ACST 15. The Immortal One

Clearly, some of God’s attributes are exclusive to him alone. No one can fathom a universe containing more than one immeasurable and immutable being. Advent Christians would argue that the attribute of immortality is also exclusive to God alone – at least this side of the resurrection. We agree with the apostle Paul when he says that God “alone has immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16), and take that statement at face value.

While many of our arguments tend to address the issue of the nature of man, it is actually this fact about God which we are most anxious to defend. We feel that to claim that anyone else has this attribute is to rob God of something that the Bible claims is exclusively his. One might argue that anyone’s concept of the nature of man, while important, is hardly important enough to make a distinctive doctrine. But the nature of God was one of the first theological issues ever to be deemed important enough to create controversy in the early church. Surely the modern church cannot afford to be indifferent on this issue.


The Greek word for immortality that is used in 1 Tim. 6:16 is a good starting point. In the Bible, this word is never used as an attribute of anyone else but God this side of the resurrection at Christ’s second coming. The verse itself lists a number of exclusive attributes of God, namely, 1) his immortality; 2) his existence in inapproachable light; 3) his invisibility due to that exclusive existence; 4) his deserving everlasting honor and eternal dominion. Paul made concessions on neither of these points. The reader has every right to assume that Paul was referring to a God who met all of these qualifications, and that no one else did.

Yet as it pertains to that first attribute, it has come to be popular and “orthodox” to make all kinds of concessions. Matthew Henry, for example, says that God “only is immortal in himself, and has immortality as he is the fountain of it, for the immortality of angels and spirits derived from him.”1 So the hypothetical “box” in which we might put all immortal beings is actually not exclusive at all. It contains not only God, but all of those sentient creatures created by him, both human and angelic. Perhaps we should be grateful that cats and dogs did not make the grade.

Lately evangelical scholars see the dilemma in accepting what Paul said about God in 1 Tim. 6:16. Their conclusions, however, are ultimately the same as Matthew Henry’s. Peterson, for example, states the “orthodox” position quite well in his recent debate with Fudge. He said that “Plato held to the soul’s natural or inherent immortality. By contrast, evangelical Christians hold that God alone is inherently immortal (1 Tim. 6:16) and that he confers immortality to all human beings.”2 But once the “and that he confers” is added to the equation, the dilemma begins. 1 Tim. 6:16 says nothing about God conferring his exclusive attribute to all human beings. Either that attribute is exclusive or it is not. Advent Christians see no clear contrast between the view of Plato and that of our brother evangelicals who hold Peterson’s view.

The onus is ours, however, as Advent Christians, to back up this bold claim that God’s immortality is exclusive. Ours is the minority position. That is why a study of the terms used in the Bible to imply immortality is helpful. The study shows that the concept of immortality does not apply to angels and human beings by default. This adds justification for our being obstinate enough to hold to the exclusive immortality of God in spite of its being an unpopular doctrine.

The noun Athanasia only appears three times in the canonical Bible. It makes no appearance in the entire Old Testament. Besides 1 Tim. 6:16, it only appears in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

The ESV translators, normally sticklers to word-for-word accuracy, betray their theological bias here by supplying the word body twice in verse 53, even though there is no Greek equivalent in the original. Paul actually agrees with what he stated in 1 Tim. 6:16. Since God alone is immortal, something will have to change in order for human beings, who are perishable and mortal, to become immortal. That change will take place at the resurrection.

There is no indication in the text itself that human mortality pertains only to our bodies. That is a concept that is assumed by the proponents of natural or inherent immortality, and denied by Advent Christians, who propose that immortality is only potential. 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Tim. 6:16 both serve as evidence for the potential immortality position. While 1 Cor. 15 shows that immortality (athanasia) is not currently a present possession (even for the saved), 1 Tim. 6:16 identifies the one being who is the exception to that rule, and presently has athanasia.

The Apocrypha provides seven more instances of the term. While we cannot rely on the Apocrypha as a standard for proof of a doctrine, we can consult it in order to establish how certain terms were used, which is a reflection of their understood meaning. Were we, for example, to find numerous references to athansia as a natural human attribute it might show that intertestamental Jews viewed humans as naturally immortal beings.

4 Maccabees 8-18 contains an account describing the torture of seven young men and their mother by the Tyrant (Antiochus IV). Instances of the term athanasia occur in two places. In 4 Maccabees 14:4-5 the writer says that “none of the seven youths proved coward or shrank from death, but all of them, as though running the course toward immortality, hastened to death by torture” (RSV). From this we can infer that intertestamental Jews did have the concept of immortality, but saw it as something to be earned through diligent faithfulness to God. It was certainly not an attribute taken for granted as the natural possession of all human beings.

The second occurance of athanasia refers to the mother, who, “as though having a mind like adamant and giving rebirth for immortality to the whole number of her sons, she implored them and urged them on to death for the sake of religion” (4 Maccabees 16:13). The mother is pictured as encouraging her sons to stay true to their faith in God with such zeal that it is like she was giving birth to them all over again, this time for immortality instead of mortality (as it was in the first instance of her giving birth to them). Again, there is no innate, inherent immortality described here. Immortality is something to be gained by a martyr’s death for the seven sons. Their mother, who gave them natural birth, did not in so doing impart to them immortality.

All the other instances of the term athanasia occur in The Wisdom of Solomon.

Notice this revealing statement about the destiny of the righteous:

Wisdom 3:1-4 RSV

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no
torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they
seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an
affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace. For though in the sight of men they
were punished, their hope is full of immortality.

As in 4 Maccabees, athanasia is seen as potential for humans, because the righteous will be resurrected, but athanasia is not an inherent attribute.

Wisdom 4:1-7 RSV
… in the memory of virtue is immortality, because it is known
both by God and by men. When it is present, men imitate it, and
they long for it when it has gone; and throughout all time it marches
crowned in triumph, victor in the contest for prizes that are undefiled.
But the prolific brood of the ungodly will be of no use, and none of their illegitimate seedlings will strike a deep root or take a firm hold. For
even if they put forth boughs for a while, standing insecurely they will
be shaken by the wind, and by the violence of the winds they will be
uprooted. The branches will be broken off before they come to maturity,
and their fruit will be useless, not ripe enough to eat, and good for
nothing. For children born of unlawful unions are witnesses of evil
against their parents when God examines them. But the righteous man,
though he die early, will be at rest.

Here is no denial of the reality of death, but a glimpse beyond it, to a resurrected virtuous person, known both by God and by men. The ungodly, though they might produce a prolific brood, will be uprooted. Notice, again, that there is no mention of athanasia as a common trait held by all humans. A resurrection unto immortality is only the hope of the righteous.

Wisdom 8:13-17 RSV
Because of {wisdom} I shall have immortality, and leave an everlasting remembrance to those who come after me. I shall govern peoples, and
nations will be subject to me; dread monarchs will be afraid of me when
they hear of me; among the people I shall show myself capable, and courageous in war. When I enter my house, I shall find rest with her, for companionship with her has no bitterness, and life with her has no pain,
but gladness and joy. When I considered these things inwardly, and
thought upon them in my mind, that in kinship with wisdom there is immortality…

Wisdom, as defined by the wisdom literature of the Bible and related works like The Wisdom of Solomon is the ability to make correct moral choices which lead to God’s favor. In the Bible, those correct moral choices usually led to a long healthy life, but by the time The Wisdom of Solomon was written, one’s eternal destiny was also seen as a consequence of living wisely. It is the route to eventual athanasia. It is a narrow path that does not include everyone on the planet. It is not innate, nor is the immortality it produces.

Wisdom 15:1-3 RSV
But thou, our God, art kind and true, patient, and ruling all things
in mercy. For even if we sin we are thine, knowing thy power; but
we will not sin, because we know that we are accounted thine. For
to know thee is complete righteousness, and to know thy power is
the root of immortality.

In the New Testament we found that athanasia was an exclusive attribute of God, but a hope for humanity. In this final reference to athanasia in the Apocrypha, we see a relationship with God as the only means of obtaining to that hope.


In the Apocrypha, there are a few instances of the corresponding adjective that we would translate immortal as well. Although this word does not appear in the New Testament, it is helpful to see how it was used.

It is said of Eleazar that “in no way did he turn the rudder of religion until he sailed into the haven of immortal victory” (4 Maccabees 7:3). The most that can be inferred from this metaphorical statement is that Eleazar is counted among those who finished the course of faith, and awaits a resurrection unto immortality. It does not imply that Eleazar was already immortal by nature.

It is said of the aforementioned seven young men that “just as the hands and feet are moved in harmony with the guidance of the mind, so those holy youths, as though moved by an immortal spirit of devotion, agreed to go to death for its sake” (4 Maccabees 14:6). All this implies about these youths is that although their devotion was undying, they were not. You cannot prove that people are immortal from a passage that records their deaths.

Later, the author of 4 Maccabees does state that these “sons of Abraham with their victorious mother are gathered together into the chorus of the fathers, and have received pure and immortal souls from God” (4 Maccabees 18:23). There is a hint of some kind of rewarded state here, but perhaps the reward is merely the certainty of a resurrection unto immortality. At any rate, 1 Corinthians 15 states that the resurrection is when the reward will be realized. If some intertestamental Jews imagined a conscious intermediate state, they were mistaken.

One use of athanatos is found which draws a distinction between God’s righteousness (which is said to be immortal) and secular man’s covenant with death.
Wisdom 1:12-16 (RSV)

Do not invite death by the error of your life, nor bring on destruction
by the works of your hands; because God did not make death, and he
does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things
that they might exist, and the generative forces of the world are
wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them; and the
dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal.
But ungodly men by their words and deeds summoned death;
considering him a friend, they pined away, and they made a covenant
with him, because they are fit to belong to his party.

Here again, there is no mention of a man, or even a part of man, which is immortal by nature. In fact, immortality belongs to the righteous One. Human beings are mortal.

Athanatos is also found in The Wisdom of Sirach:

For we cannot have everything, human beings are not immortal. What is brighter than the sun? And yet it fades. Flesh and blood think of nothing but evil. He surveys the armies of the lofty sky, and all of us are only dust and ashes (Sirach 17:30-32 New Jerusalem Bible).

Here is perhaps the clearest expression of human mortality in the Apocrypha. It says that men do not have the attribute that Paul said only God has. He will always last, but we are “dust and ashes.” The statement is in perfect agreement with the New Testament.


Another adjective – sometimes translated “immortal” in versions of the New Testament – emphasizes the unfailing, imperishable, or incorruptible nature of the noun it modifies. If this adjective were found applied to beings other than God, it would serve as evidence that the NT authors assumed that these beings possessed immortality.

In Romans 1:23 Paul explained that idolatrous humanity “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” Notice that only God is placed in the “beings having immortality” box. Man and animals are comfortably placed in the “all others” box.

In 1 Tim. 1:17 Paul ascribes “honor and glory for ever and ever” “unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God.” If the term immortal applies to all other created beings (or at least the higher ones: angels and humans) one wonders why Paul would bother mentioning the attribute. But if the attribute is exclusive to God alone (as Paul later states in chapter 6), his mentioning it here makes perfect sense.

Some might argue that the term “immortal” is appropriate to describe men’s spirits or souls, but not their bodies. As such it might be appropriate to speak of God being immortal in an absolute sense. He has no body to corrupt or perish. This logic only applies if the principles of Platonic anthropology are true. Plato argued that the soul of man is immortal because it is simple, and cannot be divided into composite parts. The notion of human immortality is the result of combining this principle from pagan philosophy with biblical theology. One question Advent Christians ask is “can the Bible be left alone to answer the question of human mortality, or must we borrow from pagan theology to do it?”

All other references to afthartos3 in the New Testament use the term to describe the hope of believers after the resurrection, or some kind of character trait that is imperishable in the sense that it does not fade away with time. There is not one single use of the term applied to human nature itself, body or soul. If this attribute is such an essential part of human identity, one would expect this adjective to be used repeatedly throughout the New Testament in reference to human nature itself.

God’s Identity

Often when God is identified in the Bible, this exclusive attribute is part of his title, identifying him as different from all other beings. He is the Living God.4 He is the eternal God.5 He is the immortal God.6 He is the everlasting God.7 His name and attributes endure forever.8

By contrast, humans are God’s creatures. As such they are dying.9 They are mortal.10 They are perishable.11 They fade away like the color on a leaf.12 They return to the dust from which they were made.13

The Spirit World

Just as the Bible is silent as to the supposed immortality of humanity, it also fails to express what many take for granted as regards the nature of angelic beings in the spirit world. There is no biblical record of the death of any angelic being in the Bible. That fact, however, merely proves that none of these beings have died. It does not prove that none of these beings can die. Those who assume that angels and demons are immortal are not taking careful consideration of two facts: 1) only God is immortal (as is shown by the texts above), 2) longevity is not the same thing as immortality.

A being can live for a billion years and not be immortal. God sets the time-table for the longevity of all his creatures. Some angels created thousands of years ago will apparently never die. They are the “elect angels” who will accompany redeemed humanity into the next age. Although they will never die, they are not – by virtue of this fact – immortal. Their lives are in God’s hands.

Some angels – created at the same time as those “elect angels” – fell from their state of protection by following Satan when he rebelled against God. From that moment when they rebelled their fate was settled. They would join the devil in the lake of fire, where they would face eternal death. Although God had placed them on the divine council, they will die like men (Psalm 82:1,6-7). They have a date with destiny. Their lives will end. From the standpoint of eternity, it makes absolutely no difference that that date has not come yet. They are mortal and they know it. They dread that time of torment and death that awaits them (Mat. 8:29).

Some Fortunate Humans Who Will Not Die

There are some human beings who will also live what seems an inordinate amount of time. Enoch and Elijah were both apparently translated into time itself, so that their next conscious moment will be their reappearance on earth – probably at the return of Christ. Remember, however, that this fact does make them immortal. Each of them is still entirely dependent upon God for their next breath.

Likewise, there will be a multitude of believers who are alive at Christ’s second coming who will be immediately translated, transformed and glorified without ever going through death. Oh, that you and I would be among them! But even that great event does not overrule the principle that God’s immortality is exclusive. These believers will receive their immortality from the only one who is qualified to give it.

We Cannot Recant

The texts which our brothers use to claim immortality for humans and angelic beings can be dealt with without destroying God’s exclusive immortality.
These texts will be treated later in this book. However, the issue of God’s exclusive immortality is one on which Advent Christians are simply not prepared to concede. We feel that to do so would be to rob God of one of his exclusive attributes.


1 Matthew Henry – The Matthew Henry Commentary on the Bible (1 Tim. 6:16).

2 Robert A Peterson, in Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 88.

3 1 Cor. 9:25; 15:52; 1 Pet. 1:4, 23; 3:4.

4 Deut. 5:26; Josh. 3:10; 1 Sam. 17:26, 36; 2 Kgs 19:4, 16; Psa. 42:2; 84:2; Isa. 37:4, 17; Jer. 10:10; 23:36; Dan. 6:20, 26; Hos. 1:10; Matt. 16:16; 26:63; Acts 14:15; Rom. 9:26; 2 Cor. 3:3; 6:16; 1 Tim. 3:15; 4:10; Heb. 3:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22; Rev. 7:2.

5 Deut. 33:27; Rom. 16:26.

6 Rom. 1:23.

7 Gen. 21:33; Isa. 40:28.

8 1 Chr. 16:34, 41; 2 Chr. 5:13; 7:3, 6; 20:21; Ezra 3:11; Psa. 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; 111:3, 10; 112:3, 9; 117:2; 118:1ff, 29; 119:160; 135:13; 136:1ff; 138:8; Eccl. 3:14; Jer. 33:11; 2 Cor. 9:9.

9 Gen. 35:18; 2 Chr. 16:13; 24:22; Job 24:12; Luke 8:42; John 11:37; Heb. 11:21.

10 Job 4:17; Rom. 1:23; 6:12; 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:53f; 2 Cor. 4:11; 5:4; Heb. 7:8.

11 1 Cor. 15:42, 50, 53f; 1 Pet. 1:23.

12 Psa. 37:2; Isa. 64:6; Jam. 1:11.

13 Gen. 3:19; Job 10:9; 34:15; Psa. 90:3; Eccl. 3:20.

A Call for Comprehensive Discipline

1 Corinthians 9:19-27 ESV
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

I have been studying the commands of Paul to the churches, particularly those that are of a certain structure that allows them to be translated as continuous active commands.

Today’s focus is found in verse 24, where Paul commands the Corinthian believers to KEEP ON RUNNING in order to someday obtain the prize.

In a general sense, Paul seems to be encouraging the Corinthians to live up to their commitment to Christ so that when Jesus returns they will have been found faithful to him, and will inherit eternal life, and a place in the kingdom he will set up on this earth. That is similar to what he told the Colossians when he encouraged them to KEEP ON WALKING (2:6).

I do not think that is all Paul is talking about here.

Notice that Paul has just spent five verses showing that what motivated him was not just getting saved, but bringing others into the kingdom.

His purpose was evangelism. I think that he was trying to motivate the Corinthians to have the same purpose. He wanted them to keep on running the race so that – along with being saved themselves — they could win others to Christ.

Running the race for Paul meant disciplining himself so that he could accomplish the task that he was called to by the LORD.

Now, here is where I think we often get off track as far as evangelism is concerned: We think our goal is to try to win the people within our sphere of influence to Christ. That is true. But we seldom try to expand our sphere of influence so that we can reach others.

From the moment of his conversion, Paul disciplined himself so that he could expand his sphere of influence to the whole Gentile world.

When he encouraged the Corinthians to KEEP ON RUNNING, it was in that context. He wanted them to adopt his attitude of self-discipline for the purpose of evangelism.

If we want to shake the world and gain a harvest for Christ’s coming kingdom we are going to have to be disciplined evangelists as Paul was.

Paul’s use of the command KEEP ON RUNNING suggests that being a disciplined evangelist is not going to be as easy as falling off a log.

For Paul, it means undergoing a transformation much like enduring miltary boot camp. By the time Paul was finished disciplining himself, he had become “servant to all” (19).

He prescribed the same boot camp experience to the Galatians when he told them not to use their freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but to serve one another (Gal. 5:13). That goes against self-interest. It is hard work.

But the hard work is worth it – not just because you get to win people to Christ, but also because there is a reward at his coming.

Paul called it different things. Here, in verse 24, he called it the prize. He told the Philippians that he presses on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus (3:14).

In verse 25 here Paul calls it the imperishable wreath. Wreaths were the world cups of Paul’s day.

Paul also had this in mind when he told Timothy that he expected a crown of righteousness from the Lord when he comes (2 Tim. 4:8).

And Paul is not the only one to encourage believers by declaring that the disciplined Christian life is worth it.

James speaks of the crown of life. He says that God has promised to give that crown of life (which is eternal life itself) to those who love him. But he speaks of this crown in the context of the painful trials we must endure. The prize will come to those who have stood the test.

Peter talks about the unfading crown of glory. He was speaking about being a good leader in the church. If leaders shepherd the flock well, they can expect an unfading crown from the chief Shepherd when he appears.

What James, Peter and Paul knew was that although you can only enter God’s kingdom by grace, you haven’t entered at all unless you are willing to discipline yourself to keep Jesus’ commands.

Jesus said that a person is not fit for the kingdom if he puts his hand to the plow and then looks back (Luke 9:62). He likened his kingdom to a hard day plowing in a field.

Elsewhere he likened it to a narrow gate and a hard road to travel (Matt. 7:14), and a pearl that cost everything you have to possess (Matt. 13:46).

Paul had set his mind on buying that pearl of great price. Physical and mental conditioning and reconditioning was the price he was going to pay.

He endured that discipline regimen so that he remained fit to reach people for Christ .

I want you to notice two words especially as we reread 1 Cor. 9:27. The two words are the two options, if you will. For Paul, it was either discipline himself so that he would be the kind of person who brought others to Christ, or else he would be disqualified.

Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to discipline themselves like he did, so that they could gain the results he expected.
Let me now suggest five critical questions to think about as you try to apply this text to your own life and ministry.

1. What kind of person do I need to become to reach my peers for Christ?
2. How can I enlarge the scope of my friendships so that I can influence more people?
3. What aspects of my life are preventing people from getting close enough to me to see Jesus in me?
4. What activities am I willing to surrender to allow time for me to evangelize.
5. What are my gifts and abilities that I can utilize to influence others for Christ.

Previously we had seen Paul encouraging the church to KEEP ON WALKING (Col. 2:6). That command implied that we believers are expected to live according to their profession of faith. In today’s text he changed the metaphor to KEEP ON RUNNING. That metaphor implies that the Christian life is like a race that requires conditioning , self-discipline and endurance.
LORD, help us to KEEP ON RUNNING the race that you have set before us. Help us to make ourselves servants to all so that we may win more people to you and your kingdom.

The Gospel of Faith in Christ

Galatians 2:15-21

“You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. 16 Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” 17 But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not! 18 Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down. 19 For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law — I stopped trying to meet all its requirements — so that I might live for God. 20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. (NLT)

I’d like to start by reviewing what we have seen so far in our study of Galatians.

In the first ten verses of chapter one, Paul sets the tone of the epistle by saying that he is shocked to hear that the Galatians are toying with a false teaching. He set them straight by proving that there is no other gospel.

He spends the rest of chapter one (11-24) explaining the supernatural way that God revealed the gospel message to him. Since the message did not come from man, man has no business changing it.

He begins chapter two (1-10) recounting his visit to Jerusalem fourteen years after his Damascus road experience. His point was that the Jerusalem leaders endorsed his ministry, and agreed that he had been entrusted with the same message.

Then (11-14) he tells about another visit – when Peter visited Antioch. He found that Peter had gotten out of step with the gospel, and rebuked him for it.

Now we come to today’s text, and the final verses of chapter two.

Scholars differ as to who is being addressed by Paul here. Is he continuing his quotation of his rebuke of Peter, or is he now addressing the Galatians? I think this is part of his public rebuke of Peter.

The point he is making to Peter is the reason he is bringing it to the Galatians. Faith in Christ is a choice. If you make that choice, you should live up to it.

You see, some of the Jews in Jerusalem had become syncretistic. That means that they had blended Christianity with their former Judaism beliefs. They thought that they could accept Christ AND trust in their own ability to save themselves by following the Jewish traditions (works of the law).

The Galatians were being fed the same stuff. But when you add anything to free grace it stops being free.

When we Christians declare our faith in Christ it is in Christ alone, not Christ AND.

When we declare that Christ gave himself for us on the cross we are saying that we were sinners, and that we were helpless to do anything to please God. BUT Jesus Christ was not a sinner. He could do something about our sin problem. He did it on Calvary’s cross. His sacrifice was enough to pay the price to set us free.

How tragic it is then, to have and proclaim this great gospel message, and then water it down by saying that God pays more attention to someone who doesn’t eat pork. Our trust is not in something we can do for God. Our trust is in something He did for us.

Dr. Albert Barnes summed up this aspect of the gospel well.

“It is the declared purpose of God to regard and treat those sinners who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as if they had not sinned, on the ground of the merits of the Saviour.”

His quote does not say everything there is to say about the gospel. But it does cover the key issue that Paul was facing in Galatians.

The issue is how do we live out the truth of the good news of what God has done for us by sending Christ to die on the cross for our sins. People who have put their faith in Christ should trust God to deal with the sin problem his way.

I am NOT saying that believers are under no obligation to prove their faith. What I am saying is that since Christ’s death is the means of our justification, then Christ’s words should be our means of proving our faith.

We should endeavor to live according to the commands of Christ.

Our hope should be based on the promises of Christ.

Paul saw that the Galatians had a serious problem. they had put their faith in Christ, but now they were in danger because someone was trying to convince them to alter that faith. The troublers wanted the Galatians to trust in Christ AND…

But God did not send his only Son to die in our place so that we could trust him AND ourselves.

LORD, help us to put our faith in Christ alone, and keep our faith in Christ alone.

ACST 14. The Immutable One

James said that with God “there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). He was drawing attention to another attribute of God: immutability. When we affirm that God is immutable, we are affirming (positively) that he is consistent; he acts and responds the same way that he always has. James made this affirmation about God to dissuade his readers from thinking that God was bringing trials upon them to do evil. Instead, he wanted them to realize that temptations come from within us, but remaining steadfast (imitating God’s immutability) will lead to “the crown of life” (James 1:12).

Although God acts and moves through history, making his mark upon the lives of all his creatures, he still remains transcendent. His essential nature and attributes do not change. By his grace he changes us, but we do not change him. If he were changeable, it would mean destruction for God’s people (Mal. 3:6). But he is consistent with himself. He can be trusted when no one else can.

It was this consistent nature that set God apart from all the other gods of the ancients. For the Canaanite, for example, a sure harvest this season might cost an extra goat from his flocks this season, or it might cost the life of his child. His gods were fickle; he could not depend on them. For the Israelite, what God wants is clear: it is codified in the law of Moses for everyone to know. It was not left to the whim of the latest shaman to reinterpret. This fact was mean to bring stability into the Israelite’s life.

This stability came with a price. Since God cannot be changed, neither can he be manipulated. He cannot be bought off by a bigger offering, or enticed by a louder chant. He does not respond to magic words, or magic charms. He is in control, and remains in control. He does nor relinquish that control to even those who have faith in him. He remains omnipotent. The ancient Canaanite could never accept such a God.

The modern world is filled with people who have the same disposition. They do not mind religion as long as they get to set the standards. They want a God that they can trust to be good when they want good done, but who looks the other way when they do evil to others. They are happy to sing about God the savior, but want nothing to do with God, the judge. They want a god who can tell them that they are the fairest of them all, and that everyone else is too.

The God of the Bible offers salvation and judgment. He can save believers precisely because it is his judgment from which we need salvation. His attributes are consistent, which is another difference between him and his creatures.
One distinction between man’s attributes and God’s attributes is that, whereas man has characteristics added or subtracted from Him, God does not. A man can be joyful as a child and sorrowful as an adult. A man can be faithful as an employee and unfaithful as a husband. God, on the other hand, never loses or gains any attribute of His person.1

This consistency serves as a rock of refuge for believers. As we face the difficulties associated with living life this side of eternity, we are assured that the rules of the game do not change. Life is determined not by blind chance, but by an immutable Person.

Although this attribute of God is encouraging, it also suggests some questions that the thinking Christian should consider. Even if they pose no serious problem to our faith, dealing with them may help us to answer objections from nonbelievers, who might question the reality of God. There are three such questions:
1) If God is unchanging, how can he affect history?

Some have suggested that God’s transcendence means that, although he exists, he chooses not to have an impact upon the world that he created. Since he does not change, he limits the affect his presence might have on the cosmos by remaining at a distance, and simply observing. This view reverses the import of transcendence, since it emphasizes the unchanging nature of creation, rather than the creator. It is popular among those who resist the concept of miracles, because their worldview can get along without them.

Immutability speaks to the power of God, and does not limit his ability to affect his creation. It suggests that God interacts with the universe, but that, in the final analysis, that interaction does not alter anything he does or anything that he is. He can affect the course of history, or the course of my life, or yours, because he is sovereign over all things. If he chooses to have mercy on a sinner, it is because he is compassionate and merciful by nature – the transaction has not changed his essential nature. If he chooses to raise up one nation and put down another, he is acting within the parameters of his omnipotence. He never encounters a situation that forces him to act outside his nature.

His nature, however, is one of consistent intervention. The world is what it is because he keeps stepping into the mix and muddying his hands, so to speak. What appears to some to be a well-oiled simple machine that requires little maintenance, is actually a complex group of inter-acting systems that require constant tweaking and intervention.

2) If God is unchanging, why offer salvation to all?

If some see a problem with an unchanging God who changes history, others see a problem with an unchanging God who changes personal destiny. They suggest that it is unfair for God to offer salvation to all when he knows who will respond to that offer, and who will not. He therefore knows that some (indeed many) will never take advantage of his grace, will never repent and display faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Yet he insists on proclaiming “whoever will” even though he knows only the elect will.

For those who see a disconnect here, one way to resolve the problem is for God to make a divine exception to his own nature: he must limit his sovereignty in the area of personal salvation. This will enable anyone who desires to be saved to accept Christ. W. E. Best sees this as an application of deism in the realm of soteriology.2 It seeks to solve the sovereignty/free will debate by assuming that God makes the concession to human sovereignty in just this one particular area.

Yet, when we look at what the Bible says about salvation, we see that God has not abdicated his role in this process. He does more than just set up an option, sit back and wish as people get close, then fall away. He sends his Holy Spirit and causes people to be born again into his kingdom (John 3:3,5). It is an intervention. It is another one of those maintenance miracles that God does so often, we are tempted to think of them as normal.

We live in a world in which God is active, and constantly seeking the lost, and transforming them by the power of his Holy Spirit. This is the kind of God we have. It is not a God who is at the mercy of his creatures. He is immutable. He does not surrender his attributes even to accomplish what he wants.

3) If God is unchanging, is there hope for those who have not heard the gospel?

A third challenge, related to the second, is the notion that God would be unfair to provide only one chance for people to respond to his grace. There are some who see history as a series of dispensations, in which God acts differently, and expects different things from those who belong to him. To some, believing that God is changing helps to soften the impact of a world who largely neglects him. There is always the possibility that God has a “plan b” that will include those who are not responding well to this plan.

The problem is that such thinking has (once again) reduced God to an observer, when the Bible implies that he is the prime mover. For the sake of a “wider hope” the view requires that we reject the present hope. Our present (and only) hope is in the grace of God, who sovereignly brings the lost to himself through his Son. The fact that he is immutable should lead us to use all our resources to bring the dying world to Christ, because only he is the answer. When the next age dawns, it will be Christ’s age. The changes we will see will not reflect a change in who God is. Instead, they will reflect a more clear revelation of the immutable God we worship today.

1 Jeremy Cagle, Just The Simple Truth: The Attributes of God. (

2 W. E. Best, The Impeccable Christ. (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, Inc., 1971), 69.

In Step With The Gospel

Galatians 2:11-14 ESV

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

In Gal. 2:1-10 Paul explained that the leaders of the Jerusalem Church had approved of his message to the Gentiles, and affirmed that he had been entrusted with the same gospel message as they were.

This week we look at verses 11-14. Here we see Peter taking a trip to the Church at Antioch, a Gentile church which had served as Paul’s launching point.

A problem had developed at Antioch during Peter’s visit. It involved the Jewish believers, whose conduct was suddenly not in step with the gospel.

Things had actually started out very well in Antioch for Peter. He was “going with the flow.”

It was quite different than Jerusalem because this church was predominently Gentile believers.

But Peter had already learned God’s lesson that he should not consider unclean what God accepts. God showed him that truth through visions in Acts 10-11.

So Peter fellowshipped freely with the Gentile and Jewish believers alike.

But then the troublers came. These appear to be the same kind of troublers that are threatening Galatia, and that’s why Paul brings up this story.

As soon as the troublers came, they insisted on dividing up the church into the acceptable and unacceptable.

Peter had a choice to make. He could continue fellowshipping freely based on what God had shown him, or he could cave in to the peer pressure.

He made the wrong choice. He drew back and separated himself.

Remember, Peter was a respected leader in the Christian church. As such, his choice was not just an individual choice. It was a leadership choice.

Sure enough, the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him.

Even Paul’s good friend and co-worker Barnabus was led astray by Peter’s actions.

Now it was Paul’s turn to respond. He could have done the same thing Peter did, claiming Peter’s authority. That would have been the easy thing to do.

But there was a lot at stake here. It was not just the traditions of men, whether Jewish or Gentile. The truth of the gospel was at stake.

So Paul publically opposed Peter.

Paul was being a good friend here. All of us are able to make wrong choices which deny what we profess. If that happens, may God give us a friend like Paul, who cares enough to confront us.

This story is included in Galatians because the Galatian believers were being threatened with the same false teaching that the “certain men from James” had with them when they visited Antioch.

The Galatians would have to make the same choice that Peter did. They would have to repent and get back in step with the gospel that they profess.

This story suggests a few principles for living like a Christian in any age.

When you and I gave our lives to Jesus Christ, we accepted the gospel of the kingdom, and agreed to live by its principles.

Are we still living by those principles? Have we taken on any new habits and practices since then?

LORD, help us to examine ourselves to see if we are still living by the gospel that we accepted when we first came to you.