Category Archives: The Gospel

Cosmic, Corporate, and Individual Reconciliation through Union with Christ (Part 4)

Ministry of Reconciliation through Christ

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Cosmic, Corporate, and Individual Reconciliation through Union with Christ (Part 3)

life
Individual
In Christ we are “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) but interestingly we also progressively become new creations (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24)[1] and ultimately this new creation does not happen until the parousia (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49). The work that God does in individuals does not merely concern their standing before Him but has also to do with who the person is here and now. God’s reconciling and re-creation work starts here in this life; it is not just eschatological but has an ethical impact on our present mode of existence. After Paul’s conversion his outlook was changed, he saw Christ and others differently (2 Cor. 5:16-17).[2] When by the Holy Spirit our view of Christ changes, our view of others and even all things changes. The regenerating work generates new ways of viewing things. We view things differently and we live differently (2 Cor. 5:14-15). In fact, Paul indicates that Christ died for the purpose of bringing an end to man’s self-centered existence.[3]

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Cosmic, Corporate, and Individual Reconciliation through Union with Christ (Part 1)

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Introduction
Paul explains in 2 Cor. 5:16-21 that reconciliation is more than something between two parties. Reconciliation through union with Christ is cosmic in scope. Reconciliation through union with Christ is the hinge and hope on which all things hang, without it salvation falls apart. 2 Corinthians is one of Paul’s early letters, dated circa 56-57, and yet we see his doctrine of union with Christ is pretty well developed (if not fully developed). So, two questions occur to me, (1) how is union with Christ foreshadowed and (2) what benefit do we receive when we understand how it is foreshadowed?

The doctrine of union with Christ is all throughout the Pauline corpus[1] but 2 Cor. 5:16-21 seems to be the most explicit of Paul’s earlier letters. Christ is the operative word in our passage. Everything happens in and through Him.[2] So, it seems good to ask: “How can being ‘in Christ’ have the effect that it has?” However, as we will see the answer to that question is: “How could being ‘in Christ’ not have cosmic significance?!”[3]

Christ’s work and resurrection propels on this world new creation (cf. Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18),[4] it is the inevitable avalanche that will eventually encompass the whole earth (Ps. 72:19; Is. 11:9; Hab. 2:14) and those in Christ will be swallowed up in the effulgence of its glory, there to bask in eternal joy. Christ’s resurrection is the dawn, the first light, but soon the full splendor of the sun.

We will first see how union with Christ is foreshadowed in the OT which will help us substantially to understand the full significance, indeed the cosmic significance, of being “in Christ.” Then we will see that 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 teaches us that union with Christ is the means by which reconciliation—cosmic, corporate, and individual—happens. Continue reading


Suffering and Our Savior

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When caring for someone who is suffering it is often best to say little. It is often best to sit in silence and just be a support by your presence. Even when people ask, “Why? …Why did this happen? …Why are we going through this?… Why?…” It is often still better to refrain from giving an answer. Instead of offering answers (that really can’t be satisfactory) we should pray and point them to our God who cares.

However, as Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us, there is a time to be silent but there is also a time to speak. When it is time to speak here are some things that I have found helpful in the midst of suffering. 

Suffering is a result of sin
Suffering was not part of God’s original intention for the world. God created the world “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It was only after humanity rebelled that suffering came on the scene.

Sadly, there are all sorts of effects because of sin. The world is fallen. And we have faulty and frail bodies. We are susceptible to Lyme disease, cancer, and all sorts of other things. We all suffer, we will all die. That is sadly the way the world is because of the curse that sin brought.

So, in one sense, we can give an answer to the “why?” question by saying sadly the world is broken and we as individuals are broken physically and spiritually. However, that’s not it. We thankfully are not left there. We also see…

God takes our suffering seriously
Our Lord is not up in the sky indifferent to suffering.[1] God takes sin and its effects seriously. Let’s look at four ways God sympathizes with us and takes sin seriously.

First, we see Jesus sympathizes with our suffering. John 11:35 says that “Jesus wept” at the death of Lazarus. Jesus was “deeply moved” (v. 33, 38) and “greatly troubled” (v. 33). Jesus can sympathize with us and our suffering (cf. Heb. 4:15). Our Lord is not up in heaven unaware of the suffering of His servants. Our Lord is aware and He cares. He cares deeply.

Our Lord cares so much that second He comes as our Savior. We see “God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.”[2] Jesus offers a solution to the problem of suffering, by suffering in our place. Suffering without medicine or morphine, suffering on a Roman instrument of torture. Even as we grieve over suffering and death we do not grieve as those without hope. We have hope! We have hope through Jesus!

Jesus didn’t heal everyone when He walked the earth and He doesn’t heal everyone now, but He does take care of our biggest problem. Jesus suffered, bled, and died. He was cast out by the Father so that we could be welcomed in.

God is good. Even when we cannot see His hand, we can trust His heart. God memorialized His love for us, when we see the cross, we see that God’s hands are open wide to welcome us in, comfort, and renew us.

So, dear beloved, take heart, Jesus, who is God, weeps as you weep. He feels your misery. However, He does not leave us there (as everybody else has to because they are not Lord) but offers us the solution to all pain and misery. How does He do that, what solution does He give? Jesus gives Himself, His own life. He takes the misery upon Himself on the cross. He bears the wrath we all deserve. Through what Christ did on the cross, for all those in Christ, all things will be restored, made new!

Actually, even now we have the Holy Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Eph. 1:14). So, in the midst of suffering and difficulties, we shouldn’t project ourselves into a graceless future. Because, third, God will be there, grace will be there. The LORD will not leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6). Our Shepherd, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, is with us now and He will be with us through the storms of life (Ps. 23 cf. 121). Even in our suffering when we can’t form words to pray, the Spirit is there to intercede for us (Rom. 8:26).

Fourth, we see that Jesus will come back and set all things right. There will be no more reason to weep for He Himself will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4)! We know, as Paul says, that this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17 cf. Rom. 8:18). Continue reading


Philemon: A Case Study of New Life in Christ (Part 1)

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We see in Paul’s letter to the Colossians[1] that Christians are to put on the new self with new practices, new characteristics. And Paul tells us about the unprecedented unification and reconciliation that happens in Christ between all sorts of different people. Paul says, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11 cf. 1 Cor. 12:13-14; Gal. 3:26-27).

But will this really work?! Paul is talking all this big talk but can it ever be practiced. He says, here there is neither slave nor free, and yet there truly were slaves and freemen. There really were Greeks and Jews. There were and are people that are in the world and see the world in all sorts of different ways. How can they be united? Is it really possible? And if so, how?! Continue reading


Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 6)

Super Hero Flying Retro

The Christian Ideal and the Answer to what Ails Us
Apologetics sees the questions in philosophy and religion and points to how Scripture ultimately answers them. Scripture answers Nietzsche’s questions (though perhaps unvocalized) about meaning and hopelessness.

Nietzsche is basically stuck on the Fall but does not understand the rest of the Biblical story that explains our reality. He does not realize that because God does exist and has revealed Himself and made us in His image that we have access to and can know truth. We also see in Scripture that there is more than nothing (nihil), there is hope in Christ. In fact, hope of everything that Nietzsche acknowledged as so wrong being fixed.

Interestingly, we see that we desire a superhero, a savior. We see this truth in all sorts of examples (e.g. The Avengers, Matrix, Batman, Superman, etc.). For Nietzsche, it was the Übermensch that he hoped in.[1] In all of this, we see humanities need for meaning and morality and for a Savior to fix all that we sense is so wrong. What explains all of this? The biblical worldview.[2] Continue reading


Christmas is about the Christ

 

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

~Matthew 1:1

Introduction
Do you know what a “honey do list” is? Have you every seen one of those? I still have flashbacks when I think of the list that Leah gave me when we bought our first house. Scary stuff, it’s like you can’t win. I mean if you do them, well you have to do them so you don’t win, and if you don’t do them you certainly don’t win…

What is a “honey do list”? It is a checklist of expectations. My wife, Leah, gave me a list and expected me to get everything done on that list. I am glad my wife is understanding, and the list wasn’t very long. That being said, there was stuff I had to get done within a few days of buying our house.

Well, today, in celebration of Christmas, we are looking at a “honey dew list” of sorts. We are talking about expectations, about what was on the Jewish “honey do list” for the Messiah. We see from Scripture and history that the “honey do list” was not as small and understanding as my wife’s. They had a huge list. Different people had different lists but any list would be a hard list to check off, actually all but impossible, in less of course God were to act in an amazing way. Continue reading


Living to Share the Gospel

As we read in Philippians we see that Paul lived to share the gospel. That’s what he was all about. Even when he was imprisoned for sharing the gospel he said, “It’s okay. It actually worked out quite well because I was able to tell the prison guards about Jesus.”

Paul lived to share the gospel. But what made him live like this? He hadn’t always lived for the gospel so what changed him? And what perhaps needs to change in our own lives so that we will live to share the gospel of Christ?

As I was preparing to write this I struggled because this portion of Philippians (1:12-18, 27-30) seems irrelevant. It seems disconnected from our everyday life. So, I was trying to think of some angle that I could share to make it relevant and I was struggling to do so. I was thinking that if I were talking about procrastination, lust, or something else then that would be relevant.

As I continued to think about it, however, I realized the problem is not with the passage. The problem is with us, with me. The passage doesn’t seem relevant because we don’t share the concern that Paul had, and that the Bible has. We, I am afraid, our deficient in our devotion to the gospel.

Sharing the gospel and our…
Our Deficiency
This first point comes from my own mouth and mind and not directly from Philippians. However, upon reflection, I think it is important that we consider our potential deficiency.What is our deficiency? Or, what would make this passage seem irrelevant?

I fear we (myself included!) get used to the gospel. It ceases to amaze us. We take it for granted. Paul’s letter to the Philippians was likely written 30 years after his conversion but we see that he is still amazed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and later on he says everything is rubbish compared to Christ (3:8).

Our deficiency is our deficient view of the gospel. We esteem it of low worth. Until that deficiency changes we won’t delight in sharing the gospel and we won’t carry out our duty of sharing the gospel. So, briefly, what is the gospel?

Philippians 2 talks about Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, made Himself nothing and humbled Himself to die for us, even by death on a cross. 2 Corinthians 8:9 reminds us of the wonder of the gospel: our Lord Jesus Christ, though He was rich, became poor, so that we by His poverty might become rich. This is the good news of the “great exchange.” Jesus, God in flesh, took our filthy sinful stains upon Himself on the tree; and He gave us His beautiful robes of righteousness.

The apostle Paul understood that and that’s why he said everything—everything!—is rubbish compared to Christ. We too need to understand that. It makes sense logically but often times it hasn’t worked itself into the nooks and crannies of our lives.

So, we see the need of cultivating a heart of worship, a heart that is amazed by the gospel. As John Piper has said,

“No one will be able to rise to the magnificence of the missionary cause who does not feel the magnificence of Christ. There will be no big world vision without a big God. There will be no passion to draw others into our worship where there is no passion for worship.”[1]

It is when we taste and see that a restaurant is good that we tell others about it. It is the same with the gospel. We need to “taste” that it is good. We need to know understand that the LORD “has done gloriously.” Look at Isaiah 12:1-5:

“I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation… Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.”

It when we taste the God’s goodness that we say, “Let this be known in all the earth!”

Sharing the gospel and our…
Our Devotion (Phil. 1:12-18)
In a letter such as this, it would have been customary for Paul to explain how he was doing. It would have been natural to discuss his physical conditions.[2] I expect Paul to say something like:

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, especially for the gift you gave me. That was really helpful. However, as you know I am in jail for preaching the gospel and I am fresh out of funds. I don’t have a lot of food and my sneakers are worn out. It’d be great to get some help. I am also very tired as my bed is very uncomfortable and the blanket they gave me is terrible. The guards also keep me up late. They like to play cards and their cursing is terrible…”

However, Paul says nothing like that. Actually, we’re not even really told about his physical well-being, let alone the state of his sneakers.

Yet, imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul. One commentator has said, “For a traveling apostle to be put in prison must have seemed like a concert pianist having his hands tied behind his back.”[3] Yet, Paul was not complaining.

Why is this the case? Certainly, Paul had material concerns. There are times when Paul let his material needs be known. For instance, he asks for his coat and books (2 Tim. 4:13). Paul surely had physical/material concerns but they weren’t main concern. We see Paul is concerned with the gospel and its advancement.

Paul’s good is wrapped up with the gospel.[4] Even though he was locked up he could rejoice because it “served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12).[5] Paul made known to his guards that he was in jail for telling people about Christ. It was such a big deal that it got around to a bunch of people, “the whole imperial guard,” it says (v. 13).

“The soldiers were used, of course, to the ‘gospel’ of Caesar—the supposed ‘good news’ that a new emperor had taken the throne, bringing (so he claimed) peace and justice to the world. Now here was someone out of the blue announcing that there was a different ‘gospel’: that Jesus of Nazareth had taken the throne of the world, and was summoning every man, woman and child to bow the knee to him.”[6]

The guards were interested in hearing Paul’s story because they probably thought Paul was crazy at first. After all, they must have thought, who worships and confesses as King and Lord a crucified Jew?!

Yet, upon further discussion with Paul, they would have seen that Paul was not a lunatic but rather quite sane. If what Paul said about Jesus was true it would make sense that he would be willing to be imprisoned for Him (the guards themselves had suffered for their own king). Further, in light of Jesus being the King and Lord, it makes sense that Paul was encouraged, even in prison.

We see also the impact that Paul’s example had on the Philippians; they were emboldened to “speak the word without fear” (v. 14). How might our boldness help others to be bolder in sharing the gospel? You never know, God may use you to stir up a revival.

Perhaps the most surprising thing we see is that Paul even rejoices when people “preach Christ from envy and rivalry” (v. 15) and “out of selfish ambition” (v. 17). So, we see Paul had a delight in the gospel that bled out into the way he thought about the sharing of the gospel. Paul was passionate about the gospel and desired it to be shared. He had written previously, in Romans, that “he was ashamed of the gospel of Christ because it was the power of God for salvation to all that believe” (Rom. 1:16). Paul continued passionately and boldly unashamed.

So, what are your aspirations? To make money? To travel? To find a new job? To be in a relationship? To do well in school? To be successful in life (however, you define success)? “None of these is inadmissible; none is to be despised. The question is whether these aspirations become so devouring that the Christian’s central aspiration is squeezed to the periphery or choked out of existence entirely.”[7] Our central concern should be the gospel and its advancement.

Sharing the gospel and our…
Our Duty (Phil. 1:27-30)
In Philippians 1:27 Paul tells us about our duty. Paul says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Paul is telling us that the gospel is amazing and calls us to life change. We cannot understand and be impacted by the gospel without being changed. When we taste the sweetness of the gospel then we begin to be moved to desire to live our life in line with the gospel. We begin to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27). We even begin to see it as a good thing if we suffer for the sake of Christ (v. 29).

Paul’s form of ambassadorship changed but not his purpose and duty. Paul was an ambassador in chains (Eph. 6:20).[8] This is the case for us too. We might serve in different locations and different circumstances but we are still called to be ambassadors for Christ wherever we are. So, the specific call and circumstance might change but we are all called to share and care about the gospel.

When our devotion to the gospel of Christ is waning and deficient we need to work at cultivating a heart of worship. Because not only is the gospel a delight but we also have a duty to share and care about it. We are called to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27) and notice as we stand side by side and encourage each other we can stand firm not and not be afraid of our opponents (v. 27-28).

A Few Questions:
1. What did you find encouraging and what did you find challenging about this post?
2. How is our view of the gospel sometimes deficient?
3. The gospel is the most amazing reality in the world but sometimes it may seem irrelevant. What does that say about us and our focus when that is true of us?
4. What are you tempted to care about more than the gospel? What is your “good news”?
5. Do you care about the gospel? Do you share the gospel?
6. How might your boldness help others to be bold in sharing the gospel?
7. Is it true we should have a devotion to Jesus and His gospel? Or, is it legalistic to say we must be devoted and that we have duty?
8. What would a devotion to the gospel look like in your everyday life?
9. Why would we be devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ? What would motivate us in that way?

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[1] John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 40.

[2] Paul’s letter “is thoroughly transformed by the gospel” (Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 106 cf. 108).

[3] N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, 89.

[4] “This passage shows us that when our joy is connected to the advancement of the gospel rather than to our physical condition or to the responses of other people to us, it remains firm, even when these circumstances stand against us” (Frank Thielman, The NIV Application Commentary: Philippians, 66).

[5] We see that “God works not merely in spite of but through adverse circumstances” (Ibid.).

[6] Ibid. Cf. D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 23.

[7] D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 26.

[8] John Stott, The Message of Philippians, 72.


Sing the Gospel

Singing

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

~Colossians 3:16

Introduction

Colossians 3:16 comes in the context of thankfulness and living in light of the gospel. In the beginning of Colossians 3 we have seen that we are raised with Christ (v. 1), hidden with Christ in God (v. 3), and will appear with Jesus in glory (v. 4). So we see Colossians 3:16 flows from the gospel.

We see that there are two primary ways that the word of Christ dwells in us richly: 1) teaching and 2) singing. Teaching is important but it’s not the only means that God uses to implant His truth deep inside us. God richly blesses various forms of singing. Singing can be used to make Christ’s word dwell in us richly.

Wow. That is powerful. Singing is important. Singing is serious.

We all know this. We all resonate with music. It can move us even when we don’t know why.[1] It can help us memorize memorable and meaningful lyrics but also obscure and corrupt lyrics.

What should we sing about when we’re gathered togehter?

“Word of Christ”

When we come together and sing to one another we are to have as our goal Christ’s word dwelling in us richly. That is, we want to focus on who Christ is and what He has done, His person and work. We don’t want to keep our eyes on the horizontal, on what we have done or are called to do. We want to keep our eyes on the vertical, who Jesus is and what He has done.

When we gather to sing we want to sing songs that display the glory of Christ Jesus, who He is and all He has done. We want to see Christ! We want to exalt Christ! That does not mean that there can’t be variety. It means that in all our variety we don’t want to forget to worship the Lord God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.

Variety

We see we are told to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” We also see variety in the book of Psalm. Psalm 46:10 tells God’s people to be still, Psalm 150:5 encourages loud clashing cymbals. Psalm 136 has simple and repetitive lyrics. Psalm 105 has more sophisticated and substantive lyrics. Psalm 51 is a humble confession and Psalm 103 is relentless joy. The book of Psalm, the great song book of the Bible, has variety in style and lyrics. This variety served Jewish people of old and it continues to serve us today.[2] Variety is good.

The issue is thus not new songs verses old songs, hymns verses choruses, or an issue of style. The issue is does it make much of and point us to God and His glory? Does it point us to Christ?

Although, we desire a variety of different songs and even music genres this does not mean that skill is not important. Skill is important. Remember, singing is serious and we should take it seriously. Notice Psalm 33:3 says, “Play skillfully” so that must be what we strive for no matter what type of music we play or sing.

Conclusion

It is our joy to sing but we are also commanded to sing (cf. Ps. 100:1-2). So let’s praise Jesus with joy. Singing is serious.

Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!

~Psalm 47:6

Songs to Keep in Regular Rotation 

  1. In Christ Alone
  2. Before the Throne of God Above
  3. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
  4. Speak, O Lord
  5. Behold Our God
  6. Holy, Holy, Holy
  7. The Gospel Song
  8. Grace Greater Than All Our Sin
  9. Jesus Paid It All
  10. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
  11. All I Have Is Christ
  12. O Great God
  13. We Will Glorify
  14. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
  15. How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
  16. My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
  17. You Alone Can Rescue
  18. Man of Sorrows
  19. Your Great Name
  20. This is Amazing Grace
  21. Be Thou My Vision
  22. Grace Alone

What other songs would you add and why?

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[1] “It is indisputable that music is one of the most powerful media humans have at their disposal; how it mediates and what it mediates are notoriously hard to understand or explain” (Jeremy S. Begbie, Resounding Truth, 14).

[2] See Tom Olson, “Singing That Flows from the Gospel” 147 in Gospel Centered Youth Ministry. This document relies heavily on Olson’s chapter.


A Brief Exploration of Paul’s Use of “All”

The Apostle Paul

There are some things in Paul’s writing that can be hard to understand, as Peter said (2 Pet. 3:16). Here we’re looking at how Paul’s use of “all” can be hard to understand (esp. when it seems like Scripture teaches particular atonement see e.g. Jn. 6:37-39; 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Rom. 5:8, 10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; Eph. 1: 3-5, 7; 5:25). Does Paul’s use of “all” have universal implications?[1]

A.A. Hodge’s words are instructive,

“Particular and definite expressions must limit the interpretation of the general ones, rather than the reverse. It is plainly far easier to assign plausible reasons why, if Christ died particularly for his elect, they being as yet scattered among all nations and generations, and indistinguishable by us from the mass of fallen humanity to whom the gospel is indiscriminately offered, he should be said in certain connections to have died for the world or for all, than it can be to assign any plausible reason why, if he died to make the salvation of all possible, he should nevertheless be said in any connection to have died for the purpose of certainly saving the elect.”[2]

It’s important to understand that to Jews all the rest of the world, the whole world, were basically just Gentiles. There were two sets up people in their mind, God’s people and everyone else. So as we think of the use of the words “all” and “world” we must be conscious of how Jews thought about the world and other people groups. Remember, the Jews are the people of promise. No other people in the whole world were. So Thomas R. Schreiner says, “We are apt to forget how shocking the inclusion of the Gentiles was to many in the first century because of our historical distance from the text.”[3]

Notice that Galatians 3:8 says that the OT Scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles (τα εϑνη). When Paul uses Gentiles here he means not all Gentiles without exception but rather all Gentiles without distinction. That is, Paul is saying that it’s not just Jews that can be justified. It’s not just one other group that can be justified. It’s not just Samaritans and Romans that can be justified but Babylonians, Egyptians, and everyone (i.e. “all,” “world”) can be justified. So, all people (παντα τα εϑνη), that is, all types of people can be justified. That is how Paul is using “all” (παντα).

Also, notice that Greek does not function the same way as English. Greek, for instance, has a different grammatical case system as well as word order. There is also different ways to say “all.” However, I am not saying that Paul did not say all in the passages in question. He did, in fact, say “all.” I only mean that for Paul to say “all” meaning one group in one place and “all” to mean another group in another place (even in very close proximity) may have been completely normal.

“Interpreters commonly assume that a word must have the same meaning it is used within the same context… However, this is not always true. A work in ancient Greek (as well as in modern languages) may very well have different meaning whether uttered in one breath or not.”[4]

Context is king in any language, but especially when written in all-caps with no punctuation.

So although Universalists frequently appeal to “Paul’s use of the word ‘all’ (e.g. in Rom. 5 and 11, and in 2 Cor. 5),” N.T. Wright points out that there is apparently no “realization of the different shades of meaning that must be understood in the particular contexts… The word ‘all’ has several clearly distinct biblical uses (e.g. ‘all of some sorts,’ ‘some of all sorts,’ etc.), and to ignore this frequently-noted fact is no aid to clear thinking.”[5] The word must be understood in context.[6] We must understand not only the immediate context at the sentence level but also how the word is being used at the next level of context (e.g. paragraph, chapter, book, etc.). That is, we need to understand what is being communicated or the argument that is being made (see Figure 1 below).

Context.png

Figure 1: Understanding Words in Context

In reference to Romans 5:15-19, Schreiner says,

“Paul deliberately used the word all to describe the work of Christ as the second Adam. Our task as readers is to ferret out the significance of this decision. Two reasons for the terminology are possible. First, Paul did not want to use a less-inclusive term because he wanted to emphasize that Christ was as great as Adam. The use of the word all reminds the reader that the grace of Christ is so powerful that it supersedes what Adam did.

Second, one of the prominent themes of Paul’s theology, and of Romans in particular, is the inclusion of the Gentiles. We have seen that the folding of the Gentiles into God’s saving purposes was the distinctive element in Paul’s call to the apostleship. He often emphasizes in Romans that God has called the Gentiles, not just the Jews, to be his people (Rom 1:5, 7, 13-14, 16; 2:11, 26-29; 3:23, 29-30; 4:9-12, 16-17; 9:24-26, 30; 10:11-13, 20; 11:12, 15, 17, 19-20, 30; 15:9-12; 16:26). Recognizing this assists us in comprehending Romans 11:32, “God has enclosed all under disobedience, so that he should show mercy to all.” The first all must include all people without exception, for Paul leaves no room for the idea that some people are obedient and hence need no room for the idea that some people are obedient and hence need no mercy from God! But if the second all is of the same breadth as the first, then Paul is a universalist, teaching that God’s saving mercy will be poured out on every single human being. The interpretation is doubtless attractive, but the context reveals its improbability. Romans 9-11 often speaks of the future punishment of those who are unsaved (Rom 9:3, 6-7, 13, 18, 21-22, 31-33; 10:2-4; 11:7-10, 20-23, 28). These chapters oscillate between the salvation promised for the Gentiles and the salvation pledged to the Jews. Any attentive reader of Romans 11 is aware that it features God’s saving plan relative to both Gentiles and Jews. When Paul says, therefore, that God shows mercy on ‘all,’ the idea is that God’s mercy extends to both Jews and Gentiles, Thus, we need not conclude that ‘all’ refers to all people without exception. More likely, when Paul considers Christ’s work, the referent is all people without distinction. Both Jews and Gentiles are recipients of Christ’s gracious work.”[7]

Schreiner goes on to say,

“Such an interpretation is also a sensible reading of 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. The love of Christ controls Paul, and he concludes that ‘one died for all, therefore, all died’ (2 Cor 5:14). The ‘all’ for whom Christ died are not all without exception but all without distinction, including both Jews and Gentiles… All those for whom Christ died ‘actually’ died—they died in the death of Christ to the power of sin… those living refers to those who are spiritually alive. Those who are spiritually alive are the ‘all’ for whom Christ died in 2 Corinthians 5:14”[8] (cf. Rom. 6).

John Piper helpfully adds to our conversation,

“It would be an incorrect, superficial reading of this text [i.e. 1 Corinthians 15:21-23], as well as Romans 5:17-19, to assume that it is teaching universalism in the sense that all human beings will be saved. The ‘all’ who are acquitted in Romans 5 are defined in Romans 5:17 as ‘those who received the abundance of grace.’ And the ‘all’ who are made alive in 1 Corinthians 15:22 are defined as ‘those who belong to Christ.’ Moreover the other texts cited in this chapter [here are some of them: Dan. 12:2; Matt. 3:12; 18:8; 25:41, 46; Mk. 9:43-48; Rev. 14:11; 19:3; 20:10] make it highly unlikely that Paul means to teach here that all humans are saved.”[9]

Mark Rapinchuk demonstrates

“It seems reasonable to conclude that a major emphasis of Paul’s through­ out Romans is the universal nature of sin and salvation. But this universal nature is defined as without ethnic distinction rather than without excep­tion. When Paul speaks of “all men” he speaks in the sense of both Jews and Gentiles, not in the sense of every individual. This understanding of “all men” is not only consistent with the use of πάς and άνθρωπος in Biblical Greek, it is entirely consistent with the flow of Paul’s argument and emphasis in Romans.”[10]

We can also look at other examples where it doesn’t make sense to use “all” with the sense of “all without exception.” For instance, did Paul really preach to “all creation” and to the “whole world” (see Col. 1:6, 23)? No. We know that he did not. So “all” does not always mean all without exception. Also when Paul in Acts 22:15 “speaks of being a witness to all people” (πρὸς πάντας ἀνθρὼους), he clearly does not mean all people with exception; ‘all’ refers to the inclusion of the Gentiles in his mission (Acts 22:21).”[11]

Ephesians 5:20 says we are to give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Does “always” (παντων) here mean all times without exception? It doesn’t seem like it. For instance, when Lazarus died we see “Jesus wept,” not “Jesus gave thanks.”

Klyne Snodgrass says this in his commentary on Ephesians,

“When the Bible uses “all” or “every,” we must ask whether it is meant with or without qualification. Paul’s intent is not that we are to be thankful for evil or tragedy. John Stott is correct in saying “everything” in verse 20 is hyperbole. We are not asked to thank God for evil. Rather, we are asked to live out our awareness that all of life, even the “bad,” is lived out under his control and in relation to him.”[12]

Thus we see that “all” does not always (or very often) mean all without exception. The extent of what “all” is meant to convey must be understood through an understanding of the context and the intention of the author.

Thus, Schreiner looking at the context concludes that “the reason Paul can speak of the Christ’s death in expansive, all-inclusive terms in 1 Timothy 2:6 is because he sees his ministry as worldwide (2:7; cf. Acts 22:15), his soteriology is universal in the right sense (2:5; cf. Rom. 3:28-30), and he is confronting an elitist heresy that was excluding certain kinds of people from God’s salvation (1 Tim. 1:4). Paul wants to make it clear: Christ died for all kinds of people, not just some elite group.”[13]

Titus 2:11 says “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (᾿Επεφάνη γὰρ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ σωτηριος πᾶσιν ἀνθρπὼοις). Some believe that “all people” (πᾶσιν ἀνθρπὼοις) refers to all people without exception, however, it more likely refers to all people without distinction.[14] Schreiner goes on to explain that “a good case can be made for such a judgment, because Paul refers to people from various groups earlier in chapter 2: older men (v. 2), older women (vv. 3-4), younger women, younger men (v. 6), and slaves (vv. 9-10).”[15] We also see in verse 12 and 14 that it talks about “us” and not all without exception. It says Jesus “gave Himself for us [not all without exception] to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works” (v. 14). This verse reminds us of 1 Peter 2:8-9 where it talks about two different groups of people. The first group stumbles and disobeys the word because that is what they were destined to do (v.8). The second group is a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession (v. 9).

What about Romans 11? Some people use Romans 11 to support their views on universalism. However, as has been said and as John Piper demonstrates, context is king.

“In [Romans] 11:30–31 the two groups in view (Israel and Gentiles) do not have reference to every individual Jew and Gentile that exist. The same corporate groups are in view that have been in view since 11:7. The stumbling (11:11), failure (11:12), rejection (11:15), hardening (11:7, 25), and disobedience (11:30–31) of corporate ethnic Israel lead to the mercy (11:31), salvation (11:11), riches (11:12), reconciliation (11:15), and coming in (11:25) of a “full number” of Gentiles. This in turn leads to the mercy (11:31), acceptance (11:15), and salvation (11:26) of “all Israel,” the same corporate entity that had to be temporarily hardened (11:7, 25) and rejected (11:15)… There is no exegetical warrant for construing the two “all’s” of 11:32 to refer to anything other than the complete number of Jews and Gentiles in the corporate entities referred to throughout the chapter. A universalistic reading of Romans 11:32 is not exegetically defensible.”[16]

Romans 9 should also be looked at. Paul anticipates that God’s righteousness will be called into question. He asks, “Is there injustice on God’s part?” Paul answers, “By no means!” (v.14). God elects and has mercy on whoever He choses (9:11, 15-16). Who are we to tell God what He can and cannot do?! (v. 20). “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (v. 21 cf. 22-23).

Also, remember the way the Jewish community would have understood “all.” For example, let’s briefly look at the last part of Isaiah 66. I would argue that Isaiah has the most eschatology in it of the OT books. Isaiah 66:22:23 says,

“For as the new heavens and the new earth
that I make
shall remain before me, says the LORD,
so shall your offspring and your name remain.
From new moon to new moon,
and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the LORD.”

It says, “all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.” And it says they shall “remain before me.” Wow! It seems these verses teach universalism! However, remember our phrase: Context is king!

Look at verse 24: “And they [referring to ‘all flesh’ v. 23] shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against Me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” It’s clear here that “all,” even “all flesh,” does not mean all without exception. The Jews reading Romans would have been familiar with this passage and the theology behind it. Also, notice how emphatic verse 24 is and notice how the NT authors picked up on this same language.

On the topic of universal salvation 2 Peter 3:9 is often a favorite verse. It says God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. Yet, we must note the context. The immediate context tells us what God does in response to His desire. It does not say that because He desires that all should reach repentance He will one day mysteriously (and against all the Bible seems to say) pull people out of the hell (into which He cast them) so that they won’t finally perish. Instead, we see, in light of God’s desire, He is patient and does not bring judgment right away (cf. v. 15; Rom. 2:4-11). Yet nevertheless, heaven and earth are waiting for the “day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Pet. 3:7).

So this text is saying God is patient and does not wish that any should perish so God has refrained His judgment for a time so that all types of people can repent. However, it also reminds people to repent while they still can. It says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…” (v. 10) when it will be too late to repent. “Therefore,” it says, “since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and a peace” (v. 14).

The second thing to consider with this verse is the two different senses in God’s will. Theologians helpfully and accurately discuss the two different senses in God’s will as the decretive will of God and the permissive (or perceptive) will of God. I suggest John Frame’s treatment in The Doctrine of God.[17]

It seems true in one sense that God desires that none should perish but that all should come to repentance but it is also true that God desires to pour out His wrath on the wicked. See 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12:

“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. [9] The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, [10] and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. [11] Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, [12] in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Notice also that Romans 9 tells us that God is glorified through vessels of wrath (ὀργή[18]) prepared for destruction (Rom. 9:22). God has set His affections on some and not on others. And that is His prerogative alone and He is just in all His judgments.[19]

________________________

[1] While the “all” texts do need to be explained “the onus lies with proponents of a universal atonement to explain why Paul would employ limited or definite language, if there really was no limitation in the intended object of the atonement” (Jonathan Gibson, “For Whom Did Christ Die?: Particularism and Universalism in the Pauline Epistles” 293 in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective [Wheaton: Crossway, 2013). Further, “Paul has the linguistic arsenal to state unambiguously that there was no one for whom Christ did not die, he chose not to use it. The terms ‘many,’ ‘all,’ and ‘world’ remain undefined and ambiguous, dependent on context for their meaning” (Ibid., 329).

[2] A.A Hodge, The Atonement (1867; repr., London: Evangelical Press, 1974), 425.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory: A Pauline Theology, 185. Hedrick explains Paul’s use of “all” in Romans 5:18 by saying that “among other things Paul is combating the ever-present tendency of Jews to regard themselves as being better than Gentiles” (Romans, 183).

[4] S. M. Baugh, A First John Reader: Intermediate Greek Reading Notes and Grammar, 19.

[5] N.T. Wright, “Universalism and the World-Wide Community,” Churchman 89 (July-September 1975), 200.

[6] In understanding the context it is important to understand the Pauline context; that “in the whole of Paul’s preaching it is unthinkable to refer to justification to all men without distinction” (Ridderbos, Paul, 341n32).

[7] Schreiner, Pau l, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, 184. See also Schreiner, Romans, 292.

[8] Ibid., 186.

[9] John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 129n20.

[10] Mark Rapinchuk, “Universal Sin and Salvation in Romans 5:12-21” 441 in JETS 42/3 (September 1999) 427-41.

[11] Thomas R. Schreiner, “’Problematic Texts’ for Definite Atonement in the Pastoral and General Epistles.”

[12] Klyne Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians, 311.

[13] Schreiner, “’Problematic Texts’ for Definite Atonement.”

[14] Ibid., 8.

[15] Ibid.

[16] John Piper, “Universalism in Romans 9-11?” (http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/universalism-in-romans-9-11).

[17] See 528-42; he even has a section titled “Does God Desire the Salvation of All?”

[18] See William V. Crockett, “Wrath that Endures Forever” in JETS 34/2 (June 1991) 195-202. E.g. “When we examine orgê in Paul we find no reason to assume that it has reformative elements” (198). And on page 199 he says, “orgê in Paul excludes any notion of divine love” (199).

[19] See John Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1993).


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