Daniel Rowlands

What Are the “Keys of the Kingdom”? — Matthew 16:19

The preaching of the gospel proclaims Christ’s kingdom has come to us, opening the hearts and minds of those who hear it to the glory of Christ and the good news of his salvation. On the other hand, binding something is to close it. In the context of Christ’s kingdom, it is to close the kingdom to unbelievers.

In Matthew 16:19, Jesus makes the following statement to the apostle Peter:
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
What was Christ Jesus referring to when he told Peter he would give him the “keys of the kingdom”? What is the meaning of this metaphor that our Lord is using in Matthew 16:19?
The Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 83, states,

What are the keys of the kingdom?
The preaching of the holy gospel and Christian discipline toward repentance. Both of them open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers.

Jesus Is Referring to the Kingdom of Heaven, His Kingdom That Is Not of This World
First, as the Heidelberg Catechism points out, it is important to note that in this verse Jesus is referring to the kingdom of heaven, his kingdom that is not of this world (John 18:36).
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Faith or Repentance—Which Comes First?

True faith is grounded in Christ’s work alone, not in anything we do. Yet, let me be clear: there is no pardon of sins without repentance (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30). Repentance proceeds from faith; it does not precede faith. The cause of our pardon is Christ through faith. If repentance preceded faith, then our work of repentance would seem to be part of the ground for God to pardon us, which Scripture doesn’t teach.

The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance. — John Murray,Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 119.
Repentance is a critical teaching of the Word of God. We are called to proclaim it in the name of Christ Jesus everywhere (Luke 24:47). Yet a question arises: must people repent of their sins and show a changed behavior, that is a changed life, before God grants justifying faith—faith that is the instrument by which God reconciles a sinful person to himself? Or does repentance follow faith? Which comes first—faith or repentance? And how do we know?
How Should We Define Repentance and Faith?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism has a helpful, biblically-based definition of repentance:
87. What is repentance unto life?
Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.
The Heidelberg Catechism gives a good biblical definition of true faith:
Question 21. What is true faith?
Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits. 
Repentance is turning from sin to obedience. Internally, it is a hatred of sin and a motivation to live in gratitude and love by obeying God’s commands. Externally it is changed conduct. Saving faith is a gift of God in our hearts leading us to trust him alone for our forgiveness, righteousness, and salvation, only because of what Christ has done for us. 
So, which comes first—faith or repentance? The answer is faith precedes repentance; it is a fruit of saving faith—not the other way around. A person is reconciled to God (justified) by faith alone, not by faith plus works. Yet, faith without repentance is not saving faith. Let me explain by considering what the Bible teaches.
The Bible Contains Various Passages regarding the Need for Repentance
The book of Acts records examples of the apostolic call to repent, believe, and be baptized; the call goes out in various combinations and order. In Acts 2:38,
Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
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How Much Free Will Do You Really Have?

This is the work of God—that you believe in Christ Jesus. We freely choose to believe only because God has changed our nature by regeneration—new creation—such that our desires are now inclined toward God instead of toward sin. 

It is quite common for both Christians and non-Christians to point out their free will. But how free are we? Are we free to do anything? Why don’t believers use their free will to freely choose never to sin again? Why does no one do that? We do have free will—no disagreement here—but maybe it’s not that simple.
After explaining to Timothy how to teach and correct opponents, Paul then explains how God works:

God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 25-26)

Paul encourages Timothy by reminding him that he cannot convince a person into the kingdom of God. Before God acts, a person is held captive by the devil, and being held captive a person cannot, of his own free will, free himself from the snare of the devil by deciding for himself what is true. Like Timothy, we are to be kind teachers who correct with gentleness, remembering that it is God who may grant repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.
But what about free will?
Some Christians believe God only made it possible for humans to be saved—it’s up to us, exercising our free will, to choose the offered salvation; then God will regenerate us. Others believe humans are so blind, deaf, spiritually dead, and enslaved to sin that they are unable to turn to Christ Jesus unless God first regenerates them—God takes the initiative and a person freely responds.
There is disagreement, but part of the problem may be oversimplification—a tendency to believe there are only two alternatives—we are either completely free or we are completely determined. But what does Scripture teach us? Perhaps we need to go a little bit deeper into the nature of our choices—addressing both what we freely will and why we freely will as we do.
What is free will?
The will is the faculty of a person’s mind involved in choosing what a person desires. The human will is free in that it chooses voluntarily and is undetermined by anything other than itself.
Do humans have free will?
Yes, humans after the fall of Adam still have natural liberty, meaning they are not forced to choose either good or evil. Humans have the power of self-decision according to what pleases them, what they desire.
In other words, humans freely choose what they desire—their will is not forced by anything outside of themselves—what they most desire is what they freely choose. Consider for example, James 1:14 which speaks of how a person’s own desires affect his or her choices of will.
Does humanity’s fall into sin affect free will?
Sinful humans still retain their free will—they still freely choose according to what they desire, according to their sinful nature.
Scripture teaches us that the nature of fallen humans is that they are spiritually dead and incapable of any spiritual good toward salvation. Paul writes in Romans 8:7-8 that the carnal mind is hostile to God. The word of God does not say that the carnal mind is passive but rather that sinful unconverted persons have an active hostility (enmity) toward God.
Ephesians 2:1-3 (see also Col. 2:13) teaches that fallen humans are dead in their sin, carrying out the desires (i.e., will) of body and mind. They are by nature children of wrath. Elsewhere Scripture describes humanity’s condition as spiritual blindness and deafness (see Deut. 29:4; Matt. 13:13; John 12:40; Acts 28:26; 2 Cor. 4:4). God also describes the nature of fallen humans as being in slavery to sin and corruption (Rom. 6:17; Titus 3:3; 2 Pet. 2:19).
The unregenerate set their minds on fleshly things.
Returning to Romans 8, Paul writes that those who are in the flesh—those not regenerated by the Holy Spirit to be a new spiritual creature (see John 3:3; 2 Cor. 5:17; Tit. 3:5)—do not set their minds on spiritual things, but only on fleshly things. As a result, they have no ability to please God (Rom. 8:5-8). There are no righteous humans, there is no one who understands, and there is no one who seeks for God. No one does good—there is no fear of God in their eyes (Rom. 3:10-18 quoting Psalms 5, 14, 36, 53, 140; Isa. 59:7).
So what do sinful, unregenerate, unconverted, human beings desire—what do they freely will?
The unregenerate use their free will to choose what they desire: to sin.
Prior to the flood, God saw that every intention of the thoughts of a person’s heart was only evil continually (Gen. 6:5). Long after the flood the psalmist points out there are none who do good (Ps. 14). Isaiah 59 teaches how the sinful think only of iniquity. The heart of fallen humans is deceitful above everything (Jer. 17:5) The spiritually dead yield to the passions of the flesh and the sinful desires of the body (Eph. 2:1-3).
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How Do Christians in the Military Love Their Enemies and Do Good to Them?

It is loving to protect and defend the defenseless, and it is also loving to protect a wicked person, an enemy if you will, from killing others—to bring that person to the point where they lay down their arms and give up their own evil ends. Thus, God has appointed and legitimized government authorities for this purpose; it is loving to defend the defenseless and the evil person from carrying out wickedness.

Note: Daniel Rowlands served more than two decades in the United States Army as a helicopter and airplane pilot. He holds Master of Arts degrees in Biblical Studies and Theological Studies from Westminster Seminary California.
In response to the article “Christians and the Military,” the following comment was submitted by a Beautiful Christian Life reader:
I just read the article written today by Daniel Rowlands entitled “Christians and the Military.” I notice that there was no mention or comment about some of the most pertinent verses in the New Testament, Matthew 5:43-46, wherein Jesus himself commands us to love our enemies and do good to them. I would really appreciate Daniel’s perspective on this. Thank you very much. God Bless!
Dear Reader,
Surely this is an important topic since there are so many Christians serving in military forces around the world. As you correctly point out, Christians are called to love our enemies and to do good to them, even as God loved us while we were his enemies (Rom. 5:8-10). God is compassionate, merciful, and loving toward us.
God’s Moral Law That Teaches Us Not to Kill Also Carries with It the Value of Human Life
On the other hand, God is also just—the perfectly righteous judge. He has appointed government authorities as the means of carrying out his justice in this fallen world (e.g., Rom. 13:4). God’s moral law that teaches us not to kill also carries with it the value of human life. It includes the loving command to protect people from others who want to injure or kill them—to place a high value on all human life, even the lives of our enemies who are made in the likeness of God (James 3:9).
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Oaths in God’s Name—Deuteronomy 6:13

In Scripture God very specifically addresses the matter of using his name in a reverent manner:
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”Exodus 20:7
“It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.”Deuteronomy 6:13
In the Third Commandment God forbids using his name vainly, but does that include taking an oath in God’s name as is often done in courts of law, entering government service, and in marriage vows?
We should never take oaths lightly.
Essentially, an oath is calling out to God who knows our heart and the truth of what we affirm. The Heidelberg Catechism, first published in 1563, is a highly regarded summary of the Christian faith and has the following to say about the Third Commandment:
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“Fact-Checking” the Resurrection

Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, testified that the resurrected Christ Jesus appeared not only to the apostles but also to more than 500 other people (1 Cor. 15:6)! There were quite a few witnesses whom skeptics could examine, but instead of fading away as a conspiracy, the truth of Jesus’ resurrection was so strong that the church continued to grow and the gospel of Christ Jesus spread from Jerusalem and the Mediterranean beyond into Europe.

Is Christianity private or public? Does the truth about Christ Jesus, who is the object of my faith, depend on my own private beliefs, or is there something verifiable that can be “fact-checked”? The reason I pose these questions is because we are living in a time when the determination of truth and untruth have turned inward, making one’s own personal beliefs the measure of what is true or not.
While examining and verifying evidence and testimony may be found in courts of law, in the press and many political and personal interactions it is common to observe persons passing off as truth what are merely their own feelings, opinions, and beliefs, often without evidence or verifiable testimony.
The resurrection of Jesus was a very public miracle.
Not so with the resurrection of Christ Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus was a very public miracle witnessed by many and supported by evidence at the time it occurred and afterward. The evidence is recorded in Scripture. There are about 5,250 ancient Greek manuscripts of books and parts of the New Testament that record Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The earliest is dated to about 90 years after his death (Rylands Library Papyrus 52).
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Why Does the Bible Call the Fear of God “Clean”? — Psalm 19:9

God’s Word is the means by which God works in you both to will and to do his good pleasure, purifying you by his work of sanctification through faith in your Savior, Jesus Christ. This is the fear of God that is clean and endures forever.

We often think of “fear” in a negative sense—being afraid even to the point of terror or feeling high anxiety and worry, especially toward the unknown. Yet, we are called to fear God, which is right and good. Is there a difference between fear of God and fear of the unknown, and why does the Bible call the fear of God “clean” in Psalm 19:9?

…the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring foreverthe rules of the LORD are true,and righteous altogether. — Psalm 19:9

The psalmist writes that the fear of God is “clean” in Psalm 19:9 in the context of God’s righteous and perfect word—his commandments, rules, and laws. In other words, as God is pure and holy, so is his word. Fear of God means to revere, respect, and submit to his word because it is holy as God is holy.
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What Is “The Holy Catholic Church”?

 “Catholic” simply means the universal church of Christ Jesus, which consists of all believers in him from every time and place. All people throughout the ages who have placed their faith in Christ Jesus for salvation from sin and death are members of his universal (that is, catholic) church.

When saying the Apostles’ Creed, which is an historical, concise, and biblical summary of the Christian faith, we state that we believe in “the holy catholic church.” What does this mean?
For Christians who are unfamiliar with the Apostles’ Creed, what often comes to mind is the Roman Catholic Church, but this would be an incorrect interpretation of of the meaning of the word “catholic.”
The Heidelberg Catechism, first published in 1563, is a highly regarded summary of the Christian faith. A portion of the Heidelberg Catechism is an explanation of the Apostles’ Creed, which begins each section with the words, “I believe.” In question and answer 54, the Heidelberg Catechism asks what we believe concerning “the holy catholic church”:
Q. What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?
A. I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member.”—The Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 54.
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Should Images of God Be Allowed in the Church?

No true picture of Jesus exists, so the ones artists do make merely reflect the artist’s own image of our Savior rather than what God has sovereignly revealed by his word. An image also cannot truly reflect the deity of Christ , only his humanity, which again serves only to limit our knowledge of Christ Jesus. Believe God and trust him when he forbids images and reveals to us that faith comes by hearing, not by sight.

The second of the Ten Commandments directs us against images. It expressly forbids the use of images in the worship of God. But does this means images such as pictures to help us learn about God are also forbidden?
We must be careful to avoid placing our own wisdom and desires above God’s.
The plain teaching of Scripture forbids the use of visual images in regard to the worship of God:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exod. 20:4)
In fact, the Bible also is clear that faith comes by hearing, not by sight:
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom. 10:17)
…for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7)
God has chosen to reveal himself by means of the spoken word.
It is not by the sight of pictures or other visual forms that a person comes to faith, but by God’s appointed means of hearing his word, the gospel message.
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3 Good Things to Remember When You Feel Overwhelmed by Your Sin and Failures

It is good to mourn our sins in confession, regretting the pain we have caused others and ourselves. It is right to have a healthy desire to be taught by God—to have the discipline of a loving father. Yet, in our weakness God shows forth his glory in the love and forgiveness we have in Christ Jesus who paid the penalty of our sins by his death on the cross, and “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

Although we may not be acutely aware of every sin, our conscience testifies to our sense of weakness and failure. In particular, our memories remind us of times in our lives when we may have sinned miserably—angry tempers, selfishness, divorce, harshness, neglect of children or parents, and pride are just a few transgressions we may have committed.
We recognize how the trials we have brought upon ourselves have originated in our own sin. Yet the Lord uses them to train us, to discipline us. The author of Hebrews declares:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Heb. 12:5-7)

1. The Discipline of a Loving Father
It is good to self-examine and learn from our failures. Yet, perhaps more important than lessons learned is the question: how is God glorified in this? Is it possible that even in our self-inflicted trials—when we are acutely aware of our fallen, sinful nature—the glory of God is manifested by his work in and for us? Absolutely.
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