Honor Your Father and Your Mother (The Fifth Commandment)

Ten Commandments WatsonIn our study through the ten commandments we now come to the fifth commandment. Despite the relative brevity of this commandment, there are numerous implications and applications that we may draw from it.

The commandment itself simply says,

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12, ESV)

This commandment marks the transition to what is often called the second “table” of the law (basically the second half of the ten commandments, so to speak). The first table (i.e. commandments 1-4) deals with love for God, while the second table (i.e. commandments 5-10) deals with love for one’s neighbor.

It is interesting and instructive that when the Lord begins to turn our attention to love for our neighbor, the place he starts is our relationship with our parents. They are typically the first neighbor (i.e. the first people) with whom we come into contact, and so they are the first ones to whom we owe love.

They are also typically the very first authority figures in our lives. And so we first learn (or fail to learn) to honor and obey those who are in authority over us, in the arena of the home or family. Notice that it is “honor” (and not mere outward obedience) that we are to render to our earthly fathers and mothers.

If as children we fail to learn to honor and submit to authority in the home, chances are we will struggle mightily to learn to submit to the many other authorities that God places over us in our various stations in life. For this reason the Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, once wrote, “Nothing sooner shortens life than disobedience to parents.” (The Ten Commandments, p.132)

In the New Testament the Apostle Paul actually quotes this commandment, interprets it, and applies it to believers today. In Ephesians 6:1-4 he writes,

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (ESV)

Here Paul clearly teaches (in case anyone had any doubt) that the ten commandments still apply today. And they even apply to children! One of the primary applications of the fifth commandment is that children are to (as Paul puts it above) ‘obey their parents in the Lord.’ Why? Two reasons. First, because “this is right.” We know that it is “right” for children to ‘obey their parents in the Lord’ precisely because God has commanded it.

And so following the Lord isn’t just something for grown-ups, but rather starts very early on in life – even in childhood! A big part of a child following Christ involves honoring and obeying his or her parents.

And not just that, but children are to honor and obey their parents because God has even given a promise with this commandment – “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Notice that Paul clearly teaches that this promise that the Lord annexed or attached to the commandment still applies today. God graciously gives us promises of blessing in order to encourage us in our efforts toward obedience!

The Westminster Confession of Faith, in its chapter on the law of God speaks of the usefulness of God’s law for believers, and of the blessings that are promised to us for obedience to His commandments:

” . . . .The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourages to the one, and deters from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and, not under grace.” (19.6)

God is no harsh task-master toward his redeemed children. Rather he knows what is best for us, commands us to walk in his ways accordingly, and even gives us blessings along the way in order to encourage us when that way sometimes proves to be difficult. God is good, and even his commandments are given for our good as well!

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Are You a Murderer? (The Sixth Commandment)

Murder 2In our series of brief studies going through the ten commandments (i.e. Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-21), we now come to the sixth commandment, which simply says, “Thou shalt not kill” (KJV) or “You shall not murder” (NKJV, ESV). That sounds pretty short, simple, and straight-forward, doesn’t it? We are not to commit murder.

If we are honest, many of us give this commandment very little thought, at least as far as how it may apply to ourselves. And that is probably because we assume that we have never even come close to breaking this commandment. Are you a murderer? Are you guilty of murder in the eyes of God? The answer to that question might not be as obvious as you think.

The Westminster Larger Catechism includes an extended treatment of the ten commandments, which follows the pattern of stating both the duties required and the sins forbidden in each of the commandments. In that section we are told the rationale for this approach is because, “where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded” (Q.99).

Q.136 tells us of the sins that are forbidden in the sixth commandment:

“Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.”

That is quite the list, isn’t it? Clearly the Westminster divines saw that there is much more involved in breaking the 6th commandment than we might think.

The Scriptures themselves clearly teach us that the sixth commandment is about far more than just the outward act of murder. The Lord Jesus himself made this very clear in his teaching in what we call “the sermon on the mount” (i.e. Matthew chapters 5-7). In Matthew 5:21–22 he says,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (ESV)

There Jesus quotes Exodus 20:13 (i.e. “You shall not murder.”), and then explains it to us in some detail. And in doing so he tells us that the sin of murder starts with the heart, with hatred. Hatred is the root cause of murder. The outward sin of murder certainly makes one “liable to judgment.” But the Lord Jesus says that “everyone who is angry with his brother” will be “liable to judgment” as well!

In fact 1 John 3:15 says,

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (ESV)

Who among us can possibly claim to have never hated anyone? And if that is the case, there is no one among us who can truly say that he or she is innocent of the sin of murder, at least not inwardly-speaking. And so we are all guilty of much greater sins than we might realize.

And so that brings us back to the question that I posed above – Are you a murderer? The answer to that question, according to the Word of God, is yes.

That ought to impress upon us the very depths of our sin and guilt before a holy God. We have all sinned in much bigger ways than we might realize.

The good news of the gospel is that the Lord Jesus Christ died (indeed, was executed and murdered by wicked men – Acts 2:23) to save even murderers – murderers like you and me.

There is abundant grace, mercy, and forgiveness to be found through faith in Jesus Christ even for sins such as these. He alone can take hearts that are full of hatred and murder and cleanse them, filling them with the love that only comes from God.

The Belgic Confession – Article 9 (Scripture Proofs for the Trinity)

The first part of Article 9 of the Belgic Confession deals with the scriptural proofs of the doctrine of the Trinity:

All this we know as well from the testimonies of Holy Writ as from their operations, and chiefly by those we feel in ourselves. The testimonies of the Holy Scriptures that teach us to believe this Holy Trinity are written in many places of the Old Testament, which are not so necessary to enumerate as to choose them out with discretion and judgment.

In Genesis, chapter 1:26, 27, God says: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, etc. And God created man in His own image, male and female created he them. And Genesis 3:22, Behold, the man is become as one of us. From this saying, Let us make man in our image, it appears that there are more persons than one in the Godhead; and when He says, God created, He signifies the unity. It is true, that He does not say how many persons there are, but that which appears to us somewhat obscure in the Old Testament is very plain in the New. For when our Lord was baptized in Jordan, the voice of the Father was heard, saying, This is my beloved Son; the Son was seen in the water, and the Holy Spirit appeared in the shape of a dove. This form is also instituted by Christ in the baptism of all believers: Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of Luke the angel Gabriel thus addressed Mary, the mother of our Lord: The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee; wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God. Likewise: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. And (A.V.): There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

In all these places we are fully taught that there are three persons in one only divine essence. And although this doctrine far surpasses all human understanding, nevertheless we now believe it by means of the Word of God, but expect hereafter to enjoy the perfect knowledge and benefit thereof in heaven.

Article 8 of the Confession stated the doctrine of the Trinity. Article 9 here gives the proofs for the doctrine of the Trinity. Those proofs begin first and foremost with Scripture itself (“the testimonies of Holy Writ”). Notice that the Confession says that the Trinity is taught in so many places in the Old Testament, that it is “not so necessary to enumerate as to choose them out with discretion and judgment.” So the Scripture verses listed here are not intended to be exhaustive:

  • “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)
  • “Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”” (Genesis 3:22, ESV)

The Confession then states that the number of the persons of the Trinity, “which appears to us somewhat obscure in the Old Testament is very plain in the New.” It then points us to the accounts of the baptism of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:9-11); the Lord Jesus Christ’s command to baptize all believers (Matthew 28:18-20); the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary about Jesus (Luke 1:35); and the benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14, which invokes the names of all three (3) persons of the Godhead; and 1 John 5:7 (part of which is not found in some translations, but which is included in the KJV).

Notice that the Confession plainly states that the doctrine of the Trinity is “fully taught” in the Scriptures, but cannot be fully comprehended in this life. Not only that, but we “expect hereafter to enjoy the perfect knowledge and benefit thereof in heaven.” What a comforting and encouraging thought – that we will understand these things much more fully (even if still not comprehensively) when we are in heaven with the Lord, even as Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV)

The second part of Article 9 of the Belgic Confession deals with the “particular offices and operations” of the persons of the Trinity as proofs thereof. In his book, With Heart and Mouth, Daniel Hyde writes,

“It has been said that theology that does not become biography is wishful thinking. Christian doctrine and Christian living must go hand in hand. We as Calvinists are often reluctant to speak of experience in case we go to the extreme of Pentecostalism. But we must acknowledge that there is an experiential side of the Christian life.”

The Confession points us to the “offices” (or roles) and “operations” of the persons of the Trinity “toward us” (that is, in our creation and redemption). These things are even spoken of in the ancient ecumenical creeds (i.e. the Apostles’ Creed & Nicene Creed), which state (for example) that we believe in “God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

God the Father is spoken of as our “Creator,” the Son as “our Savior and Redeemer,” and the Holy Spirit is the “our Sanctifier” who sanctifies us by dwelling in our hearts. These things are plainly taught in Scripture as well. In Ephesians chapter 1 we are told that God the Father chose us and predestined us to salvation in Christ (v.3-6); that Christ Jesus redeemed us by His blood (v.7-12); and that the Holy Spirit seals us and guarantees our inheritance in Christ (v.13-14).

All of this is to affirm and confess that the entire Trinity is actively involved in the work of our salvation, each Person of the Godhead doing what corresponds to His particular office. In other words, we who are saved know the Trinity, not just by Scripture (however primary that may be), but also by personal experience as well!

The third part of Article 9 of the Belgic Confession deals with affirmation and defense of the Trinity all throughout the history of the true church:

Notice that it says that the doctrine of the Trinity “has always been affirmed and maintained by the true church since the time of the apostles to this very day.” This is to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is in no way an innovation, but is in keeping with what the true church has always believed.

Lastly, Article 9 states that in this doctrine of the Trinity “we do willingly receive the three creeds, namely, that of the Apostles, of Nicea, and of Athanasius; likewise that which, conformable thereunto, is agreed upon by the ancient fathers.”

It may seem strange that the Definition of Chalcedon is not named here. That is because it is not a creed, but more properly a definition or statement, written to clarify and affirm what was written in the creeds themselves. Chalcedon would fall under the category here of “that which, conformable thereunto, is agreed upon by the ancient fathers.”

Again, as the Confession was in some ways intended to be an apologetic (or defense) of the Reformed faith as being fully in line with the true faith that the true church has always confessed and maintained, it is important to affirm the ancient creeds of the Christian church.

That being the case, we should be careful to avoid the spirit of this age, which has a tendency to reject anything from the past as somehow being irrelevant. God does not change (Malachi 3:6); the Lord Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8); and His Word does not change (Matthew 5:17-18).

Therefore the Christian faith does not change, and so the creeds and confessions are useful to us, not just for teaching and instruction, but also as a safeguard and protection against false teachings and heresies. We neglect the ancient creeds & Reformed Confessions to our own detriment and peril.

THE BELGIC CONFESSION – ARTICLE 8 (THE Trinity)

Article 8 of the Belgic Confession holds forth the biblical doctrine of the Trinity:

According to this truth and this Word of God, we believe in one only God, who is the one single essence, in which are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause, origin, and beginning of all things visible and invisible; the Son is the word, wisdom, and image of the Father; the Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son. Nevertheless, God is not by this distinction divided into three, since the Holy Scriptures teach us that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit have each His personality, distinguished by Their properties; but in such wise that these three persons are but one only God.

Hence, then, it is evident that the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and likewise the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Nevertheless, these persons thus distinguished are not divided, nor intermixed; for the Father has not assumed the flesh, nor has the Holy Spirit, but the Son only. The Father has never been without His Son, or without His Holy Spirit. For They are all three co-eternal and co-essential. There is neither first nor last; for They are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy.

The Belgic Confession begins with an article about God (Article 1), followed by a series of articles about Scripture, which is the means by which we come to know God rightly (Articles 2-7). Now here in Article 8 the Confession circles back to deal with the doctrine of God, specifically the doctrine of the Trinity (articles 8-11). Article 8 states the doctrine of the Trinity in some detail, while Article 9 gives the reader the scriptural proofs for that doctrine.

And so Article 8 explicitly points back to the Articles that preceded it, saying that it is, “According to this truth and this Word of God” (i.e. the Scriptures as the inspired, authoritative, and sufficient Word of God as detailed in Articles 2-7) that “we believe in one only God, who is the one single essence, in which are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (i.e. the Trinity). All of that is to say that we believe and confess the doctrine of the Trinity primarily because the Scriptures plainly teach it.

Only One God

The Confession states that “we believe in one only God, who is the one single essence . . . .” So we believe in only one God, “who is the single essence” (or substance). This is also what the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) affirms when it says that the Lord Jesus Christ is “of one substance with the Father.”

That there is only one true & living God is taught throughout Scripture. For instance, Deuteronomy 6:4 says,

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (ESV)

Likewise Isaiah 45:5 says,

“I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;” (ESV)

The New Testament teaches this as well. In James 2:19 says,

“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (ESV)

As Christians, we believe and confess that “There is but one only, the living and true God” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.5).

One God in Three Distinct Persons

Nevertheless, in this “one only God, who is the one single essence” there are “three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

This too is plainly taught in the Scriptures. For example, the baptismal formula in the Great Commission says,

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)

We are to baptize disciples “in the name [singular = not “names”] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (v.19).

Likewise the benediction found in 2 Corinthians 13:14 says,

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (ESV)

That the Persons of the Godhead are “distinct” from each other (while in no way separate) is emphasized by the use of three descriptive terms – “really, truly, and eternally.” In other words, the distinction between the Persons of the Godhead (i.e. the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) is real and true, and not merely imagined or apparent, as was taught by the heresy of modalism, which holds that there is one God who appears to take turns (so to speak) revealing Himself as being the Father one moment, and as the Son the next, etc.

Not only that, but the Persons of the Trinity are also “eternally” distinct. The one true and living God has always been one God in three Persons. That being the case, we are not to conceive of God as if the Persons of the Trinity were so distinct as to be separate (which would be tri-theism or polytheism). That is why the first paragraph of Article 8 goes on to say:

“God is not by this distinction divided into three, since the Holy Scriptures teach us that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit have each His personality, distinguished by Their properties; but in such wise that these three persons are but one only God.”

The Westminster Shorter Catechism sums this up quite nicely for us when it says,

“Q.6. how many persons are there in the Godhead? A. There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”

When the second paragraph of Article 8 says that “these persons thus distinguished are not divided, nor intermixed” it employs similar language to what is found in the Athanasian Creed, which states:

“That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.

Article 8 closes with the following statement:

“The Father has never been without His Son, or without His Holy Spirit. For They are all three co-eternal and co-essential. There is neither first nor last; for They are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy.”

So the biblical doctrine is that there has never been a time when there was not a Trinity. God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are not created beings, but are eternally-begotten and eternally-proceeding from God the Father. And, lest that be misunderstood, the Confession goes on to say that “There is neither first nor last.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism likewise affirms this very truth when it states that the three Persons of the Godhead are “the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (Q.6).

Speaking of the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity, which the one true holy, Catholic church has always confessed throughout her history, Daniel R. Hyde writes,

“Catholicity is expressed in no better way than in the confession of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. One of the purposes of the Belgic Confession was to express that the Reformed faith was nothing less than the faith of the ancient Christian church.” (With Heart and Mouth, p.112)

 

“The Most Tender and Comforting Section in All of the Reformed Catechisms and Confessions” (Belgic Confession Article 26)

with-heart-and-mouth

Article 26 of the Belgic Confession is about Christ as our only Mediator, and His intercession on our behalf. This is easily one of the longest articles found in the entire Confession, and much of it consists of an extended polemic against the Roman Catholic doctrine and practice of the veneration of saints.

In Roman Catholicism the saints and even the virgin Mary are viewed as additional mediators (or co-mediators). Worse yet, Mary is even taught to be the mediator (or mediatrix) between believers and Christ Himself! S. Lewis Johnson Jr. writes,

“Since the practice of praying to the saints increased during the Middle Ages, it is not surprising that Mary became especially popular. Jesus came to stand for the stern, forbidding, and unapproachable judge. The faithful were pointed to Mary, the compassionate mother who would act as mediator for them.” (Roman Catholicism, p.126)

And yet the Scriptures clearly teach that it is the Lord Jesus Christ alone who is our only true Mediator. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (ESV).

That the Confession deals with these things at such length might not sound all that noteworthy or relevant to some (especially to those who are not from a Roman Catholic background), but there is abundant assurance and comfort to be found for believers in the great truth of Christ as our only Mediator and His work of intercession on our behalf, as detailed here in this particular article. Daniel Hyde writes,

“Here we find the most tender and comforting section in all of the Reformed catechisms and Confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.” (With Heart and Mouth, p.353)

What is it about Article 26 that makes it so “tender and comforting”? It is, quite simply, its treatment of the love of Christ for believers. The opening paragraph of this article goes on to assure us of the infinite love and all-sufficiency of Christ our Mediator toward us:

“For there is no creature, either in heaven or on earth, who loves us more than Jesus Christ; who, though existing in the form of God, yet emptied himself, being made in the likeness of men and of a servant for us, and in all things was made like unto his brethren. If, then, we should seek for another mediator who would be favorably inclined towards us, whom could we find who loved us more than He who laid down His life for us, even while we were His enemies? And if we seek for one who has power and majesty, who is there that has so much of both as He who sits at the right hand of God and to whom hath been given all authority in heaven and on earth? And who will sooner be heard than the own well beloved Son of God?”

Here we are given three (3) reasons for confidence in Christ as our only Mediator. The very first of these reasons is the love of Christ. Who could possibly be said to love us “more than Jesus Christ,” who emptied Himself, was made in our likeness, and even “laid down his life for us, even while we were His enemies” (Romans 5:8). If you are a believer, there is no one who loves you more than the Lord Jesus Christ! No one.

And if no one loves you more than the Lord Jesus Christ, why would you ever even dream of seeking out other mediators (i.e. the saints, the Virgin Mary, etc.)? What a comfort it is to know that our Mediator is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2)!

The second reason given is the power and majesty of Christ. Not only does Christ love us more than anyone else could possibly do, but He is even now seated at the right hand of God, having all power and authority. Who could possibly be better-able to help us in our time of need than the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Mediator, and who ever lives to intercede for us at God’s right hand (Hebrews 7:25)?

The third and final reason given is the love of God the Father for His Beloved Son. Whose prayers for us will be sooner heard and answered by the Father than those of Christ, His own well-beloved Son? The saints? Mary herself? By no means! The Lord Jesus Christ Himself prays for us! What could be better than that?

How great a source of assurance and comfort these great truths of Scripture should be to the heart of every believer! No wonder the Confession spends so much time teaching us to believe and confess these things!

 

The Impossibility of Good Works Apart from Justification by Faith Alone (Belgic Confession Article 24)

It has been rightly said that faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone (i.e. sanctification and good works must necessarily follow). You can even go so far as to speak of the necessity of good works, although certainly not as the grounds or basis for our justification.

But have you ever considered the fact that good works are actually quite impossible apart from justification by faith alone? The first paragraph of Belgic Confession article 24 makes this abundantly clear:

“We believe that this true faith, being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin. Therefore it is so far from being true that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation. Therefore it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man; for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith which is called in Scripture a faith working through love, which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in His Word.”

Here the Confession addresses one of the most common objections to the gospel of God’s free grace in Christ. People sometimes hear of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone (i.e. not by works), and conclude that if we are not saved by our works, and if salvation is really a free gift of God’s grace, then it does not matter how we live. Legalists will often go so far as to suggest that the gospel of free grace will invariably lead to licentiousness. (Paul addresses this same objection in Romans 6:1-14.)

In answer to this objection the Confession states,

“Therefore it is so far from being true that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation. Therefore it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man; for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith which is called in Scripture a faith working through love, which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in His Word.”

And so not only does justification by faith not lead to people being “remiss” or lacking in pious and holy living, but the Confession goes so far as to say that, “on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation.”

Justification by faith alone is the only real source of truly good (not perfect) works. Salvation by works (which is what every other religion in human history ultimately teaches) is really what results in the utter absence of good works, as truly good works are done of out a living faith and a true love for God, whereas the religion of works or legalism spurs people on to works “only out of self-love or fear of damnation.”

In the end all forms of works-based salvation (false gospels all) ironically end up destroying or preventing the very possibility of good works, while only the free grace of the gospel and justification by faith alone can ever truly lead to good works, which must be done out of love to God.

Another way of saying that is to say that good works are utterly impossible for us outside of justification by faith alone.

 

He Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

Institutes CalvinIn a sense it is remarkable that Pontius Pilate’s name is so well-known. Of course, he is famous (or infamous) for all the wrong reasons. He is known for playing a primary role in the crucifixion of Christ. Sinclair Ferguson writes that he was “a man whom history would have well-nigh forgotten were it not for his part in this drama” (Let’s Study Mark, p.255).

Not only is Pilate’s name mentioned repeatedly in all four (4) Gospels, but it also appears three times in the book of Acts (Acts 3:13, 4:27, 13:28) and once in 1 Timothy 6:13 as well.

Pilate’s name is even included in the Apostles’ Creed, which, in speaking of the sufferings and death of Christ for our salvation, it calls us to confess as an essential part of the Christian faith:

“He suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

Likewise the Nicene Creed also states that “for us men and for our salvation,” the Lord Jesus Christ: “was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.”

But why does it matter that Jesus specifically suffered under Pontius Pilate? Have you ever wondered why that is? Why did He have to suffer and die in that particular way (i.e. the cross)?

In the 1541 edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin includes an extended exposition of sorts of the Apostles’ Creed. In his comments on Christ’s sufferings under Pontius Pilate he notes:

For since by Christ’s death sins had to be wiped away and the condemnation which they deserved removed, it would not have been enough for him to suffer a different kind of death. To duly fulfil [sic] every part of our redemption, it was necessary to choose death in a form which allowed him to take upon himself our condemnation and the payment owed to God’s wrath, and so deliver us from both.” (p.246)

In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ’s death had to be a judicial death, a death involving the passing of a sentence of condemnation and death.

Calvin goes on to say,

“If thieves had cut his throat, if he had been murdered in an affray by the hands of individuals, there would have been no semblance of satisfaction [i.e. atonement or payment for sin] in such a death. But in that he was brought as an accused before a court of law, was denounced by witnesses and condemned by the mouth of the judge, we recognize that he appeared as a criminal.” (ibid)

And so for our Lord to be the Savior of sinners, He could not just die as a mere victim or even a martyr – He had to die as a criminal, one convicted and sentenced to death. For this very reason He was crucified between two robbers (Mark 15:27), and so the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled which said that He was “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

Not only that, but in suffering under Pontius Pilate, it was sure to come to pass that the method of execution (i.e. capital punishment) employed in His death would specifically be that of crucifixion – “death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

Calvin states,

“The cross was accursed not only in the opinion of men but by decree of God’s law (Deut. 21:23). By being nailed to the cross Christ makes himself subject to a curse. This had to happen so that the curse merited by our sins and made ready for them should be transferred to him, that we might go free.” (p.247)

Deuteronomy 21:23 specifically states that “a hanged man is cursed by God” (ESV). And so for Christ Jesus to be executed in that way was to demonstrate that He underwent the curse of God in our place – the very curse that we deserve because of our sins.

These are some of the more important reasons why we confess (in reciting the Apostles’ Creed) that “he suffered under Pontius Pilate.”