Tag Archives: Paul

Is the Law Sin?

The Law

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? (Romans 7:7)

In recent years I have heard Christians reject the Old Testament as if it no longer applies. One young man tattooed the inside of his left arm with: ουδεν αρα νυν κατακριμα τοις εν χριστω ιησου. In case you do not read Koine Greek, it says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1, NASB). This reading is translated from the liberal Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament. That text omits the phrase: μη κατα σαρκα περιπατουσιν αλλα κατα πνευμα – “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, KJV). This additional phrase is included in the Textus Receptus Greek New Testament from which the KJV is translated. (Bear with me; there is a point to this.) When I pointed out the biblical prohibition against tattoos (Leviticus 19:28) to this young man, a seminary student at the time, he lashed out at me pointing out that we are not under Law, but under Grace. Then when I pointed out the missing phrase in his tattoo, he lashed out against the King James Bible. Hmm! The missing phrase “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” suddenly takes on greater significance. Perhaps the compilers of the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament did not like that phrase either.

So Paul asks an important question: “Is the Law Sin?” Judging from this seminary student’s reaction the answer must be, “Yes!” But what does Paul say? “God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7, emphasis added). So, where do we get the idea that we are to disregard the Law contained in the Old Testament? Jesus quoted from the Old Testament exclusively. Of course, that was all that existed at the time, but He never gave any indication that it no longer applied. In like manner, all the New Testament writers referred constantly to the Old Testament and never hinted that it was passé. In writing to Timothy, Paul affirms that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, emphasis added). When he penned these words, there was no New Testament, only the Old. Instead of rejecting the Law, Paul says that “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12).

Salvation does not come through the keeping of the Law. That is impossible. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). We know that “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works [of the law], lest any man should boast” (Ephesian 2:8-9, emphasis added). So, does the Law serve any purpose? Paul seems to think so. “Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (Romans 7:13, emphasis added). The purpose of the law is to shine a spotlight on what is sin.

The Christian is saved by Grace, not by attempting to keep the Law (which is impossible to do), but the Law should be to the Christian a guide as to what God regards as sinful. God wants His children to be holy – set apart from the world, and the Law guides us to what pleases God. Can we keep the law flawlessly? Probably not, but we have the assurance that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). But how can we confess, if we do not know that we sinned? The Law helps us see that.

That young seminary student thought his tattoo would be a great witnessing tool. I venture to say (although I do not know for sure) that his tattoo has not helped him lead a single person to Christ. Perhaps, if he had taken to heart the omitted qualifying phrase in Romans 8:1 – “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” – he would not have violated the commandment against tattoos. I do not question the young man’s salvation, and I fully understand his motive however misguided; but when Paul said, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), I doubt that he meant for us to go out and get tattoos in order to win over tattooed people.

Is the Law sin? No, but it serves to show us what sin is and what we should avoid. God does not change (Malachi 3:6), and He has always expected holiness from His people. “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). The Law is not sin; it reveals sin. The Law should be heeded, not disregarded.


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Near Death


“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

There seems to be an increased interest in the paranormal these days: crop circles, UFOs, alien abductions, zombies, vampires, etc. Included in these are the reports of “near-death” experiences. This seems particularly to have piqued an interest among Christians due to the Christian predisposition to think about the afterlife, particularly heaven. A new “Christian” movie that has added fuel to this fire takes its title from a book by the same name: Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo. This is supposedly a factual account of a little boy who dies in a hospital operating room and goes to heaven and returns to report all kinds of amazing things about his experience there.

A Christian lady concerned about what to make of this phenomenon told me about a nurse friend who told her about near death experiences she has witnessed. “I feel very uncomfortable about this,” she said to me. “It does not seem Scriptural…doesn’t seem to match with what Jesus has taught about death. And so, I’m wondering if these sorts of things are considered ‘false prophets doing great wonders to seduce even the elect.’”

She continued, “Surely it is tempting to hear ‘proof’ that such beauty exists…even to believe that, yes, heaven exists, and Jesus is waiting with outstretched arms when we die. Surely some people might become believers upon hearing such tales…at least, folks that would believe ‘we go to a place of great beauty, bright light, where Jesus is’ when we die. It’s such a comforting picture. But is it Scriptural? Are we to believe in these things?”

I assured her that I share her skepticism about these near death experience reports. Obviously, we cannot judge what another person experiences because only they are privy to that information. The same goes for judging another person’s salvation – only God (and the individual) truly knows the condition of the heart. So, when someone reports a near death experience, we have to take them at their word, because only they and God know what they experienced.

But going back to our example of salvation, we can pretty well guess the state of a person’s salvation because of the kinds of “fruit” they bear. Granted, a person may be putting on a good front leading us to think they are saved – in fact, they may even be fooling themselves – but they are not truly saved. Or the opposite may be true. The person may truly be saved, but are presently living in a temporary “back-slidden” state. Again, only God knows for sure, but we can certainly judge their “acts” and know if those acts, or fruits, are genuine – at least outwardly.

Coming back around to our near death question, except for a very small number of cases, most of these experiences report the very same thing regardless of the spiritual condition of the individual. There have been a few reports of individuals experiencing hell, and they are very thankful that they were “brought back,” but this is the exception rather than the norm.

I viewed a video on the topic recently[1]. For some time now neurologists have been studying near death experiences and to date they have no explanation for this phenomenon. It seems that the only thing they have been able to confirm is that when a patient is clinically dead, all brain activity ceases. They have been unable to determine at what point the patient has the “out-of-body” experience. Is it just before they die or is it when they are revived? They do not know. Yet the patients all seem to report similar experiences: a feeling of warmth, peace, acceptance and unconditional love. So, if all of these “good” experiences are true, regardless of the spiritual state of the individual, that might lead one to conclude that everyone goes to heaven – except for really, really bad people. The question then is how does that line up with what the Bible says?

There are several accounts of resuscitations[2] in the Bible where people died and were brought back to life: the raising of the widow’s son (1 Kings 17:22); the raising of the Shunammite woman’s son (2 Kings 4:33-36); the man raised at Elisha’s tomb (2 Kings 13:21); the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:25); saints raised at the death of Christ (Matthew 27:52); raising of the widow’s son (Luke 7:15); the raising of Lazarus (John 11:43-44); raising of Tabitha by Peter (Acts 9:40-41); and the raising of Eutychus by Paul (Acts 20:9-12). With all of these examples, there exists no record about what the individuals experienced during their time of death. In every instance, the Bible is silent.

There is one instance where one died and then returned to tell about it. That was Paul in Acts 14:19-20. He later relates his experience in 2 Corinthians 12:2-7:

I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, … such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man … How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (vv. 2-4)

So, Paul experienced something, but he was not allowed to speak about it. This evidence from Scripture calls into question all the reports we are hearing today. Is it possible that there is a hidden agenda there? – one that says, “What you believe makes no difference. If you are a reasonably good person, you will go to heaven.” That is the devil’s oldest lie: “Yea, hath God said …? … Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 1:3, 4).

Jesus spoke more about hell than He spoke of heaven. In Luke 16:19-31, He relays the account of a rich man who died and woke up in Hades and likewise, poor, sickly Lazarus died “and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom” (v. 22). Here we are given a peek into the afterlife from which no one returns (generally speaking). Two very different places are depicted and two very different experiences are presented. Jesus related this “story” as an actual account. Considering His divine nature, He had firsthand knowledge of this event, which clearly shows us that not everyone goes to the same place or experiences the same thing. Something else worth noting in this account is that nowhere does Jesus describe the rich man as being a particularly (what we would consider) a “bad” person. From Jesus’ account, we gather that the rich man was self-absorbed, narcissistic, self-centered, selfish, and unconcerned with the plight of the poor beggar that sat at his gate, but it’s not as if he were a mass murderer, or anything like that. He may have been a good father, husband and provider. He was evidently concerned about his loved ones (vv. 27-28). Had we known him, we probably would not have considered him to be a bad person. Those who mourned him at his funeral probably thought he ascended to “Abraham’s bosom,” but that certainly was not the case.

So, the bottom line is that we cannot know with certainty what these people have experienced, but we are right to employ a healthy dose of skepticism. There is no biblical basis for these reports, and science offers no satisfactory explanations. The fact that most experiences reported are positive contradicts Jesus’ very words that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). The truth is that most people will NOT have a good experience. If these experiences are genuine, we should expect more bad experiences than good, but that is not what is being reported.

Of greater importance to anyone reading these words is the assurance and security of a place prepared for you by the Savior. He says:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1-3)

God promises: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Jesus adds to that: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6).


[1] Documentary: “The Day I Died” http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/day-i-died/

[2] Note that resuscitation is not the same as resurrection. In the former case, the individual eventually dies again. In the latter case, the individual remains alive for ever. Jesus is the “first fruits” of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23). Because He lives, we can be assured of eternal life.

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Lordship Salvation

Moses and Before the Ten Commandments

Moses and Before the Ten Commandments

Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 4:8; 10:13)

There is always danger in trying to condense deep theological concepts into catchy phrases. Such is the case with the title of this article. “Lordship salvation” is a nebulous term that means different things to different people. Some may consider that it implies a “works” based salvation where the individual has to make Jesus “Lord” by following some undetermined regimen of “good works” in order to earn one’s salvation. Such an idea is ludicrous when measured against Scripture. The Bible is clear that “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Psalm 14:3; 53:3; Romans 3:10). The fact of the matter is that the lost person is incapable of making such a choice of his own volition. As the Psalms suggest, they are fools (Psalm 14:1; 53:1) because “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Obviously any recognition of Christ’s deity necessarily implies His Creatorship and Sovereignty over His creation, including individuals at the individual level.  Thus, to “confess” that Jesus is LORD” involves a voluntary acceptance of the reality that He is the Master of all creation, including me. (JJSJ[1])

On the other hand, the Bible does teach that Jesus must be Lord of your life otherwise you cannot be saved. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). This does not give a long list of things that must be done to earn salvation, but there seems to be no option other than to “confess” (i.e., profess/proclaim/acknowledge) Jesus Christ as Lord. That word “confess” is the compound Greek word homologeō: homo meaning “same,” and logos, meaning “something said.” So in essence, “confess” means to agree with what is said, i.e., that Jesus is Lord.

[A] saving belief/affirmation/acceptance (recognizing Who the Lord Jesus Christ really is, in relation to me, a sinner) is not the same thing as thinking that a “service commitment” (i.e., a promise to serve/surrender) to Him is being exchanged for “salvation” – any such “deal” would be an attempt to gain (or keep) salvation by human efforts/deeds/works/commitments/discipleship/etc., which is a losing formula soteriologically speaking.  Sinners do not qualify themselves for salvation by promising to serve Christ – that would be exchanging salvation for a (promised) life of service/worship, negating the Biblical doctrine of redemption as a divine gift of pure grace. (JJSJ)

Paul in his letter to the Philippians says, “And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). Paul expresses lordship salvation this way: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). To the Philippians he writes:

10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

11  If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

12  Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.

13  Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14)

That is Paul’s picture of “lordship salvation” – to die to self and live for Christ. He does not have to live his life that way in order “to be saved,” but rather because he “is saved,” and Jesus has “apprehended” him. He lives this way because “Jesus is Lord,” and Paul recognized that fact and subjected himself to the Lordship of Christ.

Romans 14:8 sums it up pretty well: “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s” Jesus Christ is Lord, whether we submit to His Lordship or not. But salvation is by grace alone. There is nothing one can do to earn it (Ephesians 2:8-9), but once we are saved we submit to His Lordship “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

[1] Dr. James J. S. Johnson is Chief Academic Officer for the Institute for Creation Research School of Biblical Apologetics and my good friend.

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Seeing, They See Not


And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. (Acts 9:7)

Saul was a religious fanatic. Following his approving support of the stoning of the first recorded Christian martyr, Stephan (Acts 7:58), he “yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2). Saul was ready to bring in the followers of “The Way” either dead or alive, and he would have given his life for the extermination of these infidels – those who had turned away from the religion of their fathers. Such zeal is nothing strange to us these days, unless you are a Christian; Christians do not normally behave in this manner.

But God had something else in mind for Saul, and He would turn Saul’s zeal for his religion into zeal for the Person of Jesus Christ. Saul was a hard-case, and getting his attention would require more than witnessing the death of a faithful martyr. So Jesus met him in person on his mission to exterminate the believers that were in Damascus. “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:3-4). Saul was soon to learn that his mission against The Way was really a mission against God Himself as Jesus directly identified Himself with His church: “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (v. 5). The very God whom he thought he was serving and whom he wanted to please struck Saul blind (v. 8), and put him in “time-out” for three days (v. 9) to give him time to reflect on his experience. Saul’s life was dramatically changed following this, so much so that “after … many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him” (v. 23). He was even given a new name, Paul, by which he is most commonly known (Acts 13:9). Everything about Paul changed following this encounter with the risen Christ.

The conversion and transformation of Paul was miraculous indeed, but what about the others who had accompanied Paul on the same mission? They also heard a voice but saw no man. The encounter apparently had some impact on them because they “stood speechless,” but for them, nothing changed. In fact, they may have been the very ones that turned on him, and “took counsel to kill him.” When we think about it, it really should not come as a surprise. Jesus said, concerning the Jewish religious leaders, “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive” (Matthew 13:13-14).

Today, the Gospel is preached though every possible medium available – even this simple blog – and though it is heard by countless millions, it has no effect on most. Jesus said that “strait [small] is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). Seeing, they see not, and hearing, they hear not.

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Savage Wolves

Wolf in Disguise


For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.  (Acts 20:29)

Paul was not speaking prophetically when he uttered these words to the leaders of the Ephesian church.  He was very much aware of the work of the Judaizers who tried to make Jewish legalism a prerequisite for salvation.  Then there were the Gnostics who denied the humanity of Christ, and who taught that the flesh was inherently evil and would eventually perish, but the spirit was good and would eventually be saved.  Therefore, they could sin in the flesh without harming the spirit.

Yes, Paul was familiar with these wolves that went about attacking the flock.  He knew that the Ephesians would not be immune to their attacks unless they were prepared in advance for the onslaught that was sure to come.  Therefore he warned the Ephesian leaders, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (v. 28).  Paul knew that the best defense against false teachers was a well-fed “church of God” that was well nourished on the Word of God.  The psalmist expressed it this way: “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).

Apparently the Ephesians learned their lesson well.  As our Lord addresses the Ephesian church, He offers these words of praise:  “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted” (Revelation 2:2-3).  However, in their zeal to combat false apostles, they left their first love (Revelation 2:4).  We need to learn how to defend against the savage wolves, but we should never lose focus of our first love, the Lord Jesus Christ.


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