Category Archives: Scripture

Discussion or commentary on a chapter or other part of the Bible.

Ecclesiastes 2

In chapter 2, the teacher gives an autobiography of his attempts to escape vanity: first, by pleasure; and second, by wisdom. He explains how he learned that these two paths both lead to despair and hatred of life. Because of his prosperity and wisdom, he is in the best position of anyone to escape the vanity of life by pleasure or wisdom—yet even he cannot.

If we pursue God’s Creation, whether sinfully or not, we may be rewarded with pleasure. The fruits of our labor are a gift from God, and it’s best to enjoy the fruits of our labor. However, our labors also bring grief and restlessness. Either way, our labor and it’s consequences are futile, because we will ultimately die, and these things will be rendered meaningless. If we understand this as deeply as this wise man did, then we might despair and hate life.

Similarly, if we possess wisdom instead of folly, we are metaphorically walking in the light, which is a benefit. However, this is also futile, because we will ultimately die, and our wisdom and it’s outcomes will be rendered meaningless. If we understand this as deeply as the teacher did, then we might despair and hate life.

This despair over the futility (or “vanity”) of pleasure and wisdom is even intuitive to many unbelievers. We can even find this understanding in the gutters of modern hip hop music. The Insane Clown Posse and Twiztid complain in one of their songs:

Momma say I failed in life
I don’t care I failed in life
Daddy says I drink too much
I don’t care I drink too much
People say I’m headed nowhere
And I don’t f***in’ care
Jimmy Johnson’s gonna die
Sarah Suzie’s gonna die
Everybody dyin’ slow1

In this song, the Clowns conclude that it makes no difference whether you shoot them in the head, and that the only thing they’re looking forward to is the “next phase where flesh and bodies [are] consumed.” This warped conclusion from comprehending Nietzschean meaninglessness, outside of Christ, is a believable outcome.

Nietzsche himself taught that nothing has any inherent importance and that life lacks purpose, and later he went insane.

The philosophy of unbelievers exposes the wall between human wisdom and godly wisdom. Human wisdom cannot bridge the impasse of the dilemma of meaninglessness; any human conclusions based on awareness of vanity are necessarily foolish.

* * *

But what about the conclusions of the teacher here in this scripture? It is ironic, at the very least, if not contradictory, that he should call pleasure and wisdom “good,” but also call them “futile” at the same time.

However, he does not intend to perplex the reader with an apparent contradiction; therefore, we may resolve this.

In the first place, the teacher is only at the thesis part of the his essay, so he is intentionally presenting an apparent contradiction that he will resolve throughout the remainder of the book, especially in chapters 5, 7, and 12. [3:14, 5:1-7, 7:16-18, and 12:9-14]. We may also find the answer to this apparent contradiction elsewhere in scripture, such as in Psalm 49 and in 2 Corinthians 5. [Verses 1-11]. The biblical answer to this dilemma is that the wise are redeemed from the Pit by God. Death is rendered incapable of making their lives vain or pointless.

Secondly, the author’s abundant use of the word “vanity” is intended as hyperbole. He would not call something “vanity of vanities” while also finding goodness in the same thing, unless he intended it as hyperbole. Neither absolute is true. Pleasure and wisdom are good, but they are not ultimate antidotes to our vanity under the sun. The Creation is tainted by the Fall into sin, so we experience frustration alongside pleasure. In this way, the author’s advice to enjoy life can be seen more as a balance against futility, rather than as a contradiction.

Finally, we ought not read this Wisdom book as if it is a direct vertical communication from the LORD, as with the Prophets. Though inspired by the Holy Spirit, this scripture is a “divine record of human observations,”2 as opposed to a set of authoritative declarations from the LORD. The teacher is guiding us through his autobiography, wherein he applied his wisdom to search for meaning in his labors. In contrast, the prophets wrote truths that were expressed directly by God, rather than via the progression of a man’s learning.

* * *

In summary, this chapter is about the reality of fallen Creation, and ultimately the devastating void left by death. In the meantime, we will remember that every good gift is from God and is to be enjoyed, and that our resurrection in Christ brings purpose and meaning to every labor we undertake.


1. Insane Clown Posse, “I Don’t Care,” 2001.

2. The Apologetics Study Bible for Students, Holman Bible Publishers, 2009. P. 671.

Romans 4


Genuine Christians have an old nature and a new nature.

My old nature is my dark side. I was fairly affected by Romans 1 and 2… not so much by thinking about the wicked world “out there” or about the universal sinfulness of mankind; but because I was ashamed when I considered the world of wickedness within myself.

Through Apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit concludes us under sin, and leads us to the dreadful realization that, “for those who are self­-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” [2:8]

I am speechless and undone. How can I open my mouth to justify myself before Holy God?

Then again, Paul isn’t dragging us through this most convicting part of his letter without offering a glimmer of hope. In chapter 1, he refers to the gospel of God, and the righteousness of God through faith. In chapter 3, he speaks of “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe,” and the concept of being “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

In chapter 4, the apostle takes us deeper into the gospel. There are three themes in this chapter.

Theme 1: We are Abraham’s Children

The first, and most significant theme, is that we, as believers, are Abraham’s children, and so are rightful heirs of the promise.

Abraham is the prototype of redeemed people. A stunning covenant promise was delivered to him, and he was counted righteous through his faith. The last three verses in this chapter summarize the primary theme: the imputation of righteousness is not just a story about Abraham. It is our story, as those “who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord.”

How is there such an explicit connection between us and Abraham? We have faith, like Abraham.

That’s true. However, to say only that would miss the gravity of this powerful fact: the Seed of Abraham is Jesus Christ, the very object of the faith we speak of, and the One who purchased our right to be called the children of God. The covenant promise to Abraham and the Christian’s faith are bound in a glorious circle. We are partakers with Abraham, because we believe the promise to him, and the promise is the One in whom we believe.

Theme 2: The Timing of the Covenant Sign

In the company of Judaizers, we might be criticized as not fully identifying with Abraham as our father, for we are the uncircumcised. Apostle Paul demolishes this argument by pointing out that the promise of Genesis 15:6 described Abraham before he was circumcised.

Genesis 15:6, from the Holman translation, says, “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”

This is the second theme of chapter 4: Paul’s dramatic assertion about the timing of the covenant sign.

This same apostle was the one who associated circumcision with baptism in his letter to the Colossians. For fun, if you check, you will find that the first suggested synonym for circumcision is “baptism.”


Let’s ponder this circumcision/baptism analogy.

Our unborn children were not yet baptized. However, according to Paul’s gospel, these children were counted as righteous because of our faith, as parents, before they were even born, much less baptized.

Let us never negate God’s amazing work of imputing righteousness by supposing that it hinges on water baptism.

This is a controversial subject, because, of course, baptism is holy and imperative. Yet, it stands that a child of God is a child of God, even before he has received the sign and seal of baptism.

Rest your hearts, brothers and sisters who have lost children before they were baptized. The Holy Spirit has just now informed us that our children were already in the covenant and already justified by our faith, before they received the sign and seal of baptism. The same may be said of the criminal who died on the cross beside our Lord.

Is baptism then meaningless? Of course not! We are commanded to baptize our children in observance of the declaration that God has already made about them. Calvin says this of the corresponding sign: “[circumcision] was not the cause of righteousness, it indeed tended to confirm the righteousness of faith, and that already obtained in uncircumcision.”

This topic is best understood if we acknowledge that there is a difference between covenant children and elect children.

The Israelites who wandered in the desert for 40 years… were they children of God or not?

Yes, they were children of God—covenant children of God. Their circumcision testified to this.

This means that the promise belonged to them. Yet, scripture says that with most of them God was not pleased—their bodies were slain in the wilderness. How can this be said of God’s children? It’s not so difficult to understand when we distinguish between the covenant children and the elect children.

It’s not our business to pry into the question, “who are the elect children of God?” Nevertheless, election is still a reality.

What occurs at our baptism? Simply this: we receive the sign and seal that we are the covenant children of God. This means that, as Joshua and Caleb did, we are entitled to believe and lay claim on the promise of God—the promise to Abraham. It’s ours for the taking.

However, baptism does not confirm us as God’s elect. If that were the case, then we’d necessarily fall into one of two errors. We would either conclude that the removal of dirt saves us—in other words, the water baptism saves us—or, we would conclude that God’s elect might lose their salvation, which is a denial of the doctrine of the Preservation of the Saints.

Let us renounce the idolatrous high view of the removal of dirt from the body, which tempts us to doubt that God preserves his elect. If we really do have the Holy Spirit, then we shall not fall away.

If we are infants, then we are justified by the faith of our parents, not by our baptism.

As adults, we are also justified by faith.

Theme 3: Works Undone?

So now, let us consider the third theme in this chapter: justification by faith alone.

In verse 5, the apostle makes a seeming ridiculous statement. He says, “to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” It sounds like he’s saying that good works are not relevant in the Christian life. No wonder his contemporaries accused him of antinomianism.

However, in chapter 2, Paul had warned that those who practice wickedness will not escape the judgment of God. He had even said that God “…will render to each one according to his works.”

Is the Holy Spirit confused? Or, rather, is this an example of the things “which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures”? [2 Peter 3:16]

I can’t find the quote; it’s embedded in some YouTube clip that I watched years ago when I was learning the Biblical gospel from Southern Reformed Baptists. Paul Washer, of all people, made some bold observation that if any preacher will effectively teach the true gospel of grace, he will necessarily be accused of teaching lawless Christianity, because grace is so profound that the righteous human mind cannot abide it. Nevertheless, the preaching of grace does not undo the doctrine of works.


The interaction between grace and works is fascinating, and worthy of our lifelong study. Reformed Christians, with the Bible, confess a doctrine of grace and a doctrine of works. There is no either/or; it’s both.

We confess that the Law of God was delivered in the context of the grace of God: “I am the LORD your God,” He said, “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

I’ll conclude with a comment about one of my favorite topics. The Sabbath commandment is a commandment to rest. It’s a beautiful thing to rest in the completed work of the Righteous Man, Jesus of Nazareth, the One who justifies us, and who gives us motivation and power to live thankfulness before our Creator God, for His praise.

Work, brothers and sisters—work for the glory of God and for the assurance of your salvation, but rest in the justification granted to you by our Redeemer, the Man who bought us and included us in the covenant, as Abraham’s sons.

Related readings: Psalm 32; James 2:14­-26; 1 John 3:1­-10; CD V

Romans 3

Paul goes on to teach us about the Justice and Faithfulness of God.  “What good is it to be a Jew? “ he asks.  The Jewish nation were God’s chosen people, and even though many denied Christ and so failed to inherit the salvation which was freely offered, they remained privileged in that they had received the Word of God which led them to the salvation of Jesus Christ.  They received the offer of salvation, but like the gentiles if they do not receive it in faith it is futile and they will die with the rest of the unbelievers.  But some say, that if we sin than God’s righteousness is shown ever in greater amount.  This of course the apostle opposes and points out that the condemnation of unbelievers is just and therefore sin is not to be encouraged.

Paul goes on to describe the nature of man.  Quoting from various passages in the Old Testament, he lets everyone know that Man is totally depraved.  There is no good to be found in man.  This is a hard truth for man to accept.

Many today would have you believe that Man still has some good in him.  That he is able to choose a good thing.  That man can in fact participate in his own salvation by “choosing” Christ.   Paul here unequivocally describes Man’s sinful nature as totally depraved.  Paul demonstrates this in verse 12:

“All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good not even one”

Therefore no matter what we do, we will daily increase our debt towards God.  So by trying to keep the law, we cannot be saved.

The solution, Paul says, is to receive righteousness through Jesus Christ.  Jesus took upon himself the punishment of all sins and paid the debt that God’s justice demanded.   This righteousness comes solely from God.  It does not involve the work of mankind.  Christ died to pay for our sins, and also for the sins of those who passed away in Old Testament times, for God had delayed punishment of those sins until Christ’s time had come.   We see here God’s mercy at work, suffering the sins of his people over all those ages, in order that they may still be saved by the sacrifice of Christ.  Remember that here we also learn that sins are not just wiped away, as if they did not matter.  No they were paid for by the blood and suffering of Christ.

So there is no reason to boast.   We have done nothing to earn our salvation.  It was God’s grace.   We simply have to accept the Gospel message by faith.  And that will lead us to change the way we live.  More and more we will live in accordance to God’s Law, and Will.  And this is a process that will last a life time until we finally reach Heaven and live with Christ in perfection.

THIS IS THE GOSPEL that convinced Luther to question the Roman Catholic theology of being saved by Christ but also by doing penance.  This gospel sets us free from the confines of Man’s limitations to do good, and allows us to look solely to Jesus Christ for our salvation.   It is a gift from God merely out of Grace.  Because He loved us.

THAT IS THE GOOD NEWS OF THE BIBLE.  Available to all who believe.