“Our starting point must always be, ‘I am what I am by the grace of God,’ and by the power of God. A Christian is the result of the operation of God, nothing less, nothing else. No man can make himself a Christian; God alone makes Christians.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) p. 395
“I have forsaken my house;
I have abandoned my heritage;
I have given the beloved of my soul
into the hands of her enemies” (Jeremiah 12:7).
God made dirt and from that dirt He made man. He planted a garden (which is wild in itself—He didn’t plant a seed, or even a sapling, but a garden!), and put man in it. God blessed and all was very good. But man rebelled, the dirt was cursed, and man was driven out of paradise. Yet, a promise was given, the promise, the promise that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, bringing salvation by judgment and reversing the curse.
Soon in the Biblical narrative, not so soon historically, but soon insofar as the story unfolds, we come to Abraham. In covenant, God promises Abraham offspring, land, and that being blessed, he will be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth (Genesis 12:1–3). Throughout Abraham’s story we’re waiting for a seed because of the promised hope to come from his loins.
When God redeems Israel out of Egypt to bring her into a land flowing with milk and honey, it is in remembrance of this covenant made with Abraham and the promise of the Seed. When God promises David that his son will build a house for Him, that promise richly draws its sap and life from this extended narrative; that promise has roots in the garden and the promise of the Seed given there.
Some have summarized this story, the story of the way things should be and the way things will be, as the story of the kingdom of God. “What is the kingdom of God?” Graeme Goldsworthy answers, “The New Testament has a great deal to say about ‘the Kingdom’ but we may best understand this concept in terms of the relationship of ruler to subjects. That is, there is a king who rules, a people who are ruled, and a sphere, where this rule is recognized as taking place. Put in another way, the Kingdom of God involves: God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.”
When man rebels against God’s rule, he is driven from God’s place and forsaken so that he is no longer His people. So then, with Judah left desolate, desolate, desolate (Jeremiah 12:10–11), it seems the hope of all mankind is destroyed. How can one grow blessing out of curse? Can the seed of redemption ever take root in the soil of our sin its thorns? Only the Farmer who made His own dirt, who can plant gardens, could possibly grow a garden out of such a dessert. And to do so, you would think He would begin by making old things new.
Following Judah’s desolation, though an initial word of destruction is spoken concerning the nations, it soon gives way to consolation.
“And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land. And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, ‘As the LORD lives,’ even as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people” (Jeremiah 12:15–16).
Implicit in this is that Judah herself is walking in faithfulness to Yahweh. The hope of the nations is blessing in Israel. But how has Israel been restored, such that she can teach others the way of her Lord? The answer is later spoken of in Jeremiah as the new or eternal covenant.
“Now therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence’: Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul” (Jeremiah 32:36–41).
God’s people again are in God’s place under God’s rule and the nations are being grafted into this blessed garden.
We know how we go from blessing to curse, from the garden to the wilderness, but how is it that we move from a particular curse on Israel to global blessing? By what means and upon what grounds is Israel made new? The answer is found in Jeremiah’s calling. God told His prophet, “See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10).
How would Jeremiah accomplish such a thing? Simply by speaking the Word of God Almighty. Immediately following this statement we read, “And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see an almond branch.’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it’ ” (Jeremiah 1:11–12). I won’t take the time to tease out how the almond branch relates to the explanation save to say that the word for “almond” sounds like the word for “watching.”
As Yahweh watches over His Word, nations will be plucked up and planted. Kingdoms will be broken down, and built. Yahweh watched over His word to give His people a new heart by way of a new covenant. This ultimate Word of redemption is the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ.
Can God grow blessing in the soil of the curse? That is precisely what He did when by the Spirit the Seed was planted in the virgin’s womb. But for that Seed to germinate with new life, for hope to come to the nations, the Father must first crush and bury the Seed. Jesus, the temple of God on earth, was forsaken. Jesus, the Son and heir, was abandoned. Jesus, the beloved of His Father, was given into the hands of His enemies. The ground shook. The sky grew dark. All seemed desolate as He was laid in the grave.
But He arose, defeating sin, death, and the serpent. Cursed in death, He rose to bless. He is the firstfruits of new creation. He is making all things new, beginning by turning the hearts of His people to Him, making them new.
Know this, the planting will exceed the plucking. Grace will build greater than sin broke down. This is why we sing:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.
Not only will blessing flow far as the curse is found, the blessing will bloom far brighter than the curse dulled. The salvation of “Israel” swells to engraft the nations and the promise of land swells to the world.
Only the Farmer of the cosmos could grow such a garden in a graveyard. And He did so by planting His Son’s body dead in the grave, and from that Seed, new creation is blooming. The colors of redemption will outshine the curses dulling gray.
Jonah comes to a jarring end with pagans repenting and the prophet rebuked. A litany of three questions leaves us hanging in suspense.
“Do you do well to be angry?”
“Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”
“Should I not pity Nineveh…?”
Like Job, Jonah is brought into God’s court. Unfortunately, Jonah neither speaks nor keeps silent with the wisdom of Job. Unlike the book of Job, no pleasant resolution follows the court scene. Instead, we are left with Jonah to wrestle with these questions. If we don’t, I’m afraid we miss the message of this little book.
There is a sense in which you need to get angry to understand the message of Jonah. The central message of this book is found near the center, at the end of chapter two where Jonah exclaims, “Salvation is of the LORD!” How could we get mad at a message like that? Paul anticipates that we might.
“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:14–24 ESV)
A good sign that you understand Romans 9, and Jonah also, is if they’ve ever made you angry. Do they give rise to an initial objection? That so many interpretations of Romans 9 don’t hit the mark is evident in that they make no one mad. Often, the best indicator that you’ve understood God’s salvation isn’t that you now rejoice in it, but that at some point it has made you furious. Have you never felt what Paul calls the “offense of the cross?”
Perhaps the reason you’re so comfortable with God’s grace is that it makes sense to you. You live in Jerusalem where God’s grace makes sense. You live among the pretty people. Of course God loves you so. Have you never stepped outside of your bubble of bliss to see the Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners? Here is where the rub lies. He is sovereign. We are sinners. Yahweh is free to have mercy on whom He will.
Just how free do you believe God’s grace to be? When all is done, what separates you from your neighbor in hell? “I believed,” you reply. Yes, but why did you believe? Is the answer found in you or in God? Salvation is not of you. Not even a little. You do not make the difference. Salvation is of Yahweh. Every bit of it. Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God alone.
Jonah ends with Jonah’s silence, and yet the book screams. We are brought to exclaim, “No! Jonah does not do well to be angry. He deserves to die. And yet, Yahweh, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, allows him to live. In doing so, He is free to have mercy on whom He will.”
If you read this book closely, I believe you’ll see that Jonah came to sing after the appointed plant, worm, and wind, just as he sang after the appointed fish. Chapter two is not a record of Jonah’s prayer, but an account of his praying. The narrator is no longer unfolding the events for us as they came, rather, Jonah’s poetic recollection of his praying is inserted. I don’t believe Jonah took time to pen poetry after being spewed out by the fish before heading to Nineveh. I believe Jonah 2:1–9 were written sometime after God’s final question was put to him. In this way, Jonah does answer God’s questions. He answers with a prayer of repentance and faith and praise exclaiming again, “Salvation belongs to Yahweh!”
Jonathan Edwards too was once troubled by the Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners. He wrote:
“From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life, and rejecting whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God, and his justice in thus eternally disposing of men, according to his sovereign pleasure. But I never could give an account how, or by what means, I was thus convinced, not in the least imagining at the time, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit in it; but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections. And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, with respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense, in God showing mercy to whom he will show mercy, and hardening whom he will. God’s absolute sovereignty and justice, with respect to salvation and damnation, is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of any thing that I see with my eyes; at least it is so at times. But I have often, since that first conviction, had quite another kind of sense of God’s sovereignty that I had then. I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.”
Like Jonah, the sweetness of Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners may not be the saint’s first conviction, but it is sure to be their last.
Salvation is of YHWH!
“…because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” —1 Peter 3:20–21 (ESV)
The salvation of Noah and his family through the waters of judgment corresponds to baptism. The phrase “corresponds to this” is a single word in the original language which, though rarely used, can come straight into English—antitype. We speak of David being a type of Jesus. This means Jesus is the antitype. When you hear this kind of language think of those ancient and obsolete machines known as typewriters or the printing press. Picture the metal die with a letter etched into it, say the letter “B.” The metal die is the antitype. When it strikes the paper, you see the type, the letter “B”. When we say David is a type of Christ, we mean that Christ actually came first and that David is a copy, an impression of Christ. David being patterned after Christ anticipates Him.
Noah’s salvation through the waters of judgment is a type of paptism. Baptism is the antitype of Noah’s salvation. We could say that the flood was a sign of baptism. Baptism is itself a sign. The salvation of Noah through the waters of judgment then is a sign of a sign. When Peter goes onto say that baptism saves us, he makes it clear that he is speaking not of the sign, but of the thing signified.
Rome has a sacerdotal view of baptism. The term sacerdotal comes from the Latin word for priest. Rome believes that the priest is able to convey saving regenerating grace through the sacrament of baptism. This happens ex opere operato, which amounts to “by the working of the work.” By this Rome means that the efficacy of the sacrament isn’t dependent on the goodness of the priest but on the validity of the act. Thus when Rome baptizes you, you’re made new and infused with real righteousness. Contra the Reformers, Rome doesn’t say this righteousness is imputed to you but imparted to you. You are not counted, but made righteous.
Additionally, the Church of Christ believes that baptism is necessary for the remission of sins. Across all denominational lines, professing Christians need to hear this: the physical act of water baptism does not save you. How can I say this? Peter just wrote, “baptism…now saves you,” right? Isn’t this a clear contradiction of the text? No, I am saying precisely what Peter said. The kind of baptism that saves is “not the removal of dirt from the body.” In other words, it isn’t the sign, but the thing signified that saves. So what is signified in baptism? Union with Christ in His death and resurrection.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” —Romans 3:3–5 (ESV)
Being put into Christ, baptized into Jesus, is a work of the Spirit. Here Paul speaks not of the sign, but the thing signified.
But how does this jive with Peter’s definition of the kind of baptism that saves, namely, “an appeal to God for a good conscience,” or, as I believe it can be better translated, “as an appeal to God from/of a good conscience?” When the Spirit regenerates you and makes you new, this is a participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As soon as you are born again, you believe. Faith is “an appeal to God from/of a good conscience.” Faith is the cry of the new heart in response to the gospel by which we were born again (1 Peter 1:23–25). This salvation, signified in water baptism, is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3). Because of this new birth, through Jesus, we believe. “Through [Jesus we] are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1:21).
There are other considerations, also, which may be derived from these passages, especially Hebrews 9:9-14, 22-28. They are the considerations which arise from the fact that Christ’s own sacrifice is the great exemplar after which the Levitical sacrifices were patterned. We often think of the Levitical sacrifices as providing the pattern for the sacrifice of Christ. This direction of thought is not improper—the Levitical sacrifices do furnish us with the categories in terms of which we are to interpret the sacrifice of Christ, particularly the categories of expiation, propitiation, and reconciliation. But this line of thought is not the characteristic one in Hebrews 9. The thought is specifically that the Levitical sacrifices were patterned after the heavenly exemplar—they were ‘patterns of the things in the heavens” (Heb. 9:23). Hence the necessity for the blood offerings of the Levitical economy arose from the fact that the exemplar after which they were fashioned was a blood offering, the transcendent blood offering by which the heavenly things were purified. The necessity of blood-shedding in the Levitical ordinance is simply a necessity arising from the necessity of blood-shedding in the higher realm of the heavenly. —John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied
It is necessary to underline this concept of sovereign love. Truly God is love. Love is not something adventitious; it is not something that God may choose to be or choose not to be. He is love, and that necessarily, inherently, and eternally. As God is spirit, as he is light, so he is love. Yet it belongs to the very essence of electing love to recognize that it is not inherently necessary to that love which God necessarily and eternally is that he should set such love as issues in redemption and adoption upon utterly undesirable and hell-deserving objects. It was of the free and sovereign good pleasure of his will, a good pleasure that emanated from the depths of his own goodness, that he chose a people to be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. The reason resides wholly in himself and proceeds from determinations that are peculiarly his as the “I am that I am.” The atonement does not win or constrain the love of God. The love of God constrains to the atonement as the means of accomplishing love’s determinate purpose. —John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,
he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,
if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. —Colossians 1:21–23
This once/now contrast is only a reality if. Colossians 1:21 is true of all men. All men were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, but for many, there is no contrasting now, as evidenced by the failure of this if. This is not to say that a Christian can revert from their now of reconciliation to their once of alienation. It is to say there is evidence that they never made the transition. Who they once were, they’ve always been and still are.
This is not an if of grounds, but an if of evidence. When a doctor says, “If you have these symptoms, then you have the flu,” the symptoms are not the grounds or cause of the flu. Coughing doesn’t make you sick; being sick makes you cough. Symptoms are not he grounds of sickness; they are the evidence of sickness.
Continuing in the faith does not make you reconciled, any more than sneezing makes you sick. Continuing in the faith evidences reconciliation. If one is reconciled, they necessarily show forth this evidence. “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (Hebrews 4:13).”
The saints of old spoke of “the perseverance of the saints,” whereas we hear “once saved always saved,” or “eternal security.” Perseverance does not say less but more than these other terms. “Once saved always saved,” taken alone, is a neutered version of perseverance. “Eternal security,” is a good enough term, but often disguises an emasculated doctrinal definition. Perseverance says God’s saving grace not only secures your justification and glorification, but keeps you on the road of sanctification that runs from one to the other. Listen to how the Westminster Divines teased this out.
They, whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.
This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.
The flip side of perseverance is preservation. We persevere in the faith because God preserves our faith. What God gave, He keeps. By God’s power, we are guarded through faith for salvation (1 Peter 1:5). We will remain faithful because God is faithful (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24). Our continuing is the result of His sustaining (1 Corinthians 1:8–9).
If you do not continue, your once is your now. “But I walked an aisle, I said a prayer, I have a Bible with a date in it, I was baptized, my parents and my pastor told me I was saved.” There are two serious problems here. First, you’re grounding assurance of your salvation in something you did in the past instead of what Jesus did in the past. Second, you’re not meant to find assurance about your future by looking for grounds in the past, but evidence in the present. Is there fruit that you have the root of salvation in Jesus’ work of reconciliation? Are you continuing in the faith right now, stable and steadfast, not shifting?
If not, don’t try to continue in a faith that you’ve never had. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved with so great a salvation that you will continue in the faith.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” —Jude 24–25
“The fact is that the Lord Jesus came not only into the closest relation to sinful humanity that it was possible for him to come without becoming himself sinful, but he also came into the closest relation to sin that it was possible for him to come without thereby becoming himself sinful.” —John Murray, The Death of Christ
So in the death of Christ we encounter an absolute abnormality. In all other cases men and women deserve to die. He did not deserve to die. Yet he died. What is the reason?
But there is something, perhaps more astounding. This arises from who he was. He was the eternal and only-begotten Son of God and for that reason equal with God the Father in respect of Godhood, of divine identity. He, the Word, eternally pre-existing, eternally with God, and eternally God, became flesh. He was the eternal life with the Father and in him was life. So death was not only the contradiction of what he was as human. It was the contradiction of all that he was as God. This is the astounding feature of Christ’s death. He died. But death in his case was the contradiction of all that he was as divine and human, as God-man. This, therefore, points up the absolute uniqueness, the unprecedented unparalleled character of his death. And it points up the urgency of the question: why? —John Murray, The Death of Christ
The real battle for men is in the world of ideas, rather than in that which is outward. All heresy, for example, begins in the world of ideas. That is why, when new workers come to L’Abri, we always stress to them that we are interested in ideas rather than personalities or organizations. Ideas are to be discussed, not personalities or organizations. Ideas are the stock of the thought world, and from the ideas burst forth all the external things: painting, music, buildings, the love and the hating of men in practice, and equally the results of loving God or rebellion against God, in the external world. Where a man will spend eternity depends on his reading or hearing the ideas, the propositional truth, the facts of the gospel in the external world, and these being carried thought he medium of his body into the inner old of his thought, and there, inside himself, in his thought-world, either his believing God on the basis of the content of the gospel or his calling God a liar. …
It is for this reason that the preaching of the gospel can never be primarily a matter of organization. The preaching of the gospel is ideas, flaming ideas brought to men, as God has revealed them to us in Scripture. It is not a contentless experience internally received, but it is contentful ideas internally acted upon that makes the difference. So when we state our doctrines, they must be ideas, and not just phrases. We cannot use doctrines as though they were pieces to a puzzle. True doctrine is an idea revealed by God in the Bible and an idea that fits properly into the external world as it is, and as God made it, and to man as he is, as God made him, and can be fed back through man’s body into his thought-world and there acted upon. The battle for people is centrally in the world of thought.
The third conclusion is that the Christian life, true spirituality, always begins inside, in our thought-world. All that has been said in our earlier study of being free in this present life from the bonds of sin, and also of being free in the present life from the results of the bonds of sin, is meaningless jargon, no more than a psychological pill, if is divorced from the reality that God thinks and we think, and that at each step the internal is central and first. The spiritual battle, the loss or the victory, is always in the though-world. —Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality