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Justification means to declare righteous, not to make righteous (in the sense of transforming one’s character to be righteous). It is a metaphor from the law court, where a judge pronounces someone as either guilty or not guilty. Paul contrasts condemning (pronouncing guilty) and justifying (pronouncing not guilty but righteous) in Romans 8:33–34: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (cf. Rom. 5:18; 8:1). God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5) in that he legally declares ungodly people to be innocent and righteous—not in that he transforms ungodly people into godly people.1
2. Justification includes forgiveness (Rom. 4:6–8).
When God justifies believing sinners, he forgives those sinners’ “lawless deeds” and covers their sins and no longer will count their sins against them.
3. Justification includes imputation (Rom. 4:1–8; 5:15–19).
Justification is a blessing because God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the believing sinner. God does not merely cancel a sinner’s guilt and declare that the sinner is innocent (neutral). God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the believing sinner’s account and declares that the sinner is righteous (positive).2 That is why “the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works” experiences a “blessing” (Rom. 4:6; cf. Rom. 4:7–9): “As by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made [i.e., have the status of] righteous” (Rom. 5:19).
4. Justification is vertical, not horizontal (Rom. 1:17; 3:21–26; 9:30–10:13; et al).
Contrary to the New Perspective on Paul, justification is fundamentally about how sinful humans relate to the righteous God, not to other humans. It is primarily about soteriology, not ecclesiology.3
The Need for Justification
5. Justification is necessary because all humans without exception are sinners under God’s condemning wrath (Rom. 1:18–3:20).
“None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). No one can stand before God as righteous on his or her own merits.
Justification ultimately glorifies God. A goal of justification is to enable guilty sinners to stand before the righteous God as righteous.
The Basis of Justification
6. Justification is based on God’s imputing Christ’s righteousness to believing sinners (Rom. 4:1–8; 5:15–19)—which is possible because of propitiation (Rom. 3:25–26).
(On forgiveness and imputation, see statements 2–3 above.) How can God be a just judge (i.e., a judge who is morally right and fair) if he declares that guilty people are not only innocent but righteous? Because justification depends on propitiation—that is, Jesus’s sacrificial death propitiates God the Father. Jesus satisfies God’s righteous wrath against us and turns it into favor. We are justified by Jesus’s blood—that is, based on his sacrificial, substitutionary death (Rom. 5:9). The righteous God righteously righteouses the unrighteous. Justification vindicates God in justifying the ungodly because of propitiation.
Justification vindicates God in justifying the ungodly because of propitiation.
7. Justification is based on God’s imputing Christ’s righteousness to believing sinners (Rom. 4:1–8; 5:15–19)—which is possible because God raised Christ from the dead (Rom. 4:24–25).
God raised Christ from the dead to publicly vindicate him and thus take care of or confirm our justification. Charles Hodge infers from Romans 4:24–25 (and 1 Cor. 15:17), “The resurrection of Christ was necessary for our justification, inasmuch as it was the formal acceptance of his sufferings, as the expiation for our sins.”4John Murray similarly infers, “The resurrection of Jesus is viewed as that which lays the basis for this justification.”5
8. Justification is based on God’s imputing Christ’s righteousness to believing sinners (Rom. 4:1–8; 5:15–19)—which is possible because of union with Christ (Rom. 3:24; 5:12–21; 8:1).
“Union with Christ,” Marcus Johnson observes, “provides the basis for our justification.”6 This is related to the previous statements about propitiation and resurrection. Christ’s propitiation and resurrection benefit believing sinners because they are united to Christ. Brian Vickers ends his careful study of imputation by agreeing with J. Gresham Machen that there is no hope without Christ’s active obedience:
Christ’s fulfilling of all righteousness—his obedience to the Father’s will and commands in his role as the second Adam, his sacrificial death, and his resurrection that vindicates the cross and ushers in a new eschatological era—becomes ours by faith in union with him. It is on this basis that a believer is reckoned righteous.7
The Means of Justification
9. Justification is a gracious gift that sinful humans cannot earn (Rom. 2:5–16; 3:9–20, 24, 27–28; 4:1–5; 5:16–17; 9:30–10:5).
The means of justification is not our good works. We are justified δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι—freely (i.e., as a gift, without payment) by his grace (Rom. 3:24). Sinners cannot merit a right standing before God based on their works, so they cannot boast before God (Rom. 4:2). Calvin infers a universal principle: “Whoever glories in himself, glories against God.”8 “In every age of human history,” explain John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, “religion has answered that we can get to heaven by being good people. The various religious systems of the world concoct lists of rituals and ceremonies that must be performed to achieve a measure of righteousness that might avail in the courtroom of God.”9 “A true view of justification,” asserts Grudem, “is the dividing line between the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone and all false gospels of salvation based on good works.”10
10. Justification is accessible by faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 1:17; 3:22, 25; 4:3–5, 9–25; 5:1–2; 9:30–10:13).
The means of justification is faith in Christ. Faith is instrumental. Being justified does not include works, and the object of faith does not include oneself or anyone else other than God in Christ: “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). John Piper remarks, “Romans 4:5 is perhaps the most important verse on justification by faith alone in all the New Testament.”11
11. Justification occurs through redemption (Rom. 3:24).
We are justified “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). The human means of justification is faith; the divine means is redemption.
The Accessibility of Justification
12. Justification is accessible to everyone without ethnic distinction (Rom. 3:22–23, 29–30; 4:9–17; 10:11–13).
“There is no distinction between Jew and Greek. . . . ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Rom. 10:12–13).
The Results of Justification
13. Justification is now inseparably connected to freedom from the law (Rom. 3:19–21; 7:1–25; 9:30–10:13).
God’s people are now under the new covenant and not the Mosaic law-covenant.12 Justification now fulfills the law (Rom. 3:21, 31; 8:4). The Old Testament prophetically testifies to the salvation-historical shift that occurred with Christ’s death that made the Mosaic law-covenant obsolete. Now God’s people uphold the law “by this faith” (Rom. 3:31).
14. Justification is inseparably connected to peace with God (Rom. 5:1).
While the justification metaphor is judicial, the reconciliation metaphor is relational. Before being justified, a sinner is God’s enemy and is under God’s wrath. After being justified, a sinner is God’s friend and has peace with God.
15. Justification is inseparably connected to the most deeply rooted and satisfying rejoicing (Rom. 5:2–11).
Those who are justified rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2), in their sufferings (Rom. 5:3–10), and in God himself (Rom. 5:11). Justification is good news not primarily because God forgives our sins and we escape God’s wrath. Justification is good news primarily because it enables us to enjoy God himself. Piper explains:
Justification is not an end in itself. Neither is the forgiveness of sins or the imputation of righteousness. Neither is escape from hell or entrance into heaven or freedom from disease or liberation from bondage or eternal life or justice or mercy or the beauties of a pain-free world. None of these facets of the gospel-diamond is the chief good or highest goal of the gospel. Only one thing is: seeing and savoring God himself, being changed into the image of his Son so that more and more we delight in and display God’s infinite beauty and worth.13
16. Justification is inseparably connected to progressive sanctification (Rom. 6:1–23).
For Roman Catholics, “faith + works → justification,” and for Protestants, “faith → justification + works” (where “→” means results in or leads to).14 But even some Protestants—especially advocates of higher life theology—separate justification from transformation.15 “The whole point of Romans 6,” though, is this: “God not only frees us from sin’s penalty (justification), but He frees us from sin’s tyranny as well (sanctification).”16 “A major flaw” with how higher life theology interprets Romans 6 is that “Paul is not telling believers how a justified person can lead a holy life, but why he must lead a holy life.”17
Progressive sanctification is distinct yet inseparable from justification. Faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone. God’s grace through the power of his Spirit ensures that the same faith that justifies a Christian also progressively sanctifies a Christian. As Jonathan Pratt states, “Fruit-bearing necessarily and inevitably flows from justification.”18
17. Justification is inseparably connected to assurance that God will finish what he planned, accomplished, and applied (Rom. 8:28–39).
God planned to save his people— he foreknew and predestined them. God accomplished his plan through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He applied his plan—he effectually called and justified his people. And God will finish what he started—he will glorify them.19 Since God is for us, absolutely nothing can be against us (Rom. 8:31)!
The Future of Justification
18. Justification is definitive and will be final when God publicly vindicates believers.
When God initially justifies a believer, that justification is definitive and once for all time. But it is private. When God resurrects believers in the future, he will publicly vindicate them at the last judgment. This is clearer in Galatians than in Romans,20 but some passages in Romans could refer to that final justification (Rom. 2:13; 5:18; 8:30, 32–34).21
The Goal of Justification
19. Justification ultimately glorifies God.
A goal of justification is to enable guilty sinners to stand before the righteous God as righteous. But that is not its ultimate goal. Justification occurs ultimately to glorify God. That is why Romans 1–8 ends by praising God for the results of justification—namely, that since God is for us, nothing can be against us (Rom. 8:31–39). That is why Romans 9–11 ends by praising God for his deep riches, wisdom, and knowledge regarding how he saves his people throughout history (Rom. 11:33–36). That is why the letter ends by praising God for his righteousness that is now manifested apart from the law-covenant and to which the Law and the Prophets testify (Rom. 3:21):
According to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25–27)
In short, “From him and through him and to him are all things”—especially our justification. “To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).
Cf. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, vol. 4, Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 204–9.
Many Protestant theologians contrast forgiveness with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and then argue that forgiveness alone does not solve the plight of sinners (e.g., Grudem, Systematic Theology 725–26). That is not wrong, but Vickers explains, “It is biblically sound to think of forgiveness itself as a positive standing before God. The sacrificial texts in the Pentateuch, for instance, consistently refer to a person being forgiven as a result of sacrifices offered. . . . The Old Testament does not have a sense of ‘mere’ forgiveness, but often speaks exclusively in terms of forgiveness to describe what people need from God, desire from God, and what God promises to give or warns that he will withhold. Forgiveness is presented as that which is needed for a restored relationship with God.” Vickers qualifies, “There is a sense . . . in which we can speak legitimately of needing a ‘positive standing,’ and mean by that, something besides forgiveness when speaking of Christ’s fulfilling the role of second Adam.” Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness, 108, 200.
Cf. Andrew Michael Hassler, “Justification and the Individual in the Wake of the New Perspective on Paul” (PhD diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2011).
Hodge, Romans, 103.
Murray, Romans, 1:55–56.
Marcus Peter Johnson, One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 90. Johnson defends that thesis on pp. 90–114.
Vickers, Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness, 237; italics added. Cf. Richard B. Gaffin Jr., By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013), 56–59. See also chap. 15, by David VanDrunen, in this book.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, LCC 20–21 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 765.
MacArthur and Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine, 609.
Grudem, Systematic Theology, 722. One qualification: some world religions have aspects to them that are similar in some ways to sola fide and sola gratia. For a nuanced answer to the question “Is ‘salvation by grace through faith’ unique to Christianity?” see Timothy C. Tennent, Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 135–61.
John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, in Mathis and Taylor, Collected Works of John Piper, 3:181.
Douglas Moo, “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Wayne G. Strickland, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 319–76 (also 83–90, 165–73, 218–25, 309–15); Thomas R. Schreiner, 40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law, 40 Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2010); Jason S. DeRouchie, How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2017), 427–59.
John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself, in Mathis and Taylor, Collected Works of John Piper, 6:291.
John Gerstner, quoted in R. C. Sproul, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), 155. For explanations and evangelical critiques of how Roman Catholicism understands justification, see R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2012), 29–50; J. V. Fesko, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008), 349–87; Gregg R. Allison, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 431–45; Schreiner, Faith Alone, 209–38. See also chap. 24, by Leonardo De Chirico, in this book.
On higher life theology, see Andrew David Naselli, No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It’s Harmful (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2017).
John MacArthur, Faith Works: The Gospel according to the Apostles (Dallas: Word, 1993), 121.
William W. Combs, “The Disjunction between Justification and Sanctification in Contemporary Evangelical Theology,” DBSJ 6 (2001): 34.
That is the (persuasive) thesis of Jonathan R. Pratt, “The Relationship between Justification and Spiritual Fruit in Romans 5–8,” Them 34, no. 2 (2009): 162–78.
See John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1955). The title of that excellent book could be even better by adding the verb planned—that is, Redemption Planned, Accomplished, and Applied.
See Douglas J. Moo, Galatians, BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 60–62.
See Beale, New Testament Biblical Theology, 469–526, esp. 498–504; Schreiner, Faith Alone, 153–57.
Andrew David Naselli (PhD, Bob Jones University; PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is associate professor of New Testament and theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota and an elder of Bethlehem Baptist Church.
Parents have been telling their friends and families about their kids’ misadventures since . . . well, probably as long as there have been kids to tell on. It feels cathartic. You’re angry, frustrated, amused, puzzled about what to do next, feeling like you’re all alone, or like it’s you vs. them—so you reach out to tell someone, and life feels better.
Then along came technology—the telephone—and parents didn’t have to wait till the next family gathering, or when they ran into a friend at the store, or even till their spouse got home. They could call someone in the moment and life felt better, quicker.
The logical next step as technology progressed was to share the same kinds of things on social media. Besides, people discovered that they’re good with words or pictures, and so you can turn an ugly moment into a funny post that gets a lot of likes. Or you can draw on the wisdom of your community to get help when you feel in over your head. Or you’re hoping that maybe your child will get the message and change what they’re doing so that you don’t keep outing them in front of everyone.
There’s nothing new about parents talking about their child’s misbehavior, but there are some underlying pitfalls that you should consider, especially as the internet magnifies them.
For instance, in order to find a post or video funny of someone doing something dumb, you have to turn off any feelings of sympathy you would ordinarily have. We do this in the movies or when reading a book by reminding ourselves that, “it’s not real.” That lets us laugh when a comedic actor falls off a roof trying to hang way too many Christmas lights. Whereas, if that happened to the guy across the street, we would call 911 or rush over to help.
Proverbs describes wise people as those who are careful with words—people who are thoughtful, intentional and who weigh their words before speaking.
A Blurred Line
Social media blurs the line between reality and fantasy. We read or watch posts of people doing things that hurt themselves or others, but we laugh, having been trained to do so. We don’t think about the pain they feel, their embarrassment, any potential regret, or the very real effects that their actions have on others. We treat those people as if they’re not real—we objectify them as we consume them for our amusement. That’s probably not how you want other people to think about your kids.
But what if you posted about them because you really want help? After all, Proverbs tells us that that there’s wisdom with a multitude of counselors (Prvb. 11:14, 15:22). But here’s the problem: how do you know if you’ve surrounded yourself with wise friends who can help you or with foolish ones who will only hurt (Prvb. 13:20)?
The challenge of the internet, as it democratizes information, is that it requires each of us to become experts as we sift through it, separating the wheat from the chaff. The advice you get from someone might feel right to you, but how can you tell if it’s godly? After all, you’re asking for help from people who only experience you and your kids through a highly select sample of your life that you’re filtering through the lens of your perspective.
Genuine help doesn’t come from masses of people who only have access to a small slice of your life presented in a highly edited form. Help comes from people who know you and/or know your kids, and are invested in loving you both. That argues for a targeted group of counselors, not generic ones.
Or third, what if you’re trying to punish or shame your child into being a better person? A quick skim of Scripture shows that God doesn’t work that way. Yes, he does unpack a number of his children’s failings, but he doesn’t do so as a therapeutic moment for him, or to shame them, but to instruct and benefit us (1 Cor. 10:11). He tells their stories to increase our confidence that he can provide a way for us to escape the same kinds of temptations that hooked them.
That means there are legitimate times when you can be more public with someone’s story, but you need to consider not only what you post, but why you post it. You need to post like the Wise Person of Proverbs would.
Proverbs describes wise people as those who are careful with words—people who are thoughtful, intentional and who weigh their words before speaking. If wise words were necessary in a pre-internet world, think how vital they are in the electronic age where they linger far longer and reach a much larger audience. What will your child’s future schools or employers or romantic interests think of what you’re planning to post?
Sharing to Help Others
There are times when I do write or speak publicly about a less-than-positive moment that my kids and I have had together, but not to amuse myself or anyone else. I do so because I think that the story might help someone else. But each time I’ve done so, I’ve gone to my child first and asked for permission to tell their story, and I’ve given them editorial authority over what and how I share.
Knowing that I’m going to ask their permission changes how I think about my children and frame our stories. It slows me down, which by definition, makes me wiser. It makes me think about how the story might affect them and how they might feel as they read or hear it.
Seeing a post through their eyes helps me think that much harder about how others will see it too, which avoids the socially acceptable trap of sharing whatever I want, whenever I want. It’s taught me to share my life with my kids in ways that are closer to how God shares his life with his children.
This kind of sharing—where we work together in order to help someone else—has ended up forging stronger bonds with my kids rather than driving wedges between us. Take the time to think carefully and invite your child into the process before you post about them. Both of you will be glad you did.
William P. Smith (PhD, Rutgers University; MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor, author, and retreat speaker who has served several churches, been a faculty member of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, and taught practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the author of Loving Well (Even If You Haven't Been) and numerous other books and booklets.
As the last books in the Hebrew Old Testament, the books of 1–2 Chronicles prepare God’s people for the arrival of Jesus. This preparation begins with genealogies. But these genealogies are not random, wandering collections of paternity records. Rather, they represent the carefully crafted lens through which we observe the one plan of God’s redemption. They teach us to rest in the unwavering commitment of God to fulfill all of his covenant promises.
At the end, we are then left waiting for the true and better Priest King of Israel to come and restore all things.
The genealogies in 1 Chronicles give attention to each of the tribes of Israel, but clearly focus on two tribes: Judah (1 Chron. 2:3–4:23 [110 verses]) and Levi (1 Chron. 6:1–81). They focus on the tribes of Judah and Levi to identify the royal and priestly lines of Israel, searching for a rightful king and priest for God’s people. The genealogies in Matthew (and Luke) find what Chronicles was searching for: Jesus, the true King (Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 19:16) and Priest (Heb. 4:14; 5:5–6; 8:1) for God’s people.
The summary of the history of Israel that follows the genealogies is shaped by the emphases of the genealogies—kingship and priesthood— expressed through Israel’s inheritance of the land and worship in the temple. The presentations of David and Solomon focus on the building of the temple in Jerusalem. But we quickly encounter royal infidelity and idolatry, eventually resulting in the forfeiture of the land and the destruction of the temple. At the end, we are then left waiting for the true and better Priest King of Israel to come and restore all things.
Miles V. Van Pelt (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Alan Belcher Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages, academic dean, and director of the Summer Institute for Biblical Languages at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He also serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Reformed Church in Madison, Mississippi. He and his wife, Laurie, have four children.
3 Practical Ways to Remain Faithful in Ministry - Vimeo
Consistent Time in the Word
The practical things you need to do in your life to remain faithful in ministry are the same means of grace that are available to every believer. First is time in the Word of God—regular consistent exposure to the Word. We all understand that Jesus said in John 15 that the Word purges, purifies, prunes us. Jesus said in John 17 that we would be sanctified by the Word of God.
So, to stay faithful in ministry, you need to be under the sanctifying impact of the Word of God. I would remind pastors that maybe the main reason that you ought to be an expositor is not so that you can preach to people, but so that you can expose your own heart to every word of Scripture. The greatest benefit to me of fifty years of expositing the Word of God has been its purifying work in my own heart and the ongoing sanctification that the Spirit of God has done with the Word of God in my own life because I spent twenty to thirty hours per week in the study of the Word of God in preparation to preach, teach, and to write. I wouldn’t exchange that for anything.
To be surrounded by people who love Scripture, love Christ, and want to honor him is absolutely a priceless gift.
Consistent Time in Prayer
The second thing, of course, is prayer. We have been called to prayer and the ministry of the Word, staying in communion with God, even praying the Scripture as you study it and as you read it. Keep open accounts with God with regard to confession of sin. Call out to God to purge you and purify you and keep you away from temptation. That prayer life is absolutely critical. Be in open communion with the Lord all the time so that there aren’t any issues that aren't right on the tip of your tongue as you come into his presence.
The other thing is to surround yourself with godly people. That is so critical. It’s fine to see pastors today who want to build up the talent in their ministries and maybe they get people who are good at graphics or good at design or good at media or whatever it might be. But who you really need to have around you are people who are really good at honoring God, who are very good at godly living, who think deeply about the things of God, who long to honor Christ, whose conversation is about Christ, whose conversation is about the things of God, whose life is committed to the glory of God. Surround yourselves with those kinds of people.
That’s been a tremendous blessing in the ministry that the Lord has given me through the years. I’ve always been surrounded by men and women who love the Word—both written and the Word incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ. And to be surrounded by people who love Scripture, love Christ, and want to honor him is absolutely a priceless gift.
You’re going to pick up the habits of the people you’re closest to. They’re going to lift you up or they’re going to pull you down. The security of a pastor and spiritual leader may be tied in the future. It may be tied to the kind of people that are closest to him. You need to be sure those are the people that draw you closer to Christ, that draw you closer to being a godly, faithful Christian—because that’s going to show up in your ministry.
John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, where he has served since 1969. He is known around the world for his verse-by-verse expository preaching and his pulpit ministry via his daily radio program, Grace to You. He has also written or edited nearly four hundred books and study guides. MacArthur serves as the president of the Master's Seminary and Master's University. He and his wife, Patricia, live in Southern California and have four grown children.
Ezra and Nehemiah offer the final piece of Old Testament history, one last glimpse of God’s people living out his redemptive plan before the coming of the Messiah. God’s covenant promises are gloriously on display as this weak, struggling remnant returns to Jerusalem after the exile to live together again as his people, according to his Word.
Ezra in particular highlights God’s redemptive plan. The opening verse declares that God initiates these events that he himself decreed through his prophets. God’s hand is then evident throughout: sovereignly directing the kings and peoples who aim to have a hand in Zerubbabel’s return and rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 1–6), and personally clearing the path for Ezra’s later return to teach the law (Ezra 7–10). All the action unfolds God’s plan, according to his Word.
God’s redemptive plan focuses on a people created to worship him—and the plan provides the means.
A People Created to Worship
God’s redemptive plan focuses on a people. Ezra makes clear who these people are: Abraham’s seed, those whom God promised to make a great nation in whom all the nations would be blessed (Gen. 12:1–3; 15:1–5). In Ezra, this blessed “remnant” (see Isa. 10:20–22) is reassembled and numbered carefully by tribe and genealogy. Ezra’s passion to keep them holy and separate reflects not ethnic elitism but rather a concern to honor the Lord who had redeemed them, reflecting his holiness through their own. Ezra thus sought to bring Israel to demonstrate trust in the Lord by obeying his law. This is the blessed way of life given to this chosen people from whom the promised offspring would come, according to God’s Word. These exiles did not know Jesus’ name, but they carefully traced the seed promises leading to his birth.
God’s redemptive plan focuses on a people created to worship him—and the plan provides the means. Hope continues to rise in this book as we see struggling, sinful exiles released in waves from Babylon and rebuilding the temple that identified their land as the place of God’s people and promise. Their ancient hope for a messianic King was no longer visible in an earthly kingdom (Zerubbabel remained in the line of David, but as the servant of a foreign king). So, by the efforts of the returning remnant of Israel, amid Jerusalem’s ruins, hope emerges more clearly for God’s promised King, who would rule on an eternal throne, and who would release his people finally and fully from their oppressors. In the meantime, God had provided the temple as a witness to his continuing presence and promises—a temple whose sacrifices also pictured and pointed ahead to the perfect sacrifice that would be needed for the eternal deliverance of God’s people.
This perfect sacrifice and final King would come four centuries after Ezra lived. Jesus gathers up all these ancient longings in his coming to earth. The importance of the temple in Ezra makes us look ahead to the one who is himself the temple, providing access into God’s presence through his blood (John 2:18–22; Rev. 21:22). The plain appearance of Ezra’s rebuilt temple (in contrast to Solomon’s magnificent one) helps us anticipate the spiritual temple that will rise as Christ’s body, the church (Eph. 2:19–22).
Ultimately, God provided his Word, which Ezra the priest set his heart to study and do and teach (Ezra 7:10). Old Testament history comes to a close with a picture of God’s people gathered around God’s Word, yearning for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises—the fulfillment that would come with the Word made flesh.
Kathleen Nielson (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is an author and speaker who loves working with women in studying the Scriptures. After directing the Gospel Coalition’s women’s initiatives from 2010–2017, she now serves as senior adviser and book editor for TGC. She and her husband, Niel, make their home partly in Wheaton, Illinois, and partly in Jakarta, Indonesia. They have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and five granddaughters.
The book of Kings belongs to a larger group of books in the Old Testament, Joshua through Kings (the so-called Former Prophets). Together, these books record the faithfulness of Israel’s covenant God to keep all of his covenant promises with regard to the establishment of his people in the Promised Land. There are two important texts that summarize this reality. The first is Joshua 21:44–45: “And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. . . . Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” The second is 1 Kings 8:56: “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant.” These two texts provide the two theological lenses through which we are invited to read the book of Kings. The Lord was faithful to give his people rest and to keep all of his covenant promises. In contrast, the history of God’s people was characterized as one of covenant breaking and ever-increasing infidelity.
The clear contrast between God’s covenant keeping and Israel’s covenant breaking, particularly among Israel’s kings, is perhaps the most important theme in the book of Kings. For this stark contrast highlights the gracious and underserved nature of God’s faithfulness to his people. The biblical term for this reality is “steadfast love” (see Ex. 34:6–7; 1 Kings 3:6; 8:23), sometimes translated as mercy, loyalty, faithfulness, or graciousness. Behind the variety of terms used to express this idea in the Bible is one central idea: God does not treat his people as their sins deserve.
But how is this gracious behavior of the Lord possible? We know that God is flawlessly faithful to his covenant promises, yet part of those promises include the promise to curse covenant breakers: “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deut. 27:26; cf. Deut. 27:15–26; 28:15–19). How can God be both merciful to his people but also faithful to curse covenant breakers, especially since all of God’s people have broken the covenant? The book of Kings hints at the answer with the small but important expression “for the sake of my servant David” (cf. 1 Kings 11:11–13, 32, 34; 2 Kings 8:19; 19:34; Isa. 37:35).
Because the Lord made a covenant with David to establish an eternal kingdom through his offspring (cf. 2 Sam. 7:9–16; 1 Kings 3:6; 9:4–5; 11:4, 34; 14:8; 15:3), the nation of Israel was repeatedly treated in gracious mercy, in ways it did not deserve. Ultimately, however, the sins of Israel increased to such a point that the covenant curses of destruction and exile were required by the Lord’s faithfulness to his own covenant obligations (cf. 2 Kings 17, 25), but even these disciplinary measures were sovereignly administered in such a way as not to undo the Davidic promise that would remain Israel’s hope.
As Christians, we are reminded through 1 and 2 Kings of God’s faithfulness to us as his covenant people in spite of our own transgressions and covenant infidelity. We must understand that God’s grace and mercy to us is rooted in the same hope expressed by the book of Kings, that God does not treat us as our sins deserve because of the faithfulness of another David, Jesus Christ, the root and offspring (or Seed) of David (Matt. 1:1, 17; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30–31; 21:9; John 7:42; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 22:16). But Jesus is not just any son (offspring) of David. He is the true and better David. Not only did his obedience merit our righteousness before God, but he also bore the consequences of our covenant breaking. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Rom. 8:1). In Christ, we are guaranteed that God’s steadfast love will never run out, because the necessary curse for covenant disobedience has been endured by another on our behalf. Now, we rest in God’s faithfulness, for he has kept all of his covenant promises, and “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor. 1:20).
Miles V. Van Pelt (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Alan Belcher Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages, academic dean, and director of the Summer Institute for Biblical Languages at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He also serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Reformed Church in Madison, Mississippi. He and his wife, Laurie, have four children.
March 20, 2019 by: Crossway
A Helpful New Resource
The Greek-English Interlinear ESV New Testament is an essential volume for all who study the New Testament in the original Greek. On each page the Greek NA28 text is laid out word-by-word above an English gloss indicating each word’s basic meaning and morphology.
For reference, the ESV text is presented separately in a column alongside the Greek text and English gloss. The Greek-English Interlinear ESV New Testament also features important notes from the NA28 critical apparatus related to the textual tradition of the ESV, making this a helpful resource for pastors, scholars, students, and others who regularly work with the Greek New Testament.
Losing your temper is a lot like losing your car keys—you never choose to and it always seems to happen at the worst moments. For some “losing your temper” means yelling, swearing, pounding a fist on the table. For others, lost temper is barely perceptible: a tightening of the jaw, a cold silence, but the angry feelings are still swarming, just hidden away inside.
Whatever our style, we all lose our temper sometimes. By “lose our temper,” I simply mean that you and I sometimes hand the reins of our behavior over to the feelings of anger in our soul. As your body begins to pump adrenaline, expand blood vessels, and tense muscles for a fight, your desire to feel vindicated (though all too often later reflection reveals you weren’t nearly so far up the moral high ground as you’d thought) takes over and hands you your script. Fundamentally, losing your temper means you’ve placed anger in the saddle and you are now galloping along at its command.
Why Does This Happen?
Despite the thousand coats anger may wear, anger is simple at its core. Anger always passes moral judgment. It is the moral emotion. Anger says “what just happened was wrong.” Now our anger may be accurate in its judgment of right and wrong or it may be out to lunch. For example, my children may get mad because I’m exasperating them, or they may get mad because I’m putting them to bed at a reasonable hour when they wanted to stay up. Either way, the core cry of anger is “That is unjust! That is evil! I condemn that!”
James 4:1–2 lays out the basic dynamic at play in our sinful anger. “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” James asks. “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” In essence, James is saying that our anger condemns anything that comes between us and what we want. Because, James argues, we are committed to our own wellbeing above all, when something or someone thwarts our desires, we feel unjustly treated and respond by calling out the troops to avenge the perceived injustice.
Ultimately then, a lost temper is just anger that’s been put in charge without checks or balances.
God promises to work in the hearts of those who love him.
Is All Anger Bad?
It’s important to say one more thing before we identify solutions: this does not mean all anger is bad! God is angry against sin and the horrors it wreaks on his beloved children. We can and should be angry in the face of everything from sex-trafficking to a snarky spat between our friends (though even then we should never return evil for evil!). Further, even when our anger is indeed sinful and we are losing our temper and screaming at someone, many of the things we want are still genuinely good things to want! Physical safety for our families, fair treatment in the workplace, not being gossiped about at church, and a quiet evening at home after a long day are all perfectly righteous things to desire.
This is the point though: whenever you or I lose our tempers, it means we’ve gone from wanting some good thing, to demanding that we must have it or else. Sinful anger is so convinced of its own moral high ground that it feels perfectly justified visiting its wrath upon whatever, or whomever, has dared to transgress absolute justice (i.e., us getting whatever it is we want at that moment). Thus, while we may sometimes be “right” about the issue, giving anger total control of our response to a problem will always be destructive and sinful. “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20).
What Can We Do?
Thankfully we aren’t doomed to endlessly lose our tempers! God promises to work in the hearts of those who love him. He does not merely change our behavior, but also transforms us to “will,” to desire, according to his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). The more God changes our desires to mirror what he desires, the more
our anger will be rightly directed at true evils (rather than the self-centeredness that naturally drives our anger without his transforming intervention);
and paired with that, the more we’ll trust his ways of achieving what is good. No matter how right we are about the issue at hand, love for God resists the temptation to give our anger the reins. Instead, godly anger seeks restoration and protection for those who have been wronged without vengeance, cruelty, insult or any other form of returning evil for evil.
For those who find their temper to be a special problem, let me offer three brief suggestions:
What Were You Wanting?
When you’ve lost your temper, ask yourself what you were wanting. It’s amazing how much you can learn about your desires and the underlying motives when you simply slow down and consider what desire was being thwarted. Anger is always driven by desire—the better you understand your desires, the better you’ll understand how, why, when and where you’ll lose your temper next time and be able to prepare for challenging situations.
And take heart. The simple fact that you are even saying “Help! I keep losing my temper!” should give you great hope. Far too many angry people don’t realize they are angry at all. They just “know” they are “right” and everyone else is “wrong.” The more you see and deal with your anger’s underlying desires, the more you’ll be equipped to value and pursue the right things in the heat of the moment.
Ultimately, our hope isn’t simply in exploring our problematic underlying desires. The only true way to reduce the problem of your temper is to actually increasingly value and cherish bringing good and blessing to those you love. Your biggest goal is not to understand yourself (as much as this helps!), but is rather to be altogether less focused on yourself and your desires. Instead, God would have you more focused on the good of those you love around you. The more your heart desires blessing for the people around you rather than your own comfort, reputation, etc., the less you will be prone to lose your temper when you don’t get what you want (and are sure you deserve) in any sudden moment.
One way to cultivate this is to daily spend a couple minutes praying Philippians 4:8 for those with whom you are most in danger of losing your temper. Pray for God to grow whatever is noble, right, lovely, pure, etc. in them and pray that you will more deeply appreciate who he has made them to be.
Get serious about repenting to the people you hurt. I’m not talking about extravagant promises to never be angry again. Instead, pray for God’s protection against self-righteous anger in your heart and then go ask people you’ve harmed to help you understand how you’ve harmed them. Then really listen to the answer. Express sorrow for how you’ve hurt them (not just the fact that you did something “wrong” in some abstract sense).
It will be excruciatingly difficult at times, but it will give your conscience an enormous amount of ammunition with which to guard you against further outbursts. (And remember, this isn’t about you demanding forgiveness—by definition you may never demand it as it must be freely chosen).
It may also sometimes be helpful to share your awareness of the problem in your desires: “I’m sorry that I let my desire for a peaceful evening control me so much that I yelled at you when you tried to talk to me about our schedule for the week. I know that must have hurt you and been frustrating too as you’re trying to plan for the next few days. Will you forgive me?”
Gaining control of your temper by taming your tongue (and the hundred ways your actions can speak louder than words) is no easy task. But no application of the call to love your neighbor and honor Jesus Christ is more urgent and important.
Thank God that in our every need he gives more grace (James 4:6)!
J. Alasdair Groves (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) serves as the executive director for the New England branch of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). He is also the director of CCEF's School of Biblical Counseling.
March 18, 2019 by: Crossway
Right n Their Own Eyes
Judges and 1–2 Samuel bridge the gap from the entrance of the people of God into the Promised Land under the faithful leadership of Joshua to their expulsion from the land due to unfaithful kings in 1–2 Kings. Judges portrays the people of God languishing without good leadership. Since the conquest of the land is not complete, the book begins with the question of who will lead in battle (Judg. 1:1) and ends with the statement, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). The need for a king who will lead God’s people into their full inheritance is an important theme.
No sin, no failure, no corruption, no despair, no brokenness is beyond the reach of his compassion.
A larger problem looms, however. The people of God have abandoned him for pagan gods. The Lord loves his people too much to permit this ongoing rejection of their distinctive calling to be a kingdom of priests, chosen to testify to his glory among the nations. Given over to recurring cycles of oppression by foreign nations, they constantly cry to the Lord for help, and he intervenes on their behalf. Judges tells the story of these cycles (Judg. 2:16–19). Despite the people’s continuous rejection of God’s kingship, he is moved to compassion for them. Individual judges, described as those who “saved Israel” (Judg. 2:16, 18; 3:9, 31; 6:14, 15; 8:22; 10:1; 13:5), are provided by the Lord again and again. Clearly, there is a need for a king who can break this cycle of idolatry and oppression.
The fabric of unfaithfulness is woven so deeply into human nature, and the need for a savior who can free us from oppression is so pervasive, that it is tempting to make every story of Judges end with the same result: humanity is a mess; humanity needs a savior. Broadly speaking, this is correct. It is right for us to consider how these patterns in Judges prepare us for Jesus, the final King and Judge to end all judges and all kings. He will destroy the darkness of sin and restore and enable the people of God to fulfill their original role as a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:5–6; 1 Pet. 2:9–10).
No sin, no failure, no corruption, no despair, no brokenness is beyond the reach of his compassion. In light of God’s faithfulness to Israel in Judges, what can we do but worship him and live for his glory?
Need for Redemption
Yet in Judges we can drill even deeper into the area of humanity and its need for redemption. The book addresses significant issues vital to the life of God’s people—issues that will be integrally tied to an understanding of the need of God’s grace in other portions of Scripture. Among many such issues we note,
• the relationship of the believer to culture and the ongoing need to be united to the true Vine (John 15:1–4);
• the importance of telling the story of God’s redemption to following generations (Judg. 2:10);
• the continuing struggle with cycles of sin and its oppression and the Savior who destroys sin’s condemnation (Rom. 7:24–8:1);
• the subtlety of idolatry and compromise and the seriousness of drifting from the Lord (Jude 17–22);
• the tendency of human leaders to pursue their own ends rather than God’s end, requiring his intervention and care for the good of his flock (Luke 22:25–27);
• the willingness and even delight of God, who is much larger, greater, and higher than our sins and shortcomings, to use fallen, unwilling, weak, and frail people—even as leaders—to advance his kingdom (1 Cor. 1:27–31);
• the grace of God made evident in his plan to use the people of his calling (i.e., the church), who are so often under-resourced (from a human standpoint), so that we trust in the One with all resources (2 Cor. 1:8–10).
The failures of both people and judges are so significant that they urge us to long for the hero who will never fail. Cut off from God’s kingship, the people of God are left with only private religion and personal ambition. God is the king, however, and will not long tolerate seeing his people destroy themselves. The people of God are never beyond the reach of his grace. Israel in Judges is in bad shape, but a new day is dawning when God will provide, from the line of David, King Jesus, the king of his choosing.
The books of Samuel are about Israel’s first kings, Saul and David: who they were, how they came to the throne, and how they fared. But more than that, the books are about the great King, God himself. In the riveting stories of 1 and 2 Samuel we catch glimpses of who God is, what he does, what life is like with him and without him, and what life can become by his grace and in the power of his Spirit. These stories are part of our family history as children of Abraham by faith (Gal. 3:7–9, 14). They are meant to instruct us, “on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11), to teach us endurance and, “through the encouragement of the Scriptures,” to give us hope, in order that we may “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:4, 6).
These are gospel-filled stories, unflinchingly honest about sin and society, but saturated with hope of salvation. The two key characters (apart from Samuel the prophet) are both royal sinners. But Saul and David are as different from one another as darkness is from light. For Saul, God does not appear to be a major concern, perhaps not a reality at all. For David, God is his ultimate concern. For David, God is the ultimate reality. And he carries ultimate weight. This is what it means to “honor” God. By the criteria established early in the books—“those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Sam. 2:30)—Saul is destined to fall and David to rise.
Because stories tend to convey their messages indirectly—which is to say, we see what characters do and hear what they say but are seldom offered explicit commentary—they are susceptible to misunderstanding. One common misunderstanding sees Saul as all bad and David as all good. Another reverses the approach and sees Saul as not so bad and David as little more than an unscrupulous political animal.
These are gospel-filled stories, unflinchingly honest about sin and society, but saturated with hope of salvation.
A careful reading disallows both misinterpretations. Saul is not all bad, at least at first. He exhibits some “good faith” at the beginning, but because he is devoid of “true faith” in God this good faith erodes over time into self-centeredness and suicide. David is certainly not all good, and the accounts of 1 and 2 Samuel make no attempt to hide his sins!
But David’s relationship with God is fundamentally sound. He knows God, prays to God, confesses to God, and finds strength in God. He knows himself to be a sinner, and he knows what it means to be saved by grace. Does he also sense that God, in putting him on the throne, is about much more than just establishing a limited, local kingdom? Surely he has some sense of this, even if without full discernment. After all, God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3), which finds numerous echoes in the promise to David (2 Sam. 7:4–17), culminates with the prophecy that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). David cannot foresee just how this blessing will work out, but he seems aware that something grand and glorious is underway (2 Sam. 7:18–29).
Only to us, those privileged to live after the coming of the true King, the Lord’s Anointed (Messiah) from David’s line, is it given to understand that “the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever . . . Hallelujah!” (from Handel’s Messiah).