Archives For Mike Riccardi

No PermissionIn my last post, I outlined some foundational biblical/theological teaching on the decree of God. We looked at passages of Scripture that speak of God’s decree as eternal, unconditional, unchangeable, and exhaustive. As a result, we concluded that God is properly said to be the ultimate cause of all things.

Immediately, this raises the question: How can God be the cause of actions and events that are evil and sinful—things which God Himself prescribes against—and yet not be rightly charged with unrighteousness? Some people answer this question by appealing to the notion of divine “permission.” In other words, though God is ultimately in control, He doesn’t ordain evil; He merely allows it. I don’t find this kind of explanation convincing for two reasons.

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Divine DecreeIn numerous passages throughout the Bible, there are places where Scripture speaks of God’s “purpose” (Acts 4:28), His “plan” (Ps 33:11; Acts 2:23), His “counsel” (Eph 1:11), “good pleasure” (Isa 46:10), or “will” (Eph 1:5). In one way or another, each of these designations refer to what theologians call God’s decree. The Westminster Confession famously characterizes describes God’s decree as follows: “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”

So in those instances where Scripture speaks of God’s purpose, plan, counsel, pleasure, or will, these passages are referring to the divine decree by which God, before the creation of time, determined to bring about all things that were to happen in time. John Piper, summarizing God’s decree, says, “He has designed from all eternity, and is infallibly forming, with every event, a magnificent mosaic of redemptive history” (Desiring God, 40). This helpful summary presents three characteristics of God’s decree that succinctly encapsulate the teaching of Scripture: God’s decree is eternal, immutable, and exhaustive.

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“You are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
– 2 Corinthians 3:3 –

2 Cor 3;3As false apostles in Corinth are challenging Paul’s credibility, they object to his authority and promote their own on the basis of letters of commendation. They’ve got doctored letters from some church in Jerusalem, and they’re calling Paul out because he has none. Paul responds by saying that Christ Himself has written him a letter of commendation. And it wasn’t written with mere ink or on stone, but by the Spirit on human hearts. The salvation of the Corinthians themselves was all the commendation Paul needed.

If we follow Paul’s imagery carefully, we wouldn’t have expected him to set up a contrast between human hearts and tablets of stone. He’s just spoken of natural letters written in ink, and you don’t use ink on stone. We would have expected Paul to say something like, “Not on papyrus, or parchments, which fade away along with the ink written on them.” But he doesn’t say that. He contrasts “tablets of human hearts”—literally, “tablets that are hearts of flesh”—with “tablets of stone.”

Why? Well, the false apostles (i.e., those whom Paul was defending himself against in 2 Corinthians) were Judaizers. They were teaching that circumcision and keeping the ceremonial law of Moses was necessary for salvation. And so by changing the contrast from “written on paper” to “written on tablets of stone,” Paul is contrasting the impotence of the law in under the Mosaic Covenant with the almighty sanctifying power of the Spirit under the New Covenant, which has now dawned with Christ.

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Apple and SnakeThe last few months have been emotionally tiring for Christians in America.

Though many debate whether the United States was ever a “Christian nation,” there can be no denying that a Christian worldview and biblical principles were fundamental in the formation of this country. Indeed, the founding fathers understood this even as they crafted the charter documents of our government. Thomas Jefferson wrote that the “inalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” which mark the ideals of every American, are endowed to us by our Creator. John Adams wrote, “We have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

And for many years, America seemed to be comprised of a largely “moral and religious people.” That’s not to say that everyone was a Christian, or that outward morality or religiosity was equivalent to having truly been born again by the Holy Spirit. But for so many years, this nation that was built upon the freedom of speech, expression, and religion has provided a conducive environment for the Church of Jesus Christ to fulfill her mission: to freely proclaim the Gospel of forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, and to make disciples of those whom the Lord saves. This symbiotic relationship has resulted in a general moral consciousness in society that has made it suitable to be governed by our Constitution, according to the vision expressed by Adams above.

But as I said, the last few months have been particularly tiresome for Christians in America, as our society continues to give indication after indication of increasing hostility against the very values that our country was built upon.

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Greatest StoryGod’s goal in all of His creative and redemptive work is to bring glory to Himself (Isa 43:7; cf. Eph 1:6, 12, 14).

This is expressed in His creation mandate to Adam and Eve, in which He commissions man, as those uniquely made in His image, to rule over the earth in righteousness (Gen 1:28). Man is to bring glory to God by their manifesting His presence as His vice-regent throughout all creation.

But immediately Adam and Eve fail in their commission. The serpent deceives Eve, Adam eats of the forbidden tree, and in that moment the human race is catapulted into spiritual death and damnation (Gen 3:1–7).

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“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake,
not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
– Philippians 1:29 –

Phil 1;29This text, along with the rest of the New Testament (cf. John 16:33; 2 Tim 3:12; Jas 1:2–4; 1 Pet 4:12–16) establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that suffering inevitably comes to the true believer in Christ. Last week’s Supreme Court ruling, which mandated all 50 states to redefine marriage, is a loud and clear statement that all who do not conform to the new (im)moral orthodoxy will not be tolerated in contemporary society. For those who submit to the authority of the Word of God, suffering, in one form or another, is sure to come.

But a question we need to ask is: Where does it come from? Does suffering originate merely in the hostility of the opponents themselves? Does it come from a random, chaotic, uncontrolled universe, so that we’ve simply drawn the short straw and need to make the best of things? Does it come from some impersonal governing force like fate, so that we just have to grin and bear it? Does suffering ultimately come from Satan or demons?

Ultimately, we have to answer, “No,” to all of those questions. Ultimately, suffering comes from God. You say, “How do you know that?” Well, for a couple reasons. One is that Scripture calls God the one “who works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11). “And we know,” Romans 8:28, “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose.”

All things. Not just the good things. And not: “God turns all the bad things into good things for those who love Him.” God doesn’t just make the best of a bad hand He was dealt. He ordains all things for His purpose to glorify Himself. Joseph said that in Genesis 50:20: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Job says the same thing: “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity” from Him as well (Job 2:10)? And as Jeremiah stands in the rubble of the ravaged city of Jerusalem at the time of the Babylonian invasion, he asks, Lamentations 3:37, “Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?”

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AtonementThroughout church history, there have been various views and theories that conceptualize the nature of Christ’s work on the cross. Because the atonement runs to the very heart of the Gospel, it’s important for us to know how people throughout the history of the church have understood the work of Christ, and to be able to test each by Scripture. Today, I want to briefly survey and evaluate some of the main theories of the atonement.

The Ransom Theory

First, there is what is known as the ransom, or classic, theory of the atonement. Also termed Christus Victor, this theory regards Christ’s atonement as accomplishing a victory over the cosmic forces of sin, death, evil, and Satan. Proponents of the ransom view believe that in the cosmic struggle between good and evil and between God and Satan, Satan had held humanity captive to sin. Therefore, in order to rescue humanity, God had to ransom them from the power of Satan by delivering Jesus over to him as an exchange for the souls held captive. Proponents of the ransom theory often appeal to Jesus’ statement that He came to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45).

Though Christ did give His life as a ransom for many, and though His death did indeed disarm the powers of darkness (Col 2:15), rendering powerless the devil who had the power of death (Heb 2:14), this view of the atonement affords more power to Satan than he actually has. Satan has never been in any position to make demands of God. Instead of this, Scripture makes it clear that Jesus paid the price on behalf of sinners to ransom them from the just punishment of God’s holy wrath (Rom 5:9). In the deepest sense, Jesus saved us from God, not merely the power of sin and Satan.

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In case you’ve missed it, The Master’s Seminary has been doing an extended series of short videos outlining its key doctrinal distinctives and commitments. Topics have included commitments to the holiness and glory of God, 6-day creation, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and the premillennial return of Christ. That series is continuing this week with key points of the doctrine of salvation, including man’s need, God’s plan of election, Christ’s atonement, and so on. You can find all of the videos (and more to come) at this link.

I had the privilege of giving voice to the Seminary’s commitment to the heart of the Gospel: redemption accomplished through the atonement of Christ. As an added bonus for the Cripplegate readers, I thought I’d publish the notes I prepared for the video. As can be expected, I had prepared more than made the final cut (my “gift” of long-windedness strikes again), so I thought this would be a good place to present the “excess fruit” of my preparation. I hope it’s a blessing to you.

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Pierced for Our TransgressionsIn Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution, Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach have blessed Christian scholarship with a thorough, scholarly, and accessible contribution on the subject of penal substitutionary atonement. The book is divided into two parts—the first making the positive case for penal substitution on biblical, theological, pastoral, and historical grounds, and the second outlining and answering objections that have arisen against the doctrine.

While the authors acknowledge that there have been critics of penal substitution throughout church history, many of those critics have self-confessed outside the boundaries of evangelicalism and have largely been relegated to the upper echelons of academia. However, recent critics of the doctrine not only regard themselves as evangelicals committed to the authority of Scripture, but are also finding their material published in more popular and mainstream Christian literature—not the least of which works has been Steve Chalke and Alan Mann’s The Lost Message of Jesus, which styles penal substitution as “cosmic child abuse.” Given that penal substitutionary atonement “stands at the very heart of the gospel” (21), such attacks have resulted in the “confusion and alarm among Christians” (25), which makes such a treatment necessary.

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Redemption Acc&AppThe extent of the atonement continues to be one of those doctrinal discussions that tends to evoke more heat than light. I’ve always found it to be a shame that there is such widespread disagreement in the body of Christ concerning an aspect of theology that is so central to the Gospel itself: the atonement. While differences on the extent of the atonement may be less central than differences on the nature of the atonement, the question, “For whom did Christ atone?” is nevertheless a question that needs to be answered with biblical conviction.

Among the many texts that do get mentioned in these discussions, one text that I’ve very rarely seen discussed in personal conversation is Romans 8:28–39. And yet this text has very significant implications with respect to the particularity or universality of Christ’s redemption. Because, it seems, Romans 8 tends to get lost in the shuffle of exegetical and theological debate related to the L of TULIP, I thought I would reproduce a selection from John Murray’s classic, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, in which he demonstrates the role that Romans 8 plays in this discussion.

He asks the question, “Is there not also more direct evidence provided by the Scripture to show the definite or limited extent of the atonement?” and answers, “There are indeed many biblical arguments.” The first he addresses is Romans 8:31–39.

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