Is Hell eternal seperation from God or the experience of wrath pouring forth from God for an eternity? Those who argue for the former often appeal to 2 Thessalonians 1:9. In a paper I recently posted on academia.edu, I argue that the best reading of the Greek preposition apo (“away from”) in this verse is “[coming forth] from,” that is, it indicates the point from which something moves away from. Having argued this, I then expound briefly why the doctrine of Hell as the Thessalonians and the rest of the Bible expounds it matters.
From Galatia in the 1st century AD to Vancouver BC in the 21st century, the tendrils of Legalism have lingered in the Church and have never been fully eradicated. In response to cultural pressures, the influence of other religions, or bad teaching, segments of the Church have brought themselves back under the law and bound their members with the slavery of an unattainable standard of moral perfection and cultural isolation. This extreme has led to exclamations such as, “Christianity is just a set of Rules!” and “Christians exist to take all the fun out of life!”
On the other end of the spectrum is the plague of license. Legalism tries to force adherence to a moral standard for righteousness and relationship with God, whereas license says that freedom in Christ means freedom to do whatever we want. Those taking freedom from the law for granted with license decry all rules as legalistic restraint and even reject the need for repentance before God, confusing the true nature of the Christian life and neglecting the need for sanctification. The apostolic church in the first millennium dealt with these extremes as we do today, Paul in particular wrote strongly against both legalism and license and fought for a biblical balance that put the law in its right place while calling for conformity to Christ in thinking and action. In Corinth Paul was forced to address incestuous and unrestrained sexual immorality and arrogance that took advantage of grace at the cost of the conscience of weaker brothers. In the province of Galatia false teachers demanded obedience to the entirety of the Jewish law for all Gentile believers, in doing so returning to the slavery of the law and demanding works in addition to faith for righteousness. In Thessalonica a minority of believers took advantage of the nearness of Christ’s return to languish in sloth and become busybodies preying on the generosity of their brethren.
Paul cried out against these misunderstandings and, like an expert surgeon, cut into their misconceptions with the scalpel of the true Gospel, cutting away the cancerous disease and attempting to restore health to the churches. We, with our propensity to act like the Galatians or the Corinthians, can desperately use the Holy Spirit inspired wisdom of Paul to shatter the slavery of legalism and rein the chaos of license. Towards this end let us delve into the depths of Paul’s apostolic wisdom, seeing how he addresses the legalism of Galatia and licentious behavior in all three early Churches. Then, equipped with this understanding, we can ascertain the application of this wisdom for our contemporary setting.
For Paul, the legalism in Galatia was a significant issue; it threatened the heart of the Gospel. Paul rebuked Peter for encouraging this behavior at Antioch (2:11-14) and in his letter he called for those who preached this other Gospel to be accursed, to be damned to hell (Gal. 1:6-9). Speaking of Judaizers in Jerusalem, Paul calls them spies who infiltrated the Church for the purpose of bring slavery to Christians (Gal. 2:4). Paul goes as far as associating the legalism at Galatia with a return to the Galatians’ pagan past, for them to turn away from faith alone and accept slavery to the law was for them to turn back “again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Gal. 4:9).  It was enough of a danger that it scared Paul into thinking that his labor for the Gospel to the Galatians was in vain (Gal 4:11). For the Galatians to embrace obedience to the law as a requirement for right standing before God was a serious issue for Paul and it should be for us too.
Applying the Cross
Paul, in addressing this issue, seems to have taken two major approaches to confront the Galatians; the first was an application of the truth of the Cross. In Galatians 2:15-21 Paul brings the reality of the Cross to bear on the heart of the issue; how we may be justified before God. In vv. 15-16 Paul explains that even he, born as a Jew, knew that only by faith in Christ may a man be justified. He moves forward with his argument in a way he often does (cf. Rom. 6:1-2); he asks a question and then answers it himself with the emphatic “may it never be!”  Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross the Galatians had died to the Law and were now living for God. To try and rebuild what had been torn down, to pursue righteousness in the law,  would not gain them a right standing before God, instead it would make them transgressors (2:18). In their union with Christ they had died to the law when Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law on their behalf (2:19-20). Christ died ending the need for the law; if they went back to it, His death would be purposeless (2:21). Paul’s application of the Cross for the Galatians legalism was to say that Christ died, and they with Him; His death meant an end to the law and to go back was to reject His death and become a transgressor.
In 3:10-14 Paul argues from the Cross in much the same way. Paul first shows from Scripture that it is impossible to attain righteousness through the law, for it requires absolute obedience; anyone who failed to live up to the Law’s impossibly high demands would find themselves cursed (3:10). He argues further that the OT argues that in fact faith is the way that the righteous shall live (3:11); this means that the law does not bring righteousness, for following the law is not living by faith but living by the law (3:12). This is where the Cross comes in; Paul argues that Christ bore their curse—the curse they had for transgressing the Law—on the Cross enabling the Galatians to receive Abraham’s blessings through faith (3:13-14). Paul here shows the foolishness of Legalism, for the law never brought righteousness; only by faith in Christ, the one who bore the curse of the law in our stead, could we attain righteousness. Paul shows that to abandon Christ is to abandon any hope for right relationship with God; to turn to the law is to abandon the Cross, and to abandon the Cross is to subject ourselves to the unbearable demand of the law.
Applying the True Nature of the Law
The second major way that Paul addresses the Galatians’ legalism is by showing what the true nature of the law is. For the Galatians to trust the law as a means of gaining right standing before God was to fundamentally misunderstand the whole purpose of the law; Paul argues that the law was not in fact meant to bring life, it was meant to imprison everything under sin until the Jesus came (3:21-22). With the coming of Jesus the law was no longer needed, for it fulfilled its purpose. Paul describes the law as a guardian, a παιδαγῶγος (paidagōgos), which kept us until Christ came, “in order that we might be justified by faith” (3:24). Legalism fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the law, it was never meant to bring life but to point towards the one who would once and for all bring life to all who put their faith in Him. With the coming of Christ the tutor was no longer needed.
Paul further argues that the under a guardian a heir is like a slave, but once the date set by his father comes he becomes a son and no longer needs his guardian. The law kept the Galatians under its guard till Christ came and they were adopted as sons; no longer were they needing the law as a guardian, for they were not slaves but sons (4:1-7). Paul argues this point further, illustrating from Hagar and Sarah how the law was of the Old Covenant and the Galatians are of the New Covenant; the Old Covenant led to slavery under the law, but the New Covenant was of a totally different nature, it was free from the law of the Old Covenant (4:21-31). Paul concludes this argument by powerfully writing; “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1).
Paul sees legalism as a massive affront to the Gospel and breaks apart the fallacious reasoning of the false teachers in Galatia; the law was a guardian that has passed with the coming of Christ and on His cross he bore the curse of the law freeing the Galatians from its obligations and bringing justification on the basis of faith in Him alone.
When addressing the problem of license, Paul saw it as no less of a threat to the Gospel than legalism. In 1 Corinthians he uses the example of the Israelites struck down in the desert as an example of the seriousness of Idolatry (10:6-11) and he calls for a man to be excommunicated from the church on the ground of living in serious unrepentant sin (5:2-5).  Paul addresses the issue of license in a myriad of ways, but it seems as if these different ways can be gathered and examined under four heads; he applies the work of Christ on the cross to get at the heart of the problem, he shows the seriousness of sin from character of God, he charges the church with the task of bringing discipline so as to encourage those in the faith to walk in a way that accords with the Spirit, and then there is a smattering of other ways the issue is addressed in 2 Thessalonians and Corinthians that can be examined together.
Applying the Cross
The old city of Corinth was notorious for being a hotbed of immorality and idolatry, from the state of the church that Paul planted it seems like Corinth in the 1st century was not much better.  When Paul came and saw many converted, remnants of this old life lingered in the Church. It faced the challenges of a false sense of spirituality, one that placed knowledge above love (1 Cor. 8:1), and continued indulgence in sin, this time on the grounds of Christian freedom. Some of the many ways Paul addressed these issues was to bring the truth of the Cross to bear on the Corinthians thinking. The first way he did this was to call for a new way of living on the basis of the Cross. In 1 Cor. 5:1-8 Paul argues from an analogy of leaven. After calling for the Corinthians to cleanse out the old leaven, the unrepentant immoral man who was corrupting the entire church (5:1-5), he then speaks of Christ crucified; he calls them new unleavened bread because Christ—continuing the analogy by calling him “our Passover lamb” (5:7)—was sacrificed. Because they were new they were no longer the old leavened bread but now unleavened bread, they were to put away the deeds of the old, malice and evil, and take up the deeds of the new, sincerity and truth (5:8).
In chapter 6 he goes on to use the cross to tear down their misconception of Christian freedom. The Corinthians rightly understood that they were no longer under the law, so all things were lawful (6:12), but what they took this to mean was that they could indulge in the desires of the flesh. Paul argues that in fact they were not to take advantage of their freedom in this way; they were instead to glorify God in the body. The truth was that Christ on the Cross had purchased them by His blood, they had been bought with a price (6:20). Being bought by Christ, they were no longer their own; they were God’s and because they were His they were to glorify Him in their bodies (6:20). The specific application for them in this passage was to flee sexual immorality; living in immorality did not honor God.
Later, in 8:1-13, Paul addresses those who were arrogant in knowledge and used their freedom at the expense of their brothers. Paul argues that Christ died for those in His Church (8:11) and if someone caused his brother to stumble, he was actually sinning against Christ who shed His blood for the weaker brother. In the situation at hand, some Corinthians had the knowledge that idols were not real, that they had no existence (8:4-5), but others were not there yet in their faith (8:7). This knowledge caused the ones who had it to be puffed up and to not act in love. The way they expressed this knowledge was to participate in pagan religious practices by eating in the temple of Idol’s, weaker brothers were having their conscience destroyed by the encouragement to participate that they received from the “stronger” brothers (8:9-10). Paul’s concluding application is that love comes before rights, the stronger brother is to lay aside his rights (perceived or real) for the sake of not causing his brother to stumble (8:11-12).
The last application Paul makes of the Cross against license, in this case the potential of it, is found in his letter to Galatia. Near the conclusion of his letter Paul writes that the freedom the Galatians have in Christ is not an excuse for living according to the flesh, instead it was a chance to serve one another through love (Gal. 5:13). Here Paul shows that Christian living is neither legalism nor license; instead our freedom is freedom to serve. He then goes on to establish the new life the Galatians have in the Spirit, how living in the Spirit will mean that they will not use their freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. To walk in the Spirit is antithetical to walking in the flesh, walking in the flesh comes with it all sorts of sinful behaviors but walking in the Spirit brings characteristics of conformity to Christ (5:16-23). In verse 24 Paul brings the Cross to bear on the situation at hand; all who belong to Christ have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24).  Believers in their freedom cannot live according the flesh, for in Christ they have died to the flesh and are now living by the Spirit; they are to walk by the Spirit, in accord with the new life they have with Christ.
Applying the Character of God and the Seriousness of Idolatry
In applying the cross to licentious behavior, Paul calls for right living on the basis of the work and reality ushered in by the Cross. Elsewhere Paul takes a more negative approach in giving a strong warning against license on the basis of both God’s nature and the seriousness of sin.
In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, in the midst of Paul’s long argument against idolatry in the Corinthian church, Paul calls to mind the terrifying example of the Israelites in the wilderness, where they were overthrown by God for their sin (10:5). Paul calls to mind 4 circumstances where God punished Israel for their sins. There was the time when, in idolatry, they “sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (1 Cor. 10:7, cf. Ex. 32:1-6). At another time 23,000 were struck down in one day for sexual immorality (1 Cor. 10:8, cf. Num. 25:1-9). They put God to the test and were destroyed by serpents (1 Cor. 10:9, cf. Num. 21). Finally, they grumbled and “were destroyed by the Destroyer” (1 Cor. 10:10, cf. Num. 14). All of these incidents with ancient Israel show how seriously God takes sin, and Paul writes that they serve as instruction for the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10:11) who are now in the new eschatological reality ushered in by the Cross (1 Cor. 10:11). God does not take sin in His covenant people lightly, it needs to be dealt with; the nature of God and the relationship that the Corinthians had with Him provided a powerful motivation for pursuing holy living. Idolatry and immorality are not fitting for God’s New Covenant people just as much as it was not fitting for His Old Covenant people.
In the rest of 1Corinthians 10, vv. 14-22, Paul continues arguing against idolatry from the nature of God and nature of the Church. Arguing from communion and the nature of the body Paul establishes that that everyone in the Church makes up the body of Christ, the grounds of our unity in Christ is that we all participate in His body through partaking of one bread (10:16-17). Drawing from the nature of the Lord’s Supper and from Israelite sacrifice (10:16-18), Paul argues that to partake of food offered to idols in the temples is to participate with demons (10:19-21), who are behind the idols (10:20). Paul writes that one cannot participate both with demons and the Lord; it is an either or. The reason is that God is jealous, He will not tolerate others in His place; to participate in the table of demons is to provoke His jealousy (10:22). To do this is to challenge God, and He is stronger (10:22). Paul’s address here concludes his argument against Idolatry that started earlier in the letter. They are not to participate in idolatrous meals in pagan temples for this will arouse the jealousy of God and He takes sin in His covenant people seriously; therefore they must take heed and watch themselves lest they fall (10:12). 
The Church’s Participation in Combating License
The character of God reveals the profound contradiction between living in the Spirit, as God’s covenant people, and living in the flesh, indulging in its desires. Paul understood the power of temptation and the appeals of the flesh as well as the danger of unrepentant sin for both the local church and for the individual who was committing it. Knowing the power and danger of license, Paul commissioned the Church to practice discipline, so as to cleanse itself (1 Cor. 5:6-7) and to save the souls of the ones involved in it (1 Cor. 5:5).
In 1 Corinthians Paul calls for Church discipline to curb license in a specific circumstance and in a broader application. In 5:1-8 Paul addresses the situation of a man involved in gross immorality, this man in the church was committing adultery with his step-mother (5:1). The Corinthians church was not just tolerating this unrepentant sin; they were actually being arrogant in their acceptance of the man (5:2, 6).  The church was to be a light in the darkness, yet they were boasting in sin that even the pagan Roman culture around them rejected (5:1)! Paul corrects there serious misconception of spirituality, he writes that instead of boasting they are to mourn (5:2) and calls for the removal of the incestuous man (5:2, 7). He calls for the Corinthian church, when assembled, to deliver with the power of their Lord Jesus the man to Satan “for the destruction of the flesh” (5:5). The intent behind this act of excommunication is not to damn the man, but to restore him; it is done so that “his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (5:5). When Paul speaks of the “destruction of the flesh” he has something positive in view, the intent of excommunication is to see the fleshly nature destroyed in order that the man may be welcomed back into the church.  In this circumstance, Paul’s answer to extreme license was to call for the Church’s intervention in Excommunication.
In the rest of chapter 5, vv. 9-13, Paul moves from a specific call for the excommunication of this man to a call for the purging of all “who [bear] the name of brother” yet are guilty of unrepentant immorality (or any number of other serious unrepentant sin) (5:11). Paul clarifies here that he is not calling for the Corinthians to cut themselves off from all sinners, for they would “need to go out of the world” (5:10). He is referring specifically to those who call themselves brothers, who participate in church, but walk in rebellion against the new life they are supposed to be pursuing (5:9-12). He calls them to renounce all association with these men, they are not even to eat with them (5:11);  as a new community in Christ they are to purge this evil from inside them (5:13) so that the entire church is not corrupted (5:6). Though there is no mention of restoration here, it would be consistent with the rest of Paul’s teaching on discipline—especially the excommunication of the incestuous man earlier in the context (5:1-8)—for this to be the end in sight with the disassociation.
As in these circumstances, Paul also calls for the church’s participation in addressing the issue of license in his second letter to the Thessalonians. In this letter one of the two issues he addresses is that of idle busybodies in the church; those who have taken advantage of the generosity of the rest of the Church and become slothful, not just refraining from work but also actively meddling (2 Thess. 3:11). As well as exhorting them directly in the Lord to follow Paul’s example of working not to be a burden, Paul also calls for the all of the Thessalonians to take note of and separate from all who did not obey the instructions Paul gives in the letter. They are to have nothing to do with them so that they “may be ashamed” (5:14). Paul clarifies in v. 15 that in having nothing to do with them they are not to regard them as enemies, but they are to warn them as brothers.
Various other Ways Paul Combats License in the Church
Paul spent time in both the cities of Thessalonica and Corinth, and when he was there the way he lived set an example for the churches. In both cities he did not take advantage of all the rights available to him, instead he lived by the labor of his own hand, rejecting his right to make a living, and surrendered his right to take along a believing wife (1 Cor. 9:3-12, 2 Thess. 3:7-9).
In Corinth Paul surrendered his rights so that no obstacle would be laid in the path of the Gospel (9:10). The Corinthians were abusing what they thought was their right to eat at temples (8:1-13); this was how they thought to use the freedom they now had in Christ. Paul, from his own actions, shows that in God’s kingdom one’s own desires are not the highest end. The motivation he gives for surrendering his rights in this passage, which would set an example for the Corinthians, was his pursuit of eschatological rewards (9:18). He could have taken what he had a right to, but this would have left him with no reward. He was bound by necessity to preach the Gospel, it was his stewardship and therefore this task brought him no reward (9:15-18). But by preaching the Gospel free of charge and by denying his other rights so that the Gospel would spread unobstructed, Paul brings himself a reward in the final day. By following his example in surrendering rights for the sake of the Gospel the Corinthians too could earn eschatological reward.
In Thessalonica, a group of believers were taking advantage of their brothers by not working and preying on the generosity of the church (2 Thess. 3:10-12). To address this issue, Paul recalls his behavior in Thessalonica and the example he set. He gave up his rights to earn a living from his labor so that he might give an example (3:8-10); he toiled and labored that he might support himself and not be a burden to the Thessalonians (3:8). Here, as in 1 Corinthians, Paul sets the example of laying aside his right for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of his brothers (3:9). The application for the Thessalonian idle was to get their act together and imitate Paul in not being a burden, but working to earn their own living (3:12).
The last way that Paul addresses license in these churches is by establishing the proper end for all Christian actions. In Corinth the members of the church were looking out for themselves first, they were taking advantage of their freedom to fulfill their desires. Paul addresses this issue from various angles, establishing a proper model for approaching Christian living as free from the law, in 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1. Here Paul takes another look at the Corinthian slogan “All things are lawful” (10:23) and addresses the issue of food offered to idols for the last time. Whereas before he has forbidden the Corinthians from partaking of meals offered to idols in the temples, he here explains that a Christian has the right to eat food that may have been offered to idols that he has purchased from the meat markets (10:25). It is not an issue for one’s conscience, for “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” (10:26). The Corinthians had thought that eating in the temples was their right, but it was not (10:22); therefore they were not to do it, both because of their God (10:22) and their brothers (8:13). Here, when it is food from the market, they are legitimately in the right to eat meat (10:25), but here a greater principle tempers their eating. They are free to eat, unless it will infringe upon the conscience of someone else (10:29). Paul flips the attitude of the Corinthians on its head; instead of using their freedom to pursue their own desires everyone was not to “seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (10:24). Instead of using their freedom to do what they desired, they were to use their freedom to serve one another; though they were allowed to partake of meat from the market, they were to refrain when it would cause another’s consciences to be wounded (10:28-29). They were right not to feel wounded in conscience when they ate of the meat (10:30), but they were to give up their right for the sake of the good of their neighbor (10:24, 28-29). Concluding this exhortation, Paul points to his own behavior and the overarching principle for Christian living. In all they do, refraining or consuming, the Corinthians were to “do all to the glory of God” (10:31). This meant giving no offense other than that which the Cross carried intrinsically; the Gospel is offensive, but the Corinthians were not to add unnecessary offence to their message and witness. As Paul, imitating Christ (11:1), surrendered his own rights for the sake of the many, that they may be saved (10:33), so should the Corinthians imitate him in giving up their own rights that in all things God may be glorified (10:31) and unbelievers may be saved (10:33).
Synthesis and Application
Working through all that Paul has to say about legalism and license in these early churches, it becomes apparent that neither license nor legalism is a simple or light issue. Each extreme is incredibly unhealthy for the Church universal and local, and for the individual souls that make up Christ’s body. They are deadly serious, and sneak in to Christian thinking through a myriad of doors. Because of the multi-faceted nature of these dangerous traps, Paul wisely attacked the problems from various angles. He did not just apply a universal bandage that fixed the problem in the same way every time; knowing the complexity of human sinfulness and the many ways that legalism and license could enter in, Paul attacks the issues from different angles depending on the situations of his various congregations. We would do well to heed his approach and address these issues when they appear in our hearts and in our churches according to the particular form in which they arise. That being said, Paul gives us a grid of theological principles that can be applied in these situations and examples of how they are to be applied.
Diagnosing These Diseases and Establishing the Positive Approach
Before looking at specific ways that we can apply Paul’s principles to our contemporary circumstances, it may be helpful to rehash the specific forms of legalism and license that Paul was addressing and to establish the positive attitudes that Paul was presenting for the churches to have.
In the Gospels Jesus addresses a form of legalism that raises human tradition and human rules to the same plane as God’s revelation in Scripture,  but this is not the same legalism that Paul is dealing with. In his letter to the Galatians Paul is dealing with a legalism that fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the law and neglects the unique place Christians have in redemptive-history. This legalism calls for complete devotion to the stipulations of the Sinaitic law in addition to faith for right standing before God; it brings Christians once again under the painful slavery of the law and neglects the freedom we have in Christ—the freedom we have because of Christ’s life and blood fulfilling the law in our place and erasing the curse we had for our transgressions against the law.
The license that Paul addressed was not that which Judaizers would have identified, it is not Christians living free from the food regulations and not practicing the days of the Law. The license Paul rejected was a selfish disregard for ones neighbors, a flippant dismissal of God’s absolute holiness, and a misunderstanding of the new reality we live in as those united with Christ and those living in relationship with God through His new covenant with us.
The answer to legalism was never a complete disregard for holiness, but a true understanding of the Cross and the renewal of the mind (Rom.12:1-2). Paul in these early letters establishes, by addressing the circumstances of the churches, the positive attitude Christians should take toward the law and towards their freedom. In his letter to the Galatians Paul makes it clear that Christians are no longer in slavery to the law, the tutor is no longer needed. Because of Christ on the Cross we have died to the law, its demands have been satisfied and we are to live on the basis of faith and faith alone. We do not work for right standing before God in any way; our standing comes solely on the basis of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the forgiveness we receive because He bore our curse in our place. Even the faith we express is not a work on our part that earns us anything, for—from the testimony of the rest of Scripture—we understand that faith itself is a gift given to us by God and the will to express it is something that the Spirit wrought in our heart.
The answer to license was never the Law; for where the law was, sin abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20, 7:1-13). The answer to license is the new attitude wrought by the Spirit in our hearts; as believers in covenant relationship with God and united together in one body in Christ we are called not to pursue the sinful desires of our old self, but to imitate Christ in pursuing the fullness of life in the Spirit and surrendering our rights for the sake of those for whom Christ died. We are to understand that sin is in utter contrast with who we are in Christ, we have been set apart as a people for God; a God who is profoundly holy and accepts no idols in His place. We are to walk in the Spirit as we have in Christ crucified the old self; its deeds no longer have a place in our lives. And we are to do all things for the glory of God, putting the good of others before our own good so that in all things God may receive the glory and so that our brothers, for whom Christ shed His precious blood, may not be caused to stumble.
Applying Paul’s Cures to our Contemporary Illness
For every theological principle that Paul applies to the churches in Galatia, Corinth, and Thessalonica, there are innumerable contemporary applications; to catalogue every one would be an unimaginably large task, but by applying what Paul taught to a couple of contemporary circumstances we can get a feel for how Paul’s practical theological address of legalism and license functions in our church today.
The address of legalism in the local church, as Paul did with the Church in Galatia, requires a return to the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone and an examination of our place in redemptive-history; this task in many churches can be a long and bloody battle of reformation. A more subtle form of legalism, of the kind Paul was addressing, is the one that seeps into our souls and leads us to judge our relationship to God on the basis not of Christ’s work but on the basis of our own faithfulness.
It is this kind of thinking that leads us to view ourselves as being in a superior place over our peers on the basis of our external conformity to holiness and finds us boasting in our own righteousness; here we neglect the truth that God’s love for us, and our relationship to Him, has never been on the basis of our actions. It has only ever been because He came to us and has worked to bring us into relationship with Him solely on the grounds of His sovereign mercy.
This is the kind of thinking that also has us fleeing from the presence of God because of our unrighteous actions; this is not the expression of healthy guilt, but the legalistic deception that God will withdraw from us and become unreachable because we have sinned against Him. Here again our works become the basis of our relationship to the Father.
The way to address this personal form of legalistic thinking is the same way that Paul addressed it on the corporate scale in the Galatian Church; a judicial application of the truth of Christ’s work on the Cross. For the Galatians the false teachers had sown the seeds of legalism; they had taught them that even in the New Covenant they were required to obey the minutia of the law, to fail to do so meant separation from God. No longer was it grace through faith alone, but faith and works together earning righteousness and relationship with God. The answer for them and for us today is the Cross of Christ.
On the Cross, Christ bore our curse and freed us from the unattainable standard of the Law (Gal. 3:10-14). By our union with Christ we have died to law and depend on Christ, and Him alone, for righteousness (Gal. 3:15-21). As Paul asked the Galatians, we must ask ourselves; “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh” (Gal. 3:4)? Therefore, we cannot boast in our external righteousness for this is no indicator of our closeness with God; we were brought into relationship with Him solely by His work, His love was shown in its fullness towards us on the Cross when He gave His son in order that we may live and be a people unto His name in relationship with Him. Our boast is found in Christ and Him alone, the minute we boast in our achievement we must preach to ourselves the Gospel once again; we were worthless sinners, but at that time Christ came and died, bearing my curse, and He brought me into a right relationship with God. When we beat ourselves up and run from God because of our sinful actions we must again preach ourselves the Gospel; if God loved me enough while I was drowning in the mire of my own sins to send His sin to die and give me His righteousness with no work performed on my part, how can I think that my sins today will change that situation?
License in our hearts and in our churches manifests itself in many ways; we may be able to get a feel for Paul’s practical theology in this area by applying his teaching to the circumstances of a hypothetical believer. Believer A has been attending a local church for almost 4 years now; he has been baptized and confessed Jesus Christ as the Lord and Saviour in His life. He desires to enter into leadership in the church, but under the guise of freedom from the law this man has been engaged in frequent sexual immorality both in the community outside the church and at times with members of the Congregation. This has continued for 4 years and shows no sign of abating. The application of Paul’s teaching will have to be done carefully, but he provides many principles that can be brought to bear here.
The first is the action of the church, in a situation like this it is appropriate—both for the health of Believer A and the congregation—to bring church discipline to bear on the individual. Discipline in this situation may be akin to what Paul called for against the incestuous believer in Corinth. The eldership team, or a specific representative, would approach and inform the man that on the basis of his activity he is no longer free to participate in fellowship with the church until he takes actions toward repentance and seeks change in his life. In doing this the eldership of the church would make it clear that they will aid the man in finding victory over sin in his life if he is willing to take action against it, but until he is willing to change his behavior he is no longer welcome. This excommunication from the church gathered may also involve instruction to the church as individual people to disassociate with the man until he takes steps to change his behavior. These are the actions the church may, and in this situation should, take to work towards this man’s restoration, but what is also needed is teaching on the proper attitude a Christian should take toward their freedom.
From this angle, the approach Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 6 and Galatians 5 would be appropriate. First, Believer A must be confronted with the truth of who God is and the nature of his unity with Him; God is a holy and jealous God who has purchased this man by His blood, and this man is united with Christ by his faith. To partake of sexual immorality is to dishonor the God who purchased Him and to bring Christ into illicit sexual union; it is sin against the Holy God Himself. God takes sin seriously, and if the man thinks he is standing before God he must take heed lest he falls (1 Cor. 10:12). The nature of the God with whom that man is in relationship with is enough to encourage abstinence from sexual immorality.
Paul’s teaching on the nature of the Christian life in Galatians 5 also needs to be brought bear on the situation; Paul shows that freedom from the law is not freedom for the flesh, but freedom to live by the Spirit. Living in the Spirit is antithetical to live in the flesh, and in Christ we have crucified the flesh. Believer A cannot claim to be in Christ and yet not manifest the fruit that this life brings. He is to be encouraged to walk in the Spirit, something only the Spirit can bring about, in conformity with the new eschatological reality he is in; New Covenant believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and by His work are being conformed to the image of Christ, they have crucified the flesh and are to work out in the present their future eschatological salvation which they will receive in glory.
From what Paul teaches through his epistle to the Galatians, his first epistle to the Corinthians, and his second epistle to the Thessalonians, we see the deadly seriousness of the License and Legalism in the Christian life. In accord with how he addressed these issues we must bring to bear on our hearts the truth of Christ’s crucifixion, the nature of our Holy God, and the truth of the present eschatological reality within which we find ourselves as believers in union with Christ and having the foretaste of eschatological salvation in our present sanctification. Let us therefore humbly walk in freedom from the law by pursuing conformity to Christ by walking in the Spirit and putting the good of our brothers and sisters before ourselves.
 All Scripture references, unless otherwise stated, are from; Crossway Bibles, ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version, ESV text ed (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008).
New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).
 Thomas R. Schreiner, “Galatians,” ed. Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 169–170.
 His excommunication had the end purpose of restoration in mind; it was done so that his spirit might be saved (1 Cor. 5:5).
 D.A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 420.
 The act of crucifying the flesh here, seen as an action done by the Galatians, refers to the conversion when believers died with Christ, it may be active “to indicate that believers have chosen to be aligned with Christ at conversion.” Schreiner, “Galatians,” 351.
 Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 474.
 Ibid., 202; Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 104–105.
 Cf. Blomberg, he argues that in the Pauline corpus a flesh/spirit contrast usually refers to the old vs. new nature of believers. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, 105–106.
 Some commentators suggest that this probation refers to barring participation in the Lord’s Supper only and others think that it refers to private meals as well. In the context there is nothing that would bind it merely to the Lord’s Supper, also the emphasis on “not even” and the fact that they are already to be disassociated from fellowship in the church would seem to contribute to the understanding that this refers to private fellowship over meals as well. Agreeing here with Blomberg, cf. Fee for a brief discussion. Ibid., 107; Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 226.
D.A. Carson’s The Cross and Christian Ministry is an expositional work attempting to take the leadership lessons found in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians and apply them to the lives and ministries of leaders today. Carson looks at how Paul places the Cross at the very centre of Christian ministry and attempts to contextualize Paul’s teaching about Cross centred ministry for ministry in our contemporary culture. Carson’s theme, which he works out throughout the book, is the application of the Cross of Christ to Christian ministry. Carson aims to go beyond a simple examination of what the text meant to Paul’s original audience and apply the truths, he writes with the conviction that “The message of these sections from 1 Corinthians must be learned afresh by every generation of Christians, or the gospel will be sidelined by assorted fads” (10). To present and apply these leadership lessons Carson discusses 5 key passages in 1 Corinthians through his book’s 5 chapters.
Each chapter in The Cross and Christian Ministry is an exposition and application of a specific passage from the book of 1 Corinthians, in each exposition Carson looks at how Paul applies the truths of the Gospel, namely the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to the different situations facing the Corinthians and how in addressing the skewed understanding of the Corinthians Paul lays out what true leadership in light of the Cross looks like. Progressing through Paul’s argument in the text, Carson’s exposition brings out a specific application of the truth of the Cross to a variety of different aspects of Christian ministry giving it the feel of similar books like Brothers We Are Not Professionals and Preaching the Cross, in each of these a separate chapter addressing a specific topic fits in with the whole via its connection to the overriding theme of a specific issue being addressed. Because Carson is following the flow of Paul’s thought, there is more of a progression to his writing than in these other two books, but it still bears the feel of various independent chapters connected by one overarching theme, here being the Cross and its application to Christian ministry.
In the first chapter, examining Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5, Carson addresses the application of the Cross to preaching. Looking at how Paul chose to present the Gospel to the Corinthians when he first came to them and how their misunderstandings of wisdom ended up in factionalism, Carson shows how Paul addressed the misunderstandings of the Corinthians pre-emptively with his initial approach and then in his recollection of his original evangelism. Carson shows that the Cross applied to preaching means messages that glorify the wisdom of God and point to Him rather than messages catering to the false conceptions we have of wisdom and messages that glorify the one speaking. Practical application here can be as simple as examining the way we present ourselves and asking if our rhetoric and skill in speaking point more and more to the glory of God or instead brings attention to our ability to present and articulate the truths of Scripture.
In the second Chapter, examining Paul’s teaching in 2:6-16, Carson addresses the Cross and the Holy Spirit. In this chapter Carson looks at how Paul addressed the Corinthians false ideas about “spirituality” with the truth of the cross and corrected their misconceptions. As he draws out theological principle that Paul was laying out, Carson highlights two practical lessons that can be applied to ministers in the our day. The first is a biblical definition of what it means to be spiritual, which is that “spirituality” is inseparably tied to the Cross (62). Though he acknowledges that some Christians are more mature than others, Carson underlines the truth that there are not separate categories of those Christians who are spiritual and those who are not; “The spiritual person is simply a believer, one who has closed with the message of the cross” (62). The second practical lesson Carson draws out is that without the work of the Spirit one cannot gain insight into the message of the cross; it is foolishness apart from the work of the Spirit in someone’s life (64-66).
Throughout the third chapter of The Cross and Christian Ministry Carson exposits and applies 1 Corinthians 3. In this chapter, after showing how Paul deals with the underlying issues of the Corinthians wrong ideas about wisdom and spirituality, Carson looks at how Paul addresses factionalism in the Corinthian church by application of the Cross. Throughout this chapter Carson draws out much application for us today. Some areas he identifies and draws out are the inherent danger of identifying oneself with one specific leader (70), of a defensive attachment to human leaders that borders on idolatry, sometimes almost giving them godlike status (77), and how when we so focus on singular leaders we can easily “depreciate how much there is to receive from all the others. In other words, factionalists overlook the wealth of the heritage we as Christians properly enjoy” (86). Factionalism is very dangerous in our churches, as it was for the Corinthians, and Carson does a great job in this chapter of addressing the various facets of Paul’s discussion in its application for leaders in our day, while doing this he also manages to defend against those who take advantage of texts like 1 Corinthians 3 to defend a doctrine of carnal Christianity (68-73).
For the fourth chapter Carson explicates what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 4, addressing how the Cross applies to Christian leadership. Throughout the fourth chapter of his book Carson works out three subthemes of Paul’s thought expressed in 1 Corinthians 4, he identifies three thing which characterize Christian leadership. He identifies Christian leadership as something which means “Being Entrusted with the ‘Mysteries’ of God” (94-103), “Living Life in the Light of the Cross” (103-108), and “Encouraging—and If Necessary, Enforcing—the Way of the Cross Among the People of God” (108-114). Each of these is associated with a specific passage of Paul’s thought in 1 Corinthians 4 and Carson proficiently takes Paul’s thought and applies it to contemporary ministry.
In the final chapter, examining Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 9:19-27, Carson addresses the Cross and what he calls “the World Christian” (115-116). He does not mean with this term the equivalent of a worldly or carnal Christian (116), but a genuine believer whose allegiance is not to an earthly culture or country but to Jesus Christ and His kingdom, whose commitment is to the Church; citizens of the heavenly kingdom first and all others secondarily (117). Throughout this chapter Carson explains under three headings, and a forth addressing the seriousness of the previous three (135), three “musts” for the world Christian. The world Christian must know what his or her freedoms and constraints are in Jesus Christ, here Carson addresses what it means to not be under the law but under the law of Christ (117-118) and how this calls for Christians to live by the standards of a new-covenant believer (120). The world Christian must not stand on his or her “rights” (122), here Carson address the issue of Christian freedom in relation to the conscience of those weaker than us—how a Christian is called to give up his or her rights so as to guard the conscience of a younger Christian who is not at the same place (122-131). Lastly, the world Christians must take up as their aim the salvation of men and women, they must be willing to go to extreme lengths, within the confines of the Gospel, to “by all possible means… save some” (1 Cor. 9:22) (131).
Throughout these five chapters Carson’s practical exegesis and clear communication make Paul’s leadership lessons immensely applicable and accessible to anyone reading the book. I usually dislike reading books like this for classes because I find that I could spend hours on each chapter because of all that applies to where I am at right now but, because of time constraints, I unfortunately find myself having to sprint through much of what is said with only minor reflection. Caron’s book proved to be an example of both of these, giving me much to think about in too short of a time to actually think about it thoroughly. Though there were things in every chapter that stood out to me, what impacted me the most was Carson’s admonition in the first and third chapters. In the first as Carson addressed the cross and preaching I was particularly struck by the critical balance he calls for between taking the time to craft an effective and skillful sermon (35), in both content and presentation, and being a preacher who calls more attention to himself through his rhetoric than to God. Carson identifies Paul’s warning in this chapter as being against “any method that leads people to say, “What a marvelous preacher!” rather than, “What a marvelous Savior!” (35).
In the third chapter I was struck by Carson’s admonition against a factionalism where we so attach ourselves to one or two teachers that we miss “the wealth of the heritage we as Christians properly enjoy” (86). We miss so much of what others have to offer us in our growth with God; we also can turn our focus from the God to whom the teachers should be pointing to the teacher themselves.
Both of these points are ones that I can apply to my immediate position as a student of the Word and sometimes a preacher. In my preaching I must watch constantly my motives for presenting the way I do; is my aim to articulate the sermon well so that my God is glorified, or is it to do this so that people realize how good of a preacher I think I am? When I decide I want to discuss a specific word study I did in my preparation will it serve to help further the congregation’s understanding of Scripture, or will it make them think that much more of me because I can pronounce δικαιοσύνη? This is something I truly need to weigh in my sermon preparation, for I find it way too easy to see myself as greater than the wretch I truly am and strive to enlighten people as to what I think, falsely, of my own ability.
With the second point Carson made, I see for myself two ways to guard against this. The first is in the way I think about those I look up to and how I convey those thoughts. I hold biblical writers and characters as well as teachers throughout the history of the Church as heroes of the faith, sometimes it is too easy to focus on all that they have done well and ignore their human faults and imperfections. The danger here can be buying everything they have to give without discernment or putting them on such a pedestal that I turn away from the source of what they have to teach (Scripture) to their interpretation as my authority. I need to make sure I guard against both of these errors, a practical start is making sure that I associate those doctrines I hold to as not having been ratified by a teacher or council, such as the council of Nicaea, but as being taught by such and such Scripture, such as John 1:1-5. I also need to guard myself against giving the impression that I hold more to the interpretations and teachings of men, such as John Calvin, than I do to Word of God itself; I need to make it clear that this and this alone is my sole authority for all things upon which it touches. The second danger I can practically guard myself against is the tendency to throw out entire traditions and the valuable contributions of people such as John Wesley because of disagreements over issues that, while being important, are not the Gospel itself. There is so much I can learn from people like N.T. Wright even though I may disagree with them on many things, even vitally important issues such as the nature of justification in Scripture.
Carson does an outstanding job in The Cross and Christian Ministry of drawing out important leadership lessons from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and making them highly practical for leaders in our day. I found this book challenging to myself personally and think it would be a valuable read for anybody entering, or already in, Christian leadership.
Within the church today there are many different ideas of what the Gospel is, while you can find Christians in every church that can magnificently articulate the five points of the Tulip or the Remonstrance and people who can point to every verse in Scripture referring to the baptism in the Spirit and speaking in tongues, how many can articulate the heart of Scripture? How many can answer the question “What is the Gospel?” biblically? Some may answer;
The good news is, God wants to show you his incredible favor. He wants to fill your life with “new wine,” but are you willing to get rid of your old wineskins? Will you start thinking bigger? Will you enlarge your vision and get rid of those old negative mind-sets that hold you back?
The message of Jesus may well be called the most revolutionary of all time: “The radical revolutionary empire of God is here, advancing by reconciliation and peace, expanding by faith, hope, and love—beginning with the poorest, the weakest, the meekest, and the least. It’s time to change your thinking. Everything is about to change. It’s time for a new way of life. Believe me. Follow me. Believe this good news so you can learn to live by it and be part of the revolution.”
The gospel itself refers to the proclamation that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is the one, and the only Lord of the world. (These are taken from pgs. 18 and 19)
These are just a few of the answer that have been given, but which, if any, is correct? What is the Gospel, if it is so important for Christians, why don’t we have an answer? This question, the question of what exactly is the Gospel, is what Greg Gilbert attempts to answer in his book What is the Gospel? In his short book Gilbert attempts to gather what Scripture has to say about the Gospel and give a Biblical answer to this vital question. He does this over the 8 chapters of his book, starting with finding the Gospel in Scripture, then breaking down and looking at the features of the biblical Gospel (ch. 2-4) and our response to it (ch. 5), finally he concludes with 3 chapters treating corollaries to the Gospel and its relation to our lives. In ch. 6 Gilbert attempts to detail what the kingdom of God is in Scripture, in chapter 7 he addresses false gospels put in the place of the true gospel and calls for us to keep the Cross the center, finally in chapter 8 Gilbert concludes with the power of the Gospel.
If Gilbert is answering the question “What is the Gospel?,” what is his answer? Looking at the way the writers of the New Testament spoke of the Gospel and how Paul and Peter preached it in Acts, Gilbert concludes that the Gospel in Scripture is always accompanied first by the bad news; “God is your Judge, and you have sinned against him” (36), and then the good news itself “but Jesus has died so that sinners may be forgiven of their sins if they will repent and believe in him” (36). He highlights the heart of the Gospel as Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf, if we toss Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice aside we “cut out the heart of the gospel” (68). At the heart of the various images Scripture gives of the atonement is the reality to which they all point penal substitution (69). It answers the unanswered question of Scripture as to how a righteous God can forgive disgusting sinners;
The answer to all these questions is found at the cross of Calvary, in Jesus’ substitutionary death for his people. A righteous and holy God can justify the ungodly because in Jesus’ death, mercy and justice were perfectly reconciled. The curse was righteously executed, and we were mercifully saved. (69)
Gilbert expounds the truths of Scripture clearly and concisely, providing an easily accessible and well-grounded discussion of this vital topic.
In reading this book I found myself profoundly challenged on how easily I lose sight of what is most important in Scripture; for the sake of the peripheral issues around the Gospel I often let the Gospel and the cross of Christ fall to the side. Gilbert’s exposition of the Gospel in this book has helped me take a step back and try to re-focus on what is most important in Scripture. If find myself most comfortable in stance of defense or attack, I find myself most exhilarated when I am critiquing a view that I disagree with or am defending one of my pet issues; writing from a neutral perspective and propounding truth is something I find quite difficult, probably why my book reviews of books I agree with tend to be very short. I was challenged by Gilbert’s book to take a third stance, writing of Biblical truth for the sake of informing and teaching and not correcting what I perceive to be faults.
Overall I found Gilbert’s book to be an outstanding short read and highly recommend it to anybody who desires a biblically centered perspective on what exactly the Gospel of Jesus Christ is.
John Piper’s Brothers We Are Not Professionals is a powerful address of the professionalization of Christian ministry. When Piper first wrote it in 2002 the professionalization he was addressing was manifest in the form of running the church as a manager and running it therapeutically, preaching a therapeutic self-help message of assuaging guilt and avoiding hardship. With the updated version—released earlier this year—Piper still sees the need for a call to radical biblical ministry, but the professionalism requiring address is not that of CEO but one that subtly pressures the pastor to be “as good as the professional media folks, especially the cool anti-heroes and the most subtle comedians” (ix). It’s a professionalism that calls for cutting edge communication over penetrating Biblical exegesis, for captivating visuals and constant stimulation over hard-hitting truth and readily applicable, counter-cultural, Gospel centred content. Piper delivers a resounding call to the pastors whom he is addressing. It is a call to radically gospel centered ministry;
Brothers, we are not professionals! We are outcast. We are aliens and exiles in the world (1 Pet. 2:11). Our citizenship is in heaven, and we wait with eager expectation for the Lord (Phil. 3:20). You cannot professionalize the love for His appearing without killing it. And it is being killed. The aims of our ministry are eternal and spiritual. They are not shared by any of the professions. It is precisely by the failure to see this that we are dying (2)
The audience for whom Piper is writing is pastors, calling each and everyone one of them to biblical ministry, but will probably find its biggest audience with those pastors seeking a God-entranced and a Gospel centred worldview. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals consists of 36 chapters which flush out the theme of Biblically centred ministry through brief expositions of various topics relating to the core of pastoral ministry in our day and culture. The topics cover an extensive range, including: the core theological truths of the Christian faith which need to undergird our ministry and soar in our sermons, such as Justification by faith (ch. 5) and the horrifying reality of Hell (ch. 20); daily activities called for in Scripture that provide the foundation for godly living and ministry, such as a heart of God glorifying worship (ch. 34); and the social outworking of Scriptural truth, such as the need to address abortion and racism (ch. 32 and 33).
As with any work that attempts to apply Biblical truth to our life and culture, interpretive biases show up as Piper works out his thesis in these chapters. Piper’s biases emerge out of a deeply God centred worldview formed over years of Scriptural exposition in his role as a pastor and a teacher. His biases are defended in this book minimally, but when they show up Piper provides a wealth of references for delving deeper into the Scriptural basis for, and the journey in which he came to, these biases. Piper writes to his pastoral audience in such a way that avoids the overly simplified presentation of many books aimed at laymen while navigating the shoals of overly academic works to produce an easily accessible, yet well supported, and highly practical work. The fact that Piper is not writing an academic work is clear, and as a result one coming to the book expecting a 50 page bibliographic supplement aiding further study will walk away disappointed, that being said; this does not mean Piper makes blind assertion without support. Piper consistently goes back to Scripture to build his points and follows up with citations for further in depth exegesis of these passages. Piper also includes citations from relevant historical and contemporary works when his topic of address requires so. The bibliography found throughout his endnotes proves to be a useful resource for navigating related works he has authored and will provide a stepping stone into relevant works, especially those by prominent historical theologians such as Calvin, Edwards, and Luther.
Reading through the book I found myself riveted by the weighty subject matter of radical pastoral ministry and found myself repeatedly challenged on habits I should be forming now, before I even consider entering the field of pastoral ministry. I found within almost every chapter a challenge to apply to my life as I grow as a leader. One of the unfortunate tendencies I have displayed as of late is an overly serious approach to life. In chapter 13 Piper calls for pastors to be Bible and not entertainment oriented, in doing so he addresses the modern penchant for flippant and causal attitudes even towards the weighty truths of Scripture (87) while cautioning against the opposite extreme of the over serious approach of the somber and melodramatic preacher who misses out on the joys of God’s creation (86). This latter caution is one I will have to be aware of and make an active and conscious effort to avoid. Piper also levels a penetrating exhortation for prayer at his readers (68-73), calling for pastors to spend time on their knees rooting themselves in Him upon whom they depend for any success in ministry; this is something which God has been teaching me as of late, but unfortunately have begun to neglect. This chapter really challenged me in getting back on my knees and spending that vital time with God. Piper’s call for radical ministry in this book is a much needed one, and it is effective; Piper’s work of applying God’s word to our cultural context and the wealth of insights from over 30 years of ministry merge through the pages to present a practically scriptural expression of pastoral wisdom.