Founders Ministries

John’s Theological Conclusion: The Word Became Flesh

This article is part 9 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8).

Before John gives a narrative of his evidence, the signs and sayings that should produce belief, He gives a dense and powerful statement of the theological conclusion. We know from the beginning what he is driving toward.

“In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). John affirms that the living Word of God, that is, the Son of God, was there and the active agent of the events that began in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning.” Genesis goes on to say, “God created.” John’s assumption of the language of the Genesis narrative indicates that this Word was the God who created. This is reiterated in verse 3 when John writes with economy and force, “All things through him” (as the intermediate but co-equal agent carrying out the full intention of the Father) “came into being, and without him came into being not even one thing” (3). Again, this is stated in verse 10, “The entire created order with all of its symmetry, inter-relations, and reciprocal dependencies and attractions [cosmos] through Him, as the intermediate and effecting agent, came into being.”

The verb “was,” the imperfect of eimi, is used three times in verse 1 and again in verse 2. It implies absolute continual existence. After implying that the Word is eternal and is the God who created, John says the “Word was with God.” This is a strong word of association, “face to face with God” (1:1), with the definite article, “the God.” This identifies another personal being who also is eternally divine, even as the Word is. Immediately John continues with a statement about the Word, “the Word was God.” The Word is not that God identified specifically in the previous phrase, but is himself, in his essence, a person of the same nature as “the God” that he was, is, and will continue to be “with.” A. T. Robertson says that this phrase “presents a plane of equality and intimacy.” When the same phrase appears in 1 John 1:2, he calls it “the accusative of intimate fellowship.” Later this relation is verbalized as “in the bosom of the Father” (18).

Verse 2 reiterates the assertion of verse 1 in short-hand style.  “He,” –this one that has just been called God– “was,”—again the imperfect of eimi meaning having continuing eternal existence without a beginning—“in the beginning”—when everything that has a beginning began—‘with God”—face to face in essential union with a distinct divine person whom we learn is the Father. The perfect bond of intimate communion between Son and Father is the Holy Spirit (John 15:26; 16:14, 15).

Verses 4, 5, 9 engage the idea of the Word being the source, not only of physical created light, but of the inextinguishable rationality and inner-witness in men called the “image of God” (Genesis 1:26, 27). As Jesus is the uncreated image of God (Colossians 1:15), even the “brightness of his glory and the express image of his person” (Hebrews 1:3), so humanity by created constitution bears God’s image. The Son has created us as reflections of his own being. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (4). As the Father by eternal generation has given to the Son to have “life in himself” (John 5:26), so the Son has given us by creation life and light that is dependent upon him. The light is the rational morality and heart-law of humanity. The Word eternally exists as the true light (9), and every person that is conceived (that comes into being in this world), receives at that point the divine image as communicated by the eternal Word, the eternal radiance of the divine glory.

Sin, however, has darkened our perceptions. Bearers of the Light walk about in darkness and thus, though the light-giver was in the world, “the world did not know him” (10). Even his covenant people who had the fathers and the covenants and the written law did not receive him (11). Revelation of truth diminishes cognitive darkness but does not overcome the spiritual darkness of the soul. The personification of truth, light, faithfulness, glory, and grace came into the world and none of his image-bearers nor even his own covenanted people received him nor knew him.

Another divine operation, therefore, must open that heart and the rationality, banish the darkness and bring sinners of all sorts to belief. John asserts this happens by another birth in which we become “children of God, … not from bloods, nor of a will of the flesh, nor of a will of man, but of God having been begotten” (13). Here John rejects the genealogical pedigree of the Jews, the power of the human will, and all the powers present in humanity as a result of natural birth. This sinful darkness and spiritual deadness over Jew and Gentile can only be overcome by a birth from above.

Revelation of truth diminishes cognitive darkness but does not overcome the spiritual darkness of the soul.

In this tight framework, John has asserted the deity of the Word, the Word’s operation in creation, and his face-to-face connection with “the God.” Now the astounding mystery—this Word became flesh; he dwelt among men as a man. At the same time, he could not be absent of his eternal glory, but did not, nevertheless, exhibit the external form of that glory. The evidence of his deity was abundant, but its form was exhibited rarely.

John, nevertheless, claims, “We saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (14). He saw works of power befitting only God, but the glory he refers to here is the glory resident in the eternal relation between the Father and the Son. If his words do not arise from revelation, how else could John state these propositions with such certainty and in a didactic way? This kind of revealed insight into the historical phenomena experienced by the disciples was promised by Jesus when he said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.” Jesus then completes the trinitarian unity of knowledge and purpose by saying, “He will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:12-15).  Paul summarized by saying, “What eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man, God has revealed to us by his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9, 10). “In other ages,” Paul claimed, the mystery of Christ was not made known “as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:5).

Does this contradict John’s claims in 1 John? John says, “The One that was from the beginning, the One we have heard, the One we have seen with our eyes, the One we have gazed upon and our hands have touched, concerning the Word of life, … we are announcing to you, … and these things we are writing to you so that your joy may be completely full” (1 John 1:1, 3, 4 ). It is true that John saw all these things, heard the words of the Word, felt the flesh of the Word made flesh, and considered all this a sufficient demonstration of the actions, claims, and teachings of Jesus. For such clarity of perception of these transcendent historically certain truths, however, John had to partake of a two-fold work of the Holy Spirit.

First, he was the recipient of the revelation Jesus promised from the Spirit. His assertions about the deity of Jesus are not guesswork nor the mere product of rational deduction from abundance of evidence.  Though consistent with the evidence, John’s propositions are revealed truth.

Second, he received the Spiritually-generated true-seeing, true-tasting, true- hearing. He had experienced what Jesus said after the feeding of the 5000, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). He had experienced not only the revelation of cognitive propositions (like Balaam [Numbers 23:1-12]), but the internal apprehension of the truth taught by the Spirit, unlike Balaam (Jude 11, 19). True believers will not believe antichristian lies that deny either the deity or the humanity of Christ for they “have the anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things” (1 John 2:20). In reference to the particular knowledge of the Father and the Son, the Spirit anoints his chosen with that knowledge. Confirming this John wrote, “And the anointing that you received from him abides in you, even so you have no need that anyone teach you. But as his anointing teaches you concerning everything, and is true and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him” (1 John 2:27).

True belief consists of several constituent elements. First, the historical events effecting redemption must have taken place. “The Word became flesh and set himself up as a tabernacle among us” (John 1:14). He “bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24) and “died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). He was buried, but “now is Christ risen from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Having made purification for sins, he has sat down at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 1:3). Second, true belief accepts the meaning of these things as taught infallibly by revelation to chosen messengers (1 Timothy 2:5-7). Truth and error are divided along the lines of apostolic declaration and contrary opinion (1 John 4:5, 6). Third, true belief emerges with a restoration of the true light to the soul by the glory of Christ’s gospel, by a spiritual application of the historical truth that Jesus appeared as God in the flesh and accomplished his assigned work of redemption. Those who don’t believe have been blinded by Satan so that “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” does not enlighten them. On the other hand, those who believe are the recipients of an effectual operation of Christ Himself, who “commanded light to shine out of darkness” at creation. He does this through the Spirit [for in this work “the Lord is the Spirit”] and “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:17, 18; 4:4-6).

We “Remember Jesus Christ” when we affirm, on the basis of apostolic revelation, and with a heart full of love and adoration, without a shadow of doubt that the Word who was with the Father, and was himself eternally of the essence of the Father, became flesh.

This article is part 9 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ.

Join us at the 2024 National Founders Conference on January 18-20 as we consider what it means to “Remember Jesus Christ” under the teaching of Tom Ascol, Joel Beeke, Costi Hinn, Phil Johnson, Conrad Mbewe and Travis Allen.

God Shall Supply

My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

God shall all your need supply,

Ask not how, nor question why.

All you need, whate’r it be,

All the need you cannot see.

Need for grace to conquer sin,

Need for power to fight to win,

Need for patience every day,

Need for trust when dark the way.

Need for healing for each pain,

Need for cleansing from each stain,

Need for Love to make life sweet,

Need for charity complete.

Need for pardon for each fall,

Need for mercy most of all,

Need for grace to live or die,

God shall all your need supply.


Mary Remembers Jesus Christ

This article is part 8 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7).

To remember Jesus Christ, we must affirm his deity. To reject the true eternal deity of the singular person, Jesus of Nazareth, is to deny him and bring on us the consequence that he will deny us. This mysterious reality that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, was at the same time and in the same person the Son of God constitutes our redemption and the source of our eternal worship.

Twice Luke tells us that Mary kept certain things “in her heart.” (Luke 2:19, 51). On the first occasion, Luke adds the words, “pondered them.” Both the events and the words that accompanied the event were too large for immediate comprehension. But that she kept them in her heart means that she remembered them intensely, she sought more expanded understanding of what had happened and what she had been told. Not only deeper cognition was needed, but a spirit of adoration and worship fitting for the eternal wonder of the event. 

As a virgin, she was told that the Holy Spirit would come upon her to impregnate her in order to bear a child that she would call Jesus (Luke 1:31). He would be called “the Son of the Most High” (1:32). She learned, therefore, that not only does the Holy Spirit make her pregnant with a child according to her seed to be established and nurtured in her womb, but the “Most High” Himself, God the Father, will overshadow her simultaneously with the Spirit’s coming upon her. The result of that is that not only will her child conceived by the Holy Spirit in her womb be a man called Jesus, but as the result of the overshadowing of the “power of the Most High,” the Holy One conceived in her would be called “the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).  

To reject the true eternal deity of the singular person, Jesus of Nazareth, is to deny him and bring on us the consequence that he will deny us.

Within the time span of a few minutes, the leading mysteries of classical orthodoxy were present in the very body of Mary. The Trinity and the duality of natures in the single person of Christ were concentrated in a moment in the angel’s announcement and in her own body. The fulfilling powers of redemptive history operated in perfect harmony to assure that “her seed” would bruise the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15) and destroy “him who had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14). Paul said it succinctly, “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4). Her womb was the location of the “fullness of the time,” and Holy Spirit, Holy Father, and Holy Son all converged, as it were, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” to bring into the world the Redeemer. This Redeemer could, and did, effect forgiveness, procure righteousness, rob Satan’s fold, reconcile God and sinners, overthrow death as sin’s boon companion, and fit his people for heaven. The glory of the Father would be most fully and beautifully expressed when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10, 11). Just as was announced the name “Jesus” would designate the Savior and Lord. His humanity in the womb of Mary was due to the Holy Spirit’s impregnation of her seed; his deity as Son of God comes from the Most High’s extension of his eternal generation of the Son onto this fertile egg; his singularity of person with a complex combination of natures came from the Son of God’s condescension to take the form of a servant and be made in the likeness of men in Mary’s womb, though eternally he was “equal with God” (Philippians 2:6-8).

When she went to visit her relative, Elizabeth, Elizabeth exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed in the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). This child was indeed the fruit of her womb, a seed of David but also was the Lord.

Mary’s immediate response to the words of Elizabeth were, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. … He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy” (Luke 1:46, 47, 54). When John the Baptist was born, Zacharias saw this child as “the prophet of the Highest,” as the one who would “go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways” This birth of John was in concert with the coming birth of “the horn of salvation in the house of His servant David” (Luke 1:76,69). These events were the action of God, “to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham” (Luke 172, 73). We remember Jesus Christ, because God remembers his covenant. In remembering, we confess with the mouth and believe in the heart the Person and the pre-ordained events by which we are “delivered from the hands of our enemies,” and that we “might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life” (Luke 1:74, 75). 

We remember Jesus Christ, because God remembers his covenant.

When the Shepherds heard the speech of the angel, they learned that a child was born in Bethlehem who was “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Without doubt, this was told to Mary by the shepherds. The accumulation of titles of deity for this child surely startled and puzzled her, but she believed them. “Mary kept these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Upon his presentation in the temple after the days of Mary’s purification, Simeon, under the immediate direction of the Holy Spirit and anticipation that he would see “the Lord’s Christ,” took the child and called him the Lord’s Salvation, with the affirmation that the child would be a “light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 30, 32). Upon that, Joseph and Mary “marveled at those things which were spoken of Him” (Luke 2:33). Marveling, pondering, and keeping are necessary and helpful responses to these events that are the fulcrum of time and eternity.

When he went to the temple during the week of Passover at twelve years of age, He took the position of a teacher, staying there several days beyond the week. He had gathered a fascinated and amazed group of scholars and teachers around him, answering their questions. As Joseph and his mother approached him, oppressed by worry at his whereabouts, He responded, “Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” They were puzzled at the calmness and confidence of his demeanor and “did not understand the statement which he spoke to them” (Luke 2:49, 50). In spite of not understanding the fullness of Jesus’ meaning and how his business in the temple was his “Father’s business,” Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).

The “mystery of godliness” that “he appeared in flesh” (1 Timothy 3:15) will never be exhausted of its wonder and mystery. It is infinite as an expression of wisdom; it is inexhaustible as matter for worship now and in heaven; it is full as the substance of the covenant of redemption. The interpenetration of all the persons of the Trinity both in their fitting personal operations and their singularity of purpose, power, essence, mind, and will is startling to the soul. These actions of God with their ontological implications press the intellect with its insufficiency in investigating the ways of God. But the “hope of eternal life” is filled to overflowing with the prospects of living in the presence of this God and of observing and participating in the praise and worship of the man Jesus Christ in the eternal glory of his deity and his work of redemption. “Remember Jesus Christ.”

This article is part 8 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ.

Join us at the 2024 National Founders Conference on January 18-20 as we consider what it means to “Remember Jesus Christ” under the teaching of Tom Ascol, Joel Beeke, Paul Washer, Phil Johnson, Conrad Mbewe and Travis Allen.

Shrewd Money for the Sons of Light: How the Church Can Use Bitcoin for Eternal Purposes in a Fallen World

For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:8b-9 ESV)

It is the year 1452. A friend has invited you to attend a lecture on how to spread the gospel and build up the saints more effectively. When you arrive at the lecture, you discover not a theology lecture but a presentation about a newfangled technology called the printing press. You get up and leave in disappointment.

Don’t make that mistake today. Bitcoin is a newfangled technology, but it could potentially have as much impact on the world as the printing press. Christians in particular should be paying attention because of its near- and long-term implications for the church. The printing press enabled the church to disseminate information freely. Bitcoin may enable the church to use its resources freely to make friends for the kingdom (Luke 16:9).

Media coverage of Bitcoin and crypto may have left you confused, intimidated, turned off, or just totally indifferent. So why should Christians give any consideration to Bitcoin? First of all, Bitcoin forces us to think deeply about money, and Christians should have a robust biblical understanding of money. Second, Bitcoin has monetary properties that should be of interest to Christians both defensively and offensively—so we can be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves in our present society.  And third, our current monetary system is broken, and it is rapidly being weaponized against Christians and others. The problems with our current system give us good reasons to consider our options.

We need to understand money before we can fairly evaluate the role of Bitcoin. An obvious place to start is Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” This passage teaches us more than meets the eye.

Why does Paul talk about money here instead of possessions? He recognizes that money is dangerous because money is incredibly powerful. In fact, money may be the most important technology ever devised. Economists sometimes define money as the “most salable good”. Money is in a special category because it can always be converted into whatever possession or service that you want the most. And even if you don’t want anything right now, you know you’ll want something soon, and money can store value now and buy it for you later. People will always accept money in a transaction because it is readily exchanged for whatever product or service we want the most. Because of that, it is always as desirable and valuable to us as the product or service we want the most.

Think about what a blessing money is when used rightly. It frees us up to pursue our individual callings to rule and subdue according to our own specific gifts and opportunities. We don’t have to spend all our time learning how to make and do everything we need. Instead, we can focus on developing our own special skills and interests and then trade with others to obtain other goods and services we need. In turn, we can bless others with our special skills. Because money serves as a medium of exchange, we can trade effortlessly without the hassle of finding someone who not only has what we want but also wants what we have. When we go to the doctor, we don’t have to worry whether or not he’ll accept the tomatoes we’ve grown in our garden as payment. Without money we would be stuck in subsistence living with very little reason to develop special skills or machinery to bless others outside our own family.

Money gives us a means of saving for the future. Scripture calls us to set aside savings for tithing (1 Cor. 16:2) and for passing down an inheritance (Prov. 13:22). Money also allows us to save for uncertainties so that we can provide for our families (1 Tim. 5:8) and share with others (Eph. 4:28).

However, Paul understands that the very fact that money is so powerful means that it is also incredibly dangerous. It is not dangerous because it is inherently evil. The Bible has many positive things to say about the right use of money. Jesus used it multiple times in his teaching in positive ways, and Scripture provides many examples and directions concerning lawful monetary transactions. In some ways money is like sex. When used rightly, it is a great gift. But it can very easily capture our sinful desires and lead us into all kinds of evil. This is why Scripture repeatedly warns us about the dangers of money and riches.

Money is not only dangerous personally; it is dangerous societally. We need to apply our doctrine of total depravity to the way money operates in the public sphere. Money that’s easy to channel will be channeled for personal gain. Money that’s easy to steal will be stolen. Money that’s easy to use to control others will be used to control others. Money that’s easy to create and spend will be created and spent. All of these things are happening with our current monetary system, and it leads to massive evils in our society.

The ability to use money freely is essential to our freedom of speech, our freedom of religion, and our freedom of assembly:

We need to pay for printing and other technologies that amplify speech.

We need to pay for pastors and missionaries and the functioning of our churches.

We need to pay for places to meet and worship, for electricity bills, etc.

We need to save for large purchases and projects and for unforeseen expenses.

At times we may need the freedom to flee unjust rulers and evil circumstances (Prov. 22:3, Luke 21:20-21).

It should not be surprising, then, to find that Satan exploits weaknesses in our monetary system and weaknesses in human nature with respect to money to attack and oppose the church, its mission, and its people. We need to be fully aware of his schemes.

The Federal Reserve controls the monetary policy of the United States. The Board of Governors consists of seven members. That’s a lot of power concentrated in the hands of a few people. They have the ability to expand the money supply by creating incentives for borrowing. When the money supply increases, the money you have in the bank loses value because it’s a smaller fraction of the total. Printing more dollars doesn’t create more real resources in the world that we can buy. It simply divides the claim on those fixed resources into more and therefore smaller pieces, making each dollar shrink in value and causing price inflation.

The federal government can sell bonds to finance spending, and this indirectly creates new money. Congress doesn’t even have to raise taxes to finance new spending. So our already bloated government grows without the discipline of imposing more taxes through the legislative process. In addition, the government exercises a stranglehold on our savings. Most of our money is in the custody of banks, which are subject to all kinds of rules that hinder our ability to use our money freely. Technically, when you deposit your money in a bank, the bank becomes the legal owner of the funds but has a contractual obligation to pay you back when you demand it. Governments—and more recently woke corporations—are increasingly using their power over our accounts to manipulate and punish us.

Our current monetary system is a ticking time bomb. The government owes more money than our country’s total economic output in a year, and we’re constantly digging the hole deeper. There are only three options: massively cutting spending, massively raising taxes, or borrowing more money to pay the interest and allowing inflation to run so they can pay the debt (or just the interest) in cheaper future dollars. We know there’s no political will for the first two options. And at some point the public is going to catch on to the inflation option. So our current system is in massive trouble.

We need better money. Students of the history and philosophy of money have identified several characteristics that make sound money. Sound money must be hard to make, or scarce, so people won’t just keep making more and dilute its value. Sound money must be permissionless so that it’s truly yours to use. If you own it you should be able to use it without someone else having to approve how you use it. We know that our current money fails in both of these respects. Our current money is inflationary, which leads in essence to theft of our savings over time. It is also permissioned, which limits our property rights and makes us vulnerable to our funds being frozen or confiscated if the government or a financial corporation decides they don’t like what we’re doing or what we stand for.

In addition to scarcity and permissionlessness, sound money should be easy to authenticate so that transacting with counterfeits is difficult. Sound money needs to be fungible—units are interchangeable. It should be divisible so you can use the same units for very large and very small transactions. Sound money needs to be durable so that it can store value over a long period. It should also have some level of portability to enable transactions between distant parties. An asset that has all these properties will make great money. But it must still grow in social acceptance to be widely useful as money, since money is inherently a social phenomenon.

Bitcoin is strong exactly where our dollar-based fiat system is weak. It is absolutely scarce and permissionless. Bitcoin is a system that creates digital units that can’t be counterfeited. They can be created only on a schedule that will gradually top out at a total of 21 million units.

How does Bitcoin accomplish this? It uses a distributed ledger, or blockchain, of all bitcoin transactions, duplicated many thousands of times in Bitcoin nodes all over the world. Any computer can participate as a Bitcoin node in verifying transactions or mining (finding a specific numerical pattern) for the remaining supply of bitcoin. The only requirements are that the results must be consistent with the existing blockchain and they must follow the established rules for verifying transactions.

This decentralized ledger and validation process means no one can rewrite the history—and therefore the ownership—without being detected. That prevents new coins from being created, and it prevents the same coins from being spent twice. Any node that tries to change the rules of the system will just be ignored. Bitcoin is ingeniously designed to incentivize its own continued survival and growth and has been doing so for almost 15 years.

You can hold your own bitcoin just by having a secret code called a private key. It is mathematically impossible to steal your bitcoin without access to the private key. So the government can’t confiscate your bitcoin, and the bank can’t freeze it. You could literally leave the country with a memorized code or the number hidden on a piece of paper and access your funds from another country. This is an ideal solution for Christians who may suddenly have to flee persecution.

Because of its digital nature, Bitcoin has all the other properties of sound money as well—verifiable, fungible, divisible, durable, and portable. In many ways it is a nearly ideal money. The only thing Bitcoin lacks is wide adoption. Bitcoin is still difficult to use because it is not widely accepted or trusted yet. Furthermore, the lack of large-scale acceptance causes it to be regarded as more of a speculative asset, which leads to a great deal of price volatility. The price of bitcoin has seen massive swings over its 15-year history, and that is enough to scare many people away. This is not a weakness of the design of Bitcoin itself but simply an evidence of where it is in the adoption cycle. No one would criticize the concept of telephones just because there were few people you could call in the early years.

People often ask how bitcoin can be worth anything. Market participants generally prefer to use a common medium of exchange rather than barter, which creates a demand for a reliable medium of exchange. Bitcoin is worth something because a well-designed medium of exchange is very valuable for free market transactions, and it becomes more useful and valuable the more people recognize its superior monetary properties. The market already recognizes the value of the whole supply of bitcoin at over half a trillion dollars. Bitcoin will grow in utility as more and more people discover and use it, and that will increase its market value.

Bitcoin is often confused with crypto, which is an unfortunate distraction. Crypto has become a catch-all term for all the technologies, projects, and digital tokens that have been inspired by Bitcoin and its core technology. But Bitcoin is not crypto. Putting them in the same category is like talking about the internet and a cat video app in the same conversation. They’re not the same. Bitcoin represents the invention of absolute scarcity. It is the original crypto asset. Over 23,000 crypto assets have been created, and most of them have already failed. Bitcoin has about the same market value as all the other active crypto assets combined. Many of them are scams and Ponzi schemes; bright lights attract big bugs. The relatively few that are serious are mostly trying to solve different problems from Bitcoin. Bitcoin was developed to solve the problem of money, which may be the most powerful technology known to man. It is far more important—and different from—a myriad of lesser financial and other problems that crypto is trying to solve, like a new way to take out a loan or a way to stake ownership of a JPEG.

Bitcoin can help us both defensively and offensively. On the defensive front, Bitcoin addresses three areas of concern about our savings:

The inflationary nature of our system makes it impossible to preserve value in the long term by merely holding dollars. Our savings become gradually less valuable over time.

The fragility of our system due to inflation, borrowing, and interest rate manipulation by the Fed exposes us to the risk of losing our savings in a bank failure—either our individual bank or the banking system as a whole.

The custody of our funds by banks and financial institutions like Paypal expose us to the risk of having our funds confiscated or frozen as Christians and churches are more and more treated as enemies of society.

Bitcoin can be regarded as an insurance policy against all of these scenarios. Bitcoin is non-inflationary. It can also be safely self-custodied by holding a private key. Bitcoin held in self-custody is not exposed to institutional or system-wide collapses, and it protects from government or corporate interference with our assets.

On the offensive front, Bitcoin is a more just, sounder monetary system than our present system. It is designed with a better understanding of fallen human nature. No central authority can create money in this system, and the final amount of money is fixed. Bitcoin can’t be used to grow government without explicit taxation. No one can manipulate others for their own gain by threatening to take or freeze our bitcoin. With bitcoin, people can transact with one another without first having to develop trust. So individual callings can be pursued, specialization can grow, and beneficial commerce can increase with less friction. Love for our neighbor calls us to advocate for more equitable institutions and technologies such as Bitcoin.

No monetary asset has ever been more open and equitable than Bitcoin. Anyone can look at the code and verify the rules. These rules are the same for all. Anyone can set up a node and verify bitcoin transactions. Anyone can mine bitcoin. Bitcoin has no insiders, no president, no board. It protects people from the rich and powerful and blesses society with near-frictionless transactions that require no knowledge or trust between parties. Its current value is real, and its potential future value to society is inestimable.

It is not unlikely that we will experience significant turmoil or a collapse of our broken monetary system. In that circumstance, Christians who understand sound money may be able to take the lead in ushering in a sounder monetary system. Having and understanding bitcoin will give Christians the opportunity to demonstrate mercy to those who suffer from this and to point to a better alternative. Just as the printing press unleashed and protected access to truth, Bitcoin has the potential to unleash and protect access to money and property.

Because Bitcoin is still in a very early, immature phase of adoption, the price can be quite volatile. In fact, Bitcoin has lost over 80% of its value three different times in its 15-year history. This creates a significant challenge for those who would like to employ Bitcoin as a savings vehicle. Two considerations can help us here. First, even though the price is quite volatile, the general trend has been significantly positive. The price has tended to move in a four-year cycle that corresponds to a programmed reduction every four years in the rate at which bitcoin is mined. In the history of Bitcoin, the price has always been higher over every possible four-year period. That is, you could have bought bitcoin at any time in its history and four years later it would be worth more. In most cases, it was worth dramatically more. Because of this, bitcoin is best used as a long-term savings vehicle, with the intention that it won’t be needed for at least four years.

The second consideration is that bitcoin doesn’t have to be your entire savings. A 5% allocation can be regarded as an insurance policy. If the price falls dramatically, you can sleep at night knowing that only 5% of your funds are subject to this fluctuation. On the other hand, if our entire banking system implodes, that 5% hedge might grow dramatically in value as people rush to an alternative system. Since the supply doesn’t increase with growing demand, the only possible result of increased demand would be an increase in price. 

Christians need to think more deeply, biblically, and shrewdly about money. Our monetary system is sick, unsuitable for use in a fallen world, and increasingly weaponized against Christians and Christian organizations. Bitcoin provides a promising way to defend ourselves as well as provide a positive alternative.

Be aware that this article is only intended for your education. It is not financial advice. Action should only be taken after due consideration, study, and discussion with a trusted financial professional.

Bitcoin has many facets and implications that can’t be adequately covered in a single article. Anyone interested in Bitcoin should undertake a process of self-education that precedes any financial decisions. If you would like to explore Bitcoin further, I recommend these resources:Thank God for Bitcoin: The Creation, Corruption and Redemption of Money, Jimmy Song et al., Whispering Candle, 2020

Thank God for Bitcoin. An organization for educating and equipping Christians to use Bitcoin for the glory of God and the good of people everywhere

The Bullish Case for Bitcoin, Vijay Boyapati, 2021. You can also access an extremely helpful article-length version of the book

The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking, Saifedean Ammous, Wiley, 2018

Bitcoin and the Bible Podcast, — a series of 26 episodes that masterfully explores the rationale for Bitcoin from a Christian worldview, the economic arguments, the practical implications, and the mechanics of getting into Bitcoin

I Am Debtor

When this passing world is done,

When has sunk yon glaring sun,

When we stand with Christ in glory,

Looking o’er life’s finished story;

Then, Lord, shall I fully know—

Not till then—how much I owe.

When I stand before the throne,

Dressed in beauty not my own;

When I see Thee as Thou art,

Love Thee with unsinning heart;

Then, Lord, shall I fully know—

Not till then—how much I owe.

Even on earth, as through a glass,

Darkly, let Thy glory pass;

Make forgiveness feel so sweet,

Make Thy Spirit’s help so meet;

Even on earth, Lord, make me know

Something of how much I owe.

Chosen not for good in me,

Wakened up from wrath to flee;

Hidden in the Saviour’s side,

By the Spirit sanctified;

Teach me, Lord, on earth to show,

By my love, how much I owe.

– Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 1837

The Rule of Faith and the Apostles’ Creed

This article is part 8 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7).

Parts of this post were published on this site in 2016.

What we find on the pages of the New Testament concerning the true humanity of Christ and the concerns stated by the Apostles concerning those that deny it continued into the second and third centuries in a variety of forms of Gnosticism. Among other problems presented by Gnosticism, two embrace all the others. One, salvation comes through intuitive knowledge resident within certain spiritual persons. Two, the world of matter is intrinsically evil and was generated by an inferior deity. Implications include a denial of the final authority of the written word of the apostles and a denial of the full humanity of Christ, particularly the redemptive work accomplished in his flesh. In short, they denied all that Paul included in his admonition to “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of a seed of David, according to my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8).

In response to the insidious influence of this dualistic mysticism, the post-apostolic church developed the “rule of faith.” The various recensions of the rule of faith eventually were synthesized into a statement that most succinctly, clearly, and economically expressed universally received Christian truth known as the Apostle’s Creed. The finalized text of the Apostles’ Creed appeared in the work of Pirminius (d ca. 753) in A. D. 750. Pirminius used the succinct outline of biblical assertions to give instructions in Christian doctrine and morals to recently baptized Christians. Its twelve articles, according to pious legend, were given in order by the twelve apostles beginning with Peter and ending with Matthias. The creed is trinitarian. 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried:  He descended into hell: the third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;  From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the flesh, the life eternal. Amen.

One can see the immediate significance, in light of the claims of Gnosticism, of phrases such as “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the flesh.” What claims our energy presently are those early numbered 3 through 8, beginning “And in Jesus Christ,” and ending with “judge the living and dead.” Its affirmative sentences give a simple reflection of the facts of redemptive history as presented in biblical revelation. One can see in the focus on Christ’s incarnation and redemptive labors in the human nature as of central concern. As we found it in its incipient stage in the New Testament, Gnosticism in its denial of the true humanity of Christ had come to full flower.

Likewise, in the letters of Ignatius at the end of the first decade of the second century, we find a deep and clear commitment to Trinitarian doctrine, the real humanity as well as true divine sonship of Jesus Christ, the efficacy of his true bodily suffering and resurrection, the person of the Holy Spirit, and the necessity of unity of doctrine in the church. He warned the church at Trallia, to “partake only of Christian food, and keep away from every strange plant, which is heresy.” “There is only one physician,” Ignatius insisted, “who is both flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering and then beyond it, Jesus Christ our Lord.” [ Holmes, 88.]. Again, focused on the false teachers that presented Christ as a phantom-like creature, Ignatius proclaimed, “For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit.” [Holmes, 92] In writing to the Trallians, Ignatius gives evidence of a confessional formula similar to this creed. His language shows that he understood the trickery of the verbal circumlocutions used by heretics in seeming to exalt Christ while in truth they denied both his true humanity and his eternal deity. Note how Ignatius seeks to cut through their façade. “Be deaf, therefore, whenever anyone speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the family of David, who was the son of Mary, who really was born, who both ate and drank, who really was persecuted under Pontius Pilate, who really was crucified, and died while those in heaven and on earth and under the earth looked on; who, moreover, really was raised from the dead when his Father raised him up, who—his Father, that is, in the same way will likewise raise us up in Christ Jesus who believe in him, apart from whom we have no true life.” [Holmes, 100]. 

Throughout the writings of Justin Martyr (ca. 150) we find doctrinal assertions and phrases that show his familiarity with an early development of the “rule of faith” and his ability to apply those doctrinal principles in a variety of situations. For example, in his first Apology, Justin argued, “From all that has been said an intelligent man can understand why, through the power of the Word, in accordance with the will of God, the Father and Lord of all, he [the Word, or Son] was born as a man, was named Jesus, was crucified, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven.”  [Apology, 46] Scattered throughout his Apology, we find these phrases “Jesus Christ our Savior was made flesh through the word of God, and took flesh and blood for out salvation.” Another says, “by the will of God he became man,… he came as a man among men.” In showing the truthfulness of the prophets, Justin narrated, “In these books, then, of the prophets we have found it predicted that Jesus our Christ would come, born of  a virgin, growing up to manhood, and healing every disease and every sickness and raising the dead, and hated, and unrecognized and crucified, and dying and rising again and ascending into heaven, and both being and being called Son of God.” [Apology, 44] In his second Apology, Justin wrote, “For next to God [the Father], we worship and love the logos who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God, since also He became man for our sakes, that, becoming partaker of our sufferings, he might also bring us healing.”

So it is in the writings of Irenaeus (ca. 180), who in writing Against Heresies, said, “The church . . . received from the apostles and their disciples the faith in one God, the Father almighty, ‘who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is,’ and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, incarnate for our salvation, and in the Holy Ghost, who preached through the prophets the dispensations of God and the comings and the birth of the virgin and the passion and the resurrection from the dead, and the reception into heaven of the beloved, Christ Jesus our Lord, in the flesh, and his coming from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise up all flesh of all mankind, that unto Christ Jesus our Lord and God our Saviour and King, according to the good pleasure of the invisible Father, ‘every knee should bow, of things in the heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess’ him, and to execute just judgment upon all.” In describing how in the person of Christ we discover both god and man, Irenaeus wrote, “His word is out Lord Jesus Christ who in these last times became man among men, the he might unite the end with the beginning, that is, Man with God..” Later Irenaeus again summarized a discussion in saying “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the word of God, of his boundless love, became what we are that he might make us what he himself is.” Irenaeus’s description of Christ’s incarnation includes a description as to how each stage of human life was sanctified by him from infancy to adulthood. This led to his statement on recapitulation in which the unity of his person in both natures, God and man, is essential. “Therefore the Lord confesses himself to be the Son of man, restoring in himself that original man from whom is derived that part of creation which is born of woman; that as it was through  a man that our race was overcome and went down to death, so through a victorious man we may rise up to life; and as through a man death won the prize of victory over us, so through a man we may win the prize of victory over death. … He has been united with his own handiwork and made man, capable of suffering. …. He existed always with the Father; but he was incarnate and made man.”

 Tertullian (ca. 225) in his Prescriptions Against Heretics put much confidence in the reception of “The Rule of Faith” given, at least in its essential content, by Christ himself and proclaimed in the apostolic teaching, preserved in Scripture, and retained in the teaching of the apostolic churches. He wavered not in his conviction that “Christ laid down one definite system of truth which the world must believe without qualification, and which we must seek precisely in order to believe it when we find it.” He went on to report that the Rule of Faith is “that by which we believe that there is but one God, who is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced everything from nothing through his Word, sent forth before all things; that this Word is called his Son, and in the name of God was seen in divers ways by the patriarchs, was ever heard in the prophets and finally was brought down by the Spirit and Power of God the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, was born of her and lived as Jesus Christ; who thereafter proclaimed a new law and a new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles, was crucified, on the third day rose again, was caught up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father; that he sent in his place the power of the Holy Spirit to guide believers; that he will come with glory to take the saints up into the fruition of the life eternal and the heavenly promises and to judge the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both good and evil with restoration of their flesh.” 

Augustine (ca. 421) used the order of the creed in writing his Enchiridion probably alternating between the version of Hippo and the version of Milan for precise wording. The Creed served as the basis for several other writings and sermons. He pointed to the Lord’s Prayer and “the Creed” as easily memorized and constituting the sum of faith, hope and love. “Because the human race was oppressed with great misery because of sin, and stood in need of the divine mercy, the prophet foretold the time of God’s grace and said Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Jl 2:32). That is the reason for the prayer. But when the apostle quoted this testimony of the prophet in order actually to proclaim God’s grace, he immediately added But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? (Rom 10:14). That is why we have the Creed.”

Having its basis in the biblical revelation of the Trinity and the focus on the work of Christ in his incarnation, these teachers shared the truth of the apostolic revelation that had Christ not been truly like us in all things pertaining to our humanity, the corrupting power of original sin excepted, he could in no sense be a redeemer of this race. While Gnostics such as Valentinus sought to deny the true humanity of Christ and Marcion sought to destroy the unity between the God of creation and the God of redemption, biblically sound Christian teachers found these synthesized assertions helpful in exposing the faulty steps of heresy. They focused on the unity of Scripture, the unity of God, the truth and necessity of the incarnation, the reality of Christ’s fully redemptive death and resurrection accomplished in his human nature in indivisible unity with his eternal sonship. The presence of the Holy Spirit, the unity of the church, the resurrection of the just and the unjust, and the reality of eternal states of each gave biblical symmetry to the whole of the truths confessed. In order to defend, teach, and confess the truth as well as test its existence in others this creed served the cause of orthodoxy well and still stands as one of the truly ecumenical expressions of biblical faith. 

Those who saw the “Rule of Faith” as faithful to Scripture, who served in the development of this rule into the Apostles’ Creed did so in obedience to the Pauline admonition, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of a seed of David, according to my gospel.”

Join us at the 2024 National Founders Conference on January 18-20 as we consider what it means to “Remember Jesus Christ” under the teaching of Tom Ascol, Joel Beeke, Paul Washer, Phil Johnson, Conrad Mbewe and Travis Allen.

Clement of Rome Remembers Jesus Christ

This article is part 7 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6).

Possibly, the earliest post-Pauline, post apostolic literature that we have is in the letter of Clement of Rome to the Church in Corinth. Most likely this was written around 95-96 A. D, and persons appointed by the apostles still held office in the church but were being pressed out of leadership by a younger generation. Clement wrote, “For we see that you have removed certain people, their good conduct notwithstanding, from the ministry which had been held in honor by them blamelessly.” [Michael Holmes, Ed. and Rev. The Apostolic Fathers, second edition, Baker Book House, 1989, 53] Clement lamented that because of one or two persons, the ancient church of the Corinthians was “rebelling against its elders” thereby heapjng “blasphemies upon the name of the Lord” and by their “stupidity” were creating danger for themselves. [Holmes, 55] 

In order to counter this egregious violation of Christian fraternity and even apostolic authority, Clement reached deeply into the theology of the Bible as seen most clearly in the condescension of Christ to encourage that church to correct their error. In the process of his argument, we find evidence of strong development of a comprehensive biblical theology, trinitarian theology, and the centrality of Christ’s having assumed human nature to bring to fruition the eternal purpose of God toward his elect. The reality of the full human nature of Christ is one of the fundamental assumptions of the argument. A creedal orderliness is present in the structure and content of this letter.

The basic Trinitarian structure of the implicit creed surrounded by certain affirmations of the peculiar operations of each person of the Trinity may be seen in several passages in Clement’s sober and stately style. Clement counters their pride by calling attention to examples of great humility in Scripture, punctuating the entire discussion with Christ’s example. The emphases on Christ’s work in his human nature are prominent. Formerly in the early days of the church, not only were they blessed with an “abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but they gave heed to Christ’s words, stored them in their hearts, “kept his sufferings before your eyes.” [29] Again, to counter the recent surge of haughty self-importance, “Let us fix our eyes on the blood of Christ and understand how precious it is to his Father.” [32] Clement looked at Rahab’s scarlet thread as “making it clear that through the blood of the Lord redemption will come to all who believe.” [35] Clement quotes Isaiah 53:1-12 as an illustration of his observation, “The majestic scepter of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, did not come with the pomp of arrogance or pride … but in humility, just as the Holy Spirit spoke concerning him.” [36] He then summarized his point by saying, “If the Lord so humbled himself, what should we do who through him have come under the yoke of his grace?” [37, 38] 

Clement urges peace and harmony in the church, because peace and harmony are “especially abundant to us who have taken refuge in his compassionate mercies through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Again, Christ in his humanity has become the guarantee that God’s purpose of blessing his people will certainly come to fruition: “Let us consider, dear friends, how the Master continually points out to us the coming resurrection of which he made the Lord Jesus Christ the firstfruit when he raised him from the dead.” [42]. Looking at Jacob as a man of blessings, Clement affirms, “From him comes the Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.” [45] Our salvation is, in fact, “Jesus Christ, the High Priest of our offerings, the Guardian and Helper of our weakness.” [48] In encouraging and commending love as the cement for true fellowship, harmony, and humility in the church, Clement again pointed to the condescension and love of Christ in taking our nature to gain for us what we lost in our foolish pride: “Because of the love he had for us, Jesus Christ our Lord, in accordance with God’s will, gave his blood for us, and his flesh for our flesh, and his life for our lives.” [56] Such a strong emphasis on substitution would be irrelevant, in fact impossible, apart from The Son of God’s coming by true human birth in a true human nature.

 Always resident in each argument of the centrality of Christ in his true fleshly suffering is a reminder of the trinitarian arrangement of gospel truth. “The apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus the Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the apostles are from Christ. Both, therefore, came of the will of God in good order. Having therefore received their orders and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and full of faith in the Word of God, they went forth with the firm assurance that the Holy Spirit gives, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God was about to come.” [Holmes, 51.]

Knowledge of these things does not come through any private intuition but from the very oracles of God,–“For thus says the Holy Word” [59]. The apostle Paul already had written to this church about their tendency to factions—“Truly he wrote to you in the Spirit about himself and Cephas, and Apollos.” Rather than being contentious toward one another, they should be “contentious and zealous” about the “things that relate to salvation.” For these things “You have searched the Scriptures which are true, which were given by the Holy Spirit; you know that nothing unrighteous or counterfeit is written in them.” [53] By them the church should know that only the ungodly thrust out the holy. As Clement multiplied the scriptural examples of God’s blessings to the humble, and the close alignment that humility and holiness have with each other, he inserted, “For you know, and know well, the sacred Scriptures, dear friends, and you have searched into the oracles of God. We write these things, therefore, merely as a reminder.” [57]

Clement regularly points, not only to the voluntary humility of Jesus Christ for our salvation, but to the final glory of Christ. The harmony of the entire creation shows God’s goodness to all things “but especially abundantly to us who have taken refuge in his compassionate mercies, through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the majesty for ever and ever. Amen.” [40]. Election moves logically toward a display of Christ’s glory: “This declaration of blessedness was pronounced upon those who have been chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” [56]. Clement includes election, trinitarian perichoresis as actuating the substance of faith, and biblical authority in a statement of Christ’s salvation as an exhibition of the glory of the Father: “For as God lives, and as the Lord Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Spirit who are the faith and the hope of the elect, so surely will the one who with humility and constant gentleness has kept without regret the ordinances and commandments given by God be enrolled and included among the number of those who are saved through Jesus Christ, through whom is the glory to him for ever and ever. Amen.” [61]. 

These issues are related again in a prayer of Clement, that “the Creator of the universe may keep intact the specified number of his elect throughout the whole world, through his beloved servant Jesus Christ, through whom he called us from darkness to light, from ignorance to the knowledge of the glory of his name.” [Holmes, 61] Clement closes a long prayer by again referring to Jesus Christ as the channel of glory to the Father: “You, who alone are able to do these and even greater good things for us, we praise through the high priest and guardian of our souls Jesus Christ, through whom be the glory and the majesty to you both now and for all generations and for ever and ever. Amen.” [63]. Finally, Clement glorifies God who “chose Jesus Christ and us through him to be his own special people,” looking upon such a relation as foundational to our being “pleasing to his name through our high priest and guardian Jesus Christ, through whom be glory and majesty, might and honor to him, both now and for ever and ever. Amen.” [64].

Clement remembered Jesus Christ. He saw the incarnation of Christ, his taking to himself our flesh and nature, as the model for all Christian humility and consequent unity. Jesus consummates the decree of election by shedding his blood as high priest and rising from the dead as the firstfruit for our redemption. Through him, the elect will see and find infinite joy in an eternal vision of the glory of God.

This article is part 7 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ.

Join us at the 2024 National Founders Conference on January 18-20 as we consider what it means to “Remember Jesus Christ” under the teaching of Tom Ascol, Joel Beeke, Paul Washer, Phil Johnson, Conrad Mbewe and Travis Allen.

Reflections on Becoming a Pastor

Many years ago, on October 31 something took place that changed the course of my life. I am not talking about Martin Luther’s seemingly innocuous act in 1517 of nailing 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. In ways that he could never have anticipated that act did come to symbolize the beginning of a movement that rocked the world as the Protestant Reformation recovered the full and final authority of God’s written Word and its message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone. Luther, along with those who stood with him and followed him in proclaiming this gospel message, most definitely have impacted my life. The Reformation has impacted all Western civilization.

But I am reminded of October 31, 1978. On that Tuesday night I accepted a call to become the pastor of the Rock Prairie Baptist Church in College Station, Texas. Two days before that, the church let me know that they wanted me to become their pastor. That phone call was unexpected. The previous pastor had moved and I had preached for the congregation several times in the previous weeks. Though I had enjoyed worshiping with them and getting to know some of the members more personally, I had no thought that they would consider asking me to become their pastor.

I was not a great candidate. I was a single, twenty-one-year-old sociology major at a state university. I had taken a couple of seminary extension courses and preached intermittently over the previous five years. But by any reasonable metric I was ill-prepared to be a pastor. In fact, when the call came from the church, I was actively trying to avoid entering a life of pastoral ministry. The church in which the Lord saved me and that had nurtured me as a child and young person believed that God had called me to preach and had given me a license to do so (that was fifty years ago next month). But my antipathy for pastors caused me to shrink from the thought of pursuing vocational ministry.

Looking back, though I had many reasons for my lack of regard for pastors, the bottom line was that they were mainly rooted in pride and arrogance. I was a self-righteous prig when God saved me and much of that remained (and remains) unmortified in me. Because of that, as I embarked on my last year of college I was developing a plan that I hoped might satisfy God and ease my own conscience. Since pastors help people, I thought that if I entered a “helping profession” that would do the trick. 

Through a connection with some professors, early in my senior year I was offered a contract to work for an organization that provided care and counseling for troubled youth. The job was to begin upon my graduation the next semester. I let the contract sit on my desk for the month of October with a growing sense that this was a wonderful opportunity that would allow me to help young people, be active in the life of a church, and perhaps fill in preaching and teaching on occasion. 

Those plans were disrupted when the chairman of deacons told me that Rock Prairie wanted me to be their pastor. Donna (who was seven months away from becoming my fiancé) and I decided to go to the church’s “harvest festival” two days later on the 31st. The church provided this each year as an alternative to trick-or-treating for kids in the community. As we watched the members of that small church work together to serve children and parents the few remaining doubts I had about accepting their call vanished. I had harbored many doubts and fears and my list of reasons for saying no was long, but several trusted counselors urged me to give the call serious consideration. So, that night, October 31, 1978, I told the deacon chairman, Arthur Olden that I believed it was God’s will for me to accept their call and that I would start immediately. 

One relative, as we discussed my new role, pulled out a handheld calculator (which was a novelty at the time) and jokingly congratulated me for taking a job that paid $15 an hour (which was $12.35 more than minimum wage!) while requiring only three hours of preaching a week. In reality, that move cost the church much more than money and what they gave me cannot be measured in finances. The people of Rock Prairie Baptist Church loved me and patiently endured with my inexperience and ineptitude. They genuinely cared for me and, after we were married, for Donna and me. They were forgiving of my many mistakes. And they genuinely loved me. 

I only served that church for two years but doing so led me to pursue theological training that I would have otherwise eschewed. The discipline of preaching week after week was good for me. I still have notes from those sermons and though much of the understanding of God’s Word that they reflect now make me cringe, I would not trade anything for the lessons I learned in those early years of pastoral preaching. That church gave me a start. They were used by God to put me into pastoral ministry and on a path that continues today, 45 years later. 

I thank the Lord for His faithfulness through those years. I am grateful for the way that He providentially overruled my plans and changed my desires about being a pastor. To me it is the most wonderful calling in the world and I am still amazed at the privilege of being a servant of God’s people in a local church of Jesus Christ. All of it is a testimony to the steadfast love and immeasurable grace of our sovereign God. 

Soli Deo Gloria

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“Another Jesus Whom We Have Not Preached”

This article is part 6 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5).

Paul’s alarm at the gullibility of the Corinthians in receiving false teachers arose from the implications this had for several issues of vital truth, all of which impinged on the genuineness of their faith. One, their undiscerning spirit questioned the authenticity of his appointment as an apostle. Could these false teachers relativize Pauls’ apostleship, they would do the same to his preaching. Paul, therefore, spent chapters 11 and 12 of 2 Corinthians demonstrating the genuineness of his apostleship in order for them not to be “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). A second issue concerned the nature of the spirit, or Spirit, at work in them. Receiving the message of these false apostles would mean that they did not believe by the work of the Holy Spirit but actually had been duped, even as Eve was, by Satan disguised as an angel of light. John gives a succinct statement concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to true belief when he asserts, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 John 5:1). Third, if they received the alternative being offered to them, and departed from Paul’s gospel, then they had a different gospel, which, as he told the Galatians, is no gospel at all. Contrary to the claims of these false apostles, messengers of the great deceiver, what they toyed with had no saving power. A fourth difficulty enveloped all the others. Such a shift in their religious persuasion would finally mean that they received “another Jesus than the one we proclaimed.” Another gospel and another Spirit means another Christ, for the Spirit is given by Christ and the gospel is defined absolutely in terms of the person and work of Christ.

As argued earlier, the admonition, “Remember Jesus Christ,” with the parameters established concerning person and work, implies a comprehensive commitment to a large range of doctrinal ideas. The unshakeable confidence that Paul had in the absolute authority of his gospel inhabits the words, “whom we have not preached.” We find both on the pages of the New Testament and in the history of the church a number of ways in which the Pauline exhortation, “Remember Jesus Christ,” has been disobeyed. Usually this amounts to a denial of some element of Christ’s person and a consequent modification—i.e. denial—of his work and thus a severe alteration of the gospel preached by Paul.

Another gospel and another Spirit means another Christ, for the Spirit is given by Christ and the gospel is defined absolutely in terms of the person and work of Christ.

One way that Jesus is forgotten is by a denial of his true humanity. John confronts this error when he says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He also had in mind a group that hesitated to embrace the apostolic teaching of the full humanity of Christ when he assured the readers of 1 John that the very one who was from the beginning “we have seen with our eyes, … we have looked upon and have touched with our hands” (1 John 1:1). Added strength to this doctrine is seen when John says, “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin”  (1 John 1:7). Paul’s concern about the nature of the spirit at work in the temptation of the Corinthians to believe on a Jesus whom he had not preached is joined by John when he states, “By this you know the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:2, 3). As he observed the developments among those who desired to find a position of teaching in Christian congregations, John warned that they should watch themselves “so that you do not lose what we have worked for.” Specifically, he referred to the “many deceivers” that had “gone out into the world” who “do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” (2 John 7, 8).

The writer of Hebrews, after a clear exposition of the deity of Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-13) and a warning about ignoring “such a great salvation” (Hebrews 2:1-4), shows the ontological necessity of the true humanity of Christ. “He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have the same nature” (Hebrews 2:11 – My translation). Again he writes, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things” (Hebrews 2:14). Then further, as he argues more concerning the necessary qualifications of one who is to redeem fallen humanity, says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). Unless he were like us—that is, a man of full human nature, corruption of soul excepted—he could not make propitiation for the sins of the people.

Likewise, Paul argues in a number of places that Christ’s work of reconciliation would be impossible apart from the reality of the Son of God taking a real human nature to himself when he was “found in fashion as a man” (Philippians 2:8). In that way “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:9). Another way Paul said it is found in his instructions to the church in Colossae when he reminds them, “And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind doing evil deeds, he has reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (Colossians 1:21, 22). 

All that we are in our bodies, Jesus became.

Peter joins the apostolic chorus in celebrating the condescending grace of God in sending his Son to take our human nature to perform the work of redemption. Peter affirms that sinners are “ransomed … with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19). He intensifies this strong assertion with the words, “Christ suffered for you, … He Himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:21, 24). All that we are in our bodies, Jesus became; if not, we have none of our race through whom God’s wrath and expectation for righteousness can be covenantally fulfilled.

We must take time to admire and adore the great display and wisdom, power, and mercy found in the confession, “risen from the dead, of a seed of David.” None can explain but only believe the marvel displayed when the angel told Mary, “that holy thing conceived in you shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The one who slept in the boat, and sweat great drops of blood, also forgave sins, silenced demons, and said “I and the Father are one.” Come, let us adore him.

This article is part 6 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ.

Join us at the 2024 National Founders Conference on January 18-20 as we consider what it means to “Remember Jesus Christ” under the teaching of Tom Ascol, Joel Beeke, Paul Washer, Phil Johnson, Conrad Mbewe and Travis Allen.

Remembering Jesus Christ In Our Suffering

This article is part 5 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Paul’s strong emphasis on the central points of Christ’s person and work is designed to elevate the thinking of Timothy above the concerns any might have for safety and acceptance in this life, if at the same time it means proving untrue to Christ. We must remember—see the eternal covenantal purpose of God as centered on Jesus Christ—so that nothing in this life can draw us away. 

One specific concern that Paul has is the power of physical and political intimidation to make us forget. He already has admonished Timothy not to be “ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me his prisoner” (1:8). The “testimony of our Lord,” in light of this context could refer to the words of Jesus in Mark 8:38 where Jesus is explaining what is involved in denying oneself, or losing one’s life for the sake of Christ, in order to follow Christ. “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

That Paul in this instance has in mind physical persecution for the gospel as the challenge to the professing Christian is clear when he states, “for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal” (9). His suffering was well-known by Timothy (3:10, 11). Paul admonished him, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2:3).

Paul had a two-fold purpose in referring to his various sufferings for “my gospel.” One, his suffering sealed in his experience the absoluteness of the gospel. He was willing to lose all including life because of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whom I have suffered the loss of all things.” He even desired to know “the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death” (Philippians 3:8, 10). He was, in fact, at that moment contemplating that soon his life would be taken for he knew that “the time of my departure has come” (4:6). Nothing, therefore, could dissuade Paul from his clear and convinced proclamation of the finality, absoluteness, and consummate truthfulness of “Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of a seed of David, as preached in my gospel.” He had come to believe, embrace, cast the very essence of his existence on the truth of the proposition that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). If the former enemy, willing to imprison and kill those who believed the gospel had changed so radically that he now gladly suffered imprisonment and the prospect of a martyr’s death, who could doubt the certainty of his conviction? Who, but the most irrational skeptic, could deny the truth of Paul’s message?

The gospel will not fail; it will prevail, and its power will be manifest in the faithful suffering of his people.

Second, Paul not only used his suffering to glory in the truth of the gospel, but also its power. “The word of God is not chained, imprisoned, or bound in any way” (9). The divinely-ordained harmony in the use of means in service of absolute sovereignty must be contemplated with reverence when we read, “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of the elect, those who are chosen, so that they also, along with me, may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (10). Elect in Christ in eternity past, saved in Christ in this present age, secured in Christ for undiminished joy for the eternal age yet to be. The gospel will not fail; it will prevail, and its power will be manifest in the faithful suffering of his people. Even in the face of heresy, Paul can affirm, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His.’”(19).

The gospel proceeds into the world through suffering, succeeds through suffering, and gives power to endure suffering. The gospel certainly will succeed, and Christ will lose none of his sheep; not a one for whom the Shepherd has died will fail to enter the sheepfold. But such certainty arises and is perfected in suffering: Christ suffered and died; the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church; and believers will choose eternal life in Christ even in the face of the threat of death for believing. “How unworthy it is,” Calvin proposes, “that we should think more of the fleeting life of this world than of the Holy Name of the Son of God.”

Paul summarizes this amazing integration of certainty secured through endurance by means of a confession or hymn called a “faithful saying” used in the apostolic church to teach this truth. It has a memorable pattern of rhyme and rhythm in Greek.  Responses and results of true belief are set in parallel with responses and results of faithlessness to Paul’s gospel. The one whose faith arises from the electing purpose of God endures; the one left to his own faculties, will wilt under pressure.

For if together with him we die, also together with him we live;

If we endure the load, we will also reign with him.

If we shall deny him, also that very one He will deny.

If we prove to be without faith, He remains faithful,

For to deny Himself he is unable.

 Dying with Christ refers to His propitiatory substitution for his people and implies their willingness to share his earthly suffering. Atoned for objectively and suffering experientially means that we attain the resurrection of the just. The other points of the confession naturally follow. It ends with the strong affirmation of the unperturbed eternal decree of God and the immutable truthfulness of his threats toward unbelief.

The gospel proceeds into the world through suffering, succeeds through suffering, and gives power to endure suffering.

This hymn also is reminiscent of the words of Jesus when he commissioned and instructed the twelve prior to their mission including warnings about persecution: “Whoever confesses me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32, 33). Jesus words were meant for the hearer and the preacher, of whom one was Judas. Remarking on this passage in 2 Timothy, Calvin wrote, “His threat is directed to those who from terror of persecution give up their profession of Christ’s name.” The admonition that has led to this sobering discussion is “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of a seed of David, according to my gospel.” 

In discussing this passage with a PhD student from SBTS, Michael Carlino, he sent the following response after looking at both the language and the entire theological context of the hymnic confession. I found his remarks helpful and faithful to the text. “It would seem irresponsible exegetically to suggest that God will be faithful to the faithless by granting salvation in 13, because Paul is explaining in 13 why God is just and good in denying the apostate. For God to not deny the one who doesn’t endure/denies him, would be for God to deny his own character/nature. And it would then take away from the glory of verse 11, which promises that those who share in Christ’s sufferings will indeed reign with him. For, if God can deny himself and grant salvation to the apostate, the elect who endure unto death have no confidence in God’s trustworthiness. In other words, Paul is teaching that God’s denying of the apostate flows from God’s immutable character, just as the assurance of God’s receiving of his saints flows from God’s immutable character.” 

Those who are apostate, those who fall away from what they have professed, have never had the root of the new birth. That heaven-wrought transaction shifts the affections from the world to the glory of God as seen in Christ. Something else—arising from threat, covetousness, intellectual fascination, or flattery—has shown that their most abiding affection is for the world and not Christ. Paul assures us that “He who began the good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Again, we see what a pervasive and existentially profound theological admonition Paul gives in saying, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of a seed of David, according to my gospel.” 

This article is part 5 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ.

Join us at the 2024 National Founders Conference on January 18-20 as we consider what it means to “Remember Jesus Christ” under the teaching of Tom Ascol, Joel Beeke, Paul Washer, Phil Johnson, Conrad Mbewe and Travis Allen.

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