John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God: Sermon 8, Is Jesus Judge?

Sermon 8 in John Chrysostom’s series against the Anomoeans begins with a jaw-droppingly graphic description of the preaching event not likely to be endorsed in any contemporary homiletic text book:

Yesterday we returned from war, from a war and battle with the heretics. Our weapons were stained with blood, the sword of my discourse was red with gore. We did not strike down their bodies but we did destroy their arguments and “Every proud pretension which raises itself against the knowledge of God.” For such is the kind of battle this is and, therefore, such is the nature of the weapons. (1)[1]

Chrysostom is known for railing against Christian attendance at the theatre, games, and circus of the empire. We know from the beginning of the previous sermon the chariot races had begun. One might wonder if the preacher was not trying to out-spectacle the spectacles. But he does cite 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 convincingly. And I suppose if Paul can wish for the castration of his opponents,[2] we cannot fault Chrysostom for such thoughts.

The preacher moves on quickly to inform the congregation of the subject matter of the sermon to follow. The text of Matthew 20:23 will be under investigation: “He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’”(4). The Anomoeans present this text to assert that the Son must be lesser than the Father in some way. Chrysostom does not just flee to the standard method of using the temporary humility of the incarnation of the eternal Son. For this, I am thankful. Not because the standard argument is wrong, but because constant reliance upon such answers can serve to blunt spiritual maturity. Can one truly fight for the faith when he has never explored its depths? It can be more helpful to know how to discover the right answer than simply knowing the right answer.

Chrysostom’s first line of defense is to survey some of the verses that teach the Son indeed has the authority to judge. In Matthew there is the sheep and goat judgment and the parable of the 10 Virgins in Matthew 25; and the parable of the talents in Matthew 23:14-30 (7-15). In the gospel of John we read, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son”[3] (17). From the gospels he turns to passages in Paul that speak of the Lord’s rewarding of his servans: 1 Cor. 3:8 and 2 Tim. 4:7-8. (20-22).

But even with passages such as these, the job is still only half-done. While Chrysostom has effectively demonstrated that the Son does indeed have the prerogative of judgment, there remains the substance of Matthew 20:23. If Jesus says he will grant and forbid entrance into the kingdom, why does he here state that he does not have the right to offer rewards? If Jesus has all authority, why can he not assign John and James their place in the kingdom? If Jesus does not have the right to grant rewards, why does Paul expect Jesus to reward him? The rest of the sermon (23-48) is devoted to answering such questions.

Chrysostom’s argument is amusing, but I do not find it ultimately persuasive. The preacher basically maintains that Jesus does not want to “poison the well,” as it were. If Jesus told John and James they would have positions of power, they might get proud, over-confident and lazy. If Jesus told John and James they would not have positions of authority, they might get discouraged and disinterested. In both situations the result would be the same: James and John would do less for the kingdom if they knew their position in it. Jesus is playing coy and holding out the kingdom as a sort of carrot. The summary of the argument in is paragraph 40:

Because Christ wished to prevent men from growing more careless and lax since they were expecting further honors, he led them away from this erroneous surmise when he said: “It is not mine to give,” but yours to take, if you should show the willingness to do so. He said this so that you might show greater earnestness, more pains, and abundant zeal. He was saying: “I grant crowns to deeds, I give honors to pains, I award the prize to him who sweats. In my eyes, the strongest proof is the proof which comes from deeds.”

As far as it goes, Chrysostom’s logic is sound. The problem is that he still does not address the crux of Matthew 20:23. The problem is not just that Jesus says it is not his reward to give; the problem is that he says this and that the Father has prepared it. It is telling, however, that every time Chrysostom quotes this text in the last half of the sermon he leaves off the words “by my Father.” These are the very words that undercut his argument; the very words that the heretics would cling to.

In keeping with the militaristic beginning of the sermon, Chrysostom did not fare so well on the battlefield this day. To defend the truth is a noble and high calling. To be zealous for truth is vital: but sometimes zeal blinds. If, in our zealousness to support the truth, we distort the truth; we are no longer fighting for the truth. God keep me from being a blood-thirsty pastor.

 

 


[1] 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).

[2] Gal. 5:12

[3] John 5:22

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John Chrysostom On The Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 5: Only the Trinity knows the Trinity

Sermon 5 is the longest sermon in the series of 12 sermons On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, but like the previous two sermons Chrysostom has lengthy conclusion that has little to do with the stated thesis of the series as the final third of the sermon deals with the subject of prayer (43-62). [1]

Chrysostom deals intricately with the texts of John 1:18 and 6:46, “No one has ever seen God. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, himself declared him. Not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God, he has seen the Father.” The fact that “no one” has seen the Father except the Son is not meant to exclude the Holy Spirit, but all created beings (5-6). For support, Chrysostom turns to Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 2:11, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (7). This is certainly delicate reasoning, but it is sound. “No one” cannot exclude the Spirit in John or the Son in 1 Corinthians. Because we know God’s word is true and his testimony concerning himself is trustworthy, John 1:18; 6:46; and 1 Cor. 2:11 must all be true. So “no one” must indeed refer to all creatures outside of the Trinitarian communion.

Chrysostom then enters into a discussion that is, frankly, an amazing display of exegesis. The preacher turns his attention to 1 Corinthians 8:6, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” As “no one” separates the Trinity from all creation, so “one” separates the Trinity to itself. To prove the equality of the Son and Father Chrysostom demonstrates that “God” and “Lord” are used interchangeably of the Father and Son. Paragraph 12 offers a concise summary,

 Some names are common to several; others are proper to one. There are common names to show that the essence is exactly the same; there are proper names to characterize what is proper to the personal realities. The names “Father” and “Son” characterize what is proper to the personal realities; the names “God” and “Lord” show what is common. Therefore, after Paul set down the common name of “one God,” he had to use the proper name so that you might know of whom he was speaking. He did this to prevent us from falling into the madness of Sabellius.

The preacher then goes through Old and New Testament Scriptures demonstrating that the Father and Son are each called Lord and God (13-24). Returning to his main text, Chrysostom again asserts that knowledge necessitates identity. As men do not know the essence of angels, so neither angels nor men know the essence of God. The preacher goes even further in an amusing fashion. Not only are men incapable of knowing the essence of angels or God, they are incapable of knowing their own essence:

 And why should I speak of what kind of essence the soul has? It is not even possible to say how it exists in the body. What answer could anyone give to this question? That it is extended throughout the bulk of the body? But that is absurd. To exist that way is proper only to bodies. That this is not the way that the soul exists in the body is clear from this example. If a man’s hands and feet are amputated, the soul remains whole and entire and is in no way mutilated by the maiming of the body.
Then it does not exist in the whole body but has it been gathered together in some part of the body? If that is true, the rest of the parts must be dead, because whatever lacks a soul is altogether dead. But we cannot say that. What we must say is that we know not that the soul is in our bodies but that we do not know how it is there. God has shut us off from this knowledge of the soul for a reason. So that, out of his great superiority, he might curb our tongues, hold us in check, and persuade us to remain on earth and not to meddle out of curiosity with matters which are beyond us. (28-29)

This also points to an important conclusion to be made plain before Chrysostom turns his attention to prayer. There is something inherently off-putting to the statement that a person cannot comprehend God. Even when time is taken to explain weight of “comprehend”; even when it is acknowledged that things can be truly known of God; for some it is hard to hear that God cannot be known in his essence. Chrysostom has a helpful analogy:

 Tell me this. Suppose that two men are obstinately arguing with each other about whether they can know how large the sky is. Suppose that one of them says that it is impossible for the human eye to encompass it, and the other would contend that it was possible for a man to measure the entire sky by using the span of his hand. Which of these two would we say would know the size of the sky? Would it be the one who argues how many spans wide the sky is? Or would it be the one who admits that he does not know? Surely the man who admits he does not know the size of the sky when he sees its magnitude will have a better understanding of how large the sky is. When it is a question of God, will we not use the same discretion? Would it not be the ultimate madness if we failed to do so? (39)

Underlying the sermons of Chrysostom is a trust in the word of Scripture. This trust underlies his philosophy and epistemology too. It is not adventurous, brave, or noble, to go beyond the bounds of Scripture. It is folly and madness. Neither is it weak or ignoble to rest content in the knowledge that Scripture does provide. To stay within the bounds of Scripture is true security, it is full sanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] 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).

The Importance of Church Part 7: Who does not go to church & Conclusion

For my final post in “the importance of the church” series, I would like to approach the subject from a somewhat different angle. I thought I would take something of an apophatic approach[1] to the subject via the question, “Who does not go to church?” Perhaps in answering this question, we will also discover the New Testament expectation of who does go to church.

 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. James 5:14

The New Testament does not expect those who are physically unable to attend the normal meetings of the church. This is making an assumption based on James 5:14, but I think it is a pretty safe one. The apostle James instructs those who are sick to call for the elders. This seems to indicate that they sick person is not able to attend the church meetings. The picture this verse clearly presents is elders going to the location of a sick person; not a sick person going to the location of the elders. The Lord is tender and gracious; he remembers our frame, that we are dust. When a case is made for faithful church attendance by Christians, the old and infirm are often put forth as exceptions that are meant to destroy the argument. But those who are legitimately physically unable to attend are not expected to do so.[2]

 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 7

A second person who is not expected to go to church is the professing believer who is living in open, flagrant, abhorrent, unconfessed sin. In fact, the apostle Paul goes so far as to command the church at Corinth to not allow such a person to worship with them. The church is given an explicit command to exclude so-called brothers and sisters who are living in open sin. People who call themselves Christians, but continue to live a life dominated by sin do not go to church. In fact, they are not even to be allowed in the church meeting unless it is to repent.[3]

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul is teaching us that we cannot expect unbelievers to live like Christians, but we must expect Christians to live like Christians. A “Christian” who lives like an unbeliever dishonors the Lord and His church. It is the responsibility of the church to show to the surrounding community that such a person is not accepted as being a true believer.

 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 1 Corinthians 5:11-12

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all… 1 Corinthians 14:23-24

1 Corinthians 5 also offers a third person who does not attend the church assembly: the unbeliever. As he offers his counsel to have nothing to do with so-called believers living in sin, Paul reminds the believers that this does not mean they should not have any contact with unbelievers. Sinning “believers” should be shunned and removed from the church, but sinning unbelievers should be evangelized and brought into the church. Later on in the same book, Paul again indicates that unbelievers are not expected to attend the assembly of the church. Paul’s repeated use of “if” in 1 Cor. 14:23-24 indicate that an unbeliever might come to the church meeting, but it should not be expected.

So from the negative perspective, these people do not go to church: the unable, the unfaithful, and the unbeliever. According to the New Testament, these are three kinds of people who are not expected to be in church on Sunday morning. So, turning this teaching around and looking at it from the opposite perspective; who is expected to be in church every Sunday morning? The able, the faithful, the believer. If “your” church is meeting and you are not there, one of these things must be true about you: you are unable (something in the circumstances of your life has physically prevented you from attending); you are unfaithful; you are an unbeliever.

Conclusion:
In this entire series of posts my design has been to show that true Christians are faithful to attend and serve their local church. It has not been my intention to say that going to church makes someone a Christian. Such a statement has the matter exactly backwards.  If I have ever said that going to church makes someone a Christian I repent in sackcloth and ashes. My point is that Christians go to church. This is the only reality the New Testament recognizes. The New Testament simply does not speak of someone who professes to be saved, is physically able to go to church, yet does not do so, and is still on “good terms” with God. For all intents and purposes we might as well speak of unicorns and centaurs.

 

Perhaps an illustration is in order. Summer is drawing to a close; autumn is approaching. For many people this can only mean one thing: football. Whether high school on Friday night, college on Saturday, or professional on Sunday; the next 5 months will be marked by football. Millions of people will attend football games. Millions of people will spend millions of dollars to do so. They will cheer, scream, and cry for their team. But they are not football players. Likewise, there are many people who go to church. There are many people who give their money and time to serve the church, but they are not Christians. Not everyone at a game is a football player. Not everyone at church is a Christian.

But let us suppose you were out for a drive some fine fall night when your school was playing and you saw some students who are not at the game. You would know this: they are not football players. Let us suppose you were out shopping some Sunday afternoon when your team was playing and saw a man 6’4” and 320 pounds. You might not know him, but you would know this: he is not a football player. How could you make this judgment? Because a football player would be at the game with his team. Going to a football game does not get you on the team, but if you are on the team you go to the game.

Going to church does not get you into heaven, but if you are going to heaven you will be with everyone else who is going.

NOTE:

For previous posts in this series see:
https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/is-going-to-church-really-that-important/
https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/why-is-church-important/
https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/why-is-the-church-important-part-2/
https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/why-is-church-important-or-the-trinitarian-heresy-of-not-going-to-church/
https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/the-importance-of-the-church-part-5-why-should-i-be-faithful-to-the-church/
https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/the-importance-of-the-church-part-6-how-to-not-live-a-wasted-life/

 

 

 

 


[1] The apophatic method, also known as the via negativa, asserts that positive statements of God’s identity cannot be made. Because God is incomprehensible and beyond our understanding, we cannot say what God is but only what God is not. While such a method is ultimately insufficient, it is a helpful reminder that things that are so can be discovered by knowing things that are not so.

[2] By “physically” I am speaking of the health of the body. But physically could also be applied in the related way of “providentially.” Obviously, it does not have to be sickness that prevents a person from attending the church meeting. I doubt the Lord expects the woman in labor to stop what she is doing so she can sing in the choir. Nor does it necessarily have to involve the health of the body at all. When believers are imprisoned for their faith, whether in Acts or today, they should not expect their captors to release them so that they might go to church. Sometimes, occasionally, things happen that truly prevent us from going to church. The Lord knows.

[3] In 2 Corinthians 2 Paul seems to be addressing this same situation, but after the man in question has repented of sin. Paul commands the church to welcome the man back into the assembly.

The Importance of the Church Part 6: How to not live a wasted life.

(This is the sixth post in a series addressing the importance of the church in the life of the believer. Some time has transpired since the first post, but there have not been many intervening posts: so previous installments should not be too hard for you to find.)

 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

 While I have never preached on them myself, these verses strike me as one those “preacher’s texts.” It is a text that is somewhat well-known, has powerful imagery, persuasive in nature, something that a preacher could go to when he wanted to press for a decision. It is a text that I imagine would be popular with evangelists and those preaching revival-type services. Unfortunately, as I have heard it preached, taught, and discussed, the text seldom given the true weight of its context.

 It is easy to just rip these verses out of 1 Corinthians 3 and apply them to the rather general theme of “building one’s life.” They are applied in a moralistic manner of living the Christian life in obedience to the Bible. There is some support for the idea of your life being a building in Jesus’ conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount. But this idea is completely missing from 1 Corinthians 3. Paul is not talking about your life as a building, living morally, or getting rewarded for the general way in which you lead your life. Paul’s application is much more specific. In fact, Paul is speaking against building up your own personal life.

 Paul introduces the building thought in verse 9 with the statement that Peter, Paul, Apollos, and any other apostle are only workers for God trying to do their part in the edification of God’s building: the church. The church is God’s building, more than that it is God’s temple (3:9, 16). The Corinthians had fallen prey to the party spirit of exalting men and identifying themselves by their earthly teachers. “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas.” Paul identifies this as foolishness because God is only building one building: his church. Peter, Paul, and Apollos were not cult leaders trying to form their own club. All worked together for the building up of the church.

 After calling the church God’s building in verse 9, Paul continues: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation…” In verse 9 the church is called God’s building. In verse 16 the church is called God’s temple. Verses 10-15 address the subject of rewards for the way one builds. So in the context of 1 Corinthians 3, what is the building being specifically addressed in verses 12-15? Clearly it is the church.

 Preachers dazzle their crowds with a false hope of receiving  gold, silver, precious stones if they will only live a good Christian life, but that is not at all what Paul is teaching. The basis for rewards in heaven, at least according to this passage, is what one did to build up the church of God. What is the work that is examined on that Great Day (3:13)? It is the work of building (3:14). The work of building what? The work of building God’s building (3:9), God’s temple (3:16): the church of Jesus Christ. The value of your life is determined by what you have spent to build up the church.

 Jesus died for the church. The apostles labored for the church. God rewards labors for the church. In short, the question this text asks is not, “How are you living?” but “What are you doing for the church?” As Gordon Fee comments, “This text has singular relevance to the contemporary church. It is neither a challenge to the individual believer to build his or her life well on the foundation of Christ, nor is it grist for theological debate. Rather, it is one of the most significant passages in the NT that warn—and encourage—those responsible for ‘building’ the church of Christ.”

 If you are not building the church of Christ you are not living well.

 

 

 

Why is Church Important? Or, The Trinitarian heresy of not going to church

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

We began this series with a post on the importance of the church: a number of quotations from early fathers and apologists proclaiming those outside of the church are not and cannot be saved. Then we began seeking Scriptural support for this idea. We saw that Christians must be involved with the church because the church is the body of Christ. Christians must be involved with the church because the church is the building of God. Today we see that Christians must be involved with the church because of the blessing of the Holy Spirit.

Salvation is impossible without the Trinity. While it is true that God is one and wills and accomplishes everything as one, the Bible does present Trinitarian distinctions in the accomplishment of salvation. It is impossible to adequately summarize this in one sentence, but this sentence comes as close as any: “Salvation is thought by the Father, bought by the Son, and wrought by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit actualizes contemporaneously everything the Father has planned eternally and the Son accomplished historically.

It is the Holy Spirit who immerses believers into the body of Christ and the benefits of his death and resurrection (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom 6:3-6). It is the Holy Spirit who builds believers up into the building of God (Eph. 2:22). But the Bible teaches that this building process is not something that happens apart from the efforts and service of believers themselves.

The church is a building- teaching us that in some sense we are passive and totally under the control of the Builder. But the church is also a body- teaching us in another sense that we must make a personal effort to care, nourish, and provide for it. In 1 Corinthians 12, however, Paul teaches us that even this process of self-care is made possible by God: the Father (12:6); the Son (12:5); and particularly the Spirit (12:4, 7-11). Those abilities we call spiritual gifts must be recognized as Spiritual gifts.

When a person is saved, he is sealed by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30); and he is gifted by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4-13). The purpose of these gifts of the Spirit is plain: to serve other Christians.

 1 Cor. 12:7: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
1 Peter 4:10: As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…

So when a person is saved he receives the Holy Spirit. When he receives the Holy Spirit he is gifted by the Holy Spirit. When he is gifted by the Holy Spirit he is gifted in order to serve the church. It seems obvious that if he is gifted to serve the church he must be “in the church” to exercise that gift. The Spirit does not gift you for your benefit, but for the benefit of others. If you are not fellowshipping with others, they are not benefitting from your gift. The Bible clearly teaches what the Spirit does (gifts believers) and why he does it (to benefit other believers); so if you are not allowing other believers to benefit from your gift you are not walking in the Spirit.

Taking a step back and considering all these things, the serious nature of not attending church must be recognized for what it is: an attack on the doctrine of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit engrafts believers into the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit builds believers into the building of God. The Holy Spirit gifts believers to serve other believers. For a person to say he is a Christian but to have no interest in faithful, active, church membership is an attack on God himself. Specifically, it is an attack on the Holy Spirit and the unity of the Trinity.

The “stay-at-home” Christian proclaims that the Holy Spirit is in rebellion against the Father and Son. The Father has made complete provision for a holy temple, with all the stones perfectly joined and fit together. But the Holy Spirit is content to leave the rocks in a field. Covered by moss. Surrounded by weeds. The Son has done everything to become the Head of a body fearfully and wonderfully made to accomplish the will of God. The Spirit is content with severed ears and dismembered fingers. The Spirit is a disinterested Dr. Frankenstein with a freakish laboratory with formaldehyde-filled jars of parts. Rather than accomplishing his role of gifting believers to serve, the Spirit has become a stingy Scrooge.

The New Testament presents the actual building up of the church as the work of the Holy Spirit. So if you are able to go to church, but regularly chose not to I can see only two options:

  1. Either you do not have the Holy Spirit. In which case you are not a Christian (Rom. 8:9).
  2. Or, the Holy Spirit has decided to do his own thing. In which case the Trinity is undone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 10. Containing a brief exposition of monergistic salvation and Trinitarian revelation

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Luke 10:21-22

These two verses contain two references to the Trinity: one direct, and one via cross reference.

In verse 21 we witness the work of the Holy Spirit in the Son causing him to offer thanksgiving to the Father. In the context of the chapter we are at the place in Jesus’ ministry where he sent out the 72 disciples and they returned rejoicing over all the works they were empowered to do: particularly their ability to cast out demons.

Jesus tenderly corrects them in telling them that they do have cause to rejoice, but that their rejoicing should focus on their place in heaven not their power over hell. In this admonition I believe there is a word to those today who seek after miraculous demonstrations of power; who claim special status or position because of the wonders they do; who state the normal Christian life is the miraculous Christian life. It is the same word that Paul would later state to the similarly deluded Corinthians: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:29-31).

This is not to say that we are to simply “rest in the Lord” when it comes to salvation. Indeed, this seems to be the opposite error that infects broader evangelicalism. There are many who feel that once they have “prayed the prayer” there is not much else to do in the Christian life except make an occasional guest appearance at church, give a little something every now and then, but otherwise do nothing to evidence the grace of God. This is due in large part to the shallow gospel that is preached to them and the shallow gospel they believe. The gospel that preaches a salvation that comes with no strings attached. The gospel that proclaims come as you are and leave as you were. The gospel that pleads for a prayer but not repentance and belief. Yes, we are saved by faith alone; but the faith that saves is never alone. True faith produces works.

In this prayer, Jesus teaches us that salvation is due to the work of God the Father. It is God the Father who has written the names of believers in heaven (10:20); he hides salvation from the wise and graciously reveals it to those whom he wills (10:21). The Father is “Lord of heaven and earth.” He is sovereign over all things, and this includes the salvation of sinners.

A common charge against the reformed understanding of salvation is that it leads to pride and arrogance about God’s choice. But any self-professed Calvinist who is proud of his salvation has certainly not understood what Calvin and the other like-minded reformers (to say nothing of Jesus and the apostles) taught regarding salvation. A biblical understanding of God’s election brings nothing but humble rejoicing. When one realizes that there is nothing good in himself; that he can do nothing to merit his salvation; that his salvation is based entirely upon God’s good pleasure; he can do nothing but respond in humble praise. In eternity, not a single man will be praised for making “the right choice” when it comes to salvation. God and the Lamb receive all the praise, honor, and glory. For salvation is of the Lord.

In verse 22, Jesus continues emphasizing God’s sovereignty in salvation. In a marvelous statement that begins to stretch our capability of comprehension Jesus teaches vital truths about relationship and revelation in the Trinity.

After making the well-supported statement that the Father is Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus boldly proclaims that he has the same title of authority. The Son proclaims that “all things” have been handed over to his control. Statements like this flatly contradict those scholars that assert Jesus had no God-consciousness, or that he never claimed equality with God, or deity itself. The enemies of Jesus understood statements like this and their implications well: it is the very reason they delivered him to Pilate to be crucified (John 5:18; 19:7).

Just as Jesus asserted that God’s sovereignty over heaven and earth extended to man’s salvation; he proclaims that he is sovereign over who knows God. The Father and the Son have complete knowledge of one another. Such knowledge is perfect and eternal. Because the Son has dwelt eternally with the Father he is the only one that can give accurate revelation of the Father (John 1:1, 18). Because the Father has dwelt eternally with the Son he is the only one that can give accurate revelation of the Son (John 6:44, 65; 2 Cor. 4:6).

But where does that leave us? Jesus is no longer on earth revealing the Father. The Father no longer raises up prophets and apostles to add to his word. Are we abandoned? In no way.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”– these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1Co 2:9-11)

1 Corinthians 2:11 completes the teaching on Trinitarian knowledge and revelation. Jesus taught that he alone had knowledge of the Father and He alone could give that knowledge to others. Paul proclaims that the Spirit alone has knowledge of the Father and the Spirit alone communicates that knowledge to others.

We are left with two options: either Jesus or Paul—and therefore Scripture as a whole—are wrong; or, we are led onward to accept the orthodox teaching of the Trinity. What the Father has in his essence, the Son knows and has in his essence. What the Father has in his essence, the Spirit knows and has in his essence. God is one in essence, three in persons. Such knowledge of God—yea, any and all knowledge of God—is only given to and received by those children God himself wills to reveal himself.

If you know anything of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it is only because God has chosen to bless you with such knowledge. Who will not humble tremble before such an awesome gift?