Van Til illustrates Romans 1:18-23

Continuing in my lazy way, I now quote Cornelius Van Til In his book Common Grace and the Gospel, Van Til wrote: “The main point is that if man [read human beings] could look anywhere and not be confronted with the revelation of God then he could not sin in the biblical sense of the term. Sin is the breaking of the law of God. God confronts man everywhere. He cannot in the nature of the case confront man anywhere if he does not confront him everywhere. God is one; the law is one. If man could press one button on the radio of his experience and not hear the voice of God then he would always press that button and not the others. But man cannot even press the button of his own self-consciousness without hearing the requirement of God” (p. 203).

1 John 2:7-8

John emphasised the written word. “I write to you.” In fact, John writes “I write to you,” twice in verses 7-11, and six times in verses 12-14.

This emphasis is throughout the Bible.

Christians are essentially people of a book, or a collection of books. It is from the Bible alone that we now receive the Gospel. John, Peter, Matthew, Paul and the others are in the presence of their Lord. We know truth about Jesus because of the things that they have written down.

The teachings of the early apostles and prophets come to us only in their writings. We are not to rely for information about Jesus on voices that we might hear in our heads. We are not to rely on oral traditions that are not already written down for us in the Bible. We are not to receive anything from people claiming to be new apostles with new revelations of the Spirit. We are not to submit blindly to mere human authority of any kind. We have God’s word written. This alone is our standard of faith and practice — from it alone do we learn what we are to believe and do as God’s people.

These thoughts prepare us to consider verses 7-8, where we are given something to believe.

“Brothers, I do not write to you a new commandment, but an old one, which you have possessed from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard from the beginning. Again, I do write to you a new commandment which (neuter) is true in him and in you.”

The commandment that John seeks to enforce here is not the 10 commandments. John had been referring to the 10 commandments in the previous verses, but now he is writing about something else.

An old commandment and a new commandment are one commandment. The commandment is the Gospel message. This is the word or message that John says Christians have heard from the beginning. 1 John 1:1-3 and John:12:50 — his commandment is eternal life.

Gospel is an imperative — a command. It reveals God’s will for our salvation in Christ Jesus.  In another place, Peter said:

“There is salvation in no other, neither is there any other name under heaven that is given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The gospel is a command to repent — to stop resisting God and to trust Christ.

  • Mark 1:14 — The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel.
  • Acts 2:38 — Repent and be baptised
  • Acts 16:30-31 — Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved
  • Acts 17:30 — Now God commands all people everywhere to repent (and believe gospel)

The gospel is old, in so far as it is not new to these people. They have heard it from the beginning. It is old in so far as it did not originate with them, but had long been declared to the world since Genesis 3:15.

  • Gen 3:15 – one will be born to put right what Adam made wrong
  • Gen 12 – one will be born who will bless every nation
  • Ps 32 – the blessing will be the forgiveness of sins
  • Isa 53 – the death of the one who is born to bless will bring forgiveness into effect. He will die for others.
  • Ps 16 – the one who died for our sins will rise again from the dead
  • Jer 31:33 – the forgiveness will be applied to sinners by a new birth

It is new, in so far as it can never go out of date, and must never be thought of as yesterday’s news. It must always be refreshed in our thinking and affections

  • 1 Cor. 15:1-4
  • 2 Peter 1:12-15
  • 1 John 1 and 2

Jesus Christ is the true light. This light shines in the Gospel message. “He is the true light” John 1:9 “The darkness is passing and the true light already shines”. 1 John 2:8.

This Gospel is true in him.

  • The Lord Jesus Christ made the gospel of forgiveness of sins true by bringing it into effect. By his good life and his death in our place he has himself made propitiation for our sins.
  • He has dealt decisively with our darkness — our rebellion, our lawlessness, our ignorance, our selfishness. By his death on the cross and by his resurrection, he has defeated sin, death and Satan.
  • He who is truth guarantees the truth of the good news of forgiveness and our reconciliation with God.

The Gospel is true in us

  • if we are born again by the holy spirit, that is
  • If we have turned from the darkness of our sinful rebellion and have come to the light (john 3:19-21), that is,
  • if we trust Jesus Christ as he is offered in the gospel, and
  • if we remain in him — persevere in the faith. If we keep on trusting in spite of circumstances.

This, in brief, is what we are to believe. We are to trust ourselves to this gospel and rely on Jesus Christ. This is walking in the light, as Jesus himself said (John 12:35-36).

Some… will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God

Luke 9: 27

‘ I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God (coming in power).’

 This verse is much debated. Some think that ‘the kingdom of God’ is a reference to the transfiguration of Jesus, which Peter James and John were to witness. Others understand it as foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Again, some say it refers to the second coming of Christ. But, along with some other commentators, I believe Jesus is referring here to regeneration.  In other words, he is saying that some of the people there would become Christians.

 I think this is the best explanation because of what came before this statement.

 Jesus had asked his disciples who they thought he was. Peter’s answer, ‘The Christ of God’, was the trigger for Jesus explaining what his mission was – that the ‘Christ must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders and high priests and scribes, and be killed, then rise on the third day.’

 All this talk of Jesus dying was too much for Peter. He thought to snap Jesus out of this morbid state of mind by a few strong words. By this reaction, Peter showed that he was not yet thinking about his relationship with Jesus in the right way. Peter thought that he was fine as he was. There was no need for Jesus to die in Peter’s opinion. Besides, it seems that the disciples at that time were looking for some kind of nationalistic salvation, and thought that Jesus would be a king like David who would deal with the Roman oppressors. This thinking had to change.

 Our Lord Jesus knew far better than Peter what was needed for Peter, and any one else, to be reconciled to God. Sin had to be dealt with. Later, in a garden, Jesus prayed that a cup might pass from him. It was the cup of God’s anger and judgment against sin. But Jesus knew that he must take that  cup in the place of his sinful people, if they were ever to be saved from the condemnation due to their sin.

 Jesus knew that his death and resurrection were necessary so that the Holy Spirit could apply the benefits of His finished work to people like Peter. Peter needed to be born again, to use the language of John chapter 3 and I Peter chapter 1, or he would never understand or enter the kingdom of God. Our Lord implied as much in his address to the crowd (Luke 9: 23 – 26).

 Jesus started his talk with the word ‘if’.

 ‘If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.’

 He was talking to a mixed crowd of people, and his message is one of repentance. His words declare that their lives are wrong, and they need to admit it to themselves. This sort of confession, if it is to be real and permanent, has to be the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. It is a turning from death to life. If left to ourselves, we would continue to have an all-too-good opinion of ourselves. Such a change as Jesus describes is effected only by regeneration or the new birth.

 At the new birth, a person abandons their old Christ-less way of life. They then realise that, if they were to reject Christ, they would lose everything on the day of judgment and receive a well-deserved condemnation. They see that in losing their old way of life they gain instead eternal life in Jesus. Their former attitude to Jesus Christ  and his words is fundamentally changed. They begin to see him as the one who has the words of eternal life. They will follow him.

 Jesus implies that this change is for sinners; for people who in the past had been ashamed of Jesus’ words, as Peter had been. Jesus told the crowd that some of them would see the kingdom of God before they died. Some, like Peter, would be born again. They would take up the cross (the gospel) and follow Jesus.

Worship: sound preaching

Preaching might be regarded as an unpopular activity these days. The Bible idea of preaching is making known true-truth in an authoritative way. This truth comes to people in an old book, a book that needs to be read and studied and thought through with care and attention. This truth needs to be declared with authority. Again, the truth that is to be preached concerns the Lord Jesus Christ; how he has acted to bring us back to our creator God, to the God we have offended by our sin, to the God who will judge all people according to their deeds, to the God who loved the world in a particular way. God’s love comes to people only through the life, death and rising of Jesus Christ. These truths only come to us from the Bible, and they must be shown to be true from the Bible.

Many people today don’t like to be told. We are all wise enough for ourselves. We prefer stories with ambiguous endings. We like to keep our options open. We don’t like to engage in hard thinking.

As preaching is unpopular with people, so too are preachers tempted to shy away from it. To encourage people to gather at church, ministers think their churches must provide something attractive, something to compete with the wide, varying and shiny alternatives – something other than preaching.

It is interesting how the Lord Jesus fits, or doesn’t fit, into these thoughts. He was followed by large crowds, often because he showed love with extraordinary power – it seems to me that in the three years of Jesus’ ministry, more wonders were performed by him than are recorded in all the Old Testament. But Jesus, we are told in the Gospels, was focused on preaching and teaching the word with a particular emphasis on the good news. Jesus didn’t come in order to gain popularity, but to speak Bible truth about himself and his work of saving people from their sin. He spoke with great authority and purpose. Whenever his disciples got carried away by the popularity that Jesus seemed to enjoy, Jesus reminded them that he would be betrayed, rejected and crucified by these people and their leaders. It was only sometime after Jesus’ resurrection that these men got the idea.

In brief, the apostles were focused upon the teaching (doctrine) of the word, that written word we know as the Bible. This word reveals Christ Jesus, who is both Lord and Saviour. These men passed this emphasis on preaching to others who would continue this gospel work after the apostles died. Paul told Timothy to preach the word, when people like it and when they don’t. The preaching was for conviction, rebuke and consolation with all patience and doctrine (2 Tim 4:2). Again the aim is to make the good news of Jesus known from every and any part of the Bible. This requires teaching things about who God is, his purpose in creating us and the universe, the origin of our bad attitudes, what his relationship with Israel was like, but all these things are to be taught and preached so that we understand who Jesus is, what he has done, and what it all means for people like us.

Gospel preaching will only be popular when people come under conviction of sin and of God’s mercy to sinners in Jesus Christ. This conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit. We need, as members of Christ, to be in prayer for this convicting work amongst ourselves and the wider community. Preaching is a vital, a central, part of worship because of its focus on content (the Bible) and its application. Worship without content is mute, meaningless ritual.

Speaking in Tongues?

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul addresses the issue of ‘tongues’. Whatever people now might think these tongues were, it seems to me that Paul spoke of these ‘tongues’ as merely human languages.

Why do I say this? Corinth was a major, I mean major, centre of trade. All sorts of people and things passed through the city – literally – as it was at the neck of an isthmus. This geographical fact allowed the trade ships to save travelling time by being dragged across the thin section of land along a track. In this way they could pass quickly from the Aegean Sea to the western Mediterranean and back again. Lots of people with different mother-tongues (languages) lived and worked in the region.

Now it is true that Greek was the common language of the day, but even the New Testament gives us the heads-up that other languages were spoken at the time. In Lystra, after Paul healed a lame man by the authority of Jesus, the people of the city called out in the Lycaonian language that the gods had come to earth. Again, in Malta, the locals called the shipwrecked people ‘barbarians’, meaning they spoke a language that the Maltese did not readily understand. This is perhaps why Paul could tell the Corinthians that ‘he spoke in tongues more than all of them’ (1 Cor 14:18), due to his wide travelling. But this is the point. Paul insisted that things said in church – which is the context of 1 Cor. 14 – must be understood by as many people as possible. This would mean speaking, praying, singing etc., in a language understood by most people at a worship meeting.

Paul points out that a speaker who used an obscure language, rather than one commonly understood by the congregation, would only be understood by God at that time (1 Cor. 14:2). What the speaker says would be a mystery to others in the meeting. The speaker might be spiritual or passionate in his delivery, and his talk might be of help to himself, but nobody else would get it. This is not the way of love. Love edifies [builds up] others. This is why Paul desires people to prophesy. Now, this does not necessarily mean to ‘foretell the future’ or to reveal new information about Jesus. It most likely means to ‘forth tell’ or proclaim the message of Jesus that they had already received. Later, Paul himself speaks of delivering to them the Gospel that he himself had received (1 Cor. 15:3).

Paul’s aim was to have the church focused on the clear message regarding Jesus Christ: who he is, what he did, and what that means in all its fullness for sinners like us. Using a local language instead of the common language would make speaker and congregation ‘barbarians’ to one another (just as the Maltese were to the shipwrecked souls).

In v.6 Paul says that if he spoke to the Corinthians in a tongue, his talk would not benefit them, and in vs.14 to 17 he develops this idea. By praying in a tongue he himself would benefit but his prayer would not benefit [be unfruitful for] the congregation. His understanding, declared in a language unknown to his audience, would not benefit them. The same, he says, is true of his singing or giving thanks in a foreign language. No one else would be able to say ‘Amen’ to it. Instead, Paul would rather give a short sermon in a known language than a barrage of words no one understood. The aim is building up the church by clearly articulating the Gospel message.

One last point. Paul says when an unknown language is used toward a church, it is a sign of God’s displeasure at unbelief. This is indicated in verse 21. The passage is from Isaiah 28:11-12. The Old Testament church was refusing to listen to the Gospel. They were running after gods who were not gods and who could not save. They rejected God’s plain message to turn from sin and be save. So God told them that foreign conquerors, people who spoke a strange language, would come and speak to them, and show them by aggressive action that God meant what he had told them in plain language. We must listen to God. So, if a foreign language is ever used in church it must be translated so all can hear, understand and judge the message, or prayer or song. We are not to obscure the Gospel with our words.