Category Archives: Mark

Full Atonement, Can it Be . . . Limited?

Philip Bliss gave the church a treasure when he wrote the hymn “Man of Sorrows! What a Name” (1875).  There is no sweeter foretaste of heaven to hear your church belting out:

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was he;
Full atonement! can it be?
Hallelujah! what a Savior!

Full atonement.  What is it about full atonement that Bliss (and we) would be led to wonder if it could be?  When did this atonement happen and when was it considered “full” (i.e. complete, irrevocable)?

The doctrine of limited atonement has caused no small stir in the history of Christian theology.  In fact, it has caused its share of theological tsunamis which have left some drowning in confusion and others awash in abject hatred.  There is no way I will stem the tide in a measly blog post (or in any format, for that matter!).  If 2,000 years of weighty volumes written by infinitely smarter Christians has not settled the matter then it’s the height of folly to assume I will.

Often, limited atonement (or particular redemption) is assumed to be a logical inference from Scripture rather than explicit biblical teaching.  In Calvinist lingo, you cannot logically spell TULIP without “L.”   I appreciate the healthy skepticism toward logical inferences in spite of clear biblical evidence. We’re not to logically conclude anything that Scripture does not intend we conclude.  Where Scripture upholds apparent paradoxes we shamelessly uphold them.  Where it leads us to solid, reasonable conclusions then we defend them.  Where it leads us to God’s mystery, then we rest in God’s wisdom with the other ignorant travelers.

Let’s first set the record straight, though.  Every Christian believes in a limited atonement.  If there is a real hell populated by real people in an age to come, then there are necessarily unatoned-for people in the world.  The atonement is not universal because not every single person will have their sins atoned for.  Many will pay the penalty of their own sin by suffering God’s eternal wrath.  Every Christian believes this, or should.  So, the question is not whether or not the atonement is limited.  It is.  The question is who limits it and when.  Does God limit the atonement at the cross?  Or does man limit the atonement by his unbelief?

Though we could survey a host of biblical passages, I will defend from Mark 10.45 that for the atonement to be “full” it must be limited by God at the cross.  What follows is a sliver’s sliver of what should be and has been said.

Jesus prepared his disciples for a lifetime of radical servanthood by appealing to his own example:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mk 10.45).

If the Son of Man claimed no rights of privilege then neither will his followers who serve God’s kingdom after him.

But what did Jesus say about the atonement?  He said it would be substitutionary and particular.

It would be substitutionary in that he would give his life as a ransom “for” or “instead of” or “in the place of” (Gk. anti) many.  So rather than “many” drinking God’s cup of or being baptized in God’s wrath, Jesus would do it for them.  Whatever hell would be for every one of God’s people, Jesus would endure it on their behalf.

But, the atonement would also be particular.  How so?

The very idea or theme of “ransom” implies a transaction of redemption, wherein two estranged parties satisfy terms of an agreement that protects someone from an otherwise just and rightful punishment (in this case, death).  See Exodus 21.29-30 where an exchange happens that liberates a person from his debt.  When the exchange happens, there is no longer any debt to the offended party.

This is why Jesus is going up to Jerusalem: to satisfy the terms of agreement between God and his people.  What is that agreement?

God created us for his glory (Is 43.7); namely, to rebound back to him eternal praise and honor for his greatness, grace and goodness.  But we’re born with hearts intent on our pleasure and glory (Eph 2.1-3).  And as soon as we’re able our hearts express themselves to that end through the members of our bodies (mind, heart, eyes, ears, arms, legs, etc.).

God is owed eternal praise from every person he’s created.  And every person who fails to give him eternal praise must pay the penalty that fits the crime: eternal death (Rom 6.23a).  I owe God an eternity’s worth of honor.  When I fail to do that then I owe him an eternity’s worthy of judgment.  Life for life.  Skin for skin.

However, God has set a ransom price.  That is, we can be bought out by the right person.  God will release from his wrath all those for whom a proper substitute is provided.  That proper substitute must live perfectly–giving God the honor he is due in a lifetime of obedience.  And he must then suffer the just punishment for all those he would redeem.  In other words, God will get paid.  If anyone is going to enjoy the new creation with God then they must present to God a perfect record of obedience.  Someone has to meet those demands or else no one escapes eternal death.

Having set the ransom price, God himself provided the ransom payment.  He is owed a perfect life and sufficient death and Jesus went up to Jerusalem to meet that demand for all of God’s people (the “many”).

So it wasn’t to Satan that Jesus paid the ransom because Satan didn’t hold the ransom note.  He doesn’t have the power to eternally condemn (see Mt 10.28).  God holds the ransom note and provides the payment himself!

Now, many would object saying Jesus died for the penalty for everyone that has ever lived.  He atoned for the sins of every single person.  But it’s up to every single person whether or not he/she takes advantage of that work.  God has done his part in crucifying and resurrecting Jesus and now he waits longingly to see who will choose to benefit from that gracious work.  In other words. if the atonement is limited it will be so by unbelieving men but not by God.

To illustrate, we could use the coupons included in your Sunday paper.  They’re sent to everyone whether or not everyone decides to use them.  Likewise, God has sent the “coupon” of redemption (the work of Christ on the cross) to every person, but that’s all he can do.  It’s up to each person to decide whether or not he/she will redeem that coupon and receive what is promised in return (i.e. atonement).

But this offends the notion of ransom or redemption as it’s presented in the New Testament.  Jesus said he would give his life as a ransom, not offer his life as the potential ransom.  He is saying that a transaction is going to take place at the cross, wherein God will accept Jesus as the price for those who would otherwise be damned.

God is a just and righteous God.  When the terms of atonement (redemption) are met he must–by his own name–liberate all those for whom the price was paid.  If the cross was the act of redemption (ransom) and it was according to Jesus, then God must–unless he offend his own character–release all those from their debt for whom Christ’s death was intended.  Jesus’ death was a ransom payment, not a ransom offer.  And if a payment for everyone then everyone must be released from their debt to God.

But the cross was not the sending out of coupons to everyone.  The cross was the actual redeeming of the coupon!  The cross was not offering a redemptive transaction to everyone; it was the the transaction wherein Jesus’ life actually (not potentially) bought particular lives from God’s just and eternal wrath (Jn 10.11, 15, 17f.).  How could Jesus cry out with his last breath, “It is finished!” (Gk. tetelestai) if he knew redemption wasn’t really finished, if there was still part of the transaction left to be completed by us?

Isaiah 43.1-7 anticipates the cross, where Jesus’ life was given in exchange for the lives of all those who would later believe.  At his death (not at the point of faith) Jesus said to the grave, “Give them up!”

John Murray wrote in his classic Redemption Accomplished and Applied:

The ransom utterances of our Lord show beyond question that he interpreted the purpose of his coming into the world in terms of substitutionary ransom and that this ransom was nothing less than the giving of his life.  Redemption, therefore, in our Lord’s view consisted in substitutionary blood-shedding . . . in the room and stead of many with the end in view of thereby purchasing to himself the many on whose behalf he gave his life as a ransom” (p47).

So when exactly was Jesus’ life exchanged for the lives of sinners?  When did full atonement happen?  Consider the following sample of texts (all emphases mine):

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20.28).

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Rom 5.10).

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace (Eph 1.7).

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,  having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col 2.13-14).

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,  and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives (Heb 2.14-15).

For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Heb 9.15).

We don’t activate an otherwise latent redemption.  We don’t complete the transaction of redemption when we repent and believe.  We repent and believe because the transaction was completed at the cross for the sake of those who believe.  The “coupon” was exchanged there.  Regeneration, repentance, faith, justification, sanctification and glorification are the applications to us of Christ’s completed work on our behalf.  All those and only those for whom Christ died will repent and believe.

In John 10.15, Jesus promised to lay down his life for the sheep.  In v26, he chastises “the Jews” and explains the reason they don’t believe him is because they’re not his sheep.  So, if Jesus lays down his life for the sheep (v15) and only sheep believe (v25), then only those for whom Jesus lays down his life will believe.  Or, those who believe (sheep) do so because Jesus has laid down his life for them.  Stated negatively, if you’re not a sheep for whom Jesus laid down his life (as a ransom) then you will not believe.

Some may protest saying God would not be fair if particular redemption is true.  But God will not be praised for his ingenious plan to share or offer salvation to sinners.  He will be praised for the glory of his grace in actually saving sinners (Eph 1.7).  God did more than come up with a great plan.  He actually affected that plan by exchanging the life of his Son for the children he gave Jesus (Jn 6.37; Heb 2.13).  What exalts God more: that he does some saving of everyone or that he does all the saving of some?  The apostles thought the latter was more glorious.

Particular atonement is not to restrain grace from anyone, but to unleash grace on those who know they’ve been ransomed: “to make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom 9.23).

Dear Christian, God did it all! He did it all for (not because of) you!  You are not a little bit redeemed or a little bit ransomed.  You were ransomed in full at the cross and that’s why you now believe.  You are free entirely (Gal 5.1).  You are no longer under God’s thumb of wrath, but under his wing of mercy.

My sin–oh, the bliss of this glorious tho’t;
My sin not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross
And I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.

Wingless Bones, not Boneless Wings

“For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mk 12.25).

The Sadducees made great 1st-century conservatives but even better 21st-century liberals.  They denied all things supernatural, especially any notion of bodily resurrection from the dead (cf. Mt 3.7; 16.1, 11-12; 22.23, 34; Lk 20.27; Acts 4.1-2; 5.17; 23.6-8).  Their creed was Sola Torah (Torah alone); whatever Torah did not clearly teach was not to be believed.  As their Torah did not command a resurrection they denied its reality.

They tried to stump the resurrection-believing Jesus with a stock apologetic argument against resurrection (Mk 12.18-23).  The Pharisees fell for it every time so why not Jesus?  “Riddle me this, Jesus.  Seven brothers marry the same woman according to the law of levirate marriage (Dt 25.5-6).  Who of the brothers has dibs on this woman in the so-called ‘resurrection’ you so firmly believe?”  They were sure they’d stumped the Truth.

But Jesus quickly dismissed their straw man argument on grounds of ignorance of both Scripture and God’s power (Mk 12.24).  They had no clue about the nature of the resurrection life.  It’s not the unending continuation of this life, but a whole new life in a whole new dimension.  Ain’t no marriage in heaven because there ain’t no death in heaven and therefore no need for procreation (Lk 20.3).  Resurrected folk become like angels in that they do not maintain familial or conjugal relationships (v25).  Again, Jesus did not say the brothers became angels at death, but became like angels in the way that they don’t marry and have families.

So let’s be clear: people who were “good” in this life do not become angels when they die.

This may not be news to you, but it will be to many who do not understand Scripture’s teaching on life after death. How many funerals—even those considered “Christian”—have this underlying assumption that our deceased loved one is now floating around in heaven with fluttering wings and a flowing white robe, looking down on us and following us around in the breeze wishing we wouldn’t cry.

I remember at Mom’s funeral (20 years ago this year) how many would console me with the thought that she was now an angel. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but now I realize that wasn’t good news. And it came from folks who should’ve known better. So, let’s make sure we know better before the next funeral!

This news may be a profound disappointment to you or someone you know.  After all, what could be better than becoming angel and flying around wherever you want, being willingly invisible and invincibly powerful for eternity?  Not becoming an angel doesn’t sound like good news.

While it may seem like harmless sentiment, it actually cheapens several important biblical doctrines. So I want to try to defend why it is not good news that people become angels when they die. Stated positively, I want to prove why it is actually good news for the Christian that we do not become angels when we die.  I suggest five theological areas where this “harmless” sentiment actually harms how we understand humanity, Christ, salvation, sanctification and judgment.

Anthropology: God created humans to be physical, corporeal beings.

To discount the body as less important than the spirit is a product of Greek—namely, gnostic—heresy. It was common in 1st century Greek life to assume the body to be evil and the spirit to be good. And as such, one could do whatever he wanted with the body because it’s evil and will be destroyed. What one does with his body has no affect on his spirit.

To assume we become angels at death is to consider the body to be worthless, temporary and unnecessary to being eternally complete as a human being. This is why Paul spent so much time defending the glory and importance of what we do with our bodies:

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom 6.12-13).

For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6.20).

What we do with and how we treat our bodies matters because our bodies matter to God. God created us as unified, holistic beings with a spirit that impacts the body and vice versa (for examples, see Ps 32.3-4; Is 40.31). By nature, when we suffer spiritual strain we lose appetites. By nature, when we’re sick we feel spiritually drained. This is why the gospel is so radical: it gives strength where there is no strength to be had!

For example, why do post-abortive moms suffer spiritual affects? They’ve been sold the line that it’s their body to do with what they want (there is no connection between body and soul), but they suddenly realize that to monkey with the body has far-reaching spiritual implications.  They realize God has created our bodies to respond to and affect spiritual realities.  This is why our spiritual appetites lead to physical actions (cf. Jas 1.14-15; 4.2).

God did not create us as physical bodies with a spirit, or spirits with a body, but as spiritual bodies to reflect his glory both inside and out. To separate the soul from the body is to be sub-human.

Christology: Jesus’ bodily resurrection anticipates what will happen with all believers in Christ.

God promises to conform all believers to the image of his Son (Rom 8.29). God will “transform the body of our humble state inot conformity with the body of [Christ’s] glory” (Phil 3.21). When we see Jesus we will be like Jesus (1 Jn 3.2).  Therefore, whatever Jesus is in his glorified state is what we will be in ours. And Jesus was raised bodily to become the first fruits of God’s intention for true humanity.

Stated negatively: Jesus did not become an angel when he died. God promises we will be like Jesus. Therefore, we will not become angels when we die.

Stated positively: Jesus was raised bodily. God promises we will be like Jesus. Therefore, we will be raised bodily.

But if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8.11).

To assume we become angels at death is to say we would rather be an angel to be like Jesus for all eternity. That’s an insult to Jesus.

Soteriology: God’s salvation is complete when our physical bodies are redeemed/glorified in a bodily resurrection.

Given God’s valuing the body, his salvation must necessarily include—and his grace experienced by—the redemption of our fallen bodies.  What happened with the Fall in Eden was the destruction of the body and soul. We die in every sense of the word. We die physically and we die spiritually. In Christ, God reverses that curse so that both body and soul are redeemed restored to unrestrained, eternal glory.

. . . we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Rom 8.23).

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked” (2 Cor 5.1-3).

Christ’s work is not complete when we die and go to heaven. His work is complete when “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice, and will come forth; those who did the good to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil to a resurrection of judgment” (Jn 5.28-29).

So we don’t breathe a sigh of relief at the funeral of a dead Christian because God has finally taken them to a better place. While we’re thankful that is true, we also groan because there is still something wrong with seeing a soulless corpse decaying in a box. God’s plan of redemption is not yet complete until the redeemed soul is reunited with the redeemed and resurrected body.

The gospel does not end at “going to heaven when you die.” It ends at the resurrection, where recreated body and souls enjoy and worship Christ’s unrestrained glory in the recreated cosmos. It ends when all our senses are redeemed from the curse of sin so that we know God with every faculty of our being.

Sanctifcation: Being human for eternity is necessary for understanding, appreciating and enjoying God’s grace for eternity.

As a sub-category of soteriology, we should say something about the affect this has on our sanctification: our becoming like Jesus by growing in the understanding and enjoyment of the gospel.   God designed the plan of redemption so that he will be worshiped for his being the God of sovereign and unending grace, displayed in Jesus Christ.

He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the kind intention of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the beloved” (Eph 1.5-6).

So the content of our worship for eternity will be to glory in God’s grace. It will be praising him that though we deserved the fullness of God’s wrath in hell, we now enjoy the fullness of God’s blessing in heaven. As the smoke of hell rises up forever and ever (Rev 19.3) we will proclaim, “Hallelujah! We’re not there, but we should be! We’re not where we deserve to be, but where God chose us to be!”

The glory of the gospel is that in Christ alone God saves forever those who otherwise deserve to be damned for their sin. They experience God’s grace for no other reason than God chose to love them for his own sake.

These are things, Peter wrote, “into which angels long to look” (1 Pt 1.12). In other words, angels love to watch God’s plan of redemption working out in the lives of his people. But, they watch it as outsiders looking in. They will never experience what it’s like to be cast under the wrath of God only to be redeemed from that wrath by the work of Jesus. In a word, they will never know what it’s like to experience the fullness of God’s grace.

Neither unfallen or fallen angels (cf. 2 Pt 2.4) will experience the fullness of God’s grace. Only redeemed and resurrected humans will.

So it is better to be created by God, left to fall into sin and under his eternal and just wrath, to be dogged by sin and pain of repentance, and then to be rescued from that wrath by grace through faith in Jesus Christ than to be created as or become an angel.  Becoming an angel at death would actually shortchange the worship God is due and our eternal joy of being the object of God’s sovereign grace.

Wings would actually interfere with our enjoyment and vision of God!

Judgment: God’s ultimate judgment of sin will be the physical, bodily torment of all unbelievers.

Just as the eternal enjoyment of God’s grace in the new creation will be a bodily, physical experience, so will the experience of God’s wrath in hell.  To make light of the body with respect to eternal life is to make light of God’s grace in the gospel. To make light of the body with respect to eternal death is to make light of God’s judgment.

Hell is not en vogue these days (if it ever was!). But all of Scripture, and especially Jesus is quite clear that hell will be the eternal, conscious, physical (bodily) torment of all those who resist Christ in this life.

“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Mt 5.29-30).

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10.28). Satan doesn’t destroy the soul and body in hell. God does!

In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame” (Lk 16.23-24).

We’re all familiar with John’s image of the “lake of fire” that will receive all unbelievers and Satan himself (Rev 20.14f.; 21.8).

Every description of hell depicts a physically painful experience of God’s eternal wrath. And regularly the image of hell is a place where people suffer skin-scorching fire and lung-filling toxic fumes. Now, that may all sound fanciful and a bit cartoonish to you. But, even if the language is symbolic then how much more will the reality be!

I’m told that 3rd and 4th degree burns create the most horrific pain we could ever experience. So if you wanted to describe the fullness of God’s wrath it would be appropriate to depict the unending pain of 4th degree burns. Death would be a favor, but there will be no favors in hell.

Hell is not the absence of God, where all unbelievers are left to their own devices. God will be just as present in hell as he is in heaven. Only, he will be present in the fullness of his wrath rather than the fullness of his blessing.  And all those there will have every one of the their senses fully sensitive to that wrath. Just God must raise our bodies to be equipped for heaven (unending life without pain) so must he raise and prepare the body for hell—unending pain without death.

To assume good people become angels at death you must consistently assume bad people become demons. Just as becoming an angel would shortchange joy, becoming a demon would be getting off easy!

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Would Jesus Join the Tea Party?

And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12.17)

Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1862 about the conflict over slavery between the Union and Confederacy “In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time.”

In his second inaugural address in 1865, he’d not changed his mind: Both [North and South] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. . . . The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

And when asked by a preacher if he was sure God was on the Union’s side, Lincoln replied famously and summarily the question was not whether or not God was on their side but if they were on his.

So whose side is Jesus on anyway? Mine or yours? Ours or theirs?  Would Jesus join the Tea Party? What does he think about income taxes and government loyalty? Is he an anarchist (all government is bad and should be resisted)? Is he a theocrat (society should be ruled by religious law and devotion mediated by the authority of the church)? Where does Jesus stand politically: with conservatives, liberals, progressives, independents, libertarians? Would he plug his car in or gas it up or ride a bike?

The Pharisees tried to pin Jesus down on a similar issue: should Jews pay taxes to Caesar or not (Mk 12.14)?  Did Jesus join the Jews in their hatred of paying tribute to a Gentile who think s himself God?  Or did he sell out and cower in the shadow of Tiberius Caesar, Son of Divine Augustus?

While Jesus did not say everything that would be said about the relationship between his followers and the State, he did provide enough for the apostles to unpack.

1) Civil government—even an evil one—is a legitimate institution to be supported by taxes and respect.  Christians should be the most faithful and honest taxpayers on the planet.

What if our taxpayer dollars go to fund ungodly initiatives (abortion, for example)? Caesar was no altar boy himself. He spent taxpayer dollars building pagan shrines and temples to himself and his false gods. Yet, Jesus said to give Caesar his due not because we agree with his policies but because he will be held accountable to the authority granted him by God (see Rom 13.1-7).

After all, Paul wrote Romans during the reign of Nero after having survived the reigns of Caligula and Claudius. I think he’d be surprised at how easily we complain about our democracy!

2) Christians are to live as exemplary citizens so that if they are despised it is only because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The world must have no charge against Christians except where their allegiance to the gospel trumps their allegiance to the State.

Christians are not to be seen as revolutionaries or mutineers. They’re not tax cheats or snarky loophole lovers. The freedom provided by Jesus in the gospel is not be used for rebellion, but for humble submission (see 1 Pt 2.13-17; Heb 10.32-39).

How we joyfully submit to the state often reflects how much faith we have in God to make good on his promise in the gospel. Do we really believe this world is not worth what we often spend to hold on to it?  Don’t throw away your confidence in God to hold onto stuff. Believe it or not, submitting to our civil government insofar as we can without compromising the gospel is an act of worship to God.

3) Jesus prioritizes the two kingdoms. Jesus did not define two mutually exclusive kingdoms: Caesar’s and God’s. He wasn’t saying Caesar has his kingdom and God has his kingdom and we live in one or the other. We often separate them into the secular and sacred. Jesus wasn’t proposing radical separatism or radical revolution. He prioritized the kingdoms. He didn’t offer an either/or scenario but a both/and scenario, with one kingdom subject to the other.

He was prioritizing the kingdoms as one being temporal and earthly (Caesar’s) which is subject to one that is eternal and sovereign (God’s). Paying taxes to and honoring Caesar is part of living in this kingdom; this age of fallen humanity where we need police and firemen and roads. What Caesar does with those taxes and honor will be held accountable by God, but we entrust that to God while we gladly file our 1040s and honor the king.

The church should never be despaired by any administration. Listening to Christian talking heads, you’d think electing President Obama was the end of the world. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Give to God what is God’s. But don’t give to Caesar what is God’s. And ascribing any king, president, monarch, dictator, sheik or imam the power to govern the affairs of redemptive-history is to give to Caesar what alone belongs to God.  God alone determines the affairs of the world.

If it’s the end of the world, it won’t be because of President Obama or a nuclear Iran but because of our Great and Sovereign God who is bringing all things in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ. We should be less concerned about who is in office and far more concerned about who is in Christ, because it’s before his court we’ll appear in the end.

Of course, we must engage in civil affairs in this life but only as long as we remember the priority of God’s kingdom to come.

4) It’s of more eternal importance that we give to God what is God’s than we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Jesus said to these Pharisees and Herodians, “You hypocritically assume that it’s more important what a person gives to Caesar than what a person gives to God. You’re the religious leaders of Israel and you are not giving God what he is due. Who cares about Caesar’s tax rates when you have no fear of God? Why are you more concerned about what happens at Caesar’s palace than what happens in the temple of God?”

We must prioritize the kingdoms such that God’s kingdom—evident in the church now but ultimately realized in a new heavens/earth—takes precedence over all other allegiances.

Folks often ask preachers what they’re going to do if/when it become illegal to preach on certain topics. While God will supply sufficient grace should the time come, I’m not scared of what the government might do if we preach the gospel. I fear what God might do if we don’t!  We don’t fear wrongly (in the eyes of men) preaching the gospel. We fear preaching the wrong gospel (cf. Acts 4.16-30).  We need not fear what laws may be enacted against Christian witness. We’d better fear God more than the state.

So, we pay our taxes on time. We do the speed limit. We buckle our seatbelts!  We gladly obey the law insofar as it doesn’t collide with God’s law.

And even more, we joyfully preach Christ. And we give the state only one option for despising/arresting us: hatred of Jesus and his gospel. And on the way to prison or the gallows we pay up our taxes, we speak respectfully of those arresting us (see Acts 24.2-4; 26.2-3), and then thank God that all government rests on the shoulders of Jesus (Is 9.6).

For the Christian, the health of the church, purity of her witness, the zeal of her worship is more important than the health of city hall, Nashville (in our case) or Washington. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only God-ordained institution by which he broadcasts his interests to the world. And she will be the only “nation” standing in the end. So the amount of energy we spend on political discourse should be exponentially outdone by the amount of energy spent on gospel discourse.  The amount of energy we spend compelling others to this or that candidate should be exponentially outdone by the energy spent compelling them to Jesus.  Our allegiance to Caesar must be exponentially outdone by our allegiance to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re merely aliens and strangers here. We’re citizens of God’s kingdom.

Despite what I may nor may not want to give to Caesar, am I giving to God what is God’s? We were stamped with the imago Dei—long before anything was stamped with any other image. Therefore, I owe God my life and paying Caesar is a small price to pay in light of that.

Brother and sister, what do you fear more: national socialism or local church apostasy?  In what do you put more hope: the spread of democracy or the spread of the gospel?  What makes you rejoice more: the election of a certain candidate or one sinner who repents?  Which kingdom takes priority in your time, money, efforts and conversation?

How would Jesus answer those questions? Would he be on your side, or would you be on his?

There will be hundreds of professing Christians gathered locally and thousands nationally for the National Day of Prayer in about a week. And they will be Christians who never gather with their local churches to pray. They will gather to pray for people they’ve never met and situations they’ve never touched. But yet don’t gather with their churches to pray for people who sit right around them every week in situations that affect them greatly.

But God hasn’t ordained your town to be a house of prayer for the nations. He’s ordained the church as the house of prayer for the nations!  God will change America, not when towns take a National Day of Prayer seriously, but when the local church takes her weekly day of prayer seriously. I’m not saying boycott the National Day of Prayer (I plan to be at our local one). I’m staying participate with far less expectation, investment and energy then than the local church gathers in prayer.

Would Jesus join the Tea Party? In one sense, who really cares? The question is are we part of his party? He’s more concerned about saving and sanctifying the people for whom he died. He’s more concerned about people hearing and believing that this world is under judgment and only those who repent and believe in Jesus will survive its destruction. He’s more concerned about holiness than taxes.

So pay your taxes. Rally your candidates. But you’d better make sure you’re keeping God’s kingdom in Christ your primary allegiance. Get out the vote if you want, but make sure you’re getting out the gospel more. You’d better be sure to love Jesus and the church more than democracy and the State. You’d better make sure that when these two kingdoms collide (and they always do) that you’re standing with Christ and his people.

And if someone asks you what you think about what’s going on in America you tell them it’s not nearly as important as what’s going on with them and God. Are they giving God what is God’s?