Monday, March 31, 2014

If God is Sovereign Why Was The Cross Necessary?

As Christians, we see the work of Christ on the cross as the only solution to the problem of sin. We believe that Christ had to die in order for any sinners to be saved. If God is completely sovereign over all things, however, why is atonement necessary? Why could God not simply decide that He would forgive somebody’s sins if He wanted?

The answer to the question lies not in any limitation of God’s sovereign power but rather in the essence of His character. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign (Ps. 135:6, Ps. 115:3, Is. 46:10). Nothing outside of God limits His power. He is, however, self-limited. God cannot act contrary to His own nature or He would cease to be the God revealed in His Word. The God of the Bible is perfect in all of His attributes. He is perfectly holy, just, and true. His power is therefore always consistent with those attributes, always consistent with who He is, and there is no shadow of turning with Him (Jas. 1:17).

This idea of divine self-limitation is not speculative theology, it is revealed in the Bible in several places. It is perhaps most clear in the sixth chapter of Hebrews where the writer explains that God could not swear by any name greater than His own and that He cannot lie (Heb. 6:13-18). God does what He wills but always does it in a way that is true to who He is. The Bible reveals that not only is God sovereign, but He is also holy, righteous, and just (Is. 6:3, Is. 5:16, Job 37:23).

The perfection of God makes the atonement necessary because God cannot be righteous if He allows sin to go unpunished. Unlike Islam, which teaches that Allah can simply use his sovereign power to disregard the sinfulness of those he chooses and allow them into paradise, the Christian God does not undermine His own law (thus denying His holy character) in order to do so. God is so holy that any sin is a form of cosmic rebellion and if God did not punish such treason, His righteousness and justice are compromised.

Suppose that a man was a guilty of a brutal crime such as rape or murder and the evidence of his guilt was unquestioned. Now, suppose that the man is brought before a judge and despite the evidence, the judge decides to let him go. Not only does the judge let him go, but gives him great honors and comforts. We all agree this would be a great injustice and an unrighteous judgment. In the case of salvation, the offensiveness of the crime is far worse and the mercy of the court is a far more outrageous pardon.

This brings us to one of the most fundamental theological problems for fallen humankind. How is it possible for a holy, righteous God to save sinners without being unjust? How can God fulfill the promises He has made to rebellious sinners without compromising His own perfect character?

The answer is the Gospel. The apostle Paul explains in the letter to the Romans:

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”  (Romans 3:23-26)

It was not enough for sinners simply to be pardoned; they must be justified in a way that is consistent with the righteousness of God. Since none are righteous and all have sinned the solution had to come from God (Rom. 3:10, Eph. 2:4-5), while the only appropriate representative to provide atonement had to be human (Rom. 5:15, 8:3-4). Therefore, God was pleased to offer salvation through faith in the God-man Jesus Christ. Our sins, however, are not simply ignored.

Notice what Paul says about this atoning sacrifice, “This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” In order for the righteousness of God to remain uncompromised, He had to judge sin. The suffering of Christ was a demonstration of God’s holy wrath against sin so that no valid charge of injustice or unrighteousness can be made. This is why Paul says Christ is a “propitiation”, which means that He satisfies the wrath of God. All sin is therefore justly punished; the question is if Jesus pays for our sin or if we will have to pay the penalty ourselves.

Paul goes on to say, “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”  Because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ, God is both just and the justifier of sinners. The cross is where God’s mercy and His justice come together.

The atonement is necessary in order to for a holy God to save sinners without compromising His justice. He does not act contrary to His own nature. Salvation is the result of God’s sovereignty, but not as an expression of brute power. Instead, God’s sovereign work in the salvation of sinners is a demonstration of His love and mercy.

The perfect balance of power and love that is expressed in the cross of Jesus Christ is not only a theological necessity but is a great comfort to believers. Since God’s righteousness, grace, and power are all perfectly displayed in Christ, we can look to the cross as assurance that God will keep His promises (Rom. 8:32). Christians are not hoping on the whim of a changing God for their salvation. We trust in the promises of a perfect, righteous, holy, and loving God who has already demonstrated His commitment to those whom He loves.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mathaytes is now on Facebook

I have been frequently advised to expand the content of the site beyond the longer theology & Bible posts. I have also been encouraged to make sharing content from the site easier. In order to provide a wider range of content without losing the focus of the blog, and also to help make sharing information easier we are now on Facebook.

Please like us at

We pray that this addition will be a blessing to you.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Are Adam and Eve in Heaven?

A few weeks ago, I preached on the first Gospel promise in Genesis 3. My emphasis was on God’s faithfulness to this promise in our lives and its development throughout scripture. Later, someone asked me if I thought Adam and Eve were in heaven. I gave a short answer but wanted to develop it a bit more. I hope to do that in this post.

It is important to point out that the Bible does not specifically state whether God saved them or not. However, if we pay careful attention to what the Bible does say, I think we can have some level of confidence that Adam and Eve are in heaven. The question is raised (I think) primarily because throughout the Bible Adam and Eve are used as the example par excellence of human sinfulness, failure, and rebellion (Hosea 6:7; Rom. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 15:21-22; 2 Cor. 11:3). If, however, we remember that the Bible is the record of God’s plan (and work) in redemption then we quickly realize that the emphasis on the fact that Adam and Eve did not deserve salvation serves to glorify God who graciously saves sinners and deserves all the praise and honor for their salvation (Rom. 5:19-20). Adam and Eve are therefore not just examples of human sinfulness but also of salvation by grace through faith.

Before God even pronounces curses upon the people and land, he curses the serpent. It is clear that this is not merely a snake and later in scripture, it becomes clear that the serpent is Satan. Involved in that curse is the first Gospel promise. It has implications not only for some future time but also immediately for them. The second part of the curse on the serpent is:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)

Christian readers immediately focus on the prophesy of the work of Christ and the Gospel contained in the verse. Notice, however, that God declares not only that He will put enmity (opposition) between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, but also between the woman and the serpent. When Adam and Eve chose to believe the word of Satan instead of the word of God, they aligned themselves with the Devil and made themselves enemies of God. In a sense, they put enmity between themselves and the holy God. Satan may have thought his rebellion was succeeding but God declared that He would create opposition between the woman and Satan. The destruction of Satan’s power will result from the offspring of this woman whom he deceived. This is the plan of God and is a declaration of His sovereign grace in redemption.

The curse on the serpent in verses 16-19 is followed by curses on both the man and the woman that end with the curse of death “… you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Remarkably, the next words recorded are “The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” (Gen. 3:20)

God declares that they will die and then Adam calls her the mother of the living! Clearly, Adam is expressing faith in the promise of redemption given a few verses earlier that God will restore life to his creation and overcome the adversary through the descendants of Eve. Theologians have developed many complex descriptions of saving faith, but in its most basic form, it is simply trusting in the promises of God. When we consider the particular promise Adam is trusting in we see that it is none other than the Gospel. The promise involved in the curse of the Serpent is that God will provide a redeemer descended from Eve, born of the seed of a woman, who will conquer Satan but be wounded in the process, and opposition will be placed between humankind and Satan.

Eve also shows faith in the promise. The promise in chapter 3 entails offspring and in chapter 4 when Eve gives birth to Cain, she says, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord” (Gen. 4:1). It is possible that Eve thought that Cain would be the fulfillment of the promise since the name Cain indicates that she “got” him from God. Ironically, Cain is not among the faithful seed and kills his brother. The result is that Eve essentially loses both sons but we see her faith again when she gives birth to Seth. The name Seth means “placed” or “appointed” and Eve declares concerning him, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” (Gen. 4:25). This time she is blessed and it is through Seth that the promise is fulfilled. Her comments and the names of her children indicate that Eve retained her confidence in God’s word.

We also find another clue back in Genesis 3. Just after Adam calls his wife the “mother of all living” the following detail is recorded:

“And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” (Gen. 3:21) This may sound like a practical detail but its significance is profound. I do not have the room here to explore it in detail but this is the first time in the Bible that blood is shed to provide a covering. Fallen man failed at his attempt to cover himself but God provides a covering through a death (Gen. 3:7,21). This theme of sacrifice as a covering related to sin continues throughout the Bible and finds is ultimate expression in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Calvary. This is another demonstration of the grace of God in dealing with his fallen creatures, is a typological symbol, and foreshadow of atonement. It is not specific stated as the case here, but this action is consistent with God’s care for the faithful that we see throughout scripture. If it is, then it is likely that Adam and Eve are included in the family of faith.

Finally, there are hints in some of the genealogies and lists. Some have pointed out that the list of the faithful in Hebrews 11 does not contain Adam and Eve even though it extends back to their lifetime. That is an interesting observation because the purpose of the list is precisely to highlight the persistent hope of the faithful in the promises of God. Their absence, however, is not conclusive and there may be other reasons why the list begins with Abel. First, the list moves very quickly from Abel to Abraham and there are many believers not mentioned. Indeed, the only ones mentioned are those who had some sort of profound demonstration or confirmation of their faith. It may also be, as John Gill suggested that Hebrews speaks only of those who had received the promise in faith through the testimony of the faithful.

Hebrews 11 is not the only list to look at. Other New Testament lists may also provide insight into the question. Matthew, emphasizing Jesus as the Jewish Messiah understandably begins with Abraham, but Luke whose work emphasizes the inclusion of the Gentiles into the promises begins his genealogy of Christ with Adam. It is likely that Luke is emphasizing Jesus as the fulfillment of the promise and the hope of all people. In structuring his genealogy this way, Luke is connecting the coming of Christ with an anticipation that extends back to the very beginning of human history. It seems likely to me that the implied connection is Genesis 3:15 and that Adam (and Eve) were waiting for Christ.

Although the Bible does not explicitly say that Adam and Eve are in heaven, I think we have enough information in the scripture to think they are. I believe the biblical clues we have indicate that although they had less information that we have, they were trusting in the same Gospel promise. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

How to Use the Bible for Devotional Reading

In the last post, I suggested that those who are serious about their spiritual growth should stop using “devotionals” and instead focused on devotional reading of the Bible. Using the Bible for devotions does not take much more (if any) time than using other books but the results are worth the effort. In this post, I would like to offer some practical suggestions on how to get started.

What is it?
The purpose of devotional reading is slightly different from critical reading (the kind of reading we do for study). Devotional reading is not so much an examination of the text as it is an apprehension of the text. Of course, devotional reading should be built upon a correct understanding of the text but the emphasis is on applying what we do understand rather than studying. This is why devotional reading cannot replace Bible study. The two are complimentary. As we grow in our understanding through study, our devotional life will be deeper because we will be seeking to connect and apply even more of God’s Word. Likewise, as we grow in our devotional life, we will begin to have a better understanding of the relevance and importance of the doctrines we learn from studying. Devotional reading is about our submission to the text and our desire for the Holy Spirit to change our lives through its truth.

Where to begin?
A common question is where to start. Often, people want to begin at Genesis 1 and read straight through. If you have that type of discipline great, but most people do not. For those new to devotional reading I suggest beginning with Proverbs or James. Both of these books are rich with practical application of Biblical wisdom for daily life that can be examined in short sections. This is not where I would recommend a person begin to study, but I have found that people who are new to reading devotionally find it easier to identify points of application in these books than in most others.

How Does it Work?
The Bible is like a field planted by God that yields spiritual food to those who labor there. If we keep that in mind, we can easily remember the four steps to this method with the acronym R.E.A.P.

  1. Read
  2. Examine
  3. Apply
  4. Pray

Step 1. Read
The first step in the reading process is praying for God to bless your devotion. Then, if you are unfamiliar with the book you want to use you should quickly read the whole book just to get a feel for how it flows. You do not have to do this all at once but it is better to read large chunks. Trust me, taking the time to read the book first will pay off later, if it takes a few days or a week that is OK. Be sure to read large sections if you cannot read the whole book and do not try to study or figure anything out, just get a feel for what is going on in the book and how it flows. If you are already familiar with the book, the pre-reading is not necessary.

Once you have a general idea about the book, you can begin a more focused reading. Each day, read a passage that contains a single unit of thought. In most books, this is typically not a single verse or sentence. In the New Testament letters for example, it will usually be a paragraph. In Proverbs and James, it is usually a cluster of verses. This tends to be where people have a hard time because our tendency is to want to stop and focus on each verse. Do not put too much pressure on yourself. If you find yourself constantly wanting to stop after each verse, just read the next one and think about how they fit together. With practice, it starts to get easier to see where these divisions are. Just do your best to try to expand beyond single verses while staying within a paragraph.

Step 2. Examine
The next step is to examine what you read. In this step, you are looking to identify what is clear from the passage. If there is something that is unclear, such as a figure of speech, a particular vocabulary word, or reference then you might want to make note of it and come back to it in your Bible study time. For the purpose of the devotional exercise, however, you want to focus on what is  clear from the passage.

  1. Is there a promise given?
  2. Is there a sin exposed?
  3. Is there an instruction or command given?
  4. Is there a truth about the Father, Jesus, or The Holy Spirit revealed?
  5. Is there something that is clear but seems strange?

Step 3. Apply

In this step, you work out the significance of what you understand from the passage for you personally. This is the bridge between merely reading the Bible and submitting to its authority over your life. This step is what makes it truly devotional because it is at this point that you are devoting yourself to living by the Word.

  1. If promises are given, are they for all believers generally? How do they apply to me?
  2. If there is sin exposed am I guilty and in need of forgiveness and repentance?
  3. If there is an instruction or command given, how does it apply to my life and circumstances, and how do I faithfully respond?
  4. If truth about God is revealed how does it help me know Him and serve Him better?
  5. We will address those things that seem strange in the next step.

Step 4. Pray & Meditate

In this step, you pray through the passage you are reading. The Christian life can only be lived through the power of the Lord and if we are serious about being transformed through our devotional time, we must seek Christ’s help through prayer. Praying the actual words of God helps keep us disciplined and focused so that we avoid developing a lazy, shallow, or selfish prayer life.

To do this, simply work your way through the passage taking each statement and rephrase it as a prayer. In order to avoid self-centered prayers, formulate each statement as both a personal prayer and a prayer for others. You might know someone in particular who could use the prayer or it could be a general prayer. Usually, the more specific you can be the better.

You can apply any passage in prayer many ways but let us look at an example:

“2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4, ESV)

“Father, forgive me for my grumbling and my complaining. Forgive me for the weakness of my faith and the lack of my maturity and trust in you. Father please give me the faith to count it as joy when I meet trials of various kinds. Remind me Lord that the testing of my faith will produce steadfastness. Let me, a sinner who has inherited all things through the suffering of my savior, not shrink from enduring suffering for a short time. Help me depend entirely upon you so that my faith might produce steadfastness and I pray Lord that steadfastness would have its full effect and that I will be made complete, lacking in nothing because I have you. Father, I know that many brothers and sisters are facing trials far worse than I. I pray that they would be encouraged and strengthened. I pray that your name would be glorified through the testimony of their faithfulness.”

Notice that it is not any kind of rote formula but you want to stick closely to the actual words used by the Holy Spirit. The key is that you are organizing your devotional prayer life around the specific teaching of the Word of God. I promise you that if you do this it will expand and deepen your prayer life and your appreciation for the Bible.


The last part of the “prayer” step is ongoing meditation. Throughout the day try to take every chance you get to think about the truths, you encountered during your devotional time. As you reflect on your reading, you may be surprised how many connections you can make. This brings me back to #5 from the Apply step. When we read the Bible there are often little details that just do not seem to fit in the way we expect. You should consider it a blessing whenever you run across one of those because they are like treasure maps! The more time you spend in the Word the more of these details you will notice. Often, it will require study to uncover the fullness of these gems, but if you just think about them carefully, they will draw you deeper into the Word.

I have written about this a few times before but let me just give you one more example here:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. (Revelation 1:10-13, ESV)

Notice the way that verse 12 is worded, “then I turned to see the voice”. Does that not sound strange to you? How do you see a voice? Is this just a quirk of ancient language? Maybe, but until you study it you will not know. What you can do throughout the day, however, is to think about this passage and what is happening. Why does John record it that way? Who is the voice? Obviously, Jesus is the voice. That is interesting and opens up a whole series of questions. What does a voice do? What is this voice doing? How do those things relate to Christ? Is there a connection between Jesus as The Word and Him being described here as the voice? Are there other places in scripture where God is associated with sound? Where else is God associated with voices?

Perhaps you can see that something as simple as this can open up all sorts of potential connections within the Bible. You may find in study that some of these were dead ends but throughout the process, you will be absorbed in thinking deeply and devotionally about what the Bible teaches and how it does so.

If you follow this process or something similar I am confident that you will be further ahead than spending the same amount of time reading an off the shelf “devotional”. I promise that believers who are looking to grow spiritually who do this type of devotional reading along with regular Bible study (preferably with other believers in a local church) will not be disappointed.