“The difference between being a Christian and not being a Christian is not one of degree, it is one of essence and quality, so that the most unworthy Christian is in a better position than the best man outside Christianity. Perhaps the best way of understanding all this is to think of it in terms of relationship. It is a question of blood, if you like; the humblest and the most unworthy member of the royal family is in a more advantageous position from the standpoint of social arrangements in most countries than the greatest and most able person outside that family. A man outside the royal family may be much more cultured, may be a finer specimen of humanity in every respect, yet on all state occasions and great occasions, he has to follow after the humblest and the least worthy member of the royal family. How do you assess his position? You do not assess it in terms of ability and achievement, you assess it in terms of blood relationship. Now that is precisely what the New Testament says about the Christian. He is one who had become a partaker of the divine nature; he is in an entirely new relationship; he has a new nature and quality; a new order of life has entered into him.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Assurance of Our Salvation, (Crossway, 2000) pp. 137, 138
“I have made you a tester of metals among my people,
that you may know and test their ways.
They are all stubbornly rebellious,
going about with slanders;
they are bronze and iron;
all of them act corruptly.
The bellows blow fiercely;
the lead is consumed by the fire;
in vain the refining goes on,
for the wicked are not removed.
Rejected silver they are called,
for the Lord has rejected them” (Jeremiah 6:16–30)
When God is after silver, bronze won’t do. Jeremiah, as God’s tester of metals, puts Judah into the furnace. During smelting, lead is added and the bellows are blown to introduce oxygen. This oxidizes the lead, so that it acts as flux, combining with impurities to form slag to be removed. All this is done in vain with Judah. The impurities cannot be removed because impurities are all that there are. Judah is all tarnish and no silver. She isn’t a soft malleable precious metal like silver or gold, mixed with some impurities. She is rebellious bronze and stubborn iron all the way through. Judah isn’t a diamond in the rough; she is a lump of coal.
Just because fool’s gold sparkles doesn’t make it valuable. Judah puts on a show of ceremonial obedience, but under the costume, her disobedience goes all the way to the heart (Jeremiah 6:16–20). Judah isn’t a dirty lamb in need of cleaning; she is a goat. Her sacrifices are impure because she is impure. The ore doesn’t need to be purified; it needs to be miraculously transformed.
Are you gold? Are you silver? When you baptize a goat, you don’t get a sheep, you get a wet goat. Many professing Christians don’t need sanctification; they need regeneration. They don’t need to be purified; they need to be born again as a new creation. They need the Midas touch of King Jesus to graciously transform them from being rebellious bronze to repentant silver, from being impure iron to precious gold.
Because Jesus bore the fire of judgment, all who trust in Him are no longer part of the impure ore of this earth doomed for eternal flames; instead, they are precious gold, being refined for the new heaven and the new earth. The flames of purification temporarily burn now for the saints, whereas the flames of destruction will burn eternally for the wicked. If you have not been touched by the King, the flames of this world do nothing for you but expose the impurity that you are.
Bursts of swirling blue, splatters of crackling gold, and explosions of racing red fill the sky, and then, for the finale, some kid comes out and twirls a sparkler. Is that what we have with this final word from the fire? Has the fire died so that were left with only smoldering embers. No, we may have left the glories of the heavens, but now we are plunged to the depths. These ocean depths can be as mysterious as the starry heavens.
All the other commands, taken on the surface, deal with external obedience, this one goes down to the heart, and thus, acts as commentary on all the Decalogue. Listen to the testimony of M&M&M:
“The tenth commandment is where the Decalogue ends, but it is, in fact, the point at which every breach of the law begins—when by our ‘own evil desire’ we are ‘dragged away and enticed’ (Jas 1:14). —Alec Moyter
“Improper desire is the root of all evil. It can seldom be reached by human legislation, but it is open to the Searcher of hearts. The intent is that which, in the last resort, determines the moral character of the act. This last ‘word’ is, therefore, the interpreting clause of the whole Decalogue (Rom. Vii. 7).” —J.G. Murphy
“It [the tenth commandment] is presented here as the last commandment because it points to the root of all breaches of the covenant as coming from wrong inner disposition.” — John Mackay
You must read all other commands in light of this one. You don’t understand God’s law until you see it as dealing with the heart. All the law is only a sizzling fuse with no bang when read heartlessly. When Jesus says, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you (Matthew 5:21–48),” He isn’t contradicting the law, but the Pharisees heartless reading of the law. His disciples are to display a righteousness superior to that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), a righteousness that is superior, that is true righteousness, because it springs forth from the heart.
God’s love kindles our love. God’s love both ignites and fuels ours. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Redemption sets the heart right (Deuteronomy 30:6). Redemption replaces a heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). We come to these words of law through a preface of grace, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Exodus 20:2 (ESV).” When the redeemed heart hears, “You shall not covet,” it responds, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you (Psalm 73:25 ESV).” When a redeemed heart meets the law of God its like sparks of love meeting a powder keg—from the depths, glory to heaven.
Pharaoh’s wealth (livestock) and health were stripped from him. Job’s wealth and health were stripped from him. Only one of them worshipped. What made the difference? God. God hardened Pharaoh (Exodus 9:12). Implicitly, He softened, regenerated, and saved Job.
You can’t make a spiritual man by beating his flesh to death. God may, and often does, use means. He may strip a man of wealth and health in bringing him to life, but unless the Spirit works within, it matters not what happens without. If this was just a matter of getting the right physical leverage, then we could make the difference. But as Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all (John 6:63).”
We cannot beat spiritual sense into one worldly wise.
We cannot create faith in God by evidencing the hopelessness of idols.
We can’t bring a dead man alive by beating him.
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one (1 Corinthians 2:12-15).
The determinative factor is unseen.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:6–8).
Man can’t Frankenstein spiritual life. The Spirit must blow on a valley of dry bones and make them live. Unless God works within, it matters not what happens without.
The instrument with which the heart is broken, and with which the spirit is made contrite, is the Word. …This rock, this adamant, this stony heart, is broken and made contrite by the Word. But it only is so, when the Word is as a fire, and as a hammer to break and melt it. And then, and then only, it is as a fire, and a hammer to the heart to break it, when it is managed by the arm of God. No man can break the heart with the Word; no angel can break the heart with the Word; that is, if God forbears to second it by mighty power from heaven. …Wherefore, though the Word is the instrument with which the heart is broken, yet it is not broken with the Word, till that Word is managed by the might and power of God. —John Bunyan, The Acceptable Sacrifice
Pharisees prioritize outards over innards. They fret more over an external behavioral scab than an internal existential cancer. They have ornate solid silver water bottles without a speck of tarnish on them that they have polished to a mirror shine, yet the inside is a cesspool. They only care to be seen drinking from such a bottle. They are a book wishing to be judged only by the cover.
The point isn’t about their cups and plates, if it were they would only redouble their efforts and scour all the more. The point is that they are the bottle.
The heart is the fount. All of our behavior flows out of it. You can’t purify a fountain by going down stream and laboring endlessly at gathering buckets of water, purifying them, and then dumping them back in the stream. This is what all attempts at moralism, behavioralism, and self-salvation are. If you try to cap off the flow of wickedness in one area of your life be assured pressure will build and the pipe will burst elsewhere, or more likely, in the same already compromised spot, causing greater damage. The hearts gotta flow. If it is pumping life is coming out. If you try to pump good into it, you only increase the pressure and that inflow is still filtered through your poisonous heart and thus contaminated. All self-righteousness is like trying to clean an already dirty house with a vacuum filled to the brim with refuse that has a gaping hole in the bag. All our work only adds to the mess.
And yet, our only hope for our innards is on the outside, but further out that the surface of your skin. Our hope is all the way up in the highest heaven, and yet is in flesh; Heaven enfleshed. Our salvation is achieved by someone behaving perfectly—for us—from a pure heart. There is a purifying Fount. There is a stream, that when it flows into your heart, purifies. The Outside comes in, and purifies from the inside out.
When it comes to gods, deep down everyone is a monotheist. There can be only one. Either God is God, or the individual. All of life is love. Love is constantly being expressed. Man cannot not love. Every bit of existence we have is spent loving, worshipping, something. Yet, fallen men cannot love. In loving themselves, they hate love (John 3:19-20). Men hate light because they love darkness, which is another way of saying that they hate love.
By God’s common grace, and because man is made in God’s image, there is a muted echo of love that the unbeliever may hear and that may resound off and through the unbeliever, but it is always second-hand, always an echo and never the original tune. It is always muted, never amplified. It is always a first-grade crush on your married teacher, never marriage consummated and well aged like a vintage wine. It is like saying that you have tasted wine when a drop, a single drop, fell into your full glass of water. The world’s concept of love is diluted. You could never get intoxicated on it.
Jesus extends the cup of the new covenant, the intoxicating, behavior altering wine of His blood, that we might know love and love. If fallen man loves to hate love, how can he ever love love? Let me give you two answers, which are two ways of saying the same thing: covenant and a heart transplant. Listen carefully to the command, “love the Lord your God.” The context for this command is Deuteronomy, redemption, salvation. God, not because of anything Israel has done, calls a people unto Himself. He enters into covenant with them. And His covenant love gives His people a new heart (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:31, 33; Ezekiel 36:26-27). A heart that loves Him, that loves His Son, that loves His law, that loves others, that loves His creation—that loves, really loves.
If these two parables were Americanized they would end with the “man”, perhaps a tenant farmer, being vindicated as he now lives in a plush mansion with tricked-out camels, and the merchant being famous, having sold the pearl for many times what he bought it. But neither the man, nor the merchant sell their treasure to buy other things, rather, they sell all other things to buy the treasure. The merchant doesn’t buy the pearl to sell it; he sells all to buy the pearl. The kingdom of heaven is not a means to an end, it is the end.
Some today buy stunning pieces of art and rare artifacts, not to profit from them, but to simply enjoy them. Still its unheard of for a lavishly wealthy person to go for broke to own a single piece of art.
Merchants were extremely wealthy and powerful, and this merchant was certainly so, searching only for fine pearls (likely the most valued jewel of the time by Romans). Imagine hearing that a Bill Gates joyfully liquidated every asset to own one piece of art. There is video of footage of the former business magnate now gone hobo standing on the street corner with a grin on his face staring at his piece of art.
I think you would conclude either one of two things must be true. Your first impulse is that he must be nuts. But then you grow curious. You haven’t seen the work of art. What if glory and beauty exist that are really worth that price tag? Wouldn’t it be wonderful?
There is a glory this stunning. It is a glorious mystery revealed to some (13:11). They see the hidden treasure others don’t. To others their actions look absurd, but if you have seen the value of the kingdom, you know it’s worth sacrificing everything for. That’s the way we ought to live, as hobos with a smile on our face enjoying a treasure others can’t see, making them think, “What if a glory like that really exists? I don’t know that it does, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it did?”
The new birth is a miracle. From where does this miracle creating power come? How is one born again? Here is my answer:
The miracle creating power of the new birth explodes out of Christ’s death and resurrection and is channeled toward us by the Spirit in the preaching of the gospel of Christ.
Both answers are seen in 1 Peter. First, the explosion:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… (1 Peter 1:3)
Second, the channeling of that power to us by the Spirit in the preached word:
[Y]ou have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God… And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23, 25)
In other words we are born again by the gospel accomplished (the explosion) and the gospel applied (the explosion being channeled to us).
Jesus, unlike many entertainment corporations today, does not offer a show upon demand. When the Pharisees ask for a sign it further reveals their attitude toward the miracle Jesus has just performed (Matthew 12:22, 25). It reveals their attitude toward all of His miracles, their attitude toward Jesus himself. The Pharisees do not need a new sign, they need new hearts, for they cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).
And yet Jesus promises them a sign. What does Jesus mean that He will give them no sign except the resurrection? He has give them many signs, and He will perform many more. If we look at some instances of the apostolic preaching of the resurrection where this “evil and adulterous generation” is also mentioned I think we will see what Jesus means (all emphases mine).
[T]his Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. – Acts 2:23-24
The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. – Acts 3:13-15
For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead,
[B]ecause he [God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” – Acts 17:31
[Jesus] and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, – Romans 1:4
The resurrection is the vindication of Jesus. It shows the wicked and adulterous generation to be wrong in their opinion concerning Jesus. They kill Him, God raises Him from the dead. And still today the resurrection is the sign that all doubters, skeptics, agnostics, and atheists have to deal with (toward understanding and using the apologetic strength of the resurrection I recommend beginning with The Reason for God, specifically chapter 13).
So to all who ask, “Why on earth doesn’t God do something? Why doesn’t He prove Himself?” We reply that God has indeed on earth done something; in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ and everything in between, God has indeed on earth done something. To those who ask a sign to validate our message I love the reply of Calvin. When Roman Catholics contended that their miracles authenticate their message, and then asked where the reformers miracles were, Calvin replied:
In demanding miracles of us, they act dishonestly. For we are not forging some new gospel, but are retaining that very gospel whose truth all the miracles that Jesus Christ and His Disciples ever wrought serve to confirm.
Doubters, skeptics, agnostics, and atheists don’t need new signs, they need their eyes open to the signs that are.