The Father of Christ

Ephesians 1.3 says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ….

Ephesians 1.16-18 says, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ … may grant you…”

In Ephesians 1, both vv3 and 17 express the genuine humanity of Christ. Paul speaks of God the Father as Jesus’ God (as does John in 20:17, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”). Was Jesus not divine?

Yet we must hold this truth with what the Bible says elsewhere of Jesus’ own divinity.

Who, though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [or ‘exploited’] (Phil 2.6).

What gives? Is God the “God” of Jesus? We worship Jesus, and Jesus worships the Father?

Baugh explains Paul’s idea, and it just takes a bit of knowledge of the OT. Paul speaks of Jesus’ humanity here in Ephesians for two reasons.

1. Exclusive Human Mediation

Jesus is the only way to the Father. There is no other way to get to the Father.

1 Tim 2.5, For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus

In the OT God was known by those whom he had covenanted with.

Ps 41.13, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.”

Ezek 11.22, Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.

Lk 1.68, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people

1 Kgs 18.36, And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.

Acts 3.13, The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.

But God is no longer known as “the God of Israel” or “the God of Abraham.” Now his covenant name is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Cor 1.3, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” (cf. 11.31)

1 Pet 1.3, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

In his commentary on 2 Corinthians, Mark Seifrid remarks,

In speaking of God as “the God and Father of Jesus Christ,” Paul . . . identifies Jesus Christ with God . . . in Jesus God has revealed himself as “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” As Paul makes clear shortly, all the promises of God find their Yes in him (v 20). The Christ is Jesus, the Suffering Servant of God (6:2; cf. Isa 49:8). He is the one in whom the hope the patriarchs is fulfilled. His name therefore replaces theirs and that Israel in the apostolic benediction. We know God and give him thanks only as the God of Jesus Christ. (17-18)

God is no longer a single-national God, but “the God of all nations (including Israelites) who come to the Father through the incarnate Son” (Baugh, 116).

2. Pagans

Because they lived in the Hellenistic pagan culture, the NT authors stressed Jesus’ humanity.

Acts 14.11-12 lets us catch a glimpse of this. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the leading speaker.

“The ancient Greek gods were thought to appear on earth in human guise,” says Baugh (116). Edward Schnabel states, “As the citizens hail Paul and Barnabas as deities, they would have made sure that the two ‘gods in human form’ understand that they [the citizens] have recognized them [the ‘gods’].

Schnabel tells of an ancient legend with a town neighboring Lystra,

A legend connected with neighboring Phrygia relates that two local gods, perhaps Tarchunt and Runt… —in the Greek version of the legend Zeus and Hermes—wandered through the region as human beings. Nobody provided them with hospitality until Philemon and Baucis, an older couple, shared their supplies with the unrecognized gods. The gods rewarded the couple, making them priests in the temple of Zeus, eventually transforming them into sacred trees, while inflicting judgment upon the other people.

Baugh says that of the more famous of these appearances was that of “Athena as trusted old Mentor to Odysseus’s son, Telemachos, in the Odyssey.” There is also the evidence that Artemis Ephesia was “thought to manifest her appearance to her worshipers in the Ephesian Artemisium” (116).


Yet none of these appearances are true incarnations. The gods simply appear before people (albeit in a fleshly form). Jesus was not only in a fleshly form, he was human, just like you and me.

Hebrews 2:14, Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For . . . he helps the offspring of Abraham. 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.” 

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace(Eph 1.3-6a).

Predestination has a long history of discussion (read: arguments) behind it, and it’s certainly not something that I’m going to dive head first into in this post (there are other posts for that). Instead, if you read my post about the Pauline sentence then you would have seen my arrangement of the text of Ephesians 1.3-14 on the bottom of the post. In writing about Ephesians 1.4e-6a Baugh says, “What is most remarkable about the period… is that it consists entirely of six prepositional phrases” which qualify and show the focus of the act of predestination (84).

No Dictionary Provided

You can learn a good deal about a word from it’s definition. The verb to predestine means “to make a previous determination about something or someone” (84). But you learn even more about a word by the way it is used. This is especially true when you’re learning another language.

In English, many things can run. I can run. My nose can run. You can be “in the running” for an award. If you car is almost out of gas you are “running on fumes.“ Boys in elementary (and high school) fear being told they “run like a girl.”

Or this…


Each use of run here has a different connotation from the rest, even the last one.


God’s motive: in love

Goal: for adoption

Mediation: through Jesus Christ

Interrelation of adoption: to himself

Standard governing the act: according to the good pleasure of his will

Result: for the praise of the glory of his grace

Because of God’s love, he chose those who were “dead in their sins” (2.1) to become adopted sons and daughters through his perfect Son, Jesus Christ. And it was through Jesus Christ that we would be brought to the Father, and he would become our Father.

“God’s gracious bestowal of the believer’s position as son-heir is entirely due to the Father’s own will and grace, independent of any sort of qualifications or attractiveness inherent in him or her“ (88) – qualifications we did not have.

Deuteronomy 7:6–8, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

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“Adoption as Sons Through Jesus Christ”


“He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph 1.5).

“While [the] English ‘adoption’ is the best rendering for υἱοθεσία… this term does not convey the same connotations today as it did in a Graeco-Roman city like Ephesus” (84).

In the Greco-Roman world, the head of the family had legal authority over all members of his family, members of all ages. However, the head could release members of his family from his legal authority through emancipation. He could also give them into a new family through adoption.

If the son had already been emancipated, the procedure was adrogatio. Adrogation, among ancient Romans, was a kind of adoption in which the person adopted was free, and consented to be adopted by another. The adopted son was no longer a member of his old family, but he was now heir “to become the head of the family of the property and persons of the new familia: ‘If a son, then an heir’ (Gal 4:7)” (86). 

Gardner says, “The initial purpose of the institution of adoption, therefore, like that of will-making, appears to have been to allow people without [house heirs] of their own to acquire someone to inherit their [property]” (86, fn 176).

Adoption served the purpose to continue the “family and… its external relations.” For example, “if the head of the family was patron of a town or of soldiers; the son inherited that position as part of his patrimony [inheritance of property]” (87).

Octavian Augustus was adopted by Julius Caesar. Through this adoption, Octavian “inherited the allegiance of his [‘father,’ Caesar’s]… soldiers, which gave him immediate resources to prosecute his bid to ‘save’ the Roman Republic by transforming it into an empire” (86, fn 177).

Ephesians 1.4-5

“Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,” (Eph 1.4-5).

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1.13-14).

Due to the Father’s own grace, love, and will, all believers have become members of God’s family. Though we are not “the son of God,” we have been adopted through the Father’s Son. In the Greco-Roman world, adoption was given (at least) generally to males. Yet the Lord extends his love and grace to all.

Paul writes his letter to the Ephesian church, a church made up of not only men, but women, children, freedmen, and slaves. Even if they were treated kindly by their masters, “[s]laves in Graeco-Roman antiquity were legally not human persons” (88).

Given that we no longer live in a time where slavery runs rampant (at least, not so visibly and legally like it did in Rome), Baugh reminds us, “We have lost the momentous impact Paul’s statement would have had in its original setting” (88).

For the Christians at Ephesus who were or had been slaves, to hear that God had predestined them not just to become God’s freedmen (1 Cor 7:22) or free children (John 1:12) but through υἱοθεσία [“adoption”] to become ruling sons (whether male or female) was an astoundingly magnificent statement of God’s lavish grace, poured out upon the objects of his eternal love. (88)

God’s Love and Favor

And to state the magnitude of God’s love and favor, Baugh points out that

Graeco-Roman adoptees were often members of the father’s extended relations. In the case of believers, God has taken the most distant foreigners to be his kin for inheritance of his whole estate. Not the deserving or good (Rom 5:7), not many well-born, powerful, or wise (1 Cor 1:26–30), but those who were “by nature”… not of his kin at all but “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3) and darkened “sons of disobedience” (Eph 5:6, 8; also 4:17–24)—his helpless, wicked, sinful enemies (Rom 5:6–10) under thrall to the realm of darkness (Eph 2:1–3…). God does not place these new sons into a subordinate, inferior family; he appoints them all to become coheirs with his natural, firstborn Son, in whom the whole creation is “summarized” (v. 10) for corule over all things with him as those who have been coseated with him in the high-heavenlies (2:6; Rom 8:14–17, 29–32; … Rev 3:21). These stupendous acts of divine grace have no parallel in Graeco-Roman society. It surpasses even the unthinkable idea of the Roman emperor adopting a slave from the most barbaric hinterlands to be the next emperor. It is no wonder that Paul exults in “praise of the glory of his grace, which he bestowed on us in his Beloved” (1:6). (87)

We are no longer dead in our sins (Eph 2.1), but we are alive in Christ (2.5). We are his workmanship (2.10). Christ is our peace (2.14), and we are God’s holy temple (2.21). We have a “new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4.24). We love the Father who dwells in incorruptibility (6.24) as we experience the beginning fulfillment of the new creation (2.11-22), which will be fulfilled at the end of the age.

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Homer and Paul

Simpsons Tales Domain 8

Ephesians 6.11 reads, “Put on the panoply of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the Devil.”

In his commentary on Ephesians, Steven Baugh says,

Here the “schemes”… the Ephesians are to stand against are said to originate from the Devil, the father of lies… but they are manifest directly through human false teachers and their deceitful trickery.”

These texts look back to Ephesians 4.27, “and give no opportunity to the devil,” and 4.13c-14, “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Christ was won the victory and has ascended on high to the Father (Eph 4.8). Having received the promised Spirit (Acts 2.33) he gave gifts to us (Acts 2.33; Eph 1.13; 4.8). He gave people to build the church up so that we may all grow in maturity in Christ (4.11-13) and stand firm in Christ (4.14; 6.11). Since we are all a part of the body of Christ, we are to build each other up in love (4.16). And when e do anger one another, we are not to fall prey to the Devil’s schemes, but we are to remember our love for one another and forgive each other (4.25-27).

Romans 13.12 says, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Baugh says that there is “also a moral and eschatological aspect to this fight.” As 1 John says, we are in the last hour (2.18), and the Day of the Lord is near (Acts 2.20; 2 Pet 3.10).

Horse Tricks

Trojan Horse

It’s possible that there is more behind this text than what we think. Jeffrey Asher has suggested that “classical and especially Homeric deceit and trickery lies behind v. 11.”

Homer was memorized in the schools, chanted at the various festivals, and expanded on or imitated in countless other works (e.g., the Aeneid), and the Homeric myths, characters, and themes form the story lines of numerous plays in antiquity, including those put on in first-century Ephesus. One of the favorite Homeric characters was Odysseus, full of wit and guile (i.e., the Trojan horse and the deception of the Cyclops in his cave).


Odysseus was the deceiver; Achilles, the hero. Apparently Achilles “was godlike in battle strength with his divinely crafted, magically charmed armor (Il. 20.268).” Asher’s view holds that “Paul is calling on the audience to imitate Achilles and the other Homeric heroes in strength and battle prowess, while through Paul’s attribution of ‘schemes’… to the Devil and his followers, he ‘labels the enemy of the believers as an unworthy foe.’”

The Christian is to put on the panoply (“armor”) of God, which is a term that refers both to armor and weapons. Paul refers to the Roman armor in 6.14 and 16-17. Albrecht Oepke believes this armor corresponds “exactly’ to the gear of contemporary Roman soldiers of Paul’s day.”

Jeffrey Asher says,

This allusion to a Roman soldier, however, would not preclude additional and even more pronounced allusions to heroic characters such as Achilles and Odysseus.… Achilles was an adaptable character who was often ‘modernized’ to meet the needs of a new literary and artistic generation.

Baugh adds,

It should be noted that there were not very many Roman legionaries in first-century Ephesus, and most would have been in undress uniform rather than in their battle gear. Ephesians more frequently saw classical Greek armor and warriors depicted in their art, architecture, and coins, which further supports Asher’s insights.

So Paul’s language would be likely to first bring to mind not real Roman soldiers, but those portrayed in Roman culture, i.e., books like Homer’s Odyssey.


To give a modern translation, Ephesians 6.11 could read “Suit up, that you may stand against the schemes of the Devil.“ Saying “Suit up” would bring to the minds of many readers the many superhero comics, cartoons, and movies that are around. It may also draw up imagery of Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother, which I suppose would still work. In HIMYM, a situation goes haywire, Barney says, “Suit up!“, the group “stands firm together“ together, and by the end of the show everything is, at least somewhat, “fixed.”


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Paul’s “Long” Sentence (Eph 1.3-14)

Eutychus... probably sleeping through Paul's long sentence
Eutychus… probably fell asleep to Paul’s long sentences

Ephesians 1.3-14 has a long history of being “that long sentence” Paul wrote. But is it really as long as we think it is? How did Tychicus (Eph 6.21-22) read the letter aloud to the Ephesian church? Did Paul run too many races that all his sentences became run-ons?

Steven Baugh, author of the EEC volume on Ephesians, takes issue with the claim that the beginning of Ephesians is “a long sentence of 202 words” (quoting Hoehner). Baugh believes that it “makes it seem that Paul is writing an undifferentiated stream of text that gives a silent reader no break in thought.”

Before I get into a dense discussion on what these sentences would be and a bit on how it works, on the bottom of the post here I’ve written up Ephesians 1.3-14 according to how Baugh perceives Paul’s sentences were arranged. So if this gets too heavy, go to the bottom!

The Periodic Sentence

In his commentary on Ephesians, Steven Baugh spend a “considerable time in the introduction to each passage showing a suggested division of the text as it would have been perceived by the ancient audience and readers.” Baugh takes issue with the western conception of “sentences” and how we subconsciously make Paul fit our norm.

He argues that Ephesians 1.3-14 would not be “one long sentence.” Instead this “’periodic sentence’… in [Ephesians] 1:3–14, with over two hundred Greek words, is really the equivalent of an English paragraph, while the nine periods comprising this section are more like English sentences.

Ephesians has long been held as non-Pauline in many circles, so this is an important topic for Baugh. In his view it helps to affirm Pauline authorship. He states, “Ephesians looks very similar to other such periodic sentences in Romans [5.1-11, 12-21; 11.33-35] and elsewhere [2 Cor 6.14-16]….”

Some Nitty Gritty Kitty


The Greek colon (or plural, cola) was originally modeled on the dactylic hexameter (if you’re sucker for punishment, watch this video for an explanation) of epic poetry. It is also known as “heroic hexameter” and “the meter of epic.” Either should be easier to remember than dactylic hexameter

This epic meter is a form of meter or rhythmic scheme in poetry. It is associated with the meter of classical epic poetry (e.g., Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses) and was consequently considered to be the Grand Style of classical poetry.

A colon could be a word or two, or it could be longer. An example of a short colon would be Ephesians 4.5,

one Lord,

one faith,

one baptism.

And, to put it simply, a group of cola with a unity of thought create a period. For example, Ephesians 1.3 would look like this,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who has blessed us

with every blessing of the Spirit

in the high-heavenlies in Christ.

“But Everyone’s Doing It”

The trained speaker could give the period in one breath. Baugh says that “the end of the period was a place of particular focus and emphasis since there was a pause while the speaker or reader took a breath and left the last few words in the audience’s mind before starting up again.” In fact, this mindset of speech-delivery was a part of everyone’s elementary education in the Greco-Roman world. Everyone learned how to compose Greek this way.

Despite what we think about Paul’s speaking abilities based on his words in 2 Corinthians 10.10 and 11.6, Paul actually did have some education in proper speech-delivery. In 2 Corinthians Paul is stating that he isn’t as skilled as the false teachers – nor did he need to be. His authority comes from God, not from a glorious vernacular.

While Paul had skill, he was no showman. He didn’t take much interest in polishing smoothness into his speeches. Jerome said of Paul, “‘As a Hebrew of the Hebrews,’ he lacked ‘the polish of rhetorical speech, the knowledge of the proper arrangement of words and the grace of eloquence.’”

Now Baugh doesn’t delve into this weighty topic just to fill space. His analysis of the text is “literary for the sake of exegesis.” His analysis “centers on the flow, divisions, focus, and unity of these [Ephesians] texts.” Rather than using our modern ways of dividing the text (chapter-verse), they way Baugh organizes the cola and periods of Paul’s writing forms the basis of Baugh’s own interpretation “in order to take us back more closely to how an ancient text actually worked.

As you read the Ephesian text below, perhaps you could read the text aloud to have an idea of what it would be like to be in the Ephesian church hearing Paul’s words. Think about the beginning words that break the silence of each sentence, and listen to those words which hang at the end of that sentence.

Ephesians 1.3-14

Below I have attempted to put the English text in the same order as Baugh’s Greek arrangement (which I have left out). I hope you can get an idea of how the text would sound. However, I can, at best, only give you an idea of how the text would work. Translation is a funny thing. We miss out on many word plays and literary connections in the English text. The form of the content in our English sentences are different too, as this dense quote tells us (if you can make it through this quote, you can make it through anything).

Aldo Scaglione (author of The Classical Theory of Composition from its Origins to the Present) says,

Elements of rhythm, formal arrangement, and physiological division (on the basis of delivery according to breathing capacity) remained, to ancient ears, more basic than considerations of logical content and organization. Thus, for instance, both complete periods and parts… are sometimes hard for us [present-day air-breathers] to reconstruct, because they do not necessarily correspond to our sentences and clauses or even phrases—which are essentially logical and… syntactic units.

Translation and Outline

1. For the Father’s eternal, gracious purpose (1:3–6a)


(3)   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who has blessed us

with every blessing of the Spirit

in the high-heavenlies in Christ,


(4)   insofar as he chose us in him

before the foundation of the world

that we should be holy and blameless

before him.


In love

(5)   he predestined us for adoption

to himself through Jesus Christ

according to the good pleasure of his will

(6)   for praise of the glory of his grace,

2. For the Son’s climactic, redemptive accomplishment (1:6b–10)


which he bestowed on us in his Beloved,

(7)   in whom we have our redemption through his blood,

the forgiveness of our transgressions,

according to the riches of his grace,


(8)  which he lavished upon us

in all wisdom and insight

(9)  when he made known to us the mystery of his will

according to his good pleasure,



  which he purposed in him

(10)  for the administration of the fullness of (all) eras

  to sum up all things in the Messiah,

  the things in heaven and things on earth in him,wFor the Spirit’s


3. For the Spirit’s down payment of the new creation (1:11–14)


(11)   In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined

  according to the purpose of him who works all things

  according to the counsel of his will,

(12)   to be the praise of his glory.

  we who were the first to hope in Christ


(13)   in whom you heard the word of truth,

  the gospel of your salvation,

  in whom you believed,

  you were sealed with the Spirit of promise,


(14)  who is a down payment of our inheritance

  for redemption of his prized possession

  for the praise of his glory.

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Romans 7, Who Am ‘I’?

Another article on this topic that you can read is written by my friend Lindsay and can be found here

Who is Paul talking about in Romans 7.7-25? Is it the present believer or the pre-Christian believer? For all of my life I thought it was the state of the Christian until I took a class on Romans at CCBCY with Randy McCracken, where I was introduced to a few differing opinions.

Why do many think that Paul is talking about the Christian state of living? “This [opinion] is driven first by our own [first-person] experience (we often do what we know not to be right) and then confirmed by the use of the present tense in Romans 7:14–25, which would seem to indicate that Paul must be talking about his current condition” (620).

Though the believer, according to Romans 6.1-7.6, is “living beyond the reach of sin,” our struggle now shows us that there is a conflict. Part of our groaning in this present life “is due to the lingering power of sin over the believer” (620).


(Yeah, I guess something like that is the idea)

The Problem

Romans 6.22 says, But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Yet Paul, if he is speaking of himself in Romans 7.14, would be saying that he is still sold under sin.

  1. “[What] then exactly what did Paul mean when he said that Christian believers were “set free from sin” (Rom 6:22) and that we have “died to sin” and no longer to “live in it” (Rom 6:2)?
  2. What did Paul mean when he said “sin will have no dominion over you” (Rom 6:14) if the believer is still at the mercy of sin (Rom 7:17–18)?
  3. How can Paul at one point affirm that only the “doers of the law” will be justified (Rom 2:13) but later be content with the mere desire to do good?
  4. How can we “present our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness” (Rom 6:13) and “yield our members to righteousness unto sanctification” (Rom 6:19) if “I can will what is right but I cannot do it” (Rom 7:18)?”

This isn’t simply Paul modifying what he said in Romans 6.1–7.6. This is “a complete recantation of the newness of the life Christ has provided” (620).

A Possible Solution

It may be that Paul is using the “I” in Rom 7.7-25 as a “rhetorical device known as prosopopoiia, where the speaker presents a vivid characterization of some figure or position through first-person speech” (620). So Romans 7.7-25 would be “an expression of life apart from Christ and, in particular, life under the law apart from Christ” (620).

Romans 7.7

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

DeSilva states,

The key to this speech is found in Romans 7:7: Paul is wrestling with the question of the function of the law… and speaks from a particular vantage point in salvation history—the position of humanity convicted by the law but powerless to keep the law. This, then, provides a more vivid depiction of the plight from which Christ frees the human being through the gift of the Spirit (Rom 6:1–7:6; 8:1–17). The verdict of ‘no condemnation’ is in effect because the ‘law of the Spirit of life’ has in fact set the believer free from the ‘law of sin and death’.

The past tense of Romans 8:2 shows Romans 7:23 (and thus Rom 7:7–25 as a whole) to be describing a past state as well…. God is to be thanked precisely because the gift of the Holy Spirit has made it possible to live beyond the dominion of the passions of the flesh, reversing the state of Romans 1:18–32. Now God’s righteousness can take hold of the believer, and God’s standards of righteousness take shape within the believer (620).

So Then What is the Law?

Paul’s opinion of the law seems to be much different than that of other Jewish authors.

  • The Book of Sirach 17.11 says, Beside this he gave them knowledge, and the law of life for an heritage, and in 45.5 declares, He let him hear his voice and led him into the dark cloud, where, face to face, he gave him the commandments, the Law that gives life and knowledge, so that Moses might teach the covenant regulations to the Israelites.
  • Baruch 3.9 states, Hear the commandments of life, O Israel; give ear, and learn wisdom!

    • However in Romans 7.10, Paul says of the law that “the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me,” which is putting the opinion of the Law in stark contrast with that of there other writers. Paul understands the Law as “the occasion for sin to increase its stranglehold on humanity” (626).
  • In fact, the author of 4 Maccabees says in 2.6, In fact, since the law has told us not to covet, I could prove to you all the more that reason is able to control desires. Just so it is with the emotions that hinder one from justice. So if the Law commands it, humans are able to perform it.

    • Paul, on the other hand, quotes the same commandment (“You shall not covet”) and provides a negative perspective: For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead (Rom 7b-8).
  • The author of 4 Ezra is the most similar to Paul’s view, yet he doesn’t solve the dilemma the individual faces when confronted with the Law. DeSilva gives us the text on page 626:

You bent down the heavens and shook the earth…to give the law to the descendants of Jacob, and your commandment to the posterity of Israel. Yet you did not take away their evil heart from them, so that your law might produce fruit in them. For the first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him. Thus the disease became permanent; the law was in the hearts of the people along with the evil root; but what was good departed, and the evil remained. (4 Ezra 3:12–27; 7:92).

The Hope We Have In Christ


Why does Paul have such a negative view on the Law, when most of the previous Jewish authors (including David, Ps 19; 119) had nothing but good to say about God’s Law? DeSilva gives his answer:

Paul’s view of the role of the Law is profoundly influenced by his experience of the risen Jesus and the pouring out of God’s Holy Spirit. In view of the glorious liberation from the power of sin that came with the Spirit and its ongoing leading and empowerment, Paul comes to a new view about the limited role of the Law. This ‘limit’ is also established by God’s endowing both Jews and Gentiles with the Spirit, whereas the Law largely served to keep Jews apart from Gentiles rather than extending God’s righteousness to them as well.

While the Law reveals God’s just requirements, it falls to the Spirit to empower human beings to live out those requirements. Only the Spirit is sufficient to overcome the power of sin, against which the human being only had his or her own moral resources prior to the gift of the Spirit…. (627).

Schreiner, in his book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law,

[In] Psalm 119:159, ‘Give me life according to your steadfast love.’ Life comes from God’s steadfast love, that is, from his grace and mercy. Human beings do not merit or gain life by observing the law. Psalm 119:88 is even clearer, ‘In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.’ Life comes only from the grace of God, and the consequence of such life is the keeping of God’s testimonies and precepts. The psalmist does not teach that life is gained by obedience. Life finds its origin in God’s gracious work. Surely this sentiment is very Pauline (85-86).


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Enemies in Philippi

Philippians is a letter that overflows with joy and thanksgiving. Paul thanks the Philippians for their gift which was brought by Epaphroditus. He was sick but now has recovered and is returning to Philippi. Paul is content in any situation, even in prison, and he is thrilled that people are hearing about and accepting Christ.

I’m reading David deSilva’s An Introduction to the New Testament. While most introductions go book by book, giving the bare facts of date, authorship, and what the book is about, deSilva strives to show the cultural and social settings in the lives of the apostles and their readers. When we look at a text from the Bible we often (more often than we like) think, “Why does he say that?” That same question applies here. In a letter so full of joy, “Why, then, did Paul speak about those who ‘preach Christ out of envy’ (Phil 1:15–18), the Judaizing missionaries whom he calls ‘dogs’ (Phil 3:2), and those Christians who live as ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’ (Phil 3:18–19)?” (656).

If you don’t remember those verses I’ll give you a refresher.

1. Those who preach Christ out of envy; 1.15-18

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

2. The Judaizing dogs; 3.2-3

“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh….“

3. The Christians who live as enemies of the cross; 3.18-19

“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

Friendship and Enmity

DeSilva says that that fact that this is a letter of friendship actually helps us to figure out Paul’s motives.

In the ancient mind friendship is directly related to enmity. ‘Constant attentiveness to friends automatically meant constant watchfulness of enemies’. Since their friendship is based on mutual commitment to shared values and ideals, the bond of friendship—not just between Paul and the church but among the Philippian Christians who have begun to experience internal conflict—can be strengthened by the awareness of others who do not share these values, who are in fact committed to contradictory values. History has repeatedly shown that a group’s internal cohesion and cooperation can be enhanced by drawing attention to the ‘real’ enemies outside the group (656–657).

By having Paul refer to the “dogs” and “evil workers” (3.2) and the “enemies of the cross of Christ” (3.18), Paul is reminding the Philippian Christians “of those who are truly unlike them, thus reminding them of their essential unity and commonality” (657). Paul presents these three groups as contrasts against a “true Christian mindset” (657). While the “dogs” are “evil workers” who “mutilate the flesh,” Paul places him and the Philippian Christians on the same team by saying that they together are “the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (3.3). And then Paul presents the virtuous behavior of a mature Christian in 3.7-16.

Rather than living in strife, rivalry, and selfishness as the rival preachers do (1.15a, 17), the Philippian church is to be of the same mind, have the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (2.1). They are to look out for the interests of others (2.4) just as Christ did when he became a servant who obeyed God and died on the cross (2.5-8). He did this in the midst of an adulterous and sinful generation (Mk 8.38), just like crooked and twisted generation the Philippian believers live in (2.15). The situation in Philippi, then, does not involve rival Christian teachers; rather, Paul makes frequent and brief references to “enemies” in order to build up unity and cooperation within the group (657).


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Book Review: Praying with Paul (D. A. Carson)

Praying with Paul

(The bigger, the better, right?)

D. A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) and is the author and editor of more books than you can shake a stick at (or “more than fifty books” as the back cover says). Simply, if you haven’t heard of Carson, you haven’t read a book (or my blog, at least). If you haven’t read Carson, this would be a good place to start. After seeing all that Carson has written about, one might think he lives in a high, impregnable ivory tower. But when one looks at all he’s done, all he’s preached on, and all he’s written, one should get a different idea about him.

In Praying with Paul, A Call to Spiritual Reformation (2nd Ed.), Carson invites the reader to look with him at some of the Apostle Paul’s prayers to the Father. What is Paul’s perspective when he prays? Does he pray for good health? A good life? Or does he pray for wisdom? Life? And not only for himself, but for others too? Carson looks at prayer through Paul’s eyes (along with Moses and Daniel), the proper perspective of God, and why we should pray when God is sovereign and already has the plan laid out.


In Chapter One, after expressing his own inadequacies in the school of prayer, Carson lists 8 practical prayer helps that he has received from more mature prayer warriors. In Chapters Two and Three, Carson works through 2 Thessalonians 1.1-12 (and 1.3-12), giving us the structure of prayer and what kind of petitions we should bring before the living God. Chapter Four is focused on praying for others and looks at a long list of Paul’s commands to pray for others. Chapter Five (1 Thessalonians 3.9-13) covers Paul’s passion for people, sinners just like you and me, praying they make it to the end. We look at Colossians 1.9-14 in Chapter Six, and we see “what to pray for, how to approach God,” and that we would live a life that is pleasing to Him. Chapter Seven looks at excuses we make not to pray. In Chapter Eight (Philippians 1.9-11) Paul prays that his readers would abound in the knowledge of God, which will lead them (and us) to be eager to pray.

Chapter Nine works to answer the long-asked question, “How does prayer change things if God is sovereign?” [See my posts here]. Chapter Ten (Ephesians 1.15-23); For what “reason” (Eph 1.15) does Paul set himself to pray? For all that God has done for the believer. Chapter Eleven (Ephesians 3.14-21) Paul prays for ‘power,’ power through the Holy Spirit, and “power to grasp the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ.” And this power is likely not what we think it is. Chapter Twelve (Romans 15.14-33); We look at a final, fresh prayer of Paul, one that was only partially answered. We should be praying for ministry, further ministry, both for ours and for another’s, and that God would give life to the people we and others are serving.

The Chocolate Milk

I enjoyed the book as a whole, I especially enjoyed Chapters Nine through Eleven (probably due to the placement of Chapter Nine). After considering how God works with, in, and through prayer, Chapter Ten Paul prays because God is sovereign. “Just as Daniel prayed for the end of the exile because God had promised that the exile would end, so Paul prays that christians may grow in their knowledge of God because God had declared his intention to expose his people to the glories of his grace, both now and for eternity (Chapter Nine, 149).” Because God has promised to work, God does work. In Chapter Eleven the power God strengthens us with, rather being some king of grand might where we easily overcome our fears, sins, dry spells, and worries, is one that keeps us weak so that we will rely on him. As we focus on the cross of Christ, we see how we are to live: sacrificing ourself and humbling ourselves for the benefit of all others.

But before I begin preaching (these were first sermons by Carson), the entire book is a gem. Carson knows the hardships in prayer. “The idea… is that Paul understands real praying to include an element of struggle, discipline, work, spiritual agonizing against the dark powers of evil. Insofar as the Roman Christians pray this way for Paul, they are joining him in his apostolic struggle” (188). In praying we are warring against the enemy. No wonder it’s so difficult. And it’s not enough to know theology. It’s not enough to know about God. We need to know Him. He is a personal God, and we are to pray for his promises in our lives and in the lives of others.


I have yet to read Keller’s book on Prayer, but I would imagine this would be an excellent companion volume. Any book by Carson is good, and this book is no different. Prayer is difficult to follow through with in my own life. As a natural-born introvert, one-way conversations don’t get my blood pumping (not do two-, three- four-. etc). But following along Paul’s fresh prayers, along with other biblical characters and the psalms, we can begin to view prayer in the proper way. Rather than making it all about ourselves, our day, our jobs, and so on, we can pray for true spiritual maturity in our lives, our spouses, our children, and others, and we can see why we can and should do it. Carson speaks with gentleness and clarity. This isn’t a book on boring exegesis. It’s on exposition. What does Paul say? What does it mean? And how can we make this ours? Mature prayer warriors (if I may use the term in a non-cliche way) are few and far between. It doesn’t take being a spiritual giant to pray. It simply takes seeing who God reveals himself to be in his word and wanting to know more of him that you can sit down and pray. This book is easy for any high schooler to read, but it has the depth and clarity from a scholar of over 40 years.


  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic; 2 edition (January 20, 2015)
  • PDF Sample Here


  1. God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 1
  2. GS & HR, Part 2
  3. GS & HR, Part 3
  4. GS & HR, Part 4
  5. GS & HR, Part 5
  6. Two Poems on Prayer

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[Special thanks to Baker Academic  for allowing me to review this book! I was not required to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

Two Poems from Carson’s “Praying with Paul”

In D.A. Carson’s book Praying with Paul, he gives the reader two poems from two anonymous authors which “sum up a great deal of profound theology in very practical terms” (200).

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.

I thought that in some favoured hour
At once he’d answer my request;
And, by his love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry power of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried.
“Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?”
“Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free,
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me!”

And also:

He asked for strength that he might achieve;
wwhe was made weak that he might obey.
He asked for health that he might do greater things;
wwhe was given infirmity that he might do better things.
He asked for riches that he might be happy;
wwhe was given poverty that he might be wise.
He asked for power that he might have the praise of men;
wwhe was given weakness that he might feel the need of God.
He asked for all things that he might enjoy life;
wwhe was given life that he might enjoy all things.
He has received nothing that he asked for, all that he hoped for;
wwhis prayer is answered.

This isn’t a warning to “be careful what you pray for.” It’s to let you know that God is more interested in conforming us into the image of his Son (Rom 8.29) than he is letting us live fat and happy. Our ideas of health and wealth may be too close to walking the line (Mk 4.7, 18-19). Rather, we often have our own thorns that keep us from becoming prideful and which are meant to help us keep our eyes on our Sovereign Lord. When you’re weak, you can’t do anything but obey. When you have infirmity, you don’t have the ability to spread yourself. You focus on what God has given you and you do it well. In poverty you learn to fix and do things yourself, learning how the created world is set to work. In our weakness we see that God is all we have. With eternal life, God is the center and everything flows out of him. Rivers of living water make our good days, our difficult days, and our boring days meaningful and hope-filled. The man in the second poem asked for certain means to bring him to a certain end. As a loving, eternal Father, God gave him a better end, one filled with a “broken” life with him.  Broken of our schemes of earthly joy, that we may seek our all in him.

Next, my review of Carson’s Praying with Paul.

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 5

This is the final post of our series on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, which comes from D.A. Carson’s book Praying with Paul. We’ll look at two prayers from two spiritual giants: (1) Daniel and (2) Moses.

Other Case Studies

“Those who pray in the Scriptures regularly pray in line with what God has already disclosed he is going to do” (139).


Daniel knew about God’s promised word to Jeremiah (Dan 9.2) that at the end of the seventy year exile the Jews would travel back to their homeland. God is not a machine, but is personal. Daniel “appeals to God to preserve the integrity of his own name, the sanctity of his own covenant, his reputation for mercy and forgiveness.

And the exile ends” (140).


Moses is receiving the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel are committing heinous idolatry. The people have declared their loyalty to Yahweh, the One who rescued them from abject slavery, but in a moment’s notice they turn their backs and worship a golden calf. God is furious and threatens to destroy them (Exod. 32:9–10).

But Moses intercedes for Israel, “appealing to God both as the Sovereign and as the supreme personal Deity” (140). While they have sinned and God could destroy them, the Egyptians would mock God, saying he couldn’t even save his own people. Or, perhaps worse, he led them out in order to destroy them.

Moses reminds God of his promises to the forefathers, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever’” (32.12).

Moses isn’t thinking fatalism here (“simply trust the promises of God and everything will work out”). Moses turns to intercession: “Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people” (32:12).

“Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened” (32:14).

Many say, “See? God does change his mind. His purposes are not sovereign and steadfast. Prayer does change things because it changes the mind of God” (141).

But perhaps we should look at a few more prayers.

Amos and the False Prophets in Ezekiel

In the book of Amos, God threatens judgment against Israel. Amos, hearing about it, passionately intercedes on their behalf: “I cried out, ‘Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!’ ” (Amos 7:2). “Amos’s prayer proves effective. Twice we are told, ‘So the Lord relented’ (7:3, 6)” (141).

On the other end, “God berates the false prophets of Israel precisely because they do not intercede for the people” (Ezek. 13:5, p. 141).

What Doth This Meaneth?

“God expects to be pleaded with; he expects godly believers to intercede with him. Their intercession is his own appointed means for bringing about his relenting, and if they fail in this respect, then he does not relent and his wrath is poured out” (142).

What happened with Moses? “Moses is effective in prayer not in the sense that God would have broken his covenant promises to the patriarchs, nor in the sense that God temporarily lost his self-control until Moses managed to bring God back to his senses. Rather, in God’s mercy Moses proved to be God’s own appointed means, through intercessory prayer, for bringing about the relenting that was nothing other than a gracious confirmation of the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (142).

Is this kind of praying left only to Moses, Daniel, Amos, and Paul? No. James says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit“ (James 5.17-18).

It’s not that these men (and women) were so special and so gifted and so “holy” that God gave extra ear to them. It’s that they sought out the purposes of God, who God is, what his character is, and they trusted in Him. They prayed believing that God was listening. This does not mean God is a genie and all of our prayers will be answered (not all of Paul’s were). But we do serve a personal God who listens to us, who condescends to us in the form of a human being. Jesus taught us how to pray that we might sit around and parse the details of Greek? No. Though that is a good thing to do in your studies (if you know Greek, Jesus taught us to pray so that we could pray!

God’s character is profoundly mysterious to us. He has revealed himself to us, yet he is infinite and we are not. The more we study his word, the more we will learn how to pray, what to pray for, why we should pray, and how we should ask. We will learn more about our Father and hopefully will be drawn to speak with him as he has spoken to us first. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4.19).

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1.9-10, 13, 18).

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 4

This is part 4 of our quest on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, which comes from D.A. Carson’s book Praying with Paul. We have questions; the Bible has answers. We expect all of our questions to be answered. The Bible is a puzzle just waiting to be solved. We simply need to figure out all the pieces.

Not quite. We need to remember Deuteronomy 29.29 which says, The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

There is mystery in God’s nature. Pieces of the puzzle we can’t always put together. One action that should we never try to do is to jam the pieces of the puzzle together to make them fit. Have you ever tried to piece together a real puzzle? These aren’t blueberries. Jamming never works.

We need to remember that mystery is not nonsense. God is infinite and we do not and will not understand everything there is to know about him.

What is ‘Freedom’?

Does “freedom” mean that we have the ability “to choose, to believe, to disobey,” and to not believe? Is it having the power to work outside of God’s sovereignty? For if God is sovereign, perhaps it does not matter what we do. All is inevitable. We know the end of the story and it will happen. And if our decisions are not ultimately ours, “how can we be held morally accountable” (135)?

Yet, as Carson points out, many theologians don’t define freedom as having power to act outside of God’s sovereignty. Pontius Pilate, Herod, and the rest conspired to kill Jesus Christ, and that is exactly what they did. Yet Revelation 13 tells us Christ was crucified before the foundations of the world… before Pilate, Herod, and the rest were even born.

What gives? They did what they wanted to do. Many theologians tie “freedom” to “desire, to what human beings voluntarily choose…. Joseph’s brothers did what they wanted to do; Herod and Pilate… did what they wanted to do; the Assyrians did what they wanted to do.” (135). God was working behind the scenes in each of these cases, but that does not erase the responsibility of the participants. They did what they wanted to do.

Standing Behind Good and Evil

Carson gives us two positions to avoid:

  1. Supposing that God does not stand (in any sense) behind evil.
  2. Supposing that God stands behind good and evil in the exact same way.

The former would mean that when evil happens it is outside of God’s control. If he’s not behind the evil, then something else must be. There must be another power that is outside of God’s rule which challenges him. In philosophy this is called “Dualism,” and dualism is wrong. Which side will win? Good…or evil?

Let’s get ready to rumble.

But fortunately that is not the case.

View 2 holds that what God ordains takes place. He ordains good, then good takes place. He ordains evil, then evil takes place. If he doesn’t ordain it, then it doesn’t take place. But what happens if he stands behind both good and evil equally, or symmetrically? Then he is entirely amore. Powerful, but not good.

“The Bible’s witness will not let us accept either of these positions. The Bible insists God is sovereign, so sovereign that nothing that takes place in the universe can escape the outermost boundary of his control; yet the Bible insists God is good, unreservedly good, the very standard of goodness” (136).

We are driven to conclude that God does not stand behind good and evil in exactly the same way. In other words, he stands behind good and evil asymmetrically. He stands behind good in such a way that the good can ultimately be credited to him; he stands behind evil in such a way that what is evil is inevitably credited to secondary agents and all their malignant effects. They cannot escape his sway, in exactly the same way that Satan has no power over Job without God’s sanction; yet God remains mysteriously distant from the evil itself (136).

Another Way

God could be sovereign, but nothing more. In control, but a machine.

God could be personal, but nothing more. A kind friend, speaking and responding, but not very “transcendent.”

Rather, he is both transcendent and personal.

God is Transcendent

He exists above/beyond time and space, for he existed before the universe was created.

From his exalted position he sovereignly rules all creation, al nations, and all peoples.

God is Personal

He is a Father. He speaks. He spoke through his Son who came to earth to be with the likes of us. He suffered and was tempted in all points as we are, though without sin, and can sympathize with us (Heb 4.15). If I obey God’s command, I am obeying God, my Father in heaven. By believing in his Son, I too become his son.

Bearings On Prayer?

If God is sovereign, and we are morally responsible for our actions, if God is both transcendent and personal, if all of this involves some degree of mystery, how can we be so sure we’ll understand this correctly? How do we know we won’t fling off to one extreme side thinking it all makes so much sense?

To see how these truths function in our lives, we must read the Scriptures and see how these truths functioned in the lives of the believers there (138).

How Does x Function in Scripture?

1. Election

  • It’s not placed there to stop evangelism.
  • It emphasizes the wonder of grace (Jn 6.68-70; Rom 9).
  • It ensures “spiritual fruitfulness among God’s people” (Jn 15.16; p. 138).
  • It encourages perseverance in evangelism (Acts 18.9-10).

2. Exhortations to Believe and Obey

  • They don’t reduce God to being dependent on our actions.
  • They increase our responsibility (Gal 5.7; Col 1.23).
  • They emphasize the urgency of the steps we must take (2 Cor 13.5; ).
  • They show us what the proper response is to this kind of God (2 Tim 3.1-7; Titus 2.11-13; Heb 2.1-4).

3. The Repeated Truth of God’s Sovereign Providence

It’s never positioned in such a way to produce fatalism (An Eyore sort of “This is jus’ the way it’s goin’ t’be. Can’t do nuthin’ ’bout it.”)

  • It never allows us “to be morally indifferent on the ground that [we] can’t really help it anyway” (139).
  • It gives me reason for believing that everything is in God’s gracious control (Phil 1.6), with all things work out for the good of those who trust in him (Rom 8.28).

4. God’s Sovereignty in Passages of Prayer

  • The passages on prayer are never a disincentive to pray!
  • It forbids the wrong way of praying:
    • “Jesus forbids his followers from babbling like pagans who think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matt 6.8; p. 139).
    • Though this verse does not run against persevering in praying (Luke 11, 18).
  • In John 17.1 Jesus prays, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Throughout John “the hour“ was the appointed time when the Father would glorify the Son (by way of the cross). When the “hour has come,” Jesus doesn’t simply say, “Alright, Dad. Youwill be done. I’m ready for this.” And God’s sovereignty certainly doesn’t breed a silent fatalism, one of sitting and waiting for the guards to bust the doors down and take Jesus away.
    • No, Jesus’ logic runs in this direction” “May Father’s appointed hour for the ‘glorification’ of his Son has arrived; so then, Father, glorify your Son” (139).


Next Time

In my final post I will have a final case study on two characters who prayed at two special times: Daniel’s prayer for God to fulfill his promise in Daniel 9 and Moses who interceded for Israel after they committed idolatry with the golden calf.

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 3

Here’s Part 3 of our series on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility taken from D. A. Carson’s Praying with Paul. There are seven passages that support both God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. Last time I covered four passages (Gen 50:19-20; 2 Sam 24; Isa 10.5-19; Jn 6.37-40), and today I’ll cover the last three (Phil 2.12-13; Acts 18.9-10; Acts 4.23.30).

5. Philippians 2.12-13

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Paul isn’t telling his readers that God has pulled his weight, and now they must pull theirs. Nor does he tell them to “Let go and let God,” since it is ultimately all up to him. Paul tells the Philippians to work out their own salvation “precisely because it is God working in them, both at the level of their will and at the level of their actions…. Not only is the truth of our two propositions assumed, but God’s sovereignty, extending so far that it includes our will and our action, functions as an incentive to our own industry in the spiritual arena” (131).

We see that we work as God is working in us, and as God is working in us we will live to be pleasing to him, and we will want to do it.

6. Acts 18.9-10

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Here, “God’s elections becomes an incentive to evangelism” (132). Paul’s opponents made it impossible to stay in Thessalonica, Berea, and everywhere else. Paul had it all: beatings, rods, whips, stones, storms, shipwrecks, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, long travels, and constant worry for the churches and the people in them. Paul didn’t need a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven, or a man from Macedonia speaking 2 him. He needed Jesus.

It’s encouraging to know that nobody will attack him, but the Lord didn’t stop there. No one will attack Paul to harm him for (or ‘because’) the Lord had “many in this city who are [the Lord’s] people.” Paul has the promise of many conversions, promised under God’s election, and of protection. Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half during his first trip there.

Carson says, “God’s sovereignty in election, far from discouraging evangelism, becomes an incentive to get on with the task. Once again, both of our propositions are assumed to be true” (133).


And finally, the kicker, “the most revealing of the seven” (133).

7. Acts 4.23-30

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​‘Why did the Gentiles rage, ​​​​​​​and the peoples plot in vain? ​​​​​​​​​​The kings of the earth set themselves, ​​​​​​​and the rulers were gathered together, ​​​​​​​against the Lord and against his Anointed’- ​​​for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

After being arrested, Peter and John tells the Christians in Jerusalem about their experience which leads them all to prayer. They confess God’s sovereignty, over the universe and over the nations, even those which rebel against him (Ps 2.2). In that psalm, though “the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One,” the “One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (Ps 2.4).

After having quoted Psalm 2.2 and mentioned the rulers standing against God and his Anointed One, they think of the most shocking instance of this blatant rebellion: the crucifixion. They go on. The blame is “laid at the feet of Herod, Pontius Pilate, and various Gentile and Jewish authorities, and then they add ‘They did what you power and will had decided beforehand should happen’” (Acts 4.28; p. 134).

Carson brings up two alternative thoughts that, if truly believed, would destroy “the fabric of the Christian faith” (134).

  1. The cross was an afterthought in God’s mind. God had Plan A, but once these screwballs messed things up, he had to set Plan B into action. The result was the atonement of Christ on the cross.
  2. If God is so sovereign that the conspirators merely did what God’s “power and will had decided beforehand should happen, then surely they are not guilty?

But Jesus went to the cross to pay the penalty incurred by all sinners. If they are not held guilty for this act, “why should they be held responsible for any act? And if they are not held responsible, then why should God have sent his Anointed One to die in their place” (134)?

Finally, Carson concludes by saying, “God is absolutely sovereign, yet his sovereignty does not diminish human responsibility and accountability; human beings are morally responsible creatures, yet this fact in no way jeopardizes the sovereignty of God. At Calvary, all Christians have to concede the truth of these two statements, or they give up their claim to be Christians” (134).


Hopefully you can get a glimpse of what is both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in these seven passages. I would encourage comments or questions dealing with these and other passages.

But our next questions is this, “Does God stand behind good and evil equally? Would that make him amoral? What does this have to do with prayer? What is my incentive?”


So… until next time…

Warrior Armour in Ephesians 6

In my previous post I went over how Paul quotes Ps 68 in Eph 4.8. What looks like a misquote or an ‘abuse of power,’ is actually Paul showing God’s character. He has After christ’s death on the cross, the war has been decisively won. Satan’s days are numbered. God is leading the captives to him, and giving gifts to those who put their faith in Christ. One of those gifts is the Holy Spirit, and we’ll see (hopefully) how the Divine Warrior of Isaiah 59 and 63 is seen today.

One of the ways that God wages war is through his people. This is another one of his gifts to us. Though, this ‘waging of war’ isn’t quite like what it sounds. First I’ll give two OT texts from Isaiah dealing with Yahweh as a Divine Warrior, and then I’ll reference Ephesians 6 and how this all wraps together.

Isaiah 59.15-19

15 Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him.
17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.

18 According to their deeds, so will he repay,
wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
to the coastlands he will render repayment.
19 So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west,
and his glory from the rising of the sun;
for he will come like a rushing stream,
which the wind of the Lord drives.

Isaiah 63.1-6

1 Who is this who comes from Edom,
in crimsoned garments from Bozrah,
he who is splendid in his apparel,
marching in the greatness of his strength?
“It is I, speaking in righteousness,
mighty to save.”

2 Why is your apparel red,
and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?

3 “I have trodden the winepress alone,
and from the peoples no one was with me;
I trod them in my anger
and trampled them in my wrath;
their lifeblood spattered on my garments,
and stained all my apparel.
4 For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and my year of redemption had come.

5 I looked, but there was no one to help;
I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold;
so my own arm brought me salvation,
and my wrath upheld me.
6 I trampled down the peoples in my anger;
I made them drunk in my wrath,
and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”


Isaiah 59 speaks of Yahweh displeased at the lack of truth in the land. As a result he puts on righteousness as a breastplate, and salvation like a helmet. He will repay the wicked according to their deeds (59.18). In Isaiah 65 he is the one who fights the battle. He “speaks in righteousness” and is “mighty to save” (65.1). The year of redemption had come (65.4). God would have his vengeance on his enemies, and redeem his people. He steps into battle. And he did so in Christ. He pours out his Spirit onto his people, and they put on the “whole armor of God” (Eph 6.11-18), that they may stand against the schemes of the devil.

How do they stand against the devils schemes? Ephesians 4 says that we build each other up by speaking the truth in love. We are to be kind and tender-hearted, forgiving one another as Christ forgave us (4.32), and not letting any corrupt talk (i.e., put-downs) come out of our mouth (4.29). In 2 Corinthians 2.5-11 Paul tells the church to forgive a particular man who opposed Paul prior to this. By forgiving as Christ has forgiven us, they would not be outwitted by Satan and his designs (i.e., schemes).

We wage war against Satan by forgiving our enemies, by being peace-makers (Matt 5.9), by loving one another (Jn 13.34-35), to warn and discipline others in love and as brothers and sisters (1 Cor 5.5; 2 Thess 3.13-15), and by building up Christ’s body by speaking truth in love (Eph 4.15). In his class on Isaiah, Watts says that Paul understands that a Spirit-filled church is God Himself on the earth bringing restoration to Jerusalem. “Jerusalem” will be made up of a new people who follow God. The enemy is no longer the enemy when they put their faith in Jesus. We wage war in a way opposite to what the world thinks we should do. But there will be a day of vengeance for those who despise the Holy One, and on that day the Holy One himself will wage war.


Originally this was going to be a pretty short post (on Eph 4.8 and Ps 68), but once I started I realized there was more than I bargained for. Paul doesn’t misquote Scripture or take some special liberties to change it, as if he were a ‘more special-er’ Apostle. He uses what he knows about God and tells the Ephesians that God is a giving and mighty Father (as it says in the rest of Psalm 68). He defeats his enemies, takes the spoil, and gives it to his righteous ones. God the Father gives his Son, and those who believe in the death and resurrection of his Son receive the Holy Spirit in order to fight against the enemy and build up God’s temple, the body of Christ. God wars against the enemy through his people, leading them in salvation to Christ, or leading them in judgment to death. It’s sobering. We follow the one, the only one, whose arm brings salvation.

Does Paul Misquote Psalm 68?


Does Paul feel like he has special liberties as God’s apostle to change the OT Scriptures? Perhaps he just misquoted it. In Ephesians 4.8 Paul quotes Psalm 68.18 and is the subject of much debate. I’ve copied much of Psalm 68 and some of Ephesians 4 below. Maybe we can read it to get some contextual clues as to Paul’s thinking. Or maybe we’ll remain confused.

In his class on Isaiah, Rikk Watts very briefly covers this topic. Originally I only intended on writing one single paragraph from what Watts said, but since then my thoughts (along with his own) have turned one paragraph into two posts. My next post will cover the Divine Warrior motif in Isaiah 59 and 63 and how that should play out in the life of the Christian.

God Shall Scatter His Enemies (Psalm 68)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. A Song.

God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered;
and those who hate him shall flee before him!
As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away;
as wax melts before fire,
so the wicked shall perish before God!
But the righteous shall be glad;
they shall exult before God;
they shall be jubilant with joy!

Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts;
his name is the Lord;
exult before him!
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God settles the solitary in a home;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

O God, when you went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain,

before God, the One of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.
Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad;
you restored your inheritance as it languished;
10  your flock found a dwelling in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

11  The Lord gives the word;
the women who announce the news are a great host:
12  “The kings of the armies—they flee, they flee!”
The women at home divide the spoil—
13  though you men lie among the sheepfolds—
the wings of a dove covered with silver,
its pinions with shimmering gold.
14  When the Almighty scatters kings there,
let snow fall on Zalmon….
18  You ascended on high, 

leading a host of captives in your train

and receiving gifts among men,

even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.

19  Blessed be the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation. Selah
20  Our God is a God of salvation,

and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death.
21  But God will strike the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of him who walks in his guilty ways….

28  Summon your power, O God,
the power, O God, by which you have worked for us.
29  Because of your temple at Jerusalem
kings shall bear gifts to you….
31  Nobles shall come from Egypt;
Cush shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God.

32  O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God;
sing praises to the Lord, Selah
33  to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens;

behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
34  Ascribe power to God,
whose majesty is over Israel,
and whose power is in the skies.
35  Awesome is God from his sanctuary;
the God of Israel—he is the one who gives power and strength to his people.
Blessed be God!

In Psalm 68 (I’ve put God’s actions in bold font) we see that God shall arise and drive His enemies away (vv1-2), but his righteous ones will be glad and jubilant (v3). He is a Father and protector (v5) to those in need. He settles them in their homes, and leads out prisoners to prosperity and freedom, to know him (v6). He gives rain in abundance and restores his inheritance to his people, the righteous (vv8-9). He provides for the needy (v10) and gives the word (v11). He leads captives and is worthy to receive gifts (v18). He delivers from death (v20) and sends out his might voice (v33). Is is the one who gives power and strength to his people (v35).

What does this psalm tell us about God? He is mighty. His word has power to destroy his enemies. He is a loving Father who is worthy of gifts and who leads and protects his righteous people. He gives them their inheritance, and what is his…is theirs. His goodness overflows to them.

Ephesians 4

In Ephesians 1-3 Paul has been going over all the spiritual blessings we now have in Christ. Chapters 4-6 are called the practical side of the letter, but Paul doesn’t stop telling his readers about what we have in Christ.


I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

Here Paul tells of how God gives us the Spirit. We have peace between God and us, and between each other. He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip all saints for the work of the ministry that God has given us (4.11-12). We can now grow into maturity (4.13), no longer remaining as children tossed around by every new (i.e., tasty but false, cunning, crafty, and deceitful) idea that people come up with (4.14). We grow in Christ and because of Christ, building each other in love (4.16). We love because he first loved us (1 Jn 4.19). We know love because we have seen and experienced love himself in our lives (1 Jn 1.1-3, though not in the same way as the apostles physically experienced Jesus).

Ephesians 4.8

Ps 68.18a says, You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men.” Why then does Paul say, “Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men’”?  Watts says that Paul “understands how Yahweh’s delivering action works.”

When YHWH wins great victories it isn’t only for his own benefit, but his own people participate abundantly in the spoils of his conquest (Watts, Lecture 4).

Israel has forsaken the Lord and have despised the Holy One of Israel (Isa 1.4). The faithful city has become a whore (1.21). If they are willing and obedient, they will eat of the good of the land (1.19), but if they refuse and rebel, they shall be eaten by the sword (1.20). And so in verses 24-25 the Lord declares that he will avenge himself on his enemies (like in Ps 68.1-2) and turn his hand against Israel. He will smelt away the dross and remove all alloy. “Afterwards” Israel will be called the city if righteousness, the faithful city, and Zion will be redeemed by justice. Those in her who repent will be redeemed by righteousness (1.26-27).

In Isaiah 65 Yahweh speaks of creating a new heavens and a new earth (65.17), and will create Jerusalem to be a joy (65.18). The new Jerusalem will be “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21.2). Yahweh redeems his people and includes Gentiles into the fold (Eph 3.11-22; cf Isa 56.3-8) through Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. God defeats his enemies and gives to his people.

Before I can get to the Conclusion, I have one more post to talk about that relates to God’s gifts. My next post (Friday) I’ll talk a little about God as the Divine Warrior in Isaiah 59 and 63 and what that has to do with Christians today.

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 2

Here’s the second part (part one here) of my series on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility taken from D. A. Carson’s Praying with Paul. There are seven passages that support both God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, and I’ll cover four today and three next time.

1. Genesis 50:19-20

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.’”

After the death of their father, Jacob’s son come to Joseph and plead with him not to take revenge on them. Big Joe, recognizing God’s hand through the whole situation (not to mention his life) tells them that God has intended this situation for good the entire time.

To understand what Joseph is saying, Carson gives two responses which Joe does not say:

  • “Look, miserable sinners, you hatched and executed this wicked plot, and if it hadn’t been for God coming in at the last moment, it would have gone far worse for me than it did.”
  • “God’s intention was to send me down to Egypt with first-class treatment, but you wretched reprobates threw a wrench into his plans and caused me a lot of suffering” (128).

Joseph had dreams of the brothers bowing down to him. Joseph’s brothers sold him off. In God’s sovereignty he raised up Joseph and saved millions of people during te famine years, but it does not excuse the brothers’ evil. And their evil plot does not shrink God’s sovereignty, making his power subject to their decisions. Both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are to be assumed true.

2. 2 Samuel 24


Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.” But Joab said to the king, “May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?’” But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel….”


“But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” Snd when David arose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and say to David, ‘’Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’”

In his anger over Israel, God stirs up David to take a census of the people. After David numbers up Israel, an act previously forbidden, his hearts strikes him with guilt and he must chose one of three severe judgments that God will deliver. The result: seventy thousand people die.

In reading this, we must remember what the Bible says about God.

Deuteronomy 32.4, The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
1 John 1.5, This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
Revelation 15.3-4, And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.’”

But there are other cases like 2 Samuel 24 “where God is presented as in some way behind the evil.” The evil does not simply slip past God’s eyes, leaving him to say, “Whoops!”

2 Thessalonians 2.11, Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false,
1 Kings 22.21, Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’

1 Chronicles 21 tells us that it is Satan, not God, who incites David to sin. Is this a contradiction, or is it merely different perspectives? In Job, does God afflict Job, or does Satan? All of the above?

The Point

“God is presented as sovereign over David’s life, including this particular sin in his life, while David himself is not thereby excused” (129).

[Interestingly, Michael Heiser says the 1 Chronicles passage doesn’t say it is Satan (which means adversary). The Hebrew says that it is not the satan (adversary),” but a satan” (or “an adversary”). A cross-reference to this would be Num 22.22, where Satan does not oppose Balaam. No, the adversary here is the Angel of Yahweh. Could this be the same thing here in 1 Chronicles?]

3. Isaiah 10.5-19

In a judgment on Assyria, Yahweh says, “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; ​​​​​​​the staff in their hands is my fury! ​​​​​​​​​​Against a godless nation I send him, ​​​​​​​and against the people of my wrath I command him, ​​​​​​​to take spoil and seize plunder, ​​​​​​​and to tread them down like the mire of the streets” (10.5-6).

God is sending the Assyrians against his own covenant-keeping (sometimes) community because he is angry at their sin. Still yet, God pronounces a “woe” on the Assyrians for their mission. How can they be punished if they’re following God’s command? Simply because they think Samaria and Jerusalem are some other pagan towns that they’re going to take over. “They think they are doing this all by themselves” (130).

God uses this military superpower as if it were a simple tool – a saw or an ax – to accomplish his purposes of judgment (10.15-16). But Assyria is not absolved of their “willful pride” or their “haughty look” (10.12). The stench of their sin fills the nostrils of Yahweh, and they too will be punished for their sin. They are held responsible.

4. John 6.37-40

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (6.37).

In reading verse 37, all of God’s chosen people area gift to the Son, and once the Son receives them he will keep them in and never drive them away.

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (6.38-39).

God is seen as sovereign in the process of salvation. His people are given by him to the Son “who preserves them to the last day when (he promises) he will raise them up” (131). Does this make Christians robots? No, for the next verse describes believers by what they do.

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (6.40).

Next Time

In Part 3 of our series I’ll cover the last three passages (Phil 2.12-13; Acts 18.9-10; Acts 4.23.30).