14:22); those will be blessed who are faithfully found waiting for his coming (Luke 12); those in the kingdom are blessed (Luke 14:15); the disciples are blessed before Christ ascends into heaven (Luke 24:50–51); those blessed of the Father inherit the Kingdom (Matt. 25); and when speaking of the Kingdom, Jesus blesses children, and says that the Kingdom belongs to such as these (Mark 10).

When Jesus refers to such as these, John Calvin says he refers to the state of the persons that correspond to an infant. This includes not only the child who dies in infancy and has no capacity to believe or not believe, but also to those in a similar state such as the severe mentally deficient.[3] Jesus speaks of little children belonging to the kingdom. This cannot be because they are innocent, for they are guilty in Adam and commit their own sins; it can only be because of God’s grace shown to them.

The basis by which Jesus will judge at his return also lends support to the view that all children who die in infancy are saved by grace. Paul says to the Church at Corinth: “For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). Though it must be stressed that each person is guilty and condemnable in Adam, this verse and others like it have been used to argue that final judgment will not be based upon Original Sin, but that God will judge according to the deeds done in the flesh, i.e. those sins which have been done by the individual. The same could be argued from Revelation 20:11–12, which states,

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works (emphasis mine, see also John 3:19; Romans 1:18–20, 2:6; Matt. 16:27).

People are judged for their evil deeds and unbelief but only ever saved by the grace of God who forgives them in Christ Jesus. If children die in the womb, they have not committed any personal sins. By this argumentation, they would be forgiven their guilt in Adam and saved by God’s grace.

What about those who have been born yet are still young (in age or mental capacity)? They would have already sinned individually. Many would say the accounts from Job, 2 Samuel, the Gospels, and Epistles indicate that God shows them grace, forgiving those who do not have the mental capacity to understand. (Although “Age of accountability” is a popular phrase, it is not really appropriate. Mental capability, not age, is the issue and all sins, Original and personal, must be accounted for and either judged or forgiven by grace. David Russell, 19th century Scottish minister, supports this understanding:

The Scriptures, when they distinguish any from the chosen of God, invariably represent them as walking in the ways of sin, as shutting their eyes to the light, as hardening themselves against God, as left by Him to follow their own courses, and as abusing the longsuffering and goodness of God to the hardening of their hearts in unbelief and impenitence. Now…it appears, that whatever He in justice might have done, it is the fixed determination of God, that none of the human race shall be finally condemned by a judicial act of His will, arising simply from the offence of Adam. It follows, then, that all who die in infancy are chosen by Him in Christ, of his rich and his Sovereign grace.[4]

Russell recognizes that God would be perfectly just to judge a person for any and all sin (Original or personal) but understands Scripture to say that, in practice, God determines to judge the individual by personal sins committed—sins committed by one who is capable of sufficiently comprehending revelation in creation and/or Scripture to make decisions based on that information.

Some criticize this view, arguing that if one cannot have faith in Christ, then one must not be saved. This is a very minority view and would rule out all infants and many others with limited mental faculties. They think this compromises Ephesians 2:8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (emphasis mine). Salvation through faith absolutely applies to all those who are mentally able to believe or not believe. Scripture is written for those who can hear and/or read, as well as understand its words and truths. It is not surprising then that Scripture’s pages are filled with references to faith and unbelief. But “…the cause of…undeserved election is exclusively the good pleasure of God.” (Canons of Dort, Head I, art. 10).[5] The Canons of Dort explain that faith is not a cause but a fruit[6] of grace already working within the elect person.[7]

God’s electing grace can still be present in the womb or in the infant where sufficient faith is not yet mentally possible. A person can only believe or reject something if he or she has the mental capacity to know and understand. This is why Romans 1 includes those who have not even heard of the Gospel:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown [it] to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible [attributes] are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify [Him] as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools… (Rom. 1:18-22, emphasis mine)

Paul explains that those who have heard the Gospel and rejected it, and those who have only “clearly seen”  in Creation and “suppressed the truth”, are both “without excuse”. In each example, the person is depicted as being able to clearly see (perceive), understand, know, and profess based on that information. It logically follows that those who cannot perceive or understand (e.g. young children who die or severely mentally impaired individuals) have a valid reason (excuse) for not having faith. Their sins still need to be atoned for, but like the believer who is capable of understanding, they are forgiven by God’s grace in Jesus Christ.


Every person is born with a corrupt, sinful nature and, given the chance, will personally sin. All people are guilty and corrupt before the Holy God, but out of his good pleasure and love, God saves many people by pouring out his grace through the person and work of Jesus Christ. All those who are capable of perceiving and truly believe the Gospel are saved. Conversely, all who have been granted the mental capability to see and understand God’s power and nature at work in creation and/or his Word are without excuse for not believing. Those who are not given the mental faculties to perceive and understand God’s revelation (e.g. embryos, young children who die, or those with severe mental inabilities) have a reason for not believing what they are incapable of understanding. God forgives their sin and guilt in Jesus Christ according to his good pleasure and will. This should never make us lazy in teaching biblical truth to any age or ability, for only God knows who his elect are.

As terrible as the death of a child may be to experience, Christians can find hope and healing in the pages of Scripture. Not all Christians believe the Bible provides enough evidence to confidently say that all children who die in infancy are saved, but many do. Either way, the Christian can find comfort in knowing God is good and will do what is right.

For the unbeliever, such a travesty may be the means God uses to help them glimpse their own mortality and awaken them to the urgency of knowing the God who made them. If an unbeliever is devastated by the loss of an infant, the Christian should mourn with the unbeliever over this heart-breaking trauma. The Christian who believes all of these little ones are saved can also offer comfort regarding the child’s eternity, and in time, present Jesus to the unbelieving parent with the Gospel confidence that if that parent repents and believes in Jesus, he or she too will meet their child again. That was David’s joy.

May the Lord give his people clarity to see the truth in his Word, Christ-like hearts to bear the burdens of those who have lost a child, and souls afire for the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus.

*This is a summary of a longer paper written for a course taken at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.


[1] Westminster Confession of Faith,

[2] John MacArthur, “The Salvation of Babies Who Die, Part 2” a sermon. Accessed February 2016,

[3] Stagg, Calvin,Twisse & Edwards on Universal Salvation of Infants, 46, 60–61.

[4] David Russell, Essay on The Salvation of All Dying in Infancy: Including Hints on The Adamic and Christian Dispensations (Edinburgh: Printed for Waugh and Innes; Chalmers & Collins, Glasgow; and Ogle, Duncan & Co. London, 1823), 202–203.

[5] Canons of Dort.

[6] Venema, “The Canons of Dort” in But for the Grace of God, 132.

[7] Venema, “The Canons of Dort” in But for the Grace of God, 150.

Should Christians be Welcoming & Affirming?

3 Jul

There is a lot push for Christians to be “welcoming and affirming” from inside and outside of church walls. Some use this exact phrase to make a particular point: “We are welcoming and affirming of persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities.” Other pastors and congregations speak more generally saying, “Come, just be yourself and journey with us. We do life together here. We’re not like traditional churches.” Then there are those on the opposite side of the spectrum that are so inward focused and off-putting to any who darken the doors that they are neither welcoming nor affirming. Some even make the news for having such brutish tactics that they yell and picket at funerals so that people would be hard pressed to make it close to the doors of their church.

What stance ought we to take then as Christians? The extremes are not compatible, so is one to be preferred over the other? Is the middle ground the answer? Thankfully, God provides the Church with guidelines, instruction, and examples of how the Church should conduct herself. Since Scripture is divinely authoritative, completely without error, and sufficient for life and faith, let’s briefly consider what wisdom it offers regarding this topic. In order to do this, let’s take a look at “welcoming and affirming”, since it has become a common phrase in the U.S. and is more specific than the enigmatic rhetoric of the emergent-flavor churches where any definition, statement, or certainty is averted or outright rejected.

There are two unique ideas contained in this compound participial (verbal-adjective) phrase, so we will first considered them separately. Welcoming, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, means to “receive with pleasure and hospitality…to cordially or willingly permit or invite…to give a cordial greeting or hospitable reception.” To be welcoming, then, speaks of how one invites or receives an outsider into ones company at the outset. It is an initial interaction, often among strangers, that sets a hospitable, comfortable tone or atmosphere for the newcomer. Does Scripture teach that Christians are to be welcoming? Yes it does. Any number of passages could be referenced to support this: Jehovah God welcomed the Israelites though they were sinners (Deut. 9:5ff); Jesus welcomed the sinners and unjust tax collectors (Luke 5:27-30; 19); Jesus welcomed the adulterer (John 8); Jesus welcomed thieves (Luke 23); Jesus welcomes the weary and heavy laden (Matt. 11:28); Jesus welcomed Paul the persecutor and murderer of his people (Acts 9; 22; 26); Jesus welcomes all who truly come to him in faith and will no wise cast them out (John 6:37); Jesus welcomed me, a sinner loaded with sin. Indeed Jesus welcomes all kinds of people with all sorts of sin baggage. So too he commands his people to go and do likewise, to welcome the stranger, the sick, the widow, the orphan, the criminal, the brokenhearted, the sinner.

What about “affirming”? Affirming, according to the same source above, means “to declare positively; to assert to be true…to declare support for or belief in,” or according to Merriam-Webster, “to assert as valid or confirmed…to show a strong belief in or dedication to.” Affirming, then, is not how one acts toward another, but to gladly and willingly encourage, agree with, be committed to, and/or approve of someone or something. It is not about kindness, a willingness to listen, or a hospitable atmosphere. It is about upholding or encouraging certain beliefs, statements, thoughts, or actions. Do you see the marked uniqueness of the two words, welcoming and affirming? A person, or church, can be welcoming but not affirming of someone, affirming but not welcoming, both welcoming and affirming, or neither.

Does Scripture teach that Christians are to be affirming? Well, affirming of what? Affirming which beliefs? Which lifestyles? Which people? What state of people? Which statements? Encourage which actions? God’s Word does tell us to affirm the truths of his Scripture (Exo. 20:6, et al.). Paul says that he wants Titus to constantly affirm that believers should be careful to maintain good works (Titus 3:8, NKJV). He sends Timothy to the Thessalonians to encourage them concerning their faith (I Thes. 3:2, NKJV). But certainly we are not to affirm false teaching (I Tim. 1:7, NKJV) or anything contrary to truth or holy living. Job refuses to affirm the wrong assumptions of his presumptuous friends (Job 27:5, HCSB). David rightly attests that the wicked encourage one another in their evil ways (Psa. 64:5, NKJV); certainly they aren’t to be affirmed. It would then be unwise for a church to make a blanket statement that they are “affirming” without outlining what they affirm. That is why social groups, institutions, and churches often have statements of faith and why many creeds and confessions were composed, in order to affirm clearly what they believe, or in the case of Christian churches or groups, what they believe Scripture teaches.

Christians, therefore, ought not to be affirming of everyone’s beliefs, lifestyles, attitudes, thoughts, hopes, dreams, self-imposed identities, actions, or anything that God declares as sin. This too includes churches who specifically affirm any and all sexual identities and gender orientations, for God has declared throughout the whole corpus of Scripture that he has created and established only two unique, complementary genders and marriage as being between one man and one woman. Yet, though “welcoming and affirming” is often used to support the LGBTQ+ community, and so mentioned here, it is not the only reason to reject the “affirming” language. As noted above, affirming  should be limited to biblical truth and living. That should be implied in all areas of the Christian Church, in all congregations who take the name Christian. It is Scripture that is our final authority in all matters of faith and life, and it is the Word of God that centers in and focuses on Jesus Christ from whom all Christians take their name and find their identity.

Christians, therefore, should be very welcoming of all peoples, but not affirming. Christ calls sinners to himself, but he does not affirm sinners in their sin. He does not encourage their sin or support their sinful lifestyles. Instead the triune God says, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He calls us, sinners, to repentance and faith (Acts 20:21). He tells us to humble ourselves, pray, turn from sin, and seek the Lord (II Chr. 7:14). He commands us to put off our old man that is corrupt and filled with deceitful lusts (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:8-9), and put on the new man of righeousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24ff). He encourages us to grow in our faith (Eph. 4:15; I Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). He commands us to exercise ourselves unto godliness (I Tim. 4:7-9). He tells us to mortify the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5). We are not to remain the same as when we were welcomed as sinners, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2); our thinking needs changing. We are to forsake ourselves and obey God out of love (John 14:15). We are to be called out, separate from the world and its ways (II Cor. 6:17). We are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33).

Jesus never affirmed sinners and neither should we. He welcomed them with love and the offer of a new life. He came for the sick, proclaiming that he was the great Physician that could heal and remove the disease that plagues us all. Yes, Christian, by all means, welcome all people. Grow in your welcoming of others. Pray that you will mirror the welcoming nature of Jesus Christ. Repent of any hardheartedness, fears, selfishness, pride, disgust toward others, or any other sin that is keeping you from truly welcoming others. But never water down the gospel for which Jesus came, bled, died, rose, and is coming again. A Gospel that does not affirm sinners, but calls us to repentance and new life in Christ. This is who we are to be.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Christ Descended to Hell

18 Mar

Simply speaking, the grave is the abode of the dead; hell, the abode of the forsaken. Yet, in the Bible as well as in our own vernacular, the grave can be used not only to speak of the location of a dead body but the state or experience of death. The same can be said of hell, referring to the location and/or the state or experience. When the Apostle’s Creed states that Christ “descended to hell”, properly understood, it refers to the latter.

Christ’s descent to hell is not an entrance into the physical realm of hell, as some have misunderstood, for Christ said to the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke xxiii.43), and to the Father, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke xxiii.46). Some have taken 1 Peter iii out of context and used it to support the notion that Christ actually went to the abode of hell to preach the gospel, or to a third neutral place—a false, Jewish notion of Abraham’s Bosom (Luke xvi.22). These ideas misunderstand Peter’s reference to the world of Noah where Christ warned the people through his prophet.  It also creates inconsistency in the Bible’s witness concerning the finality of one’s post-mortem state, a separate dealing with Old Testament saints in the afterlife, and a weaker view of serendipity in glory for the faithful who sleep in Christ. Christ’s descent to hell, while not a physical journey, is no less literal, but we must understand it according to the truth of Scripture.

Christ did not merely experience the horrors of a torturous, corporeal death by crucifixion. No, he had to experience the hell of God’s terrible wrath against sin by taking upon himself the chastisement due us. What is the punishment for sin but the Divine forsaking of the sinner under the weight of God’s mighty, just arm. Christ experienced this very thing for his people.

Infinitely more terrible than his physical death was his spiritual suffering. Only the God-Man could bear such weight in a limited time that comparatively would mean everlasting punishment for man. We cannot fully grasp this notion, but rest assured, if everlasting hell is unbearable for man, how much more was it for the Son of Man who took it all at once for countless sinners. I issue a sincere challenge to each of us: to meditate upon the unimaginable sufferings Christ underwent for the salvation of everyone who places their hope in him. If hell is being forsaken by God, remember Christ’s words as he hung there on the cross, crying out in physical and spiritual anguish, “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me!?”

God is Not Santa

30 Nov

“He’s making a list, and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Santa Clause is coming to town.”

This is the view many, MANY people have of Yahweh—a grand, jolly ol’ St. Nick who will save those who did enough good things. Without a doubt there are those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life and those who are not (Rev. 21.27), but who is and who isn’t is not based upon if you’ve been good enough, if you’ve done enough good deeds, if you’ve said a certain number of prayers, gave a certain percentage of your money, or think you are comparatively better than that other person you know who works with you.

Salvation from the captivity and power of sin and its consequences (death, degradation, and God’s just judgment) is only by God’s underserved love and mercy, according to his good and pleasure (Eph. 2.8; Eph. 1). He justifies sinners, who I am, you are, and everyone is, not based upon works, but by faith in the grace he promised and dispensed in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3.28).

Are works important? ABSOLUTELY. Scripture instructs us over and over again to not give up doing good works (Titus 3 et. al.). It teaches us that our good works are evidence of a true and saving faith (James 2). They are neither the basis nor the means of our being made right with God, yet they are a testimony and fruit that arise out of a life changed, and being changed, by grace through faith. We ought to adamantly, generously, sacrificially live out our faith with works, both to those within the Church and those outside of her. Christ is the perfect example of living a life of service; we are to model our lives after him.

Nevertheless, we must not be deceived; we cannot work our way into God’s favor and forgiveness. Rather, we must repent of our sin, believe that he has accomplished that which was necessary for our salvation in Christ Jesus, and live lovingly, gratefully in submission to him. Be completely enraptured by Christ and his love for you. Fall desperately in love with him and serve him and others always.

“Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” : ISIS, Suffering, Death and the Opening of Eyes to the Problem of Evil

20 Nov

Are all people inherently good? This is a question asked by many who think deep enough to consider the World and humanity. While the question is a good one, the cognate of that question that the idealist rather blindly states is more striking: “All people are inherently good.” Are such statements products of an internal, false hope? Hard hearts? Willful suspension of reality for the self preservation of those without a sound answer and solid hope?

Are reality-disjointed, pseudo-utopic propositions such as these growing in popularity, maintaining ground, or dampening like the sound of echoes in a canyon? Whatever the global trend may be, the guest journalists on the Diane Rehm show this morning seemed to have a more realistic, observational acuity.

A woman named Elizabeth called in from St. Louis, MO to contribute the following:

“I’m 87years old: One brother was killed and one brother was crippled in the second  World War, and I keep hoping that the world is going to achieve peace…how can we bring some stronger emphasis on this side of the human spirit?”

Hope is good. Elizabeth asks as good a question as the inquisitive person who seeks to know if man at his root is morally good or bad. Both are valid and important questions that need answering. And we can see that Elizabeth is searching for a solution. She wants light to be shed on the question of the growing, persistent evil in the world around her. Don’t we all want a clear solution to that problem?

In response, Yochi Dreazen, managing editor of Foreign Policy, correctly observes that peace is not natural in the world. The world testifies to the persistent problem of evil and darkness.

 “…I wish we could say that in my lifetime, the lifetime of my children, we could get to a place where this type of peace she prays for happens, but it’s hard to look at the events of the world today and say it’s going to happen.”

This man’s response makes me wonder: are the persistent wars and rumours of wars beginning to change that false, idealist mindset of the goodness of humanity? Is the in-your-face, unashamedly brazen presence of extremists, human suffering, and death reversing the polarity of the collective understanding of humanity’s condition?

Diane Rehm, the host of the NPR show of the same name, wonders about a parallel concern:

“…is this [the training of young boys to be fighters/killers] going on in just one part of the world?”

Shane Harris, Senior Intelligence &National Security Correspondent for The Daily Beast, with even more clarity, responds:

 “No, I think there’s a culture of violence in many places. I mean, we have a culture of violence in THIS country. And I’m not trying to draw false parallels here, but you know, I think it is in human nature. You know, that’s why we call it Winning the Peace. You know, I think we’re somehow predisposed as human beings toward conflict. I know that’s a grand statement but I think it is backed up by what you are seeing on display in the world right now. And I mean, we talk about the Second World War: there are many ways where the state of the world DOESN’T look all that different, fundamentally, at the root, and I mean, maybe, you know, it’s a sad commentary, but maybe THIS is who we are, and that actually Winning the Peace is something to strive for; that is rare.”

Shane nailed it. He not only observes the evil prevalent in all crannies of the globe, including here at home in the United States, but he acknowledges that it is part of human nature, that we are predisposed toward enmity. It is fundamental. It is at the root. It is a sad commentary. But it is true. It might be said of Shane, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God“(Mark 12.34b).

Where Shane possibly gets it wrong, depending upon the extent of his meaning, is that “Winning at Peace” is something we can do. We can certainly uphold justice, and promote peace, but ultimately, there is but one hope for peace, and that is Jesus Christ, our Peace. It is he, and he alone that can bring true and lasting peace to individuals and to the world at the end of the age.

The biggest blind spot for many people is self awareness. With the terrible refrains of death and destruction daily coming forth from our iPads, phones, and televisions, little room is left for those calling  the black sheep, white without them being deemed absurd. Yet for those who stubbornly persist in claims of the righteousness of man, the world is a stumbling block. They must answer with ideas such as, “Well, we are all good, but then someone corrupts that good.” But if we are all good, how are there so many corrupters? And when reflecting upon the evil that is present, many seem to consider darkness to be out in the world. They harden their hearts to the radical depravity of their own souls, not recognizing that they each contribute to the make-up of humanity. Humanity is an assemblage of humans—depraved humans. And you, me, and Elizabeth are all polluted with that same dark nature.

I hope there are more with as keen a sight as Yochi, and moreso, Shane. I hope the world begins to recognize just how far and deep sin goes—just how tremendous a problem evil is. And I hope that in doing so, they will continue to search for the answer that Elizabeth is seeking. And by God’s grace, many more will find it. They will find the answer that has been around since the Fall of mankind that plunged each and every one of us into the dark place of depravity. By the good mercy of God, they will know that what is needed is the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But isn’t the Gospel good news? Why would you use the Gospel to awaken the conscious to darkness? Because God uses the darkness to show the brightness of his Son; the Good News needs first convict the person of their sin, then the eternal and promised hope of salvation in Jesus Christ from sin can be made clear. Only after conviction of sin do we know our need of a Saviour. I pray that by his Spirit, the Lord God Jehovah will awaken minds, and soften hearts to the truth of the darkness of the soul and the desperate need of the Saviour. Only after we know we are soiled do we bathe in the purifying, cleansing blood of Jesus. The Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Romans 1.16).  We live in the age of grace, and God is adding to Christ’s inheritance those that will join him for eternity— those called by his grace. Maybe the downward spiral of the earth, the proliferation of darkness, will also be what God Almighty uses to bring many to himself? Perhaps that is one way he will boil the pots of the cold and lukewarm.


Quotes taken from The Diane Rehm Show™, and can be accessed at:

(beginning at 43:50)

When You Feel Spiritually Cold, There is Light and Heat

18 Oct

EVERY YEAR IT COMES—expected and yet somehow startling. The shortening of the days. Colder and darker it gets while waiting to put the kids on that yellow behemoth lined with finger-streaked windows perpetually fogged by the breaths of dozens of children. Shorter. Darker. Colder. And not because the world is spinning faster. Not because the sun ceases to shine. Not because its heat is diminishing or its brightness dimming. The days change because we turn away from the sun. As such, the sun arcs further and further in the South, and we spend less and less time in the power of its rays.

Our spiritual life can be like this too. It can grow colder, grow darker. This is not due to a deficiency with the Son. Christ, the radiant Son, never ceases to shine, for he is the “everlasting Light” of the world (Isa. lx.19; John viii.12). His power never diminishes, for he is God Almighty (Rev. i.8). His love never grows cold, for he gave his life to be “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John iv.10) and will “never leave nor forsake us” (Heb. xiii.5). Christ Jesus truly is “the Bright and Morning Star” (Rev. xxii.16). No, our spiritual lives grow colder when we turn away from him. If we turn from him and seek not his face, our spiritual lives grow colder because we spend less time in his presence.

The Christian must work to make sure her gaze doesn’t fall off of Christ and onto the world. This an on-going battle for the Christian living in a world devastated by sin. She may begin to just go through the motions of her faith, doing so out of habit rather than out of love and joy. Her trust in Jesus is well established, but her zeal and affection has cooled. Her Bible reading may slacken, meaning she is not hearing God speak to her through it apart from the weekly sermon on Sunday, and that only through a haze. Her prayer life may feel dull or may drop off considerably, meaning she isn’t talking with her Beloved. Essentially, all communication is cut off or drastically reduced. No relationship can flourish without communication, and this may last for years.

Her spiritual life grows colder and darker, imperceptibly at the start, but well noticed as time progresses. She has a spiritual version of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—that phenomenon that occurs for some in the dreary, dark-days of winter when the sun’s rays are too long obscured and a mild depression sets in. She plods along still engaging in ministry and worship, but half-heartedly. At some point she’ll be awakened to this coolness, this spiritual despondency, for the Spirit is still at work. The greatest awakening occurs when she looks at a new or growing Christian and thinks, “What happened? That used to be me. I used to have that fire, that zeal. Where has it gone? I still love the Lord. I still come to worship him. I still read his Word. I’m here on Sunday when others don’t come at all.” Sadly, for many it will take awhile yet before a change occurs. Excuses are given, rather than appropriate action taken. “Well, life is hard right now. I’ve got a lot going. I can’t expect to always be excited. I don’t have time to read my Bible more. I’ve heard a sermon about this several times already. I just don’t like the music; it’s too loud and unfamiliar to me. You can’t expect to be in the honeymoon phase forever. I’ve just matured more. Maybe I’m just more serious now, and that’s probably out of reverence.” Some of what she says may be true, but the reality is that she’s only perpetuating the downward spiral. Until she awakens, until she does something, she’ll be in this spiritual funk, and perhaps grow lukewarm to the Gospel itself. Heaven forbid we should ever lose an ounce of gratitude and awe for the good news of Jesus Christ who snatched us from the pits of hell.

What can she do? What should you or I do, if we find ourselves here? The good news is that God has already provided us with the answer. We can and should use the means of grace God has lovingly given us: his Word, his Sacraments, his Church, and Prayer. But wasn’t the women doing that already? Not really. At least not in the way she ought.

God has provided his people with the most tremendous gifts, and they are to be used persistently, lovingly, relentlessly. There is a reason why people speak of spiritual disciplines. Properly speaking, they aren’t dry traditions used to earn salvation, though they can be perverted in such a way. The key here is discipline. The Christian needs to be disciplined or deliberate in how he or she lives. God has not called us to a lukewarm life in Christ. He wants us to thrive in him. To have life to the FULL: “You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence” (Acts ii.28). He has come “that [we] may have life, and that [we] may have it more abundantly” (John x.10). God never calls people to passivity. We are called to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength…and to love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mark xxii.30-31). This an active love, not just in word but in deed as well (1 John iii.18). We are to live our lives for Christ in all that we do. If we desire a healthy spiritual life, we need to be disciplined at living one. Not to earn God’s favour, but because we have received his favour and are desperately in love with him. Life is hard, and evil is always knock, knock, knocking at our doors to tempt us. We need to be vigilant and careful about how we live our lives for Christ. The reality is that some people spend more time caring, investing, and protecting their lawns than their relationship with Christ. They will plot out the areas, weed their lawns, fertilize the soil, plant flowers, shape hedges, trim branches, kill moles and pests, cutt, water, and green up their lawns while giving much less effort to the weeding out of sin, and watering, nourishing, and caring for their relationship with Jesus. Let this not be you or me!

Do you need a revitalized spiritual life? Has yours become darker and colder? Discipline yourself to embrace the means of grace provided to us. DIVE into God’s holy Word. Make a point of it, daily. Make it your first priority. Begin by adding just a few minutes. The revelation of God’s Word is the way we know Christ. Do you want to have a better relationship with him?…Get to know him. Go deep into his word. Get lost in its pages. Marvel at its wisdom. Be captivated by its beauty. Seek Christ in the Old and New Testaments. Ask questions of the text and seek out answers. Take notes. Read with your spouse, children, friends. Share with others what you’ve learned. Fall back in love with Bible. You will not regret it.

But we cannot enact change; that is God’s department. The Holy Spirit must apply truth in our lives and invigorate the soul. Pray for this. Be disciplined in your prayer life. Pray unceasingly the Scripture says (1 Thes. v.17). Pray as your walk. Pray as you work. When you see someone, pray for them. Pray with others as well; you’re relationship with them will also benefit. Pray that God will “renew a steadfast spirit within [you]” (Psa. li.10). Pray that he will give you the zeal that he has: a zeal for his Church, a burden for the lost, an abhorrence of sin. Pray he will “uncover your eyes that [you] may behold the wonders of his law” (Psa. cxix.18). Confess to him your sadness and your desire to be burning with a passion for him and his will. Prayer is perhaps the easiest practice to increase because you can do it anywhere, without anything, at any time. Prayer can bring you closer to God.

You can also nourish your relationship with Christ by being deliberate about the Sacraments. Remember your baptism. Think on it. Remember the surety of the covenant promises God makes to his people in the sign and seal of baptism. Remember he has promised to cleanse you from sin. Remember that by faith you have died to your old self and are raised with Christ to newness of life. Remember that your cleansing is not based upon your actions, your promises, or your being baptized, but upon the promises God makes with you before the foundation of the world.

Prepare for the Lord’s Supper before the day you partake. Pray about it. Confess your sins to God. Repent of them and turn your face to your Maker. Remember Christ’s sacrifice for you. Grieve that your sin put him on the cross, but rejoice that by doing so, he secured your salvation. Think about how the Father loved you so much that he gave his son. Think how much the Son loves you, having willingly humbled himself unto death and God’s judgment. Think of how he fills you, how he satisfies your hunger, how he quenches your thirst. Look forward to Christ’s return when you shall see him face-to-face and partake alongside of him in the great marriage supper. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament. In it God dispenses grace to us and nurtures us up in the faith. There is a comfort and help in the Supper for the Saints.

Another sure help for a spiritual decline is to engage in the Body of Christ. Make sure you’re not just sitting in the pew on Sunday, sneaking out, or talking with the same few people. Sit somewhere else. Greet and talk with those around you, before and after the service. Go to a Sunday School class and participate. Have a conversation with someone over coffee. Try getting involved in a ministry you’re not currently in. The more brothers and sisters you get to know, the more you will each invest in one another’s lives. You’ll feel more comfortable asking them to pray for you, and they will be more likely to ask you to pray for them. You will share struggles and praises. You will speak about God’s holy Word and apply it to the lives of one another. You will have the opportunity to be part of God’s kingdom work. You don’t have to be an elder or deacon or committee chair. You don’t have to run a program or teach a class. Just get involved. You are needed, and the Church needs you (1 Cor. xii.21). I guarantee that you will grow spiritually.

I don’t want to be misunderstood, there will still be hardship. Just ask the martyrs of the faith or those where it is a crime to worship Christ and believers must gather secretly under the constant threat of prosecution. Ask the parent of a 3 year old with leukemia, who is not only fighting the disease, but the horrible effects of the poisonous medicine. Ask the mother or father of a developmentally disabled child who cannot fully grasp that the cancer spreading through her body is killing her. Ask the husband who has lost his job and hanging on by a thread financially, hoping to find money for one more mortgage payment. Ask the person who has been plunged into a deep, major depression where their brain chemistry is altered and they cannot feel anything at all—not the love of, or for, their children or spouse—life seems to be broken and death is all that seems possible. Ask the child who is watching an elderly parent sink into dementia as his mind begins to fail. Ask the children who not only had to witness their parents’ marriage crumble, but who are now being used by their own mother to spy on and steal from their father and being taught to distrust him. We can each relate to going through trials at various times. Sometimes God will sovereignly have us go through tribulation or persecution for reasons we cannot fully understand; think of Job’s life, the Apostles’, or Christ’s. Yet, we’ve all heard and perhaps experienced how the hard times can be seasons of greatest growth in our relationship with Christ, even if everything around us seems to be failing.

Clouds, north winds, and storms can darken a day or cool it down. So too the hardships of life can seem to obscure the warmth of Christ at times. Yet even if we find ourselves in a downpour, we can trust that God is there sovereignly giving us rain to help us grow. We can trust that he is carrying out his greater purposes, and that he will be glorified. “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. viii.28). Trusting in his promises can help us dance in the rain rather than become despondent from it. The rain can temporarily slow life down or make us shiver, but the deep joy is there because Christ is always present: “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Heb. xiii.5). “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. xi.1). Faith is substantial and real. Our faith in a faithful God can raise us above the clouds, above the trials and tribulations of life, to bask in the glory of our Lord and Saviour and cause us to rejoice in his goodness. In the midst of trial, we can say with David:

My heart is fixed, O God,
my heart is fixed!
I will sing, yea, I will sing praises!
Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I, myself, will awake right early!
I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises unto thee among the nations.
For thy lovingkindness is great unto the heavens,
And thy truth unto the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

                                 -Psalm lvii.7

When storms surround us, when waters rise on both sides, when the waves threaten to swamp the boat, we have God as our deliverer (Psa. xviii.2), his wings to shelter us (Psa. xxxvi.7), Christ’s presence in the boat to protect and reassure us (Matt. viii), and his hand and Word to guide us (Psa. cxxxix.10; cxix.105,133). Thanks be to God.

If you’re feeling spiritually cool because you’ve turned away from the Son, I hope you’re feeling mighty cold, cold enough to make you notice and desire the warmth of Christ Jesus. When the Earth moves away from the sun, it predictably gets darker and colder as a result of moving away from the source of heat and light. The same goes for our relationship with Christ. “Return to me,” he says, “and I will return to you” (Mal. iii.7). Fix your gaze upon me and see I have always been here to bring light and warmth. Live deliberately before the face of God (coram deo). Seek him out in his Word, in his Sacraments, in his Church, and through Prayer. Love him with ALL of you, in the most complete way you can. Then pray that you will have the capacity to love him more. To God be the glory!

For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
The LORD will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly

-Psa. lxxxiv.11