Wilhelmus á Brakel on Election and Assurance Part 1

It is thus the duty of every Christian to strive for assurance according to the exhortation of the apostle in 2 Peter 1:10, as this assurance is the fountain of much joy in God and results in much growth in sanctification. One does not obtain this assurance by ascending into heaven to examine the book of life for the purpose of ascertaining whether one’s name is to be found in it (Rom. 10:6-7). Neither is this assurance obtained by imagining oneself to be one of the elect, so that by the duration of this imagination one could consistently maintain this assurance, being of the opinion that it is a sin to be doubtful about it even though one lacks the least foundation for this assurance. Rather, one obtains this assurance from the Word of God wherein is found a clear description of those who are elect. If these characteristics are discerned within, he may draw the conclusion that he is one of the elect. (Christian’s Reasonable Service (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 247.)

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 2 Peter 1:10

Assurance of salvation is something that I have had past struggles with. I know I am not alone in this. As I examine my life it is interesting to me that embracing God’s sovereignty has only increased my assurance. What is the place of assurance on the life of the Christian? Can a person be saved and not know it?

á Brakel begins with the assertion that assurance is indeed something that a believer should seek and have. What I appreciate about the Apostle Peter’s exhortation and á Brakel’s treatment is the recognition, however, that assurance is something the believers do struggle with. At places in the New Testament, we see the biblical authors more certain of the readers’ salvation than the readers themselves (cf. Luke 22:32; Heb. 6:9). We should not miss the fact that Peter’s encouragement demands that some of his readers were indeed unsure of their “calling and election.”

But if God’s election is eternal and sovereign, how can anyone be sure of it? Brakel gives two important ways not to gain assurance. We cannot wish to know God’s hidden decrees. One day the books will be opened. But God is not like Amazon. He does not offer a look inside. In any event, such a vision would be disastrous. Do we live by faith or by sight? Seeing God’s list would only serve to destroy our faith…the very instrument of our salvation.

Secondly, we are not to talk ourselves into assurance. Having the wrong faith is just as damning as having no faith. As the saying goes we are not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith. So we are not assured of being God’s elect by our declaration that we are elect.

So how can I know for certain I am one of God’s elect?

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Thoughts on Life and Roads Not Taken

 

When I was three years old I went on my first missions trip. (Back then it was still called missions. None of the hip folk were around yet to shorten it to mission.) My parents toted me along to France for a couple of months.

Like my dad I would later graduate from Bible college. Like my dad I wanted to be a missionary.

But for my dad it was not to be.

As with most occupations, someone applying to be a missionary needs references. I don’t know how many they needed. It does not really matter. One of their references was from a man in their church who wrote something to convince the mission board my parents were not fit for full-time service. So my parents never made it into full-time missions. My dad spent his life in a 40 degree dairy cooler at Kroger. While just a short time after giving that negative recommendation, the man left the faith and his wife.

Several years after I married Abigail, I found out “the rest of the story.” That man was married to Abigail’s aunt- then left her and the faith.

Think of that.

My wife’s uncle kept my parents (and me) from living on the mission field.

Then he left his wife and the church.

And my dad spent his life working in a big refrigerator.

What might have been? What if my parents had chosen someone different for the reference? What if that man would not have said what he said? Maybe I would have grown up in France.

But then I would never have met that man’s then 1-year old niece.

One man.

He changed the life of my family forever.

Yet without him I would probably not have my family.

  Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. Proverbs 19:21

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 6: On the office of elder and the commercialization of Christmas

The sixth sermon in this series has no explicit treatment on God’s incomprehensibility, yet it is instructive in other ways. The sermon is a panegyric[1] delivered on the feast day of Philogonius.

In the sermon we see something of Chrysostom’s concept of the communion of the saints. The preacher is careful to emphasize that the remembrance of the departed saint does nothing to add to his glory in heaven. Instead, it is the living who draw encouragement and are even bettered by contemplating the lives of those departed saints (2,3).[2] Those saints who have gone onto heaven in no way need our prayers for they have entered perfect rest.

For today marks the anniversary of his entrance into a life of peace and calm in heaven. There, in heaven, he has moored his ship in a harbor in which there can be no suspicion of future shipwreck, fear, or pain. (3)

Chrysostom offers a meditation on Hebrews 12:22-23[3] and the themes of the church on earth and in heaven and on the celebration of feasts on earth and in heaven (5-10). The pinnacle of the differences is described by Chrysostom in paragraph 9:

Truly this is a marvelous festal gathering, What makes it greater than all others is the fact that, in the midst of the assembly, moves the king of all who are gathered there. After Paul[4] had said: “To countless angels in festal gatherings,” he went on to say: “And to God the judge of all.” And who ever saw a king coming to a festival? Here on earth no one has ever seen it. But those who are in heaven constantly behold their king, They can see him in their midst and they can also see how he sheds on all who are gathered there the brightness of his own glory.

The preacher does not mention it, but this actually relates to his earlier sermons in this series. The very first sermon was on the subject of man’s imperfect knowledge of God. Though barely mentioned, Chrysostom’s assumption throughout that sermon was that man’s knowledge would one day be “perfect.” In sermons three and four Chrysostom repeatedly asserted that the angles failure to “see” God meant they could not know God. So we begin to see that the beatific vision is reserved for those who have entered eternal rest. What is the true extent of that knowledge of God? Is it comprehensive? Chrysostom does not address these questions.

In remembering Philogonius Chrysostom has some very pastoral counsel for those who would seek greatness in the service of Christ:

Listen to the words Christ spoke to Peter after the resurrection. Christ asked him: “Peter, do you love me?” And Peter replied: “Lord, you know that I love you.” What did Christ then say? He did not say: Throw away your money. Fast from food. Live the hard life. Raise the dead, Drive out demons.” Christ did not bring forward or command any of these things or any other miracle or act of virtue. He passed all these by and said: “If you love me, feed my sheep.” Why did Christ say this? Because he wished to show us not only what is the strongest sign of love for him but also to point out the love which he himself shows for his sheep. So now he makes this the strongest proof which Peter can give of his love for him. For Christ’s words practically mean: “He who loves my sheep loves me.” (16)

Chrysostom continues blessing the office of the elder and Philogonius’ service in it (14-22), but of more interest to the modern hearer is what the preacher turns his attention to in the second half of his address (23-41). The feast day of Philogonius falls on December 20 which is, of course, just days before the celebration of Christmas. It is this celebration that Chrysostom devotes the rest of his sermon to.

I sometimes sympathize with those who question the celebration of Christmas. After all, no such observance is enjoined by Scripture and December 25 was almost certainly not the day Jesus was born. Yet in a very practical sense, Chrysostom is right to call it “the mother of all holy days” (23). Obviously,

Had Christ not been born in the flesh, he would not have been baptized, which is the Theophany or Manifestation; nor would he have been crucified, which is the Pasch; nor would he have sent down the Spirit, which is Pentecost. So it is that, just as different rivers arise from a source, these other feasts have their beginning from the birth of Christ. (24)

Chrysostom seems to look down into our own say when he seems to speak of the commercialization of Christmas. (Or perhaps, we should see that our day was not so different from his.) The preacher pinpoints why some care so little for the day:

Away with the business of the law courts! Away with the business of the City Council! Away with daily affairs together with their contracts and business deals! I wish to save my soul. “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his soul?” The magi went forth from Persia. You go forth from the affairs of daily life. Make your journey to Jesus; it is not far to travel if we are willing to make the trip. (34)

Indeed, the soul that contemplates the mystery of the Incarnation of the Messiah cannot help but to celebrate the day:

He became a man, he took upon himself the form of a servant, he was spat upon, he was slapped in the face, and, finally, he did not refuse to die the most shameful death. For he poured forth his blood on the cross. (17)
For the fact that Christ, who became man, also died was a consequence of his birth. Even though he was free from any sin, he did take upon himself a mortal body, and that should make us marvel. That he who is God was willing to become man, that he endured to accommodate himself to our weakness and come down to our level is too great for our minds to grasp. It makes us shudder with the deepest holy fear; it fills us with terror and trembling. (25)

So in a fitting pastoral application, especially for a year like this in which Christmas falls on Sunday, Chrysostom exhorts:

And this is why I ask and beg all of you to be here in church for that feast with all zeal and alacrity. Let each of us leave his house empty so that we may see our master wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This is a sight which is filled with holy fear and trembling. It is incredible beyond our every expectation.
What defense or excuse will we have when, for our sake, he comes down from heaven, but we do not even leave our homes to come to him? The magi were strangers and foreigners from Persia. Yet they came to see him lying in the manger. Can you, a Christian, not bear to give a brief measure of time to enjoy this blessed sight? (26-27)

 


[1] A panegyric is a festival speech. It is classified as epideictic rhetoric. “Epideictic is perhaps best regarded as including any discourse, oral or written, that does not aim at a specific action or decision but seek to enhance knowledge, understanding, or belief, often through praise or blame, whether of persons, things, or values.” G.A. Kennedy, “The Genres of Rhetoric,” in S.E. Porter, Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period, 330 B.C-A.D. 400 (Leiden: Brill, 1997) 43-50 cited in David E. Aune, The Westminster Dictionary of New Testament and Early Christian Literature and Rhetoric (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 162.

[2] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

[3] But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect (ESV)

[4] Chrysostom, as with most patristic writers, attributed authorship of Hebrews to Paul.

The Trinity in Scritpure: The Comfort of God

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter [παρακλητον] , that he may abide with you for ever… But the Comforter [παρακλητος] , which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:16,26)

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate [παρακλητον] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous… (1John 2:1)

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort [παρακλησεως]… (2Corintihians1:3)

If you have been long in the faith you have probably heard the explanation about “another” in John 14:16. Greek has two words to express the idea of another: another of the same kind and another of a different kind. It is something like the difference between “another” and “an other.” Jesus uses the first type of word: the word that indicates that the Holy Spirit is the same kind of comforter that Jesus is. The apostles have no reason to worry or fear. The Holy Spirit stands in the place of Christ and offers the comfort that the physical presence of Jesus would no longer provide. The Holy Spirit mediates between the Son and his disciples. He is sent to the disciples to draw them closer to Christ.

While John 14 is based on the assumption that Jesus is a comforter, the apostle John goes ahead and makes it clear in 1 John 2:1. Jesus is our comforter in our relationship to the Father. Jesus has borne the wrath of God against sin and presents us faultless before the throne of God. Jesus mediates between his disciples and the Father. He was sent into the world to rescue a people from sin, drawing them into fellowship with God.

The Father is the God of all comfort. A slightly different, but obviously related word is used here. Whereas the Son and Spirit are both a comforter (personal noun); the Father is the source of all comfort (impersonal noun). The Father is the source of all comfort. He eternally begets the Son who is our comforter before the Father. The Father is the source of all comfort: the Sprit eternally proceeds from him comforting God’s people with the presence of Christ.

This is yet another way we see the illumination of two truths that seem to be in tension. We are told by the more careful theologians that the Trinity acts in concert: what One does the Three does. Yet we also see individual “actions” each member performs. Most notably, it is only the Son who died for the salvation of humanity. But the death of the Son was a death to the Father in the Spirit. These passages remind us that the Trinity is a God of comfort. The comfort the Trinity offers to man is the comfort that the Three offer as One. The Spirit comforts us with Christ who comforts us with the Father who comforts us with the Son and Spirit.

For All Saints’ Day: You are the saint you want to be

Early in William Law’s A Serious Call to A Devout and Holy Life, the author provides the kind of slap in the face missing from all too many “Christian Life” books:

And if you will here stop, and ask yourselves, why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will you, that it is neither through ignorance, nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it.

This statement was a punch to the gut when I first read it. Being a somewhat active reader in church history I do have a tendency to romanticize the past. Being somewhat pessimistic by nature I do have a tendency to think things will never be that good again: “there were giants in the earth in those days.”

In his article “Our Unclaimed Riches”, A.W. Tozer elaborates on the same thought as Law. Tozer offers 4 convicting statements that get to the root of explaining your present condition in the Christian life:

  1. You will get nothing unless you go after it.
  2. You may have as much as you insist on having.
  3. You will have as little as you are satisfied with.
  4. You now have as much as you really want.

Taken in isolation these statements appear to be little better than the message of contemporary health-and-wealth televangelists. From beginning to end, however, Tozer is speaking of spiritual riches. For instance, immediately after the fourth statement Tozer writes, “Every man is as close to God as he wants to be; he is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wills to be.”

So are Law and Tozer right? Am I as holy as I want to be? Consider:

  1. God’s plan for you is holiness and Christ-likeness: from eternity God has intended this (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4).
  2. God’s will for you is holiness and Christ-likeness: this is what God wants for you now (1 Thess. 4:3).
  3. Christ’s passion was accomplished to make you holy (John 17:17-19; Eph. 5:25-27; Titus 2:14).
  4. Holiness and Christ-likeness is what the Holy Spirit is trying to form in you (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:2).
  5. Beyond His own personal plan, desire, sacrifice, and work, God has given everything we need to escape sin and live righteously (Acts 20:32; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Tim. 4:18; 2 Peter 1:3; 3:9)

We must agree with Law and Tozer. Every man is as holy as he wants to be. But, as Tozer concludes,

Yet we must distinguish wanting and wishing. By “want” I mean wholehearted desire. Certainly there are many who wish they were holy or victorious or joyful but are not willing to meet God’s conditions to obtain.

Questions of the Lord

I don’t care too much for maxims or clichés as they often seem to obscure understanding more than illuminate. But one that has stuck with me from my college counseling classes is, “Accusations harden the will but questions convict the conscience.” I ran into several convicting questions during my morning Bible reading:

 Luke 6:46  “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?

Numbers 14:11  And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?

Hebrews 12:7  It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

Malachi 1:6  A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name.

Proverbs 20:9  Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”?

An interesting study would be the questions of Jesus. While there are notable exceptions (e.g. Matt. 16:3-14), it seems that Jesus often uses questions for just this purpose- to cause a man to examine himself and see the true nature of his failings. Just looking at Luke 5-6 I notice:

 Luke 5:22-23  When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?

Luke 5:34  And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?

Luke 6:3-4  And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?”

Luke 6:9  And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?”

Luke 6:33-34  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.

Luke 6:39  He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?

Luke 6:41  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

When the Lord starts asking questions things might not be going too well for you.

Proverbs 16: The Providence of God and Treachery of the Wicked

The book of Proverbs begins and ends with blocks of connected material. Chapters 10-29, however, are what the title of the book suggests: assorted proverbs. Yet even within this wisdom casserole there are verses that are thematically connected.

Proverbs 16 is commonly a source for verses on the providence of God. There are several verse that speak to God’s complete control over all things: the words of man, the steps of man, the falling of the lot. Indeed the Lord has made everything for his purpose (16:1, 4, 9, 33).He is the great Sovereign King over all creation.

In Proverbs 16:27-30 there is an extended meditation on a particular type of person:

 A worthless man plots evil,
and his speech is like a scorching fire.

A dishonest man spreads strife,
and a whisperer separates close friends.

A man of violence entices his neighbor
and leads him in a way that is not good.

Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things;
he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.

The word that summarizes this meditation is treachery. The character of this man is worthless, dishonest, violent. His speech is destructive and divisive. But worst of all he is invasive and secretive.

Paul writes, “The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.” In sports, there is the “clubhouse cancer.” On the job there is “that guy.” There are some people who are loud and obnoxious in their sourness toward humanity.

Proverbs 16 is not talking about those people. Proverbs 16 it talking about someone accepted among us. He influential and trusted enough to separate close friends. He is trusted enough by his neighbor to be led astray. He is the most dangerous type of man because he is not what he appears to be. He is liar and deceiver, and like the father of lies, he transforms himself into a messenger of light.

What are the righteous to do when the treachery of the treacherous is revealed? I would suggest taking comfort the teaching of a verse already mentioned:

 The LORD has made everything for its purpose,
even the wicked for the day of trouble. (Proverbs 16:4)

The Lord has a purpose for all things: even the sin of the wicked. Treachery hurts. But Jesus knows its pain. God used the most sinister treachery imaginable to set in motion the event that would save humanity. Treachery is the bruising of the heel that reminds us that the crushing of the head is sure to follow.

Do I have to go to church?

Here is a link to a 12 page .pdf file that attempts to answer the question whether or not Christians have to go to church. I would simply post it here, but it is in outline format and that is something that would take me too long to do at the moment!

Do I have to go to church?

Do I really have to believe in hell?

Herman Bavinck begins and ends his discussion of the eternal punishment of sinners with the caveat that no one is really enthused about the doctrine:

If human sentiment had the final say about the doctrine of eternal punishment, it would certainly be hard to maintain and even today find few defenders.

For in eternal punishment God’s justice always manifests itself in such a way that his goodness and love remain inviolate and can never be justly faulted. The saying that he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone applies also in hell. The pain he inflicts is not an object of pleasure, either for him or for the blessed in heaven, but a means of glorifying his virtues, and hence [the punishment is] determined in severity and measure by this ultimate goal. (Reformed Dogmatics, IV, 708, 714)

Christians do not believe in hell because they find the idea enjoyable. Christians believe in hell because the Bible teaches the reality of it. Along those lines, here some important things to remember when considering the doctrine of eternal punishment:

  1. “Human feeling is no foundation for anything important, therefore, and neither may nor can it be decisive in the determination of law and justice. All appearance notwithstanding, it is infinitely better to fall into the hands of the Lord than into human hands (1 Chron. 21:13).” In short, your feelings and opinions are inconsequential to the formulation of doctrinally orthodox beliefs.
  2. “…no one in Scripture speaks of [eternal punishment] more often and at greater length than our Lord Jesus Christ, whose depth of human feeling and compassion no one can deny and who was the meekest and most humble of human beings.” In other words, if you have a problem with hell you have a problem with Jesus.
  3. “Granted, sin is finite in the sense that it is committed by a finite creature in a finite period of time, but as Augustine already noted, not the duration of time over which the sin was committed but its own intrinsic nature is the standard for its punishment.” The denial of eternal punishment minimizes the sinfulness of sin and the greatness of God.  Even in this life we recognize the varied magnitude of different decisions. There is a world of difference between choosing the wrong thing off the menu for supper and choosing the wrong person to marry. Sin is not just choosing the curly fries instead of the home-style fries at Arby’s. “…sin is infinite in the sense that it is committed against the Highest Majesty, who is absolutely entitled to our love and worship. God is absolutely and infinitely worthy of our obedience and dedication.”
  4. “…for the person who disputes [the reality of] eternal punishment, there is enormous danger of playing the hypocrite before God. Such a person presents himself as extremely loving, one who in goodness and compassion far outstrips our Lord Jesus Christ. This does not stop the same person, the moment one’s own honor is violated, from erupting in fury and calling down on the violator every evil in this life and the life to come.” Or, if you are going to deny the right of God to punish sin, you have no right to condemn it yourself.
  5. Finally, “Critics of eternal punishment not only fail to do justice to the doom-worthiness of sin, the rigorousness of divine justice; they also infringe on the greatness of God’s love and the salvation that is in Christ.” For all the talk of a loving God not sending people to hell, a denial of hell actually makes God into a hateful misogynist. If hell is not real, why would the eternal Word of God have to take on human flesh and die for man’s sin? If the eternal Son of God did not have to die for man’s sin to save him and God sent Him to die anyway… What kind of Father does that?

No one likes the idea of hell. But, “If the object had not been salvation from eternal destruction, the price of the blood of God’s own Son would have been much too high. The heaven that he won for us by his atoning death presupposes a hell from which he delivered us. The eternal life he imparted to us presupposes an eternal death from which he saved us.”

Why is the Church Important? (part 2)

(Note: This is the third in a series of posts on the importance of the church. See also: Is the Church important?; Why is the church important?)

Scripture expects us to believe truths that seemingly contradict. God is entirely sovereign and has from eternity chosen all those will be saved. Man is entirely responsible and is commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Jesus is God. Jesus is man. No man knows the day or hour of Jesus’ return. Jesus’ return will be preceded by clearly recognizable signs so that his followers will not be surprised. These truths, and others, are like parallel roads stretching on into the horizon; always getting closer but never seeming to meet. We are not told to reconcile these truths (for, indeed, friends do not need reconciling), but to live according to them. Another such set of truths is that God is everywhere, but he is only met in certain places.

God is everywhere: he is omnipresent.

Psalm 139:7-8- Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

Jeremiah 23:23‑24- “Am I a God near at hand,” says the LORD, “And not a God afar off?
Can anyone hide himself in secret places,
So I shall not see him?” says the LORD;
“Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD.

Proverbs 15:3- The eyes of the LORD are in every place,
Keeping watch on the evil and the good.

Acts 17:26‑28- And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, “In him we live and move and have our being”…

Since God is everywhere, one would think that God could be worshipped anywhere. If God is in the mountains, we can worship him in the mountains. If God is in the valleys, we can worship him in the plains. It makes sense. It is wrong.

The Bible is very clear that God is only to be worshipped in the place and ways he determines. As the nation of Israel was about to enter the promised land, God made it very clear to them that he was only to be worshipped in the place he determined. The phrase “the place the Lord your God will choose” occurs 22 times in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, 14, 18, 21, 26; 14:23, 24, 25; 15:20; 16:2, 6, 7, 11, 15, 16; 17:8, 10; 18:6; 23:16; 26:2; 31:11). That place turned out to be the Tabernacle, and then the Temple.

The people of Israel did not obey this command and built “high places.” They built their own places of worship for God and idols. God hated this practice and vowed to judge the people for it (Jer. 17:1-4; Ezek. 6:1-7). This practice of private worship, or even public worship in the place God had not chosen, was so significant that on multiple occasions it was the criteria by which kings are judged in Kings and Chronicles. Wicked kings set up high places (1 Kings 12:31; 13:33; 2 Kings 17:9); good kings failed in not taking away high places (1 Kings 15:14; 22:43; 2 Kings 12:3; 14:4; 15:4, 35); the best kings removed the high places (2 Kings 18:4; 23:19). One of the key criteria by which God evaluated the kings was what the kings did about private worship and their neglect or their building up of Temple worship at “the place the Lord your God chooses.” God is everywhere, but he is worshipped where he chooses.

The blessings of the New Covenant overflow the Old Covenant. No longer must every worshipper of God go to Jerusalem three times a year or whenever else an offering is made. The temple is no more! We are free to worship God everywhere! Right?

Wrong. The truth has not changed, even if the outworking of it has. The church is important because it is the new building of God. God repeatedly claimed that he was only to be worshipped in the place he chose, the place where he caused his name to dwell in. That place is now the church- the true temple of God.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17  Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

2 Corinthians 6:16  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Ephesians 2:19-22  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

1 Peter 2:4-5  As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

What is the significance of the temple? The temple is where God dwells (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:22). Yes, God is everywhere. But he dwells in his temple. Wherever God dwells is where his people are to meet him. If someone does not go to the meeting of the church, they are not worshipping God in the way or place he has chosen. Peter states as much in 1 Peter 2:5 with a mind-bending metaphor. We are being built up as the temple to offer the spiritual sacrifices of that temple. During the Old Testament, God only accepted sacrifices offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. In the New Testament God accepts sacrifices offered at the temple: the church.

Previously, we saw that a Christian “goes to church” because it is the body of Christ. A member not connected to the body dies. There is no life apart from the body. Now we see that a Christian “goes to church” because it is the building of God. As God’s temple, the church is where God is met and worshipped. Christians are stones in that temple. They are connected with everything else (i.e. everyone else) beneath, beside, and above them. God does not leave his people as stones in a field. God builds his people into the place where he is. That place is the church. If you are not in the church you are not where God is. You are not God’s building.