No condemnation for those in Christ Jesus

The title of this short post comes from Romans Chapter 8, which follows Paul’s discussion of the struggles that Christians have with remaining sin. In chapter 7, Christians acknowledge that the Law of God (summarised in the 10 Commandments) is good, holy, just and spiritual, but Christians see that they are still not living consistently with this good law. They do not do what they now want to do, but do the things that they now do not want to do. After describing this tension, Paul (at the end of Chapter 7) points Christians again to Jesus Christ, who alone is their hope. Chapter 8 continues with an explanation.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was unable to do, in that it was weak on account of the flesh, God did. He sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and concerning sin condemned sin in the flesh so that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh regard the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. In fact, the mind of the flesh is enmity toward God. For it does not submit to the law of God, for it is not able. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

This is Paul’s (and the Spirit’s) reassurance that Christians — those who are born again (live by the Spirit) — are not condemned even though they have remaining sin in their lives They are sinner-saints. To walk (live) according to the Spirit is to be a saved person. They certainly have new attitudes and behaviours, but the main point is that they trust Christ as the one who has, on our behalf, met the righteous requirements of the law. To walk according to the flesh is to remain a non-Christian and to retain that position of rebellion and enmity toward God and Christ. For the Christian, remaining sinfulness is to be fought against, but it cannot condemn or separate the Christian from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 91

This Psalm is about God’s favour and protection toward a particular individual. The Psalm is addressed to a solitary male person. This favour and protection comes to that person in a confessedly dangerous world. All sorts of things threaten this individual’s life – disease, secret enemies, open war.

The Most High, the God of heaven and earth, pledges his safety, and the human being described here trusts God in the midst of great danger and risk. This person will pass through it all safely.

This is not a Psalm by a crazy person who has no grip on reality. This Psalm tells it like it is. It is our job to think carefully about the promises made here and to understand them in the light of all that the Bible tells us.

The key to this Psalm is the first verse. The Psalmist says this:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, will abide in under the shadow of the Almighty.

The word ‘secret place’ or ‘shelter’ suggests a hiding place, and safe haven, one that is not known or understood by the enemy.  Again, the word ‘shadow’ implies protection. If the Almighty is covering you, you are safe.

Looking at the situation in another way, one may say that the safety experienced by this person is a cause of wonder and confusion to his enemies.

  • How can this person be calm in such situations?
  • How can this person remain alive in such situations?

Let me say up front that the only way a person can be safe like this is if that person is in a good relationship with God. To be in a good relationship with God, one must be completely free of sin.

Our God, we are told, loves the righteous but hates the wicked (Ps 11:5 and 7).

That would seem to place people like us in a very uncomfortable place. We are not good people. We have broken God’s law. We have sinned.

So, is God making fun of us in this Psalm?

No. The one that this Psalm refers to, that particular individual, is our Lord Jesus Christ.

He is the good man who is under the special protection of the Almighty, and He is the hope of sinners. This Psalm is pointing us to Christ. And because it points us to Christ, it makes clear that this Psalm is not promising a trouble-free life here and now.

Some well-meaning but mistaken Christians will tell you that for the Christian, faith will remove all our problems in this present world. No money problems, no health issues, no family break down, no worries. They might also tell you that, if you suffer any of these things, there is something wrong with your faith.

But, if I am correct in saying that Jesus is the person referred to in this Psalm, then this idea — that the truly faithful person is trouble-free in this life — must be regarded as non-sense.

Verse 2 says (and it is ultimately our Lord Jesus speaking)

I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust!’

Jesus Christ perfectly trusted his father. He perfectly obeyed as man. This was one of the reasons why Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became a human being. So he could live a truly good life to replace our bad lives. But he came to do more.

Jesus, the perfectly good and faithful Son of God, suffered in this life more than any other human being. He was betrayed; he was beaten, he was deprived of justice, he was nailed to a Roman cross and he died. All this happened to the good and faithful Jesus.

If anyone were to receive the absolute protection promised in this Psalm, it would have been Jesus.

The point of the Psalm is that Jesus really did receive that absolute protection.  But is was hidden from the sight of his enemies. They thought that God had abandoned Jesus. They thought that all the things that Jesus suffered proved that God did not love him.

But they were wrong. Let’s look at v. 3-4

For He (the LORD) delivers you from the trap of the trapper, and from the deadly pestilence (disease). He will cover you with His feathers, and you will trust under His wings. His truth is a shield and buckler.

Jesus was betrayed, he suffered and died, but God raised Jesus from the dead because Jesus really was good. Ultimately, none of the things that Jesus suffered changed his relationship with his father. Through all that suffering Jesus knew that God was with him.

How did Jesus know this? Because none of the things he suffered was a surprise to him (Isaiah 53 and Ps 16). Jesus came to suffer and die and rise again for the salvation of his people according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15).

Now Jesus is alive and free of suffering forever.

But what about the feathers? Remember the secret place. There was in the old testament system, a very secret place in the temple. In this secret place was a gold covered box, and at each end of that box were statues of two angels. The wings of these angels overshadowed a plate on the top of the box, and the plate was called the mercy-seat.

On a special day, once a year, the high priest would take the blood of a bull that had been killed and sprinkle that blood over the mercy-seat under the wings. This was to symbolise the fact that God forgives sins by means of the death of a substitute. The bull was regarded as dying in the place of people who deserved to die.

This was done in secret. None but the high priest could go into the secret place, and he could only go there once a year and he had to go with the blood of the substitute or he would die.

The people of God knew about this symbolic act only because of the description of it in the writings of Moses. It was the word of God that told them of their defence – the sacrifice for sin that set them free from the death that they deserved.

The temple act foretold of the work of Jesus Christ.

The innocent bull that was killed pointed to the innocent Jesus who would die for his people. The mercy-seat indicated the propitiation of the sins of God’s people — that the death of Jesus did all that was necessary to deal with sin and its just punishment. It indicated that peace with God is restored, and righteousness imputed to the sinner.

The mercy-seat, under the wings of the angels, was that safe, secret place. Just as the work of Jesus assures those who trust him, that their sins are forgiven and they are regarded by God to be good people.

Those who trust Jesus are under his absolute protection. Nothing that happens to a Christian in this life, whether it is sickness, poverty, war, famine, the attack of secret enemies, can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8).

Christians suffer all the common ills that come from living in a world blighted by sin. But we have a sure and perfect protection in Christ. He will keep his children until they meet him in heaven. When Christians die, they die in the knowledge that Jesus will raise them to life on the day of Judgment and declare them not guilty.

This hidden, unseen protection is for those who trust Jesus, vs. 5-8:

You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; of the pestilence that walks in the darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right-hand; but it will not approach you. You will look on with your eyes, and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because Christ has saved forever those who come to him by faith, Christians can meet and endure the troubles of this life with confidence. We might lose everything here and now and know that we are kept by Jesus for a good eternity. Paul says that the sufferings of this present age cannot compare to the good that God has in store for his people (Rom. 8:18).

But this safety only comes to a person on God’s terms.

Christ will protect his people, but He will also see the recompense – the judgment  — of his enemies. Those who do not trust Christ will fall on the day of Judgment. To face God without the righteousness of Christ is to be condemned for sin and to receive recompense, that is, the punishment that sinners deserve for their sin – eternal separation from God’s favourable presence.

But, if you trust the Lord Jesus Christ there is certain hope, v.10:

For you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, you dwelling place, no evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent.

Because of Christ, those who trust him may regard these promises as coming to themselves.

This is perfectly reasonable because Jesus is both God and man. As God he is the LORD, and as man he became the propitiation for our sins. As God and man he is the saviour of his people.

As we trust Jesus we enter the secret place of the most High, and come under the shadow of the Almighty.

If anyone trusts Jesus Christ, that person is regarded by God as a righteous person simply because of Christ. Christ has established for them a new relationship with God.

Jesus Christ is the secret place of safety for Christians.

Just so that we will remember it, the Psalmist repeats the reason for the Christian’s hope in versus 11-13:

For He (the LORD) will give his angels charge concerning you, to keep you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike you foot against a stone.You will tread upon the lion and snake, the young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

These verses do not mean that the Christian becomes a super hero. They refer to the work of Christ for the Christian.

You might recall that the Devil, in his tempting of the Lord Jesus, quoted part of this Psalm. He tried to make Jesus to do something foolish. That attempt failed, but what Jesus came to do did not fail. He came to deal with a snake and a lion.

In Genesis 3:15, after Adam had disobeyed and brought sin and death upon himself and the world, God promised a saviour who would crush the head of the Devil (who had taken the form of a snake) yet he would wound his own heel in the possess.

The idea is that when Jesus came to live and die and rise for the salvation of his people, at the same time he destroyed the work of the evil one. When Jesus died on the cross, and rose again, he crushed the head of Satan. He defeated both Satan and death.

Peter refers to the Devil as a Lion, prowling and seeking whom he might eat. For the Christian, the Devil is a beaten enemy. Satan cannot break the relationship that Jesus has established between himself and the Christian. Because Jesus died and rose, every Christian is eternally safe.

This is confirmed in the last few verses:

Because he (Jesus) has loved me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known my name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him, and let him behold my salvation.

Only Jesus has lived the perfectly good life, and he alone faithfully and fully relied upon his Heavenly Father. He deserved to be honoured by the Father, and, after he suffered for the sins of his people, he deserved to be raised from the dead. He has, as man, un-losable eternal life.

The Lord Jesus did all that he did, and suffered all that he suffered, to bring sinners like us back to  God. As a person trusts Jesus Christ, the secret safety — the presently unseen safety — belongs to that person.

To be in Christ is to be in the secret place of the Most High, and to be under the protection of the Almighty.

Are you afraid of life? Are you afraid of death?

Coming to Jesus won’t make your life trouble-free here and now.

As a Christian you might suffer more than the common troubles of life, but Christ has promised that there is plenty of space in his father’s house. He has prepared a place for any who will come to him. If it were not so, he would have told us.

If you trust yourself to Christ you might suffer the loss of all sorts of things, but you will never be separated from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. With him is eternal life.

“Judaizing” in the church

Paul warned the Galatian church against judaizing (Gal. 2:14), that is, the adopting of Old Testament Jewish practices, whether willingly or by force. This was not a racist warning, as Paul himself was an Israelite. The truth of the Gospel was at stake. Those Old Testament practices were suitable for the time before the coming of Christ. They acted as a tutor to a church under age (Gal. 3:24), and they pointed to the Saviour to come. But, when Christ finished his work of redemption, these practices were abolished. The issue with the Galatians was primarily circumcision. Paul said that if they adopted circumcision, they were bound to keep the whole ceremonial law (Gal. 5:3). Paul said, ‘Don’t do it!’  Christ has come and fulfilled those shadows.

Well, you might say, we don’t do circumcision as a religious thing in our Christian Churches. That’s fine, but how does this sound? For its first 18 centuries, the western church – with one significant exception – had seen the use of musical instruments in public worship as judaizing.

This is the Biblical picture. God established the use of musical instruments in temple worship in King David’s day (1 Chron. 16:4-5, 23:5, 25:1-7). The Levites alone were appointed to do this temple work (2 Chron. 8:14-15, 29:25, 30:21 & 35:15). After the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the temple worship was abolished. The letter to the Hebrews explains why the Levitical service had to end (Hebrews 7:12-16). There is now no valid use for a Levitical priesthood or its services in the Christian Church. When the Levitical priesthood was abolished, so was the use of musical instruments in public worship.

This is why there is no evidence for the use of musical instruments in the New Testament church. Read the apostles’ letters to the churches. There is no mention of instrumental music in association with church gatherings. The singing of Psalms is to be accompanied by melody made in the heart (Eph. 5:19). The only mention of musical accompaniment to worship is in the Book of Revelation (5:8), but its apocalyptic language and its temple imagery are no safe guides to New Testament church practice. The absence of any mention of musicians in respect of church worship – while administrators as well as pastors and teachers are spoken of (1 Cor. 12:28) – strongly suggests that musicians had no role in New Testament worship.

A further thing to consider is that western church history gives no instance of musical instruments in public worship until about AD 800 (a singular case), and the wide use of them is only attested from about AD 1300 (1). Before the 14th century, the western church had consistently regarded the use of musical instruments in public worship as judaizing. Furthermore, it appears that Greek Orthodox Church never has used musical instruments in worship (2).

Clement of Alexandria (3rd century) wrote that ‘the tongue is the psaltery of the Lord’ and ‘we no longer use the ancient psaltery, and trumpet, and timbrel and flute’ (3). Basil (4th century) had no time for musical instruments. Commenting on Ps 33:2, Basil interpreted the lyre as the Christian’s body, by which the Lord is to be praised, and the ten-stringed harp as representing the Ten Commandments, which Christians are to obey in the newness of the Spirit (4). Again, writing on Isaiah 5:12, Basil referred disparagingly of musical instruments, and noted that the end of such things is destruction (5). Chrysostom (4th century) commented on Ps. 149 and 143, saying that ‘musical instruments were only permitted to the Jews’, like the sacrifices, but ‘now, instead of organs, Christians must use the body [e.g. their good deeds] to praise God.’ He explicitly said that musical instruments were suitable only for the ‘child’ phase of the church (6). Augustine (4th century) also said that the instruments had only symbolic meaning for the Christian church. The church was not to use a literal ten-stringed harp as if it were a theatre, but was rather to show its love for the Saviour by keeping the Ten Commandments (7).

Thomas Aquinas (13th century) wrote that ‘the church does not use musical instruments to praise God, lest she should seem to judaize’ (8). In the early 16th century, Erasmus wrote of the babble of musical instruments that intruded upon the church services in his day, making the church look and sound like a theatre (9). At the reformation, musical instruments were removed from the reformed churches for biblical reasons. John Calvin regarded the use of musical instruments as wholly an Old Testament thing. It would, he argued, ‘bury the light of the Gospel, should we introduce the shadows of a departed dispensation’. (10). Even the Church of England, during the 16th century, ceased to employ musical instruments in worship and published a homily to explain why this was a blessing (11). John Willison, a Scottish Presbyterian, wrote in 1744 that the church was committed — among other things — to resisting the ‘Popish’ practice of using musical instruments in the public worship of God (12).

I offer this historical meander simply to show that the biblical teaching — that using instrumental music in public worship is judaizing — is not merely the result of post-reformation protestant prejudice.  Clement, Basil, Chrysostom, Augustine and Aquinas all wrote before the Reformation, and Erasmus was certainly not a rabid reformer.

The biblical teaching had been recognised in the west for about 18 centuries. The change that occurred in protestantism during the 19th century was not the result of faithful Bible teaching. It came at a time when the church’s confidence in the Scriptures was in decline. After the introduction of musical instruments, generations of Christians have grown up with the practice, and now even people with real confidence in the Bible accept this practice without question.

Paul said that the Christian church is not to judaize. The church to which I belong says plainly in its Confession of Faith that nothing is to be introduced into the worship of God except that which God has prescribed in the Bible (WCF 21:1). We most certainly are not to do what God forbids. The use of instrumental music was a Levitical and thus temporary feature of temple worship. It is now abolished along with circumcision and animal sacrifices. To continue to use these Old Testament shadows is to cloud the fact that Christ has come to bring salvation. That was part of Paul’s burden when he wrote to the Galatians urging them not to judaize (Gal. 2:14 and Gal. 3:23-25). Christ has come, and we have no further use for a school-master. I suggest, therefore, that the modern Church needs to reconsider its ways.

Notes:

  1. http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/when-did-churches-start-using-instrumental-music.html (accessed 1 June 2016)
  2. https://oca.org/questions/parishlife/musical-instruments (accessed 3 June 2016)
  3. Clement https://archive.org/details/writingsofclemen01clem p. 216.
  4. Basil, https://archive.org/details/p1operaomniaquae01basiuoft, pp. 285-287.
  5. Basil, https://archive.org/details/operaselecta01basi pp. 534 & 536.
  6. Chrysostom, https://archive.org/details/operaomniaquaeex05johnuoft pp. 601, 604 & 560.
  7. Augustine, https://archive.org/details/expositionsonboo01auguuoft pp. 311-313.
  8. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, [II-II, Q. 91, Art. 2]. See Objection 4 and Reply. https://ia600200.us.archive.org/34/items/summatheologicap18755gut/18755.txt
  9. Erasmus, Opus Omnia Tom V. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=VwnU9rhV3sMC&pg=PR58&lpg=PR58&dq#v=onepage&q&f=false pp. 731-732.
  10. See Calvin on Psalm 92:3, The Ages Digital Library Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 2, p. 179.
  11. Homilies (Oxford, 1802), pp. 293-294. https://archive.org/stream/sermonsorhomilie0a0chur#page/292/mode/2up
  12. John Wilison, https://archive.org/details/fairimpartialtes00will p.189.

1 Timothy chapter 1

The first letter to Timothy gives the Apostle Paul’s instructions to a young pastor. Timothy’s job was to teach people the gospel and urge people to trust Jesus Christ and live thankful lives in obedience to the one who rescued them from sin and death.

In reminding Timothy of his responsibilities, Paul first deals with false ideas that must be corrected.

These false ideas embolden people to abandon the good news (and so becoming ‘shipwrecked’), and instead to trust in their pedigree or their keeping of God’s law. This is why Paul refers to the vanity of genealogies (my mum/dad was so-and-so, and so I’m fine) and the unlawful use of the law (I did such-and-such, and so I’m fine).

Paul indicates that the law is not for good people, because the only person whose whole life may be called ‘good’ is our Lord Jesus Christ. The law is for bad people like us.

Paul then gives a list of bad behaviour of which the law is intended to convict us. We need to know our ‘bad’ before we can see the ‘good’ in the gospel.

In this list, Paul identifies bad attitudes and actions: disrespect for God, lack of submission to him, slanderous talk, murder of parents (the extreme end of ‘not honouring’), sexual sins, kidnapping, lying and the rest.

Paul says that church people who are indulging any of these sorts of sins are acting against pure teaching. That is, either they do not really believe that the law applies to them, or that they think God’s free mercy in Christ is a licence to do any wicked thing that they might wish.

In opposition to this, Paul says that God’s mercy to bad people like him (Paul called himself the ‘chief of sinners’) creates real changes in the attitudes and behaviours of those who are in Christ. While we are still sinners, we become saints by the new birth. We should be people who keep confessing and turning from our sins, not people who glory in our sins.

If the Lord Jesus Christ, who became a man to live a truly good life to replace our bad lives, to die in order to take responsibility for our sin, and to rise to give us righteousness so that we are pleasing to God — if Christ did all that for us, and we know it — then our lives ought to be conformed more and more to his pattern. He saves bad people that they might do good in this world for his glory.

As Paul writes elsewhere, there is no room for Christian boasting, except boasting of Christ and his doing, dying and rising for us. Timothy’s job was to remind church people of these things.

Finding the day for Easter?

It is reported that the disagreement between the eastern and western traditions of the Christian Church (regarding the right way of finding the true day upon which to celebrate Easter) is soon to be settled.

When I read this I was immediately reminded of a comment of an old Free Church (Presbyterian) theologian, who, having explained the grounds for the dispute over the day, finished the matter with the following comment:

“the truth all the while being, as we are firmly persuaded, that [the apostles] John and Peter and Paul did not keep Easter on any day, any more than we do.” (William Cunningham, Theological Lectures, p.488)

Meaning that the old school Presbyterians held firmly to the Biblical principle of observing in the worship of God only those things explicitly required in the Scripture. To do otherwise was to surrender the authority of Scripture to human tradition.

 

The sword of the state

Let every soul submit to the ruling authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the existing authorities are by God’s appointment. So that the one who resists authority resists that appointment of God. Those who set themselves against it shall receive judgment. For rulers are not a fear to good deeds, but to evil deeds. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have its praise. For it is the servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, fear! For it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant, an avenger of wrath to the one practicing evil. (Romans 13:1-4)

We don’t live in a nice world. Human sin has messed it up. In Romans, the apostle Paul tells what God did in Christ for his enemies. He lived a good life to replace the bad lives of his people, he died for the sins of his people and then rose from the dead to show that the judgment against those sins is finished. This work of Jesus reconciles people to God. By trusting Jesus Christ, we can know that we have peace with God. This is good news.

Yet, we still live in a messy world. In Chapter 13, Paul indicates that we should be thankful for civil governments. Their job is to restrain human evil as it manifests itself in violent crimes and war. According to the Bible, it is quite appropriate for civil governments to protect their people by dealing with those who threaten them.

The apostle Paul said that the state does not hold the sword in vain. The civil state is the servant of God. Its sword is for the protection of those who do good and for the fear of those who do evil.

Now the word ‘sword’ may include such things as fines for speeding or drink-driving, and having your driver’s licence cancelled. But, the use of the sword also implies that deadly force might justly be used in the work of protecting and punishing. In fact, the state has a God-given responsibility to use the sword in times of war or terror to protect its people from attack and to deal with those who do the attacking.

As individual Christians we are to love our enemies and tell them the good news of Jesus Christ; as a church we are to love our enemies and tell them the good news of Jesus Christ, but the state has the responsibility to protect and punish. Christians are not to hinder, but rather to encourage and pray for the state as it tries to fulfil that God-given responsibility.

The Message of the Cross — 1 Corinthians 1: 17-25

Is the Gospel lame nonsense? Does it need help from clever, well-connected people to do its work?

No. In this passage the apostle is in fact asserting the absolute sufficiency of the gospel message to do the work of building the church.

So why does Paul talk about the gospel, and gospel preaching, as foolishness?

Paul has to deal with one of the many problems that the Corinthians were happily creating for themselves. In too many ways these people, whom the apostle loved, were seriously out of control. They knew the gospel, but their mistaken views of the liberty that the gospel brings was weakening their church and their church’s witness.

At Corinth, divisions, boastful immorality, disdain for fellow believers, and spiritual pride were tearing the church apart. Paul begins in these verses to deal with their pride.

Firstly he brushes aside water baptism. He did not belittle the sacrament, far from it. But some people, it seems, were engaging in one-up-man-ship. The more important the baptiser, the more important the baptised, or so they claimed.

Paul had no interest in playing such games. He had not been sent to make water baptism the big issue, but rather to preach the gospel. It is not water baptism that determines a person’s place in the kingdom, but the gospel work of Jesus Christ.

The gospel is the great leveller. We all had rebelled against our creator and are all worthy of nothing except condemnation. Every Christian was once dead in trespasses and sins–without God and without hope in the world.

We were lost and would have perished in our sins, but it pleased God to save. God saved, not by sending an instruction book for self-improvement, but by sending his only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who for the salvation of his people, was born a human being, lived a perfectly good life to replace the bad lives of his people, and he died taking responsibility for the sins of his people. He rose to life again to give eternal life to his people.

Having done all that, he then gives repentance and faith to these people in order to ensure that they would trust him and be justified before God.

Nothing was left to chance; nothing was left for our sinful selves to achieve. Salvation comes to sinful people by the love of God, through the work of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The gospel excludes boasting — unless it is boasting in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why Paul says that Christ sent him to make the gospel known, not in the wisdom of mere human reasoning, less the cross of Christ be made void,… of no effect,… empty.

There is a form of ‘wisdom’ that would make the gospel empty. Paul is not against preachers using their brains. He is not against carefully and prayerfully prepared sermons.

Paul is not against a thorough academic training for preachers. The ‘wisdom of reasoning’ that he rejects is that sort of reasoning that people value when they do not trust Jesus Christ.

As he writes:

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.

The problem of evangelism is not the intellectual quality of the message. It is not the fact that the message is really foolish. The problem of evangelism is the un-renewed minds of those who hear the message.

Paul later refers to this situation when he says that the unregenerate mind is at war with God (1 Cor. 2:14), and cannot and will not receive the gospel because the gospel is only accepted by a sinner when the Spirit of God changes the heart and mind of that sinner.

When this work of grace — this work of regeneration — comes to a sinner, they have the saving work of Christ applied to them. God accepts Christ’s death as their death, his good life a replacement for their bad life, and Christ’s resurrection ensures that they will a raised from the dead and acquitted on the day of judgment.

This is very important. We do not fix the problem of unbelief by trying to make the gospel more appealing to the mind of the unbeliever. We are not to force the message of the church to the mould of the world.

That would be to empty out the message of the cross of Christ. We cannot make the gospel more acceptable to the non-Christian by our clever ideas to improve the message, because the cross of Christ is necessarily offensive to anyone who is not born again. Any change we make to the message empties it.

Now, this was the trap into which the church at Corinth was in danger of falling.

Many in Corinth at that time thought the message of Jesus was too bland, too plain, too last week (compare 1 Cor. 10:7-10). They wanted the message of the church to be intellectually impressive for the outsider. They wanted it to fit the spirit of their age.

Now, this is a very different attitude to that of Paul when he says that he becomes all things to all men (1 Cor. 9) . Paul worked hard to understand the people to whom he took the gospel. His approach in presenting the gospel might vary according to the background of the people he met. But the gospel message he did not change at all.

Presbyterianism has experienced this gospel-emptying unfaithfulness in its own history. Many Presbyterian churches in the past have become Unitarian through their accommodation to the wisdom of the age. How did this happen?

After the gospel had brought salvation to sinners, it also began the work of conforming people to the mind of Christ. Over the years, public morals were improved, and good morals were encouraged. When moral people saw the difference between themselves (good Presbyterians) and the less moral, they begin to think that they were not the ones who needed Jesus as saviour but only needed to follow him as an example. With the growth of education (Presbyterians love education) they also began to doubt miracles as a hangover from a less informed, superstitious age.

The result was that they no longer saw the need for a saviour who is both God and man, neither did they see a need for his substitutionary death, nor his rising from the dead to deal with sin. The Corinthians were heading this way as 1 Cor. 15 suggests.

The Church of England also suffered from this attitude in the nineteenth century. The Rev. Frederick William Robertson hated the gospel of Jesus. He worked hard to empty the cross of Christ. He spoke on this passage in July 1851 and did so in order to conceal the message of the cross. He taught from this passage that Jesus is our human example, and a human example is better than impersonal signs and abstract philosophies. That’s all.

So Paul attacked this gospel-emptying-attitude with ironic force. He uses the words ‘wise’ and ‘foolish’, ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ to convey deliberately opposite meanings.

Where is the wise, where is the scribe, where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of world. For by the wisdom of God, the world by its wisdom did not know God, but it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.

The wisdom of this age is foolishness. Scholars are pretty good at describing the disaster of the human condition, but they have no real idea of its origin or its cure.

  • Psychology tell sufferers to stop believing the lies that they tell themselves, and to believe the lies that the psychologist tells them instead.
  • World religions, even some that go under the name of Christian, offer programs for self-improvement (life is suffering, suffering comes from desire, reduce desire) or promote the benefits of community support.
  • Some scientists tells us that life came about by a process of time and chance and that all human emotions, human will and human development came as a result of environmental conditioning and chemical reactions.
  • Some educationists claim that, if people are sufficiently informed about drug use, or domestic violence, or sexually transmitted diseases, then all will be well.

Every failure of these sorts of programs is met with calls for more money for further research and education.

All human programs for self-improvement fail, because they all begin with the mistaken view that people are basically good. The only problem is their economic, political, social circumstances or their poor education.

Foolishness. The ‘wise’ of this world will not and cannot arrive at the solution by their own wisdom.

What these wise theories and programs could not do, God did by sending his Son to rescue the hopeless.

Jesus came into the worse of circumstances, suffered the abuse of sinners, was falsely accused and condemned, was subjected to a criminal’s death by public execution, and yet by these means and by this person, God made foolish the wisdom of this age.

The rebel world thought it had sorted the problem of Jesus and had removed the inconvenient preacher. But God overturned that ‘wisdom’ by raising the Lord Jesus from the dead. The resurrection means that the sins of those for whom Jesus died are dead and gone.

God also made many of his enemies his friends by Jesus Christ. By the resurrection of Jesus, God brings renewed life to those who trust Christ. He gives new attitudes to bad people. By Jesus people receive a new relationship with our creator, freedom from condemnation, and everlasting life.

What we could not and would not do by our wisdom, God accomplished in wisdom by his Son.

The Jews were offended by the cross–cursed is anyone who is hanged on a tree.

The Greeks thought that the resurrection from the dead was a joke.

But God saves those whom his calls by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is the message of the cross. God forgives sins in the name and authority of Jesus Christ on the basis of the things that Jesus alone did. In this way God destroys the wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the prudent. He brings some to repentance and faith through the gospel message, thereby changing their minds and attitudes. Others reject that message, stay in their sin and reap the consequences of rebellion.

So why does Paul call the preaching of this message, ‘foolishness’?

He is using the attitude of some in Corinth against them.

They had called preaching foolishness, but Paul shows that this alleged foolishness is God’s way of achieving what all the wise ones of the world continually failed to do. Gospel preaching gives hope and safety to sinful, condemned people.

Paul tells us that the alleged foolishness of God—gospel preaching—is wiser than the wisdom of this age. The weakness of God that is allegedly seen in the message of the cross is stronger than the might of this age.

The church must not get too clever or sophisticated for itself. It must not say to itself that no one will listen to gospel preaching today and suggest that we must replace it with stories, or personal testimonies, or film nights, or social advice.

The word that Paul uses for ‘preaching’ is that which denotes a herald. A herald was the messenger of the king. The herald was to deliver the message that the king entrusted to him, and the herald was to deliver that message with all the authority of the one who sent him.

Woe to that herald who messed with the King’s message. Woe to the people who refused to hear that message.

Jews demand a sign, Greeks seek for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified … the wisdom of God and the power of God.