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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 3 "Man"

"Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God's creation. In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love."

While this section affirms many important and true things about man from the Scriptures, like the imago Dei, the original innocence of man, and the inheritance of a sin nature for all Adam's posterity, it is in this section that we first encounter some explicit teaching with which I would directly disagree.

This section says that "as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation." This supposes that young children are innocent before God until some point of maturity at which point they are "capable of moral action" and are supposed to be accountable to God for their moral actions for the first time.

It is my conviction that Romans 5 gives us a different understanding of the scope of the forensic effects of Adam's sin. According to vv. 12-14, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come."

What I believe Paul to be saying here is, in effect, this: the deaths of even those who never possessed express divine revelation commanding obedience to specific laws (like God's commandment to Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit) prove that Adam's guilt is counted to all his posterity apart from their personal obedience or disobedience. Even if someone appeals to the conscience-written laws of Romans 2 to try and say that no one has ever been without the general revelation of God's moral Law, infants who cannot comprehend general revelation or rationally consider conscience-written laws would still fit Paul's category of those who had "not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam." Yet even infants between Adam and Moses died in infancy regularly.

Even though in the rest of Romans 5:12-21 the actual sinful corruption of human nature comes in to view at times, another reason to understand the main thrust of the passage to be the forensic is the juxtaposition between condemnation and justification in verses 16 and 18. Moreover, the whole context of chapters 3-5 focuses on the justification of believers in Christ; Paul only moves to the issue of personal obedience and sanctification in chapter 6, and he only starts that discussion by asking and answering the wrong-headed question of an interlocutor which could only have arisen in response to a robust doctrine of justification by faith apart from works. The logical result is that, even though the entrance of death and a sinful bent in human nature is a part of the total picture, Paul's parallel between justification in Christ and condemnation in Adam here in Romans 5 is that condemnation in Adam is also reckoned apart from personal obedience.

Adam and Christ are covenantal "federal heads," such that being "in Adam" by birth as a human being results in the inheritance of the guilt of original sin, and being "in Christ" by faith results in being credited with the free "gift of righteousness" (5:17) which is nothing else but the righteousness of Christ Himself (1 Cor 1:30; Phil 3:9; 2 Cor 5:21; etc.)

Therefore, until a person exercises saving faith in Christ, severing his or her covenantal relation with Adam and joining him- or herself to Christ, he or she is liable to the just judgment of God against sinners regardless of maturity or age. There is no point in a person's life when there is a move from not being under condemnation for sin, to being under condemnation based on his or her personal disobedience expressed for the first time as conscious, intentional rebellion against understood Law.

One implication of this is that it is unwise and somewhat misguided to affirm some arbitrary "age of accountability" (even a general range of ages) for children. Every child, however young, stands in need of the grace of Christ--and that not only because of the sinful nature with which they are born, but also because of the legal inheritance of Adam's guilt for sin. The need Christ the "Last Adam" (1 Cor 15:45) as their covenant head in place of the first Adam.

I should make one clarification. I believe that even though young children are no less exempt from the condemnation due original sin than a mature adult who has personally and consciously committed many overt sins, there are a number of biblical lines of evidence which together strongly support the idea that very young children or infants who die very young or in infancy (or the severely mentally handicapped) are all elect, saved by Christ, and regenerated by the Holy Spirit without the normal effect of mature, conscious faith in the propositions of the gospel in this life. Lines of evidence I would cite, without detailed development here, would include: 1) The Romans 1:18ff principle of the ability to comprehend general revelation as a pre-requisite for being without excuse for judgment 2) David's suggestive (although perhaps idiomatic) words about his relationship to his departed son 3) Jesus' words about children and the kingdom 4) the wider scriptural theme of God's exalting the lowly and humble and humiliating the strong and proud. While the case of the children of unbelievers is less certain scripturally, we can at least say that the covenant promises to believers and their children that God will be God to them (no less now in the better and fulfilled New Covenant than it was in the foundational Abrahamic covenant!) seems to warrant our confidence that God will glorify His great mercy and power in the salvation of any of our little ones whom we tragically lose while they are still young. Even Reformed credobaptist Wayne Grudem seems to agree with this particular conclusion.

To end this discussion on a gospel note...although Romans 5 teaches us about the tragic state of unconverted humanity in Adam--oppressed by the power of sin and death, awaiting capital punishment for personal sins that correspond well to the covenantal guilt we all inherited from our first parents--the free gift is not like the transgression (v.15). "...those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (v.17). "...where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (vv.20-21).

Sin, death, guilt, condemnation, and disobedience are all very bad news. But thanks be to God that the life, grace, obedience, righteousness, and love of Jesus Christ our redeemer far outshine all the darkness!

More could be said about the tasks for which God created man: like Christ in His incarnate mediatorial roles, man was made to be prophet, priest, and vice-regent with God, caring for Creation, mediating God's rule on earth, directing worship back to Him from all Creation, and declaring His truth and glory throughout Creation in song and proclamation. More could also be said about genders...but the F&M talks about and makes application of some of those details in later sections. Also conspicuous by its absence is any discussion of the essential constitution of man. The F&M does not specify any trichotomist, dichotomist, or physicalist/monist view of man's being. This is probably wise, as there is wide disagreement on that matter between solidly orthodox evangelical theologians today.

This section covers all the most basic truths of Man as the "crowning jewel" of God's good Creation, as he is often called. Apart from the idea of "becoming a transgressor" when one becomes "capable of moral action" this is a solid and important section of the Baptist F&M.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 2 "God" Sec. C. "God the Holy Spirit"

"The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, fully divine. He inspired holy men of old to write the Scriptures. Through illumination He enables men to understand truth. He exalts Christ. He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration. At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church. He seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ. He enlightens and empowers the believer and the church in worship, evangelism, and service."

Everything about this section is very right. The identity and central works of the Holy Spirit are spelled out. He is the fully divine Spirit of God, distinct in personhood, one in essence with the Godhead. He inspired the inerrant Scriptures, illumines men's minds, convicts, grants new spiritual life, baptizes into Christ, seals and assures believers in Christ forever, bestows spiritual gifts, and empowers the Church for ministry.

Doubtless the most controversial line in this section is the one about the Spirit baptizing every believer into the Body of Christ at the moment of regeneration. While this could possibly be interpreted in a way consistent with typical Pentecostal theology, it would be difficult. The F&M here guards against the error of a "two-stage" Christianity, in which a distinct and powerful work of the Spirit subsequent to conversion happens to some believers, at which time they are usually said to be "baptized in the Holy Spirit," and (according to most Pentecostals) give initial evidence of the work by speaking in tongues. This traditional Pentecostal teaching is error because it assumes that the events of the first Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 (with "reverberations" of that event at other times in the book of Acts) are intended to be viewed as repeatable and normative for the Church throughout the whole Church age. The mistake is to confuse redemptive history with the application of redemption. Pentecost is a part of redemptive history--a piece of the unified complex of events surrounding the First Advent of the Messiah, which includes His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and His outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church (the baptism in the Holy Spirit).

What we are not saying is that the Church today in no way partakes of the outpouring of the Spirit on the Church. We also are not necessarily taking the position that all the prophetic/"miraculous"/revelatory/"sign" gifts of the Spirit have ceased (although that is a possible interpretation). In union with Christ, even the Church today partakes of all the redemptive benefits of Christ's person and work, including the blessings given to the Church at Pentecost (spiritual gifting and empowerment for ministry, to begin with).

What we are saying is that Pentecost itself is a once-for-all, unrepeatable event in the history of the salvation of God's people. Today, as soon as a person is born again and trusts in Christ, they are united with Christ and experience baptism into Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is taught most clearly in 1 Cor 12:12-13, where Paul explicitly connects membership in the body of Christ (the body of those who have trusted in Christ for salvation) with baptism by the Spirit. The upshot is that the baptism of the Spirit is not a work of grace subsequent to conversion, but part and parcel of conversion to Christ itself today.

There is no "two-tier" structure of Christians who have been baptized in the Spirit, and those who haven't. All have partaken of the same Spirit, and been baptized into the same body of Christ. Some may point to events in the books of Acts after Pentecost when people receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit even though they had already been believers for a while. While that is true, as was alluded to earlier, these events are still part of a unique time in history, and part of a unique record of history that has a unique purpose and a theme: the beginning of the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth; and the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant people of God. These rare occasions of Spirit baptism subsequent to conversion after the time of Pentecost should be seen as unique historical reverberations of Pentecost throughout the land as the gospel began to spread in the time of the apostles' founding the New Covenant Church; God was signifying, through Spirit baptism of these people, His reception of other peoples into covenant relationship with Him by faith in His Messiah.

None of this rules out new daily "infillings" of the Spirit for believers who pray to be strengthened and empowered for everyday ministry. Nor does it rule out various views on the continuation or cessation of tongues, prophecy, and miraculous healings today (a wise decision on the part of the SBC in drafting the F&M--although experience suggests a general atmosphere of suspicion of continuationist faith and practice in many SBC circles...). The point is that while Pentecost's benefits and resources continue in the Church as God sees fit today, Pentecost itself is over, and is not repeated in the lives of believers. The Spirit indwells every believer in the same way, and this is connected explicitly in Romans 8 to the assurance of the believer--a precious doctrine, indeed, if sobering by the way the New Testament presents it sometimes. If someone has the Spirit of Christ, he or she belongs to Him savingly, and that forever. Conversely, according to Paul in Romans 8, whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him and does not have eternal life.

So all in all, the F&M really gets the Holy Spirit right as far as His work in redemption. Much more could be said about the Holy Spirit, but there is one particular concept that is interesting enough to be mentioned about His identity. From the Trinitarian theology of Jonathan Edwards, to the musings of C. S. Lewis, to the 'Pleasures of God' theology of John Piper today, there has been a consistent speculative-theological notion of the Holy Spirit understood as the personal "embodiment" (so to speak) of the overflowing, joyous love of God it-...Him-self. The Son is the eternal "image" or "inner Word" or "divine thought" of the Father about Himself, which is so full and and divine itself that it stands forth as the Second Person of the Trinity. The love the Father has for the Son, then, and vice-versa, is so full and perfect and divine itself that it in turn stands forth as the Third Person of the Trinity, the Spirit. So in Scripture we see with no surprise (however much this is futile grasping at language to describe the ineffable Trinitarian God we love) that in the New Testament the love of God in our salvation is almost always connected most closely with the person of the Spirit. Romans 5 says that God poured His love into our hearts "through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." It is unlikely that Paul means that God used the Holy Spirit as a sort of temporary "pipe" through which He poured His love, and then retracted the Spirit. No, but rather, the Spirit was "given to us." How large a leap is it, actually, to say that the Holy Spirit is the love of God in our hearts? In John's gospel account, he tells us numerous ways as well that God's very joy and the very same love that God has for Christ is actually going to be in us when the Holy Spirit comes.

As wonderful and worship-inducing as this all is, and as appropriate as it is for us to worship God in all His Triune glory including the Spirit, we must also remember that it is the Spirit's job to glorify the Son. We know God through His Word, especially the gospel of His Son. The Trinity itself is Christocentric. Therefore, let us never leave the cross, the resurrection, or the Son in our worship, even as we rejoice in the unique, powerful working of the Holy Spirit in uniting us to that glorious Person and empowering us to live for Him. The Father has planned things to be this way, and thus is also glorified in our worship centered on the Son (who is in turn One with the Father in essence and in the sharing of the same Spirit, by which Father and Son communicate nothing less than themselves to each other in the eternal mystery of divine Trinitarian fellowship).