He Gave Them New Clothes (Genesis 2:4–3:24 Sermon Audio)

I was recently asked to preach at relatively short notice, so what to do? I dusted off my He Gave Them New Clothes post and added an introduction to turn it into a sermon proper. This is the result:

The sermon itself starts at 13 minutes 20 seconds into the recording. It is preceded by two Bible readings – a few verses from Luke 24, and then the main text from Genesis 2:4–3:24.

He Gave Them New Clothes

A narrative meditation upon the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience, from Gen. 2:8–3:24. Audio from a sermon based on this post is available.

They were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed.

They are in the midst of a garden paradise, recipients of the bountiful goodness of the Lord God. He had created them and placed them there with a blessing: ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’

Near to where they stand is the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Before the woman had been created, the Lord God had commanded the man concerning that latter tree, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’

Also in the garden is a serpent. He is more cunning than any beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

The serpent speaks. The woman listens.

‘Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden”?’

An ostensibly innocuous question. And the woman has the answer, so she thinks.

She converses with the serpent.

‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.”’

The woman overstates the prohibition.

Perhaps this is her error, or perhaps it was the fault of her husband when he relayed to her the Lord God’s command.

One of them, certainly, had added a hedge to God’s word – one tiny addition. For God had commanded the man not to eat of the tree’s fruit, but He had said nothing about not touching it.

(How easily we add to what God has spoken.)

With that one addition – oh how small and seemingly insignificant! – the woman opens the door to her adversary the Devil.

The serpent, liar and murderous deceiver that he is, assures the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’

And so the woman entertains temptation and gazes at the tree.

What a beautiful tree! How good it would be for food!

Enticed by her desire to become wise like God, she reaches out and takes its fruit.

(See, she is unharmed! The serpent was right! Surely there is no danger here.)

Having suffered no consequence from touching the fruit, she eats it. In contravention of God’s command, a fatal act.

The woman also gives to her husband, who is with her.

(Why has he not intervened to keep her from harm? Does he not see the danger?)

The man had heard the clear words of God’s voice forbidding him to eat this fruit. He had heard the Lord God’s prescient warning, ‘For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’.

In wilful, unbelieving rebellion against his Creator, the man raises the fruit to his lips and eats.

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Law, Gospel, and a Good Hymn

What makes a good hymn?

We’d like it to be skilfully crafted. And it must be set to a fitting tune – preferably one we can sing.

But I suggest that the primary requirement of a good hymn is that it should clearly articulate biblical truth.

We remember what we sing.

A poor hymn can confuse us, lead us astray. A good hymn strengthens our knowledge of the Christian Faith.

What is that faith?

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A Second Opinion on that ‘Justification by Tithing’ Sermon

This is the final post in a series responding to a sermon given by a local Purpose Driven pastor. The first examined the astonishing claim that ‘Faith is giving when I don’t have it’. The second corrected a gross misinterpretation of Hebrews 11:4 that taught works righteousness and justification by tithing. The third highlighted from the Gen. 4 account of Cain and Abel’s offerings the contrast between works-righteousness and grace through faith.

Astute readers may have noticed that my previous three posts have all focused on one very small portion of a sermon preached at Living Hope Community Church, here in the sunny* Isle of Man. Could so many fundamental errors really have arisen in such a short segment? Have I been unfair in claiming that the 44 minutes of this alleged sermon on faith ‘achieved the remarkable feat of avoiding any mention of the proper object of Christian faith: Christ, and His life, death and resurrection for sinners’?

Well, my wife of 19 years and partner in crime suggested to me that this sermon was sufficiently notable that it might even be of interest to Chris Rosebrough of the Fighting for the Faith programme on Pirate Christian Radio. His on-air verdict? Well, you’ll have to listen to find out…

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Cain and Abel, Law and Gospel

This is the third post in a series responding to a sermon given by a local Purpose Driven pastor. The first examined the astonishing claim that ‘Faith is giving when I don’t have it’. The second corrected a gross misinterpretation of Hebrews 11:4 that taught works righteousness and justification by tithing.

With the understanding gained from the previous two posts, we now turn to the Genesis 4 account of Cain and Abel. We shall see so clearly there the contrast between faith and works.

First though, here is a longer extract from the Purpose Driven sermon we have been examining, showing the wider context of the errors previously refuted:

The fourth attribute of faith is this: faith is giving when I don’t have it.

Now you’re discovering why the pastors are so uptight.

‘Now by faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith, he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.’

Both offerings were acceptable. They were the first fruits of the land for Cain. And the first fruits of the flock for Abel. They were good offerings. But what made them acceptable to God was the way in which they were given: one man giving out of a sense of duty; one man giving out of a sense of the love that he had for his God.

[Anecdote about a boy with his hand stuck in a vase because he will not let go of the coin within.]

You see, all too often that is our attitude as well. We cling to the riches of the world. I’m sure that many of you tithe to the church. And that’s great. But when faith is exercised, our attitude shifts from being like the attitude of Cain, who gave out of a sense of duty – give 10%, it’s your tithe, forget it. We want to see faith giving, like Abel, that is generous, that is of the heart, because we want to invest in what God is doing. We want to be like the widow who gave when she had nothing. And sometimes when we hold the riches of the world in our hands, we are just like the little boy [of the previous anecdote]. We’re trapped. But when we let go, we can experience true freedom.

From time-to-time, you probably hear Jonathan [the lead pastor] – most of the time you’ll probably hear Jonathan – harping on about tithing. And that’s a good thing. So he should.

But Abel offered the first fruits. He gave the best of what he had to God. And it was credited to him as righteousness. You see, tithing is not about impressing your friends. It’s not about satisfying some form of guilt. Tithing is about giving the best of what you have to a God who sees that as righteous. As credible.

We can encourage faith giving. Let’s not even call it tithing. Let’s give from our faith. That is what generosity really is.

It is a wonderful thing for Christians to give willingly. ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Cor. 9:7). ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). But Christians are under no duty to tithe, let alone to give what they do not have. True Christian giving is voluntary, arising from a pure Gospel motivation: we love much because we have been loved so greatly. Yet there was no Gospel in this sermon. Nothing at all about Christ and His loving work for us.

My intent, though, is not to focus on the burdensome exhortations to giving evidenced here and sadly predominating throughout the last third of the sermon. (The seeker-sensitive mute the Law and veil the Gospel for fear of giving offence, yet they are nevertheless proud to solicit money through the most guileful of means. Those who cite the widow who gave all she had would do well also to recall Jesus’ immediately preceding words concerning those who devour widows’ houses.)

Rather, the purpose of this post is to see what we can learn from the account of Cain and Abel’s offerings. Is it true that Cain gave ‘out of a sense of duty’, whereas Abel ‘out of a sense of the love that he had for his God’? Is giving-out-of-duty versus giving-out-of-love really the distinction taught by Genesis 4?

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Christ, Our Exceedingly Great Reward

This is the second post in a series responding to a sermon by a local Purpose Driven pastor. The first part, Justified by Faith, Apart from Works, may be of interest to readers for establishing context.

It is not, I think, entirely unreasonable to be alarmed by a sermon that teaches justification by tithing, no matter how affable the preacher:

But Abel offered the first fruits. He gave the best of what he had to God. And it was credited to him as righteousness. You see, tithing is not about impressing your friends. It’s not about satisfying some form of guilt. Tithing is about giving the best of what you have to a God who sees that as righteous.

The primary claim in this allusion to Hebrews 11:4 is that Abel’s offering of his best to God was credited to him as righteousness. In other words, this is an assertion that Abel was justified (that is, declared righteous) by his works.

My previous post, Justified by Faith, Apart from Works, demonstrated the biblical impossibility of such an interpretation, and emphasized the necessity of distinguishing between faith and works. I plan for my next post to look more closely at the Genesis 4 account of Cain and Abel. First though, we must understand Hebrews 11:4:

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

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Justified by Faith, Apart from Works

I recently listened to a train wreck of a sermon by a local Purpose Driven pastor. In his 44 minutes on the subject of faith, he achieved the remarkable feat of avoiding any mention of the proper object of Christian faith: Christ, and His life, death and resurrection for sinners.

The pastor defined faith by a number of its purported attributes. The fourth was this:

Faith is giving when I don’t have it.

Let’s leave aside the aspect of ‘giving when I don’t have it’, problematic though that is. There is a more fundamental error lurking in this statement.

Notice that the pastor does not say that faith results in my ‘giving when I don’t have it’. Neither does he state that ‘the kind of faith that justifies produces a desire to give’. Rather, he asserts that faith is giving. This is to confuse faith with the fruit of faith, namely the works that faith produces.

Though it might at first seem as if I am splitting hairs, maintaining the distinction between faith and works – especially with respect to justification – is foundational to a proper understanding of biblical Christianity (cf. the epistles to the Romans, Galatians, etc.). This distinction was a lynchpin of the Reformation. Against the Reformers’ emphasis on justification by grace alone (unmerited favour) through faith alone (apart from works), Rome erroneously insisted that justification is ‘not by faith alone, which some incorrectly teach, but faith that works through love’ (see the Pontifical Confutation of the Augsburg Confession).

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Forgiveness

Sound words on forgiveness from Kevin DeYoung and Chris Brauns. View article →

Better still is the realization that, not only is our having been forgiven a gracious gift from God, but so too is our repentance (cf. Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25).

Our love for one another arises from the Gospel – we have been shown so great a love by God in Christ, and we are now united in Him by the Holy Spirit. It is thus only the proclamation and hearing of the Gospel that will bring about love for one another. We love and forgive because we have been loved greatly and forgiven much.

LCMS Theology Commission: Avoid NIV 2011

The Cyberbrethren blog reports that the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relation’s executive staff has warned against the 2011 version of the New International Version translation of the Bible. The NIV 2011 replaces the previous and widely used 1984 edition.

The four-page statement of opinion from the CTCR staff (PDF) outlines their concern with the use of gender-inclusive language in the NIV 2011. One of the examples discussed is Psalm 8:4–5:

Psalm 8:4-5 in NIV 2011 reads: “What is mankind [collective noun substitution for “man”] that you are mindful of them [plural substitution for “him”], Human beings [plural noun substitution for “son of man”] that you care for them [plural substitution for “him”]? You have made them [plural substitution for “him”] a little lower than the angels and crowned them [plural substitution for “him”] with glory and honor.”

Once again, the rationale for the translation changes seems to be the desire to emphasize a universal truth about all humanity—that humankind has received glory and honor as the crown of creation. The translation decisions, however, obfuscate other things. First, and most importantly, the decision to use plurals here vitiates the Messianic meaning of this psalm, its particular application to Christ. Hebrews 2:5-9 quotes Ps 8:4-5 and notes that these verses testify to our Lord Jesus. He is the Man to whom the Lord gives all glory and honor; the Son of Man to whom all creation is subject. He is the One who exceeds the angels in glory and honor, even though he was made to be lower than them for our salvation.

Second, we should note that the substitution of a generic term like “human being” or “human beings” for “son of man” (a consistent pattern in NIV 2011), impoverishes the understanding of “Son of Man” as the self-designation our Lord uses throughout the Gospels. Jesus uses a term (a particular idiom, “son of man”) from the Old Testament that indicates full humanity and refers it to himself. This is of great importance, especially when it is seen in the light of Daniel 7:13-14. There that same term, “son of man,” is used in a prophecy of our Savior’s incarnation, where “one like a son of man” is “given dominion and glory and a kingdom” in which all nations are included under a rule that shall never be destroyed.

The statement, which is worth reading in its entirety, concludes:

Given the significance of this issue and these examples, we find the NIV’s Committee on Bible Translation decision to substitute plural nouns and pronouns for masculine singular nouns and pronouns to be a serious theological weakness and a misguided attempt to make the truth of God’s Word more easily understood. The use of inclusive language in NIV 2011 creates the potential for minimizing the particularity of biblical revelation and, more seriously, at times undermines the saving revelation of Christ as the promised Savior of humankind. Pastors and congregations of the LCMS should be aware of this serious weakness. In our judgment this makes it inappropriate for NIV 2011 to be used as a lectionary Bible or as a Bible to be generally recommended to the laity of our church. This is not a judgment on the entirety of NIV 2011 as a translation—a task that would require a much more extensive study of NIV 2011—but an opinion as to a specific editorial decision which has serious theological implications.