Never Forget that Governments Use Crises to Seize Freedoms

President Ronald Reagan was known for clever humor. At least once he quipped that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I wonder how much more that joke rings in our ears today.

While reading through the book of Genesis in my newest Bible reading plan, I found myself thinking about government. No, I do not believe that the narrative at the end of Genesis is there for the purpose of teaching us about politics. But, I think, as we observe the narrative, we can at least see something of human nature and political nature holding true-to-form.

In Genesis, God moves to relocate the family and future nation of Israel to their own land in Egypt. God prepares the way for Israel to move to Egypt through the way that Joseph helps the government of Egypt deal with the disaster of seven years of famine. Over a period of four centuries between Genesis 50 and Exodus 1, the family of Israel will grow into a nation. Then, in Exodus, God will bring this new nation out of its incubator and into the promised land.

Now, let’s ponder government. With the point already made that this is not the message of Genesis, let’s catch some truth anyhow. What is the nature of a government when its people face a crisis? In historical human experience, when the government helps a people out of a time of crisis, the government will also use that time of crisis to increase its own power over the people. Particularly, in Genesis, Joseph puts together a food-storage program that saves the lives of many. However, when the people need to come to him, a government official, for their food, he gives it to the people in exchange for their property and eventually their freedom.

Genesis 47:20-21 – 20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other.

Understand, dear friends, that any government not bound by the standards of the Lord and his holy word will move to grant itself greater and greater power over its people. Government will happily use times of crisis to take freedoms from its people. And even when freedoms are returned, they are never as many as were taken. A government that takes five freedoms from you and returns to you three has not left you as free as you were before it reached into your world.

Joseph was used by God to save lives. But Joseph was also used by the government of Egypt to create a new world in which the people and the land were under the thumb of Pharaoh. Eventually, this same power became the power that enslaved the people of Israel. And let’s not take time to ponder much about the fact that the oppressive taxation of Pharaoh was a 20% flat tax, which, all the sudden does not sound as bad as some other systems with which you may be familiar.

It will be for you to figure out your own views on politics and government. But, dear friends, be very careful tolerating the taking of your freedom by leaders in power. The powerful have a very hard time giving freedoms back to the people. And if we let these things pass unnoticed, we put ourselves in a very vulnerable position.

Dave Chappelle and Canceling Context

Before you allow yourself to develop too much of an opinion of the Dave Chappelle and Netflix kerfuffle, consider that all things people do have a purpose. No, Chappelle was not merely trying to be funny. No, he was not only making a boatload of cash. No, he was not simply offensive, foul, and generally inappropriate. The comedian was making a deeply felt emotional argument.

If one notes the full content of the special and not merely the sound bites, one will learn that Chappelle had previously befriended a trans comedian. This comic had defended Dave on Twitter after the trans community came after Chappelle for what he said in a previous special. The trans community on Twitter then attacked Chappelle’s trans comic friend for days on social media. According to his words in his special, Chappelle’s friend then committed suicide.

Chappelle mocked every group he could manage to mock in his Netflix special in order to point out the ridiculousness and evil of cancel culture. Chappelle insulted white people, black people, people from Detroit, people from Ohio, racists, hippies, Christians, Jews, and, yes, the trans community. And, you know what, anybody who watched that special knew exactly what they would see in Chappelle’s comedy. After all, his humor has not changed. He has always made his money with this same sort of content and style.

As a Christian and a pastor, I surely do not recommend you watch Chappelle or endorse his humor. Neither do I recommend that you develop any of your understanding of morality from Netflix, be it from comedy or documentary. But as a thinking human being, I do not recommend that you condemn Chappelle for doing harm to the trans community without first knowing what he said in its context and not from sound bites alone. Neither do I believe that we do society any good when we attempt to destroy any person’s reputation or livelihood simply because they say things that hurt our feelings.

No, I’m not recommending you watch the special. No, I do not think Chappelle needs my help. No, I do not fear for Netflix. No, my stance on sexuality and gender has not ever departed from that of Scripture. But it is a bit ridiculous that the entire point this foul-mouthed comic was making was to point out the folly and harm of the cancel culture in the life of a trans friend of his, and that , to my knowledge, none in the media have mentioned it. Chappelle tells a sad story of a person who was beaten down by their own community on social media perhaps resulting in that person’s suicide, and the result is that the left ignores that point to stir up another tempest in a virtual teapot. Ironic, isn’t it?

Friends, when Big Brother runs the news, you will only hear what the Ministry of Truth wants you to hear.

The Reverend Doctor Mudge Printing Mishap

Just a little story to brighten your day –

…A little over a hundred years ago the editor of an English newspaper opened a copy of his paper—after it was already for sale—only to find in it a most embarrassing, unintentional typographical conflation of two stories, one about a patented pig-killing and sausage-making machine, and the other about a gathering in honor of a local clergyman, the Reverend Doctor Mudge, at which he was presented with a gold-headed cane. A portion of it read as follows:

Several of Rev. Dr. Mudge’s friends called upon him yesterday, and after a conversation the unsuspecting pig was seized by the hind leg, and slid along a beam until he reached the hot-water tank. . . . Thereupon he came forward and said that there were times when the feelings overpowered one, and for that reason he would not attempt to do more than thank those around him for the manner in which such a huge animal was cut into fragments was simply astonishing. The doctor concluded his remarks, when the machine seized him and, in less time than it takes to write it, the pig was cut into fragments and worked up into a delicious sausage. The occasion will be long remembered by the doctor’s friends as one of the most delightful of their lives. The best pieces can be procured for tenpence a pound, and we are sure that those who have sat so long under his ministry will rejoice that he has been treated so handsomely.*

*Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 31-32.

Gather for More Than Your Good

Hebrews 10:24-25 – 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Why gather? Why gather when some find it risky? Why gather when some would prefer we not? What if I do not feel like gathering or do not feel like I’m getting anything out of gathering?

By this time, I think every Christian will have heard someone speak to the verses highlighted above. In a season where gathering together has been avoided by some and clung to by others, this passage certainly should be on our minds. And what I want to mention in a quick brush of these verses is that your call to gather with other believers is not solely about you. It surely is about you, but not about you alone.

After setting for the church how great is the New Covenant in Christ, the author of Hebrews gives three significant commands to us regarding maintaining our faith and confidence. He tells us to draw near (22), to hold fast (23), and to encourage one another while not neglecting meeting together (24-25). These are all significant elements in clinging to our faith and resting in the grace of Christ in the face of a world that would turn us away from God and toward works-based faiths of one type or another.

When I read this, I am reminded of the deep significance of meeting together with believers. It is an essential element in our faith just as is drawing near and holding fast the faith. If a Christian wishes to maintain stability, he must continue to gather. But we ought not see this as merely personal—I draw near for my good. Certainly, it is true that my drawing near does me good. But we should also see that our continuing to assemble is part of how each of us invests in the lives of others. Continuing to gather together is how we spur one another toward love and good deeds. Seeing one another, smiling at one another, weeping with one another, singing with one another, sitting under the word with one another, praying with one another, rejoicing with one another, receiving Lord’s Supper with one another, all these are essential tools in our strengthening and being strengthened. Your attendance or mine is both for my soul and for the souls of the church as well as an act of obedient worship of our God.

May the Lord strengthen his church as we draw near to him, hold fast the faith, and continue to gather for his glory and our spiritual good.

Do What is Good–A Simple Thought about Romans 13 and Christian Submission to Government

How does a Christian respond to government? Do we always, unquestioningly do what the government says? How do we know when it is time to respectfully refuse an order? There was a time when it seemed like those questions were merely theoretical, at least for the most part. But in our present situation, questions about how to react when the government and the church appear at odds are very much a part of living in the here and now.

If you know your Bible, you know that Romans 13 is a primary place to look to see how to respond to authorities over you. And a simple reading of that chapter tells us that Christians are supposed to submit to the government. At the same time, we know that there must be limits, nuances to that command. And I think we can see one such limit embedded in the command as God gives it to us.

Romans 13:3 – For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,

In this section of Scripture, Paul is calling on the church to be submissive to the governmental leaders over them. This command is perfectly in keeping with the pattern of New Testament teaching that believers should pray for their leaders particularly so that the Christian might be free to live a peaceful and quiet life in obedience to the Lord (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-2). Paul emphasizes the sovereignty of God over all kings and authorities. The Lord places leaders in seats of power, and Christians should be appropriately subject to those in authority.

What does subjection to a leader look like? What does Christian living look like? We see it in verse 3 with the simple call for a Christian to do what is good. That little phrase appropriately lays a boundary for the Christian to know what is righteous and what is ungodly submission to a leader. We submit to our earthly leaders so long as that submission is in keeping with what is good. And what is good is determined by the infallible word of Almighty God.

Thus, as we attempt to live as Christians in a difficult age, we obey our governmental leaders as far as the word of God and goodness will allow. We do what is good. When doing what is good in accord with Scripture is not violated by the expression of governmental authority, we happily follow and do not make waves. WE want, after all, to live peacefully in the land and to honor the Lord. Part of honoring the Lord is to show that we know how to follow one in authority over us.

However, when the commands of a leader call us not to do what is good, when the leader commands us to disobey the word of God, we cannot in biblical conscience obey. We must instead obey God rather than man (cf. Acts 5:29).

As believers, we have to be careful. It is easy for us to assume that every opinion we have about what is right and wrong is something to elevate to a level of civil disobedience. We do not see such a call in the word of God here. The call to obey must include the call to submit to things to which we would prefer not to submit. Otherwise, what is the purpose of using the term submit? Submission is not simply doing what somebody says when we like it. Submission necessarily includes obedience when that obedience is at times difficult.

What then is the standard? The standard is faithful obedience to the word of God. We follow governmental leaders by doing what is good. If doing what is good in accord with Scripture is not in accord with the law of the land or the impulse of the leader, then we must obey God rather than man. Thus, when doing what is good is sharing the gospel when it is banned, we share. When doing what is good is speaking truth about justice, we speak. When doing what is good includes telling only the truth about gender, we tell the truth. When doing what is good includes gathering for worship, we gather. When doing what is good includes protecting human life, even the lives of the unborn, we protect life.

Doing what is good must include following the commands of God. So, if the government commands us not to do that which God commands, we must disobey. Following God also includes not doing what the Lord forbids. Thus, if the government commands us to do that which God forbids, we must disobey. And the word of God lets us know that there are areas of our lives where the government has no right to speak. Thus, when the government seeks to assert authority into areas of life where clearly the Lord asserts another authority—e.g. the ordering of the family, the ordering of the church, the shaping of our beliefs or prayer lives, etc.—we must not allow this usurpation of power.

Christians, may we be faithful enough to the Lord to do what is good. Let us pray that doing good will not oppose our government. Instead, let us pray that our government will, as the word proclaims, punish evil. But let us know that, even as the Romans to whom Paul wrote would have understood, sometimes doing good, sometimes obeying the word, will bring down upon us the wrath of evil people in power. And when that occurs, may we choose to still do good, still be faithful to the Lord, still obey Scripture regardless of the physical and civil consequences.

My Sadness Over the Grace To You Review of Gentle and Lowly

I don’t like commenting on current, Internet controversies in the Christian community. But, because I will be asked, I was deeply disappointed in the GTY review Of Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly. I love GTY and the ministry of John MacArthur. I’m grateful to God for what I have learned from this ministry. And I wish no ill on GTY at all.

Why then am I disappointed in the review? I’ll share a few things that come to my mind right away. And, I have no intention of this being any sort of point-by-point refutation. Who knows, maybe I’ll reread G&L and find that I missed a lot my first time through.

First, when we criticize another’s position, we should not argue against a position that our opponent would not agree is his own. Having read Gentle and Lowly, I do not believe that Ortlund would agree that his position or doctrine was at all fairly represented in the GTY review. The review faulted Ortlund with his lack of emphasis on the wrath and judgment of Christ. However, the intent of the book was in no way to say that there is no wrath or judgment in Christ. Instead, the book was intended to display for many Christians who do not see it the sweetness of the love of Jesus for those he has redeemed. To say that G&L does not paint a complete picture of Jesus is of course accurate. The book was never intended to do so. The book intended to focus on a vital aspect of who Jesus is that is often missed by believers.

As a similar comparison, take any Christian hymn you love. I will argue that it does not paint a complete and fully orbed depiction of Christian theology. “In Christ Alone” does not talk about election or Christ’s existence from eternity past. “Holy, Holy, Holy” does not speak of the fact that holiness of God is expressed with grate wrath in the fires of hell for those who persist in their bent against the Lord. Should we do away with these hymns because they do not fully depict our theology? No, we understand that there is only so much time in any song, and every song focuses us on a set of thoughts to the necessary exclusion of others. Similarly, every good book focuses us on certain points of fact about the Lord to the necessary exclusion of others.

Do not skip over the fact that Ortlund is abundantly clear in this book that he is writing about the heart of God for the redeemed. It makes little sense to then repeatedly temper that discussion with the wrath of God for those who are not forgiven. A genuine understanding of propitiation would declare to us that the wrath of God for the sins of believers was fully satisfied in the death of Christ on the cross. Thus, God now looks at his chosen with a deep and abiding love that is beyond what many Christians have ever imagined. This is not cheap grace but glorious propitiation.

Second, I do not find the review at all charitable. In the GTY review, there are far too many pithy, gotcha phrases that seem to me to be aimed more at scoring points or garnering tweets: “taming the lion of Judah?” Eventually the review even drops the word blasphemy, though only as a hint rather than as a full accusation.

Reading the review, I was saddened by the ugliness of the tone. Not only did I feel the tone was harsh toward the book itself, but also it seemed ugly toward those who have found good in the book. The GTY review offers a set of reasons as to why they believe that someone might have found G&L appealing. For the most part, these reasons are belittling at best.

Thirdly, I do not believe that the review fairly addresses that much of how Ortlund chooses to describe the Lord is in keeping with exactly how God describes himself. God uses anthropomorphic imagery so that we might, in our finitude, understand him. Thus, God speaks of being moved, of regret, of his arm, of his heart, and so much more. Yes, a solid systematic theology helps us to understand that these images are images, and they require more thought to understand how they work as we truly grasp the holiness of the Lord. But I fully disagree that there is a problem with letting yourself focus on a single description God gives of himself even if that focus is not, in the moment, balanced by other biblical truths. Sometimes you need to focus on the mercy of God without taking time out to remind yourself that Jesus turned over the tables at the temple. And sometimes you need to focus on the genuine anger of Jesus turning over the tables without tempering it with Psalm 23.

I’m sad, because, had this review been written differently, I believe that the folks at GTY could have raised very helpful cautions for Christians to consider in their reading of G&L. Perhaps those concerns could have even helped others decide not to read G&L, that would be fine. But I fear that the harshness of the review will only serve to convince those who are already negative toward what they see in G&L as wishy-washy or sentimental while pushing those who are most likely to be influenced by G&L away from future helpful teaching from GTY.

I would have loved to see this review as a caution. I would have loved to see this review raising questions. I would have loved to see this review suggest that, if a reader is not careful, he or she could draw theologically incorrect conclusions. After all, any book that focuses us on a single aspect of the heart or character of God could lead a reader to believe that the attributes of God are parts, thus denying divine simplicity, the oneness of God. All that God is, God is. There is not part of God that is love and part of God that is wrath. God is God, fully, all the way through. And God does not change so that emotions are stirred in him the way that ours stir in us.

I would have loved to see this review remind believers not to allow an emphasis on the love and mercy of Christ to confuse one regarding Christ’s attitude toward sin. God hates sin. We should too. And we do not want to allow our embracing of the depth of Christ’s grace to allow us to think that Christ has ever loved sin. This caution could have been raised without mocking or out-of-context quotation.

I love GTY and the ministry of John MacArthur. I believe that the church would be far better were we to learn far more from him. And I will certainly not let this review prevent me from continuing to learn from and grow from that ministry at GTY. But I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed because the review is just not even-handed, not gracious, not honest in its depiction of G&L. I found G&L, a book I was given at the Shepherds’ Conference in 2020, a lovely read, something I intend to read again, because it helped me to love the mercy of Christ. I’ll certainly reread G&L with the cautions in mind. But I know already that my first reading of G&L did not even begin to make me think false things about the Lord or his nature.

Persecution Comes when the State Demands Supremacy

Thoughtful Christian friends, take a look at these few paragraphs on the persecution of the church in the Roman Empire. See the reasoning behind Roman persecution as it parallels the reasoning stripping Christians of religious freedom in the US and Canada today.

From: Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), chapter 7.

The church endured little persecution as long as it was looked upon by the authorities as a part of Judaism, which was a religio licita, or legal sect. But as soon as Christianity was distinguished from Judaism as a separate sect and might be classed as a secret society, it came under the ban of the Roman state, which would brook no rival for the allegiance of its subjects. It then became an illegal religion and as such was considered a threat to the safety of the Roman state. The state was the highest good in a union of the state and religion. There could be no private religion.

Religion could be tolerated only as it contributed to the stability of the state. Since the rapidly growing Christian religion was exclusive in its claims on the moral and spiritual loyalty of those who accepted Christ, when a choice had to be made between loyalty to Christ and loyalty to Caesar, Caesar was bound to take second place. This was conceived by the Roman leaders, bent on preserving classical culture within the framework of the Roman imperial state, as disloyalty to the state; and they saw Christians as those who were trying to set up a state within a state. Either the universal state or the universal church, the body of Christ, must give way. The exclusive sovereignty of Christ clashed with Caesar’s proud claims to exclusive sovereignty.

Social problems also made their contribution to the cause of Roman persecution of the church. The Christians, who had great appeal for the lower classes and slaves, were hated by the influential aristocratic leaders of society. These leaders looked down on them with contempt but were fearful of their influence on the lower class. The Christians upheld the equality of all people (Col. 3:11); paganism insisted on an aristocratic structure for society in which the privileged few were served by the lower class and slaves. Christians separated themselves from pagan gatherings at temples, theaters, and places of recreation. This nonconformity to accepted social patterns brought down on them the dislike that the nonconformist always faces in any period of history. The purity of their lives was a silent rebuke to the scandalous lives that people of the upper class were leading. The Christians’ nonconformity to existing social patterns led the pagans to believe that they were a danger to society and to characterize them as “haters of mankind” who might incite the masses to revolt.

All these considerations combined to justify the persecution of the Christians in the minds of the authorities. Not all were present in each case, but the exclusiveness of the claims of the Christian religion on the life of the Christian conflicted with pagan syncretism and the demand for exclusive loyalty to the Roman state in most instances. Persecution followed naturally as a part of imperial policy to preserve the integrity of the Roman state. Christianity was not a licensed religion with a legal right to existence. Martyrs and apologists were its answer to mobs, the state, and pagan writers.

In our day, this same issue of church and state has again been revived, and in many countries Christians are tolerated only under law. In other countries they face persecution from a state that will brook no rival. The early struggle of the church with persecution helps to point up the importance of the modern concept of the separation of the church and state. Only where people are permitted to have private interests apart from public interests can there be religious freedom.

A Question on Baptism in the Nicene Creed

I recently received a question from a sweet lady about our church’s use of the Nicene Creed in one of our worship services. About once per quarter, we recite this old confession. But a line in the creed was bothering her, as it could sound like the creed supports the idea of baptismal regeneration. Here is my response slightly edited for this format.

I really appreciate your question about baptism as mentioned in the Nicene Creed.

The Nicene creed says, “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.” That phrase, “for the remission of sins,” is what sounds like a sticking point. Is the creed suggesting to us that the act of water baptism brings to us the remission of sins? Does it suggest that baptism is required for salvation? Does it say to us that baptism regenerates a person? I certainly understand how the questions could be raised.

We know that Scripture does not teach that baptism regenerates a person. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9). Nor does Scripture indicate that water baptism is required for a person to be saved. So, if the creed is suggesting such things, we must do away with at least that part.

Let’s ask where might the language that is used in the creed have come from? We read in Acts 2:37-38, “37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ 38 And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Here we see what I would guess is the source of the language that was used in the Nicene Creed.

First, is language that indicates that there is one baptism “for the remission of sins” biblical? We have to say that it is since we can see it right there in Acts 2:28. Therefore, if we understand the language correctly, if we have a proper understanding of salvation and baptism, we do not have to avoid using it.

Next, does such language require us to believe that the point being made is baptismal regeneration? I would argue not. Peter was certainly not suggesting in Acts 2 that being immersed in water brings about forgiveness. Peter instead ties together as a unit repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We must also note that the very same Peter who used that phrase in Acts 2 was also clear in his first epistle to say that physical baptism has nothing to do with our salvation. Peter wrote, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21). Clearly Peter is connecting the physical act of baptism unbreakably to a person’s initial cry of repentance and faith. Baptism is not physical washing. Baptism is the act of one who has cried out to God to appeal to him for forgiveness. Peter says baptism saves, but then immediately points out that baptism has nothing to do with saving you but simply points to the faith through which you are saved.

How then should we think about the phrase, “baptism for the remission of sins.” To the early church, there was no concept of separation between saving faith and baptism. This is not to say that the church, if pushed, would suggest that faith alone does not save. Nor is there a belief that baptism has anything to do with causing one’s salvation. Instead, it is to say that there is a clear assumption in the minds of the church that those who repent and believe will quite naturally be baptized. It was simply unthinkable to a first century Christian that anybody could be genuinely saved and refuse to follow the Lord in baptism. Thus, to call a person to be baptized in the first century would be akin to calling them to repent and believe for salvation and to follow that belief with baptism.

To show that this concept is not me reading into the text, let me add that there are other places in Scripture where one word is used to point to a concept that is broader. For example, we are happy to say that whoever believes is saved (John 3:16). But we also know that repentance is part of saving faith (Matt. 4:17). There is nothing wrong with suggesting that faith saves. At the same time, there would be nothing wrong with an even clearer call to repent and believe. After all, one cannot genuinely believe in a saving way without repenting. Thus, a call to faith necessarily includes the call to repentance.

Another example in Scripture is Paul’s statement in Romans 10:9, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” One could argue that all that Paul is saying we must believe is that Jesus rose from the dead. But included in Paul’s words are the understanding that the resurrection includes the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins and the doctrine contained in its understanding.

The point I think we should see is that, sometimes in Scripture, a single term is used to hold a larger concept. And I believe that when Peter says that we should repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:38, he is using the word baptism to include all that baptism represents. Baptism represents a repentant faith in the Lord Jesus and his saving grace. That repentant faith in the Lord Jesus is our only hope for the remission of sins. That faith is symbolized in the one, true baptism.

If we understand that what I am suggesting is the meaning of Acts 2:38 is sound, and if that is the source of the language in the creed, I do not think we will need to worry that the statement in the creed is promoting anything unsound. We must actually agree that there is only one baptism for the remission of sins. That baptism is the baptism which symbolizes the saving faith and repentance of the believer. That baptism is what peter was calling for in Acts 2:38. And that baptism necessarily contains the faith that saves and must not be separated from it.

As I said a moment ago, I really am grateful for your question, as it forced me to think more clearly about the statement in the creed. I agree that, if not explained, that statement can be confusing to people in our culture, because baptism has been wrongly understood in many denominations. I believe that your question will cause me to take some time to help our folks guard against the misunderstanding that could arise here. Similarly, I often take time to remind our folks that the word catholic in the creed is not intended to mean the Roman Catholic Church, but is merely a word that means the universal church, the body of all who have ever been saved by Jesus.

You might also ask me why we would use the Nicene Creed, or any creed, if people have the potential of being confused by the language? I think that the use of such statements, even with the potential for confusion, is helpful. I believe that there is something good in, from time to time, helping our church acknowledge basic doctrines that have been proclaimed for centuries. It is nice to see that what we preach at our church is not a doctrine that we have come up with recently, but that it is compatible with the words of the believers who declared these things to be true back in 381, even if we might say things in a clearer way for our generation.

I hope this answer is helpful. And I will be sure to do what I can to help our folks know that this line is not about baptismal regeneration in any form.

The Image of God

Genesis 1:26-27 – 26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

27 So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God? Three things come to mind: relationship, reflection, and rule.

Being made in the image of God has to do with our intended relationship with God. God created mankind in his image and likeness. Later in Genesis, we will see that sons born to fathers are said to be similarly born, the likeness of their dads. The concept here includes the idea that we, as people created in the image of God, are supposed to be in the relationship of loving children to God our Heavenly Father. Human beings doing what human beings are supposed to do will love the Lord, worship the Lord, and rejoice in the presence of the Lord. Like a child who properly loves his parents, we are to love the Lord our God.

Being made in God’s image is also about reflection. Images in the ancient times, just as pictures today, were supposed to depict to some degree the attributes of a person or thing. Mankind being made in the image of God shows us that we have the responsibility to display in our lives and character certain things that are true of God. God is holy, loving, just, and good. We are to live in such a way as to help the world see what those things look like. In doing so, we function as the image of God.

Being made in the image of God also indicates rule. Kings who conquered in ancient times would erect statues of themselves in the conquered lands to remind people who was the new king. God has called mankind to live in this world, to fill it, and to subdue it. We are supposed to show the globe not only what God is like, but that God rules. We are to be royal ambassadors, representatives of the holy King.

Consider the image of God when you think of the fall of man or subsequent sin. When mankind fell, we attempted to take ourselves out of relationship with God, no longer living as children of our Heavenly Father. Eve believed that God was not good, not loving, not a Father to her. When we rebelled, we failed to reflect the character qualities of the holy God, but instead tried to bring into the world a morality of our own making. Eve was convinced by the serpent that she could be like God, knowing good and evil, determining for herself what is right and wrong. And, when we fell, we failed to rule the world as we were supposed to. We stopped shaping the garden for the glory of God and instead plunged the world into brokenness and futility.

One of the beautiful things about living as a Christian is that we, by the grace of Jesus, have the opportunity to function in the image of God as we were intended. As believers, because of Jesus, we are again returned to the status of children of God. Like the prodigal coming home and being welcomed as a son, we are embraced by our Father and given familial relationship with him. As believers, we can, for the first real time in our lives, actually reflect for the world to see the attributes of God. We can point people to God’s goodness, love, justice, and so much more. And, when we are in Christ, we can remind the world of God our King as we call the world to come to Jesus and to submit to the rule of the one who reigns now and will reign forever.

“The Word Was God” — Guarding Against False Translation

John 1:1 (ESV) – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

You probably know that there are some who have translated John 1:1 differently than what you see in most bibles. The most common group doing this is the Jehovah’s Witness. I want to take a moment here to help you avoid being persuaded by the argument that a Jehovah’s Witness would make to you regarding this verse if you should ever encounter it.

In the last clause of verse 1, the ESV says, “and the word was God.” But the Jehovah’s Witness translation says, “and the word was a god.”

While I don’t do Greek with you often, this time it is necessary. The transliterated Greek of that clause is kai theos en ho logos. “Kai” is the word for “and.” “En” is the word “was.” “Ho logos” is “the word.” And “theos” is the Greek word for “God.” As in English with God (capital G) and god (little G), the word “theos” can mean either God in the sense of the true God or god in the sense of a god, one of many idols, false gods, etc.

How do we know if the Greek is trying to say God [capital G] or a god [little g]? Often, the way to distinguish in Greek whether the author means God (big G), or god (little g) is to see if the article, the word “the,” is included. “Ho Theos,” “the God,” is the usual form for the God of the Bible. “Theos” alone is usually god (little g). This is how the Jehovah’s Witnesses have convinced others that they have a point, because this passage only says theos and not ho theos.

If one does not know any better, and if one only knows the rule that to speak of the God of the Bible requires the use of ho theos and not merely theos, this would be an open and shut case. But the moment a person knows just a little bit more about grammar in Greek translation, that person will see that the Jehovah’s Witness argument is faulty.

First, let’s do a little English grammar. A linking verb is a “to be” word like “is,” “are,” “was,” etc. Unlike an action verb (runs, sings, swims, beholds, etc.), a linking verb can sometimes take two nouns and tie them together to show a relationship. “Tom is my dad,” is a sentence that equates “Tom” and “dad.” And, in fact, those words are interchangeable. The sentence, “My dad is Tom,” is equally true.

In a sentence like the examples I just gave, we see a subject, the linking verb, and the predicate nominative. Does it matter which word is subject and which is predicate? Take this sentence as an example: An apple is a fruit. In that sentence, apple has to be the subject and fruit has to be the predicate. If you reverse the order and say, “a fruit is an apple,” you have misleadingly given the indication that all fruits are apples. In that instance, one must know which is which to communicate clearly.

The clause at the end of john 1:1 is a sentence with a linking verb, a “to be” verb. John has constructed this clause quite intentionally to show us which word is the subject, which is the predicate, and to prevent us from thinking they are interchangeable.

In English this would be easier. We distinguish the subject from the predicate simply with word order. The subject comes first in the sentence and the predicate comes after the linking verb. This does not work in biblical Greek, as word order does not offer us the same sort of signal as to which word is subject and which is predicate in a sentence. In Greek, in a sentence with action verbs, it is easy to distinguish subject from object by the case of the words; their endings are spelled differently. But the case of subject and object in a sentence with a linking verb is the same.

The trick that a biblical author might use to distinguish subject from predicate in a sentence with a linking verb has to do with the use of articles. In English, articles are words like “the,” “a,” or “an.” Often in Greek, both nouns in a sentence with a linking verb will have an article before them. But, if the author wants to distinguish for you between subject and predicate, he will omit the article before the predicate so that it is absolutely clear which word is subject and which is predicate. This technique allows an author to put the word he considers more important first, even if that word is supposed to be the predicate and not the subject.

John did not put “ho theos” in John 1:1 so that he could show that the “logos” (word) is the subject and “theos” (God) is the predicate. Otherwise, you might confusedly translate this verse, “And God was the word.” But John only wanted to say, “The word was God.”

A. T Robertson writes:

“The subject is made plain by the article (ho logos) and the predicate without it (theos) just as in John 4:24 pneuma ho Theos can only mean `God is spirit,’ not `spirit is God.’ So, in 1 John 4:16 ho theoß agape estin can only mean `God is love,’ not `love is God’ as a so-called Christian scientist would confusedly say. So, in John 1:14, ho Logos sarx egeneto, `the Word became flesh,’ not `the flesh became Word.’”

This type of construction as in John 1:1 is normal in Greek, and, it is necessary to show us which word is the subject of the sentence. This is not merely important for grammar in general. There is a significant theological reason that the article could not be included before Theos in John 1:1. D.A. Carson in his John commentary writes:

In fact, if John had included the article, he would have been saying something quite untrue. He would have been so identifying the word with God, that no divine being could exist apart from the word. In that case, it would be nonsense to say, in the words of the second clause of this verse, that the word was with God. The word does not by himself make up the entire Godhead. Nevertheless, the divinity that belongs to the rest of the Godhead, belongs also to Him.

A.T. Robertson agrees, pointing out, “By exact and careful language John denied Sabellianism by not saying ho theoß En ho logos. That would mean, that all of God was expressed in ho logos, and the terms would be interchangeable, each having the article.”

While the word is God, He is not all that God is. Jesus is not the Father. Jesus is not the Holy Spirit. And so, Theos, in verse 1, cannot have the article. But the lack of the article does not mean that John is trying to say that the word was “a god.”

So, what we see from Greek is this: John could not have used an article before theos in this verse, and still been faithful to Biblical Trinitarian theology. John’s construction here is not at all uncommon in Greek. The construction does not signify that John is meaning anything other than the One true God here in verse 1. We must reject the Jehovah’s witness translation of verse 1. It does not come from solid Greek scholarship, nor does it faithfully express the clear intention of the author as we find throughout the rest of the Gospel.

John intended to tell us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John wanted to preach trinitarian theology. He wanted us to see that Jesus is truly God, not allowing for the Arian heresy of denying his deity. John wanted us to see that Jesus, while god, is not all that God is, thus denying the Sabellian heresy or modalism, the false belief that the Father became the Son who became the Spirit and conflating the persons of the godhead. There was only one grammatical method John could use to do this. Had John wanted to call Jesus merely divine, he had other words available for that. But John wanted to say that Jesus exists forever, is with God, and is God., and he did so perfectly.