The Marks of a Christian

maresius-belgic-confession-commentary

With all the discussion on Christian blogs these days as to what the Christian life of sanctification looks like, I have always appreciated this balanced statement in the Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 29:

“With respect to those who are members of the Church, they may be known by the marks of Christians; namely, by faith, and when, having received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof. But this is not to be understood as if there did not remain in them great infirmities; but they fight against them through the Spirit all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood, death, passion, and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom they have remission of sins, through faith in Him.”

What the Bible Has to Say About Demons

Yesterday I posted the first half of my catechetical sermon on the topic of angels and demons. You can listen to the whole sermon here. Here is the second half of that sermon on what the Bible teaches on demons. Once again it’s important to consider this because God has revealed to us in his Word these things and because far too many Christians have gotten their theology of Satan and demons from movies like The Exorcist or other science fiction movies and books. And we learn at least three things about demons in the Bible.

II. The Biblical Teaching on Demons

A. The Origin of Demons

First, we learn about their origin. They are once again created beings. And as I said before they were originally created good. But with Satan they fell into sin and rebellion. And the Bible doesn’t go into great detail about that sin and fall, but it seems to imply that in some way Satan sought to exalt himself above God. This would make sense in connection with the way that he tempted Adam and Eve in the garden. It also ties in with 1 Tim. 3:6 which seems to imply that pride led to the fall of angels: 1Tim. 3:6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.

Also, there are two texts that speak of the fall of the angels: Jude 6 and 2 Pet. 2: Jude 6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— 2Pet. 2:3 And in their greed (speaking of false prophets) they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; (so too will he not spare the wicked from judgment though he will spare the righteous). And in the gospels we see that the demons are quite aware of their future judgment: Matt. 8:29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” So with regard to their origin, they were originally created good but they rebelled with Satan.

B. The Head of the Demons

And this brings us to the second teaching of the Bible concerning demons, namely their head is Satan. The name “Satan” means “Adversary” or “Opposer.” And that’s because he opposes God and his people. He is also called “Abaddon/Appollyon” which means “the Destroyer” because he is bent on the destruction of God’s plan of redemption and destroying the image of God in man (Rev. 9:11). He also is known in the Bible as “the Devil” which means “the Accuser” because he loves to accuse God’s elect (Rev. 12:10). We of course know of his roll in the temptation of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3). Jesus describes him as a “liar” and “the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44) and as the “ruler of this world” who has been cast out (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Paul refers to him as the “god of this world” who “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2Cor. 4:4). Paul also says in Eph. 2: Eph. 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. And of course, Peter tells us that he is our “adversary” who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pet. 5:8). As Berkhof notes, “he is depicted in the Bible as a superhuman, but not divine; has great power, but is not omnipotent; wields influence on a large scale, but is destined to be cast into the lake of fire.” As we sing in the hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God, “one little Word shall fell him.” Even though he is great in power. Christ has triumphed over Satan and bound him from deceiving God’s elect.

C. The Activity of Demons

And thirdly then, we learn about the activity of demons in the Bible. And demons basically follow in the footsteps of the devil. They are enemies of God and their goal is to ruin the Church and its members. And it’s not so much that they attack the church by causing its members to be demon-possessed or to blaspheme God, rather Satan and the demons try to ruin the church by distorting, denying or attacking the Gospel. As the late Donald Grey Barnhouse once put it, “Satan’s purpose is not to make good men bad, nor bad men worse, but to make people good without Jesus Christ.” But once again we ought not to despair over demons. We must remember that they too are bound in chains and destined for destruction. As John Calvin used to put it even though they are not yet limited to one place, “they drag their chains wherever they go.”

Are there a lot of demon possessions today?

Now you may be wondering are there a lot of demon possessed people in this world today? When you read the gospels you can sort of get the impression that there are a lot of demon possessed people everywhere. But I think we have to acknowledge that the reason we read of so many demon possessed people in the Gospels is because this was Satan’s final attempt to prevent Jesus from accomplishing our redemption. Furthermore, the gospels are teaching us that Jesus has authority over the demons and that the fact that he is casting out demons is proof that he has inaugurated his Kingdom (Matt. 12:28).

Now I am not trying to say that there are no demon possessed people in the world today. There certainly are. But where ever the gospel is being preached, the demons scatter and people are saved from their power. And so, there are probably a lot less demon possessed people where the gospel is being proclaimed faithfully and the Kingdom of Christ is advancing. And in rural parts of the world where the gospel has not been preached yet, there are probably a lot more demon possessions. But the Word of the gospel and the name of Christ causes them to flee because Christ has all authority in heaven and earth and the gospel is going forth in power. Children, you are safe and protected from demons by Jesus Christ. His Holy Spirit dwells within believers and protects us from them.

All of this is summarized in our Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 12: “The devils and evil spirits are so depraved that they are enemies of God and every good thing; to the utmost of their power as murderers watching to ruin the Church and every member thereof, and by their wicked stratagems to destroy all; and are, therefore, by their own wickedness adjudged to eternal damnation, daily expecting their horrible torments.”

Conclusion (Applications)

1. Don’t ignore or downplay the existence of angels and demons. They do exist. With regard to the elect angels, we should be thankful to God that he made them and that they serve us as God’s people. I mean stop and think about that. God created these majestic and powerful spirit creatures for his glory and our good. And you and I have benefited from the revelation they have brought from God, from the battles they have fought for God’s people, and from the protection that they have perhaps given you or me at times. And so, be thankful to God for them even as you would be thankful to God for a person in the church who serves you.

And with regard to the demons, don’t downplay their existence either. Paul alerts us in Ephesians 6 of their role in spiritual warfare:  Eph. 6:10  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. There definitely is a spiritual war that we fight on a daily basis and demons are one of our enemies in that war.

2. Don’t be overly obsessive about angels and demons. Angels are not to be worshipped, nor are demons to cause us crippling fear as if they could possess us or move objects in our homes. And so, let’s not ignore or downplay the existence of angels and demons nor be overly obsessive about them. Let’s seek to find the Biblical balance concerning them.

3. And finally, remember and be thankful that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ and he rules all things for the sake of his church. All the angels worship Him, and when he returns, every knee will bow and tongue confess in heaven and on earth, even the demons will confess that he is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11)! As we sing, in the hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God: “and though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us. We will not fear for God has willed his truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim. We tremble not for him. His rage we can endure. For lo his doom is sure. One little Word shall fell him.”

Christ ultimately is the commander of the angels in heaven and he will return with all of his angels in glory and will judge both the ungodly and the fallen angels forever, and will cast them into the lake of fire. And so, you can be confident in the salvation that has been won for you in Christ. And you can say with Paul, Rom. 8:38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen!

What the Bible Has to Say About Angels

This past Sunday I preached a catechetical sermon on what the Bible teaches about angels and demons. You can listen to the sermon here. I’ll post the transcript here in two parts. I must say that this is really just a summary of Louis Berkhof’s excellent treatment of this topic in his Systematic Theology. But if you don’t have that book, this is the gist of what the Bible teaches on angels:

Introduction

This is important for us to consider for two reasons. First, because some of us tend to downplay the existence of angels and demons, either because they are unseen or because we find the topic superstitious and unscientific. Or on the other hand we have lost track of the Biblical testimony concerning angels because so many unbelievers as well as Christians have believed and spread numerous myths/falsehoods about angels. Perhaps you are one who has bought into a few of the myths and just assumed that it was biblical (like the belief that everyone has a guardian angel assigned to them or that angels look like “Precious Moments” figurines). Or perhaps you have become overly preoccupied with angels and demons. Either way, it’s important that we find the Biblical balance of what to believe and confess concerning angels. And so, let’s consider what the Bible teaches about angels and demons. First we’ll consider the Bible’s teaching on angels and then on demons.

I. The Biblical Teaching on Angels

A. The Nature of Angels

First, God created the angels and he created them good. This is what we confess in Article 12 of the Belgic Confession of Faith. They are not eternal beings, they are creatures who were created good as part of God’s original creation. i.e. they were not created in a fallen state. In Psalm 148 we read: Psa. 148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!. . .5 Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created. Likewise in Col. 1:16, Paul speaks of the fact that Jesus was active in the creation of all things including the angels: Col. 1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And so, Angels are created beings distinct from God. And they were originally created good. That’s the first thing we confess based on God’s Word.

Secondly, the Bible teaches that they are different from human beings in that Angels are spiritual beings (i.e. immaterial). They don’t have bodies as Luke 24:39 teaches us. According to Colossians 1:16 they are invisible. The fallen angels are often referred to as “evil spirits” in the Gospels (e.g. Matt. 8:16; 12:45; Luke 11:26). Now while they don’t have bodies, that doesn’t mean that they are somehow omnipresent. Rather, they are finite and limited. They can’t be in more than one place at a time (even the devil!). And yet, they are probably more free than we are with regard to space. For example we read in the Gospels accounts of a man who was possessed by a legion of demons (about 5,000). And even though they are invisible they are able to appear to us when God enables them to according to his purposes. And so, angels are spiritual/immaterial beings.

Third, the Bible teaches that Angels are rational, moral and immortal creatures. They are personal beings with intelligence and a will. Paul says in Ephesians 3:10 that as a result of his ministry the manifold wisdom of God has been revealed to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 1 Peter 1:12 says that the good news that has been revealed to us is something that angels long to understand more fully, but they can’t understand it as we do because they haven’t experienced God’s redemption personally. We also read in Luke 15:10, that they rejoice when sinners repent. We read in Hebrews 1:6 that they worship God. So they are intelligent creatures who can possess and grow in knowledge.

Furthermore, they are moral creatures. The vast number of them are described as “holy angels,” a reference to those angels who remained loyal to their creator, rather than following Satan in his rebellion against God (Matt. 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26). Those who did follow Satan in his rebellion we refer to as fallen angels or as demons. So they are depicted as rational and moral creatures in the Bible.

They are also immortal creatures in that they are not subject to death as we are. Those who are fallen will experience eternal punishment, but they don’t have bodies that die. Thus believers, who have died and gone to heaven are said to be like the angels in that their souls are in heaven as they await the resurrection of the body (Luke 20:35-36). They are also very powerful creatures who form the army of God and are always ready to do the Lords bidding (Ps. 103:20; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:14).

Fourth, the Bible teaches that there are some who are elect angels and some who are fallen angels. As I said earlier they were originally created good. But some of them rebelled. Those who didn’t rebel are referred to as elect angels in 1Tim. 5:21. And so, these angels seem to have been confirmed in their state of holiness and are now incapable of sinning. Furthermore, the elect angels are examples to God’s people of doing the will of God and worshipping the Lord with reverence and joy, which is why we pray: Matt. 6:10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. They love to do God’s will and so should we (cf. Ps. 103:21).

So this is what the Bible teaches about the nature of angels. They are created beings. They are created good. They are spiritual beings. They are rational, moral and immortal beings who are very powerful. And there are some who are good and some who are evil.

B. The Number and Organization of the Angels

Besides the nature of angels, the Bible also teaches us something about their number and organization.

First, with regard to their number, the Bible teaches that there is a multitude of angels. The Bible doesn’t tell us how many angels there are, but that they constitute a mighty army. They are often referred to as the host of heaven and are pictured as an innumerable multitude. You’ll remember when the multitude of the heavenly hosts appeared to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus in Luke 2. We often see that there is a multitude of angels in the throne room of God, praising his thrice holy name.

When it comes to their organization we see that there are several types of angels and there seems to be a sort of hierarchy. The name angel in general means “messenger” or “one sent by God”. But there are also specific names for angels we find.

There are Cherubim angels in the Bible. They guard the entrance of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24) and are depicted as guarding the holy of holies in the temple and tabernacle. They also gaze upon the mercy seat (Ex. 25:18) and make up the chariot that God descends upon to the earth (Psa. 18:10 He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind; cf. 2Sam. 22:11). They are also depicted symbolically as a combination of various majestic and powerful creatures. In Ezekiel 1 they are depicted symbolically as part human, part ox, part eagle and part lion. i.e. They are not the cute little cupid-like angels that we often see depicted on Hallmark cards. Louis Berkhof notes, “more than other creatures they were destined to reveal the power, the majesty, and the glory of God, and to guard His holiness in the garden of Eden, in tabernacle and temple, and in the descent of God to the earth.” (146).

There are also Seraphim angels in the Bible. These are those angels who are mentioned in Isaiah 6: Is. 6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And when Isaiah says: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” And we read: 6  Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. Thus, we see that Seraphim are distinct from Cherubim in that they are servants around the throne of God. If Cherubim are guardians, we might think of Seraphim as nobles who worship around God’s throne and are ever ready to do his bidding, especially to serve the purpose of reconciliation.

Elsewhere in the Bible we also read of Principalities, thrones, and dominions (cf. Col. 1:16, Eph. 3:10; 1Pet. 3:22). These names seem to refer not to different kinds of angels but to differences in rank and dignity.

Finally we read of two angels who are very special in Scripture: Michael and Gabriel. In distinction from all the other angels these two are mentioned by name. Gabriel is mentioned in Daniel 8:16; 9:21 and in Luke 1:19, 26. And it seems to be his special task to mediate and interpret divine revelation. He helped Daniel understand his vision of the Ram and the Goat in Dan. 8 and helped him understand the “seventy weeks” of Jeremiah’s prophecy. He also is the one who appeared to John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, while he was serving in the temple and announced to him the birth of John the Baptist. He also had the great privilege of announcing the birth of Jesus to Mary.

Michael is also mentioned by name. In Daniel 10 he is referred to as a prince and in Jude 9 he is called the “archangel” who contended with the devil and said “the LORD rebuke you.” These indicate that he occupies an important place among the angels. We also read of him in Rev. 12: Rev. 12:7  Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back. Thus, Michael is a valiant warrior who fights the battles of the Lord against the enemies of God’s people and against the evil powers of the spirit world.

C. The Service of the Angels

Well not only does the Bible teach us about the nature and organization of the angels, it also teaches us about their service. Some of this has already been mentioned in passing. But we see that the angels have both ordinary and extraordinary service.

Ordinary Service: Their ordinary service is praising God day and night (Isa. 6; Rev. 5:11), rejoicing at the conversion of a sinner (Luke 15:10), ministering to the heirs of salvation, watching over believers (Psa. 91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.), protecting little ones (Matt. 18:10), and marveling at the riches of God’s grace toward man (Eph. 3:10; 1Pet. 1:12). And there is nothing in Scripture that supports that every believer has an angel assigned to them called a guardian angel. They simply guard believers in general.

Extraordinary Service: Their extraordinary service consists of mediating the special revelations of God, communicating blessings to his people and executing judgment upon God’s enemies at key points in redemptive history. But when the period of God’s special revelation closed, the extraordinary service of the angels ceased, to be resumed only at the return of our Lord.

Conclusion

So this is what the Bible teaches concerning the nature, organization and service of the angels. And so, we confess in the Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 12 that: “He. . .created the angels good, to be His messengers and to serve His elect; some of whom are fallen from that excellency in which God created them into everlasting perdition, and the others have by the grace of God remained steadfast and continued in their first state.”

What then does the Bible teach us about fallen angels or demons? I’ll post the rest tomorrow, along with a few application points drawn from the Biblical teaching on angels and demons. If you can’t wait, once again you can listen to this message here at our church web-site.

Why is the eternal deity of Jesus Christ necessary and so comforting?

It’s been way too long since I posted a blog. For some reason I am inspired today to start posting again on a more regular basis. So I thought I would start with a synopsis of a sermon I preached this past Sunday on “The Eternal Deity of Jesus Christ” (cf. Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 10).

A couple of Jehovah’s witnesses visited me about two weeks ago. It was interesting timing because I was preparing to preach a few catechetical sermons on the topics of the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, and the person and deity of the Holy Spirit. Jehovah’s witnesses of course deny these Biblical and historical doctrines of the Christian faith. So this past Sunday when I preached on the eternal deity of Jesus Christ one of my goals was to equip my congregation with Biblical answers to their objections. Here are a few Scripture verses that we went through to prove the deity of Christ:

John 1: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. . .14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . .18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Colossians 1: 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. . .Col. 2:9: For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

Hebrews 1: 11 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. 

It’s easy to remember these three references because they all are from chapter 1 (John 1, Col. 1, Heb. 1). With John 1 and Colossians 1 I responded to the common objections that Jehovah’s witnesses make with these verses (listen to the audio below if you’d like to hear these answers). Some other verses you may want to consider are the following:

1. Jesus’ “I AM” statements in John’s gospel (Jn. 6:35, 48; 8:12, 58; 9:5; 10:7, 11-14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5). This was Jesus claiming God’s covenantal name for Himself (cf. Ex. 3:14), which is why the Jews wanted to stone Him (John 8:59).

2. Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17. Jesus prays: John 17:5:And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. This is a remarkable statement since in the Old Testament God often told Israel that He was jealous for His own glory and that He shares His glory with no one (cf. Isa. 42:8). Here we see that Jesus indeed has always shared that glory with God the Father, being the second person of the Trinity.

3. Jesus receives worship (Matt. 28:16; Heb. 1:5-6, 7-12 [here Psalms praising God apply to Him]; Rev. 5:11-14). Compare this with John being rebuked for trying to worship an angel in the book of Revelation (Rev. 19:10).

At the conclusion of my sermon I wanted to press home the point that it is both necessary and extremely comforting to know that Jesus Christ is eternally God. Here are the reasons that I gave:

  • Because it’s Biblical as we have seen above
  • Because we cannot see God if Jesus is not divine. He reveals the invisible God to us (Jn. 1:18; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). He is Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23)! Jesus said to his disciples if you have seen me you’ve seen the Father (Jn. 14:9).
  • Because we cannot be saved if Jesus is not divine. In Reformed churches we confess in Heidelberg Catechism Question 17: “Why must He also be true God? That by the power of His Godhead He might bear in His manhood the burden of God’s wrath, and so obtain for and restore to us righteousness and life.” We need a mediator who is fully God and fully man in order to be saved from our sins. Without Jesus’ divinity we are hopeless.
  • Because we cannot be preserved and comforted in this world if Jesus is not eternally God. We would have a weak and insufficient mediator if Jesus is not eternally God. But because Jesus is God, this doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort. In Reformed churches we also confess these comforting words from the Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 26: “And if we seek for one who has power and majesty, who is there that has so much of both as He who sits at the right hand of God, and to whom hath been given all authority in heaven and on earth? And who will sooner be heard than the own well beloved Son of God?You see, because Jesus is the eternal Son of God you and I can be sure that we have an all sufficient Mediator and that Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 will most definitely be answered!

And so, let us believe in our heart and confess with our mouth the eternal deity of Jesus Christ with great comfort and with great confidence. And let us invoke, worship, and serve Christ both now and forevermore Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

You can listen to the full audio of this sermon at our church web-site here.