Two Sides of the Same Coin: God’s Love and God’s Wrath

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

Have you ever wondered how a loving God can send people to Hell? Does God really hate? Is God not loving? Is it true that God hates the sin and not the sinner? The difficult topic of God’s hatred and wrath can make most people pretty uncomfortable. It leads to uneasy conversations for both believers and nonbelievers. When we discuss this topic, it must be done with the utmost care due to the ramifications of this doctrine. For example, it can lead others to deny this important doctrine, have misconceptions about the character of God and His wrath, or automatically alienate people unnecessarily. It is possible that it could bring images into people’s minds of an evil angry dictator or of an abusive father.The Bible clearly teaches that these are blasphemous misconceptions that must be corrected by biblical preaching on the nature of God’s wrath rather than avoiding or denying the subject all together. While the love of God is usually a lot easier to preach on, we must preach on it with the same utmost care and precision. We must resolutely fight against blasphemous misconceptions of the nature of God’s love. In fact, catering more to the love of God while neglecting His wrath keeps us from properly understanding His righteousness and infinite holiness. When we cater more to the wrath of God, we diminish our understanding of the great love He has for His children. When we preach these aspects of God’s nature, we must do so accurately and biblically.

The Wrath of God

If we are emotionless and tearless when talking about the wrath of God, we lack the appropriate sensitivity and seriousness we ought to have in addressing this vital subject. Likewise, if we present it from a place of self-righteousness and hatred towards sinners, we also need to repent and plead with God to work in our hearts and cure us from such a pharisaical disease. On the other hand, if we avoid presenting the wrath of God, we should also wonder where our hearts are  and if we lack the love and obedience needed to share the radically urgent truth of the wrath of God. If a loved one was about to get hit by a bus, wouldn’t we cry out for them to move? If your friends were about to walk on a bridge that you knew was going to immediately collapse, wouldn’t you warn them? How much more urgent must we be about trying to save our friends and neighbors from the terrible wrath of almighty God that will meet every unsaved sinner in Hell? There is a way to discuss the wrath of God that leads to the edification the redeemed and the appropriate warning and informing of the unsaved, and we must determine it.

What does Scripture say about the wrath of God? There are many instances within Scripture that mention God’s “indignation” or displeasure of the wicked (Psalm 7:11). God is holy, perfect, sinless, and righteous. This means that there can be no wickedness in His presence. Psalm 5 says, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil cannot dwell with you. The boastful cannot stand in your sight; you hate all evildoers.” I believe the best passage that describes this wrath of God is found in the flood account in Genesis 6:5-7:

When the Lord saw that human wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every inclination of the mind was nothing but evil all the time, the Lord regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was deeply grieved. Then the Lord said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I created, off the face of the earth, together with the animals, creatures that crawl, and birds of the sky – for I regret that I made them.

This is the wrath of God on display against the wicked. God hates sin and He is just to condemn it; however, this is not the only nature of God.

The Love of God

The amazing love of God does not appear as glorious to undeserving sinners if they do not first understand His unbearable wrath and fury that they deserve due to their sin. God’s benevolent love for His people is gloriously beautiful in contrast to the wrath they deserve! Does this negate the biblical truth that God hates the wicked? No, and while the notion of God’s hatred towards evildoers is foreign to most American evangelicals, it is backed up by Scripture. If this notion sounds incorrect or new to you, I would encourage you to study what Scripture says on it, (Psalms 5:5-6, Psalms 11:5, Proverbs 6:16-19, John 3:36). God’s wrath shows the richness of God’s love in a way that only leads to an overflow of graciousness from our hearts as believers and beckons the non-believer to understand how perfect God is. The greatest display of both God’s love and wrath, is the cross. On the cross, we see the great love that God has for His children through the outpouring of his wrath. This wrath was meant for us due to our sin, but God, in his grace, places the wrath on Christ who was made “to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

There are numerous verses and passages that describe the love of God and the most well-known verse would be John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

God so loved a world full of wicked sinners. He graciously and lovingly gave Christ to be the sacrifice for His wicked enemies who were unable to even draw near to Him. He did this so that we are now able to have fellowship with God and adoption as His children. This is the message of the Gospel. Romans 5:8-9 tells us, “But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners (wicked), Christ died for us. How much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, will we be saved through Christ from God’s wrath.” Jesus bore eternities worth of terrible divine hatred and wrath for a multitude of miserable and undeserving sinners on the cross, so that His Church could be declared absolutely righteous and innocent in the sight of our amazing God.

How Does This Encourage Believers?

I pray we would be overwhelmingly grateful for the steadfast love and mercy that He has shown to us in light of His wrath. I pray that we would be deeply moved to urgently try and reach the lost. My hope is that this article and my final thoughts below encourage you to study the Word of God in a way that draws you into a deeper understanding of who God is and anchors you a little bit more in the nature of God. God will come and make right all the injustices that persist in the world. God does not delight in injustice. He righteously abhors injustice because it perverts the world that He has created to be perfect. There will come a time that God comes to mercilessly and vengefully destroy what is wicked because of His high standards of justice.  Our knowledge of His love and wrath should motivate us to evangelize. Due to God’s high standard of justice, He will destroy even the wicked people. This should compel us to evangelize to the lost because God loved us first, before we could ever love Him, and we need to urgently share this love with others. I would encourage you to study the Word of God and ask that God will grant you the wisdom to understand the text and that you will grow deeper in your knowledge of Him. Don’t be afraid to tackle uncomfortable subjects. As long as you have studied the content, the Holy Spirit will lead a conversation so that it is glorifying to the Father. 2 Timothy 1:7 says “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgement.” As Christians, we are able to speak boldly about the Gospel because God has given us a spirit of power.

In Christ,
Nicolas Olson

Photo by Jake Maddox

Should Christians Be Involved In Politics?

Is it better to refrain from politics and focus on issues involving the church or is it necessary for Christians to partake in politics? There are many arguments presented on both aisles of this discussion making it an extremely divisive topic within the church. A driving component of Christians’ hesitance to partake in politics is the highly alienating nature of the political parties. In our increasingly polarized political climate, those with strong scriptural convictions have often been perceived as hateful, intolerant, and bigoted. In response, some churches have conformed to the cultural pressure and impulsively changed some of their key doctrinal positions to conform to the political majority. On the other hand, others have doubled down and affirmed their firm beliefs and have decided that it is best for Christians to avoid politics altogether. Personally, I believe that this period of our country’s history is a critical time for believers to become active in politics. Currently, our right to worship freely is under attack, low-integrity politicians hold many of the major offices in our government, and evil is becoming increasingly pervasive in the United States.

The religious freedoms granted by the Constitution of the United States have been used as an instrument of God to grow Christianity, both on American soil and around the world. However, this blessing has been under attack for the past decade. There are several examples of business owners and individuals who have been legally punished for exercising their religious beliefs. One of these cases revolved around a baker from Portland, Oregon who refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple because homosexual marriage violated his Christian convictions. The couple responded by suing the baker for the emotional distress stating that they suffered from the denial of a wedding cake. Unfortunately, an appellate court sided with the couple, ruling that the actions of the baker were not within his religious liberties. He was forced to pay $135,000 to the couple, crippling his bakery. Another example took place in Houston, Texas, in 2014 when, Annise Parker, the mayor of Houston attempted to put a subpoena out for any sermon from Houston area pastors that openly spoke out against homosexuality. These troubling examples should serve as motivation for Christians to enter into politics and protect freedom of religion.

There are critics of the idea that Christians and politics should interact. Andrew Sullivan, a conservative British author, claims that politics today are far too brutal for Christians to engage in. According to Sullivan, Christians become hypocritical when they engage in politics, as they lose their Christ-like acceptance in favor of obsessing over votes and destroying political opponents. However, Michael Gerson exposed the inaccuracy of Sullivan’s assertions, finding that many Christians in politics focus their efforts on protecting their freedom to worship as well as other key issues like protecting the lives of the unborn. To say that Christians are compromising their values in such an effort is flawed logic. A Christian in politics can still maintain Christ-like love for non-believers while fighting to protect the religious freedom of millions of other Christians and the lives of millions of unborn babies. As the discussion of Christians’ role in politics wages on in America, it is important to the colossal effects that their non-participation could have on the country. America is built on Judeo-Christian values, but we are moving towards the restriction of religious freedom and the emergence of ultra-sensitive hate speech laws. Christians are in danger of losing their ability to freely worship and publicly express their deepest Christian convictions.

Another key reason that Christians should partake in politics is so that America’s leadership can be in the hands of godly, integrity-filled people. In today’s political climate, it seems that politicians cannot be trusted. Countless politicians on both sides of the aisle are engrossed in scandal. In Minnesota, for example, the Democratic candidate for the office of Attorney General, Keith Ellison, faces two separate charges of domestic abuse. Both of these charges have credible evidence to back them up. Yet, even with these serious accusations, Ellison was still able to win the election handedly. A recent Washington Times study showed that 91% of the politicians that make up the 115th congress would describe themselves as Christian, even though a majority of those are not practicing. Is this how we want Christians today to be represented? A poll taken by the Pew Research Center discovered that 74% of Americans who answered the poll believe that politicians place their personal interests over the interests of the public that elected them. An even more troubling statistic shows that only 19% of the respondents trust the government consistently. If devout Christian men and women took these statistics seriously and decided to go into politics, the public may increase their trust in politicians as the government would be filled with leaders who are loving and have a high standard of integrity.

Biblical proof of this claim lies in the examples of the great leaders of the Old Testament, such as Daniel. After Babylon conquered Israel, Daniel and other young Israelite men were taken to Babylon and trained to be political officials. Daniel excelled and quickly rose up the ranks of the Babylonian and later Persian governments. His political enemies had no basis to attack him as he was “faithful and no error or fault was found in him” (Daniel 6:4). Due largely in part to Daniel’s political leadership, the Israelites were eventually allowed to return to their homeland under King Cyrus. A similar example of the people of God raising up political leadership to benefit the kingdom of God can be found in the story of Joseph. Joseph was similar to Daniel in that he was sold into slavery. Because of his diligence and integrity, he rose up the ranks of the Egyptian government, becoming second-in-command of the whole empire. God used Joseph to protect the Egyptians and the nation of Israel from a devastating famine. Both Daniel and Joseph are examples of the good that can be done if individuals who lead pure and holy lives engage in political leadership.

Perhaps one of the most important reasons that Christians should indeed partake in politics is for resistance to evil. Today, America has drifted from its Judeo-Christian roots and is becoming a secular nation. Because of this, the Devil has been true to his name as “the father of lies” (John 8:44) and has blinded many Americans to truth, filling them with a false sense of good and purpose. Sexual immorality has become the norm, with a dramatic rise of pornography, sex outside of marriage, and homosexuality. This has not only affected the church like it did the Israelites in ancient times, but it has also created some undeniably evil acts. One of these evil acts is human trafficking, which is essentially the slave trade of humans, usually to fulfill sexual desires. The demand of pornography in the United States has increased the demand for human sex trafficking. In 2017 alone, there were 1.5 million victims of human trafficking in America, with 27% percent of those being children. As politicians, Christians can directly fight this evil through legislation and increasing awareness. Randy Hultgren, a devout Christian and former U.S. Representative from Wheaton’s neighboring district, has taken steps towards fighting against this sinful and dark issue. Last year he introduced a bipartisan bill called the Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Act, which focused on ending the commercial sex industry.

Abortion has also ravaged America, as it is now perceived as a “right for women.” The root of abortion lies partially in the pursuit of sexual freedom without consequences. Abortion enables men and women to disconnect sex from the birth of children. However, this is a devastating lie, both for the unborn babies and the would-be parents. As young as 3 weeks old, an embryo shows distinct human characteristics. Its heart has begun to beat with the child’s own blood, and the baby’s spinal cord and nervous system are beginning to form. However, many politicians today have adopted a distorted view of personhood that claims that, although biologically human, the unborn child does not qualify as a person to be protected with “unalienable rights.” More than half of states in the US, including my home state of Minnesota, legally allow abortions up until 26 weeks, even though most premature babies born around this time could survive outside the womb. As Christians, we know that abortion is murder and the ending of a human life. Psalm 139:13 says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” As politicians, both on the national and state levels, Christians have the opportunity to fight for human life through legislation. Last year, Iowa lawmakers presented a bill prohibiting abortion after a baby’s first detected heartbeat. This bill was passed and signed by governor Kim Reynolds this past May, signaling a huge success in the efforts to protect innocent lives. As Christians, we are driven by the truths presented in the Word of God. It determines what justice is and how we should treat others. As politicians, Christians have the opportunity, and the mandate, to fight for Biblical truth and justice through political legislation.

Although the ideas presented above are strong arguments for why Christians should engage in politics, there are some Christians who are opposed to the idea and frequently present two counter arguments. The first of these is that, given the high level of corruption and compromise in politics, Christians in politics open themselves up to a world of power and sin that could easily cause them to fall. This is a strong argument. As discussed above, politicians are notoriously corrupt, often fighting for themselves before the people. Opening yourself up to this as a Christian will bring temptation. However, I believe that this is ultimately a selfish argument. Hiding yourself from the darkness of the world because of a fear of ungodliness is dangerously cruel for those who have not been exposed to the salvation and hope that Jesus Christ offers. This isolated view fails to show God’s love with non-believers through their words and deeds. We are called in Matthew 5:13 to be salt and light to the world. This means we are to preserve and purify our culture from sinful ways; while also providing light and hope of the saving grace that everyone can have through Jesus Christ. As politicians, Christians are presented with a clear outlet to be salt and light for the world. They can do this through creating legislation that encourages biblical justice and morality, treating political adversaries with respect and class instead of constantly tearing them apart, and by keeping the promises made to their constituents, putting the people ahead of themselves.

The second argument commonly used against Christians’ participation in politics is that the founding fathers intended there to be a separation between the church and state, meaning that it is unconstitutional to elect officials into office when they will make decisions based on their faith. However, the phrase “separation between church and state” has been taken out of context today. Today, most Americans believe that this separation was intended for the state, as it was a way to keep religion from affecting the decisions of the government. Others believe that it was intended to keep the church and the state away from each other, so neither would be affected. However, the real meaning of this idea lies in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to Danbury Baptist church in Connecticut on January 1st, 1802. The members of Danbury Baptist had fears that the newly formed government would interfere with their ability to worship freely. In response, Thomas Jefferson wrote them a letter in an attempt to alleviate their fears. He stated that the Constitution intended to build a protective wall for religion, in order to assure that the government never infringed upon their right to worship. It is in this context that the first amendment of the Constitution was written. In addition, a majority of the founding fathers held to Christian beliefs. This commonly used argument regarding Christians’ role in government is easily refuted by looking at the history and context of the Constitution.

America relies on Christians becoming active in political matters. For too long there have been ambitious, career-driven, and self-indulgent politicians. These people are motivated by their own success, often putting their own opinion or the opinion of their highest donors above that of the people who elected them or more importantly, God. In order to change the political and social climate in America today, strong and devout Christians must become involved in politics. They will breathe a breath of fresh air into Washington, and all of America, by defending and protecting the freedom to worship, by leading lives of moral excellence, and by taking a stand for Biblical truth and justice.

Photo by Maddie Goldberg

Does God still give the sign gifts to believers today? (A Cessationist View)

In recent years, charismatic theology has grown in prevalence in modern American Evangelicalism. Christians, today, are exposed to charismatic teachings on a regular basis. If you watch televangelists, you will quickly see these teachers promise their congregations that with enough faith they can exercise the gifts of tongues, prophecy, knowledge, and healings. If you grew up in a charismatic church, you may have been taught how to speak in tongues and if you didn’t practice this that you weren’t saved. You may have even had someone come up to you and tell you that, “God told me…” and then proceed to give insight on what was going on at the time.

These are some of the more extreme views in charismatic theology. However, many people who embrace the five points of Calvinism have adopted a more conservative view of the sign gifts. “Reformed Charismatics,” as they call themselves, embrace the gifts of tongues, prophecy, knowledge, and healing. However, they are careful to be faithful to the teachings of Scripture on the gifts and they would stand with Cessationists in disagreement with the more extreme side of the Charismatic movement. For example, they believe that speaking in tongues is not necessary to be saved since they affirm the doctrine of justification by faith alone (Romans 3:28, Ephesians 2:8-9, Galatians 2:16). They understand that not everyone is given the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:29-30) and furthermore that tongues are not an ecstatic heavenly language, but rather spoken foreign languages not previously studied or heard by the individual who is speaking (Acts 2:4-11). They understand that Scripture tells us that the gift of tongues should only be used where an interpreter is present (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).

Reformed Charismatics are careful not to recklessly accept one hundred percent of what people claim to be prophecies. Prophecies in Scripture are revelations about a future event or particular insight meant for encouragement, not something that supplants Scripture. This is something that further examines the one who claims a prophetic word with elders of the church (1 Corinthians 14:29). Reformed Charismatics would never be so cruel to tell someone that they are dying of cancer because they don’t have enough faith in God, whereas more extreme charismatics who hold to prosperity gospel/Word of Faith theology would say that lack of healing is a result of lack of faith.

However, there are others who disagree with the advocates of Continuationism. In this article, I will defend the Cessationist perspective on the sign gifts. Cessationism teaches that the sign gifts have ceased after the Apostolic Age, which is the time that the apostles conducted their ministry. The gifts of tongues, prophecy, knowledge, and healing served a specific purpose in redemptive history, which was to authenticate the fact that the Apostles were truly sent by God, and ought not to be pursued in the church today. However, Cessationism does not believe that all miracles have ceased. Cessationists do believe that God still does miracles to the pleasure of His will. However, miracles are not normative, and God does not anoint church members with gifts to perform them.

It is a common misconception among Continuationists that Cessationists rely solely upon their experience in the church in defense of their position. If this was true, then that would be an invalid argument. Theological belief should not be determined by experiences. Cessationists claim that since the church has not experienced the use of the sign gifts for centuries, then the gifts must have ceased once the Apostolic Age ended. To be clear, Cessationists do make that argument; however, they use it only as circumstantial evidence and while also using Scriptural support. Cessationists ask questions such as, “What is the biblical precedent for the reemergence of spiritual gifts in the church?” In this article, I will discuss three arguments for Cessationism from a Biblical perspective: sign gifts were given to authenticate the Apostles, gifts of the Holy Spirit are to be regularly used in the church, and Scripture is authoritative and sufficient for piety and practice in the church.

Throughout biblical history, God has authenticated His message through signs and wonders. In Exodus 3, God revealed Himself to Moses as Yahweh (v. 14), the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob (v. 16), who declared that He would redeem His people from the bondage of the Egyptians (v. 17). However, Moses feared that the Israelites would not listen to him or believe that Yahweh had revealed Himself to him (4:1). Therefore, God told Moses to throw his staff on the ground so that it may become a snake (v. 3). Then, God told Moses to pick it back up again so that it may turn back into a staff (v. 4). The purpose of this miracle was so “that they may believe that the LORD… has appeared to you” (v. 5). God also had two more signs, Moses’ hand turning from leprous to healed and water poured onto the ground that became blood, just in case the Israelites did not believe Him (vv. 6-9). These signs were used to authenticate Moses as one who was sent from God to save His people.

Whenever prophets confronted wicked kings, they were accompanied with signs. When a prophet confronted Jeroboam for his idolatry, 1 Kings 13 states, “And he gave a sign that the LORD has spoken, saying, ‘This is the sign that the LORD has spoken: “Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it shall poured out’” (v. 3). This sign was given in verse 5. The king then begged for mercy to the prophet (v. 6). To authentic his ministry before Ahab and the people of Israel, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). Both Elijah and the prophets of Baal were given a bull and cut it into pieces to lay on a piece of wood (v. 23). After that the prophets of Baal would call their god to bring fire to it and then Elijah would call on Yahweh to bring fire to it and whichever God brought the fire would obviously be the true God (v. 24). The prophets of Baal prayed first yet they received no answer (v. 26). Elijah stepped up and prepared his burnt offering by pouring four water jars on the offering three different times before he called on Yahweh. Once he did, the LORD consumed the burnt offering with fire (v. 38). Afterwards all the people confessed that Yahweh was God (v. 39).

In the New Testament, the ministry of Christ was authenticated with signs. When Christ was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and the Father proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17). This was direct authentication from God that Jesus is the Christ who came to fulfill His mission as the Savior of the world. In Matthew 11, John the Baptist sent his disciples to ensure that Jesus is the Messiah. To authenticate His ministry, Jesus told John’s disciples, “‘Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them’” (Matthew 11:4-5). When Jesus overturned tables in the temple, the Jews asked “‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’” (John 2:18). What sign authority did Jesus have for barging into the temple and disrupting the commerce? Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’” (v. 19). The verses following tell us that Jesus was referring to the temple of His body, and therefore the sign to verify His authority was that He would die on the cross and rise from the grave on the third day. The resurrection is the ultimate authentication of Christ’s messianic identity, and seeing that ultimate authenticating sign led the Apostles and the early Christians to attempt to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth at all costs.

Once the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). In this case the Holy Spirit had given the Apostles the ability to speak in different languages with the purpose to witness to the different ethnicities who were visiting Jerusalem (v. 5-11). The text follows, “And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’” (v. 12). Peter gives them the reason why this is happening in verses 17-21 in which he quotes the prophet Joel, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The gift of tongues was given to demonstrate that the New Covenant had been inaugurated. In the New Covenant, God’s people not only included believing Jews but also believing Gentiles. The different languages being spoken was the sign to the Jews that Messiah had come to offer salvation to all nations. The gift of tongues was to be a sign that salvation has come to the Gentiles. The gift of healing also authenticated the Apostles’ ministry. In Acts 3, Peter healed a lame man from birth in the name of Christ (v. 6-7). This caused “wonder and amazement” in the crowds (v. 10). Peter continued to use the gift of healing, especially in Acts 5:12-16, when sick and afflicted people “from the towns around Jerusalem” came to him and “were all healed” (v. 16). Verse 12 even says that “many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles.” Healing and speaking in tongues was normative for the apostles at this point in their ministry.

After the beautiful declaration that Jesus is the Christ in Hebrews 1, Hebrews 2:1-4 goes on to say,

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

The writer of Hebrews urges his audience to trust in Christ for their salvation. He makes a “Lesser to the Greater” argument about the message that the angels declared on Mount Sinai in the giving of the law (Deuteronomy 33:2, Galatians 3:19) and to the message of the Gospel that is now present. That salvation was declared by Christ and the Apostles, while God further authenticated their message by providing these signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The text indicates that the message has been fully authenticated (note the past tense verbs). Also note that Hebrews was written in the late 60s A.D. when most of the apostles had already died, according to tradition. The writer to the Hebrews now wants to encourage the second-generation of Christians. We do not need, as 21st century Christians, to do signs, wonders, miracles, and exercise sign gifts to preach Christ to unbelievers. John the Baptist made a tremendous impact in his preaching ministry while never recorded to have performed a single miracle. All he needed and all we need is the Word of God. The response to what God has done to authenticate His Word is to repent and believe the Gospel. To clarify, not all gifts of the Holy Spirit were used to authenticate the message of the Gospel. As we saw in Acts, the gifts that were used were the gifts of tongues, healing, prophecy, and knowledge. We can definitively say that they have ceased because we must take the list in verse 4 as a unit. It would be inconsistent to say that modern-day messengers of the Gospel do not perform signs, wonders, or miracles as the apostles did and to say that the Holy Spirit still continues to distribute the sign gifts.

As I mentioned above from the text in Acts 5:12-16, healing and speaking in tongues were the norm for the apostles. If they were the norm, why aren’t we seeing these gifts exercised regularly? Why aren’t those who have such gifts exercise them for the “common good” as Paul intends these gifts to be (1 Corinthians 12:7)? One might counter with verse 11 that states that the Spirit “apportions to each one individually as he will.” The argument is that the sign gifts are sovereignly given to believers so we should not project our own expectations upon the work of the Spirit. However, would we say the same thing about the gifts of teaching, serving, exhortation, generosity, leadership, zeal, and mercy (Romans 12:6-8)? What would we say if a church did not have pastors or teachers (Ephesians 4:11-12)? We should absolutely expect a church to have members with these gifts and for them to be exercising them regularly. The sign gifts were the norm for the church in the Apostolic Age as Paul devotes three chapters in 1 Corinthians for their proper usage.

Near the end of Paul’s life (early 60s A.D.), he wrote to a young, budding pastor named Timothy, who was his beloved son in the faith. He commanded Timothy, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 1:13-14). Paul’s ministry had been authenticated and now he commands Timothy to follow him in teaching sound doctrine and in defending the Church’s greatest gift—the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:11, 1 Timothy 6:20). He also commanded Timothy to entrust the Gospel and the Word of God to other faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2). They are to teach the Word of God in order to build up the body of Christ as Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Scripture was written by men who “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Their message was authenticated (2 Peter 1:19a). Now, we are commanded to “do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises” in our hearts (v. 19b). We don’t need to chase after the gifts of speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, or knowledge to make the Word of God “more real” to us. We should not envy some “encounter” with God that the Scriptures might seem to indicate. Our job is to believe the Scriptures while the Holy Spirit bears witness in our hearts (1 Corinthians 2:10-12). The Scriptures provide everything we need for life and godliness in the church (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The sign gifts have served their purpose. Now, we live in the privileged time in history as we have a 30,000 foot view of what God did in history to authenticate His Word and how the church over the last two millennia has trusted in God’s Word to advance the Gospel and grow in maturity (Colossians 1:28).

Photo by Jake Maddox

EDITORS’ NOTE: See also David Szomor‘s “A Continuationist View.”

Radiating True Beauty

In a culture that wrongly idolizes outward appearance, beauty is truly found on the inside. True beauty is manifested in an embodiment of a fear of the Lord, a life of confidence grounded in truth and a radiating love shown to others.

Chiseled cheekbones and a face free of wrinkles manifest temporary beauties compared to the true beauty found in fearing the Lord. A beautiful woman demonstrates humility, purity and steadfastness. Where do these qualities come from? These characteristics are produced in a woman through a fear of the Lord. A beautiful woman does not present herself as better than everyone else, but with a humble attitude and reverence toward the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. True beauty in a woman manifests through the way she protects her heart from the wickedness of the world, because her heart instead seeks God’s goodness and majesty. Fearing the Lord to her is more important than following the every changing beauty standards. A life marked by a fear of the Lord produces a foundation that is firm and secure rather than a life consumed with a struggle to live up to society’s fickle beauty standards. Women who hold to the steadfast truth that God created the world and holds them in his hand shine an unexplainable beauty. Proverbs 31:30 famously states that “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” By fearing the Lord, women realize that the pursuit of outward beauty must be taken with a grain of salt, because ultimate beauty and satisfaction come from a fear of the Lord. The outward beauty quickly blows away like a leaf in the fall air compared to the rock, solid truth of God’s majesty and sovereignty. Charm and false beauty depict shallowness and the temporary reign of the Enemy. God created humanity to fear Him because He is Lord, and when a woman truly fears God, she depicts God’s beautiful original plan. We, as women, must remember to “not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear” (1 Peter 3:3). We know that presenting ourselves with a humble attitude before the King is more beautiful than wearing a fancy dress, real pearls, perfect makeup and a prideful, haughty heart. In the same way, a pretty heart is more desirable than a pretty face.

When a woman understands and embodies the fear of the Lord, confidence radiates from her. Confidence speaks louder than a pretty face, but sadly in today’s society, women have lost their confidence in the truth that we have been “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). The loss in confidence attributes to the silly idea that all women must showcase “full lips, larger breasts, a nipped-in waist, lean thighs” as Alex Kuczynski notes in the article “What is beautiful?” So, how can we, as daughters of the Kings of Kings, regain this lost confidence? Psalm 139:14 states “wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Women must choose to let go of the lies crafted in media and embrace the truth that God has wonderfully created us in his image for a specific purpose. Our acceptance and love towards the God’s work of creation will shine through what society deems as imperfections. It’s easy in the moment to dwell on a comment that spews lies saying you’re unwanted, not beautiful enough, and not worthy of love. In these vulnerable moments, the best thing we can do is to guard our heart and take hold of our emotions and feelings and not rest in these lies. We must ignore the sly lies of society that declare that our beauty is not good enough, and instead walk, speak, and live confidently believing we are masterpieces crafted by God. When a woman is confident, her outward appearance is more pleasing by the way she walks and talks. In other words, the heart radiates the confidence from inside. Society will always portray a hegemony of one, cookie-cutter kind of beauty that has a chilling likeness to everyone but this “perfect” look strips women of their beautiful and unique characteristics that they have received from God. Embracing the way God has created women is essential because of passages such as Proverbs 31:25 which say that a beautiful woman “is clothed with strength and dignity without fear of the future.” A woman filled with beauty ignores the societal definition of beauty by listening to the truthful words of God. A beautiful woman breathes confidence, because she embodies God’s fingerprints.

When a woman has confidence in her identity found in Christ, it inevitably leads to a demonstration of kindness and love to those around. This is a radiating beauty more desirable than a perfect face. As women in today’s culture, we have become so distracted by the desire to look attractive on the outside that we neglect the inside. Women strive to look younger, have perfect skin, and thinner bodies but this pursuit will not fix the aged, hurting and corrupt heart inside. These women have believed the lie that cosmetics will make them beautiful, but they neglect the inside. Fixing outward so-called flaws will not fix the issues found in the heart.

The growing secular society around us will attempt to mimic true beauty, but will always leave us with disappointment and discouragement. Not only this, but it will also lure women into believing that their unique characteristics are not good enough. We, as women, must hold fast to God’s truth that He wonderfully and uniquely created everyone. We gain confidence by believing this truth and walking, living, and breathing confidence. This results in a portrayal of true beauty that God has made. With this beautiful confidence inevitably follows an amiable, humble heart that fears the Lord. The goodness from the inside makes a woman radiate beauty wherever she goes. Many people have tried to become beautiful through cosmetics and plastic surgery, but have failed because genuine beauty must come from the inside first.

Photo by Careah Turvin

Does God still give the sign gifts to believers today? (A Continuationist View)

Before I begin to defend my position on the gifts of the Spirit. Let me clarify on where I stand and where my view comes from. Of course, I believe that my view ultimately comes from Scripture, but I grew up in a family that was open to the gifts of the Spirit and all my spiritual mentors were charismatic. In fact, I have been personally edified by the gifts of prophecy and tongues. The primary disagreement at hand concerns the relevance of the gifts for the Church today. Cessationists will refer to these gifts as sign gifts. They will cite two primary passages where spiritual gifts are referenced: Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12-14. These passages do not make a distinguishment in the classification of the different gifts. In other words, prophecy and generosity don’t seem to be different. The term, sign gifts, comes from the appearance that the manifestation of certain gifts are more special, but I believe that this is the trap that Paul actually warns the church in Corinth of in 1 Corinthians.

To clarify, I know many cessationists personally and I actually have a great deal of appreciation for their perspective because I know it comes from an attempt to defend the Scriptures and the gospel. Regardless I believe that cessationism is more of a reactionary theology rather than a biblical one. In some ways, it is very easy to defend the cessationist case. All you have to do is search “crazy pentecostals” on youtube and there it is point and case. To be honest, I must concede that an incredibly large amount of bad theology has come in the name of the Holy Spirit. For example, prosperity gospel preachers frequently “speak in tongues” and claim that they have the gift of prophecy, but all of this is done with the goal of manipulation. Many  pentecostal churches are full of emotion and lack sound doctrine and biblical teaching. There is a tendency for those who are more open to the Spirit to compromise or even hurt the church. I believe that cessationism is responding to bad church practice rather than the biblical text.

However, despite the “crazy pentecostals,” there are many well known, theologically-sound pastors who are charismatic. For example, pastors such as Sam Storms, John Piper, and Matt Chandler have really provided encouragement to me. They serve as examples of men that are both theologically-minded and charismatic. Ironically, all three of these men began their ministry as cessationists and shifted into, what I would argue is, the true biblical view of the spiritual gifts.

It is common for cessationists to build up their argument upon the Old Testament. They will attempt to include the prophets such as Elijah and Elisha. They will say that God providentially gave them the Holy Spirit to work miracles and to be fair this is all true. However, the turning point, or the point of focus, is Pentecost. In the Old Testament, the Israelites did not have the same access to the Spirit. In the Old Testament, the presence of the Lord only dwelt in the temple, but now, according to 1 Corinthians 3:16, we all are living temples. Therefore, I would be cautious when a brother and sister in Christ uses the Old Testament prophets to build their argument. The central Scriptures at hand, which we must focus on, are where Paul addresses the spiritual gifts.   

A very basic and proper rule that we all must keep in mind for exegesis comes from Gordon and Fee’s Reading the Bible for All its Worth. The text writes, “a text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or his readers.” The passages at hand, those that we will focus on, are those that specifically mention spiritual gifts; and we must try our best to be as faithful to the text as possible. This means that rather than focusing on the Old Testament passages, we must instead focus on the passages that occur after Pentecost and address the spiritual gifts.  Typically, this argument finds itself centered around 1 Corinthians 13:10, which states “When the perfect comes, the partial shall pass away.” What does the “perfect” refer to? Cessationists often argue that this is a reference to the completion of the cannon, specifically, the completion of the New Testament. Both, Continuationists and Cessationists, agree that the word “partial” is a reference to the manifestation of the spiritual gifts. Remember the key rule of exegesis? If we follow that rule, then we find that the ”perfect” cannot refer to the completion of the cannon. Why? Because the Corinthian Church was not aware that there was a New Testament or that there would be a cannon. Let’s keep the context of Corinthians in mind. Corinth is a church full of believers with rampant sin who are abusing the spiritual gifts. In fact, their unbiblical practices probably look worse than some of the extreme pentecostal churches today. Continuationists believe that the ”perfect” is not a reference to the cannon, but rather a reference to Christ. We believe that when Christ returns the “partial” will pass away. This view would make much more sense to the people of the church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 13:1). When we approach 1 Corinthians 12-14 and Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthian church to seek after the gifts, a question for my cessationist friends arises. If Paul knew that the gifts would cease when the apostles died, then why would he encourage the church to keep pursuing something that would cease in a few decades? I do not follow the logic and I do not believe that anyone truly can if one follows the rules of exegesis honestly.

You may ask, “How can one know they have the gift of prophecy?” or “Why aren’t people using the gift of healing?” I would argue it does happen but we often view these gifts as taboo and weird and this leads us to avoid them. Teaching is a spiritual gift, and churches tend to give room and space for that gift to be exercised. This often means allowing someone to lead a bible study and continue practicing their gift. Yet for some reason, when it comes to prophecy we just expect people to exercise the gift perfectly with no mistakes. It is not a fair standard. If churches gave space for all gifts to be exercised and gave safe room for mistakes to be made there would be many more churches exercising the gifts properly. I believe that much of this stems from the local church.

Here is the main litmus test. All gifts are meant to build up the church. If the gift of teaching is being abused, then we should question it and criticize it just as much as we would when someone abuses the gift of prophecy or tongues.

Here is a short three-book series by Sam Storms that I would recommend that every believer read before coming to a conclusion on this issue:

Once again, I want to be clear to say that I love all of my cessationist brothers and sisters. They encourage me dearly with the care in which they go about the Scriptures and their valiant effort to preserve the gospel. Nevertheless, as a reformed charismatic, I lament at those who are willingly rejecting an aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry.

It is only appropriate to close with 1 Corinthians 13 which is a key passage when it comes to theological debates such as this:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing…Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

Let us walk in love whenever we engage in dialogues such as this and lovingly call one another to pursue after truth until the day Christ (the perfect) returns. Grace and Peace.

Photo by Jake Maddox

EDITOR’S NOTE: See also Austin Hobbs‘ “A Cessationist View.”

A God Who Never Changes

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. -James 1:17

The immutability of God is the attribute of the unchanging nature of God over time or the inability of Him to change. This attribute stands true to the character of God and I believe that by studying it we can come to deeper knowledge of who He is and of His worthiness. Recognizing the unchanging nature of God shows us more of His beauty and glory. Psalm 102:27 states, “…but you are the same, and your years have no end.” We can take great comfort and security in the knowledge that the God we worship is always the same, regardless of how we are feeling or how terrible our circumstances may seem. While our feelings fluctuate and the seasons of life we go through change, we can hold fast to the knowledge that our God remains the same. We see this truth throughout the whole story of scripture as it is essential for us to realize that the God of the Old Testament is the same God we serve today. He has not changed, nor has His power diminished. He is the same and He is good, just as He was yesterday, today, and forevermore.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. -Hebrews 13:8

The beauty of the Lord’s immutability has become extremely real and important to me over these last couple of weeks. I was driving a few weeks ago in Charlotte, North Carolina when I was in a very serious car accident. In short, my car ended up flipping on the interstate while I was going about sixty miles per hour. Thankfully, by God’s grace alone, I was left without much more than a scratch. However, the Lord has used this experience to teach me more of how He is unlike me in His unchanging nature. Amidst my sheer fear, anxiety and panic, I was given the peace and assurance that the Lord never changed throughout this chaotic experience. He did not change, and neither did His plan or purpose for my life. Although I was uncertain of the outcome and filled with fear, the steadfastness of the Lord and His faithfulness remained the same.

Throughout the next few days, I was reminded of God’s steadfast and unchanging faithfulness again and again. I held on firmly to Psalm 62:2 which reads, “When my heart is faint, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” I let this verse be my prayer and I encourage you all to do the same. Cling on to Him, for He is your rock and this is a comfort we have as believers. Life is bound to change and it will change, people will come and go, uncertain situations will arise but the truths of scripture and the nature of God will never change!  He is our one and only constant in life.

Let us find encouragement in the fact that our God is the one who is immutable in spite of the fact that we are not. In our sin and our reoccurring struggles, God’s immutability is like a breath of fresh air to us. Jen Wilkin encouragingly sums up this attribute by saying, “Just as my assurance of salvation rests in the fact that God cannot change, my hope of sanctification rests in the fact that I can.”

In contrast, immutability is a characteristic and trait that no human will be able attribute to themselves. Yes, God is unchangeable, but we are not, and praise the Lord for that! As we come to understand the unchanging nature of God we are comforted in the fact that He is refining and changing us day by day. When you feel stuck in the same sin patterns in your life grasp on to this certainty, and take heart, the Lord is shaping you to be more like Christ.  As the message of the gospel stands secure, let us be assured that His work in our lives is not over. His work continues as Christ draws us closer to Himself and continues to mold our hearts.

I think All Sons & Daughters sum it up perfectly in their song Rest In You as they sing, “You cannot change, yet you change everything.” Praise be to God that He does not change, but in Christ He so graciously invites us to be changed and transformed more into the image of His son.

Photo by Jake Maddox