Delighting in the Law of God

Why This Is Foreign to Us 

“Delighting in the Law of the Lord” feels like a strange title for an article, and in many ways it is. It seems contradictory to delight in a set of rules and statutes, especially because we live in a time where people value setting their own rules and being their own lawgivers. We all feel this. Since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve decided they wanted to make their own laws rather than follow God’s Law that commanded them  not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, it is in our nature to push back against rules put before us. However, this is not the example set before us in Scripture. 

The Necessity of the Law

Many often wonder why the Bible is full of so many laws when we serve a God of grace. It is easy to brush past these and say that they do not matter to study or read. However, Paul often writes in defense of the necessity of the Law. He says in Romans 3, “Through the Law comes knowledge of sin.” Later in Romans 7, he writes,

What then shall we say? That the Law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the Law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.
(Romans 7:7)

Since the very beginning, the Law has been a reminder of God’s authority over our own. In her book, Even Better Than Eden, Nancy Guthrie writes about the command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: “To eat of it was to assume the right to decide for oneself what is good and what is evil rather than depend on God to define good and evil. This prohibition was essentially a call to faith, a call to let God be God rather than usurp his authority.” Even before Adam and Eve sinned, God’s commands were reminders that humanity is called to obey the God of the universe, even if we do not fully understand His commands. 

However, it was more than just a reminder of God’s authority. The Law was to be a vivid image to us that we are radically insufficient and sinful in the sight of God. If God had just decided that Adam and Eve should not eat of that tree but not told them, Eve eating the fruit from that tree would not have shown her her sin. The Law also showed them that their sin was costly and that something needed to die in order to atone for their transgression. After Adam and Eve ate the fruit, God clothed them with the skin of a slaughtered animal to show them that life needed to be given up in order to cover them in their shame. 

Moving forward, the Levitical laws would have made it very clear to the Israelites that their sin was costly. These laws showed them that a spotless lamb had to atone for their sins. And it made them long for a day when a perfect Lamb would be the perfect sacrifice for their sins. 

Throughout the Old Testament, we see again and again the Israelites disobeying the commands God has given them, and God providing punishment and deliverance. Since the very beginning, we have needed the Law to show us that God has the ultimate authority over our lives, that we ultimately fail at obeying Him, and that the cost of our disobedience is death. 

The Fulfillment of the Law

Paul writes in Romans 5, “Now the Law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Since Genesis 3:15 where an offspring is promised to crush the head of the serpent, the whole Old Testament showed our need for a spotless lamb to atone for our sins, a rescuer to deliver us from bondage, a way for God to dwell with his people again. And then it happened. God sent his son Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life submitting to God’s authority. Jesus was the spotless Lamb that made atonement for our sins. And when Jesus died, the veil tore. He made a way for God’s dwelling place to be with man. 

Derek W.H. Thomas captures this well in his book, How the Gospel Brings Us All The Way Home. He writes, 

The Law cannot put us in a right standing with God. It knows how to do only one thing: condemn us. It is relentless and unforgiving in this task. It is not because the Law itself is sinful or desires our condemnation. The Law says, “Do this and live,” but we cannot. The problem lies in us, not in the Law. The Law is good but we are sinful…It is not the Law that is at fault. The problem lies in our inability to do what the Law demands.

We need the Law to show us our own sin and insufficiency, but we also need the Law to show us how Jesus beautifully fulfills it. But what does it mean that Jesus fulfilled the Law? It means that He kept every commandment of the Law without fail. It means that if we have faith in Christ, His record becomes our own. Our “file,” so to speak, of what we have done in our life, is replaced with all the wonderful things that Jesus has done. He not only paid the price for us (death) but he also lived the law-abiding life that we never could. 

The Call to Obedience

So what does this mean for us?  In Romans 3 Paul writes, “Do we then overthrow the Law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the Law.” Jesus’s fulfillment of the Law does not mean that we do not pursue obedience, but it does change how we obey. Because we are secure in our status before God, our pursuit of obedience is not out of thinking that our obedience will make God love us more or make us deserve more. Because our God loves us steadfastly, we obey out of gratitude and not out of obligation. We obey because we believe that God gives us commands out of love and that his commands are for our good and that they come from the creator of the universe who knows best. God’s Law remains a reminder that God is the authority over how we live, but the punishment that comes if we fail to uphold the Law has been abolished. We are free from the punishment of sin because Christ has taken it, so we can obey out of joy because we trust God as a loving authority over how we ought to live. 

The Beauty of the Law

So we are called to obedience even though the Law has been fulfilled in Christ. But why should this obedience be more than begrudging and reluctant? Why are we called to delight in the Law? There are many reasons for this. First, as Jay Sklay, an Old Testament scholar, often says, “The Law provides a window into the heart of the lawgiver.” We can delight in the commands we are given because they show us more about the heart of the God who gave them. For example, when we hear Jesus say that we should “love our neighbor as ourselves,” we get a window into the heart of God that he is a God who values community. As a triune God, we know that He is in the most perfect community, and as He has made us in His image, he wants us to experience a community where we love each other the best we can and are loved that way in return. We can delight in commands He gives us because it shows us more of who He is and what He values. 

We can also delight in the Law because it is for our good and is the key to living life the way God designed. Psalm 119 is full of 176 verses of the psalmist delighting and rejoicing in the commands of God. The psalmist writes, 

Your testimonies are wonderful;
       therefore my soul keeps them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
       it imparts understanding to the simple.
I open my mouth and pant,
      because I long for your commandments.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
      as is your way with those who love your name.
Keep steady my steps according to your promise,
      and let no iniquity get dominion over me.
(Psalm 119:129-133)

Here we see the psalmist expressing delight and longing for the commands of God. This longing for the commands of God and to do what is right is rooted in the knowledge that God’s Law is for our good. 

Delighting in the Law

With the knowledge that God’s Law shows us our need for Him, that Jesus fills that need, and that the Law shows us more about God and more about how to live life the way the Creator designed it, we can begin to delight in the Law. Our obedience moves from this crushing sense of “I have to” to this wonderful sense of “I get to.” We can join the psalmist in delighting and even panting for the Law of the Lord, in this giddy obedience modeled for us.

The Impact of God’s Grace: Grace Changes Everything

In the previous article, we learned that sin ruins everything. Because of Adam’s sin, humanity stands condemned in the eyes of God, in bondage to  sin, and lives in a fallen world that can never satisfy our souls. We are now in a position to have a much stronger grasp and appreciation for how God’s grace impacts our lives.

The Promise of a Conqueror

Why didn’t God put Adam and Eve to death and destroy the world as soon as they sinned by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? After all, He did say, “In that day you eat of it, you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17b). God did not strike down Adam and Eve because, before the foundation of the world, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit covenanted together to save sinners (2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:2, Ephesians 1:9). This covenant, the Covenant of Redemption, is the reason why Romans 3:25 says, “This was to show His righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins.” Michael Horton calls the Covenant of Redemption “The opening act of the drama of redemption.” He was patient and passed over Adam and Eve’s sin because He would send Jesus Christ to save them from their sins and “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Even before God hands down a single curse to Adam and Eve, God curses the serpent by saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). The only words they heard from God’s mouth before this were the demands of His Law and the curse of breaking His Law. This promise, however, is the protoevangelium, or the “first Gospel.” This first Gospel proclamation promises that the offspring from the woman alone will come and conquer Satan, destroy his works, and attain the eternal rest that Adam did not. Here, God reveals the Covenant of Grace, which we will explore in this article, to Adam and Eve. Through Eve’s offspring would come Jesus Christ, the Last Adam, who would accomplish the task that the first Adam failed and redeem the elect from Adam’s sin.

The Incarnation, Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ

How precisely does Christ accomplish the task that Adam failed? First, Christ must assume the same human nature Adam had when He was created. Just as Adam was made in the image of God, so Christ’s human nature must be made in God’s image. Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, having been conceived by the Holy Spirit, so He is without Original Sin. If He had Original Sin, He would have been condemned and corrupted just like the rest of us and could not have represented and saved  those who believe. He was in the same position as Adam. Just as God required Adam’s perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience to attain eternal rest, He also required it of Christ. Jesus never once failed to obey God, even when tempted by Satan. Where Adam succumbed to Satan’s temptations, Jesus conquered Satan and God’s Law (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus is the only man ever to love God with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength, and neighbor as Himself (Luke 10:25-28, Hebrews 4:15).

To remedy our condemnation before God and to reconcile His people back into His presence, Jesus died on the cross, bearing the sin and guilt on behalf of sinners. Jesus acts as our federal head by going before us to bear the curse we deserved. Galatians 3:13 states, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” The curses of the Mosaic Covenant pointed the earthly Israel  back to what was already true of Adam and the rest of humanity. Jesus died the death that people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” deserved to die, His own people Isreal (the Church) being among those undeserving of salvation. Where Adam blamed his bride, Eve, for his sin, Jesus takes the blame for His bride’s sin, the Church’s sin (Ephesians 5:25-32).

After God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden-Temple, where His presence dwelled, He placed cherubim at the east of the Garden of Eden to bar them from eating from the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). Jesus entered Jerusalem from the east (Matthew 21:1) and once He died on the cross, the veil that separated the Most Holy Place, where the presence of God dwelt, from everything else was torn (Matthew 27:51). This indicates that by His death, Jesus reconciled unholy sinners back into the presence of God (Romans 5:10). The sacrifice that He offered up as our High Priest makes us worthy to be in God’s presence (Hebrews 9:11-12). Another aspect of the cross is that Christ conquered Satan and all the powers of darkness (Colossians 3:15). Christ as Priest keeps the temple holy by covering His naked people with His blood and righteousness, and interceding on their behalf in Heaven when He ascended (Hebrews 4:14). Christ as King takes dominion over creation by conquering Satan through His righteous life and death.

However, Jesus did not stay dead. Through His resurrection from the dead, Jesus was judged worthy of eternal life. Romans 2:13 says that it is “the doers of the Law who will be justified.” Jesus Himself, having completed perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience to the Law, was a doer of the Law and was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). Elsewhere, Scripture teaches that Jesus was “vindicated” or more literally, “justified,” by the Spirit (1 Timothy 3:16). Adam was “the son of God” (Luke 3:38), but died because of His sin and failed to attain rest in the world to come. But Jesus paid for the sins of His people and remained perfectly obedient, which is why He was declared to be the Son of God. He attained the rest promised to Adam. He currently sits at the right hand of His Father in His glorified body that is no longer subject to death.

The Covenant of Grace: Justification and Sanctification

One may wonder, “When is he going to talk about the Covenant of Grace?” I already have,  because, as J.V. Fesko writes, “The substance of the Covenant of Grace is the work of Christ, His life, death, and resurrection, which fulfills the broken Covenant of Works for those who look to Him by faith.” Jesus is the Covenant of Grace. All those who are united to Him by faith partake in His covenant. The Covenant of Grace delivers to the believer two benefits (among others): justification and sanctification. Byron Yawn writes, “In the sin of Adam, man lost his position of innocence, and the corruption of his flesh immediately followed. In Christ, by faith, our status is restored (justification), and our disposition begins its realignment (sanctification).

Paul writes in Romans 5:19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience, the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience, the many will be made righteous.” Adam’s sin was imputed, or counted, to all of humanity, but Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the one who believes. Remember, Jesus came to be our federal head. He perfectly obeyed and bore our sins as our representative. When God looks at us, He doesn’t look at our obedience, but to the obedience of our representative. We’re justified, or declared righteous in God’s sight, for Christ’s righteousness (Romans 5:18), even though we do not have what is required to attain eternal life. We do not have to run and hide from God as Adam and Eve did. Jesus has clothed our nakedness with His righteous robes so that “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:11). Indeed, on the last day, we will not be awaiting condemnation because we were already justified  through the death and resurrection of Christ. If, as Paul says, Christ was “raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The final verdict on the last day has been handed down in the present to all those He represents. All of our sins have been pardoned, and we have been counted righteous solely because of the work of Christ on our behalf. We can rest in the One who has earned rest for His people (Hebrews 4:9-10).

Through our union with Christ, we are freed from the bondage of sin and made slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18). Christ’s death saves us from the power of sin over our lives as our old self was crucified with Him (Romans 6:6). Christ’s resurrection raises the new self that desires God’s Law (Romans 6:4). We are not saved by these good works but saved to do good works as Paul says we were created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10). It is good news that we are not saved by our works, even our sanctified ones. As sinners, we could never offer up anything pleasing to God if we were not sure of His promise of eternal life merited by Jesus Christ. “But now we are released from the Law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6). Fear-driven, slavish obedience does not please God. We serve in the new way of the Spirit by looking to Christ by faith and performing good works out of gratitude for what He has done for us.

New Creation

When Christ comes again, we will receive a resurrected, glorified body like His. Paul writes, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:21-23). This is where the dominion mandate is fulfilled. J.V. Fesko writes, “The last Adam accomplishes the dominion mandate by extending the temple, which is the people of God, to the ends of the earth.” This is how Jesus was fruitful and multiplied: not by having children according to  natural descent, but by redeeming His elect from their body of death to His own glorified body (1 Corinthians 15:45). All of God’s enemies will be vanquished forever and the whole earth shall have people who no longer bear the image of Adam, but the image of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:49).

This is a cause for us not to put our identity in success here on earth. The people of God throughout redemptive history look forward to a heavenly country, one whose designer and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10, 16). We’re free to pursue cultural tasks, not as trying to fulfill the cultural mandate in Genesis 1:26, but as ones who know this world will come to an end (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). We have hope when we face death because our Lord Jesus has conquered death Himself and will wipe away every tear from our eyes and abolish sin from our entire existence.

The Impact of God’s Grace: Sin Ruins Everything

How does God’s grace impact our lives as Christians? To answer this question, we must first see what our lives would be like apart from His grace.

The Covenant of Works

A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties. Blessings are promised if the obligations of the covenant are fulfilled and curses are threatened if the obligations are broken.  God entered into a covenantal relationship with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam was made in God’s image and was to reflect that image in his covenant obligations. Just as God has supreme dominion over all creation, Adam too was to act as king and take dominion of the entire earth (Genesis 1:26-28). “Adam’s royal dominion,” David VanDrunen notes, “was also to be a priestly service.” Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” VanDrunen notes again, “When the Hebrew words ‘work’ and ‘keep’ are used together in the Old Testament, they ordinarily refer to priestly labor.” Thus, the Garden of Eden was a type of temple.

If you have ever read the first five books of the Bible, you probably wondered why the blueprints of the tabernacle were so specific, and why God disallowed certain “unclean” people to worship or sacrifices to be offered at the temple (e.g. Leviticus 13:44). That was so because God Himself is perfect and holy, and therefore where His presence was to reside must be perfect and holy. So Adam, like the Israelite priests, must keep the garden-temple holy. That is, Adam must guard against anything that would defile it. VanDrunen writes, “So if any creature would seek to usurp authority and threaten the holiness of the Garden (which is precisely what the serpent did in Genesis 3), then Adam would have to obey God’s commands in Genesis 1:26, 28 through obeying His commands in Genesis 2:15: he would have to assert his authority over this creature and protect the Garden’s purity.” J.V. Fesko notes that this Garden-Temple would expand throughout the earth as Adam multiplied his offspring and took dominion of the earth.

God gave Adam another command in the Garden: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). The threat of the Covenant of Works is death if Adam eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Not only physical death but spiritual and eternal death. The promise of the Covenant of Works is eternal life if Adam obeys God’s commands. How do we know Adam would gain eternal life by his works if the text of Genesis 2:16-17 doesn’t explicitly say that? We must remember what being made in God’s image meant for Adam. God worked and created for six days and rested on the seventh. Thus Adam would work by taking dominion over the earth, being fruitful and multiplying, working and keeping the Garden, and not eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and resting from his works and eating of the tree of life which gives eternal life (Genesis 2:9, 3:22b). Note that Adam is the one that God made the covenant with in Genesis 2:16-17. Adam is the federal head (the legal covenant representative) of the entire human race. The fate of humanity rested upon what he would do.

The Fall

The serpent (who is later identified as Satan himself in Revelation 20:2) came and tempted Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve ate the fruit and gave some to Adam. When Adam ate of the fruit, Genesis 3:7 says, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” It’s good to note again the federal headship of Adam. Eve ate the fruit first, but it wasn’t until Adam ate that their eyes were opened. Their eyes were opened once Adam ate because he is the federal head of the human race, not Eve. Adam’s disobedience is what caused Eve’s eyes to be opened.

What does Adam and Eve realizing their nakedness mean?  Genesis 2:25 says, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” In the honor-shame cultural context in which Moses was writing,  a person of the community being “shamed” by the rest of the community was equivalent of being judged unworthy to be in their presence. When one was shamed, they were cut off from the community. To be found naked in the community was one of the greatest reasons  to be shamed. This shame defined their entire existence. A shamed person would not think, “I made a mistake.” He or she would think, “I am a mistake.” So Adam and Eve were naked but not ashamed because they had not yet broken the Covenant of Works. When they realized their nakedness, they were ashamed because they had broken the Covenant of Works and awaited the judgment of a holy God and separation from a right relationship with Him.

Condemnation      

Just as  representatives in our federal government fail and make bad laws and we suffer the consequences, so it was with Adam and all of humanity. Adam represents all humanity and through Him came sin, death, and condemnation for everyone (Romans 5:12ff). Adam’s sin is counted to everyone as if we had eaten from the tree. Therefore, just as Adam was condemned, we too, apart from the grace of God, stand condemned as well. Our entire existence, apart from grace, is defined by being under the condemnation and wrath of God. Apart from grace, we are like Adam and Eve trying to hide when they heard the voice in the Lord in the Garden because they did not want to stand condemned in His presence (Genesis 3:8, Isaiah 6:5).

However, when God calls Adam to account for his covenant disobedience (3:9-11), Adam tried to deflect blame from himself to Eve (3:12). Adam opened his mouth to argue with God, but the Law stops all of our mouths and makes us accountable to God (Romans 3:19). When we see the Law, whether we see it written in the Bible or written on our hearts (Romans 2:15), we know we haven’t kept its demands. Paul proclaims, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). But again, we are like Adam and Eve, who sewed together fig leaves to try to hide their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). Though we know intrinsically “the doers of the Law will be justified” (Romans 2:13), our sin deceives us into thinking we can keep the Law. We think we can hide our sins by our “good works.” However, apart from grace, “no one in the flesh can please God” (Romans 8:8). We all deserve condemnation and wrath. On our own, there is nothing we can do to change our status as rebels deserving of death for our treason against the sovereign Lord of all.

Corruption

Adam’s sin is not only imputed to us but also infused in us. The imputation of Adam’s sin brought condemnation (Romans 5:18a). The infusion of Adam’s sin brought corruption. This is exemplified by the foolishness of sewing  the fig leaves together to hide their sin before a holy God, and Adam blaming Eve for his sin when he was the one obligated to guard the Garden from defilement. In Genesis 4, Cain gets jealous that God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and kills Abel for it. He was not tempted from without as Adam was, but from within his own corrupt heart. Thus, we are, apart from grace, “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) and “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We can only do that which is displeasing in the sight of God. We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.

A Fallen World

Another consequence of the broken Covenant of Works is its effect on life in the world in general. Note that the creation mandate to take dominion over the earth and to marry and reproduce are inextricably tied to the Covenant of Works. Since these are tied to the covenant, these tasks are all cursed. God curses the woman with the multiplication of pain in childbearing and marital strife with her husband (Genesis 3:16). God curses the man with making his work on the earth, which he was supposed to have dominion over, to become laborious and with his eventual natural death. The Sabbath, which signified God’s rest after finishing creation and the promise of eschatological rest for man if he completed the Covenant of Works, can no longer be attained by fallen man.

Don’t you feel this in your life? All of life is a Covenant of Works. If you study hard enough, you will make good grades. If you work well at your job, you will make money. If you fulfill certain characteristics that a significant other wants in a spouse, you will get married. If you workout, you will get strong. Don’t we struggle with all of these things? Do not all these prove to be difficult? Not only that, but nothing ever satisfies. Even if we have worked hard and accomplished our goals, we still feel empty. We still feel like we have not attained rest. Not only do we see the effects of the Fall in our personal lives, we see it out in the world around us. We see so much violence, destruction, injustice, and death. Though we can win wars, make good laws, and have the best medical care, we know this world is ultimately doomed. Truly, apart from grace, we are as ones “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

In the next article, we will see what God does to remedy the broken covenant of works and how it will ultimately be fulfilled.

Slaughterhouse-Five and the Problem of Free Will

I recently read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. At first glance, the novel is about war and funny-looking aliens from outer space. Yet, at its core, it is about deeply human issues—issues of philosophy and morality. Moreover, Slaughterhouse-Five is not only a prized contribution to literature, but also a work dedicated to significant questions of theology.  

Understanding Slaughterhouse-Five 

Slaughterhouse-Five is Kurt Vonnegut’s novel about his experience in the firebombing of Dresden, Germany. On February 13, 1945, Dresden underwent an Allied firebombing that killed roughly 25,000 civilians. Writing about such an atrocity would be no easy task. In the fight against post-traumatic stress, Vonnegut uses science fiction—episodes wherein Billy, the main character, encounters beings from outer space—to ease his mind and alleviate the pain of looking back on the tragedy of Dresden. 

Let me be frank: Slaughterhouse-Five is not for the faint of heart. The novel is incredibly cynical, depressing, and uncomfortably funny. Because of this, Slaughterhouse-Five is hardly discussed in Christian circles. Yet, Vonnegut’s blockbuster novel has a lot to offer for healthy theological conversation. 

It is equally important that the reader understand that Slaughterhouse-Five is, essentially, an anti-war novel. But, it is not just an anti-war novel. Boiling down the complexity to this one category robs the reader of appreciating Vonnegut’s wisdom, literary style, and his ability to use humor as a means of communicating life’s greatest questions. It is our job, as Christians, to discern these questions with virtue. 

Free Will and Determinism 

The reader relives Vonnegut’s experience through the fictional character of Billy Pilgrim. At a turning point in the novel, Billy is abducted by Tralfamadorians, aliens who see all of time simultaneously, who change his perception of reality. Instead of experiencing time linearly, Billy sees time, like the Tralfamadorians, in the fourth dimension—past, present, and future all at once. Events that occur at different times for humans are happening concurrently for Billy and the Tralfamadorians. 

Given the fact that Billy sees all of time at once, he is thought of being omniscient. Because Billy comprehends all the details of his life—including his abduction and death—he succumbs to apathy. He finds himself so blinded by his knowledge that his abduction seems meaningless. With this attitude in mind, Vonnegut writes: 

Billy looked at the clock on the gas stove. He had an hour to kill before the saucer came. He went into the living room… [and] turned on the television.

Vonnegut is portraying the dichotomy of determinism, or predestination, and free will. It is the author’s belief that, given God’s omniscience, free will is an illusion. If God is all-knowing, he either actively brings about everything that happens or allows such things to pass. Thus, humankind has no real autonomy. Billy, understanding this, decides not to avoid his abductors. He can’t avoid them. 

This dichotomy is especially evident in the episodes set in Dresden. Billy Pilgrim is no representation of the “battle-tough” soldier. He loses his weapon, helmet, and the majority of his clothing. With a heel missing from one of his shoes, Billy hobbles up and down helplessly. The Nazis even take pictures of the horrid condition of this hobbling American soldier to use as propaganda.  

Due to his omniscient condition, Billy realizes that putting any effort into the war would be in vain. The dichotomy of predestination and free will desensitizes Billy to death. Just as he is careless about his own life, so is he indifferent about the destruction of Dresden. In addition, he can find no real fault in this atrocity—determinism has robbed humanity of all moral responsibility. This uncomfortable concept is exhibited when Billy first gazes upon the city: 

… the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighborhood was dead. So it goes.

Vonnegut’s whimsical and jarring imagery intends to shock the reader. It is at this point that our ideologies—ideas of theology, philosophy, and moral obligation—collide with experience. Here, Vonnegut challenges the reader to reconcile ideological perception with reality. 

The Christian Perspective

Vonnegut’s personal objection to Christianity, along with the dilemma of the novel, is such: because God must be omniscient, “everything is predestined and free will is an illusion. Life is meaningless.” I am of the opinion that this objection is, oftentimes, not handled properly. 

Predestination, as it refers to the determinism of all things, is explicitly present in the biblical text (Ephesians 1:4-5; 11, Acts 4:27-28). Notwithstanding the proper mention of the word, God’s omniscience is undeniably present in both the New and Old Testament narratives (Proverbs 16:33, Romans 8:28). The Bible calls believers to “rejoice and be glad” and “choose life” (Matthew 5:12, Deuteronomy 30:19). These commands promote the ability of human action—or, the concept of free will. Similarly, Christ’s call for us to love him with the entirety of our hearts would be an illusionary task if the heart was manipulated against the will (Mark 12:30). There lies a tension between God’s ability to know and our ability to act. Not only are there direct references to these concepts, but Scripture also promotes these ideas in narratives. 

The significance of free will is underlined by the belief that autonomy renders meaning. No one is championing the idea of free will for its own sake. Adherents promote this doctrine because they believe it gives purpose to human life. Believing that God’s omniscience negates free will, Vonnegut portrays Billy as without any sense of meaning. There are different routes to take in solving this problem. 

According to the Biblical text, God’s sovereignty and man’s autonomy are certain realities. However, what is not certain is their relationship to one another. Independent of each other, God’s sovereignty and man’s agency are both true. In logically comparing the two, one may seem to negate the other. 

Believing that the absence of free will renders despondency, the first option is to say that God is paradoxically omniscient—“paradoxically” meaning that God’s sovereignty is, assumably, not meticulous and cannot negate free will. In other words, free will is certain and God’s sovereignty is a mystery. Yet, this limits God’s omniscience and challenges essential theology present in Scripture. 

The second option is to say that predestination and free will are mutually exclusive truths: they have nothing to do with each other. In this scenario, the believer would accept God’s determinist character and leave free will as a mystery. Because the question of meaning lacks a solution in this scenario, the believer would be constrained to find solace in biblical commands and not in personal autonomy. 

In logically comparing the two, we cannot comprehend the depths of this paradox. It is not that free will and determinism, independent of each other, confuse the believer. As previously mentioned, the mystery lies more in how these two realities relate to one another—and this confuses us. No amount of philosophizing or reasoning will give us the answer we desire. Scripture speaks into this mystery, but it may not be as definitive as we would want it to be. Answers may never come for these inquiries. Ultimately, we must shift our lack of understanding of these complexities from frustration to peace—peace only Christ can give. 

Defending the Faith 

This is the moral: We have to be careful about answering questions of skepticism. The dichotomy of predestination and free will has turned many away from Christianity. We, Christians, must engage the philosophical world with grace and humility, lest we turn a questioning soul away. 

The Proverbs says: 

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom.
-Proverbs 11:2

The combination of knowledge and pride is the Christian’s sinful crutch. Genuine knowledge—knowledge of things theological or philosophical—is accompanied by wisdom. And true wisdom, says Socrates, is “in knowing you know nothing.” 

Although God’s ways are incomprehensible and we may, in some abstract way, truly know nothing, we must find solace in the call to make an intelligible and humble defense for the hope that is in us.

A Letter from Jeremy: Knowing the Love of Jesus

My friends,

Being the lowliest servant of God is better than having ten thousand universes to yourself without Him. You have never committed a small sin, they have all been wicked enough to damn you to Hell to be forever separated from Christ. While we all know this, something we rarely consider is that we have never received a small blessing. The fact that we have food to eat is amazing grace more than we could ever deserve. The fact that we have even one person unashamed to call us their friend, despite our lifelong, ungrateful treason against a holy God, is a gift of love that we can never repay. 

Yet even these blessings—food, clean clothing, friends—are but tiny embers next to the white, hot, blazing supernova of knowing the love of a pierced, agonizing, bleeding, weeping, dying Jesus. His majesty and splendor makes all things look less than worthless. Yet, this is the very King who loved even the most ungrateful hypocrite, and gave Himself upon an accursed tree. (Galatians 2:20) 

My friends, the garden of Eden and Paradise itself would be hellish and unbearable places without God and knowing the love of Jesus. Indeed, even ten trillion Heavens without Jesus would be gut-wrenchingly miserable, and like Hell itself, in comparison to an hour spent truly knowing the full love of Jesus Christ which surpasses knowledge. This is a love that exceeds the heights of Heaven, yet condescended to this globe, a love that condescended even to the cross and the depths of the terrible wrath of our Almighty God. This is a love that triumphed over death, Satan and his wicked demons, and the gates of Hell. This is a love that ascended in glory to lavish His Spirit upon His precious, adopted, ransomed children; a love which  interceded on His children’s behalf. This is a love that is coming back in Holy anger and furious wrath against wicked and reprobate enemies, but with tender mercy, compassion, joy, and gentleness to dwell with His precious children and wipe every tear from every eye. 

Oh, friends! Do you know this love I speak of? Do you know the predestinating love that determined all and carefully watches over each and every individual hair on your head? Do you know the love that takes care of you and guards you from the devils which would savagely murder you if He were to abandon you? Even when you were in your mother’s womb, you were adored and treasured by God. An everlasting love was placed on you before the foundation of the earth, and before you loved Him at all!

This love is what compels us. This is the love which drives away every fear and causes the Gospel to thunder forth to the darkest corners of this wicked world. This love can keep us humble when loved by billions, and joyful when hated by them. This love can keep us from despair after our greatest failures and keep us from pride after our greatest successes. This love can give us joy and hope in the darkest dungeon and gratitude and deep humility in the most splendid mansion. 

If we know the love of Jesus, we can endure both the smiles and frowns of this dying world and not be shaken. If we know the love of Jesus, we can boldly stand before any enemy, any King, any devil, or any putrid thing in Hell and declare the excellencies of the one who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light by His grace alone! If we know the love of Jesus, we can endure any devastation and sing for joy! 10 trillion afflictions would be Heavens if we could be in our Savior’s loving arms and know His love! Oh, with Jesus we can do all these things with sheer joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8). When you know the love of Jesus, you can rest your tired head on the pillow and sleep in perfect peace.

Are We Saved by Faith Alone?

Around 500 hundred years ago at the dawn of the Reformation, the topic that was ferociously debated between Protestants and Roman Catholics was how a person was saved from their sins. Unfortunately, many Christians today see what happened at the Reformation as unimportant. “We don’t really need that kind of division today, do we? Why can’t we all love Jesus and get along?” But what they don’t understand is that how we are saved is absolutely critical to the essence of Christianity. “If righteousness were through the Law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:21).

What Do We Need to Be Saved From?

We must first understand the nature of God, the demands of His Law, our sin, and God’s justice. God is holy. The holiness of God refers to His moral perfection. There is no evil in God and all that He does and commands is good. The Law refers to what God demands morally of those made in His image. Since God is holy, His image bearers must be holy. He demands that we love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves if we are to have eternal life (Luke 10:25-28). Our entire being must be turned towards both God and neighbor. 

The Ten Commandments show us what exactly loving God and neighbor looks like. In order to love God, you must not have other gods before you, nor have idols, nor take His name in vain, and you must honor the Sabbath, the day God rested after he created the world. To love our neighbors means honoring our parents, not murdering one another, not committing adultery, not stealing, not lying, nor coveting others’ possessions. You don’t need to have a Bible to know these things. Everyone, regardless of their religious upbringing, knows that you shouldn’t steal, murder, or lie. That’s because God has written His Law on everybody’s heart (Romans 2:15). Even if you’re not a Christian, your conscience still convicts you when you lie to a friend or boss.

You may be thinking, “Well I believe in God and have never committed adultery, murdered, or stolen before. I’ve kept the Law, right?” But the Law goes much deeper than that. Jesus teaches that if you have even lusted over another person’s body, you’ve committed adultery with that person in your heart (Matthew 5:28). He teaches that if you have ever become angry with someone for no righteous reason, you are liable to the judgement of God (Matthew 5:22). You may have not have stolen before, but you haven’t given everybody what was due to them. And let’s face it, you haven’t always honored your parents nor have you abstained from jealousy in all circumstances. 

As it relates to God, you’ve thought or said untrue things about Him. You may not bow down to idols, but you have certainly put your trust in money, education, or a significant other. And you don’t honor and worship God as the Creator and Sustainer of life that He is.

Why do we break God’s Law? It’s because we are sinners. Sin is a condition that we inherited from Adam. He disobeyed God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and threw the whole earth into corruption. We are naturally born in rebellion against God. Our sinful nature desires to break the Law of God. Because we have broken God’s Law, we deserve punishment. Since God is a holy and just, he must punish sin. If He didn’t punish sin at all or let some sins slide, He wouldn’t be just and we would have no foundation for justice in society. He threatens sinners with pouring out His wrath on them for all eternity (Romans 2:6-11). There is no amount of good works we can do that can change this reality. 

Who Is Our Savior and What Has He Done?

But the good news of the Gospel is this: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5-6). God the Father sent God the Son to become a human like us but without sin, to be perfectly obedient to the Law that was given to us in order that He would give His life as a ransom to buy us back from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13), bringing us into communion with God. 

The Father sending His Son is profound, because God would have been perfectly just in letting all of us die in our sins. But He decided to have mercy on His enemies by taking the punishment they deserved so that they would be sons and daughters of His kingdom. Jesus suffered in this fallen world in order than He may keep the Law on behalf of sinners and exhausted the wrath of God on the cross. Jesus rose again on the third day from the grave so that sinners like us might rise with Him into new life. He perfectly loved God with all of His heart, soul, mind and strength, and loved His neighbor as Himself so that God would count His obedience to those who believe and freely give the reward of eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

The righteousness that God requires of us in the Law, He freely provides in the Gospel. On the cross, God counted the sins of all who would believe to Christ Himself so that He would be condemned and exhaust the wrath of God for everyone who believes. The curse that the Law demands upon all Law-breakers, the Gospel takes away in Christ. Jesus rose from the dead so that all of these promises would be true for everyone who believes, promising to come back again to give His people glorified bodies like His and bring forth a new heavens and new earth (1 Corinthians 15:17-19, 49, Revelation 21:1).

How Do We Receive the Benefits of Christ?

There is nothing we do to receive what Christ has done for sinners. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). We don’t have to be obedient to the Law in order to be justified. In fact, Paul would go as far as to say, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). A holy and just God justifies the ungodly. God requires no moral and personal transformation for one to be declared just in the court of God. This is not a contradiction because He justifies the ungodly on the basis of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We do nothing, but receive and rest in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and the accrediting of His righteousness to us. We are saved by faith alone because the object of our faith, Jesus Christ, alone accomplished salvation.

What About Works?

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? … So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. … You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
-James 2:14, 17, 24

Roman Catholics and Mormons bring up this passage from James to refute the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. This is foolish because they ignore the entire Pauline corpus for the sake of a few verses in James 2. They must necessarily confess that James and Paul contradict each other.

But what are we to make of these verses? For one, Reformation theology has never confessed a faith that does not work. The Second London Confession teaches:

Faith thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is alone the instrument of justification; yet is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.

Simply put, those who believe in Jesus will love God and others. If we do no good works (i.e. we are in unrepentant rebellion against God), our faith is no faith at all. When James says we are justified by works and not by faith alone, it’s good to point out in verse 24 that he says “you see.” He is referring to the church. The way the church understands who is and isn’t a Christian is by the works they perform. Good works vindicate true faith. If a professing Christian persists in unrepentant sin, then the church can know that person is not in the faith and needs love and discipline.

The Assurance of Salvation

Though good works are necessary, we would do well to heed the words of the great French Reformer John Calvin: 

When any one strives to seek tranquility of conscience by works, (which is the case with profane and ignorant men), he labors for it in vain; for either his heart is asleep through his disregard or forgetfulness of God’s judgment, or else it is full of trembling and dread, until it reposes on Christ, who is alone our peace.

Even after we believe in Christ, we are still sinners who do wicked things. This was Paul’s internal struggle: 

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… Wretched man that I am!
-Romans 7:15, 24

This is a repentant sinner. Repentance does not mean “stop sinning.” The Greek word for repentance is metanoia (meta means “change” and nous means “mind”). Thus repentance means “a change of mind.” Change your mind from thinking you are good and that sin is good and believe the truth that you are a sinner and that God’s Law is good (Romans 7:22). Repentance also includes a godly sorrow and hatred for having offended our Father. But in the midst of our sorrow and frustration with our indwelling sin we ask with Paul, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” But we can joyfully answer with Him, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25). Jesus is our great Deliverer “who is alone our peace.” We can rest in Him because our salvation is not found in our good works or our victory over sin, but in Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension for us.

Christ Our Righteousness

What does is mean that we have received “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22)? What does it mean that God “has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). It means that Christ’s personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience to the Law of God throughout His entire life (the active obedience of Christ) is counted as ours. Though we are inherently sinful and commit acts of sin, God sees us the same way He does our Lord Jesus Christ: righteous.

The Covenant of Works

Man’s biggest problem is not the wrath of God, but rather, the righteousness of God. God’s wrath is the consequence for failing to meet the demands of the righteousness of God. God demands righteousness of all made in His image in order for them to have eternal life. This standard is known through the Law of God. The first Law given to man was given to Adam. Adam was commanded by God to work and keep the Garden of Eden, but not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17). This Law given to Adam is known as the Covenant of Works. The Covenant of Works promised eternal life to Adam and all of mankind upon fulfilling the condition of working and keeping the Garden and not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, the consequence for Adam breaking the Covenant of Works would be an eternal death for Adam and all of mankind. Adam, of course, did eat of the tree, thereby imputing His sin to all mankind as it is written, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Why was Adam’s sin imputed to all mankind, and why do we suffer the consequence of death even though we were not the ones who ate of the tree? Because Adam is our federal head. He represented all mankind in the Garden. Though Eve ate of the tree first (Genesis 3:6), it was not until Adam ate that they realized their nakedness (Genesis 3:7a) which was their guilt before God. It was through Adam’s disobedience that we were made sinners (Romans 5:19a), not only in corruption, but in our guilt before God (Romans 5:18a). Guilt preceded corruption when Adam sinned as he first realized his nakedness, and then presumptuously tried to sew fig leaves together (Genesis 3:17b) to hide his corruption.

The Mosaic Covenant

To further reveal our sin, God gave Israel the Ten Commandments (Romans 5:20a, Romans 7:7). The Mosaic Covenant was a type of Covenant of Works for the nation of Israel. After receiving the Ten Commandments, the nation vowed, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:7). If the nation of Israel obeyed the commandments, they would be blessed in all things (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). If the nation disobeyed, they would be cursed in all things (Deuteronomy 28:15-68), including being driven out from the land of Israel by a foreign nation (Deuteronomy 28:49-50, 64). Eventually, they disobeyed and the nation was split into two, into Israel and Judah. Israel was forever scattered among the nations when the Assyrians took them into captivity. Judah was taken into captivity by Babylon (Babylon is east of Jerusalem), but was maintained in order that the Abrahamic promise of the Messiah (Galatians 3:16-18) would be fulfilled in Christ, who was a descendent of David, of the tribe of Judah. This is the paradigm by which Paul and Jesus view the Law.

The Demand and Function of the Law

Paul writes,

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury… For it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the Law who will be justified.
-Romans 2:6-8, 13

Righteousness merits the blessing of eternal life. Unrighteousness merits the curse of eternal death. It is not enough that we avoid sin, we must actually be “doers of the Law.” A lawyer, asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him, “What is written in the Law?” The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28). If the lawyer wants eternal life, he must be perfect. He must keep the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments really are these two greatest rules, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Note what Jesus said at the end: “Do this, and you will live.” He gets this phrase that summarizes the function of the Law from Leviticus 18:5, which Paul also uses in Galatians 3:12. But Paul writes in Galatians 3:10, “For all who rely on works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” If we try to gain eternal life by our own works, we will be condemned, because “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). The Law shows that we are unable to keep it because we are inwardly corrupt. We sin because we are sinners. Recall how Jesus thinks of the Ten Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount. He shows us that it is not enough to avoid murdering someone, committing adultery, or hurting others. We must not be unjustifiably angry with others, not lust over others’ bodies, keep our word perfectly, not retaliate against personal offenses, love our enemies, love the poor, not worship money, treat others as we would ourselves, and practice true devotion to God apart from wanting to be praised by men in order to be properly considered “doers of the Law.” Needless to say, none of us are doers of the Law! We are so wicked, and we probably underestimate our own wickedness. We have by no means earned the blessing of eternal life, but earned the curse of eternal death.

Jesus Christ the Righteous

But the good news of the Gospel is this: God has graciously provided a Last Adam and a Faithful Israel in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary so that He would be born without the stain of original sin. Throughout His entire life, from His birth in a manager to His death on the cross, Christ lived in perfect conformity to God’s Law. He kept the crushing demands of the Ten Commandments, even the standard He clarified in the Sermon on the Mount. He loved the Lord His God with all of His heart, all of His soul, all of His mind, and all of His strength, and He loved His neighbor as Himself. When the Spirit drove Jesus to the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), Satan tempted Jesus to break His fast, to throw Himself down from the temple to be caught by angels, and with the opportunity to rule all of the kingdoms of the earth. But our Lord did not break His fast, He lived by every word that came from the mouth of God (v. 4). He did not throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple; He would not put the Lord His God to the test, and He trusted in the plans and purposes of God (v. 7). He did not accept Satan’s offer to rule all of the kingdoms of the earth because He is the offspring through which all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Jesus would not gain His kingdom by conquering His political enemies with militaristic might, but by conquering our greatest enemy, sin and death, by the means of His own death and resurrection. Israel was tempted and disobeyed in the wilderness; Christ was tempted but obeyed in the wilderness. Even as Jesus was taken to the cross after a number of unjust trials, beatings, and being mocked, Peter writes, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Even as He hung crucified and naked on the cross, with people still mocking Him, Jesus had the selflessness to assign John to take care of His mother after His death (John 19:26-27). Jesus loved His enemies and honored His father and mother. Since Christ’s accomplished perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience to the Law, those who place their faith in him are rewarded with eternal life. Christ’s resurrection from the dead was His vindication before all that He was a righteous man, was who He claimed to be, and that God accepted the sacrifice for our sins (1 Timothy 3:16, Romans 1:4).

“Thy Righteousness is in Heaven”

All of Christ’s active obedience to the Law of God was for the purpose of representing the elect before God as their federal head. Just as through Adam’s disobedience we were all made sinners by imputation, through Christ’s active obedience we were also made righteous by imputation (Romans 5:19). Adam acted as our representative and condemned us all in the eyes of God; Jesus acted as our representative and justified us in the eyes of God (Romans 5:18). Just as our guilt in Adam preceded corruption, likewise our justification in Christ precedes our sanctification. Jesus, as the federal head of the elect, took the Adamic curse on Himself by imputation, in the same way that the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement was imputed with all of the sins of Israel and driven out into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:20-22). Just as Jesus resurrected from the dead because of His righteous, we too will resurrect from the dead since His righteousness is counted as ours (Romans 5:21, 1 Corinthians 15:45-49).

Since Christ is our federal head, we can rejoice because He has accomplished everything necessary for our salvation. There is no need to fear if we have done enough, because Jesus was enough for us! There is no need to fear that our sins we struggle against will condemn us in the eyes of God, because we are Christ’s Bride. Just as Eve’s sin did not condemn her in the eyes of God since Adam was her federal head, our sins will not condemn us in the eyes of God because Christ is our federal head. While Adam blamed his wife for his own disobedience, Christ took the blame for His wife, the church, and we gain the reward of His obedience. When God looks at us, He doesn’t see our nakedness, our shame, our filthy rags, our unrighteousness, or our ungodliness; He sees the royal garments of Christ’s righteousness. He sees Christ crowned with glory (Hebrews 2:9). Indeed, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). We can joyfully proclaim with the Puritan, John Bunyan, “Thy righteousness is in Heaven.”

Do all Religions Lead to God?

The belief that all religions lead to God has become popular in our culture. This idea is known as pluralism. Pluralism teaches that multiple religions are equally truthful and acceptable because the core of any religion is to worship a god. This makes any form of worship directed toward any god of any religion just as valid as another.

For example, pluralism would suggest that Buddhists worship the same god as Christians, Muslims, and Hindus because there is a greater deity that accepts all forms of worship, not caring what beliefs you hold to as long as it leads to you worshiping the deity you believe to be correct. Pluralism has found its way into the churches of America and if Christians are unable to give a Biblical response to this growing trend, then Biblical doctrine will be diminished and may cause non-believers to hold a wrong view of God.

Why is Pluralism Incorrect?

Before noting the incompatibility of different religions, it is important to note the core issue of pluralistic thinking–relative truth. Relative truth is the denial of an absolute and ultimate truth. There is much to write about regarding relative truth; however, I will not go into much depth. The key principle to understanding relativism is that it is an endless cycle of contradiction. To state, “All truth is relative” is making an absolute claim that there are no absolutes.

Moral relativism simply offers a way out of reckoning absolute truth with reality, allowing all religions to be equally true. Moral relativism not only contradicts Scripture’s teaching, but logically does not make sense because it claims that all religions are equally true. From the Christian standpoint, there are key doctrines that other religions do not adhere to. This means that other religions are lacking the knowledge of God as He has revealed Himself through Scripture.

For example, Buddhists deny a personal god while Hindus believe in many gods. Mormons also believe in many different gods and only worship a few of those gods. The belief that the God of the Bible is triune in person while singular in being, has sent His only Son for the forgiveness of sin through His death, and was raised on the third day is a truth that cannot be sacrificed at the price of being loving, tolerant, and accepting of other religions. It is the key doctrinal element of Christianity that makes it unique.

In comparison to other monotheistic religions such as Islam and Judaism, there are fundamental doctrinal differences that separate them from Christianity, such as God’s attributes, character, and nature. It is simply illogical to state that all religions can lead to God when nearly every religion in history contradicts another one. Even from the perspective of a moral relativist, it is impossible for all religions to be equally true simply due to the numerous contradictions between them.

Why is the God of the Bible the only God?

The differences between Biblical Christianity and other religions are vast. Christianity is the only religion that gives a realistic view of who we are as humans (sinful), while other religions talk about salvation coming by human effort and inward goodness. Christianity is the only religion to teach that man is totally depraved and wicked from birth, yet has a Savior who offers grace freely based upon faith in Christ and not works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Christianity is the only religion that teaches that the deity figure offered Himself up to bear the punishment of human sin and rose again so that we may be a new creation through Christ.

Biblically speaking, two verses give the explicit mention of Jesus being the only way. John 14:6 states, “Jesus said to [Thomas], I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Acts 4:12 states, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved (Jesus).” The pinnacle of the gospel is that God, being rich in mercy, provided what He demanded of us so that we can stand forgiven–the shed blood of Christ for sin. Christianity is based entirely upon the idea that everything needed for salvation has already been done for those who will believe and trust in Christ. Christianity says done while other religions say do. This is what distinguishes Christianity from any other religion.

Do all people who claim to be Christians worship Christ?

A final recognition still remains–one that I believe is more dangerous than believing in another religion. A rather harsh reality is that there are some people who claim to be Christians who do not worship God. Instead, they worship an idol. I cannot express enough that you are not a born-again believer simply because you claim the name of Christ. There are many people and denominations we consider under the umbrella of Christianity who do not know God. We share meals with these people. We have conversations with these people. We do life with these people. And all the while, we offer them false assurance of their relationship with Christ while they are on their way to eternal damnation because we neglected to tell them the truth of the gospel and of God.

This much is true–Christ, the second person of trinity, equal with the Father and the Spirit, was with the Father in creation (Col. 1:16-17), became the incarnate God-man, being fully God yet fully man, living a sinless and perfect life (Heb. 4:15), dying on a cross for the sins of those who believe (John 3:16), and raising on the third day to secure eternal salvation for those the Father had chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1: 4). Christianity is not about claiming a christ. Christianity is about knowing the Christ and His gospel. Friends, we must make Christ and the gospel clear.

Know Christ. Worship Christ. Follow Christ.

Pray that the Father, through the working of the Holy Spirit, will grant you the boldness and confidence to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for in him “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).

In Christ,

Nicolas Olson

Is Jesus God?

In this article, my aim is to provide a Biblical foundation for the full deity of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity. This article is a mere introduction to the doctrine and further study is recommended.

John 1

John 1:1-14 is one of the clearest passages in Scripture that testifies to Christ’s full divinity. Let’s take a look at verses 1-3 and verse 14:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
-John 1:1-3, 14

The author of the Gospel of John, John the Apostle, wrote to inform readers of Jesus Christ’s true identity. Jesus is the Word according to John 1:14, which speaks of His incarnation through the Virgin Mary. Jesus, who is the Word, is also referred to as the Son later in this chapter. Verse 14 says that He, “the only Son from the Father,” was made flesh and dwelt among mankind. This can only be said of Christ Jesus. I want to make clear that as we walk through these first few verses I am talking about Jesus Christ. John starts in verse 1 by saying that the Word was in the beginning with God and “the Word was God.”

Aside from alluding to the Trinity, these verses explicitly state that the Word is God and He is equal to God. Following this in verse 2, John makes it clear that the Word (Jesus Christ) existed alongside God in the beginning before creation. The third verse clearly explains that not only is Jesus Christ God, but He is also the Creator of all things. Verse 3 says that the Word made all things that were made. This precludes Him from being a supernatural being that God made. Jesus is the creator of all things and He existed before “any thing that was made was made” (John 1:3). This passage clearly testifies to Christ’s full deity.

Hebrews 1

But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”
-Hebrews 1:8-12

God the Father is actually the one credited with making this statement according to verses 1 and 2 (follow the pronouns all the way to verse 8 to see this) so we know it is Him addressing the Son (Jesus) . He credits the Son with being the one who “laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,” and He says of the Son, “the heavens are the work of your hands.” According to God the Father, the Son, who we know is Christ, is God the Creator, and His “years will have no end.”

Christ, according to the Father, existed before all of creation alongside Him (the Father) and He (Christ) will continue to exist forever after creation passes away. Christ is eternal. This means He has no beginning and no end. This is an attribute only God possesses (Psalm 90:2, 96:5, Isaiah 43:10-11). Anyone who denies the truth presented in these verses is also denying that the omniscient Father has accurate information regarding the Son. It is worth mentioning that Hebrews 2:10 and Colossians 1:16 explicitly state that all created things are created for Jesus Christ. God the Father is identifying Jesus, who is God the Son, as God.

Perspectives of Human Witnesses

We can also gain insight from analyzing the claims Jesus made. I want us to look specifically at two of Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees.

The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
-John 5:15-18

Jesus is healing people on the Sabbath as indicated by verses 15-16. The Jews were angry about this because it was a violation of the Law (Deuteronomy 5:14). In response to the Pharisees’ accusations, Jesus says His Father (who is God according to Luke 10:21-22) has been working until now, and that He (Jesus) is working as well. In other words, Jesus is telling them that they are accusing God, who is actively working all things together according to His purpose, including working on the Sabbath (Ephesians 1:11), of breaking the law. Obviously, God is above the Sabbath and perfect (Psalm 18:30), thus incapable of breaking the law. Jesus is basically saying that to accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath is to say that God the Father has broken it too. The Father is above the Sabbath. Christ teaches in Mark 2:27-28 that He also is above the Sabbath. In this passage we have a clear statement from Jesus saying He is God.

In verse 18, John, the author of this Gospel, says that the Jews understood Christ to be calling Himself God. Not only that, but John Himself asserts that Christ “was even calling God his own Father, making Himself equal with God.” The witness here is three-fold. The Pharisees understood Jesus was equating Himself with God. Jesus said that He is divine, and John, the writer, understood from Jesus’ statement that Jesus is equal with God. Neither John, nor the Pharisees was confused by Jesus’ words when He revealed Himself as God in the flesh.

Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
-John 8:56

In John 8, we see that Jesus claims to have existed before Abraham. This fact refutes the idea that Jesus was simply human like you and I. No ordinary human who lived during the first century, like Jesus, could claim to have existed before Abraham (who lived over 1,000 years before). I must note, however, that the Jews would probably not have been angry enough to kill Christ if He were only claiming preexistence.

I think we can grasp the situation better when we know what Christ means when He says, “I am”? Christ is saying here that He is without beginning or end. To say, “I am” means He not only existed before Abraham, but that He did so eternally. Also note that the text says Abraham “was” which indicates Abraham came into being, but “I am” is used for Christ. This signifies He was never brought into being just as John says in John 1:1-14. Chrysostom, an early church Father, says this:

As the Father used this expression, ‘I Am,’ so also doth Christ; for it signifieth continuous Being, irrespective of time. On which account the expression seemed to them to be blasphemous.

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
-John 20:26

There are many who will try saying, “Thomas is calling Jesus his Lord, and then crying out to a second being, God”. Is that what the text says? The key words to understanding this passage, which describes an event after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, are, “Thomas answered him”. Thomas is speaking directly to Jesus. Every single word in the statement that follows is to Jesus Christ. Jesus, according to Thomas, is both Lord and God. Jesus does not rebuke him as others do (especially others who were acquainted with Christ) when they are referred to as God or receive praise (Acts 20:26, Rev 19:9-10, Rev 22:8-9). Once again, we have indisputable scriptural evidence that Jesus is God.

Christ is Explicitly Called God

Jesus is identified as God by the apostles in numerous places. Below are some of the times Jesus is plainly addressed as God.

  • Romans 9:5- To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
  • 2 Peter 1:1- Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
  • Colossians 2:9- For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily
  • John 9:36- He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?”

It is important to note that Jesus does not correct the man that worships Him. If the man did not believe Jesus was Lord, he would be guilty of idolatry. The man believed that Jesus was truly God.

Many more passages can be used to substantiate the deity of Christ that I do not have space to share here. He had the authority to forgive sins which only God can do (Luke 5:20-21). Scripture also teaches that He is Life and the giver of Eternal Life (John 14:6, John 10:28). Please notice that only God gives life. Mere prophets do not claim this. God works through them to resurrect the dead, but Jesus is claiming to be the source of resurrection power (John 11:25).

There are many great theologians who have preached sermons (many of which are on Youtube for free) and/or written books on this topic. I encourage you to continue this study with resources provided by people like James R. White, R.C. Sproul, Voddie Baucham, John Piper, and Conrad Mbewe.

The False Hope of the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Gospel

We’ve all seen the wealthy televangelist in a suit and tie promising physical well-being and financial blessing if only we call now and sow our seed of faith. This false gospel is known as the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, and its prevalence in the American Church cannot be ignored. This gospel demonstrates a misplaced hope because its adherents place their hope in their earthly comfort, namely their health, wealth, and prosperity, rather than in Christ’s eternal kingdom.

The Fall of Humanity

To be honest, the idea of a world where it is always God’s will for believers to be physically, emotionally, and financially healthy sounds pretty appealing at first, but it ignores the problem of sin. Sin is a grievous and horrible offense against God and, therefore, is a far greater problem than mere physical infirmities. The effects of the fall are made clear in the latter half of Genesis 3 when God declares that there will be pain both in childbirth and in the work of the fields. Sin has entered into the world and has corrupted the human experience in such a way that disease and poverty come upon people of all backgrounds.

Christ on the Cross

The prosperity gospel ignores this reality and teaches that through Christ’s work on the cross, we are made whole in all areas of our lives. Wife of notable televangelist Kenneth Copeland, Gloria Copeland, infamously stated that “Jesus himself is our flu shot.” Copeland is basically saying that Jesus’ work on the cross was the sacrifice that secured our health.

Now, while this statement may sound nice at first, Scripture makes it abundantly clear that Christ’s purpose on the cross was not to secure our health, but to make us right with God. Jesus took upon himself the wrath of God in order that we might obtain justification. The effects of this action are seen clearly in Romans 5. Paul writes,

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
-Romans 5:18

Paul is arguing here that through this one act of righteousness, Christ’s atoning work on the cross, mankind can be justified. Therefore, Christ’s purpose on the cross was not to make us comfortable on earth by giving us health or wealth, but to make us right with God by giving his life.

The Sufferings of the Apostles

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that the apostles faced opposition and died gruesome deaths. These men, along with the men and women of the early church, faced immense persecution. In 2 Corinthians 11:16-33, Paul describes the specific sufferings that he faced which include five times receiving thirty-nine lashes, three times being beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked three times, and adrift at sea for a full day along with the extended amount of time he spent imprisoned.

Though Paul’s sufferings were extensive, he was not alone in this suffering. In Acts 5:41, Luke writes about the boldness of the apostles who left the temple courts rejoicing after being beaten and nearly killed. This radical joy was rooted in the hope of a world to come and not in a false hope of comfort in this world.

An Over-Realized Eschatology

Matt Chandler would argue that this gospel is an example of an “over-realized eschatology” meaning that these heavenly promises of health and wealth are being misapplied and taught as if they were an earthly reality. The biblical gospel fills believers with unimaginable joy because their hope is in God and not in their circumstances. Nonetheless, thousands across the world gather each Sunday in stadiums or in front of a television to soak in this distorted gospel which preys especially on the poor and uneducated.

The Prosperity Gospel in the Church

Paul, in his second letter to Timothy writes,

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
-2 Timothy 4:3-4

False teaching is not a new problem in the church and Paul knew that. Paul hear speaks of a time when the people would gather around themselves teachers, not to teach them the Word of God, but to teach them what they already want to hear. What Paul describes in this text clearly is manifesting itself in the church today.

Lakewood Church, a Houston-area megachurch pastored by notable televangelist Joel Osteen, averages around 52,000 attendees per week and thousands more viewers through television per week. 52,000 people in one church alone being taught weekly that God’s love for them is to be determined by their health, wealth, and prosperity. 52,000 people being taught that God’s greatest desire for them is to “live their best life now.” This is the heartbreaking reality of the prosperity gospel.

The Prosperity Gospel to the Ends of the Earth

This reality is upsetting, but the worst part is that this theological error doesn’t just affect Americans, but rather has been exported to the ends of the earth exploiting the most vulnerable. I recently had an opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic with my church providing water filters and sharing the gospel.

During this trip, my group shared the gospel with a young couple and while the husband immediately expressed his desire to surrender his life to Christ, the wife had no interest in doing such a thing. As we began talking to her and asking her questions, she revealed to us that she grew up in church, but that all the church wanted was her money. As she began to describe her church to us, it was abundantly clear that this church had been heavily influenced by the prosperity gospel and was exploiting the impoverished people of the Dominican Republic.

Preaching the Biblical Gospel

Christians must combat this, but how do Bible-believing, gospel-preaching churches fight off the destructive theological error that is the prosperity gospel? Well, by being Bible-believing, gospel-preaching churches. The most effective way to combat falsehood is by proclaiming the truth.

Christians and churches who are fed up with the way the adherents of the prosperity gospel have exploited the most vulnerable in our society and promised a false hope in the comfort of this world, should channel their frustration into an effort to preach truth. We, as Christians, must emphasize the difficult parts of the Bible such as the depravity of man in light of the sovereignty of God. We must emphatically proclaim and live in such a way that demonstrates the joy that is rooted in the hope we have in the biblical gospel. And the gospel is this, that we were dead in our sins, but God, through his Son, made us alive in Christ and it is only through his grace and our faith that we can obtain this great salvation.