"Ask the Pastor" is a place where your questions about theology, the Bible, and Christianity will be answered. As one of my teacher's said in elementary school, "the only dumb question is the one you didn't ask." If you would like to submit a question to be answered by Pastor Carl, you can send your question to email@example.com with "Ask the Pastor" in the subject line.
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Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • September 21, 2022
Question: How would you answer someone who says “God’s foreknowledge means God looked ahead and saw who would believe and He predestined them unto salvation?”
Answer: This is an age-old question. We call it the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. The followers of Jacob Arminius, in 1610, crafted a document called The Five Articles of the Remonstrance (a “remonstrance” is simply a dispute) in which they disputed with the doctrine that was taught in the Dutch Reformed Churches and codified in The Belgic Confession. One of the points of dispute was over the doctrine of Unconditional Election. The question of foreknowledge deals with this point.
The first article of the Remonstrance (“Conditional Election”) reads as follows:
"That God, by an eternal and unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ his Son before the foundation of the world, has determined that out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who through the grace of the Holy Spirit shall believe on this his son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath and to condemn them as alienated from Christ, according to the word of the Gospel in John 3:36: “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that does not believe the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him,” and according to other passages of Scripture also."
Now I highlighted a portion of the article that is crucial to the debate. This is where we see that in eternity past, God looks down through the “tunnel of time” and sees those of Adam’s fallen race who “shall believe on this His Son, Jesus,” and it is these and these alone whom God determines to save. Then the Arminians included John 3:36 as a “proof text” of this doctrine.
What shall we say to this? On the surface, it seems biblical. It affirms the eternality of God. It affirms the omniscience of God. It affirms the election of God. It affirms salvation by faith in Christ alone. What’s not to like? When we consider the highlighted phrase above, we see that it is the foreseen faith of individuals that serves as the basis, the foundation, the grounds, for God’s choice in election. Election is conditioned on foreseen faith. When approached from this angle, we should see that this is not supported by the Bible. The “proof text” given is taken out of context. The context of John 3:36 says nothing whatsoever about God’s election of people unto salvation. It’s simply a passage that says faith in Jesus leads to eternal life and rejection of Jesus means God’s wrath still hangs over our heads.
If foreseen faith isn’t the basis for God’s choice in election, what is? A classical text for God’s election can be found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved...In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, (Eph 1:3-6, 11 NKJV)
God’s choice of people to be in Christ was made “before the foundation of the world…according to the good pleasure of His will,” and God works all things “according to the counsel of His will.” God’s choices are determined by nothing outside of the “counsel of His will.” To say that God elects sinners unto salvation by foreseen faith is to say that God’s choice of election is based on something outside of the counsel of His good will. That contradicts Ephesians 1:3-6. Why did God choose you for salvation? It pleased Him to do so for His glory. Why did God not choose your neighbor for salvation? It pleases Him to do so for His glory.
Another passage that should silence debate on this issue is Romans 9. The whole chapter is about God’s sovereign choice in salvation, but a few verses from the chapter should make our point:
For the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls, ... So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. ... Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. (Rom 9:11, 16, 18 NKJV)
The phrase “the children” is a reference to Jacob and Esau while in the womb. Paul’s point is that God chose Jacob over Esau before they were born, before either one of them had done good or evil. That is God’s sovereign choice of election in a nutshell. God did not choose you because he foresaw your faith. He choose you because He had mercy on you and it pleased Him to do so. In fact, it’s His sovereign choice of election of you in eternity past that leads to you coming to faith in time and space.
So what about the word “foreknowledge” that we see in passages such as Romans 8:29? In Romans 8:29, Paul refers to those whom God “foreknew.” The word “foreknew” is the Greek word proginōskō. It literally means “to have knowledge beforehand.” Here the Arminians might say, “A-Ha! God has knowledge of our faith beforehand.” But Romans 8:29 doesn’t say God has foreknowledge of our faith, He has foreknowledge of US! The Bible uses the word “knowledge,” or “foreknowledge” to mean more than the accumulation of facts. These words also mean to have an intimate knowledge of us. In other words, sovereign election is God setting His love upon us in eternity past. It is in love that God will send His Son to redeem His elect. It is in love that God will seal His elect with the Holy Spirit. Sovereign election is a demonstration of God’s amazing and unfathomable love!
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • September 09, 2022
Question: Hello I am still struggling with the idea of soul sleep, especially with this verse "Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." I know sleep and death are interchangeable in the Bible but this does not sound like Paul is talking about bodily sleeping, but actual sleep, like our spirit is asleep until Christ comes again. Also in Job it says, "And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God". Job is clearly saying he will be resurrected one day and only then will He see God, not when he is a spirit...thus pointing to another clue that we are asleep in the intermediate state. Thanks.
Answer: Thank you for your question. The topic of the “intermediate state” has been around since the earliest days of the church. What happens to people who die before the return of Christ? This was the question that plagued the believers in the church of Thessalonica to whom Paul wrote. In a classic passage, Paul tells them:
[1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NKJV] But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Three times Paul refers to the “dead in Christ” as those who have “fallen asleep,” those who “sleep in Jesus,” and those who are “asleep.” In all three occasions, the word for “sleep” is the Greek word koimaō, which simply means “to cause to sleep, put to sleep.” As with many words in most languages, there are also metaphorical uses of the word koimaō. It can mean “to still calm, quiet,” and it can mean “to die.” That is the intended meaning in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 that Paul has in mind. He is using “sleep” as a metaphor for those who die in the Lord. As a side note, this word carries the same literal and metaphorical meanings in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) in verses such as Genesis 28:11 (literal sleep) and Genesis 47:30 (metaphor for death).
Now the question that needs to be answered is this: What is said to have “fallen asleep?” Is it the body? The Soul? Both? The Bible clearly teaches that human beings are a body-soul unity. We have physical bodies and immaterial souls. That is how we were created in the very beginning, and that is normal for the length of our existence. What is not normal is death. Death was introduced into God’s very good creation through sin (see Genesis 3:1ff and Romans 5:12-21). Death is an invader, death in an intruder, death is the “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). When we die, that body-soul unity is disrupted. The body goes into the grave to sleep and the soul goes to be with the Lord. Paul teaches this in another longer passage that I will quote at length:
[2 Corinthians 5:1-8 NKJV] For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
Paul refers to our physical bodies as an “earthly house” a “tent,” and says that we “groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven.” He then goes on to describe physical death as a state of “nakedness.” In other words, in this life we’re in our earthly tents. When we die, our earthly tent is destroyed and we are “naked” longing to be “further clothed” with our “heavenly tents” (i.e., our glorified, spiritual bodies). Now Paul closes this passage by saying that when we are “absent from the body” we are “present with the Lord.” That, in a nutshell, is the intermediate state. When we die, we are absent from the body and present with the Lord. The body sleeps in the grave and the soul goes to be with the Lord.
There is no place in Scripture that explicitly states the soul sleeps. The concept of “soul sleep” is inferred from certain places in Scripture, but not explicitly taught. Whenever the Bible uses the word “sleep” metaphorically to refer to death, it is always to say that the body is dead and in the grave. That’s why Paul can say, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Why is it gain? Because Paul will be absent from the body and present with the Lord; he will be beholding the face of Jesus. How can soul sleep be said to be gain. It would seem absurd for Paul to be longing to be dead and unconscious until the return of Christ in glory. To further prove my point, we’re told in Matthew’s Gospel that when Jesus died on the cross, “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Matthew 27:52). It is the body that sleeps in the grave, not the soul. One more passage, in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), both men die and their souls are conscious, whether that’s in “Abraham’s bosom” or in “Hades.”
So again, thank you for your question, and I hope I was able to bring some clarity to your mind on this topic.
~ Pastor Carl
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • September 07, 2022
Question: How much should I focus on eternal rewards and storing up treasure in Heaven? I'm not sure if I should weigh every action by whether or not it will get me an eternal reward? Should I sacrifice all my enjoyment and fun in life in order to store up as many rewards as possible? If I'm doing certain actions for the eternal reward instead of to love people or to glorify Jesus, is that still okay?
Answer: These are all good questions and they show a heart that is zealous for pleasing God, which is good. Let’s begin by looking at the biblical passage that lies at the heart of your question, Matthew 6:19-21.
[Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV] “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Now, the three most important rules for biblical interpretation are CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT. It’s very easy (and far too often done) to take a Bible verse and make it say whatever you want it to say when it is divorced from its native context. Matthew 6:19-21 is part of a larger portion of Scripture called “The Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7). It is Jesus’ first major discourse in the Gospel of Matthew. After His baptism in Matthew 3 and His temptation in the wilderness in the early verses of Matthew 4, Jesus begins His earthly ministry by declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The coming of Jesus, the Messiah, into the world marks the inauguration of the kingdom of heaven. The Sermon on the Mount is seen to be a discourse on what life in the kingdom of heaven is all about, and it’s a life that is, in many ways, in direct conflict with what the Jews have been taught by the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).
After providing a deeper and more correct interpretation of the Mosaic Law, Jesus begins in ch. 6 to contrast kingdom living with that of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus takes three aspects of religious worship (charity, praying, and fasting) and shows how the motivation of the scribes and Pharisees is antithetical to a kingdom motivation. The scribes and Pharisees did all of their charity, praying, and fasting publicly in order to be seen by men and to be praised as pious by men. Their religious activity was not done for the glory of God, but for the glory of men. Jesus tells His disciples that they (the scribes and Pharisees) “have their reward” (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16).
So everything the scribes and Pharisees did in order to be seen by men is what Jesus means in Matthew 6:19 about laying up “treasures on earth.” As a general principle for you and me, laying up for ourselves “treasures on earth” is living our lives in such a way to garner attention and accolades from men, not God. It’s living a man-centered life, and not a God-centered life. In contrast, laying up for ourselves “treasures in heaven” would be the opposite; living a God-centered life, living in such a way to bring glory to God in all that we say, do, and think (1 Corinthians 10:31). In the context of Matthew 6 it’s doing your charity in secret, praying in secret, fasting in secret (in other words, doing those things so as not to be noticed by men).
With that out of the way, let’s focus on your questions. First, regarding eternal reward. We need to understand one very important fact: We don’t earn/merit eternal reward, God graciously condescends to reward our faulty attempts at righteousness with super-abounding grace. What I mean by this is there is nothing we can do to put God in our debt. We will never be able to say “God owes me an eternal reward.” The Bible says that all our righteous deeds are as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Jesus tells a parable of a master with his servants and says that the servants should not expect a reward for doing their duty (Luke 17:7-10). However, given that, God does reward us for our good works done as a working out of our faith. That He does so is an act of pure grace.
I say this in order to focus your energy on living a life that is God-focused and God-centered and not reward-focused and reward-centered. We do what God has called us to do and let Him worry about the reward. There are enough commands in the Bible that should warrant our focus. It all boils down to recognizing that obedience to God is summed up in loving God and loving others. So don’t focus on the PRODUCT (obtaining an eternal reward), focus on the PROCESS (being obedient to God). Does that mean giving up “enjoyment and fun in life?” Maybe, maybe not. God has given us “richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17), but there are some things that are inherently sinful and others which are good things taken to sinful degrees. Sometimes God calls us to a vocation or calling in life which requires us to give up certain things in life in order to pursue God’s calling. I cannot give you a blanket “yes or no” to that statement. It requires study and discernment. I would encourage you to talk to your pastor or another godly person who can provide wisdom.
But we should never think that obtaining an eternal reward is somehow antithetical to loving others or glorifying Jesus. In fact, I would argue that loving others and glorifying Jesus is exactly what “laying up treasures in heaven” means. We need to understand that this world in which we live is passing away. When Jesus returns at the end of the age, this world (and everything in it) will be renewed and renovated. The old order of things will pass away and the New Heavens and the New Earth will take its place. To focus on this world and getting every last drop of satisfaction from this life is laying up “treasures on earth,” and from a biblical point of view, it’s a losing bet. As the old saying goes, “you can’t take it with you.”
~ Pastor Carl
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • September 05, 2022
Question: Why does God NOT Honor The Free Will of The Victim?
Answer: The question of free will often comes up when discussing the problem of evil. It typically goes something like this: The question is asked, “If God is all-good, why is there evil in the world,” and the answer comes back, “God created humanity with free will, which gives him the potential to use that freedom to reject God.” In this argument, free will is seen as a “highest good,” for in order for man to love God freely, he must also be able to reject God freely. The price of evil in this world is worth it in order to give mankind the ability to choose God freely.
When this line of thinking is employed, an unbeliever responds by asking, “Why does God not honor the free will of the victim?” In other words, the free will of the criminal is being honored, but not the free will of the victim. The victim did not freely choose to be a victim.
All of this, I believe, flows out of a failure to understand biblical anthropology (or the biblical doctrine of man). In the above scenario, freedom is the highest good, but according to the Bible, God’s glory is the highest good.
[Psalm 86:9 NKJV] 9 All nations whom You have made Shall come and worship before You, O Lord, And shall glorify Your name.
[Romans 11:36 NKJV] 36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
Man was created as the pinnacle of God’s creation and thus it is his duty to honor and glorify God. God is the Creator and we are the creature, so it is our reasonable service to praise God and give Him glory. However, in Genesis 3, we know that mankind fell to the temptation of Satan in the form of a serpent. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they sinned, and God judged that sin by pronouncing a curse upon mankind. This is called “The Fall of Adam,” or “Original Sin.” Because of Adam’s sin, all of mankind is born into a state of “sin and misery.” We inherit the guilt of Adam’s original sin, we have corrupt natures and darkened hearts out of which flow our own sins.
The fall has affected man’s will, his ability to make choices. As such, the Bible says we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) and that we are “slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:17). The fallen man is one who is given over to “the flesh” (i.e., the sin principle within us due to the fall). The one who lives “according to the flesh” is fleshly minded and that leads to death (Rom. 8:7-8). So putting it all together, mankind does not have a free will, he has an enslaved will, one that turns away from God and toward sin. How can one who is “dead in sin” and a “slave of sin” make a free choice to follow God? He cannot, unless God does a saving work in his heart through the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8).
So bringing it back to the original question, in our natural state, we are all born into sin and thus we are sinners. We sin because we’re sinners. Man is not in a neutral state before God, but is at enmity with Him. Thus God is not “honoring the free will” of the perpetrator or the victim. The perpetrator is acting out of the sinfulness of his own heart, and thus is under God’s judgment. The victim is also under God’s judgment if he/she has not confessed their sins, repented of them, and turned to Jesus Christ in faith. While the victim may be completely innocent as far as this crime is concerned, he/she is not innocent before a holy God.
So the evil in this world is a result of living in a sin-cursed world filled with sin-cursed people. It is not the result of God giving us free will and us choosing poorly. It’s a result of us being born in Adam, us being a child of Adam. The good news is that God’s plan all along was to send His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to do what Adam didn’t do, and that is live a life of perfect righteousness according to the Law of God, and to die an atoning death for those who would place their faith and trust in Jesus. The death of Jesus perfectly fulfilled the entire Old Testament sacrificial system. His resurrection from the dead three days later not only showed that the Father found His sacrifice acceptable, it also showed that sin and death had been definitively defeated at the cross. His ascension to heaven shows us that Jesus is King as He sits at the Father’s right hand. His return in glory at the end of age marks the final end of sin and death for all eternity. God will right all wrongs, vindicate His people, and wipe away every tear from their eyes. That is our blessed hope.
~ Pastor Carl
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • August 27, 2022
Question: A young, inquisitive mind asked the following question: “Why did God create the world and animals and plants?”
Answer: What a great question! We believe that God has always existed and that there was never a time in which God was not; there was never a time when God wasn’t there. So why did God create the world and everything in the world? It wasn’t because God was lonely or that God needed someone to talk to. God created all things to show forth His glory. Glory is a fancy word that means “all of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness.”
How do we know this? From the Bible. The Bible is God’s book. He wrote the Bible through the work of many people over many years, and if we need to know anything about God, we go to the Bible. And the Bible says, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). What this verse means is that the whole world (that includes people, animals, plants, and everything) begins and ends with God. He is the source, He is what holds everything together, and He is the purpose of everything you see.
At the end of creation, God made people to be His special creation in the world. People, who are made to be like God, can talk and think. God made people so He could be with them and talk to them and show His power, wisdom, and goodness to them. After He created them, the Bible tells us that God blessed them. And in return, people are to praise and worship God. The Bible tells us this in many places, but one special place is in the Book of Psalms (a book of songs and prayers for God’s people):
[Psalm 33:1-9 NKJV] Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the LORD with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. For the word of the LORD is right, And all His work is done in truth. He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the goodness of the LORD. By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deep in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.
Now there are a lot of words here, but what they mean is this: We are to be happy and thankful to God because He is good and wise and powerful. He shows His goodness, wisdom, and power by His creation of the world and everything in it, and He created the world so that He could show His love and kindness to the people He made. So God made the world and everything in it to be kind and loving to us and so that we would show our thankfulness to Him.
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • July 29, 2022
Question: In the Book of Leviticus, there seems to be a big emphasis on unleavened bread. What is the significance and/or difference between leavened and unleavened bread?
Answer: This is a good question, and we will need to dig into the text of the OT to come up with an answer. Now in the OT, outside a reference to unleavened bread in Genesis 19:3 in which Lot prepared a feast for his two angelic visitors that included unleavened bread, we don’t see unleavened bread until Exodus 12 and the institution of the Passover celebration. The story is very familiar to Christians. Right before God inflicts Egypt with the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, God commands to Moses to mark this great occasion in which the Lord delivered the people of Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt with the feast of Passover. Each family is to take an unblemished lamb, slaughter it, take some of its blood and smear it on their doorposts, then they are to eat its flesh. We read of this in Exodus 12:8-11:
[Exodus 12:8-11 NKJV] Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire—its head with its legs and its entrails. You shall let none of it remain until morning, and what remains of it until morning you shall burn with fire. And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover.
So unleavened bread is associated with the Passover celebration to signify the haste with which the children of Israel were to leave Egypt after the tenth plague. Then immediately after the celebration of Passover is the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a seven-day feast following on the heels of the Passover. During this seven-day feast, not only are the Israelites only to eat unleavened bread, they’re not to have any leaven at all in their homes. Consider Exodus 12:17-20:
[Exodus 12:17-18, 20 NKJV] So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.
When we come to the Book of Leviticus we see God give to Moses all of the rules and regulations that were to guide Israel’s religious observance. The early chapters of Leviticus give instructions for the various offerings that were to be performed, and one of them is the grain offering:
[Leviticus 2:4-5 NKJV] And if you bring as an offering a grain offering baked in the oven, it shall be unleavened cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil. But if your offering is a grain offering baked in a pan, it shall be of fine flour, unleavened, mixed with oil.
So any kind of grain offering made to God had to be with “unleavened cakes.” So now why all this emphasis on unleavened bread? Is there any significance to bread without leaven? The only clue from the OT we can draw is from Deuteronomy 16:3, which reads, “You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), that you may remember the day in which you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.” The unleavened bread is called the “bread of affliction” and is associated with Egypt. Outside of this, we’re not really given any hints in the OT as to the significance of unleavened bread. But we can infer from Deuteronomy 16:3 that anything associated with Egypt is bad. Egypt was the place of bondage. It’s representative of the world as opposed to God; everything that attempts to lure God’s people away from Him. Recall all the times during the exodus when the people complained. They angered God when they remembered the “good ol’ days” of Egypt.
We get a clearer picture when we get to the NT. Jesus uses the illustration of leaven to describe two things. First is the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13:33. The illustration is to show how the kingdom of heaven will permeate society in this age much like leaven permeates a lump of dough. The second is to describe the teachings of the Sadducees and Pharisees in Matthew 16:6-12. Here leaven is seen negatively as the legalistic teaching of the Pharisees which can poison the spiritual life of God’s people. This theme is picked up by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 to describe sin:
[1 Corinthians 5:6-8 NKJV] Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
What makes this passage helpful is that Paul links his teaching with the OT Passover celebration. The context of this passage is the situation in Corinth in which a man was having in illicit affair with his father’s wife. That was bad enough, but the Corinthians were celebrating it. Paul rebukes them and tells them they need to exercise church discipline on the man and thereby “purge out the old leaven.” So I think we can safely say that leaven is a picture of sin. Just as the Israelites were to celebrate their salvation from Egypt by removing leaven from their homes, we are to celebrate our salvation from sin and death through Christ by removing the leaven of sin from our lives.
~ Pastor Carl
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • May 11, 2022
A question was posed some time ago (my apologies for the late response) that asked, “Why was there so much demon possession during the time of Jesus? Is demon possession possible today?” These are great questions, and I’m sure questions that many Christians have asked themselves. I will attempt to provide the best Biblical answer I can.
First, let us ask a preliminary question: What are demons? Demons are fallen angels, spiritual beings who joined in Satan’s rebellion against God. The NT speaks of the fallen angels in a couple of places:
[2 Peter 2:4 NKJV] 4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment.
[Jude 1:6 NKJV] 6 And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day.
In both of these passages, the biblical author makes references to “angels who sinned” or “angels who did not keep their proper domain.” These are the fallen angels, or demons.
As angels, demons are (as we said) spiritual beings. They are invisible, intelligent, powerful beings who, as the NT teaches, delight in tormenting people. In Revelation 9, they are depicted as an army of locusts sent to torment the wicked for five months. In that same chapter, they are also seen as a vast horde of horsemen 200 million strong as they go out to kill a third of mankind. They are malicious and evil and beyond redemption. Their fate is determined by God and they will be cast into the “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
We also need to make sure we state that the devil and his angels are not “equal and opposite” forces to God and His angels. God is sovereign and in control of all things. He alone is eternal and the Creator of all things — including the angels. And the fall of Satan and his angels was according to the predetermined plan of Almighty God.
Now, having established that, why do we see such an increase in demonic activity during the earthly ministry of Jesus? We have to consider that the advent of Jesus Christ into this world is the culmination of God’s redemptive plans. Ever since Satan tempted Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, redemptive-history has inexorably been moving to this very moment. Recall the promise God made back in Genesis 3:15:
[Genesis 3:15 NKJV] 15 “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
This passage is commonly called the proto-evangel, or the first mention of the gospel in the Bible. This promise is fulfilled on the cross as Jesus deals the death-blow to sin, death, and Satan.
Consider all the ways in which Satan and his minions attempted to derail Jesus. Herod attempted to kill Jesus when He was a child, Satan tempted Jesus to short-cut His mission, Peter even told Jesus He would not go to the cross (and Jesus tells him “get behind me, Satan”), and right before the crucifixion, we see Jesus praying to God to take the cup from His hand (it’s not explicitly stated, but it’s not far-fetched to speculate that Satan was tempting Him again).
So the reason we see so much demon activity during Jesus’ earthly ministry is because Satan and his minions are doing everything they can to stop Jesus from accomplishing His divine mission. Recall all the times in the Gospels we see people trying to arrest or kill Jesus and Jesus manages to slip away. This is all part and parcel of Satan’s attempts to hinder Jesus. Satan even wanted to take Peter, but Jesus prayed for him (cf. Luke 22:31), so he settled for Judas (cf. Luke 22:3).
In answering the second part of the question (is demon possession possible today?), we need to consider what demon possession is. The word commonly used in the NT for “demon possession” is the word daimonizomai, which literally means “to be under the power of a demon.” We need to be careful in understanding this word. We don’t want to understand it to mean that the person who is demon-possessed is not responsible for what he/she does. We don’t want to adopt the Flip Wilson defense (“The devil made me do it”). When “Satan entered Judas,” it wasn’t as if Judas was minding his own business and all of a sudden Satan possessed him and he now wanted to betray Jesus. Judas was always going to betray him. A person cannot be demon-possessed who wasn’t already a sinner or hasn’t already given themselves over to sin.
So can there be demon-possession today? Short answer: Yes. Paul talks about unbelievers as those whom “the god of this age (Satan) has blinded, who do not believe” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Peter talks about Satan as a “roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” In the last days, Satan (who has been bound for 1,000 years) will be loosed and he will “deceive the nations…to gather together to battle.” All of these passages speak of how demon-possession works today. Demon-possession is being blinded, being deceived, being devoured by Satan and his minions. But the good news is this is not something that can happen to believers! Believers are temples of the Holy Spirit, and greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world!
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • May 10, 2022
A question was asked how can Moses be said to speak to God “Face to Face,” and yet at the same time the Bible says “no man shall see me and live?” This is a good question and it speaks to the issue of how the Bible communicates its truth to mankind.
As Christians, we believe that the Bible is God’s Word. By that we mean that through the inspiration of the biblical authors by the Holy Spirit, God speaks to mankind. Additionally, we believe God to be divine, that is not like His creation. God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. God, in a word, is transcendent, meaning He is far beyond what human beings can comprehend.
The Bible teaches the transcendence of God in passages such as Job 11:7-9:
[Job 11:7-9 NKJV] 7 “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? 8 They are higher than heaven––what can you do? Deeper than Sheol––what can you know? 9 Their measure is longer than the earth And broader than the sea.”
We also know through the Bible that God is a spirit and that He is invisible:
[John 4:24 NKJV] 24 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
[1 Timothy 1:17 NKJV] 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Finally, God is holy and pure and that nothing that is unholy can survive within His presence:
[Habakkuk 1:13 NKJV] 13 You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours A person more righteous than he?
[Hebrews 12:29 NKJV] 29 For our God is a consuming fire.
Putting this all together, it’s clear that we cannot see God because He is: (1) Transcendent; (2) Invisible; and (3) Holy. Thus it should not surprise us that God told Moses in Exodus 33:20, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.”
So then, how do we square that with what we see nine verses earlier in Exodus 33:11, “So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle?” This goes back to what we said at the beginning about how the Bible communicates its truth to human beings. You see, there are some who would deny that the Bible is God’s Word on the basis of how can a God who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable communicate to creatures who are finite, temporal, and changeable? How can we bridge the gap between the human and divine?
Since the finite cannot reach the infinite, it is incumbent upon the infinite to accommodate itself to the finite. That is exactly what the Scriptures do. Through the Bible, God accommodates Himself to us, He speaks in a way in which we can understand. Allow me to illustrate this. How does an adult communicate to a child? The adult must speak in a way that the child understands. John Calvin said that God in the Bible, “lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children? Such modes of expression, therefore, do not so much express what kind of a being God is, as accommodate the knowledge of him to our feebleness. In doing so, he must, of course, stoop far below his proper height.”
So in Exodus 33:11, when it’s said that God speaks to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend,” this is using the language of accommodation to communicate a vital truth to us. Moses isn’t literally speaking to God “face to face,” for several reasons. First, God doesn’t have a “face.” Second, God is a spirit, and thus invisible. Third, Moses would be consumed by God’s holiness were he to appear before His presence unprotected. But the language of “face to face” is meant to suggest intimacy and friendship. God spoke to Moses as a man speaks to his friend. God had a special relationship with Moses that He didn’t have with anyone else in all of Scripture.
Additionally, if you look at the context of both verses of Exodus 33, you will see a vital difference. In Exodus 33:11, the context is speaking of how Moses met with God in the tabernacle. Moses would enter the tabernacle and the Shekinah Cloud (the visible manifestation of God in the pillar of cloud and fire) would descend upon the tent. That’s when God spoke with Moses. Later on in Exodus 33, Moses asks to see God’s glory (33:18). In other words, Moses asks to see God in all his magnificent splendor. That’s when God tells Moses that no man can see Him and live. The Shekinah Cloud, while a manifestation of God, is a veiled manifestation of God; it is not the full brilliance of His glory.
But primarily, the language of speaking with God “face to face” is meant to convey the idea of the special relationship God had with Moses. The awesome thing is that in Jesus Christ, the fullness of God dwelt in bodily form. Jesus Christ is the final and perfect revelation of God. Jesus Christ is the One sent by the Father to “exegete” (explain) Him to us. God accommodated Himself to the point of taking on a human nature and dwelling among us. And now the Holy Spirit dwells within us so that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • October 26, 2021
During our last Family Bible Study on October 17, 2021, a question was asked regarding the activities of Satan and his demons, “why does God let that happen?” The context of the question was in regards to our study through Revelation 12:7-17. In that passage, we see a war in heaven between Satan and his demons and Michael and his angels. Michael prevails, and Satan is cast down to earth where he promptly begins to persecute the Woman (the people of God) and her offspring. The question, a fair one, was asked, “Why does God allow that to happen?”
This goes to the greater question of theodicy, or the so-called “problem of evil.” The problem of evil is one of the atheists favorite arguments to use against Christians because, in their mind, it’s their “slam dunk” argument. The argument goes something like this: If God is both all-good and all-powerful, why does evil exist? Either God is all-good and wants to destroy evil, but He can’t, thus He’s not all-powerful, OR He’s all-powerful and doesn’t want to destroy evil, thus He’s not all-good. Either way, this argument (so say the atheists) disproves the God of the Bible. Or does it???
The flaw in this argument can be summed up as a “false dilemma.” In other words, it reduces the problem of evil to a binary problem, an either/or. It fails to consider the possibility that God can be BOTH all-good AND all-powerful and still have a good purpose for allowing evil to exist. In other words, there is a third option.
First, we need to define “evil.” It does us no good to discuss this topic without first defining what it is we’re discussing. Let me begin by distinguishing between moral evil and physical evil. Moral evil are those things that go against some prescribed set of moral values. For example, things like murder, stealing, lying, cheating, etc. Physical evil are those things that we consider bad, but not in a moral sense. For example, an earthquake that kills thousands is bad, it’s an evil, but not a moral evil because there was no agent acting with evil intent. You might be thinking, isn’t God in control of natural disasters? Yes, He is, and we’ll consider that as we go along. For the moment, we’re going to limit our discussion to moral evil.
Second, we need to understand that moral evil is not a positive thing. By that I mean, moral evil has no substance, rather it is the lack or privation or a moral good. In other words, you cannot speak of evil without also referring to the corresponding good. Murder is evil, because preserving life is good. Stealing is evil because respecting the property rights of others is good. Just as cold is a lack of heat and darkness is a lack of light, so too evil is a lack of a corresponding good.
Okay, with that out of the way, why then would God, who is both all-good and all-powerful, allow and tolerate evil? Going back to what was said earlier, we need to look at God’s purpose in creation and subsequently allowing evil to invade His otherwise good creation. At the outset, we need to understand that we are delving into the things of God, and as such, we need to recognize our limitations as finite creatures to come to a full understanding of these things. We need to be okay with mystery. While this answer may not satisfy the hard core atheist, we need to understand that unbelief is first and foremost a matter of the heart, not the head.
To answer this question, we need to look at the doctrine of God’s providence. In historic reformed theology, providence is one of two ways (along with creation) in which God carries out His decree (i.e., His sovereign will). God ordains all things that come to pass, and He carries out that plan through creation (bringing things into existence which previously didn’t exist) and providence. Providence can be defined as follows: [God’s] most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions (taken from The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q11). The Westminster Confession of Faith gives a more robust answer in chapter five (“Of Providence”) where it declares that the purpose of God’s providential actions is “to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 5.1).
So the reason why God does anything is for the praise of His glory. You might think, “that seems self-serving.” For a human being, it is, for the divine being who is worthy of all praise and glory, it isn’t. So if praise is the purpose for which God does anything, that must also include allowing evil into the good creation, and that’s what the authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith say:
The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin. (WCF 5.4)
With an exceptional economy of words, the Westminster divines detail how God’s providence includes not only the original fall (by which Adam plunged the whole human race into a state of sin and misery and introduced sin into the creation), but also the actual sins of men and angels. God’s providence governs all our actions, even our sin. Furthermore, providence isn’t just a “bare permission.” In other words, God doesn’t just leave us to our own devices, but our sin is governed, ordered, and limited by God’s most wise and holy providence. Yet God does so in such a way that we, and we alone, are responsible for our sin. God is neither the author of sin, nor does He approve of our sin. Yet He governs, orders, and limits our sin for “His own holy ends.”
The classic Biblical example of this is found in the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. We all know the story well how Joseph’s brothers conspired to have him killed, but instead decided to sell him into slavery in Egypt. How Joseph was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of rape, and how Joseph was left to languish in Pharaoh’s prison for years after interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh’s servants. At the end of the ordeal, Joseph tells his brothers, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). The brothers intended evil to happen, and what happened was evil. But God governed, ordered, and limited the brother’s evil actions for His own holy ends. This is no more beautifully displayed than in the gospel itself. The most heinously evil act in the history of the world, the unjust execution of the very Son of God, was allowed and used by God to bring about the greatest good the world has ever seen, salvation and eternal life for all who believe.
Now I’m going to add my own reflections on this issue, so take them with a grain of salt. The Bible makes it quite clear that the road to glory goes through suffering, the path to exaltation goes through humiliation. We will praise God more after going through, what Paul calls, our “light affliction, which is but for a moment,” than we would without having gone through that. Paul says in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” If we don’t go through suffering in this age, I believe we will not fully appreciate the glories of the age to come. But having passed through the cruciform life (suffering then glory, humiliation then exaltation) will not only make us appreciate the glories of the age to come more fully, but will also redound even more to the praise of God and His glory — which is the ultimate purpose of all things.
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • October 14, 2021
Back on Sunday, September 19, 2021, I preached a sermon on John 7:53-8:11, the story of the woman caught in adultery. It’s a famous and well-known story in the Gospels. In that sermon, I mentioned that there are some rather serious textual issues surrounding this story. It is commonly accepted by the majority in NT scholarship that this story not only doesn’t belong in John’s Gospel, but doesn’t belong in the Bible at all.
Now at Emmanuel Reformed Church we use the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible, and in most editions of the NKJV there will be a footnote at John 7:53, which reads “NU brackets 7:53 through 8:11 as not in the original text. They are present in over 900 mss. [manuscripts] of John.” Now you might be thinking, “what in the heck is NU?” For that, you need to go to the preface of the NKJV (you know the section most people don’t read). The preface gives you the reason behind the particular translation you own, it’s translation philosophy, and (most importantly) the Hebrew and Greek texts used to make the translation.
Under the section titled “The New Testament Text,” the NKJV translators tell you that the Greek text behind the NT of the NKJV is the same Greek text used by the original translators of the King James Version. That Greek text is variously called the Traditional Text, the Byzantine Text, or the Received Text (a.k.a., “Textus Receptus”). This Greek text is called the “traditional text” because it has been the text used throughout most of the history of the church. It is also called the “Byzantine text” because this text type (or family) finds its origin in the region of Antioch of Syria (part of the old Byzantine Empire, or the eastern half of the Roman Empire).
The NKJV translators also mention two other Greek texts in use in NT scholarship. The first is called the Critical Text, so called because it uses the principles of textual criticism developed in the 19th century to determine what should be in the text of the NT. First pioneered by two NT scholars, Westcott and Hort, this later morphed into the “standard” Greek text called the Nestle-Aland Greek NT (currently in its 28th edition) and the United Bible Society’s Greek NT (currently in its 5th edition). These two texts are identical (they only differ in textual footnotes). This is what the NKJV translators refer to as the NU text. The other Greek text is called the Majority Text, and the readings therein are based on what reading is supported by the majority of manuscripts. The NKJV refers to this text as M text. So if you’re reading the NKJV, you’ll occasionally see foot notes in the NT that will reference either the NU or M or both and any differences with the Received or Traditional Text.
So if you’re not asleep yet, you might be asking “why does all this matter?” It matters because pretty much every single English translation of the Bible uses the NU text for the NT except the KJV and NKJV. For example, if you’re using an English Standard Version (ESV), a popular newer translation, the passage John 7:53-8:11 is bracketed with double brackets [[…]]. There is a footnote that reads, “Some manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11; others add the passage here or after 7:36 or after 21:25 or after Luke 21:38, with variations in the text.”
Now if you compare the footnote from the NKJV and the footnote from the ESV, it’s clear that neither one is particularly unbiased. The NKJV footnote emphasizes how this passage is found in over 900 manuscripts of John. The ESV footnote emphasizes how dubious the placement of this passage is in the manuscript history of John’s Gospel. Both footnotes are giving you true information, but they’re emphasizing the elements of the truth they want to emphasize.
So why does this all matter? Because we no longer have the original documents of the books of the NT, but what we do have are thousands of full and partial manuscripts (copies) of the original writings. But as with anything that has been copied, errors creep in. Consider the kids’ game “telephone,” in which you whisper something in someone’s ear, and they whisper it in another kid’s ear, and by the time you get five or six kids down the line, what is being said has altered significantly from what was originally said. Same thing happens when hand copying a written exemplar. A copyist can inadvertently introduce an error (a misspelling, an omission, etc.), and then that error gets passed on to the next copy perhaps with some new errors added in. Skeptics look at this and will argue what possible hope can we ever have in knowing what the Bible actually said? Without the originals and only armed with “error riddled” copies, we can never know what the Bible originally said. These same skeptics will conclude what good is divine inspiration if there is no divine preservation? That’s a valid argument.
However, I will argue that there is divine preservation in the fact that we have literally thousands of copies of the NT in Greek and many times more than that in early “versions” (translations into other languages such as Latin, Coptic, Syriac, etc.). Not to mention that all of the early church fathers (church leaders during the first 200-300 years of church history) quote all or part of the NT. It has been argued that even if we didn’t have a single NT manuscript, we could reconstruct the entire NT solely based on quotations of the early church fathers. No other text in antiquity has anywhere near the manuscript support as the NT. No one questions the works of Homer or Plato as being authentic, yet they are based on textual evidence that literally pales in comparison to that of the NT.
But, we need to know what the NT originally said in order to be able, as Christians, to believe the right things and act according to those beliefs. Having said that, there is a large degree of agreement between all of these multiplied thousands of NT manuscripts (over 90%). Where there is disagreement, you need to utilize principles of textual criticism in order to determine the most likely reading of the NT text.
Where does that leave us with the passage in question, John 7:53-8:11? I don’t know if anyone can make a definitive statement regarding this passage. I’ll give you my reasons why I think it belongs in our English Bibles right where it is:
- It is in the majority of Greek manuscripts of John’s Gospel
- While some of the earliest Greek manuscripts do not have this passage, that doesn’t mean the passage is not Biblical, it only says that whatever exemplar these manuscripts used to copy from didn’t have the passage (one of the principles of textual criticism is the older the manuscript, the more likely it’s closer to the original, however that’s an assumption made by men)
- This passage is included in the Traditional Text, which is the text that has been in use in the Church for most of its history (even though some of the manuscripts used to produce the Traditional/Received Text are of more recent vintage, it’s entirely possible they are recent copies of an older exemplar)
- There are growing (in my opinion) reasons to question the Critical Text, not the least of which is that it is based largely on two “older” manuscripts that were discovered in the 19th century, these two texts have a significant amount of disagreement from each other (anywhere from 10-15%), and the Critical Text was originally produced by men who had a low view of Scripture
I realize that this is a lot of information for your average Christian to process, and even at that I’ve barely scratched the surface on this issue. Much more can be said. I hope this at least answers some of the questions about this passage — a Biblical passage in which the grace and mercy of our Lord is clearly on display.