What the Christian Does

Editor’s Note: Excerpted with permission from The Great Commission: A Sermon Collection by Charles H. Spurgeon, edited by Jason K. Allen. Copyright 2024, B&H Publishing. Available now from B&H and wherever Christian books are sold.

What the Christian Does[1]

I will take it for granted that every believer here wants to be useful. If he does not, I take leave to question whether he can be a true believer in Christ. Well, then, if you want to be really useful, here is something for you to do to that end: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

What is the way to become an efficient preacher? “Young man,” says one, “go to college.” “Young man,” says Christ, “follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.” How is a person to be useful? “Attend a training class,” says one. Quite right, but there is a surer answer than that—Follow Jesus, and he will make you fishers of men. The great training school for Christian workers has Christ at its head, and he is at its head not only as a tutor but as a leader. We are not only to learn of him in study but to follow him in action. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

The direction is very distinct and plain, and I believe that it is exclusive so that no man can become a fisherman by any other process. This process may appear to be very simple, but assuredly it is most efficient. The Lord Jesus Christ, who knew all about fishing for men, was himself the Dictator of the rule, “Follow me, if you want to be fishers of men. If you would be useful, keep in my track.”

I understand this, first, in this sense: he separates unto Christ. These men were to leave their pursuits. They were to leave their companions. They were, in fact, to quit the world, that their one business might be, in their Master’s name, to be fishers of men. We are not all called to leave our daily business or to quit our families. That might be rather running away from the fishery than working at it in God’s name. But we are called most distinctly to come out from among the ungodly, to be separate, and not to touch the unclean thing. We cannot be fishers of men if we remain among men in the same element with them. Fish will not be fishers. The sinner will not convert the sinner. The ungodly man will not convert the ungodly man, and what is more to the point, the worldly Christian will not convert the world. If you are of the world, no doubt the world will love its own, but you cannot save the world. If you are dark and belong to the kingdom of darkness, you cannot remove the darkness. If you march with the armies of the wicked one, you cannot defeat them.

I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church. Nowadays we hear Nonconformists pleading that they may do this and they may do that— things that their Puritan forefathers would rather have died at the stake than have tolerated. They plead that they may live like worldlings, and my sad answer to them, when they crave for this liberty, is, “Do it if you dare. It may not do you much hurt, for you are so bad already. Your cravings show how rotten your hearts are. If you have a hungering after such dog’s meat, go, dogs, and eat the garbage.

Worldly amusements are fit food for mere pretenders and hypocrites. If you were God’s children you would loathe the very thought of the world’s evil joys, and your question would not be, “How far may we be like the world?” but your one cry would be, “How far can we get away from the world? How much can we come out from it?” Your temptation would be rather to become sternly severe and ultra-puritanical in your separation from sin, in such a time as this, than to ask, “How can I make myself like other men, and act as they do?”

Brothers, the use of the church in the world is that it should be like salt in the midst of putrefaction, but if the salt has lost its savor, what is the good of it? If it were possible for salt itself to putrefy, it could but be an increase and a heightening of the general putridity. The worst day the world ever saw was when the sons of God were joined with the daughters of men. Then came the flood, for the only barrier against a flood of vengeance on this world is the separation of the saint from the sinner. Your duty as a Christian is to stand fast in your own place and stand out for God, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh, resolving like one of old that, let others do as they will, as for you and your house, you will serve the Lord.

Come, you children of God, you must stand out with your Lord outside the camp. Jesus calls to you today and says, “Follow me.” Was Jesus found at the theater? Did he frequent the sports of the racecourse? Was Jesus seen, think you, in any of the amusements of the Herodian court? Not he. He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” In one sense, no one mixed with sinners so completely as he did when, like a physician, he went among them healing his patients. But in another sense there was a gulf fixed between the men of the world and the Savior that he never assayed to cross and that they could not cross to defile him. The first lesson the church has to learn is this: Follow Jesus into the separated state, and he will make you fishers of men. Unless you take up your cross and protest against an ungodly world, you cannot hope that the holy Jesus will make you fishers of men.

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[1] Published in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 32 in 1886 by Charles Spurgeon. This is an excerpt from sermon 1906, delivered in 1886, exact date unknown.



Preach, Preach, Preach Everywhere

Editor’s Note: Excerpted with permission from Preaching: A Sermon Collection by Charles H. Spurgeon, edited by Jason K. Allen. Copyright 2024, B&H Publishing. Available now from B&H and wherever Christian books are sold.

Preach, Preach, Preach Everywhere[1]

“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:15–16)

Before our Lord gave his disciples this commission, he addressed them in tones of serious rebuke. You will observe that, appearing unto the eleven as they sat at dinner, “he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart because, they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.” So honorable an estimation did he set upon testimony; so marked a censure did he pronounce upon those who neglected it. The reprimand they received on such an occasion may well serve as a caution to us, for unbelief unfits the Christian for service. It is in proportion to our personal faith in the gospel that we become competent witnesses for teaching it to others. Each one of us who would get credit for sincerity must say with David, “I believed, therefore have I spoken,” or else a want of faith of ourselves will effectually deprive our speech of all its power over our fellow men.

There can be little doubt that one reason why Christianity is not so aggressive now as it once was, and exerts not everywhere the influence it had in apostolic times, is the feebleness of our faith in Christ as compared with the full assurance of faith exercised by the men of those days. In vain you hide a timid heart behind a modest face when the attitude we should show and the living force that should constrain us is a bold reliance upon the power of the Holy Spirit and a deep conviction of the might of the truth which we are taught to deliver. Brothers, if there is to be a revival of religion, it must begin at home. Our own souls must first of all be filled with holy faith and burning enthusiasm, and then shall we be strong to do exploits and to win provinces for the scepter of King Jesus.

Having thus made a note upon the context, I want you to refer to a parallel passage in Matthew. There we learn that in delivering this commission our Lord assigned a remarkable reason for it, and one that intimately concerned himself. “All power,” he said, “is given unto me in heaven and in earth, go you therefore and teach all nations” These words were adapted to strengthen the faith of his disciples, of whom it had been just observed that “some doubted.” Do you not see the point of this announcement? Jesus of Nazareth, being raised from the dead, tells his apostles that he is now invested with universal supremacy as the Son of Man. Therefore he issues a decree of grace, calling on all people of every clime and kindred to believe the gospel with a promise of personal salvation to each and every one who believes. With such authority is this mandate clothed, and so imperative the duty of all men everywhere to repent, that they who do not believe are threatened with a certain penalty of damnation. This royal ordinance he will have published throughout the whole world, but he enjoins it on all the messengers that those who bear the tidings should be thoroughly impressed with the sovereignty of him who sends them. Let the words then ring in your ears, “Go ye therefore.” They sound like the music of that glad acclaim that hails the Redeemer installed with power, holding the insignia of power in his possession, exercising the full rights of legitimate power, and entrusting his disciples with a commission founded on that power, “Go ye into all the world.”

Yet another remark before we proceed to the text. The commission we are about to deal with was the last the Lord gave to his disciples before he was taken away from them. We prize greatly the last words of his departing servants, how shall we sufficiently value the parting words of our ascending Master? Injunctions left us by those who have gone to glory have great weight upon our spirits; let obedient lovers of Christ see to it that they act according to the last will and testament, the last desire expressed by their risen Lord.

I claim for my text peculiar attention from every disciple of Jesus, not indeed as if it were a mournful entreaty but rather as a solemn charge. You remember Christ’s own parable, “The kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.”[2] Look at this as the last direction Jesus gives to his stewards before “he went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.” It seems to me that as when the mantle of Elijah fell upon Elisha, Elisha would have been much to blame if he had not caught it up, so when these words fell from our ascending Savior before the clouds concealed him from the disciples’ sight, we ought to take them up with holy reverence. Since he has left them as his parting mantle, they ought to be lovingly cherished and scrupulously obeyed.

Come we, then, to invite your earnest heed to the command the Savior here gives: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”[3] It was given to the apostles representatively. They represent the whole body of the faithful. To every converted man and woman this commission is given. I grant you there is a specialty to those gifted and called to surrender themselves wholly to the work of the ministry, but their office in the visible church offers no excuse for the discharge of those functions that pertain to every member of the body of Christ in particular. It is the universal command of Christ to every believer: “Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

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[1] Published in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 15 in 1869 by Charles Spurgeon. This is an excerpt from sermon 900, delivered in 1869, exact date unknown.

[2] Matthew 25:14.

[3] Mark 16:15.



Prayer and Evangelism Reinforce One Another

Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is by Joe M. Allen III, published with permission from Before You Go: Wisdom From 10 Men on Serving Internationally, edited by Matthew Bennett and Joshua Bowman. Copyright 2024, B&H Publishing. Available now from B&H and wherever Christian books are sold.

Prayer and evangelism go together like chocolate and peanut butter. The two practices mutually reinforce one another and enhance the other spiritual disciplines. The dynamic happens like this: the more you pray, the more you attune your heart to God’s heart, and specifically, God’s heart for the lost. The more you seek to evangelize, the more you sense your need for the Holy Spirit’s divine enablement and long for his intervention. Prayer should lead to gospel proclamation, and gospel proclamation should intensify your prayers.

The irony is that prayer is often a solitary activity that appeals to introverts, while evangelism is a social activity that appeals to extroverts. Regardless of your personality, maintaining a close interrelationship between prayer and evangelism will push you out of your comfort zone and force you to grow. When you join prayer and evangelism, watch out! Something special is about to happen.

Jesus links prayer and evangelism in Luke 10:2 when he says, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” Jesus instructs his disciples to pray for harvesters and then, in a surprising twist, he sends them to be the answer to their own prayers! The same thing might happen to you, so when you pray, be ready to obey.

A verse that I find myself returning to time and again when I think about prayer and evangelism is Romans 10:1. Here, we get a glimpse of Paul’s heart, which proves instructive for us. He writes: “my heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation.” As we consider the importance of prayer and evangelism in the life of a missionary, let me make three observations about this verse.

First, Paul cared deeply. His desire was not a shallow, fleeting desire, but a core longing that sprang from the center of his being. If you do not feel deep compassion for the lost, go back and review the gospel. Consider afresh the glory of the One who calls you into fellowship with him. Meditate on the majesty of God as revealed in Scripture. Think about the sacrifice of Jesus and the depth of the love that bought your salvation. Contemplate the joys of heaven and the horrors of hell until your heart is stirred for others to know the gospel. Feed your godly desires so you can say with Paul, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation.”

Second, Paul prayed fervently. The people of Israel had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, but Paul remained hopeful that they might be saved. Paul did not give up on them, and he did not leave his heart’s desire unexpressed; he acted. That action first took the form of prayer. We must do the same. Do not bottle up your desire; let it bubble up and overflow in prayer. Give expression to your desire through intercession.

Third, Paul prayed specifically. He did not pray ambiguous prayers for some amorphous spiritual blessing. Instead, he prayed for their salvation. Elsewhere, Paul prayed for boldness (Eph. 6:18–20), for opportunity (Col. 4:2–4), and that the Word of the Lord would spread rapidly and be glorified (2 Thess. 3:1). A couple of years ago, I realized that if I only make vague or general requests with lots of qualifications and caveats, then I would never be able to tell if God had answered. So let me encourage you to pray such focused prayers for the salvation of souls so that you can recognize God’s answers and rejoice.



The Indispensable Necessity of Doctrinally Rich Young Adult Ministry

I’ve worked within student ministry in some capacity for 12 years. If junior highers smell like body spray and if high schoolers can smell fear, then young adults (YAs) have a nose for inauthenticity. They see right through the smoke machine and lights. They quickly pick up on lack of depth. And they know on first whiff whether the “answer” you just gave to the question that’s plagued them or their friend’s faith (or is sitting at the bottom of their lack thereof) is worthy of consideration or if you’re just grasping at straws. They pull no punches, and they are awesome for it!

If I could encourage those attempting to reach or minister to college-age people toward one thing besides knowing their Bibles and enjoying God, it would be this: you and your ministry must be doctrinally robust. Your acquaintance with the issues YAs raise, and even more importantly, your familiarity with the answers from Scripture and Christian tradition, are indispensable in engaging GenZ 18- to 20-somethings. Whether it’s the unsaved skeptic, the new believer, or the mature believer, there will be no fruitful ministry among GenZ college students and young adults apart from deep, rich, and robust doctrine.

Evangelistic and Apologetic Need

As Derek Rishmawy, himself a campus minister, has said in regard to reaching GenZ college students, “Nerdy theology really does matter for evangelism. Doctrineless evangelism simply will not work.” Amen. The universities where YAs live lack no robust secular doctrine that refutes Christianity. Bart Erdman does not pull any punches, and neither should we. Young adults need to know the church has sufficient and coherent answers to their theological questions, and we who pastor them should be ready to offer those answers (1 Peter 3:15).

The Need for Adult Answers to Adult Lives

Young adults face new life stages and challenges. They have questions about dating, marriage, finance, politics, culture, and more. They often no longer rely on their parents or tradition for answers. They need deep, robust, and coherent doctrine that addresses the complexities and hardships of life. You might get away with shooting from the hip in youth group, but young adults will suss out a run-of-the-mill answer in a heartbeat. Not only this, but as a generation coming of age amid heightened turbulence (American political context, COVID) and lack of solidity (social media), they long for rootedness and concreteness. A concreteness only deep doctrine can provide. YAs need mature doctrine so they can mature into adulthood (Hebrews 5:11-14).

The Discipleship Need

Many, if not most, YAs have no clue robust theology even exists. They rarely read theological books and haven’t sat under good preaching and teaching. I pick up on this when some of the YAs in my church don’t understand the need for church membership, the significance of baptism, the habit of tithing, and so on. YAs, mature or immature, need good doctrine that will instruct them in how they ought to live and stir them up to taste the depths of the knowledge of God so that they might be further formed into his image (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Resources

So, if pastors or volunteers or parents want to effectively engage and disciple young adults, they must equip themselves in knowing, presenting, and defending “what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1, Cf. Titus 1:9; 1 Timothy 1:10). And we will become so by not only going deep in our Bibles, but going wide in our familiarity with solid Christian theology and growing in our ability to wield it for the good of those young people we long to reach and disciple.

So, as one step toward this, what should one be reading/doing to prepare for ministering to college agers?

Historical Theology

YAs don’t need new answers. They need age-old answers applied to contemporary phrasing of age-old questions. And thankfully for us, the Christian tradition is in no small part the history of answering the most foundational questions humans have ever wondered about. Metaphysics, morality–these are the same questions GenZ has, though staged somewhat differently.

Pick a (preferably not from this century) systematic theology or theologian and dedicate yourself to ingesting it/them. Go slow and let the sound theology seep into your bones. Recognize how the answers given centuries ago are the answers needed today, just with your own presentation.

And let the 21-year-old know where you’re getting these answers from. This will not only give you the next most solid foundation outside of Scripture with which to grapple with the questions young adults have, but it will also provide a rootedness to the young adult asking as they see this isn’t something thought up last week.

You can’t go wrong with Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. Or, if four volumes is understandably a bit much for a first bite, Louis Berkhof’s one-volume Systematic Theology is a great place to start. For a modern presentation, look at John Frame’s.

Biblical Anthropology

You knew you needed to read in this area. And you knew why. If YAs have questions about anything, it is about our bodies. What are they? Am I my body, or am I inside of it? Do bodies matter? How much do they matter? How do we know they matter more than what my mind says? Speaking of, what’s a mind? These are just the snowflakes of the iceberg.

But these questions aren’t theoretical. YAs have these questions because they have friends whose lives hang in the balance of these questions, or so it seems to them. These are live questions for YAs because they deal with lives. That is why they matter to YAs, and they should matter to you because those very lives might walk into your campus or church young adult group.

But you don’t just need to know what you think about LGBTQ+, the goodness of the material body, God’s design for marriage and family, abortion, assisted suicide, and the like. You need to know why you know. And you need to know and be able to explain why the Christian answer is not only true, but also the most beautiful and genuinely good option in the marketplace.

Here’s a starter pack:

  • The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory, Abigail Favale
  • Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues, Alistair MacIntyre
  • Begotten or Made?: Human Procreation and Medical Technique, Oliver O’Donovan
  • Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, Francis A. Schaeffer

 

Miscellaneous Apologetics

We must also be familiar with the various topics that YAs are likely to ask questions about. Especially for those YAs going to college, they are interacting with peers and professors who operate from a different worldview. This raises a range of questions for YAs, most of which can be categorized into a broader field that we would do well to engage. This will require us to know the best arguments of the other side. Doing so enables us to gather our own compelling and sound answers, while also being able to formulate our own questions for those worldviews to reveal their inadequacies. A few general areas in which to be well read are

  • Exclusivity of Christianity as the one true religion, and the claims of the main world religions
  • The authority and trustworthiness of the Bible and what makes it different from other religious texts
  • The relationship of Christianity to science
  • Epistemology (how do humans know what they know?)
  • Old Testament “problem passages” (God’s commanding violence, allowances for slavery, presence of polygamy, etc.).

 

Write

Finally, consider writing as you read. Writing solidifies ideas in your mind and heart. It helps you synthesize the large amounts of information you take in through books. There are countless ways of doing this. I (Dan) have a running doctrinal statement along with documents on theological topics that I add to and tweak as I read new theological material. I try to keep the writing short (100-200 words) but carefully written. Writing will make you more confident and clear when you are in an off-the-cuff conversation with a YA on a theologically dense or apologetically precarious topic.

Conclusion

Take heart, God is pursuing YAs in this generation as he has in every generation before. He formed them and knows the hurdles they have to faith in his gospel and greater growth in it. He has many people in this generation (Acts 18:10) and is more than capable of saving them. His arm is never too short. And be encouraged, while he is not dependent on you, he wants to use you to reach them. So pray for them, go on fast food runs or coffee shop meet-ups with them, hear them out for hours at a time if needed, and arm yourself with robust doctrine so that when they ask their questions or the questions of their friends, you are ready to give a sound response.



Spurgeon’s Love of Poetry: An Excerpt from Christ Our All

Editor’s Note: This article is taken from Christ Our All: Poems for the Christian Pilgrim and used by permission of B&H Academic. The book is now available everywhere Christian books are sold.

Spurgeon’s love of hymns began at a young age. Once, during a summer holiday, his grandmother offered him a penny for each Watts hymn he memorized. With his gifted mind, young Spurgeon memorized so many that his grandmother soon had to change her offer or risk financial ruin! The money earned was eventually spent, but his love of hymns remained with him for the rest of his life, becoming a part of his theological vocabulary. “No matter on what topic I am preaching,” he wrote, “I can even now, in the middle of any sermon, quote some verse of a hymn in harmony with the subject.”[1] As Spurgeon grew in his knowledge of hymns, his sermons would come to include not only Watts, but Toplady, Cowper, Wesley, and many other great hymn-writers of the Christian faith.

As the pastor of a church, Spurgeon sought to pass on his love of hymns to his congregants. In addition to preaching, he planned the liturgy for the gatherings of the church, including the selection of hymns. When he first arrived, there were two hymnbooks in the pews, one by Watts and the other by John Rippon. But watching people fumble with multiple books convinced Spurgeon that something had to change. So, in 1866, he compiled and published Our Own Hymn-Book, containing 1,130 psalms and hymns. As reflected in the title, Spurgeon’s concern was the church. This was not Spurgeon’s hymnbook; this was the church’s hymnbook. One of his top priorities was to pull together psalms and hymns that reflected the church’s doctrinal convictions. After all, Spurgeon understood that a church’s hymnbook was often the only book of theology most church members would ever read.

But even while Our Own Hymn-Book reflected Spurgeon’s Reformed and Baptist traditions, he also sought to introduce a wide variety of traditions, pulling together hymns from all of church history. He wrote:

The area of our researches has been as wide as the bounds of existing religious literature, American and British, Protestant and Romish; ancient and modern. Whatever may be thought of our taste we have used it without prejudice; and a good hymn has not been rejected because of the character of its author, or the heresies of the church in whose hymnal it first occurred; so long as the language and the spirit commended the hymn to our heart we included it, and believe that we have enriched our collection thereby.[2]

Thus, we see in Spurgeon’s collection of hymnbooks a wide variety of hymn writers: Scottish Presbyterians, English Baptists and Methodists, German Lutherans, Anglicans, medieval Catholics, and other nationalities and church traditions, ranging from the nineteenth century all the way back to the medieval and early church. From all these psalms and hymns, Spurgeon sought to bring out the ones that best reflected the historic faith of the apostles and the church’s doctrinal convictions. In his day, Our Own Hymn-Book was recognized as an achievement in Christian hymnody.[3]

But Spurgeon’s love of poetry extended beyond hymns. His library reveals that Spurgeon enjoyed just about every kind of poetry: ancient poetry, poems about nature, love poems, children’s rhymes, and many others. Most of all, however, Spurgeon loved poems about God and the Christian life. Preaching in 1855, Spurgeon declared, “Much as I respect the genius of Pope, or Dryden, or Burns, give me the simple lines of Cowper, that God has owned in bringing souls to Him.”[4] William Cowper was indeed one of Spurgeon’s favorite poets. He usually included Cowper’s famous hymn whenever he signed autograph albums, “E’er since by faith I saw the stream . . .”[5] Fittingly, these lines are etched on his tombstone.

Another poet he loved was John Bunyan. Throughout his life, he read, “at least a hundred times,” The Pilgrim’s Progress, “that sweetest of all prose poems,” which shaped his vision for the Christian life.[6] What he loved most about it was simply how much Bible was in it.[7] Bunyan brought together Spurgeon’s love of Scripture with his love of poetry.

Yet another of his favorite poets was George Herbert. Herbert was a source of refreshment for Spurgeon, especially after a long day of ministry.[8] His wife, Susannah, recounted:

It is the Sabbath, and the day’s work is done. The dear preacher has had a light repast, and now rests in his easy chair by a bright fire, while, on a low cushion at his feet, sits his wife, eager to minister in some way to her beloved’s comfort. “Shall I read to you to-night, dear?” she says; for the excitement and labor of the Sabbath services sorely try him, and his mind needs some calm and soothing influence to set it at rest. “Will you have a page or two of good George Herbert?” “Yes, that will be very refreshing, wifey; I shall like that.” So the book is procured, and he chooses a portion which I read slowly and with many pauses, that he may interpret to me the sweet mysteries hidden within the gracious words. Perhaps his enjoyment of the book is all the greater that he has thus to explain and open out to me the precious truths enwrapped in Herbert’s quaint verse;—anyhow, the time is delightfully spent. I read on and on for an hour or more, till the peace of Heaven flows into our souls, and the tired servant of the King of kings loses his sense of fatigue, and rejoices after his toil.[9]

For Spurgeon, poetry was about more than just entertainment. It gave him the perspective of a Christian pilgrim. It provided spiritual nourishment for his tired soul. And it strengthened him with a renewed joy in God for the week ahead.

Thou Art My All (by C. H. Spurgeon)

Dear Lord, in thee I view my all,
And lovely is thy name.
For though on earth I slip or fall,
Thy love remains the same.

Each day reminds me I am weak
To stand against my foes;
And, but that I thy help may seek,
I’d fall beneath my woes.

But thou hast said my strength shall be
According to my day.
Thy promise has been kept to me,
And still will be I pray.

For what are we if left to roam
In life’s deceitful way?
Yet farther off, not nearer home,
Our feet are prone to stray.

Then never have us Lord to tread
This world without a guide.
And never let the tempter lead
Thine erring sheep aside.

“I will not leave, nor yet forsake
My people here below;
Until in glory they shall wake
And purer regions know.”

For further reflection: Deuteronomy 33:25–27

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[1] Autobiography 1:43–44.

[2] OOH, vi–vii.

[3] For an appreciative nineteenth-century analysis of Spurgeon’s contribution to Christian hymnody, see Josiah Miller, Singers and Songs of the Church: Being Biographical Sketches of the Hymn-Writers in All the Principal Collections: with Notes on their Psalms and Hymns (London: Longmans, Green, 1869), 580–81.

[4] NPSP 1:344.

[5] Hayden, Highlights, 101.

[6] MTP 45:495.

[7] “Next to the Bible, the book I value most is John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ I believe I have read it through at least a hundred times. It is a volume of which I never seem to tire; and the secret of its freshness is that it is so largely compiled from the Scriptures. It is really Biblical teaching put into the form of a simple yet very striking allegory.” C. H. Spurgeon, Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress: A Commentary on Portions of John Bunyan’s Immortal Allegory with Prefatory Notes by Thomas Spurgeon (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1992), 11.

[8] “Frequently, when I return home from chapel on the Sabbath evening, I get down George Herbert’s book of songs; and when I see how much he loved the Lord, it seems to me as if he had struck upon his harp the very notes that he had heard in Paradise, and sung them all again.” MTP 46:106.

[9] Autobiography 2:185–86.



Getting to the Glory: An Excerpt from The Storied Life

The sportswriter Red Smith was once asked if writing a daily column was difficult.

“Why, no,” Smith replied. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”[1]

Admittedly, Smith’s observation is a little overwrought. But only a little.

There is a way to write that costs the writer very little. And then there are Writers. There is a contemplation of the art and an undertaking of the craft that engages all we are and all we have, as if the ink on our page is drawn from our very blood.

Maybe you’re not sure which one you are. Are you a writer or a Writer? It’s okay. You don’t have to know just yet. Both Writers and “people who write” can create work that impacts readers in profound ways.

Writers write. That is the bottom line. There is no getting around it. It is a nonnegotiable truth. You don’t need to be particularly good at writing to be a writer. You don’t have to be published to be a writer. You don’t even have to be read to be a writer. But you must write. By definition, writers write.

Wanting to write is not being a writer. Thinking about writing is an important part of being a writer, but it isn’t by itself being a writer. Fancying yourself a writer is not being one.

Writers often hear wannabe writers say, “I want to write someday,” but actual writers don’t say such things. They’ve been writing.

Writers don’t ask for permission. They don’t wait for the perfect moment. They feel the inexorable draw to create coming from the inside; it’s something they just do, something they are. Nobody has to assign them the task. They usually don’t need anyone to give them an idea.

Someone once said, “I don’t know what I think about a thing until I write about it.” That is the sort of thing only a writer would say. Writers cannot conceive of their place in this world apart from processing it through the written word. Putting the stuff on paper or a screen makes it more real. Modern society possesses a pronounced shortage of people who will admit to not knowing things, but among those whose pride will not forbid them this confession are the ones who make up their minds about a thing after reading about it. Writers do that too. But only writers understand the concept of writing to understand.

Writers understand writing as a way of being.

If you just consider yourself “someone who writes,” all this talk of costliness and bleeding onto the page might be making you a little queasy. I do apologize. And I promise there’s not a whole lot of gore in the rest of the book.

For all you Writers, though—this introduction is especially for you. It’s for those of you who make reading introductions a habit because you suspect every bit of a book matters. After all, it all matters when you write.

I bring to this project a spirit kindred with yours. I love the whole writing process out of all proportion. I love the finished project, of course. Everybody loves that. But I also love the first bit of noodling around on a page, typing and typing and backspacing and backspacing. I love the part when I’ve been writing for a while and suddenly something unlocks and, lo!, a rushing wind, a tongue of fire, unction!, and the words are now carrying me rather than the other way around. I love moving chunks around, scratching out lines, cutting, pasting, turning a series of disjointed what’s-its into a smooth pastiche without the seams. Finding le mot juste? I adore.

What I’m trying to say is that if you love to write, feel called to write, or cannot not write, this book is for you. If you wonder sometimes if any of it is worth it, if you wonder if there’s such a thing as a “call to write,” if you get frustrated that the work won’t flow like you want it to—this book is for you too.

I see writing as more than an opportunity to communicate creatively. Creative writing is in fact a reflection of the creative meaning of the universe, a direct derivation from the Creator himself. He has made everything with words and has given even of himself as the Word. This isn’t some piddling around kind of stuff.

I don’t care if you write novels or a recipe blog, theological essays or personal letters, book-length devotionals or thirty-minute sermons. Your writing is divinely gifted, eternally scaled, and gloriously weighted. I’m going to spend this book convincing you of that fact.

Together we’ll remind each other that God is telling an important story about himself in the world. To do that, he tells important stories with our own lives. And getting to the glory of the former means getting in touch with the glory of the latter. I’ll tell you a little bit about how my own journey has helped me see my ordinary life as a storied life, a succession of days (the number unknown to me) full of wonder and insight, despite the pain and ignorance, because of the way they are driven and shaped by the glorious gospel.

Oh, sure, to get to the glory, you have to go through the chaos. We’ll talk about that too. If you’re a writer, you already know you can’t write much of anything worth much of anything without getting a little banged up, maybe a little bloody.

But we know what our Lord does with blood.

 

[1] The line is often attributed to the likes of Ernest Hemingway or Thomas Wolfe—I’ve even seen it attributed to Ray Bradbury—and while its origin is in some dispute, it most likely derives from an anecdote related to Smith, whom, it so happens, Hemingway regularly read. See Garson O’Toole, “Writing Is Easy; You Just Open a Vein and Bleed,” Quote Investigator, September 14, 2011, https://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/09/14/writing-bleed/.

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Editor’s Note: Taken from The Storied Life: Christian Writing as Art and Worship by Jared C. Wilson. Copyright © 2024 by Jared C. Wilson. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.harpercollinschristian.com

The Storied Life is now available wherever Christian books are sold.



A Brief Biblical Theology of the Transfiguration

The transfiguration story begins where all stories do: with Adam and Eve in the garden. Adam and Eve are made in God’s image and likeness on God’s mountain (Gen. 1:28). They are icons, or idols, of God. Though we typically view idols negatively, the sense from Genesis is that humanity has the Spirit of God breathed into it, indicating its participation in the divine. Adam and Eve’s vocation is to mirror and represent Yahweh. This is why Jewish literature outside of the Bible speaks of Adam and Eve having glory in the garden and why Paul speaks of sin as having “exchanged the glory of . . . God” (Rom. 1:23). The fall was therefore a descent from glory. Paul speaks of it in terms of having fallen “short of the glory of God” (3:23). Darkness ensues as humanity flees from its purpose.

Moses’s story previews the restoration of this “image.” He ascends the mountain of God, enters the glory cloud, and peers into heaven, seeing that the garden was a copy of the heavens. Moses is instructed to build another copy on the earth so that others might enter God’s presence. The result of him being with God is that his face now shines (Exod. 34:29).

In 2 Corinthians, Paul employs Moses as a prototype. Paul was not shy about using the verb metamorphoō to describe our spiritual pilgrimage to glory (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18). Gregory of Nyssa mimics Paul and presents Moses as an example of seeking after God in his book Life of Moses. Moses is an archetype for those who seek God’s face. His life represents spiritual stages as he seeks God’s glory.

Moses first pursues solitude in the desert, where he sees divine light in the burning bush. Next comes Moses’s renunciation (purgation) of his past and his seeking of a new life in the wilderness. Moses then communes with God in fire and a cloud of darkness on Mount Sinai. He is illumined. His face shines as he comes down the mountain, demonstrating the weight of this moment. Moses is still not satisfied. The greater degree of glory awakens him. He wants more. He desires union. This union is not satisfied until he sees Jesus.

Israel’s priests reenact Moses’s ascent up Sinai as they meet with God in the temple and then come out of God’s dwelling on earth, blessing God’s people with the shining presence of God’s face (Num. 6:24–26). However, Israel is not able to live up to their vocation of being God’s light to the nations. Therefore, God sends his only begotten Son as the light of the world ( John 1). The Spirit rests on him, and he acts in the way that God has purposed for humanity all along. Yahweh will fix what has gone wrong. The disciples get a preview of this restoration on Mount Tabor. Jesus ascends the mountain, his face shines, his clothes turn dazzlingly white, and the glory cloud appears. Jesus is the true image of God (Col. 1:18).

The promise for the redeemed is that those who participate in Christ will also be changed. As Ephrem the Syrian said, “Christ came to find Adam who had gone astray. He came to return him to Eden in the garment of light. . . . Blessed is He who had pity on Adam’s leaves and sent a robe of glory to cover his naked state.” Paul says that we all now have unveiled faces like Moses and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). However, that transformation will only occur in full on the last day. At that time, our earthly bodies will be made new and become heavenly bodies. We will be raised in glory (1 Cor. 15:40–43).

This glory is explicated in the rest of the New Testament. Paul says that God will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body (Phil. 3:20–21). He asserts that when Christ appears, we will also appear with him in glory (Col. 3:4). John says that when Jesus appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2). And Peter confirms that he will be a partaker of the glory to be revealed (1 Pet. 5:1).

Yet this will take place only through suffering. The transfiguration’s larger context is the looming cross. In Romans 8:18–25, Paul follows this “suffering then glory” pattern when he speaks of how the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to come. As Desmond Tutu writes, “The principle of transfiguration says nothing, no one and no situation, is ‘untransfigurable,’ that the whole of creation, nature, waits expectantly for its transfiguration, when it will be released from its bondage and share in the glorious liberty of the children of God, when it will not be just dry inert matter but will be translucent with divine glory.” When the Lord returns, we will wear a crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8). The shining mountain is not only an event to study; it transfigures us as we behold the glorious Son and wait for his return.

Even all of creation waits for the revealing of the children of God when they will obtain the “the glorious freedom of God’s children” (Rom. 8:21). We groan while we wait for the redemption of our bodies (8:23; 2 Cor. 4:17). In the new heavens and new earth, God’s presence in the Son and through the Spirit will dwell with us on his mountain. Jesus’s divine rays will suffuse all creation. His transfiguration is not only about his transformation; it is about our transformation and the transfiguration of the cosmos. The earth will have no need for the sun or moon to shine, for the glory of God and the lamp of the Lamb will be its light. We will shine as the stars in the sky (Dan. 12:3; Matt. 13:43). At that time, the nations will walk by his light, and the kings will bring their glory to God’s city (Rev. 21:23–24). We still await that day, but we wait for it with hope.


Content taken from The Transfiguration of Christ by Patrick Schreiner, ©2024. Used by permission of Baker Academic.



Conclusion: Tips for Delighting in the Old Testament

“Sweeter … Than Honey” (Ps 19:10)

This blog series has invited you to a feast of rich food and a treasure of incomparable value. The OT was Jesus’s only Bible, and in it you can discover a perfect law that revives the soul, right precepts that rejoice the heart, and true rules that are altogether righteous (Ps 19:7–9). “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and dripping of the honeycomb” (19:10).

Through his Son’s life, death, and resurrection, the reigning God saves and satisfies sinners who believe and enables them to celebrate his Son’s greatness through all of Scripture. And “beholding the glory of the Lord,” we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). As a conclusion to this study, here are seven tips to those aspiring, as God intended, to delight in the OT through Christ and for Christ.

1. Remember That the Old Testament Is Christian Scripture

What we call the OT was the only Scripture Jesus had, and the apostles stressed that the prophets wrote God’s Word to instruct Christians. Paul says, for example, that God’s guidance of Israel through the wilderness was “written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11; cf. Rom 15:4). Similarly, Peter emphasized that “it was revealed to them [i.e., the OT prophets] that they were serving not themselves but you”—the church (1 Pet 1:12).

When Moses and the prophets wrote, they were writing for Christians (Deut 30:8; Isa 29:18; 30:8; Jer 30:1–2, 24; 31:33; Dan 12:5–10). In short, the OT is Christian Scripture that God wrote to instruct us. As Paul tells Timothy, these “sacred writings … are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” and it is this “Scripture” that is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Old in OT does not mean unimportant, and we should approach the text accordingly.

2. Interpret the Old Testament with the Same Care
You Would the New Testament

To give the same care to the OT as to the NT means that we treat it as the very Word of God (Mark 7:13; 12:36), which Jesus considered authoritative (Matt 4:3–4, 7, 10; 23:1–3), believed could not be broken (John 10:35), and called people to know so as to guard against doctrinal error and hell (Mark 12:24; Luke 16:28–31; 24:25; John 5:46–47). Methodologically, caring for the OT means that we establish the text, make careful observations, consider the context, determine the meaning, and make relevant applications. We consider genre, literary boundaries, grammar, translation, structure, argument flow, key words and concepts, historical and literary contexts, and biblical, systematic, and practical theology. We study each passage within its given book, within salvation history, and in relationship to Christ.

So many Christians will give years to understanding Mark and Romans and only weeks to Genesis, Psalms, and Isaiah, while rarely even touching the other books. When others take account of your life and ministry, may such realities not be said of you. We must consider how Scripture points to Christ (Luke 24:25–26, 45–47) and faithfully proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), ever doing so as those rightly handling “the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).

3. Treat Properly the Covenantal Nature of the Old Testament

The two parts of the Bible are called the Old and New Testaments because they each principally address the old and new covenants, respectively. We call Jesus’s Bible a testament because of its covenantal quality (testamentum is Latin for “covenant”). The OT addresses how God establishes and enforces his Mosaic covenant. And unlike the NT, which addresses a multinational church and was written in the common language of Greek, the OT was written to Hebrews in Hebrew.

The OT bears a historical particularity that requires us to observe, understand, and evaluate carefully before application. To engage the OT as a testament requires that we recognize the distinct covenantal elements in the text and then consider how Christ’s coming influences our understanding of every passage.

4. Remember Why the Old Testament Is Called Old

Building on the previous point, the OT details a covenant of which Christians are not a part and that has been superseded by the new. This fact requires that Christians carefully consider how Christ fulfills every OT story, promise, and law before establishing its relevance. While Moses’s instructions still have value for Christians, they do so only through Christ (Deut 30:8; Matt 5:17–19). Similarly, while every promise is yes for Christians, it is so only in Jesus (2 Cor 1:20).

As Christians, we must interpret the OT in light of Jesus’s coming. His person and work realize what the OT anticipates (Matt 5:17–18; Luke 24:44; Acts 3:18), he stands as the substance of all OT shadows (Col 2:16–17), and he embodies every ethical ideal found in both the law and wisdom (Rom 5:18–19). We need to recognize that one of the OT’s fundamental purposes is to help us celebrate Christ and all God would accomplish through him.

5. Read the Old Testament through the Light and Lens of Christ

Jesus supplies both the light and lens for reading the OT rightly. “Light” indicates that interpreting the OT properly is possible only for those who have seen “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor 3:4). “Lens” stresses that Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection disclose truths in the OT that were always there but not yet clear (Rom 16:25–26; 1 Cor 3:14). Christians must recognize that there are significant continuities between the Testaments, such that many righteous people saw Christ from a distance (Matt 13:17; Luke 10:24; John 8:56; 1 Pet 1:10–12). On the other hand, there are also significant discontinuities, in that the rebel population was not given a heart to understand (Deut 29:4; Isa 6:9–10), nor did God disclose the mystery of the kingdom until Christ came (Dan 12:8–10; Mark 4:11–12).

The NT provides both the answer key and the algorithm for reading the OT in its fullness. By elevating Christ’s person and work, the NT signals the substance of all previous shadows, realizes the hopes of all previous anticipations, and clarifies how the various OT patterns and trajectories find their resolve. Through Jesus, God enables and empowers us to read the OT as he intended. Jesus is both our light and lens.

6. Consider How Faithfully to See and Celebrate
Christ in the Old Testament

Christians must seek to analyze and synthesize how the whole Bible progresses, integrates, and climaxes in Christ. Following the lead of Scripture itself, we can see and celebrate Christ from the OT in numerous ways.

    1. Consider how Christ stands as the climax of the redemptive story.
    2. Identify how Christ fulfills messianic predictions.
    3. Recognize how Christ’s coming creates numerous similarities and contrasts between the old and new ages, creations, and covenants.
    4. Determine how Christ is the antitype to OT types.
    5. Reflect on how Yahweh’s person and work anticipates Christ.
    6. Contemplate how Christ embodies every ethical ideal from OT law and wisdom.
    7. Instruct from the OT through Christ’s mediation—both through the pardon he supplies, which secures both promises and power, and the pattern of godliness that he sets.

7. Assess How the New Testament Authors
Are Using the Old Testament

The early church devoted itself to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42), and the whole church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus as the cornerstone (Eph 2:20). Yet what Bible were the apostles using? They were using the OT, and they were making much of Christ from it. The NT is loaded with quotations of and allusions to the OT, and we should note the significance of these citations.

When Paul asserted to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2), he did so as an OT preacher. And when he claimed that “all Scripture … is profitable” (2 Tim 3:16), the “Scripture” he principally had in mind was the OT. You will help yourself and your people to cherish the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and to appreciate the whole Bible when you take the time to wrestle with the NT’s citations of the Old.

Conclusion

The OT is Christian Scripture, and we can enjoy it best when we approach it through Christ and for Christ. The OT magnifies Jesus in numerous ways, and his person and work clarify how to rightly discern the continuities and discontinuities of salvation history. Through the light and lens that Christ supplies, Christians can enjoy in the same God and the same good news in both Testaments. We can also embrace all God’s promises and rightly apply Moses’s law as revelation, prophecy, and wisdom. Start delighting in the OT through Christ and for Christ!

¹For each of these steps, see Jason S. DeRouchie, How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2017).

This blog series summarizes Jason S. DeRouchie’s forthcoming book, Delighting in the Old Testament: Through Christ and for Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2024). You can pre-order your copy here.



Stay Awake! The Role of Keeping Alert

Many of us can’t focus for 5 minutes. The technological resources available to us opportune new pursuits without end. We can go in 1,000 directions and nowhere at the same time. This is a spiritual danger. The Bright Shiny Object fabricates a tale of fulfillment but lures us from reality. It promises what it cannot deliver, and we are susceptible if we are not paying attention to our spiritual lives. Challenging life situations, relational strife, and boredom—these and so many other circumstances can be a greenhouse of distraction from God.

John’s audience in Revelation was tempted by the Bright Sinny Object of safety and security, getting by and fitting in to get along and stay alive. Tempted to live for the here and now, to live as earth-dwellers instead of citizens of the soon-to-be-revealed heavenly city, John’s audience, too, was vulnerable to Satan’s lies.

Blessed Are the Alert

What is required of God’s people in this atmosphere of spiritual warfare? In Rev 3:3, Jesus urges the church in Sardis to keep alert since his coming is like a thief. In the sixth bowl judgment (Rev 16:1216), John records the only speech report attributed to Jesus in any of the seal, trumpet, or bowl judgments. Jesus said, “Look, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who is alert and remains clothed, so that he may not go around naked and people see his shame” (Rev 16:15, CSB). John ties together the role of keeping alert with the role of keeping one’s clothes. It is as if, in John’s mind, the level of the believer’s alertness is visible to the believer and the watching world.

We should understand the broader context of Jesus’s statement during the sixth bowl judgment recorded in Rev 16:1216. John notes that unclean spirits that perform signs proceed from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. The events detailed in the sixth bowl judgment assume that readers have fresh in their minds, among other passages, Revelation 1213. The three-person demonic force described in Revelation 1213 is here in Revelation 16:1216, said to come upon the kings of the earth. Under demonic influence from the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, the kings of the earth prepare for battle—anticipating the military imagery in Revelation 1920. When the devil is the subject of signs in Revelation, those signs are always false but yet persuasive. The devil and his forces mimic and mock God and tempt believers to act in accord with the devil’s earthly program (Rev 13:1314; 19:20). The devil uses schemes to distract us from God, warm us to the world, and orient our hearts to an earthly identity of sight rather than a heavenly identity of faith.

Motivations for Staying Alert

John would have his readers embrace the role of alert allegiance to God amid demonic temptation to live like earth-dwellers. In the sixth bowl judgment, John offers three ideas that compel us to embrace the role of keeping alert. First, as we stay alert and maintain allegiance to Jesus, we are protected from Satan’s traps and the spiritual deflation that they bring. Jesus’s promise of blessing those who embrace the role of staying alert rests on God’s justice to reward the faithful. Will not God be alert to those who are alert to him? Second, we should remember that God’s intervention to help us during trials and temptation can come at an unexpected time—like a thief’s arrival to seize property at the least expected moment (see Matt 24:4344; Lk 12:3940; 1 Thess 5:28; 2 Pet 3:10). The arrival of the thief in the night is our hope! God sends his aid in the darkest and most difficult seasons, so look for it when you feel weak, afraid, and vulnerable. Third, we need to be watchful so that the patterns of our lives, here represented as elsewhere in Revelation by the imagery of clothing (Rev 6:11; 7:9, 13; 19:8, 14), resemble enduring obedience to God. 

Conclusion

So, how can you resist the devil’s distractions and embrace the role of one who remains alert? First, meditate on John’s motivations in the sixth bow judgment; cling to God’s justice as you watchfully wait for the thief in the night. Second, meditate on these motivations amid God’s people. John wrote Revelation to the seven churches as groups, and elsewhere, the author of Hebrews highlights the critical nature of life in community (see Heb 3:12–15; 10:19–25); remaining alert is not a solo role. Third, engage the mission Jesus gave to his church (Matt 28:18–20); a soldier engaged in active warfare is not easily distracted (2 Tim 2:1–7). Fourth, trust that God will enable you to stand firm and remain alert (2 Cor 3:4–6; Col 1:11–14; Eph 6:10–11;2 Pet 1:3).

¹ This is the fourth entry in a series of FTC blog posts noting how John uses a particular grammatical form, the articular substantival participle, for specific words in Revelation that resemble a playwright’s roles in a script.

² Brian J. Tabb notes that Jesus’s words resemble an interruption of the sequence of events that John records in the sixth bowl judgment (All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone, NSBT 48 [Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019], 52).  

³ Rev 16:15 is one of seven beatitudes John writes in Revelation, the others are in Rev 1:3; 14:13; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7; 22:14.

γρηγορέω in Rev 16:15.

G.K. Beale notes that keeping one’s garments implies refusing to commit idolatry and worship the beast (The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999], 837).

We must not allow ourselves to be lulled into spiritual sleep by the demonically inspired seductions of the surrounding world or to be cowed into complacency through fear of persecution” (Alexander E. Stewart, Reading the Book of Revelation: Five Principles for Interpretation [Bellingham: Lexham, 2021], 150). 



13: How Jesus Transforms or Annuls
Some Old Testament Law

“The Coastlands Wait for His Law” (Isa 42:4)

The previous post provided two examples of how Moses’s law can apply to new-covenant members through Christ and for Christ. There, we saw that Christ’s work can maintain the law with or without extension. This post considers how Christ’s coming transforms or annuls old-covenant instruction.

Case Study #3: The Law Transformed

Considering the Sabbath command in Deuteronomy 5:12–15 will show us how important it is to consider Christ’s fulfillment, which in this instance fully transforms the law and guides those strong in faith in the path of love.

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor but the seventh days is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day..

Table 1. Deuteronomy 5:12–15

1. Establish the Original Meaning and Application of Deuteronomy 5:12–15

In Deuteronomy’s version of the Ten Commandments (or Ten Words), discourse features create five groupings of long and short commands that highlight the centrality of the Sabbath within the old covenant:

Word 1 Have no other gods Deut 5:5-10 Commanding Grouping #1: Long
Word 2 Bear Yahweh’s name Deut 5:11 Commanding Grouping #2: Short
Word 3 Observe the Sabbath Deut 5:12-15 Commanding Grouping #3: Long
Word 4 Honor parents Deut 5:16 Commanding Grouping #4: Short
Word 5 Love neighbor Deut 5:17-21 Commanding Grouping #5: Long

Table 2. The Centrality of the Sabbath in the Decalogue

At the center of Israel’s identity was the Sabbath, which stood as the old covenant’s “sign” (Exod 31:13, 17). Michael Fox notes three functions of OT signs:

  1. Proof signs demonstrated the truth of something.
  2. Symbol signs represented a future reality by virtue of resemblance or association.
  3. Cognition signs aroused knowledge of something by identifying or reminding.

The Sabbath served first as a cognition sign and then as a symbol sign, symbolically identifying Israel and reminding it of its calling as the agent through whom God’s sovereignty would be celebrated on a global scale (ultimately through its Messiah).

The entirety of the old covenant was symbolized in the Sabbath, and its importance is highlighted by the fact that breaking it was a criminal offense (Num 15:32–36). While Sabbath was part of criminal law, its symbolism (like that of the dietary laws addressed in the next case study) suggests that it was also ceremonial law.

2. Determine the Theological Importance of Deuteronomy 5:12–15

The Sabbath command teaches us many things about God: (1) Yahweh shows no partiality. (2) Yahweh gives his people opportunities to test their trust and to develop their dependence. (3) Yahweh is passionate to display right order in his world, wherein he is exalted as Sovereign over all things.

Considering how Christ fulfills the Sabbath, we recall that Jesus saw himself as the source of ultimate rest: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Directly after this assertion, Jesus allows his disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath and then declares himself “lord of the Sabbath” (12:8). Jesus’s redeeming work fulfilled Israel’s global Sabbath mission and inaugurated the end-times Sabbath rest for the world.

The love principle standing behind Deuteronomy 5:12–15 is this: Loving God and neighbor required carrying out the 6 + 1 pattern of life as a witness to the kingdom hope of ultimate rest.

3. Summarize the Lasting Significance of Deuteronomy 5:12–15

Until the final judgment, God will retain his commitment to his people, even those the world considers “least.” As we look out for the marginalized among his people, we serve King Jesus (Matt 25:31–40). Furthermore, the Sabbath command reminds us of our own need to rest, by which God graciously counters workaholism and nurtures deeper levels of trust in him (Ps 127:2).

Additionally, we must maintain a pattern of corporate worship (Heb 10:25), and Sunday is a natural time for this (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2) due to its end-times significance as the day on which God ignited his new creation (Rom 6:4; 1 Cor 15:20; Rev 14:4). But corporate worship on another day of the week is not sin, nor is it wrong to weed your garden, study for an exam, or engage in sports on a Sunday—so long as you don’t replace grace (1 Cor 15:10; Phil 2:12–13; Col 3:17, 23). Through Christ, God has transformed the Sabbath in a way that believers now enjoy his sovereign rest seven days a week.

Case Study #4: The Law Annulled

This final illustration of applying OT law to Christians addresses a command that Christ’s coming annuls—yet in such a way that we can still benefit from it.

You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holdy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

Table 3. Leviticus 20:25–26

1. Establish the Original Meaning and Application of Leviticus 20:25–26

Pre-fall, God’s prohibition of eating from a certain tree supplied a context for humankind to mature in wisdom (Gen 2:17; cf. 3:5). The first couple disobeyed, and the result was that God cursed the world and marked certain creatures as unclean (7:2–3). Originally, the clean-unclean distinction appears to have only guided sacrifices (8:20; 9:3–4). However, it eventually served to distinguish God’s people from the nations (Lev 20:25–26). Either way, it was vital within Israel’s religious life (10:10).

Unclean creatures shared some commonality with the serpent’s curse or death-causing activities. Because Israel’s neighbors were the serpent’s offspring (see Gen 3:15), the meaning Israel associated with unclean animals paralleled God’s perspective of the nations. Accordingly, Yahweh’s prohibition against eating unclean animals symbolically distinguished Israel from its neighbors. It also allowed Israel to point the world to Yahweh as the only Savior who could overcome curse with blessing (Gen 12:3; 22:18).

2. Determine the Theological Importance of Leviticus 20:25–26

God is holy, and all should see and celebrate this. John Hartley notes that, within the old covenant, dietary restrictions “made the Israelites conscious at every meal that they were to order their lives to honor the holy God with whom they were in covenant.” So, for example, the prohibition against eating pork served to heighten the Israelites’ awe of Yahweh and to distinguish them from those outside the covenant.

With the progression of salvation history, however, Jesus has declared “all foods clean” (Mark 7:19). Accordingly, it is not what goes into peoples’ mouths but what comes out of their hearts that defiles them (7:18–23). Similarly, the Lord gave Peter a vision of unclean animals, commanded him to “kill and eat,” and then asserted, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:10–15). This instruction proved to Peter that God was now welcoming any from the nations who would fear and obey him (10:34–35).

Within the original OT context, then, loving one’s neighbor by not eating unclean food means that Israel was to display God’s holy animosity toward sin and the curse even in their diet.

3. Summarize the Lasting Significance of Leviticus 20:25–26

When considering how eating today relates to loving our neighbors, we must view it from two angles. First, love of neighbor means that those who are strong in faith and who feel free to eat anything must be careful not to cause those who are weaker in faith and who choose to abstain from certain foods to stumble. As Paul writes, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor 8:8–9; cf. Rom 14:2, 13–15).

Second, love of neighbor means that we will not stop proclaiming that Christ has triumphed on our behalf, opening the door for all peoples to stand reconciled to him. One way we can do this is by eating creatures God once prohibited. Whereas old-covenant believers abstained from these foods to proclaim and mirror God’s holiness, new-covenant believers today can partake of them for the same purposes (1 Cor 10:31). Within this framework, bacon is victory food!

A Note on the Hebrew Roots Movement

For centuries, many Jewish followers of Christ have chosen to follow Jewish customs like eating kosher food, worshiping on Saturday, and welcoming the Sabbath with a traditional ceremony and meal. They recognize this as a free choice, not as an obligation to Moses’s law or rabbinic tradition. And Paul would bless this practice, especially if the intent is to see more Jews saved (see 1 Cor 9:20).

However, there is a growing “Hebrew Roots” movement whose primarily Gentile devotees claim Jesus’s followers need to return to their Messiah’s roots by keeping as much of the OT law as possible without the temple. While they verbally affirm that justification before God is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone, they teach that all believers are still bound to keep the Mosaic law.

Reflecting on this movement in light of Scripture, we can say that Hebrew Roots advocates are, at best, passing undue judgment on fellow believers (Rom 14:3) and, at worst, failing to appreciate the changes that Christ brought in salvation history (Gal 3:1–5). Whether dealing with food (2:11–14), holy days (4:10), or circumcision (5:2), all who require obedience to the law as if Christ has not come are seeking to “submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1). We cannot keep the whole law (5:3), so we must trust Christ, who has fulfilled the law for and through his elect as we live lives of love by the Spirit (Rom 5:18; 8:3–4; 13:8–10).

 

¹Michael V. Fox, “The Sign of the Covenant: Circumcision in the Light of Priestly ’ôt Etiologies, Revue biblique 81 (1974): 562–63.

²J. E. Hartley, “Holy and Holiness, Clean and Unclean,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 429.

This blog series summarizes Jason S. DeRouchie’s forthcoming book, Delighting in the Old Testament: Through Christ and for Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2024). You can pre-order your copy here.