Archives For Mike Riccardi

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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For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
– Philippians 3:20–21 –

In a word, the heavenly citizen’s prospect is glorification. Glorification is that final stage in the process of redemption when Christ (a) raises the bodies of all believers from the dead and reunites those bodies with their souls; and (b) instantly changes the bodies of believers alive at His coming into perfect, sin-free bodies, even like His own when He was resurrected.

Glorification

The Body of Our Humiliation

Earlier translations of this verse spoke of “our vile body” (KJV) or “the body of our humiliation” (ASV). But that could send the wrong message. Paul doesn’t intend to demean the body in any way, as if the physical body was evil in itself. That was the teaching of certain pagan religious philosophers of the day, but not of biblical Christianity. Remember, Adam and Eve were created perfectly by God, in His image, as a body-and-soul entity.

And so “the body of our humiliation” has nothing to do with some supposed inherent sinfulness of the body. Rather, it refers to our bodies, which are presently marked by the humiliation caused by sin—always characterized by weakness, by physical decay, by indignity, sickness and suffering, and of course the ultimate humiliation of death. And the body, though not inherently sinful in itself, is too often the instrument of our sinful acts—the vehicle through which we gratify our sinful desires. Knowing that that which should be set apart and consecrated as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19) is nevertheless presented to sin as an instrument of unrighteousness (Rom 6:13) causes it all the more to be regarded as “the body of our humiliation.” Indeed, in this body we groan (2 Cor 5:2; cf. Rom 8:23), calling out with the Apostle Paul, “Who will save me from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24).

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God and the Gay ChristianAs the Supreme Court has recently heard arguments regarding a federal mandate that would legalize homosexual “marriage,” it’s important for the church to be equipped to defend their position from Scripture. True Christians are not against gay “marriage” because we are mean-spirited, bigoted misanthropes who love to force our opinions on others. We are against gay “marriage” because God Himself is against it, and He has told us so in His Word, the God-breathed Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16–17). Scripture tells us that to embrace homosexuality as spiritually permissible is to commit (or help others to commit) eternal suicide. And no one who truly loves homosexuals would ever be a part of that.

Because God has spoken on this issue, it falls to the church to herald His Word on the matter. Passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 are clear:

  • 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 – Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
  • 1 Timothy 1:9–11 – realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.

However, those who would argue that homosexuality and Christianity are not mutually exclusive argue that these clear passages have been mistranslated. The word translated “homosexuals” in each of these verses is arsenokoitēs, and, the argument goes, that original Greek word doesn’t refer to “committed same-sex relationships” but “abusive male-male” relationships. Such an argument has been widely popularized by author John Boswell, whose arguments, though refuted by Robert A. J. Gagnon, are constantly marshaled by liberals as evidence of the compatibility between homosexuality and Christianity.

For example, I came across a post from Dr. Gagnon’s Facebook page (courtesy of James White) in which a commenter sought to advance this argument. (The following is lightly adapted for readability and accuracy, as the commenter misspelled numerous Greek words a number of times.)

“There is adequate evidence through exegesis of the Scripture and through transliteration of the words in question that supports the view contrary to your belief. 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:9–10 refer to abusive male-male relationships. As I’m sure you know, the former contains the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai and the latter contains only arsenokoitai. They each have, within certain translations, been falsely translated to the word homosexual, as these words are not a reference to homosexuality per se, and certainly not a reference to loving, committed, same-sex unions. Other Greek literature of the same period of time supports the view that arsenokoitai makes reference to a male-male relationship with an imbalance of power, for example a pederastic relationship.

Greek Manuscript“Generalising arsenokoitai to refer to all gay men and women is entirely incorrect. Its meaning is akin to that of men who abuse their power, economic or otherwise, to have sex with another (usually younger and weaker) male, or to humiliate another male. It may even be seen as an inadvertent reference to sodomites in the true sense of the word, being those who wanted to use male-male rape as an act of abuse, hence the term ‘homosexual offender’ in the NIV. The arsenokoitai often took advantage of younger male prostitutes; malakoi is translated to male prostitutes in the NRSV. The arsenokoites was the active male in the pair and, as I’m sure you know, such cult-temple prostitution was very common in the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s time. This is what Paul was referring to.

“On a final note John Boswell suggests in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: ‘Perhaps the most extensive evidence that arsenokoitai did not connote “homosexual” or even “sodomite” in the time of Paul is offered by the amount of writing extant on the subject of homoerotic sexuality in Greek in which this term does not occur. It is extremely difficult to believe that if the word actually meant “homosexual” or “sodomite” no previous or contemporary author would have used it in a way clearly indicated with this connection’ (1980: 345).”

Here’s my question to all Christians who argue based on Scripture that homosexuality is a sin: How would you respond to this kind of argument?

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“For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears;
not so that you would be made sorrowful,
but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.”
– 2 Corinthians 2:4 –

SharpeningWhen Paul wrote this verse, false teachers claiming to be apostles had infiltrated the church of Corinth and aimed to discredit Paul’s legitimacy as an apostle. The controversy led Paul to change his travel plans and visit the Corinthians ahead of schedule, as he hoped he could put the matter to rest by being there personally. But when Paul arrived in Corinth, one of the men in the church openly flouted Paul’s authority and insulted him before the whole church. To make matters worse, rather than coming to Paul’s defense and defending the Gospel that he preached, the Corinthians were taken in by this false teaching, and allowed this man’s sin to go unchecked.

After this “sorrowful visit,” Paul returned immediately to Ephesus and wrote them a severe letter, sternly rebuking them for failing to deal with sin in the church properly, and for straying from his apostolic teaching and message. In the verse quoted above, Paul explains the circumstances in which and the motivation for why he wrote the Corinthians his severe letter. And there is a pastoral lesson for all of us in the church who give and receive correction to our brothers and sisters.

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