Archive for the ‘Articles by J.I. Packer of Regent College’ Category

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…on God and vocation

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…on accommodating youth in the church

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by J.I. Packer

In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” JOHN 3:3

Regeneration is a New Testament concept that grew, it seems, out of a parabolic picture-phrase that Jesus used to show Nicodemus the inwardness and depth of the change that even religious Jews must undergo if they were ever to see and enter the kingdom of God, and so have eternal life (John 3:3-15). Jesus pictured the change as being “born again.”

The concept is of God renovating the heart, the core of a person’s being, by implanting a new principle of desire, purpose, and action, a dispositional dynamic that finds expression in positive response to the gospel and its Christ. Jesus’ phrase “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) harks back to Ezekiel 36:25-27, where God is pictured as symbolically cleansing persons from sin’s pollution (by water) and bestowing a “new heart” by putting his Spirit within them. Because this is so explicit, Jesus chides Nicodemus, “Israel’s teacher,” for not understanding how new birth happens (John 3:9-10). Jesus’ point throughout is that there is no exercise of faith in himself as the supernatural Savior, no repentance, and no true discipleship apart from this new birth.

Elsewhere John teaches that belief in the Incarnation and Atonement, with faith and love, holiness and righteousness, is the fruit and proof that one is born of God (1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4). It thus appears that as there is no conversion without new birth, so there is no new birth without conversion.

Though infant regeneration can be a reality when God so purposes (Luke 1:15, 41-44), the ordinary context of new birth is one of effectual calling—that is, confrontation with the gospel and illumination as to its truth and significance as a message from God to oneself. Regeneration is always the decisive element in effectual calling.

Regeneration is monergistic: that is, entirely the work of God the Holy Spirit. It raises the elect among the spiritually dead to new life in Christ (Eph. 2:1-10). Regeneration is a transition from spiritual death to spiritual life, and conscious, intentional, active faith in Christ is its immediate fruit, not its immediate cause. Regeneration is the work of what Augustine called “prevenient” grace, the grace that precedes our outgoings of heart toward God.


From: Concise Theology: A Guide To Historic Christian Beliefs

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by J.I. Packer

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. PHILIPPIANS 1:21-24

We do not know how humans would have left this world had there been no Fall; some doubt whether they ever would have done so. But as it is, the separation of body and soul through bodily death, which is both sin’s fruit and God’s judgment (Gen. 2:17; 3:19, 22; Rom. 5:12; 8:10; 1 Cor. 15:21), is one of life’s certainties. This separating of the soul (person) from the body is a sign and emblem of the spiritual separation from God that first brought about physical death (Gen. 2:17; 5:5) and that will be deepened after death for those who leave this world without Christ. Naturally, therefore, death appears as an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26) and a terror (Heb. 2:15).

For Christians the terror of physical death is abolished, though the unpleasantness of dying remains. Jesus, their risen Savior, has himself passed through a more traumatic death than any Christian will ever have to face, and he now lives to support his servants as they move out of this world to the place he has prepared for them in the next world (John 14:2-3). Christians should view their own forthcoming death as an appointment in Jesus’ calendar, which he will faithfully keep. Paul could say, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain…. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Phil. 1:21, 23), since “away from the body” will mean “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

At death the souls of believers (i.e., the believers themselves, as ongoing persons) are made perfect in holiness and enter into the worshiping life of heaven (Heb. 12:22-24). In other words, they are glorified. Some, not believing this, posit a purgatorial discipline after death that is really a further stage of sanctification, progressively purifying the heart and refining the character in preparation for the vision of God. But this belief is neither scriptural nor rational, for if at Christ’s coming saints alive on earth will be perfected morally and spiritually in the moment of their bodily transformation (1 Cor. 15:51-54), it is only natural to suppose that the same is done for each believer in the moment of death, when the mortal body is left behind. Others posit unconsciousness (soul sleep) between death and resurrection, but Scripture speaks of conscious relationship, involvements, and enjoyments (Luke 16:22; 23:43; Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 6:9-11; 14:13).

Death is decisive for destiny. After death there is no possibility of salvation for the lost (Luke 16:26)—from then on both the godly and the ungodly reap what they sowed in this life (Gal. 6:7-8).

Death is gain for believers (Phil. 1:21) because after death they are closer to Christ. But disembodiment, as such, is not gain; bodies are for expression and experience, and to be without a body is to be limited, indeed impoverished. This is why Paul wants to be “clothed” with his resurrection body (i.e., re-embodied) rather than be “unclothed” (i.e., disembodied, 2 Cor. 5:1-4). To be resurrected for the life of heaven is the true Christian hope. As life in the “intermediate” or “interim” state between death and resurrection is better than the life in this world that preceded it, so the life of resurrection will be better still. It will, in fact, be best. And this is what God has in store for all his children (2 Cor. 5:4-5; Phil. 3:20-21). Hallelujah!

From: Concise Theology: A Guide To Historic Christian Beliefs

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by J.I. Packer

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. GENESIS 3:6

Paul, in Romans, affirms that all mankind is naturally under the guilt and power of sin, the reign of death, and the inescapable wrath of God (Rom. 3:9, 19; 5:17, 21; 1:18-19; cf. the whole section, 1:18-3:20). He traces this back to the sin of the one man whom, when speaking at Athens, he described as our common ancestor (Rom. 5:12-14; Acts 17:26; cf. 1 Cor. 15:22). This is authoritative apostolic interpretation of the history recorded in Genesis 3, where we find the account of the Fall, the original human lapse from God and godliness into sin and lostness. The main points in that history, as seen through the lens of Paul’s interpretation, are as follows:

(a) God made the first man the representative for all his posterity, just as he was to make Jesus Christ the representative for all God’s elect (Rom. 5:15-19 with 8:29-30; 9:22-26). In each case the representative was to involve those whom he represented in the fruits of his personal action, whether for good or ill, just as a national leader involves his people in the consequences of his action when, for instance, he declares war. This divinely chosen arrangement, whereby Adam would determine the destiny of his descendants, has been called the covenant of works, though this is not a biblical phrase.

(b) God set the first man in a state of happiness and promised to continue this to him and his posterity after him if he showed fidelity by a course of perfect positive obedience and specifically by not eating from a tree described as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It would seem that the tree bore this name because the issue was whether Adam would let God tell him what was good and bad for him or would seek to decide that for himself, in disregard of what God had said. By eating from this tree Adam would, in effect, be claiming that he could know and decide what was good and evil for him without any reference to God.

(c) Adam, led by Eve, who was herself led by the serpent (Satan in disguise: 2 Cor. 11:3 with v. 14; Rev. 12:9), defied God by eating the forbidden fruit. The results were that, first, the anti-God, self-aggrandizing mindset expressed in Adam’s sin became part of him and of the moral nature that he passed on to his descendants (Gen. 6:5; Rom. 3:9-20). Second, Adam and Eve found themselves gripped by a sense of pollution and guilt that made them ashamed and fearful before God—with good reason. Third, they were cursed with expectations of pain and death, and they were expelled from Eden. At the same time, however, God began to show them saving mercy; he made them skin garments to cover their nakedness, and he promised that the woman’s seed would one day break the serpent’s head. This foreshadowed Christ.

Though telling the story in a somewhat figurative style, Genesis asks us to read it as history; in Genesis, Adam is linked to the patriarchs and with them to the rest of mankind by genealogy (chs. 5, 10, 11), which makes him as much a part of space-time history as were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All the book’s main characters after Adam, except Joseph, are shown as sinners in one way or another, and the death of Joseph, like the death of almost everyone else in the story, is carefully recorded (Gen. 50:22-26); Paul’s statement “In Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22) only makes explicit what Genesis already clearly implies.

It may fairly be claimed that the Fall narrative gives the only convincing explanation of the perversity of human nature that the world has ever seen. Pascal said that the doctrine of original sin seems an offense to reason, but once accepted it makes total sense of the entire human condition. He was right, and the same thing may and should be said of the Fall narrative itself.


From: Concise Theology: A Guide To Historic Christian Beliefs

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Jesus Christ was raised from the dead
by J.I. Packer

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (LUKE 24:1-3)
Jesus’ resurrection, which was a divine act involving all three Persons of the Godhead (John 10:17-18; Acts 13:30-35; Rom. 1:4), was not just a resuscitation of the ruined physical frame that was taken down from the cross for burial. It was, rather, a transformation of Jesus’ humanity that enabled him to appear, vanish, and move unseen from one location to another (Luke 24:31, 36). It was the creative renewing of his original body, the body that is now fully glorified and deathless (Phil. 3:21; Heb. 7:16, 24). The Son of God in heaven still lives in and through that body, and will do so forever. In 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, Paul envisages that Christians who are alive on earth at the moment of Christ’s return will undergo a similar transformation, though in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 he shows himself aware that Christians who die before the Second Coming will be “clothed” with their new body (the “eternal house in heaven”) as a distinct event, at or after the time of the old body’s return to dust (Gen. 3:19).

Christianity rests on the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection as a space-time occurrence in history. All four Gospels highlight it, focusing on the empty tomb and resurrection appearances, and Acts insists on it (Acts 1:3; 2:24-35; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30-32; 13:33-37). Paul regarded the Resurrection as indisputable proof that the message about Jesus as Judge and Saviour is true (Acts 17:31; 1 Cor. 15:1-11, 20).

Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated his victory over death (Acts 2:24; 1 Cor. 15:54-57), vindicated him as righteous (John 16:10), and indicated his divine identity (Rom. 1:4). It led on to his ascension and enthronement (Acts 1:9-11; 2:34; Phil. 2:9-11; cf. Isa. 53:10-12) and his present heavenly reign. It guarantees the believer’s present forgiveness and justification (Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:17) and is the basis of resurrection life in Christ for the believer here and now (John 11:25-26; Rom. 6; Eph. 1:18-2:10; Col. 2:9-15; 3:1-4).

From: Concise Theology: A Guide To Historic Christian Beliefs

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by J.I. Packer

Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his
Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” JOHN 5:19

Humility in Scripture means, not pretending to be worthless and refusing positions of responsibility, but knowing and keeping the place God has appointed for one. Being humble is a matter of holding on to God’s arrangement, whether it means the high exposure of leadership (Moses was humble as a leader, Num. 12:3) or the obscurity of subservience. When Jesus stated matter-of-factly that he was “humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29), he meant that he was conscientiously following the Father’s plan for his earthly life.

In this he was keeping his place as the second Person of the Godhead. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity are eternal and self-existent, partaking equally of all aspects and attributes of deity, and always acting together in cooperative solidarity. But the unchanging cooperative pattern is that the second and third Persons identify with the purpose of the first, so that the Son becomes the Father’s executive and the Spirit acts as the agent of both. It is the Son’s nature and joy to do his Father’s will (John 4:34).

Regarding redemption, the Father’s will for the Son is sometimes called the covenant of redemption, since it has the form of an agreement between two parties on a program and a promise. The Westminster Confession summarizes the agreement (the Father’s purpose, accepted by the Son) as follows:

It pleased God in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only-begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Savior of his Church, the heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom he did from all eternity give a people, to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified. (For the ideas and phraseology of this statement, see Eph. 3:11; 1 Pet. 1:20; 1 Tim. 2:5; Acts 3:22; Heb. 5:5-6; Luke 1:33; Eph. 5:23; Heb. 1:2; Acts 17:31; Isa. 53:10; John 17:6; 1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 8:29-30.)

This purpose of the Father for the Son had two stages. The first stage was humiliation. The eternal Son let go of his glory and through incarnation became a poor man and a religious outsider. Finally, by means of a show trial and unscrupulous manipulation of Pilate’s moral weakness, he became a condemned criminal dying a dreadful death as mankind’s sin-bearer (Phil. 2:6-8; 2 Cor. 8:9; Gal. 3:13; 4:4-5).

The second stage was exaltation. Christ rose, ascended, and now by his Father’s appointment reigns as king over the world and the church (Phil. 2:9-11), sending the Holy Spirit (John 15:26; 16:7; Acts 2:33) and thereby applying to us the redemption that by dying he won for us. Drawing those given him to himself (John 12:32), interceding for them (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; John 17), guarding, guiding, and caring for them as a shepherd cares for his sheep (John 10:27-30), he is currently bringing many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10) according to the Father’s plan, and he will continue to do so until all God’s elect have come to repentance and new life (2 Pet. 3:9).

In all of this the Son is obeying the Father in true humility, living out a natural, voluntary, and joyful subordination. Meanwhile, the Father’s aim of having the Son worshiped and glorified equally with himself is steadily being fulfilled (John 5:19-23).

From: Concise Theology: A Guide To Historic Christian Beliefs

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