Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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December 2006 • Volume XI, Issue 8


Abiding in Our Calling (3)

Last time we considered the calling of Christians who are circumcised or uncircumcised (I Cor. 7:18-19); this time we turn to believers who are "servants," literally "slaves," those in the most degrading and restricted of vocations (21-23).

Note what the Holy Spirit does not say: "Christian slaves, rise up against your masters! Slavery is per se sinful; the new order has come; shake off all servitude and unite for slave rights!" Instead, we read, "care not for it" (21). "Do not worry or fret or plot your escape, as if being a slave is absolutely unbearable and inconsistent with the Christian life!" Why? "For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant" (22). A Christian slave is Christ’s freeman—free from Satan, sin and hell. He is free to serve God in Christ, for he knows the truth and the truth has made him free (John 8:32). Though physically he is a slave, spiritually he has the greatest freedom in the world. So do not be anxious about being a slave (I Cor. 7:21)! Only the gospel can come with an ethic like this!

On the other hand, a Christian who is a free citizen (as most News readers are) is Christ’s slave (22). For we are not our own but belong to Jesus Christ, to do His bidding. Our master is no tyrant; He is good and gracious to us.

Does this imply that if a man is a slave when he is effectually called that he must stay this way all his life? "but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather" (21). There are various ways whereby a slave can be set free: by his master’s will and testament, by being purchased with money (either his or his friends), as a reward for faithful service, etc. The apostle does not merely say to a Christian slave "take" your freedom but "use" it (24). Use your greater liberty for the service of Jesus Christ and not merely for your own pleasure.

Whatever your vocation, believer, you are "bought with a price," the blood of Christ (23). Therefore, "be not ... the servants of men" (23), as "menpleasers;" work not merely to satisfy your boss but serve the Lord with a single heart (Col. 3:22). Reject the worldly wisdom of unbelievers that earthly freedom is the main thing. Rather, consider all things, including your vocation, in the light of your effectual call and redemption in Christ and your spiritual freedom in Him. We must think this way in all our circumstances, even if we are earthly slaves and treated very badly. This glorifies Almighty God and enables us to persevere in all our difficulties, especially in our workplaces, though very few of us suffer to the degree of the Christian slaves in I Peter 2:18-25. Rev. Stewart

Original Sin (1)

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps. 51:5).

A reader writes, "All gospel preachers emphasize that we are all undeserving sinners who deserve to spend eternity in hell. Yet it can be argued that we are not undeserving (Ps. 51:5). I never chose to be shapen in iniquity, nor that my mother should conceive me in sin. I never even chose to be born in the first place. Better not to be born at all then to spend eternity in hell." The reader’s argument is this: We are not really to blame for our sins because we were born sinners and had no choice in the matter. Therefore, we are not "undeserving sinners."

A brief history of Psalm 51 would help us in our understanding of the text. The heading of the psalm reads, "To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba." The history is recorded in II Samuel 11-12. This psalm was written after David’s repentance for his sins of adultery and murder.

It is, of course, a part of sacred Scripture, and is, therefore, infallibly inspired. In fact, it is addressed to the "chief Musician," because it was intended to be sung by the temple choirs as a part of the worship of God in His sanctuary. It has found a place in the liturgy of the church ever since David penned these words, for it is a confession that arises out of the heart of every child of God.

We must understand at the very outset that verse 5 of this psalm is not an attempt on the part of David to put the blame for his sin elsewhere than on himself. This is clear even from the opening three verses of the psalm. David can only appeal to God for "mercy" (Ps. 51:1) and cleansing (2), according to His "lovingkindness" and "the multitude of [His] tender mercies" (1), because of his terrible sin, which is "ever before" him (3) and which he freely confesses: "I acknowledge my transgression" (3).

David’s statement in verse 4 is also important: "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest." If verse 5 is an attempt on David’s part to excuse himself for the crimes he committed, the question arises: Who is to blame? The only answer can be: God is to blame, for God caused me to be born and God caused me to be born sinful. But now David confesses his own sin as his and his only, in order that God might be justified when He condemned David through Nathan the prophet, so that God might be clear of all blame when He judged David a sinner.

The correct interpretation of Psalm 51:5 is this: What David says here about being shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin is itself a confession of sin. David is saying (as difficult as it may be for us to understand), "It is my fault that I was born in sin."

I do not mean to say that verse 5 is not an explanation which David makes for his sin; indeed it is. He sinned because he was born a sinner. But David is not trying to escape responsibility for his sin. By his explanation, he is making a further confession of sin. David’s confession is somewhat analogous to a man who explains the reason why he robbed a bank by pointing to the fact that he was a member of a gang whose purpose it was to acquire money through robbing banks. He is not excusing himself, but explaining why he did what he did. That he joined such a gang is his activity, his first big sin.

The question is: How is it possible that David is responsible for the fact that he was shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin? He did not even have anything to say about the fact that he was born; much less that he was born a sinner.

The answer to the question is the biblical doctrine of original sin. The doctrine of original sin is taught in many places in Scripture, but most clearly and most emphatically in Romans 5:12-14: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come." As Paul explains further in Romans 5, this doctrine is based on the truth that Adam was created as the head of the human race. Adam was the legal head and the organic head. As the legal head, Adam represented the whole human race in his moral and ethical relation to God, especially in connection with God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

In representing the whole human race, Adam’s act of obedience or disobedience was the act of the whole human race. His obedience would be the obedience of the human race; his disobedience would be the disobedience of the human race. The guilt of his disobedience would be the guilt of the whole human race. The punishment for his disobedience would be the punishment of the whole human race. We will explore this further next time. Prof. Hanko

The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (1)

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:19). Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt. 18:18). Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained (John 20:23).

I was asked to explain these texts in connection with the "keys of the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 16:19 speaks of the keys of the kingdom and the binding and loosing of sins. Matthew 18:18 speaks of the binding and loosing of sins. John 20:23 speaks of the remitting and the retaining of sins. Thus we see that through the keys (Matt. 16:19) sins are bound and loosed (Matt. 16:19; 18:18), that is, remitted and retained (John 20:23). Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed churches all agree that these three texts are speaking of the same subject.

Christ, who owns the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:19; Rev. 3:7), gives them to Peter (Matt. 16:19) and the other disciples (John 20:23), as apostles of the church, and to the church (Matt. 18:18) to use through her teachers and elders (Matt. 18:18; Eph. 4:11; I Tim. 3:1-7; 5:17).

The keys are church discipline (Matt. 18:18) and the preaching of the gospel (Matt. 16:19; John 20:23). By these means, sins are retained and bound on the impenitent or loosed and remitted from the penitent. To express it differently, through the faithful preaching of God’s Word and biblical church discipline, the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers and shut to unbelievers. The Holy Spirit uses faithful preaching and discipline to seal on the consciousness of the believer his inclusion in the kingdom of God. Likewise, by the proper use of the keys, unbelievers hear the gate of the city of God shut against them.

What is the role of the church in this? No man, not even an assembly of saints in an instituted congregation, can remit transgressions; God alone can forgive sins (Luke 5:21). The church forgives sins declaratively, when it proclaims the basis for the forgiveness of sins (the death of Christ for all the iniquities of His people) and the way of receiving the forgiveness of sins (faith alone in Christ), and promises forgiveness of sins to all believers and their (elect) children (Acts 2:38-39; 16:31). In preaching, true churches through their ordained pastors proclaim that all who trust in Christ alone for all their salvation are forgiven (thus loosing and remitting their sins) and that all who do not believe are not forgiven (thus binding and retaining their sins). Church members who fall into sin in doctrine or life or both and remain impenitent, after frequent brotherly admonition by the elders, are excommunicated by the church (thus binding and retaining their sins), but if they later repent and show real amendment they are readmitted as members of Christ’s church (thus loosing and remitting their sins). Rev. Stewart

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