No Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

2020-07-03T15:45:13-04:00 July 6th, 2020|

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world (1 John 2:16).

Such desire and lust is not from the Father, but is from the world. The origin of sinful lust and desire is not God the Father. Its origin is the world opposed to God. Its root is in the “domain of darkness” (Colossians 1:13). He is “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31). “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). To walk in the darkness of the world is to participate in its evil lusts and desires. We should pause and remember that the default position for you and me is darkness. As unbelievers, we are dead in sin. We walk in tune with the world; the Evil One has his way within us. The lusts of the flesh are our way of life. The Apostle Paul points out all of this in Ephesians 2:1-3. There is no neutral zone or demilitarized zone where a truce exists between God and the devil. Light and darkness are as incompatible lust and love. “The world and the church are thus portrayed in sharp contrast to each other, two entirely separate and distinct groups of people, the one under the dominion of Satan, the other born of God and knowing God” (Stott, 1981, p. 102).

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (1 John 3:9).

“The dividing line between God’s realm and that of Satan is here considered to run between two groups of people, the children of God and the children of the devil” (Haas et al., 1972, p. 93). There is no neutral ground between the two groups. There is no DMZ, De-Militarized Zone; we are on one side or the other. “John draws the conclusion that those who are on the same side as the Son of God, the great opponent of the devil, cannot follow the devil’s way and live in sin” (Marshall, 1978, p. 185). This conclusion offers a word of assurance to those who seek to follow Christ. John draws out an implication of this contrast in verse 10.

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).

“The one who claims love for God, while practicing hatred toward others, neither speaks the truth nor belongs to its sphere” (Smalley, 2008, p. 251). “John does not mince words. If what a man is contradicts what he says, he is a liar” (Stott, 1981, p. 170). “John admits no position of indifference” (Westcott, 1967, p. 161). In football, there is a neutral zone between the offensive line and the defensive line. It is only eleven inches wide, the length of a football. Here, you are on one side or the other. There is no third position. There is no neutral ground in this spiritual warfare, no demilitarized zone.

He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life (1 John 5:12).

Verse 12 reads, He who has the Son has the life. There is a present participle and then a present tense. The action of the present participle is coordinate with the action of the main verb (Dana & Mantey, 1954, p. 230). “Eternal life is in the Son and may be found nowhere else” (Stott, 1981, p. 183). The next clause states the negative, He who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. “It is as impossible to have life without having Christ as it is to have Christ without thereby having life also. This is because the Son is life” (Stott, 1981, p. 183). Once again, there is no middle ground, no neutral territory, no demilitarized zone. Knowing on what side you stand and live and work of great comfort and assurance. It can also accentuate the need for gospel preaching and evangelism.

Denny Prutow
Copyright © 2020

Sources Cited
Dana, H. E. & Mantey, J. R. (1954). A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. New York: MacMillan.
Hass, C., et al. (1972). The Letters of John. New York: United Bible Societies.
Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Smalley, S. S. (2008). 1, 2, and 3 John, Revised. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Stott, J. R. W. (1981). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Westcott, B. F. (1966). The Epistles of St. John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Anti-Christs, Secessionists, and Assurance

2020-06-29T12:24:29-04:00 June 29th, 2020|

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:18-19).

Again, John calls church members children (Παιδία) in 2:18 and little children (τεκνία) in 2:28. He expresses “the fatherly concern felt by a genuine teacher for those who are still like children in their understanding and need his instruction” (Marshall, 1978, p. 148). The appearance of many antichrists characterizes the last hour. As Calvin (1961) puts it, “For these are signs of the last time” (p. 255). He intimates two things. First, agreeing with Marshall (1978), “the last hour has a sense more like that of ‘the last days’” (p. 148). Stott (1981) agrees, “Christians knew themselves to be living ‘in the last days’” (p. 103). Second, Calvin refers to what we call the inter-advent period, the time between Christ’s first coming and His second coming at the end of time.

Matthew 24:11-12 characterizes this period, “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.” John Murray (1977) comments, “At verse 14, the more auspicious aspect of the inter-adventual history is promised, the worldwide preaching of the gospel” (p. 388). “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). During this period, “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). That is, there are and will be many antichrists. All those who oppose Christ in doctrine and life manifest the spirit of antichrist (2:22, 4;3). The final embodiment of the antichrist, “the Antichrist par excellence” (Marshall, 1978, p. 150), is the man of lawlessness forecast by the Apostle Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:3).

Verse 19, They went out from us, but they were not really of us. John now singles out the many antichrists he mentions in verse 18 (Haas et al., 1972, 63; Marshall, 1978, p. 151; Smalley, 2008, p. 96). He identifies them by their actions. “Originally they were members of the community,” however, “they had now separated themselves from the community … In spite of their external membership, they had never been true members of the Body … They did not share the inner life” (Brooke, 1964, p. 53, cf. 1:3).

John gives the reason for his judgment: For if they had been of us, they would have remained with us. A concrete outcome of the gospel is fellowship (cf. 1:3). “In short, he [John] means that those who fall away have never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ but only had a slight and passing taste of it” (Calvin, 1961, p. 258). How so? Jesus explains in Matthew 13:20-21. “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.” Such people appear to be born again because of their initial joy. They have come into the assembly of worship and “have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5). Judas, who preached the gospel and cast out demons, is an example (Smalley, 2008, p. 97).

In the final analysis, those who oppose Christ, the antichrists, cannot remain in the Christian fellowship. In the case of the church in Asia Minor, they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. Those who oppose Christ are schismatic; they separate from the church. In doing so, they display their real character. This division also displays the distinctive qualities of genuine members of the church. The Apostle Paul makes this point, “For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you” (1 Corinthians 11:19). Such circumstances serve to foster assurance. In them, it pleases God to confirm in their faith those who love Him.

Denny Prutow
Copyright © 2020

Works Cited

Calvin, J. (1961). The First Epistle of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Brooke, A. E. (1964). A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
Haas, C., et al. (1972). The Letters of John. New York: United Bible Societies.
Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Murray, J. (1977). Collected Writings (Vol. 2). Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth.
Smalley, S. S. (2008). 1, 2, and 3 John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Stott, J. R. W. (1981). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Spirit, Water, Blood, Assurance (1 John 5:6)

2020-06-20T18:56:05-04:00 June 22nd, 2020|

This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ (1 John 5:6). What does it mean that He came by water and blood? The prepositional phrase is adverbial, modifies the main verb, and tells us how Christ came. As Westcott (1966) indicates, “The sense of ‘He that came,’ which distinctly points to a past historic fact, determines that these terms [water and blood] also must have historic meaning” (p. 181). Water and blood bracket Christ’s earthly ministry. He was baptized with water to begin His earthly ministry, and Christ shed His blood to complete His earthly ministry. This interpretation goes back to Tertullian (Smalley, 2008, p. 265). “It takes water as referring to the baptism of Jesus, at which He was declared the Son and commissioned and empowered for His work, and blood to His death, in which His work was finished” (Stott, 1981, p. 178). Law (1968) interprets the text similarly; “Thus it is evident that ‘water’ here denotes our Lord’s baptism, and ‘blood’ His death on Calvary” (p. 96).

Water and blood is a figure of speech we call a merism, which is a “[r]eference to the totality of something by naming its extremes or opposite parts” (Hernando, 2005, p. 117). In this case, the text speaks of the totality of Jesus’ ministry by symbolically mentioning its beginning and end. “And the aorist naturally refers to definite historical facts, or to the whole life regarded as one fact” (Brooke, 1964, p. 134). The latter is the case here. John “is thinking of the total act of his coming into the world” (Marshall, 1978, p. 231). In addition, the word water and the word blood are both a figure of speech we call metonym. Water, which is an aspect of baptism, is put in the place of baptism. In the case of the crucifixion, blood is put in place of this murderous act of shedding blood.

John presses his point by adding, Not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. Again, the text refers to blood and thus to Christ’s atonement for sin. Romans 3:25 speaks of “propitiation in His blood,” or by means of His blood, or by means of His death. The context is guilt for sin (Romans 3:23). Of course, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “Propitiation contemplates our liability to the wrath of God and is the provision of grace to release us from that bondage” (Murray, 1959, p. 116). The result is profound. “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1:7).

The crucifixion has a twofold effect. On the one hand, the cross assuages God’s wrath against us. On the other hand, the impact of “the blood of Christ” is to “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). Therefore, you experience “the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4). There is a subtly here. John may be emphasizing the propitiatory work of Christ when he adds this statement: Not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. “For propitiation strictly refers to the sacrifice of His death” (Calvin, 1961, p. 291).

Verse 6 continues. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. That John moves quickly to the testimony of the Spirit is not surprising. “The Holy Spirit is He who testifies of Christ (John xv. 26), who glorifies Him, and shews of the things which belong to Him (John xvi. 14). “It is by the possession of Him that we know that we have Christ” (Alford, 1983, p. 1750). The verbal, who testifies, is a present active participle. “The reference is to the continuing witness, or testimony, of the Spirit” (Haas et al., 1972, p. 138). “The witness concerned is both corporate and individual. The Spirit bears testimony to the salvific character of Jesus in and through the church by means of preaching” (Smalley, 2008, p. 267). At the same time, “John appears to be referring to the inward witness of the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to see the truth as it is in Jesus” (Stott, 1981, p. 180). Even in the corporate setting, the testimony of the Spirit is personal and individual.

“In order to stress that the Spirit’s testimony about the circumstances of Jesus’ coming can be trusted, the author adds ‘because the Spirit is the truth’” (Haas et al., 1972, p. 139). “The best explanation of the author’s meaning is to be found in the account of the function of the Paraclete in Jn. xv. 26” (Brooke, 1964, p. 136). “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.” In summary, John gives us “two kinds of corroborative testimony, objective and subjective, historical and experimental, water and blood on the one hand and the Spirit on the other” (Stott, 1981, p. 180). “He it is who seals in our hearts the testimony of the water and the blood. He it is who by His power makes the fruit of Christ’s death come to us, who makes the blood shed for our redemption penetrate our souls.” (Calvin, 1961, p. 304). And so, the Spirit works in us to assure us that Christ sacrificed Himself for us.

Denny Prutow
Copyright © 2020

Works Cited
Alford, H. (1983). The New Testament for English Readers (Vol. 4). Grand Rapids: Baker.
Brooke, A. E. (1964). Commentary on the Johannine Epistles. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
Calvin, J. (1961). The First Epistle of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Hass, C., et al. (1972). The Letters of John. New York: United Bible Societies.
Hernando, J. D. (2005). Dictionary of Hermeneutics. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing.
Law, R. (1968). The Tests of Life. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Murray, J. (1959). The Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 1). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Smalley, S. S. (2008). 1, 2, and 3 John, Revised. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Stott, J. R. W. (1981). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Westcott, B. F. (1966). The Epistles of St. John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Faith, Victory, Assurance (1 John 5:4)

2020-06-13T08:04:33-04:00 June 15th, 2020|

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. First John 5:1 and 5:4 both speak of someone born of God. Verse 1 begins with the masculine, whoever, but verse 4 starts with the neuter, whatever. “By the use of the neuter whatsoever John states the principle in its most general and abstract form” (Stott, 1981, p. 174). Robertson (1933) presses this point, saying that John seeks “to express sharply the universality of the principle” (p. 238). The verb form NASB translates is born is a perfect participle, which “is used of completed action” (Burton, 1976, p. 71). In this case, our text shows that the new birth has already taken place, and John teaches that taking a stand against the world is evidence of the new birth.

“The term world has a wide meaning here, comprehending whatever is against God’s Spirit. Thus the depravity of our nature is part of the world; all lusts, all the stratagems of Satan; in short, whatever leads us away from God (Calvin, 1961, p. 301). The world is “the sum of all the limited, transitory powers opposed to God which make obedience difficult” (Westcott, 1966, p. 179). Further, it is “the kingdom of evil under its prince the devil, God’s adversary” (Alford, 1983, p. 1746). The verb NASB translates overcomes is present tense indicating “a continuous victory” (Robertson, 1933, p. 238). “The clause serves to say that, in the continuing struggle with evil, the Christian is continually given strength to overcome it” (Haas et al., 1972, p. 135).

For example, in 2:13-14, John writes to young men who “have overcome the evil one.” In 4:4, John affectionately says to his spiritual children; You have overcome false prophets and teachers, “because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” In other words, you have an overcoming spirit because you are born of God. God’s love has been poured out in your hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom God gives to you (Romans 5:5). This overcoming spirit, ongoing victory, is evidence and assurance of the new birth.

And this is the victory that has overcome the worldour faith. Smalley (2008) suggests that the words our faith refer first to the church community, and then to the members of the church (p. 259). Too often, evangelicals emphasize the pronoun delimiting faith; they speak of our faith or my faith. They think that faith logically precedes the new birth. This position can lead to the false notion that our faith saves us. But faith is an acknowledgment that we are empty and have nothing to offer God as the basis for our salvation. “To say, therefore, that our faith saves us means that we do not save ourselves even in the slightest measure, but that God saves us” (Machen, 1969, p. 173).

Of course, God saves us through faith in Jesus Christ. “But the one who does the believing is always convinced just exactly that it is not the faith but the object which is helping him; the moment he becomes convinced that the object was not really important and that it was really his own faith that was helping him, at that moment his faith disappears” (Machen, 1969, p. 177). We must remember, faith is the means; Christ is the cause. Victory over the world then becomes evidence of true faith. But why does 1 John 5:4 say, “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith”? We understand that “faith receives from another that by which it overcomes” (Calvin, 1961, p. 301). We know that Christ is the cause, and that faith is the instrument. We also understand the use of language and figures of speech. “Thus, by strong metonymy, the victory is identified with the means by which it is won” (Law, 1968, p. 276, n. 2).

And as Stott (1981) puts it, “The new birth brings us willy-nilly [without our direction or planning] into a certain relation to Christ, to God, to the Church and to the world which we cannot repudiate and which marks us out as Christians” (p. 176). This wonderful work of God assures us that we belong to Him (cf. 2:29, 4:7, 5:1). Part of the fruit of this wonderful work is living in opposition to the world. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world.

Denny Prutow
Copyright © 2020

Works Cited
Alford, H. (1983). The New Testament for English Readers (Vol. 4). Grand Rapids: Baker.
Burton, E. D. (1976). Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
Calvin, J. (1961). The Gospel According to St. John 11-21 and the First Epistle of John (T. H. L. Parker, Trans.). D. W. Torrance & T. F. Torrance (Eds.). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Haas, C., de Jonge, M., & Swellengrebel, J. L. (1972). The Letters of John. New York: United Bible Societies.
Law, R. (1968). The Tests of Life. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Machen, J. G. (1969). What is Faith? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Vol. 6). Nashville: Broadman.
Smalley, S. S. (2008). 1, 2, and 3 John, Revised. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Stott, J. R. W. (1981). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Westcott, B. F. (1966). The Epistles of St. John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Love and the Law (1 John 5:3)

2020-06-07T17:52:26-04:00 June 8th, 2020|

First John 5:3 defines love in terms of the Ten commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. In what events may we recognize the love of God? They are in the keeping of His commandments (Haas et al., 1972, p. 134). The verb translated keep in verse 3 is present tense. This keeping is “a continuous and watchful endeavor” (Westcott, 1966, p. 179). The idea is that “we keep on keeping” His commandments (Robertson, 1933, p. 238). “But love includes more of obedience than the actual carrying out of definite commands. It accepts them as the expression of an underlying principle, which is capable of molding the whole character” (Brooke, 1964, p. 130). That is, the Ten Commandments are the God-given means for expressing love to God and love for God.

John adds this description of the Ten Commandments, And His commandments are not burdensome. John “means that they are not oppressive, so as to crush the freedom and spontaneity of love” (Smalley, 2008, p. 257; cf. Westcott, 1966, p. 179). Jesus uses the same adjective regarding the Pharisees, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4). “The persnickety regulations of the scribes and Pharisees were ‘heavy burdens, hard to bear’” (Stott, 1981, p. 173). Although Jesus reminds us, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15), He also says, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). How so? “Love for God lightens his commands” (Robertson, 1933, p. 238).

Following God’s commandments may remain a challenge, but love makes them a joy. Love leads to keeping them. Note the beginning and end of this quote of Psalm 119:97-101. “O how I love Your law!/It is my meditation all the day.//Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies,/For they are ever mine.//I have more insight than all my teachers,/For Your testimonies are my meditation.//I understand more than the aged,/Because I have observed Your precepts.//I have restrained my feet from every evil way,/That I may keep Your word.”

Denny Prutow

Works Cited
Brooke, A. E. (1964). A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
Hass, C., de Jonge, M., & Swellengrebel, J. L. (1972). The Letters of John. New York: United Bible Societies.
Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Vol. 6). Nashville: Broadman.
Smalley, S. S. (2008). 1, 2, and 3 John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Stott, J. R. W. (1981). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Westcott, B. F. (1966). The Epistles of St. John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Making God Visible

2020-05-30T10:03:03-04:00 June 1st, 2020|

“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us … If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:12, 20-21).

“No one has seen God at any time” (1 John 4:12). This truth is axiomatic. “God is Spirit” (John 4:24). He is “eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God … whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 1:17, 4:16). The question becomes, how do we see God? John suggests an answer, “If we love one another, God abides in us” (1 John 4:12). “That is, the unseen God, who was once revealed in His Son, is now revealed in His people, if and when they love one another. God’s love is seen in their love because their love is His love imparted to them by His Spirit” (Stott, 1981, p. 164).

Turning to 1 John 4:20, what is the love about which this text speaks? “Love is no merely passive involuntary emotion awakened in one person by another” (Law, 1968, p. 77). Instead, “It is an active principle, a determination of the will to do good, to do the highest good possible, to its object” (Law, 1968, p. 252). The definition of Shedd (1969) is pertinent, “Love is inclination” (p. 208). Now, John compares the visible brotherhood and the invisible God. Law (1968) comments, “Visibility and invisibility signify the presence or absence, not of attraction or incitement to love, but of opportunity for loving” (p. 252).

Earlier, John makes a similar point. “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us” (1 John 4:12). “That is, the unseen God, who was once revealed in His Son, is now revealed in His people, if and when they love one another” (Stott, 1981, p. 164). Nicoll (1961) adds, “Love for the invisible Father is manifested in love for the brother by our side, the image of the Father” (p. 193). Therefore, Law (1968) concludes, “In the nature of the case, there is no other medium through which our love to God, who first loved us, can be realized than by loving our brother, especially if he has not first loved us” (p. 252). “The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” John adds to the argument by reminding us that love for God and love for the brother are inseparable.

“And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:21). “The conjunction καὶ, ‘and’ … links the teaching of this verse firmly to v[erse] 20” (Smalley, 2008, p 252). And as Stott (1981) points out, “Jesus Himself taught this two-fold commandment. It was He who united Deuteronomy vi. 4 and Leviticus xix. 18 and declared that all the law and the prophets depend upon them” (p. 171). John affirms Jesus’ teaching with his grammatical construction. He uses a present participle, literally, “the one loving,” with “should love,” a present subjunctive main verb. “The Present Participle most frequently denotes an action in progress, simultaneous with the principal verb” and “not infrequently denotes the same action which is expressed by the verb of the clause in which it stands” (Burton, 1976, pp. 54-55). In this case, the same or simultaneous action is “love.” As Stott (1981) again observes, “Man may not separate what Jesus has joined” (p. 171).

And John emphasizes, “This commandment we have from Him.” Fittingly, it is the membership of the church community as a whole to which Jesus delivers this two-fold command (Smalley, 2008, p. 252). In loving God by loving one another in the church community, we make God visible to a watching world.

Denny Prutow

Sources Cited
Burton, E. D. (1976). Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
Law, R. (1968). The Tests of Life. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Nicoll, W. R. (Ed.). (1961) The Expositor’s Greek Testament (Vol. 5). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Shedd, W. G. T. (1969). Dogmatic Theology (Vol. 2). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Smalley, S. S. (2008). 1, 2, and 3 John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Stott, J. R. W. (1981). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

God’s Memorial Day

2020-05-22T18:44:30-04:00 May 25th, 2020|

In the United States, we set aside Memorial Day each year to remember those who gave their lives in the armed forces. We remember those who died on faraway battlefields to bring freedom and democracy to oppressed peoples. We commemorate their actions by honoring them in ceremonies across the land. We sometimes call it Decoration Day because we decorate the graves of fallen heroes with flags and flowers.

When Israel crossed the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land for the first time, God commanded Joshua to pile up a heap of stones at the place. “So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.” The stones memorialized God’s great grace.

Then too, as a great statue of David memorializes the work of Michelangelo, the universe commemorates the genius of the living God. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1). We see His might, power, glory, and strength in the brightness of the distant stars, the glow of the blazing comet, and in the shadow of a lunar eclipse.

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20). The universe is God’s Memorial. Every day is, therefore, God’s Memorial Day.

Denny Prutow

Law Versus Gospel (Galatians 3:21), Part 2

2020-05-15T13:41:57-04:00 May 18th, 2020|

With the words of Scripture, we again ask, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?” (Galatians 3:21). Our automatic answer is, “Yes.” Of course, the Law is contrary to the promises of God. Law and faith, law and grace, are opposed. The answer of the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, stuns us. “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be!” We misunderstand the Law. We forget God gave the Law to His people after He redeemed them from bondage in Egypt. Obedience to the Law is, therefore, not a way of salvation. Paul explains. “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.”

We misunderstand the Law in another way. The statues and judgments God gave to Israel involved many moral stipulations. That Law also included a complex but important sacrificial system. Leviticus 18:3-4 reminded the people. “You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the LORD your God.”

To keep the statues, to perform God’s judgments, to live in accord with them meant taking both the moral stipulations and the regular sacrifices seriously. These sacrifices and offerings did at least two things. They reminded the people of their guilt. They pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Pious Israelites would, therefore, strive to live by the commandments of God. Realizing their weakness and failure to meet God’s standards perfectly, devout Israelites would make use of the sacrifices prescribed by God and seek God’s forgiveness. Doing and living God’s Law (Leviticus 18:5) included this recognition of sin. Doing and living God’s law involved receiving forgiveness by faith in the benefits of the sacrifices pointing to Christ.

An expert in the Old Testament Law confronted Christ and asked the Savior what he needed to do to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25-29). Christ asked this lawyer how he read the Law. The lawyer quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” and Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Christ commended the man and said, “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28). Jesus either quotes Leviticus 18:5 or alludes to the doing and living spoken of there. The lawyer is of a legalistic mindset. He wants to justify himself (Luke 10:29). Jesus proceeds to tell the story of the Good Samaritan to expose the lawyer’s lack of love and his need for the sacrifices that point to the Savior standing before him.

This lawyer should have known that the Law was not a way to gain right standing with God. This lawyer should have known the Law points to Christ through its sacrifices and ceremonies. Like him, we quickly jump on the legalistic bandwagon with this so-called expert in the Old Testament Law. We must remember God gave His Law to us as redeemed people. God designed His Law as a standard of life within the redeemed community. The sacrifices of the Law pointed men and women to Christ. Doing and living remind us of our duty. Doing and living also involve recognizing our failures and sins, receiving Christ, and relying upon Him.

Denny Prutow

Law and Gospel (Galatians 3:21), Part 1

2020-05-15T13:37:58-04:00 May 11th, 2020|

“Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?” (Galatians 3:21).  Of course, the Law is contrary to the promises of God.  The promises set forth the gospel.  God gave Abraham a promise.  God promised Abraham a seed, a son, to be his heir.  Paul tells us this seed is Christ (Galatians 3:16).  Abraham believed this promise and those attending to it (Genesis 15:6).  Paul goes so far as to say Abraham heard and believed the gospel.  “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘all the nations will be blessed in you.’”  Is the Law contrary to the gospel?  Of course, it is.

But the apostle Paul, speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, startles us. “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?  May it never be!”  Paul’s answer is negative. This response needs some explanation, and the apostle provides it. “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.” Gaining righteousness, right standing with God, by keeping the Law, is indeed contrary to the gospel.  The principle of obtaining eternal life through obedience to the Law is legalism.  A legalistic approach to life is opposed to faith and salvation by grace.  “This Pharisaic philosophy asserted that the law was intended, on the principle of merit, to enable Israel to earn the blessedness of the world to come” (G. Vos, Biblical Theology, 126).  But God did not give the Law with the intention Israel, or those of us living today, should merit favor with God by obedience.  Look again at Galatians 3:21.  “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.”

There are three areas of misunderstanding.  We look at two of them now.  The first has to do with texts such as Leviticus 18:5. “So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.”  The interpretation of the first glance seems to indicate obedience to God’s laws yields eternal life.  However, to live by the Law means to live in accordance with the Law.  It is your standard for living.  Leviticus 18:4 uses similar language. “You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God.”  Second, we must remember Israel was already redeemed from bondage when God gave the Law.  The Law is a standard of life for those already saved and redeemed by God’s grace.  We never merit salvation by keeping the Law.  Nor do we merit the continued blessings of salvation by our obedience.  Leviticus 18:5 refers to life before God, set apart by God, following the dictates of God, maintained by the grace of God.

The Judaizers of old connected law and merit.  “But the Judaizers went wrong in inferring that the connection must be meritorious, that, if Israel keeps the cherished gifts of Jehovah through observance of His law, this must be so, because in strict justice they had earned them” (Vos, 127).  Don’t fall into this legalistic trap; don’t connect law and merit this way in your own life. Remember Galatians 3:21. “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?  May it never be!  For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.”

Denny Prutow

God’s Good Pleasure in Prayer

2020-05-02T21:37:31-04:00 May 4th, 2020|

John’s primary purpose in writing what we call 1 John is to foster assurance within the church and the hearts of God’s People. John is quite clear about his purpose. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). In 1 John 3:22, the apostle wraps together three things: answered prayer, keeping God’s commandments, and doing what is pleasing in His sight. “Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” The late Dr. John Gerstner was fond of saying, “Beware of the theology of the first glance.” We need to keep in mind this counsel as we take a closer look at 1 John 3:22.

Verse 22 begins, And whatever we ask we receive from Him. As a trusting relationship with a loving earthly father promotes conversation, a trusting relationship with the loving heavenly Father also leads to talk, prayer, with Him. “The latter follows from the former” (Calvin, 1961, p. 280). But John’s next words seem to require specific works to obtain answers for our prayers: Because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. Calvin responds, “Woe to us if we look to works, which contain nothing but a cause for trembling” (Calvin, 1961, p. 280). Stott (1981) draws this distinction, “Obedience is the indispensable condition, not the meritorious cause of answered prayer” (p. 149). Following Stott, John mentions two so-called conditions, keeping God’s commandments and doing what pleases Him.

What about keeping God’s commandments? Jesus declares, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). This text teaches us that “obedience is a certain inevitable consequence of affection for Christ. The Reformers … believed that while justification is not based on our works, true justification always generates a response of obedience. Sanctification always and ever flows automatically and necessarily out of justification” (Sproul, 2009, p. 271). In other words, obedience, keeping God’s commandments, is evidence of God’s love in our hearts.

In Philippians 2:12-13, the Apostle Paul argues that God is the enabling power working in believers. “So then, my beloved … work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Paul encourages the Philippians, Work out the implications of your salvation. And he adds, “God is the one who empowers you in this regard” (Fee, 1995, p. 237). This empowerment is twofold. “Not only does God empower their ‘doing’ … but also the ‘willing’ that lies behind the doing” (Fee, 1995, p. 238). This willing and doing is evidence of God’s good work in the believer.

What about “for His good pleasure”? God’s purpose is, “To carry out His own gracious will” (Nicoll, 1961, p. 441). The pronoun His is in italics in both the KJV and NASB, indicating the original language lacks this word. However, it appears that Paul “intends the definite article to function as a possessive and thus to refer to God’s empowering their [the Philippian’s] obedience for his own eudokia [good pleasure]” (Fee, 1995. p. 239). Therefore, the text declares that “it is God who works in you the willing and the working in order that he may carry out his good pleasure” (Vincent, 1968, p. 67). This personal work of God is an expression of His grace, and “His efficacious grace is at His own sovereign disposal” (Eadie, 1977, p. 133).

Going back to 1 John 3:22, this text speaks of “the things that are pleasing in His [God’s] sight.” Philippians 2:13 teaches that God works in us is “for His good pleasure.” These texts speak of two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, believers please God by doing His will, by carrying out His commands. On the other hand, God carries out His desires by working in believers to empower them to keep His commandments. Also, God calls us to pray “according to His will” (5:14). We please God by doing so, and it is His pleasure to empower us to do so; and so, whatever we ask we receive from Him. Why? Because we are His dearly loved children. And we put this crucial fact on display as “we habitually keep [present tense] His commandments and practice doing [present tense] the things that are pleasing in His sight.” We have nothing to prove to God. Instead, He is showing us that we are His dear children.

Denny Prutow

Copyright © 2020

Works Cited

Calvin, J. (1961). The Gospel According to St. John 11-21 and the First Epistle of John (T. H. L. Parker, Trans.). D. W. Torrance & T. F. Torrance (Eds.). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Eadie, J. (1977). A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians. Minneapolis, MN: James and Klock.

Fee, G. D. (1995). Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Sproul, R. C. (2009). John. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust.

Stott, J. R. W. (1981). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Vincent, M. R. (1968). The Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.