by Al Mohler

A moral, political, and cultural earthquake tremored last Thursday night as CNN’s Equality Town Hall featured the leading contenders for the Democratic Nomination for President of the United States. The rhetoric of the candidates finally bared the teeth of a Democratic Party sold out to the most radical proposals of the LGBTQ movement.

Indeed, a particular exchange between CNN anchor Don Lemon and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke revealed to what extent contenders for the Democratic Nomination will go to deconstruct religious liberty in the name of the newly declared sexual liberties.

Lemon asked O’Rourke, “This is from your LGBTQ plan, this is what you wrote: “Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, but it should not be used to discriminate.” Lemon then pressed the question: “Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”

Without skipping a beat or drawing a breath, O’Rourke answered, “Yes.” After that “Yes” came momentous applause from the studio audience. O’Rourke went on to say, “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. So as President, we’re going to make that a priority and we’re going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

O’Rourke’s answer dropped like a neutron bomb on the American political landscape and is indeed the clearest picture of the collision between religious liberty and sexual liberty. The dismantling of religious liberty for the sake of LGBTQ liberty has long been the aim of secularization—but after Thursday night, it is clear that the Democratic Party now marches to the tune of the LGBTQ movement.

Indeed, during the oral arguments for the Obergefell Decision—which legalized same-sex marriage across the country—the then Solicitor General of the United States, Donald Verrilli, said that religious liberty “will be an issue” for Christian colleges or universities who will refuse to alter their sexual ethics and religious convictions.

That “will,” was a future tense. After Thursday night, we are now speaking in the present tense. O’Rourke positioned himself, to the sound of thunderous applause, as a threat to religious liberty. He openly declared that he will strip religious organizations, even churches, of their tax-exempt status if they refuse to adopt his secular orthodoxy.

While O’Rourke was the only candidate who used such explicit language, the other candidates offered similar positions, veiled behind more politically acceptable rhetoric. Still, the trajectory of the Democratic Party is such that no potential nominee for President could ever walk back a statement like this, not even a millimeter.

Indeed, shortly after the Town Hall, O’Rourke tweeted his statement, as if proud of his rhetoric. He made it very clear that he did not intend to walk back his statement until 24 hours later, when he said that he did not want to remove tax-exempt status for religious institutions and churches merely for their beliefs—he would, however, deny tax-exemption for discriminatory actions.

The press seemed satisfied with this “clarification.” O’Rourke’s explanation, however, in no way abrogates his brazen rhetoric during the CNN Town Hall. Indeed, the intersection of beliefs and practices is exactly where the battle is being waged for religious freedom. Can Christian institutions, schools, or congregations for that matter, act in accordance with and not contrary to its own theological beliefs?

The battle for religious liberty does not exist in some hypothetical, dystopic future. The collision between religious freedom and the newly declared erotic liberties clashed on prime-time television. Each and every candidate during CNN’s Equality Town Hall, in one way or another, unleashed a full broadside against the most essential quality and virtue of any government or civilization, namely, the freedom of the conscience.

Each candidate for the Democratic Nomination was allowed 30 minutes, and the night’s charade began with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.

Booker was asked, “How would you address the, at times, juxtaposing issues of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights?”

Book responded, “It’s a great question, and thank you very much. Look, this is something I’ve been dealing with all my life… And so, for me, I cannot allow as a leader that people are going to use religion as a justification for discrimination. I can respect your religious freedoms but also protect people form discrimination.”

This is the same stance articulated later in the night by Beto O’Rourke, only slightly more veiled behind the idea of “discrimination.” In essence, the New Jersey Senator will champion religious freedom until it actually means anything.

Immediately thereafter, he called for the passage of The Equality Act, which the House of Representatives passed earlier this year. The Act accomplishes exactly what Booker and O’Rourke articulated during the Town Hall—it ends all discrimination on the basis of LGBTQ identity without any adequate provision for religious liberty.

Thus, because each candidate during the Town Hall supports passage of the Equality Act, they effectively support the same argument made by O’Rourke, just without the candor and honesty.

Dana Bash ask Senator Booker, “Do you think that religious education institutions should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose LGBTQ rights?” The Senator responded, “We must stand up as a nation to say that religion cannot be an excuse to deny people health insurance, education and more.” Again, what must be noted is that “education and more,” affirms the stripping of tax-exempt status to any Christian institution that maintains biblical principles and holds fast to its theological conviction.

Then, Booker was pressed with the follow-up question: “So, would they lose their tax-exempt status?” The Senator responded, “Again, I, I will press this issue, and I’m not, I’m not saying, because I know this is a long legal battle, and I’m not dodging your question, I’m saying that fundamentally that discrimination is discrimination.”

If he didn’t dodge the question, he certainly squirmed, not wanting to say out loud the essence of his position, namely, the reduction of religious liberty and all the freedoms protected in this constitutional right. Indeed, for Senator Booker, if religious conviction conflicts with his political stance, then it is dubbed discriminatory.

After Senator Booker, former Vice President Joe Biden took the stage, where he declared, “I suspect… this is going to be one forum where you’re going to get very little disagreement among the Democratic candidates. I’m proud of the position they all have because every one of us, if there are differences, they are just in degree and emotional concern.”

It is difficult to know exactly what the Vice President meant by those words—at the very least, it appears to be a way to catch himself up with the dizzying pace of the left wing of his party, which threatens to leave him behind. Indeed, during his 30 minute segment, the Vice President told a lengthy story of his childhood, aiming to show that he has never harbored discriminatory feelings towards homosexuals because, since his boyhood, he’s supported LGBTQ issues. In other words, he tries to position himself as way ahead of the curve on same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ movement—that he did not have to evolve on these issues like other Democrats.

After the Vice President came Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and the only openly gay candidate running for President. Indeed, he is the only candidate married to an individual of the same sex.

Hours before the Town Hall, Buttigieg released an entire platform on LGBTQ issues entitled, “Becoming Whole: A New Era for LGBTQ+ Americans.” At 18-pages long, it includes a laundry list of every goal of the LGBTQ movement, as well as some interesting items like, “Expand the representation of LGBTQ people and history in our national park system.” No one can accuse Mayor Buttigieg of leaving anything out.

During the Town Hall, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked him about religious liberty. Buttigieg stated, “Religious liberty is an important principle in this country, and we honor that. It’s also the case that any freedom that we honor in this country has limits when it comes to harming other people. We say that the right to free speech does not include the right to yell fire in a crowded theater. And the right to religious freedom ends where religion is being used as an excuse to harm other people.”

Harm means any kind of policy or action that could be perceived as discrimination against LGBTQ people. This would include a Christian college requiring its faculty to hold to certain doctrinal convictions as well as requiring faculty and students to live by a certain biblical, moral code.

Moreover, Buttigieg tries to present himself as the new icon of the theological left in the United States. Indeed, theological issues arose during Buttigieg’s time when Anderson Cooper asked him, “Is being gay a sin?” The Mayor responded, “I don’t believe it is. I also get that people reach their own understandings of their own faith. I guess where I try to reach people is that, can we at least agree that whatever faith tradition or commitment they have agrees with mine? That we are called to compassion? That we are called to seek out in one another what is best? And that we are supposed to protect those who are vulnerable?”

Mayor Buttigieg, in a few words, concocted his own theology—he just made up his own religion. While he claims a Christian identity, nothing he attests remotely resembles orthodox, biblical Christianity. Homosexuality is declared to be not a sin because Pete Buttigieg does not want it to be a sin. He simply ignores the Bible.

After Mayor Buttigieg came Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. During her time, a member of the audience asked her what she would do if a supporter approached her and said, “Senator, I’m old fashioned, and my faith teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman. What is your response?”

Senator Warren shot back with a condescending putdown that was widely celebrated in the press and clearly loved by the audience at the Town Hall. She said, “Well, I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that, and I’m going to say, ‘Then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that.’” Then, during the loud applause that broke out, she quipped, “Assuming you can find one.” Laughter erupted in the auditorium.

By an average of the polls, Senator Warren enjoys front-runner status. The front-runner for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States condescendingly said to Americans, in effect, “If you do not hold to my view of marriage and homosexuality, you are not even worthy of anyone marrying you.”

It should tell us a great deal that this kind of sentiment is applause worthy for millions of Americans. In short, if you will not capitulate to the sexual revolution, then you are so backward that you do not even deserve to be married yourself. No one should want to marry you.

Following Senator Warrant was Senator Kamala Harris of California. She was questioned by CNN anchor Chris Cuomo and in the first few seconds of her interview, Cuomo found himself in an explosive situation that went viral on social media.

Senator Harris walked onto the stage after being introduced and said that she identifies herself with the gender pronouns, “she, her, and hers.” This is a nod to the semantics of the LGBTQ movement, which views gender pronouns not as contingent upon one’s biological sex, but however one subjectively identifies. It is a way to “honor” the dignity of an individual who wants to be identified as either male, female, or any other fanciful identity on the chaotic spectrum of the LGBTQ sexual ethic.

Cuomo, attempting to make a joke, simply said, “Mine too,” with a quizzical look on his face. Harris responded, “All right.” The days following the Town Hall, Cuomo has attempted to overcome this enormous gaffe that just may cost him the liberal influence and stature he worked so hard to build over his media career.

He should have known the trouble he put on his own shoulders when he made a joke with pronouns, especially with the militancy of the LGBTQ movement. Indeed, reports around the globe detail the consequences of those who will not capitulate the new sexual ethics demanded by transgender activists. In the United Kingdom, a doctor lost his job over failure to recognize an individual’s self-prescribed pronouns. In the United States, a teacher lost his job because he would not refer to a transgender student by that student’s preferred gender pronoun. Chris Cuomo, attempting to recover his image, may receive a pass from the LGBTQ activists, but only because he’s practicing the art of groveling.

While Cuomo’s gaffe stole the attention way from his segment with Kamala Harris, it is important to note that the California Senator, like all the candidates that night, declared her unwavering support of the Equality Act—a piece of legislation she said would be her top priority to pass. Again, the legislation, in its current form, has no provisions or considerations for religious liberty.

After Senator Harris came Beto O’Rourke. His session, given its importance, will be covered in detail below. After the former Congressman, Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota took the stage—identified as something of a moderate, she positioned herself exactly in line with even the most radical elements of the LGBTQ movement.

Her first priority is the passage of the Equality Act, which will deny the rights of conscience to Christians, religious business people, and even religious institutions and schools that will not recognize the new secular orthodoxy. She attempted to veil this destruction of religious liberty with a friendly demeanor and beaming smiles. Indeed, she made her stance clear when she said, “First of all, our Constitution, as you know, has been founded on a separation of church and state, and we can have different faiths in this country, but the law rules. And the law rules when it comes to discrimination and all kinds of other things. I can just tell you that I will appoint Supreme Court Justices that understand that. That’s number one.” Case closed.

Moreover, during Senator Klobuchar’s segment, an important issue came up for many Democrats: the distinction between good religion and bad religion. Good religion is liberal religion, a set of beliefs in lock-step with the LGBTQ revolution. Klobuchar identified with it personally, declaring that she identified with a United Church of Christ congregation and, “That is the faith that I raise my daughter in and what I grew up in the last few years.”

Don Lemon then asked, “So, on that subject, should the federal government give funding to any religious non-profit organizations that oppose same-sex marriage? For example, an adoption agency that won’t work with LGBTQ parents?” She immediately said, “Yeah. I think that you’ve got to have agencies that follow the law, and that’s one of the reasons that I want to pass the Equality Act, I think that’s really important.” Even Senator Klobuchar, often identified as a moderate, holds essentially to the same position clearly articulated by Beto O’Rourke.

Former Cabinet member, Julián Castro, also promoted the good religion vs. bad religion dichotomy, even though he identifies as a Roman Catholic. Castro indicated that there are plenty of Roman Catholics who agree with the LGBTQ revolution, though he failed to mention that such positions fly int eh face of the official doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Once again, only good religion can be affirmed. Official Roman Catholic dogma is anathema because it remains outside the orthodoxy of the LGBTQ revolution.

The final figure on the stage was Tom Steyer, a billionaire candidate who made his first major appearance at the Town Hall as a Democratic candidate. Steyer identified a mass generational shift happening in the American public. He said to LGBTQ activists, “Don’t worry. Everything is going your way. It’s a matter of generational inevitability.”

This “generational inevitability” led Steyer to advocate for term limits on members of the United States Congress. He said, “If they are replaced by younger people, they are almost assuredly going to be in agreement with you.”

Nothing, however, competed with the candor of Beto O’Rourke. Must churches and institutions that will not adhere to the newly prescribed sexual orthodoxy lose their tax-exempt status? He was ready with the simple answer “Yes.” No equivocation. No “politically correct” veil of obscure rhetoric.

The first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court said that the power to tax is the power to destroy. That’s what is at stake in O’Rourke’s answer.

On the left, O’Rourke met some opposition—not because they disagreed with his position, but because he let the cat out of the bag.

Michael McGough, senior editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, ran an article with the headline, “Beto O’Rourke’s ‘church tax’ idea plays into conservative paranoia about same-sex marriage.” Interestingly, McGough describes conservative evangelicals as paranoid—probably because we actually listen to the words spoken by those who aspire to the highest office in the United States and the leaders of the Democratic Party. What McGough calls paranoia might otherwise be called reality.

The Los Angeles Times article states, “So it would seem from O’Rourke’s answer on CNN that if he had his way, the Catholic Church would lose its tax-exempt status unless it changed its teachings about marriage.” Then, McGough stated, “The idea that the legalization of same-sex marriage would lead to curtailment of religious freedom has long been floated by conservatives.”

This is categorically false. The shackling of religious freedom is not merely a fear of the religious right but a point of advocacy by the cultural left. It was the Obama appointed Solicitor General of the United States who stated, before the Supreme Court, that claims of religious liberty would be an issue in a post-Obergefell United States. Mark Tushnet, a Harvard Law professor, unabashedly declared, “The culture wars are over. They lost, we won.”

Tushnet continued, “For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking the hard line, you lost, live with it, is better than trying to accommodate the losers who, remember, defended and are defending positions the liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.”

The William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School said that conservative Christians, traditional Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and Muslims who cannot join the sexual revolution ought to receive the treatment of a defeated foe, akin to the treatment of Germany and Japan after World War Two. This is not misguided paranoia from religious conservatives. These are the words of the left.

In the aftermath of the Town Hall, a spokesperson for the O’Rourke campaign said, “Of course Beto was referring to religious institutions who take discriminatory action. The extreme right is distorting this for their own agenda.”

This statement appeared in an article by the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News. The article went on to report, “O’Rourke’s stance invited accusations from the right that in his drive for tolerance, he would punish religious groups that disagree with him, and is therefore pushing intolerance. The outpouring from gay rights activists was enthusiastic, though some commentators warned that O’Rourke is only feeding into the suspicion some conservative Christians hold toward Democrats and their sense of persecution.”

It is at this point that I want to offer an important challenge to the other candidates vying for the Democratic nomination: If this is not your position, I dare you to say so. I dare any of these candidates to state that O’Rourke was wrong—that religious belief cannot be disjointed from religious action; that the government cannot, by virtue of its own Constitution, infringe upon the freedom of the conscience and religious conviction.

I imagine that not one of the leading candidates will walk back O’Rourke’s position to the slightest degree. They may use different language or say that O’Rourke may not have understood the implications of his language. The will evade the question and soften their tone, but make no mistake, they will hold fast to the mores of the LGBTQ revolution—they have no choice in a Democratic party, sprinting towards the left.

Indeed, the Democratic party threatens to leave behind any of its members who will not keep up the pace of its radical secularization. O’Rourke himself has had to evolve at light-speed in order to pander to the elites of the Democratic Party. To the credit of the editorial board for The Dallas Morning News, they noticed the difference between O’Rourke, the Texas Senate candidate of 2018 and O’Rourke, the Presidential Candidate of 2020. Gillman wrote, “Beto embraces divisions by wanting to tax religious organizations over gay marriage. The presidential candidate is running a different campaign than the Senate candidate. When Beto O’Rourke ran for Senate last year, he presented himself as someone who could reach across the political divide and work with those he disagrees with. Now as he runs for president this year, Candidate Beto is embracing the politics of sharp divisions.”

We cannot read the heart of any individual. That is part of the human predicament. We can, however, hear and read their words. In this case, in the span of just a few months, we have not one Beto O’Rourke, but two. Even if we cannot read his heart, we can read what this says about American culture and the shifting landscape of American politics—indeed, about the radicalization of the Democratic Party.

Just go back 12 years ago and you will find a young Senator from Illinois, attempting to secure the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. That Senator, who went on to become President Barak Obama, wanted to go on record as not supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage.

That was just 12 years ago. We are witnessing a massive revolution in morality, especially on matters of gender, sexuality, and marriage. The swiftness of this revolution’s pace leaves no time to consider the ramifications of the LGBTQ ethic.

Now, in the 2020 Democratic Primary for President of the United States, Beto O’Rourke and virtually every other candidate on CNN’s stage handed down an ultimatum: The time is up for conservative Christianity. Anyone who will not join the sexual revolution is an enemy combatant, not worthy of protection nor a voice in the public process. Indeed, according to Senator Warren, you are not even worthy to get married.

The trajectory of the Democratic Party demands the unconditional surrender of evangelical Christianity—failure to capitulate will result in the coercive power of government to silence you.

All of that took place on just one, albeit very long, night on cable news. The message is clear, and it is one that American Christians cannot forget.


After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . (Hebrews 1:3)

Imagine that moment when Jesus first sat down on heaven’s throne.

Having taken on our full flesh and blood, lived among us, died sacrificially for us, and risen in triumph, defeating sin and death, he ascended to heaven, pioneering our way, as human, into the very presence of God his Father. Then Jesus stepped forward toward the throne, all heaven captive with history’s great coronation, a ceremony so glorious that even the most extravagant of earthly coronations can barely reflect it.

“We will join in the everlasting song that does not end, and grows only richer and sweeter for all eternity.”

Most of us today don’t even have the categories for the kind of pomp and circumstance that accompanied coronations in the ancient world. We’ve never witnessed an entire kingdom harness all its collective wealth and skill to put on a once-in-a-generation tribute to the glory of its leader. The extravagance communicates the importance of the person and his position. Royal weddings, no doubt, have their splendor, but the ascending of a new King to the throne, and that solemn moment of placing on his head the crown that signaled his power, is without equal.

And yet all the majesty of history’s most grandiose coronations now have been dwarfed by the heavenly finale to which the greatest of earthly ceremonies were but the faintest of shadows.

Crown Him Lord of All

The first chapter of Hebrews gives us a glimpse into this coronation of Christ, this moment when the God-man is formally crowned Lord of all. First, the scene is set: “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).

Then Hebrews quotes from Psalm 2, which was a psalm of coronation for the ancient people of God: “You are my Son,” God says to the new king of Israel, “today I have begotten you” (Hebrews 1:5). It was on the day of his ascension to the throne that the new ruler of God’s people formally became his “son” in serving as his official representative to his people. The coronation was the day, so to speak, that God begat the human king as lord over his people.

To Him All Majesty Ascribe

Next, verse 6 mentions “when [God] brings the firstborn into the world.” What world? This is not a reference to the incarnation, but to Jesus’s return to heaven, following his ascension. Hebrews 2:5 clarifies by referencing “the world to come, of which we are speaking.” In other words, “the world” in view in Hebrews 1 is not our earthly, temporal age into which Jesus came through Bethlehem. Rather, the world into which God brings his firstborn here is the heavenly realm, what is to us “the world to come,” heaven itself into which Jesus ascended following his earthly mission.

The setting is indeed the great enthronement of the King of kings. And as Jesus, the victorious God-man, enters heaven itself, and processes to its ruling seat, God announces, “Let all God’s angels worship him” (Hebrews 1:6). Him: God and man in one spectacular person.

Originally God had made man “a little lower than the heavenly beings” (Psalm 8:5). But now the angelic hosts of heaven worship him, “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). So great is this man, as a genuine member of our race, that he not only eclipses and bypasses the race of angels, but in doing so, he brings his people with him. No redeemer has arisen for fallen angels. “Surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16). In Christ, angels no longer look down on humanity but up. We now experience firsthand “things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).

This new King of the universe is indeed fully man, and fully God, and addressed as such (quoting Psalm 45): “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” (Hebrews 1:8). Verse 12 (echoing Psalm 102) restates the glory — “Your years will have no end” — which is the climactic expression of (and even outstrips) saying, “Long live the king!” (1 Samuel 10:24; 2 Samuel 16:16; 1 Kings 1:25, 34; 2 Kings 11:12; 2 Chronicles 23:11).

Bring Forth the Royal Diadem

Finally, the grand finale sounds the great oracle of Psalm 110, which has lingered in the background since the mention of Jesus sitting down in verse 3. Again the Father speaks: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Hebrews 1:13). For generations and centuries, the people of God had waited for the day in which great David’s greater son, his Lord, would ascend to the throne and hear these sacred words from God himself. Then, at long last, captured for us in the vision of Hebrews 1, the great enigmatic dream of Psalm 110 was finally fulfilled.

Having finished the work his Father gave him to accomplish, God’s own Son (not merely David’s) has ascended to the throne — not a throne on earth but the throne of heaven. The Father himself has crowned him King of all the universe. He has called forth the royal diadem and crowned him King of every kindred, every tribe, every nation.

“This new King of the universe is indeed fully man, and fully God.”

We who call him King and Lord will not only gather one day with “yonder sacred throng” to fall at his feet, but even now, he gives us the dignity of participating in heaven’s ongoing coronation ceremony. We crown him with our praises, both in daily lives of continual praise (Hebrews 13:15) and together in the midst of the congregation, as we gather weekly with our new kindred and tribe in worship (Hebrews 2:12).

The glorious enthronement of Christ has not ended, but continues. We see it now and experience it by faith, and participate with our praises. And one day soon, with all his redeemed, we at last will join in the everlasting song that does not end, and grows only richer and sweeter for all eternity.



Search for the phrase “all of life is political” and one finds not a few results. We expect such a sentiment to be very popular among mon-Christians, whose hope is focused on this life and this world. Remarkably, however, Christians are among those who use it most frequently. This is remarkable because there is a prima facie (i.e., what seems to be the case initially and is reasonably accepted as true until proven otherwise) evidence in Scripture that primary focus of Christians is not to be this world.

My Kingdom Is Not Of This World

When Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if he was King of the Jews, our Lord replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36; ESV). When the Jewish authorities tried to trap him by questioning him publicly about his loyalties, our Lord replied, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt 22:21; ESV). Whose picture was on the coin? Caesar’s (Matt 22:21). The coin is Caesar’s. If he demands it, give it to him. Your soul, however, is God’s. He said something similar in the Sermon on the Mount: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matt 5:40–41). Contra those who teach that the Sermon on the Mount is “not for today,” the church has always understood the Sermon on the Mount to be God’s Word for his church until his comes.

Our Citizenship Is In Heaven

The Apostle Paul taught the same thing in his letter to to the church at Philippi

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself (Phil 3:17–21; ESV).

The enemies of whom he wrote were the Judaizers, which is clear from the beginning of the chapter. Paul says that though they postured as religious people, in fact, “their god is their belly.” They glory in their circumcision and law-keeping. Paul gloried in Christ’s circumcision for him (Col 2:11—12). Where Paul once reveled in his status a Hebrew of Hebrews, Pharisee of Pharisee, i.e., in his law-keeping, he now reveled in Christ’s law-keeping for for him (Rom 5:12–21).

Though they postured as religious, the Judaizers, who sought to earn God’s favor by their good works (even if it was cast as cooperation with grace), had their eyes focused on this world. They had made themselves enemies of the cross. They were ashamed of the cross but Paul boasted in the cross. Of course it was entirely natural to be ashamed of the preeminent symbol of the Roman humiliation of the Jewish people but it was supernatural to understand that, by his death on the cross, Jesus had delivered his people from all the power of the Devil, accomplished all righteousness and salvation.

The citizenship of Paul’s Jewish opponents was on earth. As our Lord said, “they have their reward.” Though some of them (especially the Pharisees) hated their Roman oppressors, some of them curried favor with the Romans and enjoyed a certain degree of favor. Judaism was a legal religion. It had official standing in the Empire. Christianity did not and the Jewish opponents of the Christians were at pains to point out to the Roman authorities that the Christinas, even if most of them were Jewish, were not to be considered Jews and their religion was not to be granted legal status.

So it was quite something when Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi, who lived in a city with retirees with military and civil service in the Roman Empire, that, as Christians, their citizenship is in heaven. That must have been a bracing truth to accept. Caesar is our king on this earth but Jesus is the ascended Lord, reigning over all things, even Caesar. Though he was crucified, Jesus was raised on the third day. He ascended into heaven, and poured out his Spirit at Pentecost. He had revealed himself on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9) to the Paul and drafted him into the service of the ascended King Jesus. Caesar, through his governor Pilate, had crucified Jesus but Caesar was nothing but a pawn in the hands of the King of Kings.

Defining Our Terms And Ordering Our Priorities

Is all of life political? Of course it depends upon what one means by “politics” and whom one has in mind. Of course Christians lived in Philippi. Some of them had served the Empire. Quite probably some of them had shed blood in the service of the Empire. That is a reality. Their earthly citizenship was important but it was not ultimate. If politics means something like the organizing of common life by natural laws, civil authorities, and ultimately coercion (whether via a monarchy, a republic, or a democracy) then, for Christians, no, all of life is not political.

Christianity cannot be “immanentized” (to borrowed a word from political theorist Eric Voeglin). Christians serve in earthly politics, they seek to persuade their neighbors to pursue just laws and policies, but their loyalties are twofold because they belong to what John Calvin called a “twofold kingdom” (duplex regimen) and there is a hierarchy among the two aspects of God’s twofold government of the world: our first loyalty is to Christ and his heavenly, transcendent kingdom which has long outlasted Caesar’s, the Holy Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and will outlast every other kingdom and empire on this earth. Christ’s Kingdom is composed of members of every tribe and language, people and nation (Rev 5:9).

Indeed, it is when Christians recognize and order their lives, passions, and interests according to this hierarchy that they are of any value to the earthly polities. When we (and especially the visible church) become just another earthly political interest group, we lose our saltiness. Our Lord says, “ “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matt 5:13; ESV). For Christian, if our politics is in heaven, then yes, all of life is political but in the way that people typically intend.



For more than fifteen hundred years the Church has engaged in a heated debate over the freedom of man’s will. The major issues came to general attention in the early fifth century when Augustine and Pelagius did battle on the subject. Through medieval times the nature of man’s freedom received a great deal of attention. As they studied the Scriptures, Bernard and Anselm made significant contributions to the doctrine of the human will. In the sixteenth century the freedom or bondage of the will was one of the chief issues dividing Reformers and Roman Catholics. To the mind of Martin Luther, it was the key to his dispute with Rome. In the seventeenth century the nature of man’s freedom was at the heart of the debate between Arminians and Calvinists. The conflict surfaced again in the eighteenth century during the Great Awakening. Finney’s approach to revival in the nineteenth century led the church astray through a misunderstanding of the human will.  So too the nature of man’s will continues to bring intense disagreement between Reformed and Fundamentalist believers.

A proper understanding of the content of the gospel and the use of God-honouring methods in evangelism are dependent on one’s grasp of this issue.

Some theologians, both Arminian and Calvinistic, have been quite lucid in their discussions concerning man’s will. Others, for example, Jonathan Edwards, have soared into the lofty clouds of philosophy where many a believer faints in the thin air of difficult logic and complex thought. But none is so refreshingly clear as our holy Lord. His instruction on the subject is laced with vivid illustrations to assist our groping minds: 

Matthew 12:33-37 says, ‘Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things; and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.’

In this passage are three verbal windows through which the light of Christ’s lesson passes. Each presents a familiar scene. (1) A tree that has fruit — v. 33. (2) A man who brings treasures out of a chest — v. 35. (3) A stream that overflows from a fountain. This last is rather more obscure than the first two, but it is suggested by our Lord’s choice of words in v. 34. The word ‘abundance’ suggests superfluity or overflow.


Our Lord clearly teaches that man has a power of choice. It is important to begin here to disarm opponents of all the foolish accusations that have been brought against the Biblical doctrine of man’s will. Every man has the ability to choose his own words, to decide what his actions will be. We have a faculty of self-determination in the sense that we select our own thoughts, words, and deeds. Man is free to choose what he prefers, what he desires.

No one ties fruit on a tree’s branches, not even God. The tree bears its own fruit. Evil men sin voluntarily; they take evil treasures out of their chests, that is, evil words and deeds. Righteous men are holy by choice; they select good treasures, that is, good words and works. The person who is speaking and acting is completely responsible for his moral behaviour. This power of the will is a vital part of human personality. It always exists in you and me and in all to whom we witness or preach.

God never forces men to act against their wills. By workings of outward providence or of inward grace, the Lord may change men’s minds, but he will not coerce a human being into thoughts, words or actions. When God in his holy wrath sent the Israelites to drive the Canaanites from their land, he also sent hornets against them. There is a children’s song which tells the story of these hornets stinging the Canaanites, causing the pagans to flee the land. The chorus then sings:

God never compels us to go, Oh no,
He never compels us to go;
God does not compel us to go ’gainst our will,
but he just makes us willing to go.

When Saul was converted, the Lord did not compel him to edify the church instead of persecuting it. He added a new factor of inward grace in his soul, consequently Paul changed his decision. God may renew the will but he never coerces it.

The Westminster Confession is very careful to assert the liberty of the human will. When it speaks of God’s eternal decrees, we are told, ‘God from all eternity did . . . freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.’ When discussing Free Will, the Confession begins, ‘God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined, to good or evil.’ Neither by creation nor by subsequent acts of God are man’s decisions made for him; he is free to choose for himself.

This sort of freedom of the will is essential to responsibility! Having a will is a necessary ingredient to being morally accountable. This is clearly implied in our Lord’s words in verses 36 and 37: ‘I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.’ A man can be condemned only because the words are his own. He was free to bring them out of his treasure chest. They were the overflow of the fountain of his own heart. They are the fruits of his own tree of nature. No one imposed the words on his lips. He chose them. Society, companions, parents cannot be blamed. Idle words are the product of man’s the own will.

It is vital for every minister to appreciate the importance of man’s will. For in evangelism the will must be addressed. In preaching the gospel we are not only to shine the light of truth upon darkened minds. We are also to appeal to men’s perverted wills to choose Christ. Faith is as much an act of the will as it is of the mind. When by the Spirit a mind understands essential truths, by the same Spirit the will must trust Christ. Repentance is a selecting of good and a refusing of evil. Volition is central to faith and repentance.

Indeed, in conversion, a man must make a decision. We shy away from that term because in modern jargon a ‘decision’ has come to be identified with an outward expression, such as raising the hand or going forward to the front. While such external acts have nothing to do with forgiveness of sins, the heart must make a decision to be saved.

When Christ stood to cry ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink’, he was soliciting a willing choice of himself as satisfying drink for the soul.  God urges all sinners to come just because they may come. And it is our duty to inform the sinner that he has a warrant, a right to choose Christ. Beyond this, we must assure him that he has a positive duty to embrace the Saviour.

The great guilt of sinners under the gospel is that they will not come. Christ complained in John 5:40: ‘Ye will not come to me that ye might have life.’ And to Jerusalem he sobbed, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings and ye would not!’ There is in the unregenerate hearer of the gospel an obstinate, wilful choice not to come. Hence it is that in flaming fire Christ will come to take vengeance on them that obey not the gospel (2 Thess. 1:8). In the free exercise of their uncoerced wills men have rejected the Son of God.

In speaking of responsibility we have implied nothing regarding ability, as will be seen below. But the point is that men have wills which must be addressed as powerfully and directly as their minds and emotions in gospel preaching. Men must be confronted with their responsibility. ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent’ (John 6:29). 


Although man does have a will, it is neither independent of all influences nor supreme over all other parts of his personality. This is the next point to be seen in our Lord’s teaching.

Pelagians, Roman Catholics, Arminians and Finneyites have all held one common view of the nature of man. They suggest that the will of man is in some way neutral, that it exists in a state of moral suspension. It is their understanding that with equal ease the will can choose good or evil; it can receive or reject Christ. With only degrees of difference and variety of explanation, this is their common opinion. Pelagians have taught that the will is neutral because man’s heart is morally neutral. Arminians, on the other hand, acknowledge the human heart to be evil. But they suggest that prevenient grace has hung the will upon a ‘sky hook’ of neutrality from which it can swing either to receive or to reject the gospel. The common ground, however, is this idea of neutrality. The will, they tell us, is disinterested.  Ultimately this controls their entire view of conversion and of sanctification.

It will be noted that our Master taught that the human will is not free from the other faculties of the heart. Far from the will reigning over a man, the will is determined by the man’s own character. It is not raised to a position of dominance over the entire man.

Man is like a tree. His heart, not his will alone, is the root. There is no possible way by which the will can choose to produce fruit contrary to the character of the root. If the root is bad, the tree is bound by its very nature to produce evil fruit.

Man is like a person standing alongside his treasure chest. There is no possibility of bringing pure gold out of a box filled only with rusty steel. The contents of the heart determine what words and deeds may be brought out. Far from being neutral, the will must reach into the heart for its choices. Every thought, word and deed will partake of the nature of the treasure within.

Man is like a stream which cannot rise above its source. If the fountain is polluted, the outflow will be evil. If the source be sweet, the stream will not be bitter and cannot choose to be so.

These three illustrations alike contain the same lesson. What a man is determines what he chooses. Choices of the will always reveal the character of the heart, because the heart determines the choices. Men are not sinners because they choose to sin; they choose to sin because they are sinners. If this were not so, we could never know a tree by its fruits, nor could we judge a man’s character by his acts.

In modern times we observe rockets fired so that they escape from the earth’s gravity. To accomplish this there is a great complex of electrical wires all woven into one control centre, called in the U.S. ‘Mission Control.’ According to the Bible, the heart is the Mission Control of a man’s life. The heart is the motivational complex of a man, the basic disposition, the entire bent of character, the moral inclination. The mind, emotions, desires, and will are all wires which we observe; none is independent but all are welded into a common circuit. If mission control is wired for evil, the will cannot make the rockets of life travel on the path of righteousness. The will cannot escape the direction of thoughts, feelings, longings and habits to produce behaviour of an opposite moral quality. ‘Will’ may be the button which launches the spacecraft. But the launching button does not determine the direction. Direction is dependent upon the complex wiring system.

If the will were able to make decisions contrary to reason, and to the likes and desires of the heart, it would be a monster. You would find yourself in a restaurant ordering all the foods you detest. You would find yourself selecting the company you loathe. But the will is not a monster. It cannot choose without consulting your intelligence, reflecting your feelings, and taking account of your desires. You are free to be yourself. The will cannot transform you into someone else.

This is most profoundly true in the moral and religious realms. When the mind is at war with God, denying his truth; when the emotions hate Christ his Son; when the desires wish God’s law and gospel were exterminated from the earth; the will cannot be in a position to choose Christ. If it were, a man would not be truly free to be himself.

Here is the tragic truth about man’s will. While free from outward coercion, it is in a state of bondage. It is not in a stated neutrality. It is not a lever with which to move a man’s personality from sin to righteousness, from unbelief to faith. This brings us to the third element in Christ’s words. 


The chains which bind a man’s will to sin do not result from the actions of the Omnipotent God. The binding chains are the man’s own depraved faculties. The prison is his own nature.

Our Lord’s rhetorical question in verse 34 brings this home with force: ‘O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?’ Our wise Lord is suggesting that a man must speak as he does because of what he is. To sinners he was saying ‘You are unable to choose good words because you possess an evil heart. If the tree is bad, if the treasure chest is filled with evil things alone, if the fountain is bitter, your will cannot produce good words [fruits, treasures, overflow].’

At this point there are very many scriptures which attest to a man’s bondage to sin by his own nature. To mention but a few — Jeremiah 13:23, ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil’; John 6:44, ‘No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him’; Romans 8:7, ‘The carnal mind . . . is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.’

Pelagian, Arminian and modern Fundamentalist support for the moral and spiritual freedom of the will usually centres on one point. We have admitted that man has a responsible freedom. He is free to be himself. He is held accountable for his words and deeds, especially for his receiving or rejecting Christ. On all of this we agree. They use this toehold to argue that the will is not in bondage to sin but has the power of contrary choice. It can do either good or evil, at least when confronted with the gospel. They insist that the responsibility of the will to choose Christ implies ability of the will to choose Christ.

There is no scriptural defence of this belief, none that I have ever seen in print. The argument is completely philosophical. It runs as follows: If a man cannot do good, it would be unjust to punish him as evil. Furthermore, if a sinner cannot repent, it would be foolish to command all men everywhere to repent. God is not foolish and he has commanded repentance. Therefore men are able to repent.

We can only reply that those who applaud the powers of the will with such arguments have not read the Bible very carefully. To maintain their philosophical premises they will have to argue with Christ their Lord. For our Prophet tells us in verses 36 and 37 of our text that in the day of judgment men will be held responsible for their evil words. Yet in verse 34 our Teacher tells the very same men that they cannot speak good words because they are bound by their evil character.

Lazarus in his tomb had no ability to respond when our Lord commanded, ‘Come forth.’ The man who had been impotent for 38 years had no native ability to obey when Jesus commanded him to take up his bed and walk. Nor have modern sinners ability to believe when we preach. ‘This is his commandment, that we believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ’ (1 John 3:23).

When a sinner refuses to come to Christ, he is guilty because he has made a free choice. It reflects his own state of mind, feeling and attitude toward God and his Son. He has acted voluntarily without coercion. It is his decision. But the poor sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, could not do otherwise, being evil. It is not necessary for him to have a neutral will, or the ability to do both good and evil, for his action to be held accountable before the Judge of all hearts.

Anselm is very helpful on this matter. This medieval theologian points out that if ability to sin is necessary to true liberty or responsibility, then God is neither free nor praiseworthy. For the scriptures teach us that God cannot lie. Similarly, saints in glory will be neither free nor responsible; for in eternity the Lord’s people will have confirmed righteousness. Anselm goes on to show the biblical emphasis of freedom. True liberty rests in the ability to do good whereas he that does sin is the slave of sin. If true liberty rests in the ability to do good in God’s sight, then the highest liberty rests in the inability to do otherwise. This highest freedom belongs to the sons of God in glory. How biblical were Anselm’s insights!

No doubt Anselm’s thinking has influenced the Westminster Confession’s wording in the chapter ‘Of Free Will,’ For it says that Adam ‘had freedom and power to will and to do that which is good and well-pleasing to God.’ Yet this freedom was mutable, subject to change. Man could and did lose his liberty in the sense of being able to do good. This is not the same as a man’s liberty to be himself. ‘Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or prepare himself thereto.’

Bernard was very near the truth when he wrote of our condition in Adam: ‘The soul, in some strange and evil way, is held under this kind of voluntary, yet sadly free necessity, both bond and free; bond in respect of necessity, free in respect of will: and what is still more strange, and still more miserable, it is guilty because free, and enslaved because guilty, and therefore enslaved because free.’

We have seen that man is free to be himself and therefore is enslaved to sin by a wicked heart. And this brings us to the most profound truth regarding the salvation of souls. It is crucial to our preaching. It is vital to saving impressions in our hearers.


Our Lord has taught that the tree must be made good. Man must be renewed in his entire character. He must have a new heart to bring forth good fruit; the will cannot make the tree good; it may only exercise liberty to be what the tree already is. The will cannot reload the treasure chest with a new kind of goods; it may only freely bring forth what is there. The will cannot cleanse the fountainhead; it may overflow only with the waters available in the soul.

Any gospel preaching that relies upon an act of the human will for the conversion of sinners has missed the mark. Any sinner who supposes that his will has the strength to do any good accompanying salvation is greatly deluded and far from the kingdom. We are cast back upon the regenerating work of the Spirit of the living God to make the tree good. Unless God does something in the sinner, unless God creates a clean heart and renews a right spirit within man, there is no hope of a saving change.

While we address the wills of men in gospel preaching, they are wills bound in the grave clothes of an evil heart. But as we speak, and the Lord owns his Word, sinners are quickened to life by divine power. His people are made willing in the day of his power (Psa. 110:3). All who are adopted as sons of God were ‘born not of the will of man, but of God.’ (John 1:13) We stand to preach with no power to make the tree good. The ‘trees’ before us cannot make themselves good, so no gimmicks or policies of men can persuade them to make the change. But our glorious God, by inward, secret, transforming power, can make the tree good, the treasures good, the fountain good. Thus all glory be to God and to the Lamb! Salvation is of the Lord!

This article by Walter Chantry was first published in the May 1975 edition of the Banner of Truth magazine under the title ‘Man’s Will: Free Yet Bound’. The author’s insights remain helpful as the discussion on man’s free will continues still today.


The Reformation doctrine of justification is frequently summed up in the slogan sola fide, which means “by faith alone.” The phrase sola fide stands for the teaching that justification is by faith alone.

The Roman Catholic Church, historically, has also taught that justification is by faith. They say that faith is the initial stage of justification. It is the foundation and root of our justification. Rome insists on the necessity of faith for justification. So the fide in sola fide is clearly affirmed by Rome. What is not affirmed by Rome is the sola, because even though faith is the initiation, the foundation, and the root of justification, its mere presence is not enough to effect justification. There must be something besides faith in order for us to be justified—a necessary condition. A necessary condition is something that must be present in order for an effect or consequence to follow, but its presence does not guarantee the result.

For example, under normal circumstances, a necessary condition for fire is the presence of oxygen. But, fortunately for us, the mere presence of oxygen is not enough to cause a fire. If it were, we would catch on fire every time we took a breath of air. So we distinguish between a necessary condition and a sufficient condition. A sufficient condition absolutely guarantees that the result will follow.

Given that distinction, we can see the difference between the Roman Catholic view and the Reformation view of the relationship between faith and justification. In the Roman view, faith is a necessary condition for justification, not a sufficient condition for it. In the Protestant view, faith is not only a necessary condition but also a sufficient condition for justification. That is, when we put our faith and trust in Christ, God will most surely declare us justified in His sight. The Reformation view, which is the biblical view, is that if faith is present, justification is inevitably present as well.

What is unthinkable in the Reformation view is that we could have faith without justification. We cannot have justification without faith, and we cannot have faith without justification. Rome says that we cannot have justification without faith, but we can have faith without justification. We can keep our faith but commit a mortal sin that will destroy the grace of justification, so that we will be damned (without proper penance). But for the Reformers, the mere possession of genuine faith is all that is required in order for us to receive the grace and maintain the state of justification.

The confession says this:

Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification.

An instrument is a tool that is used for a particular purpose. When the framers of the Westminster Confession wrote that faith is the alone instrument of justification, they were aware of the sixteenth-century dispute regarding the instrumental cause of justification. It is necessary to have a clear understanding of this doctrine—the instrumental cause of justification—because it is about how we are saved.

The term instrumental cause goes back in history to the fourth century before Christ, to the philosophy of Aristotle. He was concerned to explain motion and change. In that process, he tried to isolate various causes that contribute to something’s change of state or status. How does that relate to our question here? We, by nature, are not justified. We are unjust, and our status before God is that we deserve his unmitigated wrath. We need a change of our status, from a state of damnation to a state of justification.

Aristotle distinguished four kinds of causes: the formal cause, the efficient cause, the final cause, and the material cause. He did not include the instrumental cause. His four causes, however, formed the basis for the idea of instrumental cause.

He used the illustration of a statue that starts out as a block of stone from the quarry. Aristotle defined the block of stone as the material cause, the stuff out of which something is made. The formal cause is the idea in the sculptor’s mind, or his blueprint or sketch, of the way that he wants the finished product to look. There has to be an idea before there can be a result. The efficient cause is that which brings about the change from stone to statue, and in this case it is the sculptor. He is the one who makes it happen. The final cause is the purpose for which the thing is made, which in this case may be to beautify a garden.

To these four causes, we may add the idea of the instrumental cause, which is the means by which the change takes place. If the sculptor wants to change the block of stone into a statue, he has to chip away at the stone to shape, form, and smooth it. His chisel and his hammer are the instruments, the means by which the change is wrought. In English, we often indicate means with the words by and through.

When the Reformers said that justification is by faith or through faith, they affirmed that the means or the instrument by which we are justified is faith and faith alone. The only instrument that we need, the only tool required to move us from a state of damnation to a state of justification is faith, but faith is not the only thing that we need in order to be justified. We also need Christ in order to be justified. That is, in order to be justified, we need His perfect righteousness and His atonement on the cross. Everything that is required by God to meet His standard of righteousness and justice has been fulfilled objectively in and through the work of Christ. He has done it all. The whole Roman Catholic–Protestant debate on justification is not over the objective work of Christ so much as it is over how we receive the benefits of His work. How is the objective work of Christ subjectively appropriated? The answer that the Reformers gave, based on the teaching of the Apostle Paul, was “in and through, or by and through, faith alone.” But it is not faith alone that saves us. When we say that justification is by faith alone, we are saying that justification is by and through our faith in Christ alone.

The instrumental cause of justification, according to Rome, is baptism and penance. Rome defines these sacraments as the instruments by and through which a person is justified. The difference is between salvation that is accomplished sacerdotally (that is, through the church’s administration of the sacraments) and salvation that is experienced through faith in Christ alone. This is all the difference in the world. The confession says that faith is the only instrument of justification because it is through faith alone that we rest on and receive the righteousness of Christ. The righteousness of Christ, the benefits of His atonement, the objective merit or grounds of our justification, are freely offered to anyone who believes.“The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom.1:17). We are justified not by faith plus works but by faith alone. All that is needed to enter the kingdom of God is faith or trust in the work of Christ alone.

Faith is not the grounds of our justification. The grounds of our justification is the righteousness of Christ, His merit. The Reformers said that the meritorious cause of our justification is the righteousness of Christ alone. The instrumental cause of our justification is faith, but when we say that we are justified by faith alone, we do not mean that faith is a meritorious work that adds anything to the ground of our justification.

What difference does that make practically? There are people who say they believe in justification by faith alone but who rely on their faith as if it were meritorious or a good work that will satisfy the demands of God’s justice. The fact that a person possesses faith adds no merit to his account. It adds infinite merit to his account by imputation, but it is the merit of Christ that is imputed to him. We can receive Christ’s merit only by faith, and there is no merit to that. The only One who can save us is Christ, and the only way we can get access to Him is through faith. We do not rest on anything else in our lives except Christ and His righteousness for our salvation.


This excerpt is adapted from Truths We Confess by R.C. Sproul; REFORMATION TRUST.


Creation’s Coronation and Goal

Chapter 10 from Better Than the Beginning: Creation in Biblical Perspective (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2013). Re-printed with permission.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. (Genesis 2:1-3)1


This is a massive subject. The issue of the Sabbath has caused much ink to be spilled in our day as well as in previous days. Sabbath simply means rest. But what does God’s rest mean for God and for us? There is much confusion on this issue due to not understanding the first revelation of the Sabbath as found in Genesis 2:1-3. This confusion, in part, is due to not allowing other parts of the Bible to explain the function of the Creator’s Sabbath. In order to understand the Bible correctly, we have to understand what the Creator’s Sabbath means, not only for us but for God. In order to do that, we have to let the Creator tell us what it means. He does just that in various places in the rest of Scripture.

Every picture tells a story and every person has a story. But there is one Person whose story stands apart from all others and that story is God’s, recorded for us in the Bible. God’s story tells us that He created, what He created in the first place, why He created man and what man’s supposed to do, why there’s so much trouble on the earth, and where history is heading. In the next two chapters, I want to show that understanding the Creator’s Sabbath helps us understand the entire Bible–what it is about, what went wrong, how God’s going about fixing what went wrong, and where history is heading. In order to do that, it is important to understand the Bible’s diversity and unity and its beginning and end.

The Bible’s Diversity

The Bible is a huge book with many diverse parts. We have both an Old and a New Testament. There are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament, written over a period of about 1,500 years by many different authors, in different cultural and religious circumstances from which we live. The New Testament has twenty-seven books, written within the time-frame of one generation, a little over 2,000 years ago. But that generation existed in a world different than ours as well. Add to that the fact that the Bible has different kinds of literature, like narratives that tell stories of ancient events, people, and places, prophecies that tell of things to come, and epistles, which are letters written by apostles to local churches in the first century, and the Bible gives the appearance of being made up of disconnected books, written by various authors who did not know each other over a long period of time with no central point, no plot, no story-line, and no conclusion.

The Bible’s Unity

Those who read and think deeply upon the text of Holy Scripture realize that though it has diverse books and diverse authors and even diverse languages,2 in all its diversity there is a wonderful unity in it. This unity is due to its divine author, who is none other than God Himself.

One of the ways the overall unity of the Bible may be seen is by comparing the beginning of the Bible with its end. I have a book on one of my shelves entitled, The End of the Beginning: Revelation 21-22 and the Old Testament.3 The author, William J. Dumbrell, argues that the end of the Bible is the beginning of the Bible brought to its intended goal. He argues that the end is actually better than the beginning. Another author, T. D. Alexander, says:

As is often the case, a story’s conclusion provides a good guide to the themes and ideas dominant throughout. By resolving an intricate plot that runs throughout a story, a good denouement4 sheds light on the entire story.5

This is true in a good mystery novel or movie. The plot (or riddle or problem to be solved) is revealed early on and is finally solved at the end and then everything in between makes more sense. But suppose you start a movie, then 15 minutes later someone walks in and begins to watch. They will have many questions. Though you might be hooked by then, the person who came late will not understand the plot, or setting, or background of the story. By the middle of the movie you will be putting clues together trying to solve the riddle. The other person will be asking you to either explain the various scenes, start the whole thing over, or they will leave. As well, there is usually a twist or twists in the story that finally ends in an amazing way that far exceeds your initial thoughts. The end ties up the loose ends of the beginning and middle and makes sense of the whole. So it goes with the Bible.

Commenting on the relationship between the beginning and end of the Bible Alexander says:

The very strong links between Genesis 1-3 [the first three chapters of the Bible] and Revelation 20-22 [the last three chapters of the Bible] suggest that these passages frame the entire biblical meta-story.6

A meta-story is the overarching story that all the parts of a book are serving. What are some of those themes that end up being in both the beginning and the end of the Bible? Let us explore a proposed answer to this question.

Seven Observations Tying the End of the Bible with the Beginning of the Bible

In this section, I want to explore some themes that occur at the end of the Bible which find their origin in the beginning of the Bible. This will help us see the big-picture so as not to lose the forest for the trees. It also will set a proper context for understanding the Creator’s Sabbath–what it means for God and us.

The devil, who first appears in Genesis 3, ends up thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:7-10 says:

When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation. 20:7-10).

The Bible has threads within it that deal with the effects of the devil’s activity, not only in the garden of Eden but afterward as well. There is conflict between the woman’s seed and the devil’s seed throughout–the people of God and the children of the devil.

The first heavens and first earth of Genesis 1:1 become a new heaven and a new earth.

Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.” Peter tells us that in this new heaven and earth “… righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Remember, God kicked Adam and Even out of the garden because they became unrighteous.

The tree of life, first revealed in Genesis 2, ends up on the new earth.

Describing the eternal state, Revelation 22:2 says, “On either side of the river was the tree of life…” Revelation 22:14 adds, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.” The eschatological city, the new earth, contains the tree of life, which first appears in the Bible in Genesis 2:9.

God will dwell among all the citizens of the new earth.

Revelation 21:3 says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.’” God dwelt in the garden with Adam and Eve but they were exiled from that first dwelling place of God among men because of their sin. Then God dwelt in Israel’s tabernacle and temple, then in Jesus Christ, as John tells us in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” God’s dwelling with men is now experienced by the church, the new temple of God, the new house of God, which is “…a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). But in the new earth, God will dwell with everyone, not just the church in distinction from the outer world of men. The whole earth will be a special dwelling place of God among men.

There will no longer be any death in the new earth.

Revelation 21:4 says, “…there will no longer be any death.” Death came when sin came way back in Genesis 3. In the new earth, there will no longer be any death.

The new Jerusalem is described with the symbolic language often used of temples.

Here is Revelation 21:10-22.

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements. The material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (Revelation 21:10-22).

Eschatological or new Jerusalem is described as a cubed city of pure gold. Listen to Revelation 21:16-18 again.

The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements. The material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass (Revelation 21:16-18).

The only other golden cube in the Bible is the inner sanctuary of Israel’s temple, called the holy of holies, the special dwelling place of God with man. Listen to 1 Kings 6:20, “The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits in length, twenty cubits in width, and twenty cubits in height, and he overlaid it with pure gold.” Also, gold is often linked with the special dwelling place of God among men. Listen to Genesis 2:10-12.

Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there (Genesis 2:10-12).

It is important to note that in Revelation 22:1 John was shown “a river of the water of life… flowing from the throne of God and from the Lamb.” The entire new Jerusalem appears to be an expanded holy of holies–the special dwelling place of God among men.

One more observation on rivers in light of Revelation 22:1 may help. Rivers flow downhill. Since this is so, the rivers of Eden (Genesis 2:10-12) flowed downhill, which puts it uphill or upon a mountain. Now listen to Revelation 21:10-11a and 22:1, “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God” and “Then he showed me a river of the water of life…” Do you see it? The new Jerusalem is pictured as having a river flowing out of it and connected to a high mountain. The special dwelling place of God among men in the end of the Bible depicts a river of life and a high mountain. Where did this type of language and these concepts come from? From the Bible itself. The entry for “Mountain” in the Dictionary of Biblical Imageryreads:

Almost from the beginning of the Bible, mountains are sites of transcendent spiritual experiences, encounters with God or appearances by God. Ezekiel 28:13-15 places the *Garden of Eden on a mountain. *Abraham shows his willingness to sacrifice Isaac and then encounters God on a mountain (Genesis 22:1-14). God appears to Moses and speaks from the *burning bush on “Horeb the mountain of God” (Exodus 3:1-2 NRSV), and he encounters Elijah on the same site (1 Kings 19:8-18). Most impressive of all is the experience of the Israelites at Mt. *Sinai (Exodus 19), which *Moses ascends in a *cloud to meet God.

A similar picture emerges from the NT, where Jesus is associated with mountains. Jesus resorted to mountains to be alone (John 6:15), to *pray (Matthew 14:23; Luke 6:12) and to teach His listeners (Matthew 5:1; Mark 3:13). It was on a mountain that Jesus refuted Satan’s temptation (Matthew 4:8; Luke 4:5). He was also transfigured on a mountain (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36), and he ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:10-12).7

Jesus also designated a mountain in Galilee from which He gave the Great Commission to the eleven in Matthew 28:16, “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated.” Jesus is both the tabernacle of God among men (John 1:14) and a temple (John 2:19-22) who builds the new temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:19-22), His body, the church. Hebrews 12:18-24 contrasts Mount Sinai and Mount Zion in the context of the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. God’s people have gone from one mountain to another. Surely these mountains are symbols of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant and have their foundation in the first mountain-temple, the garden of Eden.

The curse that was inflicted in Genesis 3 due to Adam’s sin is no more.

Revelation 22:3 says, “There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him.” Due to not serving God, the curse came upon man and the earth. In the eternal state, “there will no longer be any curse.”


The Bible ends “[w]ith [a] remarkable vision of God coming to dwell with humanity on a new earth.”8 But the Bible started with God in the midst of His people in the garden of Eden, on a mountain, with precious stones present, with water flowing out of it, and in a context where Adam, the first prophet-priest-king, was supposed to subdue the earth and fill it with other image-bearers who were like him (i.e., sinless sons of God). What happened? Sin happened.

How Does all this Relate to the Creator’s Sabbath?

The connections between the end of the Bible and its beginning are very instructive for our study at this point.

The connections between the end of the Bible and its beginning set the broader, big-picture context in order that the details might be easier to understand.

When we know the end of the story, we may know better the beginning and everything in between. For example, at the end of the Bible, the entire new earth is sacred space. God dwells with all those in that place. In the beginning of the Bible, the sacred space was limited to the garden of Eden. In the middle of the Bible we see altars, a tabernacle, Israel’s temple, Christ Himself, and then the church as sacred space–where God dwells with man in a special, unique way. All of these things–the garden of Eden, altars, Israel’s tabernacle and temple, Christ and His church–point forward. They are symbolic of God’s special dwelling among men on the earth but also mini-glimpses of the future. One day the whole earth will be sacred space where God dwells with men. Stephen G. Dempster says of the Old Testament what is true of the entire Bible, “The goal of the canon is clearly the great house of God, which is as inclusive as the globe.”9What was instituted in the garden and spoiled by sin ends up brought to completion by our Lord Jesus Christ.

The connections between the end of the Bible and its beginning put the Creator’s Sabbath in the context of completed temple-building.

We will discuss this further in the next chapter, but for now remember that temples are where God dwells on earth among men. The first temple was the garden of Eden, the first high mountain of the earth, where God dwelled with Adam and Eve. The Creator’s Sabbath comes after He made the earth; it comes after He completed the crafting of His temple.

The connections between the end of the Bible and its beginning instruct us that the Bible goes from what God intended in the beginning, which was not accomplished by the first Adam, to what God Himself accomplishes through the last Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In other words, the end is better than the beginning. The Bible goes from old creation to new creation via redemption. It goes from a good creation made bad by Adam’s sin to a new, perfected creation made so by Christ’s obedience.

The connections between the end of the Bible and its beginning help us understand the gospel.

God takes it upon Himself to dwell among men as the man, Christ Jesus. He came to be the hero of redemption, to do what Adam failed to do, to bring many sons to glory through sinless obedience. Because of sin, the last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, came to die for the forgiveness of our sins and create a seed, or spiritual children, who one day will fill the new earth, and enjoy inviolable communion with God. What Adam brought upon us all (i.e., guilt), Christ absolves and what Adam failed to do, Christ does (i.e., He brings many sons to glory through obedience). This is the gospel.

1 Bible references are from the NASB.
2 The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek.
3 William J. Dumbrell, The End of the Beginning: Revelation 21-22 and the Old Testament (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001; previously published by Baker Book House, 1985).
4 A denouement is the final resolution of a plot, as in a drama or novel, a solution, or the end of a story that ties together its various parts.
5 T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008), 10.
6 Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 10.
7 “Mountain” in Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, Editors, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarstiy Press, 1998), 573.
8 Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 14.
9 Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003, reprinted 2006), 227.

This was published as an article in FOUNDERS JOURNAL.



What was God doing before time? According to Scripture, God created everything (Gen 1:1) and apart from him nothing was made (John 1:3). So God alone is uncreated. And this means God existed before creation, before the universe, and, I think we can say, before all time. He is, after all, said to “alone possess immortality” (1 Tim 6:16). And it is impossible for him to have a beginning if nothing but him existed before any created thing came into existence.  

How then can we conceive of God before all time? And how can God relate to us in time? It is an odd question but one that, I think, has an answer that leads to profound worship. 


To begin to answer this question, we need to first discuss and define time. In the first place, time has no essence. Time measures change. The earth rotates around the sun every 365 days. We define this change or movement by the word “year.” The earth also spins on its axis, and when it reaches a full spin, we call this “day.” And we also measure the increments of its spin by the term “hour.” Time measures change or movement. 

In this way, God created time because he created moving and growing entities. Trees grow, die, and dissolve. We grow taller, then a bit shorter, and then stop any growth once our cells cease from multiplying. Since we come into being by birth, grow year-by-year, and die as mortals, we are in time. Our changes from life to death signify participation in time since time merely measures our development and change. 

Since God has no beginning nor mortal death, he does not appear to enter into time as we do. Now, perhaps we could say that God changes by growing or developing and so in this way has a temporal existence. But if God is perfect, then any growth would imply that he lacked perfection. And that statement is incoherent. A perfect being needs nothing to make it perfect for it is already perfect. 

So any change would imply that God became less than perfect. But that too makes little sense since a perfect being cannot lose perfection (since perfection means not having the capacity to be imperfect). 

And yet God speaks to people in Scripture. He enacts miracles for Israel. He appears on Mount Sinai. So surely this means that God somehow relates to time. But we need maintain this assertion alongside the other sure truth that God has no origin, growth, or mortal nature. Hence, he does not have the markers that would allow us to measure him temporally as we do with created things. 


If God does not change (at least in any way like we do due to our mortal and corruptible nature), then God must exist timelessly. The classic definition of God’s timelessness occurs on Boethius who writes, “Eternity, then, is the complete, simultaneous and perfect possession of everlasting life.” 

So God is eternal. And God, therefore, has “complete, simultaneous and perfect possession of everlasting life.” The word simultaneous here is important. If we can conceive of a changeless and so timeless being, this being would have to exist differently than we do. And this is true about God who is “above all being” since he alone possesses immortality via being uncreated and so eternal. We have no perfect analogy for such a being. 

Everything we say about such a being is therefore analogical yet not exact (univocal knowledge). Hence, such a being would, from our point of view, have to act in one simple or simultaneous way. An act of a timeless or changeless being would have to be one and singular and outside of our normal measurements. 

Christianity conceives of this act as a pure act. The idea of pure act relates to the Christian confession that God is simple. Returning again to Boethius, he defines divine simplicity in this way: “God is simply and entirely God, for He is nothing else than what He is, and therefore is, through simple existence, God.” 

God, as eternal, unchanging, timeless, acts singularly and simply apart from any created conception of sequence since sequence involves change, development, growth. Such things belong to created beings, not to uncreated beings. And God is an uncreated being. So he cannot change nor work in sequence at least in ways that we conceive of sequence. 

This discussion sets us up to understand what God was doing before time and begin to answer how what God does after time. 

Before Time

God did nothing before time that he does not do after time. If time measures change and God does not change but acts singularly and simply as pure act, then the conception of “before time” does not apply to God. He did not grow into time as process theologians claim. Nor did he exist timeless before creation and then temporally after creation as William Lane Craig, for example, maintains. 

The way in which God relates to creation does not involve time. Time is for creatures, not for the creator. God does certainly relate to time-bound creatures since he speaks with changeable creatures. Yet that relationship involves a dependence of being. 

I started this article by citing Genesis 1 and John 1. Those passages confirm that nothing exists apart from God. And something exists because God gives it being. And God “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3). At every moment, we relate in some way to God via dependence upon him for life. God is life itself; we are gifted with life. 

Such an analogy of being cannot imply a gradation between God and creation. The two exist in entirely different ontological planes. So this relationship of being preserves and reinforces the distinction between God as creator and his creation. No ladder of being exists between the two. 

And so we may say that “before time” or “after time” have no meaning when applied to God, or at least no real meaning. Since we change and act one way one day and another way another day, we may metaphorically move from God’s left to his right (very metaphorically). We change, but God still stands at the centre (very very metaphorically). These changes, or Cambridge changes, describe our movement around God but not God’s movement. And they give us an intellectual tool to partially conceive of how God relates to creation. 

Creation like any other act of God relates to his pure act, his verbness. This explains why John can claim that the lamb was slain before the world was founded in Revelation 13:8 (τοῦ ἀρνίου τοῦ ἐσφαγμένου ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου). There was never a time when God did not create nor redeem simply because there is no time in God. 

Remember the words of Boethius. The eternal God acts simultaneously with his one simple and pure act. Or at least, that is how we conceive of it. Admittedly, we do not really know how to conceive by finite thinking how an infinite being can act without change. We simply do not have the capacity—remember also the ontological difference between creator and creation. 

So there is no “when” before God created, nor “while” as he created, nor “during” while creation exists, nor “future” when God will act. It is, for God, one and simple. Every act of God in creation is his one simple act. 

But to conceive of how this works goes beyond conception. Yet it does happen. And so we must stop here and glory in praise with the apostle for we honour God here more by our silence than by our explanation: 

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, 

or who has been his counselor?” 

“Or who has given a gift to him 

that he might be repaid?” 

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.