Christian Contentment

“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me”Philippians 3:10-13

In this passage, Apostle Paul writes to the church which he planted in Philippi and thanks them for their support.  He then lets them in on his secret for contentment whether he has little or more. He says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Here we notice that contentment is a quality that we learn. None of us is naturally born a contented person. Sin has caused our hearts to be dissatisfied all the time. However, the more we grow in our knowledge Christ the more we become contented. Second, notice also that contentment does not always corelate with how much we have. When we have less, we should guard against the discontented spirit which tells us that we will be happy only when we have more. When we have more, we should guard against discontentment which never says “enough” but “more is better.”

Paul further brings us to the secret of contentment in verse 13, “I can do all things through him (Christ) who strengthens me.” Sadly, this is one of the most abused or misunderstood verses in the Bible. I have seen athletes using this verse to mean that they can excel in sports through Christ. I have heard students who are about to write exams quoting this verse and assuring themselves that they will do well in the exams through Christ. Now it is true that without Christ we are nothing (John 15:5). It is also true that athletes and students can do well only if the Lord grants them success. However, the context of this verse has to do with facing plenty or hunger; having things in abundance or lacking things. Paul says he can thrive in any of these situations through Christ who strengthens him. The secret of contentment is Jesus Christ. 

All of us will pass through seasons in which we have more and other seasons in which we have less. How do we remain contented? It is through Christ alone. When we have little, we can be contented by reminding ourselves that even though we might not have some things we want we have the greatest treasure in Jesus Christ. And when we have more, we can also be contented by reminding ourselves that whatever we have in this life cannot be compared to our greatest treasure, Jesus Christ.  Christ reminds us in Luke 12:15 “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Life consists in Christ and not in possessions of this life.

In addition to knowing that Christ is our greatest treasure, we can also be contented in every situation by learning to differentiate between needs and wants. Sadly, many of us confuse the two. We often tend to view our wants as needs.  But needs are those you cannot live without while wants are those you can live without. Food is a need because we cannot live without it. But dining at that fancy restaurant in town is a want.  We can live without ever eating at the fancy restaurant. Charles Spurgeon put it well, “True contentment consists not in the largeness of our possessions, but in the fewness of our wants” The fewer wants we have the more likely we are to be contented in Christ.

Are the Blessings that Unbelievers Enjoy from God Given Through the Holy Spirit?

Emmanuel Okpor from Nigeria writes:

Hello Pastor Confex,

I have a pressing question. We have seen and heard of unbelievers experiencing something of God’s mercy. Things like healing; escaping death by the whiskers; having a premonition of impending doom and being able to make the right decision just in time to escape tragedy and many more. On the positive side, these unbelievers also enjoy success and come up with innovative solutions that alleviate human suffering and make communities healthier and more peaceful.

Sir, will it be correct to say these unbelievers were being led by the Holy Spirit to accomplish these things (even though it is clear from scriptures that they don’t possess the Spirit of Christ)? Yes, God’s mercies extend to them too, but is it through the agency of the Holy Spirit? If not, then what categories are there to help us explain the goodness they experience and express?

Dear Emmanuel,

In answering your question let me start by highlighting that the Bible is clear as you have already pointed out that the Holy Spirit does not indwell unbelievers (John 14:16, 17). Nevertheless, he can still work in them. One work that is clearly explained in the Scriptures is to convict them of sin, righteousness, and judgement (John 16:8).

Now as for unbelievers experiencing God’s blessings like healing, protection, and success in their work or in the world we need to consider God’s grace. The Bible shows us that there are two types of God’s grace. Theologians describe them as God’s common or non-saving grace and Gods’ special or saving grace. God’s common grace is the one he gives even to unbelievers and enables them to enjoy his blessings that are not attached to salvation in Christ. Some examples of these blessings from God’s common grace include sunshine, rain, fruitful seasons, food, God’s kindness and many good things (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17; Luke 6:35; 16:35). I believe we can also add to the list God’s protection, healing, and success as you have mentioned in your question. God’s special grace on the other hand is his saving grace which Paul describes well in Ephesians 2:8, 9 when he writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” 

So according to the Bible, the blessings that unbelievers receive and enjoy in this world are a result of God’s common grace. But the Bible is silent on whether they are given directly through or by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I would not say that they are given through him without any scriptural support. Having said that let me also add this caveat: unbelievers should not be content with God’s common grace. They should cry out to God for his special grace in their lives because the blessings of God’s common grace can become a curse if they blind them to their need for God’s saving grace in Christ. A good example that readily comes to mind is the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21. The rich man was pumped up with worldly blessings and never sought spiritual blessings of salvation in Christ. In the end God called him a fool for he worked so much for the bread that perishes while neglecting the bread of life that lasts forever (John 6:27). He laid up for himself treasure in this world but was not rich toward God (Luke 12:21).

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If you have any question for me, please email it to confex@refomationmalawi.org. With your consent it might be featured in “That’s a Good Question Series.”

The Dark Night of the Soul

The dark night of the soul is a phrase used to refer to the period that a Christian experiences mental, emotional or spiritual anguish. This is a time that a Christian goes through a prolonged period of depression that reduces  him or her to the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. I thought about this phrase this week when I read in the local papers that the Malawi Police reported that 58 people committed suicide in the month of October alone this year. I also thought about all these souls just before they decided to take their own lives. In their own minds they had reached a point beyond hope. They also felt helpless. They were convinced that their darkness would never turn into light. In despair they resolved to end their lives.   

Now I don’t know whether some of them were believers. But I would not be surprised if I learn that some were because as already pointed out even Christians are not immune to dark nights of the soul. One Old Testament believer experienced and expressed it in Psalm 88. This psalm is one of most depressing expressions of despair in the Bible. The psalmist despairs of life as he experiences pain, betrayal, loneliness, and darkness. Unlike all the other psalms of lament which end with praise or expression of hope in God this Psalms begins and ends with gloom.

The Psalmist laments, “My soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength…You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep…my eye grows dim through sorrow” (vv. 3-6). What the psalmist is seeing all around him is darkness and death. He even says it at the end of the psalm that “my companions have become darkness” (v. 18).

The psalmist also feels completely abandoned by God. “But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O LORD why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless” (vv. 13-15). There is no greater agony for the soul and body than to believe that God has forsaken you.

Now, dear Christian, when you go through the dark night of the soul know for sure that you are not alone. Fellow saints before us have gone through similar experiences. More importantly consider Christ who literally went through it too. From Gethsemane sorrows to the three hours of darkness on the Friday afternoon he died (Luke 23:44-49). In the midst of our darkness let’s pray for grace and faith to see the Light of the World, the Lord Jesus Christ. He can never be overcome by darkness no matter how thick it is. But he is also able to sympathize with us having fought and overcome darkness himself as the author of Hebrews testifies, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Apostle Paul further testifies from his own experience that the Lord is able to deliver us from those moments in which we despair of life itself. In 1 Corinthians 2:8-10 he writes, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” 

Sorrows and dark nights are inevitable for various reasons some which are best known by God alone. But deliverance is also guaranteed for those in Christ. May the Lord help us to never believe that our darkness is thicker than the light of the gospel. If you are experiencing a dark night of the soul, please talk to a fellow faithful Christian or a pastor. Some cases of depression might require medical help, never hesitate to seek one when needed.  

My dear unbelieving friend who is feeling hopeless and helpless. You might even be contemplating suicide. Here is hope! The one and only sure and steady anchor in the storms of this life is Jesus Christ. He calls out to all of us who are wearied down by the sorrows and burdens of this life to come and find rest in him. May you not linger. Please talk to any faithful Christian or pastor near you. You may also contact me via this blog.

Is it Unchristian to Withhold Forgiveness to Unrepentant Offender?

(c) shutterstock

The men of our church, Christ Presbyterian Church, meet every other Saturday morning to discuss various biblical and theological topics. A couple of weeks ago we were discussing the biblical topic of forgiveness with guidance from a lecture by the late Dr. R.C Sproul, Dealing with Difficult Problems: Forgiveness. As always it was a wonderful time of studying what God’s word says on the topic as well as the fellowship thereafter.

Most of our discussion centered on whether a Christian should always forgive even when the offender has not repented or apologized for his or her sin. In other words, is it unchristian to not forgive an unrepentant offender? As you might have guessed there were two major positions that the men took. Some argued that as Christians we should always forgive unilaterally (without repentance from the offender). Two passages of Scripture were quoted to support this position. Luke 23:34 in which Jesus Christ prays that the Father would forgive those who are crucifying him, and Acts 7:60 in which Stephen prays a similar prayer for those stoning him to death.

The other men however argued that while Christians can choose to forgive unilaterally the Bible does not command us to do so. A Christian can choose not to forgive until the offender is repentant. A good example is God the Father himself who forgives a sinner only when the sinner has repented of his sin. Also, Luke 17:3 underscores repentance as a necessary condition for forgiveness, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”

I hold to the latter position. However, I need to give two clarifying points. First, there cannot be any debate that the Lord requires Christians to be forgiving people because Christians are forgiven people. The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) clearly drives this point home. So, when an offense is committed against a Christian and the offender comes to ask for forgiveness a Christian has no any other option but to forgive. Second, I also believe in the wisdom of Proverbs 19:11 in which God’s word encourages us to overlook an offense.

However, in cases where it is impossible to overlook an offense the Christian does not have to forgive if the offender is unrepentant. Now this begs the question: if the Christian withholds forgiveness from unrepentant offender won’t he or she be creating a fertile ground for bitterness in his or her own heart which God’s word forbids in Hebrews 12:15? To guard against resentment toward unrepentant offender the Christian needs to observe two steps in forgiveness.  Ken Sande discusses these steps in his book, The Peace Maker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. The first step is having an attitude of forgiveness and the second is granting forgiveness.

Having an attitude of forgiveness means by God’s grace you seek to maintain a loving and merciful attitude toward someone who has offended you. You choose not dwell on the hurtful incident or seek vengeance or retribution in thought, word, or action. Instead, you pray for the other person and stand ready at any moment to pursue complete reconciliation as soon as he or she repents. This attitude protects the Christian from bitterness and resentment, even if the other person takes long time to repent.  The second step of granting actual forgiveness will, of course, require repentance as I have already pointed out.

As to the gracious act of Jesus (Luke 23:34) and Stephen, (Acts 7:60) it is worth noting that both Jesus and Stephen prayed to God the Father that the Father should forgive the people. It was not Jesus or Stephen himself who granted the forgiveness. Similarly, I believe that we should pray that the Lord would enable us to love those who have offended us and also that the Lord may grant them godly sorrow over their sin and a true repentant heart.  

The Church and Politics in Malawi

In less than a year from now, Malawians will go to polls to elect their president, members of parliament, and local government leaders (councilors). As always, some of the questions that Christians have now include should Christians join politics and what role should the church play in regard to politics? In this post, I am wrestling with such questions and endeavoring to give answers that I believe are biblical.

We will do well to begin by reminding ourselves that Christ is the King over all the earth (Col. 3:16, 17). He is the one who removes kings and sets up kings (Dan. 2:21). As one Dutch Reformed theologian once observed, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

Therefore, Christians can and should join politics if the Lord calls them. They should not be afraid to accept the calling believing that politics is a dirty game as it is often said. For sure, politics like any other human institution can be full of sin at times, but Christianity is not Gnosticism, which believes that the matter or the world is evil. Christianity does not minimize the consequences of the fall on human race yet at the same time it is always hopeful of the power of the gospel and the knowledge that Christ is redeeming his creation including the fallen political systems of our world.

The Westminster Confession of Faith best captures the Bible’s teaching about a Christian’s involvement in politics: “It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate (government official or politician), when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion” (Chapter 31.5). Please notice the emphasis here is that Christians who are called into politics are to maintain piety, justice and peace of their country.

But while Christians could be called to serve as politicians, the calling of the church is different. The church is never called into politics. She is called to pray for magistrates and give them godly counsel when needed to but she should never turn the pulpit into a political podium.  (There is a great nuance here since when Christians join politics it could also be said in one sense that the church is in politics. But I believe that you get what I am trying to put across. The separation of the church and state is never absolute because we will always have members of the church who are also members of the state).

Again, the Westminster Confession of Faith is helpful here: “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate” (Chapter 31.5)

It is important to notice that the confession does not completely prohibit the church from petitioning or advising the government. When the civil magistrates have asked the church for advice, the church should do so gladly and dutifully. “The Church and State may co-operate in the advancement of objects common to both; but each of them must be careful to act within its own proper sphere- the one never intermeddling with the affairs which properly belong to the province of the other.”[1] Nonetheless,  the cooperation of the State and the Church must never mean blurring the line that clearly separates the two.

That said, the next question I anticipate is: doesn’t the church ought to have a prophetic voice in society? Certainly, the church has a prophetic voice in any society; but it does not mean that she as an institution should become directly involved in the politics because that is not why Christ established his church. Christ often demonstrated that his mission was to be differentiated from that of the state. For example, Jesus refused a request of a certain man who asked him to mediate between him and his brother regarding their inheritance and specified that he was not a judge of a civil court (Luke 12:13:14). Another example is when Jesus was before Pontius Pilate. Christ refused to associate the Church with the kingdoms of this world when he clearly told Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence,” (John 18:36).

What if the government oppresses its citizenry?  Isn’t the church supposed to defend the poor and vulnerable and even be willing to pick up arms to fight against a wicked state? The Bible calls Christians to obey only the lawful commands of the magistrates. Therefore if the magistrates command what is unlawful, the church ought to stand up and declare as the early church that she will obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). Nevertheless, it’s never the calling of the church to be in forefront picking up arms against the state.

The Reformers, more especially, John Calvin ably discusses how the Church should respond to “wicked and intolerable” governments. He notes that the Church which in this case means members of the visible church (whom Calvin also refers to as private citizens) should never directly pick up arms against the state but rather support other magistrates who after observing the wickedness of their government/leadership have mounted resistance. This teaching is sometimes called the Doctrine of Lesser Magistrates. Calvin writes,

For if there are now any magistrates of the people appointed to restrain the willfulness of kings…I am so far from forbidding them to withstand, in accordance with the duty, the fierce licentiousness of kings, that, if they wink at kings who violently fall upon and assault the lowly common folk, I declare that their dissimulation involves nefarious perfidy, because they dishonestly betray the freedom of the people, of which they know that they have been appointed protectors by God’s ordinance.[2]

The Church is not a lesser magistrate (an opposition party). The lesser magistrates, especially those who are Christians, have a responsibility to restrain the evil of unjust kings over their subjects. In cases where the greater magistrates (governing authorities) are oppressing their citizens, Christians should come behind the lesser magistrates and support, pray, and encourage them in their efforts to curb the evil or injustices from the greater magistrates. All this is to be done within the bounds of the just laws.

[1]Robert Shaw, The Reformed faith: exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith(Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2008), 398.

[2]Calvin,Institutes of the Christian religion.IV.XX.31

A Review of God’s Grace in Your Suffering by David Powlison

Crossway asked me to consider applying and joining their Blog Review Program. I gladly did and was approved hence from time to time you will see or read reviews of their books on this blog. I trust and pray that these reviews will be helpful to you as you consider reading or recommending books. My reviews will focus more on books about Bible studies/devotions, spiritual growth, theology, Christian living, Christian leadership, and pastoral ministry. God’s Grace in Your Suffering by David Powlison is my first review in this program. Crossway has provided me with a complimentary copy of the book.

One wise and godly man once noted that there are always three groups of people in this world. Those who are just coming out of hard times, those who are passing through hard times, and those who are about to enter into hard times. He was very right. We are all acquainted with suffering, pain, sorrow and hardship. None of us is immune to it and God never promises immunity to suffering even for his own children as David Powlison rightly observes at the beginning of his book, God’s Grace in Your Suffering.

However, although God does not guarantee immunity, he does assure and provide his children with grace and help in their suffering. This is the point that Powlison is driving home in his book by answering two key questions: “When you face trouble, loss, disability, and pain, how does the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ meet you and comfort you? How does grace and goodness find you, touch you, work with you, and walk with you through deep waters?”

Powlison ably answers these questions by taking the reader through the verses of that famous hymn which is a favorite to many Christians, “How Firm the Foundation.” As he makes his way through the hymn Powlison also shares his personal experiences of how the truths of the hymn have positively impacted him. Although most words of the hymn are direct quotes from the Scriptures, the book could have failed miserably if it focused on the hymn alone. But I am thankful that Powlison takes us beyond the hymn to the Bible itself and to the Christ of the Bible as the true source of encouragement and comfort in our trials.

Another recommendable thing about God’s Grace in Your Suffering is that it is very practical. Powlison has endeavored to accomplish this by engaging the reader and asking probing questions that enables the reader to apply the truths of Scripture to his own situation. True to its own assertion, this book is a workshop of an afflicted soul.

I think I would be right to say that when passing through hard times one has no time for jargons or hard reading and would greatly appreciate a book that hammers the nail right on its head. Powlison has also managed to do just that in this book. God’s Grace in Your Suffering is an easy reading yet full of profound truths hewn from the ever-trustworthy word of God.

 

Biblical Prophets Vs. Today’s Prophets

A couple of days ago, the social media was awash with a prophecy coming from the West Africa, Nigeria in particular. The so-called Prophet TB Joshua predicted the outcome of USA 2016 Elections. He stated that a female candidate would win. This was a reference to Hilary Clinton. However, come early this morning, the “prophecy” has proved to be another false prediction.

Now this is not the first time that prophets in my beautiful and beloved continent have predicted falsely. They are a number of instances that can be cited, but that is beside the point of this post. I am writing mainly to express my concern over some people’s unhealthy fascination with prophets.

Prophets have become so popular in Africa that they are regarded as semi-gods, which is certainly against the Second Commandment. Prophets have also become the elite and one of rich groups of people, monetary wise, at the expense of their poor followers. But this is very different from the picture we see of Biblical prophets both in the Old and New Testament.

The Biblical prophets were often unpopular. Their message was very offensive to those rebelling against God. The Biblical prophets were not crowd-pullers as our “prophets” today. They were not business magnets as the prophets our time. When one was called to be a prophet in the Bible, it often meant putting your life in the harm’s way.

While it was not all glamour and glitter for the Biblical prophets, it’s all a bed of roses for the contemporary “prophets.” The biographies of modern “prophets” stand in sharp contrast to the biographies of Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and John the Baptist just to mention a few examples.

Looking at this fact, one thing is certain: the prophets like those in the Bible no longer exist. Without repeating what I have stated again and again, the ultimate fulfiment of the office of Biblical prophets is found in Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus Christ is the Prophet par excellence. He is the only prophet we need today. In fact, he is not only the Prophet but also the Priest and King forever.

Now back to the prophecy of TB Joshua. His so-called prophecy should bring to mind Deuteronomy 18:20-22:

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’  And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’ when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

Now we know how we should respond to TB Joshua and all the so-called prophets.

Happy 499th Reformation Day!

Happy Reformation Day!

Today we celebrate 499 years since the Protestant Reformation began. We need to thank the Lord for his faithfulness and goodness to his church.

As I was reflecting on the Reformation, I thought of the common saying, “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (latin for “the church reformed, always reforming”). No doubt this one of the abused sayings in the Church today. Often it has been used to argue that the church needs to keep reforming or changing according to times.

For instance, I heard one arguing for female leadership in the church basing on the phrase. The argument went something like this: the church has been led by male leadership over the centuries, but now it’s time to embrace female leadership because the Church is reformed and always reforming.

What an abuse of this well-meaning phrase. The Church does not reform with times, it reforms with the word. Christ reforms his Church by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word. Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei (the church reformed, always reforming according to the Word of God).

When the Old Testament church was deformed, God used the word to reform it (Nehemiah 8). The Pharisees also deformed the Church with their man made rules and Christ used the word to reform it (Matt. 5:17-20). The same thing happened in the 16th Century. God used his Word to Reform his Church. Reformation without the word is not Reformation at all. If the church is reforming without the Word, it is actually deforming.

Happy Reformation with the Word!

Malawian Presbyterianism: Are We Standing or Falling like PCUSA?

My fellow Presbyterians in Malawi,

Last Thursday, (June 19, 2014), the Presbyterian Church of United States of America (PCUSA) passed a resolution to allow gays or lesbians to marry in church. Now, this has shocked some but I am not really shocked. Why? Because this is just one of the fruits of steps that were taken many years ago beginning from 1920s.

PCUSA through the Auburn Affirmation in 1920s rejected that the Bible is without error (inerrancy of Scripture), the virgin birth of Jesus and his deity, that Christ died on behalf of sinners (substitutionary atonement), bodily resurrection of Christ and authenticity of Christ’s miracles. Jesus’ miracles were said to be myths. The Auburn Confession also declared that Presbyterians in PCUSA must:

• “safeguard liberty of thought and teaching of its ministers”;
• prohibit the restricting of church teaching to rigid interpretations of Scripture and doctrine; and
• refuse to rank ecclesiastical authority or the authority of the Bible above that of the individual Spirit-led conscience. (In other words, man can decide what or what not to believe in the Bible). (http://www.layman.org/Files/how-we-got-here-updated.pdfhttp://www.layman.org/Files/how-we-got-here-updated.pdf).

This declaration led to many things like increased focus on social justice to the extent that salvation, in some cases, is viewed as a mere liberation from poverty and social injustice. This focus on social justice and human rights also led to less emphasis in following the Bible when it comes to the ordination of who is to be a deacon, an elder or a pastor in the church as outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.

From 1990s to date, PCUSA among other things has accepted that gays or lesbians can be members of the church, pastors and elders or deacons and a few days ago it has accepted that gays or lesbians can officially marry in church. Marriage is now no longer between a man and a woman but between “two people.”

Now, we might look at PCUSA and think, “That’s America, it will never happen to the Presbyterianism in Malawi. But “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,” (1 Cor. 10:12). The Presbyterian Church in Malawi partners with PCUSA in a number of areas. A good number of PCUSA congregations also have exchange visits with Presbyterian congregations in Malawi.

I wonder and fear if PCUSA will not influence our Presbyterian church or if it has not already influenced it somehow  knowing that bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33). These are my concerns and fears. I believe that all of us including our leaders should ponder on these things lest some years from now, we will also find ourselves in the same place where PCUSA is now.

Thanks for reading. May the Good Lord bless you as you reflect on this post and search the Scriptures to ascertain if these things are so (Acts 17:11).

 

The Bible is The Gospel.

Recently on Facebook, I was involved in a discussion with a friend who argued that the Gospel is different from the Bible. He defined the Bible as the books written by holy men under the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that what they wrote may be trusted and obeyed as God’s Word. On the other hand, the gospel is the news that God who created heavens and earth came into the world as human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to suffer full punishment and eternal death on behalf of sinners so that they can be forgiven and have eternal life and live in righteousness free from sin and its effects.

He then argued that the Church should focus more on the Gospel  because one can be saved without the Bible but not without the Gospel. I should say, here, that the debate involved lengthy writings which I am unable to include into this article but the above summary really sums up the main argument of my friend.

The Bible is the gospel and the gospel is the Bible. The terms “Gospel” and “Bible” are synonyms. At the center of the Bible or the gospel is Jesus or to borrow the words of Sinclair Ferguson, “Jesus is the heart of the entire Bible.” However, I have often noted that some easily see the gospel in the New Testament more than in the Old Testament.  In this article, therefore, I will endeavor to show the gospel in the Old Testament and by doing that  prove that the entire Bible is the gospel hence we cannot distinguish the gospel from the Bible.

 First, let’s turn to Christ himself who clearly taught that the Old Testament is the gospel.  In Luke 24, Jesus was speaking to his two unbelieving and fearful disciples, Cleopas and his friend, on the walk to Emmaus and the passage states that Christ used the Old Testament to explain the gospel to his disciples.  “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” (Luke 24:27). Please note very well that “Scriptures” in the verse refer to the Old Testament since by this time the New Testament Canon was not yet complete.

 Later Jesus appeared to the eleven Apostles and rebuked them for their lack of faith and said to them: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled,” (Luke 24:44). Then please note carefully again what Christ says regarding the Old Testament Scriptures in Luke 24:46-47: “Thus it is written that, the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Pause for a moment! Is this not the gospel? And where is it found? Right there in the Old Testament. 

Jesus here is showing us that the “gospel” which my friend described as Christ’s  work of saving sinners and enabling them to live a life of righteousness is found from Genesis to Revelation (now that the New Testament Canon is complete). From the first book of the Bible to the sixty-sixth one, salvation from sin and eternal life of righteousness in Christ is the main teaching, especially, after the fall. 

Secondly, we have a first presentation of the gospel in Genesis 3:15.  God speaks to the Satan in the form of serpent that led our first parents into sin and says: “And I will put enmity between thee (serpent) and the woman (Eve), and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and though shall bruise his heel.” Theologians and Bible Scholars have called this passage “protovangelion” a Greek word for “the first proclamation of the gospel.” From this passage up to Revelation 22:21, the message of the Bible is the gospel that Christ will and has crushed the head of Satan and overcome death and  sin that once conquered our first parents in the Garden of Eden and the fallen man can now live abundant life  in Christ. Jonathan Edwards puts it better when he writes:  

Christ and his redemption are also the great subject of the history of the Old Testament from the beginning all along; and even the history of creation is brought in as an introduction to the history of redemption that immediately follows it. The whole book, both the Old Testament and New, is filled up with the gospel; only with this difference that the Old Testament contains the gospel under a veil, but the New contains it unveiled, so that we may see the glory of the Lord with open face. (The History of Redemption (Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers and Authors Inc.) 164-165).

Thirdly, the fact that the gospel runs throughout the Bible is further confirmed in the fact that the Old Testaments saints were saved through faith in Christ just as we are.  For instance, Abraham, way back in Genesis, was justified by faith in Christ (Romans 4) and in Galatians 3:15, Apostle Paul tells us that Abraham believed because the Gospel was preached to him. Where was the gospel preached to him? Right there in the Old Testament. John Calvin has expounded this truth better and said:

“The old covenant fathers, who were formerly regenerated, obtained this favor through Christ, so that we may say, that it was as it were transferred to them from another source. The power, then, to penetrate into the heart was not inherent in the law, but it was a benefit transferred to the law from the gospel. (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations (Grand Rapids, 1950), 4:131).

When you and I open our Bibles, all we ought to see is Jesus because he is the center of the Bible. Jesus is the center of gospel. There is no way one can read the Bible or the Word of God without seeing Jesus on every page because Jesus is the Word (John 1:1-5). Therefore, the gospel and the Bible are not two different things but one. These two words are synonyms and it is impossible to distinguish them. The Old Testament is the Gospel pointing us towards Christ while the New Testament is the Gospel pointing us back to Christ. Both the Old and the New Testaments are the gospel.

Postscript: Heidelberg Catechism  Answer to  Question 19 also clarify that the gospel and the Bible are one thing:

God began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise (Gen. 3:15); later God proclaimed it by the holy patriarchs (Gen. 22:18; 49:10) and prophets (Isa. 53; Jer. 23:5-6; Mic. 7:18-20; Acts 10:43; Heb. 1:1-2)  and foreshadowed it by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; (Lev. 1-7; John 5:46; Heb. 10:1-10and finally God fulfilled it through his own beloved Son (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 4:4-5; Col. 2:17).