What is right and wrong?

Read Romans 3

“Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Westminster Shorter Catechism, 14


In the first study on the catechism, we asked who gets to determine right and wrong. In that context we were considering our purpose in life. The answer is the same when we ask who gets to describe morality. The Creator, of course, is the One who determines not only our purpose, but the way we fulfill that purpose. This God does by communicating to us His law.

Sin is necessarily related to this discussion. Last week we hinted at original sin, our guilt in Adam’s first sin; much more could be said on that subject, especially in connection to Romans chapter 5. The Scripture is full with this doctrine; we all like sheep have gone astray, everyone has turned to his own way. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Yes, we in Adam inherit a sinful nature, and that nature leads us to a life of trespasses and sins. But today I want to turn our attention to particular sin – those specific actions of which we are daily guilty.

What is sin? The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives us a succinct and helpful definition; “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” I want to think about sin under three propositions. These come from John Murray’s essay “The Nature of Sin.”

1. Sin is real evil.

There are worldviews that see sin as an illusion. There are worldviews that see sin as even necessary for good to exist. A ying needs its yang; for there to be good, there must also be evil. There must be balance, or good itself ceases to be good. The pantheistic worldview claims sin is a step toward self-realization of divinity. But sin is a real evil. Not imagined. Not necessary, and thus only wrong in contrast. Good is good – regardless of evil. God is perfect in righteous, goodness and holiness. He was so before Satan’s first rebellious sin, or before the sin of Adam in the garden. He will continue to be after the final judgment. God is good, and that is not contingent on evil. Sin is the real rebellion against God’s perfect law, and like any treason, the ruler views it as very real evil indeed.

2. Sin is specific evil.

Not everything that is evil is sin. Our lives are full of disease, tragedy, death, disasters. These are evils, but not of themselves sin. They can sometimes be the consequences of sins, and they all are a result of mankind’s fall into sin with Adam. But the rot in your favorite tree, the cancer in your loved one and the devastation you experience due to the storm are not sin. Sin is a specific evil. It is an evil of rebellion. It is…

3. Sin is moral evil.

There are worldviews that see sin as merely a social construct. Neither good or bad of itself, only viewed as such in a society. But sin is not just a social construct, or a private opinion, it is a moral issue. It is wrong. As Murray comments, “It is a violation of the category of ought; it is wrong; it ought not to be.”

This is because it is a violation of law. Again, not a society’s abstract laws, but a law that is over all society, indeed, over all creation – the whole universe. This law’s authority over all is that it is God’s law, and therefore holds authority over creation, for it derives that authority from the Creator Himself.

We would like to think that we get to choose what is right and wrong. We choose this based on feelings. We choose, if we are honest, based on what makes us feel good, or what puts us on top. But any rejection of God’s law’s authority over us is itself a moral sin. Murray warns us of our tendency toward this, using our best-sounding argument: love supersedes the law.

It is not the law of cosmos, nor the law of reason; it is the law that expresses the nature and will of the supreme personality who has authority over us and propriety in us, to whom we owe complete submission and absolute devotion. We are bound to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind, and such love is the fulfilling of the law. Herein appears the perverseness of the idea that the moral law may be abrogated and is superseded by love. Law for us is the correlate of the nature of God, in us and to us the correlate of  the divine perfection. Love is the fulfilling of the law. But love is not an autonomous, self-instructing and self-directing principle… Love fulfills the law but love itself is not the law. Sin is therefore the violation of the law which love fulfills. Abrogate law and we abrogate sin, and we make love an emotion abstracted from all activity and meaning. (Murray, “The Nature of Sin”)

God sets the standard. And it is that standard which is loving, even when it is seen as close-minded, harsh or unfair. Any sin, no matter how much we seek to convince ourselves and other of its loving motives, is in fact, neither loving, nor good, for it is rebellion against the only wise God. Sin is any time we fail to conform to God’s law. Any time we fail to do what God desires. “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” (Gal 3:10) Sin is any time we break what God commands, or pass the boundary of His law. “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” (1John 3:4) This isn’t an issue of personal opinion. It isn’t an issue of personal belief, in which you are free to believe something else, and not liable or guilty if you don’t see it as wrong. God sets the standards. Sin is any failure to conform to His will, and any transgression of His law, whether we like it or not.

Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: “That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.” But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world? For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say, “Let us do evil that good may come”?—as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just…
As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.”  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:4-8, 10-18)

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October 20, 2016 · 7:23 pm

The Covenant of Life

Read: Romans 5

“When God had created man, He entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death…Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.” Westminster Shorter Catechism, 12-13


God’s decrees are worked out in history through creation and providence. It is clear to any who read Genesis 1 that God created mankind, as He did the rest of creation. But the distance between the Creator and the creature is so great, that although creation itself testifies to His existence, and therefore we owe Him obedience, yet Adam and Eve could not have entered into a relationship with God unless God Himself condescended to enter into relationship with them (Westminster Confession, 7.1). This condescension in the Garden we call the Covenant of Life.

It is true that the Bible does not use the word ‘covenant’ when recounting the events in the Garden. But the arrangement which it does describe contains elements so similar to places where the Bible does use the word covenant, that we can hardly deny a covenant in the Garden. Plainly God in Genesis did enter into what, according to the rest of Scripture, was a covenant.

Biblical covenants are not simply contracts, as we might use the term today. Foundational to Biblical covenants are a promise on the part of God – a promise with a condition. Now God was never obligated to make a covenant, but having made a covenant promise, His honor is involved in the fulfillment of His part of it.

What was the promise? Life. Not a lifetime, as we know it, with death at the end, but eternal life. Not simply a spiritual state of being, but physical life. This both Genesis and Romans 5 clearly indicate. But this promised life, although physical, is also one of favorable spiritual relationship with God, the highest form of living. It would have been an eternal enjoyment of walking with God in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8).

What is the condition attached to the promise? Obedience. Not partial or conditional obedience, but perfect obedience. This is why this covenant is also at times called the Covenant of Works.

Of course, Genesis 2 does not state it in the positive, but rather the negative. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Genesis 2:16-17) Even though this is only put in negative form, the positive implications are clear. Clearly if death is the penalty for disobedience, then the obedient would have life. Underneath the threat of the penalty is the promise of God.

Perhaps it is too easy for our fallen minds to think that this condition was too hard. Like a red flag to a bull, God says, “look at that tree – don’t touch!” And we may wonder how Adam was ever expected to do anything but take and eat! Of course, that is because we are fallen. Adam was not fallen at the time, he had never sinned. Further, we reduce the great blessing of God even in the restriction. God said, “of every tree of the garden you may freely eat,” except one. Now the garden was full of other wonderful trees, trees with no decay. And more importantly, the garden contained the Tree of Life. But Adam, our father and representative, chose the one tree forbidden, over all the other trees of the garden. And so, covenant broken, he lost access to the Tree of Life.

Theologians believe that this initial state was one of probation. When God had created man, He permitted him to be tested. Consider the Christian hope. Dr. Machen asks,

“Does it consist merely in the hope of being given a new chance to obey the commands of God, to have sin removed, and to have set before us all over again in another world the alternative of life and death as it was set before Adam in Paradise? No Christian, who has any inkling of the true riches of the great and precious promises of God will say that. On the contrary, the Christian hope is the hope of a time when even the possibility of our sinning will be over. It is not the hope then of a return to the condition of Adam before the fall but the hope of an entrance into a far higher condition.” (The Christian View of Man, 160)

This clear emphasis in the Scriptures, of a life without the possibility of sin, leads us to see the Garden as probation; had Adam passed the test, the same blessedness that we have in Christ would have been to Adam and his posterity. This is why Romans 5 is so wonderful. We are not to live in fear of a Covenant of Works, for in history only two men have been put in this test: Adam and Christ. Both represent those united to them. One failed and received death. The other perfectly kept the commandments of God, and therefore gives eternal life to all those who are in Him!

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God’s Decrees: Cause of Praise and Humility

“The decrees of God are, His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”
Westminster Shorter Catechism, 7

God executes His decrees in the works of creation and providence.”
Westminster Shorter Catechism, 8

The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel.”
Westminster Confession of Faith, 3.8

So often our discussions of God’s decree is driven by the urge to respond to those voices which would reject and challenge this biblical doctrine. The doctrine of God’s eternal decree is taught throughout Scripture. Notably Ephesians 1, Romans 9, and John 6:35-40.

Rather than argue for God’s decree, we will here consider the response we ought to have to this biblical doctrine. I am reminded of something that R.C. Sproul wrote. He tells the story of his own struggle with the doctrine of God’s decrees, providence, election and reprobation. The turning point for him was during a seminary class where he was required to deal, sentence by sentence with Jonathan Edwards’ The Freedom of the Will. Sproul became convinced, and comments that often submission to this doctrine comes before love of it.

First came the intellectual conviction that the doctrine was biblically inescapable. It took some time, however for [Edwards and Sproul] to see the doctrine’s sweetness and excellence. It draws our attention away from ourselves and our petty concerns, and directs our gaze to God, who is truly sovereign and purposive in His determination to bring about the salvation of His people. He does not simply make salvation possible, and then sit like a spectator, leaving our final destiny in our own hands. The biblical doctrine of sin makes it clear that if God left our future in our hands, we most assuredly would not end up in heaven.

When we see the depths to which God goes to bring His people to the fullness of     salvation, we stand in awe before His grace. Is there anything more amazing than that we should be called children of God? The apostle John writes to his flock: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). This helps us see the excellence and sweetness of grace, and it moves us to praise, reverence, and admiration. (Sproul, Truths We Confess, 107)

Sproul goes on to comment on our cult of the individual, how we like to make everything about ourselves. How we like to turn the kingdom of God into a democracy, rather than realize our need to bow before our Absolute Monarch. This is why even believers struggle with the doctrine of God’s decree so much. It is unacceptable to our egos that God should declare Himself in control, and that His decree includes things we don’t like, yet God chooses not to answer all our questions.

The Westminster Confession of Faith ends its chapter on the Divine Decrees by reminding us that this doctrine should lead us to worship and praise of our Sovereign God. The very fact this doctrine is a mystery, and beyond our ability to fully comprehend should drive us to our knees in awe of our God, as Romans 11:33 declares, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

But we will never fall on our knees in praise, nor live the diligent life of grateful obedience to which this God calls us, nor enjoy the great comfort that this doctrine extends to all who call on the Name of Christ, unless we come to the doctrine in humility.

Why do some of us call on the name of the Lord, and others reject the offer of the gospel? Is it because some of us are smarter? Paul says that not many of the wise are chosen (1 Cor. 1:26). Is it just random? Is it because we wanted it more? But Scripture tells us that wanting it isn’t enough, for we aren’t able to choose Christ on our own (John 6:44, Rom. 8:8). So why do some of us call on the name of the Lord? Because God predestined us to eternal life, and works this life, this desire to call on the name of the Lord, and the faith to call out, by the work of the Holy Spirit, effectually calling us, and thereby uniting us to Christ.

Isn’t that humbling? Doesn’t that leave your pride bruised and broken? Doesn’t that take all superiority over unbelievers out of us? It was not because we are anything special. It is not because we are better or morally good. It was only God’s love that called us, by His will, unto everlasting life. And it is He, through Jesus Christ His Son, who created and governs all things, in all time and all space (Col. 1).

But that will lead to apathy; why call on the name of the Lord if we are either elect or not? If I am not elect, calling won’t help, and if I am elect, I will be saved whether I call out or not! But friends, God does not tells us what His decree is for our lives. He simply tells us that all the elect will cry out to Him, and then tells us to call out and be saved. God’s decree does not counteract an energetic faith, but spurs it on.

The whole theme of Scripture is all of grace, all of Christ’s mercy. Are we humble enough to bow before the doctrine of Divine decree? If so, you will find that such a position before God’s throne is a joyful place, a place where singing praise is exciting, for the praise is not for us in our weakness, but for the God who loved us, and gave His Son for us!

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God: the Trinity

Read Matthew 3:13-17 and 28:16-20

                                                         God: the Trinity

There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” Westminster Shorter Catechism, 6

This week we come to the doctrine of the Trinity. Below is an excellent devotional on the Trinity by Dr. J. Gresham Machen from The Christian Faith in the Modern World.


The Bible is not afraid of speaking of God in a startlingly tender and human sort of way. It does so just in passages where the majesty of God is set forth. It is He Who sits upon the circle of the Earth, says the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers [Isaiah 40:22]. All nations before Him are as nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity [Isaiah 40:17]. But what says that same fortieth chapter of Isaiah about this same terrible God? Here is what it says: He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those who are with young [Isaiah 40:11].

How wonderfully the Bible sets forth the tenderness of God! Is that merely figurative? Are we wrong in thinking of God in such childlike fashion? Many philosophers say so. They will not think of God as a person. Oh, no. That would be dragging Him down too much to our level! So they make of Him a pale abstraction. The Bible seems childish to them in the warm, personal way in which it speaks of God. Are those philosophers right or is the Bible right? Thank God, the Bible is right, my friends. The philosophers despise children who think of God as their heavenly Father. But the philosophers are wrong and the children are right. Did not our Lord Jesus say: I thank You, O Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, because You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babies [Matthew 11:25].

No, God is no pale abstraction. He is a person. That simple truth – precious possession of simple souls – is more profound than all the philosophies of all the ages.

But now we come to a great mystery. God, according to the Bible, is not just one person, but He is three persons in one God. That is the great mystery of the Trinity.

The Trinity is revealed to us only in the Bible. We said at the beginning of this little series of talks that God has revealed some things to us through nature and through conscience. But the Trinity is not among them. This He has revealed to us by supernatural revelation and by supernatural revelation alone.

Within the Word of God, it is in the New Testament that the doctrine of the Trinity is taught.There are hints of it in the Old Testament, but they are only hints, and it was left to the New Testament for this precious doctrine to be clearly revealed.

In the New Testament, the doctrine is taught with the utmost clearness; and, as has well been pointed out by Dr. B. B. Warfield, in a splendid article on the Trinity, the doctrine is presupposed even more than it is expressly taught. That is, the New Testament is founded throughout on the doctrine of the Trinity, and the doctrine was really established by the great facts of the incarnation of the Son of God and the work of the Holy Spirit even before it was enunciated in words.

Only the smallest part of the teaching of the New Testament about the Trinity is found in passages where the doctrine is stated as a whole. What the New Testament ordinarily does is to state parts of the doctrine, so that when we put those parts together, and when we summarize them, we have the great doctrine of the three persons and one God.

For example, all passages in the New Testament where the deity of Jesus Christ is set forth are, when taken in connection with passages setting forth the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit, passages supporting the doctrine of the Trinity.

But what needs to be observed now is that although by far the larger part of the Biblical teaching about the Trinity is given in that incidental and partial way – presupposing the doctrine rather than formally enunciating it as a whole – yet there are some passages where the doctrine is definitely presented by the mention, together, of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

The most famous of such passages, I suppose, is found in the Great Commission, given by the risen Lord to His disciples according to the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew. Go therefore, and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 28:19]. There we have a mention of all three persons of the Trinity in the most complete coordination and equality – yet all three persons are plainly not three Gods but one. Here, in this solemn Commission by our Lord, the God of all true Christians is forever designated as a triune God.

We think also, for example, of the apostolic benediction at the end of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians; The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all [2 Corinthians 13:14]. Here the terminology is a little different from that in the Great Commission. Paul speaks of the Son as the Lord. But the word Lord in the Pauline Epistles is plainly a designation of deity, like the other Greek word which is translated into English by the word God. It is the Greek word used to translate the holy name of God, Jehovah, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament which Paul used, and Paul does not hesitate to apply to Christ Old Testament passages which speak of Jehovah.

That brings us to something supremely important in the teaching of the whole New Testament about the Trinity. It is this – that the New Testament writers, in presenting God as triune, are never for one moment conscious of saying anything that could by any possibility be regarded as contradicting the Old Testament teaching that there is but one God. That teaching is at the very heart and core of the Old Testament. It is every whit as much at the heart and core of the New Testament. The New Testament is just as much opposed as the Old Testament is to the thought that there are more Gods than one. Yet the New Testament with equal clearness teaches that the Father is God and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, and that these three are not three aspects of the same person but three persons standing in a truly personal relationship to one another. There we have the great doctrine of the three persons but one God.

That doctrine is a mystery. No human mind can fathom it. Yet what a blessed mystery it is! The Christian’s heart melts within him in gratitude and joy when he thinks of the divine love and condescension that has thus lifted the veil and allowed us sinful creatures a look into the very depths of the being of God.

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God: Utterly Unique, Yet Imaged

Read Psalm 102:25-28

God: Utterly Unique, Yet Imaged

“God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” (WSC, #4)

“There is but one [God] only, the living and true God.” (WSC, #5)

Two weeks ago we saw that humanity’s purpose for existence is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever. This requires God instructing us in what pleases Him, but also instructing us in who He is; there is no praising or enjoying of someone until we know them. Last week we thought about the Bible, in which God reveals Himself to us. We will attempt (very briefly) here to consider what it is that God reveals about Himself.

God is Unique

Scripture reveals to us a God who is utterly unique and other than us. His unique attributes include independence, immutability and infinity.

God is independent. He is the only self-existent being. All else only exists because of God, but God existed before time, and apart from anything or anyone else. He is the Cause without a cause. He not only is independent in His existence, but in His continuance. God alone has no need for anyone else, and nothing else, to continue existing. “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself,” John 5:25-26, and “by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Colossians 1:16-17. We have our existence only because God created us, and we continue to exist only because He sustains us; we are dependent upon His sovereignty.

God is immutable. That is, He never changes. His very being has no need of improvement and will never deteriorate, (Romans 1:23). He is what He is, and that will never change; this is precisely what He said to Moses at the burning bush, Exodus 3:14; it is the essence of His covenantal name, YHWH. This unchangeableness extends to God’s knowledge, plans, and moral principles. We try to redefine right and wrong, we change allegiances and go back on our word; but God does not and this is good news for us. “For I am the Lord, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob,” Malachi 3:6.

God is infinite. He is free from all limitations. By this we do not mean what some modern theologians suggest, that God’s infinity is extending. That is, that God began expanding at the beginning of time (the cause of the big bang), and He continues to expand, causing the cosmos to expand. This view makes God dependent and tied to creation, rather than unique from it. When we say God is infinite we mean absolutely beyond limits, not expanding the limits. He is infinite in absolute perfection, eternity (time) and immensity (space). 1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 139:1-12.

God is Imaged

Although God is utterly unique and other than us, Scripture also reveals that God created humanity in His image. There are certain communicable attributes which we can imitate. These include wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. But it is important to realize that, while we imitate these attributes of God, we cannot separate the way that God is any of these from His uniqueness. In other words, when it comes to each of these attributes, God has that attribute independently, immutably and infinitely. We do not. Let us just consider two of these attributes.

God is wise. When we say God is wise, we confess that He is wise in and of Himself. He did not acquire wisdom from another, nor need to learn it in any way. He always was, and always will be perfectly and infinitely wise. We on the other hand must learn wisdom, and are dependent upon God for this wisdom. In fact, when we seek independence by denying God, we display our foolishness (Psalm 14); when we try to say we have a wiser understanding or approach to God than He has revealed, we display our foolishness (Psalm 115:3-8). Our wisdom is fickle, changing and temporary. We imitate the wisdom of God, but only as we rely on Him for that wisdom.

God is holy. He does not gain this holiness from another, but is holy in His very being. He cannot become more holy, nor earn more holiness. This is why we sing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was, and is, and is to come.” Adam was created righteous, but in him we have lost that in Paradise. We have no holiness in ourselves, but “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment,” Isaiah 64:6. We are called to be holy in imitation of Christ, (1 Peter 1:16), but this we can only have as it is imputed to us by faith in Christ and as it is worked in us by the Holy Spirit.

Study the Scriptures and you will find this to be the case with all of the communicable attributes of God. God is always just, He doesn’t shift on right and wrong, and will not allow the guilty to go unpunished. We on the other hand make excuses for those we like and for our own unjust lives, then grow enraged at lesser faults in others. Justice is an attribute in which we must grow. Love too. God’s love never fails. But we are fickle and selfish in our so-called “love.” We only truly love, when we have first experienced God’s love for us (1 John 4:19).

Even where we imitate God, God remains utterly different from us. At best we are reliant and increasingly, yet changeably, display God’s attributes.

Scripture displays this astounding God. It reveals Him not only in these (and other) attributes, but through His names and actions. The Bible reveals to us a God who is infinitely above us, infinitely worthy of our obedience, adoration and praise. And in our sin, the Bible reveals to us the God who Redeems, bringing all the perfections of His attributes to the talk of pardoning us and calling us His children.

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What is Truth?

Read Revelation 22:18-19 and Micah 6:1-8

What is Truth?

“The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, #2)

“The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, #3)

Divine Truth

If God is to set the standard for right and wrong, for our purpose in life, and how to pursue it, then it should be clear that we need God to reveal Himself in some way.

Many humans would argue that God speaks to them through feelings: God moving them, something just seeming right, etc… But again, we come to the place we found ourselves in last study, what you feel moved to believe may be different from what I feel. And this leaves us with a dilemma: if God reveals Himself through our gut feelings, then He is inconsistent, for we do not all agree on morals and life. But if God is inconsistent, then He is changeable like the Greek gods, and that never ends well for mortals.

Alternatively, God must reveal Himself outside of you and I. The Christian faith has understood that God does this in two ways: in general revelation (that is, the creation around us) and in special revelation (that is, the Bible). This is the central theme of Psalm 19.

Creation itself informs us that there is a God, but of itself cannot show us the way of redemption in the gospel. Therefore, the Shorter Catechism rightly says, “the Word of God…is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.”

But what reason do we have for believing this is God’s Word? The Westminster Larger Catechism lists several evidences:

  1. The Bible is Majestic! As Psalm 119 declares, “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your Law…Your testimonies are wonderful.” (vv. 18, 129)

  2. The Bible is Pure! Again in Psalm 119:140, “Your word is very pure, therefore Your servant loves it.” And in Psalm 12:6, David declares, “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.”

  3. The Bible is consistent! Acts 10:43, “To [Christ] all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” Later, in Acts 26:22-23, Paul declares that Moses and the prophets were all testifying to Christ’s sufferings, work and resurrection. The Scriptures are all united in their message of salvation, even though written over thousands of years!

  4. The Bible is powerful! Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit…” and James 1:18, “Of [Christ’s] own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits     of His creation.” John draws to the close of his gospel with the comment, “these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Do you notice what these reasons given have in common? The evidence of them is found entirely in looking into the Scriptures themselves. The world could debate each one of these facts, or claim that the judgment of them is subjective to the reader – as Tolstoy or Shakespeare move some people and not others. So the central why we find the Word of God to be divine truth is it’s own testimony, its own claims about itself.* This is what we call self-attesting;“the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.” (WLC, Q&A 4)

The Holy Spirit alone can convince us that the Bible is absolutely true, the Word of God and not simply the words of men compiled over millennia. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him. Neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) The Spirit testifies by and with the Word in the heart, resulting in a full certainty that the Bible is the Word of God.

Directive Truth

Very well, God speaks in His Word, but what does this Word direct us to learn and believe? Primarily two things: the truth about God and how we are to respond to that truth.

The truth about God is vast and deep, and is to be a constant study for the believer. Scripture teaches us about the being of God, the persons of the Trinity, God’s decrees and His working out those decrees. The Bible nowhere tries to argue the existence of God because His existence is revealed in nature and in the human heart (Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:20). But it is full of teaching about who God is and what He does, including that He is Redeemer, which is not naturally revealed in nature or the heart.

As the Bible teaches us about God, it continually adds application: what obedience does this knowledge of God require? Our God doesn’t leave us to guess. Sometimes we do, don’t we? We know (or have been) the one who, when asked, “what do you want for your birthday,” replied, “oh, whatever.” Only to be disappointed with what we were given. But this is not something God does. He is very direct with what He desires us to do. (Micah 6:8) And when we really consider just who God is, we ought to long to obey, after all, in obedience we are not only glorifying God, but experience the greatest enjoyment of a close walk with Him.

*Does this seem circular to you? That is the obvious claim. But in the end of the day all claims are circular, that is, all worldviews have some “assumed” presupposition behind them. The Christian worldview has as its foundational presupposition that there is a God and that He has testified about Himself in the Bible – a claim the unbeliever will never accept no matter how many evidences you present, unless the Spirit works regeneration in his heart.

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Why am I here?

Read Revelation chapter 4.

Why am I here?

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, #1)

Ending in God

It is increasingly important in our society to think each person’s goal, purpose and “end” in life is up to that person – and that person alone. The idea is that whatever I desire most, whatever makes me feel best, that is my purpose. There may be a few exceptions to this – most popular: as long as what makes you happiest doesn’t get in the way of anyone else’s happiness.

Of course, we run into trouble with this. Whose happiness matters the most? If one’s purpose negates the freedom of someone else’s goals – who matters most? The majority?

Man’s chief end,” that is, humankind’s main purpose for existence, that which supersedes all other goals, enjoyments or purpose, “is to glorify God.” Who should get the end opinion, the Creator or the creature?

Isaiah the prophet declared firmly that the Creator alone is to determine our purpose; “But now, O Lord,
You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8) Jesus Christ, by whom all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible (Colossians 1:16), calls upon us to find our purpose in what He desires: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)

Our reason for being here is God’s glory – and He is glorified, not when we follow whatever makes us happiest, but when we follow that which makes Him most happy. His pleasure, not our own, is why we are here. But this does not mean that life is to be a depressing, burdensome slavery, for our purpose also includes enjoyment!

Exalting God

How then do I exalt, or glorify God? Thomas Watson suggests four key areas.

(1) Appreciation. “We glorify God when we are God-admirers; admire His attributes, which are the glistering beams by which the divine nature shines forth; His promises which are the charter of free grace… the noble effects of His power and wisdom in making the world, which is called ‘the work of His fingers.’ Ps. 8:3. To glorify God is to have God-admiring thoughts; to esteem Him most excellent, and search for diamonds in this rock only.” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, Banner of Truth, 1982, p. 7)

(2) Adoration. “This divine worship God is very jealous of; it is the apple of His eye… Divine worship must be such as God Himself has appointed, else it is offering a strange fire (Lev. 10:1). The Lord would have Moses make the tabernacle, ‘according to the pattern…’ He must not leave out anything in the pattern, nor add to it. If God was so exact and curious about the place of worship, how exact will He be about the matter of His worship! Surely here everything must be according to the pattern prescribed in His Word.”
(Watson, 8)

(3) Affection. Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” We prefer self-love, making ourselves feel best. But exalting God means turning our affections away from ourselves and toward God. “This love is exuberant, not a few drops, but a stream. It is superlative; we give God the best of our love.” (Watson, 8) If the young lover goes to any length to bring happiness to the one they adore, how much more should the Christian life be filled with great striving of affection toward the Lover of our souls – our Creator and Redeemer?

(4) Subjection. “This is when we dedicate ourselves to God, and stand ready dressed for His service… We glorify God when we stick at no service, when we fight under the banner of His gospel against an enemy.” If we would glorify God, we must serve faithfully in His army and move “vigorously in the sphere of obedience.” (Watson, 9)

These are the key areas in which we glorify God. They call us to consider God’s glory above our own glory, our wealth, and earthly security. They call us to pick up our cross and follow Him daily (Mark 8:34). We glorify God in contentment; “when we are content to be outshined by others in gifts and esteem.” (Watson, 11) We glorify God in the sincere confession of sin and in believing whole-heartedly in Christ’s redemption alone. We glorify God in trusting His good providence and in pursuing a fruitful life of service unto holiness. We glorify God in standing boldly for the truth contra mundum (against the world) and in walking cheerfully in the wilderness of this life.

Enjoying God

Our natures would call upon us to enjoy ourselves, or whatever pleasure comes our way. So 2 Peter 3 warns us what of what Watson calls “the Trinity [the world] worships,” (Watson, 21): to indulge in “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life.” We are tempted to think that the enjoyment of God in this life is not enjoyment at all! Our hearts are all too often far from that expressed by David, “O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and weary land, where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You.” (Psalm 63:1-3) David in the wilderness of Judah sees what we so often ignore, that this life holds no pleasure greater than entering into the place of worship and knowing the intimate and personal fellowship that we have with God in Christ. And not only is that the greatest enjoyment we might have in this life, but it is part of our very purpose in living! In a world where so many of us do seemingly pointless tasks each day, we are given a purpose that brings us the best enjoyment!

And this purpose does not end with our earthly life. When encouraging the Thessalonian believers, the greatest thing that Paul can say regarding heaven is, ‘then we shall ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thess. 4:17) And those who are with the Lord, never cease to engage in this wonderful dual task of glorifying and enjoying Him, as we see so clearly in Revelation 4. There the singing is continuous, for the One glorified and enjoyed is seen, with the veil removed from our eyes, and He is worthy to receive all glory, honor and power.

This is why we are here.

For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

Romans 11:36

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Reformed or Reforming?

by Dr. Gregory E. Reynolds

Which is it—reformed or reforming? The church is at its best when it is both. At this time in our short history, we in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church need to take stock of our church. I am told that we are the fastest growing Reformed church in North America. Why? One reason is that “Reformed” communicates that there is something fixed and unchanging about who we are because we serve a God who has given us his infallible, sufficient Word. “Reforming,” on the other hand, suggests that we recognize that we are fallible in interpreting that Word. We are ever in need of renewing, reevaluating, and deepening our knowledge of Scripture. As children of the Reformation, then, we must ever be both reformed and reforming.

The Task of Each Generation
Renewing our knowledge of Scripture is the task of every new generation of believers. It is the responsibility of the older members of the church to teach the younger ones the biblical basis for our doctrine and the implications of the clear truth of Scripture for the faith and life of the church. Each generation must rediscover the truth of Scripture for itself. “Rediscover,” however, does not mean starting with a blank sheet. Rather, it means humbly recognizing the biblical basis of the teachings of our Confession and Catechisms, as well as (I might add) our Book of Church Order. The failure to teach our children this marvelous map of Scripture truth, the Westminster standards, can actually lead to the traditionalism we should all dread. Jesus warned us about the awful tendency for man-made traditions to contradict God’s truth (Matt. 15:3).
While rejecting traditionalism, though, we must inculcate a deep respect for the tradition of interpreting and formulating the teachings of Scripture. This may at first sound contradictory. In a culture addicted to novelty and individualism, tradition has become a dirty word. However, there is a vast difference between an unthinking commitment to “what we have always believed” (traditionalism) and an appreciation of the reasons why certain things have been believed. Scripture itself exhorts us to “hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13). Tradition is the body of teaching handed down from one generation to another. Paul speaks positively of the apostolic “tradition” (2 Thess. 3:6). “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15).
The radical individualism of our age asserts that each person is the final arbiter of truth. This is similar to the audacity of those who think it is the pinnacle of humility to disdain confessions, commentaries, and other Christian literature as “the writings of men.” Certainly these are fallible. However, the Spirit gives the entire church, both today and in history, the wisdom of interpretation. As C. H. Spurgeon once said, “It seems odd that certain men who talk so much about what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves should think so little of what he has revealed to others.”

Some will say, “The tradition which Paul commends is the Bible, but the Westminster Confession is man-made tradition.” We admit that confessions are man-made and therefore fallible. However, just like maps, they are perfected over time, making them reliable guides. No one would confuse a map with the actual roads. Traveling the roads verifies the accuracy of the map. God’s Word is always primary. But unless one wants to start out drawing his own map, it is wise to have great respect for maps that have stood the test of time. They are an accurate portrayal of the landscape of God’s Word. “No creed but Christ; no book but the Bible” is a half-truth. Everyone has a system of doctrine. The question is, is it what the Bible teaches? American individualism reinforces the pride of private interpretation. The church has a history that we need to study and appreciate as we grow in the knowledge of God’s Word. Not only will this help us to understand Scripture better, but it will keep us from error, as we learn from the church’s past mistakes.
J. Gresham Machen and many others in the twentieth century believed that we are not living in a creed-writing age. However, Machen also believed that the church has a responsibility to write creeds. But without renewing our knowledge of what we confess, we are never in a position to reevaluate it—and reevaluating is a necessary companion of deepening our knowledge. If we do not believe in the possibility of creed writing, we will tend to place our confessional standards on the same level as Scripture. Reevaluating what we believe, including our confessional standards, is the task of the whole church, especially her ministers and elders, at all times. Paul infallibly instructed us on this matter: “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). This means that seeking to understand (exegeting) Scripture has priority as we read our Confession and as we seek to understand our culture.

The Founding of the OPC
In the long battle over liberalism in the old Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA), the battle lines were drawn over the “fundamentals” of the faith. Thus, at the outset of our history, we had to struggle with this question: “What does it mean to be a Bible-believing church?” The liberal Harry Emerson Fosdick famously asked in the title of a sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” As far as the PCUSA was concerned, we lost. But, as Dr. Machen declared at our first General Assembly, we became “members, at last, of a true Presbyterian Church.”
At our next assembly, the question of fundamentalism was in essence raised again, but from a different quarter. Questions about eschatology and Christian liberty were hotly debated. We were forced to reevaluate our identity and beliefs. We had to ask, “What does it mean, not just to be a Bible-believing church, but also to be a confessional Presbyterian church?” On the biblical side of the chasm between liberalism and historic Christianity, Machen and the Old School Presbyterians wanted to distinguish the OPC from fundamentalism. Thankfully, we affirmed the whole Scripture and nothing but the Scripture as our rule for faith and life. This has involved a thoughtful struggle. The reports of study committees and decisions of the General Assembly reflect the depth and breadth of this battle. These should be read by every member of the church. (Many of these can be found on our Web site: www.opc.org.)
Finally, deepening and expanding our knowledge of Scripture should always be on the horizon of the church’s life. The “progress of doctrine” is perhaps an uncomfortable concept to some. It may appear that progress implies the fallibility of the Word of God. Actually it implies both our fallibility in understanding the Word and our need to reapply the infallible Word in our day.
This means that asking ourselves what our forefathers taught on the doctrine of the Trinity or the doctrine of justification is quite different from asking what they taught on the doctrine of creation. The reason is that during the fourth and sixteenth centuries, the church was challenged to formulate its understanding of Scripture on the Trinity and justification.
True progress was made by the church (not simply by individuals) over an extended period of time in debating these issues. The doctrine of creation was not controversial then in the way it has become today, with the advent of evolutionary thought. Thus, we need to apply the text of Scripture to this question with humility, patience, and diligent study. Our former OP historian, Charles Dennison, pointed out two further areas in which the church is presently being challenged to grow in its doctrinal knowledge: the doctrines of the church (ecclesiology) and “last things” (eschatology).

Relying on the Lord through His Appointed Means of Grace
In renewing, reevaluating, and deepening our knowledge of Scripture, we must always remember the means of grace. For it is here, especially in the preaching of the Word, that the church finds its nourishment. Today the gospel is threatened by the church’s accommodation of the text of Scripture to the text of the world. In the name of relevance, much of the American church has removed herself far from the text of Scripture. The immediacy of the electronic media has seduced the church to marginalize Scripture in its worship and life. The arts of speaking, hearing, and reading God’s Book are disappearing. The preached Word is the voice of the Good Shepherd (Rom. 10:14), by which we participate in the heavenly realm through our Mediator, Jesus Christ. This Word is being eclipsed. Worship is being transformed into entertainment. In such an environment, preaching becomes a mere prop, another means of self-improvement or of making a better world—of seeking to make this world our home. Our technological means are seducing us into thinking that we are in control, and that God depends on us, rather than we on God.
To combat this dangerous trend, the academic model of preaching is powerless. The theoretical lecture, which is necessary for laying the theological foundations in seminary, will not help any more than the practical pep talk. The passionate quest to connect heaven and earth through the preaching of the Christ of Scripture from the entire Scripture is the only antidote to the postmodern malaise. This is the approach of our Savior on the road to Emmaus and of the apostle Paul in Athens.
In circles where the Bible is received as the infallible Word of God, the odd tendency is to treat preaching as something different from worship. We have preaching and we have worship. However, the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, presents preaching as the supreme act of worship. True preaching, which brings us into the very presence of God himself, is the only way to overcome the myopia of the electronic age.
The keeping of the Sabbath is the chronological context of worship, without which the world engulfs the church. This present taste of the coming heavenly rest is our vital contact with the risen Christ. This spiritual reality stands at the heart of our identity as a confessional church.
In conclusion, the electronic media, while expanding global information exchange, are at the same time privatizing individual experience. This trend toward radical individualism has been under way in American culture for well over two centuries. This, along with other cultural forces, is undermining commitment to the corporateness of the visible church, its worship, and its covenantal responsibilities. God’s Word calls the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church to witness to, and participate in, a heavenly kingdom—in contrast to those who are seeking to build an earthly kingdom. Christ thus calls the visible church to be “counter-cultural.”
Confessional Presbyterianism has a powerful heritage upon which to build a truly countercultural church—a church that will valiantly withstand the powers of this present evil age. Our heritage is rooted in heaven and moving toward the great consummation for which we have been graciously created and redeemed. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24). “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:14-15). As children of our crucified and risen Lord, we must ever be both reformed and reforming, depending on God and his appointed means to build his church. To be anything less will not please or glorify him.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church must continue to renew, reevaluate, and deepen her knowledge of Scripture in humble dependence upon the Head of the Church. Then she will have good reason to exist for him, as a good and faithful servant of the Servant of the Lord. And then she will be able to serve as an effective witness to the broader church and to the world of Christ’s heavenly calling to his people.


The author is the pastor of Amoskeag OPC in Manchester, N.H., and has written the recent book, The Word Is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age (Wipf and Stock). He quotes the NKJV.
Reprinted from New Horizons, October 2001.

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What We Believe

The following is a brief explanation of what the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Believes.


Our system of doctrine is the Reformed faith, also called Calvinism (because Calvin was the most important exponent of it during the Reformation). It pulls together the most significant doctrines taught in the Bible. These doctrines are set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms (with accompanying biblical references). Our system of doctrine is summarized in the following paragraphs.
•    The Bible, having been inspired by God, is entirely trustworthy and without error. Therefore, we are to believe and obey its teachings. The Bible is the only source of special revelation for the church today.
•    The one true God is personal, yet beyond our comprehension. He is an invisible spirit, completely self-sufficient and unbounded by space or time, perfectly holy and just, and loving and merciful. In the unity of the Godhead there are three “persons”: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
•    God created the heavens and the earth, and all they contain. He upholds and governs them in accordance with his eternal will. God is sovereign (in complete control) yet this does not diminish human responsibility.
•    Because of the sin of the first man, Adam, all mankind is corrupt by nature, dead in sin, and subject to the wrath of God. But God determined, by a covenant of grace, that sinners may receive forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ has always been the only way of salvation, in both Old Testament and New Testament times.
•    The Son of God took upon himself a human nature in the womb of the virgin Mary, so that in her son Jesus the divine and human natures were united in one person. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life and died on a cross, bearing the sins of, and receiving God’s wrath for, all those who trust in him for salvation (his chosen ones). He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, where he sits as Lord and rules over his kingdom (the church). He will return to judge the living and the dead, bringing his people (with glorious, resurrected bodies) into eternal life, and consigning the wicked to eternal punishment.
•    Those whom God has predestined unto life are effectually drawn to Christ by the inner working of the Spirit as they hear the gospel. When they believe in Christ, God declares them righteous (justifies them), pardoning their sins and accepting them as righteous, not because of any righteousness of their own, but by imputing Christ’s merits to them. They are adopted as the children of God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies them, enabling them increasingly to stop sinning and act righteously. They repent of their sins (both at their conversion and thereafter), produce good works as the fruit of their faith, and persevere to the end in communion with Christ, with assurance of their salvation.
•    Believers strive to keep God’s moral law, which is summarized in the Ten Commandments, not to earn salvation, but because they love their Savior and want to obey him. God is the Lord of the conscience, so that men are not required to believe or do anything contrary to, or in addition to, the Word of God in matters of faith or worship.
•    Christ has established his church, and particular churches, to gather and perfect his people, by means of the ministry of the Word, the sacraments of baptism (which is to be administered to the children of believers, as well as believers) and the Lord’s Supper (in which the body and blood of Christ are spiritually present to the faith of believers), and the disciplining of members found delinquent in doctrine or life. Christians assemble on the Lord’s Day to worship God by praying, hearing the Word of God read and preached, singing psalms and hymns, and receiving the sacraments.

Taken from http://opc.org/beliefs.html

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