Ligonier Editorial

What Does It Mean to Forgive?

Sin is a sad reality of life in a fallen world, and it has major consequences. Jesus Christ willingly gave His life for our sins. Our forgiveness came at an unimaginable price. The beauty of the Christian life is that we can forgive others in a way that God has forgiven us.

Matthew 18:15–20 gives us the pattern we should follow when someone has sinned against us, but what does it mean to forgive in the first place? For an answer, let us look to God the Father, the One who has perfectly modeled forgiveness for us. When God forgives us, He no longer holds our sins against us. He no longer condemns us. Our fellowship with Him is no longer disrupted. This is because Jesus Christ has suffered sin’s full penalty for all those who trust in Him.
We forgive others because God has forgiven us. Jesus taught us to pray to the Father, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). Like God, to forgive someone means to no longer hold sin against the person who has sinned against you. When we forgive someone, we are once again in a positive relationship with them.
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What Is the Intermediate State?

The state of the believer after death is both different and better than what we experience in this life, though not as different or as blessed as it will be in the final resurrection. In the intermediate state we will enjoy the continuity of conscious personal existence in the presence of Christ. Mankind’s probation ends at death. Our ultimate destiny is decided when we die. There is no hope of a second chance of repentance after death, and there is no place of purging such as purgatory to improve our future condition.

“She is not dead but sleeping” (Luke 8:52). Jesus made this comment about Jairus’s daughter when He was about to raise her from the dead. Frequently the Bible refers to death by the figure of “sleep.” Because of this image, some have concluded that the New Testament teaches the doctrine of soul sleep.
Soul sleep is usually described as a kind of temporary suspended animation of the soul between the moment of personal death and the time when our bodies will be resurrected. When our bodies are raised from the dead, the soul is awakened to begin conscious personal continuity in heaven. Though centuries may pass between death and final resurrection, the “sleeping” soul will have no conscious awareness of the passing of time. Our transition from death to heaven will seem to be instantaneous.
Soul sleep represents a departure from orthodox Christianity. It remains, however, as a firmly entrenched minority report among Christians. The traditional view is called the intermediate state. This view holds that at death, the believer’s soul goes immediately to be with Christ to enjoy a continuous, conscious, personal existence while awaiting the final resurrection of the body. When the Apostles’ Creed speaks of the “resurrection of the body,” it is not referring to the resurrection of Christ’s human body (which is also affirmed in the Creed) but to the resurrection of our bodies at the last day.
But what happens in the meantime? The classical view is that at death the souls of believers are immediately glorified. They are made perfect in holiness and enter immediately into glory. Their bodies, however, remain in the grave, awaiting final resurrection.
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What Does It Mean That God Is Good?

God does what is right. He never does what is wrong. God always acts in a righteous manner because His nature is holy. Thus, we can distinguish between the internal righteousness of God (His holy nature) and the external righteousness of God (His actions).

Two virtues assigned to God, greatness and goodness, may be captured by one biblical word, holy. When we speak of God’s holiness, we are accustomed to associating it almost exclusively with the purity and righteousness of God. Surely the idea of holiness contains these virtues, but they are not the primary meaning of holiness.
The biblical word holy has two distinct meanings. The primary meaning is “apartness” or “otherness.” When we say that God is holy, we call attention to the profound difference between Him and all creatures. It refers to God’s transcendent majesty, His august superiority, by virtue of which He is worthy of our honor, reverence, adoration, and worship. He is “other” or different from us in His glory.
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Are People Basically Good?

The fall is not simply a question of rational deduction. It is a point of divine revelation. It refers to what we call original sin. Original sin does not refer primarily to the first or original sin committed by Adam and Eve. Original sin refers to the result of the first sin—the corruption of the human race. Original sin refers to the fallen condition in which we are born.

It is commonplace to hear the statement, “people are basically good.” Though it is admitted that no one is perfect, human wickedness is minimized. Yet if people are basically good, why is sin so universal?
It is often suggested that everybody sins because society has such a negative influence upon us. The problem is seen with our environment, not with our nature. This explanation for the universality of sin raises the question, how did society become corrupt in the first place? If people are born good or innocent, we would expect at least a percentage of them to remain good and sinless. We should be able to find societies that are not corrupt, where the environment has been conditioned by sinlessness rather than sinfulness. Yet the most dedicated-to-righteousness communes we can find still have provisions for dealing with the guilt of sin.
Since the fruit is universally corrupt we look for the root of the problem in the tree. Jesus indicated that a good tree does not produce corrupt fruit. The Bible clearly teaches that our original parents, Adam and Eve, fell in sin. Subsequently, every human being has been born with a sinful and corrupt nature. If the Bible didn’t explicitly teach this, we would have to deduce it rationally from the bare fact of the universality of sin.
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What Is a Covenant?

At the heart of this covenant is God’s promise of redemption. God has not only promised to redeem all who put their trust in Christ, but has sealed and confirmed that promise with a most holy vow. We serve and worship a God who has pledged Himself to our full redemption.

The basic structure of the relationship God has established with His people is the covenant. A covenant is usually thought of as a contract. While there surely are some similarities between covenants and contracts, there are also important differences. Both are binding agreements. Contracts are made from somewhat equal bargaining positions, and both parties are free not to sign the contract. A covenant is likewise an agreement. However, covenants in the Bible are not usually between equals. Rather, they follow a pattern common to the ancient Near East suzerain-vassal treaties. Suzerain-vassal treaties (as seen among the Hittite kings) were made between a conquering king and the conquered. There was no negotiation between the parties.
The first element of these covenants is the preamble, which lists the respective parties. Exodus 20:2 begins with “I am the Lord your God.” God is the suzerain; the people of Israel are the vassals. The second element is the historical prologue. This section lists what the suzerain (or Lord) has done to deserve loyalty, such as bringing the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. In theological terms, this is the section of grace. In the next section, the Lord lists what He will require of those He rules. In Exodus 20, these are the Ten Commandments. Each of the commandments were considered morally binding on the entire covenant community.
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What Is an Apostle?

Paul’s apostleship was a matter of some debate because he did not meet all of the requirements for apostleship set forth in Acts. The criteria for apostleship included being: (1) a disciple of Jesus during His earthly ministry, (2) an eyewitness of the Resurrection, and (3) called and commissioned directly by Christ. Paul was not a former disciple, and his vision of the resurrected Christ occurred after Jesus’ ascension. Paul was not an eyewitness of the Resurrection in the same way the other Apostles were. Nevertheless, Paul was directly called to the office by Christ. 

Since twelve of those who were disciples of Christ later became His Apostles, the two terms disciple and apostle are often confused. Although the terms are used interchangeably, they are not exact synonyms. A disciple is defined in the Bible as a “learner,” one who entered into the fellowship of Jesus’ rabbinic instruction. Though the Apostles were disciples, not all disciples became apostles.
An Apostle enjoyed a special office in the New Testament church. The term apostle means “one who is sent.” Technically, however, an apostle was more than a messenger. He was commissioned with the authority to speak for and represent the One who sent him. The chief apostle in the New Testament is Jesus Himself. He was sent by the Father and spoke with the authority invested in Him by the Father. To reject Jesus was to reject the Father, who sent Him.
Likewise, the Apostles were called and commissioned directly by Christ and spoke with His authority.
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Why Do Some People Suffer More?

We can be confident that all suffering in this life ultimately results from the entry of sin into the world through Adam, that Christ has paid the penalty of this sin for His people, and that He will remove all sin from the world when He returns (see Rom. 5:12–21; Rom. 8). All who trust in Him alone for salvation will enjoy a good life with Him forever, even if they have a bad life today (see John 3:16; Rev. 21).

The suffering or blessing that some people experience does not always appear to be connected to their actions. In fact, sometimes the godliest people have the hardest lives, while those who seem to hate God the most have the easiest lives. What are we to make of this?
First, the Bible says that bad lives are sometimes—but certainly not always—connected to personal sin. Sinful actions often result in harsh consequences in this life (see 2 Chron. 36:11–21). However, the book of Job tells us that Job lived a holy life and loved God but endured some of the worst suffering imaginable. His friends were wrong to believe that he suffered because of his own sin.
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What Is New Age Spirituality?

Many who embrace New Age practices believe in karma and reincarnation. As in Hinduism, the ultimate goal in the New Age movement is to achieve oneness with the divine. Adherents of New Age spirituality reject the biblical doctrines of the fall, the sinfulness and depravity of man, the need for an atoning sacrifice, and the need for a mediator between God and man.

What is New Age spirituality?
New Age spirituality is an umbrella term that describes a contemporary religious movement, not an organized religion. Proponents of the movement encourage striving to reach one’s full potential through an eclectic mixture of concepts and practices drawn from Eastern mysticism, Hinduism, Buddhism, metaphysics, naturalism, astrology, occultism, and science fiction. In its various forms, New Age spirituality is both monistic (believing that all reality is ultimately one) and pantheistic (believing that everything is divine). Unlike organized religions, New Age spirituality has no founding figure, structured leadership, official headquarters, or authoritative writings that are accepted by all proponents. New Age spirituality has held considerable social sway over Western culture over the past three decades. An estimated one in three Americans accepts various elements of New Age ideology.
When did it begin?
References to the “New Age” come from the world of astrology. Roughly every 2,100 years, proponents argue, we enter a new “astrological age” that corresponds to one of the twelve signs of the zodiac. The exact date of the transition is disputed, but most astrologers maintain that we transitioned from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius sometime in the twentieth century.
The contemporary New Age movement originated in the late 1960s and early 1970s, concurrent with the hippie counterculture movement. The Beatles popularized Eastern mysticism and monistic religion in mainstream America after returning in 1965 from a trip to India, where they practiced Transcendental Meditation with the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The 1967 musical Hair promoted the astrological elements of the New Age movement with its catchy opening number, which asserted, “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” In 1969, the promoters of the music festival Woodstock publicized it as “an Aquarian exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Love.”
Who are the key figures?
Academy Award–winning actress Shirley MacLaine promoted the New Age ideas of reincarnation and past life experiences in her 1984 book Out on a Limb. In 1989, Deepak Chopra published his book Quantum Healing, which claims to integrate modern scientific concepts into an Eastern mystical framework with the goal of healing the body. Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth, is among the most well-known proponents of the New Age movement today. In a 2008 article, The New York Times called Tolle “the most popular spiritual author in [the United States].”1 Prominent media personality Oprah Winfrey continues to be one of the most vocal proponents of New Age ideology.
What are the main beliefs?
It is nearly impossible to set out any systematic doctrine associated with the New Age movement, since it borrows from so many religious and esoteric traditions. However, New Age proponents hold in common several broad ideas:

Cosmological determination. According to astrologers, the movement of stars and other heavenly bodies determines cultural and societal—as well as individual—development. Accordingly, humanity has moved out of the Age of Pisces, in which we sought to discover our identity and existence, into the Age of Aquarius, in which we seek total peace and unity. Having collectively moved into a new era, we are to embrace the cultural changes that coincide with the current astrological age. This shift has already had an impact on every person and will continue to do so. All that we learned from our parents, and all that our parents learned from their parents, was a result of the influence of the Piscean age and must now be largely abandoned. In the Age of Aquarius, we must learn to accept ourselves as people who do not need to believe in anything that lies outside ourselves. All that is in us and all that is in the universe is God; therefore, to gain unity and balance with God, we must seek to embrace what is happening in this present Aquarian age as the divine expresses itself in us and in others. This form of pantheism attributes to the created order something that belongs exclusively to the eternal sovereignty of God.
Monistic energy. Proponents of the New Age movement believe that God and the universe are one in substance. The New Age movement rejects biblical monotheism in favor of monism or pantheism. Proponents of the New Age believe that there is divine energy inherent in every part of the universe.

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What Is Islam?

Though it professes to be the authoritative revelation of the one true God, the Qur’an includes a number of historically and theologically inaccurate accounts of biblical figures. For instance, the Qur’an teaches that Abraham offered up Ishmael rather than Isaac. The Qur’an also teaches that Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus, the son of Mary) was merely a miracle-working prophet of Allah. Additionally, the Qur’an denies the deity and atoning death of Jesus.

What is Islam?
Islam is the second-largest religion in the world. Today, an estimated 1.3 billion people profess to be Muslims—that is, followers of the religion of Islam. Of these, nearly 1 billion reside in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia. Islam is a monotheistic religion, requiring submission to the one God, Allah, and to everything Allah revealed through the prophet Muhammad. The two major authoritative texts in Islam are the Qur’an and the hadith. The Qur’an is claimed to be the revelation of Allah to Muhammad. The hadith are the oral traditions of Muhammad’s teaching and practice as passed down in the Muslim community and set to writing a few centuries later. The Five Pillars of Islam structure the essence of Islamic belief and practice. There are two major branches of Islam: the Sunnis and the Shiites, and there is also a large mystical tradition, the Sufis. The Nation of Islam, an African American political and religious movement, has brought an awareness of Islam to many Americans. However, this movement is a modern Western ethnocentric religion that is not recognized by orthodox Muslims as an authentic Islamic tradition.
When did it begin?
Muhammad is the founder of Islam. He was born in AD 570 in Mecca (a city in the western Arabian Peninsula).1 His father died before his birth. His mother died when he was six. Muhammad went to live with his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib. When he was eight, Muhammad’s grandfather died. Muhammad then went to live with his uncle Abu Talib, a caravan tradesman. Abu Talib took Muhammad on many of his travels.
At age twenty-five, Muhammad married Khadija, a wealthy traveling merchant. Khadija had been raised by Ebionite Christians. The Ebionites were a mystical Jewish sect of Christianity that denied the deity of Christ. Scholars believe that Muhammad learned his inaccurate versions of biblical accounts on his travels with Abu Talib and Khadija.
Muhammad said the angel Gabriel visited him in Mecca in 610, which began a twenty-three-year period during which Muhammad claimed to receive the revelation of the Qur’an. Traditionally, eighty-six suras (chapters) of the Qur’an are said to have been revealed while Muhammad lived in Mecca, while the remaining twenty-eight were revealed in the city of Medina.
The first two people to accept Muhammad’s message were his wife, Khadija, and his cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib. The first convert outside of Muhammad’s family was Abu Bakr, a traveling merchant. During his stay in Mecca, Muhammad began calling the polytheistic citizens to repent and submit to Allah, the one true God. After years of rejection, persecution, and warfare, Muhammad journeyed to Medina (then known as Yathrib) in 622. This event, called the Hijrah, marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. The message of Islam found greater acceptance in Medina; the Muslim community there grew, and Muhammad became the leader of the city. Eventually, Muhammad was able to amass an army large enough to capture Mecca, which he purged of polytheism. Mecca is today one of the holiest cities in Islam. Upon Muhammad’s death in 632, Abu Bakr became the first caliph (the religious and political leader of the Islamic state), although many Muslims believed the caliph should have been a relative of Muhammad, specifically his cousin Ali. Abu Bakr carried on the Islamic religion until his death. Caliphs Umar Ibn al-Khattab, Uthman ibn Affan, and Muhammad’s cousin Ali succeeded Abu Bakr, in that order. After Ali’s death, disagreements within the Muslim community over who could be caliph continued to grow, with the Shiites eventually breaking with the majority of Muslims—the Sunnis—over the Shiite belief that the caliph had to be from Muhammad’s family.
Who are the key figures?
Over its long history, Islam has produced a multitude of influential rulers, scholars, philosophers, authors, athletes, businessmen, scientists, and teachers. Muslim mathematicians and philosophers have played important roles in the development of disciplines such as algebra and in the recovery of Aristotle’s thought in the West during the late medieval period. Islamic empires conquered much of the Christian East.
Today, the most well-known Islamic political figures are King Abdullah of Jordan; King Salman of Saudi Arabia; Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran; and Mohammed VI, king of Morocco.
Before becoming a Sunni Muslim, Malcom X helped raise awareness of the Nation of Islam in American culture. Louis Farrakhan is currently the leader of the Nation of Islam, a ethnocentric sect viewed as heretical by orthodox Muslims.
Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are among the famous Muslim athletes of recent decades.
What are the main beliefs?

Revelation and interpretation. Although all Muslims profess belief in the Qur’an, considerable diversity of belief and practice exists among the various branches of Islam. Sunni Muslims, who make up the vast majority of the worldwide Muslim community, rely heavily on legal scholars to settle disputes over the teaching of the Qur’an. These lawyers, in the development of Islamic law or sharia, seek to reconcile the differences between the teaching of the Qur’an and the hadith by means of consensus and analogy. Shiite Muslims, who make up the second-largest group of Muslims worldwide, believe that the true successor to Muhammad as leader of all Muslims comes from the family of Ali. (Sunnis believe that Muhammad’s successor can come from the broader Islamic community.) The Shiites also have their own collections of hadith, consisting only of traditions that they trace back to Ali. Disputes within Shiite Islam are settled by appointed imams whose decisions are considered binding. The Sufis believe in a spiritual, nonliteral interpretation of the Qur’an and engage in mystical practices.

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What Are Legalism and Antinomianism?

How can I share the gospel with those who hold to these forms of false teaching? Focus on the biblical teaching about the depravity of the human heart. Since legalism and antinomianism stem from the sinful depravity of the human heart, we can help others move away from these errors by pointing to what the Scriptures teach about our sinful condition. The Bible teaches that all people by nature are “dead in . . . trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1–5). In ourselves, we are unable to do anything spiritually pleasing to God (Rom. 5:6; Eph. 2:12). All our deeds apart from Christ are violations of God’s law, for which we deserve God’s eternal wrath and judgment (Matt. 7:23).

The terms legalism and antinomianism describe two false teachings regarding the relationship between the law and the gospel. Legalism is the insistence that a person is accepted by God on the basis of his law keeping. It teaches that we are declared righteous before God through our own observance of either God’s law or man-made rules and regulations. Antinomianism says that God does not require a believer to obey the moral law (i.e., the Ten Commandments). In its more extreme and perverted form, antinomianism permits immoral behavior based on the leniency of grace.
When did they begin?
Legalism and antinomianism are rooted in the fall of Adam. All mankind is predisposed to these two moral and theological errors. Accordingly, countless forms of legalism and antinomianism have surfaced throughout history. Legalism and antinomianism undergird all forms of false teaching and heresy.
Who are the key figures?
Jesus rebuked the religious leaders in Israel for their hypocritical, self-righteous teaching and lives (Matt. 23:4; Luke 18:9). The Apostle Paul stridently defended the gospel against the doctrinal legalism with which the early church was infected (Gal. 1–3; 1 Tim. 1:6–7).
The Roman Catholic Church has long promoted an elaborate system of religious legalism, which is most evident in its monastic asceticism, penitential system, sacramentalism, and emphasis on merit.1 Roman Catholicism denies the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, teaching that a person is justified by faith in Christ together with his Spirit-wrought good works.
Doctrinal and practical legalism has surfaced in evangelical and Protestant churches over the centuries. By imposing obligations on members to observe man-made rules and regulations, many churches have advanced a form of man-centered legalism (Col. 2:20–23).
In recent decades, proponents of the New Perspective(s) on Paul have taught that a person’s final right standing before God is based on his obedience to God’s commands.
False religions such as Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism, because they teach a works-based salvation wherein we enter heaven or experience Nirvana because of our good deeds, are non-Christian forms of legalism.
In the early church, certain false teachers promoted the idea that God’s grace tolerates lawless living (see 2 Peter and Jude). Some wickedly dismissed sexual immorality in the name of grace (Jude 4). The Apostle John contended against antinomian ideas in his first letter (1 John 2:4).
Throughout church history, antinomianism has appeared in less overt and perverse forms than that in which it appeared in the early church. Martin Luther wrote Against the Antinomians to refute the erroneous teaching of the neo-Lutheran antinomian Johannes Agricola. Edward Fisher wrote The Marrow of Modern Divinity to address the undercurrents of legalism and antinomianism in certain streams of the Puritan movement. This book was also at the center of a debate over antinomianism in the Church of Scotland in the eighteenth century.2 In the twentieth century, notable dispensational teachers promoted a form of antinomianism called “easy-believism.”
What are the main beliefs?
In the church, legalism surfaces when people teach or believe these ideas:

Get in by grace; stay in by law keeping. While most forms of legalism in the church deny strict merit in the sense that they affirm the necessity of grace, almost all insist that an individual’s good works are necessary for his final justification before God on judgment day. Roman Catholicism teaches that a person is initially justified at baptism;3 however, his final right standing before God is dependent on a life of continued adherence to religious rituals and Spirit-wrought good works.
Meriting righteousness. Legalism teaches that people can cooperate with God in order to gain a right standing by their works. Though this view does not involve strict merit, it still reflects a meritorious scheme of salvation. Legalism is often accompanied by a self-righteous spirit in those who advance it.

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